Home decor is something I’ve warned you to curb your enthusiasm on.
I’ve specifically said to not worry about having a bar cart when you’re 22. There are more important things to prioritize at that age, like learning what a 401k is.
As for myself, I don’t really decorate. I’ve gone at least a decade into adulthood without understanding what a sham pillow is, or even buying a cheap poster to hang up on my wall. As maniacally self-expressive as I am with my clothes, that requirement never quite extended to my home. The gene to “put my own stamp on things” eluded me, which was one reason why I haven’t minded not being a homeowner. Grubby linoleum floors? As long as I’ve got a place to put my head at night, sure, I’ll take it.
Plus, apartments always felt temporary for me. I moved to New York City to work and try to make the best use of my skills. That’s always been the priority. Not to have a nice place.
So then, why is it that for the past month my life has been absolutely dominated by home upgrade activities? Watching Craigslist like a hawk every morning for a brand-name bed, navigating new-to-me online auction sites in hope of snagging iconic furniture, or ordering swatches of fabrics that sheets come in before ordering the actual sheets.
Readers, I’ve had a change of heart.
Or maybe it’s lifestyle inflation. After all, I don’t have any real money goals to go after anymore. So four years after moving in with my husband, it’s occurred to me that it might be nice to actually do something with our home.
I can see myself staying around for a while now. And while I’m always trolling rental listings every now and then (just in case), I’ve realized that A. We can’t find a better apartment for the same price we pay now. And B. Upgrading to a nicer apartment isn’t going to significantly increase our happiness, anyway.
Feeling a little more anchored, coupled with a recent design-focused trip to Italy where I’ve suddenly started noticing everything more, and doing nothing with our apartment starts to feels almost… disrespectful, you know?
So my husband and I are making upgrades to our rental. Slowly. I’ve never believed in buying everything for your home at once. At least whenever I did that, it was a breeding ground for bad purchases.
The first project on the list was swapping out our $5 nightstands. My husband had picked up these wooden cubes from the salvage yard–meant as a temporary solution until we found something better.
Better is subjective. For me, it means something functional. I prefer to spend some time observing how we actually use our space before going out and buying things. I noticed my husband had stuffed books in the cubes just because the space was there. I knew that if we got traditional nightstands that we’d just clutter them up with stuff. So the best nightstand for us would be something minimal. And I view nightstands as an unsexy purchase. $200 for something I wouldn’t really appreciate all that much felt kind of silly.
That’s when I found the IKEA Frosta stool. At $14.99, the price was right. They’re lightweight, stackable, and easy to put away. And the cool thing about these stools is that they can double as extra-seating when guests come over. In city apartments, multi-functionality is such a plus!
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Fun fact: the IKEA stool is actually inspired by this much more expensive Alvar Aalto E60 stool, originally designed in the 1930s. Isn’t it funny how good design lasts for decades?
The stool looks fine on its own, but I wondered if I could make it look a little less plywood-y.
The tried-and-true hacks for the IKEA Frosta stool is to paint or stain or decoupage it. But one of the more underrated ways to make anything look more expensive is by incorporating high-quality raw materials. Think marble, leather, stone, wood and fabric. I mean, there’s a reason why those materials make things more expensive, right?
Lucky for me, I had some leather laying around from another project. Why not just reuse the leather I already had and cover the top of the stool?
If I used leather, I could make the stool a unique-to-us product. Because the leather I had was vegetable tanned, a time-intensive process using natural ingredients. The end product is a leather that does neat things. When you first buy something made out of vegetable tanned leather the color is a matte pale beige. But as the leather ages, the color deepens and the surface develops a shine, called a patina. It eventually looks like this:
After we got back from Italy, I was so inspired by all the interiors I saw that after unpacking the first thing I tackled was the DIY nightstand project. Here are the steps and the finished product:
How-To: DIY Leather-Topped IKEA Frosta Stool
- Vegetable tanned leather, 1-3 ounces
- Sharp scissors
- Rubber cement or shoe glue
- Foam brush (if you don’t have one already)
- Bone folder (or other smoothing device, like a butter knife)
I had to iron the leather, since I hadn’t stored it properly and it got super wrinkly. I put the iron on a low setting (around 3-4), and used a brown paper bag as an in-between layer to protect the leather from burning.
Arrange the table tops on top of the leather. I had just enough leather to cover the tops, but if I had a bigger hide, I might have covered the legs as an extra-luxe touch.
Now mark cutting lines for later by tracing the table tops. Instead of using a pen or pencil, I used a bone folder to create a groove line. If you’re using a pen or pencil, I’d recommend marking the underside of the leather, so the marks aren’t visible.
Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut out the circles. I looked everywhere for some sort of hack for cutting out a perfect circle, but couldn’t find a solution that didn’t involve a compass, which would have pierced the leather. To get nicer edges when cutting freehand, try to take longer strokes with the scissors instead of shorter ones.
Here’s a close-up so you can see the subtle color difference between the leather and the original table top.
Apply glue to the table top, then apply glue to the underside of the leather. I used regular Elmer’s rubber cement, because that’s all I had. But if this was a “real” project, I’d use shoe glue since it’s stronger. And if you want a more even application, you can use a wider foam brush.
The most nerve wracking part! After you’ve applied a layer of glue to both pieces, now slowly line up the leather piece and gently press onto the table top. Smooth out the wrinkles with a bone folder or anything else you have laying around with a straight edge.
Here you can see what the layer looks like on the side. Ah, glue blobs are showing, oops.
Then attach the legs with a screwdriver (there are pre-drilled holes for you to follow). And here’s a side-by-side comparison–one stool with a leather top and one without. It’s not a drastic change or anything, but I think my version looks a lot earthier and high-end.
And the new nightstand by the bed.
After a few weeks of use, there’s already a coffee ring stain on mine, but I don’t mind it at all. As I mentioned before, the leather isn’t supposed to stay pristine, and hopefully, the tables will age in a way that’s unique to our usage patterns.
And that’s my $15 nightstand, which I hacked using materials I already had around the apartment.
Are you a fan of DIY, or is it wayyy too much work? Which projects are you the most proud of? Or know of any clever, budget-friendly home decor hacks?
Feature Image: The Luxe Strategist