The Odyssey of the Curtain-Rod-Bookshelf Thing

Slightly confusing title, I know.  But that pretty much sums up the whole decor thing that Josh and I have been trying to resolve the last three months.  I know… that still doesn’t clear up any confusion.  Ok, I’ll explain… let’s start at the very beginning:

(I feel like a quasi-nun with a guitar ready to sing to an audience of Von Trapp children…. Aw… )

As you may remember, Josh and I moved here to Brooklyn just three months ago.  Prior to that, we had lived in Atlanta (in three different apartments… we’re gypsies).  Obviously, moving to most anywhere in NYC pretty much guarantees you’ll be living in an apartment, and our case was no exception.  However, Josh and I have always made the commitment to make anywhere we live feel like a home, regardless of whether we’re renting it or not.  For us, this usually means painting, adding shelving, and hanging art — paying no mind to whether or not we may have to spackle, prime, and re-paint back to boring contractor white in the future.  Whatever.  It’s always worth it in the end, and the amount of money spent to achieve this is never much.

Well, as you may remember from one of my previous posts, “Books and Nooks: The Living Room Edition,” we already completed our living room and kitchen/wall (calling it a kitchen would be an insult to real kitchens everywhere — it’s a “kitchen/wall”).

Wait.  What’s that?  You want to see some pictures of it to remind yourself and/or you don’t feel like navigating away from this page to check out that link?

I can take care of that!  Worry not!

Here you go:

there's that houndstooth rug again... mmmm....... :)

The Baker's Rack of Champions... definitely making up for what's lacking in the kitchen/wall.

That is a dining room table made out of an antique Singer sewing machine base. Yes!!!

A corner. A chair. An unnecessarily fuzzy picture.

Precious. A kitchen/wall.

P.S. -- Since I took this picture back in September, this particular corner of our living room has calmed down quite a bit... cause there's a lot going on over there.

Ta da!!!

So… living room: check!  kitchen/wall:  as “check”ed as it’s ever going to be!

In the meantime, there’s the bedroom.  For the most part, we were reusing our previous design and colors from our last apartment (I’d love to show you pictures — it was lovely — but I never took any… what’s wrong with me?).  However, we were gaining a few exciting additions for this particular apartment….

Mrs pillow

A Teresa Foster original, of course.

Mr and Mrs Pillows

(We took two pillows whose facades we were getting tired of and covered them in these DIY Mr and Mrs pillow covers.  There were super easy and super cheap:  white duck cloth, a little velcro (in the back), green fabric paint, and the steady hand of one Teresa Foster.)

The other differences in this apartment had less to do with additions and more to do with subtractions, i.e., the subtraction of square footage.  This was no surprise to us (as we were clever measurers beforehand), not to mention it’s an NYC apartment.  If it’s not a little small, something’s probably wrong with it (or the neighborhood… or both).  Armed with this knowledge and the measurements (I mean seriously, we were very Type A about this particular matter — I made a scale drawing and everything), we realized we would have to use a lot creativity when it came to storage options.

After considering every nook and cranny — under the bed, in the closet, on the bookshelf — we realized we would still need more storage space.  Making said storage space aesthetically pleasing was another matter, too.  In the true vertical tradition of New York City, I thought UP.

I also thought of an excellent post that I’d read a couple of years ago from one of my favorite blogs, Young House Love.  This couple used Ikea wardrobes on either side of their bed  and then hid them with curtains to create additional closet space.  Here are some pictures of their brilliance:

Bedroom with Lights

Bedroom During

Without the curtains (this is also a "progress" shot as you will see from the unpainted wood on the ceiling)

Being a renter, I knew it wasn’t worth the time and trouble (and extra bucks) to add molding to the top like this couple did, but I knew I could use the same concept for our bedroom.  After all, with about three feet on either side of our bed, it seemed silly to waste all that space on a mere night stand and a lamp.   Instead, I thought we could get two bookshelves, hide those with curtains, and gain loads of storage space in the process.

I also knew that this project needed to be an inexpensive one, so I turned to my tried and true inexpensive furniture retailer, Ikea.  I decided their Billy bookcases — which measure 79 1/2″ high, but only 15 3/4″ wide —  would be the perfect option:

BILLY Bookcase, white Width: 15 3/4 " Depth: 11 " Height: 79 1/2 " Max load/shelf: 33 lb  Width: 40 cm Depth: 28 cm Height: 202 cm Max load/shelf: 15 kg

Mr. Billy Bookcase

While Ikea furniture is famously inexpensive (this bookcase is only $39.99), I knew I could probably find one or both of these bookcases on the ol’ Craigslist.  So the search began… and quickly yielded results:  I was able to purchase one Billy bookcase for $15, less than half of the original $39.99! I continued searching for the second one, but couldn’t find one that I thought was reasonably priced.  We really wanted to buy both of them before we moved, so we caved and went to Ikea (but less than $55 for two bookcases?  That’s not so bad).

Once we moved in, we assembled them, placed them on either side of our bed, loaded them up with our stuff, and said “ahhhh…….”

wait for it...

But only for a minute, because we still had to address the aesthetic issue: covering up the less than lovely and super cluttered bookcases.  We had navy blue curtains from our previous apartment that were only a few inches shy of being ceiling height, so we decided that these could be reused for this same project.  The only question was how to hang them. This is where the difficulty began.

To help you fully understand our three month plight, let me go through each of our “solutions” and then show you how we determined that they were anything BUT solutions:

1.  Hang the curtains to the wall using a curtain/drapery rod as if the bookcases were windows.  

(This is that moment in the game show where a buzzer goes off, making us feel silly for even suggesting such an answer.)

We knew this wouldn’t work aesthetically because the book cases stick out about two feet from the wall.  This would pull the curtains out from the wall and drape over the bookcases in a not-so-cute fashion.  Wrong answer.  Try again.

2.  Use a curved curtain rod

The problem is, these don’t really exist. They have curved shower rods, but these usually run about $30 EACH, so after buying two, we’d be out $60.  Nope.

However, I thought it would be cool to use plumber’s pipe and make one of our own considering plumber’s pipe comes in different lengths and also has corner pieces.  I thought we could attach one end to the back wall and the other end to the side wall. We had a $60 Home Depot gift card, so why not!?

This is an example of what I'm talking about...

Well, after using the WHOLE gift card on plumber’s pipe (really — it cost that much!), we looked forward to attaching it to the walls, hanging the curtain, and being done with the whole thing  (because at this point, the living room was finished, so we figured the bedroom should be, too!).  What we didn’t take into consideration was the weight of these pipes on plaster walls.  Whoops.  To make a very long and aggravating story short, we tried EVERY method out there, and try as we might, we never figured out a way to hang these things without ripping out a chunk of plaster (which maybe almost happened?).  Deep guttural sigh………  Back to the drawing board.

3.  The third method involved attaching Ikea cable to the ceiling and hanging the curtain from this.  Well… count this as Epic Fail #3 and I’ve got the pictures to prove it:

Are you KIDDING me?!

As you can see, the cable sagged under the weight even though we had it as taut as possible.  When we tried to tighten the cable a second time so it wouldn’t sag, it literally popped out of the ceiling (forget those screws that were holding it in place).  Fortunately, the rest of the ceiling didn’t come with it.  Whew.

4.  Moving on.  For the next idea (that never came to fruition) I thought back to a “canopy” bed I had when I was in high school.  In reality, it was a daybed, but my parents took two metal towel rods, attached them to the ceiling, and draped a piece of fabric over my bed (glorious…. again, no photos).  I thought we could use this same method on either side of the bed, but instead of draping the fabric, we could attached the curtain with rings of some sort (a problem to be solved in the future).  After pricing numerous towel rod options, I realized this was going to be WAY more expensive than it was worth.  Either the towel rods were too short or they were too expensive.  At one store, it would have cost $80 to buy both towel rods of proper length (WHAT?!).

5.  A solution!

I had pretty much removed the situation from my mind, because it was aggravating both of us so much. And we still couldn’t think of an economically effective, plaster wall friendly solution.

I say “pretty much removed… from my mind” but that’s a lie.  I mean THIS is what we had to look at every day:

angst angst angst

Well…. the solution came one day, rather unexpectedly at Ikea (though the Ikea part is not unexpected).  I was shopping with my friend, Maria, helping her with her $100 apartment makeover (future blog post comin’ at ya in December — look out!).  I was totally not even thinking about my wretched curtain situation, when I stumbled upon the solution.  In the kitchen section, Ikea has three foot long metal rods, with curved ends that are meant to be attached to a wall.  They’re called BYGEL Rails and they are a mere $2.99 (though right NOW they are on sale for $1.99).  They are great for towels, but their main purpose is to support different types of caddies and hanging kitchen objects.  Here’s a picture so you know what I’m talking about:

BYGEL Rail, silver color Length: 21 ¾ " Height: 2 "  Length: 55 cm Height: 5 cm

That’s right!  For $6 plus tax, I found the solution!  Given that they’re metal, they won’t sag, but given that they’re small, they won’t run the risk of ripping plaster off the walls or ceiling.  When I realized this was the solution, I was a mixture of joy and fury.  We’d already used an entire Home Depot gift card (and returning the pipes was not an option), we’d bought a package of Ikea cable (about $25), and we almost bought two towel rods (would have been $80).  To know the solution was a mere SIX dollars almost made me crazy.

Well, we went home, Josh and I attached them to the ceiling (easy!) and then we approached our next hurdle: how to attach the curtains to the rods.  The curtains are the type with big metal grommets at the top, but the openings were still not big enough to slide the curtain rod through.  Obviously, shower curtain rings or drapery clips/rings would be the solution, so I went in search of such a thing at Target.

I knew that in order to get enough rings to go through all of the grommets, I would have to buy two packs.  After pricing a few options, I realized this cost anywhere from $3 for the clear, plastic, shower curtain rings to $40 for the fancier drapery rings.  Crazy talk!  You know which ones I went with :)

And yes, if you look very closely (they are clear after all) you could think they look decidedly shower-like.  Which would be accurate as they are indeed shower rings  However, because of where they are hanging (on the ceiling, ten feet in the air) and given that clear, acrylic things are home-decor-hip right now, we can pretend they work.  (But they really do!)  For now.  I see a future of metallic silver spray paint, but I’ll worry about that later.  I’m just going to enjoy the end result for now. This is our bed nook in her day wear and evening wear:

In the evening


And here are some sassy side angles…


Yes, from this angle you can totally see the difference in the ceiling height and bookcase height, but I’m OK with that.  In actuality, you can’t really see it this well from any angle of the room — I kind of stood in the doorway and held the camera to my side, so normally this isn’t visible.

Here’s a close-up:

Pardon the camera.

And the lamps are both Ikea as well — they were easily screwed into the bookcases and we stapled the cord (quasi-discreetly) done the side of the bookcase.  Ooh la la :)

And here’s the reality of the situation, more often that not:


Those are my dogs.  They’re pretty spectacular, huh?

So instead of spending an extravagant amount of money, all we needed were our $3 rods and our $1.47 clear shower sings.  Of course, the process (read: 3 epic fails) was a bit more expensive than that, but we learned our lesson… and hopefully you can benefit from it.  Huzzah!

What do you think?  Have you ever attempted a space saving, storage maximizing project like this one?  Did you “epicly” fail 3 or more times before arriving at your solution?  (Did you have to spend a lot of money in the process?)  Let me know!

You can comment below or e-mail at



13 thoughts on “The Odyssey of the Curtain-Rod-Bookshelf Thing

  1. What a cute idea!!! I totally want to try this in my equally….ahem…”cozy” house. Did you just use standard length panel drapes? And you tell that Teresa Hyke Foster that her Mr and Mrs pillows are adorable. I want some of my own! Keep on bloggin’, lady. These are such a joy to read.

  2. “We’d already used an entire Home Depot gift card (and returning the pipes was not an option)…”

    Why not? Are you saving it for a future project? As creative as you are I’m sure the pipe will wind up used in some impressive way if you keep it. If not, if you go on craigslist and say you’ve got 60 bucks of unused pipe that you’ll sell for 50 bucks, I’ll bet you’ll find a taker. Anyway, it looks great.

  3. Thanks, Brett! Yes, we have future plans for the pipe, which is why it’s still under our bed:) However, the future plans might have to wait for a future home. We could go the Craigslist route, but I reallllyy wanna keeeep iiiit. (that was supposed to sound like a whiny voice). We’ll see… :)

  4. Pingback: And I got it for FREE! « The Ginger Penny Pincher

  5. Pingback: Things That (P)inspire Me: Words, words, words… | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  6. Pingback: Courtney’s Lists: Buying on Craigslist | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  7. Pingback: 6 Month Blog-iversary! | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  8. Pingback: Making My 70′s Intercom Pretty | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  9. Pingback: The Foyer Makeover (A Good Ol’ Before and After) | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  10. Pingback: My husband’s on Pinterest! (And other amusing updates) | The Ginger Penny Pincher

  11. Pingback: The Cheapest Meal in NYC (and a little Swedish home decor) | The Ginger Penny Pincher

Comments are closed.