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.

Home Sweeter Home

So, I’ve lived in New York for a while now and, like pretty much everyone I know, I have serious apartment envy. Perhaps envy is the wrong word. Curiosity? Voyeurism? Obsession? I love nothing more than walking down the nicest streets in our neighborhood at night looking into people’s brownstones who left the shades open (look at that molding! what an amazing chandelier! They have PLANTS.). The same is true for online voyeurism- I (again, like pretty much everyone I know) practically refresh Design Sponge on the hour to see if there are new sneak peeks into the apartments of real people, I loved Domino, Martha Stewart is practically pornographic, and my pinterest is pretty much all pictures of people’s reclaimed wood tables, plush velvet couches, whiskey-organization-systems, and (again) plants that the light in our basement apartment cannot support. There are two things that are tough for me, though: unlike most the people who inhabit the amazing gorgeous spaces I suckle, 1) we rent our apartment, and so we can’t paint the floors or mess with the light fixtures or rip out the pre-fab dark cherry kitchen cabinets and  2) at this point (le sigh) Dorothy Draper dressers and/or any sofa that isn’t our trusty futon aren’t in the financial cards for us. The Selby will never be in our place. I think this is why I love Little Green Notebook so much.Unlike so many of the other designey blogs out there, which engender only covetousness, Jenny fosters a grand and wonderful sense of possibility (also, is it weird that I totally feel like we’re on a first name basis?). She has me believing I really could reupholster the victorian settee that belonged to my great-grandmother myself, that careful editing and judicious use of craigslist can make a space look (pretty much) just as good as a space furnished out of Holler and Squall or John Derian, and- most importantly to me- that just because you don’t own your space is no reason not to make it your own. She also always has a bright red manicure when she’s doing semi-manual labor and that’s something I can get down with.After the one two punch of watching Jenny take down temporary wallpaper (!) in her rental apartment and realizing that the kitchen island that Jenny and her mom re-painted here was the EXACT same one that we have from Ikea (but with additional hardware) I thought: I can do this. For the past two months or so I’ve been on a Little-Green-Notebook-fueled, totally low-budget vortex-redux of our apartment. With infinite thanks to Sweetheart, my ever-lovin-Mama, and, of course, Jenny: this week I’d like to share all the changes with you… Stay tuned.

Images from top: here, here, and here.

Simple and Wonderful Do-it-Yourself Pomanders

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Christmas. Perhaps it’s the inheritance of the December baby, whose favorite birthday celebration for five years in a row was to go see The Nutcracker wearing a gargantuan taffeta hair bow and sporting a fur muff (some things never change… Sweetheart is taking me to see it at BAM on Tuesday, and maybe I’ll wear my Samantha muff). My holiday love, though, probably comes from growing up in Colonial Williamsburg, where, every year, the season starts with a bang at the Grand Illumination celebration- where the streets of the colonial town are lined with bonfires and it is mandatory for every household to put white candles in the windows. Oh how wonderful to go to the Raleigh Tavern Bakery and get one of the amazingly dense and spicy gingerbread cookies and walk the streets of Williamsburg in the clear chill and look at the decorations. Every railing and lintel festooned with magnolia leaves and pineapples, boxwood and pine roping, and, of course pomanders. For inquiring minds, here’s a full history of pomanders (from the french pomme and ambre, meaning, literally, apple of amber), but in short, in the absence of giant inflatable snowglobes for the yard, colonial households would stud the thick skins of precious oranges, lemons, and other fruits with a design of cloves to fill their houses with the heavenly scent of bright citrus and pungent-sweet spice. Ah-Mazing.Last week I had the girls over to drink wine, talk about what we’d missed in our whirlwind lives since we last saw each other, and to make pomanders. You just need:

-A large container of cloves; each pomander will use 100 or so cloves depending on your design, so you want to be sure to have enough
-Fruit; this year I used oranges, lemons, and pomegranates but you can also use limes or apples… anything you want, really.
-A poking utensil; I used this moustache corkscrew, but also on the table was a meat thermometer and one side of a corn-on-the-cob holder. This is not an exact science.

Decide on a design- stripes, lines, and swirls work wonderfully as do harlequin and argyle patterns, or even random polka dots.

Poke a hole in the skin of the fruit in the shape of the design you envision and put a clove in each hole. The cloves are incredibly aromatic, but they can be kind of sharp.

If your fingers start to hurt from pushing the cloves into the fruit try using a thimble.

It’s incredibly easy to make these yourself, and unbelievably satisfying to end a night with a belly full of wine and root vegetables and a bowl of beautiful, fragrant, and timeless pomanders that will keep for weeks, looking lovely and smelling wonderful whatever your holiday season may bring. They gave my apartment the feel of a gingerbread brownstone for my holiday party- incredibly festive.

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.

Nesting Itinerary

WordPress still won’t allow me images (gnashing of teeth! shaking of fist!), so here’s a little narrative:

Expecting a slew of guests for the holidays, sweetheart and I are working on making our Brooklyn brownstone as streamlined and lovely as possible. After my recent jaunt abroad, it’s hitting me that we don’t have very much time! Here’s what we did yesterday to try and make our bedroom nest a little nicer (full disclosure I’ve been obsessing over the amazing Jenny at Little Green Notebook, and this bedroom redux will have her fingerprints all over it… I heart a woman who hearts her staplegun):

-Took the old curtains down, took measurements
-Notice that though windows look the same size, one is two inches smaller than the other.
-Also notice that one is flush with the ceiling and the other is two inches lower. nice.
-Went to home depot, flirted my way into getting wood cut for headboard also realized that pre-made curtain rods for the shoe fireplace (yes, I have a fireplace- non-working- dedicated as a shrine to shoes) are either too short or too long blargh!
-Got some wooden dowels in an attempt to circumvent.
-Drove to East Village and picked up a free dresser for Sweetheart from Craigs List. Had him meet me so I wouldn’t be abducted. Told my Dad that, he was happy.
-Dresser has some pretty serious dings on it, but has good bones and actually nice hardware.
-Many drawers inexplicably full of glitter. NOTE: Glitter is the Herpes of the craft world.
-Drive home across the Manhattan Bridge with the dresser vibrating and rattling.
-Find an amazing parking spot right outside the apartment. Score!
-Neglect to take before pictures in zeal to get things moving!
-Remove drawers from his old dresser, remove old dresser carcass to kitchen.
-Remove my dresser drawers, and wipe the whole thing down (yuck).
-Move my dresser to the other side of the fireplace to prepare for moving the bed to the other side of the room (which I’ve measured will fit).
-Move a big old naugahyde chair and side table into the corner for “holding tank”.
-Move bed across the room.
-Become Aghast at dust bunnies under bed.
-Realize bed on other side of the room “fits”, but won’t allow dresser drawers to open OR bedside table on either side. Also makes the path from the door to the bathroom feel like one of those humane slaughterhouse animal chutes, no bueno.
-Abandon that idea.
-Pour Wine.
-Vacuum thoroughly.
-Move bed back across room.
-Move my dresser back to its old spot.
-Wipe new dresser down/try valiantly to remove glitter
-Apply about 1/4 bottle of dark Old English on it- it looks damn good. May your first dresser be a masculine dresser.
-Put new dresser in dresser hole.
-Banish old dresser to curb. Still there today. A brief pang of “Brave Little Toaster” really, no one loves that dresser.
-Put Naugahyde Chair and side table back on opposite wall.
-Sweetheart begins to make dinner.
-I get out trusty drill and install custom cut rolldown blinds. Like a Champ.
-That’s done.
-I then try to screw into the fireplace. NOT HAPPENING. It’s made of kryptonite. I break my littlest drill bit. Now, really not happening.
-So- I realize I can screw into the mortar at either side, so I do this survival-desert island deal where I screw screws into the mortar, put a brad-type-nail perpendicularly into the wooden dowel/curtain rod and tie a string around the screw and around the nail. This, amazingly, works. Not a long-term solution, but it’s my version of a coconut radio.

The good news: A few steps closer to a streamlined bedroom that will be as “airy and spacious” as a brownstone basement allows.

The great news: The guests that are coming (Mama and Daddy among others) will bring a SEWING MACHINE and have already promised to fashion exquisite pillows, curtains, and valences. BAM.

If and when I ever get the power of pictures back I’ll post some pictures of the whole shebang!

Arts and Farts and Crafts

In which: my mama comes to town and we begin to execute a series of much discussed craft projects (increasingly-ambitious-proportional-to-the-amount-of-wine-we’ve-had)  painstakingly designed and overseen by Nipsey Russell the cat. More to come…