Stencil me in

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!

The before…

greenandturquoiserooms And the after…brightretrowallcolors

starburstmirrorartThus 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The paint poured, brush not yet loaded. Still time to turn back…

The first round of the stencil pattern on the wall. No turning back now.

The first round of the stencil pattern on the wall. No turning back now. (You can also see here the spacing faux pas I am referring to in tip #2.)

One of the “whoops” moments. This is why a touch-up brush is so crucial.



Eventually I’ll need to redo the top. This is why a level is handy. Once I was at the top, I was eager to finish, and you can see the results of my sloppiness on the top row. Woe is me.


Everyone here, dogs included, agrees the end result is bad ass.

Attention to Detail: 3 home improvement projects to tackle before the holidays

ATTENTION: Oye. I am a little embarrassed about the lack of blog posts I’ve churned out over the past couple of weeks. I wish I had a more legit excuse for being MIA, but the truth is I’ve just been a bit exhausted by my 9 to 5 and haven’t been able to muster up the strength to do much home improvement during my downtime…much less the strength to blog about it. Fortunately though, I feel like I have enough ammunition to fire off a blog post about my most recent discoveries in nesting. So please forgive my foolish absence.

After a year of inhabiting our current place, I thought I had pretty much tackled all of the little touch-up projects that would make the house feel like home: painting the walls, switching out light fixtures, installing shelves. You know, the small-ish projects that make a big impact. Foolishly, I thought the only things left to address to make my home “magazine worthy” were the big remodeling projects like putting in new counter tops in the kitchen, building a fence in the backyard, and laying down wood floors in the living room. With a trip to India just around the corner, I resigned myself to the fact that it would be a good long while before any of those projects would be checked off our to-do list.  Nothing to do but sit and wait, right? Wrong. A recent trip to mum’s house for Thanksgiving reminded me of the impact homing in on the small stuff can make on your GDH (gross domestic happiness). So I’m pretty jazzed about some of the micro-projects I’m going to take on this week that will help me get my head, house and heart in a good place.

Project One: lining the kitchen cabinets with vinyl tile
When Heath refinished the cabinets last Christmas, he did a swell job of giving the musty exterior some much-needed sheen. The interiors, however, were left untouched.  The bottom cabinets especially feel like a 50-year old dingy crawl space, which, let’s face it, they essentially are. Good old mom had the genius idea of lining the bottom of the cabinets with white vinyl tile. It’s easy to clean, easy to install and gives some brightness to an other wise dark and dirty nook of the kitchen. Wouldn’t have thought to do it, but I’m glad mom did.  I’m planning to use the peel-and-stick tiles for mine, but I found some cool projects on the interwebs that have other suggestions for bringing character to forgotten spaces. Check out this tutorial from Apartment Therapy, or this one from Pink Shirts and Car Wrecks. And for a whole post dedicated exclusively to making dreamy drawers, check out this one from I Heart Organizing.




Project Two: fridge focus
Since we’ve taken to harboring Bro in the house, it means sharing areas of real estate that I once had complete control over. Sadly, one of the areas over which I relinquished rule was the fridge. Once upon a time I kept it relatively organized, with specific spaces designated for particular foods. A cheese drawer, a produce container, etc. But when we started sharing the space with Bro’s foreign food stuffs, I kind of let keeping tabs on the fridge fall by the wayside. This is foolishness. I’ve got to rethink the way I manage the fridge. Rather than just throwing our groceries in there willy-nilly, I’ve got to reestablish a system of order. It has become a new priority for two reasons. First, we’ve got a pretty bad case of fridge blindness, which is the term I’m making up to describe what happens when you only eat the foods you see in the very front. The leftovers in the back get pushed further and further backward until they’ve spoiled. (Embarrassing fact: we recently discovered a gallon of milk in the depths of the fridge with a September expiration date. So you can see this is a serious problem). Putting everything (our food and Bro’s) in order will help us save money by not wasting food. Secondly, I think having a spruced up fridge will encourage better eating habits. I’m thinking of it like a department store.  I always get lured in by the fancy displays of intricately folded blouses and color-coded dresses and inevitably spend money on something I didn’t need because it just looked so damn fine in the store. Maybe I can mimic that effect in my fridge. I’ll want to eat more lettuce, fruits and produce if I display the healthy foods properly in the fridge.  It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had. Just ask Real Simple, which has an entire article on the subject.




Project Three: a clean coffee tableI think maybe a dirty coffee table is the unmade bed of the living room.  Think about it, whenever you want to give the appearance of a clean house, the first thing you do is make the bed, right? Every morning when I get up to let the dogs out through the back window (like all classy people do), I inevitably wind up doing the face palm dance over how grotesque I left the coffee table from the night before.  There are always at least two of the following splayed across our already decrepit cedar chest coffee table: finger nail clippers, half empty glasses of OJ, remote controls, coasters, pencils and bobby pins/hair ties (obviously, those belong to Heath). Of all the things in my house not worthy of a magazine photo shoot, I think our coffee table situation might take the cake. I’m starting my new year’s resolution early and committing to finding a way to organize the items that are meant to live on the coffee table (coffee table books for instance, plus the coasters and remotes), and I’m committing to ridding it of the dishes, hair ties, and other nastiness that doesn’t belong there before I retreat to the bedroom at night. It’s a small change in behavior that will increase my GDH tenfold. I hate leaving for work with the house a wreck, and this measure is bound to help address that.

A wire basket of sorts for storing remote controls I'm thinking will make a dramatic difference.

A wire basket of sorts for storing remote controls I’m thinking will make a dramatic difference.

Using trays with vivid surfaces to aggregate knick knacks is a winning idea in my book.

Using trays with vivid surfaces to aggregate knick knacks is a winning idea in my book.

I've got a whole bunch of books on design on my Christmas wish list that will hopefully make their way onto our made-over living room centerpiece.

I’ve got a whole bunch of books on design on my Christmas wish list that will hopefully make their way onto our made-over living room centerpiece.

There you have it!  My commitment to improving the home on a $0 budget before the we leave for India.  Hold me to it, readers!

One year later

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.

For starters, we (with A LOT of help from my mom) we were able to install some much needed landscaping in the front yard.

The uninspired and lackluster front yard before we got our hands (and feet and faces) dirty with gardening.

And here it is today.

We put in a path that leads to the front door.

And planted lots of native color.

Echinacea is forever smiling.

We painted and added windows to our front door for much needed character.

And in the backyard we did even more.  When we first arrived, the only life in the backyard was a 30-year-old pecan tree.

The bare backyard.

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.

The bland walls before we got our hands on them.

And after many iterations of furniture placement, we  finally found the perfect layout for our massive living room.

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.

Dinged up faded cabinets and rusty black metal hardware makes for a creepy kitchen.

A little shine goes a long way. At some point we’ll get to updating the backsplash and countertops.

We also stripped the knotty pine paneling to make room for more shelving and storage.

For me, knotty pine is beautiful in small doses. The original kitchen had more than what I prefer.

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.

One step closer to living like an adult

At first I thought it was incredibly clever and thrifty of Heath and I to use a homemade bench as a tv stand/entertainment console. But after a year of looking at the most uninspired entertainment setup ever, I decided I should probably invest in something a little more substantial. Since we live in a 50s-era house and I have an unhealthy obsession with midcentury design, I thought a modern looking credenza would be a good solution for hosting our media center.

I spent the last month scouring Craigslist for pieces under $200 I could use, but after getting stiffed twice (Craigslist sellers telling me the items were available but then selling them out from under me before I could close the deal), I decided to hit up some of Austin’s many vintage furniture shops. The prices are usually higher than Craiglist, but the condition of the items are usually better and it’s a bit more stable. I guess the gods of vintage furniture took pity on my soul because Room Service Vintage was having a huge 20 percent off sale and I found an ideal piece in tip top condition for $180, enabling me to maneuver a pretty sweet room flip.

So far, I’m really liking the change. The credenza is perfect for storing our DVDs and I love not having exposed wires all over the place. I’m still playing with the photos behind the TV (I can’t decide if it’s too much or not), and hopefully at some point we can mount the TV on the wall like the folks at Our Mid Century did…then we’ll really be big time.

Still, for now I’m calling this one a victory. Point Doodle House. Now let’s watch some football.

Skeletons no more

Admittedly, blog posts about closets aren’t the most exciting thing on the menu, but it’s what’s been on our minds lately. Since we’ve been sharing our abode with Bro over the last couple months, we’ve been made aware of the fact that every square inch of space is a valuable commodity not to be squandered–closets included. Perhaps, if done right, even my tiny bedroom closet could be salvation from clutter and chaos.

Fortunately I happen to know just the man to tackle a closet rejuvenation: the one, the only, Handyman Heath. After sleeping in on a Sunday morning, and doodling a sketch or two of an ideal closet on scratch paper, Heath went to town on Project Let’s-Get-This-House-And-Closet-Situation-Under-Control. While I was grocery shopping, and cleaning and being a stereotypical homemaker, Heath was measuring, sawing, and lord knows what else, to turn our clusterf*** of a closet into a real-deal functional storage space.

Hot dog! Who knew all I had to do was point to the mess, say “closet please” and within a few hours it would be completely transformed? Let’s make a toast to our latest DIY success and to Handyman Heath, my DIY genie.

Getting to know you.

We’ve been living together for 10 months now, this mid-century house and me. And I think we’re really starting to get to know one another on an intimate level.  Of course, it’s not a perfect relationship, but we’ve done a lot of growing together, and I think we’re really getting to a point where we know how to live comfortably with one another.

You may wonder why I decided to enter into a relationship with an older gal. After all, she’s pushing 60, so allow me to provide a little background as to WHY Heath and I opted to move in with an old school casa versus something a little more modern and relate-able.

We always knew we wanted an older house. Maybe because we’re weird. Maybe because we like a challenge. Definitely because we value character–potentially to a fault. We gave up a lot when we decided to marry our current home: a dish washer, state-of-the-art energy efficiency, two bathrooms… But in the end, you’ve sometimes got to consider personality over perks, and we think we gained more than we lost. For one, the location (on our budget) is unrivaled. We also loved the idea of having a unique house that wasn’t one of four or five cookie cutter home plans repeated throughout a development. Sure, maybe our door dilemma is a head-scratcher, but it’s OUR head scratcher. We liked fantasizing about finding a house with good bones and then customizing it to make it fits our needs, something you can’t do with a ready-to-go home, equipped with counter tops, cabinets and floors pre-packaged by Joe Blow Developer for exclusive use by John Doe Homeowner. Sometimes you have to follow in the footsteps of Freddie Prinze Jr. and take a chance on the art student in overalls.

Hey girl, can I get your number?
Why the old house caught my eye in the first place.

  • The picture windows. I adore them. They are single-paned but totally amazing because they crank with this quirky little lever that makes a task as mundane as opening a window seem sort of exciting and retro. “She’s fun!”
  • The bathroom tile. It is original to the house and in amazing condition, but why blog worthy? Besides being pearly porcelain that feels clean and shiny and epitomizes a zen bathroom, it’s green—the best color of all the colors. It’s as if it was written in the stars! I’ve seen my fair share of pink and yellow tile bathrooms in houses from the same era, so I am ever grateful for finding a house with retro green tile in impeccable condition. “She’s pretty!”
  • The built-in planter in the front. It’s functional, encourages landscaping and was built well. I filled it with succulents and pea gravel and it looks amazing.  “She’s smart!”

Maybe we should go to couples counseling.
What I want to change.

  • Popcorn ceilings. Why do that to a perfectly lovely home? They make rooms look smaller, they collect dust, they are super difficult to paint. “She’s irrational.”
  • No backdoor. What genius thought skipping out on a back door was a good idea? We’ll put one in one day, but for now we let the dogs out through the window when they need to do their business. It’s one of the trashier truths about me. “She’s careless.”
  • No electrical outlet in the bathroom. This is another one I just don’t get. How hard would it have  been to put in one measly electrical outlet? I know they had electricity in the 1950s, so what gives?  We didn’t discover this little nugget until after we moved in. No one dried their hair in the 50s?  Come on architects, look alive. “She’s weird.”

You know me better than I know myself.
What I’ve learned to love.

  • Knotty Pine.  I’ve definitely come around on knotty pine, which I have been known to refer to as “naughty pine” on more than one occasion. When cleaned up and paired with appropriate fixtures, appliances and wall colors, knotty pine can be incredible and rich. I’m so glad we opted to refinish our cabinets in the same hue rather than go for a complete overhaul that would be out of style in another 10 years. “She’s classic.”
  • Detached laundry room. Basically, I like not hearing the washer and dryer running more than I dislike walking outside to the laundry room. “She gives me my space.”

It turns out, there’s a lot to appreciate about 1950s architecture–something I never expected to love. Growing up, I always envisioned myself settling in a 1920s craftsman bungalow. But instead of substantial window trimmings, and cozy niches, I got minimalist lines and and an open floor plan–definitely not the characteristics I would have checked off  on a list of qualities describing my dream girl. If she were a contestant on The Bachelor, the house would have made the initial cut only as a wild card.

When we moved in last October, I had a huge list of things I wanted to immediately add, remove, change or update. I was sure we would have wood floors and a revamped kitchen within the first month and a lusciously landscaped yard within the first year. Some of that happened, some of it didn’t, but in retrospect I’m happy with our pace. If I had changed the kitchen on my original timeline, I wouldn’t have realized that I wanted to keep the original cabinets, and instead I would have likely ripped out or at least repainted something that is now one of my favorite elements. And if I dropped a chunk of change putting in wood floors up front, we probably wouldn’t have installed the gutters that let us recapture rain water. It’s amazing to discover how priorities change the more you get to know a place.

When I first moved in, I was warned against making any drastic changes too soon. My mother cautioned me against renovations the way friends might warn against getting that girl’s name tattooed  on your back after the third date. I’m glad I’ve taken the time to get truly acquainted with the old girl, to know her quality quirks and her catastrophic catches. We’ve got many more months and years to take our relationship further, but as of now, I’m glad we’ve taken things slow. I think she’s into me, and I know, despite her weird habits, I’m into her. In our 10 month courtship, I’m grateful for learning to appreciate the house for what she is. She’s not a glamorous Hollywood type and she’s not a fashionable and modern mistress. She is what she is—a small, 1950s Delwood dynamo—and I’m loving her for it.

The doors

We have a front door. I think it’s been used 3 times. Not because we don’t have any friends or family and no one ever comes over, but because it’s perhaps the most oddly placed front door in the world.

It’s easy to miss, seeing as how it’s really more of a side door. And it’s not even the first door you see from the direction most folk enter the neighborhood. The first door you typically see is the “back door,” which is technically a side door. We have no actual back door. Understanding the architect’s (though I doubt there was one) rationale related to door placement is a head scratcher. Come to think of it, my house might be a portal to another dimension. I just have to get the door system worked out correctly before I can access Narnia or wherever. Regardless, no one uses the front door. I would like to change that.

I’ve tried a few things to encourage use of the front door.

1)   Telling people.  This was my first approach. Though all the conversations generally wound up going something like this…
Me: Hey guys. You know how when you come over, the first room you walk into is the kitchen? That’s weird, huh? You should try using the front door!

Other people: You have a front door?

Me: Yeah, it’s right there.

Other people: Oh. I thought that was a closet.

2)   Building a path leading directly to said front door. Mom helped with this one. The thinking was that maybe if people had an easy and pleasant way to get to this mysterious threshold, they would be more inclined to use it. I think we’ve had one taker so far.

That about brings us up to speed as far as my efforts go to encourage front door use. Clearly more diabolical measures are in order.

Of course, my first instinct is to paint. Maybe part of the reason people can’t see the front door is because it blends too well with the rest of the house? Same color. Same texture. Same everything. I think a coat of lime paint would look stinkin’  good with our existing grey.

But why stop there? Painting alone would be too pedestrian for the likes of us. We’ve got this mid century house, I’d like to spruce ‘er up with some mid century doors–the type that have the dainty little windows that both let in light and look unbelievably trendy. Surely if there windows no one would confuse it for a closet!

At this rate. People would be fools, FOOLS I say, not to want to enter through this heavenly little nook we have created on our minuscule portion of the planet. Until recently, I thought a front door makeover would be further down the renovation line, as we don’t really want to shell out up to $1,000 for a door we still aren’t completely sure people will use. Thank heavens I was turned on to Crestview Doors, which is an amazing company that not only sells custom mid century doors, but also has “doorlite kits” for as little as $59 which enables thrifty homeowners such as ourselves to do the dirty window installation on our own. And, if you can believe it, the company is based out of Austin. Oh dear fate, what have we done to fall into your good graces?

We have found our weekend project.

And while I am dreaming big. Allow me to share my final scheme for encouraging use of our front door. Drum roll please….

I am going to eliminate all other options. You can’t learn to use the front door? You lose side door privileges all together. Somewhere down the line I want to put in a glass paneled garage door and turn our carport into a patio/greenhouse/sunroom.

It’s a lofty goal indeed. And one that might be coming later rather than sooner. But as the poster above the chair at my orthodontist’s office said, “even if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars.”  So, inspirational children’s poster, I’m shooting for sun room.

Thanks for visiting. Now, kindly exit through the front door.