Graphic: Elena Scotti
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While living and working at home for the past few months, I’ve become something of a cooking freak. In just a few weeks, I went from exploiting the luxury of ordering out almost every day to cooking daily, from trendy recipes (like the New York Times Cooking section’s simple but decadent Strawberry Spoon Cake) to my mom’s Guyanese non-recipe “recipes.” It’s not easy. My tiny kitchen has limited countertop space (almost none) and barely qualifies as a galley. Due to these constraints, I desperately needed to organize it so I could better access everyday items while moving around. While I already had the obvious basics like measuring spoons and a colander and things like that, I was either missing a few necessities (who thinks about buying a spoon rest???) or using very old and worn pots and pans that it was time to upgrade. Life in self-isolation inevitably pushed me toward buying things that would make my life easier, from small items to big-ticket stuff every home chef needs.
In May, I upgraded from a decade-old hand mixer to a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer and have since made many batches of chocolate chip cookies with it. I also bought an All-Clad saucepan. (Both from Williams Sonoma). I really did not want to think deeply about which pots and pans to choose and just went with familiar names. As far as small items, I invested in things like a knife sharpener (still unsure how to use it), a spoon rest (which you really don’t consider until you see how messy the countertop gets and think: well, clearly I need a larger spoon to rest this spoon on), a rolling pin for if I ever make pizza, a digital meat thermometer, and even new oven bulbs because mine had long blown out.
For kitchen organization, I bought a bunch of storage jars from World Market and Rubbermaid containers from Amazon, as well as a wall-mounted pot rack to free up cabinet space and this unfortunately cute Anthropologie honey pot. I laugh every time I see it. I also purchased, from Etsy, a reclaimed wood shelf for kitchen storage above the sink. I have about four of these already and love how sturdy they are, plus rustic.
I didn’t quite realize how much cooking required wiping my hands and dishes, so I stocked up on tons of tea towels, including a set of lemon-themed ones from Peace & Riot, one of my favorite black-owned home stores in Brooklyn.
Here is a shot of one side of the kitchen.
But my proudest purchase so far is a practical one, the Stove Shelf, which not only provides extra storage space on the stove but keeps things from falling behind my stove and making me paranoid that everything behind the stove will somehow catch fire. Funny how something so small can provide such big relief. (As a final sidebar not related to the kitchen, I’d like to recommend Zara Home as a source for storage baskets; I copped a few, among them these laundry hampers.) —Clover Hope
My boyfriend and I moved into a new apartment together on the same day that both of our companies officially instituted a work from home policy, which means that we have spent the past three months trying to beautify and personalize our home from the safety of the couch we were smart enough to buy before this all happened.
While we love our apartment, it did not have great bathroom storage. Finding an over-the-toilet storage unit that did not need to be screwed into the wall proved to be extremely difficult, but we ended up finding this Iron Folding Bath Etagere from The Container Store that works fine. I also ordered a fabric basket from Etsy to go on top. with shipping delays, it took three months to arrive from Australia but was cute enough to be worth it. From Etsy, I also ordered two hanging planters and hooks, which we have yet to actually hang up but I’m certain they will look great once we buy more plants to fill them.
During this work from home period, I have taken to working on the couch on a lopsided IKEA coffee table that I bought on Craigslist 2 years ago, because my partner had to bring his work desktop computer home and has taken over the kitchen table we bought before the move, thus preventing us from ever being able to eat a meal on it. Last week, I finally ordered a new coffee table with storage from Urban Outfitters. I will be desperately refreshing the tracking until it arrives next week.
To list everything we have purchased since moving would take way too long and be much too embarrassing, but I will leave you with the single greatest purchase we have made during this pandemic: a Frisco cat tower. It keeps our cat, Patti Smith entertained while the three of us are indefinitely trapped in this one-bedroom apartment and surprisingly is not as much of an eyesore as one would expect a cat tower to be. The best $50 I have ever spent. – Lisa Fischer
I’ve been a homebody since long before government mandate put much of New York in my corner, so I’ve already accumulated most of the things I need to comfortably nest over the years. (Yes, I have a spoon rest. Yes, it keeps my counters gloriously stain-free.) But hanging out at home all the time had a more profound impact on my husband, a serious himbo-adjacent extrovert, who took it upon himself to execute what I’d always assumed was a pie-in-the-sky proposition: building a brick pizza oven in our scrap of back yard.
While the materials are humble (concrete, some bricks, something called a fire blanket?) it occupied a solid two months of evening and weekends. But now I’m finally making actually good pizza, with a puffed-up charred crust, as opposed to the pliable cracker-style pizza I got from my oven oven. Yet brick ovens are, um….really, really hot. In order to get the pizza into the back of the 800-degree smoke-pit, I needed the kind of specialized tool I’ve always avoided buying. I needed a pizza peel.
I found this standard one where I find all of my basic kitchen gear–a restaurant supply store. The shipping was a little bit high, so I took that as an excuse to load up on other specialized kitchen gear that I sneer at, but secretly desire. I got a professional blow-torch, and promptly made creme brulee for the first and perhaps only time. My oven is a little wonky and the broiler doesn’t work, so I figure it will come in handy when I want to char or brown something. Obviously I needed gas canisters to go with it, so I bought a 12-pack, which arrived in a box proclaiming the occupant explosive and very, very dangerous, causing my husband to worry. The shipping costs were already high, so I added two cutting boards to the haul. My wooden ones have warped and these ones, part of a plastic set intended to be color-coded for industrial use, are indestructible. I got green and yellow and while the size is absurd (it hangs over my counter) I love it. – Alexis Sobel Fitts
If one good thing has come out of being home all day, it’s that my ADHD addled ass has become a home organization (and decor) monster. I’m actually embarrassed to list all the shit I’ve acquired over the last few months, but I don’t regret that the money I spent in lieu of eating out or buying clothes has been spent on a new sugar jar and cute pastel crates.
At least I’m pretty diligent about sales and discount codes, right? Right? Please say “right” because I need some reassurance.
Here are a few of my favorite “quarantine” purchases so far: A Dyson V8 Cordless Vacuum on super sale (my life has changed), HAY Sowden Tins (set of 4, great for storing coffee and stuff), Ria Tiered Hanging Basket (perfect for freeing up countertop space for fruits), Yamazaki Stackable Kitchen Rack (small), ORG expandable under-sink shelf (the before and after is ridiculous), OXO Good Grips cereal dispenser, simplehuman Adjustable Shower Caddy (extra-large, bought used in brand new condition on Amazon for a discount), a couple of Mudwitch planters, JR Peters indoor plant fertilizer (I have over 20 plants and it’s prime fertilizing season), this rustic looking Vietri olive oil bottle in light blue, a small Cold Picnic rug that I’d been eyeing for a long time and bought when a portion of the sales were going to local covid-19 relief funding, this fucking thing to stack big bulky items on top of my fridge neatly, Container Store Zen Divided Bamboo Hamper (I’ve been using Ikea bags for the last four years… it was time), this very pretty Lagos del Mundo Ceramic Shot Glass Set, Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Weighted Shaking Tins (I’m finally making my own cocktails, and this is a great cheap shaker set that doesn’t leak!), and this very unsexy but dead helpful lid organizer for all my Pyrex food containers and mixing bowls.
But the biggie, the new love of my life, is a little project I worked on in June: A couple of shelves set behind our couch in the living room affixed atop a circle. I got the idea from the work of an artist named Tiffany Lusteg, though my version was a little more simple: Fewer shelves and one solid color. The paint color I chose was “36 Hours in Marrakesh,” a really beautiful earthy pink color by paint brand Backdrop.
After doing a fair amount of math, measuring, a lot of research on screw diameters, hammer drills, and the right paint tools, my boyfriend and I got the green light from my landlord to have at it. We drew the perfect circle by tying a pencil to string measured the length of the circle’s radius at one end and pinned to the center of the circle at the other. I then cut Frogger tape into thin strips and taped the edges of the circle, which was a pain in the ass but absolutely worth it (so many tutorials of “how to paint a circle” have people just… painting the edges freely… fuck that).
The next day, we got to painting. We did the wall first, then painted boards I picked up at Home Depot (a friend cut the top and bottom boards for us with a table saw!), and the sturdy iron brackets we bought online. We had to rent a hammer drill from Home Depot to drill into our brownstone apartment walls, but it went in like butter and made the whole operation a breeze. We also painted over the screws after they were drilled in.
Here’s what it’s lookin’ like right now. You can still see some of the pencil markings. We’re going to go at it with an angled eraser soon.
I’m obsessed! We’re going to put some books, knick-knacks, and maybe a plant or two up there.
This last year has been a fucking nightmare. My boyfriend underwent intensive cancer treatment and I’m still feeling exhausted (emotionally, physically) by it all. It can be hard to explain how nice it is to have spent so much time making our space feel more like a home over the last few months after all of the bullshit. But with our apartment more organized, it’s just one less thing to stress out about every day. That, and having a few nice things to look at cooped up all day… I don’t know, it just makes this garbage a little less garbage. -Ashley Reese