Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Hard-Working Space

I attended a seminar about email writing on Friday afternoon. In the discussion, the presenter showed us an email that promoted the company’s website, had a place to opt-in for the newsletter, talked about the latest news and included testimonials from happy customers – all in an uncluttered fashion. “This is a hard-working email,” the presenter said.

Later, when I got home from work, I opened my front door and hung my keys on the keyhook on the wall right inside. I sat on the bench in our mini-mudroom and took off my shoes. I placed them in the larger wicker basket, hung my purse on a hook and then turned to place the mail I’d brought inside in our mail-sorter. And then I thought to myself, “This is a hard-working space.”

When we first set out to create a mini-mudroom, I had no idea how much it would make a difference in our day-to-day lives. This tiny little space is a real workhorse in terms of keeping us organized and tidy. It makes getting out the door so much easier - which as a parent of a 2 year old is no small feat. 

Here is what this hardworking 20 square feet provides for us:

1) A place for our shoes, coats, and other seasonal gear, as well as purses, diaper bags and the like. The nook is outfitted with five hooks along the main wall, mainly used to hang jackets, and three hooks on the inside walls for bags. There's even a small hook at child level for our son to hang his things all by himself.

2) Extra storage on a shelf, where we keep reusable grocery bags, sports equipment and extra hats and mittens. Things we might need on a somewhat regular, but not daily, basis.

3) A place for our keys and mail. I don't even know how long I've owned this wrought iron mail sorter/key hook station, but it's been in at least our last three houses. It becomes automatic to hang your keys on a hook when it's right next to your front door. I haven't misplaced my keys in years! A few spots to sort outgoing and incoming mail is handy as well.

4) A place to catch one more glance before we walk out the door. On the wall to the right of the closet-turned-mudroom is a mirror, where I can check my hair one last time before heading out for the day.

It's amazing how much function we've been able to get out of this really small landing area in our condo. And that we achieved it simply by removing the entryway closet door, and spending only $52 on paint, hooks and baskets (more on that here). It's a great little space that works hard for us.

How to Create a Small Outdoor Oasis

The time when I feel most vindicated in my choice to buy a condo over a single family home is during the winter. I get to stay toasty in my PJs reading a book while those with detached houses have to brave the elements to shovel the driveway. But they always get their comeuppance in the summer, when they're a step away from their yards and I'm stuck schlepping my kid to the park like a sucker.

But our condo does have a small deck off the living room, but it's a tricky space. It's narrow and surrounded by pine trees that shed their needles. We face north, so we don't get a lot of sun. And it overlooks a parking lot, so it isn't the most private. The last five summers always start with me hoping that this is the year we'll use the deck, and ending with shriveled up plants and us realizing we haven't gone out on the deck in a month. It's not been the most usable space.

Until now! Here's what we did to revamp our small outdoor living area. These tips can help anyone create an oasis … even if you only have a sliver of outdoor paradise to work with.

1. List your priorities. Think about what you want your outdoor space to achieve. For me, a big priority was giving my son a place to play outdoors – one he could access by walking out the back door instead of having to make the trip to the nearby park. So we found a great deal on a sand and water table that happens to fit nicely on one side of the deck. Sebastian loves it, and I'm amazed at how much more time we're spending on the deck just because he has something to do other than trying to dig up my flowers.

I also wanted to have a comfy place to sit and read a book. While our previous bistro set was nice for dining al fresco, it wasn't a great place to read outside with a glass of wine, so we swapped the dining table for a lower one, and the stiffer chairs for chairs with a slight recline. If growing herbs and vegetables are high on your list, planting will take priority over furniture.

Finally, we needed to address the privacy and safety issues. Surrounding the railing with wood lattice was an affordable and attractive way to make the deck safer and make it harder for people in the adjacent building to see what we're up to.

2. Define areas. A small space will look bigger if there are clearly defined areas with a little breathing room in between them. On our deck we have a conversation/lounge area on one end, with two chairs and a table. The side of condo is used for the grill, and then we have plants lining the railing. Finally, the far end is where my son's sand table resides. There's enough floor space in the middle for sidewalk chalk drawing and navigating the narrow 6x9 space. Someone can be sitting in a chair, someone can be grilling, and my son can be playing and we're not bumping into one another.

3. Think about scale. Before setting up our conversation area, the left end of the deck was completely filled by a glider. The glider was a freebie from our previous downstairs neighbors when they moved, and while it was nice, it was took up far too much space. Now we have furniture that's more to scale for our narrow deck, and also lends itself better to rearrangement.

4. Research alternatives. We're not allowed to have gas or charcoal grills due to our association bylaws, but I came across this great electric grill and snapped it up with birthday gift cards. One of the things I bemoaned in the past about not having a yard was the inability to grill out. And now we can! Think about what you'd like to do if you had a yard, and try to find ways to adapt it to the space you have. We'd love to host bonfires, but instead are making due with a small, propane-fueled fire bowl. And a vegetable garden would be nice, but our north-facing deck only allows us to have a couple pots of herbs instead. 

It's amazing how different our home feels now that we have a little extra living space outdoors. We're looking forward to a summer enjoying the great outdoors!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My brain is getting ahead of me

I spend a lot of time thinking about house projects these days. Like,
a lot, a lot. To the point where my inspiration file is starting to
get way too large, and instead of actually doing anything, I just
think about more things that I'd like to do. And constantly eyeing my
home with improvement in mind, adding to the mental "to-do" list.

I have tackled a pretty big project - we spruced up our deck! It has
been so nice lately, and we've spent nearly every evening outside
lounging, playing in the sand table, grilling (!) and roasting
marshmallows in the firebowl (!!) Due to my generous friends and
family I was able to procure the things I wanted to make our deck more
usable this summer with gift cards. I purchased a Char-Broil electric
bistro grill (perfect for condos!) and a table top firebowl from
Menards. Matt gave me a whole patio's worth of flowers for mother's
day, and Sebastian got a sand and water table for his birthday. I will
post some photos and description of where we sourced everything from
and how we arranged it all soon.

So here are some of the things I have twirling about in my mind that
hopefully we will do soon:
-A gallery wall a 'la YHL in our hallway. I've been collecting artwork
and frames, and should be able to do it soon, like maybe this weekend!
-I want to tie our bedroom furniture together in a more cohesive way.
We have wrought iron, light wood, medium wood, dark wood and glass
furniture in here, and it's such a mishmash. I've been intrigued by
some of the two-toned, medium wood and white mid century modern stuff
I've been seeing in the blogosphere lately. There may be some bedroom
furniture hacks in my future.
-There will also be new bedroom curtains and blinds, coming soon.
-Our living room still needs some oomph. I think our artwork is hung
too high, and is too sparse for the big couch. But I'm really
struggling with a way to improve it.
-I also am contemplating the idea of getting DVD storage boxes from
Ikea to make our entertainment unit look less cluttered and college-y.
-I haaate our carpet, but that's probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
-I want to paint the tiles above our bathtub a glossy white. I am
probably crazy to think about attempting this, but because they don't
really get wet (there's only a tub, no shower), I think it could work.
-I also thought about painting the countertop in our laundry room to
look like granite. I saw it on a blog and it looked awesome.
-We're also planning to actually start the slow process of remodeling
the bathroom this summer. The first phase will be subway tiling the
enclosure, removing the door tracks, repainting and getting a new
mirror. Phase two will include reglazing the shower pan and getting
new doors. Phase three will probably not happen for a long time, but
would involve new flooring and maybe a new vanity too.

So yeah (insert eye-roll here) that's all. In some ways, though, it's
exciting to think about these things, because even after living in a
place for five years, there are still always things you can be doing
to make it more fun and homey.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Bedroom Art

In the last five months I have owned three new cameras. It's a long, sordid story, but basically camera #1 (a Christmas gift) was stolen, so we bought another one of the same camera. Then #1 was returned, so we sold #2 to a friend. Then #1 broke suddenly. I just turned it on, and the LCD screen shattered. This happened to be on the same day I tried to make the new artwork for our bedroom.

Remember this idea? I had wanted to replicate this silver/blue birch tree art that I spotted on Apartment Therapy.

So, I tried taking pics with the broken camera as I created the art. As you can tell, I had no idea what I was aiming at (since the LCD screen was broken), so the pics aren't exactly framed well.

But what I did for this project was purchase two pieces of foam board (since they were cheaper and in more of the orientation I wanted than the canvases they had at Michael's). I pulled up the tutorial about making this pattern, and sketched the birch trees freehand. I painted the trees with gray blue craft paint, in a matte finish, and the background with a mix of the same blue and a silvery gray in a glossy finish. Here's the final product.

Then we nailed them up above the bed... but not until after I'd already sent away camera #1 to be fixed under the warranty. A couple weeks later, Fuji contacted us claiming that there was "impact damage" and they wouldn't fix it. Of course, there was no impact (the camera resided in a padded case at all times), but by then I was completely fed up with the camera. After a night drinking wine with a girlfriend, we stumbled across a deal on for a Panasonic Lumix for $130. I snapped it up, and a couple weeks later, camera #3 landed in my hands.

So... I finally got to take some shots of the new bedroom art!

I really like how it brightens up the space, ties the gray blue sheets and blue lamps into the room, and it's much more in scale with the bed than the previous artwork.

I hope that now that I finally (knock on wood) have a camera that works, I will be doing more projects and updating my blog more frequently!