life in a tiny apartment.

May 24, 2018

white walls in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

Survival Tip #164: Seize the moment.

In mating season, male cardinals feed the females they’re hoping to woo. They don’t just gather the food, they coax it into the female’s mouth, morsel by morsel.
This week we’ve watched the firey red cardinal perch on our temporary apartment fire escape and crack open the husks of sunflower seeds to feed his companion. She sits nearby, waiting patiently. Or is it expectantly? Maybe she is not patient at all. Maybe she is bored by the ritual, wanting to carry on with her meal and faster, for heaven’s sake. But she remains there, opening her beak as the male slips bits of seed directly into her mouth. Temperaments aside, it’s clear there’s some kind of partnership at work. Some kind of finding their way together and working with what they’ve got. In this case, a handful of sunflower seeds in a soggy grapefruit feeder.
Last night, I went up to our apartment just to sit for a minute by my lonesome. By my wholesome? Whichever the case, I needed some quiet to sit and take it in. It’s a funny spot to find yourself, in the middle of a place you’ve called home, but without any of the trappings that make it feel like yours. There’s a sense of possibility but also an understanding that largely, things will stay the same.
For the past two weeks I’ve been channeling the energy I would normally put into finding solutions for our new spot into finding better solutions for the spot we actually call home. In our temporary apartment there are walls that I would paint and light fixtures I would tamper with. There are the remains of an old security gate that needs removing and a fireplace surround that needs caulk, or a scrub, surely both. The window panes are about five years overdue for a cleaning. Despite my urgings, I’ve left well enough alone. Any day now we’ll be given the go ahead to move back upstairs. We’ll bid this birder’s paradise adieu and someone else will make it theirs.
Instead of washing windows, I’ve made secret boards on Pinterest. I’ve been stockpiling inspiration and tutorials and glimpses of what could be; feathering my virtual nest and trying to tackle tricky corners with a renewed sense of possibility.
Faye turns four on Saturday. I moved into this apartment when I was six months pregnant with her and climbing the ship’s ladder to the bed in our old place had become cumbersome at best. I’ve welcomed two brand-new babies in this apartment. Together with James, I’ve weathered the storms of infancy and toddlerhood. Of marriage and work, too. I’ve gotten my footing, lost it, and started over again. In these two rooms we’ve figured out, all of us, how to live as a family of three, then four. We’re still figuring it out. Indeed, everything is mutable.
We’ve made minor fixes to this space when there was energy and permission. We’ve lived with loveliness but also wonkiness and, sometimes, downright grossness. Now, quite by accident, we’ve been presented with something of a blank slate. Sure, we have a kitchen and a bathroom that we’ll never adore—and that we’ll never have permission to change wholesale—but we have, perhaps, a greater appreciation that we’re lucky to have both. The floor still needs scrubbing, but the walls are freshly painted. The soggy drywall and peeling baseboard have been replaced. The flaking, rusty radiators have been stripped down and repainted. In the midst of this temporary move I went searching for silvery linings and found white radiators. What luck.
With a limited budget and an apartment we don’t own, there’s only so much we can do, but I’ve decided to seize the moment. A week ago we ripped out an ancient mirror in the bathroom. This afternoon, I’m buying an electric drill. Tomorrow, a new mirror arrives to our door.
Last night, in our empty apartment, my cell phone pinged. “Dinner’s on the table,” the text read. Nourishment courtesy of a husband who knows how to give a bird her space.
For the curious:
We gave every surface of our apartment a fresh coat of  paint. Our walls and trim are painted with Benjamin Moore’s Natura Paint in Simply White OC 117. (We even painted our formerly chipping and rusty radiators with it, prepped first with Ultra Spec HP Acrylic Metal Primer.) Many thanks to Benjamin Moore for supplying the paint and for helping us lay a new foundation.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 163.

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  • Reply Juliana Cooley May 24, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    I have many of these radiators that need some love in our house… I’ve been hung up on the fact that I should maybe powerwash them before painting… How did you clean yours? Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 24, 2018 at 2:14 pm

      Our paint was removed as part of our general lead abatement. I’m not the one who did it, so I can’t give specifics, but I’m nearly 100 percent sure it didn’t include power washing. We had a *lot* of flaking paint on ours, so it really had to be dealt with before they could be repainted. Before you start any project though, you should definitely make sure you’re not dealing with lead paint. Lots of general radiator tips on This Old House though, if you’re looking for more guidance!

  • Reply Doe Boyle May 24, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    Lovely writing, my girl–and lovely sentiments. You–and James–have what it takes: strength and grace. Perfect gifts when the winds of changes shift, as the bard says.

  • Reply Annie May 24, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Your honesty is so refreshing! The way you write about life’s imperfections is relatable and beautiful. Glad you were able to get some peace and quiet. All the best!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 24, 2018 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks for such kind words!

  • Reply Genevieve May 24, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Yay! I hope you enjoy the project of moving back in and making some desired changes.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 24, 2018 at 7:51 pm

      Thanks so much! Excited to nest!

  • Reply SHERRY JOHNSON May 24, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    I have been peeping into your blog for over a year and enjoying it immensely. But now I just have to ask, why do you live in such a small space? By choice or by necessity? I live in San Diego, so don’t know how much rent might be where you live. Four person in 2 rooms sounds too tight to me. Your sense of decor is inspiring and shows to can be happy anywhere.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 25, 2018 at 7:23 am

      Rents are notoriously high in New York City and this little place is right in the price range that our family can afford while living in a neighborhood that we love! Like everyone, we need to factor in all kinds of expenses, especially childcare for two young kids and ongoing student loan payments for two parents!

  • Reply Maryann May 25, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Lovely words. happy long weekend!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 25, 2018 at 9:34 am

      Thank you! You too!

  • Reply christina May 25, 2018 at 10:18 am

    It sounds like it will be lovely to move back in with a fresh perspective. We painted our whole interior except the bathroom in Simply White. I just love it. Plus as we get older, painting is harder so this way with it all one color I can do one wall or a ceiling at a time to refresh. !!! Gee, I wish Benjamin Moore would contact me…hee, hee….

  • Reply Paige May 25, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Speaking of pinned brass toilet paper holders, I’m loving my Who Gives a Crap bathroom tissue…thanks for that post a couple of weeks ago! I’ve given a few away to help roll out the love, so-to-speak…

  • Reply Leanne Pruett May 29, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Hope you get back into your apartment soon! Just wanted to let you know that you have great taste in mirrors . . . I’ve got the SAME one on order for my bathroom (that’s currently being renovated)!

  • Reply Colleen September 19, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Hi Erin, just wondering what you do to “kid proof” your radiators? We live in a small apartment in SF with steam radiators just like yours, and while they’re great for keeping the place warm, I’m a bit worried about them this winter with our currently crawling 9 month old. most solutions I’ve seen are pretty cumbersome for a small apartment. Any tips? I’ve loved all your baby posts!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 19, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      We’ve mostly just taught our kids not to go near them. For a while when Faye was small and crawling and interested in the radiator in our main room, we blocked it off with a crate, but that’s about it!


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