They dreamed of a bigger apartment. Little by little it came true.

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

That’s what Lauren and Michael Stein found out.

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

“They were combined, but not done really well,” said Frau. Stein, 40, a sales manager at a social media company, noted the apartments were connected without reconfiguring the floor plan. But after she and Mr. Stein, 44, a mortgage banker, made a few cosmetic changes, the place was good enough for her.

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

Looking for an opportunity to expand, the Steins asked the owners of the two neighboring apartments if they were interested in selling, but found no buyer. That’s when her realtor, Craig Roth, learned from NextStopNY Real Estate that the studio was about to hit the market.

The Steins agreed 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 units required cutting an opening in the concrete slab between floors, so obtaining building approval was not easy. “Cooperatives are always difficult when it comes to combinations,” said Lindsay Joyce, who runs 3F Living with her husband Tomasz Gil. But in this case, she noted, it was particularly challenging because the duplex would be “the first of its kind in the building.”

After nearly a year of negotiations, the couple received permission to do the incision and gut to renovate the combined space. Upstairs, in the old studio, they created a master suite with a dressing room and a desk area set against a glass wall overlooking the stairwell. Downstairs, they remodeled their old apartment to include a small living and dining room, new kitchen and two bedrooms for their children Chase, now 8, and Parker, 6. It took about six months to build and cost about $940,000.

After moving in, the Steins were happy. But when the pandemic struck and one of their neighbors decided to sell a one-bedroom unit, they knew this was an opportunity for something better. Now they could add more space which would allow them to create a lavish living room, proper dining area and playroom.

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 purchasing the apartment next door, the Steins had been working with Jennifer Hunter, an interior designer, to remodel their home in Hamptons, and the interiors of this home were so appealing and reflective of their personalities that they began to miss their city apartment.

So for their second renovation, they asked Ms. Hunter to be part of the team. “I wanted it to be fun, quirky, and colorful,” Ms. Stein said of the apartment. “I thought, ‘Make everything come alive, Jen. Otherwise, the apartment becomes a great space that just falls flat.’”

But Mrs. Hunter was determined not to repeat the same decorative approach across town. “It was different because the Hamptons were very beachy and casual,” she said. The Steins are energetic people who love art and fashion, and their urban home needed to reflect those things with bolder colors and patterns.

To understand her clients’ style preferences, Ms. Hunter often thinks about the clothes they wear. Woman. Stein favors colorful clothes from designers like Diane von Furstenberg and Veronica Beard, Ms. Hunter said, but “I haven’t seen that in her home. So that was my job: to add that personality.”

This time, 3F Living tore down the walls they erected in 2017 to create bedrooms for the kids and created a wide-open living room and dining area. Then the architects tore down the wall to connect the new one-bedroom and built a children’s wing with two bedrooms, a playroom and a separate reading area.

To furnish the space, Mrs. Hunter has used colors and patterns that are as striking as any Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. Just inside the front door, she chose a teal color for cabinets reminiscent of an upscale version of gym lockers. She wrapped a living room wall in Kelly Wearstler’s imposing graffito wallpaper.

In the playroom, she covered doors and moldings in orange-red paint and added Flat Vernacular’s Too Much NYC Stuff wallpaper, populated with tiny images of New York icons. The reading corner has leopard-print wallpaper by Pierre Frey, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s paint splatters, and yellow Fatboy beanbags.

Upstairs, in the master bedroom, she added a Nuvolette wallpaper with Fornasetti clouds by Cole & Son and at the top of the stairs, a custom purple neon sign by Name Glo that read, “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, Ms. Stein said. When the family is entertaining, the kids head to the playroom while the adults gather in the open kitchen.

But the reward isn’t just in having a bigger space — it’s how the home feels.

“I’m happy every time I walk in,” Ms. Stein said. “The apartment is a reflection of me, my husband and the children. We all have big personalities and lots of energy. A template apartment would not suit who we are.”

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