APT: Cobble Hill + Scavenging

Faux-String shelves makeover!

I’ve been told by several friends (you know who you are) that I need to stop leading off all of my posts by saying, “I know these photos are bad, but…” I’m going to try not to do that anymore. Not because I expect my photos to improve in quality, but because nobody likes disclaimers — including me. Let me just say that I only have one camera (a tiny Leica point & shoot that I love dearly, but it’s not an SLR) with one lens, and I am super impatient when it comes to cameras. I am photo-deficient. OK? OK. I’ll just put the best photo first and then hope nobody notices how cruddy the rest are…


Before you ask, the “It’s Always Worth It” print is by Lisa Congdon. Sometimes I think about writing “Well, Almost Always” underneath, but it’s not worth it.

In 2006 (pre-this blog), I was in the early throes of my ongoing obsession with Nisse Strinning’s String shelving system. It was hard to get them in the US at the time without paying a billion dollars for VAT and shipping from Sweden (these days we can order them in a number of color/wood configurations from A+R and, soon, the MoMA store), so I was really excited when I happened to spot a run-down set of knockoff String shelves at a used furniture store in Beacon (I’ll never stop missing you, Iron Fish). They were in seriously rough shape, but they were cheap — I think less than $20 — and fixing them up looked like an easy enough project.

And then I put them in the basement. If you look carefully at the photos in that post, you can actually see the faux-String brackets wedged between a dog gate and a vacuum cleaner. And there the shelves sat, more or less forgotten, for the next 7 years.

The day we decided to rent this apartment, my mind went to the big space between the two windows in the kitchen…and then it went to the shelves! THE SHELVES! THE ONES IN THE BASEMENT! So I finally did it — I fixed ’em up, and put ’em to work.


PERFECT-O! I briefly considered getting nice new pieces of wood and just re-using the brackets, but this apartment is already really wood-heavy. I’m also a big fan of black on gray (yeah, that’s a pretty daring combo, I know) so I figured I’d just go ahead and paint the old wood shelves and hope for the best.

Since there’s always someone ready to freak out any time the words “paint” and “wood” are used together in the same sentence, rest assured I did not paint over anything worth restoring. Not all wood is precious. This is what I was dealing with:


Deeply-gouged, peeling veneer over crappy laminated pine, and, if you look carefully at the back right corner, mold. No good. I peeled off the loose veneer, cleaned the wood with bleach and water, let it dry in the sun, then gave all surfaces a good smoothing with my Mouse sander (I love that thing for small jobs like this). With the surface good and porous, a single coat of black Cabot Solid Stain (seen previously on the mega-planter I built for the garden) went on beeeeeautifully. I’ve had that same gallon can of stain for YEARS, and it just keeps on coming in handy. The finish is so super-rich and opaque, but you can still see the texture of the wood grain. It’s prone to scuffing, though, so I topped it with a coat of satin polyurethane for durability.


The shelves have little brass hooks that hang from the brackets — it’s such a smart design. See how the damage and grain of the wood are still visible? I like that when I’m painting stuff black. Otherwise the finish can look a little plastic-y and too new.


For context, here’s where the shelves are in relation to the kitchen’s main work surfaces and the backsplash. Yes, I still need to deal with that weird gap above the microwave where the duct is visible. It’s yucky. I’ll get to it eventually.

But yay, shelves! Totally worth it.

EDIT: The cute Bubble clock is from West Elm Market! It’s meant to be hung on the wall, but I’m not sure where its final location will be, so it’s just sitting in the shelf for now.


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  • Reply miss alix July 10, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    First, your photos aren’t bad at all.

    Second, I really like that white prism. PRETTY.

    • Anna @ D16 July 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm

      Thanks, Alix. Your blog photos are always so great!!

      That white prism thing is a big hunk of marble, and it weighs a TON. If I ever need a weapon, I’m grabbing that.

  • Reply erin July 10, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Where are those stacked white dishes from? They’re great!

    • Anna @ D16 July 10, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      Thanks, Erin! They’re from the CB2’s Bauhaus-inspired line of dishes, Frank:

      We’ve had them for about 4 years now, and they’re REALLY durable. (Plus the salad plates double as lids for the bowls!)

  • Reply sulu-design July 11, 2013 at 12:19 am

    The shelves look fabulous. Your home is always exciting to look at. I was so happy to see your reference to Iron Fish here, too. A few of my favorite things in our apartment are from Iron Fish. Wish I could go back.

  • Reply Iris Vank July 11, 2013 at 12:57 am

    The shelves are perfect there! The colour is great, especially with the brass details, I love it.

  • Reply Kirsty July 11, 2013 at 2:46 am

    Long time reader, first time commenting and I just wanted to say… I like what you did there with the ‘Totally worth it’ at the end of the post! It made me smile. And your shelves look great too.

  • Reply Lizzie July 11, 2013 at 2:58 am

    The shelves look fabulous, you did a great job on them. But I must admit, I’m totally distracted by your window boxes. I don’t know what’s growing in them, but’s very pretty!

    • Anna @ D16 July 11, 2013 at 7:58 am

      Thanks, Lizzie — the plants are mostly different kinds of Coleus.

    • Lizzie July 11, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Sorry for the typo. (Embarrassing.) But thank you for answering my question!

    • Anna @ D16 July 11, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Haha! I didn’t even notice. 😉

  • Reply stacey July 11, 2013 at 10:12 am

    The shelves are perfect for that spot! I’m with you… if the wood has issues, paint is a must. But panic attacks do occur over that decision at my house. As for the Cabot Stain, it has been a lifesaver for us. We have used it throughout our entire home, inside and out. It goes on so well, dries fast and never looks cheap. I’m in love with it. (and I still have the black can going on almost 3 years now)
    Also… that clock… AMAZING FIND!

  • Reply Stephanie July 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Anna – What about the ZZ plant? How do you find it’s happiest? A lot of sun? Partial?

    • Anna @ D16 July 11, 2013 at 10:34 am

      It doesn’t care! It’s the only plant I can’t kill. I bought it at IKEA years ago. You could put those things in the basement and they’d be happy.

  • Reply Estee July 11, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Love it.
    Have you written about that clock before? Can you tell me about it? (Again, if need be, sorry!)

    • Anna @ D16 July 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      That’s OK! No, I doubt I’ve ever mentioned it. It’s a Bubble clock from West Elm: http://bit.ly/134o6rd

      (I should add that to the post!)

  • Reply Michele July 11, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I’m sure you have probably answered this 100 times, but I always see those mugs on blogs and have never figured out where they’re from!

  • Reply Marta Spendowska July 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Gorgeous! Windows are just — ah — huge and bright and lovely.

  • Reply Fe July 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    WHY have you had these hidden away for soooooooo long, totally gorgeous 🙂 I have shelf envy !!
    I love the purple and grey pots/cups where did they come from please?

    • Anna @ D16 July 11, 2013 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks, Fe. The mugs were a gift from my mother-in-law! They’re called Contrast Mugs, made by Royal Copenhagen:

      I’d like to have them in a bunch of different colors! 🙂

    • cate August 3, 2013 at 9:50 pm

      So funny to see the purple cup from Royal Copenhagen on your shelves. For some reason I’ve been obsessing over it for years. Don’t have any though. Wasn’t sure I would be happy with them after I bought them and they’re expensive.

    • Anna @ D16 August 3, 2013 at 10:15 pm

      I’m thinking of suggesting my mother-in-law buy us a pair in different colors every time there’s a holiday or anniversary. 🙂

  • Reply Stacey July 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I wanted to pop in to thank you for the intro to Cotton and Flax. I just posted my kitchen reveal on the blog and Erin’s tea towel(one of the dotted ones) added the perfect finishing touch. Your photos are never ever bad by the way. Love your new art from Lisa(saw it on Insta too:-)). Yeah, I stalk you everywhere but I’m not a creepy stalker:-). Beautiful plates too!

  • Reply Judi July 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Great makeover! And, hmm. We have an IKEA dining table that’s about nine years old (the oval one with the two leaves that looks like a very old Dialogica design; you’ll probably remember the one I mean!). I’m sick of the finish (looks like oak), although I do love the shape. We’ve been thinking about a black table. Do you think the Cabot black stain would work on our table’s veneer? I actually picked up a can in our local hardware store and put it down, but maybe it’s time to go get it…..

    • Anna @ D16 July 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      Judi, that stain will work, but you’d definitely need to coat it with polyurethane. It’s really meant for outdoor use (it’s a decking stain), though, and I personally wouldn’t use it on a surface as large and uniformly-textured as a table. I would sand the table with a fine-grit paper, wipe down with tack cloth and use an oil-based primer and paint with a foam roller. More time-consuming, yes, but that will give you the smoothest and most durable finish.

    • Judi July 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks, Anna! I was just looking at the Cabot site and thinking to myself, “will a deck stain really work?” I did exactly as you were recommending recently with an Eric Pfeiffer Mag table whose walnut veneer finish was beyond repair (Rustoleum painter’s touch enamel in matte black), and I think, too, that that approach would work well. Something to put on the to-do list, definitely!

    • Anna @ D16 July 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      Yeah, that Rustoleum enamel is great stuff!!

  • Reply Eco Handyman July 12, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    The shelves look great! I also love its placement between those two windows, looks fabulous!

  • Reply Jessica July 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Hello! Just discovered your blog today through Manhattan Nest. Totally excited to find some local bloggers. I’m from New Paltz and my husband actually works in Newburgh. Bought our first home about 15 minutes out of Newburgh and been enjoying repairing and updating it. Trying to get into doing a blogging myself, but the technical aspect overwhelms, so I just surf through all the other beautiful blogs. Anyway, hello neighbor! Lovely blog and home!

  • Reply Marlene | Jade and Fern July 12, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    What great shelves! I have never seen this style before but I’m not in love. Very nice touch-up to make them purty again. Also, I love your comment beneath the “It’s Always Worth It” photo. 🙂

  • Reply Suzanne July 13, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Hello Anna,
    Lovely update as usual. The shelf fit the space so nicely! Also love the “use what you have got” thing.

    Just wanted to say, why not continue your homemade backsplash up above the microwave? Would make a nice cover up for the weird gap & visible duct. Also, looking forward to see the new knobs on the kitchen cabinets!

  • Reply LP July 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

    those mugs – the purple one and the gray one. are they from CB2 as well? I must find them!

    • Anna @ D16 July 13, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Scroll up in the comments a bit — they’re from Royal Copenhagen!

  • Reply Grumble Girl July 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Looks tremendous, lady! Truly excellent.

  • Reply Steve July 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Love your blog. Follow it weekly! I notice those baseboards. Will the landlord allow you to paint over them?

  • Reply Ashley July 16, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Silly question, but what kind of plant is that on the floor under the shelves? I need one.

    • Anna @ D16 July 17, 2013 at 12:38 am

      That’s a ZZ (zamioculcas zamiifolia) plant! They are cheap and un-killable. 🙂

  • Reply amanda July 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    hello shelving HOTNESS!

  • Reply Jessica July 5, 2016 at 1:05 am

    I am in the process of redoing my kitchen, I think this shelve is a good idea to add. I want to it to be like this. This is a great storage for my kitchen utensils. Thank you for sharing this valuable post.

  • Reply Javier March 21, 2018 at 6:33 am

    Where did you get this brackets hooks???

    • Anna @ D16 March 21, 2018 at 6:41 am

      Either Home Depot or Lowe’s—it’s been a long time.

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