Panicked over the prospect of furnishing his apartment, columnist Matt Calkins turned to Seahawks rookie Zac Brooks for guidance. Brooks was awesome ... but the process almost drove Matt insane.
Toward the end of the last round of the NFL draft, I decided to take a chance on an unknown. And while I prayed like hell he’d have talent, this pick was based on need.
About a week and a half earlier, you see, I signed a year-long lease for a one-bedroom apartment, which delighted me until I came to a horrifying realization: I was going to have to furnish it.
Frankly, I didn’t know how to do things like that. Whatever Miss South Carolina was to oratory, I was to interior design. Still, I wanted my living space to at least resemble that of a functional adult, but I wasn’t about to drop two months’ pay on a decorator.
With the 247th pick of the 2016 NFL draft, the Seattle Seahawks select Zac Brooks, running back, Clemson.
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Before this move, I had either lived with roommates or in a fully furnished apartment. And the stress of picking out furniture — a process that doesn’t allow much room for do-overs — blindsided me.
After a week of inaction, during which my living room featured nothing but a flatscreen on the floor, I was ready to tap out, find a Target and let a random red shirt decide my fate. Then the Seahawks picked Brooks — a backup running back who, despite having a year of eligibility remaining, left Clemson because it didn’t offer his graduate degree of choice.
“And what was that?” asked a reporter.
I’m not a religious man, but I felt compelled to give the Big Guy a quick shoutout. I then e-mailed the Seahawks’ PR department to set up an interview for a story.
All I planned to do was show him a picture, get a couple of suggestions, and write about the aftermath. But Zac wanted to come over and see my place first-hand.
“Absolutely,” I told him, “but I’m on a budget. I want to keep this to about $2,500 if possible.”
“That’s easy,” he said. “I mean, you can get a lot of stuff from places like … ”
“Target?” I asked.
“I was even gonna say Walmart,” he replied.
I liked him immediately.
So here’s what we were dealing with.
About three weeks passed from the day I pitched the Seahawks to the day Brooks swung by, and in that time I had bought a $1,100 sofa from Macy’s and a $130 coffee table online. From what I understood, both were returnable if I did so within 30 days, but I was proud of the combo and hoped Zac would build around it.
At Clemson, Brooks gained a reputation for having one of the more stylish rooms on campus. And as his teammates spent their per diems on shoes and clothing, Zac would pop into thrift stores to peruse the furniture.
“This is me. I’m watching HGTV all the time,” Brooks said. “I can’t wait till I can get to the point where I can take out walls and change the floors and do all that. That’s when it’s really going to heat up.”
For now, though, Brooks would have to settle for a 678-square-foot unit in Ballard — and he didn’t waste time.
Within seconds of stepping through my door, he recommended an “industrial” design. He noted the wood floors in the living room, the gray tones in the kitchen and said metals would “set the place off.” But it wasn’t until he walked toward the window overlooking the courtyard that the inspiration oozed.
“I didn’t know you had all that green out there!” Zac said. “That’s huge.”
Suddenly, nature was going to be the theme of my apartment. Brooks pictured green pillows, green throws, and green artwork that was gonna look “sick.”
He beamed while talking about it, too, detailing the intricacies of color schemes and complementary decor. I just had one question.
“Can I keep the couch?”
“Do you want to keep it?” he asked.
“I’m giving you full autonomy,” I said.
“I’d get rid of the couch.”
Two days later, I find out I had misread the Macy’s policy and couldn’t return the couch. My place was gonna be sick, and my stomach was, too.
I seriously considered nixing the story, as I imagined a follow-up column explaining how I was evicted from my amazing apartment because I couldn’t pay rent.
Then Zac texted me this …
Followed by this.
Those are renderings of my pad he created on an app. And like everyone I’ve shown them to, they floored me. I decided right then that I was all in and that my couch and table had to go.
Soon enough, my sanity would do the same.
Finding the pieces
If you’re a Seahawks junkie, you know Brooks isn’t the only rookie running back with a side interest. Fifth-round draft pick Alex Collins charmed 12s everywhere when footage surfaced of him Irish dancing.
The difference is, Collins high-stepping to flutes and fiddles is a hobby. Zac sees design as a potentially hefty source of income.
Out because of a foot injury in 2014, Brooks began pondering career plans that went beyond football. He asked himself, “What could I do where I could wake up and be completely happy?” — and design was the answer.
Whether it’s in six months or 15 years, Brooks has serious plans to start his own firm. But he has also had his sights on the NFL since age 2, so that’s gonna take priority.
This is why my experience with him wasn’t of the typical client-designer variety. Zac didn’t have time to handpick my furniture — he just gave me a blueprint and an open invitation for feedback.
“Should be pretty inexpensive,” Brooks said via text. “I’d check out Ross, T.J. Maxx, Michael’s and places like that for different things.”
That sounded great in theory, but come on — where do you see Ross or T.J. Maxx in that rendering? The mirror? The art over the couch? It was like a Morton’s waiter saying “the sodas are $3 and the saltines are free!”
But I was committed. No turning back now. And I actually got off to a decent start.
My first purchase was the $949 LeisureMod Florence Style Sofa I found on amazon.com. My next purchase was three $85 Adeco Trading adjustable-height counter stools I found on wayfair.com.
I spent only a day tracking down the pieces, and I got a respective 👊 and 👌 from Zac on the finds. But it wasn’t long before I went from 😁 to 😭.
For instance, that coffee table in the rendering? I’m convinced it doesn’t exist. I spent at least three hours a night for a week trying to find something with metal legs in that shape and color.
The Reual James Metropolitan Coffee Table (below) was the closet thing I spotted — for the modest price of $850.
“Niiiiiiiiiiiiice!” texted Brooks when I showed him the table.
“But it’s not cheeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaap,” I responded.
“Oh, I didn’t even peep at the price,” he said. “You can find something cheaper.”
Except I couldn’t. And the cheaper suggestion never came. That was probably the most maddening part of this process. Zac would never just give me a freebie — I always had to find it.
I’d go through 2,000 dining-room tables, send him a few pics, and get “see if you can find something higher,” or “like this but in black.”
Just show me the black one!!!! I’d think. But then I’d finally come across the right item and receive the ultimate validation.
“Perfect!!!!” Zac would text.
It was like a comedian getting a thumbs-up from Johnny.
After a certain point, I was so entrenched in the project that my budget spontaneously combusted. I would spend my days sifting through area rugs and accent chairs, and my nights contemplating a second job as an Uber driver.
I ended up dropping the $850 on the coffee table. I hired a handyman to install the floating shelves. And after struggling for a week and a half to find wall art, I showed Zac a $621 set just to see if I was on the right track.
“Perfect!” he texted.
My co-workers could see the pain in my eyes. My friends could hear the stress in my voice. They saw a $2,500 budget turn into a $5,200 bleeding.
But they also watched me go from clueless to capable, as I improvised on light fixtures and accessories in a once inconceivable fashion. The end result?
Throughout this process, I purposely abstained from showing Zac any updates of the apartment. I wanted the final product to be a surprise.
So when he came back to see the results four days before training camp, I had him keep his eyes down when he entered the room. His first word upon looking up?
A bright future
I can’t express how awesome Brooks was to me over those two months. This is a rookie competing for a spot on a Super Bowl-worthy roster, yet between workouts and film study, he was advising a writer on couch pillows. The $250 consulting fee we agreed upon feels like a steal in retrospect.
I also can’t express how impressed everybody has been by his work. One of my apartment managers — who is paid to sell spaces in the building — told me, “I had no idea these units could look so good.”
People just don’t expect an NFL draftee to be so skilled in this particular field. Then again, Brooks made it clear that he has more surprises planned for the public.
As the third running back selected by the Seahawks in the draft, Zac’s odds to make the 53-man roster don’t look great. Not with Thomas Rawls set to return and Christine Michael plowing through the preseason.
But given how Zac was relegated to a secondary role at Clemson, which reached the national championship game last season, he feels the rest of the country is ignorant of his abilities. At least it is for now.
“I’m gonna come out of nowhere in everybody’s mind except Clemson fans and my family, because they know what I can do,” said Brooks, who was a heavily recruited wide receiver before converting to running back. “The question (in college) was always ‘Why don’t they let you play more?’ I don’t know. They had a guy that they trusted, and they just went with him.”
Honestly, I’m not sure what Brooks is going to do for the Seahawks. I do know what he did for me, though. He turned my pad into a work of art and awoke my inner designer.
That takes talent.
Hopefully Zac makes it big in the NFL. If not he’s going to make it big somewhere. I’d be willing to bet money on that.
At least I would if I had any left.