Frugal Friday: How to Make a Foliage Arrangement from Your Yard

Last post, I mentioned I was working on my resolutions.  While I haven't nailed them down exactly, one resolution that is high on my list is to live more graciously.  The older I get, the more I realize that the good (and bad) parts of life that really matter are so often the little things---it's the small joys---freshly ground coffee in your favorite mug, serving dinner on your mother's plates, sipping mimosas with your friends that make life so wonderful.  Conversely, I find it's also the little things that annoy me, like dressing for a party at the last minute only to discover a loose button and not being able to find the sewing kit or reaching for the pepper only to realize it's empty and I forgot (for the 100th time) to pick up a new jar at the grocery.  Thus to enhance my days, I want to spend a little more time on the little things---using real napkins, setting the table for dinner, keeping the house organized as a way to make life more enjoyable.

One aspect of this idea of gracious living is keeping fresh arrangements in all the rooms.  In fact, one of the key details of the beautiful rooms in the shelter magazines are the incredible floral arrangements.  Unfortunately, they can be expensive.  Fortunately, as I mentioned in this post, there are affordable options.  One of those options is to use common foilage from your yard to make free and long lasting arrangements.  The key to a successful  foliage arrangement is the idea of "filler, thriller, and spiller."  I got this term from my cousin Barbara, who in her 70s has embraced gardening.  She heard the term at a lecture about building planters, but it has application to floral arrangements as well.

Step one:  Select container:

I used this low bowl I found at Goodwill.  While modern, it has the vintage look I love and the orange will pop against my aqua walls.  Goodwill and other thrift stores are a great place to lay in a variety of containers and vases;  I prefer opaque ones such as this to clear glass---this way I don't have to worry what the stems and water looks like.

Step two:  Select and prepare filler.:

I'll be honest; I don't know what this foliage is....it comes from a pre-exiting bush.  However, as a rule, you want to look for foliage that has waxy, sturdy leaves...think camelia, gardenia, holly, etc.  If you have small children or pets that might mess with the foliage, do a quick web search to make sure it's not toxic.

Remove any leaves that would be below the water line---this helps keep the water from spoiling and it also makes it easier for the plant to stay hydrated---it's not tring to wick moisture for leaves you won't see above the container.  And, most important, please cut the foliage to fit container---nothing looks more amateur than long stems straggling out of a low vase.

I like to smash the ends of woody stems to help with absorption.

A good trick is to mimic the shape of the container with the filler---see how it forms a low round shape?

Step 3:  Add the filler:

I used the spiky flowers of my basil plant.  See how the spikes break the low mass of the arrangement?

Step 4:  Add the spiller:

I used Purple hearts (be careful---the sap can irritate some skins) for a touch of color and to spill from the bottom of the container.

Arrangement in place.

A Fresh Start:: The power of optimism and a can of white paint

A new reading nook to start off a new year.

I always loved the New Year holiday.  Not so much the partying on New Year's Eve ( I always, except for one very memorable year, found New Year's Eve to be something of a let down...a time of trying too much to have fun....I guess I like my fun more organic), but the chance to start again, to start fresh.  It's the same thrill I get opening a new journal or notebook and thinking about how I'm going to fill it.

But before I start talking about resolutions and goals and planning my 40th year on this planet, let's talk about a more concrete fresh start---giving new life to an old chair in my office's reading area.

Reading nook and brown chair before move upstairs.

Earlier this year, I posted about some changes in my house--the largest at that time being the switch around of my office/library and dining room (here and here).  After rearranging, I ended up with a reading nook under the stairs.  At the time, I set it up mainly for aesthetic reasons---after all, the area under the stairs is one of the first things you see when you walk in.  After putting the chair there, though, i discovered I liked sitting and reading in that cozy nook, especially in the evenings while listening to WWOZ, savoring  a couple of fingers of Maker's Mark nearby, smelling dinner cooking in the adjoining kitchen, and keeping Thomas company while he reads the news on-line at the desk.  When further changes in the house (I'll share later) necessitated moving the brown chair to another room, I immediately began the search for a replacement.  The main difficulties with finding a replacement were two fold:  first, the ugly topic of no budget for furniture and the second issue of very little space.  In other words, the replacement chair had to be cheap and small enough to tuck in a tight corner, yet big enough to fit my large behind comfortably enough for me to read for a couple of hours.
The kind of sad looking replacement chair on it's first day in its new home.

I was lucky enough to find the right chair at a local thrift store, Pelican Thrift on Carrollton Ave.  (I find this a strange thrift store---it's all over the place in terms of quality of merchandise and pricing--some of the furniture is in excellent shape and competitively priced while some items, especially clothing, is damaged and priced way too high)  The upholstery was a good color (I love orange, plus it's in the room's draperies, and it's an accent color in the adjoining living/dining room), a good pattern (a small scale check), and in acceptable condition ( a little worn, but no major stains---and quite frankly, in a house with two red wine swilling slobs, a 100 lb dog, and a cat who occasionally bypasses his scratching post for something more interesting, I would hate to subject perfectly preserved fabric to such  a certain shot at being ruined anyway).  And at $50, it fit my budget.
Painting the blah brown legs white immediately perked things up.

New leg color and a jazzy new pillow cover from vintage fabric, and the old girl has perked right up.
It was a little drab, but I thought a shot of white paint on the blah brown legs would perk it up....which it did.  Now, when it came to picking the white paint, I deliberately picked an off-white, and one with quite a bit of yellow undertones.    This was for two reasons:  1.  A crisp, bright truer white would have been too crisp.  In stead of making the muddy orange look brighter, that much contrast would have just made the orange look even muddier and more drab.  Second, the reason the drab orange worked in my house in the first place is because I have almost no crisp colors anywhere.  My wall colors are all "dirty" colors with a lot of ochre and even my "white" trim is actually a pale, pale yellowish green (the paint name "calla" gives that away).  So, if I used a true white, those legs would have been blinding in my muddy toned space.  The paint I ended up using was Sherwin William's Casa Blanca (left over from another project).  

Amazingly, after a vacuum job and that touch of white, the drab orange fabric seemed immediately brighter.  Then I added a bright pillow cover made with a vintage fabric sample, and the chair came back to life.

Reminder of the before.

And after.

Anyway, off to start working on my resolutions and goals for 2012.  One of them I've already decided on is to blog more and share more projects with you.  Hope you liked this first one!

Happy New Year, and may your days in 2012 be merry and bright!


Finally...A Finished Guest room

detail of finished guest room.

Well, it's taken me about 4 months to finish one small (12'x14') room that required nothing more than painting and re-arranging existing elements, but it's finished.  In fact, it was finished (except for adding linings to the matchstick shades) just in time for my first guest, my sister who was staying with us for Christmas.

 Here's how it began:
it's actually pretty and calming and on trend with its pale grey/blue walls and cream bedding, but i was in the mood for a change.

I gathered my inspiration:
Jamie Drake's guest room

architectural digest

And, then in the  middle of painting, I started having doubts:

But I pressed on, and came across other inspiration:

I don't have a good place in another room for an inspiration board, but it seemed natural to have one in the guest room, which also serves as my sewing room, over the sewing table.

Anyway, the paint job was finished, and I loved the color, but it was missing something, something the room had missed in its first incarnation as well....pizzazz.  Then, Valorie of Visual Vamp who has enough pizzazz for two, turned me on to just the design element I needed for that visual excitement at the blog La Maison Boheme:

Pic of Jamie Meare's store Furbish by Honey & Fritz

I am a long time fan of Jamie Meare's and her blog I Suwannee, and have followed the creation of her brick and mortar store Furbish, and its subsequent move to a much larger space.  Luckily, blogger Dina of Honey & Fritz was there for the opening and took a ton of photos.  Of them, I  especially liked and noticed this bold black and white graphic backdrop, filing it away for later use.  But I thought it was way too bold for a bedroom.  Then Valorie suggested I look at the application used by Sarah of La Maison Boheme, where she translated the pattern into a more tone on tone look in her entry:

Shazaam!  I now had my pizzazz.  Then work, two trips to North Louisiana, a 40th birthday, and a trip to NYC popped up, and it took months to complete the circles and put it all back together, but now it's finally finished.  These are unpropped, unstaged photos, but i know myself well enough if I wait to take "real" pics until everything is perfect, that might never happen:
 All the bedding is pre-existing, expect the striped sham in the front--I made that with fabric left over from a project.  I still need to find a lamp for the right nightstand, but for now fresh foliage stands in.

 Here you can see a hint of circle and a vintage lamp from my partner's mother.  The circles are not overwhelming because there is actually little wall space:  most of the room is windows, a built in bureau, and a large closet draped in the same sheer linen-colored curtains.
Finally, an inspiration board, though magnetic primer is less than awesome.

Anyway, getting that room finished and ready for use has taken a load off.  Hopefully, I'll prop it and get better photos later.  At any rate, one unfinished project down and 1,222,348 to go!


Guest Room Re-do: An Update

I've been making some progress on the guest room redo, and the painting is in progress. I'm only about half done, but I thought I share the process because the difference between the old and new color is so different.  I'm in the process of changing it from sweet and light-filled to moody and sexy.
About 1/2 way through painting.   

 But, I have to be honest, I'm at the (unfortunately common) stage of the project where I'm starting to second guess every choice.  This doesn't always happen, but it does a lot, especially when everything in the room is a wreck and everything is half (or less) finished with some major choices still up in the air.  In times like this, I just have to go back to my inspiration, my plans, and my design intent and trust that I wasn't smoking crack when I came up with those. 

I spent a lot of time picking and testing the color before painting, and I definitely wanted a change and a cocoon feel for the room.  I think, though, what freaked me out was when I looked at the new color versus the old and realized that I am going against the trend that every other blogger seems to be following....I'm painting over pale grey with a brown!  Too be fair, it's actually a greeny bronze in person, but it definitely reads as a brown variant. My freaking out leads to the other point of this post:

Are reading too many blogs bad for your morale in the way that too many fashion and fitness magazines can leave you feeling bad about your body?  I mean, even though I devoured shelter magazines for years, I never really compared my homes to the ones featured, or let the trends they showed influence my own decorating decisions.  Somehow, like glamorous black and white photos of old Hollywood stars, I knew they were just a fantasy and without a million dollar budget I could never duplicate them, so I never really saw them as a feasible possibility for me.  Thus, I was able to enjoy them without comparing my home to theirs.  

With blogs, though, it feels different.  I find myself thinking, "If just an average person can do it, why can't I?"  And now, seeing so many trends repeated on many blogs, I have started thinking about whether or not my choices are "dated" which seems to have become the worst thing you can say about a room.  I'll be honest...in the middle of painting, I thought,
   " I should stop, reverse and repaint it gray, pull out some linen feed bags and tart this room     up all Belgian and full of patina.  If I do, maybe I could get some blog exposure, because right now, no other blogger would feature this room."

But that felt so fake.  Not that there is anything wrong with following trends if that's what you want that look, but it just feels so far from what I believe in , which is personal style and personal decorating.  And the point of the room should be to make my guests and me happy, not a blog audience.   Even after writing this, I'm toying with whoring the room out in the current vogue.   Who knew that painting a room could lead to an existential discussion about being true or being popular?  Good grief, I feel like I'm in 9th grade again.  I guess I'll go listen to Culture Club and scrunch some socks until the mood passes.

At least the magnetic primer worked.


Making an Inspiration Board from Magnetic Primer: Tips and Review

A while back, I posted about starting a small redecorating project at home (here), a redo of our guest room.  While I've made most of the major decisions, including selecting and purchasing the wall paint, various things (most importantly, laziness) have prevented me from going forward.  It's not totally a bad thing....since I waited before jumping into the project, a little moving around in other rooms as well as some new ideas have led to some minor changes in my design plan, all for the better. 
Like a lot of people, I don't have any space to waste in my home, so my guest room has to do double duty.  Not only does it provide a place for guest, it also serves as a sewing room.  Actually sewing room makes it seem like I sew a lot more than I do, but I have found it helpful in the past to have a place where I can leave the machine set up and store my sewing stuff nearby.  Anyway, while planning my sewing area, I realized that the wall against which the sewing table rests would be the perfect place for an inspiration board.  

I've always loved them, but never put together one for this house.  It would also save me the cost and effort of selecting art for the guest room (this wall is the only solid wall where art could go), as well as helping to disguise the awkward placement of a hard-wired sconce).  At first, I thought of just using those cork adhesive squares on the wall and surrounding the sconce with them, but I haven't had good luck with those in the past, and have found removing them later to be a pain.  Isn't it ironic....they advhesive they come with is both so light that some cork falls right off, but then others stick so well that it's almost impossible to remove the adhesive without damaging the wall.   Then, one day in the internet rabbit hole, I came across a solution...magnetic primer....I could just make the whole wall (about 6'x8') a giant magnet board.
I have now done that.  Well not quite....I've primed the wall, but not top coated it.  However, with the priming experience fresh, I wanted to share my feelings about it.  

Magnetic Primer:   Grade C

The primer I used was by Rust-oleum.  I have since learned that they make/made (I'm not sure if it's still in production) a latex version.  The version I used was not that...it had a xilene base.

1.  Did it work?  Yes, but barely.  That is, after following the directions and applying 3 coats, it WILL hold a magnet, BUT:   1.  the magnet must be strong,   2. the magnet itself must be light (none of those decorative souvenir ones would work, and   3. the item being pinned must be light--magazine pages will work; thick or large items are iffy.

2.  Just be aware, this is NOTHING like chalkboard paint.  I mean, this should be obvious, but these treatments are often linked together, so I think it's natural to think of them as partners.  This is important, because I've used a lot of chalkboard paint, and it's super easy to work with, and I have always had easy, good results.  This primer is nothing like that, in fact:

3.  This is some nasty crap to work with.  NASTY.  I've used oil paint and some strong primers before, but this xilene stuff takes the cakes.  It's very smelly and very hard to clean up.  Be sure you wear complete protection: long sleeves, gloves, eye gear, a head scarf and completely screen adjacent areas with plenty of drop cloths.   This is crucial because not only is this stuff toxic, but  because of the iron fillings in the primer, it spatters tiny droplets like nothing else I've ever worked with.  I didn't realize how bad it would be and wore short sleeves, within minutes, by arms were covered and I had to scrub them with paint remover...further, later that night, my scalp began burning and I realized that the primer must have spattered into my hair.  Please, please learn from my mistake and completely cover yourself.  And the smell is strong. STRONG.  Be sure to ventilate area and do not plan to use room for several days.

4.  Have the paint store shake the can, and use immediately.  The way this stuff works is that it's normal primer with iron filings suspended in it.  Therefore, to get an even enough layer of metal filings to be magnetic, the iron must be distributed throughout.  On the box, they emphasize the importance of stirring the primer before and during use, but honestly, the iron mixture is so thick stirring it in to a uniform thickness is very difficult with just a stir stick.  But if it's not mixed well enough:  1. magnets won't stick, and  2. you will end up with lumps of fillings on the wall.

5.  Be aware that it will change the texture of your wall.  First, you need to know that it needs a pretty smooth surface to work, so if you're putting it on a wall with anything more than a light orange peel texture, it won't work.  What it will do to the wall is give it a sandy/ slightly gritty texture.  The grit is very fine and should be evenly distributed, but it is noticible.

6.  You will need multiple coats, at least three.  And it does not go far.  I used the entire quart putting three thin coats on an area that was 6'x8'.

7.  This primer is very, very, very dark.  This is important because top coats can affect the quality of the magnets hold, so you want as few as possible.  Therefore, if you plan on using a light paint, this could present a problem.

I definitely like the idea of this product, and I can't really say that it didn't work or that I'm completely unhappy with it.  However, it was much more of an ordeal to work with than I could have imagined, and I'm not sure that I would have used it if I had known.  I definitely don't think that this would be the great solution for a kid's playroom to hang posters and drawings that it seems.  It's so toxic, I'd hesitate to use it around small children.  And given toddlers' propensity to swallow small objects, the fact that I would have to use small, strong magnets would also give me pause.  If you're interested, my advice is to read on-line reviews and remarks and proceed with caution and low expectations.  I'll let you know that after enough time passes for me to forget how awful this was to work with if I still think it wasn't worth it.

all inspiration boards via pinterest.


Alternative Cocktail Tables

I have a love/hate relationship with cocktail tables---and I live in New Orleans where they are definitely cocktail, not coffee tables.   I mean, the right cocktail table with the right accessories can MAKE a room.  And how do you live in a living room without them there to hold books, drinks, and (I'm sorry, Mother) feet.  Unfortunately, they are one of the hardest items to find.  I mean it's almost impossible to find one the exact right length, width, height, style, etc.  And for some reason, most of the ones I love are, almost without exception, extremely expensive.  There fore, for a long time, I lived without one, pulling in small  stools when needed:

The furniture arrangement is the same, but it's a whole different room now.

 What made it harder for me to find the right table was that the furnishing was such a mix.  The cocktail had to blend with these mid century tables, cream slipcovers,  and peeling paint.

And the other table in the room, is a butler's tray that I made from a drawer and the legs from a folding tray table (I guess I do like non- traditional tables):

 Luckily, on a trip home to the farm, I found this shipping crate, once used to ship tools, in my father's workshop. 

 All I did was clean it up (not too much) and add casters.  I didn't put a finish on it, because I like the rough look, and in my house, being used,  beaten up, and patinated is gonna happen anyway...the finish might as well start out distressed.
A corner of the cocktail trunk, but mainly an excuse to post a picture of Cleopatra.

 I also took my salvaging ways outside to make a cocktail table from a door I found on the street:

 And a buffet from a discarded packing crate: