All posts tagged: Before + After

The Renovated Living Room!

longviewfromkitchen

Before we bought the house, I used to have this recurring dream all the time. I’d walk in the front door of my apartment, start walking down the hallway, and before I made it into the main living space, I’d see a door I never noticed before. Sometimes I’d discover the door while I was moving around furniture or art or fixing something up, but inevitably I’d find a way to open it and behind it I’d find a whole new room. Apparently this dream is not all that uncommon, particularly among small-space dwellers.

The thing about the newfound room was that its potential purpose was never immediately clear. There was always something kind of off about it…like it would be really long but not very wide, or wouldn’t have any windows, or there would be a two foot high step in the middle of the floor. After the excitement faded of just knowing the room existed, figuring out what to actually do with it became a significant source of stress, one that usually kept me pretty occupied until I woke up. With the basic setup of kitchen, living room, bathroom, and bedroom already covered by the rest of the apartment, where did that leave this newfound bonus space? You can see the predicament.

The room in the front of our house has always felt a little like that dream. The main floor of our house is very simple: you walk in to a nice entryway/hallway, where the stairs are located. On the left is a large living room (currently bisected into two rooms and in need of a ton of work), and on the right there’s a kitchen (and laundry) in the back, the dining room in the middle, and then this room in the front. The size of the room is generous, the ceilings are high, and the three large windows let in tons of nice light. With the “big living room” just across the hall, I was initially really resistant to making this room a more formal living space (like a parlor) or a less formal one (like a TV room/den), because I don’t really like the idea of spaces that feel too formal to get used on an everyday basis. We really don’t need a bedroom on the first floor, and while I sort of liked the idea of a nice library/study kind of set-up, using this room as another office space felt potentially sort of awkward and maybe not like the best use of space.

I know. Cry me a river. What an obscenely ridiculous issue to have.

ANYWAY. The real revelation came when I stopped for a second to think about our renovation. I’ve been at this for a year and a half now, and the house still needs crazy amounts of work. With the big living room low (maybe last…) on the priority list, it’s going to be a few years before we even get to that, and I don’t want to wait that long to start living (rather than glamping) in the house! So…living room it is. Sometimes I forget how easy it is to switch things around after the real work of the renovation is done…nothing has to be set in stone decor-wise. So I may not know exactly what this room will be in the long run, but right now I’m just celebrating that we finally have a place to hang out and kick back that isn’t our bedroom. It feels so…house-like.

chimneywallbefore

Let’s recall how this room looked two years ago, the first time we saw the house! The patterned walls were so insane. EVERYTHING (walls, ceiling, doors, trim, windows, floors) was in need of attention, some of which have since been addressed and some haven’t. You can see here where part of the baseboard was missing and the floor had been patched in, presumably after the removal of an original mantel/wood stove/stone hearth that would have sat on this wall.

chimneywallafter

And here we are today! Everything is still a huge work in progress—we already owned everything in here so it was just a matter of setting it up enough to be presentable and comfy ASAP. Decor-wise it’s falling way short but that isn’t the point of this post!

plasterceilingdemo

cornerduringdemo

skimcoatingprocess

ANYWAY. There’s a deceptive amount of work contained in these before-and-after photos. I had to completely demo and replace the wall that the “fireplace” is on, the ceiling got completely replaced, and I spent hours and hours repairing and skim-coating the remaining original plaster walls. New electrical got run, old exposed pipes were re-routed to be inside walls and ceilings, and every surface had to be pretty meticulously prepped before getting painted. Oh, and the fireplace! You can read all about the process of creating that over here.

cornerbefore

In this before picture you can see the acoustic tile ceiling (which got demo’d, along with the remains of the plaster ceiling above it, to make room for new drywall) and the exposed radiator pipes overlapping the window molding. I was originally inclined to keep the radiator pipes as-is, but it seemed worth it to throw the money at burying this plumbing while the ceilings were open, and I’m really glad we did! Oh, and you can see the homemade radiator cover that I removed…I can’t imagine wanting to cover up that corner radiator. It’s so cool!

after

Annnnddd, it’s a room! Let’s see…the sofa originally belonged to my grandparents, then my parents, and now I’ve inherited it in my parents’ recent downsize. Black leather and chrome is really not at all what I pictured for this room, but the size is great (space is tight for a real full-size sofa) and I love it on its own, so I want to make it work. I think it’s from the early 70s and both sides can fold up or down, but I kind of dig it in this chaise formation. The lamp next to it is vintage from a junk shop in Brooklyn a long time ago, the coffee table came from the trash (I think it was made by Urban Outfitters several years ago and is clearly “inspired” by the George Nelson bench…), the vintage rug was a hand-me-down from my uncle years ago, and the wire chair was thrifted. I made the dog bed.

The window shades are temporary, by the way. They’re basically just $8 sheets of white vinyl wrapped around a cardboard tube from Home Depot that I bought just to give us some privacy until I figure out what I really want. What I really want is a decent quality solar shade that will provide some privacy but still let lots of light in, but it can’t cost a million dollars. Thus far, finding such a thing has been a total fool’s errand, but I hold out hope.

hallwaydoorbefore

This is the door from the hallway, which was boarded up on the other side when we moved in! We had to have a key made for the old lock, and after the door was open, we just had to tear down the plywood to restore the original layout.

hallwaydoorafter

And after! The piano came with the house. The brief history is that the house was built about 1865, and the son of the original owner lived here until his death in 1962. He played organ at one of the local churches and was also a music teacher (he taught out of the house starting in the 1920s), so I’m guessing that’s why we have it now! It’s EXTREMELY heavy—I can’t imagine trying to get it out, so I’m glad I like it! Neither of us play piano and it’s very out of tune and in need of some repair, but it’s a nice piece of house history to hold onto. The mirror on top was a recent thrift find (I think it was $8 at AmVets), the crocks and oversized jacks are vintage. The bench is Scandinavian from Craigslist—at some point it might be fun to find an old piano bench that matches the piano a bit better, but this is fine for now. The Hudson Bay blanket is by Pendleton.

door

After a lot of excruciating debate, I decided to continue with the black doors! I grew to really like them in the dining room, so I think I’ll carry it through the rest of the house. I think it adds some really nice richness and depth, which can sometimes sort of fade with white-on-white rooms. The original hardware was stripped (I like to spray paint the hinges black to prevent rusting) and put back, with the exception of the keyhole cover, which was missing on this door. I found a few antique ones at a local salvage place (to the tune of 5 or 10 bucks each) that are almost exact matches to the original—I’m keeping my eye out for more since we’re missing quite a few.

fireplaceandshelves

Clearly I need to find something bigger to put over the fireplace, but that can come with time! The piece that’s there now is by our friend Matt Robinson, which I love but it’s just too small for here.

Also, SHELVES! I really love the way these turned out. The hardware is just cheap track shelving from Lowe’s (it’s almost exactly the same as Elfa but cheaper). The vertical tracks are screwed into wall studs (I had to do some test-drilling to find them, but it wasn’t anything a little spackle and touch-up paint couldn’t fix), and the brackets just snap into place. I think the trick to making this kind of shelving look good is using solid lengths of wood—these are just regular 1×12’s cut to size and painted white—I used the same paint that I used on the trim. I even reused the wood from our now-defunct apartment shelving, which saved about $50. Told you I never threw lumber away. I think all-in, the shelving cost about $150 but I wasn’t keeping super careful track.

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They look totally decent, right? I left about a foot on either side to give them some breathing room, and I love that they float above the baseboard. Keeps things feeling light, even though they’re clearly holding a lot of books. Approximately 1,200 pounds, actually! I know it is decidedly Not Blogger to use bookshelves just for books and not a bunch of nicely styled accessories, but we need the space. They’re also organized by category instead of height or color and the spines face out so I’m pretty much losing all around on this one.

Whatever. We got books. Deal.

chairandshelves

I love you, Norell chair. I found that sucker on my birthday for $250, which was kind a splurge for me but I couldn’t help myself!

I feel like it looks like the shelves are sagging in this picture, but I don’t see it in real life. Weird.

light

I bought the light fixture a few years ago on sale at West Elm, which is a bummer because they don’t make it anymore! I came really close to getting rid of it a while ago, but I’m glad I kept it around because I really like it in here. I have plans for the crystal chandelier from the before pictures, but I felt like it was sort of small for this space.

I used the same ceiling medallion in here that I used in the dining room. As in the dining room, I mixed together watery primer and plaster of paris into a paste-y consistency and slathered it on before hanging the medallion to fill in a lot of the crevices and soften the details—I think it goes a long way toward making it look old and authentic. Once they’re up, caulked, and painted, I think they’re very convincing!

radiatorafter

Since apparently I can’t stop painting things black, I also painted the corner radiator! I initially planned to have this radiator sandblasted and powder coated since it’s covered in quite a few layers of paint, but I figured it couldn’t make things drastically worse to just paint it out in the meantime. Now I really like it! It really brought out the details of the pattern and I really don’t mind that it’s not pristine. Just ignore the floors…this is after a lot of scrubbing but they just really need to be refinished. Hopefully a spring/summer project.

Typically I’d use an oil-based enamel for radiators because of the heat, but this one was already covered in a lot of latex paint so I didn’t want gamble with adhesion and peeling/cracking over time and all that. I found a pre-mixed can of high gloss black latex enamel by Valspar at Lowe’s, which was amazing to work with. This is just one coat! It covered great, dried fast, and so far hasn’t bubbled or anything like that, even with the heat turned up. Hot water radiators really don’t get hot enough to require high-heat paints, but the fact that this paint is for interior and exterior use makes me optimistic about it holding up for the long haul.

chimneycupboard

One of my favorite details in the room (the whole house, really) is the itty-bitty chimney cupboard! I guess this would have originally been used to store firewood and stuff, but I’m so glad it’s remained intact even if its purpose has been obsolete for many decades. The little brass/porcelain latch came out so cute after stripping the paint off. I love it.

fromdiningroombefore

windowshotafter

This is the view from the dining room door. It’s so nice to be able to have the door open now! If you ignore the craziness and chaos everywhere else, it sort of feels like the house is…not a construction zone. I like that.

Look! We Have a Dining Room Again!

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We’re coming up on a year and a half in this house (insane, yes? not just me? k cool.), and even though I’m super proud of the progress that we’ve made in some ways, I feel like we’ve barely even scratched the surface in others! We started in the kitchen out of necessity, then I moved onto the little office so I could teach myself some stuff before I had the opportunity to mess up the more important spaces, then I dove into the laundry room because we were losing our minds trying to keep up with our filthy lives and our lack of laundry-doing ability.

I’ve been dying to really get into the more major rooms in the house, though! The kitchen and laundry room were kind of an exercise in working what we were working with (and in the laundry room, trying to add back some character and detail to tie it in with the rest of the house), and the little office was, well, small and more of a learning exercise than anything else. For the past several months, we’ve basically been living between the kitchen, the laundry room, and our bedroom, since all the other rooms were either jam-packed with stuff or under construction.

NOT ANYMORE! I don’t even really know where to begin talking about the dining room, other than to say that I love this room and have since the very first time we saw the house. It’s the perfect size, it gets beautiful light, it has a bay window (replete with fancy archway!), original moldings, old doors, old windows, all that good stuff. It’s been mocking me relentlessly. When we first moved here, I was completely delusional and wanted to have it pretty much done by Thanksgiving, which definitely didn’t happen. Then we tore out the ceiling in December, and since then the remodeling/restoration process spiraled into much more than I realized it even could when we toured the house initially. Aside from, you know, getting a new ceiling, there was also the matter of removing a non-original closet and sealing up the doorway, getting exposed heating pipes removed and buried in the wall, swapping the radiator with a different radiator and completely changing its location, re-running a lot of the old electrical work, repairing and skim-coating the walls, stripping down and restoring sections of molding, and finally the easy stuff like caulking and painting and moving furniture in and all that.

But! The hard stuff is DONE. I’m not going to say the room is done, because we literally just got it to the point of functioning like a dining room and I’m positive it will change and evolve as time goes by, but whatever! It’s a real room and worth taking pictures of! So there! Eep!

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Here we are on Day 1! The room was rocking some pretty ugly acoustic ceiling tiles, a bad light fixture, and some very wild walls that I will admit to appreciating without wanting to actually live with. The good thing about these walls is that the pattern is actually painted with a patterned roller over walls that were skim-coated probably 50 years ago, so aside from a section of wall across the room, there wasn’t really any wallpaper to strip!

Anyway, I’m a sucker for this view. The molding work in our house is one of my favorite things about it (I love how the door and window casings miter into the baseboards—I don’t think I’ve ever seen that anywhere else!), and the original doors and hardware still make me so swoony and sappy. The door on the right leads into the front parlor (the future library room) and the door on the left leads to a shallow linen closet that I haven’t touched yet.

ANYWAY. READY?

Me too.

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Look guys! It’s a real house and stuff! I’m so super stupid happy about this development. Like so happy.

After the ceilings went up (which I’m soooo glad I hired out, after so much internal debate), I went to WERK repairing and skim-coating the necessary sections of wall. I don’t really have tons of pictures, mainly because it was super boring and I was bouncing back from mono and generally living a lot like a zombie, but it happened? Here’s a really bad photo from the other night that sort of shows what I’m talking about:

process

When all was said and done, I’d say the walls were about 50% joint compound and 50% the old pattern craziness. I tested the walls for lead, and luckily the test was negative, so I gave the pattern a sanding while I was sanding the final skim-coat just so I wouldn’t see the dimension of the pattern through the new paint. Totally worked. Groovy.

I painted all of the skim-coated sections and the new ceiling with drywall primer before painting. I mention this because drywall primer is like $10-13/gallon, and new joint compound and drywall REALLY suck in the first coat of paint, so you don’t want to be wasting your more expensive paint on that first coat. The drywall primer does a good job of sealing everything in and prepping for your actual paint.

SPEAKING OF PAINT! I’m so, so, so happy with the paint color. I kid you not: I have somewhere upwards of 20 light grey paint samples stashed away. I hated everything once I painted samples on the wall. Grey is so hard. I was really after a very pale grey, but one that would never, ever go blue or purple on me. I’ve noticed that I really prefer warm grey colors for old houses, so I needed something that had more of a yellow undertone than blue, but wouldn’t look mayonaisse-y or yellowish. It felt totally impossible.

And then something miraculous happened: I got myself a tester can of a Benjamin Moore color called Soft Chamois, and it is PERFECT. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted, I think. It reads very white in the room, but up against actual white, it’s clearly definitely not white. When I started painting late at night, I had a mini panic-session that involved a lot of “am I painting my walls…tan?” but it dried into this gorgeous neutral that never looks cool and also never looks tan/taupe/yellow/custard-ish/etc. Greys and whites are so hard because what looks great in one space might look completely different and awful in another, so I can’t say that this color is perfect by any means, but it’s perfect here and I’m so glad I found a winner! The trim and ceiling are both painted Benjamin Moore Simply White, which is a fairly bright white that’s a little bit warmer than just pulling the can off the shelf. I love how it offsets with the walls. I’m basically very happy about the whole situation.

For all of the paint, I had it color-matched at Lowe’s to the new Valspar Reserve line, and I can honestly say that it’s the nicest paint I’ve ever used! And that includes Benjamin Moore Aura. It’s about $45/gallon (compared to $65 for BM), and the coverage was INSANE. I didn’t prime any of the crazy bright green pattern, and the Valspar Reserve covered it in one coat and looked flawless in two. I ended up using less than a gallon of paint on the ceiling and only a little over one gallon on the walls. I made sure to clean all of the moldings with TSP substitute before I painted, and it’s already dried really hard and solid and smooth and looks awesome. I’m really impressed with it.

So now that you know about my harrowing struggle of choosing a paint color, more pictures? Let’s do it.

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One of the things that drove me crazy about the drop ceiling was the way the archway clearly did not fit under it, so the situation was remedied with some creative crown molding work and a ton of caulk. It was not good. Trust.

Since the radiators were probably added somewhere around 40 years after the house was built, I didn’t feel bad about changing the location of the one in the dining room. It was very oddly placed between the opening to the bay window and the other window, obscured the moldings of both, and generally cluttered up a wall that already has, well, a lot going on.

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Yayyy! One thing I did NOT do was get into the bay window. I’m saving that for another time. There’s some water damage to the windows and moldings in there, and it’s going to be one of those slow jobs that I can deal with another time. So I stuck a Fiddle Leaf Fig in it because that is what I do.

SOMEDAY, the other window in the dining room will look out to the outdoors, but right now it faces into that weird enclosed porch situation on the side of the house. The side porch is really horrible and falling apart and full of tools and stuff, so I hung a cheap vinyl shade on the outside so I wouldn’t have to look at it in the meantime. Fancy!

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Because who DOESN’T love before-and-after shots carefully taken from the same angle, here’s another one! The closet on the right is the one that I removed (the space became part of the pantry). The door and casing were removed entirely (hoarded in the basement, of course, because you never know) and I framed in the doorway and patched it with drywall. Then I skim-coated the entire wall…aside from some missing baseboard molding (again, different project, different day), you’d never know the doorway was ever there!

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All that work didn’t end up being all that important, I guess, because I went and bought an enormous antique cabinet and stuck it where the door used to be anyhow. But anyway! I swear I did all that hard work and stuff.

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While we’re here, let’s talk about this cabinet! I LOVE it. It’s about 4 feet wide and 8 feet tall, and I found it at a clock shop in Uptown Kingston months and months ago. I casually stalked it for a few months, and then the store owner decided to renovate and clear things out at discounted prices, and sold it to me after some back-and-forth for $450. I’m guessing parts of it are about the age of the house (maybe a little older), but I have a feeling that it used to be part of a longer run of built-ins and various parts have been tacked on over time, like the crown molding and the bead-board backing, and I think the doors might actually be old storm windows…who knows! The point is that it’s here, and we got it into the house, and somehow Max and I managed to hoist the top onto the bottom all by ourselves, and I think it’s somewhat magnificent.

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The interior of the whole thing used to be this custard yellow color, but I don’t play that. When I got it home, I wiped down the inside with TSP substitute, primed it with shellac-base primer, and painted it with two coats of semi-gloss Bedford Grey, which is a Martha Stewart color that I had leftover from painting the frame and rolling cabinet in the laundry room.

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I love how it turned out! Bedford Grey is SUCH a good stand-by kind of color. For now at least, the top pretty much just holds pretty stuff I’ve picked up here and there (mildly obsessed with that green crock, FYI), except that big wine decanter in the bottom left corner that doesn’t fit anywhere else. The drawers hold napkins, placemats, candles, all that kind of stuff, and the bottom has all our tech crap like the printer and modem and airport. And also booze. It also holds booze.

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Let’s take a moment to recall how awful the ceilings were. SURE, FINE, they could have been a lot better with a coat of paint, but the best thing was really to take them down, even though it ended up meaning taking the plaster ceiling above it down, too, and truly starting over.

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We can agree that this is way better, right? Like if we agree on nothing else at least we can agree on this one thing.

You never really know how a drywall job has panned out until after you get it painted, and I’m happy to say that these ceilings are terrific! The guys did such a great job. Even though I wish blueboard and plaster veneer had been an option budget-wise, I’m more than OK with this.

The medallion, by the way, looks great. I’m thrilled with the size of it (32 inches!), and I think the design really suits the house without overwhelming the room.

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Before I put the medallion in place, I ended up painting it with a mix of watered-down primer and plaster of paris, which I mixed into kind of a soupy paste and slathered on. The mixture helped fill in some of the crevasses and soften the details, so the medallion looks more like real plaster and more like it’s aged along with the house and been painted a bunch of times. I feel a little ridiculous about all of this, but WHATEVER. IT HAPPENED. WE’RE ALL GOING TO HAVE TO LIVE WITH MY FAUX-FINISHING WAYS.

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You might recognize the light fixture from our kitchen renovation! I bought this thing at a thrift store in Sweden for $7 a couple of years ago, and I still love it in all it’s knock-off-y glory. We tried to love it as a kitchen light, but we wound up really needing something that diffused light better and more evenly, so the kitchen got a simple globe light and this went back into the lighting hoard. I LOVE it for the dining room, though. I think it looks adorable and it casts perfect light for dining, especially when it’s dimmed down all romantic-like.

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Max and I found the figure drawing at an antiques store for $40 a while ago. I sort of forgot about him but then I was hunting around for something to hang over the radiator and out he came. Nothing says “Welcome to Gay Gardens!” like a strange naked man on the wall while you’re eating dinner, am I right? I dig it. It was between this or a large oil painting I found, which Max swears is a portrait of Sigourney Weaver. (I tried, Sigourney.)

Those who have followed my slow descent into total madness closely may recall my fondness for the NORDEN table from IKEA. When I mentioned wanting this table, there was SERIOUS dramarama and outcry in the comments about how terrible and cheap and awful this table was, but I like what I like and I found one on Craigslist for $250 and I was like GET IN MY HOUSE, NORDEN.

A word about the NORDEN: it’s a very nice piece of furniture. The size is more than generous, it’s solid wood, it expands, and it’s so simple and versatile that it could work in a million different spaces and look amazing. This table is from 1999 and was used in an office, where I can only assume it took a beating, and it’s still in awesome shape and solid as a rock despite having been disassembled and reassembled multiple times.

will say, though, the design of this table has changed a bit over the years. IKEA has since made the table longer, for starters, but they’ve also changed the top—on the older NORDEN tables, each strip of birch is continuous from one side to the other, but now the top is made of many smaller pieces and looks more like a butcherblock. There’s also something different about the finish…my table is super smooth and the new ones have the slightest texture and feel a little…plastic-y? I don’t know…it’s still a really nice piece of furniture (especially for the price) but I do think the older design is nicer. Luckily the seller had saved the original assembly instructions, so I could figure out how to put the thing together!

Anyway. I have no idea if it’ll stick around forever. But I’m totally happy with it for now and I actually like the way it looks with the chairs, so…that’s that.

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OK, so, the doors! After I’d painted the walls and trim, I felt comfortable pulling the trigger on painting the doors black. I did this in my apartment like 3 years ago, and loved it there, and I already had the black paint, so I went for it! I really live on the edge that way. I used the same color: Onyx by Benjamin Moore, which continues to be my favorite black. It’s very slightly off-black, so not as stark as a true black paint, but it never looks even a little bit navy to me, which is a huge pet-peeve of mine with almost-black colors.

I’m going to be totally honest: I’m not entirely sure about this yet! We hung the doors 2 nights ago, and at first I was like “OMG I HATE IT” and then the next morning I was like “ok, maybe I don’t hate it totally” and then by last night I was kind of into it. I think it’s the white hardware that’s sort of throwing me. The hardware is original and beautiful and non-negotiable, and I knew maybe it was kind of a risk to do something so high-contrast, and…I think I just need to live with it for a while. I call them my Wednesday Addams doors.

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I love this itty bitty mirror. Just saying.

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I think that’s about it! I don’t  know what else to say! I’m so happy to be able to use this space again, and excited that I pretty much just get to futz with it from here on out. The only really major thing left is to refinish the floors (they’re in terrible shape…somehow the pictures make them look a lot better!), but that should really wait until more of the house has been renovated…it’s probably a next spring/summer thing. We’ll get there!

Now onto the next room! I vote library.

The Little Office: It’s Done!

office2

Guess where I’m writing this post from. Guess guess guess.

That chair right there. With my laptop on that desk. In front of that glorious wall. In my office. Which is finished, FYI.

How did you spend your Saturday night? I spent mine pouring myself a glass of bourbon and polyurethaning a desktop and some shelves. Then I poured myself some more bourbon and cut and installed a roller shade and made some paint touch-ups to the walls and baseboards. Then I poured myself some more bourbon and painted the third and last coat of paint on the floor, and then I sat in the doorway and basked. I was drunk at this point, true, but I would have basked regardless. Because this room? It makes me really happy.

before2

When we bought the house, this is how things were looking. I really wish I had taken better photos than the ones that my old iPhone could capture because you totally can’t see how jacked up everything is. The walls were full of all sorts of problems, including old painted-over wallpaper that was peeling away from the plaster, enormous cracks, water damage from a leaky roof, and the floor had a few different types of linoleum laying on top of the original brown-painted tongue-and-groove subfloor. I think because this room is sort of out of the way and looked like such a wreck, Linus decided early on that it was an acceptable bathroom.

Rude.

before6

Things quickly went from bad to worse as I started to chip off all the old wallpaper to reveal the bare plaster. Large sections immediately fell apart and crumbled and later had to be patched in with drywall, but I was able to salvage and repair the vast majority of the plaster with plaster buttons, joint compound, various fiberglass mesh products, a lot of time and a huge learning curve. Repairing and restoring these walls myself felt completely overwhelming and impossible at first, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. The walls look so beautiful and authentic now, imperfections and all.

office1

BLAM. Office magic.

Take it in. I’m usually pretty humble and not totally satisfied with everything and annoying about dumb stuff, but I have to say that I’m so thrilled with how this room turned out. Apologies in advance for the overly self-congratulatory tone of this post! Maybe it’s hideous! But I love it. It feels so clean and crisp and fresh (which are very weird adjectives to be using about my house, the majority of which pretty much looks like the “before” photos of this room, with fewer ceilings…), and to me it’s just the right mix of modern and old. It feels amazing to have brought this room from a really forgotten, awkward little space (it’s only about 7’x8′!) to a beautiful, functional room with a real purpose. Considering the mountains of work we have ahead of us with this house, getting this little room done feels hugely motivational and really makes everything feel so worth it.

before4

The window wall had some water damage (luckily, plaster holds up pretty well to water, even when there’s a lot of it over many years). That corner was all buckled and cracked and falling apart, so it all had to be dug out and rebuilt. I’m saving the window sashes themselves for another time—they’re in OK shape but do need to be removed and fully restored, and that’s just not happening in February!

corner

So fresh and so clean! I hung an ENJE roller shade from IKEA to give a little privacy, filter the light a bit, and cover up the current state of the window. I really hate the ways that IKEA has changed the design of the ENJE shade (they’re on a spring mechanism instead of a pull-chain now, for starters, and it’s a piece of crap), but the fabric remains the same and they’re easy to cut down, so I keep coming back to it. I’d love to use something nicer from an operational standpoint, but custom roller shades are SO incredibly expensive and I’ve yet to find a halfway decent alternative. So ENJE wins again!

The trash-basket is from Home Goods (they always seem to have an ample supply of nice, inexpensive baskets), and the desk lamp is a FADO lamp from IKEA that I’ve owned for years. The mug is from CB2 (with graphics on the other side designed my my internet-friend, Ben Wagner!). The sheepskin is IKEA. Max and I found the chair at the DWR Annex in Secaucus, marked down to something like $75 because there were a few scuffs on the arms! Most of it washed right off with a Magic Eraser, leaving only a tiny area of chipped paint smaller than a pencil eraser. Madness! It’s totally comfortable and totally classic and I like that it’s really visually light, which helps the room feel more spacious and really lets the best part of the room shine. I bet you can guess where I’m headed with this…

diamantecloseup

THIS. WALLPAPER.

Y’all. I’m obsessed with this wallpaper. It’s the Diamanté pattern in black/gold from Hygge & West, produced in collaboration with Portland-based design studio Laundry. It’s incredible. I used less than a single roll for this little wall, but it completely makes the space and guided the direction of literally every other design decision in the room. I’ve said this before, but I love that the pattern manages to be really stylistically ambiguous but still really bold and dramatic—it’s well-suited to the age of the house but definitely not striving to be necessarily accurate to the period. I can see this wallpaper working in so many different types of spaces and looking amazing in all of them. It’s hard for pictures to really do it justice, but the gold is perfection in real life—it’s shimmery and metallic without looking either too flat or too overdone.

I love it. I want to wallpaper everything.

Maybe you want to get in on that wallpaper action in your own digs. Maybe you should stay tuned for the next post, because maybe the fine folks at Hygge & West also want that for you. Wink. Wink.

Wink.

before5

I’m posting a bunch of before/process pictures alongside the afters because I don’t want anyone thinking this was just a fresh coat of paint! And also I’m vain. This was blood, sweat, and tears, people. OK, it wasn’t that either, but it was really fucking hard.

The space to the right of the chimney was a total mess—the top half of the wall had to be repaired with big drywall patches, while the lower half had to be stabilized with plaster buttons, fiberglass mesh screens, and several skim-coats of joint compound. Same story for other parts of the room. It was bananas! It’s safe to say that I had no idea what I was getting into with this room (the whole house, really!), but that’s OK. The good thing about DIY is that none of this stuff was very expensive—just very time and labor intensive. I can do that.

shelves1

But now? Ahhhhhhhhh. The only really logical use for this funny little corner were some shelves, and I think they’re so cute! Since I wanted to keep the desktop clear of clutter and distractions, these shelves are a great place to organize all the office-y stuff (and a few books) that I wanted in the space. I built both the shelves and the desktop out of inexpensive pine lumber, and I really like the natural tone of the wood next to the white walls and the black and gold wallpaper. I’ll post a whole DIY step-by-step for how I built them all super soon! The construction was really simple and I’m so glad I put in a little extra time and effort on something that looks really built-in and custom instead of using pre-fabricated or modular components. It makes the room feel special.

I picked up the big snake plant at Home Depot the other day for $15! I feel like these plants get a bad rap, but they’re super low-maintenance and one of the few houseplants that Max and I can agree on. The big crock that it’s in was a lucky yard sale find over the summer. Even though these are fairly common antiques-fare in the Hudson Valley, prices can get a little out of hand. This one isn’t super valuable or super old or super unique, but it is really big and I think we paid $30 for it which still felt like a deal. I stuck some small felt pads to the bottom to keep it from scratching the floor.

(I don’t know what that yellow glass thing on the top shelf is. I bought it at another yard sale over the summer for a few dollars along with some iittala stuff—the seller had no idea what he had!—but I’ve yet to figure out what it’s really for! The top separates from the bottom, so I guess the bottom part could be a vase, but maybe it has some other weird purpose. Maybe it’s for drugs. I think it’s pretty, though!)

shelves

The shelves also hold some things that are pretty special to me, including the stapler that belonged to my grandparents and this little antique box that I bought when I was little. I went through a big antique-box-collecting phase as a kid (yes, really) and have since gotten rid of most of them (how many little boxes can one person really use, honestly?), but I’m glad this one’s stuck around. The black and white striped box below it was on clearance at Target and fits 8.5×11″ paper perfectly.

before3

This area to the right of the door was actually in the best shape, and all it really needed was three layers of skim coat and paint. The little door to the little closet under the attic stairs had lots of gloopy paint on it and I got a little carried away with the heat gun trying to even it out, so I ended up having to strip the whole thing. It’s less than 5 feet high, though, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s probably not something I have it in me to do for every door in the house, though. But it was nice to give this one a little extra love.

mirror1

Yep, yep, yep. I’m pretty happy with how this all panned out! I stripped the paint off the door hinges in a pot of water on the stove (low heat for a few hours with a little dish soap!) and spray-painted them with Rustoleum’s matte black spray paint. I love the contrast of the black hardware with the white door and moldings.

glassknob

The door also has the cutest little glass knob! I doubt it’s original, but it’s definitely old. It had some paint on it, but it easily came off using the same method I used on the hinges (again—LOW HEAT…don’t want to crack the glass!) and shined up beautifully. It has lots of little air bubbles in the glass.

mirrorcloseup

I was planning to hang something else on that wall, but as things started to come together, I felt like the room needed some more old stuff to balance out the crispness of everything else. I picked up the mirror at a weird vintage shop somewhere around here for $45 a while ago, and I think it’s kind of perfect. There’s some damage to the frame and the glass is all speckled with age, which just makes it better. I love old mirrors.

light

officelight

Speaking of old stuff, I’m in love with the light fixture. I bought it a while ago at this crazy junk shop for $5 (!)—it had probably been sitting outside for a few decades, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it at the time, but the art deco details on the metal and that ball of amber glass near the top made me need it. I thought at the time that maybe I’d spray paint the whole thing, so I stashed it in the basement for a rainy day and forgot about it. But when I remembered that it was sitting in my basement, the beat-up finish and rust and crap seemed to make it perfect for this room. I took it apart and cleaned all of the components with Barkeeper’s Friend, which helped eliminate the excess rust without stripping its age and wear. Max thought I was a complete lunatic throughout this whole sequence of events, but I had a VISION. I rewired the whole thing (which is really very simple, I promise!) and with a few new pieces of hardware and bulbs, it was super easy to hang up!

The ceiling medallion is nothing special—just a stock urethane foam medallion from Home Depot that was about $30 (they usually only have a few in the store, but the selection online is huge!). These tend to look really cheap and shitty in their packaging, but once they’re caulked and painted, they look like the real deal. I attached it to the ceiling with construction adhesive and drove a couple of screws through it while the glue cured for a few hours and caulked it around the edge. Later on, I took the screws out, patched the holes with ReadyPatch, and painted it the same color as the ceiling. It’s not really everything I ever wanted (I think it’s a little too fancy-looking for this decidedly un-fancy room), but I do really like the way it looks with the light fixture and the wallpaper. For other rooms I’ll order medallions that are more appropriate to the house and the original functions of the rooms, but I’m letting it go for in here. Good enough!

floorbefore

floor

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the floor! I’ve wanted to paint this floor white since the first time we saw the house and I didn’t even know what this room would be! It did not disappoint. I love it. It ended up taking a lot of prep work (sinking face-nails, sanding, retrofitting an underlayment, caulking between the boards, shellac-based primer…), but the end result is so beautiful and fresh. I used Benjamin Moore’s low-sheen white Floor and Patio paint (three coats), and the finish seems really durable. I’m not sure I could deal with white floors in large areas of my living space (I don’t like to clean that much…), but this room is so tiny and out of the way that I don’t think it’ll be hard to keep clean. It’s small enough that I can scrub the whole thing with a Magic Eraser every now and then, and enforcing a no-shoe policy in this room shouldn’t be too difficult. I love how the white paint actually brings out the age and imperfections of this old floor—all of the scars of years of use add a texture that keeps it from feeling sterile or cold.

Also, I think Linus likes it for camouflaging purposes. He no longer seems interested in shitting on it, either. Success!

officewide

I love this room. Thank you, sincerely, for all of the kind words of encouragement as I’ve been learning how to do (and sometimes, redo) a lot of this stuff for the first time—it really does help, and it really makes me happy that I have this blog. It never seems like there’s a totally opportune, not-weird time to say this, so I’ll just put it here: I’m so lucky to have such kind, phenomenal readers. I hope you like the room, too!

Now let’s tackle the rest of this madhouse!

The Apartment, After 2 Years of Living: The Living Room

The house is in all-out chaos mode. Ripping out the dining room ceiling sort of had a snowball effect of more and more demo, which has not only created an enormous mess but also brought the number of ongoing projects up to a semi-crazy, semi-overwhelming, basically-unmanagaeble tally. It’s kind of at the point where I just look around and find myself completely incapable of even prioritizing tasks anymore, so I’m just chipping away at all of them randomly and hoping that if I keep on like this, everything will meet some kind of happy resolution. Totally good strategy? I guess we’ll find out.

Even though I like the idea of moving along one room at a time, in practical application that’s just not really how it works with a house in need of this much work. It doesn’t make much sense to just do a little drywall work without just doing most of the drywall work or update a little of the electrical without updating a lot of the electrical. My hope is that if we can get a lot of this stuff taken care of at once, we can go back to the room-by-room strategy and just do the fun stuff like skim-coating* and painting** and making things pretty***.

*not fun at all.
**also not very fun.
***maybe moderately fun, but not that fun either.

So that’s pretty much where things stand. Chaos. Confusion. Too many things. It makes me feel so ALIVE.

throughbedroom

So, to distract both me and you from the fact that I’ve become a perma-dusty garbage person living constantly in filth and despair, I figured maybe let’s talk about things that are currently pretty and clean? Instead of things that I promise will one day be pretty, even if everyone thinks I’ve lost my mind at this current moment?

I posted a little 2-year update on our bedroom at the Brooklyn apartment back in October and intended to complete the series by posting about each of the rooms every week or so, but that didn’t happen. Why? I don’t know. I get distracted.

before2

My goodness, those walls. Sometimes I forget about the red walls when we moved in, and then I remember the red walls, and I become so grateful for good primer all over again.

Probably the biggest question I get from people about this apartment is how in the world I finagled my landlord into letting me make all these changes to my rental, and the answer is more or less contained in this picture (bearing in mind that this low-quality iPhone shot is actually very forgiving). When we moved into this apartment, it was kind of a wreck. It’s a beautiful 1890 building, sure, but it hasn’t been well-maintained (trust, the public areas of the building are horrendous). I think most standard New York City lease agreements either allow painting only with permission or stipulate that walls must be returned to white upon move-out, but that clearly did not happen here. It’s probably best practice to not have missing pieces of flooring, either, and maybe making sure that electrical outlets are operable and covered is also a good plan. Bathroom doors that close are nice, too. As for that legally-required smoke detector? HAHAHA. LOLZ.

before1

The point is, while I did volunteer to paint the apartment myself if our landlord agreed to cover 1/2 of the cost (I would have done it anyway, because…red walls), that was pretty much the start and end of it. And in our building, I think that’s 100% OK. I’m pretty confident that all the things I’ve done are objective improvements, and it just seems silly (and, frankly, unwise) for me to ask permission every time I want to help improve their property. I think this kind of landlord-tenant relationship is pretty standard in Brooklyn, but all I can really say is that you have to evaluate your own individual situation as objectively and honestly as possible when considering altering a rental, and just because I did something doesn’t mean that you should also do that something. My (lack of) consequences might be very different from yours!

livingroom

Anyway! I love this room now. It’s gone through lots and lots of iterations in between that “before” picture and this one, and if we hadn’t bought the house, I’d probably keep messing with it until the end of time. But there is zero extra time, money, or effort in my life anymore that I’m willing or able to devote to futzing with this space, so it’s done enough! I like it.

Clockwise: lucite tables are vintage. Couch is IKEA. Pillows are CB2 (discontinued). Desk is vintage. Wall lamp is OneFortyThree. Tree is a Fiddle Leaf Fig. Pot is Target (discontinued). Ceiling light is the Cartell FL/Y Suspension Lamp. Chair is a vintage Eames Lounge. String light is Patrick Townsend for Areaware. Basket is West Elm Market (discontinued). Mirror and pottery on mantel are vintage. Credenza is vintage. Eames shell chair is vintage, base is from Modern Conscience (quality is terrific, btw). Coffee table is vintage. Rug is vintage.

desk

I don’t know, stuff and things on top of the desk. I still love that Christopher Gray print from Erie Drive.

livingroom2

OK, time to fess up…we got a huge TV. Over a year ago. My little 26″ TV wasn’t cutting it anymore, and at some point we decided that our next TV purchase should be approximately 400 times larger. I know the chic blogger thing to do is have, like, some modestly-sized TV covered with a curtain wall of cotton-velvet panels underneath which is a gallery wall of some fake art surrounding the TV and painted dark to minimize the presence of the TV and pretend like TV isn’t something they do while they continue to try to invent an invisibility forcefield for said TV, but that’s dumb. A TV is a TV, and TV is pretty great these days, so who cares? Despite that I know on a cognitive level that this enormous television is tacky and huge, I’ve also successfully deluded myself into thinking that because it’s mounted and scaled kind of like a piece of art, it isn’t so conspicuous. Ha.

We’re boys. Leave me alone.

We got a good deal on this very slim LED LG model (I think maybe they were phasing it out…I can’t seem to find it for sale anymore), and I have to say it’s super nice. I don’t know lots about this stuff, but I guess LG isn’t considered one of the high-quality brands, but the picture quality (and even sound quality!) on this TV are amazing, and I remember it being slimmer than the nicer Sony and Samsung counterparts. No regrets! I mounted it to the wall with a TV mount from Amazon, which I remember being fairly challenging (this wall is plaster over brick, so I used huge lag-bolts to secure it). Then I wrapped the cords together with a rubber band and stacked some books in front of them “temporarily” while I figured out a better solution. Then I completely stopped caring because my shows were on.

blocklight

Pretty much my most successful NYC thrift score of the last year was that I found a Design House Stockholm Block Lamp at Salvation army for $6. SIX. DOLLARS. It was missing the cord and light socket, but those parts were super simple to wire up DIY-style with stuff from one of the lighting stores in Chinatown. I’ve wanted one of these things for a longgggg time, so the whole event was incredibly exciting.

vases

The collection of amateur studio pottery on the mantel continues to grow, but I can’t help myself! Max’s younger sister, Ana, made that little green bowl as part of a ceramics class to fulfill a studio art requirement in college. Evidently she almost failed the class because her pottery was so elementary and unrefined, but that’s what I love about it! I think she could make a career out of making lousy bowls and selling them for $95 in Williamsburg, but I guess maybe she has other priorities. I’m glad we got one of her pieces before she retired from the ceramics game.

Want to see how this room has progressed over the years? Here are some posts listed chronologically that follow the progress. You know, if you’re having a super boring workday or whatever.

1. The New Nest
2. Settling In
3. I Like All Colors that are Black or White
4. Credenza
5. Slow and Steady but Mostly Just Slow
6. Rocker
7. Radiator: Painted!
8. Fiddle!
9. Shambles
10. Mantel Things
11. 65.
12. New Desk!
13. Adventures in Vignetting.

 

The Apartment, After 2 Years of Living: The Bedroom

bedroom1

I never really intended to stop posting about our apartment entirely, but in the excitement and stress and overwhelming magnitude of projects that our crazy fixer-upper house has to offer, I guess that’s kind of what happened. Max and I both still have to be on the ground in NYC for various reasons, and while we can work remotely from Kingston some of the time, it’s a bit too far out of range to really make for a practical regular commute. Consequently, we still spend about half of our lives in the same Brooklyn apartment we’ve been renting for a little over 2 years now——and as much as I love Kingston, our house, and how happy the dogs are there, I do still love the apartment. This is the place where I became a Brooklyn resident and fell in love with the better borough. It’s the first place that I really got to share with my boyfriend——now future-husband——and it’s the place where we made a little family with a couple of fur-babies. It’s seen us through school and a weird collection of jobs, ups and downs, highs and lows; it’s been the backdrop of parties and good times with so many people we care deeply about. I’ll concede that I develop deep attachments to spaces and places, but this one will probably always rank as one of the most important.

Aside from that, there’s no way Max and I would have gone for it with the house if it weren’t for this apartment. I fell hard for this place as soon as Max and I saw it for the first time, and I don’t think that feeling ever really went away. It wasn’t because it was the most beautiful place, but it was the most beautiful place to me. If it’s not  plainly obvious, I might have kind of a weakness for trying to fix up busted up things (apartments, houses, furniture, dogs, you know), and I just remember being obsessed with how special this apartment could be with some love and care. Plenty of people think I’m crazy for spending a dime of my money or a minute of my time——as a renter——fixing up someone else’s property, and my answer to that is usually something like “well, I want to like where I live.” And that’s part of it, of course. But it goes deeper than that, too: I immediately felt a kind of weird responsibility and visceral drive to get this apartment back on track and set it on a better path. If my landlords don’t care that the cornices are rotting and the roof leaks and the hallways and stairs are filthy and there’s the occasional rat in the basement, that’s their prerogative. But for my part, the least I can do is care for my little section of this place that I love so much.

And so I cared. A lot. And I learned how to do all sorts of things, which gave me the confidence to take on something much more involved when I felt that same feeling all over again when we stumbled upon our house in Kingston. These approximately 450 square feet of living space became not only a crash course in renovation, but also a place to experiment, and try things out, and find a happy middle-ground between Max’s taste and my own. And in the process, it probably brought a lot of you here. And I wouldn’t trade any of that.

I tend to be very process-driven with my life and my blog content, and the apartment has always felt——and continues to feel——like a place in progress. Because of that, I always felt a little funny about writing before-and-after posts about it. And while things still aren’t really done (and I’m not so sure they ever will be, which is OK too), they’re in a pretty good place. The apartment is cute and comfortable, the big stuff is taken care of, and while there are still things I really want to do, they aren’t terribly pressing and will probably happen verrrrry slowly. Renovating a house doesn’t really leave tons of time or energy for the kind of pace I kept up when we were living in Brooklyn full-time.

So! Anyway! The apartment bedroom! I apologize that the photo angles between the before and after pictures don’t really match up, but all the before pictures are just quick snaps I took on move-in day. I wasn’t thinking!

beforebedwall

As you can see, the wall color was not exactly something I would have chosen, and everything was desperately crying out for a fresh coat of paint. The ceiling and moldings probably hadn’t been painted for at least a couple decades and were super chipped up and dirty and yellowed.

bedroom2

I love the bedroom in the apartment now——clean and simple and comfy. The white paint (Benjamin Moore’s White Dove) made the room feel totally refreshed and MUCH bigger. The bed is still the same IKEA hack I did a longgggg time ago——an upholstered $50 FJELLSE bed frame, which has held up really well even after over 3 years of use. The bedside lights are also an IKEA hack, and the side tables are vintage Danish shelves that my friend Maya sold me. The shelves aren’t as deep as I’d prefer for bedside tables and don’t offer any closed storage, but the wall-mounted design keeps the room feeling more open and easier to clean, so they’ve stuck around! The art was inherited from my grandparents’ home——it hung in their bedroom, too, and feels really special to have here.

beforedoor

Oh man, those red walls in the distance!

When we moved in, the bedroom door (kind of out of frame on the left) was falling off the frame, and the pocket doors didn’t open and close (turned out there were mounds of newspapers from the 70s and 80s stuffed into the wall cavity behind them!). All the hardware was hidden under layers of paint, the overhead light was awful, and while those little shelves were helpful at the beginning and a good idea for making use of that corner, I wasn’t really a fan of how they looked and they didn’t really fulfill our storage needs.

doors

Yay white walls! Yay black doors! Yay doors that open and close! Lots better, yes?

Bedroomshelves

I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times that my parents are moving out of the home I grew up in, which I’m more or less OK with because it means I get to take stuff! These Elfa shelves from the Container Store used to hang in my bedroom. The great thing about Elfa and similar systems is that it’s totally modular, so it was easy to rearrange the parts to fit the dimensions of this little wall (they used to hang in a long, horizontal formation, so all I had to do was buy two new vertical tracks). There aren’t really too many other options for non-awkward book storage in the apartment, so tucking the books in this corner feels like a good use of space. I also really like the way the Elfa shelves look!

beforedresserwall

shelves

So, this looks terrible. Those shelves went up in a fit of panic when Max moved in and brought a whole library with him, and I’ve basically regretted it ever since (the shelves, not Max moving in). They used to be COMPLETELY full, but we’ve been bringing an IKEA bag full of books with us to Kingston almost every time we go back, so this is all we’re left with right now. It’s still a lot of books, admittedly (and it’s not like there’s really anywhere to put them there, either!), but I’m very excited to take these shelves DOWN, finally. The new shelves in the opposite corner are all we really need here (maybe more than we really need, but whatever), and it’ll be nice to finally not be looking at this DIY-gone-wrong. Also, it’s a good wall for a piece of art (which, at a better scale, will in turn make the dresser look nicer), so that’s exciting. Of course I used CRAZY toggle anchors to hold those shelves up, so I’ll have to spend some time doing a bunch of plaster patching and repainting this wall before that can happen. But it’ll be worth it, because this picture makes me mad.

bedroomcorner

I hung up those little pieces of art a while ago, but I just like the way they look together and in those cheap IKEA RIBBA frames. The drawing on the bottom was found in my grandparents’ house, too (not signed, no idea where it came from or who the artist is!), and the one on top was made by my mommy! I found it years ago while snooping in old boxes in my basement and stole it immediately, and have somehow carried it around with me to every place I’ve lived for the past five years but never hung it up! I FINALLY stuck it in a frame and asked her about it last time she visited—I guess she made it as a young teenager during a brief phase when she enjoyed making art and experimenting with India ink? My mom is not the most artistically-inclined person, so the whole idea of that really tickles me.

The brass slanted candle holders were originally from Dwell Studio, but I bought them from Jennifer at A Merry Mishap at some kind of amazing discount on her instagram account, @ammextras, where she sometimes sells amazing things she doesn’t want anymore. Which is a totally brilliant concept, and also got me these totally brilliant brassy things I love so much. Thanks, Jennifer! The little vases were like 10 bucks at a stoop sale, and the coaster was thrifted.

shelves3

So that’s my room! I’m pretty happy with how it’s evolved in two years. Once those shelves over the dresser are down and the wall is fixed and there’s something arty hanging there, I think I’ll be happy with just calling it DONE.

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