By Amy Cavanaugh
Decorating your space on a budget can be a daunting task, but Jay Michael of Estate Properties knows how to spruce up even the smallest rooms. He rehabs apartment buildings in the city, then rents them out. Michael recently caught up with CBSChicago.com to talk about his design background, what inspires him, and offer tips for freshening up your space, whether it’s a rental or not. “What we have in common with our tenants is a lust for living well,” he says. “That doesn’t mean it needs to be expensive.”
CBSChicago.com: How did you start your business?
Jay Michael: I ran into my business partner eight years ago. We had grown up together and he was buying homes, rehabbing them, and selling them. I proposed that we do the same but with small apartment buildings. We’re 1,500 units, nine years into it.
CBSChicago.com: How did you get involved in design?
JM: It was just by chance. My background is in media, but when I started to renovate my home, things accidentally started looking better than they should have for someone who’s not a designer. I’ve always been fascinated by the way people live and I’m inspired by travel and seeing how people live elsewhere.
CBSChicago.com: What locations have particularly inspired you?
JM: I’ve spent a lot of time in Belgium, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris. I was in Asia for three weeks a couple of weeks ago and that’s inspired what I’m doing now. Travel inspired textures, colors, everything.
CBSChicago.com: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve done?
JM: My favorite project is one we just completed in Lincoln Square. It’s called the Rockwell, and it’s a standard 1930’s courtyard building. We reinvented how we would want it to be today. We restored all the exposed brick, put in modern kitchens with subway tiles. We do thought out living spaces. It’s easier to build something new, but it’s challenging to work with a space that already exists.
CBSCHicago.com: What are some tips for someone to spruce up their small space?
JM: One of the easiest ways is to add texture to a living room wall. People are surprised to learn how inexpensive a roll or two of wallpaper can be. If you have a pattern, it’s hard to install, but if not, and you get something with texture, you can install it yourself or have a painter do it reasonably. It makes the whole room pop. On that wall you could add a photograph or a picture.
An easy way to add value to a kitchen or bathroom if you own, or if your landlord allows it, is to paint old cabinets. It’s an easy way to take a sad looking ‘60s or ‘70s cabinet and make it look better with color. When we restore old buildings that aren’t gut renovations, the first thing we do it paint the cabinets. Oftentimes, I paint them white since it looks good if you have a nice color on the wall.
CBSChicago.com: How about a bedroom?
JM: The least expensive and easiest way is to get an interesting light fixture and thoughtful window treatments. Highly desirable fixtures are now available commercially, and they can make a room pop.