Building Home & Family


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ISO: The Perfect White

While we are not quite at the painting stage yet, I wanted to select the colors we will use at White House now so my husband can pick them up at the same time as another client’s paint (he’s a general contractor) whenever it’s convenient.

Fittingly, I knew I wanted the walls at White House to be white. I figure (a) it’s an inoffensive color when we move out and rent the unit, and (b) I love color and won’t have to be quite as restrained in my choice of decorative items. It’s just that there are about a million shades of white.

For a handful of reasons, it is easy and inexpensive for us to buy paint at Sherwin Williams, so knowing our source helped me narrow the selection of white paint colors initially. Then, I picked my top six colors, including a variety of warmer and cooler shades, and bought quart-sized samples (the smallest size available at my local stores). There’s no magic to the number six: I wanted a small variety without spending too much on sample sizes, so it’s just what fit the bill.

My brother-in-law cut me some spare pieces of drywall to paint so I could audition them on all the walls of the various rooms. If you paint either paper or drywall samples, definitely aim for several coats, the same finish you will use in the room (satin, eggshell, etc.), and LABEL your samples!

Johann laughed and said they all looked the EXACT. SAME. I disagreed outdoors but had to admit some of them looked pretty similar in the poorer indoor lighting.

I originally thought a really bright white would make the nursery, which has only one window that is partially obscured by a large and too-beautiful-to-remove lilac bush, would be the best way to brighten the room. I was surprised that colors like Pure White and Extra White actually looked garish in there. Instead, I opted for a more muted white. (Note: All the colors looked significantly different on my computer screen, even after calibration, than they did as in-person paint samples. You get a sense of relative color, e.g. one is brighter than another, but not actual color.)

My final(-ish) selections are Marshmallow for most of the unit and Snowbound for the nursery. Marshmallow is slightly warmer, and Snowbound is a little more blue-grey. Like I said, I was really surprised my nursery selection didn’t follow conventional wisdom. I’m glad I tested the samples indoors before committing to a color. With that quart paint sample of Snowbound, I might even paint a full wall of the nursery before finalizing the selection.

The selection process was reasonably smooth for me. I’m glad I had a direction before I entered the store or I might have died from being overwhelmed. There are just so many colors! If you have any paint color selection tips, I’d love to hear them!


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Nursery Textiles: Twin-Size Quilt for the Spare Bed

Would I be thrilled to find a well-made, inexpensive quilt that perfectly fits the palette I’ve selected for the nursery? Yes, of course. But, despite scouring the internet, I’m still empty-handed and have decided to sew a quilt for the spare bed to match the other décor in the room.

I started with the Market + Quilt pattern you can download for free on the Cotton + Steel blog website, designed by Alexia Marcelle Abegg (one of my favorites!).

PrintThen I customized it, adding some additional borders to increase the size and switching out the original pattern colors for my 8-color nursery palette.

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The Cotton + Steel fabrics in the original pattern are gorgeous, and lots of other C+S fabrics also fit my palette, but it was less expensive to use plain Kona cottons, so that’s what I am doing. As a compromise, and as a thank you for the free pattern, I bought C+S fabric to back the quilt.

Now I just have to sew the darn thing before the baby is born! No small task with about two months left from the date the fabric is scheduled to arrive. But I really think one or two pieces will the full spectrum of colors will pull the nursery together.

What are some of your favorite DIY projects or customizations? I am continually blown away by the creativity I see online and love the idea of a personalized space, but I SO hope most projects will be less involved than this one!

A few notes on construction to speed up the process:

  • I plan to chain piece the flying geese (the B&W triangles) using this tutorial. I calculated how many big squares would fit on my fabric, selvage to selvage, then determined how many rows I would need to have the total number of flying geese in the pattern. I used this number to estimate the amount of fabric I’d buy. (Math! Not just for students!)
  • Similarly, I’ll use this tutorial to mass produce my half square triangles (HSTs).

If you’re interested in quilts, sewing, and other handmade projects, check out my blog on that topic, East Dakota Quilter.


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Nursery Inspiration

Our baby’s first home is an investment property and not our “forever home,” which means I have been torn as to how much time and money to put into our nursery. On top of that, space is limited, so I want to avoid bringing things into our home that will be used for only a short time – even if they’re adorable! This process has been full of compromise.

Palette
I am really bad at editing (in a room, quilt, painting… the list is endless). I love color and want to incorporate every item I like, even if it doesn’t match anything else I own. Step 1 for me was narrowing my palette.

Probably the easiest solution would have been to pair blush pink and gold. They are popular colors right now, and I’m having a girl. Easy peasy. But my mom decorated my childhood bedroom in pink and white – even making all the curtains, bedding, etc. herself! – and I hated it. It made me feel like I was supposed to sit in a frilly dress and not get dirty while I was more of a mud puddle princess. So… no blush pink and gold for our baby. (Even though I think it’s really cute now! Irony.)

I kept returning to one of my favorite backgrounds in the A Beautiful Mess iPhone app and decided was the perfect fit:

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From that background, I pulled a still-huge-but-at-least-cohesive palette:

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It even includes blush pink!

Having settled on an 8-color palette, I almost died laughing when I was reading Emily Henderson’s design blog archives yesterday and came across this gem (abbreviated by me for relevance):

“Tip #1. You can mix however many styles you want… as long as you have a consistent color palette peppered evenly throughout the space. This is the number one problem I see – not telling a cohesive color story through furniture and accessories. Now if you are a color genius, or an extremely confident diy-designer then of course you can do whatever you want – and I’ve seen rooms look great with 94 colors in them. But I warn that if you have a ton of different styles in a ton of different colors all thrown together in a room, it can look like a thrift store, or even worse, a big, busy, messy, cluttered mistake.”

Yes, that is Tip #1. Top designer Emily’s very most important design guideline. It’s like she met me and is warning me not to follow my instincts, and yet, here I am, plodding ahead as “an extremely [over-]confident DIY designer.” Haha… I will probably wish I had followed the advice, and yet, I just can’t help myself!

Furnishings
The nursery is approximately 10′ x 10′. It can fit a lot of furniture, but not without looking cluttered. My second goal was to determine what items are most important and try to eliminate everything else.

  • Crib – The baby needs to sleep somewhere. I’m not a huge fan of most budget convertible cribs (with accessories, you can reassemble a crib into a toddler bed and then a twin bed), so I plan to keep this item inexpensive and upgrade to a “real” bed when it’s time.
  • Dresser – In addition to storing clothes, blankets, etc., I plan to put a cushion on top so it can double as a changing table. (Yep, I know to never leave my kid up there unrestrained.)
  • Bed – This choice is less common than the others. I originally planned to include a chair for feeding the baby. Both a bed and a chair won’t fit, so it had to be one or the other. I realized it might be more convenient to have a bed so the parent on “baby duty” can catch some sleep. Plus, when the baby is small, we could keep a bassinet in our room and have the nursery double as a guest room. We anticipate more visitors with the baby.

In addition to furniture, I know I’ll need a rug. The hardwood floor will be beautiful when it’s refinished, but we won’t get to that before the baby is born. We won’t do it right after, either; it makes more sense to refinish the nursery floor when we refinish the other floors (economy in grouping like projects), but the process generates a lot of dust and would mean moving ALL our furniture from EVERY room out of the apartment. It might not even happen while we’re living there. Serious bummer. Bottom line: a rug will be key.

Based on palette and furnishing considerations, here’s my inspiration board for our baby girl’s nursery (sources below).

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Was there anything you wish you’d had in your nursery, an item you thought you could live without but couldn’t? Am I totally off-base not having a chair in the room, understanding I have some very comfy chairs in the living room that’s just a few steps away? Advice is much appreciated, folks!

Sources:

  • Ikea Hemnes bed frame; our goal is to DIY this bed frame when we have more time, so the Ikea frame is a temporary solution
  • Ikea Gulliver crib
  • Curtain handmade from a Target shower curtain, sewn to size (for a prior apartment) and backed with heavy Ikea fabric for light blocking
  • Secondhand dresser painted to suit
  • Looking for a budget version of this lamp
  • Handmade crib sheets (fabrics are Robert Kaufman Urban Zoology Ostrich in Charcoal, Windham Fabrics Handmaker Loom in Black & White, and Flannel gingham plaid in Black) – will share details later in case you want to make crib sheets of your own
  • DIY wall art based on this tutorial/inspiration (with colors and images to suit)
  • Rug- Still searching, but recolored this rug by Lulu & Georgia to fit the inspiration board
  • House shelves from Target with hand painted peg dolls of our family inside
  • Canvas hamper from Land of Nod

One final note for anyone still reading: I’m a little crushed not to incorporate more wood into the design, but we have wood stained in almost every finish in the unit now. I don’t want one more mismatched piece. But opting for white furniture does kill me a little bit, even though I think it makes the other colors stand out in a positive way. Natural stained wood is my absolute favorite.


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Reupholstering a Sofa

“I know how to sew. What could possibly go wrong?!”
-Famous last words that I use way too often

We have a ton of renovation work left to do on White House, the rental building we own and plan to live in for awhile during renovations. I should absolutely be focused on finishing those projects instead of the furnishings that will go in the place when the work is done. But I can’t help feeling that once the baby comes, I won’t have time for projects for at least a decade, and if I don’t want to live with something that long, I ought to fix it now.

So I bought 15 yards of upholstery fabric online today. Gulp.

I’m not convinced I can actually reupholster the sofa we own, a hand-me-down from my parents. Then I found a fantastic sale on fabric, meaning the price of failure is lower than usual. At least, I have very little money in the project. I don’t want to think about what happens if we have nowhere to sit because I screw it up and can’t even reassemble the couch. (Another hideous plaid sleeper-sofa like the one Johann and I had in our first shared apartment?!)

My goal is to have a durable sofa that can withstand the first five years of kids. Obviously, my kids will behave better than anyone else’s (haha)… but I remember a time or two running across a room and then flipping over the back of a sofa in my parents’ house with my sister when we were small. I was convinced I was doing “real gymnastics.” And spills… it’s hard to blame a kid for an occasional mistake if Johann and I are both pretty clumsy ourselves. I found a poly/cotton blend that should be stain repellent and a color that should be dark enough to hide most issues, with a little fun texture to boot.

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I have struggled with palettes since I started sewing my first quilt (incomplete, fabric donated – but I’ve blogged about subsequent quilts here). Some of the colors I love most in theory, blues and grays, feel too cool/sterile/depressing to me when it comes to home décor. But I love when other people use them, so I’m hoping that if I use warmer tones and pair them with bright pops of colors, I can find a happy medium. It might also help with the longevity of gray décor since I know warmer tones are on their way in and gray has already had its 15 minutes of fame. Here are some of the rooms that inspired my fabric selection and will guide other choices for the new living room:

sofa-and-living-room-inspiration-building-home-and-family-blog

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Wish me luck!


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We Bought a House! (Actually, a Whole Building!)

Late last month, Johann and I closed on our very first home! Only instead of “home,” it’s also an investment property, a three-flat (three unit) building with tenants currently renting all units in a suburb of Chicago. It’s a giant white building, so to distinguish between it and the apartment where we’re living now, we call it the “White House.”

Our mortgage requires that we move into the building within sixty days and live there for a year. We already gave the first floor tenants notice to leave so we can comply with the mortgage. It was HARD! As a lawyer, I know the type of notice we should give to protect ourselves and why partial deposit refunds can create issues. As a human being, I understand it’s a difficult time of year (between Thanksgiving and Christmas) to be apartment hunting and why having some portion of a security deposit refunded could make moving out and life in general a little easier. We asked our lender to extend our move-in date by a month as an exception to avoid the holiday season and received a hard no, so I was thankful the tenant was understanding. We also compromised with the tenants to help make the move a little easier. I’ve spent a lot of years being frustrated with landlord issues, so it’s an eye-opener to be a landlord myself!

All that said, we are eager to get into the basement and first floor so we can start updates and renovations. We are fortunate Johann owns a construction company and can do a lot of the work himself or with the help of family. (I call it fortunate; he calls it good planning, haha.) Of course, unpaid work for ourselves is much slower than paid work for clients! I plan to do a Before & After series of posts, but since we can’t get into any of the units while they’re being rented, here’s a photo of us in the very, very unfinished basement:

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That plant was a housewarming gift from Johann to me. Isn’t it sweet?!

Can I just say how weird it feels that our first home will only be a temporary home? And that we know it’s only temporary before we even get started? Still, it’s exciting to be making an investment in our future.


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Four Reasons the Midwest is Best (and so is your hometown!)

I like the phrase, “Midwest is best.” It’s because I’m from the Midwest. (Duh.) Here are some of my favorite things about my favorite region of the U.S.:

1. I like that when Midwesterners say they will do something, they mean it. Seriously. That dinner you said you’d host three months from now? You’d better start planning because even if no one talks about it in the meantime, people will show up on your doorstep the day of the party!

2. Midwesterners are polite. They won’t say something they don’t mean, but they might ignore the obvious in an attempt to put you at ease. Consider one of my favorite quotes from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried: “[H]is reticence was typical of that part of Minnesota, where privacy still held value, and even if I’d been walking around with some horrible deformity-four arms and three heads-I’m sure the old man would’ve talked about everything except those extra arms and heads.”

3. There are seasons! I liked winter when I was really little. My dad would push all the snow from our yard (an acreage in the country) against the barn, and when he wasn’t looking, we would climb the snow pile and sled down the barn roof/snow pile. (I have since seen photos revealing holes in the barn’s decrepit roof that make me shudder. I now understand why it was a prohibited activity.) When that stage ended, I spent the next few decades hating snow and winter generally. I even spent a winter as a teenager refusing to acknowledge winter or wear a coat in sub-zero temperatures. (Teenagers, man.) Then I moved to D.C. When I could comfortably wear a t-shirt to Christmas Zoo Lights, I started dreaming of a White Christmas and realized a season-less city was not for me. My husband and I returned to Chicago a few years later.

4. I love being centrally located. I used to fly regularly for work and loved being able to go west, south, or east. (North was less enticing; see above comments re winter. I like seasons, but I’m not a masochist.) I still love that Chicago’s O’Hare offers reasonable prices for nationwide travel, often without a connecting flight.

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Given my love for the region, it might seem funny that I also like when other people have a fierce love for their hometowns and communities. Sure, anyplace has its comparative strengths and weaknesses, but I respect people who choose to appreciate all the best things about their communities. For example, I’ve learned the south offers great food, hospitality, and a strong sense of family. The west has adventure and some of the country’s most incredible vistas. The east boasts big cities, history, and efficiency. So I love my region (cringing when I hear the term “flyover country”), but I also love learning about the best parts of other places. Tell me what you love about the Midwest – or tell me why I’m wrong!