Exactly four years ago today, I became a homeowner. That decision could be characterized in a lot of ways: crazy, stupid, optimistic, deluded, exciting, terrifying, and maybe a bit ambitious. I loved this house from the second I saw it, and if I was going to buy a house (something I was not particularly equipped or intending to do), it was going to be this house. There were no other contenders.
That part—the period of falling for a property and feeling committed to its acquisition—felt easy (the actual purchase part was not, but that’s another story). The stuff that came after it wasn’t quite as easy. I’m not sure I have much in the way of original thoughts on this topic: yes, it really does take twice as long. Yes, it really does cost twice as much. Yes, at times it’s satisfying, frustrating, overwhelming, thrilling, and challenging. It’s a process that can variably bring out both the best and the worst, exposing your weaknesses and fears as much as it reveals the heights of your capacity for joy and contentment. It’s a long, strange, intensely humbling trip.
None of this is immediately pertinent to this post, I guess, but it felt weird to not acknowledge the milestone of four years! Some days it feels like the house has come such a long way, and other days it feels like the amount of remaining work is insurmountable. So with regards to the den, this is a space that—until very recently—contributed to that whole insurmountable feeling. This room has never really been anything. For a while it had a bed in it for guests (who got to wake up looking at a half-demoed water-damaged acoustic tile ceiling…how charming!), but mainly it’s just been a place for stuff to spill into as other spaces got worked on. Which feels…weird! There’s this whole space in my house that, functionally, might as well have been some off-site storage facility (which certainly would have felt cleaner and more manageable!), and now it’s an actual room that I’m actually sitting in and actually writing this blog post and actually not seeing anything crumbling around me or making me feel crappy because “oh-my-god-I’ve-lived-here-for-this-long-and-this-room-is-still-a-total-dump.” Particularly on a DIY pace and budget, stuff just takes a long time, and it’s not always easy (or, necessarily, especially productive) to pinpoint exactly why. It just does.
SO! Shall we take a looksie around the new room? Let’s do it.
Ba-boom! If it looks like a different room, that’s almost because it is. That bay window situation in the “before” shot was not original to the house and I removed it last summer as part of a larger exterior renovation, and I believe this is actually much as the room would have looked when it was built! Time saw the addition of electricity, hardwood flooring laid over the original subfloor, and hot water radiator heating, but ya know—that stuff’s not going anywhere. The rest of it is just cosmetic—one of the ways I try to approach renovating vs. decorating is by renovating with more of a restoration mindset, and decorating however the hell I want. Somebody could move in here and swap out light fixtures and repaint (or wallpaper), furnish, and have themselves much more of a time capsule vibe, but I guess I’d rather just have a…me vibe? This room feels very me, to me. ME ME ME.
Here’s where we were at the beginning of March!
And today! Much improved, yes?
Sorry, I’m a sucker for a before-and-after comparison. Did we get it out of our systems? I really wish I had taken more pictures of the room before it started getting torn apart! It’s like I had learned nothing four years ago when I had the opportunity to take true “before” photos. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I saw much more of the house as a straightforward renovation/redecorating project than what it’s become.
So, maybe this room looks crazy and maybe it is crazy and maybe I have no ability to form an objective opinion on it, but I DO know that it’s filled with so many things I love and is so comfortable and cozy that I literally do not care at all if it could also be considered stylish. I think it’s pretty. I don’t know.
I’ve mentioned lots of these things before, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but…
This sofa!! I bought it from Susan and Will Brinson (of the obscenely inspiring blog, House of Brinson). 400 bucks! For a secondhand, high-quality, all leather sofa that is the most comfortable thing in the world, I think that’s a great deal. Even though this room isn’t really a guest room (it was supposed to be when I started working on it!), the cushion section of the sofa is roughly the size of a twin sized bed, and I can tell you from firsthand experience (of Netflix and chilling so hard that I fall asleep) that it’s SO comfortable. I wouldn’t feel bad asking a guest to sleep here because it really does sleep like a bed, not a couch. I love the wear on the leather, and I love that I don’t have to be insane about it because it’s already been lovingly broken in by two large dogs before my own dogs, so they just add to the patina.
Womb chair, womb chair! I love this chair but Mekko REALLY loves this chair. When I was a kid, my mom looked for a lounge chair for her bedroom for literally a decade, and as a teenager I recommended this one…which she purchased…and then hated…which I was secretly kind of excited about because it meant that if she didn’t get around to reselling it as she said she would, I could ask for it when I eventually had the space to accommodate. MY SCHEME WORKED and now it is mine and it’s the most expensive dog bed in the world.
The original (well, original to the house being heated by radiators—before that it was wood stoves!) radiator got a few coats of glossy black spray paint, and I love the pairing of the black-black with the blue-black walls! I don’t know why! Particularly with more ornate radiators like this one, I think black paint is a great way to really highlight the fancy Victorian scrollwork on each fin.
Above the radiator is a collection of frameless antique mirrors, which I hoard just because. When the foil backing starts to disintegrate on an old mirror, I think the effect is so beautiful and interesting and I just buy them whenever I see them, assuming the price is good and they meet my rigorous quality standards of being in one piece.
I always thought it would be cool to display them in some kind of grouping, and this steel ledge isn’t quite what I had in mind, but I bought the ledge almost four years ago (it was supposed to go in my first kitchen renovation, but I changed my mind!), so it was nice to finally put it to use since I didn’t get my act together and send it back to CB2 at the time.
The tea light candlesticks are originally from Dwell Studio, but I picked them up a few years ago secondhand. I love them so much! The wooden tray that they’re sitting on I bought in the fall when I was in Austria. So simple and pretty.
On the wall to the right of the window, the top little piece of art was made by my mommy as a kid! I stole it out of a box of old stuff in our basement years ago, and I’ve had it hanging somewhere since. I love it—someday I’ll upgrade the frame, but an IKEA RIBBA never hurt anyone. The muscleman below it came out of my grandparents’ house after they had both passed away, and nobody knows where it came from or who the artist is.
The light is from my internet pal and long-time design crush, Logan at One Forty Three. I’m so proud of that dude! Watching his business expand and grow, and all the things he’s created since I first became aware of his work, has been so exciting. I’ve had the lamp for…probably 5 years at this point, and it still looks and works like the day it was packaged up and sent to my then-home in Brooklyn. I’m so happy to have it hanging up again.
The dark walls do swallow up a lot of natural daylight (perfect for a chill zone room like this, I think!), but that can make houseplants difficult. I’ve never had a problem keeping one of these ZZ plants alive though—perfect for low light and thrive on neglect. The pot is vintage, found somewhere around Kingston. The candlestick is also vintage and used to be half of a set of two, but I MAY have not realized that absent a metal liner in the part where the candle goes, a candle will burn down and then light the candlestick on fire, and then that will burn until somebody notices.
I’m a hazard.
I bought the dog on a trip to China in 2005. I bought the side table a few years ago from JC Penney, when Terence Conran did a really nice collection for them, and then it all went on clearance, and then I panic-bought some of my favorite pieces from the collection just BECAUSE I HAD TO and I don’t regret it because I think it was like $30 for this cast iron and white oak side table that is just so cute and very well-made.
Also you can kind of get a sense of how the Diamante wallpaper from Hygge & West in the adjoining little office looks with this room. I feel like the two play well together!
You might recognize the two pieces above the sofa from my Brooklyn bedroom and then again from my current bedroom that I showed you just a few weeks ago, but naturally I’ve already moved them and I think THIS is where they belong! These hung in my grandparents’ bedroom at least throughout my lifetime, and it’s an honor to have them here.
Also, ORANGE NAKED LADY!!! Evidently, I wrote a blog post about her back in 2013 after I bought her at an auction, but she’s never really had a permanent home until now. I’m still exactly as tickled by her as I was when I spent $60 real-life dollars on her and got made fun of by other auction attendees for it.
SPEAKING of auctions…now is the part where if you didn’t hate me already, I give you license to hate me now.
I went to an auction shortly after I started working on this room.
I saw this rug.
I wanted this rug. Immediately. Intensely.
I prepared myself to spend $400-$500 for this rug, which is a chunk of change but actually a good deal for a rug of this age and size (and, I’d argue, uniqueness), and I’d been looking for one for this room, and here it was.
The bidding started.
I bid. $45. And won.
FORTY. FIVE. DOLLARS. That’s, like, a fancy tea towel. That’s, like, five burritos.
The guy next to me literally turned to me and asked what possessed me to buy that rug. ARE YOU BLIND, SIR?
OK I’m done gloating. I love that rug so hard. The colors are so weird and good. The wear is everything I want.
I haven’t painted the door yet (since it swings into the hallway, I can convince myself it’s part of the hallway restoration, which I’ve been great at putting off indefinitely), but you get the idea.
This space is pretty narrow, and that couch is ENORMOUS, and the space between the righthand corner and the door trim is about a foot, so I needed something very slim for under the TV.
I searched and searched and racked my brain for something I could just buy and be done with. I didn’t want to build a thing. It felt like…I just built a ROOM, do I really need to make myself crazy over building something big FOR the room?
Then I built a thing and I’m so glad I did because I actually really like the thing I built! It’s essentially just a plywood box that’s covered in lath from my very own walls and ceilings. I think I started it on a Sunday morning and had it hanging on the wall by Monday afternoon, and it holds a bunch and looks cute and cost me all of about $10 for the piano hinge. Also, it was really fun! Since buying the house, it’s actually very rare that I just kind of make something that isn’t part of a much larger renovation project, and I forget how fun it is to just play around with some tools and some wood and see what happens.
By the way, on top of the cabinet thing on the far left sits a Sonos speaker, and my Apple TV is turned sideways between the speaker and the stack of books. That’s all the technology! I’ve tried to make it a tradition to buy a Sonos speaker upon the completion of each room to spread the cost out—it’s kind of spendy for me, but I do really like the system and I love that the speakers come in white or black so it’s usually possible to keep it very inconspicuous. The speakers all tie back to the Sonos app on my phone, and can be controlled independently or in unison to play music, adjust the volume, play/pause, etc. I recommend it!
I didn’t do anything particularly nice about finishing the inside (I made it! for me! and I don’t care!), but it holds a ton! I decided to put all of my weird pottery and figurines and candlesticks and stuff in there, along with extra tea lights and candles for the room. It’s so nice to have all this kind of stuff in one place! I find that I love too many things and can’t display them all at once without my house looking like a thrift store that somebody lives in, but if I rotate stuff in and out of display it keeps things looking more sane and ALSO makes me appreciate stuff more when I don’t see it all the time. Kind of like shopping in my own house when I get the itch to move stuff around, which is an extremely frequent event because I love to futz.
LEST you had not hit your limit with me over RugGate 2017 (scroll up a few photos; it literally just happened), a few weeks ago I was tromping through some funny antique mall kind of place in New Jersey and spotted this little fella for a dollar. So tiny! Those delicate little brass feet! Immediately I was charmed. I picked him up and then couldn’t put him back down, so I shelled out my George Washington to take him home.
Fast forward a couple of weeks into our new blissful life together, during which I had unofficially named him Herman, and I posted an Instagram of him, and was immediately informed from multiple sources that little Herman is…kind of valuable. Oddly enough, Herman was designed by Jacob Hermann (how weird is that!) in Denmark in the 1950s, and is highly collectable, and seems to sell for a few hundred dollars up to several thousand for a grouping.
Lesson: never pass up a good tchotchke. Just build a cabinet to store all the tchotchkes.
Finally, the light! THE PINK LIGHT! PINKKKKK LIGHTTTTTT!
Here’s what had happened. I went to Germany in the fall. Essentially I landed from my red-eye flight, dropped my bag at the hotel in Berlin, and immediately went to a flea market. I was so tired and so not thinking clearly and before I knew it, I had blown my entire souvenir budget on three vintage rugs and this 1950s chandelier. This is what it means to travel with me, and I am considering the first clause of this sentence as fair warning to anybody who might someday travel with me.
I carried the light through Germany and into Austria, where I disassembled it and shipped it home via DHL, which was FREAKISHLY fast. It arrived before I even got home! Between the purchase and the shipping I ended up spending about $250 on this thing, which is typically more than I’d spend on…most things, but I REALLY WANTED IT for no reason in particular. A month ago I worked up the nerve to unpack the box—knowing that one broken shade would pretty much render the entire thing worthless—but luckily it had arrived intact so then it was just a matter of rewiring the whole thing, remembering how everything fit together, and hanging it up.
I love you, pink light. Never leave me.
Annnnnnnnnd, here is my attempt to keep up with the bloggers and make this post “shoppable”: A THING IN THIS ROOM THAT I THINK YOU CAN ACTUALLY BUY! I love this little candleholder from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection for Target. Mine was on a clearance rack at a store in Virginia that I visited to buy clean underwear after the Baltimore kitchen renovation, but it’s still for sale online. So cute!
Is that it? I think that might be it. Opium den—check!