Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Where have I been?  March is almost over and this is the first chance I get to post?  Crazy.

To begin with I'll go back to my last successful project.  As you know I'm in a rent controlled apartment and management will do as little as possible to upgrade my place.  They won't paint or replace an 50-year old sink, I had to buy my own refrigerator and after my front door was bashed in, while I was at work, rather then fix the molding and fix the door they simply turned the door around, pulled off the hinges and placed them on the opposite side.  To put the door lock in they had to turn it upside down.  So now the door opens in the opposite direction (into the kitchen) rather then into the living room.  All the other apartment entry doors in the building open into the living room except mine.  The hall is just four feet wide so a visitor has to step in to the hallway and toward the kitchen so I can close the entry door to grant them access to the living room.

Why do I put up with it?  Because I'm paying no where near the $2,200 my new neighbors are paying for their apartment.  FAR FAR less.

Sometimes you wonder how a building owner can be so terribly stupid and in my case our building owner was removed as building manager and replaced, by court order, by a management company.  This happened to the building owner because he was a total shit and harassed the hell out of his long-term tenants in an attempt to push them out so he could triple and quadruple the rent.  Wisely we banded together, hired a fine lawyer and sued the bajeebees out of the guy and that lawsuit ended up costing the owner his right to directly manage the building.  The building was placed in a trust and each of us was guaranteed, by the court, we'd have the right to live in our units without harassment until we decided to move on.  "As far as this court is concerned, you can live there until you die..." was the Judge's words.

Which brings me to my recently completed project.

The building was built back in the early 40's as a hotel for servicemen.  Toward the end of the 50's the owner converted the hotel rooms into 20 apartments and 6 SROs (single room only).  Two of the apartments had two bedrooms, four apartments had one bedroom and the other twelve apartments consisted of a living room, an alcove (large enough for a full size bed) off the living room, a hallway, bathroom, kitchen and pantry.  All 20 apartments have a non-working brick fireplace with a gas connection for a small gas heater.  Years ago I replaced the small gas heater with a set of ceramic (gas) logs and this served me well until a year ago when the management company announced they were replacing all the heaters with better, safer, more economic heaters.

I thought for sure they would allow me to keep the gas logs but no, they came in and disconnected the logs, pulled them out of the fireplace, extended the gas pipe outside the actual fireplace then sealed up the fireplace entrance with a thick piece of sheet metal.  Next came the new heaters which ended up being a huge piece of crap that put out very little heat and were constantly losing their pilot light.

Take a look:

When you walked into the living room this was the biggest eyesore.  I could cover it with a table and table cloth but that was silly because you could still see it and you couldn't actually sit at the table because the heater took up too much leg space.

I have completed remodeled the living room and now down to the last two project items and both are pretty easy (drapes) and minor (drill a hole through a wall for an antenna cable).

Last week I completed the most glaring eyesore project: the heater.

At first I was determined to simply cap off the gas line and move the disabled heater into my one and only closet.  Management surprised me, after nearly 50 years, and decided to replace all the windows in the bay window with new frames and double-paned glass.  They were only doing this for those of us living in the front of the building.  Years ago I put up shutters in an attempt to drown out the street noise.  I may be four floors up (top floor) but fire trucks, ambulances, screaming drunks, horns honking and all the other street noise you can think of was often overwhelming.  If I was on the phone I'd have to wait for the sirens to go by before I could hear or talk.

With the new windows came the building manager and my apartment was the first to get the new windows because - I'll be honest - it was the nicest looking apartment of all those in the front of the building.  At that time I complained to the building manager about the heater and asked if I could have their permission to cap the gas pipe and move it into my closet.  He said it wasn't possible.  City code required the room to retain the heater but the heater did not have to be connected and working.

So I couldn't move it.  You walked into the finished living room this is what you saw:

and it was horrible!

So what to do?  What if I hollowed out a credenza and covered the heater?  The credenza could be low enough that I could place a cushion on it for sitting.  I put together a quick rendition, sit down and when I leaned back I cracked my head on the protruding bricks.  The credenza idea would not work.

But the idea was good and I expanded it.  I needed additional storage space, especially for things like sweaters, underwear, socks, t-shirts, etc.  What if I hollowed out the two bottom drawers of a four or five dresser?  I saw this as the best option and began looking for a dresser.  I went to IKEA and found the design that was perfect but the dresser wasn't deep enough and would have to be modified in height to fit exactly under the protruding bricks.  I spent a few days looking everywhere and it came down to the fact that I would need a custom made dresser.

That could cost some big bucks if I went to a professional cabinet or furniture maker.  I thought I would try my luck on Craigslist.  I put up an ad offering to pay a handyman or retired carpenter $150 if he could construct the dresser out of old or surplus wood.  I got a slew of responses - some indignant and rude (can't be done - are you crazy) to many offering to take on the project.  Not only would the builder have to adhere to my strict size requirements but he would also be required to deliver the dresser to the front of my building.

I got offers from a prop carpenter, a guy "good with his hands", another guy who sold his services putting together IKEA furniture and was confident he could build the dresser himself, a retired carpenter who wanted $300 - but the best offer came from a high school woodworking teacher who wanted to take on the project for his advanced woodworking class.  He thought it was a great idea and but he couldn't accept payment for the work itself altho he could use the $150 for wood and materials.  And he promised to deliver the dresser himself within two weeks.

We closed the deal and payment was to be provided to the school via PayPal upon delivery.

Two weeks to the day he arrived, with two of his students, with the dresser:

  Two days later I had it repainted and now when you walk into the room you see this:

BIG difference, huh?  You have no idea that within that dresser sits that God-awful ugly heater!  And I got it all for just $150.

Here's a panoramic view of most of the living room.  I am sewing new floor to ceiling drapes out of Midnight Blue Egyptian cotton and, tho' you don't see it because I've photoshopped it out of the picture, an amazing outdoor (tiny, the size of an iPad) digital antenna needs to be mounted outside my Bay Window (rather then sitting behind my computer screen as it does now).