...because home doesn't happen overnight.

I want to thank all of you for your well wishes and words of encouragement. THANK YOU. I wasn’t planning on it, but I had to take some time off. The kids ended up getting sick, too. Luckily, Cheetah hasn’t made anymore attempts to run away and I haven’t had anymore run-ins with opossums ;)

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I’ve been tweaking things here and there in our bedroom. Mostly because I like change every now and then, but also because a few things felt slightly off. Take the IKEA HEMNES shoe cabinet, for instance. It actually started out in our entry, then I moved it to the master bedroom after I realized it made more sense functionally. (We don’t enter through the front door on a regular basis, so we don’t really need shoe storage there.) I hung a mirror (an octagonal one at first, then a rectangular one) and spray painted the knobs gold, but the vignette always felt flat to me. (Also, looking back at old posts is a little like looking at pictures of myself from college or high school. It’s embarrassing.)

Additionally, in my opinion, the cabinet knobs were awkwardly placed. They were positioned about one-third of the way down the drawer fronts. We had to give them a good tug to open the shoe compartments. I always thought handles/pulls located higher up on the fronts would work and look better. (IKEA must have received similar feedback because they now offer the STÄLL cabinet with notched handles.) I decided to try my hand at making leather pulls for the shoe cabinet.

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I removed the original knobs, filled the holes with wood putty then sanded the putty smooth taking care NOT to sand the surface of the drawer fronts. (I just wanted to do a quick and easy patch & touchup job. If possible, I didn’t want to paint the entire fronts/cabinet.) After the putty had dried completely, I used a small watercolor brush from my kids’ art supplies to brush on two coats of paint over the putty only. I used Benjamin Moore white dove in semigloss (leftover from our baseboards and trim) because it was what I had on hand and there was a snow storm and I wasn’t dragging the kids to the store for eight drops of paint. It isn’t a perfect match but it worked just fine for the minuscule touchups. These photos are untouched other than lightening them up a little, but you really can’t tell where the knob holes used to be unless the sun is shining and you look at the cabinet from just the right angle.

Of course, you can have paint color-matched for a flawless finish if you’re worried about inconsistencies.

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Once the holes were patched and painted, I got to work on the pulls. I found a faux leather belt at my local Salvation Army store. It was long enough for four pulls and the $1.99 price tag was perfect. When I got to the counter and found out it was included in the daily special (50% off all yellow tags!), I was stoked. The belt rang in at a whopping 99¢ and, after a grueling week from hell, it completely made my day. It’s the little things, people.

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I cut the buckle off the belt then measured and cut four 4½” strips for the pulls.

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I folded each strip over on itself, measured 3/8″ down from the cut ends then drilled a hole through each pull. (I don’t remember the exact size of the drill bit, but it was slightly smaller than the shaft of the machine screws I bought for the project. Keep reading for more info on those.) I used the same wood scrap from the DIY wood bead strand for a cleaner cut and to protect the floor. If you haven’t noticed by now, I tend to work on the floor in whatever room I’m working on at the moment. I’m too impatient to set things up elsewhere!

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I bought four 10-24 x 1″ brass machine screws plus washers and nuts in the same size for this project. I found them at Lowe’s and they cost ~$6 total. For each pull, I slipped a screw through a washer then the hole in the leather.

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I removed the shoe compartments from the cabinet (they simply pull up and out) and used the same drill bit to drill a hole in each front ~½” down from the top. I wanted the tops of the pulls to line up with the tops of the fronts without interfering with opening/closing. Again, I used a wood scrap underneath for a clean cut.

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Then I used a flathead screwdriver to screw the pulls onto the fronts. I secured them with a 10-24 brass nut. I probably could have used a slightly longer screw as I had to bust out pliers to screw the nuts on, but it all worked out. Steve says the screws are perfect because they don’t stick out and pose a hazard to hands reaching into the cabinet for a pair of shoes. One thing is for sure. They aren’t going anywhere!

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I love, love, LOVE how the brass looks against the (faux) saddle leather. I was worried the pulls might scream “BELT!” but I actually like the stitching. Especially at <$2 per pull!

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The new pulls are way more functional, too. No more tugging at awkwardly placed knobs.

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Surprise! Two of the compartments are empty. Steve uses the one on the bottom left as a hidden charging station for his phone.

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I didn’t plan for it, but the new pulls tie in to the leather bench at the foot of the bed. #happyaccident I sprung for a new mirror. Maybe you noticed? I really felt like we needed something round to break up all the straight lines and I wanted a touch of black. I found an affordable, round mirror with a black frame here. The scale is spot on. FYI – It’s heavy!

Thanks to the new leather pulls, round mirror and some Trader Joe’s blooms, I’ve fallen in love with this little corner of our bedroom. It just feels right. And now I want to add leather pulls made from thrifted belts to all the things. #savethebelts

Stay tuned for more bedroom updates, coming soon!

P.S. – If DIY isn’t your thing, pre-made leather pulls on an armoire.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

01.26.16 / Living With Toys

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If you have kids then you have kid stuff. Chances are you’re constantly trying to strike a balance between their stuff and your sanity. I’m a tidy person by nature. Clutter – whether messy or overly decorated – makes me a little twitchy. I live, work and sleep better in uncluttered spaces. With three kids, it’s challenging but not impossible. When people visit our home virtually or in real life, they want to know where all the toys are. I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at the kid stuff in our home along with my thoughts on toys. I snapped some pics last week when the kids were at school and the house was tidy, but they are not styled shots. This is what our home looks like when everything is in its place…and the kids aren’t around ;)

Honestly, it would make my life so much easier if people would just stop giving my kids stuff (no more stickers at the grocery store! no more party favors! no more things just because the calendar says it’s a holiday and the stores say buy something to celebrate!) but that’s not my decision to make. Preserving my sanity is my decision though. Here’s how I do it…

Less is more. Honestly, we don’t have many toys to begin with and what we do have is mostly corralled out of plain sight in a bin or basket. But it’s here! We don’t have a ton of room for toys but even if we had more space it’s likely we wouldn’t fill it with toys. As a parent, I don’t believe it’s my job to buy all. the. toys. We maybe buy each kid 2-3 toys annually and that includes birthdays and holidays. There are no impulse buys at Target or the grocery store and the kids know it. If they ask for a toy at the store my response is, “Sorry, that’s not on our list today. Why don’t you put it on your wish list?”

I don’t think my kids need a bunch of toys to keep them entertained. In fact, they focus better with fewer toys. When they tell me they’re bored my response is, “That’s your fault, not mine.” I usually follow up with a verbal list of things they could do. The next few minutes are sometimes dicey as they whine, but eventually they always find something to do.

Having minimal toys keeps our house mostly clutter-free, saves us money and makes it easier to pick up at the end of each day.

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Quality > quantity. We would rather own a few quality toys that can be used long-term, passed on to siblings or other relatives or even sold, than a slew of meh stuff. Think wood > plastic, non-themed > themed and gender neutral. Hape is one of my favorite toy brands.

I think the biggest misconception is that buying quality toys equates to spending more money. But it’s quite the opposite. Sure, one single quality toy might cost more than one single plastic toy, but if that quality toy is the only toy you buy for 6-12 months, you aren’t spending as much in the long run. The grandparents are slowly catching on to this as well. They like knowing a toy they gifted made it past the one month mark unscathed.

Inevitably, toys will be seen and strewn about the house but they look less obnoxious when they aren’t all primary-colored plastic.

Toys are stored within reach and in areas where they are used most. Making toys accessible encourages independence. My height isn’t required to pull something down from a shelf or to put it back later.

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Three baskets on a low shelf in our living room hold a train set, Perplexus mazes and kitchen/grocery toys.

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Mabrey’s play kitchen sits out in the open because she likes to pretend she’s serving people in the living room.

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The fridge was a Santa gift after Mabrey requested it several times over the past year. I, um, I mean those nice elves used leftover paint, wood putty and two new handles to tweak it to match the sink cabinet. The mini ice dispenser drops wooden “ice cubes” and is Mabrey’s favorite feature.

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Board games are kept in one of the fauxdenza cabinets near the dining table where family game nights take place.

Give grandparents specific gift ideas. I think we can all agree that grandparents mean well, but their gifting can be excessive at times. Over the years, Steve’s parents and my parents have realized that we really don’t want a bunch of toys in the house. They’ve gradually cut back on buying toys which we’re extremely happy about, but when they insist on getting something, we’ve learned that it helps to be specific. Instead of saying general things like, “Mabrey likes playing grocery store” and ending up with all kinds of toy grocery paraphernalia, we specifically tell them we think she would really enjoy a cash register and, per their request, send a quick email containing a link to a specific item. That’s exactly how this wooden toy register came to be hers. She loves it!

Experience-based gifts, please! If given a choice, most of the time our kids will choose a fun activity over a thing. For their birthdays, we’ll often ask if they want that toy or if they would like to choose dining out, watching a movie, going to an indoor trampoline park, playing laser tag, visiting a museum, etc. If they do choose a thing, we encourage them to think about how they will use it and for how long.

Recently, Layne asked for a mandolin and Everett asked for a scooter to replace his wrecked one. While these are things, they provide experiences and learning opportunities that the kids will remember for years to come. At least, that’s my hope.

We also give experience-based gift ideas to family when asked. Over the last year, grandparents have gifted our kids tennis lessons, a trampoline, gymnastics classes, movie tickets, online music lessons (seriously, the best gift ever – no driving involved!), ballet classes, these awesome electronic snap circuits (the kids LOVE them) and tickets to see The Art of the Brick. My sister gave Layne airline tickets to visit her in Washington DC as a combo Christmas/birthday gift. He goes in a few weeks and is stoked. (I’ll probably be a hot mess watching his plane take off.) These gifts are so appreciated! The best part is that family members are able to experience the gifts with the kids if they want, watching them play an instrument or master a plié and greeting them after their first solo plane ride.

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Layne’s mandolin bag hangs on a hook in his bedroom closet (along with a Swoop bag full of Legos). He practices in his room so it makes sense to keep it in there.

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All the books! One area where we’re a little more lenient on quantity is books. My kids love to read and I want to fuel that fire as much as possible. We visit our local library almost weekly and the kids have many books of their own, too. I will periodically buy them books throughout the year. They read and reread them and share them with each other. I recently had to replace our eleven-year-old copy of Goodnight Moon because it had literally fallen apart and was illegible.

Get creative. We always have markers, crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper on hand to feed their creativity. Everett is in his happy place when he’s drawing. (In fact, I’ll often encourage him to draw when he’s having meltdowns. It helps him calm down.) Layne is on an origami kick so we have origami paper and a few origami books. He’ll also watch origami tutorial videos on You Tube for ideas. All these supplies are kept in cabinets in the office area of the kitchen so the kids can spread out on the island and make creative messes.

Frequent purging. Besides not bringing many toys into our home, we’re also adamant about getting rid of things that are broken or unused or things the kids have simply outgrown or lost interest in. I keep a laundry basket in Mabrey’s closet just for these items. As we go about normal daily life, we toss said items (toys and clothing) in the basket. Oh, look, there’s a hole in this shirt. Put it in the basket. Hey, this costume is way too small for you. Put it in the basket. This car is missing three wheels. Put it in the basket. When’s the last time you played with this? Put it in the basket. You get the idea…put it in the basket!

When the basket is full, I sort the items and deal with them accordingly. Items to be donated are put in the car right away so I have no excuse for not dropping them off the next time I pass Goodwill. (Also, the kids can’t suddenly decide they need that toy they haven’t played with in months.) Currently, I have three bags of kid stuff in the back of my car waiting to be donated. This is an ongoing process that will continue as long as my kids keep acquiring stuff. I find this method to be more efficient than big purges that consume an entire day or weekend, although I do make an effort to do a quick toy inventory check just before the holidays to make room for new stuff.

How do you keep toys in check at your house? Do you have any good non-toy gift ideas for kids? How do you handle overzealous grandparents?

P.S. – A dollhouse for Mabrey. Some toy favorites.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

IKEA studio organization 14

After building a dry bar in the studio to store items you would normally find in a break room or desk drawer, I was still in need of closed storage for craft and DIY supplies, basic tools, fabric samples and paint swatches. Essentially, I needed a freestanding closet. I spent a few weeks searching Craigslist for large armoires. I was looking for something solid and sturdy with clean lines and a cheap price tag that I could tweak with paint and new hardware.

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Enter this beast. I scored it for $100. It’s difficult to visualize the scale in photos, but, believe me, it’s BIG. And heavy. When Steve and I unloaded it, Mabrey promptly claimed it as her “room.” She fits inside easily. Tiny house living? Kidding.

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In its previous life the armoire was used as an entertainment cabinet, but the solid wood construction, cavernous interior and adjustable shelving made it a perfect candidate for storage, too.

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The wood finish wasn’t all that bad but in the context of the space (there were so many different wood tones in the studio already) I knew I would like it better painted. I imagined it as a tall, dark and handsome cabinet. So I removed the hardware, doors and shelves, scuffed the surface with a medium grit sanding block, wiped it clean and gave it a few coats of Valspar Reserve latex primer + paint color-matched to Sherwin-Williams tricorn black. (We used this paint color on the front door of our previous home. It’s moody with blue undertones.) I used a 6″ foam roller and angled trim brush to apply the paint. I opted not to paint the adjustable shelves because I figured they would get scratched up anyway. Plus, I really like when warm wood and dark paint play together.

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I reassembled everything and replaced the original scroll-like knobs with these sexy leather pulls. I probably could have DIY’d something similar with a belt, but I’m so glad I splurged on the pre-made version. The pulls are thick and robust and I really like the simple stainless steel hardware. The honey leather looks so rich and dreamy against the black paint. I did have to trim the length of the included screws for a proper fit but that was the only real work involved. It’s pretty much guaranteed that anything I would’ve whipped up would have been waaaaaaaay subpar compared to these.

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As you can see, I left the brass hinges as is. Mixing metal finishes is okay! Even on the same piece of furniture! The paint is semi-gloss which makes it easy to wipe down and ideal for furniture.

I’ll be sharing photos of the armoire’s interior in an organization post later this week. In the meantime, let’s talk more about Mr. Tall, Dark & Handsome. I would gladly put him in my house if I had room. Have I mentioned how sexy those leather pulls are? They remind me of this kitchen.

People! There are so many entertainment armoires out there waiting to be repurposed. As flat screen TVs become more and more mainstream and boxy tube TVs fall by the wayside, large secondhand media cabinets like this one are in high supply. Instead of using them to hide media components, I could totally see them housing toys, books, craft/office supplies and clothing in nurseries, playrooms, craft rooms, offices, dens, family rooms and bedrooms. Get creative with interior organization: hanging rods for clothes, baskets for toys/diapers, labeled clear plastic bins for craft supplies, a pull-out shelf for a printer or laptop, etc. The possibilities are endless. #savetheentertainmentarmoire

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking