5 Days, $500, 248 sf NYC Apt…Go!: Day 1

I have a sister and she lives in a rabbit hole.  Seriously though, I’ve seen homeless people in Seattle with roomier sidewalk real estate property.  But the plus side of it all is that her Gramercy neighborhood apartment in NYC does have less dog poop.  Which is always a huge selling point, I’ve heard.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Manhattan landscape, this area is where Gossip Girls is filmed.  That meant nothing to me either.  My sister called me up one day and said, “I’m booking you a flight to NYC.  You’re redoing my apartment. Oh, don’t pack any clothes, you can just wear mine”. I responded, “OK.  Let me finish my everything bagel first”.  Fast forward to a few weeks later and I’m lugging around a suitcase filled with crafting supplies, undergarments and shoes through the streets of Manhattan.  If anyone were to look through my luggage, I would appear to be some sort of traveling hooker with a penchant for crafting.  An interesting visual, I dare say.  But below is a photo of the space I was working with.  It’s 500sf in all but the areas I worked on (bedroom/living and kitchen) were 248sf in total.  You know your parents’ garage that’s too small for the car so they use it as storage?  That’s just about the kind of space I had to work with.


She pretty much gave me free range over decorating but did have a list of things she wanted me to remedy.  First was that she wanted window treatments.  This was so that her neighbor across the courtyard could stop intentionally peering in and then acting surprised every time she caught him in the act.  Second, she wanted to form two separate areas between her sleeping area and the living room.  Third, she wanted to spend as little as possible because cheap runs in our family.  And lastly, she wanted me to keep my flu viruses to myself.  I packed that along with me from Seattle too.  But here’s a quick rundown of the big furniture pieces my sister already had in her possession.

Chloe sofa: Half off from Macy’s during their holiday sale.  Always buy quality sofas and seating.  People look and sit on these things and can tell the difference.  Buy the nicer sofa (quality retailers always have sales, just be patient) or find a vintage one with good bones and have it reupholstered.

Black dresser to the left: $15 off of Craigslist.

Black vanity to the left: $20

Green dresser: $75 off of Craigslist

Light green table: $149 from an antique store in the Hamptons when we were there for Labor Day years ago.  This is a view of the main living space, if I stand on the bed and look down.


So this was roughly how Day 1 went:

3:45- Alarm goes off in Seattle.

3:45- Turned off the alarm.

6:10- Made it to SeaTac airport after a two hour long game of “Silence My Alarm Clock”.  I lost.

7:10- Pretended to fall asleep so that I didn’t have to talk to the person next to me for the next 5.5 hours.

3:40 (switch to EST now)- Landed at JFK.

4:20- Finally arrived at my destination after a 40 minute train ride in which I had to listen to a woman talk about the benefits of having leg hair in the winter.  I tend to agree.

5:30- Ate the best chicken meatballs ever at Penelope’s.

6:30- Left Penelope’s.  Briefly considered changing clothes and going back in for some more chicken meatballs.  Decided against it for reasons I’ve categorized as “public appearance of sanity”.

7:00- Entered Home Depot.  Left Home Depot 30 minutes later with a gallon, quart and three samples of paint plus painting supplies.

8:00- In bed, portioning out my Ricola cough drop supply.  Declared to my sister that artsy fartsy people don’t create if awoken before sunrise.  So the official Day 1 didn’t start until Day 2.  Let me know if that confuses anyone.

Okay, so on the official start day, I began by painting the apartment.  My sister has a lot of random things.  All colorful.  And most have been around since her college years.  My whole goal for the apartment was to edit her home to make it look less like the ramen noodle college years and more like the current days of “Mario Batali, are you sure those noodles are al dente?”.  So, I thought I would bring together all of her colorful possessions with Glidden’s “Pebble Grey” hue in a matte finish.  I opted for a bright white Behr color for the trim and bookcases.  When in doubt, go for a subtle hue.  You don’t want to be stuck with a bright red wall a la 2002.  That’s just tragic.


I’ve been painting walls freehand ever since I found out that painter’s tape and I really don’t understand one another.  It never works for me.  I’ll teach you how to paint without painter’s tape in a later post.  Plus, it saves you time and money in the long run.


This 1966 apartment is in an amazing post-war building so it has great features like built in bookcases.  The bookcases themselves are fantastic.  The orange-y wood grain finish? Not so much.  I ended up painting the whole thing white.


While the paint was drying on the walls and bookcases, I went to Paper Presentation on 18th Street for some scrapbook paper.  I cut the paper to the bookcases’ backing measurements and attached it all together with some two-faced tape.  This was my answer to a temporary “wallpaper” since it can be peeled and discarded when the move out date nears.


And here is half of the bookcase after a few coats of paint and my faux wallpaper treatment.


My sister has some books.  Mainly ones she’s stolen from my collection and has yet to read or return.  But either way, to make the books more cohesive (for some reason, there were way too many hot pink book covers happening), I rounded up all paper shopping bags and scrap paper she had, to re-cover the books.


They turned out pretty well, especially the books I wrapped in Anthropologie bags.  The metal grommeted bag makes for a pretty cute cover if you cut off the red and white fabric handle.  Save that too.  You can use it to wrap up small gifts.  You’re welcome.


It didn’t take long to re-cover my sister’s collection of permanently “borrowed” books so after, I started to look for more things to redo.  My eyes fell upon this jewelry box that she’s had since high school.  A gift from a close friend of hers, there wasn’t anything wrong with the box.  I just thought it would look even better with a coat of Behr’s “Antique White” paint.  Here’s the “Before”.


And here’s the “After”.


While waiting for that to dry, I went thrifting with my sister.  Now, I always hear, “There’s no good stuff at the Goodwill and Salvation Army in NYC”.  There are amazing things but most people just don’t feel comfortable shopping amongst crazy homeless people.  I couldn’t care less.  The best thing about shopping at the Goodwill in NYC is that since its clientele is mainly homeless people, they have no need to buy housing goods.  They all flock towards the combat boots section and cargo pants rack.  New Yorkers have it easy.  In Seattle as well as Austin, I have to battle for deals amongst rich hippie people who try their hardest to look poor so as to not look like sellouts.  But here are the goods I found while shopping at thrift stores and Fishs Eddy on Day 1:

Goodwill NYC: Glass lamp base ($13.49), wine rack ($2.99) and 2 terra cotta pots the cashier forgot to charge us for.

Fishs Eddy: Glass cake stand plus dome ($11.97) which was 30% off for having a small defect and an avocado green porcelain colander which was on sale for $9.98.

I went home and immediately placed the moss my sister had collected from Seattle’s Lopez Island inside the cake stand plus dome for an instant terrarium.


Also from Goodwill are these plaster medallions and etched tile that I purchased for $2.69 each.  The books piled on top of one another are from a thrift store called Vintage Thrift. $21.23 for the whole lot.  The big blue book was a Salvation Army find for $4.99.Image

Goodwill also provided us with cute knickknacks like these porcelain jars which were .89 cents and $1.97.  The green candleholder was $1.98.  Tell them you’re a college kid for the 10% discount, even if you’re not.  Worst they can do is say “No” and they never do. Anyhow, the huge spools of thread are from Housing Works.  The two bigs ones were $10 each, the small one was $5.  If you’re ever in NYC, go there.  Great cause (AIDS charity) and even greater finds.


And (finally), here are the Bookcase “After” pictures:


The other side “After” pictures.  Oh, I also made that mint shelf to the top left from a drawer I found at Butler’s Antique’s in Fort Worth years ago.  For $5, it was a steal.  I used scrapbook paper to detail the backing and added some interesting metal brackets and hardware.