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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


City DIY Mini-series: Construction-free DIY

4 Aug

So, I LOVE a zillion different DIY blogs.  My first foray into the make-your-house-cool-all-by-yourself world was via Young House Love.  I’ve mentioned them before, and I feel the need to do so again, because they have what is quite possibly the best blog of all time.  Haha – ok, a little over the top, but to me they’re great.  Sherry and John Petersik are former NYC’ers (woo woo!) who bought and renovated a house in Richmond, VA a few years ago.  In order to keep their family up to date on their progress, they started a blog.  But then every DIY-er on the internet got addicted to the blog, and now these two adorable lovebirds are professional, full-time, DIY bloggers (along with their cutesy baby, Clara, and their hilarious chihuahua, Burger).  They recently bought a new house, and I’m glued to the screen every day on my lunch break, as I catch up with their latest projects.

Aren't they adorable?! Click the link above and check them out!

But, out of the suburbs and back to city life:  basically, apartment dwellers like you and me have to just drool over homeowner DIY projects from afar.  Half the time our leases restrict us from making any improvements or modifications to our homes, and the rest of the time it just doesn’t pay off to put money into a place you don’t own.  So, painting walls and hanging pictures is as far as my DIY projects tend to stretch.

Until recently.

Right after I moved into my apartment, I stumbled upon a couple of minor (but not so minor for me) household issues.  So, I thought I’d share a few of them with you.  Over the next week or so, I’ll share a few little stories and ideas that will make you feel like a DIY-ing homeowner, rather than a flush-money-down-the-toilet-every-month renter.  Maybe you’re another city-dweller dreaming about having space to use a table-saw or a sewing machine.  If so, we can totally be BFFs.

Let’s start small, though.  Today, we’ll delve into the joys of constructing IKEA furniture.

I should say this to start:  IKEA is beautifully accessible for city folk.  If you’re living in Mid-Upper Manhattan or the Bronx, there is a free shuttle bus that leaves regularly from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, that will take you to the IKEA in northern New Jersey.  From Lower Manhattan, take the free ferry from the Financial District to the IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  If you’re in Queens or Brooklyn, take the free shuttle bus from Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn, to the IKEA in Red Hook.

My sister and me, on the IKEA ferry (slash water taxi). See the store in the background? The boat brings you right up to the back door, practically!

Ok, so you had a fun carnival-like day at IKEA (how do they manage to make that place SO FUN!?), and you lugged home boxes that were ridiculously heavy, full of furniture parts.  Now, you have to put everything together.  IKEA-ing is prototypical city DIY work.  It makes us feel like we’re doing work around the house, but no power tools are involved, and there’s no need for a huge workspace.  Woo woo!

Putting together Ikea furniture is my idea of a good time.  I like working on puzzles and building things, whenever I can.  If I buy a new gadget or home item, I feel an unstoppable urge to get that item set up or assembled right away.  So, after moving, I began reconstructing my Expedit bookshelf from IKEA as soon as I’d cleared enough floor space in my new abode.

Here is a pic of the Expedit during de-construction. Might give you an idea of how it goes together. See the pegs sticking out of the shelf?

These are the pegs. Vader thought they were fun to gnaw on. I'm an awful cat parent.

I was concerned about how well the unit would hold up once I took it apart, transported it, and then reassembled.  However, the process went very smoothly, and putting the shelves back together was quite simple, actually.  The whole enchilada goes together with a bunch of wooden pegs and 8 screws.  Easy peasy.  Back when we bought the Expedit I’d read online that the most efficient method of putting it together was just to use a hammer to secure the wooden pegs in place, and that is certainly the way to go.  So, this time, in about 45 minutes, I had the shelf fully assembled, lying in the middle of my living room floor.  Problem was, I couldn’t get the damn thing to stand up.

When I first realized I couldn’t lift the unit, my plan was to hoist one corner of it and shimmy a pillow underneath the bottom edge to prop it up.  I figured once it was no longer flush against the floor, I’d be able to get a better grip and I’d be all set.  A crowbar would have been the perfect hoisting tool, except that I was so afraid of scratching my gloriously shiny new floors.

Unfortunately, without a crowbar, I couldn’t even get the shelf off the ground the couple of inches I needed to slide the pillow under.  Damn.  I tried and tried to move this thing until I was sitting in the middle of the living room, sweating buckets and completely frustrated.

This is not one of those posts where I tell you some cool trick to hoist a large bookshelf on your own.  There is no such trick.  Consider this more of a reassurance that your IKEA furniture should be able to travel well and be reassembled – assuming you treat it with a little gentle loving kindness.  Also consider this a warning that you should wait to put any large furniture together until you have another person there to help stand it up.  Or, take it upon yourself to go make friends with one of your new neighbors.

My sister was in town that weekend, and once we were able to get our fingers under the unit, it was super easy to hoist the unit all the way up (the shelves were empty, afterall).  But even with two sets of hands, the initial task of grasping the shelves enough to lift it and prop something under the edge was a sweat-inducing endeavor.  The largest version of Expedit (5 shelves tall by 5 shelves wide) is just extremely heavy and you end up scared to death that you’ll chop off all your fingers if you somehow get them caught underneath the bookself without a firm grip.

See the screw in the top corner? There are 8 in the whole unit, and the shelves come with the little allen keys that you need to screw them in. The rest of the parts involved are just the pegs.

Tah-dahhh! Hoisted!

So, for all the IKEA fans out there:  you can get to IKEA super easily in NYC, which means you’ll have all the put-shit-together projects your little heart desires, right at your fingertips.  No need for a car or any stressful travel arrangements.  No need for any real construction or equipment.  Also, if and when you move apartments any oversized IKEA furniture will likely travel well, if you dismantle it.  My Expedit bookshelf is just as sturdy now as it was upon the initial assembly.  Just make sure you have another set of hands ready when it comes to lifting that sturdy unit.  Or hit the gym and build up those biceps!

Coming up: fake sewing, hanging art on stud-less walls, closet collapses, and mini-makeovers!  Stay tuned, all you DIY-loving urbanites!

Movin’ On Up

8 Apr

I now know that there are three options when moving apartments in the city.  When I was moving out of my Sunset Park apartment, I thought there were only two options.  I’ll tell you about those two first, so that you can see where my head was at the time.  You’ll have to wait with baited breath for the third option – the “right” option – until tomorrow.  Poor you.

So…Options 1 and 2:

The beauty of having lots of space in an apartment – an office, plus a catch-all room – as a single person is that you get the chance to accumulate lots of prized belongings unnecessary items.  Unfortunately, when it’s time to leave your palatial space, you have to move your monstrous pile of possessions into your new place.  Or you have to part with some of them, which I have a hard time doing.  Agent Owens tells me I’m a hoarder.  I’m actually not, but when I do spend my money, I buy furniture and home goods that I really love.  So, letting go of them if/when I downsize is always hard.

This is a red jewelery dresser I picked up at Pier 1. I used it to store candles (my house always has candles lit). Seriously, though, what kind of 20-something city-dweller has room for a random furniture piece like this? Yes, I had too much space for my own good.

When I moved out of Sunset Park, I moved up to Harlem, and joy of all joys, the place was big enough to hold almost everything I owned.  As my interwebs idol, Sherry, from Young House Love would say, “Oh happy day!”

So, once I secured my second “new” place (which I’ll tell you all about, if you stay tuned next week), I got down to planning my move.  In my brain, “moving” meant you boxed your stuff up and hired a big moving company to transport everything you own to your new digs.  Reasonable, right?  I thought so, too.  And off I went to call all the moving companies that advertised low rates on TV commercials.  Thought process:  How much could it cost to move an apartment?  Maybe like $300?  That’s kind of a lot, but, oh well!  Gotta do it!

  • R: Oh, hi.  I was calling to get a quote for moving my one bedroom apartment.
  • Moving company X: Ok.  Please list the items you need moved.
  • R: 1 couch, 1 overstuffed chair, 1 coffee table, 1 flatscreen, 1 TV stand, 1 tall lamp, 1 short lamp, 1 kitchen table, 1 bookshelf, 1 desk, 1 file cabinet, 5 chairs, 1 mattress, 1 box spring, 3 dressers, 1 vanity table, 2 large mirrors, 1 chaise lounge, 2 plants, 20 boxes…. (insert 50 more things I owned at the time).
  • Moving company X: That will be $900.
  • R: *GASP*
  • Moving company Y: $1000.
  • R: *GASP GASP*
  • Moving company Z: $100000000000.
  • R: Oh shit.

Not gonna work.  Ya know how in life they say you should have enough money saved up to cover you’re a$$ for three months?  Yea, well I didn’t have enough for one month, let alone an extra $1000 lying around.  Option 1, the hire-movers-like-they-do-in-the-movies method, was officially out.

Option 2 was decidedly more labor intensive, and it was all I had (because I didn’t know about the magical Option 3 at the time.  Poor me).  Option 2 was to rent a U-Haul, round up my friends and family, and move everything from apartment to truck to apartment, the old fashioned way.  Thank goodness I have nice friends and family who are always willing to help out!

The U-Haul option is cheap, as moving goes.  However, if you don’t have friends and family with some muscle and winning attitudes, you’re looking at a rough time.  Heck, even if they do have muscles and a winning attitude it’s not fun.  When my dream sofa (read about in in this post) arrived from Crate & Barrel, it was delivered by two lovely gentlemen who practically ran up my stairs with the furniture on their backs.  However, getting that dream sofa OUT of the old apartment and IN to the new apartment meant three people needed to hurt their backs.

The crew I had with me included:  my dad, my mom, Aunt Betty, and my friends Henry, Amber, and Joe.

My friends and I taking a beer break at 8:45 AM on moving day, in Sunset Park.

The plan was to rent the U-Haul in Connecticut, where my parents live, and where the cost would be lower.  My parents would make some trips out to Brooklyn the week before the move to transport as many items as possible to their suburban basement, and the night before the move, they’d load all those items into the truck, to save time on moving day (we’d be starting with a half loaded truck).  They’d then drive the truck down to Brooklyn on the morning of moving day, and we’d all load up the rest of the boxes and furniture, to cart all my worldly possessions to Harlem.

Now, you may be wondering, “Why the big rush on moving day?”  Well, moving in NYC is not like moving in the rest of the world.  If you are moving into or out of an elevator building, there are often time constraints because the elevators need to be shared by everyone in the building.  For instance, my building in Harlem required that tenants move between 9 AM and 5 PM, when the rest of the tenants would likely be at work or out of the house.  Since I was moving on a weekend, I was allotted a timeframe between 10 AM and 1 PM.

Obviously, we had to begin the move in Sunset Park quite early, in order to finish by 1 PM.  We began at 6:30 AM, and finished getting everything out of my old apartment by 8:45.  We then paused for beers and cold pizza – the breakfast of champions (see the photo above) – and we were on the road to Harlem by 9:15.  We arrived at the new building just before 10:00, and we were finished bringing everything upstairs just before 1:00.  If we hadn’t had 7 people working on the job, it may never have gotten done.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  But it certainly wouldn’t have gotten done in our allotted time frame.

Loading stuff into the U-Haul on moving day, in Sunset Park. Looking surprisingly perky, given the time of day and the task at hand.

A pile of stuff waiting to go into the U-Haul. Yes, I filled a 17' truck to the brim.

Cramming into the cab of the U-Haul.

My dad and Henry, happy to have the U-Haul mostly unloaded in Harlem.

Relaxing for a minute after getting all my furniture into my new Harlem apartment.

The total cost for Option 2 – the U-Haul/DIY option – was about $250 in truck and gas fees.  Plus about $50 to nourish the helpers.  $300 for the whole kit and kaboodle was significantly less than the $900-$1 Gazillion I was quoted by the big moving companies.  However, I ate up seven people’s Saturday morning.  No good.

So, there you have it.  Option 1:  way too expensive.  Option 2:  cheaper, but exhausting.  I’m starting to feel like I’m presenting the three houses on House Hunters.  Ya know those episodes where the first two houses are SO wrong for the person, that you’re positive they’ll pick #3?  That’s where we are in the Happy City Living world.  No surprises; Option 3 is clearly the one I’ll pick.  But what could option 3 possibly be?  Stick around to find out!

Have any disastrous moving stories?  Enjoy beer and cold pizza before 9 AM?  Share!


Images: Rebecca for Happy City Living (all)

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