I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I might very well be the living, breathing, walking, talking, blogging symbol of American consumerism. I sees something I wants sprawled across the pages of a catalog or draped stylishly over some hipster walking the chicest of city streets or proudly taking up real estate in a post of some brand name design blog, and I inevitably come to the conclusion that I must attain that picnic scenario, those awesome Ikat shorts, that fantastic living room–or at least a cheap knock off version of each. Every now and then I’m temporarily relieved of my obsession after some life-changing adventure, say a trip to India for instance, but at one point or another it’s certain I will find myself curled up in secret with the iPad at 11 at night, googling pictures of “homemade earring stands” so that I can emulate some totally random, completely irresistible image I saw in that catalog, on that girl at Whole Foods, in that post on Design*Sponge. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a shopping problem (see homemade earring stand comment above), but at the very least it’s a browsing problem. As of late, I had been eyeballing these, as Heath would say, “super omega krunk” modern orbital light fixtures.
I’m not entirely positive as to why I am so drawn toward and mystified by these quirky living and dining room accessories. I’d like to say something about how we view light as a symbol for life and I feel rejuvenated by them. Or that their incessant circular design holds some alluring magnetism. Or that proper lighting determines the mood of the room and ultimately oneself and that these examples reiterate the attitude I want reflected in my home. Yes. I’d like to say that. But really it boils down to pretty…so pretty.
Good old mom knew I had been toying with the idea of swapping out our not-so-terrible, but also not-so-special 80s light fixture for a illumination source that’s more stylish and charismatic (and remnant of something from that website, magazine, catalog, street corner, etc). Next thing I know, a mystery package from Joss & Main shows up on our door step and I’m staring this thing square in the eye.
Its formal fancy pants name is the “Aumi Pendant” but I just like to call it “SUH-WEET!” It cost $136, through whatever black magic Joss & Main works, and I was able to put those awesome waves together in about an hour while sitting on the living room floor watching a rerun of Saturday Night Live. The only trouble with it was, while it was labeled as a “pendant” it actually didn’t have traditional pendant wiring and instead was equipped with a standard plug-in for a wall outlet. But our local handyman was able to rewire the thing in about half an hour and we wound up with this impressive get up that’s still far cheaper than anything I would have been able to find at a fancy lighting or faddish vintage store. The doodle doggies don’t seem to mind the imposing orb.After all my catalog flipping and blog scrolling you might say, I’ve finally got my eye on the ball (ey….ey?!). Consumerism Shmonshmumerism. I’m a happy girl with this new, magazine-inspired, designer knock-off ball of brilliance—a stylish charm that radiates beauty, whimsy, serenity and, oh yeah, light.
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.
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.
It’s finally happening…
Notice that I said “rethinking countertops?” and not “rethinking countertops!” That question marks means I am in the thinking stage. Not in the doing or acting stage or I-have-definitely-made-up-my-mind stage.
Here’s the deal.
When we bought the house, one of the first things we thought HAD TO GO was the kitchen countertops. First off, they are hideously ugly. They aren’t even ugly in the sense that the style is dated because the tile isn’t even original ’50s tile. It was installed before we moved in by whatever out-of-touch realtor told the homeowners that people like beige and want to live in a neutral beige universe. The entire house was redone in beige. The carpets, the walls, the floors, the countertops. It was a beige nightmare. Secondly, they are poorly installed beige tiles, with uneven corners and unfinished sections. It’s bad. Real bad.
I think if you told someone to imagine a bland kitchen, they could not have come up with something this drab. Fortunately, we have picked things up a little since this photo was taken: refinished the cabinets, painted the walls and created some open shelving. Still left untouched, however, are the countertops.
The original scheme was to put in some pearly white quarts countertops (to match our Big Chill fridge) and pair it with some teal or turquoise subway tile for the backsplash. That scheme, I felt, would give the kitchen a look that’s classic (the cabinets), yet modern (the countertops) and fun (the backsplash) while still being cohesive.
The problem with this little operation, like with most things, is the price. To get ‘er done we’re gonna drop probably around $3,000, and that doesn’t even include the actual necessary must-have upgrades like a dishwasher and garbage disposal (we need a new electric box for that, which is a whole other blog post). So I’m starting to think that I need to either be really, really, really patient (which I am really bad at being) and wait a few years until I can do my upscale remodel, or I can start thinking of more affordable alternatives. (Before you tell me to be patient, I will once again refer you to photo one and ask how long you could exist comfortably in that kitchen.*)
*Note to self: you are so lucky to have the kitchen and house you have and you should probably stop complaining about it on the internet. You’ve been to India. You know what “existing comfortably” truly means, so buck up.
One alternative is to replace the existing tile with tile that’s a bit more colorful and perhaps more professionally installed. Where, say, the tilers (Heath and me) opt to actually attempt to finish placing tiles around those “hard-to-get-to” spaces like electrical outlets.
And I feel like we can’t talk about ’50s kitchen remodels without considering Formica. Come on. That’s classic ’50s business.
From what I see, it looks like (while perhaps not as crisp and upscale as my original vision) Formica or tile counters can be a really good option for homeowners on a budget. And since I’m not willing to forgo our annual anniversary vacations (to places like San Francisco, Mexico City, and this year Seattle and Portland), a budget kitchen reno may very well be in the cards. So, rethinking countertops? Or rethinking countertops!
Great news! I made good on my promise (to myself) to stencil an accent wall in my living room. (Bless Heath for going along willingly with my wacky, wacky ideas for designing the house.) I started the project Dec. 15 and finished about a week later, just before the fam came down for Christmas. What timing!
Thus far I’m really loving our dizzying scalloped wall. I’ve always been a fan of bright and bold patterns on my blankets and pillows, so an entire wall of a retro and repetitious pattern is right up my alley. Since it has been up, I find myself zoning out on the couch, getting lost in the sequence of scallops.
The stencil pattern was ordered from Cutting Edge Stencils and set me back about $40. I already had the paint and rollers, so the cost of the stencil and my time was all I ended up investing on the project. So, I’d say it’s worth it to give stenciling a shot if it’s a look you’re keen on, though, admittedly it’s not for everyone. Should you give it a go, I’d recommend the following:
- Keep a level handy. I eyeballed everything, which works OK with the guide of a stencil, but as I was finishing the project, I noticed a slight upward movement of the pattern as I went along. It’s not something that’s really visible when you’re just glancing at it, but during my long stare-down sessions with the wall, I can notice the slight slope of the pattern. It’s minimal, but were I to do it over, I’d definitely recruit the aid of a ruler.
- Start at the very edge of the wall and work your way over. When I got going, i didn’t exactly start at the very edge of the wall, leaving instead a small gap between where my pattern started and where the wall started. It ultimately affected the all-over, saturating effect of the pattern I was going for, and I had to go in with my individual stencil to fill in the gaps. Start the stencil so that parts of the pattern flow off the edge of the wall so you don’t have to go back and fill in the holes when it’s done.
- Keep a blow dryer handy. When stenciling, you don’t load up the roller with paint, so the wall itself drys fairly quickly. However, when you’re layering the plastic stencil with paint, it takes a little longer to dry. So moving the stencil pattern over the wall can result in wet splotches of paint where you don’t want it. I got in the habit of using a blow dryer on the stencil so I could move through the project more quickly.
- Use a small brush for touch ups. Careful as I may be, it seemed inevitable that there would be drips and smudges as I went along. A tiny paint brush was crucial to cleaning up the oops-ies.
The whole thing took a few days to complete, but I wasn’t the most committed of painters. I stopped to bake, attend holiday parties and watch Christmas clay-mation movies…leaving only a couple hours a day devoted to stenciling. Should you choose to get your stencil on, I’d say it’s a project that could easily be knocked out in a day if you were truly diligent.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll offer a peek at the good, bad and ugly of the project.
Everyone here, dogs included, agrees the end result is bad ass.
A little more than a year ago, we were making our way toward the 2011 ACL music festival when our realtor called to tell us the sellers of a little house on Corona Drive had accepted our offer to buy their place; a month later they handed us the key. Even though the process of buying our first home happened fairly quickly, in many ways this one year anniversary of life in our first home seems like it took a lifetime to reach–especially when I think about all the projects I wanted to accomplish in the first year.
I had a lofty checklist of things to add, modify and remove in the new house. Admittedly, I was a little too ambitious. I wanted wood floors within the first month and new counter tops within the first two weeks. Fast forward 365 days and the original counters and carpets are still here. I still don’t have a dishwasher in the kitchen, and we still let the dogs out into the backyard through a window and not a proper backdoor. But while there are many, many, many improvements I still haven’t found the time or money to make, I’m careful to remember and be proud of all that we have accomplished in one year together in our first place.
We put in a path that leads to the front door.
We painted and added windows to our front door for much needed character.
So we added a shed and built a new and improved chicken coop for our feathered friends.
We put in raised beds for veggies…
…and a rain garden to help with drainage.
We built a fence to help with privacy.
And we added some spunk to the patio with a pallet planter, and dining area.
Inside, we got things done too…like painting more walls than we can count.
We put up invisible book shelves in the office.
And I finally found the perfect way to incorporate a map wall into the house.
In the kitchen we refinished the cabinets and added new hardware, bringing some much needed shine to a kitchen that was in the running to be named one of the country’s ugliest.
We also stripped the knotty pine paneling to make room for more shelving and storage.
On top of the big projects, there were dozens of weekends and evenings spent painting furniture, framing artwork, hanging curtains and performing the many other tiny tasks that culminate in having a happy house that feels like home. I didn’t get to a lot of the big projects, but I’m learning to cope with our revised timeline. As my older and wiser home-owning cohorts have told me, the list of home improvement projects never goes away, it just changes over time, and that’s part of the fun. So on our one year anniversary, I’m opting not to lament the projects we have not yet gotten to and instead will celebrate what we have accomplished. Plus, we still need things to keep us busy as we head in to year two.