As promised, one year in, a "before and after" tour of our apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Guys, there is still MUCH to do (I'm desperate to replace our crappy old dining table, for instance) but with a little love and elbow grease, I am able to concede that we've definitely turned things around in that time. We were lucky in that we moved from a similarly sized one bedroom apartment in Chinatown and so all of our furniture fitted pretty seamlessly, but in total, over time, we've probably spent about $1500 on sprucing up the place- mainly on paint, wood, soil, planters and pots for the garden and a couple of light fixtures. You'll also see that literally 90 per cent of our furniture has been purchased second hand, on Ebay or Craigslist, usually. I hope this post proves that a small budget can go a long way (especially with the TSWIL three-step plan of white walls, books and plants) if you're smart about it. Scroll down, if you'd like, to see some before and after shots.
LIVING ROOM: BEFORE
LIVING ROOM: AFTER
The living room, and indeed most of the apartment, was painted what I refer to, disdainfully, as "renters cream", a particularly odious shade of off-white that seems to be favored among landlords for some unknown reason. Do not get me started on off-white. Despite how much sun the south-facing windows got, the yellow-tinted, dull paint gave the room a damp, mucky look. The apartment's lack of storage (only two small cramped closets in the entire space- double merde) showed. First things first, we took a weekend to paint the walls (and everything else in the apartment) pure gallery-crisp white. I also painted the dividing doors a dark blue/black to add visual interest and keep things from looking too same-y. We ripped out the old-fashioned and ugly ceiling plate lights and installed a simple bentwood pendant from West Elm in the living room (changing the light fixtures is one of the simplest, cheapest and most impactful rental hacks one can do). We mounted our TV on the wall to avoid any unnecessary bulky stands and built (well, my handy husband did) simple alcove shelves for our giant amounts of books and any particularly sentimental knick-knacks. The room also quickly became a happy home for my beloved plant jungle, who lapped up all that light. We dotted around smaller arm chairs and our dependable slim-line sofa (made by Design within Reach but found on Craigslist for $200) for a seating format that felt organic to conversation.
The kitchen's lack of storage really showed before, and is still something we battle, as do so many of us tiny apartment dwellers, huh?. Thankfully the (illegal in our building) washing machine was removed before we moved in, and Isaac (whatta man) built a simple fold out wooden counter in its place. Other than that, nothing much changed, other than a minor white paint job. I relied on my finely-honed chucking away skills to reduce any excess kitchen clutter and I like the way my beloved orange Le Creuset pots bring a pop of colour to the room. Though I initially resisted putting anything on the fridge I relented after learning this fun fact (I printed the photos using this great company). The framed Rod Stewart record is an example of the super sentimental items that slip through my normally fierce clutter-ometer (not a word, don't care). I found him in a skip in Kentish Town when I was 19, taped him to my student kitchen wall and since then he's been the informal saint of my cooking efforts. I should really chuck him away but he just makes me laugh, and I'm convinced by this point that he makes my food taste better.
DINING ROOM: BEFORE
DINING ROOM: AFTER
When we moved in, the dining room was painted, inexplicably, a dull poopy brown. Middle rooms are so often tricky, particularly ones without windows, and this was such a non-room, with its desk/table combo and general bareness. Given our propensity for hosting impromptu dinner parties, and our love of having friends over generally, we decided from the get go that we wanted this space solely as a dining area. Firstly we painted over that brown and then set to work building the giant floor to ceiling book cases that we always need, just using inexpensive wood and brackets from the DIY store. I love the way that the shelves provide a beautiful focal point and entry way into the bedroom. Also, full disclosure, as I mentioned earlier, if there's one thing I utterly loathe in our apartment and am desperate to change it's our awful scratched up dining table (an old cheapy from Ikea). We're saving up for a truly lovely one, but for now I've shoved a table runner over the top of it an effort to try and hide its many sins.
As is my want, I kept the bedroom extremely simple. It's such a beautiful room, structurally, with a giant ceiling and those fabulous Victorian decals. With the help of a giant ladder we painted and scrubbed the room white and shiny. Thankfully my existing giant white wardrobe also seamlessly fitted into the room, covering up an old disused door and providing much needed storage. The previous tenants had placed the bed sideways, but we chose to put it, somewhat throne-like, directly in the middle of the room. We then repurposed a pair of velvet grey black-out curtains that had been on the windows to create a rail over the door way, so that the room could be completely sectioned off for privacy. In the corner of the room I added an old brown leather chair that I got for free from a neighbour (ummm, from outside Steve Buscemi's house, actually, he lives three doors down) and hung some ever dependable and snaky pothos plants in simple linen hangers. I love waking up and seeing that fresh green against white view.
APT THROUGH VIEW: BEFORE
APT THROUGH VIEW: AFTER
Our apartment is what's known in the US as a "railroad" which for a long time I misunderstood as being an apartment close to a train track (!!) but is in fact just a cute term for a place that is a series of walk through, inter connected rooms. Railroads are highly conducive to those that like open plan living, but all of them come, typically, with a tricky middle room, that often has less or no windows, and which can be seen the entire time from any part of the living space. That through-view becomes important to get right. I found this super inexpensive, red-toned rug and put it in our centre room. The pop of colour somehow makes the middle room a cosy centre point in the space.
And there it is, the famed you-have-to-climb-out-a-window-but-it's-an-outdoor-space-ok? terrace. This isn't the best photo in the world as sadly this photo shoot occurred on a rather grey fall day, but over last Spring and Summer I planted a container garden of dependable blooms- lavender, rosemary, geraniums, peris and ivy. Also, a shout-out that beautiful hyacinth tree in the top left, which we're currently wintering in our bedroom until warmer weather comes around again.
That's all folks. Also, a final shout out to the world's greatest and sweetest interior accessories, our black kitty duo, Lois and Maxine.
All "After" photos by Katja Hentschel