All posts tagged: Organization

Kitchen Hackin’

You might remember (but you probably don’t) that back in the olden days of this past summer, I had two MOLGER benches from IKEA serving as temporary living room furniture—one as a coffee table and one as a TV stand—until I could find cheap, sexy, vintage, real furniture. I can’t give much praise to the way they handled these functions aesthetically, but they played their respective roles quite well. Purposefully, they were ugly enough that I wouldn’t allow myself to get used to them, but practical enough that they alleviated the pressure to furnish immediately with stuff I didn’t really love. Because when you’re relying on thrift stores for great, modestly-priced furniture in Manhattan, it’s best to prepare yourself for a wait.

Well, I showed you my coffee table already, so that takes care of one bench. Then I bought something to replace the other one, but you’ll have to wait to see it until I take some pictures. One bench, two bench (red bench, blue bench). I know, artful photography.

But I actually had an ulterior motive when I bought these in the first place. Since microwaves are kind of objectively ugly, I wanted it as out of sight as possible. They are also huge, and in a kitchen with less than 3.5 total feet of counter space, 1 foot of which needs to house a dish-drying rack 99% of the time, that thing just doesn’t fit anywhere. The only other wall in the kitchen doubles as the narrow path from the front door into the living room, so the storage solution to hold the microwave and other assorted things (and create another work surface on the top, besides), had to be way smaller than any of those nice IKEA kitchen carts. The MOLGER benches (find them in the bathroom section!) turned out to be the perfect width and depth for the space—and the microwave—but not nearly the right height. So this happened:

And now I’ll show you how.

Disassemble both benches. I started by deciding how tall it should be and settled on 31″—around console table height. I originally wanted it to be the height of the countertops (36.5″), but once I really looked at it, that just seemed really awkwardly tall and bulky and stupid. So I hacked 8 inches off the top of both frames from one of the benches. By the way, never buy a crappy plastic mitre box.

Then they need to be attached to each other in a secure and visually tidy way (read: no metal mending plates). Luckily, IKEA thoughtfully placed little rubber floor protectors at the bottom of the legs, which pop out easily. The holes are 5/16″ wide, which is a standard-sized drill bit. Since you’re pretty smart and you want the legs to match up as closely as possible, it’s easiest to use these lovingly mass-produced and therefore standardized-perfectly-to-center holes as drill guides, so you’re attaching the bottom of one set of legs to the bottom of the other set of legs (the top of which you just sawed off and discarded). In people, this would be something like the human centipede, or a really compelling sideshow act. Sorry, that was uncalled for and also why I don’t use the Twitter.

So, you need a 5/16″ drill bit, some 5/16″ x 1.5″ wood dowels, and some wood glue.

Drill down slightly into each hole on all four sets of bench frames to make it just a little bit deeper. Drop in a dollop of wood glue. Put in a dowel. Put one normal-sized frame on top of a midget frame. Press together vigorously. For me, this involved alternately balancing my entire weight on it and sitting on it until I was satisfied with its security, but you can decide how into it you want to get. Repeat. Let both pieces dry overnight. Sorry for the creepy-ish pictures, I only DIY in the dead of night as a general rule.

After both frames have dried, spackle over the seams and sand. Repeat, then repeat again. But not a fourth time because it’s near the floor and nobody cares anyway. While you’re at this, sand the entire frame so it’s ready to be painted. I also spackled over the original drill holes (except for the top ones), since the shelves needed to be 10.5″ apart in order to fit the microwave and the cute vintage breadbox, which is a wider spread than the original shelves.

I had an extra can of white spray paint so I used it to coat the legs. It takes a few coats. I don’t know why it looks so gloppy in the photo, I swear it’s smooth in real life. Regular latex would have worked just fine with a good primer, I just really love spray paint. Hearing it, feeling it, smelling that sweet aroma… what heaven.

After everything’s all painted up, it’s time to re-drill the screw holes in the sides to attach the shelves, keeping in mind the height of what you need to put on them and the thickness of the shelf. Also drill new holes in the bottoms of the legs for the little rubber floor protectors. Put it all back together and you’re done!

I’m including this side view, which shows the width of the path between the door and the living room. Nice and unobtrusive. I’m not sure I’m feeling the paper towel/parchment paper/tinfoil holder up there—I want so badly for it to fit—but I don’t think it’s working. Awkward placement. It might have to go (and by “go,” I mean back to my house-house, that place my parents live in).

Tada! Scarf props to my friend Eliza. I’m really loving having this storage and functionality in the kitchen. It got all the coffee stuff off the counter and nicely onto a little tray, comfortably holds the microwave and my cookbooks (don’t look too closely, lest you mistake me for somebody’s grandmother. But yes, my adorable sister did get me a first edition copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking on eBay for our birthday, she’s the greatest). The breadbox is too close to the floor to hold bread (I. fucking. hate. cockroaches.), so it holds all the tupperware instead.

Did I just write that paragraph? Jesus, I am an old lady.

Tools of the Trade

Part of clearing out my shame from Eva’s room last week involved facing a harsh reality. I’m not nearly organized enough. When space is at such a premium, however, something has to be done about that.

The tools, in particular, were in crisis. Check out the hardware drawer in my Ikea Pax Wardrobe. Shudder.

And to add insult to injury, here’s what Eva’s room vomited out, most of which also needed to fit.

One thing about the 39″ wide PAX wardrobe is that those drawers are HUGE, which makes them exceptionally hard to organize on their own. So off to the Container Store I went, naturally.

After a bout of sorting and organizing, here it sits. The containers are just those basic Container Store brand plastic boxes (the big ones are shoe boxes and the small ones are accessory boxes). The tops are fussy, so I don’t use them. I love these containers– well made enough, only $1.79 each, and offered in tons of different sizes to quell your psychopathic demands for uniformity in your organization.

In case you noticed a big something missing, the drill found its way into a shelf where it takes up less space.

Big manly drill... next to the sewing machine. Foiled again!

I promise I’ll stop showing off my messes soon. Because there won’t be any, of course.

The Picture of Domesticity

Confession: I love 1950s/1960s kitsch. I do. I’m not really talking about classy, Mad Men-style glamorous here. I’m talking like crazy atomic barkcloth, wacked-out color schemes, and toadstools as a decorating motif. I know, right when some of you thought I had decent taste. Hear me out.

The good news for our apartment is, I don’t really want it in the living room, bathroom, or my bedroom. I have no intention of living in a time capsule, despite our inclusion of vintage furniture and otherwise retro stuff. I respect people who go balls to the walls mid-mod, and I feel like I could be friends with a modern-day rockabilly, but a modern mix is more what I suppose we’re after.

Except in the kitchen. God, 50s kitchens are cool. Those ladies were organized, they had cute stuff, and between sneaked sips of the cooking sherry, they really seemed to have their shit together. They did weird things with eggs and they could ice a cake with their eyes closed. I want to get in on that. Between you and me, I’m pretty excited for Eva to move in and thoroughly creep her out with exciting casseroles, the leftovers from which I’ll then “refresh” into different exciting casseroles on subsequent evenings. We’re going to have a blast.

Our undeniably 1980s kitchen is sort of primed for the retro treatment, too. Which is a good thing because 95% of the stuff in it came from the incredible Regina, Saskatchewan thrift stores. And I’m exceedingly proud of my kitchen stuff. Once, I saw the matching tumblers to my ice bucket holding scotch for Don Draper on Mad Men and I almost peed myself.

Back to our kitchen. Almost everything is some shade of washed-out pink. The countertops are pink faux-marble formica, the cabinets are a vaguely pink laminate, and the floor is  12″ square pink and grey faux-marble ceramic tile. Sometimes I wish it was pinker. Like, come on kitchen. Commit. Go big or go home. Like this lass:

Photo from Retro Renovation.

Like I said, the kitchen is totally 80s and a little ugly. I think trying to force any sense of cool, beautiful modern in there would just be sort of lost on it. So even though the bones we have to work with aren’t quite so amazing as that picture, I’m not sure I can stop myself from incorporating a few lessons of 50s kitchen design in the hopes that the kitchen accepts them gracefully.

For instance, check out the avocado green paper holder I stuck to the tile wall with industrial-strength velcro! I love it, and it makes my shameful paper towel use oh-so stylish. It also holds tin foil and parchment paper. In a perfect world, this would be built into the wall like my grandmother’s or Louis Armstrong’s.

See, Satchmo himself had one in his swingin' 60s kitchen. Photo from Apartment Therapy.

Moving around the room, we find this strange little built-in next to the stove. For about a month I had no clue what to do with it and then I had the most tremendous epiphany. It’s perfectly sized for the tacky tins that hold my baking ingredients!

Snug as a bug.

Please ignore that hideous mound of grout where the pipe goes through the floor. Something must be done about that. But it’s kind of like the shelves were just made for those tins, right?

In a display of very questionable decision-making, I also affixed these ceramic toadstools next to the fridge. You can’t see them when you walk in the door, so it’s kind of like a special surprise when you actually walk into the kitchen instead of just through it and into the living room. They may or may not stick around. I think I’m going to replace the beige switch plates with cheap aluminum ones, only in the kitchen though. It’ll cost like three dollars and I’ve convinced myself it’s the right thing to do. Speaking of things I’d like to change are these really boring knobs. I’m thinking some shiny polished chrome would really liven up the place.


Okay, enough with the crazy. As I mentioned, one of the things I admire about vintage kitchens are the organizational tactics. But when vintage isn’t coming through for you, sometimes you have to go to IKEA.

I’m pretty please about this little organizational innovation. The Rationell baking sheet holder is supposed to be hung on the interior sides of the cabinet, but this seemed like a better space-saving solution.

And I’m completely smitten with my Rationell Variera spice racks. They’ve been bookmarked on my computer since Anna installed them at Door Sixteen a year and a half ago. Yes, these are the things I dream about. And now they’re mine!

Glamor shot

Anna has far cuter handwriting than I do, so I bought some little round labels from the Paper Source and used their handy Word template to print these out.

So that’s where things stand. The kitchen needs a lot of work. There’s nothing on the windows and it hasn’t seen a lick of paint. I’m thinking about a color. One that isn’t pink.

Bedroom Storage, Part 2

Since I’m currently living all by my lonesome until Eva moves in the fall, it’s always a little daunting and slightly depressing when those pictorial IKEA instructions show two people putting something together. There they are, working in tandem to achieve a common headache-inspiring goal, mocking me in black and white. But so far I’ve done just fine assembling a few big things without breaking my new furniture or myself. It’s been a long time coming, but the latest is completing my PAX wardrobe system.

When we left off, I’d decided after much deliberation to keep the existing 39″ wide and 93″ tall PAX wardrobe that came with the apartment, buy an additional 19″ wide unit to put next to it to create even more storage space, and try to really maximize that space with a bunch of KOMPLEMENT pieces that IKEA makes to go inside these things. To remind you (and me), here’s what I started out with.


This unit was left by a previous tenant who clearly wasn’t… me. Ikea makes these in a number of finishes, and they chose the dark brown-black, which just made it look more enormous and overwhelming. Seriously, the thought crossed my mind that it might spontaneously tip over in the night and kill me. And as it was, it didn’t provide nearly enough storage space to hold everything I needed it to.

I’m sure they were using this exclusively as a closet with maybe a few miscellaneous items thrown in. I should note that the average tenant in our building is middle-aged and uses the apartments as one bedrooms with an office as the second bedroom. So I’d guess that they used what is now Eva’s closet to hold most of their usual closet-dwelling stuff. But since there are two of us, I needed to be able to hold a lot more than clothes. So the single clothing rod, two shelves, pants hanger, and one wire basket wasn’t really going to cut it. Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the brief moment where I attempted to make it work– but trust me, it wasn’t pretty.

So the first project, which I showed in the first post, was to remove the doors, the basket, and the pants hanger. I sold them on Craigslist for a total of $50 ($10 for the basket and pants hanger, $20 each for the doors). I probably could have sold the stuff for more since the doors actually retailed for $110 each (crazy, right? I promise, they were still classically cheap-o IKEA stuff), but I didn’t know how much people would pay and I really wanted to get rid of them quickly. Then I painted the existing unit white and bought my new doors, all the KOMPLEMENT components, and the new unit in white to help minimize the visual weight of this enormous storage unit. And here’s the result:


While it’s definitely still big, it seems less big and more like it belongs here. For extra points, I painted the right side of the unit the same Benjamin Moore Moonlight White as the walls, which helps it blend just that much more. But you want to see the inside, right? I know I do.

Most people who know me know I love the show Clean House (the makeovers suck, but who couldn’t love Niecy Nash?), and I aspire to organize things much like Trish Sur, the “yard sale diva” who shamelessly plugs the Container Store Elfa storage system nearly every episode. And with this, I feel like I’m on my way there. This post is long already so I’ll do another at some point that delves a bit further into just how all my important things fit in here (I know you can’t wait), but check it out! Everything in its place, and with room to spare! To be honest, there are some things, like cans of paint and tools, that haven’t found their way in here yet because I’ve been using them too often to keep them really neat. But with the second drawer up on the right side completely empty and that whole empty shelf on the left, I’m not anticipating any problems with that.

For the hardware, I used IKEA METRIK handles (I found them in the kitchen section), and I think they fit the overall proportion of the unit quite well. Usually I get bogged down in some crazy John Nash-style math trying to figure out exactly where things like this should be placed, but I basically just held them at different levels until they looked right, attached one, and used a level to figure out where the other ones should go. I think they came out well and I like that they’re hung below the midline of the doors.

So that’s where it stands. It’s definitely an evolving space, but for the moment I like how all the components are laid out and excited that I finally have a functional place to put things that made me feel like a pack-rat before.

Bedroom Storage Progress

When we first looked at our apartment, I was so distracted by the separate kitchen and the living room larger than a postage stamp that I didn’t even notice the lack of closets. Even the teeniest, tiniest apartments we looked at all had closets, if I recall. So once the real planning started, this dearth of usable storage space raised a few questions. For instance: where do I put all my shit?

We do have one closet, in Eva’s room. But given that her room is quite small, I don’t think it’s fair to use this as a catch-all storage space. I mean, let’s think about all the things you have to store, besides clothing. A vacuum cleaner, a ladder, suitcases, extra linens, spare lightbulbs, oppressive security gates you stripped off your window like a total badass, secrets… and that’s just off the top of my head.

Blessing or curse, my room didn’t come completely devoid of storage. Instead, there was actually the biggest wardrobe imaginable, presumably left by a previous tenant. I think once they realized it wouldn’t fit through the door without being disassembled, they just said “screw it, just leave it here.” That right there is the Ikea PAX wardrobe, measuring in at a whopping 93″ high, 39″ wide, and 2 feet deep. Someone ate their Wheaties.

My first instinct was to get rid of it. It’s so large that it felt kind of oppressive visually and physically, but more importantly it really wasn’t taking advantage of the space in an efficient or logical way. If we’re talking storage, let’s use that whole wall, right? Or at least something less massive-like-it-could-crush-me-in-my-sleep. I knew I could do better.

I considered a few different options. Ikea makes a number of more compact storage units that would have been a great fit on this wall, perhaps using the top to hold some nice-looking storage boxes or something of the sort. Then I thought about removing the doors on the existing unit, building some kind of modular shelving system next to it, and curtaining the entire thing off. I also considered one of those “I’m so post-modern” closets using a plain metal clothing rack, some shelves, maybe a dresser– in a I-don’t-give-a-fuck-but-really-this-is-super-neat-and-curated kind of way.

Like dis

In reality, I’m not freakishly neat enough for much open storage, nor am I really comfortable letting it all hang out like that. I also own more than a dozen hanging garments and my clothes don’t form any sort of subtle, artistic gradient when hung together (more like Plaid threw up all over his friends, Grey and Denim). At the same time, since this storage solution isn’t something that’s likely to extend beyond this apartment, it’s nothing I wanted to spend too much money on in an already tight budget.

So in the end, the best solution was turning lemons into lemonade. I’m saying this optimistically because there’s still a ways to go. But on Sunday, I took a trip (on the ferry! Really fun and pretty!) to my favorite Scandinavian furniture superstore to make that enormous PAX work for me. Before I left, I wrote out a list of everything I’d have to store and tried to find places for almost all of it. Or at least the big stuff. Then I left for Ikea with a very precise plan:

you get the idea

I ain’t no artist, but here they are. The Ikea PAX unit comes in several sizes, 20″ wide, 29″ wide, and 39″ wide. The existing unit is 39″ wide, and I planned to buy a new 29″ unit, which would have fit on the wall with a few inches to spare. But for no apparent reason, Ikea doesn’t sell a door for the 29″ unit. What’s with that?

So in the middle of the Ikea, I was at a crossroads. Go with the 29″ unit anyway and either make my own door/go back to the curtain solution, or go with the 20″ unit and sacrifice 9″ of storage. After about 30 seconds of strenuous deliberation, I went with the 20″ and got everything home delivered yesterday.

So when I got home from Ikea, I got to work. One of the things I really disliked about this thing was the color. I think the trick to dealing with really massive storage like this is to visually minimize as much as possible, but this thing couldn’t have possibly stuck out more. So I removed the doors and all the components, all of which I’m selling on Craigslist except the clothing bar. Then I sanded, primed (2 coats!) and painted.

Unfortunately the new PAX was broken upon arrival, so Ikea should call me tomorrow to arrange a replacement. And despite my best efforts, things didn’t exactly go as planned with the drawer components– I didn’t account for the placement of the door hinges, so only four of the five drawers actually fit in the end. I might rearrange things a little bit (definitely a shelf above the rod, for starters) since it’s important to squeeze every last usable inch out of this thing, but for now I’m just glad my clothing storage no longer looks like this:

The shame!

Yes, those Harry & David boxes were storing my socks and undies. Deal wid it.

More to come.

Back to Top