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My Lowe’s Spring Makeover: Alex and Apryl’s Backyard!

Remember a few months ago when I partnered up with Lowe’s to do a spring makeover for a reader? WELL! IT IS DONE! Wanna see?

before2

OK, this is clearly a before photo. I never make it that easy. C’mon.

This is the backyard of a rowhouse in Washington, D.C., and clearly it needed some love. This sweet young couple of first-time homeowners named Alex and Apryl bought this house roughly a year ago. They knew it needed major renovation, but thought that would take a few months and they’d be sitting pretty in their new digs by last fall, hosting Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen (sound familiar??), but after months of hard work, they’re finally reaching the finish line of overhauling the entire house! Except for one big piece of it—the backyard! Unless you count using it as a dumpster during renovation, in which case it had performed admirably. But they had bigger dreams for it. I can relate to those dreams because they are also my dreams.

Like many attached urban houses, this one has a really little backyard. I mean really little. The whole thing is only about 20 x 20 feet, but there’s a set of stairs right in the middle going to the first floor and another one down to the basement, eating up over 20% of that space! So we’re left with about 315 square feet to play with, which I think is roughly the size of most outdoor sectionals.

before1

before3

They included a few photos of the space on their application (can anyone say dreamyyyy?), as well a short list of what they wanted the space to achieve, which included:

  1. New fence.
  2. Patio pavers.
  3. An outdoor grilling/kitchen set-up with bar seating.
  4. Plenty of green space to plant.
  5. Entertaining space with comfy lounge seating, possibly set up to double as an outdoor movie theater.
  6. A fire pit hang-out zone.

All in 315 square feet. There was also mention of a soaking tub but I’m choosing to believe that was a joke. Then they showed me some inspiration images they had gathered of these GORGEOUS backyards and I got real intimidated, real fast.

Aside from the construction debris situation, I worried about the lack of barrier between the backyard and the stairs down to the basement. There ought to be some kind of railing or knee wall there to protect you from tumbling down. So I added that to the list of stuff to address.

It took me a week or two to sketch and think and hem and haw and figure out how to lay things out in these cramped quarters. With a space this size, there’s really no room to just wing it or figure it out when you get there, ya know? So here is what I came up with:

LOWE'S-DESIGN-PLAN-1

Once again, my Sketchup abilities pretty much cap out at “nearly sufficient,” but hey! There are shapes. Shapes help, I think.

Let’s go clockwise: A few evergreen trees in that skinny place next to the stairs to screen off the neighbor’s enclosed porch which is basically RIGHT there. Raised planting beds wrapping part of the side and part of the back of the yard. An outdoor sofa floated a little out from the raised beds, with a fire pit, maybe a side table, maybe a lounge chair to complete the hang-out zone. Then there’s a bar on the right side fence, with a shallow raised planting bed next to it for veggies and herbs, and right across from that there’s a grill with some prep space on both sides that sits in front of a knee wall to protect from the whole basement stair hazard situation.

Also there is a new fence and new pavers with spaces between them for either sod or a ground cover to fill in between, which I always think looks nice. Alex and Apryl knew they wanted pavers and it’s common in their area to just cover the whole outdoor space with them, but I think the gaps will make it feel so much warmer and nicer to hang out in.

Save for a couple small requests that I’ve already forgotten, Alex and Apryl were totally on board with the plan which automatically made them my favorite clients of all time. Then they claimed to be relatively handy and well-stocked in the tool department and I did some brief research on the polygamy laws in D.C., because break me off a piece of that. 

So anyway, Alex hauled the garbage to the dump and I packed up the car and drove to D.C. and it was MAKEOVER TIME.

AlexandApryl

First of all, nobody told me these people were also totally adorable. They wisely did not include a photo on their application because I would have passed immediately on the basis of not wanting to feel like a troll for an entire weekend. Clever move.

Gorgeousness aside, they could NOT have been more helpful! Day 1 was just me, the homeowners, and my friend John who generously volunteered to tag along, and Day 2 was just me and John! IT WAS ALL REALLY INTENSE.

aprylstaining

Alex and Apryl were TOTAL champs, from helping me wade through a longggg supply list at Lowe’s, to helping haul everything back to their house, to unloading and cutting and staining and assembling…it was non-stop action and there was NO WAY we would have gotten it all done without them.

Apryl, by the way? BEAST. You can kind of see a big pile of super heavy leftover concrete pavers behind her, which she moved out to the alley without so much as a water break, like it was nothing. Damn.

process1

The raised planting beds are simple 1×6 pressure-treated lumber that we stained with my old standby, Cabot’s Solid-Color Acrylic Siding Stain in black. I can’t say enough about how great this stuff is! Totally matte, solid, easy to work with, often fine with one coat, dries quickly, seems to work fine on pressure-treated lumber that hasn’t really had time to dry out…A+. It used to be kind of hard to find, but Lowe’s carries it now! We used 4×4 pressure-treated posts in the corners, with a few in between to keep them from bowing out and losing their shape once filled. The boards are attached to the posts with shanked siding and trim nails. I’m in the process of completing similar raised beds for my own backyard, so I’ll post a more detailed step-by-step then!

barbuilding

While I set the homeowners on staining wood, I worked on assembling the bar seating! I couldn’t find a stock option that worked for the space, so building it seemed like a good plan. I used 4×4 pressure-treated posts for the legs (it’s upside-down in this photo) and wrapped the whole thing in cedar planks, also using trim and siding nails.

By the way, to compensate for the lack of volunteers on the actual makeover weekend, Lowe’s very kindly helped coordinate having contractors come in prior to my arrival to install the fence and pavers. The pavers are set on a base of crushed stone and paver sand, which all has to be hauled in, leveled, and compacted, so just having it DONE was a HUGE help. The plan called for these 2’x2′ concrete patio stones, but those weren’t available in the D.C. store so we used 16″x16″ stones instead. Fine by me!

The fence is constructed of 4×4 pressure-treated posts with horizontal cedar boards attached, and I love how it came out! The cedar decreases in size as you move from the bottom to the top, and we left it untreated to allow it to fade to a silvery-grey in the next few years. If Alex and Apryl decide they don’t want that, they can always seal it to maintain its natural tone longer, but personally I like the faded look.

As the sun was setting on Day 1, we all went back to Lowe’s and bought plants! I was a little nervous about this part because we were just totally at the mercy of what the Lowe’s nursery would have in stock, but luckily we weren’t short on options. I’m glad the homeowners got to be involved in this part because I know they like what we planted. We did our best to choose plants that ranged in size and were appropriate for the different light conditions in the yard, and I can happily report that apparently everything is still alive and thriving! YAY!

BanisterProcess

We didn’t really do anything to the house itself aside from replace the light fixture next to the door, but I couldn’t just leave this sad iron railing alone, could I? It was covered in chipping paint, which John did an AMAZING job of removing with a wire-brush attachment to my drill. It’s best to use a corded drill for this kind of thing, since a battery-powered one will die pretty quickly. We masked everything off with plastic and hit it with a few coats of glossy black Rustoleum spray paint, and it looks sooooo goooood.

process2

Day 2 with just John and me was mildly insane! I think that poor guy made 3 different trips to Lowe’s to get enough bags of soil to fill those big raised beds, and mulch to top them off…I think 160 bags in all, which works out to about 6,400 POUNDS OF SOIL. WHICH WE MOVED. BAG BY BAG. From the shelves of Lowe’s, into the trunk of my car, from the trunk of my car across a sidewalk, up a set of stairs into the house, across the living room and dining room and kitchen, down a set of stairs and into the yard. FUN. TIMES. Anyway, we used a mix of topsoil and garden soil to fill the beds, so those plants should be mighty happy for years to come. We then used a nice thick layer of black mulch (of course we did!) to top everything off.

Then Alex and Apryl got home and they were all:

alexandaprylreveal

Because their backyard used to look like this:

before1

And now it looks like this:

aerialafter

Not bad for a couple days of super intense work, am I right??

after1

Let’s take a walk around, shall we?

before2

after2

The real star of the show here is that fire pit, which Alex and Apryl made a while ago from a washing machine drum they found at the dump! People after my own heart, let me tell you. I don’t think they’d ever actually gotten to USE the thing, so being able to light that inaugural fire was an honor.

Also, I love fire. Some people call it a problem. I don’t.

yellowchair

How cute is that sunny lemon yellow adirondack chair? SEE?! I LIKE COLOR. I kind of want a couple for myself, but don’t tell anyone or I’ll ruin my rep.

beds1

bed2

I’m so thrilled with how the raised beds came out! I tried to plant things so that there was a nice mix of textures, colors, and height, but leaving enough room for things to fill in over time. It’s oddly hard to lay out raised beds! These are only two feet deep, so you can do some layering but not a ton. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the names of everything we planted, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that my readers are kinda brilliant so if you have specific questions on plantings, shout them out in the comments and hopefully someone smarter than me can come to your rescue.

ajuga

We filled in between the pavers with the same topsoil/garden soil mix and planted ajuga all over the place between the stones. Ajuga should do well in their low light conditions, and it’s hearty enough to take kind of a beating with foot traffic. I want updated photos in a couple years when things really fill in!

pillows

The sectional and pillows are all from Lowe’s! Look at those trendy-ass pillows! So cute. Lowe’s carries such a nice selection of pillows that are super easy to mix and match, and the quality seems great. I used these and these and these. The sofa is this one!

bar2

The bar seating worked out! I don’t have a lot of experience building furniture, but it’s solid and pretty and I like it! The top is nominal 1×2 cedar with about 1/4″ space in between (I used my iPhone as a spacer because I’m a pro, haha), so rainwater should be able to easily drain through.

It was pretty dark by the time we were ready for the full reveal, so I came back the next day to take more after pictures. Because I am Blogger and I couldn’t help myself, they are staged somewhat like a fake party. Forgive me.

bar

The bar seating area got rounded out with these simple stools, which look like wood but are really plastic! The quality is great. The bar area comfortably seats three, and the stools can easily be stowed underneath if they ever have a bash where they just want to just use the table as a bar space. I love how many people you can comfortably fit in this yard now!

grillarea

One of the areas I’m MOST proud of is the grill area! I built a knee wall anchored to the brick masonry wall next to the stairs, which accomplishes the safety goal I discussed earlier. ALSO! One of the things I never really thought about is that grills generally aren’t that deep, but opening the top drastically increases the depth…making them difficult to place in small spaces, because you can’t place them against the wall without floating them out a foot or so. I built the knee wall so that it was low enough for the grill top to flip over the back of it, meaning the grill can sit right up against it and doesn’t take up any extra space when open. Hooray!

alex

We used this Weber grill but removed the side panel made for prep space to allow for more space for this custom prep space. How many times can I say “space” in a single sentence? That many times.

prepspace

Here’s a glamor shot of the prep area, because typically you are cutting up asparagus and watermelon at the same time. Right? I’ve never been to a barbecue.

watermelon

So the back of the knee wall matches the planters and the top of the prep space matches the bar and the fence and I’m so predictable, but…it took some self-restraint to not go CRAZY on this little space and do all sorts of different things. I feel like the result is nicely balanced with a good repetition of materials and finishes. Or something.

hosestorage

Underneath the prep space is the hose, so Alex and Apryl can keep all this stuff alive! I love these coiled hoses especially for small spaces—it does the job and fits easily into a cute perforated metal bucket. There’s plenty more space for extra propane tanks, and it would be easy for them to add a shelf if they wanted.

vegetablebed

The raised bed across from the grill area worked out so well! It’s about a foot and a half deep and 8 feet long, so there’s a nice amount of space to grow herbs and vegetables. Here they have rosemary, mint, basil, a couple different types of peppers, and thyme. I can see a tomato plant or two doing well here, too. Alex and Apryl were advised that the mint might need to be transferred to a pot to keep it from overtaking everything.

By the way…I know there’s a negative knee-jerk reaction to using pressure-treated lumber for beds made for edibles, but from everything I’ve read about it, it sounds like the risk of chemicals leaching into the soil is extremely minimal to non-existent. The process used to create pressure-treated lumber has changed dramatically in recent years, so the risks associated with it no longer seem to apply. Only the top course of the planters are stained, so the stain’s contact with the soil is also very minimal.

drinkdispensor

Ahhhhh, I can taste it now! Here’s my favorite cocktail, which is one part bourbon and one part…oh wait, never mind, it’s just watered down Brisk Iced Tea with some lemons and ice floating in it. #blogger

russiansage

Let’s take a look at the plants! I love Russian Sage. It has such a great color and texture.

hydrangea

In the corner, there’s a nice hydrangea that should fill out beautifully and provide some nice height up in that corner.

foxglove2

foxglove1

Foxgloves are peppered around the planters, which I LOVE. I LOVE THEM. Why don’t I have any foxgloves yet?? Working on it. They’ll have to be a front garden plant for me, as they’re toxic for dogs.

cypress

Next to the steps up to the house, we planted this sweet cypress tree. The Sketchup plan shows three trees here, but that was crazy, so we just did one to give it room to grow and spread out. Hopefully it’ll provide a little privacy screening from the neighbors as it continues to mature.

candle

Between the tree and the raised beds, we planted some ornamental grasses. So pretty! I think they’ll really fill in this area nicely as they mature.

throughgate

So there it is! I’m so happy with how this came out. Alex and Apryl, I hope you get to enjoy it for years and years to come! You couldn’t have been more gracious and wonderful hosts. Thank you for making this so much fun!

Psssst…want to see the other Lowe’s Spring Makeovers? Head on over to…

Yellow Brick Home’s living room transformation

Chris Loves Julia’s entryway/sitting room makeover

French Country Cottage’s outdoor living space 

Emily A. Clark’s patio overhaul

Design Post Interior’s patio makeover

Wit & Delight’s artist’s studio makeover

Simple Styling’s backyard makeover

 

This post has been in partnership with my wonderful sponsors, Lowe’s

A Mantel Makeover for Angie’s List

I love a good mantel. I love a good challenge. I love crazy old tiles. What do all of these things have in common? It’s this fireplace! Boom:

before_straightonview

Sometimes I get asked to do bloggy things that aren’t for my own site, which is typically not my jam because I’m usually stupid busy and not paying enough attention to my own site to worry about someone else’s, but I made an exception when Angie’s List came at me with a mantel makeover challenge. I didn’t have a mantel that was a good candidate for the project, but I knew somebody who did, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to get my grubby hands on it.

beforeangled

This mantel belongs to John, who just bought this incredible circa-1900 house in Kingston. I helped him find the house! I told him to buy it! He bought it! He moved from New Jersey! This poor house has undergone some serious wreck-ovation over the years, but it has amazing potential and John is totally committed to restoring it, so of course I am all over this. He doesn’t really need a full-on designer and he doesn’t really need a turnkey project manager, so I’m stepping into sort of a consultant role as he moves through this renovation…helping him design and plan and coordinate and execute and make this house the showpiece it’s supposed to be.

ANYWAY. This was exciting because there wasn’t anything technically wrong with this mantel or this room…ya know, it could have been fine but ugly for a few years and everyone would have lived. Often with old houses there’s a pretty big gap between the fun and pretty and the finance-draining and decidedly unsexy, and the latter is what has to take precedence. So it was nice to have a great excuse to bump this wayyyyy up the list (like, literally before “unpack your boxes”) because the “before” made me so sad. Somebody painted the original tiles with either a textured paint or some kind of plaster overlay stuff, and those 1973 built-ins—replete with fluorescent lighting, crappy wood, gold-crackled mirrored tiles, and an enormous soffit overhead connecting the two sides—had no business in this magnificent living room.

stripping-process

First order of business was demo-ing the built-in stuff and starting the longggg and arduous stripping process. Between John and I, it probably took about 30 hours of scraping and scrubbing and picking and cursing and beer-drinking to get down to the bare tile. We stripped the fireplace in two parts because I actually lacked confidence that the paint stripper would be able to penetrate whatever was causing the texture, so I didn’t want to waste and make a huge mess only to figure out that we had to come up with a plan B.

wall-stripping

We did not have to come up with a plan B, though, because the paint stripper worked SO well. When the room was almost done, I had John go back to the little nooks and crannies with one of those 15 minute jelly-like strippers and a bunch of tiny tools like dental picks to really get everything off.

Now, I love that tile. I’m guessing a lot of people won’t love that tile, but I don’t care! John had a mini freak-out when we first started really exposing it, but I didn’t care then either. I think it’s glazed terra cotta, with a burnt-orangey-red and green color combo that is admittedly extremely hard to work with. I kind of can’t blame whoever painted it because with the wrong wall color and stuff in the room, I can see it looking pretty awful. John even asked whether we’d be better off painting it again, but I veto’d that plan because I’m super bossy and unpleasant generally, and you just don’t paint old tile. You just don’t. Don’t do it. But really, this is a pretty awesome original detail in a house that is missing a fair amount of original detail, so in my mind it wasn’t even a choice.

By the way, that pile of wood in the foreground is all the lumber that comprised the old built-ins. I’m a crazy person, but hear me out. My basic rule with lumber is that if it’s over about 6″ long, it gets kept. This is why my garage looks like a disorderly lumber yard, but it’s also why I barely ever have to buy wood anymore! It’s environmentally responsible and economical—you don’t necessarily think of 1x6s or something being a large expense in a project, but wood is pricey! And it’s not as nice as it used to be, anyway! Even though these built-ins were only from the 1970s, it was pretty interesting to compare the totally standard 1-by lumber to what’s commonly available today—the not-even-that-old stuff we tore out is so much denser and heavier and contains fewer knots. Even the furring strips were pretty nice! All of it got de-nailed and set aside and treated like gold.

wall-stripping

After the major mantel-stripping was over, I applied the Peel Away to the surrounding wall, too. The texture was carried up this part of the wall, and it seemed potentially easier and better to try to get down to the bare plaster before repairing and skim-coating the wall than just covering it with a skim-coat. The Peel Away worked really well for this, too, and didn’t damage the plaster at all (it’s commonly used for this, but I’m not sure how other types of strippers would react). Then it was just a matter of doing a nice skim-coating job and light sanding and we were good to go!

salvage-wood

Dudes, I’m a woodworker now. Basically. Or something. If you want to become a crazy salvage wood person like myself, invest in a decent table saw—I have no idea what I’d do without mine! This way you can rip your recycled boards into your own dimensions precisely and easily, and for some reason I find that VERY fun. I have a Porter Cable table saw which has been going strong for a few years and works great.

during_cabinetboxes

I used a combination of salvaged and some new wood to make some new built-ins, the basis of which is basically a plywood box on a 2×6 base. Someday I’ll learn some fancy joining techniques, but on this day I went with what I read on some weird message board a long time ago about building cabinet boxes—that a combo of plywood, wood glue, drywall screws, and finish nails is actually pretty comparable to nice rabbeted joint, except significantly simpler and faster. Then it was just a matter of putting them in place, furring out the sides and top to make them appear super beefy, and throwing a lot of salvaged (and some new) trim and stuff to make it look all classy and finished.

after_logs

Not too shabby, right? I feel pretty proud of how these wood storage cubbies turned out, especially because of how little new material went into them. It was a lot of fun! We plan to add shallower bookshelves going up to the ceiling on top, but there wasn’t enough time to do that and get the post to Angie’s List in time, so I’ll post an update when that happens.

Let’s see that before photo again, just for funsies:

before_straightonview

Annnndddd:

afterstraightonview

I love that wall color for the tile! It’s kind of a charcoal-y navy with some green undertone, and I think it works super well. John originally wanted light grey walls in here, but I’m glad he let me talk him into going super dark after we both saw the fireplace tile and felt like our light grey samples weren’t doing it any favors.

after_smooth-wall

That egg-and-dart detail is just so amazing. I love that every one of these tiles is completely unique, a little irregular, and just so perfectly-imperfect. So worth the ridiculous time commitment and blisters.

after_angled2

SO! Turns out I was not the only blogger that signed up for this, and Angie’s List made it a CONTEST. WITH A CASH PRIZE. WHICH I WOULD VERY MUCH ENJOY HAVING.

I wrote a whole other blog post for Angie’s List with different pictures and text and more detail about the process and products, which you should go check out here! And then you should go vote for my project here! I guess you can vote once every 24 hours, and voting is open for a few more weeks, so go to town! BRING HOME THE BACON, FOLKS!

Ana Gasteyer’s Bathroom Makeover!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

I’ve mentioned this vaguely a couple of times on Instagram and Twitter, but I’ve been doing some design work for a pretty awesome client—the super-duper-multi-talented Ana Gasteyer! Ana’s pretty amazing: she was on SNL for six seasons, has been in a bazillion TV shows and movies (most recently Suburgatory), played Elphaba in Wicked both in Chicago and on Broadway (along with a bunch of other theater work)…she’s exceptionally cool. Aside from that, Ana is totally fun and funny and laid-back and has great taste and is just an all-around pleasure to work and play with. This job has been so much fun.

I met Ana initially through Grace about a year and a half ago, and since then we’ve pretty much been working our way through overhauling her whole apartment. We started in the master bedroom and bathroom, and have since moved on to the living room and dining room (kitchen, I’m looking at you next!).  There are still some loose ends to be tied up (as these things go…) in the more major areas, but they should be share-ready soon. But today: the bathroom! It is done! It is glam!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover (Before)

Here are some before shots of the bathroom, just to get an idea of where we started. Ana and her husband, Charlie, and their two kids live in an old warehouse building in Brooklyn, which was completely rehabbed about 15 years and turned into a bunch of really great loft apartments. While certain things about the renovation are really nice—like the marble basket-weave floors, the sinks, the tub, and the plumbing fixtures—the builders sort of skimped-out on other stuff. All of the walls were totally naked (aside from the cow triptych courtesy of IKEA), the light fixtures were all contractor-grade and totally sad, and despite being a master bathroom, it had almost no permanent storage—just two small medicine cabinets on either side of the sink and that glass shelf underneath the mirror. Not cool, builders. The bathroom is also situated in the middle of the apartment, meaning it has no windows or natural light, which also contributed to it feeling a little cramped and not as nice as it could be (also, disclaimer: hard to photograph). So basically the bathroom had these really nice elements but desperately needed more storage and a big shot of style. So in I came with my storage ideas and style.

Ana really wanted the bathroom to feel glam and a little glitzy and fun, so we tried to go a little over-the-top with some design elements while still keeping it grown-up and pretty.  Aside from more storage overall, Ana also desperately wanted a vanity where she could sit and do her makeup, which was a tall order! This bathroom really isn’t very large—definitely no space for a normal piece of furniture—so it required some creative thinking to get from Point A to Point B.

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

Anddddd, here it is!

OK, so obviously I just have to just skip all the details and lead with this: DAT WALLPAPER!!! It is amazing, no? It’s from the new Rifle Paper Company collection from Hygge & West, designed by Anna Bond, and it is absolutely scrumptious. Going super dark and dramatic with paint is always a tough sell, but wallpaper takes it up about 20 notches since it’s definitely not something you want to get wrong. I’m so glad Ana loved this pattern as much as I did, though, and gave me the go-ahead to have it installed here. The pattern is screen-printed and has an amazing hand-painted feel to it, and I love how glamorous and luxe it feels while also having a super fun vintage vibe. The gold in the pattern is just perfection in real life, which has been my experience with all Hygge & West papers with metallics: never too much, always just enough. Just how I like it. OOMPH. I love it. Ana loves it. Everyone loves it. It’s that good.

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

Believe it or not, the black really does make the whole room feel SO much bigger and more expansive—it’s sort of unbelievable. Dark colors work so well in spaces without a lot of natural light, whereas whites and other light colors can often feel really flat and lifeless. It adds so much dimension to the room.

The wallpaper was installed by Sarah Merenda, who is fabulously talented (both as an installer and an artist!) and amazing to work with. We were a little concerned about how wallpaper would fair in a bathroom, but Sarah assured us that using a good wallpaper primer and a strong paste would keep it adhered to the walls, particularly if everything was allowed to set for a couple of weeks before being exposed to steam or moisture. Ideally you’d also have a fan to vent the moisture—unfortunately this bathroom doesn’t have one, but Sarah said it should still be OK as long as the glue had a couple weeks to harden up.

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

OK, I’ll stop gabbing about the wallpaper now. Other stuff! To add some more architectural interest to the space without spending a ton of cash, we opted to put up a chair rail and this paneling detail on the lower half of the walls, all with stock pieces of molding from Lowe’s.

The chair rail is actually three different pieces that I put together, and then our fabulous painter/carpenter, Ryan, installed everything all fancy-like. He did such a great job! The lower half of the walls and the chair rail are painted All White by Farrow & Ball, which is delicious quality paint. It’s so pretty.

before2

cabinet2

To address the storage and vanity issue, the only way to really go was custom. I designed this piece (and then had it fabricated by a cabinet builder) to be about as big as it could be without totally overwhelming the space or blocking something important like the shower door or the toilet, since Ana and Charlie will probably need to use that stuff. Even though it’s much bigger than the little dresser that was there before, the shallower depth actually makes it feel less intrusive while still providing a ton more storage space. Success!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

Also, vanity! Since there wasn’t room for a ton of storage and a vanity, I made the middle section of the built-in a drop-down desk and picked up an adjustable DALFRED stool at IKEA that Ana can move to the front of the vanity when it’s in use. There’s a mirror mounted to the back of this section and a cut-out for an electrical outlet, so it’s super functional and fits all of her lady potions and tools. Success!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

One of my favorite improvements to the space was framing out the existing mirror. This was done by our carpenter (and inspired by the molding in my house!), and it makes the mirror look so much more finished. It just conceals the frosted border (which you can kind of see in the first before pic), which we all thought looked a little dated and out of place, and I think it ties in really nicely with the molding work and with the custom cabinet now. Success!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

I also love the light fixtures! We went from the blandest of the bland to the glam-est of the glam, basically. The two boring flushmount fixtures over the sink got replaced with these reasonably-priced flush-mount crystal chandeliers from Overstock, which I love in a weird way? They’re a pretty far cry from my normal taste, and on their own they’re a little…questionable, but I feel like they really work in this room. Glitzy! And I have to say, the crystals really do cast some nice light and subtle patterns onto the walls. Success!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

The light over the tub was definitely calling out for a chandelier, so we hooked it up! I found this guy vintage on eBay, and I think it’s so cute! It’s just the right scale for the space. And look what’s at the top there—a pineapple! We bought and installed this light fixture longggg before the wallpaper came into the picture, but I love how they ended up tying together. Success!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

Between having a crazy busy career, a husband with a crazy busy career, and two kids, Ana wanted the bathroom to be as easy and low-maintenance as possible. I’ve long been an advocate of the ease of towel hooks as opposed to formality of bars—lest you wondered where I stood on bathroom towel politics—so we removed the original bars (which were sort of oddly located anyway) and installed new hooks. It was a little challenging to find ones that were inexpensive and reasonably matched the existing plumbing fixtures, but I finally found these at Home Depot for the sweet price of $14. Easy towel hanging! Success!

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

I loved working on this bathroom SO MUCH and I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I know Ana loves it too—which I guess is the important part. I can’t wait to share the other stuff we’ve done! It’s so fun to see all the elements come together in real life after rolling around in your head for so long—as soon as the wallpaper went up, we all kind of went from feeling so-so about things to SUPER HAPPY ABOUT EVERYTHING. True story. Wallpaper = happiness.

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Impromptu Thanksgiving Makeover!

For the first time in my life, I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving this year. Instead, Max and I both went to his much-adored hometown of Buffalo, the kooky city that I credit, in part, with making him the nutball that he is today.

About two days before we left, Max floated the idea of giving his childhood bedroom a “quick and easy” makeover while we were going to be there. Trying not to act too excited, I accepted the assignment with grace and class, as I had rehearsed many times whilst daydreaming about this moment. And then I assembled my emergency DIY-superhero traveling toolkit.

I have a lot of tools and bits and bobs I’ve accumulated over the past couple of years, but this is the stuff I see as essential when embarking on a quick-n-dirty DIY job. From left to right: all my assorted drill bits, two types of pliers, lightweight quick-drying spackling compound, the best screwdriver ever with a million different heads, coarse-grit sandpaper, E-Z anchors, my drill, and two spackle knives.

I need to give a serious shout-out to those E-Z anchors, by the way. They are the shit. I only really like the metal ones (they also come in plastic, but I’ve had mixed results with those), but they hold a ton of weight and are just all-around phenomenally easy to use and strong and awesome. Basically you just screw the big metal piece into the wall, then screw a screw into the metal piece. Done! No drilling, nothing. These things are seriously lifesavers for crumbly plaster walls and basically hold my entire apartment together and I trust them with my life.

Anyway.

Max is perhaps the most nostalgic, sentimental person I know, so the suggestion of even touching or moving a single thing in his largely unchanged shrine to angsty adolescence is more than a little out of character. But a combination of getting older, maturing, and—I like to think—living with the controlling lunatic nightmare that is myself, has changed his taste a little, and I think he was ready to appreciate his former bedroom as a thing preserved more in memory and photographs than something that needs to actually exist in real life. It also helps that we stay in this room when we visit, and a twin bed pretty much sucks when occupied by two boys and a 12 pound muppet named Linus.

Additionally, Max’s wonderful mother, Sue, wanted to use the space as a comfortable guest bedroom for the 49 (give or take a few) weeks a year when we’re not staying in it, but not every guest wants to be transported back to Max’s worldview circa 2000-2006.

Twin bed: check. Beaded floor pillows: check. Beaded floor lamp: check. Beaded table lamp: check. Second beaded floor lamp (out of frame): check. Tapestry thing: check. Tiny plastic busts of famous composers: check. Martha Stewart Living casually laying on the floor like it’s an accident: CHECK.

Even though I’ll admit to hating staying in this room, there’s something so adorable about these pictures that I feel a little nostalgic, myself. All those magazine boxes on the shelves are full of Martha Stewart Livings, the little woven basket next to it is full of knitting supplies, and the bottom shelf is occupied by about a dozen Harry Potter books—American and Canadian editions. I mean, come on. 

Up above, this weird candelabra chandelier number from IKEA hung from the ceiling, as well as an artsy photo wall of mostly naked people. There are SUNGLASSES HANGING FROM THAT CHANDELIER THING, PEOPLE. 2006 Max is so weird and cute.

The less cute side of this makeover is this wall of graffiti that Max had all of his friends contribute to with Sharpie over the years. Mostly, it is composed of penises, vaginas, things that look vaguely like penises and vaginas, angsty lines of poetry, drug references, and penises. There are also some penises.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ani DiFranco lyrics GLITTER PUFFY-PAINTED to the closet moldings, and more glitter puffy paint ON THE CEILING that has something to do with eggs and some dude named Ernie?

Interestingly, Max has never been into drugs.

I always thought that my parents allowed us to be pretty free-spirited when it came to our rooms: we got to pick all our own furniture, paint colors, layouts, and how big of a mess we lived in. But Max’s parents kind of took this to the next level and basically let tiny crazy angsty Max run wild and this is what happened. Take heed, people.

All I can say after sanding glitter puffy paint off a ceiling is that if I ever have children who try to pull shit like that, I will drown them.

As you can see in the above floor plan, this room is really tiny, which made our single-day-makeover plan seem pretty feasible on the surface. In the morning, we cleared out the entire room, then went to do a little shopping. Then I got dropped at the house to commence with the painting, while Max and his mom went to buy a mattress and a few other things we’d need to finish the space. It was some crazy Trading Spaces madness, which is how I like things. Once I get in to projects like this, I’m the sort of person who will basically forego food, sleep, water, and bathroom breaks until it’s done. I get into a zone, push through pain, and annoy every single person around me with demands that they work harder.

Imagine me as a werewolf. Then imagine that a big DIY project is a full moon. It’s like that.

So here is the paint arsenal, in case you’re curious. I started off by prepping the walls, which basically meant scraping old sticky-tack, sanding glitter puffy paint, and spackling about a thousand nail holes. In some areas, the plaster was in really rough shape, which normally I’d get all anal about and repair properly with joint compound and mesh tape and whatnot, but I had to learn to let go and just paint over everything. It was oddly liberating, and matte paint has a way of making uneven fucked up plaster look kind of awesome, anyway.

PSA: never write on your walls with Sharpie. Just don’t do it. If you do, someday your boyfriend will have to come in, paint over all of it with shellac-based primer, which is both expensive and very smelly. He will have to do it twice, all the while losing brain cells and going crazy. Sharpie bleeds through, like, ALL PAINT IN THE WORLD EVER in the most amazing/annoying way, so it really all has to be sealed in with a serious primer. The good thing about the shellac primer is that it dries REALLY fast, but it smells terrible and is super thin, so you have to be extra careful of drips and off-spray.

Max wanted a really dark black/navy color for the walls, and after seeing it both on the outside of Chezerbey and at Anna’s house, I demanded that we use Benjamin Moore’s “Soot.” We used the Aura paint in matte, which is pricey but is basically like painting with velvet and covers completely and easily in two coats. For the ceiling, we just used standard off-the-rack flat white ceiling paint, and for the trim we used off-the-rack white in pearl finish. Usually I do trim in semi-gloss, but I’ve been leaning more toward something a bit less shiny and pearl is a really beautiful, slightly more subtle alternative. All of this action happened so fast, I literally have ZERO process pictures…but really, we all just want to get to the afters, right?

BOOM. Hello super dark, super cozy, super awesome tiny bedroom that I totally love. With cute dog.

So obviously this isn’t really my normal taste, but I really do love this room. It was so much fun to wake up in on that first morning, and I actually didn’t want to leave Buffalo because I loved sleeping in it so much. Maybe it makes me want a black bedroom?

I’m sorry for the low-quality pictures, by the way. The one thing I didn’t pack in my emergency DIY-superhero traveling toolkit was a decent camera, so unfortunately I had to document with my iPhone. This room gets basically no natural light, so a very dark space combined with very dark paint combined with an iPhone camera makes for some subpar photos. Sorry!

Part of the fun of creating this room was reusing things that were already around in the house, including this lamp, the bedside table, the rug, the bed, the flag, and that amazing vintage Hudson Bay blanket. The bed belonged to Max’s mom’s parents (also known as Max’s grandparents), and I believe was a wedding gift in the late 40s-early 50s. It’s mahogany colonial-revival, which is usually not my thing, but I love it for this space. It was sitting in the attic, broken in a few joints, but I was able to repair the whole thing in about half an hour with some J-B Wood Weld, which is an amazing epoxy that cures really quickly and is SUPER strong and awesome. Max’s mom was really excited to see the bed all put back together and looking amazing, which was really fun for me. Aside from repairing the bed, we also got new pieces of 1 x 4 cut at Home Depot to replace the old slats (we got ten new slats for under the mattress, which was perfect).

Also, the flag is pretty amazing. Normally, I’m not a fan of using American flags in home decor, but this flag is old (it only has 48 stars!) and has just the right amount of wear to be super cool and perfectly vintage without straying into hit-you-over-the-head-patriotic territory. It’s being held up by E-Z anchors. Duh.

The vintage Hudson Bay blanket is also from Max’s mom’s parents, and it totally makes the room. I mean, of course it does. I’m a huge sucker for a point blanket.

One of the other projects I really loved in this room was the curtain, which I just made out of a canvas drop-cloth that was inexplicably sitting in the trunk of my car. I hung the curtain rod (this cheap-o one from Target) about 7″ from the ceiling, and made the curtain all the way to the floor, using iron-on hem tape for the side and top (I used existing hems for the side facing the room and the bottom). The iron-on tape worked surprisingly well, and the canvas was a perfect warm neutral color and texture to balance out the bright whites in the room and was also FREE. Free is always good. The curtain rod is hanging with E-Z anchors.

Another HUGE, HUGE improvement in this room was finding and re-hanging the closet door! The closet just had a curtain hanging on a tension rod before, but Max and I managed to find the original door hiding in the attic (it had been removed at some point, I have no idea why), harvest a black porcelain knob from another outcast door in the basement, and hang and repaint the thing like it never left the room. Love me an old door with a couple fresh coats of paint.

Again, normally I’d get a bit more detail-crazy and strip all the old hardware, but there was no time for that. Instead, I just coated everything with a fresh coat of white, and guess what? Nobody died, which makes me question my entire worldview, basically. Sometimes its OK to just take the easy route. Huh.

Along the wall between the entry door and the closet, I hung three plain cheap brass hooks (also held up by—you guessed it!—E-Z anchors), which might be my favorite thing about this room, oddly. Hooks are perfect for small spaces, and we used them for everything from bags to shirts to our jeans at the end of the day. The hooks keep clutter off the small amount of floor space, and the little bits of brass make a really nice complement to the deep blue paint color. And the E-Z anchors mean they have no trouble holding a ton of weight.

One thing we didn’t do anything about was the floor (except scrub it). It’s the only original wood floor in the house, which I think is oak but was painted a rusty red at some point. About half of the old paint has worn off and the wood is in really rough shape, which I’m pretty sure means it needs to just be painted white? I’m looking at you, Christmas break…

OK, I take it back about the dumb hooks because my favorite thing about the room is definitely this amazing art deco pendant light that we picked up at The Antique Man. It was kind of a steal at $75 and is just…so beautiful. There’s no electrical in the ceiling in this room, so I converted it into a plug-in fixture, which is pretty easy to do with the teeniest, tiniest bit of electrical know-how or advice from that old guy at the hardware store who knows what’s up. Basically you can just cut the end of an extension cord off, wire it into the original socket, and it’s a plug-in light. One of the electrical outlets in the room is circuited to a light switch, so we just ran the cord down to the outlet as neatly as possible and now it turns on and off like a real light and everything. This room was in dire need of a good main light source (with no real natural light, a few little lamps just don’t cut it sometimes!), and I can’t really think of a better-looking solution than this sexy vintage 20s thang.

So where did the money go in this space? Here’s how it broke down:

Mattress/comforter/duvet/sheets/pillows: $676
Bed repair/new slats: $56
Paint/paint supplies: $215
Light Fixture/new wire: $78
Curtain Rod: $10
Hooks: $15

TOTAL: $1,050

Realistically, we probably spent about $50 or so more than that on various supplies and little things that aren’t springing to mind, but in any case—an entire top-to-bottom  room makeover for right around $1,000 including a new mattress? Not bad.

As Mekko clearly demonstrates, this room is super comfortable and a great place for guests (and us!) to stay. Aside from getting to enjoy the final product, I can honestly say that this was one of the most fun, satisfying vacations I’ve ever had, which is pretty much all you need to know to understand that I’m sick in the head and need professional help and guidance.

A big thanks to Max’s mom for letting us have our way with this space. I hope you love it, Sue!

The Daniel/Daniel Project: The Colossus

There comes a moment in every DIY-er’s life, no matter how sure of their abilities or cavalier they’ve been in the past, when they spit out a project idea in a fit of over-confidence. They then spend every second until its completion shitting their pants over whether they had been fools, anticipating the moment when the crushing wave of reality would swiftly render them and their undertaking a failure. Not that this happened to me or anything.

One of the first things Daniel Vosovic (read more about this here) wanted to address in his studio was this wall. He wanted tons of storage space for all the fun accoutrements that come along with a growing company and a nice place for the interns to work and prosper.

This wall is about 17 feet long. It is also 10 feet high. It is huge. It is brick.

Daniel had mentioned loving the industrial-ish feeling of the pipe and wood bookshelf I made for my bedroom. Having only built a teensy little wall-mounted version of the ridiculously awesome and legendary Ace Hotel-inspired shelves that Morgan made at The Brick House, I might have been undermining my better judgment when I pompously suggested that we do something like that here. Except bigger. Lots bigger. Oh, and we had about three weeks to design and build the whole thing.

I thought it could be done in a weekend. I was wrong. I am obviously not right in the head.

But we did it. Oh, did we ever feel manly. Weighing in at a mammoth 15.5 feet long by 9 feet high, this shit ain’t playing around. Here, let me tell you about our struggles.

First we had to buy all of our 1/2″ black pipe. Because I designed the unit around the different functions Daniel and I had discussed, we needed pretty specific lengths of pipe for everything to come together correctly. I thought this would be easy, seeing as Home Depot sells a nice selection of pre-cut pipe (they call them “nipples,” but I refuse to) and can cut and thread pipes to size as if by magic upon request.

Of course I was wrong about this, because Home Depot stores in NYC are ten kinds of useless. Turns out that while other parts of the country might be more privileged, Home Depot in good old New York can’t cut a pipe for you. They can’t cut a piece of wood for you. They can’t tell you where to find anything or help you in any way. They are evil hellholes.

After calling about 30 different hardware and plumbing supply places, I finally found a shop in Brooklyn that was willing and able to cut pipes. It was called TMB plumbing. It was charmingly sketchy and the employees were endearingly frightening, but they did the job.

After washing all the pipes down in some soapy water, we went about spray painting them on the roof like a bunch of rowdy rebellious teenagers except with less vandalism. Ignore those lights, they’re for something else. We used matte black Rustoleum, about three cans all told.

Next we got all of the wood cut and delivered by Prince Lumber. Even though I had drawn the thing so many times and checked and rechecked the measurements, a continuous 11-foot board of pine is still terrifying when you’re actually faced with it and compelled to think about suspending it eight feet in the air on top of something you built.

We decided to go with 1.25″ thick x 12″ wide boards, which keeps the whole thing looking and feeling pretty substantial since the thicker boards allow the shelves to span for longer distances without bowing.

Since the shelves are knotty pine and the desktop is made of Canadian birch plywood (the lumber yard didn’t have pine in wide enough boards for a desktop),  it took some fiddling to get the stains to match. Eventually it was decided that all the pipe would be stained in Minwax “Dark Walnut” and the birch ply would be a mix of “Dark Walnut” and “Yellow Pine.”

Even with 2-3 people, staining all that wood took several days and a generous helping of boredom. Here, Daniel presides over our setup and clutches the playbill of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, wistfully recalling Daniel Radcliffe’s performance.

After we’d done all of the prep work of sourcing the pipe and wood, spray painting, sanding, staining, and pre-drilling all the holes, the actual construction really only took a couple hours and the helpful hands of four people. Here, Daniel double-checks measurements while his lovely and incessantly-harrassed interns provide physical and emotional support.

A good time was had by all. The top of the unit is attached to the wall with some super heavy duty metal masonry anchors and screws. It’s not going anywhere, don’t worry. But still knock on wood for me, cool?

The whole thing ended up taking about three weeks and many many hours. But it’s kind of awesome, am I right? Check out that floating 7 feet of desktop! The back of the desk is held on with short pipes and endcaps, keeping it from tipping forward, and it’s supported underneath by a couple of 14″ cheap wall brackets in the middle that keep it from bowing. Intern workspace, check!

So shelfy!

What’s that, you say? Cute industrial drawers that hold a bunch of magical fashion-building supplies? Daniel picked these up for a song at a flea market right before we built this thing, so the width of the central section of the unit was dictated by fitting these snuggly into it. All custom n’ stuff.

The left side of the unit was all about creating a manageable storage situation for bolts of fabric, so the shelves are more narrowly spaced and exactly 60″ long (the length of the longest bolts). In case, er, you couldn’t see that.

There she is. Take it in.

In other news, I’ve finished my sophomore year of college! Huzzah! Posting on the ole bloggity can now resume to a more frequent rate. Thank you for your patience and distressed comments and emails over the last few weeks regarding whether or not I had died. Your concern flatters me more than I should probably admit.

By the way, new featured blogs in the sidebar! They’re super cool this time around, I swear, so you’d better go check them out.

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