Girl’s Room Progress: Almost there!

One of my goals this summer was to get the big kids’ rooms painted, reorganized and (moderately) redecorated. The pace is slow, but in the past two weeks I’ve made good progress on Miss Seven’s room. Thanks to a loose kid exchange arrangement I have with some friends, I took advantage of a few hours while all the kids were out bowling to start painting. (Just going to Home Depot all by myself to buy the paint was a huge bonus.)

Two days and two coats of paint later, we went from Calamine pink to Spa blue. I removed the broken roller shades and faded curtains and replaced them with some blackout curtains in a turquoise that I wasn’t sure I’d like, but Miss Seven picked them out at Target. We added some sheers for softness, and it turns out I like them fine.

I spray painted an old lamp and lampshade (inspired by this lamp from Land of Nod) with the rest of the can of paint I used on her desk chair a few years ago.

A trip to Ikea netted some organizers for over the desk and new bedding. The hanging rails for her art supplies are really working well. They keep everything organized, visible and in reach, but off the surface of the desk, so she has space to work. The desk has plenty of drawers, but expecting a six or seven-year-old to actually put things away in the drawers is apparently too much. I added a couple of magazine files for her to store paper–one for blank paper, one for works finished or in progress. She’s kept her desk clean all week! I’m certain that’s a record. She still needs a decent desk lamp. That little flower lamp isn’t much more than a night light.

Still to be completed:

A new bed frame and night stand. We had an old headboard propped up behind her bed, and I had rigged a slipcover for it out of a cheap quilted comforter. Honestly, the comforter looked as cheap as it was. I’ve been scouring Craigslist for other options, but we’ve settled on this bed from Ikea. Miss Seven really likes it, and it costs less than most second-hand beds. A freestanding bed frame will allow us to pull the bed away from the window a few inches, but still give her something to lean against when reading in bed.

Her current night stand is one of those little wobbly decorator tables. I’m on the hunt for something sturdier with some more surface area and a little storage.

I need to hang her little canopy above this cushiony corner that will serve as a reading nook and hideout. I priced beanbags and looked at cushion sewing tutorials, but settled on a dog bed–it’s just a big floor pillow–in a cute fabric on clearance at Home Goods. We don’t have a dog, but the cat seems to like it.

Finally, I need to hang up all her artwork, a big pinboard, and shelves to display her treasures. That bin next to the bookshelf is full of all the stuff waiting to go back on the walls. Maybe this weekend…

If you’re interested, here’s the link to my inspiration board on Pinterest. I was most inspired by this room designed by Emily Henderson. It’s not a slavish copy, but the color palette is pretty close and there’s a similar mix of textures and eclectic furniture. I’m sure Miss Seven doesn’t care where the inspiration came from, but I love nearly all of Emily’s rooms and it has been fun to try to recreate this room from her example.

Do you ever try to copy a designer room in your own home?

Linking up to Emily A. Clark’s Kids’ Spaces Link Up! Check out all the links to some really fun kids’ rooms!

Closet door to computer desk

It’s taken a couple months, but I finally completed another project on my list.

We had our desktop computer, the one the kids use the most, in a small computer armoire in the living room. I had come to loathe it. The doors didn’t latch properly anymore, the keyboard tray glides had lost all their ball bearings, dust and trash collected behind the monitor, and the extra storage cubbies just stored things that we forgot about and obviously didn’t need (old holiday cards, obsolete computer software, empty printer cartridges…). And if someone actually needed to do some work at the computer (it does happen once in a while), there was no desk surface on which to spread books and materials.

I wanted a new desk, very simple, with no drawers or cubbies that could collect junk. Being me, I didn’t want to spend much money. Also, I have a garage full of old hollow core closet doors just waiting for a project.

I did buy some trestle legs from Ikea, but that was my only investment. I chose one of the narrower doors in my stash and used some Citri-Strip gel to remove the paint from the side edges. Then I used my jigsaw to cut the door to the length that would fit between the wall and the window in the living room corner. I had to use a little wood filler where the veneer started to chip off.

I sanded the whole thing and applied two coats of Minwax Wood Finish in Ebony. When it was dry, I coated the door in paste wax and buffed it until it was shiny.

But remember–this was a hollow core door, so when I shortened it, I lost the finished edge on one end. The other end wasn’t looking too great, either. I scrounged up a couple of 1″ x 2″ pieces of primed MDF in the garage left from some other project and spray painted them with some oil-rubbed bronze. I was just lucky that the color matched the stain really well. I nailed the pieces as best I could to the ends of the door, and that was that.

This is no polished piece of carpentry.

But you know what? I don’t mind. From a distance, it looks nice. “Like it came from West Elm!” cheered the Hub. (You can see why I keep him around.) A box to store the kids’ headphones (essential so that I don’t have to listen to Minecraft sound effects, episodes of iCarly, or Curious George games) and a pencil cup is all the storage we need. I was going to hang a small memo board to post computer-related reminders (user names and URLs), but I might just keep a little notebook in the box instead.

The one problem I haven’t solved is cord wrangling. I suppose I could do a better job of tidying up the extra lengths of cable and power cords. I’ve seen a few people hide the power strip and modem in a decorative box, but somehow that seems like a fire hazard to me.

I’ve already noticed that it’s easier for two kids to pull up chairs and play together. (Mr. Ten has been giving Miss Seven lessons in Minecraft.) It’s been three days, and the area has stayed nice and tidy. I even found a spot to hang my map plates that wouldn’t fit in the dining room. And if the new desktop doesn’t withstand the abuse it’s sure to suffer, at least I didn’t spend any money on it.

What would you make with old door?

Revisiting my New Year’s Resolutions

End-of-year pile of artwork

End-of-year pile of artwork

Today is the last day of school for Miss Seven and Mr. Ten. It’s not even June! And it seems a very long time until August. (Though when I look at my calendar, it’s clear we won’t be sitting at home with nothing to do.) I thought it might be a good time to revisit my New Year’s Resolutions, see what we’ve accomplished, and make a plan for what I might tackle over the summer months.

2013 Resolutions

  • Paint and paper the kids’ bathroom; replace the shoe moulding; add floating shelves (bonus points: raise the light fixture and frame the mirror)
  • Organize the tools in the garage
  • Clean out the laundry room
  • Replace the computer armoire with a simple desk in the living room (maybe a DIY with an old door and some IKEA table legs)
  • Continue the landscaping project–at the very least, the vegetable garden and compost pile
  • Spackle and touch up/finish paint all over the house
  • Figure out two comfortable reading chairs and lighting in the living room
  • Refinish or paint the extra kitchen barstools
  • Cut down the rest of the old shrubs around the driveway (just one left by the lamp post)
  • Patch the concrete under the garage door
  • Organize basement sewing area and kids’ craft area
  • Paint, refinish dresser and redecorate Miss Seven’s room
Our growing veggie plot! I am now addicted to freshly picked lettuce.

Our growing veggie plot! I am now addicted to freshly picked lettuce.

After five months, I guess that’s not too bad. Add the powder room makeover, which wasn’t even on the list, and I feel pretty good about our progress. I have all the supplies for the computer desk project–now I just need to DO it.

As I look at the list, I realize those extra kitchen barstools aren’t really a priority. Since I found a place for them in the pantry, I don’t have to look at them when we’re not using them. In my mind, I’ve added Mr. Ten’s room to the list. After seeing the redecorating plans for Miss Seven’s room, he decided he is also ready for a new look. We’re going to repaint, get him a tall bookcase and maybe a reading chair, rearrange the furniture, and generally declutter. He’s picked out a cool gray-blue color called “Ozone” for the walls, which should take him into the teen years without needing another big change.

Here's hoping that if we move it away from the wall, it might be easier to make the bed.

Here’s hoping that if we move it away from the wall, it might be easier to make the bed.

So what’s at the top of my summer list?

  1. Assemble the new computer desk already! (And probably add some wall shelving above it.)
  2. Paint both kids’ rooms.
  3. Landscaping: repair and replant grass in the front yard, and add some new plants in front of the porch.
  4. Organize tools in the garage.
  5. Patch the concrete under the garage door.
This grass needs help.

This grass needs help.

That feels plenty ambitious for one summer! My goal for today is to strip the paint off the door that will serve as the top of the computer desk. This weekend, weather permitting, we hope to work on the yard a little.

What summer projects are on your list this year?

Powder room makeover

For once, I started and finished an entire project in the same week, instead of letting it drag on for weeks on end, while we trip over tools and supplies cluttering the spaces around my project. How? Little Five went on vacation to his grandparents’ house for the week.

Though I’ve missed him, it has been interesting to experience a little of what life will be like in a couple more years, when I don’t have a preschooler at home any more. I was able to take off on a spontaneous bike ride with Miss Seven, leaving Mr. Ten at home, without worrying whether someone was keeping an eye on little brother. We all went to Target and spent at least an hour browsing without anyone having a meltdown. On Monday I ran three different errands at different times of day without packing a snack in my purse or planning an exit strategy. The family room has remained tidy all week.

I had an ambitious list for this week, and certainly haven’t accomplished everything on it. No doubt I could have gotten more done if I hadn’t discovered a trove of Doc Martin fanfic on the internet. But after that trip to Target, where we found new hand towels and a rug, I decided to focus on the powder room. First I finished painting the honey oak door and baseboards white. I wiped all the wood down with liquid deglosser (bad news for my party manicure–now I’m back to my normal paint-splattered look) and then brushed on three coats of semi-gloss paint & primer.

I hadn’t yet committed to a wall color, though for months I’d been contemplating a paint chip of Martha Stewart’s “Plumage,” a dark teal. But in a tiny room with no natural light, I just couldn’t commit to painting the entire room such a dark color. Taking a cue from the colors in the new hand towels, I chose a pale silvery gray called “Cumulus Cloud,” and bought a little tester pot of “Plumage” to paint just the wall above the sink.

I’m so pleased with the results. I really like the wall color, and I love how the clean white paint on the trim and door freshens up the room. The oak baseboards had gotten so grimy I couldn’t scrub them clean. And you know what makes a huge difference? Caulk, that’s what. I got so crazy with the caulk gun, I caulked along all the baseboards in the foyer that I painted last year.

While I had the white paint out, I finally painted the edges of the pantry and basement doors. Funny how those little details go so far in making the house feel finished.

What project would you tackle if you had a week of free time?

How to refinish a dresser, the not-quite-perfect way

This was the scene in Miss Seven’s room a couple of months ago. We had moved my old dresser out of the master bedroom and into her room, because she (and her clothes) had outgrown her smaller dresser. Unfortunately, her immediate reaction was, “I don’t want an ugly brown dresser!” Knowing her, she’d refuse to get dressed in the morning if her clothes were housed in something BROWN. You haven’t seen stubborn until you’ve seen her little lips pinched into a tight line, usually accompanied by a brief but emphatic, “UNH, unh!”

Fine, I said. You can’t really tell in the picture, but the finish had seen better days. It was scratched, scuffed and generally dinged up. I didn’t want to paint it–see all those interesting wood grains? I decided a colored stain would be a happy medium. Miss Seven picked out a stain color (Sangria by Minwax), and then winter came and the project stalled.

Eventually, the Hub and I carted the dresser downstairs and out to the garage, where I coated it in Citristrip. Lesson #1: Do not cover the whole piece in stripper if you don’t have time to scrape it all off the same day.

That dried-on drippy gunk is a combination of stripper and old varnish, and it required a lot of elbow grease to remove with countless wads of steel wool dipped in more stripper. Elbow grease applied in short bursts over several weeks.

After stripping as much as I could without going crazy (I didn’t get too picky about getting every last nook and cranny in those carved areas–that extra patina gives it character, right?), I sanded a little, wiped everything down with a tack cloth, and then brushed on some Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner.

Two coats of stain (this was the fun part), and then some Paste Finishing Wax (which I much prefer to polyurethane as a protective finish). Lesson #2: A dark-colored stain covers a multitude of sins. I even dug out some gold paint and applied it with a tiny paintbrush to the outline on the three bottom drawers.

I soaked all the formerly blackened drawer handles in Jules’ homemade brass cleaner, which restored the brass finish nicely. Miss Seven helped me reattach all the handles, vacuum out the drawers (after all those weeks in the garage, we had a nice spider collection), and carry them to the foot of the stairs. The Hub and I hoisted the dresser back up the stairs into her room, and we had a quick and dirty session sorting all her clothes into their new drawers (and filling yet another bag of outgrown clothes to pass on).

It’s hard to get a good sense of the true color in these photos. The one above looks a little browner than it really is. The photo below looks a little more accurate.

We are all happy with the result. It is purple enough for Miss Seven, but not too purple for me. I think it will stand out nicely once we repaint her walls from pink to a pale aqua. And as for her old dresser, I already sold it on Craigslist and got it out of the garage.

The Garden Project, Part Whatever

So much to do, so little time. However, with a few days of really nice weather and a little help from Mom and Dad, we knocked out some yard work in the past couple of weeks. Stuff we’ve accomplished:

  • power washed the siding and shutters on the front of the house
  • raked the front lawn (lots of dead grass and pine needles)
  • tilled the front flower bed where the old tree and hedge used to be
  • dug up weeds and grass in the bed alongside the driveway in preparation for grass seed
  • transplanted some hostas and sedum
  • assembled and filled two raised beds, planted vegetables and strawberries
  • dug up all the diseased rose bushes
  • mowed the lawn
  • cut down some overgrown shrubbery

Whew! What to do next?

  • rent a core aerator for the front lawn
  • over seed the front lawn
  • redraw the borders of the front flower bed and sow grass seed where necessary
  • buy and plant boxwoods along the porch
  • plant some annuals
  • mulch everywhere
  • sow some more spinach
  • prepare soil for summer garden crops like tomatoes

Today, though, I’m not going to do anything in the garden but watch my little plants grow. See the little radishes peeping through?

I’m finally making good progress refinishing Miss Seven’s dresser, and I’d like to get it finished in time for her First Communion in nine days. It’s obviously not essential to the celebration–she just needs the extra storage for her clothes so that her room doesn’t look like someone tossed the contents of a laundry basket in the air and let them fall where they may. I’d also like to get the dresser out of the garage so we can park the other car there again. I need a convenient deadline, so First Communion it is.



Why yes, I am staining this dresser purple. (Sangria, actually.)

The Garden Project: Ordering seeds

The snow has finally melted, the sun is shining, and I can see blue sky out my dirty windows. The daffodils are inching their way up. Spring is whispering in my ear. It ought to be saying, “Get on with the spring cleaning already,” but instead it’s telling me, “Plant a garden!” One morning last week, before coffee even, I ordered seeds and–on a whim–strawberry plants. I found that Home Depot has some reasonably priced raised bed kits that are in stock at my local store. There is still plenty of work in the back yard that requires the professionals, but I don’t want to wait until everything is perfect (that could be a long wait) before we start growing some vegetables this year. Right now I have a sunny spot that is clear and seeds on the way, so I have to make it happen!

I have no gardening expertise. A few times in years past we have planted a handful of vegetables, with mixed results. I am trying to start small this year so I don’t get in over my head. (“Baby steps, Bob!”) I’m not starting seeds indoors. I chose my seeds based on what the almanac tells me I can sow directly into the ground in March and April. I bought lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, sugar snap peas, basil, parsley and beets. I plan to set up two four foot square beds, one with some trellis at the back for the peas, and see how it goes. Later in the spring, I hope to add some tomato plants, and maybe cucumber and squash.

In other landscaping news, we had our big tree and the remaining hedge cut down. We took advantage of a city program tree trimming program that gave us a reduced rate.



We are still waiting for the crew to return and grind out all the stumps. The front of the house looks dreadfully bare right now, and you can see all the pine needles the tree left in the gutter.



But thanks to Dig Right In, we have a beautiful plan to work from, and once the stumps are gone, I plan to work on amending the soil and adding some new plants in front of the porch.



I’m calling it officially Spring!


Are you making any plans for your outdoor spaces this spring?

Choosing busy

I read a blog post the other day about how people should stop complaining about being too busy, and just slow down. While I read the post, I found myself agreeing with it. I don’t like to be so busy. I don’t thrive on dashing from one activity to another. I’d like nothing more than a few uninterrupted days of NOTHING. Time to read a book or three, watch a movie, fiddle with a DIY project, work a little in the yard (if it ever warms up again, O Snow on the First Day of Spring). But then I started to feel guilty about the busy-ness in my life, and now I resent that article for making me resent (more) the many claims on my time and attention.

I say no to a lot of things. No to PTA meetings, no to chaperoning field trips, no to scouting and soccer and Little League. No to joining a second choir, no to Wednesday night club meetings. But there are still so many things I can’t opt out of–and wouldn’t want to–and it doesn’t do much good to anyone to resent the time they take.

Cooking dinner, doing laundry, helping with homework, sweeping up the crumbs, writing. Junior high band festivals, supervising snow fort construction, book signings with a favorite author. It’s all about choices.

Yesterday I said no to folding the mountain of clean clothes in favor of finishing the paint job in the bathroom. Little Five spent some quality time with Curious George and PBS Kids, and I spent an hour and a half painting the baseboards and giving the beadboard wallpaper a second coat of paint.

Today I skipped emptying the dishwasher, and instead framed and hung the kids’ artwork. Later this afternoon I’ll say no to folding clothes again and say yes to a playdate. But at least the bathroom is complete.

Prepping for progress

So much life and work has been happening in the past week. Along with so many of you, I haven’t had much uninterrupted time to spend working on home projects. Little Five had two days off from preschool, the Hub was slammed with a tidal wave of work, and then we had the Big Snow. Even though I couldn’t get to them, two projects have lingered on my mental list: finish the kids’ bathroom, and make the computer desk for the living room.

I know I already shared photos of the nearly complete bathroom, but I’ve discovered that the beadboard wallpaper definitely needs a second coat of paint to (hopefully) protect it from little dings and gouges. The baseboards still need two coats of paint. I’ve yet to frame and hang the artwork on the empty wall. The tools and the register cover are still hanging out on the floor in the hall.

If anything, this week of busy-ness has demonstrated how useful that new desk is going to be. After the 8 or 10 inches of snow we received on Tuesday, the Hub decided to work from home on Wednesday. He took my laptop and settled at the desk in the master bedroom, which is is the most private workspace in our house. I took my work (blogging and working on a grant application for the nonprofit organization on whose board I sit) and worked at the desktop computer in the living room. I’ve complained before about the computer armoire–how the kids stash their garbage behind the monitor, how the doors refuse to stay closed and the pull-out keyboard tray has lost all its ball bearings–but working there really emphasized the lack of good task lighting and a surface to spread papers and materials while in the midst of a project.

It’s true that I didn’t get either of these projects finished, but I did take some small steps toward making them more likely to happen next week. I took Little Five to the paint store and bought more of the paint I had run out of. I bought the trestle legs for the desk, and picked out which discarded closet door I’m going to use for a desktop. I pondered and consulted the rest of the family, and decided how long to make the desk and how to finish the top (a dark stain plus furniture wax). I bought Citri-Strip so I can strip the paint on the door. The Citri-Strip will later come in handy to start on Miss Seven’s long-awaited dresser, and the paint to freshen up the trim and door in the downstairs powder room.

It didn’t feel as if I accomplished much, but it’s good to know that when that slice of time appears in my schedule, I’ll be ready to jump into these projects and finally cross them off my list.

Kids’ bathroom progress part 2…almost done!

So, so close.

Since last week, I finished painting the gray walls, installed two shelves on the wall over the toilet, hung the beadboard wallpaper, scraped and sanded the old caulk off the baseboards and reinstalled the shoe moulding, caulked, and painted the beadboard wallpaper. It’s obviously not a big room, so it took 15 minutes here, an hour there. Still to do: paint the baseboards and perhaps give the beadboard a second coat, and finish hanging artwork. I was on a roll and probably would have finished yesterday, but I ran out of paint. But if you don’t look at the baseboards, it looks good!

For fun, here’s the evolution of this bathroom over the past 6 years:



This is how it looked before we moved in. Certainly not terrible, but the details became annoying after we lived with it for a while. Wallpaper, shower doors (have you tried bathing a squirmy baby when you can only reach half the bathtub?), two-toned hardware. And a toilet paper holder waaaay too far for a kid to reach when he needs it!

First attempt

First attempt

After the first major set of changes to make this bathroom more functional for three small children: removed the shower doors, installed hook rail for towels, painted the vanity and changed the hardware, moved the toilet paper holder, stripped the wallpaper, changed the light fixture. At this point I wasn’t really sure where the color scheme was going.



Now, the gray and white is a cool backdrop for the kids’ bright towels and accessories. There aren’t any heavy glass shower doors to clean or worry about safety (one fell off the track once–very scary!), and there are plenty of hooks to hang towels, robes, and wet bathing suits. The colors feel more like us, and the room functions much better.

How much did I spend on this final stage?

  • Ikea shelves: $30
  • Ikea towels: $22
  • beadboard wallpaper: $19
  • wallpaper paste: $5
  • 1 quart Heather Gray paint: $2

The rest of my supplies I already had…caulk, white semi-gloss paint, etc. I got my wallpapering tools from Freecycle! Even though I need to buy more paint to finish the baseboards, I have lots of other trim in the house that needs a fresh coat.

I’m very pleased with the beadboard wallpaper. For a novice like me, it wasn’t difficult to hang. As I hoped, caulk and paint disguised my sloppy edges and less-than-precise measuring. It only took about an hour to measure, paste and paper that half wall.

Ikea towels come with loops for hanging!

Until I get around to buying that paint, I’ll focus on hanging the rest of the artwork. Miss Seven will be pleased when I get the stack of frames out of her room and onto the wall.

Bubble prints made at the school art fair