Manhattan Townhouse Renovation: Ideas and Inspirations

Townhouse Renovation: Ideas and Inspiration - The Sussilleaux Team

The Unique Challenges of Renovating a Manhattan Townhouse

In our experience over the past 20 years plus as Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate brokers, we have sold many townhouses in need of renovation. It can be a big undertaking, and if you’re living in the home at the same time, it can cause inconvenience. But the rewards can be great.

Even if you don’t have to renovate for livability or townhouse configuration reasons, modifications and upgrades can be be great ideas – both for your decor and personal taste, and as a means to increase your property’s value.

Dina and I want you to benefit from our experience, so let’s dive into the subject of renovating a NYC townhouse!

Space constraints

In Manhattan, space is at a premium, and many townhouses are built with limited square footage. Maximizing every inch of usable space is essential for creating a functional and comfortable living environment.

Preserving historical features

Many Manhattan townhouses have historical elements that add character and charm. Preserving these features, while updating the property to meet modern living standards, can be a delicate balance.

PRO TIP: New York City in general is rich in history and a certain “New York City Style” that is known worldwide. While it may be tempting to completely redo a building in a modern style, it pays to resist the temptation and strive to maintain the history and charm of the original design. The vast majority of the buyer pool for townhouses is interested in classic NYC lifestyle, albeit with modern conveniences included in the package.

Navigating building codes and regulations

Manhattan has stringent building codes and regulations. Ensuring your renovation adheres to these requirements is crucial to avoid potential fines or delays.

Balancing modernization with original charm

A successful renovation should enhance the townhouse’s original charm while adding modern amenities and design features. Striking this balance can be challenging but is essential for maintaining the property’s appeal and value. ==

Planning Your Manhattan Townhouse Renovation

A successful renovation begins with thorough planning. Key aspects of the planning process include:

Setting goals and priorities

Identify your primary objectives for the renovation, such as increasing living space, updating outdated systems, or enhancing the property’s aesthetic appeal. Prioritize these goals to guide your decision-making throughout the project.

Establishing a budget

Determine how much you are willing to invest in the renovation and allocate funds accordingly. Be prepared for unexpected costs and consider setting aside a contingency fund.

Hiring the right professionals

Assemble a team of experienced professionals who can bring your vision to life. Key professionals include:


Architects can help you develop a comprehensive plan, ensuring the renovation meets your goals and adheres to local building codes and regulations.

Interior designers

Interior designers can assist with space planning, material selection, and design features, ensuring a cohesive and attractive final result.


Contractors oversee the construction process and ensure that the work is completed on time and within budget.

PRO TIP: Obtain references for all vendors, suppliers, and contractors, and be sure to check them out.

Obtaining necessary permits

Before beginning the renovation, secure any required permits from local authorities. This ensures that your project complies with building codes and regulations, preventing potential fines or delays.

Maximizing Space in Your Townhouse

Creating the illusion of spaciousness and effectively using available square footage are critical in a townhouse renovation. Consider the following strategies:

Open floor plans

Removing non-structural walls can create an open, airy feel that makes the space appear larger. This approach can also improve traffic flow and natural light throughout the home.

Case Study: An open floor plan that was “too” open!

We once visited a townhouse where the owner removed 50% of two of the floors, creating a 3 story atrium in the front half of the building. While the effect was dramatic, the owner literally obliterated over 1,000 square feet of usable floor space, and rendered the remaining spaces cramped and impractical. That home sat on the market for years, and eventually sold for a fraction of the original asking price.

Multi-functional spaces

Design spaces that serve multiple purposes, such as a combined living and dining area, to make the most of limited square footage.

Vertical storage solutions

Incorporate built-in shelving, cabinetry, and other vertical storage options to maximize storage without consuming valuable floor space.

Light and color to create the illusion of space

Utilize light colors, mirrors, and ample lighting to make rooms feel more expansive and welcoming.

Renovation Ideas for Each Floor of Your Manhattan Townhouse

New York City townhouses feature multiple floors, each with unique renovation opportunities. Consider these ideas for each level:

Basement renovations

Transform an unused basement into valuable living space with these ideas:

Home theater

Create a dedicated space for movie nights and entertaining with a state-of-the-art home theater.

Wine cellar

Design a climate-controlled wine cellar to store and display your wine collection.

Home gym

Build a private workout space equipped with your favorite exercise machines and equipment to stay fit without leaving home.

Guest suite

Convert your basement into a comfortable guest suite, complete with a bedroom, bathroom, and small living area.  Note that you must have a window for a room to be a legal bedroom

Children’s playroom

Basement spaces can easily be converted to fantastic playrooms for children.

Garden and Parlor level renovations

Enhance the functionality and appearance of your garden and parlor floors with these ideas:

Open-concept kitchen and dining area

Combine the kitchen and dining area to create a spacious, inviting space for cooking, dining, and entertaining.

Formal living room

Design an elegant formal living room to host guests and showcase your personal style.

Powder room

Add a conveniently located powder room for guests to use without venturing into your private living spaces.

Upper floor renovations

Maximize the potential of your upper floors with these renovation ideas:

Master suite

Transform your master bedroom into a luxurious retreat, complete with a spacious en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet.

Additional bedrooms

Update additional bedrooms to create cozy, comfortable spaces for family members or guests.

Home office

Carve out a dedicated workspace to accommodate remote work or a quiet place for reading and reflection.

Rooftop and outdoor spaces

Unlock the potential of your outdoor spaces with these renovation ideas:

Rooftop terrace

Create an urban oasis on your rooftop with comfortable seating, greenery, and stunning city views.

Landscaped garden

Design a small, manicured garden to provide a peaceful retreat from the bustling city.

Outdoor kitchen and dining area

Install an outdoor kitchen and dining area for al fresco entertaining during warm weather months.

Preserving Historical Features While Modernizing Your Townhouse

Manhattan townhouses often boast unique architectural elements that contribute to their charm. Consider these strategies for preserving historical features while incorporating modern updates:

Restoring original architectural details

Take care to restore and preserve original details, such as:

Woodwork and molding

Refinish original woodwork and molding to highlight their craftsmanship and beauty.


Restore antique fireplaces to their former glory, ensuring they remain a focal point in your living spaces.


Preserve and restore historic staircases, including banisters and railings, to maintain their character and charm.

Updating with modern amenities

Incorporate modern amenities that complement the townhouse’s historical elements, such as:

Smart home technology

Integrate smart home systems to control lighting, climate, and security for increased convenience and energy efficiency.

Energy-efficient systems

Upgrade heating, cooling, and electrical systems to improve energy efficiency and reduce utility costs.

High-end appliances

Install high-quality, modern appliances that enhance the functionality of your kitchen and laundry areas.

Sustainable Renovation Ideas for Manhattan Townhouses

Embrace eco-friendly renovation practices to create a more sustainable living environment. Consider these sustainable renovation ideas:

Energy-efficient upgrades

Incorporate energy-efficient features, such as:

Insulation and windows

Upgrade insulation and install energy-efficient windows to reduce heat loss and lower energy bills.  Note that if your building is landmarked, restrictions may apply on window choice. 

Heating and cooling systems

Invest in energy-efficient heating and cooling systems to minimize energy consumption and reduce your carbon footprint.

Solar panels

Install solar panels to generate renewable energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Eco-friendly materials

Choose environmentally friendly materials, such as:

Reclaimed wood

Incorporate reclaimed wood in flooring, cabinetry, or furniture for a sustainable and unique design element.

Recycled materials

Use recycled materials, such as countertops made from recycled glass, to minimize waste and create distinctive design features.

Low-VOC paint

Select low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint for your walls to improve indoor air quality and reduce environmental impact.


A Manhattan townhouse renovation offers numerous opportunities to create a beautiful, functional, and sustainable living space. By balancing modern upgrades with the preservation of historical features, maximizing available space, and incorporating sustainable practices, homeowners can create their ideal urban sanctuary. With careful planning and the assistance of experienced professionals, a Manhattan townhouse renovation can be a rewarding and transformative experience.

Having visited hundreds of townhouses, and advised many clients on renovation strategies, we are happy to chat with you if you have any further questions or an interest in renovating your own home. You can reach us HERE.

Further reading

You can return to The Complete Guide to Manhattan Townhouses, or go to the preceding article in the Selling Manhattan Townhouses section: The Importance of a Real Estate Agent When Selling Your Manhattan Townhouse , or move on to the next article in the Renovating and Maintaining your Townhouse section: Understanding Permits and Regulations for Manhattan Townhouse Renovations

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. How much does it cost to renovate a Manhattan townhouse?
  2. How long does a typical townhouse renovation take in Manhattan?
  3. Do I need a permit for renovating my Manhattan townhouse?
  4. What are some common mistakes to avoid during a townhouse renovation?
  5. What townhouse renovations add the most resale value to my property?

How much does it cost to renovate a Manhattan townhouse?

The cost of renovating a Manhattan townhouse varies depending on the scope of the project, the materials used, and labor costs. It is essential to establish a budget and work with professionals to create a detailed estimate based on your specific needs and priorities.

How long does a typical townhouse renovation take in Manhattan?

The duration of a townhouse renovation in Manhattan depends on the scope and complexity of the project. Smaller renovations may take a few weeks, while more extensive overhauls can last several months or even a year or more. Discuss timelines with your contractor and plan accordingly.

Do I need a permit for renovating my Manhattan townhouse?

Permits are often required for various aspects of a townhouse renovation in Manhattan, such as electrical or plumbing work, structural changes, and exterior alterations. Consult with your architect or contractor to determine which permits are necessary for your project.

What are some common mistakes to avoid during a townhouse renovation?

Common renovation mistakes include underestimating costs, not obtaining necessary permits, hiring inexperienced, or insufficiently insured, professionals, and failing to prioritize goals. Avoid these pitfalls by carefully planning your project, setting a realistic budget, assembling a qualified team, and clearly defining your priorities.

What townhouse renovations add the most resale value to my property?

Renovations that add the most resale value to a townhouse typically include updating kitchens and bathrooms, creating open floor plans, adding functional living spaces, and incorporating energy-efficient upgrades. Prioritize these improvements to enhance your property’s appeal and increase its market value.

Michael Sussilleaux

Michael Sussilleaux

Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker

M: 917.647.1464

Dina Sussilleaux

Dina Sussilleaux

Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker

M 917.324.6158