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.
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:
Bed repair/new slats: $56
Paint/paint supplies: $215
Light Fixture/new wire: $78
Curtain Rod: $10
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!