My (Virtual) Renovation Diary | Clinton Hill 1BR Co-Op, Part I

March 6, 2013 | Alex

I'm firmly in a "renter" stage of my life. And, truth be told, I'm content with that. Between juggling two jobs and evening school, it's a relief to know that when the dishwasher isn't draining properly, all I have to do is email my landlord and, voila, the dishwasher is magically fixed within 48 hours. (Yes, I am extremely lucky to have kind, efficient, live-in landlords.)

I also like the idea that come any given April (my lease renewal month), I could pack my bags and move across the world to purse an exciting job opportunity. When you're 25 and trying to figure out what the heck you want to do with your life, that brand of freedom is arguably a more valuable commodity than real estate.

But that's not to say that I don't experience the occasional twinge of longing for a space all my own. A space I could transform from "eh" to a knock-out. Especially when I read Apartment Therapy's Renovation Diary. Which brings me to my serial addiction to real estate listings. As a kid, I would panic whenever my parents browsed real estate for recreation-- "Are we moving!?!"

Now I totally get it. Take this Clinton Hill 1-Bedroom/1-Bath Co-Op, for example, listed at $385,000. Over-sized windows! Open plan living! Flooded with light! Views for miles! Massive amounts of space! A grand total of four closets! Even a windowed nook for a possible second bedroom. Not to mention, it's practically on the campus of a top design school.

But there's still room for improvement-- a real estate browsing requirement as basic for me as running water. I don't love the choppiness of parquet floors. And those radiator covers have seen better days. The kitchen, while "recently renovated", leaves something to be desired aesthetically. And the bathroom is practically begging for my love and attention. Just a fresh coat of white paint and a new medicine cabinet would do wonders.

So how about we roll up our sleeves and do some (virtual) renovating? Cool. Before we start, I need to disclose a weird quirk: even in my daydreams, I like to be somewhat practical. Rest assured, they'll be a few splurges. But I will take into account practicalities like my lifestyle and resale value. Design is, after all, born of limitation.

Step 1: Flooring + Painting

Why is this step 1? Because I'd like to replace the flooring and paint the apartment before I move in. One of my first steps after closing will be to suit up in my hazmat attire and strip the decades of paint off the window trim. When you own an apartment with age and character, there's something very fulfilling about scraping off those layers instead of adding to them.

Some might argue that major alterations to the floor plan, kitchen and bath should take precedence. But since this apartment is a major (pretend) investment for me, I want to live in the space and learn from how I use it before I go mucking around with anything structural or spacial.

Decision 1A: Concrete vs. Hardwood

Left via  Dezeen  | Right via  Bloesem

Left via Dezeen | Right via Bloesem

I love concrete flooring. Beautiful, dog-friendly, easy to clean, relatively low cost and low maintenance. But a little inconsistent with the feel of the building (built in 1939) and not as valuable as hardwood for resale. I think I'll save concrete for my modern prefab  in the country. 

Winner: Hardwood (right)

Decision 1B: Herringbone vs. Wide Plank


Left via  Nordic Design  | Right via  Desire to Inspire

Left via Nordic Design | Right via Desire to Inspire

I love the look of both. But since I am am happiest in a contemporary home, I must be true to what makes me happy. (And forgive the gross factor here, but when you have a dog, you realize those tiny cracks between planks are plenty big enough for liquid to seep into and real tricky to clean inside. The wider the floorboards, the fewer the cracks.)

Winner: Wide-Plank (right)

Decision 1C: Type of Wood and Stain


Left via  SFGirlbyBay  | Right via  Dinesen    

Left via SFGirlbyBay | Right via Dinesen


Another toughie! The Scandinavian in me is attracted to white-washed floorboards, with a slightly rustic grain. But the dog lover says soft woods (like pine) and white floors are a nightmare waiting to happen. I'm leaning towards oak, so I'm following my heart and opting for Dineson's Heart Oak  in a clear lacquer finish for extra protection. (Danish company Dineson, if you're not familiar, makes very fancy flooring.)

Winner: Dineson's Heart Oak Flooring, Clear Lacquer (right)

Decision 1D: Paint Color


In the modified words of Henry Ford, "any color, as long it's white." I'm a white paint fanatic. It's funny to me when people describe a home as "museum-like" or "gallery-like" in a pejorative context. Who wouldn't want to live in a fabulous gallery or museum? In my own space, I want a pristine white backdrop that lets my art shine.

The question, though, is which shade of white. For trim, I like Benjamin Moore's Super White in semigloss. For the walls, BM's Decorators White or Simply White are good stand-bys for a true white. But lately, I've seen and liked BM's Mountain Peak white. It's softer than my go-to's, but without yellow undertones. So do I take a chance on Mountain Peak? Maybe in my next apartment. For my first big reno, I want to stay tried-and-true. 

Winner: Walls - Benjamin Moore's Simply White, Matte; Trim - Benjamin Moore's Super White, Semigloss.

Well, we've done some good work today. We bought an apartment, stripped the windows casings, replaced the parquet flooring with wide-plank heart oak and repainted every inch of wall and trim. I think we've earned a well-deserved rest, don't you? (And maybe a beer or two...)

Stay tuned for Part II: The Bathroom Overhaul.