Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lessons Learned from the Capers

After finishing up the birch tree forest in the bathroom, I realized that I now have painted every single room in this house. And it's got me thinking about each room and the mistakes I've made and the happy surprises I've encountered as well.

So I decided to make a little list of what I've learned from decorating and designing our first house. Hopefully I'll be able to look back at this when working on our next house (or the same rooms over again in this house) and avoid some of the turmoil along the way. And hopefully my experiences can help anyone else out there reading this as well.

#1. If you don't have an eye for detail (and a lot of patience), don't do your own drywall.
I know lots of people tackle their own drywall projects, and I give them a lot of credit. It's a very tedious process and you really have to pay close attention to every bit of spackle you put on the wall. And I have learned from our bathroom renovation that we will never try to hang drywall again. We just don't have an eye for it.

Drywalling like an amateur.
#2. Don't be too quick to jump on the decorating bandwagon.
When it came time to pick the material for our new shower, I was sure white subway tile was the way to go. It was in all the great decorating blogs, it was cheap, and everyone said it was timeless. And it always looked gorgeous in all those glossy magazines and decorating books.

So when my husband told me he thought subway tile reminded him of hospitals, I was pretty bummed. I thought that I needed to have white subway tile to have a nice bathroom because that's what's in all the nice bathrooms.

Obviously that's not true. And I'm so glad I didn't let that feeling sway me. I went along with the hubby's suggestion of natural stone, we found a great deal on it at a bargain tile shop, and it looks so incredible. Best of all, it's unique to us. The design and mosaic we chose aren't something I see all the time (or ever). It's warm and calm and just a little European looking, which is exactly the style I've been going for in this house. Had we gone with white tile, we wouldn't have had something so us.

The mosaic reminds us of a compass rose, which in turn reminds us of all our travels together

Living Room

#3. Caulk before you paint.
Not a day goes by that I don't look at the gaps around our crown molding in the living room and cringe. Ok, maybe that's a little exaggeration. I do cringe, but not on a daily basis. Bi-weekly, perhaps.

The point is, I am totally regretting that I didn't caulk up all those little cracks and gaps before painting the whole room. It would have made everything look so much more polished and much less old. And caulking as you paint each room is such a good way to tackle an old creeky house like this one. But I've learned my lesson and I will never paint another room without prepping it first. That includes spackling nail holes and dents, caulking cracks, and any other little tasks, like removing hardware and wall fixtures. So worth it in the end.

Removing the nasty wallpaper border was a good step, but how could I forget about those gaps between the ceiling and the crown molding???

#4. Hold your paint chips up to furniture too.
I picked a color I really love in our living room. And I still love the color itself, but I don't think it was the best choice for the living room. As soon as we finished painting, I realized that it was only a few shades off from the couch, so it's pretty bland looking. Next time, I'm going to hold my paint chips up to the furniture in the room to avoid this mistake. And painting swatches on the wall next to the furniture would probably be a good idea too.

Where's the contrast? That's a lot of beige.

Guest Bedroom

#5. You're more likely to love/regret colorful wall paint.
This one can go either way, but judging by our purple guest room and the yellow spare room, you're way more likely to feel strongly about a colorful room. If it works out and you love it for a long time, awesome! But remember that you may get sick of it and like it a lot less in a relatively short amount of time (shorter than if you had painted the guest room a light taupey color, perhaps?) I think it's a risk worth taking, but I'm definitely going to put more thought into the next colorful wall color we use.

#6. Wallpaper is evil.
I am aware that new designs have made wallpaper a really trendy style again. And I know that it can be beautiful if done right. But after spending all that time in our guest room and staircase hallway pulling down wallpaper inch by inch, I will never risk putting myself or anyone else through the process of removing wallpaper I installed. Whenever I'm tempted to use it, I just go into the guest room and look at the seams that you can still see even after we did our best to remove the wallpaper and the slightly fuzzy look of the walls even after they were sealed and painted. Never will I put anyone through that hell.


#7. If you're switching out one light fixture in a room, take a sec to look at the other lights in the room.
My dad helped me replace one of the two ceiling fans that were in our kitchen with this pretty pendant lamp. Totally loved it, but a few months later, I was like "Why didn't we get rid of both ceiling fans so we'd have matching pendant lights in the room?" And by the time I got around to looking for a second light to match the first, the design was discontinued. :-( So now, if I want matching lights, we'll have to replace the fan and the first light we already replaced once. Bummer. Could have avoided that with one easy turn of the head.

The light on one side of the room.
The light/fan just a few feet away from the pendant light. Hrmm.


#8. Do your research.
I spent most of last summer working down in our basement. Our cement floor was cracking and this white foam was seeping out of the cracks when we ran the dehumidifier. So I bought some garage floor epoxy paint to seal the floor. I even applied floor leveler/patch stuff to the bad spots before painting. But less than six months later, the paint is chipping and the floor isn't looking that much improved down there. Had I researched our situation some more, I'm 99% positive I would have come up with a better long-term solution.

Half Bathroom

#9. Don't hire a contractor without a personal reference.
I guess we learned this lesson more from Dr. Eddy himself than from the horrible job he did on our windows in the half bath, the hallway, and the full bathroom, but either way, we learned our lesson. When it came time to replace the soffits around the house, we got a recommendation from our friends Matt and Kristen and the contractor was wonderful! We'll definitely be using him again.

#10. Just go for it.
I'm in love with the birch forest in our half bathroom. I wish I had painted it years ago so I could have had more time to enjoy it, rather than look at our ugly yellow with blue spots bathroom. My main hang up was those weird 2x4s nailed to the wall, and it ended up taking me less than an hour to remove them. Next time I'm nervous and debating, I think I'll just go for it. (Unless I'm thinking about a bold color. Then I'll still have to take the time to find a color I really love, as mentioned in tip #5).
The fruits of my labor.

Dining Room

I actually think I'm still in the process of learning a lesson from my dining room. I'm sure it either has to do with designing a room to suit your needs (we hardly ever dine in there) or something about the stairs. I've been staring at the stairs for years, unable to decide if I like them or if they need a makeover. I'm definitely timid when it comes to painting wood that's in good condition since it's so hard to go back to it. So maybe I'll end up doing something awesome or horrible and be able to report back with a lesson learned at that point.

Front Porch

#11. A simple, inexpensive curtain rod and ring clips are essential.
I made the curtains on the front porch from roman shades I bought for unbelivably cheap at Christmas Tree Shop. Had I just cut the ties off, they would have been ready to hang with ring clips from Target. But I didn't take the time to remove to original weird rod with a pull cord that was up there originally, so the clips wouldn't have fit. Instead, I bought ribbon and made these elaborate ties for each curtain. It's cute, but a little too frilly for my taste. I could have skipped all that sewing and just hung up a new rod in much less time. I'm still thinking about going back and fixing this at some point.

Too many bows reminds me of how this house used to look before we moved in.

Master Bedroom

#12. The upstairs bedrooms in old Cape Cods are probably not well insulated.
Our bedroom goes from freezing cold in the winter to hot enough to melt a candle in the summer (that really happened). While this isn't so much a design lesson, it's definitely something I would consider in the future when planning out my house. Maybe having our bedroom downstairs would have been the way to go. Unless I need a free trip to the sauna. In that case our bedroom in July is heaven. haha

So that's my list of what I've learned so far. Well, the big stuff, I guess. I'm sure there are hundreds of other little things (measure twice before you cut, you actually can have too much brown, drywall anchors are your friend, take a breather if you're having drill issues, etc. etc.) but these were the big ones. I'm looking forward to not repeating my mistakes in the future ... and making all sorts of new ones as I tackle new projects and new rooms in new houses. It's all part of the process, right?
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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day: A Recap

Our Valentine story begins in 2008. I was in my last year at University of Michigan, and Chris was finishing up his Masters at Cornell. Lucky for me, Chris was amazing through the whole long distance thing and had flown out to be with my for Valentine's Day. Little did we know that only a couple days after we celebrated, my appendix would rupture and I'd spend the next week in the hospital.

But at least we had a good first Valentine's Day together.

Valentine's Day 2008.

The next year, we were less lucky. We were living in our first apartment, eating breakfast and talking about our plans for the day. It was a Sunday I think. And then we noticed a rather unfortunate sittuation unfolding: our cat Oreo had worms ... coming out of him ... I won't go into more detail than that, but believe me when I say we were freaked out.

Being a weekend, the regular vet wouldn't see us, so we spent most of the morning calling around to find a vet  that would. We eventually found the emergency vet and had to rush him in. Awesome. We spent most of the rest of the day there. Long story short, we had him checked out and got some medicine to make him all better. (It worked and he's as healthy as a horse now). But after that, our plans were pretty much shot so we spent a quiet evening in, constantly checking on the cat to make sure he was ok.

Next up, Valentine's 2010. Now that was a good year.

We went out to eat at a nice restaurant. Chris bought me some beautiful flowers and a huge frosted chocolate chip cookie. I finally had a job and a savings account, so I splurged and bought him a new GPS that he desperately needed and wanted. All was well.

Valentine's Day 2010.

I honestly have no recollection of V-day 2011. Chris and I believe we may have gone out to eat at Lemongrass, though we're not totally sure. But regardless, it was uneventful, and that's a good thing, as you're slowly finding out.

Valentine's Day 2012 was the mother of bad Valentines. I stopped at a bakery to get some sweets for Chris and he went and picked up sushi and flowers and came home to find the back door wide open and Oreo out in the driveway. Yup. Someone broke into our house on Valentine's Day while we were at work. Possibly the worst  part of that whole ordeal was that after we gave our report to the police and they snapped pictures and dusted for prints and all that, we thought that our terrified cat, Shadow had gotten outside as well. We looked everywhere and couldn't find him. We were so upset that whole night and for a days later.

The good news is that he is just unbelievable at hiding and reappeared in my desk chair a few days later. Poor thing! But our celebration was already totally ruined at that point.

Shadow in one of his slightly less obvious hiding places, the top of the closet.

And that brings us to the present. Valentine's 2013. Lucky thirteen.

Yeah ... Exactly one week before Vday I had to rush Chris to the Emergency room for severe stomach pains and other complications. He felt awful. We spent several hours there while he got tested and prodded and poked. Around 1am the doctor said he had a case of colitis. So they admitted him to the hospital and kept him on pain killers until later the next day.

We spent the weekend napping and Chris eating toast and not much else. He couldn't eat any spicy food, anything greasy or sugary. No vegetables, no fruits, no whole grains. Basically, toast, crackers, and chicken noodle soup. Over the next couple days, he stuck to his diet while he started to heal up. But it was obvious that Valentine's Day would again be a bust this year.

Luckily, Chris actually felt ok on Thursday and I brought sushi home for dinner. Obviously he avoided the wasabi and spicy tuna, but he did fine with the mild rolls. And he even went and bought me a super tiny frosted chocolate chip cookie so I wouldn't feel bad not sharing it with him. And then he gave me the prettiest bouquet of flowers I've ever seen.

He also gave me a giant box of chocolates. The banner behind me was a gift from my mom. How cute is that??

Before Chris ever got sick, I had bought him a tiny box of chocolates with a cute tiny teddy bear attached to them. I kind of figured he'd get me chocolates, so I didn't want to overload us. Little did I know he would be sure to bring on the chocolate overload all by himself.

So we ate our sushi, watched a movie, and just took it easy (doctor's orders!) Not the worst Vday yet, but had the emergency room ordeal come a week later, it would have been a top contender. I totally lucked out because Chris is such a sweetheart and he still went out of his way to make the day special for me even though he was feeling good. So I am so appreciateive about that. I'm a lucky girl!

But I'm thinking next year we're going to sterilize our whole house the day before, take the day off from work, put a bubble around our house, hire some security guards and a private vet to stand watch, and then just cross our fingers that we make it through the curse of Saint Valentine. haha After all, I'm just lucky when it comes to having Chris.

But, I am happy to report that Chris is feeling a smidge better every day. He's still healing up, but he's not in a lot of pain, and he's able to eat more normal food now. He celebrated with three filet-o-fish sandwiches from McDonalds. I ate two. Love is a many splendored thing.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to Paint Birch Trees

I have a confession to make:
My name is Callie and I am not a planner.
I read all these great blogs written by people who have a meticulous eye for detail, who create entire systems just to help them visualize how they'll hang a picture frame, who test thirty paint colors to find the perfect shade of white.
I admire these people. I have dreams of being a little more organized. A little more type A.
But the truth is, I am not one of you. I am not great at planning out designs and really thinking things through before I transform a space. I took a test once that said I was neither a right brain thinker nor a left brain thinker. I landed smack dab in the middle. Perhaps that's why I aspire to be organized and analytical yet tend to drift toward the messy free spirit stuff, never totally fitting in with either side.
Whatever the reason, I don't really do plans or schematics. My strategy: go for it and if it looks bad, tweak it, start over, or move on.
So I guess that's the backstory on how I ended up freehanding a birch tree forest on the wall in my half bathroom.

I did at one point plan to use a stencil, as I mentioned in my previous post. But cost mixed with the desire to just get on with it already lead me to just start splashing paint on the wall.

Plus, when this is the view out the window, how could you not be inspired to paint some pretty white trees on the wall asap?

This is my little step-by-step guide for any souls caught in the middle of the right brain/left brain conflict that would like to paint some trees themselves but maybe want a bit of guidance.

First, let me warn you that my "let's get on with it" urge was so overwhelming that I started painting before I removed the old mirror and had time to spackle over the marks and sand them down. So you'll see that this area is slightly behind the rest of the wall as far as progress goes in each picture. I recommend totally prepping your work space BEFORE you start painting your trees, but if you can't, make the best of it and move on. haha

Step #1 - Paint the wall.
I had already painted my wall white by the time I decided to paint the birches, so rather than painting the whole wall grey for the background color in between the trees, I decided to just go with it and paint the background on top of the white in sections.

It may work better for you to paint your background color first and then add the birch trees. The only issue here is that the grey covers the white in about 2 coats, whereas the white can take 3 or 4 coats to cover even a light grey. It's really totally up to you. This is just how I did it.

Step #2 - Paint a straightish line.
The brilliant thing about trees is that they're not perfectly straight. Nature is wonderful because there are no perfect circles or straight lines (ok, ok, the sun and the surface of a still pond contradict me, but for the most part I'm right).

This means you don't have to worry about getting your lines perfectly straight. Just go for it. Paint a vertical line somewhere on the wall, making sure to have a clean edge on one side. And when I say clean edge, I mean that not only should it be sharp-looking, but also make sure you don't leave a build-up of paint on the edges. Later, you're going to paint branches over the grey, so if the paint is raised up on the edges of the grey, it will make your branches look disconnected from the trunks.

Step # 3 - Paint more straightish lines.
Remember that you're painting the background, so just keep stepping back to see how the white trunks are looking. Bumps are nice because they look like knots in the wood. If you make a trunk too thick, just keep working the grey over until you have the width you desire.

I painted to almost the ceiling and baseboard but left the detail work for later. Once my stripes were in place, I went back and taped off the ceiling and baseboard and used a small bruch to fill in the remaining space between the grey stripes and the tape. By the time I had finished the top and then the bottom, the top was dry and I could keep working around until the paint covered the white. Then I quickly removed the tape so I would have nice straight lines.

Step #4 - Paint the details
While I had my grey paint can open, I switched brushes so I could add the bark detailing to the trees. I picked this fun fan brush because I figured it would mean less brush strokes and more consistency. Then I just played around with different marks. The ones that I liked I made in several places acorss the wall. The ones I didn't like I just left alone rather than painting over and trying again. What can I say, I wanted to get'er dun. Plus, trees have flaws, right?

I also had the picture of the original stencil on my phone, and I reference that from time to time to see what I like about it and what I didn't. This helped me when I was stuck on what weird shape or line to add next.

Again, I urge you to just keep stepping back and looking at the wall from far away. You'll be able to see which areas need more details and which areas are getting a little busy much better than if you're standing right next to the wall.

Step #5 - Add branches
There wasn't a lot of science involved in painting the branches (surprise!) For the most part I allowed the branches to split into two points, which could then split into two point, etc. I tried to only split them into two branches at a time so there was some sort of consistency.

Again, keep stepping back and seeing which branches need to be bigger, where you need more branches, etc.

Also, remember how I said you don't need straight lines for the tree trunks? Well, you shouldn't have straight lines at all for the branches. The branches always came out best (to my eye anyway) when I added a bump or a weird turn to them. Just think withered witches fingers while you paint. Or don't. I guess that's kind of weird ...

You can see from the picture below that one coat for the branches wasn't enough. You can see how washed out they look compared to the trunks. But adding a second and maybe a third coat just gives you more opportunities to clean up your lines and adjust anything that's bugging you.

Step #6 - Add personal touches
This is, afterall, a highly unique, personal creation, so make it your own! I added this pretty yellow bird looking out the window ...

... and the "carved initials" on one of the trunks.

Other cute ideas: a bird's nest with eggs, a squirrel with an acorn, a banner hanging across the trees, a chipmunk poking his head out of a hole in one of the trees, etc. Pretty much anything you like and that will make you happy is the perfect thing to add in. At least that's my opinion.

And remember, you can always go back and add more detail or fix something weird with a little paint if you need to. But seeing how it turns out if half the fun, so just roll with it ... and send me pictures!

Hope this tutorial helps and shows how easy this project is if you break it down into bite-sized chunks. I did the trunks all the grey in one day and then added the branches the next day so it was more manageable (and so everything could dry). But really, I think anyone can do something like this if they want to, so don't be afraid. Just go paint something pretty and then smile everytime you walk by it! (Yep, my bathroom now makes me grin like a fool).
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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Turning My Bathroom Into a Forest

Guess what I did this weekened.

I'll give you a hint: it rhymes with "schmatement mall."

That's right! I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my statement wall in the half bathroom. Birch trees! It all started when I saw this wallpaper in a small bathroom picture on Pinterest (via the Better Homes & Gardens website) a while back. Been in love with it ever since. But at $200 a roll, there was just no way I could ever make that kind of splurge on the Capers.

So I put the idea in the back of my mind, not sure how I could ever get my birch forest in the half bathroom. But then, last week, when I was searching for wall stencils for a design I saw in my Young House Love book, I found this Etsy listing. Birches! Love love loved it! And the stencil was way cheaper than the wallpaper, so that was great.

But then when I actually went to purchase the stencil, added in the $10 shipping, looked at my sad bank account, I hesitiated. $75 still seemed a little pricey to me. But the idea of once again passing on my birch forest made me so sad, so I sat and stared at the image for a long time.

Image from CuttingEdgeStencils.
I could picture it so clearly on that half bathroom wall and it looked sooooo good in my head. And then, after a while, I started to see the white space and the grey paint and I began to think that maybe I could actually skip the stencil and wallpaper and just freehand the design FOR FREE. Loved the idea, even if I was a little skeptical that I could make it look good.

I ended up giving myself a little pep talk and figured if it looked bad, I could always just paint over it. But I was hopeful.

And honestly, I'm super thrilled with how it turned out.

The grey is actually leftover from the hallway, and it's Benjamin Moore's Moonshine.

I made the birches a little bigger than the stencil, and I did less branches because I didn't want it to look too chaotic, and I figured I could always add more later. But I did add a couple sweet personal touches that I love, like the "carving" of Chris and my intitals below.

I also added this cheery yellow bird, perched on a branch and looking out the window.

I gotta say, it definitely makes a statement when you're walking up the stairs.

I also finally installed the towel ring, which was sitting unassembled in one of the vanity's drawers when we moved in. Talk about procrastination.

But I'd love to get a bright yellow hand towel to hang there. Wouldn't that look adorable with the little birdy?

And here's the view as you walk from our bedroom to the bathroom. You just get a little glimps of Mr. Birdie.

Here's my little to-do list for this half bathroom:
  • Replace the old window
  • Sew white curtains for the window
  • Remove two 2x4s from the wall
  • Remove awkward mirror
  • Patch the walls
  • Paint the walls and ceiling white
  • Paint the trim glossy white
  • Paint the statement wall with birches
  • Install towel ring
  • Hang large mirror behind the toilet
  • Fix up the door knobs
  • Buy a pretty yellow towel
  • Put a picture in my new Valentine's day frame
  • Install a new light
  • Add an electrical outlet

Doing pretty good! Oh, and I should get rid of those old 2x4s too, pictured below. Those need to go.

The mirror leaning against the wall is the one I'm going to hang behind the toilet. I still need to paint the frame though. Maybe grey or yellow?

So that's how I put a forest in my bathroom. The whole thing was pretty easy. A little time consuming, but not too bad. I'll be back soon with a tutorial on how I painted the trees and broke up the work into several easy steps.

In the meantime, what do you guys think? Love the trees? Does it need more branches? What do you think of Mr. Birdie?