Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yes, you can get a great haircut for under $100 in NYC

One of my fears in moving to New York City was finding a great haircut salon I could afford. I've heard the tales of $400 haircuts; and while a great haircut is worth dropping some coin on that's a little above my price range. My work shares our building floor with an upscale salon. While the clientèle never fails to piss me off, the employees are quite nice and give us a generous 15% discount off their services. That makes a blowout reasonable but their haircuts are still more than I want to pay.

Truth be told I was hoping to find an Aveda salon in the city. I first found out about Aveda in college when a friend took me to Europa Spa & Salon Fort Collins' Old Town (Colorado). I've never had such a relaxing haircut. It started with a neck and scalp massage, continued with a parrafin wax hand wrap during the cut and ended with the coolest haircut I've ever had. They became my go-to stylists during college.

After college I sought out an Aveda hairstylist in Norwalk (Connecticut) and was almost as pleased with the results. I figured why mess with a good thing in NYC? There were tons of Aveda salons to choose from in the city and I wasn't sure how to make a choice. So when a coworker recommended I try the Aveda Institute on Spring Street I was in.

The Aveda Institute on Spring St. features
highly discounted student services.

The Institute is one of several around the country that educates aspiring stylists and cosmetologists. Since you're getting your hair, nails or spa services performed by a student you get a huge discount. For instance, my cut in FoCo was $50; Norwalk was $65 and at the Aveda Institute it's $20. The flip side is that you run the risk of getting a new student who gives you a less than desirable cut. But I have to say, I've been there four or five times now and every time I've loved the result.

You have to call the school to make an appointment or you can go to the school to sign up at certain times (see their site for specifics). Get ready to be on hold for awhile. I average a 15-minute hold time. And if you want a weekend cut, be prepared to get an appointment a month from your call day. (Super secret tip: during the winter you can usually walk in for their Saturday at 1 PM slots and get a cut.) Weekday cuts are available with a 2-3 day lead time on average.

When you get to the school, you check in at the front reception desk and then sit around until a student comes out to grab you. It's kind of exciting, watching the students mill around as they grab sheets and wondering which one you'll be matched up with. Then they take you back to your chair for a consultation and (optional) neck massage.

I like to take risks when I get my hair cut. When the stylist asks me what I want my usual answer is "something rock n'roll." Layers with blunt edges, choppy ends, bangs over my eyes, ets. I always bring a picture to show what I want. I'll also ask the stylist if he/she thinks it will work on me. The students always have fun ideas and they're usually friendly and chatty. I also admire their unique personal styles. I've seen some hairstyles I'd love to copy but could never emulate, personality-wise.

Lest you fear ending up with a mohawk, after your consultation the student brings one of the professors over to approve your desired cut. Then it's off to shampoo.

The shampoo stations -- love the paper lights!

I'm not really a chatty client but I'll hold a conversation during the shampoo. My hair has changed a lot in the last few years. In college I had super thick hair but lately I've been losing hair like no other (thyroid? work? stress from seeing all the hair in my tub drain???). A friend told me it could be the shampoo I was using, so I ended up switching to Aveda shampoo at my last cut. I don't love it but at least my hair stopped falling out. The cuts I could pull off fine in college aren't really options anymore.

So now my main thing is voluminous-looking and layers. It seems like everyone else is cutting their hair shorter these days but I'm growing mine out. My stylist was great about leaving as much length as possible. We stopped chatting so she could get to work. I've noticed the students really like to concentrate on their cutting technique and that's fine with me. It gives me time to look around. If there are any no-shows, the leftover students will grab a doll and practice their cuts. I watched one student practice a bob and another working on some kind of modified shag.

I ended up with another awesome Aveda cut. After the professor checked my cut, the stylist asked me whether I wanted my hair styled straight or curly. I requested curly this time to be different, and it came out so amazing I talked myself into buying some products. As a thank-you, the cashier gave me a coupon for a free cut next time. Then she took a photo for her portfolio (the students will often do this).

Since my cut would probably cost more than $100 easily in the real world (or, umm, the NYC-bizarro world), I tip the stylist $20 if she does a good job. So in total I pay $40 for a wonderful haircut. It's quite the steal.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Painting by Pottery Barn

Continuing my decoration mission I've decided my next task is painting. My wall color is an ivory or antique white and it's pretty nice but pretty bland. It succeeds in making my tiny apartment look larger than it is but fails in inspiring me to do anything but sit on my lazy ass. It's time to make an accent wall.

It was easy to decide which wall to paint but it's a tall order picking a paint color. I need a color that will coordinate with everything but I'm sooooo sick of taupe, coffee, espresso, beige...brown. I'm over it. Fine for furniture, bland on walls. I want a color that will really pop. I had my heart set on red. I thought it would be great! Red really pops. It would wake me up and the morning (and potentially keep me up at night) and it would give me energy. But then I found out how hard it is to paint red. I read horror stories about people being told to use pink primer and ending up with pink-tinted walls instead of red; or people who needed to use 4-5 coats; or people who had to paint over the red and needed 2-3 cans of primer. Yikes. And my landlord wasn't too keen on the idea of red.

Back to square one, my mail yielded a nice surprise -- the Pottery Barn catalog. Am I turning into a 20-yuppie or what? I flipped through, ignoring all the ridiculously expensive furniture and concentrating instead on the wall colors in the catalog. I noticed that some pages had the paint color named below the products. What a brilliant marketing idea -- most furniture catalogs show fully decorated rooms anyway, so why not team up with a paint manufacturer? All the paints were by Benjamin Moore. A note in the catalog pointed me to the Style House page on the Pottery Barn website. There they had a page-by-page breakdown of which paint color was used on each page of the catalog. Very cool idea.

After thinking about what would pop against my dark furniture but still go with it and still be a light enough color so as not to make my apartment feel smaller I settled on Stem Green. It has tones of lime without being quite as electric. The site also mentioned a free color chip deck at PB stores so I wanted to pick one up.

Stem Green, as shown on the
Pottery Barn website.

As luck would have it my friend J also wanted to hit PB for a pillow. I really had no idea if there was one in the city. With my recent luck, probably not.
- Is there a PB in the city? I asked her.
- Of course, she said, there's one at 59th & Lex.
- Noooo, you're thinking of Container Store.
- No, that's at 58th & Lex.
- Ok, but where around 59th & Lex is the Pottery Barn? There's the Zara, the Nanaban (Banana Republic), the H&M, and Bloomingdales.
- It's actually a little bit off the corner. Towards Park. We walk by it all the time when we shop. You've never noticed it??!?
- I have never noticed it.
- You really do have City Tunnel Vision.

I was dubious. How could I have missed a Pottery Barn by the corner I practically live at? A little while later, I sheepishly met her outside the PB, which was in fact real and was in fact just off the corner of 59th & Lex. J forgave me for doubting her and we walked in.

And then it happened. Once inside, straight ahead of us, was a bedding set like what I've been looking for. I gasped and J asked if I was alright. Worse, I said, I just fell in love with a bedding set. A salesperson told me it was the Songbird bedding. I've wanted a quilt for awhile and this more than fit the bill. It so soft to the touch, it was so exquisitely detailed, and it was so not cheap. And it was a golden yellow, which could potentially be too much with a light green wall right behind it.

I tore myself away so J could get her pillow. Up at the cash register I grabbed one of the free paint fan decks. But while J was paying I kept turning back to stare at the bedding. Curious for more info, I checked out the bedding online once I got back home. Turns out it comes in green too. Ah, green. The future color of my wall, the future color of my bedding, and the color of the money I'm trying not to spend.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The right to (furniture) assembly

What a weekend! I thought the Daytona 500 was going to be the main event but I was way off. On Saturday both my new dresser and my new TV came. It was like my birthday all over again.

After eyeing it for awhile, I had decided to invest in Crate & Barrel's Cole Six Drawer Dresser. I liked it because it has a nice mix of modern and traditional. From the website product photo I thought the dresser was black but upon looking at the room views I realized it was actually a dark brown. No Billy shelves from Ikea are black-brown...aka brown. The dresser is ready to assemble, which is another way of saying requires customer assembly. Despite my recent adventures in door hinges I was looking forward to putting it together.

My delivery time was between 7:30 AM and 10:45 AM. The delivery guys showed up around 8:30 with two hefty boxes. I signed for the boxes and jumped up and down for mini-joy. Hooray new furniture!

The boxes holding the dresser.

Note the big orange sticker on both boxes -- it says "Customer Assembly Required." Like by this point we wouldn't know! I opened the small box first. It contained the drawer fronts, the drawer backs and the drawer bottoms. The big box had everything else, including the instructions. I was quite impressed by the instructions. They had a manifest of each box and were very well written. It was quite easy to follow.

The first step required attaching the side and middle panels to the back (the sides were even helpfully labeled R and L). I was very happy that the drawer rollers were already attached to the panels. There were three same-size large panels in the big box and of course the back was on the bottom. Though the instructions recommended two-person assembly, I was on my own this weekend in part because I'm fighting a cold and don't want to get anyone sick.

About 30 minutes in, my phone rang. It was Crate & Barrel checking to see if my delivery went OK. I thought that was very nice of them. At that point I was ready to attach the top. The directions said "with another person helping lift the back and side panel assembly onto the top" to which I said 'I don't need no stinking second person!!" Somehow I was able to get the top into place without killing myself.

From there assembly was a piece of cake. Putting the drawers together required a bit of finesse but nothing I couldn't handle. It took about 2 1/2 hours altogether to assemble it. The drawers all slid into the dresser evenly (my main worry). The feet attach by three medium screws which is a bit weaker than I'd like but everything else was good quality.

The Cole dresser in the center
and the Billy shelves with the Nyckelby doors
on either side.

As I was hoping, the dresser looks great pulling double-duty as my TV stand. I'm kind of glad the Billy shelves didn't come in black now because the black-brown works well with the dresser. I still have work to do before this area of my apartment is done but we're getting there. My apartment is starting to feel like home.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Me vs. Ikea's Nickelbly doors

There are a couple of stores that I can't believe don't have locations in Manhattan proper. How is there no Target here? Ikea, where are you? Both have locations in Brooklyn (Ikea's is still under construction) but to get to either without a car is at least an hour trip. I can get to New Jersey faster than I can get to Brooklyn. Just sayin'.

So when it was time for an Ikea trip, I rented a Zipcar and was off to Paramus. This time I was looking for bookshelves - preferably something tall and thin to take advantage of my vertical lifestyle. Like Stew Leonard's, Ikea is set up not in aisles but in a maze pattern to encourage you to view everything (and to buy more). I don't mind though because their room setups always amaze me.

I made my way to the shelving area. I had come in expecting to buy the Besta shelving unit, but upon seeing it in person I didn't really like it. So instead I chose Billy shelves. One of the Billy displays had a Nickelby door on it, and I was immediately in love.

A little while later I was down in the self-serve furniture area getting my shelves and the doors. I loaded two shelves onto my pallet and headed over to the doors. They had two in stock, but one was broken. This meant another Ikea trip was in my very near future. The plastic protection was starting to peel off the other door but I took it anyway...and would come to regret that decision.

I got home and put the first shelf together -- pretty easy. I get a laugh out of Ikea's picture-only directions. Then I went to attach the door and realized it was missing hinges...groan.

A few days later I hit the Ikea in Elizabeth (where the staff is nicer but you get lost and maybe end up in Newark airport by accident on the way) and bought a second door, complete with hinges and instructions. I also went to customer service to get a set of hinges for my first door. They were nice enough to give me a set for free but when I got home I realized they weren't the right hinges. Ha!

Defeated, I finally called Ikea's customer service line where they opened a case for me and said they would try to get a set mailed to me. Awesome.

In the meantime, I could put one of the doors on. I followed the instructions -- attach the one hinge side to the door x 3. Check. Attach the other hinge side to the shelf x 3. Check. With the help of another adult, slide the door side into the shelf side until it clicks x 3. Friend S came over to help in exchange for some Haru's. He held the door while I tried to attach the hinge. No dice. The front slid in fine but the back part never clicked. I tried all 3 hinges but none went in. S asked to try so I held the door up while he gave it a go. Same problem. And I have to say, it really hurt my hands after a while.

We took a sushi break and upon return S wanted to try a new tactic. So we put the shelf on the ground and lined the door up on the floor. Finally, one of the hinges clicked. Eventually we got all three to click. But the high comedy was not over. We got the shelf into position and tried opening the door to make sure it worked. The door worked fine but every time we opened it the unit would start to tip forward! The door was proportionally heavier than the shelf (!!!) so opening it meant major tippage. Ikea provided a wall bridge for the top of the shelving but I plan to move these around so I didn't want to make tons of holes in the wall. Instead, my temporary solution is to have a block of wood under the radius of each door to keep it propped up. Snicker.

The end result.

Flash forward a couple of weeks -- I got a manilla padded envelope from Elizabeth, New Jersey the other day. Inside was my other set of hinges! I was pretty excited. I called friend S, who reluctantly agreed to come back and help me with the second door. Not wanting to spend hours with the hinges again, we tried our successful tactic - laying the shelf on its side with the door next to it. After an hour, our hands sore again, the damn things still hadn't clicked. We played around with the screw adjustments but it didn't work. It was incredibly annoying because we could see the catch slide into the proper position but every time we let go it would pop right back out. The instruction booklet makes it look so easy (one picture! slide and click!) but in real life clicking the hinges was harder than putting the shelf together.

Frustrated, I turned to the Internet. I went to the Ikea Fans forum and searched for helped. I found solace in the fact that other people were having the same issue but no one seemed to have a definitive answer. I tried searching for other types of door hinges on the forum and found an answer: use a damn hammer. I love it! Good old fashioned ingenuity. (Disclaimer: the forum actually said to use a mallet but I don't own one. And other respondents had used a hammer so I felt OK to try it. Obviously, hammers and glass don't mix very well so if you try this use caution.)

With the shelf and door still on the ground, we slid the first hinge into place. With S carefully pushing the button I tapped the hinge with a hammer a few times. S let go and we tested it -- finally the hinge had locked into place! After some finesse (more hammering) we got the other two to lock into place. The second unit shelving unit had the same tipping action as the first one, so another block of wood sits under the door's opening radius. I might have to perma-place these things.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Adventures on 57th St

Sunday takes my blues away. Is there anything better than waking up in the morning knowing you have a whole day of weekend left? Sundays for me usually mean either NFL, MLB or NASCAR but now is the space between where Sunday stands for shopping.

It was down to the Time Warner Center for me. It was a gorgeous day so I took the N to 57th and 7th and then walked down along Central Park South. I took some photos of the horse carriages with my cell phone that unfortunately evidence the 2 megapixel limit of the camera. My Canon's batteries died and I haven't replaced them yet.

Inside the shopping center, I browsed through Benetton, Esprit and JCrew before meeting up with BFF M for lunch. We walked by Carnegie Hall and east on 57th to the Brooklyn Diner, a well-known NYC eatery that features endless name plaques on the wall with the names of the celebrities that have eaten at each table. The tables next to us had been graced by the likes of Bruce Paltrow and soiled by Britney Spears...I was too distracted by the mural of Ebbets Field to pay much attention though. NYMag named the Brooklyn Diner's burger the best in 2007 and I have to agree. It was beyond yummy and so big I had to take more than half home.

After munching M and I stopped by Universal News. It's the place to go for international magazines in the city. She was looking for an Italian magazine; I flipped through French Vogue while waiting. We admired the smaller magazines from Europe that would fit into our purses more easily than the large American tabloids. We oohed and aahed at the stars featured on foreign covers for a bit before moving on.

Our next stop on west 57th was Lee's Art Shop. M was looking for a photo album and some decorative paper and I had been dying to buy some pastels. It's quite a place! We had to check our bags but we hardly gave it a second thought. The first floor had marvels ranging from crystal-encrusted photo frames to the cutest scrap booking stickers I have ever seen. There were gift bags that would put Papyrus to shame -- I snapped a quick photo with my cell phone.

The gift bags were intricately detailed.

We browsed around the art supplies for awhile and I happily picked up my pastels and a sketch pad. There were at least 3 more floors but we didn't have time to explore them.

Back outside, it was time for me to head over to the east side to meet up with friend J. The weather had turned slightly cold and I pondered whether a taxi would take me from Lee's to 61st and 1st. M said they would, but I decided to walk it.

Fifty-seventh is a hard street to just walk down. On my way east I passed Bergdorf, Burberry's, Chanel, Nike Town, Prada, Tiffany's...sigh. I dream of disposable income. Twenty minutes later I'd made it to the movie theater with my wallet intact but my hands were frozen stiff. My ears weren't doing so great either. We saw "Juno" (very cute) and then walked around Bed Bath and Beyond.

Back outside, it was suddenly snowing. It had gone from almost 60 degrees out to the low 30s with flurries. I almost thought I was back in Colorado. But I didn't quite make it home, because Z called and asked me to meet him at the Levi's store...on 57th St.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Observant? Not so much

Yesterday morning, I was awaken at 6:30 AM by what I thought was construction. "Please, no..." I moaned sleepily. "Aren't there laws against this shit?"

After a minute or two to wake up, I realized the noise was more a whirring than a clank clank boom construction noise. I went out into my backyard, looked up and confirmed - one of the network news helicopters was hovering over my block. The sound was echoing off the skyscrapers, funneling down to the brownstones and echoing back off the different levels of backyards.

I was so not interested in why the copter was there. I just wanted it GONE. It was so strange. Every once in awhile the noise would go silent, as if the helicopter had left but a few seconds later it would be back louder than before. Finally around 7:30 it left. I settled back in for a snooze just as my alarm went off. No more sleeping for me. Later, as I made my way to the 6 I noticed four fire engines and a bunch of ambulances down 3rd Ave. from me. I realized that was what the news channel copter was tracking.

In the evening I was catching up on local news on Gothamist when I read about a big fire on 3rd Ave. As I read the address I realized that my occasional lottery ticket stop, State News, had gone up in flames. Total bummer. But I also had an odd epiphany -- I'd been in the area earlier to go shopping and hadn't even noticed the leftover fire remnants.

To be fair I was across the street and it was dark, but still. When you become a New Yorker you learn to draw yourself into your own little cave when on the subway, walking around, or generally when you're outside. I think that's why you see so many people talking to themselves. They don't even realize they're doing it. Still, it also gives you a case of tunnel vision. I wonder what else I'm missing by not being observant.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ikea adds storage in my kitchen

After about six months into living in the city I am finally starting to settle into my apartment. Aided by a nice bonus at work, I have started trading in my suburban (short and wide) furniture for city pieces (tall or deep).

My kitchen has been perplexing though. I have a good amount of cabinet space but it doesn't seem to be enough. One cabinet holds my pots and cooking stuff. The main cabinet over my sink holds my dishes and glasses, while the cleaning supplies and utensils live under my sink. My last cabinet holds my dry goods and my pans. I have almost no counter space, so my toaster and a paper towel holder are the only things around my sink.

It is a galley kitchen and everything is stacked on one side. So you'd think my free wall would be the perfect place to add more cabinets. Alas, the door way is not placed mid-galley, it is much closer to the right free wall. In fact, there's only 7" between the door and the wall. But lately I've really needed the additional storage. Inspired by Apartment Therapy's January Jumpstart Project, I decided to get off my arse and do something to fix my storage issues.

The "free wall." There is only 7 inches
of clearance from the wall to my door
to the backyard, or into the kitchen.

It was impossible to find cabinets that shallow, so my next option was shelves. I found 11" deep shelves but those stuck out into the entry and the doorway to my backyard. No good. I was starting to think I'd never find anything for the wall.

Ikea to the rescue! I have browsed through that catalog about a million times by now. Every time I discover something new. My initial thought was to get the Lack shelves. They were the right length but too deep, so they were out.

So I flipped to the kitchen section. Before I'd only looked through for cabinets but now I was looking for shelving solutions. Ikea did me one better. They make several styles of rails that you attach to the wall and hang accessories from. Initially I liked the Grundtal series because it's stainless steel like my appliances but when I got to the store I liked the Kroken series better. I bought two rails, plus two spice racks, one multi-purpose shelf, three pot holders and a bunch of hooks. All of that cost about $75.

Then I went to the office section and bought two white Järpen shelves. They make them in two depths - 11" and 7.5". Instead of the recommended wall supports I bought four Håll brackets because they matched the Kroken accessories. Also, the brackets can be installed to fit either the 11" deep shelves, or by flipping them the 7.5" deep shelves. Genius! Together, the shelves and the brackets were about $30.

At the risk of sounding dumb, I have no idea if New York City apartment building walls have studs or not. My guess was no because every construction site I've seen (and there are plenty) has a concrete or steel frame for each apartment. So the last part of my do-it-yourself prep was a trip to Home Depot. I grabbed a stud finder to find out the truth, a level, and both concrete wall screws and anchor screws so that no matter what my results I would be prepared.

Back on the UES, I used the stud finder and confirmed that my kitchen wall was concrete. After a couple of hours of work marking, measuring, leveling and installing, here was my end result:

The fruits of my labor.

I am so frickin' proud of myself! I called T and bragged to another friend over the weekend. The two shelves match the white wall. They hold my pans and some dry foods, freeing valuable cabinet space. The little counter space I have has been freed because the paper towel holder and my toaster live on the shelves as well. I even went to Container Store and splurged on some of those stackable kitchen jars.

On the far rail I have two hooks which hold my frying pans and two more hooks hold my pot holders and cooking gloves. There are also two empty planter pots that will soon hold spices. The near rail has my spice rack and the front shelf is temporarily holding extra spices and my Pam.

The best part? The depth of everything was no more than 7.5", so nothing encroaches into my doorways. I can still flow through the galley unimpeded. I ended up with some leftover products to return to Ikea, so in the end this project will have cost me about $100, including setup materials. I also have to paint the concrete screws black. But I'm pleased at how easy and cheap this project was and how wonderful the end result looks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Metapost: I've Been Working

My post ratio is way down lately, and I feel kind of bad about it. If nothing else I get a kick out of reading my old posts. Less frequent posts will continue for the next few months because I have started working on an exciting new project.

I can't really talk much about it yet but it's a website that I am working on with a consortium of friends. Not that I'm biased or anything...but I believe it will be a super cool, helpful website. More details to come.