Thursday, June 28, 2012

Not claiming credit for this one...

I really like living in an old house, because it feels like it has a lot more character than a generic apartment unit. In my opinion, that more than makes up for the age-related flaws (see post about getting locked in our bedroom, for example). As a complement to my bedroom light fail, I thought I'd share one of the favorite features of our apartment. Every time I think about how to upgrade the light fixtures in the bedroom, kitchen, and front hall, I wish I could replicate what we already have in our living room and study. 

The photos don't fully do them justice, but they're these great glass fixtures with lovely ceiling medallions.

Here's the one in the living room:

And in the study:

At night they give off a nice warm glow (which looks less warm in this photo, and more ominous):

Mmmm, I love them. So I have to keep up the standard of overhead lighting in this apartment for any of the updates I do in the other rooms of the house!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bedroom light fail

I figure it's only fair to write about the failures along with the successes. Today I had a lighting failure :(

I wanted to change the lighting situation in the bedroom, since the overhead light is a ceiling fan that we don't use that just looks large and dark in our small bedroom. I didn't want to replace the whole fixture since I know our landlord really likes it (he proudly mentioned having just installed it when we toured the apartment originally). Instead, I thought I'd just unscrew the fan blades and then mount something new around the existing fixture.

So I went from this:

To this:

And then this, when I removed the glass cones around each bulb:

I decided I wanted to make a drum shade to hang around the existing fixture, so I found a few tutorials online and concocted a plan that involved an embroidery hoop, poster board, some fabric (already on hand), and a glue gun.

First, I figured out how deep the drum shade should be (I determined 15", in order to fit over the fixture). I needed about 1.5 piece of posterboard glued together to get the right length to wrap the posterboard around the embroidery hoop). I just glued two pieces together with a hot glue gun to get a long strip that's 15" wide at all points, then trimmed off the excess length.

Then I slowly glued one edge of the posterboard strip around one of the rings of the embroidery hoop, like so:

After gluing the other ring along the other edge, I was left with this cylinder:

Then I covered it with some fabric that I had on hand (from the roman shade project for the living room):

Then I had to figure out how to mount it. I ended up screwing a few small hooks into the ceiling, and then attaching some binder rings I had on hand to the shade that would slip over the ceiling hooks.

Here's where the fail part comes in. The project was successful in a technical sense, but I just don't like the result. The proportions don't feel right -- too long, not wide enough:

It feels like a trash can attached to the ceiling or something. Not exactly what I was going for. Another picture, without the light turned on:

So, I will just have to try try again! Mulling over some possibilities, both for the bedroom light and how to reuse the supplies on another project if I don't end up using them in whatever I end up doing in the bedroom. Oh well, but I guess it's all about the trial and error!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Noticing a theme...

Several of my favorite furniture-painting projects:


The new running clothes I bought at a 20% off sale at City Sports last week:

Yeah...apparently my color palette is pretty predictable. Just thought I'd share.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A new home for the new TV

The theme of this post is patience (the plot is getting a new TV stand). One of the things I've liked about my DIY apartment adventures is that every undertaking is a process, and it requires constant patience to take the time needed to do each piece of it right. I'm the kind of person who likes to get things done. This doesn't always translate to enjoying the actual experience of doing -- I like to cross things off my to-do list, be effective, be efficient. DIY makes me slow down and be patient as the process unfolds -- I can decide I want a new TV stand, but unless I'm just going to go out and buy one, then it's going to take time to make my goal a reality. And all that time spent just makes it even better every time I enjoy looking at/using the completed product in the future. This project was one that really tested my patience on multiple fronts. And now I'm going to test your patience too by writing a really long post about it. So without further ado:

The corner of the living room that houses our TV has been one of the few places I couldn't even think about changing due to our massive tube TV. We bought it on craigslist three years ago for $40, and it's so heavy it actually made our movers dry heave in the stairwell when we moved from Cambridge to Somerville. We knew it would probably never make an apartment move with us again, but in the meantime it was working well enough that we couldn't bring ourselves to upgrade to one of those new, fancy, "you don't need several strong men to lift it" flatscreens that seem to be all the rage these days.

Then it started making a high-pitched whistling noise sometimes kind of, and that was really all the excuse we needed. We found a flatscreen on sale, and made the purchase. It took us another month to actually get the old TV out of our apartment, listing and relisting it on craigslist in a desperate attempt to get someone to come carry it out. FINALLY someone bit, literally just a day before we were about to give up and actually pay $50 for someone to come remove it. (Yes, it was embarrassing to have a TV so large that we couldn't get it out of our own apartment.)

It's hard to see in this photo how big and heavy it actually is, but the screen is about 40" and I swear it extends back about the same distance so it's not only big, but incredible unwieldy:

In any case, we now have this svelt beauty:

With the newfound ability to actually lift the TV, I suddenly felt a pressing desire to deal with the TV corner. The cords. The cat hair that collects in the cords. The brown laminate. The fact that the coffee table sits directly between me on the couch and the cable box such that the remote only works half the time. I know that I'm blessed to have these be the problems in my life, but given that my hobby is trying to make my apartment more functional and beautiful, it jumped to the top of my to-do list.

I discovered that awesome/fun/colorful TV stands are few and far between. That's probably all right in many places, but in a small apartment you've really got to make every inch of space count. This is a whole corner of our living room, I can't handle it being blah much longer. And not only does everything need to count design-wise (or serve some really important function, like say our refrigerator), but a) you have to eek out every opportunity you can get a little extra storage, and b) cramming every corner full of furniture makes the whole place look smaller, so it's good to pick piece that minimize that sense. So, for instance, I had this feeling that getting a TV stand with legs (so you could see the floor) was going to make the corner feel a less crowded, even if it was something that was actually larger than what we currently have.

In any case, I doth blather on enough. Basically I concluded that the perfect piece would be a small dresser in an antique style that I could paint a bold color. I spent about two months checking craigslist every day for such a treasure. It took much longer than I'd hoped, but I refused to get something that didn't match the style and size I wanted. I was about to give up, when finally I spotted it. I emailed. It was still available. Typical email back and forth to find a time for me to pick it up. By that time I had searched long enough to know that needing to pick it up at 9am on Saturday morning was not reason enough to pass. And so it came home with us.

Just dilapidated enough that it was in my price range ($45), and no one else beat me to it

The plan was to sand it, prime it, and paint it a rich coral color. What, not turquoise or robin's egg blue? That's right, I have a little bit of range. A little bit. The living room needed something bold, but warm. But first I needed to do a few things: remove the top two drawers (that's where we'll put our cable box, DVD player, etc), and drill holes in the back for the cords to go through. No more cord messes. I knew I'd confront an issue that I hadn't quite figured out a solution to in advance, which was how to lay down some sort of shelf in lieu of the top drawers for the cable box etc to sit on. I didn't know quite what the situation in there would be (some dressers have grooves down the middle to guide drawers, others have them along the sides, some not at all), so I just planned to play it by ear. In this case, there was just a simple wood strip running down between the two top drawers. Here's a photo looking inside the top section with both top drawers removed:

See how there's just empty space, except for a small amount of framing? So clearly I needed something relatively thin but sturdy to place over these openings and create a shelf. First I pried up that middle wood piece nailed on top of the other middle wood piece (yes, those are the technical woodworking terms), since that didn't seem necessary. I was kind of at a loss since I didn't really want to buy and cut sheets of wood, but then I realized that the drawers I removed were obviously already the right size, so if I could detach the bottom of each drawer that would be the right size for covering each opening.

After inspecting the construction of the drawers, I guessed that if I could pry the right nails out than I'd actually be able to just slide the bottoms of the drawers out without totally dismantling them. Not sure why I felt I needed two intact, bottomless drawers, but I had some vague notion of using them in a future project. Yeah, Sam loves to hear stuff like that. "Honey, where do you think I can store these two bottomless drawers while I think about how I can turn them into an art project of some sort?" "Um, how about the trash area outside?" Actually, he never says that, he just smiles patiently. But I suspect that may be what he's thinking, perhaps while googling diagnostic tests for hoarders. (But I actually used them, not 12 hours later, in my gallery wall update -- in fact, I got so caught up in that project that I get derailed on the TV stand for a few days....)**

In any case, the drawer bottoms fit over the openings perfectly.

I'm not going to show you the step where I drilled holes in the back for cord management, because it was basically the worst DIY ever and it's embarrassing. I used a 1.5" drill bit that I had on hand to drill a bunch of holes and then a saw to cut a larger blobby shape. I was in Vermont just a few weeks ago for my brother's college graduation (congratulations, Ian! read my blog!), and my dad and stepmom were asking if there are new tools I might need. They suggested a dremel, and I was like, "oooh, that does sound intriguing, but what would I use it for?" This. This project is what I would use it for. Anyhoo, it's fine, no one will ever see the holes anyway since they will be blocked by our devices.

Then I removed the hardware (drawer knobs), gave it a light sanding, and applied a coat of primer (zinsser oil-based primer, which eliminates the need to fully sand off the existing finish, I just needed to scruff it up a little). I did two coats of primer on the top since that will get the most wear and tear.

Then it was two four even coats of "Rich Coral" (Ace), using the paint conditioner Floetrol to slow drying time (which reduces the appearance of brush strokes). Yeah, way more coats than I expected (usually two is enough), probably because I did a bad job with the primer in a few spots so the dark wood was still visible. Every time I cut corners, I end up having to spend more time down the road and am reminded that cutting corners is bad. Besides, if I wanted it to be fast, why wouldn't I just cut the biggest corner of all and buy a finished TV stand?

When the paint had dried, I applied a coat of Minwax clear gloss poly to protect the finish. A few final finishing touches included:

1) Removing the wheels from the legs, they didn't roll super well and I'd planned on removing them all along after I finished painting (they were handy during the painting phase, because I could easily paint the legs without them then sticking to the dropcloth). I almost gave up on this step because the wheels weren't coming off as easily as I'd expected and I was afraid I'd break something, but eHow's "How to remove the wheels of an antique dresser" gave me the confidence I needed to finally pry them off.

(before removing the wheels)

2) Putting the drawers pulls back on. I thought about getting new pulls, but I actually really like the way the black pops against the coral. A friend suggested glass pulls, which I'd also been mulling, but sometimes I have to remind myself that a boy lives here and I want him to feel at home in our apartment as well. I already painted the TV stand a variation on pink, I'd better reign myself in on the details.

(The color looks pinker in this photo than it does in person -- it's really more orange-pink)

3) Procuring some attractive contact paper to cover the two pieces of wood (drawer bottoms) I was using to cover the holes in the top (I thought this would be better than painting them the same color as the rest of the dresser):

4) Screwing a small wire basket to the back of the dresser to use for storing the power strip and excess cords -- since the dresser has legs, the whole floor is visible and we can't just stuff all the cords behind it like we did with the old TV stand. I found the basket in the kitchen/storage section of our local hardware store and thought it was perfect for the job.                                                                                                               

And tada, the finished product, in place!


With the TV

The cloth across the top is a lovely scarf that Sam's mom gave me -- I was planning on making a runner for the top with some gray linen fabric, but then I thought how perfectly this scarf complemented the color scheme and couldn't resist.

I love love love it -- the TV is at a better height, the color adds a lot to the living room, and it seems like the perfect size and shape for the space. You're lucky I was even able capture photos, when I first moved it into place I danced around excitedly every time I entered the room. My initial enthusiasm was somewhat tempered, though, by the three hours it took me to move the devices over -- wrangling all their cords without messing anything up, cramming them into the openings while running their cords out the back, getting everything plugged in properly, etc. I'm still excited, but sedated enough to take a steady photo.

Oh, and if there are any furniture history buffs out there reading this: below is the label on the back of the dresser (which I didn't paint). I couldn't find out much about the Caldwell Furniture Company with some basic googling (except discovering that Lenoir, NC was home to a whole lot of furniture manufacturing in the 1900s), but I'd love to know if there's an interesting history!

So that's the story! Good things have come of my patience. This is a project that will make me smile for a long time to come.

** Using the drawer bottoms for this project did mean I had to fabricate some alternative when I used the drawer bottoms on the gallery wall -- it was a highly technical process involving posterboard and pipe cleaners. Don't ask me how the pipe cleaners were involved, things got weird and there was no time for photos.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A foray into food

I'll just say this upfront: this isn't turning into a "design and cooking" blog. Primarily because I don't enjoy cooking that much, though I'm a decent sous chef and a truly fantastic eater. However, Sam and I made homemade cheese this afternoon, and I just had to post about it since it does seem to fall in the DIY realm of "stuff most people buy but we tried our hand at making." We used a cheesemaking kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company that Sam was given for Christmas, which made things quite easy. In about 30 minutes, we made 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, which we then used in lasagna this evening for dinner. Mmmm.

The only ingredients were: 1 gallon milk (cannot be ultra-pasteurized), cool water, citric acid (in the kit), vegetable rennet tablet (also in the kit), and salt. The kit also came with a dairy thermometer, which we needed to heat the milk to precise temperatures at various stages in the process.

First we heated the milk and citric acid, then added the rennet. After letting it sit to cool for ~10 minutes, it had turned into curds and whey! Little Miss Muffet would be so proud.

Here's the master chef in action:

After some more stirring and heating, things seemed to be headed in the right direction:

Then we drained out the whey, and kept heating the curds until they were a single mass and a stretchy consistency like taffy:

Then we simply cooled the final ball in some ice water:

Woah, we made cheese!

There are lots of different ways to finish the cheese -- for instance, we could have formed it into multiple balls or even flattened it and layered on some herbs and prosciutto before rolling it into a log. However, we knew we planned on grating it up for lasagna not long after, so we just made a simple ball. This kit came with enough supplies to make cheese 30 times, so we'll for sure be doing it again. And I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in making cheese (or even people who just love to eat cheese -- it's that easy).

Now it's time to enjoy some lasagna! It's one of the few meals I actually make, it's so delightfully simple. I like to add some sauteed spinach and mushrooms, since I'm trying to get Sam to like mushrooms (while he tries to convince me that onions are not awful). He gets to push his onion agenda more often since he cooks most of the time, so I feel like whenever I do cook I have to incorporate mushrooms. Fortunately lasagna lends itself well.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our very own gallery

The gallery wall in the bedroom will probably always be a work in progress (as I add more art and photos over time), but I just did a reconfiguration/expansion (one of the to-dos on my summer goals list!) and thought I'd share a little write-up with some close ups of what I have so far. Things had stayed pretty constant since I took a first stab at it last summer, using a few frames I had on hand and a bunch more I picked up at Goodwill. Most of them got a few coats of white spray paint, but I kept a few unpainted (gold and silver ones). I used the technique suggested by Young House Love to lay out and hang the gallery wall (cutting out newspaper templates for each frame I had in order to figure out what arrangement looked best). I filled the frames with meaningful items I've saved, as well as a few purchased pieces, a lovely gift from my dad, and some art I made.

Here's where things stood up until this weekend:

I liked a lot of things about it, but it didn't have quite the right look -- it seemed a little too small, and a little too jumbled. So I decided to expand it, swap out a few of the prints, paint some of the non-white frames white, and switch out the mats on a few pieces to make it look more cohesive.

Here's what it looks like now:

I really like the change up. One of the biggest things I did was add two antique dresser drawers (left over from the TV stand project I'm working on, and hope to post about soon), which I painted white and hung in the middle of the wall sort of like shadowboxes. Below are some close-ups on all the various pieces.

I framed a few pictures from some of our favorite vacations. Clockwise starting in the top left: Napa Valley, CA; Portland, OR; Peabody Pond, ME; and Cancun, Mexico.

These are the drawers. I had an old calendar of vintage maps, and I cut out two of the pages to use as a backing for each. Maps are pretty overplayed in the design world these days, but I have an actual interest in maps (plus an obsession with calendars...), so I don't feel like I'm just mindlessly jumping on the bandwagon. Sitting on the bottom shelf is a decorative miniature teapot that my mom gave me because she knows I love turquoise. Next to it are some tiny figurines from various travels -- a little blue turtle from Panama, a platypus from Australia, and another carved wooden turtle from Panama. On the second shelf is just a simple blue bottle I found at Goodwill -- it seems I really can't get enough turquoise.

A Panamanian flag I bought when I was studying abroad (this is one of the frames I just repainted -- it was silver before)

A Valentine's Day/Anniversary card from Sam

In the top left is is a scrap of fabric from a dress my mom sewed me when I was little. Next to it is a card my mom gave me -- it's a dolphin balancing a sea turtle on its nose. Giggle. Below that are some photos of me and Sam, one from when we went camping the first summer we were dating and one from our trip to the West Coast last summer. On the far right is another card from my mom (I have boxes full of old case you can't tell, I'm kind of sentimental like that).

This is a print that Sam bought. This past weekend I swapped out the mat -- it was previously more of a yellow/cream color, and I wanted something whiter. Unfortunately, I cracked the glass in the process, so I'll have to buy a replacement.

The top frame has tickets from three Red Sox games we've been to. Below that is a print that my dad gave me for Christmas one year -- a gorgeous watercolor by Deborah Holmes. Yep, I firmly believe I grew up in one of the most beautiful places ever!

This is a print I bought from one of my favorite artists on Etsy (Erin McNulty). I've bought a bunch of things from her in the last few years - everything she does makes me smile! I've got a thing for cardinals -- it's the Wesleyan mascot. 

A photo that Sam's dad took of Sam, me, and my dad walking in Hartford, CT as the sun rises on the way to our race there last fall -- Sam ran a full marathon, and my dad and I each ran 10K legs of a relay. It was a really nice weekend with our dads, and I'm so glad Phil was there to capture so many amazing moments for posterity!

On the top, a scrap of fabric from the chair upholstery project I did. Below that is card that I saved. It reads "Vermont: 9 months of winter, 3 months of bad skiing." Heehee. But really it's more like 6 months of winter, 1 month of mud, 3 months of ungodly humidity and mosquitos, and 2 months of tourists peeping at our leaves.

A print I made. Mr. Darcy, you make me swoon. The light switch cover is part of a set my brother gave me when I moved to Boston -- they're Vermont-themed, he said to help me take a piece of VT with me to my new city. What a sweetie. Plus it's a cardinal, double points.

This I made from the paint chip strips I collected for the bedroom painting project. I just cut out relatively equal rectangles from a bunch of the paint chips and glued them to a white piece of paper.

This one I made using an old atlas. I picked six places that are special to me and Sam: Beijing, where Sam lived abroad (Peking on the atlas I was using -- how vintage!); Boston, where we live now; Middlebury, VT where I was born and raised; Middletown, CT where we went to college and started dating; Harleysville, PA where Sam grew up; and Australia, where my dad, brother, and I lived for six months in 1999. Not only are these places that make me smile to think about, but as mentioned I like maps and am a big believer in how major a role the places we live play in shaping who we are.

So that's the gallery wall as it currently stands! It's definitely on the sentimental/mushy side -- I'm a little bit of a romantic, I admit. This is the wall we face when sitting in bed, and I just love to have so many meaningful things from different parts of our lives collected in one place. And I look forward to continuing to add to it!