A Little Upgrade: Easy DIY Valance

Last year I bought those super cheap ($5) plastic blinds at the home store. I was planning to turn them into roman shades for one of the front rooms. My goal was adding a privacy option for that window when needed. Since that need was not very often, budget for doing this was super slender. Mostly, those windows remain uncovered. Their glazing allows privacy during the day and that room just doesn’t get a lot of night use.

Yet once the shades were up, I really liked the way they worked to promote privacy yet still allow light in. Roman shades would completely block the light out. In an already dark room, that wasn’t going to work.

Janky looking cheap blinds on the picture window. Sorry it's so dark but this is the room with the lights on!
Janky looking cheap blinds on the picture window. Sorry it’s so dark but this is the room with the lights on! And flash.

If the blinds were to stay, a valance was needed. Because of the low ceilings in this house, I wanted something that wouldn’t add much weight or darkness, something that would disappear yet, when you actually noticed it, would look clean and a little luxurious.

When I got the blinds last year I also scored some nice upholstery fabric for $3 a yard from the Home Fabrics moving sale. The lightest part of the weave matches the “Wyndham Cream” of the walls. Originally meant for the roman shades, this would do nicely for the valance.

2016-02-14 19.24.26

DIY Network had a good article on building a cornice and the unfussy directions seemed right for this project. Plus I seemed to have much of what I’d need on hand. My major variations from their plan were that I used 1×8″ wood instead of 1×6″ and that I didn’t bother with batting or adhesive spray. Overall, a really good, helpful article with great pictures. I did wish they’d put in instructions for folding the fabric around the frame. Yet that said, my advice for doing the same is pretty much “try a bunch of stuff and do whatever works!”

The end result was a simple, clean valance. Unfussy and successful in hiding the cheapo blinds at rest. It adds just the right touch of luxury and simplifies the look of the windows.

The project is pretty easy, taking about a half day. For me, figuring out how to attractively fold the fabric was harder than making the box. And I did screw it up, though not enough to completely redo it.

Here’s the project:

  1. Gather supplies. In my case:
    • 4″ L brackets (ideally in packet with screws, usually about $4 for a packet of four if you’re buying new)
    • 2 1×8″ pine boards, 8′ long, usually about $6.50 a piece if buying new or $2 at the local ReSale store. These can be other types of boards, as long as they are straight so be sure to raid your existing lumber pile first. The boards are getting covered up so condition doesn’t matter too much. For the length of my window, I needed two eight footers but a smaller window would need less.
    • Wood screws, (1.5″ for mounting the brackets to studs, 1/2″ for screwing brackets to top of valance, and 1″ for joining the wood pieces. I used both traditional screws and Kreg pocket jig ones. Because I love them.)
    • Wood glue
    • Staples
    • Fabric, several feet longer than length of valance. Mine cost about $9 because I went for a whole three yards even though eight feet would have been enough.
    • Scotchguard or waterproof spray (optional)
    • Batting and spray adhesive, if you want it padded, which I didn’t (optional)
    • Equipment I used:
      • Circular saw
      • Measuring tape
      • Measuring square
      • Pencil
      • Stapler
      • Scissors
      • Drill and drill bits
      • Screwdriver and bits
      • Level
  2. Mount two L brackets on the studs by the window using wood screws. Choose location by width of wood and what you want hidden. I wanted the front panel to cover the blinds when up, yet not block any light. The blinds were outside mounted so valance needed to extend beyond the blinds. Check to make sure your brackets are level.

    I know putting up the brackets first might seem odd but I had my reasons. The main one was I wanted to decide whether an 8" or 6" facing board would provide the right amount of coverage.
    I know putting up the brackets first might seem odd but I had my reasons. The main one was I wanted to decide whether an 8″ or 6″ facing board would provide the right amount of coverage.
  3. Next find two 6″ or 8″ wide boards in the lumber pile or at the store. Purchased new, these are about $6.50 each. They do need to be straight, free of any major bowing but they can be otherwise ugly, since they’ll be covered. They don’t actually have to be the same width, as long as you’re getting the effect you want on the front panel of the valance. So if I didn’t need the valance to protrude so far, I could have gotten away with a narrower top board (6″).
  4. Measure window and cut boards 4″ wider than window frame. Mine measured 73″ so I cut the boards 4″ bigger, at 77″.
  5. Drill pocket holes in the facing board to mount it onto the top of the box.
    This is what the Kreg jig looks like.
    This is what the Kreg jig looks like.

    This is what the screw holes look like once you've drilled them.
    This is what the screw holes look like once you’ve drilled them.
  6. Spread glue on board.

    Since these boards would be covered and not stained, it seemed fine to be a bit generous with the wood glue.
    Since these boards would be covered and not stained, it seemed fine to be a bit generous with the wood glue.
  7. Screw top and front boards together.2016-02-14 14.15.29
  8. Cut valance side pieces from leftover scrap of 8″ (or 6″) wood.  Measure just big enough to close the valance box. This piece will be flush to the wall.
    Here I'm measuring the width needed for the sides of the valance box. It's better to use the actual build than mess with measurements.
    Here I’m measuring the width needed for the sides of the valance box. It’s better to use the actual build than mess with measurements.

    When isn't cutting pieces of fresh wood fun?
    When isn’t cutting pieces of fresh wood fun?
  9. Drill pocket holes to screw side pieces to top and front of valance.

    Secure the side to the top and front of the valance.
    Secure the side to the top and front of the valance.
  10. Glue and screw again.
  11. Check it all to make sure it’s square.
  12. Allow wood glue in valance to dry fully. For me, this didn’t mean waiting a full 24 hours for the glue to set the way the bottle says. This valance isn’t going to be moved or bear weight once it’s mounted so basically, you just need the glue to be dry so it doesn’t mess up your fabric wherever it might have seeped out.
  13. Now attach fabric to the valance with your staple gun. Keep in mind all of the points below BEFORE you start stapling:
    • Before you fix fabric in place, test it out and make sure that all the visible bits look the way you want. This takes experimenting based on your frame, fabric and the look you’re going for. I folded my wide (54″) upholstery fabric over lengthwise for a tiny bit of softness. If you’re using batting to pad the valance, you want to test your folds over that the padded valance.

      Here's me messing around with draping the fabric. An inelegant process . . .
      Here’s me messing around with draping the fabric. An inelegant process . . .
    • Pull fabric taut on all visible arts. If you have to compromise, make sure the most visible parts are the most taut.
    • If folds will be visible, make them on the sides, avoid the front, which should be smooth.
    • Here is where you could also add padding (from batting) and use adhesive spray instead of — or in addition to — staples. I didn’t do either, just doubled my fabric over and stapled it. The DIY Network tutorial shows this process.
    • Plan that fabric will cover the inside of the valance box as well as the outside. The goal is to have it look finished if you actually happen to look up inside the valance, though most of the time, no one in the world will do this (and also, if you’re mounting drapes under the valance, it will be hard to see).
    • Once you’re sure all the outside bits are well covered and the inside looks okay, carefully cut away extra fabric inside the folds to reduce the bulk.
    • Staples should be all on the inside of the valance frame, where they will not be seen. I was A BIT CASUAL about my stapling, forgetting that you’d be able to see inside the valance at close inspection. So I ended up with a few visible staples.

      Up close you can see the staples if you peer inside the valance. I've decided not to redo it but I would be more careful next time.
      Up close you can see the staples if you peer inside the valance. I’ve decided not to redo it but I would be more careful next time.
  14. Optional: spray fabric with Scotchguard or waterproofing spray.  I did two coats, just to make dusting / cleaning the valance easier.  I figure the coating will make it more difficult for dust and dander to embed themselves. If you’re not sure how your fabric will react to waterproofing, always test it first.
  15. Place the valance on top of the L brackets and center. Next, secure it by screwing the 1/2″ screws into the holes on top of the L bracket.
  16. Take a picture of your valance and send it to me.
    Here's the valance mounted. Again, sorry it's so dark! This photo is in daylight, with lights turned on and the flash going. And yes, that is the best giant squid in the world in the corner.
    Here’s the valance mounted. Again, sorry it’s so dark! This photo is in daylight, with lights turned on and the flash going. And yes, that is the best giant squid in the world in the corner.

    Another dark shot - sorry! But it kind of shows how the valance creates a more finished look over the cheap blinds.
    Another dark shot – sorry! But it kind of shows how the valance creates a more finished look over the cheap blinds. And that you can’t really see the inside staples unless you’re one of those people looking for problems. (If that’s you, my house won’t disappoint!)

So that’s it. It’s not the most exciting fabric covered valance I’ve seen but it does just what I hoped. Now the window looks finished and intentional without pointlessly clamoring to be the center of attention. Because obviously, the giant squid has that locked down.

Janky looking cheap blinds on the picture window. Sorry it's so dark but this is the room with the lights on!

Here's the valance mounted. Again, sorry it's so dark! This photo is in daylight, with lights turned on and the flash going. And yes, that is the best giant squid in the world in the corner.
Again, here’s the before and after . . . just a subtle bit of luxe.

Have you made a valance from scratch? Would you do it again?

 

Look Out For Loons! Router-free Thrifty Frame!

At a yard sale recently I picked up this vintage plastic sign. A fan of yellow and red together, I thought it could brighten my basement study. Plus remind me and the Mints to look out for loons.

Plastic yard sale sign, salvaged from a program in Maine sometime in the past.
Plastic yard sale sign, salvaged from a program in Maine sometime in the past.

Ana White has a post called “Build a Barnwood Frame – $1 and 10 Minutes” that had caught my eye.  I was excited about it because while I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making a frame, I don’t have a router, which every other frame plan seems to call for. Though I was pretty sure it would cost me more than a buck and ten minutes, it seemed perfect for this. As usual, the plans were helpful and easy though it took me more than 10 minutes. For details, be sure to check  the Ana White website.

I’d already splashed out a $1.50 for the picture, so I was happy to find scrap 1×2 pieces in the lumber pile that would work for this. No pieces were long enough to frame the whole picture so I’d need to trim it to keep it cheap. I also already had leftover paint, nails and staples.

Once I figured out how much lumber I had — and how big the frame could be, it was time to start doing the miter cuts. I’m prone to errors so that meant measure thrice and do the big pieces first. The biggest pieces will be the outer frame so account for that in cutting.

Next I laid out the pieces against the picture to make sure they’d fit.

After I cut each piece, I laid it on top of the picture, pre-trimming, to make sure it would work.
After I cut each piece, I laid it on top of the picture, pre-trimming, to make sure it would work.
OK! Four sides done.

Next it was time to whip out that brad nailer and wood glue. Once the corners were clampled together, it was time to pop in the brads. Either my skills are getting better or I was lucky because this time, I only had to extract a couple of misfired nails!Clamping

Wood filler was next, to smooth out all those awkward gaps. My frame was going to be painted so I felt free to enthusiastically ladle it on.

Wood filler making the gaps disappear.
Wood filler making the gaps disappear!

Once it was dry, I sanded it well so it would be smooth for painting. It’s important to do this step now because once it’s joined to the outer frame, it’s hard to get to the very edges.

Now it was time to build the outer frame. This baby lines up perpendicular to the inner frame so it was a similar process, with the wood flipped onto its sides instead of laying it flat. Again, the Ana White plans have the details on getting it done.

Next it was time to build the outer frame.
Next it was time to build the outer frame.

Before cutting, it’s important to measure a couple of times and size it against the inner frame as you go. The two frames fitted together will look like the pic below. Remember that the outer frame is going to be about 1.5″ bigger than the inside frame.

Inner frame fit into the outer one.
Inner frame fit into the outer one.

When you join them, the inner frame needs to be a little inset — perhaps a fourth or half inch — so there’s a little lip. You don’t want it set too far in — for example, flush to the back — because you need room to mount the picture inside. Remember, there’s no router in this project so the outside/inside frame approach is how you get the inset you’d normally create with a router.

Note: my project didn’t call for glass inside the frame but you could use this approach to do it.

Attached framesOnce they’re joined, there’s more wood filler and sanding in your future. Because it was getting painted, I was an enthusiastic user of my random orbital sander.

Here's what it looks like pre-paint.
Here’s what it looks like pre-paint.
And now with paint.
And now with paint.

Gotta love paint. Keeps the rustic look and hides all the ugly. Once painted, I sprayed the frame with some Varathane. It wouldn’t change the rustic look too much and would make it a lot easier to dust . . .

Attach picture to frame.
Attach picture to frame.

I taped the top of the picture in and then just stapled it to the inner frame. I put dishcloth covered blocks under the inner frame before stapling — didn’t want the pressure of the staple gun to dislodge the inner frame (the dishcloths were for padding so it wouldn’t mark the painted frame).

Once that looked good, I FINALLY cut the bottom of the plastic picture off and stapled that in too.

Done!
Done! And if you look closely at the bottom right, you can see one of my misfire gouges. Good thing we’re calling this look “rustic.”

And now here it is in situ.

In situ. And an important warning when you come down the stairs. You never know where loons will lurk.
In situ. And an important warning when you come down the stairs. You never know where loons will lurk.

Plastic yard sale loon sign, salvaged from somewhere in Maine.

What about you? Have you tried making a frame before? Successes? Failures? Other ideas or plans for a router-free frame? Next I’m going to try this one with a fabric picture . . .

DIY Basement Wall Storage Unit

Once I’d got a bedroom wall removed as part of my basement upgrade, it was time to think about improving function. I wanted storage, a place for my books, and for all that to be out of the way. Time for a basement built-in!

Relying heavily on this article about built-in bookcases from the Instructables, I mapped out the plan.

The spot I chose for the the built in was the far wall of the basement. Adjacent to that wall was a closet, with doors that started about 15 inches from the wall. It also extended to a window, which started about 20 inches from the wall, so it was a sort of narrow strip.

The built in would go against the far wall.
The built in would go against the far wall.

It seemed destined for a built-in. 15 inches is not a lot of space but not blocking the closet was essential. So it was basically going to be wasted space unless a built-in could go there. The built-in would also be drawing space from the long side of the room, far better than cutting into the narrow part.

Originally I thought about simple floor to ceiling bookcases. These would have been the most inexpensive option. Yet, I live with cats. Though mostly well-behaved, we have the occasionally rage moment. So the base of whatever storage I implemented needed to be closed, protecting whatever was inside from possible bad behavior.

I did consider building my own base units. As part of the Interim Kitchen project, I’d built an appliance cabinet from scratch (article coming soon!). A great experience, it came with some lessons.

First was cost. It’s just not always cheaper to build than buy, especially when your aesthetic is simple and clean. And your budget is cheap. Another lesson was about time investment. Building a cabinet is fun, but requires care and some precision. I wanted to get this unit built quickly, so I could unpack my books and just get organized.

Palette-wise, I was going for light and bright to lighten the basement. Cabinets would be a conventional white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It would work instantly with the yellow-red colors I planned for the basement, and in the future if I changed up the color scheme. So painted white wood seemed right.

For the base cabinets, I settled on four of these upper cabinets from Home Depot. Though you can get already-white stock cabinets, they seemed to shiny and laminate like to me. I wanted the white of painted wood in exactly the white I was using in the rest of the house. These cabinets would be 12″ deep, 30″ tall and 30″ wide. These seem to go on sale every now and then so if you’re diving into a project like this one, start lurking around for that 20% off sale.

30x30x12 in. Wall Cabinet in Unfinished Oak

I laid out the cabinets with a frame made of 2×4 against the wall and cut away the carpet in that spot. Score! That carpet was used to patch the carpet from the wall removal part of this project.  Since these are usually wall cabinets, there’s no clearance between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor. The 2×4 frame gives the cabinets that clearance, plus a little height, stability, and level consistency. I painted the cabinets first outside and then got the bases installed.

Base cabinets installed.
Base cabinets installed.

Next it was time to do a top counter. Functioning as the bookcase base, it needed to be wider than the 12″ cabinet depth, but smaller than the 15″ allowance wall-to-closet clearance. This was easily accomplished by asking the home store guys to cut the panels to the right width, and finishing it with a nicely sanded 1×2.

Base to ceiling bookcase supports to go up but before that, I wanted to do something interesting for the the wall behind the bookcases. Wallpaper seemed like too much work and commitment. Armed with my with fabric, liquid starch and a roller, I got started. For the details on my fabric-as-wallpaper, go here.

Ten minutes later (literally), it looked like this:

Cabinet top/bookcase base.

For once I was kind of excited by these low ceilings because my 54″ fabric panel installed without cutting or piecing.

Next it was time to put up the rails / sides of the bookcases. In my ideal world, they’d go floor to ceiling and line up with the cabinets. Here’s a summary of the basic steps:

  • Cut the boards to measure.
  • Paint them.
  • Drill holes inside the bookshelf sides. Use a pegboard for very easy spacing. These holes are going to be where you insert shelf spacers so make the hole size right for your pegs.
  • Drill pocket hole screw spots at top and bottom of each side.
  • Mount top of shelf to two sides using pocket hole screws. Check to be sure it’s square.
  • Mount 3/4 box onto top of shelf base using pocket hole screws.

First bookcase rail in!

  • Next it was time to install the additional side. It’s essentially like the first box, only this time it’s an L and not a U since two sides of the box are already in.
    Another side in, eyeballing the placement of the other sides.
    Another side in, eyeballing the placement of the other sides.

     

  • Once all the sides are in, it’s time to cut, paint and insert shelves.
Time to test an actual shelf.
Time to test an actual shelf. Not the un-built area to the left? That’s because there are some utility panels that I couldn’t cover up.
Finished bookcase.
Finished bookcase.

2014-04-26 22.41.48

And here it is, finally! Tons of storage.

Doing it again, I wouldn’t do the project exactly as I did this time. Here are some lessons learned:

  1. Kinda wished I’d been even cheaper and looked at the ReStore for upper cabinets to use. I only needed 12 feet of upper cabinets to get this going. As used cabinets, uppers are often great condition and would have reduced project cost significantly.
  2. Check all the cabinets at the store. Or as soon as you get home. One of the cabinets has a gap between the doors that just bugs me. It’s small, and I couldn’t see it when I pulled the unit, which was packaged. Didn’t notice it until I was ready to install all the units and unwrapped it then. Urg. At that point, I was in GET IT DONE mode and just didn’t want to go back to the store. Now it’s there forever and will always bug me a little, even if no one else notices it.
  3. Have the patience to redo it. I messed up a little on the trim of the cabinet topper. This is another thing that only I seem to notice. Wish I’d had the patience at the time to rip it all apart and do it again, properly.
  4. Make thicker shelves: I cheaped out and used 1/2″ shelf plywood. I wish I’d gone with a thicker shelf, and a better, smoother grade of plywood. It would cost more, but I’d like it better. For now, I’m okay with my thin plywood shelves, even if they’re bowing a little.
  5. Maybe upgrade the quality overall. I was thinking basement/second-best materials for this basement storage unit. Sometimes I wish I’d gone for slightly higher quality in my materials. Other times it seems just right to me. Always I am so glad I had the chance to learn on this project.

What do you think? Have you made a built in? What would you do differently? For more on how the whole basement upgrade is going, check here.

 

Basement Upgrade: Family Room & Study

I think of my basement as “The Bunker,” maybe because this house was built in 1947, and I imagined the first owners thinking they’d use it to hide out from the A-bomb. I used that to infuse it with a more useful floor plan and a warmer vibe.

But before it got there, that basement needed help. Dark and depressing, with boxed up spaces, I needed it to evolve into a useful, inviting space that could also handle overflow guests. This meant multiple, incremental projects which are listed below. Please stay tuned as more below segments go live.

An Inviting Basement Stairwell

Lightening Up the Basement: Wall Removal

Color Choices

DIY Built-In Storage Cabinet

Fabric Wallpaper

Chalk Painted Electric Fireplace

Storage Daybed in the Study

Thrifted High End Blind

Tour

Have you upgraded a basement? Triumphs and disasters? Please tell all.

 

Nearly Worthless Planter

Once I mostly painted the Minnipin House, I turned my attention to other outdoor aesthetics. There’s no one who’d call my front yard a showpiece but I’m trying to improve things incrementally.

First up was the undistinguished front stoop. It looked better than it did pre-paint but needed a little gravitas. Or drama. Or something. So I poked about and stumbled on Ana White’s Frame & Panel Planter Plan.  That inspired me build a tall, painted planter for the stoop. Topped with an old topiary frame, I’d say it generally worked out OK, though I’m still waiting on my vine hydranga to blossom.

Here's the undistinguished front stoop with the first Ana White plan tall planter
Here’s the undistinguished front stoop with the first Ana White plan tall planter

Still the stoop looked . . . incomplete. Because of mailbox placement, I didn’t want to try to match the existing planter exactly in terms of height, but it needed something. And I did have a second swirly trellis that I wanted to do something with, but I just wasn’t sure what. Deep in No Spend Spring, this project seemed to be on endless hold.

Sorting wood in the garage the other day, I made a pile of leftover outdoor wood, mostly bits of fir and cedar and some mystery stuff that had clearly lived outside for a time. As part of No Spend Spring, I’d already used some old fence tips to make a rustic succulent planter but until I started really looking at the pile, had assumed I didn’t really have enough to do a larger, more distinguished looking planter that would sort of match the one already in place on the front stoop.

Also, I was guilty of doing that silly thing where you assume you need to use all the same kinds of materials to make something great. I didn’t have enough fir for a whole big planter. Or enough cedar. Or enough mystery outside wood. Or any 1x3s. But combining the scraps? Making it smaller? And painting my standard accent black it so the differences in wood would be invisible? Possible!

Outdoor-suitable scrap lumber pile.
Outdoor-suitable scrap lumber pile.

So that was my first near-miss opportunity. Time to eyeball it, measuring again and again.

I looked back onto the Ana White plans to refresh the project in my mind. I’d try to make this one look like a shorter version of my original. I scanned the recipe and got to work.

Because I wasn’t using the plan’s exact measurements, I decided to cut all the big pieces first and just make sure I had enough scraps as I went along. There would be just enough leftover cedar and fir pieces if I went for a 15″ height. 15″ would give me enough of a rise for sweet potato vine to tumble prettily over the stoop. I could stick something in the middle to go up and climb over my second swirly trellis. I also decided vary from the plan by using only salvaged 1x2s, and not any 1x3s, which I didn’t have anyway.

Here’s how all that cutting played out.

Side panels of fir and cedar.

Side panels of fir and cedar. Rails of 1x2s salvaged from another disaster project.

Panels with frame pieces
Panels with frame pieces
Things to watch out for: salvaged wood missing pieces, unextracted nails or screws
Things to watch out for in salvaged wood missing pieces, unextracted nails or screws

Next I used the trusty pocket hole jig to make the frames. So proud of myself! I actually remembered to  make sure the crappy, damaged parts of the wood faced inside the planter, where they’d never be seen. And I remembered that two panels needed to be 1.5″ wider than the other two.

Pocket holing the frame pieces
Pocket holing the frame pieces
Imperfect sides need to face inside the planter.
Imperfect sides need to face inside the planter.

Now it was time to nail the cedar fence planks to the frames . . . and I discovered I’d cut them too short. Like seriously too short. Impossibly too short. Hard to salvage too short. Why didn’t I read the plan more carefully? Too damned short. Argh!

No! Oh no! My planks are too short for my frames. I JUST MEASURED WRONG. ALL ON ME. ALL OF IT.
No! Oh no! My planks are too short for my frames. I JUST MEASURED WRONG. ALL ON ME. ALL OF IT.

At this point I was seriously tempted to just go buy a few more cedar fence planks. They’re pretty cheap when you’re only buying 2-3; my cost would be $5-$7.50. But that would be the opposite of the spirit of the project and a direct violation of my No Spend Spring commitment and all the things I’ve been learning. If nothing else, I know myself well enough to know that every time I looked at that planter, it would bug.

Humph.

The frames could be cut down. I could turn them into a 12″ frame instead of the 15″ I was going for. That would change the look not for the better. And, for once I’d let my frames set up properly so the glue and screws were just about perfect. Busting them apart to whop 2-3″ from the frames would be tedious, would damage the wood even more. And I just didn’t want to.

This is the point in time where it’s a really good idea to take a long, tall drink of water and do something else for a time. Deep breaths. Just because my easy project didn’t turn out easy . . . well, it could be abandoned. No one but me would know. Or I could blow the budget. Or I could figure something else out.

The issue was mounting the fence planks when they were too short to stick onto the frame. And coming up with something that wouldn’t shorten the frame.

Hmm. The stubby cedar & fir planks did have middles! A bar across the middle of the frame could solve that. And I did have enough leftover 1×2″ to make four little bars. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t going to exactly match the look of the bigger planter but painted black, it wouldn’t be jarring. I can live without matchy matchy as long as I can get some harmony going.

Here's a frame with the unplanned middle bar added.
Here’s a frame with the unplanned middle bar added.
Here's the assembled planter with the middle bar holding the panels onto the side.
Here’s the assembled planter with the middle bar holding the panels onto the side. Mind those gaps! If you look closely, you can see that my panels don’t go all the way up the frames.

The end result was a little wobbly. You can see some air at the top, where the planks aren’t big enough. I decided that should work okay because I’d be lining the planter with black landscape fabric so the gaps would hopefully sort of disappear. And the weight of the dirt would stabilize the wobble a bit. This planter wasn’t going to move around basically ever, so this precarious plan might not be so ridiculous.

 

Yes, you can see air between the top of the frame and the panels. Not ideal but my reality.
Yes, you can see air between the top of the frame and the panels. Not ideal but my reality. This pic also shows the slats inserted into the planter to save dirt.

Though 15″ tall, I wanted a shallower planter because I’m pretty parsimonious about dirt. I really am. If I have extra good quality dirt, I want it to go into raised bed vegetables or as many containers as possible. So I used some scrap 2x2s to create a ridge and nail in some slats, making the planting depth about 8 inches.

I inserted 2x2s in the corners to provide a ridge for the inside slats and add a little stability.
I inserted 2x2s in the corners to provide a ridge for the inside slats and add a little stability.

Now it was time to add the top ridge, which would help the cosmetics quite a bit. Unfortunately, I’d used up so much of my scrap 1×2, there would not be enough to do the whole rim. Time to patch the little left over gap.

Here's the patched top edge.
Here’s the patched top edge.

This is what I ended up with. Made from salvaged wood, it was — and still is — riddled with holes from extracted screws and brads. This is the point where you’re supposed to whip out the hole filler and get to work.

Here's the assembled leftover/salvaged wood planter, riddled with holes and dings from
Here’s the assembled leftover/salvaged wood planter, riddled with holes and dings from assembly and past lives. Ready for paint!

Only I couldn’t. Because I’m out of that stuff and we’re in No Spend Spring. So I got to work with my left over black SharkSkin Deck and Siding Stain, hoping for the best. While that stuff doesn’t totally fill in gouges in a beat up deck, it does have a smoothing over effect.

And this is the result.

 

Here's the finished salvaged planter. That's sweet pea climbing inside the trellis.
Here’s the finished salvaged planter. That’s sweet pea climbing inside the trellis.
Here's a looking down view. I yanked some sweet pea from one of the window boxes to climb through the trellis. I'm hoping the sweet potato vine in two colors will spill prettily down the stoop. I think it's  pretty hard to see where I patched the top rim of the planter.
Here’s a looking down view. I yanked some sweet pea from one of the window boxes to climb through the trellis. I’m hoping the sweet potato vine in two colors will spill prettily down the stoop. I think it’s pretty hard to see where I patched the top rim of the planter.

 

Here's the undistinguished front stoop with the first Ana White plan tall planter
A look back at the before.
Here it is with two semi-matching planters and topiaries.
Here it is with two semi-matching planters and topiaries.

 

And here's the stoop with the flag flying.
And here’s the stoop with the flag flying. We’re ready for 4th of July now!

So, I am pleased to have moved these outdoor wood scraps into being something useful, that gives the front stoop a little more balance. And I think that the middle bar I had to use essentially disappears painted black.

I still have dreams of a bigger front stoop, the kind you can put a rocker on. And railings. And a lot of other things. But this is it for now.

What do you think? What would you have done differently (besides measure twice)? Is the stoop now too matchy matchy? Should I paint the concrete dark gray (that’s what the concrete base of the house is painted.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Extra Long Shower Curtain – Stamped Sea Monster!

When I remodeled my tiny main bathroom, I raised the shower rod, as high as possible. Two reasons: that’s nicer for tall people and I think it makes the space look more spacious. That meant that the existing outer cotton shower curtain looked stupid. It barely skimmed the top of the tub.

Time to go long. My options were:

  1. Ignore it and try not to let it bug me
  2. Add an extension to the existing curtain
  3. Buy a new, extra long shower curtain
  4. Make one

Options 1-2 just weren’t going to work. The bathroom was hardworking enough. It deserved a little pretty, not a makeshift or almost good look. Also, I was feeling lazy seamstress-wise.

Option 3 was a no go because when it comes to things like shower curtains, I can be seriously cheap. And if I am going to spend money, I want exactly what I want. Shopping about for extra long shower curtains gave me some serious sticker shock. Also, I didn’t really like anything I found. Spending money on ick, well, that would be icky.

Option 4 took a bit of thinking. I really was NOT IN THE MOOD to sew anything.

Still, I had to size the project. Shower curtains typically measure 72×72″ (sometimes 74″). I wanted something that was roughly 72×82.” Wide fabric comes in at about 54″ pre-shrinkage, so just not wide enough without a seam. With seams and hems, I’d need six yards of something. At $3-$5 per yard for cottons that I didn’t loathe, the shower curtain was costing $18-$30 to start.

I thought about a tablecloth, repurposed. Poking about, pretty vintage ones were pricey. New cheap ones were too poly for me. And still pricey.

Then it hit me. A full size flat sheet might do the trick. At 81×96,” it would certainly be wide enough. So the center seam issue would be solved pretty easily.  That said, it would still be slightly large. Folding, I thought, would solve the issue.  The sheet could be folded at the top to offer whatever length was necessary. Width wise, I could either space out the typical 12 grommet holes wider than normal, or I could fold again at one end. So, folding a double size flat sheet it would be. Since I had none, I hit Target because they offer 300 thread count cotton sheets at $11.99. I went for white but there were other pretty colors.

Next came the grommets. Now, the biggest problem with doing grommets is once you start, you don’t want to stop. Self discipline is called for. And offering to make grommety things to everyone you know. For this project, I went for big grommets because I like that look and it would fit my fat shower rod hooks. Joanne was my source. Using coupons, one grommet kit and one set of additional grommets cost me about $10 (the kit comes with about eight, and a typical shower curtain needs 12 grommets. For my folding strategy, I needed 13.). Note: Joanne Fabric’s site doesn’t show all the grommets they offer online. Cool tip: Grommets in the sewing section are slightly cheaper than the ones in the drapery section.

Here’s the blow-by-blow on getting it done.

Budget: Less than $25 for the basics, if you get your grommets with coupons and buy an inexpensive sheet. If you don’t have stamps and ink on hand already, that will be an additional cost.

  1. Gather what you need:
    • Full length sheet
    • Grommet kit and enough grommets for your shower rod hooks (usually 12 for the hooks but you will need a 13th as well). Choose grommets that offer a fat enough hole for your hooks
    • Hammer and solid surface for pounding (concrete steps are ideal)
    • Stamps and fabric ink pads for stamping your curtain
    • Iron, for assisting with the top fold and setting the stamps
    • Pencil
  2. Launder: washing and drying the sheet is necessary. It will shrink a little and you’ll want to wash it every month anyway. If it’s super wrinkly and you’re going to stamp, you’ll want to get the wrinkles out. This was not necessary with my Target sheet. Plus I like the slightly wrinkly look of cotton.
  3. Fold: The top of the sheet with the fat white hem became the bottom of the curtain. This means the top of the curtain would be the bottom of the sheet. Fold the bottom of the sheet over so that the total folded length will be length you want. Iron the fold.
  4. Space & mark: Using your old shower curtain or liner, space out the the grommet holes and mark them with a pencil. Make an x, don’t make a heavy mark or then you have to get rid of it later. Add a 13th grommet hole at the end of the shower curtain.
  5. Pound your first hole. Pound one grommet hole through the top folded section (so you’re going through two pieces of fabric). Do the side that will be seen the least, just in case you get the spacing wrong. The grommet kit will show you had to do this and there are a ton of examples online. It’s so easy and fun!
  6. Test: Hang up the sheet to check that the length is right. Really, do this. It can go wrong.
  7. Finish pounding: Once you have the right, pound the rest of your holes. Make sure you’re consistent. You want the grommets on each side to look like they match.
  8. Hang your curtain. Fold that leftover end over so you have two grommets hanging on the 12th hook.
  9. Contemplate the design you want to stamp.
  10. Be arty: Take the curtain down and stamp it. I wanted something simple and subtle so I made a border of sea monsters at the bottom in a sea blue. The always wonderful LuLu improved this by stamping bubbles randomly over the rest of it in two other blues. Also, she did some stamping at the top to disguise my bad pencil marks that wouldn’t wash out. It’s perfect for me, both fresh and subtle. Glancing at it, you basically see a white cotton shower curtain. Up close, you get fun surprises.
  11. Cure & set: Let it cure for 24 hours and then iron it. This sets the fabric ink so it won’t run when you wash it again. Hang it back up. You’re done!

 

At casual glance, it looks like a simple white shower curtain
At casual glance, it looks like a simple white shower curtain
Up close, you see bubbes
Up close, you see bubbles

 

 

And sea monsters!
And sea monsters!

 

 

 

$5 Thrifted Wall Mirrors

I think this’ll be an ongoing post. I like mirrors, and I like them cheap. The challenge I’m giving myself is to find mirrors for under $5 that I can use to brighten this low-ceilinged house.

Red chalk paint, Volcano candle, two of my favorite things.
Red chalk paint, Volcano candle, two of my favorite things.

This was an estate sale seventies “rustic” piece in beat up wood. Now it’s adding a little light to the basement. $5.

Entry way mirror. Maybe I could add some gravitas with a better ribbon?
Entry way mirror. Maybe I could add some gravitas with a better ribbon?

Not ornate, this is one of my few brand new purchases. The need was for a tiny, functional entryway mirror. 2.50 at Michael’s with coupon.

The squid makes the mirror, right?
The squid makes the mirror, right?

Got this at an estate sale. Beat up wood. Silver spray paint adds a little light and fun for the guest room. $5.

90s maple mirror with steel shelf.
90s maple mirror with steel shelf.

Garage sale find. Was thinking of painting over the 90s maple veneer but I’m thinking it’s got a nice, light warmth to it that’s right to help warm up the basement bedroom. This might be one where my only upgrade was to clean it.  Note the little built in shelf, which I think can be a good charging station for guests. $5.

What are your rules for buying mirrors? Should I paint up this last one?

 

 

Refreshing the Step-In Master Closet

This cute little 1947 cottage has a nice-for-the-era-and-social-standing-sized master bedroom with a (same as above, can’t write it all out again) similar closet. At best, you could call it a step-in closet because at 4 1/2 x3 1/2,’ stepping in is about all you could do. Also, it was painted a dingy mushroomy color, generally insalubrious.

I kind of thought it was hopeless and not functional and then I started reading about the Konmari method of organizing things. I’d applied it to my dressers outside the closet already (not the way the book advises) to great effect and thought, why not give it a whack?

I'd already done a partial Konmari purge, which is why the uppers are no longer jammed. Still, a dingy depressing closet
I’d already done a partial Konmari purge, which is why the uppers are no longer jammed. Still, a dingy depressing closet
Fist I tried adding more shelving (see below) to see if that would improve things.
First I tried adding more shelving (see below) to see if that would improve things.
See the hanging sweater organizer? All those t shirts are now in the little dresser, thanks to konmarie!
See the hanging sweater organizer? All those t shirts are now in the little dresser, thanks to Konmari!

Lighting: the probably-original-to-the-house jar light was just there, flickering on in a dingy way. Couldn’t do much in the budget and with the low ceiling height, at least for now. Switched out the low energy bulb for a conventional one.  Instant cheer! Not the most eco solution but since this guy is turned on for maybe 30 seconds in any given day, I’m going to indulge myself here. That only took two years to figure out.

Color: Donna Frasca’s article convinced me that most of my closets should be a light neutral. The dank mushroom color wasn’t uplifting in any way so I trekked down to the basement to see what I had on hand. (Buying paint is off limits this No Spend Spring.) I did find an unopened gallon of pretty ballet pink. I’d picked it up for $5 at the ReStore, last September. I figured if I couldn’t use the pink, I could re-tint it. Couldn’t resist the quality (Behr Premium Plus Ultra) for $5! The closet would be pink. Trim would be my standard Kelly-Moore Country Cotton.

2015-05-26 16.48.48

$5 paint from the ReStore
$5 paint from the ReStore

Dresser color: I also had an old plastic dresser I’d bought whilst waiting six months to get my furniture moved here. It was supposed to go to the garage (Lowes sold it as garage storage) but it proved too useful in the closet. A dingy grey, it just needed a little refresh. I painted the drawers with two thin coats of high adhesive primer (Zissner BullsEye 1-2-3), and then my standard house white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It looked okay-ish, but not especially pretty.

Sadly, this paint job was not a success. It instantly chipped (ok, I did drop a drawer). I think I’d have better luck with a spray on plastic paint primer and a spray color but this is No Spend Spring so that will have to wait.

Here's the ugly plastic dresser, actually super functional
Here’s the ugly plastic dresser, actually super functional

Konmari: I’m hunting for a way to talk about this method that won’t make me sound like a groupie! Seriously, organizing my clothes this way has given me more storage and more access than I’ve had in years.

Also, I got rid of three bins of clothes I could never get to. These bins just sat up top of the closet, sort of out of sight, which means the sweaters I loved in them were out of mind. Now the keepers are integrated into my regular drawers and a couple of items have been donated. I love empty bins!

Now, in the spirit of honesty, this little closet doesn’t hold everything for me. It sure holds more than it did but I’ve got serious business clothes, out of season coats, and evening dresses in another closet. I don’t use them a lot but am not ready to part with them. Also, I keep most of my shoes by the front door. The shoes stored in this closet are rarely used. If this were a more modern closet size, I’d probably be able to get everything in.

Added storage: I wanted to add another layer of shelving over the top shelf. Stacking things high wasn’t working; it all just sort of topples. I didn’t want to buy any brackets and shelving (yup, No Spend Spring Strikes again) but I did have something that could work.

The pictured plank had been the top of a busted bookcase. I planned to re-purpose it as a shoe rack and so had added some legs from the wood pile. But my wall shoe rack project rendered it totally unnecessary so it was just sitting there. It wasn’t quite the right size for the closet — two inches short. But I decided that was okay. Two lost inches is better than that vast stretch of unused space. It also turned out to be a little wide for the shelf. I handled that by just screwing it into the wall.

Here's the bookshelf top turned shoe rack turned closet shelf
Here’s the bookshelf top turned shoe rack turned closet shelf
Here's the too big shelving unit. It works ok on the other side, where the shelf is an L. Solution? Screw it into the wall. I could remove the leg but I don't want to in case someday I remove it and use it as a shoe rack
Here’s the too big shelving unit. It works okay on the other side, where the shelf is an L. Solution? Screw it into the wall. I could remove the leg but I don’t want to in case someday I remove it and use it as a shoe rack

So here’s what we ended up with:

See how the dank mushroom turns green against the pink paint
See how the dank mushroom turns green against the pink paint
It's pink! If a closet can't be a happy pink, what can?
It’s pink! If a closet can’t be a happy pink, what can?
Here's the closet with the badly painted dresser and laundry hamper loaded in
Here’s the closet with the badly painted dresser and laundry hamper loaded in
Here's the not-perfectly-fitting bookshelf/shoe rack mounted over the top shelf
Here’s the not-perfectly-fitting bookshelf/shoe rack mounted over the top shelf

2015-05-26 10.22.07

Here's the other angle. Might want to add another shelf to the L shelf someday
Here’s the other angle. Might want to add another shelf to the L shelf someday

 

It might be tiny but I like having a floor I can see
It might be tiny but I like having a floor I can see

So, what do you think? The space is so tiny, is it hard to see how it’s genuinely more functional now? Is art in a closet the silliest thing a person can do? What would you do differently (besides buy a house with bigger closets)?

$5 Mirror Makeover

I’m learning to thrift. That means evolving the way I think about value and need. It also means honing the ability to see good bones in pieces.

There’s a basement in this silly little egg house. It’s not naturally pretty so I’m on a mission to make it a warmer, more inviting space to be in. One item on my shopping list was inexpensive small mirrors with a little character. The goal: add interest, warmth, light.

I spotted this mirror at the same estate sale where I scored my barn door pulleys. Marked at $10, it just wasn’t the amazing find that the pulleys were so I reluctantly put it back.

It did have a 70s vibe I didn’t love with rustic wood and a primitive etched wood design. I did love the pretty edges, and was intrigued by the cutout that could be used as a candle holder.

Nice little rustic wood framed mirror with plant shelf
Nice little rustic wood framed mirror with plant shelf

2015-04-18 13.54.59

Many estate sales here do a half-off final day of sale and this one was no exception. I trotted back on the Sunday to see if the black hose I wanted was still there (nope), and saw that the mirror still was.

At $5 now, it was right priced for a little project.

Sanding, cleaning, DIY chalk paint and a little finishing wax later and voila!

Chalk paint to the rescue!
Chalk paint to the rescue!

This little guy sits on the wall between the basement guest room and the cat room. My hope is that the scented candle in my favorite scent (Volcano), will help manage the occasional cat odor that gets past the closed door. It’s a spark of cheery red against the pale yellow of the basement walls.

What do you think? What’s the right price for a thrifted mirror? What would you do differently?

 

45th Birthday Banner

My charming sister was having a 45th birthday party with the theme of 45s (records, people! vinyl!). She’s always had an inclusive, wide-ranging joy in all kinds of music, one of her many enchanting qualities. I couldn’t be there but it was essential to remind her how much she loves me. Enter the birthday banner! This one was easy and fun. And bonus! She cried when she opened it.

You could use this approach for any kind of birthday banner (and I did for a niece’s tiara banner). Here’s how to get this particular one done for maximum impact:

Budget: this was an affordable one because I had most of the supplies around already. I did spend about $3 on some polka dot sticker letters (coupon at Michael’s) and I had to mail the banner, I think for about $6.

Supplies:

  • Colored construction paper
  • Black construction paper
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Big sticky letters, enough to write out whatever message you want (scrapbook section of a craft store). Or you could use stencils.
  • Black sharpie
  • Black ribbon or butcher’s string
  • Big envelope if you’re going to send as a card

Get going:

  1. Go online and look up a list of hit songs by year. I like Wikipedia’s. Make a list of the top single for the year by year starting in the year that the birthday girl/boy was born.
  2. Pull out your construction paper and a large salad plate and a jar lid. Or your protractor. Whatever you can use to make a circle. You want a larger circle to be your record and a smaller one to be the label in the center so choose sizes that will be proportionate. Or, if you have an actual 45 around . . .
  3. Trace and cut out your big circles on the black construction paper. You will need:
    • 45 / one for each song +
    • one for each letter or character of your message +
    • one for each space you want to make
  4. Cut the same number of small colored circles. Use lighter colors because you’re going to write on each label. Plus you want it to show up against the black
  5. Write the year for the first year on the colored disc. Under it, write the name of the song, and then the artist. Or make clear labels on your computer to do the same.
  6. Repeat for each year. Keep an eye out for varying the color.
  7. Draw a little black circle in the middle of each “label.” You could also use premade circle stickers
  8. Glue each colored disc to the center of the bigger black disc.

    Here's a single
    Here’s a single. I’m sorry it’s upside down but you get the idea
  9. For your personalized message, glue a blank disc to the black discs, one for each character and spacers. My message was  “Happy 45 XXX {her initials}”
  10. Stick one of the sticky letters on each disc, keeping an eye on varying the color

    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
    Not sure if you can see it but this is what the discs with the message/letters look like
  11. Write a personal message on your very last disc. Mine said
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, Siggy
    You are a hit every year with me. Love, etc. (sorry, upside down again)

     

  12. Stack your entire banner in order. This is the hardest part. Position your message discs wherever it works for you. I went about 1/2 into the stack before the “Happy” part went in since I wanted to keep the whole message together but you could mix it up. End with the loving message designed to make your sister tear up.
  13. Punch two holes at the top of each disc, about 1″ down from the top. You’re going to string the banner ribbon through this so you want them wide-ish and positioned at the top
  14. Weave the string/ribbon through the two holes. For some reason it was easiest for me to start from the last disc. Make a loop to make it easy to hang at each end. Go for consistency: either weave the string so it shows on the front or back of all the discs. Make the discs so they overlap slightly but not too much. Your recipient can tighten them up if they want. If you need to add ribbon, just knot it behind one of the discs.

    Here's what the banner looks like strung. It's so long you can't really see it stretched out.
    Here’s what the banner looks like strung. It’s so long you can’t really see it stretched out. Jack Mint is wondering what’s in it for him.
  15. Carefully stack your binder and put it in a manilla or padded envelope. You’re done! Time to deliver!

Have you made a banner? What did you do? Other great birthday ideas?