Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Renovations by Luke (and a new coffee table)

A couple of days ago, after a great night out together, we walked into the house to a huge surprise. Our precious baby, Luke, barely 4 months old decided to renovate our living room.

We weren't gone for that long, and he's really not normally this destructive. He's doesn't even chew shoes, I never in a million years thought he's eat my furniture. So how could one tiny little puppy cause so much damage?

Luke is not tiny, he's a 60 pound beast. He apparently just really didn't like our ottoman. So he ate it. Hubs was so not impressed. But, I, trying desperately to smooth the waters, and make sure that we still had a puppy in the morning, had an idea. Why don't we just finish what Luke started and start over with the ottoman? I wanted a new coffee table anyway. Hubs was still not impressed, but he's a good sport, so he played along. He started by getting his frustrations out by ripping the crap out of the rest of the pleather with a knife removing the pleather exterior.

Then we took off the hinges. The ottoman was also my secret hiding spot for dvds and games I hadn't put away when I unpacked boxes. It also hides my secret love of the video game "God of War". I suck at video games, which is why I have a cheater's guide, but there is something about beating the hell out of things that is just so stress-relieving. FYI though, it's NOT a kid's game, when they say "M for Mature", they really mean it. I don't even play it when the kids are awake, it's really, really violent. Anyway, I'm digressing.

Ugh, what a mess! So anyway, we'd removed the exterior, took off the hinges and cleaned out all the crap, we found some boards we'd had left over from the kitchen. Hubs measured and cut them to fit the top.
Then I had him cut them again, some in half, some in thirds, all staggered-like, sort of like a wood floor would look. Then he nailed them in with the air gun nailer thingy. I'm sure there's a technical name for it (which I clearly don't know), but it's really just a nail gun connected to a hose and a large air tank.

It was already looking better, but it wasn't quite right, so I used my Valspar Antiquing Glaze, and just rubbed it on the bare wood. THAT made it look cool. The color was different on every board, some lighter, some darker. We hammered some very large nails in, both for effect and make sure the thin boards didn't lift at all. We did the same thing to the bottom of the ottoman, but ran the boards vertically. Here's what it looks like now.

The metal corner pieces were hidden under the pleather, so we just reattached them. I also used a glue gun to attach some jute to the top edge.

The whole project cost me about $3.99 (for the jute), I had everything else on hand. It took probably 3 hours from start to finish. We're really happy with the finished product, it sort of reminds me of driftwood.

Can you believe something this cute caused all this?

I'm thinking he probably did us a favor.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring tablescape

I never do tablescapes. I usually slap some fake fruit in a bowl and call it a day. However, I moved our table into the living room (for lots of reasons which I'll explain later) and I've just had this want...no, need to live in all things pretty. Anyway, I was doing my daily blog reading and found a link for Between Naps on the Porch. It's not one that I normally read (it will be now!) and was so inspired by the tablescapes on "Tablescape Thursday" that I had to do one for myself.

Not bad for the first time! Nothing says springtime to me like green and white, and green is my favorite color.

I didn't buy anything new, I just shopped the house. The napkins and placemat are true vintage linen, they belonged to my Grandmother. The green vase is a really a bottle that I just took the top off, the other vases were all in my cupboards. The little green birdie ($1.99 at Marshall's) was supposed to be spray painted white, but I just didn't get around to it. So for now, he'll just stay green! The apples are just part of my fake fruit collection. The flower arrangement is fake...I know, I know. Fake is evil. But it's what I had, hydrangeas are my favorite flower, and real flowers just die anyway. The plates/cups/saucers are Fiestaware, which my mom gave me for a wedding present. I only set two places (even though we're a family of four) because I only have two sets of green. I got service for eight: two green, two blue, two red and two yellow. When I add to my set I'm going for the purple or orange I think. But I digress.

So there you have it. It's pretty enough for guests, and really makes our tiny table (which Hubs FINALLY said we could replace!!!!!) pop. I'm totally loving it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Windows and oars

A couple of weeks ago, we were doing a walk-through of a rental house that my father-in-law had just finished renovating. When we got to the backyard, I spotted something I HAD to have.

An old nasty window! Isn't she fantastic in all of her chippy glory? You just can't recreate that, I don't care how skilled a faux painter you are. Hubs raised his eyebrows at me when I grabbed it off the garbage pile. I ignored him. I had a plan! He felt obligated to tell me that all the chipped paint was probably lead based paint. I assured him I wouldn't lick it or eat any paint chips that happened to fall off. Anyway, I wanted to hang her on the wall. The problem is, I couldn't find a nail or screw long enough to go through the window frame and still secure it to the wall.

I've used this metal wire in the past to secure flowers to wreaths, so it does work for that, although I don't really know what it's for. I bought it at JoAnn's Fabric. Today, it's going to help me hang up a window on a wall. I cut 5 lengths of wire about as long as the window, then I twisted them all together. Then I screwed a wood screw in the back of the window frame, about half way in, wrapped the wire around the screw threads, and screwed it in the rest of the way, repeated it for the other side and that's it. Just to make sure it would hold, I did hold it up with one finger (it did hold, but I think I sprained my finger. That thing is heavy!).

Then, I took this ugly painted boat oar that I got at Marshall's for $12.99 (because I'm too impatient to wait to find one in an antique store), flipped it over and distressed it with my handy dandy hand sander.
And voila! Aren't they fantastic? They make a great pair over my couch, which I've decided is in desperate need of more pillows. Also, you're getting a little sneak peak of my new (again) living room. Along with my "new" coffee table. I'm hoping that will be finished very soon. I spent all day today redecorating the living room, so hopefully I'll finish up tomorrow morning so I can post some more pictures.
So anyway, don't be afraid to pick up something, even if it's "trash". Even if you can't imagine how on earth it will hang on your wall, if there's a will, there's a way. I've had this window leaning against the living room wall since my birthday, trying to figure out how to use it. Same with the oar. I hated the painted side, but I loved the plain light blue side. You can only see one side anyway, right!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ultimate mistreatments

I was feeling particularly wealthy a few weeks ago and bought some beautiful Pottery Barn curtains for the living room. They were cardinal red and went floor to ceiling. They were really, really beautiful...on someone else's windows. They looked terrible in my living room. The color was really bad, they blocked out too much light, they made the room look too fussy, it was just all wrong. Which I suppose serves me right for spending $50 a PANEL for curtains. With a heavy heart, I sent them back to Pottery Barn, completely distraught. I mean, if Pottery Barn can't solve my window problem, what can?

I looked into The Nester's window mistreatments, which looked easy enough, were budget friendly, and look great in her house. I hesitated though, I was really put off by the whole Pottery Barn curtain mishap, and I really just don't like curtains all that much. I just needed some time to think about my options, so I did what I do best and went shopping.

We were strolling through the antique mall and these 2 ugly decrepit boards caught my attention. The tag said that they were salvaged from a barn in Kentucky and they were $7 each! They even had caked on mud on them. Hubs thought I was a little nuts when I swooned over them, but I just didn't care. I loved the look, they were so authentic and rustic, I knew I had to have them. Here's where they live now.
I didn't even clean off the mud or try to make them the same size. I really loved the texture of the boards and just thought it was a pretty cool alternative to curtains. Now, I know that I'm breaking all the rules by not putting up curtains, but I don't care. As a general rule I don't really like curtains on my windows. I really like light, and these are the only two windows in this room (and it's a pretty big room). I plan on replacing the yucky little plastic blinds with white wooden blinds, but I just haven't yet. If I could, I'd leave the windows empty, but these face the street, so for privacy, we really need something. The only thing that I don't like about my little boards is that they don't bring the same kind of texture as curtains. I'm hoping to solve this by running tongue and groove boards over the whole wall. It comes in a sheet, kinda like beadboard, only the planks are bigger. Hubs says that's the strangest and most ridiculous thing he's ever heard, "Why would you cover up perfectly good walls?". I think I just haven't convinced him enough yet. Give me time, I will!

So what do you think? Too out there? Do I still need curtains?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Decorating Cents

The other night I was whining about how the living room wasn't "quite right" yet. My husband assured me that this is just nerves, anticipation and gut wrenching fear that I'm feeling. See, my parents (who still live in Maine) are visiting. For the first time. ON APRIL 1! FOR A WEEK. *faints* Ok, sorry. Mini-freak out there. I want desperately for parents to swoon over our little cottage, and to gush over how wonderful everything is. And while I'm sure that they'll be happy for us, the fact is, my mom wasn't really thrilled when we moved, so I'm trying extra hard to impress. They've only seen our house in pictures, so this is a really big deal. There is still a lot to do, and obviously we can't get it all done in a month, but I want as close to done as possible. So anyway, I was sitting on the living room floor whining and carrying on about how "if you'd just let me spend what I needed to, I could finish this right" and "what was I thinking? I can't do this on a nearly zero budget!". Of course the spring Pottery Barn catalog came the day before, so that didn't help with my feelings of inadequacy/feeling like I'll never have enough money to do what I really want. Then my husband suggested we play a game. He called it "Let's see how much you spend on this room to make it look like this". Not really in the mood for games, kind of in the middle of a nervous breakdown, but I figured I'd just play along. I was so glad I did!

These cute little crates, also seen on The Lettered Cottage, were for sale in a set of 4 in Whitewash Sundries' Etsy shop for $45ish. They're not available anymore, so I don't know for sure the price. They're perfect to fill in the dead space between the t.v. and the fireplace. I'd been eyeing them in the Etsy shop, but when I said I was going to buy 4 wooden crates for almost $50, Hubs was less than impressed. I think they were totally worth it, but alas, he was right that we just didn't have the money for them. Mine didn't come in a set of 4, in fact these were the only 3 I could find. I got them at TJ Maxx, $2.99, $3.99 and $4.99, smallest to largest. The mason jars I already had, and I filled one with antique wooden thread spools (10 cents each. I bought way too many, but I have extras for some other project). The tall ones are antique spools also, they were $2 each.

Does this look familiar? It should.

(image courtesy Pottery Barn)

My crate was $10 at a flea market. Same color even. Pottery Barn's version sells for $24. I don't know what to put in yet, I'm looking for the perfect basket, or tray, or something. I don't know, I'll know it when I see it.

I got the keys on the wall are from a flea market, $3 for the set! I was ready to buy Pottery Barn's set of vintage keys for $19. But theirs aren't really vintage, mine are. They're all rusty and awesome. The boxes came from an antique store. They're real handcrafted Shaker boxes, but the guy didn't know that, I didn't feel obligated to tell him when he said I could have all 3 for $10. I've wanted Shaker boxes my whole life, but couldn't afford them because they were so expensive. I felt a tinge of guilt not telling him that he should be charging way more than that, but I got over it.

The lamp was $19 from TJ Maxx, very similar to a Pottery Barn lamp that sells for $179. The sign on the wall is actually a cabinet door from an old apothecary. We got it for $8 at an antique store. The black and white picture is an old picture that I enlarged and framed in a $7 Wal-Mart frame. It's a picture of "Wedding Rock", where my parent's got married. It's in South Bristol, Maine, where my grandparent's owned what we called "The Point", because the property literally goes to a point on a cliff over the ocean. I spent every weekend there all summer long for my whole childhood. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world, and are some of my favorite childhood memories.

This is the mantle. It used to be an ugly brown color that really just blended into the stone. It had no personality at all. I used Valspar Antiquing Glaze on the shelf, which made it a really pretty walnuty color. The bottom was just painted black and roughed up with sandpaper. It gave an otherwise blah mantle a brand new life, and it was free. I already had all the materials. The mirror used to be gold, which was really not pretty, so I painted it black and sanded it a little to make it look old. The clock used to be my mom's alarm clock when she was a girl, the jug was my grandmother's, the picture is an old picture of "The Cottage", which is also at The Point. I already had the faux apples (I got them from Wal-mart about 3 years ago). The bowling pin was $3.50 at an antique store. I do have to confess though, the wreath is from Pottery Barn. It was $49. I know, I know. I'm sorry, I couldn't help it.

The lanterns are both from a flea market. The red one was $10, the silver one was $15. The wooden thing was $5 at a flea market. I have no idea what it is, but I liked it. The clock was $5 at an antique store. The checkerboard rug is actually a checkerboard that I adopted. Ok, it belongs to the kids, and I stole it. It looks better here than in the closet! The lamp was $5 at Wal-Mart. The picture is of my babies' first day home, and my favorite picture in the whole world. If my house was burning--God forbid--it would be the one material thing I would save. The frame was $2.50 at a liquidation center. I painted it white, antique glazed it and sanded it.

The couch I bought from a friend, for a ridiculously low price ($60!), the chairs by the window and the leather recliner (Hubs' chair!) are all from a consignment store. We paid $500 for all three, which in my opinion is a crazy good deal. The blue dresser was my mom's, that she bought at an auction in 1978 for $35. It used to black, but I revived it in blue (more on that later).

So, all in all, not too bad. I still have some things I want to do, and there are definitely some coveted items that I can't do without from Pottery Barn, but I guess I can feel pretty good about where I'm at. I'm still feeling some anxiety, but I do feel better knowing that I can do it, with or without thousands and thousands of dollars. *EDITED (to include dollar amount)* I spent less than $800 on the whole living room, including furniture.

I know I'm a flea market and antique store junkie, but how about you? How have you saved money in decorating?

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Our first major project was the kitchen. Really, major isn't the right word. Colossal. Ginormous. This is how it looked when we moved in.

Those cabinets just make me cringe. The were damp and moldy in some spots, they were just terrible, not to mention there were WAY too few of them. The fluorescent light...ugh. Gross.

I love me some tacky 80's fruit border! And who in their right mind covers up french doors with mini blinds? If you do that in your house, don't. Mini blinds are bad enough (and yes, I have them in some of my windows still so I'm not being a snob about them), but you just can't cover up french doors like that!

Here's what it looked like on the first renovation go-around.

MUCH better. We put in unfinished stock cabinets from Lowe's, and I stained them with a Cabot stain, called "Sangria", which is a really pretty reddish color. Sort of like cherry, but not that red. We painted the walls, replaced the counters (how I wish they were granite) and got all new appliances. The backsplash was super cheap (about $1 a square foot) and I did it myself. I took the doors of the laundry area, and that opened up the kitchen a lot. We were close, but something just wasn't right. I loved the kitchen, but it didn't really make me feel at home. The other major issue I had was that the walls were in terrible shape. They had all kinds of weird texture. I tried to fix them with spackle, but it just wasn't right. I wanted more.

Here we are today.

THIS is what I'm talking about. When I pictured what my little cottage kitchen would look like, this is what I pictured. I kept telling my husband, if you could only see what was in my head...well, then you'd see! Finally, he just gave in and let me go nuts. I started by painting the cabinets black, then distressing them with a block sander so the red would show through.

When I told Hubs I was painting the newly stained cabinets black, I think he died a little inside. When I pulled out the sander and went to town sanding them, I think he thought I'd lost my mind. I assured him I knew exactly what I was doing. I totally didn't. I didn't have a clue how it would turn out, and knew that if I messed them up, our new kitchen would be a total disaster and it'd be all my fault (no pressure, right?). I just went for it, no guts, no glory. I'm so happy I did. It feels so vintage-y now, I absolutely love it.

I still had an issue with some of walls looking nasty, so I pulled out the chalkboard paint.

I think it turned out really well, it covers up the nastiness and is kinda fun. The great thing about the chalkboard paint is you can change your "decorations" so easily. We decided to go for a Dr. Seuss quote for now, "And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!)".

Had to go with Dr. Seuss again for the other side, "Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you." Who knew he was so insightful?

Chalkboard paint one more time. I made this out of a picture frame I found in the closet. I think it longer for the paint to dry than to actually paint this. SUPER easy.

The walls still were a little off, so I pulled out the beadboard wallpaper. We just couldn't afford to put up real beadboard right now, so we had to go with the wallpaper.

You can kind of see it in this picture. This wallpaper is from Lowe's, it was about $15 a roll. It's not as thick as I'd like it, but the one I wanted wasn't available in the store at Home Depot and I was too impatient to order it online. C'est la vie. It at least gives the impression of beadboard, it cost me about $45 to do the whole room floor to ceiling, and it's temporary until I can convince Hubs that we need the real deal (I'm good at convincing, so maybe sooner than later!)

I painted the wallpaper a creamy white (it's called "Deep Cream" by Ralph Lauren). Changing the paint from green to white opened up the kitchen like I couldn't have even imagined. Although I did leave the laundry area green, I think it's kinda fun.

I "refinished" the table to make it look more rustic. By refinish I mean "beat the crap out of it" (more on that later). I still need to do something with the seat cushions, but I haven't decided what yet.

This is my "office", which is really just the end of the counter. The box that the phone is on is a vintage tool box that I got from an antique store for $20. I fell in love with the chippy paint and rust (more pictures of that later).

There are still a couple of things left to finish, namely the trim (which I really hope will be done in the next week or so). We're also considering a new floor when we replace the floor in the rest of the house (in the next few months). But with all the work that's gone on in here, that's minor. So there you have it. My vintage cottage kitchen!


My name is Merritt, I'm a (newly) full time wife and mother of two tweens. I gave up my career to move across the country and start a new life for my family. A few months ago, our family moved from Maine (where I'd lived my whole life) to Georgia. I absolutely adore the South, I always have. My favorite movie, even when I was a little girl, is Gone With the Wind. I used to dream about being Scarlett O'Hara, and being surrounded by stately mansions and antebellum homes, the magical red clay of Georgia, cotton fields, luxurious furnishings and more money that I'd ever know what to do with. Of course, reality turned out to be a little different...well, a lot different.

We moved into a little cottage-style house in the suburbs. Cottage (as I'm learning) is really a nice way to say small. The crazy thing is, we chose it. We looked at other houses, 2 others that were MUCH bigger than this house, but they just didn't speak to us. As we were driving down the street to see this house for the first time, I was thinking, oh, please let be that one! It's a blue house with black shutters (hence "The Black Shuttered Cottage"), it has a backyard with tall trees and a creek that runs along the far side. The first time we opened the front door, we both looked at each other and said, this is it. And it is. I adore my little house by the creek, and even though it's small, I love it. It's the first time in my whole life I've felt like I'm home. This isn't our starter house, this isn't a stopping place until we buy a bigger house, this is our home.

For the past 3 months, I've spent every waking moment fixing up and decorating our little cottage, and loving every minute of it. I've been posting my progress on Facebook for my friends and family to see, and I keep getting emails and comments telling me how I should decorate their houses. A couple of people suggested that I write about my progress. I've been considering that suggestion for awhile, and today I just figured I'd make a go of it.

I'm not a professional decorator. I have zero experience. I'm sort of dumb when it comes to power tools and I can't sew at all, but I do love decorating and home renovation. And with one income, two kids, 4 dogs and a mortgage, I don't have an unlimited budget. Quite the opposite, really. My husband is known to be pretty tight-fisted when it comes to spending money, so I often have to get creative. Plus, I rarely know what I'm doing until I actually do it, so there's no amount of money that can help...unless I hire a contractor, and where's the fun in that?