F5: Anna Karp Shares 5 Things To Know Before Renovating

03.03.23 | By
F5: Anna Karp Shares 5 Things To Know Before Renovating

Anna Karp is CEO and co-founder of Bolster, a New York City-based firm offering in-house design, architecture, and build services. As a licensed General Contractor, she oversees the design and construction of all projects, and has completed 100+ renovations throughout New York City and in Mexico, where she’s originally from.

Anna is a trailblazer carving her own path in the traditionally male-dominated general contracting and home renovation sector. Under her leadership, Bolster has been called a “significant innovation for the renovation industry,” and uses proprietary technology and a data-driven approach to deliver beautiful, risk-free gut renovations. The team has renovated more than 50,000 square feet in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, while navigating compliance, landmarks, and the DOB to ensure projects are delivered to in-house quality standards. Bolster’s umbrella of services includes Design-Build, Build-Only, and the efficiency-conscious Agile x Bolster offering.

light brown skinned woman with dark hair wearing a short-sleeve button up chambray shirt and smiling with her hands clasped

To ensure control quality, Anna has created a vertically integrated team of project managers, builders, carpenters, painters, and executives. As both a minority and female CEO, she has always prioritized creating a diverse and inclusive culture at Bolster, providing opportunities for females and minorities who are often overlooked in the construction industry.

Anna is also an active member in female-forward organizations, including Chief. She has served as a guest speaker and panelist at industry events and webinars where she advocates for women and gender balance in the construction industry. Additionally, Anna co-founded Chefs on a Plane, an invite-only network of New York’s Top Chefs & Mixologists who travel to Puebla for a seasonal, behind-the-scenes experience of Mexico’s culinary culture. She is also one of the hosts of “Hidden Gems”, a show for Architectural Digest.

Today, Anna Karp is joining us for Friday Five and sharing five things people should know before beginning a renovation.

living space with dining table and chairs and kitchen island

1. Renovating is fun – if you’re not faint of heart

Interior design awareness and the ‘renovation bug’ have had a boost during recent years and post-pandemic. Certain generations are spending more and more time ogling beautiful interiors and dreaming of ways to make their homes nicer, better, bigger, and more attractive for resale.

Renovators can be divided into two categories: those who buy to renovate, and those who already live in a property to be renovated. The latter have an advantage because they can comfortably plan their renovation and take months doing so, while the former are always against the clock. Renovating is a big commitment. If you are a homeowner who is buying with the intention to renovate, and you have the option to choose a property in mint condition and the inclination to do so, listen to your gut!

It’s an enormous undertaking, no matter how good your team is. It takes time, financial investment, and can be an emotional rollercoaster. On the other hand, if you absolutely want your vision to come true, then a renovation is in place. Brace yourself: it will be fun, however, remember that it’s a marathon – not a sprint, and start training your design and decision-making muscles!

modern white kitchen

2. Organize your renovation with care + diligence

If you’re anything like me, you probably like having your personal affairs organized and in tip-top shape – and a renovation is no different. Use the same diligence in choosing your design and build a team as you would select your personal accountant. You’ll want to check references and look for specificity in both project management and the quality of results. Having great design and a great architectural team should be a baseline – not the goal. Your mission is to fully understand that your team will be capable and available to solve any curveballs along the way.

During the pandemic, I chose to uphold Bolster’s Fixed Price guarantee for our pandemic-era projects. This was a very tough financial decision, however, we stood by our values in a time of major uncertainty. When vetting a design-build firm, you are not only vetting for technical knowledge, aesthetics, or what your neighbors’ or other reference’s achieved – you are testing to understand if the team leading your project is also logical and whether they understand the full meaning of accountability.

three people working on house framing

3. Once you ‘break ground,’ you’ve tied the knot with your design-build team

If you chose a design team and things are not going the way you planned, don’t despair. The good news is that you’re still dating. While swiping left may result in some sunk cost for your family, it’s essential to understand that you’re still in the pen to paper phase. No matter how much has been invested in the design and architectural phase, homeowners are not really in hook, line, and sinker until a permit is pulled and the general contractor ‘breaks ground.’

Once this has happened, you are married to your team, and the best way forward is always, undoubtedly ‘forward.’ So, if your gut says ‘no,’ it’s okay to pivot and find a new design team. Bottom line: it’s your home. Even if you feel out of depth in technical construction and design matters, you are still the client and the arrangement needs to feel right every step of the way. Granted, mistakes happen and challenging situations will arise, but always stay alert to see how matters are resolved. If you’re a priority, then chances are you’re in good hands.

unfurnished white and natural wood loft space

4. The project is for you – so plan for your lifestyle

My team is often asked if things like adding a bathroom, having an open floor plan, having an island, or removing a tub – just to name a few – are good for resale value. While these are all fair questions when undertaking a renovation, I always urge homeowners to design for themselves and plan for their own lifestyle. Once the property is sold, chances are the new homeowners will want their own style and will plan for their own needs – they may be empty nesters or they may have eight children. It’s impossible to plan for the unknown. However, if an aspect of your renovation is consuming you, the best point-of-contact for this question would be a local broker.

styled powder room with floating white vanity and floral wallpaper

5. Be bold with design + be practical with choices

Great design can be achieved with very little or with a lot of aplomb. I urge homeowners to ask their design team to give them their wildest ideas. This can range from understanding what the most expensive free-standing claw foot tub is on the market to providing an outlandish design for the layout of the home. While you may not end up choosing the wildest options, the creative juices of the team will start flowing, and chances are you may learn something new.

That being said, great design can also be affordable and should be practical. So while you may be dying to have your marble’s veins meet each other at a junction in your waterfall island, you may not want to buy an entire lot – just a couple of slabs that contrast or match each other. While the tub of your dreams may be amazing, you don’t want to have to reinforce your floors because it’s terribly heavy. Finally, my favorite. While the tile industry has changed and evolved a lot in recent years, be sure that the tiles you choose are proven to be fit for purpose, and make sure you understand the alternatives. Great looks can be achieved with large format slabs, while some trendy cement tiles with geometric designs stain easily and are hard to maintain.


Work by Bolster:

modern kitchen with natural wood and white cabinetry and a blue island

Astoria All-Electric House \ The primary goal of Bolster’s Astoria homeowners was to transform this 36th Street home from a multi-family dwelling to a single family home and fully replace gas with electrical. In doing so, they needed to remove the kitchen from the second floor of the original home which involved extensive layout changes. The homeowners wanted to create a more spacious and comfortable home that included an updated mudroom and terrace. Bolster also added new flooring, doors, windows, and millwork throughout, as well as new appliances.

living space with old architectural details and modern furniture

Park Slope Brownstone Restoration \ The homeowners wanted to retain many of the home’s original details from 1903, including pier mirrors and stained glass windows, while making modern updates during the gut renovation of their 3,600 sq. ft., six bed, three-and-a-half bath landmarked brownstone. The young family prioritized layout changes to better suit their lifestyle; significant and necessary infrastructure updates (including electrical and plumbing); and other upgrades such as new floors and windows, a modern kitchen and dining room, and fresh paint throughout the home.

modern bathroom wallpapered in a whale pattern

Tribeca Townhouse \ The homeowners of this Harrison Street townhouse wanted to update their space to better suit the needs of their young family. The primary objectives were to update the layout of the home – specifically, the bathrooms, kitchen, and bedroom – while respecting the historical language of this unique townhouse.

interior space with winding staircase

Harlem Passive House \ The homeowners wanted to update the layout of their brownstone, which was originally organized as an owner’s duplex on the bottom and two separate units on top, as well as incorporate Passive House elements. This unique Harlem brownstone, which is only 14-ft-wide, required a new steel staircase and a gut renovation of the entire home, including a ground-level rental unit with backyard access. The renovated home features an owner’s triplex from the parlor level up, with a garden apartment rental.

Photography by Duplex Imaging, courtesy of Bolster.

Kelly Beall is Director of Branded Content at Design Milk. The Pittsburgh-based writer and designer has had a deep love of art and design for as long as she can remember, from Fashion Plates to MoMA and far beyond. When not searching out the visual arts, she's likely sharing her favorite finds with others. Kelly can also be found tracking down new music, teaching herself to play the ukulele, or on the couch with her three pets – Bebe, Rainey, and Remy. Find her @designcrush on social.