Before and After: A NYC Rental Apartment’s Transformation Includes Uncovering Envy-Inducing Original Details
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Name: Hattie and two tuxedo cats, Beatrice and Minnie
Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC
Size: 1500 square feet
Type of House: Prewar Brownstone Apartment
Years lived in: Since age 10, renting
Part-time special education teacher, part-time interior designer Hattie Kolp’s living situation would be a dream for most people. The gorgeous prewar brownstone apartment she lives in has been her home since she was 10 years old. “I grew up in this apartment and kept it when my parents retired and moved out of NYC,” Hattie explains. “They were looking out for me and found a great deal years back and got themselves locked into a rent-controlled lease agreement. By law, my landlord was required to transfer the lease into my name because I wanted to stay in the apartment, and ever since then I have been focusing on making it my own!”
Beyond just changing the apartment’s style to better reflect her own personality, Hattie has been tirelessly trying to restore many of the 1910s-era building’s original details, which over the years had been covered up by a series of unfortunate additions. “I have devoted my nights, weekends, and summers for the past two years to making this place my own, undoing the damage from previous tenants, and restoring it back to its original condition,” she explains. One of the biggest updates Hattie took on was uncovering the original pocket doors that over the years had been covered up by sheetrock and shelves. Revealing them again not only added architectural interest to the space, but also opened up the home’s layout considerably, too. “I’m proud to say I’ve done the majority of the work myself, but I had some help from my dear friend with my favorite project yet: tearing down the walls that had been put up to cover two sets of pocket doors! This apartment used to be dark and divided, and now with the all the doors open, it feels light and fluid,” she says.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: Traditional with pops of modern and Parisian! I adore the juxtaposition of bright white rooms and dark, richer ones. I also love having a balance of antiques and newer pieces.
Inspiration: I am heavily inspired by the architecture in my neighborhood — the Upper West Side, in my opinion, is the prettiest area in the city. It’s known for both its prewar brownstones on side streets and intricate facades on Central Park West and Riverside Drive, sights that will make you forget you’re in NYC and [think you’re] in Paris instead. I really wanted to reflect the charm of the neighborhood in my apartment design, as well as pay homage to the time period (1910s) in which my building was constructed. I also frequently am on Pinterest searching “Parisian apartments”— they get me every time!
Favorite Element: My favorite part about my apartment by far are all the original details! The wall mouldings, pocket doors, fireplaces, high ceilings, statement trim work, parquet floors, and the unique layout all make me feel like I’m living in a time gone by.
Biggest Challenge: Growing up here, I never really noticed the beauty in the original details. Many of them had actually been covered up or taken away by previous tenants. The pocket doors, for example, were covered on both sides with sheetrock, and someone had built shelving units on top. I’m not sure if it was to create more wall space, or division between rooms — but my biggest challenge was getting to work on undoing the “improvements” from over the years, and getting this apartment back in its original condition.
Proudest DIY: A recent project I had a lot of fun with was transforming the first room from my childhood bedroom into my Parisian-inspired modern library. I previously used this room as a guest room, but after being home so much more last year due to the pandemic I realized I should make better use out of my space, which I’m very lucky to have in NYC! I’ve always wanted a library, but I still wanted to be able to accommodate guests, so it all started with the idea of a sleeper sofa. I then swapped the lavender walls for a glossy bright white paint and replaced the boob light with a spindly Serge Mouille fixture and painted the pocket doors a deep black color to play off the light fixture and add some depth.
I purchased three ladder style 8-foot-tall bookshelves and placed them in the center of the moulding boxes. I liked the fact that they are minimal and blend in with the walls, so that my collection of old books, art, and found objects upon the shelves can have its moment. I found the green velvet sofa of my dreams from Interior Define; it serves as a wonderful place to relax and drink tea during the day, and unfolds into a queen-sized bed for when my parents come to visit. I inherited a wonderful antique desk that sits at the window and gives those Carrie Bradshaw vibes, and lastly a six-foot tall gilded mirror for that extra Parisian feel!
Biggest Indulgence: I’ve splurged on a few things — light fixtures, mirrors, my sleeper sofa, and Samsung Frame TV, and yes! They have all been worth it! Because I will never give this apartment up, I wanted to fill it with both new and old quality pieces.
Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? There are a bunch of funky old-school features — if only walls could talk! A favorite of mine is the dumbwaiter in the butler’s pantry; it’s no longer functioning, but I absolutely love that it’s there! If you want to hear more about the unique features, here is the link to an apartment tour I did.
What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I love all my art! I have turned my long hallway into one giant gallery wall. A good chunk of it is family pieces or things my mom bought at auction (she’s an art historian), but I’ve also bought a fair amount on my own. I love scouring antique stores, online auction sites like Everything But The House, and Etsy for art and/or frames, as well as art download sites such as BFF Print Shop, I like to have the art printed on canvas and I often make my own frames, tutorial here.
Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: Shelving and baskets have been life savers for me! This apartment has many tall closets, but without shelving there was zero storage, so building simple shelves just with scrap wood, and using baskets to sort items, has made a huge impact.
Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Stay away from trends! I absolutely cannot stand looking at Instagram and seeing 500 different living rooms that all look exactly alike. Find YOUR own style, and don’t be afraid of trial and error! It took me a few years to figure out my aesthetic and it’s constantly a work in progress. Also, head to antique stores! My apartment itself is living proof of “they don’t make them like they used to” and I think the same for furniture and decor. An antique, whether it be a dresser or a rug, has already passed the test of time, unlike something trendy you buy at a big box store, which is designed to fall apart in a few years once the trend is over.
PAINT & COLORS
- All vintage items
This house tour’s responses were edited for length and clarity.
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