The mud room. Errrr, space.

Dear friends,

As if I wasn’t planning enough activities for spring what with my newly rekindled passion for needlework and sewing, I’ve also got another big project on the front burner — a new mud room.

Okay, room is a stretch.

A mud corner?

A mud alcove?

Mud space?

Whatever you want to call it, no matter the size, I’m planning a re-do. Actually I’ve been planning a re-do since the day we bought our home, it’s just that it took me two years to move from planning to doing.

I perused untold photos on Houzz and Pinterest looking for mud room inspiration. And all this time, I figured the perfect execution of my plan involved hiring a carpenter for built-ins.

Finally, I realized my little spot just needs better organization, function and decor — and all of that could be achieved without custom woodwork.

You see, my space is five feet wide and nearly three feet deep. It sits right between the garage and the laundry room, so it’s the perfect spot for shoes and coats and bags and all that stuff that accumulates near doors.

Here’s a photo of the space that I snapped on the day we toured the house with a realtor in February 2011. I’m standing in the laundry room looking toward Mr. Mom, who’s going out the door to the garage. The hall to the kitchen is behind him. You can see my mud space is a perfect little spot. You can also see the former owners cared more about functionality than decor.


I mean really . . . could the space have been anymore boring?

The first thing I did when we moved in was paint the walls in this area a nice gray (Stonington Gray by Benjamin Moore), which I continued throughout the hallway and the kitchen. I also took down the previous owners’ ugly coat rack, which is the only thing in this photo they left behind, thank goodness, and which Mr. Mom was thrilled to put in the garage for his grimy motocross gear. I also hung a mirror and added a big basket to catch shoes, but you know that wasn’t enough. The space is still dreadfully plain. And horribly cluttered.

So my plan is to add a bench, a pillow, a coat rack, a key hook, some artwork, a rug, and a new light fixture. Oh, yeah, and I’m going to hang some wallpaper for a graphic punch. Here’s my source board of all the items I ordered on a day off two weeks ago.

PicMonkey Collage2

Can’t you just IMAGINE it? I can! All the items have arrived except the rug, which is on backorder until May. Mr. Mom has already hung the new light fixture and a professional wallpaper installer is coming on Wednesday. After that, there’s just a few more things to do, including picking up my poster from the frame shop, and I’ll be done. If all goes right, my mud space might be finished this coming weekend.

I’ll be sure to take the “after” photos I know you can’t wait to see.

How do I know you can’t wait? Because I can’t either . . . and you know what they say about birds of a feather.

With gratitude {for online inspiration and a tidy little tax refund that is finally making my mud room project a reality},

Joan, who thinks turquoise blue and seafoam green are two of the best colors of all time

From shocking to subtle: Bathroom re-do dos.

Dear friends,

I mentioned to you we recently completed a re-do of three bathrooms at our house. Truth is, only two are actually finished: 1) the powder room, which you saw in this post, and 2)  the kids’ bathroom, which I’ll show you today. The master bath is still a work in progress, stalled because I have been unable to make a decision about cabinet hardware. And of the five new light fixtures I needed for that room, only four were in stock. So — just a heads up that “bathroom re-do tres” may not show up for a while. (I have no idea why I have suddenly adopted a Spanish counting theme since I studied French in college, but I’m rolling with it.)

And, I regret to say a technical difficulty (darn computers!) has prevented me from retrieving my “before” photo of this bathroom. But you know what? You’ve got the gist of it already. You saw my kitchen before.

Blue Formica, white walls, golden oak cabinets.

And you saw my powder room before.

Blue Formica, white walls, golden oak cabinets.

The kids’ bathroom was a whole lot of the same.

But unlike the kitchen and master bath where I sprung for new marble counter tops, and unlike the powder room where I painted the counter tops, I decided to live with the Formica in the kids’ bathroom. It was a darker shade of blue that I didn’t find quite so hideous. And I figured the problem was not really the counter tops. It was the contrast of the counter tops against the plain white walls, made uglier by a cabinet finish that is two decades out of date.

I had a hunch that if I painted the cabinets and wallpapered the bath with a print that took the emphasis off the counter tops, the expanse of less-than-lovely Formica would “recede”  and the counter tops would go from shocking to subtle. (Or at least more subtle.) And I was right. Take a look.

See how much painting the cabinets black and giving your eyes something interesting to look at on the walls make a difference? (By the way, that’s a new light fixture above the mirror. I can’t stress enough how cheap or outdated light fixtures drag a room down instantly.)

You may argue that my wallpaper is awfully busy — and I won’t disagree with you. But I’m okay with busy in small spaces. Especially small spaces like bathrooms and pantries where the door is often shut. And I chose this wallpaper because it has the exact shade of blue in the counter tops as an accent color in the sea shells — well, that and the fact that red is one of my favorite colors and I’m digging on coral lately. (I’m considering a white “coral” chandelier for my dining room as I type.)

With no before photo, I can’t show you how ugly the previously installed, fake-brass shower doors were. I took them down immediately and replaced them with a neutral — and very updated — linen colored shower curtain.

You can’t really tell from this photo, but the custom Roman shade is the exact color of the shower curtain. It looks lovely in real life. Next time you need a custom Roman shade, shop JC Penney online first. Their fabric selections are limited, but their prices can’t be beat on custom orders. I got this one for anywhere from 30% to 75% cheaper than the other online retailers I sourced. By the way, the previous owner of this home spent a fortune on custom Hunter Douglas shades for every window in this house EXCEPT this bathroom. What’s up with that? Maybe she ran out money, given I priced Hunter Douglas replacements and determined she spent $2,500 on a single window in the dining room. I guess I’m kind of glad she skipped this room because the blind likely would have been blue and I likely would have despised it, too.

I had fun shopping for “art” to spruce up this room. I found this linen framed coral illustration on deep discount at Pottery Barn.

And I found these inexpensive beach-themed canvasses at Home Goods.

I still despise the cheap, white vinyl flooring in all my bathrooms. But that’s not a problem I have the money to fix right away.  And since I have lovely oak floors through most of the house, bad flooring is a lot more tolerable in small doses.

I feel compelled to note I’m not one of those women who normally like “themed” rooms, such as seashore baths and rustic cabin dens. This room ended up this way because I was trying to solve a counter top problem on a shoestring budget — and the wallpaper that met all my color and design needs just happened to be beachy. Since it’s the bathroom my kids use, I was a lot more flexible with my approach, and that flexibility saved me a ton of money. And, I think I ended up with a bath that is reasonably fresh and attractive, despite the overt theme.

By the way, if you are ever unfortunate enough to buy a home with unframed mirrors stuck to the walls, do not attempt to remove them. I speak from experience when I tell you that you’ll create enormous headaches (in damaged sheetrock) and spend more money trying to remove and replace them. Simply hire a carpenter to frame them, then paint or stain the frames. I spent $300 to pay a carpenter to frame five bathroom mirrors in this house, and it’s the best $300 I’ve spent to date. (Compare this to the $250 I paid a frame shop to frame and hang a single mirror in a bathroom renovation in our last home.)

So that’s the extent of my inexpensive bathroom reno tips. Paint, wallpaper, new light fixtures and hardware — and a few decorative touches will get you a long ways. In our former home, we took a bathroom down to the studs for a total renovation. Needless to say, I was incredibly pleased with the result and it remains the best bathroom I will have ever been fortunate enough to live with. But it cost 30 times what I spent on this one. (Yes. 30 times, which equals a big diff.)

And sometimes, less is more.

With gratitude {for a new home that came with “good bones” despite its ugly cosmetics},

Joan, who is pretty convinced she would rock on one of those home renovation shows where the budgets are extremely modest

From boring to bravo: Bathroom re-do uno.

Dear friends,

After a few obstacles (there’s always obstacles), Mr. Mom and I finished up one of our bathrooms yesterday.

The powder room off our kitchen and pantry was beyond boring when we bought our house. It was downright tacky. Take a look:

The good news is the bathroom was tacky in a clean-slate kind of way. I’ve told you before how much I disliked the golden oak cabinets and blue Formica counter tops that were everywhere in this house. But at least there was nothing seriously bad to tear out. And the house was sparkling clean. I would have eaten off the floors (before we moved in — not so much after.) The previous owner painted everything white for a reason. She had an eagle eye and banished every speck of dirt. Even the garage floor was clean. Emphasis on was.

So what did I do to jazz up this small space? I added a little drama in the form of color and texture. Some wallpaper, a little paint, a new light fixture, a frame around the mirror and, voila, I suddenly had a powder room worthy of guests.

Isn’t it amazing what a little wallpaper and paint can do to a space?

I’m not usually a silver wallpaper kind-of-gal. But in a space this small, daring can be good. And this is essentially a contemporary home, so I needed to break out of my vintage-cottage shell.

The crazy thing is — I actually thought that wallpaper was going to work with the blue counter tops. I pulled a similar trick in the kids’ bathroom — I used wallpaper to tone down bad counter tops. (I’ll show you that re-do in a future post.) But as soon as this paper was hung, I realized it was never going to work. So I simply broke out the paint and a sponge and remade the counter tops with my own hands.

Here’s a close up:

Painting Formica is the oldest trick in the book to update on a shoestring. You just have to use a really good primer (I’m a Benjamin Moore fan) and cover the paint with three or four coats of polyurethane. Repeat with a new coat or two of polyurethane annually, and you’re good to go.

If I had my druthers, there would be white marble in this bathroom. But we don’t always get our druthers and I solved my counter top problem for $20 and a little elbow grease.

I know a lot of people are afraid of wallpaper, but I have always loved it. (My first job at age 18 was selling wallpaper, flooring and light fixtures in a home improvement store. I think I’ve had a pretty good eye since then.) Nothing transforms a space faster than wallpaper so, in that way, it’s really an economical decorating choice. The pattern is this room was on clearance for $9.99 a roll. I often buy wallpaper on clearance because it’s just too pricey otherwise.

By the way, I’m not a fan of wallpaper in large expanses. It gets boring fast. I find it works well in bathrooms, closets, pantries, laundry rooms, rooms with wainscoating, or rooms where a single “statement” wall is appropriate. And, by the way, I went through a wallpaper-border phase in my life. Please don’t go there. The time for wallpaper borders ended about 20 years ago, though I’m sad to say they had a longer shelf life in my homes.

One thing I haven’t figured out is how to photograph a room like my bathroom without capturing  myself in the mirror. I guess if I knew how to use Photoshop, I could cut myself and my camera out of the photo, but I’m not that skilled.

At anything except painting. (I told you I was an excellent painter.)

With gratitude {for my early stint in the home improvement store where I learned all about home decor and determined a college education was my ticket to something more than a minimum-wage retail job},

Joan, who, kitchen and bathrooms completed, can now turn her attention to the master bedroom where surely something fabulous awaits

Going all DIY on myself.

Dear friends,

I’m tackling a big project this week while I’m home for spring break and it involves paint and elbow grease.

With the help of Mr. Mom and a professional painter, I’m finally going all DIY on my ugly bathroom cabinets.

If you read this post, you saw the before and after of my kitchen renovation. When we bought our current home almost a year ago, we loved everything about it except the golden oak cabinets and a few cheesy light fixtures. Before we ever moved in, I hired a professional to paint our kitchen.  But I blew my renovation budget on the kitchen and on marble counter tops for the bathrooms — and then I pretty much petered out for several months.

Like the kitchen before its rehab, all the bathrooms in our home had blue Formica counter tops and golden oak cabinets. What made the bathrooms even worse was unframed mirrors screwed to the walls and ugly and very cheap light fixtures and faucets. I replaced several of the counter tops (though not all — I’ll tell you more about that when everything is complete), bought new sinks and faucets and light fixtures, and hired a carpenter to frame in the mirrors. The last step is painting the cabinets and I’ll finally finish that up this week.

To save money, I hired the painter to professionally spray the doors and drawers. Mr. Mom and I will do all the prep work and paint the cabinet boxes, then we’ll replace all the hardware (just as soon as I find something I like).

To coordinate with the Carrara marble, I’m painting the cabinets black.  Think this:

Once I finish the bathrooms this week, my remaining projects on this home are pretty minimal. I’m still searching for a couple of light fixtures and I want to add some wallpaper to parts of the master suite, but I’m getting close.

So now I’m off to paint and to shop for cabinet hardware! Wish me a steady hand and the luck to find just the right handles.

With gratitude {for a live-in handyman who usually indulges my DIY dreams},

Joan, who is an excellent painter (having perfected her technique back when she had no money but lots of inspiration)