Our apartment building was built in 1905 and it was that old world charm that immediately drew us to it and made it feel like home. But there are some interesting quirks and design challenges that come along with that – not to mention the restrictions of being a renter. This nook (once likely a door that was sealed off somewhere throughout history) had just the top two narrow shelves installed when we moved in. And neither one was evenly spaced. To make it look more purposeful we decided to build out the rest of the wall, adding two more shelves that look like a match and filling it with frames of various sizes. It took me months and months more to actually decide on the photos for said frames – and if I’m being honest I’m still not sure that I am 100% firm in my decisions – but I love that it feels finished and I can easily swap photos if I’d like.
Each of the photos holds a special meaning for us and since it’s on the wall that sits between our living room and kitchen we look at it daily and wanted it to feel sentimental as opposed to filled with something like abstract art.
Above (from L to R): a photo of my late beloved Nan looking like the perfect 1940s pin-up, a photo of a sign we saw on a trip to Portland, Maine (I loved the typeface and the motto), polaroids from Palm Springs, Montauk and Manhattan, a happy bunch of chamomile (a favorite tea and flower!), a street in London next to a photo from a sunrise at the lake house (two of our favorite places), my niece and nephew, a postcard from one of our favorite restaurants in Charleston and finally – a photo we took in Copenhagen.
Below: two photos from our recent trip to Paris plus a classic car spotted in the East Village.
Below: One of my favorite pairings – this classic car next to a swan swimming through Hyde Park in London. Masculine vs. feminine. Man-made vs. nature. Two things of beauty in two completely different ways. Both were iPhone snaps – a testament to the fact that anything can be elevated to art in the right context.
Below: My Dad (the youngest on the left) with his two brothers in the 1960s and a photo from a picture perfect Fall day we spent in Amsterdam.
If you’ve been following along with the process – last April we moved into a new apartment. It was a year of transition and while I would have loved to immediately decorate the whole thing – reality intervened and for the first 6 months the bedroom was kind of in a temporary state. Case in point – we spent the year without a dresser of any kind, digging socks out of baskets tucked away into the closet and silently cursing our lack of dresser (okay, sometimes I was audibly cursing). The budget was being held for other more pressing things and I didn’t want to buy something inexpensive just to buy it. Our last dresser was from Target for about $120 and looked ragged and cheap just about as soon as we’d put it together. In this apartment I wanted to do things differently, practicing patience until I found pieces I loved and would grow with us for years to come.
Early in Spring I happened upon this dresser in a thrift shop while visiting my parents in Pennsylvania. It was $35 and in rough shape but I saw potential (Adam, for the record, did not.. but he came around). I love the thought of giving something a new life and not just accepting the way it currently looks as the way it has to stay forever. Especially with housewares, be willing to think of a new purpose for something or consider a small tweak that could make big impact. It makes for a home that’s way more interesting than having everything be straight out of the box, store bought.
I removed the old hardware, used an electric sander borrowed from my Dad to fully remove the old varnish finish and smooth out chips and dents then painted a chalky black color. From there I found simple, brushed gold drawer pulls, lined the old drawers with fresh contact paper and was nearly done when I realized that I needed something for the top. I wanted to be able to toss down my earrings or a mug at the end of the day without worrying about scratching up the paint.
At first I thought about having a piece of custom glass made, but since the whole project had been so affordable up to that point I kind of didn’t want to blow it all at the end. My Mom suggested a chic, oversized tray (I learned all my interior magic tricks from my incredibly resourceful parents) and that’s when I stumbled across this marble pastry slab at Crate and Barrel – almost the exact dimensions of the dresser top and I had already used marble contact paper to line the drawers! DIY serendipity. The entire project cost about $120 – for a beautiful, real wood dresser that is tailored perfectly to the space. Sometimes (okay a lot of the time) it pays to wait.
This time of year always makes me want to switch up my home decor. Luckily, we’ve still got plenty of projects to work on here – but if you’re in the mood for something that freshens up your space, below are my favorite weekend projects that are big on impact but still simple, affordable and rental friendly!
CREATE AN ACCENT WALL:
Hands down my favorite way to make a big statement in a room without a huge commitment. My go-to has always been a rich, dark color – in my first NYC studio apartment I carved out a “bedroom” nook with a deep charcoal grey color behind my bed and it felt so cozy, but in this apartment I love our navy wall that leads into the entryway). And if your landlord approves it – I can’t recommend wallpaper enough. More expensive than a can of paint but SO much fun and personality can be added via print on a wall.
SWITCH YOUR HARDWARE:
I found the below nightstands at Home Goods – and while I loved that they were simple, narrow and included a drawer, the original black knobs made them look cheaper somehow. I found these agate and wood rectangle knobs at Anthropologie, swapped them out in 5 minutes and it elevated the whole look. Plus no one else will have the exact same nightstands now! An under $20 upgrade that makes me happy every time I see them.
CHANGE YOUR LIGHT FIXTURES:
The only thing I truly disliked about our current apartment was the stock, rental light fixtures. If you’re a renter you know the kind. Those sort of gross flush mount ones that barely put off any light? Yeah.. get rid of those. I store mine high up in a closet so that when we move I can throw them back on and take my new lighting with me wherever we go next. While you’re at it? Add a ceiling medallion. I found this one for around $20 at Home Depot and it adds an instant bit of old world elegance to the place. Another 5 minute project that makes your place look really finished.
JUST ADD PLANTS:
To be honest, it’s really taken me a solid year in this new apartment to feel like I’m developing a green thumb. It takes daily maintenance. But the rewards of walking in to your home and seeing LIFE all around you is huge to me. Plants are proven to help filter the air in your home and definitively make people feel happier. Grab a new green friend this weekend, put it in a pretty pot and voila!
DIY A CUSTOM HEADBOARD:
I wanted the look of a custom headboard but didn’t want to commit to the price. So we found a cheap upholstered headboard online, covered it in batting from the craft fair and then wrapped it in a beautiful rich velvet fabric I had (and secured with a staple gun on the back). The entire project cost $100 but looks so much more expensive then that.
I’ve been bursting to share this project with you guys! This all began months ago, flipping through design books and swooning over incredible fireplaces. Staring at the decorative fireplace in our living room I couldn’t help feeling like it hadn’t quite reached its full potential. And so my little dream of a fireplace makeover began. And also where The Home Depot came in. I was thrilled to sign on to partner with them on this project since they’ve always been our go to source for home DIY projects throughout the years. For the complete play by play of how this whole thing miraculously came together (just $300, a few splinters and a swear word or two along the way…) – visit my full post on The Home Depot blog.
And just for fun – a few things we learned along the way. In case you’re inspired to tackle your own rental-friendly DIY fireplace makeover (or really any other home project your heart desires).
THINGS WE LEARNED:
When all else fails – search for a YouTube video or sand it down a bit more. Ha.
Measure twice (or three.. or four times), cut once. Something my Dad (the ultimate DIY-er) ingrained in me very early on. I can’t tell you how many times we checked measurements on trim for this and thankfully never made a mistake in cutting.
Working with brick (and old apartment floors!) is tricky since you’ll never get a perfectly level surface or straight edge. Instead of letting it drive you crazy – make friends with shims. There’s a couple of them hidden throughout this fireplace.
A lot of people find DIY home projects with their partner to be a recipe for disaster. We’ve found having a really clear plan (lots of lists and sketches), talking through each step before we begin and encouraging each other when the other starts to lose hope (somewhere in hour 35 I promise it will happen) goes a long way.
Most importantly – don’t let the fact that you’re a renter stop you from maximizing your home’s potential. Sure, we likely won’t live here forever so someday we’ll have to leave this fireplace behind and technically we invested time and money into someone else’s place. But in the meantime? It’s ours and I have a smile on my face every single time I walk in the door and see this fireplace. Totally worth it in my opinion. Same goes for bothering to paint the walls in a rental, switch out a light fixture or upgrade drawer pulls. The littlest changes can have the greatest impact and make your time (however fleeting) in a rental infinitely more enjoyable.
Thank you to The Home Depot for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are my own.
I didn’t plan on doing a Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale post this year (I think it’s honestly fairly easy to find what stores are having sales and I really don’t want to encourage people buying a ton of things they don’t even need..) – but that being said I’m really in the market for things to keep furnishing the new apartment this year and there are some awesome home-related sales that I wanted to mention in case you’re looking to do the same thing. With 25% off my favorite source for rugs and 40% off one of my secret go-to spots for furniture, I thought it was worth posting about. Hope this helps you score a great discount on something you actually really need and will use/love this year.
I’ve been eyeing one of these mirrors for the bedroom for over a year now and 30% off is definitely the best price I’m going to get. I also love Anthro for stocking up on candles and vases and really special holiday decor.
This is my favorite source for beautiful, good quality rugs that don’t break the bank. I have this great faux cowhide rug that I love from them and am on the hunt for a pretty pattern for the living room. They’ve also got a really fun selection of wallpaper (this is a contender for the statement wall I want to do behind our bed).
WEST ELM: Buy more, save more sale up to 30% off with code SAVEMORE
This is a great time to grab bedding (like their belgian linen), lighting (this one is in our entryway) or big ticket furniture (this leather armchair has been on my apartment wish-list for easily like 4 years).
World Market has been a secret source of mine for super affordable furniture now for years. Our old dining room table came from there and my current desk chair (still available in this pink color that would be so pretty in a nursery or as a fun accent) and both held up really well for the price. I love their selection of couches, end tables and headboards if you are looking for a good IKEA alternative.
TARGET: Up to 40% off home + extra 15% off furniture & rugs with code TURKEY
Target is another great design resource if you’re on a budget – they’ve got things that honestly look just like West Elm for a fraction of the price. My favorite floor lamp is from there and I can never resist their home decor.