A week ago I opened the virtual floor for a little Q&A—and damn, y’all are a curious (and complimentary! thank you!) bunch. I hope you enjoy these long-winded and extremely insightful answers. If I didn’t answer your question here, check back in the comments on this post!
Why did you live in Saskatchewan? (Read more about this here)
During my senior year of high school, I decided to defer my admission to NYU for a year to work for a small film company in Regina, Saskatchewan. At the time, I had no idea what I would be going to school for, was largely unenthusiastic about NYU (even though I love it now!), and I really just wanted to do something aside from school for a little while. I’m the sort of freak who actually relishes my alone time, so moving away from home to live alone in a small, unfamiliar city where I didn’t know anybody was both thrilling and terrifying and I loved it. Now, why anybody would choose to settle a land where temperatures drop into the -50s for months on end still eludes me, but settle they did and I made some really incredible friends as a consequence. As an added benefit, I think Regina was where I discovered the true beauty of a good thrift store. Nobody seemed interested in vintage wares—so bountiful in these secondhand wonderlands—and I made out like a thief.
What brought you to New York? Where do you plan on moving after graduating? Where else in the world could you imagine wanting to live?
School! I never, ever thought I wanted to live in New York City, but I applied to a groovy-sounding program at New York University as an afterthought and a few months later—whoopsie!—I got in and it was my best option. Now I really love living in New York and intend to stick around a while, but I suppose I could imagine someday moving back to Washington, DC? Or Chicago, I love Chicago. Somewhere in Canada? Sweden?
What are your plans for the summer?
I really don’t know. Which is to say, I’m looking for a job! Which is to say, if you think you want to hire me, don’t be shy. Shoot me an email. My resumé is itching to be sent out.
What are you studying? What do you hope to be doing professionally by 40?
I’m not totally sure right now, to be honest. I go to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where we get to design individual “concentrations” rather than stick to a traditional major. So I’m still trying to figure that out. I think it’ll be something involving the cultural history of design, but I haven’t pinpointed just the right tone of pretentiousness required to actually name whatever it is I’m doing there. I’d also like to incorporate creative writing somehow. As to what I want to be doing by 40…FORTY?! I can hardly plan past what I’ll be doing next week.
How did you become interested in interior design?
It’s a big combination of things. I grew up in a house with lots of modern furniture and art, and I think my own special brand of rebellion as a kid was filling my room with antiques, so I became interested in furniture and decorating pretty early on. I was also the sort of child who routinely drew to-scale floor plans of my bedroom on graph paper and spent hours drawing all the different furniture arrangement possibilities, then begged for help with making my new layout dreams come true. I saved my allowance for three years to finally buy an antique steamer trunk when I was about 10. When I turned 12, the only thing I wanted for my birthday was to have my room painted yellow. It was also around this time that I discovered TLC and HGTV and became abnormally fixated with home makeover shows. A few years later, I discovered some newfangled thing called a shelter blog. But I think the most lasting influence has probably been my own family and their awesome houses. I’ve talked before about my aunt and uncle (here and here), but my other aunt and uncle also have an incredible and super modern house and my grandparents also lived in an amazing home, so I was exposed very early to some really interesting residential architecture and interior design that definitely continues to influence my taste years later. In large part, though, my serious interest in interior design has really developed right alongside writing this blog.
My grandparents' home. Photos by Michelle Litvin.
How did you get started blogging? How long was it before your blog took off? How did you get the word out about it?
I’ve read a bizarre amount of home design blogs over the years (don’t be afraid, teenaged boys, everything will be okay), so when I was close to kinda-sorta having a home, I thought it’d be fun to start one. For the first few months nobody really read it except my loving Mommy, which I was a-okay with. Since I’m not trying to turn this site into some kind of ad-filled money-making venture, having a bunch of readers was never really the intent; I just liked working on my apartment, making stuff, and writing about it for funsies. So I really never did anything to try to promote it, save for a comment I made on a post on Door Sixteen soliciting new blog recommendations (I’d been a regular commenter before, but I didn’t try to use my comments to promote my own readership). I know I had a few lurkers before this point, but I guess the blog “took off” in July when Anna wrote this post about my desk on Door Sixteen. About 8 hours later, Apartment Therapy posted about it, and all of a sudden I had traffic. And visitors. And comments. And some serious stage fright. All of that stuff (well, except the stage fright) seems to continue to grow as time moves on and various things from the blog get linked to around the internet, but I still don’t work to promote it. There’s certainly no shame in actively promoting your blog, but it’s just not something that makes much sense for me (and tends to make me kind of uncomfortable). The best advice I can give, I guess, is to focus on making the kind of blog you’d want to read, put out quality content, and people will like it!
What blogs do you read for inspiration?
I’m subscribed to about 80 blogs on Google Reader, the vast majority of which have something to do with home design. But my favorites are definitely ones with a personal voice behind them and super great style—real people with real budgets working on their own stuff, getting thrifty and handy. There are just too many to list that have inspired me in some way, but blogs like Door Sixteen, The Brick House, Chezerbey, Old Brand New, and Wood & Faulk hold a special place in my bloggy heart, just to name a few.
Do you see more frequent blog posts in your future?
Yes! I’ve been super-duper busy lately (and I’m excited to show you why! Soon! Very soon!), but things should be slowing down a bit and I’ll have more time to get back to blogging more regularly! I miss the days when I had time to post more often, but they’ll be back! I go through serious blogging withdrawal after a few days, believe me.
I always wondered what a “donate” button would do to the website. Have you ever considered adding such a feature?
Nope. I’m really not interested in trying to commercialize this blog (see, no ads! no free products for me! no giveaways!), and there are FAR more worthy causes in this world than my apartment shenanigans if people are in the donating spirit.
After schoolwork is done, how do you find balance between hunting for decor, decorating your apartment, hanging out with friends and all of the other things you do in your free time?
I’m not really sure that I do find balance, to be honest. I’m not the most efficient person on the planet, but I’m really not very good at relaxing either. I like to be doing something the vast majority of the time, so if it’s not schoolwork or hanging out with friends or cooking or whatever, futzing with my apartment is another way to occupy my time—specifically, usually the time that I should be sleeping.
How do you go about searching for gems in the city? And if you find them, how do you get them home?
I really don’t use Craigslist very often, partially because I actually like going to thrift stores and don’t like sitting in front of the computer more than I already do. When I first got here, I did some searching online for thrift stores and flea markets in New York and tried a lot of them out. Getting things home is always a super fun pain in the ass. If I’m lucky and find something up in my neighborhood, I can usually carry it home, but I’ve definitely been known to bring chairs and bubble lamps with me on the subway. Sometimes I need to hop in a cab with a street find or something, but I try to avoid that because I’m cheap and don’t mind looking insane in public.
Do you ever worry about bedbugs while thrifting/scavenging? Any thoughts on avoiding those nasties?
I try to be careful, definitely, but bed bugs could be anywhere! I don’t do stupid things like pick up upholstered furniture off the street, but I generally try not to worry about it with things from thrift stores. It’s just a risk I’m willing to take, I guess, but I don’t see the risk as being terribly high. Of course if something does get dragged off the street, it’s cleaned within an inch of its life, just in case.
Do you stick to the thrift stores just in your neighborhood, or venture elsewhere? Any thrift store/flea market recommendations that you haven’t previously mentioned?
In my experience, most everything amazing comes from Brooklyn. Manhattan has a fair number of thrift stores, but there aren’t too many that I really like. Even though my neighborhood boasts about 10 different thrifty spots, they’re basically all overpriced and generally full of awful shit. If I buy things at a thrift store or a flea market I’d recommend, I always mention it in my post about the item. But more often I tend to find that one thing in a scattered selection of stores that I’d never recommend, in which case I usually don’t say where it came from since it’s really not worth a trip. Trust me.
How do you balance the desire to own awesome vintage furniture with the p.i.t.a. that it is to own stuff and schlep it around NYC? After four years here, I own a mattress, some books and clothes, a couple pieces of art, and a few kitchen tchotchkes. Everything else I inevitably pitch when I move apartments because it it too. much. hassle.
Really, the stuff in my apartment is just a combination of me being pretty cheap and very picky. I’m pretty particular about my things, which is why I’d usually rather just go without than settle for something I don’t really love (which also means it takes forever to “complete” my apartment, whatever that means). Most of the time, my “awesome vintage furniture” is less expensive than even IKEA, so for me it’s worth it to wait until I find something I love than just buy something I’m willing to toss when it comes time to move out (not to mention less wasteful). Then again, I haven’t had to deal with moving yet, so I might be doing this whole living-in-New-York thing all wrong.
Do you have any advice for people who can’t use tools/have no carpentry skills?
Try stuff! I don’t think there really are people who “can’t use tools,” I think we’re just used to living in a world where we aren’t required to make things and therefore think we can’t. I’d never call myself somebody with “carpentry skills,” but I’m not afraid of trying things out…and I kind of love power tools and making things. I really don’t have a lot of technical expertise or experience—the most time I ever spent around tools was a few seasons of theater tech stuff in high school—so most of what I’ve shown on the blog is really me just trying stuff for the first time. I didn’t grow up in a house where anybody did a lot of fixing or building (though my mother, she would like everyone to know, is quite a handy lady). So for me, it’s really just been about deciding what I want to do and trying to make it happen—nothing I’ve made is very difficult to accomplish, I swear! The internet really is a great resource for learning how to do almost anything, too, and I think a lot of what I know I learned from blogs! But I also know there are places to take classes (Home Depot offers some I know, but I’m sure there are plenty of other resources) to learn certain skills. Personally, I’m DYING to learn to weld. Think of all the crazy shit I’d be building then! Yeehaw, fire! Molten steel!
What sort of freedom do you have to decorate your apartment (for example we can’t paint here)? Does the landlord give any money towards costs of updating? Do you need the landlord’s permission?
I work under a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with my landlord. My lease states that I can paint the walls so long as they’re all “back to white” when I move, which I intend to do (which will just involve repainting the kitchen and bathroom). Beyond that, I’m not supposed to make irreversible changes to the apartment. I’ve largely obeyed that rule, with the exception of the bathroom vanity re-vamp. I think it’s a little silly when people talk about how they aren’t allowed to paint or hang art, or pretend like they can’t do anything to their apartments. A nail hole is always patchable, a wall is always re-paintable, and light fixtures can just as easily be switched back as they can be replaced in the first place. I’ve never asked my landlord for money to fix the place up, but I’ve been told that landlords sometimes do that. It’s just a can of worms I’d rather leave closed.
Did you ever get a new roommate? If not, how cheap is your rent?
I haven’t gotten a new roommate. There are a few personal reasons for this that I won’t get into, but I actually enjoy living alone and it’s still semi-affordable, for now. I don’t really feel comfortable divulging the exact amount I pay in rent in such a public forum, but I will point out that even living alone, I still pay less than it costs to live in an NYU dorm (yes, my two bedroom apartment with a kitchen and a living room costs less than splitting a small room with a stranger!).
Do you keep all of your books and files on your shelf? Where do you keep your printer?
All of my normal books do fit on the shelf I built, but larger format books just become coffee table books that float around the apartment on any available flat surfaces. My school binders are in constant use, so when they aren’t in my bag they just sit on my desk. Files? I’m 21, I don’t play that game. And my printer is under my bed! It stays folded up until I need to use it—I try not to print at home very often unless I need to.
How’s that lovely woolen headboard you made holding up?
Great! I definitely wouldn’t recommend cheap wool army blankets for any sort of high-use upholstery (like a couch or a chair, for instance), but it’s great for the bed and headboard since it’s not the sort of surface that gets a lot of wear and tear. The blankets are a very sturdy material, but they aren’t an upholstery-grade fabric and probably shouldn’t be treated that way.
Apartment Therapy is doing their Small Cool contest, and I believe your gorgeous apartment would be eligible?
Yes, the square footage of my apartment definitely makes it eligible for Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool Contest. Maybe I’ll enter! I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it!
What did you do with the vintage flashcards?
Nothing yet! I know, pathetic. I’ve been busy. Sue me. When I know, you’ll know.
What is the name and breed of your imaginary dog?
His name is Hillbilly. He’s a mutt, found roaming the mean streets of Washington, DC a couple years ago. He’s absolutely MASSIVE, totally hogs the bed at night and tends to be a real pain in the ass. But he’s a real sweetheart and since he doesn’t eat, drink, or poop, he’s very low-maintenance.
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie is a true delicacy.
TOUGH ONE. I don’t have one favorite! But The Wizard of Oz has stuck by me for about 18 years, and I still love it.
Which do your prefer: laces or velcro?
Velcro in theory, laces in practice.
What is the most perfect thing you have ever eaten?
What’s your favorite thing to eat cold out of a can?
Tuna fish? What else comes in cans?
Boxer, briefs, thongs, jock straps or nude—which one are you?
All of the above, at the same time. Layering is, like, so in this season.