Experiments in home decorating, DIYing, and vintage furniture collecting.

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We bought our place knowing that we'd need to at some point invest in the kitchen. The layout is a little funky with the kitchen sink in a corner smack dab in the middle of the fridge and dishwasher (I've done many demos for my friends and family as to the logistical issues with this design decision obviously made by someone who never used a kitchen...)

However, we wanted to live with our current kitchen for at least a year to think about what we really wanted to do with it. Living with it just as it looked when we closed wasn't an option for me, so I decided to undertake the lightest, cheapest renovation possible and make upgrades with paint, furniture and fixtures. Below is the "before" picture from the listing, followed by the "after" photos of what it looks like today along with the steps and prices to get it done.

The Before Picture:
Great bones, right? The huge windows and natural, east-facing light was one of the elements that sold me. However, the dated cherry trim, bad paint job, builder grade fixtures and dark kitchen all needed work for this place to be amazing.

The After Pictures and Process:

#1 Paint the trim white and walls a very pale gray

We hired painters to do this before we moved in, and had literally every surface painted for everything in the entire house including all of the trim, doors, walls and ceilings. We held off on the kitchen cabinets because it was an additional $1,800 to do it and we weren't sure if we were going to rip out the cabinets within a year. Total price for our entire house was ~$8,000 which I'm not counting as part of our cheap kitchen renovation since it needed to be done universally.

#2 Replace the ugly light fixture

Immediately after closing, I went to our new home and took down that ugly fixture. After the painters were done, I put up this Crate and Barrel Clive chandelier
. It took me several weeks to find the perfect fixture, and I settled on this one because it was so simple yet had an edgy element that knew this room needed.

#3 Add simple window treatments

The previous owners had dark curtains blocking the light, and they were so dusty and dirty. I know I wanted simple shades that would allow the natural light to filter in while still lending some privacy. The windows were all non-standard heights, so it was a challenge to find the right style and fit. Natural bamboo roman shades won the style battle, and I ended up ordering these from Overstock because I could enter the custom dimensions for every window at a super affordable price (it was $310 including shipping for eight shades of varying dimensions)!

#4 Update the furniture

The combined living, dining and kitchen layout of this room meant that it was meant for entertaining. We sold our old dining room set and decided to keep the furniture very simple and minimalist. We ended up purchasing a modern white table (the Aqua Virgo from CB2) that would work with vintage captain chairs we already owned, and added a gray upholstered dining bench from West Elm so we could have plenty of space for traffic around the table. I added mid-century Bertoia-esque bar stools (found on Amazon) to the island, knowing that eventually our ugly cherry kitchen would become simple and white and would require a little personality.

Total cost of our kitchen and dining furniture: ~$1,200.

#5 Paint the cabinets

After hemming and hawing about this for a few months, I woke up at 4 a.m. one day with an insatiable urge to paint the cabinets white and just get it over with. We already had Stix primer, which is a bonding agent that doesn't require stripping and sanding, and a couple of gallons of leftover trim paint from our painters along with paint brushes and rollers in my art supply stash. Since I knew this was a temporary fix, I decided that a DIY attempt was low-risk. The only cost was my time, about a two-day job to prep (label and then take down all the cabinet doors, lay them out in the garage, and prime them) and paint. 

#6 Replace the cabinet hardware

After measuring the existing hardware, I went on eBay and found modern chrome T-bar hardware that would fit the existing holes... for $35 total.

Grand total of this update, excluding the cost of the furniture (because we'll take it with us if / when we move) and the paint job for the whole house: $724.

We're not quite done yet: the dishwasher front panel is cracked and needs a replacement, and we're caught in analysis paralysis whether to order to replacement part for $350 or just update all of the appliances... I'm leaning towards just ordering the part and living with what we have for now.

I'm also currently stalking eBay for a vintage 10' kilim runner to put between the island and cabinets to add a little color and personality that the kitchen is currently lacking...

Although it took a few months to get this project finalized, our new door is finally completed and I wanted to share the results with you here along with an overview of the process and why we decided to undertake it in the first place.

Why update your front door?

Improving curb appeal is one of the best investments you can make to increase the value of your home, according to my research (and HGTV). The place we bought had great bones, but very limited curb appeal. In fact, 'housing project' was mentioned when my husband and I were first considering buying it! The old door was tired-looking, and opened outwards, meaning that it knocked into the exterior iron gate and has likely created awkward moments for all guests who have visited this place since it was built.

Decided to add a custom door in a bright color to liven up the basic brick facade was an easy decision for us because it would solve a problem in addition to adding value to the house.

How to update a front door

We decided to go with a Home Depot custom door that would attach to the existing door frame (and use the existing door knob, deadbolt, keys, etc.) It was the most economical option and using the existing door frame meant we could install it ourselves.

Home Depot gave us a guide to measuring our existing door, and we took the basic dimensions (height, width) along with height of the hinges, door knob and deadbolt.

It arrived a few weeks later, and all we needed to do was drill the holes for the hinges and paint (it came primed, which made that step even faster)!

(If I am being honest, the hinges holes were a little more difficult than anticipated, and we had to repeat the step after installing it and realizing that we'd placed the hinge holes a little off-center which meant our door wasn't shutting completely flush. It was a few millimeters off, not something that anyone would notice. However, I know that it would irritate me for perpetuity if we didn't correct it right then and there.)

We painted it in Behr Tsunami, a deep teal that perfectly balanced the red brick and also provides a bold pop that makes the place look a little more hip.

If you're evaluating options for improving your own home's curb appeal, consider this a push for a new front door. I'm excited for how it will look once we update the exterior light and landscaping. Please let me know in the comments if you have other curb appeal improvement ideas that I should be thinking about!

I've been meaning to post this for quite some time now, but hadn't made enough progress where I felt like anything was really in a good place to share. This weekend, my husband and I put a few finishing touches on our place, relocated the homeless furniture and décor into a spare bedroom, and suddenly this place felt like a real home instead of a set from a movie about disorganized hoarders.
Our new place is a tall, skinny 3-bed, 3-bath corner townhouse that needed a lot of cosmetic updates (I'll share some of the "before" and "after" photos in a future post...) starting with a complete paint job (ceilings, walls, doors, baseboards, etc.) which we had done before we moved in. We chose it primarily for the location (it's in the neighborhood where we've been renting for a couple of years, three blocks to the L and all that Milwaukee Avenue has to offer) and because it had great bones to become a beautiful home with plenty of space for us to grow in to if we wanted to stay long term.
#1 The street entryway
The above photo is the street entrance - ignore the distressed door, we ordered a new solid wood door that I plan to paint a bright teal to liven up the basic brick façade.
The street entrance to our place is small (about 4' X 5') and didn't fit our beloved couch when we moved in (thanks, Craigslist, for helping take that off our hands / out of our garage). I decided to embrace it and made a few small purchases to make it as functional and beautiful as possible, such as adding the round Target mirror to reflect light back to the door and adding a bright wool kilim rug.
I also added a very narrow "console table" (actually a World Market shelf hung at table height) to the right of the door to collect keys, mail and spare change.
#2 The first floor guest bedroom
If you walk in from the street and turn left inside our house, you'll see a set of doors for laundry and the guest bedroom and bathroom.
When I first looked at this place, the walls were a dark maroon and I hated the thought of a bedroom with slate floors. After the rooms were lightened up with paint, the floors sort of grew on me and I decided to add a huge sisal area rug to make the bedroom feel cozy but still match the natural vibe (and colors) of the slate tile.
My mother-in-law bought this antique bedroom set in the '70s (for $25!!!!) and I love how the dark wood looks with the slate, sisal and blue-gray walls. I decided to add simple plantation shades and modern lighting (a linen drum shade and a sculptural Ikea lamp) and to balance the room.
#3 The foyer / garage entryway
Ok, heading back out of the guest bedroom and back through the street entryway into the foyer...
The foyer right now is pretty empty - it's the same length and slightly more narrow than the guest bedroom, and has a door to the attached garage (which was also a huge selling point for us...) as well as the stairs up to the living / dining / kitchen floor.
Right now, I'm keeping it simple with another vintage kilim and a plant. Imagine a vintage brass coat rack to the right of the door and a really cool wooden light fixture hanging from the ceiling in the center of the foyer. That's about as far as I've gotten for my vision of this space!
#4 The living / dining / kitchen area
Here are the stairs up to the living / dining / kitchen area...
...And a view of the entrance of that staircase to the living/dining space - if you turn left from those stairs, you'll see the kitchen; if you turn right, you'll see the living room.
Turning into the living room with our new couch sized to fit in the building...
The couch works perfectly with a lot of the vintage furniture we already had like my beloved brass tea cart I picked up in D.C., a vintage midcentury surfboard coffee table I bought for $20 in rural North Carolina, and a vintage leather arm chair picked up from a Chicago Goodwill for $5.
Opposite the couch is a fireplace that perplexes me and will eventually undergo a makeover once I decide what to do with it. The chair to the left will eventually be replaced with a leather armchair and ottoman and be set up as a reading nook to balance the off-center fireplace.
 Ok, let's move along to the dining / kitchen area. The table and chandelier were investments that I made specifically to make this little dining space pop, and work with vintage captain's chairs that were hand-me-downs from my husband's father. I added a West Elm dining bench to keep things neat and simple on the sider of the room where the traffic will pass through to the kitchen and stairs to the third floor.

A little closer view of the kitchen. The Bertoia-esque bar stools were purchased with the vision of the renovated version of this kitchen in mind: imagine a basic, modern Scandinavian design with a peninsula attached to the wall on the right-hand side.

 Here's a view of the room standing at the kitchen island facing the dining and living area. (And my husband hard at work at our dining table that often becomes our workspace!)

And to close the tour, here's view of the staircase entry to the third and fourth floors. The upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms are still a work in progress, as is the fourth floor loft (which we're using as a den). I'll post another tour when those projects are complete!
Thanks for reading along, and please let me know if you have any ideas for some of the things perplexing me - the oversized slate-floored foyer, the fireplace, and the kitchen layout - I need all the ideas I can get!

This is a photo of the master bedroom in our current Chicago apartment. Being a rental, it's a design challenge - I can't change the paint, remove light fixtures or make any significant investment in the place. The biggest design challenge has been the master bedroom because it's small, beige and bland. Wes and I also agreed not to buy any new furniture or expensive pieces until we own a place, so I've been working with what I've got in the meantime. 

After living in this place for 9 months, it's finally coming together - but it took a lot of inspiration and imagination to work with what we owned to make it happen. Here are the three free things that I did to change up this room:

#1 Rearrange the furniture (and furnishings)

And by this, I mean rearrange what's already in the room as well as trade with other rooms in the house. Fortunately, I've never bought traditional 'nightstands' and instead have a collection of side tables that can rotate from the sides of chairs and couches to the beds. These two complementary (but not matching) side tables found their final resting place next to our bed, and we traded a dresser from another room to live in the master bedroom.

However, the biggest impact of all was stealing the vintage Moroccan rug from under our dining room table and bringing it to our room instead. Initially, it was a practical decision - we needed the warmth in our room, and also didn't want spilled food and wine ruining the delicate wool. But it ended up being the best possible decision, adding depth and personality to a beige room in need.

#2 Relocate art or objects from another room

The wedding photo was originally hanging in our living room, the dormant orchid on a side table in the den, and the candle in our guest bathroom. I wanted to create a little vignette next to our side table and by stealing from other rooms was able to do it for free! We have plants all over our house, but for some reason I never thought about putting them into our bedroom. I don't know why, but adding an organic, green element really brought the space to life! 

For the opposite side table, I stole a framed picture of the Capitol from my office space and draped a vintage silk scarf over our headboard to add some visual interest.

#3 Remove things

This was a hard one, because I tend to be something of a cluttered hoarder when it comes to my home. However, visual (and physical) space is really important in a room and can make a big impact to the overall look-and-feel. In our master bedroom, we originally had a throw over the simple white cotton duvet and a picture over the bed. There was also a basket of blankets next to my nightstand. Removing those three things completed transformed the room!

It's still not exactly the bedroom of my dreams, but the best one of all the rentals I've live to date. Do you have any free ideas for updating a room? I'd love to hear them - always looking to add to my cache of tricks! 

A couple of months ago, I came across Hannah Hagler's blog and fell in love with her eclectic and bold sense of interior style built on her mantra that you can live a fabulous life without spending a ton of money. Hannah agreed to let me interview her and virtually tour her home, and I found lots of really great (and super affordable) ideas to file away for future projects.

 Read below for the full interview!

Finding a painting or photograph that just speaks to your soul is something that is equally amazing as it is rare. Although I'm a creative at heart and have always loved art, the hunt for meaningful and affordable pieces is extremely difficult for me. My first real apartment offered a blank slate of walls begging to be adorned, but I had no idea where to begin and couldn't bear to cover it with run-of-the-mill, mass produced faux canvases from IKEA or Target. 

I remember wishing that there was a one-stop shop where I could discover up-and-coming artists and afford to buy their work. A few months ago, I finally found it: it's called Art Crate, a genius concept founded by veteran insiders of the art world to help connect potential budget-conscious (and overwhelmed) art buyers like me with premium quality print works of individual artists that we might otherwise not discover on our own.

Before I begin to tell you about how to install open shelving in your kitchen, I should start by explaining that we moved last month into a new (old) rental house because we needed a dog-friendly landlord for our (extremely expensive) boxer mix mutt named Sophie, and desperately needed more space in general. The house is a 1934 Craftsman bungalow with high ceilings, hardwood floors and a bathroom with the original hexagon tile and cast iron sink and tub. After those good bones, there were no redeeming qualities: it was bent out of shape and desperately needed to be cleaned, painted, and loved. You would not have rented this house.

But the landlord was willing to entertain my ideas to tear down her upper cabinets, rip up a carpeted room to reveal the beautiful hardwoods, and paint the place from baseboards to ceilings in exchange for rent that is drastically below market price. It's a blank canvas filled with projects for this blog, the reason I went to work with paint in my hair for two weeks in a row, and why I count a few salespeople at Lowes as part of my social circle.
Needless to say, the place needed lot of work. The kitchen, by far, was the worst: so bad, in fact, that I didn't take 'before' pictures because you would judge me for agreeing to live in the place. (Think lime green walls, dingy brown wood, and derelict upper cabinets not fit for my Crate and Barrel collection.)
After lots of elbow grease, now it looks like this (a work in progress, but major improvement nonetheless):

After tearing down the upper cabinets (with work gloves, a crowbar, goggles, and lots of confidence), I sanded the wall where the cabinets had been mounted, repaired the drywall with drywall tape and spackle, sanded it again and then cleaned the walls, trim and ceiling. Then I primed and painted the walls, trim, and base cabinets, and got to work on installing the open shelves.

I wanted simple white shelves to match the base cabinets, and my goal was for the entire project to be as simple and cost-effective as possible (which should be the goal for all rental home projects). I settled on prefinished laminate white Rubbermaid 72" X 12" shelves that were $12 apiece and white brackets that were $7 each. Below are the step-by-step instructions and the materials I used.
Step-by-step instructions for installing open shelves:
  1. Take measurements of the area (length and width) where you want to hang the shelves.
  2. Using a stud finder, identify the studs in the area where you want to hang your shelves and mark an x in the center of each stud. (Disclosure: I failed to find studs in the area where I hung my shelves, so I used EZ Anchor Stud Solver Drywall Anchors to hang the brackets.) 
  3. The first stud x (or, in my case, 16" from far left corner) marks your first column of brackets. Moving 16" to the right, mark off your second, third, fourth columns of brackets (depending on the length you selected).
  4. For each bracket column, measure 62" from the floor and make a pencil mark - this will be where the lowest shelf should be hung (it matches typical height of the lowest shelve of a base cabinet).
  5. Moving up from your 62" mark and using a level to keep both marks in line, measure 14.5" up (or 76.5" from the floor) for the height of the second shelf. Repeat using increments of 14.5" for additional shelves.
  6. To ensure your shelves will be level, use a straight edge to draw a line connecting the marks in each bracket column (the line the shelves would sit on) and then confirm the line is level with... a level.
  7. Using a bracket as a guide, I penciled in the screw holes for each bracket on the wall.
  8. Using my new power drill, I pre-drilled all of the holes and then installed the drywall anchors, and eventually the brackets themselves.
  9. Once all of the brackets were in place, I placed the shelves onto the brackets and fit them to where I wanted them to sit exactly.
  10. Next, I penciled each of the screw holes needed to secure the shelves to the brackets (again using the bracket as a guide) and pre-drilled holes for the screws.
  11. Finally, I attached the shelves to the brackets with screws, and added all of my plates, bowls, serving dishes, etc.
(I also added these coated hooks that I found at Target to the bottom of the base shelves for my coffee mugs and LOVE them over my Nespresso machine.)

 My other ideas for this kitchen that I have yet to discuss with the landlord: installing a pegboard wall opposite the open shelving to hold all of my cooking tools; adding a pot rack above the oven; replacing the (terrible) overhead lighting with a chandelier; adding butcher block countertops; and tearing up the (awful) linoleum to reveal the hardwoods underneath (yes, I pulled up a corner of the linoleum to confirm).

When Wes and I first got married, my parents drove from Chicago to Charlotte with all of my grandmother's china in tow (service for 16, no less). Since they were going to be loading up the old Kelly family van anyway, I seized the opportunity to have them transport a few things that I've always wanted to take off their hands but couldn't carry home on a plane.

Enter this chair, which has sat in my dad's basement workshop for most of my life and (literally) collected dust. According to my mom, it's a patio chair from the 1950s that used to belong to her grandmother. I love the midcentury design and that it's astonishingly comfortable for a hard shell!

One of my favorite sources for vintage inspiration in Chicago is an amazing vintage-modern shop called Humboldt House. It's one of those places where you walk in and want to live there. It's filled with amazing Chesterfield sofas, leather butterfly chairs, patina-ed credenzas and the most beautiful, unusual assortment of decor you'll ever find.

These photos are of Spruce, an amazing restaurant in San Francisco that I visited last summer: it's been the inspiration for the first dining room or study I have when I move into a place where I'm allowed to paint the walls! Here's how I would copy this look to recreate a moody and masculine room of my own:

#1 Mix rich colors, textures and tones
Like deep navy walls combined with warm camel faux ostrich leather and dark brown velvet chairs, plus touches of crisp white in the tablecloths. Think how different (and boring!) this room would be if the walls were white. 

#2 Play with proportions
The oversize sketches on the walls are hung in enormous silver frames and make an extremely bold statement. I love that they're offset with delicate, antique picture lights and ornate chandeliers. The bold look of the colors and textures is balanced with subtle touches like small, understated succulent centerpieces and minimalist place settings.

#3 Combine decor styles
It's traditional, luxurious and modern all at once, thanks to a handful of well-positioned abstract paintings on unfinished canvases. The lack of an overall theme makes it feel pulled together but not overthought, and reads masculine when combined with the bold choices in paint colors and artwork.

If you're not ready to commit to navy blue walls, get the color combination by using rich rugs, fresh white drapes, and oversize sketches sourced from Etsy and hung in silver frames.

Meanwhile, I'll get started on re-creating this look by hunting for a vintage chandelier, trying to convince my landlord to let me paint, and attempting to recover a distressed pair of studded leather office chairs that my dad pulled out of the garage and hand-delivered to our home along with other Kelly family castoffs (including at least six different types of cacti that have been flourishing* in the Chicago climate).

*They arrived drooping and nearly dead, handed off by my guilty parents who didn't want the blame for killing them off (aloe is on their hands).

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