Open your mind to narrow-space solutions

I am not a carpenter, nor will I ever be. But I love solid wood furniture in homes for their timeless beauty and sturdiness. The problem is, when you have a small space, it is often difficult to find quality-crafted wood pieces (especially vintage ones) that are not bulky and oversized for your area. And if you’re not handy with tools and woodworking, you’re not apt to carve out your own solution-piece from scratch.

One particular area with which I see many people struggle — whether in their first starter home/apartment or when trying to scale down to more minimalist living — is the foyer or entryway. This is your home’s first impression, where family and guests are welcomed, and you want it to be warm and inviting. A foyer table or console is a great way to help accomplish your goal, whether accompanied by a mirror or pictures, or adorned with plants, candles, or a lamp. So how do you find a quality wood foyer table that fits your narrow entryway and small budget?

Repurposed headboards! Now when I say “repurposed,” again, I’m not suggesting that you get out your saw and measuring devices. My solution is simple: Take an old headboard, preferably one with some built-in shelving, and use it as your new foyer table. Painting is optional. Wood headboards, of all varieties, are easily found on CraigsList and at yardsales, for scant dollars. They are naturally slim in depth, and the length can be whatever works best for you (twin, full, queen, king).

While I love Ikea and similar stores that offer fabricated wood or particle board furniture, catering to those who like simple designs without breaking the bank, I guess I am a traditionalist when it comes to certain areas of your home where you are setting the stage and tone, such as your entryway. If you’re going to choose something with a bit more workmanship and quality, why not here?

Of course, you can do much more with headboards in other places in which your home needs similar narrow furniture solutions: As a media console to house your flat screen TV or as a sofa table (between your sofa and wall) to hold a small lamp, a drinking glass, or books, for instance.

This is an easy afternoon project that anyone can do, that frees up your space, time, and dollars for other things. Narrow solutions for open minds!

Photo credits: Compliments of Pinterest

headboard entry-way table

My colorful journey: Lessons in color and wall paint


That’s the word my plumber exclaimed when flipping a light switch, illuminating my bathroom some-odd years ago. No, he didn’t get an electric shock. Nor did he smell something horrible from the toilet. Rather, he was utterly stunned by the fluorescent-like green paint on the walls when he came to unclog a drain. I’ll admit, I should’ve warned him, as I had the same reaction the night before when I finished the paint job.

I’m sure the marketing-savvy paint company named the color “Green Apple” or “Fresh Lime,” and it looked absolutely AMAZING in that Pottery Barn photo I hoped to emulate. But little did I know at the time that this paint color only had a shot at looking decent if bathed in massive amounts of natural light and with some space to breathe. Lo and behold, when used in my tiny, non-windowed bathroom, I gave birth to “Neon Puke.”

That bathroom was painted over the following night because I could stand it no longer. Sadly, it was not the first time I had a “paint do-over.”

Of all the lessons I’ve learned over the years related to design and décor, “color” has been one of the hardest. So many factors come into play when choosing the right colors for décor, especially wall paint. Below are just some of the considerations to be made when selecting a color:

Amount and type of light – e.g., Is there mostly natural, incandescent, or fluorescent light in the space? Is the room northern-facing or southern-facing?
Other colors in the room – e.g., What are the colors of the floors, furniture, fixtures, artwork, accent or adjoining walls, trim and ceiling?
Time of day (related to light) – e.g., How does it look in the morning? Mid-day? Evening?
Amount or coverage of color – e.g., Are you planning to paint all walls or just one area (under the chair rail)? How big is the room?
Primary use of room (mood and function) – e.g., Will the room be used for sleeping? Preparing food? Reading? Socializing?
Other colors in your house or neighboring spaces – e.g., Do you wish to create harmony with complementary nearby colors? Are you looking for a contrast?
Resale value – e.g., Do you plan to sell your house in the near future, requiring you to pick colors with more mass appeal?

And last but not least (and assuming you don’t need to consider resale appeal) – personal preference. Cool grey paints may be the current trend, but if you “feel” better surrounded by warm colors, don’t fight your gut. Ultimately, it’s your space. You have to live in it and be happy.

See the three photos below for an example of how my living room was radically transformed by paint and color.

Original yellow living room

Original yellow-painted living room we “inherited” from past owners

Same living room painted cool grey, with brown furniture and turquoise rug

Final living room changes, with neutral white paint, orange sofas, and cream rug.

Also, make sure to paint a sample area on your wall first! Those tiny cardboard paint chips/swatches do precious little in giving you a true sense of how the paint will look in your room. You can use them as an initial guide, but take the time to buy a small can of paint (or two or three) to test out in your space. (Most paint stores offer these smaller, less expensive “sample-sized” cans.) Then, once you’ve painted a test area on your wall, leave it for a couple of days. Watch how it changes with the time of day. See how it looks with neighboring colors. Pay attention to how it makes you feel when you’re looking at it.


Small paint chips will only give you basic color direction.

Painting sample colors on your wall will give you the best preview.

Painting sample colors on your wall will give you the best preview.

As they say, paint is one of the quickest and easiest ways to transform a space. If you take a little time on the front end when making a selection, you’re much more likely to get a result you will love … and not scare your plumber.





Top 10 CraigsList Tips

image1Hello, my name is Christy, and I’m a CraigsList addict. Admitting you have a problem is half the battle, they say. Except I don’t view it as a problem. I am known among my friends and colleagues as the Bargain-Finder Extraordinaire, and I don’t shirk away from that title. As a thrifty person by nature, as well as one who appreciates and upcycles old or worn-out items, CraigsList is my mecca. I visit it daily and pay homage to its treasures.

Years ago, my friend Sarah introduced me to CraigsList, so I owe her for the habit of the hunt. Since that time, I’ve both sold and bought numerous items from the site, mostly in the Furniture category, since home décor is my true love. Have I met a few “interesting” people along the way? Yes. Have I been disappointed with what I came to buy once I saw it in person? Yes. But, truly, I’ve never felt like I’ve had a bad experience. Mostly, people are honest and nice, just doing their best to make or save a buck; and quality pieces do exist for the taking.

My house is really a CraigsList museum of sorts, as the majority of my furniture has resulted from said purchases. Here’s a quick list (along with a few pics) of some of my faves, which were all in great condition:

• An entire white solid-wood girls’ bedroom suite from Bassett (circa 1960s) – $65!
• Set of 6 Pier One rattan-woven dining room chairs – $50 total
• Antique black-painted secretary – $50
• 2 black mid-century modern leather chairs – $100 total
• 2 reupholstered houndstooth mid-century modern slipper chairs – $150 total
• White Ikea sofa table (which I turned into a bar) – $50
• Large round upholstered ottoman – $40
• 2 orange retro vinyl chairs for playroom – $40 total
• 3 solid-wood cabinets originally used to house LPs (turned into bookcases)- $125 total
• Solid-wood desk – $25

Inevitably, I get asked the question: “How do you find such great deals? I can’t find anything out there!” So I have decided to share with you some of my secrets. Part of me hopes you do not start using my tips because, then, you will be my competition. But I like you guys (and feel a little sorry for you), so I’ll take my chances. 🙂 Here are my Top 10 tips for CraigsList finds:

1. Misspell your search item. That’s right. Spell it wrong. Sometimes, I have found that the best deals have become lost in the search-shuffle because searchers type in “dining table” or “dining chairs” when there are zillion posted by sellers who have misspelled them “dinning.” As a former English major, I cringe at these mistakes. As a bargain-hunter, I delight.
2. Search for the most basic term. As you probably understood from my first tip, the CraigsList search function is not the most sophisticated. As such, if you type in “bookcase,” it will not necessarily bring up “book shelves.” Go simpler and just type in “book” to see much of what may fall into your category.
3. Try alternate names for your search item.
• Couch, sofa
• Ottoman, stool
• Cabinet, console, bureau, credenza
• Foyer table, sofa table, entry table
• Bedside/bed side table, nightstand or night stand, side table
• Desk, secretary, writing table
• Hutch, China cabinet, sideboard
4. Looking for something unique.. with personality? Search by color. If you’re interested in cheering up a room or adding a little pizazz to your décor, try searching by color alone. Some of the best items will come up, for example, under orange, yellow, turquoise, and pink – especially quirky vintage ones.
5. Check daily – the good ones go quickly. Yes, it takes some time. However, if you get into the habit of checking regularly, it is a very manageable task.
6. Questions to ask the seller: Is it real wood? Who is the manufacturer? What is the history of the item? Is it from a smoke- or pet-free home? What are the dimensions? The last one sounds kind of lame, but there have been times when I saw a piece online and imagined it to be a certain size (which fit my space), only to be surprised that it was actually quite larger or smaller when I saw it in person.
7. Don’t bargain until you’re there. So you see something you like, but it’s $20 more than you want to pay for it. Rather than email or call the owner to ask about a price reduction, wait until you set an appointment to go see it in person. You’d be surprised how much more someone is willing to bargain when you’re standing right there in from of him with your sweet smile and cash in hand (ready to port away the thing they want to ditch).
8. Mark it as a “Favorite.” CraigsList allows you to mark up to five items as a “favorite,” so you can quickly find them again if you are not ready to purchase immediately. This comes in handy when you’re on the fence about something OR if an item is marked too high and you want to take a “wait and watch” approach before you pounce. As you can guess, people often mark down their prices if things don’t sell quickly enough for their liking.
9. Think “repurpose” or “revamp” and use your imagination. Sometimes, we all get in the habit of just seeing things very superficially, without projecting what something might look like with relatively minor changes. Ask yourself: Would it be perfect if it was… refinished? painted? reupholstered? Or, can I make that ugly console into a cool piece simply by adding baskets instead of a lower drawer or replacing the old hardware? Also, if you’re searching for something old which you can fix up, remember search words like “vintage,” “antique,” “primitive,” “retro” and “rustic”
10. Think twice before you block “Dealers.” One of the nice features of CraigsList is that it allows you to narrow your search parameters or view-settings by blocking those listed by Dealers, for example. Believe me, I’m just as tired as you of seeing the umpteen mattress ads by that wearisome outlet that over-posts. However, some of these Dealers are second-hand, vintage or consignment furniture stores with really great stuff! If you’re really struggling to find something, you may want to keep Dealers in your search to expand your scope of possibilities.

Well, that’s it. Those are my Top 10 tips, in no certain order. I hope this inspires you to save money, find something amazing, and minimize full-cost retail purchases. It’s true that they don’t make things like they used to – with a certain quality, style and craftsmanship – so you’re doing yourself a favor by preserving something used or old. Send me pics of your CraigsList treasures, and I will post the best on my site. Oh, and happy hunting!

Color repetition makes for harmonious home

When I was a kid — even a teenager — I had an odd way of picking out clothes. I had no idea that certain shades looked better on me than others due to my natural complexion, hair, and eye color. Thus, I would shop for clothes according to what colors I already had vs. didn’t. Let me demonstrate: “Hmm, that’s a nice mint green sweater, but I already have something in that color. Scratch. But here is a shade of pink that I’ve never bought before. Score!” Then, poof, it was added to my Rainbow Connection… er Collection. My wardrobe was literally a smorgasbord of every imaginable hue. Unfortunately, I borrowed that strategy when decorating the rooms in my first house.
While I didn’t have a blue room, green room, and red room, I did decorate as if each room was disconnected from the other. As a result, my house did not “flow well.” It was choppy. Bad feng shui. A bit schizophrenic. Although I’m not a fan of everything in a wardrobe or home design being overly matchy-matchy, I am a firm believer that there must be some consistent design elements, including color, which pull it all together.
DSC_0072     DSC_0102
Not only is this more aesthetically pleasing, but it is practical, too. Once you pick some foundational shades, pieces in your home become interchangeable, letting you switch things up once in a while without having to reinvent an entire scheme. Pick a few neutrals as a foundation and then select a handful of colors which work well together, sprinkling them throughout. This doesn’t mean you can’t add other pieces not in your main palette, but you do want to make it look like there is a method to your madness — some type of underlying plan that makes your home appear cohesive rather than a hodge-podge of completely independent room units.
DSC_0089         DSC_0085
For the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward a black, white, and greige (grayish beige) base, with a good measure of turquoise, orange, and yellow accents, in varying degrees of saturation. It’s simply what makes me happy — pure personal preference. However, I will say that most people who come to my home comment on how everything works well together and leaves them with a feeling of harmony. It’s more about the repetition of colors and patterns than “magic” colors, I promise you.
image19 image17
I do like variety (as evidenced by my colorful past!), so I move furniture and trade out pieces fairly regularly. It keeps things interesting and inexpensive, yet always in synch. I don’t have to stay married to all of these colors forever, either. Styles and fashions come and go, just as do personal tastes. If and when I want to try a new look, I can merely replace one or two accents with others which still work with the remaining. Paint is the cheapest way to pull off the switch. No need to buy all new things!

What’s the best way to learn what colors look best with each other? In my opinion, it’s by example. Look around you. There’s no shame in being a copy-cat when you’re doing so in good taste. Find some photos or color schemes you like and replicate their essence. Then, add your own personal touch. Just remember, less is usually more.. and rainbows look better in the sky than in your closet or house. 🙂

Perk up! Coffee stations at home make low-cost hot spot

IMG_0946I didn’t begin drinking coffee until I was 40. Somehow, that milestone age found me more tired than usual, and I succumbed to caffeine as the safest addiction to get me through the day. However, I didn’t slip into that dark dependence easily.  Enter all the modern-day accoutrements: sugar, cream, syrups, whipped cream, drizzle.

And it came at a cost, too.  Frou-frou drinks ain’t cheap, especially when you buy them at Starbucks or whatever hipster cafe you haunt.  I would do a little back-of-the-napkin math, from time to time, to compute how much this little habit was dipping into the kids’ future.  Hmm… mom’s $5/day cup o’ comfort vs. college fund.  So far, I’ve landed on the side of:  Kids might not survive ’til college if mom doesn’t get her java, so first things first, right?

SavvyCityFarmerOne “cheat” I have found is to open up shop in your home.  In other words, make a coffee station in your own humble abode.  By this, I do not mean setting up your Mr. Coffee machine in a dull corner on your kitchen countertop.  You’ve got to create some ambience (with props!), people, lest you incessantly keep turning over your dollars to vendors.  This can be fun, simple, and inexpensive… as well as provide you an opportunity to personalize your space a bit.

You can buy your coffee accompaniments at almost any grocery, Target, TJ Maxx — you name it.  Along with the usual suspects of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, pick out some fun or stylish mugs, storage containers, and syrup dispensers. Embellish your coffee and your stand with cinammon, honey, and stirrers.  If your set-up is on a different floor from your kitchen, try a dorm fridge to hold any cold items.  Add a vintage sign, chalk board, or picture to top it off and, voila — instant coffee… er… coffee station.

with white cupsIt doesn’t take up much space in your home, and you can readily find small painted cabinets and quaint coffee racks on CraigsList or at second-hand shops.  My particular version of a coffee bar found its way into my loft bedroom.  I may not have breakfast in bed but, by gosh, I will have hot coffee!

Whatever you do, make it your own.  Inviting, interesting, inspiring.  Perhaps your own little sanctuary.  Or a humming social center, replacing the water cooler, for your family and friends to gather.  Whatever you like.  Just make sure you want to come back for repeat business.

Photo credits (in order of use): Brittany’s Big Sky Blog; Savvy City Farmer; Two Poodles

Open Sesame! Cabinets exposed

There it was before me — my undeniable mess of “stuff” shoved in my kitchen cabinets, seemingly taunting me for my inadequacies:  Chipped bowls which didn’t match; a few nice glasses amidst cheap, neon plastic ones of the “Big Gulp” variety; and miscellaneous cake mixes and baking ingredients which mysteriously migrated from their proper place in the pantry to go slumming with my disorderly dishes.

Ah, but there was one saving grace:  Cabinet doors, which I could close at any time — lovely Doors of Denial, safeguarding my peace of mind and fooling my house guests into thinking I had it altogether. Bwah ha ha!

Kitchen243But, of course, there was a problem. There’s always a problem.  I have a small kitchen and a very open mind. My cabinet doors began to make me feel more boxed in than my free spirit demanded.  I found myself in my kitchen, late at night, wanting to tear the doors off their hinges and shout, “Be free my dishes!  Be proud of who you are (you Big Hot Mess!) and let the world embrace your uniqueness and diversity!”

Well, maybe that’s a bit too strong, but you get the picture.  I was compelled to find a way to make the Open Cabinet concept work for me, come hell or high water.


Much to my surprise, this was not an unsurpassable challenge. For me, the first realization was that I needed a compromise.  I may still need to keep the cabinet doors on some of my shelving, but I could open up a few — the select, chosen ones. The second realization was that I needed to do a bit of triage:  Get rid of the worst of the worst; keep the workable; and buy some new pieces to pull it altogether.

Additionally, as I surfed the Internet for inspiration and validation, one rule-of-thumb seemed to prevail:  Color coordination.  Whether you opt for a neutral color scheme or one with color, you need some sort of consistency and pattern so that it looks like there’s at least a method to your madness.

imageI opted for a neutral palette of white and clear dishes, intermixed with some browns and stainless steel.  Woven baskets are always a great way to collect a few things that may be too hard to display openly (e.g., I used mine to contain my small baking ingredients, which I can now pull down easily in one fell-swoop).

Most of my new items were purchased very inexpensively at Big Lots and The Dollar Tree. I’m aways amazed at the decent pieces of stoneware and glassware at rock-bottom prices at these discount or closeout stores.


spring 11 029I love the idea of using a contrasting paint color or material on the backside of the cabinets to really make the dishes and other contents pop. Here, chalkboard paint was used, which complements the black granite countertop below.  A few personal items such as plaques and photos add interest.


opencabinets2[6]If you opt for using colorful pieces, you can find plenty of ways to make them look lovely without sacrificing functionality. Glass-front cabinet doors can add a little more formality to the look but still allow your dishes to peer through. Bonus: a bit more protection against dust.

While you don’t have to use all one color, make sure the colors you choose work in harmony, as opposed to a chaotic assortment which will only make your shelves appear… well, disheveled. 🙂

Start with a small section of your kitchen (or bathroom, for that matter).  Clear your cabinets and your mind.  Add items one piece at a time, subtracting away when it begins to look too cluttered. Add a small plant… a clock… or anything else which might add some variety without transgressing to the Land of Knickknacks.  Your kitchen will look brighter, lighter, and more open.  Your cabinets will be functional pieces of art, with little to no maintenance. And you will feel like a Dish Display Diva, ready to grace the pages of Architectural Digest.

C’mon, you can do it!  Take those cabinet doors and let ‘er rip!


Photo credits:  Black cabinets – Inspiration For Decoration. White and clear dishes – Pretty Easy Living.  Chalkboard-backed open cabinets – Creatively Living Blog. Yellow dishes display – Pinterest post.






Behind the books

One thing I’ve learned about myself over the past several years is that I like a lot of variety. In fact, I’ve been accused of changing the paint colors on my walls more often than I change the oil in my car. 🙂  But one thing I’ve never painted is the interior of bookcases. We’ve all seen the style — particularly white bookcases with a contrasting interior paint color; but all that cutting in and out with a paintbrush, particularly with fixed shelving, wears me out just thinking about it!

There is a solution, however — one that is easy AND will appeal to those of us who like to “change things up” from time to time without having to spend a fortune.  Rather than paint, use wallpaper:

  • Cut cardboard to fit the dimensions of the interior back of your bookcase(s);
  • Paste, mod-podge, or use spray-adhesive to adhere a great solid or designed wallpaper or contact paper to your cardboard;
  • Push the cardboard into place; and
  • Reinsert your shelves (if they are adjustable).

Anytime you want to make a change, just re-paper!  Of course, you can always adhere the paper directly to your bookcase, but that means a little more work to replace it should you ever change your mind.

Case… or should I say “bookcase” in point 🙂 is the example below — white bookcases in my living room, with a tight grey and white patterned wallpaper.


Other examples are below — one with a yellow and white herringbone design and another with a dark polka-dotted paper against a turquoise bookcase.

polka dot wallpaper turquoise bookcase herringbone-bookcase-decorate-with-vintage-goods-as-storage-600x875








multi wallpaper bookcaseOf course, if you want to be more creative and use different types of paper for each shelving “cubby,” your results can look like the bookcase featured to the left.

This project is simple yet brings a lot of life to an interior space with minimal effort.  And when your decor changes, you can easily alter your bookcase to accommodate.

Best of all, papering rather than painting allows you to avoid the cumbersome “taping off” of all the bookcase edges and navigating a paintbrush in tight, awkward spaces.


Photo credits:  White bookcase with yellow and white herringbone paper – The 36th Avenue.  Turquoise bookcase with dark polka-dot paper – Pinterest.  White bookcase with multiple paper designs – Brabourne Farm.






Win, place(mat) and show!

Sometimes you get lucky when you’re out shopping, and tonight was one of those nights. I found an unexpected bargain at Big Lots with these great rectangular jute placemats for $4 each.  Neutral with an interesting texture, jute placemats are a great way to add casual sophistication to your dinner table.  Think of how pretty your colorful or even white dinnerware and napkins will look against these!

jute placemats

Compare with similar products from the likes of Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and other trendy home decor stores, and you will find prices ranging from $10 (good sale) to $20 apiece.

They seem to be excellent quality and are even well-bound around the edges. Get ’em while supplies last!  (And send me pictures once you dress your table. :-))

The power of “3”

1068808_38960541, 3 vases of flowers

Years ago, a friend told me that one fail-safe design tip was to always work with odd numbers – and that arrangements or groupings of “3” seemed to be the most magical.  I’ve worked under this premise as long as I can remember and always thought that most people did the same.  However, I’ve recently discovered that, if you’re not in the design world, this may be one of the best-kept secrets locked away from the masses!

Grouping of 5 Art Pieces

This is a very simple concept that lends to great aesthetics in almost any situation. (There are always exceptions, but this is a great rule of thumb.)   Whether you’re arranging flowers, pictures, vases, items on a mantle… or even shrubbery in your yard, sticking to an odd-numbered grouping will create harmony and more visual interest.  Allowing your eye to survey the entire scene and land in the middle – and sometimes a purposeful focal point – does much to generate an overall appealing design.

Whether you see it as a cross between feng shui and psychology or, as some of the ancients referred to it, “the mystical power of 3,” it works.  Try it!


Daisies photo taken by Karen Barefoot.  Art grouping photo taken by Christy Charlton.