5 Days, $500, 248 sf NYC Apt…Go!: Final Day (Finally)

I love New York City.  I just outed myself as a non-resident, in calling it by its full USPS-approved name, didn’t I?  How middle America of me.  Ok, “The City”.  It’s where rich people go to feel poor.  Where else could you spend $3,000/month to live in a closet masquerading as an apartment?  Every time I feel like as if I have too much change in my pockets, I book a flight to Manhattan.  Or take a trip to Whole Foods down the road. Whichever one is cheapest.  And let me tell you, Whole Foods does not often win.

Going from Seattle to The City is a jump in many regards, but the two cities have much more in common than you would think.  Anthony Bourdain compares Seattle to “Brooklyn before there was a Brooklyn”.  This is mostly true, but overlooks the fact that Seattleites, well…they’re really not that cool.  And that’s how they like it. The majority of the population here are like a Who’s Who of Doctor Who fans. My fiancé is one such enthusiast.  He’s planning on wearing a celery boutonniere to the wedding.  I’m just hoping that he doesn’t try to eat it halfway through the ceremony. But the main difference between the two cities is the clientele who shop at stores like Goodwill.  NYC has real homeless people in there, The Emerald City largely does not.  In Seattle, that homeless looking guy that you tossed a quarter to?  Probably the CEO of some software company. He’ll gladly take that penny too, and shove it into his fanny pack.  And that fanny pack was, more than likely, purchased at a thrift store during a half off sale.  Because seven figure incomes just doesn’t buy what it used to.

This is why, while in New York, I sometimes forget myself and strike up random conversations with legitimate homeless people, under the misconception that all of their hardwiring is intact.  For example, on the final day of redoing my sister’s apartment, I stepped into the Salvation Army on 3rd Avenue.  Spotting a gorgeous olive green leather chair, I immediately go over to lay my claim by sprawling myself over the armrests. Looking at the price tag, I mutter to myself, “$24.99?  That’s cheaper than stealing it.  Not that I would ever do that, just in case anyone is listening”.  A middle aged man sporting a shirt with more dirt than fabric hears me and spits out, “Ya got crack?  I ain’t gonna steal it from ya…if ya just give it to me”.  This was when I un-sprawled my limbs and made a quick exit, while telling myself not to make eye contact within the four walls of a Salvation Army in NYC ever again.  But it was a steal of a deal, and I went back later that night to buy the chair.  Here it is.

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I gave it a good wipe down with a wet towel.  Then I thought better of it and disinfected the entire thing with the strongest anti-bacterial cleanser I could lay my hands on.

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The gorgeous detailing in back is definitely more valuable than two Snack Packs and a Fruit Roll-Up in an elementary school playground.  It is a deal like this one that makes thrifting so rewarding.

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After Salvation Army, I hopped on over to its cleaner cousin, Goodwill.  There, I found these gallery frames for $7.99 and $10.99.  I initially intended to replace the print with something else, but ended up kinda sorta really liking the simple black and white photography.  A lot, actually.  I arranged them simply grouped on the living area wall.  I had two random wooden curtain rod ends, so I threw those up there as well.  I may or may not have used a level.

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Here is what the Living Room Area looked like “Before”.

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On Day 5, this is what the Living Room Area looked like “After”.  It’s the same area, just different view, I swear.

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Remember the random stuff I was hoarding from different thrift stores?  Giant thread spools large enough to keep two sweat shops in business until 2015?

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Here they are, living the retired good life as adornments to the coffee table I had refurbished a few days prior.

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And those plaster medallions?  I stuck them on the wall, then realized I measured incorrectly.  So, they were slightly off-center.  In my defense, it was after happy hour. Instead of rehanging everything, I re-centered the entire grouping by adding the wooden spool of leftover twine to the end.  I love it when laziness and creativity come together.

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There is an antique ironing board that my sister has, which we picked up in New Hampshire, years ago.  I really liked the board, but found the backside hardware much more interesting that its plain top.  So, I ended up displaying it, backside forward, as a stand alone piece in the living room area.

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In its previous life, the ironing board was hanging out with a rope ladder that we had found outside of a Babycakes NYC.  This was years before.  I cut the rope off of the wooden rungs and displayed it in a glass container.

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Sitting beside that rope display is the glass lamp base we found at Goodwill.  I placed my sister’s river rock collection under it.  Then I added a lampshade we found on clearance, from Bed Bath & Beyond, for $9.99.

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My sister, she is wonderful.  Absolutely darling.  But she’s not someone you would categorize as being of the overly emotional variety.  She avoids hugs at all cost.  Instead, she’ll give you a hand hug, if she likes you.  Fist shake if she doesn’t.  And handshake if she couldn’t care less.  For really special occasions like weddings and funerals, she will also add in a heartfelt thumb nuzzle with that hand hug. This is strangely comforting, I should probably add.  So, it came as quite a shock when I showed her the finished apartment and she was, how do you say it?  Teary eyed.  I asked her, “Um, this hasn’t ever happened before, so I’m not quite sure how to proceed…but um, are you…are you crying?”.  She quickly looked away and muttered, “No, my eyeballs are just sweating. Those corneas, you know how they just love to sweat.  Sometimes I wonder how many calories my pupils burn while dilating, alone.  Hey, you didn’t get rid of my giant 24 pound wheel of cheese, did you?”.  She told me that she loved what her sweaty pupils were seeing.

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A few days before, I had found a wine rack at Goodwill.  I then placed two terra cotta planters into the wine rack.  I tilted the planters to make it all fit in.  Then I dabbled on some Behr paint in “River Walk” to add some color.

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Home Depot had some plants.  I found one for $3.99 and another for $3.49.  I took them both home with me.  After paying, of course.  Here are the plants in their happy new home.

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I then placed the wine rack planter on top of the existing black table.  To change up the entire look, I took out the existing hardware and replaced it with our free Anthropologie dresser knobs.  She had saved those rings of wood from a wedding, years before.

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This table was placed at the foot of the bed.  Here is a view of the Bedroom Area “After” I had repainted the walls, added window treatments and redone the bookcases.

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It’s kind of a huge jump from the canvas-used-as-window-treatment genre of decor I had witnessed during Day 1.

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Another “After” view.

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Here is the homeless chair I had found tossed out onto the streets.  I rehabbed it with some spanking new fabric and then paired it up with a sexy side of revamped dresser. Let me know if my choice in adjectives is starting to creep you out.  I’m pretty sure it does.

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It’s a rather nice little seating area.  The entire chair/dresser combination is off to the sides a bit, so it’ll be of service to some of my sister’s more socially awkward guests.  If she ever decides to host a dinner party.  But then again, she takes after our dad.  And according to our mom, our dad “cooks, alright.  Your dad cooks from the couch”.  Maybe she’ll have a tuna can opening/eating party.

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This 248 sf area of my sister’s apartment was done in five sleepless, flu riddled days.  You may want to scroll through Day 1-4 to see the full renovation, including the kitchen and green dresser area.  I also managed to redo it for far less than our initial $500 budget. Here is the breakdown of the spending:

  • Paints: $51.88
  • Paint Supplies: $14.99
  • Furniture & Furniture Renovating Materials: $99.98
  • Wood: $11.82
  • Plants: $7.48
  • Fabric: $23.00
  • Wall Art: $27.37
  • Decor: $150
  • Miscellaneous: $48.24

Total Cost: $299.76 (Correction: Apparently, I can’t input numbers correctly on my calculator.  The total is $434.76.  Still under budget but much less money left over for drinks.  Thanks to people who pointed this out).

And a final look at the NYC apartment before I flew out the next morning.  It was time to go back to the unshaven and plaid wearing populace of Seattle.  A place where you can say things like, “Yeah, I’m going to have to decline that invite.  There’s a secret mushroom patch I’ve been foraging.  I kind of want to make a final harvest before chanterelle season is over.  I mean, my famous wild mushroom risotto isn’t going to make itself, girlfriend” and people nod with intimate understanding.  Image

5 Days, $500, 248 sf NYC Apt…Go!: Day 3

Day 3 turned out to be a pretty routine day for me.  One minute, I’m trying to decide between clotted cream or lemon curd to spread on my scone (I ended up doing both) during high tea at The Crosby in Soho.  And the next?  I’m dumpster diving.  In my heels. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit since there was no actual dumpster involved.  Here’s the story: My sister and I were walking along 3rd Avenue when I spotted a pile of discarded furniture outside of Vintage Thrift, so we crossed the street to have a look. Nothing was really worth lugging home, except for this chair.  Absolutely love the lines of this piece.  It just needed a few coats of paint and someone to get rid of that awful pleather cushion cover.  So, we picked it up and dragged it home.

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Once we got back, I noticed that there was a slight separation between two of the joints in the chair.  To fix this, I dabbed a little wood glue to either end, pressed down and held it in place with a makeshift clamp.  It was, by no means a fancy contraption.  I just used a very heavy textbook and the laws of gravity to hold the joints together.  Once that was done, I sanded down the entire chair and wiped it down with a damp cloth.  Next, came primer…or if you’re too lazy to go buy primer like myself, I just did a base layer of any old white paint lying around.  Same thing, if your finish paint is light in color.  I think.  Don’t quote me on that one.

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After the chair was dry from the first layer of paint, I figured I should remove the wooden seat bottom before giving it any more paint.  You’ll probably want to do this earlier but it really doesn’t matter too much if you’re planning on reupholstering the whole lot like I did. This is the chair after a coat of Behr paint in “Antique White” and a coat of that “Crystal Clear” polyurethane.

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While waiting for that to dry, I turned my attention to the seat bottom itself.  There was no way I was going to put that brown pleather, that I half painted, back on the chair.

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My solution was to strip the pleather cover off of the seat cushion and then place it over the seat bottom.  Once I placed the two on top of each other, I used a pair of scissors to trim the cushion down to the size of the seat bottom.  Use glue to stick the two together so that it doesn’t move around later.  Then I used the striped fabric we had purchased from Tru-Mart to cover the whole thing.

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I forgot to pack my staple gun when traveling, so here’s my improvised reupholstery techniques.  First, use a quality fabric.  They make upholstery fabric for a reason.  It will cost substantially more but is worth it since the dense material will take the constant wear and tear of daily use.  But if you’re not planning on using it much, then I guess whatever fabric will do. Once you have your fabric, find the correct side, or the side that you want everyone to see. Place that side facing the ground (or another clean, hard surface).  Then place the seat bottom plus cushion on top of that.  Trim the fabric to the shape of the seat bottom but in a larger scale.  You want enough excess fabric to attach to the back of the cushion.  After the fabric is trimmed to size, you want to go ahead and attach the fabric to the seat cushion with nails.  Get the thin one inch nails that don’t have much of a head. The ones that are in small clear hanging packs at The Home Depot.  Use these in lieu of a staple gun.  To do so, you want to hold the fabric tight, then hammer the nail halfway down its entire length.  Once halfway buried, take your hammer and start hammering the nail on its side until the whole thing is flush with the seat bottom surface.  The end result should be a right angle that securely holds the fabric down to the seat bottom.  Use as many nails as you need to to get the fabric to rest taut.  I think I ended up using at least twenty for this project.  I prefer staple guns but this really does work just as well.

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And this is the Dumpster Diving Chair “After”.  The bright turquoise fabric choice gives the chair an updated “fun” look, although I’m not sure how a chair has fun.

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Beside that chair is a black dresser my sister bought years ago for $15, off of Craigslist. The overly gold hardware kind of gives it a Chinese lacquered tea room look that I wasn’t too big of a fan of.  But here is the dresser “Before”.

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And here are some scrap pieces of off-white paper that I rounded up.

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To change the entire look of the dresser, I cut the paper into rectangular pieces measured to the size of the inside of each gold hardware plate.  Then I glued it down.  The end result was more Restoration Hardware vintage dresser versus something out of a Chinatown attic.

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Pillows are pricey.  I have no idea why, since they’re so cheap to make.  So it should come as no surprise that I was spending the night sewing a pillowcase in my pajamas.  Below is the upholstery material I flew in with.  It was leftover from another chair reupholstery project.

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I took the fabric and measured it to the exact size of the pillow which was 18×18 inches. Then I cut the fabric out in three pieces, leaving a generous centimeter of extra fabric around the perimeter.

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This is a really clean way to sew a pillowcase, with no zipper.  I’ll show you in a later post how to do it exactly, since it’s a bit detailed.  But it’s basically three pieces with the two smaller ones overlapping in the back.

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Using a backstitch, I hand sewed the fabric and inserted a pillow my sister already had in her possession to form this.  Here is the pillow “After”.

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Next, I turned my attention to her green dresser.  I liked the color but was not a big fan of the knobs themselves.  What I wanted to buy were these rope knotted dresser knobs at Anthropologie for $12 each.  With twelve dresser knobs, it seemed a bit frivolous to spend $144 on a dresser’s hardware, so I decided to make my own nautical themed knobs. Here’s what I started off with.

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I then took wrapping twine and tied a tight knot into one of the ends, like this.

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Then you take an upholstery tack and jab it directly into the middle of the knot.  Trim off the excess rope.  Home Depot sells these tacks in the nails section.

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Take that knot and tack contraption and nail it directly into the center of each dresser knob.  This will only work with wooden knobs.

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Using E-6000 glue, I dabbed on a generous amount of the stuff to adhere the twine to the wood.  I wrapped it continuously around the tack until I reached the knob’s outer edge. Then I held it in place with a pin.  Take this out when it is completely dry.  I recommend E-6000 since it’s my favorite but you can use any heavy duty glue (like Gorilla Glue) as long as it’s easy to peel off of your hands at the end.  This project can get a bit messy so please don’t use Super Glue.  I haven’t used that stuff ever since it glued together my eyelids…last month.  But here’s the end result.  It cost about $8 to make when Anthropologie knobs would’ve been $144.

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Here’s a close up of some of the things I made on top of the dresser.  The “S” letter thing was made with random stuff I found for cheap at an architectural salvage store in Seattle.  I think some are actually those window clasps you see in old buildings.  The artwork itself was actually canvas she already had.  I covered it with chalkboard paint, let dry and then drew on it with a paint pen.  It’s Mo, the best dog in the world.  According to Mo.

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5 Days, $500, 248 sf NYC Apt…Go!: Day 2

You know you have a thrifting addiction when you find yourself at a NYC street corner, mentally shopping out of homeless person’s shopping cart/home-on-the-go.  In my defense, that woman had a lampshade that, I swear, was a Tiffany original.  I envy. Anyhow, back to the apartment.  After some Pushcart Coffee, my sister and I headed on over to what she refers to as “Thrift Row”.  Goodwill, Salvation Army, Housing Works, Vintage Thrift, they were all there.  I was not like a kid in a candy store.  I was more like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, trying to stuff a Bonus blow up Hamburger Helper hand into my shopping cart within 60 seconds.  My advice on successful thrifting?  Put away your expensive handbags and engagement rings.  No sane person is willing to haggle down the price of a $50 chair with a woman wearing a $50,000 engagement ring.  I get my best haggling deals using a Trader Joe’s reusable shopping bag as my purse.  But that’s how we got this antique table for $40.  Table was originally $75.  We showed up with Trader Joe’s handbags.  Ten minutes later, we’re carrying a (very heavy) table back to the apartment, with the intention of turning it into a coffee table.  Below is a picture of the coffee table “Before”.

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To turn this table into a proper coffee table, I needed to make it not so tall.  I guess “shorter” would be the word.  To remedy this problem, I sought out the help of the superintendent of the building.  I needed a saw.  He had tons.  After asking me roughly ten questions all centered around the key theme of, “You’re not planning on using my saws to hack any bodies, right?” I finally got my hands on a saw.  Then, I went back to the apartment to saw off the legs to my desired height preference.  Legs of the table, that is.

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While I was sawing away (it was real wood, so it was super dense and hard), my sister sat on a chair and told me, “I’d help but you have a wedding to look good for, so this is a great way to work out those arms.  You can thank me later”.

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For this coffee table, I envisioned an antique white finish over layers of vintage blue.  To achieve this look, I gathered together all of my supplies which consisted of sandpaper, paint, paintbrushes and rollers.  You want to get the densely packed foam roller for this project.  Much smoother finish.  Oh, make sure you measure the table legs of any table if you’re going to saw it short.  You don’t want to be known as that house with the deck of cards under the leg of the dining room table, cause Mommy/Daddy couldn’t be bothered to measure correctly.

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First, I gently sanded the table.  Then I wiped it down with a damp cloth and let it dry.  This didn’t take long.  It’s not long enough for a full martini break.  Just a sip-and-bite-of-olive long break.  For this table, I bought a Behr sample of paint in “River Walk”.  With a paintbrush, I slowly applied very thin layers of blue paint to the entire table, making sure to leave bits of the gorgeous wood carvings to show through for an antique brushed look. You don’t want to load up on paint.  Work in a crosshatch pattern with your brush.  Oh, I forgot.  I took off the hardware before painting.  You should probably do the same.

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After I waited for the blue layer to dry (it doesn’t take long since it’s so thin), I used the same painting technique to apply two layers of Behr paint in “Antique White”.  The end effect should have bits of wood and vintage blue popping out between layers of antique white.  To seal it all in, I added a layer of clear polyurethane once the paint was dry.  Get the canister marked “Crystal Clear” or else you end up with the nasty yellow tinged “Clear” kind.

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To finish off the table, I re-added the carved brass hardware and lined the inside of the drawer with leftover scrapbook paper.

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Coffee table “After”.

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Same table, different view.

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Once I was done with the coffee table, I turned to the issue of providing privacy for the space.  I didn’t want to do long curtains since the bookcases sat directly below it and would’ve been covered by any long fabric.  Short curtains were out of the question as well since I think they look tacky.  Roman shades were also an option, but I chose to do a faux etched glass look for this room’s windows instead.  This window effect provides an opaque lacy look that allows plenty of light in but leaves the curious eyes of neighbors (across the courtyard) out.  The best part is that the window treatment can be undone upon move out with a wet sponge and some patience.  To create a faux etched glass look, I needed starch as well as sheer fabric.  Luckily, I packed panels of such fabric in my luggage.  This one was purchased from an Austin Goodwill years ago for $1.99.

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After giving the windows a thorough wipe down, I measured the glass area I wanted to cover.  Then I cut the fabric accordingly.

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For this fabric, since it’s light, I was able to put it up with heavy starch spray.  Just spray the window, then spray the side of the fabric that’ll touch the window and press down. Spray as much as you need to.  You may want to lay down a towel over any area directly under this.  It gets a bit drippy.

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Smooth out the air bubbles with your hands.  If you have a straight edge or squeegee, this will be a good time to make use of those.

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Since the spray can version of starch only works for the lighter fabrics, I had to find a different solution for the heavier lace material I wanted to use for the side windows.  So, I made my own starch.  To make this, you’ll need to dissolve 1/4 cup of starch in 1/2 a cup of cold water.  Stir it around a bit until the starch dissolves.  Then I boiled 4 cups of water in a pot and slowly added the starch mixture once it was hot enough.  Keep stirring until the starch is broken down and the mixture is slightly opaque.  Once this happens, turn off the heat and let cool.  Using a brush, apply the cooled off starch mixture to the window. Soak the heavy fabric in the starch mixture and apply the heavy fabric in the same manner as the lighter one.

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We bought the lovely lace on the side windows after searching for “un-trashy” lace for two days.  After checking out several fabric stores, we ended up at a corner store called Tru-Mart.  The service was horrible, the 10×20 ft store resembled a fabric hoarder’s paradise with nowhere to walk (or run away) but hey, the price was right.  We ended up getting two yards of this lace, two yards of burlap and three yards of striped linen for $23.  When you’re dealing with wet fabric, it tends to stretch a bit so you may end up having to cut away some of the excess fabric off the sides of the window.  Wait until it’s dry though.  But this is the window area “After” during daylight hours.

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And this is the window area “After” after sunset.

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