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And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for – I am ready to show you pictures of the new and improved living room!  The impetus for all these little changes was the fact that, with no dedicated nursery, I found myself changing Miss E on the floor in the middle of the living room… and realized I didn’t really want to be doing that for the next two years.

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BEFORE

I redid a thrift store lamp to make a pair of navy blue lamps on either side of the loveseat, moved the diaper station to the new entryway console, and replaced the office-y brown rug with a synthetic sisal rug.

Here’s what this view looks like now.  No more diapers in the middle, hurrah :)

AFTER

AFTER

I love the new rug!!  It’s not the most noticeable change in the photos, but it adds quite a bit of texture to the atmosphere.  Here’s a side by side comparison of the old rug (left) getting rolled out of the way for the new rug (right).

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The rug is baby-approved too.

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My next problem area was directly across from the front door.  This is what you saw coming into the house.

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BEFORE

I moved the grandfather clock to the dining room, where it has finally found a permanent home.  It’s been all over and it never quite looked like it belonged until it arrived at its newest spot.

I turned the desk 90 degrees so as not to have everything on that wall shoved up against it in a line, tweaked the spacing of the printer stand to create a more defined office spot, and moved in a tall bookcase where the clock used to be.  I hid the worst of the cords with some wraparound cord binder (not sure what that stuff is called).  The stroller is not bee-you-tiful but it has a good, handy home in the corner now.

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AFTER

Here’s another shot with some more of my “before” issues.

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BEFORE

I cheated on trimming my curtains – you can read about it here.

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In this “after” you can see that the mirror has a new frame (psst… it’s a $5 thrift store find that is just leaning against the mirror while we decide how to make one that is a perfect fit.)  It gives the mirror a ton more presence!

AFTER

AFTER

You may have noticed that I also messed with the gallery wall.  It was a little too random for me before.  It felt more kitschy than I liked, so I regularized its shape.  I can’t swear that I’m done tweaking that…

I’m very fond of my bright pillows & throw on the loveseat.  I like to think they detract from the BLACKNESS of the black leather furniture – please smile and tell me I am totally right :)  Darlene at Fieldstone Hill Design posted about ugly duckling furniture a couple weeks back and this is mine.  When I nurse Miss E I sit in the armchair opposite and stare at my gallery wall and bright pillows instead of the loveseat, and it feels good inside.

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Finally, here is the old view of the back wall…

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BEFORE

…and the new and improved view.

AFTER

AFTER

I have a bonus for you too.  Guess what, I actually painted the inside of the front door!  It’s been this bluish gray primed steel for three years and I finally finally finally painted it white.  It took a day’s worth of naps and four coats but it was so overdue.

Before…

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BEFORE

And now…

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AFTER

So there you have it!  This was not a dramatic makeover but a series of important tweaks that make the living room look more intentional and cohesive.  And that’s what a good re-design should do.  I’d still love to paint the walls a deeper tobacco tan shade but first I have to convince the Chief ;)  Other than that, the living room is pretty much done.  At least for now!

My new modus operandus with regards to decor is to work on ONE room at a time instead of doing a bunch of projects at random around the whole house.  I am a total fan of this discipline!  It’s helping me focus on what needs to be done next, and it’s given me a real sense of accomplishment as I see the changes more quickly when I concentrate them in one room at at time.  We all know a room is never really finished, but this way it can be finished for now.

Good news, ladies.  The living room is almost ready for the final reveal.  I need to cut some moulding for a mirror frame, hide some cords, and patch a few nail holes… but that’s it!

You might remember that in my initial breakdown of the living room tweaks, I really wanted a new rug.  The one we’ve had for 2 1/2 years has been quite functional but only slightly decorative.  It’s a 5×8 brown short loop carpet… I always think of it as “office-y.”  I painted chevron stripes on it a while back with watered down white paint but it’s mostly worn off or faded.  For some reason it shows up more in photos – in person it’s barely noticeable.  You can see it a bit in this photo from my lamp redo.

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As it turned out, we had enough money in the Large Purchases account to let me go rug shopping (yay!!).  I don’t trust online rug shopping because I really want to see the colors and touch the texture in person for something I have one shot to get right.  Returns on something that big is an expensive hassle, so picture me driving all over town on a few different weekends to look at rugs in various Home Goods, World Markets, etc., with a three month old in tow.  It got old.

Then I found the rug of my dreams – an 8×10 muted wool Oriental with the perfect colors.  If you’re going to have a rug with many colors, you really should start with it, not try to find one that matches your existing scheme.  I got really lucky with this.

I brought it home, laid it out… and whoa, it was a foot longer than the tag said.  It blocked the front door.

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And the more I looked at it, the more I realized it wasn’t actually the direction I wanted to go anyway.  Well!  I had been positive that I wanted a muted oriental carpet to add a more traditional element to the graphic pillows in the living room.   I love the designs on so many of these carpets.  But when I looked at it all together, I didn’t love it.  It pushed things too far in the traditional direction.

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So really this was a blessing in disguise.  I found literally the PERFECT rug and realized it wasn’t the right one.  I was free to broaden my scope and look for other things.

Here’s what I realized:

  • I didn’t want a lot of color or a bold graphic print – even though I love these rugs on their own, they’re too much for my living room.
  • I needed something kid friendly – we are on the first of (hopefully) several babies and for the next 10 years or so we can expect plenty of spills and spit up.  This rug will basically be the playroom floor since our house is small, so it has to be easily cleaned and hide dirt.
  • I looked through my pinned and filed living room images and discovered most of them had some sort of natural fiber rug – jute, sisal, or seagrass.

After MUCH research I settled that a real natural fiber was going to be hard to clean spills from, though they are great at hiding dirt.  They can stain with plain water!  Wetness releases natural oils that can discolor the area, and also smells are hard to get out.

To make sure I liked the look of natural fiber in real life, I bought a jute rug from Target expressly to look at and return.  I  liked it.  Texture!  Awesome.

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So I decided to go with a synthetic “natural fiber” rug.  I highly recommend Sisal Direct – you can request up to five rug samples for free (WOW) and they have hands down the best prices, about $250 for a high quality 5×8 synthetic sisal.  Other sites were in the $400 range.  I was a bit sad to pay hundreds for what is basically a plastic rug, but it really was the best choice for my situation.  Just because of the price tag on that material I found myself waiting to pull the trigger.

I found a neat textured rug on World Market’s website that looked like it would hide dirt very well, and being made of 100% wool would be easy to get stains out of too (yes, low pile and flat weave wool is very child friendly).  But it was too expensive at $400, and my store didn’t have it to check the color in person.  It’s the Peacock Rug.

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And then I went to Home Depot and just for fun, looked through their rugs.  Well!  There was a synthetic sisal rug that looked extremely realistic with plenty of variety in the fiber color, was just the right shade of toast brown, and only cost $99 for the 5×8 size.  I checked it out online and out of 43 reviews, EVERY. ONE. was a 4 or 5 star review.  That just doesn’t happen with cheap rugs.  I was so happy to pay just $100 for a plastic rug instead of $250, and when I compared my Sisal Direct samples to it, the quality was only slightly less because of a somewhat looser weave.  I decided to go with the Home Depot rug. Here’s a closeup so you can see the color and texture.

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Shipping to my front door was free,  hurrah, so it should be here in a week or so and then I’ll put together a final living room reveal!  I’m so excited :)

Rug shopping – fun or nightmare?  What has your experience been?

(For Part 1 go here.)

Sometimes I feel sorry for people who have big houses.  You know, the houses with a designated room for every activity: the workout room, the office, the guest bedroom… the foyer.  That’s right, some people have a WHOLE ROOM just for coming inside the house.

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You see, the people in these spacious houses with bonus rooms never have to tackle the character-building creative challenges of small house design.  Take, for example, when your front door opens directly into the living room.  When you walk in straight onto the sofa, you need to do some creative furniture placement to give your homecoming a little more cushion.

So let’s recap – here’s what I started with.  That segment of wall behind the front door was acting as a semi functional entryway with some hooks and a place for my purse, but I knew I could do a lot better.

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My idea was to get a large dresser for that spot and paint it green.  This would anchor the wall and make everything look a lot less cluttered, while giving me plenty of new storage space.

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A few weeks back I shared my dresser find and transformation, leaving you with this lovely lovely image.

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I’ve been working on the rest of the details and I’ve finally got it completed!

Now when I show you the afters, be aware that I had to leave a big blank space on the surface of the dresser.  Besides carving out a defined entry, I had an additional challenge – I have no nursery for Miss E and I needed a changing station other than the floor.  Remember this?

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Well, enough of that!  A small gateleg table I already owned folded up small enough to tuck in at one end of the dresser to keep the diapering stash handy.  I do cloth diapers, so I have a basket full of prefolds and Thirsties Duo wraps, plus a container of cloth wipes. (For those who are interested, I tried pocket diapers and haaaaated stuffing them and laundering them.  I love my old fashioned prefolds so much more.)  My changing pad folds up between the diaper basket and the dresser when not in use.

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Under the table is a wet bag for used diapers.  The upper right hand dresser drawers hold supplies for the occasional disposable diaper.  It’s as inconspicuous as I could hope for a changing station in the living room.

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On top of the dresser and on the wall above it, I basically rearranged the art and brought in some new items from around the house.  The tray is one I already had and I spray painted it hammered bronze, then did the edges silver with rub n’ buff.

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The art is a couple favorite pieces I though we’d want to see every day.  There’s the collage presented to The Chief as a gift – Amy Adams is saying “My car won’t start.  It’s broken.  Who will fix it?  Who will fix it??”  He fixes cars as a ministry to friends in need :)  The colorful coastal watercolor is my very favorite piece of art, found on Etsy a while back.  I wish the glare on the glass weren’t so visible!  Don’t know how to avoid that at this point in my photography skills.

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Clearly my tray is not styled – that’s what you see in real life, friends.  I do love a beautifully styled tray but I just don’t have space for a tray full of pretty things you can’t use, only look at.  This one corrals my clutter and gives it some boundaries!

Up on the wall shelf we have a photo of the vintage Ferrari dashboard that the Chief was hired to restore (the dash, not the whole Ferrari).  The Ferrari won second best in show at the major international show it was subsequently entered in!

I made the little blue pottery vase, and also the aqua print sunhat for Miss E.

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Ready for the full reveal?

Before

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During

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After

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I think the straw hat hanging on the wall really helps to balance the necessary blank spot on top of the dresser where the changing pad goes.

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Here you can get a good idea of the entryway as a whole.  The back of the armchair creates a nice “‘hallway” with the dresser for coming into the house without walking between people having a conversation.  Painting that front door white is on my list for this week!  I’ve had enough of the bluish primed steel door look.

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So there you have it – one more area of the living room is tweaked to perfection.  I didn’t spend any money on this part of things, so the running total for the living room is still $118.

Do you live in a house with the entry straight into the living room?  How have you handled that?

This post could have had a number of titles…. perhaps It’s Not Easy Being Green, or My First Encounter With Chalk Paint, maybe Let’s Talk About Painting Over Wood, or, Chalk Paint & Wax: Opinions Vary.

In the end, I went with the big picture when I titled it because although this post is about refinishing a dresser, it’s really about getting our entryway into a state of grace.

One of the biggest changes I want to make in our living room is to improve the entryway wall.  Previously cluttered with too many small pieces of furniture, it needed something large and multi-functional there, and I decided to consolidate everything into one large dresser.

After a couple weeks of watching Craigslist for deals I found a sturdy old mahogany dresser (with dovetailed joints!) selling for $50.  I offered them $60 to beat out any other potentially interested parties and the Chief brought it home in his pickup truck.  Sometimes you can meet really nice people while buying furniture on Craigslist – he got the back story on the dresser while chatting with the husband over their antique Ferrari.  It had been the wife’s when she was a girl, then her daughter’s, and now the granddaughter was using the bed from that furniture set but not the dresser.  So it came home with us.  Somehow knowing it’s been well loved gives it a bit more warmth and character.

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As I expected, the veneered top was pretty wrecked from nail polish spills and various large scrapes and dings, but no worries because I bought this piece to paint it!  Chalk paint – the magical substance that covers almost any surface without needing to sand or prime.  It was finally time for me to give it a whirl.  I used the DIY chalk paint recipe using plaster of paris that I found on this wonderfully exhaustive post about making chalk paint with various recipes.

Ingredients: 1 part plaster of paris, 3 parts latex paint, and water.

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I had the recipe, now I just needed to choose the color.  My photoshopped inspiration piece was a slightly brighter green than I wanted but definitely heading in the right direction.  Remember this mock-up?

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I taped a dozen paint chips to the dresser and brooded over which one would be right.

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I narrowed it down to my three faves and bought the trial size pots to create large samples, something I always do with color because I am not one of those people who can tell what color something will actually be from a 2″ square digitally inked chip!  Neither are you :)

Then I did that thing where I should have known better. I went to the paint store and got a quart of paint that was not any of my samples.   ((ducks))  So the color seduced me, okay?  Also it had a wonderful name… China Green Marble by Martha Stewart.  It was this beautiful shade of verdigris blue-green, somewhere between how it looks in the next two photos.IMG_1061 (600x800)

I merrily painted away, telling myself to wait till it dried to decide how it looked, but after the first coat it was pretty clear this color was not going to work.  Spread out on the big surface of my dresser, it was pretty much the color of the Statue of Liberty, and in my room it was just Screaming Bright.

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So I used my sample paint pots that I’d originally started with to make my paint darker and more muted, then repainted.  Even that was too light and bright.  I ended up making a fresh batch of paint using my sample pot of Rainforest Fern by Glidden.  One sample pot made plenty for one coat but not enough for two, but the coverage was good enough and the color close enough to the previous coat that it worked out great.

Here’s my paint color sequence.  You can see how I ended up with a more muted and less blue shade of green.

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Yup. Sucker got three coats of paint, all different colors.

I knew it was the right shade of green when looking at it made me smile and relax instead of breathe too shallowly and feel anxious about the whole living room!

Next step: wax.

Wax is the normal way to finish off chalk paint.  I read a ton of stuff on how to wax and whether or not to wax.  It seems like this chalk paint/wax thing is a trend in the truest sense of the word.  The pros talking on the forums – and I mean crafters, not those snobby woodworkers – mostly felt that waxing was an inferior sealant and they preferred using polycrylic or wipe-on poly over chalk paint.  Some people swore that if you use wax, you can never refinish it without sanding every bit of wax off, but enough people said they had indeed successfully refinished directly over the wax that I felt safe going ahead with it.  I’m not sold on wax’s durability for the top of this dresser, but I should be able to apply wipe-on poly over the wax if I need to down the road.  And I really wanted to try it out.

I didn’t have a fancy wax brush so I tried various methods of application.  I liked rubbing in the wax (I used Johnson’s brand) with a plastic baggie over my hand because it didn’t leave fibers behind when rubbing the rough paint, then I wiped off the extra, then buffed it when dry with a square of t-shirt material.

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Lastly, I needed to re-attach the handles.  They were an uneven black-brown faded color that needed spiffing up and I wasn’t sure whether to go black or gold.  So I cut out cardstock the size of the oval handles and colored one of each.

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The glossy black was just too drab a choice for me so I went with a light coating of Grecian Gold Rub N’ Buff on all the handles.  I didn’t try too hard to get it into every little corner but left the crevices darker to give them extra depth.  I’m going to spray them with a couple coats of clear spray paint to guard against wear just as soon as I get to the store to pick some up.

IMG_1104 (800x599)Yes that is our crazy carpeting in the back room, with bits of concrete in it from the granny flat remodel.  It’s a good place to do messy, smelly DIY work.

At last I give you… the final product!  (ooohhh… ahhhh….!)

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As  reminder, here’s what it looked like before.

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The entryway part 2 will be about making this baby a model of attractive functionality.  It’s going to have to fill in as a changing station, key/purse/daily detritus receptacle, and graciously inviting entry definer (is that a word?).  CAN IT BE DONE.  Here’s what I have to work with right now – it definitely has some potential.

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And now a word for our better half.  This was not the Chief’s favorite project.  Regarding its size, he thought it was too large (and it did look huge sitting in the middle of the room getting refinished, but I swear it’s not.).  Also he, like many men, has a hard time seeing wood get painted over.  After I was done painting his careful comment was “I believe it’s a sin to paint over beautiful mahogany like that.”  As for his thoughts on the choice of color, well, “Are you sure you don’t want me to spray paint some army stars on the sides before you seal it?”  Ha ha ha!  Um, no thanks, love.   I’m not sure why such a broad range of greens – leaf, pine, olive, bottle green – scream Army Green to him.  Too many years playing with those little plastic soldiers?  So this is the project he worked hard to bite his tongue about.  I appreciate it :)

I love the final product!  Like I said I’m a little dubious about the wax finish’s durability and may end up doing a coat of wipe on poly over the wax, which the Internet says is indeed possible.  Only two drawers have anything in them at this point so I am excited about the storage possibilities.

So far the running total for the living room tweak (budget: $200 or less) is $118.69.

  • Lamp project: $28.45
  • Dresser project – paint samples, quart of paint, plaster of paris, dresser, wax:  $90.24

More coming soon on our entryway area and the entire living room adjustment so stay tuned!

Over to you, have you ever done chalk paint?  How does it compare to painting furniture with regular latex paint?  What do you think of my NOT army green dresser and my entryway ambitions?

The beauty of a thrift store is that you can actually go in with twenty dollars in your pocket and come out with several fairly awesome items.

Recently, while the Chief watched our girl, I made a mad dash through three of the local resale stores to look for some of the things I want to add around the house, particularly for the living room.  It was in the Salvation Army that I hit pay dirt.

First of all, it was half off day.  I noticed the sign advertising “50% off today only!” as I walked in and promptly forgot about it.  I began to look around the store for lamps, dressers, trays, and frames but it seemed that I would be disappointed in my endeavors because this store was having a particularly bad selection day.  Everything seemed to be either little dirty cluttery junk or way, way overpriced.  Witness a pair of large blue and white ceramic lamps and shades in good condition for fifty dollars – EACH.  You could get better ones at Home Goods for less than that price.  They had some more lamps in the back but they all seemed to be $18-$22 and not very nice.  Bah.  There was one I liked the shape of but it was on a shelf out of my reach and probably marked at least $18 anyway.

As a last stop I went to the back room where they keep the larger furniture items and there, leaning on a shelf full of porcelain knick knacks, I found a big beefy frame.  Wow! It was already in keeping with my color scheme, not too beat up, and was priced at $10.  I didn’t have a specific spot in mind for it but I realized I could think of at least four places it would work, and so was able to convince my inner cheapskate that a frame that big (the opening is 24″x36″) for that price in those colors could not be passed up.  Here’s  a sneak peek.

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When I went to purchase it, it rang up for $5 and I remembered it was half price day.  The cashier asked me if I’d found everything I wanted and I said, Now that you mention it, there’s this lamp I couldn’t reach…  so the manager went to fetch it down and when he brought it to the front to show me he said there was no price tag on it but I could have it for four dollars, out the door.  FOUR DOLLARS.  When every other far crappier lamp in the place was at least $18.  I grabbed it out of his hot little hands.  It was missing a harp and a shade but those are so easy to pick up, and the shade would probably have needed to be replaced anyway… you know how thrift store lampshades generally look!

I forgot to take a before picture of this lamp, but it was a speckly tan colored porcelain, about as blah and drab as you could get.

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I gave it a makeover with my navy blue spray paint to match my other spray painted living room lamp.

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So that is how I walked out of the store with two perfectly imperfect items and only $9 lighter in my pocket.

Have you hit up any good thrift stores lately?  What do you like to look for secondhand for your home?