My New York City apartment search, which took place during the spring of 2021, was filled with a whole lot of lust and an equal amount of heartbreak. First there was the elegant one-and-a-half bedroom with a beautiful fireplace mantel located in a storied building on the Upper West Side. Before I could even book a showing, a bidding war broke out, with the listing skyrocketing way beyond my price range (yes, all for a rental). I then fell in love with a historic unit in a Brooklyn brownstone, which was located on the parlor floor and oozed architectural character and charm galore. The only catch? The sole spot to place a bed was directly across from the front door and right beside a window. Even worse, the apartment’s only closet was located down a dimly lit flight of stairs—a feature that my nine-year-old self may have gleefully associated with Harry Potter, but my 29-year-old self most definitely did not.
By the time that I’d toured dozens of additional apartments and secured a well-priced, sunlit unit on the Upper East Side, I was genuinely happy with where I had landed. Yet beyond its black-and-white checkered kitchen flooring and living room built-ins, the space wasn’t exactly character-filled. But as an avid design enthusiast who will go to great lengths to at least fake a little bit of vintage charm, I wasn’t letting that stop me—I just knew I had a few projects to tackle. Here’s what I did in an effort to translate some of the swoon-y elements from the apartments I lost sleep over to my basic, railroad-style walk-up unit.
I brought my faux mantel with me—and ordered another one, too
I had purchased a couple of faux mantels for my prior rental unit in Washington, D.C., one of which I brought with me on the moving truck. It’s a stunning marble piece, sourced by my friend Molly of Mantel House DC, that I knew would look elegant in my bedroom, which happens to feature a wall that juts out slightly and gives the piece some extra oomph. I had also ordered another, pricier, marble mantel for my living room from Toronto–based Trumeau Stones. Although the piece required professional installation, it’s still renter-friendly—I’ll be able to have it removed and brought to wherever I decide to relocate next.
Many of my friends and Instagram followers assume that both of these mantels were original to my apartment unit, which of course was the goal. The one in the living room really helps anchor the space and fits perfectly against the open wall.
I hung oversized mirrors galore
I had always lusted over the perfectly positioned pier mirrors that grace many of the beautiful Brooklyn apartments I’d seen on Instagram and let so much light into a space. I took to secondhand sites—including Facebook Marketplace and eBay—to source the oversized mirrors that now hang in my living room and bedroom. My goal was to enhance visual interest in both of these spaces while creating the illusion of additional square footage, too.