...because home doesn't happen overnight.

surprise DC trip

In the fall of 2011, I surprised the boys with a road trip to Washington, D.C. (Technically, Mabrey went too, but she was just a bump. Can you see her?) I was still working as a pharmacist at the time and managed to get a rare Friday off that coincided with a long weekend for the boys. A few weeks prior, I had called my sister (who lived in Fairfax, Virginia, at the time) to see if she’d be interested in having some visitors. She quickly said, “Yes!”

On the Thursday before the long weekend, while Layne and Everett were at school and daycare, respectively, I packed their bags and loaded up the car with snacks and pillows. I picked Everett up from daycare then we drove home and waited for Layne to get off the bus. We didn’t even get out of the car. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces when Layne climbed in and I revealed my secret. They were so excited! They couldn’t believe we were up and leaving in the middle of a perfectly normal afternoon. The wonderful part is they were more excited about being surprised than actually going on a road trip.

surprise DC trip

Years later, they still bring up that mini vacation. The thing they remember most is me surprising them – not seeing the Lincoln Memorial or riding the Metro.

Have you ever planned a surprise vacation? Would you ever sign up for a surprise vacation? (Apparently, it’s the new way to travel.) Do you even like surprises? I like surprising my kids with trips, but I don’t know if I could give up complete control of vacation planning! We’re leaving for a little family vacation tomorrow. The kids know we’re driving somewhere and will be gone for a few days, but Steve and I haven’t told them where we’re going yet.

P.S. – That one time I was wifenapped.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

mudroom doors black 3

As winter slips into spring, I’m itching to put away the snow boots, toboggans and heavy coats in favor of sandals, sun hats and light jackets. For a seamless transition, I rely on our versatile back entry. We don’t have a true mudroom. Instead, I carved out a corner of the dining room/laundry nook to act as a mini mudroom of sorts. A row of hooks, a saddler bench and a catchall floor basket keep in-season outerwear in check and provide a place to put on and remove shoes. (We have a similar setup near the front door.)

If you have room for one, a hardworking bench can be a great addition to an entry. I have a few stipulations when it comes to entry benches…

*Backless, armless, narrow, straight-lined. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of a separate entry, it’s essential to choose a bench that hugs the wall and doesn’t interfere with traffic flow.

*Robust. I prefer a bench that is primarily constructed of wood, metal and/or leather. It needs to hold up to kids and all four seasons.

*Leggy. A bench that sits up off the floor is easier to clean around. In small spaces, it’s lighter on the eyes, too.

*Opportunity for storage. A bench that includes hidden storage, shelving or an open design (i.e., no cross bars under the seat to allow for clearance of baskets or shoes) is ideal. For benches that don’t boast built-in storage, a woven or felt floor basket is an easy fix.

*<$200. Sure, there are a slew of pricey entry benches out there that I have all the heart eyes for, but in reality, I can’t see spending more than $200 on a piece of furniture that is going to get beat up on a daily basis – especially when I know there are affordable alternatives that can do the job just as well. It can’t be too precious. I think I would cringe every time a kid threw a muddy shoe at a more expensive bench.

*No espresso! There are plenty of benches that meet all the criteria above but many of them are only available in an espresso finish. Don’t fall for it! It will immediately cheapen the look of an entry (or any space for that matter).

For fun, here are eight entry benches under $200…

blu dot twilight

Target mid century modern bench

For closed storage plus a cushion top, I like the Blu Dot twilight bench and Target’s midcentury modern bench. I would consider reupholstering the cushions with indoor-outdoor fabric, mudcloth, a kilim rug remnant or another vintage textile for a bespoke look.

ikea skogsta bench

andover mill bench

For solid wood construction, I like the simple lines of the IKEA SKOGSTA bench and the Andover Mills thorndike bench. Keep the look natural with a wax topcoat, or use stain or paint for a custom look.

Saddler+Wood+Bench

leather + birch bench

Leather + wood is one of my favorite combinations. This saddler bench sits at our back entry. It has held up wonderfully to years of use and abuse. The Andalucia bench in white is a larger, more modern option.

mud hut wood + metal bench

universal shoe bench

For added durability, try a bench that combines metal and wood. The Mudhut asmara bench is marketed as a dining bench, but I could see it working well in an entry that opens up into a long, narrow hallway. The universal expert shoe bench from West Elm offers a compact design along with shelving. Use it where space is limited.

What are your must-haves for a practical entry? Do you have a dedicated mudroom? If so, I’m envious.

P.S. – Our front entry’s exterior.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking, sources linked within

studio lights 1

This post has been a long time coming. Management at the warehouse changed hands last year. For the most part, it’s been a good thing. The new managers are making improvements, enforcing regulations, bringing in new and exciting tenants and generally cleaning up the property. One change they’ve made is requiring work orders for any improvements or maintenance concerns to be submitted through the main rental office. Management then passes along the work orders to maintenance and the task is added to a long to-do list and prioritized.

The new rule affected the installation of lighting in the space I occupy. I was in need of task lighting over a worktable. Steve and I had thought we could tackle the project ourselves by borrowing scaffolding from maintenance. (The ceilings are 18′ high.) But when the rule (which I realize was made to ensure the safety of tenants and address tasks efficiently) was made, a DIY installation was off the table. Since a leaky roof, a non-functioning bathroom, a needy boiler system and all the other issues that come with an old building take precedence over pretty lights, it was months before the lighting installation climbed to the top of the list. But they’re up! And they’re amazing!

studio lights 6

They’re the Wesco vented deep bowl pendant lights from Barn Light Electric Co. I ordered the 20″ shades in textured black. Due to the 18′ ceiling height, I needed a custom cord length. Each light is made-to-order so I was able to specify a 15′ cord versus the standard 8′. The location of pre-existing light boxes dictated the placement of the pendants but, on the work order, I instructed maintenance to hang the lights 30″-36″ above the table. They look and work great! Before, there were two lonely lightbulbs on the ceiling above the table. They were so high and didn’t really do much to light the surface of the table.

studio lights 5

Speaking of the table, it was a $250 eBay find. The seller was local so we were able to pick it up and avoid shipping costs. It’s a vintage Drexel (the same manufacturer as the dresser in the boys’ room) banquet table. It’s HUGE. With two leaves in place, it easily seats 10. Without the leaves, it seats six. It isn’t in perfect condition but it’s solid which makes it an ideal work surface. It can take abuse and I don’t worry about inevitable scratches, dings and paint splatters. I love the brass detailing on the corners. It reminds me of campaign furniture.

studio lights 4

The bentwood chairs are knockoffs. I scored six of them at the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore last summer for $12. Total. Yes, you’re doing the math right. THAT’S $2 PER CHAIR. And, yes, that price is so ridiculous that I almost feel guilty, but I can’t because I’m too busy jumping up and down with giddiness over the score of a lifetime. Sometimes I’m in the right place at the right time.

studio chair repair

Two of the chairs had splintered / worn places on the seats from years of use. Steve filled them with wood putty. Later, I sanded the patched spots and brushed on two coats of glossy black paint. I used Glidden’s trim & door paint in deepest black, leftover from painting the french doors at home. While it isn’t specifically meant for furniture, the trim & door paint worked amazingly well on the chairs. After everything had cured, there was a noticeable increase in the structural integrity of the painted chairs and the slick surface is super easy to wipe down. I stuck the black chairs at the heads of the table and left the other chairs in their original condition.

studio lights 2

On one side of the table, I opted for a pair of simple wood benches. Ever since our stay in an Asheville cabin, I’ve had all the heart eyes for bench seating. It’s super kid-friendly and feels more communal than individual chairs.

Last month I hosted a co-ed wedding shower (it was more like a big party than a traditional shower) for my sister and her fiancé at the studio. I had to borrow and set up extra folding tables and chairs for 40 guests, but everyone gravitated toward the banquet table and the benches. I had “a moment” watching people eat, drink, talk and laugh around the table.

studio lights 3

Even though this isn’t an actual living space, I hope you take away some ideas or inspiration for your own home:

*Mix-n-match seating around a dining table lends a casual vibe.

*Consider benches for kid-friendly seating options.

*When scouting furnishings, search secondhand local sources (ReStore, eBay, craigslist, etc.) first, then fill in the gaps with big box purchases.

*Think outside the paint can. Many specialty paints can be used beyond their marketed application.

*Old + new work best when sticking to a limited color palette and when pieces share similar lines.

*In an open space, punctuate zones with oversize pendant lighting.

If you’re in need of quality lighting, I can’t recommend Barn Light Electric Co. highly enough! They have a slew of residential and commercial options. In my own home, I sourced the sconces above the kitchen and bathroom sinks from the American lighting company. I’ll never forget when the electrician (our cousin-in-law) installed the kitchen sconce. He was so impressed with the quality and construction of the light that he asked for the source so he could recommend it to future clients.

Barn Light Electric Co. is kindly offering up a store credit to one lucky reader! See entry details for the giveaway below. I rounded up a few of my current favorites if you’re interested in checking them out. I prefer neutrals but many of the lights are offered in different finishes and colors to suit any style.

Barn Light Electric Co.

 

Sources (clockwise from top left): angle shade gooseneck / wire cage flush mount / downtown minimalist sconce / downtown minimalist brass double sconce / barnes flush mount / chateau modern pendant / downtown minimalist 3-light brass chandelier

PRIZE: $500 store credit to Barn Light Electric Co.

RULES: You must be at least 18 years old and have a shipping address (no P.O. boxes please) within the U.S. One entry per email address.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment on this post proclaiming “BARN LIGHT ME!”

DEADLINE: Enter before 9:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 20th. One random winner will be announced Monday, March 21st.

WHILE YOU’RE AT IT: Feel free to share your latest lighting dilemma and which light(s) you think would solve it.

Good luck!

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.* Congrats to Karen who has been renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse over the last decade and needs new vintage-esque lighting to finish off the place!

P.S. – IKEA cabinets in the studio. Organization in the studio.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking