Tuesday, December 16, 2014

One (or two) light fixture(s) at a time

I know that I just finished talking about my mudroom light fixture revamp (if you can call it that). But, there are plenty more ugly light fixtures where that came from! When I first moved in I was bothered every day by this ugly hallway light. While it's possible that it's original, I couldn't stand to look at it. In fact, taking it down was one of my first acts as homeowner. The only problem with this was that I then had a naked light bulb in the hallway for 4 months. Whatever. Still better than what was there.
Perhaps even more offensive than the funky hallway light was this monstrosity in the kitchen. Old is one thing but this was just dated. Someone (I presume in the 1990s) really thought this was a good idea in my mostly original 1940s kitchen. Bah, it makes me wan to listen to Paula Abdul.
As soon as I saw the Vanadin light fixture at Ikea I knew that I wanted it in my house. In fact, I didn't even have a house when I first saw it and I wanted it in my house. Having an old house in desperate need of new fixtures while it was still in production was just dumb luck. 

The hallway replacement was relatively painless. It does appear (from the shotty wiring job) that I removed an original fixture, so I'll leave it in the basement for a new owner on a treasure hunt someday. I'm much happier with the new look. 
Best of all, now there is some continuity in the house (imagine that) as this now matches the mudroom, and I planned to make it match the kitchen. 

Of course, when working in an old house I'm learning that plans aren't always as easy as they seem. When I removed the space ship from the kitchen ceiling I found this huge hole. Now you may not be able to see the scale in this image, but this is 12" square in my ceiling where someone (luckily) updated the wiring. Apparently the worlds largest light fixture was there to cover this giant hole. My favorite part about this photo, though, it how nicely it demonstrated that even the ceilings of the kitchen are brown. What the heck past owners, enough with the brown already. 
Unfortunately, the hole was a little too big, and my light fixture wouldn't quite cover it. So, I stole the old (ugly) white rim from around the old fixture and used it as a base for my new one. While it's not exactly what I had in mind, the outcome wasn't terrible. I'd say it is still an improvement over what I had and brings a little bit of midcentury charm back to the kitchen. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

(Somewhat) updated light fixture

When I was renovating my mudroom, an overall drama free project, I did reach one sticking point. The dropped ceiling in the small room and my already low ceilings mean that the light fixture must be on the wall for the door to clear. Beyond being awkward, the fixture that was there when I started the remodel felt a little out of place, even before I started painting. When I removed it to paint (which apparently no one had ever done before, there was brown paint all over it) I could tell by the wiring that it was the original fixture. So, although I didn't really love it, I felt a little badly about my plan to sent it to the goodwill.
My dad told me he liked it and that it felt kind of "art deco." My mom, on the other hand, told me that it looked like a cheap 1970's knock off. Despite my attempts to capture it in all it's ugly glory, back when the mudroom was brown it was always too dark to get a photo.
I looked at every wall fixture at Home Depot and Menard's and spend hours online pouring over my options. As it turns out, I didn't like any of them. Wall fixtures, I decided, are innately ugly. Rather than waste another $50 on a light fixture I knew I would never like, I decided to try to salvage what I had.

With the fixture still hanging off the wall, I gave the globe a good wash, wrapped the fixture in plastic to protect the wall and gave the whole thing 2 coats with Rust Oleum Metalic Spray Paint in "Oil rubbed bronze" to match my coat hooks. It looked a little bit like a horror movie.
The lamp had the same color gold on it that the fixture had been originally, which I decided I didn't like. I covered the gold with a tiny paintbrush and some charcoal gray paint. But, when I put the lamp back up, I sort of hated the way that it looked. The lamp hadn't seemed so yellow and gross when the walls were brown, but now with soft colors on the walls, it just wasn't going to work. I didn't even take a photo. That's how bummed I was. So, here was my "before" photo.
To the basement I went with a can of heat resistant "appliance epoxy" white spray paint. I have the fixture two coats of paint and put it back together. I was thrilled. It looked just like I wanted it to.
But then I turned on the lights.
What the heck? I didn't think of that. With the light on the fixture was yellow again, and my hand painted charcoal lines were the first thing you saw. I pondered it for a day, not sure what might help. I figured my options at this point were to soak the whole thing in laquer thinner and start over, or try to at least tone down with another coat of paint. The outcome? I gave it one more coat and gave up. Hey, at least it's better and looks nice when the lights are off...

Monday, December 8, 2014

From sweater to stocking

Now that I've got a mantle of my own, I'm feeling a lot of pressure to try to live up the high standard of mantle decor. It was easy in a tiny apartment to avoid much decorating because the space was too small. But, with great mantle comes great responsibility. So, this year I decided that it was time for a real stocking hung on my real mantle.

I love the classic look of the chunky cabled knit stockings in the stores this season and thought they would be a perfect addition to my Christmas decorations and midcentury modern living room.

But, obviously, I'm not going to give Anthropologie or Pottery Barn $40 for something I could DIY. When I started looking at patterns to knit my own, though, I decided that just wasn't worth the time. I'm freezing, here. I need earmuffs and scarves a lot more than I need a stocking. So, I started looking for an alternative.

Luckily, I saw instructions for stockings made from sweaters on Pinterest. They seemed like good low budget stocking solutions to give an expensive appearance without a lot of expense (or time). So, I glanced through the blog entry by Imperfect Homemaking, ran to Goodwill for a $5 outdated sweater, and went for it.
I made a quick freehand stocking template and centered it on the cabled pattern on the sweater. Then I took a deep breath and did something that many years of knitting made difficult: I cut. In the hopes of getting through this very unsettling process as quickly as possible, I cut both layers (front and back) at once.
Since the sweater didn't have ribbed edge at the bottom, I cut an extra 7 inches of ribbing from the side to make a cuff.
I started with my serger, thinking that I could finish the edges all professional like, and be done in 5 minutes. Instead I broke 3 serger needles. After rethreading the dumb machine for the seventh time I gave up and switched to a three-stitch zig-zag on my traditional machine. In the time I spent threading my serger once I was able to sew up the stocking. I did find that the toe seemed to grow in length as I stitched because of my feed-dogs, so I had to trim about 1.5" from the toe-end and restitch. Still faster than threading the serger again...
For the cuff, I just stitched a little extra rib pattern up into a tube and placed it right side out around the stocking (yes, right side of stocking to wrong side of ribbing), ran a quick zig-zag across the top, and folded over the cuff to hide this ugly seam.
Eventually, I may add a tab for hanging the stocking from a proper hook, but this year I just threaded a piece of twine through the corner and hung it from a candle stick. I have no proper hooks anyway... The only question now is should I make one for Barley?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Boots boots boots! (my DIY Mudroom)


One of my goals in my new home in Wisconsin is to make some changes that make my otherwise builder's grade 1940's ranch style home a little more updated and custom. From the first time I walked in the front door I knew I wanted a little mudroom in the existing small awkward foyer. For the first few months after I moved in, it looked like this.
First, I removed the ugly hanging racks and coat rod and painted the ceiling white (because, of course, it was brown), which was an immediate aesthetic improvement. But, that meant I had no place to put my bags, coats, and umbrellas, which are all apparently necessary in Wisconsin the summer.

Dad came to town for my birthday and for about $150 he generously bought the lumber to build me a bench and a shelf. We decided to make the bench and shelf out of poplar, and used pine for the pieces I planned to paint white. I gave him my sketch and my tools and left for work. When I came home it looked like this. Dad is amazing. I don't know what else to say.
After my parents headed back to sunny CA, I started by staining the poplar bench and shelf boards my dad had cut to size with Minwax Red Mahogany to match the other woodwork in the house. Next, I painted the support boards and all of the trim in the foyer with white high gloss (because it too was brown-- thats right, the walls were such dark brown you can't tell, but the trim in these photos is light brown). I painted the back wall white and to give the illusion of wainscoting added a few strips of trim down the wall. The other walls were painted the same soft blue (EasyCare Abloom) I used in the kitchen.

Thinking I was nearly done, I fitted back in my now stained shelf and bench, then attempted trim. This was a new challenge for me. I learned (by-doing) how to cut a miter corner using my drawing tools from 9th grade Geometry and a jigsaw. A lot of glue and wood filler putty and even more touch up paint later, I had a place to take off my snow boots. I also filled up my woven felt baskets with scarves, hats, and mittens to get me through the winter.
I took a trip to Ikea coat hooks and spent a final evening installing them, and bought a door sweep to help keep out the draft from under my front door. Now, I've now got a place to take off a layer or two of the 4-5 layers that one has to wear every single day in Wisconsin to avoid frostbite. Plus, for about $200 I think I made a substantial improvement to my humble little house.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Kitty Box: Contained

I am not a cat person. I like dogs, big, hulking, goofy dogs. But, when you're the kind of person who travels out of state once a month and likes to have some freedom and flexibility, big goofy dogs just aren't practical.  A lazy, autonomous cat is a much better fit for this point in my life. So, my rescued calico Barley and I have come to a pretty comfortable agreement about our living situation. We like each other enough that it works out. But, there is one thing about cats that has just always made my skin crawl: litter boxes.

I thought that living in Wisconsin with a big back yard Barley might learn to be a poop-outside kind of cat. But, alas, outdoors in Wisconsin is consistently either too buggy, too cold, or just too scary for my poor lovably dull-witted calico. So, the litter box is a burden I must bear.

Despite the fact that my house is more than twice the size of my Orange County apartment, there is still no good place for a litter box. It can't go in my room (too smelly), it can't go in the guest room (because I keep that closed up when no one is visiting), it certainly can't go in the kitchen (yuck), and I don't want it in the craft room because frankly, I'd rather Barley stay scared of that room as long as she can. So, the litter box has to go in the living room, where every guest will see and smell it. Ugh. I couldn't do that again.

While perusing SkyMall (there is always something you didn't know you needed in SkyMall) I saw this end table turned litter box for sale for just $100. It's a great idea, but I find this image oddly unsettling, and also, couldn't bring myself to encourage SkyMall's existence by paying them for something.
So, I decided, I would DIY my own. At this point, with a plan in mind, I started the slow process of preparing Barley for the transition. I placed her litter box in the footprint of the place where I would eventually have an end table and I started my search.

After much thrift shop scouring I found a funky mid-century end table with cabinet doors for $15. It was originally a sort of putrid shade of teak-green that I have never really appreciated. So, I gave it a quick sanding, staining, and sealing with wipe-on polyurethane. Then, brought the end table inside, opened up both doors, put down a "piddle pad" to protect the wood, and put the litter box in the cabinet. Barley wasn't so sure at first so I put her in the litter box for a minute. She hopped out almost immediately, but at least knew where it was.

After about a week of living with the cabinet doors open, I bravely removed the litter box, turned the cabinet on its side, sketched out a line and pulled out my jigsaw. I cut a kitty sized hole in the back of the cabinet and sanded the edge to make sure it was smooth. Admittedly, its not perfect, but for my first ever experience with a jigsaw, I call it a success.
Some other versions I have seen have a separator between the litter section and the door, but my cabinet wasn't quite big enough for that. I also saw some that stapled in a permanent plastic liner to protect the wood, but I decided that might end up more messy than helpful in the long run. So, I put down a clean piddle pad and put the litter box back in to give it a go. To my surprise, Barley figured out how to get in and out of the kitty door much faster than I expected. In just a few days I was able to close up the cabinet doors and she was happy enough to enter and exit through the hole in the back of the cabinet.
This has substantially cut down on the mess, smell, and noise (she used to just get in the litter box and fling litter around when I was trying to sleep) and as far as I can tell, Barley doesn't mind it.
If you've got to have a litter box, this is the only way to do it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Grown Up Frozen Costumes (yes, I went there)

You may have read a few months back that I made an Elsa dress for my friend's daughter. As it turns out, an Elsa dress for a 5 year old doesn't require much fabric, so I happened to have a whole lot left over. As Halloween approached, I couldn't resist the temptation to make my own grown up version of the costume for Halloween. Of course, when I discussed this with my friends, they too wanted in on the fun. The plan was made, flights were booked, and suddenly my news feed started filling up with articles like this one from USA today, admonishing slutty girls from slutting up beloved children's characters. Well, sorry Disney, if you didn't want us to objectify ourselves and this may not have been the best role model for 3 year olds.
Given the uproar over the slutfication of Elsa, I certainly didn't expect to get to the fabric store and find Simplicity 1553, a pattern produced by Disney itself to make the wholesome princesses of the past into little hoes. Apparently Belle and Cinderella are fair game. We didn't expect much of them anyway.
So, armed with a pattern and my leftover fabric, I made what was essentially a teal sequined corset, lined with teal satin. The corset was supposed to lace up the back, but even I had to draw the line somewhere. So, I inserted a separating zipper down the back of  my fully lined, fully boned, princess corset. I will note that I added 2 inches of length to the pattern in the hopes of a more Elsa-eque silhouette. Unfortunately, I'm so long waisted that this basically just made it reach my belly button.

Elsa's skirt, despite what I did for the child version, is not a full, gathered number like past princesses. Instead she's in a sleek fitted little number with a slit up to there. I couldn't see myself waltzing into a halloween party in a full length gown, so I patterned out a skirt I already had in my closet that fit pretty well with curved seams down the sides to make fitted silhouette work on my big-ol-butt. Finally, I found a sparkly piece of chiffon on the clearance rack at Joanns. I trimmed it to about 50 inches, cut a bit of a cape-shaped curve in it, and gathered it at the top. I hand stitched the "hook" side of some sew-in white velcro to the cape, and the "loop" side to the inside top edge of the corset so that it could come off for washing.
Olaf was a team effort, as my friend Melissa created a felt Olaf face and glued it on a white beanie, added three 2" black pom-poms on a white t-shirt. I used my real tutu tutorial (exact same length, believe it or not, I just changed the waist measurement) to create a snowman silhouette.
For Anna's dress I had very ambitious plans involving an equally offensive Simplicy pattern, but ran out of time. So, a blue dress, a teal t-shirt, and a black tank top were pulled from my friend Beth's closet (and a last minute shopping trip in downtown Madison). I zipped up a 2-seam caplet from a yard of stretch velvet and we were off.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Velvet Pumpkins at long last

If you've been in any trendy little home good shops this season you have no doubt seen that the expensive velvet pumpkins made their return for fall 2014. And you've no doubt noticed that people are selling these damn things for at least $30 a pop, which is absurd.

Probably five years ago, when they first started to show up in shops, my mom and sister urged me to make them. But, I was in grad school, I was busy, and I had no place to put a velvet pumpkin. Now, though, I've got tons of time, and tons of space, and other people have already worked out the kinks and mastered the DIY velvet pumpkin.

So, following the instructions from House of Hawthornes, I gathered my supplies.

1/3 yard brown velvet
2/3 yard yellow crushed velvet
1/2 yard green crushed velvet
1 lb. white beans
poly fil
pumpkin stems (pie/sugar pumpkins work well for small ones, I also snagged some from the bottom of the pumpkin boxes in front of various stores that had broken off pumpkins that had already sold)
hard core glue (I've seen E6300 recommended, I used Locktite Clear Instant Power Grab)
needle and thread

Total cost (including pumpkins, which I ate) was about $30 and made 4 small, 3 medium and 2 large pumpkins
For a small pumpkin (like the brown one in the photo), cut a 12" circle out of the velvet. I used a dinner plate to measure, then added an inch all the way around. The larger the circle, the larger the pumpkin. The largest I made was a 24" circle for the largest yellow pumpkin.
Hand baste around the edge of the circle with 2 thickness of thread. One strand of thread will break and you'll have to do it twice. Double up your thread or use "craft and button" thread.
Gather around your basting. Toss about 1/2 cup of beans into the bottom, then fill with poly-fil. Pull thread tightly and knot at the top.
Remove stems from pumpkins (you better eat those pumpkins, by the way) and glue to the top over the hole.
Stand back and admire your pumpkins, realizing that in 20 minutes you made a pumpkin patch for under the cost of one of these things from the store, you know, because you're awesome like that.