A Farm Sink in Butcher Block for an English Country Kitchen

If you’re dissatisfied for any reason, I’ll repay you in acorns.

- Cletus

Coming up on a year ago, Helen and Geoff redid their kitchen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love the classic white-and-wood look, the wall of windows, and all the SPACE. It’s a huge kitchen, but still cozy.

Plus, it’s in Yorkshire, so it’s got that going for it.

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As if they ever weren’t!

Helen picked oak butcher block for her worktops. We thought seriously about using wood before we decided on quartz, so Helen has our alternative-reality counters. I was concerned about my personal ability to maintain them in my own kitchen, so I’ve been really interested to see how they would hold up for her — and especially how they would fare around her undermount farm sink.

The conventional wisdom says it can’t be done, but Helen’s undermount installation looks pretty dang good to me.

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All they use on the wood is boiled linseed oil (referred to as “BLO” on GardenWeb and other kitchen discussion boards) on the top and edges. I asked Helen how often they apply it, and she replied, “I would like to say every eight weeks, but in reality it’s closer to twelve.”

After some debate, Helen and Geoff had the installer cut a drainboard area on one side of the sink, and it’s not just decorative.

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They also have a dishwasher, so the drainboard handles small jobs.

The linseed oil just gets rubbed into the drainboard grooves at the same time as the rest of the wood. I love the look of the oiled wood against the white ceramic.

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Lookin’ good, Helen’s kitchen! If I didn’t love our quartz, I’d have some serious thinking to do.

Posted in Family, Kitchen, Repair & Maintenance | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Plug With a Wood Hat

After this procedure, you’ll have total closure.

- “Moving On” Tech

Our built-in cabinets in the living room have three ports for cords and cables. We tried to make these as unobtrusive as possible near the back of the unit.

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The two outside ports are dedicated to specific uses (the one behind the TV is certainly pulling its weight). We ran an extension cord down to the middle outlet and left the plug end above the top to power random items. I found this mildly unsightly, and stuck a clock in front of it, but it wasn’t really where the clock belonged.

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Plug with silly frog clock

The other issue is that it was easy for the end to slip through the hole, requiring a fishing expedition whenever we wanted to use the cord.

I was reorganizing the electronics the other day and I hit upon a solution to both problems. First, I measured across the hole corner-to-corner to find the longest part of the gap. Next, I cut a piece of thin matching (Douglas Fir) plywood into a square, so that each side was a bit longer than the corner-to-corner measurement to stop it from falling through the hole. I hit the top and sides with gel stain to match the built-in’s finish.

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White dots of unknown origin

Safety tangent on this point: I used the miter saw to cut the plywood square. On my first go, I didn’t properly clamp down the piece to be cut. When that miter saw blade hits a loose piece of wood, the wood basically explodes (not with FIRE, but it comes apart in a dramatic and shrapnel-like fashion). Thing one: YAY, safety googles. Thing two: Make sure you clamp or otherwise secure the wood you are cutting with a miter saw (or any other sort of saw, for that matter).

Back on topic: I stapled a length of ribbon to the underside.

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Then, I tied the ribbon below the extension cord plug (already threaded through the hole in the top).

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Don’t tie too tightly — you don’t want to kink the cord.

We saw Tim’s Vermeer recently (highly recommended — very entertaining), and this photo (of an extension cord plug) reminded me of Girl in a Red Hat. So I pranced around using the plug as a puppet, singing in faux Dutch.

vermeer red hat

Ik ben een stopcontact! Een vrij stopcontact!

Look, it’s winter. I have to keep myself amused.

ANYWAY, the little wood hat drops down on top of the hole and blends in visually. You can pull up the cord by just pulling up on the cover.

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From a distance, it blends into the background, no silly frog clock required.

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Easy and gratifying! Don’t forget to respect your power tools out there.

Posted in Before & After, D'oh!, Decor, Electrical | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Installing a Dishwasher (Confusing a Cat)

I’m alive! And I owe it all to this feisty feline.

- Homer Simpson

Our dishwasher was a dozen years old, so it was time for a new one.

Taking out the old dishwasher was simple. Back when we remodeled the kitchen, I installed an isolation valve on the water line to facilitate dishwasher removal. I was surprised and pleased to find that the valve still worked. The waste pipe was removed, and then I turned off the electrical supply, which is on a dedicated circuit.

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Water and electrical supply lines from the cabinet to the left. The upper hole is for the waste pipe.

 

The new dishwasher arrived, and the people who brought it hauled the old one away.

New dishwasher undergoing inspection process.

New dishwasher undergoing inspection process.

So, now all I had to do was install the new one. An easy process, and just the reverse of removing the old one.

This new waste pipe is flimsier than the old one, but I'm sure it's fine.

This new waste pipe is flimsier than the old one, but I’m sure it’s fine.

First, I hooked up the water and waste pipes and taped them to the floor next to the electrical wires, so they would be in place after the dishwasher had been pushed into position.

The waste pipe from the dishwasher connects to the sink waste pipe. The electrical outlet at lower right is on a dedicated circuit.

The waste pipe from the dishwasher (the corrugated pipe crossing from the upper right) connects to the sink waste pipe. The electrical outlet at the lower right is on a dedicated circuit.

The connections are all done at the bottom of the dishwasher near the front. There’s a removable front panel that is only held on with a couple of screws. Once it’s off, all the connections are easy to get to.

The waste pipe connects to a short pipe, and is held in place with a spring clip, and the water supply pipe is connected to the input via a brass elbow.

The waste pipe is connected and held in place with the green spring clip. The water supply pipe is above the waste pipe, and connected to the dishwasher by a brass elbow.

The waste pipe is connected and held in place with the green spring clip. The water supply pipe is above the waste pipe, and connected to the dishwasher by a brass elbow.

The electrical supply wires are connected inside a box at the front right.

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Once it was all connected, I attached the dishwasher to the underside of the countertop with screws. The dishwasher has some loops attached for this purpose. I made sure the front of the dishwasher was flat with the cabinet fronts. Then, I turned on the water supply, restored power to the electrical outlet, and put the front panel back on.

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Time for the test run, and it was all fine…except Mayya believes that there is a monster living in our kitchen now, because of some small animal-like noises that come from beneath the very quiet dishwasher. She’s keeping an eye on the situation.

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Five Home Purchases We Never Regretted

Please pay for your purchases and get out. And come again!

- Apu

It’s still unseasonably cold here–just stupidly cold for November–and I’ve never been more thankful for our super-thick goose-down duvet. If this duvet is anything to go by, geese must feel pretty comfortable in the cold. Except for their feet.

What the hell is this stuff? (via)

Look at my chilly foot. Look at it! (via)

After a few years of living in an old house in Minnesota, we splurged on the biggest, coziest duvet I could find. I ordered from Old Europe Duvet (which, unexpectedly, is actually a Canadian company).

We bought a king-sized (for a queen bed), 12″ deep goose down duvet. Instead of stitched-through cold spots, this thing has internal baffles so the whole thing fluffs up like an angry cat at the least shake. Over a dozen or so years, it does not seem to have lost much of its filling, and is just as great to snuggle into as it was when we got it–despite having been hauled in suitcases for transatlantic moves and used as a fort by nephews.

I’ve been trying to get ahead on the holiday shopping, so while I was appreciatively cowering under the duvet, I started thinking about other things we’ve bought for this place that turned out to be completely worth the price. While it’s this cold…

1. Extremely Cozy Down-Filled Duvet

…tops my list! This duvet is maybe more of an investment than a gift (or a REALLY GREAT gift). But if you are looking for something more affordable and yet completely terrific, how about these?

2. Silicon Oven Mitts

We’ve always cooked a lot, but silicon oven gloves made cooking better.

Norpro Oven Mitt

Norpro Oven Mitt (ours are red, though)

If you are a messy cook like me (not like Kevin — he’s more pro than I am), it’s easy for a fabric oven pad to get wet and a wet oven mitt lets the heat straight through. Plus fabric is bulky to store and wears thin. Silicon is a better insulator, and getting wet is no problem (although you might want a seamless molded pair for canning if you are into that). Plus, they just seem indestructible. I like our Norpro mitts because the raised pattern gives extra grip. You can find silicon oven gloves online, in kitchen shops, and in big box stores. They are cheap — $10-20 range — but awesome. Plus, you regain a lot of kitchen drawer space.

3. Shower Wall Bar

I’m not sure how gift-y this is. You’d have to know the recipient well. Probably, you’d have to be living with him or her. If you are doing so, and if the would-be recipient likes showers, consider this:

We have a similar Delta model in our main bathroom. A builder friend suggested it, saying it would make us “feel rich.” I was skeptical that spending $90 was going to make me feel anything other than that much poorer, but I looove it. The detachable shower head is nice, but the bar is the cool thing. The sturdy mount for the shower head can be repositioned all along the bar by simply sliding it. And the angle can be changed at any level. Kev’s tall and I am not, so he wants the shower much higher than I do. With this thing, that’s no problem. We got ours at Lowe’s, but any of the likely suspects should have something similar.

4. Decorative Rain Gauge

If you garden, you know it’s important to have a clue about precipitation. A few years ago, the Kev gave me the World’s Coolest Rain Gauge. That’s the actual product name. While I haven’t seen ALL the rain gauges, this one is pretty dang cool.

World's Coolest Rain Gauge

World’s Coolest Rain Gauge

It’s really well made, which is not something I knew I wanted in a rain gauge, but life is full of surprises! The basin is solid copper, and the stand is heavy-duty. The gauge itself is a float inside the copper tube; as the rain collects, the float moves up. It’s pretty accurate, and when it hasn’t rained, it’s a nice garden ornament. The website now has a freestanding version, and the company is going to be bringing out resin gauges next year. These can be found on Amazon, Uncommon Goods, and garden sites online (look around, because I’ve seen them from $30 to $50).

5. Marble Cheese Board

Ok, I started to make this one “miter saw” because that’s one power tool that really makes me feel like I know what I’m doing! A high-quality miter saw is a fine thing, but it’s probably something you buy for yourself. A marble cheese board, on the other hand, is an affordable (and less injury-related) gift.

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This cheese board and knife set is currently on mega-sale at Macy’s: $27.99 down from $70

We have a white marble cheese board we received as a gift sometime last century. Even if we’re just having some nibbles, it lends a sense of occasion. And marble is great for cheese at parties — it stays cool so soft cheeses keep their shapes better. Durable, classic, functional, and a great gift. Marble cheese boards look expensive, but you can pick them up for around $20 without looking too hard (try Amazon and Overstock).

By the way, this is not a sponsored post; if we ever do a sponsored post, we’ll give you a big tap-dancing, spoon-playing, bells-and-whistles notice! We just like these things, and if you are looking for gift ideas, these are good ones that stand the test of time.

Posted in Bathroom, Decor, Food & Drink, Kitchen | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roman Shade Roulette

All these questions! Is a little blind faith too much to ask?

- Sunday School Teacher

Time to revisit the DIY roman shade I made earlier this year (I’m also updating that post in detail to make sure the whole story is available there as well).

Executive Summary: As executed, it’s a d’oh!

homer-doh

After I finished the first blog-documented one, I became busy on other projects, and it took a while to get back to the other shade for that room. As time went on, I realized that I was stalling because I was not entirely happy with how the first shade operated. Basically, the model for the shade is a good one…if the shade is only one or two thin layers of fabric (the Little Green Notebook instructions used two thin layers). I also like the changes I made to the design (untying the cords rather than cutting, sewing rather than gluing important connections, and leaving an allowance to cover the mounting hardware). I believe the changes will make the unit more durable when implemented with a lightweight shade.

So I’m not trash-talking the overall project idea at all! What I AM saying is that, in my experience this project does not lend itself to a thicker shade including a black-out liner. When I first retracted the shade, I reported that it was bunchy because of the extra fabric.

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That was easy to deal with by briefly fiddling with the folds so they fell better. This turned out to be a bit of a hassle, but no huge deal.

Not quite so bunchy.

But there was a fundamental issue I had not considered: the cords and mechanism are not really strong enough to deal with the lining’s extra weight. Miniblind slats are very lightweight, and so is a single-ply fabric blind. Every time I raise this shade, I think something is going to break. The whole thing just feels like it’s under too much physical stress. I’m loathe to raise the thing, and even less willing to de-bunch the folds because of my concern that I’m going to yank out one of the cords.

Jenny at LGN says that black-out lining could be included, so she has perhaps made a shade with a lining that worked well (I’ll check with her, but she’s a Real Blogger and Actual Designer, ergo very busy). If I hear back from Jenny and she has any tips, I will update this post — meanwhile, if anyone out there has ideas, please advise!

I have the base and the lift bar for the second shade, and I can probably reuse the base for the original unit with a lighter shade. I may do a lighter-weight shade and install them in Ben’s room, which is blind-deficient and has windows of the same size.

I have a replacement plan for the windows in our room — more on that soon. BECAUSE I KNOW YOU CAN’T WAIT!!! IT’S VERY EXCITING STUFF!!!

Posted in D'oh!, Decor, Windows & Doors | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Lady DIYer

Homer: You really thought I’d forgot, didn’t you?
Bart: Oh, right. What did you get her, Dad?
Lisa: Yeah, whatcha get?
Homer: A very thoughtful gift. But it’s a surprise! You know it’s such a beautiful morning, I think I’ll take a little stroll around the block.

It snowed. Even though this is the tundra, it’s early for snow. We haven’t even cleaned the gutters yet.

The only ok thing about early snow is that it makes early holiday shopping music feel less ridiculous. And after all, the holidays are coming. If you are buying for your DIY-loving wife, girlfriend, mom, or sister, here’s a list of gift ideas that goes beyond the pink-handled tool set. (Seriously. Don’t buy that.)

1. Coveralls or Overalls That Fit

I ran across Rosies Workwear (the lack of apostrophe is intentional) while prepping this article. How did I never find this place before?

process

The founder of the company took a welding class and discovered that the coveralls available bunched up, causing a safety issue. The company offers coveralls (like the cool denim version above) and overalls made for women. They are rugged and have sewn-in knee pads. (If you stop over, check out the gallery of customers wearing Rosie gear.) The site also offers that iconic polka-dot bandana the model is wearing!

2. Phillips-Head Earrings

Kevin gave me a pair of these lovely silver earrings from Uncommon Goods for my birthday this year.

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I looooove them! They are petite and comfortable, and the design is understated — they are a great way to wear what I love to do. (The same artist also makes pieces including level bubbles and rulers — definitely check it out.)

3. Boogie Board

The Boogie Board is handy to have around during a project for quick sketches and notes. You can write on it with a stylus, or just your finger. We got one of these for Mary the landscaper a couple of years ago, and she keeps it in her truck for quick notes, lists, and calculations.

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What it doesn’t do is save or export your scribbles, so be sure to take a picture if you want to refer back later. Tablets will certainly let you do this, but not for under $30!

4. Good Safety Googles

I usually end up looking like a droopy owl when I wear safety googles. I would love a pair like these from DeWalt — according to the reviews, they actually adjust to fit and stay in place. And they don’t fog up. Plus, everyone can use another pair of safety googles.

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5.  Heavy-Duty (but Pretty) Hand Soap

First thing, be CERTAIN that your recipient is not going to be offended by receiving SOAP as a gift. Got that? All righty, then. Pumice-based soaps (like Lava and Orange Goop) are an important part of the shop, but they can dry out hands and cuticles. So what about a gift set like this?

 

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These fancy French gardeners’ soaps have essential oils and include corn meal instead of lava. It’s still exfoliating, but not quite so rough-and-tumble. I doubt that these would replace Lava for those times your lady friend rebuilds an engine, but it will do it most other times.

Need other gift ideas? Check out:

Or, for a personalized gift you can make yourself, try DIY Instagram Coasters from Little House on the Corner.

Happy shopping!

Posted in Family, Romance | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Slow Drain (Maintenance)

Reverend Lovejoy: God didn’t burn your house down, but he was working in the hearts of your friends be they Christian, Jew, or . . . miscellaneous.
Apu: Hindu. There are seven hundred million of us!
Reverend Lovejoy: Aw, that’s super.

When I was a college sophomore, I lived with a friend in an off-campus apartment. The bathtub drain was always slow, but over the semester it became slower…and slower…and finally stopped completely, leaving about six inches of water.

funny-cat-do-not-want-bath

After many overwrought calls to management, some guy came with a snake; the drain worked for two whole days. Then we contacted the owner. I explained the situation and asked for a repair and a small rent credit. He laughed and responded, “Well, you see, I’m a [adherent of a major Western religion], and we don’t believe that money is the answer to every problem.”

facepalm

To which I should have replied, “News flash: NOBODY believes that!” and “How does this doctrinal conversation get this drain fixed?” There should be a special place in Dork Town for people who use their supposed religion to weasel out of their commercial obligations.

There was a happy ending, though: eventually, I found the guy’s home phone number, which annoyed him enough that he sent an actual plumber over. The liberal arts weren’t a harsh enough mistress to stop me from harassing the landlord!

I hadn’t thought about that super-special time in years, but I recently noticed that I was wading while taking showers in our main bathroom. Just a bit. And maybe a bit more. I kept ignoring it, because we have one of those push/pop-up drains, and I did not know how to remove it.

pop-up drain stopper

I preferred to rationalize it rather than spend two minutes figuring it out. Water is good for feet, right??

Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.

Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty. – Derek Zoolander

Once my feet were well-moisturized but before I developed trench-foot, I looked into what to do. Turns out, it is super-easy to remove a pop-up drain stopper. Just turn the top of the drain counter-clockwise (UK: anti-clockwise — for some reason, I adore the term “anti-clockwise”) by hand. You might have to unscrew it for quite a while, but it will come loose. Depending on the brand, either the whole top of the unit will lift out, or just the cover. In the latter case, there will be a slot to loosen up the rest of the top using a blade screwdriver.

pop-up drain stop

The unit looks something like this. Put the thread back into the hole in the drain to screw it back in.

Now, you can root around in the drain mouth to your heart’s content! All the hair that had fallen out of my head since 1981 seemed to be in the drain. I didn’t take a picture.

You can also replace the rubber “skirt” that makes the seal if it is degraded — it’s sold as a separate part, as well as with the whole unit. Our problem was entirely hair-related, so I didn’t need to change out the seal.

Once you’ve cleaned it out, simply reinsert the top and screw it back down. It’s so luxurious not to be standing in water during a shower! Simple pleasures.

Posted in American vs English, Bathroom, D'oh!, Plumbing, Repair & Maintenance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Phony Pony

Hug me, squeeze me, tug at my fur!

- Waylon Smithers

Some decades ago, my mother scored a couple of chairs cast out of some bigwig’s office. Now they live with us, including this rattily slipcovered one in our living room.

chair before collage

Well, it’s on the porch here. It’s surprisingly hard to find a place to photograph a dang chair.

Although I’m slipcover-mad, it didn’t work here. Wrong fabric, wrong kind of chair.

When considering redoing it, I thought, “How about faux pony/cow hide? Juxtaposed against the more traditional motif? That could be fun and different!” Then I saw this tour on Apartment Therapy:

Whatever, AT. The tour was published on October 12, and I ordered my fabric October 10, which makes my idea totally unique and not at all informed by Le Corbusier or every Western film ever made.

I ordered two yards of faux fur from the Online Fabric Store for $7.20/yard. Why faux? Because this is a lark — it’s not worth spending real money. Besides, if I want to sit on a pony or a cow, I’ll sit on one.

What a cow! (via)

But not this one. Too scary. (via)

First thing was to remove the slipcover. I found the seat screws were missing, so diassembly was easier than expected.

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Thirty seconds later…

I cleaned everything, then used pinking shears to cut a piece for the seat to run back to front, overlapping the underside by a couple of inches. I left a seam allowance on the sides. After inverting the fabric and pinning it to the cushion, I cut side pieces and pinned those to the top.

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Too many pins, too much seam allowance.

I sewed it all together using a heavy-duty needle and thread. This bit of sewing avoids bulky folds for a smoother top. After sewing, I flipped it outside-right and pulled it over the cushion firmly (fitted but not straining).

STAPLE GUN TIME! I cut strips of uncorrogated cardboard about a half-inch wide (cereal boxes are good). With the cushion face-down, I pulled the fabric evenly around the base. Putting a cardboard strip over the fabric, I stapled through the cardboard and fabric into the wood. The cardboard spreads the pressure, reducing wear on the fabric that can cause rips.

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I trimmed off the extra fabric. Seat DONE.

Next, the back. This chair originally had an open back; I previously added strapping to support a back cushion.

Strapping backlit; the top bar is padded out with batting, and then the whole thing is smoothed over with muslin. And cat hair.

You can see the strapping pretty well here. It’s just stapled to the frame multiple times. The top bar is padded out with batting, and then the whole thing is smoothed over with muslin. And cat hair.

I sewed double D-loops onto the straps for cushion anchors.

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Late night reupholstery = mood lighting

To do the back cover, I cut a long piece to wrap around the entire back. I folded the edges under to make the piece the right width, and tacked it with a few hand stitches. Starting at the inside bottom frame, I stapled the fabric to the frame (with cardboard; see bottom of photo above). At the top, I flopped the piece over and stapled that down inside the back above the initial staples. The piece is flat but not super-taut because it will need to move with the cushion slightly. A few side stitches helped keep it neat.

khjk

Far from perfect, but it’s the BACK.

I made a simple cover for the back cushion. To attach it, I sewed a piece of grosgrain into each back side seam (about 3/4 of the way “up”) so there was at least a foot dangling outside the cushion. I reinforced the seams and hemmed the ends, then whip-stitched the cushion inside.

cushion tether

I ran the ribbons through the D-clips belt-style to hold the cushion in place.

cushion tether rings

Done!

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Here’s the seam on the side of the cushion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here’s the chair with its usual occupant.

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Before I close, thanks to my lovely mother, who gave me the name for this post, and a memorably funny moment on the phone earlier this week:

Me: I’m recovering that occasional chair in the living room.

Mom: Oh, yeah? I love those chairs. With what?

Me: Fake pony fur.

*long pause*

Mom: You’re kidding, right?

I could never shake Mom’s cool when I was trying! How could I know that fake fur upholstery was her line in the sand?!

Posted in Before & After, Decor, Furniture | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

How’s THAT Working Out? Floating Bedside Table

Traffic on our tiny blog went to Statistical Outlier City this weekend when Apartment Therapy featured our nightstand project.

Thanks for including us, Apartment Therapy! What a nice surprise!

In addition to giving me the warm fuzzies, the shout-out also prompted me to provide an update on the project, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Would we do it again? Yes! It’s so functional for our space.

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As of yesterday morning, in its typical unstyled state.

A commenter on AT noted that floating shelves preempt storage that would otherwise be allowed by a standing piece of furniture. That is absolutely true in most cases! Here, though, the floatingness allows Kev to access drawers in the storage bed easily. That provides more storage and storage access than we would otherwise have with a regular bedside table. From a use-of-space perspective, this unit has been very helpful.

The unit ends up having a lot more weight on it on a regular basis than shown in the original post. As you can see, there’s a stack of books and magazines, as well as a collection of small electronics and glasses. Sometimes, it holds even more books, electronics, or cats. It’s not a large surface area (ergo stacking), but it’s securely fastened, so there hasn’t been any sagging.

Kev likes having the drawer, but if I had it to do over, I would try to find an end table with drawer runners. This drawer just runs on wooden supports, just as a lot of furniture does (including our storage bed). That’s fine if you are pulling the drawer straight out, but as a bedSIDE table, Kev is typically opening it from bed, which means the drawer tends to be pulled slightly to the side. The result is that the drawer sometimes jams and doesn’t fit neatly back in its space without jiggling. It’s a minor point, but worth noting.

Another thing I would pay more attention to is the leg cuts. On the right side, my cut to remove the leg was slightly (unintentionally) angled. I sanded that off a bit, and it looks ok, but I notice it when I’m on that side of the room. Everyone has their own tolerance for that sort of thing, but I wish I had taken more care with that cut or spent more time evening it up. I could go back to it, but it’s a low priority.

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But these are very minor issues. The project is a keeper, especially if you are working with a storage bed. If you’ve converted a nightstand to be wall-mounted, send us a picture — we’d love to see it!

Posted in Before & After, Decor, Furniture | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Bye-Bye, Butterfly

Do the wing thing!

- Bart Simpson

We saw probably the last monarch butterfly of the season weekend before last. Monarchs migrate south when the weather turns cooler — you may have seen the recent item about a monarch cloud confusing weather radar in Missouri. Despite radar-confounding swarms, though, monarchs are “near threatened” as a species, meaning they are at risk.

milkweed monarch full

Monarch on milkweed flowers

Habitat loss is the major issue. While many flowers provide nectar, monarchs can only use milkweed as a host plant for eggs, so no milkweed, no new butterflies. Most people see milkweed as a weed (it’s right there in the name!), with the result that there are far fewer host plants than when it grew everywhere wild. Between that and other stresses, it’s tough out there for a butterfly.

Buddleia is good for nectar, but not for eggs

Buddleia is good for nectar, but not for eggs

That’s all a shame, because thing one, milkweed is easy to grow, and thing two, it’s pretty!

On the easy-to-grow front, milkweed is a prime candidate for winter sowing. There could NOT be an easier way to start plants for the spring.

Milkweed (and weed-weed) seedlings from 2014 winter sowing

Milkweed (and weed-weed) seedlings from 2014 winter sowing

All you need are seeds (and dirt and a milk jug). Lots of places want you to have milkweed seeds:

There are many different milkweed (Latin name: asclepias) varieties. Monarch Joint Venture has a terrific guide showing which milkweeds grow best where. We mainly grow Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), although I started some Common Milkweed this year (the seedlings above, Asclepias syriaca) that will be well-established next year.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Bees like it too!

Bees like it too!

All varieties are attractive plants. Swamp Milkweed is about a meter tall and very upright, good for the back of the border. It’s easy to care for, and has a long bloom season, with these beautiful pink flower clusters.

Butterfly Weed, on the other hand, is a shorter variety, maybe about a foot tall. It makes an excellent screen plant around the feet of clematis vines. I’ve seen it marketed as “Butterfly Flower” and “Orange Glory Flower” but it’s still a milkweed variety. Orange is my favorite, but it is also sold in a range of flower colors.

Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed. Photo by Randy Loftus, USFWS

Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed (Randy Loftus, USFWS)

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Orange butterfly weed in the middle, planted in front of the purple clematis

Keep in mind, these are host plants, so if you see caterpillar bite marks on leaves, that just means you are doing it right!

All the milkweeds are versatile and easy-care plants that lend themselves to any type of garden. If you garden in North America, find a variety you like and plant a few. Monarchs are expert at finding milkweed — you will be rewarded by many visits. Plus, it just feels good helping a friend in need.

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