All posts tagged: Thrifted & Scavenged

Fireplace-ish!

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There’s this room in the front of our house on the main floor that I’ve always been a little baffled by. There are only four main rooms on the first floor (kitchen, dining room, living room…and this room), and I’ve taken to just calling it the “front room.” Sometimes it’s the “parlor” (fancy!) and sometimes it’s the “den,” but the truth is, I haven’t been sure what to do with it. Our house really isn’t that big (about 2300 sq. feet, which feels huge for us, but we’re used to living in little apartments), so it feels sort of stupid to have a whole room for which I haven’t been able to decide on a dedicated function.

For the past several months I’ve been using it as a very poorly located workshop and staging area for working on other spaces in the house, but since it’s adjacent to the dining room, also lacks a ceiling, and needs new electrical to be finished up, it makes sense to renovate the two rooms more or less simultaneously. Which means I’ve had to start thinking more seriously about what to do with it.

Here’s what I don’t want:

1. A main floor bedroom. No need, and I think it would be weird.

2. A den/TV room. There’a a whole other living room just across the hall (you can look at the floor plan here, which might help this make more sense…) which is enormous and going to be incredible someday. I know it’s often customary to have a more formal living room and then a less formal hang-out space with a TV and whatnot, but I don’t really believe in formal living rooms. That living room is going to be the best room in the house, and I want it to get used. As for the TV, I don’t really think I want one on the main floor at all. There’s a room upstairs that I think will make a really nice, cozy TV room, and I like that idea much more.

So what does that leave? Well. Let me tell you.

A study. That’s what we’re calling it. We have a ton of books that need a home (right now they’re pretty much shoved anywhere they’ll fit). We’ve both been transitioning to working much less from Brooklyn and much more from Kingston (yay!), but now Max really wants/needs a place to work that isn’t our bed. I envision this study having a desk, a chair or two, bookshelves, a nice rug…a place that doesn’t feel too formal and off-limits for a main-floor room (people should still feel free to mill about in it during parties and whatnot) but still functions as place we can get stuff done. I’m obviously partial to my little compact upstairs office, but I think this will be pretty great when we want to be working or hanging out together.

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cornerradiator

That said, the furniture layout thing was still just…confusing me. Part of the challenge of the room is that it has three large windows, a radiator, two doors, and a funny little closet, but there’s no real focal point. It’s like there should be an architectural element to anchor the room around that isn’t there.

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I might feel that way because there should be an architectural element that’s missing.

Originally, this wall sported some kind of fireplace. At some point, I think in the fairly recent past (50 years or so…), whatever was here was removed. You can tell because of the missing piece of baseboard, and the spot where the floor was very artlessly patched in with the wrong type of wood where I’m guessing there was some kind of stone hearth.

My normal inclination with stuff like this is to just let it be what it is and work with what we have, but then my friend John mentioned that he had an old mantel sitting in his basement that he’d taken out during the renovation of his insanely gorgeous house. And that I could have it. For free.

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Oh. Well. That changes things, now doesn’t it?

A word about my friend John: he’s sort of the best. I love him to pieces. He’s welcomed us to Kingston with open arms, and made our first year here so great. He’s a veteran renovator and terrific to bounce ideas off of and nerd out over old house stuff, knows everything, and is just so kind. Everyone loves John. We’re so lucky to have him in our lives. He’s spent about 6 years renovating an incredible 1720s stone house around the corner from us (originally it was a tavern, and before he bought it, it was a doctor’s office!—you can see his Sneak Peek on Design*Sponge here!), and he has impeccable taste and is just so frustratingly clever. The more time I spend in his house, the more I appreciate all the little details and smart solutions that just make so amazing (and, in turn, make me feel like a totally inadequate garbage person). It’s endlessly inspiring. I think I want to do a series of posts about all the little things that make John’s house so special…so keep an eye out for that! Maybe that sounds boring but I swear it will blow your mind.

ANYWAY. Then I became obsessed with the idea of adding a fireplace back to this room. It just doesn’t feel right without it! It should be there, and it’s not there, and it makes the room feel weird and ungrounded. A fireplace is what this room needs to be whole again. I feel it in my bones. It’s going to be purely ornamental, and that’s totally OK. We’re hoping we can make the other fireplace in the living room wood-burning someday, but this one can just be for looks and candles and pretty for the sake of pretty. Who cares.

The mantel also comes with a really cool and very heavy cast-iron insert/cover thing that is still in his basement, but coming here soon. So stoked.

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When I got it home, I immediately started tearing into the wall that it’s going on, just to see what was back there. I had this idea that maybe there would be an original firebox lurking in the wall, and I needed to know. This whole area was patched in with sheetrock, and underneath it old sheet metal had been nailed into the studs. Weird.

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Once I exposed the edges of the sheet metal, I started peeling it back…

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Between two studs, there was essentially a column of bricks skim-coated with plaster or joint compound or something. I noticed that the bricks look more like the “garbage bricks” that are inside all of our exterior walls rather than chimney bricks, so I eased one out and hoped that the whole chimney wouldn’t come crashing down.

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Behind those bricks where the actual chimney! Huh! There’s a vent hole, which is weird because there’s a whole separate vent hole near the ceiling. I guess this one was replaced with the other one? Or all of this effort to seal it off so well was because this chimney used to vent the ancient boiler, and carbon monoxide poisoning is not cool. I don’t know. Anyway. No firebox. No biggie.

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One thing I didn’t anticipate is that this mantel is HUGE. It’s quite a bit longer than whatever was here originally. My inclination is to center this new mantel on the wall rather than offset it to the side, as the original one was (which centers it in the room, but only if the fireplace fits the original dimensions, which this one doesn’t). Sure, I could cobble something together myself that might look passably good and fit more with the original dimensions, but I love that this one has a story and a past and that it’s free and was given with love. I don’t think trying to modify the proportions is a good idea. And even though it didn’t work for John’s house (he thinks it was fabricated and added in the 1920s, so far from period appropriate for him…he had a new mantelpiece custom-built that looks much better), I think it’s kind of perfect for ours! I think it complements the original woodwork really nicely and will just fit right in.

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Unfortunately, the wall that it’s going on is sort of a disaster. I’m all about preserving as much of the original plaster as possible, but this wall is already a weird mix of newer drywall patches and bad plaster repairs and a whole lot of joint compound and it’s just looks really bad. There are enormous cracks that have clearly undergone unsuccessful repairs over the years…it’s just a mess. I think I’m going to just bite the bullet and take it all down and start over with new drywall. Just this wall. Normally with drywall you just tape and mud the seams, but my plan with the wall and the ceilings is to do that and then skim-coat the entire thing with joint compound (and maybe experiment with mixing in some plaster of paris for a harder surface…something an old-school renovator told me he’s done with success in the past), so I think it’ll look really authentic when it’s all said and done. Part of what makes plaster so appealing is the texture of the imperfections, so I don’t want three perfectly-imperfect plaster walls and one that looks brand new, you know? I think it’s possible.

Anyway, I’m really excited about this faux-fireplace development! I have to decide on the exact placement (centered on the wall, I think, will look the best…), and then cut out some flooring and replace with a stone hearth and patch in surrounding flooring so it all looks seamless. I’m leaning toward honed marble (hopefully I can find a remnant piece without spending too much money…), but there are so many options! Soapstone? Slate? Bluestone? Hmmmmmm….

It’s going to be good. So very good.

We Got a Dresser!

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A couple of weekends ago, Max and Anna and I hung out for a few hours down around Newburgh. We went to Anna’s mommy’s house to say hi and check out her beaaaauuutiful newly-refinished wood floors. Those floors are not the point of this post, but it kind of threw my floor-refinishing fantasies into overdrive. Our floors downstairs are a total mess, and I know they could be gorgeous refinished. Someday, floors. Someday. Anna’s stepfather, Bernie, said I could do it myself…which of course is giving me all kinds of ideas about my own abilities that I probably shouldn’t have. We’ll see.

Anyway. Then we went to lunch, and on the way back to Anna’s house, we stopped to check out the new Newburgh Vintage Emporium. I don’t usually buy anything from places like this since everything is usually out of my price range, but it’s fun to look. And then, toward the end—THIS DRESSER! I’ve been casually looking for a dresser since we bought the house (let’s just not talk about our clothing storage situation prior to this, cool?), and then I saw this one and it was all over.

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I think the dresser is probably early-mid 1800s (so about the age of our house!), but beyond that I don’t know tons about it! I love how simple it is, and I love how each drawer is a different size, and that each one has a keyhole and lock. We don’t have the key, but I don’t really care about that. I wish it was more apparent from the photos, but what really drew me to it was the size! This thing is HUGE. It has the proportions of a much smaller dresser, but it’s totally bulky and boxy and enormous.

At about $300 it wasn’t the best bargain in the world, but I still think it’s a good deal for a piece like this (I think similar ones tend to be more in the $600-and-up-range). The reason it was probably semi-affordable is that the knobs definitely aren’t original, which doesn’t really bother me. For me, that’s always been a realistic way to collect antiques—pieces that have non-original parts or have been repaired or refinished or altered aren’t as valuable as ones in totally original condition. If prices aren’t already lowered as a result, knowing what to look for and pointing out stuff like that can be a good negotiating tactic. The knobs on this dresser are just too pristine and stained too uniformly to be original, but I think the shape and size are kind of nice and they aren’t by any means offensive, so I’ll live with them for a while and maybe change them up down the line somehow.

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Isn’t it super great how the back legs are all un-fancy and just continuous with the side/back panels and the front legs are pretty turned wood? I think that detail sold me. I love this thing.

Other than the dresser, the bedroom looks pretty much the same as it did back when I posted about it in august. We had to pick up the rug because it was just getting too dirty with all the dust and debris getting tracked around the house all the time, and we’ve since stripped the walls almost completely down to the bare plaster—they were covered in wallpaper and layers of paint, all of which were peeling off the walls in large pieces. I know the plaster walls look fun and arty and beautiful and people will try to convince me to not repair, skim-coat, and paint them, but I swear it’s just the pictures. Parts of them (like the part behind the dresser, for instance) are in pretty great condition, while other parts are totally falling apart and a complete mess, beyond the point of doing small fixes that could blend in a good way. I also just really don’t think this is the house for bare plaster walls. Our friend John has some bare plaster walls in his house (sealed with some kind of varnish to keep dust under control), but his house is a 1725 Dutch stone house and beautifully rustic, where that look really works. Our house, by contrast, is kind of a modest Greek Revival, and I really think the house just wants to be simple and clean and bright. Maybe that sounds like crazy-talk, but I really feel like the house dictates what it wants to be, and it’s more or less my job to make that happen.

ANYWAY.

I still love the deco bed but I do feel like it’s totally out of scale with the dresser and kind of wacky in a bad way, but that’s OK at this point. Maybe it’ll become a guest bed someday. Maybe the dresser will go somewhere else. I know everyone really just wants to see a beautiful, put-together room, but that’s not really how my life works and therefore not really how this blog works. Right now, our attention (and money) is focused almost exclusively on renovating the house and maybe collecting pieces here and there that we really love, and I’m fine with that. We (like pretty much everyone…) have years to figure out how to mix and match our pieces and play around until things look right (or right-enough), and honestly that’s way more exciting to me than trying to do it all in one pass.

The bedroom is pretty low on the list of priorities right now, honestly, but it feels very exciting to finally have a place to store our underwear like fancy adults! Step in the right direction.

The Little Office: It’s Done!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

You’re so Fine, and You’re Mine.

orange-lady

When I was little, there were two semi-weekly activities that I engaged in with each of my parents. With my dad, I played on a soccer team that he coached. Begrudgingly, and with my feet dragging, I’d go out to the fields week after week (except on the frequent occasions when I pretended to be ill and got away with it) to take part in something that I generally regarded as a waste of my time. Apart from the sliced oranges and bottomless cooler of Capri Sun, soccer combined a lot of things that I just couldn’t get behind: what with all the running around, the focus on teamwork with other boys, the outdoors, the unsightly footwear. I strove to play as little as possible, and when I did play, to do as little as possible——up to and including planting my butt on the field during play and weaving delicate tiaras out of grass for myself to wear at halftime. Hopped up on orange slices, Fruit Roll-Ups, Gushers, and Capri Sun, sometimes we’d go to Subway afterward and I’d be allowed to get a sandwich filled with nothing but ham and a truly appalling slathering of mayonnaise on white bread, which made the whole ordeal moderately worthwhile in my eyes. This was the 90s, and nobody cared too much one way or the other what kids ate so long as the product could reasonably be branded as food.

On Sundays, though, there was a weekly antiques fair in a strip mall parking lot near our house that I went to with my mother, which suited me much better. Here, you were expected to move at a pace slower than a walk, which appealed to me, and you could wear whatever you wanted to. Further, my people were there, which is to say kooky old people who wanted to get chatty about even older stuff. Because I was as much a novelty to them as they were to me, we developed a nice sort of symbiosis——I got to study adults that normally might have ignored me, and they got the pleasure of my youthful company and, sometimes, a hug. I developed a series of collections——first there were dog figurines, then there were wooden boxes, then milk bottles——that I’d keep my eyes out for, and I was great at using my childhood innocence to win me good bargains. It’s hard to say no to a little gay boy with bad hair who just can’t live without a porcelain dachshund, even if he only has three dollars to offer. I was a champion, and I knew it.

Like my athletically-inclined siblings, I was a competitive child, and I think my parents always hoped they’d find a way to parlay this into the sort of passion required on a soccer field (or, for a brief period, in a hockey rink). But it never came to pass. We all have our strengths, and buying old stuff instead of playing sports is mine.

It wasn’t until nearly two decades later, though, that I’ve finally found a way to combine all the fun and excitement of shopping in the company of weird old people with all of the high-stakes, fast-moving competition of a sport. Auctions, y’all. It’s what I was born to do.

Sure, I’ve played the whole eBay game a time or two in my day, but the real thing is approximately 4,000 times better. I’ve only been to two auctions, but allow me to break it down anyway like I know anything:

1. Auctions take forEVER, which I personally enjoy. It starts off a little boring, but then you get to know people in the audience. There’s that guy who will always bid on a box of costume jewelry, or that lady who will buy anything so long as it’s rusty and serves no evident function. There are the gaggles of old ladies who go solely for the entertainment. It becomes a kind of game, anticipating how much a given item will sell for and who in the room will bid on it. You begin to ask yourself a series of questions——who are these people? what brought us all into this room? what makes you interested in spending money on that garbage?——which lets your imagination really soar about the lives of your comrades. They’re questions without answers, but they’re fun to chew over nonetheless.

2. Auctions are educational. It’s fun to learn things about antiques and what they’re worth, but way more fun to do it in the rapid-fire environment of an auction house than by reading books, surfing the Internet, or watching Antiques Roadshow on TV.

3. Snacks on snacks on snacks. I did NOT know that there was food at auctions. Because they’re so long and people love to eat, there tends to be a lot of food available for purchase, ranging from junky to——hands down——the best slice of carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

4. Of course, finally getting to bid on your item is, like, the most exciting. There’s a whole strategy to it, but there’s also the exhilarating moment of actually getting to do something that could have real repercussions. This is where the competition side comes in. In a way, you’re always a winner: either you win something at a semi-reasonable price that’s a little higher than where you pledged to stop bidding, OR, if things get really out of hand, you still have the opportunity to bid it up, out of spite, to the point where it’s no longer a good deal and then let your competition take it. It’s a little immature, maybe, but I did this to a set of six outdoor chairs and I don’t regret it for a minute. Those bastards can take them, and I can sleep easy knowing I made them pay too much.

5. Sometimes, there’s something totally crazy that comes up that wasn’t listed in the previews, and it’s fun to see people react to it while you also consider maybe buying it. The first auction I went to, between a Victorian chair and a platter of assorted glassware, they sold LAND. Like acres and acres of woodsy land with a creek and a modest waterfall. The other information about it——exactly where it was located, whether or not it had municipal water, the projected property taxes, whether it was cursed——these things never really came up, but it was still fun to think about. It ended up selling for only a couple thousand dollars. Where else can you buy your own waterfall for that, I mean really?

In short, I love auctions. I need to stay away from them due to the state of my bank account, but I also love them.

This is how the elegant painting in the photo above came into my life. I spotted her during previews——a period before the auction begins, in which attendees are encouraged to view the available items face to face. She immediately attracted my attention, an object nestled in that fun space between pretty and ugly, between uniquely beautiful and incredibly tacky. In an auction filled mostly with Hudson Valley antiques, the audience let out an audible laugh when the auctioneer read aloud the provenance: Russian, painted in 1997. Bidding started at $100, as usual, but quickly dropped to $10 and worked its way back up once the first interested party lifted their card. But it was I who eventually won out somewhere around the $60 mark, a price that elicited several eye-rolls and chuckles from onlookers.

But just LOOK at her. She’s like a Matisse, but without the talent, originality, or vintage. I love her gaudy frame. I love her vacant eyes. I love her perfectly round bosom and the inescapable fact of her garish, Snooki-level orangeness. I love that she traveled across continents and ended up with me. Sometimes I buy questionable things and immediately regret them, but we’re a few weeks into our relationship and I still treasure her presence in my home. She’s everything I never knew I wanted, but could not live without.

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