All posts tagged: Q & A

Q & A, Part Three: Designing/Decorating/DIY-ing

So, now comes the part where I put my tail (genetic mutation, don’t worry about it) between my legs and inch out of the room slowly, hoping that nobody notices me. Because remember that thing I said about posting everyday last week with answers to the Q&A? And then only posted twice? HAHAHA, oh me. What a putz.

A very disgruntled reader had this to say, over direct message on Twitter. I couldn’t agree more.

Oh, who am I kidding. My mom sent me that.

In a way, if you think about it, this inability to meet projected self-imposed blogging deadlines only makes this post more timely. Like, thematically. Seeing as, much like blogging, I find that home-related tasks take anywhere from 2-17 times longer than I think they will. So this whole delayed blogging thing = totally intentional, metaphorical even. Nobody understands my art.

Oh well, let’s get on with it.

Where did your home improvement skills come from?

Now, I want to be clear. I did not grow up in a house where people were particularly handy. The extent of hands-on home improvement I did as a kid was “lightbulb patrol,” a task my father and I performed every couple of months. It mainly involved scouring the house for dead bulbs, after which I would run to the garage to find the proper replacement, and he would screw it in. It was all very scientific and advanced.

I barely handled a tool until high school, when I started participating in the crew end of our theater productions. My high school had an amazing black-box theater program, where everything (except for the actual direction of the shows) was completely student-run—including design, building, raising money, and planning the layout of the theater (black box = no fixed seating/stage placement). I did a few different jobs over several seasons, but that was really my first exposure to building things with my hands and having to think critically about materials. But what I found was that none of it was actually very hard. Sure, some power tools can be used unsafely, but that’s the great thing about the world we live in: we have the internet.

Most of the things I do on this blog are things I’m trying out for the first time, so I think it’s really about having a willingness to try stuff, and at least a little willingness to watch it fail. But there are SO many great resources on the internet that explain how to do things, so when I’m in doubt, my first instinct is usually to use the Google machine. Another great thing for me over the years—both from an educational standpoint and from an inspirational standpoint (even if it isn’t aesthetic, than at least the inspiration to get moving on projects)—has been BLOGS. When I discovered “house blogs,” the year was 2006 and I was a teenager  living at home, and happened to read an article that the Washington Post wrote about this !!!great new internet phenomenon!!! where people chronicled their renovations online. This was around the height of my HGTV/TLC phase, and here I was reading that I could look at this stuff online, too? In real time, told by real people? You don’t say! So while some teenage boys have their secret little porn habits, I had my secret little house blog habits. and a list of mostly now-defunk blogs were saved in a discreet little bookmarks folder in my browser, and I felt like such a creep knowing not only about so-and-so’s bathroom remodel but also feeling in some way connected to these strangers and their families. Apparently that feeling has since wained, considering I’m now good friends with one of my longtime house-bloggy superstars and started up my own blog.

Where does your style come from?

Baby, I was born this way. Kind of. Sort of. I think my taste comes from a big combination of things. This is probably the subject of a much longer post, but I think my design sensibility has probably been most informed over the years by people who are and were close to me, including several family members with really interesting homes with modern but very personal and varied aesthetics. I was lucky to spend time in these spaces, and with a family that was interested in art as a means of expression. They didn’t draw a lot of lines between their appreciation of visual art, interior design, architecture, performance, literature, etc., and I think growing up with exposure to those things and a support system of people who recognized and appreciated the power of them was hugely valuable to the way I try to approach the world as an adult.

That said, my style is always evolving. I was raised in a home where our bedrooms were very much our own, and we were always allowed to experiment with ideas about how they looked and functioned. And because my parents aren’t the sorts of people who are overly concerned or finicky about the interior of their house, my mom and I especially tended to team up to make decisions about everything from wall colors, furniture, art placement, and other improvements and changes that we could make to our living space. So when I got out on my own, it was only natural to continue that kind of process, albeit perhaps with a bit more fervor and obsession than before. I’m always changing things around and switching things up and making plans and trying to improve upon my existing surroundings, whether that’s tackling a space for the first time or reconfiguring something that I’ve already done. I think I like to joke that it’s just my way of keeping busy, but it’s more than that—to me, the notion of “completeness” in a space is a sad, sad thing. I don’t think living in a static environment is a good thing for creativity on any  level, but the most direct effect is that lack of opportunity to experiment and evolve your style over time and open yourself up to new possibilities.

As your style changes, how do you curate with no regrets? Or are there regrets?

My style has changed a lot in the four years that I’ve lived away from home. I mean, this was my first apartment:

Yeah. Granted, this was when I was living in Canada, which was a very impermanent situation (I knew I would only live there about 9 months, after which I’d have to get rid of almost everything), but still. I loved that apartment. I thought it was so cool. Everything was bought on the super-super cheap, and it all just tickled me. See those needlepoints over the sofa? They were my main passion that year.

While I don’t like to have a lot of excess stuff around, tossing stuff that I once loved or had some personal attachment to does not come naturally to me. It’s hard to get rid of things. One thing that really helps is trying to be really realistic about my current feelings toward something, regardless of what I might have felt for it in the past. Take those needlepoints, for example. I kept all of those needlepoints, and then proudly displayed them on my dorm room walls when I came to college. You can imagine how popular I was. Still, they were attached to a couple of very particular and transformative periods of my life, and each came with its own memory of the purchase, which was usually something absurd. But when I moved into my last apartment, I just found that, as much as I still got a kick out of them, they weren’t really bringing me the same joy that they once had because I knew that they weren’t exactly part of the room or overall aesthetic that would ultimately make me happy with my living space. For a while I just stored them in a series of places, and then I moved with them to Brooklyn, despite having never actually hung them up for a year. I actually just got rid of (almost) all of them—which was really a matter of weighing my actual likelihood of hanging them again (not much) vs. the complications of keeping them (a very cluttered closet). That, and the recognition that the thing isn’t what holds the memory, my brain is. Sometimes it feels better to have a picture, too.

How do you manage to make such drastic changes to a rental? I’m not even allowed to paint! What kind of jedi mind-tricks are you playing on your landlord?

This is one of my most frequently asked questions (or criticisms), and all I can say is, every rental situation is different. One of the huge pitfalls of my building for some people (and serious attraction to somebody like me) is that my landlord just doesn’t seem to care. He’s a really nice guy, but what tenants do to their apartment is pretty much up to the tenants. That’s bad when you need stuff fixed. That’s bad when you want to move into a well-maintained, well cared for, functional and clean apartment. It’s great when you want to be left alone to take down your kitchen cabinets without fear of retribution. That last one is me, in case you couldn’t tell.

I deal with my landlord by not dealing with him. While he did agree to reimburse me $20/gallon of paint (even though a can of Benjamin Moore costs closer to $40), I’ve never asked him to do anything on my apartment, and I’ve never asked him if I was allowed to do anything on my apartment. That’s not to say I totally play fast and loose with it, either—I certainly keep in mind that this is not a place I own, and I need to respect that it’s somebody else’s property I’m altering, which is why so much of the work I do has been focused on restoration. I really don’t make particularly drastic changes, I don’t think, but if my respect for the history of this place or interest in its functional operation outweighs his, then so be it. That said, I have a really hard time imagining anybody, my landlord included, objecting to anything I’ve done or plan to do with this space. I’ve made countless repairs and functional improvements, and ultimately that’s only increasing the value of his property.

All of that aside, I think it’s bullshit that anybody can’t paint their own apartment. BULL. SHIT. Don’t even get me started in nailing a hole into the wall to hang a picture. All of that stuff is so easily reparable and reversible, and I do think any tenant should be allowed to do that stuff as long as they take care in doing it, and are prepared to undo it correctly when they move. There’s some responsibility there, but not a lot. Mostly what I’m saying is, spend the fucking $6 for a little tub of spackle and a sanding block and don’t patch your nail holes with toothpaste. That’s why those clauses exist.

I’m about to move into a new place and start on my own renovation project! But how do you know where to start? Do you recomend starting with the things that feel more fun, or the things that makes more sense (like painting the ceiling). Recommendations?

Of course every space has different requirements, but I think one of the great things about doing work yourself is that you can set the pace. Before you do anything, it’s nice to be able to live in a space for a little while to give yourself a chance to identify what needs to be done to it. Then, lists. Write lists, huge huge lists, and try to be as specific is possible about breaking down tasks into their steps. It’s overwhelming, but it’s nice, too, to really give yourself a realistic sense of the work and keep yourself on track. It’s so tempting to dive right in to something, but half the work of this stuff is planning so that your steps don’t overlap or you end up having to redo work you’ve already done. I know that’s terribly unspecific, but it just depends on the space! For me, that’s usually meant painting first—it’s so much less daunting when you don’t have to completely disassemble a room just to get at the walls. I guess a general rule of thumb is to just try to be practical, and as long as you take the time to plan stuff, the logistics of it all will really just fall into place.

How do you find the time to do such amazing home renovations/decorations? Do you set a day or two aside or do you just make a room over slowly over time?

I don’t have loads of free time in my life, so things have to happen gradually. There’s just no other choice. Being in school, I can’t just decide to dedicate a whole weekend to a project. I think it’s pretty clear from the pace of this blog that it takes a while for an entire room to start to really come together, but even individual projects can stretch out for weeks or even months! I try to work on things when I have the time and energy to, and I try not to place huge deadlines on myself with stuff like this. After all, it should be fun, and I don’t want to end up hating futzing around with my house.

Can you share your thrifting tips? You have the most amazing luck and find incredible things and I don’t and waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

I know it might seem like I’m constantly dragging great stuff home from thrift stores, but that’s really not the case. I have found some good things, but…this is New York. It’s rough out there for a thrifter. People ask me all the time what stores I recommend, and I’ve basically stopped answering—it’s not because I’m afraid of giving up my secrets or anything like that, it’s just because the places I like are shit holes of despair and heinousness and I really don’t want to give anyone the wrong idea that they’re some kind of gold mine.

I think my moderate thrift store success has been attributable to a couple things, though. The first is frequency—you have to spend a lot of time looking at crap and going away empty handed to get that one time where you find something great. The other is ignoring the context. Everything looks ugly in a dump. Some things look great in a house, standing alone, cleaned up and pretty. That’s a skill that takes some work, because it’s really easy to initially hate something, or even just completely miss it because it’s surrounded by so much ugly.

Also, haggle. Always haggle if you can. Good deals take some work and some awkwardness and some assholery sometimes.

What item/piece of furniture or whatever is on your must-have bucket-list?

I love chairs. Give me a house where I have space for 400 chairs without them looking cluttered, please and thank you.

Also, the DeSede Non-Stop Sofa.

Or a Nelson Sling Sofa. I will accept either.

What is your favorite tool for DIY projects? What tools should I buy if I own none?

Probably my teeth, followed by my fingers, followed by my drill. I honestly do not understand how people survive without owning a drill. If you own no tools, by a tape measure, a hammer, and a drill. The rest will follow. (I have a DeWalt drill that is no longer in production, but any non-totally-whimpy cordless will do for most people)

How do you protect the rest of your apartment when you use your circular saw/other equipment?

Whenever possible, I try to do projects outside—either on my fire escape or the roof of my building. When I do something inside that makes a mess, I usually try to seal off the room if I can with a plastic tarp or a drop cloth, but let’s face it—dust is going to happen. Sometimes you just have to accept that the clean-up is going to take longer than the project.

What is the current status of the bizarre hallway in your apartment and the painty windows?

Patience, my child. The windows are still painty. The hallway looks rad as fuck and I need to take pictures.

If you were forced at gunpoint to paint a room in your apartment with color other than white (all four walls!), which room and what color would you pick?

Does black count? Because sometimes I toy with painting my entire living room (including trim) black.

Colors freak me out on walls a little bit, but I really like Victoria’s pink dining room.

Favorite and least-favorite design/decorating trends or approaches?

Favorite trends: I really like this whole neon/fluorescent thing that I’ve seen cropping up places. I think I need to get some hot pink into my kitchen.

Least favorite trend: I hate this “steampunk” shit. Seriously, wtf. I’m also getting really tired of spaces that are so heavy-handedly “turn of the century rustic.” Is this a New York thing? What’s going on here? I don’t know why “Put and Edison Bulb On It” hasn’t taken off as a meme.

Favorite approaches: Original and personal and fun and comfortable.

Least favorite approach: Anna wrote a terrific post this morning about inspiration and creativity, and it hit the nail on the head. While inspiration certainly has its place in a process, one of the trends I feel like I’ve seen exploding on blogs (particularly tumblrs) and other platforms (Pinterest, for starters) is a total, insane excess of “inspiration.” Gathering inspiration has become the process. People are collecting it like it’s in short supply, “curating” their little hearts out, crowdsourcing the shit out of an idea, and taking images out of the context from which they came and stripping their meaning. I think that’s bad. People defining their own creativity solely by the things they can curate from others is bad. People finding 8,000 photos of perfect, beautiful rooms before they can make a decision about their own is bad. I think that total excess is incredibly stifling to actual creativity and originality, and ultimately makes people less confident in making their own decisions about their spaces.

**On that sunny note, keep an eye out for the next installment of this Q&A, coming soon! We need to wrap this business up.**


Q & A, Part 2: All About My Dog (Dog Dog Dog Dog)

I know this might be dangerous territory that I’m getting into here—talking about my dog, Mekko. The internet is a funny place, and I get the sense that posting about the specifics of my dog-parenting might be a lot like if I were to post about parenting a real child: everybody thinks they’re an expert and everybody thinks they know what’s best.

That said, I was completely blown away by the outpouring of love and support I received after I posted about Mekko for the first time. And it didn’t just come from the wonderful crowd who already read my blog, but also from people who stumbled upon that post from so many places around the internet and took the time to leave a friendly comment or pen a kind e-mail. To be honest, I expected a really mixed reaction. People have enough opinions about dogs in general—who should own them, where they should live, how they should be cared for—leaving aside all the flack I anticipated receiving for adopting a Pit Bull. But, as with some other things that I’ve posted and readied myself for attack, the onslaught never came. All of this is my roundabout, awkward way of saying thank you. Thank you for making this a fun, kind place on an internet where fun, kind places are rare.

And now, without further delay, here’s what people wanted to know about my baby.

1. My question is, how’s Mekko doing? Has she been a good dog? Have you been doing much training or taking any classes?

Deciding to dedicate the next decade or so of your life to something that you’ve spent all of about 5 minutes with is a pretty scary thing, particularly when that something could potentially chew apart all your furniture, piss all over everything, or maul your face off while you sleep. Luckily, Mekko has chosen to do none of these things. She’s a great dog. Apparently pessimism is a central theme in my life, but I think I was pretty realistic about how hard things might be, and she’s just made the transition into dog ownership miraculously easy. She is incredibly sweet and affectionate, loves people and other dogs, and has enough energy to be hilarious and interesting but not so much (as the above picture might demonstrate) that she’s totally draining us, either. We’ve had her just over two months now, and it’s really been amazing to watch her come into her own. I don’t want to overdramatize here—she didn’t come to us super emotionally damaged or anything—but she is a different dog than she was when we brought her home that first day. They aren’t drastic changes, but a series of subtle ones. She’s put on weight and looks healthy. She’s less anxious. She seems more confident. And she seems really happy.

One of the many great things about Mekko is that she really wants to be a good dog, which has made training fairly easy. So far, we’ve really been working on developing and strengthening basic skills. It took about 3 weeks to get her 100% potty-trained, she’s gotten really great at walking on the leash (which was a nightmare when we got her), she’s a champ at sitting on command, and she learned her name really quickly. I’d like to start building up certain things she already knows and start teaching her new commands, and I think she’ll pick them up quickly. I’ve been told many times how valuable classes are, but we haven’t taken any yet. We may choose to in the future, but right now I think we’re all still adjusting to our new lives and it just hasn’t felt like a pressing concern.

And, yes. She is allowed on all the furniture. Deal with it.

2. What are the ups and downs of owning a Pit Bull?

Now, I have had dogs my whole life, and have loved all of them to a degree that non-dog-owners probably can’t understand. But Mekko is different, and I don’t think I just feel that way because she’s mine (well, and Max’s, but you know). I’ve never owned a Pit Bull—my family had 2 Labs and a Golden Retriever/Doberman mix growing up—but I’ve been told that some of Mekko’s attributes are pretty characteristic of Pit Bulls, so here it goes. Mekko loves to cuddle. She would cuddle all day, everyday. She is a fabulous little spoon and snores like a heavyset man, and it’s amazing. And she’s so warm. Aside from that, she is really social, and basically wants to be friends with every dog and every person she comes into contact with. It’s nice having a dog like that—this little social butterfly who makes me talk to people, too. I’ve met so many great dog owners and other dogs in the neighborhood, and it’s fun running into all our new friends all the time. And more than any other breed, Pit Bull owners really feel this strong allegiance with other Pit Bull owners. There are sidewalk love-fests several times a week.

I really think the hardest part of owning a Pit Bull is dealing with the stigma. It’s never been terribly aggressive or violent or anything, and I’m sure it hurts my feelings much more than it hurts hers. But it’s sad to see other dog owners decide to cross the street rather than risk passing us, or people who scoop up their kids and scowl. Or be told at the dog park that she’s not allowed to play with a dog because the other owner is afraid of her. People feel the need to tell me on the sidewalk that my dog bites—not as a question, but as an accusation or a statement of fact. Really? When? Mekko doesn’t want to bite these people, but I do.

The point is this: ALL DOGS CAN HAVE BEHAVIORAL ISSUES. Plain and simple. And every dog owner should be prepared to deal with that, regardless of whether you’re adopting a Pit Bull or a Chihuahua. It’s about being able to address a problem when it arises, being open to seeking out advice and exploring resources, and being willing to changing your own behavior to suit the needs of your dog.

3. How has being a dog owner changed your life—good and bad? How do you get anything done when she’s around? 

Mekko makes us incredibly happy, and we love her to pieces. I’m not one of those people who overly anthropomorphizes my dog, but I feel like Mekko really changed our relationship. When there’s two in your group it’s called a couple, but three—three feels like a family. It’s a weird word, and I still feel a little awkward applying it to a unit that’s different than the one I share with my siblings and parents. But I think that’s the only word for it.

I really don’t think Mekko has changed my life in any bad ways, but she has made my life different in many ways. Broadly, she’s a big thing to take care of, and even split between two people, she’s a big time commitment. The hardest part hasn’t been learning to take care of her, but learning how to keep doing the other things in my life while also making room for her needs. Full-time-student-with-part-time-job-and-relationship-and-dog-and-blog-and-hopefully-some-modicum-of-social-life still feels like an intimidatingly large pair of shoes to fill, and I’m definitely still trying to negotiate that new terrain. I think it’s getting easier, but I still feel like I’ve become somewhat unproductive and less competent in the other areas of my life. I have to keep reminding myself how new this all is and work on continuing to figure out how to balance my life and responsibilities.

6. What’s the most hilarious thing she does (because Pit Bulls are such comedians)?

I don’t even know where to start. Mekko makes me laugh constantly. She really likes to walk herself up to our 5th-floor apartment and waits for us at all the landings. When she sees another dog approaching from half a block away, she lies down on the sidewalk and wags her tail until they approach. She LOVES this one squeaky toy and only understands tennis balls as objects from which all the fuzz must be forcibly and methodically removed. That new Taylor Swift song produces an immediate calming effect on her. She’s taken to sleeping on the couch some nights, but she’ll wake up early and come get her morning cuddle time in bed, which isn’t so much hilarious as it is heart-stoppingly cute.

7. Will Mamma Biscuit and Mekko ever meet? And if so, will Mekko eat her?

I think Mamma Biscuit and Mekko would get along because they’re both hot NYC bitches who love their dads. Natural pair.

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Q & A, Part One: Let’s Get Personal

Thank you to everybody who submitted questions in the comments of the post I wrote last week! Y’all did not disappoint with providing many, many things for me to chew over.

I got a lot of questions, so I’ve decided to approach things a little differently this time around. Rather than put together one massive post, I thought it might be better to break up the questions by theme, and then do a post everyday this week surrounding each theme. That way, the posts will be more manageable and easier to swallow. It will also allow me to talk about myself for five whole days instead of one! Narcissism is my favorite game, so let’s get started!

I’ve re-worded and composited certain questions, so if you don’t see your question verbatim, it’s not because I don’t love you. It was just easier.

1. How do you like living in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn?

For those who just jumped on the exciting bandwagon that is this blog, it’s true: I do not live in Manhattan. I am a fraud. I did live in Manhattan from May 2010-June 2011, when I started this blog, and then I took the leap and moved to Brooklyn, which is a whole different borough. The neighborhood I live in is called Boerum Hill, which is close to Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Brooklyn Heights (my neighborhood is small, and many New Yorkers don’t know where it is!).

I love Brooklyn. Things are different here. The shopping is better, the people are nicer, everything’s less expensive, and there are more dogs. The apartments are better, too. And cheaper. With absent-er landlords. Win-win-win, unless you need stuff fixed all the time.

Boerum Hill is a great neighborhood. It’s safe without being boring, and there are great restaurants, bars, and shops either in the neighborhood or close by.  And the transportation—excuse me a moment, I get teary-eyed—is fantastic. There are so many trains around, which makes getting all over Brooklyn and all over New York that easier and more enticing. And the people are so friendly. I know so many of my neighbors, and I really feel like I’m part of a community here.

2. In the future, would you consider moving out of NY? And if so, where?

Max and I both came to New York for school, and I don’t think either of us started with aspirations of staying forever once we graduated. I was actually incredibly apprehensive about moving here and worried constantly that I would hate it. But that didn’t happen, and now I don’t ever want to move away. There are other cities I could see living in though, I guess. Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, some future colony on the moon?

But I love New York. Please don’t make me leave.

3. How do you make money/support yourself? How do you find the money to do all of this? 

Max and I are both full-time students (I’m an undergrad, Max is in a graduate program at Parsons), we both work part-time jobs, and, yes, we both have parents who help support us. While we live comfortably, I don’t think we live extravagantly.

Money is always tight, which is mostly why I try so hard to find low-cost solutions when dealing with home projects. Thrifting and DIY-ing almost everything you own is a good start. While we definitely do certain things just for pretty’s sake, most of what I’m doing to my apartment is really motivated by functional concerns. I love our apartment, but it’s got its fair share of challenges—almost no storage and a really lousy kitchen, along with a whole laundry list of broken stuff/things in total disrepair when I moved in, a few of which remain. Most of my work here has really been addressing that stuff, so in that sense I’m not sure I do a whole lot more than the average person does. I think the difference might be in the permanence. I love this apartment and intend to live in it for a long time, so part of saving money in the long-term here is doing things right the first time. I am not a fan of stopgap measures, and never have been. It’s part of why I didn’t have a coffee table for about 4 months until I thrifted the right one, or why my mattress was on the floor until I could figure out how to make the bed I wanted, or why my kitchen re-do is dragging out for months. We plan and we budget and we save in order to do the things we want to do, the way we want to do them.  A little at a time is the name of the game.

4. How long were you and Max together before moving in? What tips do you have for couples about to shack up?

Max and I met in February of 2011 and he officially moved in (as in, brought all his stuff and started paying rent) in August—less than 6 months after we initially introduced ourselves. And looking at an apartment in May was definitely informed by the notion that we’d both end up living in it. I’m no relationship expert, but I recognize that’s pretty quick. What can I say? He’s obsessed with me.

I think it’s important to just do what feels right. Nobody knows and understands your relationship except you, and every couple is different. For us, it wasn’t a very hard decision. We had a sense that it would make us happy, and it has. Plus, we were spending all of our time together anyway, and after a while it just didn’t make sense for Max to keep his own apartment—it was just added stress for him, and that meant added stress for both of us. But it was nice to have a period where we could try it out and test the waters, and we realized that we were really good roommates, aside from the couple stuff. He’s a good picker-upper, I’m a good cleaner. He stays on top of our bills and isn’t totally terrified of calling our landlord on occasion, and I’m good at fixing things and keeping us fed. For the most part, it’s pretty easy. We both try to communicate as clearly and honestly as we can, and I think that’s hugely important. But we’re not the perfect couple or the perfect pair of roommates—we have our little moments, just like everyone else.

5. What are you studying in school? What do you want to do when you finish school? 

I go to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, which is a strange little place where we formulate our own “concentrations” rather than fulfill a traditional major. While I’m still working on totally nailing down exactly what I’m doing, I’m essentially studying a mix of creative writing and design. I’m interested in how materiality (scaling from objects to homes to cities and beyond) both reflects and affects who people are, and how that can be reflected through narrative. I’ve tried to look at design through a fairly broad lens, placing various forms of design (city planning, architecture, objects, technologies) within historical socio-economic and political contexts, and tried to incorporate that understanding in my creative written work. I recognize that this alone does not qualify me for many jobs.

As a college undergrad, I’m trying to be okay with the fact that I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life.  And while I love design, I think I’m a better writer than I am a designer. Part of the fun of this blog is that I get to combine two things that I love in a super casual, fun, and interpersonal way. The blog stays pretty narrowly focused on my apartment, and I like the challenge of trying to write about mundane home-improvement tasks in an engaging way. And it seems like some of you think I do an okay job, and that’s been pretty amazing. Having such a kind, generous audience for this creative outlet o’ mine has been incredible—knowing that anybody wants to read what I write (even if, in this case, I’m usually talking about stuff like furniture and white paint) still both confounds and tickles me, and has been great encouragement to keep writing and trying to make a real go of it. I’ve worked up a little portfolio over the last couple of years, and I’d really like to start trying to get some pieces published. Ideally, then I want to write until my fingers fall off. Then I will die. That’s basically the extent of my life plan.

6. Are you planning on making this design stuff a career? Do you do interior design consultations? I am completely overwhelmed and could use you!

I don’t know how design will end up figuring into my life in the super-long-term (isn’t my generation supposed to have like 12 different careers, anyway?), but I’m sure it will in some way!

I don’t currently do any consulting, but I want to start soon! I think it sounds like a  great time helping people out with their spaces in a more direct way than I do through this blog alone, so I’m working on getting my ducks in a row to start taking on a some clients soon! Maybe you want some of my finicky taste and craziness rolling into your life and fancying up your house? Shoot me an email. Maybe you know someone who wants that? Shoot them an email, then tell them to shoot me an email. I’d like to start in late May.


**OKAY, keep those gorgeous eyes peeled for another round of questions tomorrow! The fun never stops.**


Your Burning Questions, Answered.

A week ago I opened the virtual floor for a little Q&A—and damn, y’all are a curious (and complimentary! thank you!) bunch. I hope you enjoy these long-winded and extremely insightful answers. If I didn’t answer your question here, check back in the comments on this post!

Why did you live in Saskatchewan? (Read more about this here)

During my senior year of high school, I decided to defer my admission to NYU for a year to work for a small film company in Regina, Saskatchewan. At the time, I had no idea what I would be going to school for, was largely unenthusiastic about NYU (even though I love it now!), and I really just wanted to do something aside from school for a little while. I’m the sort of freak who actually relishes my alone time, so moving away from home to live alone in a small, unfamiliar city where I didn’t know anybody was both thrilling and terrifying and I loved it. Now, why anybody would choose to settle a land where temperatures drop into the -50s for months on end still eludes me, but settle they did and I made some really incredible friends as a consequence. As an added benefit, I think Regina was where I discovered the true beauty of a good thrift store. Nobody seemed interested in vintage wares—so bountiful in these secondhand wonderlands—and I made out like a thief.

What brought you to New York? Where do you plan on moving after graduating? Where else in the world could you imagine wanting to live?

School! I never, ever thought I wanted to live in New York City, but I applied to a groovy-sounding program at New York University as an afterthought and a few months later—whoopsie!—I got in and it was my best option. Now I really love living in New York and intend to stick around a while, but I suppose I could imagine someday moving back to Washington, DC? Or Chicago, I love Chicago. Somewhere in Canada? Sweden?

What are your plans for the summer?

I really don’t know. Which is to say, I’m looking for a job! Which is to say, if you think you want to hire me, don’t be shy. Shoot me an email. My resumé is itching to be sent out.

What are you studying? What do you hope to be doing professionally by 40?

I’m not totally sure right now, to be honest. I go to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where we get to design individual “concentrations” rather than stick to a traditional major. So I’m still trying to figure that out. I think it’ll be something involving the cultural history of design, but I haven’t pinpointed just the right tone of pretentiousness required to actually name whatever it is I’m doing there. I’d also like to incorporate creative writing somehow. As to what I want to be doing by 40…FORTY?! I can hardly plan past what I’ll be doing next week.

How did you become interested in interior design?

It’s a big combination of things. I grew up in a house with lots of modern furniture and art, and I think my own special brand of rebellion as a kid was filling my room with antiques, so I became interested in furniture and decorating pretty early on. I was also the sort of child who routinely drew to-scale floor plans of my bedroom on graph paper and spent hours drawing all the different furniture arrangement possibilities, then begged for help with making my new layout dreams come true. I saved my allowance for three years to finally buy an antique steamer trunk when I was about 10. When I turned 12, the only thing I wanted for my birthday was to have my room painted yellow. It was also around this time that I discovered TLC and HGTV and became abnormally fixated with home makeover shows. A few years later, I discovered some newfangled thing called a shelter blog. But I think the most lasting influence has probably been my own family and their awesome houses. I’ve talked before about my aunt and uncle (here and here), but my other aunt and uncle also have an incredible and super modern house and my grandparents also lived in an amazing home, so I was exposed very early to some really interesting residential architecture and interior design that definitely continues to influence my taste years later. In large part, though, my serious interest in interior design has really developed right alongside writing this blog.

My grandparents' home. Photos by Michelle Litvin.

How did you get started blogging? How long was it before your blog took off? How did you get the word out about it?

I’ve read a bizarre amount of home design blogs over the years (don’t be afraid, teenaged boys, everything will be okay), so when I was close to kinda-sorta having a home, I thought it’d be fun to start one. For the first few months nobody really read it except my loving Mommy, which I was a-okay with. Since I’m not trying to turn this site into some kind of ad-filled money-making venture, having a bunch of readers was never really the intent; I just liked working on my apartment, making stuff, and writing about it for funsies. So I really never did anything to try to promote it, save for a comment I made on a post on Door Sixteen soliciting new blog recommendations (I’d been a regular commenter before, but I didn’t try to use my comments to promote my own readership). I know I had a few lurkers before this point, but I guess the blog “took off” in July when Anna wrote this post about my desk on Door Sixteen. About 8 hours later, Apartment Therapy posted about it, and all of a sudden I had traffic. And visitors. And comments. And some serious stage fright. All of that stuff (well, except the stage fright) seems to continue to grow as time moves on and various things from the blog get linked to around the internet, but I still don’t work to promote it. There’s certainly no shame in actively promoting your blog, but it’s just not something that makes much sense for me (and tends to make me kind of uncomfortable). The best advice I can give, I guess, is to focus on making the kind of blog you’d want to read, put out quality content, and people will like it!

What blogs do you read for inspiration?

I’m subscribed to about 80 blogs on Google Reader, the vast majority of which have something to do with home design. But my favorites are definitely ones with a personal voice behind them and super great style—real people with real budgets working on their own stuff, getting thrifty and handy. There are just too many to list that have inspired me in some way, but blogs like Door Sixteen, The Brick House, Chezerbey, Old Brand New, and Wood & Faulk hold a special place in my bloggy heart, just to name a few.

Do you see more frequent blog posts in your future?

Yes! I’ve been super-duper busy lately (and I’m excited to show you why! Soon! Very soon!), but things should be slowing down a bit and I’ll have more time to get back to blogging more regularly! I miss the days when I had time to post more often, but they’ll be back! I go through serious blogging withdrawal after a few days, believe me.

I always wondered what a “donate” button would do to the website. Have you ever considered adding such a feature?

Nope. I’m really not interested in trying to commercialize this blog (see, no ads! no free products for me! no giveaways!), and there are FAR more worthy causes in this world than my apartment shenanigans if people are in the donating spirit.

After schoolwork is done, how do you find balance between hunting for decor, decorating your apartment, hanging out with friends and all of the other things you do in your free time?

I’m not really sure that I do find balance, to be honest. I’m not the most efficient person on the planet, but I’m really not very good at relaxing either. I like to be doing something the vast majority of the time, so if it’s not schoolwork or hanging out with friends or cooking or whatever, futzing with my apartment is another way to occupy my time—specifically, usually the time that I should be sleeping.

How do you go about searching for gems in the city? And if you find them, how do you get them home?

I really don’t use Craigslist very often, partially because I actually like going to thrift stores and don’t like sitting in front of the computer more than I already do. When I first got here, I did some searching online for thrift stores and flea markets in New York and tried a lot of them out. Getting things home is always a super fun pain in the ass. If I’m lucky and find something up in my neighborhood, I can usually carry it home, but I’ve definitely been known to bring chairs and bubble lamps with me on the subway. Sometimes I need to hop in a cab with a street find or something, but I try to avoid that because I’m cheap and don’t mind looking insane in public.

Do you ever worry about bedbugs while thrifting/scavenging?  Any thoughts on avoiding those nasties?

I try to be careful, definitely, but bed bugs could be anywhere! I don’t do stupid things like pick up upholstered furniture off the street, but I generally try not to worry about it with things from thrift stores. It’s just a risk I’m willing to take, I guess, but I don’t see the risk as being terribly high. Of course if something does get dragged off the street, it’s cleaned within an inch of its life, just in case.

Do you stick to the thrift stores just in your neighborhood, or venture elsewhere? Any thrift store/flea market recommendations that you haven’t previously mentioned?

In my experience, most everything amazing comes from Brooklyn. Manhattan has a fair number of thrift stores, but there aren’t too many that I really like. Even though my neighborhood boasts about 10 different thrifty spots, they’re basically all overpriced and generally full of awful shit. If I buy things at a thrift store or a flea market I’d recommend, I always mention it in my post about the item. But more often I tend to find that one thing in a scattered selection of stores that I’d never recommend, in which case I usually don’t say where it came from since it’s really not worth a trip. Trust me.

How do you balance the desire to own awesome vintage furniture with the p.i.t.a. that it is to own stuff and schlep it around NYC? After four years here, I own a mattress, some books and clothes, a couple pieces of art, and a few kitchen tchotchkes. Everything else I inevitably pitch when I move apartments because it it too. much. hassle.

Really, the stuff in my apartment is just a combination of me being pretty cheap and very picky. I’m pretty particular about my things, which is why I’d usually rather just go without than settle for something I don’t really love (which also means it takes forever to “complete” my apartment, whatever that means). Most of the time, my “awesome vintage furniture” is less expensive than even IKEA, so for me it’s worth it to wait until I find something I love than just buy something I’m willing to toss when it comes time to move out (not to mention less wasteful). Then again, I haven’t had to deal with moving yet, so I might be doing this whole living-in-New-York thing all wrong.

Do you have any advice for people who can’t use tools/have no carpentry skills?

Try stuff! I don’t think there really are people who “can’t use tools,” I think we’re just used to living in a world where we aren’t required to make things and therefore think we can’t. I’d never call myself somebody with “carpentry skills,” but I’m not afraid of trying things out…and I kind of love power tools and making things. I really don’t have a lot of technical expertise or experience—the most time I ever spent around tools was a few seasons of theater tech stuff in high school—so most of what I’ve shown on the blog is really me just trying stuff for the first time. I didn’t grow up in a house where anybody did a lot of fixing or building (though my mother, she would like everyone to know, is quite a handy lady). So for me, it’s really just been about deciding what I want to do and trying to make it happen—nothing I’ve made is very difficult to accomplish, I swear! The internet really is a great resource for learning how to do almost anything, too, and I think a lot of what I know I learned from blogs! But I also know there are places to take classes (Home Depot offers some I know, but I’m sure there are plenty of other resources) to learn certain skills. Personally, I’m DYING to learn to weld. Think of all the crazy shit I’d be building then! Yeehaw, fire! Molten steel!

What sort of freedom do you have to decorate your apartment (for example we can’t paint here)? Does the landlord give any money towards costs of updating? Do you need the landlord’s permission?

I work under a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with my landlord. My lease states that I can paint the walls so long as they’re all “back to white” when I move, which I intend to do (which will just involve repainting the kitchen and bathroom). Beyond that, I’m not supposed to make irreversible changes to the apartment. I’ve largely obeyed that rule, with the exception of the bathroom vanity re-vamp. I think it’s a little silly when people talk about how they aren’t allowed to paint or hang art, or pretend like they can’t do anything to their apartments. A nail hole is always patchable, a wall is always re-paintable, and light fixtures can just as easily be switched back as they can be replaced in the first place. I’ve never asked my landlord for money to fix the place up, but I’ve been told that landlords sometimes do that. It’s just a can of worms I’d rather leave closed.

Did you ever get a new roommate? If not, how cheap is your rent?

I haven’t gotten a new roommate. There are a few personal reasons for this that I won’t get into, but I actually enjoy living alone and it’s still semi-affordable, for now. I don’t really feel comfortable divulging the exact amount I pay in rent in such a public forum, but I will point out that even living alone, I still pay less than it costs to live in an NYU dorm (yes, my two bedroom apartment with a kitchen and a living room costs less than splitting a small room with a stranger!).

Do you keep all of your books and files on your shelf? Where do you keep your printer?

All of my normal books do fit on the shelf I built, but larger format books just become coffee table books that float around the apartment on any available flat surfaces. My school binders are in constant use, so when they aren’t in my bag they just sit on my desk. Files? I’m 21, I don’t play that game. And my printer is under my bed! It stays folded up until I need to use it—I try not to print at home very often unless I need to.

How’s that lovely woolen headboard you made holding up?

Great! I definitely wouldn’t recommend cheap wool army blankets for any sort of high-use upholstery (like a couch or a chair, for instance), but it’s great for the bed and headboard since it’s not the sort of surface that gets a lot of wear and tear. The blankets are a very sturdy material, but they aren’t an upholstery-grade fabric and probably shouldn’t be treated that way.

Apartment Therapy is doing their Small Cool contest, and I believe your gorgeous apartment would be eligible?

Yes, the square footage of my apartment definitely makes it eligible for Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool Contest. Maybe I’ll enter! I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it!

What did you do with the vintage flashcards?

Nothing yet! I know, pathetic. I’ve been busy. Sue me. When I know, you’ll know.

What is the name and breed of your imaginary dog?

His name is Hillbilly. He’s a mutt, found roaming the mean streets of Washington, DC a couple years ago. He’s absolutely MASSIVE, totally hogs the bed at night and tends to be a real pain in the ass.  But he’s a real sweetheart and since he doesn’t eat, drink, or poop, he’s very low-maintenance.

Favorite ice cream flavor?

Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie is a true delicacy.

Favorite movie?

TOUGH ONE. I don’t have one favorite! But The Wizard of Oz has stuck by me for about 18 years, and I still love it.

Which do your prefer: laces or velcro?

Velcro in theory, laces in practice.

What is the most perfect thing you have ever eaten?


What’s your favorite thing to eat cold out of a can?

Tuna fish? What else comes in cans?

Boxer, briefs, thongs, jock straps or nude—which one are you?

All of the above, at the same time. Layering is, like, so in this season.


Well, Since You Asked

One of our many blog readers, Katie, requested that we post about our styles. One reason for the delay has been a crazy, crazy week. But I’ve also been mulling it over. It’s a hard topic to distill into a single post like this. Hopefully, it will be distilled into a single apartment, which we’ve yet to find. And bad news, our broker had a knee injury so it looks like we’ll be starting over with somebody new tomorrow. Or something. And I still don’t have a job/internship for the summer. Gulp.

Everything. Will. Work. Out.

But back to the topic at hand. I like modern design. I grew up around modern furnishings and design elements, and that’s the aesthetic I gravitate towards. In rebellion to the rest of my household, I filled my bedroom at home with antiques when I was younger. And while I still have a healthy respect for old stuff, I tend to appreciate it more now in small doses. We’re looking at pre-war apartments mostly, so hopefully that will be represented more in architectural details.

If I were answering this question a few years ago, I would have said something like “Oh, retro.” And it was true, I was completely enamored with the fifties. I wanted to be a rockabilly. I wanted to live in a 50s prefab house and I wanted to pretend I was Andy Griffith’s neighbor. Depending upon how wealthy I got, I wanted to hire an actor to pretend to be my friendly milkman. This was before Mad Men, so the available role models weren’t as glamorous as Don Draper or Roger Sterling. But I would have liked to be this guy:

Maybe a different kind of dog. And black socks.

Photo from Jennifer Greenburg. Check out her site and maybe buy her new book!

But over time, I’ve also learned to like 50s kitsch in moderation. There are a few things I keep around that would fit right in at that guy’s house, and I find that style especially appropriate in kitchens. But for main living space and bedrooms, I prefer something a little more current, a little cleaner, with nods at the past without looking like it came out of the past. If that makes sense. And while I’m all about mid-century modern, the abundance of tapered wooden legs that everyone is hankering for is kind of wearing on me.

So I would say you should expect to see some modern-modern, some mid-century modern, some space-age modern, and a little 50s kitsch to keep you on your toes. It will probably qualify as a teeny-tiny space, so we’ll be trying to keep things simple and well-curated without sacrificing on the things we want. To illustrate, here are some pictures I’ve been liking, with some elements you might see popping up in the new place.

From Apartment Therapy.

Who doesn’t love an Eames lounge chair? And the molded side shell in the back isn’t bad either. I can even dig that ornate silver platter in the foreground. A little woodsy for me– maybe a different side table?– but still. Nice.

Photo from The Brick House. Awesome kilim, nice industrial (AND DIY!) shelving unit, and another Eames chair.

From Apartment Therapy. I want those upholstered orange Eames shells. You might be sensing a theme. I also love the marble-topped table, and I think having a big floor lamp as opposed to a pendant is a clever choice for a rental unit. And while I want to declutter a bit in the back, I like what they’ve done with a couple of IKEA Expedit shelving units. It’s sort of funky to see book storage in a dining area, but I think it works nicely here.

From Apartment Therapy. I like this workspace under the stairs. The balance of colors is so nice, and the lighting is bold and quirky without being overbearing.

From Dwell Magazine. I just had to include this one. Just look at it. White cement floors? A wood-paneled wall? A four-sided fireplace? Six red vinyl-upholstered Eames shell chairs? Floor to ceiling windows?  And a cool chrome pendant that makes me feel like these folks don’t take themselves too seriously? Yes please. But really, I think the mix of materials here is stunning, so even if the space is like nothing we’re going to find, we can still learn some lessons.

From Apartment Therapy (EDIT: Originally from Darling Dexter). I just had to include this one because it’s a very, very small space. And I think this person has used it quite well. I have to respect how open and airy this looks despite that it’s quite tiny, and how they’ve worked in so much storage, a workspace, a living area, and a dog. And while the art, curtains, and quilt are a bit girly for my taste, it’s not overly-sweet or too sparse.

So anyway, I hope that helped clear some things up. None of these pictures really accurately represent exactly what I’d like, but they certainly have elements you might see in our place. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

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