My Most Meaningful Design Decision

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At some point, after eight years of living in the same Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment, I accepted the fact that my semi-permanent status as a renter was perhaps more permanent than semi. Rents in Williamsburg continue to increase making it virtually impossible for me to find a similarly sized apartment on the same budget. In the eight years I’ve called this place home, my apartment has been painted and decorated and redecorated many times over. And if you had seen photos that appeared in online or in Design*Sponge book, you may have thought I had it all together. You may never have wondered about the kitchen. –Amy

Photography by de la Barra Photography

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Confession time. For a long period (a.k.a my 20s), I became an expert at future living.  I told myself that I would have pets when I had more space. I would have more people over to dinner, when I had a bigger kitchen. I would take that vacation when I had more time and money. I finally just got tired of waiting until tomorrow to be happy today. The first thing I did with my new found present living philosophy was get two kittens, and I slowly made other changes that have made me really happy today.

See my best decision after the jump


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So back to that kitchen. It must have been put up in 1970, and then everyone tried to look the other way. But I couldn’t look the other way because the only wall on which my sofa would fit faced directly into the kitchen with its ugly, ugly wood veneer paneled cabinets. Usually when you live with something long enough, you stop seeing it. But I never stopped cringing every time I looked into that kitchen. I knew there was pretty much no way I could turn my tiny apartment kitchen into the Nancy Meyer kitchen of my dreams so I didn’t try to do anything. After all, my living situation was only semi-permanent.

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So I tried not to let it bother me too much, but then one day, I realized that it did bother me. And no amount of pretending that it didn’t would change that. I wish I knew the secret for what changed. How I really achieved my “present living philosophy” Perhaps it was my 5-day a week yoga practice that taught me to live in the present (wishful thinking.) Or maybe it was the fact that in my 30s, I’ve learned not to settle (big life changes will teach you that). But for whatever reason, one day last fall, I got out my electric screwdriver and took the doors off all the cabinets. I went to the hardware store, and bought white paint and just attacked the cabinets. The project took over my entire living room. I didn’t want to pay for new hardware so I painted the existing hinges with black enamel paint. The amazing Matt Pierce, of Wood & Faulk, sent me strips of leather so that I could create cabinet pulls.

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Then late one night, with a glass (ok, a bottle) of wine, I created the finishing touch. A collage refrigerator. I had taken a flash drive loaded with all my favorite photos of family and friends to Kinkos and printed them. At the time, I was living alone and yet this little project made me feel so connected to everyone I loved.

So my kitchen is still not a Nancy Meyer masterpiece, and I couldn’t do anything about the lack of counter space. If you look closely at my work,  you can see paint drips, and I’d still like to do something about the floor, but when I look up from my sofa, I feel calm and happy. I’m glad I made the decision to really be in the present, not wish for some better future. I love my little apartment kitchen in Brooklyn.

  1. Katrina says:

    Love this! Been doing the same with our apartment in SF and this definitely inspired me to accept our permanent renter status and get busy with some fun changes! Great article as always.

  2. d says:

    this is great! and reminds me of my one and only little queens apartment i just moved from in january (to a house…). it had beige walls and although i tried to design around them, finally after 5 years i decided to do something about it and painted each room a different color. i adored it. although i only lived there one more year after that, it was all worth it! the strongest memory i have of that apartment is coming home to vintage green colored walls every day after work and feeling so happy.

  3. carol Hedge says:

    Your floor is WAY easier than the painting…Shaw Ent., Konecto, Metro floors…all have a vinyl plank floor that “snaps” together, is cut with a box cutter, and is NOT glued to the ugly tile underneath. It floats, but does not have that boxy sound of plastic laminats. If you get on from these suppiers, it is dense enough NOT to show the grout lines beneath it, and you can probably do it yourself in a day. My first time was my grandaughters 12 x 15 bedroom. I did make my son install the quarter round along the baseboard edges……

    It comes in many colors and styles of individual boards, and if you use a different color, and go in another direction (diagonal ? makes the room feel larger) it won’t look like you tried to match the living room and missed. People don’t know the difference of the newest style planks unless you tell them..

  4. Kat says:

    Did I miss the “before” shot??

  5. Kimberly says:

    I completely and totally connect with this post – I have only recently also come to the realization that I was “living in the future”. I’ve always been a relatively happy and easy-going person wherever I live, but I’ve also always had the “I hate the decoration of the (furnished!) rental apartment I’m living in, but I’m not going to do anything about because I will be moving out of here eventually”. Well…I’ve just started taking down my landlord’s art and putting up some of my own, and I immediately felt more at home, comfortable, and happy! Small things, but it really makes a difference. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Eva says:

    Well done Amy! It also took me forever to see that in our new apartment, I have to make things nice for us now, not later. We have to do everything very budget friendly, free if I can get it :) it takes some time and some paint, but it will make you so much happier! I think your philosophy is the best, like you, I’m just sorry I learned that lesson so late.

  7. Gabi says:

    This is great! My parents and I always moved when I was a kid and the words ‘we won’t be here for long’ have stayed with me since. It’s really hard to live in the present. I agree with Irene’s comment not to wait to invest in yourself too, like with buying the best quality you can afford, even if it’s secondhand. When I first met my partner he had just come out of a relationship and had to buy nearly everything new. His vaccuum cleaner was so cheap and hardly sucked up anything…it really frustrated me that he had even wasted a little amount of money on such a unuseful thing. He said that when he has his perfect house one day he’ll buy the things he really likes. But I just think that if that day ever comes, we might not have the money to spend on these kind of things because we’ll be spending it on the house and decorating it. Not only is it frustrating to use things that don’t really work or that aren’t very nice but were cheap, but just think of all those things ending up in a landfill. And in the end you probably end up spending more money on something because you had to buy it more than once. Unfortunatly most goods these days (especially electronics) are designed not to last.

  8. Jan says:

    I just moved into my new place. I waited years before I fixed things in my old place. Got it so nice eventually, but I only got to enjoy it for a few months, because then I moved. Now although I don’t have a lot of money (mortgage eek!) and can’t make big changes, I’m making heaps of small ones. The best so far was swapping out the handles in my kitchen. They would have “lasted until”, but every time I open a cupboard I smile. Definitely not waiting to do some of those other small things now! Thanks for your story, now I’m even more inspired!

  9. Laura. says:

    this small, personal piece about the imperfect but immediate solution is perhaps the best, most refreshing thing i have read on this site for a long time. it can get really discouraging to see seemingly perfect room/house after perfect room/house and feel as if i’m the only one living in an imperfect (yet totally adorable and lovable) apartment. so reading that a real person who WORKS on this site has an imperfect, lovable space she made herself is exactly the kind of thing i can relate to. i would love to see more of this.

  10. Mrs. Vallejos says:

    I bought a condo at the height of the market, at age 49, thinking – well, that’s it. That’s the house I’m gonna live in until I retire at age 85. Then I fell in love. HAH! That will teach me to make life decisions in a logical manner. The place was a little too small for both of us, but it was our little love nest. Then I lost my job, and defaulted on the loan. The bank did nothing for a year. Finally it was time to move amidst a shaky job market. That made me not dig in as I moved in to a duplex in a nearby town. After a year and a half, I’m ready to bond with this rental. It could be better. There are ants. There are moles in the yard, but at least I have a yard. The garage is dusty and musty, but I have a place to store odd stuff. Our friends come and visit. We love the neighborhood. We’ve got great neighbors. And my work situation is slowly recovering. So… I’m starting by reorganizing the rooms to maximize the space then decorating. Finally! Enough with the waiting! Thanks for the post, and enjoy the kitties.

  11. ryan says:

    Love it. We are also Brooklynites who realize that while we’re not gonna be buying a home anytime soon, we’re also not gonna be leaving the awesome apartment we somehow snagged last year when the rest of the hipsterati wasn’t looking. So today we decided that we’re gonna paint (finally) and put some real art on the walls. Eff the grand shelter p0rn dream and the five year plan. White cabinets (and in our case, jewel-turquoise bedrooms) may not be forever, but every day that you enjoy them, they will be worth it. :)

  12. Lindsey says:

    I echo all of the happy statements above…

    but I really want to know how those pictures are attached to your fridge! :) Surely you don’t have little magnets everywhere, right? Just curious. It must make you so happy!

  13. Anthony says:

    Thanks so much for this, Amy. It really resonates with me and I think this is an important stance for any 20 or 30 something urbanite of today to take. DesignSponge just gets better and better and better. xx.

  14. I have been trying to apply this principle to my life overall and you are so right – being content in our present situation is an incredibly important attitude to pursue. Besides, I think if you love your home and allow yourself to be charmed by it, that will show itself when others are over in a good way.

  15. Alicia says:

    I know this post was about your kitchen, but I have been obsessing over your tufted bench in the first photo. Can I ask where you found it? I have been searching for one like it for months!

  16. Maria says:

    I’ve read all of the ”Most Meaningful decision” posts and, guys, THANK YOU for sharing these stories, your realities, your past, your dreams and fears. And Amy I live on the other part of the world :) in a town called Limassol, the closest I’ve been to were you are was when I got out of train called the D train in Brooklyn. I walked around Brooklyn for like 40 minutes or so to find the office of a businessman I was about to interview. It’s funny but looking at those Brooklyn houses with the yards and the trees etc made me wanna come back home and make my house a home. Something I was procrastinating upon because.. ”If I invest in my domestic life that would symbolically mean that I will stay there forever”. That trip was back in 2010. It took my 2 years to finally change something, but I did. It was only a new sofa, new curtains, wall décor, flowers and a new bed, but I did. And it feels good. Not because of the material things but what this change symbolises. :) sending love and light from Cyprus. Maria

  17. Amy Azzarito says:

    @lindsey – Just tape. :)
    xo

  18. Michelle says:

    I feel your pain on the kitchen – mine is in decent shape but fairly bland and I’ve been holding out for the ‘future dream kitchen’ someday. But this article and other factors in life have inspired me to also quit future living and take the steps now to make my space mine. Great write-up and thanks!

  19. Lucie says:

    Thank you for this. I must translate it for my Mother. She has had the same relationship with her kitchen as you used to have for years. There’s always some “it’s still not that bad” in the air but no – it’s really bad. It’s just difficult for her to make the first step and I have to help her to be a little happier :) (kittens not welcomed)

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