When our daughter started looking for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City last fall, she stumbled across some real doozies.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
When our daughter started looking for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City last fall, she stumbled across some real doozies. Initially, expectations were sky high. Requisites included an affordable, clean, and safe building, as well as a central midtown location that was close to her job and public transportation. The apartment had to have adequate closet space and, more importantly, a kitchen roomy enough for her KitchenAid artisan mixer, a feat in and of itself in Manhattan. In addition, who wouldn’t want amenities like a doorman, an elevator, and a laundry room?
As the realtor took her around, her wish list promptly dwindled. Midtown apartments in her price range were miniscule, in both size and availability. While some kitchens didn’t include ovens, others didn’t offer full-size refrigerators. The writing was on the wall (and some buildings did have writing on the walls). The slim pickings failed to comply with many of her lofty ideals, so she considered some trade-offs.
The doorman flew out the window and the elevator screeched to a halt. Jesi extended her ideal location to include the vicinity north of 60th Street. Would an extended commute, walking a few avenues over to the subway, and climbing a few flights of stairs be so bad? “It’s good exercise,” she assured herself.
After making some concessions, our determined daughter found an apartment on the Upper East Side. The railroad apartment’s configuration was a bit awkward and the five-story walk-up grueling, but it had staying power. Jesi envisioned it as a perfect start-up home for a newlywed couple, a top priority since she and her fiancé are to be married this year. She was pleasantly surprised to find the building also offered the benefit of being in a real, recognizable neighborhood.
Although it’s not the Yorkville of yesteryear, it’s a pocket of the city that feels unpretentious and relaxed. Schaller and Weber grocery and Heidelberg Restaurant are the last bastions of the predominantly German community of the 1950s and ’60s. Devoid of urban commotion, it’s also home to picturesque Carl Schurz Park along the East River. More to the point, the Upper East Side boasts considerably larger apartments and a lot more bang for your buck.
The kitchen, palatial by city standards with two windows and fairly high ceilings, sealed the deal because Jesi loves to cook. The only drawback was the hideous linoleum, which couldn’t be replaced because of the irregularity and slant of the floor. In addition, altering the floor required major surgery on a metal door that opens into the kitchen, a structural change the landlord would never sanction.
Around the same time, I had written an article for this paper about Junktique Recycling, Rye’s new shop located in the indoor corridor next to Chase Bank. Owners Laszlo and Daniella Toth Farkas waxed poetic about the virtues of Chalk Paint. When they informed me it could be applied to any surface, bells went off. “Even a linoleum floor?” I asked. “Yes, it works as well on floors as it does on walls and furniture,” replied Daniella. Moreover, it’s available in a vast variety of vibrant colors, it’s fast-drying and odorless.
With a great deal of patience, an ornate stencil, and a couple of quarts of the magical paint, Jesi couldn’t have transformed the kitchen more drastically if she had sprinkled pixie dust over it. She also incorporated badly needed counter space by adding a wooden buffet, a gem we came upon at a furniture outlet store. How my future son-in-law carried that dense, clunky piece of furniture up five flights of narrow stairs is beyond me. Luckily, he has an equally robust twin brother.
A twenty-something’s budget requires more than a little ingenuity. When Jesi decided to put up shelves for the twofold purpose of adding warmth, as well as storage space, we acquired reclaimed wood from Gregory’s Sawmill in Wilton, Connecticut. The fact that the timber had a previous life holding up an old barn had its own appeal.
We also made great discoveries at estate and tag sales. One can find a slew of them in Westchester on-line. It’s also a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. We successfully tracked down table lamps, whose soft lighting created a welcoming ambiance; bookshelves that personalized the space; a coffee table that opens up for additional storage; and mirrors to create the illusion of depth, one of which Jesi refurbished with her leftover Chalk Paint.