NYC Reality: Quarantine project Spring 2020: Interior decoration for a lower Manhattan studio

To stay sane during the quarantine from March 15 to May 15 this year, I took a distant interior decoration course! I always had interest in drafting and architectural drawings along with applying design principles for small spaces. But, the COVID-19 isolation days provided a perfect opportunity to go for this interest of mine!

The “before photographs” shown above are of the space. As this project is for education purpose and not for profit, I used the photographs available on public domain. Located in lower Manhattan, New York City, this is a open concept loft studio space of 1000 square feet that should transform into kitchen, dining, study, sleeping, living, working out or entertaining guests based on the situation. The clients are moving to this new loft, very typical pre-war buildings of the neighborhood. They need separate space for activities in case each person is doing something different. They don’t like the existing colonial style wood work.

Imaginary client profile:

Jonathan Doe –

  • International filmmaker who travels a lot for shooting, promotion and awards
  • Avid reader of performance art books, magazines and music
  • Plays piano to relax at home
  • Works on minor amount of film editing at home
  • Entertains film cast and crews at home

His color preferences are dark green, rich burgundy and lemon yellow. His style preferences are Bohemian, eclectic and international. There are a lot of artworks and accessories collected from all over the world over time which need to be displayed as a large, cohesive arrangement. His special requests are: recommendation for remodeling the bathroom for 2 people’s use without tearing down the bathroom walls and keep the washer dryer units close to the bathroom.

Davide Doe –

  • Director of scientific programs at a non-profit organization
  • Enjoys chef-style, extravagant, Italian cooking at home for relaxing
  • Highly interested in up and coming electronic home gadgets
  • Fitness conscious, but doesn’t want a home gym taking up too much of space
  • Travels moderately with partner and for work
  • Connoisseur of wine from around the world

His color preferences include metallic colors, such as, gold, silver, bronze and white. His style preference is blend of classic and contemporary style. He likes the current transitional style of the open kitchen with marble counter top, under cabinet light, ceramic tiles and the modern kitchen appliances. His special requests are: a multipurpose, fold-able/extendable, modern furniture and technology for every activity at home so the space can transform based on the need. He also wants an indoor, seasonal herbs garden for his Italian cooking activities.

Site evaluation (virtual), rough sketch and floor plan

3 furniture layout ideas

Choosing layout 3 over the other two

Layout 1 is a traditional concept with large furniture pieces and open airy space. But, the lack of multi-purpose furniture limits the space from entertaining many visitors and carrying out many activities at once. Layout 2 tries to incorporate some modern furniture concepts but ends up making the space too cramped. There are not enough space to move around the big furniture pieces. The formal dining room, although is an ode to the classic style, with frequent travel lifestyle of the clients, it will just sit there gathering dust. Finally, the only windows in this loft are on the East wall and utilizing the natural light without blocking it with any big furniture is a good choice. Layout 3 solves all of these design problems with clever use of multi-purpose fold-able/extendable furniture and equally versatile light fixtures that can transform the space according to the clients’ different activities.

Meeting clients’ need and want

The clients wanted the open concept loft to have the ability to transform for different activities or events without permanently dedicating furniture and space for single use. This need was addressed by the 3 following ways (solid and dotted lines are used for furniture in their folded/expanded forms in different layouts):

1) The king size Murphy bed/sofa convertible can be used for living or sleeping based on the need. The side tables when joined can become the a coffee table for the sofa or when kept at two sides can serve as night stands. The ottoman can provide additional seating or when expanded can become a twin guest bed. A thin screen can create a temporary guest sleeping area providing privacy. This is further explained in the scale elevation plan.

2) One of the clients enjoys entertaining people from his film fraternity. This requires a big and high definition TV. Now a days, these are smart TVs and can be hooked to the internet, blue tooth and other devices. Thus combined with a convertible coffee/study table, this can transform into a TV room or a study where film editing can be carried out using the TV as a computer monitor.

3) One of the clients enjoys chef-style cooking. As they both travel a lot for work and fun, a dedicated formal dining room in a small space is an waste. Thus a console table that can be extended into a dining table for 8-10 people is a perfect choice here. One of the special requests for the indoor herb garden is addressed as a bulkhead over the marble kitchen counter to provide a visual territory of the open kitchen and full spectrum LED lights from the overhead fixture can help the herbs to flourish.

The other requests were creating a separate space for the grand piano and a gallery art wall arrangement with the collection of international artworks. This was achieved by using the technique of multiple focal points in a large room. This area provides some space for the guests to walk around the piano area and appreciate the artworks on the wall (Please see the isometric drawing).

As the design incorporates both classic and contemporary styles, electrical fixtures are chosen accordingly. The entrance room has a classic chandelier placed right in the middle (Please see reflected ceiling plan) which in combination with classic marble sculptures placed above the sofa bed create a transitional style. The sleek design of the modern sofa/bed convertible, tables and contemporary standing lamps add to this. On the contrary a modern chandelier with LED dimmer lights is placed in the TV room which can work as a downward task light as the coffee table converts to a study table. Plenty of track lights were also installed throughout the loft to use their versatility according to ambience, task or accent lighting.

Finally, creating a design for the bathroom for two people’s use, adding washer and dryer units and use smart appliances to connect with smart phones were followed. A home virtual smart assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa, can be installed for voice command. Similarly, an interactive gym mirror can be installed by the window on the East wall that won’t take much space yet will provide smart ways for full body workout at home.

Furniture layout, Elevation, Isometric and Reflected Ceiling drawings

Visualizing the design concepts using Pinterest idea boards

(WordPress may be working on fixing their glitch to properly embed Pinterest galleries <https://www.pinterest.com/drewgiamani/transforming-furniture-in-a-lower-manhattan-studio/>)

Pinterest board of Sleeping/Living area

Sleeping/living area: Natural light from 3 tall windows is reflected and transmitted everywhere with mirror tiled wall treatment and mirrored door on the floor-to-ceiling closet. One way glass on the windows provide privacy without blocking light. Roller shades printed with New York images provide blackout effect during sleep. Focal point is created with the extra large classic chandelier and accented with art deco ceiling rose. Rich burgundy and forest green colors with gold accents are repeated in the multi-purpose furniture pieces such as the Murphy/sofa bed and ottoman convertible, accessories and textiles.

Pinterest board of Foyer and dining area

Foyer/Dining area: The extendable console-to-dining table meets the client’s need for transformable furniture. The green floor rug separates the space either as a foyer or dining when the table is extended. The acrylic transparent chairs provide enough seating without taking up any visual space. The track light over head provides enough light for this versatile area.

Pinterest board of the kitchen area

Kitchen: Metal bulkhead housing indoor herb garden with full spectrum LED light above the marble counter top create the focal point in the kitchen. The stainless steel appliances compliment the metallic bulkhead. The wooden cabinets are covered with wallpapers depicting scenes from Italy. Specific Italian cook wares and accessories are added along with Italian recipe cook books to meet the client’s need for chef style extravagant Italian cooking. A transparent wine cellar rack is provided keeping in mind the client’s hobby.

Pinterest board of the TV room and living room

TV Room/ Living room: The eclectic style is defined by the lemon yellow mid century modern love seat, the art deco study chair on wheels, the acrylic chairs, rattan side tables, LED halo chandelier, burgundy torchieres, extendable glass top box coffee-to-study table and a traditional Japanese tatami mat instead of a floor rug. The UHD flat TV doubles as a computer monitor via blue tooth when film editing is done. The posters of international films hang on the walls to create a film lover’s entertaining area.

Pinterest board for Piano and art gallery area

Piano/art gallery room: To meet the client’s request of displaying the large collection of international art pieces from around the world, no furniture is kept in this area. The piano sits in the middle of the room, leaving enough space to walk around and appreciate the black cork gallery wall displaying the artworks. Artworks are organized by color and size to create harmony. Two large statues at two ends anchor the space. Art light and track lights provide enough illumination for the functionality. Dark green drapes hang from ceiling to floor behind the two statue as an ode to the classic Italian renaissance design style.

Pinterest board for the bathroom

The ceiling of the entire loft is painted with the Benjamin Moore charming pink and the proportion of rich burgundy and jungle green varies throughout the space to achieve unity. The load bearing pillars are painted with Benjamin Moore white dove color and gold accents. The marble statues balance the visual weight of these two pillars. The new washer and dryer units are stainless steel to match the other kitchen appliances. The proposed remodeled bathroom has dark green marble counter top and lemon yellow paints on the wall. Modern appliances can be connected to voice command technology such as Amazon’s Alexa. The Mirror interactive home gym can save space and yet provide workout opportunity at home.

NYC Reality: My Metropolitan Diary: COVID-19

Two weeks back I let a NYPD officer climb through my window so he could go down the fire escape to bang on the window of my downstairs neighbor who wasn’t answering calls from his family for several days and wasn’t opening his door where other NYPD cops were knocking and screaming out his name. The officer, after he climbed back in, who I made to wear plastic bags around his shoes and followed with bleach and paper towel very carefully, told me my downstairs neighbor had chest pain. However, in the end the neighbor opened his door after I heard the officer say “Sebastian, buddy, you have gotta get up!” I think they got him to the hospital. Sebastian is a man in early 30s. I hope Sebastian is well.

NYC Reality: Unsaid

In a few minutes,
the crowning moon takes over the setting sun,
as the keys of the piano bleed into nothingness,
I look at the blue sky through my window
and in between the greenish yellow Spring leaves,
After 4 long long hours, the birds return home
carrying baskets of empathy under their wings and
I ask them with all my prayers “Sai dovè è lui?
They reply in union, as if nothing happened, “asumiame!
My face gets blurred in the exposed orange, purple light of the eternal sky,
And the seven stars of Ursa Major torment me
with their everlasting question,
In reply I can whisper only one word
under my well hidden heavy breath – “traitor!”

NYC Reality: My Metropolitan Diary: Murphy bed

Three of my pretty neighbors in the building from across the courtyard have been trying to build a Murphy bed! In past three hours they finished a bottle of Bombay Sapphire, one of them went for a short break and put on make up, one has been flipping through the manual relentlessly and the third just started to Insta everything! So far the Murphy bed looks like a dog crate. But total respect!

NYC Reality: nano studio summer makeover

Breakfast tableThe summer is here! The tiny breakfast table, homemade coffee and a good book help to start a peaceful morning. The table can be folded and it came from the sidewalk of New York after it got a deep cleaning treatment by me!

That reminds me, the kitchenette became even tinier! I’m keeping my microwave cooking experiments to the minimum to reduce the heat.

Tiniest foyerThe foyer received a makeover too! The coats and boots were folded and stored inside the ottoman and under the bed respectively. The coat rack got folded and went to stand in a dark corner inside the closet. So, the tiny bookcase turned into storage space for the summer shoes and a tiny foyer tabletop.

Day bedThe bed moved away from the window as unlike winter, now I have plenty of light everywhere in the studio! It also turned into a daybed by the cute breakfast table. So that opened up the living area.

Living room 1My quirky boho vive came all the way out with all kinds of lights and colors!

Living room 2The mid century modern love seat moved close to the window and the invisible book shelf held the reading lamp close by.

Living room 3Of course, it’s still very New York all over!

Survivor plantSummer is tough for most of my indoor plants. But hey, we have a survivor. It may not be the prettiest thing by traditional convention and popular culture. But it learnt to adapt to always changing nature of me and this city!

NYC Reality: the direction fiasco

In general, New Yorkers love to give directions about the subway. But the most dreaded question they face is: “Where can I take the ORANGE line?”

You know why? Read on.

New Yorker (NY): B, D, F or M?
Lost Person (LP): Huh? No, No, the orange line!
NY (Sighs): There are 4 orange lines: B, D, F, and M. Where are you going- uptown or downtown?
LP: umm…
NY: Towards Bronx, Queens or Brooklyn?
LP: Oh oh I know this one, you see my friend taught me, hmm, I think Bronx!
NY: Walk 2 blocks to the west to West 4th St station and catch uptown B or D train
LP: West?
NY: West 4th St, that’s right!
LP: No, I mean which way is west?
NY: This is West 3rd and …
LP (keeps talking): See, I follow Google map when I drive back at home. But the friggin map isn’t loading here!
NY (slowly and loudly): We are on West 3rd and Sullivan. So walk that way (pointing with hand vigorously) until you see the green subway lamps by the street.
LP: ah ok, thank you, thank you so much…
NY: no problem (and starts walking fast)
LP (still talking): … have a good day! Thank you… nice… weather… west… yes…(and so on)

NYC Reality: Attempting a summer without air conditioning after 10 years

It’s 92F outside now. Google weather tells me that it feels like 95F due to humidity. I’m sitting here by the window in my East Village nano-studio and still feeling good about my decision of not installing an air conditioner this summer.

I will come to “why” I chose to do so later. But first, let me explain how this is possible even with global warming and living within a dominant culture of “air conditioning is my life”! The funny part is that ultimately it comes down to strategic changes in our 3 basic needs: food, clothes and shelter.

Food: I’m omnivorous. Well, that’s a lie. I have some sort of allergy to certain preparations of eggplant. I also cannot stand the taste of raw fish in my mouth. But, to live comfortably during lower Manhattan’s summer, I chose to become vegetarian from the fourth week of June to the third week of September. In general, I’ve observed that my body generates a lot more heat when I eat non-vegetarian food. As I’m a lentils-lover through and through, I think I can survive as a vegetarian for 3 months.

Clothes: New York City is all about black skinny jeans and fancy boots. Well, not if I chose to live without air conditioning! So, bye bye skinny jeans and hello harem pants. Growing up in hot and humid climate of Kolkata, I already had a couple of t-shirts with breathable fabric! To add to that, I bought some pants from Thailand that were worn by the fishermen there. Here in US, you can call them yoga pants or harem pants. But, the point is wearing these pants, you can sit anyway you want without looking indecent! You won’t believe how many times I have to remind my shorts-wearing Californian friends to cross their legs!

Shelter: High rise with glass walls with plenty of sunlight? Sorry, you must install an air conditioner! Not in my case! This East Village building is approximately 150 years old. So, they have thick, brick walls. I’m on the third floor of this 5 storied building without direct sunlight during the summer as my apartment faces the courtyard. Another plus is that I can keep my window open without the smell of the garbage that the apartments facing the streets deals with during the summer!

Now coming to “why” I chose not to install an air conditioner.

The first part of it is nostalgia. Living in the US for past decade, I never felt so close to the Bengali culture like I feel in New York! Let it be the passer by talking over the phone in Bengali on the streets, the fantastic food of Murray Hill in Manhattan, Jackson Heights in Queens and even Hicksville in the Long Island, I feel at home! And a large part of “feeling at home” is a hot and humid summer! I think I want to embrace that again.

The second part is the practical aspect. I live in a rented, nano-studio with one big window opening towards the fire escape. As the “StreetEasy” ads say, in New York City, the fire escape becomes your second living room during the summer! In this tiny outdoor area, I’m trying to grow herbs like Basil and Oregano, for my insalata caprese  and pesto alla genovese. If I install the air conditioner on the window, my access to this “balcony” will be closed.

In summary, this may sound like a huge deal after living in a centrally air-conditioned apartment for almost 10 years in Dallas! But, for now, cheers to my attempt, with a glass of chilled Rosè!

NYC Reality: facing my most deepest and darkest NYC fear – a mouse!

I knew cooking French keto food in my kitchenette-less lower Manhattan apartment was a bad idea! I thought the smell would invariably attract a “dead” rat on my staircase or a family of roaches in my bathroom. But, no! It turned out that my French cooking brought home the scariest pest of NYC – a mouse!

As I was dealing with some health issues on a very quiet Sunday afternoon, I heard the shuffling noise of plastics from my pantry. It felt like a living thing, a lot larger than a roach, was going through my dry foods. First reaction – I froze. Second reaction – panic fueled with high adrenaline leading to me deliberately hopping in front of my pantry to scare the thing. It worked. A tiny, brown shadow ran from my pantry shelves towards my closet and disappeared under the darkness of the door.

Dear Lord! I have a mouse!

I stood there strategizing my next move. I jumped up and down again and then quickly opened the closet door. Nothing happened. I pulled out the first thing I found – a black pair of jeans and a black shirt (yes, we wear a lot of black here in Manhattan). Then as soon as I was ready, I quickly looked up 5 ways to get rid of mice in NYC apartment on my phone – ultra-sonicator, mint oil, putting all grains and dry foods in hard plastic/metal containers, setting up traps and closing any and all cracks and holes in the apartment.

Easier said than done! After going through pest control isles of Home Depot, Target and Jack’s 99, I could only achieve 4 out of those 5. The ultra-sonicator was a complete fail. The mouse pretty much ignored the peanut butter in the trap and just searched for the bag of very greasy and salty potato chips it chewed through before. Of course, I threw that away the moment I found tiny pieces of plastic from the bag.

As I woke up the next morning, I could remember that I had a nightmare where the mouse jumped on my face trying to eat my eyelids! Feeling exhausted, I reached the lab. Surprisingly, my lab mates’ reactions cheered me up!

Soonhee, the visual researcher, immediately started looking for mouse traps on the internet! Her concern was how to get rid of the mouse alive or dead after it was caught.

Rosa, the Graduate student who turned down an offer from Cambridge to join Columbia, and who very closely reminds me of Phoebe Bouffe from “Friends”, because of her vegetarian diet, straight long hair parted in the middle and a tall, slim figure with a kind face, told me – “I had a mouse once.”

I asked, “Did your cats take care of the mouse?”

Rosa answered – “Dhru, you know me. I closed my bedroom door, shut the cats out and slept in the same room with the mouse to save him from my cats.”

Tetsu, the calmest of them all, a graduate student who just had a paper accepted in PNAS, said very slowly and softly – “You have a mouse? Is it a pet?”

I replied – “I wish! In that case it would be caged and be controlled! Now I’m just worried that it’s going to chew off my passport and visa!” – which invariably led to a discussion of international scientists and the anxiety related to their visa situations.

Zak, the F32-winning postdoc said, matter-of-factly, “Oh yeah, I had a couple of those at some point.”

My mouth fell open “A COUPLE?”

Zak laughed – “Of course! It’s New York! They were going for my almond butter.”

So, in summary, everyone who lived in New York permanently more than I ever have, encountered a mouse situation. This made me feel way better. Perhaps, I will be ok. Perhaps, the mouse will go away on its own if it doesn’t find any food.

I realized, now I truly, undoubtedly and irrevocably understand why they say this about New York – “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

NYC Reality: Microwave cooking for kitchenette-less New Yorkers

nano apartment kitchenAs a big fan of the film “Julie and Julia” by Nora Ephron based on the book by Julie Powell, I agree with Julie Powell that cooking for people we love exerts a very soothing effect on us. Like Julie and Julia, I like cooking for my family and friends simply out of joy. But, there is one difference. Julie and Julia always had their kitchens. I do not.

As I wrote earlier, when the time came for me to choose between kitchenette vs. private bathroom in a nano-studio of lower Manhattan, I chose the later without hesitation. Most New York City studios have what is called a “kitchenette” at one corner of the room with some cabinet space on top. The kitchenette usually has a dorm refrigerator under a tiny counter top, an oven that can only fit 6 inches by 6 inches baking pans with cooking stoves on top where you can only use one regular sized sauté pan at a time and a sink so small that you can only wash one hand at a time. I do not have that luxury.

When I bought a regular microwave and a dorm refrigerator, I was adamant that I wanted to cook, even though very rarely due to my dish-washing phobia, when my friends and family visited my place for the first time. I took the F train to Jackson Heights in Queens to buy all the Indian rice, lentils, spices, oil etc. I stocked them up in cube organizers placing them on a storage shelf that I received for free. I also bought glass microwavable containers with lid as I never wanted to use plastic ones.

First visit was by cousin Ari and nephew Riaan for dinner. I cooked pulav (rice cooked with ghee, egg, peanuts, and raisins), daal makhani (lentil soup with heavy cream and spices), chicken with tamarind sauce, potato-cauliflower curry and fish with butter, cherry tomato and southern spices. I think it took me 4 hours 30 minutes to cook everything. The chicken was a little overcooked and somewhat dry. I realized I could not follow the usual recipes from stovetop ovens. I must optimize my protocols, like I do in the lab.

However, nephew Riaan liked the food. Cousin Ari texted me later in the evening that Riaan wanted to stay at my place for longer. We also enjoyed the berries cousin Ari brought as dessert.

The second visit was by auntie Cynthia. I wanted to cook Italian because of her Italian ancestry. Auntie Cynthia came with organic red wine and chocolate cream filled pastries. I put out artisan bread with olives and Artiagiano cheese as appetizers. For main course, I made risotto with chowder sauce, chicken alfredo with mushrooms, sour cream and port wine. To keep the flavor of the port from evaporating during microwave, I layered previously whisked eggs on top of the chicken alfredo. The egg acted as a fluffy insulation and held the flavors as the chicken cooked with cream cheese, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.

Auntie Cynthia asked for the chicken alfredo recipe and shared in social media later that week that she might have gained couple of inches on her waistline, but it was worth it!

When auntie Beth visited me for lunch, I already felt like a pro with microwave cooking. Auntie Beth brought a famous olive oil and an interesting Egyptian snack. With a Chilean cabernet sauvignon, they served as the perfect appetizer. I repeated the pulav, daal makhani and chicken curry. But, this time I optimized my protocol for the microwave, finishing the dishes in record time. The chicken was soft and moist. The pulav was al dente. The daal cooked to the extent that it retained its texture but also melted in your mouth.

Auntie Beth, like me, enjoys communicating with metaphors. So, she commented later that week – “Nephew Dhru is a terrific cook. He handles microwave oven like Jose Andres handles a paella pan.”

The irony is that I do not like cooking for myself. But, I had a lot of fun cooking for the people in my life. The moral of the story is – Marie Kondo’ing my life for living in a nano-studio without kitchenette doesn’t mean I could not cook my favorite Indian and Italian foods if I wanted to, as long as the people eating them have an open mind and a big heart.

NYC Reality: My Metropolitan Diary: Neighbors

3 of us, New York apartment dwellers, were describing our neighbors.

One said – my upstairs neighbors, a middle aged couple with 2 teenage kids, host karaoke every other night!
Another said – my upstairs neighbors have 4 toddlers who, at 11 pm, run across the apartment, throw the heaviest book on the floor, jump and then repeat!
Finally, I said – my neighbor is a noise police. He knocks and bangs on everyone’s door if there is a tiny bit of noise.
As everyone looked at me in silence, I added, “I let him do the dirty work and enjoy the peace.”