Home Sweeter Home: Part 3 and 4 AFTER!

Alright, dear readers, lest ye forget where we left off, the plan was to re-decorate the bedroom in our sweet little brownstone to create a space that belongs to Sweetheart and I equally, a space that is uncluttered, calming, functional, unified, and interesting. A good place to sleep, but also a lovely place to be. A place that is as bright as possible during the daytime while also being private at night… on the extreme cheap. Whew. Looking around the room (and spending a fair portion of wine-soaked cocktail hours during our recent vacation discussing nothing but this particular undertaking with Mama) I could break down the necessary changes into this list:

1) A window treatment solution that a) lets in as much light as possible while still maintaining privacy at night and b) addresses the many sins of the odd shaped and uneven windows that make that whole wall look choppy and disjointed.
2) A headboard for the bed that sets it apart as a separate entity in the room, encroaching windows be damned.
3) Cover up the shoe-shrine.
4) Edit everything else down to things of heart, beauty, and import.

Soooo… here are the results!

Mama made the curtains to cover the shoe shrine out of a flat sheet from Wal Mart (and also surprised us with a bunch crazy soft and lovely new bedding for Christmas/Hannukah), including the awesome pillow shams that she made and the little bolster that really ties the room together. Mama=Awesome.

For the window treatments, I used the divine Jenny’s amazing pelmet box tutorial, which may be the most inspiring DIY thing I’ve ever seen (it inspired tons of other people too… check out Jenny’s post on reader submitted pelmets here).

The pelmet boxes are deep enough to hide the unsightly privacy shades I installed while still leaving most of the window open to the light. Just what I needed! I also figured that if I had my pelmet boxes go all the way up to the ceiling, and by stretching them across both windows, they’d cover up the gap between the one window and the ceiling, mask the fact that one window is several inches wider than the other, and would create a unified visual line encompassing the bed area (and, hope against hope, make the room look larger??) on an otherwise choppy and weird wall.

Jenny’s tutorial calls for the sort of foam board that you would make a science fair project out of, but I couldn’t find any of that in my neighborhood (what is WITH that, New York?), so when I went to get the plywood for the headboard cut I had the epiphany to look in the insulation section of the Home Depot. I found this pack of Poly Panel foam boards designed to fit in between 2×4′s, each one 14″ by 5′ feet. Since I wanted the pelmet boxes to go flush to the ceiling to mask the window’s unevenness, 14″ was the exact right height. And since the pattern on the (crazy) fabric I chose, Iman’s Punjabi Peacock (which we got at Mood for way cheaper than on Calico Corners) repeated directionally (ie: the feathers face a certain way on the fabric, and that way is across the fabric, 60″ selvage to selvage, instead of longways) I’d need to make three short boxes instead of one long one anyway, so this weird foam insulation pack ($6 for a pack of 6) was the exact right thing.

For the headboard, I chose a really dark blue velvet, which pulled in the same blue that was in the center of the Punjabi Peacock fabric.I rounded off the corners of a pre-cut piece of plywood (thanks again, Home Depot), using a bowl for an outline, a small hand saw and a few beers (not recommended if you can afford power tools), and then wrapped the thing in velvet, batting, a cut up foam mattress pad and staple gunned the whole shebang. It was surprisingly easy and utterly satisfying.I love velvet, and really wanted to try Jenny’s post on tufting, but the amount of velvet that would require was, alas, not in the budget. I also didn’t want it to be too girly, for Sweetheart’s sake, so I ended up going with almost the very simplest silhouette possible.Another late-breaking epiphany occurred shortly after finishing the headboard. Sweetheart and I were out at the amazing Fairway grocery store in Red Hook and the awesome dudes who stock the coffee department happened to be re-stocking the coffee barrels from huge burlap sacks full of coffee. I asked them what they were planning on doing with the sacks when they were done, and they guy said “Giving them to you, if you want them!”. Things like this make me want to kiss New York on the mouth. So, after a giddy trip back home, I opened up the coffee sack with a seam ripper, ironed it, and tacked it up on the wall between the headboard and the pelmet boxes. Unlike a more expensive/labor intensive/semi-permanent wallpaper or paint solution that would cover the entire disjointed wall floor to ceiling, the burlap panel only covers about 5 square feet over that one section of the wall, but because the room is so chopped up (and the pelmet boxes and windows trick your eye to go there) just that small change makes the room look much, much warmer with no money and a few tacks. The antlers? We’re trying them out. So far I think we like them.

Fairway Coffee image from here.

Home Sweeter Home: Parts 3 and 4, Before

After Mama and I tackled DAS NORDEN and made my kitchen ship-shape, and after we un-antiqued the gnarly old secretary to turn it into a sweet desk fit for inspirational working, I turned my eye upon the bedroom Sauron-like. Wow. Looks sad. Not at all the kind of calm, adult space that feels like a respite from the madding crowd. Instead, it’s guilty of that kind of spatial inertia that grips a space after you move into an apartment and then… it just never changes. This was all compounded by the fact that I lived here for a year solo before Sweetheart moved in, so not only is the bedroom sort of tired, it’s also been sort of cobbled together out of necessity. The mandate: create a space that belongs to Sweetheart and I equally that is uncluttered, calming, functional, unified, and interesting. A good place to sleep, but also a lovely place to be. A place that is as bright as possible during the daytime while also being private at night… on the extreme cheap. That’s a tall order. The Bedroom, like the rest of the apartment, has a bizarre list of issues and perks all sort of stemming from the layout (I used this cool tool to make this little mockup on Apartment therapy): The major layout issues are: the decorative fireplace, the placement of the windows and the doors, and the existence of the radiator at all. This room was originally the main kitchen for the rest of the brownstone, so this fireplace is essentially one of those epic kitchen hearths large enough to hold an entire spitted pig. There are marks where the spit used to be. If only we could still use it to roast a whole hog. That sounds like a romantic bedroom activity. Unfortunately, the fireplace is now simply “decorative”, so when I first moved in the obvious function of this weird obsolete fire-hole was as a Carrie-Bradshaw-style shoe shrine, which was great. Over the past few years, though, I’ve acquired a) many, many more shoes and b) Sweetheart (and all of his shoes), so it’s gone from glorious to sort of gross.

It also means that the layout of this wall is sort of fixed/the only logical place for dressers/clothing storage are via two tall dressers on either side. And that means that the bed has nowhere to go but between the windows.This picture, as funky as it is, isn’t even the “before” at its worst as I already took down a set of too-long embroidered turquoise curtains (and have just installed custom cut blackout/privacy shades into the windows- notice the drill on the bed, not usually where I keep it) and swapped out the awful Ikea dresser Sweetheart got stuck with when he moved in for a dark wood piece with nice bones FREE from craigslist (pictured already above with Edison Radio). You can also see that the windows a) aren’t the same width b) one is flush with the ceiling and the other is 3″ below the ceiling c) they don’t match- one has old mullions and the other is “new”.

So. What can we do with this space? The windows are crazy, there are shoes everywhere, we can’t paint it, the bed backs up on the windows, it’s dark as a dungeon, and there’s only one plug. Even the pillows look unhappy to be there. What’s a girl to do? We’ll get to that tomorrow… but in the meantime, here’s a hint:

Home Sweeter Home: Part 2

How much do I love you guys? Enough to post the above photo of myself working at my secretary desk as a “before” shot. While the picture isn’t the most flattering of yours truly and I look to be wearing a tunic made of diapers, it is an accurate depiction of the old brown secretary that was/is my desk. This piece used to belong to Buddy and Grammy, my grandparents on my Mama’s side, and in an amazing feat of early 1970′s DIY (perhaps the very first DIY?) they “antiqued” this piece, covering up its nice lines and mid-century-reproduction-quality mahogany with a brown gunk that was meant to look old. It did, in fact make the piece look old. And tired. You can also see that the brownness wasn’t helping the darkness situation in my little “office” corner of the apartment. It was making it darker. Like “locusts covering the sun” darker. This picture was taken around noon, and you can see that four feet in from the window it’s almost pitch black. I might not have feet. After we tackled DAS NORDEN (which you can now see in the background here in all its Gabardine Glory), we now moved this piece into the kitchen for part II of painting mayhem. I love the little details of the inset piece- three curvy drawers, a tiny brown door (my Mama told me she used to say that a mouse lived in there when this was in her house growing up), and you can see where the “antiquing” ends on the inside of the drawer pieces. Yech.

As you may have read here, we had initially planned on painting this piece Martha Stewart Gabardine, and wanted the interior of the piece (the glass curio cabinet and the desk part) to be creamy white. Perhaps that would have worked in an airy loft wallpapered in Cochin from Grow House Grow:BUT, as we’ve established, that is not what I’m working with. SO- we decided that to brighten up the area and to be pleasing to the eye, that our palette would be Martha Stewart Oolong with Pale Yellow (generic paint purchased from the wonderful guys at Clinton Hill True Value). First we took the drawers out, the doors off, the shelves out, saved the burnished brass hardware, and primed the whole shebang:

Then, of course, we let it dry overnight and drank some wine. Are you seeing a pattern? When it was all said and done, it was pretty much perfect:So much brighter, so much lighter, and so much more functional. This is my desk when it’s open, useful storage when it’s closed, and it’s also (by necessity) home to our DVD player/Netflix Machine. I sit at this desk for many hours every day, so, needless to say it’s lovely to love looking at it (I’m looking at it as I type this). The mouse house now houses my mouse and mousepad when I’m not using them:The little curvy drawers that were once yechy are now sweet, lovely, and useful (I lined them with some pages of an old New York City postal-code book I found):And- my favorite part- the curio cabinet up top holds all of my little treasures and miniature inspirations (like my Baracklyn Cyclones Obama bobblehead, an armadillo skeleton found on Cumberland Island, a collection of sand dollars gathered from the Vashon Island mud flats at low tide, a tiny compass from the Marché aux Puces, and the weird little frog watering can that I picked out from my Great-Grandmother’s house when I was 10, to name a few):Pretty darn good.

Home Sweeter Home: Part I

After seeing Jenny’s Mom’s sideboard looking so fresh and so clean (almost as an aside in this post about the lovely green wallpaper), I decided to tackle our identical Ikea NORDEN for my first project. I capitalize NORDEN because anytime I say any Ikea name I say it loud and in a bad/deep Swedish accent. Here is the naked NORDEN:First, let me tell you a few things about our apartment. It is the whole bottom (read: basement) floor of a classic Brooklyn Brownstone. The kitchen is HUGE by New York standards (110 sqare feet) and our landlords re-did it a few years ago, choosing the marble-and-cherry wood finish and stainless steel appliances that were so very popular at that time. All the nitty gritty kitchen functiony things about it are pretty great (storage, counter space, big sink, dishwasher [!!!!!], large gas range with griddle etc.) and we cook in it ALL the time. But… it will never look like this:It will never look like this for a few reasons: a)  I am not Julia Child (sigh) b) our kitchen has no windows, it is, in fact, in the very middle of our apartment which is in the very bottomest darkest basement and c) there are no plugs in the kitchen into which to plug such a thing as a standing mixer and/or a lamp so- no-knead bread and overhead lighting it is. But I digress. Since I couldn’t just up and move to France, it was time to paint my NORDEN. For that I needed my Mama. We had ingeniously scheduled for her to come and visit at the exact time when the need to revamp was reaching a critical fever. With her help and guidance, we had two major projects lined up, first take care of das Norden and second, to paint the old secretary that I use for my desk (spoiler: you will be seeing some pictures of this very soon). We went together to pick out paint and decided on these two colors. Martha Stewart Oolong Tea- a sandy celadon we hoped would read less yellow- for the NORDEN, and Gabardine- a blue-green-grey color equal parts “stormy sea” and “I think the man in this suit is a spy”- for the secretary. Even after many inspiration based e-mails on the subject and lots of in-person discussion spent contrasting the colors of my pots and pans, we still probably talked about it for, like, an hour at the Home Depot on Nostrand Avenue next to the Sugar Hill club. We got our paints mixed, bought a few tools and a fair amount of wine and got to work sanding and priming. We had help the whole time:After our first round of sanding and priming, we had to leave the NORDEN in the middle of the kitchen overnight, so we ordered takeout and started in on the wine. About a bottle into it we looked at each other and said: We’ve got the colors backwards! NORDEN must be GABARDINE not OOLONG! In vino veritas. The next morning we started in on the gabardine, and spent most of the day on the floor. We had a very good time down there:When all was said and done, we loved it. We kept looking at it and saying “It looks more blue than green!”, then “it looks more green than blue”:Do I wish my kitchen were different? Yes. Do I wish it was brighter, airier, and not lit by four recessed floods? Yes. But, honestly, I can’t realistically change those things, so instead of maintaining some sort of bitter renters inertia, the simple act of just painting the NORDEN made our kitchen feel absolutely marvelous. Now the cast iron wok and the red dutch oven are friends, the fruits and strange amaros are close at hand, and we feel a bit more human.

More ever-loving thanks to Mama, who- as we’ve already established- never does anything half assed.

Julia Child’s marvelous kitchen from here.

Landmarked Gingerbread Brownstone, Floor-Through, DFP, Original Moldings

Today is the day that the Christmas season officially starts! Sweetheart and I are getting our tree today and the girls are coming over tonight for some hometown Colonial Williamsburg crafting (O it’s marvelous to be from Virginia, you can embrace pioneer spirit and make complicated decorations out of fruit and vines totally unironically), I’ve got Vince Gauraldi cued up, and also a strange and wonderfully joyous new-to-me collection of Swedish Christmas Carols I stumbled on delightedly from Door16 (free downloadable! God Jul!). With all of this in the works, how utterly perfect was it that my friend Renee posted this staggeringly lovely, utterly pitch perfect Gingerbread Brownstone on her wonderful (aspirational) food blog Kitchen Table Scraps. It’s like a scale model of my house! I can just picture Sweetheart and I carrying a miniature tree in through the basement door under the stairs… and I can almost see Nipsey Russell peeking through the spun sugar windowpanes through the gingerbread “window guards” (a nice gentle Brooklynese way of saying bars), in fact the giant “Whisk” installation might be right next door in the to-scale-Pratt-Sculpture-Garden. Bike Parking to the side.

I want a new Jug

After hosting a recent michelada party on the heels of visiting the divine Miss Esser, I realized how woefully inadequate my pitcher selection is. Seriously.
So, Huey, I want a new jug. These caught my eye…Covetous pitchers from Zinnia Cottage, VintageAbbey2, Blue Flower Vintage, Tom Laurus, and NostalgieEurope.

Wildflowers Don’t Care Where They Grow

Saw these amazing succulents growing wild on the sheer walls over the jagged caves of the Oregon coast. They’re like: See? You can make beauty in a hard place, but you’ve just got to go easy on it. Why, thank you, little cactustrees, how did you know I was feeling so introspective? See Also: Dolly Parton.

Rainy Day Nest: Recipe

Alpine Accordion Band Recipe Card

Ahh, it’s been one of those weekends. This week justified doing absolutely nothing* all day Saturday and then deciding, oh hell, let’s do absolutely nothing again today. Well… no matter how busy my week was, if I’m not going to go see (what looks like the most amazing) Norman Rockwell photography exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum or Snape/Shine at BAM or all the myriad things one should do on a rainy day off in Brooklyn. I always feel at least the need to fluff around my apartment and feather it a little bit. Enter: my favorite recipe- which I have never named and is simply: Almond Cake. It is SO ridiculously easy, but ends up quite special and sophisticated.

I like this recipe so much (and make it so frequently) that instead of living with the rest of the recipes, I transcribed it onto the back of the awesome Alpine Accordion Band postcard I got in the Hague and it lives on the fridge, edges curling with repeated Kirschings, in easy in-case-of-reference reach:

Almond Cake (for company or solitude celebrations)**

1 cup  almonds, raw
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 eggs
1 stick butter (softened, cut up)
1 tsp. Kirsch (if you have)
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
powdered sugar (in truth, optional… but just you wait!)

- Oven to 350 degrees please.

- Place almonds, sugar, salt and almond extract in food processor, pulverize.

- Add eggs, butter, kirsch and blend thoroughly.

- Add flour and baking powder, mix until just blended.

- butter/oil/pam/crisco/lard/whatever and flour pan (standard cake pan, torte pan, whatever)

- Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth.

(at this point Sweetheart comes in dripping wet in the middle of it– heading from teaching a children’s music class in Chelsea on his way to Bed-Stuy to lead a rock band of eight year olds– bearing champagne and bacon. le swoon.)

- enlist sweetheart’s help to lick spatula and everything with even a smidge of almond mixture on it clean (optional, encouraged…if you are afraid of raw eggs, then… I am very sorry for you. Egg nog, Southsides, Hollandaise, all other -aises, and sweet batters are some of the best treats around).

- Put un-cake in oven for 30-45 minutes until it turns golden brown and becomes cake.

- Let cool completely, then run a fine knife around the edge and invert on a plate. There is a surprisingly good little drawing of how to do this on my recipe card:

NOW- you are effectively done. BUT- if you’d like to take it a step further, then the easiest and most lovely thing to do next is to decorate it with a powdered sugar relief. Again, if you like making cheap things look expensive (like I do) and easy things look impressive (me too) then this is the kind of next level thing you’ll love.

Cut whatever you’d like out of plain paper– if you are artistically inclined you can get totally crazy, but simple shapes work just as well***– I chose a rainstorm-brings-spring-blooms thing because it’s so wet and nasty out today, but it must be paving the way for crocuses and daffodils like.any.second. Place your cutouts on your lovely almond cake:

Then dust a light sprinkling of powdered sugar over the cutouts using a fine sieve or flour sifter if you’re super fancy:

Then carefully take off the paper cutouts (I used tweezers for this one because the flower stems were as bendy as real flower stems and I didn’t want to color inside the lines by accident).

Et voilà:

This is the perfect way  to make “a rainy day where you could have gone to see Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts but decided to nap” into “a triumph of home and sweetness, and now let’s have people over to eat it for dessert”.

* Saturday I actually spent in the thrall of a Colum McCann book… I loved his newest and “supported my local bookstore” by buying this one and recommend devoting a Saturday to it wholeheartedly. Lovely and bittersweet and occasionally staggeringly beautiful. Slivovitz and words that taste like wheat and sky.

**The recipe calls for a large food processor, but until Sweetheart’s mama gave us a “Robot Culinaire” for Christmas/Hannukah/New Years, I made it just fine on multiple occasions without (chop the almonds fine fine fine and melt and stir the butter, instead of cubing it- no prob).

*** Other cakes we’ve made in the past month include:

Heart Cake for Valentine's Day

"Bubb's Cake" in honor of "The Wire" season IV Finale

If you make one Please send in a picture (we’ll keep adding on!).