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



“Books and Nooks”: The Living Room Edition

We here at The Ginger Penny Pincher—and by “we” I mean me—feel strongly that you do NOT have to have a lot of money to have a beautiful home.  It usually just takes time, creativity, and a little search engine action!  Needless to say, I apply this philosophy to my own life, most recently as this past August, when my husband and I moved to Brooklyn.

Honestly though, I’ve had a lot of practice:  We have moved four times in less than three years of marriage.  Due to that whole starving artist thing we got going on—and we got it goin’ ON!—we have always been in apartments that were perhaps a little smaller than what we really needed.  As performing artists, we have a lot of work-related “stuff”:  plays, sheet music, music books, more books, lots of dance clothes, dance shoes, many notebooks, musical instruments, a surprising array of office supplies, extensive record-keeping systems and folders of receipts (since we usually work as independent contractors), two dogs…  well, the dogs are unrelated, but they do take up a bit of room… and still more books.  Lots of books.

All this stuff needs a place (“A place for everything, and everything in its place”), but with smaller living quarters, this poses a challenge.  Not to mention the challenge of trying to make our home not look cluttered.   And providing storage for all the stuff.  Oh yeah, and there’s a budget, so…

Ok, so I thought I would take you on a tour of MY home and hopefully offer some suggestions, advice, perhaps a few anecdotes, and by doing so simultaneously inspire you to go forth and revive your own home – without breaking the bank.  Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so if you do not love my apartment, that’s OK.  You don’t hurt my feelings :-)  (I LOVE my apartment!), but perhaps some of my tips and tricks can be of use to you, anyway.

Welcome to my home, “Books and Nooks”:  The Living Room Edition!!!

 (That’s right, I named our home “Books and Nooks.” )

Living room

PaintOne of the most cost-effective and easiest ways to make a major change, and it sure beats contractor white.  I used satin finish, but opted for the cheapest mix.  You have to request this, otherwise they’ll usually give you the medium-priced or highest-prices one.  (1 gallon, $22)

Couch:  Not my favorite thing we own, but it works!  The couch was a hand-me-down — from a friend of the family– and I added a slipcover from Wal-mart.   ($32)

Houndstooth rug: This is where a search engine comes in handy — I Googled houndstooth rug under the shopping option and had BY FAR the best deal.  And the quality is great!  ($125, a splurge in GPP land, but worth it for the big statement it makes, and FAR cheaper than many of the full priced dopplegangers that can run as much as $1,000.)

Throw pillows:  The paisley one was made from fabric out of the remnants bin at JoAnn (most fabric stores have these).  The green one on the couch is silk with real down filling (ooh la la!)  and I totally got it at Goodwill. The two white pillows were painted by the incomparable Teresa Hyke Foster — my mom!  They are actually separate covers that were made to cover two other pillows that I’d used in a previous apartment.  Not everyone can have a mother with mad artsy skills, so if you are not feeling the free hand thing, just use a stencil.  You can buy these or BETTER yet, find one and print it off from the computer.  (app. $20 for all pillows)

Another view of the living room

Painting:  By Teresa Hyke Foster. I am really spoiled.  It was a Christmas gift, and it is of Preservation Hall, a jazz club in New Orleans, where Josh and I honeymooned  — not in the jazz club, in the city.  (Cost = free! Santa is the best.)

Stacks of books:  I mentioned we have lots of books. One can only have so many bookshelf units in their home (we have four!).  Instead, I have chosen to “feature” some of the prettier hardback books in various stacks throughout the apartment (and yes, I try to color coordinate the stacks of books — it’s prettier that way!).  Update:  Since taking this picture, I have reduced the two short stacks to just one tall stack.  (I don’t factor in cost, because these were not originally bought for the purpose of decor).

Entertainment Center

Entertainment Center:  It was being thrown away, so we took it!  After re-painting it and adding some faux crystal drawer pulls, it’s as good as new!  (Paint = $30, Faux crystal drawer pulls = $1/each.)

Old Suitcase:  A friend of the family was getting rid of this, but we took it because… that’s what we do.  It’s easily tucked away and is also a good storage container (right now it is full of all kinds of things).

Old timey movie camera pillow:  Another THF original.  She’s a rockstar.

Large TV:  Free from a hotel that was upgrading to flat panel TV’S.   (By the way, I don’t know when we as a society got so obsessed with the size of our TV’s rear ends, but that does seem to be the trend.  Whatever, I got a free, big-screen TV out of it.)

Storage containers above entertainment center:  Pretty storage!  All purchased on clearance at a home decor store.  I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for something.  (app. $20 for all three)

I thought I was so clever, making a reading area for myself; Margeaux got to it first. Silly humans and their plans.

Old timey movie camera pillow:  Another THF original.  She’s a rockstar.

Corner by the front door

Hanging paper lamp:  Ikea, $29.99.  I love Ikea.

End table:  It was being thrown away = free for me!

Stackable chairs: Target, $15.99 ea.  Things that stack are smart!

Beautiful hardwood parquet floors:  The perks of living in a pre-war apartment building.

Wall art:  I really need a close-up of this — I took a framed “inspirational quote” from Goodwill (I bought it for the frame), took out the inspirational quote (“Reach for the stars!”  Really?), and put in my own picture — ransom note style, with various F’s and D’s cut out from magazines and glued on a piece of white paper (those are the letters of our last names, in case you were trying to work it out).  Cost = the randomly chosen Goodwill price of $1.88 for the frame.

Behind the couch

Vase, flowers:  Ikea is my baby’s daddy.  ($10, total… though I know this could be done for less.)

Baker’s Rack

Baker’s Rack:  I grew up with this piece of furniture in my childhood bedroom, and it housed all of my toys.  It started out black, then was painted fire engine red, then hunter green, then the color things get when they’re dusty, as it sat in the basement for 11 years, barely being used.  I knew in NYC we’d need as many kitchen storage options as possible because:  a) I love to cook, and b) I have a LOT of kitchen utensils and appliances that I will NOT be parting with any time soon.  Going with the vertical tradition of NYC, I took this baker’s rack and –six cans of spray paint later– it is definitely not hunter green (a color I despise), but rather lime green.  (I know this color isn’t for everybody, but I love it — it’s like caffeine for the eyes.)  Of course, I have some cabinet space, but very little, so I decided to showcase my prettiest plates and stainless steel appliances and hide the less pretty things in the cabinets.  I used various crocks and flower pots to store utensils and flatware, since my kitchen drawers were actually too narrow for a standard size drawer divider.  I stuck a rod through the curlicue holes on the sides of the baker’s rack to offer a place to hang a roll of paper towels.  The two boxes serve as storage (a packing box and a shoebox) and I just covered them with scrapbook paper that I’d previously found in the clearance section at Hobby Lobby (wrapping paper would’ve been even better, but I didn’t have any).

Appliances:  Ah, the wonders of a wedding registry :-)

S hooks:  I added these into the grated shelves of the baker’s rack.  Coffee mug storage = 10 cents each!


Barware:  Wedding registry win!

Bookcase:  Wal-Mart, $10.

Mirror:  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…

Dining “room.” Quotation marks were essential.

Dining room table:  This is one of my FAVES!  Idea by Teresa Foster, follow-through by Courtney Foster-Donahue, demolition by Harold and Derek Foster, and assembly by Josh Donahue (we should really take our show on the road).  I knew I wanted a dining room table in NYC, but the most important things were for it to be small and… pretty!  My mother had found an antique (circa 1920’s) Singer sewing, but it had been collecting dust in their basement since my family moved to Atlanta.  I did some Googling and found this table, and by coincidence, I already had the exact same chairs, so I just copied the idea! We took a pre-made Ikea table top ($20) and affixed it to the sewing machine base (my father and brother removed the original top).  Of course, not everyone has a mother with an eye for antiques, but it is possible to find these sewing machines in a lot of unexpected places, in addition to antique stores.

Spaghetti hanging lamp:  Oh you know, someone was getting rid of it… story of my life.

Framed poster: If you still have unframed posters up on your walls, the only acceptable reason for this is that you’re still in college.  I’m not passing judgment, I’m just tellin’ you like it is. (This is where I add an emoticon so you don’t think I’m a rude word.)  :-)   There, I did it.

YUM letters:  $1 ea. at Hobby Lobby and I spray painted them with leftover spray paint from a past project.  I reeeaaalllyyyy like spray paint, but don’t worry, I don’t huff it — that’s bad news.

Textured table runner: $3.99 at Ross (Dress for Less).  And I did.

The quality of this photo is pretty rough.

Kitchen/wall:  It’s a kitchen, it’s a wall, it’s a kitchen/wall!  It’s NYC Livin’ at its finest.

Kitchen utensils:  Oooh, orange!  These were all purchased at TJ Maxx or Ross, so you KNOW I didn’t pay full price.  They have been hung using a tension rod.  Tension rods are the best.

Artwork:  These two prints above the sink are both from an old picture book all about food (thrifted, of course).  I cut them out and put them in frames from the Dollar Tree.

Hard hat sign:  Josh found this while walking in the park in Atlanta one day.  That’s called free, folks!

Kitchen nook

Kitchen nook:  You cannot see this alcove unless you are in it, so I was OK with a little more clutter here.  The magnetic knife rack is perfect for apartments (Ikea, $8.99, but really I got it at a spring cleaning clothes swap, so it was FREE).  Again, I love me some tension rods, and I have used them here to hang even more utensils (they are hung with paper clips).

Hope you enjoyed the tour of my living room!  Bedrooms pics will come very soon, but in the meantime please feel free to comment (below) or e-mail me with some pics of your very own; I’d love to feature them on this blog!

Oh yeah, SUBSCRIBE!  (to the right, to the right…)