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inspiration photos

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!

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so, remember like 3 months ago, when i stupidly thought i could “get ahead of the game” and start thinking about floor stains? SILLY, SILLY SARAH. if i could go back in time and warn 3 months ago sarah that basically NOTHING would go as planned and that there is really no way to get that far ahead of ANY of this…

well, let’s just say i would.

anywho. in case you missed the post above (clicky clicky, friends!), 3 months ago sarah thought it was as simple as choosing between “light” and “dark” – HAHA. SILLY, SILLY SARAH! TIS NOT THAT SIMPLE, GIRLFRIEND. turns out that, just like paint colors, floor stains come in basically every shade under the sun…AND YOU CAN MIX THEM. which means that there are essentially ENDLESS possibilities.

my floor guy, lou of finishing touch floors, told me that my first step was to take a look at the minwax website and get a feel for the colors. he thought i might be interested in a shade known as “special walnut” (teehee). so over i went to minwax, where i found this very helpful (read: not helpful at all) graphic.

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do you see special walnut up there, number 224? it looks OH SO REGULAR, right? REG CITY. so i turned to my friends google and pinterest, to see what they could show me about special walnut.

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….pretty regular. so i decided to hunt around on pinterest to see what others liked. as it turned out, special walnut was, surprisingly, pretty popular (#bland, america). people also had quite a thing for english chestnut, weathered oak, and early american.

so i asked lou if we could see a few (read: a bunch) of samples. and on tuesday morning, that’s just what we did.

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lou’s worker, eric, sanding down the floor for stain tests.

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amazing how much dirt/stain/grime/life comes off with 5 minutes of sanding, isn’t it? i couldn’t believe how beautiful the hardwoods were in their original oak form. imagining this room being built way back in the 1920s gave me all the feels.

once the floor was sanded, lou wiped it down with water and let it dry, creating a spotless surface for us to work with.

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here he is opening all the various stains and prepping them in little plastic cups.

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and here they are all laid out. i immediately ruled out the far right and the third from right – too dark. second from right is special walnut, which, not surprisingly, looked REGULAR, just plain old REGULAR brown, on my floors. the middle dark one is “english chestnut” – pretty, but a little too red/dark for my liking. second from the left is “early american” – meant to make your floors look, well, early american. which mine are.

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here’s a closer look. so, on the far right, we have a dark brown (i forget the color, apologies!) mixed with weathered gray. on the far left, we have the same mixture, but two parts gray to one part brown. far right might have worked if i wanted to go dark; far left felt drab. second from left is (ding ding ding!) the winner, early american. next to it is english chestnut, which read waaaaayyy too red on my floors (they’re oak, by the way, for those wondering). next to english chestnut was special walnut, looking as drab and brown as they come. apparently, this color really sings on some floors, but on mine, it was like that guy that auditions for the voice and is so horrifically bad that you wonder how he made it past initial casting, let alone got in front of blake and adam.

so, what happens next? after i left, the guys got to work, patching the part of the floor that had been ruined when we took down the wall between the entryway and the kitchen.

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remember when the living room/entryway looked like this?!

the “newer” looking floors you see below are, well, brand new. and magically, just as he promised, lou managed to match them to the old ones. he’s warned me that once stained, the new planks won’t be exactly like the old, because the new wood will take the stain differently than the old floors will, but to me, things look pretty damn good.

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for reference, i am standing at the very front of the living room; to my left is the dining area, to my right is the breakfast bar (where those cabinets are)

today, lou and his guys are sanding and staining, and by friday night, i’ll have shiny, fresh, beautiful floors. EEK!

just for funsies, let’s take a look at where the living room was when construction started…

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pictured at closing – doesn’t it look so much smaller without the brick wall exposed?

and where it is now, with the brick wall exposed, the lighting up, the front wall painted, and the floors ready for stain.

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kind of crazy, right? i have a feeling things are about to get GOOD.

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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.

 

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!

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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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the hardwoods as they stand now. they’ll be sanded down, then either stained darker or kept as is.

now that things are finally starting to move along (sort of) in the grand apartment, i’m struck by just how many design decisions i have to make over the next few months. this weekend, i’m hoping to nail down all of my kitchen appliances (BO-RING, and yet also so exciting because i LOVE TO COOK), and maybe even purchase them (heeyyy july 4th sales!). but in the meantime, i’ve got flooring on the brain. specifically, hardwood floors, and what color mine should be.

up until very recently, i had it in my head that i was going to go ebony. you know, go all TNT on this bitch and be like, HEYY, MY FLOORS KNOW DRAMA. but then my mother kindly pointed out that there’s beautiful perimeter details around the original floors (which no, you cannot see above, sorry for the crappy iphone shot), and if i stain them darker, that detail will blend into the background. point taken, mama.

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the goldilocks of floors. dark, but not TOO dark.

my big issue with keeping the floors as they are (sanding them down will lighten them a bit, but not that much) is that i want to bring some other wood pieces into the space to warm it up (all white stuff = too ikea-ish, an issue i have in my current place), and i’m worried about how the various wood tones will play together. that’s something a real designer would know how to handle, but a real designer i am not. i’m an amateur in the HGTV sandbox, a domino addict who doesn’t know her burl wood from her tiger wood (and i don’t mean the tiger woods). i’m scared that if i go too light, any dark piece will clash, and anything lighter will look like i’m trying to match.

what’s a girl to do when she can’t decide? turn to pinterest, pull some pretty, and TALK IT OUT.

the light:

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the dark:

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it’s obvious that the darker floors can make the space feel darker – but given that i’m going for white walls and i have a white couch, i don’t think i’m in danger of a caveman style home. that being said, darker floors/darker colors = a space that seems smaller, while lighter tones (and light in general) open up the space.

so where does that leave me? i think in all likelihood, somewhere in the middle. the first step? sanding down my current floors, and seeing where that leaves me. from there, i’ll either go natural, or swatch out some ebony and see how i feel. that being said, i welcome any and ALL advice.