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Prewar Home Remodeling: The Picturesque Pros and Real-Life Cons

Prewar homes are gorgeous, but they can raise some home renovation challenges.


“Based on our experience, we try to let our clients know of this ahead of time so there aren’t any costly surprises down the road,” says Gallery Kitchen & Bath CEO Aaron. Here, he’s referring to the costs of swapping out a pre-war building’s risers, but the statement represents something larger about the way Gallery operates: transparently. It also says something about the challenges of renovating a pre-war apartment. Pre-war architecture, says Aaron, “typically can add cost and some time to the project.” Is it worth the renovation costs? Often, yes.

Characterized in part by stone and brick exteriors, high ceilings, plaster flourishes, and wood floors, New York City’s pre-war homes are pretty much always en vogue. Though built in the years between 1900 and 1940, they’re stocked with elements that appeal to every generation: expansive layouts, lots of natural light, the occasional fireplace. A fresh set of remodeling services can launch an already desirable apartment into next-level luxury. Here are a few things your pre-war remodel might require, and how they might affect your kitchen and bath remodeling experience.

A peel

In any home remodel, deeper renovations mean greater time and budget commitments. This goes double for pre-war apartments, especially since there may simply be more stuff that needs to come out. “We can uncover multiple layers of tile, asbestos, lead paint, and corroded plumbing, which would need to be completely overhauled,” says Aaron.

There are all sorts of reasons why those layers might be in there. Sometimes, decades of previous owners were simply trying to save their own time or money by building on what was already there. (A bathroom or kitchen renovation, after all, is a bit of a commitment.) Some old building owners have even peeled away wallpaper to reveal another pattern underneath. Removing these layers can swell demolition time lines. It’s worth it, though. For many reasons, but mainly for one big one:

A detox

Asbestos, lead paint, and corroded plumbing make a home unsafe. So do mold and other results of advanced age. Asbestos and lead paint, however, are the biggies: “If there is any asbestos or lead paint,” Aaron says, “it needs to be handled by a third party company, which is licensed to handle these hazardous materials properly and responsibly.” If you suspect you’ve got anything hazmat suit-worthy in your walls, you’ll want to get it out regardless of whether you’re embarking on a home design adventure.

A rise

And then those are those costly risers Aaron was talking about. He doesn’t mince words: “We have seen buildings ask to change out the risers, which can add quite a bit of cost to the project.” He adds, “It’s not always a requirement, but sometimes a building will insist this is completed as the walls are opened up.” This could be for design reasons, or for reasons of structural integrity. Or it could be for both; not every homeowner wants their building to accumulate dozens of tile layers. Regular maintenance will keep your kitchen and bath functional, safe, and stylish for decades.

Curious about the budget and timeline of your home renovation ideas? Schedule a consultation with the Gallery team today.