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yes, friends, you read that right. the title of this post is exposed brick and THE BUGS THAT COME CRAWLING OUT OF IT

because one did, about a month ago. one GI-FREAKING-NORMOUS centipede came crawling out of my exposed brick wall at 10pm, and proceeded to turn me into a full on crazy woman (think oprah when she’s knee deep in “YOU GET A CAR!” mode). but before we get into that story, let’s take a bit of a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

when i first purchased the grand apartment, the living room looked like this.

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and the back wall, in particular, looked like this.

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looking at those “before” shots is kind of a trip, if i’m being honest. it looks so much smaller, doesn’t it? it’s amazing how much larger a room looks once there’s actual furniture in it (yes, i’m throwing shade at the dorm style fixture above).

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exposed brick (see exhibit A, above) was high on my initial “must have” list, but most NYC apartments blessed with it (especially those in the east village/lower east side) are MUY TINY and MUY DARK. like, you would not believe how tiny and dark some of the units i looked at were. what are we, mole people?

so when we first toured the grand apartment, and there was no exposed brick in sight, i took it for what it was: a relatively large (by NYC standards) lower manhattan 1 bedroom that i could afford, and more importantly, that i could make my own.

it wasn’t until my electrician started chipping away at the walls to bring the outlets up to code that we noticed anything amiss. and by we, i mean me, because no one–not the electrician, not the construction workers, not my contractor–noticed it but me.

one muggy august morning (god bless you, new york summer), i rode down to the grand apartment to check on the electrical progress before work, and there it was, peeking out from behind the plaster: a little hint of reddish brown.

i knelt down amongst the debris, and peered into the small spot no longer covered by plaster.

“hey shmulik,” i called to my contractor, “can you come look at this?”

he, too, knelt down amongst the debris.

“is that brick? that looks like brick.”

he shrugged.

“looks like it. a lot of these old buildings have brick behind the plaster.”

pitter patter went my heart.

“is there–could there be–do you think there’s brick behind this entire wall?”

“could be,” he answered nonchalantly.

NONCHALANTLY. AS THOUGH A GIANT WALL OF ORIGINAL 1920s BRICK WAS NO BIG DEAL.

i stood up, and dusted myself off.

“how much extra to open up the entire wall?”

he stared at me. behind him, a worker chipped away at the plaster, piece by piece, with a small hammer-like object.

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finally, he spoke. “it’s a lot of work.”

“how much work?”

“a few days extra, at least.”

a few days, i could live with. for original 1920s brick, i could live with just about anything. i told him to move forward, and we’d deal with making up the time later.

and the rest, as they say, was history.

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a little over a week later, the wall looked like this.

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after move in, it looked like this.

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magical, isn’t it? that wall is, by far, the best thing that happened to me during this renovation. for all the bullshit and the things that went wrong, my exposed brick wall is my miracle baby.

at least, it was, until i realized that exposed brick that’s, well, not meant to be exposed causes a few problems:

  1. so much dust
  2. BUGS. REALLY F’ING BIG ONES.

now that we’ve looped back to the present day, i’ll remind you of what came crawling out that beautiful brick one night.

House Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata

is that not the most TERRIFYING BUG YOU HAVE EVER SEEN?! literally, i have chills just looking at it. WHY SO MANY LEGS?! WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER NEED THAT MANY LEGS? like, what else are you doing with your legs at any given time beyond walking on them? TWO WOULD SUFFICE. FOUR WOULD BE FINE. THIS MANY IS JUST ATROCIOUS. 

the above, my friends, is a sight you can’t unsee. which is why, after dealing with the dust for months and telling myself i’d “get around” to sealing the brick wall eventually, a single centipede propelled me into action. and by propelled me into action i mean lit my ass on fire.

after almost 10 years in new york, i consider myself to be pretty good at this whole “alone” thing. i’ve learned to not just accept, but to embrace independence. that said, there is nothing – NOTHING, I TELL YOU! – that makes you feel the full force of your singledom like a giant centipede. especially one with that runs so fast you can’t possibly catch it.

suffice it to say that even after penny managed to get the centipede down off the wall and theoretically ended things, i stripped my bed clean of all blankets and pillows before climbing into it, and checked the inside of my toilet bowl before i sat down to pee (can you even IMAGINE one of those crawling into your butt?! i can’t). that night, i barely slept, and by morning, i had made it my mission to SEAL THAT BRICK. ASAP.

but that, friends, is a story for a different day. because as it turns out, like every other renovation task, sealing a brick wall is no small feat. that said, it’s a feat that i accomplished (with a little help from my fam), and i intend to show you how you can accomplish it too.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1949there are many things i think i did wrong in this renovation. but hey, it was my first time on the job, and let’s be real: there was a slight case of amateur hour going on in these parts. i did my best, certainly, but there are many small things that i’d change if i could go back and do them again.

one of those small things, as it turns out, i can still change! and that’s my kitchen lighting. see, before i embarked on this renovation, my mindset was more, “ooh, pretty lights!” and less, “i need an actual lighting plan.” in fact, i didn’t even know a lighting plan was a thing. no one tells you these things, you know? you only hear about them while you’re listening to the chris loves julia podcast and it’s too late to make a change!

{sidenote: i am obsessed with the chris loves julia podcast, and you should be too}

anywho, suffice it to say, when the contractor and electrician told me two flushmount lights would suffice for kitchen lighting (and told me i really didn’t need under cabinet lights and that they would be way more expensive), i listened. and they were wrong. turns out, i could have used a lot more lighting in my kitchen. i should have coughed up the extra dough for under cabinet lights.

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i should have added more task lighting, and more specifically, i wish i’d added library sconces above my shelves, like the kitchen below (i also wouldn’t say no to that gorgeous simple gold pendant above the sink).

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i DEFINITELY should have gone for three flushmounts instead of two. and most importantly, i shouldn’t have gone with exposed bulbs in the kitchen. exhibit A, folks (my kitchen):

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as i pretty quickly learned, those sort of cool exposed bulb flushmounts are all well and good–when you don’t really need them to cast off a lot of light. they’re hip, yes. they look cool, yes. but functional? not exactly. i’ve tried a large variety of different bulbs in these babies (if you’re curious, they’re these from the young house love for shades of light line), and unfortunately, they simply don’t cast off enough light for a busy kitchen bee like myself. additionally, because there’s no glass shade for the light to bounce off of, they tend to be a little bit harsh when they’re on. NO BUENO.

but as my girl carrie bradshaw says, COULDA SHOULDA WOULDA. i didn’t know what i didn’t know, and so i made some mistakes. luckily, the one above–the type of flushmounts i bought–can be fixed. YIPPEE! i’ve been living in the grand apartment for almost 5 months now, so i think it’s safe to say i’m somewhat settled. and being settled for that amount of time has given me lots of moments to ponder what type of lighting i should do next. as of now, i’ve landed on doing a traditional schoolhouse style. i know, i know, so predictable. but i think they’ll work, height-wise, and for the most part, they’ll allow for a higher wattage than the ones i have now (which are limited to 75 watts).

i have my eye on something like this:

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two of them, obviously – but you get the idea. as of now, i’m not leaning towards brass (the kitchen is black and chrome, finish-wise, and i think adding brass might be a bit too much).

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i sort of had my heart on the above style (which you can find at schoolhouse electric), but with the black and white striped shade (i’m thinking the stripes will play nicely off the my floors), but it seems schoolhouse is no longer making that colorway. SADSIES.

which has led me to go back to the drawing board, and scope out a few other schoolhouse style options.

 

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too blah?

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still too harsh, what with the clear glass?

as you can see, i’m having quite a bit of trouble deciding. thoughts from the peanut gallery?! help!

IMG_1899HEY. HI. HELLO THERE! HOW ARE YOU? i know, no one wants to hear the story of the amateur blogger who got too busy with her day job and dropped off the face of the earth. but it’s true truth, really.  i know it’s been a while since you heard from me, but life got away from me, and i spent a few months living life out in the world instead of on the internet.

SO SUE ME.

that being said, a few VERY KIND strangers have commented that they’d like to hear more about the grand apartment, and when kind strangers ask for something, you must give it to them. so here i am, attempting to fill you in on the last few months, and promising, yet again, that i’m back for real. (yes, i’m aware that you haven’t heard a peep from me since december).

here’s some real talk: around the same time i moved into the grand apartment, i got promoted at work. i worked my ass off to get there, and i pushed hard for the promotion, and then i got it, and for a little while it was like, this is it? same shit, different title? then the new year rolled around. and we hired someone to work below me. and then we hired someone else. and guess what, you guys? MANAGING PEOPLE IS HARD! i know, i know, DUH, SARAH. but let’s just say i wasn’t exactly prepared for doing my workload and supervising someone else’s at the same time. so i spent the first few months of this year buried in the weeds, trying to keep my head above water (a new feeling for me, if i’m being totally honest. it takes a lot to bury me).

at the same time, i experienced a bit of renovation burnout. the apartment wasn’t (and isn’t), 100% done, but i was OVER IT. over with bugging contractors, over with dealing with the asshole who screwed up my countertops, over with handing off huge sums of money to people who rarely did things exactly right and/or in the timeline required of them.

IMG_1924so i took a break. i took some time, and i just LIVED. i didn’t order anything new. i didn’t put up my ceiling medallions. i didn’t seal my brick wall. i didn’t schedule the reinstallation of my f’ed up countertops. i just went about my life, and it felt good.

great, even. sometimes i forget that this entire process unfolded within a single year (and that the bulk of the hard work took place within mere months). GUYS, i was TIRED. physically, emotionally. so i did the very best thing a person can do when they are tired: i rested. i put my to do list on hold, and i just told myself it would all happen someday, maybe even someday soon. but it didn’t have to happen today.

IMG_1892and that revelation? it was so freeing. i am a person who thrives on the ‘go go go’ mentality. i prefer to be busy. i like when things aren’t just done, but done right. i like them to be done fast. sometimes, i can’t sleep until they are done. but that, folks, is a recipe for disaster. especially when you’re working a (somewhat stressful) full time job, juggling a gut renovation, trying to work out 6 days a week, volunteering on the side, and trying to have a social life in between. suffice it to say, i haven’t been on a date in a LONG ASS TIME.

so i gave myself some time to just be. to write if and when i felt like it (it turns out, i didn’t), to do projects when the opportunity arose (guess what? i still haven’t painted my door), and to just live my life, as T.I. says.

IMG_1949that’s where i’ve been. living. but i’m feeling ever so slightly rejuvenated, and inspired by the lovely strangers who have commented and said, “come back, we miss you!”

SO HERE I AM.  i have so many things i want to tell you! so many posts in my brain that i want to write. like the one about the 5 things i’d do differently if i did this again. or the one about the giant centipede that came crawling out of my exposed brick last week (and why that centipede means i need to SEAL.THAT.BRICK.ASAP). or the one about how my bedroom still doesn’t feel quite right.

IMG_1846starting is hard, but in the spirit of moving forward, i’m going to do just that: start. below, you’ll find a few snapshots of the grand apartment in its current iteration. it’s not 100% there yet (is it ever?), but it’s close. and it has finally, miraculously, started to feel like home.

if you’re still out there, world, thanks for sticking with me. thanks for reading, and for hearing me out. i love you, for reals, for ever (and ever and ever).

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well, folks, we are finally starting to truly get somewhere over on grand street, and with construction (kind of) coming to a close, it’s time to get serious about THE FUN STUFF, aka, the design. the living room and dining room plans, are, for the most part, pretty set – but the bedroom has been, up until recently, up in the air.

which is, in fact, quite a nice segue into how i want the bedroom to feel. see, the grand bedroom is, well, not so grand, especially now that i’ve carved out the entire front wall for a closet. so i need to do everything in my power to make it feel big, not small; spacious, not cramped.

the goal is for the bedroom to feel like one giant cloud, like i’m floating on air, wrapped in the warm cozy hug of this bon iver song i can’t stop listening to.

that means white walls (i’m going with benjamin moore’s “white”), white trim (benjamin moore’s “super white”), white bedding (i have these sheets and this duvet from pottery barn and i love them), and white curtains (i got these from ikea).

i’ve been particularly inspired by danielle moss’ minimalist chicago bedroom (pictured above), though i can’t go quite that kondo on the space (i have a lot of stuff). hence, my goal is to stick to white walls, bedding and curtains, and then add in some warm wood tones and brass to warm up the space.

you may remember this dresser that i found in the basement of my current building – i’m hoping it’ll fit in the back corner of the bedroom.

i’m planning on order two of these urban outfitters sconces (i had my eye on these from schoolhouse electric originally, and may splurge on them at some point, but for now, i need to go more budget-friendly), and spruce up my ikea curtains with these brass curtain rods from west elm.

white sheepskins from ikea will add an extra layer of coziness, and a white ceiling fan will (hopefully) disappear into the ceiling, but keep me cool at night.

and then there’s my bed.

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this one has spurred a lot of internal debate. one of the things i wanted most in the bedroom was a bigger, better bed. for the last 15 or so years, i’ve been sleeping on the full mattress i’ve had since i got upgraded to a “big girl bed”–aka, it’s high time for a new mattress. and given that i tend to sleep spread eagle (this tends to happen when you’ve been single for eternity and the only other creature that shares your bed is your cat), i have been dreaming of upgrading to a queen.

but beds are expensive. mattresses aren’t cheap. and i didn’t exactly build a new bed into my budget.

this is where my fairy godmother, also known as my friend cassie who works at wayfair, comes in. cassie swooped in and saved the day, budget-wise, hunting down numerous light fixtures i wanted from the interwebs, and gaving me her employee discount on them. this, in turn, saved me some serious dolla dolla bills. just enough dolla bills, in fact, for me to rationalize buying a new bed after all.

which turned into a new dilemma: what kind of bed did i want?! did i want a tufted, ladylike headboard like the one above (from alaina kaczmarski’s bedroom), or an antique-esque victorian wrought iron bed like the one below?

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interestingly, when i started hunting for inspiration images of the urban outfitters sconce, i found more than a few shots of the sconce next to–you guessed it–an antique wrought iron bed!

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so cozy, right? picture this with all white bedding, white sheepskins underfoot for chilly mornings, and soft ambient lighting.

IT’S POSITIVELY CLOUD-LIKE! to recap/for visual learners, here’s the plan:

39db8dc97067ec433b62ae5b15609cdbnow: which mattress to buy? i’m going “bed in a box” – so i need your thoughts on casper, tuft & needle, leesa, et al. HELP!

 

 

 

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one of my “must haves” during my apartment search was the ever elusive “pre-war charm” — i wanted an apartment with history, an apartment where the walls told stories and the floors were worn with wear.

happily, i found that charm in the grand apartment. original door frames include some seriously intense molding, the bathroom door contained an old crystal doorknob (!!), and the floors were beautiful old thin oak.

and then, of course, i discovered the brick in my living room. you’d think i’d have been satisfied at that point, but no. i wanted MORE CHARM! so i asked my contractor to install crown molding on top of the kitchen cabinets and around the living room walls.

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my next goal? to hang ceiling medallions around my three main lights in the living area (living, dining, entryway) to make those light fixtures (my splurgiest, coolest ones) truly pop. for example, how cool is the one above?! i love how it turns a (still very interesting) light fixture into a true statement. medallions are a little more baroque paris than pre-war NYC, but i still think they can work in my space (which is obviously a lot less impressive than the one above, on ALL levels).

here’s what i’m thinking (light fixtures have already been purchased, for dining area, living room and entryway, in that order).

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the plan is to order them unfinished, then paint them to match the ceiling color. once they’re up and painted, you’ll never be able to tell they’re not original. and at under $50 a pop, they’re a relatively inexpensive way to add some serious D-R-A-M-A.

 

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.