Oh Lord, when did I announce I was renovating my apartment? Back in June?
Yikes. It was a hot mess, the entire thing. (Worst. Contractor. Ever.) But after months of delays, crises, and crying jags; five moves and a ton of unconditional support from my boyfriend, I’m ready to unveil the first room in my apartment.
First, the before picture:
It wasn’t very pretty–just a white, beat-up box with an old radiator and parquet floors. But what made me send over my paperwork the same day of the viewing was the glorious windows–at least one in every single room, including the bathroom. The south-facing windows in the bedroom and living room afford me a view of Brooklyn stretching to the glowing Clock Tower Building. On cloudy days, the diffuse light bathes the apartment in cozy glow. On sunny days, it’s like a tropical paradise in here. And when the sun sets, the whole swath of sky outside the windows turns garishly orange for a display that makes the fives flights of stairs worth it.
I know that within five years a big ugly condo will likely go up next door. But those few years of sunlit bliss will be worth it.
I would like to give credit where credit is due to my boyfriend, Illich, who is an architect with John Butterworth Architecture. With his expertise (usually used on more worthy, 4,000 square foot, luxurious, modern apartments) and his project management skills, he elevated the design tremendously. I know he personally favors more crisp and modern design, but he enthusiastically helped me fulfill and augment my vision: I-found-it-like-this-gem style: traditional, simple, and clean.
One serious drawback in the bedroom was the absence of a closet. The first thing we did was move a large portion of the wall a few feet into the living room, which left us nice, large niche to work with. (More on that later.)
Then we ripped up up all the floors. Not that I hate parquet, but outside the bedroom the floor was some sort of linoleum-like substance. And ripping up that sad floor meant ripping up everything. In its place I put down reclaimed oak milled from upstate barn wood by Carlisle Wide Plank Flooring. It lends the entire apartment a warm glow, and has all these beautiful knots and imperfections.
We knew that behind the walls there was brick, but the head of the building’s board said someone else in the building had exposed their brick and found that, because the building’s envelope isn’t properly sealed, moisture started creeping in. My boyfriend’s boss suggested a brick veneer. We chose reclaimed New York brick, and painted it white, for a peaceful but textured look. (You’ll be able to see the raw brick when I post the living room pictures.)
I bought a conventional (sorry) ceiling fan from Home Depot, because having a fan going while I sleep feels so luscious to me. I guess that’s the southern girl in me showing her face. We installed four LED in-ceiling lights, and put a pine trim around the windows. We painted the entire room zero-VOC bright white, including the baseboards. We replaced the clunky old radiator–which was listing to one side–with a slim one from Steam Radiators.
Finally, I bought reclaimed doors from Build It Green! to replace the cheap hollow core doors that were there. That was a bit of a hunt–I had to “flip” through dozens of doors to find one that was the right width and height. Then, I got them installed and was informed that they were only compatible with mortise locks. This was annoying, until I realized that mortise locks are the old kind that come with skeleton keys. This turned into a lovely side tour. I found a doorknob, plus the mortise lock for the empty hole, at Build It Green!. I love how weighty and vintage it looks, compared to the rattle-y and cheap new kind.
With my blank, white canvas ready, we moved our stuff in and began shopping for furniture. My design base was the large turquoise mirror, which I bought at an antiques auction on the Eastern Shore of Maryland back in college. The small standing mirror I bought at an antiques store in Annapolis. The curtains are 100% cotton from Pottery Barn. The rug I got on sale from ABC Carpet & Home, my favorite furniture store in NYC that also happens to sell sustainable and ethical furniture and decor. It seriously was the cheapest one they had–which was great, because it matches perfectly.
After my disaster moving out of my last apartment, I never want to deal with Craigslist or IKEA furniture again. EVER. Luckily, there’s a new solution. When I was desperately posting on Facebook trying to offload my furniture this summer, one of my friends responded with a link to AptDeco, which helps you list and buy used furniture, and for an extra fee will handle the entire delivery as well. If you’ve ever waited at your apartment for three hours for a no-show buyer, you know how amazing this is. Instead, I went to Apt Deco, searched for a table, and found this used Crate & Barrel work desk. It was way too tall when it was delivered, so we just took off the castors, and voila! A perfect vanity.
As for that closet niche: I could have finished it out in typical closet style with sliding or French doors. But in a tiny apartment like this, every square inch of storage space is sacred. And when you enclose the top and sides of a niche for a door frame, you create a situation where you are contorting yourself to get to the sides and top of the closet, limiting your storage options.
I researched options for niche closet systems with door fronts that could slide right into the space, but they were all in melamine, which looked cheap and fake to me. My inquiries on sustainability were met with snorts or blank stares. Even so, those closet systems started at a few thousand, and went sky high once you specified real wood. The final nail in their coffin was that even though they are fully customizable, once you decide what you want–three drawers, one hanging rack, six shelves, for example–you’re pretty much stuck with that configuration forever.
This research and travel from showroom to showroom (one was in New Jersey off of a bus line, for crying out loud) was taking up way too much of my time. Out of frustration, I walked into the Container Store and asked them about their Elfa closet system. Within an hour they had designed the perfect storage space for Illich and I, with modular units fronted with birch (a new-growth wood that doesn’t contribute to deforestation). If we ever change our minds about our best storage needs, we can easily pull out a unit and replace it. For an extra fee, they delivered and installed the system. All we need now is some curtains to cover the closet. Though, it looks so fancy that we’re not in a rush to hide it!
After installing the closet and some serious purging, we still needed a bit more storage. So I went back to AptDeco and found an unfinished pine bed with drawers. We painted it the same no-VOC white.
Then we chose 100% organic cotton jersey sheets, pillow cases and a duvet cover from Coyuchi’s farmhouse collection* in neutral grey tones to balance out the bright turquoise accents. I’ve been aware of Coyuchi for some time, but this was the first opportunity I had ever had to actually slip under the covers, and holy #$&(*#$, it is the most comfortable bedding experience I’ve ever had. It’s like being hugged by your grandmother, it’s so snuggly and comforting. We finished the bed with a super-soft, fair trade alpaca throw from Accompany*, and a Peruvian blanket that was a gift from Illich’s parents.
The carved skull above the bed I bought in Bali. I painted it the same white, and strung it with beads and dip-dyed tassels that I found on Etsy from WomanShopsWorld. The side tables are from the ABC Carpet & Home warehouse sale. The golden nugget lamp I brought with my from my old apartment. You can buy it at Land of Nod, though be warned it’s conventionally made.
We hung the bikes on the wall using two poplar bike racks. Now that the bikes are there for the winter, I’ve put a bowl in the bottom of the basket on my bike so I can fill it with flowers.
So what do you think? It’s close to being done, but not all there. I’m still picking out curtains, so I would love your opinion on what direction to go in!
*I got this for free to try.