Bathrooms don't have to be bland! Add color to a bathroom, like these homeowners did, to make the space inviting, intriguing, and relaxing.


A Brooklyn loft remodel optimizes every inch of the 900 square foot space to produce a cozy, industrial, storage-rich Cobble Hill home.


Sweeten’s guide to Chicago remodeling costs in 2021, including kitchen, bath, and whole-home (plus outdoor budgets and permit tips!)

(Above) Remodel by Sweeten general contractor Christina. Photo: Chicago Home Photos

The budgeting step can be nerve-wracking for first-time Chicago renovators. You’ve finally moved on from daydreaming to starting a remodel of your home. Start by gathering some basic details: know what you can actually afford, and plan to add a small reserve on top of that. The materials you want to use also factor in, as well as how much work will be done. Plus, everything that isn’t visible—the infrastructure—will impact your costs. This can be a lot to keep track of, especially if this is your first time renovating.

Fortunately, Sweeten has done some of the legwork in this guide to Chicago remodeling costs. This guide focuses on some of the major remodeling categories: whole house remodels, kitchen, bath, additions—as well as permits. You can use these details to create an accurate budget for a Chicago-area renovation.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

Here’s a breakdown of typical starting costs (including labor and materials) gathered from Sweeten contractors and the 2021 Cost vs. Value Report:

Keep in mind that every professional contractor will want to have a detailed conversation with you. They will also inspect your home before developing an estimate specific to your needs and wants.

Pro tip: Do not wait. The pandemic has caused a backlog in the supply of materials in many sectors. For homeowners interested in renovating, it’s smart to schedule and sign with a contractor to lock in your material prices. You’ll also want to book a start date on the contractor’s schedule. If you do wait, prices will only continue to go up and your material order starts at the back of a long queue.

Chicago remodeling costs per square foot

Gut renovation vs. non-gut renovation

Gutting a home pretty much means starting from scratch. You’ll take everything down to the studs or framework, and/or you’ll knock down walls. Because it’s more intricate, a gut job starts at the higher end of the $100 to $200 psf range. By contrast, a remodel of the space within existing walls will be at the lower end. For example, remodeling a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom condo may range from $50,000 to $70,000, while a gut reno likely will exceed $100,000. This work usually involves running new plumbing pipes and wiring, moving doorways, and possibly installing new flooring.

Costs for a full home gut renovation start at $100 per square foot. Take note: this scope of work is extensive! Expect demo, framing, insulation and drywall, wiring, plumbing, heating/cooling systems, millwork, paint, flooring, tile, light fixtures, electronics, and all finishes. (This excludes appliances, which can significantly increase costs, depending on how high-end they are.) According to Chicago-based Sweeten contractor Ryan, “A whole-house renovation—say, 3,000 square feet—would cost $200,000, at the low end, and start at $400,000 at the high end. It all depends on the materials chosen.”

Wet rooms—connected to a water supply, such as bathrooms or kitchens—typically start at $250 psf. In the city, bathrooms in condos or co-ops can be as small as 30 square feet. However, in freestanding homes, they are typically larger than 5’ x 8’.  High-end renovations that are fully custom with luxury materials can cost upwards of $700 per square foot. Architectural design and drawings, demolition, construction, materials, fixtures, lighting, and finishes are included in the fee.

Contractors may build in overage fees to their estimates. This allows for the unexpected—which definitely can happen—to be covered. Overages are usually 10-15% of the project cost. (Sweeten recommends that the renovator reserve at least 10-15% above the bid as well). Don’t let the numbers shock you, though: the beauty of using a general contractor is that it’s one-stop shopping. Working with a contractor covers pretty much all the trades required for the job. This spares you the work of hiring individual tradesmen to complete the various aspects of your project. 

Chicago-based Sweeten contractor Brad recommends being realistic about how much you can spend. “You can’t buy a $100,000 ring on a $5,000 budget. Nail down your contractor first; they know pricing. And add 15 percent for unexpected conditions.”

Average cost of a kitchen remodel in Chicago

Budget kitchen renovation costs

A typical starting point is $22,000 based on a 100-square-foot kitchen. According to the 2021 Cost vs. Value Report, the average is $31,004 for 200 square feet. This translates to stock cabinets, hardware, and countertops, plus swapping outdated appliances with newer and more energy-efficient models.

Mid-grade kitchen renovation costs

Sweeten has found that a 100-square-foot space at this finish level can start at $30,000. For a kitchen at 200 square feet, expect to pay an average of $81,820, according to the Cost vs. Value Report. This includes custom lighting, updating 30 linear feet of semi-custom wood cabinets, new countertops, a 3′ x 5′ island, double-tub stainless steel sink with single-lever faucet, garbage disposal, built-in dishwasher, energy-efficient range, vented hood, built-in microwave, dishwasher, and new flooring.

High-end kitchen costs

Based on what Sweeten has seen, expect starting costs to be $37,500 for a 100-square-foot room at this finish level. According to the Cost vs. Value Report, a kitchen at 200 square feet starts at $160,000. Expect top-flight custom cabinets with interior detailing like partitioned drawers, pullout shelves, pop up and down storage, stone, quartz, or porcelain countertops, stone or imported tile backsplash. Also included are custom lights, under-cabinet lighting, hardwood, stone or porcelain flooring, and typical high-end appliances.

Sweeten contractor Ryan has seen kitchens cost $50,000 for a gut remodel, and at the high end, closer to $100,000. “Those figures,” he says, “can vary greatly, as some cabinetry alone might cost $80,000.” 

Average bathroom remodel costs in Chicago

Budget bathroom costs

A starting point can be $15,000—$20,000 for a 35-square-foot-space with budget-friendly finishes from big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Menards, and Lowe’s. As this is a wet space, plumbing, electrical insulation, and exhausts, as well as correcting misaligned walls and floors will be part of the job.

Mid-grade bathroom

For a 35-square-foot space, a remodel will start at $21,000. According to 2021 Cost vs. Value Report, $27,570 is the average cost for this type of project. This includes a recessed medicine cabinet, standard toilet, solid-surface vanity counter, and a porcelain tub.

High-end bathroom

The typical cost at this finish level starts at $28,500 for 35-square-feet. The 2021 Cost vs. Value Report cites an average of $82,838 for a high-end renovation, based on a bathroom over 200 square feet. Features at this level include new ductwork, radiant heated floors, custom cabinetry, separate shower, freestanding tub, and custom lighting.

Costs for a master suite addition

Mid-grade master suite addition costs

Estimated costs are around $452 psf or $177,273 for a 24′ x 16′ space, including double vanity, freestanding tub, separate shower, walk-in closet, dressing area, according to 2021 Cost vs. Value Report. Whether it’s a ground-level addition, a basement remodel, or a second-floor addition, accessing rough-ins for plumbing will vary and affect pricing.

High-end master suite addition costs

For a 32′ x 20′ master suite with a separate sitting area and large master bath over a crawl space, costs are around $553 psf or $359,232, according to 2021 Cost vs. Value Report. This kind of project includes custom shelving, built-in storage, as well as a walk-in closet and dressing area with windows.

Basement renovation costs in Chicago

A starting budget for a basement is around $100 psf. At the low end, the cost averages $40,000 and includes a bathroom with a shower. Flooring options can vary significantly, including laminate, vinyl, engineered wood, porcelain tile, or stained concrete. At the high end, a project for $75,000 may include a 5′ x 8′-foot bathroom with a shower, a wet bar, and flooring in an overall space measuring 20′ x 30′.

Costs for a basement renovation can be affected by multiple factors. Consider the existing condition of the space, if plumbing pipes need to be installed or moved, if new water service is required and if bracing needs to be done to eliminate structural supports in the middle of a space. Also take into consideration ceiling height, since Chicago basements are typically 8 feet or less, and as low as 6’7″. If you want to raise the ceiling, that requires digging out and underpinning the foundation. In addition, it’s necessary to assure the space is waterproof. A perimeter drain tile system is installed (repaired or extended). Connecting it to a sump pump also is important to consider, and this cost can start at around $2,500.

Chicago remodeling costs for permits

The permit process for renovating varies from Chicago to its suburbs, with each of the village’s or town’s governing bodies determining requirements and fees. In Chicago, permits are obtained through the Building Department. The issue in common is safety and compliance with building codes.

In Winnetka, remodeling permits cost $30 per $1,000 of construction; new construction is $1.30 per square foot of new gross area. There also are permit fees for plumbing, electrical service ($9,800 for 200 amp service; $21,000 for 400 amp service), furnace, and AC as well as roofing and pools. In Hinsdale, the permit fee for remodeling is calculated on two percent of the value of construction.  In addition, expect to pay permit fees for demolition ($3,000).

In Chicago, applications for building permits must include architectural drawings and names of all licensed contractors—plumbers, electricians, HVAC contractors (usually supplied by the general contractor). There is no one size fits all. But expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 minimally for a whole house remodel, major kitchen, and/or bath. The larger the project, the more the fee, ranging to as high as $10,000.

There’s also an Easy Permit Program for small projects that do not require architectural drawings (usually available the same day). There are nominal costs (a few hundred dollars for plumbing and electrical permits), which usually are pulled by those contractors.

©2021 Zonda Media, a Delaware corporation. Complete data from the 2021 Cost vs. Value Report can be downloaded free at

Find expert Chicago general contractors near you

Post your project on Sweeten and we’ll match you with multiple vetted general contractors to provide estimates for your renovation, then help you evaluate the estimates. Sweeten also checks in with you until the project is completed. When you brainstorm with your general contractor to develop an accurate budget, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the dream space you’ve always craved.

Have a good handle on HOA (Homeowners Association) fees before you purchase your condo, co-op, or detached house.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.


A couple aims to find a vetted contractor for their East Village kitchen renovation—finally

Wear-and-tear of a well-used kitchen shows

In the 23 years since Susan and Carl bought a one-bedroom East Village co-op, they’ve made a lot of changes. “The history is long in this space,” said Susan, including withstanding 16 years of kids and dogs. She isn’t exaggerating. This couple bought the neighboring studio apartment in 1997, bumping up their square footage to 1,400. They hired someone to do the bare minimum to connect the two apartments and did everything else themselves. A few years later, while an “inept” contractor did a poor job of fixing up the bathroom, the couple went on to do a DIY job with the kitchen. A leaky dishwasher eventually ruined the flooring.

SWEETEN_Susan Horwitz_Kitchen_Before04

SWEETEN_Susan Horwitz_Kitchen_Before06

SWEETEN_Susan Horwitz_Kitchen_During08

With low interest rates, they decided to refinance their mortgage and renovate, which brings this story to the present day. Despite those DIY fixes, the kitchen wasn’t at its full potential. A dropped ceiling in certain areas eliminated what could be very useful storage space. The recessed canned lights hanging from the ceiling also made the kitchen feel small. Even with a cutout in the wall toward the living room, the layout didn’t suit entertaining. “Whenever we had company,” said Susan, “everyone would squeeze into the end of the kitchen while I cooked and doled out snacks.”

Finding the right expertise to get the job done

With the disaster of the bathroom contractor etched in their minds, Susan and Carl promised themselves to scrutinize the next person they worked with. They found Sweeten and posted their project, a choice that paid off many times over. For example, they discovered a beam that they feared would force them to shorten the cabinets and give up storage space. But the Sweeten contractor they chose “knew exactly how to notch out the back of the taller cabinets to accommodate the beam,” said Susan.

The couple spent hours on Pinterest and decided against uniformity in the long, narrow space, opting for family- and pet-friendly materials and layout instead. “We wanted to eliminate the bowling alley feel,” she said. This was achieved by mixing cabinets and shelves, as well as glass and solid doors, and horizontal and vertical lines. Moving the window gate from the inside to outside was another simple fix that made a big difference. That change now enables them to open the bottom half of the gate. They opted for a painted backsplash rather than tile. “It leaves open the possibility of changing colors when you get tired of it,” she said.

Lessons learned from this East Village renovation

The job went smoothly with no issues with her contractor—even though the “construction dust was hard to live with”—the couple still has tips for other renovators: 1. Triple your timeline estimate to get a realistic sense of how long a renovation will take, and 2. When your kitchen is out of order, there’s a lot you can do in a slow cooker and rice cooker, including pasta!

Bonus: This East Village renovation was full of pleasant surprises along the way. When their Sweeten contractor ripped out the dropped ceiling, Susan and Carl had expected to find something that would slow the project down. Instead, no wires, pipes or anything structural was found inside. “Compared to any other [renovation] jobs, nothing significant held us back with this one,” said Susan.

Renovation Materials:

Stone Studio floor tiles: Verde 1999. Grimslov and Hittarp kitchen cabinets: Ikea. Cabinet hardware: Rusticware Hardware Company.  Countertops: European Granite and Marble. Island countertop: Country Mouldings. Sink: Ikea. Grohe faucet: Refrigerator: Samsung. Dishwasher: Bosch. Dacor stove and hood: eBay. Ceiling lights: Schoolhouse Electric & Supply. Pendant lights: Ikea. Paint color in Sea Star, #2123-30: Benjamin Moore. Stools: Target.

Removing a difficult-to-access loft space and raising the ceiling allowed Emily and Trey to install taller kitchen cabinets for greater storage.

Refer your renovating friends to Sweeten and you’ll both receive a $250 Visa gift card when they sign a contract with a Sweeten general contractor.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.


These 7 modern bathroom designs by Sweeten sleekly show off personal taste

(Above) Sweeten homeowner Lexi’s bathroom renovation

When you think of a modern classic bathroom, you probably conjure up images of white tiles accented with contemporary fixtures. It is a complementary mix of timeless design choices, like color scheme, cabinetry, and tile. To be considered truly modern classic, the space needs a clean aesthetic that can stand the test of time. 

Here, a look at seven different modern bathroom designs from Sweeten renovations that show that modern classic bathrooms never go out of style. 

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection— for free.

A modern bathroom design riffs on black, white, and bold

While the boldness of the black paint may scream contemporary, what makes this bathroom classic too is the light fixture. Also complementary are the basketweave floor tile and ageless white subway tiles. The homeowner, Marissa, wanted a fresh design but didn’t want to make it too modern. So she decided to mix and match to come up with the perfect design to match her style. 

Modern bathroom accents uplift a classic aesthetic

For Diane’s bathroom renovation, white subway tiles and a pedestal sink make up her classic look. She offset those items with a modern Toto faucet and a more contemporary medicine cabinet. The result is a simple, streamlined space that uses black tiles as accents to up the design quotient. 

A modern (and blue!) bathroom meets traditional white

Saskia and Ben’s bathroom remodel was laser-focused on eliminating dated 70’s tiling. A more modern subway tile filled in with gray grout was their key to success. Other changes included installing a towel heating rack, a “must-have” on Ben’s list. The bath was completed with a navy color to contrast the traditional white medicine cabinet. 

A clean—but not overly simple—aesthetic

Sisters Nicole and Missy turned to Sweeten to renovate their Arlington bathroom. Nicole originally thought she wanted a simple and clean white bathroom. However, as the project unfolded, she realized she wanted more personality in the design. The sliding barn shower door and white-washed oak vanity came in to complete this modern bathroom design. 

Modern black touches on a clean canvas

This Manhattan couple went with a minimalist white color scheme for their Greenwich Village modern bathroom design. Their Sweeten contractor installed a modern-looking vanity characterized by linear silhouettes and a lack of hardware. A black matte faucet was installed on the wall, which boosts the contemporary factor. 

Gray grout offsets modern gold touches

For Amy and Kevin’s bathroom renovation, they, like many other renovators, chose classic subway tile. However, they tweaked the look by using gray grout. (Gray is a great choice for modern design lovers as it is both classic and contemporary at the same time.) They also selected a large-format gray tile for the floor, which gives the space a modern vibe. To pull in a traditional aesthetic, the couple put in a 30-inch vanity in a natural wood tone. 

A modern bathroom design mixes in classic fixtures

Leah and Brian worked with a Sweeten contractor to update their Chicago loft’s bathroom. They went with antique brass for the finishes—as seen in the pendant light, shower head, and faucet—to give it a classic look. To add in a modern vibe, they chose porcelain tile in a gloss finish for the walls. Matte finish tiles laid in a herringbone pattern on the shower floor complete the look.

Thinking of remodeling your bathroom? Sweeten’s renovation cost guides go cover costs by city and room type. 

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration, and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.


When remodeling pre-war homes in Washington DC, pay attention to exteriors and potential challenges to layout changes

Remodeling pre-war homes in the Washington, D.C. area presents a rewarding challenge. It’s an opportunity to take a piece of the city’s history and both preserve and improve it. You can create a home with more mojo—a home with historic style and contemporary functionality.

Sweeten offers an outline on what to know before starting older home renovations in Washington, D.C. (plus, which rooms get the most bang for the buck!) 

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection—for free.

Where do you start when renovating an old house?

Start with your vision for the result. Consider all that you want and prioritize those features with your budget. Talk with a contractor as early in the process as possible. Go over the mandatory elements, such as electrical and plumbing, that will have to meet current code requirements. Older homes typically need complete upgrades of:

● Electrical: Older homes need more outlets, plain and simple. Adding plenty of USB outlets makes sense, too, as they allow you to dispense with the extra adapter. Many older homes still suffer from antiquated lighting, with just a solitary ceiling fixture, if that. Energy-efficient puck lights and sconces should be part of any renovation. 

In addition, an updated home should have a 200-amp service, which you’ll learn about through an electrical audit. If you want photovoltaic panels and are allowed to install them, discuss whether the system should be part of your planning with your contractor.

Improved performance is laudable, but cost can balloon for small gains in performance. Your choice of windows is a judgment call, so go over this carefully with your general contractor. You should also do research on the window manufacturers and products so you can learn and ask questions. Windows are a major expense (and are not easily changed,) so take the time to get it right.

Commonly renovated elements in old homes

Fortunately, this is a relatively easy fix—getting the right plaster pro on the job. Your contractor will make sure new and old blends perfectly, make repairs properly, and leave you feeling great about this subtle yet important element. 

Kitchen upgrades in old homes

Because of the intensity of use as the hub of most homes, your kitchen deserves more focus and more of the budget. Not surprisingly, you’ll make more materials and features choices for the kitchen, as well. Do you really want a six-burner range, or should that money go elsewhere? One feature we strongly recommend is the best cabinets you can afford. Here, you have options.

“Off-the-rack” cabinets have improved tremendously in the last few years as manufacturers have stepped up to meet the demand for both style and functionality. By their nature, off-the-rack or in-stock cabinets will offer fewer choices, but that may be fine if you’re happy with the finishes and sizes offered.

Semi-custom and custom cabinets can provide nearly anything you want, such as finishes, specialized hardware, and sizes to fit any space. You can usually expect upgraded cabinets to show better fit and finish, but you might have to wait for them to be built. This shouldn’t be a problem, as you’ll have many renovation tasks to complete before cabinets go in.

Another upgrade that might fly under your radar is a heavier sink, either of stainless steel or synthetic material. This is a subjective thing, but heavier sinks just feel solid and have a better, quieter tone with water running on them.

Exterior elements have endured a lot

Outside, the humid climate in Washington, D.C. is no friend to structures. The mortar in historic brick buildings, for example, needs maintenance periodically. Old bricks were much softer than current bricks, and older lime mortars were more flexible than modern mortars. These older materials worked well together.

Today, however, modern mortar costs about half of the traditional lime mortar, so many repairs over the last couple of decades have used the newer, less pliable mortar, leading to bricks cracking and crumbling, instead of the mortar. Typically, you’ll find lime mortar in cream or black tones, while the modern mortar is gray. Check this out and talk with your contractor about how much work needs to be done.

Challenges for layout changes and additions

While these renovation decisions are happening, consider the layout of your home. Does it work for your family, or does it need help? The need for a more functional design may in fact be the driving force behind the entire renovation. Do you need more square footage or just a refinement of the layout? Whether or not you’re able—either physically or legally—to add more square feet is a major factor.

Row homes, for example, may be impossible to add on to. For other homes, setbacks and/or various associations may prohibit changing the home’s footprint, even if the lot has room. If your contractor has worked on other projects in your neighborhood, he or she may already know what’s possible. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to double-check with your historic district.

Allowing for surprises

It’s inevitable to have a few surprises while remodeling pre-war homes. But budgeting for them and preparing mentally, plus going through the house thoroughly with your contractor, will minimize the chances of a major surprise. You’ll also have permits to pay for, and for this, you’ll want to coordinate with your contractor.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.


A dream shower and walk-in closet complete this Crown Heights closet and bathroom renovation

“After” photos by Miao Jiaxin for Sweeten

Written in partnership with Sweeten homeowners Kate + Max

Before: Finding the right time to renovate

We’ve all walked into homes where two different sets of ideas are in play. This renovation was part of a quest for cohesion. We’d established an aesthetic when we’d updated the kitchen two years before, and we were now putting in a bathroom and closet we could love. The old set of ideas included a showerhead on the long side of the bathtub and pitch-dark storage spaces. We were not sad to see them go.



We are Kate, a creative director for a women’s wellness startup, Max, a data analyst at a tech firm, and Lenny, a female Pitbull/Rat Terrier mix. We live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in a 1926 co-op building. We’re first-time homeowners of a 610-square-foot one-bedroom apartment. We purchased in January 2016 as first-time buyers. We didn’t change the place until 2019 when we renovated the kitchen.

We planned to wait to continue renovating, but the combination of being home due to Covid-19 and having few opportunities to spend money meant that we wanted a nicer place and we accelerated our savings plan. We decided to go for it this year and renovate the bathroom and our closet as a single project.

Swapping out the tub for a shower

Remodeling the 35-square-foot bathroom was a style choice, but also one of function. In the existing room, neither the floor nor the walls were level. We hated that the shower head was in the middle of the wall on the tub’s long side. We wanted a modern stand-up shower with a glass door instead of the step-in tub and wraparound shower curtain. The closet redo made sense to tack on because of its proximity to the bathroom. We wanted to combine two small adjacent closets—one accessible from the bedroom, the other from the hallway—into a single large one. Neither closet had electrical wiring, so finding our things was a challenge. We knew we could net more storage if we merged them into one large closet.

This was easily the most challenging phase of the project, since we’d left Brooklyn on a road trip and were far away when the contractor discovered the problem. We didn’t need to worry.

After: Creating a whole new bathroom layout

We started in the bathroom. We rearranged the whole bathroom, so this was not a simple “rip and replace.” Moving the shower to the back wall meant relocating the toilet and reconfiguring the plumbing proved necessary. Our biggest questions were about the unknowns. In a nutshell, here’s what we learned: You can’t prepare for what’s behind a wall or under the floor. You carry out the demolition and hope to get lucky.

We’d decided we wanted white subway tile with a dark gray grout on the walls. The floor tiles had a distressed texture in dark gray. The vanity’s light wood finish matches our kitchen cabinets, and it offers tons of storage even though it’s only a 24-inch unit. The toilet search was more challenging than expected since we had specific size requirements, but eventually, we found one we liked.

The contractor handles the discovery under the subfloor

We’d heard plenty of nightmares about people moving plumbing in New York City bathrooms and hoped our fate might be different, but it wasn’t. Having completed most of the demolition, the contractors lifted the floor tile. Beneath the visible layer, they discovered two additional layers of tile. Once the subfloor was exposed, it was clear it had been compromised, both by years of trapped moisture and the weight of those three tile layers.

The co-op’s engineer brought onsite recommended pouring a new concrete slab, which added expense and impacted our schedule. This was easily the most challenging phase of the project since we’d left Brooklyn on a road trip and were far away when the contractor discovered the problem. We didn’t need to worry. Our contractor worked with the building’s engineer to pour the new slab to the required specifications.

Smooth communication with their contractor

Our Sweeten contractors provided us with updates via an online project-management tool that helped with communication throughout the job. The team used the tool to share photo and video updates. It helped to keep everyone in sync and organized. That platform really streamlined the conversation regarding every aspect of the job. The bathroom came together exactly as we’d hoped. We’re thrilled with the new storage, including an inset bottle nook in the shower. And the rain showerhead combined with our building’s incredible water pressure makes for an immersive experience every morning.

Combining closets for a larger one

The expanded bedroom closet came next. The contractors removed the wall separating the two smaller closets in order to merge them; we kept the door on the bedroom side. I love being able to see things in the closet, thanks to the increased space, and the addition of wiring let us install good lighting. For the shelving, we took a hybrid approach, buying all of the parts separately. The white shelves are typical closet shelves, but the racks are meant for garage storage. We can finally find our clothes!

This closet hack would also mean addressing the hallway with trim and paint. On that side, the contractors closed the door opening and painted the wall, where we later created a gallery wall for art and photos. The previous door trim was missing chunks of wood (likely from people moving big objects in/out of rooms and banging into the door frame.) It had also been painted a million times and was generally an eyesore. We knew replacing the door and window trim would go a long way towards refreshing the space. The red light fixture provides a nice pop of color.

Their Sweeten contractors: the right renovation partners

This was a much larger project than we thought we’d be taking on this year, but it worked out beautifully. Our Sweeten contractors were transparent about billing, supplying us with perfectly itemized invoices. They were terrific problem solvers, with elegant design sense and ideas that enhanced our final results. We love our new apartment!

Thank you, Max and Kate, for sharing your bathroom and closet renovation with us!

Materials Guide

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Bond Tile “Palermo” gray ceramic floor tile; Elite Tile “Crown Heights” ceramic subway wall tile; DreamLine “Encore” shower door with ClearMax™ Technology; Latitude Run “Ranjeet” 3-tier display wall shelves; Wrought Studio Strobel surface-mount medicine cabinet: Walmart. Modern brass wall-mount shower set in matte black finish, #J020862-US-12IN-THSV-SB: Homary. Marina 24” Natural Oak Vanity: Eviva. Vega vanity light: Lightology. Toilet: Woodbridge.

CLOSET RESOURCES: Shelving: The Container Store. Rebrilliant “Kintzel” heavy-duty racks: Wayfair.

HALLWAY RESOURCES: Paint in White Opulence OC-69 in matte finish: Benjamin Moore. Light fixture: Light Stock Store.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.


Arboleda Apartments in La Puente, Calif., features 74 residences for seniors.

LA PUENTE, CALIF. — RAAM Construction has completed the construction of Arboleda Apartments, an affordable seniors housing development in La Puente, approximately 20 miles east of Los Angeles.

Development costs for the 74-unit, 71,499-square-foot property are estimated at $29 million. Of the total apartments, 38 are fully ADA-accessible units.

“The need for affordable housing has grown in recent years due to rising home prices and an overall housing shortage, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated that need immensely,” says Richard Lara, president and CEO of RAAM Construction.

RAAM worked closely with Meta Housing Corporation, a developer of affordable housing communities for families and seniors, along with AMJ Construction Management Inc. and Y&M Architects to deliver the new residences for qualified low-income seniors.

The apartments replace four detached family homes on the site.


Assembly Democrats ended budget negotiations last week, effectively canceling Governor Gavin’s proposed funding boost for high-speed rail, and also for active transportation and transit. Newsom had proposed that the legislature release $4.2 billion to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA.) The money would have come from the high-speed rail bond Proposition 1A, which voters approved in 2008.

While there’s no legal deadline to release the high-speed rail money, this year’s budget included a call for the legislature to either release the funds before October 10, or see the other transit and active transportation funding withdrawn. Essentially, that meant the deadline to decide was yesterday; bills have to be “in print” for 72 hours before they can be voted on, and they must be passed by this Friday, the last day of the legislative session.

Streetsblog has attributed a lot of blame for the failure to come to an agreement to Assembly Transportation Chair Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), but she hasn’t acted alone. Democratic leaders certainly had a hand in blocking these funds. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) has long sought to undermine CAHSRA. Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who cultivates a neutral stance on CAHSR, failed to stop the rail budget debacle. Friedman’s stance irks advocates – including this Streetsblog editor – because she has been a champion for walkable, bikeable places, so her failure to support California’s high-speed rail project feels like a betrayal of values she held in the past.

Friedman and Rendon frame themselves as supporting rail and the environment, but over the past couple of years they have offered shifting justifications for kneecapping California’s under-construction high-speed line. Below are, in their own words, some of Friedman’s and Rendon’s varying rationales for blocking CAHSRA funding. None of this will come as a surprise to readers following the issue closely, but this perhaps serves to dispel a few of the myths and falsehoods that obscure high-speed rail realities today.

Myth: There Won’t Be a One-Seat Ride

“I don’t see how you get people off the train and back onto the other train, with their baggage and strollers.” (Laura Friedman, December 2019 Transportation Committee meeting)

Federal rail safety rules prohibit us from using heavier diesel engines on the same track as lighter high-speed rail trains, even for towing. While we’re building dedicated tracks and infrastructure for high-speed rail, it’s imperative that we build a system that provides seamless connectivity for riders. That’s why we’re proposing delaying the electrification of the Merced to Bakersfield line…” (Laura Friedman, December 2019 email to Streetsblog)

In 2019, Friedman sought to transfer CA high-speed rail funds to Southern California rail projects, because, she asserted, there could be no one-seat ride between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. But CAHSRA can run blended one-seat service between these destinations. Friedman claimed that was impossible due to federal regulations, but she was citing regulations that are no longer in effect. There can be one-seat rides.

Myth: It’s Better to Spend HSR Money in Southern California

“Any project that doesn’t have a significant amount of service to the largest areas in the state doesn’t make much sense.” (Anthony Rendon, July 2019 L.A. Times)

“The speaker has been supportive of focusing high-speed rail funding in areas where it will meet the greatest need, including the Bay Area and Los Angeles.” (Rendon spokesperson, Mass Transit Magazine June 2021)

“Let’s start putting some of the money into the section of track that high-speed rail will use in the L.A. Basin.” (Laura Friedman, August 2021 Streets for All event – at minute 34:20)

For a couple years, Rendon and Friedman have pushed for diverting portions of voter-approved CAHSR bond money to upgrade commuter rail in Southern California. At first glance, this sounds like a good thing – improve Metrolink commuter rail, today! But the downside is that it would divert funding that CAHSRA tentatively planned to use for electrification in the Central Valley. And no electrification in the Central Valley would mean no true high-speed rail in California.

When Rendon and Friedman pushed for this in 2019, the CAHSRA commissioned a study that found greater air quality benefits from electrifying rail in the Central Valley compared to rail upgrades in Los Angeles.

But don’t take the agency’s word for it. The real proof of the disingenuousness of the Rendon push could be seen this week. When the governor had teed up billions of dollars for both high-speed rail and for transit improvements in L.A., Rendon and Friedman ended up tanking all of the money. To block high-speed rail money, Democrats rejected billions of dollars for L.A. Olympics transit improvements, for transit capital, and for active transportation. It sure appears that the push was never was to improve L.A. rail, but to block the money needed to finish the state’s first high-speed rail segment.

Myth: Hold Off on CAHSR Electrification Because Battery Trains Might Work Someday

“…there are potentially other technologies under development that may be of greater benefit… such as fuel cell and battery-electric trains. […] Therefore the electrification required in the Settlement Agreement [to restore CAHSRA federal funding that the Trump administration attempted to revoke] is problematic. We respectfully request the Settlement Agreement and applicable documentation be amended [to remove the electrification requirement.]” (June 2021 Anthony Rendon letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, co-signed by Friedman)

Rendon’s 2021 letter is an attempt to block proven electrification technology that powers high-speed trains all over the world. There’s a lot wrong in Rendon’s letter, but it’s sufficient to say that CAHSRA is building a system that will operate 220 mile-per-hour electric trains, and is scheduled to begin testing these trains in 2025. There is no technology available – nor on the horizon – that can substitute for what it’s building now.

Waiting for some kind of future gizmo makes no technical sense. It could make political sense as a way to block and delay the current project, without admitting to it.

This Week’s Myth: Zeroing HSR Funds in the Current Budget Doesn’t Delay Anything  

Friedman’s tweet yesterday

“They [CAHSRA] have more than enough $ to continue on for… another year to two years, & the administration will take up this issue again with us in four months. In what possible world could we be causing any kind of delay or expense??” (Laura Friedman, Twitter yesterday)

Now that Democrat legislators have blocked CAHSRA funding in this year’s budget, Friedman’s new assertion is that this is not a big deal. Her argument is that CAHSRA has a lot of money, and the lack of additional money won’t cause any delays or added expenses.

But in the CAHSRA’s July 2021 budget update, the agency stated that their business plan anticipated the remaining voter-approve Prop 1A funding being allocated to them in November 2021 and that this would be the agency’s primary revenue source for fiscal year 21-22. Further:

If Proposition 1A funds are not available in November, the Cap-and-Trade cash balance would be utilized; however with current revenue and expenditure estimates, the Cap-and-Trade cash balances would be exhausted in February or March 2022.

If the legislature does not approve the remaining Proposition 1A funds, staff will present a revised budget [which could include] possible slowdowns in contract work, deferral of new contract execution, the shut-down of worksites and other measures as necessary.

The latest no-Prop-1A budget certainly doesn’t kill California’s bullet train. What it does, at least for now, is delay contracts for things like electrification and rail cars. Rail car procurement delays mean pushing back the start of testing and operations. Delays almost always mean increasing costs. And if California recalls its fairly-pro-rail governor, things could get much, much worse.

The latest budget machinations don’t in and of themselves kill the project, or even spell the end for Central Valley electrification. Construction is well underway on more than 100 miles in the Central Valley. Proposition 1A funds are still waiting to be allocated to something, some day. CAHSRA’s Cap-and-Trade money is a little more than anticipated. Federal infrastructure money still appears likely. California’s U.S. senators are supporting the project.

But with high-speed rail “supporters” like Rendon and Friedman, the project doesn’t need any more enemies.

Updated 9/9 regarding Senator Toni Atkins’ role. A spokesperson for Atkins contacted Streetsblog noting that “Pro Tem Atkins has never opposed the release of funds for high speed rail and was not involved in efforts to halt the package.”


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