small improvements for an apartment in progress.

January 13, 2021

My hands—and the baseboards in my bedroom—are covered in white paint. Making slow painting progress on this apartment while tuning into live coverage of national news is a thing that I’ve taken to doing. I started painting our apartment on the day after the Presidential election. Our living- slash-dining room has a fresh coat of white paint and a repainted ceiling and trim that I have nearly finished but not completely. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I painted a giant canvas floorcloth to cover the cracked vinyl of our dining room. Half the walls in my kids room have one coat of white paint, the rest remain the same baby-formula yellow they were when we moved in. Last week, James and I finished painting our bedroom walls, which are now a soft grayish green.

Like lots of people, we’re living in an apartment in progress. It’s not a construction zone in here. There’s no demolition or remodeling happening, just the kind of slow and steady improvements that have always been central to the way that I approach making a space my own.

As a writer in an industry that butters bread with big reveals, it can feel like a risk to write about the smaller stuff. There’s nothing particularly sexy about filling nail holes or repainting moulding, but when time or budgets or people power are in short supply, knowing which small improvements can change the feel of a place starts to feels like a superpower.

Some of the progress happening in my apartment is toward big changes: a bedroom painted anything but white is a first for me and making (and living with) a wall-to-wall canvas floorcloth is too. Other improvements are so small you’d have to live in the place to notice them—swapping out a shower head, or re-painting french doors, or removing thirty feet of internet cable that leads to nowhere—but isn’t that the point?

In both cases, I hope sharing the ins and outs of the process might offer other folks a bit of encouragement to likewise tackle simple transformations that make the places we call home feel just a little bit better. Toward that end, I’m starting two new series. The first— Apartment Progress—will share the particulars and pet projects underway in this place. The other—Small Improvements—will be geared more concretely toward encouraging folks to tackle similar bits of fine tuning themselves. Still not sure a fresh coat of trim paint can change a whole room? Allow me to convince you.


Farrow & Ball has generously supplied the paint for the projects that I’ve tackled in the apartment so far. More details to come, but for folks who are curious, the color in our bedroom is Cromarty in the new Modern Emulsion finish. The trim is All White, in an Eggshell finish.

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  • Reply Anon January 13, 2021 at 4:23 pm

    Would you give some tips on how you fit in painting given that you have kids at home? I have a few rooms that I would dearly love to paint but am not sure how to do so safely with kids home all the time. I.e. how long do I need to let things dry, are the fumes safe, etc? Thanks for your perspective and your blog!

  • Reply Lesley January 13, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    Many thanks for a second post in as many days. It is the perfect counter-balance to Twitter and the news in general. Your posts and words are easy on the eyes, good for the soul, and so hopeful in their forward thinking. Cheers from Chicago!

  • Reply Megan January 13, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    Yes! Love these series so much. I painted the red varnished wood trim in a hallway a crisp white. Not a huge deal, but big enough for us living here to appreciate. My partner also removed I don’t know how many feet of random cables and detached wire from around our house. A different kind of minimalism that isn’t talked about many places.

  • Reply Lucy January 13, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    It looks great! We just painted our dining room (playroom, zoom room…..) last week and were deciding between mizzle and Cromarty. It’s nice to have some differently colored walls to stare at these days.

  • Reply Sarah January 13, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    Totally agree on loving the small changes as much as the big ones sometimes! For me, it’s often moving furniture just a little – dresser to the other side of the room, what if this chair were at an angle? -that can really brighten my perspective.

  • Reply laura January 13, 2021 at 5:59 pm

    “small improvements can change the feel of a place”–so so, true. i’m trying to focus on slowly taking control of the things I can control to make our home be as comfortable and as functional as possible. like you, i often make do for a long, long time while i figure out a solution. and honestly, small steps are all i have bandwidth for right now. on my list are: moving a bathroom hook for a tiny potty seat closer to the toilet, painting doors (most are only half-painted), rearranging/rehanging art. we added closet doors a few months ago after living here for 2 plus years without, and now we need to add handles. i’m picking up sticks in the yard to use as kindling. we’ll get there. we’ll all get there. thank you, erin.

  • Reply Emily January 13, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    Thank you! I’m honestly sick of big reveals that most of us can’t afford or have the time to do. This feels hopeful and inspiring in a real way. Did you paint your room bc it’s low on natural light? I love a white room but also have a dark bedroom so I’m always contemplating the best color for a fresh-airy-room-lover like myself!

  • Reply Maria January 13, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    Completely agree! We live in a 730 sq ft space and, between progressively reorganizing what we already have and fixing this and that and embellishing with small details, we feel so occupied by to-dos that I can’t possibly even imagine attempting a large scale project! Great series idea 🙂

  • Reply Lauren January 13, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    I love following along on all of your home progress, however small. I’ve been living in a house that needs a lot of love for 2.5 years, and though there are plenty of times when I wish I had a bigger budget or the time to plow through projects, I am finding a lot of satisfaction in a newly patched wall or a handmade window treatment (that has taken the better part of a year to complete!).

  • Reply Celine January 13, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    This is just the encouragement that I needed as we try to tackle painting our entire apartment with a fresh coat of paint. We bought the paint in November and have yet to figure out a time to start with two small kids around all the time. Thanks for showing me it can be done and improvements can be made slowly and over a long period of time. Good things come to those who wait (and take their time)

  • Reply Katie January 13, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    Ah, painting! An adventure I’m embarking on currently as well. I’ve spent the last week priming and prepping the insides of closets, and the work is slow going. Choosing paint colors has been a challenge. So many shades within each color family!

  • Reply Julia January 14, 2021 at 9:24 am

    I would LOVE to hear about your floor cloth- where you sourced it, what kind of paint works, etc. I’d like to find some non-carpet solutions for the tiled spaces in my home. Would it work for a kitchen?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 14, 2021 at 10:43 am

      I think it would! Planning to give it a try eventually! A full post coming soon!

  • Reply Emily January 14, 2021 at 9:56 am

    Very excited for both of these new series!

  • Reply Sharon January 14, 2021 at 10:32 am

    I would really appreciate having you spell out the process for your wall to wall canvas floor mat. Perhaps a future post? Thank you!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE January 14, 2021 at 10:41 am

      Working on it!

  • Reply Shannon January 14, 2021 at 10:38 am

    Love the idea for both of these new series! I have so many improvements I’d like to make, but felt like I had to get a whole project done in a weekend and that was overwhelming. I appreciate the reminder that small steps can happen over time. 🙂

  • Reply kim m January 14, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    Look forward to the new series. Small improvements can be so satisfying: Fresh caulking in the crack between kitchen counter and backsplash behind the sink – swoonworthy! Touching up the chips on the windowsill caused by rowdy children – ecstasy!

  • Reply anne January 14, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    Honestly, fixing those little things produces waaaayyy more joy for me than making huge changes. Sometimes I do a big thing and it takes weeks for me to be comfortable with it, but when I fix those little things I just feel good every time I see it. Very on board for the tiny fixes and I look forward to the new series!!

  • Reply riye January 14, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    I think this is a great story and a good example of how small fixes can really improve the feel of your home. 🙂

  • Reply Kimberly January 14, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    Love it! It is good to remember that little improvements make a big difference. I am a big fan of attractive every day items (without plastic) and I am curious about your step stool. By chance do you know the source?

  • Reply Kimberly January 14, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    Love it! It is a good reminder that little changes make a big difference. I am always on the look out for attractive everyday items without plastic. Do you know a source of your step stool?

  • Reply Annie January 14, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve always wondered how you get rid of that new but older apartment grime? Ya know, the dirt built up on the baseboards and in corners… the weird streaks on the wall…odd stains that can’t be removed no matter what you try? I’ve lived in these charming older apartments and can never seem to find the elbow grease or right products to do the job. Your photos always look spotless. Is it true? Or are you a wizard? I would love to know!!

    • Reply K January 15, 2021 at 10:52 am

      I second this! Maybe I’m not skilled enough at cleaning (though I’d like to think that I’m at least ok, given the weekly practice!), but when you talk about removing decades-old grime, I wonder — “how??” A time estimate would also be helpful!

  • Reply Ellen Anderman January 14, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    My very handy husband and I complement each other in these small fixes. For the new year he replaced the magnets which hold our pantry and under-the-sink cupboard closed, tightened all the drawer and cupboard pulls and planed a wonky cupboard door flatter. I have to remind him not to let perfect be the enemy of good and am so grateful for these almost invisible fixes that satisfy me in my kitchen usage so very much. Meanwhile I scrub and vacuum and decant and organize and wipe-down – also invisible improvements to our space, if not as singular fixes. I do the cooking; he bakes our bread. I garden; he fences and fixes and welds. Each of us has our own to-do list priorities around the place and plenty of argument about which “matters” but at least we are both doing our best to keep our rural household fresh and fully functional. Just spelling it out reminds me not to gnash my teeth too much about “progress.”

  • Reply Katie January 14, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    I feel this so much! It took me over 6 months to hang my 2 year olds shelves (new baby/COVID) and another 7 to get the new baby curtains. But the joy and satisfaction when I finally did…Thank you for helping all us perfectionists appreciate the little wins.

  • Reply Kate January 14, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    Girl, you do you, but I would be very interested to see a subtle grey and white checkerboard pattern painted on that canvas floor covering of yours.

  • Reply Mackenzie January 14, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    Fellow apartment dweller over here as well 🙂
    Paint really helps in smaller spaces and helps it feels more homey, if you will. Looking forward to your new series’ Erin!

  • Reply China January 14, 2021 at 6:56 pm

    I would also love to hear more about your process of painting while your kids are home! I’ve wondered how you manage other DIY projects as well – to me one of the challenges of a small space (our is about 1400 square feet for a family of 5) is that projects can easily overwhelm an entire room, at minimum.

  • Reply Jay January 14, 2021 at 9:30 pm

    Small changes make a huge difference, especially these days. I’m forever tinkering here and there – looking for a sense of control, I suppose, but I so enjoy the results. 🙂

  • Reply Nina January 16, 2021 at 10:53 am

    Ooh, I would love a more detailed post about the logistics of painting slowly, a bit at a time. I have the giant tub of white paint all ready to go but with a chronic illness I definitely can’t tackle it as a big intensive get-it-all-done-at-once project. Please tell us more about doing one wall at a time! When do you do the ceiling? Do you ‘cut in’ all round first? Etc.

  • Reply Laura Jack January 17, 2021 at 4:15 am

    Hey Erin! Yes please, both series will be helpful. I support this slower and calmer approach to improving our homes :). Laura x

  • Reply Ann Midgley February 15, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    Love your simple home improvement series.

  • Reply Mo March 22, 2021 at 6:21 am

    I so agree that small improvements make a huge difference. I added a shelf under the sink a couple of months ago, and I’m still happy every time I open the door to throw something in the bin!

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