Excerpt from Chapter One: Lighten Up
"There is no such thing as an ugly color. There is such a thing as an ugly color combination." Douglas Fitch, artist
I went to college in New York City, where a shoe-box-sized room is considered ample space. Housing in college anywhere in the country is already a less-than-luxurious affair, with twin beds and utilitarian design. But in converted New York apartment buildings, dusty and musty and crumbling and full ofahemcharacter, the dorms I lived in required some seriously savvy decorating skills. Each year, as I crossed the threshold into my new space, depositing boxes of books and bedding, I surveyed the design challenges, the many limitations, and the even more bountiful options to make things fabulous. New year, new apartment, new creative challenges.
First was a modernist cube cinderblock room I shared with my roommate, Adrianne. We had two twin beds, an elaborate shelving unit occupying one wall, and a floor of cold linoleum. We lay down rugs, placed disguising wall hangings over the oppressively drab cinderblock, used soft lamps, and formed an ahhh…nest.
Later, I shared a studio apartment with Julia. It was also dorm housing but in a converted prewar apartment building. When I moved in, there was a bunk bed hugging one wall, two dressers in the middle of the room, and a kitchen that could fit one person (as long as she sucked in and angled in sideways). Things looked bleak. But we went to work. The first thing we did was separate the bunk bedI mean, really, how old were we? Then we pushed a worn-out couch below the windows at the head of the room, which we covered in a beautiful, purple-hued Indian spread. Candles and lighting touches clinched the transition from drab dorm to cozy casa.
Over the course of the next few years, I cultivated essential skills, such as sprucing up a room with a perfectly placed plant, devising slipcovers for well-worn furniture, and hanging just the right number of pictures on the wall to create cozy without getting claustrophobic.
I saw: a crevice of a foyer. It became: an "office."
I saw: a blank wall. It became: a shelving unit for kitchenwares that didn't fit in the two cabinets.
I saw: a window that faced something more than a brick wall. It became: a focal point of the apartment, enhanced by a hanging plant.
I saw: a doorframe. It became: the ideal spot to hang hooks for coats.
Everything has multiple functions, and anything that's not a problem
becomes a potential asset.
As a Modern Girl, you find yourself in similar decorating predicaments. Small apartments and shares are bursting with creative challenges; you rise to them with gusto, rubbing your hands in anticipation, your eyes darting around to scope out all the ins and outs of your space. Everythingeverythinghas potential. A folding screen becomes a door between a convertible two bedroom. Stacks of books act as a makeshift coffee table. A step stool doubles as a pedestal for a droopy plant. You can make something out of anything. Hit the ground running.
First and foremost in your apartment transformation is painting. There's no better way to transform your space, to make it yours, than to throw some color on the walls. And as far as apartment renovations go, painting is an affordable way to make your space betterespecially if you do it yourself. You're not ripping out walls (please), you're not installing appliances (1-800-HELP-MOI), but be completely comfortable taking on a good paint job. All you have to invest in are a few cans of paint, some brushes and rollers, and a six-pack of beer to lure your friends over to make a day of it.
Word to the wise: If your landlord doesn't allow painting, don't worry. Every apartment I've ever lived in has a clause in the lease that you're not allowed to paint. Ignore it. It's likely that the next tenant will be stunned by your impeccable taste and choose to keep the color anyway. And if not, in many states, your landlord is required to slap on another coat of white before the new tenant moves in anyway. The worst-case scenario is that you have to paint over your color. In that case, meet Kilz, a primer that covers up even the brightest bordello red. Consider your color dead.
Chances are, when you first move in, your apartment will be white. If you're lucky, you may have started off with something a little spicier, like eggshell or a very pale cream. But none of those will do as the sole color for your entire home. All-white walls, like an all-white wardrobe, are too easy, and they waste precious creative space. You should leave no more than one room in your home in plain old white. That room will act as a pause between your other rooms. While wild color combinations (yellow and green and red, all at once!) may be a bad idea, having every single room in white does nothing for you. At the very least, brush on an eggshell white or a pale gray.
Identify your room needs
Before you go slapping up a shocking shade of orange in your bedroom, you need to figure out exactly what you require from each room. Does your bedroom double as a study? Do you enjoy reading the newspaper at your kitchen table in the mornings? Is your bathroom a beautifying space? All of the colors you choose will help make your home well suited to your exact housing needs.
Most Modern Girls are still in situations that are, generously speaking, a
little humble: sharing apartments or living in cramped studios or one bedrooms.
Paint can work wonderfully in small starter apartments by clearly delineating space and creating the illusion of vastness.
My husband, Michael, and I moved into a very small railroad-style onebedroom in Cambridge several years ago; one room led to another, without a hallway. There were no doors between the rooms, and, well, even using the word room could be considered generous. A very tall person lying down could probably have a limb in three rooms at once. Needless to say, we had to find a way to make the space seem larger. It was the first time that we had lived together, and it was the first time either of us had shacked up with a significant other. We were both nervous about having enough personal space and personal time. So making our small apartment seem larger was key.
To that end, we painted the bedroom and the living room a pale blue gray, keeping the door frames white, and we painted the kitchen and bathroom a sunny shade of yellow, leaving the study white. Walking from room to room after we'd painted really felt like transitioning from one space to another, just because of the color. We could be in different rooms, and even though there weren't doors, we could still feel like we were in another part of the house.
In a small apartment, use different colors in different rooms to make each its own space and to make the apartment seem more spacious.