Tuesday, 17 June 2014

An Antique Tobacco Cabinet

A few weeks ago, my husband went to his grandmother's house to help her prepare for a garage sale. He came home a few hours later with some cardboard boxes of children's books, old magazines, some random craft supplies and a treasure; an old side table they had uncovered down in the basement while sorting through things in storage.

This cabinet originally belonged to her grandfather . . . making it my husband's great-great grandfather! A true family heirloom and it was very generously passed on to me; being known for restoring furniture does have it's perks!

I was so thrilled to hear a bit of backstory about this piece. David's grandmother says she can remember it being in her grandfather's house when she was young and that he kept his tobacco and rolling papers inside of it. I am not sure how she came to own it, but it has been stored in her basement for a long time and all but forgotten about, probably because it is in rough condition.

My own family has very little in the way of heirlooms and antiques. My grandparents moved to Canada when my mom was just a little girl and they didn't bring a lot with them - and the few family treasures that do exist have to be doled out among the very large extended family . . . meaning I have never had the experience of owning something that has been passed down through the generations.

When I married my husband, I discovered that his family is bursting with these sorts of things! There are many, many family heirlooms and my mother in law has been incredibly generous with passing most of hers along to me. She saw my passion for vintage pieces and decorating with things that hold meaning, and began giving me gifts of family heirlooms, my engagement ring being one of them. One day I will do a blog post sharing some of the amazing things that I now own thanks to my generous mother in law! It has been so wonderful to "tap in" to a family that has so many pieces with stories behind them.

Despite being quite weathered and worn, this cabinet is still solid. When the door is opened there is still a faint smell of tobacco, which for a girl like me who adores pieces with family history was enough to make me get teary eyed.

The veneer on the top was very damaged; much of the finish is long gone and it was scarred with water spots. I wanted to try to keep the top of the piece natural wood; what a shame to paint over something that was obviously once a beautiful piece with nice detail. Although I knew I would give the body of the cabinet a coat of paint, I was determined to find a way to salvage the top.

The tobacco cabinet, as it's now referred to, sat in my garage for a few weeks before I got up the nerve to touch it. I wanted so badly for it to be perfect that I was afraid to start!

Yesterday the sun was shining and I had an entire evening devoted to working on furniture in the driveway and so I took the plunge and refinished it.

And it looks amazing. Just like I had hoped it would.

It is waiting patiently for me to have the time to do a coat of wax and apply some sealant to the top. As soon as it's finished I will share photos. . . it looks amazing!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

It's the Process, not the Product

My house is far from perfect. And I'm not talking about dirty dishes and laundry piles (although I have plenty of those too), I'm talking about the actual house. The renovations, the DIY projects, the repairs, the furniture and decorating.

I have blue bathtubs.

 My bathroom floor is swelling and lifting all around the toilet (TMI I know but I'm being honest here). The entryway tile is cracked in several places and the grout is chocolate brown colored, but it's supposed to be beige. I have a hole cut in my wall where a pipe burst two winters ago, and it's still not patched and painted over. My kitchen countertop is from the early 80's and it's gold fleck suface is covered in holes and cracks and scratches. I have a spare bedroom that is still painted the spiderman-esque red and blue that was left behind by the previous owner's teenage son.

We have lived in this house 2 1/2 years, and we have so far to go. Some times I look around and I feel like we will never get it all done. Aside from a couple of rooms,  I really don't feel like this house reflects "Us" or our style much at all. And I'm a firm believer in having a home that is meaningful and reflective of the people who live there.

I have moments where I feel frustrated with the process. I admit, I've had fantasies about winning the lottery and hiring a designer to make my home beautiful from top to bottom in a matter of weeks. Who wouldn't love that?

But then I come back to reality, and I remind myself of some other things that I believe when it comes to houses.

 -  I believe that homes should be personal. Should be real. Sure, if I wont the lottery I could buy out Pottery Barn and have a beautifully staged home tomorrow. But that's all I would have. A staged home that looks like a page out of the Pottery Barn catalog.

 Real homes should be filled with things that have meaning and are special. A bookshelf full of items rounded up on a Homegoods spree just doesn't convey the same warmth and realness that a bookshelf full of items collected over time does. Sure I could run to the home improvement store and buy everything I need to renovate my bathroom in one shopping trip, but would it be nearly as loved as a bathroom that took two years to renovate and countless hours of searching for "just the right" things would? Certainly not.

There's nothing wrong with Pottery Barn, and I own several things from there and will continue to shop there. But if all you have is room full of hastily purchased, mass produced items from a chain store then your home will always be lacking personality. Lacking realness.

 - I believe that taking time to source out the right supplies and find just the item I imagined is more important than sticking to a timeline. Sometimes I have a specific idea in my head, or even an inspiration photo, of how I want a space in my home to look. In our last two houses, I would start out with an idea and quickly compromise. The store wouldn't have any tile in stock that was similar to what I wanted, so I would settle for something that was "nice" or "good enough". I would set my heart on something and then discover that it was out of my price range, so I'd compromise by purchasing something that I didn't really like but was in my price range.

Now that we are in our long-term house, I have learned not to settle. I don't mean that I buy everything I want regardless of the price; we are on a budget and I can't just blow the bank in order to have an overpriced item just because I want it. But I have learned that if I have patience, I can almost always find what I am looking for at a price point I can afford. 

When we were doing our bathroom renovation, I had my heart set on square white sinks. The local stores didn't have anything square, and the next town over had some Kohler sinks exactly like what I wanted but were triple what I was willing to pay.

So I waited. I searched online regularly, I browsed home improvement store flyers. I stalked Overstock. I had some online friends keeping their eyes open. 

It was frustrating to have to wait. We had removed the medicine cabinet, painted the ceiling and the walls, ordered the countertop. All we were waiting on before we could finish it off were the sinks. It was tempting to just settle on some round sinks and get the project over with, but I knew that I wouldn't be happy with it in the end; I had my heart set on square sinks.

And then one day I was making a purchase on Amazon and before I checked out, on a whim I typed "Square white sink" into the search function. 2 minutes later, I had ordered the perfect sinks at an amazing price with free shipping right to my door.

Our bathroom renovation stretched out to an almost 5 month long process. We could have finished it easily in a few weeks, but we took the time to source out just the right materials and not compromise. And I love it! I am so glad we lived with a half-finished mess of a bathroom for the time we did; it was all worth it in the end.

 - I believe the real value is in the process, not the finished product. In college I took a course on teaching art for children and our instructor drilled this concept into us. It's not about how perfect the finished product looks - it's about how you get there. It's about the experience of creating, of exploring, and learning. Figuring things out as you go along, adjusting, testing.  At the end what you have isn't as important as the experience you HAD creating. 

I find that I get the most enjoyment and satisfaction of the projects that I did myself. I feel most happy with the things that were the hardest to figure out, or took the longest to finish. If someone came in and created my perfect room for me overnight, I would enjoy it, sure . . . but I wouldn't look at it and say "Remember when we built that?" and "Remember when we brought that home from a yard sale and I had to sit with my knees on the dash so it would fit?" 

The stories wouldn't be there. The memories, the pride of accomplishment wouldn't be there. Sure it would be a beautiful room but I know I wouldn't love it as much as if I had brought that room together myself slowly over time.

The experience of creating your dream home is a big part of what makes your home your dream home. Enjoy the process. Don't rush it along just to have a "finished" room. So what if you have to live with shag carpeting for another six months until you find the perfect hardwood flooring? In the end you will have the look you wanted and the thrill of finding just the right item, at just the right price. There's nothing like it! It's an easy trade off for a few extra months of living with that shag carpeting because you will forever enjoy the results of your hard work and perserverance.

I won't say that I am completely content to wait and have my house evolve over time. I get frustrated and I want things to look pretty; it's actually stressful for me to live with things that aren't visually pleasing because I am such a visual person.

I have my moments of wishing I could just jump into the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog, sure. But then I look around my home and I see all the stories that are in every piece. The memories attached to all of the rooms that we have worked on. And I wouldn't trade that feeling for anything. I just wish I could hurry it along just a little bit!

Spiderman room, I'm coming for you!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Confident Bargain Hunter

I love to shop yard sales! I am a major bargain hunter and yard sales provide such a thrill for me, as well as being one of my best sources for refinishing projects.

I didn't use to be this way though. I remember as a kid, the dreaded mornings that my mom would drag me around in the car to yard sales. I was sooooo embarrassed to be bargain hunting in people's driveways and whenever we drove up to a sale where we knew the owners, I felt humiliated. I don't know why . . . it's not like we were so poor that we had to scrounge garage sales for the necessities, it was just something my mom enjoyed to do as a hobby. And there were always lots of cars pulling up and other people sorting through the tables alongside us, even though this was before thrifting and bargain hunting was "cool."

When I first started going to garage sales as an adult, that old familiar feeling came right along with me. I would sheepishly meander over to the famous telephone pole in the middle of town where all the garage sale signs were stapled and scribble down addresses as fast as I could and drive away.

I would do casual drive bys of the garage sales, and only stop at ones where there were lots of other people so I would blend in. I was terrified of being the only person there and feeling pressured to buy something even if I didn't find anything I wanted. If a sale was down a road I wasn't familiar with, I would get nervous and turn around if I didn't find it quickly or if it was very far to go. I would usually skip half of the sales, purely out of fear or being uncomfortable.

Now I am a confident yard sale shopper, but it took me some time before I let the stigma of being a crazy yard sale lady stop me from missing out on good bargain, or the fear of getting lost or wasting my time on a sale full of junk prevent me from even taking a look.

Some people might not understand this, but I am betting there are lots of people out there who can relate. They want to be one of those people who find amazing home decor and designer clothes for a song, but they lack the confidence to get out there and become an aggessive bargain hunter.

I want to share some tips that I have learned along the way, and if you are one of those people who balks at the idea of braking for yard sales, hopefully this will help you to change your mind and be brave enough to venture out of the car!

1. Go early.

(frame purchased at a yard sale for $5 - I had a glass shop cut the mirror to fit)

 But not too early. Around here at least, if a sign says the sale starts at 9 there is a good chance they will be swarmed with people by 8:30. It can be upsetting to the family running the sale who is still trying to set up and price items, and often they are less willing to bargain or answer questions because they are overwhelmed or frustrated.

I know it's tempting to try and beat the crowds to get to the best stuff first, but try and remember that it's just a yard sale. There will always be more, and there will always be awesome finds. . . being respectful of the person hosting the sale is much more important than beating someone else to a .99 picture frame.

I do get out and about early though. I grab a coffee, stop at the spot where all the yard sale advertisements are posted, and either snap pics with my phone or jot them down on paper. Then I arrange them by opening time, and come up with the best route to hit all of them without wasting gas. Don't forget to check Facebook and Craigslist for listings as well!

Usually I show up at the first sale a few minutes early, but only a few. And I always wait in my car until the appointed time unless there are other shoppers and the hosts look ready and hospitable!

2. Bring the right cash.

Nothing is more awkward than standing there with a $50 bill in one hand and a $2 item in the other, blinking at a teenager who has a wad full of five dollar bills and some dimes to make change with.

As a "nervous yard saler" this used to make me feel like I needed to buy a bunch more items to make it easier for them to make change, even if there was nothing else there I really wanted. Or I would put the item back and walk away, all because I felt bad asking them to make change for a large bill.

It never hurts to ask if they can make change for a $50, but its much better to come prepared in the first place. This means plenty of change and some small bills. If you are on the hunt for big ticket items it never hurts to keep a wad of bigger bills handy in case you find the perfect item, but most yard sales are small things like paperbacks and knick knacks - and are more likely to be priced in pennies than dollars.

3. Don't be afraid to dig.

(Stool purchased at a yard sale for $3)

Most yard sales have things laid out on tables or spread across the lawn for easy viewing. But don't pass over the cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid bins! Sometimes a little digging can produce amazing treasures, and as a bonus, usually people who just throw out boxes of jumbled items are less organized and don't have everything priced. This gives you a better chance at bargaining to get a good deal! I once found a vintage wood headboard behind a pile of junk at a barn sale for $10!

4. Ask, ask, ask

This one was hard for me at first. I am naturally shy around people I don't know, and I can't tell you how many times I wanted to ask a question but was too afraid or uncomfortable to.

Now I have gotten my "Yard sale legs" I have no problem marching up to the seller and asking my questions. And you know what? 9 times out of 10 the answer is yes! They usually aren't having the sale to make big bucks, they are just trying to get rid of unwanted items. Most sellers are more than happy to show you how something works, let you plug it in to test it out, or tell you where it came from. And I have never been told no when I have asked for help to carry a heavy item to my car or if I can put an item on hold until I can come back with a truck big enough to haul it away.

Don't walk away from an item because you had a question or were unsure about something. If you aren't sure if it will fit in your car, ask them if you can try to fit it in first. If you need help to carry it, they will be happy to do so in exchange for your money and taking the item away. It may feel awkward at first, but asking questions is much less scary than you work it out to be in your head.

And if you find something you really like, it never hurts to ask if they have more items like it. If I find a sale with several pieces of furniture or a box full of vintage dishes I will ask "Do you have any more you'd be willing to sell?" Often someone is thinning out a collection and has plenty more inside that they would be willing to part with if you made a reasonable offer.

5.  Take Risks

(coffee table purchased at a yard sale for $10 and refinished)

No, I don't mean wander inside some man's living room all alone, or drive down a back road alone with no cell phone. I always carry my phone with me and if there is anything that sets off my danger radar, I leave immediately. I always let my husband know where I am going beforehand, and I often bring a friend with me especially if I am going to be driving down quiet back roads.

What I mean is, don't skip out on a yard sale because you aren't sure how to find the house. That's what Google Maps is for! And some of my best finds have been from sales that I have driven down bumpy gravel roads for half an hour to find. Don't write off a sale just because it's not in a "rich" neighborhood either - the fancy new neighborhoods don't always have the best stuff and usually their prices are sky high anyway!

It's also worth the risk to ask for a better price. I like to bargain, but I also like to be respectful and not haggle over pennies. I usually ask things like "Is this the best price?" or "Can you go any lower?" and see what they say. It feels uncomfortable to ask, but usually you can be rewarded with a better price and the worst thing they can say is no!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Bathroom Source List

I had a request to share a source list for our bathroom (partial) renovation, so I complied a list of all the products and where you can find them.

The vanity is painted with Aura paint from Benjamin Moore, in the color Metropolis.

The shower curtain is from West Elm, you can still get it here

The sinks are from Amazon (I know, right. You can literally buy everything AND the kitchen sink there)

Countertops are Formica brand laminate. We chose the Calcutta Marble look-alike and it has been our favorite part of the renovation so far! We went with an ogee edge which was an extra cost, but it adds a bit of flair and makes it look more like stone in my opinion. And we saved some money by installing it ourselves, so the cost was still reasonable.

Faucets and towel rings are from Home Depot; they are the Boardwalk collection from Moen. 

The cabinet hardware is from Martha Stewart, via the Home Depot. We ordered these online when Home Depot was having a free shipping deal and they came right to our door a week later!

Soap dispensers are from Target. I got them on clearance a while back, so I am not sure if they still carry them.

I hope that answers any questions! If you would like any more information, feel free to leave a comment or email me directly.