“What Netflix movie did we get this week?”
“An American in Paris.”
“Oh the Woody Allen movie. Cool.”
“No, not the Woody Allen movie. That’s Midnight in Paris. This is the musical with Gene Kelly.”
“The Singing in the rain guy?”
…And so began our journey into this nearly forgotten movie musical.
My mom did a good job of ensuring I accrued a respectable number of musical titles as a child, for whatever that’s worth. Weekly trips to the public library always returned the best of Rogers and Hammerstein scores and MGM films. Oklahoma, West Side Story, Sound of Music, The King and I, Singing in the Rain all had regular dates with my VCR. Like most egocentric children, I took great delight in bellowing “Shall We Dance” and “Do-Re-Mi” through the house as loud as humanly possible and fantasizing about the day I would be cast to play the female lead in a grand stage version of each. And before you go around feeling sorry for my poor family who had to endure these homemade song and dance numbers, let it be known that ole Gretchen didn’t do much to discourage this behavior. There’s even a recording of me somewhere screaming “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” into a microphone at the tender age of 4, which is hilarious now for reasons I didn’t understand at the time.
But I digress.
I had vague, vague memories of the 1951 musical An American in Paris being on the musical circuit that passed through our home, but hardly could recall what it was about or recite any of the lyrics from the film’s musical numbers, which is a shame considering its Gershwin score and the fact that it won some six Oscars (if you care about that sort of thing), including one for Best Picture. One thing I did remember is for a wide-release film, it was uncharacteristically loaded with ballet numbers—a quality I gave extra weight too as a once aspiring ballerina—but not much else. So, 20 years later, as I scrolled through endless selection of Netflix titles, I thought I should give An American in Paris another try. Only this time, I would be viewing it not so much as a young amateur ballerina, but as a young adult with a developing interest in art, design, and history.
An American in Paris follows the story of Jerry Mulligan, a World War II veteran, who falls in love with a French shop girl. But as is to be expected, no couple can fall in love in Paris with out an obstacle or two to get in the way of their journey to happily ever after. The object of Kelly’s affection is of course engaged to another man, while the lead character himself is being pursued by a wealthy American heiress who vies for his attention under the guise that she is a great patron of the arts with an interest in sponsoring a grand exhibition by the American solder turned Parisian painter.
Unsurprisingly, the dancing in American in Paris is top notch. Gene Kelley makes producing 24802934234 sounds at once via his tap shoes appear all too easy and 19-year-old Leslie Caron (in her film debut) performs challenging fouettés like she was born doing them. But, you come to expect dancing of the highest caliber when you’re dealing with Hollywood’s heavy hitters. The Gershwin score too is one to be admired. Most of the numbers begin as soft and pleasant ditties that slowly build into epic mind-melting compositions. But again, it’s Gershwin. You know you’re in for a sing-songy treat before it even begins.
Re-watching this as an oh-so-wise-and-worldly 26-year-old, it was not only the song and dance that tickled my fancy. The art direction played so powerful a role in this film, the scenery and background seem to be their own character (not so divergent from the way, say, Wes Anderson or Baz Luhrmanm strategically employ art, color and light as visual communicators in films today). Throughout the movie the viewer is treated to surreal and dreamy vignettes that feature Caron, Kelly and composer-actor Oscar Levant in scenes that provide an escape from the somewhat predictable, plot. In one scene, for example, as Levant and French actor Georges Guetary describe the characteristics they seek out in the perfect woman, the audience gets to see Caron provide visual interpretations of what it means to be “modern,” “classic,” intelligent,” etc. And Kelly, portraying an artist, appropriately dances in and out of famous French artworks like Chocolate Dancing by Toulouse-Lautrec. And the film culminates in a 16-minute (and allegedly $500,000) ballet, which takes place on a set that draws inspiration from famous works by Renoir, Van Gogh and other iconic artists. (Check out this great frame-by-frame comparison of the film to its artistic inspiration here.) The visual elements were stimulating, engaging, surreal…exactly what a musical should be.
I haphazardly clicked the “add to queue” button on the Netflix account to bring An American in Paris into my living room, but was pleased to rediscover a piece of Hollywood cinema that left a lasting impression and awoke in me a new appreciation for the way proper art direction helps shape a story. It has me itching to rewatch other forgotten movies of my childhood to see what else I may have missed, and to explore newer releases for the surprises that may unfold as a result of the latest and greatest technologies in visual storytelling.
Some of us aren’t fans of revisiting films—unless of course, it’s one of those mega classics like Star Wars, for instance, or The Big Lebowski. With the incalculable number of films out there, it doesn’t seem practical to some to rehash the old while forgoing the new. But taking a second look has done me a world of good, and I’m motivated now more than ever to take another peak at yesterday’s movies to discover something remarkable and rejuvinating.
I smile and allow myself to be enveloped by a medley of warm and fuzzy feelings when I imagine covering the walls of our home with one-of-a-kind art pieces that conjure up memories of times well spent and people greatly loved. But because I’m a girl on a budget, I’m not quite as fond of the price tag that comes with many unique paintings and prints, and I don’t have the skill set to put pen to paper and create epic masterpieces on my own either. To solve the conundrum of having champagne taste on a beer budget, I’ve been known to use three methods: repurpose projects my friends have created (like Eric’s concert posters), use canvaspop to print my favorite photographs, or get nifty with design software to make colorful mini-posters we can change with the seasons with minimal effort and cost.
Each method has proved an acceptable solution to my dilemma, so most recently, I’ve tried to bring extra pizazz to the house by once again employing the third of those tactics—creating art on the old lap top. Recently I’ve been carried away by the enthralling shapes of some of the succulents in our neighborhood, and I thought perhaps that recent obsession could make for some nice hallway flair. I conjured up this little number one recent afternoon based on two of my favorite neighborhood cacti.
Like me, the print is a little cheesy, but I enjoyed coming up with a way to incorporate my favorite colors and our love of gardening, neighborhood walks and each other in one fun and simple piece. I printed the finished design on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock and bought a frame on clearance at Target to spruce it up. Not bad for hallway art.
Honestly, I started writing this blog a couple of years ago just to keep track and have a record of Heath’s and my various comings-and-goings in Austin, not really expecting to gather any type of fan base or following. Today, as I celebrate 300 posts, I know I am really, truly, unimaginatively fortunate to have readers that can derive even the slightest bit of entertainment or inspiration from this little piece of internet. It’s a pleasure and a joy to have an audience.
This blog, which started nearly as an afterthought, has turned out to be the catalyst for motivating me to take on more home improvement, gardening and photography projects that otherwise may have gone unexplored. And I know it’s largely my readers who have inspired me to continue to tackle new territory (including my biggest fan, my mom, who has read and commented on every post, talk about supportive parenting). As I look back at the 300 posts and reflect on the more than 300 hours I have sunk into this funky manifesto, I feel it’s appropriate to mark this milestone with a collection of my favorite posts from throughout the years.
Don’t Bite The Hand that Feeds You
The story of what happens to rowdy roosters.
The Need for Seed
The joys and challenges of starting a garden from seed.
A contemplative post about finding balance between nesting at home and having experiences abroad.
They know me well at the painter’s counter
A lighthearted post about the important role unconventional colors play in our lives.
A slideshow of sorts
Photos from our life-altering Christmas vacation in India.
I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. Here’s to another 300.
Today I write the blog entry I’ve (embarrassingly) been fantasizing about for awhile, the post on our newly renovated midcentury kitchen. We have been planning and slowly chipping away at our kitchen renovation practically from the first moment we moved in.
She was relatively functional, sure, but it wasn’t a place I wanted to spend much time in. And like others, as I grow older and try to become a culinary savant, having a comfortable cooking area has become more and more important to me. To make the space work for us, I spent months flipping through tons of magazines, pinterest boards and blog posts to figure out what would fit our space and our budget. We took it on bit-by-bit, first painting the walls and replacing the light fixtures. Then Heath spent his Christmas vacation sanding down and restaining the original knotty pine cabinets and adding new hardware, and we worked together the following spring break to remove the wood wall paneling and add more shelving and storage. About a month ago we tackled the most costly upgrade, replacing the countertops and redoing the plumbing. And to wrap it all up, last week we put in the tile backsplash, resulting in the nearly finished product we have today, 18 months after moving in.
The original tile work was not a professionally executed job. There were broken pieces around the electrical outlets and jaggedly cut tiles around the sink. So when it came time replace it, we went back and forth on whether we should do it ourselves or have it professionally installed to avoid a debacle like what we began with. In the end, we decided to take it on ourselves, a decision I’m happy with, not only for the financial implications but for the sense of accomplishment and ownership we felt when it was all said and done.
We started as all young 21st century DIYers do, watching a YouTube video on the process. We found this one to be the most helpful.
Contrary to our initial beliefs, installing the backsplash was relatively straight forward.
- If you have uneven drywall like we did, use an all purpose joint compound on the wall to smooth out uneven areas before beginning.
- Butter the walls with adhesive.
- Lay the tile and wait 24 hours.
The tiling was a lot like putting together a puzzle, frustrating at times, but marvelously gratifying when you find the right piece to complete the sequence. The corners and edges were predictably the most challenging areas to finish off, but we had a tile cutter that proved most helpful to create tiny pieces to finish off our pattern.
And installing the tile was a true team effort. We started in the middle and worked our way out to either side. Then I did the grouting and Heath did the caulking. It was couple’s team building through and through.
The tile backsplash was the cherry on top of the renovation sundae, leaving only the dishwasher and garbage disposal installation to be desired. It’s fantastic to be able to stand in our doorway today and take in the finished product that was more than a year in the making. While it’s not completely perfect, I can’t help but beam with pride at the first major renovation we conquered on our own, from the design to the execution (with a little help and support from loving family and friends). It was a long process to be certain and sometimes tested our patience, but it was also an experience we will carry with us as we continue to develop our skills and take on new challenges in the future.
I’m not what they would say considered “crafty.” My graphic design skills are adequate. My interior design notions are amateur. And my crafty skills hover somewhere between “Did your child make that?” and “I’ve seen worse.” (Good thing my try-hardiness levels are through the roof.) There is a noticeable absence of posts related to all things hand-crafted or sewn on this blog, and that is because I am not crafty. I am trying though, darn it. Just recently I learned to use my sewing machine without supervision. And the result is this ill-fated account about my attempt at making a Roman shade.
I really wanted a Roman shade for our kitchen window because they just look so flippin’ fantastic and minimalistic, which is perfect for our mid century modern abode.
Photos from Houzz.com
So I briefly (and I cannot stress how briefly) began to peruse websites for how to make one of these little items at home. I found two sources that seemed manageable:
Martha, helpful as she may be, did not include pictures on her how-to (shame on you, Martha), and Scoutie Girl had a great tutorial, but I lacked the fabric glue needed to complete the task according to her instructions. However, I did have a yard of fabric from Hobby Lobby I purchased for a whopping $6 that matched our kitchen perfectly. So I ventured out on my own, trying to create a hybrid of the two, without referring back to their directions. Perhaps this is where I went wrong.
- First, I hemmed the entire piece so it wouldn’t fray. (This was a big deal for me, as I am new to the exciting world of sewing machines.) That part was a success. So, go me!
- Second, I placed (I say place instead of lie/lay because I still don’t completely understand the difference) my fabric under the mini blinds (I think it’s layed) and determined which blinds I wanted to cut and which I wanted to keep as the support for my roman shade folds. Then I cut all the others away, per Scoutie Girl‘s instructions.
- Then, using the existing kitchen mini blinds as a frame, I haphazardly folded the fabric under about 1 inch around the blind slats to create my Roman shade folds, making what looked like a little pocket for the plastic blind. I made a couple of stitches on each end to hold the fabric pockets in place around the blind.
- Once the blind pockets were done, I hand stitched the fabric on either side of the draw string a couple times for added support.
- Then it was time to incorporate the draw string from the original blinds. Here’s where I started thinking outside of the box, perhaps to my own detriment. Martha Stewart said to buy brass rings for the drawstring to run through, but instead I made a small (very small) loop with some extra yarn I had around the house and sewed each of those loops onto every fold, in line with where the draw strings would run. I also tied a bead to the end of the draw string. This way, the drawstring would follow a straight path, but not slip through the yarn loop when drawing the shades.
Ultimately, the finished product looked like this when down.
It’s too short! To quote Liz Lemom, “Blarg!” This is why I studied journalism and not math. Granted, I chose to do this project on a whim and did not precisely measure before-hand, but let it be known that a yard of fabric is not enough to cover a kitchen window. I’m optimistic that I can tack on another length of fabric and fix this problem without it being too obvious, but geeeeeeez, I was so (well, not really) close!
And here’s how she looks pulled up.
It’s a little floppy on the edges. Bummer. Fortunately Home Depot has 48″ wooden dowels for $3 that I hope, hope, hope will fix the flop prob (new band name?). For now, I’m not calling the shades a victory, but for $6 I’m not willing to say I’ve been defeated either.
Let’s call it half time.
Weeee! My crazy green stenciled wall was featured in a SheKnows article called “Unexpected paint colors for your living room.” It’s comforting to know there are other wannabe design dweebs who appreciate splashy color. Check it out and see what other color-lovers have done to spruce up their pads.
I sometimes forget that hallways are rooms too, and important ones at that. They carry us from one part of the house to another, acting as passageways to new attitudes. Think about it, you enter the hallway and instantly have to change your school of thought from “it’s time to cook” to “it’s time to sleep” or from “it’s time to study” to “its time to shower (or, you know, other things that happen in that room).” If you consider the mentality switch that occurs in hallways, you realize these literal and figurative passageways are kind of a big deal. So why oh why did it take me so long to give our hallway the attention it deserves? Despite being an area of the house we don’t spend much time in, hallways shouldn’t be an afterthought. When given some TLC, I figure they can become as beloved a space as any.
I really wanted to emulate one or all of these ideas into our hall space, which is long, narrow and boring beige.
But because our hallway has a very low ceiling (an air conditioning duct was put there after the house was originally built), I didn’t want to do anything that would close the space in and make our guests feel claustrophobic. And because there is no overhead light, just a little wall sconce midway through, I didn’t want anything that would need a lot of light passing through it to look good.
I briefly considered painting the doors instead of the hallway, which I think can give a really cool effect, like this photo from housetohome.
But that solution didn’t solve my boring beige dilemma. So I decided to do what I normally do…paint it turquoise! (Technically, the paint color is called Fiji, but hey, it’s close enough.)
I love, love, love how it turned out. I actually don’t dread walking through that part of our house anymore.
I’m also really loving how it looks as you glance through one room and get a peak at the new peacock-blue hallway that lays behind it. Check out how much better the hallway looks from the kitchen in these before and afters.
I also love how it makes our art and photos pop, something that was definitely lacking with the old beige.
Because it’s not a huge space, taping the walls, patching the holes and slapping up the coat of paint was done in just a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. I still need to touch it up in a few places, but over all I’m really happy with our playful new corridor. Once we get some wood floors and change out the door hardware, this space is really going to shine.
I suppose it’s time to make good on my promise to share all of the juicy (or rather saw dusty) details of our kitchen renovation. Honestly, nothing would give me greater pleasure.
Renovating the kitchen has been on our to-do list for quite a while—practically from the first moment we saw the old girl. It had good bones, but not a lot of personality, and we’re all about charisma in these parts.
It is spacious enough for what we need, and the cabinets weren’t in shabby condition, but overall it doesn’t inspire much creativity, a quality that should be mandatory in a space from which spectacular culinary masterpieces are expected to be born.
We had big, big plans for how to improve the looks and the functionality of this narrow knotty pine nook. We started small, first by painting the walls in a shade of green called spritz of lime…inspired by photos that brilliantly display the appealing divergence of the warm, honey-colored pine and the vibrant and verdant green.
But with only one window and unflattering florescent lighting, the new green needed a pick-me up, so we updated the, what I’m calling, vet-clinic light fixtures with something a little shinier and more modern.
And yet, still the kitchen felt a little…how to put it eloquently…blah. The cabinets, while in good shape, were a little worn down from so many years of use, and the black hammered metal H-style hinges and matching handles were a little dated on top of the fact that they darkened the kitchen even more. After a lot of debating and internet research, I opted to maintain the color and style of the naughty pine cabinets, which was a surprise even to me. At first, I jokingly referred to them as naughty pine, but that style is so indicative of the era the house was built in that I hesitated to change it. After all, if style is cyclical, it should only be a matter of time until they are all the rage again. Instead, I thought, better to find a way to update them so the kitchen can feel modern but still cohesive with the rest of the house. So over the Christmas holidays, we sanded and restained the cabinets and added updated nickel fixtures.
The update was much needed and greatly appreciated but still our cooking space was far from what we hoped for in our dream kitchen, so next we opted to tackle removing the wood paneling from the walls and add some open shelving for increased storage.
Still, what was and continues to be missing, is an update to the counters and back splash because poorly installed beige ceramic tiles just won’t do. This weekend, we took a sledge hammer to the terrible, TERRIBLE tile work and began the demolition, preparing for new shiny white counter tops.
We weren’t sure what would lie beneath the tile. The original laminate perhaps? Or rotted plywood? Your guess was as good as mine.
Pulling up the tile was easier than I thought it would be. Perhaps that is because it was rather cathartic to smash into the surface I had so long despised—making the project feel less like work and more like play. Before I knew it, after just a little sweat and chiseling we, with the help and expertise of Heath’s family, completely scraped the countertops and backsplash free of the tile I found so appalling. In just a few hours we were able to remove all the tile AND salvage our deep stainless steel sink. A big money saver for we thrifty folk.
What we found underneath the tile was dry plywood, which ended up being a lifesaver, enabling us to still be able to use the kitchen counter and sink for the next two weeks while we wait for our white solid-surface countertop to come in. Though it’s not much to look at, I’m grateful for the interim surface.
We also (drum roll please) had a plumber replace our kitchen faucet, both a cosmetic and functional improvement
And now that the tear-out is done and we have nothing to do but wait, we are busying ourselves with comparing our options for the backsplash. So far it’s between a light blue subway tile and mini rectangular tiles in varying shades of blue. While I wasn’t keen on mini tiles at first, as of now I think it’s our front runner.
The kitchen remodel has definitely been our longest-running home improvement project to-date, and it’s still a ways off from being complete, but I feel like we turned a corner with this week’s demolition. And I’m excited for how much it’s going to change for the better in the very near future.
It’s finally happening…
One to-do or not-to-do project that Heath and I grapple with is whether or not to invest in a privacy fence. Really the only reason we have for not is the price tag. Choosing to put in a privacy fence would mean ultimately giving up a vacation or another project we desperately want to cross off our list. So what’s a girl to do to when she wants to be shielded from the neighbor’s relentlessly barking schnauzer but doesn’t want to be robbed blind by the cost of fence building? One potential possibility: doors.
Doors? Yes, doors. The Habitat for Humanity Restore had an abundance of old doors for about $10 a pop. Interesting. Very interesting. And it turns out, I’m not the only person who thinks the door-as-a-fence idea works. Photos from Pinterest.
Perhaps it’s time to do some quick algebra.
1,308(inches) / 32(the average door’s width in inches) x $10 (the door’s cost = $408.75. Adding in taxes and the cost of posts and other miscellaneous materials, that price tag still comes in much lower than a traditional fence, and I kinda dig the funky mismatch vibe. Plus anytime you can reuse old materials and practice green construction, it’s a good thing.
Maybe this door fence idea isn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but it certainly isn’t the worst.