Making a pretty home: customize, re-purpose, DIY and upcycle

By Caitlin Kelly

The next instalment…stay tuned for the final one on framing your art and photos!

The real fun of making your home pretty is, for some people,  also the satisfaction of making it yours in small and telling details — from nice dishtowels that pick up the room’s colors to choosing and replacing nasty/worn/outdated hardware, whether on a chest of drawers, closet doors, kitchen cabinets and/or your front door knocker.

Even if you’re renting, there are many ways to make a space personal and absolutely individual.

Here are a few ideas:

Repurpose

When I decided we needed a fresh new look for our tired-looking fabric headboard and old curtains, I dreaded the yardage cost of nice fabric, let alone all the labor required to cut and sew it. Solution? Three $25 shower curtains from West Elm, whose large scale and clear, fresh colors were exactly what I needed; two curtains became our curtains and the third, torn to fit and tucked into the old headboard’s crevices, became basic fabric to use as needed. (Fabric sold by the yard is typically 54 inches wide, while most shower curtains are 72 inches in width.)

I found two great-looking bamboo/rattan storage boxes at my local garden supply store and, stacked one atop the other, they hold CDs in the lower one and all our nasty-looking extension and electronics charge cords in the smaller one on top; stuff is easy to find, and all that clutter is hidden. Sitting on top of that is a lovely early cutlery or candle box, bought at an auction or antique store, that perfectly fits/hides/keeps handy all our television remotes.

Olive, cream and taupe -- oh, my!
Olive, cream and taupe — oh, my!I fell in love with these gorgeous heavy cotton print napkins  — imagine what a gorgeous pillow cover they would make when (hand)-sewn together!

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This fabulous purple, cream, gray and black print fabric is a shower curtain at Anthropologie, for $88 and could make a fantastic headboard cover large enough even for a queen or king headboard. There’s a whole color scheme right there.

Customize

I found a great red and black wool flat-weave rug in a Toronto antique store for $125. It just needed some trim or edging; I bought two wide pieces of black Ultrasuede and added them to each end, (sewn on by our local dry cleaner). Much better!

Even the most tedious of dressers — found on the curb? At a consignment shop or thrift shop? — can be sanded and then painted any color you like and jazzed up with new and unusual knobs, like these ones below I selected from the dozens on offer at (yes, again) Anthropologie. Even your local hardware store or Home Depot has some great options for very little money, like these or these. Changing the knobs or handles on your furniture or kitchen cabinets can add a totally new look for little cash.

Ceramic, enamel, glass...lots of choices!
Ceramic, enamel, glass…lots of choices!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcycle

The world is full of great finds — but some need your creativity, vision, and sweat equity to get them there. When you need a piece of furniture or a lamp, especially, haunt your local thrift and consignment shops, flea markets and antique stores first for interesting options. If a piece is cheap enough, (i.e. has no intrinsic historic or esthetic value as is, to you or others,) change it! Paint it, stain it, or chop a dining table’s legs down to make it into a coffee table, for example.

Focus on the shape, size and condition of the object, not just its current color.

If it’s a lamp base, for example, it might be perfect in another color, or with a fresh new lampshade, maybe in a different size, color or shape. (Lampshades come in a dizzying array of options — round, rectangular, square, curved — and in thick paper and fabrics from burlap, linen, cotton and silk. Check out Ballard Designs for inspiration.)

$55 for the base + paint + new shade and finial. Done!
$55 for the base + paint + new shade and finial. Done!

Here’s a bedside lamp I found I found in an antiques shop in New Hope, Pennsylvania, for $55. It was then a sickly pale mint green with pink striping, but (measure!) I knew it was exactly the height I needed and could (being plain wood) easily be spray painted the creamy white I wanted to match another lamp already in the room. I bought a new cream silk lampshade and a ceramic finial. Voila!

Finishing touches

I found the fabric for these and had covers custom-made to match my living room's color scheme
I found the fabric for these and had covers custom-made to match my living room’s color scheme

Our pale green velvet sofa, (bought from Crate & Barrel a decade or so ago), had come with narrow piping that, on its cushions, had worn down to the interior threads from daily use. New covers were hopelessly expensive. I racked my brain, then sent the pillow covers to my favorite fabric workroom in (where else?) Middletown, Rhode Island. The owner, Cheryl, is amazing — she chose the weathered rust-colored linen she made into finger-width piping and gave our sofa a fantastic new look. Yay!

It’s not terribly expensive to custom-make (or sew by hand) gorgeous pillow covers for your sofa(s), bed(s) and chairs. A custom look (add welting, piping, ribbon) is easy to accomplish and looks like a million bucks, for much less.

Need help figuring out your next decorating steps?

Send me some photos and let’s do a consult — $150/hour.

What do you know how to do — IRL?

By Caitlin Kelly

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For those of you who don’t have one — and I’m guessing that’s most of you — here’s my current sewing box: needles, thread, ribbon, vintage and new buttons, a bit of vintage cotton, my beloved and very un-PC pincushion of Chinamen (wrong phrase, yes I know) holding hands. My thimble appears to have gone missing, but I rarely used it anyway.

I pulled it out the other day to repair a cotton rug whose edging, after only a few washings, had begun to come apart and fray. I think there are people who would have kept it looking crappy and others who might have simply thrown it away. Not me.

I also have some mending on my to-do list, old cashmere with a few holes.

I love using my hands to make and repair things.

Some of the things I can do, or have done, very happily far away from a touch-screen:

— cook a good meal, with sauces or nicely plated

— bake quick breads, cookies, cakes, pies

— sew and mend

— take photos, draw and paint, (both artistically and walls/furniture, etc.)

curry a horse

— play acoustic guitar

— set and trim sails: jib, spinnaker, mainsail

— paddle, steer and portage a canoe

— fence saber (nationally ranked for four years)

— prune a (very small) tree

Here’s a recent story from The Guardian about a guy who learn how to butcher.

Inspired by this post, from Kentucky high school teacher Paul Barnwell:

Here’s what I take pride in being able to do:

1.  I can drive a 5-speed.

2.  I can–at least most years–kill a deer with a bow and arrow, gut it, butcher it, and stockpile various cuts of meat for the year.

3.  I can build simple furniture like bookshelves and coffee tables.

4.  I can make my own beer.

5.  I can make a variety of home improvements or repairs, from refinishing hardwood floors to constructing rain barrels.

6.  I can make bread from scratch.

Being able to do these things is part of my identify and fulfillment; I don’t desire to buy everything I consume, nor do I desire to save time in order to free up more internet browsing or Tweeting.  

I often challenge my students to disconnect and find a hobby that does not require them to be glued to a screen. Many remain glued to their screens while I tell them this.

How about you?

What are some your handy skills, in real life?

What are some you wish you had, or hope to acquire? (I’d like to learn to knit.)

DON’T FORGET THE FINAL WEBINARS FOR THIS SESSION:

FEB. 15, 2pm EST, CONDUCTING THE KICK-ASS INTERVIEW

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DIY: But Can You?

A toolbox, from Biltema)
Image via Wikipedia

OK, that thing over there is a toolbox. Those things are for fixing stuff. Yourself.

There’s an X-acto knife, scissors,  a hammer, pliers, two wrenches, three screwdrivers and a tape measure. I have three red toolboxes, love them dearly, use my many tools as often as I can possibly dream up yet another project.

I loved this piece in today’s New York Post about all the ways you can DIY (do it yourself). Even Peter Gabriel, back in 1982, wrote a song about it.

I’ve designed and built bookshelves, a folding screen, tables. I’ve hammered, sawed, painted, plastered, sanded, drilled, urethaned (is that a verb?), stripped floord an What some women spend on shoes, I spend at my local hardware and lumber stores. I love working with my hands and making stuff.

Plus I’m cheap. If I can do it myself, why would I pay someone $95/hour to come and do it for me? (And, no, my Dad or brothers didn’t teach me. No one did.)

Many of us are running out of money — and those without jobs or enough work have now got a lot more time on our hands. So put a wrench in one of them and get to know your home a little better.