Owner/Operator, Element Design Group


If you’re considering renovating your space in New York it helps to know that before the “before” pictures and right through your project, there are many moving parts that need to be coordinated behind the scenes to keep the operation moving.

Juggling design, permits, and insurance – details ranging from pre-demolition to final decoration – takes extraordinary attention to detail, diligent execution, and no small amount of first-hand experience for the project to go smoothly.

“New York spaces often have unusual design constraints.”


Challenge 1: Designing Realistically

When imagining your perfect space, be open to working with unexpected constraints. Especially if you have a vision in mind but no background in architecture or construction.

Certain elements of your building will limit what work can be done where, such as the location of gas lines and plumbing (not to mention City or building regulations).

If you’re looking to add a new bathroom to your co-op or condo, for instance, you probably won’t be able to install it directly above your downstairs neighbor’s living room — many buildings have restrictions about creating “wet over dry” spaces.

In the cases where it is possible, it’s best to have an advocate who knows the requirements the co-op/condo boards will be looking for. Going into the renovation process with a good understanding of realistic expectations will save you a lot of time and stress.

Challenge 2: Satisfying the Condo- or Co-op Board

The good news is, if you’re in a co-op or condo you’ve probably been through your building’s approval process once before when buying the place; you’ll expect red tape. The bad news is just that: expect red tape.

Co-op and condo boards often require extensive documentation from many different parties, including the City, insurance companies, architects, engineers, and contractors before they will grant approval for your project.

Patience and perseverance are key during this phase, because earning approval from even the most efficient and permissive building boards can require months worth of paperwork and deliberation.


Accessible design requirements
Updated spaces must comply with ADA requirements. This often affects the size of new doorways and the layout/size required for bathrooms.

Surprises uncovered after demolition
You never know exactly what you’ll find behind the walls of an old building.

Building management may limit certain types of work
While you may be able to fit another bathroom or add a washer/dryer, your building may not allow it.

“When it comes to renovating, especially in NYC–expect the unexpected and you’ll always be prepared!”


Challenge 3: Planning Your Budget

Just as every building board is different, so are the expenses you’ll incur during the approval process and project execution. Even if you’ve renovated before, there is a very good chance that City regulations or building board requirements might have changed, or that particular details of your project could become unexpected hurdles. Thousands of dollars in unexpected fees can often emerge just by decree of a demanding board member.

A similar consideration goes for working in a brownstone or a townhouse. Your full ownership of the property will save you from a fair amount of headaches but you’re still beholden to City ordinances that may feel arbitrary, and often you’ll experience even deeper scrutiny from the Landmarks Preservation Commission depending on your neighborhood.

When making your initial budgets and forecasts be kind to yourself by building in a contingency on top of all estimates and pad your construction schedule. It’s wise to plan for the unexpected and be pleasantly surprised when things go right.

With years of experience in the NY Metro area, we at Element Design Group understand the needs and demands of the City customer.  Working closely with clients to effectively and efficiently manage each project, our approach is to simplify the renovations process from start to finish. We handle any kind of remodeling, from a basic kitchen and/or bathroom redo, to a complete apartment renovation, or even combining apartments. We can be creatively accommodating to those “on a tight budget” or successfully collaborative when it comes to the very high-end demands of working with interior decorators.

For more about us and the work we do, please visit our website at or feel free to reach out with any specific questions by phone at 212-537-6173 or by email at