My garden bench sat in the weather for so many years that it was covered with mildew and dirt. I could have bought a new one for less that a hundred dollars but I like the scroll work on the back of this one better than any I have seen. I decided to refinish it.
Over the past eight years of redesigning and transforming my home, nothing has brought me more joy than the transformation of my yard from an overgrown, unusable space into a welcoming retreat for plants, flowers, trees, birds, critters, and for us humans, too.
After a (relatively) painless application process, my yard is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat. This means that my little space in the world is helping wildlife by providing the four basic elements that all wildlife need: food, water, cover, and places to raise young.
I submitted this story along with a few choice photos to the NWF to have my backyard retreat officially recognized as a certified wildlife habitat.
We decided the setting was perfect for a backyard retreat friendly to birds, wildlife, and humans.
The inspiration came one day when we spotted Eastern bluebirds in another yard in our neighborhood. We bought a nesting box at Wild Birds, Unlimited and erected it in the yard. That was the beginning of our nature adventure.
I grew up in Nebraska City, Nebraska, home of J. Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day. My house was half a mile from Arbor Lodge. But before this house in Georgia, I had never lived on a wooded lot or tried having a bird feeder. The idea was intriguing, so, after we put up the nesting box, we bought a bird feeder, soon followed by seed tube and Nyjer tube feeders, hummingbird feeders, two suet feeders, and two birdbaths.
I had no idea that feeding the birds would be so much fun. Watching the birds flit in and out to feed, learning about their nesting habits, and welcoming the seasonal visitors has developed into a daily education and relaxation for me.
My yard has a grassy area that backs up to a natural area surrounded by large dense bushes and tall trees. The birds love to hide in the Red-tip Photinia bush that is directly behind the feeder. There is a Nelly R. Stevens Holly near the seed tubes that provides shelter and a perfect place to perch. On the side of the yard, there is a large Japanese crytomeria that is a favorite hiding place for the birds between trips to the feeders.
Last spring, an irruptive flock of cedar waxwings completely stripped the 15-foot tall holly, loaded with berries, in a period of about two hours. It was the most amazing thing to watch.
I have also planted an abundant assortment of flowers to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A bed under the main feeder has perennial Sizzle Heatwave Sage and Black & Blue Sage Little One salvia. Pink Mist Pincushion flower explodes with pink blossoms in the spring. Yellow flowered Carolina Jessamine drapes the retaining wall.
The stone footpath in my side yard begins with an arbor covered by a Carolina Jessamine that is near a large fragrant tea olive shrub. The birds love to flit from the olive to a crimson maple tree then hide in the vine on the arbor. Every year there is a nest in the crape myrtle near the driveway. Carolina Chickadees nest in our nesting box. Cardinals nest in the trees.
The squirrels and chipmunks feast on the seed the birds drop under the feeders but some of the seed is always left behind and it soon sprouts. On my website, I posted a video showing a wildlife-friendly tool to remove all the sprouted seeds that grow under the feeders.
Speaking of chipmunks, we have a large retaining wall on the side of the yard that has turned into a chipmunk high-rise condo. The chipmunks have tunneled behind it and have doorways everywhere. They love to sit atop the wall to sun themselves while they feast on acorns dropped from the white oak tree.
Some of the birds who have visited our yard include bluebirds, gold finches, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens and chickadees, and dark-eyed juncos. Ruby-throated hummingbirds love to sit and rest on the red and yellow tomato cages. We have seen eastern towhees, house finches, song sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, doves, woodpeckers, and red-tailed hawks. Georgia’s state bird, the brown thrasher, joined the bevy of birds this summer. Pine siskins gorged themselves at the Niger tube last winter.
A pile of decaying branches and forest litter by the back creek is a perfect breeding spot for fireflies. They grace the night providing a flickering light show in the spring and early summer.
The transformation from a wild and overgrown space to a wildlife friendly habitat is an amazing process, and one that will continue to inspire me and nurture our visitors long into the future. Viva la nature!
A serendipitous moment
I had no idea there was such a thing as a pine needle basket, but a chance discovery led me to find this interesting craft.
The moment I saw the display of pine needle baskets, I knew I wanted to learn how to make them.
So, what exactly are pine needle baskets, anyway?
In the southeastern US, there are pine trees whose needles grow from 8-18 inches long. These trees grow in sandy soil along the coastal plains from Texas to Virginia. The leaves, which grow in bundles of three, can be used to coil baskets. There are “caps” on the leaf bundles that you can remove or, if you want a more rustic look, you can leave them attached and expose the ends as you weave.
Pine needle baskets are usually stitched together with threads made of artificial sinew or waxed linen. The sinew is easy to use because you can easily pull it tight to form a very solid basket. Linen thread comes in a wider range of colors and can give your basket a bright and contemporary look.
A wide variety of styles and shapes can be achieved by varying the basket’s base. A key element in a basket’s design, the base can be made from a piece of wood, acrylic, an agate slice, or any number of different materials. For a simpler feel, the base is made by creating a coiled base from the needles themselves.
A basket for all occasions
- They can be functional: a small basket holds your keys by the entryway, a larger one could hold mail or sunglasses.
- You can use a long narrow basket to make serving crackers or bread a festive occasion.
- A sculptural basket could hold an arrangement of silk or dried flowers or branches.
- Colorful baskets can be hung as wall art.
Gracing a special spot in your home, a basket can be a unique objet d’art.
When I discovered pine needle baskets, I was fortunate enough to be able to take a class and get hands-on instruction in the technique. If you want to try coiling but can’t find a class, there are books and videos that give step-by step tutorials.
One great book is Pine
Needle Basketry: From Forest Floor to Finished Project by Judy Mofield Mallow. This book shows the materials, stitches, and pictures of many baskets to use as inspiration. You can order all the supplies you need from Amazon or directly from Judy’s website at www.primpines.com.
A DVD that I recommend is Basket
Weaving Essentials with Nadine Spier. She takes you through the steps in an easy-to-follow manner.
Designing your baskets
My first attempt at pine needle coiling produced a sad, misshapen pencil holder basket. But, I was proud of it anyway. I resolved to practice and keep learning new techniques. I have finished several more projects since then and they are definitely improving.
Some coilers are very precise and are perfectionists. I find that the quirks and bumps make the basket unique, and help you develop your own distinct style. My signature is weaving various colored and textured beads into my baskets. Inserting the beads into the coil, combined with a solid wrap row, gives each basket its own special character.
Why do I like coiling baskets?
Coiling is oddly relaxing. I have pondered why.
Also, the projects go fairly quickly. I can envision a basket and end with a stunning creation in not too many sessions. It’s inherently satisfying to complete a project and see the fruits of your creativity.
Finally, I think it’s the tugging and pulling. Basket coiling is a great place to release my frustrations.
So I say, “Go forth and coil!”
And tell us all about it in the comments section.
Even if you’ve chosen the perfect paint colors, furniture styles, and accessories, a redesigned room can feel dull and incomplete. Like it lacks a certain pop. The right artwork adds those dramatic bursts of color and character that bring your room to life.
But you’re on a budget, and art gallery price tags make you want to throw up your hands in despair.
Fortunately, there are creative and resourceful ways to find the perfect artistic accents to spice up your room without breaking the bank.
1. Frame a calendar print
Calendars cover just about every subject imaginable. Whether you’re looking for photographs and paintings of scenery, travel destinations, pets, nature, abstract designs, if you name it you can probably find a calendar that portrays it. And often, the art is very good.
A few years ago, I had a stunning calendar of wild bird photographs. I couldn’t bear to let them go to waste, so I saved them until the right project came along. When I got ready to redesign my catchall room into my hobby studio, I knew that photographs from that calendar could make the perfect inexpensive art to brighten the space.
I found frames at Target that used a system of two pieces of glass to sandwich the print. Rather than using a mat, as a traditional frame would, it leaves a clear space around the picture, letting the wall color show through. This clever visual trick creates the illusion of a mat in a color that exactly matches the room. It creates depth and dimension, too, because there is a space between the picture you see in the front and the wall that shows from behind. These frames are so easy to use that you can swap the pictures for different ones any time you want.
For my newly redesigned studio, the empty wall above the loveseat was the perfect size for a grouping of four pictures. I used four identical frames, hanging them close together to function as a single visual block. I spaced them about two inches apart and about eight inches above the loveseat. The vivid colors of the birds in the prints complement the studio’s updated paint color and repeat the colors in the new curtains, tying the room together.
2. Cover an artist’s canvas with fabric
When you need a large piece of art, an easy and inexpensive solution starts in a surprising place: the fabric store.
Decorator fabrics come in an endless array of prints, textures, and patterns. Let your imagination run free, by picking one or a combination of several different fabrics that tie in the pallette of your room or create a contrasting pop of color.
Next, visit a hobby supply store to buy artist’s canvases in the size or sizes you want your finished artwork to be. For my project, I created a triptych with three 15 x 30 inch canvases. The fabric has a repeating pattern, but I wanted each picture to be unique, so I cut the pieces in such a way that the print lines up in different spots on each of the three pictures.
Start by stapling in the center of each side, then work your way to the corners. At the corner, make a fold, just like when you wrap a present. Staple the corners in place, and Voila! Instant Art!
One of my favorite websites for inexpensive art is Art.com. They have more art prints than you can even imagine and they have a user-friendly search engine to help you narrow your options. You can order prints already framed or order just the print and frame it yourself.
A Google search brings up a myriad of independent artists with their own websites where you can view and purchase prints and art. For example, NaturEscapesPhotography has photographs of birds, flowers and more that you can purchase directly from the photographer.
4. Buy art from local and emerging artists
If you want original artwork at a reasonable price, make a habit of visiting arts and craft festivals near you. There, local and emerging artists display their works, usually at very affordable prices. Sometimes, if you find an artist whose work you like, you can even commission a piece that uses exactly the colors and subject matter you want, just by describing to the artist what you have in mind.
Another source for original art at reasonable prices is Etsy.com. This site is a showcase of art, handcrafted decorative items, hand-made furniture and much more. The listings are directly from the creative source so you can often get a good price and support up and coming artists and craftsmen at the same time.
The icing on the cake
A room without art is like a cake without icing. With just a little creativity, though, you can achieve a designer look at a small price. Whether you use things you already have on hand, like calendar prints, make your own art with fabric, discover an emerging artist, or buy online you can fill your home with a fresh, exciting new look and without breaking the bank.
Do you have a great idea for creating art? What is your favorite place to find art to buy? Share your ideas with us in the comments.
When you plan a bathroom renovation, there are droves of decisions to make, details to plan, and supplies to purchase. You picked beautiful granite for your countertops, but what about your sinks? Does the paint color for the walls complement the wood tone of the cabinets? Where did you find those drawer pulls again? And what about the plumbing? Keeping track of the details can be overwhelming!
Using Microsoft OneNote and a project notebook helps you organize the ideas, sources, materials, and prices for your project, but there’s one more invaluable tool you should never plan a renovation without: a checklist- a concise list that helps you plan and keep track of all the pieces you will need.
I created a comprehensive checklist for my own bathroom renovation, and it worked so well that I wanted to share it with you.
For your convenience, you can print this checklist as a PDF by clicking here.
For your convenience, you can print this checklist as a PDF by clicking here.
For me, the most enjoyable part of a project is picking the elements that will make it my space. Coordinating the sinks with the faucets, the tile with the countertop, and the flooring with the shower tile is my favorite part. But there are so many things to remember that it is easy to let something slip through the cracks, forgotten.
It‘s important to have the items you need on hand when you need them. If you leave out a major, or even a minor, piece it can cause delays and dramatically affect the project time line. Also, you might end up having to settle for a substitute for something you really wanted, just because there is not time to get your first choice at the last minute.
Use this checklist as a guide. Your contractor will thank you, and your bathroom will turn out to be the functional, beautiful, relaxing retreat of your dreams.
Your visions of a beautiful new bathroom are coming together. You have done your research and have gathered up-to-date design ideas from the professionals. Your creative juices are flowing. Now that you have design ideas for how you want the room to look you can create your floor plan.
Layout changes? Time to brainstorm
Start your floor plan by measuring the space. Create a graph on paper or on the computer using your measurements. Next, think about any layout changes you might want to make. Is your shower too small, or (rarely) even too large for your space? Maybe your toilet seems just a bit too close to the shower area, or you finally want to install a double sink to make sharing the space more convenient.
This is the time to think about your wish list, and plan those changes. Keep in mind that moving plumbing tremendously increases the cost of the renovation, but it’s far easier to tackle it at this stage than to change your mind later.
The great wall debate
For my bathroom, I opted to leave all the plumbing in place. The major structural change I wanted to make was to knock down a dividing wall.
My family bathroom is not a large room. It felt closed-in because it was divided into two sections by a wall with a door opening. The door had long since been removed so all the wall really did, in my mind, was create a visual block.
My family had a great debate over that wall – keep it as it was, put in a half wall by the potty (a half wall is sometimes called a knee wall or a pony wall), put in a half wall topped by an acrylic panel, or get rid of the wall completely.
If we left the wall in, it would provide separation of the sinks from the potty and shower, so two guests would potentially be able to use the bathroom at the same time. But having any wall took up a great deal of visual space on an already tight floor plan. We went round and round discussing the merits of having the wall or removing it, and no one could agree.
I saw a renovation show on HGTV where the designer used a decorative acrylic panel on top of a half wall. It was very attractive and might have swayed my vote towards keeping some style of wall. However, when I finally found the product online, I quickly changed my mind. I found out that it would have to be ordered directly from China and in 6-foot by 8-foot panels for a couple thousand dollars. I only needed a piece that would be about 3 by 4. Scrap that idea!
Without a decorative panel, I could see no reason at all for a half wall. It would just take up space and would provide very little in the way of a privacy screen.
Make a wish list, then ask the experts
While you’re still in the planning stage, though, it’s important to explore all your options, so we turned to the professionals to get their advice. I got an opinion from every contractor I interviewed, and from the cabinet designer I was working with at Home Depot. In the end, we decided to just get rid of the wall, and it turned out to be a good decision.
Creating your floor plan is the best time to consider changes and explore all your options. Feel free to let your imagination run wild: It’s far cheaper and easier to explore your options now than it will be after you’ve gutted the room. Bounce your ideas off of your family, and use resources like your contractor (and this blog) to mesh your dream floor plan with your budget and the realities of your space.
Have you renovated a bathroom and changed the floor plan in the process? How have you solved design or layout challenges that have arisen in your plans? Share your ideas with us in the comments section.
Beginning a complete remodel of a bathroom can be a daunting proposition. Especially if you are your own designer and general contractor like I often am. It can be tempting to dive right in and haphazardly start buying things that catch your eye, but by taking the time to thoroughly plan your design strategy, you can make inspired choices that give you an end result you’ll love.
Inspiration for your plan: Turn to the experts
The variety of design options can be overwhelming unless you have some idea what you want to achieve with your remodel design. Fortunately, there’s a simple and fun way to inspire your design. Start by doing research to help you decide what you like and what you really want.
I know what you’re thinking…”Research, ughhh!”, but stick with me for a moment. Thumb through a few of your favorite magazines. They are a great source for pictures of projects done by professionals and other homeowners. Or, try perusing a handful of online sites, such as HGTV and DIY (and Home Design Evolution, of course). They offer vast numbers of photos of bathrooms created by top designers. These sites make it easy to narrow your search by
color or by style, such as traditional or modern, transitional or contemporary. And if you haven’t narrowed your tastes down yet, finding photos that look and feel “right” will give you a well-defined starting place for your project.
“What did that faucet look like?” – Using a Project Notebook
Once you start finding elements you like that you could incorporate into your room you need to save them so you can find them again later. There are several good ways to do this, and you can combine several organizational strategies to suit your personal style.
The most essential tool is your project file. You can use your project file to keep magazine
cutouts, printed pages, paint samples, and other design elements together for convenient reference. Make sure to clearly label each element with its source and prices – this information is invaluable to have handy when you’re ready to make your purchase decisions.
Another useful tool, especially if you’re doing the bulk of your research online, is using software to create a project file on your computer.
My personal favorite software program for organizing my design ideas is Microsoft OneNote. (If you don’t have access to OneNote you can try free alternatives like EverNote that you can download online.)
To use OneNote, set up a project file with subcategories that group your design elements together for easy comparison. For a bathroom project you might have subcategories that include sinks, faucets, cabinets, and mirrors.
With your OneNote project file set up, you’re ready to browse the web for ideas. When you find a picture online of a room design that you like, right click and copy the picture. In your OneNote file, paste the picture. Then add any comments or notes you want, like what you liked about a
given design, and which elements you want to try to incorporate into your room.
You can also copy and paste complete information on items like faucets or sinks copied right from the website of the source where you might buy the item. This way you can track where you found project components, and include details like size and dimensions, and color choices. This also makes it a breeze to compare prices from various sources at a glance.
When you invest the time to thoroughly plan your project, you can easily keep track of the ideas and inspirations that are guiding your project. Organizing your thoughts into a project notebook is a great way to ensure that all the elements of your design mesh well stylistically, and you’ll love the ease of combining your ideas in different ways. Not to mention the money you’ll save by finding the best prices on the items you want. Best of all, you’re one step closer to making your dream bathroom a reality.
Where do you go for inspiration when you are planning a renovation project? Have you planned a project and come up with some great ways to organize your plan? Write a comment and share your ideas with us.
Years of Atlanta’s heat and daily exposure to direct sunlight had faded our once-black front porch lights to a dusty, silver grey. If you have a similar problem, here is what you can do to return those faded lights to their original luster.
Don’t buy new lights, refurbish the old ones!
If you undertake a project like this, make sure you have someone helping who is experienced with electrical wiring and knowledgeable about removing and installing light fixtures. You want to avoid injury from electrical shocks and you don’t want to cause any damage to your house.
A surprise hiding in wait
When Vann loosened the first light, he found that the wires were completely blocked in with mud. Digging into it with a screwdriver, he was able to pull out all the caked and hardened dirt. We Googled and figured out that it was a Mud dauber nest, a type of wasp in our area. Luckily, it was abandoned. A good shot of hornet and wasp spray was reassuring, if perhaps unnecessary.
Keep in mind when you do outside projects that insects and wildlife can get into the smallest and most unexpected places. Always be cautious so you don’t startle a critter or stir up a hornets’ nest.
The refinishing process
Your first step is to take the lights apart. Amazing how many pieces there can be! Using acetone on a rag, you can wipe the surfaces to clean them. Acetone is a surprisingly effective cleaning agent for oxidized painted surfaces. In a well-ventilated area, like on the patio, lay out a large plastic drop cloth to protect the floor. Position the pieces on wood blocks so they will be up off the ground with the edges exposed.
Next, apply two to three light coats of black spray paint. I used Rust-oleum Professional High Performance Enamel for a hard finish.
Tip: Use several light coats of paint not one heavy coat. Otherwise, you will get drips and bubbles and a very blotchy paint job.
Details that matter
If your lights are all in pieces anyway, it’s a perfect time to fix any details that may have bothered you. I never liked the trim inside our lights, which was a bright brass color. I decided to paint the brass-colored pieces with Rust-oleum Universal Metallic All-surface paint in satin nickel.
I really made a mess of this. The pieces were long plastic cylinders and long metal pipes. I tried spraying them by propping them up, but my work surface was outside, and when the wind came up they blew all over the place. I had blotched and glopped paint everywhere.
To fix my mess, I had to sand the pieces and start completely over. This time I crafted a holder made of bent wire coat hangers to hold the cylinders. Also, I took the project inside, out of the wind.
Finally, I had success! The satin nickel looks great with the black light covers and matches the silver caming in the glass of my front door.
Remember that the details matter. You can fix almost anything if you just plan and take your time with your project.
Better than new
After reassembling all the pieces, you can turn off the breaker and reinstall your lights. What a difference a small renovation can make to the curb appeal of your house. And the only cost is a couple cans of spray paint and a little time. Your lights aren’t faded any more – now they are fabulous!
Before renovating our garage, my husband and I had a mishmash of tools that lacked functional storage space and piles of miscellaneous stuff spilling out from every wall. So we sorted out the keepers from the junkers and devised our organization plan.
The shovels and rakes were hung in a logical order. Then we created safe covers for sharp-bladed tools and organized with shelving and storage bins. But we still had tools left to store and to top it all off the garage was ugly!
Garages don’t have to be white
Picking paint colors can be one of the hardest parts of a project. The colors look so different on the wall in your space, and always seem to dry to a different color than you thought it would be.
I used to buy quarts and quarts of different colors to sample trying to get just the right color. My basement shelves were lined with expensive, unused cans of rejected paint.
Thanks to computer technology, the paint companies figured out a way to measure miniscule amounts of tint so they can offer small, accurate, paint samples. I love the Behr Ultra 8 oz. paint testers for just $2.94 each. Now you can sample all the colors you want – guilt free.
Tip: The Behr testers are the same quality as the regular paint so you can use the leftover paint for any project, interior or exterior including touch-ups or even craft projects.
For our garage I suggested that we use “Home Depot Orange” for the walls, since I am there so often it feels like home anyway. Even my friend Pat in Paint agreed that if anyone qualified to use that color, I definitely did. Surprisingly, the family shot me down on that one. Oh, well.
My first serious choice was Windwood Spring, a pretty, light turquoise, but to my disappointment that one was vetoed too. We finally agreed on Silver Drop for the walls and Dolphin Fin for the inside of the garage doors. The test swatches we painted looked like warm greys that would be
cheerful and neutral. They both turned out very light once they covered the walls, but they are bright and at least they are not white.
My decorating philosophy: You win some, you lose some – home improvement (and marriage) takes compromise.
Put it where you need it
Brooms, mops, watering cans, and flyswatters (ugh!) are items I use inside, but store in the garage, right outside the door to the house. For these types of frequently used tools, I needed to find a way to make them easy to grab and replace. My search turned up spring-type hooks that come in one strip, but are very close together.
Since mopheads are so wide, though, I thought spacing the hooks farther apart would be the most functional placement. After more diligent searching, I found individual spring hooks that I could mount at a spacing that fit my collection of brooms and mops.
Tip: To be functional, storage should be customized to fit your personal collection of tools.
The kids have to play
holds lots of stuff yet fits snugly next to the wall without wasting space.
Build specialized storage for your unique needs
The plant stake/swim noodle holder was a fun project that Vann helped me with. I am a gardener and have collected bamboo and plastic plant stakes that I used to just lean in a corner. Problem was they fell over all the time and made a mess. So I designed a holder, then enlisted help to make it.
This was a quick and fun project. The best part was that I learned to use the mitre saw and the nail gun. Look out American Handyman!
Now it functions
The garage makeover took a lot of thought and time to pull together. The great thing is that now everything in the garage is something we actually use, and it is all easily accessible. The shovels and rakes are sorted into their own wall homes. My birdseed and stepladder are in one convenient, easy to reach spot. The walls are no longer white!
Perhaps most importantly, dangerous tools are stored safely. Chemicals are divided by function and are stored on high shelves out of the reach of my granddaughters.
The collaboration with my husband made this a satisfying endeavor where we shared time, thought, and camaraderie. The final result is a functional, bright, space we can both use and enjoy.
Have you found a product that fits your organization project? How have you organized your garage to make it more functional? Share your ideas in a comment.
Protecting our environment and getting rid of weeds in your garden are often very opposite ideas. Staying green by not using chemicals and sprays on the weeds usually means backbreaking work pulling weeds from hard-packed ground.
Click here to watch my easy solution for quick, green weed removal using one of my favorite tools: the action hoe.