...because home doesn't happen overnight.
02.07.14 / Made Me Smile

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The things that made me smile this week…

*An architect’s $11,000 dream house. (The most expensive thing is the toilet!)

*Fiddle leaf fig humor. #thespot

*Instagram of the week.

*My remote should arrive any day now. No more one-armed selfies! Pictures of the whole famn damily!

*A cosmetic kitchen overhaul from the designer’s viewpoint.

*Blinded by the light.

*Lots of snow = lots of reading.

*My favorite ankle boots for the 35+ crowd.

Do something that makes you smile this weekend! I’m taking five boys (!) to see The Lego Movie. Smiles all around.

image: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

When I started writing House*Tweaking over four years ago, I did it because I have an innate passion for writing and all things home. As a child, I was always writing a book or poem or song – usually in my bedroom which I had just rearranged or redecorated. (Do you remember the wallpaper border trend of the 90′s? I totally put one in my bedroom and DIYed a wall clock to match. Classy.) H*T was a medium for merging those two passions and the minute I hit publish I was hooked.

In the beginning, my least favorite part of blogging was taking pictures, uploading pictures, editing pictures and posting mediocre pictures. I used a Canon point and shoot camera to take pictures of my projects and home. There was no thought or skill behind the photography. It was merely a means to an end.

Somewhere along the way my attitude towards photography changed. I was exposed to such beautiful imagery online and it inspired me to improve my own photography skills. Having reached a plateau with my point and shoot, I started doing research on DSLR’s. I purchased a Canon EOS XSi body along with a 50mm f/1.8 lens for macro shooting and a Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 zoom lens for general shooting and I’ve been using them ever since.

first and last photo

The image on the left is the very first photo I ever posted on H*T. The photo on the right is the most recent photo I posted. Many things have changed from that first photo to the current one: my equipment, my home, my style (that’s a whole other post) and my knowledge of and experience with photography.

When we moved into our current home, I was having a difficult time capturing the interior the way I saw it in real life. The open kitchen-living area receives a ton of natural light but whenever I tried taking a photo of the space it always turned out dark and cloudy. Last year I enrolled in Nicole’s Photo 101 e-course. It was a 4-week course and cost $125. It was the best investment I’ve ever made in my photography. Since then, I shoot in manual mode 95% of the time and I’m completely comfortable doing so. Several readers have asked if I bought a new camera because they noticed a difference in my blog photos. No, I didn’t buy a new camera. I finally know how to use the one I bought years ago.

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This is my normal setup for shooting in my home. (Sorry for the poor photo quality. I had to shoot this with my phone since my camera is in the picture. How ironic is it to include bad photos in a photography post?) It’s the camera I mentioned already along with a high quality tripod, a gift from Steve. I had a cheaper tripod originally but within a year the panhead cracked and it was incredibly flimsy which pretty much voided any reason to use it.

Setting up the tripod always seems like a huge extra effort but, in reality, it only takes a few minutes and allows me to maximize the quality of my photos.

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Here’s my dirty little secret…I don’t own or know how to use Photoshop. I know. When I started blogging, I couldn’t justify the expense especially because no amount of editing was going to make my poor photos look great. Over time, I found inexpensive, well, mostly free ways to edit my photos. I used Picnik for a while before it was phased out and then I switched to PicMonkey which is what I use now. I pay a small annual fee for the Royale version. (I use Polyvore to create mood boards and round ups.)

Sometimes I wish I could use Photoshop to mock up DIY / design projects and create better round ups but the cost (of even the most basic version) is still hard for me to swallow. Instead, I focus on taking high quality photos which minimizes the amount of editing I do. Usually, I resize and barely brighten images and that’s it. I crop my photos when I shoot not when I edit. Over-edited photos look so fake to me.

camera bag

When I’m not using my camera, I store it in this camera bag along with my lenses, user manual, memory cards and battery charger. My bag is ~4 years old and looks brand new. It protects my camera and keeps everything in one easy to grab and go place. I went to the Novogratz’s book signing two years ago and Robert complimented me on said bag so, BONUS!, it’s bona fide stylish.

Other than investing in good equipment and an informative e-course, I also regularly take time to study images I’m drawn to online and in print. What is the camera angle? Where is the light coming from? Is it a warm light or a cool light? What is particularly special about the composition? How is the photo styled? Is it a macro or wide angle shot? How is the image naturally cropped? This process might seem like a waste of time but it gives me ideas and leaves me inspired.

To me, photography is a skill that gets better and better with practice. The worst thing I’ve done is sat back and waited for the knowledge to come to me. It didn’t come. I had to go out and find it, learn it then implement it. And keep implementing it. I sometimes study my own images and critique them. What worked? What could I have done better? What can I learn from this and do differently the next time?

My photography has definitely improved since that first photo in 2009 but it isn’t perfect. It’s something I want to be better at. Eventually, I may upgrade my equipment if my skill set ever gets to the place where I think I’ve mastered my current camera. But I’m not there yet. It’s a process! And I haven’t ruled out Photoshop either.

Nowadays when the boys are at school and Mabrey is napping, one of my favorite things to do is bust out my camera and tripod and snap away. Which is strange considering it used to be my least favorite part of blogging.

What about you? Have you ever taken a photography class online or in person? Did you find it helpful?

P.S. – I would highly recommend Nicole’s Photo 101 class to anyone wanting to improve their DSLR photo skills whether they’re a blogger or not. The material mainly uses people and stills as examples but the information is easily applicable to interiors, too. This recommendation is not sponsored. I truly feel this way and am currently looking in to the Photo 102 class.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

My kids haven’t had a full week of school in over a month. Cabin fever doesn’t even begin to describe the pent up energy and general irritability that we’re experiencing. Saturday the temperature reached 45ºF and it felt like summer. We took two long walks hoping they hold us over until April.

fig tree

Last Tuesday my kids had yet another snow day so I did what any parent with three bored kids would do on a Tuesday. I hit up Ikea for the Kids Eat Free Tuesday ploy. Of course, I ended up buying stuff so it wasn’t all free. I had a small shopping list going in and stuck to it save for one tempting item.

fig tree 1

Meet Mr. Fig. (And, yes, I’m officially a design blogger now.) I have always wanted a fiddle leaf fig but could never justify the money against my consistently black thumb. Fiddle leaf figs love rainforest climates so they aren’t all that common in Ohio and prices usually reflect that contradiction. I’ve seen them from $50-$100+ in local nurseries and home improvement stores.

fig tree 3

But when I spotted this guy for only $12.99 at Ikea, I just had to give him a go. If my black thumb conquers all, I’m only out thirteen bucks and I know not to ever buy another fig. He’s so brave, isn’t he?

Getting him to the car was quite comical and I liken it to taking my first newborn out on a cold winter’s day. “Gotta keep him warm! He will freeze! Protect him! We need more blankets! Is he still breathing? Oh, wait. He’s sweating.”

I left him on a trolley inside the store while the kids and I fetched the car and warmed it up all nice and toasty like. Only then did Mr. Fig leave the building. (In my defense it was 0ºF.) I don’t know much about plants but it seems reasonable that they can suffer frostbite much like a human. That was my thinking anyway. And I wasn’t going to jeopardize the one shot I had at a fig. He survived the car ride and I promptly ran him inside while my kids waited in the car. Figs > kids.

fig tree 4

The planter is vintage (I bought it at our house’s estate sale) and I picked up a cheap stand on wheels so I can move Mr. Fig around easily. When it’s spray-painting season, I’ll probably paint the stand. I haven’t actually transplanted him to the pot yet. Waiting for a warm day?

fig tree 5

I did some reading up on figs and decided my guy would probably do best in front of the french doors in the kitchen. (Ahem, sneak peek of my workspace. Full reveal coming soon!) He should receive plenty of indirect light from the north-facing doors and skylights. The doors lead to our grilling patio and, seeing as how we haven’t grilled anything for nearly three months and probably won’t for another two, we don’t use them right now. When it’s warmer and we’re no longer using the fireplace, I’d like to roll him over to the TV wall (similar to the location of our Christmas tree) but I think he’d shrivel up over there in the winter with all the dry heat. I have a feeling this guy is going to get moved around a lot. So happy he’s on wheels.

The other evening Steve asked, “So, is this thing staying here?”

This thing, I thought. Hmph. Clearly, he has no idea what high stature the fiddle leaf fig has in the design community. Forgive him. He knows not what he sees.

Me: Why? You planning on doing some grilling tonight?

Steve: Well, no. But I might someday.

Me: I’m going to move him over by the TV when it gets warmer but the fireplace would fry him right now.

Steve: Did you just refer to it as “him”?

Me: Maybe.

fig tree 6

So he’s living here for now. So far, so good. These days our house is really dry with the fireplace or furnace running. Before Mr. Fig came to live with us, we were considering the purchase of a humidifier but haven’t acted on the thought yet. I read to water figs thoroughly and allow the soil to dry out in between waterings which has equated to watering every three days over the past week. That will probably vary as the seasons change and it’s going to take some effort and attention on my part but I’m fully committed at this point.

fig tree 2

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I’ll take any advice or tips you have to offer. I’ve heard occasional showers (in the bathroom) can do wonders for figs. I might be the weird mom throwing her kids in the shower with a tree.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

girl nursery 1

So many times I get asked, “What if Mabrey had been a boy? What would the nursery look like then?” I thought it would be fun to turn my answer into a mood board and share it with you. Here we go. The nursery. Boy edition.

boy nursery

First off, the room’s layout would remain the same. It just works so I wouldn’t mess with it. There are so many items in Mabrey’s nursery that I love and would work well in a baby boy’s room, too. I would definitely keep most of the larger, basic items. The crib, the changing table with baskets & bins, the mirror, the wall shelves, the rocking chair, the trunk under the window, the ceiling light, the rug, the woven shade, the deer head…all that would stay. (For the sake of keeping the mood board simple, I show only a few of these items above but all of them would remain in the room.) The majority of this stuff hails from Ikea. The rocker and woven shade are from Overstock. The trunk was a wedding gift. The rug is from West Elm. The deer head is from White Faux Taxidermy.

I am still head over heels for the wall color. It’s Benjamin Moore dark pewter and I would use it all over again. (That’s saying a lot as I have been known to paint a room three times before I land on the perfect hue.) It’s a deep, moody gray blue with green undertones. It makes the small room feel oh-so-cozy and is conducive to sleeping. And I like sleeping babies – boy or girl. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with boys and pink but I think it would be fun to add red-orange, mustard and green accents against the dark walls along with a lot of white for contrast.

On to the items I would change. The pattern on Mabrey’s curtains is pretty feminine. I would hang these at the window and closet instead. As for the DIY art above the crib, I would probably DIY a gradient wood stain for the same effect but a more masculine look. So it would go from a natural to rich wood tone. But since you guys don’t have this exact empty frame hanging around at your house, I also love the idea of DIYing a big wooden Ohio and painting a small heart or star in the location where my baby boy was born. (The Ohio in the mood board is an ornament but you get the idea.) I would pair all white bedding with a colorful quilt. I really like this vintage kantha. And I would bring in more color and pattern with pillows (here, here, here and here) and scatter them throughout the room in the crib, on the trunk and on the rocker. Two or three green rope baskets (eek! They sold out in between creating the mood board and writing this post but they’re from Target.) would corral toys and sit on the floor below the wall shelves. To bring a little more life to the open shelves, I’d add green boxes and framed nature photography.

All that’s left to add is a bouncing baby boy! Don’t get me wrong, I love my babygirl and her room. But sometimes it’s fun to re-imagine a room for someone else. Or is that just me?

P.S. – A few more shots of M’s room these days…

girl nursery 2

girl nursery 3

girl nursery 4

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking