Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bedroom makeover: armoire

As part of the second phase of the bedroom makeover project, I decided to do something with the laminate brown clothing armoire at long last. I'd resisted because it doesn't belong to us (it may belong to our landlord, or maybe was just left by some previous tenant), and I didn't want to sink too much time into something we don't own. But after spending so much time painting and doing other things that also couldn't come with us (and concluding that we'd probably be in our apartment another year or two), I decided it was worth the time to make this less of an eye sore in the bedroom. I should note: it's really not that terrible a piece of furniture. It's just that the room is small and already has a lot of dark furniture in it (including a matching set of two dressers and a night stand, which I love). Of course I'd love to have a normal closet and to ditch the armoire, but that's not an option so I figured I may as well spend a few hours making it prettier.

Last fall I'd already done a quick improvement, which was to slap some white contact paper on the door panels to lighten things up a little bit. I decided I liked the idea of white (a lighter color helps to make a piece of furniture look smaller), so I was leaning toward just painting the whole thing white. But I wanted to add a little visual interest and maybe experiment with a new technique, so I did some googling of "white armoire" and found a few designs that I thought might work well with the shape and style of my armoire:

(Somewhat hard to tell from this photo, but this stencil pattern is very similar to the one above, just smaller)

I decided I liked the larger pattern better, and because it was done by someone who blogged about her experience (including linking to a template for the stencil pattern!) I basically just followed her process. I picked up a quart of off-white semigloss paint and a pint of light gray paint (Ace "Platinum"). Really I should have primed as a separate step (especially for something laminate, where I couldn't sand the surface), but since this piece won't actually need to live through a move - it's a permanent resident of our apartment, unlike us - I decided to be lazy and get a paint and primer in one. Definitely not advisable if you want something long lasting that will stand up to wear and tear, but it fit the bill for a relatively quick makeover.

I applied two coats of the white then let it dry overnight. Then I printed the stencil template (here) and traced it on the door panels using a pencil. Basically the template fits against itself like so, and I left about 1/2" between each:

(Thank you to Jones Design Company for the template and explanatory photos)

Then I used a small brush to fill in the 1/2" lines with the platinum paint. I did two coats, and I really wish I had photos of the stenciling in-process. Basically, I thought it looked awful and uneven the whole time(especially as my hand got progressively more claw-like as the hours passed...), and then when I finished I stepped back and thought it looked amazing. Jesse - the blogger responsible for the project that inspired me - reports having the exact same experience, so I just warn you in case you try a similar undertaking. Actually, I find this about many of my projects: in-process (especially when paint is involved), it can look like a terrible disaster up until the moment it is finished, dry, and you take a step back from crouching right in front of it and obsessing over the details. So I definitely encourage patience and cutting yourself some slack for small issues that can only be seen if you smush your face right up against the finished project (which, let's face it, few house visitors tend to do). That's actually probably some advice I could/should generalize to most things in my life....

Anyway, here's the finished result (with a "before" reminder first, which at this point you've seen a billion times in my other bedroom makeover posts):

I'm pretty pleased! For a few hours of work, I think it's a real improvement. And it makes a big contribution to the overall bedroom makeover project.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Just when I said I'd never paint again...

First just a quick mention that I added a new page to the blog, which has a floor plan of the apartment. Granted most anyone who would be reading this has been here in person, but I thought it might be helpful anyway. Now there are two tabs at the top of the blog, "Home" and "Apartment floor plan."


Ok, so on to my most recent painting adventure. You'd think that having just written a post about the labors of painting, I wouldn't have been so eager to embark on another painting project. But even though I wrote about it recently, it's been almost 6 months since we actually did the bedroom painting project. Apparently that was long enough to dull my memory and enable me to think, "painting, that would be a fun project!"

Our apartment is technically a two bedroom, though I would never want to live here that way - there's one room that's distinctly a bedroom, then two rooms in the heart of the layout that could be used as a living room (which we use for our "den," aka the room with our bookshelves and desks) and as a second bedroom (which we use as our living room). The room we use for our living room has a single door that opens to the front hall, as well as two pocket doors that open to the den (when tenants use it as a bedroom, I assume they keep the pocket doors closed and use the door to the hall as the main door). [Check out the new floor plan page if this doesn't make sense.] Typically we keep all the doors open, and you might not even notice that there are doors rather than just doorways - the pocket doors just disappear, and the door to the hall we open all the way and then keep a chair in front of so you barely even notice the door (see below).

But during the winter, we've started to keep both doors closed more often, as that way the living room warms up really quickly and otherwise our apartment tends to be fairly drafty (it's an old house, and we're above the basement).

But with both doors closed, there was an explosion of white surfaces that was really messing with the aesthetic. Below, both doors closed:

I didn't want to hang any art, because we keep the doors open at least 70% of the year, plus whenever we're entertaining (except when we have overnight guests, when we close the doors to create a little guest room).

So, I decided to paint them. After seeing a few inspiring photos of interior black doors (por ejemplo, on one of my favorite blogs: Manhattan Nest), I decided to follow suit - but I wanted to keep some of the panel detailing white. I picked up a quart of Onyx by Benjamin Moore in satin finish, and I love the result!

Amazing, right?

Ok, just teasing, this is after one coat of paint and before I taped off and painted the panel trim.

I did two coats of black, then taped around the panel trim because I'm really just not steady enough to paint it freehand. The green tape is "frog tape" instead of regular painter's tape, it seems to bleed less (though I still had to touch up a few edges).

After two coats of black and two coats of white on the panels, I was done. For reals this time, I love it!

Every time I ask Sam what he thinks he asks me what I think, so I'm not quite sure what that means.... But I really like it, I think it adds a little character but is completely invisible if/when we want. Altogether about 7 hours of painting (I'm pretty inefficient), but I'm pleased with the result!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bedroom makeover: painting

Painting is really hard, apparently. Clearly neither of us were fully prepared for the undertaking, or else it's doubtful I would have talked Sam into it. But not knowing what was in store for us, we embarked on a "Labor Day weekend" activity that was appropriately titled. I guess I did have some vague sense that it might be challenging, because I said in advance that since this was the first time since we were 17 that we weren't moving somewhere at the end of August/beginning of September (2004 - college; 2005 - college; 2006 - college/Panama; 2007 - college; 2008 - Somerville; 2009 - Cambridge (and in together for the first time!); 2010 - back to Somerville), we should do something strenuous knowing that it would still pale in comparison to how hard moving is.

Just to remind ourselves of how lucky we were not to be moving again, we looked at some moving pictures. Like this one of our apartment a few days after we moved in:

My back hurts just thinking about it. And my arms. And my hands. And my wallet. But I digress. Back to painting.

We'd debated colors for awhile. I liked the idea of something really striking, maybe blue. I've had a hankering for a cobalt accent wall for awhile now...


But since our room is pretty small and we have a lot of dark furniture, we decided to go lighter. Much lighter. Like yellow. So I grabbed a bunch of paint swatches from the hardware store and taped them up on the wall. We spent a week taking note of our favorite shades at different times in the day, with different lighting, etc. Finally we settled on a favorite, and then on the recommendation of a few painting pros went a shade lighter than that (paint is going to look more intense on the wall than on a tiny paint chip, especially with something as bold as yellow). So we ended up with Ace Hardware "downy chick." A little mellower than I was initially planning, but since our room is pretty dark it typically looks more intensely yellow than the paint swatch alone appears:

We only wanted to do one wall yellow, and then the other three walls a very light gray. We went with a flat finish, because even though flat paint is known for getting dirty more easily (and thus might be bad for a room like the kitchen), it also hides imperfections in the walls - unevenness, cracks, etc - much better than glossier finishes and is easier to touch up. Since our walls are very old and have plenty of dings and uneven places, and plus since we planned to put a lot of holes in the walls for art and such that we'd then need to patch and paint when we move, it seemed like the right choice. (I rely on one of my favorite blogs for advice on things like this, they seem to have a post for just about anything you can imagine home-related: Young House Love. I even turned to them when selecting a new vacuum, and haven't been disappointed with the model they suggested.) We also got a quart of off-the-shelf semi-gloss white to do the trim and doors in the bedroom, since the white was looking pretty dingy and I thought a fresh coat would really pop against the yellow and gray walls.

Then we got to painting. We used a foam roller for the most part, with an angled brush to do the edges and trim. Even though a lot of blogs I read claim that you don't need painter's tape to do edges and trim, just a good paint brush, apparently they have steadier hands than we do. No in-process pictures of us painting, unfortunately - we were too busy sweating and cursing one another and the decision we'd made to paint the bedroom. It took a really long time. Plus we had to take apart the bed and move out all the furniture and then move it all back in the same day, since it's our bedroom and we don't have anywhere else to sleep. But as soon as it was done and we'd gotten a good night's sleep, it felt totally worth it.

A reminder of the before:

Please ignore the reflection in the mirror of me taking this photo...

And the after (granted, these are pictures at the conclusion of the bedroom makeover so way more has changed than the paint, but the paint is a big part of the transformation):

So there you have it. We may never paint again (except when we move out - I think we might be able to get away with just painting the yellow wall gray so the whole room is light gray...), but I'm so glad we put in the effort this time!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

From the archives: 100% free art, and 100% awesome magazine rack

While sometimes it's totally worth it to make an investment in a nice piece of furniture or art, most of the time I say the cheaper the better. And it doesn't get much cheaper, or better, than free.

I was walking home from work over the summer and noticed four fairly large framed canvasses sitting on the sidewalk. People are often leaving things out that are totally trash (a futon that's been sitting out in the rain for three days; a giant flat screen tv with a shattered display; a desk with two legs), so usually I eye things suspiciously and then keep moving. But these caught my eye - though they were four totally banal matching green and white abstract prints, I thought at the very least I could put them up in my office on some empty wall space. That's kind of why banal art was invented. So I stuck two under each arm and shuffled home.

Then they sat in the den for a few months while I procrastinated at the thought of having to carry them to work. They're pretty unwieldy, it's over a mile, this was August in Boston, and it's a bummer showing up for work drenched in sweat. But I'm glad I delayed so long, because one day I thought: hmmmm, maybe I should actually keep them here because I have some empty space on a wall in the den, and maybe I should do something really colorful because the den is kind of eclectic-rainbowy unlike the rest of the rooms in our place that have more defined color schemes (bedroom = gray and yellow, living room = turquoise, brown, and green). So I decided to embrace the themes of "color" and "free" and raid the paint chip section of the hardware store. I was of course very smooth about it, definitely not glancing nervously over my shoulder while stuffing hundreds of paint chip strips in my purse.

Next I spent several hours gluing the paint strips to the canvasses (after playing around for a little bit trying to figure out how to trim and space them so they'd all fit evenly), just following the exact order they came in. I let the glue dry for a bit, leaving the canvasses on the floor to confuse the cat. Then I screwed a pair of triangle hooks to the back of each frame, got methodical with a ruler, pencil, and level, and hung them up over my desk. Instant love.

Basically, each canvass has three rows of paint chip strips, with the second and third rows just increasingly more muted versions of the colors in the first row (ie the top row was, say, colors "A-30 through A-45," the middle row was "B-30 through B-45" where B has a little more black mixed in with each base, and the bottom row was "C-30 through C-45" which was a little darker still. The numbering made it really easy to arrange things perfectly). [Note: a few of the strips ended up looking a little uneven in terms of how they line up next to one another, so I actually ripped those ones out and replaced them after I took the photos because it was driving me crazy.]

From the side. I like the depth of the frames.

The day after I made them, my dad and Joss came to town to see a Sox game with us, and brought us the magazine rack my dad had been building for me. He's super talented in an actual "craftsmanship" way - making furniture is pretty impressive. I'd suggested I would love a magazine rack a little while ago, so he took some measurements and then voila, turned up with a beautiful magazine rack (it can be disassembled really easily, which is great for us when we anticipate moving at least a few more times in the coming years). I put it in the den, right next to the lovely book shelf he made me a few years earlier. What a dad! Also note the sewing machine, from my mom. What a mom!

I love the color it adds to the room too. You can see the corner of the turquoise dresser along the adjoining wall, and the wall to the left that you can't see is where my desk and paint chip art are. Next to the dresser (out of the picture, but shown below) is our white IKEA Expedit bookshelf, where I rearranged all the books by color (the picture is just the top half of the bookshelf - purple and some more blue and white are on the bottom). Fun fact: green books seemed to be the least common in our collection. Second fun fact: color is not the most convenient way to organize books. But it's so pretty!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

NEW: Bedroom makeover complete (for now)!

At long last, I wrapped up the final project in my bedroom makeover extravaganza. The room was in need of some serious attention - it's the only room in the house that company doesn't tend to see, which means that until recently I hadn't put very much work into it and we'd made matters worse by using it to store any furniture that didn't look good elsewhere. And yet it's the last thing I'd look at every night before going to bed, and it made me sad. So over the summer, I started to make a few small changes, including making some matching bedside lamps and a gallery wall. The gallery wall somehow segued into painting the bedroom - Sam and I decided that the white frames on a white wall didn't look all that great and I didn't feel like repainting the frames, so we decided to paint the room instead. Which was approximately 500 times more difficult than repainting the frames would have been, but it was so worth it. I also sewed some new curtains to match the new color scheme. Then there was a brief period of calm (~4 months) where I basked in the glory of the changes we'd made, until I decided I was still dissatisfied with a bunch of things and went on a makeover part 2 spree over the holidays. It included rearranging a bunch of furniture, painting and stenciling an armoire, making some new art, sewing some throw pillows, and sewing a new duvet cover. So, without further ado, here are some pictures of all the various elements. I'll devote future posts to explaining how I went about each individual project.

First, the requisite "before" picture. This is what the room looked like in July. It's painful on so many levels.

Note: I had already done the matching lamps at this point. Again, more detail on each individual project in future posts.

Then we painted! The back wall is yellow (which is what you're facing when you walk in the door), the other three are gray. And I made new curtains for this window and the one on the wall to the left of the bed (out of shower curtains, which I have concluded are awesome for fun curtains because there are so many playful patterns and colors).

You can see the gray walls in the photo below. And the gallery wall, though it's very much in-progress in this photo (ie I've changed it up a bit since then). This is the wall that's at the foot of the bed, opposite the yellow wall.

Then I was kind of complacent for awhile, until I worked myself into a frenzy over the holidays. I had four days in Boston with no work, what else was I going to do?

First I painted the brown armoire that came with our apartment (because the bedroom closet is only big enough for one person). I'd been resisting doing anything with it (besides putting on some white contact paper as door panels to lighten it up a little) since we don't own it and I didn't want to spend too much energy on it. But I couldn't handle how dark the room was anymore - we have some lovely wood dressers that are family heirlooms, I didn't need some giant laminate monstrosity overshadowing those. So I painted it white, then applied some stenciling by hand. First, a reminder of the before (yes, those are my teddy bears, Tina and Oliver):

The after is probably one of my favorites to-date. Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

I also found some great yellow and gray fabric and made a few throw pillows, plus embroidered another one.

I also decided I wanted to add some art on either side of the window behind the bed, and got the idea to try something with doilies because I thought they might lend a cool pattern. Fortunately the idea came to me while I was in VT over the holidays, and I was able to find some in the basement of Mom's and Fred's house, which is just about the best place to go shopping for home goods. Thank you to both for letting me take doilies that came from both their moms! I also hung some Christmas tree lights behind the white sheer curtains, I love the sparkle. Lastly, I sewed a pin-tucked duvet cover out of flat sheets. I wanted something white with a little texture, and thought this was an interesting approach.

The dressers used to be at the foot of the bed, but I moved them to the side wall (the newly-painted armoire and oldly-painted jewelry armoire - which I did last fall - took their place). The sunburst mirror I made last spring and had hanging in my office, but it felt like the perfect size, shape, and color for this space so I brought it home. Now I stare at a blank wall all day long at work (ok, mostly I stare at a computer screen, I promise I'm not just looking at my wall all day), but when I go to bed at night I can look to this on my left and smile.

This is the gallery wall as it currently stands. I moved the jewelry board (where I hang my earrings) along with the jewelry armoire, so it's kind of part of the gallery wall now. I'll zoom in on the individual pieces and write about their significance (and how I made the ones I did) in a future post. I definitely plan to add to it over time, which is one thing I like about this approach rather than a more rigid layout.

Lastly, I added a hook to the outside of the bedroom door (which you see when you're in our den/the rest of the apartment), which Anneke gave me for Christmas. I hung some of my favorite scarves from it.

Close up on the hook.

So I think that about sums it up! Of course, I can't wait to chat your ears off (or write your eyes off?) in future posts about the details of each of the many individual projects that went into it. I'm pretty happy with where things stand now, though I've already got some tinkering/additions planned (mostly to add a few splashes of color, since things are pretty yellow, gray, and white right now). My name is Sage, and apparently I'm a diy addict.

Monday, February 6, 2012

NEW: wine cork board

If you've spent time with me in the last few months, you've likely experienced me asking "can I keep the cork?" after we pop a bottle of wine (the underlying assumption here is that if you've spent time with me in the last few months, we've likely enjoyed a bottle of wine together). Well, I finally decided I had enough corks hoarded and finished my project. The ratio of time spent supply collecting (~4 months) to the time spent doing the project (~10 minutes) is one of the most extreme to date.

So what I actually did with them isn't all that creative: I made a corkboard. Out of corks. How obvious. But I do like the fact that I'm using the cork strip to hang bibs from races Sam and I have done (we have to remember to start saving them, though, we only had a few I could find besides the marathon and half marathon ones, which I framed to celebrate my super impressive fella'). The juxtaposition of the race bibs and all the wine drinking implied by the homemade corkboard entertains me.

I already had a handful saved up to make these little name cards for when we hosted Thanksgiving:

(Of course, all these are pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of our family members, they might not be ready to be thrust into the public spotlight by this blog)

Then I just kept collecting them and stashing them in a not-currently-on-display vase in my "craft closet" until I thought I had enough:

Enough = the right length to cover two paint stirrers I had left over from the sunburst mirror project. First I laid all the corks out in a column, making sure to alternate them directionally (since they're a little wedge-shaped) and have the label facing up.

I stapled the two paint-stirrers end-on-end with my staple gun (one of my favorite tools) to join them. Then I just ran a few thin lines of wood glue down the length of the paint stirrers and transferred each cork to rest on top in the order I'd laid out. Wood glue takes a little while to dry, so I had time to make any adjustments as needed (unlike hot glue, which dries really quickly so you have to get it right the first time but then you don't have to pace around impatiently). Then I let it dry overnight, attached some mounting strips (these things) to the back of the stirrers (I could have used brackets and a nail if I had something the right size on hand, but I opened the craft closet door and the mounting strips were sitting right there...), and pressed them onto the wall next to the shadow boxes where I've framed bibs, medals, and pictures from Sam's half marathon and his marathon/my dad's and my 10K. What can I say, I'm a proud girlfriend.

Then I tacked on the few other race bibs I could find. Of course as we add more over time the whole "this is made of wine corks" thing will no longer be obvious (because they'll all be covered up), but I'll cross that bridge when we come to it. That's probably a long ways off....

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From the archives: Faux fireplace, and a year in mantles

Our apartment has a lovely "faux fireplace." Though it may more aptly be called "a mantle," because as far as I can tell it's just a wood mantle mounted on an otherwise normal wall. As in no inset, no tiling on the ground, nothing to really suggest there's any way a real fire could be involved, etc. The trim that runs around the bottom of all the walls even continues right through the "fireplace."

For awhile we kept various pieces of furniture in front of it - we couldn't seem to avoid putting something there regardless of how we rearranged (please ignore the fact that there's nothing in front of it in the above photo - I moved a chair to take the picture). Eventually I got fed up with how crowded it felt, though, and sold off a chair on craigslist (from whence it had come just six months earlier...) and moved a chest to the bedroom (where we pretty much put everything that doesn't fit in the rest of the apartment - hence the need for the current bedroom reorganization).

With the "fireplace" more visible, I felt like I should really do something with it. Per my typical "creative process," much internet searching of the term "faux fireplace" ensued. (That was a lot of quotation marks in one sentence.)

Some options surfaced, but nothing that quite fit the bill:

Bricks? A wee bit too permanent for a rental.

Tiling, a la this inspiring photo from my friend's house? Also maybe a little too permanent. (She owns her own home. Living the dream...)

(Yup, I take pictures of things in other people's houses that I want to replicate.)

Something decorative on the floor, like candles? There's a vent that pretty much heats our whole living space, so we can't cover that or put anything meltable near it.

But then I came upon something amazing:

Jamiescott, I don't know who you are, but you are a genius (

For those of you who can't tell, that's a chalkboard, with a fireplace drawn on it. Not as elegant as an actual fireplace with real flames and the ability to generate heat, but that wasn't ever a possibility. This is the only project that made me say "that's awesome," as opposed to "that's a creative way to cope with the heartbreaking reality that your fireplace is actually A MANTLE GLUED TO A WALL."

So I purchased myself some chalkboard paint, slapped on a few coats, (im)patiently waited for it to "cure" (several agonizing days), and then tried my hand at a chalk drawing of a fire.

Yeah, I'm not the most artistically inclined, so if anyone more talented wants to come over and redraw my fire that would be lovely. Because that's what's so wonderful about it: I can just wipe it with a wet cloth and it's literally a "clean slate." Also, I used "chalk pens," which are bolder than actual chalk but wipe off just the same - the regular chalk was too muted.

[Note: At this point, you might be saying: "But Sage, that doesn't just look like you were 'inspired' by that other person's chalkboard fireplace, that looks like 'plagiarism.'" To which I would respond: "Correct."]

So there you have it, a faux fireplace transformation. But I figured while we're on the topic of my mantle, I'd just show a few quick shots of the various ways this space in my apartment has evolved in the past year. I'm not actually much of a "change the decor with the seasons" person, but my mantle seems to be the exception.

It's spring!

I wanted a large mirror, but such things typically = way expensive. I found an "extra wide" door mirror on craigslist, then painted it with "champagne" acrylic craft paint. The clock and candle sticks I got at Goodwill and spray-painted silver (and the trim on the clock I painted gray). For a spring/summer feel, I added a bowl of fruit and some lilacs. My favorite flower....
(The vase and glass bowl are also from Goodwill.)

For fall
I added some fall artwork (a print of autumn in Vermont, a leaf I found on the sidewalk and framed in a frame that I...also found on the sidewalk! Yep, in a box on the curb on the walk home from work. I feel like that rarely happens in Boston). The blue mason jars were just jars I saved from pasta sauce and such and then painted with blue food coloring mixed with elmer's glue. Very high design. There are two blue glass candle holders (from Goodwill) mixed in. On the far left are the "faux craspedia" I made out of felt - very fitting for my "faux fireplace." A close up:

"That can't be how the pros do it" tip: the vase is filled with rice to keep the stems (made of wire) in the right place (otherwise they'd just flop everywhere). I thought of rice because it's generally the right consistency, and is pretty cheap to buy in bulk at the grocery store (it's a pretty big vase, though it's kind of hard to tell scale in the photo).

And the holidays! (at my home we celebrate Christmas and Solstice)

A little closer to examine the items on the mantle:
The stockings I bought last year from "personal," embroidered with our names. Darn, I guess our anonymity on this blog is shot to hell. I hung holiday cards we received on some red and white yarn I strung up under the mantle. In the vase are some faux sprigs of winter berries (grabbed during a supply run at Jo-Ann fabrics - I just grab everything in sight when I'm there since who knows when I'll next have a car and can go back, and then cram my "craft closet" - formerly a "linen closet" - full of off-season decor...). I replaced the autumn leaf in the frame with a snowflake I made from a coffee filter. The other glass container (Goodwill) I filled with red, silver, and white glass ornaments and some candy canes. Lastly, some lovely candles that were a Christmas present from Beth and Bob. (Can you keep a secret? They're battery operated, but I swear you can't tell even up close, they flicker and everything.)