Studio Styling

Gramercy Bed Fave

I recently staged an apartment for sale, transforming a studio on Gramercy Park into the kind of place I’d like to live.  Over the course of two weekends, I moved in some favorite pieces of furniture, then layered in “life” with new accessories and pieces I’ve collected over the years.  By the end of it, I converted a once-disheveled bachelor pad back into an airy space for one.

This space also happens to be my old apartment – my first – purchased over a decade ago, as a youngin who knew little about real estate (and less about co-ops).  While living there, I tried my hand at renovating, redoing the kitchen (Dad, your backsplash is still lookin’ good!) and made other updates with storage solutions and new lighting.  The space suit me well for many years, teaching me in my 20s and 30s about living simply, minimalistically, in 450 square-feet.  

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Now that I’ve spent a few days converting it into a “listing”, part of me wants to move back in.  It’s not necessarily because of the neighborhood charm or the space itself, but because of how I felt the day I completed the task, after hours of styling, steaming, arranging, and photographing.  Letting myself sprawl out under the ceiling fan, legs aching, I looked around and felt proud of the results, a ruthlessly edited mixture of some of my favorite things.

But the added bonus was what I didn’t see:  there was no clutter, no mail to open, no to-do lists, no TV to turn on, not even a good music option.  And how freeing!  I popped open a cookbook and let my mind drift, less focused on to do lists, obligations, worries, and more focused on good memories from my time there, what I had to let go of, what I hoped for the future, and where I was.  Turns out that paring down and getting rid of visual clutter allowed me to get rid of mental clutter and be more mindful.

To be clear: I am not a minimalist.  I like my things too much: my book, my old photos, my peep-toe heels from another life, my seltzer bottles collected from near and far.  But I’ve gained a better understanding of the power of eliminating the other “stuff” that can sap my energy, and allow space for more joy to creep in.  I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book, but I have a feeling this was part of her gist.

I suppose that’s at the core of what I’m doing now, letting go of certain things, whether big (an apartment) or small.  It’ll make space for whatever is to come.  Freeing, indeed.

Gramercy Bedside 1

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Starts & Finishes

Hardware newI have a habit of starting many things at once.  Case in point: the 8 books on my nightstand at varying stages of doneness.

It’s not that I don’t finish them (I do), or that I become disinterested (I don’t).  It’s just that there are many things I want to get my hands into: things to paint! plants to plant! And I want to start all of it now.

One of these was a kitchen renovation I took on last year.  While I didn’t do anything structural, it was pretty involved, and it’s still only about 85% done.  (Did I paint the lower cabinets gray yet? Nope. Will I? Maybe). And I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that it’s not done, focused on the list of to-do’s to get me there.  

That’s something I’ve always grappled with:  the list mentality that goes along with any project.  Too often I’ve caught myself thinking “I must finish XYZ and check these tasks off before I can relax.”  

But I’m learning to be in the moment and focus on the “process of doing”, not just the end result.  Chalk it up to making bigger life changes or a heightened awareness of the swift passage of time (yikes).  I’m trying to be mindful of where I am this minute – instead of focusing on some imaginary finish line.

As it turns out, most tasks in this reno have been a blast:  picking finishes, accessorizing, styling.  Paying attention to these smaller moments is where the magic is (in kitchens, and in life).  So that’s where I am, enjoying the decisions I’ve made, big and small, that have made this space mine.

Some highlights below:

1. The FloorsFloor 1Ah yes, my heavy-duty, smooth and buttery encaustic clay tile floor.  It may be a favorite element, and what likely made this project stretch on for months vs. weeks (it took me awhile to choose a pattern).

The motif is baked into the top clay layer, so after years of wear, the pattern won’t wear away.   I chose the Atlas II from Cement Tile Shop because it feels part farmhouse, part modern.  The charcoal and milk colorway paired with a white grout imparts a faded-out look at the seams that I love.

2. Area RugMaker:S,Date:2017-10-20,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

This guy!  $30 at Urban Outfitters.  Every space needs a black accent for drama and depth.  This also hides all manner of spills and sins.

3.  Backsplash Tile

Speaking of, I was drawn to this ceramic tile because I was wanted a clean and minimal graphic like subway tile, but a bit more unique.  This 2″ hexagon from Home Depot is a nod to the asphalt blocks I see on my runs (walks?) along the Brooklyn Promenade, a little something inspired by the neighborhood.

4.  Greenery

Plants simply bring  warmth to a space in my opinion.  Succulents are nice on kitchen counters because they’re tight and their leafiness won’t get in the way of cooking.  And brightly colored planters allow for a color scheme that can change with the seasons.Maker:S,Date:2017-10-20,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

5.  Hardware

This is where I got to add some “jewelry” to my design.  I chose the simple dimpled Mid-Century Knob for the cabinets, and the squared-off Greenwood Pull for the drawers, both from Schoolhouse Electric.  I love that they’re handmade in the US from recycled brass.  The faucet is the Trinsic in champagne bronze from Delta, but the “wet bar” version, which works better in smaller spaces.  It’s also quote sexy for something rated so highly for longevity and functionality (note: it is totally normal to rank the sex appeal of a faucet).

6.  Accents / Kitsch / Doo-dads

Keeping in line with the brass, I added some character with a few small brass accents.  I know the brass trend may have peaked, but I personally cannot get enough of it. You could say these additions speak to two of my favorite kitchen activities:  crafting cocktails and popping open a brew. Maker:S,Date:2017-10-20,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y The plaque is from a road trip to that took me and a few friends through Malibu a few years ago.  I may mount it on the island to make a real “I’m on a ship!” statement, but for now it rests in a book nook.

7. Custom Grill

Alright, last brass thing (promise).  This custom grill covers a non-functionining heater and replaces and old, heavy steel grate.  This picks up on some of the graphic qualities of the floor but in an old-school Grecian pattern.

Grill

8.  Wood Elements – utensil holder, cutting boards, countertops

To balance some of the stark white and harder surfaces like the white wood cabinets and Caesarstone countertops, I used a 2″ thick walnut for the island surface, and echoed the finish in the form of a teak utensil holder and natural wood cutting boards.  The cutting boards are in constant rotation and do double-duty, covering the electrical sockets when not in use.

 

So, this is all she wrote for now, the highlights from a journey still in progress.  There could be more updates coming your way in the form of new accessories and details, but hopefully I’ll be too busying enjoying them to report back.

RESOURCES:

UrbanOutfitters – area rug

Anthropologie – planter

Whisk – teak utensil holder

Malibu Farm – brass plaque

Delta – sink faucet

ArchGrille – custom grill

Schoolhouse Electric – cabinet hardware

Home Depot – Merola Hexagon Tile

Cement Tile Shop – floor tiles

PH Architectural Woodworks –  all custom cabinetry and millwork

Summertime Throwback

Shell - Edited

They say the things we did for fun at 8 years of age are the things that will – then and now – make us happiest.  I’m not sure where I heard this, but when I did, it struck me.  And it did so again during a recent visit to my parents’ home.

I found this shell on display in a powder room, inscribed with its date of creation:  1988.  I was 10 at the time, and pursuing a budding career in shell painting.  These little studies took up much of my summer afternoons, and I spent hours churning out pieces for friends and family.  (There were many duds, of course: one gem that my sister has since “lost” screamed “Erika’s Room!” in a horrid peach-and-mint-green palette.  Not my best work).

But producing a masterpiece each time wasn’t the point.  I got lost in the blissful act of creation, and loved it.   There was no goal, no deadline; I was creating art for the sake of creating art.

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I thought of this recently when my friend Marley visited me at the shore.  She arrived with handfuls of colorful embroidery floss in tow, and we whiled away the day weaving bracelets, recalling the knots of our youth, muscle memory at its best.

With each new project, I spent an embarrassing amount of time choosing colors and designing my pattern.  Like painting shells, each new design presented me with a limitless combination of colors and an empty slate, the possibilities endless.

Bracelet cropped

I wove together this number after I got the hang of it (again)

And I realized:  this isn’t too different from dreaming up a concept for a room.  In fact, little creations like these can act as a springboard for new designs: like how a room would look with a with a buttery leather sofa, lavender and orange throw pillows, brass accents, and a patterned rug to bring it all together.

And I guess that’s the point of all of this:  by letting myself get totally wrapped up in something so simple yet so consuming, I not only created something beautiful (to me), but came out of it with renewed inspiration.

On that note, I’m diving more freely into my little creative projects, starting now.  Projects I’m pursuing purely for the joy they bring me.  We all get caught up in the speed and hustle of everyday life – at least I do.  Things may move fast around me, but it doesn’t mean I can’t slow down and find time for the things I love.

So I’m watercoloring more, painting more, sketching more.  And in the spirit of sharing, I’ll be publishing a different sample of work each month, starting with some watercolor studies I’ve been working on.

Hey, what’s old is new again.

Refurbishing a Chair

If you’ve sensed a theme in any of my posts, or if you know me well, you know I love a good deal.  But I love the hunt just as much, especially the type of hunt where you have no idea what you’re looking for.

That happened a few weeks ago when I snagged this humble but practical side chair at my local Housing Works.  It leans toward the Biedermeier style with it’s clean, curved lines and minimal ornamentation.  I also like its small scale which makes me think it’s old.  (I have a very unsophisticated way of dating things:  smallish = old.  Hey, people were tinier 100 years ago).

I’m always looking for extra movable seating for my place, and at the $30 price tag, I picked it up.  I envision its new life sanded down and au natural, letting the beauty of the original wood shine through.  A patterned neutral seat to replace the worn burgundy velvet will ensure its place in any room in my apartment.

Chair fabrics

And while there is no shortage of fabric options out there, I recently read an article in HGTV magazine about using cloth napkins instead of buying fabric by-the-yard for smaller projects.  Smart, right?

I did some hunting and found the above: the left and right patterns are from cloth napkins from Anthropologie, and the middle fabric is actually a linen pillow case by Ligne Particulier from ABC Carpet & Home.  Here’s how they’d look:

I’m leaning toward #3 as the winner.  It’s actually been through the wash a few times which imparts a soft, faded look and feel.

When the weather warms up, I’ll decide for sure, do some sanding, staple-gunning, and report back on progress.  But until then, I think I need to sit on it…

Waking up a Dull Corner

IMG_2461When you’ve been living in a place for a year plus, some of the details that you found unbearable at first seem “not so bad” after awhile.  I definitely experienced this (hello, 100-year-old rusty bathroom heater!)  That’s how I felt about this corner of my living room.

To be fair, the before picture is from the previous tenants.  But I think some of my recent updates have transformed this nook into a happier little enclave.

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after

This area had some nice things going for it:  built-ins on the north wall to the left, a nice cool gray wall color (Natural Grey by Behr), but based on pure apartment functionality, it was overcome by wires and power chords, not to mention my smallish (aka “man poison”) TV.  And for the past year I’d been using this Pottery Barn apothecary coffee table (below) as a console.

Apothecary Table

It’s a gem my sister passed along 9 years ago when she departed the city for the burbs.  It packs a punch and has served me well over the years, storing everything from a collection of clutches, iPod chargers, playing cards, old passports, and nail polish (you sensing a slice of my extra-curriculars?)  And I sadly have to let it go.  I’ve swapped it out for this West Elm console.  Predictable?  Yes.  But there’s a certain originality to this piece:  the shape is industrial but not cold, warmed up by the varying tones of wood.

I also needed to fire up the walls.  I had purchased this Gray Malin photo a few months ago and just had it framed.  I worked with the guys at Make a Frame in Cobble Hill.  They did an awesome job, and helped me choose a light maple frame and bright white matte.  And while I had to remove my death grip on my wallet to pay for it, it was worth it.

The photo itself speaks to my love of symmetry:  the umbrellas strike a nice repetition, and the pinks liven up the living room, so much so that I felt the need to add a pink-striped sarong (really!) from Anthropologie as a stand-in throw blanket on the gray chair.  Lesson here:  even clothing can be an accessory given the right context.

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Some other upgrades:  adding a tree.  I chose a fiddle leaf fig with big, glossy leaves, in an effort to bring the eye up and take advantage of some of the apartment’s vertical space.  I’d really love to keep this one alive.  (Apparently you need to “dust” your plants and give the leaves regular care, just as important as watering.  Who knew).

I also found a solution for those unruly wires.  This framed blow-up poster from a page out of Gourmet magazine makes a great shield that covers the mess, and it’s lightweight enough to be moved around when needed.

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Some light accessorizing rounded out the project.  The console needed color, so I pulled in a potted oregano plant and a green seltzer bottle to pick up the shiny tree leaves, fitting them snugly in a simple white tray.  Some trivia: the bottle was $18 at my local Housing Works thrift shop, presumably on sale since it’s chipped on the bottom.  #nobigwhoop  Score!

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I’m happy with the nook.  It’s a treat for the eyes, and my changes added some nice storage too.

As for the man poison?  I think my TV will remain a humble 26″.  I’m still looking for this guy, if you know where I can find him….

Trimming Your…Walls

20141214_224946 (1)Well, then.  We can just about tie a bow on this year.   Could that be right?   If the sidewalks of New York are any indicator, it feels holiday-ish for sure. There’s a frenetic vibe on the streets, and I can feel peoples’ paces quicken as they hurry to get stuff done.  I’m no different.  I love a good garland hunt, hanging lights, and an afternoon in the kitchen where I can bang out some sugar cookie dough and roll out my gingerbread men (“bite me!”)

It’s also a nice time to reflect and take stock.  Sitting here with my lovely little stump of a tree (couldn’t resist showing you my 3-foot charmer) I’m reminded that things have come together in my home this past year.

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One of my long-term projects has been finding art for my walls.  This area in particular, above my console, was screaming for a gallery-like composition.  But I didn’t want to rush it, nor did I want it to feel too cookie-cutter.

It’s finally taken shape with the help of some good – and practical – sources.  And while I’m all about investing in original pieces that last a lifetime, it’s not always reasonable (hello, mortgage!)  So I’ve corralled them below if you’re embarking on your own personal gallery mission. Enjoy!

Brooklyn Flea

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Transistor Radio by Michelle Han

This place always delivers.  The original Brooklyn Flea was set in Dumbo, and back before Brooklyn exploded, they were more focused on antique-y type dealers.  Now they’re full-fledged productions with even more space for hipsters and horticulturalists to peddle hand-made jewelry and artisanal honey.  Once in awhile you’ll find a pop-up Flea, like I did last fall in Park Slope, so it pays to scope out different neighborhoods.  I was happy to stumble upon this piece by Michelle Han, a local Brooklyn printmaker:  not only do I love the hand-carved quality of this print, but I love music and tend to get nostalgic for the days before we streamed everything.  So this makes me smile each time I see it.  14″ x 17″ Wood Gallery Frame by Pottery Barn.

Etsy:

For those of you not in the NYC area, Etsy has a huge range of art, from hand-screened prints, original paintings and custom work.  I purchased this bike print a few years ago (which is why I sadly don’t recall the name of the Etsy store), but I love it.  And framing it was an exercise in recycling:  I found a great frame at a yard sale and ditched the previous owners’ oil painting.

Then I “float-mounted” my new print on piece of charcoal gray paper so as to stay in step with my color scheme.  (I’ll revisit some more framing tricks in another post).  I think the dark background helps highlight the print.

Union Square

On Saturdays in Union Square, you can find loads of artists selling their wares.  This is my third piece from a photographer I met there, Matt Schwartz.  He creates his pieces from actual Polaroids, peeling away thin layers to give them an aged effect.

Yellowdress

Consider his work a precursor to Instagram.  You can find him online at SheHitPause studios.

Fab.com

While their selection is varied (read: hit or miss), they’ve got some gems.   From their series of map line drawings, I chose this Florence map, and it brings back nice memories.  Florence is the first place I ever traveled alone outside the states, and it reminds me of the many miles I walked.  For some reason, this seems a much better tribute to those two weeks, versus even the best framed photo I could have ever taken.

Florence

Etching, Map of Florence

One Kings Lane

LA-based photographer Gray Malin takes fantastic travel and aerial photography.  I found this aerial shot of a Miami beach on One Kings Lane, but you can go right to the source as well at graymalin.com.   I loved the accidental repetition of the umbrella shadows, and went large-scale with this one to hang solo on a separate wall.  I’m having this puppy framed up nice…ie, custom.  #happybirthdaytome  Check back to see how it turns out.

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Speaking of framing, I have some favorite sources there too:  AI Friedman, Ikea, CB2 and Pottery Barn – all make great quality frames in loads of sizes.  And while its tempting to order standard frames that match, it was even more satisfying to incorporate hand-me-downs and flea market frames that lend a nice a patina and sense of originality.

And just to make sure I had something original, I framed one of my practice watercolors from class.  It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a happy little piece, and it reminds me that some of my favorite pieces have no price at all.

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Settee, 2012

My parents, my clients

My parents are building a house at The Jersey Shore where they plan to spend their post-retirement years.  It’s not so much in Snooki territory, but in a calmer, more peaceful hamlet in South Jersey.

After 9 months:  progress!  They are getting pretty close to their move-in date, and there are finally walls up and floors down so we can get cracking on the interiors.  I’ve been scooting down there on weekends to see how they’re coming along and to lend my two cents (my favorite part!)

The biggest challenge in their case (and in any case where you’re envisioning a space that has yet to be built) was trying to get a sense of how the interior would come together, especially when they had only architectural plans to look at.  So this summer, to give them a sense of how the end product could look, I took on the living room as my pet project.

I drafted up a floor plan and suggested furniture layout, and converted it to a perspective (below).  I wouldn’t say I was given 100% free reign.  My mom had some solid ideas of what she wanted (and excellent taste, I’ll add):  a navy color palette punched up by a few accent colors, grounded by natural fabrics and woods.  But it was fun to start with a semi-blank canvas.  Here’s what I came up with:

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Living Room (perspective sketch)

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Living Room (watercolor)

My dad wanted a large sofa facing the fireplace, but I drafted up an alternative option:  two smaller sofas facing each other, both with good access to the fireplace (OK, OK…TV).  I always love this arrangement because it’s more conducive to socializing and doesn’t block off the rest of the room, which flows into an open dining/kitchen area.

We set out to pick a pale neutral gray paint color and chose Agreeable Gray by Sherwin Williams, then ordered the basics:  the two medium length Carlisle sofas from Pottery Barn, a customized wide ottoman upholstered in a navy flame stitch ikat fabric, and we’re still all over the place with the carpet (don’t ask).  We also chose a Minwax stain equal parts Jacobean and Dark Walnut for the floors.

As of now, here’s how it looks:

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The floors will be stained this week, with furniture arriving shortly after.  And I’m jonesing to make use of my felt furniture sliders (really important for protecting wood floors) and get the sofas perfectly placed.  Once the pieces are in, we’ll think about side chairs, art work, and accessorizing with some “room jewelry” like lamps and sparkly things.  Trip to Homegoods, anyone??