Terra Cotta Craft Night Pots

I’ll admit it – the prospect of a trip to the craft store still makes me squeal (inwardly) with prepubescent glee. (Clearly internal) jumping for joy may also be involved whenever someone says, “Want to go to Michael’s?” (Yeah, and so what if most of the time it’s me saying that to myself. Everyone should try crafting solo. It’s a thrill.)

Craft stores and their aisles packed with possibility hold a special place in my heart, and I’ll never forget the countless number of puff-paint T-shirts, feather boas, unfinished paint-by-numbers, wooden letters, model plane kits, headbands, pipe-cleaner animals, name bracelets, string art and doll accessories I made after trips to the craft store as a kid.

But just as sleepovers spent watching “She’s All That” have morphed into wine-fueled craft nights and Pinterest parties, trips to the craft store for [INSERT CHILDISH CRAFT HERE] can become house- or apartment-furnishing excursions. Craft stores are a great source of affordable house decor items, including vases, baskets, decorative branches, terrarium decorations, boxes, pebbles, bird cages and other weird things that real people use to decorate their homes once they become so-called adults. So when my roommate suggested we have a super-classy craft night beginning with a trip to Michael’s and involving cheap wine and breakfast for dinner, I was all for it.

I decided to go with something to provide a little greenery and color to my bedroom. I’ve been going for this sort of stark, white walls and wood accents, pseudo-Scandinavian thing, but everything is better with some plants. Since I could probably even kill fake plants and I hate the little tiny bugs you get with indoor plants, I decided to make some fake hanging plants for my room. (I’m happy to report they are still green and vibrant as the day their plastic bits were created.)


There’s not much to this one. I painted the terra cotta pots with blue, red and white craft paint (this became increasingly difficult as the night wore on and the wine sank in), attempting vaguely Southwestern patterns. Then I stuffed the pots full of fake Spanish moss, jabbed my branches of fake green things into the moss, and then tied some twine around the pots (this involved cutting eight pieces of twine to the same length, knotting at the bottom of the pot, knotting at the top of the pot, knotting all the way at the other end of the rope and then tying one piece of twine around the outside of the pot to keep it upright). After that, I took the pots down to my bedroom, screwed some hooks into the ceiling (I could only find two lying around, so two pots are sharing), hung the pots up, styled and arranged the hanging branches to my satisfaction, and then spent some time making the dog pose for my photos.

They do add a nice splash of color and fake greenery to the room. Maybe one day I’ll be a real real-person and have real plants in my bedroom for the whole oxygenating and psychological benefit. But right now I feel like the woe I feel when another one bites the dust pretty much puts paid to any psychological boost I would get from having real plants.


Obligatory dog styling.



Anyway, without further ado, the cost breakdown for this little evening project:

Terra cotta pots (3) – $3 each = $9
Fake green stuff – $10
Bag of fake Spanish moss = $6 (I still have a ton of this left)
Craft paint (red, white, blue) = $1 each = $3
Paintbrush = already owned
Hooks for the ceiling = already owned
Roll of twine = $3

Total = $25. A little steep for things I do, but considering that I still have pretty much all the Spanish moss, twine and craft paint still leftover, I think it’s pretty reasonable.


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DIY Hairpin Leg Side Table

I know I have yet to post any pics of the new place (I mean, hey, it’s only been like 6 months… okay, yeah, that’s pathetic…) … but trust me that it’s adorable!

One of the best things about having a new place is that I now have more space for more DIY projects (though that is quickly running out).

Our living room decor is an eclectic mix of real mid-century modern things, Target things, DIY’d things, found things, IKEA things, Marshall’s/Ross/TJ Maxx/Homegoods things, dog toys and a giant TV. One of my favorite pieces is this card catalog DIY hairpin leg side table thing that I made out of a set of old card drawers and hairpin legs (my use of which is completely shocking, I know).

hairpin leg side table
Right at home in the “business corner” of the living room

There’s not much to this one:

1. Acquire the thing.

I bought the card catalog drawer thingy at a flea market. I just can’t say no to old, vaguely industrial-looking things. Can’t do it.

diy hairpin leg side table
It called to me.

2. Protect the hardware.

I removed the pulls (which was sort of tricky, since the nuts on the back were these tiny little square ones and I didn’t have a socket that size. I ended up gripping a rubber band between my fingers and using the extra friction to just work the little nuts off manually…yes…that’s what I said and that’s what I did) and then taped up the little brand badge. Then time for paint.

3. Paint the thing.

I painted it navy blue with Rustoleum metal spray paint (which is awesome). You could probably use the regular one, but the metal paint is specially formulated to adhere to metal surfaces and dries fast for that reason. I finally have an open, ventilated area (my garage) in which to do this spray painting thing. It’s a beautiful thing.

4. Another life for hairpin legs

These are the hairpin legs from my dining table, remember? I put the original wooden legs back on the dining table because it went better with our dining area decor (we can’t avoid a slight “country kitchen” feel due to our kitchen looking like a country kitchen). I held on to the legs for just such a project to come along.

The legs just go directly into the bottom of the metal. I had to buy a special drill bit after breaking one that was meant for wood. Lesson learned – don’t be lazy, spend the time to acquire the tools you need for the job, and you’ll actually save yourself time and money in the long run. Well, actually, who am I fooling? Lesson not learned. Lesson repeated. Again.

A drill bit for drilling metal. Novel.
A drill bit for drilling metal. Novel.

The legs being screwed into the bottom does prevent me from using the two side drawers, but since it’s primarily used as a decorative surface, that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

diy hairpin leg side table
With the proper tools, much may be accomplished. Industriousness 92,938; Laziness -2,934,809. And yet I still always start out on the lazy side…
diy hairpin leg side table
All done!

5. Stage with abandon

Making things is fun! So is staging them so they look better for photos than they ever will in real life!

diy hairpin leg side table
The dog is an obligatory staging prop.

2013-04-13 14.36.44

Round up

Time: About 1 hour of work, plus letting it dry overnight after painting (and okay…half an hour for a trip to the orange box store for a metal-drilling bit…after about half an hour cursing the wood-drilling bit for failing to rise above its provenance and drill through metal). Most of that hour involved taking the hardware off.


  • Card catalog drawer thing – $28 (flea market)
  • Drill – already owned
  • Broken wood-drilling bit – already owned
  • New metal-drilling bit – $7
  • Rustoleum navy blue spray paint – $6
  • Hairpin legs – already owned

Total: $41. Yeah, on the pricey side for one of my DIYs, but it’s an old card catalog hairpin leg side table thingy! I had to have it. And do something with it. And it’s quite functional where it is – we use it for paying bills and keep our bill-paying supplies in the drawer.

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DIY Dresser Makeover

Over this past Presidents Day three-day weekend, I finally did a DIY dresser makeover project I’d been thinking about for a while. I never needed a dresser in my old place, but as it turns out, I lucked into a great project with plenty of sentimental history.

diy dresser makeover
Before – a dresser with a long history

Every do-it-yourself furniture project is, on a certain level, a labor of love. You saw the piece somewhere – a garage sale, Craigslist, a thrift shop, grandma’s basement, your own house – and you thought it had enough potential to become something else. Something more. Something you’d use again, something you needed, something you would love. You spent the time thinking about what it could be. You spent the time prepping, sanding, stripping, nailing, painting, waxing, cutting, screwing, staining. And when it’s all done, well, your vision came to life. Or not. Either way, it was a crapload of work. So you’re keeping it, damn it. Forever.

Maybe after doing enough pieces it becomes different, more of a curiosity project than a real labor. Maybe that’s how people do this for a living and sell their pieces off when they’re finished. I don’t know. All I know is that I look at things I’ve done and still get the little thrill of, “I did that. That’s mine. And it used to be so ugly/broken/wrong for that space/not my style. And now it rocks.”

That’s why this particular DIY dresser makeover project is extra special. The Before is a very common pine dresser with a blah orangey finish and very common brass fixtures. You’ve probably seen a million of ‘em. I have too. But this particular dresser was my childhood changing table. My parents drove around suburban California to buy it used, hauled it home and used it for the next 25 years – first as a changing table and later as the gloves/hats/scarves dresser in the front closet. When I look at the After now, I get a little thrill of, “My parents used this for years. I used to be a tiny bundle of poo that could fit on top of this. And now it’s mine. And it fits my decor. And it looks awesome.”

diy dresser makeover
Me and Dresser, circa the late 1980s

So here’s how it went down (going to be a long one):

1. Gritty. There is no way around a ton of sanding on a project like this. None. No amount of crying or hoping or taking an excessive amount of time on prep items like unscrewing the pulls will save you from the fact that you will have to sand away all of the crap to get to real, stainable wood. I honestly think this is why so many people just say “whatevs” and paint wooden dressers (thereby earning the ire of the “I’m so aghast you painted over wood grain on a dime-a-dozen dresser that you own and now I will denigrate your taste and your pedigree in this public-but-anonymous forum” crowd).

Disclaimer: I have never used nor attempted to use any kind of chemical stripping agent. Maybe that would make my life easier. In a sick way, though, I kind of like sanding and how much of a pain it is…

I started with the drawers, and they were deceivingly easy. Getting down to the wood is so satisfying.

diy dresser makeover
“Soon you’ll be gloriously naked too,” said left drawer to right drawer.

Thinking that I lead a charmed existence and that I could knock this project out in a single afternoon, I moved on to the actual dresser frame itself. Needless to say, completely different story over here. The 80-grit sandpaper I used so effectively on the drawers barely even made a dent in the finish on the top and sides.

After my hands had gone numb from the incessant vibration of the sander, I had made exactly this much progress:

diy dresser makeover

Refusing to admit defeat and finally conquering my own laziness, I went out and got some 40-grit sandpaper sheets. It worked so well that I kind of hated myself for being so lazy and not going out and getting some 40-grit sheets as soon as I realized the 80-grit wasn’t cutting it. Lesson learned? Probably not…

I still had a lot of sanding ahead of me, though. I sanded the entire dresser down with 40, then worked my way up with progressively finer grits until I had sanded the entire thing and the drawers with 220-grit sandpaper. Do not skip the fine-grit sanding. It makes the difference between “nice dresser” and “oh my god, touch this dresser – it feels so amazingly smooth and I can’t stop petting it.” Trust – you want the latter.

I finished off the sanding phase with some #0000 gauge steel wool.

2. Body modifications. I was still persisting in my fantasy that I could finish this in one afternoon when I realized that I really wanted to remove the decorative pieces along the bottom. The square-corner legs underneath would be a much better, cleaner look.

diy dresser makeover
Can I just saw it off? ugh.

Figuring out how to get them off was another story. The bolts in this dresser are square-holed, not Phillips or slothead. I used an Allen wrench in a smaller size that fit into the square holes, but there were so many bolts at random awkward angles, that taking off the wood pieces took far longer than expected.

I also filled in all the exposed bolt holes with stainable wood filler before staining.

3. Stain, Your Honor. While picking up some of my beloved Minwax Red Mahogany at the big orange box, I saw Minwax’s relatively new “Classic Gray” and got a can of that on a whim. My roommate convinced me that the gray would look much better than my classic reddish stain in my deep blue bedroom. And oh, how right she was.

Minwax Classic Gray isn’t a replacement for the vinegar-and-steel-wool method of fake “aging” wood. It’s not a driftwood stain, either. At least with pine, it sort of just tints everything a little gray (I know, I know – shocking for a stain product).

4. Oops! to Ooh! I decided to paint the front of the dresser (just the frame between the drawers) partly because I thought it would look nice and partly because I didn’t want to sand all the way to the wood in those small spaces. My roommate had some extra of her bedroom wall paint (Behr Ocean Pearl), a pretty gray-white-beige color, so I borrowed a bit of that.

I know, I know – I painted wood! The sacrilege! Whatever. I feel like the sheer amount of effort I went through to get down to the wood of the rest of it (instead of just painting over the whole thing) has earned me the right to do whatever I want with the dresser. Plus, it’s mine.

diy dresser makeover
Only a leeeeetle paint

Naturally, I got some on the wood I had just stained. If I was a real pro, I’d have sanded the paint off and re-stained, but because I wax optimistic always, I just tried to wipe the paint off. Needless to say, it didn’t come off. It did, however, do a cool sort of whitewash effect that looks sort of like chalk.

The stripe on the left has the paint effect, the rest doesn’t. Isn’t it great?

diy dresser makeover
Accidental awesome.
diy dresser makeover
It’s not ruined – promise!

So I did it to the whole thing. Wahoo. I brushed the paint on lightly with a regular paintbrush and then buffed it out with steel wool. I have no idea if this is a real thing, but it worked well for me.

5. Wax on, wax off.

Final step was to decide between polyurethane and wax. I adore a waxed finish, but the downside is that it’s not as durable as poly and less-advisable on any piece that will receive a lot of use (like a dresser…), plus it will likely need to be reapplied much sooner than a poly finish. In the end, though, my love of wax won out.

diy dresser makeover
Minwax Paste Wax brings the pretty.

6. Admire at will.

I thought about painting the brass pulls, but in the end I just cleaned them and put them back on. I like the look of them with the color of the wood.

And then it was finally done!

diy dresser makeover
Could not love this more if I tried.
diy dresser makeover
diy dresser makeover

Remember the Before?

diy dresser makeover

diy dresser makeover

I looooove it. You can’t see in these pics, but it is super silky-smooth to the touch and the almost marbled effect of the gray stain, wood and whitewash thingy I did looks amazing.

Round up

Time: 11 hours, spread over the three-day weekend. It was a lot of sanding and a lot of time spent figuring out how to remove the scrolled wood pieces at the bottom without damaging the whole frame.


  • Dresser – free! Have to love family hand-me-downs.
  • Sandpaper – $15 (sheets of 40-, 80- and 220-grit)
  • Steel wool – already owned
  • Power sander – already owned
  • Stain – $7 (Minwax Classic Gray)
  • Wood filler – already owned
  • Wax – already owned
  • Allen wrench – already owned

Total: $22. Can’t get a dresser for that at Pottery Barn.

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Movin’ on up

Dog on boxesI’m moving!

Dash and I have decided to move in with a friend and her dog (Dash’s girlfriend). We’ll be sharing about 1000 sq. ft., so I’m going to say that “my” half is about 500 square and not worry about changing the name. Phew! It’s going to be a great split-level condo with 3 bedrooms, two baths, a two-car garage and a little backyard.

Did I mention a garage and a backyard? And a washer and dryer? Praiiiiiiise and hallelujah.

The smaller bedroom and closet will present some new small-space decorating challenges, as will melding roommate design sensibilities together. I am so, so, so excited to have new walls to paint, a closet system to plan, a backyard to probably do nothing to (I’m a black thumb with plants) and new DIY projects to fill up our new space.

First up will be new paint in the new digs. Can’t wait to get started on the After, because the Before ain’t so pretty right now. Wish us luck!

(photo credit: www.brickunderground.com)

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Apartment Therapy Room for Color Contest

So I submitted my bedroom photos to the Apartment Therapy Room for Color Contest on a total whim…and somehow I got picked!

It’s quite an honor to have anything of mine featured there, because I actually started gaining my appreciation for design/color/aesthetics/DIY/decor from reading the blog a few years ago.

You do have to register an account (free!) to vote, but if you feel like doing that, and like my room, please consider “favoriting” it.

Claire’s Dark and Soothing Room for Color 

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DIY Canopy Bed

If I took one of those “your design aesthetic in x number of words” tests, I can pretty much guarantee that “soft,” “romantic” or “Princessy” would never show up on there. And yet, somehow I ended up with a distinctly soft, romantic queen-sized DIY canopy bed fit for a princess in my bedroom. Go figure.

DIY canopy bed
Bedtime, Your Highness.

I have a decently sized bedroom and my first you’re-all-grown-up, queen-sized bed sort of dominates the room. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m in the bedroom, I’m in that bed – reading, on my laptop, sleeping, wrestling the Dash-pup. A few months ago, I decided I wanted to makeover the bed somehow, make it less IKEA- and college-chic and give it a little something else. I thought about a reclaimed wood headboard (which would have been tough considering my existing IKEA Rykene headboard), upholstering it a la Manhattan Nest’s Fjellse, painting it or maybe just spending a ludicrous amount of money on some kind of organic cotton bedding (I still want to do this eventually. Very much.).

Instead, I made it into a faux canopy bed! This was partly a result of some curtain-shuffling – I made a new curtain for the big front window in the living room, so I had an extra quad of white semi-sheer curtains, which I moved into the bedroom and used on the small window there, leaving me with some extra white sheers and nowhere to put them. At first I considered just hanging one curtain rod behind the headboard and draping the sheers there…but then I got carried away.

DIY canopy bed
The black lines are the rods, the sheer gray squares where all the curtains are…and then that V-thingy is where the lights are strung. Crystal, right?

This was a while ago, way before this blog was ever more than a sparking synapse, so I don’t have any process photos. It’s pretty easy, though, and to demonstrate, I whipped up this super-technical, extremely professional, blindingly clear diagram:

1. Raise the rods.

You’ll need four curtain rods. The long rods (heh) just barely worked for the long side of my queen bed (I think they’re 84″?), so if you have a king-sized bed, you’ll need to use two short rods on each long side.

I used the brackets that came with the rod sets. The semi-circular opening is meant for the rods to rest in there, but since they’d be hanging from the ceiling, I bent the bracket so that the opening was tighter around the rod – with the smaller opening, the rods “clipped in.”

DIY canopy bed
I could have probably painted the rods white or something…but then again my ceiling isn’t exactly white anymore either…ugh.

I attached the one that aligns with the headboard first. This one was easiest, because I could use the wall to gauge if the rod was straight. I just screwed the little brackets straight into the ceiling.


Side note from the 500 Square Health and Safety Department:

I have a popcorn ceiling, which I know I’m not supposed to drill into. I did it anyway, and made sure to wear a dust mask and catch the dust in a little cup so it didn’t drift all over my bed and bedroom. I understand health concerns, but people can get paralyzed by things like that. I’m sure this will be fine. It’s not like I was trying to scrape the popcorn stuff off. On a positive note, you can’t even see any holes left behind because of the popcorn texture, so when I move and take all these rods down, no one will ever know they were there.

Then I used a long string (some random yarn) tied around the headboard rod, and stretched that to the foot of the bed, tying a knot where I wanted the next bracket to be. I used the string to mark off where the brackets should be, ensuring that the footboard rod would be parallel with the headboard rod.

I used the string again to make sure the side rods would be straight – tying it from end of the headboard rod to the footboard rod.

2. Sheer princess-ness.

I had some random white sheers leftover from my bedroom window and from my old apartment, where I covered an 8-foot window with them. I used these on the headboard side, alternating the two different types of sheers for some nice texture. I had an odd number, so I saved one of them (more on that later).

DIY canopy bed
Two different curtain textures, and also how I attached the lights.

For the footboard sheers, I wanted some that I could knot up to keep them out of the way of a running dog and me stumbling around in the dark. The Lill curtains from IKEA are super cheap and look great when they’re bunched up enough (up close they look like mesh, but don’t be fooled…the overall effect works). I used one on each corner of the footboard rods, for a total of four.

3. Lights!

I wanted to do something to the ceiling too, since this ugly popcorn stuff just stares me in the face every day. I considered hanging paper cranes (put a bird on it!), but had that one extra curtain (see above) and didn’t want to have just one random curtain bundled in my closet. So I strung some LED lights (just one string right now…I could probably add more for more of an effect) along the curtains by the headboard and then across the ceiling. LEDs are safer since they aren’t as hot and can touch the fabric. I also never leave them on when I’m not actually in the bed, and even then for only a short time at night.

DIY canopy bed
Pretty, pretty lights.

Then I pinned the extra curtain across the ceiling, covering the ugly texture and also over the string lights, muting them for a softer effect. I totally dig it, if I do say so myself.

DIY canopy bed
The bed at night.

I know the DIY canopy bed isn’t the only change I made, but seriously, look at this bedroom before and after. The “Before” says “Hey, dude, just rolled out of bed after a crazy night and my crap is all over the place. Want to go get a breakfast sandwich before we go back to sleep?” The “After” is more like, “Why, yes, I have located my laundry hamper and my bed looks glorious enough to want to go back to bed right now, but I have things to do and places to be, because I? I am a responsible adult.”

diy canopy bed
I swear it’s the same room – you can see the little radiator in the corner! No tricks!

(Whether or not that’s true… The current state of the bedroom sort of says “I am a aesthetically-savvy adult who has somehow lost the laundry hamper again…”)

And just to take it a little further – here’s a before-Before and After. Amazing what some furniture and paint will do, hm? And, ugh, look at that carpet. So glad it’s mostly covered up.

diy canopy bed

Round up

Time: Half an hour. Seriously. Most of that with a crick in the neck, doing things on the ceiling.


  • Curtain rods (4) – 2 already owned, 2 for $15 at Target.
  • Curtain sheers – 5 already owned, 2 pairs of IKEA Lill sheers for $10.
  • Screws – already owned.
  • LED Christmas lights – already owned.
Total: $25. Not too shabby for a total bed makeover that drove the total bedroom makeover. 
DIY canopy bed
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DIY Reclaimed Wood and Metal Bench

Have I mentioned I love the ReSource Yard? Oh, I have? Multiple times?


diy reclaimed wood and metal bench

Boom. DIY reclaimed wood and metal bench. One metal coffee table base, only slightly bent-legged? Found at the ReSource Yard. Three old fence boards, full of nail holes and looking like they’ve been outside for a generation? Found at the ReSource Yard.

Several hours and a night-of-waiting-for-glue-to-dry later, it became a DIY reclaimed wood and metal bench! Okay, so “reclaimed” is a bit dramatic here, since I just went and bought these fence boards. I didn’t have to tear down an old barn or deconstruct a pallet to earn these reclaimed boards. I just bought ‘em. But hey, they used to be part of a fence! So I will call them “reclaimed” and be done with it.

But what a sweet bench, eh? A smooth, awesome-looking, sweet bench that I really had no need or space for. When you come across a metal coffee table base, only slightly bent-legged, and some nice, raggedy-looking fence boards (really, the more raggedy-looking the better) for a total of SEVEN DOLLARS, you don’t stop and ask yourself things like, “Do I have space for this to-be table/bench?” or “Where would this future bench/table reside in my packed apartment?” You just buy the stuff and figure it all out later.

1. Get all stuff home and decide to do the damn thing.

While the ReSource Yard is awesome and churns out occasional wonderful finds like this table base, it does not, sadly, churn out completed DIY projects in the same mold as the ones in your head. You actually have to do the thing.

I knew I’d have to cut up the fence boards, and my sad little $8 mini-hacksaw from Home Depot was not going to cut it (har har har). So I thought about it a little, decided that there would be more projects where a hacksaw with a blade the size of a straw was not going to work, and invested in a Black & Decker beginner-ish jigsaw, also from the big orange warehouse.

diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
Yeah. No contest.

2. Shiny! Too shiny.

The table/bench base was silver, a sort of galvanized-steel-esque silver (though I have no idea if the metal base is actually of the galvanized or steel variety). I wanted it to be black, both because I thought that color would play more nicely with the weathered wood and because I don’t have any bright silver metal going on in my place. Nuh uh.

diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
Dash agrees – the silver doesn’t work in our place.

I bought a can of Rustoleum Flat Black for painting the rails and brackets of my wood shelves and ended up with some leftovers. (I still have some of it left because this stuff goes on so beautifully in one coat.) I used a foam brush and just painted it like you normally would paint something. Be careful going back over a recently painted strip, though – Rustoleum is a little tackier than other paints because it’s made to adhere well to metal, so it dries fast. If you drag your brush through slightly dry paint, it will look a mess. The finish looks almost powder-coated, which is awesome, and there were no thin spots or drips to contend with at all. Sing praises of Rustoleum!

diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
Seriously, just one coat. Magical paint.

3. Power tools!

I used the mini-hacksaw to cut up boards for a friend’s coffee table a while back, and let me tell you, after using the power jigsaw, I am never going back to that handheld arm destroyer. I walked around with my hand in a claw for a day after cutting all those boards with the woefully inadequate child’s hacksaw.

My new jigsaw powered through those boards fast. I didn’t use any sort of scientific measurements to cut them – just laid one across the base and marked off the length with pencil. Then I used that first one as a model to cut all the others.

Then I sanded them all smooth with my palm sander (I hadn’t yet acquired Ryobi sandcat), using 220-grit. They weren’t super rough, so I didn’t use a lower-number grit first – I didn’t want to strip too much of the weathered part off.

Unfortunately, I got so excited about using the saw and went through those boards so fast, I didn’t take any pictures…

4. Screw screws, use glue.

Well, just in this case. I’m an advocate for screws. I like screws. I use them in places where they recommend nails. I screw into walls with little regard for how irritating those holes will be to patch when I move out. (I’m all about the instant gratification. One screw or a bunch of stupid little sticky strips that I never apply correctly? Move aside, drill coming through.)

In this case, though, I wasn’t confident about the ability of my AA battery-powered drill to drill through the metal base and I didn’t want exposed screw heads and I didn’t want to a) cover the screw heads with wood putty, or b) buy a more powerful drill or go hunt one down to borrow. (Again with the instant gratification thing. Build now! Finish now!)

So I used some wood glue I had leftover from the coffee table project and just glued those suckers down (the boards). I tried to vary some of the colors and grains to make the top more interesting. I clamped the boards to the base while each line of glue was drying (I borrowed those fancy clamps from my Dad….and should probably have borrowed his drill too, but whatevs).

The extra piece of wood between the board and the clamps helps to keep even pressure across the whole board, and also to prevent clamp-marks in the bench top.

diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
Clamping, post-gluing.

The glue worked just fine. Those boards are on that base and not coming off, and I can always add screws later if I get worried about the structural integrity (though that doesn’t really sound like something I would do later). I can stand on it, walk on it, put heavy stacks of books on it – ’tis quite sturdy. And pretty, if I do say so myself.

diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
All glued! Well, except those end boards where it’s still clamped and drying…
diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
Pretty wood.

5. Figure out where to put it.

It sat in the entryway for a while, but it’s way too big for an entryway bench (it clocks in at 54″ long, half again the length of my coffee table), and it jutted out weirdly into the walk-by space. I also tried to give it to my brothers, but they moved to a smaller place where it wouldn’t have worked.

After I rearranged my bedroom prior to putting up my DIY faux canopy (post about that later), I realized it was the exact perfect length to go at the end of the bed. I had another bench in the bedroom (a shabby chic/French provincial one from my mother), but it had a high back and didn’t work as an end-of-the-bed bench. So that one went to live in the walk-in closet, while this bench adds a nice touch to the bedroom.

diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
Brings a definite je ne sais quoi…
diy reclaimed wood and metal bench
A nice contrast (complement?) to the canopy drapes.

Round up

Time: Probably about 3 hours, including time at the ReSource Yard, painting, cutting, sanding, the actual gluing and clamping the boards for the first few minutes after gluing. I waited overnight for the glue to dry.


  • Metal base, ReSource Yard – $5
  • Wood fence boards, ReSource Yard – $2.50 (and I only used 2 of the 3 for this project)
  • Black and Decker 4.5-amp jigsaw, Home Depot – $30
  • Wood glue – already owned
  • Palm sander and sandpaper – already owned

Total: $37.50, including the cost of a jigsaw that I now own forever, paint that I’ve used on several projects and wood that can still use on other projects. Told you I couldn’t walk away from that base!

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An Aviation-Themed IKEA Billy Hack

You know when you first move in and you feel like you have no furniture and need to start filling up your space now? That’s when you go to IKEA and just sort of buy things to fill up space and to keep your clothes and books and meals from being piled or consumed on the floor. And then, after a few months, you start to acquire cooler, more personal pieces, and you start to feel like your plain IKEA furniture doesn’t work in your space anymore, like it needs to be…hacked!

I actually did this simple little IKEA Billy hack (okay, it’s more of an “update” than a hack) a long time ago, but I’m just getting around to putting it up now. I did not take a lot of process shots during this project – it was waaaay before I even thought about a blog.

IKEA Billy hack

I started out with the ubiquitous IKEA Billy in birch veneer. It started in my living room, in that small space where my TV is now, and then I moved it into the corner of my bedroom. In the midst of my “alter all generic furniture” mood, I decided to make it into a sideboard, with the intent of putting it back in the living room. The plan was to flip it sideways, paint it white and add a distressed wood top.

IKEA Billy hack
Before. See what I mean about everything being very IKEA back then? And also very messy…

1. Light sanding.

Why do some people put the “h” sound in front of the “w” sound in the word “white”? No clue. What I do know is that painting slick IKEA birch-veneered furniture white (or any color) requires some forethought.

Sand the surface lightly. Be aware that IKEA furniture can be either the veneered particleboard or it can have a foil top layer. Do not sand the foil – it will get flaky and uneven, compromising your paint job later. Since the Billy is veneer, though,  I sanded it until I could see the marks, giving the primer something to cling to.

2. Optimally, prime.

I used Zinsser 1-2-3 Bullseye oil-based primer, and it worked like a dream. I could have done just one coat, but I did two, just in case. It goes on easy, clings to the veneer and gives you a rough surface for your regular paint to latch on to. Other people swear by Kilz, which I’ve never used, but I can definitely recommend Zinsser.

3. H-white

I used just regular old Behr gloss white, two coats. I painted with a roller and then touched up the inside corners with a brush. Easy-peasy.

4. Airplanes!

So, I love airplanes. Especially old airplanes. When I was a kid, my Dad taught me how to build models, and my favorites were the old World War II warplanes, like the F-4 Corsair, the P51 Mustang, the Spitfire, the De Havilland Mosquito. I wanted to put some black and white photos in the back of the bookcase, and had airplanes on my mind because I’d just seen my old model airplanes at my parents’ house.

IKEA Billy hack
I love WWII planes. Built these in 1:72 as a kid. So yeah. Airplanes on my bookshelf.

I realize this looks like a bookshelf for a little boy’s room, but I like airplanes. Sue me. I split some black and white photos across several sheets of 11×18 paper printed at Kinko’s/FedEx. Then I cut the photos out, Mod Podge’d the paper and then Mod Podge’d over the paper to seal it.

I had a little leftover space on each side where the new vertical shelves would go, so I Mod Podge’d some chevron fabric scraps I had leftover from making pillows, just for fun. In keeping with the aviation theme, though, I think I might try to find some metal sheets I can stick back there instead, and maybe add some small beads as faux rivets. Or maybe switch it for yellow-and-black striped fabric that puts me in mind of the striping on a fighter plane’s ejection handle. But for now, you can see the bit of yellow-and-white chevron on either side.

IKEA Billy hack
Scissors and Mod Podge.
IKEA billy hack

5. Sideways

Since I tilted the bookshelf sideways, I needed to alter the shelving. The Billy has a fixed shelf in the middle, so I used L-brackets and branched the two horizontal shelves out from that center vertical shelf, and then used the two remaining shelves to brace the other side of the horizontal shelves. That sentence probably made no sense…but just look at the pictures.

And yes, the stabilizing piece at the bottom of the Billy bookcase does make it look asymmetrical when it is flipped sideways. I thought about sawing it off, but there’s some bolts in there to deal with, and I was afraid of compromising the stability, so I left it. Where it is now in the bedroom, that awkward end faces into a corner, so it doesn’t bother me that much.

6. Knock on wood.

I used two of the distressed boards (process described here), trimmed one of them, and then just screwed them onto the new “top” of the Billy. It looks awesome, if I do say so myself.

IKEA Billy hack
Love the warm, distressed wood on top.

7. Figure out where to put it.

I set it up in the living room first, and it lived there for about two weeks. But then I rearranged the living room (for the umpteenth time), and it just didn’t work there anymore. So then I dragged it into my bedroom and put it along the space between the air unit and the window. It works really well there, I think. The white and wood look nice against the dark gray walls.

IKEA Billy hack
In the living room. Looks nice, but takes up a lot of premium space along the wall. (Also, look how happy the orchid looks here. What happened to it?)
IKEA Billy hack
Now it’s along the wall in the bedroom, and there it shall stay. Probably.

So how much did this IKEA Billy hack cost? I’ll include the cost of the Billy, just because, you know, you sort of need it to make the sideboard.

Round up

Time: 6 hours, between the painting, the Mod Podging, the shelf rebuilding and the wood distressing. Not a difficult 6 hours, though.


  • IKEA Billy in birch veneer, IKEA – $80
  • Zinsser 1-2-3 Bullseye primer, Home Depot – $9
  • Behr Premium Plus Gloss White, Home Depot – $13
  • Roller and brushes – already owned
  • Mod Podge – already owned
  • Airplane prints, Kinko’s/FedEx – $4
  • L-brackets, Home Depot – $8
  • “Aged” wood boards, Home Depot – $9

Total: $123. Yeah, it’s on the pricier end of my projects, but bookcases ain’t cheap, even at IKEA. And I don’t like stacking my books on the floor, so…

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DIY Industrial Shelving from the IKEA Hyllis

As part of my unofficial Three Days of Labor over the Labor Day three-day weekend, I did  up some long-awaited DIY industrial shelving, adapted from some IKEA parts and Home Depot wood. It’s nice to have some projects to pass the time while dog- and house-sitting at my parents’ house over the long weekend.

DIY industrial shelving
What it should be and what it can be…

I’ve been lusting after some industrial shelving (the decorator’s term might be “French industrial shelving,” to be precise). Yes, I did the wood and metal open shelving for my TV, but I was after something like this Restoration Hardware vintage industrial tower or the shelves in the unknown-source image below – just not at a $1,000 price tag.DIY industrial shelving

So inspired…so expensive…

Yes, I could have built one of these awesome pipe-and-board units, but piping is expensive. So how can I get close enough to the inspiration to make me happy, but spend as little as possible? DIY industrial shelving with some help from IKEA, naturally – specifically the $14.99 Hyllis.

DIY industrial shelving
$14.99! Seriously!

The galvanized stainless steel Hyllis shelving looks quite nice without any modifications, and the 2013 IKEA catalog shows it looking at home indoors and outdoors. For my purposes, though, I just used the rails and feet, choosing to replace the shelves with wood boards from Home Depot. (Now I’ll have to think of something to do with the stainless steel shelves…)

I looked at the same common pine boards I used in the TV open shelving project, but they didn’t have the heft and thickness that I liked in the shelving from the bottom inspiration photo. Happily I stumbled on framing boards and got an 8 foot length of Douglas fir, 2″ thick, for just under $9. The nice guys there cut it for me into about 23″ boards (remember, boards are never exactly the length listed on the tag due to the thickness of saws, etc.).

I also thought about using the same stain wash that I’ve used on the common pine boards, but I wanted to try the “steel wool and vinegar” aging method.

1. Brand new old wood.

Stick a pad of #0000 gauge steel wool into a jar of vinegar. I used apple cider vinegar because an online search hinted that might give me a more grayish color than regular white vinegar.

You’re supposed to wait a day or two for the steel wool to dissolve. I waited 3 days and mine did not dissolve. It disintegrated a little, but I suspect the apple cider vinegar I used didn’t have a high enough acidity. No matter – I just fished the remaining steel wool out and used the liquid anyway. It worked fine.

DIY industrial shelvingAt first, it looks like nothing is happening and that you just painted your wood with water. Even after the wood looks “dry” again, it looks sort of the same (or at least mine  did), but just give it about 10 minutes or so. It will start turning grayish.

DIY industrial shelving
Boards in the process of turning gray from the steel wool and vinegar stain.

Add more coats of the “stain” to get it darker but let it dry between each one to make sure you’re not going too dark. I wanted the slight driftwood look, but didn’t want the “been sitting in the sun for fifty years” look, so I stopped after about three coats. My wood was more dense than a pine board would have been, so different woods will require different numbers of coats.

2. Brand new old rails.

The galvanized stainless steel Hyllis rails look nice and bright and shiny – the opposite of what I wanted. I used a can of Rustoleum flat black I had lying around and painted the rails. Rustoleum will go on evenly in one coat, but I wanted to mimic the subtle brush strokes in the galvanized metal, so I cut the paint with some water and used the flat of a foam brush to “swirl” the paint on. It resulted in an interesting pattern – I haven’t decided if I love it or if it looks like a failed paint job. I can always paint it more later.DIY industrial shelving

Shelving rails – before and after

3. MacGyver-ish.

The original Hyllis shelving uses very short screws to attach the stainless steel shelves to the stainless steel rails. With the heavy wood board shelves, though, I couldn’t rely on just those small screws to hold up the shelves, much less anything on top of them. I used small L-brackets to add support and screwed at 3 points in each corner:

  • I put an L-bracket along the edge of the wood board (between the board and the rail), then used a long wood screw to screw through the rail hole, the L-bracket hole and straight into the wood.
  • I screwed the L-bracket into the wood board on the underside.
  • And then I used the original short screws on the other rail hole, into the short side of the board. The short screws were ideal here, because with two long screws going in opposite directions, I was afraid a third long screw would hit one of them.
  • Screw. Screw. Screw. Screw. How many screws can I use in a single sentence?
DIY industrial shelving
Many screws. (And yes…I painted the wrong side of the L-brackets. Sigh.)

4. Screw and repeat. 

With the whole thing lying down on a flat surface, repeat the 3-screw process on every corner of every shelf.

5. Finish and stand.

Stick the little plastic feet on the bottom of the shelving to protect the floors and then stand ‘er up. Yay!

DIY industrial shelving
I don’t know why the rails look so curved in this photo. They’re really not.
DIY industrial shelving
Aww yeah.

Round up

Time: 3 hours, not including the 3 days of steel wool (non-)disintegration.


  • Hyllis shelving unit, IKEA – $15
  • Douglas fir boards, Home Depot – $9
  • Apple cider vinegar – $1
  • Steel wool #0000 gauge – already owned
  • Rustoleum flat black paint – already owned
  • Foam brushes – already owned

Total: $25. Nice.

It is much more stable than I thought it would be, considering that I read in several places that the original Hyllis needs to be bolted to the wall for stability. I will end up bolting mine too, since it’s heavy, but it stands pretty sturdily by itself.

So there it is – my DIY industrial shelving slash IKEA Hyllis pseudo-hack.

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How to Transfer a Photo to Wood

Conveniently, right before my parents’ wedding anniversary, Apartment Therapy featured this post about how to transfer a photo to wood. I had never in my life seen anything like this, and the result looked nothing short of miraculous. If you Google “how to transfer a photo to wood” you’ll also see other peoples’ miraculous results.

So how did mine turn out? I was highly skeptical, but I went out and bought some acrylic gel medium, some Mod Podge, and a board remnant from Home Depot, a bundle of sisal rope and foam brushes.

1. Pick a picture. This sounds like the easy part, but it’s really not. Or at least, it wasn’t for me. After cropping and distressing about twenty candidates, I finally decided on this one of me and my bros from our family trip to Italy.

photo to wood transfer with mod podge

2. Distress, or not. Distress the photo with whatever photo software you have. Or not. You can do some distressing post-transfer, but it’s easier to grunge it up a bit before too, if that’s the look you’re going for. I also changed the color toward a yellower, more sepia tone and sharpened everything.

3. (Flip and) Print. This process will flip your image. If you don’t care, then don’t do anything. If you want it to look the same as the photo, and especially if you have words or something that needs to read left-to-right, then flip the photo in your photo software. Preview on a Mac will do this.

Print the photo as large as you need on plain copy paper with a laser printer. This is important – ink or inkjet printers will not work. You can do this at any copy shop – I printed mine at 11 x 18 for $.79 at Kinkos Fed Ex.

photo to wood transfer with mod podge
Wood, printed photo, Liquitex acrylic gel medium and brush – add some Mod Podge and it’s all you need!

4. Prep. Sand the wood to the smoothness you want. Also cut the white edges off of the photo paper.

5. A light amount of gel medium. Apply a thin layer of gel medium to the wood. I just used a foam brush. 

6. Photo down. Carefully press the photo face-down onto the wood. Make sure it’s smooth with no bubbles – I used the edge of an old gift card to press the paper to the wood and get any excess bubbles and gel medium out. Do this carefully, though. You can see a place on the right side where I tore the paper with the edge of the card and had to re-apply it.

photo to wood transfer with mod podge
No bubbles, no creases, no excess gel medium lumps.

7. Wait. I managed to wait overnight (by distracting myself with lots of other things). I think you can just wait 5 hours or so, but there’s no point in rushing it.

8. Rub-a-dub, whee! This is the fun part! Or, it was for me and my bros anyway. Wet the paper (we used a wet paper towel and just sponged the whole surface), and then literally rub the paper off. It’s awesome. The paper will roll up in little white rolls, and it’s kind of messy, but it’s so cool to see your photo start to appear on the wood.

photo to wood transfer with mod podge
Soak and rub…

This part also takes a while. You have to make sure you get all the little white bits off, which can necessitate a lot of re-wetting and rubbing until your fingers are really feeling it. The more hands the merrier.

photo to wood transfer with mod podge
And more rubbing…and more rolling…

9. Seal and accessorize. Finally, all the white bits should be gone, and your photo is on the wood in all its glory. I sanded the sharp edges of the photo a little more, and a little bit of the photo surface too.

You can seal it with Mod Podge, or use a different sealer. Some people use wax too, which would probably look pretty.

I used the Mod Podge. It goes on white (you’ll panic for a moment that you’ve ruined it…or maybe that was just my moment), but it will dry clear. Then I drilled holes and used the sisal rope for a hanger.

10. Hang or gift. Needless to say, my parents adored it. This is such a cool thing to do with special photos and it makes a really nice gift. Or, you know, decor in your own place.

photo to wood transfer with mod podge
Now hanging in my parents’ kitchen.

Round up

Time: Probably about an hour total, not including the overnight wait. Possibly 1.5 hours. The rubbing off of the paper can take some time.


  • Wood board remnant, Home Depot – $7
  • Liquitex matte acrylic gel medium, Joann Fabric – $6
  • Mod Podge, Joann Fabric – $6
  • Foam brush, Joann Fabric – $.50
  • Sisal rope bundle, Home Depot – $3 (cost of entire bundle, even though I used about 1.5 feet of it and still have loooots left)
  • Color photo print on copy paper – $1 (probably less…I rounded up)

Total: $23.50. Not bad for an anniversary present with lots of sentimental value. Plus I still have a bunch of gel medium, Mod Podge and rope left, so I can easily make more.

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