As we find ourselves unexpectedly hunkered down at home, now is the time to tackle household hopes and dreams—or, at least, to find some inside amusement. Transform your living room by repositioning the sofa, clean overlooked workhorses (such as your washing machine), and get to those repairs and creative projects on your rainy day To Do list.
We ourselves are turning to the Remodelista archive for ideas and inspirations. Here are some favorites.
1. Finally Do It Yourself
Looking to upgrade your rental? See Expert Advice: 23 Genius, Reversible, Budget-Friendly Hacks to Transform a Rental Apartment. For many more ideas, such as the hugely popular Shingled House Easy Burlap Shades (for Less Than $20 Each), peruse our DIY Projects archive. Photograph by Justine Hand.
2. Rearrange the Furniture
3. Create Artful Order
4. Deep Clean
Go to our Domestic Science archive for more ideas, including a DIY All-Purpose Cleaner Made from Essential Oils and a DIY Yoga Mat Cleaner.
5. Love Your Bed
Trouble sleeping? See our 10 Secrets for a Better Night’s Sleep. Also consider The Scandinavian Sleep Secret—Mine and Yours Duvets.
Stay home, everyone, and stay well. And if you’ve tackled any household projects while sheltering in place, we’d love to hear about them—please fill us in in the Comments section below.
“Reuse is not a design trend; it’s an attitude, a mindset, and a behavioral approach that isn’t just relevant today— it’s vital,” says Maria Speake. Back in the early 1990s in Glasgow, she and fellow architecture student Adam Hills watched historic buildings being demolished. “The madness of this process wasn’t just about unnecessary waste, it disregarded the common sense that used to underpin construction: valuing materials and craft.”
In response, the couple founded Retrouvius, their now 26-year-old London-based salvage company, that all this time has been leading by example. “In the simplest terms, we rescue materials, furniture, lighting and fixtures, and continue their life,” they write. “Increasingly, we understand our mission as something more fundamental: to enable and inspire reuse, not just as a design preference but as a way of life.”
Adam oversees the reclamation side of the business, and Maria runs the in-house design studio, applying rescued components to inventive remodels (House & Garden UK named her designer of the year in 2019). A recent project that caught our eye is this Georgian townhouse in Notting Hill. It belongs to a successful costume designer with a love of patinated surfaces, old wood, and peace and quiet. Maria and team transformed her quarters into “a country home in the city.”
Photography by Tom Fallon courtesy of Retrouvius.
“It was originally from Somerset,” says Maria of the mantel. “When we first got it—from a wonderful architectural salvage dealer called Marcus Olliff—I tried to put it in a house in Somerset, but our clients thought it was too raw, which is, of course, what we love about it.”
The interior window, she notes, is framed in copper and probably dates to the 1910s: “copper lights are a little more refined and urban than lead lights.”
Above: The zelliges tiles are from the Mosaic Factory : “they’re cut in a way that gives them a subtle geometric pattern.” To see more of Maria’s designs, go to Retrouvius; the company shop and showroom is in Kensal Green, London.
Some more projects that make artful use of vintage and found materials:
When Nina and Craig Plummer left London for Edinburgh, they came seeking soulful living. The two met as psychology students at Dundee University and they take an analytical approach to interiors and the feelings rooms impart. Self-taught design aficionados, they share a love of antiques, quiet spaces, and applying care and intention to their quarters: “We like to think that if we use our values to shape our homes, our homes will, in turn, shape the life that unfolds within them,” says Nina. Together they founded Ingredients LDN, a quietly beautiful online interiors store that “celebrates a slower pace.”
Their apartment on the drawing room floor of a Grade A-listed Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh’s New Town serves as their combination living quarters, work studio, showroom, and entertainment space. As such, it continually gets shifted around and restyled to telegraph what Ingredients LDN is all about. The couple spent months restoring the rooms to their original magnificence doing much of the labor themselves, from the wallpaper removal to the replastering and limewashing, including on the 14-foot ceilings. And they say it’s still coming together. Craig works in finance by day and Nina mans the shop. We were so intrigued by the vignettes she creates and photographs for their site that we asked her to show us around the flat and to fill us in on the behind-the-scenes story.
Photography by Nina Plummer for Ingredients LDN.
Shown here, the Danish classic OGK Safari Daybed cushioned with Kapok Mattresses made in West Africa of hand-woven cotton stuffed with silky kapok fibers (note that goods often sell out on ILDN and get replenished). The Carron cast-iron radiator is new and took many hands to lug up the stairs.
The fireplace had been walled in: the Georgian Carrara marble mantel is newly added as is the plastered brick surround and hearth. The bamboo and silk hanging light is the Z11 by Ay Illuminate: “I adore their lamps and their values,” says Nina. “They work only with natural materials and are mindful of ethical and sustainable practices, so I used them in almost every room.”
The limewashed walls are in Stone from Bauwerk of Australia. (For the lowdown on limewashing, see Limewashed Walls for Modern Times.)
Nina hope to eventually rent a work space, but says “in the meantime, our business and our lives are incredibly intertwined and our home was designed to meet both needs.”
See more of Nina’s tabletop inspirations in Fresh Starts, Morning Edition.
In the moments when they’re not running their Paris design firm, Heju, 25-year-old architects Hélène Pinaud and Julien Schwartzmann love to make things. They post their DIY inventions on the Heju blog, and Hachette in France collected them in a book, Design It Yourself: 35 Objets Design à Petits Prix et à Faire Soi-Même. One of our new favorites is the duo’s DIY terrazzo table, their poor man’s answer to the labor-intensive and pricey finish. They came up with the project after not succeeding in including terrazzo in one of their architectural commissions: frustration fueled months of thinking and testing, and led to their little speckled table, which makes use of broken tile rather than marble fragments. They kindly agreed to share it with us.
N.B.: This is the second in a series of Heju projects we’ll be presenting. Over at The Organized Home, we recently spotlighted the Heju DIY Wall Organizer.
Photography courtesy of Heju.
Terrazzo is traditionally made of marble (or other stone) chips set into a cement matrix that’s polished to a high sheen. Decorative and hardwearing, it’s often seen as lobby flooring in historic buildings. Of late, the finish has made a comeback, thanks to, among others, British designer Max Lamb: See An Effortlessly Cool Cafe in Amsterdam. We’ve also recently admired terrazzo Chez Marie Sixtine in Paris and in a Danish Designer’s Handmade Kitchen. The Heju version is less involved, but requires a bit more time and labor than most of their DIYs.
Tools and Materials for the Top
Materials include panels of MDF, a 1.5-kilo (3.3-pound) bag of white cement, 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) of fine sand (available from pet- and garden-supply stores), pale-pink grout, and ceramic tiles for breaking into pieces. For the full specs and step-by-step on how to make the table base, go to Heju.
The Finished Look
Explore our DIY archive for more ideas, including:
The term “loving hands at home” is typically applied derisively to crafts projects, but it feels perfect—in nothing but a positive way—for this high-style, DIY cabin remodel. That’s especially true when you know the backstory: emerging Melbourne interior designer Andrea Moore of Studio Moore teamed up with her father, Lindsay Moore, a semi-retired veterinarian with #skillz, to transform the family’s dilapidated farm property into a trio of vacation houses. Andrea’s mother passed away just as the Ross Farm project was getting started: “it has been a driving force to create something that she would be really proud of,” Andrea told The Design Files.
Today, we’re spotlighting the first, and most modest, dwelling the two tackled, a one-bedroom cabin built in the 1960s. It now comes with a Japanese bath and one of the most memorable Ikea kitchen hacks we’ve ever seen.
Photography by Lachlan Moore, courtesy of Studio Moore and Ross Farm.
“It was Dad’s big idea to turn these old buildings into interesting accommodations,” says Andrea. “Our intention was to experiment and make what we could. I designed most of the furniture, lights, and door hardware, and they were made by Dad down in his shed. Since it’s a vacation house, we could push our ideas a bit and try things you might not do in your own home.”
When you design and produce kitchens for a living, you get to use your own quarters as a testing ground. Kine Ask Stenersen and Kristoffer Eng are the couple behind Ask og Eng, the Oslo, Norway-based workshop known for its artful Ikea hacks: they specialize in making bamboo fronts for Ikea kitchen cabinets.
The duo have also begun to create their own fully custom kitchens. After living with one of their very first Ikea upgrades, they recently decided to replace it with a bespoke design that showcases their newest bamboo finish. See Ikea Elevated for a look at their initial line, and join us for a tour of their kitchen.
Photography by Kine Ask Stenersen, courtesy of Ask og Eng.
Drammen is a 40-minute commute to the Ask og Eng workshop and showroom in Oslo. Kine and Kristoffer both grew up in Drammen—he’s an architect and she studied environmental geography (and brings a green mindset to their collaborations). Five years ago, they moved here from Oslo to be close to family, and say that it’s thanks to Kristoffer’s engineer fatherm and his know-how and many tools (plus relatives ready to help with childcare), that they were able to get their company off the ground.
Their former kitchen, which they had “sawn, sanded, and oiled” in their garage, got disassembled and most of the parts have found new homes in other projects; many of the furnishings and appliances stayed put.
Some of the advantages of working in bamboo, the couple say, are that it’s a fast-growing grass that’s lightweight and strong. They get their raw material from certified plantations “to be sure it’s not only sustainable but produced responsibly.”
Of the overhead storage, Kine says, “The room is very sunny but we have a lot of dark periods here. To keep the space feeling open and bright, we decided against wall-hung cabinets and instead used our A7 Cross Shelf.”
Here are some other standout kitchens that designers created for themselves:
Maria Ibañez de Sendadiano and Todd Rouh met at work back when they were both young architects at Smith-Miller + Hawkinson. That was a while ago: the couple have been running their own NYC firm, IdS/R Architecture, since 2000, have two daughters who are now teenagers, and recently found themselves in the happy position of being able to build their own country retreat in New York’s Catskill Mountains.
After years of hiking and camping in the area as a family, they bought a choice piece of land in the township of Mount Tremper surrounded by DEP-owned protected property (it’s on the watershed that supplies NYC’s tap water). This was their first designed-from-the-ground-up house and gave them the opportunity to test ideas—and to get their own hands extremely dirty.
They wanted foremost to build a structure with as little impact as possible, and towards that end decided to follow Passive House standards, a set of stringent rules for creating an ultra-efficient, air-tight dwelling that supplies most of its own energy via solar panels. To save on costs and stay on top of an ambitious construction schedule, the couple also decided to act in tandem as their own general contractor. It took them six months to build the house and another six months to finish the interior. Join us for a visit into the woods.
Photography by Eric Petschek, courtesy of IdS/R Architecture and Vipp.
The building is composed of SIPs (prefabricated structural insulated panels), the Passive House building blocks, which Todd notes helped determine the look: “If you using SIPs, then you’re not making a glass house.” The building rests on a steel frame platform raised on piers that, Maria explains, “limited the disruption to the existing site drainage.” Terraced steps lead to the front deck and four sliding glass doors (there are also four doors off the back). The mechanical room is in a concrete cellar and contains, among other things, the ERV system (energy recovery ventilation) crucial to Passive House design. The only trees that had to be taken down made way for the driveway.
The aluminum-framed, thermally insulated glass doors are 8 by 8 feet—”the maximum size for a lift and slide door,” says Maria—and, like the triple-glazed windows, were supplied by Schüco. This one, on the north end of the house, opens to the kitchen, outfitted with a freestanding island made by Vipp of Denmark. That’s also the iconic Vipp Pedal Bin in the foreground (we singled it out in Remodelista, A Manual for the Considered Home in our roundup of 100 favorite everyday objects).
“The pantry is really the key to our kitchen’s operations,” adds Todd. “It’s the place where all the small appliances and mugs, and things like water bottles go. When the doors are closed, you don’t know it’s there.”
The passageways lead to a mudroom and small bath on one side and a bedroom on the other, all paneled in larch.
Here are three more energy-efficient rural dwellings:
On a trip to Paris’s Maison et Objet, our co-founders Julie and Francesca crossed paths with Mona Nerenberg, owner of Bloom in Sag Harbor, NY, a cult-favorite shop filled with Swedish antiques and white ceramics (now in its 18th year). Noting that the Gardenista team had been to her Hamptons home to admire the deer fencing—Mona is married to landscape designer Lisa Bynon—she invited us back to take a proper look inside.
Mona and Lisa live in a 19th-century shingled house that came untouched—and with a falling-down fish market attached to the kitchen. The two met as students at the Parson’s School of Design and have a shared aesthetic that’s all about poetic objects, a black-and-white palette, and not a lot of stuff. Others may have been deterred by the the jungle of vines and colony of bats that had overtaken the residence, but they vowed to keep the gracious center-hall layout as is and approached the remodel as an unveiling .
Their friend interior designer Mark Cunningham, a former VP of creative services at Ralph Lauren, who had joined Mona on early buying trips for Bloom (and with Sam Hamilton co-founded the great SF design emporium March), stepped in to orchestrate. Working in close collaboration, each contributed key elements: Lisa and her crew extended the house’s beadboard paneling in strategic spots, Mona supplied Pierre Jeanneret chairs and apple matting from Bloom, and Mark pulled it all together, new two-story kitchen included. Join us for a tour of a standout Hamptons classic.
Photography by Björn Wallander, courtesy of Mark Cunningham (@marked_ny).
The house is in the hamlet of North Sea—the nearest beach is a quick bike ride away—and was built by a family in the Blue Book of the Hamptons. Mona and Lisa are only the third owners.
A Donald Sultan lemon drawing hangs on the wall here over a French bench—ticking stripes are just about the only pattern welcomed in.
On the walls throughout, Mona and Lisa used Benjamin Moore’s Super White, one of our Architects’ Favorite White Paint Picks.
During the garden off-season, Lisa and her landscape team matched the existing beadboard paneling on the upper walls and ceiling. The room’s centerpiece is an old marble-topped ceramic artist’s table still chalky with clay. Mona tells us “I really don’t like much, in fact I hate just about everything,” but adds she’s ever on the lookout for pieces like the table.
More Astier de Villatte fills the cabinet: a romantic vine-covered shed in the back of Bloom is devoted solely to the French ceramics.
In the years since the house was complete, Mark has opened his own NYC showroom, Marked, and been named to world’s best designer lists: “We were so lucky to have him,” says Mona, “Mark is in another league now.”
When we come across a design store we admire, we often ask if we can follow the owner home. Here are three more shopkeepers with inspired homes:
Whatever you’re currently looking for—a bureau, an extra place setting of your grandmother’s china, the elusive perfect coffee table—changes are good you can find it on Craigslist. It may not be exactly what you envisioned, but you’ll pay far less than retail. You may only have to travel around the block to retrieve it. And you’ll keep a perfectly good something in use rather than headed to landfill.
Like all treasure hunts, Craigslist shopping comes with challenges: you have to be willing to search and schlep, and to meet up with a stranger. Caveat emptor, yes, but for many, it’s the answer: take a look at The House That Craigslist Built, Philadelphia Story, and Buzzfeed Founder Peggy Wang’s Renovated Rowhouse.
JP Frenza and his wife, Kristen Kiger, became CL devotees when they decided to save the 1939 Red Rose, a shuttered motel and tavern down the road from their weekend place in the Catskills town of Roscoe, NY, on the Beaverkill River. While keeping their day jobs—JP works in tech, Kristen is a graphic designer—they bought the local gathering spot as a passion project, and partnered with Melissa Garrison Kawecki, who manages daily operations and serves as in-house stylist.
To get the place back up and running, they needed club chairs, butter knives, and bathroom sinks, among many other things—just about all of which they found at bargain prices Craigslist. Three years of tactical buying later, JP offered to share what they’ve learned along the way.
Photography courtesy of the Red Rose Motel.
1. Crack the search term code.
Once you know what you’re after, it’s crucial to figure out what to call it—and how others might label it. We discovered this when our initial search for a Chesterfield sofa turned up cigarette tins and overcoats. On Craigslist, you often get radically different results based on the words you use. By typing “leather couch,” “leather sofa,” brand names like “George Smith,” and the popular “sofa with nail heads” we found what we were looking for.
2. Set your radius.
You can find most household basics for sale on Craigslist close to home. But for more unusual or important pieces, we learned to broaden our reach. We also discovered that the more well-off the community, the better the stuff—and the prices, because these sellers tend to just be looking to unload. So in addition to searching in the Catskills and Upstate New York, we looked in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut—Darien, for instance, was worth a few hour’s drive (broken up by a good lunch and often a hike on the way home). And for farmhouse antiques, we went on Craigslist in Rochester, NY, and then road tripped.
3. Create a search schedule.
If you only go on Craigslist from time to time, you miss things. We’ve found it’s more efficient to check systematically: we do our searches on Monday mornings, Tuesday nights, Wednesday mornings, and so on. We haven’t discerned a key time of day to check, but have noticed that Thursdays tend to get the most new listings, especially from people hoping to get rid of things by Sunday. So be prepared to pounce. And if you urgently need something, check on Thursdays at the beginning and end of the day.
4. Check out moving sales.
Craigslist is a great source for estate and moving sale listings and you can target them by town. Under Garage Sale, sellers also list apartment and house clear-outs with photos of the items that have to go. A guy who was leaving the country gave us a roll of kilims for free because he didn’t want his landlord to have them.
5. Stay selective.
We keep a running list of things we need, and at times, in our eagerness to cross off items, we’ve ended up paying more than we should have—only to later find an even better version of the same thing for less. If you can, it pays to be patient.
6. Be polite and present a plan.
I can’t tell you the number of times the seller told us we were the only ones who made the transaction easy. We begin by writing a note: “Is the item still available? If so, we’re interested and could come pick it up at your convenience.” People on Craigslist are typically getting rid of things on a deadline, so we always mention we have a truck and can pay in cash. We bought a 12-foot antique pine table for $200 this way.
Craigslist sellers often have to deal with no-show buyers. After assuring that you mean business and will pay in cash, you can do some bargaining: “I can come whenever is good for you; will you take $200 for the chairs listed at $250?” Sellers typically counter with $225. Don’t insult: some people know what they have and what it’s worth, others don’t know but are wary. So when the item in question is something I really want, I pay the listed price—in general that’s considerably less than the prices at popular flea markets like Brimfield.
8. Play it safe.
It’s scary dealing with strangers, especially when it comes to going into apartments and houses. Let sellers know they’re dealing with a human being: I always mention that my wife and I can pick up—that puts people at ease, and when a family shows up, so much the better. I give sellers my phone number and an hour before I’m picking up, I have them text me the address. And when possible, we suggest a neutral location to meet: we’ve done many transactions in grocery store parking lots.
9. Don’t forget to mine “free.”
At the top of the Craigslist page, click the For Sale drop-down and scroll past “Antiques” and “Electronics” to “Free Stuff.” Here, you’ll find everything from surplus building materials to baby clothes. We’ve found some really good stuff for the taking: a woman across the river from us was renovating and told us we could have her Pottery Barn leather sofa “if you can get it out of here by tomorrow morning.” It was perfect for one of our rooms.
10. Keep searching.
Yes, our project is complete, but like so many who get hooked on Craigslist, our hunt continues. Members of this club seem to always have a holy grail that keeps us going. Ours is a classic Swedish-style sauna—one we can take apart, move, and set up at the motel. Potential sellers note: we do our own hauling and are willing to travel.
Reuse is better for the planet than buying new. Here are four more buying guides:
Discovered on The Modern House: St. Francis House, a monastic retreat transformed into “an exceptionally chic modern home.” Located in Cambridgeshire, a 45-minute train journey from London, the late-Georgian structure was built as a country estate. It was in the 1950s that a religious order moved in and purpose-rebuilt the place as a silent retreat, stripping out just about all of the original detailing and introducing, among other things, 22 spartan bedrooms on the second floor.
Ten years ago, when Anna Unwin and Willie McDougall spotted the property in a real estate listing, they were looking to relocate from London with their three daughters. Anna, who runs AU Bespoke, is an interiors stylist and sourcing specialist, and Willie is a developer—talents that enabled them to envision a new life for all 8,500-square feet.
They opened up the downstairs as a series of invitingly tranquil living spaces, and added one of the chicest pale pink kitchens we’ve come across. As for the upstairs monk’s cells, they converted those into five bedroom suites, glam bathrooms included. Their kids are now grown and the couple say they feel ready to roam—they both have business in Ibiza and plan to spend half time there—so their giant remodel is back on the market. Join us for a tour—and go to The Modern House if you’re tempted to move in.
Photography courtesy of The Modern House.
The roof tiles are Welsh slate, one of many details that look as if they’ve always been here but were in fact brought in by Anna and Willie.
The World War I brass bullet cases on the mantel are from Anna’s AU Bespoke collection.
Go to The Modern House to see more.
Here are some three more standout house transformations in England:
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