Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cool New Wallpaper

I know I don't post here that often, but I just came across a product from one of my favorite stores, CB2, that inspired me to pop on to DesignInsider and share a link. CB2 now offers wallpaper, and along with traditional papers with paste backing, they're offering adhesive papers designed for renters who can't make permanent changes to their spaces.

Personally, I'm thinking about ordering a roll of adhesive paper to apply to the inside of a big, tired-looking bookcase that could use a major refresh. I'm thinking a coat of paint on the outside and this adhesive paper on the inside, and it could be kind of fabulous:

Photo from

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wait ... did I really just say I'm going to paint my kitchen cabinets?

I did. I really did.

So, yeah, I tackled this project last fall knowing I was a little bit crazy to take it on. Life was busy, as life these days tends to be. But in October 2012, my family and I put all that craziness on hold to spend three days cleaning, sanding, painting and sealing.

Hold on, did I say three days? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.

We spent three solid days cleaning, sanding and painting. That finished the cabinet boxes, basically, and got us maybe halfway through the 20 doors and seven drawer fronts. That was the amount of time we'd set aside for the project. Over the next several weeks we spent every spare minute -- which in our house are few and far between -- finishing up the details. Let's just say our garage was out of commission for at least a couple months.

If you landed on this site from the column that just ran in The Commercial Appeal, that might mean you're contemplating a cabinet painting project of your own. And if that's the case, you've come to the right place. There was only so much info I could pack into 20 column inches of newspaper space. Here's the stuff I didn't get to say (and trust me when I tell you, the devil is in the details).

First off, let me show you a photo of my kitchen "before." There's no better way to explain why I felt the need to refinish my 20-year-old cabinetry.

Yep, that's a medium oak finish, white Formica countertops and a refrigerator straight out of the Sears catalog circa 1993. (No, seriously. It's a Lady Kenmore.) I inherited all of it when we bought the house, including the "wheat straw" paint on the walls. Luckily I inherited two good features, too  wide-plank walnut hardwood floors and cabinet boxes and doors that were in excellent shape. Both a good starting point for a new kitchen.

Because the cabinets were in good shape and I liked the layout of the kitchen, I decided to keep the existing cabinetry. I explored all options, meaning I talked to friends, neighbors and fellow designers about the benefits of hiring a professional painter versus having the cabinets refaced. At the time I wasn't even considering the idea of painting the cabinets myself. I'd heard the stories, and I'm not particularly masochistic.

Then a friend asked me what I thought about this new cabinet refinishing kit called Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations. I hadn't heard of it, so, you know, what could I do? I Googled it. I was intrigued. In my research, I came across a blog post by someone who'd tried the kit with good results. I went to my local Home Depot store and checked it out for myself, and then I actually signed up for a class. Serendipitously, I suppose, the store had a "ladies' night" in the works on Cabinet Transformations, and there I was able to see samples, watch the instructional DVD and basically determine the project was doable.

So, yeah, we did it.

Here are a couple photos of the work in progress. And yes, by the way, my husband is wearing an Elvis T-shirt. Did I mention we live in Memphis?

We used the refinishing kit on the outside of the cabinet boxes, the door fronts and the drawers. Inside the drawers and cabinets, I used a Sherwin Williams latex semi-gloss paint. At first, I bought the paint in white to match the cabinets' exterior, then I thought, "Whoa, wait a minute. This is a custom job." I could do whatever I wanted ... so I went back to the store and had the paint tinted to a gorgeous soft gray that makes me smile when I open my cabinet doors.

As for technique, I learned a LOT along the way, and I took great notes for use in this blog post. Unfortunately, I've since lost said notes. Awesome. (Not so awesome.) I remember the gist, though, so if you're thinking about painting your own cabinets, and especially if you're thinking about using the Rust-Oleum kit, here's my advice:

  • Prepare your cabinets well. Take time to do a little sanding even if your paint kit says it isn't necessary. I scrubbed my cabinets inside and out, then I roughed them up with sandpaper, and then my husband used a deglosser that came in the kit to remove the remaining sheen.
  • Make some sketches. I sketched out rough drawings of my cabinet elevations and numbered every cabinet door and drawer. Then I used painters tape (because it's not too sticky) to number the doors and drawers BEFORE removing them according to the numbers on my drawings. I placed all hardware in plastic bags labeled with the corresponding numbers, and I even separated top hinges from bottom hinges so the doors would hang exactly the same way they did previously.
  • Create an assembly line. While the project was going on, our garage became a makeshift shop. We set up as many folding tables as we could get our hands on, and my dad helped me create stands out of nails and plywood to serve as platforms for the doors, to make it easier to paint the edges. Here's what that looked like:

(I only had four stands, and they're under the doors on the table nearest the top of the photo. I rotated doors to those stands to paint the fronts. I wished many a time that I'd had more, but I was thankful for the four I had. I've used them since for other projects.)

  • Be organized. Very, very organized. My cabinets required four coats of the "bond coat" product in the Rust-Oleum kit. I had to carefully keep track of how many coats the front and back of each door had received, taking into account drying times. With 20 doors and seven drawers to cover, that was no easy task. I kept running lists using the number system I'd created (note the blue painter's tape beside each door ... the number followed each door everywhere it went).
  • Have all equipment on-hand. Buy everything you need, including tack cloth (very important), gloves, face mask (for sanding and deglossing, and keeping yourself from passing out while inhaling fumes for 72 hours), painter's tape, etc., before you get started. This project is time-consuming already — you don't want to have to run to the store four times in the midst of it. Also, make sure you have several high-quality synthetic brushes that are in excellent shape. I used 1.5" angled brushes for doors and drawers and 2" angled brushes for cabinet boxes.
  • Finally, follow all instructions. Don't skip steps, whether you're using a kit or not. Prep rigorously, paint carefully and thoroughly, inspect your work often.

Now for a word on paint. You can use basically any latex or alkyd paint for this type of project (oil or latex enamel works best, according to pro faux-finisher Donna Blackard), but I really liked the bond coat included in the Rust-Oleum kit. The paint was really, really thin, and that was very important for workability, especially when painting the doors. It also allowed the grain of the wood to show through, and the finished product looks pretty professional, if I do say so myself. In fact, one of my proudest moments during the project was when my countertop installer walked in for our initial consultation and said, "Oh, I see you've already had your new cabinets installed."

And now a word on countertops. One reason I ultimately decided to paint my cabinetry myself and save on labor costs is so I could splurge on the countertops I really, really wanted. And I wanted quartz. Here's what it looked like when the crew "surveyed" my kitchen to measure for the new counters:

As you can see, the kitchen was back in partial use by that point. Now, here's a shot of my new "Fieldstone" Cambria quartz countertops just moments after they were installed:

And, oh yeah, that broken monstrosity of a fluorescent light fixture dangling precariously overhead? It's gone. Gone the way of the Lady Kenmore fridge. I replaced the fixture with a farmhouse-style pendant track light and added recessed lighting above the sink. And we replaced the old fridge with a stainless steel, side-by-side, counter-depth Frigidaire.

Anybody still with me? If so, you definitely deserve a reward. All I've got for you is this, a picture of the results of my family's hard-fought effort to create a new, beautiful kitchen:

Pretty big difference, huh? Here's one more image. This one shows the new fridge....

I've got to say, we all worked on it  me, my husband and our 6-year-old son  and we all pretty much love it. In fact, before writing this post I'd almost forgotten what the old kitchen looked like.

So, am I happy I worked H-A-R-D to paint my own kitchen cabinets? Why yes, yes I am. I'd probably even do it again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Case for Green Paint

Whoa ... what? A new post on DesignInsider??

I know, right?
I've been so busy for the past few months building a writing career that I haven't had as much time for personal writing as I would have liked. But a lot of the writing I've been doing has centered on homes and design, so I'd like to share some of it here.

Recently, I did a story on low-VOC and zero-VOC paint. It's a topic I'm interested in personally, so I thought other people might want to know a little more about it too. I've used various types of "green" paints over the past few years, all with better success than I expected. A couple of the biggest surprises:

1. The low-VOC paint I used in my guest bath (Sherwin-Williams Duration Home, recommended for use in bathrooms and kitchens) gave me better coverage than a similar-value (meaning similar spot on the color chip) conventional paint I used in my living room. I probably could have gotten by with one coat.

2. The zero-VOC paint I used two weeks ago to paint my son's bedroom (Olympic Premium) came from Lowe's and cost a mere $23.99 a gallon. Yes, you read that right. Even zero-VOC paint, the best of the best environmentally speaking, doesn't have to cost a fortune.

Something else to note is that both low- and zero-VOC paints, in my experience, have a much, much milder smell than conventional paints. And one thing I learned in researching the article is that smell does directly correlate to the VOC level in a paint. The stronger the noxious smell, the more damage the paint does when you inhale it. And it can do damage....

Before you wave off that statement with an, "Eh, what's one time gonna hurt?" think about this. Does anybody in your house have allergies? Asthma? Are there babies or kids or pregnant women in your household? Because conventional paints can aggravate allergic or asthmatic conditions, and studies have shown that VOCs are especially harmful to fetuses and small children. Now think about this. Low- or zero-VOC paints are now as readily available, as diverse performance- and color-wise and, in some cases, as inexpensive as conventional paints. Even if you're doing it "just one time," there is absolutely no reason not to go with the better, safer option.

That leads me to one more point: You can do anything with low- or zero-VOC paint now that you can do with a conventional paint. There are green paints on the market for pretty much any household use. There are indoor paints, outdoor paints, one-coat coverage paints, paints with built-in primer, paints that can adhere to and cover oil-based (alkyd) paints. You name it, there's a green paint that can do it. That wasn't the case in the past, but it's the case now. I learned that from multiple paint experts, and I believe what they told me, because I've tested the products for myself.

So the next time you're painting, pretty please consider going the low- or zero-VOC route. It's better for all of us. Especially you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Ikea Love Story

I love Ikea. I just do. It's like Target, only bigger and bluer and ... Swedish. And I don't get to go there very often, so when I do, I kind of go nuts.

I definitely lost my mind in there last weekend.

We went to Dallas to visit family and catch the Texas Rangers as they cruised toward the playoffs. We stayed with cousins who live in Frisco - which is also where DFW's Ikea store lives. And I practically lived in the store all weekend. Every time I get to an Ikea store, I go with a mission, and this time, it was the big-boy bedroom I blogged about a week or two ago. I went into the store with a vague inkling of an idea and left with a basically finished room. I bought bedding and curtains and pillows and accessories and art.

And I didn't stop there - I mean, I couldn't ignore the rest of the house, right? I bought dishes and a desk and the desk chairs to go with it and storage boxes and more pillows and even a chandelier.

And I managed to get it all home in our tiny car - they don't call it a Honda Fit for nothing.

Why, oh why, don't we have an Ikea at home? Oh yeah. Because they're "not interested in locating in our region." I know this because an old co-worker of mine actually called and asked. So the place does have one flaw. But for those of you who've never been to one, basically it's like a shopping amusement park. An enormous blue box filled with absolutely everything related to home. It's a great place for kitchen stuff, kids' stuff, accessories, frames, bedding, storage pieces - and furniture, if your taste leans toward the clean-lined and the contemporary. Which mine does.

Ikea, oh how I heart thee. :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bye, Bye Baby

So, my big boy definitely isn't a baby anymore.


And apparently, Mommy is having a hard time moving on - because his bedroom still has baby written all over it. I don't know why I haven't been able to bring myself to transform his nursery into a big-boy bedroom yet, but it probably has something to do with the fact that I love that little baby room so much. I remember the week I hauled my very pregnant self all around the room, dragging a stool with me to sit on, and painted words in cursive on the flat chair rail my husband and father installed.

"Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits, and their names were -- Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...."

I made a window treatment (I even sewed a little, which is a major undertaking for me) and painted three scenes from the storybook that I framed for the walls. I painted an old bookshelf and the old rocking chair my parents gave me. I mixed and matched bedding, found my own combination of items to create a theme without being too "themey."

Poor grad student as I was, I did it on a shoestring budget, and I just loved it.

So, OK, I guess that explains why I haven't moved on from it yet. All that, plus the fact that it's been a VERY busy almost-four years. But now that my not-so-little-guy is on the verge of his 4th birthday, I know it's time he gets a more grown-up space. I want his new room to reflect him, not me (nursery is all about Mommy, big-boy room all about Big Boy), so I've been paying attention to what he's into and asking him from time to time what he wants in his new room: cars & trucks or music.

Since it's the answer nine times out of ten, music is the clear winner. So for a few months now, I've been keeping my eyes open for music-themed items to inspire me. I've found a lamp here, a rug there. But last weekend at the Cooper-Young Festival, I found what I've been waiting for. The piece de resistance. The thing that will inspire the design of the whole space.

Again, it's a book.

But it's a grown-up book, a big-boy book, and it sets exactly the right tone (no pun intended) for what will hopefully be an awesome, stimulating, inspiring space for my Big Boy to grow up in.

*sniffles again*

I'll get started on the transformation soon - because I know he doesn't need a changing table anymore. I know he's past the stage of being rocked to sleep in that old, painted rocking chair. He's moved on. So I'll move on, too.

Really I will..

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Not-So-High Price of Custom

One of the things that's most fun about my job is the chance to create something all new and completely unique. That can happen in a lot of ways - blending an unexpected mix of colors or patterns, solving a problem with space planning, playing with scale - but the most obvious way it happens is designing something that's not already out there on the market to meet a specific need for a space.

In other words, creating a custom piece of furniture.
It's not something that happens every day for a designer, but I haven't been doing this all that long (two years), and I've already had the chance to see one piece through from conception to completion (pictured) and am about to start conceptualizing another one. Which is why the topic's on my mind.
In both instances, the reason the client and I pursued a custom piece was because we searched and searched and searched for an existing piece that met their needs - space-wise, function-wise, style-wise - and came up short. With the gazillions of home products out there for sale, you'd think that'd be an uncommon problem, but it happens all the time. The biggest surprise - for me and my clients - is that a custom-designed, custom-made piece of furniture isn't necessarily as unattainable, price-wise, as you might think. The china cabinet pictured above is the perfect height and width for the space, has the exact finish the client wanted (plus a metallic finish inside that literally makes it shine), and has shelves and drawers configured specifically for the items the client wanted it to hold. It doesn't get any better than that. And the price tag wasn't much higher - maybe 15-20% - than a comparable piece from a decent furniture manufacturer.
Worth it, because the piece is not only ideal for the space, but it's handcrafted from solid wood and made in our local community (a real anomaly these days, since nearly all furniture is made overseas). It's also well-built - something the family will hold onto and pass down for generations.
Now I'm about to pick up my drawing tools (yes, I draw by hand, also an anomaly these days but so much more fulfilling for me) and get to work sketching out ideas for my new piece..
So. Much. Fun.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Modern Friend Morgan

A friend of mine, Morgan Armstrong, just jumped out there and launched a website for her new interior design business, Memphis Modern. The site looks awesome, and I'm so proud of her! She, like me, has a contemporary aesthetic. That's not to say she won't design traditional rooms and traditional homes - that's par for the course when you live and work in uber-trad Memphis - but she loves modern design and contemporary style, and I love that about her!

I just wanted to put up a couple of pics from her portfolio. I especially love the trash-to-treasure white lacquer chest of drawers and mirror. I also love her color palette - silvers and grays and whites and soft blues.

Morgan and I crossed paths in school and she worked as an intern at my firm. We've been to Market together, attended IDS meetings together and sat through product presentations together. We've also had a lot of conversations about design - what we like and why, what styles appeal to us and don't, what types of things we'd have in our dream houses. And we've discovered that our tastes are really similar.
Anybody reading this, what about you? What styles are you most drawn to? What colors soothe you and say "home" to you? Does your house reflect those things?

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