Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The front door debate

Remember when I posted about how I wanted to paint the front door? Well, I haven't started on it yet, mostly due to other projects taking priority like finishing the shelf for our bathroom and painting the office, among other things.

Another reason is, well, because I haven't asked my landlords if it would be okay to paint the front door.

Well, that isn't entirely true. I brought up the idea of painting it and got a bewildered stare in response, and after that I think they forgot about it. What typically helps me when I'm nervous about asking for something is organizing and preparing for it.

Or bribing. Bribing sometimes works.

In lieu of bribing (or perhaps even in addition to? I mean, who doesn't love baked goods?!), I'm thinking about showing them some samples of painted front doors and how darn tootin' cute they look. Here are some examples I found that I think would work well to make my case. Maybe putting them into a Powerpoint presentation could be a way to sell it, emphasizing the massive curb appeal a painted door brings.

It's like a rainbow of doors! Love it!

Anyone else have any other inspiration? Any other ideas of how to best use my powers of persuasion to make this happen? 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Creating a Reclaimed Wood Shelf - aka A West Elm Hack

Our bathroom (aka the "Master Bath") actually has quite a bit of storage. Problem is, it's pretty much what came with the house - as in, store-bought and with absolutely no character whatsoever.

When Brian and I decided that we should probably put something above the toilet in our bathroom to fill the space, I suggested we add some shelving. I eagerly started my search for something with a more weathered, character-filled look.

The option I liked the best was from West Elm (see photo below). The problem? The shelves they sold were way smaller than what we were looking for, and the price was a bit steep. I mean, c'mon....almost $100 for one shelf and two brackets?! That's not even in the size I want?! Yeah, um, no thanks.

I figured I could make one myself. I mean, it was basically just a piece of wood that was stained. What's so hard about that? So, with that attitude I glued two pine 1x4's together and stained them a color that I thought would look decent. Too bad it didn't turn out well at all, so I was back to square one. Poop.

Before I started my second attempt, I scoured the interwebz for some guidance on how to move forward so I wouldn't spend a fortune on wood and stain. I ended up locating an awesome tutorial that gave some great tips on making new wood look reclaimed and weathered. Their project focused on building a piece of furniture - since this is shelving, I'll share what worked best for this project so you can (hopefully!) recreate it easily at home.

What You'll Need
  • One 1x8 wood board - I would suggest softer woods like whitewood or poplar (poplar is what we used) that will be more accepting of the abuse you'll inflict on it to achieve the reclaimed, weathered look
  • Two 7" mounting brackets
  • Four 6 x 1/2" wood screws to attach the brackets to the shelf
  • Four anchors and screws to mount the shelf to the brackets and the wall 
  • Half pint of stain of your choice - I would recommend a medium-to-darker stain to achieve a more character-filled, weathered look
  • One or more small packers of test stain (these cost about 30 cents each at Menards)
  • Half pint of polyurethane
  • One staining brush
  • One or two old towels for wiping up stain
  • Flattened cardboard box or tarp to hold spills and accidents
  • A freezer bag full of nails
  • A hammer
  • A Phillips-head screwdriver
  • A circle saw
  • Electric sander (you don't really need this, but it sure makes things a heck of a lot easier!)
  • 120 and 220-grit sand paper


1.) Measure the area you'd like to place the shelf in. Once you have that measurement, measure and cut the wood to the width you need.

2.) On a test piece of wood, apply test stain to determine which one you would like to go with. Stain can look totally different in the store than at home, so if you're able to find the small packets of test stain to determine which color would work best in your space, I would highly suggest you do so. I found a selection of 30 cent samples at Menards, which was extremely helpful for me since I'm the most indecisive person ever and a lot of the pressure of choosing just one stain was lifted.

I ended up choosing the American Walnut. And no, it wasn't because it was patriotic, in case you were wondering.

3.) This is the first fun part - take the freezer bag full of nails and slam it against the wood on all sides. This will create nicks and crannies in the wood, which will be visible once it is stained. For maximum effectiveness, look at something that makes you mad (for me, it's looking at a photo of Kim Kardashian....ugh, phony publicity hoe!! GRRRRRR!!) and take out your aggression on the wood.

Or maybe picture Darth Vader hovering over your shoulder, chanting "Release your anger!!"

Then, take a nail out of the bag and place it on its side. Bang on it a few times with the hammer until you see the indentations. Do this sporadically around the wood.

Lastly, take your hammer and whack it a few times here and there, just for good measure. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am!

4.) Now for the not-so-fun part - sanding! Booooo. I hate sanding. It's tedious, it's messy, and just one round of sanding is never enough. But it's necessary, unless you're a fan of getting lots of splinters. Since the wood was already pre-sanded, I just used 120-grain sanding paper, which did the trick for me. Depending on how smooth you like it, you can increase or decrease the the level of roughness based on your preferences. Also make sure you sand the edges so they're slightly rounded to achieve the old and weathered look.

Sanding a wood shelf, wood shelf

5.) After sanding, wipe down with a washcloth to remove any sawdust. Also vacuum/sweep up the area you're working in so no sawdust gets stuck to the shelf while staining.

6.) It's finally time for staining! Carefully open the container and gently dip your staining brush into the stain, only just dipping it in (you don't want to get too much stain on the brush, otherwise it can get gloopy and drippy). Brush it gently across the board, going in the direction of the grain.

After staining one row, immediately wipe off the excess stain. Apply some pressure as you're wiping it off to ensure it gets into the grain of the wood. Continue the process until all sides are stained except one. Now is when you'll notice all of the nail and hammer grooves in the wood, which should be more visible in the photo below. If not, maybe you need glasses. ;)

7.) After all but one of the sides dry for about two hours, turn the shelf around and stain the final side. Repeat the staining process detailed above. Let the entire shelf dry for a minimum of 24 hours.

...I forgot to mention that during this entire time, Owen was on supervisory duty (don't worry, I was in an open garage and he was outside with Brian, well out of range of fumes/fine wood particles!). He made sure I was on task and within our budget, while at the same time trying to distract me from noticing his attempt at escaping his boss chair. You can't slip out of the harness without me noticing, kiddo! Mom sees all. ;)

8.) To seal the wood, apply a clear protective finish after the stain has set. We used an oil-based satin clear polyurethane, since I didn't want a glossy finish.

This, in my opinion, is the most tedious part - I ended up doing three coats on one side (lightly sanded with 220-grit sandpaper in-between coats) because when I banged the polyurethane can closed, it splashed some on the shelf...I didn't realize that happened until after it had dried. Oh well, live and learn!

9.) After the final coat (you can do two-three coats, depending on how much wear and tear you're expecting the shelf to have), allow it to dry for 24 hours in a cool, dry place.

10.) Once it's completely dry, attach the brackets to the bottom of the shelf. I had Brian do this part since he's much steadier with a drill and screwdriver than I am. Also, I would recommend screwing the brackets in on an even surface, so you probably shouldn't use the top of a toilet (it was more of a placeholder anyway).

Then, screw it into the wall wherever you'd like to place it - in our case, it was in our bathroom. Make sure it's level so you don't have stuff dropping on your head randomly. Also, if you aren't drilling into studs (fyi: you may need a drill for this part), make sure you use hollow wall anchors to make sure there's enough support for the shelf.

Aaaaaand here she is! I seriously struggled with the lighting situation, since the shelf is in a bit of an alcove and it's difficult to get natural light there, even under the best of circumstances. I pulled out every photography trick in my book to get some halfway decent shots, so hopefully these are up to par. I also put pretty things on it to make it look more lived-on...as you can easily see, I'm not quite sure how exactly we'll decorate this shelf, but I'm sure we can figure something out.

West Elm Hack, Weathered shelf, Reclaimed wood shelf

And here's how it looks in relation to the rest of the bathroom (more or less). To fill the space below the shelf, we'll be adding a towel rack in the near future. But, for the time being draping towels over the door should do.

West Elm Hack, Weathered wood shelf, Reclaimed Wood Shelf

Doesn't it look perty? It's not exactly like the West Elm shelf - in fact, I think I like ours better! A lot more our style, and it honestly didn't cost us that much because we had a sander and many other supplies already.

Anyone else complete any "hack" projects lately? Any questions about the staining/sanding/polyurethaning process I didn't address?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What's Old is New Again | Affordable Decor and Home Improvement Resources in Chicagoland

Although I have a tendency to invest in high-quality furniture that will last, I admit that I far prefer making something old new again. A lot of older furniture is a lot more solidly-built than it is nowadays (unless you want to sacrifice your child's future college education fund), and when I get it at a bargain I don't feel *as* guilty making it my own. In lieu of getting something old/used, I'm willing to shell out for a well-constructed piece - as long as it's super-clearanced. Because I'm cheap frugal and careful with my money.

If I may be so bold, I have a knack for finding deals and steals on furniture and other home decor. Often I'm asked where I am able to snag such deals. Well, today's your lucky day: I'm going to share my secrets to obtaining cheap home stuff. Some of them aren't so secret, and others may be a revelation. Either way, I'm hoping this will help some of you save some some moolah while sparking some creativity.

Are you excited? I know I am!

1.) Habitat for Humanity ReStore - It shocks me how many people don't know about this place. It's essentially a thrift store for home improvement supplies and furniture. This is where I got my $10 lamp that I spray-painted for the kitchen. If you're doing a full-scale remodel, it's worth checking this place out for deals before heading to Home Depot and the like, especially on kitchen cabinetry.

2.) Crate & Barrel Outlet Store - It's super difficult for me to go into this store and come out empty handed. This is where I got my pendant lights for the dining room and kitchen (one was marked down to $30 from $249!!). I would highly suggest bringing someone rational with you so you don't get too crazy with all of the deals to be had.

3.) Land of Nod Outlet Store - This is a great one for kid furniture and decor. To be perfectly honest, the stuff at the outlet store is still expensive, but if you're looking for quality pieces that will last the duration of your kid's childhood that isn't as expensive as it is in their regular retail stores, this is the place to go.

4.) Craigslist - I know I'm stating the obvious here, but hear me out. Craigslist is great if you have something specific you want and are willing to wait until someone else is willing to sell for a good price. This is how I found the white dresser for Owen's room and my desk - all for $100! I basically semi-stalked Craigslist for about a week until I saw the dresser and desk I was looking for, and promptly pounced.

5.) Goodwill/Salvation Army/Other Thrift Stores - Again, stating the obvious. The key here is being patient and having an idea of what you want/need before perusing their shelves. Often I find what I'm looking for quite out of the blue when I least expect it, so make sure you build in that time.

6.) Moving Sales - Notice how I didn't say garage/estate/yard sales? Moving sales are where it's at, people. Usually the reason why this is the case is because when people are looking to get rid of stuff before they move, they have no room for them at their new place, which usually means the furniture is newer and better quality than what you typically find at garage/yard sales. I actually snagged a Pottery Barn side table from a moving sale for a cool $40 - I looked up the in-store price, and it was closer to about $300. Can you say SCORE?! You can usually find out about these sales either on Craigslist or in your local newspaper, or even just driving around and looking for moving sale signs.

I know there are lots more that I didn't include in this list - particularly a couple I've been meaning to check out in Lisle and Lombard - so, let's consider this the start of what will likely be a pretty lengthy list. Anyone in the Chicagoland area have any other suggestions? I'm all ears, peeps.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Imitation Cheddar Bay Biscuits

I just found out recently that Red Lobster might be on the rocks. I honestly am not a huge fan of their food, but I loooooooooooove their Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Often I would go there just to buy the biscuits and bring them home to eat with whatever we made for dinner.

Earlier this year Brian took a bread baking class at Marcel's Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn, Ill., which I bought him as a birthday gift.

I'll take a moment to let that fact sink in. Yes, my husband bakes. And he enjoys it. And I find it dead sexy. :)

One of the recipes he brought home from the class was for cheddar-chive drop biscuits. After I tried some, I looked at him in wild wonder and exclaimed,"These taste just like the Red Lobster biscuits....except these are healthier...and BETTER!"

Seriously. These biscuits are super-duper awesome, and are fairly easy to make. Don't they just look scrumptious? Om nom nom.

Full Disclosure: 
Brian made the biscuits. I made them look pretty and took the photos. We both ate them with some chili I made after a long day of DIY-ing and toddler wrangling. Recipe is courtesy of Marcel's Culinary Experience. If you're in the Chicago area and looking for quality cooking/baking classes, I highly recommend Marcel's!

Imitation Cheddar Bay Biscuits, DIY Red Lobster Biscuits

Imitation Cheddar Bay Biscuits, DIY Red Lobster Biscuits

To help all of you fellow Cheddar Bay Biscuit Lovers cope (maybe we should form a support group? The CBBL?) below is the recipe. Happy baking!

Cheddar-Chive Drop Biscuits (aka Imitation Cheddar Bay Biscuits)

Makes about 16 biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne
6 tablespoons of cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons of minced fresh chives

Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt and cayenne into a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the cheese, buttermilk, and chives and pulse until the mixture just comes together - make sure to not over-process!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and grease two baking sheets. Drop large tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheets, leaving about two inches between. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

P.S. - this is not an official endorsement of Red Lobster or Marcel's Culinary Experience - these are my own personal thoughts and opinions only.