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The Apartment / Brooklyn

doorsixteen_aptbathroom_ikearaskog2

I’m still on a mission to get the apartment bathroom looking as not-awful as possible, and my latest effort is the RÅSKOG wall cabinet from IKEA. It’s made of solid steel with a charcoal gray finish and glass doors. At $69 the RÅSKOG is a little spendier than most things this size from IKEA, but I think the honest materials and good construction make it worth the money. Installation was really easy. Just two holes, two anchors and two screws.

Plus, it fits perfectly into the nook above the toilet and it looks super cute! Of course I would have loved to find a vintage apothecary cabinet with just the right proportions for $5, but that’s not going to happen — especially not one that’s wall-mounted.

If you have the space, I think two or three of these cabinets would look really nice hanging next to each other in a long hallway or along a kitchen wall. You could even mount them lower and have them function as a shallow fauxdenza! It’s a pretty versatile piece that could really work in any room.

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The print above the cabinet is from the fine folks at Pop Chart Lab (looks like they don’t sell it anymore, but they have so much other great stuff), the perfumes are from Cold Spring Apothecary and OLO Fragrance (my standby is Dark Wave), and the movie is from Woody Allen.

But can we talk about that tooth?

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As I’ve mentioned before, I have a major thing for anthropomorphic teeth and tooth-related things in general. They make my skin crawl, but I can’t get enough! Evan bought me this sweet little corked ceramic tooth vessel for my birthday. It’s made by Brooklynite Alyssa Zygmunt of Brooklyn Rehab. Alyssa’s Etsy shop is sold out of the teeth at the moment, but Evan picked mine up at By Brooklyn on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. TOOF.

If you want to see more of the apartment bathroom and its Band-Aid-colored tiles, here are a couple more posts:
The new apartment bathroom.
Dealing with nasty grout & caulk in the apartment bathroom.

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I have a few things to do in the city this weekend so the kitchen won’t get my attention for a few days. The past couple of weeks have felt almost unbearably long and hectic. To cap thing off, I spent all day Thursday thinking it was Friday, so today felt like going to work on the weekend. I’m sure it’s Friday for real now, though, and it’s past 5:00pm, so…I’M FREE! I’M FREEEEEEEEE!!! I want to make the next couple of days as productive as possible since it’s been ages since I’ve been at the apartment during daytime hours. Time for a list!

Vacuum, including entry stairs
✚ Cut anti-slip pad for new kitchen rug
Drop off laundry
Bring winter coat to cleaners
Scrub bathroom to death
Put new locks on the windows
Remove air conditioner from window
Vet appointment for Fritz & Bruno
JOHNNY MARR CONCERT AT WEBSTER HALL WOOHOO
✚ Paint the stairs (c’mon, Dorfman, you can do this…)
Dye hair + trim bangs
Pedicure
✚ Write a billion emails
Learn how to properly set the thermostat, then set it properly
✚ Make a big pot of chili (it’s that time of year again)
Belated birthday lunch with Laura

Totally doable, provided I start tonight with the cleaning. I’ve been really lazy about thoroughly cleaning the apartment lately, and it’s starting to weigh on me. I’m not as fastidious about cleaning as my reputation among my friends and family would have you believe, but I do like to be in relatively clean surroundings. Right now there are dustbunnies the size of grapefruits (and no, I’m not talking about Bruno) clustered in every corner, and I can write my name with my finger on any piece of glass in the apartment. Time for a real scrub-down!

Starting a pot of coffee and putting on The Messenger now!

p.s. Yes, those cashmere skull gloves are just as soft and warm as they look. Skull Cashmere very kindly sent me a pair after seeing their blanket in my skull-love post, and I have been waiting for months to wear them. Now I never want to take them off…

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Remember the pinkish-tan/Band-Aid bathroom in my apartment? I’m still doing the best I can (short of gutting the whole thing) to make it feel cleaner, fresher and generally less awful, and my latest improvement measure was taking care of the undeniably revolting perma-mildew situation inside the bathtub/shower area.

I realize the photo above might not look like much of an “after,” but let’s consider where we started:

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I know. It was really gross. Believe me, even after scrubbing everything with bleach and hot water, this was as clean as it got. There were loose tiles (hence the taped-up garbage bag, an attempt to keep water from getting inside of the wall) and failing grout, and nearly all of the caulk had gone permanently black. The outer layer of caulk was actually clear silicone, and I’m thinking the mildew likely came from the first layer of caulk having been applied over even older “infected” caulk without properly preparing the area first.

Want to take a closer look?

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I’m sorry. Truly. There was even some of that extra-creepy reddish mold growing on the grout, which I learned in the course of putting this post together is called Serratia marcescens, which “manifests as a pink discoloration and slimy film feeding off phosphorus-containing materials or fatty substances such as soap and shampoo residue.” I don’t want that in my bathroom, especially not anywhere near my naked body. Incidentally, it’s thought that S. marcescens is behind the appearance of “blood” on the Eucharist in the early 13th century that led to the Feast of Corpus Christi. Well, then! I don’t know about you, but I think discovering the blood of Christ on your bathroom walls is a pretty good indication that it’s time to re-grout.

And yes, we did readily step into this shower every morning for months, because what else were we going to do? You need a span of at least 2 1/2 days to address both grout and caulk, and when you don’t have a second bathroom available, it can be tricky to plan out the whole thing. I wound up with a work-free summer Friday and a weekend where I needed to be in the city, though, so I resigned myself to a few days of personal griminess and just went for it.

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Tools + Materials!
Since I know what it’s like to have lived in apartments with gross caulk and grout during a time before I learned how to remedy the problem permanently (I distinctly recall attempting to paint over discolored caulk in my first apartment’s bathroom…), I thought I’d include a list of supplies. I’m not even making any brand recommendations because I honestly just used what was available at the cruddy hardware store closest to our apartment. I didn’t want to bring materials from house because I’m in the midst of using them in the kitchen renovation, and the last thing I need is to discover I’ve left something I need at the apartment.

This is about $60 worth of supplies, give or take. Not so bad, considering things like grout saws and caulk guns are good to own for future projects.

1. Rubber gloves. Wear them.

2. Caulk tool. Forget about the rubber triangle end, the magic is in the metal part. It’s perfect for scraping out out caulk. You really need to get ALL of the old caulk out, too.

3. Grout saw. These little guys are perfect for filing out grout between tiles. I know it seems really tedious, but once you get going it’s not so bad. If the old grout is really loose, just file it all out. If it’s just stained (not moldy), you can get away with leaving some (NOT ALL!) of the old grout intact. As long as get at least 2/3 of it out, the new grout will have enough of a free edge on the tile to grab onto. If there are some areas where the grout is totally fine (as it was in most of my shower), you can leave it alone — just be aware that you can’t “skim” over it with new grout, and new/old colors may not match perfectly.

4. Razor blade. No home renovation project is possible without one. There’s always going to be some kind of residue that needs to be cleaned up or a caulk edge that needs its seal broken, and you’ll want to have a blade handy.

5. Silicone caulk remover. I wound up not having to use this, but I have in the past. If there’s caulk residue that just won’t budge, this will help loosen it up.

6. Pre-mixed thinset. If you have loose tiles, you need to remove them completely, scrape off the old mortar, and re-set them. Ordinarily I would advise against using the pre-mixed stuff, but for doing repair work or just setting a few tiles (as opposed to a whole bathroom), it’s fine. A small tub is cheap and it gets the job done.

7. Pre-mixed grout. Ditto the above when it comes to grout. For bigger jobs I always mix my own grout, but pre-mixed is fine for repairs. Make sure you check the joint size indicated on the tub to make sure it’ll work with your tiles.

8. Tiling sponge. Regular dish sponges tend to fall apart and even leave colored residue on grout. Get a nice, big tiling sponge for doing your wipe-downs. It’s worth it.

9. Rubbing alcohol. After you’ve removed all traces of old caulk, wipe everything down with alcohol. It’ll help prepare the area for good caulk adhesion.

10. Backer rod. You might not need this, but if you have any large/wide gaps to caulk, you’ll want to cram some of this stuff in the space first. Otherwise, you’ll just be unloading endless amounts of caulk into the abyss. Backer rod is a wonderful thing.

11. Painter’s tape. Silicone caulk is much messier than latex/acrylic caulk, and it’s tough to get a nice edge, especially if you’re filling in an irregular space between tiles that appear to have been cut with soccer cleats. Taping off the edges (like I did here) helps a lot. Just make sure you pull off the tape slowwwwwly and carefully right after you smooth out the bead — don’t wait for the caulk to dry.

12. Good-quality silicone caulk. Make sure you buy caulk that’s meant to be used in showers/wet areas. I usually buy whatever makes the most amazing claims on the packing, like 30 minute drying time or 10 year mildew-resistance. In my experience, caulk that comes in a cartridge-style tube is much easier to work with than the stuff in a squeezy-tube. Which brings me to the final item…

13. Caulk gun. You don’t need to get anything fancy. A cheapo, no-frills, $7 caulk gun is just fine.

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I wish I had more process photos, but it was 90°F in the bathroom and I was just trying to get through the whole thing as fast as possible. Stopping to take off my gloves and take pictures just wasn’t working out.

The first thing I did was give the whole shower area a good scrubbing with bleach. Ordinarily bleach should be avoided on grout because it will cause the bonding agents to fail over time, but when you’re dealing with mildew and mold and stuff like that, bleach is sort of the only answer.

Then I started stripping out the caulk, which was the most time-consuming and gross part of the whole project. I did it in stages — the easy stuff before the grout, the tough stuff while the grout was drying. Ideally you’d just do it all at once, but I was fed up.

Next, I sawed out the bad grout and removed the loose tiles (most of which just sort of fell off the wall while I was sawing the grout). I scraped and sanded the old mortar off the tiles, washed them with bleach and water for good measure, and re-set them. I didn’t bother using a notched trowel because mine was at the house and I didn’t want to buy a new one, so I just used a screwdriver to “draw” some ridges in the new thinset before pressing them into place.

And then, grout! Again, I’m doing it “wrong” here, but it’s not a big deal when you’re only doing a small area. When you’re grouting a whole wall you should use a tile float to really get the grout into the gaps, but you know what else works really well for a repair job? An old credit card and a finger. Yep.

Then I wiped everything down and let the grout dry overnight while I resumed stripped caulk…

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The next day, NEW CAULK! I love caulking. It’s so satisfying. I wiped everything down with alcohol, stuffed backer rod into the big gaps, taped off the edges and did my thing. I know it looks kind of janky, but that’s really because the tiles were so unevenly cut and there were some gaps that were super wide. It’s not like this bathroom is going to win any beauty contests, so my goal was really just to get everything clean, fresh and watertight.

It really does look SO much better now. Yeah, I still hate the color and it’s still an ugly bathroom, but it’s clean. Getting into the shower doesn’t feel like a potential health threat anymore. I’m also not worried about water getting into the wall now, which in turn eases my concerns about the entire bathtub eventually crashing through rotted joists and falling into the apartment below us. I think about these things.

doorsixteen_aptcaulk_knobsbefore

The other things I took care of while I was dealing with the grout were the knobs. The handles were all wiggly and loose, and there was nasty black gunk setting up shop behind the little plastic “buttons” on the fronts. Those buttons pop out really easily with the edge of a knife or screwdriver, and, assuming you have standard-style fixtures in a common brand, you can replace them very cheaply. They’re called index buttons — just search for the brand of your faucet. You’ll be amazed what’s still readily available even for very old fixtures. We found exactly what we needed on the rack at the cruddy local hardware store, no special order required.

Anyway, once you pop off the buttons, you can easily unscrew the whole handle — just stick a screwdriver inside. There was all kind of ick inside of the backs of the handles, so I gave them a good scrubbing (yes, again with bleach — sometimes you gotta). I pulled the escutcheons forward (there’s a tiny screw underneath), re-caulked the edge where the tile meets the stop tube (again to prevent water from getting into the wall), cleaned everything really well, and tightened it all back up again.

doorsixteen_aptcaulk_knobsafter

Ahhhhh, so much better! The faucet handles are now not only clean and shiny, they’re also non-wiggly and easy to shut off. I’m so glad I took the time to take care of the handles. It really wasn’t a big deal, and it makes such a huge difference in our daily existence. Nobody needs to live with black grime under their index buttons.

You can totally do this — the caulking and grouting and the faucet tune-up. It’s not hard AT ALL. If you’re at all unsure about how to disassemble the trim on your faucet, you have the entire internet at your disposal. I know I’ve said this a million times, but the only reason I know how to do any of this is because someone else did it before me and took the time to write about it — or, even better, make a YouTube video — and put it online. Also, the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. It’s literally the only book I own about home repair, and I refer to it constantly.

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Oh! One last thing — a new shower head! This was Evan’s project, as it has been in the other apartments we’ve lived in together. Unless you’re renting a newly-renovated apartment, chances are the shower head could use replacing. It’s such an easy fix, and it makes an enormous difference. I personally really like having a hose attachment because it makes cleaning the tub soooooo much easier (not to mention how nice it is for giving plants showers and rinsing out hair dye). The one we bought isn’t anything special, but it was less than 25 bucks and it gets the job done. All you need to install it is a wrench and plumber’s tape (don’t believe the line on the package about not needing tape — that’s a lie), and the whole thing takes 15 minutes, tops.

If you want to see more of the apartment bathroom, I wrote about the other improvements I’ve been making a couple of months ago. What’s left? Three things, none of which are a rush: Find the perfect rug to disguise the ugly floor tiles, replace the toilet flush valve assembly (it’s got a leaky flapper) and fix up the peeling laminate on the sink cabinet.

p.s. I’m having some issues with my spam-blocking plugin. If you try to leave a comment and run into any problems, would you mind dropping me an email or tweeting to me? Thank you!

doorsixteen_aptstairs_before

As I’ve mentioned (but haven’t really shown), the last set of stairs in our 4th-story walkup is entirely inside of our apartment. I’ve already done a lot of work on the entry area at the top of the stairs, but I’ve really been ignoring the stairs themselves completely. I had a burst of energy late Saturday night, though, so I decided to take a look and see what could be done.

The first thing I should note is that these stairs are not cute. There is no decorative molding, the wood is builder-grade, everything is totally crooked, and despite being structurally sound, the entire staircase is in generally terrible condition cosmetically.

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Oof. The first thing I did was pull those gross little carpet treads off. They were REALLY grimy and worn down to the point of actually making the stairs more slippery than bare wood. I held my breath and yanked. They came off more easily than I expected them to — each one was held in place with 4-6 nails and some carpet tape here and there. The wood underneath was filthy, but an hour spent with a bucket of hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap cleaned them up reasonably well. They’re still spattered with paint and full of nail holes and deep gouges, of course, but at least I’m not afraid to walk on them with bare feet now.

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Next step, priming! On first glance you might think that the stair risers were painted in the same Deep Space color I’ve been using on the walls elsewhere in the apartment, but it was actually a kind of “dead” dark gray, a single coat of which appeared to have been applied with a scrap of burlap. Priming was a must. I went back and forth on whether to leave the stairs unpainted, and I’m still not totally sure where I stand on that. My hesitation isn’t because I think the wood is in any way worth preserving (it’s not, really), but because there’s so much unpainted wood elsewhere in the apartment that I think the stairs might look out of place if they’re painted!

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Photos by Thoroughly Modern Medusa (L); Jake Curtis for House and Home (R)

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The staircase at my house

By the time the primer was done, it was about 2:00 in the morning and I was fading fast. I got into bed and tried to plan out what I wanted to do with the stairs the next day. I looked at a post I wrote about staircases four years ago. My thought process went like this:

1. What about bright orange? What about a bright orange painted runner? I’ve been obsessing over Orla Kiely’s painted orange runner for years. Or maybe shades of gradated orange?
2. No, that’s silly. Maybe I should just go with white risers and dark treads like I have at the house. Just do what I know I like. But the more I think about it, the reason that combination looks good in the house is because the stairs and banister are so beautiful.
3. Maybe I should just leave the treads bare and paint everything else with Deep Space. The walls, too. Yeah, I’ll do that. When dealing with an ugly space, the best move is to go totally dark or totally light or totally crazy. No in-betweens.
4. ZZZZZzzzzzzzzz…

But then when I woke up couldn’t stop thinking about bright orange…

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I found a good match for my favorite lipstick, MAC Lady Danger (I’m still using the same tube three years later) — Benjamin Moore Salsa. It’s a really bright hot orange-red. I picked up a quart of that along with a quart of Deep Space in satin finish (I really love orange and gray together), and headed back to the apartment to get to work.

This is where things went horribly wrong.

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NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. Yeah. This is some hideousness right here, I know. It’s even worse than when I thought it might be a good idea to paint my entire hallway PURPLE — this was pre-blog, thankfully. It’s the kind of thing you know is just going to look terrible the second you stick the brush in the paint, but you do it anyway because you really think the outcome might somehow manage to match that vision you had in your head at 2:00 in the morning when you were passing out from exhaustion and primer fumes. NEVER DO THAT.

This is where I’m at now: I don’t want to have a super-dark stairwell that gets zero natural light, because the artificial light reflects off of it in a really depressing way. It’s just sad-looking. I also don’t want to mess around with trying to combine orange-hued polyurethane-coated wood with bright orange paint (I do have to give Evan credit for pointing out that there might be some clashing issues, but I was too blinded by MY VISION at that point to do anything but dismiss him — sorry, Evan!).

I do kinda want to revisit the gradient stairs idea, though, and this is also what my interior decorating idols Linda and John Meyers suggested when I asked them, “WWWMD — What would Wary Meyers do?” (They also suggested that I could do something typographic on the stairs with the Frankfurter font, but I am just not on that level of cool. Alas.) Wary Meyers have been my gradient-painting heroes since I spotted this awesome radiator way back in 2007, so I trust their suggestions.

So…how about THIS?

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Photos by Stacey Bode

That’s really nice, right? The fact that Stacey’s stairs are a lot like mine (totally un-fancy, kinda beat-up wood treads, solid walls on both sides, no banister, etc.) gives me extra confidence that this could look good in my stairwell, too. I think with some careful planning and experimental paint-mixing (Deep Space + Simply White in varying ratios, satin finish), I can make this happen. First I have to re-prime everything I already painted (ARGH!), but I’m not in a huge rush. I should probably also suck it up and sand the treads down a little, because they really do look awful.

I’ll have to find some other place to use that Salsa paint, though. I do LOVE the color. Maybe the entry door to the apartment? I’ll figure something out!

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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!

I’ve been told by several friends (you know who you are) that I need to stop leading off all of my posts by saying, “I know these photos are bad, but…” I’m going to try not to do that anymore. Not because I expect my photos to improve in quality, but because nobody likes disclaimers — including me. Let me just say that I only have one camera (a tiny Leica point & shoot that I love dearly, but it’s not an SLR) with one lens, and I am super impatient when it comes to cameras. I am photo-deficient. OK? OK. I’ll just put the best photo first and then hope nobody notices how cruddy the rest are…

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Before you ask, the “It’s Always Worth It” print is by Lisa Congdon. Sometimes I think about writing “Well, Almost Always” underneath, but it’s not worth it.

In 2006 (pre-this blog), I was in the early throes of my ongoing obsession with Nisse Strinning’s String shelving system. It was hard to get them in the US at the time without paying a billion dollars for VAT and shipping from Sweden (these days we can order them in a number of color/wood configurations from A+R and, soon, the MoMA store), so I was really excited when I happened to spot a run-down set of knockoff String shelves at a used furniture store in Beacon (I’ll never stop missing you, Iron Fish). They were in seriously rough shape, but they were cheap — I think less than $20 — and fixing them up looked like an easy enough project.

And then I put them in the basement. If you look carefully at the photos in that post, you can actually see the faux-String brackets wedged between a dog gate and a vacuum cleaner. And there the shelves sat, more or less forgotten, for the next 7 years.

The day we decided to rent this apartment, my mind went to the big space between the two windows in the kitchen…and then it went to the shelves! THE SHELVES! THE ONES IN THE BASEMENT! So I finally did it — I fixed ‘em up, and put ‘em to work.

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PERFECT-O! I briefly considered getting nice new pieces of wood and just re-using the brackets, but this apartment is already really wood-heavy. I’m also a big fan of black on gray (yeah, that’s a pretty daring combo, I know) so I figured I’d just go ahead and paint the old wood shelves and hope for the best.

Since there’s always someone ready to freak out any time the words “paint” and “wood” are used together in the same sentence, rest assured I did not paint over anything worth restoring. Not all wood is precious. This is what I was dealing with:

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Deeply-gouged, peeling veneer over crappy laminated pine, and, if you look carefully at the back right corner, mold. No good. I peeled off the loose veneer, cleaned the wood with bleach and water, let it dry in the sun, then gave all surfaces a good smoothing with my Mouse sander (I love that thing for small jobs like this). With the surface good and porous, a single coat of black Cabot Solid Stain (seen previously on the mega-planter I built for the garden) went on beeeeeautifully. I’ve had that same gallon can of stain for YEARS, and it just keeps on coming in handy. The finish is so super-rich and opaque, but you can still see the texture of the wood grain. It’s prone to scuffing, though, so I topped it with a coat of satin polyurethane for durability.

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The shelves have little brass hooks that hang from the brackets — it’s such a smart design. See how the damage and grain of the wood are still visible? I like that when I’m painting stuff black. Otherwise the finish can look a little plastic-y and too new.

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For context, here’s where the shelves are in relation to the kitchen’s main work surfaces and the backsplash. Yes, I still need to deal with that weird gap above the microwave where the duct is visible. It’s yucky. I’ll get to it eventually.

But yay, shelves! Totally worth it.

EDIT: The cute Bubble clock is from West Elm Market! It’s meant to be hung on the wall, but I’m not sure where its final location will be, so it’s just sitting in the shelf for now.

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When we first found out that my brother was going to be moving out of his longtime rental apartment, I scanned through my mental pictures of the place and quickly came to the conclusion that we should take it. I remembered four things about the bathroom: That it had a sliding glass shower door, a framed picture of Moomintrolls, a very nice cactus garden…and pink tiles. I was right in my memory of the first three things (though obviously the Moomins and the cacti moved out along with my brother), but pink tiles? No. That was wishful thinking.

I love a good pink bathroom. This is not one of them. This is something very different — a tan bathroom. The tiles, tub and toilet are all roughly the color of a Band-Aid. The sink and vanity are off-white, and the laminate on the latter is peeling. The floor is…the floor is WAVY, leading me to wonder what exactly is happening under those tiles, but I’m not intrepid enough to find out anytime soon.

It is what it is, and I’m totally OK with it! Much like the kitchen cabinets, none of this is what I would choose, but it’s functional and not the worst thing in the world, and who knows — maybe someday we’ll retile the entire bathroom and put in a new sink and toilet and get the tub sprayed white and angels will sing. That’s way off in the future, though, if it’s ever going to happen. This is a rental, and there are limitations (especially when you also own a house and that house has carpenter ants in the kitchen and needs a new boiler — but I digress).

Alright, now I’m just avoiding posting photos. Please be gentle! It actually looks better in person, I’m just not good at taking photos in small spaces.

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Yeah, this is as good as it gets. I decided to continue the dark gray color we’ve used on the walls in the rest of the apartment into the bathroom through furnishings (the hand towel, the shower curtain, the print, etc.) rather than painting the whole room. The ceiling in this part of the apartment is pretty low, and I don’t think dark paint would do the bathroom any favors. Dark gray and black have an interesting effect on tan, by the way — they manage to make it look more pink! My goal is to get this bathroom looking more ’50s than ’80s, but without getting too literal or kitschy about it. I just want it to feel vintage-y and not sad. I painted the walls Benjamin Moore Moonlight White (matte finish), which is the same white I used throughout my house. It’s very soft and warm, perfect for imperfect spaces.

Here’s what the bathroom looked like before we did anything at all to it…

doorsixteen_aptbathroom_before

Two things are happening here that I absolutely cannot live with: A wood toilet seat and a sliding glass shower door. I really, really don’t understand why this type of shower door was so prevalent in American bathrooms for so long. What is the advantage over a shower curtain? The glass is a pain to keep clean, the tracks are traps for all kinds of nastiness and that bottom edge is just waiting to take a chunk out of your shin. Fortunately, they’re pretty easy to remove — take out a few screws, use a razor blade to slice through the caulk, pry off whatever needs prying, and you’re done. This was the very first thing we did on the first day in the apartment! Something tells me the landlord isn’t going to want us to put it back when we leave, but just in case, we have the entire door assembly stored in a closet.

This apartment had the entire array of builder-grade light fixtures in effect, including this marbled number in the bathroom. We replaced it with the ALÄNG from IKEA (scroll up to the first photo to see it!). It’s fine. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and head clearance is at a minimum, so it gets the job done. I’m keeping an eye out for an inexpensive vintage fixture to replace it with, but I’m not obsessing.

So here’s where we are now…

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1. The hardest-working $29 scavenged Componibili around continues to be super-useful. I keep my hair dryer, straightening iron and other unwieldy implement in there. The raindrop hand towel was made by Satsuki Shibuya (sadly no longer available).

You can’t really tell from the pictures, but we replaced the mirrored medicine cabinet. The old one was pretty janky, and it was the kind that’s supposed to be recessed into the wall — except it was just floating on the surface with mirrors glued to the sides (?!). We put the LILLÅNGEN from IKEA in its place, and it’s GREAT. So much more storage! $70 well spent.

2. Does anyone use those tiled-in toothbrush holders for actual toothbrushes? Mine is holding the most amazing incense from Reliquary in San Francisco (thank you, Victoria!). The soap dish is from Izola (thank you, Ilenia!).

3. I picked up the shower curtain from West Elm a couple of years ago for our old apartment, and it’s finally growing on me now. I’m still kind of thinking about replacing it with this one from Ferm, but we’ll see. It is a MASSIVE improvement over the sliding glass doors, that’s for sure.

4. Why is the toilet positioned so weirdly? Dunno, but it looks better with a black toilet seat! I work in a 1930s-era Rockefeller Center building, and the white toilets (many of which appear to be original, incredibly) have these amazing black seats that I’ve always admired (hello to any coworkers reading this who are now giving me the side-eye). Just a little vintage flavor, if you will, but you probably won’t because who wants to use the word “flavor” in reference to a bathroom? Anyway, black toilet seat! I like it.

Oh, and the very cool No Sleep Til Breuckelen print is from Pop Chart Lab.

5. Here’s the plastic bag I taped to the wall to make the bathroom look even more authentically vintage! No. It’s there because some the tiles inside the shower are coming loose and need to be removed, cleaned and replaced, and I have to do it in stages. The entire tub needs to be re-caulked, too. It’s got that perma-mildew thing going on, which I won’t show you because I’m nice.

6. Those cheap little RAST dressers sure do come in handy when you don’t have a lot of space! We used to have this one inside of a closet in our last apartment. I painted it with Benjamin Moore Deep Space (the same color I’ve been using throughout the apartment). It fits so perfectly here, and it holds a TON of stuff.

My mother gave me that sweet Plint box from Ferm for Christmas, and I must say that thing is PERFECT in this bathroom. It ties together the wall tile color and the dark grays so well that it almost looks like it was painted to match the space. Doesn’t it make the tiles look pinker?

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I just want to dwell on this clock for a minute, because I love it so much. I bought it for $1 at a stoop sale in Brooklyn about 15 years ago. It keeps perfect time, and it even has a 60-second timer built in. It was made for a kitchen, but I’ve always used it in bathrooms. It’s been in retirement/storage for a few years now, and it makes me really happy to have a place for it again.

There’s a whole website devoted to Telechron clocks! This is a 2H17 (the “Minitmaster”), manufactured in Ashland, MA, between 1945–1949. I love the internet.

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And finally, my favorite part of the bathroom! The vintage black tray was a gift from my mother years ago. My smelling-good things are Dark Wave from OLO Fragrance and Rocky Glen from Cold Spring Apothecary, which appears to be discontinued. The Tarot Deck candle is from Catbird, and it smells like “incense, Turkish rose and pencil shavings.” Yup. I like anything that smells like witches and/or my high school bedroom. The rocks — those beautiful rocks! — are our place cards (place rocks?) from Lisa and Clay’s wedding. Diana Fayt hand-painted 103 of them — you can read more about that on Lisa’s blog. (Diana has a shop for her painted rocks if you want one, too.)

What’s next in here? I’m not sure. A rug, maybe, but it would have to be just the right one. I’ve thought about adding a row of black pencil tiles to top off the tan, or maybe putting up some cool wallpaper — I think the gold Wilderness pattern from Ferm would look pretty amazing! Re-tiling the floor in a dark slate or black would go a long, long way, as would a new sink. I’ll see! It definitely needs some Moomintrolls, too…and more cacti.

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Have you been sitting around wondering which box is the best box? Probably. Me too. Guess what? I figured it out! This box is the best box: KVITTRA from IKEA (specifically the “red” design), designed by Anna Salander. I’ve been noticing Salander’s name on a lot of nifty IKEA stuff for the past couple of years, but this box is just the best. It’s made of a sturdy cardboard that’s coated with a screen-printed paper. The paper has slightly embossed texture to it, almost like fabric. And the colors! Perfect.

I actually have two KVITTRA boxes stacked on top of each other here. They’re only $9, so I picked up a couple when we first rented the new apartment without really having a specific purpose in mind for them. Last night I finally put them together, and now they’re holding all of my extra buttons, pouches, cables and so on — all of the little things that have sort of just been floating around looking for a place to be stored. I could put them in a closet, sure, but they’re much nicer just sitting on the living room floor.

And yes, there are a few other things to talk about here, like the new rug (!!!), the credenza, the lion head…and the fact that I can’t stop painting walls with that Deep Space paint. I’ll get to all of that soon enough, but I just couldn’t wait to share this box! The best box.

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backsplash before & after

Remember the ugly kitchen in the my new apartment? The one with the kale chip counters, the cherry-colored doors and the backsplash made out of what are very clearly floor tiles? Yeah, that’s the one. Check out what I just did with the backsplash, though! This was a weekend project that I put very little planning into, and I am really, really happy with the result.

apartment backsplash

apartment backsplash

This is light years better, right? I kind of don’t even hate the kitchen anymore. Don’t get me wrong, if the landlord suddenly asked me to do a gut renovation I’d start this weekend, but in the very likely event that he doesn’t, I’m totally OK with how the kitchen looks now. It’s pretty amazing how well that color (yes, it’s Benjamin Moore Deep Space again) neutralizes the red tones in all of the wood in this apartment. The cabinet color is actually tolerable now! When we picked out the paint we made sure it picked up on some of the gray undertones in the countertop, too. They look more black than green now, which is a very good thing.

So basically all I did here was cover up the tile with plywood that I painted a pattern on. It’s held in place with Velcro, so I can remove it anytime with no permanent effect.

Here’s a step-by-step…

backsplash step by step 1

1. I used 1/4″ pre-sanded baltic birch plywood (not luan). I needed 3 2×4′ panels to do this backsplash. They were about $8 each. I chose ply over masonite/MDF primarily because it’s much lighter weight.

2. I measured out the panel dimensions, then did all of my cuts with a jigsaw. I’m sure I could’ve gotten more perfect lines with a circular saw, but ours is up at the house and I just wanted to get this done. I have a pretty steady hand, so the jigsaw really was fine.

3. To cut out the opening for the outlet, I drilled a hole first so I could get the saw blade in.

4. I test-fit the panels to make sure everything lined up right.

5. I gave the plywood a coat of primer. It’s really important to prime BOTH sides when you’re dealing with flexible stuff like beadboard, molding trim pieces and thin ply, otherwise you’re going to have a lot of warping. Trust me, it’s worth the extra time.

6. One coat of my base color was enough. I let it dry for about 3 hours before getting started on the pattern — I used that time to figure out what I was going to paint! There aren’t any progress photos of the pattern-painting, but I just used primer and little foam brush to paint it on freehand. (And yes, it took forever.) You could certainly use a stencil or stamp or whatever, but I didn’t want any repeats in my pattern. Every little line is unique.

backsplash step by step 2

7. This might sound crazy, but I was a little worried about the original white backsplash showing through the seams of the dark panels, so I put some strips of painter’s tape on a sheet of aluminum foil and…

8. …I painted them to match the panels. Yup.

9. See what I mean? I knew it would drive me crazy to see a sliver of white, so it’s just an extra little bit of insurance.

10. And finally, Velcro! I used almost one full roll of Velcro Ultra-Mate. It cost about $17, which seemed insane to me, but I guess that’s how much Velcro costs unless you’re smart and buy it online first. I just put a few inches in each corner, plus a few extras along the edges for the bigger panels. It’s SUPER secure.

Total cost = $42. Soooooo worth it.

A few things I didn’t do, but that I still might do…

✚ Put a coat of matte polyurethane over the whole thing for extra protection.
✚ Add a bead of clear silicone caulk where the panels meet the counter.
✚ Switch out the cabinet knobs. OK, I’m definitely doing that. The current knobs are cheap-o brassy things that most of the finish has rubbed off of. I think I’ll just go with simple, small black knobs.

EDIT! ALSO! HEY! READ THIS!
Reader Jenny questioned the use of combustible material around a gas range, which is definitely a valid concern. You should check your range’s clearance requirements and local code before doing something like this around a burner/stovetop. In my case, because this is not a high-powered or backless range, the wall in back of the stove is not a concern. The sidewall to the left of the range is another story, though, and I will probably replace that piece with stainless steel upon further thought. I did kind of dismiss it because the range is already actually TOUCHING the wood casing around the window right next to it (that seems bad, right? But my brother lived here for 5 years without setting the place on fire…), but hey, a little extra safety can’t hurt.

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An unexpected side effect of working on this project is that I really feel like painting. Not painting houses, but painting stuff. I feel like designing wallpaper, too. And pillows. And blankets. And everything, really. I wish I had time! I have so many ideas. I do write them down, at least.

Morrissey in a frameless frame

For the past 22 years, I’ve been dragging this giant Morrissey poster around with me everywhere I’ve lived — and I’ve lived in a lot of places. It’s done a few stints rolled up in a closet (not for any loss of love for Morrissey, mind you), but it always winds up back on the wall again. One of the first things I thought about when we rented the new apartment was, “Where is Morrissey’s head going to go?”

I’ve never had it in a frame, and the damage it’s incurred as a result is really starting to show. When you’re 15 years old and sticking up a Morrissey poster with Fun-Tak and pushpins and taping the back when it inevitably falls a million times, you’re not thinking about someday being 37 years old and still having that same poster on your wall. At some point I made the switch from tape and tacks to Jørgen Møller’s Posterhanger, which did work well for a few years. It’s a good design, but I think this post is just too big and heavy — it’s about 4×5′, which is pretty darned large and unwieldy. Morrissey started falling again, so I rolled him up and vowed to be a REAL GROWN UP and get him framed properly once and for all.

There’s a very well-rated frame store right near the apartment, so one evening Evan and I popped in to get a quote. I had braced myself for it to be around $600, thinking that if I prepared for the worst I’d be pleasantly surprised when the quote came in lower.

Well, the quote did not come in lower. For the most basic framing option in the simplest frame, the quote was — wait for it — $1300. Yes. I guess I’ve been spoiled by years of cramming stuff into cheap RIBBA frames from IKEA, but I was totally caught off guard. I glazed over immediately and tried to politely listen to the rest of the spiel from the framer before I apologized for wasting her time and left. The other thing I learned was because my reckless teenage self fixed the poster’s tears by putting tape all over the back, it’s not a candidate for reinforcement options like dry-mounting or linen backings. Boooooooo.

At that point, I figured I had four options: (1) Learn how to frame stuff, buy the necessary tools and materials, and frame it myself; (2) Become really good friends with someone who owns a framing shop and then put them in a horrible position where they owe me a huge favor; (3) Order a cheap framing kit online that I’ll never really be happy with; or (4) Slap something together with spare parts and call it a day. I chose option #4.

So here you have it! A couple of lattice strips cut to size, two thumbtacks (inserted through the back of the poster and into the lattice — one at the center top, and one at the bottom) and four binder clips. Done! No, it’s not fancy, and yes, someday I’d still like to have the poster framed by a skilled framing professional who knows what they’re doing, but for now this is totally fine. It’s not going to fall, rip or sag, and that’s all I really care about.

frameless frame

Side bonus! Here’s a quick review of me and “Our Frank” over the years. I wish I had more pictures of my bedrooms in the ’90s, but such are the realities of life before digital cameras and iPhones. Despite the passing of years, my love for Morrissey remains as strong as the cut of his 30″ jawline. (He’s even in my bio now!)

Our Frank