Monthly Archives: March 2011

I Want a Rug

I feel like our living room is in desperate need of a rug.

I think it needs a pretty big one, though, like 8×10, and inexpensive rugs just aren’t easy to come by at that size. Also, I haven’t really bought very many rugs in my lifetime and I’m not really sure what to look for or what I like. I’m afraid I’ll make a really expensive mistake.

I researched rag rugs and started to crochet an oval rug with fabric scraps, but I’m not really loving the look so far. And I think I’ve mentioned before how poorly I do with projects that can’t be completed in one sitting.

So back to the drawing board. The only thing I feel confident about is the size: it should be between 8×10 and 9×12. I also feel like it should maybe be neutral? I’m thinking gray or taupe, but I think I could handle a pattern with blues, greens, pinks, purples, or yellows. I’ve heard that patterns hide stains better than solids, and that jute or sisal are too scratchy for babies (which we plan to have someday), but also that putting down a blanket can solve that problem. Scratchy knees aside, budget is the biggest issue. I’ve been crying myself to sleep at night wondering whether I’m going to have to forego the thrift store for two months just to save up for this rug! I’d really like to spend under $200 if possible. It’ll be like the third most expensive thing in the room.

So, I guess the takeaway here is that if I’m serious about getting a rug, I need to do some more research. Step one: look at tons of pictures to figure out what I like and what I don’t. Here’s a quick roundup:

Stacey Costello Design eclectic family room
Stacey Costello Design

Umm, love. I actually have one of those green damask-y pillows (from Pier 1). But should I actually do an animal print rug? I love the look but worry it may be too trendy for a big-ticket item.

Black and Yellow library with recessed flat screen eclectic family room   Jacobs Design, Inc.

You can’t see much of the rug here, but I like the muted tone and simple, nature-inspired pattern.

New Construction eclectic family room
Kristin Petro Interiors, Inc.

This rug looks so soft!

Blue Sky Building Company

Again, I’m digging the nature-inspired look

The Painted Home

This rug would be the perfect no-nonsense foil to all the saturated painted furniture in our living room.

  Kelly Lautenbach

There’s not even a rug here. I’m just in love.

How to Motivate Your Husband (or yourself) to do Housework

Nick’s pretty good about housework. He washes his own clothes, picks up after himself, and even cooks and does the dishes most days. I’m a lucky lady! But there were a couple of chores that just weren’t getting done as often as they needed to. I think in every house there are a few tasks that nobody likes to do, and we both needed a little motivation. So I took a tip from my work and designed a behavioral intervention, also known as a chore chart.

I got a $5 dry erase board from Office Depot, used tape and a permanent marker to mark out a grid, and wrote in our most-hated chores. Whoever does the chore first gets to put their initial on the board, and the winner at the end of the week gets $5 fun money. Nick didn’t want the reward to be monetary, but that was the only thing I was willing to work for, so he works extra hard to win every week just to keep that $5 from being spent.  Nick’s a pretty competitive guy. He’s essentially doing chores for frugality and glory. But I’ve only scooped the kitty litter about twice in the two months or so that this has been going, so I say we all win.

Some more info on how it works: Harold’s cage only needs to be cleaned once or twice a week but it’s kind of a pain, so it’s worth three squares. Everything else is worth one point. And although our other married friends have told us this is unheard-of, we separate our laundry. So whoever washes the no-mans-land loads like towels and bedding gets a point on the chart. This system works pretty well for us

Thrifty Find of the Week

This week, the Man-Clutter Collecting Station:

This is the top of Nick’s dresser, and everything here was scored on the cheap. The silver tray was $3 and the small silver bowl, which I mentioned a few weeks ago, was $2, both from Goodwill. They’re like a dynamic duo for catching scraps of paper and spare change. The hammered brass bowl was found at an estate sale for $8 and corralls much of the larger clutter Nick pulls from his pockets.

The biggest problem is paycheck stubs, which he receives weekly. It’s like there’s a constant stream of little green and white papers piling up and falling all over the place. So I got him a little plastic envelope to keep in the bowl and file his check stubs in. But as you can see, we’re still tweaking the system. At least they’re contained.

The wood “N” was $1 at Goodwill. It was really gross and dirty when I found it but I sanded it down and painted it a (hopefully masculine) mustardy yellow with some craft paint. The print is actually a notecard I bought at a local arts and antiques shop (Circa 1857) and put in a $5 frame from Dollar General.

Baton Rouge Nite Life, Bryan Federico, 2009

One of my favorite tricks is to put notecards in a matted frame. They’re usually only $3-$5, compared to $15-$30 for an only slightly larger print with a mat. And since they’re usually 4×6 or 5×7 it’s easy to find a matted frame to fit for cheap. My favorite place for frames is Ikea, hands down. They’re so inexpensive and I love the look of the black Ribba frames. Here’s the kicker: there’s no Ikea in Louisiana. This causes me more heartache than you may know. Happily, we have lovely friends in both Atlanta and Houston and visit pretty regularly, so every six months or so I’ll stock up on frames and other necessities. In a pinch I’ve also been really happy with Bluebag, a company whose tagline is “We drive to Ikea Houston so you don’t have to,” and will deliver my hearts’ desire of Ikea goodness to my front porch for 20% of the purchase price.

If you prefer the look of wood-grain frames or just aren’t willing to go to the great lengths I do to get my lovely Ribbas, Dollar General is my second favorite spot for matted frames. They’re, like, five dollars, and I do like to mix up the frames in our home to create a more collected vibe.

See the Ribba frames in action, showing off wedding pictures on our staircase:

Have a great weekend! It’s almost the end of the month which means I’ve almost got a new budget to spend on thrifty goodness! I’m so excited!

Our Front Yard and Porch

Now that everything is green again I’m excited to share some recent pictures of our front yard and porch! The picture on the house tour page is actually from the listing when we bought the house, and a lot’s changed since then.



The biggest change is that we tore out the two big holly bushes and monstrous clump of ginger. Because while it looked pretty good in the listing picture, this is what we actually inherited:

That ginger was not looking so hot. And it was just so crowded in there! So we tore it all out and I planted some hydrangeas. The thing is, though, that the hydrangeas found it a bit too sunny there and they were always begging me for water, so I moved them out and moved in some aspidistra. I know these tiny little clumps look pathetic. I’m planning to bring in some more the next time I see them at the nursery.

I’m really new to this gardening thing and just basically learning as I go along. I moved the hydrangeas to the other side of the yard where they’ll get more shade from the oak tree. It looks really sunny here, but I promise it isn’t. This picture was taken at about 6pm, when the sun was really low in the western sky and no longer shaded by the oak.

You may also notice that the middle hydrangea decided not to rejoin us this spring. Oh well, two out of three ain’t bad.

And speaking of our oak tree, here she is:

I love her. This is how she looks from our upstairs window:

Makes me want to build a treehouse! But I’ll settle for the next best thing, our front porch:

I love this space. I’m particularly attached to the swing because my PawPaw made it for my parents when he still did a lot of woodworking and they generously passed it on to me. I gave it two coats of exterior semi-gloss in Valspar’s base white.

So here are my hopes and dreams for the front yard and porch:

  • a big window box full of colorful annuals under that double window that overlooks the front yard
  • plant more aspidistra under the window box!
  • replace the two sago palms flanking the steps with a pair of gardenias
  • paint the porch floor and front steps gray
  • paint the porch ceiling and front door a soft aqua
  • bring in a big round pedestal coffee table
  • add lots more potted and hanging plants
  • add two more sweet olives in the little side yard to screen the view and make everything smell delicious
  • move the mailbox from where it currently hangs on the fence up onto the porch. Our mail is always getting wet when it rains but I feel like I need to get the okey-dokey from the mailman before making him walk all those extra steps every day (our neighbors have theirs on the porch so I think the idea is not outlandish). Nick and I are both usually at work when he comes by so we’re waiting for a chance encounter.

So there’s our front yard and porch! I’m feeling a little inadequate looking at these pictures of last year’s grass. Any cheap and easy grass secrets out there?

P.S. I noticed in the pictures above that it looked like my hanging plants were hanging at different heights and, sure enough, the one near the rocking chairs was 3-4 inches higher than the other! But I couldn’t figure out why. Funny, I look at those plants every day and never even noticed until I saw them in a picture. I’m going to try to forget about it so it doesn’t bug me every day.

DIY Etched Glass Monogram

I bought a small bottle of Armour Etch at Hobby Lobby like, six months ago. At first I thought $8 was really pricey for such a tiny, tiny, little bottle, but dang if that stuff doesn’t go on forever! So now I’ve always got one eye out for stuff I can etch, and when I caught sight of this small, square glass vase at the dollar store it was love at first sight.

Not exactly ready for the shelves of Pottery Barn, but good enough for me.

First, I gathered various supplies:

I’d picked up these sticky letters on another dollar store trip with the idea that they’d be helpful for etching because they’re so thick. For this project I had a couple of different options in mind: 1) use the negative space from the backing as a stencil, 2) stick the letter itself on the vase and use painter’s tape to mark a rectangle around it, or 3) stick the letter on the vase and freehand an oval shape around it (since I had nothing to stencil an oval with). It turns out that the letters were stuck onto the plastic, not cut out of it, so idea #1 went out the window. Total bummer, since that would’ve been the easiest. I really wasn’t too keen on the look of an initial within a rectangle, so I decided to give freehanding an oval a shot and if it turned into a disaster I could always turn my wonky oval into a rectangle.

So, I stuck my initial onto the vase, adjusting it a bit until it looked pretty well centered and straight.

Then I used my stencil brush to apply the etching cream first right up on the letter and then in bigger and bigger ovals. I used the brush to paint a pretty thin coat until my oval looked centered all around, then came back in and put on a nice, thick layer.

Then waited five minutes with bated breath before rinsing off the glass to reveal my creation:

Almost perfect, but not quite. Some etching cream had seeped under the bottom of the T on one side where I guess I didn’t press it down quite firmly enough, and if you look closely you can see that the bottom of the oval was a little wonky. So I went back in and carefully touched up the problem areas with the etching cream. Looks a bit like a smiley face:

Well…I forgot to set a timer for round 2 and got distracted watching Bethenny Ever After. So these spots got a little extra-etched. And then it became apparent to me that right around the edges of the “T” were a little extra-etched as well, probably because I’d laid it on thick right there then took my time filling in the rest of the oval.  So, it’s not perfect, but I think sitting on a tabletop or shelf with a candle in it the imperfections will really be minor. Maybe not. Regardless, the lesson here is to stick to etching jobs that are maybe a little more simple.

Stripes would be fun and relatively easy to do with painter’s tape. Or you could freehand polka dots! And of course you could always use a stencil, but for some reason I feel like the stencils I see at craft stores are a little pricey for something you can only use a few times before it starts to feel overdone. I do have a fleur de lis stencil that I’ve used to dress up a jar I gave as part as a gift, then again on a larger vase that I store cotton balls in. And of course if you have a vinyl cutting machine the possibilities are endless. I dream of getting a Silhouette, but it’s a bit pricey for me. Anyway, I’ve still got gobs of this etching cream left, so I went trolling the internet for inspiration for my next project:

Martha Stewart

House Obsession


Thrifty Find of the Week

As the month progresses my thrifting bounty tends to wane as I run out of money. Some months my decorating budget is destitute by the end of the first week! It’s a good thing I’m not in charge of the grocery budget. I’m not even allowed in the grocery store. El Cheapo (aka my adorable husband) politely asks me to wait in the car because apparently everything is more expensive when I’m around. Boo.

I have picked up a few cool things this week, though.

The blue bird I got for $6 at my drug store, the second cute little bird I have found there. The vintage ceramic bud vase I scored at another (!) estate sale for $3.

Also bringing in the awesome is this old lamp, with what I think is a genuine leather shade. $3.99 at Goodwill. I’m really loving it on my desk. Random clutter left lying about for realism.

And, finally, my favorite. When I saw this little lady at yet another estate sale (I tell you, I’m addicted), it was like a slow motion run to the love of my life. Except I actually took very slow and measured steps in order to not attract any attention from other shoppers. I couldn’t have her getting snatched up at the last second.

Here she is in our kitchen. Isn’t she lovely? See her with fruit:

Love. And, OMG, the price just blows me away. $3!

That’s it for this week! Have a great weekend, everyone! We’re having people over tomorrow for the St. Patrick’s day parade that runs through our neighborhood. I’m really looking forward to it!

Sweet Olive

Part of living in a historic neighborhood in the center of town is that the houses are really. close. together.

Like, reach out and touch someone close. So, needless to say, getting some privacy without insulting our neighbors is important to us.

Once I finally started getting all those curtains up, my eye started to wander to this awkward little space between our house and our neighbors’.

When we first bought the house, this space was overgrown with ivy. Sorry for the crappy iPhone pic.

Pretty, but I shuddered to think about what creatures might be under all that ivy. If we ever needed to access that side of the house for maintenance one of us would have to walk through there…and it wasn’t going to be me. The ivy was also creeping up onto both houses, and I was worried my neighbors might complain.

So when Memorial Day rolled around we took a big chunk of the long weekend to tear it all out. This was our first ever lawn and garden project and we were exhausted by the time it was finished. I had been thinking maybe we’d use some salvaged bricks to lay a path through here to the side of the house, but after digging all that ivy out we actually discovered a brick path already there!

I’ve been pouring mulched leaves over the area ever since just to keep the weeds under control, but I felt like this space really needed something. It runs alongside the front porch, where we often spend time with friends, and our neighbor’s living room being eight feet away from our porch swing is kind of awkward. Like we’re hanging out on the side of their house. I wanted to put some sort of screen up between us but didn’t want it to be awkwardly obvious that I’m trying to not have to look at them. After all, we do often wave hello and exchange pleasantries to them from the comfort of our porch. I didn’t want them thinking we don’t like their pleasantries.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was wandering around Lowe’s on my lunch break and spotted a pallet of Sweet Olives. I’ve always loved the scent and they remind me of a particular spot on LSU’s campus where their fragrance would permeate in the spring. I wasn’t sure exactly where I’d put it but I heroically hoisted one into a shopping cart anyway.

Even with an SUV, transporting something like this is tricky. I had to shove it in there at a 45 degree angle and hope for the best. My car was filled with the scent for the rest of the day.

After work I pondered where to put my new little lady. I took a look at the tag and caught the word “screening,” and it hit me! I could put a few of these in that awkward space between the houses! Their foliage would add some privacy without screaming “I’m not looking at you!”and their heady scent would waft over the porch in spring and summer. The mature size is not too short, not too tall, and it’ll stay narrow enough to keep from growing all up into the house. Here it is in its new home:

The 4.5 gallon, which is what I got, is a little steep at $40-$50 so I think I will add more plants slowly over the next few months. And after getting this baby in the ground I am glad I decided to do one at a time. It turns out planting a tree is hard work! I am sore in all kinds of places from digging that hole.

Sweet Olives are very much a traditional southern plant and are definitely one of my all-time faves. I can’t wait for these to grow up and fill in a bit as they’ll surely be nicer to look at than the side of my neighbor’s house, but what I’m looking forward to the most is the smell! You can catch a whiff of it now if you really stick your nose right up to it, but in a few weeks that scent will be knocking me over like a 2×4 every time I walk out my front door. In a good way. Like being high on life.

How to Create Fast, Cheap, and Easy Curtains

Fast, Cheap, and Easy. My three favorite things. Oh wait add pretty. Putting tinfoil on the windows would be faster, cheaper, and easier, but terrible looking. I’ve seen it done.

When we bought this house it had very few window treatments. I’m talking a miniblind here or there and that’s about it. And being city folk, we needed some privacy ASAP.

In retrospect I should have gone out and bought the cheapest miniblinds I could find, because a year later we’ve still got some bare windows. I don’t do well with projects that can’t be completed in one big push. But in the process I developed a much more efficient way of doing things so you can learn from my mistakes and maybe not spend a year hiding from your neighbors.

First I needed fabric, and lots of it. And I needed it to be cheap, and preferably neutral, and easy to wash. To decide how much I needed, I figured two panels per window, nine feet floor to ceiling, times thirty-three (did I mention that this house has 33 windows?), equals 594 feet, just shy of 200 yards. Muslin was the cheapest fabric I could find, so I bought four giant bolts of 36″ wide muslin. That came out to about $7 each for floor to ceiling panels that allow light to come in but are definitely not at all see-through.

But my troubles were not yet over. I needed a way to hang these curtains. And if I thought shopping for the curtains themselves had been bad, I had no idea what I was getting into. Curtain hardware is ridiculous! Especially times thrity-three. I spent days scouring the internet before finally finding these and these. They were by far the cheapest thing I’d seen, so I ordered enough for the whole house. When I got them in I realized that the clips were meant to work on a curtain wire and wouldn’t fit the rod, so I bought 300 key rings to join them together. All together I spent about $13 per window on hardware (note that many of the rods were able to serve 2 or even 3 windows. I didn’t need 33 rods).

Now for the part where you learn from my mistakes.

Once I got everything in my hot little hands, I got started. We decided to hire a handyman to hang all the rods. He charged about $50 I think and it was so worth it for us not-very-handy-people. Leveling, marking, and drilling times all those windows would have taken us forever. Then I started cutting and sewing, cutting and sewing. I thought, wrongly, that if I just worked hard and stayed focused I could knock them out in a week or so. I thought wrong. It was really hard for me to cut nine foot lengths of fabric efficiently. It took fifteen minutes to hem one panel all the way around (that equals 8.25 total hours of my life spent sewing). Then of course the time spent wadding folding that panel up, getting the next panel situated, stopping to complain, etc. I got really discouraged about fifteen panels in, and by then the windows facing the street were covered, and the rest of the time I just tried to avoid doing or wearing anything inappropriate in view of a window through which our neighbors might be able to sneak a peek.

I’d get motivated once every few weeks and sew a panel or two, hang them up, marvel at their beauty, then move on with my life. Until I had The Epiphany.

The sides don’t need to be hemmed.

After washing some freshly-cut panels I noticed that the long sides were never frayed after washing, just the short sides, the ones that I had cut.  If I only hemmed the short sides then each panel could now be sewn in about five minutes.

This information was revolutionary. I started churning out panels left and right. Curtains in the bedroom! Curtains in the office! Curtains for everyone!

Then I ran out of cut panels. But since I was on a roll making things easier on myself I asked Nick for help, and it turns out he’s much better at cutting them than I am. He moved an area rug so that it was exactly 9′ away from a fireplace surround and used the floorboards as a guide to make sure everything was straight, and cut a whole bolt’s worth of fabric in no time. And I’m back in business sewing up a storm and actually making progress.

So here’s my good enough method for making super cheap curtains:

  1. Figure out how much fabric you need. I used two 36″ wide panels on each window (they shrunk a bit in the wash). I wanted floor to ceiling drapes so I planned to cut the panels at 108″ each. The hanging hardware of course makes them hang a bit lower than the very tip top of the wall, but between shrinking in the wash and having the tops and bottoms hemmed it works out about right.
  2. Get some muslin. It is so cheap and is available in various widths. This is what I used. If you buy a whole bolt there is sometimes an unsightly seam mixed in somewhere so be sure to buy a little more than you think you’ll need.
  3. Figure out how you’ll hang them up. I like clips because it meant not having to sew a pocket and I can take them down to wash them (as if that happens regularly) without taking the rod apart. Again, these rods and clips from Ikea were the cheapest I could find, but I had to use these key rings to make them work together.
  4. Cut your fabric. If you have 8′ ceilings and an 8′ rug, you can use that as a template. I tried to use a 36″ wide shelf to measure out one yard at a time and cut every three yards for my 9′ ceilings, but it didn’t work well. Nick’s method of creating placemarkers on the floor and using the floorboards (or a wall) as a guide to keep it straight is the most efficient we’ve found.
  5. Wash your unhemmed panels the exact same way you would wash them if they were dirty. I use hot water and bleach because I imagine if there’s baby poop on a curtain someday that’s what I’ll want to do. It’s very important to wash before you sew. On my first few panels I sewed and then washed and my stitches puckered up.
  6. Sew simple hems on the cut edges only. I don’t even worry about keeping it pretty. I fold the edge over once, run it through the sewing machine with white thread, and move on. If you don’t have a sewing machine or have an irrational fear of using yours (as I did for many years), you can use fusible web tape a la Sherry Petersik.
  7. Hang em up! I use ten clips per panel and just eyeball how far apart they should go. I get Nick to slide ten rings onto each side of the curtain rod then slip the hooks into the rings and we’re in business.

I love the how the muslin hangs and that it allows light in without sacrificing privacy, and I think these drapes are just such a simple and classic look. If you need a lot of curtains for not a lot of money this is a great option. What about you, internet? Anyone else find an über-inexpensive method of treating windows that doesn’t skimp on style?

P.S….There is one thing I would have done differently. We had our awesome handyman, Andy, or Handy Andy, as I like to call him, hang the rods high and wide like the Petersiks, but for whatever reason the extra wide look just didn’t work for us. Probably because our windows are already pretty generously sized and the panels are too narrow to comfortable cover the window AND an extra foot on each side. So one of these days we’ll adjust all the rods so they’re the width of the window (the rods are adjustable), but for now I just keep the panels pulled to the center and don’t sweat it.

Thrifty Find of the Week

Another great week of thrifting! This week’s finds are brought to you by my local Goodwill. My favorite item is this great paned mirror. At $15 it’s one of my more expensive thrift-store purchases, but it reminds me of this mirror from Pottery Barn, only smaller (30″x24″), and $15 is a steal compared to the $699 people are apparently shelling out for the larger PB version.  I’m thinking I’ll either stain the wood a bit darker or paint it some shade of white, then hang it horizontally in the living room. There’s no fireplace in there but I’d love a mantle-esque focal point, and this mirror combined with a chunky shelf (Lack, perhaps?) may just do the trick.

This dress is pretty high on my list of all-time greatest finds. A Banana Republic dress with the original price tag ($69.99) for $5! I imagine it’s at least a season or two old, but it fits me perfectly and I find the cut flattering.

Other steals this week include this white ceramic dish, perfect for cheese and crackers ($.99) and this small silver bowl,  a lovely landing spot for spare change and other whatnots ($1.99).

And last but not least, these pretty blue glass votive holders ($3 each). I like the way they bounce the light around. And they’ve got a new home on a little shelf in my living room (now I just need some votives).

I just realized looking at this picture that everything on this shelf (except for the picture and frame) was purchased from the thrift store.  Isn’t that little pineapple adorable? I think it looks like it came straight from ZGallerie. Seriously, I think everything here adds up to about $20. My heart is swelling with pride.

Glass cylinder vase candle holder

Here’s a quick post about how I’m currently using a glass cylinder vase I snagged at an estate sale for a few bucks. I loved the smell of a little jar candle I picked up at the dollar store, but I wasn’t crazy about the looks of it. I poured some brown rice in the bottom of this vase, popped the candle in, then filled the space between the candle and the side of the vase with more rice. I used a spoon and a piece of paper to guide the rice into the narrow space. I keep some brown rice in a ziplock bag to use over and over again as vase filler so I just used some from that stash. I love how the candle glows through the rice when lit! I’m thinking when this candle is done I may leave the jar in there and use it as a votive holder.

Here’s a view from the top:

You could also use nuts, moss, or sand as filler. The options are limited only by your imagination! And fire safety. You could also use a smaller vase or bowl inside a larger one if your candle is not of the jarred variety. So there you have it! A quick tip for beautifing a lovely-smelling but perhaps unsightly candle. May ugly colors never hold you back from buying an awesome candle again.