modern

Our home came in the mail! (Part II)

A long time ago, I posted Part I of this series, which chronicled the unusual history and charm of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Kit Houses. In this post, I’ve compiled some photos from our house and from historical ads as a comparison. Sorry about the ridiculous delay. Life happened and I haven’t had the time to update here, but I still wanted to put the info out there in case it helped anyone.

Our house is a Sears Van Dorn, which was available only in the 1926, 1928, and 1933 catalog (and actually isn’t fully documented on the Sears Archives for some reason). It’s quite similar to the Van Jean and the Puritan— both Dutch Colonial Revival styles. Rosemary Thornton talks a bit about the Van Dorn here. And that’s pretty much all the info/original photos I’ve found. Anyone else out there living in a Van Dorn?

Here are some of the original features we’ve found in ours (as compared to the Arts & Crafts Society’s checklist):

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Stamped lumber- this is basically the only definitive way to tell you have a Sears kit home. Technically some kit homes may not have stamped lumber, either because the buyer chose to locally source materials or because the materials and blueprints were purchased before they were all stamped. Some might have handwritten numbers and some might have nothing. But a huge majority of them do, so it’s a pretty quick and easy way to confirm a suspicion. Each original piece of lumber in the house should be stamped, but the easiest way to check is in the basement (assuming it’s still unfinished). Ours are along the center beam, not around the edges of the basement, so finding them was a little tricky (we also have blown-in insulation so I feared they had been covered up) but I found a note in The Houses that Sears Built that suggested they could face the center of the house instead of the outer walls, and Rosemary was correct!

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Shipping label– As I was searching our basement with a flashlight for the stamped lumber, I noticed something kind of strange. The back/underside of our basement stairs are held together by wood that is clearly different from the rest of the house. I always thought it was just scrap wood from some old crate, but as my flashlight passed, I noticed text on the wood. I had remembered seeing some of these shipping labels on various sites, and even though ours is too far gone to actually read most of the words, I can just barely make out “S. R. & Co” and some of the other text and stylistic features that are clearly the same as other examples.

Catalog number– As you can see above, the catalog number for the Van Dorn is C1234. I have a note that it’s written in grease pencil in the basement but can’t seem to find my photo of it. Will update if I do :/

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Blocks of shoe molding– these interesting transitions were designed for unskilled carpenters so that every awkward corner and joint wouldn’t have to be perfect. Instead of many angular cuts, irregular joins all have this detail, which is common throughout Sears homes. Our stairway between the first and second floors uses these blocks, but the basement stairs have a much simpler molding that wouldn’t have required as unusual cuts.

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Doors and doorknobs– we have confirmed that one of the Sears hardware options for a house of this year (1928) would have been the Narcissus (below), which is consistent to both interior and exterior doors of the house. Our back patio doors are not original, so if I see another set of these at a salvage yard (fingers and toes crossed it will be a french door set!) I will swap them out and make them all match.

Some hinges and latches– I outlined in this post some of the trials of getting the original bathroom hardware back into shape (and here, some of the dining room). The notable thing about the bathroom fixtures was that, under all the paint and rust, the latches were nickel plated brass, which is noted on the original catalog page (above). We also have all the original ball tipped door hinges, although that isn’t really a defining characteristic of a Sears house– they were very common.

Attic windows– we actually haven’t been up here since we bought the house, but are planning on turning it into living space this spring/summer. One thing I did notice immediately was the original semi-circle mirrors on both sides, which is consistent with the original images in the catalog. We have one basement window and one stairway window that are original as well, but they are less distinctive. These windows don’t prove it is a Sears house, but comparing our house to the catalog sketch, they are a quick reference that helps us match it up.

We have a few other original touches, like the medicine cabinet, hardwood floors, and stairs, but they would be hard to identify vs. a non-kit home from the same era. An interesting note is that our floors do follow the same pattern as the catalog says they should– oak in the living and dining rooms and the entryway, maple in the kitchen and bathroom, and yellow pine everywhere else. When we first moved in I thought it was fascinating that every room, even the bathroom, had hardwoods– but they weren’t all the same. I assumed that they had been changed at some point in the home’s history. But looking back it seems that they are all totally original (except in our 1/2 bath downstairs which was made by combining a coat closet and space for an ice box in the kitchen– the floors in there are clearly different which makes sense since it was a combination of two different rooms)

Do you have a Sears house? Is anything fun still left in original condition? I’d love to see photos!

Cheers,

 v

As a disclaimer,  just because I truly care about the history of this house and want to see how it was originally built, in all its glory, does not make me a professional nor a preservationist. I want to maintain charm in my house but don’t necessarily feel like I need to stick 100% to period for things like furnishings and paint colors. This blog is primarily about our tales of renovating/decorating, and sometimes I don’t choose to go with what’s traditional. I will never take something original OUT of the house, but when it comes to bringing IN new things, sometimes I want to put my own stamp on it since, after all, it is my house. Just in case you stumbled here by Google search and are looking to see a full to-period restoration of a 1928 house, I’m sorry but I can’t promise that. I do mostly shop vintage but sometimes will choose a mid-century or victorian piece to mix in with the deco and dutch colonial stylings of the rest of the house.

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Our home came in the mail! (Part I)

When I tell people that we live in a Sears kit home, I get mixed responses. About 75% of the time it’s a blank stare. A what? Another few will say they have heard of kit homes and know some basic info about them, but the real house geeks– the historians and preservationists and even a few contractors– are floored by this information. Once I mention it, a huge grin appears and they start rattling off facts about how these quality kit homes transformed the market, and what a joy it is to see or work on one in person. This brings a smile to my face as well… I could talk about the history of our house forever. But for the first two groups, here’s a 5 minute history lesson on Sears, Roebuck & Co kit houses.

The alternate purpose of this set of posts is for anyone searching for interior original features of kit homes. In my search, I’ve only been able to find three other houses of our model (the Van Dorn), and only two (kind of uninformative) interior photos. Many Sears homes have similar interior features, so maybe by adding ours to the directory I can help someone else who is hoping to restore theirs. I love seeing the interiors of other kit homes– how they’ve changed over the years and what has been kept original, so if you are in the same boat, I’d love to see your photos too!

Anyways, the history of Sears homes… as promised!

Between 1908 and 1940, Sears, Roebuck & Co. offered 447 (some say 370) different styles of mail order, pre-cut, build-it-yourself kit homes. They sent out regular catalogs and customers could arrange to have an entire house– everything from the plans and lumber to the paint and nails– delivered via rail to their town. Although detailed records were destroyed when the department finally closed, it’s estimated that about 75,000 “Modern Homes” were sold. They’re often compared to Ikea, in that they were to be assembled by the purchaser in small parts from a sheet of directions, but this comparison leaves out the ridiculously high-quality materials that were included with a Sears kit. For example, our 1928 Van Dorn still has the original floors, and not only do they still look brand new, but they actually look higher quality than the hardwood that is put in houses today. Rosemary Thornton explains in The Houses that Sears Built that the location of the company’s Illinois mill was well-positioned for top-of-the-line wood, and their choice to pre-cut allowed them to trim around imperfections and knots to get the most usable wood from each piece. A comparable hardwood floor today would be made from lower quality, newer growth trees. It’s pretty unbelievable for such a behemoth of a company to pay attention to the little details, but they did.

The idea behind the homes wasn’t to revolutionize the style of the quintessential American home. Most catalog styles were appropriate to period (the post-Victorian aesthetic was mainly simple bungalows and colonial revival) but tend to look very similar to architect-built houses, which makes actually identifying a kit house pretty difficult. The Arts & Crafts Society has a quick checklist to identifying Sears kit houses, in case you’re wondering if you’re in possession of one. One of the ideas behind the kit homes was just to sell simple blueprints for stylish homes that “a man of average abilities” could assemble in 90 days. This removed the need for pricey contractors, architects, or carpenters, and took the guesswork out of assembly, while guaranteeing a quality home. Perhaps even more valuable was the way that it enhanced the “American Dream”– not only could a new class of people own a home, but they could pour their own labor into it, making it truly one of a kind and special. Can you even imagine the modern-day liability of telling the “average” person he could build his own house? It definitely wasn’t the world we live in today.

The kind of surprising thing to keep in mind, in contrast to the idea that these were the Ikea of houses, they actually weren’t that inexpensive or basic. At the time, it was a small luxury (depending on the model) to have a house like this sent to you. Ornaments like moldings and millwork were standard in many plans and the materials were extremely high quality. The houses still saved customers many architect and skilled contractor fees, and helped lower income workers with easy payment plans (yes, Sears did pre-FHA private mortgages), allowing many people to buy houses that they wouldn’t been able to afford otherwise, but that didn’t make them slummy or cheap. I’ve traced back the origins of our house, and it was originally built by a large auto shop owner and commissioner of the nearby airport. Not a poor man, but not a millionaire either. Sears offered smaller, simpler cottages as well, but where they actually succeeded the most was bringing new, modern amenities to those outside of big cities. Around the turn of the century, that was water-tight roofs and solid (non-dirt) floors. Then, electricity and indoor plumbing (I love the ad below: Consider the advantages of plumbing in your home! Why, I don’t mind if I do). The Sears architects and designers would also alter any home at no charge, which allowed custom projects like additions, built-ins, and nicer finishes for wealthier clients. They also offered furnishing solutions from the Sears catalog (pretty genius marketing there, huh?)

Sears home parts were pre-cut near Chicago and shipped around the country via rail. So the most common places to find these homes are elsewhere in Illinois, around the midwest, or somewhere along a convenient rail line, usually in suburban or smaller urban neighborhoods that developed between the turn of the century and the 1930s (although many rail lines have been torn out since then, and some houses were shipped by other methods, so there are exceptions). Sometimes, in bustling company-driven towns, an employer would even buy dozens of kit homes and build an entire community for their workforce! I can’t say I’d mind that perk.

Sears homes could be outfitted with the newest technologies– indoor plumbing, central heat, and electricity. Of course, the earliest models weren’t, and later models could be ordered with or without (with a $23 outhouse being an optional add-on for rural customers). Luxury amenities like this were nice for homebuilders, but are just as nice now. Whereas a slightly older c.1900 Victorian would have been retrofitted with plumbing and electricity (and possibly done shoddily or resulting in a bizarre layout), the “Modern” kit homes still feel perfectly up-to-date with decent wiring and well-planned room flow. Our house still has the original 1928 wiring but we’ve been told by our inspector and a trusted electrician that it currently poses no danger and is still in good shape. [sidenote: a previous owner did update the main electrical box in the basement at some point, and some grounding wires have been put in, but the basic room-to-room wiring is original– cloth covered Greenfield, not knob-and-tube. But those details would depend on the era and who was building the house.] The houses were also built with a drywall product (Goodwall sheet plaster), which was easy to install and inexpensive. When we have contractors in our home, they try to convince me that the house was originally plaster and lathe, because of the age. The TV installer, in particular, assured me that he would need a complicated wiring and mounting rig for the wall-mount, and was shocked when he cut into 80 year old drywall. He tried to cover by claiming it must have been added on recently. Maybe I should send him a book 🙂

Houses ranged from ~$200-$8,000 and could even be customized or even totally reversed to suit the customer’s preference. So finding your house in an old catalog isn’t always as easy as finding the identical picture. Especially when 100 years of owners have put their own touches, extensions, renovations, and damages on top of it. In the next post I’ll talk about some of the original touches we’ve found helpful in identifying ours, but if you are looking for a more comprehensive guide, check out Houses By Mail.

 

I can get lost for hours looking at photos online. I can’t post them all here, but for your own searching pleasure, here are my favorite resources:

Daily Bungalow Flickr Page [most of the photos in this post came from here, but since Flickr is so bad about linking directly to an image, I had to grab them and upload them to my Pinterest]

SearsHomes.org 

Sears Archive

The Arts & Crafts Society

In the next post, I’ll compile and write about some photos of the original touches in our house. Do you have a Sears house? Is anything fun still left in original condition? I’d love to see photos!

Cheers,

❤ v

As a disclaimer,  just because I truly care about the history of this house and want to see how it was originally built, in all its glory, does not make me a professional nor a preservationist. I want to maintain charm in my house but don’t necessarily feel like I need to stick 100% to period for things like furnishings and paint colors. This blog is primarily about our tales of renovating/decorating, and sometimes I don’t choose to go with what’s traditional. I will never take something original OUT of the house, but when it comes to bringing IN new things, sometimes I want to put my own stamp on it since, after all, it is my house. Just in case you stumbled here by Google search and are looking to see a full to-period restoration of a 1928 house, I’m sorry but I can’t promise that. I do mostly shop vintage but sometimes will choose a mid-century piece to mix in with the deco and dutch colonial stylings of the rest of the house.

Let there be light!

Exciting stuff has been going on here for the past few days. We were both hesitant to bring in any contractors for at least the first few months, just so I could get everything kind of situated and then figure out exactly what needed to be changed and in what order. And I’ve been tackling some quicker projects myself, like painting bathrooms and dining rooms, fixing up the bedroom, and planning some landscaping. But last week we finally brought in two trusted contractors– a carpenter and an electrician. The carpenter, a friend, will be helping out with some more complex projects in a few months, but we put the electrician right to work, changing out four ceiling fixtures throughout the house.

All of the light fixtures that came in the house are OK… most I recognized from the Hampton Bay aisle of Home Depot. Yawn! But some online shopping and three hours later, we’re making progress to eliminate the boring, snooze-worthy fixtures from the house. Obviously nothing in the house was even close to original. I could have gone with reproductions but decided to go with something a little more fun.

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Let’s start in the entryway, which is a really small area with a cluttered coat rack and the smallest bathroom of all time. I would have loved to do an entry chandelier here, but the house honestly probably never had anything grander than a single bulb flush mount. So I grabbed a Restoration Hardware farmhouse light when they were on sale a while back. I wasn’t positive if it would go in the living room, entry, or the top of the stairs, but once we held it up it seemed to be a pretty good fit here. And please excuse the mess, etc… this area still needs a LOT of help.

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The farmhouse looks great, I think… but we also discovered that we’re going to do a lot of paint patching. Why people don’t remove light fixtures when they paint a ceiling, I will never understand. The entryway will all be painted soon, so we’ll just leave it like this for a little while.

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This was also when we discovered that we do indeed have the original 1928 wiring throughout the house (I knew we had it in the bathroom from when I replaced the sconces but wasn’t sure exactly how old it was or if it was safe). The electrician assured me that it was perfectly safe as long as it was in good condition, which it was. He also noticed that the lights all had grounding wires running from the switches, which means someone was paying attention when they started making improvements.

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The next light was the bathroom. I had already switched out the sconces and painted, so as a reminder here was the lower part of the room:

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You can’t even tell in the photos how bad this light is. But finding a replacement wasn’t easy– the switch in the bathroom only controls the sconces, so the new fixture had to have a pull cord that reached from the ceiling without knocking into/damaging the shade.

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I wanted to get a matching porcelain one to the sconces but couldn’t find one with a pull cord, and those can’t be custom ordered. My alternate idea was to get a vintage cut crystal pendant, but again the Etsy shopowner said he couldn’t add the cord. I had to custom order this one in oil rubbed bronze from Rejuvenation, but they kind of screwed it up and without our wonderful electrician would have never been able to get it working ourselves. And honestly, now that it’s up, I’m not so sure about it. I think I need to spraypaint the inside of the shade white to make it look more like the porcelain sconces– it’s just super harsh and bright right now. I also might just order a new shade… we’ll see. At least it’s better than it was.

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And finally… the super fun one! When we first saw the house, it had a decent looking pendant in the dining room. Not my style but kinda cute. During negotiations, the seller asked if he could take this light with him, and since we had planned on probably replacing it anyway, just let him have it. He ended up installing another light when he moved out– I guess this was what was there when he bought the house a year earlier. And while it was nice having some type of light in the dining room (as opposed to him just leaving a hole in the ceiling), there is NO way this one was going to stay. Is it the worst thing ever? No. But for such a central room, I knew we needed to do something special in here.

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I came across Stimulight on Etsy and held out for a few months before finally biting the bullet and ordering one. And then it sat in the box for a few months because I knew I couldn’t do it myself. I actually probably would have attempted the other fixtures on my own if I hadn’t known I’d had to call an electrician for this one, but that turned out to be a blessing because I would have been on the floor, crying, wrapped in electrical tape and bruises if I’d tried to do any of this myself. Even the electrician left the house punctured and bleeding. This is a tough fixture to hang! It looks AMAZING though, and even though we knew we would have a dining table under it (and could therefore hang it a little lower than usual since nobody can walk into it), we decided to hang it a little on the high side so that it wouldn’t compete with the french doors  and built-in for visual interest. I think it’s absolutely perfect for this room– I can’t imagine anything better.

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The final light was for the office, and I didn’t know if we would actually get around to ever doing this one. I’m going to write a full post about it, so I’ll save the photos for next time.

That’s all for now! I’m super excited to have broken the barrier of welcoming in a professional… maybe this renovation will be easier than the last one after all.

Cheers,

❤ v

Master Bedroom Progress… for the love of Ranarp

Weirdly enough, the tiny master bedroom of this house is probably the reason we ended up buying it. Not because of the super bland color palate, normal-sized windows, or annoying sloped ceiling, but because of the closet. We had given up the house hunt for the winter (our lease had a clause that we couldn’t move out from Nov-Mar) but I was still curiously opening my Zillow emails, just to see what was out there. Most of the photos of this house made it seem modest and quaint, but not super special.

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But a photo of the corner of the gorgeously done master closet really made me take notice that someone had truly put some effort in, so I dragged M to the open house (even though he wasn’t interested when I showed him the listing). Sure enough, we left in silent agreement that it was the one. Not because of the closet, but because of all the other little touches, the layout, the neighborhood, and the feeling of relaxation we got while inside.

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(For the record, that’s a sliding barn door… the top bar pulls down to eye-level, and there are 12 drawers and another cabinet on the left side that you can’t really see in this picture. All the drawers quiet close. All extremely unusual for a 1928 Sears kit house that is otherwise mostly well-maintained yet original.)

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If this closet hadn’t been there, or even if it hadn’t made it into the top 10 photos, we probably never would have ever stepped foot here, and yet here we are.

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Anyways, ramblings aside, I didn’t expect to do much in here. The closet is great, even though I would like to take all the pulls off and spray paint them to look enameled… but that’s it. We just moved in our furniture and ignored it.

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Then while M was out one evening, I made a snap decision and broke out the primer. Our headboard is kind of sage-grey-beige and I hated how it clashed with the lavender-gray-blah walls.

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I had already grabbed a paint chip of Behr’s #HDC-AC-23 Provence Blue and knew it was the way to go. It’s a little on the dark side, but it’s still coastal looking and light, and it made the white trim pop. Two days later, I had primed and painted two coats. We put the bed back where it belongs and, once again, I thought it was done.

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And then a few weeks later we brought home a Ranarp floor lamp from Ikea for the living room. It’s really perfect for a house like this– visually light yet not bland, a little unusual, and with antique touches like the black and white braided cord. When I saw that there was a sconce in the collection too (and that it was $20!), I added it to the ever-growing list and eventually picked up two while we were visiting M’s parents in Virginia a few weeks ago. I also ordered this “No Sleep ‘Til Breuckelen” print which combines M’s love of weird maps and the history of New York with our house’s Dutch roots. I think the wall needs two other pieces to flank the print… it’s a bit too small right now.

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The Ranarp sconces were ridiculously easy to install, even though everyone’s favorite blue-and-yellow store fails to package them with screws or anchors. Luckily I had some extras and the whole project only took about an hour.

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I absolutely love the detail in these sconces! Good job Ikea!

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The only thing that’s left in here is to spray paint those cabinet pulls a black gloss and order the curtains. I’m waiting for West Elm to run a sale…. pretty please?

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Anyways, I love the room and the journey it’s taken so far. What do you think?

Cheers,

❤ v

Bathroom Progress!

We’ve been in the house for about two months and the first room I’ve really tackled (aside from a quick paint job) is the bathroom. I outlined in this post some of the issues and inspiration, and I mostly kept to what I’ve posted so far.

Here is what the bathroom looked like during our initial walkthrough:

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And right after move-in:

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And here is what it looks like today:

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Obviously the biggest change is the paint color. It took a coat of Kilz Low-VOC primer and two coats of Behr “Watery” (#HDC-CT-26) on the walls, and a coat of Behr “Snowfall” (#W-F-600) on the wainscoting. The color is lovely and really removed a lot of the caveyness from the room.

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After the first coat of primer, it wasn’t looking too pretty (sorry for color balance… removing the two sconces left me with only one (very warm) bulb in the whole room, and I’m not smart enough to take pictures during daylight hours). You can also see in the photo below that the door frame was actually never painted, just either stained white or covered with a very thin coat of cheap paint. It bugged me from the moment we moved in, so getting to the point where I was painting it was such a relief.

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Anyways, primer. I should have used a second coat, but I was scraping the bottom of this can (literally) and, being the great planner that I am, had no way to get more for at least a week. So I just let it dry overnight and went ahead with paint.
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I also removed every single piece of hardware– towel bars, hooks, ring, pulls, hinges, latches, etc– and patched those holes. None of the (ugly) nickel stuff was in a good spot, so the replacement pieces will all be in different locations. Might as well start off with a clean slate, right?

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The rusty, paint-covered old hardware was another fun project.

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I don’t want to say that I’m channeling Nicole Curtis, but I do believe that if the hardware has lasted in this house for 90 years, there is no reason it isn’t good enough to stay for another 90. I soaked everything in baking soda and hot water, but what resulted was not what I’d hoped. Instead of being a beautiful polished brass like the hinges in the dining room, the hardware was all rusted out and appeared to have been chrome plated at some point, but now was just a rusty mess.

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I sanded them all the way down and found something I’ve never seen before– the latch part was solid brass while the base was steel. Nifty! And even though part of me just wanted to leave it there, the other part really wanted a matching bathroom, so I covered the brass parts with painters tape and sprayed the rest oil rubbed bronze. The hinges were in various amounts of disrepair and were mixed… some nickel, some brass. So I sprayed them all to match. I didn’t really want to alter anything original, but considering half of this stuff definitely isn’t (one of them is broken, two are stainless, two are brass), the least I could do is make it all match and move on (reproduction or even salvaged replacement stuff is expensive!). Meanwhile, I ordered some bronze and ceramic pulls from Restoration Hardware for the bottom half of the linen closet to match.

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Once the old hardware was removed and the necessary holes were patched, I went around all the wainscoting with a sharp blade to cut away the dried, torn old caulk. I don’t know what happened in this room or when the wainscoting was installed (definitely not original) but I was just happy to see no visible water damage or mold when I peeled back the boards, and so I cleaned it up, tacked it down with a few extra nails, and recaulked. A few days later, I added a new coat of paint, and now it looks so fresh and clean.

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The tub is still a work in progress. We haven’t had any contractors at all in the house yet, so I have no idea what we will eventually do here or really what our options are. So in the meantime I replaced the plastic tension rod with an ORB curved one (to match and give us more space) and ordered a tension caddy for storage. If and when we tile, we’ll replace the tension caddy with wall mounted shelving and maybe replace the shower curtain with a glass door.

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The bath cart is Ikea’s Raskog, and the new sconces are from Rejuvenation. New overhead light is coming from them as well– it needed to be custom made because of the pull cord. The ceramic plate cover is from them too– I bought one for the light switch below the right sconce but of course it doesn’t fit so I need to cut down the wainscoting (or just spraypaint the existing plastic one… we’ll see).

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And of course the new furniture, which was restored from it’s previous home in a washed up doily B&B

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The total cost of everything so far is around $500. Not bad, eh? Most of that is light fixtures… those things are pricey! There is still plenty to do (like re-hanging the towel rods, changing out the pocket door hardware, installing the ceiling light…) but it’s progress at least!

Cheers,

❤ v

New Old Furniture

One of my initial conundrums was filling the awkward spot next to the bathtub with something other than an Expedit (photo of previous owner’s set-up)

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I briefly looked around at hook/shelf combinations but really thought we needed closed storage space for things like toilet paper and extra tissues, candles, shampoo, etc. But I didn’t want to spend much since the humidity in the bathroom is usually bad news for furniture. I couldn’t believe when I had the opportunity to walk through an old hotel that had closed and buy a few pieces at bargain-basement prices from the new owner. One piece was actually a TV stand, but it had the right dimensions and closed shelving, so I offered $30 and was accepted!

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One thing I didn’t check while measuring was the actual condition of the unit. The lighting was dark and I was rushing around from room to room. When I got it home, I left it in the garage for a few weeks before actually inspecting it.

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The condition was pretty appalling. Most of the other pieces from this trek are in wonderful condition considering their age and heavy use, but this one did not have that luck. Aside from being absolutely disgustingly filthy (below is the pile of paper towels used from just trying to clean it with oil soap), the large cabinet had been painted and other parts had been badly patched and stapled back together.

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The large cabinet had also been (badly) painted kelly green at some point in the distant past.

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But it was still a solid wood piece of furniture, and still a good price. It just meant I had to paint it– something I kind of hate doing to (mostly) unpainted antiques, but there was no way to clean this up.

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I sanded it down, removed all the hardware, and spray primed (I covered the cute wooden wheels in painters tape for this step). I used the leftover navy paint from the dining room built-in project (Behr Nocturne Blue #HDC-CL-28)– it took three good coats to be totally solid. I also painted the insides of the drawers…. figured the only way to get it really truly clean was to coat it in paint after drenching it in soap (and then adding liners for good measure).

So much better already!

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For the pulls, I wanted to match the style of the furniture, and the bathroom, but also be a little bit playful. Since the piece is so dark, I opted for brass instead of oil rubbed bronze (or cut glass, which was another option and already exists in other parts of the house). I wanted it to be a little bit regency, a little bit MCM, and a little bit deco/colonial. The pulls are from Lee Valley and the knobs from Anthropologie. I love them both.

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If you’re wondering about the original hardware, it was 100% crap. Two of the pieces broke as I was (gently) removing them. They are like aluminum foil thickness and also not very nice looking. Out you go! (intact ones will get donated to the ReStore in case someone else needs a replacement or something). The brass hinges and door catch are original, though… just cleaned with some sandpaper and steel wool.

And just for fun, here’s the final cost breakdown:

Vintage TV stand: $30
Two drawer pulls (Leather Hardware from Lee Valley): $21
Three knobs (Streamline Knob from Anthro): $18
Paint (Behr #HDC-CL-28 leftover from the Dining Room): $0
Total: $69.00

So there you have it! I love it, do you?

Full-room photos coming soon.

❤ v

Sutton Renovation Close-up: Dressing Room

The first version of this post was originally posted in November 2011 on the giftable designs blog.


Because it isn’t just as easy as picking out a color and waiting for the “after” photos, I’m going to start outlining each room, the process of design and renovation, and finally what I would change (or wouldn’t) if given the chance. I’m going to upload a ton of pictures with little descriptions, but if you just want the final run-down (or the finished pictures!), scroll to the bottom.

Almost done with Close-Ups! Here is the second-to-last!


As the smallest room in the house, measuring just 24 square feet (on a good day), this room should have been the easiest. It’s basically jut a mini-hallway that links our living room, bedroom, and bathroom, and provides some space for linens. But since it’s so compact, it actually made my job a lot harder. You can get away with much stronger colors and motifs in small rooms without them looking shocking or getting old quickly. The first time we saw this room, it was just a spot for the previous owner to store tablecloths and doilies, but we knew we wanted to have more fun than that!


I knew immediately I wanted a star-shaped pendant light. I don’t know why– it may have been a bit of an obsession. But it had to happen. I tried to order one from Pottery Barn, but as soon as I settled on it, it sold out. So I bought an outdoor light from Macy’s. I thought of using Flavor Paper’s Starglint wallpaper, but I couldn’t tell if the reflective wallpaper plus strange light plus small room would equal awkward and overdone. I eventually decided on only one star-themed accessory per room, so the wallpaper was sadly out.

Next we were going to paint it red. Like a deep burgundy red. I was hesitant because I had a feeling it would feel like being inside someone’s body, but we bought the paint anyway.

And then, the night before the crew was supposed to paint, we were out at a speakeasy in Chinatown that was entirely black– walls, ceilings, couches, and floors. It finally hit me that this would look awesome. Somehow it’s more neutral than the dark red, but it still makes a statement, and it doesn’t matter if it’s dark because it’s not a room you linger in anyway. I came in the next morning with a new gallon of paint and the crew literally thought I’d lost my mind. They spent about 20 minutes trying to talk me out of it, but it’s my space so I won (and we could always paint over it later, anyway!)

The black paint (it’s actually a super dark gray) is absolutely perfect in the space. It isn’t too dark, it doesn’t make the room feel smaller, but it does make me feel cozy and like I finally proved my doubters wrong. Even the contractor was saying by the end that it was his favorite room.

The other major change we made was also a mid-renovation decision. The room came with super heavy sliding wood doors, and I knew as soon as I walked in that I wanted mirrors. The doors take up a whole wall of the room and mirrors would reflect light, make the room look larger, and help turn it from a hallway to a “dressing room” (which is what it says on the original floorplan for the apartment and was originally a total joke). I was planning on ordering those sliding mirror doors that everyone (including me) hates– the ones that fall off their track and look like they belong in a rental apartment from the 80’s. But I couldn’t find a nice version of the same thing.

Then when they took the doors off to repaint the interior of the closet, I realized how HUGE it looked. Being able to open up the whole thing at once turned it from a linen closet to a coat/laundry/linen/cleaning supplies/extra paint closet! Just compare the photos above– which would YOU prefer?? I did some research and found sliding mirrored bi-folds at Lowe’s. When they’re closed, it’s a wall of mirrors, but when they’re open you can access 90% of the closet without wedging your body in an awkward position.



I also had them install a light in the interior of the closet, just in case the star light ended up inadequate. I’m really glad I did because we end up using this room more than I thought we would, and the extra light makes the black paint less of a potential problem. We also installed a frosted glass door between the foyer and the dressing room, which lets in light and also makes cool shadow silhouettes.

So there you have it. One tiny room, some paint, a light fixture, and mirrored doors. The art on the wall is by Paul Nassar— a local artist and good friend. I mean, seriously. Does it get more perfect than that?


Room Details:

• Light fixtureMarrakesh Star from Macy’s, $90

• PaintBehr UL260-23 Poppy Seed, eggshell finish

• Frosted glass door – Custom order from Home Depot, $200

• Mirrored sliding doors – Custom-made from Lowe’s, $250 (similar to these)

• Art custom housewarming gift by Paul Nassar

Things I’d Do Differently (or Keep the Same):

I wish I had wallpapered this room with a beige floral pattern and kept the standard issue 1953 bulb cover.

NOT.

I freaking love this room. It’s not for everyone, but it’s my apartment and so far everyone that’s come in has gasped at the awesomeness. There have also been comments about how there could be no more perfect spot for the flying pig painting, which is true.

We decided not to Elfa-out this closet, even though we did all the others. There are so many oddly placed soffits (vertical and horizontal), and the current layout actually works quite well. Once we got it properly lit, we had no desire to rip it out and start again. It also saved us a couple hundred bucks, which is nice.

Basically, the only problem is that the doors all knock into each other, but in a space this size that was never going to be avoidable. So far no major incidents between the bi-fold doors and the frosted glass pane, which is my major worry.

That’s all for now! Cheers!

ps. The living room Close-Up post won’t happen for quite awhile. It’s currently full of our remaining boxes and some furniture we found in the trash. Not in the chic, saving-an-antique way… but more in the freegan, dumpster-diving way. When we get around to finding some perfect permanent pieces, I’ll post about it 🙂 In the meantime, we’ve made some life-changing decisions that involve a HOUSE HUNT. Like, a real house. With multiple bedrooms. I have never lived in one of these things before, so it should be exciting!