Tuesday, May 1, 2012

$200 Whole-Room Dining Room Makeover

Much to my chagrin, my old dining room has appeared in several posts on this blog. The thing is, I never really liked my dining room. It felt bland, sterile and somewhat thrown together--hardly the makings for a favorite hang-out spot. Now I love my dining room and I am eager to share it with family and friends.

I wanted a space that was colorful, fun and casual--somewhere to linger over breakfast on a Sunday, catch up on a weeknight and celebrate with friends and family.

The challenge: how could I decorate my dining room on a phantom budget in a way that feels true to the spirit of the rest of my home? I decided to start from scratch, keeping just the chandelier my mother purchased for us when we moved into the home. I would sell our old furnishings and use the proceeds to fund the redecoration, keeping the renovation green and reigning in the budget.

In this space, it was fun to work from inspiration rather than a formal plan. I would see where treasure hunting led me and let the room take shape from there. I decided to let color guide my treasure hunt so I started there first. I knew the room needed deeper, richer color than the travertine beige I had used as a blank canvas for the space. Taking cues from the rest of our home, I considered several earthy colors, including deep slate to complement the stonework in the rest of our home. While attractive, gray felt too imposing to me so I decided to look in a different direction.

Several posts ago, I obsessed on the power of yellow for dining spaces. What I wanted for my own dining room was the magic of a tropical sunset, leading me towards the golds. Benjamin Moore's Honeymoon (low-VOC, of course!) creates that feeling on the walls, while a complementary color several shades lighter carries the glow onto the ceiling. With that starting point in mind, I let inspiration take over for the rest of the room.

I found the table and chairs through the online classifieds. They were well-made, in excellent condition and fit the needs of the space. Two extra leaves allow us to pull in our long hallway bench for extra seating. The dark-colored buffet was a floor-model purchased for a quarter of the full retail price. The buffet's combination of drawers and doors provide the perfect space for linens, candles and extra serving pieces.
A combination of upcycled pieces, bargains and treasures

The tall china cabinet--another online find--helps me centralize some of my entertaining ware. I love how the cabinet's height draws the eye up, creating the illusion of taller ceilings when you are in the space. The open storage also helps me find pieces more easily rather than scouring a number of cabinets and our basement party pantry.

Open storage lets me see my pretty pieces every day
All of the new storage in the space brings engagement and wedding gifts, as well as pieces acquired on travels, into everyday use. This sentimental layering adds another texture to the dining room.

For the floor, I chose a rug from Pottery Barn that helps tie together the colors in the room. I love that their tufted wool rugs are certified free of child labor and use all-natural dyes. The room's versatile palette allows me to rotate accessories easily for different occasions, helping the room always feel fresh.

So how did I do on the budget? By selling the old furnishings, and shifting pieces to and from other rooms, my net decorating cost was only $200.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

1st Day of Spring - Project Check-in

Wow! Where has the time flown? It is time to check in on the "What-Can-We-Do-in-60-to-90-Day-Plan." Here is a list of projects that have been accomplished to date this year:

- painting and redecorating of hallway
- painting and redecorating of dining room
- ordering and installation of interior shutters for main level
- selection and ordering of blinds for master bedroom
- rearranging and seasonal update of living room
- seasonal update of family room
- change-out of all door hardware (including knobs and hinges) throughout main level and upstairs
- spring tidying of garden
- list of projects to tackle in next 3 months
- furnishings and window treatments for upstairs hallway nook
- decluttering

It feels like this list should be much longer, as a massive amount of work has been undertaken since January. The renovation is to the point where some rooms, dare I say it, almost feel "done." Future blog posts will feature a deep-dive on a number of the projects listed above. It feels spectacular. Like the bulbs finally sprouting their way through our Rocky Mountain garden, signs of progress are all around us. Welcome, Spring!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Good Day, Sunshine

I just love the cheerfulness of yellow. Even on a dreary day, yellow can lend a dose of brightness and help us believe the world is good.

Who wouldn't say that sunshine is bathing this lovely table alfresco even if the sky is gray?

Seeking a reminder of the joys of dining in Hawaii, I came across this photo of Oprah's dining room in Hawaii. I can assure you that I would love to enjoy some macademia nut pancakes here for breakfast!

I find yellow to be quite the talisman against our darker impulses, or the temptation to give into sorrow. How can one not be grateful for the beauty of life when bathed in this sort of sunshine?

Best of all, yellow need not be fussy to be charming.

While pink and red may be the Valentine's Day standard, this year I will be looking to yellow!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Love It or Leave It

Last weekend found me out looking at more model homes. These were in an exclusive enclave, beyond closed gates and stunning views of the countryside, as well as distant views of downtown.

No model floor plan featured exactly everything I would want, but there were one or two that were pretty darn close. With the upgrades and finishes that I would want, I would just have to stretch 35% in price. And I would have to like our new neighbors quite a bit because I would be further away from anyone and everything else.

I came home happily to my current home, glad for how warm and welcoming it is. When I walked in, the house actually felt glad to see me. Model home decorating can be so cheerful yet still lack soul. After all, these houses are still waiting for someone to live in them, someone to love them, someone to make some little change that wouldn't look good in a magazine spread.

Back in my own home, I began to look at floor plan (again). What were the key spaces we used? Which ones don't we use and why?

I spent the rest of the weekend looking at furniture, paint swatches, cabinets and countertops. It was like a mini-design marathon done at a sprint pace. My husband and I looked at everything that was standing in the way of enjoying the home we already have. Neither of us really has the appetite to move. We'd still have to do most of the work we have to do if we stay, plus we'd have to repeat the whole process moving to a new home, even one where someone has finished out the spaces for us in advance of our move-in. Oh, no, no. That would never work.

The biggest problem in all of this, of course, would be that we never got to finish and enjoy this house. We'd be throwing in the towel much too soon. Time for us to gather steam and determination. We can finish this renovation. We can finish this renovation. Our new mantra.

I think about the renovations I read about in magazines, where a couple has spent 5 or 7 years getting their house to a magazine-ready status. Oh, sure, there are folks who do it all in a year or less, but these lucky people tend to have an army of designers and contractors managing the process for them and an alternate place to live while their renovation is under way.

Surely, in another couple of years we can be done, right? By then, each space will be humming with usefulness and beauty. We hope.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quoth the Reno Nevermore

This weekend found me looking at model homes. After my husband re-painted our hallway last weekend, and we reviewed the list of projects we have lined up for this year, we said, hey, let's go see what a brand-spanking-new, super-energy-efficient home could do for us.

We traipsed from room to room in four different floor plans, judging how the flow would work for us and evaluating which finishes we'd keep and which would be a tear-out. After 2 1/2 years in our current home, we have no breakfast room, we're still waiting on just the right window treatments for most rooms, and don't even talk to us about our kitchen or bathroom scene.

I found myself wondering what it would be like to move into a home that I could decorate in advance, like the model home interior designers do. When the house was ready for us, we could just move in our boxes of household goods, artfully arrange our clothing in the pre-built custom closet system, and then we could . . . just go on with our lives. There would be no fabric swatches or tile samples over which to deliberate. Instead of tearing up each space of yard and rebuilding it with irrigation, soil, plantings and hardscape, I could just add a few xeriscape perennials to the builder landscaping and find a little patch for a potager. We could sell our tools and cache of extra building materials, making extra space in the garage for . . . a pilates studio maybe? The new pair of kayaks we'd buy to replace our weekends of renovation?

After tsking over each imperfection I found in each model, I found myself talking with the sales agent, reviewing room dimensions and options for the two models we best liked and looking at the available lots that would best suit our family's needs. Fully loaded, we could move into a brand new home with a 10-year warranty, hire a professional decorator, and still get in for less than we paid for the purchase price of our home. All that money we've been putting toward renovations could replenish our savings accounts instead. We'd have time and money for the long weekends we crave. We'd have more time for cooking and entertaining, more time for family and friends.

Then we looked at the downsides. The new neighborhood was located miles away from the area we love with the new pedestrian shops and restaurants and the miles of shaded trail that overlooks farmland and wildlife preserves. Depending on the lot we picked, we could have a view of the mountains, but that same view would yield a view of the highway that runs along the edge of the hogbacks. The new trail system would be concrete, not dirt and gravel. There would be no overhead shade in the scorching summer sun, and I happen to know that the nearest wildlife area is favored by rattlesnakes and mountain lions. That's too much stress for walking the dogs.

Location aside . . . and that's just it with real estate. Location really is the driving force. Undaunted, we decided to check out other communities from the same builder online. Then we expanded our search to other builders. We found a bevy of beautiful homes, but they were all situated on postage-size lots whose only trees would be those we could plant. Builder communities here are not like those back East where trees are indigenous. Suddenly, we found ourselves in online builder communities in distant states. Just look at that wooded lot!

Well, obviously we can't just quit in the middle of our renovation, and our budget is what our budget is. Alas, I am not a modern-day countess with a hidden vault of money like Harry Potter. What could we do in the next 60 - 90 days to make our own home into a model home? What would we do if we were staging our home for sale? How could we enjoy our current home more today?

This new set of questions gave birth to a new set of projects:

- Our hallway, the first space anyone sees, is the most prone to clutter in our home. Project #1 Functional hallway storage system.
- Look at half-finished spaces. For example, we painted our dining room to complement the tile in the adjacent kitchen. This is the same tile that was apparently installed unsealed by a previous renovator and we can't wait to rip out. Pinkish white floors and two dogs don't mix. We'd furnished half our dining room with scores from Craiglist that serve us functionally, but are really just too stuffy for us. The only time I ever want to eat in the dining room is when we have guests. And the temporary window treatments that we hung 2 1/2 years ago are still there and still look . . . temporary.
- Eliminate clutter. When my husband and I got married, we had each previously owned our own homes and had our own styles. As we've merged households and found our couple style, we find that we avoid the rooms that have furnishings and decorations we dislike. While we have been downsizing our clutter little by little, if we can increase our efforts in this area, we can both remove the offending items and have more cash for those things we need.

In all, we came up with a pretty good list that refocused our priorities for making our current home livable. When we bought the house, we knew we wanted to change it cosmetically, but we didn't think that it would take quite so long to create a home that reflects our personality and our needs.  In the end, this may not be the perfect home for us, but we have learned a lot about ourselves and each other in the process of making it our own and that in itself is priceless.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Easy Entertaining

The Christmas decorations are finally packed away, and it's time to reconnect with friends for an easy mid-week supper.
A Fresh, Inspiring Tablescape
Cheerful Colors Lift Mid-Winter Doldrums

Pretty dishes in pastel colors, colorful glasses, and simple bouquets of fresh white stock create a refreshing tableau designed to make guests feel special.
A Cheerful, Feminine Place Setting

Dinner napkins in mismatched patterns and edged with rick-rack trim provide a boho touch. Guests choose their seats based on the place card that best resonates with them.

On the menu: easy mid-week fare. The entree is quiche two ways--one featuring ham, gruyere, baby portabellas, cherry tomatoes, shallots, and green onions and a second all-veggie quiche featuring red peppers, asparagus, shallots and two types of cheddar. The trick to bringing out the flavors is to sauté the vegetables for a couple of minutes before baking them in the quiche. Cous cous and salad are quick-fix accompaniments. Dessert is vanilla cupcakes topped with fresh strawberries and Belgian chocolates.

It feels great to take a break from the bustle of the New Year to catch up on holiday adventures and plans for the coming year. It's a nice reminder not to let a busy schedule interfere with meaningful social time with friends.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Decking the Halls

 The Christmas tree is finally up!

Holiday Tree 2011
This year's Christmas tree is no small feat. No, it's not just finding the time to decorate. What is spectacular about this tree is that it comes in a 55-gallon bucket!!

Yes, in keeping with our landscaping overhaul that began late this Spring, my husband and I decided to purchase a living tree that will be added to our backyard following its indoor coronation. And while the nursery used a hydraulic lift to place the tree in our truck, my amazingly crazy husband carried the tree inside himself! (I've been put in charge of digging the hole for planting the tree.)

Forget the traditional treeskirt. I draped a simple khaki tablecloth at the tree's base and filled in with candy-cane striped poinsettias.

One of the challenges in decorating with a tree intended for outdoor planting is to use restraint in pruning and let the unevenness of nature just be.

For decorations, I used red and white gingham ribbon and pearl-shaped lights I purchased in New York City many years ago. I wish I had two or three more strings of these gorgeous lights! Ornaments are souvenirs from travel mixed in with some family treasures.
Three Wise Men

My favorite ornament since childhood is this post World War II painted glass sphere featuring the Three Wise Men. I feel ever so fortunate that my mother has entrusted me with its care. The glass is paper thin and the paint is extra shiny. I handle this ornament as little as possible in hopes of enjoying it for many more years to come.

The Dining Room

One of my favorite features about the tree placement in the dining room is that it can be seen from the kitchen, the hallway, the staircase and the living room. It feels like the new center of the home. Best of all, at night, the tree greets you as you turn up the front walk.
The Christmas Stockings Are Looking for a New Hallway Color 
The last stop on this holiday tour brings us to the first decorating project of the new year. First, I must say that I love the stockings on the banister in this house. They provide a dose of instant cheer as you open the front door. This year, I went with simple garland and simple plaid bows.

What I'm not loving is the color of the hallway. When we purchased the home, the hallway was a salmon-mauve color combined with a deep billiard table teal. We picked a buttery yellow to bring some sunshine to the hall without being too sunny. The space still feels a little sad, though. We've considered gray, a pale green, smoky blue, tan grasscloth, wallpaper, hand stenciling . . . This "room" spans the first two floors of the house and connects to all but two rooms on both levels. It needs some personality.

If you've got some ideas for our center hall, post a comment on this blog for consideration. Results to be revealed in the New Year!