Benjamin Moore Deep Space

It’s been just over a week since we moved into the new apartment, and I can tell you two things with certainty: We’re going to be holding onto this place for a good, long time, and we’re also going to be working on fixing it up for a good, long time. Both of these things make me happy.

Now that all of the deep-cleaning is done, I’ve started in on painting the bedroom. I knew I wanted to use a dark charcoal gray with a little blue in it, and after spending a while looking at paint chips in natural and artificial light, I went with a color I’ve had in the back of my mind for a long while: Benjamin Moore Deep Space (matte finish). I think I first saw it in this sneak peek…or it might have been this one. I really like how soft it looks, and that it reads as a true charcoal in daylight. It’s definitely not black, but it doesn’t go green or brown or anything, either. It’s just right.

before and during

Yes, the bedroom is enormous—about 500 square feet. Seriously! It’s bigger than our last apartment was in its entirety. It’s stupidly large, and it’s kind of a weird space. I dig it. The apartment is a converted attic, and that jog in the front wall is where the original building façade ends. The clerestory windows are part of the vertical extension of the attic, and are not original to the building. (Does that make sense?) Also: SKYLIGHT. Yes. Love.

One of the biggest challenges I’m up against is an enormous amount of wood. Shiny, orange-toned, unpainted, stained and varnished WOOD. Wood floors (no complaints there), wood baseboard moldings, wood windows, wood window casings, wood cabinets and lots and lots of wood doors. Sigh. At least the moldings are wide and the doors are solid.

Now, if I had my druthers, I’d be painting all of that wood (OK, maybe not the floors) white in a hot second. I don’t own this apartment, though, and as much as I believe in doing what you need to do to make a rental your home, I also believe in respecting other people’s property. There’s a fine line between improvement and destruction depending on your point of view. I’ve rented a lot of apartments over the years, and I take pride in the fact that I’ve left every one of them in better condition than I found it in—by anyone’s standards. No landlord in his or her right mind is going to complain about me stripping the paint off of old door hardware, tiling a backsplash or recaulking a bathtub, but painting unpainted woodwork is another story.

In other words, once we’ve been living here for a while, I’ll ask the landlord if he minds if I paint the woodwork. Haha. In the mean time, this deep charcoal paint really does a good job of taking the edge off of all that wood by making it way less high-contrast.

painted bedroom walls

Pretty nice, yeah? Scroll up to that before picture again to compare. It’s like night and day! Har, har. Jokes aside, the dark paint makes a HUGE difference. I really couldn’t be happier. Isn’t it amazing what a $50 can of paint can do? I wasn’t sure how much of the room I wanted to make dark, so I just took it one wall at a time. Once the window wall was done, I realized I had to paint the side walls in order to de-emphasize the jog, so I kept going right up to the side of the chimney. I’m 95% sure I’m stopping there.

I still need to paint the remaining white walls and the ceiling in my favorite white (Benjamin Moore Moonlight White), so please ignore the harsh white semigloss that’s there now! It’s awful.

Speaking of awful, ASKJALKSJFLKSDJFLKS LIGHT FIXTURE NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. It’s bad. So bad. I know. Trust me, once it comes down it’ll go in a bag in the closet and stay there, untouched, until the day I leave. Let’s never talk about it again, OK?

Yes, we need a dresser and we need to put things away and that desk looks too tiny and we’re going to put a sofa in there and NO I am NOT planning to leave all of my tchotchkes on the window ledge like an old lady.

wood overload

In case you thought I was kidding about the wood overload, take a look at this! Oh boy. I mean, the upside is that we have 20′ of closet space along that wall (!!!), so that’s great, but wow. That is a lot of shiny, orange wood. New, non-brass doorknobs will help, as will going over the damaged areas of the wood with Restor-A-Finish. And averting my eyes.

Pia Wallen gray cross

If there’s anything I don’t need, it’s more blankets. I don’t know what it is about candle holders, pillows and blankets, but I’ve somehow wound up with way more of all three than someone who rarely takes time to even relax in the first place, much less while wrapped up in a blanket by candlelight. That said, I may have to make the time, because my favorite blanket in the world is now available in gray (or grey, if you prefer) exclusively at Pia Wallén’s online shop. So pretty!

Photo via Pia Wallén’s Instagram

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Sorry to leave you with those yelling goats for so long! Friday was our big Brooklyn moving day. We said goodbye to DUMBO and hello (again) to Cobble Hill. The two neighborhoods are only a mile apart, but they have very different personalities. Even though we moved out of our first Cobble Hill apartment ten years ago, it still feels like home to both of us. So good to be back! The photo above is the view from our new kitchen. The sunrises are beautiful.

We won’t have internet access in the new place until Thursday (seems so ridiculous that in 2013 they still have to make an appointment to bring you a modem in person and “install” it for you!), so I’ve been using my time to clean, unpack, clean and clean some more. I’ve moved many times in my adult life, and I never feel comfortable in a new place until I’ve scrubbed every surface. This apartment is pretty huge, so it’s taking a while!

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The dogs are in HEAVEN. The new kitchen gets a ton of sunlight, so they basically spend their entire days now sleeping and moving slowly across the floor like hot dogs on a roller. It’s also very quiet in the new place, so their naps aren’t interrupted by barking patrol duties.

Isn’t that radiator crazy? There are two of them, and I’m told they’re some kind of old industrial model that’s supposed to be behind a wall. Whatever the story is, they’re very weird and a little scary looking and I love them.

Lots of photos to come once I have steady internet access!!

I’m sorry, I know this is kind of a pointless post, but it’s 1AM and I’m awake because I cough every time I lie down and I can’t help myself. Jen just sent me this video, and it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages. Yes, you need to watch it with the sound on.

I already thought Fritz might be at least 1/2 goat, but now I’m thinking he’s about 85% goat, 15% Martian. That whole “Chihuahua” thing is just a cover.

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It doesn’t snow much in the lower half of New York state anymore, so every time we do get an actual snowstorm here with a decent amount of accumulation it’s a cause for excitement! We got about a foot over the weekend, and it was beautiful in Brooklyn. Despite my never-ending bronchial unhappiness, I forced myself outside for a bit. To the dogs’ disappointment, I forced them to come along, too. Every year I somehow convince myself that Fritz and Bruno are real dogs and that they want to play in the snow just like all of the other happy dogs I see frolicking around in the stuff and having a blast.

Well, Fritz and Bruno are not real dogs, and they do not want to play in the snow. They don’t even want to walk on a wet sidewalk. After about 2 minutes, they were both wet and dirty and crying and shaking. Sigh. So, back inside…where they were both immediately subjected to baths, another thing they both hate. They spent the next 24 hours sleeping off the trauma, which is a whole hour longer than they usually sleep each day.

Meanwhile, Evan and I are packing up our apartment and getting ready to move to the new place on Friday! Evan found this company called Jugglebox that rents out reusable, stackable moving boxes. They delivered them (disinfected!) to our current apartment, and they’ll come pick them up from the new place in two weeks. Very cool. Quite a step up from our last move, which we (very stupidly) did entirely with IKEA bags and at the expense of Daniel’s youthful energy. Never again.

WE ARE SO EXCITED TO MOVE. Really. It’s going to be so good. I can’t wait to get in there and take pictures—it’s such a cool space with so much potential. In the mean time, I’ll be taking a million photos from the rooftop view we’re giving up!

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After our yellow stools arrived, Evan and I moved our kitchen island—the GROLAND from IKEA, which we’ve had pushed up against a side wall in the kitchen for the past 7 years—to the center of the room, which is where we’ve been planning to put it if/when we eventually buy the world’s cutest refrigerator. As soon as we moved it into place, though, we know it wasn’t right. It looked so tiny! Our kitchen is a very decent size for an old house (about 12×12′), but between the three doorways, two huge windows and the hearth, there’s not a lot of usable wall space. The center of the room is very important, but because the ceiling is so high (11′), anything we put there tends to look a little anemic. The yellow stools looked weirdly giant next to the GROLAND. It was just wrong.

So, we slid the island back against the side wall (which I guess makes it technically not an island but more of a peninsula) and decided we’d have to keep our eyes open for the right thing.

Lately we haven’t been doing a whole lot of thrifting and scavenging like we used to, but this past weekend I started feeling lucky and the bug hit me again in a BIG way. We spent all of Saturday driving around the Hudson Valley hitting up salvage/antique/junk shops in secret locations, but everything was either closed or devoid of anything we were interested in. Later in the afternoon, resigned to just having lunch and heading home again, we happened to wander into a mysterious-looking store we’d never noticed before with nothing on the sign out front but an engraving of an eyeball: Alms & Terra.

We weren’t even really looking for a kitchen island at that point, but there it was: A beautiful old work table that had probably spent the past 70 years in someone’s basement workshop, all beat-up wood and steel legs. Perfect. We checked the measurements to make sure it would be big enough (again, perfect), and made up our minds to bring it home with us after about 15 seconds of deliberation.

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Now, I know there’s bound to be one person who’s going to see these photos and start crying about how the table was better before I fixed it up, but I’m here to tell that person: No. You’re wrong. Look, there’s patina and then there’s “patina.” The former is the loveliness that age imparts on something over the course of time and use, and the latter is a euphemism for “grungy and greasy and paint-spattered and about to fill your hands with splinters.” This table, while certainly very lovely, was closer to having a “patina” than having a patina. It needed work. Not much, but some.

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I love the legs. They’re painted a battleship gray color that I’m OK with, but they’re pretty rusty—past the point of what can be cleaned up with steel wool. Since this is going in a kitchen, I think it’s best to give the legs a nice finish. It’s too cold outside to do much about it now, but when it warms up in springtime I’ll give them a good scrubbing, a rust-proofing treatment and a couple of coats of matte black Rust-Oleum. They’ll look great.

I’m also going to take that 2×4 off the bottom and make a deeper, functional shelf to put in its place. It’ll be a good spot to have some baskets for storing placemats and candles and stuff like that.

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Dust mask, random orbit sander, sandpaper. I know renting tools is a great option for people who just work on occasional home projects, but when you own an old house that you’re going to be working on for at least a decade or two, buying the things you’ll be using all the time makes much more sense. We’ve had a Bosch random orbit sander (they don’t make the exact model we have anymore, but this one is very similar) for about five years, and I use it constantly. Random orbit sanders spin while moving elliptically, so you don’t get swirl marks etched in your wood. You also don’t have to worry about sanding against the grain. You can’t do super-detailed work (I use my Mouse sander for that), but for big blocks of wood like tabletops, doors and floorboards, they’re great.

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I started off doing a first pass with 80-grit sandpaper (the lower the number, the coarser the grit), then followed with two passes at 120-grit, and a finished with at least four passes at 220-grit (very fine). I just kept going until the surface of the table felt velvety-smooth. I had to spent some extra time on the areas with a lot of grease staining, but in all the entire sanding process took less than 30 minutes.*

*Excluding cleanup time, of course, which added on another two hours. If you’ve ever power-sanded anything indoors before, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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Pretty nice, yeah? The deeper stains (burns, etc.) didn’t come out, but that’s OK. All of the paint smears, grease stains and other unpleasantries took a hike, and that’s the stuff I don’t want in my kitchen. I’m no expert when it comes to identifying wood types, but based on the hardness of the wood and its smoothness post-sanding, I’m pretty certain this is maple.

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I’m not really planning to use this work table as a cutting surface because there are so many crevices that would be a huge pain to keep clean, and I have enough cutting boards and other areas of the kitchen to work directly on already. Even so, I wanted to finish the table with something food-safe. There are at least a dozen schools of thought on how best to finish wood surfaces in kitchens, and aside from the two most basic rules—don’t use anything that’s toxic to consume, and don’t use any food oils that can turn rancid—they’re all correct. For a long time I regularly treated all of my wood cutting boards, spoons, counters and salad bowls with John Boos Mystery Oil, until I realized I was paying $10+ for a small bottle of what was basically just mineral oil with some linseed and orange oils added in. I have way too much wood stuff for that to be cost-effective. SKYDD oil from IKEA is half the price—it’s just pure, food grade white mineral oil. I’ve been using it for years now, and it’s great, cheap stuff.

When I have a really thirsty/dry piece of wood, especially something that’s just been sanded, I like to “bathe” it in oil until it can’t absorb any more. I used about 10oz of mineral oil on this table initially, and I’ll repeat the application weekly for the next month or so. I just pour it on, use an old t-shirt to spread it around, and leave it alone for a few hours or overnight. Any excess is easy to just wipe off, and the finish isn’t greasy or anything like that. I’ve never felt the need to wax my kitchen wood, but some people like to—it’s all just personal preference. I like mineral oil because it’s cheap, easy and it keeps the wood protected from water/dryness and looking good. It’s also non-combustible and odorless, which is nice.

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Oh, yeahhhhhh. Immediately post-oiling (top), and about two hours later. See how nice and matte the finish looks once the oil sinks in? I can’t stop touching the table. I love it so so so so so so so much. SO MUCH. This is exactly what I had envisioned having as a kitchen island. It’s going to be so great having that much prep area when I’m cooking, not to mention having a spot to sit for breakfast and coffee in the mornings. And now when we have guests over for dinner they’ll have to place to put their wine down and eat snacks while they’re hovering over my cooking!

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I’m very happy with how the kitchen is coming along. Now that everything is painted, wallpapering the side wall (opposite the stove) is next. In the spring the radiators will be removed and sandblasted, powder coated and re-plumbed, and I’ll finally be able to finish the tiling while they’re out. We’re also going to have to think about replacing the floor at the same time for a couple of reasons—but I’ll save that for another post. (Spoiler alert: It involves a secretly-leaking refrigerator…and insects. Sadface.) Our shelving will be delivered any day now, so I’ll finally be able to put the dishes away and put out food in the pantry…exciting stuff. Moving right along!!

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Bonus shot! Since my hands were already covered with oil, I decided to give every piece of wood in my kitchen a deep oiling. So satisfying.

birch logs

birch logs

Okay, so maybe putting decorative logs in a non-wood-burning fireplace doesn’t make sense. Yes, I know it’s silly. But I don’t care. Look how cute! Birch logs! Bundled! With rope handles! Stacked!

I’ve thought about doing this for years, but I’ve never gotten around to actually buying nice-looking/pest-free logs. A few weeks ago, though, my friend Ilenia ordered a few sets from Terrain for a photo shoot and wound up not using them, so I offered to buy them from her.

A few people have asked lately about why I can’t burn fires in my fireplaces, and the reason is that they’re not actually fireplaces at all. Three of the four of them (like the one in the bedroom) are decorative surrounds for the original heat registers. As far as we can tell, our house was built without indoor plumbing, so our steam radiators weren’t installed until sometime later—we have no idea exactly when, but I’d guess within a few years. Until the radiators came along, heat was generated by a furnace (furnaces?) in the basement that vented through three separate chimneys. That heat entered the dining room and bedrooms upstairs through registers. So yes, those fancy “fireplaces” are just decoration around old-school forced air heating grates. Oh, those Victorians. What will they think of next?

Now, the enormous white marble fireplace in the living room is a different story. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see a little pipe to the right of the logs. That’s a decommissioned gas line. Once upon a time, there was a gas fireplace there. I’m assuming it was probably a contained stove type of thing because of the condition of the tiles and the lack of any type of grating or cover. In theory we probably could connect a gas fireplace again, but that would necessitate opening up the now-capped chimney and installing a liner and also possibly not meeting current codes…so it’s probably for the best to just have some cute decorative logs in there and not worry about it.

Side note: The bedrooms upstairs all have pipe fittings on the walls for gas lamps, so not only was our house built without indoor plumbing, it was built without electricity.

Side-side note: Newburgh was the first city in the United States to be electrified. It’s home to the very first Edison power plant, built in 1884 under the supervision of Thomas Edison himself. Our house was built in 1891, but maybe they hadn’t run the lines through the entire city yet—who knows.

Neither one of these side notes have anything to do with the birch logs in my (non-)fireplace, really, I just find it interesting that my house was built right on the cusp of two major conveniences—indoor plumbing and electricity—becoming commonplace in American homes. I wonder if the original owner was annoyed by having to do so much retrofitting and renovating so soon after buying a brand-new house. I’m just glad nobody ever ripped out any of the fireplaces, even though they’ve just been for show for at least 100 years.

birch logs

Winsome Brave Equilateral Nails

I’ve been meaning to blog about these gorgeous bronze Equilateral Nails for a while now, but now that I’ve finally gone ahead and ordered a box for myself, I have to mention them! They come from Winsome Brave, a Brooklyn-based design studio founded by Valerie Gnaedig and Annie Lenon. And they have triangular heads (the nails, not Valerie and Annie).

Winsome Brave Equilateral Nails

It probably goes without saying that these nails aren’t the kind you’d use for building furniture, but rather to use in place of a hook or pin to hang something on the wall in an extra-fancy way. I’m not sure what I’m going to use mine for, but I’m betting it’s going to involve a black wall and some necklaces! Right now my tiny collection of jewelry is just in a bowl in my bedside table, and I avoid wearing necklaces because I don’t feel like having to deal with detangling them.

Such pretty, special little things!

sink area

I painted the kitchen this weekend, and yes, I got just as bold and crazy with my color choice as you’d expect: GRAY. Valspar’s Filtered Shade, to be specific, in a matte finish. I had almost a whole gallon of it in the basement left over from when I painted the inside of a closet four years ago, so I figured why not give it a shot? The weather was cruddy and I have a sinus infection, so doing something indoors that required very little brain activity was about as much as I could handle.

At first I painted a square on the wall and thought it was too dark, but you really can’t tell from a swatch or a chip, you know? So I just went ahead and painted everything.

sink area, Filtered Shade

long wall

It doesn’t look as dreary in person as it does in these photos, I promise (not that there’s anything wrong with dreary). There was so little daylight left and I’d left my real camera in the city by accident, so these are just bad iPhone photos.

I’m really happy with the levels of contrast between the white, gray and black. It just all feels right. Filtered Shade has a bit of blue in it that really complements the inky-blue-black hearth (Benjamin Moore’s Soot) nicely. It also picks up on the color of the stainless steel counters.

Industry West stools

My bright yellow Marais stools from Industry West arrived, too! They look super cute in the kitchen…so bright and happy. I refuse to say “pop of color,” but they really are zingy. It’s pretty cool to see my whole kitchen plan coming together a little bit at a time. I’m already at the two month mark (or the seven year mark, depending on how you count) with this kitchen renovation, so every little bit of progress feels good.

Atlantic Ave

Just about a year ago, Evan and I rented an apartment in DUMBO. It was the first time we’d lived in Brooklyn since we relocated to upstate New York nine years ago, and it felt so good to be back. I love Brooklyn. My first post-college apartment was in Cobble Hill, and South Brooklyn pretty much immediately felt like home to me. We did stints in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, too, back when there wasn’t a Fairway or an IKEA (or much of anything in the way of conveniences, really!). And then we left, and I spent a bunch of years missing Brooklyn.

So, DUMBO. When we rented our little place there last year, it was kind of an experiment. Evan works in the neighborhood, and what could be better than having a commute that amounts to little more than walking across the street? As I’ve mentioned way too many times, I was never really sold on the idea of moving into a gut-renovated, brand new apartment, and no matter what I do with the place, it just doesn’t feel like our home. Now, we are extremely fortunate to also have a wonderful old house that feels more like our home than anywhere I’ve ever lived, so I know it’s a little silly to care so much about the apartment, too, but…

OK, let’s cut to the chase: We’re moving. To Cobble Hill. Yes, right back where I lived when Evan and first met, my favorite neighborhood in Brooklyn.

We hadn’t really been planning on moving, but right after our current lease came up for renewal, my brother and his wife bought an apartment…and, as a result, decided on a date to end the lease on the Cobble Hill rental apartment they’ve been living in for years. Guess what? That date just so happened to be exactly the same as the end of our lease! I know there’s no such thing as “fate,” but that’s a pretty happy coincidence. My brother’s apartment is in a great location, it’s at least double the size of our current place (!!), the landlord is friendly and kind, and it’s a lot cheaper, too. Cheaper is good. It’s also on high enough ground that it won’t flood during the next hurricane—in fact, it’s where we evacuated to when Sandy struck.

And did I mention how much I love Cobble Hill?

The apartment itself is a 4th-floor walkup in a converted attic, so the bottom half of it (meaning from mid-wall to the floor) is original to the building (which I’d guess was probably built around 1880-1890ish), and the top half is an addition that was put on to make the ceiling higher. I’m not sure what year the addition was put on, but it’s got to be at least 30 or 40 years old. The kitchen is new-ish, the bathroom is old-ish, and absolutely nothing is my style. Hah! That’s OK, though, because all of it has potential. I like potential. I like a challenge. I have a vision. I can see right past that tan bathtub and those unpainted moldings. Just you wait. This is a place I can see Evan and I holding onto for years.

The move is probably happening in mid-February, and I’m really excited. I’ve been dreaming about paint colors and sofas (we’re finally going to have room for something bigger than a loveseat!) and light fixtures and floor tiles. It’s going to be so good!!