Family room

The family room might be my favorite room in the house now. I was chatting with a friend last week about how long it can take to figure out how to make your house work for your particular family, the way you live. Not only how it looks, but how it functions.

In six and half years, this is the first time this room has felt like us. It helps that we’ve moved beyond big baby and toddler toys, and we don’t need to baby proof anything. Finally getting the scale of the furniture right has made a huge difference. Our old sofa and loveseat–which we bought for the enormous basement family room in our last house–just overwhelmed this room. Our new chairs arrived and we (the grownups) each have a perfectly comfortable spot to relax, with a good view of the television and a light for reading. I wasn’t sure what to hang over the fireplace, but I dug out this old poster, and I really like the punch of yellow and the clean, graphic lines of the Matisse sketch. I’ve since hung it a little higher (I had to add some picture wire to the back) so the hardware doesn’t show.

I assembled the two new bookcases and found space for all of the board games, the overflow of books, and some baskets of toys. In the future, I might be more thoughtful about which books to keep in the family room and which in the living room, but for the moment I am just happy that there is space for all the books. And now that the games are on open shelves in plain sight, the kids have been playing them more often. (Miss Eight and I really love Set these days.) I also finally framed and hung the series of favorite director prints that I gave the Hub for Christmas 2012.

We moved the big coffee table from the middle of the room to one end. Little Six’s art projects (and accompanying mess) tend to take over the table so that we weren’t getting any other use out of it anyway. Now the table (and the occasional paint spill) is off the carpet and there is floor space to spread out a game, practice headstands, or play the Wii.

This arrangement with our big old tv isn’t permanent, but we streamlined things by putting it on a smaller stand and tucking it into the corner. Someday we’ll get a flat screen and figure out a good layout for this wall, but this television is still going strong. I tacked up the colorful woven wall hanging from Ecuador to relieve some of the blank white space.

The little armchair adds just enough seating for the whole family to watch a movie together. It’s light enough to swing around and face the tv when we need it. I also sewed up this floor pouf from three little cotton rugs to act as a footstool or extra seating. I loosely followed these directions (minus the zipper–I just hand stitched the opening). My pouf is stuffed with rags and a few pieces of foam. I might raid the rag bag and fill it just a little bit more. Hmmm…I probably should have ironed out the creases before sewing.

We’re still on the hunt for a couple of new side tables so that every chair has a spot for a cup of tea and a lamp. In the meantime, I’m happy that there is finally space for the whole family in our family room.

How have your rooms evolved? What changes have made the most difference in how you use and enjoy the space?


Fast forward

Maybe it has something to do with the shorter days and longer nights, but it feels as if each day is scrolling by in fast forward, each frame only on the screen for a fraction of a second.

palette cake

And so for the past few weeks, there hasn’t been room in the day for blogging. Holiday preparations, celebrations, birthdays, school and work have more than filled our days. We made another big step in our family room makeover. The Hub and I shuffled the furniture around (my arms still ache–those sofas are heavy!) and I took most of two days to paint the walls and trim. On Little Six’s birthday, we picked out a Christmas tree and did a little decorating.

DIY Tip: How to Hang Stockings Above a Fireplace Without a Mantel

Thread clear picture wire or fishing line from eye hooks mounted on either side of the chimney breast. Stretch the wire tightly and hang the stockings with S-hooks or wire ornament hooks.

The paint felt so very…white as I rolled it on the walls, but I’m happy with the decision. Everything feels bigger and cleaner. Sometime after Christmas we hope to replace the orange oak shelving with taller, wider white bookcases and put a pair of slim but comfortable chairs in front of the fireplace. I plan to stain the coffee table a darker color (and give Mr. Six a big piece of oilcloth to protect the table while he’s creating).

I’m looking forward to filling this blank wall above the sofa with a gallery of the kids’ artwork. I have old frames to fill and a few new ones from Goodwill. I may steal some from other parts of the house and consolidate it here. We’re hosting a Christmas party in a couple of weeks, which gives me a deadline for the project.

You may have noticed that I abandoned my Monday Menu posts for the past few weeks. I’m getting bored writing them, and I suspect you may be bored reading them. I’m still meal planning, but I’ve been visiting my blog archives and stealing meal ideas from past years. Sharing my menu each week has been a wonderful way to develop the habit of meal planning, but I’m going to take a break from writing about it, at least for a while.

I do hope to share a recipe and project or two with you before the year’s end. In the meantime, I have some more decorations to put up. It’s sunny and a balmy 17 degrees, so this may be my chance to hang that string of snowflake lights on the porch.

Family room update: Painting the fireplace brick

Well. This week got away from me. But I’m thrilled that I finally jumped in and painted the family room fireplace brick. Sometimes just jumping in, ready or not, is the best way to get a project moving. With the fireplace painted, the walls look even worse, so I’m eager to paint them. And then rearrange the furniture. And then hang a new mantel shelf. And then…well, you get the idea.

Here’s the deal with the fireplace. It was a red brick that we never liked, but did our best to work with for the past six years. What I really hated was the set of three dinky concrete shelves that angled up the chimney breast, preventing me from hanging anything large above the fireplace.

Enter my dad and his new tool, the angle grinder. In 20 minutes he had all three of those silly shelves cut off, and then he added a little texture to the remaining concrete to make it blend in with the brick. When the dust settled, I had a blank canvas to work with.

I scrubbed the brick with a brush and a solution of TSP, and then painted it with Benjamin Moore ben premium semi-gloss paint & primer. I used an angled brush for the mortar lines, and a cheap wide brush for the brick. The first coat looked pretty good, but I gave it a quick second coat and am calling it done. There is a little bleed-through of the soot stains around the edge of the firebox, but those will be covered up by the fireplace doors when I reinstall them.

Speaking of those fireplace doors….When I took them down to paint, I discovered that the insulation around the edge was black, dust-filled, and beginning to disintegrate. Before I replace the doors, I plan to buy new insulation strips, clean the glass, and probably spray paint the dated brass finish with heat-resistant black spray paint.

At the moment, the white fireplace doesn’t fit in with the rest of the room. Maybe you’re thinking it’s even worse than the brick! I agree, it does NOT look good with the Hawthorne Yellow walls (possibly because they are so dirty at this point) and all that orangey-oak furniture. I’m 99% ready to paint the walls Swiss Coffee by Behr (a slightly warmer shade of white). As you can see from my Family Room Pinterest board, I’m trying to create a light, neutral canvas to set off the colorful stuff we already own: a wall of bright children’s artwork, shelves of books and games, and fun pillows and our existing red rug. Since buying a bunch of new furniture isn’t happening, we plan to swap the living room and family room furniture (navy moves to the living room, tan and white to the family room). I’m pondering new (but always inexpensive!) bookshelf plans for either side of the fireplace. Ikea? Craigslist?

Next dilemma: What kind of mantel shelf? Wood finish or painted? Traditional or rustic?

Family room storage

I inherited a little oak washstand from my grandparents, mostly because nobody else wanted it. It had lived for years in the upstairs bathroom of their house, storing towels and toiletries and serving as a resting place for generations of dripping toothbrushes. When it came to me, the top was covered in water rings and was lifting away from the base. I nailed it back together, sanded and filled the holes, and gave it fresh coats of stain and wax. I love having it as a side table in our family room. I doubt that it has much value, but it holds good memories for me.

You like the things hanging out of the overstuffed drawers?

But in the couple of years that I’ve had the washstand, the drawers have filled up with all sorts of nonsense. Framed pictures that we took off the wall, yarn from the kids’ experiments in finger weaving, Bibles and workbooks from when Mr. Ten was studying for his First Communion two years ago. I found odd game pieces and toys, broken crayons, and a bunch of candles.

I cleaned it out. I sorted, threw away the garbage, put away all the other stuff where it really belongs. It took all of 10 minutes (I’ve now spent more time writing about it than actually doing it.) But now what?

I never had a plan for what to store there. I still don’t really have a plan. Instead, I have a list of possibilities jotted on a Post-It note. I have designated one drawer just for candles, and I moved the box of tapers and bag of tea lights so they’re all consolidated in one place. I found a basket to hold my knitting projects and some mending supplies (pin cushion, scissors, seam ripper, needle and thread), because when someone needs a button sewn on, I like to do it in front of the television (preferably while listening to The West Wing on Netflix). Anyway, the front runner on my list seems to be “extra office supplies,” which is mostly reams of paper for the printer and maybe a box of neatly labeled charging cords (the bowl they’re currently in is overflowing). Unless I come up with a better idea. If I leave the drawers empty, they’re just going to fill up with junk again. I speak from experience.

In other decluttering news, I’ve been slowly working on the piles and bags that always seem to accumulate around my desk. I believe it’s what they call a “clutter hotspot.” It’s more like a black hole with its own gravitational pull. The whole family leaves stuff there, which explains the hairbrush and the thank-you note that have landed here this morning. I still have one big bag of stuff to sort and a file box that needs to be organized. But I treated myself to a two-pocket hanging file for the kids’ homework-in-progress (their spelling lists, reading logs, and weekly homework packets). I used to have homework clipped to my memo board, but I was annoyed by the space it took up, and sometimes things got too heavy for their magnets and slid down onto the desk.

I also finished one little project whose materials have been stacked–you guessed it–next to my desk for the past several weeks. I took this cute Coca-Cola crate that I bought at a garage sale and attached some casters to it. I intended it for Little Five’s room, but he still doesn’t spend much time in there during the day and doesn’t keep toys in his room. I debated using it for Lego storage in the family room, but it really isn’t big enough, and the containers we’re using now are working well. But a rolling cart for reading material (usually a couple weeks’ worth of the New York Times and a few magazines)–that’s what we need! When it starts to overflow, it will be time to recycle.


Eventually it might find it’s way back to Little Five’s room, but I like putting it to use right now. Here’s hoping that by next week, I’ll have finished sorting through the rest of the desk mess and can move on to more exciting projects.

Reorganizing board games

Yesterday I boxed up all the Christmas decorations and returned them to the basement. I stopped there, not returning any pictures or other decorative stuff to their previous places. I figured it would be a good time to rethink what I want to display, and besides, everything needs a good dusting. Since we concentrated most of our holiday decor in the family room (the fireplace and tree were there), it looks the most bare at this point. I can imagine all sorts of things if I could have a clean slate and start over with paint, new furniture, built-in bookcases and a fireplace renovation. But since that’s all just in the thinking phase, I decided to finally sort out the mess of board games in the corner cupboard that I don’t like.

We bought this cupboard from the previous owners because it fit the space, and we knew we needed storage. It’s designed as a media cabinet for a small television and components, but ours is too big for it, so we’ve always used it to store toys and games. Unfortunately, the triangular shape is less than ideal and the oak finish is dated. We paid too much for it at the time, and I regret it. We’ve lived with it for five years, but maybe in the next couple of years we can replace it.

Before Christmas, I cleaned out the toy shelves, but gave up before tackling the games. Despite the dusting I still haven’t done, the four half-built Lego sets and mess of stuff on the coffee table, the crumbs on the kitchen counter and floor, I feel incredibly productive now that I’ve sorted through that game cupboard.


I filled two boxes with games and puzzles that we don’t play with anymore. I set aside one stack of games for Miss Seven to decide their fate. I sorted all the scattered playing cards (miraculously, there are several complete decks) and returned stray pieces to their boxes. I culled the duplicates–how many versions of Memory do we need? I even branched out and sorted through the puzzle cupboard under the tv, where wooden toddler puzzles and bead stringing sets have gathered dust for many months.


Even though I am eager to demolish those dinky little concrete shelves above the fireplace, and fill the niches on either side with shelving, at least things are tidy for now. I want to take plenty of time and thought (and save some money) before making those big changes. And now I’m off to see if I have some volunteers to dust and sweep.

Musical chairs and hidden treasure

We had a recliner in our family room that we bought just after we got married and moved into our first house. Twelve years and three kids later, the springs had detached from the frame and the padding was worn down to the wood on the arms. Everyone avoided sitting in it; the only protest when I gave it away was from Mr. Nine, who asked what he would climb on to reach his fishbowl on the mantel each morning.

We moved the chair from the living room into the family room so there is enough seating for family movie nights. But that left no chairs in the living room, and that’s the spot where we most often entertain. So we moved the chair from our bedroom into the living room.

We liked the chair in the living room, and have been thinking about getting a second one to make it a pair. In the meantime, we’ve been searching for something else to put in the now chairless bedroom. The Hub likes to lounge in the bedroom, away from the Legos, Tinker Toys, trains and Wii remotes that litter the family room. He wants a place to stretch out and read or watch tv. He suggested that if we moved my dresser from the corner of the bedroom, we’d have more room for comfy seating. He offered to move his things to the closet and empty his dresser for me to use. My dresser can be passed on to Miss Seven.

And so we did. I whittled my stuff from five drawers down to two (with a few things stored under the bed–painting clothes and out of season stuff), gave one drawer back to my husband, and kept one last drawer to store my jewelry box and a few accessories. But before I moved the jewelry box, I decided it was finally time to clean it out.

What treasures did I find in the jewelry box that my husband gave me on our very first Christmas? Thirteen plastic sandwich bags, each containing a single baby tooth. A large handful of loose change (helpfully corralled in a coffee filter, usually dipped into by the Tooth Fairy). Countless buttons, pins, nails, screws, and hair elastics. Two pairs of old sunglasses. Several luggage locks and keys. One pacifier. Four positive pregnancy tests. A stack of blank thank you notes. A tiny screwdriver. Oh, and some jewelry.

The story of my life in one wooden box.

I took everything out of the box and lifted the dust from the velvet lining with a piece of masking tape. I tightened the loose screws in the hinges. And then I returned only jewelry to the box. I put away or tossed everything else. Nobody’s using a pacifier anymore, and the excitement of finding out I was pregnant has been eclipsed by the real personalities those children have become. The Tooth Fairy still has a lot of teeth to collect at our house, so I found another convenient receptacle for the change.

We’re still looking for a chair, and haven’t rearranged Miss Seven’s room yet to accommodate the empty dresser. Time marches on, and every project begets another.

Empty drawers…so much possibility…