Archive

renovation diaries

656f69594b0c41125d9eafea537abbc0

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.

7651412c0ec58be25075cde39d3d8d40

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).

50d5108d072f164258e8ba7e724bec1a

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.

 

img_9212

last week, i spent an evening wandering around the enormously overwhelming aisles of ikea all by my lonesome. i had biked over from manhattan with a singular goal in mind: i needed to order my kitchen sink and my range hood, both of which, the ikea website told me, were “likely to be in stock” when i arrived.

i had assumed that going to the swedish superstore on a weeknight would cut down on crowds, but i hadn’t expected it to be practically empty. ikea red hook is housed in what is effectively an enormous warehouse; take out the people, and it begins to take on a solemn, echoing feel.

by the time i docked my bike across the street from US fried chicken (an eerie looking joint alongside the red hook NYCHA housing project), it had started to rain, a light sprinkle, glistening in the streetlights above. i picked up my pace, partially because i was the only one walking the quiet streets, partially because i worried it would soon start to pour. i felt, just for a moment, scarily, freakily alone. i plugged my headphones into my phone and called my parents. they were at home, starting to eat dinner. i pictured them bustling around the kitchen, warm with yellow light. there’d be a freshly made salad sitting in the middle of their table, and one mom would be yelling at the other to grab the ken’s caesar lite out of the fridge. the news would be on in the background, or perhaps, an episode of madame secretary.

“i’m on my way to ikea,” i said.

“now?”

“it’s raining,” i said in response.

“how did you get there!?”

“i biked, but i had to dock right next to the projects, and now i’m walking alone on a deserted street, so i thought i’d call.”

good mothers that they are, they stayed on the phone with me until i was safely ensconced in the bright yellow and blue womb that is every ikea store in the world (points for consistency, ikea).

as soon as i disconnected the call, i was, again, alone. and much to my surprise, ikea was almost empty. the emptiest i’d ever seen it, certainly. a lone couple sat at the restaurant, sharing a plate of swedish meatballs, heads hunched together, talking quietly.

a woman rode the escalator ahead of me, her husband bringing up the rear, his hand intertwined in hers.

as i entered the showroom, i did what i always do at ikea: i wandered into the faux homes, trying to imagine myself living in them. could i do it, live in a 420 square foot studio? if it was designed by ikea, perhaps.

i opened the kitchen cabinets, peered inside, exited. a few paces ahead of me, two children skidded into the aisle, nearly knocking into me.

“ten cuidado,” their father scolded, “la señora!”

he shook his head, “lo siento.”

it was fine, i told him. here i was, alone in ikea on a wednesday night, in no particular rush.

i arrived at the kitchen area, and snapped some shots of my soon to be sink in situ. flagging down a sales person, i inquired as to the process of bringing one home with me.

img_9202

“well, you have a few options,” she began. “if you want to carry it out with you–are you alone?–you can do that, or you can have it delivered.”

there it was again, that reminder, ever so quiet, yet ever so powerful, that i was, indeed, alone. that i was…that i am, doing this entire thing alone.

“it’s just me,” i laughed, nervously. “i don’t think i could get it out of here on my own. it looks heavy!”

“okay, then, delivery it is. just write down the three numbers, and bring it to the home delivery desk downstairs. they’ll take care of everything for you.”

with that, she was gone. a transaction with zero fanfare. a big moment for me (I AM BUYING A KITCHEN SINK FOR AN APARTMENT IN NEW YORK CITY THAT I OWN), just another hour at work for her.

img_9211

i looked at my sink, price tag and bin number dangling in front of me. beside me, a couple contemplated a faucet.

just for a minute, i let myself imagine what it would be like to be the couple next to me, to be one half of a full unit. to not be alone in ikea on a wednesday night, stupidly feeling like i have to explain myself to a salesgirl who could care less about why i can’t tote the sink home on my own.

i let myself think about how it would feel to turn to my partner and say, “what do you think? can we lift it? that would fit in the backseat of a cab, don’t you think?”

i gave myself a moment. i gave myself one shuddering breath and a few tears dotting the corners of my eyes, and then i moved on.

i pulled my shoulders back, i took my chin from the ground to the sky, i took a deep breath, and i took myself downstairs to the delivery department, where i gave a nice woman with fabulously glittery fingernails my information, and scheduled my delivery for wednesday the 6th of october.

and then i treated myself to a $30 car service across the manhattan bridge, and i rolled down the window, despite the rain. as we inched across the iron behemoth, i stared out at the city–my city, of which i now own a piece–and i told myself, over and over, that being alone in ikea wasn’t the worst of things, not really, not even a little bit, not at all.

b0640fe19f01a12c2f35f9120a8f77cc

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.

grandapt_before_LR3 copy

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).

new york city apartment renovation

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:

11beff1c0cb61fdfa13f12cbf193b588

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:

img_8688

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

img_8837

img_8854

img_8852

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.

img_9066

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!

cde8e9b99192ee24b032ebf51e00fa6a

d240eb11be4c87621bf7f8f3b9aed0d7
static1-squarespace

 

img_8917

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.

img_8945

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!”

img_8914

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.”)

img_8925

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.

 

img_8856

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.

IMG_7897

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.

img_8860

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.

 

Amber-Interiors-Before-and-After-Client-Double-Thumbs-up-Neustadt-54

remember that 2002 nelly song dilemma (feat. kelly rowland)? no? let me remind you.

“no matter what i do, all i think about is you…even when i’m with my boo, you know i’m crazy over you.” 

it was–and still is, if you ask me–a JAM. a slow jam, but a jam nonetheless. anyway, a nelly style dilemma is what i am having right now in regards to my bedroom sconces. every time i think i’ve found “my boo” i go crazy over another sconce! CHAMPAGNE PROBLEMS, people. but seriously, i am spoiled for choice (there are 9 TRILLION sconces in the world), and i can’t for the life of me find the sconce for me and my bed.

bedroom sconce

why, you might be asking, does this matter now? i’m still in the construction phase. why am i worrying about lighting? well, as it turns out, there are two kinds of sconces: plug in and hardwired. hardwired means they are actually wired into the wall, early on in the process–which means that if i’m going this route, i have to choose their exact placement NOW (if i go for plug in, i have a little more time to decide). i haven’t 100% figured out my design plan for the bedroom yet (i want to wait until the closet is built out to see where things will fit/what will fit), and i’d also like to upgrade to a queen bed (but need to wait on my budget to decide). both of these things make choosing exact sconce locations now a wee bit complicated.

13e1be366fdb330251e2093d45286fb1-1

so why would anyone in their right mind choose hardwired sconces? for starters, hardwired sconces tend to be cleaner (see above), a little more sophisticated (like these from pottery barn), and for the most part, tend to look a little more intentional. which, you know, they are, because you chose them ahead of time and MADE A PLAN as to where to put them (anyone who knows me knows I LOVE PLANS).

f7f09eaf22ee135dd176d3eaca4cbcbd

that being said, plug ins have come a long way (i have been eyeing these pretty babies from schoolhouse electric, as seen above). it’s not all “you mama says you ugly” cords up in here. and, as a major benefit, plug ins offer way more flexibility. so long as you have an outlet relatively close, you can put them up whenever, wherever.

though my electrician assures me that i am “the boss” he’s also said multiple times that hardwired would be better, and if i can figure things out now, i should. but i just can’t decide! i want the flexibility to upgrade my bed and futz with the layout in the design phase, but i also have found many a hardwired sconce that i quite like.

so, where does that leave me? here are my top contenders are of now. they are TOTALLY different. the top is a sophisticated hardwired choice, the bottom is a younger, pop-ier plug-in option that comes in both white and brass. thoughts?!

 

 

IMG_8254

welcome to the disaster zone!

yesterday, while “editing” this video (and by that i mean lightening it ever so slightly), it occurred to me that if i really want to do this right, i should hire someone to film a few video shorts of the process. NOT try to do it myself. because as the video below evidences, i am a SHITTY videographer. and my iphone is NOT up to the task. keep your eyes peeled for upcoming videos–which hopefully will be prettier than what’s below–but in the meantime, in the absence of anything better, i thought i’d show you where we stand.

for those who prefer photos over crappy iphone footage, here are a few more in-progress shots. these were taken last friday; this week, they’ll start prepping the electrical work, then sheetrock over the walls to make things flat and pretty, and maybe even lay down the kitchen tile (!!!!). stay tuned, friends, because it’s ABOUT TO GET GOOD.

new york city apartment renovation

standing in the entryway | looking into the living room

NYC apartment renovation

kitchen to the right | that sewage pipe will be turned into a seemingly purposeful pillar, and the breakfast bar will go directly to the right of it

nyc kitchen renovation

kitchen scariness | back wall will house the fridge, upper and lower cabinets, and a pantry

NYC apartment renovation

living room into hallway | bedroom to the right, bathroom to the left

nyc apartment bathroom renovation

staring into the bathroom | floor will be penny tile, walls will be white subway