Sep 18

Lara Spencer’s NYC Pied-a-terre.

I art directed 10 seasons of Project Runway/Project Runway All-Stars. Every summer (for pretty much the majority of my 20s) you could find me a couple blocks south of Times Square, melting to death in the heat, mocking up crazy patterns on walls and lugging furniture and bedding for 16 contestants. Then one day my friend Sue had a proposition — work on her show Flea Market Flip instead. The decision wasn’t easy, but eventually I decided to retire from Runway and give this new gig a shot.

Flea Market Flip is the brainchild of Lara Spencer, the effervescent host of Good Morning America who happens to be a thrift store/flea market/garage sale-trolling guru. (Did you know she hosted Antiques Roadshow for a while?) Long story short, I designed the set for Flea Market Flip, which led to the opportunity to work on her home makeover show I Brake for Yard Sales on HGTV, which led to Lara hiring me to project manage the renovation of her NYC pied-à-terre.

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Lara has multiple design personalities. Her homes over the years have all been distinctly different styles. She told me she she wanted her NYC condo to be more industrial and rustic than her previous homes, so I whipped up a simple mood board, pulling inspiration from some flea market finds that I knew she had been hoarding…just waiting for the perfect project to feature them.

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Her 600 square foot studio was in great condition but had virtually zero personality. Our priorities were to maximize space, incorporate enough sleeping spaces for her family, and update the kitchen.

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This photo above is of the bedroom nook.

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The kitchen was not representative of her chic style at all. Instead of gutting it, we kept the cabinets and the appliances but completely transformed it with trim and paint.

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Lara is a brave lady — she proposed painting her wood floors, then putting wood floors on her walls. I was always 100% on board with the wood wall idea, but I was initially a little nervous about painting the floors. There’s no way a rustic wood wall would have worked with the color of her existing floor, so I’m glad we painted the floors in the end.

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All of her doors were solid but super plain. We painted them a deep navy/gray and added moulding and new knobs.

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The kitchen was definitely the most challenging project. First, we ripped out the 2 small cabinets that were over the sink. There was a large gap above the cabinets so Aaron closed up that gap with some hardwood and moulding to give the kitchen a more high-end look. We painted the cabinets a dusty blue/gray color and added a mini-subway tile backspash and new countertops.

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We had some leftover wood scaffolding from another project, so we cut a couple to size and made some display shelves for over the sink.

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There I am… re-wiring a chandelier that Lara found at a flea market. I love how this condensed blog-style summary makes everything seem SUPER simple. It really wasn’t easy at all, especially because of the space and time constraints, but it’s of those things where you look back on a project a year later, and you forget how hard it was and you only remember how pretty it turned out :).

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I could not have done this project without Aaron. He basically made all the furniture in here that wasn’t from a thrift store. Lara wanted a day-bed style sofa so her kids could crash in the city with her, so Aaron made this custom platform sofa to fit perfectly in the living room.

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All the textiles and bedding were from John Robshaw. I remember the day all the pillows came in the mail. I pretty much freaked out and instagramed the hell out of them. They are so pretty. (Insert heart eyes emoticon.)

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And voila!

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With the success of her first book, I Brake for Yard Sales, Lara landed a deal for a 2nd book, Flea Market Fabulous, based on the makeovers from her HGTV show. You can find more photos of this makeover and many more in the book, which is available an Amazon, and pretty much everywhere else.  Some of the photos above were taken by ChiChi Ubiña who also took most of the photos in the book.


Posted by Jen at 6:40 pm — 1 comment
Mar 23

The California Cottage: Invisible Work.

Hi guys. I’m alive. My dumpy cottage is looking pretty awesome (at least to me), but it probably looks so-so to everyone else because most people didn’t see how tragic it was before I started the renovations. (SO tragic, that my friend Sue insisted that I refer to it as a “shack” rather than a cottage.)

My roommates and I recently had some people over for a BBQ and a lot of folks asked me, “So what kind of renovations have you been doing?” My response: “I’ve basically been spackling for 12 hours/day for the last month.” NO JOKE.  Allow me to share some details shots of the the general crustiness and you’ll get the gist.

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I can’t tell if the people who built/renovated this place cared a lot (by installing a cove ceiling, bay windows, etc), or just didn’t give a s**t (as illustrated by the images above). I knew what I was getting into when I bought the place, and I am comfortable with “extreme cosmetic repair,” so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 2 months. It’s really not fun at all, but it’s satisfying enough that I’m willing to do it just to see it done.

I’ve been wanting to share some progress pictures, but the truth is… for a long time there wasn’t really much to see — just a bunch of bad iPhone pictures of dirt and spackle.  I’ve been doing a lot of what I call “invisible work” — meticulous, mundane, time consuming, not-exciting work that includes:

-demo and cleaning

-installing new drywall

-smoothing out lumpy walls and trim

-re-hanging doors and windows so they open out, rather than in,

-repairing busted windows

-spackling, patching, painting, and repeat, repeat, repeat until my arms fell off

At this point, the bedroom is 80% done, the living/dining is 65% done, and the bathroom is just terrible, so let’s not talk about it. Since the bedroom is looking the most presentable of all the rooms, I’ll start by showing you some pics of that first.

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If you read my last blog post, you may remember this “before” photo.  The paneled wall on the right was kind of spongey and I couldn’t resist peeling back the layers to see what was back there.

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Behind the wood paneling was… 50’s drywall? I’m not sure what they used to make walls out of, but this stuff was kind of soggy and crumbling too and covered in 2 layers of textured wallpaper, so I took a crowbar to it and found…

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The original wood plank for the cottage! This is both the interior and exterior wall. Obviously, this had to stay, but there was definitely some termite damage, so after I demolished all of the old drywall, I rolled on 3 coats of this green foamy wood preservative that is supposed to inhibit termite damage and rot. It seemed to cover really well, but it smelled like death, so if you plan on using it indoors you definitely can’t live in a space and use this stuff at the same time.

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After a few rounds of DIY termite damage control, I hung brand new drywall. Basically all the walls around the perimeter of the cottage had to be re-done, but the interior walls (bathroom/wall separating the bedroom and cottage) were fine and just needed some patching.  Oh! I also built a new door frame for my bathroom door. That’s the fun stuff that I actually enjoy doing.

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Now that everything is primed, it looks and feels so CLEAN. The new walls basically took 45 years off this place. Oh, and I painted my ceiling pink! WHO AM I?! Don’t worry, I’m wallpapering this room, so don’t judge my poorly cut paint lines.

Annnd… that’s all I have for you for this side of the room. It hasn’t really evolved much since. In fact, I took the door off for repair and painting, so in a way, this corner is looking even worse than it does in this pic. MOVING ON!

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This is the other side of the room. Whoever installed the bay window stopped short of completion and it just sat there looking sort of sad for decades. At some point someone used this nook as a closet, which is creative, but… NO. This little corner needed A LOT of love.

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First, I took off the drywall to see what was underneath. The bay was encased in plywood that was relatively flush and in okay condition, so I slathered joint compound on it, sanded, slathered, sanded, then built a little window sill.

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The bay window had a soggy ceiling that had some small holes and cracks.  I briefly contemplated just patching over it, but then curiosity got the best of me and I decided to smash my hammer through it just for kicks and before you know it, I had to rip the whole thing out and re-drywall that too. More spackle, more sanding, more paint. OH THE JOYS.

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This is the bay, nearly ready for paint. I sanded down the blue because it was lumpy and the blue paint had poor adhesion to the layer of paint beneath it. I added baseboard, ripped 1000 staples out of the windows, and patched those too.

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BUT LOOK! As you can imagine when I FINALLY got to prime this wall, I nearly jumped for joy.

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And then, friends, this is why I do what I do. By the time the patching and painting was done, I was feeling zen and decided I could handle installing floors myself. I took my time with it and made sure to be super precise with my cuts, and it was actually not a terrible project to take on by myself. I bought the flooring from Best Laminate after auditioning literally 25 different shades of white/gray and I am LOVING the color. This is exactly what I wanted. Something a little rustic, but also a little modern and Scandinavian.

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I moved my bed in, and though it still needs furniture, curtains, and wallpaper, it’s totally cozy and livable. I don’t want this post to get ridiculously long, so I’m going to stop there and post updates on the living/dining area next time.

Posted by Jen at 8:49 pm — 4 comments
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Jan 13

The California Cottage: Befores & Inspirations.

This blog post is about Los Angeles, which I consider my second city. But let’s talk about Brooklyn for just a minute.

There is one thing that unites all Brooklynites. Whether you grew up here or moved here later in life, at some point during your residency in this beautiful borough, one particular thought has undoubtedly crossed your mind—wouldn’t it be grand to buy a brownstone with 3 units so I can live for cheap in one unit while renting out the other two?!

We’ve all heard the stories. Everyone knows at least one person that had the foresight to buy a building 23 years ago when the streets were mean. Unfortunately, 23 years ago, I was 7 so that never panned out for me, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t long for one of these beauties:

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I mean… DROOL. What’s not to love? I’ve been saving up for roughly 10 years now. With what I have saved so far, I would just need another $80,000 cash to fall from the sky, and I’d be good to go! And maybe another $65,000 for renovations. Hmmm…

Since I’m impatient and happen to be DYING for a new project to sink my teeth into, I decided to get the next best thing:

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I know… you can say it. She’s an ugly baby. I mean, she’s cute to me, because I’m going to nurture her and love her forever, but you don’t have to lie to me and tell me that she’s cute. I think of her as a “late bloomer” who is going through an awkward stage right now, but one day she’ll be a swan and she’ll wind up on the Bachelor. Just wait and see.

A bit of backstory: I went to school in Southern California, so all of my friends from college as well as a handful of my childhood mates all live in Los Angeles. Show business is my bread and butter, so more than half of my colleagues are in LA as well. I find myself out there several times a year for work and leisure, so I decided to find a dumpy little place to fix up and call my own.

By now, most of the folks reading my blog know I love a tiny space. My mini room in Brooklyn meant the world to me, and the process of renovating it jump-started my career and the finished product received some favorable press. That was 7 years ago (omg, I’m old) and I’m starting to feel like one of those artists who’s running on the the fumes of their one-hit-wonder. Ive worked on plenty of fun projects for work, but my personal space hasn’t changed in a few years and it’s slowly sedating my spirit. It’s time to get back into the studio.

cottage_floorplanpin it!This 1940s structure is a 1 bedroom/1 bathroom back house behind a bungalow from 1908. I’ll get into the details of how it relates to the rest of the property later, but for now, here’s a floor plan so you can decipher the “before” photos. Doesn’t it look like an old school NYC subway car?

cottage1pin it!As soon as you enter, you walk into the kitchen. I plan on overhauling it, but I’ll leave the sink and stove in the same place.

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I haven’t even touched the cottage yet, but I’ve invested approximately 6,798 hours into dreaming about how glorious it will be. I break ground this weekend, and I have to tackle the boring dirty work first. (Rip up linoleum, replace sloping subfloor, rip off wood paneling, patch drywall, gut kitchen, clean, clean, and clean…) It’ll probably be a few weeks before I start on the fun stuff, but for now, this is what I’m thinkin’: cottage_boardpin it!It’s a lot of scandinavian/modern with a sprinkle of industrial/Moorish. I want to be really good about documenting all the major projects so I can share the progress with you. I haven’t been this pumped about a space in a long time. Wish me luck!


Posted by Jen at 1:41 pm — 5 comments
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May 7

Homepolish and Hawkins Int’l PR.

When people ask me what I do, I usually describe myself as a “set designer for TV and interior designer for regular people.” In a way, those two things go hand in hand, so it feels perfectly natural that I bounce back and fourth between the two. That’s why I was so excited when a friend turned me onto Homepolish, a company that pairs designers all over the US with clients looking to improve their homes and offices. If you haven’t heard of them, you should check ’em out! They’re really reinterpreting the designer <> client relationship by offering affordable and flexible design packages for anyone that needs a little (or a lot) of help with their space. I really feel like this is the future of interior design, so I applied to join their team.

My first commercial client with Homepolish client was Hawkins International, a public relations agency based in NYC. They had recently moved into a new office and did a fantastic job outfitting the place but they were stumped when it came to the conference room. It was a huge and  cavernous, with no focal point, no storage, and no personality. Jen, the client, wanted the room to be as flexible as possible. Translation: Create a conference room/party room/screening room/dining hall that can be easily transformed at at any time. I LOVE a good spacial challenge, so I came up with this plan of action:

1) Partition off 3′ in the back of the room for storage.

2) Create an attractive yet utilitarian nook to house the TV and conference room equipment.

3) Make frosted pocket doors over the kitchen cutout for privacy during events.

4) Design a one-of-a-kind table that appears monolithic, but can also be broken down and stored.

5) Find a clever way to conceal all the cables and conduit that run across the bottom of the room.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen some progress pictures over the last couple months. This is a beast of a project so I’m going to blog about one project at a time. First up… wall o’ storage.

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I knew that Jen (the client) envisioned having anywhere from 2 to 30 people seated in here at once, so it was essential that we had storage for stacking chairs. Since the room was very long, commandeering a few feet on the end still left ample room for conferencing/partying. This is the first wall that you see when you walk into the room, so I wanted it to look impressive and polished. They also had a huge TV and various conference room thingies (sound system, speaker phone, PC, etc) that needed to be wrangled and reconfigured, so I came up with this concept for the space:

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This one wall resolved several of our issues at once. It provided storage, housed the equipment, and acted as a focal point. We started construction right away and I practically jumped for joy when I swung by for a visit and saw this! Of course there were a few snafus along the way, but I’ll spare you the boring details and just show your pictures.

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The wall was built around 4 IKEA kitchen cabinets for a custom built-in look. Now we were ready to install doors! I searched high and low for modern barn doors in a light wood color, but all the vendors I came across only manufactured them in birch color, or dark black-brown. Our doors also had to be extra tall so I decided to have them custom made and handed this project off to Aaron because he can make pretty much anything.

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Can we just take a moment to drool over this wood veneer? It’s not fake wood folks, this is real wood grain and it’s fabulous. I want to clad my entire bedroom in this veneer, but that would cost zillions of dollars, so for now, I shall just appreciate it in context of this room.

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And there she is! Looking all symmetrical and modern and high-tech and stuff. I loved seeing this project come to life—the room looked 100x better after we finished this wall, and I’m super excited to show you the rest of the room. And of course thanks to Homepolish for connecting me to the ladies at Hawkins International who have been a dream to work with! More posts on the way, I promise!

Posted by Jen at 8:45 am — comment
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Apr 21

Chicago on a Whim.

I was born in Chicago, but my family moved to California when I was 7, so I don’t remember much. I decided to take a mini-vacation there and I was pleasantly surprised. What a clean, efficient, beautiful city! And everyone we met was SOOO nice. Here a few of my favorite instagram pics.

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Posted by Jen at 9:38 am — comment