Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

December 30, 2014

My Favorite DIY Projects of 2014

I love this time of year because I get to put my feet up on my desk and rest on my laurels.  (Just a little bit).  Today I'm rounding up my fourteen favorite DIY projects of the year.  It was so hard to whittle the list down to only fourteen (I rounded up 13 in 2013, 12 in 2012, 11 in 2011...), so I may have cheated just a bit.  But, in all fairness, we finally moved into the lakehouse last January so almost every room started to take shape.

The kitchen got the biggest overhaul of the year and it looks (and feels) unrecognizable.  It even made Apartment Therapy's list of 10 Wallet-Friendly Kitchen Renovations, from their Best of 2014 list.  From painting the cabinets to installing modern paneling and open shelving, we toiled many weeks (months!) in this room.  Given how dramatic this makeover was, it should be no surprise that two of my favorite DIY projects of the year are from this space.  

1. Solid Wood Counters from Scratch

The solid wood counters that Hubby and his woodworker Dad crafted from a pile of lumber still amaze me.  Happily, I'm still smitten with the sheer white stain I nervously applied to the counters that they spent many, many days making (I was so stressed out applying that first coat).  The counters still look gorgeous and they just make so many of our cheap fixes - paneling, open shelves, painted cupboards - look more elegant because the counters are just so substantial.  They're much thicker than store-bought butcher block counters and everyone is tricked into thinking they were super expensive.

2. Open Shelving (Good-bye Ugly Cabinets)!

Truthfully, my other favorite project is the aqua cabinetry but we technically started painting the doors in 2013.  So do they count?  To be safe (because I'm sure there are serious ramifications for fudging the numbers here), I'm going to name the open shelving as my other favorite kitchen DIY project.  They have held up so well and it's still such a joy to see my lovely Pyrex collection in the open.  I may or may not have really treated myself to a few somewhat rare additions to my collection since completing the kitchen. 

Although the kitchen was in shambles when we finally moved in, the living room was in good shape!  In the fall I had painted the walls and ceiling with my folks, and then painted the fireplace stone and "sauna wood".  All we had to do was move in our furniture.  This room did change a bit throughout the year, though, as I switched around furniture and added vintage Lotte lamps, accessories, DIY Marimekko pillows, and mid-century teak side tables.  For the new year, continuing to massage this room to perfection (which includes phasing out the brown leather ottoman) is on the agenda.

The dining room looks really different, even though we didn't do a lot.  Paint, of course, always makes a difference - particularly painting the patio doors and removing the faux French door detail.  It was the spendy new light fixture that all of a sudden added oomph to this space, which previously felt lost between the living room and kitchen.  The original placement of the light fixture seemed like an after thought, but I realized that it positioned the table with the best view of the lake. 

3. DIY Floating Credenza with Grey-Stained Plywood Top

Unable to find an optimally sized, vintage credenza for the dining room nook, Hubby and I hacked some Ikea Best units to suit our needs, topping three wall-mounted Bestas with grey-stained plywood.  Silver furniture grommets helped us hide the lamp cords and complete the stream-lined look.  This simple project - that's been executed numerous times - is one of my favorite projects of the year.  It was so simple but much needed - it's added so much handy storage for the non-turquoise wares, which have been banished from the kitchen.  Plus it's home to the massive collection of Iittala Festivo candle holders my Mummu gave me as a 30th birthday/housewarming gift (each size was given to her by a different family member over the years).  As if the gift couldn't get any better, she also gave me her Iittala Toikka bird (plus my Mom tracked down candles for the festivos!).   When Szuka and Hubby rough house, I stand in front of the credenza with my arms out, shielding my towering collection of expensive breakables.

I love the dining room so far, but I'm hoping 2015 will see the dining room sporting prettier chairs! Maybe even a different table?

I'm definitely focusing my attention on the bedroom this year.  We got the basics addressed: bed, fabulous curtains, new closet organizer and my vintage posters.  I also took some time to refresh the headboard and side tables, which had started to look shabby after so many moves.  An improvement, to be sure, but there's so much more to do in here.

4. Beautiful Back Tab Bedroom Curtains:

One of the few projects we did tackle in the bedroom: the back tab bedroom curtains, is definitely worthy of this list!  The fabric is more green in real life (it photographs so aqua), but it is still a bit bluer than the silk throw pillows, which I'd very much like to keep.  I have a solution: I'm planning a very involved embroidery project for 2015 that will tie together all of the shades of blue and green in the bedroom.  A little DIY art flanking the headboard won't hurt either.  But - curtains!  Yay!  I'm definitely opting for chic back tab curtains when we get around to making some for the office and I'm kicking myself for using curtains rings for so long, when this option is chicer and cheaper!

It's definitely fabulous living closer to my parents and Hubby's Dad, and it's not just because they've all been so immensely generous with their time, helping us getting the lakehouse in shape.  But okay, it's largely because they've all been so generous with their time ;)  The laundry room and half bathroom were the only rooms we didn't have a chance to paint before moving in.  Unfortunately, they also became a dumping ground during the kitchen spruce and looked worse once we got the keys!  But with my Dad's help I quickly painted both spaces shortly after moving in.

5. Laundry Room Makeover + Magic Curtains

Next, my Mom and I made curtains for the laundry room which effectively hid the washer, dryer, drying rack and ugly melamine cabinets.  Sure, painting the walls and trim white (and cleaning!) made a huge difference, but the sweetly gathered curtains were the most impactful project in there

6. DIY Atomic Dog Bowl Stand (with Mini Hairpin Legs, awwww)

In the laundry room, a fancy Eames Hang-it-All, a cute little quilt for Szuka, plus a new mod dog bowl stand made the awkward space prettier.  Szuka's adorable mod dog bowl stand still totally cracks us up because it's just so stylish - and so flipping tall!  I swear, when we travel and use plain old bowls for her food and water she nudges them around a little dejectedly, looks up at us, sighs deeply, and then turns her attention back to the inferior bowls.  Could it be that she likes her turquoise bowl stand as much as we do?

It seems like every room got some attention, except for the one I use the most.  The office is my room of shame.  So far the closet and Expedit have seen some love, but the rest of the space is an embarrassing dumping ground with waist height stacks of banker's boxes FULL of Etsy inventory.  We have some BIG plans for the new year, including two desk DIY's that might just blow your mind.  Also, curtains would be nice because the sun really blinds me at certain times of the day.  Happily, I like what we've done in there so far, so we're off to a good start.  In fact, two projects from this largely ignored space are making my list!

7. Office Nook:

The office closet was made more functional, although it's still a work in progress.  I'd like to re-do the shelving and install solid wood brackets and shelves, paint the filing cabinet, replace the painted cork board (which has so many holes and is driving me nuts), and maybe swap out the raspberry pink boxes for something more solid and subtle.  But still, hurrah for progress

8. DIY Plywood Magazine Files

My second take on my patented artful Expedit hack was a success, but it's nothing compared to the fabulous plywood magazine files we made to fit the Expedit.  The plywood files were the perfect excuse to try some Rub 'n Buff on the vintage hardware I found - how long have I been wanting to try that stuff?  Years? 

9. Favorite Photo Turned Oil Painting + DIY Floating Frame

I feel super lucky that my little blog has grown enough for me to be able to work with great brands.  Sponsored posts and blog freebies help push projects along and I'm able to work at a slightly quicker pace.  In addition to offering a small financial boost, I've also been introduced to great products and brands that I might not have discovered otherwise.  My partnership with ArtsHeaven was really sweet: they turned a favorite photograph of mine into a beautiful oil painting - even making some key changes, like an homage to Charlie and boosting the intensity of the aqua.  I hadn't heard of ArtsHeaven before and would have certainly been hesitant to send in a photo, not knowing what kind of quality to expect.  But this painting is now one of my favorite pieces.  We also built a really great float frame for it, and now I want to frame all of our un-framed art because it was so simple to create something that looks so polished and professional.  I don't think I've painted a single thing this year, so I will definitely have to make time for some artistic adventures in the new year.

Although it now hangs in the kitchen, at first the Artsheaven painting found a home in our freshened up hallway.  The hallway was painted before we moved in, so I eagerly hung up my own artwork and my cherished Hungarian embroidery right away.  We replaced the door hardware with gorgeous new levers, then I painted the doorbell cover and also the front door.  We ordered a new door in the summer but there have been a number of delays.  I can't wait to finally see the new one in place and share all of the details!  Oh yeah, our sweet little solid wood stool is still earning its keep as a handy place to sit to tie shoes, or just toss my purse while I'm still fussing with groceries or trying to corral Szuka. 

I have to admit that I'm still unpacking from our move!  At first I was really on top of things but then I started running out of room and my organizational systems fell apart.  The laundry room cupboards and linen closet barely close!  I have major organizational goals for the new year.  Happily, the bedroom closet has stayed fairly tidy, as has the coat closet.  My shoe closet makeover has stayed the most tidy.

Down the hall, the bathroom was given a facelift before we moved in so it made settling in that much easier!  We just unpacked and did a little bit of accessorizing - some art from the townhouse makes the room more special.  This simple and super cheap makeover has been hugely popular and actually won over the folks at Apartment Therapy (and then it made the list of 18 DIY Bathrooms That Beat the Bland - for their Best of 2014 series).  I don't get why this room has gotten that much love, because I can't wait to gut it this spring.

The half bathroom, even though it got a similar makeover as the main bath, still feels blah, but I'll work on it this year because it's not getting gutted until the kitchen does.  My goal is to spend exactly $0 in here and I think that's keeping me from achieving non-ho-hum status.  But we have expensive fixes on the horizon: new roof, enclosing the car port, a I'm extra penny-pinchy these days.

10. Deck Makeover

It's not yet covered in snow, so I'm still enjoying the deck makeover.  It took much longer than anticipated, but the grey stain of the deck really mirrors the cool grey of the lake some days and this makes it feel like the lake is that much closer.  The house exterior didn't get painted, but the deck makeover motivates me and has me longing for spring already. 

Whew, in hindsight, we changed a lot, even though it felt like we worked at a snail's pace.  I think it's because we still have tons to do - we still have quite a few blank canvases!

But wait!  I haven't finished my list of favorite projects, because some of the best ones weren't even for me. 

11. Simple Solid Wood Trivet

While large-scale projects and room makeovers are fun, sometimes it's really nice to make something that offers instant gratification.  It's also nice to make things for others.  So when a project does both, it makes it onto the Best of list, like the sweet little solid wood trivet we made for my Mom.  I originally thought it was solid teak, but now I'm thinking it's actually walnut.  Either way, it has such pretty grain and she uses this little trivet all of the time.

12. Painted Particle Board Floor

Although it can't hold a candle to the painted laundry room floor of last year (which is pinned a lot), I loved the painted particle board floor I tackled for the computer shop makeover.  Although this rental location didn't work out for them (and we never did finish a makeover, because the teeny budget was sunk into this space), I'm happy for what I learned because I think I might want to do this type of floor in the weird little storage room we call "the fish room" - it's going to become a sweet little painting studio.  The vinyl floor in there is awful, but something like this - a painted particle board or plywood floor, painted a fun colour and eventually covered in paint splatters - could look cool.

13. DIY Dog Grooming

Trying to save ourselves $80 a haircut, we started giving Szuka DIY haircuts.  I can't say we're getting better, but I can say that we've saved ourselves about $400 to date.  Well, just over $200, since the clippers cost $170.  Although none of us enjoys the task, particularly trimming the nether regions, I'll trim a little butt hair if it frees up our budget for more exciting things.  Plus it's pretty funny to see how excited she gets with shorter, cooler, hairdos, and I think that grooming at home is a little less stressful for her.  Although sometimes mid-haircut she'll get up slowly, sigh, and very slowly walk away and lie down about three feet from us.  It's her very gentle way of saying, "ENOUGH!" 

14. LED Sign

Someone asked a really great question about how I would have decorated my home for Christmas if:

A. I celebrated Christmas, and
B. If I hadn't partnered with Canadian Tire to produce some Christmas-themed DIY projects.

That's an excellent question and I think I should have addressed that in the posts.  All of the projects were my idea - except for the framed ornaments, which we developed together.  I was pretty honest about the success of the projects, particularly the plywood tree which turned out a bit wonkier than I hoped.  I really, really liked every idea but, at the end of the day, I probably wouldn't have put them all together at once, only because my aesthetic can be so spartan.  I would have done the window baubles, for sure, but then axed the ornaments in cake stands and bowls.  The framed ornaments and ladder were cool, but I think I would have instead re-done the plywood tree in a smaller scale and leaned it behind the credenza.  I definitely would have done the LED sign because I loved that idea so much and had wanted to make an LED sign for awhile.  Long story short, the project was definitely a favorite and even makes my list!  It's so versatile, and we plan to use it for other parties and good times.

Do any of these additions surprise you?  Did I snub a favorite of yours (you can see the rest of my DIY projects here)? What did you whip up over at your house this year?  I'd love to know what you've been up to and, if you're a blogger too, please feel free to include a link to your year-end posts in the comment so we can see!

December 29, 2014

A Look at Big Chill Appliances

I often share snippets of my beloved aqua kitchen on Instagram.  I had to laugh because a couple of folks recently left comments there asking, "is there a retro aqua fridge somewhere in this aqua kitchen?".  No, but I wish there was!  I've even pondered painting my ugly old fridge turquoise, but I think it looks less offensive white.  When Hubby and I first bought the lakehouse, I already had the quick kitchen spruce in mind, but a long-term renovation plan was ready in the wings as well.  I hoped to one day copy every inch of the beautiful kitchen below: timeless white cabinets, gleaming grey subway tile and a pale aqua fridge.

Pinecone Camp (for House & Home magazine)
These days, my dream kitchen looks more like this:

Streamlined white upper cabinets and warm wood lower cabinets - something with mid-century modern flavor - barely even look like they belong in a kitchen.  The back painted glass, in lieu of tile, is stunning and I'd even want to copy the idea of affixing art with suction cups for flexibility.  I'd make one addition to the kitchen above, though: a candy coloured fridge!  A kitchen I pinned a year ago showcases how beautifully a vintage-inspired fridge in a delicious hue pairs with warm wood cabinetry.  Perfection!

No matter how my plan for our dream kitchen changes, the colourful fridge is a constant!  There are a few options on the market right now for fridges with modern conveniences and retro style.  I've casually shopped each website, imagining which one I'd like to purchase in the event that a canvas sack, with a black $ painted on the side, falls into my lap.  I keep finding myself on one website in particular: Big Chill, founded in Boulder Colorado in 2001, is a stand-out in the world of vintage appliances and I'm totally smitten with their Retro Line of fridges, dishwashers and stoves.  Obviously I gravitate toward the turquoise shades, but I can't say I haven't been tempted by the jadeite green and pink lemonade (the Big Chill Retro fridge can actually be ordered in one of 200+ custom colours).  I appreciate that you can order a swatch to see the colour in your own home.  Better still, the list of features, including the stamped metal body, automatic moisture control, temperature management system - even an optional ice maker! - ensures that I wouldn't have to sacrifice function for form.  They're even Energy Star efficient.  Doing a little comparison shopping, the prices seem very reasonable - especially compared to the competition.  Plus they're assembled in Boulder, and I'm always happy to see jobs kept in North America.

Each company in this market puts their own spin on the vintage-inspired fridge, but I really like the styling of the Big Chill appliances; the chrome trim looks very authentic and the classic pivoting handle is such a thoughtful detail.  I always know the styling of something has won my heart when I find myself drawn to a non-turquoise version.  In this case, I even find myself admiring the grey (the grey!!), which is a beautiful and finger-print free alternative to the stainless steel appliances Hubby lusts after.

There's something equally striking about the Big Chill Pro Kitchen Series, which boasts more modern shapes, but is also available in whimsical colour options.

Someday I'll be able to trade in our rickety white fridge for something from Big Chill.  For now, I'll have to settle for ogling these beauties online.

This post was sponsored by Big Chill but all opinions, words, and salivating are my own.  Photos, excluding the first three - the sources are linked to below each - were chosen by me from the Big Chill gallery.  I was not encouraged or prompted to provide a positive assessment of the company or products - a Big Chill Retro fridge is definitely on my personal wishlist and it was a lot of fun to pour over pictures.  I didn't realize until writing this post how many celebrities choose Big Chill!

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December 24, 2014


To my friends who celebrate: Hyvää Joulua! and Boldog Karácsonyt
Wishing you all much merriment and joy. 

P.S. That's me on the left and Handy Hubby on the right - or so says my Mom, who bought us this pair of felted wool Joulupukki...
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December 22, 2014

How to Bake a Better Brownie

If you need to whip up a fabulous but fast dessert for a last minute party or potluck, I have just the recipe!  I rarely post recipes so, when I do, you know it's really good.  This brownie is amazing: chocolatey and rich but not too sweet, with a delicious frosting.  Maybe the decadent frosting makes it seem more special, but for some reason this simple recipe is a real crowd-pleaser.  My little niece and my even littler nephew almost got in a fisticuff over one of these, so they're kid-approved too (I thought the kids might find them too rich and not sugary enough, so I baked cookies too.  I'm sure they were flying by the time they got home). 

Ingredients for the brownie:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8" square pan.
Melt the 1/2 cup of butter in a saucepan on low heat.  Once melted, transfer to a heat resistant mixing bowl and stir in the sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Beat in the cocoa, flour, salt, and baking powder.  Spread the batter into the greased pan and bake 25-30 minutes (oven temperatures can vary, so check it at 25).

While the brownie bakes, melt the frosting ingredients on very low heat in the saucepan and stir often until smooth.  If you find the frosting is too dry, you can add some more butter or honey - it's impossible to make a mistake!  Shortly after the brownie is done - while it's still warm - apply the frosting with a spatula.  Let cool and serve.

This recipe bakes just as nicely if you double it.  I recently made a double batch in a larger pan and set the timer for 35 minutes, did the knife test, and baked it for another 5 or so.  Store in an airtight container  - storing it in the fridge will keep it even fresher.

Edit: I'm not certain where I found this recipe because it's hand-written in my recipe binder and I've been using it for over a year, but a friend on Instagram says she's had a great experience with the same recipe and she found it on  Maybe I did too?  Pinterest has become my go-to and you know what it's like falling down that rabbit hole!  Anyway, it's great to know that someone else has come to love this fabulous brownie recipe.  It's a keeper.

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December 19, 2014

Trash Talking

I've had to adjust, moving from a city of nearly a million people to a municipality of only a few thousand.  Sure, there's a proper city within an hour's drive but with only about 100,000 residents, it's small potatoes.  I've been meaning to write more about this ongoing transition, but a lot of what I've had to adjust to has turned out to be far more enjoyable than expected, and I've easily slipped into new routines that now seem so comfortable and natural. 

One change still feels kind of weird: dealing with our garbage.  When I hear couples argue about who brought the garbage cans back from the curb, who left the lids off and whose responsibility it is to move those cans twenty feet, I want to knock their heads together.  Hubs and I (although sometimes it's just me), collect, bag and tag our garbage and then drive it many kilometers to our municipal landfill, which has somewhat inconvenient and limited hours.  Each tag costs 50 cents, but we get an annual allotment plus a free bag tag for each bag of recycling we bring in.  It's an open pit landfill, with black bears strolling around.  We stand in the back of our truck and heave our bags so they fly as far as possible into the pit. 

Sometimes it smells, as you might expect, and it's normally super muddy, but in the winter it's not so bad.  At first I was horrified by this process, but now, even though it still feels strange, I've grown to like this household chore and I loiter there more than Hubby would like.  There's something kind of powerful about seeing all of this garbage against a beautiful, rural backdrop.  It's eery and horrifying, but in some ways strangely beautiful.  In the city, folks are so removed from the collective amount of waste produced, thanks to door to door trash collection, but also because the landfill in our nearest city is a giant trash compactor and you don't see anything but a large silver machine.  It seems so neat and tidy.  Here, though, it's just heaped and sometimes the wind takes pieces, obscuring a beautiful landscape.  It makes me really mindful of the garbage we produce.  I hope it's encouraging Hubby and I to produce less waste - we definitely produce less than when we lived in the townhouse.  It certainly makes me think more about garbage.

On an uplifting note, the picking is awesome.  There's a shed for people to leave things for free, and I've scored mittfuls of vintage goodies - incuding turquoise Pyrex (I've left treasures too).  On instagram I hashtag these finds #goodneighbourshed, but I've only shared a few finds.  I've absconded with quite a bit more than I've let on.  I have yet to pluck something from the actual landfill, but there was a box of vintage dishware - just out of reach - that had me thinking about wading in.

The Good Neighbour Shed!

After we moved into the lakehouse, we devised a system for garbage that was not totally unlike what we used before.  In Ottawa we had a garbage bin and then a black bin and blue bin for recycling.  Here we bought a huge new garbage can that holds colossal GLAD bags so we can cram in as much garbage as possible - I really cling to those 50 cent bag tags (could I be any more miserly?).  We bought another huge can for blue bag recycling.  I re-use a carboard box for paper recycling to save a blue bag (miserly!).  Inside the house, a cute aqua bin collects recycling under the kitchen sink, and I bring it outside to sort almost everyday (I try to make trips outside with Szuka fruitful, much to her chagrin - she'd rather we just play).  I haven't really devised a good system for our garbage inside.  Our old step-can was in the way in our small kitchen and so I used a random lid-less can I found in the house, that the old owner's left behind.  I stuffed it underneath the kitchen sink when we were working on the house, and there it stayed.  At one point I used GLAD kitchen catchers but when they ran out, I started stuffing various plastic bags I accumulated into the empty box.  It seemed cheaper, but these bags often leaked and some were a tight fit for the can.

When GLAD offered to send me some product and sponsor a post on trash talking, I was happy for an excuse to ramble on about our landfill and the weirdness of handling our own trash to such an extent, but I was a bit reluctant to use the kitchen catchers.  Surely what I was using was just as good?  And free!  Well, the odor-guard kitchen catchers have sure come along way since I bought my last box.  These new odour-guard bags with Febreeze are fabulous because although they smell perfumed coming out of the box, once they've been in the bin they don't smell flowery.  Instead, they neutralize any odor really well, without just masking it.  It was never atrocious under there because I take the garbage out to garage regularly, but it is garbage so it didn't smell like roses.  After testing these bags for weeks, I don't smell anything!  It just smells clean under the sink - these bags are perfect for use with my open can.  And they fit the can with room to spare - no more leaks thanks to too-tight bags splitting.  I'm sold.

I haven't tried the compostable bags because we don't compost.  Isn't that horrible?  I feel a lot of guilt about that.  I didn't realize until recently that our dump has a compost section.  I thought we had to compost ourselves, and with my lack of interest in gardening, Szuka the digger, and our bear problem, composting seemed like a nightmare.  I'll have to make some room under the sink for a compost pail and start!

This post was sponsored by GLAD and I also received product to try out.  The idea for this post and all words and photos are my own - as is the embarrassment I endured taking photos at the dump.  I wasn't super keen on showing you the under the sink area, because its only redeeming features are that it's clean (go me!) and it boasts a pretty a pretty aqua can (thanks Umbra!).  I have not washi taped or pattern papered anything.  Bad blogger!  While garbage and garbage accoutrements are certainly not the sexiest topics to blog about, particularly in the absence of any beautification, products that make our day to day lives a little nicer are worth their weight in gold! I'm happy for this opportunity to re-think what products I'm using. Maybe getting stuck with my garbage for a month won't be quite so smelly this summer? Stupid landfill hours.
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