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Since moving, we’ve grown fond of the neighborhood’s collective habit of abandoning perfectly good furniture. Almost every day, the streets around us are peppered with functional chairs, tables, and lamps. An easy way to facilitate compromise is when we come into free furniture. The stakes are low: If one of us dislikes a piece, we can return it (to the streets!) without feeling financially strained. And we’ve found some great pieces — that we both like — along the way: nesting tables, dining room seating, and chaise lounge chairs for our roof. The hunt itself is always exciting, and everything we’ve found is put to practical, everyday use in our home.
In our SoHo apartment, we had a single small wall to decorate. I insisted on executing an art display that I’d come up with: I wanted to put up a collection of Maira Kalman illustrations from The Elements of Style. With dorm-room life top of mind, I thought that taping up the pages of the book would be adequate.
Having lived in an apartment for his final three years of college, Blake was far past wall posters. While he appreciated the art I wanted to hang, he encouraged me to frame the drawings. I loved the idea (the way a retriever loves being trained), and spent an afternoon in Target’s frame aisle, curating the installation.
Over the years, Blake and I have continued to collect pieces of quasi-art. (Our tastes here are predictably different; while Blake holds a vintage Barbra Streisand record sleeve near and dear to his heart, my collection includes a humorous pizza-box lid that I shlepped home from a trip to the south of France.) Both Barbra and the pizza box lid are safe behind glass; they are displayed with intention and grace rather than with scotch tape and sticky tack. And the Maira Kalman gallery wall lives on in our new apartment as an homage to both our former apartment and our first joint effort.
The most significant lesson I’ve learned is how to recognize my shortcomings, and how they relate to Blake’s complementary strengths. He has a better eye for the big picture. While his taste is much more traditional than mine, it’s ended up being a benefit for the basics in our apartment.
When we first moved to Carroll Gardens, we settled on a neutral color palette for our shared space. Our kitchen — reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld’s — bleeds into our main space, so we had to keep its earthy colors in mind. By agreeing on a corresponding color scheme early on, we automatically had guidelines for the rest of our furniture and decor. This simplified the shopping process and any disagreements we had around color.
We stuck to four colors, and they informed the larger items in our space. We inherited a dark brown leather sofa from Blake’s mom that we set on top of a tan jute rug to anchor the room. Blake took those colors into account when staining the dining room table; our bar stools fall into the same color family also. By sticking to less dramatic colors, our space became a blank canvas off of which we could riff with colorful artwork and accessories.
Furnishing a large-ish apartment from scratch can of course be financially draining. We both wanted to avoid that Ikea-chic look, despite living a 20-minute walk away from Red Hook’s Ikea (where we occasionally brunch).
We turned to Craigslist for these decor needs. Beyond finding affordable furniture, picking up pieces together has been a nice bonding experience (we recommend taking a buddy along with you to gather any finds). Blake (and Blake alone) spent countless hours searching for the perfect bar cart. After we agreed on one, we headed to Molly-from-Craigslist’s apartment in Gramercy to pick up this holy grail.
Molly greeted us by aggressively informing us that we’d have to sneak the bar cart out of the doorman-manned apartment building (only professional movers were allowed to handle furniture, and even they were confined to the freight elevator). She then tried to sell us the rest of her furniture, which we pretended to consider out of politeness and fear. We exchanged cash for cart and ran for the elevator, squeaking loudly along the way.
Sneaking a bar cart out of any building is obviously impossible; fitting a bar cart into a sedan is almost impossible; carrying a bar cart up four floors is definitely possible though it necessitates post-move alcohol. Today, the bar cart acts not only as a functional fixture, it also represents a shared silly memory.
As we built out our apartment, finding a dining room table proved to be one of the most difficult tasks. Blake had a particular size and aesthetic in mind, and after some fruitless Craigslist options, he heroically accepted the carpentry challenge.
Known by some (read: none) as the Bruce Springsteen of DIY, Blake took a day trip home to New Jersey, where he spent 12 hours sawing, sanding, soldering, and staining lumber and pipes, which finally took the form of a table. Today, it sits proudly as the centerpiece of our living room and acts as a base for brunches, Friendsgivings, and our annual latke dinner.
This wasn’t the only DIY project Blake tackled. Armed with spray paint, he breathed new life into two side tables, a lamp, and a set of storage cubes abandoned by the previous tenant. Not only were they fun projects, they also helped us lock in a consistent color scheme: We now have a collection of home goods in the same color (thanks to our limited spray paint collection), spread throughout our apartment.