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design plan

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.

 

 

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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.