Sunday, June 26, 2011


We have a furry neighbor who shows his face every now and then. Today, when Starr and KB got home from a quick Target run, he (or she -- but I'm going with he) was lounging in our front yard. I missed the opportunity to get a close shot of him last time he showed up, so I grabbed my camera and got as close as I could.

Don't mind me... just chillin'.

Hey... you're, um... getting a bit too close.

That's it! I'm outta here!

Postscript: I'd like to apologize for the quality of the photos. Mr. Bunny was so well camouflaged that my confused camera's auto-focus was asking... "uh, you want me to focus on what, exactly?" So what was actually in focus was the bright yellow hose that was splayed near where the bunny was lounging. Oh well. I'm saving for a mega-zoom lens that would enable me to get a sharp photo of this Wascaly Wabbit from fiddy paces.

Dining Room: Part 1

One of the first rooms we've begun is the dining room.  Why? Because it's dark.  Because we spend a lot of time there. And most importantly, because it's the smallest room in the house (except the bathrooms).  A quick win, right?

As is the case with most of the house, the dining room is a blast from the past, except not in a vintage, could-be-in-a-magazine kind of way.  You might call the look musty-cave, possibly a great trend in the dark ages, but not so nice right now.

The 'before' pictures really won't tell you much (think bland beige), so I think we'll just include the 'after new paint' photos.  Unfortunately, you can't see the wall color that well because of the low light, but one day in the distant future, we might be able to upgrade the room from cave status.

Our new-to-us British pub table fits beautifully in this space. The chairs we were gifted after posting an ad in the classifieds begging for free furniture--we got a free table, six chairs, two couches, and a very large china cabinet.  Only the chairs remain.  Not my style, but I have a few ideas to spruce them up.  

The color on the walls: Martha Stewart's "Opal".  The color is stunning.  Light grayish-blue.  The paint, though, leaves much to be desired.  Runny, poor coverage.  I recommend color matching to something more substantial if you like her colors (found at Home Depot).

Lovely painting by Carol Scott, a New Orleans artist I've known since I was young.  You might wonder, "Why is the painting on its side? What was she thinking????"  Well, right now, that's how I like it.  Carol told me I could put it however I wanted on the wall (I mean, she hangs her work from the ceiling sometimes), so I did.

I considered putting a big mirror, but my favorite design guru Sarah Richardson warns that you have to be prepared for the reflection the mirror will give you.  Since that would be a dated, country kitchen at this very moment, the mirror can wait.

You can see that we'll have to put in some quarter-round.  And paint the baseboards. 

Feast your eyes on the ceiling. Yeah, it's awesome because it's lower than the original. Who wouldn't want to drop 8 foot ceilings? Insane people.  7.5 feet is perfectly adequate.  And ceiling tiles that remind me of a hospital are quite possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Seriously, the ceilings will go back to their former glory. Some day.


The light fixture really is cool, though.  It has a secret.

You can pull it down to the table.  

Fantastic!  We can make the room even darker!  Yes, we'll put in a poker table and invite Brad Pitt and George Clooney to come smoke cigarettes with us and scheme to rob the local casinos.  Or we'll take up coin collecting. Or start painting miniatures.  This type of lighting is perfect for such activities.

So, as you can tell, the dining room is nothing but a slow project, just like the rest of 'em.  In the meantime, I've got a call in to "Prehistoric Interiors" magazine to see if we can be featured in their next issue.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Green Potting Benches

A couple of months ago, Starr was perusing the newspaper Home section and came across an article about potting benches. There were some interesting examples of this type of outdoor furnishing, and she expressed to me a strong need for such a thing at our new home.

I'm always up for a challenge when it comes to designing and building simple wood structures, so I drew some simple sketches based on the examples in the paper and Starr's expressed features list. I tossed around the idea of using scrap wood found on craigslist and tried to design accordingly. Firstly, it would make the project less expensive. Less expensive is always better. Secondly — and nearly as important — we love the idea of reuse. Starr and I are always looking for ways to use less, reuse what we can, and recycle what we cannot reuse.

One Sunday, while skimming the aforementioned free-for-all classifieds website for free or dirt cheap wood, I came upon a listing for a thrift-furniture store that was unloading all of its inventory for the low-low price of absolutely free. I quickly informed Starr of my plans, loaded up the elder kids, and tore off for the thrift store. In my mind, I imagined some rough-looking, but real-wood piece that I could modify and append to create Starr's potting bench.

The place was pretty picked over when I got there, save for a side room with office furniture. The office furniture room contained two low, desk-sized wooden filing cabinets. Mine. I quickly loaded the kids into the van, flattened the third row seat, and found a hand truck. I tossed the drawers on the floor — a little ungenerous of me, perhaps, as it left something for others to clean up — and got the now-empty cabinets loaded into the van. They just fit.

After I got them home and unloaded into the basement, there they sat until we moved. After we moved, it was time for me to make potting benches out of these filing cabinets. As these would be outdoors, they'd need to be painted or sealed in some way to prevent premature death at the hands of nature. Starr said she'd love them in a bright green, so I bought a few rattle cans from our neighborhood big-box home improvement palace and set about preparing the cabinets for transformation,  beer in hand.

That's a Summer Shandy if you're curious.

First, I had to remove the pesky metal rails whose presence was no longer welcome. This turned out to be more of an ordeal than I had planned. You see, my furniture assembly experience might be a little heavily loaded in the IKEA camp, but Jeebus Cripes I've never encountered so many tiny screws in my life. My poor cordless drill wheezed its last halfway through, so I set about building up a wrist cramp removing the remainder. What felt like hours later, I had a pile of screws and a bunch of free rails that I set in the basement until I can decide how to best be rid of them. I'm not sure the recycler would take them, and throwing them in the trash doesn't feel kosher.

A quick scuff.

First coat completed. (The neighbors loved that we were working in the front yard, I'm sure)

As I cleaned up, I was pleased at how little paint I had about myself, as I usually come out of these types of projects looking like a 3-year old who found a rainbow box of Sharpies. Then I saw my feet. I had gone barefoot for the project, and with my nails in disrepair, I was suddenly the Incredible Hulk from about mid-calf down (minus all that bothersome clothes-ripping).

After a second coat and one more day of drying, they were ready to stop lowering our neighbor's property value and move to the back yard. When the time came, my only available moving helper was the 36" tall one who was happily preoccupied with a fitness ball.

Then I remembered — I'm the Incredible Emmeffin' Hulk. To warm up, I tipped the slightly smaller bench on end, heaved it onto my right shoulder, and carried it around the side of the house to deposit in the garden. The larger bench I moved in the same manner, though with a lot more panting and an aimlessness of trajectory that would cause me to be arrested were it performed on the side of the highway in front of one of the city's unamused finest.

Now, the areas in which the drawers formerly fit make a great spot for anything that needs to be out of the direct influence of mama nature, with ample room on top for working. I don't feel they're quite finished, however. Many of the potting bench examples I saw had hutches for tool hanging and extra storage. I'm sure it wouldn't be rocket surgery to add a hutch to one or both of the benches, and it would definitely give them more personality and home-built character.

All finished. Love that green.

The ground isn't quite level here. The tables might be re-located. Or not.

Behold the patina the tables have already acquired.  The more, the better.

Starr here. My husband rocks. He executes my visions with patience. XOXO

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to the Kiefer Cottage

Howdy folks! Nope, that doesn't work.  Hey y'all!  Yes, that's better. Welcome to my DIY before-and-after extravaganza.  You will be dazzled. Amazed. Shocked by my utter contempt for design conventions.  Well, probably not too shocked.  Maybe you'll see something you like.  I'd even prefer if you didn't like everything. If something is liked by all, how boring is that?

Some background: My husband Ryan and I just purchased a little house in Roeland Park, KS.  Our search took us far and wide across the Kansas City metro area, through suburban HOA land, into the gritty historic areas, and finally to a splendid mix of new and old.

The upside? The schools are awesome, we're not too far from the city, and the neighbors are gloriously friendly. This house has so much personality and lots of potential.

The downside?  This house hasn't been updated in 30 years.  In the early 80s, the owners put in a large addition.  And that appears to be it.  While we've been told the home was well-maintained for a long time, the past few years were apparently quite rough for the couple.  So now we have started the slow, expensive process of making it our own.

And that's what I'm here to do.  Start from the very beginning (that's a very good place to start).  And bring us all the way know this stuff never ends.  I'm sure I'll include some things about my family (my three delightful children), and Ryan has promised to chime in, too.

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