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doorsixteen_light_bathroom

Something happened with the light this weekend. Despite the three feet of snow still piled up along the side streets in the City of Newburgh, it suddenly feels like spring is coming. The weather was beautiful yesterday, and the daylight pouring into the second floor of our house made want to do nothing but wander from room to room.

I don’t really take many pictures of the house anymore unless I’m working on a specific project, but after eight years, those projects are fewer and farther between—especially since the remaining ones are expensive and daunting, but not necessarily interesting to look at (like replacing our exterior window casings or buying a new boiler…snore + $$$ = no fun). I still love my house, though, and it still makes me happy to share it. So maybe it’s OK to just take some pictures without them being about a renovation project!

Here’s a walk through the oft-neglected second floor of the house, taken while admiring the almost-spring light.

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My fiddle-leaf fig tree is still alive! Miracles. The print is from Fieldguided—I bought it ages ago but just got around to framing it last month.

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Ah, it’s the rarely-seen east wall of the bedroom! I’m still unsure about the Heywood-Wakefield dresser. HAH. I’ve been thinking about either painting it (don’t bother with the hate mail, H-W protectionists, I already know) or getting rid of it since pretty much the day I bought it, but it’s kind of grown on me? I don’t know. It’s not hurting anyone, so it can stay for now. I promise not to paint it. Really. It is an amazingly well-built piece of furniture, I’ll say that much.

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I love you, Tom Dixon Offcut Bench. This is one of the best things I’ve ever bought. It really needs to be seen in person to be appreciated—the fluorescent orange is nearly blinding. I got a good deal on it because it was a floor model and it’s a little banged-up.

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The guest bedroom gets such nice light. It’s in the middle of the house, directly above the dining room. It’s a little shadowy, but the sun that comes in the huge window is beautifully filtered. It’s such a nice place to be. I wish we had more guests. (Sadface.)

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Frames. Everywhere. Always. I’ve been making a big effort lately to get artwork I’ve collected over the years out of storage and into frames, and, hopefully, onto the wall. It never ends! One of these days I need to sit down and make a master list of frame sizes, what I want matted, and what I can frame myself versus having to send to a shop. It’s overwhelming.

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And finally, the studio. I never get tired of this white floor—it’s the best room. It looks bright and clean even at midnight, and even when there are guitars and amps and cables all over the place. Yes, that section of molding is still missing. And yes, that’s OK—it’s good enough.

backsplash before & after

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

apartment backsplash

apartment backsplash

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

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

Here’s a step-by-step…

backsplash step by step 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

backsplash step by step 2

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

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

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

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

Total cost = $42. Soooooo worth it.

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

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

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

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

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The bedroom in the new apartment is coming together much faster than I thought it would, and it’s looking pretty cute. Well, at least I think so. I haven’t hung anything on the walls yet because I still have to paint over the existing glossy white paint with a softer, flat white, but it’s definitely getting there.

The only new thing we’ve bought for this bedroom is the dresser in the corner. It’s the gloss tall chest from CB2, and I’m super happy with it. The cutout pulls (which are actually backed with a recessed metal panel, though that’s hard to tell from these photos) and proportion are reminiscent of Asplund’s classic “Snow” dresser, but with a much glossier finish and a much lower price tag. This is the first thing I’ve bought from CB2 that required assembly and has movable parts, and it’s made a good impression. The quality is much better than I’d expected it to be.

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Also, can I say how nice it is to have proper clothing storage? We have a really nice setup at the house (Holy cow, that’s an OLD photo! The dressing room looks like this now, but you can’t see the PAX wardrobes—I guess I should do an updated dressing room post…), but in the apartments we’ve alternated between stuffing our clothes into a fauxdenza in the old studio, and stuffing our clothes into a couple of tiny RAST chests inside of our closet since there was no space for a real dresser in the bedroom at the last place. Wow, that was a long sentence. Shorter version: YAY DRESSER! YAY SPACE!

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Check it out, there’s a SOFA in our BEDROOM! I can’t get over how huge this room is. Our last two apartments have been pretty tiny, so we’ve been using a small KARLSTAD loveseat from IKEA in lieu of a full-size sofa. It’s perfectly fine, but two people plus two dogs on a loveseat gets a little too cozy after a while! Now that we have a bigger living room (pictures to come, I promise), we decided to put the loveseat in the cavernous bedroom instead. I’m not sure how likely we are to actually sit there, but it looks nice and the dogs are always excited to have another place to nap. Bruno sometimes gets annoyed by how much space Evan, Fritz and I take up in bed at night (I know, how dare we!), so now he can walk off in a dramatic huff to sleep on the sofa without even having to leave the room.

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I love this little arrangement. That neon pink-toppped vase from ¿adónde? has been on my wishlist for a while now, but for $250…I just couldn’t do it. I hit the jackpot at the DWR Annex last week, though, and brought one home for $50. Yay! That little black vase is from CB2 (discontinued), the little “Fire” candle holder (a gift from my mother) is by Iittala, the perpetual calendar (also a DWR Annex score) is by Massimo Vignelli, and the cross vase is the most awesome thing I’ve ever found at the Goodwill for $3. I love that thing.

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The last bit of bedroom updates is the addition of bookshelves. We don’t keep many books at the apartment (I SWEAR I HAVE MORE THAN 20 BOOKS! They’re all at the house!), but inevitably a few do wind up not making the journey to Newburgh. This is really all the space we need for that kind of thing. When I mounted these shelves in the last apartment, I predicted IKEA would discontinue the wonderful steel EKBY OXIE brackets, but it appears they still carry them! I still think I should stock up. They’re good-looking, strong and cheap. Like me! No, not like me. I’m just cheap.

Still on the apartment bedroom to-do list:
✚ Replace that horrible light fixture we’ve agreed to not discuss
✚ Paint the white walls and ceiling BM Moonlight White
✚ Hang art
✚ Make the closets nice inside (FLOR tiles?)
✚ Figure out if I want some kind of window covering
✚ Obsess over finding the right rug

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.

I spent the last couple of nights of 2011 painting the long side wall in our dining room black, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. The living room and dining room are right in line with each other, railroad-style, so visually it’s just a continuation of the black wall in the living room.

The house is very narrow (20 feet wide, including the entry hallway), and the black wall adds some depth to the room in a nice way. Also, since the dining room doesn’t get a lot of natural light, the dark paint has a richness to it even in the daytime that makes the room feel cozier than it did before…and, as in the living room, it brings in a bit of formality that feels right in a Victorian house. Personally, I think black walls get written off as being cold or depressing far too often! Elvis agrees, as you can see.

As in the living room, the bedroom, and the apartment kitchen, I used Benjamin Moore’s ‘Soot’ with a matte finish. It’s actually the deepest, darkest indigo blue imaginable and not a true black, but that’s what gives it that extra oompf.

(How is this plant still alive?! I always forget about it, and it’s right next to a heater, so it’s been teetering on the edge of death for years.)

Coffee + Music + Painting = My default comfort mode during vacations. Seriously, once I get going with painting stuff, I feel really good. It’s definitely one of those tasks that inevitably takes ten times longer than you imagine it will, but the impact is so worth it in the end. I can’t imagine paying someone else to paint walls for me! The payoff when the work is done is just way too satisfying.

Speaking of painting, if you want to know how I do it and the steps I recommend, shuffle over to Manhattan Nest and read Daniel’s post about the whole process. I prefer Aura over Regal, but other than that, we pretty much do things the same way, right down to the Wooster paintbrushes. What he says about painter’s tape? That’s the truth. Don’t do it. Especially in an old house. Yes, I freehand everything, even black paint that butts right up against white.

I didn’t take any full-length shots of the dining room yet because things are still looking like this, but that’s just because we’re getting ready to build new bookshelves. That’s what all of this fancy plywood is for! Yay.

P.S. There’s an Instagram gallery right here on the blog now. I used a plugin called Instapress to create it. It’s a teeny bit buggy, but good enough!

livingroom 1

Perhaps a more fitting title for this post might have been, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”—because yes, I’ve painted another wall black. But really, can you blame me?

I’d been hemming and hawing over doing something dramatic in the living room for a while now, and my first attempt was to put an electric blue slipcover on the sofa (seen briefly here). For two months I tried to convince myself that I liked it, but it was just so dominating in all the wrong ways. The obvious focal point of our living room is the ginormous black forest-themed marble fireplace, and there’s really no sense in trying to fight that with a bright blue sofa, you know?

So back to the store went the blue slipcover, up from the basement came the old white one, and all felt better…but I still needed the drama. On New Year’s Eve morning, I Photoshopped a black wall onto a picture of the living room, sent it to Victoria with a bunch of question marks, got a thumbs-up…and started painting.

livingroom 2

livingroom 3

livingroom 4

livingroom 5

WE. LOVE. IT. SO. MUCH. I think Evan and I must have commented 3948754 times today on how how great it looks. The living room just feels so much more finished now. I know the black makes the room look a little more traditional and formal since the lighter, more ornate details in the room are being highlighted as a result, but I’m okay with that. My modernist instinct is to neutralize ornamental details, but this fireplace is my favorite original element in the entire house—so I’m embracing the traditional leanings this time.

As you can see, the room is puppy-approved! That’s all that really matters.

livingroom 8

livingroom 6

sailor

I gave Evan a sailor from Johan Pergenius (yes, that’s the amazing Sandra Juto’s husband) for Christmas. He came all the way from Sweden and has made a happy new home for himself here on our mantel.

Don’t you want to paint something black now? The color is Benjamin Moore Soot, matte finish—the same paint I used in our bedroom and in the kitchen in our city apartment.

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The floor in the back room is finished, and it is beautiful. I couldn’t be happier. What used to be the dirtiest, most neglected and depressing room in the house is now unbelievably peaceful, clean, and fresh. I saw the floor in the daylight for the first time on Saturday, and it was like one of those dreams you have where you discover a room in your house that you never knew was there before. Amazing.

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This is the wall that I’ll be using the black-on-black Fir Tree wallpaper on.

I’m still not sure what this room will be used for (our bedroom, maybe?). Part of me wants to just leave it empty, but I know that’s ridiculous. I will say, though, that after living in our house for three years with this room essentially being dead space, I feel very pressured now to figure out exactly what purpose each of the four upstairs rooms should serve. In many ways, I found it much easier to manage space properly in a 600sf apartment than I do in a 2000sf house. I don’t want to waste!

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Now we’re ready to have our radiator (which we had sandblasted and powdercoated back in June) reinstalled. It will go between the windows—that’s what the pipe sticking up out of the floor is for. I can’t wait to have ALL of the radiators in the house refinished! I’m so tired of peeling silver paint and rust.

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For those of you wondering what I used to paint the floor, this is the product lineup, and these are the steps I followed:

(1) Pull all carpet tacks, staples, etc. from floor. Use nail set to recess any protruding nails.

(2) Patch all holes with wood filler. I like Zinsser Ready Patch.

(3) Dig out all rotted areas of floorboards (there was a significant amount of old water damage along the wall abutting the bathroom) and repair with a 2-part epoxy consolidant. There is a good description of that process here (I have used this method to repair rotted trim and window sashes throughout the house with great success).

(4) Sand floor. Because this is a small room and this floor had no existing finish on it, I used a hand sander. I have a Bosch 5-inch Random Orbit Sander, and I’m very happy with it. I started with a medium-grit paper, then did another pass with a finer grit. (Hang a tarp over the door and wear a mask. Sanding floors is very dusty!)

(5) Install shoe molding at baseboard. I generally am not a fan of quarter-round in old houses, but the gap between the baseboard moldings and the floor was too large to caulk effectively.

(6) Vacuum well (I did a first pass with a ShopVac, then finished with an Electrolux with a HEPA filter), and clean all surfaces very well with TSP substitute.

(7) Apply primer. I used two coats (applied with a roller), since this floor had a lot of staining and had never been sealed before. Throughout the house, I have used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 to prime EVERYTHING. It’s wonderful stuff if you have a lot of imperfect surfaces to cover. The gripping/sealing power is amazing. I highly recommend all of Zinsser’s products.

(8) Apply a shellac-based spray to any knot holes, etc., still showing through the primer.

(9) Apply three coats of paint. I used a brush, because I sometimes find I don’t like the finish of roller-applied paint on wood surfaces. I like Benjamin Moore paints and have used them throughout the house. I didn’t want to deal with oil paint, so I went with their latex-based, epoxy-reinforced Floor & Patio paint, waiting 24 hours between coats. Two coats might have been enough, but since I noticed a couple of areas that seemed a little thin, I went ahead and did a third to be on the safe side. The consistency of floor paint is quite different from wall or trim paint—it’s very thin, so it goes down smoothly and quickly without any brush marks.

I opted not to fill the gaps between the boards. I like the lines the gaps create, and I’ve noticed that in almost every photo of a white-painted floor that I’m drawn to, the gaps are visible. I’m happy to see the imperfections of this old floor!

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