Do-It-Yourself Makeover: This Tenant Transformed Her Boring Three-Bedroom Bedroom Into a Mid-Century Scandinavian-Chic Modern, Cheerful Place
The tenants: Janine Viret, a registered massage therapist, and Alistair MacGillivray, a software developer
The project: A three bedroom apartment in Riverdale
DIY budget: $2,000
In 2010, Janine and her husband, Alistair, moved into a one-bedroom basement in the 100-year-old Broadview Mansions complex, near Riverdale Park. In their early days of living in what Janine calls “a dark hole” on $1,100 a month, they heard whispers of several storied three-bedroom apartments in the building. It was hard to imagine any of the units becoming available. “They were inhabited by lifers,” says Alistair. “The lady in the hall had lived there for about 70 years.”
In 2019, desperate for more space and light, the couple moved into a two-room apartment (for $2,400 per month) in an adjacent building. Still, they had hopes for one of those three bedrooms. Two years later, they heard one was available for $2,800 a month, and they jumped on it.
But they weren’t impressed with what they discovered while touring the site. There had been a flood in the unit and the plaster in the hall closet was bubbling from water damage. The hall lamp was filled with so much water that it resembled a fishbowl. The hardwood floors were buckling and the walls were gouged and marked with chalk drawings left by toddlers. Abandoned phone cords dangled from the walls and exposed electrical wires stretched from the fuse box in the kitchen through the floor.
Despite the apartment’s good bones, the place was a disaster, says Janine. While the landlord initially agreed to repair the worst of the damage — sanding and varnishing the hardwood floors, re-plastering the closet, and repainting the walls — the couple continued to advocate for more changes. “We use the word danger a lot to get things done,” says Alistair. In the end, building management agreed to cover the cables in the kitchen with drywall, replace a rusting pedestal sink in the bathroom, and remove the offending kitchen radiator.
Next, the couple embarked on a series of DIY renovations to make their dream apartment a reality. They swapped the bathroom’s cheap medicine cabinet — which Janine says looked like it belonged in a dorm room — with an IKEA mirrored cabinet sourced from a Facebook group ($90). Janine bought tile whitener and sealer from Home Depot ($19) and spent four days cleaning the bathroom until it sparkled. Since the original copper pipes behind the toilet had turned green, she bought a special abrasive ($5) and polish ($20) to restore their original finish. After that, she says, her knees were black with bruises.
When the couple moved in, one of the two doors leading to the second bedroom, which Alistair uses as an office, had mysteriously been painted shut. “When you walked into the apartment, it was like a hallway to nowhere,” says Janine. To open the room, they ran a knife around the door frame and forced it open. The door no longer closes, but the couple prefers the spacious open concept.
In the kitchen, Janine and Alistair have removed the ugly orange wallpaper from the cupboard. They painted the interior dark green and the exterior white to complement the rest of their Scandi-minimalism-meets-Parisian decor. At one point, Janine plans to strip the paint off the cabinets’ metal hinges and restore them to their original rustic glory. The pair also yanked a small, awkwardly placed dinette shelf from the kitchen. It remained empty for months until Janine bought a vintage French Pastry Table ($50) on Facebook Marketplace, turning the area into a coffee nook.
The crown jewel of the apartment is the original fireplace in the living room, which is embossed with cherub motifs. While cleaning up, the pair found filthy horsehair insulation dating back to the early days of the building. They painted the inside of the fireplace dark green and filled it with artificial candles, since it can no longer be lit.
The most expensive upgrade was replacing the chest lights with more expensive fixtures. Under foam ceiling medallions purchased from Amazon ($30), they installed a wicker chandelier from IKEA ($99) in the hallway, a vintage Danish mid-century modern lamp sourced from Etsy for $90 (these lamps regularly sell for over $700, but to save money, Janine bought one that had to be re-strung). Their biggest splurge was a minimalist lamp by designer Julie Lansom (just under $1,000), which the couple bought as a Christmas present for themselves.
In total, they spent $2,000 on upgrades. The couple has been adopted for adoption since 2020 and they hope to turn the third bedroom into a nursery. “We don’t want to leave Riverdale, but we can’t afford a multi-million dollar house,” says Janine. They plan to stay in space and grow old. “At least until we can’t go up and down the stairs anymore,” says Alistair.