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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.

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Photo by Chris Tubbs

Late last year, I read in a Times magazine article (subscription only, sorry) that Irish designer Orla Kiely and her family had moved to a new home in southwestern London. Having been an admirer of her patterns, textiles and housewares forever as well as being more than bit obsessive about the inside of her former house — particularly once I realized it had roughly the same floorplan as mine — I’ve been very eager to see more of this new home! I’m really, really excited to see it featured in the September issue of Dwell.

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Photo by Chris Tubbs

Unsurprisingly, it’s gorgeous. I love spotting things that I recognize from Orla’s old house, like the light fixture, the print above the fireplace and the TV cabinet. I’ve always been impressed by the fact that she surrounds herself with her own work, too — she comments on that in Dwell: “Sometimes you have people who say, ‘I don’t want to live in my work,’ but, in the end, I love what I do and how it looks — so I’m happy to have it.”

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Photo by Chris Tubbs

THIS KITCHEN!! So cute. So bright! That center unit (designed by Orla and architect Maxim Laroussi) is so beautiful, with the colorful doors and the banded-edge cabinets. It reminds me of this Eichler kitchen, only fresher and happier. The green Marmoleum floor is particularly great.

You can see the full slideshow and read more about the house in Dwell. There’s also a great article and slideshow (with different photos showing more of the house, also by Chris Tubbs) online at The London Magazine.

And now, one last farewell to Orla Kiely’s old house, which I will always adore…especially those multi-colored tiles in the hearth. I hope the new homeowners love them as well!

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Photos: (1, 2, 6) Chris Tubbs; (3, 4, 5) House and Home; (7) Roland Bello

A lot of teenagers go through a phase where they think skulls are really cool. This is because skulls are really cool. I never exited that phase. Skulls are possibly the most clichéd representation of badassery ever, and the fact that schmancy designers like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood have brought skulls into the world of luxury goods — and endless knockoffs of those luxury goods — has made them pretty inescapable. They still look cool to me, though, and I keep on buying skull stuff and feeling happy that I don’t have to wait until Halloween rolls around to do it. (This is also how I feel about black nail polish.)

Here’s my skull wishlist…

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1. Ceramic skull planter, Mudpuppy
2. Skull blanket, 360 Sweater
3. Cartolina skull temporary tattoo, Fiona Richards for Tattly
4. Skull pendant light, RawDezign (also in black)
5. Crocheted skull, Crochet Bloke (pattern available in his book)
6. Skull art print, Dawn Kelley
7. Black enamel skull ring, Alexander McQueen
8. Skull sweater, Zoe Karssen

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1. Black metallic stoneware skull, Mudpuppy
2. Skull tiles, Josep Motas for Bussoga (see below)
3. Dia de DUMBO wallpaper, Flavor Paper
4. Twin skull ring, Alexander McQueen
5. Tiny crocheted skulls, Dewey Decimal Crafts
6. Skull scarf, Alexander McQueen

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Photo from Heathrow Speaking After Dark

I had to include another photos of Josep Motas’ incredible skull tiles in use. Isn’t is neat how they seem to turn into a more traditional Mediterranean tile when they’re all together like that? D16 reader Raquel emailed me about them months ago thinking I’d like them, and I haven’t been able to get them out of my head since. I’ve tried to find a US distributor of these tiles because I would love to be able to use them in a house project, but so far I’ve come up empty-handed, even after attempting to contact Bussoga. I did find an interview with Motas, the author of which noted the same thing I did about the floral appearance of the skulls when they’re on the wall. I love this part of the description from the product page: “The top goal of this design would be for someone to like the tiles when put together, who retiles their bathroom and then one day discovers that they have to rip off all the tiles while sitting on the toilet.” Hello, THAT’S ME!!

And finally, some of my Skullstagrams…

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1. Wheatpaste on Pacific Street, Brooklyn (artist unknown)
2. My skull rings! The black & gold ones are from UO, and the plastic is from the doomed NoHo Market
3. A plaster skull at Modern Anthology
4. My office skull-buddies — matte black on the left, glitter with light-up eyes on the right
5. Mini skull candles from the Halloween clearance aisle at Target
6. My skully hand at Lisa & Clay’s wedding (the thin gold rings are from ASOS)
7. A blue jay skull I found in my garden
8. A giant skull candle from West Elm’s Halloween clearance table
9. Me feeding a delicious vegan donut from the Cinnamon Snail to one of my pet office skulls

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Two movie posts in a row?! I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before. It’s Saturday morning and I can’t stop thinking about the movie I saw last night, Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen makes a lot of movies — this is his 41st as writer/director. I go to see them all because I believe they’re all worth seeing at least once. If I don’t think one of them is great, I probably won’t see it again and I’ll just forget about it. The ones that are great, though, I will watch over and over and over again, year after year. It doesn’t bother me that Woody Allen’s movies are “uneven” in terms of their success, and if you’ve seen the excellent American Masters documentary about him, you know that doesn’t bother Woody, either. He’s already on to the next project by then, anyway. (If you’re a Woody fan, you need to see that documentary. PBS has it online.)

The laziest reviews of Woody Allen’s movies usually contain a sentence that starts out with, “In what may perhaps be Allen’s best film since _________,” but I think it’s a mistake to review one of his movies by comparing it to another. It’s not possible to rank his movies in that way. How can you quantify the greatness of movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors (I could continue, but I’ll stop there)? He’s doing very different things in each of those movies. He didn’t set out to accomplish the same thing in each one, and forcing them to compete with each other is pointless.

But anyway, back to Blue Jasmine. In what may perhaps be Allen’s best film since…just kidding. I’m a lazy reviewer, but at least I know I’m lazy. Here’s a quick punch-list of general notes:

▶ It’s set primarily in San Francisco, with flashbacks that take place in New York City.
▶ CATE BLANCHETT. She plays what must have been a very, very difficult role, and she is phenomenal in it. I cannot stop thinking about her performance.
▶ Who else writes roles like this for women? (There was a great article in the Times last week about Woody Allen’s female protagonists. All hail Diane Keaton for showing Woody the way.)
▶ Andrew Dice Clay? Seriously? Yeah, and he was great, proving once again that Woody gets the best performances out of every actor he works with.
▶ There’s a creepy dentist in the movie named Dr. Flicker, a nod to the smoking pediatrician in Annie Hall. I had a deep Woody-nerd moment in the theater last night over that one.
▶ I love Bobby Cannavale. (Third Watch fans unite.)
▶ Yes, this really is the best movie Woody Allen has made in a long time.

Here’s the plot synopsis: “After everything in her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves into her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco to try to pull herself back together again.” I have to laugh at the word “modest” describing Ginger’s apartment because I know San Francisco ain’t cheap, but it’s functioning as a stand-in for Brooklyn, where Jasmine had previously stooped to living (that got a big laugh in the theater!) after losing her Manhattan life of luxury and excess. The point is that Jasmine used to be very, very, very wealthy, and Ginger is an average woman leading an average life. There are allusions to A Streetcar Named Desire, yes, but it’s not a retelling of that story — nor is it Ruth Madoff’s story, those are just the references you have going into the theater. By the time you’re done with it, though, all of that seems incidental. This is Jasmine’s story, or at least part of it, and it doesn’t have an end. I left the theater feeling pretty raw. I also felt like I wanted to go back to my seat and watch the late showing, too. You’re seeing everything through Jasmine’s hyper-judgmental, snobbish eyes while also watching her have a true mental breakdown, and the effect is incredibly disturbing. Woody Allen is of course the master of introducing just enough lightness and comedic into very dark, emotionally heavy moments, and he does it perfectly in this movie. In that way (and only in that way) I was reminded of Hannah and Her Sisters — another “serious” Woody movie with a lot of hilarious moments.

GO SEE IT!! If you’re in Brooklyn, it’s showing at the BAM Harvey Theater on the enormous new Steinberg screen. I saw The Godfather there last week, too, and it’s a pretty majestic space. I love seeing movies in theaters that feel special.

My first apartment — rented when I moved off-campus after my sophomore year of college — was not in New York City. It was in Yonkers, a city often (wrongly) assumed to be part of NYC, probably because of Neil Simon. It is true that if I walked out of my apartment on McLean Avenue and crossed the street, I’d officially be in the Bronx, but my heart knew I was technically in Westchester County. It wasn’t until I finished school a couple of years later that I finally got myself to Brooklyn. My dad, who lived on the Upper East Side and on Staten Island when I was a kid, had moved back to Manhattan by then. Aside from Coney Island, Brooklyn was still mostly uncharted territory for me. A couple of my brothers were living in Cobble Hill, and I’d visited each of their apartments exactly once before deciding I wanted to live in the same neighborhood. If I’m being honest, there was one particular thing about the house on Henry Street I wound up moving into that really got me excited: It was a block and a half away from Cammareri Bros., the bakery for which Nicolas Cage and Danny Aiello’s characters in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck (Ronny and Johnny Cammareri, of course) are named and in the basement oven-room of which Cher first meets her “wolf without a foot.”

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(“Now” photo via Google Earth)

Yes, Cammareri Bros. was a real bakery! It closed down soon after I moved to the neighborhood and later reopened in a different location, and the space (along with its next door neighbor, formerly the Little Chatter Box Beauty Salon) has since been occupied by a series of cafés, currently Maybelle’s, who, it’s worth mentioning, make a mean tofu scramble and an even meaner iced coffee. Both the interior and exterior are still pretty much the same as in the Cammareri days, and a portion of the old bakery sign is displayed inside. If you go, make sure you look at the floor when you first walk in — an inlay of the letters “NC” (for Nicolo Cammareri, who opened the bakery in 1921) remain in the old terrazzo floor.

EDIT: While checking on the spelling of his name, I came across Nicolo Cammareri’s 1940 US Census record. Pretty neat, right? 206 Sackett is the address of the side entrance, which leads to the apartments above. Also interesting that he had a daughter named Grace — there was an elderly Italian woman on my block named Grace. She used to sign for packages for me when I was at work, and she had a Frank Sinatra shrine in her apartment. She passed away around 2000. If she was born in 1915 like the census record indicates, that would have put her in her mid-80s when I lived there. I wonder if she was Nicolo Cammareri’s daughter! Further investigation needed…

The first time I saw Moonstruck was 25 years ago, with my mother, in a movie theater in Kingston. I was 12 years old. I remember loving it, naturally, but I mostly remember the specifics of the night because my mother’s car got a flat tire when we were driving back to Rhinebeck after the movie. Another thing that sticks in my mind from that first viewing is the breakfast Olympia Dukakis prepared:

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I had never seen anything like that before, but it looked so delicious. I asked my mother to recreate the dish at home, and up until I stopped eating eggs a few years ago, it remained a breakfast favorite for me. For all these years I’d assumed it was an Italian dish, but Googling tells me it’s usually either called “eggs in a hole” or “eggs in a basket,” and everyone everywhere knows what it is — except for Swedes and Jews, apparently, because I’m quite sure it would never have been a part of my life without that scene in Moonstruck. (As an aside, I see that V.K.Rees has come up with a recipe for vegan-friendly eggless eggs in a basket, which I will definitely have to try out ASAP.)

In the years since that first viewing, I’d guess I’ve seen Moonstruck at least 30 times in part or full. Beyond its Brooklyn-ness, it’s just a fantastic movie. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that, though, because pretty much every human alive has seen it. (And if for some crazy reason you haven’t, it’s on HBO GO right now. You can also rent it from Amazon Instant. It’s not on Netflix, of course, because nothing you want to watch is ever on Netflix.) Aside from Cher’s old face and Nicolas Cage’s old hairline, I’ve always had this fixation with the kitchen in the Castorini family house — which, if you ever want to take a Moonstruck walking tour, is located at 19 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights, about a mile from formerly-Cammareri’s. For years I’ve carried around a mental picture of its soft green hues, vintage subway tiles and the overall feeling of a family gathering place. Today I decided to watch the movie again specifically for the kitchen, and to finally take some screen captures.

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Two things I noticed for the first time when I was taking the screen captures were the painted-over cabinet hardware and the laminate countertops, neither of which are hallmarks of gorgeous vintage kitchens, but are indicative of the fact that this movie was filmed in an actual family home, and not on a set built for a movie. The same goes for that flocked vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen table. I guess I just overlooked that stuff the first 29 times I watched the movie! Regardless, the kitchen is beautiful, and it’s full of life. And that tile!! Ahhh, the tile. It doesn’t come through in the captures, but it’s covered with cracks and crazing. 19 Cranberry was built in 1829 so it’s not original to the house (tiled kitchens didn’t become standard until the Victorian era), but it’s clearly very old. The house sold in 2008 for nearly $4 million, and thankfully the listing photos don’t show the kitchen — I don’t think I could bear to find out if it had been gutted.

(Or you know, to discover the whole thing was actually shot on a soundstage in Toronto. Shhhhhh.)

Meanwhile, back at Cammareri Bros.…

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In the movie, Ronny’s apartment is above the bakery. The entrance was on the Sackett Street side of the building, to the right of the stairs that led to the basement ovens. I’m almost positive that’s where the apartment interior was actually filmed. I have a distant memory of a friend who used to live in the neighborhood telling me so. Judging by the position of the windows and the color of the façades visible across the street, I’m guessing it’s on the second floor of the building, with the living room facing Henry Street. In any case, this is pretty much exactly what a classic pre-war Brooklyn apartment has always looked like in my mind. Ironically, the closest I’ve ever come to finding a rental apartment in this kind of vintage condition was my first place in Yonkers! I love the beadboard, the pressed-tin in the kitchen and the moldings on the walls. And that old refrigerator with its non-safety handle, just waiting to trap small children inside when it gets put out for trash…sigh. Also, I don’t know if this is intentional, but I love that the color of the Vespa (used for storing books!) is the same as the cabinets in the Castorini kitchen.

I wonder who lives in this apartment now, and if it still looks like this. I hope so. Yesterday I stood outside the entrance for a little while, waiting to see if anyone would come out. Not that I would’ve said anything to them, but you know…just to see. Now that I live in the neighborhood again, I can do all the Moonstruck-stalking I want.

If you’re alive and in New York City right now, then you know we are in the midst of a rather grueling heatwave. If you’re alive and you follow any New Yorkers on Twitter or Facebook, then you also know about the heatwave, because complaining about the weather to anyone who will listen is really what we do best. Temperatures have been hovering around 100°F for the past couple of weeks, and it’s just insanely humid. We walk a lot (and fast) here in NYC — most of us don’t get around in cars, so we’re walking several miles a day on the hot pavement, plus up and down the stairs into subway stations (which are not air conditioned, by the way). AND IT’S ALL UPHILL, BOO HOO. I know, I know, I’ll give it a rest, but seriously, we’re melting here right now. For those of us who wear black on the outside ‘cos black is how we feel on the inside, these are trying times. To take my mind off the fact that my hair is plastered to my head with sweat, I put together a couple of outfits that resemble what I’ve been wearing during the heatwave.

“The color for today is BLACK. That’s right, black! So you can absorb some of these rays and save that heat for winter. So you want to get on out there, wear that black and be involved!” That’s the truth, Ruth.

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1. Boycott shirt, Kowtow
2. Mosaic scarf in marigold + black, Blockshop Textiles
3. Chock A Block necklace in black/brass, Maslo Jewelry
4. Licorice nail polish, Essie
5. Lace-up espadrille wedges, Gap
6. Sexy Skinny Jeans in dark indigo, ASOS (also in plus size!)
7. Paperback bag in black waxed canvas, Moop

I know it might seem silly to include a scarf, but it’s something I always keep in my bag, even on the hottest days. You just never know when you’re going to wind up in a store or office or apartment with the AC on full-blast, and you can go from sweltering to shivering in minutes. I do realize that skinny jeans probably also seem insane in hot weather, but that’s just how I roll. I at least make sure I’m wearing sandals with them to let some of the steam out! By the way, those espadrille wedges look amazing on, but I can’t walk five miles in them. One mile, sure. Then my feet hurt. They’re great for days when you don’t have to walk a million blocks, though!!

These ASOS jeans are great for my fellow high-hip-to-waist-ratio girls. Since I’ve been losing some weight I’ve needed to buy a couple of inexpensive pairs of “transition size” jeans, and I love the deep, even color of these and the way they fit. Very comfortable! (They come in plus size, too.)

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1. Short sleeve black dress, Target
2. Super Duper Strength sunglasses, Karen Walker
3. Herringbone scarf in papaya, Blockshop Textiles
4. Tempus necklace, Stone & Honey
5. Geranium nail polish, Essie
6. Endless Bummer tote bag, Fieldguided
7. Leslie Zip Booties, Frye

YES, I have been wearing dresses! Well, one dress. I bought this guy on impulse for $25 at Target last month, and I’ve actually worn it a bunch of times since then. I wish it wasn’t polyester, but it gets the job done. The fit/length of the sleeves is flattering, and who doesn’t love an elastic waist? I have to admit it is nice to have bare legs in summer, but I’ll only do it if I’m wearing boots. I wrote about my intense love for these side-zip Frye booties back in December, and my feelings remain just as strong. They go with EVERYTHING. True four-season footwear. I even wore them to a wedding. They are so beautifully-made, too, and incredibly comfortable. I can walk in them for hours on end. I think they might be the smartest shoe purchase I’ve ever made.

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I’ve been following Barb Blair and her South Carolina furniture rehab shop, Knack Studios, online forever — first on Flickr (Remember when everyone hung out on Flickr? Poor Flickr…), and then on her blog and Instagram. A couple of years ago Barb and I met in person, and she was everything I imagined — warm, funny and smart. I’m a huge fan of Barb the person and of Barb’s work, so when Chronicle Books asked if I’d like to review her new book, Furniture Makeovers, as part of a blog tour, I said YES. Of course!

Barb’s motto is “live with what you love,” a belief I feel very personally aligned with. In an era of publicly sharing the contents of our personal spaces, there’s a tendency to make decisions about what we surround ourselves with based on an expectation of how our living spaces will be perceived by others, often complete strangers. It’s pretty much impossible to paint a piece of wood furniture (or wood trim, or wood floors, or wood teeth) without a hundred people saying you’ve “ruined” it — there’s a preciousness associated with unpainted wood that, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. As the owner of a formerly-dilapidated historic home that I’ve been un-dilapidating for the better part of a decade, I think I have a good sense of how to exist as a modernist in an old home: Modernism at its core is about respecting and learning from the past while making improvements and alterations to better accommodate living in the present (and future). Sometimes, that means taking a step into past traditions — what initially drew me to Barb’s work was how reminiscent it is of 18th-century Gustavian-style Swedish furniture with its soft-looking painted finishes.

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All photos by J. Aaron Greene

If there’s anything I can say about Barb, it’s that the woman does not take shortcuts when it comes to furniture. She doesn’t just grab a can of old wall paint and slap a couple of coats on a table. She knows how to prepare surfaces properly, and what materials to use to obtain finishes that look like they belong to the piece — and that’s really the key to a successful makeover. You want to see the sum of the parts in the end, not evidence of the process. The great thing about Furniture Makeovers is that you not only get before-and-after shots of a bunch of Barb’s pieces, you also get very detailed information about the tools and materials she uses and recommends — as well as exhaustive descriptions and photos demonstrating how to properly use those tools and materials. From strippers to chalk paint to spray paint to Danish oil to finishing wax, Barb covers just about everything, and in a friendly, you-can-actually-do-this way. This is a real how-to book, not just a trove of inspirational photos.

Here’s a great video (shot by Carlon Riffel) that takes you through a tour of the Knack shop, the contents of the book and, most fun of all, a time-lapse of Barb doing her magic on a dresser from start to finish:

Yup, now I feel like overhauling a piece of old furniture! In fact, I’m now determined to apply Barb’s techniques (in my own Anna-style, of course) to an antique dresser that’s been sitting, empty and without purpose, in a corner of my bedroom for…oh, six years now. I bought it at a flea market for about $15, and it’s a mess. The original hardware is missing, the wood veneer is peeling, it has water stains all over the top and the shellac finish is badly blistered. I love it, though, and it meets all of Barb’s criteria for a makeover-ready piece: It has personality, it’s solid wood with a wood veneer and it’s structurally sound and functional. I am READY. As soon as it’s not 100°F out (this heatwave is killing my productivity), Operation Dresser Makeover will be in full effect.

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But WAIT, there’s MORE! Would you like your very own copy of Barb Blair’s Furniture Makeovers? Well, it’s your lucky day — I have a signed copy to give away, and it comes with one of Barb’s “live with what you love” Knack tote bags! Nice, yes? If you’d like to enter to win, just leave a comment on this post letting me know about a furniture makeover you’d like to embark on, whether it’s a piece you already own, or something you’re on the lookout for. In a week, I’ll draw a winner at random.

UPDATE: The winner of the Furniture Makeovers giveaway is Alicia! Congratulations, Alicia.

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(Thanks so much to Barb and to Chronicle Books for making this giveaway possible! I wish you much success with this book.)

Side note: Aside from the review copy I was sent of the book, I was not compensated in any way to write this post. Normally I wouldn’t even bother saying that because I have a 100% transparency policy about that kind of stuff, but someone asked, so there you go. This is just a post about a book I love and wholeheartedly recommend.