Friday, February 14, 2014

Fitting a 5-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom apartment


I put the two Barcelona chairs up against the floor to ceiling windows in the living room. With the fleecy blanket to cosy it up, this has become Lucy's favorite spot. Really good for napping and really good for keeping an eye on what's going on outside. Being on the 4th floor, she has quite a view of the squirrels in the trees. 
Since our renovation is touching pretty much every room in the house, it made sense to get the heck out of Dodge for the duration of the project. Moving out makes the project cheaper and faster--although having to pay rent for temporary quarters probably makes the project savings a wash. What isn't a wash is the fact that we don't have to go through the daily hell of dust and noise and general renovation discomfort.

I should say that as a child, the first 13 years of my life were spent in a renovation zone. My parents renovated our home themselves and the project went on for some time. There were many weird situations we lived through, like doing dishes in the bathtub, living with only stud-walls, and flushing the toilet with a pail of water. Thankfully I wasn't yet born when my dad and my grandpa dug a full basement under our existing 20' by 40' house by hand. And thankfully, we don't have to live in a construction zone this time around.

Once we decided to move into a rental for the duration of the project our biggest concern was finding a place that would take Lucy. At 35 pounds she doesn't fit into the 'small dog' category in the world of rental units. Lucky for us there are some pretty good options in DC which is a very dog-friendly town. Our second concern was that it be somewhere in the general vicinity of our house. I wanted us to be able to have easy access to the project. Of course cheapish rent would be nice. Access to Metro is always a plus. In the end we found a building that fit the bill.

Then the question became do we want one bedroom or two. Since we were going to have to put stuff in storage, my thought was let's go for the one bedroom. But then the sizes and relatively inexpensive options for two bedrooms made me begin to think that I could cram all of our house contents into a two bedroom. Storing household goods for twelve months is fairly inexpensive, but it means you pay movers extra to move your stuff to two different locations and then again to move it back. Plus, you end up having to say goodbye to your belongings for a year.

Say what you want about 1960s apartment buildings, but they really have spacious units with TONS of closet space. Newer, nicer buildings almost universally have smaller units with less storage space that cost more money. Plus, they don't seem to know how to build rectangular rooms anymore. Whether they are trying out some 'interesting' design aesthetic or just trying to maximize real estate return, condo and apartment buildings built in the last 15 years come up with some really silly room shapes.

The other thing that made moving all of our belongings into a much smaller space possible is that we hadn't really acquired much new furniture in the three years we lived in our house. Just two George Smith club chairs and a really crappy sectional from Room and Board which convinced us never to buy anything ever again from Room and Board. My book collection had expanded hugely and a few other areas saw some significant increase over three years, but I began to think I could really make this game of living space Tetris work.

One of the keys to my success is that my other half was very busy with work and didn't have much time to think about it. This gave me an opportunity to be creative (and perhaps foolish) without comment from him. For instance, our lease started on January 11th, but we didn't move until January 30th. This gave me time to move pretty much all of our non-furniture belongings into the new place by taking a carload or two over each day. And because there are so many closets the place pretty much still looked empty the day the furniture was moved. And, because I did it in in piecemeal fashion, packing was easier and done mainly with reusable bins. So each time I took a load over I unpacked everything and brought the empty containers back to the house. This meant there weren't mountains of boxes and packing paper to be disposed of after the move.

Another key to success was that I drew all the rooms and all of our furniture to scale using graph paper so that I could come up with a furniture plan that would include everything we own (except for that crappy Room and Board sectional which we are getting rid of). I didn't actually think that this exercise would work out. I assumed that there would be something I wasn't taking into consideration. But in the end it worked really, really well. The movers brought the rugs in first, I referred to my plan, got out the tape measure, showed the movers where each should be placed. And then each time they brought in another piece of furniture I knew exactly where it should go. Everything went flawlessly.

The day of the move itself I was battling a fever and the husband was on his way out of town for a business trip for five days. I sent Lucy out to board in the country because I knew I couldn't cope with being sick, moving, and taking care of her at the same time. I also had a huge desire to have everything in place and looking good before the spouse returned. I really didn't want to be second guessed about whether or not everything actually fit in the apartment. I was going to make it work if it killed me.

Well, it didn't kill me. Everything did fit. And we are pretty darn comfortable in our temporary digs. It should make for a pleasant year away from home. Especially when the rooftop pool opens in May.

Night stands are actually Florence Knoll credenzas. Reading lights are Tizio lamps by Artimide. Blue pillows are from Swan Island and the art over the bed is by James Balla.

Stereo cabinet by Daniel Donnelly. Reading light next to the Saarinen womb chair is the HH floor lamp by Arne Jacobsen. Beside lamp is from CB2.

Club chair by George Smith.

Side chairs in the foreground are vintage Finn Juhl that were purchased on an online auction in Denmark. Cost almost as much to import them as it did to buy them. We had them fixed and recovered in a really nice soft leather. (Fabric purists don't hate, the original fabric was terrible and in terrible shape.) Blue table lamp is part of a pair from Christopher Spitzmiller. It kills me that I had the shade seam showing. Basalt bowl is antique Wedgwood. 

Even though we are only here for a year we decided to hang every piece of art we own. Plus I had no where else to put it. The verdant, woodsy Maine scene second from the right on the bottom row is by bookseller, painter, and all around nice person, Sarah Faragher.

The gorgeous Venini glass Veronse vase was picked up for a song at Filene's Basement about 11 years ago. Ceramic vase by Frances Palmer.

That's a Mies day bed in the background under the painting by Jose Ruiz.  The diptych to its left is Barcelona at Night I and II by Tanya Huntington Hyde. In the foreground a Darren Waterston hangs over a Willam de Looper. Footed bowl on antique table by Frances Palmer. Handkerchief chairs by Vignelli for Knoll.

Some of our coffee table books sitting on a Nelson bench.

Couch by Baker.

My rather successful plan for getting a lot of furniture into a small space.


  1. It all looks very cozy and inviting. And of course, Lucy looks like she approves. That's what matters.

  2. I just ended up here from a link on My Notting Hill. The title of your post reminded me of a quote that I read once, where someone was asked to define English Cottage Style. He/She (I don't remember which) replied that it's as if the Lord was forced to move from the manor to the gatehouse and all the furniture went with him. It sounds like this is definitely not the case with your temporary quarters.

    When we moved six years ago, the house we now live in is very different from the one we left. In preparation for the Big Day, I did like you ... made a complete floorplan, drawn to scale, with all the furniture clearly placed and labeled. My husband, and the foreman of the moving crew, knew to consult the plan instead of constantly asking me where to put things. It made a stressful day almost bearable. Would have been pretty close to perfect if my husband hadn't decided to override the plan and put things that belonged elsewhere into the attic of our detached garage.

    Now I'm off to see what else I can find around here. Lovely to 'meet' you.

    (edited to add: How appropriate is it that my word verification word was 'Roses'.)

  3. Looking so cozy that you may not want to leave when the house is ready! maybe......

  4. You have such a good eye - it looks perfect, and so much more civilized than the construction zone!

  5. I'm impressed! (And, of course, love the Lucy shots. :) )

  6. Ti: Lucy really seems to be happy here.

    Hartwood Roses: I love that definition of English Cottage Style. I definitely think that the closer quarters has made life cozier for us.

    Stefan: We have been thinking something similar.

    Vicki: I was just over there today and I couldn't agree more.

    Susan: Lucy loves her new perches.