Rebuilding a staircase

While our landlords (who live upstairs) were away this past week,  contractors rebuilt the staircase from the parlor floor up to the third floor of our brownstone. Have you ever seen a staircase being built? It’s fascinating! It was especially interesting to see the “undersides” of the staircase to understand how it’s assembled. I snapped a few pictures along the way.

Here it is at the beginning, when they had cut away the bottom half of the old staircase. We were glad to see the old stairs go because they squeaked and groaned with every step.

To the right of the staircase you can see a stack of new stair pieces. The first few days our entire house smelled like sawdust. The contractors cut the stair pieces right outside the front door at the top of the stoop. They had an industrial fan set up in the entryway for ventilation, and cleaned up all the sawdust after each workday with a shopvac, but the smell of sawdust persisted.

Here’s what it looked like after day one:

I climbed up the new stairs and was delighted to find that they were very solid underfoot and didn’t make a sound. Here are some close-ups that show how a staircase is constructed and how all the pieces fit together. You can also see how worn the old stairs were from years and years of use.

It took another day to finish constructing the staircase. After it was completely assembled, they stained the stairs dark to match the existing dark wood paneling. The new staircase looks fantastic and really spruces up the entryway of our home!

Now if we can just re-paint the lavendar purple walls…


My first appearance on Apartment Therapy!

I had a very exciting day yesterday!

First, I woke up to a comment on my blog from one of my favorite bloggers, CentsationalGirl – she’s like a celebrity to me! She’s a San Francisco Bay Area gal who loves New York City, just like me.

Second, I was notified that my “try-out” post as a freelance blogger for Re-Nest is getting published on the site today. This is another one of my favorite blogs that focuses on green home design and sustainable lifestyle.

And finally, remember that bluebell magazine rack I created? Well, somebody at Apartment Therapy found the posting for the magazine rack on craigslist and liked it enough to add it to their daily New York City Scavenger list, highlighting the best used furniture finds of the day. I’m so excited about my first appearance on Apartment Therapy, and hope for many more in the future.

Do you have any favorite blogs you want to recommend to me? Leave me a comment!

Who’s afraid of a little rain?

A couple of weeks ago on a grey stormy evening as I was walking from the subway to the grocery store, I passed a cute little chair on the sidewalk. It appeared to be a give-away from somebody who was moving out of her apartment.  I considered picking it up but remembered that I really needed to get my groceries and get home before the impending storm hit. So I continued one more block and did my grocery shopping (one cardboard box full), but couldn’t get this cute little chair out of my mind.

As I left the grocery store, I experienced a back-and-forth battle in my head (this scenario is pretty common for me): the chair was cute, small, and seemed portable. It was sitting on the sidewalk asking for a new home! However, it had started raining lightly and I could tell the wind was picking up. And I was carrying a box of groceries in addition to my way-too-large shoulder bag. AND I was wearing a dress and heels.

I silenced the reasonable “go-home” voice in my head and listened instead to the “how can you pass up a free chair?” voice. I proceeded with my box of groceries back up the block and happily found the chair waiting for me. I nestled my box of groceries and my shoulder bag onto the seat of the chair and picked up the whole shebang. Walking to the end of that first block wasn’t too bad…I took a short break and calculated three and a half blocks to go.

The rain and wind picked up. My hair was whipping around in my face and big, fat raindrops landed on my groceries. I walked another half block and had to put the chair down. It was heavier than I’d guessed. My forearms were getting sore.

The dark clouds and whooshing winds reminded me of the tornado weather that hit Park Slope last summer. I got a little scared and my heart began pumping faster than normal…everyone else was ducking into building lobbies, waiting for the storm to pass. I just continued walking half a block in between rest breaks like a crazy woman…in my dress and heels.

After the longest, wettest, wildest three and a half blocks I’ve ever walked, I made it home…with sore forearms, soggy groceries, soaked shoes, and wind-whipped hair. And the cute free chair!

Here’s another shot, with the bluebell magazine rack I painted last weekend completing the picture:

At first I thought maybe I would re-upholster it, but I actually really liked the lime green slipcover and it was in good condition. It just needed a good wash and a little accessorizing to jazz it up. I already had this cute embroidered pillow, which made a perfect partner:

How sweet is that? Perfect for a kid’s room, right? Or maybe a cheerful addition to an adult bedroom, office, or living room.

The chair and pillow are both originally from Ikea. We don’t have any need for them here at our place so onto Craigslist they go – my determined walk in the rain will turn into some well-earned dough! See the for-sale post here.

For those of you mildly concerned about bedbug infestations on found furniture, be assured that I did a thorough check (see this Guide from the NYC Department of Health for tips) and this chair is certified bedbug free!

Bluebell magazine rack

A couple of weekends ago we were walking around the neighborhood when we came across a sidewalk sale. I spotted a cute little wooden magazine rack in good condition and with nice lines. The price sticker said $3 but I only had two dollar bills in my wallet – so the seller agreed to the low low bargain price of two bucks! It’s light and has a convenient handle, so Brian and I carried it with us the rest of the way home. It sat in the basement gathering dust for a couple of weeks until yesterday, when I took it out into the backyard for its make-over.

Here’s what it looked like around 1:00pm – decent but kind of blah:

I chose to paint it a lovely blue color – not quite royal blue, definitely not baby blue, brighter than navy blue – maybe it’s a blue like bluebells? I just learned that the scientific name for this flower is Hyacinthoides non-scripta. Image from wikipedia:

But before I could paint the magazine rack bluebell blue, I gave it a grey primer coat to make sure the blue would show up bold & bright:

And finally, by about 5:00pm yesterday, this is what it looked like!


I gave it a coat of lacquer to protect the paint job and so that it would look smooth and shiny. It’s really bright and cheerful! I can totally see it in a child’s room, holding stacks of favorite bed-time storybooks 🙂

Here’s the link to the for-sale posting on craigslist:

If it stayed at our house it would surely hold Islands magazine and Afar – a fantastic new magazine about experiential travel. Which books or magazines would you store in this charming magazine rack?

My friends are the best!

I was at ABC Carpet & Home last night waiting for the NYC Apartment Therapy meet-up to begin when I got a phone call from my friend Janel  – she had stumbled across a collection of free wooden chairs in Stuy Town and wanted to know if she should wait with them for me to come pick them up! She even texted me this fantastic cell phone picture so I knew what she was talking about:

What an awesome haul, right? If I wasn’t at an event that was about to start, and if I had access to a pick-up truck in that moment, I would have loved to bring these home to my basement. I can just imagine them painted white, or maybe a light blue-grey, with new, colorful seat cushions in coordinating (but not necessarily matching) fabrics. I could create such a unique and fun collection for someone’s dining room from this mis-matched, motley crew of old wooden chairs!

Janel, thank you SO MUCH for thinking of me when you spotted these chairs!! I have the greatest friends…you’re all out there on the streets, keeping your eyes out for potential furniture overhauls to send my way. Call me, text me, email me, or, for those without the technology, send me some telepathy! I won’t always be able to pick up what you find, but I’ll always be grateful for the tip.

I run fast for Danish chairs!

Early one morning as I left the apartment for my morning training run, I spotted two matching chairs that appeared to be mid-century Danish chairs. The upholstery on the seats was ripped and the seat padding was poking out. They were really dusty, as if they had been sitting in someone’s basement for years. I thought they looked like excellent candidates for a furniture transformation project, but I was determined to go for my run and I worried that if I paused to bring the chairs into our basement I would lose my motivation to exercise. So, I kept walking towards the park.

The ENTIRE run I thought about those chairs. Within five minutes of leaving them behind I was furious with myself for leaving such a valuable resource sitting on the sidewalk. I was 100% convinced that they would be gone by the time I got back – it takes me a little less than 30 minutes to run around the park and I was certain that those high quality chairs wouldn’t last that length of time in our neighborhood – some other industrious scavenger would certainly snag them before I could get back.

But I was wrong! They were sitting there waiting for me when I got back home, and I was beyond thrilled. I turned them upside down and confirmed my suspicion that they were Danish – each was stamped with “Made in Denmark” and the name of the furniture maker – Aabe Christensen.

I brought them inside to our basement where they proceeded to collect more dust for several weeks. Here’s what they looked like – you can even see some of the dust on the left chair:

Once I got around to tackling this project, the first order of business was to unscrew the seat and backrest from the wooden frame, followed by the tedious and difficult task of ripping out hundreds of staples to remove the torn upholstery. For each staple, I forced a flat screwdriver head under the center of the staple so that it would pop up, and then I tugged it out using pliers. Taking off the existing black leather upholstery exposed the wooden underside and foam topside of the seats, and the wooden back and foam front of the backrests.


I traced the shape of the old upholstery pieces onto the underside of my new fabric – a sturdy navy cotton with a white modern botanic print that I found at Ikea. I chose this fabric to coordinate with the asian/organic theme we have in our living room – I loved the classic color combined with the modern design.

Once I had the shapes cut out, my husband helped me pull the fabric taut around the foam seat and backrest pieces so I could staple the edges of the fabric to the wooden backs using my staple gun. After a while, we got really good at a pretty little pleat detail that kept the fabric nice and tight around the rounded corners.

The seats were relatively easy – once we stapled the fabric in place they were basically done – no need to worry about how the stapled side (underside) of the seat looked. The front face of the backrests were pretty much the same – pull taut, staple, pull taut, staple, repeat, repeat…all the way around. But the rear faces of the backrests were by far the most challenging part – because unlike the underside of the seat, both sides of the backrests are visible! The wood back, covered in staples and the ragged edges of the upholstery, needed to be covered up. This challenge perplexed me for a few days (well…maybe it was weeks?!) and the chairs sat in our living room with naked backs while I figured out what to do.

Eventually I figured that I would do the best I could, even though it wouldn’t be how a professional upholsterer would do it. When I deconstructed the chair, I saw that the rear of the backrest was covered in the same black leather, mounted on a thin, flexible cardboard panel in the shape of the backrest. I removed all the existing fabric and tacks from the panel and adhered my fabric to it using iron-on glue strips. Then I attached the upholstered panel to the rear of the backrest with very small, black furniture tacks. I only used five tacks per backrest, and because they are dark, they basically blend in with the navy fabric – you can’t see them unless you get real close and look for them. Not professional, but it definitely does the trick and, really, who’s going to notice?

So, here they are in all their re-upholstered glory!


I LOVE these chairs! And so does everybody who comes to our home. Not only do they look sharp, they’re incredibly well-made and comfortable. Gotta love that Danish design.

Thank goodness I ran fast enough around the park that morning to snatch them off the sidewalk! You know that saying “I brake for [insert what you care about here].” Well, I run fast for free discarded furniture. What do you run fast for?

Black-Eyed Susan Dresser

Here’s another piece of trash that I found on my block waiting for garbage pick-up:

It was a sort-of bland, beige-grey color, the back panel was buckling and pulling away from the body of the dresser, and the bottom drawer was warped and didn’t close all the way. All those problems were easy to fix! I used a few extra tacks re-attach the back panel to the body of the dresser. The bottom drawer was sticking because the plywood side wall of the drawer was splitting – I used wood glue and borrowed spring clamps to compress the plywood back into shape.

Then came the fun & creative part! I wanted to create a cheerful and fun look, so I chose a pale sunshine-y yellow paint that my friend gave me, leftover from painting her living room. First I took out all of the drawers, removed the knobs, lightly sanded the visible surfaces using a borrowed belt sander, and wiped the surfaces clean. Then I used a small roller brush to give the body of the dresser and the drawers two coats of paint.

I decided that the dresser needed some sparkly new knobs to dress it up a bit, but I couldn’t decide on a color. Then, on my bedside table that night, I noticed a packet of Black-Eyed Susan seeds that I had picked up at our food co-op, and I was inspired by the black & yellow combination – think sunflowers and bumblebees!. I found shiny black glass knobs at Anthropologie in SoHo, on sale for $2.99 each, so I bought ten for a total of $30. I love how the knobs really gave the little dresser some personality!

Here’s the final product – a piece of trash transformed into a sweet, useful, unique piece of functional furniture!
This dresser was officially my second sale – I posted it on craigslist complete with the story about how it was inspired by the Black-Eyed Susan seed packet, and the next day a hip young woman who was moving into a new place in Williamsburg came by to check it out. She left a cash deposit and came back to pick it up two days later! The net proceeds (after paying for the new knobs) went straight into our Paris-in-October fund.

Here it is again – before and after. Do you like this flower-inspired transformation?


My first sale

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where you can’t walk down the block without finding a treasure that someone left out on the stoop for a passerby to take. Occasionally, there’s a sign that says “free” or “please take,” but most often it’s just a cardboard box full of stuff (books, knick knacks, kitchen items, etc.) and locals know to look through the box and take anything that they need or want. My husband and I have found about a quarter of the books we read this way, and then we pass them on to other friends (the other three quarters we borrow, either from the Brooklyn Public Library or friends and family). This “leave-what-you-don’t-want-anymore-on-the-sidewalk” method is a super-efficient form of recycling!

Every once in a while, there are bigger giveaways, like pieces of furniture left out on the sidewalk begging for a new home. I found this giant mirror on my walk home from the subway – literally on a trash heap – the night before our twice weekly neighborhood trash pick-up. It looked like it once belonged atop a fancy wooden dresser, or maybe as an installation in a brownstone entryway.

I envisioned transforming this dark, beat-up piece of trash into a clean, fresh, bright white mirror for someone’s entryway or bedroom wall.  I wiped off the dust and dirt, removed the small wooden pegs that lined the top of the mirror, and covered the mirror with newspaper to prep it for painting. I took it outside into our postage-stamp sized backyard onto a plastic drop cloth, lightly sanded the wooden border, and wiped it clean one more time before beginning to paint.


I used Krylon spray paint from the hardware store around the corner in “Whisper white.” To be safe, I wore a face mask which I found really uncomfortable and hot!


Here’s what it looked like in the end, after a few coats of paint and some time to dry:

Then we had a stoop sale and I sold it to a nice young couple who had just moved into the neighborhood around the corner for $60! I don’t have a picture of the couple who bought it, but here’s an images of what the stoop sale looked like:

I got a pretty good return on this investment – I obtained the mirror for free, bought the spray paint for about $6, and sold the finished product for ten times that! How’s that for my first sale?