Apartment Upgrades

I have a small studio apartment in NYC, so it’s been important to find efficient ways to utilize space. I’ll cover a few projects that I’ve done over the past few months that have each improved space utilization dramatically.

Kitchen Island Improvements

I have a 48”x30” butcher-block kitchen island with a galvanized steel base/tray, which has been incredibly useful. I store most of my small kitchen appliances on the bottom shelf, such as my stand mixer and food processor, as well as by my and Amy’s pressure cookers. I found myself using the top surface for additional food storage, especially bread, fruit, and veggies that didn’t need to be refrigerated. Unfortunately, storing all of that up top meant I had limited room for actual food prep. I also frequently used it as a temporary landing zone for tools, laptop, 3d-printer accessories, etc, and it was annoying to have to move all of the food first.

To solve all of this, I added a hanging shelf on one side. I bought a stainless steel shelf off Amazon, as well as some M8 studs and associated hardware. I drilled and tapped the wood (maple is hard enough to tap large machine screws in), as well as some matching holes in the shelf, then attached them by bolting onto the stud. It’s been incredibly useful, and increases the density of the island tremendously. The studs are pre-tensioned against the wood with a flanged nut, and sandwiched on the shelf with a flanged nut on top plus an endcap nut on the bottom.

Next to highlight is the pot and pan hanging rack I put on the opposite side of the island. Pots and pans take up an enormous amount of cupboard space, and having them stacked makes retrieval difficult and annoying (a frequent complaint of mine from my previous apartment in Cambridge). To remedy this, I added a plain stainless steel pot and pan holder, also from Amazon. This is normally intended to mount to a wall, but it works equally well hanging upside down, inset back from the lip of the island. The lids still live in the cupboard, since I don’t tend to use them nearly as frequently.

Finally, I realized I was actually using my strainer set more frequently than I had originally anticipated - I use the small strainer for straining gunk out of homemade kombucha, and use the large strainer for straining pasta. Therefore, I added a set of hooks to the short end of the island nearest the kitchen to hang the strainers (they didn’t fit on the normal pot and pan rack). To do this, I used some ceiling hooks I had leftover from the lighting project.

Charging Station

Another horizontal surface that accumulated more than its fair share of clutter was my charging station shelf. I have a pair of bookshelf/storage shelf hybrids, and one of the shelves is dedicated to charging all varieties of things (phones, cameras, Switch controllers, drill batteries, etc), as well as storing a handful of daily-use items (wallet, brass rat, watch, etc). I took a sheet of scrap plywood from the rolling card project that happened to be almost exactly the right dimensions and added some legs along the sides with screws, after notching out some extra space for the power strip. Even this incredibly simple operation was annoyingly difficult to do in my smaall apartment, because any amount of wood cutting results in the entire “living room” floor getting covered in sawdust, and mandates immediate cleanup. I also don’t have any nice precise woodworking tools, like a table saw or miter saw. I dearly wish for a garage so that I can at least have a basic shop again, I miss MITERS and other MIT shops so much. The result was great though! I cut a single large hole for a few cords for phones and the Switch chargers, and all of the camera chargers went underneath, along with all of the cord clutter. Also shown is my custom-designed phone charging station, which I’ll hopefully write another blog post on in the future.

Rolling Cart

Continuing the theme of “horizontal spaces that are less useful than they could be”, I had a very awkward corner between the A/C unit and the wall/TV area, which had previously accumulated a pile of random stuff. I cleared out the pile and decided to build a rolling cart that would fit in that area. I would have loved to try building it entirely from scratch, but as previously mentioned, any dust-creating operations are a huge pain to clean up, so I ordered some 2020 extrusion (cheaper and a bit smaller than 80/20) from eBay, which was great, because they cut to length for a very small fee. It wound up being about $2.25/ft, shipping included.

To form the table surface, I ordered a couple of small sheets of 3/4” baltic birch plywood. This was a bit pricey, but the plywood I had gotten from the lumberyard across the street for a previous project was absolute garbage, so I really wanted a nicer quality plywood, since this project would be way more visible. I cut it to size with my jigsaw, which was a huge pain and didn’t work well at all - the jigsaw vibrated my clamps loose, and bent, twice, so I wound up with a trapezoid instead of a rectangle, with one edge not even perpindicular. This would have taken all of 4 seconds with a table saw, but NYC constraints are incredibly limiting here. In the end, I decided it was close enough since I didn’t have any more extra plywood to try for a third time. I did tape the cut, and wound up with a pretty nice surface, so that at least went well.

A couple days later, my order of AkroBins and louvered panel arrived. I chopped up the louvered panel to fit the back of the cart, and the bins fit very tidily inside. This worked pretty well, except that the lower bins hunt down at an angle - turns out you need a lower support to keep them straight, much light a french cleat. I used my jigsaw again to chop up the panels, which was incredibly loud and created a huge amount of metal chips. I used the large sheet of cardboard that the panel came packaged in to cover the floor, and the chips mostly stayed on the cardboard. I sacrificed an uber-cheap wood plane to chamfer the edges, since I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to acquire a file or any deburring tools (that has since been remedied). Now that I’ve got 2020 extrusion and AkroBins, my apartment is starting to resemble CADlab.

I added some casters to the bottom, since not all of the bins were accessible with the cart tucked into the corner. Since this photo, I’ve added labels to most of the bins, which helps a lot.

Closet Organization

I had some leftover AkroBins and sections of louvered panels after the cart project, so I found a place in my closet to put them, and they fit perfectly. They’re super useful, probably even more useful here than they are on the cart (it’s pretty annoying to have to roll it out of the corner every time, since it’s a tight squeeze). I’ve found the USB cable storage to be possibly the most useful part, since they were previously in a huge tangle in a box. Underneath, you can see my Epson V600 scanner that I used to scan all of my MITERS film photos.

Thanks for reading!

Tags: #engineering