...because home doesn't happen overnight.

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If you live somewhere that experiences colder weather or dry air, chances are you know first-hand the detriments of low humidity: itchy skin, chapped lips, cracked knuckles, staticky clothes, bloody noses, parched throats, increased vulnerability to respiratory illnesses, etc. Here in Ohio, humidifiers are almost a necessity during the winter months.

In our previous home, we installed a whole house humidifier right onto the upflow furnace unit in the basement to combat dry air. Our current house sits on a slab with a downflow furnace blowing heated air through ductwork that runs through the slab. (There’s no crawl space or basement.) Installing whole house humidifiers onto downflow furnaces isn’t impossible, but our current setup won’t facilitate it. There’s just not enough room. Additionally, we often use the gas fireplace in the living room to heat the house during the day which keeps the furnace from kicking on so, even if installation wasn’t tricky, a whole house humidifier still might not be the best choice for us.

We lived through our first winter in this house sans humidifier and we felt it. Someone was always sick. We all had cracked knuckles. I experienced nosebleeds. There was so much static we were afraid to touch each other and folding laundry was almost painful. The following winter I purchased a standalone humidifier and we’ve been using it during colder months ever since. It makes such a difference!

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After doing some research, I bought a Honeywell cool moisture console unit. (If there’s one thing I learned in pharmacy school, it’s that you should always use a cool mist humidifier. Warm units are breeding grounds for bacteria.) This is the third year we’ve used it and we’re extremely happy with it. It has a small footprint (~20″ x 12″) and can provide moisture for up to 1,900 square feet making it ideal for our 1,600-square-foot home.

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The humidifier must be placed on a flat, hard, water-resistant surface at least 6″ from any wall. I place it on the tile floor in the Everything Room. (You can add Humidifier Room to the running list of purposes that room serves.) It plugs in to an outlet hidden within the fauxdenza.

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The unit is relatively quiet. You can hear it running from the living room but it’s definitely not loud enough to disrupt conversation or TV watching. Every once in a while we hear a little glug-glug as water is released into the base but even that is miniscule. It doesn’t rattle or vibrate. I keep the fan speed on low and the humidity level somewhere between the two lowest settings depending on the day. Once the dials are set, the unit automatically turns on/off as needed to maintain the desired humidity level. It shuts off when the water tanks are empty. In contrast to traditional humidifiers, this unit is evaporative meaning you don’t see a visible mist or get water droplets on surrounding surfaces.

Standalone units do require some attention. The water tanks must be refilled periodically with tap water. Typically, I refill the tanks 1-3 times per week during the winter but, right now with outside temps barely in the double digits, I’m refilling the tanks every 1-2 days. The tanks and base must be cleaned regularly as well. I use the ProTec tank cleaning cartridges to extend the time between cleanings. I usually clean the unit at the beginning of the winter before the first use, once or twice during the winter and once at the end of winter. I flip the filter with every other water refill and replace it annually. When not in use, I keep the humidifier in its original box up in the attic.

I brought the humidifier down from the attic last week and set it up. Right away, I noticed a difference – not only in my skin (no more chapping and cracking!) and eyes (no more stinging!) but also in my houseplants. They were looking pretty droopy and sad but perked right up. We’ve also noticed that the humidifier helps prevent extreme shrinkage in our wood floors. Before, a gap would develop at the entrance to our bedroom (probably due to the leak we don’t speak of) in the winter, but it’s been nonexistent ever since we starting using the humidifier.

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Low humidity negatively affects so many things: people, pets, plants, wood floors and even furniture. If you’re looking for a small, effective standalone whole house humidifier that is easy to operate and maintain, I would recommend this one! (not sponsored, just sharing what has worked for us) I tried explaining the basics above, but the manual is easy to follow and gives more details on proper setup, maintenance, operation and storage.

Do you use a whole house humidifier? What about a hygrometer to monitor indoor humidity levels? Maybe it’s not necessary for your location or method of heating. I can remember my dad placing a pan of water on top of the wood stove in the house I grew up in to increase humidity. I’ve always wondered if homeowners with steam radiators or radiant floor heating need humidifiers. Anyone?

P.S. – Our biggest renovation regret. My winter essentials.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

IKEA studio organization 1

I’ve been working to add more function and organization to the studio. The space is essentially one big room with no closets or closed storage. Thinking outside the box, I built a dry bar and made over a large armoire to create hidden storage. When it came time to load the drawers and shelves, I knew I wanted to incorporate a slew of baskets and bins along with other organizational accessories.

IKEA is one of my go-to sources for affordable and versatile small storage items. I have a mix of fabric and woven baskets from IKEA in Mabrey’s room and various boxes, bins, letter trays and magazine files (all from IKEA) in the kitchen office. Our kitchen is outfitted with many IKEA pieces as well.

It just so happened in the midst of making my shopping list for the studio, I was asked if I would be interested in becoming an IKEA brand ambassadör. Seeing as how I’ve been regaling you all with my fondness for the Swedish company for, oh, six years or so, I was very interested. To make a short story even shorter, I happily signed on to be an IKEA brand ambassadör. I liken it to the marriage of Brad and Angelina. IKEA and I have been living together happily for many years. Why not just make it official? It’s official! Not much will change on my end. I will still only share IKEA products that I would use regardless of a partnership, but the difference is I am being compensated to share those products. I just thought you should know.

My role as an ambassadör actually began a few months ago when I participated in an online program to learn more about the history and mission of IKEA. It was so interesting! Did you know that IKEA is an acronym (Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd) incorporating the founder’s name + the name of his family’s farm + the name of a nearby Swedish village? Or that Mr. Kamprad was passionate about life at home and would often visit other people’s homes and open their closets and drawers for inspiration? Or that the flat pack concept started when a designer took the legs off a table to fit it in her car? Or that a product design always starts with a price tag?

There are all these little backstories that have influenced the company in many ways, but the mission has always remained the same: to create a better everyday life for the many people. IKEA enforces this philosophy of democratic design by focusing on five key elements: form, function, quality, price and sustainability. Who knew so much thought went into a lamp or basket?!

Anyhow, let’s get back to organizing. Isn’t that what everyone does in January?

I finished my shopping list and made a quick trip to IKEA. (I strongly suggest making a shopping list before going to IKEA. Otherwise, you will be distracted. You will be tempted. Stay strong. Make a list and stick to it.) My local store is ~25 minutes away by minivan. It’s a blessing and a curse.

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IKEA studio organization 2

I grabbed two VARIERA flatware trays for some of the smaller drawers in the dry bar. They fit like a glove. I use one to corral kitchen paraphernalia (think break room > kitchen) and the other holds frequently used DIY supplies. Steve gifted me a portable tool box and a bunch of tools. I can’t tell you how convenient it is to have my own tools. Before, I was lugging stuff back and forth from our garage to the studio in paper bags.

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I grabbed a MAXIMERA drawer divider for each of the 36″ drawers. The drawers are deep and roomy. The dividers provide separation and keep loose items from sliding around. I used a variety of VARIERA boxes in recycled plastic and sustainable bamboo to corral everything from snacks to office supplies to toilet paper. The top drawer near the mini fridge holds kitchen items like paper plates, dried fruit and dish towels. There’s no water supply in the studio but there is a shared sink down the hall. When I need to wash dirty dishes, I grab the dishwashing box with dish soap, dish towels and sponges, place dishes in the empty bamboo box and go. I keep a few snacks on hand for me and the kids. We haven’t had any issues with mice in the warehouse and I’d like to keep it that way, so open food goes in TILLSLUTA bins with lids.

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The other top drawer holds cleaning and office supplies. I keep extra toilet paper on hand because no one likes being stranded in a stall with no toilet paper. The little bamboo box in the bottom right-hand corner is the designated “restroom box.” It holds a roll of toilet paper, hand soap and hand towel. (The shared restroom in the warehouse sometimes has soap but often times does not. I like to be prepared.) It has a nifty little handle which makes it easy to carry down the hall and back. The larger bamboo box in the upper right-hand corner holds notebooks, note pads, pencils, rubber bands, post-its, tape and other office supplies.

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The bottom drawers are mostly empty except for a few vases and pots which are kept in check by the drawer divider. I like having room to breathe and grow. I’d love to share the studio with other creatives.

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Speaking of vases and pots, they’re also items I particularly like scooping up at IKEA to hold greenery, fresh flowers and even crayons. The SINNERLIG pitcher is great for watering plants or serving drinks.

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I thrifted the brass bowl for 99¢ and plopped a vase of flowers inside for a layered look. The teeny wood bowl was another 99¢ thrift find that serves as a drop zone for keys.

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With the dry bar in working order, I turned my attention to the entry. I brought in a SORTERA recycling bin, and the space was in dire need of hanging storage for a broom, dust pan, coats and bags. I picked up ten BJÄRNUM hooks, spray painted them satin black then mounted them to a piece of timber salvaged from our home renovation. I made two hook racks consisting of five hooks each and hung them at adult and kid heights on a sliver of wall between the door and a concrete column. After they were finished, I realized I should have staggered the hooks on the bottom rack. Live and learn.

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I sanded down the boards but didn’t stain or seal them. I used wood screws to attach the hooks to the boards. I thought about disguising the stainless steel crews with black paint but ultimately decided I like the contrast. It is a warehouse so metal accents and raw wood feel right at home here. Even so, I could totally envision these hook racks in a living space.

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Each hook actually features two hooks so items can be hung in front of or behind one another to double the hanging capacity. One neighboring studio rehabs mopeds; the other is a rotating art gallery. Inevitably, grease, grime, paint and sawdust migrate into the space. It’s so great to finally have a place for hanging everyday items and keeping them off the floor.

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I love how the storage armoire turned out. To make it more functional, I loaded it up with a ton of baskets and bins.

armoire organization

The bottom serves as a mini garage of sorts and houses leftover paint, a tool box, a few battery-powered tools, a bucket, my sewing machine and looms.

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The upper portion holds crafting and sewing supplies along with paint and fabric samples. I left the lids off the KUGGIS boxes so they can hold even more. They’re 21″ long which means they extend to the back of the armoire and minimize wasted space. They’re made of recycled PET plastic, an added bonus. The SKOGSTA box is made from renewable acacia and is beautiful. It’s great for grabbing supplies from the cabinet and carrying them elsewhere to work on projects. The MÅLA paper holder and watercolor paints keep Mabrey occupied for hours. (Cheaper than a babysitter!) I love the texture of the MAGGA seagrass baskets against the black cabinet. Again, there’s plenty of room to grow as I take on more projects. I can easily move things around as needed for maximum efficiency.

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I wanted to hang a noticeboard of some kind on the interior side of one of the doors, but everything I found was too deep or too wide and would have interfered with the door closing properly. When I spotted the AVSKILD cork placemats ($4 for a 4-pack), they sparked an idea. I used wood glue to glue two placemats together, front to back. The result is a pair of noticeboards thick enough to push a tack through yet thin enough for the doors to close properly. Problem solved! I used damage-free hanging strips to attach the noticeboards to the door. They’re perfect for displaying photos, to-do lists and project ideas. I used an adhesive hook to hang a calendar on the inside of the other door (seen in the gif above).

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The new storage zones ensure that there’s a place for everything. With portable baskets and bins, nothing is permanent so I can easily switch things up or move things around if necessary. Everything is so functional! Finally!

What are some of your favorite pragmatic items from IKEA? We use the BEKVÄM step stool on a daily basis. I use it to reach items in cabinets above the microwave and fridge. Steve has used it as a stand-in step ladder for home projects. The younger kids use it to help out in the kitchen. Sometimes Mabrey even sits on the bottom step and uses the top step as a “table” to eat her lunch. Cheetah likes to nap on it next to the humming refrigerator.

*I am a brand ambassadör for IKEA. This post sponsored in part by IKEA. I received product and payment for this collaboration. IKEA is a registered trademark of Inter IKEA Systems B.V. and is used with permission. The views, ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking