Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Currently Loving: Fun with Old Forks and Spoons

Today, Apartment Therapy featured these ornaments made from hammered spoons, and I'm totally in love with them. After working in a Christmas store for many years, I've seen a lot of unusual ornaments, and I consider these unique and quite charming. The ornaments as well as other spoons that can be used as plant markers, gift tags, place markers, etc, are available on Etsy.

via Apartment Therapy
These spoons reminded me of a demo I had seen recently over at Brooklyn Limestone on how to make napkin rings out of old silver forks.

via Brooklyn Limestone
Now I find myself desperately trying to resist the urge to purchase a rubber mallet and the extremely affordable stamp set recommended by Mrs. Limestone. Not only do I LOVE the idea of taking something meant to be totally functional and giving it a new function that displays its beautiful design, who wouldn't have fun hammering and messing with a little metal?

Alas, this DIY project will have to wait for another day because I am up to my ears in Holiday projects and have hardly been able to find time to tell you about them (which I plan to start doing later this evening or tomorrow).

Leave a comment if you've found any other cool uses for flea market silverware, especially if it's holiday-related!

Christmas Song of the Day: The Original Version of a Classic

To counter yesterday's pop throwback Hanson tribute, today's song is the original version of a classic old Christmas tune. According to my brief Wikipedia research, The Christmas Song was written by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells in 1944. The song was originally performed by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, but we often hear Nat King Cole's 1961 version with a full orchestra on the radio. For fun (and because in order to be hip one must appreciate pop culture history), I found what I think is the original version, sans strings and still a pleasantly simple way to feel Christmassy.

The Christmas Song, Performed by the Nat King Cole Trio

Monday, November 29, 2010

Christmas Song of the Day: A Little Bit 'O Hanson

Today, I'm kicking off my Christmas Song of the Day series. I realize that it's neither the day after Thanksgiving nor December 1st, but it's a Monday and it feels right and this is my blog so I can do whatever I want and rules about when to play Christmas music are silly. 

Today's post comes from an old favorite. Sure, maybe Hanson initially caused us to wonder if they were all boys and talked about their record player like their affinity for the turntable made them legit rockers. But let's face it, you loved them and you would probably still start to move if you heard MMMBop right now. For those of you who weren't true fans, you'll be happy to know that my sister was, and thus received their Christmas Album, "Snowed In" for Christmas when she was 9ish. And now I listen to it religiously throughout the Holiday season. Here's a gem of a tune from said album. Enjoy this pleasant late 90s throwback friends:

What Christmas Means to Me, by Hanson

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Packin' My Snowboots and Headin' North

Tomorrow I'm abandoning my roomies and scootin' up to central New York to see my Dad's family for Thanksgiving. As if it wasn't difficult enough to get through my last day at work before the Holiday, I just found out that snow is in the forecast up there!

OK, it's snow and rain, and I know we had snowmageddon and everything here last year, but there's nothing like seeing the snow-covered ground to make you get in the Holiday mood.

Via NOAA.gov. Which is less glamorous but I find more reliable than Weather.com.
Via Weather.com. Note that it says that the golf forecast is "Very Poor" for the whole time we're there. This prediction is obviously for the faint of heart, as my dad and uncle will almost positively play at least 9 holes every day we're up there.
Where will I be headed, you ask? Why, to none other than beautiful Sherrill, New York of course! Located a stone's throw from the New York State Thruway, Sherrill is home to Oneida Silversmiths, the beautiful Oneida Community Mansion House, and the Turning Stone Casino and Resort (alright, that one's in Verona technically, but my dad grew up on a lot located directly across the street from where it's located).

Oneida Silverware via easykitchenproblog.com

Oneida Community Mansion House via New York Times Travel Section

Turning Stone Resort and Casino via bloombus.com
Sherrill is also the hometown of the Craigslist Killer (who attended high school with my cousin) and Flava Flav's long lost love (technically from nearby Utica).

This classy lady's photo via Wikipedia
When I get back we'll shift into full Christmas mode. I'll have plenty more ideas for exquisite holiday decorating on the cheap, Christmas music, and more. Who knows, maybe I'll even manage to write another post this evening in between loads of laundry that I haven't done yet. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Making Your Home Cushier, One Throw Pillow at a Time

Throw pillows are one of my favorite ways to give a room a softer and more finished look.  They’re also an easy way to change the décor on a neutral background. In general, I don’t like to use two of the same patterned pillow anywhere except my bed, and only when they’re pillow or euro shams. I don’t like to use the same pillows because I think that using a bunch of different but coordinating pillows makes the room more personal by giving the look that the various items were collected over time. While I admire some that are far out of my price range, I’ve complied a few of my favorite affordable sources for my fellow budget-conscious friends:

Pier 1 – Pier 1’s throw pillows are reasonably priced and often on sale. They have great colorful embellished pillows, and a good assortment of basic solid pillows in different textures. Lately I’ve been eyeing this fuzzy faux fur pillow and this little brown and white rick rack pillow:

Pier 1 Fuzzy Pillow - Sand
Pier 1 Velvet Ric Rac Pillow

World Market – World Market’s pillows are almost all $24.99 and under. You could pick up a bunch of solid color velvet pillows to play with texture a bit, and pair them with a great textured medallion pillow.

World Market Medallion Stitch Toss Pillow, Red
World Market Velvet Toss Pillow
Etsy – Etsy is a great place for affordable pillows. It’s slightly more expensive than Pier 1 and World Market for the most part because sellers tend to sell more pillow covers at about the same price of a Pier 1 pillow. Still, you have the comfort of knowing that you item is handmade and you’re supporting an artist, not a big box retail corporation.

Right now I’m loving the HomeCentric, which has a huge selection of gorgeous textured pillow covers.

HomeCentric Blue Moon Throw Pillow Cover
HomeCentric Gold Mosaic Throw Pillow Cover

HomeCentric Silver Coral Throw Pillow Cover
HomeCentric Green Peacock Feather Throw Pillow Cover

I’m also loving NestaHome, which has really cool pillows with prints from architectural photos on them, among other cool designs.

NestaHome Urban Throw Pillow Cover Style No7
NestHome Urban Throw Pillow Cover Style No3

NestaHome Urban Throw Pillow Style No17

NestaHome Happy Harvest Red with White text Cushion

Tonic Living – Tonic Living has really fun fabrics, and you can buy pillows directly from their website. Most of the pillows are about $24.95, but you can also order a custom pillow out of your choice of fabric for $27.95.

Tonic Living "Adorn, Olive" Throw Pillow
Tonic Living "Emilio, Lemon Drop" Throw Pillow
Tonic Living "Sweet William, Teal" Throw Pillow

Home Goods – Home goods has pillows at great prices. Sometimes the selection is a little sparse, but inventory turns over weekly, so it’s worth shopping there often to find what you’re looking for.

Target – Target has good basic pillows as well. Right now I have my eye on this fun reindeer pillow to add to our Christmas décor:
Target Decorative Reindeer Pillow

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Embracing Your Rental's Flaws

Our house was built in the late 1970s, and let’s just say that the finishes haven’t really been updated since then. I’m talking mauve and colonial blue tiles in our foyer, weird roman wood accents on the walls, and light fixtures that would make your grandma who lives in Florida proud. As renters, we aren’t really willing to put the money into changing these fixtures, and we’re also not really sure our landlord would approve of many changes.



The kitchen in our house is closed off from the rest of the house. Because the décor from other rooms isn’t really visible from the kitchen, we wanted to add a little flare to the room to make it feel like home. Kitchens can be a fun place to embrace retro elements, so rather than attempt to disguise ours’, we decided to embrace them.

I started with kitchen table and chairs, which were originally from Ikea, but I picked them up for about $50 on Craigslist (I bought the set along with a dresser for $100 total). The table is a good neutral piece, and I liked that the chairs were metal and straw rather than a matching wood tone. The chairs are a dark charcoal grey that matches the grout color and pattern color in our very vintage tiled kitchen floor.

Inspired by the Petersik’s use of wine bottles in their home, I arranged recycled wine bottles that I collected from our house and my next-door neighbors’ recycling bin on our kitchen table. The green in the bottles picks up on the green in the oh-so-dated but a little bit charming light fixture. They also look amazing in the morning and early afternoon when the back of our house is flooded with sunlight.

My favorite part of this room is the wall display. The artwork is made up of three cardboard cutouts that would’ve been used in an old, traditional diner. I bought the cardboard cutouts for $2.50 each at the Georgetown Flea Market from a man who sells a variety of vintage advertisements. I put the cutouts in $10 black Ribba frames from Ikea and used cream-colored scrap booking paper from Michael’s behind the cutouts.

The chalkboard is a wall decal that I picked up at Home Goods for $15. Chalkboards are fun way for renters to add an element to their home that can constantly change. It’s also a way to personalize your place, which can be tough to do with three or four people living together.

After hanging the pictures and putting up the chalkboard, I decided that the display needed a little something else. I bought the letters to spell out “Menu” from Michael’s for about $2.5 each, and spray painted them with high gloss dark red paint that I already owned. The letters are attached to the wall with removable wall adhesive strips. I hung the letters so that they overlap slightly on the chalkboard decal. The letters are painted red to pick up on a number of other red elements in the room, including our fun trash can (about $13 from Walmart), the placemats, and a lot of our bake ware. Mad props to whoever can name what the “menu” is from.

The similar colors in the chairs, chalkboard, tile, and picture frames link the different elements together. I have to admit that this was not at all intentional, but I’m very happy with the result. For about $110, the breakfast nook side of our kitchen embraces our retro finishes and adds some character to our otherwise dated room.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let the Christmas Music Begin

It's official: DC-based 97.1 Wash-FM kicked off their Christmas music marathon today. For those of you from out of town, the local soft rock station turns all Christmas all the time from now through Christmas. I'll be listening this weekend while I take on a few DIY Christmas decoration projects. Here's to hoping there will be minimal playing of "Christmas Shoes" and "Christmas Eve in Washington".

For you Glee fans, you can also listen to the Glee Christmas Album on demand on Wash-FM's website. I'm a seasoned connoisseur of Christmas Music (my parents literally own an entire CD binder full of them), and I'm going to put this one into the rotation. It's a nice combo of traditional songs with a fun twist (not surprising if you've ever watched Glee). Listen for yourself!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is it Time to Play My Christmas Music Yet?

My first teenage job may or may not have been in a year-round Christmas store that my neighbor/family friend may or may not own. And my sister and brother may or may not have worked there too, and my mom may or may not work there full time as the assistant store manager…

 No, that's not my house. It's the fam at Richmond's Tacky Lights Tour.

No, we're not that fat. We're just wearing mondo coats at Gaylord's ICE.

Basically, we’re a family of professional Christmasers (sans my pops, but he’s a master of tasteful outdoor décor and puts up a mean Christmas tree). Naturally, this means I have very valuable knowledge.

What is a German Christmas Smoker? How do you build a Nutcracker collection? What are Christopher Radko’s newest ornaments? Who is this new guy named David Strand? What is the difference between the D56 Snow Village and Christmas in the City? What exactly is the “Christmas pickle”? How does a Christmas store stay in business year round?

This might knock your socks off, but...I know the answers to ALL these questions. This doesn't even begin to touch on my extensive Christmas knowledge.

I started working at the Christmas Attic in historic Old Town, Alexandria, VA as Christmas help when I was 14 (I even had to get a work permit). To give it a little plug: housed in a historic warehouse on the corner of Prince and Union Streets, the Christmas Attic has high-end collectibles like hand-blown Polish glass ornaments, authentic Nutcrackers, Pyramids, and Smokers imported from Germany, and it also has tons of cute ornaments, stockings, advent calendars, and other Christmas décor. You can literally hear small children whisper “wowww” as they walk through the store – probably my favorite part about working there.

No doubt some of you are probably saying “UGH. Whyyyyy is everyone talking about Christmas??? It’s not even Thanksgiving!!”

OK. First, stop being such a Scrooge.

Second, it’s totally reasonable to be thinking about Christmas right now.

This year, Christmas is exactly one month after Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is nearly one week away. Call me crazy, but if I’m going to put any kind of work into decorating, I want to have my decorations up with plenty of time to enjoy them. Not to mention, I'll have shopping/Christmas sightseeing/Holiday Party-going that will be on my to-do list in addition to decorating. I’m going to be really busy over the next few weekends, so I’m starting my planning/pre-decorating now. Don’t worry, I’m not going to put up the tree right tonight, but I have started accumulating decorations.

I’m super excited this year because it’s the first time I’m living in a place that I will actually be residing in during the Holiday Season. Naturally, this is an excellent excuse to accumulate more actual decorations since I won’t be home to enjoy my mom’s extensive décor and the beautiful lights my dad puts up every year.

To prep, I’ve pulled some inspiration from a few of my favorite sources:

Pottery Barn entry way – Love the different sized ornaments on the garland and wreaths.

Pottery Barn bedroom – Like the reds and creams, the vintage feel of the decorations, and the little “noel” sign made up of different letters.

Christmas at the Thompson’s! by Landon Jacob Productions – This collection of items builds on the room's already awesome vintage look. I love the way the collection of paper items, use of the different sized ornaments, and lights nestled among the items on the shelf make the decorations look organic, personal, and collected over time (maybe they are?).

I’m not actually going to reveal any of my plans quite yet (alright fine, I haven’t actually started any of my projects), but I encourage you to start looking for inspiration and start collecting things to decorate with. Buy things like garland, wreaths, and lights early because they wil be a lot harder to find once everyone panics and realizes they need to get their decorations up asap.

Great shopping sources that I've discovered thus far:
  • Walmart has pretty nice lighted 9 ft garland for $10/piece. Target has some for the same price that looks nice as well, but the green looks a little lighter than Walmart’s and I was going for a darker color.
  • Home Depot has 25 ft lighted garland for $19.99.
  • Home Depot is also selling collections of 75 – 101 Martha Stewart shatterproof Christmas ornaments for under $30, and sets of 18 shatterproof Christmas ornaments in various colors for $5.99.
  • Home Goods has a very reasonably priced collection of Christmas knick-knacks to suit all decorating styles.
  • Michael's will be having Christmas stuff on sale from now through Christmas, so it’s worth checking the Sunday ads if you want to pick up a few things here and there.
To get you more in the mood, I’ll leave you with two of my favorite non-traditional Christmas songs: one rather upbeat, and the other sad but beautiful (and, I might add, from one of my favorite albums of all time).

Stay tuned (hehe!) for more Christmas music recommendations and decor ideas/inspiration!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Because It’s Cute Doesn’t Mean It Works: Learning Proportion by Trial and Error

I bought this super cute end table on Craigslist over the summer and knew it would look absolutely adorable painted white.

In my opinion, it does look super cute white. My intention was to use it for a nightstand, which I currently do:

Problem? It’s WAYYYY to short for my mattress. Actually, it's about 10 inches shorter than the mattress. I should’ve know that both this table and the other table I had would be way too short to be good nightstands. Fail.

Lesson learned. I really need to pay better attention to the proportion of the items I buy. This is tough, and something I’ve found is really instinctual. It’s really difficult to understand how items will interact with each other when you’re viewing them individually. But a nightstand is pretty obvious – it should be about as tall as the bed.

Now I’m on the hunt for two taller nightstands. I have a few ideas, but I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for exactly. I’m thinking about putting 40 inch bookshelves next to each bed with lamps on both bookshelves (don’t really want to mess with sconces in a rental unit). Has anyone seen any good examples of this when the bookshelves aren’t built in to encompass the whole wall? Another alternative is finding smallish dressers or end tables with drawers…this might hold a little more weight in the large room and look more reasonable next to the fairly big headboard. Thoughts anyone?

Sarah's Big Girl Grownup Bed

I was ready for a fresh furniture start when I finally moved out of my parents’ house after living at home for a year after college. When I originally moved back into my parents’ place, I replaced my childhood twin bed with the full big girl bed that I purchased in college. I knew my headboard from college would look too small in my new (master!) bedroom, and I wanted something a little more grownup this time around. Rather than do the all-white furniture thing again, I was looking for a dark wood piece to contrast with my light blue and white bedding, and mix with some white vintage pieces. I absolutely love the combination of light blues and whites with dark wood, like the elements in these inspiration rooms:

Jordan & Landon's kitchen/dining room from a Young House Love house crashing

 I took to my reliable source, Craigslist, searching for a “new” bed. My original specs:
  • Full bed (reusing the mattress I had in college)
  • Budget: $60
  • Solid wood
  • Preferably dark wood (but willing to refinish)
  • No footboard (or low footboard)
  • On the larger side
Unlike a retail store, Craigslist sellers aren’t concerned with covering overhead and they aren’t trying to turn a profit in a production to sales sense. This means that things like time, space, and convenience govern the price of an item in addition to its physical condition and subsequent value. I’ve found that when people are trying to get rid of stuff, they sell it at pretty amazing prices, so I wasn’t concerned with my budget.

Although I had a limited budget, I still wanted a solid piece of furniture. When searching for furniture I look for solid construction, including solid wood (or solid wood with a veneer) and solid joints. This way I know that the furniture will hold up to moves, refinishing, and that it will actually be worth something if I decide to sell it later.  Also, call me a furniture snob, but I like living in a space that I know has high quality items (at a good price of course). Because I prefer to pick up solid furniture on the cheap, I look for used stuff on Craigslist rather than going to Target or Ikea right away, keeping the particleboard to a minimum and saving money since real wood is often hundreds of dollars, even at Ikea.

In addition to the tight budget, you probably noticed that I had specific footboard requirements. I feel that big footboards, especially solid ones, break up the space in the room. I think that my 6’3” bf appreciates this decision as well (he has a hard enough time with the full bed).  

I searched for a few weeks for a bed that I loved. Finally, I came across a full sleigh bed with a low footboard and large sweeping headboard that I had to have. Only problem? It was way above my budget: $150. I found myself caught somewhere between loving the piece and hating the price. That place must’ve been closer to loving the piece because I did email the owner right away (a must if you actually want to purchase a prized piece), but didn’t hear from the owner for the rest of the afternoon. As I went to bed I found myself really hoping that I would lay my head on the Craigslist bed in my new place.  It was actually a great price for a bed, even if my original price standards were, well, lower. I also really loved the sophisticated lines of the bed, which were still curvy and feminine without being too girly.

The next morning I had an email from the owner saying the bed was mine, so I pulled my teenage bro/mover out of bed and went to pick it up. It was in great shape with the exception of a scratch or two, so we loaded it into the family minivan and toke it home.

I should probably mention at this point that the bed was actually Pottery Barn’s Valencia sleigh bed, which I have admired for years. My point of hesitation was that the bed was a discontinued honey oak color, and I was looking for dark mahogany-espresso. But looking for furniture on Craigslist is a lot like shopping for house; if you want a real gem for a good price, you have to look for potential. I had never stained anything before, but this didn’t look too complicated.  Annnnnnd $150 didn’t seem too bad when I found that my dream bed is still selling at Pottery Barn for over $1,000 with shipping (!!!!!!). 

 Pottery  Barn Valencia Bed -- the color I want (not the Honey Oak)

Nixing the Honey Oak

I decided to strip the wood since the finish was difficult to sand off and a needed to remove the finish as thoroughly as possible because I was working with a large flat surface that needed to be uniform. The can of finish/paint stripper said that I should let it sit on the surface for 10-20 minutes, but I found that it seemed to evaporate faster and by the time 10 minutes had past the finish didn’t come off very well. Instead, I let it sit for 2-5 minutes, and then scraped it off with the stripping tool and/or putty knife, depending on the spot. I wore thick latex gloves to do this (thicker than dishwashing gloves) to protect my skin from the corrosive stripper. I removed as much finish as possible, keeping in mind that I would give the thing a solid sanding when I finished the stripping process.

Here’s the bed mid stripping process:

After cleaning the wood with mineral spirits and steel wool , sanding it with my electric mouse sander (OK, my parents’ mouse sander), and sanding it by hand, I moved on to the staining process.
Headboard post-stripping process (pre-sanding)

Project Materials:
  • Polyurethane (multipurpose) stripper (Home Depot)
  • Plastic putty knife (Home Depot)
  • Stripping knife/tool (Home Depot)
  • Thick latex stripping gloves (Home Depot)
  • Mineral spirits (Home Depot)
  • Fine steel wool (Home Depot)
  • Newspaper/drop cloth (Used newspaper/new drop cloth that my operating room nurse friend brought me from her hospital)

This was my first attempt at staining something, so it was definitely a learning experience. First, I had to pick out a color.  I went to a hardware store and picked up some color samples. After testing the samples on the back of the footboard, I decided I didn’t like either color. Realizing that I had been going about things all wrong, I took to the internet searching for colors/brands that were similar to the type of thing I was looking for. If you’re reading this blog, then you probably already know to do this type of thing, but in case you don’t, PLEASE take this piece of advice: you will rarely encounter an occasion when someone else hasn’t already attempted what you’re currently attempting (especially if you’re pulling from an inspiration space), so learn from the experience of other DIY-ers and do a little Googling before you attempt something. After doing some online research, I discovered that either General Finishes’ Java gel stain or Espresso water-based stain would give me deep, rich color I wanted. When searching for colors, keep in mind that stain takes differently to each wood, and colors vary based on the type of wood you’re working with, how many layers you put on, and the length of time that the stain sinks in.  

I tested both the Java and Espresso on the back of the footboard and decided to go with the Java because the Espresso had slightly grey undertones, and I was looking for more of a milk chocolate. After I decided on the finish, I sanded down the test areas (even though they wouldn't be visible).

The Java was a gel stain, which I applied with a rag. I read that some people didn’t like working with gel stain, but I thought it was actually kind of nice while working on a vertical surface. Unlike liquid stain, the gel sits on the surface more, so it takes a little longer to sink in. I let the stain sit on the wood for about 5 minutes, and then used a rag to buff off excess stain. This is a lengthy process and requires some elbow grease. The first coat looked a little splotchy, but the look evened out after a few more coats. I used three coats of stain, leaving some areas a little thicker than others to even out the color. 

 A slightly splotchy first coat

Once I finished the staining process, I used a foam brush to apply four coats of General Finishes Topcoat. I thought that this would be a bit of a stressful process. After all, I didn’t want to ruin my staining job with the topcoat. But I found that it was actually the easiest part. I used a foam brush and ran one long stroke from one side of the headboard to the other in order to create the smooth coat. Most of the brush strokes faded as the finish dried. After using the foam brush on the finish, I wished I had used it for the stain as well. All-in-all, I applied three coats of finish to the bed. 
Headboard, finished

Project materials:
  • Old t-shirts to make lots of rags
  • Drop cloths (Used newspaper/new drop cloth that my operating room nurse friend brought me from her hospital)
  • General Finishes Java Gel stain (about ½ quart, purchased from local woodworking store)
  • General Finishes Topcoat (a little bit more than the stain, purchased from local woodworking store)
  • Many foam brushes (Home Depot)
The finished product doesn’t look exactly like its PB cousin, but it’s pretty close. For about $200 total, I’m quite content to lay my head in my new big girl grownup bed! For any of you that have been intimidated by the thought of staining furniture instead of painting it, I definitely encourage you to try it -- even if it's just a small table at first, it's a great skill to add to your furniture re-do repertoire.

 The finished product. Excuse the total lack of furnishings/too small nightstand in the background. I also need to get  a few more throw pillows.

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