The kids’ room was clean this one time

While we’re on the decorating kick, how about a couple of shots of the kids’ room? It was all organized for about five minutes, so I took photos.

This room started out purple, which wasn’t really a problem, except that some of the paint on the exterior walls was beginning to chip. When we had the whole house repainted in January, we decided to switch it to a fun aqua color, which I think goes better with all of the baby and kids’ stuff we have. It’s bright and cheerful for little ones, but I could also see this color growing with them to some sort of surfer theme or what-have-you. This is a lighter version of the color I painted the closet last summer.

The toy storage cubbies are from Target (now discontinued, sadly – a more pricey but great-looking alternative are Via Boxes.) We lugged the ottoman from Fez, Morocco way back in 2004 (you buy it unstuffed and stuff it with newspapers when you get home). Jax’s “pirate treasure box” holds little cars and toys he doesn’t want Ben to get into.

A lot of these things ‚?? like the balloon and Eiffel Tower watercolors I painted ‚?? we’ve had since our apartment days in the city.

The print above is from a schedule for the Nouveau Casino, a hip music club in the Oberkampf section of Paris. Our friend Corry (who we lived with in Paris for a year) used it to wrap a gift for Jax, and I knew it would look great as wall d√©cor. I cut it to size and put it in an album frame purchased at Michael’s.

That latch-hook rug dates from my childhood: my wonderful Granddad and Granny made it for me when I was 3 or 4.

For more details on creating the fort bed, check out this post. Since this will be the boys’ shared room, eventually Jax will be up top and Ben on the bottom. Since the bottom “bunk” is simply a mattress on the floor, we can transition him to this bed relatively early. Even the top bunk is pretty low to the ground, so Jax could technically sleep up there ‚?? although he prefers the bottom. Realistically, he would most prefer being in our bed (a bit crowded with Ben in there most of the night). We love that we can lay down next to him and read stories as he goes to sleep. He comes into our room every morning around 5 or 6 to sleep another hour or two. He is sweet.

Those front-facing “bookshelves” are the ubiquitous Ikea Bekvam spice racks (four bucks each), attached with screws to the armoire. Along with the clip-on reading light, they are the perfect solution to reading in bed on the top bunk.

This awesome piece of art was a shower gift for Ben created by my college roommate, Michelle. I love it.

A new dress-up area with a collection of French children’s books on the shelf. The hooks are also useful for hanging outfits the night before preschool and daycare, to make our mornings a tad less hectic.

And there you have it! This room definitely gets crazy messy, but because everything has a home, it’s pretty easy to put toys and books back where they belong. Now we just need to get a certain 3-year-old into the habit of doing so…

Kalanchoe Renewed (for 3 bucks)

I picked up this kalanchoe plant for a party we had at our house last May, to celebrate my graduation. I neglected it for months on various bookshelves and yet it somehow managed to stay alive. I noticed its cute little white flowers were starting to bud, and I so thought I should give it another chance and pay better attention to it.

The flimsy, unsightly pot had to go, however, and it was clear that it was actually holding three individual plants that could be easily separated. I just grabbed three soup bowls I had picked up for a dollar each (in pre-kid days, breakable ones we weren’t using) and filled the bottoms with pebbles we had in the garage. This is essential for drainage.

I added some dirt, put one plant in each bowl, and then packed them in well before watering.

Looking better!

The Big Kitchen Re-do

When we bought our charming little circa-1930 house, we planned to renovate the kitchen as our one big house project. This house is rock-solid and has fun architectural details throughout, and the previous owners over the past decade or two made some great improvements to the house, which we found out is actually one built from a Sears kit! Ah, the old days of DIY. Although the total square footage is just under 1500, the two-story layout (with finished basement) is such that we can all spread out and feel like we have our own little nook to play or work.

It took two years to take the plunge and finally renovate. It was a long process, but overall, we’re happy with the results. But first, let’s take a look at the before (just after we bought our new range, which you can see in this picture):

Above was the view right from the front of the house: two doorways led to the glass door to our den/office/possible third bedroom. Originally that doorway next to the range was the way out of the house, but the den and a bathroom were added on a couple years after the house was built ‚?? still a while ago!

The hood above the range was too low for code, and all that corner space between the range and the dishwasher was unused. No corner cabinet, just a spot perfectly-sized for our pull-out garbage and recycling bins.

The windows were charming but not very functional, and those bottom cabinets weren’t looking so good.

We actually broke the hinge off of that corner cabinet door, and couldn’t easily fix it, since the cabinet and door were made of particle board and I couldn’t get a new hinge to screw in tightly.

Look at all of those cabinets! This wall was cute and functional, but we later learned that the paint on the back wall of the cabinets had been peeling off. We also were hoping to fit a slightly larger fridge into this space, which this configuration wouldn’t allow.

This is the view from the hallway next to the den. The doorway on the left led out of the kitchen and through an archway to the dining and living areas.

Floor plan (approximate) for the old arrangement:

Here were the problems to address:

~ The upper cabinets had settled and were sagging in some places (notably above the oven).
~ Uniformity of style between the bottom and top: the top looked like it was probably the original construction; the bottom, a renovation twenty or so years ago (I’m guessing).
~ Not one drawer! We were using our handy kitchen cart (from Ikea) for silverware, as there were no built-in drawers, probably because standard-sized cabinets couldn’t be configured in the allotted space when the bottom was renovated (I’m guessing it was a DIY job?).
~ The old double-hung windows were drafty and needed to be replaced. We have herb pots hanging just outside the window, but couldn’t really access them from inside.
~ Room for a taller fridge: The upper cabinets used to begin even lower, and previous owners had them shortened to make room for a 65″ fridge. A larger fridge – closer to 70″ – could not fit in the space, and we were eyeing counter-depth French door options.
~ Despite the kitchen’s small dimensions (9×10 feet!!), not all of the available space was being used: the corner to the left of the sink had nothing but a plywood support under the counter, and a space between the plywood and the oven that we were using for our garbage and recycling cans. There was also a gap between the right corner cabinet and the fridge, which we were junking up with paper recycling and plastic bag storage.

The solution to the layout issues lay in entirely moving the doorway: filling in the existing one, and cutting out a new one to lead to the dining area.

The new floor plan:

By moving the opening, we were able to get one 12″ and one 18″ cabinet ‚?? each with three drawers ‚?? to surround the range. From zero drawers to six! We were also able to have two usable corner cabinets, and the addition of the bottom cabinets also meant an increase in counter space. After a few months of use, we haven’t needed anything more. It’s luxury!

And now, the After:

The view from the front side of the house.

Sill life with sock.

Look! A larger but not overwhelming fridge: this one is 36″ wide and about 70″ tall, but counter-depth. The window is a slider, so we can easily slide it to one side or the other and reach out to get fresh herbs. This winter we only have rosemary, but come spring, this feature will be even more exciting.

The cookbooks were hanging out here while our living room bookshelves were being painting, but I’ve kind of gotten used to them, so they’re still around.

Our new doorway to the living/dining room. Come on in!


Kids’ Closet Re-do: in progress

One of the busiest semesters ever is over, and now I’m in this interim period when Jax is still in preschool (have I mentioned how much he loves school by the way?) and I am awaiting the arrival of our second baby boy (due July 21). I believe they call this phase nesting?

We’re going to have the baby in a porta crib in our room for at least the first 6 months to 1 year, but all kid things are going to be combined into what is now Jax’s room. Eventually they’ll share the bunk beds, but in the immediate future, the boys’ stuff will be sharing a closet. By today’s standards it’s not an enormous closet, but it can be a walk-in if organized properly.


I should have taken a true before picture, complete with 1950s wallpaper, carpet, and the huge mess of storage I had in there. It is embarrassing, really. We could only use about half of the clothes bar because the back of the closet was jam-packed with no less than a full-size crib and mattress, a porta crib and mattress, a jumperoo, a bouncy seat, endless stroller parts (bassinet, travel bag, etc.) and boxes and boxes of clothes Jax has grown out of (and some that are anticipating his next growth spurt).

After clearing everything out this is what we were dealing with:

What a mess! But the awesome thing about decades-old wallpaper is that it comes right off. It was the easiest part of the job, and then revealed this old flakey pink paint and some cracks that required serious spackling. The light fixture in there had also developed a problem with the switch, so what you see above is actually the new fixture awaiting final installation by Seth, the engineer turned blogger who still gets recruited for all things wired in the house.

First I used spackle to fill in the major cracks and let that dry. A professional with a sander would sand this down, but since this is really a $50 fix-up project and will be out of sight, I was probably more sloppy than recommended.

I also took a scraper to the pink paint and tried to get off as many flakes as possible.

The first part I painted was the trim: you can see the difference one coat is already making on the right. Once two coats of the trim and the ceiling were dry (I waited a day), I taped it off and tackled the walls.

Starting to look much better!

While waiting for the paint to dry (each coat took a day of drying, and I didn’t want to be doing this while Jax was home, adding to the wait time) I organized all of the old clothes into air-tight boxes with size labels and moved a lot of them downstairs to our newly organized laundry room. We picked up a dresser on craigslist that I plan to refinish to match and then put along the back wall. For now, this is the progress, so I’ll post more in a few days with the final (or finished-enough) result!

Summer Projects

It’s been quite a summer for us and I finally have about a week of downtime before my postdoc position begins. I am determined to finish the projects I’ve daydreamed about while finishing my writing and letting the house and yard and sweet little Jax fend for themselves!

Some of these took more time than others. Some things we’ve been working on:

A little project for my little nephew. I’m not finished yet so I can’t reveal any more about it!

New fabric roller shades I made using this tutorial on Design*Sponge.

I made this craft table and chair set from found items and decoupaged scrapbook paper. The only issue we’ve had is that because I used non-toxic milk paint, the finish is not very durable. You can see from the multicolored stains that we’ve done a lot of various painting projects!

A 5-minute craft organizer for under $10: That’s an inexpensive towel rod from Home Depot, some industrial S hooks, and metal buckets found for a dollar. If you wanted to make it a 30 minute project, you could paint it to match the decor. We’re all about function for the moment!

We also had a momentous month, with my finishing my dissertation and Seth contributing to the cover story of the current issue of Fortune. Whee!

Seth’s cover is cooler than mine.

There he is! In print!

Old Chair, New

My latest before and after:

This is a classic chair update, nothing too fancy or unusual here, but it’s so quick and easy, I thought I’d photograph the process and encourage others to take on a similar project. You can do this in an afternoon (including drying time), and the actual active time is only about an hour or so. That means that instead of taking coffee/snack breaks, just take a quick painting break and it really takes no time at all.

Before: We picked up these two chairs at a now-closed antique shop in Cold Spring. I think we paid around $10 each and the seller believed them to be from the 1920s. They were cool and rustic-looking, but had some issues, one of which was smelling kind of stale. I knew those chair pads had to go.

The wooden parts are pretty beat up, especially in the cut-out backing and around the bottom where feet have weathered away the corners.

So let’s get ¬†going! First, I took off the seat, which was really easy. I turned the chair over and just had to unscrew four screws.

Next, I sanded it down so that the paint would adhere better.

I used white furniture paint and brushes, but would probably recommend a spray paint for an object with so many nooks and crannies.

The first coat will look terrible, but after 3 coats, it wasn’t looking too bad. I let it dry about an hour in between coats.

While the paint was drying, I dealt with the seat. See how there are 2 layers of fabric? That checkered layer is actually a napkin from Pier I. I figured it out as I took it apart: its still had its original tag with a $3.50 price. The orange layer is probably original, and below that was that old-school stuffing that just falls apart. I’m not sure what it’s made of. Animal hair of some sort? Anyway, I pulled out all of the staples and¬†upholstery¬†tacks and got down to the wooden base.

All clean and ready for new padding.

I just took the wooden seat to a sewing store that cuts foam to size and had a new foam pad (2 inches thick) in minutes. I discovered a place that does this only minutes from our house, so this was really an easy step in the process.

I measured the old fabric for size. I figured I needed a square about 22 inches wide.

So I measured my new fabric and laid the foam and seat on top to make sure I was giving myself enough clearance for the new pad height. I think most upholsterers use more than just the foam padding in this process: they would at least add a layer of batting to the top, but I was keeping it quick and simple.

By the way, the fabric is a Japanese print I found at Purl Soho a few months ago (no longer available there) and bought specifically for this project, since it has a heavier canvas-like Lose Weight Exercise. It’s by Nani Iro for Kokka and called “Antique Label.”

I used these tacks to attach the new fabric to the seat with a hammer. One package contains 24, but I actually needed 28, so I used some of the really old¬†upholstery¬†tacks I recovered from the old padding and used them on some of the parts that wouldn’t show as much (not that any really show being underneath.)

I used the same technique to do this as you would to stretch a canvas: Start in the middle on one side, then the middle on the other. Then turn 90 degrees and tack the middle right and middle left. Work this way slowly extending to the corners, leaving the corners for last.

All attached.

Now all I had to do was reattach the seat to the chair with the four screws I had taken out at the beginning.


New Bedroom Hideout: Kura Bed Into Fort

Jax got a new bed last weekend and after a quick sewing project, it is now also a secret hide-out!


Bed: IKEA Kura
We weren’t fans of the blue, so we built it with the white side of the boards showing.

Fabric: IKEA Vitaminer Rand, 100% cotton

Curtains are attached to the bed with Velcro Décor Tape

Basic Construction:

1. First I hemmed the bottom of the entire piece of fabric I used. This helps insure that the stripes will line up, since the bottom seam will be identical on all curtains made from the fabric piece. Next, I held the fabric up to the bed and decided where I’d like it to hang, and marked what would be the top of the fort curtains. Adding 2 inches for the top seam allowance, I cut the whole strip of the fabric so it was even in height.

2. I measured the length of the bed (75 inches), divided by 2 (37.5 inches) and added a 1/2-inch seam allowance for each side, which meant I needed two panels 38.5 inches wide. I measured and cut two such panels from my hemmed piece and sewed the side seams. Ironing before pinning and sewing makes this process go smoothly.

3. I sewed a 1-inch seam into the top of the piece (the red band in the photo below) and then pinned a strip of velcro (the soft side) along the entire top seam on the right side of the curtain. I sewed the Velcro to the fabric along each edge of the Velcro, including vertically at the ends (picture one big, long, rectangular seam on top of the Velcro).

4. After wiping down the wood, I attached the self-adhesive side of the Velcro in a strip onto the inside of the bed frame.

5. Voil√†, the two curtains attached to the bed using the Velcro strips. I somehow ended up a couple inches short (I say 1/2-inch seam allowances and then don’t actually measure) but I find it doesn’t matter at all. You can play around with the curtain placement and keep them open by stuffing the corners into a space you make with a finger in the Velcro (my method) or by wrapping it around the top frame a few times (which looks more like a valance).

In action!

6. Finally, I feel compelled to note that the top of the bed is completely open and we remove the curtains entirely at bedtime. Jax is a pretty calm sleeper, but you never know if there could be some sort of entanglement risk at just 19 months…

The beauty of this project is that it is inexpensive, easy, quick, and open to interpretation. You could add appliqu√© elements to make it look like a castle or a fruit stand, change striped curtains for starry blue ones, or get the child involved in making it into any kind of structure he imagines. My sister even had the idea of suspending several yards of fabric from the ceiling and around a hoola hoop, to make it into a circus tent. As time goes on, we are sure to play around with some other ideas for Jax’s bed. In the mean time, we’ll be playing in our new striped fort.

A New Buffet for under $10

It’s amazing the things people will leave on the street on trash night. One rainy night in January, we spotted a huge pile of furniture, many pieces with drawers pulled out and stacked, and doors painstakingly removed. I suppose the furniture’s previous owner was sure nobody would want the stuff, so they were making it easier for garbage collection. With my solid-wood, dovetail-drawer-spotting prowess, I jumped out, surveyed the pile, and schemed its transport home (about a block away). Two trips later and we made off with:

~ a dark wood secretary desk with vintage envelope openers still in one of the drawers
~ a vintage Raleigh women’s bicycle (old-school cruiser kind)
~ a steel industrial-looking fan
~ a black buffet

I was able to find all the parts to all the pieces, with the exception of the buffet’s hinged front doors. Never discouraged, ten dollars in supplies made it look like it was supposed to have open shelves all along. I thought about refinishing the whole thing in a new color, but it was in really good shape. So here it is:

~ 1 small can (1/2 pint) Rustoleum Painter’s Touch paint in black, semi-gloss ($4)
~ 1 3-inch paint brush ($4)
~ 1 1-inch paint brush ($1)

In progress: All I really needed to paint were the two removable shelves and what had been two cabinets on the left and right. If I hadn’t been pressed for time, I would also have filled the holes left by the hinges (which I removed), but the paint at least makes them less noticeable.

The bottom shelf contains a basket for all of Jax’s shoes.

I also painted over some nicks in the top and along the sides. The square pedestal plate usually holds mail that just came in, or the camera.

On a somewhat related note, we use this antique French plate my friend Cécilia sent us as a catch-all for keys and randomness.

In all, this was a really quick, inexpensive project, and really not that creative. It was just one of those simple things we could do to make our neighbor’s garbage our own new-found treasure!

Living Room Plans

Decorate me!

We have some decorating to do in the living room, and I thought taking a close look at our rug would be a good place to start. Since it was quite an investment (hand-woven in wool and silk) and we really love the floral pattern ‚?? and the fact that there is not a very clear center to the design, so placement isn’t so important ‚?? it’s a logical point of departure.

The Color Palette Generator {via Sweet Jessie} has been a fun tool in this project. Here’s what the above photo yielded:

That’s a lot of orange {because of the photo quality}, but the peaches and pinks are pretty close to life. I thought I could get a more “real” representation of the colors in it with some closer shots:

This is more like it!

Finally, I wanted to bring out what appears to be a light blue in some of the flowers, but the color seems to be coming up as a gray. When I look at the rug up close in person, the software indeed didn’t lie: definitely more gray than blue.

Of course, the carpet is not the be-all-end-all of the color possibilities. In fact, I’d rather steer away from the too matchy-matchy tendency that could make our room look old and fussy and predictable. I think I may throw in a light aqua color, which I hope will make the space seem more bright and creative if done right. My first project is going to repaint an awesome buffet/dresser that I found in the trash just down the street – perhaps in a distressed aqua finish. Or maybe gray?

There is also the question of what color to paint the walls, since the room needs a paint job anyway.

We are definitely in the market for a couch for the living room. I’ve been impressed with the quality and prices of Room & Board‘s sofas. Custom made in the U.S.A., with seemingly endless fabric choices…

The Hutton Sofa in Vance Fabric, Cloud color, would work very well and maybe add more of a modern touch to the room’s style.

These are two chairs we already have in the living room, which we definitely love but could easily lead us down a too-traditional path. We love the classic French lines, but some modern accent pillows could spruce things up. The color on the left is sort of a dark eggplant, with a cool darker finish on the wood. If I were really adventurous, I’d reupholster the ivory chair in a modern fabric and add a new finish to the wood to make it pop. For now, you really can’t go wrong with neutrals.

The color palette generator is definitely a useful guide for accent fabrics. We need to come up with a few contrasting fabrics and patterns for pillows and perhaps some window treatments as well. A quick look at Calico Corners yielded some fun patterns I think could work, at really affordable prices, too.

Some neutrals:


Pinks and Reds:

Some of the floral patterns may conflict too much with the rug, but I think the over-sized ones would make a nice accent. As long as it’s just pillows, a bright pattern can work well. Isn’t that coral pattern cool? If we’re thinking about curtains (and the room could probably use more window insulation help), I would have to look to the neutrals and figure out which would best complement the rest of the room and keep it feeling airy.

Anyway, it’s just some brainstorming to give our living room more color and style. This post has sort of been an idea board to plan it out. We’ll see where the project takes us over the next few months!

Our New Energy-Saving Wood Burning Stove

Our heating bills for January and February were each over $400, most of which was made up of gas charges for heating. And that was with us being away for a week each month, during which we set our thermostat to 45. Yikes! Maybe it’s just because we were used to low bills in our 350-square-foot apartment, but we still thought we could do much better. It was frustrating knowing that we’ve taken all the little steps to save on energy (covering drafty windows with plastic, setting the thermostat to 64, wearing extra sweaters and wool slippers indoors…) and still end up with a huge bill.

We had heard from several neighbors, friends, and websites that a wood-burning stove was an energy-efficient and effective way to heat a house. Even better, you could have a wood-burning stove insert put into an existing fireplace so that you need not have a freestanding stove in the middle of the room (something a bit more than scary with kids in the house). The big snowstorm that knocked power out of half our town and left many households without heat (even gas heating systems have electrical parts) basically sealed the deal for us. Oh yes, and with an EPA-certified clean-burning stove, you get a big tax credit that cuts the cost by a third.

So yesterday we had the wood burning stove installed and we are all cozy now!

Some photos of the process:

Before: Just a regular ol’ fireplace, which was actually quite well insulated, but couldn’t really heat the room very well.

Delivery on Thursday: The stove is the big cube and the insulating pipe for the chimney is in the box at left.

Always a favorite toy.


A close-up shot: Sadly, we have a little smoke in this one, but in fires since we’ve had a clear view. You get that comfy by-the-fire visual with the major heating capacity of the stove.

Now if only it had a pizza-oven insert…