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'Real Housewives of New York City's' Bethenny Frankel reveals how much her first apartment cost

Bethenny Frankel: How to make home decor look expensive on a budget

Reality star and entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel's real estate resume is pretty impressive: She's transformed a stunning $6.95 million Tribeca condo, renovated a swanky $4.2 million Soho space and has two huge summer homes in the Hamptons.

But she hasn't always lived in such decadent digs. In fact, Frankel's first apartment was a small studio with zero style.

"My first apartment was on 28th and Park in Manhattan and it was a studio apartment, so everything was in one room," Frankel tells CNBC Make It, adding that at the time, she was going to New York University.

A studio apartment in the same building where Bethenny Frankel had her first apartment decades ago.
Photo courtesy of Douglas Elliman
A studio apartment in the same building where Bethenny Frankel had her first apartment decades ago.

"It was $1,200 a month, which is criminal because that was like 26 years ago," says the star, who's now flipping multimillion-dollar homes with "Million Dollar Listing New York's" Fredrik Eklund on their new Bravo show, "Bethenny & Fredrik."

Bethenny Frankel in her college days
Courtesy of Bethenny Frankel
Bethenny Frankel in her college days

The unit Frankel lived in is in the Ascot on lower Park Avenue, near a bustling subway station. A penthouse studio apartment unit in the Ascot is currently listed at $550,000.

The kitchen of a studio apartment in the Ascot in New York City.
Photo courtesy of Douglas Elliman
The kitchen of a studio apartment in the Ascot in New York City.

Flash forward several years and by 2008, the year Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New York City" debuted, Frankel was living in a slightly bigger place. Still, while her co-stars owned sprawling, urban apartments, Frankel had a small rental on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

"I could barely pay my rent," before she started filming, Frankel told Newsday in 2009.

When the show aired, Frankel was working as a natural food chef, cooking for celebrities. The first episode features Frankel in her cramped apartment kitchen.

Though Frankel made only $7,250 for the first season of RHONY (which included seven episodes and a reunion), she already had big dreams.

"I want to live downtown in a loft," she said in the episode, "instead of living uptown in a fancy apartment. It's not me, I'm more of a downtown girl."

Frankel and Jill Zarin on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New York City"
Getty Images | Bravo
Frankel and Jill Zarin on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New York City"

And while her "Housewives" cast-mates boasted spacious Hamptons beach houses, Frankel spent the summer in a guest room at co-star Jill Zarin's Hamptons home there.

But as Frankel's star took off, she landed bigger paydays and several Bravo spinoff shows. She also found success as the founder and CEO of Skinnygirl, and sold Skinnygirl Cocktails, a line of diet cocktail mixers, in March 2011 for a reported $100 million. She's also penned several books, and snagged a spot as a guest investor on season 9 of ABC's "Shark Tank."

With that increased financial success came more square footage.

In 2011, when married to her then-husband Jason Hoppy, she reportedly paid $4.995 million for a four-bedroom Tribeca condo that was roughly 3,330 square feet. Frankel spent around $500,000 on renovations and furnishings, which included staining the floors, converting the den into an office for her staff and converting a bedroom into a closet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Bethenny Frankel's Tribeca condo
From listing on Trulia
Bethenny Frankel's Tribeca condo

In 2016, the space, which is sprawling by New York City standards, sold in just one day for its full asking price of $6.95 million.

After divorcing Hoppy and selling her Tribeca condo, in 2014 Frankel moved to a two-bedroom apartment with roughly 2,400 square feet in Soho. She paid a reported $4.2 million.

Bethenny Frankel's Soho apartment
Photo courtesy of Douglas Elliman
Bethenny Frankel's Soho apartment

Frankel spent $400,000 on renovations for the loft, which included swapping an all-brown kitchen for one with white lacquer cabinets and marble countertops, expanding a closet and building a marble bar in the living room, the Wall Street Journal reports. After attempting to sell the space for $5.25 million, in December, the reality star listed it as a rental for $13,500 a month.

Bethenny Frankel's apartment in Soho
Photo courtesy of Douglas Elliman
Bethenny Frankel's apartment in Soho

"A welcoming entry foyer leads to a bright and spacious sunken great room with soaring 14 foot ceiling heights, enormous east facing double paned arched windows and a wood burning fireplace," states the listing, which currently says it's rented out.

Bethenny Frankel's apartment in Soho
Photo courtesy of Douglas Elliman
Bethenny Frankel's apartment in Soho

Also in Frankel's real estate portfolio are two homes in the Hamptons, including one she purchased in December for $2.5 million, which she says she plans to use as an "investment property." The house features a gym, private pool and wraparound porch.

From listing on Trulia

Still, despite being able to afford such spacious digs, Frankel says that one mistake she has made was actually purchasing an apartment that was too large.

"I bought an apartment that was huge, and it ended up feeling vacuous," Frankel tells CNBC Make It.

"Big is great, but the space has to be used really well, or you don't feel like it's cozy. I would rather be in a small, jewel-box apartment than a big apartment that isn't used properly where you feel like you're just in the middle of a football field."

Don't miss:

Bethenny Frankel reveals how much money she made her first season of 'Housewives'

Bethenny Frankel: How to make home decor look expensive—on a budget

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Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns Bravo, and CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to "Shark Tank."