They dreamed of a bigger apartment. Little by little, it became a reality.

Complaining about cramped spaces is a common practice for most people who live in apartments. But sometimes you don’t have to move to find a little extra space.

That’s what Lauren and Michael Stein discovered.

In 2012, they paid $895,000 for a two-bedroom co-op apartment in Midtown Manhattan that a previous owner had already expanded, blowing out a wall between a small one-bedroom and a studio.

“They came together, but they didn’t really do well,” said Ms. Stein, 40, a sales director for a social media company, noted that the apartments had been attached without reconfiguring the floor plan. But after she and Mr. Stein, 44, a mortgage banker, made some cosmetic changes, the space was good enough for them.

That is, until they started having children. “Then it was your typical, ‘Oh, this space is tight,'” he said. “But we had made friends in the building and in the community, and we didn’t want to leave the building.”

Looking for a way to expand, the Steins asked the owners of the two neighboring apartments if they would be interested in selling them, but found no buyers. Then their real estate agent, Craig Roth of NextStopNY Real Estate, learned the couple’s studio was coming on the market.

The Steins reached a deal to buy it for $419,000 in 2016 and began working with 3F Living, an architecture and design firm that shares office space with NextStopNY, to combine it with their own apartment .

Adding a staircase between the units required cutting an opening in the concrete slab between the floors, so getting building approval wasn’t easy. “Co-ops are always difficult when it comes to combinations,” said Lindsay Joyce, who runs 3F Living with her husband, Tomasz Gil. But in this case, it was especially difficult, he noted, because the duplex would be “the first of its kind in the building.”

After almost a year of negotiations, the couple received permission to do the cutting and renovation of the combined space. Upstairs, in the old studio, they created a master suite with a walk-in closet and desk area in front of a glass wall that faced the staircase. Downstairs, they remodeled their old apartment to include a small living room and dining room, a new kitchen, and two bedrooms for their sons, Chase, now 8, and Parker, 6. Construction took about six months and cost approximately $940,000.

After returning there, the Steins were happy. But when the pandemic hit and one of their next-door neighbors decided to sell a one-bedroom unit, they knew it was an opportunity for something better. Now they could add more space, which would allow them to create a generous living room, a proper dining space and a games room.

They bought their neighbor’s apartment for $627,500 in October 2020 and got to work. But this time, they decided to do things a little differently.

Shortly before buying the apartment next door, the Steins had worked with Jennifer Hunter, an interior designer, to remodel their home in the Hamptons, and the interiors of that home were so attractive and reflective of their personalities that they began to find their apartment in the city lacking.

So for their second renewal, they asked Ms. Hunter to be part of the team. “I wanted it to be fun, bold and colorful,” said Ms. Stein said of the apartment. “I said, ‘Give it your all, Jen. Otherwise, the apartment will be a great space that will fall a little flat.

But Ms. Hunter was determined not to repeat the same decorative approach in the city. “It was different, because the Hamptons were very beachy and casual,” he said. The Steins are energetic people who love art and fashion, and their townhouse needed to reflect those things with bolder colors and patterns.

To understand the style preferences of her clients, Ms. Hunter often considers the clothes they wear. Ms. Stein favors colorful clothing from designers such as Diane von Furstenberg and Veronica Beard, Ms. Hunter said, but “I wasn’t seeing that reflected in his home. So that was my job: to add that personality.”

On this occasion, 3F Living tore down the walls they had erected in 2017 to make bedrooms for the children, creating a very open living room and dining area. The architects then demolished the wall to connect the new bedroom, building a children’s wing with two bedrooms, a playroom and a separate reading nook.

To equip the space, Ms. Hunter used colors and patterns as eye-catching as any Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. Just inside the front door, he chose a teal color for cabinets that resembled a fancy version of gym lockers. She wrapped the living room wall in Kelly Wearstler’s stunning Graffito wallpaper.

In the playroom, she coated the doors and trim with red-orange paint and added Flat Vernacular’s Too Much NYC Stuff wallpaper, filled with tiny images of New York icons. The reading nook has Pierre Frey’s Leo wallpaper, similar to Jackson Pollock’s paint splatters, and yellow Fatboy chairs.

Upstairs, in the master bedroom, he added Nuvolette wallpaper with Fornasetti clouds from Cole & Son, and at the top of the stairs, a custom purple neon sign from Name Glo that proclaimed, “Let the good times roll”.

After six months of construction, the 2,000-square-foot apartment was completed in October 2021, at a cost of around $600,000. Now everyone can be together or find their own space when they need it, Mrs. Stein said. When the family is having fun, the kids gravitate to the playroom, while the adults gather in the open kitchen.

But the payoff isn’t just having a bigger space, it’s how you feel at home.

“I love it every time I come in,” said Ms. Stein said. “The apartment is a reflection of me, my husband and the kids. We all have great personalities and lots of energy. A cookie-cutter apartment wouldn’t fit who we are.”

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