front yard makeover: the plan

Ever since I took over management of the building 10 years ago, re-doing the front yard has always been at the top of my wish list of projects to complete.  But along the way, other projects took priority like exterior painting, landscaping, and apartment updates.  Somehow this project always seemed to get pushed off of the docket and ended up on the “maybe someday” list.  I even applied to a few HGTV makeover shows in hopes that our building would get picked and our front yard makeover would become a reality.  I thought maybe I even had an in when I met the designer and star of one of the shows at an event.  Sadly, even that dream died.

So this project has been about a decade in the making for me and I am beyond excited to tick this one off the list.  Before we take a look at where we’re going, let’s take a look back at where we started.

Back in 2009, the building was green and taupe and hadn’t been painted in at least 20 years.  It had a ton of overgrown foliage, peeling paint, bars on some windows, rusty security doors on a few units, dirt down the center driveway, and a plethora of opportunity to whip this 1950’s-era building back into shape.  We started small by just cleaning up the existing landscaping and then adding some new plants and faux grass down the center driveway.

Then when we painted, the building really transformed.  Take a look at the before and after photos below.

why update the front yard

Well, it’s the first thing every apartment tour, resident, visitor, and neighbor sees and as the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.   The curb appeal of the front of the building sets the tone for what you can expect when you step into one of the apartment suites and we believe that a pretty environment makes for a nicer and lovelier place to call home.

design goals

We like to approach every project we do by first asking ourselves what we can improve on.  Here’s a few things we’d like to accomplish in redesigning the front yard:

Improve curb appeal and building aesthetics

First and foremost, we wanted to redesign the front yard to be pretty – both from the street and from the inside of the community.  We want it to feel like a natural extension of the mid-century building while still updating it to make sure it fits with timeless trends.

Enclose the front yard and building

As it is now, the front yard is very open and exposed.  We feel that by enclosing the front yard, this will make the community as a whole more private, less accessible, feel more secluded, and reduce the amount of walk through foot traffic.

Provide privacy for the lower front units

These two suites have their bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen windows exposed to the street, sidewalk, and neighboring buildings.  While this can be great for people watching from the patio, this isn’t an ideal view for a bedroom or bathroom since foot traffic on the sidewalk can easily peer into these areas if the blinds are open.  We redesigned the front yard with increased privacy for these two units in mind.

Provide a sound barrier between the building and the street

Living in one of the front four units naturally comes with an expected level of street noise.  You hear the intersection, street traffic, pedestrians walking by that can get rowdy after the bars close, and Hamburger Mary’s in all its late night drag queen bingo glory.  There’s nothing to buffer and filter the sound so we also aimed to address this in the new design.

Create an outdoor area for community events and residents

Of the 16 1-bedroom apartments that make up the community, only six of them have outdoor patio areas.  The majority of the apartments have no private outdoor space and the community does not have any common areas for the residents to get together.

Every few years, we like to throw an event in the center courtyard so that all of the residents can meet each other and get to know one another.  In redesigning the front yard, we wanted to enclose it so that we could move these events to a private area that wouldn’t impede the use of the driveway.  This also creates an opportunity for our residents to have a place to be able to read a book in the sun or have a margarita outside with a friend.  We hope that the redesign of the front yard allows our residents to do that while still being mindful of the proximity to neighbor’s windows.

the plan

To prepare for the front yard redesign and for inspiration, I’d often walk up and down the surrounding streets, stopping to take pictures of yards that I admired.  I had pieced together a few different ideas that I liked when one fateful day, as I was driving along my regular short cut through an adjacent neighborhood, an intersection was closed and I was forced to take a different street.  And thank goodness I did because I literally stopped and fell in love with a front yard right then and there that I would have never seen on my regular route.  I used this yard as inspiration for the Sweetzer design.

We’re going to start with a clean slate and will be removing all of the existing boxwood, grass, ficus trees, lighting, and wire fence.  Then, we’ll level off the soil and get to work.

First up, we’ll be building a three-foot tall wall all along the length of the front yard and set back three feet from the sidewalk.  This will enclose the front yard and act as a sound barrier while also providing additional security.  We’ll finish it with smooth coat stucco and paint it to match the building so it looks like it’s been there all along.

As a focal point, we’ll also be adding two six-foot tall pillars on each side of the driveway to define the building’s entry and add some grandeur.  To these we’ll add lighting on top and address numbers.  Eventually, we’d love for these to support a gate, but for now they will act as pretty monuments to define the entry.

We’ll also add two pedestrian gates up front to access the walkways that run along the sides of the buildings.

To soften the hardscape, we’ll add a row of white iceberg roses in front of the wall.  This will break up the space between the sidewalk and the wall with pretty foliage that echoes the already existing white roses in the brick planters and along the parkway.  We’ll also plant some fig vine that will eventually climb up the half wall too.

Behind the wall, on the inside of the property, we’ll plant a row of ficus trees that will eventually grow to form a hedge and add a ton of privacy for both the community as a whole, but especially for the two lower front units.  As the front yard exists now, these suites have their kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom windows exposed to the sidewalk and street, so having a green hedge will completely transform the view in these apartments.  They’ll feel more private and like they’re nestled in their own little secret garden.

To complete the design, we’ll add faux grass on the inside – between the ficus trees and the building.  This will ensure that this area is always green while reducing our water usage and also the need for the gardener to mow (hello, no more noisy and smelly gas mowers).  This open grass area can also double as a communal area.  Imagine putting down a blanket and reading outside in the sun with a glass of rosé in hand.  Now that sure sounds suite to us.

Let us know your thoughts on the design in the comments below.


these walls do talk: the retro wallpaper we find

When we’re remodeling an apartment, there’s nothing we get more excited about than stumbling across a gorgeous vintage wallpaper design hidden underneath 65 years worth of paint.

Back in the day, wallpaper was the stylish norm and we wish that we could find pictures of our Old Hollywood-era building to see what the apartments looked like when they were originally built.  What we’ve pieced together after updating a few of our apartments is that the kitchen cabinets were probably an avocado green and the floor a black-and-white checkered linoleum with wallpaper in the dining room (different in each unit as far as we can tell).  We usually find these fun wallpapers just above the chair rail as we’re scraping off layers of paint (and sometimes layers and layers of wallpaper).

To help preserve this 1950’s nostalgia, we started saving intact scraps to frame and hang in each apartment, but we found that some of the designs were too large to get a good salvageable piece and a small scrap just didn’t do them justice.  So we’ve made sure to take photographs of the last layer of wallpaper and mark what suite number we found it in, so we can share them here.

Let us know which design is your favorite in the comments below and be sure to check out our before and after shots of a recently remodeled apartment here.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated.


these walls do talk: laundry room remodel

Laundry: Before

Laundry.  It’s loads of fun, right?  Maybe not, but I definitely think that hitting the spin cycle in a pretty space makes it a little easier to get through.  Apartment laundry rooms are notorious for being dark, drab and boring and since we’re all about “elevating apartment life”, we set out to remodel the last of the two laundry rooms at the building we manage in West Hollywood.

We got the other laundry room up and running after 20 years of downtime a few summers back, but this one was still looking all sorts of sad and in dire need of its own so fresh and so clean. Now we’re not one to air our dirty laundry, but we wanted to tell you about how we made over this space.

the before

The first thing we always like to do when tackling a project is to really take a look at the space and identify what the problems are (if any) and think of ways we can improve on them.  The first issue in this room (other than it was just sad and ugly) was that it had an awkward layout with the dryers so far away from the wall that the previous manager had to run the exhaust pipes pretty much across the length of the room.  Not pretty or practical.

Then we had the unsightly water heater in the corner and an old table to set your laundry basket on that was found on the curb (thumbs up for recycling).  The plastic sink wasn’t flush with the sloped floor and was made level by screwing it to a piece of wood that had paint peeling off of it (nice work, MacGyver).  The original 1950’s back splash, while I love vintage charm, was way too big for that small sink and just looked odd because of it.  We know from when we remodeled the other laundry room that both rooms were originally set up to have two cast iron sinks, but we’re not quite sure where they went or why they were removed from this one.  Overall, the layout left us with a tight space with not much room to maneuver and a square room screaming for some perky paint and a new personality.

the design process

Part of the fun of a project like this is getting to design it – it’s a great creative outlet for me.  I knew immediately that I wanted to incorporate a nod to the building’s 1950’s heritage and add in a bit of drama with dark walls.  My color inspiration came from blowout salon, Drybar, since I love their color combination of gray and white with touches of yellow.

I also knew that I wanted to add some cabinets with cubbies inside for the tenants to be able to store their laundry supplies like we did in the other laundry room.  That way they don’t have to carry them back and forth every time they want to throw a load of laundry in.  In the other laundry room that we remodeled, we purchased cabinets from Home Depot and then put in dividers to make individual cubbies and added colorful storage baskets for each of the tenants on that side of the building.  But this time I wanted to do something a little bit different, so I thought we’d change it up and do a Shaker-style door instead.  I know, we got super crazy!  Off to Home Depot we went to pick up the cabinets.

When shopping for accessories for this remodel, Target was one of our first stops.  Now if you’re like me, then you already know that feeling of unadulterated pure joy that can only be felt when going up and down every aisle at Target for no reason at all.  Oh those stylish Nate Berkus desk accessories; those colorful Oh Joy! and Design Love Fest end caps filled with fun little goodies that you just HAVE to have to complete your soul.

Since I was designing this laundry room at the tail end of fall, it was right around the time that “Back to School” accessories went on sale.  Naturally, I needed to browse through these as I dreamt about our future children and their cute little backpacks filled to the brim with brand new folders and pencils (all color coordinated, of course).  I pushed my cart further down the aisle and became legitimately mesmerized at all the colorful locker accessories.  Umm, where were these when I was an awkward teenager navigating the treacherous waters that are middle school?  My locker could’ve used some of this “cool” factor back in the 90’s to go along with my C+C Music Factory and En Vogue tapes, for sure.

Back at the job site later, I reminisced about those super rad locker magnets and mini chandeliers that I saw at Target to my project manager (and boyfriend), Brian.  I think I might’ve even said, “I wish I could go back to school just to decorate my locker!”  Well, then smarty pants Brian looked at me and said, “Why don’t we do lockers for the cubbies in the laundry room instead?”  DING!  That’s it!  That’s a brilliant idea that I didn’t come up with on my own (err…). But I gotta give design credit where it’s due and Brian definitely earned this one.  Back to Home Depot we went to return the Shaker-style cabinets.

We hunted high and low for lockers that were big enough to fit a standard size laundry soap jug and thought that square “box” style lockers were just the ticket.  Only we weren’t able to find them anywhere where they were also counter height.  They were either too tall or too short. Having to abandon my dream of eight individual box lockers stacked two high and four wide, we ended up going to a locker salvage yard and purchasing used double-tier vintage lockers instead.  Oh, the memories they evoked from my Thunderbird days.  The good news was that they were within budget.  The bad news was that they were old, beat up, and blue.  Brian got to work on power washing them and then hammering out some dents in addition to cutting them in half, painting, and securing them together.

 

pulling it all together

Now that we had our lockers and a solid vision, we got to work on pulling the whole design together.  We started by relocating the ugly water heater out of the room and to the other side of the wall where there is an adjacent storage closet.  This freed up a ton of space and let us lay out the room in a more functional way.

We chose white wainscoting for the lower half of the walls to break up the space and give it some fun texture.  Behr “Ultra Pure White” is always our go-to white and it really helped to brighten up the small space.  To give the room some drama, we tested a few samples for the top part of the walls and finally landed on “Legendary Gray”, also by Behr.

We chose a standard Home Depot bathroom cabinet to house the sink and to covertly hide a few cleaning supplies underneath too.  I’m happy to say that when we remodeled the other laundry room, it had those two original cast iron sinks I mentioned earlier.  We saved one for this remodel and after storing it for a few years, we were able to put in back into action.  Welcome back, old buddy!  We gave it a good scrub and anchored it to the wall and cabinet.

To give the space a little glam, we tiled the sink surround with marble tile.  The hexagon shape was another nod to the 1950’s while the material was just the perfect touch to elevate the space a bit.  I think it’s so fun to use fancy finishes in unexpected places like a boring, old laundry room.  And because the amount of tile we needed was so small, we could afford to splurge a little bit here.

the after

They always say “the devil’s in the details” and I definitely think it’s the accessories job to help make the whole design come together in a cohesive way.

For the counter top, we opted for butcher block to warm up the space since Carrera marble felt too cold and like a little bit too much.  Each locker got a butcher block shelf added to it to create a place for two tenants to store their laundry supplies.  Then we labeled the inside of each locker door with yellow numbers that correspond to the tenant’s apartment number.  I still get a nostalgic kick out of that sound of metal hitting metal when opening up the lockers now.  On top of the counter top, we found the cutest vintage washing machine container from Cost Plus.  We used our Cricut to label this as the “lost & found” for stray socks.  When a solemate goes missing and is placed inside, it looks like the little washing machine has a full load of laundry in it.  So cute!

On the wall above the lockers, we added a few Ikea “Ribba” frames and used our Cricut again to design and cut out our own “artwork”.  We used large clothespins for one frame and classic laundering symbols for the other to help illustrate tenant “laundriquette” when using the communal space.

There’s nothing worse than when doing laundry, a neighbor cuts in front of you or (gasp) moves your laundry from the washer to the dryer so that they can use it.  As Stephanie Tanner would say, “How rude!”  To avoid these types of scenarios, we designed a way for the tenants to communicate who was doing laundry and who was next in line.  Each tenant now has their own name tag hung on a bubble-filled drawer pull anchored to the wall.  When doing laundry, they can move their name tag to the clip that says “washing” or “drying” to let neighbors know who is doing laundry and who is next in line.  That way, if a load is accidentally left in the dryer and forgotten about, we know whose door to knock on.  Or a tenant can claim their place in line by putting their name in the “waiting” clip.  Our tenants are very courteous and will knock on each other’s doors to let them know that they’re finished and that the washer is now available.  And for some fun, we added some magnetic poetry to play with while they wait for the machines to stop spinning.

To light the room, we went with an affordable Ikea “Vitemolla” fixture that brought in some texture and then angled each of the lights to spotlight certain parts of the room.  We chose a 50’s inspired trash can from The Container Store and to create an immediate focal point, we added a decal from Etsy that helped to bring in some of that vintage feel as well as break up the gray wall.

On the wall above the sink, we added a wire organizer from Cost Plus that was painted white and inside we added a few small accessories like a plant, vintage-looking hand soap, and a mason jar filled with clothes pins.  Above the self, we hung a metal “laundry” sign, also from Cost Plus, that we repainted yellow.  And since we always like to “surprise and delight” wherever we can, we also added a mason jar filled with Lemonhead candies for our tenants to enjoy while doing laundry.  We think the space turned out pretty sweet (even without the candies).

Let us know your favorite part of the remodel in the comments below.


these walls do talk: a peek into our remodel process

Not only do we put in a lot of hard work and spend long hours on our apartment remodels, we also put in a ton of thought and a bunch of love.  Built in 1951, this gorgeous mid-century modern building in Los Angeles is home to 16 one-bedroom suites that each get a makeover upon vacancy.

In our last completed remodel, it was also our first suite to get a complete overhaul with an all new kitchen and bathroom – both of which we had never taken on before.  This Harlow floor plan suite had been occupied for more than 10 years and had been lived in hard.  There were four (!) different types of flooring in this one bedroom apartment: old, matted carpet in the living room and bedroom, retro parquet wood flooring in the dining room, original lime green ceramic tile in the bath, and thick, dark Spanish tile in the kitchen.   The white paint on the walls had seen better days and there was custom shelving drilled high along the walls from the previous tenant.  It needed a ton of love to get back into decent shape.

Back in the ’50’s, carpet was considered a luxurious upgrade to an apartment building, but nowadays hardwood floors are way more desirable and much easier to take care of over the long term.  So when we set out to design what our remodeled apartments would include, we made sure to nix the carpet and opt for real maple hardwood floors – no laminate over here, SuiteHearts.  We also wanted to preserve some of that Old Hollywood-era charm while still making sure that the interiors of our suites were updated and functional.  We’ll show you how we achieved both.

the living room

Suite 17_Before_Living Room

The great thing about this floor plan is that it had good bones with a large living area and big windows, two walk-in closets, original crown moulding, and a built-in book shelf.  We didn’t feel that it needed major improving, aside from installing those espresso-colored hardwood floors throughout and adding window blinds.

Of course, paint is a must and has an immediate impact to any space, so we opted for a subtle hue and chose Behr’s “Chocolate Froth” for the walls and “Ultra Pure White” for all of the doors and trim.  We like to keep things uniform throughout all of our suites so this is the standard color we’ve been using for a while now with great feedback from our residents.  We’ve found that it is a nice neutral background that creates a good contrast from the white trim and allows enough color to make the space feel warm and inviting without being polarizing to different decor and color schemes.

We also made some simple changes that had high impact like replacing the doors on the two closets from dated louvered doors to more vintage-inspired and polished 2-panel rounded pre-hung ones.  One of these walk-in closets housed the suite’s water heater which was an odd location, so we took the opportunity before the hardwood floors were installed to relocate it to the closet directly outside the kitchen’s back entrance.  That left both walk-in closets open to a ton of storage possibilities.  (Shoe closet, anyone?)

To preserve the 1950’s character, we kept the gorgeous original crown moulding that runs along the living and dining room ceiling.  While we were torn with keeping the original wood detail of the built-in bookshelf, we chose to update it instead with glass shelving to keep the space open and airy.  Opting for glass also means not having to paint the shelving after each vacancy and adds a nice focal point.

the dining room

 Suite 17_Before_Dining Room

IMG_0179

While the space was pretty simple before, we made some small updates like reinstalling the chair rail that had been removed throughout the years and adding decorative moulding below to better define the space and separate it from the living room.  The moulding also added a luxurious touch to this room that’s reminiscent of the 1950’s era it is from.  Simply swapping out the dated ceiling fan for a shiny new lighting fixture sealed the deal for this divine dining room.

the kitchen

Suite 17_Before_Kitchen

Suite 17_After_Kitchen

We opted to take the plunge and remodel the entire kitchen out of necessity.  We found that throughout the years (prior to us taking over management of the building), some of the previous residents had decided to take matters into their own hands and customize the space to fit their personal needs.  While this is fine if you own the place or get permission from your Landlord ahead of time, this wasn’t the case for us and the owner of our building was left to fix all of the damage that previous tenants had done over time.

Thick, dark tile was installed on top of the old linoleum floor in the kitchen creating an uneven transition from the parquet covered dining room.  The cabinet doors in the kitchen had been removed and thrown away (we’re still not sure what the tenant was thinking on this one), a resident cut the bottom of one of the cabinets to be able to squeeze a portable dishwasher on top of the counters, and previous to this last tenant, a dog was allowed to scratch and gnaw at the bottom of the kitchen cabinets which were unable to be fixed without having to rebuild the entire cabinet.  They were too damaged to be salvageable, so we knew we had to start over.

With the kitchen being totally overhauled, we took the opportunity to redesign the layout and started with moving the sink from the corner (where a lot of counter and cabinet space was wasted) to moving it underneath the window.  This allowed for more usable counter space while still being able to look out of the window while doing dishes.

In the previous layout, the refrigerator and stove were directly across from each other which could cause some traffic congestion if both appliances needed to be accessed at the same time. So we opted to move the fridge as far over as we could to allow for more space.  We also tucked a tall pantry next to it as well for additional food storage – something that the previous kitchen never had.

After researching a few different suppliers and options, and traveling to a ton of different stores to see them in person, we chose to go with Ikea’s new Sektion cabinets because of their affordability, durability, and longevity.  What really sold us is that if something happens to one of the cabinet drawers or doors down the road, we can easily swing by Ikea and pick up a replacement.  Each cabinet was built and installed by us by hand (there’s extra love in those cabinets we can attest) and includes soft-close hinges and drawers.  Every inch was maximized and there’s even a shallow hidden drawer inside the top drawer of each of those bottom cabinets.

We opted for white Shaker-style cabinets and light colored quartz counter tops to keep the kitchen feeling light and bright.  To add some subtle color, we went with a green glass back splash to bring in a bit of a modern feel and tiled the entire space behind the stove as a focal point.

the bedroom

Suite 17_Before_BedroomSuite 17_After_Bedroom

There really wasn’t much decorative detail in the bedroom to add or improve on.  Simple updates to the paint, blinds, and ceiling fan were standard.  Where we achieved some high impact in this room, was when we updated the closet doors.

The original closet configuration included wooden closet doors that were tired and didn’t slide well.  The storage space up above was deep, but not really easily accessible or practical.  So we started over and installed floor-to-ceiling mirrored closet doors that completely transformed the space.  They immediately opened up the room and made it even brighter.  Inside, we added a closet organizer with shelving to maximize the space and also updated the linen closet cleverly hidden behind the bedroom door with the same Ikea cabinets that we used in the kitchen. Storage galore!

the bathroom

Suite 17_Before_BathroomSuite 17_After_Bathroom

While redoing the entire bathroom was not on the original remodel plan, as the project evolved, it quickly became clear that if we were going to put this much effort into one suite, why not go all the way?  We had always planned on updating the bathroom, just not to this extent.  Bye bye groovy lime green tile, hello stunning Carrera marble!  Go big or go home, right?

While we loved the original tub, it just wasn’t big enough for those Calgone moments, so we opted to go with a stand-up shower configuration instead.  In this small space we splurged a little bit and went with white-and-gray Carrera marble for the shower with a silver band and shower nook accent.  We chose a frameless and trackless sliding shower door to keep the bathroom feeling as open as possible and make cleaning a breeze.  The floor is gray ceramic and the bathroom is accented with brushed nickel hardware – from the toilet paper holder to the towel bar and textured mirror.

The space between the vanity cabinet and shower was tight so we had to get creative and repurpose a piece of furniture from one of our favorite affordable hidden gems, Nadeau Furniture on La Brea.  We customized this piece to fit the plumbing and added an above cabinet sink to complete the overall look.

It was a lot of work but also a ton of fun shopping for and putting together every piece that went into this suite.  The owner of our building loved it so much that they opted to remodel the next two suites coming up just like this one.  Deep breath, we’re off to Ikea again…

What was your favorite part of this remodel?  Let us know in the comments below.