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August, 2013 Monthly archive

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For as long as we’ve owned this house, I’ve been lamenting the weird, dead corner space to the left of the stove. My decision years ago to use pre-fab, freestanding IKEA kitchen units rather than fitted cabinets meant hoping for the best in terms of maximizing the usable space in the room. I got really lucky on the sink side of the stove, which just happens to be exactly 1/2″ wider than a single UDDEN unit, but the 42″ space on the left has just been a waste all this time. I did have a cart there for a long time, but the position was awkward and it really didn’t get much use.

Looking back on this post from January (THAT WAS EIGHT MONTHS AGO, UGH!) you can see that I planned to put a piece of butcherblock there to fill the whole space. Time passed, seasons changed and we never managed to figure out how to wrangle a giant slab of IKEA butcherblock into the car, so we just kept putting it off.

And then…

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HEYYYY. Who’s that fine young thing in the tank top sanding down what looks like a 42″ piece of wood countertop? Why, it’s Daniel! When Daniel told me he was planning to make his own countertops out of fir framing lumber, I hopped on that bandwagon real quick. I dropped a few subtle hints like, “gosh, I really wish someone loved me enough to make me a piece of countertop,” and the next thing I knew, there it was!

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I had absolutely nothing to do with the making of the countertop at all, but Daniel has written up a great post explaining exactly how he did it using nothing more than a circular saw, a Kreg jig, screws and good looks. (His own kitchen is looking totally amazing, by the way, and uses much of the same materials, finishes and colors as my kitchen, but in different ways. I’m so impressed!) (Have I mentioned how great it is to have Daniel and Max and Mekko and Linus as neighbors not only in Brooklyn but now also in the Hudson Valley? So great.)

I had a hard time getting a good shot of the underside, but hopefully you can tell what’s going on there. Ideally the counter would be bracketed to the walls for support, but because I don’t want to drill into the tile (I want to have the option of changing this kitchen around in the future, which is why I tiled all the way down to the baseboard moldings), I opted to use four adjustable VIKA KAJ legs from IKEA. They extend to a maximum height of 34″ and have a 165lb weight limit per leg, so they’re perfect for this kind of use. Three of the legs are set at the corners of the countertop, and the fourth leg is positioned back about 20″ so that the front right corner (next to the stove) appears to float. The legs really aren’t visible unless you’re looking for them, but I might spray paint them black at some point just so they blend in even more.

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When it came to finishing the countertop, my first thought was to stain it black with India ink (!) and then apply a marine varnish for protection, but once it was in place I really liked having more wood tones in the room. My favorite kitchens are ones that look like they’ve come to where they are over a long period of time rather than being a brand-new matched set of parts, so the less uniformity of natural materials the better. Bring on the knots and wood grain!

If I’d had any mineral oil on hand I probably would have just used that, but I used it all up when I was refinishing the giant island. I’ve read good things about Watco Butcher Block Oil (basically tung oil and solvents) on woodworking forums, so decided to give it a shot. A pint-sized can was about $15, which seemed kind of steep, but because of the solvents it’s nowhere near as viscous as straight oil — it goes a long, long way. I’ve only gone through about 1/8 of the can. Also unlike mineral oil, this stuff is flammable, so you do have to be careful about disposing of your rags (I used cheesecloth). The other thing to be aware of with products like this is that they need to cure for a full 72 hours before the surface is considered food-safe. I don’t plan to use this countertop like a cutting board because fir is too soft, but it’s still something to be conscious of.

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So far, I’ve done three coats (waiting six hours and sanding lightly between coats) of Butcher Block Oil, and the finish looks great. There’s a slight sheen to it, but it’s definitely not SHINY. I don’t like shiny wood in kitchens. I poured a little water on to test its durability, and after 30 minutes it was still beaded up on the surface. Good sign! I’ll probably do a couple more coats just to be on the safe side, and then maintain the finish periodically with mineral oil going forward.

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I’m so happy about this combination of materials. Stainless steel gets a bad rap for being “clinical,” but I actually think it can look very warm — it’s all about how you use the material and what you combine it with. See how great it looks paired with natural wood and white tiles? The thing with stainless countertops is that you have to stop caring about scratches and other visible wear and just let it do what it’s going to do. The first few scratches we got on the counters looked terrible, but now that we’ve been using them for seven years and the steel has developed an overall patina, I don’t worry about damage at all. Stainless countertops are pretty indestructible.

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It’s no small thing to have counter space on BOTH sides of the stove now, let me tell you! Being able to use one side for chopping and another for keeping spices and oils handy while I’m cooking (plus the island behind me for organizing ingredients) makes a huge difference. It’s great. I can’t believe I went for so many years without anything on the left side of the stove! It looks so much more visually complete, too.

Speaking of things being complete, the kitchen still is not. We’ve had a very difficult time trying to get a plumber in to disconnect the radiators (that might sound like an easy job, but the steam pipes need to be cut, re-threaded, capped at basement-level and eventually extended and re-routed, which is beyond our level of DIY-ness), but we FINALLY have a plumber booked for next Wednesday. YAY!!! Once he takes out the radiators, I can resume tiling the remaining two walls and ripping up the floor. It’s going to be a VERY busy August! Evan and I have both taken vacation days, and we’re determined to get all of the work done before temperatures drop…otherwise we’re going to be without heat in the kitchen during the winter, which wouldn’t be good news for our feet or our pipes. Time to get moving!!

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Yes, the lighting is completely different, no, I didn’t shoot from the exact same angle, yes, I still have more work to do so that’s not really an “after”…but you get the idea. It’s funny, this apartment could not be more different from my house and I would never have chose any of this if I were building the kitchen from scratch, but I feel very much at home here. I like being in this kitchen. I like how cozy and sort of library-like it looks. I’m happy about the challenges that this apartment and its weird layout, giant rooms and awful orange wood trim have presented.

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Ahhh, new lights! Goodbye, horrible plastic fluorescent cloud lights. We installed the new-ish VANADIN ceiling lights from IKEA. They’re made of white, mouth-blown glass, and they have a vintage look to them that reminds me of milk glass. I did have to say goodbye to the HEKTAR pendant I’d previously installed. I love the way it looks, but the ceiling is just way too low to have anything hanging. As soon as we got seating for the kitchen island and started eating our meals there, we were pretty much constantly hitting our heads on the light.

The rest of the glass VANADIN line is really cool as well, by the way. There’s a pendant and a table lamp (also available in black and hot pink!). IKEA often gets lighting wrong, but when they get it right, it’s so so right.

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Next up, stools! Actually no, let’s just talk about how adorable Fritz is. This is a dog who shivers and crawls under a pile of blankets if the temperature drops below 75°, so as far as he’s concerned, this apartment is the best place in the world. We get a crazy amount of sunlight all day long, and he just lies there and roasts in it. I really have to commend my landlord for deciding to put floor-to-ceiling windows on the south side of the apartment and a huge skylight in the bedroom, which faces north. Floor-through apartments in attached buildings are often very dark, and since this apartment is an attic extension it really could have been a total sad-zone.

But back to Fritz! Man, I love that dog. His new thing is sleeping on the kitchen island in the evenings. Yes, ON the counter. I sit there when I work at night, and he doesn’t like that he can’t sit next to me. I tried holding him on my lap, but that’s not comfortable for either of us. The obvious solution was to put a blanket on the counter and just let him lie there. He loves it. Good thing I’m OK with dog germs…

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So yes, stools! It took us way too long to get some seating going in this kitchen. We’re really trying to not eat meals on the sofa, and I needed a place to sit and work — my lower back just can’t handle sitting with my computer on my lap for too long. I considered getting a couple of the DALFRED stools from IKEA, but they’re perpetually out of stock at the Brooklyn store. A couple of weeks ago we were at Target doing our usual run for toilet paper and allergy pills, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that they’re now selling a range Tolix-like (Tolisque?) Marais-style stools in various heights and colors. The first thing I thought of when I saw the name Carlisle on the box was Belinda Carlisle, whose voice I absolutely cannot stand. I managed to push past that when I saw that the counter-height stools were priced at $95 for TWO (!).

Are they as nice as real Tolix stools? Well, the construction seems to be very good and the proportions are pretty much the same, but the finish on the “distressed metal” (that’s the color I bought) Carlisle stools is kind of crappy-looking up close. Well, not crappy, but not as nice as vintage Tolix Marais stool, which is obviously what they were going for. You can see in the close-up above that the finish is a little too shiny, and the “distressing” is the work of a wire brush and oxidizing paint. Paying $95 instead of $570, though…yeah. Tough to say no, even with the whole issue of knock-offs (albeit legal in this case) and so forth.

Short story: I bought the stools, and now they’re in my apartment and I like them a lot.

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Yes, it’s ANOTHER SHELF. So many shelves. This area on the back of the island was kind of dead space before, and it becoming nothing more than a spot to collect plants on the floor. I wanted to tidy things up, but still keep it all low to the ground and kind of out of sight. I like low shelves — this one is only about 16″ off of the floor. The wood is a TRYGGVE shelf from IKEA that I painted the same color as the wall (Benjamin Moore Deep Space). You can’t really see them, but I used a couple of EKBY VALTER brackets also painted to match.

Now the plants are happy and off the floor, our phones have a dedicated spot for charging and my cookbooks are easily accessible. Both of the paintings are by Lisa Golightly of Kiki & Polly.

I’ve always wanted one of those VÅGÖ chairs, but I don’t have anywhere to put it. This little yellow reproduction is perfect, though! I went to an IKEA event a few weeks ago, and they gave away these sets of dollhouse furniture. Fritz has taken to carrying around the miniature heart pillow and falling asleep with it in his mouth (and between his paws), which is super adorable. I need to find a use for the tiny STOCKHOLM rug. Maybe a dog cape?

SEE ALSO → All of the apartment kitchen progress posts!

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The ladies at A Beautiful Mess recently invited me to participate in their “At Home With…” series, and rather than submit a bunch of my own I-only-shoot-in-automatic-mode-with-a-point-and-shoot-camera-style snapshots, I asked my friend Ilenia Martini to shoot some photos of my house. Ilenia is such a great photographer (she also took my bio photo, and you may have seen her work recently on sfgirlbybay), and I knew she’d be able to show my house in way that I’m not capable of. The result is really beyond what I could have dreamed! A bunch of the photos she took are now up over at A Beautiful Mess, as well as an interview with me that gets into my feelings about owning a home in the City of Newburgh — and my feelings about home renovation in general.

My only regret is that Ilenia didn’t shoot the entire house! We were mid-heatwave, and I asked her to sneakily avoid getting any air conditioners (and piles of tools and construction debris…) in the pictures. I’ll have to lure her back with iced coffee and bagel sandwiches and get her to shoot the rest in the fall!

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My house also made an appearance on the Dwell website last week in their feature on where design bloggers work. It always makes me happy to see my father’s old drawing table make the rounds; it’s very special to me. If you look closely at the screen of my laptop, you can make out what I was working on that day — the logo for Evan’s new band, Thermite.

If you have the September print issue of Dwell, you can find a few blurbs from me about products I love and my own trend forecasts (which is something I don’t actually like to do, but when my favorite magazine asks a question, I’ll answer it). I didn’t get a cool illustration of my face like the other bloggers who participated, but I’m too excited to see Daniel in there to care!! It’s a great issue all around, though, and I’m always happy to be asked.

It has been a LONG time since I posted a mixtape! I’ve had this one in the works for a while now as a follow-up to 2011’s original Summertime Jams mix, but between the too-hot-to-think weather we had in July and all movies I’ve been going to see, I just hadn’t been feeling it. Something happened last week, though — we started having the best summer weather here in New York, the kind you fantasize about during the winter. Cool breezes in the evenings, great sunsets, people out and about at night, hanging out on their stoops and eating late dinners at sidewalk cafés…perfect.

Anyway, I’m in love with this mix, and I hope you like it too. If the Bar-Kays alone don’t make you feel like summertime, then your funky might be broken. Enjoy!! And if you need more music…
Here are all of my previous music mixes!

I guess it’s a little silly to make a weekend to-do list on a Saturday afternoon, but I’m feeling a bit panicked at the moment about not getting done everything that needs to get done. We have guests coming to stay at our house for a long visit, and I want to make sure everything is comfortable for them. Hail the productivity a good to-do list can inspire!

Do this stuff before tomorrow afternoon:
Laundry, including hand-washables
Clean bathrooms
Vacuum
Fresh linens in guest bedroom
✚ Set up closet in guest bedroom; empty drawers/install hanging rack
Clean exterior dryer lint trap
✚ Move stuff in the basement so the plumber doesn’t hate us
Bring excess recyclables to Mommy’s house
Make list of local restaurants/shops for guests
WEED FRONT GARDEN, trim plants
Finish installing butcherblock in kitchen
Oil treatments for butcherblock x3
Make iced coffee

I’m cutting myself off there. I can think of a dozen other things I wish I could get done this weekend, but this is what absolutely HAS to happen.

p.s. GOOD NEWS: We finally got a quote from plumber #3 for removing and re-piping/moving our kitchen radiators at the house. Now we just have to schedule him in here for a day, and then I can FINALLY finish tiling the last two kitchen walls…and we can rip up the carpenter-ant-ravaged subfloor and see what’s going on underneath. I am very anxious to get back to work on the kitchen, so YAYYYY.