Apartment makeover: How it went down

25 Dec
This is what it looked like Dec. 21, three months after the makeover began. It wasn't done at this point, though.

This is what it looked like Dec. 21, three months after the makeover began. It wasn’t done at this point, though.

A few people had asked, so here’s a recap of what I got and how I got it, in rough order from earliest to latest.

Why I did it

I’d been talking about getting new furniture and redecorating for at least three years. What actually made it happen is that the owner of my apartment building decided it was finally time to do one of his long-put-off projects: replacing the windows in the whole building. I jumped on that train by letting him know that because the work would be disruptive, why not kill three birds with one stone and replaster/repaint my apartment, and replace the carpet. So it took over a month to get that done.

For replacing carpet and repainting, it’s best to have the apartment cleared of almost everything. So I dumped, gave away or sold almost all the furniture in my place. For a while, I even slept over at a friend’s house. Or I slept in the middle of my living room, getting high from paint fumes.

The living room radiator was removed, which meant the wall behind it had to be replastered.

The living room radiator was removed, which meant the wall behind it had to be replastered.

One thing they did was report all of the old dilapidated cast iron radiators. They just took up space in each main room. Moving those suckers was a bitch!

The paint is all from Parker Paint in Seattle, with semi-gloss white trim throughout, a pale green (called Creeping Mint) for living room and a wonderful warm gray for the bedroom, appropriately called “Seattle Gray.”

When they were done in late October, the furniture and decor shopping began in earnest.

The Bed

Even though I wanted to do the living room first, sleeping on an air mattress was kind of a drag. I ended up getting a queen-size Hogla mattress from Ikea. It’s really firm, and I’m a little nervous about the quality, but so far so good. The mattress (no box spring because I’m getting a platform bed) was $525. (All prices include tax and shipping if applicable.)

About My Design Goals

I started out thinking I wanted to go for a mid-century look. As my shopping went on — and as I got feedback from friends — it moved a little away from mid-century per se and more toward an eclectic mix. I wanted the pieces to be comfortable, reflective of me, untypical, untraditional, colorful and creative.

As for my budget, I kind of approached it this way: no cheap stuff if I could help it, like Ikea particle-board crap, but no small-car-priced pieces either. And I was willing to spend a little more on a particular item crucial to the theme as long as it wasn’t way overpriced.

Before I go any further, I’ve got to tip a hat to one of the best single online resources I used for my furniture shop. It’s a Huffpo article listing 43 of the best places to shop for furniture online. This is browsing heaven. The “flash sale” sites are a lot of fun because the offerings change so frequently.

And of course, Pinterest was a big help too. I used it as an archive of random things I saw while browsing, and friends could use it to either add their own suggestions or comment on things I’d posted. I weeded stuff out constantly to keep it uncluttered. Here’s my Pinterest page for this project.

On and beware the reviews on product pages online: I tried to submit two reviews to two different sites that contained a little bit of negative information and they were both rejected. So if you see nothing but positive reviews about sometime, take them with a grain of salt.

The Dining Table

The custom table the day after it arrived at its new home. Hat tip to Andrew Matson for helping me go get it in Tacoma!

The custom table the day after it arrived at its new home. Hat tip to Andrew Matson for helping me go get it in Tacoma!

The first thing I ordered was a custom-made dining table for six made from reclaimed barn wood. The craftsman is a former journalist who works out of a bungalow in North Tacoma. He has a shop on Etsy that I stumbled upon in my searching.

A word about Etsy.com: I had never been to the site before, but I found it be amazing. I must have spent hours flipping through the galleries of homemade furniture.

And I uncovered a gem in Jeff Libby‘s little store. He loves the character of the wood, and it really shows in his work. Just read the glowing reviews from his customers on Etsy.

We worked out the dimensions and he even took a look at the colors of the couch I was thinking about and the walls, so he could use that info as he selected the pieces of wood for the tabletop. As you can see from the photos, the table has a strong hint of mid-century-ness because it has hairpin legs.

It would be seven weeks from order date to pickup, but that worked in my timeline because seven weeks was the span of time I was hoping to complete most of the living/dining project.

The final product was beautiful and full of character — and a real bargain at $766 (although I see the price has gone up slightly since then).

The Couch

On left, what the ad showed. On right, what it actually looked like when delivered.

On left, what the ad showed. On right, what it actually looked like when delivered.

I toyed with the idea of getting a leather couch, but ultimately could not find one that I liked in my price range.

While surfing the JC Penney website late one night, I came across the Darrin fabric sofa. I liked the gray color, and the tufted cushions gave it a classy look. At at 89 inches long, pretty of room to stretch out on it. And yes, it had a slightly mid-century feel.

The time from ordering to delivery was only two weeks. The guys brought it up and unpacked it — gotta give props to the whole delivery process.

However, it wasn’t gray as depicted on their website. It was a really dark navy blue! I thought about returning it, but what a hassle. I decided I would just make do. In the end, the darker color works just fine.

And it was a bargain at $983 delivered.

The Arm Chair

The Noah leather chair from Kasala. Super comfy!

The Noah leather chair from Kasala. Super comfy!

This is where I managed to sneak in the leather piece.

I loved the leather chairs at Kasala, a store that is unique to Seattle, I think. And if going with leather wasn’t crazy enough, I decided to go with white leather. The Noah chair was comfortable and on sale for $383. Done!

The problem with Kasala is they don’t have a website really. There are no specific webpages for each product. I can’t imagine how they are still in business without one.

The Dining Chairs

Two of the six wire dining chairs to go with the new custom table.

Two of the six wire dining chairs to go with the new custom table.

Knowing the wood table was on order, I needed to find a set of six chairs that would go with it. The only thing I knew going in was that I didn’t want anything formal or traditional.

After probably hours of searching, entering phrases like “modern dining chairs,” I came across these Bertoia-Style Wire Side Chairs on the InStyleModern website. These are imitations of famous Bertoia wire chairs that debuted in 1952. You can still buy the originals here, but they go for $590 apiece. I paid $535 total for the set of six.

They may not be the most comfortable to sit in for a long time, but they are quite beautiful.

Oh and I’ve ordered a couple of alternate seat pads in green and gray at the suggestion of a certain friend who said “I like mismatched things.” 🙂

The Surprise

The Element iron cabinet.

The Element iron cabinet.

One rainy night I went store-hopping with my friend Susan down around Southcenter Mall. One of the last stops was the huge Dania furniture store. I was primarily looking at area rugs, coffee tables and end tables.

But what caught Susan’s eye was a tall silver (iron) cabinet. “But I’m not looking for anything like that,” I said. To which she replied, “You should get it and put it in the corner next to the new table.” At which point I said, “It’s one thousand dollars.”

“Just buy it,” she said. And so two days later I went back down there, took another look at it, and bought it. She was right.

I was hoping that something in the room would have an industrial/steel look to it, and this fit the bill.

This Element cabinet by Four Hands was the last of a discontinued item at Dania, although I did later find it for sale at Area 51 in Seattle, on the West Elm website, and at one other online store. All of these had it for a much higher price than the $1,039 it ended up costing me.

The Area Rug

The bold new area rug from Overstock.com.

The bold new area rug from Overstock.com.

I was really counting on this piece to bring something dynamic to the room. No traditional design here.

I must have looked at thousands of rugs online. Buying a rug online is a little tricky because you can’t be absolutely sure of the color. But, the selection and price are far and away better than what you can find at local stores, so there’s really no choice.

The zigzag pattern I ended up liking the most also got the stamp of approval from my design consultants Susan and Carmen. It’s called the Hand-hooked Fandango Multi Rug (7’6″-by-9’6″), and I ordered it from Overstock.com. Within 10 days or so of ordering, it was delivered. It cost me $315.

Wow, it’s dramatic all right. It’s such a dominating pattern that it will be difficult to get decor for the rest of the room that has any pattern to it – because it would clash.

But I like it a lot.

End Tables

The LÖVBACKEN side table from Ikea, a new item for 2014.

The LÖVBACKEN side table from Ikea, a new item for 2014.

Hunting for these was actually really challenging. Again, I must have looked at hundreds of possibilities online. I was even considering a pair of vintage two-tiered mid-century coffee tables with Formica tops. And by now I had enough stuff in the room so that I knew some things I didn’t want – like no more metal, because I already had enough of that.

One day I was doing Google image searches and came across the perfect side table. Turns out it was a new item in the 2014 Ikea catalog called the LÖVBACKEN side table. They are mid-century style, but they are beautiful and unusual. And the best part — I got the pair for a mere $131.

Entertainment Stand

The Lydia table from Urban Outfitters all loaded up with components and flanked by top-rated bookshelf-sized speakers from Pioneer.

The Lydia table from Urban Outfitters all loaded up with components and flanked by top-rated bookshelf-sized speakers from Pioneer.

Have you ever noticed how little variety there is in styles of TV stands? You got your woodgrain and black particle board and that pretty much covers most of what’s available out there.

At one point I was pretty sure I was going to go Ikea again, because they sell metal cabinets in either white or red. But then I found out the doors don’t allow remotes to work, so that was out.

After wracking my brain for untold hours, I finally figured out that I could get away with a less-wide stand if I moved the location of the TV. That turned out to be a great idea, because doing so made the main space seem a little bigger.

I found the Lydia table on Urbanoutfitters.com, and it appeared to be pretty much the exact size I wanted. It’s woodgrain veneer (with particle board at its core), but its saving grace was a mid-century-style look. And it was only $196 shipped.

This was the first time I had to ship something back though. There were a couple of noticeable veneer chips, and there were pieces missing from the bag of screws. I give them credit for super-fast turnaround on shipping a replacement and having UPS pick up the repacked defective one. The replacement had all the pieces and only one small veneer flaw that is hardly noticeable.

Coffee Table

The two concrete-topped tables that form a coffee table. You can see the damaged corner in the lower right.

The two concrete-topped tables that form a coffee table. You can see the damaged corner in the lower right.

Another tricky hunt. See, the thing is, I really dislike glass coffee tables because I injure myself walking into them. And I didn’t want much more in the way of white, woodgrain or metal.

So Etsy.com came to the rescue again. I was browsing for unusual modern coffee tables and came upon one that had a concrete top. Now this concept intrigued me for several reasons. 1) the gray color would work well with the dark couch and white leather chair, and with the rug; and 2) it would certainly be unusual.

Ultimately I ended up going with something called bunching tables – essentially two smaller tables pushed together to make a larger coffee table.

The pair of tables from Patrick Cain was $400 plus $100 more for shipping from L.A. This is one of those cases where it was more costly than expected for the item, but it was the right thing, so worth a little extra cost.

Unfortunately, one of the two table tops arrived damaged. Who knew concrete could be so fragile? Also, the table tops are more “splotchy” than I expected. I have achieved the goal of getting something unusual, I guess, but they are not as fulfilling as I had hoped.

The replacement for the damaged top arrived three weeks later and had some problems: 1) the screws to mount to the cube frame were poorly mounted and in the wrong places, so the top doesn’t fit the frame. This despite my sending precise measurements and pictures of where they should be; and 2) the finish/color of the concrete top was lighter than the previous two tops, so the new top looks odd when placed next to the original top. I’m going to have to figure out some way to make this work. I think I may try to repair the one that has the broken corner.

So, my Etsy experiences: You win some, you lose some. With the table, it worked great. However, with this concrete experiment, not so much. Much more quality control needed.

The Ottoman, Or Pouf, Or Whatever You Want To Call It

The Ormond ottoman from Pier 1.

The Ormond ottoman from Pier 1.

My friend Susan spied this when we were scoping out Pier 1’s awesome decor stuff. She thought the teal color would work with my rug and furniture and she was right.

The Ormond Ottoman can serve as an ottoman, or as a stool, or as a side table. People just love sitting on it though. And it’s unusual look adds an interesting item to the room. It cost $132.


From left: The Aqua Glass Floor Lamp; the Ikea Hemma base with Umfors shade; and the three-headed monster from Kasala.

From left: The Aqua Glass Floor Lamp; the Ikea Hemma base with Umfors shade; and the three-headed monster from Kasala.

It’s a crucial element in any interior design, and I must admit I’m pretty weak at figuring this part out.

The first item I got was a floor lamp that I think works great next to the white leather chair: the Pier 1 Aqua Glass Floor Lamp. It was $219.

The next item is probably the one I’m least confident about: the Three-Armed Polished Steel Floor Lamp. I got mine at Kasala for $294. I was looking for something that could offer light for both the dining table and the couch area. But I think this might be a bit of overkill.

The last item was a very cheap ($30?) and not-very-substantial table lamp from Ikea. It’s the Hemma base with Umfors Shade, although it differs from the one in the picture at right because mine has a black stalk and base. I’ll probably use this somewhere else and find something better for the living-room table lamp.

Throws And Pillows

The Nesbit Multi pillow cover from Crate & Barrel.

The Nesbit Multi pillow cover from Crate & Barrel.

I’m totally out of my element when it comes to this kind of thing. Accessorizing! Ack!

I know that these things add the finishing touches on the decor, before I have a heard time getting the right styles and colors. Here are a couple of the things I ended up getting (and I’m sure I’ll have to get some more):

– A great lumbar pillow called the Nesbit Multi from Crate & Barrel. Pricey at $55, but I think it goes perfect with my couch.

– The Malin Band throw from Ikea, $22. I looks good draped over an arm of the white leather chair.

I bought mustard and green pillows too, but those didn’t work out as well. Maybe burgundy would be good. I got a burgundy throw for the couch and it matches pretty well.

Things For The Walls

This is the part that is still very much a work in progress. All I’ve done so far is mount some of the photos of my travels in cheap frames.

What I’m hoping to get within the next couple of months:

– Real, honest to God art on canvas. I have a certain friend who might help me achieve this goal. 🙂

– I think a mirror is a nice element for a living room or entry way, but I’m not sure I have the right wall for it at this point. If I get one, it might be this Porthole mirror. It would have to be on the opposite side of the room from the iron cabinet though, to avoid being too heavy into metal.

– A wall-mounted shelf up above the TV with some interesting elements adorning it. Something like this.

What’s Next?

Sigh – I’ve got the bedroom to do!


2 Responses to “Apartment makeover: How it went down”

  1. Debra Payne December 27, 2013 at 4:54 PM #

    Looks great, Bob! I especially like the rug you chose. Great colors! I say, embrace the pattern! I would go for some pillows with big bold stripes or ones that are two-tone. Mixed in with your solids it would bring the “pop” up from the floor and inject it into another level of the room. Aqua glass floor lamp is awesome!!! Well done, sir.

    Your sister-in-law

    When are you coming to see us?

    • Bob Payne December 27, 2013 at 4:58 PM #

      Thanks, Deb! Great to hear you like it. As for going back to Ohio, I will have to see what I can do — I’m too tempted by exotic locations outside the States!

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