Sunday, October 5, 2014

How to style an antique bedroom set

This bedroom set was a gift from my mother-in-law (and by gift, I mean that I may have coerced her into parting with it by explaining how it would get much more face time in my house than hers... and the rest is history). She bought it for $25 in the 1970s and I'm so glad she hung on to it for all of these years. It's simple, but beautiful and fits our house perfectly. We put it in the sunny front bedroom of the house and decided to resist the urge to buy new things and instead dressed it up with our old favorites: a big horse blanket from Wes's grandma on top of a (very) distressed cream coverlet, a Southwestern rug that I picked up at Eastern market, curtains and rods that I've carried around with me since my first place in Georgetown, and pairs of metal plant stands that work great next to a little wooden bed.
The result is a room that makes me feel at home. I love coming in here to read or talk on the phone, surrounded by a collection of things that have been through it all, survived U-Haul trips across the country and never made it to the Goodwill bag.
This is the room where Wes keeps his stuff, and the simple styling makes it possible for an Ikea clothes rack and a framed photo of the first president of the USA work. Note that these were not my first-choice accessories, but I'm learning to compromise...


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On being perfect

“... Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don't want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, 'It is never too late to be what you might have been.' It is never too early, either.”
―    Anna Quindlen, Being Perfect

I love this quote so much, and have had the book on my Kindle forever. Buy this book, read it, and thank me. It's refreshing, relieving, and so very true.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Five easy ways to update a bedroom

So, I've been on a roll designing rooms in our new (old) house and wanted to share some ideas that I picked up about creating a cool bedroom and applied to my new space. Read below for five easy tips that I've learned!
1. Create a reading nook. It's simple (and free, if you already have a chair or two handy to introduce to the room). Clear out a corner, add a chair or two plus a small side table, a lamp, and a cozy pillow and blanket (in my case, a soft Turkish towel). I love this little nook in our bedroom. It's where I can find some quiet time to call my mom, enjoy a glass of wine, or read my Kindle. I've been hunting for a small footstool to complete it.

2. Take everything out except the essentials. Trust me, I am the queen of clutter and have a collection of things that would have gravitated into this bedroom had I not made a commitment to myself to keep it minimalistic. The effect is a simple, serene space that helps me to relax and fall asleep. Wes and I love this house particularly because the 'master bedroom' is really two separate rooms: we keep our things (desk, clothing, crazy mannequin, etc.) in the den and front bedroom so that we can preserve this minimalistic corner of our house!

3. Add a rug. It's the easiest way to add some texture and dimension to a room, not to mention warmth if you have hardwoods. I found this cream and navy striped tassel rug at Pier One and have moved it around to a few rooms in this house. When I brought it into this bedroom, it was perfect! It plays well with the bedding and paint, and lightens up the floor. True confession: I have rolls of rugs stored in my house that have no place to lay out, but I keep them around because every once in awhile I like to change it up, introduce a new pattern or color, etc. I'm currently on the hunt for the perfect sisal rug for our dining room, and a red silk Persian rug just because.

4. Paint it in a soft, neutral color. This room was originally a deep maroon with terrible carpet. I talked the landlord into pulling up the carpet and staining the original hardwoods underneath it, and then painted the room a soft blue-gray that makes the room feel calm and comforting. I picked out a few shades and painted test patches on the wall before settling on this one.

If you need help settling on a color, visit a paint store and ask to speak to a color consultant. (There are people who pick out perfect paint color for a living, believe it or not!) I'd bring along pictures of the room in natural light (e.g. mid-day with no lights turned on) along with pictures without natural light, and some of the pieces you plan on including in the room (furniture, artwork, etc.) and an open mind. If you're in the D.C. area, there's a great new resource for expert advice (and, of course, cans of paint) in Friendship Heights: check out Farrow & Ball at 5221 Wisconsin Ave and tour their showroom for all the color inspiration you'll need to get started! (If you're not in D.C., perusing their website will give you some amazing ideas for color and room design anyway.)

5. Stick to simple bedding. No really, cut it back to the basics and you'll be amazed how much prettier the room looks (and how frequently your bed gets made). Clean white bedding is one of those small luxuries that makes a big difference to me and makes the bedroom feel fresh and inviting. I buy nice white sheet sets and snap up high thread count sheets (800 or above) when I find them on sale.

 I wash sheet sets together and keep sets together either on the bed or in the linen closet so that everything always matches. It's simple but makes a noticeable difference in the comfort of your bed! For summer, we've been using our new collection of white Egyptian cotton sheets with a simple cream coverlet from Ralph Lauren. For winter, I've been using the same white cotton duvet and shams for years, and upgraded to a larger down comforter once I got married.

Other ideas that did not make the top five: Add familiar artwork to the walls (like a big Alaska poster that my dad picked up decades ago following a hiking trip to our northernmost state that was hanging on the wall of my parents' living room for my entire life until I convinced them to give it to me.); Add scented candles (no explanation needed here); Remove overhead lighting in favor of accent lighting (no really, I actually take the bulbs out of overhead lights in rentals so they can never go on. Why do you need general lighting in a bedroom? #lampscreateambiance)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to style your jean jacket for fall

Layer it with grays and camels. I love it worn with a simple gray tee, black jeans, a long tan trench and a floppy black felt hat. This will be my go-to fall outfit and I love that all of these items are already in my closet (save for the hat, but nothing a little eBaying can't fix: how about this one for $5?) I'd style this for work with a black pencil skirt - like this one from Vince that would look wonderful with a gray tee, jean jacket, black heels, and a trench. It would also work well with black leather leggings or a black leather skirt plus sheer tights and booties.
The Sartorialist captured a couple of perfect layered denim looks a few falls ago that I love to copy when it starts getting chilly. I love both of these outfits: they're fresh yet practical, and use denim as a neutral. My favorite fall work outfit is a chambray shirt with a pale gray skirt and tan blazer with tomato red lipstick.

It's still too hot in the South for any of these outfits, but I've already packed up all of my summer wardrobe. Knock on wood, but living in North Carolina has really made me miss chilly Chicago fall days that are made for outfits like these. Is it October yet?


Sunday, August 24, 2014

$5 makeover for distressed French bistro chairs

Ever since the first time I sat in a French cafe, I've been wanting to buy these patio armchairs but didn't have the room to hold them (nor the patio.) They've been on my want list for awhile now, so when I finally found them for sale (in bulk) on Craigslist for $15 apiece I bought as many as I could hold (which is 8). The problem I'm having is the wicker seats are distressed and starting to break, and despite all my Googling I've been unable to find anyone with the skills to re-weave patio chairs.
So they have been taking up space for months, stacked unused on our back porch until one fateful day as I wandered the aisles of Costo hunting for cheese samples and primed for impulse purchasing (this has become a weekly activity for me, if we are being totally honest.) I stumbled across a giant box of velvet seat covers, and just as I was about to walk away to get a better look at some $99 sheepskins it occurred to me that these seat covers were the solution to my weave problem: I could use them to disguise the distress (and up the comfort level for people like my friend Ashley, who brings koozies in her purse to tuck under the backs of her thighs to protect them from the dangers of textured chairs).
So I dug through that box (really, up to my elbows) until I found the perfect hunter green color that would pair perfectly with the maroon-and-cream wicker and bamboo colors on the chairs.
For just $9.99 for a 2-pack at Costco plus a few minutes of effort for the ties, it was the easiest and most attractive DIY chair cover project I've ever done (and I am addicted to recovering chairs - see here and here for a few projects I've done on my road to becoming a professional upholsterer/carpenter.) Needless to say, I have been enjoying the change to these patio chairs. (I'm sitting in one with a glass of wine on my front porch as I write this.)

Don't they look comfy? Does this porch make you want to take a seat and stay for a big glass of Chardonnay? Because that's the look I am going for, and I think the fern and flag really add that extra Southern pizazz it needed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My new (old) favorite easy chair

In June, my parents drove from Chicago to Charlotte with all of my grandmother's china in tow (service for 16, no less) and since they were going to be loading up the old Kelly family van anyway I seized the opportunity to have them transport a few things that I've always wanted to take off their hands but couldn't carry home on a plane.

Enter this chair, which has sat in my dad's basement workshop for most of my life and (literally) collected dust. According to my mom, it's a patio chair from the 1950s that used to belong to her grandmother. I love the midcentury design and that it's astonishingly comfortable, especially covered in a lambskin.

We moved to a new house, but what I didn't tell you is that the new house is not even one block away from the old house. (What can I say, I am attached to my neighbors.) Anyway, the new house and the old house have some similar features which is why I was able to basically recreate the exact same living room in the new house but with a few key changes: moving the loveseat to a separate sitting room, and adding some accent chairs like the oldie-but-goodie one I just acquired and an IKEA Poang chair that I've never quite loved but fits in so well now.

Even my drapes fit in well here. I love seeing all of the things I've collected over the years come together. It's a good test of taste over time. I think the same goes for friends: at my wedding, I was so deeply proud of my friends becoming friends. They each came into my life at different times but mixed so well together (and made for a truly amazing dance floor, I might add. Shout out to Chi Omega and the infamous Double Dutch dance).

Anyway, this is the current state of the living room - but also imagine that it includes an upright piano that came with the house and lots of unhung pictures and wayward shoes strewn against the unpictured wall:

(By the way, I would like to proudly announce that I painted that entire fireplace myself. Doesn't it look chic and fresh? Thank you, Lowes, for the encouragement and proper paint roller.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How to install open kitchen shelves

Before I begin to tell you about how to install open shelving in your kitchen, I should start by explaining that we moved last month into a new (old) rental house because we needed a dog-friendly landlord for our (extremely expensive) boxer mix mutt named Sophie, and desperately needed more space in general. The house is a 1934 Craftsman bungalow with high ceilings, hardwood floors and a bathroom with the original hexagon tile and cast iron sink and tub. After those good bones, there were no redeeming qualities: it was bent out of shape and desperately needed to be cleaned, painted, and loved. You would not have rented this house.
But the landlord was willing to entertain my ideas to tear down her upper cabinets, rip up a carpeted room to reveal the beautiful hardwoods, and paint the place from baseboards to ceilings in exchange for rent that is drastically below market price. It's a blank canvas filled with projects for this blog, the reason I went to work with paint in my hair for two weeks in a row, and why I count a few salespeople at Lowes as part of my social circle.
Needless to say, the place needed lot of work. The kitchen, by far, was the worst: so bad, in fact, that I didn't take 'before' pictures because you would judge me for agreeing to live in the place. (Think lime green walls, dingy brown wood, and derelict upper cabinets not fit for my Crate and Barrel collection.)
After lots of elbow grease, now it looks like this (a work in progress, but major improvement nonetheless):

After tearing down the upper cabinets (with work gloves, a crowbar, goggles, and lots of confidence), I sanded the wall where the cabinets had been mounted, repaired the drywall with drywall tape and spackle, sanded it again and then cleaned the walls, trim and ceiling. Then I primed and painted the walls, trim, and base cabinets, and got to work on installing the open shelves.

I wanted simple white shelves to match the base cabinets, and my goal was for the entire project to be as simple and cost-effective as possible (which should be the goal for all rental home projects). I settled on prefinished laminate white Rubbermaid 72" X 12" shelves that were $12 apiece and white brackets that were $7 each. Below are the step-by-step instructions and the materials I used.
Step-by-step instructions for installing open shelves:
  1. Take measurements of the area (length and width) where you want to hang the shelves.
  2. Using a stud finder, identify the studs in the area where you want to hang your shelves and mark an x in the center of each stud. (Disclosure: I failed to find studs in the area where I hung my shelves, so I used EZ Anchor Stud Solver Drywall Anchors to hang the brackets.) 
  3. The first stud x (or, in my case, 16" from far left corner) marks your first column of brackets. Moving 16" to the right, mark off your second, third, fourth columns of brackets (depending on the length you selected).
  4. For each bracket column, measure 62" from the floor and make a pencil mark - this will be where the lowest shelf should be hung (it matches typical height of the lowest shelve of a base cabinet).
  5. Moving up from your 62" mark and using a level to keep both marks in line, measure 14.5" up (or 76.5" from the floor) for the height of the second shelf. Repeat using increments of 14.5" for additional shelves.
  6. To ensure your shelves will be level, use a straight edge to draw a line connecting the marks in each bracket column (the line the shelves would sit on) and then confirm the line is level with... a level.
  7. Using a bracket as a guide, I penciled in the screw holes for each bracket on the wall.
  8. Using my new power drill, I pre-drilled all of the holes and then installed the drywall anchors, and eventually the brackets themselves.
  9. Once all of the brackets were in place, I placed the shelves onto the brackets and fit them to where I wanted them to sit exactly.
  10. Next, I penciled each of the screw holes needed to secure the shelves to the brackets (again using the bracket as a guide) and pre-drilled holes for the screws.
  11. Finally, I attached the shelves to the brackets with screws, and added all of my plates, bowls, serving dishes, etc.
(I also added these coated hooks that I found at Target to the bottom of the base shelves for my coffee mugs and LOVE them over my Nespresso machine.)

 My other ideas for this kitchen that I have yet to discuss with the landlord: installing a pegboard wall opposite the open shelving to hold all of my cooking tools; adding a pot rack above the oven; replacing the (terrible) overhead lighting with a chandelier; adding butcher block countertops; and tearing up the (awful) linoleum to reveal the hardwoods underneath (yes, I pulled up a corner of the linoleum to confirm).