All posts in: Manhattan Apartment

Put a Sheepskin on It.

There’s a new desk chair in town and it looks like this:

Those of you with impeccable memories might recall the psychotic episode I experienced while I was in Portland back in January. The one in which I escaped my bondage, found myself a nasty thrift store, and purchased two grimy Eames shell chairs for about $25 a pop. This all seemed like a good idea at the time.

The restoration of that blue chair was enough to wipe that smug, disgusting smile off my face. Actually, the $100 it took to ship the things to New York had already taken the thrill away from my good deal, but the restoration—well, it nearly killed me. Those chairs could probably survive nuclear war, but my sanity is a much more fragile flower.

The fact is that these chairs had been sitting out in drizzly Portland weather for who knows how long and it showed. The blue chair’s naugahyde upholstery was torn, completely discolored (I tried cleaning it with several different products, but those stains were permanent), and separating from the frame in spots. If I were classy and had the money, I would have sent it off to get the proper reupholstery treatment (I’ve heard this place is great), but I’m cheap and a glutton for torture. Also, I live for the type of controversy I can only dream this post might spur.

So I tore that cover right off. Underneath was a layer of moldy foam—mostly removed in the photo above—and the entire fiberglass shell was covered in a layer of adhesive. Where water had been able to seep in under the upholstery around the bolts, that adhesive came up fairly easily, but it held on everywhere else with a determined iron grip.

I’m not really sure giving the chair a scalding, soapy bath did anything, but it made me feel a little better about handling it. After scraping off the remainder of the foam with the blunt edge of a razor blade, I was left with a lot of adhesive to detach. Like, a whole lot.

I’m sure there’s a clever chemist hiding in a laboratory in some corner of the world who’s discovered an adhesive remover powerful enough to make this easy, and I’d like to point out that he’s a bastard for keeping his secrets from me. The best thing I could find was Goo Gone, so essentially my process involved soaking sections with it, waiting about ten minutes, then going at it with a razor blade.

Yes, a fucking razor blade. I can happily report that all ten of my fingers survived the ordeal, but one of my imaginary friends was stabbed in a fit of frustration. Rest in peace, Urma.

Now, I’d really only recommend taking on this kind of thing if you can give yourself some time. Spread it out over a number of days. Months, even, as I did. Years if you have them. Better yet, don’t do it at all.

The problem with projects like this is two-fold: they take forever and they require little to no brain power. They give the mind too much liberty to roam, and in so doing lead to dangerous thinking. Imagine yourself planted on the floor, massaging your cramping hands and weighing the relative benefits of having a new desk chair against your increasingly good chances of early-onset arthritis. You reek of the spunky, citrus-esque aroma of Goo Gone. You are filthy scum—the small, tedious shavings of adhesive clinging to the bottom of your socks and buttocks. Unpresentable to the world and repulsive even to yourself, you might posit certain questions such as “what the hell is wrong with me?” or “when did I become such a monster?” or “might I need psychiatric help?” It’s a sticky spot to be in, in more ways than the obvious.

Three months into your project, after you’ve finished peeling your adhesive off the chair, look no further than Chairfag or The Brick House for all the restorative guidance you need to make your chair gleam like it just rolled out of the factory. This basically involves a good wet-sanding and a coat of Penetrol. I harvested shockmounts from the orange chair and attached them with some fast-drying epoxy made for bonding plastics and rubber and stuff. It’s super strong and frightening stuff.

The obvious downside of all of this is that you’re left with four unattractive holes in the seat of the chair since upholstered chairs are constructed differently than plain shells. Eventually I’d like to custom-make a little foam cushion for the seat (tulip chair-style), but in the meantime what’s a hipster to do? Put a sheepskin on it. Cute on the chair, cushy on your tushy.

Put my old ebay-purchased swivel base on that shell and BAM. Done. NEVER AGAIN.

P.S.- It’s the most wonderful time of the year over at Apartment Therapy these days because the Small/Cool Contest is happening and my apartment is in the running! As the name implies, there are a lot of small, cool spaces to check out, so I’d encourage you to head over and vote—even if it’s not for me! But really, you should probably vote for me. My “Patched & Painted” apartment just got posted today so we have some catching up to do.

Tulip(ish)

I know that I have no business complaining about my generally good fortune in the secondhand domain, but a general rule does tend to emerge with thrifting: seek and you will not find. This is the frustrating downside of the exhilarating life of sifting through other people’s discarded crap. If I’ve learned anything, it is that trudging through thrift stores looking for that one thing really only leads to feelings of disappointment and ineptitude. Rather, I find it’s better to just accept the rare sparkly gem bestowed upon me by the mysterious thrift store deities and move on. If the price is right, buy now and figure it out later. You can quote me on that piece of stunningly bad decorating advice.

Which is all to say that even though I talked a big talk a couple weeks ago about that identity-crisis-stricken corner of my living room, plans quickly changed over the weekend when one of my upsettingly bad Upper East Side thrift stores planted a sexy little nugget of vintage furniture into my line of sight. Goodbye to my dreams of a snazzy bar cart and an Eames chair on a rocking base, hello dining table.

Yep, a brass tulip knock-off. Brass makes me happy. Tulip tables make me happy. $45 price tags for both of these things also make me happy.

What doesn’t make me happy? Doing dishes, for starters. But also that tabletop. I was really only in it for the base. After taking the table apart in the thrift store and carrying the base home, I almost considered just saving myself the extra trip and leaving the top there. Then I decided not to be a lazy brat for ten minutes. It’s a weird, vaguely rectangular size (32″ x 36″), and is awkwardly large in my little space. In a dream world, I’d have several extra Benjamins to throw around and hastily replace it with a 32″ round piece of  gorgeous carrera marble, or possibly some other type of natural stone. But from the very preliminary research I’ve conducted, this seems to be the sort of thing that will happen in conjunction with hell freezing over. So I’m still trying to come up with acceptable alternatives that won’t break the bank, look hideous, or introduce even more wood into the living room.

In the meantime, let’s focus on the positive aspects. Like the almost-tulip-tablebase. And the brass. Yummy brass. I’m a fan.

Blank Walls and Big Art

One of the more disturbing aspects (and unflattering angles) of my largely neglected living room is this wall:

Note the floors. Yes, they’re really that slanted. Vertigo victims should probably avoid my apartment.

Back to the wall. It is big and blank and ill-suited to any piece of furniture. Now, I’m not the sort of person who compulsively feels the need to fill every bit of empty space in my apartment with some type of furniture or display. Sometimes, vacant space in a room is just fine. But I can’t help feeling like this wall needs something, and I can’t help wishing that something was a colossal piece of artwork.

Unfortunately Franz Kline and Morris Louis aren’t taking my calls, so I think it’s time to get crafty.

To be clear: I’m not an artist. Yes, as a lonely 12-14 year old I dabbled in the under-appreciated fine art of scrap-booking and I can papier-maché the shit out of a balloon, but I wouldn’t flatter myself with a blank canvas and a fancy supply of painting paraphernalia. I’ll leave that sort of thing to people who think deep thoughts and possess such traits as talent and perspective.

But there’s hope. Possibly for big art, possibly for finally convincing some of you of my substandard taste, possibly for both. Because just a couple weeks ago, I picked up about 300 of these “Language Development” flashcards for only $10 in a junk store. Each one is a little over 6″ x 8″. Here’s a very small, pretty random sample:

The cards above were produced in 1980. But that’s not all! There are also illustrated cards from 1968:

The 60s cards are too kitschy for in here, but I’m pretty stupidly smitten with the 1980 set. They all spawn from the following exciting categories: Food, Colors & Shapes, Clothing, Household Items, Personal Items, Rooms, School Items, Tools & Hardware, Toys, Body Parts, Transportation, and Animals.

So not only can I brush up on my basic nouns, I think I can also create something colorful, fun, and huge once I decide on an engaging way to display them. To add an air of sophistication, I’m thinking of entitling my piece Postmodern Composition Number IV. Throw in a beret and a cigarette and I think we’ve really got something.

The Living Room. Sigh.

I have this friend who attended an all-girls high school in which, nestled among the blackberry-tapping, short-skirt-wearing, highlighted-hair-sporting throngs of trendy ditzy teenaged girls sat a young woman who just didn’t quite fit. She was one of those endearing people who blissfully viewed the world through several lenses of social unawareness, and acted accordingly. To the right audience, she might have been described as sweet or adorable, but this wasn’t that kind of school. This is the school that prides itself on, allegedly, providing the basis for the plot of the film Mean Girls. So when somebody says the wrong things at the wrong times, manages to screw up her outfits despite a school uniform, and styles her hair in variously odd ways, such behavior is not taken lightly. If awkwardness was a crime, she’d have been detained.

There’s a point here and I’m getting to it. Rather than ostracize her completely, the ladies of this fine institution banded together in an either beautiful or completely fucked up way, depending on which way you look at it. This girl became their cause. While the real issues of the world may have held little concern for them, here was a problem staring them in the face. They could fix this, they reasoned, and in the process disguise all of their superficial, judgmental instincts as saintlike acts of philanthropy. Her transformation eventually culminated in a sort of odd tribalistic debut ceremony, in which she emerged with her hair tamed, her body clad in new, more revealing clothing, and her make-up done by the giving hands of her band of 16 year old wranglers. Prompted to strut down a makeshift runway to display her new look, it became patently clear that she was still that awkward girl underneath it all. But she was now easier to look at, and that was enough for her peers to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

My living room is kind of like that awkward girl. And clearly what I need to do is channel my inner teenaged bitch, stop pretending it’s going to fix itself, and pull this place together. It might still be a weird room—woefully slanted floors, a window that only lets nice light in for a total of five glorious minutes everyday, and doorways galore—but I’d like to get to a place where I can at least pretend that I know what I’m doing with it.

Even though I’ve lived here for just over nine months now, this room hasn’t seemed to notice. Part of the reason, I think, is that between all the projects that have happened in the kitchen, the bathroom, and my bedroom, the living room just hasn’t seen a lot of concerted effort. I’ve bought things. I’ve moved them around. I’ve gotten rid of some stuff. Art has been hung, then taken down. It has changed quite a bit, but doesn’t really seem to move forward (well, that’s not entirely true. At least it looks better than it did here). Consequently, rather than the dazzling picture of awesome I had dreamed it would have morphed into by this point, it serves largely as a highly functioning passthrough in which I tend to tear shit apart and watch Jeopardy!, usually at the same time.

The kilim rug was a $12 impulse buy from Ebay that I’m testing out in here before I decide if I like it or not. I’m still not totally sure (and DEFINITELY a much bigger fan of the antique oriental rug my uncle gave me, regardless), but it’s a good alternative to have on the floor while a few little projects are in progress and things get messy every now and again.

I picked up this credenza for a totally decent-by-NYC-standards 90 smackers a couple of months ago. It wasn’t in the best shape, but a good cleaning and some attention with a wood touch-up pen seriously went a long way towards making some pretty impressive gauges and scratches nearly disappear, while saving me the hellish task of trying to refinish the whole thing.

See that? The front legs are sitting on cork trivets from IKEA. Classy, right? The floors literally slant about an inch between the wall and the front edge of the credenza, so I need to find a more permanent solution to level things out (no, the credenza is in no way constructed to become wall-mounted. Maybe I should have gone with a fauxdenza instead?).

This is the wall where the dining table used to sit, but I was over it. I found that aside from very rare occasions, I just never used it and it was pretty ugly besides, so I’m okay with accepting the fact that I’d rather take my meals on the couch.

Now that the dining table’s gone, though, this corner is pretty awkward and has basically become a place to collect stray chairs. I have a chair problem.

So here’s what I’m thinking:

1. The walls: I need art. I actually have a decent amount of art, but I tend to go through a lot of indecision over where to hang it. But these walls are naked so I need to just hang some stuff and play around with it.

2. The sofa: I’m thinking a couple comfy throw pillows. I may or may not have some fabric already that I like for this, but that should be easy enough either way.

3. The credenza: I know somebody, or maybe more than one somebody, is going to want to slaughter me for even suggesting this, but I might replace the legs with some steel hairpins. That way, I could fairly easily make it sit level on the crazy floors (some shimming and whatnot underneath) and lower it a couple inches because right now it’s feeling a bit tall in relation to the sofa. And personally, I won’t miss the tapered wooden legs.

4. Lighting & Stuff: Would you believe I still haven’t done anything with the overhead light? I also think this room could benefit from a nice floor lamp, since I really don’t like using the ceiling fixture but the only alternative is one lamp. You know what else would help things? Some PLANTS. I really like plants and I’m fairly confident I could keep one or several alive if I put my mind to it. This also brings with it the opportunity to buy pretty pots.

5. Furniture: Aside from dealing with the credenza, all the wood in this room is driving me a little nuts. I think that little Lane side table’s days are numbered, and I wouldn’t be totally opposed to finding a new coffee table if something amazing were to fall into my lap. I also think I’m going to order a rocking base for the new armed Eames shell chair from Portland (currently undergoing some serious rehab) and stick that in the corner of the room. Then I thought this morning: wouldn’t a bar cart be kind of awesome? Maybe one that’s brassy and delicious? I can’t decide it that makes me an alcoholic, a hipster stereotype, or a well-prepared host, but I still like the idea. Booze is fun but finding ways to display it is even funner.

Bathroom Updates

Oy vey, apologies for my radio silence recently. Things have been B-U-S-Y. So, both to kick things back off for this poor neglected blog AND to spice up the tail end of your Valentine’s Day, I figured I’d present some moderate improvements that have taken place in my lilliputian-sized bathroom. Because that’s some sexy shit right there.

After far too many months with one of those little IKEA SIGNE rugs folded up into thirds to fit in the tiny gap between the wall and the tub (see that stylishness here), I stumbled upon this little Navajo weaving in the College Park, Maryland Value Village. Never one to pass up little Navajo weavings that I have no use for, particularly ones priced at $1.29, I brought it back only to realize that it’s the perfect width in here. So it’s not really a bathmat. Deal with it.

See, perfect width. I know it’s all a little crazy with the tile, but it’s so small that I think it’s okay. I like it. I also switched up the art above the toilet to something simpler (since the bathroom couldn’t really handle that rug AND that psycho needlepoint, as much as I love it). Though I’m personally against all forms of guns that don’t shoot out flowers, unicorns, or rainbows, a little framed target never hurt anybody.

I also finally decided to change out my shitty shower head. My showers used to be terrible experiences. Sad, lazy little spurts of water, shooting out at my poor naked flesh without conviction or purpose. It didn’t believe in itself, and I didn’t believe in it.

Looking back, I’m not even sure what I had was a shower head. It more closely resembles those little nozzles that periodically mist the produce in your local grocery store. I would have done this sooner, but I’ll admit I’d been operating under two flawed assumptions:

1. My showers were so crappy because the water pressure in the building was bad. It’s not. It was all the shower head’s fault.
2. Plumbing is something you just don’t touch. Ever. Fuck around with wires and lighting, paint walls, spray paint until you asphyxiate, but if you mess with plumbing you’re messing with your life.

You guys. Worth it. SO very worth it. It was packaged in such a way that I didn’t actually realize it had that whole crazy hose thing happening, but it makes for a really nice microphone for my one-man shower concerts (Ferris Bueller-style). What? I live alone.

I think it has six or seven different settings, so I can have a new exciting cleansing experience for everyday of the week. And guess what? It literally takes about three minutes and a wrench to change a shower head. It’s so easy, it’s one of those project you can assign to your kid or one of your pets.

p.s.- It’s official. I’m on the Twitter now. Do what you will with this glimmering piece of news.

p.p.s- There are new Featured Blogs! Check them out! If I could hug blogs, I’d hug these and never let go.

p.p.p.s- In case you didn’t manage to nab a Valentine today, be mine. Or, I have a more attractive offer for you. Be SCOOTER’S. Chandler introduced me to this and I highly encourage that you watch it all the way through:

Back to Top