When Beverly O’Mara and Mark Uriu converted their loft in Jersey City, N.J., into a live-work space in 2015, they envisioned an airy, open apartment where Ms. O’Mara could have an art studio and Mr. Uriu could work from home on occasion.
They added elements that made sense at the time, installing shoji screens that provided privacy and light, but no sound barrier. And for a while, it worked beautifully.
Then Covid changed everything. Suddenly the couple found themselves working from home full time, trying to come up with makeshift solutions for a space that had already undergone a $250,000 renovation.
For millions of Americans, the pandemic ushered in an era of remodeling, as they used the time at home to remake kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces to accommodate a more domestic lifestyle. (Year-over-year spending on home remodeling grew by more than 9 percent from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2021, to $357 billion a year, according to the Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.) But what if you renovated before the pandemic — and spent a lot of money on it — and now you had to redo it to reflect a new reality?
Like many others, Ms. O’Mara, 66, and Mr. Uriu, 65, found themselves running headlong into the limits of a design imagined for a prepandemic lifestyle and wondering what modifications, if any, would make their home more functional.
“We’ve seen these interesting new demands put on our spaces, and they are absolutely a byproduct of the shifting lifestyle,” said Jeff Jordan, a Rutherford, N.J., architect who designed the couple’s renovation and is seeing a shift in how homeowners think about renovation.
For those considering remodeling now, Ms. O’Mara and Mr. Uriu’s project offers some useful lessons. The creative, cost-saving strategies they adopted early on, like choosing affordable building materials, are even more valuable now, as material and labor costs are high. But other decisions they made have proved problematic.
Here’s what hindsight born of a pandemic taught them about renovating.
Creating a Functional Live-Work Space
Ms. O’Mara and Mr. Uriu bought their 2,800-square-foot condo in 2012 for $837,000, moving from a Victorian in Montclair, N.J., where they had raised their children. The Jersey City loft, on a leafy street in the Hamilton Park neighborhood, was dark, as the only windows were along the southern wall. Interior walls closed off the back of the space, blocking natural light and making the kitchen, master bedroom and upstairs rooms feel dim and a little claustrophobic.
The apartment, with its dark wood floors, brassy fixtures and cherry cabinets, had a dismal “’90s New Jersey banker” aesthetic, Mr. Uriu said. But they could see its potential.
It was on the first floor of a 19th-century building that once housed Wells Fargo stagecoaches, and it had ceilings that were nearly 19 feet high, spanned …….