Archive for the ‘Setting Up A Home’ Category

It’s been quite a while since I posted but, you know, had a baby and they take up quite a lot of time. But now we have our head above water, have got into a bit of a regime with naps and my part-time-work-at-home work, my attention has turned back to our apartment.

My last post was about creating a nursery in the corner of our splendid bedroom, which is just the loveliest room; drenched in light that goes from sunny yellow to a spectacular palegold in the afternoon and evening. I loved to lie in bed and look at the clouds drifting across the open-shuttered 12ft windows, above the roof of the pretty Gothic Brooklyn church across the road.

That is, I used to love it, because that room now belongs to the baby. All 300 sq t (or whatever it is – bigger than many Manhattan studios I’m sure). It was easier for us to move out into the middle room and make what is now known as the ‘nursery’ for our little Rajah.

Anyway, more on that later.

My current obsession has been searching for a cocktail cabinet to go in between our kitchen surface and bathroom doors. I’ve been scouring Pintrest, Craigslist and other haunts to find something that will fit the small space (34″ wide and about 60″ absolute max). Our budget, as ever, is super tight. $300 would seem like a push and would have to be perfect. Goes without saying, have found lots that are out of budget but fab.

The spec is that it needs to have drawers to hold our napkins, shelves to hold bottles of booze, and a cupboard to hold glasses so I don’t keep shoving them into our kitchen cabinets and risk chipping/smashing them. If they had a display area so I can rummage through the Brooklyn Flea for some pretty cocktail glasses, so much the better.

Here are some that I’ve loved:

This pretty cabinet is called a Chimney Cabinet and was designed for small, narrow spaces in the days before fitted kitchens. I would strip this and paint some bright, solid colour, like yellow… It is within budget(ish) at $325 on Etsy.

Chimney Cabinet

Anything yellow, I love. This is are remake (I think – might be original) of a Hoosier Cabinet Bar and is $1,195, on eBay.

$795 from Ebay. It’s German, and very pretty.

Mega cool. From the 1940s. Found on Pintrest.

The winner (so far) is this little ‘dry sink’, which I stumbled upon when looking online for something else. It doesn’t look like much in the pictures but it fits the space perfectly and I LOVE the colour options. I’d like it in solid Tangerine or Yellow. $200.

Shown in Old Black with Beadboard door

The company, Sawdust City, based in Wisconsin (with good shipping rates), has some great storage solutions. If it wasn’t for the colour options, they could be a bit meh, but with the bright colours, I think it will look really good. You can put a sort of wiremesh on the doors, which looks good and a bit retro-industrial.

The bonus is the sinked top – as we could happily put all our bottles of booze up there without danger of a small person banging into it and knocking them off.

** Update: both the H1B and my stylist friend said, non, to the sinktop. And now I can see they were right. I lost my mind because I found something that would fit the space. Am now on a search for a cool bar cart a la this one from Etsy:


Arko Bar Cart

Read Full Post »

Over the weekend we had our gas cut off [exhales loudly].

Oh. The. Shame.

The reasons for this are several:

1) We didn’t contact the energy company when we moved in five months ago

2) When we got a ‘you’re busted!‘ note through the door from National Grid last week and were told that we would be cut off in five days if we didn’t arrange registration and payment, I immediately called them and went through the application process, only to get to the end of the call-centre conversation (see Lost in Transatlantic Translation), and was told that I couldn’t complete it because I don’t have a (freaking!!!) social security number

3) When I told the H1B that he would have to call them instead, he sat on the idea for three of the remaining four days

4) When he finally called the company on Friday late morning, and faxed over a copy of his passport, a copy of his visa, a copy of our lease, a drop of his blood and a lock of my hair, (and even though he received a receipt to say all is tickety-boo), everyone must have been busy watching the opening game of the New York Yankees because…

5) They cut it off anyway



i) American call centres don’t understand that it’s possible that your previous address could have been overseas and had a postcode rather than a zip code, which while it may not fit exactly in their alloted number of digits, causing the whole system to implode, is actually a bone fide place of habitation

ii) National Grid are dickheads

And while they have the ability to remotely cut off someone’s gas over the weekend, the department that is able to reinstate it is closed.

So the H1B had to go and stand in a queue at the local office on a Monday morning with all the documentation, blood samples and necessary follicles to prove that we were indeed real people, not just phantoms who wanted to give their ghostly cash to a leading energy company just for the pure fun of it.

The moral of this story is:

a) There’s no such thing as free gas

b) When you are an ex-pat and need to do anything official or involves a call centre, give yourself at least a two week lead-time and never, ever believe that a problem can be solved via a quick phone call

c) We need to call the electricity provider Con Edison asap

Mind you, by the sounds of it, Americans don’t have it that easy either.

When we told the upstairs neighbours about our predicament, the Pianist said that when he took his father (a fully fledged, allegiance-swearing, genuine citizen of the United States), to a Verizon store to sign up for a mobile phone, the manager typed his social security number into the system, and swiftly halted the application.

“Sorry sir,” the manager said blankly. “You’re deceased.”

Read Full Post »

What do you mean is that the Real Housewives of Orange County?

I don’t believe it. It’s actually true. I was beginning to think they didn’t exist – and were some kind of legendary phantom occurence like the Yeti or getting a table at Momofuku on a weekend night.

Today a helpful man from Time Warner came around. This is our third visit from the communications company – the first two were for our internet, which has the speed of an unbothered slug. Nothing could be done about fixing it apparently – even though we pay $50 a month for the semi-high speed option. On both occasions, neither answered my questions or in fact really paid any attention to me, other to mumble something about a ‘faulty box’.

Today’s visit was to install cable and the nice man said it wouldn’t be a problem to fix up the internet at the same time and move it to a place I’d asked the previous two to do.

(The first guy had plonked all the unsightly wires in the middle of the kitchen and upset the pretty plant/window combo.)

No wires: pleasing plant pot/window combo

I made him a nice cup of coffee for being such a gent and if I had any of my $7 McVities Dark Chocolate Digestives left I would have given him one of those too.

ANYWAY… television. It’s been two months, two weeks and three days since we last had one.

I’ve met people who claim to not watch television – out of choice – and frankly, I don’t trust them. Do they not like David Attenborough? Downton Abbey? EastEnders? If you want to intellectualise it, what about Newsnight, University Challenge or Jon Snow? Parents who deliberately impose restrictions on their kids watching television are missing out on one of the main sources of childcare – Peppa Pig.

Life without TV is boring. I have hobbies – I like exercise, reading (yes, sometimes even newspapers), knitting, embroidery (actually, the cross stitching is making me go mad and blind – I bought it because we didn’t have a television) and all kinds of other life-enriching pursuits.

But there’s nothing like a bit of television.

Of course, now we’ll have to subscribe to those UK services that cheat the IPs and copyright laws and allow you to catch up on the BBC’s new adaptation of Bird Song (#gnawsfistoffwithexcitement) and, yes, we’ll have to get our head around our six billion channels of US TV, the Super Bowl and the age-defying faces of the NBC Today show presenters. We also have HBO! Sigh.

The nice Time Warner man has even just taken five patient minutes to show me how the remote works. And he’s tacked a long wire – very neatly – around our huge doors so the socket is on the other side of the room from the source. Someone give him a pay rise. Should I have tipped him?

Read Full Post »

Radio has had a resurgence in my world and now I live in a new country it’s taken on a greater significance.

The H1B gets up around 6am and we stream BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, which also starts at 6am UK time five hours before. If I have woken up from a particularly deep slumber, I often don’t realise I am actually in the USA until my Twinnings Earl Grey won’t brew properly even when the tea bag has been in the cup for five minutes (why is that?).

>> Read below for recommended American radio stations… there is a point to this blog, I promise…

Once the H1B has gone off to work with a kiss and a “goodbye dear” (so Mad Men), I tune into Women’s Hour, which is easily the best female-focused discussion forum across any media, including magazines and those ghastly patronising chat shows (though Jezebel is a good online contender).

I will be honest, however, and say I also like it because I daydream about being, in another life, as clever and cool and so exquisitely tough, challenging and school-marm-patronising as Jenni Murray is with difficult politicians and other smug people*.

Sarah Lund's covertable Scandiknit is no barrier to her professionalism

Today’s highlights included a segment on Scandiknits and why they are on-trend (thanks to The Killing and Sarah Lund), and why there are no women in this year’s shortlist for BBC Sportsperson of the Year Award.

Then, just before I feel irreversibly middle-aged, I turn to 6 Music, which specialises in making mid-30 somethings feel ‘with it’ and hip by playing music from the days when there were (slightly more) ‘with it’ and hip.

And when I’ve listened to Lauren Laverne, and Steve Lamacq is getting a bit esoteric for my liking, I tune into Classic FM for some soothing, attention-span-friendly pieces of old music while I and get the cheese and biscuits ready for the H1B’s return.

So, then, radio keeps me in contact with home and also makes me feel a little bit more at home in this new city of ours.


However, I appreciate it’s slightly pathetic to cling to the old country quite so strongly; listening to streamed music from across the Atlantic like a homesick Jack Russell staring forlornly into a cylinder phonograph (he was called Nipper by the way), so I’ve been investigating New York and national radio stations.

Here are some I’ve found so far (please suggest more if you have some favourites):

  • News, current affairs and worthy music – no ads: WNYC AM 820/FM 93.9 (part of BBC World service – so a bit of a cheat)
  • Old school hits, funk and R&B: WBLS FM107.5
  • Classical: WQXR FM105.9

An Australian friend of mine who used to live in New York recommends This American Life, which is a radio station that is hard to define. On their about us page, it says: “One of our problems from the start has been that when we try to describe This American Life in a sentence or two, it just sounds awful. For instance: each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme. That doesn’t sound like something we’d want to listen to on the radio, and it’s our show.”

Sounds pretty intriguing; I’m game. Although you have to hunt them down as they appear on different frequencies on different days (que?):

New York WNYC 820 AM S 12:00 PM
New York WNYC 93.9 FM S 9:00 PM
New York WNYC 93.9 FM Su 7:00 PM

I’m sure I’ll stream them online instead.

*Jenni Murray is also my hero because at a tender age I appeared on WH to speak about maternity fashion. I was nervous (knowing my mother and her gym friends were listening), and talked about John Lennon‘s maternity range when I meant the department store John Lewis. Murray laughed graciously like I’d said something very witty and that I’d said it on purpose to prove a point.

Read Full Post »

When we first moved into our grand but unfurnished Brownstone apartment we had to break down what to buy when.

First was the bed (although we are still waiting to order because of the delay in getting the H1B’s social security number – god bless whoever invented the Aerobed, which is currently a bargainous $58 on Amazon).

Next urgent priority was a table and chairs for the kitchen.

Other than our Aerobed, the only other seating we had in the house was a step ladder, which had been “borrowed” from the communal storage area and still hasn’t found its way back.

We had to take turns; and using it alongside the breakfast bar it was surprisingly ergonomic:

Eat your heart out Charles Eames

… but not a long-term solution, especially if we wanted to have people around for dinner, or actually speak to each other ever again.

There are many exquisite furniture stores in New York, not least the massive ABC Home on Broadway north of Union Square (opposite Fish Eddys, which is a brilliant bargain hunt of a store for crockery, cutlery and glassware).

But with a budget of around $1000 for table and chairs ABC Home was strictly for inspiration only and instead I went to West Elm and CB2, which is like a much cooler, better-made Ikea.

Unlike the bed, which I knew I wanted to be traditional, made of iron and high, I was open to different ideas about the kitchen table. Modern, glass or industrial metal, my only specification was that it had to be extendable as I’d like it to sit in the corner next to the fireplace and big windows and then extend it out when we have people around.

Ideally, I was looking for something that would fit four people (around 45″ square) but extend to fit six or eight.

Here were some choices that made the shortlist:

Dylan Table from CB2

West Elm Extendable Angle Leg Table

West Elm Extendable Paul Oebach Table

None were quite right – either they seemed not that well made (West Elm’s more economic options were veneer or a bit wobbly and the shop stock was very chipped and battered, which didn’t give me much confidence as to its longevity), or too big (I loved CB2’s fashionably distressed wood and industrial metal Dylan table, but it’s a 80″ long and $899).

Next I tried Film Biz Recycling, which is a not-for-profit set-up that hires or sell props and furniture from film sets. If I’d wanted a 1960s television, a fake Louis IV armchair  or a stuffed gazelle’s head I’d have been in business but unfortunately there were no suitable tables or chairs.

So onto the antique shops and I headed over to the strip of shops on Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Bond in Boerum Hill. This area has long been known for its furniture shops but in the last five years or so it’s become a haven of vintage cool too.

(Award-winning vintage fashion boutique Mafalda is worth checking out – if  I hadn’t been furniture shopping, an Arran sweater and black leather mini skirt would have been mine – as well as the kooky Dry Goods, which I blogged about previously, but hadn’t visited – it sells quaintly kitsch homewares and pet supplies. Rothschild is a good rest stop too – had very good sticky ribs and glass of super smooth Rioja.)

Horseman’s Antiques was my first furniture stop – four floors of tables, beds, chairs, wardrobes and sofas stacked together in a dusty commune. It’s well worth rummaging around (and you do need to rummage) but I found it crazy expensive and the shop assistants not that helpful by New York standards (there are no prices on the items but a code, which you have to take downstairs to the main desk so they can – reluctantly – look up the price). They also have an eBay site, which might be easier to browse.

Town & Country 352 on the opposite side of the road is smaller and has a more navigable layout and again specialises in mid-century designs.

I’d walked past Sterling Place a few times. It’s beautifully curated gifts, coffee table books and homewares made it look beyond our budget, but this is where I found our table and chairs. The owner Rob sources his furniture from estate auctions like most other antique shops but doesn’t put unrealistic mark-ups on his products, preferring a higher turn-over of goods I guess.

We bought a pretty and solid 1940s round Chestnut table, with two leaves, that fits the space perfectly for around $500 including tax and delivery. And a set of beautiful high-backed wood and wicker dining chairs from the 7th Avenue Park Slope store for a brilliant $408 including tax – and Rob had taken £100 off the chairs because he wanted to clear them out for the Holiday stock and delivered them for free because we’d paid for delivery of the table already.

Table non-extended

Nice pins

Sterling Place Park Slope

This Saturday we are going to check out the famous Hell’s Kitchen antique and flea market on West 25th street. Can’t wait.

Read Full Post »

There is nothing like sitting for eight hours in an apartment with no furniture waiting for Time Warner and Amazon to deliver their goods and services (at the current time, out of about five essential items, only the clothes drying rack has arrived), to make you really think about homewares. Crave it. Salivate over it.

So, sitting on a rolled up Ikea duvet and tapping into a neighbour’s internet connection (sorry neighbour), I thought that I’d post the pictures of new homeware store Dry Goods at 362 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill, which one of the owners Jessy sent me after I visited her fashion store on Thompson Street.

Here they are. Cool, no?

Read Full Post »

NYC might be the city that never sleeps, but you’ll need to crash eventually. While we shipped out most of our belongings (via K2 Moving – who I’d recommend), we didn’t bring out a bed – partly because we weren’t sure what kind/size of place we’d be getting and also because we rented out our home back in the UK furnished.

I think a good bed is one of the most important purchases a couple can make. Not for those reasons, smutty mind, but because a good night’s sleep can create all sorts of harmony in a household. And with the high ceilings and generous square footage of our Brooklyn brownstone, I thought we could get something quite grand.

Our first stop was Sleepys – a top-of-the-range place with all sorts of fancy computer equipment to determine what firmness of $6000 mattress would support our lumber and slumber. So, we played around on that for a while and, like all good bargain hunters, then took the NASA-grade information (me, slightly firm; H1B, firm – and definitely not the weirdly goopy Tempur-pedic memory foam for either of us) then went to find somewhere cheaper…

Ikea was an obvious budget choice (there’s one in New Jersey and one in Brooklyn, to which you can get a shuttle ferry from Wall Street Pier, which is free at the weekend, $5 weekdays) but I wanted something a bit sturdier and made of iron to suit the vintage/traditional feel of the apartment.

Next stop was Pottery Barn – which is a middle-class cornucopia of 1000 count thread sheets, twinkling Christmas decorations and sumptuous sofas in look-I’m-so-wealthy-I-can-afford-white linen covers.

I liked this one – amusingly called the ‘Adrienne‘, which made the H1B do some comedy Rocky air-punching in the 69th street store. It was £799 reduced to $699 online.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky

Under the raised (and perfectly plucked) eyebrow of one of the immaculate male attendants, we then shadow-punched our way a few stores down to Raymour & Flanigan.

What is it about mid-range furniture stores that feel so 1990s? Must be all that polished leather, mass-made art and glass-topped tables. However, the staff were excellent, unpretentious, and didn’t flinch when we said we wanted something more reasonable than the top-tier mattresses (even after we’d bounced up and down on every single expensive one, Bill made us feel like we were indeed actually very clever for going with the cheaper option).

We ended up buying a mattress, box spring and the Winslow bed frame ($329) from the store (Pottery Barn don’t sell mattresses or box springs – just the frames) for just over $2100 ( including tax and delivery – and build), via an interest-free 12 month repayment plan.

The sensible pricing, one-store purchase and old-school chivalry of Bill and his colleague Carlton helped seal the deal but I suspect the final decision to hand over the cash was largely down to them finding the H1B’s Rocky impressions funny.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: