home office mini-makeover, part one (and an update)

Last month I mentioned that I bought myself a purrrty new desk chair and I promised a peek into my home office mini-makeover.

What I haven’t mentioned is that I was intent on creating a cozy home workspace because starting February 1, I became self-employed! Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have caught wind of this, and I haven’t made a big announcement yet here on Claremont Road because I’m still sort of getting settled into my new role. I have some cool projects up my sleeve that I’ll be sure to fill you in on in due time, but for now, I thought I’d let you in on the office mini-makeover.

Our apartment is set up with this weird little half-room in between our living room and kitchen. It houses our washer-dryer unit (which I have hidden behind a curtain), and it could serve as a small dining room if we wanted, but that idea never really appealed to us. We have a bistro table in a corner of our living room where we eat dinner together, and that’s plenty for us. At one point, I had a small sofa in the half-room, making it a little reading nook, but I think I sat there maybe once. For the last several years the half-room has housed this great desk that my sister-in-law gave me when she no longer needed it, but it has always turned into the place where we piled all of the junk that had no home. I never sat down at the desk to work on my laptop — I always ended up working on the couch, and the desk remained the catchall for crap.

Obligatory before shots:

Ugly flowery pattern curtain and desk (I cleaned it off for this photo, mwaa haa haaaa), as seen through the French doors separating this room and the living room

Curtain opened to reveal washer/dryer on the right and a baker’s rack piled high with stuff on the left… this space is a godsend since we only have two tiny bedroom closets, a small kitchen and very little storage space elsewhere

With my new role as self-employed designer extraordinaire, I knew that I needed a cozy workspace that was just mine — something that would help me to stay organized and productive. Part one of this was removing the so-not-my-taste-anymore (and not wide enough) curtains that my mom quickly fashioned for me out of cheapo clearance fabric when I first moved in here 5.5 years ago. I was 24 and cheap, and thought it would do the trick. The sagging curtain rod was so pathetic, but I just never wanted to put money into changing it.

I finally had enough last month and Nick and I headed to Ikea, where we purchased the following:

two pairs of Lenda curtains, light beige, 98″ long – $14.99 per pair
Dignitet curtain wire – $14.99
three packs of Dignitet curtain rings with clips – $4.99 per pack
a box of Fixa screws/plugs – $3.99
Grand total: $63.93

Nick got to work as soon as we got home (he’s a saint) so I could breathe a little easier. The final result with the new curtain:

Ahhhh… much better, no?

Stay tuned for part two to see the full makeover, complete with my new chair and an organized workspace!

happiness…

… is cheerful, bright tights on clearance for $1.98 per pair. Well, thank you, JCPenney — I guess I can handle winter for a few more weeks, after all.

I always hate when the stores start stocking spring clothes so early — it’s always just about the time when I’m desperate for a few new sweaters to get me through the last dreary month or so of winter. But it is nice when premature spring clothes equals fabulous winter clearance bargains for moi! Have you found any good ones recently?

Number 10: Blurb wedding albums

Ever since we got our wedding photos back from our photographers last February, I have had a very big to-do hanging over my head. It made it to number ten on my 101 in 1001 list:

10. Create wedding albums for parents

Finally I was able to cross this biggie off of my list this Christmas (with glee, might I add). In early December, I hunkered down and designed 12″ x 12″, 50-page hardcover albums, which I had printed by Blurb. I had never used Blurb before so I was quite nervous for the outcome, but after reading so many rave reviews from the ladies at Weddingbee, I took the chance… and I am pleased to say that I am extremely satisfied with the final result.

I designed my layouts in Adobe InDesign, using one of the helpful templates that can be downloaded from the Blurb website. (If you don’t already have a layout program you’d like to use, you can download the Blurb BookSmart® software to lay out your book.) The templates clearly show the “safe zone” for all images and text, and illustrate how much bleed to include in your layout for photos or other images that should bleed off the edges. This is especially helpful if you don’t want to chop off the heads of any of your wedding guests :-)

I was also impressed by the cover templates, from which there are several to choose based on the number of pages in your book and the paper used for printing (which affects the width of the spine). I had created smaller, soft-cover books a few months back with Shutterfly, and my cover layout was not what I was expecting in terms of placement of the text on the spine (it ended up on the back). With my Blurb books, everything was lined up exactly as I had set it up on the cover, spine, and back cover.

I think the back cover is actually my favorite… I included our silhouettes and monogram that I had also used on the menus and drink signs at our wedding. I’m a sucker for silhouettes!

Overall, I was very pleased with the image quality and the vibrant colors. While I wasn’t expecting absolute perfection, I didn’t see any problems with skin tones, and I thought the ink coverage was impressive (and consistent) throughout each book.

(I look a bit pale, but, um… I am pale :-)

I ordered three books total — each 12″ x 12″, 50-pages, with image wrap covers and Premium paper. The final cost for each book: $85.95 plus shipping (which I actually got for free with a holiday coupon code). Compared to how much professional albums would have cost, we saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars and still had really beautiful Christmas gifts for our parents.

Does a Blurb book match the quality of a professionally designed and printed album from your photographer? Of course not. Even with the Premium paper selection and the image wrap cover, you aren’t going to get the same attention to detail and the high quality printing that you would otherwise get from a professional album company. But for the money spent, I am elated with the final result, and I’m pretty sure our parents are, too.

In terms of timing, I ordered all three books together on December 8; I received free FedEx Ground shipping with a holiday coupon code. My books were shipped on December 15 and received on December 17. Considering the size and number of pages in my books, I think this is an exceptionally fast turnaround time.

If you’re considering ordering from Blurb, a few pointers:

  • Pay a little extra for the Premium paper; the final result is worth the additional cost.
  • Use the templates provided on the Blurb website (or download their BookSmart® software to lay out your book) to avoid unexpected cropping of photos off of edges or in the spine.
  • If you have questions, be safe and contact Blurb customer support before placing your order; I had a few questions and they responded very promptly.
  • Selecting the option to remove the logo page from the back of your book (like I did with my first upload) will add quite a bit of cost — for me, it would have cost another $20 per book! And once your book is uploaded, you cannot reverse this selection. Unfortunately, I had to go back and re-upload my entire file, which, because of its size, took a few hours, but was worth the $20 saved. And the small logo on the last blank page of each book isn’t so bad :-)

What’s your company of choice for self-made photo books?

All photos included in our album by The Wiebners

bedroom overhaul: I’m so vain

I know I promised a peek into our bedroom overhaul a few months ago, to no avail. Fear not, faithful followers — our bedroom is still a bit of a work in progress, due to a teensy shortage of funds to do everything I wanted to do, and the fact that the holidays ate up most of my creative inspiration (and aforementioned fundage) for the last month.

While I still have a bit more work to do before I show you all of the before and afters (I was going to call it “the big reveal” but let’s face it, my home decorating skills are nowhere near being awesome enough to call it that), I thought I’d at least show you one bedroom project that is complete: my vanity!

Before:

After:

I have never had a little place all to myself to keep my jewelry and makeup — a place to sit each morning and primp as I begin each day. With the help of my best friend, Kelli, who gave me a great desk and chair for free (in exchange for me buying her dinner on our monthly dinner date — deal!), I now have my own little beauty depot. And let me tell you, I absolutely love it.

As you can see in the before photos above, the desk and chair were originally painted white and had white wooden knobs. It was in great condition — I just made it over a bit to fit with the rest of our new bedroom decor.

Nick sanded everything down for me using a power sander, and I then got to work painting the desk in Glidden’s Totally Teal color (with a semi-gloss finish). The paint went on so easily, it was almost too easy. One coat probably would have sufficed, but I went over everything with a second coat for good measure.

I switched out the wooden knobs with some glass ones found at Anthropologie; I also picked up a new mirror at HomeGoods and a small accent lamp from Target to add a little light. I topped it off with my jewelry stand and mirrored toiletry tray, put four 1″ brads in the wall from which to hang my necklaces, and I had a lovely new vanity!

Here’s the rundown of how much everything cost:

desk and chair: $25.00 (dinner for my friend as a thank you for giving this to me)
one quart of Glidden Totally Teal semi-gloss paint: $8.96
five glass knobs from Anthropologie: $40.00
new mirror from HomeGoods: $29.99
accent lamp from Target: $9.99
mirrored tray: free (it was my Nana’s)
jewelry stand: free (anniversary gift from Nick)
1″ brads to hang necklaces: free (already had these)

Total for project: $113.94

Is it totally chic and representative of amazing interior design? Absolutely not. But is it functional and cute? I think so. I would have loved some better lighting and maybe a prettier mirror that stands alone, but the items I found were inexpensive and still decent looking. Most importantly, I have a nice place to sit each morning to get ready for my day, all of my jewelry and makeup have their own place, and it makes me happy. It’s also great to have the little bit of extra storage that it provides.

Whaddya think?

brown paper packages tied up with… handmade bows and leftover ribbon?

In past years, I have always gone overboard buying pretty gift wrap for Christmas. Of course, a $5 roll of gift wrap usually wraps 3 or 4 gifts before disappearing, so I have always ended up spending $30 or so just on gift wrap, bows and ribbon each year. This year, while carefully budgeting our money, I decided to get a bit creative and save some dough while still having some pretty little packages to sit under the tree.

I started out with these DIY instructions from How About Orange on making bows from magazine pages (or any other scrap paper you may have lying around). I grabbed an old Glamour magazine (say hi to SJP!) and got to work.

I tried to pick pages with bold colors or prints — mostly ads that had less words and more images. Working with the easy-to-follow instructions, I got down to business and had a handful of pretty bows in no time at all. (Okay… about an hour or so later.)

Voila!

I had also asked Nick to pick up some basic brown postal wrap from our local hardware store. One roll of 75 square feet (30″ wide) was only $2.50! Several wrapped gifts later, we still have plenty of paper left to spare. Using the brown paper along with satin ribbon I already had on-hand from some invitation and stationery projects in the past, I wrapped each gift and topped it off with a handmade ribbon.

I also printed out some blank tags using ivory card stock I already had. I printed them so they’d have a little brown circle on which I could punch a hole to make it look like a vintage tag, but you could cut any paper down to 3.5″ x 2″ pieces and cut angled edges on one side. I hand-wrote each tag with colorful markers to coordinate with each bow.

Total cost for all of our gift wrapping this Christmas: $2.50. I’d say that’s a big “win”!

Merry Christmas wrapping to you :-)

building your wardrobe

I don’t read many fashion blogs. I love pretty clothes and accessories as much as the next person, but so many fashion-related blogs and websites focus on items that are just not feasible with a petite budget like mine. Hey, I’ve been rocking my $30 Target boots over my $34 Gap Outlet skinny jeans and accessorizing with my favorite $6 Target earrings… and I’m mighty proud of it. But as much as I pride myself in my thrifty ways, it’s hard to read high-fashion blogs without feeling discouraged that I simply can’t afford that stunning $400 coat or those drool-inducing $250 riding boots.

The one fashion blog that I read consistently is What I Wore, written by Jessica Schroeder. Jessica has built a stunning, fashionable, and budget-friendly wardrobe with a few key “splurge” pieces, plenty of vintage flair, and loads of creative styling. While I’m certainly nowhere near having my act together as much as Jessica in terms of my closet, she has opened my eyes to getting creative with fun and inexpensive accessories, re-styling vintage (or Target!) pieces, and building a style all my own without blowing my budget.

photos via What I Wore

Jessica has just started a series called Build Your Wardrobe that I plan to sink my teeth into (when I have the time… ha) to make better use of the pieces I have without feeling like I need a new wardrobe every time the seasons change. (Because without fail, I always think I have “nothing to wear” when the weather gets colder… or warmer… or whatever.) I’d also like to add a few key items that I’m missing, which will hopefully make it easier to pull specific looks together on the fly.

If you haven’t already checked out WIW, get thee there pronto. Oh! And if you’re planning a wedding (or you just like weddings), Jessica is newly engaged and has started blogging about her wedding vision and plans at What I Wore Down the Aisle. I absolutely cannot wait to see how fabulously she styles her wedding day!

bedroom overhaul.

I loathe our bedroom. Loathe it. It is a hodge podge of mismatched furniture, bland decor, and no overall decorating scheme whatsoever. I painted the room five years ago with Benjamin Moore’s Silver Lake, and it is now looking dingy and dull. All of the furniture is still the same from when I lived here alone five years ago. We have three bulky dressers (that I inherited from my mom when she upgraded) that don’t make very good use of the space, two mismatched bedside tables, a stuffed chair, a closet that barely holds anything, artwork that I hate, and an Ikea wardrobe that I bought off of my best friend/former roommate when we moved out of our old apartment.

Sounds awesome, right?

Lately I have been getting more and more fed up with our bedroom, but we don’t have the cash to do a complete overhaul. However, we are still newlyweds, and I think it’s important for newlyweds to have a nice, relaxing space to slumber. Nick has seen how cranky the room has been making me lately, so we’re now on a mission to spruce it up on the cheap.

The one thing I actually like about our bedroom is the bedding, which was from our wedding registry:

Italian Percale by Hudson Park. We have the Lagoon color, which is a teal that seems to no longer available; it is shown here in Marine.

It is crisp, simple, and will work with a range of decor. I am really glad that we went with something more classic instead of some of the trendier prints that would dictate the rest of the decor.

I hate to repaint the room when we may only be here for another year, but it might be necessary in order to really be happy with it and feel like it’s a new room; painting is such an inexpensive way to make a big change. It makes the most sense to just paint a fresh coat of Silver Lake, but I think I’d be much happier with a new, more bold color.

I like the contrast of this light teal bedroom with the dark headboard and furniture and simple white linens

this blue is darker, but so pretty against the crisp white woodwork, via Young House Love

Nick probably wouldn’t be a big fan of this, but I think an accent wall in a vibrant orange would be so striking against the white bedding with subtle teal details

The furniture is certainly our biggest hurdle (and expense), and due to a lack of built-in storage in our apartment, it’s definitely a necessity. I am always inspired by the before & afters on Design*Sponge, but we don’t have a backyard or any outdoor space in which we could sand down any furniture in order to repaint it, so that may not be our best option. My brother and sister-in-law recently had these Hemnes dressers from Ikea that I think would work perfectly. (They recently sold them when they moved into a new place, but we didn’t really have the foresight to think of buying them off of them until it was too late!)

Two of these would probably provide the same amount of storage that our three bulky dressers do currently. I’ve been scouring Craigslist with the hopes of finding them a little cheaper than they’re sold for at Ikea.

The Ikea wardrobe that we have is not the most attractive, but it really serves its purpose and has been a lifesaver compared to the awkward and incredibly small built-in closet in the room. I’m thinking I could at least make it blend in a bit more by covering it with some dark woodgrain contact paper to coordinate with the dark dressers, and maybe covering the transparent window portions with a fun pattern.

In terms of art, I most definitely want to grace our walls with some more personal pieces. I love the idea of silhouettes (which I have posted about before).

Or a fun presentation of various patterns would also add some interest, but not be as personal.

Over the next few months, if I actually keep up with this little project, I’ll be sure keep you posted on the progress!

What are your best tips for redecorating without breaking the bank?

but it’s the principle… (a.k.a., I have become a tightwad)

Last weekend, I returned a pair of shoes to DSW. I bought them several weeks ago but haven’t found the opportunity to wear them, and after trying them on again at home after seeing them sit in their box for weeks, I realized they weren’t really comfortable nor worth my money. (I have gotten much better at evaluating my purchases lately and figuring out if I will really wear something enough to justify the purchase.) While said shoes (sandals) were only $34.95, it was still $34.95 that I didn’t need to be without.

Let me just say, I love DSW, and I buy most of my shoes there. They always have what I’m looking for, great prices, and I like that all of their stock is out on the floor for the customers to see — I loathe shoe stores where I have to ask for my size and wait for someone to bring them for me and then proceed to watch me like a hawk as I make my decision. I also wear a very common size (7.5 or 8) that is often sold out, but DSW always has a plethora of shoes in my size.

So anywho… I ventured to my local DSW to return my shoes. I presented my receipt like a good little customer and told the sales clerk that I would like to return the shoes — one of three pairs on the receipt. I am a DSW Premier Rewards member, and I had used a $10 off rewards certificate for my purchase. The clerk proceeded to tell me that since the rewards certificate amount had been split up amongst the three pairs of shoes ($3.27 was deducted from the cost of the pair I was returning), I would be getting back $31.68, instead of $34.95, the full amount that the shoes cost. I said okay, but then had a second to think about it and realized something was off.

I said to her, “Wait — I would have received $10 off my total purchase whether I got one pair of shoes or three pairs of shoes. Why wouldn’t I get the full amount of those shoes back when it wasn’t a percentage discount, but a dollar discount off of my full purchase?”

She took a second and then said, “Well, I could do that, but I’d just have to adjust the pricing of the other shoes.” I don’t really know what she meant, but I figured if it was possible, then yes, I’d like that option. I didn’t really understand why she didn’t do this in the first place, seeing as it is sort of her job… but whatevs. It probably took an extra 10 seconds of her time but I left there with the full refund for $34.95 credited to my debit card. It felt like a small victory.

The old me would not have cared about a $3.27 difference, but I’ve gotten a lot stingier smarter with my cash these days and I really value every dollar. I’ve also gotten a lot pickier with how retail stores run their businesses; although I love DSW, I was a little annoyed that it wasn’t clear to the sales clerk right away that I should receive the full amount of those shoes back. (And no, she wasn’t new — I recognized her and she has probably worked there for at least a year or so.) The old me would have felt like I was inconveniencing the clerk and I would have just let her do whatever she wanted to do, but now I don’t let little things like that slip by me.

Mostly, it was the principle of it that made me adamant about receiving the full refund. Because if they pull one over on me, how many other people are they doing the same thing to? How much money are retailers making off of the ignorance of their customers? And if customers are, indeed, ignorant, does that give reason for them to be cheated out of money that is rightfully theirs?

Have you ever had a similar experience? Did you feel like it was a small victory even though it was only a few bucks saved?

but I don’t have anything to wear!

It was about 12 degrees when I woke up this past Monday and there were four inches (and counting) of freshly fallen snow on the ground. Today, Saturday, the snow was almost melted, the temperature was in the mid-60s, and it rose to the mid-70s by noon. FINALLY! Spring!

I was excited to break out my favorite flats while leaving my socks snug in their drawer, wear a 3/4-length sleeved shirt with no jacket, and drive around with the windows down. After the initial excitement, though, I started my usual beginning-of-the-season-fashion-freakout. What clothes from last spring will still work/fit/make me feel cute? What shoes should I invest in now so I have at least two great staples to get me through the next several months? How am I going to replenish and spruce up my wardrobe on a tiny (very, very tiny) budget?

Then I came across this post about a clothing swap on one of my favorite daily reads, What I Wore. (I love her unique style and ability to put together adorable, fashionable outfits on a budget). Yes — a clothing swap is what I need! While I have gotten much better at regularly purging clothes in my wardrobe that have gone unworn for too long, the feeling of satisfaction that I get from donating is sometimes also matched with the feeling that I now have even less to choose from and work with. A clothing swap, however, where I am trading clothes I no longer need for some fresh, new (to me) items, would be a good way to spruce up my wardrobe without spending any money.

In no time I’m bound to have an enviable wardrobe like Carrie Bradshaw’s, right?

I am wondering, if I found a place to do such a thing, if my local friends and acquaintances would be up for it. We’re all feeling the crunch of this economy, and we would all benefit from it in some way. Perhaps a new project in my future…