When Manhattan began its citywide shutdown in March, for me, the collective contagion-fueled anxiety felt trivial in comparison to my own acute claustrophobia. Confined indefinitely to my small East Side apartment within the vast concrete jungle, my stress soared from “normal Type-A New Yorker” levels to full-on panic mode. The thought of seeing the same white walls and unfinished projects all day, every day, was more than I could handle, and if I was going to ride out the pandemic in the city, I needed my rental to feel like home. (Styling my bed and coffee table helped matters, but only so much.) And so began the renovations.
I’m not going to lie-it took more than a little elbow grease, but it made my weekends at home fly by, and the end result was a cozy space where I was happy to stay put while waiting for life in Manhattan to return to normal. So whether you share my stress over your own rental or you’re just looking for some design inspiration, read on to see the before-and-after shots and to shop each look. Happy renovating!
Finding ample storage space in New York is like finding the Holy Grail. But, despite their utility, these floor-to-ceiling white closet doors did nothing else for me. Since full-on wallpaper seemed too daunting a task (not to mention the fact that it would have to be temporary), I decided to paint them navy and craft some panels that could be easily removed upon moving out. Another easy update was swapping out the hardware for prettier handles in a brass finish.
Unless you’re in a prewar apartment, chances are that your walls will be perfectly plain; if you’re lucky they might be painted a suitable, non-yellow-tinged white. I was lucky. But the lack of architectural detailing was actually the very first fix on my to-do list. Luckily, Home Depot had zero shipping delays, and I was able to (with the help of a few YouTube tutorials) install chair rail and (pre-cut) panel molding throughout the entire entry, living, and dining room areas. Afterward I used finishing nails, caulked to fill in those spots, and added a coat of semigloss white paint. It was a total game-changer-and now a showstopper.
While hanging a coat rack right inside the door seemed perfectly logical upon moving in, cut to a few months later and those hooks-and the bench-became an unorganized dumping ground for every jacket, purse, and package on my way in the door. Plus, my puppy learned to love chewing the wicker baskets that I’d designated for shoe storage. So I ordered a new bench with covered storage, bought a statement piece of art, and moved the jacket hooks to the hallway so I’d be more mindful of what I hung on the rack.
When you’re hunkered down at home 24/7, those temporary decor fixes really begin to trigger you. The dining table and chairs were at the top of that list for me. The CB2 table I wanted most was on back order, but I bought it anyway because I knew I’d love it forever. (It ended up arriving before the anticipated delivery date after all.) The chairs were also particularly important because they would serve as a “desk” chair while I’m working from home. These Safavieh cane-back chairs are not only gorgeous but also extremely comfortable, and I couldn’t be happier with the finished look.
I live on the second floor of my building, and I look out on a lot of trees. So while the greenery is beautiful, the natural light is limited. The building handyman installed sconces when I moved in last summer, but they were a bargain find and were not the most attractive. Luckily these Ralph Lauren Home sconces were an easy swap that made a world of difference. Plus, I added an extra floor lamp and a more substantial side-table light. Now, even with dark walls, the room feels brighter and more airy; I also added a few more new pieces to really complete the look.
The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.