Happiness is…

…acquiring a pair of vintage dining chairs that are almost exactly what you’ve been coveting without having to pay shipping costs beyond the price of a cab ride home.

I’ve been looking for a mid-century dining table, preferably a gate leg or other drop leaf table, and chairs to go along with it for a while now. On a whim, I decided to spend today hitting the various vintage shops in Chelsea. If I had the luxury of a car, I wouldn’t be beholden to the overpriced sources in Manhattan, but such is life. I hit a few of the bigger shops along West 17th Street with no luck, then decided that rather than going to Container Store for new underbed bins and having to lug them around all day, I should take my chances up on 24th Street, where Olde Good Things and the weekend flea market in the parking garage across the street are located.

Olde Good Things is always good for a laugh at their prices, but sometimes you never know what you’ll find. And I certainly didn’t find these there. But I got to ogle a lot of very nice furniture and salvaged stuff that always makes me wistful that these things don’t get to stay in their original locations.

I wasn’t very optimistic about the flea market, it tends to be primarily lots of ugly paintings and costume jewelery and of course on the weekend of the Mad Men premiere, it’s typically going to be overrun with people looking for vintage outfits. I happened upon this one store in the back corner of the second level after I’d pretty much given up hope of finding anything decent. I’d seen chairs in varying conditions at other vendors (including one pretty beat up Hans Olsen triangle chair), but these were pretty immaculate . There’s a small tear in the vinyl on one seat, and the joinery on the other chair is a bit loose, but they’re both stable with minimal wear and tear. Basically, just what I’ve been looking for and at a reasonable price.

I’ll see what I can do about repairing the tear in the vinyl, but I’ll probably make removable seatcovers to keep them in good shape.

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Day 2: And so it continues

New day, new realtor.

Apartment 4: 1 bedroom, 5th floor walkup. Nice sized rooms including a nice sized kitchen, but not much to write home about. Sloping floors. No laundry in bldg. 1 block from subway.

Apartment 4

Apartment 5: 1 bedroom, 4th floor walkup. Smaller rooms, living room and kitchen are one space. Almost set up like a railroad apartment. Laundry in building.

Apartment 5

Apartment 6: 1 bedroom, 4th floor walkup. Large living room. Good sized bedroom. 3 large closets and a nice bathroom. Kitchen has original cabinets, but under renovation. West-facing windows in bedroom and living room both with park view. Back of building so nice and quiet.

Apartment 6

So in case you couldn’t tell from that rather glowing description… I took that last one. I’m still on a bit of a high that is a combination of excitement and terror. It’s a pretty big deal and it means I’m soon going to be depleting my bank account to pay the various fees and deposits, but all in all I’m happy. I’ll finally have an apartment of my own with good light, good space, and a built-in workout! Yes the stair situation is not quite ideal, but I can make the best of that. Plus I’m planning on hiring movers so it’s not like I’ll be begging friends to haul my stuff up those flights. And I’m going to ask my realtor if there’s any way the management company will leave the original cabinets and let me do my own rehab/DIY project with them. Because, seriously they are fantastic. And I love a project.

And now the fun begins! Well… assuming my application is approved.

Update: Approved! Hooray for good credit. I’ll be signing paperwork on Tuesday. And fantasizing about my next steps for the foreseeable future.

Day 1: And so it begins

This weekend I contacted the real estate company we used 8 years ago to help find a place. My realtor lined up a few places once I’d filled out the paperwork and I was off!

Apartment 1: A “2” bedroom on the 3rd floor of a walkup at the northern end of my neighborhood. Decent closet off the entry (also, the bathroom… odd.) Living room a decent size with a connecting doorway to the “first” bedroom. Probably would’ve had a set of french doors to separate it from the living room originally, but it’s a good size. “Second” bedroom off the first with two decent closets. Both bedrooms face west with a decent amount of light because of the parking lot behind the building that separates it from the next building. Kitchen somewhat small but has a dishwasher. Over budget. A bit far from the train. Also… a walkup.

Apartment 1

Apartment 2: A 1 Bedroom closer to the subway in an elevator building. Decent sized living room and bedroom with 2 closets and slight park view. Nice bathroom. Miniscule kitchen. Like, unbelievably small. Consisted of small fridge, sink with a lip that could possibly be called a countertop and a stove/oven. Forget that work triangle that ideal kitchens are supposed to have. You have to sashay sideways to get from the fridge to the sink to the oven. If you turn 90 degrees you’ll be wedged between the appliances and the wall. Room was probably originally a bathroom. Oh well. But it was under budget.

Apartment 2

Apartment 3: A 1 Bedroom across the street from Apartment 2. Dingy lobby and hallways. Apartment a bit dark, but faces east and this was late afternoon. Kitchen and living room decent sized. Kitchen has original (heavily painted) cabinets. But very cool. Bathroom is a bit of a mess. Bedroom may be a bit small. Security grate over bedroom window. Fun. Three smallish closets. Plaster walls and ceiling heavily cracked. I’d be nervous hanging anything. No views to speak of. But under budget.

Apartment 3

So that’s where I stand after 1 day of apartment hunting. Realtor doesn’t seem super optimistic about availability of apartments now. But I’ll keep looking. Have contacted another realtor, just in case.

How *does* she do it?

Searching for a new apartment is a matter of factors. Which neighborhood do I want to live in? Can I afford it? What amenities am I willing to do without? What is an absolute must have? I’ve come to several conclusions about what I need in an apartment. So let’s give them a little run-down, shall we?

Commute

First off, while having a quick commute would be nice, it is not at all necessary for me. I enjoy the time I spend on the train in the morning, mainly because I have the ability to get a lot of reading and sometimes knitting done. I realize that this is partly because I’m blessed with being the second stop on my subway line, which means I’m pretty much guaranteed a seat every ride. Your mileage may vary on this one.

Size

I’ve done a rough accounting of my possessions, and there is simply no way I can deal with living in a studio. I’ve acquired quite a bit of furniture, and I’ve gotten quite used to having a palatial 3 bedroom apartment for 7 years and I’ve seen what real estate agents have the balls to call a “1 bedroom” in New York City. So because I have no desire to live with a roommate again and all the risks that implies, it’s got to be a one (or more) bedroom for me. This leads us to…

Cost

Cost is probably the biggest factor people consider when they move, and I’m no different. I had to force myself to look honestly at my budget. Sharing a place for 7 years without the burden of owning (and paying for, and maintaining) a car has been a real boon for my bank account. I don’t make a ton of money, but I’m able to put away a fair amount every year thanks to my relatively hermitic lifestyle. But let’s not go nuts here. I won’t be able to afford anything over $2,000 and even something close to that is probably pushing it once things like utilities… and food… are taken into account. I’d like to be able to continue saving money and also have the ability to go out to dinner or drinks on a frequent basis.

Neighborhood

“Neighborhood” is a pretty interesting term because it encompasses so many things. It relates to both the community around you and the built environment around you. Because I work in the architecture field, built environment is really important to me. I’m always drawn to neighborhoods with “character” that have a very clear visual identity. If you showed me a picture of a city street, chances are I could identify the neighborhood where it sits due to the distinctiveness of the buildings, sidewalks, landscape, etc.

But neighborhood more commonly refers to the community: the networks of people and businesses that make up a place. While I’d love an architecturally significant neighborhood, I’d probably rely more on proximity to a decent grocery store, a drug store, a bank, some restaurants and bars, or even some decent shopping. When a neighborhood has these things and you don’t have to rely on traveling somewhere else to get the necessaries, life becomes a bit easier.

Safety

Let’s face it, living in New York you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times. I’ve lived in The Bronx and Manhattan for the past 12 years and I like to think I’m relatively savvy, but that doesn’t mean I want to be clutching a rape whistle or pepper spray on my walk home from the subway at night. So I’m going to be honest, there are neighborhoods that I, as a little white girl, am just not going to be comfortable living in, especially since I’ll be living alone. My current neighborhood certainly isn’t perfect. There’s been a string of muggings and rapes, most of which are to some degree aided by proximity to the several parks in the area. But, again, this is New York. You run the risk of being in these situations by living here, and sometimes it doesn’t matter how safe you think your neighborhood is. It only takes one time. So you need to be alert and aware no matter where you are.

Amenities

Moving away from the scarier aspect of modern city living, let’s talk about something more fun: amenities. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed having a first floor apartment. It makes getting in and out of my building easy, especially during moves or acquisitions of new furniture. But it leaves much to be desired in terms of light and privacy. It would be great to leave my windows open and not have to worry about people being able to see me while I read in bed (and make comments on the book I’m reading). And while stairs would be a great work out, I don’t particularly relish climbing three or four flights with groceries. So I’d put an elevator at the top of the list.

Second in importance, would be a laundry room. Most apartments I’ve encountered in the city simply don’t have a washer or dryer in the unit, so I won’t even bother looking for that. But a laundry room in the building is pretty much a necessity.

This next one is where it gets tricky: pets. I don’t have one now, but I’d really like to keep open the option of getting a dog (or a cat) if only to make the aspect of living alone a little less lonely.

Finally, we have outdoor space. This is something where I’m very flexible in my interpretation. I don’t mean that I want a back garden or a balcony, though that would be lovely (and expensive). I’d really settle for proximity to good outdoor space. Inwood has three great parks plus easy access to the Manhattan Greenway along the Hudson River. I consider myself really spoiled by the access that I have to these spaces especially in visiting other neighborhoods where even street trees are a rarity.

So where does that leave me? 

All of these things have been factored in and basically I’m staying put. My neighborhood isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn great, especially once I consider the type of apartment I could get for my budget.

I kicked off the official apartment hunt this week with a visit to a realtor. So far I’ve seen three apartments and while I haven’t found a place yet, I’m feeling pretty good about the prospect.