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did you know that there are approximately 9 trillion shades of gray paint in the world? me neither, until i started searching for “the perfect gray” online. i don’t consider myself to be any sort of color expert, but i sort of thought i “knew” gray. gray and i were old friends! we’d BEEN THROUGH STUFF together!

we’d first bonded in my current place, when i decided, on a whim one rainy saturday morning, to paint my living room and bedroom benjamin moore’s “silver dollar.” gray and i had been tight ever since. together, we’d learned that white was our bestie and brass was our GIRL. we’d been through multiple iterations of gallery walls, we’d tried a variety of mirrors on for size, we’d hung out with turquoise and hot pink. we’d done it all!

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given our long history together, i thought it would be easy for me to choose the perfect gray for the grand apartment. WRONG! me finding the perfect gray was like an episode of true life on mtv: you think you know, but you have no idea. because as it turns out, “gray” translates to a million iterations, a zillion colorways, and WAY TOO MANY OPTIONS.

in my mind, the perfect gray was a little bit of a goldilocks situation: not too light, not too dark. just dark enough to give the space some heart, but not so dark that it felt, well, dark. i wanted cozy but still bright–a surprisingly hard thing to find, especially when you consider that paint colors tend to look different from wall to wall (and also, from day to night).

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initially, i turned to the generally reliable pinterest, but that simply led me down a rabbit hole of “best grays for your space” blog posts – none of which gave me the answer i was looking for.

so i did the second best thing (and the thing i should have done first): i turned to instagram. thankfully, instagram delivered (let’s be real, instagram ALWAYS delivers). according to my internet friends, the very best gray was benjamin moore’s “stonington gray.” multiple people suggested it on multiple posts, and that was good enough for me.

CROWD SOURCING, FOLKS. IT’S THE WAY TO GO.

word on the street was that stonington gray was a “true” gray. not too blue, not too brown, not too yellow. just plain gray. exhibit A, below.

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i also knew that one of my overall inspiration shots (from danielle moss’ amazing scandinavian- esque chicago place) heavily featured the color.

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so good, right?

SO GOOD. except for the fact that there was a small part of me that wanted to go bright white, EVERYWHERE, a la amber lewis (exhibits A and B, below).

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AH, BRIGHTNESS. LIGHT. SERENITY. HAPPINESS.

to say i was torn is a very strong understatement.

so i did the only thing i knew how to do: i asked someone who knew better than i did.

that someone? a VERY helpful saleswoman at the janovic paint store conveniently located just down the street from my office.

i’ll admit, i was a little bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options at janovic (and this was only the benjamin moore line!). so i was thrilled when a very nice looking woman meandered over to me and asked me if i needed some help.

“actually, you know, i do! i’m, uh, i just bought this apartment and i’m renovating it and i need to pick paint colors ASAP and i thought i wanted gray but i also kind of want white, because i want it to feel light and bright but there are SO many whites to choose from, and i heard stonington gray is nice but i’m not sure if it’s too dark…”

did i mention i ramble when i’m nervous?

luckily, this woman knew her shit. she told me to sit tight, and she’d pull some samples. she came back with a few options: stonington gray (which she agreed would indeed be a good gray for me), along with decorator’s white (for the bedroom walls, kitchen and bathroom–basically everything that wasn’t the living room and entryway), and simply white for the trim (a little bit brighter made sense for trim/molding/door frames).

she waited patiently while i showed her photos of my recently discovered exposed brick, and happily grabbed additional grays and whites for me to look at before i choose two colors to make into sample pots. she explained that stonington gray would be beautiful against the exposed brick, and that it was light enough that i could carry it into the bathroom if i so chose. she also told me that while “bright white” was certainly a thing i could achieve, i had to be careful—too white and things could get “a little bit institutional” up in here.

NO THANKS. THAT SOUNDS LIKE THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT I WANT.

so, stonington gray it was (is).

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it’s rather hard to tell in the image above, but it’s the color swatch on the left, and it’s what i plan to go for in the living room (front wall, back/windowed wall, and entryway). the rest of the apartment will be “decorator’s white” – a white that has just the faintest of undertones (aka, a true white white without seeming institutional). the goal? to have a white that doesn’t make the cabinets or tile look dingy (and vice versa). will it work? WE SHALL SEE.

both the living room and bedroom have been primed, so paint will go up in the next two weeks! EEEK! stay tuned for progress shots!

when i first saw the entryway and kitchen of the grand apartment, they looked like this.

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dated, closed off, and very dark. none of those were words i wanted associated with my new home, so when my broker, eric, told me that he thought i could knock down the wall above, and the closest behind it, to create a breakfast bar, i was ALL EARS. there was no turning back. i could see the (almost) open floor plan in my head, and i wanted it. bad.

on day 1 of demo, the area above looked like this.

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the closest had been entirely torn out, as had the arched wall between the kitchen and the entryway. here it is from another angle (pardon the shitty iphone photos)

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see the space above on the left? across from where the worker is standing? that was now just a weird open space–a space where my broker suggested i put a nice console table and a mirror. that would have been lovely, except that by tearing out the closet, i’d lost any sort of coat closet situation, and that simply wasn’t going to fly.

i asked if we could rebuild the closet on the other side (in the space above). we could, he said, but that would be stupid. see, i’d just spent all this time and money tearing out the old closet to open up the space. and by simply rebuilding the closet on the other side, i’d be closing it back off again. POINTLESS. SILLY, SILLY SARAH. SILLY SARAH WHO HAS BAD SPATIAL INTELLIGENCE DIDN’T THINK OF THAT.

i didn’t want to lose all the open space i’d just created. but i did want – did need – some form of storage in the entryway. i needed a place to hang coats and stash umbrellas, a place for rain boots and scarves and extra paper towels. a place for laundry detergent and halloween party supplies and all the other miscellaneous shit that people stuff in their entryway closets.

so i started looking for other options, and i came across this.

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sure, it was a mudroom, but it was a design i could easily adapt to fit my needs. coats could be stashed in the tall cabinets. the cabinets above could hold hats and scarves and other assorted winter gear. open baskets could store other unsightly kitchen and cleaning supplies, and the drawers could fit board games and other random tidbits.

i sent it to my contractor, along with these.

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after meeting with his closet designer (henry of european closet), i received this sketch.

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pretty darn close, right?! the unit will be just deep enough to house both short (on the left) and long (on the right) jackets, the bottom will house a bench (wider than the image below shows it to be (likely big enough to seat two) with storage underneath, and the top will hold extra shelving. the doors will be white shaker, to match my kitchen cabinets, and the molding used in the kitchen will be carried over here to create one cohesive space.

to say i’m thrilled would be an understatement. i can’t WAIT to see these sketches come to life. ORGANIZATION! STORAGE! PRETTY THINGS! YAY!

i hate to use a sex and the city quote as an opener, but…i’m going to use a sex and the city quote as an opener.

i’m referring to the first movie, where mr. big says to carrie, “we’re getting married. should we get you a diamond?”

and carrie, ever the clotheshorse, replies cheekily, “no. just get me a REALLLLY BIG closet.”

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that’s right – girlfriend would rather a giant closet than a giant diamond. YOU AND ME BOTH, CARRIE. YOU AND ME BOTH.

granted, i don’t have a mr. big swooping into the grand apartment and offering to marry me, but hey – you can’t always get what you want, right?

i digress. my point is this: when it came to storage in the grand apartment, my thinking was this: i want it. a lot of it. no marie kondo “throw out everything you own and live with less” shit up in here–mama has a lot of stuff, and she needs a place to put it all.

unfortunately for me (and my poor contractor), the grand apartment was built in the late 1920s. also known as a time when a single family lived in just one room (or two, if they were lucky), where everyone shared one giant mattress (or one not so giant mattress), and where people quite simply did not have a lot of stuff.

which is why at the time of purchase, the grand apartment had just two closets: a small coat closet in the entryway (which i promptly demolished to make room for my breakfast bar), and a small linen closet near the bathroom.

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the linen closet at the time of purchase

nothing else. that’s right, ZERO storage in the bedroom. NARY A CLOSET IN SIGHT.

and that, quite simply, wasn’t going to work. as i said, i have a lot of stuff. but i don’t want to SEE a lot of stuff.

hence, storage. and closets. more of them.

luckily, my contractor had just the guy. his name was henry, and he was FAB-U-LOUS. last week, he met shmulik and i at the grand apartment, and promptly proceeded to put on a one man design show complete with theatrical gesticulation.

let me set the scene.

henry enters, stage left, and goes to stand inside the linen closet (literally, the man was in the closet). he stretches his arms out, indicating that he can touch the sides. 

“can i give you some design advice?” he asks.

i nod.

“my dad is always telling me, HENRY, don’t give people design advice! you’re giving it away for free! don’t give it away for free! but i just can’t help myself.”

i laugh, and say that of course he can give me design advice! i WELCOME his design advice!

“okay, great. here are my thoughts: we need to make this work for you, right? so we’ll do some shelves (rapid sketching on his pad of paper), and we’ll need big ones here for comforters, that sort of thing, and then some smaller ones, too.”

he proceeds to point out that “shampoo bottles go here, they’re tall, see?” and that “you’ll stack sheets here. sheet sheet sheet, towels here, a towel there.”

as he talks, he continues to sketch. within minutes, a linen closet comes to life.

my hour with henry was, without contest, the very best hour of this renovation so far. besides being hilarious and easy to work with, henry truly considered my lifestyle (“i can tell you’re stylish”), my wardrobe (“you have a lot of shoes, don’t you?”), and what i needed to hide, “we’ll put the vacuum and swiffer right here, see?”) before designing my closets.

so now, let’s SEE SOME SKETCHES, shall we?

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so COOL, right? watching henry sketch out my belongings in such an orderly, sensible fashion was magical. the man even remembered sock and underwear drawers!

the best part? this wasn’t even the best part! that honor belongs to the entryway, which he literally designed exactly to my vision and specifications. but that’s a story for another day (aka, tomorrow)–so come back then.

 

 

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photo: danielle moss’ chicago apartment 

when i first started searching for apartments, my broker asked me to make a list of the things i wanted. i told him i was sick of living in a 1960s style box with zero charm. i was OH SO OVER fugly parquet floors (helllooo, 1950s) and walls that went straight up to the ceiling with nary a piece of molding in site.

i wanted CHARM CITY, and i wanted it ALL: original hardwoods, crown molding, clawfoot tub…and the real kicker: exposed brick. a true symbol of old new york, of the lives that came before ours.

of course, no one gets it all. not usually, at least. and as of about a month ago, i certainly didn’t. i’d gotten the hardwoods (in relatively good condition, and definitely salvageable in both the bedroom and the living room; the entryway remains up in the air), the molding (you can fake it, just like highlights), and the tub (thank you, clawfoot tub gods!). but the brick was a no go.

as a reminder, here’s what the living room looked like when i bought the grand apartment.

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here’s what it looked like in the beginning of the demo phase (dated picture rail off the walls, new electrical in the process of being run throughout).

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nothing to see here, right? just some white plaster that was sorely in need of a refresh.

but then. BUT THEN. one morning, before i left for a 10 day trip out west, i stopped in to talk to my contractor about what was to happen while i was away. and through a tiny little rectangle of wall that was being cut out to make room for new outlets, i saw something red peeking out.

i bet you can guess what comes next…

“wait a second…is that BRICK?!” 

“oh, yeah, probably.”

(he leans down to take a closer look)

“yes, that’s brick.”

“does that mean it’s BEHIND THAT ENTIRE WALL?!?!”

“probably, yes. do you want us to find out?”

UM, HELLO! DO YOU EVEN HAVE TO ASK?

DO I WANT YOU TO FIND OUT? HELLS YES, I DO.

let me remind you of my dream:

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i nodded eagerly, and told him that if there was brick underneath that whole wall, i wanted it exposed. ALL OF IT.

and then i left, and did a little happy dance in the elevator.

a few days later, i got this:

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by the time i got home from my trip, they’d made quite a bit of progress.

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cut to last week, and an entire wall of plaster had been painstakingly scraped off. my exposed brick wall was free, in all its glory!

it’s a bit surprising, actually, considering that this isn’t an exterior wall (the exterior of the building is indeed brick, but all the other interior walls we’ve torn into are old wood/plaster situations). it’s a wall that’s shared with the apartment directly beside mine.

as you can see below, there are old electrical boxes in the wall – likely where the original tenants had sconces – which means that a) this brick was original to the apartment and b) at some point, someone CHOSE to cover it up.

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why anyone would consciously say to themselves, gee, i’m going to cover this beautiful brick with plain old PLASTER is beyond me…but that’s all in the past, because i have discovered it, and i plan to restore it to its former glory.

the goal is to sand the wall down and seal it, just so it’s not casting dust everywhere. i’m also hoping i can rip out the old fixtures you see above, as they jut pretty far out of the wall. beyond that, i’m keeping it simple: one or two larger art pieces behind the couch (which will go on this back wall), and a large round mirror behind the dining area (to the right of this photo).

since we’re still about a month or so out from decorating, here’s a little eye candy to tide you over. YAY BRICK!

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throughout this entire process, i have waited for the moment where things start to feel real. the moment where a construction zone starts to feel like some semblance of a home. and earlier this week, that moment happened.

my kitchen cabinets were delivered late last week, and my contractor promised that friday or monday, they’d start putting them up. true to form, after meeting him at the apartment on friday morning and reconfirming the layout, they got to work. and by early afternoon, i’d received photos of the cabinets in progress. EXCITING, right?!

i’ll be completely honest: when my contractor told me “had a guy” who “did cabinets” i was a little bit skeptical. that skepticism only grew when i found out the guy worked out of the back of an ACE hardware store in DEEP brooklyn (literally, i took the 2 train all the way to the end of the line). after exiting at nostrand and walking a few blocks past a target and an applebee’s, i came across a defunct meat market advertising “just killed!” chickens.

i almost turned around. surely, i was lost. signs ahead pointed to brooklyn college, but there was barely a soul on the street.

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then i walked one more block, and saw a (small) sign for ace hardware. i stopped, and stared at the chain link fence surrounding the store.

this must be the place, i thought to myself. the place where i get swallowed up into some freaky alternate back in time universe where they kill chickens right in front of you and then ask you if you need semi gloss or eggshell.

there was a small parking lot out front; an old nissan altima was parked diagonally across two spots. beyond that, two double doors opened into a quiet neighborhood hardware store with no kitchen cabinets in sight.

i’d been told to ask for “chew” — but the woman at the checkout desk simply stared blankly back at me when i said his name.

“yo! is there a CHOO that works here?” she called out to the orthodox man working the paint counter in the back, payis dangling down from his hat.

“back here,” he motioned to me. “come back this way.”

suddenly, from the very back of the store, a small man poked his head around a doorway.

“hi sarah!”

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chew! he did exist! in the back of this weird orthodox hardware store in deep brooklyn was an asian man who sold kitchen cabinets.

i spent the next hour with chew going over the type of cabinets i wanted (white shaker), ruminating over what size pantry i needed (18″ would suffice, anything larger was overkill), and discussing the pros and cons of soft-close drawers (i hate them, chew said they were standard these days).

at 7pm, ace hardware closed; by 6:55, i was out the door, waving goodbye to chew, who had, in the past 55 minutes, become my friend. chew understood the look i was going for (“you like the farmhouse style! but not TOO farmhouse!”). he knew i liked to bake and therefore needed space for my cookie sheets (“we’ll give you roll out drawers, two big ones, so they can stack! it’s too heavy otherwise!”). he’d agreed to customize a 16″ deep double cabinet for my island (“you need room for the legs!”), and to figure out a way to make the giant farm sink i wanted from ikea fit (“don’t you worry, sarah, we’ll make it work.”)

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chew was a god among men. a god hidden in the back room of a hardware store in a strange no man’s land between midwood and flatbush.

he was, in other words, exactly the kind of smart, creative, small business kind of guy i hoped i’d be working with when i decided to pinch my pennies and go with the lowest contractor quote i’d received.

i’d budgeted $8k for my cabinets; shmulik had told me that depending on what i wanted, they’d come in between 6 and 8k. a few days after i met with chew, i received a layout, along with a quote: $7370–almost $600 below my max budget, with wiggle room for any additional filler pieces i might need last minute.

would i have loved to be closer to $6? of course. but i also wanted a pantry, and a small breakfast bar, and the two rollout drawers chew had got me all excited about. so i forked over a 50% deposit, and a few weeks later, a giant load of boxes arrived at the grand apartment.

a few days after that, the boxes were unpacked, and the cabinets went up on the wall.

and just like that, i had “the moment” – the one where i saw a home coming together right in front of my very eyes.

 

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hi friends! i know it’s been forever since i wrote anything, and for the 2 of you who read this for updates from afar, i apologize. i went away for 10 days, and while i was gone, my kitchen floors were installed, sheetrocking started, and an exposed brick wall was discovered (!!!!). i’ve now been back for a week and a half, and i have no excuse beyond simple lack of motivation. but i’m back, i’m ready, and i have photos to show you! LET’S DO THIS THANG.

first off is the kitchen floor. you may recall that i agonized over this decision. the color way of the tile i had my heart set on was out of stock til early october, and so it was either start from scratch, or go with a slightly darker grey. once i’d resolved to go with the darker option, my contractor told me the tile i was eyeing was flat out stupidly expensive, and not worth it, especially in terms of resale value.

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i had to ask myself: am i silly for spending $1800 on tile (full disclosure, it would have been more, but my friend nika’s friend alley at chelsea arts stone and tile gave me a slight discount (thank you, alley!)? do i want to go with my heart, and find savings elsewhere (the original plan; i always knew the tile was expensive)? do i want to do the “responsible thing” and go for something more basic and less expensive?

ultimately, i went with my heart. let’s be real, i ALWAYS go with my heart. it gets me in trouble a lot of the time. but that’s a story for a different day. my reasoning was this: while it’s certainly true that i may one day get married and have kids and sell the grand apartment to someone who’s all, ew, i hate that cement tile, i want to rip it all out and start again and may i please have $5k off the asking price to do so?, it’s also a definite possibility that those things aren’t in the cards for me, and that i will be living in the grand apartment for a very long time.

WOOF. THAT WAS HEAVY.

anyway, without getting too emotional about this whole thing, my point is this: the grand apartment is MY home. not anyone else’s. not my contractor’s, not my mothers’, not the guy down the street’s. i am the one who will pad into the kitchen each morning and brew a cup of coffee, i’m the one who will slave over spaghetti bolognese every sunday in november. and thus, the kitchen tile should be as i want it to be. it should be something that makes me happy (within reason, of course). because that’s what home should do: make you happy.

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pardon the crappy phone shot, but !!!

and guess what? the second my contractor sent me a photo of the tile on the floor, i was SO HAPPY. like, ecstatically, gloriously so.

isn’t she a beaut?! picture her with white shaker cabinets (which are being delivered today!), silver hardware, white subway tile….swoon. seeing your vision come to life (and actually having it look good) is a magical thing.