All posts tagged: lighting

Light it Up!

So, due to having zero time and zero energy and no exterior electrical outlet and the house feeling like a construction zone and 3/4 of our family being Jewish (in fact, I am counting the dogs), we did not do anything in the way of Christmas decorations this year, outside or inside. Instead, we did the early-stages-of-renovation alternate version where we change up our seasonal lighting scheme by having some electrical work done.

How’s THAT for holiday cheer?  So festive, even if the neighborhood may not realize/notice it. It’s subtle.

houseinsnow

That photo was taken on Saturday night, when we were getting a ludicrous amount of snow in Kingston! Snowy Kingston is so super pretty, and even though we’ve done almost no exterior work (well, half a roof counts I guess, but you can’t see it from this angle…), the house looks beautiful. The house was covered in snow the first time we ever saw it last December (almost a year ago!), and it feels really good to see it this time around looking more and more like a place where people live and a place that people love.

ANYWAY, the point of this photo is the new exterior lights! Look how bright it is!

oldlightporch

Obviously this is a picture of the hole left behind by the old light fixture and not the fixture itself, but I guess at some point in the 70s or 80s, the previous owner had one of these beauties installed here. It was the only exterior light, meaning that the house was pretty under-lit, generally. Aside from being a crappy size and style for the house, the placement of the fixture sort of didn’t make sense and marred an otherwise (potentially) very beautiful entryway.

newporchlight

Yay, new light! Obviously I have to patch up and paint that old hole (ASAP, before creatures colonize it…), and obviously this “fixture” is only temporary until fickle me can find one I really want, but having it centered over the overhang makes everything a million times better. The impetus for doing this right now was that I had to coordinate the electricians to come on the same day as the roofers so that they could run the new electrical from above, while the roof was torn off. Otherwise, they might have had to cut holes in the original tongue-and-groove ceiling, which was not going to fly. Both the roofer and the electrician were skeptical of this Extreme-Contractor-Coordination Plan, but it totally worked because I’m a bossy genius.

This fixture was slightly more presentable when it had a shade, but unfortunately it fell off roughly 5 seconds after I secured it and climbed down from the ladder. Dumb cheap lighting.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.

newporchlights

There’s lighting over the porch now! For the first time ever! So exciting!

When it’s dark out, this new lighting goes a loooonggg, long way toward making the house look taken care of, which is really exciting and really important in a neighborhood where that often isn’t the case. I’m also excited for when it gets warmer again and we can chill on the porch under our new lights. These lights are on a dimmer switch, so they’re perfect for lighting up the house or just providing a little ambiance when we’re hanging out on the porch. And who doesn’t love ambiance? Can’t get enough of that ambiance.

The fixtures that are there are just these guys from Lowes (which actually aren’t so bad, especially for the price, if you need something generic that looks historic and whatnot) but I think they’re a bit under-scaled, which bothers me. The original plan was to put a hanging pendant in front of the door and two flush-mount or semi-flushmount fixtures over the porch, but after living with the temporary lighting for a while, I actually think I want to nix the pendant and just have three matching flush/semi-flush-mount fixtures. Greek Revival houses were built to resemble Greek temples, and I think adding a hanging fixture would kind of disrupt the architecture. All the columns and the cornice and the trim details (of which there should only be more when we remove the vinyl siding…) are dramatic enough, so I think all the exterior lighting really has to do is highlight all that stuff.

By the way, given the amount of protection the cornice/fascia provide, the electrician assured me that it wasn’t really necessary to get exterior-grade lighting for here (as long as it’s flush-mount), which is exciting. I still might, just in case, but exterior lighting in general is tough. Like super hard to find anything that isn’t so ugly. Looking at interior options that would look good outside really opens up the options in a huge way.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. Stuff happened inside, too!

lightinentry

Remember this, in the entryway? Well. It was the only light source in the entire downstairs hallway. The hallway is over 30 feet long and kind of narrow, and having one teensy sconce trying to light up the whole thing was just not going to cut it.

I went back and forth a lot on whether or not to keep the sconce, and in the end decided to get rid of it. I know! First of all, it was connected to some pretty old wiring (lots of our wiring is pretty old and there isn’t really anything wrong with it, but it still feels good to replace it whenever it makes sense…), but I also felt like the space wouldn’t really be lacking anything without it. It isn’t original to the house (though it may be original to the house having electricity), its placement was sort of arbitrary, it wasn’t effective…blah blah blah. I still have it in case we want to use it elsewhere!

wallafter

Part of the reason I haven’t really made any headway in the hallway is because I wanted to wait for this electrical work to be done, and I’m glad I did! Look at all those holes! Now I can finally start to patch up and repair the walls, which will be so exciting. It’s going to be a longgg process, but getting this entryway/hallway situation checked off the list is going to be a huge accomplishment. 

ceilingfixtureafter

Yes, this light fixture is also completely terrible, but the fact that it’s THERE and that it WORKS is all I really care about at this moment. It’s centered in the entryway between the front door and the base of the steps. The ceilings are almost 10 feet here, so it definitely needs a big amazing chandelier. It’s going to be soooo good.

backofhalllight

In the back of the hallway (man, these pictures just get scarier and scarier…), we added another light that’s on the same circuit as the one in the front of the hallway. The shade for this one also fell off and shattered into a million pieces (I promise I’m not an idiot; these light fixtures are just really poorly made…), but for now it’s not like it’s even the worst-looking thing in this photo. So.

I think for here, I’ll probably do something pretty small and flush-mount, so as not to compete with the big guy down at the other end of the hallway. Just something that does the job…

upstairslightoldandnew

Then UPSTAIRS, I asked the electricians to move the existing light. It was basically centered over the area at the top of the stairs (in front of the bathroom door), which was annoying for two reasons:

1. The ceilings upstairs are only 8 feet, so putting a chandelier or pendant there would have been tough/impossible.

2. This is the only light source in the upstairs hallway, which meant that the other end of the hallway was super dark.

newupstairslight

Moving the fixture over the stairs solves both of these problems! Now that it’s more central, it lights up the entire space a bit better, and since it’s over the stairs, we have plenty of head-room to hang something way more exciting than that little crappy thing with grapevines etched into it.  I just kind of eye-balled the placement, and if I could do it all over again I might move it 6″-1′ back toward the bathroom, but it’s done now so I’m choosing to think it’s perfect!

cree

Before I end this long, rambling post about things that probably only I could get excited about, I wanted to mention my new(ish)found favorite lightbulb: the Cree bulb. This is a big deal in my life.

FINALLY, FINALLY, FINALLY, there is an energy-efficient bulb that is:

1. Very energy-efficient. It doesn’t even get warm when it’s left on for hours and hours, which is my scientific way of knowing it’s good for the world.

2. Not terrible to look at, like acceptable to put in a regular lamp or anything where it’s still mostly covered. But SO much better looking than a CFL.

3. Dimmable. For real dimmable. Actually dims really nicely.

4. Lasts forever. Package says it will last 20 years. That just seems ridiculous, but I guess we’ll find out.

5. MOST IMPORTANTLY: it gives off nice light! Like actually! OK, it’s still a teensy, tiny bit different than a good ol’ incandescent, but I’m the pickiest person alive and I have zero problem with the kind of light this bulb gives off. I basically can’t stand ANY kind of CLF, halogen, or other types of LED’s, so this is huge. Just make sure you get the SOFT WHITE, not the daylight.

We’ve been using these bulbs wherever we can and they’re really great. At about $12 a pop at Home Depot they aren’t exactly inexpensive, but the idea is that the energy savings over time (and, in theory, not having to buy any new bulbs for a couple decades…) helps them pay for themselves. That math is too complicated for me, but I WILL say that it feels good to FINALLY have found something that’s better for the environment and doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with an icepick.

The Kitchen: The big reveal!

kitchen1

BOOM. Bet you were expecting a big block of text at the beginning of this post? Like about how this “little stop-gap quick n’ dirty” kitchen renovation spiraled completely out of control and took way more time and a little bit more money than expected? Or how maybe over the course of the project I got a little more ambitious and a little more crazy and a little more perfectionist than when I started out? Or about the time when we thought the kitchen was basically done and then decided to up and add about 40 more square feet of subway tile that you see above? Or like how it robbed me of so many irretrievable hours of my life and maybe some of my sanity and also sent me to the hospital that one crazy time?

Nope. Not gonna do that. So let’s dive right into this business right here, because the water’s warm and time’s a-wastin’.

fridgewallbefore

Here was my kitchen before I embarked on this whole crazy non-stop-fun-and-excitement renovation adventure roughly 10 weeks ago. Aside from the downstairs bathroom (and maybe the side porch), this kitchen held the distinction of being pretty much the worst room in the house. I think it scared more than a few buyers away, who saw it as a total gut-job nightmare that they weren’t trying to get down with. Nobody likes to buy a house and immediately get pushed into a full-on kitchen overhaul (especially when everything else needs so much work), making rash decisions about layout and materials and redoing the plumbing and spending a bajillion dollars, so in a way, this kitchen was probably a huge blessing that got us a great house for way below market value. Thanks, janky kitchen. I owe you one.

The picture above was taken after I removed all the old linoleum floor tiles, but you get the idea. It had a drop ceiling. It had old wood cabinets with lots of wear and tear and corroding hardware and drippy polyurethane. It had leaky pipes running through it that serve the upstairs bathroom. It had weird wires and scary outlets and old grease-stained paint, and vinyl brick-patterned wallpaper, and contact paper backsplashes, and so many other terrible, unspeakable things.

fridgewallafter

But looky there! We changed all that mess and made it an awesome space that I totally love and am so happy about I could scream. And also take a long nap.

We were able to keep all the big important things——including the sink, the cabinetry, and appliances——so the goal here was to knock out all the the cosmetic changes humanly possible while keeping costs super low. I know I keep repeating that this likely won’t be the kitchen we have forever (those cabinets are already 60 years old or so, and they won’t last forever!), but now I can confidently say that redoing this kitchen “for real” can probably wait until all the other house projects are crossed off the list. We have an absurd amount of work ahead of us with this house, so having the weight of a full-on kitchen renovation off our shoulders for the foreseeable future feels like a great place to be.

As I’ve discussed in past posts, we took down the drop ceiling, patched and prepped all the things, painted the walls, ceiling, moldings, doors, radiator, and all the original cabinetry, crafted up some new DIY wood plank countertops, added a boatload of subway tile, new cabinet hardware, changed all the lighting, and generally worked our adorable little butts off making this space into exactly what I wanted out of a kitchen. It’s clean and fresh, unfussy, utilitarian, cheap, and a great space to cook a meal and have guests over. I love it.

longwallbefore

Oof. Just get a load of that mess. Trust me when I say that these pictures make things look WAY better than they actually were.

longwallafter2

Forgive the in-progress glimpse of the laundry room! We’re still working out a few things in there (you know, like having working laundry machines and little details like that?), but…KITCHEN.

The whole idea behind the design was to try to minimize the bad, highlight the good, and add some inexpensive features that would up the quality of the whole space. To that end, we decided to paint the ceiling and the walls similar shades of matte white, which minimizes the awkwardness of our semi-awful soffits while still giving the room some dimension and depth. Painting the cabinets covered up the wear and tear and ugly tone of the wood, which allowed the super-simple shape of the doors and drawer fronts to shine. The cabinetry isn’t ideal (it’s very low-quality and strangely proportioned for the space), but we got really lucky that it was so plain and easily salvaged with some paint and elbow grease. 

I’ll do a tiny post on the cabinet hardware soon, but they’re just made of simple wood dowels! They were crazy cheap (it would have been so expensive to outfit 33 doors/drawers with traditional hardware, which even at the low end is normally in the $3-$10 per piece range), and I love how they offset with both the white and inky-blue-black cabinets.

fromdoorbefore

fromdoorafter

Having no prep space next to the stove made the layout of this kitchen really awkward, so we got super lucky that my dear friend Anna just happened to have a (discontinued, sorry) IKEA kitchen cart that fits perfectly on this relatively short wall. Having just this small section of real butcherblock (which we can chop directly on, as opposed to our wood countertops) makes this area super functional, and makes me feel better about skimping on the cost of outfitting the rest of the countertops with real butcherblock.

We were able to salvage the stove from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen, and while it’s just a cheap Sears Kenmore electric model that’s probably something like 40 years old, it actually works great! The gas line is still here, too, so we have the option to easily swap-out with a nicer gas stove down the line. For now, though, this is perfect.

If you’ve been following along closely, you might remember that originally I only planned to tile the backsplashes of the cabinets and the little area surrounding the sink, but once things really started to come together, Max and I both felt like the stove area looked a little unfinished and kind of…busy. Aside from the obvious functional benefits of having a wipeable surface behind a stovetop, the subway tile also really helped unify this wall with the rest of the space, and overall just makes the whole room feel so much more warm and complete. The decision to add the extra tile did mean we had to buy more tile, obviously, and also thinset and grout (for the rest of the tile, I used leftover thinset and grout from my apartment), but it still only tacked on about $100 to the project and was totally worth it.

Even after the subway tile was all up and completed, though, we still weren’t sure about what to do with the area above it. The image above is the view walking into the room, so this wall is kind of a focal point, and having nothing there looked pretty flat and weird. I got really lucky finding the big mirror in a junk shop just a couple days before the kitchen was complete, though, and realized after buying it (I couldn’t just pass on that fine thing!) that it would be perfect above the stove. I love how perfectly weathered the frame is, and I think it adds just the right amount of vintage patina to a space that was otherwise feeling a little bit too sterile for my taste.

stovesclose-up

Anyway. Yeah. Subway tile. It’s the wind beneath my wings. The other thing I like about this stove is that the top is flat and pretty beefy, so it’s a perfect spot for the Muuto pepper mill that I picked up for half-price at the DWR Annex ages ago. The pig is a vintage cast-iron piggy bank from a yard sale, which serves no purpose beyond being cute.

I also took the time to remove and strip all of the old hardware from the doors and window——knobs, hinges, backplates, etc, using the tried-and-true crockpot method. When everything was stripped, cleaned, and dried, I covered it all with Rustoleum matte black spray paint and reattached it to the freshly painted doors and frames. It’s one of those little details that just makes everything look a little more finished and fancy.

kitchencart

I kind of couldn’t handle the idea of screwing into my new subway tile, so the magnetic knife strip (the FINTORP from IKEA) is held on with industrial-stength velcro! It works great for now, but I’ll probably end up attaching it for real soon. I wanted to make sure the placement was exactly what I wanted before rushing into anything, though.

When the very friendly people of West Elm Market caught wind of my kitchen renovation, they sent me an email and were all “hey, need some things to finish it off?” and I was all “UM YES GIVE ME ALL OF THE THINGS PLEASE.” I’ve been a huge fan of West Elm Market since it began, and I think the whole aesthetic is pretty in-line with this kitchen, so it was awesome working with them. The Schmidt Brothers Basic Knife Set  is the fanciest thing we got, and I just need to take a moment to say that these knives are SO NICE (and really reasonably priced, too). I’ve never really owned nice knives before, and these are so nice to look at and nice to hold and super sharp and I’m just all-around very thrilled that I get to use them.

The enamel measuring cups are also from West Elm Market, and they’re obviously classic and very adorable and way better than the plastic ones I bought at the grocery store. The pink depression-era glass bowls were a yard sale find, the tea towel is IKEA, and the strawberries are fake. Just kidding, they’re real and I made them into a dessert and it was delicious. Maybe this is a great kitchen for me to start posting recipes from? So you can also explore my culinary delights? Full disclosure: my diet is 47% Top Ramen.

fromsideporchbefore

fromsideporchafter

I opted to tile all the way around the wall, which I think finishes things off nicely. Better than having a weird naked little sliver of wall on the right side there.

OK, I’m done talking about the tile. I’m really proud of my tile.

Other improvements to this area included taking down that little piece of weird molding over the sink, changing the light fixture above the sink (sorry it’s blown out in the picture above, but you can see it in the picture at the top of the post. It was salvaged from the upstairs kitchen!) and putting a clock where it’s supposed to be! The clock is actually hanging on an outlet specifically installed for a clock (so cute and quaint and 50s, yes?), but the Newgate Bubble Clock is actually battery-powered anyway. It’s also available at West Elm Market, but Max bought it for me a while ago at Lancelotti in the East Village.

The main light fixture in the room was a thrift find ($7!) in Sweden last summer. I carried it around disassembled in my suitcase for the entire trip and then hoarded it for a year when we got home, so it’s so exciting to see it hung up! It’s cute.

Lesson: always hoard light fixtures. You might buy a house and need them. It happened to me, people.

oliveoil

Obviously marble countertops were not an option (this time around!), but I love how marble mixes with the black/white/wood thing we have going on, so I wanted to incorporate affordable marble pieces in the kitchen with smaller things like cutting boards, coasters, and our paper towel holder. This is the French Kitchen Pastry Slab from Crate & Barrel, which is huge and heavy and totally classes things up ’round these parts.

Also, because Max took and styled some of these pictures (and maybe doesn’t cook so much), I want to point out that we do NOT use our fancy new knives on our fancy marble pastry board. But it looks nice for a picture. The green bowl and measuring cup are vintage junk shop/yard sale finds, respectively.

The olive oil is in the Copper/Glass Pour-Top Soap Dispenser from West Elm Market, by the way. We didn’t like it for dish soap, so we cleaned it really well and filled it with olive oil, and it’s perfect for fancy drizzly oily times.

chasedoorstools2

This kitchen really isn’t supposed to be an eat-in, but we kind of couldn’t say no to a couple of bright yellow faux-Tolix stools for $99 (for both! And now I see they’re on sale for $75, which is bananas.), courtesy of Target. I wasn’t sure how much we’d use them, but we sit on them ALL THE TIME while we work or eat at the counter or just hang out in the kitchen while one of us or a friend is cooking or whatever. They stack and they’re really good quality and they’re yellow. So. That’s that.

This is the part where I draw your attention to that glorious monolithic structure between the cabinets and the door. THAT, my friends, is the fancy chase I built to hide the unsightly plumbing that runs from the basement through the kitchen to feed the toilet, sink, and shower in the upstairs bathroom. BEHOLD:

chasebeforeafter

Yeah, I kind of outdid myself? I’m super proud of this thing. Maybe it doesn’t look like much, but there’s a whole lot of complicated framing under those luscious tongue-and-groove boards that required many hours of confusion and terror (also, yes, it has to be that wide for reasons I won’t bore you with in this joyous moment of kitchen revealing and general excitement). I think I have to do a whole post about it. It’s probably a two-way tie between this and the tile for what I’m most proud of in here.

doorbeforeafter

This is the main door into the room from the dining room, in case you weren’t turned around enough? Sorry for all the redundant photos…I’m just very excited about this kitchen.

apron

I love how the pantry door looks with the white paint and the black hardware and the pretty knob and the apron! The hook was salvaged from another area of the room (where it had been coated with a million layers of paint and left to die). I love that I get to reuse things like this——every time I hang that apron up, I think about where that hook was hanging before and what it looked like and how happy I am to give it a second life. I’m a sap.

towelnexttosink

Also, this hook next to the sink! It was lurking around the gross plumbing pipes before (there’s a picture of it in this post!), but now it’s all stripped and pretty and hanging by the sink with a cute tea towel from Dry Goods. Yes, I need to dab a little black paint on the screw heads, but whatever. I like it!

sinkenamelpans

Speaking of the sink, it cleaned up SUPER WELL. We still need to get a new faucet (this one is old and crappy and leaks), but the sink! I scrubbed it with lots of Barkeeper’s Friend, and it looks great. The enamel pans are also from West Elm Market (the Jelly Roll and the Roasting Pan), and we use them all the time for roasting and baking stuff. I like that they’re pretty enough to go right from the oven to the table.

windowhardware

I love how the hardware on the window above the sink came out. It was covered in tons of paint and didn’t really move before, and now it glides in and out like it’s supposed to. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen hardware like this, but I love it!

shelves

I’m still SO HAPPY with how the black radiator looks! I’m also really happy with the little shelving unit over it. I’d love to have more open shelving in the kitchen, but this little wall over the radiator was our only option, so I wanted to take advantage of it. I’ve been wanting to use these IKEA shelving brackets for FOREVER, and this was the perfect spot. I bought my own wood from Lowes for the actual shelves and cut them to size and sanded and sealed them with satin water-based polyurethane. The top shelf is all thrifted, the middle shelf holds the Marimekko tea pot that Max got me (that guy…he’s pretty great.) and the ÄDELSTON mortar and pestle from IKEA (everything from that line is so pretty and such great quality). The glass jars are also IKEA, and the enamel canisters are from West Elm Market and hold flour and sugar. The enamel canisters have a rubber seal to keep everything fresh and are overall super nice, gotta say.

SO. Budget? Budget.

PAINT AND STUFF:
Caulk (4 tubes white, 1 tube black): $18.27
Ready Patch (1 quart): $8.99
Paint Rollers (4-pack. I never reuse paint rollers. Sue me.): $11.98
Clark + Kensington Paint:  $138*
+ Walls: 2 gallons Casablanca, flat enamel
+ Ceiling: 1 gallon Designer White, flat enamel
+ Moldings/Upper Cabinets: 1 gallon Designer White, satin enamel
+ Base Cabinets: 1 quart Arabian Nights, satin enamel
Rustoleum Matte Black spray paint: $5.49
High-Heat Gloss Black Spray Paint, Ace Hardware Brand, 2 cans for Radiator: $12.98
Spray-on clear matte varnish for knobs: $3.87
1 gallon B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer: $41.98
Screws and nails: $20.22

TOTAL:$261.78

LUMBER:
Dowels for cabinet knobs: $7.92
Countertops: $46.07
Baseboard/Quarterround/trim pieces: $74.12
Tongue-and-groove for plumbing chase: $44.58
Framing for chase—7 pieces of 2″x3″x8″ framing: $15.12
Sandpaper: $20

TOTAL: $207.81

FLOOR/TILE: 
VCT tiles: $142.56
Adhesive: $28.97
Tile: $176.07
Thinset: $12
Grout: $11.78

TOTAL: $371.38

ELECTRICAL:
Swtichplate covers: $5.53
GFCI outlets: $49.96
Lightswitches: $8.04

TOTAL: $63.53

DECOR:
Fiddle Leaf Fig tree, IKEA: $12.99
Marble Pastry board, Crate and Barrel: $49.95
Jute Rug, clearance outlet: $40
Paper towel holder, Crate and Barrel: $19.95
Mirror, junk shop: $42
Knife Rack, IKEA: $12.99
Stools, Target: $99
Crock, Good Will: $4
Shelving Brackets + Wood, IKEA/Lowes: $45.36

TOTAL: $326.24

GRAND TOTAL: $1,230.74

*paint was generously sponsored by Ace Hardware, so I didn’t actually pay for it.

Sinkwallbefore

sinkwallafter

I think that’s it! I’m so happy with how the kitchen turned out. I think this is probably the most dramatic and ambitious project I’ve ever taken on, and I feel really proud for pulling it off, even if it was a bit of a bumpy ride. Also, hugely thankful to Max and friends who were so generous with their time and helped us out!

Yay, kitchen!

This post was in collaboration with West Elm Market.

The Kitchen Begins!

maxandmekko

In the movies, let’s say, there’s this whole idea of what buying a house is like, particularly an old house. It always culminates with that sticky-sweet moment where the couple turns the key, walks in for the first time, and takes stock of their surroundings. They breath deep. The air is musty, but charming. It’s good air. It’s their air, and they know it. They are fresh-faced and full of hope. They quickly start to do things, like sweep and pull white sheets off of old oil paintings and pieces of furniture left behind. They get in a cutesy flirty-fun-fight while painting their first room together, splattering each other with reckless abandon, unconcerned with waste or, evidently, their flooring. They hang curtains. They are home. /end scene

LIES. IT IS ALL LIES.

Despite our best efforts to get plenty of different inspections and estimates before closing on the house, we signed on the dotted line with a few virtual unknowns, the largest among them being the plumbing. The house had been drained and winterized over two years before, and between a few different factors I won’t bore you with here, we couldn’t have it turned on essentially until the late spring. Our plumbing inspection turned up no major *visible* problems with the plumbing, and hey, we figured, somebody was living here! It’s probably fine.

Since we were coming from Brooklyn, the task of getting the plumbing going again became an exercise in endless back-and-forth between me, our realtor, and our plumber. We’d accepted that a few repairs would probably have to be made, but had hoped optimistically that we’d be able to get them resolved before we’d get stuck living with them. But then closing got delayed. And delayed. And delayed. We finally closed 3 days before we were set to move in for our first stint of work (work schedules were rearranged, friends set to stay in the apartment, etc. etc.), and there was still no running water. Then it was two days before. Then it was the day before. From what I understand, our plumber left about an hour before we got there that Monday night. I hadn’t heard from him, so I assumed all systems were a-go.

Wrong. We were so very wrong.

Both toilets leaked profusely when flushed. We had no hot water. A disconnected radiator in the downstairs bathroom was slowly leaking murky, rusty water. It was already dusk, neither of us had showered that day, and there was a brief but lively debate about whether we should vacate for the night and find a motel close by that would take pity on our situation, and our bladders, and give us shelter for the night. I won’t rehash that here, but if you have a sense of our relationship, you can probably guess which sides the two of us came down on. (hint: I may have uttered the words “suck it up, you pansy.”)

Whilst living with working toilets and showers, it’s easy to take for granted how nice they are. Living without them, you quickly develop both a deep appreciation of the nearest Starbucks and an impressive tolerance for human body odor. I only bring this up because I feel that it’s important to remember that everything I’ll be talking about in this post was done during the several days in which we couldn’t poop when we wanted to or recover from a day’s labor with the cleansing powers of a shower. This was the week when I turned into a disgusting dumpster human.

chase

Because I am stubborn and filled with ambitions to have a functional kitchen, I didn’t want to waste any time. Not only did the upstairs toilet leak all over the place, but we noticed that while the upstairs sink and shower seemed OK within the bathroom itself, their use caused what some might call a “water feature” to flow in a brief and spirited way  through the downstairs kitchen. Were it outdoors, it might have been nice——calming, even——but inside, the sound of water rushing down plaster walls and seeping out all over the kitchen floor was a tad more alarming. It all came from behind that wood structure in the corner of the kitchen you see above, so it was mysterious, like a present. “Open me,” it beckoned, “and within me, find nightmares.”

That box of Smirnoff actually contains a vintage light fixture I’ve been hoarding, by the way. The Smirnoff would have been more helpful during this particular period of my life.

plumingdisasters

The wood chase came down easily enough (not that easily. nothing is easy. everything is hard. the end.), and exposed this kind of OK looking pipe? I thought it would be terrible but it wasn’t terrible?

That’s the problem with plumbing. It looks OK. Then it is not OK when the plumber comes to Sawzall out 9 feet of cast iron pipe with a huge crack all the way down the back, where it faced the wall and wasn’t visible. Look at that madness! Leak, explained.

Seriously. Watching new plumbing go in. IS. AMAZING. It all happened pretty quickly and yeah, it’s just a piece of PVC, but it just felt so…liberating? Our house is not broken! We don’t have an indoor waterfall! Things are good!

We also got a new toilet installed on this day (I don’t have a picture, but it’s just a toilet. We bought it at Home Depot. Plumber installed it. Old one was hauled away. That was basically it.), and suddenly life felt more manageable.

Still no hot water (that was an electrical issue, we later found out…as in, we had no electrical in half the house, including the part that powers the hot water heater), but who needs real showers with all this FUN?

Not this guy.

(but check that cute little hook in the last picture, which was hiding behind the chase and covered in layers of paint! he’s getting stripped and reused, for sure.)

kitchenbefore

I also took the opportunity to have the plumbers cap the gas line feeding the old stove. We don’t actually have gas service running to the house at all right now (another long and exciting story), so it probably would have been OK for me to just do it, I guess, but I don’t want to mess with that stuff. Safety first. Or something.

I know that stove might look kind of fun and charming, but it’s super duper gross. Trust. And not in a way that can just be cleaned. Like actually gross. I shimmied it out to the mudroom as fast as I could. Thinking I’ll probably post it for free on Craigslist and see what happens.

brick

Getting the stove out of the way allowed me to start peeling away the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! Almost as gross as the wallpaper was the old yellow wallpaper paste (and probably decades-old grease) clinging to the plaster once it was gone. EW EW.

It’s kind of great the way the room was painted long ago though, right? Vintage color-blocking!

I couldn’t get the rest of the wallpaper down, though, until I took care of the ceiling, so that’s where I turned my fickle attentions next.

lightbefore

I don’t know when or really why this ceiling was put in (probably to contain heat), but I know the realtor had the tiles removed to show how tall the ceiling actually is. The biggest obstacle to removing the ceiling, though, was changing out the main light source in the room, which was hanging ON the drop ceiling framing, wired from the box in the ceiling, to a couple feet of exposed Romex wire, to the wires in the fixture, which were all exposed. Just hanging out. Also, there was masking tape all around the ceiling box…like, not on the box itself but surrounding it on the ceiling.

I am not an electrician, but pretty sure all of this constitutes approximately 9 million code violations.

I got too caught up in the heat of the moment and my fear of being electrocuted to take a bunch of pictures, but basically I turned off the power, detached the old light, and installed the new one. Since the electrical box isn’t in the center of the room, I opted to swag my light fixture a few feet over from the box, which was convenient since the two lights and the ceiling framing didn’t get all tangled hanging on top of each other.

ceilingcomingdown

Pretty sure this is not how a drop ceiling is normally installed, but it really wouldn’t be our house if it was done properly. A metal channel is installed all the way around the perimeter of the room, which the drop ceiling “drops” into and snaps together in this cute and sensible way. But on top of that, our special drop ceiling was also secured to the ceiling with a billion rigid metal wires (possibly old clothing hangers?), which were bent around screws and screwed into the sheetrock ceiling above.

Pretty creative. Pretty not fun to remove. This is a main theme in this house——weird quick-fix solutions involving 4 standby materials: masking tape, packing tape, metal wire, and caulk. I have a lifetime of scraping crusty old adhesive off of stuff. Warning you now: probably going to kvetch about that a lot.

I know it’s impossible to tell from that photo, but I tried to be very organized and systematic about taking down the ceiling. First I removed all the stuff in the center, and then I removed the stuff attached to the walls around the top of the room. That framing around the room was all nailed in some places and screwed into the walls in other places, which was way fun dealing with on a tall ladder, alone, juggling a hammer, a pry bar, and a screwdriver. All of the metal from the drop ceiling filled a 40-gallon contractor trashcan, which currently looks like a scary spiky torture device out in the garage. FYI.

ridge

As a reward for my labor, I was left with this weird ridge in the wall where the framing had been. It looks like the walls were all skim-coated with joint compound at some point, but only underneath the drop ceiling, leaving a slight depth discrepancy in the wall and a lip where the old wall met the skim-coating.

Cute.

Not cute.

So basically I went around the room with a glazing tool (more rigid than a spackle knife) and knocked off the weird ridge and all of the lumps and bumps.

Then I went back around the room and liberally applied Ready Patch all over the weird ridge and all the holes and all the holes in the ceiling and all the holes everywhere else.

An entire quart of Ready Patch later (that’s a ton of Ready Patch), all that was left to do was wait for it all to dry so that I could go back around the whole room and sand it all smooth and hope it wouldn’t be too noticeable when I finally, joyfully could get around to painting this godforsaken room.

Welcome to my glammy DIY bloggy life. Fun and adventure abounds!

progress

But! Check it out! I love that nice little light hanging there, just waiting for everything else to take shape. It’s totally looking so much better already, even though it’s still a horror show.

I ended up cleaning the old wallpaper paste with Scrubbing Bubbles from an aerosol can, by the way. I only bring this up because I was told a little vinegar-water solution would take care of it, which was SO very wrong. Scrubbing Bubbles and a sponge worked miracles, though. For real.

beforeprogress

Progress. It feels good.

pssst——missed it in all the hubbub? Here’s the whole plan for the kitchen!

 

 

 

Bathroom Light

light4

So remember back in November when we did a super quick, super intense, super kick-ass makeover of Max’s childhood bedroom? And we bought that rad 1920s light fixture that totally made the room?

Yeah. Well. I might have omitted some important info that I have now chosen this moment to reveal.

That light was actually one of a PAIR. They were only being sold as a set, but at $150 for both, it wasn’t exactly a huge investment to just go for it even if we only really wanted one.  Surely we could figure out a place to put another gorgeous light fixture, right?

I’ve been down this road before. A few times. Hence this post, where I explain all the times I’ve charmingly rationalizationed and ended up with an absurd lighting hoard that I’m slowly trying to whittle down by just hanging lights all over the place. This strategy is working moderately well, so I’m sticking with it.

light2

But I decided without even that much waffling (look at me! making decisions with ease!) that this light would be awesome in the bathroom, and it totally is. It works for a lot of the same reasons it worked in Max’s bedroom. The small size of the room matches well with the scale of the fixture, making a small-ish light look like a big, substantial, amazing light. Additionally, super dark walls make the white glass pop like BLAM. Chrome-y bits be shiny like WOAH. These are all technical design terms that are helpful to know FYI.

light3

The best thing about the light in the bathroom is that our medicine cabinet is so tall that the light fixture reflects off the mirror and almost gives the illusion that we have TWO great lights. That is, if you’re easily confused by mirrors or otherwise just kind of dumb. Luckily, I am both of these things.

light1

Just check out that glass situation on the bottom! I kind of get lost in how pretty it is sometimes. I know that this art deco style isn’t really in line with the style of the rest of my apartment, but that doesn’t bother me. I always think bathrooms are perfect places to let loose a little bit and make choices that are a little different from the rest of your home. It’s nice to walk into a tiny bathroom and be pleasantly surprised by an element of the space, and I think that’s totally what this fixture does. The DIY’d fixture that was there before was totally cute and fine, but it just wasn’t very interesting or exciting.

Before hanging this fixture, I took the whole thing apart and washed all of the pieces individually in the sink. For the metal bits, I used Barkeeper’s Friend, which made the chrome look absolutely incredible and shiny and new. For the glass, I just used regular dish soap and water, and it was really worth it. Nothing looked that dirty to begin with, but it’s always amazing how a little cleaning can take something to the next level of amazing. I experience the same general revelation whenever I decide to take a shower.

I’ll shut up about the light fixture. It’s beautiful, I’m very happy with it, and I have a very weak spot for art deco and I maybe need more deco pieces in my life.

flowers

Max bought some flowers for the bathroom because on Sunday they aired a Beyonce concert on TV and we had a bunch of people over to watch it. So weird because the concert was super short and then this football game broke out and I totally lost interest. At least we had flowers?

rug

In case you follow the central dramas of my relationship as closely as I do, I figure it’s pertinent to note that I HAVE WON THE BATHMAT DEBATE. After about a year with no bathmat, we went several months with this wooden bathmat before it got moldy and smelly and weird and put in the garbage. Max has, historically, hated bathmats and found them to be gross and in poor taste, whereas I associate having no bathmat with, like, lazy douchebag bros who can’t enjoy the finer things in life, such as smelling OK or clothing made of natural fibers or not stepping out of a shower directly onto cold tile.

This war raged for so very long and was so hard-fought and just when I thought I had no life left in me and I would be forced to accept a bathmat-less existence, Max came around. Angels sang. It was all very dramatic and theatrical, as you can imagine.

Ultimately, my victory was hard-won, and I absolutely deserve all the joy that this plush, sufficient-looking bathmat from Target can offer. It really feels great underfoot and it’s nice to finally feel like a civilized human again after this relationship has turned me into such a goddamned monster.

Turns out it’s very washable and dries nicely in the dryer, too. I know this because Linus took the liberty of testing out its wee-wee pad potential right after I took the photos. I always thought Linus was on my side here (more plush surfaces = more places to nap), but I guess the proof is in the piss, as it were.

linus

Little traitorous bastard. Now the internet knows your shame.

ps—you can find my last Design*Sponge post here, if you’re interested: Cleaning Vintage Enamelware
pps—oh, shit, it’s Homies time again. you can vote for me if you want, I won’t stop you or try to get in the way or anything.

New Hallway Light!

When I set about redoing the hallway a while ago, the biggest point of uncertainty was always the lighting. We started out with matching boob lights throughout, and that just wasn’t going to work in the long haul. The ceilings are nine feet high and the hallway is only a couple feet wide, so having flush-mount overhead fixtures just made the whole space feel really tall and narrow and goofy. I knew I wanted to drop the lighting a bit with pendant fixtures, but I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money or have a bunch of mismatched vintage fixtures. So, for a total of about $60 for all four, I crafted up these guys and called it a day.

hallwaylights

These lights are great, but after a while I wanted something a little bigger in the entryway by the front door. It’s the first space you see when you walk into the apartment, and this type of light just felt a little too understated and dinky.

lightsba

It’s REALLY hard to take attractive photos of a space with zero natural light, but trust: this thing looks great. I found this big globe fixture at Salvation Army for $15 (brand new, with all its parts!), and the huge scale is totally perfect. I have a thing for big lighting.

lightclose

I love that it’s still simple and plays well with my DIY’d fixtures, but satisfies my  need to have something a little bigger and bolder here.

ceramics

In other news, I’m finally putting some concerted effort into making the top of the fauxdenza nice. I guess. I don’t like when surfaces get cluttered up with stuff or look over-styled, but a little grouping of oh-so-amateur studio pottery never hurt anyone. Plus some billy balls.

pinecones

Last year, I kvetched about Max’s obsession with all things seasonal and all things scented. Since I convinced him to forego his seasonal gourds nightmare this fall and he finally stopped buying plug-ins, I had high hopes for this holiday season. That was until shortly after Thanksgiving, when Max came home with a sack of fucking pinecones from the grocery store and threw them into bowl by the entry before I had a chance to light them on fire.

Is this what I get for dating goyim? I was NOT warned about this at my Bar Mitzvah.

PINE. CONES. I don’t know what the hell these things are scented with (cancer, probably), but they stink of some weird mix of spices that I guess translates to “Christmas!” in the pathway between Max’s shiksa nose and brain? I can report that they have been persistently smelly for almost two months now and show no signs of letting up. They’ve really rained on the new-light-fixture-parade.

candlesticks

My failed attempt at a counter-attack was putting these brass pinecone candlesticks out. Max thinks they’re tacky (he’s right), but I pledged to leave them as long as the real pinecones are polluting my air and assaulting my nostrils and…it appears we’re locked in a horrible pinecone-y stalemate of doom from which there is no escape or hope. One of us must cave.

light3

I will never cave.

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