Our Laundry Room Remodel Begins

Recently we had the concrete floor in our laundry room resurfaced.

We enjoyed the new look for a few days.

laundry room remodel: concrete floor resurface

But now the room looks like this.

laundry room remodel

That’s right – our laundry room remodel is finally under way!

And fortunately for us, my brother Dan has offered his talents for this project.  For years he’s been making improvements to his own home  – including this gorgeous dining room remodel.

So this should be a fun project.  Let me show you what’s happened so far.

The Demo

Every time we do demo work, we learn something new about this house.   (Case in point: Ghosts of Kitchens Past).

This time we learned that the laundry room is built like a battleship.

When my husband Chris tried to remove the lower half of the north wall to access the old plumbing pipes, he was in for a little surprise: What he thought was a plaster wall turned out to be mortar and mesh.

I’d never even heard of mortar and mesh.  We learned that, back in the 1920s, inch-thick mortar with a strong wire mesh backing was typically used for walls that were going to support tile.

Since the only tile in the laundry room is a subway tile baseboard, we are still wondering why the mortar and mesh was used.

Removing that wall took some extra time, patience, and swings of the sledge hammer.

But Chris is persistent.

laundry room remodel
The old mortar and mesh

He exposed the wall and was able to remove the old rusted pipes.

laundry room remodel

The 90-year-old drain pipe was also rusted.  It needed to be removed.

The basement staircase is behind this wall.  This is where Chris made another discovery:  The drain pipe had been fully encased in concrete.

He used a hand-held jackhammer to unbury it.

laundry room remodel

The Plumbing and Wiring

Last weekend, Dan installed the new pipes and drains.

laundry room remodel

Previously, the washer drained into the utility sink.  With the new configuration, the washer and the utility sink will drain separately.

This new plumbing is a sight for sore eyes.

new plumbing

Dan also installed three electrical outlets on a wall that originally had only one.

As you can see from the above photograph, the old subway tile baseboard survived the demo process.  We hope to keep it intact and work around it.

Heat

The laundry room was unheated.  We had a space heater we used in cold weather.

So while Dan worked on the plumbing and wiring, Chris worked on adding a heat vent to the laundry room.

This meant pulling the fridge out of its alcove and cutting a hole in the alcove wall and in the floor of the wall between the laundry room and kitchen to bring a heat vent up from the basement.

Another demo discovery: An old feed line for a washing machine.

Bringing a vent up through this space will be tricky business, and Chris is still not 100% sure it will work.  It will be so nice if it does.

All the essentials are being put into place before the fun aesthetic work can begin.

But we are also working on refreshing the adjoining mudroom .  So while the guys have been battling mortar walls and plumbing connections, I’ve been playing with pretty colors.

The Mudroom Repaint

When we moved in, the mudroom walls were a pale yellow. For a long time, I thought it was a nice color for this cheerful, light-filled space.

mudroom

 

mudroom

But the mudroom was starting to look tired.  It was time for a change.

Choosing the Color

Since the mudroom was once an unenclosed back porch, its walls are the same rough stucco as the exterior of the house.  I think this is a fun feature.

White is such a popular color right now, but I just couldn’t picture it for those textured walls.

So in this post on Remodelaholic.com, I found a Benjamin Moore color I liked called Pale Oak.  It was said to have a warm gray undertone.  I hoped the Pale Oak would play nicely with my new trim paint – a warm white.

The Power of Prep Work

Whenever I begin a new paint project, I’m immediately reminded of two things:

(1)  I still hate paint projects; and

(2) The prep work is the most important thing.  The mudroom walls and window casings had many gaps, cracks, and imperfections.

The molding around the back door was raw wood, which has always bugged me.  Next to it was a large seam in the wall and a hideous piece of baseboard trim.

So I scrubbed, sanded, spackled, caulked, and primed.

After that, painting was a piece of cake.

The Result

The Pale Oak is an airy, barely-there color.  I think it works nicely with the new charcoal floor.

mudroom repaint

 

mudroom repaint

mudroom repaint

I didn’t paint the beadboard ceiling because it looks fine to me.  The cracks give it a vintage look that works with the 1930s parrot light.

vintage parrot light

But the parrot light will be stowed safely away for the time being, and the floor will be covered with Ram Board to protect it during the laundry room remodel.

Note:  If you think you’ve seen this parrot light in another post of mine, you’re not imagining things.  We have an identical parrot light hanging over our kitchen sink.  That one came out of my childhood home.  We found this one at an antique store in eastern Oregon.  So of course we bought it!

What the Heck is That?

Have you been wondering what this plastic-covered hole in the laundry room wall is?

It’s pure weirdness – and a bit of a mystery to us.  I’ll talk about it in my next post, and I’ll share the cute little craft project that came out of the weirdness.

Note:  All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and are not tutorials or endorsements.


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A Scruffy Concrete Floor Gets a Facelift

Quirky Laundry

One thing I love about old houses is that they always have their quirks.  Our 1927 cottage is no exception.

In my previous post, I shared the little project that kicked off my mudroom revamp.  But what I didn’t mention is that the mudroom was originally just a covered back porch – and it connects to the laundry room.

Why is that weird?  Because before the back porch was enclosed (which probably happened in the 1930s or 40s), the laundry room was completely isolated from the other interior rooms. In order to do laundry, one had to go out the back door and then through a door to the right that opened into the unheated laundry room.  The laundry room door even had its own deadbolt.

All this to say that the mudroom and laundry room were treated as outdoor spaces and given a concrete floor.  I never paid much attention to this floor – except that I found it impossible to keep clean.

Original concrete floor

So when we recently decided to move ahead with refreshing the mudroom and remodeling the laundry room, we had to do something about that floor.

Beloved Scruffy Floor

We could have put laminate or tile flooring over the concrete and maybe even installed an in-floor heating system.  But that would have meant covering an original feature of the house.

Strangely, I really liked that scruffy old concrete floor.  It was stamped into large squares like a sidewalk.  It looked so solid and substantial.

original stamped concrete floor

Concrete Options

For some time, I had been noticing the beautiful, industrial-looking stained concrete floors in some of the restaurants in town.

We have some charming details planned for our upcoming laundry room remodel, and I felt that a rustic, industrial floor would balance out the charm and keep things interesting.

But how to find that look – and how to get it right?  Chris and I believe in doing projects ourselves if we know how,  especially if we enjoy the task.  But we also believe there is no shame in recognizing those times when we should just bring in a professional.

So Chris found Kenji at Semco Flooring Seattle.

And I have to admit that watching him work was more fun than trying to do it myself.

First Chris and I had to agree on the type of stain we wanted.  We looked at the samples that Kenji brought but, wanting a bigger picture, we also visited several of his finished projects.  We eventually came to the conclusion that we wanted a mottled charcoal stain with a matte finish.

As Kenji said, we wanted “character.”

Cleaning the Floor

One thing I like about this company is that they do their best to be environmentally conscious.  Kenji cleaned the floor thoroughly but didn’t use acid.

And later in the project, when the stain was drying, we smelled fumes but they weren’t horrible and seemed to dissipate quickly.

The Skim Coat

After cleaning,  Kenji applied a resurfacing skim coat to the entire floor.  This gave the floor some texture so that the dye would settle in the low spots for that mottled look we wanted.

skin coat - concrete floor refinish

I was a little alarmed that the seams in the concrete were completely immersed.  But I didn’t need to worry.

A White Base Coat

Then he  painted the floor white.  He did this to give himself a blank canvas on which to work.  Then he carved out the seams so they were visible again.

base coat - concrete floor refinish

The Stain

Kenji applied a coat of stain, and after it dried he came back and asked us what we thought.  It wasn’t quite dark enough, so he applied a second coat.

Stain application -concrete floor refinish

The Finish

Then he applied the matte finish.  It had to dry for a few days before we could walk on it.

But we love the results.

The color and texture give the floor the character that Benji was talking about.

concrete floor refinish

The floor is now too sexy for the rooms.  But we are working on that.

concrete floor refinish

 

concrete floor refinish

Maintenance

Of course there will be some maintenance.  Kenji gave us a special cleaner to use and, depending on how much wear and tear we subject the floor to, we will need to touch up the finish every so often.

As with any nice floor, I plan to put small rugs in the high-traffic areas.

Will this floor really work with what we have planned?  You will know as soon as I do.  So stay tuned.

Before and After Recap

We went from this . . .

before concrete floor refinish

to this.

after concrete floor refinish

*All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and not intended as tutorials or endorsements.



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A DIY Shoe Storage Upgrade

Before this house, I’d never lived anywhere that had a real mudroom.  And although our mudroom is small, I just love it.

But its best feature is also its biggest drawback:  The large windows.

Mudroom windows

All the wonderful natural light means very little wall space to work with.  As you can see from the photo, the limited wall space makes it difficult to keep things organized  – not that I’ve been trying very hard.  The room is a haphazard mix of random storage baskets and bins.  I’ve never really made it a priority.

Well that is about to change.  I’m in the process of reworking the mudroom – starting with the taming of the shoes.

Invasion of the Shoes

My husband, Chris, likes to keep the shoes he uses most near the back door.  The problem is, the shoes seem to multiply when no one is looking.  And yes, he really uses all of these.

Boot bench

A while back, in a half-hearted attempt to get organized, I added a flimsy thrift store rack to the top of the boot bench.  It doesn’t look good, and now we can’t sit while putting on shoes.

The small wooden shelving unit near the door was too shallow to house his shoes.

Mudroom shelving unit

A New Angle

What to do?  My mom suggested a shoe rack in place of the shelving unit.  It should have angled shelves, she said, so that the shoes would not interfere with the door swing.

It was a great idea, but most angled shoe racks I found were more suited to a closet than a mudroom.

And then I wondered about our little shelving unit:  Would it work to simply reposition the shelves at an angle?

plywood shelving unit

I asked Chris to give it a try.  He repositioned each shelf at about a 30-degree angle and used screws to secure them.

And it worked!  The shoes would be nicely contained on the newly-angled shelves.

DIY Shoe Storage

Now we just needed to make this basic unit a little prettier.

A 99-Cent Upgrade

A reclaimed wood top would elevate the look.  I checked the nearest salvage shop and found all kinds of beautiful wood – all of it too shallow in depth.

The next salvage shop was way across town, and I started to wonder if I was on another one of my fool’s errands.

While deciding whether it was worth the drive, I stopped at my local Goodwill.  There I found a piece of fir in the right depth – with a nicely finished edge.  And it was 99 cents!  I could not believe my luck.

Fir panel

All we would have to do is shorten the length a bit.  Reclaimed wood at Goodwill: Who’d have thought?

Adding More Character

Then I got it in my head that, since the mudroom is next to the kitchen, the exposed side of the shelving unit should be attractively paneled to match the style of our kitchen cabinets.

I tease Chris for keeping all kinds of scrap wood pieces, but it came in handy for this project since he had just the right scraps onhand to create the panels.

Then I painted the bench the same white as our kitchen molding – a color custom-blended to match our kitchen cabinets.

And here is how it turned out.

DIY Shoe Storage Unit for a Mudroom

A DIY Shoe Storage Unit

It’s perfect for the overflow shoes, and it frees up a lot of space in the boot bench.  There is even enough room for some of my shoes.

DIY Shoe Storage Unit for Mudroom

And for 99 cents out of pocket, it’s a nice upgrade for a plywood shelving unit that once looked like this.

Plywood storage unit

This small change is already improving the flow of the mudroom, but there is more to come, including a snazzy upgrade to the concrete floor.  So stay tuned!


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My Top Posts of 2016

Happy New Year!

Hope you had a wonderful holiday season.

For some reason the Christmas spirit came to me a little late this year.  I didn’t even feel like decorating until mid-December.  But now I want the warm glow of my holiday lights to last just a little longer.

Holiday lights reflected in mirror

If you’re like me, right about now you’re wondering where 2016 went and trying to remember what you did all year.  It’s fun to take a look back before moving forward.

So it’s become my tradition each New Year to review my blog posts from the previous year and share my top posts with you.  If you’ve missed anything, it’s a great way to catch up.

My Top 10 Posts of 2016

This time I’m going in chronological order.  It’s just more fun.  My most-viewed posts of 2016 were:

1.  A DIY Chandelier Upgrade

Sometimes it’s not the size of the project that matters.  For this little project, I took a piece a fabric I got for under $1 and turned it into an elegant chandelier sleeve. No more plain chain!

Chandelier sleeve

This chandelier sleeve made our master bathroom complete.  To read posts about our master bathroom, the room we carved essentially out of thin air, check out this page.

2.  Three Easter Decor Ideas

I had a lot of fun creating these little shatter-resistant eggshell planters. And I shared a couple of Easter gift ideas in the same post.

Easter egg planters

3.  Improvements in the Garden

This was my most popular post of the year.  What started as a small repair to a walkway evolved into a major landscape improvement project.  Our backyard is more beautiful – and practical – since this bluestone path installation.

truck with bluestone

But to me, the project still didn’t seem complete.  So I installed some simple DIY garden edging.

4.  A Lapse in Judgment Becomes Garden Art

Is there a support group for people who can’t resist curbside finds? Almost immediately after I picked up this chair, I regretted doing so. Too icky to bring into the house, I turned it into garden art.

garden art chair

5.  A Makeover for a Vintage Airstream

Our 17-foot Airstream Caravel, the June Bug, turned 50 last year. So to celebrate, we treated her to an exterior makeover.  Also in this post, I share tips for camping in a tiny trailer.

1966 Airstream Caravel

In my subsequent post, The June Bug Heads to Yosemite, I share a couple of minor interior upgrades – plus some beautiful photos from Yosemite.

Look for the return of the June Bug in 2017.   After all, she is our tiny vacation cabin on wheels.

6.  My Three-Season Greenhouse

Here I share the many uses I have for my greenhouse over the changing seasons.

Sunglo greenhouse

More posts about our greenhouse can be found on our greenhouse page.

And speaking of the greenhouse . . .

7.  Fun with Brick and Mortar

The final piece (at least for now) of our garden improvement puzzle was to add a brick foundation to the greenhouse.  The brick makes the greenhouse look more permanent, more old-world, and more cohesive with the new hardscaping.

brick and mortar

This project only took us a couple of days, but what a difference it made.

8.  A Plumbing Leak Becomes an Opportunity

A plumbing issue in our main floor bathroom led to a much-needed aesthetic upgrade.

1927 bathroom

9.  Saving Four Innocent Chairs from the Dumpster

Not having learned my lesson with my previous curbside rescue (see number 4 above), I found four weathered rattan chairs that needed me.

rattan chairs

10.  A DIY Doll Bed for My Favorite Little Girl

My final post of 2016 was all about the little Christmas gift that I made for my niece.  It was fun to transform this vintage magazine rack into something so sweet.

Magazine rack repurpose

My Personal Favorites of 2016

Two of my favorite posts that almost made the Top 10 were:

Making an Entrance

My Mom took her mid century rambler from bland to beautiful by adding a portico and larger windows.  It’s exactly what her house needed.

Be sure to check out the “before” photos in this post.

New portico

An Old Stereo Cabinet is Transformed

Here my husband shows us that paint isn’t always the answer when rehabbing a vintage furniture piece.  His repurpose of this tired mid century stereo cabinet is elegant and practical.

stereo cabinet repurpose

How to Browse My Posts

For clickable photos of every post on my blog, in chronological order, check out my photo gallery.  (But keep in mind that, in the beginning, I was struggling to take halfway decent photos with a lesser camera.)

My very first post, Saying Goodbye to a Special Lady, was about my mother-in-law’s celebration of life party.  Writing it was therapy for me since I got to share with my readers Betty’s wonderful sense of style.

What’s Going on in 2017?

Our 1927 cottage turns 90 this year.  We have been slowly and respectfully improving this house for years, but of course there is always more to do.

Like most old houses, it has its “sore spots” – rooms or areas that don’t flow right, don’t look their best, and could be put to better use. This year I want to focus on getting those spaces upgraded and organized so that they really work with our lifestyle.

I want these areas to look fresh but retain the character and charm of an old house.  Which might mean a few trips to the salvage shops.  In fact, it already has.

So no more excuses for me.  It’s time to get cracking!


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A DIY Doll Bed for My Favorite Little Girl

For my final post of 2016, I am sharing my favorite DIY project of the year.  This fun little project is close to my heart.

It’s Not About Needing

I was at my local Goodwill store a while back and came across something I didn’t need but just couldn’t leave behind:  This old magazine rack.

Vintage magazine rack

Such a cute little thing.  I especially liked the Edwardian-inspired turned legs and brass casters.

Vintage magazine rack - brass casters

That day furniture was half price, and the magazine rack was considered furniture.  I bought it not knowing what I would use it for. I only knew that I would not be using it as a magazine rack.

Aha, a Doll Cradle!

The magazine rack went into the basement for a while.  Then one day I realized that it would make a cute doll cradle – a Christmas gift for my niece Daisie.

So I asked my husband Chris to remove the two interior wooden dividers.  Then I would paint the magazine rack and add some bedding.

The Paint

The dark wood would need several coats of primer before I could paint it – unless I used chalk paint.  I had some leftover Plaid chalk paint in a color called Bavarian that would look very sweet.  But was chalk paint appropriate and safe for a child’s room?  I found this link by Plaid, which reassured me.

But I must mention here that I am no expert on child safety or babyproofing, and this post is not a tutorial.  So if you take on a similar project, you should research all safety concerns first.

Anyway, I went with the Plaid Bavarian chalk paint.  And although the chalk paint can be applied directly to un-primed wood, I still needed three coats of it to cover that dark stain.

A Little Customizing by Uncle

So the magazine rack was painted but it still didn’t look like a cradle. There was too much space between the vertical slats.

To add more vertical slats, Chris cut to size some of the wooden dividers he had removed and secured them to the cradle with glue.

Of course there was not quite enough of this wood to finish the job. But we discovered that paint stir sticks from the hardware store were the right width and depth, so he used a few of them too.

Vintage magazine rack
You can see that the middle slat is a paint stir stick.

I painted the added slats to match the bed.

Adding the Wax Coat

The chalk paint needed to be finished with a top coat of wax.  I used Plaid Clear Wax.  Since it can be applied with a rag, this was a quick and easy step.

Vintage magazine rack

The Bedding

Finally the real fun could start:  Choosing the fabric and making the bedding.

It was tempting to choose very girly, soft pink or white fabrics.  But my niece seems to enjoy strong patterns and colors.  So I found some fun embossed juvenile fabrics that looked easy to spot clean.  The green ball fringe trim would add a little zing.

Juvenile fabric

I had a pink and white chevron print calico fabric on hand, and I used it to cover the little foam mattress that I cut – and also to cover a small pillow.

I made two pillows, a comforter, and a mattress cover – all very small.  After all, the magazine-rack-turned-doll-cradle only measures 12 inches wide by 18 inches long.

The bedding is reversible so Daisie will be able to switch up the look.

Doll cradle bedding

doll cradle bedding

The turned legs look really sweet now.

magazine rack repurpose

But unfortunately Daisie has a very impatient aunt.  I really should have waited a few years to do this project since she is currently way too young to appreciate the doll cradle.

So for now, as long as her Mom and Dad think it’s safe enough, it will simply decorate her room.  And it might be a nice catch-all for toys and books.

What doll could resist sleeping here?

magazine-rack-repurpose-doll-bed-finished2

 

The magazine rack went from this

as-found

To this.

magazine-rack-repurpose-doll-bed-finished

 

Happy Holidays!

Dear friends, thanks for your comments and support this past year. Wishing you a happy and peaceful holiday season.  Let’s meet back here in January!

happy-holidays


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Budget-Friendly DIY Holiday Decor

It’s the most wonderful time of the year- that is until my holiday budget winds up on a runaway train.  Gifts, decor, party hosting, charities: It adds up fast.

So today I’m sharing three little ways to save on holiday decor.

Free Holiday Greens

I love to use fresh evergreen sprigs for DIY wreaths and decor.  I could buy bundles of greens at my local florist or nursery but that would be silly considering I can get them for free.  How?

Well, my local big box hardware store sells fresh Christmas trees in their nursery area.  As a courtesy, employees trim unwanted branches from the trees to tidy them up for customers.

These unwanted branches sit in a big pile and, if I ask nicely, the employees always let me take some.  In fact, they usually encourage me to take as much as I can carry.  After all, it’s less for them to dispose of.  And I get a nice mix since they sell spruce, fir, and pine trees.

I use the branches in garlands and to decorate my front porch.

Budget holiday decor: Branches with a vintage lantern

And in simple floral arrangements.

Budget holiday decor: Roses and evergreen branches

My wreath last year cost me nothing.  I just used the free greens with a wreath form and some garnishes I already had.  Basically, the wreath was made up of scraps.

Budget holiday decor: A wreath made with random scraps

It was not my best work, but you get the picture.  To make it, I used the same method as when I made this foraged wreath a couple of years ago.

I also added a little holiday cheer to my greenhouse by making a Frankenstein monster of a tree.  I used a section of a large branch that we had on hand as the “trunk.”

My husband drilled a hole in the “trunk,”

drill

I placed some greens into it,

Budget holiday decor: Making a Frankenstein monster tree

Put it in a pot, and added some lights.

Budget holiday decor: DIY topiary

I ended up with what looked like a little topiary tree for the greenhouse entrance.  (This photo was taken before we added the new greenhouse foundation.)

But my mom, Erika, takes it a step farther.  She uses bare branches from her own garden to create holiday beauty.

Using Bare Branches

Once the leaves fall from the trees, the beautiful structure of the branches is revealed.  Mom spray painted cuttings from a small dogwood tree to create this wintry look for her fireplace mantel.

Budget holiday decor: painted branches on mantel

She used 6-foot-long branches from a mountain ash tree, some curly willow branches, and more of the dogwood branches to create this winter arrangement in an oversize urn.

Budget holiday decor: large holiday arrangement

The mountain ash branches are painted white.

Budget holiday decor: painted branches

She also used ormanental seed heads from her garden and some silk flowers she had on hand.

Budget holiday decor: large arrangement closeup

This large arrangement will be a stand-in for her Christmas tree – a fun and beautiful change of pace.

At some point, I want to try a different version of Mom’s idea: Taking several large, straight cut branches and turning them into a small indoor forest.

A Dollar Store Find

Last year, I noticed that my local dollar store sold shipping supplies, including five-yard rolls of brown shipping paper.  It was thicker than the craft paper I had seen at craft stores.

I was burned out on gaudy holiday bling and in the mood for understated, organic-looking decor.  So I bought a roll to use as gift wrap.

I used strips of unbleached muslin and burlap fabrics (leftovers from other projects) as ribbons and bows.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

I stenciled some of the packages.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

And monogrammed some of them.  The thick paper held up well to the craft paint.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

I really kept it simple, but I love how these packages turned out – with a bit of an “old-world” vibe.

Budget holiday decor: gifts wrapped in shipping paper

Since I have a lot of shipping paper left, I’ll be experimenting with new looks this season.

So when it comes to holiday decor, free can actually get you pretty far – and so can a dollar.

Note: All posts on this blog are for entertainment only and not intended as tutorials.


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Start Paperwhites Now for the Holidays

I wish I wasn’t so predictable.  Almost two years ago to the day, I posted about starting paperwhites indoors for a beautiful holiday centerpiece.  And now here I am again – back to remind you that if you enjoy having fragrant paperwhites around for the holidays, the time to start them from bulbs is now.

My earlier post explained in detail how to force paperwhite bulbs indoors, so I won’t go into that here.  If you’ve never forced paperwhite bulbs before, that post is very helpful.

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I’m just starting my paperwhites for this season, but I thought it would be fun to share what I did last year.

Finding the Look

To me, the fun of growing paperwhites is choosing the right combination of container, pebbles (natural or glass), and decorative accents such as moss, twigs, berries, even shells, to make an attractive display.

The possibilities are endless.  I used all kinds of containers last year: A silver urn, a vintage porcelain candy dish, a ceramic urn, and some  glass containers.

forcing paperwhites: bulbs in various containers

I started one bulb in a small jar.  Then I placed that jar inside a larger jar and lined the inside with moss.

Forcing paperwhites: using glass jars

forcing paperwhites: using glass jars2

The end result is a paperwhite that appears to be sprouting out of the moss.  On the other arrangements, I hid the pebbles under a blanket of moss to give the arrangements a softer, natural look.

forcing paperwhites: Various containers

I created a vignette with a lichen-covered branch from the garden for a little natural texture – and drama.  This photo shows the stage I enjoy the most – when the first flowers are beginning to bloom.

forcing paperwhites: A vignette

I moved the silver urn to the front porch. In moderate climates, paperwhites are usually fine in a protected area outdoors. In fact, I’m going to play around with that idea more this year:  Blooming paperwhites in containers on the front porch.

paperwhites on the front porch

The silver urn still needed a little something so I shopped my garden for twigs and more lichens.

paperwhites: closeup of natural accents used

Adding free or inexpensive natural accents always makes the arrangement look elegant.  And in the dead of winter, it’s fun to bring the outdoors in.

Paperwhites as Gifts

I started a few arrangements to give as gifts. They are wonderful hostess gifts. Throughout the year, I kept an eye out at thrift stores and estate sales for anything water tight that would make a unique paperwhite container.  I looked for attractive vases and urns, vintage milk glass bowls, vintage footed candy dishes, and cute pitchers or jugs.

Here I used mostly glass containers – some just large jars.  The fun of using clear glass containers is that, as the bulb begins to sprout, so does its root system, and you  can actually see the roots winding between the pebbles (although not so visible in the photo below).

paperwhites as a gift

Wired craft store berries are an attractive addition, but they also serve as stakes to keep the paperwhite blossoms upright as they grow.

With each arrangement, I included a card explaining how to care for the paperwhites.

paperwhites with care instructions

The card read:

Caring for Paperwhites:

Keep the water level just below the bottom of the bulb so that the roots are immersed.  These bulbs should start blooming in a week or so.  They can be enjoyed indoors – or outdoors in a protected area. Once the bulbs have finished blooming, they can be tossed into the compost bin.

Then they were boxed up and ready for giving.

paperwhite gifts boxed and ready

They hadn’t yet started to bloom when I gave them away, but that was actually a good thing.  The recipient could enjoy the show – and the fragrance – when the blooms began.

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used in this post.


Get The Look

Bulb kits also make wonderful hostess gifts, and here are a couple of especially nice choices.  Plus, for DIY arrangements, extra-large bulbs in bulk (the larger the bulb, the more flowers!) and some sweet containers for one-of-a-kind arrangements.

paperwhites-get-the-look

Clockwise from center:  Paperwhite Bulbs, 20 Count, Largest Commercially Available | Netherland Paperwhite Growing Kit in Blue Ceramic Planter (green also shown here) | Vintage Green Jug | Glass Flower Vase | Milk Glass Tear Drop Design Footed Bowl | Bamboo Flower Pot Self-Contained Garden Kit


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Small Table Solutions for Holiday Dinners – And Some Dinner Party Themes

This time of year, magazines, Pinterest, and Instagram are packed with dreamy images of holiday tables large enough to seat armies and piled high with picture-perfect holiday decor. Somehow, guests cheerfully manage to pass serving dishes between the towering centerpieces, candle groupings, and festive bric-a-brac.

Yeah, right.  In the real world, once the food platters arrived, most of that stuff would have to go.  And in the real world, dining room tables and family celebrations come in all sizes – even small.  So today I’m sharing a few tips for decorating a small table without sacrificing space.

Use Scaled-Down Centerpieces

I have a tiny dining room that can only house a small table.  But because my husband loves to cook the turkey, we happily host Thanksgiving.

For small holiday tables, it’s best to keep the look festive yet clutter-free.  So I keep my centerpieces compact.  They don’t sprawl across the table, and they are not too tall.

Take last year’s centerpiece for example.

Holiday table decor: Jewel toned centerpiece

In an urn with a small base, it didn’t take up much real estate on the table.  And it was just tall enough to add interest without being a distraction.

Choose an Interesting Theme

Since I have to carefully edit what I do put on the table, I try to come up with an interesting theme.  Last year it was jewel tones.

A lively tablecloth and flowers,  and amethyst runners and napkins, kept the mood festive.

Holiday table decor: jewel toned table decor

And the year before that, it was serene earth tones and rustic textures.

Holiday table decor: subtle elegance

Again, these looks are clean and simple.  On a small table, any more decor would add clutter.

Use Smaller Plates

Over the years, dinner plates have gotten bigger and bigger.  Many modern dinner plates are 12 inches wide.  Get a few too many of them on a small table and things look crowded.

For dinner parties, I often use our antique china plates which are just under 10  inches wide.  They are a better scale for the table, and they still hold plenty of food.

Use Narrow Chairs

According to Emily Post, for guests to be seated comfortably there should be at least six inches between chairs.  So using narrow chairs means that more chairs can be placed at the table.

Place the Silverware on the Plate

Another way to keep the look clutter-free and add the appearance of more space between place settings is to use this restaurant-inspired trick.

Rolling the silverware in the dinner napkin and placing it in the middle of the plate (as opposed to beside the plate) saves space.

Holiday table decor: silverware

Rethink the Placemats

When I’m trying to seat eight people on my small dining room table, placemats wind up too closely spaced to look good. Scaled-down chargers can be a nice alternative.

Bending the rules a little is fun too.  Simply using smaller, attractive dinner napkins as placemats can work.

Last year, I placed narrow homemade runners across the width of my table to give the place settings definition without taking up space.

Holiday table decor: homemade runners define the place settings

Which leads me to my fun new way to define a place setting without taking up any table space at all.

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Put It Under Glass

When we are not hosting dinner parties, we take the leaves out of our table and it becomes a small square table – great for two to four people.

It’s an antique table from the Craftsman era, so to protect the wood – and make the table easier to clean – we had a piece of polished glass cut to fit over the top.

custom cut glass table top

Sometimes we put a tablecloth under the glass and sometimes we just enjoy the look of the wood. Either way, it’s super easy to clean now. This is a wonderful option for a small table.

And it got me thinking.  I started playing with ways to define place settings by placing gilded leaves – in this case, witch hazel leaves – between the tablecloth and the glass. (For how I gilded the leaves, see this post.)

Holiday table decor: gilded leaves under glass

They are placed fairly tight around the edge the of the plate – again keeping the look compact.

The dark tablecloth adds elegance and sets off the golden leaves.

Holiday table decor: gilded leaves under glass closeup

And as you can see, the leaves are under the glass, so they don’t interfere with anything on top of the table yet they still add interest.

Leaves can also be arranged under the glass to expand the look of the centerpiece.

Holiday table decor: Gilded leaves as centerpiece under glass

The possibilities here are endless.  For spring and summer, flowers or fern fronds would be fun.

Of course, once we expand the table for Thanksgiving, our glass top won’t fit.  But at least this started me thinking, so this year my Thanksgiving decor just might include leaves pressed under glass.

Have Fun

Whatever the size of your dining room table, things always turn out better when you enjoy decorating it. So don’t forget the most important tip of all:  Have some fun with it!

35 Dinner Party Themes

Recently, ProFlowers reached out to me to share their wonderful post “35 Dinner Party Themes Your Guests Will Love.”  It’s a compilation of dozens of creative dinner party themes with helpful filters such as style, season, and guest size to help plan the perfect holiday get together.

In addition to being packed with creative ideas, the guide is beautifully photographed.  I hope you enjoy perusing it as much as I did!

ProFlowers Dinner Party Guide


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Saving Four Innocent Chairs from the Dumpster

This past summer, my husband Chris and I were enjoying a bike ride in our neighborhood.  It was a beautiful day, and at the time Chris was still clinging to a tiny shred of hope that his wife might actually be sane.

That hope was about to be dashed.

The Chairs That Needed Me

We came across these four chairs, which someone had kicked to the curb.

chairs before rehab

A few people were looking at them, but everyone wound up walking away.  They were destined for the dumpster.  So of course I had to step in.

At first glance they looked like rattan chairs. But on closer examination the frames appeared to be oak.  The non-loadbearing cross-braces were a mixture of bamboo and rattan.

Bamboo - cane - oak chair before rehab

So they were very solid.  They just needed a lot of work, starting with a good cleaning.

Cleaning

Using fine steel wool, I scrubbed them down with denatured alcohol. Then I rinsed each chair with water.  Cleaning was probably the most time-consuming part of rehabbing these chairs.  Every nook and cranny of every chair needed to be cleaned.  One chair in particular was heavily covered in black soot.

Reupholstering

I thought that reupholstering these chairs would be a snap.  The seats looked removable.  I was hoping to remove each seat before I cleaned the chairs.

Turned out the seats were built into the chairs.  They would be impossible to remove without destroying the chairs.  So I removed the fabric and padding.  Each chair had a tack strip for the seat cushion which also had to be removed.

furniture rehab removing the chair pads

Apparently whoever built these chairs didn’t intend for them to ever be reupholstered.

As a solution, Chris cut new seat bottoms from scrap plywood he had on hand.  We would secure them to the top of the original seats once I added the new cushions.

tools-for-working-on-the-chair-pads

Finally the fun began:  Choosing the fabric.  I chose an outdoor fabric with a fresh, tropical pattern.  Then I used my trusty old electric carving knife to cleanly and easily cut the foam for the new chair pads. For more detail on how I reupholster chair pads, check out this post.

Refreshing the Wood

Using a rag, I wiped the chairs down with Howard Restor-A-Finish in Golden Oak.

Fixing the Caning

Some of the original caning was coming unraveled and some was missing. I had never worked with caning before, and I ordered the wrong size.  It was a bit thinner than the original caning.

But I only needed to replace the caning in a few areas, so I used it anyway. And it was very easy to work with once I soaked it in water for 30 minutes.

I figured that once the new caning was stained to match the chairs, the discrepancy in size wouldn’t be very visible anyway.

Furniture rehab new caning

Turned out the new caning didn’t absorb stain very well, but luckily we have many half-used cans of stain on hand, and eventually I found one that worked.

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Finish

I applied a coat satin finish to each chair.  This went quickly since the finish could be applied with a rag.  This really made a difference, giving the chairs an elegant, subtle gleam.

Almost Done

A few of the metal feet on the chair legs were missing, so Chris attached new ones, and then he attached the newly-upholstered chair seats.

 

Were these chairs really worth all the work?  Well, it would have been a shame for them to wind up in the landfill, but if I had it to do over, I just might have left them on the curb hoping that someone else would rescue them.  And I really should have learned my lesson after the chair project I did earlier this year.

Indoor/Outdoor Chairs

But now that all the work is behind me, I love these chairs.

Especially because of the outdoor fabric, they look elegant yet informal.  And they are so versatile:  Great for additional indoor seating or for garden parties.

furniture rehab tropical fabric

Bamboo - cane - oak chairs after rehab

Chairs after rehab

They are still not perfect, but they are old so imperfection is part of the charm.  And they are a far cry from what they were before.

before

One More Rescue

So in summer I impulsively rescued those four sad chairs that needed a ton of work.

Meanwhile, at an estate sale, Chris found a little mid-century bar that barely needed anything.  But it wouldn’t work, or fit, in our house.

No problem.  It turned out to be a fun little addition to our patio for a few late-summer get-togethers.

Midcentury bar

This is post is for entertainment only and not a tutorial.


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Sources:

Howard Restor-A-Finish is a wonderful product for refreshing furniture.  It’s quick and easy to apply, so we use it all the time in our furniture rehab projects.  It is available in many stain colors, and I used the Golden Oak finish for the chairs.

The lovely finish I used on the chairs was General Finishes Arm-R-Seal in Satin.


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Creepy Plants and Gleaming Pumpkins: My Fall Decor

As wonderful and carefree as summer is, I’m usually not sad when it ends.  I love this change of seasons:  The crisp, chilly air, the changing colors, the spiderwebs hanging in the walkway.  Okay, maybe not so much the spiderwebs.

But in fall we have to take the good with the creepy.  So I have two little decor projects to share – one slightly creepy and one the visual equivalent of comfort food.

We’ll start with slightly creepy.

1.  A Creepy Little Bush

Recently I was at my local nursery looking for winter pansies when I stumbled upon something much more beautiful – and just a bit haunting:

A cushion bush (Calocephalus ‘Silver Stone’).

Cushion bush

The plant tag even described the branches as “ghost white.”  I loved the slightly creepy look of this little starter plant.  And it was on sale, so how could I resist.

The Pot

I could just see it in a black and white themed container on my front porch.  And I happened to have a tall white pot that would elevate this plant so that it would be noticed next to the front door.

cushion bush with french pot

Adding Height and Contrast

Obviously, I would need some height in this potted arrangement – something taller than the cushion bush.  And something dark to act as a background so that the bush’s ghostly, twisted branches would really stand out.  But another plant would add too much texture.

So I remembered these dried ornamental leaves from an old arrangement.

Dried exotic leaves

I don’t even know what they are, really, but their thin stems would make it easy to stake them into the soil behind the cushion bush – after I spray painted the leaves black.

The Creepiness

I wanted the container to look beautiful and slightly creepy.  And what is more vaguely disturbing than a baby doll head.  I’d had this little concrete baby doll head for years, and no one but me has ever liked it.  So it was perfect.

Fall decor cushion bush

The Crowning Touch

I arranged the container in a black plastic pot and set it inside the tall white pot.  I elevated the plastic container with flat stones until it stood an inch or two above the top of the white pot.

Fall decor black and white

And then I bought an inexpensive grapevine wreath at the craft store, spray painted it black, and cut it so that it would easily  fit around the pot.

black and white fall decor

This way, the scene is elevated a bit, yet the plastic pot inside is somewhat concealed.

The long black leaves are a great backdrop for the white branches.

cushion bush

The black and white theme looks good with our charcoal front door.

Black and white planting container fall decor

I was tempted to do more – maybe add a jolt of an unexpected color, or add more creepiness, but adding more of anything would have detracted from the ghostly bush, so I decided to stop right there.

black and white fall decor

Since both the plant and the wreath were on sale, and I already had everything else, this container cost me around $5 to put together.

Closeup cushion bush with small statuary item

Are you ready for some color?  Let’s go inside.

2.  Gleaming Little Pumpkins

Metallic pumpkins are hot this year.  And although I’m not one to jump on every decor bandwagon that comes along, I love the warmth and beauty of metallic finishes this time of year.

So I bought a bag of little pumpkins.

small decor pumpkins

I wanted to try coating them using sheets of gold leaf, but once at the craft store I found “premium gold leaf finish” paint.  So I bought one in classic gold and one in copper.

I made the mistake of trying the copper first on a couple of pumpkins. The paint made them look more pink than copper.

pumpkins being painted

So for damage control, I wound up painting over the copper with the gold paint.

On most of the pumpkins, I used a damp paper towel to wipe off a little of the gold paint after I applied it – a sort of mini rag-rolling project.  I wanted the pumpkins to still look real, but with a slight metallic gleam.

Once the gold foundation was dry, then I used the copper paint sparingly in just a few places to add a little more patina.  Again I muddled the paint with a wet paper towel after I applied it.

fall decor metallic pumpkins flatlay

I do like the warm glow of these pumpkins.  It’s a look that will get me past Halloween and into Thanksgiving.

fall decor metallic pumpkins

While painting the pumpkins, a failed attempt at using fallen birch leaves as stencils led to a little discovery: The birch leaves looked beautiful with a thin coat of gold paint, accented by just a touch of copper paint on the edges.

fall decor painted leaves

For now I’ve scattered the leaves and the pumpkins around the living room.

fall decor pumpkin with hydrangeas and love-lies-bleeding
Pumpkin with dried hydrangeas and love-lies-bleeding

pumpkins with books

fall decor metallic pumpkins and painted leaves


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The premium leafing finishes that I used on the pumpkins are made by Precious Metals.  There are 8 colors available.


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CREATIVE HOME AND GARDEN IDEAS FROM THE HOUSE DOWN THE STREET