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City DIY Mini-series: Studs and Stud Muffins

9 Aug

Ok, so as you know from our last little foray into the world of DIY projects, IKEA-furniture-building is wonderfully simple. My Expedit bookshelf that I reassembled is up and it is sturdy!  But on to the big guns.

You know what wasn’t sturdy?  My bedroom closet.  When I first began piling my belongings into it, after the move-in, it occurred to me that the top shelf and rod spanned a pretty long distance (76 inches, to be exact).  But I was possessed by move-in madness.  All I wanted was to get everything put AWAY.  So, I packed that closet full, and I shut the door.  Out of sight, out of mind.

And then, like a true space-cadet, I forgot all about it.  Closet?  Shelf that’s bowing under the weight of a mountain of crap?  What on Earth are you talking about?  Yup, I’d forgotten all about my initial closet worry until one Friday night while I was watching TV.  I heard the loudest thud come from the bedroom, and thought “what on earth could have made that sound?!”  This:

If you can’t tell from my photography skillzzzz, the picture you’re staring at is showing a closet’s worth of shit, in a lump on the floor.  Nice.  One of the side supports for the top shelf of the closet had pulled right out of the wall.  It clearly had not been screwed into any studs – just the flimsy old sheetrock.  So, with the weight of my belongings, the whole shelf just came tumbling down, and it pulled down the whole rod of clothes, in it’s path (in my haste and panic, I actually removed the fallen shelf and shelf-contents prior to taking the photos…sorry!).  UGH!  Closet fixing/re-organizing = not how I wanted to spend a Friday night.

I busted out my tool box to see if I had anything that might help me reinforce the supports (and screw the fallen support piece back into the wall.  But alas, my poor wimpy screwdriver was not going to get the job done.

Before it got too late, I headed over to the local hardware store and bought myself a decent drill and a stud-finder, and I set out to get that closet fixed immediately.  I couldn’t stand looking at the mess of clothes and linens all over the bedroom floor.  Initially, I thought I’d screw in a bunch of reinforcing wood pieces below the original supports (if the primary support beam ever pulled out of the wall, I figured the lower one would “catch” it).  However, in talking to my dad, I learned that just screwing an additional piece of wood below the existing one would not actually do jack shit, despite the fact that it all seemed good in my head.

But, he assured me that if I found the studs and made sure to screw directly into them, the shelf and rod should hold up just fine.  So, that’s what I did.  In the picture below, the black dots are the screws I put in, into the studs (I did the same thing on all three support sides), with an additional screw in the middle.  The other random screws that the builder put in are not really even close to the studs.  4-star contracting.

As a final additional safety measure, my dad suggested (and brought right to my doorstep!) a closet rod and shelf support bracket.  It, too, was drilled into a stud, and the whole shelf and rod feel SO much more stable now.

So, rule number 1:  FIND STUDS!   For those who are still scratching their heads about what a stud is (don’t worry, I’m a construction idiot, too – you should have seen me trying to use the damn drill!), it’s a vertical beam in your wall.  When you screw into it, the screw is secured directly into the wood of the stud, resulting in a strong hold.  If you don’t find a stud when hanging something on a wall then you’re just securing the screw into sheetrock…which isn’t really secure at all.

If your sheetrock wasn’t there, your studs would look like this:

Or this:

Just kidding.  What?  No Dirty Dancing maniacs out there?  Just me?  Weren’t you wondering where the “stud muffin” part of the title was going to come in?

Ok, for serious.  The lesson here is that if you see a closet or shelf or cabinet that doesn’t look too sturdy when you move in, don’t just load it down with heavy items and assume it will hold.  Ask your super or landlord to fix it or reinforce it (taking care of apartment issues is what they’re there for!).  Or, in a case like mine, just take the ten minutes to ensure that the screws are all going into studs.  And maybe go the extra mile to put up a support bracket.  Better safe than sorry (especially if you have 2 kitties who like to sleep in your closet All. Day. Long.)!

And one more time for good measure, here is what a SAFE closet looks like:


Got a stud story?  Studs OR stud muffins are welcome here.  Tell me about it!


Images:  (5) Four Brothers Carpentry, (6) Synfully Delicious, All others Rebecca for Happy City Living


Moving In and Making a Home

31 Mar

Let me tell you what they do in movies.  They show fake NYC apartments that are perfectly designed and HUGE, and then they try to act like the apartment is soooo tiny.  Have you seen The Devil Wears Prada?  Anne Hathaway’s “little” pad, which is supposedly in the Lower East Side, is palatial by LES standards.  And on the famous TV sitcom, Friends, the apartments are gigantic.  The rooms are all sectioned off perfectly, and the décor is just right.

Rachel and Monica's apartment on Friends. Can I get some of that action? I'll take it, purple walls and all!

In my right mind, I knew all these places were fake, but it didn’t make me daydream any less about having one of them.  So, for my new Sunset Park apartment, I was picturing fresh paint, new furniture, art on the walls, beautiful accessories…the whole nine.  I picked out colors with my friend Katie, and I laid out my plan.  I would paint the place myself and then slowly decorate over time, as I was able to afford furniture and decorations.  My dad then reminded me that I was about to start a new job and that my schedule wouldn’t necessarily allow for first-time DIY projects.  He urged me to let him and my mom help get the painting done the week before I moved in.  Needless to say, my last week of college dorms, slash, first week of real life, was a hectic one.  In addition to graduation and moving, my parents set up a veritable painting factory at my new place, and I hurried between Sunset Park to help paint and Manhattan to finalize my former college life.

My dad and me on a painting day. Note the spackle and painter's tape on the dresser. Obviously, we hadn't gotten to the living room yet.

So, the day I officially moved in I had a freshly painted apartment and no furniture.  Unless you count an Aero Bed and two wrought-iron chairs I found on the street.  With very little money left to my name, I had enough cash saved to buy a bed and a couch I’d been drooling over for years (my graduation present to myself.  See the beauty here.)  Everything else would have to come from Craigslist, friends, tag sales…or it would just have to come much much later.  Within the first month, though, I scored some good stuff.  On Craigslist I found a $60 desk with hutch and file cabinet, and a $50 brand new overstuffed chair (the original owner didn’t realize when she bought it that the chair would take up her entire studio apartment).  At a tag sale I dug up a $20 coffee table.  Then, my family offered up 2 old dressers, someone’s recycled TV stand, a pair of tag sale night stands, an old desk chair, a vintage vanity table from my aunt’s basement, a kitchen table my uncle had made a few years back, and two prized possessions that still rank at the top of my “favorite things” list.  One was an antique chaise lounge, from my Aunt Betty, that I placed in front of my new bay window.  The other was a large wall mirror from my sister.  I have quite the amazing family, huh?

Who wouldn't want to buy this? The side cushions move to the back to create a sofa, when you move the daybed up against a wall. Divine comfort, I tell you. In fact, I'm typing from that very daybed now.

One thing to keep in mind with NYC renting is that there’s a high probability you’ll be moving again soon.  You might need to be closer to a new job or to friends; you might want more space or a lower cost per month; or your landlord might raise your rent beyond what you deem reasonable.  There are myriad reasons why moving could happen, and the belongings in your home should be ready to move with you.  This means that any furniture you buy or obtain should be one of two things:

  1. Reasonably sized so that you can move it into your next place – a place which may very well be a different size/shape.  I’m comfortable asserting that if you live on a modest budget, you should not buy a sectional sofa.
  2. Something you’re willing to purge when you move, if the new place can’t fit it.  If you do find a sectional sofa that you love on Craigslist, and you’re lucky enough to have it fit in your current place, you should be prepared to part with it when and if you move.

As I’ve moved between apartments over the past several years, I’ve been lucky enough to fit most of my belongings that I love, into my new homes.  But I have had to say adios to a few things.  For instance, since moving out of my giant Sunset Park apartment, I’ve gotten rid of the desk, the vanity table, and one dresser.

Another trap that’s easy to fall into is decorating for your first apartment.  If you move apartments with any regularity, you’re likely not going to be able to afford new furniture everywhere you go.  For example, if you’re moving into an old brownstone now, and you’re tempted to buy uber-traditional furnishings to fit the style, you might want to think ahead to a time where you could be living in a loft or more contemporary building.  Would your furniture be able to “adapt”?  Tailor your furnishings to your taste and the functionality you need, rather than tailoring to the current apartment’s style.

And finally, keep in mind that you have to get your belongings in and out of the apartment (ah, physics and practicality).  If you buy a great sofa (wow, I’m really on a sofa kick today), it will likely be delivered to your apartment and set up for you.  However, when you leave that apartment, you have to get it out the door yourself.  I’ve had friends break their backs carrying furniture down the stairs of walk-ups.  Likewise, when I tried to squeeze my own sofa/daybed into my Harlem elevator during a move, it almost got stuck and doomed to living in said elevator for the rest of time.

Anyway, here is what the place looked like when I was a bit more settled in:

New entryway, in "Bonjour Beige," similar to the original.

New kitchen, in "Tangerine Dream". The old orange would have been tough to cover with a light color. So I stuck with the cheery theme, but toned it down a notch.

New living room, also in "Bonjour Beige". That's my $50 overstuffed chair. And, yes, that's a zebra rug - Urban Outfitters for $20. This is a photo from later in the year, because I purchased that TV to watch the Giants play in the Superbowl. (Go Big Blue!)

Seriously. How comfy does that couch look? The mirror in the background was the gift from my sister.

The office went from a dirty robin's egg blue to a calming sea foam green. The $60 desk and hutch are to the right.

Tough to see in this photo, but the bedroom actually became a nice earthy "Wild Honey" color. Whenever it was too cold to sit on my stoop, you could find me on that chaise in the bay window, with a beer.

The Red Room. This area was my dressing room (or catch-all room, if I needed to hide messes from company). Before we painted the closet door white, it was streaked with rusty colored paint. Yum. Also, check out that great old vanity. I realize now that I may never again have space for some random extra furniture. Bummer.

The view from the bedroom, back through the house.

Coming up:  The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly…what life was really like in Casa Numero Uno, including some BIG renter’s tips.  And later, a neighborhood snapshot of Sunset Park.  Plus, find out what season really is the best time to rent.

Did you ever have big apartment dreams that were crushed by the reality of NYC renting?  Or did your home aspirations become a reality, like mine did?  More entertainingly, did you ever have to maneuver an impossibly large item in or out of an apartment?  Ah the joys of the city.  No wonder we pay so much to live here.  Right?



Images: (1)  RJW’s Favorite TV Show Apartments, (3) Crate and Barrel, ALL OTHERS Rebecca for Happy City Living