The post in which I finally use my $1 shutters.

I enjoy a good repurposing. If I didn't, I doubt that I would have hung this ladder or these baskets on the wall. Naturally, then, when I saw this whole pile of wooden shutters for only $1 at a yard sale, Rick didn't have time to say "Your repurposing is out of control" before I had handed over the dollar and was plopping half the pile in his arms to carry to the car. He's such a good sport--and I love him for it. :)

The shutters have been sitting, unused, in my personal project storage hallway our front entry for several months now, and I decided that it was high time to use them. It was actually Rick who suggested that we lean some of them next to our newly upholstered chair against the back of our desk. Good sport and clever--does it get better than that?

They were already white, but the white had seen better days, so I took a coat of fresh paint to three of them. And let me tell you, I am not in any hurry to do that again. The slats were pretty tricky to get painted, and the whole process definitely took more time and patience than I thought it would. I might try spray paint next time. But, after about 45 minutes, I had clean white shutters. You can see the "before and after" color difference in this picture:

Is it a problem that this whole process reminded me of teeth whitening?

The knobs were also looking like they needed a serious supply of Crest Whitestrips. To make matters worse, by the looks of them, someone had gotten hungry and decided to chew on them. This is stress-eating at its most bizarre.

I couldn't find a way to correct the teeth marks without replacing the whole knob (which I might do someday...but right now, I like to work with what I have) so, instead, I used my secret weapon: spray paint.

And here they are, sporting new silver knobs, leaning casually next to our chair. If they were leaning any more casually, I would half be expecting them to grow hormones and ask the chair out on a date while suavely examining themselves in their locker mirror.

Do I spend too much time in a high school?

In all seriousness, I think they add a lot of texture and interest to the otherwise gaping hole created by the underside of our desk.

And I have another shutter project in the works (which apparently means that I am in a hurry to paint shutter slats again?) since I was recently inspired by the oversized 6' version that I saw at an architectural salvage store. Stay tuned! :)


The post that turns magazines and old frames into "art."

One of my favorite things to do is fill empty spaces with cheap and easy DIY decor. The following tutorial introduces you to my latest "art": cheap and easy "window" frames!

What you'll need: a picture frame, spray paint if you want the frame to be a different color, a pile of old magazines, scissors, paper that matches your frame's color, and some type of adhesive (I used Scotch double-sided roller tape).

1. Prepare the picture frame (optional): Take the glass and back out of the picture frame and spray paint the frame to be the color of your liking. I have a collection of frames that I've picked up at yard sales usually for no more than $.25 each.

2. Find the right magazine images: While the paint is drying, hunt through magazines for images that are part of a tight color scheme. I was looking for pictures that were black and white and pictures that were yellow for the office, then pictures containing browns and greens for our living room. Make sure that you have a specific size in mind when looking for usable pictures:  I needed my images to be approximately 2.5"x3.5" since my frame opening was 8"x10".

 Another note about magazine images: make sure that they look like something. I think it's fun to look at mine and try to figure out what the bigger picture was, kind of like those magazine puzzles that show you the celebrity's eyes and you have to figure out whose face they belong on. Only I don't find pictures of cupcakes and lemons nearly as disturbing as a close-up of, say Michael Jackson's pupils.

And on the subject of things you don't want to see a close-up of: make sure that your pictures don't look like something you wouldn't display. For example, I found a cool picture of a yellow squash and was going to include it in my collection. But then, after looking at it more closely, it really looked more like a woman's hip. A woman's naked hip, to be exact. So, bye-bye, hip squash.

3. Cut all of the images to be the same size. I used my paper cutter for ease, but this could also be done by hand.

4.  Arrange and adhere the images on a piece of paper that will fit in the frame. I find it easy to use the piece that comes with the frame, since it will definitely fit in the frame. You know the piece I'm talking about: it usually says the size, possibly the price, and tends to include a nice picture of a tree or some small child playing on the beach.

5. Cut and adhere strips of the paper that matches your frame into strips large enough to cover the gaps between images. Even though I had cut my images with the paper cutter, there were still slight differences in size that definitely needed to be obscured. This will also mean that there is room for slight error, so your sizing, especially if cutting by hand, doesn't need to be as precise.

6. Place the entire piece back in its frame and--ta da! A new piece of "art" that looks a little like a window. The tight color scheme on each really help the whole thing look cohesive and like it was all destined to go together.

Here they are in their bookshelf context:

So how about you? What have you done with old magazines, besides toss them in the recycling bin? I have a pretty decent collection that is just dying to be cut apart--so let me know! :)


The post that rescues my home's stashed mementos.

Our living room bookshelf is equal parts form and function with the several baskets scattered throughout to wrangle our clutter. I loved the visual results of that bookshelf so much that when we were revamping our office, I wanted a bookshelf in there, too.

Bookshelves, in general, are an easy way to add color (a big bonus since we can't paint the walls) plus height to a room--and you can find inexpensive versions if you are willing. This one that's in our office is decidedly more heavy on "form"--and this "form" is the result of, in several cases, mementos that I have unearthed from their assigned seats in the backs of drawers and the bottoms of boxes. So, without further ado, here's a stroll down the memory lane portions of our bookshelf (don't worry; it's not so mushy that you'll need a box of tissues nearby)...

1.  Our baby pictures. We had ours enlarged to black and white 8x10s at Walgreens, and I am loving the adorable result. I purposely chose pictures that A) were similar in style (we're both sitting in chair-type items at approximately the same age) and B) give the illusion that we are lovingly gazing in each others' direction as mere babies (we're both facing the center). You can easily change the direction a person is facing in a picture by flipping it using the Mirror tool in many photo-editing programs.

2.  Advice from our wedding guests. I picked out some of my favorite small ones (they were written on a variety of cardstock sizes) that we used in lieu of a bulky guestbook  and placed them in this fun little seashell dish. The orchid nestled in there is just a sweet accent to all of the writing.

I especially like that these were, for the longest time, merely stashed in a Ziploc bag in the dark depths of some drawer, never to see the light of day. Now, we see the pile every day to not just be reminded of our beautiful wedding day, but also some of the things that make a marriage work: "Laugh. A lot." "Love people--use things. Don't confuse the two." "Be sweethearts forever." "Make time to spend together, no matter how busy life gets." AND--just because it's funny--"Erin: Make sure you let your husband cook for you. It's great, and it saves you time when you're busy." Obviously, I have had no problems taking that piece of advice. Especially since I tend to blacken things that shouldn't be. But that's another story. And not a very sentimental one. So it will not be appearing in this post. Sorry to disappoint.

3. A card that Rick gave me. Now, I am not a pack rat by any stretch of the imagination, but I have held onto this card because I absolutely adored what it said on the front: "I'd chase you across a hundred playgrounds, a thousand schoolyards to play this game of love with you." I think it was the combination of nostalgic childhood innocence plus the reference to a school plus the echoes of first falling in love that really made me keep this card over all of the others. And now, just like our wedding notes, it has retreated from its dark drawer to be displayed as a reminder of our ever-growing relationship.

4. My college yearbook. Don't let this fool you: I won't teach my children my college alma mater (and not just because I don't know it). I can't fill an entire drawer with clothing that has NAZARETH scrawled across it. I don't secretly take drives through the campus, trying to sneak into the dining hall for one last turkey wrap. But that school is where I got my ticket to the real world diploma and certification, and I owe a lot of my career- and life-learning to the 4 years that I spent there. So when I found this yearbook buried at the bottom of my closet, I decided it was time to do something with it. Mind you, I'm not even in the yearbook. So don't ask why Naz felt compelled to mail me a copy of it. But they did, and I didn't know what to do with it (the recycling bin felt wrong, somehow), so it has found a new home on our office bookshelf.

5. A framed photo of us. If sticking photos on shelves seems typical, that's because it is. But I've started to develop my own personal "rules" of photo displaying. As much as I love pictures, I have recently begun to notice that when displayed, they can jarringly shift the entire feel of a wall (and not in a good way) if not chosen properly. For example, I would not use this shelf to display either of these pictures:

OK, well, maybe that's just because we look like fools. Although I do think that Rick's face is priceless as he naughtily yanks on poor Eeyore's tail. No wonder Eeyore is so depressed. :(

Anyway, in all seriousness, when choosing photos for display, I try to use pictures that have a similar color scheme or texture in order to keep things visually cohesive. Since I do love displaying our captured memories, this seems like a nice compromise. *For the record, the one of Rick checking out Eeyore's ample tush does make an appearance in our Disney World scrapbook.

I was thrilled, then, that this particular photo (sorry about the poor quality--the light and the glare and reflections from the glass were all working together to be more difficult than a room of 28 ninth graders trying to read Shakespeare) works with our shelf, because it is one of my absolute favorites of the two of us. It was taken by my dad at my friend Michelle's wedding last September, so it's a nice reminder of that day and my friendship with her. And I think Rick and I look pretty cute in our complementary attire (no, of course that wasn't planned!).

So that's it for the run-down of how I've used our office bookshelf for items that I can't bring myself to throw away, or just simply don't want to throw away, but aren't getting much quality of life (or purpose) in their dusty and dark storage spaces. How about you? How have you turned sentimental storage into decorations that you can see every day? Feel free to share any and all ideas. :)

Psst: stay tuned for Part II when I give the run-down of how I filled the rest of the bookshelf with cheap and easy DIY decor!


The post in which I hang a ladder on the wall.

I'm back with another installment of "Rick loves getting stuff off the side of the road with me." In this case, the "stuff" was in the form of two old wooden ladders that I had spied on the corner the day before. I was anxious to go grab them before someone else did, before realizing that in their worn, chipping, and overall shabby state, they weren't exactly going to be flying off the curb. But the worn, chipping, and overall shabby state did mean one thing: they would be perfect for hanging on the wall!

This idea, of course, brought a mild version of the following look to Rick's face:

But, being the wonderfully patient husband that he is (and knowing that he'd made that face before, only to be pleased with the results) he agreeably trudged down to the corner with me, and we paraded back as the proud owners of two I've-seen-better-days ladders.

For a while, they took on the roles of makeshift scratching posts, with the cats being weirdly attracted to clawing on them. Who knew? Maybe I should market this idea, make millions, quit my job, and stay home and be a...professional ladder-hanger?

Anyway, it was when we were doing some much-needed revamping and reorganizing of my craft room (which, at the time, we affectionately called the "junk dumping room") that the true purpose for one of these ladders was realized. After carefully finding the studs so as not to affix a wooden object to the plaster and have it fall on our heads (I tell you, I learn a lot from that guy. Girl Scouts didn't teach me those things. Square knot, anyone?), Rick drilled in two heavy-duty screws and voila! Our horizontal wall-ladder was born.

I love how the worn ladder exudes a beachy feel, especially when paired with the aqua and lime accessories. And those accessories are an eclectic bunch: we have spray-painted bottles, clear bottles with corks, old jars with glassy stones in them (I told you I had a bottle/jar fetish), an old candle wrapped with a bit of burlap, a mug that I altered with a rub-on sentiment (scroll down to #5 in that post), and a cheap-o wire lantern (not to be lit, of course--landlords tend to frown upon such ideas) from the 80% off clearance rack at Michael's.

Our overall cost for this whole display was:

Ladder: free!
Bottles: free!
Spray paint: $6 (and can be used for other projects)
Candle w/burlap: both already owned
Mug & sentiment: both already owned
Glassy stones: $3 (and I have leftovers that can be used elsewhere)
Lantern: $1.29

TOTAL: $10.29...for another blank wall checked off of my to-do list.

I know this eclectic, worn look isn't for everyone, but I think the ladder adds a ton of texture and interest to the room. Here's the full effect:

Anyone else out there have a ladder on their wall, or anywhere else in the house, other than the garage? I have another ladder left from the set (and, as much as the felines in this house would love it, I really don't want to use it as a scratching post...) so let me know your ideas! :)


The post in which I glue mirrors to baskets.

As I mentioned in this post about our Leased Land of Beige, Plaster, and Poorly Painted Trim, I have been perpetually faced with the challenge of how to liven up the very blank and very off-white walls in our apartment. Painting is a no-no, so I have had to find other inexpensive ways to bring some life to our surroundings. Flipping through a free copy of an old Better Homes & Gardens magazine that I had picked up from the copy room at school, I noticed this:

It seemed like a project I could handle, so I picked up a shallow woven tray from Goodwill, a 4-pack of plate trays from the Christmas Tree Shops, and a can of satin yellow spray paint, knowing that I wanted to add my new creation to our slowly changing office. The next step was finding cool pictures like the ones displayed in the magazine picture, but that's where I hit the figurative brick wall. Other than black and white prints and pictures, I couldn't find anything colorful that would mesh with the rest of our office decor. And I didn't want to just do more of black and white, since we had plenty of that going on already.

I was wandering aimlessly through the aisles of Michael's, pondering my plight, when I came across their craft mirror selection--and bam! The figurative light bulb (are you getting my English teacher drift here?) went off! Why not glue mirrors to the insides of the baskets for a slightly different look? I hurried my 4 mirrors home and got to work spray painting the baskets.

Adhering the mirrors to the baskets was a bit of a trick: simply using hot glue was about as effective as using a toothpick to hold eight hamburgers together. I knew that there would have to be something absorbent in between the two non-porous pieces to really make them stick together. So, I cut apart some old scraps of corkboard and glued them first to the basket, and then the mirror to the cork pieces.

I was pleased with the result, and shook them vigorously to make sure the glue was strong (the last thing we need is our budget decor falling off of the wall and sending us to the hospital where our budget will likely be exceeded by countless dollars). However, I didn't like the way the plates nestled together when I arranged them. The whole thing looked too predictable and symmetrical, or like a lopsided mess. I decided that the arrangement needed some other sizes.

While wandering through Party City, looking for other shallow basket trays in different sizes, some sturdy cardboard cake trays (like the one to the right) caught me eye. The silver seemed to echo the mirrors on the baskets I had at home, and I knew that I could dress up the platters using my Cricut. I was especially drawn to the fact that they were circular but had scalloped edges, making a nice complement to the perfectly rounded edges of the baskets. Once home, I used my Cricut and yellow, white, and silver paper to create the designs I wanted on the cake trays and on the large basket.

I created my own hangers for my new decorations by adhering folded cardboard like this:

(If I had been thinking ahead, I could have saved some effort by simpling threading the ribbon through the basket prior to gluing on the mirror. Oh, well.)

Then, after a great deal of shuffling, I came up with a good arrangement for my new art. I didn't want the edges of the overall arrangement to be symmetrical or straight in any way, preferring the "I just threw this together" (yeah, right) collage look. And voila: here is my work, proudly hanging firmly on the wall above Rick's keyboard.

I am pretty happy with how it turned out, especially the fact that the whole thing only cost:

Baskets: $3
Cake trays: $2.50
Mirrors: $6.50
Paper: already owned
Spray paint: $3.50 (and can be used for other projects, too!)
Total: $15.50...for a wall that is no longer blank. AND--bonus--I had fun doing it.

I'd love to hear about ways that you've been inspired to decorate your blank walls with seemingly random objects, so feel free to share!


The post in which I confess my recycling addiction.

I think I have a problem. Here's my sad tale.

On a recent trip to the supermarket, I purposely selected the Wegmans brand BBQ sauce not because it would surely be the best thing to use on our pork chops but, rather, because the bottle was cute. And those two 4-packs of mini-Frizzante European sodas? Apparently, the fact that the said carbonated beverage is packaged in cute curvy bottles is a good enough reason to buy a drink that, otherwise, rarely enters our fridge. Please hold while I ask my almost-pharmacist husband if there is a medicine for curing such bizarre and irrational decision-making.

~~~~~~~Insert some elevator music here~~~~~~~

Bad news: no pill. But if there is one, he says it will come in a glass bottle. Way to fuel the addiction, honey.

Anyway, I am not ashamed to admit some of my favorite curb items to scout for on an infrequent basis are cool bottles and jars. Not being drinkers, and since my supermarket problem isn't so uncontrollable that I am unwittingly compelled to buy expensive alcohol,we don't get many unique bottles through our doors. My solution? Trick Rick into going for walks with me on Wednesday nights. No, it is not a coincidence that Thursday morning is when garbage is collected. I am like a girl on Halloween, happily skipping around filling her sack of goodies. Sometimes I even dress up. No, wait, that was Rick. He wore a disguise so as to not be recognized by our neighbors. What can I say? He clearly doesn't see the value in my glass collection.

So what is the value in my collection, you might ask? After, of course, cleaning the bottles thoroughly, I have used pretty bottles and jars around the house in the following decorative and functional ways.

1. For a vase. My wonderful friend from high school, Michelle, recently came to visit with her husband and they brought a sweet bouquet of sunflowers that is featured at the top of this post. Don't they look adorable in this jar?

2. To organize toiletries. We needed all of these things at our easy disposal, but did not like how they were just sitting in their boxes/bags on the open shelf. The use of the jars make the whole display much more appealing. Bonus points if you can figure out what these common jars used to hold before I converted them into home storage...

3. As new candle holders. I combined an old Yankee Candle jar, a votive holder, and some fun glassy stones for a brand new candle.

4. To display sweet sentiments. This dish with flare used to be a candle holder. I cleaned it out and it now is a reminder of some of our 6-28-08 wedding mementos (our guests, in lieu of a guestbook, were asked to write down little snippets of advice on small pieces of cardstock).One of my favorites is in here: "Never let the honeymoon end."

5. In decorative clusters. I took three street-wrangled bottles with different heights and colors, and slightly different looks, and presto--a shelf arrangement is born.

6. On a shelf ladder. Hey, it's functioning as a shelf! I love the beachy feel that these small spray-painted bottles give to the worn ladder.

7. To water plants. I keep this eye-catching martini bottle next to our date palm. Seeing it there reminds me to water the plant as needed (and I need all the help I can get), and it's a lot more attractive than a watering can or plastic container.

8. As beverage carafes or containers. The aforementioned mini-Frizzante bottles were recently used when we had some family members over. We filled them with lemonade for a sweet surprise.This large curvy one is a nice water carafe, and looks elegant on the table.

 9. To wrangle and display lively craft items. I filled one votive holder with colorful buttons and used some of those buttons to dress up this old-jar-turned-pencil-holder.

My favorite thing about all of these is that they are absolutely F-R-E-E, especially if you get them from someone else. They can easily be moved around for different purposes, and can be placed back in the recycling bin if they no longer have a good use.

 And here is a story about how I store my bottles:

Me: Hey, guess what I did today?
Rick: What?
Me: (after making him guess) I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets!
Rick: Great! They needed it. (peers into the cabinet I am proudly pointing at and sees this:)

Rick: Oh...how nice...
Me: :-D

So how about you? Anyone else out there have a recycled bottle addiction? Do tell.


The post in which Rick runs off with Betsy Ross.

We the {melting} people...
Rick and I were recently on vacation in southern Pennsylvania, where we spent one day touring historic Philadelphia. Our shining faces in the photo accurately suggest that  Philly was slightly cooler than a person sipping hot chai while snuggled up in a wool blanket. In a sauna. If we hadn't forgotten the marshmallows, we could've roasted one on the sidewalk and gobbled it up for a delightful afternoon snack.

But enough about the temperature. We had a wonderful day despite it: so there, oven-like heat wave! One of our stops was Betsy Ross' house, in which we met Betsy herself--I know, weird, right? --hard at work sewing a flag in a replication of her sewing shop. What most amused us about her sewing shop, though, was not the fact that Betsy Ross has apparently been fooling everyone about being dead all of these years, but, rather, the material surrounding Betsy.

Question: how do you know when you've spent too much time in Joann Fabrics? Answer: when you recognize the fabric in Betsy Ross' "sewing shop" and can rattle off the following not-so-historic facts: It was mass-produced by Waverly. The retail price is $39.99 a yard. It comes in black, red, and blue. Betsy was so impressed with Rick's knowledge of fabric that she asked him to join her staff full-time. Obviously, he had to decline, mainly because he just couldn't stand the thought of leaving his little wife to pick out fabric at Joann's all by herself.

Besides, Betsy was just not his type.


The post with the built-in bookshelf.

As an English teacher, you might think that I insist on filling all of my available bookshelves with literature, literature, and more literature. While I do love to read, this is not the case for me, since I choose to save money by simply borrowing nearly 100% of my books from the public library. Instead, I have turned our bookshelves into decorative destinations for cohesive collections (wow, alliteration--I'm such an English nerd) that reflect the mood, style, and colors in the rest of the room.

Our living room sports this fabulous built-in bookshelf (gotta love cool old houses!), but I didn't care for its original display of DVDs, dorm-y picture frames, and other mismatched items that were deposited there upon moving in. Of course, since I am always on a budget, I had to be creative with how I alternatively filled these spaces. Here are some ideas for meaningful yet wallet-friendly items you can use to transform your bookshelf from a blah dumping grounds for knick knacks and media to an inspiring and customized nook!

1. Baskets. These add great texture to the shelf as well as an organized place to deposit things that you really don't want on display. Such unmentionables for us include my coupon folder, our video camera, computer cables, batteries, cat toys, boxes of greeting cards, and Rick's underwear. No, just kidding. Although it would free up a lot of space in the dresser...which would mean more room for me...which would mean I could go shopping...I must consider this.

2. Books. Duh. But I didn't just want any old run-of-the-mill paperbacks: I wanted books that were A) cohesive with our color schemes and B) in some way meaningful to us. You'll notice that our living room collection represents my English teaching with Weird and Wonderful Words, congratulates Rick's pharmacy degree with the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Medicine, honors my parents' lifelong careers with The Music Teacher, and reminisces on a cherished childhood series with the Little House book. Since I was not just arbitrarily grabbing books that looked nice (good thing, since there was a really great green book called ---) but, rather, looking for titles that represented pieces of who we are, hunting through our house and the $.99 shelves at Goodwill was really quite a fun treasure hunt.

A book formerly known as Thomas' 10th Edition of Calculus...
You can also cover old, unattractive and unwanted books (such as Rick's -----) with scrapbook paper for a brand new, inexpensive look. I like scrapbook papers that appear a bit worn to give the illusion of being a real book spine. I tried some other papers with patterns and just didn't like the result as much.

3. Glass bottles. As I mentioned in this earlier post about color, bottles are one of the cheapest (you can't beat free) things you can use to add some recycled flavor to your shelves. I will semi-frequently peruse the recycling bins around the block to find unique and interesting bottles that could pass as decor. While I'm lucky to have a living room that features colors frequently used in glass bottles (brown and green) I have also spray-painted bottles in a matte finish for a brand new and easy-to-change color.

4. Plants. Now, I really wish I could use real ones. And I still might pursue it. However, for a variety of reasons (including cats, toxicity, and light levels) that I will tackle in another post after I experiment with some ways to solve our dilemma, we currently use mostly artificial. I have been successful at finding some that look pretty convincing at local craft stores so that I can bring the outdoors in, albeit the fake outdoors.

5. Mugs. As most people do, we have a shelf in our kitchen devoted to coffee mugs. However, we aren't even coffee drinkers, so our collection goes mainly unused and they just peer down at us with their sad little mugs (hardy har har; I couldn't resist) 99.9% of the time. So, I took one of the plain ones off of the shelf and transformed it into something that could be displayed by simply adhering scrapbook rub-ons that I dug from out of my crafting drawers.

Desperately trying to find a mug that doesn't have anything on it? No problem! Just take a can of spray paint (since you won't ever be drinking out of it, there's no problem with this) to your least favorite mug and voila, you have the color of your choice. In some cases, you may want to use a coat of spray primer first, if "BEST GOLF DAD IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD" or something like that is printed on it in extra-large, extra-bold letters. No, we don't have one of these. Mainly because Rick is neither a golfer nor a dad. Maybe someday...

So there you have it. A little run-down of some of the everyday objects that grace our living room bookshelf with surprising elegance and style. What do you have on your bookshelves that makes them unique?