Before and After: A Small, Dated NYC Railroad Apartment Got a Gorgeous, Rental-Friendly Refresh
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We are two designers from different backgrounds and with different styles, living in this cozy ground floor rental apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. Our apartment has beautiful prewar details, like transom windows and picture frame molding, which we immediately loved. We went into this project as our first apartment overhaul as a team, to create a space that represented us both (on a budget) while keeping the character of our space intact. We restored and emphasized the details by giving the whole place a fresh coat of paint, cleaning and revealing painted-over windows, replacing light and plumbing fixtures, and replacing/repairing doors.
In the kitchen we covered the cabinets and laminate countertop with chalkboard contact paper and replaced the faucet. All the windows were repainted and have off-white roman shades and white floor-length drapes. The bathroom was improved with a teak bath mat as well as a teak window shelf to hold plants. The backyard received cantina lights and world flags to create some ambiance and a more individual space.
We upgraded the living room with a large black chandelier and a custom built set of wall shelving. An interior room became a combination walk-in closet and workspace with the addition of IKEA shelves and closets, as well as a custom built butcher block work table. The bedroom has layered curtains and cleaned-up French doors, as well as a repaired and operational transom window.
My partner is originally from East Africa, so the interiors and furnishings show a mix of my American mid-century style and textiles/colors that reflect her Malawian roots. We are both architects practicing in NYC, so we love classic NYC railroad apartments, and we tried to make a space that blends this with an African modernist interior—and as many plants as we could fit. We also love that it has a backyard. [You can find more about Jordan’s design on his website.]
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Mid-century modern and African modernism mixed. The African details and furnishings complement the classic NYC prewar details in the apartment.
Inspiration: We took inspiration from our backgrounds and filled our home with books and objects from our travels abroad. Shalini is originally from East Africa, so there is a healthy mix of my Americana and textiles/colors that reflect her Malawian roots. We are both architects practicing in NYC, so we love the classic NYC railroad layout.
Favorite Element: Our favorite elements are the picture frame molding and transom windows. We also have a weakness for French doors.
Biggest Challenge: The budget was definitely a challenge, but most difficult was how to organize our space and create an open feel in a 10-foot-wide apartment! Our primary organizing principle was to have space to move, so we measured extensively and allowed that to determine what sort of furniture we would get.
Proudest DIY: When we moved in, the ceiling fans had dark cherry-colored fan blades and old-fashioned glass shades in every room. We removed the shades and replaced the old fan blades with modern white ones. We also purchased LED Edison bulbs, which we screwed into the sockets. The look of the ceiling fans is much more contemporary, and all the changes are reversible when we move out.
Biggest Indulgence: We purchased a large mid-century credenza for our living room. It is a Heywood Wakefield from the 1950s purchased locally from a resale store in Brooklyn.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? When we moved in, our home was one long corridor with no closets. We needed both storage and a work space so we created a walkthrough closet/workroom in the interior room adjacent to the bedroom.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? We added cantina lights to our backyard. While we were purchasing these, we realized we needed an easy way to turn them on. Now all the lights in our home and yard are controlled by a simple wireless remote control.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Measure, measure, measure! Small leftover spaces as narrow as 6 inches can be made into useful storage. Be on the lookout for organizers, closets, and bookshelves that can fill in gaps next to your fridge, range, etc.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Display the pieces you love most; not everything has to be on the shelf. Low light plants like Pothos, dragon trees, and ZZ plants do really well in our apartment and add a nice tropical feel to places where you wouldn’t normally think plants can thrive.
PAINT & COLORS
- Benjamin Moore “Super Hide Ultrawhite” in flat. This is a great paint to brighten up dark rooms and it does an amazing job at hiding wall imperfections.
This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.