It’s hard to believe I’m already 6 weeks into my New York adventure! I’ve spent much of that time getting settled into my new job, exploring the city, spending time with friends new and old and trying to escape the heat at various beaches and restaurants with AC. In the middle of making the most of the city that never sleeps, my biggest priority was finding and moving into my own apartment. Having made the big move from Australia to San Francisco 4 years ago, I knew finding a place to call home wouldn’t be easy, but the sooner I did it, the sooner I would settle and feel at peace once again.
In a city of roughly 8 million people, the rental market is competitive, particularly around August when many students flock back to the city in time for school. But if there’s one characteristic that describes me, it’s definitely decisive, so after giving my broker my top 3 list of apartment must haves, I was determined to sign a lease on my first day of hunting.
Aside from budget and location (I knew I wanted to live in either the Lower East Side or the East Village so I could walk to work at Astor Place), my no 1 request was for an exposed brick wall. Call me superficial but there’s something so beautiful and New York-esque about exposed brick, almost as if it’s a piece of art in itself. No 2 was plenty of light because I know those upcoming winter months are going to be a little dark and cold for this Aussie to get used to, and finally no 3 was to find somewhat of a kitchen space – tough ask I know, but I need a little more than a bar fridge and a singular stove top for cooking!
I met my broker, Jeff just 2 days after landing and he had a busy line-up of 8 apartments to look at in both the LES and EV neighborhoods. We powered through the 32C/89F degree heat, and up and down many walk-ups to each appointment. I was just about ready to sign on apartment number 7 when Jeff told me to wait and see number 8 as he thought it’d be the one. The agent was 15 minutes late and I was just about to call it quits after sweating it out on the street, but I’m so thankful I didn’t. Cue walking up 4 flights of stairs (68 stairs in total, yikes) to a 5th floor apartment. I walked in and tears instantly filled my eyes. Exposed brick everywhere, beautiful afternoon light and amazing hardwood floors. (Oh and a little kitchen too that would do me just fine!) “This is the one!” 30 minutes later I’d met with my landlord for an interview (turns out being Aussie is enough to pass the test!) and signed my lease. My very first New York apartment, and the first apartment I’ve ever had on my own, was finally mine!!!
I serendipitously picked up the keys the same day I started my new job, August 6 – which will now forever be a very special day in my life. It was an unbearably hot afternoon and I didn’t have AC installed in my apartment yet but I walked up to my new home, lay on the floor (yep I was sans furniture too!) and cried tears of pure joy. When I was going through a lot of the grief and events of the last few years, I’d played out this exact moment in my mind and it was finally here – talk about relief and an overwhelming happiness 🙂
I was blessed to have an apartment with Facebook until the end of August so I spent the next few weeks going back and forth between my Facebook apartment and my new place setting everything up – cue many late nights crawling through West Elm’s website and a couple of trips to IKEA later, my home finally started to come together. Special shoutout to my wonderful friend Kat who came out from San Francisco for 2 weeks and helped me not only carry all my furniture up those crazy 4 flights of stairs (you should see our muscles!) but build all the frustrating IKEA furniture and help me bring my vision for my new special space to life. Those late nights of Allen keys and takeout while listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack will stay with me forever 🙂
Okay, background to finding my apartment behind, now it’s time for my apartment tour! I knew I wanted my furniture to be mid-century, my living space to be comfortable and have room for guests, and to bring life and touches of me into the space with living plants and plenty of nods to Australia. I had so much fun finding everything and setting up my home, luckily there are so many exciting things to do right on my doorstep in this wonderful city otherwise I’d never step foot outside!
If sleeping were an Olympic Sport, I’d be a gold medallist so I knew investing in my mattress and bed frame were top priority for my apartment. I found this beautiful mid-century frame from West Elm and gave into the hype and got a Casper mattress and pillows. This mattress does not disappoint – I feel like I’m sleeping on a hotel bed and think I may need to start leaving my alarm in another room so I actually get out of bed in the morning. The bed frame looks beautiful against the exposed brick and is accompanied by a bedside table that is actually a light brown stool from IKEA that I coated in a darker varnish to match the bed, and a brass lamp from Target (with a matching one in the living room!)
Opposite my bed is a mid-century dresser from Pottery Barn, my Away suitcases (that conveniently stack up like Babushka dolls!) and the first plant of my apartment. I found two beautiful plants at Lowes – Dracaena Fragrans or more commonly known as Corn Plants. I love the beautiful green and yellow colours of the leaves and the multi-dimensional height (there’s 3 stalks with each plant). These plants are about my height (5’7/170cm) and are apparently impossible to kill (here’s hoping!). Pride of place in my room however, belongs to my beautiful print of Mona Vale beach which sits ontop of my dresser. I’ve been following photographer Gab Scanu on Instagram for a while now, and knew I wanted one of his iconic drone photos of Australian beaches in my new apartment. It was a tough decision between Mona Vale, the beach I grew up on as a child, and Freshwater, my favourite beach in the world, but I decided to go with Mona Vale as it holds some very fond memories with my family and friends. I love falling asleep looking at this picture every evening, while burning my favourite candle, ‘Baies’ from Diptique. I keep my collection of New York travel books on the dresser for future guests, as well as my beloved Collective Hub magazines.
Finally my wardrobe holds all my shoes, hats, dresses and towels and linen. Above my wardrobe I have a cupboard space that spans the length of the room, and though it requires a step ladder to get into (hidden behind my bedroom door!) it’s the perfect space to store all my coats and boots in the off season as well as bits and pieces like Christmas decor that I don’t need easy access to year round.
My bedroom makes me so blissfully happy – if I ever don’t respond to your texts it’s likely cause I’ve fallen asleep here and it’ll take a lot to wake me up 😉
If my first few years in San Francisco were anything to go by, I hope to have many visitors from Australia (and also friends now living in London and San Francisco!). I knew my living room had to be multi-functional with a sofa that became a bed, and it’s hard to go past IKEA’s Friheten L-shaped sofa bed that I’ve had the past 7 years since I moved out of home. The chaise lounge doubles as storage for guest bedding and towels and the sofa pulls out to make a very comfortable queen-sized bed that I’ve fallen asleep on many times too (are we sensing a pattern?) I found this beautiful fur blanket from West Elm and have spent many nights lying on the couch stroking this blanket – I may not be able to have a dog but I’m pretty sure this blanket provides the same psychological benefits. I’ve managed to store my keyboard behind the couch which I’m so happy about as I thought I may have to give that away (sorry neighbours, you’re going to have to listen to my scales and playing through Hamilton and La La Land!) Next to the couch is another corn plant and another Caitlin varnished IKEA stool for a coffee table. My Amazon Alexa sits here – it’s rare that I’m not listening to music throughout the day when I’m home and this is a great speaker for reaching my whole apartment. Lately I’ve been listening to this Norah Jones’ playlist on Spotify and also the Midnight in Paris soundtrack.
On the wall I’ve got my favourite city map prints from Rifle Paper Co – I had the Sydney map and heart alongside a San Francisco map back in SF, but gifted the San Francisco map to my roommate so I could get a New York map to represent my new city! I love these prints and look forward to carrying them with me wherever I go to remind me of my two homes.
Opposite the couch I’ve mounted a TV to the wall and use Apple TV for Netflix, Hulu and HBO (yep, I’ve cut the cord and I don’t have cable TV but find everything I want to watch is on one of these services) When I’m not keeping up with Bachelor Australia at the moment, I’ve been obsessed with a Netflix show called ‘Stay Here’ which is all about renovating properties to list on Airbnb – I may have gotten some design inspiration from the show already!
Above my couch is another space spanning the room for storage – up here I’ve stored all my books and I’m starting to add some succulents, candles and photos of family and friends here too. While I do have to access my books by step-ladder, I’m glad I could keep them all somewhere – this collection goes with me wherever I go too!
Kitchens in New York apartments appear somewhat as an afterthought. While there are so many restaurants here I could likely go to one a night, every night until I die, nothing beats coming home from a long day at work and unwinding with cooking. My apartment definitely overachieves in the exposed brick area, but lacks in the kitchen bench space. Thankfully this will just make me a more creative chef in the kitchen – optimizing for space wherever possible and finding clever uses for chopping boards that double as bench space over my sink. I also used the space opposite my “kitchen” for an exposed pantry with the Fjallbo shelf unit from IKEA. 2 of these units fit the space perfectly and are holding not only food but all my utensils and appliances, as well as my growing wine and cook book collection and miscellaneous home things like board games (What Do You Meme, anyone?).
I managed to make my first full meal in the kitchen last week, an adaption of my Mum’s delicious fettuccine, pancetta and tomato cream cheese concoction – check out the video of how I got along here.
The final room of my apartment, I was slightly over the moon about having a walk-in shower for the first time since I moved out of home. While I love a good bath, I always find that shower/baths take up way too much space and are never actually that comfortable when combined with a shower. Besides, not having a bath makes actual baths all the more special when I come by them (like when I’m staying at Mum and Dad’s in Sydney next month!) My shower curtain is one of my favourite parts of the bathroom, it acts as a piece of art in a space that is usually doesn’t get much love. I got this linen curtain from Urban Outfitters a couple of years ago and paired with a shower curtain liner on the shower side, it fits the aesthetic of my apartment perfectly. The Aesop soap on my basin is an important part of my bathroom too – this is an Australian soap brand I’ve loved for a while and told myself that the very first thing I’d buy when I landed in my own apartment was a bottle of Aesop for my bathroom. My beautiful friend Susie beat me to it and bought me this bottle as a birthday present this year without knowing the story behind it, so it makes it a truly special present and a symbol of starting out on my own.
In the shower I love that I can see a ‘Love Me’ mural right outside my window. It’s the perfect reminder every day as I embark on this journey on my own 🙂
Finally, above my toilet I’ve placed this satellite map of New York that I picked up from Mapiful. You can customize your own maps from this site, including name and coordinates and I’ve added the exact coordinates of my apartment to this map. Paired with my reed diffuser from CB2 and some fake palm leaves from IKEA, my little toilet cave (yes I even have exposed brick in the bathroom!) is no longer a site for sore eyes.
I am so thankful that I stumbled on my apartment so quickly and had such incredible help pulling it all together. I couldn’t feel more at home in my new city, and I’m so excited to have new and old friends over as often as possible. Hotel Empire Cait of Mind is officially open for business, let me know when you’ve booked a flight over!