October 1, 2014

Before & After We Cut a Doorway in a Wall And Doubled Our Living Room

Longest I've ever gone without blogging? Nearly three months. I think so. Been working my tail off and, also, enjoying summer. But I'm back with a good icebreaker--probably our biggest renovation to date. Essentially, we doubled the size of our living room and made our house feel bigger, airier, sunnier, and certainly more functional for us. The renovation happened a few months ago now, but I've been having fun all this time tweaking things and creating fun new nooks. Also, trolling Craiglist for the perfect petite midcentury sofa to go in what we now call the "music room," since it is home to Nekos' zillions of records.

Our friend T.J., who is also the realtor who sold us our house, suggested to me about six months ago that we cut a doorway in the wall behind our couch. We had just moved Tessa and Livvy into the same bedroom upstairs, and Tessa's old bedroom downstairs (behind the wall the couch was against) was pretty much useless to us. Plus, we were craving more space for dance parties and dinner parties and family hangs. Being a realtor, T.J. was sensitive to the notion that we wouldn't want to lose a bedroom and thus decrease the value of our house, so he said we should just cut a door in the wall instead of knocking down the wall entirely. That way, when it's time for us to sell one day we can just install french doors and call it a bedroom. Plus we still have three bedrooms, so once the girls decide they're done with sharing a room, we can separate them. Anyway, T.J.'s suggestion felt like a revelation, as it would be a relatively easy and hopefully inexpensive way to totally change the feel of our house.

Here's what our little living room looked like before. We live in a 1926 bungalow so the rooms are all small cozy.

On the opposite wall is our mantle, which had our TV hanging over it--blegh. Our front door is just to the right.

Here's one last look at the untouched wall, right before demo:

Here's the demo process. This guy estimated that labor and materials would cost around $500. It cost $1,700 total. Is this just par for the course with subcontractor people or what? I literally had to tell him, "Uh, I don't have that much money. I can pay you half now, half next week?"

Anyway, the work itself was really solid. He did an awesome job of recreating a historical doorway so that it perfectly matches the existing doors. And he said this demo part took much longer than he anticipated since the walls were like a fortress. It took him and another guy the better part of a day to clear away all the wood and concrete between these two rooms.

Afterwards, Tessa and Livvy and I couldn't quite believe it. It didn't look or feel like our house, as we could now see from room to room and the girls can run in a circle now through the rooms. Would you believe I had all of this done while Nekos was out of town? And the mess? It was profound. Dust like you wouldn't believe. But totally worth it. 

Before I show y'all the finished photos, here's one last mini-makeover I did with the fireplace. I painted the ugly pink-ish tile the same gray as our kitchen cabinets. And after patching the wall where the TV used to hang above the mantel, I painted it "Alabaster" (Sherwin Williams), just to brighten things up, though I still love the sky blue that the rest of this room is. 

And let me back up a minute. The very first thing I did, before any demo, is to paint Tessa's old bedroom (our new living room). It was a sunny yellow; now it's "Wickham Gray" (a watery blue-gray) by Benjamin Moore. The deeper blue in the "music room" is "Salty Tear" by Behr. 

So here's the new view from our front door:

Here's looking into the new living room:

And the new, TV-less mantel, which has been so fun to decorate:

I am loving this sailboat my mama got me for my birthday last month:

After this renovation, we realized we had basically no furniture to go in our old living room, so I found this sweet midcentury piece of ass on Craiglist. We adore it, and it is so comfortable.

I am dreaming of putting this CB2 acrylic coffee table in front of it one of these days. And I want a pair of these chairs (look how cheap!) In the meantime, my mama loaned me these two handsome armchairs for seating.

And here is our new living room/TV room. The TV is on the wall opposite the couch:

Thanks for having a look. I am always going for cheerful, colorful, comfortable, and eclectic. I think we got it. 

July 11, 2014

Beach Times Infinity.

Last week we got to spend five days and nights in Sandestin, Florida, with plenty of daytrips back and forth to Grayton Beach and Seaside, too. There is a chance you guys may be thinking, "Are these assholes always on vacation?" Because there was our Outer Banks trip not so long ago, and I got to escape to California for a business trip recently. But here's the deal--we have just been super blessed this summer with generous friends who have helped make all of our family vacation dreams come true. This go 'round, we went to Florida with our friends Johnny and Tara (and their two sons, ages 4 and 2) and were able to stay in their family's beach house. For the record, I recommend making friends with people whose lineage includes beach houses. It also helps that the dynamic between our kids is pitch perfect at the moment, so we could enjoy lots of adult hangs while our kids played together. Tessa has an epic crush on four-year-old Sawyer, who she has known since birth, and she said all kinds of moony, swoony, nauseating things like, "Mama, don't worry, Sawyer will protect me" and "Sawyer, we are gonna get married when we grow up, right?"

It felt like our first real family vacation because it was long enough for us to get comfortable and settle into the easy rhythm of it, and we had all four of us there. When we went to the Outer Banks we didn't get to take Liv with us. I liked the freedom of being baby-less, but I missed the snot out of her. This trip I really bonded with her. Because I felt lighter, buoyed without the pressures of everyday life, I could just carry her around on my hip as much as I wanted and fully snuggle into her sweetness. I feel very aware right now of her fleeting babyness. It is almost gone, so I am drinking up every last baby drop before she traipses off into full-on toddlerhood. God willing and the creek don't rise, she is my last baby. 

It was Livvy's first visit to the ocean. She was not a fan. The waves and the cold water overwhelmed her. Instead she loved the pool. Loved it. We found a baby float for her and could hardly get her to part with it for the whole trip. Tessabean has definitely proven to be a water lover this summer--unlike last summer, when we endured the world's most traumatic swim lessons. She ate the ocean up with a spoon and then went back for more. The pool was equally delightful to her. It's hard to believe that her fingers and toes aren't still wrinkled. 

I am a landlocked baby who was born with saltwater and piƱa colada in her veins, so I am incredibly grateful for having gotten to lay eyes on--and float in--the ocean so much this summer. On Monday, the day we headed home, we weren't in any particular hurry to get on the road for the seven-hour drive back to Nashville. Instead we drove out to Seaside again. Nekos wanted to take photos, and I wanted to take one more dip in the ocean. It was the first time since our vacation had begun that anxiety found me again, a tight knot in my throat. I felt myself getting irritated with the kids and with Nekos, with myself. No one wanted to get in the ocean again except me, so I walked down to the beach myself and stripped off my dress. I waded into the water, layered as far as the eye could see in shades of clear blue, turquoise, and navy. And then I just floated, palms to the sky, hot sun, cool water. All I could hear was my breath, deep and even. The anxiety fell away. I have to keep this feeling with me. I think I will.  

July 8, 2014

Rockin' Roses Stencil Wall.

I was so optimistic about doing this stencil wall. First, it's not a very big wall--not even six feet high. It's just this little patch of wall at the top of our stairs. Like I blogged about before, what I really wanted was this Hygge & West wallpaper called Petal Pusher that I couldn't afford. Instead, for Mother's Day, I asked for this Royal Design Studio stencil called Rockin' Roses, since it's really similar to the wallpaper.

I think I just went about this whole process all wrong and made it way too hard. It literally took me about six weeks from start to finish--although I took plenty of breaks along the way because I got frustrated. In fact, I can't remember ever getting so frustrated with a home project. I wanted to paint over it many times and just pretend I had never attempted this. I normally love taking these things on, if you couldn't tell. But I'm not an artist, and I ended up having to basically hand-paint on every detail because my stencil work was not good. For one thing I think I should have ordered the paint and the stencil brushes that Royal Design Studio sells, instead of trying to save money and source them elsewhere. Instead I used this crappy Martha Stewart stencil brush I found at Michaels and this Sherwin Williams' Metallic Impressions paint, which was really shimmery (like I wanted) but also really watery (which meant I had to roll on three coats of this very expensive gold paint to get started, and which meant any touchups I did with the gold had to be retraced at least twice). For the white paint, I used Sherwin Williams' "Alabaster."

Among my mistakes, I used an apparently lint-covered paint roller that left maddening specks of lint all over the wall. It was so bad that I had to sand the wall to get them off. I've since learned to put my new paint rollers in the dryer for a few minutes and then go over them with a lint roller before putting them anywhere near a wall. I also just taped the stencil onto the wall with painter's tape, but I think I would have had better luck using spray adhesive like a lot of people online suggested. Finally, I am quite sure I could have chosen a way more basic stencil instead of this majorly elaborate (but totally gorgeous) one.

In any case, I love the result, which is what matters. I don't even want to think about how many hours I logged at the top of my stairs with just me, Spotify, a bottle of beer, and my paintbrushes. Towards the end of the project, Tessa would catch sight of me working on my wall and say, "Mom! Are you working on your project AGAIN?!" Shamed by a four-year-old. But man did it do what it was supposed to do in my mind's eye, which is give my hallway a really fun pop of personality with a glamorous edge. In my mind's eye this pop of personality would be far less imperfect than it is, but so be it. And finishing this wall also encouraged me to add quarter round around the edge of the floor, where there was a gap from me pulling up the carpet and painting the floors last year. Now I just need to do the rest of the upstairs trim. Fun times. I'm actually serious about that "fun" part. Everything is fun compared to stenciling. And my upstairs already looks so much more polished with the trim in place.

By God, I love it. Worth it. That's what I tell myself anyway.

June 4, 2014

A Quick Trip to the Central Coast.

Native Trails Aurora plated nickel copper bathtub

I'm now on year five of full-time freelance writing/editing/marketing/social media-ing/blogging from home. I blog far more often for other people than I do for myself, and most days I love it. Especially recently. Things seem to be taking shape professionally in a way that has eluded me before. My mantra this past six months has been to find a way to work smarter, not harder. I'm a fiercely hard worker and can sometimes get so immersed in cranking things out and paying my bills that I lose sight of the big picture and what I really want for my career/future. What I really want is to continue to be my own boss, to be able to break from work and meet my girlfriend for coffee in the late morning or take the occasional day off and spend it at the pool or the zoo. When my kids are both in elementary school, which will happen sooner than later, I want to have enough work to keep my freelance business going. I imagine--and fantasize about--long, uninterrupted stretches of time to work. Now my time is fragmented, always interrupted. I'm too often rushed, frustrated with my kids. I think that working from home while taking care of two kids has actually taught me to appreciate my work more. I really value having something separate from my home and family to focus on and invest in. And because I've been stuck working for miserable, scary people before, I love that I get to be my own boss and that no one person can come along and fire me. Or make me speak in public. Along the way I've found that I really have a passion for helping small companies (that I believe in--that's key) grow and find their voice to tell their story.

Anyway, all that's to say: I have a new freelance writing/marketing client that I'm really excited about! See. I used an exclamation point, which I make a point to use sparingly. I'm legitimately exclamation-point excited about these people and these products. It is the dreamiest of companies--a sink and bathtub company called Native Trails, based in San Luis Obispo, California. Their niche is hand-hammered copper, which they sometimes plate in brushed nickel (like their Aurora tub above). These sinks and tubs have texture and glamour and yet aren't fussy. Best of all, the company is owned by 40-year-old Naomi Neilson Howard, who started this company when she was barely out of college. Her idea was to find a way to sell the handmade goods she collected from artisans she met during her travels to Mexico and Spain. Over time, she segued from selling pottery to selling copper vases to selling copper sinks and then tubs and then vanities and so on. Now she has on her hands a little empire of sustainable luxury goods for the bath and kitchen. She's also a mom to two young ones, and she's a wife. She's got a lot on her (copper) plate, and I can relate. Except that Naomi figured out the work smarter, not harder thing a lot sooner than I did. That's why she owns her own company, and I'm ... you know ... just me.

Native Trails farmhouse sink nickel plated

Last week I flew to the Central Coast to spend two full days in the Native Trails offices and to cram all the product and backstory and personnel info into my head that I could. The last night of the trip, Naomi had me to dinner at her house in Shell Beach, near a breezy cliff alongside the ocean. There are blueberry bushes in her front yard and succulent plants the size of cabbages, and there are two pretty amazing tow-headed little children who live there with her and her hunky psychologist husband. Naomi is so warm, so interesting, so dang smart--the exact kind of person I want to work for and please. I believe in this company. If you're interested, you can follow Native Trails on Facebook here, Twitter here, or Instagram here, which I'll be mostly managing for them.

When I got back to Nashville my friends asked, "Did you miss your kids?" "Um, uhhh, not too badly, not really," I said. Because honestly the little break was nice, y'all. I stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast in SLO called Petite Soleil, and I ate coconut-orange pancakes for breakfast and sushi for lunch and I didn't worry about dirty diapers or sippy cups for a few days. But you know I was thrilled to see them when I got home. Nekos did a great job taking care of Livvy and Tessa by himself while I was gone, and he helped them make a gigantic sign that said "Welcome Home, Mom!" that they plastered against the window at the airport. It was one of those things that was so unbelievably sweet that it didn't even seem real. They are amazing.