attic, part 12: decorating

08.05 - 11.05 wanted: parisian studio apartment. paris optional.

click to see the full photo galleryPart of me has and always will harbor a secret desire to live somewhere in Europe. I harbor dreams of having a favorite pub in Dublin, or a courtyard garden in London, or a crêpe vendor in Paris who knows my "usual" (sweet crêpe with strawberry preserves and a thin drizzle of chocolate sauce, for the record). I know, get in line, right?

But I have a problem: I love living in Portland. Love. It. This is my home, and at this point in my life, I expect this is where I'll stay. So unless I come into a very large fortune and am therefore able to have houses in all of those places while still living here in Portland, I seriously doubt I'll ever actually live overseas. Visit there frequently? Yes, I hope to. But leaving our beloved home, like, ever? No.

That doesn't stop me from trying to bring a bit of Paris to Portland -- witness the soirée we threw a few years ago. And our attic seemed just the place to do it more permanently...with just a little imagination, we figured we could have our very own slice of a downtown Parisian garret-turned-studio-apartment right here on the Willamette River. In fact, from our very first walk through the house, when we discovered the attic behind a side door in one of the bedrooms and up a steep flight of dirty stairs, I've been dreaming about this room. I'm proud to say the room came out even better than we'd hoped.

The back part of the room was the obvious place for the bed. Our bed frame is a hand-me-down we've had since we first got married and we painted it several years ago.  We thought for awhile we'd replace it, but it seems to fit in okay the way it is. We splurged on new bedding; since our comforter was still in good shape, just not the right color or pattern, we decided to look for a duvet cover instead of a whole new comforter. Came across a great faux-suede one (Overstock from Target, and the bed was suddenly a new luxury. The side tables (from craigslist; see below) were originally the two sides of an art deco waterfall dresser that some guy had refinished himself. We replaced the bright gold knobs he'd put on with cool antiqued pewter ones in a Celtic knot pattern. (I know, not French. But hello...Celtic knots, people. Have we forgotten my obsession with all things Irish?) The lamps on top (also a craigslist find) happened to match the two we bought at Target for the nook, though larger in scale. Our little sleeping area is so cozy, in fact, that once we turn out the lights and our "night sky" appears, it's hard to motivate ourselves to ever leave it.

And what master suite would be complete without the opportunity to curl up under the covers and watch old movies? Not a very good one, I can tell you that. Thanks to an old TV, VCR, and stereo, we had what we needed to pimp the place out. The shelving unit we used is an IKEA find. It actually had four shelves but would've been too high for the knee wall if we'd put the last shelf on.  Instead, we topped it off at three shelves and used the last shelf/supports for a handy bench in the middle of the room. (Note that our old Super Nintendo is sitting there beside the VCR -- we have 6' extension cords for the controllers so we can play "Super Mario Brothers 3" in bed. Not that we're dorks or anything.) The dressers are the same ones we've always had, hand-me-downs that I painted around the same time I painted the bed frame. And the cedar chest at the top of the stairs is my hope chest...glad to finally have a prominent place to put it without worrying it'll be damaged.

We turned the nook in the dormer into a small sitting area, perfect for curling up with a good book or working on the computer (god bless the invention of laptops and wi-fi). The chairs and ottoman?  Awesomest finds we've ever scored on craigslist*. A couple of taupe slipcovers off of, and they go from blah-nineties-pseudo-Southwest to simple-and-passable-faux-French. We converted the flimsy three-legged tables we'd been using as bedside tables into sturdy side tables by replacing the three cheap dowel legs with four regular spindle legs. Topped with a couple of brushed-nickel lamps from Target and square shades on clearance? You have a reading nook, my friends. (We opted not to put a rug down because we didn't have the heart to cover up the floor after all the work we did to refinish it.)

* That last picture is all our great craigslist buys for the attic (a little blurry, but you get the idea), which we accumulated while still working on the attic and after months of regularly surfing the site for exactly what we wanted: a pair of lamps for beside the bed, a pair of nightstands with drawers, and a pair of wingback chairs and an ottoman for the nook. Those chairs? Exhibit A that perseverance is your friend on craigslist, dudes.

We'd been searching for months for two wing back chairs that was within shouting distance of a good deal. We knew it was too much to expect them chairs to match, or that they'd be a color/pattern that would fit with our decor, but slipcovers can work miracles so that wasn't so much a concern. Comfort and condition were our criteria, along with cost, obviously. Months went by with finds that were either too pricey for used furniture or too used even for used furniture. Then in May, I happened to be surfing the site one afternoon during a short break from painting in the attic and came across a posting that'd gone up only a few minutes before. The seller was offering everything we wanted: matching (!) wingback chairs, in excellent condition, and, and, a matching (!) ottoman. But the best part, y'all? Fifty bucks. For the set. Fifty. Seriously.

Turns out the sellers were a yuppie couple in the Irvington district (translation to the non-Portlanders: Irvington=cha-ching) who were getting rid of their stuff and moving to New Zealand. I know, right? Anyway, the furniture was in absolutely pristine condition; they'd been in her formal living room, rarely used. She'd had no idea what price to sell them for. One of the chairs has a small worn patch on a corner but seriously? It would've taken a electron microscope to find that spot if she hadn't pointed it out to me. Anyway, she felt she needed to mark them down low to get rid of them. We almost felt guilty about only paying $50, like we were totally taking advantage of them. Almost.

The otherwise-unusable space at the top of the stairs became our own little breakfast area. A cast iron bistro set that we'd scored at an auction a few years ago forms our little eating spot.  Cleaned up and spray-painted black, and it looks like it came straight off a sidewalk in Montmartre. Set with the perfect dishes bought on sale at Sur la Table? Voila! We have ourselves an idyllic spot for enjoying Voltaire over flaky pastry and a cup of coffee (or in my case, chai). Our old microwave moved into the nearby closet, along with an old mini-fridge donated by friends. (We had an outlet inside the closet wired specifically for this purpose.)

The artwork for the room was a little trickier. We didn't want to spend a huge amount of money on a bunch of pictures, nor did we want to cover the walls (and we don't have a lot of wall space anyway). But the room definitely needed something to feel complete. We ultimately decided we wanted all black & white photos and since our whole room was French-inspired, it seemed only natural to choose photos of French scenes and landmarks.

We spent a number of evenings browsing and finally settled on eight prints of varying sizes. The largest, a 3'x4' photo taken through the clock tower at the Musee d'Orsay, seemed a natural to go over the bed, and in a way, would be like a window looking out over the city from high above in our Parisian garret. The other prints we bought were 16x20, 10x12, and 5x7, as well as notecards -- a pair of 4x6 photos and a pair of 7x7 photos that fit in with our theme -- that could be framed and turned into very affordable art.  All of that for less than $70. Combined with $50 worth of RIBBA basic black frames on sale from IKEA, and we had the artwork for the entire attic.

This is what we were working so hard on for over a year. Every day is like waking up in our own bed and breakfast, where we can pad over to a small table in our pajamas and share a light brunch, and afterward, we can relax in our nook with whatever we're currently reading, sharing the ottoman between us with a cat in each lap. It may not technically be Paris, but it's close enough for us.

click to see full photo gallery