Sunday, December 29, 2013

our second christmas

last year, i didn't decorate the house for christmas. i put up a boxwood wreath inside, but that was it. i had grand plans to order everything i wanted on sale after last christmas. i had a plan...

reality: i waited too long to order the wreaths. i tend to do that. they were sold out. garlands are expensive. i thought we had more white lights than we did (only one short string in the rubbermaid tub). we have been traveling so much that it didn't make sense to put up a tree.

so i ordered cheap artificial outdoor wreaths from amazon. not boxwood, like i originally envisioned, because i couldn't find them at a reasonable price point. we put them up on each window, but not the front door. still haven't been able to figure out how to hang it successfully on the storm door : ) and still haven't changed the door or storm door. eh. maybe next year?

i bought a single strand of icicle lights for across the front porch. it's almost the right size. but it doesn't hang straight. there are recommendations online, but they mostly involve a lot of time and a hair dryer. nope. does anyone have an easier way?

then i wrapped two columns with white lights. we did not wrap any garlands - too expensive. i might order an artificial one for next year (yeah, yeah, i know - because it worked so well last year). but wouldn't the porch railing look pretty with a green garland?

we also hung the wreaths on the interior of the house on the three upstairs windows. however, there are HVAC vents above the windows. the wreaths kept falling. so in the oh-so-lovely dark photo above, the middle upstairs wreath has fallen to the bedroom floor. i'll try climbing out onto the roof and hanging them outside next year.

inside, i did bare minimum decorating. number one on my after-christmas list is stocking holders. i really like the topiary ones from ballard designs, but unfortunately they don't carry them anymore.

maybe i could make them? maybe not. but i really like them. this year i just set the stockings out on top of the fireplace. which looks a little silly. i'll keep searching for hangers. we also did not put up a tree. we went to key west with phil's family the week before christmas, so we didn't think it was worth the hassle. however, my beautiful friend alycyn sent us a gorgeous small tree from a cute old town florist. what a fun treat on christmas eve! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

artwork progress

surprise! i'm back.

this time i've been traveling. i've been to north carolina, new jersey, maryland, and northern california for work. and dallas, athens, and abilene, texas with my family. and key west with phil's family. it's been quite a month. but we have seen all of our nieces and nephews! : )

i put together artwork in our guest room. remember, the pink one? i had found the beautiful center piece for a gallery wall (description here). i ordered a special frame. and then i combed through pieces we have collected through the years to organize a grouping.

option 1, clockwise from left: "so much," photo of stained glass from santa fe street market, capitol watercolor from eastern market, photo from hall of mirrors in versailles, small painting from my watercolor teacher saved from my time studying abroad in italy. the painting is on scrap board, and i would have to figure out how to hang it. and it looks a little lost.

option 2, clockwise from left: versailles photo, limited print produced by an RA from my study abroad time, "so much," santa fe photo, capitol watercolor, watercolor i painted under above-mentioned watercolor teacher. i have done watercolor lessons twice so far. i studied under a family friend in high school - she taught me about color and edamame. i worked with a local artist in italy - his english was poor, but our italian was worse. he preferred to paint outdoors around the village. not crazy about the two vertical pieces at the bottom of this arrangement.

option 3. i edited. and then i chose this arrangement. i like the way the colors are similar in all the pieces. it is a slightly feminine assortment, but the room is already pink...

then i traced each frame onto scratch paper. it was leftover tissue paper from an anthropologie bag, i think. then i taped it up on the wall above the bed to check if i liked the arrangement.

i also marked where i would need to nail into the wall to hang each piece.

i hung the gallery piece by piece, taking down the tissue paper and leveling as i went.

et voila! a simple foray into the gallery wall. of which there are many much, much more elaborate and beautiful. like this. or this gallery of galleries from lonny

Sunday, November 17, 2013

new numbers

i haven't been doing a lot of projects around the house. i've been doing a lot of movie-watching. and hanging out with friends. and traveling. hopefully inspiration for a substantial and productive project will strike soon : )

recently, phil and i changed out our address numbers. the existing ones were brass and installed above the top porch step, making it hard to see. we also had a little rot problem with the trim along the porch, so we were trying to not draw attention to that area.

i had my eye on the neutra house numbers from design within reach. i kept hoping they would go on sale, but they never do. oh well. we ordered them anyway : ) 

they arrived in neat little boxes, each individually packaged. we decided to use the pin-mount method, which lifts the numbers away from the house. it adds depth and i wouldn't do it any other way. we chose the black numbers, hoping the contrast would help with visibility. i love aluminum, but this time function won over form. 

the numbers came with mounting templates. we tried them in several locations and with different spacing between the numbers.  we decided to install them on the porch post, running vertically, opposite our flag. the templates made installation so much easier - we just taped them up and drilled pilot holes. 

the standoffs included for pin-mounting were friction fit into the holes. we put a little caulk around the pins to make sure they were nice and snug.

et voila! now our front door is now wonderfully framed by our flag and our new house numbers!!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

celebrating a milestone

hello, friends.

yes, i'm still here.

i've just been taking a little break to do a few other things. like throw an engagement party, work in the garden, travel for work... and pass my last exam!! yes, that's right. i have now filed my paperwork with the fine state of wisconsin to become a real-live, registered, licensed architect! : )

now that it's finally here, i don't really know what to do. it's been my goal for so long. for, like, ever. so now what? just go to a nice dinner and keep going? my duties at work will be exactly the same. i do get to put the lovely "AIA" letters after my name. after filling out mountains of paperwork and paying a large amount of money.

i think i may buy myself a present to signify the achievement. but what does one buy for oneself? i'm thinking a piece of furniture. something uber-architect-y (that's a technical term, of course). there are several iconic architects with pieces of furniture that i would be happy to use an ongoing reminder that i achieved my goal. and i think that buying a verified original piece is an important way to celebrate. since i am now a certified designer, being paid for my ideas and design skills, i should return the favor and buy the real thing.

eero saarinen
saarinen was a finnish american architect and furniture designer. buildings include the st louis gateway arch and the main terminal at dulles airport. if i were to buy a piece of his furniture, i would choose a coffee table. first choice would be a white/grey marble top with a white base.... but i think the white laminate makes it a little more in my price range : )

table from hive modern
charles & ray eames
an amazing american design couple, the eames are most famous for their chairs, tables, stools, and case study house in southern california. we have knock-off eames pieces already: a plycraft reproduction lounge chair that phil found on craigslist and our "eiffel" dining chairs from overstock. my all-time favorite piece from charles and ray eames is the RAR rocker. words do not express my undying devotion to this piece of furniture. weird? maybe. i'm a design-nut. sue me. but i have a confession. i've always imagined that i will buy the RAR (in white, natch) for my first nursery. i'm a sentimental weird design-nut, apparently.

rocker from room & board
mies van der rohe
mies is a legend. his name is used as an adjective, for goodness' sake. the german american architect is most famous for farnsworth house, the seagram building, crown hall, and the barcelona pavilion. he designed beautiful chairs for the pavilion, the barcelona chair. it's become an iconic chair in the commercial design world. the leather would be easy to clean and i can just imagine two matching brown leather chairs in our living room... if i cancel vacation for the next 10 years and buy these instead.

barcelona chair from knoll

alvar aalto
aalto is a finnish architect. he has many famous buildings in finland (can't spell them) and is known for his furniture design, like this gorgeous tea cart. but my present to myself would be a vase. the vase is beautiful, simple, sculptural, and as interesting empty as it is filled. and it costs significantly less than any of the pieces of furniture. a more modest celebration, but significant, nonetheless.

aalto vase from littala

now i'll just go through the options to phil... despite being a present to myself, some of these options are much too expensive to not be a joint decision. i hope i can get a table or chair! : )

Thursday, August 15, 2013

magic carpet ride

have you ever bought a rug? a really big rug. oh my, they're expensive. but they can totally make a room.

i found a modern rug for our bedroom. it's large, but i found it in a cyber monday sale and it's a really popular pattern right now. i'm sure i'll think it's dated in a few years, but most of it is covered by our bed, so i'm kind of okay with that. downstairs in our front living room, however, is a different story...

we really want an antique rug. we thought "oh, let's get one of those cool overdyed rugs." so i looked online and couldn't find one that we loved. well, i found some beautiful rugs, but they were either too expensive, too bright, or too small. i was looking for an 8 foot-ish by 10 foot-ish rug in a muted green, gray, or blue. nothing. so we decided to wait until the annual bloomingdale's tent sale, which happens early every summer. it was overwhelmingly full of rugs. and pushy salesmen. we went earlier in the morning, to beat the heat (it's literally in a tent) and any crowd. failed on both accounts: miserably stuffy and there is apparently never a crowd. whatever.

we assumed our typical bargaining dynamic. i kindly explained what we were looking for (size, colors, prefer overdyed) while phil looked as bored as possible and said he hated everything we saw. the salesman, along with a team of helpers to pull back the heavy stacks of rugs, eventually helped me find two absolutely gorgeous rugs.

rug one - overdyed simple pattern

rug two - overdyed more ornate pattern, tad bit brighter
i would have been happy to take either home [the salesmen try to get you to buy 2-4 rugs, so you can "try it in your room and then bring back the ones you don't want" - yeah, right!], until we saw the price. each one was over $4000!!!!! ummmm what?? isn't this supposed to be a sale? oh, it was on sale. the original price was over $15,000 on one of them. who buys a $15,000 rug? not this couple. this couple was not buying a $4000 rug, either. oh, i considered it. i always do. in the heat of the moment i get really excited about how beautiful it will look and all the new furniture that will go with it... and then phil drags me back to earth.

the next tactic for a giant rug was the big box stores. i checked all the usuals: west elm, pottery barn, crate and barrel, cb2, ikea, macy's, etc. same problems. wrong color, wrong size, wrong price. or wrong quality - i found some interesting options on overstock, but they just looked so cheap. i mean, they are cheap. but i don't want it to look that way! : )

i wish this story had a happy ending. not yet. one day my prince rug will come. until then, it's back to the internets. i've found some amazing resources. esalerugs is my current haunt. there are some real beauties, the price is right, and the shipping is free. then i've been searching ebay and etsy. i typically follow the guidelines put forth by one of my favorite users-of-oriental-rugs-in-amazing-ways: little green notebook. she shares her tips for small rugs on ebay here, turkish kilims here, and success with esalerugs here. hopefully i find something soon!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

artwork search

we're getting closer to "complete" on a few rooms. well, by complete, i mean i'm not totally embarrassed to have people over. but we're missing the finishing touches. namely, artwork.

we have some large expanses of wall to fill. and i don't want to fill it with a bunch of posters or hastily purchased prints in cheap-looking frames. i want the look of a lovingly curated art collection... but i'm being impatient on the time it takes to build said collection : )

i've been doing a lot of searching for art and artists that i like. and i've found several. my favorite right now is michelle armas. her paintings are beautiful. and her framed originals are stunning. a large-format acrylic in a maple frame over our fireplace... wouldn't that be dreamy?? well, it's a little pricey. i'm saving. and trying to convince my husband that we should spend over $1000 on a painting when there is roof work to be done is not going well. understandably.

so i'm taking a different approach for now. scouring estate sales, ebay, craigslist and etsy for affordable options that both of us love and agree on. we've had one success so far.

this piece is from a very cute etsy shop called tastes orangey. it's called "so much" and i am smitten. it arrived beautifully packaged and very quickly. my plan is to use it as the centerpiece in a gallery wall in our guest room. so i ordered a frame.

which brings me to the next piece of the puzzle. once i find artwork, what do i do with it? especially since i don't want to spend zillions of dollars on frames. well, enter emily henderson. you know, the insanely adorable designer from hgtv. i love her. and i LOVE her blog. she wrote an amazing post about frames. i cannot recommend this enough. even the comments are helpful. i ordered a frame from one of her sources and some samples following a recommendation in the comments. i will update on how it goes - i am excited for it to work out!

and i'll keep saving for some large original pieces. my other obsession right now is gray malin's aerial beach photography series. wow. just stunning. i see this in our dining room. one of the giant ones. you know, the expensive ones. i wish i had an actual connection to one of these locations just so i could justify buying one. hehe. 

the other thing i'm working on is incorporating photos from our travels into our gallery walls. and maybe even paint something myself... maybe.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

new additions

we have a couple of new additions to the den. as i said before, that's where our tv is located and we spend the majority of our time. since we have a rather large tv, that's also where we host game-watching parties during a&m football season. which means we need seating! last year, we typically brought in dining chairs, loaded up the couch, and sat on the floor to get everyone to fit - especially for the big games (i'm looking at you, alabama). so we found the big sectional. but we still need more chairs. the room is not very wide, so the side chair has to be rather skinny. we were killing time at tyson's corner mall a couple of weeks ago and happened into west elm. [okay, we didn't really "happen" into west elm - i dragged phil to go look at a coffee table i saw online after we visited the bloomingdale's rug tent sale. same thing.] and, lo and behold, there was a little chair! 

not only was there a little chair, but it was on sale! and upholstered in a non-offensive, non-feminine navy stripe! it's fairly comfortable, and will be even better with a pillow for lumbar support. woohoo!

then last weekend, phil lured me out of bed on a weekend morning with the promise of popeye's and the garden store. we had been to an all-day pool party the day before, and let's just say i needed my beauty rest : ) i was not leaving that bed and was quite happy to watch the new top chef masters and not change out of my pajamas, thank you. but phil never wants to go to the garden store (he always wants to go to popeye's. i think we've been to every single location in northwest DC and north arlington). so that was some motivation to throw on a cap and my sunglasses and get outside.

ummmm definitely worth it. i finally got a fiddle leaf fig!! i've been slightly obsessed for a while and johnson's had a few to choose from in their indoor section. we chose a nice, healthy tree on the smaller side. they had a couple of larger ones that were GORGEOUS. but they were also expensive at $150! our medium-ish sized guy was $40. johnson's is usually more expensive than our ace or home depot, but they're so helpful and i really like them. so i don't mind. well, i like to buy plants at ace, too, but i've never seen anything like this there. i evened it out by buying a new aloe vera plant and more liriope to fill in around our walk at ace. see - the tiny plant in the black pot behind the fig.
anyway. it is a great addition to our den. he sits next to the tv, so he can soak up the southern sunlight that comes in the transom above the back door. if i remember to leave the shades open. i hope i don't kill him!

dorky photo from my instagram feed. please notice mr fiddle leaf fig off to the right. please do not notice the fact that i should be dusting my tv console instead of bawling my eyes out to a movie i've seen a zillion times.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

the baseboards (or how i almost lost my mind)

oh hey. i'm back. took a little hiatus to enjoy my summer and not study for my exams : ) we've also tackled a few projects, which i hope to post about in a somewhat timely manner.

we spent our fourth of july on our hands and knees. sanding. and sanding. and sanding. and sanding. remember how we refinished the walls and floors before we moved in? well it did a number on our baseboards. first, the painters came and stripped all the walls down to the plaster, using humidifiers to help them strip the wallpaper. then, a few days later, the flooring contractor came in and pulled off the shoe molding to strip and refinish the floors. i guess the base was still a little soft, because it chewed it up. and we didn't have time to have the painters come back and touch it up after the flooring contractor, due to our crazy fast timeline.

ummm it looked awful. and we kept putting off fixing it, because we knew how horrible the project would be. we finally had extra time over the long holiday weekend at fourth of july and decided better sooner than later...

we moved all the furniture away from the walls. this meant moving a large part of the dining room into the den.

so that was fun. my arms were already sore from moving furniture! but then the real fun started. the sanding. we started with a medium grit sandpaper (about an 80 grit). the hardest part was not sanding the shoe molding while still getting all of the base smooth. there were several layers of thick, goopy paint and it took some serious time to get it ready for paint. after sanding all of the boards (entry, living room, dining room, stairs and upstairs landing) with medium grit, we gave it a pass with a finer grit. again, it took forever. 

my sanding fuel! can't get enough of this stuff

the straight runs were not so bad to sand. the stairs, however... well, let's just say we both deserve a hot stone massage after that situation. 

pretty, right? : ) to protect the edge of the stairs, we wrapped sandpaper around sponges (like we did while working on the dresser). that way, the sponge rubs against the finished wood while the sandpaper worked on the grubby trim. 

so we finished the sanding. and ate our weight in chinese food (ps - this is our favorite delivery place in NW DC). then we cleaned. we used all-purpose cleaner and old cotton t-shirts to clean all the sandpaper and grime off the entire area. it's one of those chores that i hate doing, so i don't do it very often. which means this is the first time the baseboards received a good scrub in about a year. oops. so if nothing else, our baseboards are nice and clean after this little adventure : ) 

the next morning, we taped. again, the straight runs were not difficult, but the stairs were time-consuming. this task was definitely worth it, though, so take your time and be accurate. phil even likes to run an old credit card along the top edge, to ensure a really good seal between the tape and the wood. 

after the extensive taping, we finally started painting. we used a white trim paint we found in the basement and a thin, high-quality brush. 

the painting went quicker than the sanding, but it was still slow work. it's careful work. and we would be painting and see a spot that needed more sanding (like above). so we'd have to not paint that area, then wait for the entire zone to dry (to prevent dust from getting into the wet paint), sand it again, clean it again, and then paint it. i'm not sure if anyone could ever tell that we went to all that trouble as we went once all the furniture is in, but phil is a stickler for doing things the right way. me... well... not so much. i'm happier to just move quickly. but i'm always happy when phil makes me stop and do things correctly. in the end. even if i fight him while we're working. not that i would ever do that : ) 

whistling while we work aka singing along to one of our many pandora stations
we waited for the paint to mostly dry, then took off the tape. we had to do a little touch-up work here and there, both with the paintbrush and also the razorblade (to get a few messy edges off the shoe mold). 

so after two and a half days' labor, we were done! it's not perfect, but it looks so. much. better! 

we moved the furniture back in and opened a couple of well-deserved beers : ) 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

building a front walk

we are on a fairly busy street. a couple of bus routes, car traffic, and a major pedestrian route. we also park on the street in front of our house. but we also have what's called a "tree box" - a five foot strip of dirt between street and sidewalk. last year, we put in a quick path with some leftover slate tiles i found in the backyard. it looked great for a few months, but then the tiles started splitting and it didn't  hold up. we left them over the winter, deciding what to do.

 in a perfect world, we want to resurface our front sidewalk and stairs with flagstone. it's so gorgeous, but a little out of our current price range. so we decided to dig up the bricks that were our yard border to use as a walkway. maybe someday we'll upgrade, but for now, all we had to buy was gravel and sand.

we watched several youtube videos on building a brick walkway. we started by digging down about four-ish inches to allow for gravel, sand, and bricks.

then we marked off the centerline with chalk. we decided to center the walk on our front steps. 

we dug and dug and dug and dug. the soil turned a little clay as we got deeper and it was harder to dig. i decided to take the soil we dug up and bring it around back to start my little raised garden bed i'm trying to build. since we live in a townhouse, there's always a tough decision: do you take the time to walk around the other houses (we're middle in a row of seven) to the alley, or do you walk through the house? i'm lazy, so i took buckets of dirt through the house. and then vacuumed. and swept. may not do that next time. sure would have been easier with a wheelbarrow. eh. 

after all that digging, we decided to call it a day. i had been sick with a summer cold and phil's back had reached its limit, so we knocked off for the day. it ended up raining the next week. a lot. like several inches, flash flooding a lot. which meant our tree box became a disgusting mud puddle. much to the dismay of our neighbors and delight of local dogs and toddlers. so we had to wait a week for everything to dry out and then re-dig a little. 

after we re-dug, re-measured, and re-chalk marked, we poured a layer of gravel. we just bought the cheap multi-use stone from home depot and poured two bags into our pit. then we raked it out, so it was nice and even. 

then we poured a 60 pound bag of sand. we actually chose sakrete, so it would hopefully bind everything together. we poured a bag, spread it out, tested the depth with a brick... and were too low. oops. should have used more gravel. 

so we sprinkled another bag of gravel onto the sand. and then added more sand. checked the bricks and we were just right. 

we compacted the layers down. mainly by stomping and jumping on it - we're nothing if not professional : ) we also ran a scrap piece of lumber along the length of it to make sure it was (relatively) even. 

then we started placing our bricks. there was some discussion about which pattern to use. we couldn't cut any of the bricks, so traditional running bond was out. we tried a simple stack bond first, but had a hard time getting our lines 100% straight. so we decided on a basketweave, so no cutting bricks as well as some visual interest. and the bricks started to interlock a little, which we hope makes the path last longer. 

we laid them very close together and then stepped on them to make sure they were tight. we adjusted as we went - kicking them to the side a bit to keep it perpendicular, using our heels to kick them snug. the sand really gave a level field for the bricks, they went down easily. we did find that it was better to lay them directly down as close as possible to the adjacent brick. if you set and slid, the sand got in the way and the basketweave wasn't as tight. 

amazingly, it was a really good fit - even rows with little extra space. we filled the ends with gravel where there were small gaps. phil was really worried about the path "spreading" out over time, so we added some edging. we used a plastic edging that could be cut with our clippers. 

we ran it tightly along the edges, and hammered in the stakes that came in the package. it did make the path seem more stable. 

finally in the home stretch! we poured another half a bag of the sand over the top and swept it in. i swept back and forth and back and forth, to make sure it got in every little joint. 

we sprayed it down with the house and swept some more. we repeated the spray, sweep ritual several times. the sand started to get harder to sweep, but it filled the joints very well. we used the jet on the hose nozzle to get the rest of it. 

please ignore my super-pale legs!
then we put soil all the way to the edge. it would be great if the edging wasn't visible, but i'm not sure it will stay hidden. hopefully, the plants grow up over the edge and cover it.

we're pretty happy with the final product. i'm so glad phil forced me to do it correctly! i was ready to just lay bricks without all the base steps. but you can definitely tell the difference in quality and evenness with the proper preparation. 

i also planted some more monkey grass / liriope in the tree box. we have some variegated already and when we lost the big tree last year after hurricane sandy, the weeds moved in. must be all that extra sunlight. it has become a big annoyance - go a couple weeks between major weeding-pulling and you're in for an ugly few hours. so we decided to fill in a few gaps with more of the same type of grass, in the hopes that it will fill in and choke out the weeds. 

pretty successful project! hoping that it lasts longer than the last path. and good to know we can work together on a multi-step project without screaming at each other... i will say phil is more patient than i am. and while we couldn't spend father's day with our dads, we honored them the best way we can - by working hard, just like they taught us : )