i’ve been watching HGTV for about 15 years now, and of all the things it’s taught me, the most important one is this: when you look at a home, you can’t fixate on the little things (paint, tile, lighting, furniture). you have to look at “the bones” of the place; ie, the moldings, the windows, the ceiling heights, the square footage. bones, for the most part, can’t be changed. but the little things can.
i can’t count how many times i’ve seen a woman on house hunters throw up her hands in disgust at a pink tiled bathroom, squealing, “ew. THIS TILE! this is SO NOT US.” at which point, the camera zooms in on the aforementioned pink tile, demonstrating to us viewers just how horrifyingly ugly it is.
here’s the thing, folks: pink tile is FIXABLE. as are puke green walls, or a bathtub so covered in rust that you can’t even tell it’s white.
which is what i had to tell myself the first time i walked into the grand apartment.
deep breaths. this is ugly, but it is fixable.
my broker, knowing my pinterest-heavy heart, had warned me that what i was about to see wasn’t going to be pretty.
“it needs a lot of work,” he said, “but it has potential.”
(this is a thing that brokers say to you when they want you to look past the fact that the electrical hasn’t been updated since 1936 and that the refrigerator has a sign on it that reads, “DO NOT OPEN. THIS MUST STAY CLOSED.”)
i first saw the grand apartment on a cold and windy night after work, and let me tell you, it is not smart to see a place that needs a gut renovation when it’s pitch black outside. see, darkness makes everything ugly look even uglier. daylight, by contrast, helps to smooth the rough edges; sunshine adds a sheen to even the worst 1970s linoleum.
i have to be honest, potential isn’t what i saw when i first walked in. i saw ugly, dated, and worst of all, SO dirty (a type A/OCD girl’s biggest fear). the cracks in the ceilings made them look like they could cave in at any moment. the only room with a true door was the bathroom, and the tile in there was gross enough to give me serious nightmares. the bedroom had no closet, the only lighting in the apartment came in the form of bulbs that dangled from the ceiling and could be turned on by yanking a piece of string, and the kitchen cabinets were straight out of an early 1900s tenement museum.
i tried to see the apartment like chip and joanna gaines would see it. i tried to channel the property brothers. but in my heart of hearts, all i felt was disappointment. disappointment that this ‘amazing lower east side 1BR’ was sort of a bust. disappointment that it would truly require a gut renovation. disappointment that the renovation would probably be out of my budget.
so i took a weekend and slept on it. and what do you know? as soon as my head hit the pillow, my brain turned into a pinterest EXPLOSION. my inner monologue was all, subway tile crystal doorknobs crown moulding tin ceilings and omg what about a farm sink i’ll need a lot of cabinetry and i wonder if i need a new kitchen aid mixer can i afford a smeg fridge how many burners do i need on the stove can i tear down the linen closet to open up the kitchen and create a breakfast bar how many types of penny tile are there how much does a clawfoot tub cost?
clearly, though my rational self was worried, deep down, i knew: just like my broker had said, this place had potential.
so i went back to see it again on a sunny day, and here is what i saw:
standing in the living room, looking towards the entryway. that’s shitty linoleum you see beneath eric’s feet, but underneath it is relatively well-preserved hardwood from the 1930s, when this building was built. neat, right? if you look directly behind eric, you’ll see an ollllldy mc olderstein built in cabinet and drawer situation. there’s even a cutting board that pulls out of it! i don’t think i’ll be saving any of it, but it’s neat to think about all of the families that lived here over the years and stored their non-perishables on those shelves.
standing in the living room looking at the entryway. when i first saw this archway, i was all, ‘awww, charm!’ except then my broker pointed out that it was fake, and we could bust it open to make a semi open-concept living/eating area. it’s hard to see in these photos, but i’m hoping to open the wall up to the right to add a breakfast bar, and maybe transform the space to see above into a giant (i use that term lightly, it’s manhattan.) hallway closet.
the living room, as seen straight on from the entryway. it’s not enormous, but it’s workable, and it gets great light. i’m thinking i’ll refinish the floors in a darker, ebony-like stain (all the better to hide the imperfections) – but they’re original hardwoods, which makes my heart happy.
the living room, as seen from the entryway, a little bit to the right. the floors can be restored, and i haven’t decided what to do with that odd trim. probably tear it down and add crown moulding on both the ceiling and the floor. as you can see, i’ve got space for a couch along that long wall, and hopefully, a little dining area at the right. the TV would go opposite the couch, and i might be able to squeeze a little extra seating along the windows. i wish i had the budget for a brand new sectional, but mama needs new electrical, so, current couch it is.
the bedroom, which isn’t nearly as dark as it looks here. the unit is a corner apartment, which means it gets lots of eastern light. the paint on the walls in here (okay, on all the walls) is PEEL CITY, PARTY OF THREE. but my contractor has assured me we can remedy it by thinning, scraping, and removing all of the years and years of bad paint and replacing it with smooth, beautiful, any-color-i-choose paint. isn’t it nice that the previous owners left a dorm light for me? #blessed.
the kitchen is definitely tied with the bathroom for “the worst room in the place.” that fridge literally has a sign on it that cautions you NOT TO OPEN IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. i have to wonder: are there body parts in there? am i about to be on an episode of SVU? regardless, it ain’t pretty. the stove is super old, but in a cute country kitchen type of way. i don’t think it’s safe to use; otherwise, i’d try and save it. some of the other units i saw online in this building had amazing giant farmhouse-style sinks in place. it looks like this kitchen had an “update” in the seventies and got that fugly looking thing you see at right. if anyone knows of anywhere to get a farmhouse sink (used!) in the NY metro area, HIT A SISTER UP.
the bathroom is BAD. but it’s workable. it has space for a toilet, a pedestal sink, and a tub (clawfoot gods, can you hear me?). and there’s a window! the square footage in here is pretty tiny, so if i can afford it, this will be the one place where i splurge on tile. nothing like some marble hexagon business all up in your footsies, amiright? more than likely, i’ll end up with inexpensive, but classic: subway tile all around the tub, penny tile on the floor (white with black grout, maybe a black border), a pedestal or mounted sink, and a new toilet. just close your eyes and imagine a black clawfoot tub in here…ahhh, bliss.
standing in the bedroom, eyeing the linen closet (which will likely be knocked out to open up the kitchen) and the little bathroom. how about that medicine cabinet, folks? rough, right? but again, you can see that in its heyday, this little bathroom served its purpose. cleared out and freshened up, it’ll be a little beauty.
taking a look at the doorframe between the back hallway and the living room. it appears all of the doors in the apartment beyond the bathroom door were removed and discarded (whatever happened to privacy?), but you can see that the moulding was, at one point, really beautiful. it’s simple, but i’ll take simple over my 1950s BORING doors any day. this too may be going away to open up the kitchen…but i’ve got the same thing around the bathroom and bedroom doors, so it will get preserved someway, somehow.
SO. that’s the before. god, i LOVE a good makeover. let’s just hope that my “after” is so freaking spectacular that someone puts their hands over my eyes before i walk through the front door and says, “SARAH, ARE YOU READY TO SEE YOUR NEW HOUSE?!” i can’t wait to squeal with delight at my so fresh and so clean clean NEW HOME.