IKEA Hacks, Smart DIYs, and Zhuzhed-Up Facebook Finds Transformed This Formerly “White Box” Rental

published Mar 1, 2023

IKEA Hacks, Smart DIYs, and Zhuzhed-Up Facebook Finds Transformed This Formerly “White Box” Rental

published Mar 1, 2023
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Bedrooms
Square feet
750
Sq ft
750
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Name: Caroline Mullen; Jeffery Rankel; and French bulldog, Oswald (Ozzie)
Location: Historic Downtown — Jersey City, New Jersey
Size: 750 square feet
Type of home: One-bedroom apartment
Years lived in: 1.5 years, renting
Rent: $2,800 per month, plus parking

I (Caroline) lived in Astoria, Queens, for four years and had a white-knuckled grip on living in New York for as long as possible. But when Jeffery got a job out of law school in New Jersey, we compromised on looking in the Jersey City area. We’re both from the Jersey Shore and didn’t particularly want to move back to our home state, but when we came to visit Jersey City for the first time, we were in immediate agreement that we loved the area. We love the farmers market that happens weekly right outside of our building, the gorgeous brownstones that line Van Vorst and Hamilton Park, how dog-friendly it is, the seemingly infinite number of bars and culturally diverse restaurants to try, and how many trees bloom and flourish in the spring and summer. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a 10-minute train ride into Manhattan, either.

Credit: Erin Derby

The apartment itself is a pretty standard 750-square-foot one-bedroom, and feels like just the right size for the three of us at this point in our lives. I’m a home writer and editor, which lends itself to a passion for interior design, and Jeffery — thankfully — lets me take the lead on all the decor decisions. He’s easygoing by nature (whereas I have an opinion on just about everything), but we make big decisions together and I’m constantly checking in to make sure he feels happy and comfortable in our home.

Credit: Erin Derby

Some of my favorite pieces are ones I’ve inherited from my grandparents, and their styles have heavily influenced my own. I have authentic mid-century pieces (a dresser, side table, and desk) and a lot of vintage decor, which I think set the tone for the apartment. I gravitate towards traditional and mid-century design, but I love to balance the more serious pieces with oddball items like a framed print of Danny Devito or a lizard eating ramen. My goal, at the end of the day, is to create a space that feels layered and personal to us, but also have a home that our friends and family feel warm and comfortable in. If people want to come over, eat, and linger, then I’m happy as a clam.

Credit: Erin Derby

Apartment Therapy Survey

My style: Collected, colorful, vintage-inspired, transitional, personal

Inspiration: It changes day-to-day! In general, I’m inspired by home tours of tiny studio apartments and sprawling celebrity mansions alike. I’m the kind of person to stop on the street and stare into a house with the lights on and curtains opened… it never ceases to amaze me to see how people decorate their homes and make them personal, whether I align with their style or not. I’m also always falling down a YouTube rabbit hole, and am currently inspired by some of my fave channels: Lone Fox Home, XO, MaCenna, Paige Wassel, Homeworthy, The Sorry Girls.

Favorite element: The way the light comes slanting into the back left corner of the living room (with the armchair and cabinet) on sunny mornings. I’m always taking a picture of that view when the sun hits just right — there are so many versions of the same photo on my camera roll, but I just can’t get enough.

Biggest challenge: I think the biggest challenge is two-fold: It’s a small space and it doesn’t have a ton of character or architectural detail. Our building was constructed in 2007, which means it’s old enough to have higher-quality finishes than a lot of rapidly-built high rises in the area, but new enough to be a plain white box without any standout features. When we were touring apartment buildings in Jersey City, we were hesitant to move into a high-rise, but ultimately our budget and desire for amenities (outdoor pool! Gym! A front desk for package deliveries!) won out over my yearning for the crown molding and fireplaces of a brownstone.

Credit: Erin Derby

That said, I was elated by the prospect of working with a clean, bright space (my previous apartment was in a two-family home built in the 1930s… something was always going wrong), and I knew we’d have to get creative with storage and adding lots of personality. Paint and tons of decor went a long way towards making the space our own, and as for storage: All my DIY supplies are tucked away in a tall cabinet in the living room; extra linens and suitcases are stowed under the bed; the hall closet is full to bursting with coats, cleaning supplies, and holiday decor; and a good deal of the utensils and necessities are out on open shelving in the kitchen.

Proudest DIY or product hack: Lucky for me, I grew up with very handy parents, so I always have someone to call while concepting or troubleshooting a project. This also gave me the confidence to tackle pretty much any DIY I think of, but here are a few faves.

Credit: Erin Derby

Kitchen shelves — These were a project of necessity, as we didn’t have enough kitchen storage for all our dishes and glassware. I cut pieces of wood for the shelves, added side pieces, and inserted a dowel to the front to prevent the glasses from sliding forward. I used gold Rub n’ Buff on the dowels, painted the shelves to match the kitchen walls, and attached them with L brackets.

Credit: Erin Derby

DIY supplies cabinet — My dad was a huge help on this project. He cut down all the large pieces of 3/4-inch plywood and created a 3-D rendering, which illustrated exactly how the cabinet would come together. I attached the pieces using pocket holes and screws, added legs, stapled cane to the doors, finished it off with some trim, and painted it a neutral gray. Now it houses almost all of my large DIY supplies like paint, stain, power tools, tarps, etc.

Credit: Erin Derby

TV console — I had grand plans for an IKEA BESTA flip that would look like a high-end store cabinet, and I think I achieved it! I got the BESTA cabinet for free on Facebook Marketplace, then spent a ton of time cutting and layering individual pieces of wood to get it as close to the inspo as possible. The whole thing got sanded and painted matte black, and the handles are just made from plywood and marble contact paper.

Kitchen floor — I knew when we moved in that the kitchen floors needed help, but they weren’t a priority until just recently. I used Chasing Paper peel & stick flooring to create a classic harlequin design, and it’s given the kitchen a completely new life.

Credit: Erin Derby

Bar cabinet — We had a generic brass bar cart beforehand, but I knew I wanted to bring some red and retro vibes in, so Jeff and I snuck up to the roof of the parking garage and spray painted an IKEA FABRIKÖR cabinet a glossy red.

Resources

Credit: Erin Derby

PAINT & COLORS

Credit: Erin Derby

ENTRY

Credit: Erin Derby

LIVING ROOM

Credit: Erin Derby

DINING ROOM

  • Table — Levity
  • Cesca chairs — Facebook Marketplace
  • Windsor chairs — Wayfair
  • Rug — Ruggable
  • Pitcher vase — Thrifted
  • Light fixture — Amazon
  • Ceiling medallion — Amazon
  • Dog bowls — Chewy
  • Red still life — Minted
  • Winston Churchill print — Estate sale
  • Floral art — DIY
  • Fish man print — Bought in Portugal
Credit: Erin Derby

KITCHEN

Credit: Erin Derby

BEDROOM

  • Quilt — Brooklinen
  • Striped sheets — Brooklinen
  • Squiggly Euro shams — Bed Threads
  • Fan — Estate sale
  • Nightstands — Facebook Marketplace
  • Bedside sconces — Amazon
  • Curtains — Half Price Drapes
  • Rug — Ruggable
  • Antique Korean chest — Thrifted
  • Acrylic accessory shelves — Amazon
  • Armchair — West Elm
  • Chinoiserie vase — Inherited
  • Corner lamp — Thrifted
  • Pillow cover — H&M Home
  • Dog canvas — Crown & Paw
  • Lady portrait — Shop Vintage Prints
  • Taxidermied butterflies — Paxton Gate
  • Japanese lady print — Thrifted
  • Dresser — Inherited
Credit: Erin Derby

BATHROOM

Credit: Erin Derby

HALLWAY

This tour’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.
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