Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

Last week I had jury duty. What, you may be wondering, does that have to do with being a craigslist goddess? Well, not much, really. Because (as it will soon be apparent) I am not, in fact, a craigslist goddess. So maybe I should have given this post a different title: Craigslist Goddess Wannabe. However, the courthouse was the setting for much of my recent craigslist drama, so we need to begin there.

While I took my laptop to the courthouse and fully intended to use my time there productively, I just had the hardest time settling down. In spite of the mountains of work I’m behind on, I spent a lot of time posting such important/fascinating tidbits on Facebook as this:

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When I wasn’t doing that, I was trolling craigslist for bedroom furniture, because I have an enduring fantasy that some day, I am going to make a craigslist miracle happen. Also because, as Cane shared in ourlast post, we’re finally starting work on our bedroom.

It was such a great surprise to come home from a Christmas visit with my parents to find the horrible carpet forever banished from our bedroom, and–bonus!–the walls were painted, too.

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That means I’ve had about a month to start thinking about what we need to do in this room.

First on the list:  Better storage.

We’ve currently got one dresser (shown above, filled with Cane’s stuff) and one funky closet filled with all of my stuff and Cane’s hanging stuff.

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When we moved in–two-and-a-half years ago–I thought the closet situation was going to be temporary. Because it was clearly not adequate. Even though I’d participated not long before that in Project 333 (a minimalist clothing project) and had a pretty pared-down wardrobe, there just wasn’t enough space and, more importantly, the space we have isn’t the right space. There was no rod from which I could hang dresses, and we had to take the sliding doors off in order to have access to the storage in the middle of the closet.

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As you can see here, even my scarves are too long and get tangled in the hangers on the rod below. Anything long hanging on the bottom row gets tangles in my shoes.

I like that I don’t have room to fill up with clothing I don’t need, but I really want to have the right kind of room. We’ve been thinking that it would be great to have a bigger dresser (a 9-drawer lowboy) and a tall dresser or armoire, so we can get rid of the storage in the middle of our closet and reconfigure the hanging rods.

As for style of furniture, we’ve been thinking that we’d like to pick up something with a groovy ’70s vibe to it. For several  years we’ve been seeing ornate, carved, dark, chunky ’70s furniture in thrift stores for dirt-low prices, and we’ve been telling ourselves that we should be buying all the 70s stuff up because it’s inevitable that it will be the next hot thing.

But, of course, we haven’t been doing that. And, of course, it is getting kinda hot. A Google image search for “painted 70s dresser” will show you that we aren’t the first ones to think that the furniture we loved to hate back in the 90s can have a whole new appeal.

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Naturally, when a craigslist search turned up this, I was pretty instantly smitten:

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CL dresser1 Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

cl armoire1 Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

70s headboard Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

I mean, can’t you see how well this style would work with  adjoining moody master bathroom, where Edgar lives?

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There were just a few problems:

Only one nightstand (we want two)

Not crazy about the headboard

Pretty beat up

More than we’d like to pay

Owner wanted to sell as a set, and we weren’t sure about having everything match

70s furniture gouge Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

This was not the only considerable ding (and two drawers are broken), but since we’re thinking we’d paint these, we figured this isn’t anything a little wood filler can’t fix.

Before I reported to jury duty, Cane and I had decided we’d have to pass on this. Just too many marks in the “don’t buy” column. But, the afternoon of my first day, I found this painting on my way home, and not only did I know it had to go in the space over our bed, I also knew we had to have some funky 70s furniture to set it off:

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Clearly, this headboard from Cane’s bachelor days isn’t going to make the cut.

So there I was on jury duty Day 2, with nothing much else going on:

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Despite the fact that my last foray into the world of craigslist furniture was a total fail, that morning I could think only of Victoria Elizabeth Barnes, the craigslist goddess/owner of outrageous but totally awesome CL furniture, who just this past week has embarked on a bedroom furniture odyssey of her own.

Hmmm…what would Victoria Elizabeth Barnes do? I wondered, as the laughtrack from The Price is Right played in the background.

I knew she wouldn’t just passively let one of her own craigslist dreams slip away without a fight. So, I channeled my inner Victoria Elizabeth Barnes and fired off this email:

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I hit send full of hopes that Cane and I would soon be driving to pick up our awesome 70s furniture find–just the pieces we wanted, and for a much lower price than originally advertised. In the meantime, I was still stuck in the jury room, still feeling restless.

Deciding to reach out for moral support and entertainment, I asked readers of our FB page what they thought about my find:

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Other than Hillary, who is always the voice of reason and restrained taste, I got a pretty resounding “yes” from the crowd. (That’s why I love you guys.)

Then I sat back and waited for the miracle to happen.

It didn’t.

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What!?! $260 for two banged up 70s dressers that–while they will certainly be hot and worth much, much more five years from now–are not, currently, very hot at all?

Because I had nothing but time on my hands, I decided to do a little research. Maybe all hope was not yet lost.

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Based on the prices for the other dressers I saw, I thought that $75 for each piece was a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the owner was not able to go there with me:

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Dang it. 

I just couldn’t see spending that much money for two pieces in fairly bad shape that were going to need a whole bunch of work. At that price, I’d want all of the set. Just because. Maybe we’d love the headboard? Maybe I could sell the headboard and nightstand to recoup some of the cost?

I knew Cane wouldn’t be on board with any of this. Our garage is already crowded with another in-progress project that needs finishing. The last thing we need right now is a whole bedroom set full of furniture that would need to live in the garage for an indefinite amount of time.

I reminded myself of the lesson we’ve learned over and over again:

The right thing will appear if we are patient, and it’s better to wait for the truly right thing than to settle for the almost-right thing. 

Almost-right almost always means wasted money for us, because almost-right means something’s wrong, and we end up discarding it (or regretting it) when the truly right thing appears.

I sent the owner my regrets and moved on. Not physically–because I was still stuck in the jury room–but emotionally.

I resumed making stupid FB posts and trying to get my real work done.

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Wouldn’t you know it, the very next day, I found something that seemed like a sure Right Thing.

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I’m sure this beat-up thing doesn’t look like a Right Thing to most of you, but you’ve got to image it cleaned up and painted. It had originally been offered for $25 at a local thrift store, but it’d been marked down to $10. And there were two of them.

They weren’t the kind of floral carved furniture I’d become set on, but at that price they were close enough. At that price, I thought, I could afford to spend more on dressers that are what we really want. (Maybe even $260.00 for those dressers that got away?) And, if we didn’t like them, I could surely sell them on CL for what I’d paid.

I snapped them up and drove them home.

We put them in our bedroom, where they did, indeed, look right at home with the painting and our awesomely awful lamps. And I loved the bigger drawer and storage cabinet, which hides our fairly ugly (but necessary) bedside junk.

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However, seeing how much more they filled the space than our previous nightstands did, I realized that there’s just not enough room in the room for the big, heavy 70s furniture we’ve been imagining.

Yes, we could fit it all in, but not without making the room feel stuffed full of furniture. Even if the actual dimensions are not all that different from the dresser we have in there, it would be visually fuller.

Cane and I spent quite a bit of Saturday night talking about what it is we really want in and from this room. He wants a room that’s got some character. That’s creative and original and interesting.

When I asked him to clarify–because there’s all different kinds of interesting and original–he said:

“Well…I dunno. I guess it should feel like an old Italian restaurant. Not look like an old Italian restaurant, but feel like an old Italian restaurant. You know, full of comfortable old stuff with age patina. And good lighting.”

(That’s why I love this man. Who else would tell me that our bedroom should feel like an old Italian restaurant?)

I can go with Cane on the Italian restaurant thing, but I also really want good storage for our clothing and a sense of space. I want comfortable and cozy, but not crowded or cluttered.

We are not sure how to do all of this within the confines of our room.

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Our home was built before the days of the master suite. The window wall is 127″ wide. It’s pretty much the only wall we have to place a dresser (or dressers) on. If we put one on the adjoining wall, it would block traffic going from the bathroom to the dresser and right side of the bed.

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The only place for another piece of furniture on this side of the room is next to the nightstand. That’s not ideal, though. We like having a mirror there, and it would create a long block of furniture (dresser/nightstand/bed/nightstand) along the wall.

Right now, we’re thinking of two really different solutions.

Solution #1:  French Provincial

French Provincial furniture is also from the 70s, and it can look pretty great when painted, but it’s visually much lighter.

Here’s a piece that’s currently being offered not too far from us:

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Picture it looking something like this painted one I found at Chrissie’s Collections:

french provincial Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

This could give us the quirky, original, Italian restaurant feel Cane really wants, but not be quite so overwhelming. If we find the right pieces for the right price, this would also give us the storage I want.

Solution #2:  Ikea Malm

We’re also wondering how it might be to line the wall under the window with Malm dressers from Ikea. Two of these side-by-side would fill that space (leaving just a half-inch on either side) and provide 12 drawers of storage, allowing us to remake the closet so that I can hang dresses and have decent shoe storage.

malm drawer dresser  0107512 PE257194 S4 Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

These would be super-functional and provide a lighter, cleaner look for the room at about the same cost ($300 for 2) we’d likely pay for vintage dressers (especially when you factor in the cost of paint, sandpaper, etc.). If we went with two of these, we’d likely add a long piece of wood to cover the top of both and add some trim to make it look like a built-in cabinet.

Ikea has other Malm options as well–dressers that are taller, dressers with 3 drawers, etc. We could go with 3 sets of 3-drawer chests that we could center on the wall, or we could choose 4-drawer options, or some mix of low and tall.

Lest you think the Malm route has to be a boring one with no style/Italian restaurant charm, I can assure you that the internets is full of creative Malm hacks that have our brains spinning. We especially like this one from Sarah Hearts (although the cost of the overlays she added would add too much for us to use this particular method of hack).

malm talldresser 1 Do you have what it takes to be a craigslist goddess?

All of which is to say:  We don’t really know what we’re going to do with the bedroom.

I’m feeling glad, though, that I did not let jury-duty boredom and my admiration for Victoria Elizabeth Barnes and her craigslist goddess ways lead me down a path that would end with a garage full of furniture we don’t want.

It works for VEB (in pretty amazing ways), but I think that’s because she really knows what she wants. She’s got a designer’s vision, and she executes it. We, being the UnDesigners that we are, don’t.

We don’t know what we want yet, but we do know all will be revealed in good time. It’s through our adventures and misadventures that we figure out what it is we really want and need, and we’re OK with not being sure of either thing right now. So, the time on craigslist and the money spent on the nightstands haven’t been wasted–even if we end up with Ikea dressers and we ditch the nightstands. We trust that the end result will be something we love, and that the time/money spent this week is just a necessary part of the process to get there.

In the meantime, we’re fine with our banged up nightstands, our awesome lamps, our painted particleboard floor, and our new favorite painting. I can even tolerate the closet for a while longer. After 2.5 years of fairly awful, what’s a few more weeks/months?

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Still a long ways to go, but it feels like progress.

 Got any great suggestions for us?

We’d love to hear them. Hope you’ll drop us a note in the comments.



Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

Rita has been politely asking me for a while now to write up the post on the benches I made in the kitchen. I’ve been putting it off for a while. I was writing it this summer when I woke up one morning with Bell’s Palsy. (I think Rita wrote about it somewhere on the blog here?)

Anyway, half my face was not working at all. I’ll spare you all the details but it was a rough time for a while. I’m about 50% back to normal now and just this week felt like I could manage something that looks like a smile. That sort of let the steam out of the bench post project. I’ll still write it up soonish. As soon as I find the paper that I scratched all all the measurements on. We really like how our kitchen eating area turned out and want to share how we did it.

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So, instead I’ll write up a different project. This one was really fun. A few weekends ago Rita and I were having an in-town day. That’s what we call a day where we leave the ‘burbs and head out into the big city of Portland to do cool grown up stuff. We started with breakfast at Grand Central Baking.

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Grand Central Baking

We like the neighborhood it’s in and its proximity to The Rebuilding Center. Part of the reason for the day in town was that Rita was hot for a new door for the front of the house. She had seen one there that was groovy 70′s and the measurements were the same as our current door. It was exactly the kind of door we’ve been wanting to replace the 1990′s  stock front door that got put on our house probably a decade or so ago.

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We’ve done our best to groovy-up this door, but we can’t really cover its 90s roots. We’d love to find the kind of 70s door we know once graced our entrance.

The door was in fair shape. The finish was worn out and there were some cracks in the decorative carving but no biggie. On further inspection though I noticed that there was some broken glass in one of the small panes.

front door Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

For once we did the smart thing and made some calls instead of just buying it and trying to figure it out later. We quickly realized that replacing the glass was going to be a really big deal. Although the glass is on almost every house in our neighborhood, it seems to be rare in glass shops. I’m thinking it’s because everyone in our neighborhood is trying to get rid of it instead of putting it in like us.

Anyhow, there are quite a number of doors like this in our neighborhood, and Rita and I have door envy when we go for walks. The design is very 1970s and would be totally appropriate for our house. We even have that exact glass in the windows on the sides of our fireplace. The door wasn’t going to happen though. We had to cost it out with the idea that we’d likely have to replace the glass in all the panes because we’d never get a match. That was going to be really expensive.

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Look at the face Rita made when she realized that we weren’t going to get the door.

Well, not to worry though. We did some creative accounting and realized that we just saved 100 dollars! Woohoo.

Nothing makes Rita happier than chair shopping, and we now had money to spend, so our next stop was City Liquidators’s used furniture warehouse. It’s full of old obsolete office furniture. It’s quite a place (which we wrote about recently when we scored a really cool office chair for the downstairs desk at a thrift store that was not City Liquidators).  We’re now on the lookout for a second chair and this was our most likely spot to find one.

Below is a selection of chairs from the warehouse that we found that day.

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S0010067 940x624 Reclaimed Wood Coffee TableIn the end none were quite right. We sat in a bunch and some were OK. There weren’t any that just jumped out at us. We are trying to get a bit smarter about not just getting stuff because we think we need it. If a chair is going to come home with us we really have to love it. We didn’t love any of these.

The upside? A bit more creative accounting and we figured that by passing on the door and the chairs we considered, we had saved $140!

Then, on our way home, we drove through the waterfront warehouse district, and through the corner of my eye I spotted a pile of wood on the sidewalk. I gave Rita a quick “look at that” and jumped out of the car to see if there was anything interesting in the pile. What I found was some old boards that looked like they were part of a table top. I’m not sure of the wood. They were really worn and dark. I’m sure they are a hundred years old easy. I grabbed them all and threw them in the back of the car. It was a nice score! (But we didn’t get a picture because it all happened so fast.)

OK, here’s the part where I talk about building the table.

Just by coincidence I had recently found this image online. It was really just what I was looking for. We’ve been using an old WWII foot locker as a coffee table since we moved in. It’s not exactly right but we’ve been making it work until we found something else that would work better. This table looked like something that would be perfect for us. Plus, it looked easy to build.

contemporary coffee tables Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table
Before diving into how I took a pile of abandoned wood and turned it into something like that table, I’ve got to say something about the whole reclaimed wood craze, which Rita and I are a bit wary of contributing to. We’ve been known to make fun of some of the things that people make with pallets. Some of it can be fairly ridiculous. The bed below is a great example. Besides the colorful dresser and art, the bedroom looks more like a prison cell.

11 DIY pallet white platform bed striped bombe chest Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

We’re all for simple and economical and repurposed, but given the deliberate styling in the rest of the space, it seems pretty clear this bed design was a choice made purely for aesthetic reasons. And it just seems kinda silly to us, at best. If pallets weren’t currently a hot craze, we bet people wouldn’t think this is a great idea. It sure doesn’t look too comfortable, and we think before a bed is anything else, it’s got to be comfortable. (Form always follows function for us.)
But there’s more than silliness that bothers us. Given that some people actually have to sleep in institutional settings on uncomfortable beds–or don’t have homes to sleep in and might need to create a makeshift bed out of pallets because they have no other options for keeping off the ground–this kind of design statement just rubs us the wrong way. It feels wrong in the same way that recreational slumming is wrong.
We’re even wary of more-functional furniture that’s made from reclaimed wood. So many trends start with a really good idea and then get all screwed up with commercialization. We love the idea of making things with found and recycled materials. It’s earth-friendly and encourages creative expression. It’s cost effective and produces things that are way different than what you’d find at Ikea. (Not that we don’t love us some Ikea, as you can read about here.)
The problem comes when you start to see expensive, fake reclaimed wood furniture or real reclaimed wood furniture that costs four times as much as it otherwise would just BECAUSE it’s made from recycled material. Then it’s not about being economical or green. It’s just about being fashionable.
For example, here’s a coffee table you can buy (for more than $300!). It looks like a one-of-a-kind piece, but it’s not. It’s mass produced in large quantities with a “distressed wood look.”
reclaimed coffee table Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

I think this is going to be the Noguchi coffee table of the 20teens.

We want to stick to the original idea of reclaimed wood furniture–creating functional, earth friendly furniture that’s beautiful and budget friendly. It could be a way for ordinary, middle class people like us to get some beautiful furnishings in our home without spending a fortune. It’s also a way to express some creative vision.
Furniture made simply with simple tools and found materials is really appealing to me. It’s why I really love the work of Enzo Mari (who inspired the kitchen table/benches I still need to write that post about). He also championed the idea that good design was for everyone and not just the rich. Power to the people you know?
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Here’s Enzo Mari sitting on one of his famous chairs. The simplicity of this design is just fabulous.

So I set out to make some furniture with all that rolling around in my head. Could I make something that was perfectly functional and beautiful with found materials and simple construction methods?

OK, here’s where I really talk about building the table

Thinking about the pile of wood in the back of my car, the coffee table looked like the perfect project for it. I just so happened to have bought some old drawers at The Rebuilding Center that same morning (instead of the door). Way in the back of the store they have a pile of old drawers for sale for 2 bucks each. If I had room in the garage I’d buy a bunch of them to have on hand for projects of some sort. Making drawers isn’t easy.

The next weekend I got up on Saturday morning and went out to my woodpile to formulate a plan. I got out the reclaimed wood and laid it out to see how long it was and what size table I could make from it.

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Here are the boards grouped into 2 different sets. The set on the right has been sanded. The left side is as I found them.

My plan was to make the table as large as I could from the available boards. I wanted to incorporate a drawer. I also wanted to build it from wood that I already owned. No buying more wood. My requirements:

  1. Use only wood I already owned.
  2. Use simple construction techniques that are available to most anyone.
  3. The finished product MUST be functional. It has to work like a coffee table.
  4. The finished product must be beautiful. Why should we put things in our homes that are not beautiful AND functional?
  5. It had to work in our space. It needed to fit in the downstairs family room or in the upstairs living room.
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Here’s a shot of my wood pile in the garage. It’s just stuff left over from various projects I’ve done.

With a project like this it’s best to let the materials dictate the plan. What I mean is that I couldn’t draw something out in detail and then carry it out because I might not have the materials on hand to do it.

Instead, the way to go is to have a general idea of what I want to make and change the plan along the way as material availability dictates. That’s part of our UnDesign philosophy. It’s designing on the fly.

Really, for me the fun in that kind of design is that I never quite know what I’ll end up with. Half the reason I finish projects is so that I can see what it’s going to look like. If I had a finished plan in my head and executed it exactly as I imagined it I don’t think I’d be as motivated to finish half of what I start. I love the idea of designing one part at a time as I build. It allows me to keep the project design open until the very last minute so changes and alterations are always a possibility. I either end up with something super creative or a real disaster.

Looking at the model image that first gave me the idea for the project I knew that I wanted and upper and lower deck with a drawer sandwiched between. My first goal was to create those decks. I split the wood I found into two groups that made roughly even slabs. I sanded everything down enough to take off the old finish but not enough to remove all the character of the old wood.

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The tough part of a project like this is joining the boards together. In the past I’ve used a pocket hole jig that I’ve owned for years. It cost me less than 20 bucks and does a great job of joining boards end to end or at 90 degree angles. I decided to go that route because I could do this in a way that all the pocket screw holes would be hidden.

Although I had my old jig that worked, I took this opportunity to go to the Depot and pick up a new one. I was going to need to make a lot of pocket holes, and this guy is awesome! It makes pocket holes really easily. It works with all thicknesses of wood up to 2 inches wide. It’s got built in gauges, so no measuring needed. This jig makes the process quick. (And we did save more than $100 on the door, right? :-))

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Kreg pocket hole jig. Costs 100 bucks but really worth it. Here I’m drilling a pocket hole to join this board with the two already joined together in the picture right behind the jig.

You can see in the image below the hole made by the jig. It uses special screws that are designed to snug everything up tight without splitting the wood. Glue is optional.

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The joints are so strong that glue is optional. I used glue on the top to give it extra strength but didn’t use any in other parts of the table as I didn’t think it’d need it.

If you want to know a bit more about pocket hole jigs here’s a video with some good information on the options and how they work.

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The nice thing about pocket screw joints is that unlike other methods of joining wood, you can handle these right away. No need to wait overnight for things to dry. I was able to grab my two slabs and rip them on the table saw to make them exactly the same size and straight and square.

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After making the top, I decided to add a trim piece around it. I ripped them from some other boards we had lying around.

I’ll spare you most of the construction details as they are unlikely to be helpful to anyone as this is a one of a kind piece. My next step was to build the 3 sided enclosure for the drawer. It’s sandwiched between the 2 slabs.

I found some extra wood from a table top fiasco from a while back. It was thick and clunky and didn’t match the other wood at all. (In other words, it was perfect.) A bit of measuring, cutting and joining together with pocket screws and I had a perfect enclosure for my Rebuilding Center 2-dollar drawer. The enclosure is attached to the slabs with pocket screws. (I didn’t bother to add a drawer slider. It slides in and out easily without one, and it’s not a drawer that will get a lot of use.)

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Since the drawer is offset to one side I needed to reinforce one side with a support since our kids have a habit of sitting on furniture. My solution was to cut a couple of pieces of 2 x 4 I had lying around and attach wit–what else?–pocket screws.

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You can see the 2 x 4′s sticking out just below the top slab under the reclaimed wood.

I wrapped the 2 x 4′s with some reclaimed wood I had left from our stair project. A few quick cuts on my chop saw and some nails and it was done.  Besides the few trim pieces that were nailed in place, everything else was done with the pocket screw jig. It really is a marvel.

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I thought about putting some tiny retro feet on the table. It may have been a better look if I had. I really like wheels on furniture though. Maybe because I’m usually the person who cleans the floors? If I had my way everything in the house would be on wheels.

Anyway, I know the furniture on wheels thing is a bit trendy right now, too, but I wanted them for functionality.  I can always replace with feet later if I want.

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So, the only real expense for the project was the cost of the wheels- 12 dollars and the cost of a handle for the drawer- 4 dollars. Pretty good!

The free materials are part of the plan when you UnDesign a project like this. Because I didn’t spend big money on lumber I could be a bit more experimental and not worry about failure. If the whole thing went haywire I wouldn’t lose a bunch of money. That’s the advantage of using reclaimed and recycled materials. That’s why spending a fortune on reclaimed wood or recycled parts does not make sense for us.

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The lesson I learned was that if you want creative , one-of-a-kind stuff you have to be willing to take risks. Taking risks is easier if you have the right process and can stomach the possibility of failure. Risk taking and allowing for failure is not the usual DIY path, but if done the right way I think you can get brilliant results that far surpass what you get by going the safe route.

DSCF7070 940x624 Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

DSCF7084 940x624 Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table DSCF7081 940x624 Reclaimed Wood Coffee Table

Simple 70s-inspired storage solutions

Simple 70s-inspired storage solutions

Back in the spring, Cane and I signed up for an online design class.

I wanted to figure out how to design our family room so that it would work and look better. You know, so that the family would actually use the space and keep “family room” from being a misnomer.

Although I became a dropout and never finished the course, I did enough to figure out some important things about how to better use the space.

family room plan Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

In true Undesign fashion, it was finding a few key pieces at a favorite salvage store that helped us make some big design decisions.

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We loved this old-school (literally) desk with the kind of cubbies we remembered having as kids. It gave us the idea for a double-desk (a work space on each side of the cubbies) in the nook.

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This helped us decide to go with the desk idea. Originally I wanted some kind of big work table in the family room, but I let go of that idea when I found this. I’d like to say it was all a practical matter, but the truth is I just loved that orange laminate top. I realized that if we used this for storage in place of a work table, we could have less storage in the nook. The two desk areas aren’t the kind of work space we originally envisioned, but we decided to go with it.

This still left us with the design challenges of figuring out how what to do with the TV and how to create storage above the desk areas.

Once we figured out how we wanted the spaces to work, we had to figure out what could work in terms of three big factors:

  • Materials:  What can we easily find that looks good (to us)?
  • Cost: What’s economical? (We didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money or rape the environment.)
  • Skills: What do we have the skills to execute fairly easily.

As we wrote way back in the early days of this blog, we think it’s great to work with what a house is (rather than fighting it). And our house is a 70s split-entry, raised ranch. I began Googling “70s rec room” to see what design inspiration I might find, and eventually I found my way to The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement on Flickr–which you have got to check out if you’re a 70s aficionado.

I was particularly inspired by these:

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I loved the mix of open shelving and closed cabinets in this wall, but making shelves exactly like these wouldn’t be easy.

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We knew we wanted a double-desk work space like this one, and the shelving above it–EXACTLY the same kind my dad put in my bedroom back in 1973–is very easy to install. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted shelving in my grown-up house to be just like the shelving in my little-kid bedroom.

 Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

This one helped me see that, perhaps, I could take the basic bracket shelves of my childhood and do something a little more sophisticated with them.

Cane was sold on the idea of using simple metal tracks and brackets right away. They are (relatively) inexpensive and easy to install.

I wasn’t so sure. Would they look cheap? Is such shelving really more appropriate for places like kid bedrooms and craft rooms? Would I be able to look at them without always thinking of my childhood bedroom?

Then I saw things like this:

 Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

From Dana at House Tweaking (clicking on the image will take you to its post). Pretty stylish, no?

And this!

Olive green window shelving Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

From Minna and Pekka at Olive Green Window. (Again, click the image to go visit.)

(If you haven’t discovered Olive Green Window and you are a fan of mid-century design, you’ve got to see their blog/house. AMAZING stuff! And they have a super-cute weiner dog, just like us. Sadly, that’s about all our homes really have in common. :-))

The more I looked and pondered, and the more Cane considered the bracket-shelving decision a done deal, the more it seemed like the only choice to me, too: Easy-to-get materials, affordable, and super-easy.

And so we’ve now got this:

shelving all Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

I don’t know if we’ve yet clearly established that Cane is a design genius, but just in case we haven’t, I think this project is proof. I really wanted some of the storage to be covered. I wanted storage that could contain a bunch of clutter, and I didn’t want visible clutter. He wanted to use a system of simple brackets and rails.

I showed Cane some of my inspiration images and told him how I wanted the shelves to function, and this is the ingenious solution he came up with:

shelves partial Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

How did he made those boxes–which look a lot like those closed cabinets I was coveting–float? They’re resting on the same brackets that hold the shelves:

door Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

The How-To

These boxes were incredible easy to make. We figured out the depth we wanted for each box (after seeing what lengths standard brackets come in), then headed to Home Depot to buy a sheet of thin birch plywood. A helpful Home Depot guy ripped the sheet into the widths we needed.

All Cane had to do at home was cut them to length. He cut out two pieces of the same length for the top/bottom, and two other pieces of the same length for the sides. You can make them however long/tall you’d like.

Then, he simply nailed the pieces together to make an open box–no front (yet) or back.

joint detail Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

He cut another piece to make a front door (again, using one of the pre-ripped pieces from our original sheet), which he attached with hinges.

Before attaching the door, he drilled a hole in the front to make for easy opening. (I think they add a little style, too.)

He stained the whole thing, then hung the box on the brackets. BAM!

shelf doors closeup Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

As for how we figured out the design for the boxes/shelves, we did that in pretty typical UnDesign fashion. (That’s shorthand for: We were too lazy/busy (you choose) to deal with substantially changing a big, inconvenient issue.)

Because the nook was originally designed for a monstrous, wall-sized TV, outlets and cable connections were placed right in the middle of the dang wall.

DSCF0512 Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

We didn’t want to move them, and we needed them for our router box/printer/computer, so we decided that a box had to cover them. We determined the dimensions we wanted for that box, and that–along with the placement of the outlets–determined where we would put the wall tracks and the brackets for the box.

We put the tracks on the walls (4, evenly spaced), built the box to cover the outlets, and then cut out some cardboard shelves. We learned all about making prototypes in the course we (sorta) took, and it’s a design tool that’s really useful. Instead of guessing at what might work and making expensive mistakes, we were able to really see what the shelves would look like using cardboard.

And this is the design we ended up with for the nook:

more shelves Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

The bottom line

These shelves weren’t free, but they were far less expensive than some kind of built-in system might have been. (You can see the story and costs of the desk here.)

We think we bought two sheets of 1/4″ birch plywood, which was about $30 a sheet.

We bought 21 brackets, which were about $3.50 a piece. (We used 9″ brackets for most of shelves, but 11″ for the box that the TV sits on.) We bought 7 tracks, which were about $7.00 a piece.

We bought one can of stain for the shelves and boxes, for about $5.00.

Less than $200.00 for sure. (Sorry we don’t have more exact figures; we did most of this back in August, so our memories are a little fuzzy.)

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Maybe more importantly, they didn’t cost us much in terms of time.

We figure it was about an hour for the install of each set of tracks. It was a good afternoon’s work to make the boxes and cut the shelves. Probably the most time-consuming part of the project was staining the boards.

IMG 0612 Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

The real bottom line

Figuring out what we really need for who we really are now is the reason our basement room is finally a family room.

I previously stored much of our school/craft supplies in the garage. (You can see my first attempt at organizing that stuff by clicking here.)

craft after 2 p Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

School supplies were behind the doors of this cabinet.

Problem is, those things were rarely accessed. There was too much of it, and having it all in the garage made it inconvenient to get to. Truth is, our kids wouldn’t go into the garage to look for the things they needed. Instead, they pilfered the common supplies and squirreled them away in their bedrooms so they wouldn’t have to return to the garage.

Now, when they’re working on homework, their school supplies are all in one easy-to-access place. The supplies haven’t disappeared.

school supplies Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

Even better, they’re now choosing to do more of their homework in this common space. Maybe that’s because it’s just a better-looking space, but I think it’s also because everything they need is right here within easy and comfortable reach.

Also? Our kids just aren’t in the doing-crafty-things-for-fun stage any more. It made me sad to acknowledge that when I was figuring out our storage needs, but it’s true. We just don’t need a lot of the stuff that used to be our free-time staples. (No, we really don’t need stickers and stamps and paints and crayons and googly eyes and all kinds of scrapbook paper.)

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We just aren’t this crafty any more.

Making the decision to purge so that we could fit all things game/sewing/crafty into the family room has been a great one. Between the wall storage and the large storage cabinet, we’ve got it down to the things we actually need and want.

I purged a bunch of sewing/needlework supplies I know I’ll never use. I am still keeping my fabric stash in a covered cabinet in the garage (that’s something that only I access, and only rarely), but everything else is now in this room:

storage cabinet1 Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

Cane and I have long felt that home design matters because the spaces we live in shape how we live. Our redesigned room is, in subtle but important ways, redesigning how we spend time as a family. Last weekend, we all watched a movie together down here. While Will spent hours working on a school paper, and Grace took over the back corner with a massive poster-making project, I was hanging out right here with them, working on a sewing project.

We all spent a lot of hours in the same room. Sure, we weren’t doing the same thing, but we were talking. Snacking. Giving and taking advice. Just being together. That might not sound like much, but we’re realizing that when it comes to parenting teens who no longer want to spend much of their free time with us, it really is.

DSCF0523 Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

So, we’re putting this UnDesigned re-design in our win column. Hope you can glean some wisdom from what we learned/did here that will help you put something in yours. icon smile Simple 70s inspired storage solutions

Oh, and in case you spotted/are wondering about that little Incredible Hulk doll action figure hanging out on the shelves in our hoped-to-be-Pinned images, he’s there for two reasons:

1. The Hulk is Cane’s favorite super-hero, and Cane likes the action figure.

2. We’re committed to showing our home as it really is, Pinterest-be-damned. Like most of you, we’ve got unsightly cords and not-on-purpose mismatched chairs and the occasional action figure. (OK, maybe we’re the only ones with a decorative action figure outside of a kids’ playroom.)

And, yeah, we did tidy up for this photo shoot–but we didn’t stage the room. We think real homes and real life have real beauty, just like real people do. And it’s no more healthy to show staged, photo-shopped images of our homes than it is to show those kinds of images of people.

KISSing our family room fireplace

KISSing our family room fireplace

A for-real comment from my 1st grade report card:

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Obviously, I was born the English major I eventually became. An inability to accept an easy, simple answer served me well when it came to detecting and analyzing literary motifs (a HIGHLY useful life skill, I might add ;-)).

It has not, however, served me so well in many other endeavors. Sometimes–many times–the KISS principle works so much better. Such has been the case with our family room fireplace make-over.

family room fireplace 940x705 KISSing our family room fireplace

Earlier owners painted the brick a bland beige color, and the unpainted mortar was a dark brown. We’ve never liked it and have always planned to paint over it. When I painted the room early last summer, I fully intended to paint the fireplace soon after, but it never happened.

I’m glad I never got to it, as we decided this summer that the wall color just wasn’t right. After determining that we wanted a mid-tone grey for the walls, we played around with a few different color ideas for the fireplace using Sherwin-William’s online color tool. We considered several options, but finally decided that we wanted to go with a bold orange/red color.

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This choice was cemented for us when we found an old storage cabinet with a bright orange laminate top:

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The palette in our living room is much more subtle and subdued…

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…and we want our family room to have a different feeling from that room. Around the time we were playing around with color ideas, I discovered an online treasure-trove of 70s decor images, and I decided that our family room needs to be infused with some 70′s inspired rec room goodness.

70s rec room KISSing our family room fireplace

 Image via superseventies.tumblr.com

Orange was the only possible choice for the fireplace.

But not just some simple orange, no siree.

I knew I couldn’t get back to the original brick after reading many posts about the difficulties of doing so (this one is my favorite), but I got this idea that I could capture the spirit of the original fireplace. With paint.

I did not want to try some sort of faux-brick look through paint (although this post by Pretty Handy Girl did tempt me). While I saw some that looked pretty good in pictures online, I was afraid that anything I might try along those lines would just look cheesy. In a Cheez-Whiz kind of way, not a Tillamook sharp cheddar kind of way.

I wanted something that was obviously paint, but that gave a nod to the fireplace’s origins. I wanted something fun and bold like the 70s. Which is how I found myself with four little tester pots (and 4 adorable little paint trays) of some really bright orange paint back in early July.

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I had this idea that I would randomly paint the bricks in these four colors, creating the kind of color variation you see in unpainted bricks. Kind of like this:

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Luckily, I posted some shots on Facebook:

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Luckily some of our followers (gently) told me: Um, not loving that so much.

I decided the problem was not in the complicated idea, but in the shades of orange (too bright and cartoonish). I got out a whole bunch of orange/red paint chips. We settled on these three:

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So wish I could tell you what brand Uptown Girl is, or what the name of the middle Pantone color is. But I don’t remember and those chips are long gone. Bad, bad blogger am I…

Then I went back to Home Depot and came home with more little pots of orange paint.

I did one corner with the new colors, and then I realized that it was the idea that was all wrong, not the colors. I conceded defeat and then each of the other corners in a solid color so we could choose one color for the whole thing:

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We went with option #2, Pantone’s Marmalade, which we had the Home Depot guy match for us in Behr.

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I so wanted my idea to work. I wanted it to be original and awesome, something no one else had done but that others (preferably thousands of others, since I was dreaming) would go ga-ga over. I wanted to be crazy-bold in a good way, like Mandy of Vintage Revivals so often is. (See her Sharpie wallpaperfor example.)

Or maybe I just instinctively knew how flippin’ boring it was going to be to paint the fireplace all one color. Because it was. Not even Mad Men on Netflix could really redeem the experience for me (though I am now in Season 3, finally, thanks to this fireplace).

Even though the bricks were previously painted, the mortar was not. It just sucked in the paint and required multiple coats. So many little grooves. So mind-numbingly tedious.

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Following the advice of other DIY bloggers, I bought a cheap brush for painting the mortar. It was good advice–the brush was pretty trashed after being smushed into all those rough crevices. Over and over and over and over again.

That shot reminds me that I forgot an even less-fun part:  Cleaning the fireplace.

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Before you can paint, you need to take off the screen and clean. It was messy, dirty work.

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TMI? This is what my feet looked like after cleaning the sooty mess.

When I began cleaning the soot and realized that whoever painted the fireplace before didn’t bother to remove the screen before painting, leaving some of the original brick unpainted, and that the original brick was a lovely, mid-tone orange that we would have LOVED, I tried to be magnanimous and not curse that person.

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It was hard, though, because I was hot and sweaty and my feet were gross and Cane was just sitting on the couch watching me and playing on his computer and snapping the occasional picture.

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OK, maybe he was working on a post about his kitchen table, which I’d asked him to do. Maybe. Still annoying.

Speaking of the fireplace screen, I’ve sorta hated its big old brassiness for some time, too. I really wanted to get a new one in antique bronze (the metal finish of choice back when our house was built), but that was going to cost a pretty penny. More like 30,000 of them.

bronze fireplace doors KISSing our family room fireplace

I tried to talk Cane into it, using the argument that we’d saved so much doing the floor as we had, but I didn’t try that hard because I didn’t really want to spend that much money, either.

Instead of buying a new screen, we bought a few cans of black spray paint.

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It was pretty easy to remove the doors, tape the remaining glass, and spray away. Used fine steel wool to prep the surface, then gave it a light sanding between each very thin coat of paint. I think it took about 4 coats.

And we put the fireplace all back together and now she looks like this:

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This is not the kind of after photo that I’m just dying to share. There’s more to be done–but, when I do a side-by-side of the before/afters, I’m pretty pleased with our progress:

fireplace before after 940x470 KISSing our family room fireplace

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We want something to put on that mantel, but we’re feeling a little stumped by that. You can’t just put any old piece of art in front of that orange. We’ve been on the lookout for a cool clock, but right now all we’ve got is the old creepy-faced clock, which has just had its second make-over–another example of the virtues of keeping it simple, by the way.

You might remember this post from last fall, in which I transformed this thrift store “find”…

creepy clock KISSing our family room fireplace

…into this:

PA294951 KISSing our family room fireplace

If you click on that link in the last paragraph, you’ll see that I went to all kinds of trouble to create some clever numbers, which I never really liked. I much prefer the simple circles of color I put into the clock this week:

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Although, that did lead to this exchange:

Child: How am I supposed to know what time it is? There are NO NUMBERS!

Me: You can tell the time. You know what number each circle represents.

Child: No I can’t. What time is it?

Me: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s 11:40.

Child (looking at phone): No, it’s not. It’s ELEVEN THIRTY-NINE. I can’t tell that with your clock!

Me: Oh, speaking of time, I just remembered: It’s time for you to do your chores today!

*End of conversation*

We also need to figure out what we want to do on the sides of the fireplace. We may go with some art, but we’re also considering some shelves–but shelving is a subject for a whole other (likely equally long) post.

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In the meantime, we’re really enjoying this room just as it is. It’s come such a long way from the space we saw on our initial walk-through of the house:

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The family room formerly known as the previous owner’s man cave.

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The family room today. In progress, but definitely getting there.

If you’ve got any great suggestions for the mantel or the sidewalls (or anything, really) we’d love to hear them. Or if you’d just like to cheer us on, please feel free to do that, too. We love your comments!

(If you’d like to suggest a different shade of orange, however, we’re not so much interested in that. I’m DONE with painting this fireplace! :-))

Sharing over at Pancakes and French Fries.


Lessons from Frank Lloyd Wright

Lessons from Frank Lloyd Wright

Rita and I had a really nice summer day last weekend. We’ve  been so busy with DIY projects that we decided to take a day off and make a short road trip. About an hour and a half drive from us in Silverton, Oregon is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, the Gordon House.

It’s the only one in the Northwest that is open to the public. It was commissioned by Conrad and Evelyn Gordon in 1956 and completed for about 50 thousand dollars, double the original budget. It’s a beautiful example of Wright’s Usonian style house. Although Wright often worked for wealthy clients, his Usonian homes were designed for typical, middle-class Americans.

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This is the view of the house while walking up the driveway. It really is a small house.

We’ve both been to the house before. Rita did a poetry reading there some years ago (Silverton has a thriving arts community), and I had visited probably 10 years earlier. We both wanted to see the house again.

We showed up at 2 for a guided tour, and we weren’t disappointed. The house really is something else. The grand living/dining room is one of the simplest and most elegant spaces I’ve ever been. Wright really knew how to make you feel like you are inside and outside at the same time. The space is actually fairly small by today’s standards but the tall ceilings and the floor to ceiling window glass really invite the outdoors in and make it feel 5 times larger.

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Here’s a view of the great room. I’m standing at the back wall taking the photo so I could capture as much of it as I could. Look at the gorgeous light.

This is the only large room in the whole house. The rest of the rooms are very small. The house has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The master bedroom is on the first floor. It has a door that leads out to the patio and a small, adjoining bathroom with a vanity, toilet, and stand-up shower. Wright designed all the furniture in the bedrooms as built-ins. No headboards for the beds and no dressers or night stands. It’s all built in.

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Here’s the master bedroom (now used to show a PBS video about the house). You can see the shelving along the wall and the built in dresser. All the ceilings were red cedar plywood and the walls were simple painted cinder block.

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Here’s an upstairs bedroom. The light in this room was fantastic. The beds were simple plywood platforms designed by Wright. Notice the shelving built into the wall again.

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Here’s the upstairs bathroom. It’s simple and bathed in beautiful light. The pink tiles, tub, and sink all matched perfectly.

We were struck at the simple elegance of the house. Even though there was minimal furniture, it didn’t look empty. Most of the storage was already built in. From shelving to closets, Wright had thought of everything. I loved the library nook that he designed at the back of the great room. It’s a fabulous place to sit, and hidden behind the cushions are storage bins.

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Here’s a view of the seating nook from across the room. The cushions were designed and commissioned by Wright. When he designed a house he took care of everything down to the color of fabric.

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Here’s a detail close up of the seating.

The kitchen is very tiny. There really isn’t much room in it at all. Wright preferred to call it a work area instead of kitchen. The design is all-business. It’s not like today’s kitchens where people hang out  while food is being prepared. No room in this one for that.

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Here’s the original kitchen. It’s hard to photograph because it’s so small.

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Even though the kitchen is a small box the ceilings are amazingly tall. There’s a huge skylight that dominates most of the ceiling space. This is more for function than for aesthetics as the tall ceiling allows all the heat and smells from the kitchen to rise up keeping the room cool.

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With the exception of the dishwasher all appliances are original.

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Here’s a detail of the floors. The downstairs floors are all concrete. The red color is not paint. It’s an additive mixed in with the concrete when it was poured.

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Here’s a good view of the fireplace in the great room.

There were so many great small details, I’ve collected them in the gallery below. Clicking on any of the images will cause a larger version to pop up.

Lessons Learned

Wright’s Gordon House delivers great lessons in simplicity. Everything was simple in design but also perfectly functional. There is an economy of means we found really appealing. There is barely anything decorative or extra to be found anywhere in the house, yet it is one of the warmest and most inviting spaces I’ve been.

Although Wright is (obviously and absolutely) a designer, we see a few key take-away ideas that we’ve been attaching to our idea of UnDesign:

Less is more. I was awestruck with how full the spaces felt even without furniture. The spaces that did have original furniture showed how simple and functional Wright thought of furniture. Take a look at these.

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This is the dining table designed by Wright.

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Here’s a low coffee table.

These are super simple pieces that were likely built right on site. They fit into the house unobtrusively. There was no need for anything more. Sometimes the simplest and most efficient design is the best design, an idea I’ve been playing with in the table and bench I’ve been working on for our kitchen. I can’t imagine a Nagouchi coffee table working better in this space.

Don’t be afraid to work with simple materials. Wright used locally-sourced materials, so this house contains western red cedar everywhere. The walls were simple cinder block. All the cabinets and furniture were made of plywood, as were the intricate cut-outs you see in the windows.  The floors are concrete on the first floor and simple oak on the second. If you notice the light fixtures in the pictures, they are simple recessed lights. There is no marble, or expensive tile, or exotic hardwood floors anywhere. None of the spaces need it. Wright was able to design beautifully with these simple materials.

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 Bigger is not always better. The house is small. The bedrooms are tiny. The kitchen is as small as you’d find in a mid-range apartment. Although the ceilings in the main area and kitchen are high, the ceilings in the bedrooms were very low. Wright felt that high ceilings were wasted space in a bedroom. Despite the small spaces,  none feel cramped at all. Even when we crammed 10 people in the small kitchen or the tiny bedroom it didn’t feel tight.

Wright creates spaciousness by adding access to outdoor spaces and natural light, so that the outside almost seems part of the inside space. He also does this by using space super-efficiently.

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Each bedroom had an outside balcony or patio attached to it.

Don’t over-decorate. If a space is nice adding more stuff won’t always make it nicer. The beautifully designed spaces in the Gordon home would not benefit from more of anything at all. Adding more furniture or art or fabrics or light fixtures or anything would only clutter up the space. The more things you add to a room the less impact the individual things will have.

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There were just a few simple items on most of the built-in shelves.

We had a great afternoon touring the Gordon House, and it definitely gave us some inspiration we’ll be drawing upon as we finalize our design for storage and shelving in our family room renovation project.

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We’re planning to put a desk, media shelving, and office supply storage in this nook and on the wall you see here. We’ll be using simple materials and design.

How about you?

Ever get design inspiration from a house tour? Have you applied any of Wright’s principles to the design of your own home? Would you like living in a Usonian house? We’d love to know what you think about Wright’s work and ideas. Hope you share your thoughts in the comments.

Ikea as investment furniture

Ikea as investment furniture

Dear Ikea,

We know that haters love to hate on you. We’re pretty sure you’ve heard all the mean things they say about your stuff:

It’s cheap.
It’s generic and soul-less.
It’s for just-starting-out kids (not real grown-ups).
It’s for those without style who think you can buy style.

(And that’s just about your stuff–not to mention the experiences of shopping for it and putting it together.)

Well, we just want to say this:

We love you. We really love you.

sally field ikea Ikea as investment furniture

We didn’t know how much until recently, when we were replacing the covers on our Karlstad sectional.

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We bought the sofa almost a year ago. You see, we’d tried to be as cool as the hipsters we live so close to. We bought an awesome retro sofa and chair, but our kids hated them. They refused to sit on them. (I’m pretty sure our use of the word “awesome” here betrays us as terminally un-hip, which is probably the real reason our retro sofa was a bust. That, and we live in the suburbs. I think, by definition, one cannot be hip and live in the ‘burbs, you know?)

green couch angle 940x705 Ikea as investment furnitureAnyway, we decided we love our kids more than being stylish, so we compromised by getting the Karlstad. Which, as it turned out, was a far more functional choice. You can fit a lot of people on that big boat of a sofa!

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It’s a lot of couch for the money, which is part of what attracted us to it. And, while it’s not an amazingly comfortable couch, it’s a plenty-comfy couch. Our family has watched many a movie on it over the past almost-year. And some of us have taken a few naps.

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Those pillows and blanket aren’t for show. Those are nap time essentials.

We’ve been quite pleased with it, but it was in the cover-changing that our feelings intensified to love.

You see, we have not loved our original choice for the couch cover. We went with the Korndal in dark brown. We thought this was a practical choice–sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of 1 almost-teen, 2 bona fide teens, and 2 cat-dogs. (Really, our dogs are more like cats. Which means they use our sofas a lot.) We also thought brown was the color we wanted in a couch.

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Here’s the couch with the original cover (before we moved it out of the corner and painted the room).

As it turns out, we hated the dark brown cover (no offense). Something about the texture of it captured every. single. crumb. and with aforementioned kids and cat-dogs, we’ve got more than a few crumbs in our household.

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Cane was forever swatting at the cushions and muttering under his breath, and that detracted quite a bit from the whole idea of what a couch is for. (You know, a place to relax.) Then he accidentally splashed some bleach on a cushion, sort of pounding the nail into the coffin of the brown covers. (He says it was an accident, but just between you and me, Ikea, I think there really are no accidents.)

So we decided to replace them with the Sivik dark grey, which we love. They are softer than the Korndal, which makes the couch just a little bit cushier, and they fit nicely with the 70s retro/industrial coffee shop style we’re creating in our family room.

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We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.

Wrestling those covers on wasn’t exactly fun, and we did have to iron them, but as we did so, it did not escape us that it would have been a whole lot more trouble and expense to replace a whole sofa. (As you know, the set of new covers was about $200.)

And that got us to questioning the whole idea of investment furniture.

We’ve been toying with the idea of “investing” in a high-quality couch for our upstairs living area. Something in leather, perhaps. Something we would not need to assemble ourselves, trying to figure out how the heck to do that without any words in the directions.

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You know we love you, but, really: What is the relationship between the illustration at the top and the one at the bottom? Shouldn’t the order be reversed–so that, after inserting the sides into the bases with screws, one gets a finished sectional? And how about a little more detail on how those screws actually need to get in there. Because this? It wasn’t really helpful.

After last week, that’s an idea we’re pretty much abandoning, at least as far as a couch goes. The thing is, we aren’t designers. (We like to call ourselves UnDesigners, but we’ll save that whole line of thought for a different letter.)

We are not great at knowing what will and won’t work until we bring things in and try them out. (See green couches, above. And brown couch, above.)

We also change our minds, frequently, about what we want.

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See those paint swatches? This was from just a year ago. We went with the one on the right, which was recently covered with gray.

And that, Ikea, is why we love you.

Sure, we wish there were more direct paths to the exit in your enormous warehouse of a store and that you could put some words in your assembly directions.

But we love that you make it OK for us to get it wrong, to change our minds, to go in a different direction as our wants/needs change. AND give us a comfortable place to rest our weary bones while we’re working it all out.

We like that you create something that works well and looks good and doesn’t cost a million bucks. As we changed those covers, we realized that ours is a decently-constructed couch. It’s solid. It’s likely going to serve us fine until those teenagers are launched into their own first dorms/apartments.

I mean, really–if it holds up and looks fine and does what it needs to do, do we really need to spend thousands on a couch that looks nearly identical?

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I’m sure the Easton is a more well-constructed couch. But I don’t know that we’re going to get nearly 3K more value from it. And I bet you can’t get a new set of cushion covers for $200 if someone accidentally splashes them with bleach.

We think not.

We’ve been thinking a lot about our friend Jules’s review of her Ikea couch, and the story she shared about selling her beautiful Ethan Allen leather sectional on Craigslist for a song–because even though she loved the couch, it just didn’t fit in her new home after a move.

We are all about buying fewer things of higher quality and using them for a long time. (It’s why we’ve taken a pass on some of your cabinets and bookcases.) But we’re realizing (thanks to you and our Karlstad) that such an approach works only if we really really really know what we love and what will work for a long time.

When we bought our Karlstad, we knew we wanted a big couch in the family room while the kids are still here. But two of the three will likely be leaving for college in 3 years, and we might want to do something different in that space at that time. Heck, we might move to a smaller house within the next 10 years.

We just don’t know–and that’s why we’re a match made in heaven, you and us. It’s not just 20somethings and college kids who need decent-quality, good-looking furniture that they can swap out in a few years without some kind of huge heartbreak.

And so, dear Ikea, we just want to say this:

You light up our life (and our family room). We might not love our Karlstad forever, but we’ll always love you.






Making a summer project plan

Making a summer project plan

We are in the midst of what I think of as The Dream Time.

Both Cane and I work in schools, so we are at the beginning of summer break. For some reason, the weeks between the end of school (in late mid-June) and the 4th of July always seem like not-real time. It feels like we have all the time in the world stretching ahead of us, and like we can do anything, because it will be this way for such a long, long time.

Once we pass the 4th, time speeds up and I’m acutely aware of the ticking clock, but right now all things feel possible.

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Proof that all things are possible: Our carrots are growing!

As we learned last summer, this can be dangerous. We can start way too many projects and end up frustrated and disappointed come late July when things don’t go as we thought they would during the dream weeks.

I found myself there last week, even though it is nowhere near the end of Dream Time.

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Cane got quite a bit done on our family room, but I didn’t do much more than snap a few pictures.

I was busy every day, and yet it felt like I was getting nothing done–nothing that I wanted to get done. I really wanted to do something–anything!–on one of our house projects, but I never seemed to get to any of them.

Cane and I kept talking about making a plan for our projects, but we never seemed to actually do it. I started fretting about having another summer like last year’s, in which Cane felt resentful because he was doing way more than his share of the project work, and I felt resentful because I was doing more than my share of the other kinds of work.

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The paint roller flung (yes, by me) in the midst of a melt-down last summer.

Looking at time differently

I decided to look at our time another way. Rather than thinking in terms of a list of projects to get done, I started thinking about categories of time. As I looked back at the week, I could see that we were using time for these things:

  • Household maintenance (laundry, groceries, cleaning, cooking)
  • Kid time (going to movies, going for ice cream, taking a walk)
  • Life maintenance (dental appointments, phone calls, filing paperwork)
  • Kid chores (this mostly means driving them places, and there’s a lot of that this summer)
  • Writing/social networking (here and for Purple Clover)
  • House projects (family room, deck, kitchen, garden, and more)
  • Couple time (kid-free, project-free, chore-free)
  • Exercise
  • Friendships/Socializing

No wonder I wasn’t getting to any projects! And personal leisure time wasn’t on the list at all–which probably has much to do with why I was feeling a bit cranky. I really want some time this summer to use these:

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This would be a great place to do some of the summer reading mentioned in our last post.

Setting intentions

I shared my list with Cane, and both of us could see that we have much more going on than we tend to think we do. For us, all those categories of activity are important. Some we enjoy much more than others, but we need to be spending time in all of them.

It was suddenly easy to see that there’s no way we can get done all the potential projects we’ve been talking about the past few months:

  • Finish the family room (paint the walls, built a desk, finish the shelving, figure out art)
  • Kitchen (paint the walls, build new table and benches)
  • Replace flooring in 3 upstairs bedrooms (tear out carpet, put in cork floors)
  • Deck (re-stain floor, paint rails)
  • Finish exterior paint job (two short walls)
  • Finish entryway (figure out stairs, paint door, finish painting rails)
  • Our bedroom (paint the walls, re-build the closet, new nightstands, new headboard)
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So, yeah: I did start tearing off wallpaper in the kitchen one night, even though we don’t have a clear plan.

This way of looking at time helped us come up with a list of project priorities:

1. Finish the family room. (It’s close to being done, and this room has a big impact on our family life.)

2. Stain the deck. (It’s necessary to preserve the wood.)

3. Get the exterior painted. (Also necessary for preservation.)

4. Kitchen projects. (Cane really wants to build the table/benches–post coming soon!–and I’ve wanted to paint the walls since we moved in. This one also impacts our family life.)

We might not get to #4, or we might not finish #4 this summer. The first 3 really need to be done, so they come first. I so badly want to replace the flooring in the bedrooms, but that project creates ripple projects in every room. I’ve had to let it go (for now).

Rather than trying to make some kind of complicated plan with charts and checklists and target dates, we’ve decided that we just want to be more mindful of how we’re spending our time.

We think we need to make general plans for a few days at a time, and to revisit our intentions for each day at the beginning of it. We think we’ll be doing well if we shoot for about 3 categories in any given day. More than 3 will probably have us feeling stressed. Fewer than 3 means we’ll probably start neglecting things we don’t want to neglect.

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This is what I woke up to in the kitchen Sunday morning. We need to acknowledge how much time it really does take to simply run the house, even without improvement projects.

How it looks in practice

I’m always up a few hours before anyone else, and that’s when I do most of my writing. That’s how Saturday started.

Then, Grace and I hit the gym in the late morning to walk on the treadmill and take a yoga/pilates class. (exercise and kid time)

Then we went to a picnic with Cane’s jiu jitsu community. (friendships/socializing)

At the end of the day Cane and I spent time doing some household maintenance (cleaning the kitchen and getting groceries) but we also spent a little bit of time hanging out with just the two of us in the backyard and later watching one of our favorite Netflix shows (couple time).

(I missed Freaks & Geeks back when it aired in ’99. I had toddlers then. We love this show set in 1980 as much for the period sets as for the way the creators nailed high school life then.)

As you can see, we had no project time at all on Saturday, so the plan for Sunday included some major project time:

We (mostly) painted the family room!

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But we also cleaned my car (life maintenance) and spent some time on housework.

We realized that many of our activities actually fit into two categories. I didn’t feel the need for any other exercise on Sunday, because painting the room involved a lot of that. Still, we think this will work best for us if we think of the primary category our activities fit into.

Why we like this approach

We like to be mindful/intentional, but we also like to allow room for spontaneity. A big part of UnDesign for us is letting things unfold. We think this approach to time will allow us to go in directions for the summer that we might not be able to foresee here in the midst of our June Dream Time.

However, we want to be a little less spontaneous than we’ve been in the past. When we just start doing things without thinking about how they fit into the larger picture of our life, it doesn’t go well.

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Grace still hasn’t really forgiven us for tearing up the stairs right before her party last year. Maybe because we still haven’t really finished them.

Seeing just how many demands there are on our time (even though we’re mostly off work) has been a huge reality check, especially when it comes to our home projects.

This is a little frustrating. We put off all kinds of big things during the school year, thinking that we’ll be able to do all of them when we have “the whole summer off.” Well, we don’t really have the whole summer off. We’ve got a writing deadline every Monday, and we’ve got at least one child here most of the time.

But that’s OK. It’s been good for us to see that although our daily activities are different during the summer, some truths remain regardless of the month:

  • We aren’t going to fix everything we’d like to fix all at once.
  • We’ve got plenty of time. Slow progress is still progress, and any progress is good.
  • Our house needs to serve our life–not the other way around.

And just to be clear:  We are aware of how fortunate we are to have so much time away from work every summer. In spite of being busy, there’s an ease to our days that we don’t get during the school year.

We need to remember that if we start feeling frustrated with our rate of progress, too.

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Yes, the barefoot DIYer was on duty again this weekend.

How about you?

Have any great summer project plans? How do you balance competing demands on your time? We’d love to hear how you make everything work for you.

And about the books: Let’s start with Susanka’s The Not So Big Life. My goal is to have it read by the end of July. Seems like that’s a more foundational book than the others. The different views of her work shared in the comments to the last post have me intrigued.

PS:  Sharing at The William Morris Project, our favorite place to share.