Posts Tagged ‘setting up a home’

ImageWhen the H1B and I looked at where to permanently live in New York – after a brief spell in a tiny, hot  studio on 66th and 1st, and a month in the iconic (but covered in scaffolding) 15 Park Row building near City Hall – we turned to Google.

I literally googled, Where is the best place to live in New York?, and New York Mag’s brilliantly informative and interactive Livability Calculator came up.

It’s such a clever, useful piece of kit and ranks boroughs in terms of crime, noise levels, local schools etc. And you can also search by the type of lifestyle you live – ie: if you have kids or not.

Glad to see that Park Slope is still at the top.

It’s a bit of a cliché to live in Park Slope once you have kids (see Shit Park Slope Parents Say – cringe), but it’s a great place to live*.

Breezy, leafy, with decent cafes and good enough restaurants (James is our favourite), and close to hip areas like Fort Greene and Boerum Hill and the Brooklyn Flea. And you can get to the City easily enough for work or if you need that dose of Manhattan.

As much as I like the idea of a penthouse in Tribeca or loft apartment in Soho, for our budget bracket I’d choose Brooklyn over the Upper East Side any day.

*Although, according to the calculator if you are ‘married with kids‘, Greenpoint is best, followed by Murray Hill, and then Park Slope – probably because of the cost of housing (a Brownstone in Park Slope costs something like $3,500,000).

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How to Make Friends

I love this post from Jezebel, about how to make friends when you are old.

As someone who is under 37 (OK, I am 37), who has lived in four countries, ten cities and too many new houses to mention, I know a thing or two about making new acquaintances.  When I moved to Brooklyn for my husband’s job and with a visa that wouldn’t let me work, it was soundly up to me to make a home. And that meant making friends.

Falling pregnant in the second week you are in your new city helps. Yes, there is the awful morning sickness, the homing-pigeon hormones that have you weeping for your childhood bed and the sobriety but having a baby is one hell of a way to meet people. Pre-natal yoga, hospital waiting rooms, birthing classes are all excellent places to meet kindred spirits. It’s not like you can’t spot someone in the same situation as you either.

However, making friends when you are pregnant can be very odd too. Bonding over leaking breasts gives a a false feeling of intimacy  You’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll know if someone has a family history of postnatal incontinence or hemorrhoids before you know if they have any siblings. Or before you’ve even had a chance to snoop around their bathroom cabinet during a coffee morning.

Once the baby is born, if you meet a new friend in the supermarket queue for example, there is a danger of unintentional over-sharing because you are so damned happy to be talking to an adult for the first time in eight hours. Like the time I told a woman that I used to fake a squint as a child for attention. It’s not just me and my social Tourette’s. Total strangers have asked if I’m planning a vaginal birth or not. Sir, the stretchability of my cervix is none of your business!

Mommy ‘meet up’ groups should be treated with caution too. They are OK  for the first six weeks when frankly you are so high on hormones and delirious with lack of sleep that you could talk to a lamppost if it stood next to a cushioned seat that won’t irritate your suppurating C-section wound. But after that, it won’t take you long to consider ditching the group. And this is to be advised, least you go mad with the ‘Mommyness’ of it all.

I’ve sat through lunches where one Perrier-sipping woman said that she didn’t watch TV or check her Blackberry while she was breastfeeding least the baby feel she wasn’t totally present. I took a slug of my lager shandy and mumbled something about a mother’s sanity being the most vital element in child raising.

And, stay away from Mommy websites too. They may be good for snapping up a second-hand Bugaboo but they do breed a certain type of parent that has way too much time on their hands. One recent post by a local mom asked how other mothers were dealing with the ‘hair pulling phase’. She stated that her eight month old baby was yanking her hair really hard but she didn’t want to stop him least it limit the baby’s sense of adventures and curiosity.

Because they wouldn’t be able to see me rolling my eyes, I cancelled my membership. (That will teach them; though if anyone knows of anyone who is flogging a second-hand umbrella stroller, do let me know.)

Now my baby is nearly nine months, I can say I have four good local mum friends. One is my neighbour, two I met in the same birthing class and one I met randomly in Gorilla Coffee. That’s plenty for me.

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OMG. An intact Brownstone has come up for sale in our neighbourhood.

I am always fascinated by these beautiful homes and love to see them in their original state, or how their lucky inhabitants have modernised them.

This one is going for a cool $3,500,000 on Corcoran NYC.

This room is the bedroom, or now nursery, in our apartment. The fireplace is hidden by the monstrous but very useful Ikea wardrobe. I wonder if it is that splendid?

Living Room

Living Room

This elegant room is the ground floor flat in our building:

Living Room

Living Room

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We have a pretty fireplace in our front room (ie: the kitchen, dining and living room); blocked up, of course. At the moment, it has a pictures of the H1B’s mother in it and a few candles left over from Christmas.

It occurred to me the other day that this may look a little like a shrine.


So I googled for inspiration – there must be something we can do to dress it up a little, or even brighten it as it’s quite dark.

I’d also like to find the original of the picture as it’s really quite beautiful. Taken by a local reporter at a fair in Seaham, County Durham, for the Queens Jubliee in 1976. No one knew it existed until her sister-in-law stumbled across it while browsing on the web thirty years later. The boy in the picture is a very blonde, very sweet H1B, aged two. I’d like to have it professionally printed and framed.

So, back to the fireplace.

Here are some ideas that I like:

MSN real estate: Make a bookshelf (I’ve been wanting somewhere to put my coffee table-grade cookbooks). Although I can’t ever imagine it being that neat:

Create a surprising bookshelf (© Nick Cardillicchio )

RealSimple.com: Introduce some greenery (hmm, the H1B and I aren’t exactly the most green fingered):

Fireplace filled with red vases

I love this one from Apartment Therapy – I wonder if I could wallpaper it?:


On the same web page, the mirror is a good idea for bringing more of the gorgeous spring light into the house:


Any other suggestions?

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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

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There’s no doubt about it; by Manhattan standards our 1,000 sq ft floor-through Brooklyn apartment is BIG. But we still only have one bedroom. So as soon as we found out about the junior (now six days over due), I was worrying about where to put the little thing.

The H1B maintained that babies have survived for centuries sleeping “in a drawer” but I was hoping for something a little more ceremonious for our first child.

One option was to convert our middle room (currently the TV/lounge) into a kid’s room but I didn’t want to lose any adult relaxing space plus it wouldn’t be practical as we’d constantly we walking through the area.

The best option was to try and corner off some space in our massive bedroom. But the question was how to also retain a semblance of privacy/personal space for all of us?

I stumbled across this brilliant one-bed solution on CasaSugar.com – of a rather clever conversion of a corner of a room using some dry wall stacked on to of an Ikea bookshelf unit, with funky curtains that can be drawn across to block out any light at night time.

You can see here how a clever friend of the couple used plasterboard and dry wall to make the room divider look like a proper wall. Clever, no?

Bingo! Except our high ceilings are waaay too tall for any attempts at using dry wall to make the box look like a proper room. It wasn’t within the H1B and my scope of DIY prowess and we didn’t want to have to pay someone to come in and do the work. Plus, we weren’t sure our landlord would go for it anyway.

But we stole the Ikea bookshelf idea and have create a nursery nook  behind the door.

I think it’s worked out pretty well. We can put up a curtain across the ‘entrance’ when the baby is a bit older and needs more dark to sleep. For now, I like it open for the airiness and access.

As a reminder, this is what the room looked like when we moved in:

Bedroom as it was when we moved in

And this is what it looks like now:

The bedroom

We tucked the ‘nursery nook’ behind the door to the right:

Showing room divider/Ikea shelves and crib with door to middle room open

The bookshelves provide loads of storage space for the baby’s clothes, nappies etc etc etc. I even labelled each basket with some cute mini chalkboards from Etsy in a bid to stay organised and avoid frenzied searches for matching tops and bottoms or favourite onesies.

Room divider and changing table

The quilted wall hanging was a project I was working on when I was clearly nesting and had loads of energy. I really wanted something to brighten up that big dark door (that goes through to the hallway but we don’t use except for moving large objects around – like the 9ft Christmas tree we had in December). It took me, like, forever on my rickety budget sewing machine from Target (a Singer Promise if you’re interested), but I think it really looks pretty.

The fabric is from Carousel Designs and I learned how to do the pinwheels and prairie points (I had no clue what they were called before I started either) from various YouTube videos and googling.

The tags for hanging can be easily removed so it becomes a quilt or playmat.

Quilted wall hanging I made to brighten up massive brown wooden door to hallway (not used)

Excuse the indulgence of a close up – but it did take me about a month to make

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Love this piece from the New York Times Living section about a beautifully restored Brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The couple who own it restored it as close to its original state as possible, with furnishings and wallpaper etc from the Victorian era (funny how Americans still call it the Victorian era).

It’s always fascinating to me how these huge houses would have looked before they were split into flats for urbanites.

This picture is of the front room – and is what our bedroom would have looked like when it was still the grand parlour of the house (although the house our apartment is in is a bit wider). We still have those beautiful windows and woodwork detail, although all painted white now, and the fireplace is hidden by a gigantic Ikea closet. At least, I hope it is. I hope it hasn’t been ripped out.

Wish our entrance hall looked quite as inviting too (rather than the musty carpet and dim lighting is currently has, although the landlord swears they are sending in the carpet cleaners next week).

Do have a look at the other pictures by NYT interiors photographer Trevor Tondro because they are breathtaking.


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