Here's how much it costs to gut-renovate a brownstone in NYC - By


Here's how much it costs to gut-renovate a brownstone in NYC

  • The average cost is $300 to $500 per square foot, or $960,000 to $1.6 million for a 3,200-square-foot brownstone
  • Upgrading mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems increases the cost to $600 to $800 per square foot

Embracing the task of renovating a New York City brownstone is a daunting but ultimately rewarding endeavor. One way to reduce the fear factor is to get a handle on how much it is going to cost you—and the potential issues unique to brownstones that can ramp those costs up. 

Working with a design-build firm can also help by contracting with one company from the initial design phase right on through the build stage, which can translate into greater transparency around costs as well as the projected timeline. But for you to realize those results, the firm should have specific experience in brownstone renovations, which are unlike other renovations.

The partners behind Mammoth—a full-service NYC-based architecture and design firm—have handled brownstone renovations of various scopes and budgets, from $20,000 to over $2 million. Through Mammoth Built, the firm's one-stop, design-build shop for renovation projects, they leverage state-of-the-art technology for planning, budgeting, design, and communication at each step—and specifically for an urban market. 

"Our systematized design processes allow for predictable project schedules while still resulting in beautiful and unique projects that are tailored to each individual client's needs," says founder and architectural designer Maryana Grinshpun.  

Keeping projects on track goes far in keeping costs in check. "Our construction team is involved in design meetings from the outset, allowing us to monitor budgets at all times," says Mammoth Built co-founder Jessica Maktal, who has a 20-year background as a designer and high-end general contractor. (The two women met in architecture school more than a decade ago). 

So if you are embarking on a renovation for your own brownstone––whether you've lived there for years or just closed on the deal—the following walks you through the potential costs. 

How brownstone challenges can impact project costs

Brownstone renovations present their own unique challenges that drive up labor and materials costs. First, there's the push and pull between honoring the architectural integrity of these residences—characterized by ornate, brown sandstone façades (hence their name) and grand stoops in the front and private yards in the back—and needing to accommodate the demands of modern-day living. This often plays out in relocating and enlarging the existing kitchen, or blowing out the back to create a stronger connection with nature. (See more on layout considerations and costs below.)

Because of their age, brownstone renovations tend to be impacted by things like outdated electrical systems and piecemeal shortcuts left by the previous owners. And if yours is in a historic district, any renovations will require additional approvals by the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC).

"As a homeowner, taking on this renovation challenge gives you the opportunity to both reimagine your living space and breathe new life into NYC history," Grinshpun says.


What to budget for according to the project scope

The average cost to gut renovate a NYC brownstone is roughly $300 to $500 per square foot. That translates to $960,000 to $1.6 million for a 3,200-square-foot brownstone.

However, oft-needed upgrades to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems will cause those numbers to increase. When gutting an older building, you can expect to pay closer to $600 to $800 per square foot. So that same brownstone could cost anywhere from $1.92 million to $2.56 million and up. 

Although there are many variables that go into the final tally, here is a general overview of project costs based on the scope and quality of finishes. For comparison, "light" renovations do not involve any layout changes or opening up walls; a mid-range project might include some demo work. 

  • Light renovations with big-box finishes: $175 to $275 per square foot
  • Mid-range renovation with medium-grade finishes: $300 to $600 per square foot
  • High-end renovation with some/all top-tier finishes: $600 per square foot and up.
Pro Tip:

At Mammoth, we know you want to live in a home that speaks to who you are. "We make designing and building bespoke home renovations simple for those looking for custom design and quality construction, under one roof," says Maryana Grinshpun, Mammoth's Founder. “Clients boast about the transparency and ease of working with us. As an independent, woman-owned, design-build company, we will be your partner in delivering a stunning home and streamlined service. You'll spend less time worrying about your renovation, and wake up in a home that inspires you". 
See what our clients are saying >>

Where to splurge and where to save 

When budgeting for a brownstone renovation, it is important to consider the preliminary splurge-or-save equation. The ideal strategy involves making strategic investments in statement finishes and materials that draw the eye while relying on more affordable, simpler materials for the base of the palette.  

Be mindful of your budget when evaluating whether it supports nuanced (but costly) layout changes, such as shifting the cabinetry/vanity and fixtures in an existing kitchen or bath (without knocking down walls), or whether it can sustain more extensive overhauls to the configuration of all of the floorplans. 

The quality of the finishes and materials will also depend on your budget—maybe you decide to splurge on the kitchen island and countertops while forgoing custom cabinets or high-end appliances (or vice versa—you could go with a more durable and affordable surface and spend big on all the rest).  

Upgrading systems, such as electrical and plumbing, is often a worthwhile investment. Other upgrades include standard modern conveniences like central AC, security systems, and audio/visual services. Besides improving the functionality and safety of your home, some of these improvements may be required to comply with modern building codes, in which case allocating funds for them will be a must.


What common layout changes can cost

In brownstone renovations, establishing an efficient floor plan is often a challenge because of their typical narrow footprint. The following are some layout considerations and associated costs that will often come up. 

Kitchen: Both the garden and parlor levels are well-suited for relocating the kitchen. Garden-level kitchens are ideal for homeowners looking to optimize their inside-outside connection, whereas parlor-level kitchens utilize the ceiling height to maximum effect. "When relocating a brownstone kitchen (whether from the parlor floor to the garden floor, or vice-versa), more extensive plumbing work may be required," Maktal says, adding that you should expect to spend an additional $100-$200 per square foot to cover the cost of opening walls and ceilings to run new water, waste, and vent lines and to close them back again.

Primary bathroom: Browntones lend themselves to various generous configurations for primary baths. This could include having a soaking tub, steam room, and dressing area, which could range (at the high end) from $1,200 to $2,000 per square foot, including custom millwork. Alternatively, a steam shower costs between $5,000-$10,000, and a good-quality, solid-surface soaking tub starts at around $4,000 and goes up from there. 

 Cellar: Code constraints generally prohibit the cellar from being used as a bedroom or having a full bath. Therefore, these spaces are most often finished as a gym, home office, or media/family room. Not including equipment, finished cellars in NYC brownstones start around $200 per square foot, according to Maktal.

Stairwell: Older brownstones that haven’t recently been renovated will often have a load-bearing wall hugging the stairwell. If your budget allows, removing this wall can create opportunities to maximize the footprint of communal areas such as the living and family rooms—or you can use that exposed space for additional storage with custom cabinetry for a seamless look. Maktal says this type of custom millwork under the stairs starts at around $2,000 per linear foot.

The stair location and geometry can also be manipulated to create spaces that are better suited for social interaction, such as by opening up the flow between the kitchen and living area. "When planning for structural changes and/or replacing staircases in brownstones, having a structural engineer on board is a must. Expect to pay $5,000-$15,000 in engineering fees for these types of projects," Maktal says.

Floor-by-floor configurations: Unless your brownstone sits on a corner, the only windows will be on the opposing street and garden façades, leaving dark swaths in the middle of each floor. One effective way to maximize natural daylight is to position all habitable spaces such as the kitchen, living spaces, and bedrooms on those façades while pushing the utilities—storage, mechanical, and plumbing systems—to the center of the building where light is limited. Expect to spend $10,000 and up per floor for projects that involve relocating plumbing services to a central core, Maktal says.

Windows: You may also be able to enlarge existing openings, at least on the rear façade (the only option in a historic district), to bring in more natural light. One of the more popular renovations is to replace the entire back wall on the garden and parlor level with casement windows and doors, letting light flood into the kitchen and living spaces. "On either level, a wall of glass is great for offering views of the garden. Depending on the existing exterior wall configuration, projects like this can run from $50,000 and up," Maktal says. 

Skylights: Another strategy for bringing light into the core of a brownstone is from above, either by using existing skylights above the stairwell or adding new ones, and then creating shafts that channel natural light into the upper levels of the building. Depending on whether you are simply replacing the skylight or enlarging the opening, it will run anywhere from $1,500 to over $20,000 for the skylight alone, plus another $10,000 (or so) for the crane to hoist it to the roof (exclusive of installation).

Outdoor spaces: Brownstones often have a combination of terrace, garden, and roof space available, which could accommodate a variety of activities such as gardening, dining, and entertaining. Even if you are only updating a garden-level yard, there are too many variables to project realistic costs. For example, creating a bluestone patio (at about $10/square foot) will be different than an all-wood deck (more like $30/square foot); it also depends on whether the materials can be delivered through the front door and out the back, or whether a crane would be required (at about $2,000). Site preparation is another factor—are you ripping out an existing patio or deck or starting from sod? There's also fencing, and so on. Suffice it to say you can design a backyard space for almost every budget, and working with an experienced firm can help you achieve your goals. 

The upshot

Investing in your brownstone renovation is a significant project that demands time, resources, and expert knowledge. "However, the end result—a beautifully restored piece of NYC history that is customized to your needs—is always well worth the investment," Grinshpun says. 

Mammoth is a woman-owned and -run design-build firm with a studio in Dumbo and extensive experience in the urban renovation market. We specialize in a thoughtful, efficient, streamlined design-build process with a design-first approach. Ready to renovate? Contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Full article:


Fernando Branco, GRI, ABR, CNE
Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI) 
Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR) 
Certified Negotiator Expert (CNE)
162 Huntington St, Ste 1R, Brooklyn, NY 11231
c: (212) 321-0115
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