Episode One – Thinking Outside the Box
At a time when home has never felt more important, I found myself moving into a dated 70’s-era apartment with stark white walls, ugly soffits, a tacky mirrored fireplace, and cheap black single-pane aluminum windows and doors that shake, buckle and moan when the wind blows.
After vacating our temporarily uninhabitable 1927 home by the Bay, we were grateful to find a clean, mold-free space with a deck and a view where we could live while overseeing our anticipated 16-month remodel. But I had my hands full transforming the 50-year-old ugly duckling into a home that feels good. Although, I must admit, I do like challenges when it comes to beauty.
We enter our provisional home through a long, dark hallway with a large window at the end that faces another 70’s apartment building next door. The first thing I did was to find runners to keep Toby from slipping on the hardwood floors, so I ordered inexpensive, neutral-colored jute rugs for the hallways, kitchen and bathrooms. They provided great texture and Toby loves them.
Views not only from the kitchen but also through the dining room window revealed more dowdy apartment buildings with poorly maintained parking structures. So, I tackled the shoddy windows next. I found some playful printed orange linen at a good price and asked my longtime associate, whose sewing workroom makes custom soft goods for my client projects, to construct three large Roman shades for the apartment.
The small space at the end of the kitchen would typically serve as a breakfast area. But thinking outside the box, I visualized the 9′ by 30″ rectangle, with a window on one side and a hallway opening on the other, as an inviting place to relax, talk to the cook and read the morning paper.
I measured our existing furniture and made a floor plan of what pieces might fit in the tiny niche by the window that brings in the morning light. I had a five-foot-long antique settee in my previous guest room that fit perfectly in the space. I bookended two vintage trunks of varying heights and widths on either side, topping them with a pair of colorful lamps with sophisticated charcoal black shades. Stacks of design and art books elevate the small lamps that illuminate the art above.
We brought all our artwork to the apartment, putting furniture in place first before selecting pieces to hang on surrounding walls. Above the settee, we hung one of our favorite oils by Spanish artist Navarro Vives – a modern composition of serving pieces, lemons and avocados that shines by the adjacent kitchen.
The brightly lit alcove at the end of the kitchen was surprisingly well suited to display a collection of four colorful oil paintings that resonated with one another. A special 18th century carved angel from Colombia glows above antique bird prints, while a glossy black and white speckled rooster sparkles below on one of the quaint old trunks.
A 3’ x 5’ handmade vintage rug in front of the settee clearly defines the alcove space, and the funky turquoise stool that has traveled with me through several moves is now a convenient spot for coffee, books, newspapers and flowers.
The French antique orange striped chair by the window offers seating for Marshall while we deliberate the status of the remodel or reflect on the news of the world. Sometimes I lower the eight-foot-long shade when it’s too cold or too sunny, creating an even cozier feeling in the small space.
The apartment’s recently remodeled galley kitchen is spacious, and I love preparing food on its 12’ long counters. But I never turn on the harsh florescent lights above. Instead, I placed two small lamps, one on each counter, to provide ample light in addition to the hood and sink lights. Lighting is distinctly important to make a space feel good. Remember, it’s not just about the way a room looks, but the way it feels.
Thinking Outside the Box
Stacking the back and side walls with art and installing a floor- to-ceiling shade on the window makes this small space feel grand yet intimate. Combining black and white tones that absorb and reflect light with vibrant green, yellow, orange, gold, blue and red hues grounds the colorful composition yet makes it pop. This unexpected arrangement repeats colors, shapes, patterns and textures to create harmony that ignites the once-lackluster space to invite you in. This is truly Toby’s and my favorite place to hang out.
The Ugly Duckling
Stay tuned for Episode Two of The Apartment, where I attempt to transform our still-tacky living room into a more inviting space. In creating this five-part series, I hope to inspire those of you who are grappling with boring white walls or other outdated and unsightly traits in your home.
In terms of apartment living in general, I must admit there have been a few surprises. Every night, our high school neighbor upstairs, Michele, practices the Mission Impossible theme on her tuba. And below us, passionate young George repeatedly screams in Greek at the top of his lungs. And we do delight in hearing our neighbors, Olivia and Alberto, speaking in their Australian and Italian accents. But we are most grateful for the stunning ancient oak trees that surround us, where a beautiful family of deer thrives and the lyrical birds who sing from their branches grace our senses.
For the love of ugly ducklings,