The Apartment / Manhattan

Oliver, 2001 // Photo by Patricia Katchur

Cute, isn’t he? No, he’s RIDICULOUSLY ADORABLE. That’s my old friend Oliver, the last of 20 pet rats that have been part of my life. He died in late 2003. He was quite a character—a hairless rat with Dumbo-style ears, a white blaze on his forehead, curly whiskers, and mismatched eyes (one red, one black). I miss having pet rats. They really are like tiny dogs, disposition-wise.

My to-do list this weekend is limited to a few odds and ends around the city apartment that I’ve been meaning to take care of for a while now but never seem to have the time, along with the usual errands and such. I only wish the weather were a little nicer. We had a few spring-ish days for a while, but for the past week it’s been quite cold again. There was even a bout of snow and hail a few days ago!

change lightbulb in bathroom
re-mount smoke detector
grocery shopping
clean apartment
buy wood for the top of the fauxdenza
freelance work

Okay, yeah, I cheated. I made a list of things I’ve already done today just so I can cross stuff and feel satisfied. Please, like you’ve never done that!

• figure out whether to stain or oil the wood on the fauxdenza
freelance work
watch a movie
freelance work
• freelance work
• go to bed at a decent time

cross box 1

This is a sad, sad situation here, right? This mess of cords in the apartment makes me so upset. I know it’s only three plugs, but between the protruding timer on the lamp and the big black monster that powers our radio, there’s really no way to hide the whole thing with a carefully positioned pile of books or a cord channel. For a while I’ve been hiding it behind the giant ampersand, but I want to hang that thing on the wall, not leave it leaning precariously in a corner.

cross box 5

Over Christmas, we received a gift from an author of some baked goods in a large, round wooden box. It’s nothing fancy (a notch above balsa wood, really), but I snatched it because I was sure I’d be able to use it for something.

Unable to look at that cord mess for one day longer, I devoted an unreasonable amount of time yesterday afternoon to figuring out how to get it out of my sight. I abandoned my plans of preparing and freezing meals, cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, giving myself a pedicure, doing photo research, and pretty much everything else that would have made my week easier, and set about turning this round box into a…um…what? An electric outlet cozy?

cross box 4

cross box 3

Since everything looks better with a cross on it (case in point) I used tape to mask one out (sort of the reverse of what I did on my medicine cabinet), then used some leftover wall paint to fill in the negative space. The trick to preventing bleed-under when painting over tape on bare wood—especially when it’s very porous and rough, like this box—is to use a really dry brush. Always paint away from the center so you’re not brushing toward the edge of the tape. The paint will dry very quickly, so you can easily do three very thin coats.

cross box 2

Cute, right? I decided to leave the edges of the box bare wood. I didn’t take a photo, but I cut a little notch out of the bottom edge to allow cords to pass through.

cross box 6

The last step was to corral the cords into a little bundle so they’d pass through the notch easily (all of the excess cord length got wrapped up to be hidden by the box, too), then I put a nail in the wall to hang the box from. It’s not attached to the wall, so if I need to access the outlet it’s not a problem at all. Then I smooshed some books underneath to further distract from the extending cords.

I doubt this is a project that anyone else will be replicating in their own homes, but I figured I’d share it anyway! I know I could have made a very simple box to hide the outlet and painted it to blend with the wall more (or bought something prefab made of plastic, I imagine), but I thought it would be more fun to make something that looks intentional. Intentionally weird, maybe, but at least I can’t see that stupid outlet or the plugs anymore!

EDIT: There has been some concern from a couple of commenters over whether this box poses a fire hazard. The answer is no. First of all, the outlet and electrical box/wiring inside (which are all new) are NOT overloaded. I realize it looks like there are a lot of things plugged in, but that’s an illusion caused by the color, size, and shape of the three plugs and the lamp timer. Second, the box (which is quite large—it’s about 5″ deep and 14″ wide) is NOT airtight by any means. There is plenty of airflow, even more than inside of a TV cabinet, kitchen cabinet, or other places where you might have an enclosed outlet. This is no more hazardous than putting a piece of furniture, a refrigerator, or curtains in front of an electrical outlet—or having an outlet inside of a kitchen cabinet to power undercabinet lights, etc. I am a big fan of electrical safety, and I would never do something like this if it posed a risk.




Our little Manhattan apartment is way, way uptown—further up than even the Upper West Side and Harlem—in a neighborhood that, depending on who you talk to, might technically be part of Hudson Heights or Inwood, but is most often considered to be Washington Heights.

(Fun fact: Our neighborhood in Newburgh is also called Washington Heights. Crazy! That George Washington sure liked high places overlooking the Hudson, didn’t he? Well, yeah, okay, I guess that makes sense now that I say it out loud…)

I’m not sure I’d ever even heard of Washington Heights until we started looking for a pied-à-terre, but once we’d been up here and done some research, it just made so much sense:

1. The rent is cheap. You can get a studio up here for $1000-1200, 1BR for $1200-1300, 2BR for $1300-1700. And the apartments are HUGE! We were kind of astonished by how spacious the rentals are, especially in the pre-war buildings where the walls haven’t been moved all over the place.

2. It’s dog-friendly. Everyone has a dog up in WH. Even big dogs! The landlords seem to be very lax about pets in general. I like that.

3. It’s quiet and pretty. Unless you’re living right on Broadway with an apartment over a nightclub, it’s pretty much dead silent after 8:00 PM. I can hear dogs barking from miles away in the middle of the night. I can see the stars at night, too!! And there are lots of trees.

4. It’s close to the George Washington Bridge. This is essential if you regularly leave the city to go upstate like we do. Our proximity to the GWB means that we can be at our house in just over an hour, door to door.

5. Parking is not insanely expensive. Yes, we use our car to go back and forth between the house and the apartment, because Metro-North is REALLY EXPENSIVE. It’s cheaper to just pay for a monthly space in the garage around the corner. (We would lose our minds trying to deal with street parking. It’s impossible.)

6. Fort Tryon Park. I can’t say enough how amazing it is to have this place for a back yard (well, front yard, actually—our window overlooks the east side of the park). Fort Tryon Park is just incredibly beautiful, with hills and indigenous rocks and fabulous landscaping and secret paths and tiny old buildings and steep staircases everywhere…all of it leading up to perfectly clear, unblocked views of the Hudson River and Palisades (and you know how I feel about the Hudson River). PLUS! The Cloisters! The Cloisters are in Fort Tryon Park! How amazing is that?!

7. It’s easily accessible to the rest of the island. I walk half a block to the subway, and I can be in midtown in about 35 minutes. This was top priority, obviously, since our whole purpose in renting the apartment was to ease the stress of a long commute on late nights or early mornings. It’s made a huge difference. Evan works downtown so it’s a bit longer for him, but still manageable.

The only real downside to the neighborhood is that there is a serious lack of places to hang out, get coffee, eat dinner, especially if you eat vegan. There are definitely mornings when I am DYING for a bagel or an iced coffee, but there’s nowhere around to go. It’s the same story at night—if we want to go out for dinner, we inevitably wind up going to another part of the city. There aren’t really any cute shops, either, but I don’t care about that. This is New York City. That’s what the subway is for.

We picked the right spot to get a little place, for sure. I feel like I discovered a secret land up in Washington Heights. It may not be “cool”, but neither are we…it’s a perfect fit.


coffee station

I’m a big fan of the coffee station (even though I hate words like “station” in relation to areas of the home—e.g. “gift wrapping station”). Everything all in one place: coffee maker, coffee, sugar, mugs and stirring spoons, all at the ready. I mean, if there’s any point of time in the day when you don’t want to be futzing around in drawers and opening cabinets, it’s before your morning coffee. Right?

It took us a while to settle on a coffee maker for the apartment. We considered a classic glass Chemex pot, Jasper Morrison’s beautiful machine for Rowenta, and the super-pricey Technivorm Moccamaster, but ultimately we decided on the very same machine we have at home, a Cuisinart Brew Central. We’ve always been very happy with ours (my mother and Bernie have one, too, and they also love it), it looks pretty good, and the price is reasonable. It looks okay, too. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s acceptable. And I like that it comes in flat black.

Both of us love coffee, perhaps a little more than we should. I only drink one or two cups a day now, though, which is a significant improvement over the constant imbibing of caffeine I partook in during the early ’00s. Those were crazy days! (Hah. More like those were the days when I’d stay up to watch Conan every night, and then get involved in a craft project at 2:00 AM.)


Yeah, we bought more of those porcelain spoons that we have at the house. I love them. (CB2 still has them, I just checked!) The tray is from IKEA, long, long ago.

We’ve long been devotees of Illy coffee, but lately we’ve been drinking a much cheaper alternative from Whole Foods. I don’t know. The jury’s still out on this one. It’s okay, but it’s not Illy.

yellow mugs

Aren’t these mugs just the cutest?!? They came from CB2, too, and the price is, like, practically free. The yellow makes me super happy, and I LOVE how spacious the handle area is. I’m walk & slurp-er with my morning coffee, and I need all the help I can get with my grip.

(Don’t worry, I still love my Keep Cup and use it all the time…or at least when I’m running late, which is often!)

Okay, first of all, I have to apologize to the French—and all other living humans—for unleashing the horrible, hybrid pseudo-word “fauxdenza” on the world. I actually Googled it before starting this post and got no results, so I know it’s my fault if it actually catches on. Sorry!

I’ve been putting off taking photos of the main room of the pied-à-terre (wow, that’s two French terms in one post! Fancy!) for almost a year now, mainly because I feel self-conscious showing stuff before it’s “done”. The thing is, though, showing these unfinished projects winds up being a good motivator.

So! Fauxdenza! We needed something credenza-like in the apartment for closed storage, but I wanted it to be off the floor and shallow. It’s a one-room apartment, and being able to see where the floor meets the wall creates an illusion of space.

Enter IKEA kitchen wall cabinets! This configuration is three 24×30″ AKURUM cabinets with APPLÅD white doors. Each cost $52, so the entire thing was only $156. Not bad for 72″ of storage space! IKEA cabinets are really, really easy to hang—you just mount a single steel rail on the wall with the appropriate hardware (I managed to hit a couple of studs by chance, and used concrete anchors for the rest of the screws), then hang the assembled cabinets on the rail.

Including the doors, the wall cabinets are only 12 ½″ deep, so they really don’t take up much space in the room. The bottom edge lines up perfectly with the top of the moldings, about 8″ off the floor.

Anyway, back to the “unfinished” aspect of this post…

The top. See, IKEA kitchen wall cabinets are intended to be hung higher up on the wall (obviously), so the top isn’t really finished. There are visible screws, and of course there’s nothing covering the line where the cabinets meet. That’s why there’s a table runner on it. For 10 months I’ve been meaning to do something more finished to the top of the fauxdenza (fauxdenza!), but I haven’t had the motivation to really deal with it.

I’m 99% sure I want to buy a piece of the LAGAN beech wood countertop and cut it to fit. I can use the scrap to make a long shelf under the window, another project I’ve been putting off for almost a year now.

Just as soon as that lease is renewed…

(That huge ampersand? It’s from Hindsvik. The great red bear print is by Sarah Edmonds at Banquet, and the cross pillow is from Brin & Nohl.)

apartment before

Just for fun, here’s a before photo of the apartment. Amazing what the right white paint (and a sconce makeover) can do, isn’t it?

kitchen shelf

I just put this little shelf up in the kitchen in our city apartment, and it’s made such a huge difference in how I store things. So much cabinet space has been freed up, and my cooking oils are right by the stove now. It comes from IKEA, of course—it’s the 55″ MOLGER wall shelf, and though it’s intended for bathroom use, I really think it’s the perfect thing for storing smaller items in the kitchen without taking up much space. And it’s only $12.99! It comes in a couple of shorter lengths, too.

The glass jars on the shelf are also from IKEA. They’re SLOM jars, and they fit perfectly on the shelf. It’s almost like they were made for each other. Just so you know.

kitchen shelf 2

Dig the dovetail finger joints! So cute. Also, it’s worth noting that I didn’t bother trying to use the invisible “keyhole” style hanging system on the black of the shelf. It’s like trying to hang three clocks simultaneously, and I’m just not that coordinated. Instead, I just drilled straight through the back and set the screws into wall anchors. It’s not like the screws show once the shelf has a bunch of stuff on it, anyway.


I don’t think I ever posted a photo of the BEKVÄM stool after I painted its legs, did I? Well, here he is. I get so much use out of this little guy.

Ah, and the ubiquitous SIGNE rug! There is nothing these rugs can’t do. Did you see the article in Living a couple of months ago where they made them into giant pillows? Brilliant.

And before you ask, yes, the clock is from IKEA. The wood countertop/shelving unit is from IKEA. So is the pepper mill. And the cabinet knobs. Oh, and the bowl that the bananas are sitting in. (I take it back—the bowl is from CB2.)

By the way, I love that IKEA’s “Automated Online Assistant” is named Anna. It’s just so fitting. I wish they’d give her black hair and a more stylish shirt, though.

Sunday morning

Thank you for all of the thoughtful comments on this post. I have a hard time writing personal posts sometimes (well, everything I write is personal—that’s hard to avoid—but you know what I mean), but it’s never as scary when I read replies from other people who have felt the same way.

If you have a blog, what post was the hardest for you to write? Did you feel any sense of relief after making your thoughts and experiences public?

p.s. I took the above photo this morning. And yes, Fritz was there, too.

apartment bathroom

Can you believe we’ve had the little pied-à-terre in Manhattan for ten months already? It really doesn’t feel like that long. Given that the entire thing is only 400 square feet, it’s kind of lame that (a) I haven’t finished working on it yet, and (b) I still really haven’t posted that many pictures. Thanks to some prodding from Adam and some inspiration from Dan, though, I did take some photographs of the not-so-cute bathroom this morning.

Here’s what we were looking at when we first rented the apartment:

apartment bathroom

apartment bathroom

Typical pre-war New York City rental apartment bathroom—in other words, poor layout, cheap fixtures, crumbling grout, bad plumbing, and a rusty tub. Not cute, and actually pretty gross. We were able to negotiate with the management company a bit to have the tub re-coated with epoxy and the tiles regrouted (both of these things were technically done, but they were done very poorly and unprofessionally—we’re talking new grout over old grout, epoxy over moldy caulk, and that sort of thing), but it was still pretty gross afterward.

apartment bathroom

I cleaned everything with bleach, scalding hot water, and a scrub brush, for starters. And I caulked. And caulked. And caulked. You can’t tell from the photos, but there were weird gaps and cracks everywhere. The other thing that’s not apparent from the photos is that although everything is white, there are about 50 different whites going on in there—even the white tiles are all different colors. After a few failed attempts at painting the walls gray (the result was sad and dark), I went ahead and rolled on my good old default white-uniter, Benjamin Moore Simply White. I used the Aura Bath & Spa formula, which is completely matte but still impervious to water/steam-streaking.

The idiotically-placed (it was behind the door!), oak-framed, triple-fold mirror/cabinet was removed and stored in our basement at the house so we can put it back when we move. In its place I mounted a little wood shelf from IKEA (a discontinued item from the FÖRHÖJA line) to hold my daily essentials. Because the sink is in front of the window (do NOT even get me started on the fact that there is an open-backed vanity cabinet IN FRONT OF A LOW WINDOW and not even attached to anything—whoever put this bathroom together was clearly a moron), I put up an extension mirror ($4.99!). This solution has worked out nicely, since neither Evan or I care about having a large mirror in the bathroom.

(Hmmm. I’m not sure why the shelf looks crooked in the photo. I checked, and it’s definitely not crooked in real life. I blame my lens.)

The print on the wall is by Yellena James, and the cute hand towel is the brilliant “I Wish We Had IKEA” tea towel from Skinny Laminx (it provides a needed dose of irony anywhere in my house or apartment, don’t you think?).

apartment bathroom

Happily, the space between the door and the tub is just the right size for the BJÖRKEN cabinet from IKEA (I think it’s been discontinued, which is a shame—it’s really nicely designed and well-made), and all of our toothbrushes and sunscreens and razor blades and other unattractively-packaged products get stashed in there.

apartment bathroom

Yeah, even the plant pot and the plant in it are from IKEA. Yes, and the shade on the window (my trusty favorite, ENJE). I like how nicely the plant distracts from the ugliness in the room. Every time I bring the plant into the kitchen to water it, the bathroom immediately looks worse.

We also changed out the showerhead. The new model isn’t going to win any design awards, but it’s super-functional, it only cost about $40, and the installation took roughly 5 minutes. Way better than the nasty thing that was there (we threw it in the garbage—I’m willing to leave the replacement behind when we move). I highly recommend little changes like this if you’re in a rental.

apartment bathroom

I know, this is decidedly not cute. The floor is grotesque, there’s no denying it. I swear to you, though, it’s CLEAN! I’ve bleached and Magic Eraser-ed it, and it still looks like this. There are three different grout colors layered on top of each other, and that’s not helping matters—not to mention that the floor is so out of whack that the vanity (does that hideous thing even deserve to be called a vanity?) has to be propped up with a shim. It’s just gross. Putting rugs down somehow seems to accentuate the grossness, and I don’t want to put anything on the floor that’s going to get in the way of being able to keep things clean. I just don’t know. I’ve seriously thought about painting the floor tiles or even putting down self-stick, solid-color vinyl tiles, believe me. Sigh.

You know what encourages me, though? GET LOAD OF THIS:

Dan's bathroom

Incredible, right? This is, of course, the genius work of Dan at Manhattan Nest, who shares my “who cares?” attitude when it comes to security deposits (I’ve never lost one, actually—if anything, all of my landlords have been thankful for the changes I’ve made, even though I’ve never asked permission first). He covered the routing on the doors with 1/4″ planks of wood and painted the whole thing inside and out, and the result is just phenomenal. I’ve promised myself that if we can sign a lease for another year (we’ll know within the next two months, I guess!), I will take the time to rehab my vanity, too. I’m thinking deep, inky blue for the paint, though, because this bathroom definitely can’t handle another mismatched white.

The past couple of weeks (months, actually) have been so ridiculously busy at work. I’ve been having to continue working at home in the evenings after work as well, often until well past midnight, so I’m seriously lacking in the sleep department at this point. I have insomnia issues on top of it all, so the nights when I should be able to sleep for more than five hours usually wind up being spent lying in bed, tossing and turning and trying not to look at the time.

I’m just exhausted. That’s all there is to it. I haven’t been cooking, I have zero motivation to do any of the stuff I’m supposed to do that isn’t work, and I feel guilty and bad and disappointed in myself. I know it might seem like I perform amazing feats of balancing my time and energy, but that’s really only because I tend to write about the good more than the bad—not because I feel like I have to portray that kind of image, but because I just am not inspired to write when I’m feeling like…this.

Anyway, I need to make a to-do list. Tomorrow will be a rare Sunday spent in the city, and I have to get a few things done. Have to, have to, have to. I know I’ll feel so much better afterward, especially when I’m back at work on Monday morning and wondering why I wasted another weekend.

Clean everything in the apartment really well Done!
• Plan out additional shelving for both closets (write down actual measurements!)
Make veggie chili and another soup to freeze Done!
Hang little shelf in the kitchen Done!
Organize spices and oils Done!
Figure out where to hang the giant ampersand Done! (Technically—I know where I want to hang it, but I didn’t actually put it on the wall yet.)
• Wash makeup brushes, organize cosmetics
Manicure & pedicure Done!
Trim bangs Done!

Evan is going to Big Apple Comic Con tomorrow afternoon, so Fritz and Bruno and I are going to walk up to Fort Tryon Park with my friends John and Tommy (and their exceptionally long-tongued pug, Mamma Biscuit) to attend the Medieval Festival.

Who knows, maybe I’ll learn how to joust.

A couple of people asked about the blanket in my last post, so I thought I’d show a little more of the bed. This is the same blanket, only flipped over. It’s the VILMIE throw from IKEA, and it’s reversible! The material is a soft, wool blend, and for 20 clams, tough to beat in the value department.

The coffee sack cross pillow comes from Brin & Nohl, and the vase was a Goodwill find.

Now, you may be wondering what happened to the tassels on the blanket. In a word: Fritz. Though fully-reformed in the sofa-chewing department, Fritz seems to have developed an obsession with tassels. I took this photo the morning after a particularly industrious night’s work on his part—nine tassels, all neatly nibbled off and tossed on the floor. He’s on a mission. There are only three tassels left on the blanket at this point, and frankly, I wish him the best of luck in fulfilling his goals.