Archive for the ‘Decorating’ Category

Dismantling the mantel

Maybe I am one of those people who just isn’t supposed to have a fireplace mantel. Goodness knows it throws me for a decorating loop more seasons than not.

However, even though I struggle to keep it updated, I *do* put stuff on it, and take it down, and put other stuff on it. Want proof?  Here was the 2013 Christmas mantel. Awwww….
The miniature sled was something I snagged in an antique/thrift store down in Bell Buckle last year; I had planned to work it into an outdoor Christmas decoration, but at the last minute, I propped it on there, and it seemed to fit.

The mantel was one of the last things I put up and took down. (It was slow going this year.) Since it was dismantled late, I went straight for a wintry vignette with a little Valentine’s Day thrown in for good measure:
Now let’s see if I can get myself in gear and update it before Easter. Hmmm. Maybe if I update the mantel and the dining room with a spring-y feel, this gray, cold winter will take the hint and take its leave? If only it were that easy, I’d dismantle the mantel today.

Happy Monday,


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Late last fall, I undertook the job of refinishing our nearly 30-year-old kitchen table and chairs. (Wow, that just sounds so…old.)

The table is a well-made classic oak clawfoot table – it goes from a 4-foot round to a 5- or 6-foot oval with the addition of one or two leaves.

The chairs are Windsor-style. The table was a hand-picked gift from my parents and four chairs were bought as unfinished from Builders Square (before they were bought out by The Home Depot.)

If you’re not a kid, you remember oak in the mid-80s. It came in one glowing hue, fondly termed “golden.” Mine was a tad darker than some, but it still gleamed brightly. When Swimmer Girl outgrew her high chair, baby made five, and I found a pair of chairs similar to the others. They were pre-finished and didn’t match the others, but at least we had seats for everyone and one to spare.

I overlooked the set’s dated and mismatched stains as long as possible, but the table’s top was starting to show its age in profound ways. In many places, the finish was finished. Gone. Finis. Drinking glasses left dark water rings that soaked into the wood and took forever to dry. This is the “before” picture.

IMG_4545And truth be told, I finished those four chairs in haste so we would have seating – they were never my proudest project.  Looking back, I was juggling a toddler, a full course load in college and trying to manage household duties. In those days, DIY was just coming into vogue – there were no blogs or cable shows to inspire us, and home improvement store selection was pretty bare bones. I had little time or money to spend on stain and sealers, so I did what I could with what I was readily available. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I started stripping and sanding, I had to smile at the chair that was the designated toddler seat: it had bare spots rubbed where the booster seat slid back and forth. And it had a chewed spot on one of the rungs. My best guess is frequent toddler food spills led to enthusiastic dog licking…and occasional gnawing.

After a quick strip and light sanding, my pieces were ready to stain. I used General Finishes gel stains in nutmeg for the table and java for the chairs, and a waterproof sealer.  That sounds really fast, but the fact is I did it as the season was cooling down into damp, rainy weather, so there were several days’ drying time between coats, and I changed my mind on the finish coat, so instead of finishing in a week, it was more like a….month? (I’d like to say we ate in the dining room every night in the interim, but the truth is, we ate out more than we ate in that month.)

I admit my mind wandered while I researched stains and labored over the refinishing process. I thought of my friends who either have or covet a rustic farmhouse table: rectangular shape, plank top, and chunky legs. Bench seating mixed with old-style sturdy chairs.

I briefly contemplated changing out our table and chairs for something new – either a farmhouse table, or an old-fashioned school table with swing-out seats, like this one from World Marketschool cafeteria tableBut I couldn’t justify the expense OR the waste of discarding a perfectly good table and chairs that just needed a little TLC.

When I was I looking around at my options, I discovered that “farmhouse table” isn’t as narrowly defined as I thought. It seems the common tie that binds this style is rusticity. No sleek, glossy, polished glass, brass or chrome in sight. No lovely, delicate Queen Anne-style cherry legs. Those pretty tables are reserved for formal dinners and diners.

A farmhouse table is for leisurely, boisterous, talkative family suppers and hearty breakfasts. Claw-foot and other pedestal tables, be they square, round or rectangular, are now incorporated into the farmhouse family. And that suits me fine…now that its finish is updated, it will hopefully serve as our family’s favorite eating spot for many more years. No pretense, just a sturdy spot to gather us together for the holidays and the everydays.

Have you refinished any furniture lately? It’s not hard, just time-consuming. But I can vouch for the fact that the time you spend sanding and staining may give you time to reminisce…and that can be a pretty good use of your time.

Happy refinishing,

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For those of us of a certain age, we remember Top Gun and the theme song, right? I mean, it’s on my running playlist, along with a few other Kenny Loggins tunes. Surely I’m not the only one who admits knowing this song.

Anyway, I have several projects I have delayed and deferred long enough. It’s crunch time. I work better under the pressure of a looming deadline. Even when I craft. Which is supposed to be for fun.

Here’s my to-do list:

1. Refinish our kitchen table and chairs. It is an uber-sturdy hand-crafted reproduction oak claw foot table with Windsor style chairs that have seen more family breakfasts and dinners than I can remember. Structurally sound, but in need of a facelift.

I’m going to attempt to update the chairs to look something like these:
2. Use a big honkin’ hook and extra-thick yarn to craft a big, soft chevron afghan for Swimmer Girl. Something like this:
And finally finish a new fall wreath, with the grapevine and burlap I bought earlier this year.

In my minds’ eye, I see something more spirited than this:

grapevine wreath
But not quite as in-your-face-I’m-a-vol-fan as this: tennesseewreath
To make sure I’m fully committed, I took several preliminary steps:

1. Ordered nutmeg- and java-colored gel stains through Amazon for the table chairs. Gulp. No turning back now.

2. Found the crochet pattern and yarn for the afghan. I’m sure I remember how to count, chain, skip and double-loop. Like riding a bike.

3. Stockpiled the wreath supplies in my closet. They stare soulfully at me every day when I cast about for clothes.

Most importantly, I’ve set a firm deadline for all three projects.
Yep. End of month. Three weekends and 15 weeknights.

I really do work best under pressure. I call it my crafting danger zone. Send good thoughts my way, and I’ll post pictures of my progress. I’ll try to keep the blistered and stained fingers out of the shots.

Happy Friday,

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For the uninitiated, that’s short for Pottery Barn and TJ Maxx, parent company of my new favorite store Home Goods. (Mr. Official is very thankful there isn’t a Home Goods in our county :-).) PB’s catalogs are a constant source of inspiration to me, although I rarely feel the urge to splurge on the real deal.  Nor do I typically follow through on the good  and crafty ideas they put in my head.  But sometimes, they catch me in just the right mood. Even better is when the aforementioned stores have stocked up on some great imitations of PB trends.

Case in point: we have built-in bookshelves in our den and I consider them both a blessing and a curse. When we moved in, I arranged our books and a few “objets d’art” in them, but didn’t spend a lot of time or thought on composition. Fast-forward two years (yes, it’s been two years!) and last week I found myself staring at the same arrangement, and mentally comparing it to the gorgeous photos in every PB catalog. It didn’t help my mood that we were braced for another dreary, rainy weekend. (TYVM, Mother Nature.)

So before the sun came out and dried off all the rain, I got busy inside.  This is the “before” shot:   IMG_3898-001
And this is what happened after I dragged everything off the shelves and re-arranged it:
IMG_3903-002The funny thing is, there isn’t much new in there:  the painting in the upper left corner is from a wildly fun Girls-Night-In craft-a-thon that Swimmer Girl and I participated in on Friday. I bought the ginormous “L” and the mirror, and a little chippy antique-looking cube. Everything else was either in the attic or somewhere else in the house. (And yes, the cords drive me nutsy, too. Somewhere in our garage is a kit to cover those hideous things, and since I’m in the prettifying mood, I may be motivated enough to go find it.)

I also found myself in the mood for new pillows, so the couches got a much-needed boost, too, with fraction-of-the-PB-price knockoffs from TJ Maxx & Marshall’s. The coffee table got a new candle holder; the hourglass and basket-o-balls were already on hand:
IMG_3904Even the sunroom got sunnier with some yellows and blues:
IMG_3906The mantel is updated, but not quite ready for its photo shoot (next Monday, I hope.) After this whirlwind of activity, it looked like a Home Goods store had dumped its load in my den. But I had to switch gears and spend the rest of Saturday shoveling mulch and spreading pine needles. By nightfall, I managed to summon the stamina to stow all the tubs away in the attic before collapsing in a warm bathtub myself.

The forecast for this weekend is … drumroll, please … more rain. And a graduation.  At least inside we’re ready to welcome summer whenever it is ready to come and stay for a while.

Happy Monday,

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January is typically cold in the northern hemisphere…maybe that’s why this is a slow news week, historically speaking.  Throughout the ages, people were busy just trying to stay warm in late January….fuggetabout having any epiphanies.

But there are a few dates worth noting.  For one, Coca-Cola was incorporated on this day in 1892.  And in 1939, Jeff Smith was born.  I loved watching the Frugal Gourmet on PBS when our boys were young – before HGTV and all the other reality shows were even a twinkle in anyone’s eye.  (We also watched Justin Wilson and This Old House most Saturday mornings. Those were the days.)

On January 24, 1950, P.L. Spencer received a patent for a microwave.  I remember our first microwave in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  It was as big as a real oven, and we had a lot of fun figuring out what it could and couldn’t do with it.  (We quickly discovered that it could soften chocolate chips without melting them.  We also discovered it could burn chocolate chips.)

Speaking of chocolate, January 27 is national chocolate day.  Of course, around here, ANY day is chocolate day if we want it to be. Why wait for one day a year to celebrate it?

And on January 27, 1880, Thomas Alva Edison patented the electric incandescent lamp.

I know I said – just yesterday – that my only two projects are focused on sprucing up the master closets and kitchen base cabinets…and they are.  But I did talk Mr. Official into bringing home this new light fixture for the kitchen last weekend. (We haven’t yet decided if it will go over the bar or the table but both builder-grade lights are going to be swapped out for something with a little more pizzazz and panache.)

736916610667lgIt looks fantastic with the old-fashioned Edison light bulbs (and I am confident that there will soon be LED lights that *LOOK* like the old Edison bulbs, but much more energy efficient.)

We have Pottery Barn to thank for this canning-jar-turned-light trend…they started it with fixtures like these several years ago.  Pinterest is full of examples of people DIY-ing these fixtures, but I know my limits, and electrical engineering is definitely beyond my limits.  So this fixture (from Lowe’s if you’re interested) fits my bill perfectly and I’m pretty sure between the two of us we can install a couple new fixtures out-of-the-box.

Happy Tuesday,

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This time of year brings out my inner OCD/ADHD beast.  Like a real shrew, it’s small, hyperactive and has a voracious appetite.  Like the aptly named figure in Shakespeare’s story, it is difficult to tame.  My shrew(d) monster yearns to lay waste to messy closets and gut the cluttered cabinets …at least until something else captures its attention.  It was briefly awakened last fall when I ogled IKEA’s closet organizers; I came home and  announced to Mr. Official that all I really wanted for my birthday was a weekend trip to Atlanta and return with everything to re-do the closets. I then made myself wait until after the holidays to start tracking down the specific gadgets and gizmos that promise to bring peace, harmony, tranquility and organizational nirvana to my world.

Now that the holidays are over, and my birthday is looming large, I began the hunt.  After a few hours okay, days (if we’re being honest) of ferocious internet hunting, I found myself with a wish-list of to-do’s as long as my arm, and arguably more expensive than said limb.  Organization doesn’t come cheap.  At least not the pretty kind.

Then reality and frugality set in.  For starters, once I had the measurements sketched it out on paper, I had to accept a bitter pill:  the IKEA pieces that had danced like sugarplums in my head were too big – and just too expensive – for the space. After scaling back my dreams, I found a modest system with a natural cherry finish I really wanted.  And then I discovered it was on clearance.  A few months ago.  Not only can I not get that style for a song, I can’t scrounge up the pieces I would need at any price, period.  Sigh.

Back to square one.  To further complicate things, all those online expeditions had me dreaming up myriads of other home improvement schemes…painting, curtains, bedroom redux, stairwell photo gallery, framing the mirrors in the bathroom…the list goes on.  Eventually the mist cleared and sanity took back its rightful place in my head.

  • First of all I can’t do everything all at once.
  • Second, I’m quick to want but slow to spend $$$ on semi-permanent fixtures (like closet systems or paint jobs.)
  • Third, I know myself well enough to know that no matter how feverishly I organize, if I don’t maintain it, all is for naught.

That said, we have lived here for almost two years and beyond painting the bedrooms when we moved in, I’ve held off from any drastic changes or expenditures. So here’s my 2013 wish list, in order of intended purchase and installation:

1. Master bedroom closets.  Our closets are not huge by modern standards (each is 72″ x 68″ x 47″ x 44″ with an angled door), but they are palatial compared to past closets, especially the one in our last home.

The builder installed wire shelving in these closets.  (Yes, I know it’s the cheapest option.  I also know what this house sold for originally and in that price range, you should not find wire shelving in the closets.)  I’d like to say I’m not a shelving snob, but I confess, I am.  If you can have built-in closet storage without taking food from your children’s mouths, it’s worth it.

The builder also committed the heinous crime of painting the closet walls white.  In a house that does not have a white wall anywhere else (save the garage), they painted the closets and pantry white. Gah.  Before I can install the new closet fittings, I’ll have to remove all the contents and the wire shelves, patch the holes and paint the closets (and the bathroom, while I’m at it, because it doesn’t match the bedroom.)  I predict several days of dealing with clothes everywhere.  Ugh.

The plan is to install stacks of white corner shelves, rubbed oil bronze clothing rods with white shelves and side pieces, lots of shoe shelves (for me) and storage towers with drawers and cubbies for my jumbled jewelry and scarves, and a hamper in Mr. Official’s closet for his dry cleaning.

And maybe even some snazzy new lighting to make it easier to see our stuff.

After much measuring, fretting, re-measuring and comparing various systems, I’ve settled on pieces that will – I hope – optimize the space and storage, and give the look of custom built-ins without the hefty pricetag of custom built-ins. Something that looks like this:

My original IKEA dream closets would have cost $1400 per closet.  The bill for my smaller and more modest-priced pieces will come at about 25% of that.  I’m taming the shrew(d) beast.

And if all goes well, for my second act…

2. Kitchen cabinet makeover.  I love my kitchen’s size and openness.  I love the massive granite island and having a second sink across from the stove, and a coffee bar.  But I don’t love that the base cabinets are bereft of pull-out drawers.  Our last home had a kitchen that clocked in at 90 square feet. When we bought cabinets for it, I ordered double pull-outs in every base cabinet and it was worth every extra penny.

However, I’ve found a source for aftermarket two-tiered pullouts and pull-out racks for baking sheets.  No more squatting on creaking knees to fish out a pan from the bottom of the stack in the furthest, darkest depths of my cabinets. The total bill comes to $400 plus shipping.  Another frugal victory; both closets and all the cabinet hardware is still less than the cost of one IKEA closet.

And that’s going to be the end of my organizational quest for now.  Because no matter how much I save, it’s still a pretty good chunk of money, time and effort. There are changes and improvements in our future (Mr. Official keeps muttering about putting in a putting green), but I’m happy to train the beast to focus on these two jobs for now. I’ll snap some before, in-progress and voila! shots along the way, along with sources for my frugal finds.  Stay tuned!

Happy Monday,

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Auld lang syne.  Days gone by.

It’s that time…when we look ahead to a new year with anticipation, and look back on the last year, wondering where the time went and why it goes so fast.  As we begin the traditional countdown of the final hours and minutes of 2012, here’s a quick peek back at the holiday season my family and I enjoyed here in middle Tennessee.

We took advantage of one of the last warm days of 2012 to put up our outdoor lights.  It’s kind of weird to put up Christmas lights when it’s close to 70 degrees outside, but that’s life in the south.IMG_2907

As the sun began to set, the lights glowed, creating a pretty look from inside the porch…and from the yard, too.


Peeking inside, I decorated the dining room in a cool gray/white/blue scheme thanks to decorations from IKEA that I think blended nicely with plates and decorations I already had on hand.  Even better, once the Christmas trees are tucked away, the rest of the decorations can hold their own until winter loosens its hold…which could be in a few days, or a few months.

Holiday Dining Room

The Christmas village grew by one house this year…one from “It’s a Wonderful Life”  It’s behind the arbor and picket fence.  Fortunately, I think this collection is limited by the size of this hutch.  Unless I ever decide to tuck away the dishes and use the shelves for additional display space. Nooooooooo…….


The mantel this year was similar to last year’s, but I changed it up a little with a different garland and a woodsy theme.  They’re hard to see in this picture, but a trio of beaded birch candles from Pottery Barn inspired a woodsy, rustic “Father Christmas” feel.  I snagged the candles at a PB outlet last October, but if I had seen this DIY tutorial, I probably would have tried making my own for even cheaper.


On to the rest of the den.  Kindly ignore the cords.  (WHERE did they come from, anyway???  And how do I manage to overlook them every time I sit and watch TV?  Corralling them is a sure-fire to-do for 2013.)

Instead, focus on the nutcrackers.  Counting several others tucked in higher in the bookcase, there were 26 pairs of eyes staring at us every time we watched TV.  Displaying them all together was kind of cool, kind of freaky, and a whole lot of overwhelming.  Part of me says, “More nutcrackers!”  The rest of me says that’s nutsy.  We’ll see.  I hear there’s a whole set of Wizard of Oz characters. That would be pretty neat, right?  Anyhoo.

In the foreground is an oil-rubbed bronze trough filled with twine and twig balls (all scrounged from my attic), into which I nestled a trio of scented candles, another find on my fall trip to Atlanta and IKEA.


The tree this year was in the same spot as last year’s. The only real change (besides slipping in a few more ornaments) is the star on top.  It’s a heavy paper star with a Scandinavian feel, also from….you guessed it:  IKEA.  I had been looking for something traditional like this for several years and latched onto it when I spotted it. And it was cheap, to boot.  Yes, it *should* have had a light inside, but I kept forgetting to pick up the specific bulb it requires.  Good thing it folds flat for storage.  I’m sure I’ll remember to get a bulb for it next year.


And finally, my kitchen…and kitchen tree.  I went on a baking and candy-making spree (some new recipes are coming soon), then bundled up plates to take to the neighbors before Christmas.
The kitchen tree is similar to last year’s, but with a few more Fiesta ornaments I snagged on clearance at Macy’s on our New York trip.

And that’s it.  Thanks for strolling through our house and 2012 holiday memories with me.  I hope your look back on auld lang syne is full of fond recollections, too.  And may your hopes and wishes for the days ahead all come true.

Happy Monday,

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