The Little House in Jackson Heights

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Back in December, I suggested that my husband and I go take a look at a few apartments in Jackson Heights. After selling our apartment more than two years ago, we had continued to look at apartments in Brooklyn neighborhoods while we rented in Clinton Hill, and never could bring ourselves to commit to anything we saw. We even started looking in Manhattan, figuring, if we were going to pay as much as we were expecting to pay for Brooklyn real estate, we may as well have the convenience of Manhattan.

 An afternoon of looking in Queens quickly convinced us to swap boroughs. One apartment in particular caught our eye. It was listed as a one-bedroom, but it had a dining area that could easily be considered a second bedroom (albeit a small one with no closet). And at less than half the price of a similarly-sized apartment in our Brooklyn neighborhood with a very low maintenance fee, it was an easy decision to make an offer. Our offer was accepted, and we moved forward with the purchase.


While we loved the layout (see floorplan above) and the location, there were some things we knew we needed to do before we moved in. The walls needed painting and the floors needed refinishing, but we were undecided about the kitchen and bathroom. Both rooms were in good shape, but were badly designed and total eyesores. On the one hand, we could certainly live with the ugly tile, but on the other hand, any improvements we made would probably earn themselves back if we choose to sell in the future. Having lived through a bathroom and kitchen renovation while inhabiting an apartment, I was very keen on the idea of getting it done before we moved in, which was ultimately what we decided to do. 

Now we’re moved in and we just have a few more fixes to make. I’ll be posting more about the renovation process, the before and afters, and everything we’ve learned along the way in the coming weeks. For now, this is a sneak peek at what the apartment looked like when we bought it.





Post-Move Apartment Tour

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Well, we moved last weekend, and we're officially Queens residents now. Before we packed up the old apartment, I snapped a few photos to document the place we have called home for the last two years--and I realized I haven't shown much (if any) of that space here on the blog.

So, better late than never, here's our place in Clinton Hill:

Our bedroom, including my trusty captain's storage bed (a hand-me-down from my mom). The painting above the bed is by my great-aunt, artist Mary Harris. The bedding is an old DwellStudio pattern that I was sorry to see discontinued. That large wardrobe came with us to Jackson Heights, but it may need to find its way to Craiglist soon.

Early in our tenure in Clinton Hill, my husband painted all the cheap, hollow core doors with a high-gloss black, which really improved the look of them; if your landlord will let you, I totally recommend this affordable and easy upgrade.

Another view of the bedroom, including a few of my favorite second-hand finds: A $25 marble-top dresser, an ogee mirror bought on a trip to Maine, and two little alabaster lamps that I got got $6 at a yard sale on the North Fork. The pair of prints is from the flea market in Paris, the lady portrait on the right was dug out of someone's trash in the West Village in the late 90s by yours truly.

My teeny desk sat in another corner of the bedroom, and my husband had a whole room for his office behind that door (you'll note I didn't take a photo of it). In the new place my mini filing cabinet and filing boxes will all live in a closet.

The living room side of the main living space featured a large gallery wall of prints, photos and paintings. Our Jasper sofa from Room & Board is still going strong nearly five years after I bit the bullet and invested in a real couch. We were lucky to get those John Robshaw pillows at a thrift store for a few dollars. The coffee table was purchase at Design Research in the last 60s by my mother, who worked there at the time.

The kitchen in all its unstyled glory was open onto the living/dining room (if I'd been more motivated, I should have tried to make it look like its more attractive twin). As you can see, we were eeking out every inch of storage that we could, including the space above the cabinets. The counter and the bar stools were both purchases second hand and we've already sold them off because there's no need for them in the new place.

The dining area was just next to both the kitchen and the sitting area. The bentwood chairs were a score from an estate sale last fall--we have a half dozen in total, including two arm chairs. The pedestal table is another yard sale find (one of these days I'm going to make a leaf for it).

Digest 4.17.15

Friday, April 17, 2015

I must have my finger on the pulse of the moment: My posts about trying to eat on $4/day budget were published just before The Food Bank For New York launched their #FoodBankNYCChallenge, which asked people to try to eat on a $29/week budget and share their experience on social media. Gwenyth Paltrow has been skewered for her Twitter post about the challenge, but I applaud her for trying to raise awareness for a great charity.

Here's how goop cooked with a $29 for the week.

 I am hopelessly in love with designer Whitney Leigh Morris's Tiny Canal Cottage (above).

The prettiest tiny homes yet!

Recycle your old jeans and get $20 off a new pair.

Even Martha Stewart is on the KonMari bandwagon.

A sign of the changing times. 

The slow death of the home-cooked meal--let's reverse this trend, shall we?

A culinary technique I'm dying to try.

How to eat more whole grains.

A piece I wrote for Curbed.com on midcentury modernist design.

What To Do With a Railroad Apartment

Monday, April 13, 2015

My husband and I are getting ready to move (more about that soon, I promise). In our apartment hunting we came across many railroad apartments. A common layout in older New York City buildings, the railroad can be a real challenge to figure out. What exactly do you do with all those narrow-interconnected rooms?

We didn't decide on a railroad, but we seriously considered two that we saw. Because they were on my mind, I saved the listing photos of this apartment for its surprisingly lovely railroad layout and design ideas, and I figured I would share it here. As a disclaimer, I know nothing about the owners or the actual space--these are just my thoughts about the photographs space and the choices they made.

Here's what is so smart about this railroad:

1. Brilliant built-ins. Oh, to have a wall of floor-to-ceiling custom book shelves! It is so much more effective than anything you can buy off the shelf. It provides ample storage, but still looks incredibly tidy (thanks, in part, to the fact that it's not crammed full of stuff). The built-in lighting is a nice touch.

2. Interior "windows." The transom glass above the bedroom door and the paned-glass door itself go a long way towards making this railroad feel less railroad-y--natural light is able to stream into the center room, even if the bedroom door is shut. If you were gut-renovating a railroad, you could even add smaller transoms in the top of the bookcase, as well.

3. Collapsible furniture. The drop-leaf table is a great choice for this space. With the leaves folded down, it can be pushed against the wall and takes up very little floor space. With them open, I bet you could pull it up to the couch and have four or more for dinner.

4. An open kitchen. While an open kitchen isn't always the best choice, it's a smart way to keep a railroad feeling open. The way this one is laid out almost let's the kitchen function like a hallway when it's not in use. Finishing the sides of the cabinets that face the living room, including the continuation of the baseboard molding onto the cabinets, helps give the room polish.

5. White, white, and more white. I love that they embraced white for the wall color and kitchen cabinetry. It's no secret that I love white for small spaces, and I particularly applaud the choice to paint the exposed brick white (they should have gone for the bedroom too!). In most instances, I loathe exposed brick: Visually it's just sucks the life out of a room (and most of the time, the brick isn't even interesting old brick). However, stripping walls of drywall can give you precious extra inches that really matter in small apartments.

6. Cabinets that reach for the ceiling. In a small space, I think it's always smart to install your kitchen cabinets so they touch the ceiling and opt for the tallest models that can fit about the countertop. It's a great way to eek out more storage and you avoid the awkward grease-and-dust-catching gap between the cabinets and the ceiling.

7. Double-duty furniture. The bedside table drawer units are another smart way to get in more storage. Smaller bureaus or drawer units like these (I'm pretty sure they are IKEA's Brimnes 4-drawer chest) are a great choice for bedside tables in small apartments.

8. The illusion of more windows. Hanging a mirror between two windows is a classic decorator trick to give the appearance of more windows than there really are. This would be even more effective of a visual trick if the mirror were of the same dimensions as the windows it sits between.

In case you're curious, here's the floorplan for the apartment. I hope I helped provide some inspiration for railroad apartment-dwellers out there.

Yes, You CAN eat well on $4 a Day (Almost)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

I bet you're wondering how our $4 a day food experiment went. While we didn't stick to the budget, I'd call the experiment a success. We spent $65 on groceries last week, which is just over $4.50/person per day. However, we also ate a bunch of things we already had in the fridge and pantry, and my best guess for the cost of those items is an additional $20 (a very rough estimate). If you add the two together, that brings us to $85 total or about $6/person per day. While I didn't meet the goal I'd set, I also continued to shop like I normally do; for example, I bought organic milk, eggs, and apples. If I had swapped for conventional products, we probably could have cut the budget down further.

I loved this experiment, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to cut back on their spending. Here are some of the things I learned and experienced during our week of extreme budget eating:

Plan, plan, plan
If you want to save money on groceries, it really helps to plan a full week's worth of meals in advance and shop for those meals in one big trip. Instead of going to the store every other day on my way home from work, I made did one big shop at the beginning of the week.

Be flexible
However, you also need to be flexible. Reducing your daily food costs has a lot to do with improvising and making do with what you've got. I made some chicken soup based on a recipe I have, but didn't have all the ingredients--rather than run out to buy leeks and mushrooms, I swapped onions for the leeks, and skipped the mushrooms all together. Sunday lunch was a real hodgepodge of what's left in the fridge, but we didn't go hungry.

Saving money takes time
I will admit I spent a lot of time making our budget meal plan work. In addition to making breakfast every morning, I made lunch and dinner for my husband every single day when normally we'd each eat a few meals out. Cooking grains, beans and homemade stock also took time.

Wholesale clubs are your friend
Our Costco membership definitely helped us stay on-track with our budget. Among the Costco purchases that made it into our weekly meals were nearly a week's worth of salad greens for $4, two-dozen organic eggs for $7, and two organic chickens for $24 (we froze one to eat later).

Surprise budget busters
There were a few items that really added up to my daily total that I would cut out if I were rying to stick to a strict budget. For example, just five dried dates (from Costco!) tallied up to 50-cents--1/8 of a $4/day budget!  Frozen berries were also surprisingly pricey when I broke down the per serving cost.

Super savers
Oatmeal has got to be the cheapest, most nutritious breakfast around. I divvied up the cost of each serving of rolled oats from a giant Costco box and it came to just 11-cents per serving. Yes, it's a little more when you add some fruits, a handful of nuts and milk, but it really is a cheap, healthy way to start the day. Homemade popcorn is also a great good-for-you and affordable item--I figure that a single serving of my organic home-popped kernels is about 10-cents--and boy, does it fill you up.

Necessary splurges
Flavor boosters like citrus and herbs are what really make a meal sing. If you cut them out, you'd save money, but boy, would your diet be less interesting. I wouldn't give up the lemons, limes, fresh herbs and dried spices I used even for increased savings.

It's cheaper to grow your own
I have a big pot of rosemary in our apartment, and used it throughout the week to season dishes. It cost nothing, and made me think that I should have pots of all kinds of edibles growing in my window sill, so I don't have to buy those pricey bundles at the supermarket every time I want the taste of fresh herbs.

Going out is more expensive than you think
We ate one meal at a friend's house (but we also served dinner to our siblings) last week, so I figure those two cancelled each other out budget-wise. However, I also met a friend for lunch one day. My lunch bill (for a salad, a soup, and a glass of seltzer) was $25, including tax and tip. That one lunch could have funded five days of home-cooked eating--yikes!

A bag lunch is no less fun
On the weekend, my husband and I often eat lunch out during our daily wanderings. It's nothing fancy, usually eggs in a diner or sandwiches from our favorite takeaway spot. This weekend, we packed a big snack to take with us, and ate bowls of rice and beans later in the afternoon at home. I didn't miss eating out one bit, and I was happy to have saved the $20+ we would have spent on even the most modest restaurant meal.


The Only Drinking Glasses You'll Ever Need

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

I'd like to write a post to sing the praises of the Picardie tumbler. 

If I were more of a minimalist, I would jettison the majority of my glassware and just use my Picardie glasses for every meal. Manufactured in France by Duralex, the tempered glass cups are practically unbreakable--seriously, let one fall on the floor, you'd be hard-pressed to shatter or chip these extra-tough glasses. Their durability and their timeless design are why they can be found in practically every cafe in France and in many French restaurants stateside. They are also apparently popular around the globe; an article in The Independent reveals that the Duralex's largest export market is Afghanistan where it is the default tea glass! (Because they are made from tempered glass, they can hold hot liquids.) In addition to their good looks and durability, these glasses are great for anyone with limited cabinet space, as they stack easily. And since they last forever and are made a recyclable material, they're also an ecological choice.

I grew up with Picardie tumblers, and in the past two years, I've collected a large trove of them at thrift stores and yard sales for my own house. Little by little, I find that we use nothing else. I've also owned Duralex's Gigone tumbler, but I prefer the look of the Picardie and the variety of sizes that are available.

The Picardie glass comes in four sizes, ranging from teeny-tiny to a full pint. The littlest glasses (3.1 oz.) are a good size for kids. (Yes, I said kids; because they are so unbreakable, these glasses are even used in schools in France.) The 8.5 oz. glass is more versatile, I think it's the perfect size for either wine or juice. The 12.2 oz. had been our water glass size until recently, but when I found five of the full 16 oz. glasses at a yard sale last week, and I must say I prefer the larger size for water (as a full pint, it would, of course, also accommodate a beer nicely).

You can buy Picardie tumblers directly from Duralex or through Amazon.com, but curiously, World Market seems to have the best prices online (however, they do not sell the 16 oz. version).

Photos: Quitokeeto (top) and Williams-Sonoma (bottom).

Do you have a pressure cooker?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Let's talk about pressure cookers.

Recently, I purchased Amy Chaplin's At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, which is an inspiring cookbook, and I'll definitely write more about it later. However, the book is more than a collection of recipes: Many of the book's pages are devoted to how Chaplin stocks her pantry and prepares her weekly staples. Chaplin is an avid proponent of owning a pressure cooker, in particular, for making beans. She recommends a 5-quart model as the ideal size for cooking 2 cups of beans or soup for four people.

Meanwhile, Bon Appetit, one of my favorite food magazines, devoted a page to its love of the pressure cooker. Suddenly, it seems everyone is using a pressure cooker!

I've never owned a pressure cooker, and I'm fairly resistant to buying additional kitchen gadgets, but all this talk has gotten me thinking about owning one myself. For beans alone, it would be a handy thing to have. However, at more than one hundred dollars, a pressure cooker is a pretty significant investment. Though it would also probably pay off--and not just in saved time: If you can make beans in 20 minutes, you're more likely to make them from scratch than to reach for a can, and a pound of dried beans costs less than a 13.5 oz. can of cooked beans. Not only are pressure cookers economical, because they cook food in a reduced time, they save energy. Better taste, cost savings, and an ecological choice? I've almost convinced myself to take the plunge. Here are some recommended models:

Bon Appetit's test kitchen recommends Kuhn Rikon's Duromatic Pressure Cooker, $219.99 on amazon.com, and two other models. Chaplin also likes the Kuhn Rikon brand.

My in-laws, who are avid pressure cooker users, have their eye on WMF Perfect Plus's Pressure Cooker, $159.87 for the 4 1/2-quart model on amazon.com. While, the food editor at my office likes the models by Fagor. 

What about you? Do you own a pressure cooker? If so, do you have a model that you love? Anything you like to cook in yours? I'd love to hear more about why I should consider investing in a a pressure cooker of my own.

Digest 3.27.15

Friday, March 27, 2015

Will spring ever come? We're certainly ready for it. I'm getting ready to move again, so decluttering is on my mind. I've been selling things on eBay and making piles to donate--it feels good. Are you feeling the urge to pare back this spring? Here are a few articles and ideas that I enjoyed recently:

Research has proven we're drowning in stuff.

But decluttering is actually really hard--if not impossible--for most people!

Curbed.com's history of living small in New York City.

The CUTEST little house for sale.

Middle class city dwellers with weekend homes.

A handsome galley kitchen renovation--I love the pops of red!

A smart way to cut back on shower water waste.

My new favorite tea.

An unusual contest: A Maine inn is being sold for $125 and no more than 200 words.

Funny: A designer IKEA bag.

My sister leant me Wolf Hall to read. Now I can't wait to see it on Masterpiece Theater.


Eating Well on $4 a Day?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Could you eat well on $4 a day? Your immediate reaction is probably, "No way!"

Last week I read about Good and Cheap, a free downloadable cookbook for people on tight budgets. The book is a project that started when Leanne Brown, then a graduate student at NYU's Food Studies master's program, realized that government-sponsored food stamps benefits are just $4 a day. Yes, food stamps are meant to be a supplemental benefit, but it got Brown wondering, "What could you eat for $4 a day? Could you eat well?" Curious, I downloaded the ebook.

While the recipes were very basic, Brown's book got me thinking: Could my husband and I reduce our food bills to just $8 a day for the two of us? Looking at my last credit card statement, the answer would be a resounding "no." I spent $422.60 on groceries last month, which admittedly included household items like paper towels and dish soap, but it also encompassed a week we were out of town, and does not include anything my husband spent on food (I do, do most of the shopping though). On the other hand, it didn't sound totally out of reach, if we were smart about spending.

So, I decided to try it as an experiment. This week, I'm going to try to keep our food costs down to $56 ($4 a day, per person). I'll do my best to calculate the value of items we already have on-hand, but I won't calculate the costs of each tablespoon of olive oil that we use. Here's a rough idea of what I'll shop for and what I'll cook:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with fruit and almond milk (I'm not sure if coffee fits in the budget, but we're not giving it up)

Snacks: Fruit, yogurt, homemade popcorn, hard-boiled eggs

Lunches: Leftovers and my usual packed lunch (a container of cooked grains, veggies and whatever's handy in the fridge).

Dinners: Chicken, potatoes, and greens; chicken and black bean tacos; frittata; eggs, avocado toast and salad; homemade pizza with greens and sausage and salad; black bean soup

Next week, I will report back on what I spent and how it went.

Mason Jar Soap Pump Kit

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


About four and a half years ago, I made a vintage mason jar into a soap pump for Country Living magazine. The image ran as a full-page opener to the Idea Notebook section, and it could not have been more popular with readers.

Since then, I have seen similar mason jar soap dispensers all over the internet, at the Brooklyn Flea, and even in major retailers. I was surely not the only one to come up with the adaptation, but it tickles me that the idea was such a hit. There's nothing wrong with a brand-new version (and avoiding the drilling is a plus!), but the charm of the one I made lay in the patina on the jar.

I just discovered that you can buy a kit that adapts any mason jar into a pump! The Transform Mason Jar Lid Pumps cost just $4 on Amazon.com. It give you the best of both worlds: You can use a charming vintage jar, but you have a ready-made top to finish it off. I love it.



There's a whole new world of mason jar toppers that are really quite clever, but I'll save that for another post.
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