Feb 8 2014

A Quick Refresh with Spray Paint

After I completed my search for the perfect bed, I was ready to tackle a long-awaited project of painting the night-side tables.  As you can see here, there was nothing wrong with them in the first place.  They definitely did the job and were standard night side tables… but I was looking for a pop of color and had been wanting to try my hand at spray painting furniture.  These two little pieces seemed like the perfect test specimens!

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I thought the blue bed would look great with coral colored night side tables, or a bright yellow of some sort.  After reading this awesome article about how to spray paint furniture on All Things Thrifty, I was sold that I needed to find my perfect color in the Krylon Indoor/Outdoor paint.

I visited the Krylon website and checked out all the colors they offer in their Indoor/Outdoor spray paint.

The color that jumped off the page at me was Satin Meringue (in the bottom row). This meant I would have a Satin finish instead of Gloss.  All Things Thrifty had recommended Gloss but I didn’t want too much of a sheen.  Remember I’ve also been opting for flat finishes on my wall paint instead of Eggshell… so maybe “less of a sheen” is just my personal preference in all things paint.

After doing a quick search for local retailers, I set out on a “quick” errand to pick up the Satin Meringue paint.  Little did I know I would have to visit SIX different stores and still come home empty handed.  What a nightmare.  Apparently a lot of the retail stores only have limited color choices stocked – I checked out Ace Hardware, Blick Art Supply, Sherwin Williams, Lowe’s, Sears, and Wal-Mart.  I finally threw in the towel, resolved myself that I wasn’t going to be painting that weekend, and came home to order the paint online – the best deal I found was on HobbyLobby.com and I had 6 cans of Krylon Satin Meringue spray paint about 6 days later!

I also picked up 4 cans of Kilz Primer, since that’s what All Things Thrifty recommended in her Spray Painting 101 post.

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It was actually my birthday when I decided to do the painting, so James and I started the morning with a little Edible Arrangement out on the patio, that my friend Fatima had sent me as a little Birthday Treat!  How sweet is she?! <3

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Then I gathered my supplies, brought the night side tables outside (obviously you do not want to ever spray paint indoors), and placed them on some plastic drop cloths. This picture shows some 220 grade sand paper but I actually didn’t use it after all.

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I started first by removing the hardware and coating each table with with 2 coats of Kilz Primer.

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You can see the primer actually turned the tables white:

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I did not wear a mask during this project but tried to hold my breath and cover my nose and mouth with a wash cloth as best I could.  I definitely felt a little woozy toward the end and had to take a few breaks throughout.  In hindsight I probably should have been a little more cautious because it was just a couple days later that we found out I was already pregnant!  Whoops!

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James thought I was having too much fun by myself so he wanted to join in and try the next step of spraying the Krylon Satin Meringue on the tables:

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I don’t know how fun he thought it was but I was definitely appreciative of the help!

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We were amazed with the transformation!

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After everything dried, we brought the tables back up to their home in the Master Bedroom.  I also swapped out the old Target bedside lamps with some beautiful aqua and silver lamps I snatched up from a Joss & Main flash sale: Willow Table Lamps.

And Voila!

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The cons I would point out are that the Krylon paint color was hard to find (this shouldn’t be an issue as long as you have a few days to wait from an online order), the fumes were a little overwhelming (again, could have been avoided if I had run down to the hardware store and bought a mask), and my finger got tired after going through about two cans of primer.  I also had to throw out the drop cloths afterward, when I am usually accustomed to re-using them.  They were just too messy to bring back in the house – period.

All in all though, I will DEFINITELY be spray painting more furniture in my future!  It looks so much better than furniture I have painted in the past with brushes – no brush streaks and less time consuming overall.

Next up in the Master Bedroom Makeover will be to establish a sitting area – but of course, more on all that later!

Have you tried your hand at spray painting furniture yet?  What pieces did you paint and what colors?

Jan 23 2014

The Search for the Perfect Bed

My friends who know me well know I spent about a year searching for the perfect bed.  I was constantly Pinning and sending them emails – “hey what about this one?”  But couldn’t find it in me to pull the trigger.

Remember our bed after we painted the master:

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It was a queen bed and I was making do with some Martha Stewart sheets, old bed skirt of James’, and pillow cases I’d been using since college… and also a pink quilt, not pictured here, donated by my friend Fatima who was going to throw it away after a Feng-Shui attack junior year of college, which James still sleeps with every night!

After the wedding, people had generously gifted us beautiful white Pottery Barn Essential bedding (thanks Laura + Cliff and thanks Mom + Dad!), and we upgraded to a new king mattress that we picked up at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

I also changed the placement of the bed to be against the far wall, centered in between the two window frames:

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Facing the newly re-done closet:

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The box springs wrapped in plastic weren’t doing us any favors, and I knew I’d have to find the perfect bed frame soon.  Here were some that I adored:

A set-up from Ethan Allen:

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This put together by Maria E. Beck Design, Inc. over at one of my favorite blogs, Live Beautifully

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This bed from Martha Stewart furniture, set up done by Maria Killam

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This Vienne French Four Poster Bed from Restoration Hardware - can’t get enough of this one, but the closest store is in Kansas City.

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And a TON more you can check out on my Pinterest board.

I actually bought this Cortona Canopy Bed from Pottery Barn and canceled the order after they continued to push out the delivery date into the 4 month mark:

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But, it took a night of drinking wine by myself and perusing flash sales on Joss & Main while James was off at a bachelor party in Vegas, to finally find the perfect bed.  For some reason, it’s so much easier to spend outrageous amounts of money when you know your husband is in Vegas.

Here’s a shot of my VERY out-of-the-box final pick, from Joss & Main!

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It’s was part of the Hollywood Glam Joss & Main flash sale – the Charlize Bed in Mystere Peacock.

It took about 3 weeks to arrive and we had to put it together, but it is right at home against the Cumulus Cloud Gray walls:

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After that, I continued the transformation by adding a cozy Sibiu Flokati Wool Rug from Joss & Main and found some beautiful Luxe Ivory Curtains and oversized Gold Metal Rods from West Elm:

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Next up?  Time to spray paint those dark wood night stand tables some beautiful coral or yellow, and establish a sitting area in the master.  More to come on all that later!

Hey there, pink quilt!

Oh, and that’s our child Mutsy sitting on the bed.  Hey buddy!

Jan 15 2014

Master Closet Makeover

Some design details that attract me to our house and old homes in general are the arched door frames, entry ways, and pass-through’s you’ll see.  I loved the arches on our first floor, and we happened to have another arch detail in our master bedroom!

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The gal before us had a baby piano in this little nook.  I thought it would be a cute spot for a day-bed of sorts, but ruled that out because there wasn’t a window.  It didn’t take me long to come up with a second idea for the space, after I permanently placed a standing wardrobe in the nook to hold my extra clothes that wouldn’t fit in the existing closet.

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James and I don’t share a closet; we never have – and if we have our way, we never will.  Major kudos to any couples who are able to do this successfully.  We are not a couple who chooses to even go down that avenue.  His clothes are happy enough in the guest room closet.

There were a few reasons we knew that adding another closet in the master would give us the best bang for our buck in the long run:

First, there are more appealing ways to wake up than to be staring at my clothes on a standing wardrobe.

Second, these old homes can always use extra closet space – it’s one of the main reasons people feel they can’t function in an old house – and it’s true, closet space is limited.  Having lived in NYC for two years, I am grateful for whatever I can get.  But hey, if I’m gonna live in Nebraska, I’m at least gonna have some closet space to show for it.

And Third, it won’t be the two of us forever.  Maybe one day someone else’s tiny adorable clothes will need to hang in the guest room closet.

Now, even though I’ve taken on lots of painting and design projects… I wouldn’t call myself a DIY-er.  I don’t do dry wall, I don’t cut ply wood, I don’t install doors.  I WILL pin some inspiration on Pinterest and hire a contractor.  Which is exactly what I did:

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I wanted to figure out a way to keep the archway.  In talking with the contractor, we decided we could accommodate the arch by custom cutting a piece of glass to go in the archway over the doors.

It was also important that the closet had a canister light or some form of recessed lighting in the ceiling.

His team would use the same paint I already had for the walls and wood trim – Remember, Cumulus Cloud (a Benjamin Moore color I matched by Clark + Kensington) and an all-in-one Paint + Primer by Valspar.

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After those decisions were set, I left James in charge and jetted off to Montana for a weekend of debauchery with my best friends, Caroline, Erin, Fatima, Miche Mal, and Miche Moo.

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Love my girls!

Here are some photos of the closet in-progress:

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I came home to the finished product:

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I like how it turned out – I do think that the glass arch looks a little bit like a glass hat, but as our neighbor Andrea told me, that will just be one of the corky details of our home – all old houses have them.  I also want to find some door knobs with more character, but all in due time.

Such an improvement from the wasted space in the nook!  Now we have the itch to makeover the guest room closet… but for now, so ends this story!

Dec 8 2013

Decorating for Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time…of the year…

There is nothing I love more than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when there are holiday parties to attend, people to shop for, pot lucks to bake for, and of course decorations to attend to!

We just spent Thanksgiving in Richmond with our families.  It was a special time to be back in town, and as you can see – we had a packed house!

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Now we’re back in Omaha and getting the house ready for Christmas.  It’s snowed last night and I should be outside shoveling, but for a few moments, I’ll sit here with a hot cup of cocoa, enjoying the view from my window, and share with you some of my favorite ways to decorate for Christmas.

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1. The Mantel

I always showcase a little something on the mantel.  For fall, you’ll see I have some ceramic pumpkins and an owl friend I scooped up at Hobby Lobby one year:

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To change things up for Christmas, I pull out some traditional nutcrackers that we decorated with in my house growing up, hang the stockings, change the candles from white to red, and add some battery operated lights leftover from our wedding.  After Christmas, I’ll find some snow-flocked garland and other wintery objects to space around.

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2. The Tree

Growing up, we would go out to a tree farm to choose our family Christmas tree each year.  I have dreams of continuing this tradition one day with my children, but for now, we think the Tree Lot across the street from Ace Hardware in MidTown Omaha does just fine :)

I move our beige striped chair into the sunroom, and make space for the tree near the fireplace.

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Then I’ll hang the lights while James dances around drinking eggnog, and he’ll help me with all the ornaments.  We like to put Pandora on a Christmas channel and talk about our family traditions growing up.  Then I finish off the tree with a monogrammed tree skirt I got at Pottery Barn shortly after we got married.

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3.  Sunroom Change-Up

I love to change over the season with decorations in our sunroom.  It always entails changing out the faux flowers in the rose bowls that our friends Georgia + Joe gave us for our wedding.  For fall, I have these beautiful burnt yellow and purple flowers.  I also mix things up with seasonal candles and pillows.

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4. The Bar

We have a bar in our dining room that’s not only great storage for all our bar glasses, wine, and liquor, but is a great space for displaying seasonal decorations.  A few ways I like to tackle a simple seasonal refresh is to display cocktail napkins, candles, holiday candies, and even seasonal salt & pepper shakers!

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5. Tablescapes

Julia and I went to a holiday decorating class at Pottery Barn two years ago where they gave us some great tips for mixing up tablescapes.  Here’s an inspiration photo from the class, where they demonstrate a frame motif:

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I love to use my table behind the love seat in the living room to display seasonal decor.  It is amazing how changing up that one space can make the entire room feel brand new.

You’ll see for fall, I accent with faux flowers in a tall arrangement.  Hobby Lobby has the by far best faux flower selection and never lets me down.

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Then I have some other fun pieces like a tiny pumpkin that Caroline sent me this year, a flying pig I picked up from Joss & Main, and some framed engagement photos.

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For Christmas, I change out the flower arrangement with some glittered and snow-flocked greenery I picked up at Pottery Barn a few years ago (before I discovered Hobby Lobby’s selection), and display some gorgeous mercury glass Christmas Trees that I can illuminate with battery-operated candles I set on a timer (also from Pottery Barn).  Then I’ve got some snowmen from Pier 1 Imports, and a wooden Christmas Goose my sister Jennifer gave me a number of years ago.

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6. Dining Table

In the same vein as the living room tablescape, I love to refresh for the seasons with my dining room table.  I’ve found the most dramatic change up can be done with table runners, then from there I build out using place mats, napkins, and napkin rings.  I’ll always add an accent of some kind – so for fall, I use this adorable squirrel & acorn salt & pepper shaker set, some straw place mats Jen gave us for a bridal shower gift, and add some faux white hydrangeas I found on a silk flower sale from Joss & Main.

Here’s what the dining table’s been looking like for fall.

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For Christmas, I’m using a festive tablecloth I picked up last minute at Younkers last year before our Christmas party, and a white Hotel runner from Pottery Barn, one of 33 we bought for our wedding.  I added some mercury glass candlesticks from Target and battery operated candles.  And of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus are representing in the salt & pepper shakers.

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I probably need to fill the white bowl with some silver Christmas balls or snowy potpourri, and I’d love to get some white placemats, lose the tablecloth, and add a plaid runner – but I’m collecting little by little over time.  For now, I work with what I’ve got.

7. Windows

When I moved out after college, my mom gave me a few of her electric candles she always put in the windows.  Every year she’s given me a few more as I’ve changed apartments and had more windows to fill.  Now I have one for every window of Corn Country Cozy – I love coming home when James is home and has already turned them on.

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8. Front Door

Last but not least, I’ll share that every season I change out the wreath on our front door accordingly.  I love to hunt for wreaths and probably have far too many.  Hobby Lobby does a great job with wreaths and often has them on sale, and Michaels always has great ideas for making your own wreath.

Here’s a look at the change over from fall to Christmas (I got these white and orange funk ins at Hobby Lobby):

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I used to have some beautiful miniature Christmas trees in some black planters, but the harsh winter last year killed them and I’ve yet to replace.  Sad.

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And there you have it!  There are tons of other small ways to easily refresh a room for the Christmas season.  Like changing out your dish towels, placing snow globes or tiny Santas and nutcrackers in various nooks & crannies, setting out decorative dishes of peppermints, even changing out bedding to reflect the season.

These are just a few of the ways we get ready for the holidays in my home.  What are some of your favorite easy seasonal change-ups?

Wishing you and yours a merry and cheerful Christmas!

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Happy James

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Nov 21 2013

Creating a Frame Gallery

So many frames, so little…kitchen floor space?  It was time to get these bad boys nailed to a wall.  For serious.

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(and get that ugly green kitchen painted – but that’s another story)

With the stairwell finally painted, I was ready to tackle my much-awaited frame gallery project!

I was first inspired to create a stairwell frame gallery long before we bought a house.  When we were living in New York City together after college, my friend Caroline pitched this brilliant idea for our apartment in Midtown West.  She didn’t have to sell me too much before I jumped on board – I will basically do anything that girl tells me to do and I know I’ll have fun doing it.  One evening with a bottle of Cavit Pinot Grigio AKA liquid courage, we decided to just go for it.  We nailed frames up all through the hallway without rhyme or reason.  Pink frames, black frames, white frames, sparkly frames – you name it.  The end result was pretty magical and it became my favorite space in our (tiny) place.

A few years later, I read an article in Martha Stewart Living that spotlighted Editorial Director, Gael Towey’s frame gallery creation in her own New York City apartment (mini-mansion).

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Having worked with (under, wayyyy under) Gael during my days at Martha Stewart in New York, I was drawn to her creativity and unmatched design talents.  This article focused mainly on editing pictures and designing the arrangement.  I was pretty into it until the bit about her hiring an art installer’s company ILevel in New York to do all the actual hanging.  Really Gael?  Not gonna hammer one nail yourself are ya.  Nope.  Alright well hey, good job editing down your family photos.

Luckily, I spotted Young House Love’s article outlining a step-by-step process of how they “wallpapered” their hallway with frames, and videos about how to design different types of frame arrangements: Getting The Hang Of It.  Lifesavers!

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I also found this nifty reference tool on ShannaSimpson.com - which I’ll use um, all the time now.  Seriously.  This thing rocks my socks.  Thanks Shanna!

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Before I hammered even one nail, I did my share of frame gallery recon on Pinterest:

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Cute!  I also saw this adorable idea at Ingredient – a restaurant here in Omaha:

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Inspired and ready to go.

Rather than frame photos and art ahead of time, I took the approach of creating the structure of the gallery first.  In my mind, I figured anything I had to hang would find its rightful frame after the frame found its rightful spot on the wall.  Follow me?

I decided to go with all white frames in the stairwell, and keep my gray/silver frames for other areas of the house – more on those another time.  To collect all these, I hit Target, Amazon, and Pier 1 Imports.

Target had the best cheap white frames.  Pier 1 had the most unique looking weathered-white frames with burlap mats, and Amazon had the easiest-to-hang frames by FAR.

I laid out each arrangement on the floor prior to hanging on the wall.  Even though it is one long stairwell, there are physical breaks in the arrangement when you run into the office door on mid-level landing, and then again when you reach the top of the stairs.  These breaks allowed me to create naturally separate arrangements, and I focused on one at a time.

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Each frame was spaced 3 inches apart in all directions.

It was easy enough to create the arrangements after I “nailed down” my vision, but I knew the tricky part would be hanging them level.

I tried one trick where you trace the frame on wrapping paper, and cut out the wrapping paper as a template to temporarily tape on the wall.  I found this trick to be a little more trouble than it was worth.  Wrapping paper clearly did not work in my favor since it kept curling inward, and when I used cardstock, I spent a lot of time taping smaller pieces of cardstock together to make the right size template.  I don’t recommend this technique in the future.  As Zach Galifianakis says in the movie The Campaign – “IT’S A MESS.”

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The best thing I did was hang the first frame at the bottom of the stairs.  Then I’d measure 3 inches to the side of the frame, and 3 inches above the frame, marking each with a pencil.  This set the parameters for the next two frames, and so on, so forth, to create the illusion of the frames creeping up the stairs.

James got on me a few times about putting so many holes in the wall, but it’s really nothing a lil spackle can’t fix.  I am also totally BANKING on the hunch that a future buyer will love the gallery so much, they’ll write it into an offer on the house.  Mark my words.  Unless that doesn’t happen, then forget I said that.

I am still to this day finding photos and art to include in all the frames.

I have the most adorable picture that my mother-in-law gave to me of James riding a horse when he was ten years old.

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Old post cards or print art from Etsy make great pieces as well:

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Then of course we threw in some wedding photos…

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…a special print that my amazing friend Danielle sent for a bridal shower gift…

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And one day I spent the afternoon creating a collage with some of our most special RSVP cards from the wedding:

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The gallery took about two full weekends to create, but every time I walk up and down the stairs, my heart just about explodes with joy.

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Nov 7 2013

Reaching New Heights – Adventures in Stairwell Painting

Ever try your hand at painting a two-story stairwell? My husband James nearly broke his neck attempting to assist his lovely wife in this endeavor. Thankfully, we both lived to tell the story.

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I had long been envisioning a gray stairwell – the perfect complement to a gallery of white picture frames I had planned for the space. White on gray. I had been saying that to myself for literally a year. Until my mother came to visit.

A week prior to my parents’ visit, I had just finished painting the living room Moonshine gray. I didn’t have it in me to paint the stairwell in time for their arrival, but I had every intent to do so after they left. It looked a little something like this:

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I had seen a lot of gray stairwell inspiration, including Jules’ house right down the street! I had no qualms about the gray and was pretty pumped about it.

It was really my mother who pointed out to me – that because I had painted white below the chair rail in the dining room, I had created an opportunity for the stairwell to converse with that space.  Converse.  Conversate. Have a conversation.  The walls would talk.

She planted the idea that I could “take the white upstairs.”  The more I thought about it, it would also create a contrast between the gray wall of the living room.  Because you can see part of the stairwell from the living room, painting the room gray and the stairwell white would visually separate the space, and keep your eye moving forward.  Because of all these reasons that bounced around in my head after my mom’s visit ended, I let go of my dream of a gray stairwell, and embraced the white.  Love you Mom!

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I had used an eggshell finish with the white in the dining room.  It makes for a shinier more formal appeal.  But, in keeping with the living room motif where I had used a flat finish, I opted for the same flat finish for the stairwell.

This meant another trip to Ace Hardware to visit my buddy Luke in the paint department.  Love that guy!  I picked up Benjamin Moore’s White Dove in a flat finish.

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You’d think I could leave the ceiling as-is.  It was only a slightly darker/deeper shade of white than the Simply White I had since used on the sunroom, dining room, and living room.  So I could keep it that way – right?  Wrong.  It was important to me to carry the Simply White throughout the ceilings.  Plus, my mom always tells me a fresh coat of ceiling paint always brightens up a room.

Ceilings first.  I was able to reach most of the ceiling using an extension pole attached to my roller.  But I had no clue how I was going to reach the corners and do the edging.  It may not have even been necessary.  Likely, no one would have noticed if the edges were slightly darker; they may even chalk it up to shadows.  But those edges were just taunting me and I couldn’t let it go.  First, I tried my hardest to reach the corners with the extension rod from the 1.5 landing in the stairwell.

These old houses have a 1.5 floor landing if you will.  There is a separate 2nd floor landing, but most stairwells have a break that creates an entrance to an entirely separate room on the one-and-a-half-floor.  For us, this room is our office.  But lots of people use it for guest rooms, nurseries, etc.  I digress.

James heard me getting frustrated as I tried and tried to reach and cover the ceiling edges with a roller.  He decided to intervene and give it a go himself.  This would lead to a near disaster.  He was standing on the 1.5 landing, facing the bottom of the stairs, encountering the same obstacle I had – no matter how hard you try to jam a curved roller into a square corner, you can’t cover the corner with paint… believe it or not.  With this, he placed the extension rod on the corner and leaned on it with all his weight.  Not long after, the roller broke off the extension rod, stayed stuck in the corner, and James began to fall head-first to the bottom of the stairs.  Fortunately he threw his hands out first and caught himself on this wall.

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Awesome.  Yet another of countless moments in my life when I felt lucky to have a tall husband.

Rather than continue down that path of certain doom, James had the bright idea to bring in the outdoor ladder he uses to clean the gutters, and set it up on the 1.5 floor landing.

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We set up the ladder and I climbed to the top while James held onto the lower section for physical/moral support.

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It actually worked!  I was able to paint the edges of the ceiling (Simply White), and the top edges of the walls (White Dove) using the ladder.

After that challenge was behind me, I painted the walls, using my handy-dandy cutting-in brush to go around the trim of the bathroom, guest room, and master bedroom doors.  That was kindof a pain; but I had learned by this point just to go for it and don’t waste time taping all that trim.  So that saved me a lot of time.

Now the stairwell is BRIGHT and WHITE and ready for white frames everywhere!  More on that project – my favorite so far – next.

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Oct 23 2013

Committing to Curtains

You may remember the story of me having a complete freak-out about the prior owner’s curtains being gone the night we stopped by to celebrate closing on the house.  A year later I can admit that those curtains being taken was really one of the best things that could have happened to me with this house.  It forced me to develop my own taste, and in the process, drove me to become passionate and engaged in making our house a home.

In hindsight, those curtains would have never worked for what I had planned for the style of the house.  I wish I had a picture of them to share with you.  They were custom made pink, yellow, and coral striped silk curtains.  They were actually beautiful on their own, but would have had no business hanging out with my extra long gray couches and natural jute rug, since they would have been too formal and shiny.

After we painted the living room Moonshine, I was ready to Commit to Curtains.

I loved the look of these prints from West Elm:

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West Elm Bamboo Printed Curtains

But ultimately decided to steer clear of a print.  If I had a living room AND another sitting room in the house, I’d consider doing a print in ONE of them.  But since I’ve only got one, overall I wanted to keep the curtains more neutral and have more fun with accents like pillows and mantel decorations as the seasons change, like my mom always does.

My favorite neutral curtain was Pottery Barn’s Peyton Linen Drape in White:

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I love that these are lined – a little more expensive but definitely worth it when considering the privacy factor on a first floor.

Went back and forth on whether to do White or French Ivory curtains… but the White was a better contrast to the Moonshine paint color.

I then selected the window hardware – these gorgeous Standard Square Finial Drape rods in a Pewter Finish, also from Pottery Barn.

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My mom pointed out that we could add the illusion of more height to the room by hanging the curtains as close to the ceiling as we possibly could.  Once she told me this, I started noticing that trick in almost every decor magazine and all over Pinterest:

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I never got the memo when people started hanging their curtains two inches below the ceiling instead of 3 inches above the window frame, but hey – whoever started that little trend knew what they were doing.

Our living room features arched ceilings and a picture rail.  A picture rail is something you’ll see in these old homes – the plaster walls are not ideal for hanging heavy objects, so residents used to hang wire from the sturdy wood rail along the top of the wall, and display their art on the hung wire.  Pretty cool!

I bought the Peyton Linen drapes in a 96 inch length, and my mom helped me hem them all to custom fit the height of the room, when she was out for a visit!

Love the result – we visually heightened the room and kept things neutral so we could play up accents throughout each season.

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What are some of your favorite living room drape picks?

Oct 3 2013

The Tale of the Tiny Tool Shed

I am SO excited to share some happy news news…. We bought a second house!  BALLER!  Okay it’s kind of small… doesn’t have any windows, or bathrooms, or bedrooms… but it’s within walking distance of our main house, and we think it’s pretty cozy.  Check out our brand spankin’ new tiny little house – some people call it a tool shed.

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I could probably end this post right now and leave you satisfied with these shots of our magnificent piece of property.  But what fun would it be if I didn’t tell you how we got here…

James had basically driven his Chevy Impala into the ground.  We bought the car prior to our move into Corn County Cozy.  While we were thrilled to find our charming abode with a two-car garage, we were actually shocked when we were able to fit a GMC Yukon in the garage, but not the Impala.  So for the past two years, James has chivalrously parked on the street so his grateful wife can avoid braving the elements before leaving for her morning commute.  What a swell guy, right!  With the vacant parking spot, we had extra space to keep the lawn mower, ladder, rakes, shovels, blower, blah blah blah.

When it came time to get a new car, it was most important that it would fit in the garage.  Luckily, he found this little beauty – a Nissan Infiniti:

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Try to ignore the ridiculous street construction that has been going on for over a year.  It’s no big deal.  We’re good with it.  It’s not infuriating.  Especially when they crack your garage floor in half and deny your claim.  Real stand-up guys.

Anyhow.  SO happy my hubby finally has something really nice for himself!  We moved all the tools down to the basement to make room for the new car.  James had it in his head that it wasn’t safe to keep gallons of gasoline next to our HVAC downstairs…. And just generally felt that every guy needs a good solid tool shed.

For this reason, we set out on our quest to find a functional yet aesthetically appeasing aka CUTE tool shed.  After looking online at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and some custom tool shed builders, we decided we’d find the best quality out here in Omaha with a company called Tuff Shed.  They have showrooms all over the country but only one here in Nebraska – right here in Omaha.

Right away, I knew we were in the right spot.  The showroom featured some smaller designs like this:

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And larger designs that you might need if your name was Dorothy and you lived in Kansas on Aunty Em’s farm.

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I also loved that Tuff Shed would handle the assembly in the backyard.  This was something we really wanted done right.  It’ll be a permanent fixture on the property and one day when we sell, it should be something that adds value, not create an eye sore.

I was pretty much sold.  In about 30 seconds flat I picked our paint colors – James nearly keeled over in shock since he’s used to me taking weeks, MONTHS, to choose colors.

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I did waiver slightly as I considered whether the shed should be a neutral gray or a bold red.  But in the end, I went with red paint/cream trim.  Using the red paint would really coordinate with the red brick of the house.  Then I chose some gray graphite shingles to also coordinate with the roof of our house.

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SOLD!

When I came home and saw it assembled in the back yard one day, it was one of the happiest feelings.  How can you not look at this tool shed and smile.  It is about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

James spent a Saturday afternoon doing a little “interior decorating” –  installing a peg board and some shelves, and gleefully transferred all of the tools from the basement to their new home – at long last.

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All that work really wore him out.  Look at him relaxin’ all cute:

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A little secret – he’s not really relaxing.  He is getting super frustrated trying to beat the 166th level of Candy Crush.  My baby so special!

Welcome new tool shed!  Make Yourself at Home.

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Sep 2 2013

The Sweet Taste of Summer

Does anything beat a summer cookout?  Really?

This Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, and many of us will celebrate with a cookout or neighborhood get together.  No matter your gathering, one thing is for sure – It’s Labor Day and people will EAT!

Hosting a successful cookout, like any get together, all comes down to preparation.  The last thing you want to be doing when your guests arrive is running around a messy kitchen stressed out over what needs to get cooked first.

Some cookouts take relatively little planning – say, if you’re going to do a pot luck where everyone brings a dish and you just cook the meat.  All you’re responsible for is meat and probably alcohol.  No big deal.  NBD!

But if you’re truly inviting people over for dinner, it’s safe to assume you should expect to take care of most of the food yourself.  For this reason, I’ve found it best to plan out a menu for any get together, make a detailed shopping list, and hit the grocery store the day before your event.  If you hit Whole Foods, you may find yourself there for a few hours trying every beer and wine sample they have to offer and then making a meal out of the food samples strategically placed throughout the store – or maybe that’s just me.  Whatever you do, don’t forget your list!

Here are some of my all-time favorite dishes for summer cookouts.  Mix and match and plan a menu of your own!

APPETIZERS

Watermelon, Tomato & Basil Skewers – from Giada de Laurentiis – I first made these for a bridal shower in Greenville, SC – remember Danielle?  They are really refreshing, aesthetically appealing, and you can have your guy or another helpful assistant skewer everything while you take on more complex culinary adventures…

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Meeting Street Crab Dip – my mom introduced me to this recipe she’s relied on for over twenty years – originally published by Charleston Receipts in the Junior League of Charleston cook book in the 1950s!  Amazing appetizer to serve with crackers or chips – add shrimp and you have yourself a seafood casserole!

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Artichoke Dip – I only started making this recently, pulled from a compilation of recipes made up from my co-workers at Markel Corporation.  Artichoke dip is always a crowd pleaser.

Ingredients:
3 cans artichoke hearts
1 small can diced green chilies
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup shredded Parmesean cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all above ingredients together well and pour into a 9” x 13” baking dish (you can substitute a can of artichokes for marinated or use all marinated, drained).  Place into oven and bake uncovered for about 40 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top.  Serve with Tortilla Chips or Frito’s.  Serves 10.

Pear, Prosciutto & Blue Cheese Bruschetta – I first tried this recipe when we bought our Weber grill and got talked into buying the “Weber’s Time to Grill” cookbook to boot.  This is a really unique combination of flavors and how often do you get to try grilling prosciutto and fruit on the grill?

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MAIN COURSE

Bacon-Wrapped, Guinness-Soaked Filets with Blue Cheese – I adopted this recipe from the July/August 2012 Issue of Traditional Home, contributed by chef-author Elizabeth Karmel… “Queen of the Grill.”  And believe me when I tell you, this Queen knows what she’s doing.

Ingredients
4 (8-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks, cut 1 inch thick
1 (12 ounce) bottle stout beer (such as Guinness)
2 to 2.5 ounces Stilton or Gorgonzola cheese, cut into 8 small chunks
4 slices bacon
4 toothpicks, soaked in water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Thyme, salt, and pepper for seasoning

Place steaks in large, shallow dish.  Pour beer over steaks; cover.  Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning once.  Remove steaks from beer.  Cut pocket in each steak by slicing horizontally almost to the opposite side.  Place 2 chunks of cheese in each pocket.  Wrap 1 bacon slice around side of each steak; secure bacon ends with toothpick (note from Sara: also just as easy to buy filets pre-bacon-wrapped at Whole Foods or any specialty meat store)  Brush filets with 1 tablespoon olive oil; season with thyme, salt, and pepper. 
Place filets on grill rack over direct medium heat.  Cover, cook to desired doneness, turning once halfway through grilling.  (Allow 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare doneness [145 degrees F] or 12 to 16 minutes for medium doneness [160 degrees F]
Remove filets from grill; transfer to serving platter.

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Another note I’ll add on this one – if the bacon falls off during grilling, our friend Matt Ruttle taught us how to chop up the bacon, throw it in a sauce pan with some Sweet Baby Rays and Jim Beam Bourbon – light on fire and flambe.  As always, take care not to burn down the house.  Serve sauce with filets and sides as desired.

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Shrimp Skewers – my brother Andrew taught me this one – marinate Tiger Shrimp for an hour in some splashes of Worchester, Olive Oil, Old Bay, Salt, Pepper, and Lemon Juice.  Skewer them on water-soaked wooden skewers and place on direct heat for 2 mins per side.  DELISH!  Note: I buy deveined shrimp, but I leave the shells on when grilling and serving for an informal take – so your guests feel like they’re at a regular ol’ N’awlins crawfish pickin… but feel free to remove the shells for more of a formal take.

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SIDE DISHES

Sweet Potato Fries – Another stand-out recipe from Elizabeth Karmel, pulled from Traditional Home.  Amaze-fest USA.

Ingredients
3 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil
Thyme, salt, freshly ground black peper for seasoning

Leaving skins on, cut potatoes into 1/2-inch thick wedges; soak in ice water for 15 minutes. (This is called shocking the potatoes – you’ll see it with other types of recipes like baking asparagus) Drain; pat dry.  Place wedges in resealable plastic bag.  Add olive oil thyme, salt, peper.  Seal bag; toss gently to coat.  Place potatoes on indirect medium heat.  Cover; grill for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Grilled Asparagus & Mushrooms – use a veggie grill pan to grill asparagus, mushrooms, thyme, salt, pepper, and some EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Easiest veggie dish in the world for a lot of flavor and color.  I make this about once a week in our house – usually use half a bunch of asparagus and two handfulls of chopped mushrooms for 2 people.

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Onion Pie – this is another favorite from a cookbook my company sold to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

Ingredients
30 saltine crackers, rolled fine

1/4 cup melted butter
1.5 cups thinly sliced onion
1 Tbsp butter
3 slightly beaten eggs
1.5 cups scalded milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb grated sharp Cheddar cheese

…add bacon and you’ve got yourself a Quiche Lorraine!

Combine cracker crumbs and melted butter and press into 9 inch pie plate to make a crust.  Saute onions in butter until limp.  Place them in the pie crust and cover with the grated cheese.  50 min before serving, combine eggs, milk and seasonings and pour over the onion-cheese mixture.  Bake in pre-heated 325 degree oven until firm (approx 30 minutes in my experience).  Cut in wedges and serve hot.

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Cornbread Casserole (Cornbread CRACK!) – this dish always reminds me of a good old fashioned southern pig roast.  I picked up this recipe from our good friend Kate who used to make it to serve after her husband John would slow-cook a pork shoulder in his Green Egg all afternoon.  YUM. Can’t say enough good things about this recipe.  Don’t eat it if you’re watchin’ your figure!

Ingredients
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
2 large onions, chopped
1 7-oz. can diced green chilies, well drained
2 17-oz. cans creamed corn
1 1-lb package of cornmeal muffin mix
2 eggs, beaten to blend
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup sour cream
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly butter 9×13 inch ovenproof glass baking dish.  Melt 6 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and chilies and cook until onions are light brown, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes.  Combine corn, cornmeal mix, eggs and milk in large bowl and blend well. Pour into prepared pan. Spoon onion mixture over. Top with sour cream and the cheese. Swirl through layers with knife.  Bake until puffed and golden, about 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.  Eat, enjoy, have yourself a good long nap. (Makes 10-12 servings)

Roasted Vegetables – you can’t really go wrong here.  I collected this recipe from MarthaStewart.com a few years ago when looking for a good holiday side dish.  I’ve made a version of this for almost every gathering I have – from summer cookouts to Christmas parties.  Mix and Match and choose what suits your fancy!

DESSERT

Assortment of tiny dessert foods from Whole Foods – that’s about as creative as I get, friends.  Unless it’s someone’s birthday in which case I bake a cheesecake recipe handed down to me from my friend Caroline’s grandmother, which SHE finagled out of the head chef at the Waldorf Astoria in New York thirty years ago… I made a secrecy pact in blood on that one, so no dice posting it here.

As for my favorite summer cocktail?  You can’t go wrong with an Arnold Palmer (sweet tea vodka and lemonade, which we served at our summer wedding)… but if you’re looking to get fancy on a budget, mix up some lemonade, add whatever vodka is sitting in your freezer, and toss in some leftover watermelon from your skewers.

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Ah, the sweet taste of summer.  What are some of your favorite summer recipes?

Apr 23 2013

Living Room Makeover

It wasn’t until after a few months of living in the house that it dawned on me how much I disliked the color of the walls in the living room.  The yellow and brown was starting to seriously depress me.  After tackling the dining room, I knew the living room wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.  You can see how the yellow just wasn’t doing us (or the marble fireplace) any favors.

Yes I had stuff EVERYWHERE.  Let’s not talk about it.

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Oh hey outdoor chairs that need to be taken upstairs!  You can be in the photo, too.

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I knew the paint color of the dining room (Benjamin Moore’s Kendall Chacoal) absolutely had to coordinate with the living room.  As you can see, I had some (a little too much) fun getting paint swatches up all over the house, and left it like this for about 3 straight months.  Here’s a shot pre-paint:

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I’ll share a few shots that have been inspiring my living room makeover:

Loving the navy/orange - I feel like I’m on Nantucket!
Photo Inspiration from Houzz - Darci Goodman Design

inspiration

Soft hues from Young House Love

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As Rachel Zoe would say – “I die”
Photo Inspiration from Houzz - Paul Moon Designhouzz inspiration

Gorgeous Dior Gray color from Benjamin Moore dior gray

Needless to say, my sad yellow and brown living room was a far cry from my inspiration.  But I knew I could get there.  It all started with the wall color.

At some point in the brainstorming/gathering inspiration process, I had read a cute post from Young House Love about how they chose the shade of gray for their dining room, and I just felt confident trusting their judgment since YHL is well, amaze-balls.  So I hit up Ace Hardware and had my buddy Luke in the paint department mix me up some MOONSHINE.  While he did give me an odd first look upon the initial request, he eased up when I explained it was a gray paint shade from BM.  Sheesh.  I know it’s Nebraska but let’s get real.

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I felt strongly that the Moonshine color would create a nice contrast from the much darker gray dining room, while staying in the same color family of gray.

I opted for a flat finish.  Flat finishes are harder to clean but can be more forgiving in hiding imperfections in old walls.  At its core, a flat finish is just – flatter.  It’s not shiny like an eggshell or semi-gloss finish.

The ceiling also needed to be addressed, as it too was a slightly yellow shade.  I started the living room makeover by hitting the ceiling with two coats of my trusty Simply White Ceiling Paint by Benjamin Moore.  Remember this is the same ceiling color I’ve used in the Sunroom and Dining room – so I am remaining consistent here.  It’s already brightening up:

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James was pretty excited to tell his buddies his wife brought home three gallons of moonshine…

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The next day,  I finished taping all of the base boards and picture rails.  One day, I want to paint both white, but one project at a time.

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Then I hit the walls with two coats of Moonshine.  It took all afternoon Saturday and all day Sunday.  The most challenging part was navigating around the baseboards and window frames.  The most rewarding part was this:

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And this:

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…yes that’s a new couch and love seat too (Fulton Home Sofa).  So happy to welcome them home from the clearance division of Nebraska Furniture Mart, Mrs. B’s, after eyeing them in the main store for over a year!  I seriously used to stop by on my way home from work just to say hello to them and tell them that one day they could come home with me for good.  I have problems.  Our old white couch from Value City Furniture went to play in Julia’s house down the street – perfect for her daughter’s play room – and the white love seat went to live in our sun room!

All completed just in time for my parents’ very first visit to Nebraska, to see our very first home:

Ignore white curtains which weren’t done yet.  Mom taught me to hem them and more on that later.

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We are so happy with how airy and bright the living room feels now, and we love sitting on the couch and seeing the dark gray of the dining room in contrast.

What do you think?  Do you have two favorite coordinating paint colors?  Have you ever embarked on a living room makeover?

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