Design Assistance: Perfecting the Look

Apologies again for all the issues with the last post, I have no idea why certain posts decide to break things like that! Also, in trying to fix the post I did a WordPress update and a theme update, and now I can’t get my link colors back to what they are supposed to be, even after altering the Stylesheet’s CSS. Bummer.

Sometimes a design plan doesn’t fly on the first try. When I initially published my last post, Jess and I thought the best plan was for her to go with the larger Stenstorp island and paint the base with something like this Rustoleum silver paint to help it from blending into her base cabinets (since she doesn’t have a good place to spray paint). We also liked the idea of her possibly replacing the top with a larger Numerär countertop so that there was more knee room on all sides. The main issue with this plan is that the Numerär counter is a little long for the Stenstorp base, and Jess doesn’t own a circular saw. (For anyone else who finds themselves without a saw but wanting tackle a similar project this but is without a saw — try using the Gerton table top.)

After seeing my mock up, Jess liked the idea of the stainless prep table, but she was a little sad to give up the idea of a butcher block top. Then over the weekend she sent me this snapshot of a display table in a local shop.

napa home and garden island

“Spotted this in a little shop… Two shelves, has a ‘lip’, could seat 6 in a pinch, has wheels (‘industrial’ factor), wooden shelves with gray-brown metal legs (matches the general color scheme). Asked the two salesgirls if it was for sale and was told they probably could sell it to me even though it wasn’t officially up for sale; they would have to ask the owner. They said they thought the brand was Napa Home & Garden. A subsequent Google search was not helpful. Thoughts on any of this??”

At first glance I loved it, but after thinking about it for a little while I don’t really like the fact that it doesn’t have a ‘lip’ on all four sides. Also I’m concerned that the shop owner may consider this such a unique piece that even if they decide to sell it to Jess they’ll overcharge her. This West Elm Market Design Workshop Wood Top Bar + Counter is pretty similar, but way out of Jess’s price range. The  Jackson Kitchen Cart from World Market is also similar, but would be tough to use as a table since it doesn’t have knee room.

island rendering 2

island mock-up

For a similar look at a more budget-friendly price, I would combine this stainless prep table, an additional shelf, and the Ikea Gerton table top. There are casters available for the prep table as well, and I like the idea of possibly aging the stainless with a light coat of something like Pewter Rub N Buff.  This combination also allows for a lip on all sides of the island, making it easier to double as a table. Although I haven’t priced it out, a similar look could even be achieved using galvanized pipe.

stool options

low back stools | yellow stools

Another thing  Jess decided after reading my last post and emails was that she might prefer stools with a low back. Industry West makes a Low Back Stool which is similar stool to the Tabouret stools I suggested from Overstock. To keep things affordable, I would pair two of the Industry West stools with four of the less expensive Tabourets. This will also save space, as the Tabourets can be stacked when not in use. As for color, red would tie in with her red cabinet in the living room, but it might be fun to have the Tabourets in another color — maybe yellow? I also like the “vintage” metal color.

Also, on island/stool height — standard table height is around 30″, and chair seats are 17-18″. The Trinity table I recommend Jess use is 36″ and what is considered counter height. If she were to add casters then her island would be bar height. A good rule of thumb is that for the average person bar is elbow height, counter is waist height, and table is hip height.

These slight changes to the island and the stools better fit the vision Jess was going for, and still fit into the design plan I came up with. Later I’ll be addressing the issue of replacing the Kivik sofa as I mentioned at the end of the last post.

Looking for design advice? Visit the Design Assistance page, or email me at

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Design Assistance: Ideas for a Philly Loft

Apologies to anyone who reads in a reader on through email! Every time I try to post this is breaks the blog, so I have to remove it. I’m about to give up trying to post this!

Back in January I showed you some photos of my sister’s apartment and a design board I had made for her for her living room. I also mentioned how she wasn’t attached to the place because it felt too big. At the end of the post I gave you a sneak peek of the place she would be moving into, and an idea of how her Kivik sofa & the curtains I recommended might translate into the new place.

j's new place

Earlier this week my sister Jess sent me a photo of her new kitchen (she moves in 28 days!) and asked for my help finding a kitchen island that doubles as a table. Here’s what she had to say about her new space:

“Floors are gray plank, ceiling is lighter gray concrete. [Selling] pretty much everything… there just isn’t room. Keeping the sleeper sofa, red cabinet, one bookshelf, and whatever we can find as a table. Pretty much everything I have is various shades of green, but I’m not particularly attached to that. Probably no back or low back [stools].”

j's new kitchen smaller

I quickly looked back at the living room board I made in January and was relieved to see I had gone in the right direction. This loft apartment is a perfect setting for modern & industrial style furnishings mixed with colorful and cozy accessories. To me it’s the perfect marriage of elegance & class with youthful accents.

j living room studio

curtains | nesting tables | rug | pillows | slipcover | pouf | print

Since Jess said she isn’t especially attached the the green color scheme she has going on, I recommended she go with a predominately blue & yellow color scheme and accent it with pops of red, but to also keep the larger pieces neutral. The colors were pulled from the artwork – Jess lived abroad for about 18 months during college, and this Amsterdam bike print looks like something she would love. It should pair well with the travel themed prints seen in her previous apartment, but it helps to introduce some color as well (the other prints are black & white). By choosing to keep the larger purchases gray & tan, she’ll be able to change things up easily if she gets tired of the color scheme.

With a sleeper sofa I’d vote for a pouf or two instead of a traditional ottoman or coffee table, and I think that the slim nesting side tables would be a better option than a bulkier nightstand because the room is part bedroom & part living room. Rather than take of table space with a lamp, I’d love to see something wall mounted, maybe Daniel’s Frack Hack. I loved the blue curtains with breezy sheers in her last apartment, but in this apartment I’d go with pipe curtain rods.

j's new kitchen smaller

Here’s the photo of the kitchen again, to save you scrolling time.

I researched a myriad options for the island: the Ikea Stenstorp, the Ikea Varde base cabinet, either of those options with a larger Numerar countertop to allow maximum seating, the Ikea Utby bar table, the Crate & Barrel Belmont, West Elm’s Rustic Kitchen Island, various Craigslist options (including a few discontinued Crate & Barrel and Ikea models), eBay classifieds, several contenders from, Wayfair & J C Penny… And briefly– the possibility of flying to Philly, felling a tree buying wood from a hardware store/lumber yard, and lovingly hand-crafting a custom island that would be the envy of all her neighbors and guests. I would then drive to Philly and rescue said island for my future loft art studio when she undoubtedly moves again in a year. I’m only half kidding about that last custom island part.

Most of these options were ruled out, for reasons like difficulty shipping/fitting them in her sedan/lugging them up the elevator, her lack of drill and circular saw, inability to see them in person first, the fear of Craigslist killers, and the cost of airfare. (Mostly kidding about those last two.) Also, since Jess’s kitchen is already full of warm wood tones and gray tile I think a wooden island base might blend in a little too much. I suggested she go with a stainless work table paired with red stools, and consider the possibility of switching the top out for a butcher block top down the line. (I’ll talk more in a later post about my hunt for the perfect prep table.)

I imagined the island shelf as the perfect spot to bring in a couple of light toned woven baskets, full of kitchen linens or anything she doesn’t want to keep directly on the counter. Underneath the island a jute rug would help ground the space (and also be resilient in case something spills). The metal locker basket would make a great produce bin.

j kitchen 3

table | stools | metal basket | woven basket | rug

After my exhaustive island research I went rogue and began plotting the other side of Jess’s living room/entryway. Since the apartment is a studio, I envision part of the living room acting as an entryway. Jess wants to wall mount her TV this time, so I’d use part of the red cabinet to hold some a DVD player & router, and maybe wall mount her Apple TV as well). Next I’d hang a few hooks (for purses, coats, keys, and reusable bags) beside the red cabinet and position her paper floor lamp beside the mirror – possibly on a timer, so she doesn’t come home to a dark apartment. I’d also forgo the shoe bench in favor of another woven basket and a side chair that could pull double duty as a place to put on shoes and extra seating for guests.

J entryway

light | mirror | cabinet | chair | hooks | basket

Overall, I am completely smitten with how it all came together. I think it’s a great mix of modern pieces and a few industrial touches to pay homage to the style of the apartment. The red cabinet, stools, and peacock chair are all classic styles but the colors help to keep things fresh & youthful. The neutral couch, rug, and nesting tables keep it from feeling like Crayola threw up all over the place.

SPOILER ALERT: Ever the independent thinker, Jess decided (after my research and very lengthy email on islands and stools) that she liked my first suggestion of the Stenstorp island. She also mentioned that her Kivik is very comfortable but it doesn’t fit in her current building’s elevator OR her new building’s. It’s also very heavy, wide, and she’s worried it will dominate the living room. Such a trickster. Way to pull the rug out from under a girl, sis! ;)

UPDATE: After my first attempted at getting this to post, Jess read it in her email and decided that she liked the idea of a stainless prep table as an island, but she was a little sad about not having a butcher block top, so I did some more research and updated the post.

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Recent Tweaks

Just popping in with a few photos of what Robert and I have been working on lately. Apologies for weird angles and bad lighting, Robert is the usual photographer. Also, please excuse the paint swatches taped in the living room, and on the lower cabinets (feel free to weigh in on color).

kitchen from living room

Things you should notice in the above and below photos- the new kitchen lights (sorry the one over the sink is blown out; the other is the Contour Semi-Flush Light from West Elm), the fridge surround, pantry & transom, the island, the DVD shelf, and the new wall color (Valspar’s Glass Tile from the Creative Ideas line). It’s come quite a way since October, hasn’t it?

media shelf

As far as the fridge surround and pantry go, it’s a huge upgrade from the way things were before. I think Robert is glad I took a pry bar to the old MDF pantry with broken shelves back in November, while he was out on his dad’s boat. Even if we have more trim work (crown moulding, the shelves above the fridge) and painting to do…


Oh yeah, and pantry shelves. Just in case you think I was holding out on you, the pantry has been shelf-less for going on 6 months now. Superman occasionally stops by when he can’t find a phone booth to change in.

pantry open

For anyone who hasn’t been reading since the beginning, here was our kitchen when we bought the house in 2009.

kitchen before

The upshot of slowly redoing the kitchen over the past 3.5 years? We’ve still been able to use it every day. The working triangle is so much better with the fridge and pantry swapped, and the new mini island.

kitchen angle

The fridge surround and pantry were built using three sheets of cabinet grade plywood, 1x3s for bracing, and a mixture of obscenely long deck screws (Robert likes overkill) and drywall screws. The right-hand pantry wall created a weird alcove on the pony wall, and thus the DVD shelf was born (built using scrap cabinet ply and a 1×6). Including the door, it probably cost around $200-250.

The island is red oak 3x3s (stacked, to create a 5″ tall top), the legs and apron fronts came from a table our neighbor threw out, and we added casters from eBay. The top is finished with Danish oil in natural, and we painted the legs with a sample can of Valspar’s Lyndhurst Duchess Blue. Total cost was around $130.

We still need to finish up crown moulding, cabinet doors (weighing our options, DIY vs buy custom), countertops, and a backsplash. Hopefully we’ll come in around $5,000 for the whole kitchen, including appliances.

We may take a break from the kitchen after the crown moulding, and turn our sights back to the laundry room. (Or the guest bathroom, wouldn’t that be something?)

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Friday Musings

Did anyone read today’s post on YHL, where they asked readers whether they would pick a $460 armchair, or a handful of accessories that total the same amount? It’s an interesting topic. In the novel of a comment I left (I’d link to it, but now I can’t find it), I mentioned that  In the given scenario, I voted for the spread vs the splurge, because I believe the white wicker chair Sherry chose would become dated quickly (I actually only liked the duvet and the bathmat in the spread, though). Had they chosen a chair with more classic lines, I’d probably have chosen the splurge.

The second half of my novel length comment referenced my parents’ living room as a room that uses statement pieces and less expensive accessories. I recently referenced the same room in a comment I made on Emily’s blog, so I figure it’s probably about time I share the goods (even if “the goods” are in the form of iPhone photos).

parents' living room

parents' living room2

parents' living room3

“I prefer to spend my money on quality investment pieces, and then accentuate with less expensive accessories. I tend to go with a mix of classic and trendy, which I guess makes my house “eclectic”. I probably come by this honestly, as my mom recently replaced the sofa she’d had for about 20 years with a West Elm Henry sofa, two West Elm Veronica chairs, then added a trendier West Elm clearance rug (the Zola, which I believe she was able to buy with rewards points) and classic curtains from J C Penny. I think that was a good decision on her part, as a rug is something relatively easy to change out when the mood strikes.”

The thing I love most about about my parents’ house is that everything is uniquely and unapologetically them. These days with blogs, countless decor magazines, Pinterest, and HGTV, it’s easy for spaces to start looking homogeneous. I’m certainly guilty of jumping on-trend with some things in our house (the living room rug, yellow&gray to name a couple). In the past I’ve described our house’s style as handmade eclectic meets West Elm, and mentioned that I like the “collected over time” look. I think my parents’ house has a comfortable, timeless charm to it; sophisticated without being overly-styled or trying too hard. It also has a certain unexpected quirk to it, which is

I’m probably biased, but I think their living room flows well into the surrounding areas. The new sofa and chairs are current enough to keep things fresh, but they have classic lines and will age well. They also pair nicely with the heirloom Danish Modern table and the salvaged armoire (which I have to say I am and always have been enamored with) in the dining room. While the total price on the room may come in over the Trading Spaces $1000 budget of yesteryear, the purchases were spread out to fit a modest budget.

The rest of the house is lovely, too. Maybe warranting an Other Pads post by Emily? It could be like a two-for-one, since our house is right around the corner. *wink*  My mom finally got her kitchen renovation after 27 years, and the slate-like tile they used was carried into the sun room (formerly known as the Playroom) off the dining room and the front room (through the doorway in the first photo).

If I remember correctly:

Living Room – The blue chair hails from Scan Design (many years ago), the white bench is from Ethan Allen, the floor lamp by the sofa is from Pottery Barn, the picture over the sofa is from IKEA, the wall hanging is from Ten Thousand Villages (this one is similar) and the TV console came from Haverty’s. The ceiling fan was a wedding present, made by Hunter. The sofa is the West Elm Henry, the white chairs are West Elm Veronica, the blue floor length thermal drapes (not pictured) are JC Penny. Across from the couch (not pictured) is an antique church pew.

Dining Room – The armoire is from a salvage shop, the teak dining table is a Danish Modern family heirloom, and I believe the barely-visible dining chairs are Scan Design.

The paint color in both spaces is Valspar’s Malted Milk.

Maybe my mom will chime in with a comment, or to answer any questions. (Unless she’s too embarrassed that I’ve posted her house on my blog – Happy Mother’s Day?) Next time I’ll show more of their amazing kitchen, but here’s a teaser. I think my mom would tell you it’s worth waiting for.

parents kitchen 2

Edited to correct sources.

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On Tragedy and Justice

I know this is not my usual topic of choice, so if you’ve had enough of political talk, feel free to skip this post and come back when I’m talking about our house again.

“We still do not know who did this or why and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But, make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this. We will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.” – President Obama, Statement on the Boston Marathon Explosions (April 15, 2013)

In light of yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon, and especially after the president’s comments, I feel like today we are all waiting for answers. I also think I stand with everyone in truly hoping that those answers come quickly. However, I know from personal experience that sometimes justice does not come quickly, or even in the form you hoped it would.

source (please let me know if you know the original source)

Prior to everything that Robert and I experienced in our personal lives in 2011, and the aftermath in 2012, I believed that we lived in a just world. “Everything happens for a reason,” I thought, a mantra adopted from my grandmother. Unfortunately for Robert and me, things did not turn out the way we expected. We are still working on accepting that, but I think we’ve done our best to let go of the anger.

At least for me, the acts of kindness are what get me through the day in difficult times. Nearly every year on the anniversary of September 11th, author Meg Cabot reposts the story of what that day was like for her, and every time I read it it hits me differently. Last year when I read it I was stuck the most by the stories of the ways people helped each other, sometimes without regard for their own safety.

This quote from Fred Rogers has been making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook in the wake of yesterday.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.” – Fred Rogers

When I worked at Starbucks during college, we always did our best to comp orders for police, fire fighters, EMTs, and those in the military. It was our small way of thanking them for everything they do to protect and serve.

I have no connection to Boston, but my sister is a marathoner, and though she was not in Boston yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d feel if I were one of the family members waiting for news. Even without a personal connection I felt helpless, and wished that I were closer to Boston so I could donate blood. Next my mind went to Meg’s story, about how in 2001 there was so much surplus blood that it had to be destroyed (fortunately, if you can even say such a thing at a time like this, these days technology allows us to simply tweet that the blood bank’s supply is doing fine). I also remembered being a high school freshman, and how after the attacks on the Pentagon and Flight 93, everyone at our school was terrified the next attack might be on military bases nearby.

I suppose it is human nature to try to make sense of things by comparing them to past experiences, but I tried not to jump to conclusions when reports of suspicious packages started coming in yesterday. I think that there is a difference between knowing in the back of your mind that something is a remote possibility, and escalating the situation with speculation. Just as the stories of kindness kept me going yesterday, I am thankful for the reports that city officials in other major cities heightened security without creating a mass panic and taking the focus away from the situation at hand.

Maybe I’m a hippie, and maybe I’m a pacifist, but I’d like to believe that as a nation, and as a world, we’ve grown a lot from past attacks. I know as a person I’ve grown simply from the experience of being a crime victim, going through the trial (and everything leading up to it), and having to deal with the reality of things not working out the way I thought they would. Maybe if things had unfolded differently, if “justice was served”, it would have made me feel better right away, but it would have also allowed me to let my guard down. I’ve always been a cautious person, but recently I’ve learned to be hyper aware, and to take better precautions when in dangerous situations. There may always be a part of me that thinks striking back is the answer, but I’ve learned that sometimes true strength of character really is turning the other cheek. I’m not saying that we should ignore what has happened, or that we should compare one act to another, but I hope we have learned that thought-out, measured steps are often more just than striking back with the same force.

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” — George Washington, Jan. 8, 1790

I think that as a nation we’ve learned from Pearl Harbor, September 11th, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and even from natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. We’ve learned ways to protect ourselves on airplanes and in schools or large crowds. Our government has learned how to stand ready, and better respond in the event of an attack. And I’d like to think that we’ve learned that it’s not how quickly we race to arm ourselves that stops our enemies in their tracks, but how quickly we band together, and race into the unknown to help each other.

I’m ending this with a quote from The Diary of Anne Frank. If you haven’t read it recently I think it will resonate just a little differently.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again.” – Anne Frank

Fred Rogers quote from Mental Floss; Anne Frank quote from Wikiquote

ETA - Obama’s remarks today really sort of sum up what I was trying to say:

“We also know this — the American people refuse to be terrorized. Because what the world saw yesterday in the aftermath of the explosions were stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love: Exhausted runners who kept running to the nearest hospital to give blood, and those who stayed to tend to the wounded, some tearing off their own clothes to make tourniquets. The first responders who ran into the chaos to save lives. The men and women who are still treating the wounded at some of the best hospitals in the world, and the medical students who hurried to help, saying “When we heard, we all came in.” The priests who opened their churches and ministered to the hurt and the fearful. And the good people of Boston who opened their homes to the victims of this attack and those shaken by it.

So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.” - President Obama, Statement on the Boston Marathon Explosions (April 16, 2013)

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Building a West Elm Inspired Outdoor Sofa

I apologize ahead of time for the during pictures, they were taken with my iPhone as I didn’t plan on writing a tutorial. Also, I’m not the greatest at writing tutorials, but I’m happy to answer any questions if anything is unclear!

When I created the design board for our back porch, we planned on building a DIY version of the West Elm Tillary Outdoor Sofa base and filling their $169 cover with foam or batting. Unfortunately, after sitting on one at West Elm we realized the back cushions slipped around quite a bit and weren’t as supportive as we’d hoped. We also preferred the 17″ seat height of the Tillary Sofa to the 12″ seat height of the outdoor version.

Keeping the idea of the Tillary in mind, we wandered around the store testing out other sofas and settees, trying to formulate a plan. Ultimately we decided to basically build a larger version of the ottoman we built for the living room, with a back rest. (Although we didn’t see one in person, our sofa is sort of similar to the Baxter Sofa.) Then we picked up two of these cute Arrow Pillow Covers, and went to buy our supplies.


  • 2 pressure treated 4′ x 8′ sheets of 1/2″ plywood
  • 2 pressure treated 1″ x 6″ x 8′ boards
  • 1 pressure treated 1″ x 6″ x 6′ board
  • 1 pressure treated 4″ x 4″ post (or scrap wood)
  • 6 wooden fence post tops (or bun feet)
  • 4 heavy duty metal L brackets
  • 9′ x 12′ canvas drop cloth or equivalent yardage of indoor/outdoor fabric
  • fabric dye (optional)
  • 24″ x 90″ sheet 4″ upholstery foam
  • 24″ x 72″ sheet 2″ upholstery foam
  • 20 yard roll of 1/4″ loft batting
  • 2 cans heavy duty headliner adhesive
  • Screws
  • Nuts, bolts & washers
  • 1 can outdoor Scotchgard (optional)
  • 1 can spray paint (optional)
  • Drill
  • Staple gun
  • Clamps (optional)
  • Cut off wheel (optional)
  • Scissors

Estimated Cost: $300-350

Since the hardware store is better at making long, straight cuts, we had our plywood sheets cut to 30″ x 72″ and 28″ x 72″. Keep the excess, you never know when that will come in handy. (You could even use it to make a coordinating ottoman.) When we got home we cut the 1″ x 6″ x 8′ boards into six 29″ pieces, but you could have the hardware store cut those for you as well.

If you’re going to dye your canvas, do that now. Robert and I followed Emily’s steps. Ultimately we ended up using three packets of Rit Pearl Gray powder, and half a bottle of black liquid dye. (The above photo was taken before the black dye cycle.) If you don’t plan to dye your canvas, just toss it in the dryer on warm to remove any wrinkles.

Lay the 30″ x 72″ piece of plywood across two saw horses and attach the 1″ x 6″ x 6′ board along the front edge. You may have to trim the board slightly, as ours was about 1/2″ too long. We tacked the board in place using a pneumatic finish nail gun, and then went back with these 3″ coated deck screws because we like overkill. You could probably skip the nail gun step and just use long screws. After that, attach two 29″ pieces of 1″ x 6″ board along the sides the same way.

Attach the other four 29″ boards the same way, spacing them out evenly (I think ours were 14″ apart). Then attach the 28″ x 72″ sheet of plywood along the back. If you’re like us, you’ll have to stop at this point and run back to Lowe’s 45 minutes before they close for metal L brackets. Don’t be like us.

Again, if you’re like us it will be dark, and you’ll stop here because you’re starving. Assuming that’s not the case, attach your L brackets. I attached ours on the seat surface, along the two outside edges, and the over the inner-most 29″ boards. Screw the bottom of the L bracket into the seat, making sure to screw into the support boards, and then use bolts to attach the bracket to back of the sofa. Our bolts had to be shortened with a cut off wheel tool, but you may find bolts the perfect length.

Once the L brackets are attached, carefully lay the sofa on it’s back and attach the legs. We spray painted six Severe Weather 4-in x 4-in Treated Post Caps black and used them as our legs, but you could anything from these bun feet to casters. (Although, I recommend using something like Thompson’s WaterSeal if you use regular bun feet.) Since we wanted the seat height of our sofa to be 17″, we cut a 5″ length of 4″x4″ to attach the post cap to, and then screwed them both into the sofa frame using our 3″ deck screws.

Once your legs are attached, it’s time to attach your foam.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to find a 30″ x 72″ piece of 4″ foam, but otherwise a 24″ x 90″ piece will work just fine. Also, our JoAnn has a policy against making more than one cut for a customer, so we simply cut ours into three 24″ x 30″ pieces using a serrated knife. It won’t matter that the seat is made up of three pieces after you wrap everything in batting. Initially we planned to just use scrap foam wrapped in batting for the back support, but ultimately we went back to JoAnn for a 24″ x 72″ piece of 2″ foam (tragically without a coupon that time).

Spray the seat board with heavy duty headliner adhesive, and then spray the underside of the seat cushions. We applied our seat in 3 sections to make things easier on ourselves, and tried our best to keep the gaps between the pieces as minimal as possible. For best adhesion, allow the adhesive to set for five minutes before sticking the cushion to the seat board. Once each piece is in place, weigh it down with something while it sets (we used hand weights).

Once the seat cushions are in place and you’ve given the glue a chance to set, gently tip the sofa on it’s back and wrap the seat in batting. We just tucked the back of our batting into the crevice between the back support and the back of the foam, and then wrapped the front and sides, stapling as we went. The corners will be a bit tricky, but you can either wrap them like you’re wrapping a present, or cut a slit in the corner and wrap each side independently. (For more detailed steps, Michelle wraps her corners like a present in this post, and Megan sews her corners together in this post.)

the canvas looks Light ‘Urple here, but I assure you it’s gray

At this point we chose to attach our canvas drop cloth as well. We felt it was the best way to ensure we got everything lined up correctly (especially since the drop cloth we used had seams, and we wanted to make sure those didn’t end up in a weird place). We rotated our canvas so that one of the 9′ sides was along the front edge, and then tucked the canvas into the crevice behind the seat cushions (like we did with the batting). After carefully stapling the drop cloth into the crevice, we stapled along the sides, and then the front edge, wrapping the corners like a present. It may be easier to cut your canvas and cover the seat, and then cover the back. You could also use two long pieces of indoor/outdoor fabric to cover the sofa.

While the sofa is on its back, attach the back cushion to the back support with adhesive the same way you attached the seat cushion. Since our back extends 18″ above the seat, and our JoAnn will not make any cuts less than 24″, we cut the excess off of our 24″ x 72″ piece of foam and used it for added lumbar support (we also put a roll of batting above the lumbar support to lessen the step in the foam). You could simply use an 18″ x 72″ piece of 3-4″ foam.

Once the adhesive has set, rotate the sofa onto its legs and wrap the back with batting and canvas (or another strip of indoor/outdoor fabric). It may be easier to rotate the sofa onto it’s front to reach the underside of the back edge. The outside edges of the back support will be done like a really long corner (you can see how ours turned out below). We had enough of our canvas left to skin the bottom of the sofa as well, but that’s not necessary.

Yay, you’re done!! Now relax on your new sofa!

Note: We took things a step further and Scotchgarded our sofa (and we may actually buy a weatherproof cover for it as well). If you’re going to use Scotchgard, test it on an inconspicuous area or an extra swatch of fabric first.

Additional note: We are lucky we moved the sofa onto the porch after attaching the back support, because the doorway into the porch is 32″. If we had tried to complete anymore steps outside we may not have been able to get the sofa onto the porch. If you have equally narrow doorways it may be best to build in place, after making all your cuts.

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Back Porch Daydreaming

I’ve been thinking about our back porch since I showed you the current state of our patio in my last post. We have made ridiculously slow progress when it comes to our back porch & backyard area. I’ve made a lot of plans, but we haven’t followed through on many of them. Mostly because I change my mind a lot the idea of working around a pool table has been sort of daunting. How the heck do you replace flooring under that mammoth anyhow?

Here’s the sad state of affairs that was our back porch, circa March 2011. Not much has changed. To give you a sense of scale, our back porch is about 14 feet wide by 28 feet long.

We haven’t done much yet, aside from replacing the fans and painting the walls of the house Valspar’s Oatlands Gold Buff with Almost Charcoal window sills. The other two walls remain OSB plywood painted white. How attractive.

We bought a dining set from Target for one side of the porch shortly after moving in, and on the other side is a billiards table that we received from family friends. We realized that we don’t eat out on the porch very often though, so we’re looking to  make the area more of a conversation/seating area. The table & chairs will be going to our friends who live down the street.

Fan | Rug | Sofa | Light | Coffee Table

We scored the Hunter Sanibel fan at ReStore a while back, and finally painted over the peachy-salmon color. We’re planning to DIY a version of the Tillary Outdoor Sofa, mount a tv, add a light near the back door, and make drop cloth curtains with galvanized pipe hardware. I’m also eying the Marais Coffee Table and a Quinta Nawra Trellis Outdoor Rug to finish out the space.

Further down the road we want to turn the single door opening to the patio into barn doors, and move that door to the other side of the porch (opposite the back door), leading to the dogs’ area of the yard. We also need to figure out what to do for flooring. It needs to be something that can get wet, since the screen doesn’t do much in the way of keeping rain out. Unfortunately replacing the screen with plexi or glass isn’t in the budget. Yet.

Did you notice the pea gravel flowerbeds(?) along the house? Going to be interesting flooring over those.

We picked up this restaurant style sink (also from ReStore) a while back, but need to plumb it. It will be going on the little step between the conversation area and the pool table (where the grill is in the photos above). I think initially that concrete pad was used for the AC handler, or maybe an oil tank for a heater. We may add a beer fridge in this area, too.

We have discussed the idea of making ledges for Robert’s collection of beer bottles over the sink, but we’re unsure. Drilling into the stucco doesn’t sound like much fun, so they go straight in the recycling bin. (Love you, honey!)

Barstool | Light | Billiards Table (similar to ours)

The other side of the porch will mainly be about the billiards table, of course. I’d like to center a larger light over it, possibly a DIY version of the Alliance 3 Light Chandelier from Barn Light Electric, and put a couple of bar stools on that end. The one shown is a knock off of the classic Bertoia wire chair, made be the company as our dining chairs.

Anyone else planning an outdoor space now that the weather is starting to warm up?

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How to Evict a Raccoon from Your Attic (Maybe)

Please note we are in no way experts on this subject. There are however some links at the end of the post with more professional advice.

Over the weekend we learned we have an unexpected house guest (or possibly guests).


Yep, that’s right. A raccoon. Considering the season, it’s most likely a mother raccoon and her babies.

A couple of weeks ago I told Robert (and Twitter) that it sounded like something large scurried across the dining room. Since we didn’t hear the noise again, we (foolishly) thought that maybe it was on the roof and not actually in the attic. Later, a neighbor told us they saw a raccoon on our roof, and we felt a bit better.

Haha, suckers! (source)

A few days later the neighbor told us they saw a large raccoon climbing into our roof, and yesterday Robert and I heard it while standing in the guest room.


We have bad luck when it comes to critters. Really bad luck. Cue furious Googling for humane ways to evict a raccoon family from an attic.


By all accounts, raccoons are strong, and can cause surprising amounts of damage. They can pretty much rip through anything, so while we will be boxing the soffits in with soffit material soon, we opted for a lower cost combination of tactics for now, and when we’re sure they’re gone we’ll completely enclose the eaves.

First, we checked all our soffits for holes, and counted how many there were total (33 triangular soffits, and 19-20 rectangular openings). Then we went to Lowe’s to access our options. We decided to go with a product that is sold as a rain gutter covering. It’s vinyl mesh with a screen backing, made by Amerimax. At $2.10 for a 6″ by 36″ strip, the price was right, too.

We got home and got to work. Robert broke out the air compressor and pneumatic stapler while I started cutting the mesh to length. For our soffits the best fit was about 12 inches of mesh, or roughly one third of the strip. I also cut off the “snap in” part meant to hold it onto a rain gutter so that it laid flush to the wall.

You can see below that our eaves need some serious repainting up close it’s not the prettiest, but it should do the job. Fortunately from the ground you can’t tell that the edges don’t meet the joists perfectly.

Since our soffit openings are triangular, Robert did his best to line the middle of the two panels up with the point of the triangle. Before stapling the mesh down, Robert sprayed Critter Ridder into the opening. It gets mixed reviews, but for $17 it was worth a try. Just a few squirts in places where the previous screen (most of which was installed from the inside of the wall, possibly when the house was built) was intact, and liberally in the areas where we knew the raccoons entered/nested close by. Spray, staple, repeat.

Also, try not to step off the ladder and twist your ankle. (No, we don’t know anyone who did that, why do you ask?)

Speaking of the raccoons entering/exiting, it’s best to leave the most popular opening uncovered until you no longer hear the raccoon(s). We may also follow another bit of advice we read and shove some wadded up newspaper in place to help gauge if they’re still coming & going.

I call the below our Raccoon Super Highway. And you can bet I basically open hand face-palmed when I realized this had been open for the past 3 years. D’oh! No idea why I trusted the former owners to have enclosed it properly. You can see we closed up the righthand side, and have left the lefthand side open for now.

I call this next one the Raccoon Super Highway Part 2. It’s basically a row of 19-20 openings over the screen porch. Fantastic, right?

The Raccoon Super Highway is located to the right of the patio below (behind the tree branch) and Raccoon Super Highway Part 2 runs the entire length of the porch.

You can also see the patio we hastily threw together for Robert’s birthday, the storm door that shattered and caused him to need stitches (damn door! I’m replacing you with barn doors, just you wait!), and our DIY adirondack chairs.

Also our semi brake drum turned fit pit, and Robert’s beer bottle collection. Keepin’ it classy.

So that’s Part 1. Part 2 involves sealing off the Raccoon Super Highway Part 2, and playing loud music in the house/attic to disrupt their sleep and encourage them to leave. If all of that fails then Part 3 will be paying someone to remove them/their nest (which should be interesting given the size of our attic craw;space), and to attempt to remove the raccoon soiled insulation.

Having your own critter problem? We found these links helpful: Raccoons In the Attic, Getting Rid of Raccoons in the Attic, Get Rid of Raccoons,

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Spending Freeze

here’s a pretty sunset, since I’m talking about budgeting

Early in the year I set out some pretty simple budgeting goals. Last week I mentioned that Robert and I had some unexpected bills pop up. While we definitely aren’t broke by any means, we need to keep a closer eye on spending, cut out some of our (my) project-spending, and increase our emergency fund. I know many experts recommend a $1,000 emergency fund, at least to start with, but that doesn’t seem realistic to us as homeowners. Especially after a few years of realizing that the unexpected things tend to pop up more often when you own an older house (or possibly any house).

Robert has a spreadsheet for most of our bills, but I prefer to keep more of a mental tally. Generally speaking we’re doing pretty well, but when I was doing our taxes this year, I noticed that we made significantly more in 2012 than we did in 2011 and yet we don’t have as much as we’d like to show for it. Yes, we bought a new fridge, we went to Seattle, and we’re working on a bathroom renovation, but even factoring in the cost of those things it was pretty apparent that we splurged or “rewarded ourselves” a little too much last year. We resolved to do better this year, to pay down or eliminate our debts, and bolster our savings accounts and emergency fund.

Projects and eating out are Robert’s and my weak areas. We don’t have cable or gym memberships, Robert cuts his own hair (and mine), we make our morning coffee at home, and we pack our lunches. With the exception of our ancient water heater we have energy efficient appliances and mainly use CFL bulbs, which help to keep our power/water bill low. Other than our recent Seattle trip, we don’t take big vacations. We don’t even go out to the movies, concerts, or bars. I don’t buy new clothes very often, and when I do they’re inexpensive or good quality but on sale. We do tend splurge on food, whether it’s eating out or something like the Whole Foods hot bar, and projects/things for the house. It’s partially why I lovingly refer to our guest room (future master bedroom, after the bathroom is complete and we install hardwood) as a mini-warehouse. Embarrassing.

Yes, I know. We are totally boring. My birthday Lowe’s gift card for drywall (and my extra margarita at dinner) was very exciting, ok?

What I haven’t mentioned is that sometimes when I am stressed out I overspend. So you can imagine where this is going. While I was crunching the numbers on our taxes and unexpected bills, I went a little project-supply crazy. I’m trying not to feel that bad about it, I liken it to how people often overeat before starting a diet. Did you know that studies have even shown that budgets can actually increase spending?

So, I bought sockets for the dining room light, a West Elm light that was on sale (I had a gift card, but it won’t ship until March anyway, so I should have waited until shipping was free two weeks ago), some hardware for the china hutch (which I later returned), and supplies for an ottoman for Dottie. I may have bought a dress and cardigan from ModCloth. I also didn’t object when Robert suggested we go out for tacos.

grainy iPhone photo of drop cloth covered ottoman

After all of that I thought about that fact that we would have been royally screwed if Dots had needed surgery right away, or if we had another unexpected house repair. I went though bank statements and made a list of how much money we had spent on unneeded purchases, a list of all our bills/payments (including payoff amount), and a spreadsheets to help keep better track of saving. Then Robert and I took a hard look at our monthly expenses and discussed which ones we can reduce/eliminate. I numbered them in the order we’d like to pay off, starting with the one with the highest interest rate. We also heavily focused on the fact that we need to stop spending money on things that aren’t necessities. We did budget in the possibility one weekly dinner out, typically at the end of the week to unwind.

found on Pinterest

I loosely based our saving spreadsheet on the 52 Week Money Challenge above. (Many commenters suggested reversing the amounts, so that you are not paying yourself $202 at the same time as buying holiday gifts.) I think the challenge is a good idea in principle, and the amounts are reasonable, especially if you’re single or supporting a family on one income. I also really liked the fact that it’s a very visual representation of a goal, and can be updated or checked off weekly, similar to the feeling of crossing a task off a To Do list. Personally, I know that Robert and I can easily save more than $1,378 in a year’s worth of time, so our goal is $100 per paycheck, which brings us closer to $5,000 for the year. We want to pay off or reduce the balances on credit cards, car loans & Robert’s student loan, and refinance the house.

So how are we doing? In total we had eight debts that we want to reduce or eliminate, and that includes our house and Robert’s truck. We also paid off a small loan in January before making the list. As I mentioned last week, I paid off my credit card, and we are on track with out savings. We decided that once we pay off three of the eight we will celebrate by doing a larger project, possibly having the ceiling in our hall bathroom repaired. Maybe an odd splurge to some, but you know we’re DIY & renovation junkies. I also told Robert that his graduation present in August is new cabinet doors for the kitchen, so I’ve been looking up quotes on that in preparation. Feel free to weigh in on how easy/hard it is to build shaker style cabinet doors.

We’re both feeling pretty good about the path we’re on, but we’re also realistic about the fact that sometimes you need to have a life, in addition to paying things off.


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Warning: This post is going to be loooooooooooong, probably boring, with no blog-sexy before & afters.

Please take a moment to look back on this post (specifically the part where I talked about finishing up projects that are dragging along) and laugh at me. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that Dots has been having hip pain. And also that we recently had our electrical panel replaced. For those of you know don’t know, I will now launch into the very long story explaining the previous sentence.

Dots’ problem started sometime around Freckles’ 7th birthday. We were doting on Helper Dog, and talking about how it didn’t feel like 6 years since we adopted him, and patting ourselves on the back for having such healthy 7 and almost-7 year old dogs. I’m not going to pause and let you laugh this time, so just try to keep the snickering to a dull-roar.

We had noticed that Dots was letting out the occasional yelp when we cuddled her, but we could never figure out a reason. Whatever hurt was gone as soon as she yelped. Similar to the yelp that Freckles lets out if one of us accidentally steps on his foot (he is extremely-helpful/always underfoot). Then one morning at 5:30am Dots woke up screaming (there really is no other word for it). I thought maybe I had rolled over onto her legs or something, and tried to comfort her. I stroked her ears and told her I was sorry, and that hopefully whatever was bothering her would feel better when we got up. An hour and a half later it happened again. I stroked her ears to comfort her and noticed that her right hind leg was twitching/spasming. A few minutes later she seemed perfectly fine, and didn’t make a sound when I tried to find a sore spot.

When we got up she was favoring the leg, didn’t want to walk down the few steps to the backyard, and was sitting or lying down a lot instead of her usual wiggling. Anyone who knows Dottie knows this isn’t normal. We called a few vets offices that were open on Saturday, but most of them didn’t accept walk-ins or have appointments available. They said if it was really bad that we could take her to an emergency vet, but they likely wouldn’t know what was wrong and it would be very expensive. We decided to watch her throughout the day, and take her to our vet as soon as possible. She seemed to limber up and the very short walk we went on didn’t seem to bother her, and at one point she ran around the backyard and tackled Freckles like a nutcase. We also bought her a glucosamine supplement. I thought maybe it was arthritis since she seems the most sore in cold weather, or hip displaysia, or nerve pain. Regardless, we wanted to have the vet look at her.

And then the water heater stopped working. Robert was in the back of the house, and I was trying to make a latte, but someone had decided to use my thermometer to attempt to check the internal temperature of meat (I’m pretty sure that failed horribly, so he – I mean they – just cut a slit into it to check pinkness). I turned the hot water on and held the thermometer under the stream while I reached for the dishsoap. “This water sure is taking a long time to heat up,” I thought. Five minutes later the thermometer was still reading somewhere in the 70 degree range. I called to Robert that I thought maybe the water heater from 2001 had finally died. He came into the kitchen and was equally confused by the lack of hot water, he checked to see if the water heater was running (it wasn’t), and went to check the breaker. The breaker seemed to have tripped, so he flipped it back on and the water heated up fairly quickly. I made my latte, Googled “water heater break trips randomly” without any concrete answers, and we went on about our day thinking “we may need to buy a water heater”.

A few days later the same thing happened again. Fortunately at this point we decided to mainly leave the breaker off when we were home until we could replace the breaker. Again, please hold your laughter.

On a Wednesday night shortly before Super Bowl (I work in sports merchandising, so my work picks up this time of year), and right before Robert planned to take Dots to the vet, we decided to replace the water heater breaker. We removed the old breaker, went to Lowe’s, bought a new 30A breaker, commented on the relatively low cost of new electrical panels, and went home to install it. The short version is, there were a lot of sparks whenever we tried to turn the power back on, with or without the water heater breaker installed. We made the decision to leave the power off to the whole house, and call in a professional. I whined a lot on Twitter.

Look, new panel! Also I never finished painting my house.

The next morning I was at my parents’ house having breakfast & discussing cabinet hardware, and Robert met with an electrician he knew through work. Diagnosis: our panel was old, and improperly wired. You never want to hear the electrician say “well, they just wire this whichever way they felt like it that day, didn’t they?” He them proceeded to remove the old panel, cut a larger hole, and install a new panel. I was going to take pictures but I didn’t want to bother him. Also my camera battery died right before we shut the power off.

This pretty much expresses how I felt. Also note the unused contractor paper.

A few hours later we had this.

Sorry for the terrible night-lighting iPhone picture.

A few weeks later we got the bill for $636. We are so thankful that we were able to use one of Robert’s connections, since we know what this typically costs. We are also thankful that Dots had some luck on the glucosamine supplement through this process, because we felt terrible that she hadn’t had an appointment yet. After the panel was replaced she had another episode and we felt like the worst dog parents ever. About $400 worth of vet visits, pain medication, and X-rays later, she was diagnosed with the beginning stages of hip displaysia and arthritis (one of the things I suspected). We’re supposed to give her fish oil (for the omega-3s), keep her moderately-active so she retain the muscles that support the weaker joint, give her pain medication for any other flair ups, and consider surgery in about 3-4 years.

So, that’s about 1100 words to say that we’ve had some unexpected bills lately. And while we are thankful to be able to pay those bills without issue, we also have the second half of Robert’s tuition to pay. Basically, all of it made us realize that we need to be better about saving, and we need to build our emergency fund back up. So rather than regularly checking things off our to do list, projects are going to be a little slower than I had hoped this year. We have a lot of completed projects that I have neglected to blog about (like the super exciting process of recaulking the tub! …I’ll be skipping that post) and I am a project supply hoarder, so we have some things that will only require minimal costs to finish.  My hours at work have also picked back up for the time being, which will help with budgeting.

Sidenote: I just paid off the balance on my credit card this morning, and the feeling of not having that hanging over me is almost as jazzing as completing a large project. Yes, my nerd is showing.

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