The Kitchen: Inspiration and a Plan!


I know if you read my last post, you were probably expecting my next post to be a full-on house tour, MTV Cribs style. “Hey, my name is Daniel, welcome to my busted up crib! Wear some closed-toe shoes and try not to get caught in cobwebs or cut on broken glass! Oh, that bathtub full of green water? Don’t worry about it!”

I thought it would be more productive to do a tour when I’ve put together some modicum of a floor plan, though, so you’d understand the spaces and how they relate to each other and all that. The layout of the house is pretty simple, but still. It’s disorienting to just look at photos of different rooms. So we’ll wait on that for a hot second.

Instead, we might as well talk about the actual first priority of this reno business, which is the downstairs kitchen. I mentioned before that the house has an upstairs kitchen as well, which is a little bit nicer and a little bit worse at the same time. Pictures to follow, but basically it’s a room that really wants to be a bedroom with a kitchen inside it. There’s very little storage, whereas this downstairs kitchen has loads of storage. The downside is, obviously, it’s a wreck.

When we first saw this house, we came to it by parking on the street, trespassing our way into the backyard, and looking in all the windows we could. For some reason, through the blurred tint of “OMG this house is amazing and OMG Kingston is so cute and OMG wouldn’t it be cray if we bought this house??” I distinctly remember thinking the kitchen was, like, totally workable and fine! Disregarding every flaw is a weird thing that happens when you really want something, particularly when there’s snow on the ground and everything is very pretty.

Then when we came back to actually tour the house with the realtor a couple months later, I started to get a little more realistic about the kitchen, and by the time we moved in, I was both afraid and skeeved out by it.


These are some truly lousy photos I shot at our first walk-through (we did about 3 or 4). I’m thinking the kitchen was probably renovated and installed during the 1950s, and has seen a few fancy additions over the years—like a luxurious drop ceiling, for instance, and some nice flower-patterend contact paper lining the backsplashes. The realtor had the ceiling tiles removed so prospective buyers could see just how tall the ceilings really are, which frankly probably wasn’t an improvement. Above the drop ceiling skeleton is a grease-stained old ceiling and some questionable electrical work (wires feeding second floor outlets swinging like vines, an overhead light with no canopy, secured with non-electrical rigid wire…that type of thing!). Nice!

Moving clockwise:

1. The door on the left in the first picture is where the entrance to a back stairwell would have been back in the olden days, but at some point the stairs were torn out and a pantry was put in its place, which is actually sort of nice. I mean, the pantry is terrifying and gross, but the fact that it’s there is nice. It could be nice.

2. We weren’t sure if any of the two stoves and two fridges in the house were operable, but turns out this fridge it totally functional! It smelled like soured…something…but I gave it a freakishly thorough cleaning and it’s basically like new. Scrubbing Bubbles in the aerosol can is a lifesaver, for real.

3. The door on the left was probably originally an exterior door, but now leads out to a weird janky mudroom. Max is convinced the mudroom can be adorable and functional someday; I want to burn it. The doorway on the right leads out to a small enclosed porch on the side of the house. Someday, I think it would be really nice to restore the porch to a regular exterior porch, but that’s going to have to wait. Right now, it is mildly horrifying.

4. 50s wood cabinets, contact paper, and white and gold-speckled formica countertops. I kind of dig the countertops, actually, but they’re in rough shape and I can’t really come up with a design plan where they wouldn’t look dumb.


This mess:

1. That is not brick. That is brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper. Behind that is a couple inches of plaster, and behind that is brick. I really want to chip off the plaster and expose the brick someday, but that’ll probably wait until the full overhaul.

2. Here’s a better view of the sink, which unfortunately is covered with all of our toiletries. We didn’t have hot water for the first 5 days in the house, so this leaky sink was also our cold sponge-bath spa!

3. I have no idea if that stove works, but we’re not keeping it. First of all, it’s very yucky. Second of all, it’s gas, and we currently don’t have gas service. Third of all, there’s a functional and cute electric stove on the second floor thats clean and nice and works, so we’re moving that down here. I already had the plumber cap the gas line.

4. I know, the floor is gone. I originally planned to cover it, but the old tiles were crumbling in places and the adhesive had totally failed across the entire floor. The whole thing came up in about 2 hours, and all of the tiles that weren’t already crumbling came up completely whole and intact. I was sure to keep everything very wet with soapy water, I wore a respirator mask, and double-bagged (and duct-taped closed) all of the tiles, just in case they contained asbestos fibers. I don’t really want to get into that stuff right now, but given the circumstances (crumbling tiles), I think I did the safest thing for me and my family. I mostly followed these guidelines, just in case. In any case, it’s done, and now we’re left with old plywood underlayment, which is…disgusting. Someday, I’d like to go all the way down to the original pine plank subfloor and either refinish or paint it, but we have no idea what the condition of that will be, and I’m not prepared to find out yet. There is also a hole second layer of linoleum and a whole second subfloor beneath that, and who knows what we’ll find there. So for now, this underlayment stays. I think if it’s all painted, it’ll be OK. If not, I’ll explore other options.


We REALLY don’t have the budget for a full-on kitchen overhaul right now, which is kind of a good thing——I really don’t want to renovate a kitchen before I’ve had a chance to live there, see how we use the space, and come up with the best layout options and materials and all that.

Still, there are a TON of free or very cheap improvements we can make to get this “temporary” kitchen to last us a goooood long time. I think once it’s done, it’s probably something we’re going to be fine with keeping until most/all of the rest of the house is done, which is good. Kitchen renovations can easily cost a ton of money, and while I think most prospective buyers probably saw this kitchen as a total gut job, there are actually good things about it! By which I mean that the cabinets are totally plain, basic, and structurally solid, and the sink is pretty cute (big white double-drainboard. better pictures forthcoming!).


SO, maybe some inspiration is in order, then? My favorite combo for kitchens (maybe just for everything, generally) is a mix of black, white, and wood. I don’t keep a ton of inspiration images around me all the time (I get easily overwhelmed), but I love this picture of this restaurant I saw on Brian Paquette‘s Instagram feed. From what I can gather, it’s called Tinello and was designed by Cassandra LaValle, and it’s really pretty. I really love the crisp contrast, and I really love the mix of the black-black chairs with the super dark inky-blue-black benches. It’s a combo that might sound clashy, but I think it works beautifully here. The wood tabletops and picture frames keep things warm, and that little sconce is just the right amount of vintage without going too cutesy.

Also, that kitchen on the right——HOLY WOW. I’ve had this post from Design*Sponge bookmarked for ages, and I just love what Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co. did on the cheap with this client’s kitchen (also in the Hudson Valley!). They color-blocked the whole room, and I think the effect is so gorgeous, and really helps distract from the less desirable parts of the kitchen (like the cabinet doors). The butcherblock adds the perfect amount of warmth, and that sink is…really awesome.


It’s no secret or surprise that I really love Anna and her house and everything she does to her space, and her kitchen is no exception! Black, white, wood, subway tile, Victorian details, Swedish cleanliness, that OneFortyThree lamp——Anna just knows what she’s doing. Max and I went over for dinner last weekend, and it was so nice (and yummy!) to get a break from our chaos and get re-inspired by walking around Door Sixteen. I really love the subway tile with black grout in Anna’s kitchen——it somehow feels warm and cozy, is really inexpensive, and makes the room feel incredibly finished and put together.


ZOMG, you guys!! I MADE A MOOD BOARD. I am a real blogger now. BOOM, kitchen.

What’s a better term for “mood board,” by the way? Surely we can come up with one. I really never want to write that again.

1. There are a ton of old painted-over hooks everywhere in the house, but I recovered a few from the kitchen already. I’m planning to strip the paint off, probably spray-paint them black, and re-hang them for tea towels and aprons and stuff. Aside from the can of spray paint, they’re free! I like free.

2. I definitely wasn’t planning to do any tiling in this kitchen, but the more I look at it and the more I think about how long we might have it, the more I’m tempted. I already have all the tiling supplies from tiling my apartment (including enough leftover thinset and grout!), so it would really just be probably something like $40 of tile for all the areas I want to do. Kind of seems worth it?

3. I hate to link to this since it’s no longer for sale, but I love the Flag Conversions Tea Towel by Shanna Murray for West Elm Market. It went on sale a few weeks ago for $4.50 (!), so I ordered a second one, but now it looks like it’s out of stock. I think I want to hang this one and use it for reference, though. It’s so cute and so helpful!

4. Wood countertops. These are the IKEA NUMERAR oak butcherblock counters, which are probably the most affordable butcherblock option. I have a section if it in my kitchen in the apartment, and I love it, but I’m not sure I want to spend the money here. I have an idea for a cheaper alternative, though, so we’ll see how that goes.

5. You can kind of tell in the pictures that there’s a weird outlet in the soffit above the sink. I had no idea what it was for, but turns out it’s for a clock! Cute! The Newgate Bubble Clock (which I already own!) is battery-powered anyway, but it would be cute to cover the outlet. If Max doesn’t want me to move the bubble clock out of the apartment, maybe I’ll find something vintage.

6. I might look for a cheaper alternative, but while the sink is nice, the faucet is not. It leaks everywhere and it sucks. I love the IKEA RINGSKÄR faucet we have in our apartment, so I’d like to do something similar here.

7. OK, this isn’t the light fixture I have, but it’s similar. I’ve been hoarding a faux PH-Lamp I found in the thrift store in Sweden for $7 for over a year now, and I finally get to use it! I think it would work great as the main light source in the room. There’s a light fixture over the sink, too, and maybe we’ll add some IKEA under-cabinet lighting, so I think the kitchen will be plenty bright.

8. I love the idea of this marble French Kitchen Pastry Slab from Crate & Barrel, especially if we do the countertops super cheap. It’s nice and big, and the marble would class things up a little.

9. The palette! I haven’t chosen exact colors yet, but I’m thinking a warm white-grey for the walls, a crisper white for the ceiling, moldings, and upper cabinets, and a true black-black for the floor, radiator, and doors(?), and  a deep inky-off-black for the base cabinets.

Totally solid plan. So much work. Hold me; I’m scared.



We Did Something. Big.


While I guess I’m a fairly talkative person, I’m not a very loud one. My regular speaking voice hovers, I’ve been told, somewhere around a loud whisper. When I’m angry or flustered, I might achieve something more like a normal “indoor voice,” but anything louder than that is more or less beyond me. Hoots and hollering at concerts or sports games are things that I lip-synch and mime, and an involuntary fear-scream comes out as something disarmingly deep and guttural—neither loud nor shrill. Which is why when I yelled “MAX, TURN OFF THE SHOWER RIGHT NOW!” a few days ago, I couldn’t help but take a split-second amidst the chaos to appreciate just how loud I can be when desperate enough. It wasn’t, evidently, loud enough for Max to hear over the sound of running water and dance music emanating from his iPad, but loud enough for a brief moment of self-congratulatory appreciation. I can scream. I am human.

The trouble was the downstairs toilet. From what I was able to piece together later, what with my limited plumbing knowledge, was that 120-year old clogged cast-iron pipes may not necessarily agree with a shower being run, a toilet being flushed, and a washing machine draining simultaneously.

It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. All at once, a 1920s toilet erupting both from the bowl and flowing from beneath the base, regurgitating what I can only describe as a poop geyser. It stopped as suddenly as it began, but not before relieving itself of somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 gallons of water, which quickly spread to much of the first floor. Soaked in this water was all manner of unspeakable things, chief among them clumps of toilet paper and human shit. After roughly 60 seconds of frenzied mopping with rags and paper towels, I ran to the second floor, where Max was washing his hair. “TURN OFF THE FUCKING SHOWER,” I yelled, drawing back the curtain dramatically. “THE DOWNSTAIRS TOILET EXPLODED.”

He instinctively recoiled in terror, fiddling with the knobs, his eyes stinging from shampoo. “What?! What should I do?”


And that’s when I ran out of the house, leaving my keys behind, and jumped in the car and made a short and frantic trip to the local hardware store to buy a Shop Vac, a purchase I’d previously seen as somewhat unnecessary. I was back in less than 15 minutes, maniacally tearing apart the cardboard box as I approached the front door. Please, I prayed, please don’t let these wood floors buckle and warp. Replacing these floors is not an option.

This—crawling around on your hands and knees in a lake of human shit in what will become your dining room—is, I’m quickly discovering, part of the joy of home ownership.


Rewinding a bit: I’ve been holding out on you, a little bit. Please forgive me. It’s been a little hectic.

Over the past several months, Max and I have been in the process of doing something that started as little more than a pipe dream and some vague flowery fantasies, and ended with us being handed the keys to a house.

We bought a house. We’re officially out of our goddamned minds.


A little practical information:

1. The house is located in Kingston, New York, which is a small city in the Hudson River Valley, about a 2 hour drive upstate from New York City. If you’re the Rain Man of my blog, you might remember that we visited Kingston back in December, where a close friend invited us to stay at a rental house for the holidays. We immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the city. Kingston dates back to 17th century Dutch settlements, was actually the first capital city of New York, and is loaded with beautiful historic architecture and general adorable small-towny-ness. It’s a city of about 25,000 people, with a bourgeoning arts community, thriving small businesses, approximately 3 regular farmer’s markets, close proximity to the water—it’s great, basically. The more time we spend in Kingston, the more we love it.

2. The house is old. The MLS listing said that it was built in 1895, and I haven’t had the time to get myself to the historical archives to try to nail down something more concrete and accurate. I’m thinking that the house was built over time with a couple additions, so it’s sort of a weird mix of styles, including Georgian, Greek Revival, and Victorian. I need to brush up on my turn-of-the-century architectural styles. That said, I don’t think it’s had very many owners. The last owners bought the house from a family member in 1973, and who knows how long they’d owned it before that. What really drew us to the house is probably an effect of that: it’s seen very few major modifications and renovations over the years, meaning that things like moldings, doors, hardware, windows, and flooring are for the most part original and very, very cool. You know I’m a sucker for stuff like that.

3. The house is currently a 2-family, which we’ll be converting back into a single family (which the home was originally). That means there’s an upstairs unit and a downstairs unit—so two kitchens and two bathrooms. We’re keeping the downstairs kitchen, and the plan is to turn the upstairs kitchen into a bedroom, and knock down the walls that separated the two units (this should be fairly simple—they definitely aren’t load-bearing, and look to just be some framing and thin sheets of 70s wood panelling). Obviously we’ll get into much more details about all of our plans and stuff as I post more!


To pre-empt some obvious questions:

1. How the hell are you affording this, you psycho??

It feels a little weird to come out and say the exact purchase price of the house, but I’ll do my best to put this in some perspective while maintaining a baseline level of privacy for the two of us. The house had been on the market for roughly two years, during which the asking price (which was already pretty low, but well out of our nearly non-existent range) had dropped significantly. When we first discovered the house back in December (while innocently trolling real estate listings in the comfort of our rental house, just because we were curious about the lay of the land), the price was over 41% higher than what we ended up buying for, and a couple months later it dropped another 15%. We offered about 25% below the reduced asking price, and after some back and forth with the estate, our offer was accepted. So we ended up buying for half the original list price, and far, far below market, even for our neighborhood, which would probably be classified as what they call “up and coming.” We were also able to fold some of our initial renovation costs into our mortgage loan, so we don’t exactly have to be flush with up-front cash in order to get the house into workable condition and make some immediate improvements on the side. Even so, our monthly mortgage payment is still about the same as a standard trip to the grocery store. So between some savings, some assets we were able to liquidate, a loan, and many long, long hours crunching numbers and doing the math, we eventually decided we were willing to pull the trigger and see where this crazy notion of ours takes us. Even though we’re young and neither of us exactly makes oodles of money right now, we’re still confident we can squeeze the added expense of owning a house into our lives.

That said, we’ve accepted that we could definitely spend the foreseeable future of our lives being pretty house-poor. I’m under no illusions that this decision won’t come with plenty of sacrifices and compromises. But if saying no to certain luxuries means we get to travel this road, I’m OK with that.

2. Wait, so you’re moving to Kingston?

Only kind of. Kingston will be our primary residence, and at least for now, we’re maintaining our Brooklyn apartment. Max and I both work in the city, and while we both have somewhat flexible schedules, we can’t commit to living full-time upstate right now. Because we have an uncharacteristically good rent in a great neighborhood and we love our apartment (and have put so much work into it!), we’re not looking to move right now, but I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility that we may move down the line to someplace even smaller and with a lower rent. Not really something we’re considering seriously right now, but I guess it could happen.

3. Then why? I mean, WTF. 

Well, there are a few answers to that. For a while now, Max and I have both been feeling the itch to dedicate more time to being creative, making things, and having the space to do it—which is nearly impossible in our apartment. We’ve tossed around the idea of renting some kind of studio space, but the idea of throwing more money at rentals (which, obviously, is money you never see again) wasn’t a super exciting or feasible option. The house is big enough to allow us this space, while also allowing us to put that money into a real estate investment rather than paying some landlord’s mortgage.

That’s where the investment side of things come in. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about this house as an investment, and in a couple of ways. Because Max and I both, in large part, professionally try to help people get the most out of their home life, I think we both look at the house as an investment in our professional development. The learning curve of owning a house is enormous, and has already helped us understand some of the challenges that our readers and clients face when they embark to solve their own home design issues, whatever they may be. Working on this house will be an incredible exercise in creativity and stretching a dollar, and I’m really excited to be able to share those skills and decisions here and when working with clients alike.

There’s also the more obvious investment, which is purely monetary. We bought this house for a truly rock-bottom price, and unless the economy completely falls to pieces or Kingston turns into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s a bit hard to imagine losing money on it if and when we go to sell it. The house needs a ton of elbow grease, restoration, and general beautification, but the foundation is solid and the bones are great. I’m not approaching the house as a flip, but I do think we stand a very good chance of seeing a good return on our investment and a decent profit if, down the line, we do decide to sell.

Obviously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this decision came first as a passion project and labor of love. This is something that I absolutely love to do, and find intensely, perversely satisfying. It’s always been a total fantasy of mine to buy an old house and fix it up, but I had no inkling I’d be in any position to do so at this point in my life. But then this house came along, and it seemed like opportunity was knocking, and it was worthwhile to explore it. What we found is that we’re really excited to have a place that we can bring our friends and loved ones to, where life is a little simpler and less stressful, and where we can explore doing what we love. We’re also incredibly excited to give Mekko a backyard to run around in—that’s honestly one of the best parts of all of this. That crazy lady has so much energy.

4. What does this mean for this blog?

Exciting things, I hope! It’s probably not too hard to figure out that after two years, our little apartment is reaching a state I could call “done,” and while there are still some projects I want to tackle, for the most part there isn’t that much left to do. I’ll still be posting about the apartment from time to time, when it makes sense. But! There is not an inch of this house that doesn’t need to be touched, and this renovation/restoration/remodeling/decorating/landscaping/gardening/crafting process is probably going to take…forever. What that means for you is much, much more frequent posts and oodles of content that I hope you’ll find fun, fresh, interesting, funny—whatever it is you come here for. We’ve already started working some, and I’m super excited to start sharing some of the things we’re in the process of tackling!

So…that’s that. Welcome to what we’re lovingly calling Gay Gardens. This should be fun.

p.s.—as you probably know, Google Reader will no longer be available after July 1st! You can now follow Manhattan Nest on Bloglovin’, here!

Kingston House / Life

GIVEAWAY: Fetch Eyewear!

About a year ago, minor tragedy struck my life when I left my sunglasses on an airplane. For most people, this might not qualify as a formative, watershed moment—the kind that’s likely to define the next chapter of their lives—but for me, it was basically a small death. I mourned those glasses. There was my life before the glasses (confusion, discomfort), my life with the glasses (joy, confidence, enjoying sunny days), and then there was my life after the glasses (misery, overwhelming sadness, general gloom, hatred of the sun and daylight). It was a Big Deal.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have the sort of face that just rejects all types of eyewear. My head is somewhere between child-sized and lady-sized, and something about the arrangement of my facial features just doesn’t agree with cute accessories. Forget drugstore glasses or even a whole Sunglasses Hut. So imagine my joy when I found an amazing pair of glasses from one of my amazing sponsors, Fetch Eyewear, last fall (the Baxter in OnyxFade), and my double joy when they asked if I’d like to try out their sunglasses this summer! And a pair for Max, too! Maybe this summer wouldn’t be full of misery and regret, after all!

I quickly took them up on it, and we decided to do the Try at Home feature, where Fetch will send you six pairs of your choice at no charge, you can pick your favorite, send them all back and quickly get your favorite sent to you in the mail! Simple, easy, doesn’t require me to leave my home—I love all of these things.


Isn’t that packaging adorable? It took Max and I about five seconds to break into the boxes and excitedly fight for space in front of the mirror to try them all on. The options are just so good!

The other thing I love about Fetch, by the way, is that they’re an awesome company. The glasses are already really affordable, and then on top of providing super stylish, great quality glasses at a great price, they go ahead and donate 100% of their profits to The Pixie Project, which works tirelessly with county shelters to rescue animals and give them another shot at finding a home. How amazing is that? I just love them. I love them for their cute glasses and for their love of cute animals. And I didn’t even mention the lifetime warranty on the frames. I mean, there is literally nothing not to like. Not. A. Thing.


Max and I and the kids tooled around the Hudson River Valley with Anna and Evan this weekend, and took the opportunity to take our new glasses for a spin with this impromptu and candid (totally planned, very posed) high fashion photoshoot!

Success! They work! We love them! Honestly, I love them more than my lost pair of wonderful glasses that I thought I would mourn forever. Fetch Eyewear has helped me overcome emotional turmoil and find my way to the other side, while protecting my eyes from harmful UV-rays and my summer get-up from being sunglass-less. I literally could ask for no more. Bring on this summer thing, I’m ready for it.

Max chose the Dash in Onyx (which look quite dashing on him, if I do say so myself) and I chose the Milo in Ether (which Max’s sister told me made me look like Anne Sullivan, which I’m 100% OK with).


That’s right, party people—the lucky winner gets two pairs of Fetch Eyewear sunglasses! Maybe you need sunglasses, too? Maybe your dad needs sunglasses? Father’s Day is just around the corner, folks!


1. Go check out all the fabulous frames at Fetch Eyewear! Any of the frames can be ordered as sunglasses, so you have a mighty fine selection!

2. Come back here and leave a comment telling me a few of your favorites (you get to do the Try at Home feature if you want, too, so don’t hold back!) and who you’d give your second pair to! Husband? Wife? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Mama Bear? Papa Bear? Up to you!

3. For a second entry, go “Like” both Fetch Eyewear on Facebook and Manhattan Nest on Facebook. Then just come back and leave a comment telling me you did so. If you already like us, just tell me!

4. For a third entry, go follow Fetch Eyewear on Instagram (@fetcheyewear)! Then tell me you did! 


International entries are welcome and Fetch Eyewear will pay the shipping. However, the winner may be responsible for international duties & taxes.

Yay! Go get some glasses!

This post is in partnership with Fetch Eyewear.

Desk Drawer Redo!


I guess there are certain things you’re supposed to do when moving to a new place, and there are very few places where these conventions are more entrenched than on college campuses. When I got to college, I kind of tried to do these things. I committed myself to making friends and enjoying the city with all the bright-eyed-bushy-tailedness that my persistently-nervewracked brain could handle. I didn’t get involved in any clubs or student organizations or anything like that, but I tried in my own way to be a productive, socially-healthy member of NYU and New York City at large.

It was only a couple of weeks into this New Socially Fluent Me that I was somewhere in Chelsea, let’s say, coming back from somewhere exciting, let’s say. I was too distracted by trying to act like less like a feral animal and more like a likable and attractive person to remember details. All I really remember is getting Indian food that was far too spicy, and a long internal debate that followed about whether it would be worse to order something else and risk looking like a pansy or grin and bear it. I chose Option B and sobbed/hiccuped (does anyone else hiccup uncontrollably when eating impossibly spicy food?) my way through the meal, which must have definitely made me look very attractive. No question.

There’s a valuable window of time in New York between when you and your acquaintances leave wherever you’ve been and walk to the subway. Amidst the traffic and the weird smells and the weird people and the weird-smelling people, it’s a time to reflect, to dispense final thoughts, and to debate your best route home. The goodbye itself is abrupt because everyone literally has a train to catch, so this window of time is not only brief but also pivotal to ending things with a good impression. This is what I was trying to do, after the Indian food fiasco. I’m so charming! I’m funny! BE FRIENDS WITH ME!

And then I saw a little crappy wood nightstand popping out of a pile of garbage and instinct took over. I NEED THIS GROSS DUMPSTER THING, my brain told me. I WILL MAKE OF IT A NIGHTSTAND (it was already a nightstand) AND IT WILL BE GOOD. I WILL STAIN IT. I WILL REPLACE THE HARDWARE. I WILL BE SO CRAFTY. I hailed the closest cab. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE FRIENDS, my brain said while I tossed it in the trunk, BUT THERE IS ONLY ONE DUMPSTER THING. And that’s how I left things.

Charming and attractive.


On the left, that’s how it looked once I un-stuck some wallpaper (which I distinctly remember doing with rubbing alcohol, for some reason, which led my roommate to believe briefly that I had a hidden drinking problem), stained the unfinished pine, and replaced the hardware. Then, when the spirit moved me to own a desk, I did some primitive cobbling together of things to create a desk out of it. Which I had for a while until I replaced it with this desk, which is much more practical for our apartment. Sorry, old cobbled-together desk.

Some readers suggested that I try to sell the desk, but after a few years of use and abuse and my slightly shoddy workmanship to begin with (no formal training! can you believe it? I can.), I just couldn’t really imagine doing that. It would be like posting an ad on craigslist for a used dishrag. “PLEASE BUY THIS SCHMATA I’M DONE WITH IT.”  <– not something you would do.

It would have read like this:


See? It’s not a good look.

Point is, desk was a fun experiment and looked good and all, but it was time to move on. Obviously I couldn’t just do the natural thing and get rid of it though.


BOOM rolling tool cabinet. New look, same great taste. I have too many tools and nothing great to hold them in, and this fits perfectly in our little closet between the hamper and the suitcases. I will not be showing that, due to shame.


This doesn’t even really merit much explanation, but you’re already here so might as well:

1. Removed the legs from underneath the cabinet and screwed some little casters I had laying around directly into the frame.

1. Sawed down the original desktop (which is 2 pieces of 3/4″ MDF sandwiched together with wood glue) with a circular saw on the roof. Discarded excess.

2. Sanded the top and sides of the remaining top to rough up surface. There were some weird stains that wouldn’t come out and some chipped paint, so I decided to just repaint the whole thing.

3. Sanded the newly-sawed edge lightly and applied some Ready Patch with a spackle knife. Ready Patch is my new favorite thing in the world—harder than spackle, not as hard as wood filler, very easy to work with and dries quickly. Perfect filler for like everything?

4. Painted the top with a 2″ angle brush in semi-gloss white latex paint. When I did this originally, I used a small foam roller for the top, but I prefer the look of furniture when it’s painted with a brush. It’s a personal preference thing.


And look! It does things! Like hold tools! Obviously I have more tools and DIY tchotchkes than fit in this little thingy, but this now holds pretty much all the essentials I’d want for a little fix-it job around the apartment. It’s easy to just roll it around to wherever I’m working and have everything at arm’s reach. Maybe I’ll even invest in a few drawer organizer things (like for utensils) to further organize stuff. I know, edge of your seat with excitement.

The knobs are the SNODD knob from IKEA, by the way. They were the cutest little knobs and IKEA only made them for like 5 minutes and it’s not fair. I should have bought a thousand of them, just to hoard. Or at least more than 4.


Yay! This thing has more lives than Keanu Reeves.

Ring by Spring!


Not that I think there’s anything necessarily wrong with it, but I’ve always been wary of people who choose to get married young. It always seemed like something that was reserved for people who were fundamentally different than me—Jesus freaks, for starters, and following that, hopeless romantics and fools. I was mostly horrified when, at around 18, I did the mental math and figured out that my own father was only 23 or 24 when he proposed to my mom. That’s only 5 years older than me, I remember thinking. The 80s must have been fucking nuts. 

This was probably around the time that it somehow lodged in my brain that I was walking a radically different path. Absent sunny personality traits, basic people skills, or even a baseline amount of emotional stability within my day to day life, I figured I’d be alone forever. I’d probably get a dog at some point down the line, but anything approaching real human companionship would more likely start and end with a few very close friends. It’s generally hard for me to be around even those I love for more than a few hours without needing a long break, and I decided that I was OK with being the sort of person who just cherishes their alone time. It was kind of dark and mysterious to be that way, and a decent way to recast the anxiety that I’d very likely die alone into a conscious, liberating choice.

There was a long time when I would have told you that I loved living alone, that I preferred my hours spent in solitude. In a way, it was kind of true, but it was a notion fueled mainly by self-delusion. Truth be told, left up to my own devices, my behavior seems to toggle somewhere between dysfunctional and mildly self-destructive, but in the thick of things I couldn’t really see that. But then I met Max.

“Love at first sight” has always seemed, to me, like one of those stupid, sappy, mythical concepts that bad music and dumb movies have made us all believe in. And I won’t say that’s exactly what I experienced with Max—more like a creepy obsession, like discovering an incredible new band and being rendered useless to do anything but listen to their music and look at photos of their tour and dream hopelessly about a relationship with the frontman. I’d just seen the movie Fatal Attraction for the first time a few months before we met, and all of a sudden I had a glimpse of what might drive a person to boil a pet rabbit. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.

What I remember most about the early months of our relationship was the emotional chaos of feeling so much fear and insecurity and something not unlike bliss simultaneously. I had a difficult time imagining that my feelings could be reciprocated, and besides, I couldn’t fathom that they would last. I knew myself, and worried that the feelings would get stale, or I would get bored, or he would get bored, and the bottom would fall out. But then the early days gave way to weeks, which became months, and nothing really changed. And now we’re two and a half years out, and we’ve moved swiftly to create this whole life for ourselves that I can’t see ending. And I really don’t want to see it end.

Much to the disappointment of everybody close to me, there’s no great story about how we got engaged. There was no scene on a mountaintop, or a rooftop, or a beach, or a Jumbotron at a sports game. There wasn’t a moment when I turned to find him on one knee, the sound of a small box clicking open, or even any real impassioned rejoicing. As I’d been the first to use both the words “boyfriend” and “love” so many months before, at some point I’d made it impeccably clear that the proposal—if ever there was one—would not be my duty. I won’t say it was a fair deal, but it was one we both agreed to.

When you know you’re probably going to marry someone but nobody’s really ready to make the leap yet, you find all sorts of awkward ways to embrace the tension surrounding the issue. For my part, I fell into a horribly unbecoming habit of hinting at it all the time: “I don’t see no ring on this finger!” I’d yell after jokingly waxing poetic about one of the One Direction boys long enough for Max to get annoyed. It became a kind of perverse game: describe a future that didn’t include him for long enough and in enough detail for him to take the bait, at which point I’d pull something from the limited arsenal of familiar refrains. “You don’t own this!” I’d scream in mock-outrage. “Like Beyonce always says,” I’d remind him, “if you like it…”

And then, one cold night when we’d both had a little too much to drink, with friends in the next room probably mixing more cocktails, he just said “OK.”

“OK, what?”
“OK,” he said, “maybe we should do that then.”
“Do what?”
“You know—that. That thing, with the rings.”
“You’re drunk.”
“No I’m not.”
“No, you are. If you want to talk about this tomorrow when we’re both sober, we can do that, but we are not making this decision right now.”
“OK, but I’m going to keep asking.”
“You haven’t even said what you want me to do yet.”
“You know.”

I thought that would be the end of it, but it was the first topic of conversation when we woke up the next day, and I think by breakfast, we were engaged. Or something like that. It happened, in any case, and that’s all I really care about.

I sat on this news for a while, sharing it slowly, piecemeal, among various friends and family before it really became public information. It wasn’t any big secret, but in a way, I liked the privacy of it all, the feeling that I could think about it by myself before opening it up to the congratulations and excitement of others. When another student in my writing class this past semester noticed a ring on my finger, the whole class took part in a sort of collective ooo-ing and aww-ing and questioning that left me, frankly, a little queasy. Am I really that kid? That person who, in 2013, ended up with a ring by spring, who is thinking simultaneously about final exams and my wedding? It’s so far from the type of person I took myself for, so distant from wherever I expected my life to be at this point, that it’s all a little hard to wrap my mind around.

The next week, during a couple of hours before the class was set to meet again, I went to sit in the park and read. I’ve never worn any sort of jewelry, so for a while it was a shock to the system to feel the small weight of a band around my finger, like when I got braces and spent weeks running my tongue over the textured, metallic surface where my teeth should have been. A group of 8 or 9 homeless-looking alcoholics stood around some benches nearby, squabbling over the dregs of a vodka bottle and the last hits of a small joint. Evidently, one man had borrowed another’s sunglasses and hadn’t returned them. A woman had recently started smoking pot again, and her boyfriend (they broke up and got back together twice in the space of 30 minutes) slurred his disapproval. One man slept quietly on a bench in the middle of it all. Due to substance abuse, mental illness, or some combination of the two, each of them was, individually, a walking disaster, and the interactions between them moved so quickly between love and hate that it was impossible to keep track. Just as I was losing interest, among all of the yelling and the fighting and the making up again, I saw one man turn to another, put his hand on his shoulder, and say “I don’t have a life vest, but can I grab your arm, man? Because I know you’re going somewhere safe.”

In the moment, I didn’t know what to make of them, but out of context, the words took on a kind of weightiness. They’ve reverberated in my skull for the last few weeks, I think because they encapsulate so much of what I feel. I’m the type of person who has always spent more time worrying about things than enjoying them, more time feeling anxious about the future than looking forward to it. It’s a condition that makes it hard to just let go and be happy, to feel confident that I’m doing the right thing, to dispense with the lingering, crippling fear that I’m making terrible choices at every turn. But I’ve found a certain kind of foil in Max, who isn’t that way, and who accepts my certain brand of crazy but doesn’t allow it to define me. Max, who is patient with me, who is unreasonably kind, who has made me more happy than any other person ever has, who makes me happier than I can imagine anyone ever will. Who, when bobbing around in what often feels like choppy waters, makes me feel so safe.

Thank you for letting me grab your arm, Max.

 + + + + +

In case you’re wondering, our rings are actually inexpensive brass rings from here. I don’t know how other gay couples deal with this, but we both liked the idea of upgrading to gold bands at the wedding, because an engagement without some bling is just no fun (and gold is kind of spendy).

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