Modernized Armoire


I have a cottage style home which means very little storage space. I purchased an armoire from a friend several years ago with the idea that one day I’d paint, stain, or at least change the door handles.

I wanted to modernize the whole room. It currently serves as a makeshift office, spare bedroom and a lazy catch-all storage space. The thought was to get rid of a lot of useless stuff and shift the room toward a contemporary office space that could quickly convert into a bedroom when guests arrive.

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Hallway Color Makeover

At one time, I thought having red in the hallway would add life and spark. The palette from a stir stick view seemed to be a good choice.


Lesson Learned: If there isn’t natural light available you’ll need a lighter color than you might think. In fact, less color just might be better. That doesn’t mean you should never choose rich bold colors. It’s all about the light. Continue reading

Field Trip – Ideas are flowing

Old Seattle street lamp. Kitchen pendant light?

We are down one girl this week. Monica is out-of-town with her family. Heidi and I decided to go on a field trip to one of our favorite places. We needed some inspiration and just felt like roaming the aisles of ReStore. Continue reading

Slipcover a Couch

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I’m so grateful for friends, with sewing machines, and talent, and good humor, and sewing machines. Making slipcovers is not my thing – I am one avowed lousy seamstress. Heidi and Mary Jean weren’t fazed, they tackled it just like any other project, one step at a time – while I drug my feet, ordered fabric, wrote checks, and silently panicked. Looking back, I think I was afraid to put so much effort and $$$ towards something I wasn’t at all sure I would like. Wouldn’t it be easier/smarter to just buy a new couch? Ultimately, the retro shape, solid construction, and perfect scale of the two Salvation Army couches swayed me. I remember thinking of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous quote, “The physician can bury his mistakes, – but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.” In my case vines = accent pillows and throws…OK then…thanks Frank.

Below is a basic outline of the steps for our slipcover. Our goal was never perfection (is it ever?). We were after a decent, fairly loose-fitting cover, that would change the color and update the feel of the living room. The take-away is hopefully this: it’s do-able, you can use things you already have (old sheets for patterns, re-purpose a bedspread or heavy curtains), friends lighten the load both emotionally and practically, and, if you don’t like it – well – there’s always pillows and throws! Continue reading

Hallway Makeover

The hallway, right off my kitchen, leads both to my back door/porch and down to my unfinished but functional basement. It has been creepy and ugly in that hallway forever.

I used to just shut that door and pretend the hallway didn’t exist. But, my washer and dryer are downstairs! I had to open that door. Heidi and I have referred to it as “the murder’s hallway” since I moved into my house many years ago.

I also realized I was missing out on the beautiful natural light that streams into my kitchen when I leave that door open. So, I called in the girls and we made a plan!

The challenge: Improve it easily and inexpensively and use only what I already had on hand? Steep requirements, but we were up for the challenge. Continue reading

Tiling a Backsplash – Part 2

The last time Monica, Heidi, and I worked at my house, we planned out and prepared all the tile. (see Ready to Tile – Part 1) Now on to Part 2 – Installing the tile backsplash:

We had all our supplies out and ready. I was referencing the notes from my Art Tile adviser and the iPad…again. All of a sudden Heidi (having a tiny bit of tiling experience under her belt) said, “Ah, let’s just do it.”  So we did.

Step 1– Mixing the Thinset   Thinset is a powder that you mix with water. It works like glue to adhere the tile to the wall. The mixing ratio directions on the thinset bag are clearly intended for big projects. This project is not huge so we slowly added water to the thinset powder and mostly aimed toward achieving a peanut butter-like consistency.

Step 2 – Spreading it on the Wall

Previously we had marked out pencil guidelines on the wall. We used a ¼ inch notched trowel. Art Tile suggested that I keep the trowel moving vertical and horizontal (rather than the curved sweeping pattern that you see in pictures) when applying the thinset. Keeping the trowel grooves vertical and horizontal will ensure the thinset moves into the spaces between the 1” tiles.  You don’t want to press too hard when placing the tile sheets up on the wall. Thinset shouldn’t squirt through the spaces between tiles. The goal is to apply just enough pressure to get a good hold. We applied a depth layer of thinset equal to that of the notches in the trowel. We also applied the thinset in sections as large as the tile sheets instead of spreading it over the entire area. Doing it that way made it more manageable since we didn’t have to rush getting the tile sheets positioned and up there before the thinset dried too much.

Step 3 – Getting the Tile on the Wall   The layout required one full sheet on the lowest part of the wall and only another ½ sheet above that. Pretty simple, huh? We installed the lower row first. Applying the thinset to a single sheet area at a time and so forth. After getting that handled we started installing the top row. Again, applying thinset to a single sheet area. We slid tile spacers in between the first and second rows, but the two sheets started to buckle where they met. After panicking a little, (there could have been a tiny bit of screaming), and using all 6 hands to press/hold the tile in place, we used some cloth-covered books as weights to prop up the buckling areas.

We think this slight setback was because the thinset was a little too thin of a mix and the glass tile was very heavy. I don’t have many pictures of us placing the tile sheets or what the slumping looked like because we were using all of our hands to hold the slumpers on the wall. The good news is that we adjusted our plan and it all worked out.

Step 4 – Selecting a Grout Color   Grout is the stuff that you’ll see between most installed tile. There is a wide range of colors available. The grout color really does influence the overall appearance of the tile. Be patient, look at several samples near the tile with the actual light. The first thing we did was to cut some paper strips from a magazine page and taped the strips in place on the tile just to get a general idea. Below is a dark version that we looked at.

Then I selected about 5 color options from Art Tile’s plastic grout color samples, took them home to see them in the actual light and narrowed it to two colors. I got actual grout color samples of those two (one happened to be sanded and one unsanded) from Art Tile to test out on some left over tile I had.

It was worth it for color testing, but also to practice applying it. I also learned that sanded grout is easier to handle and use. Even though the directions for the glass tile said to use unsanded grout, I got assurances from the Art Tile Installer that he always uses sanded grout because it is easier to work with. The risk is scratching the glass tile, but as long as you don’t press really hard when dragging the grout across the tile it shouldn’t be a problem.  And it wasn’t.

Step 5 – Applying the Grout   Before applying the grout we waited a couple of days for the thinset to dry hard and then carefully chipped off any thinset that had gotten too far into the spaces between tiles. Since the tile is glass/transparent you’d be able to see the thinset color through the edge of the tile so we wanted it out of there. We mixed the sanded grout according to the directions and again until we had a peanut butter-like consistency.

Then we scooped some out of the mixing bin with a grout float and began dragging it over the tile surface. We kept the float at a 70-80 degree angle and moved it over the surface in multiple directions, making sure to gently coax grout into all the spaces. Right after one of us applied the grout, another worked right behind with a large tiling sponge, wiping the excess grout off the tile. The sponge was wrung out thoroughly and we always kept a clean side of the sponge while wiping the grout. It is important that the sponge not be too wet. Use your muscle and wring that baby out!

There was a gray looking film over the entire surface of the tile that was a bit unsettling. 30 minutes after applying the grout we got to wipe it off with some clean cheesecloth. It was fun because we could really see the full effect as we wiped away the filmy residue.

Step 6 – Caulking    Caulk is available in many colors and is intended to protect against water and moisture around the edges and to provide a flexible transition between the tile and another surface (trim, countertop). Typically it is difficult to tell the difference between the caulk and grout. That is intended. I painted my wall first so the caulk would be placed over the paint rather than me trying to paint perfectly up to the caulk afterwards.

We taped the surfaces on the sides of where the caulk was to be laid down to keep off excess. We had one person laying down a bead of caulk and two people smoothing it out by dipping an index finger into a bowl of soapy water and running it along the surface. I’m sure that experts would laugh at the fact it took 3 of us to caulk, but may I just say that caulking is somewhat of an art. It takes patience and a steady hand, but is definitely do-able. A gap that was about 3/8” between the tile and the trim cracked a little, but I just applied some more caulk over the top after it set up a little, and it seemed to work fine.

Step 7 – Sealing   The final step after grouting is sealing it to protect against staining and mold due to moisture. This is the easiest step of all. 7-10 days after grouting, just apply with a sponge brush, let set for a bit (read the instructions) and then wipe it off with clean rags or sponges. It can be a little fussy or was that me?

Our supply list included:

  • ¼” spacers
  • ¼” Notched tiling trowel
  • Thinset & mixing bin big enough to fit the trowel
  • Lots of clean white rags
  • Disposable gloves
  • 2-3 large tiling sponges
  • Grout float
  • Grout & mixing bin big enough to fit the float
  • Cheesecloth
  • Grout Sealer
  • Caulk color to match grout color
  • 511 Impregnator Sealer
  • Sense of humor

What could go wrong? 

1. Uneven spacing between tiles. It’s critical to get this right. Bigger and smaller gaps will show up. Draw directly on the wall where each tile or tile sheet will go, including the spaces between them. Plastic spacers are really simple to use, available in different sizes and inexpensive.

2. Thinset too thinly mixed.  The tile can start to slide off the wall.  Our story with this is above. The simple solution is to take a breath and add a bit more thinset powder to the mix before moving on.

3. Breaking the curing bond. This didn’t happen to us, but apparently it is a big no-no to try to reposition the tiles after 15-25 minutes. Depending on how dry the thinset is it can break the curing bond and no longer be securely adhered to the wall. Bummer!

4. Having to stop and mix more thinset or grout. To avoid stopping at a critical time to mix more and risk uneven drying or different consistencies mix more than enough thinset or grout prior to starting each phase. My project was small so it was easy to mix more than enough for the whole project. If you had a big project that would be tough. I think then you would assign a designated “mixer”. I’m guessing experts have a system. Ours is to grab a friend to help out.

5. Cracking caulk. This sometimes happens if you are trying to caulk a wide gap. By that I mean 3/8″ or 1/4”. Don’t freak out. Just wait for it to dry and reapply. It’ll be fine.There are some other general overall caulking tips that we’ve learned through trial and error. But that is for another post. “Caulking tips for the DIYers” is coming soon ; )

What can go right!

1. Everything.  It’s worth it. We know you can do it! It’s rewarding.

2. Save some money. Really!

3. Teamwork. Grab a couple of friends and go for it. We know you can do it, too. I already said that, didn’t I?

Let us know how your project goes. We’d love to see what you’ve done!


Living Room Makeover

My living room is uninviting- no one uses it.  It’s dark and feels small.  Wouldn’t it be nice if it was cheerful and fun; something that teens and adults could use without too much caution- definitely not formal.  Maybe I should revisit my original design theme for the house remodel- classic craftsman with accents of modern for contrast.  Plus a little Carl Larsson.  This will be my project for the next few months.

Step 1: Get Organized Girlfriend

One thing about working with Heidi and MJ is that they are unfailingly polite when being critical (damn mid-westerners) – so as we surveyed my living room with the above in mind, their first comment was, “Hmmm, do you think it might be a tiny bit cluttered…?”  Oh.  Maybe so.  Now I notice the piles of kid gear, unfinished projects, and ubiquitous paper, etc.  I do have a great knack for piling.

The Rug and Slipcover Mock Up

Step 2: Start With the Rug

We decided the rug was the place to start for the redesign; establishing both the character and the basic color scheme of the room.  After many online hours Heidi found RugStudio.  They had the styles we were searching for – modern but not overly graphic or loud, wool, and – score – on sale!  ( Note: always check for discounts, I saved even more)  The muted colors and simple pattern would allow for more wild floral prints in the pillows and accents.  We printed out a picture of the rug onto cheap photo paper, which gives a better idea of the colors, and set it with a fabric swatch and pillow.  This was as close to a mock up as we were going to get, and it looked OK.  I wasn’t positive, but I was confident in my friend’s abilities.  I ordered the rug, gulp.

The Rug Arrives! OK, the Couch is Ugly, But Hang in There-










The Pattern for the Slipcover...

Step 3: Pretend You Know How to Make a Slipcover

Choosing fabric is nearly impossible for me, so I was thrilled to have 2 skilled designers for friends!  The first step of this process, and one worth remembering when working with color, was to think of what I already had and loved.  The clothes closet is an obvious resource for colors and textures… We gathered things from my closet and smoothed them over the couch, focusing on lighter colors to help brighten up my dark room.  Moss green and grey (Seattle favorites) were eliminated, beige/wheat was in.  The search for the perfect, affordable material is going to take a while so we moved on to making our own pattern for the couch.  This is new territory –  if it works I will post the “how to” for a slipcover.  If it doesn’t I will post the “how to NOT” make a slipcover.  Tune in later to see if we file this one under “Bad Ideas”…

~ Monica