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Yeah, I could live there is an occasional D16 feature wherein I post pictures of homes I want to break into, kick out the inhabitants and move in. Today we’re spying on real estate firm Stadshem’s listing photos (oh, those Swedes and their awesomely stylish real estate listings…) of an already-sold apartment in Gothenburg. I spotted the apartment on Stadshem’s excellent Instagram last month and have probably looked at the photos at least once a day since thing. Pining. Longing.

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The bedroom is the least remarkable room in the apartment, I guess, but it’s perfect. That gray linen bed skirt! And the hanging bulb next to the bed, too. I like seeing how people deal with not always being able to hardwire sconces or ceiling lights. Bonus points for the above-bed skull, and extra bonus points for it being a black skull.

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OK. OK. OK. Scroll up, scroll down…KITCHEN. I could’ve just made this post about the kitchen, because I would be totally happy curling up next to those cabinets and just making a home right there. The best thing about these cabinets is that they appear to be homemade—or at least home-refaced. I’m pretty sure they’re just clad in pre-fab softwood panels, like the ones Daniel used in his office and kitchen. I think even the countertop is made out of the same material.

By the way, did you know you can stain wood with India ink? I guess that seems pretty obvious, but I never thought of it before until I saw someone stain their butcherblock countertops black. Amazing! The pulls look like they’re made out of simple strips of leather fastened with brass-head bolts. So smart.

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Forget the apartment, forget the kitchen, I just want to live in the sink so I can look at that FAUCET all day long. I have Googled and Googled, and I can’t find a raw brass faucet just like that. Plenty of things like this, but not that. I want that. If anyone has any leads, please share!

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who identified the faucet as being the EVO 184 by Tapwell! You guys are awesome.

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HEART-EYES. I’ve never really thought much of square white tiles before, but seeing them in a running-bond pattern with dark grout in this bathroom and kitchen puts them in a new light. Maybe it’s that large-scale hexagon floor, too. I dig the combo. I could most definitely live there.

All photographs via Stadshem, Gothenburg, Sweden. View more of this home (including the living and dining areas!) here.

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To the non-New Yorkers (non-Brooklynites, really) reading this, I apologize in advance. This is a location-specific lament and farewell that I don’t expect to resonate with you. I’m writing this for myself, and for my Brooklyn neighbors—past and present.

Yesterday, workers started dismantling the Kentile Floors sign that has risen eight stories above the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus for the past 65 years. The demise of the Kentile company itself in the mid-’90s is its own story, and this isn’t about that. This is about that sign.

Seventeen years ago, I graduated from art school, got a job at a publishing company, and moved to Brooklyn. It was a love affair I tried to shake, but which was eventually rekindled. I love South Brooklyn, and for all the years I’ve lived here, the F has been my subway line—first in Cobble Hill, then in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, then DUMBO…and then back to Cobble Hill. The F train, for all its problems, is great for me. It stops under my office building (literally—I don’t even have to go outside to get to my desk), and it’s a 7 minute walk from my apartment. It also makes stops in the West Village and on the Lower East Side! It’s my favorite train line.

Just past my stop in Brooklyn, the F train goes above ground as it approaches the Smith & 9th station, the highest point in the entire NYC transit system. It runs above the Gowanus Canal, and, if you stay on it long enough, you’ll eventually wind up in Coney Island. As someone with a tendency to fall asleep on any form of mass transit (except airplanes, annoyingly), being awakened by daylight suddenly flooding my subway car means one thing: I missed my stop. The upside of going a little too far is that I get to see the Kentile Floors sign, which is, if you pardon my many tangents, the subject of this post.

I’ve taken many, many photos of the Kentile sign (including the one at the top of this post) over the years, as has just about everyone else with a camera or phone who’s found themselves in its presence. As hyperbolic as this might sound, it’s a majestic sight. Brooklyn isn’t as tall as Manhattan (though it’s definitely getting taller), and when you look across the industrial landscape that is Gowanus, the Kentile sign lets you know you are in Brooklyn. You’re home! It’s a symbol of place. And yes, it’s beautiful—those huge slab serifs, that extended T, the steel support grid that looks like a line drawing against the sky…

The Kentile Floors sign is going away. The owner of the warehouse beneath the sign believes that doing the work necessary to ensure its stability isn’t worth the the cost, so he’s getting rid of it. The DOB issued a permit, and that was that. Fortunately, the owner has agreed to donate the sign to the Gowanus Alliance, who have pledged to find a new location for it. Fingers crossed that it’s visible from the F train.

There’s a been some talk out there over the past couple of weeks about how the upset over the demise of the Kentile sign is nothing more than some kind of forced, misguided nostalgia for a time when Brooklyn factories made asbestos tiles that killed people. You know what? That’s a bunch of nonsense. There is nostalgia involved, yes, but it’s not about the Kentile company or about a yearning for the past. It’s a very real sadness that an iconic part of the landscape of South Brooklyn is going away, and that our journeys home will never look the same. It’s an aesthetic sadness, too, as we say goodbye to more and more of these giant steel and neon beauties every year. It hurts… and the world becomes a little less beautiful. I love old signs, and I’ve been documenting them for a couple of decades now. They are everyday examples of how design relates to environment. Signage is an enormously important part of the industrial history of this country, yes, but also of the changing aesthetics of commercial design.

Later tonight, my friend Jill and I are heading over to the Smith & 9th station for one last Kentile hurrah. Creative agency Vanderbilt Republic is going to project video onto the sign (what remains of it, at least—could they really not have waited one more day?), making it appear to be illuminated one last time. They did the same thing in the spring, and Barry Yanowitz made this great video.

Goodbye, Kentile Floors sign. Thanks for welcoming me to Brooklyn so many times. I hope I get to see you again someday, even if I have to sleep through my stop to do it.

I know, I know. Actually, I don’t know. I don’t know how people manage to keep themselves together and get things done when they’re overwhelmed. It’s been more than a month (!!) since my last post, which is totally absurd. I don’t know what happened to the month of May. It just…disappeared. And now it’s the middle of June? 2014????? I can’t keep up.

The past month has been tough. A lot of special people in my life—friends and family—have been going through bad stuff, and I’ve been trying to cope with some ongoing health problems and trying to figure out how make things better. I wish I felt like writing when that kind of thing is going on, but it always seems totally impossible—not so much because of time, but because slowing down enough to collect my thoughts feels way too overwhelming. Everything feels too overwhelming.

One thing I noticed this past month is that I’ve really come to rely on Instagram as a visual diary and not just a collection of images. So many of the photos I take are connected to moments in ways that don’t make it into the captions—but that shot of cracked floor tile is enough for me to remember where I was and why I was doing whatever I was doing when I took the picture. I’m so glad to have that. Pre-iPhone, I never felt inclined to record memories that way. For someone who sometimes has a hard time finding the happy medium between wanting to document everything and never wanting to commit anything to paper/screen again, it’s exactly the right solution.

Anyway. I’m putting this here mostly for me, because I know when I look back on May–June 2014 sometime in the future I’m not going to want to face a void. I’ll be back with a real post tomorrow next week. Until then, thanks for indulging me.

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1. Morrissey’s US tour started. 2. Bruno!! 3. I bought a bunch of ’70s-looking plants for the apartment (still haven’t potted them, though). 4., 5., 6. I spent a lot of time in Red Hook. 7. I finished fixing a window! Still gotta blog about that. 8. Summer kinda arrived and I kinda put on summery shoes. 9. I checked out the Navy Yard/Wallabout neighborhood in Clinton Hill, and went to Brooklyn Roasting Company while I was there. 10. I first moved to Brooklyn 17 years ago, and I’m still totally in love. 11., 15. My friends Lisa and Clay came to visit, and we had a great time. 12. We went to Opus 40, one of my most favorite places in the world. 13., 14. We went to dia:Beacon, too—another of my most favorite places!

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1. I really like Red Hook. I wish I’d appreciated it more when I lived there. 2. Evan and I got dressed up for Tina’s 1992-themed prom. This is pretty much exactly what I looked like at my actual prom in 1992. It was fun to wear that much eyeliner and to bust out the rat-tail comb again. 3. My subway went out of service, so I walked home across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. 4. I went to Makeshift Society’s Brooklyn launch party, but I was so riddled with anxiety from being surrounded by strangers that I left and ate pizza alone instead. 5. The honed marble hex tiles at One Mile House are very beautiful. 6. We went to see Sean Lennon and his band, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. It was a great show! Yoko was there, too. We didn’t hang out. 7. Bruno!! 8. We went up to Kingston to visit Daniel and Max. Their house is so beautiful…even the parts they haven’t fixed up yet. 9. I’m always the first one up. Always. 10. Fritz!! 11. We went to see Peter Murphy again! Wonderful as always. If you can go, go. 12. Alas, we did not and will not go to see Morrissey this time around. I took that photo the morning the inevitable sadly happened, hoping beyond hope that I would be proven wrong. Get well, Moz. See you again when you’re ready.

Now that I’ve collected these pictures and gone through and captioned them all, I’m starting to question whether I was right when I said that Instagram serves as a visual diary. Maybe it doesn’t…at least not accurately. Where is my angst? Where are the sleepless nights and the tears and the worry? Where is the uncertainty and anger? It all gets washed away in favor of aesthetics, I guess. Maybe that’s a good thing. When I look at this list of events in my life from the past month, I feel like it’s all going to be OK.

It’s good to be back. xo

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I continued with my ambitious back-garden to-do list over the weekend. The last project I tackled was painting the vinyl basement window, and now I’ve moved on to the much more complex, fun, and slightly overwhelming task of repairing and restoring the original wood sash window above it. Window repair is something I’ve talked about before when I showed off the guest bedroom window and the work I did with the three in the living room, but this multi-part project is going to be a little bit different as it concerns the outside of the house. While all but four of our windows look pretty good from the inside at this point, NONE of the windows (or their casings) have been touched on the outside—and they’re all in pretty rough shape.

In an ideal restoration situation, a window and its components would be repaired on all sides at the same time. Because our house is in an historic district, any alterations made to the exterior of the house need to be approved in advance by the Architectural Review Commission. We couldn’t afford to take on the major exterior renovation work our house needed (like repointing the brick, repairing the cornice, and rebuilding the porch roof) when we first became homeowners, so it didn’t make sense to go through the approval process (and pay the $100 fee) just to be able to paint the windows. Also, time is always as much of an issue as money, and with only two days a week to devote to fixing stuff, we’ve tended to make the inside more of a priority than the outside.

Anyway, back to the window repair! The first thing I did was take care of the aluminum storm window. As much as I would LOVE to ditch them and bask in the beauty of exposed sash windows, the reality is that we need them. Our house has 125-year-old single-pane windows and no insulation, and we get a lot of precipitation in the Northeast. For the sake of our comfort, our wallets, and the health of our windows, we need them to be protected. I would LOVE to have custom hanging-style wood storm windows made (like the ones from SpencerWorks…so nice), but that’s beyond our tiny budget, so I gotta make the aluminum ones work for now.

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Not so pretty! The worst thing about bare aluminum storm windows is, well, the aluminum. It’s prone to pitting and oxidation, and even on its best day it looks drab. Time for paint! Assuming the aluminum doesn’t have any kind of coating on it and the finish isn’t high gloss, it’s very easy to paint. You do need to clean it well, though. I don’t like to use steel wool on aluminum because of the risk of galvanic corrosion (yes, I had to look that up), so I cleaned all of the parts of the storm window first with a Scotch-Brite scouring pad and dish detergent/water, and then again with TSP substitute. I left everything in the sun until it was completely dry, then got my tarp set up.

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Not the most exciting set of before and after pictures, but the difference in person is pretty remarkable. I used my old favorite Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer spray paint (aluminum doesn’t rust, of course, I just love the finish of this spray paint when I need a durable, matte black surface), and the aluminum took it beautifully. I should note that I only painted the exterior side of the frame and the bottom the inside—I didn’t want to paint inside of the tracks themselves since that’s a high-friction area.

You don’t have to use spray paint, by the way! You can use the same exterior paint that’s on the rest of your house. I’d suggest using a good spray primer to make life easier, then apply your finish paint with a small foam roller.

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I also gave the screen inserts a full makeover! I did a little research into the Tek-Bilt brand, and as far as I can conclude, our storm windows are about 60 years old. Kind of crazy, right? I think of them as being new and ugly because they’re newer than the house, but no, they’re old and ugly (still half the age of the windows they’re protecting, though!). Aside from the holes, the metal screening has gotten pretty oxidized, which looks crappy from the outside and obstructs the view from inside.

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Removing the screening is really easy. Find the end of the rubber cord (it’s called “spline”) that holds it in place, use a screwdriver to get it started, then pull the whole mess out. It makes sense to do this before you paint, obviously! If the spline is in good condition, save it. Mine was pretty dry and brittle, so I tossed it. TIP: Bring a little piece of the old spline with you when you go buy more. I didn’t realize spline comes in different diameters until I was at Lowe’s looking at a WALL OF SPLINE and trying to guess which size I needed. (I guessed wrong. Womp.)

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Supplies! Here’s what you need: Scissors (not pictured), spline, a spline roller, a flat-head screwdriver, a utility knife, and a 5-in-1 tool (totally optional, I just like to have mine handy for most projects). Oh! And screening, of course! I went with charcoal fiberglass screening, which is nearly invisible—and very affordable. If I had buckets of cash lying around I’d go with bronze screening, but you can’t have everything. Charcoal fiberglass is just fine for me.

(Actually NO, if I had buckets of cash I most definitely would NOT being using it to put bronze screening in my 60-year-old aluminum storm windows. I’d use it to have custom wood storms made. DUH.)

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Do a rough cut of your screening, leaving about 1.5–2″ of overhang on all sides. Fiberglass is easy to cut with just scissors, it’s like cutting cloth. You don’t need it to be perfect, so there’s no need to use a straight edge or anything like that.

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Use the convex side of the spline roller to press the screening into the channel on the frame, then use the concave side to roll in the spline. When you get to the corner, use your screwdriver to make the turn. I found it easiest to do one side at at time: Press, roll, turn. Repeat! When you’re all done and the screening feels nice and snug, trim off the excess with your utility knife.

It did take some finessing and re-doing a couple of times to get the screen to fit smoothly and snugly, but it’s not rocket science. This was the first time I’ve rescreened a whole window, and I didn’t find it difficult. Next time, it’ll go even faster!

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Here’s a terrible picture of the end result! I can’t show you what it looks like on the house yet because I still have several weekends’ worth of work left on the window itself before I can reinstall it, but you get the idea. It’s going to be a HUGE improvement, from both inside and outside the house.

Next up…sash window repair and painting!! Yayyy!

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1. K IS FOR BLACK / Just My Type tote
2. Leah Goren / Black Cat tote
3. Baggu / Duck Bag
4. Whitney Museum / New Identity tote
5. Andrew Neyer / Tote Bag™

Last night I went to dinner with Evan and our very cool friend Rena, and we were discussing (in the context of Evan’s guitars) at what point a “collection” becomes a “situation.” I believe the number Rena proposed was 12, which means that I have indeed surpassed the point of having a tote bag collection and amassed (several times over) what really can only be described as a tote bag situation. I’m not sure how this happened, exactly. It definitely wasn’t intentional. As someone who pretty much always prefers the un-fancy things in life when it comes to wearables, tote bags just always seem to be the right answer. It’s easy to double (or triple) up if you need to, they’re perfect for carrying manuscripts on the subway, they don’t add extra weight to your load, and you can toss them in the wash when they get grimy. They also satisfy that ancient desire to silently express oneself to strangers through printed slogans, something I otherwise miss out on as a non-wearer of tee shirts.

A question for the ages for those of you with tote bag situations: How do you store them? I presently have five or six tote bags hanging from coat hooks and door knobs at any given time, and the rest are folded in half and stashed in a bin in the closet. This isn’t ideal, though, since I can’t easily access the ones on the bottom and many go forgotten and unused as a result. My tote bag-loving friend Lisa keeps hers on a long, horizontal hook, which seems pretty smart to me (I’d need several several hooks, though…)! I wonder if there’s not an even more practical solution I’m not thinking of, though. Any ideas?

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1. Hansel From Basel / Zig Zag shopper bag
2. Atheist Shoes / Ich Bin Atheist tote
3. Lee Coren / Black screen-printed tote
4. Fieldguided for Summerland / Wild Heart tote
5. Lazy Oaf / Garfield tote

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Sometimes you take an accidental, two week break from blogging (I’m blaming the stomach virus from Hell, an unplanned four-day weekend, and advanced procrastination techniques), and then when you come back you can only do it by easing your way in with an adorable animal video.

Happy Wednesday, planet Earth. I’m ready to watch ALL of the adorable animals videos. Whatchu got?

Thanks for this, Janet. I’m so pleased you thought of me when you saw it.

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I started in on my back garden to-do list over the weekend! The forecast was for temperatures in the high 60s with clear skies both days, so I figured it was a good time to take on the white vinyl basement window that’s been sticking out like a sore thumb for years. On Saturday morning we went out to buy supplies, and after a nice lunch at Caffe Macchiato (they have a new vegan menu—very exciting) and a stroll around Washington’s Headquarters, I got to work.

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The first step was giving the entire window and the wood casing a thorough scrubbing. It took me a while to figure out how to remove that screen on the left—I almost gave up, and then I realized you just have to push it outward from inside. Heh. I used TSP substitute and warm water to make sure the entire area was totally free from any kind of oils, grease or anything else that could interfere with the paint’s adhesion. Regardless of what I’m painting, I’ve made it a standard part of my prep work to always clean with TSP substitute first. I don’t have a preferred brand, but I like the kinds that can be diluted with water better. (Note: TSP substitute will also dull the gloss of most finishes. That’s a good thing if you’re planning to paint, but a bad thing otherwise. Don’t use it as a cleaning product unless you’re in prep mode!)

Once every was super-clean inside and out, I forced myself to walk away and let it dry completely overnight. Water is the enemy of spray paint—even more so than dust or dirt—and as tempting as it was to put a first coat on right away, I knew I’d regret it.

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The next morning, I spent about an hour masking off everything I didn’t want to get paint on. I wasn’t too worried about overspray getting on the brick since the window well is recessed, but I taped up some plastic anyway. Ideally this would all have happened before the window was installed (actually no, ideally we would have installed a black window, but I think our choices were limited to white or almond…), but what can you do.

Side note: I keep seeing a person wearing a sumo wrestler costume wig (with blue barrettes) and a pair of white glasses.

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I’m usually a Rust-Oleum devotee when it comes to spray paint, but for some reason my Lowe’s doesn’t carry their plastic spray paint line. Lowe’s own Valspar plastic spray paint gets perfectly good reviews, so I let go of my brand loyalty in favor of not having to also go to Home Depot. The color choice were extremely blah, so I’m glad I just needed plain old black. It cost about $5.

Note that the can says, “no primer needed.” That’s the truth. In my experience, if a can of spray paint says it doesn’t require primer, you’re better off without it. Not using primer goes against everything I believe in when it comes to painting, but it’s truly not needed in some cases. This spray paint is formulated to bond directly with the substrate. Skip the primer.

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I tried to get a close-up shot so you can see how nice the finish is, but it was so sunny out and the gloss black is really reflective, so it’s hard to tell. It really did come out looking like a factory-finished black window. Do avoid dripping, I did four very thin coats in all, 10 minutes apart.

Then we went to lunch at Tito Santana Taqueria (the new tofu scramble tacos are REALLY GOOD) and took a long walk through Beacon while the paint dried.

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Ta-da! The vinyl came out looking great. Nice and smooth. Unfortunately, because the window is double-glazed, there’s no way to paint the white plastic area between the two panes of glass. Of course I’d prefer to not see any white there are all, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s not noticeable from a few steps back.

Obviously it’s too early for me to comment on the durability of the spray paint over time, but I’m not too concerned. We don’t open and close this window, so any wear would come from exposure to the elements. I’ll keep an eye on it, and I’ll report back.

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The paint on the wood casing was looking kind of rough and peel-y (I didn’t paint it initially, our contractor did after installing the window…which was part of a major structural repair job on the back of the house), and it had never been caulked properly, so it was as good a time as any to get the whole window in good shape. I used indoor/outdoor caulk that I had on hand. Check the label when you’re caulking exterior windows—it should be able to adhere to vinyl, wood, and masonry.

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Fortunately we had half a can of our exterior paint (Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty, Aura semi-gloss) stashed in the basement! I decided to paint the concrete arch at the top of the window, too. That arch was originally wood, and that piece is painted to match the rest of the casings on all of our other windows and doors. It makes sense to have this window match the others! I don’t know why it never occurred to me to paint that arch before.

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Ta-daaaa! Yes, I realize this is a very subtle improvement, but it makes me feel good to have crossed off one of my spring/summer to-do list items already. Of course, the dryer vent hood now looks extra-extra terrible, so I should probably go ahead and cough up the bucks and order a copper replacement. I’ll justify spending $75 on a vent hood by reminding myself that the rest of this little project only cost $5.

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Speaking of looking terrible by comparison, THIS is what our windows look like up close. Oy. We can’t rehabilitate them all ourselves because we’d need scaffolding for the upper windows (and anything we do at the front of the house requires prior historic guideline board approval and a building permit—yes, even just to paint a window), but I certainly can and most definitely should fix up the windows I can reach with a ladder at the back of the house. I’m adding the two kitchen windows to my to-do list! I know it’s a drop in the bucket considering we have 15 windows, but it’s a start—and it’ll look nice from the garden.

EDIT: I just found a couple of before-before photos I never blogged before, and figured it made sense to add them to this post…

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Wow. That photo from 2007 makes me feel so heavy and sad. I don’t know why I didn’t really blog about a lot of the work that was done on our house back then. It felt very overwhelming and scary at the time. The back of the house was in danger of collapsing—those bricks could be pulled out by hand, and if you pressed on the exterior walls, they’d move. Years of ice buildup on the back of the house (caused by a rotted-out gutter and blocked downspout) caused the mortar to fail, and misguided attempts to patch the area with cement instead of mortar led to deterioration of the bricks. The 2009 photo shows the same corner after being rebuilt using all of the original bricks! They had to dig down about 6 feet below ground level to stabilize and waterproof the foundation. After that photo was taken, the entire back of the house was cleaned and the rest of bricks were repointed (and, of course, a new window was installed). Comparing the 2007 photo to the ones above it from 2014 makes me very emotional. You lose perspective sometimes after you’ve been working on an old house for years and years. It’s easy to forget how far you’ve come when you see it every day.

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For much of my adolescence, I lived in a house without a shower. The house was built in 1820, and when indoor plumbing was added, a bathroom was built on the second floor. It had a toilet, a chrome-legged sink, and a cast iron pedestal tub. My mother, two of of my sisters and I took turns taking baths every morning. The tub didn’t have a spray handle, so we kept a big plastic cup next to the tub for rinsing shampoo out of our hair with clean water. I’m not going to romanticize things: It sucked. It made getting ready in the mornings a huge hassle, and it sucked. I loved staying over at friends’ houses so I could take a real SHOWER. (And also so I could eat microwave popcorn and watch cable TV.)

When I was 16 or so, we got one of those shower enclosure conversion things, and life immediately got better. Showers! Every! Day! So! Clean! And do you think I ever took a bath in that house again? HELL NO.

Anyway, that was in 1991. Fast forward 17 years to 2008, when we were renovating the downstairs bathroom. Taking that shower out of commission meant that we were limited to taking baths in the upstairs bathroom for however many months (six…) it took us to finish the renovation. Fortunately we do have a hand-held sprayer so no plastic rinsing cups were necessary, but let me tell you…taking daily baths as part of regular grooming and personal upkeep is one thing, but bathing after a long day of demolition and sweaty, dirty renovation work is quite another. One bath to get the grime off, another bath to get the dirty water off, and then a cleaning session to get the haze of grime off of the tub. There was no lazing about in mounds of bubbles while listening to Mets games on the radio with the window open. No, none of that. All business, no pleasure.

So, naturally, once the downstairs bathroom renovation was complete and the shower was back in order, I quit baths like a bad habit. Until last month, I think I’d taken a grand total of maybe five baths in the past five years. How pathetic is that? We put all of this hard work into renovating the bathroom and spent a bunch of money having the clawfoot tub refinished, and I’m not even taking baths in it?!?!

Well, that’s all changing now, and you know what the incentive was? No, not a desire for relaxation, but packaging. Beautiful, minimal packaging from Herbivore Botanicals, who I first discovered via their Etsy shop. Seattle-based Julia and Alex started Herbivore Botanicals three years ago, and everything in the line is totally vegan and completely natural. Now, I don’t want to stereotype too much here, but as someone who is increasingly doing a lot of shopping in health food stores’ cosmetics aisles, I can tell you that “vegan” and “natural” are not usually words that I associate with incredible packaging design. And that stuff matters—it matters to me as someone who cares about design, and it matters when it comes to the perception of animal-friendly and natural products as being part of the world of luxury skin care.

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Let’s talk about that Coconut Milk Bath Soak. It’s amazing. It doesn’t make bubbles or anything like that, it really is a soak. It has the most gentle, calming coconut/vanilla scent imaginable—not like one of those gross, chemical-y “birthday cake”-scented bubble baths. It doesn’t make the tub (or you) weird colors. After getting out of the tub, my skin feels so super-soft…not coated or oily, just soft and fresh. There is a subtle fragrance that lingers, but it’s nothing that would interfere with another perfume (if you’re into stuff like that). The Coconut Milk Bath Soak has turned me into a bath devotee. I am committed to taking baths in the evenings on weekends now!

I bought a couple of other products at the same time as the bath soak—Vetiver Cardamom Luminous Body Oil for me, and Men’s Face Elixir for Evan. We love them both! I use the body oil almost every day now, right after I get out of the shower (or bath). It’s much more viscous than body oils I’ve used in the past, so I do need to apply it while my skin is still warm. It’s done an incredible job of keeping my legs from turning into crocodile skin this winter. The cardamom vetiver scent does linger for a while, but it’s exactly the kind of warm fragrance I love when it’s cold out. When the weather gets warmer, I’ll probably switch to the Neroli Blossom version. Evan really likes the Face Elixir! He uses it every night, and was able to give up the very unnatural nighttime moisturizer he’d been using previously.

I have to admit that after having struggled for so many years to find a facial skin care routine that really works for me I am hesitant to change anything about it. I don’t think I can walk away from my prescription medications without my skin freaking out (the emotional distress of adult acne is something I’ve discussed before, I won’t get into it again now…), but I am going to try to phase out the other products—and phase in more natural, animal-friendly ones. I’m going to start by ordering the Pink Clay Soap and see how it goes. My skin is far too dry and delicate for anything like the Bamboo Charcoal.

How about you? Are there any natural, vegan, non-irritating face washes you’d like to recommend I try? Preferably ones that work well with a Clarisonic (not all cleansers do)—and bonus points if the packaging is nice. Of course.

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Between the front and back of the house, I spent about five hours outdoors yesterday doing a major cleanup in preparation for spring. Aside from a few secret crocuses, absolutely nothing is blooming in Newburgh yet—winter has been dragging on forever, and we’re only just now starting to have slightly warmer days that feel vaguely spring-like. After “finishing” the back garden last summer, I have high hopes for lots of lush, full growth as the plantings we did a year ago start to fill out and get more established.

I am noticing a lot of projects that still need to be taken care of, though, things that we’ve been talking about doing for years but never seem to get around to. Of course the major exterior project that continues to loom is addressing the windows, which need an awful lot of repair work (including having the rotted casings replaced—oy vey)…and, eventually/hopefully, new storm windows. That’s going to have to be put off at least another year because of the expense involved, but in the mean time, I want to tackle some of the more manageable things.

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First things first: WE NEED OUR JUNK GUY. Since we don’t have a driveway, there’s nowhere to put a dumpster (or one of those Bagster things) when we’re renovating. Yeah, we could apply for a permit to put on on the street, but that would have to be for a very limited amount of time—something that doesn’t really work with our snail’s-pace approach to renovation. The only solution we’ve come up with is to put smaller construction debris into contractor bags, stash everything in the basement, and when the basement is full, hire a guy with a huge truck to come and take everything to the dump. That’s worked pretty well for us over the years, but now the basement is full—and the bags and other debris have spread to the garden. See that stack of plywood leaning against the fence? That’s our old kitchen subfloor.

Sigh. So yeah, we need the junk guy to come and take this mess away. Hopefully we’ll only need him one more time in the future, when we do demo work in the basement.

(Hmmm, we also need Verizon to come and take care of that downed telephone line…)

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This basement window was piece of broken glass in a rotted frame covered with plywood when we bought the house, so this little vinyl slider is definitely an improvement over that, but it’s still an eyesore. Rust-Oleum makes a spray paint specifically for painting plastics. I’m just going to go for it. That window will fit right in with the brick if it’s painted black, and that’s what I want.

I also want to replace that temporary (“temporary” = 8 years) plastic dryer vent hood. I’m going super-fancy and splurging on a copper one. We couldn’t afford to install copper downspouts (that’s just galvanized steel painted black—which has held up really well, by the way, in case you’ve considered painting your downspouts), but I’ve been wanting some kind of copper accent on the back of the house somewhere…so, a copper dryer vent it is.

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The steel doors leading to the basement look terrible, but they’re actually in perfectly good shape. The wood framing surrounding them, however, is not. It’s so badly rotted that I can push a hole straight through with almost no effort. Because this is a spot that gets very little sunlight, rain and other moisture tends to sit for longer than it should. Rather than replace the rotted wood with new wood, we’re thinking about using a fiber cement-based product like HardiePanel. It’s paintable, rot-proof, and durable. And, of course, if the new framing and the doors are painted black, they’ll disappear visually. I’m sure the paint will need to be touched up every few years (this is a lesson I’ve earned about black paint outdoors—everything shows), but that’s OK.

Once that’s done, we can fill in the rest of this area with gravel. That’s what we did with the rest of the broken/mossy-concrete part of our garden—we just dumped gravel on top. It looks great, and it helps with water dispersion so rain runs off the way it should instead of pooling up and making mud puddles. Much cheaper than having all of the concrete removed and hauled away, too!

If you’re trying to figure out what part of the house this is, that’s the dining room window above the basement doors, and the kitchen window above the radiator (to the left of the refrigerator) on the right. The brick wall on the left is the side of our neighbor’s house.

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As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I loathe the exterior kitchen door. The embossed steel panels on the bottom are fake, the plastic mullions are fake, and the whole thing makes me sad. The original door is nowhere to be found. Rather than put in a vintage replacement, we want to go very contemporary and simple—something like this. We’ll get the advantage of a well-insulated modern door and let a ton of additional extra light into the kitchen, without any of the fussy fake-everything elements of the current door.

We’d also like to put in a screen door at the same time. Upstate New York is too full of mosquitoes and flies in the summer to just leave a door open, but it would be so nice to have that breeze! Fun for the dogs to be able to look outside and groundhog-watch, too. We made a pathetic attempt at installing a screen door a few years ago, but we really only got as far as installing these beautiful screen door hinges before we gave up and moved on to something else.

Replacing the porch light (currently just a bare flood lamp) will be a much easier project! I haven’t really started looking yet, but this industrial guy would look great with the currently exposed conduit. I do LOVE that orange color…

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The previous owner put in this back porch (I hesitate to call it a “deck” since it’s only about 5×6′), and while it’s perfectly stable and well-built, it’s got more of that faux-Victorian thing going on with the spindles, and I am not a fan. I’d also like to cover up the underside of the porch, but standard lattice is too fussy. I need to sit down with a pencil and paper and come up with a real plan, but my goal is to get rid of the spindles and have spaced, horizontal slats enclosing the whole porch—from top railing to the ground. Similar to what Morgan did with her front porch, but obviously not up that high. I’ll try to sketch something up next weekend. I don’t think it’ll too difficult or expensive, and it’ll make a HUGE difference.

I’m so excited to get moving on outdoor projects! As exhausted and sore as I am today, it was really nice to be working in the fresh air and sunshine yesterday. Fingers crossed for continued good weather—I really hope there’s some bud and blossom action happening by the weekend. I’ve got a whole list of projects lined up for the front garden, too, but I’ll get into that later!

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Considering how much of my life is spent at work, it’s kind of funny that I’ve never done a post about what my office looks like. Whenever I’m invited by other sites to share my workspace, I feel a little bit disingenuous sending in pictures of my desks at the house and (former) apartment. I mean, truthfully: The “office” at the house has become Evan’s music studio, and we don’t even pretend to call anything at the current apartment an office, unless you’re counting the sofa, which is where I do all of my blogging. No, my work happens in an office-office, one with bad industrial carpeting and a dropped acoustic ceiling and fluorescent lights and all of the other stuff nobody is particular interested in looking at pictures of.

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Last summer, after 15 years spent working in the same spot in the same building (with most of the same awesome people), the entire art department was moved up one floor. Same building, same corner, but 20 feet higher. Aside from the joy that came from sifting through 15 years of accumulated junk and throwing away 75% of it, I decided to commit myself to turning my new workspace into a place I like to walk into every day.

I don’t have an office with walls. All of the designers in my department sit in a big, open room—that was our choice. We like to be able to talk, and we like to have tons of light. The light, of course, is the best thing about this office—it’s a landmarked building (one of the original art deco Rockefeller Center structures, completed in 1939), and that includes the enormous, steel-framed windows. Windows that open, mind you, though I don’t necessary recommend doing that on a windy day when you’re 14 flights up!

Anyway, because I work in an open room with other people (and other people’s stuff), It’s a little tricky to take pictures that show all of my space. I promise I do actually have a computer and a chair and a phone…and a very full inbox.

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I don’t think there’s any way to fight generic office blah other than with bright colors and things that make you happy every time you look at them. “Elegance” is tough to pull off in this kind of environment, and I don’t even bother trying.

Over in this corner, I have an Alexander Girard PLYprint (these were issued by Columbia Forest Products in 2009, and sadly discontinued very sooner after), a bent-plywood “Clouds” clock from my own K IS FOR BLACK shop, a bootleg Andy Warhol poster (more on that in a minute), a letter A print from Ferm Living, and a vintage bus roll that I found at Three Potato Four.

So yeah, the Andy Warhol poster! Hah. If you read Scandinavian design blogs and frequent Swedish real estate websites, then you know that these Warhol posters—part of a series of reprints from a 1968 exhibit at Moderna Museet—are apparently issued to all Swedes along with their birth certificates. In the US, however, it’s next to impossible to get your mitts on one! I had dreams of buying one when I was in Stockholm, but the closest I was able to get to Moderna Museet was taking a longing photo from a window in a building next door.

So I decided to be a loser jerk and make my own. The real thing wouldn’t have fit in this spot anyway, and since the sentiment is pretty much the most perfect thing to be on a book cover designer’s wall, it had to happen. I knew what font they used for the poster, so…OK I’M ASHAMED. A little. But it’s not like I’m going to sell them (and no, I won’t send you the digital file), and if I ever do have the opportunity to buy a real, full-size one from Moderna Museet, I definitely will. Then I’ll hang that one in in my house, and keep the bootleg miniature at work.

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This part of my desk is usually completely covered with book cover comps, but I had to move them all out of frame since they’re for titles that haven’t been approved yet. The work you see there is what became the hand-lettering for this book (just approved yesterday, yay!). My vintage Snoopy came from Three Potato Four, and the snake mug…

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I LOVE MY SNAKE MUG!!! If you’re a fan of Craig Ferguson (and you should be), then you know Craigy is never without his trusty rattlesnake mug. I bought mine on eBay, and it’s identical to Craig’s—with the exception of the gold tooth, of course, which is a Late Late Show props department customization. (Weirdly enough, the snake mug sold by the CBS store is clearly not the same one Craig uses, which confuses me—but I’ll drop this subject now since I suspect it’s not very interesting to anyone but me…)

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Photo by Ali Goldstein/NBC

In case you ever wondered if 30 Rock was filmed on location, the answer is YES, unquestionably! Every time they showed Liz Lemon’s office, I had to smile at the 1930s radiator covers—the same ones are in every office throughout all of the old Rockefeller Center buildings. Same old windows, too.

I put those raindrops on my filing cabinet a few years ago, and they still make me happy. They’re just cut out of white paper with adhesive on the back, nothing fancy. The chair is an Arne Jacobsen Series 7 in a discontinued, terrifying shade of acid green that I love. I found it in the hallway in a storage pile during a company-wide office cleanout years ago, and I grabbed it. It still belongs to the company, of course, but I like having it in my area. The cute raindrop pillow and the triangle wall stickers are from Ferm Living.

I suspect I may be the only person working here with their own rug. It’s the same Nate Burkus Arrowhead rug (discontinued, alas) that I have in my dressing room, but in a smaller size. I would’ve gone bigger, but then my rolling chair would be getting caught on it. Office carpet is almost always a depressing thing, so it’s nice to have a tiny corner of happy floor covering to take the edge off. The bird hanging in the window is an Icelandic Krummi (raven) coat hanger designed by Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir.

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If you follow me on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen a lot of pictures of this view! My window overlooks 6th Avenue, and I’ve been documenting what I see out there during every season for the past 16 years. Here’s a compilation of some from 2013…

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BOOKS! I can’t keep every book I’ve designed, obviously, but I hang on to the ones that are in series—multiple titles by the same author—since I often need to refer back to them later. (If you’re interested in seeing some of the covers I’ve worked on, I have a portfolio site.) Speaking of which, I have strict rules about books at this point. I don’t take ANYTHING home with me from work unless I really, really want to read it. I’ve already read most of what I worked on when it was in the manuscript stage, and if I start taking home every book that catches my eye (and there really are books EVERYWHERE when you work at a publishing company—it’s amazing), there will be no more room for people or dogs in my house. I cracked down about 10 years ago, and I’m glad. I love love love books, and (contrary to the Warhol quote) I really do love to read a whole lot, but there are limits.

And on that note, it’s FRIDAY, and I’m outta here! Have a great weekend!

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