Redecorating on a Budget

Redecorating on a Budget

Grace Shu
Mar 23, 2009

It happened sometime before the holidays: My friend Kelley said to me, "Let's go to London and work there for a few weeks!" At first, I sort of scoffed, "Uh-huh, yeah right, whatever..." After all, traveling to one of the most expensive cities in the world isn't exactly the easiest thing to do, especially when you are facing an impressive amount of debt, not to mention an international economic meltdown. And while the practical side of my brain can easily create a spreadsheet that details the hows and whys of a costly trip to Europe would be a bad idea; my impulsive side reasons, "Well, you only live once..." Long story short: My impulsive side ultimately won out, but only because my practical side was swayed by Kelley's brilliant idea to set up a home exchange to cut costs on pricey hotels or short-term apartment rentals. So for this week, I am up in the Bay Area for one difficult challenge: Prepping Kelley's San Francisco studio in order to swap it with a flat in London for two weeks in July. The only major obstacle? A very, VERY shoestring budget.

As with most DIY projects, I learned a lot of valuable lessons...perhaps the most important one is this: good friends are invaluable. Especially when they willingly help you mount curtain brackets, sweep floors, inhale toxic fumes for the sake of paint removal...or agree to let you rearrange their furniture. So here's a big thanks to Brett and Fiona for all their help; and, of course, Kelley who let me into her home in the first place!

Lesson 1: Rearrange The Space

Kelley's place wasn't a disaster at all. Like many of us, her place just needed a few touches to pull it together. In fact, it's a gem of studio with a lot of character in a great location. Kelley has excellent taste, an impressive record collection, and an affinity for vintage taxidermy. As she once said to me, "I just sort of...gave up on it. Like I got all this furniture and put stuff in it, and shoved it in a corner."

Here's a photo of the living area before:

Kelley's living area was basically separated into three categories: the queen bed, a chair area, and a wall o' tables/shelves. The queen bed stayed put (the bed frame is pretty great, especially if you happen to be living in a studio since there are drawers underneath for extra storage. Kelley got hers at one of those raw pine furniture places and stained it herself. It also comes apart in two pieces to make it easier to move). But we decided that the chair area in front of the bay window had to be separated: By removing the orange Eames chair from the two vintage Milo Baughman chairs (all scored off of Craigslist!), the chair area had a lot more room to breathe and looked more inviting.

And here's how it looks after rearranging:

We were then faced with a new dilemma: Where to put the orange chair? So we decided to break up the wall o' tables/shelves...

Lesson 2: Take a Second Look At What You've Got Before You Buy

Initially, Kelley wanted to sell off the big black Expedit bookcase and the DJ table and buy two smaller versions (the 2x4 and the single row) to consolidate space without sacrificing storage for her records.

The Wall of Shelves/Tables Before:

In fact, she almost sold it to a neighbor--luckily, the deal fell through. Instead of blowing $300 on a new storage solution (not to mention getting all those boxes to her apartment, dealing with Craigslist transactions, etc), we just reconfigured the bookcase. First, we removed all the books which took up 3 cubbies and stored them in the credenza. Then, we moved all the records from the top level into the now-empty cubbies, then prised off the top of the shelf. After removing the dividers and the pegs, we transferred Kelley's DJ set up into the top level and put the shelf top back on. Now, not only is all the music equipment and records in one area, but we also got rid of one of Kelley's pet peeves: exposed wires.

The revised bookcase:

Since the old DJ table had no purpose, Kelley decided to put it up on Craigslist instead; and we replaced that area as the new reading area: The orange chair and ottoman create a nice nook by the window for a cup of Philz drip coffee and a magazine. The new reading nook:

Check back tomorrow for Part II...when we tackle the radiator, show off the restored credenza, and cozy up the space!

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