Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bathroom Design: Encaustic Tiles Have Real Art Deco Appeal

Marrakech Design

Over at Sweeten Blog, Pepper and Marshall share their bathroom reveal. I'm drooling over the encaustic tiles they chose for their Washington Heights art deco era home.

Sweeten Blog
As you recall, I went with fire clay tiles from Heath Ceramics Dwell Collection for our floor, once I had decided on a gray/white theme.

But my eye was caught by the sophisticated spark of Dandelion by Marakesh - in Navy.

This one tile nearly changed all my design. My mood board would have looked something like this.

I would have stayed with the white beveled field tile. When you are using a strong design on your floor, everything else has to be simple. And I think I'd still keep my console sink, mirror, and sconces. But I'd have used navy inside the shower, of course, for contrast. And I'd have chosen a more art deco style light fixture and the Bel Aire tub, by Lefroy Brooks.

Good thing I didn't go with navy. That tub is quite pricey at $14k. Yowza!

But what a dreamy bathroom.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Renov8or Potential: Large Studio in Jackson Heights for $160k

You know that if I had my way, I would move every year, just for the sheer fun of getting to renovate another home with Renov8or potential. Sadly, Ross does not agree. When I found  our 2BR with parking and a doorman, it did not occur to me that I was setting the bar pretty high for me ever convincing him to move again.

This does not stop me from "looking" of course. I'm always culling StreetEasy for new homes on the market that have good Renov8or potential. Some I send to friends who are looking. Others I simply ogle and dream about.

Take this large studio in Jackson Heights, for example, that recently showed up on StreetEasy:

Photo: Streeteasy
Photo: StreetEasy
Photo: StreetEasy 

Though I am not even in the market for a studio, this one caught my eye as it happens to be located in one of my favorite co-op buildings in the historic district - the Warwick. No, I don't have any insider scoop on the Warwick, but I can't help noticing it as I'm walking in the neighborhood - what a handsome building it is. And so well-maintained.

Photo: StreetEasy
So, what is it about this studio in the Warwick that excites me? Well, the price for one. 

Other studios in the historic district are going for around $220k. Purchasing this one for $160k would give the purchaser about a $60k budget to work with to bring it up to market rate.

And the purchaser would need that much. Because the kitchen as you can see requires a gut renovation.

As long as you are going to all that trouble, why not play around with the floorplan?

Look at it - a studio apartment with an eat in kitchen!

It's kind of too bad, though. Because the windowed space the kitchen is taking up would be the perfect spot for a bedroom. Relocate the closets to the new "bedroom, and you've just made room for an open concept living/kitchen/dining area.

Assuming the board would approve of relocating the kitchen and that the kitchen abutting that side of the bath can extend plumbing lines, this large studio appears convertible to a one-bedroom.


One bedrooms in the historic district are listing from $250 - $279k.  That moves the equity needle (and renovation budget up) to a good $100k - and that's more than enough for a thoughtful renovation that retains architectural charm.

Some boards may approve "wet over dry" renovations if you can show a plan for how you will put in special water proofing measures, says Brick Underground.

I would appeal to the board by showing how much the value of the unit (as well as the comps in the building) will increase with a well-designed and well-appointed renovation.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rafter Storage to Organize the Garden Shed

Having the little garden shed has certainly made life at the summer cottage a lot more organized. The renovated front porch has become a favorite place to relax with a morning coffee or evening cocktail. And all the stuff we used to store there - bikes, beach chairs and umbrellas, patio cushions, kayaking gear - is all tucked away in the shed. I'd like to say "neatly tucked away".

Problem: The shed is filled to capacity.

Solution: HyLoft Ceiling Storage (This is not a paid endorsement)

I did a bit of online sleuthing. It took a while for me to get the lingo, but what I was looking for is called "rafter storage". 

There are a lot of expensive solutions geared more to garages (attached to McMansions, I would surmise, looking at the costs!). My needs are simple, and I found what I was looking for for $35.

The HyLoft Ceiling Storage Rack is designed to fit pretty much any garage or shed rafter configuration you have. For the price and ease of installation, it's a real bargain! 

I found it very easy to install.

Tip1: If you don't already have a good socket wrench set, get one. This one that Dad made me buy at Sears a few years back when he was helping me with another DIY did the trick. 

For this installation, you will be using the 1/2" socket to screw in the rafter bolts and the #16 to fit the rails to one another.

Ready? Let's go!

Step 1: Unpack the box and assemble the parts. 

You will have two rails that suspend from the rafters, two rails, a left J-rail and a right J-rail, that slip inside those, and two more that connect the J-rails. The rails are all sized to slip into each other. All of the hardware is provided.

Step 2: Drill pilot holes and holes the size of your bolts, then screw in the rafter rails.

It will look like this:

Fit the J-rails in and connect the bottom rails loosely using the nuts and bolts provided.

Tip 1: Make sure all screw holes are facing you and none are blocked. Later you will be able to reinforce with the extra nuts and bolts provided.

Once you are certain you have the right configuration, tighten all the bolts using your socket wrench.

 Step 3: Repeat all the above on the other side. And lay some 2x4s across them.

Step 4: Organize your shed so that the things you use most often are nearest the door and everything is easy to reach.

Step 5: Stand back and admire your handiwork.

Better yet, go relax with a cocktail on your, now clutter free, front porch!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Custom Garden Shed for the Cottage

When we screened in the front porch of our cottage and turned it into a sitting room, it had a huge impact on our daily living. When 5 or 6 people are living in 1,000 square foot space for the summer, every inch needs to work for you. Making the porch a sitting room gave us a great space to enjoy our morning coffee or an after beach cocktail or simply lounge and read. In addition, as it's the first room you see upon entering the cottage, it set the tone for the "feel" of the house.

Here's the porch before and after:

Great change! Except for one thing. We effectively eliminated the obvious place to dump beach bags, shoes, toys, and umbrellas after a hot sandy day. And when it rained and we had to bring in the patio cushions, they'd end up piled on the porch - the one place we liked to congregate on a rainy day.

What we needed was a shed.

We investigated zoning rules in our area, and as long as a shed is smaller than 140 square feet (i.e. 14 feet by 10 feet or any combination less than 140 sq. ft.) we didn't need to pour a foundation or get a permit.

We started out by shopping at the big box stores and were quickly dismayed by how utilitarian all the sheds look. When you've spent thousands of dollars replacing the vinyl siding on your cottage with cedar shakes to restore it's original charm, it's painful to contemplate buying one of these sheds. Especially for a plot of land as small as ours. The shed would be taking up a large part of the backyard. Not that we mind - in our view, it's simply less lawn for us to maintain - but we felt strongly that the shed needed to be picturesque.

We expanded our search to Google local search, and while we did see more options to choose from from places with names like Sheds Unlimited and USA Sheds, nothing we saw fit in with the shingle style of our cottage.

Then we happened upon Jamesport artist Laura Courtney’s Imagine Art Studio.

Using recycled, reclaimed wood and antique doors, windows, and trim, Laura created the most charming garden outbuildings. (I say created, because sadly she is no longer in business.) We fell in love with this storybook shed she was selling:

The only problem with Laura's shed is that it would have had to be transported in one piece by flatbed truck. And while she had done this many times, and was able to show us a plan for it, our property is surrounded by neighboring lots and a maze of mature trees, so there was no way to reach the back of the cottage.

We credit Laura with giving us the inspiration - as well as the realization that a carpenter could build one for us on location. So we hired a local carpenter to build a garden shed that looked just like our cottage.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Installing an Elfa Custom Closet in the Summer Cottage

The armoire in it's original spot - blocking a window that looks out on the front porch
Since we bought the cottage seven years ago, this little armoire has functioned as the bedroom "closet".  It worked for us more or less, because we only visited on weekends during summer months and we we tended to leave behind only bathing suits, shorts, t-shirts, and towels.

The armoire answered our needs for this. Inside are two drawers, a cubby at the top and bottom on the right hand side.

And a small rail to hang things to the left.

I found this armoire at Yesterday's News in Carroll Gardens many many years ago. When I bought it, it was pretty drab looking, with an awful, lumpy DIY refinishing job. A little white paint took care of the outside. The interior wood was in perfect condition and looked to be mahogany or cherry, so I left the inside unpainted.

I've always been rather fond of it, so I was sorry to realize that I've outgrown it and it was no longer doing the job. I've been spending whole weeks at the cottage - I telecommute for my job so I can work from almost anywhere - and my need for storage has grown. I added a mahogany dresser to give us more drawer space. But due to the configuration of the room, there was no way to arrange all the furniture than for the two pieces to sit side by side. Here's a sketch - the armoire is the red block behind the door.

Configuration of the room

The two pieces sitting side by side looked terrible. They are not only different finishes, but also it's a lot of furniture for a small space. And none of it was working for us. When we unload the car late on a Friday evening we have a tendency to dump all the bags on the dresser and the floor, and there they remain.

The clutter of suitcases, tote bags and laptops piled on top of the dresser (and sometimes spilling onto the floor) was driving me crazy. There had to be a better way!

You can see from my sketch that the armoire was partly "hiding" behind the bedroom door, and that's what got me started thinking about installing a modern closet system.

Ordinarily I'd say a modern closet system is out of place in a 1920s cottage. But as it would be totally hidden behind the door, I realized that it would only be visible to us when the door was closed. And we only close the door when we are changing clothes or sleeping. 

Could all our things fit neatly in the 36 inches hidden behind the door?

I took inventory and measured all the items that were currently in the armoire plus our weekend bags and sketched a little schematic:

It looked like it would work! So I started researching closet systems.

Lowes carries Rubber Maid, Home Depot sells Closet Maid, and the Container Store has the Elfa System. I had used Elfa before to customize a walk-in closet in my Brooklyn apartment and I liked it a lot. I found it easy to design and install, and even better, it had withstood the test of time. I lived in that home 6 years and was able to add on items as my storage needs changed. And the quality and the look were top notch. Even though it was a bit more expensive than the other two, I decided to go with Elfa, as I had already personally tested it. (This is not a paid endorsement.)

Monday after work, I brought my measurements and my schematic to a Container Store near the office. The closet designer fired up his computer and drew up a plan using their design software. Per my schematic, I had a top shelf, a hanging rail, a hanging shoe caddy to the left, and another shelf at the bottom.

It was a happy surprise to learn that I did have room for a sliding mesh drawer under the hanging items to the right. I wasn't sure that I would.

The designer printed out the itemized list of parts and we went over it all again together, then he placed my order.

Note: None of my items as it turned out had to be cut to fit, as I had 36 inches of wall space available and 36 inches is one of the standard widths for horizontal rails. I actually didn't need to come into a store to order. I could have designed it and ordered the components online myself. But because I wasn't 100% sure I'd be able to fit everything in a 36 inch width, plus I had some questions about the mesh drawers and I wanted to see them in person, I went into the store to order. If you order online there is currently free delivery. If you order in-store it's a $70 delivery fee. It took about 10 days for all the parts to arrive, then I got to work.

The Elfa system all hangs from a rail you affix to the wall. First you figure out what kind of wall you have and what support is behind it so that you use the correct type of anchors. I happened to be drilling into wood beadboard panels so high up that behind it I could detect with my stud finder (and confirm by drilling pilot holes) that I was hitting the actual 2x4s of the wall framing up at ceiling height. I didn't need anchors. I just screwed the top rail right in using my drill with screwdriver attachment. This is very unusual. Most installations will require anchors, or the whole thing could come tumbling down one day.

Assembling it was a piece of cake.

The vertical rails slide right into the horizontal top rail.

And the brackets that hold shelves and drawer inserts go into the slots.

The whole thing took about 25 minutes to assemble. It holds everything we need it to, and it's completely hidden by the door.

When passing by the room and the door is open, you can't even tell its there. But the clutter is gone.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How to Replace the Mesh in a Torn Window Screen

It's that time of year when the presence of buzzing insects in your home alerts you that your screens are no longer an impenetrable defense. Before you start pricing new screens, see how easy (and inexpensive!) it is to simply replace the mesh.

Screen Repair Kit from Home Depot SRP $10

  • Roll of mesh
  • Spline
  • Roller
  • Utility knife
  • Scissors

Time: About 30 minutes each screen

Level of difficulty: Easy

Step 1: Remove your window screens.

We have Andersen windows in the cottage and an unmarked brand in our apartment - the kind that "tilt in" for easy cleaning when you live in a high rise. I'll try to address both types.

To remove the Andersen screens, lift up on the tab at the bottom and pull toward you. The springs are in the top and they will easily give.

To remove the tilt-in for cleaning type in our apartment, there are pins at the bottom of the screen on either side. Just push the sliders in with your fingers and it releases the pins from the sides of the windows. As you push the sliders in on either side, gently push the screen up and grasp it (before it falls six stories to the garden). Tilt it to the side to bring it inside.

Step 2. Lay the screen flat and find a good corner to start prying out the spline.

On the Andersen windows the spline is metal and reusable. Pry slowly and try not to bend or dent it.

On the other type screens the spline is rubbery black cord that is disposable. You replace this with the new spline from your kit.

Step 3: Roll out the mesh, place the empty screen frame over it, and cut to fit. Cut slightly bigger than the inside frame of your screen. You don't have to be particularly careful. You can trim excess later.

Step 4: Keeping the new mesh taut, replace the spline by pressing it back in place with first your fingers, then the roller tool.

Step 5: Trim access mesh.

Step 6: Return the screen into your window, spring side first. For the Andersen screens this means putting the top in first. For the other type, you'll do this by holding back the pins until the screen is in place in the window frame, then release the pulls. 

Test the screen by raising it and lowering it to make sure it's in snugly but moves freely.

Depending on the size of your windows, one kit can be used to replace multiple screens. It's an easy DIY, certainly less expensive than ordering new screens, and you will be surprised how it freshens up the look of your windows, while keeping buzzing/biting critters out.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Midcentury Lighting Fixtures I Love

Choosing lighting fixtures when you are remodeling can be difficult because you may not have firmed up in your mind's eye, where you are putting various pieces of furniture and how you plan to use particular area of your home. Here's a look at some of the options I considered.

In this apartment, built in 1946, there is the sweetest entry foyer. The kind that New York developers rarely devote the space to any more. It is a true entry way, about 9 feet by 12 feet of room intended for nothing other than getting one's bearings upon entering the apartment.

I was not sure how I was ultimately going to use that space - I'm still not certain I won't one day place a desk or a table there - but I did know that I wanted a light fixture that would set the tone for the whole apartment.

I very seriously considered this cool Atomic-Age chandelier:

I also liked this very simple oversize modern pendant:

But I ultimately went with a sputnik-influenced chandelier:

For the bathroom ceiling, I loved the Buick-inspired chrome on this pillbox flushmount:

I even considered this very inexpensive but elegant paper pillbox fixture from Ikea:

And I looked at many a classic schoolhouse fixture:

And, in fact, I gave very serious thought to this art deco schoolhouse fixture that I felt would complement the shower door - one of the only original fixtures left in the bathroom:
But I ultimately decided on this gray-striped schoolhouse flush mount. Something about it's retro-modern style I felt would really bring out the best in the Dwell Collection half-hex floor from Heath Ceramics:

And I chose this simple retro fixture right outside the bathroom to light the hallway:

For the bathroom sconces on either side of the medicine cabinet, I considered these very retro ceramic fixtures:

But ultimately went with these deco sconces:

For the dining area, over the tulip table and Catifa 53 chairs, I loved these British-made fixtures, but they didn't come in American electrical standards, unfortunately:
And I really liked this Jetson-Space-age pendant, though I wasn't hot about that crackly cord:

I ultimately went with this very similar pendant to hang low over the 47" round dining room table:

And I replaced all the dated 1980s ceiling fans with this baby - the Haiku from The Big Ass Fan Company: