Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ikea Hack: Cutting Enje Roller Blinds to Fit Your Windows

How did I come to hack the Ikea Enje roller blind? It's a long story that starts with why roller shades are the perfect window treatment for midcentury homes and ends with I could not find a window treatment that better suited the spare architecture of our rooms -- and at Ikea prices, it seemed a risk worth taking. In the end, I think you'll agree.

DBA Blinds
"Simple roller blinds in a white setting become part of the architecture. In a room with a series of same-size windows, roller blinds lined up at the same height appeal to those of us who appreciate precision." - Remodelista

Amen to that, sister!

Christine Chang Hanway got it right in her article Remodeling 101: Simple Roller Blinds.

Before we even closed on the purchase of our midcentury apartment, when the renovation was just a gleam in my iPad, I spent many hours poring over Houzz and Pinterest for inspiration. This living room in a Greenwich Village penthouse, designed by Amy Lau, was an enduring source of inspiration. And even though my own living room ended up looking nothing at all like it, the combination of midcentury modern and contemporary modern mixed kept me focused on a "feeling" that I wanted my home to have. And that feeling guided my choices in fixtures every step of the way.

Amy Lau Designs
The window treatments really make this room, don't you think? I learned from reading Amy Lau's comments on Houzz that the curtain fabric shown in this picture was designed by textile artist Judy Ross. And I keep that bit of info tucked away for future renovations. Because my current living room isn't having it. And that's not really surprising when you consider that this apartment was built in 1946.

Midcentury architects did not think living spaces should have window treatments. They felt textiles detract from the pristine nature of the architecture. The window boxes in our home are unadorned of wood trim even, and this does add an austere symmetry to the rooms that draws attention to the spare lines of the walls and ceiling soffits. The rooms have a geometric grace that I am reluctant to disrupt, even with a fabric I love as much as Judy Ross's.

Midcentury architects, however, did not consider how much the large expanses of glass they loved so much would let in sunshine - and heat. Though most of our windows have a northern exposure, the light in the morning can be blinding and in summer the heat grows stifling before noon. Clearly we would need shades.

Which is why I turned to Ikea's Enje.

The Enje are made of a sheer fabric that filters light without completely blocking it.

We live on the top floor overlooking the rooftops of neighboring two-story tudor homes. So we don't have to worry about privacy, day or night. These would strictly be functioning as light blockers during the day, then when raised would simply disappear into the wall.

I had installed Enje before, when I lived in Ross's apartment in Sunnyside prior to our moving here. I love the spareness, the lack of cord, and smooth spring loaded mechanicals. Even the plastic pull on the aluminum rails is good-looking. They have the look and hand feel of a much more expensive product. And did I mention the price? $18-$35, depending on the size. A great deal for an apartment dweller who doesn't want to invest in expensive window treatments. But even as a homeowner who might spring for a more luxurious line, I didn't see anything out there that I liked better.

The only problem: the sizes. While most of our windows are standard 34" windows, the "bay" in the master bedroom has these 18" side windows.

And in the bathroom, a 17" window.

The smallest size the Enje are available in is 23". But could I hack them down? The roller and rail are aluminum, which can be cut with a standard hack saw. The mesh would have to be removed from the roller and cut with a sewing scissors. It was certainly worth a try!

I'm generally not very good at stopping mid-project to take pictures, but I remembered to take a few this time.

Step 1: Remove the plastic end cap.

Step 2: Measure the width of the window inset, then measure the roller shade - with the hardware on.

Step 3: Remove the fabric from the roller. (This was easy; the fabric glue remains on the fabric and makes reassembling the fabric to the roller quite easy later.)

Step 4: Pencil mark the roller and make your cut.

(Okay, I missed a few steps with my camera!)

Step 5: Sand the end of the roller smooth. (I used a painter's block.)

Step 6: Replace the end cap.  

Step 7: Repeat on the other side.

Step 8: Now, the rails. Remove the end caps from the rails.

Step 9: Slide the fabric panel out by grasping the plastic strip that it's stapled to.

Step 10: Remove the staples and free the fabric.

Step 11: Lay the fabric out on a flat surface, then measure and cut the fabric with a sewing scissors.

Step 12: Reassemble the fabric at one end on the plastic strip with staples and at the other end on the roller and replace the end caps of both.

Okay, I missed a bunch of steps with my camera. Sorry!

Step 13: Hang according to Ikea instructions.

Step 14: Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy looking at your handy work.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Slipcovers for an Old Sofa

They're here! The new linen slipcovers are in. Well, the cushions covers are in, as well as the ottoman cover.

 And you can already see how great they're going to look:

The seamstress-ing was done by Trish Banner at Cottage by Design. I came across her blog some time ago when I was researching slipcovers with skirts vs. those without and I was so impressed with her work. Though Trish lives on the opposite coast from me, I was able to send her the old slipcovers to use as a template.

She is making new  slipcovers for all the living room furniture, including this little settee in the foyer:

It's certainly looking a bit forlorn without a cover. But when it's finished, it will be fantastic, don't you think?

Here's what it looked like with it's former cover, which was more form-fitting than what I have in mind:

That cover was 20+ years old and had to go.  But you can see the beautiful lines, can't you? I can't find a label anywhere, but I knew the lady who owned it and she bought it from Roche Bobois, a french modern furniture store that used to be located just down the street from Bloomingdales. It has certainly stood the test of time!

Trish is still working on the furniture covers themselves, but I couldn't resist sharing a sneak peek at what she's done so far.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Choosing Lighting Fixtures for Our Midcentury Home

Sputnik has landed!

I ordered this baby back in February, when, hot on the heels of the home purchase closing and with renovation plans still just a gleam in my ipad, it was, unbelievably, time to start deciding on fixtures and getting them in.

This is the reality of every renovation project that never fails to take me by surprise. Back out two months from your demo date, and you've got to start purchasing or you'll blow your renovation timeline.

When it comes to tile or bathroom fixtures, I'm generally okay with making early choices. I know what I want; I break out the credit card and commit. But lighting is my particular weakness (along with camera skills, as you may have noticed). It takes work to imagine where your furniture will sit and mental exercise to walk through your day to day to address things like task lighting.

Between making the offer and closing on the purchase, I spent weeks -- well, actually months -- poring over home design websites, and a good deal of time on lighting sites, which by the way, in my professional opinion could all use some taxonomy help. (Everything can't be tagged midcentury!)

Now, four months later, here she is:


Our Sputnik is a knock off... er, reproduction, of the midcentury classic designed by Gino Sarfatti in 1954. I sourced it from Zoetico. And despite the long wait, I give them a top notch rating. The prices are great, the product is stunning, and customer service response was immediate all the way through - even when the box arrived with no lightbulbs. They were very quick to respond to my email and ship the half chrome bulbs for free and even threw in a couple extra for good measure.

25 half chrome bulbs light up the entryway

Whatever your stance on knockoffs, I have this much to say: The DWR model Sputnik is quite spendy. And even upcycled originals that you might see offered on Krrb and Craigslist are pricey too, despite that the wiring may be suspect, parts may be missing, and brass tarnished. I did see a few in antique stores in Greenport that looked in good condition, but all were brass. I tend to prefer a chrome finish for my light fixtures. And I'm finding chrome looks especially good with the Farrow and Ball "Blackened" paint color we chose for the walls in our midcentury home - which has a silvery cast.

Whether you agree about chrome or not, I'm sure you'd agree almost anything is an improvement over all the light fixtures that were in this home when we bought it.

Entryway BEFORE:


Bathroom BEFORE:

Two "high hats" over the tub - and no light at all over the sink or in the shower

Newbury Flush Mount,; Halo Dome Shower Trim,

Sutton Double Sconce,

Livingroom BEFORE:

80's style ceiling fan

The Haiku with bamboo airfoils,

Diningroom BEFORE:

Another 80s model


Brenda Pendant,

Master bedroom BEFORE:

Another 80s era ceiling fan


The Haiku with white airfoils,

Second bedroom BEFORE:

And yet another 80s style ceiling fan


MinkaAire Concept I,

Hallway BEFORE:

I'm not really sure what you call this - and I've done a lot of lighting research


Sabin Flush Mount,

If you are wondering about The Haiku fans from The Big Ass Fan Company that replaced the ubiquitous 80s era no-frills ceiling fans in the living room, dining room and bedrooms, I did quite a bit of research to source the highest performing ceiling fans available. This company started out making giant fans for industrial warehouses before designing for the home market. Where regular old ceiling fans have blades, Big Ass Fans have airfoils with winglets that are aerodynamically designed to maximize air velocities and stabilize air movement. And I really appreciated the Craft-Your-Own order form that let me choose bamboo for the living room and white in the bedroom. The performance of these fans is so important to me, because I detest window air conditioners. And my deal with Ross is, if we can get through the summer without using ours, I can donate them to Build It Green and clear our windowsills of those light-blocking behomeths.

Added bonus? The look on visitors' faces when I say it's a Big Ass Fan!

Questions on sourcing? Thoughts about knock offs? Comment and I WILL reply.

Monday, June 30, 2014

New Sofa Legs = Midcentury Makeover for Living Room

Our sofa is about 20 years old. One of the first major purchases of my life post-college, I bought it at Bloomingdales on sale and made monthly payments for more than a year. It came with a matching chair and ottoman and all were covered in "shabby chic" slipcovers in a white seersucker fabric that was the big thing at the time. 

Fast forward 20 years, the slipcovers were starting to look truly shabby and not chic...

I removed the slipcovers and shipped them off to Trish Banner at Cottage by Design

Trish custom sews slipcovers for a very reasonable price. If you check out her site, you can see the careful workmanship she applies. Normally you'd have to live in her area of California, so that she could come and visit your furniture and measure it. But because I'm ready to say goodbye to these old slipcovers, I was able to ship them off to her to pick apart and serve as the template for the new slipcovers. After a few emails with photos of what I like, she sent a handful of fabric swatches for me to choose from (her prices on fabric are excellent and include prewashing and ironing). I chose an off white Belgian linen with a bit of a salt and pepper thing going on that I think will compliment the Farrow and Ball "Blackened" paint color of our home.

Meanwhile, I have plans for the furniture legs. The original feet are what's referred to as bun feet. The height of elegance in the 90s, they look a bit dated now. And some have become loose and wobbly.

Researching replacement legs online, I discovered, and learned how easy it is to change the style of furniture by simply replacing the legs. (Who knew!)

I chose these midcentury style ones, which arrived unfinished.

And I stained them this mod brown and gave them a light coat of poly.

The slipcovers are arriving in two weeks. I can't wait for the sofa transformation!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mid-Century NYC Apartment: House Tour

The Building
Our building was built in 1946 and designed by architect Philip Birnbaum, who went on in his later more seasoned years to design Trump Tower. He was an architect better known for his interiors -- his thoughtful use of space and devotion to creating "livable" spaces. Even so, I quite like the exterior of our building.

The Floorplan

The Foyer

I love that this apartment has a formal entryway - a space that is not intended for anything more useful than getting one's bearings upon entering the apartment.

A foyer is one of the hallmarks of the midcentury apartment design. Though it would be considered wasted space in most floor plans today, there's much to be said for having a place to hang your coat, toss your keys, put down your bags when you come in the door. 

I admit that I don't really know quite what to do with this space. Right now I have an awesome mod settee that I inherited and am having reupholstered, so more on that later. And this sweet little midcentury console table that I found at Beall and Bell in Greenport and could not resist. Coming soon, a Sputnick light fixture that seems to be on permanent back order. (I have a paper sphere holding it's place.)

 The Living Room

The living room is a 12 x 20 ft rectangle -- the perfect layout for a back-facing sofa aligned with a library table. And given the bookshelves that replaced the infamous Wall of Mirrors referenced in NY Times "The Hunt" -- how appropriate.

The Dining "Area"

The floorplan draws attention to the dining area with this raised platform. I don't know what the thinking was back in 1946, but the raised platform just screams mid-century, doesn't it? It creates a distinct area for eating, and I appreciate the graceful transition from room to room.

The Kitchen

My first instinct was to rip out the wall, level the raised dining platform, and create an "open floor plan". It would have made the room look immediately spacious upon entering the apartment. But at the time, all of the Renov8or budget was going toward the more needed upgrades in the bathroom.

You know what? I'm so glad that I waited.

Now that I've been living with it, I have come to like this enclosed galley kitchen. It keeps cooking smells in and mess out of sight. For under $4k, we added upper cabinets, painted all of the cabinetry a neutral cream color, replaced sink fixtures, and tiled the backsplash in cream subway tile. The rich cream color has subdued the busy coral granite to the point where I not only don't hate the pinkish stone anymore, I admire it's natural beauty. 

So, this Reno8or learned something by being budget constrained. I learned that simple changes make a world of difference. And it's best to live in a home a while if you can. (It will tell you what it needs.)

The Office/Second Bedroom

Having a second bedroom in NYC is a luxury that was beyond our imagining. And of course it wouldn't have been affordable if we had stayed in Carroll Gardens or moved to Manhattan. This is what makes Queens such a great fit for us.

I found a mid-century style sofa bed for the office/second bedroom. Mom and Dad tested out the bed when they visited the week after we moved in. They said it was comfy (but maybe they were being tactful?).

I made good on my promise to Ross -- a room to keep his guitars in. However, I am definitely eyeing that corner window for my desk!

The Master Bedroom

I have to laugh when I say the words "master bedroom". Our bedroom is HUGE. Really. It's 12 ft x 20 ft. I've seen entire apartments this size in NYC. I barely know what to do with all the extra space (but trust me, I'll figure it out!).

The bedroom has an inviting "bay window" facing east and a fire escape window facing north. I commissioned this fire escape security gate by iron works artist Valessa Monk. You can read about it in my post Security Gates Can Be Pretty. The best part? We face a row of two-story Tudors, so there's nothing blocking the light, and no real reason to have window treatments unless we just want them.

I love waking up to the light streaming in the window and glancing off the metal petals of these ironwork flowers. It is a real work of art.

The Bathroom

Well, if you followed the big reveal, you've seen our new bathroom in all its glory. This room was gut renovated -- taken down to the rafters and beams. Then rebuilt and tiled in beveled white subway tile with a Dwell collection floor by Heath Ceramics (that I just LOVE!). The sink was a big surprise. I took a chance on the Mason Console from Signature Hardware -- an online store that has no bricks and mortar location where you can actually see and touch the products. It was a leap of faith to be sure, but I am not disappointed. It is as high quality as the Kholer fixtures and has exactly the timeless look that I was going for. 

The tub is the Kohler Tea for Two deep soaking tub. It is undermounted. I designed the double apron and deck, fabricated by Empire Cabinetry and Marble in Brooklyn.

The shower is simple subway tile in charcoal gray with light gray grout. We have two showerheads from the Kohler Purist line, an overhead and a handheld, adjustable on the bar. (Great for showers when you don't want to get your hair wet!) The shower door is vintage -- one of the few things the former owners left intact. I had it relazed with clear glass. And where we raised the ceiling in the shower stall, I just left it open at the top.

The chrome medicine cabinets and sconces are from Restoration Hardware, and the quality and heft could not be better. RH's white glove delivery was excellent -- even when I had to return them for a different size.

And so concludes our house tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Leave a comment. I WILL reply.