Also visit

If you want to cut your teeth in home renovations, take on a two-story, 19th-century Brooklyn brownstone as your very first project.

 That’s exactly what Barry Bordelon and Jordan Slocum did in 2018, chronicling their trials and tribulations on a blog aptly named The Brownstone Boys

Two years later, their home is brimming with high-end fixtures and original woodwork, but the pair also loves a creative DIY—they count handmade pendant lights, a faux marble fireplace, and a revamped vintage bathroom door among their many projects. Over the last two years, they’ve developed a keen sense of when to spend top-dollar and when to do it yourself—they’ve even made a full-time business out of it, consulting on over half a dozen renovations at any given time in the Brooklyn area. 

The room where you can save the most: the kitchen. Naturally, where the majority of your dollars go also means more opportunities for cutting costs. “Surprisingly, you can do a lot yourself,” says Bordelon. “Depending on the size, you can save up to $7000 with DIYs.” You just need to roll up your sleeves a little:


Save on Appliance Installation

Sure, the idea of moving your refrigerator, stove, or microwave on your own seems chaotic. But it’s as simple as removing the old appliances and plugging in new ones. “You can unhook your stove pretty easily, even if it’s gas,” says Bordelon. “And a new fridge just needs to be hooked up to the waterline, which is simple to figure out.” Some companies even offer complementary installation and removal of old appliances.  

However, if you’re moving your sink or range around, an expert hand is required. “A plumber may have to cut open the walls to run plumbing for a new sink or run a new gas line,” shares Bordelon. “That’s not something you want to mess with yourself.” 


Leave Countertop Fabrication to the Pros

Countertop fabrication and installation pretty much requires an expert hand, especially when working with marble, granite, or quartz. “You’re probably not going to cut stone yourself,” says Bordelon. “The pros use a digital laser to take extremely precise measurements, and the slab is cut to your exact specifications using a huge, machine-operated wet saw.” 

While this process alone costs $5,000 to $7,000 no matter how you slice it, you can save on the surface itself. “We love Carrara and Calacatta marble, but it can cost up to $20,000 and it stains so easily,” says Slocum. “We’ve been working with marble-effect quartz, which has the same look but is so much more durable and budget-friendly.” 


Reserve a Weekend to Assemble Cabinets Yourself  

“This is actually a really great DIY,” says Bordelon. While it certainly takes time, cabinetry assembly and installation is tedious, not technical. “IKEA cabinets and Semihandmade fronts make the entire process really streamlined, and the finished product always looks high-end,” adds Slocum. Doing this yourself can save you roughly $1,000 to $2,000. 


Upgrade Budget Cabinets 

Painting walls are one thing, but kitchen cabinetry is its own beast. “Unless you’re okay with a really DIY look, you should definitely get your cabinets professionally painted,” says Bordelon. An expert coat can cost you $2,000 to $3,500 dollars, but there’s really no way to achieve that smooth, flawless finish at home. “They prime, sand, and spray the cabinets many times over—the process can take an entire week.” 

The pair also recommends splurging on drawer pulls and knobs to give your kitchen a luxe look. “Go with lower-cost cabinetry and high-end hardware,” recommends Slocum. “This will make your kitchen look more expensive for a fraction of the cost.” They swear by Buster and Punch, where pieces range from $25 to $150 each. 

Carroll Gardens Parlor Finished

Learn How to Tile on YouTube 

It seems tedious, but tiling is a surprisingly easy DIY that can save you thousands. “If you’ve never done it before, you can probably figure it out from YouTube,” says Bordelon. “The grout also gives you some leeway and hides a lot of imperfections.” For the backsplash, they both prefer a classic (and inexpensive!) subway tile. “You can turn the tiles vertical and stack them if you’ve over the standard brick configuration,” adds Slocum. Tackling the backsplash tile and flooring yourself can save you roughly $2,500, not including the cost of materials. 


Don’t Put a Price on Good Lighting 

Upgrading the lighting gets a resounding “splurge” from the pair. “Lighting can really change your entire environment,” says Slocum. “It’s worth adding new sconces, pendant lights, or flush mounts in areas that really need a lift.” This entails hiring a licensed electrician, who will cut open the drywall, plan the wiring route, install the fixture, and repair the drywall afterward and can run you $800 to $1,000 but the layered ambiance it will create is worth it. 

To save money, you can always change existing fixtures yourself with the help of YouTube. “This is an easy way to give your space a facelift,” adds Bordelon. “Even renters can upgrade their light fixtures and simply reinstall the originals before move-out day.” 

Comments (2)

  • Makes me sick when so called renovaters go into a historic home and paint the beautiful woodwork!!!
    Strip it and re stain!!!!! If it needs it. Or just get some wood conditioners.
    You are never going to find that woodwork anywhere.
    Its just disgusting and so sad, to ruin history like that.

    • Alyssa Clough says:

      Hi Sheila – If you love designers who preserve history in older homes, you’ll actually love the Brownstone Boys!! They work so hard with so many local vendors and artists to preserve what the home has.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


We don’t believe that renovations should be daunting. The key is to arm yourself with the right knowledge, people, and products to achieve your goals. It also helps to ask the right questions: How much does it cost to renovate a kitchen? How do I find the right general contractor in my area? Where do I even start if I’ve never remodeled before? This is where we come in. Through hard-to-believe before and afters, first-person renovation accounts, and step-by-step DIY projects, we demystify every aspect of remodeling and give you a ton of full-house, bathroom, and kitchen renovation ideas. Semihandmade was built on a strong make-it-yourself spirit and we’re carrying that legacy beyond DIY kitchen cabinets (though we’ll certainly touch on those too) by bringing you a ton of weekend projects for novices (have you ever tried making your own planter?) and experts (try your hand at a full-wall media center). What do people really mean when they say a house has “good bones”? Before and after projects show first-hand what’s possible in a transformative remodel. How do you make the most of a narrow galley? Should you swap your upper cabinets for floating shelves? What would it look like if you opened up your small kitchen? Renovation ideas abound in our spotlighted projects. A lot goes into a kitchen renovation, but it’s usually hard to tell from a beautiful “after” shot. Our monthly series “Island Hopping” is about getting a behind-the-scenes account of what the process is like through honest conversations—you know, the kind that typically take place around a kitchen island. We’ll chat with designers, homeowners, and architects about their projects, hoping to peel back the curtain on picture-perfect spaces.