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For as long as we’ve owned this house, I’ve been lamenting the weird, dead corner space to the left of the stove. My decision years ago to use pre-fab, freestanding IKEA kitchen units rather than fitted cabinets meant hoping for the best in terms of maximizing the usable space in the room. I got really lucky on the sink side of the stove, which just happens to be exactly 1/2″ wider than a single UDDEN unit, but the 42″ space on the left has just been a waste all this time. I did have a cart there for a long time, but the position was awkward and it really didn’t get much use.

Looking back on this post from January (THAT WAS EIGHT MONTHS AGO, UGH!) you can see that I planned to put a piece of butcherblock there to fill the whole space. Time passed, seasons changed and we never managed to figure out how to wrangle a giant slab of IKEA butcherblock into the car, so we just kept putting it off.

And then…

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HEYYYY. Who’s that fine young thing in the tank top sanding down what looks like a 42″ piece of wood countertop? Why, it’s Daniel! When Daniel told me he was planning to make his own countertops out of fir framing lumber, I hopped on that bandwagon real quick. I dropped a few subtle hints like, “gosh, I really wish someone loved me enough to make me a piece of countertop,” and the next thing I knew, there it was!

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I had absolutely nothing to do with the making of the countertop at all, but Daniel has written up a great post explaining exactly how he did it using nothing more than a circular saw, a Kreg jig, screws and good looks. (His own kitchen is looking totally amazing, by the way, and uses much of the same materials, finishes and colors as my kitchen, but in different ways. I’m so impressed!) (Have I mentioned how great it is to have Daniel and Max and Mekko and Linus as neighbors not only in Brooklyn but now also in the Hudson Valley? So great.)

I had a hard time getting a good shot of the underside, but hopefully you can tell what’s going on there. Ideally the counter would be bracketed to the walls for support, but because I don’t want to drill into the tile (I want to have the option of changing this kitchen around in the future, which is why I tiled all the way down to the baseboard moldings), I opted to use four adjustable VIKA KAJ legs from IKEA. They extend to a maximum height of 34″ and have a 165lb weight limit per leg, so they’re perfect for this kind of use. Three of the legs are set at the corners of the countertop, and the fourth leg is positioned back about 20″ so that the front right corner (next to the stove) appears to float. The legs really aren’t visible unless you’re looking for them, but I might spray paint them black at some point just so they blend in even more.

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When it came to finishing the countertop, my first thought was to stain it black with India ink (!) and then apply a marine varnish for protection, but once it was in place I really liked having more wood tones in the room. My favorite kitchens are ones that look like they’ve come to where they are over a long period of time rather than being a brand-new matched set of parts, so the less uniformity of natural materials the better. Bring on the knots and wood grain!

If I’d had any mineral oil on hand I probably would have just used that, but I used it all up when I was refinishing the giant island. I’ve read good things about Watco Butcher Block Oil (basically tung oil and solvents) on woodworking forums, so decided to give it a shot. A pint-sized can was about $15, which seemed kind of steep, but because of the solvents it’s nowhere near as viscous as straight oil — it goes a long, long way. I’ve only gone through about 1/8 of the can. Also unlike mineral oil, this stuff is flammable, so you do have to be careful about disposing of your rags (I used cheesecloth). The other thing to be aware of with products like this is that they need to cure for a full 72 hours before the surface is considered food-safe. I don’t plan to use this countertop like a cutting board because fir is too soft, but it’s still something to be conscious of.

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So far, I’ve done three coats (waiting six hours and sanding lightly between coats) of Butcher Block Oil, and the finish looks great. There’s a slight sheen to it, but it’s definitely not SHINY. I don’t like shiny wood in kitchens. I poured a little water on to test its durability, and after 30 minutes it was still beaded up on the surface. Good sign! I’ll probably do a couple more coats just to be on the safe side, and then maintain the finish periodically with mineral oil going forward.

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I’m so happy about this combination of materials. Stainless steel gets a bad rap for being “clinical,” but I actually think it can look very warm — it’s all about how you use the material and what you combine it with. See how great it looks paired with natural wood and white tiles? The thing with stainless countertops is that you have to stop caring about scratches and other visible wear and just let it do what it’s going to do. The first few scratches we got on the counters looked terrible, but now that we’ve been using them for seven years and the steel has developed an overall patina, I don’t worry about damage at all. Stainless countertops are pretty indestructible.

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It’s no small thing to have counter space on BOTH sides of the stove now, let me tell you! Being able to use one side for chopping and another for keeping spices and oils handy while I’m cooking (plus the island behind me for organizing ingredients) makes a huge difference. It’s great. I can’t believe I went for so many years without anything on the left side of the stove! It looks so much more visually complete, too.

Speaking of things being complete, the kitchen still is not. We’ve had a very difficult time trying to get a plumber in to disconnect the radiators (that might sound like an easy job, but the steam pipes need to be cut, re-threaded, capped at basement-level and eventually extended and re-routed, which is beyond our level of DIY-ness), but we FINALLY have a plumber booked for next Wednesday. YAY!!! Once he takes out the radiators, I can resume tiling the remaining two walls and ripping up the floor. It’s going to be a VERY busy August! Evan and I have both taken vacation days, and we’re determined to get all of the work done before temperatures drop…otherwise we’re going to be without heat in the kitchen during the winter, which wouldn’t be good news for our feet or our pipes. Time to get moving!!

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With all the attention I’ve been giving the new apartment, I feel like my house (remember my house?) is taking a back seat! Admittedly I’ve been putting a lot of house projects on the back burner while we get the apartment side of living in order, but this past weekend I dove head first back into the ongoing kitchen renovation and made some major progress. Witness…SHELVING:

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YUP. No more dishes stacked up on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, cuz I’ve got SHELVES. I planned out and ordered custom Shenandoah shelving from Blake Avenue back in January, and I’ve been desperately trying to find time to hang them ever since. Daniel was kind enough to come to Newburgh and lend a hand on Saturday, and we had them up in no time. I’m so glad I took a chance and asked Joe at Blake Avenue to quote me a price, because they were much more affordable than I assumed they’d be—even with shipping factored in. I initially considered just ordering the brackets and sourcing reclaimed lumber locally, but in the end convenience won out.

Here are a couple of redundant photos of my shelves, because I love them so much.

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Detail shot! The industrial iron brackets are really nicely made and SUPER strong. They attach to the wall individually, which is great if you (like me) have an old house with uneven walls that would otherwise require lots of shimming in order to hang a shelving unit this long. The wood is reclaimed Douglas fir. I coated it with mineral oil before hanging. Even though I really liked the way the unfinished light wood looked, in a kitchen I think you want a little more protection from heat and humidity.

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I’m also in love with the swing-arm Otis lamp from onefortythree. The photos on the website seriously do not do Logan’s work justice. This a beautifully-made lamp, with all of the right attention to detail—from the square switch to the perfectly bent steel arm to the cloth-covered, twisted cord. I’m really impressed.

Of course, since I’m a jerk and decided to open the box pre-coffee, I immediately broke the tubular Edison bulb that was included. I put a chrome-tipped globe in for now, but I’ll replace the tubular bulb as soon as I can get to a bulb store. The globe just looks too bulky to me.

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I know, I know, too many photos! I can’t help it. I’m still obsessed with this corner. I can’t wait until spring so we can take the radiators out and finish tiling the last wall and a half. In the mean time, I’ll just keep petting this corner and feeling proud of myself for making those trim pieces work.

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Even though I’ve written about these mugs before, I’m including them again here because my coffeestagrams always seem to draw inquiries about their origins. They’re Bono mugs, designed by Catharina Kippel for Design House Stockholm—also available without a handle, if you prefer. They are lovely to hold, and are still chip-free after five years, which is how long the date on this post tells me it’s been since I bought them.

Also they look really nice on the new shelves. That’s the other reason I’m including a picture of them. OK?

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Soooo…I did it again. As if my bathroom trash can wasn’t “controversial” (or whatever) enough, I went ahead and bought another Vipp. This time, though, I got it for a super bargain! My scavenger guardian angel, Daniel, found a floor model for sale at the DWR Annex and picked it up for me. Yayyyyyy. (Remember when Daniel found me a Random Light at a thrift store? I’m still not over it.) I love my bathroom Vipp, and I’m sure I’ll love my kitchen Vipp just as much. It feels really good to know that I’ll probably never have to buy another trash can, I’ll tell you that much. And yes, these things matter to me.

Let’s end this with some Instagrams of scarves, friends, puppies and shattered dreams…

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It’s been a while since I’ve shared any of my web design work. I don’t do very much of it since my day job designing book covers keeps me busier than than I can handle, but I really do enjoy fitting in a few non-print projects when I have the time. Here’s a little roundup of some of the work I’ve been doing on the side these past few months…

Honey Kennedy
This is my second redesign of Honey Kennedy—the first was in April 2011. Jen asked me several months ago if I could help her with some minor updates, but my schedule was insane so everything was put on the back burner. By the time we got our acts together and talked about Jen’s wishlist, it turned into a complete overhaul! I kept the same basic logo design and the dreamy, saltwater atmosphere, but introduced a richer color palette and bolder textures. Nearly every element of the blog got a makeover.

Jen is probably my most demanding client, but I say that with love. She has such a clear vision of what she wants, and has a really good eye for the tiniest details—that’s the reason her blog is so great. She’s also become a very good friend in the time since we worked on the first redesign, and working together is a pleasure.

Manhattan Nest
Another repeat client! I worked on a previous incarnation for Daniel two years ago, but it was never much more than a header design and some simple modifications to a prefab WordPress theme. Back then I don’t think Daniel imagined that his blog would eventually become super popular, so even just convincing him to move to a self-hosted platform was an effort. It was SO MUCH FUN to finally have a chance to design Manhattan Nest from top to bottom! It’s also so nice to think about how different Daniel’s life is now than it was two years ago—in 2010 he was a pet-free single guy on the Upper East side, and now he lives in Brooklyn with his boyfriend and their two dogs and he’s winning contests and stuff. (Hey, have I mentioned before what a truly good person Daniel is, and how happy I am that we’re friends and that he likes eating and drinking coffee as much as I do? Yes?)

CHEZERBEY + STUDIO ZERBEY
I’ve been reading Chezerbey for ages with more than a smidgen of jealousy in my eyes. Lauren and Kyle really set the bar high when it comes to home renovation, and it’s not just because they’re both architects—they also have amazing taste and an ability to stay within a budget and they’re not afraid to do pretty much all of the work themselves. I mean…this is my fauxdenza, and THIS is the Zerbey’s fauxdenza. WAY TO TAKE THE WIND OUT OF MY SAILS, GUYS. Just kidding!! Anyway, I was a little intimidated when Lauren first approached me about doing a complete makeover of their blog, but in the end it was a really smooth process. Both Kyle and Lauren are really good at expressing what they want and need both aesthetically and functionally, which is so helpful. Lauren even gave birth to their daughter in the middle of the redesign, but didn’t miss a beat. She’s superhuman.

In addition to having a kid, Lauren and Kyle also just became their own bosses and opened Studio Zerbey, an architecture and design firm. They asked me to design a website for Studio Zerbey that would complement Chezerbey while still looking distinct from the blog, and I think I achieved that. It was exciting to be involved with creating the indentity for a new business right at its inception!

Thank you so much to Jen, Daniel, Lauren and Kyle for trusting me with your projects…and for being patient and understanding when it comes to time constraints and sleep deprivation! I am privileged to have worked with you. Let’s all of us get together someday and have a “Dogs ‘n’ Blogs” party, OK? xoxo

So here’s the thing: As I’ve mentioned before, I am the Manhattan Nest super-PAC. As such, I would be remiss in my obligations if I did not inform you that a certain someone I like to call Daniel (because that’s his name) has made it to the final round in Apartment Therapy’s 8th Annual Small Cool Home Contest!! Apartment Therapy runs this contest every year, and the goal is to highlight the best in small-scale living. Daniel’s apartment clocks in at 614 square feet of awesome, and it’s by far the coolest apartment in the running. For real. And I’m not just saying that.

Need a refresher of how much work Daniel has put into his little rental apartment this part year? Here you go. YEAH. So let’s go help this kid win FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.

Go here to vote for ‘Daniel’s Amazing Bones’ to win Small Cool 2012!

Remember, even if you marked Daniel as a favorite in the semi-finals, you still need to cast a vote for the WINNER in the finals. If you don’t already have an account, make one. It’s easy. Goodnight, and thank you.

All photos by Maxwell Tielman.

OK, so it’s time to get political. You know the annual Homies Awards are going on over at Apartment Therapy, right? Yep, it’s true, the nomination round is over, and now the FINALS are nearly complete with less than a day of voting left.

UPDATE: Voting is now closed. Manhattan Nest took 2nd place. Yay, Daniel!

Here’s what you need to do:

✚ Go to the Homies 2012 Home Design Blog Finals page at Apartment Therapy.
✚ If you’re not already logged in, log in.
✚ Don’t have an account? That’s easily remedied.
✚ OK wait, go back to the Homies 2012 Home Design Blog Finals page.
✚ Here’s the easy, fun part: Vote for Manhattan Nest!!!

Just in case it’s not enough for me to just tell you what to do, here’s my campaign pitch:

All-original content. Daniel blogs about one thing: His own home. Yes, sometimes his cute boyfriend and his even cuter dog (sorry Max, dogs always win the cutestakes) come up, but it’s all in the context of him building a home for his little family. The photos you see on Manhattan Nest were taken by Daniel. The content was written by Daniel. Everything you see on his blog is him. And nobody is paying him or sponsoring him, either—he’s sharing this stuff because he enjoys it.

This kid is going places. I know it’s easy to forget when you’re reading his blog, but Daniel is only 22 years old. TWENTY-TWO. When I was 22, I was…well, OK, when I was 22 I had just started working at the same job I’m still at 14 years later, but that’s not the point. Daniel is young, and he is smart and kind and funny beyond his years. I don’t know what he’ll be doing in 5 or 10 years (I don’t think he does, either), but I do know he’ll be doing whatever it is really, really well.

Daniel inspires me. He inspires me not by sharing a bunch of things that inspire him, but by sharing what he’s done to make his home feel more like an extension of himself. He’s living in a rented pre-war apartment in New York City that’s gotten pretty run-down through neglect over the years, and he’s fixing it up on a student budget. He’s not doing this to make the apartment worth more, he’s doing it to feel happier every day—and he’s sharing that process with all of us. Every time I take on a project in my own elderly home, I think of Manhattan Nest and have a little WWDD moment. He makes me want to go the extra mile, and to think of solutions to problems that might not be immediately obvious. Daniel makes me not want to be a slacker. Isn’t this exactly the kind of inspiration you want to take away from a home design blog?

He’s my friend. I’m actually feeling kind of verklempt just writing those simple words. Daniel is my friend. He’s not just some guy I know on the internet, he’s my weekly coffee buddy, my personal mover, my confidant, my conspirator, my friend. I met Daniel because we both have blogs, and we’ve always supported and helped each other in whatever capacity we’re able. He’s a good person, and I’m very, very lucky to know him.

Ok, pitch done.