Make It Work: How To Spruce Up A Bad Apartment

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My living room. It wasn't finished at this point, but it was getting there.
My living room. It wasn’t finished at this point, but it was getting there.

It’s true that I had a moment of real despair when I moved into my new apartment. When the door shut behind me, I saw, as if for the first time, the unit for which I had just signed a six-month lease.

The flat screen TV was gargantuan. Its tyrannical throne was a clear glass table that was long and rectangular, too short and shallow to use as my sewing table, far too big to stash in a closet. The cords for the TV, the DVD player, the cable box, the router, the other router and several extension cords were in tangled hell on the floor and because the table was glass, the tangle was practically the centerpiece for the room. The cream-colored sectional had at least eight slightly dingy cream-colored pillows and a couple ratty light blue ones; a weak afterthought. There were several fake plants. Ugly, mass-produced “art” adorned the walls and my heart just sank. The drapes were heavy and blue. In every kitchen cupboard I found dozens upon dozens of glasses meant for alcohol: plastic martini glasses, plastic margarita glasses, shot glasses, drinking glasses, juice glasses. There were Dollar Store tzchokes everywhere, and for some inexplicable reason, more tupperware containers in a lower kitchen cupboard than I have ever seen in one place in my life. This apartment was a revolving door. It put the “corporate” and “temporary” in “corporate temporary housing.”

Something had to be done. A lot of somethings. I sat like Rodin’s Thinker and thought and thought. Then I dove in.

Curtains: down and folded and into the utility closet. All but six glasses — for water drinking and juice — were stored in a cupboard with 98% of the tupperware. All tzchokes stowed. All art (except this one really cool framed cloth Guatemalan thing, which I love) replaced with the few pieces I brought on my journey this year. I wrastled with the couch cushion covers until I got them all off and into the washing machine they went. I salvaged exactly three white bowls in the kitchen’s dish cupboard and stowed every other dark blue plate and bowl. Because ew.

I completely dismantled the “entertainment station.” None of it survived. My new home might be on life support, soul-wise, but it didn’t stand a chance with a TV. I unscrewed the cable box, unplugged everything, untangled all the cords, organized everything and into a box in the (pleasingly spacious) bedroom closet they went. The 1,000 plastic hangers I found went into bags and into the utility closet and I unpacked my wooden hangers and lovingly hung my wardrobe. The glass table I swapped for the lean-to desk that was weirdly in the bedroom and the tall, boxy, glass IKEA storage shelves I moved together and set them at an angle for my fabric. Tablecloth on the glass “dining” table which is now my sewing studio. Design wall, up. I ordered dimmer switches for the track lighting in the kitchen and living room. Down came the depressing brown shower curtain and I found a very cool, very bright white one on Amazon and promptly ordered that, too. And a gorgeous, Lucite lamp for my sewing table.

And I was reminded, once again, that if you put enough quilts and enough books in a room, you cannot fail.

Every scrap of linen was washed in practically boiling water and I turned the easy chair at an angle toward the window so that I could look out at the tops of the buildings in the morning as I write and have my tea.

And now? I love it here. My surface remodeling worked and, dare I say, it’s darned cozy in here. I could almost feel the space going, “Where have you been all my life?”

Uh, Iowa, Chicago, New York and many points in between. I pick up a few things.

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