my dogs are barking

i wanted a footstool to pair with an arm chair because who doesn't want to put their feet up?  theoretically i wanted some cute little vintage piece with wooden legs and a needlepoint cushion.  in my search of area "antique" shops, what i was finding was not only not cute but also way too small.  i know in the olden days people were shorter than they are now, but really, who can relax their legs on something only 7" high?  that's about the same height as the footrest on a greyhound bus.  better than nothing i guess, but still, far from ideal!

what i wanted was something as high as the chair's seat cushion.  ikea to the rescue!  i'd seen this slip-covered stool there and ended up buying it in "natural" thinking it was the right height at 15" but also neutral enough to go with the rest of the living room.  and at $14.99, there basically was no risk in getting rid of it in case it didn't work out once i got it home.

the ikea solsta pallbo stool in "ransta natural"
yeah well, it didn't fit in with the living room at all.  it stood out like the plain white cube that it is. 

the footstool looking about as utilitarian as a ford focus.
after a few weeks of living with it in this plain state, i tried out a red leaf pattern stencil on it in an attempt to give it some personality, but that turned out weird and basically ugly (so much so that i won't bother showing it here.)

then months later, inspiration struck!  while working on the plan for an urban patio, i had ordered of a sample swatch of the brown and cream zigzag fabric that i intend to use out there.  looking at the swatch one day at home, it suddenly made sense that the same zigzag fabric would be a great compliment to my living room.  i'm pretty handy on the sewing machine and so i plotted to make a new slip cover for the stool.  the zigzag would tie together colors in the rug and the addition of red piping would bring in the color of the red velvet chairs.

the newly covered stool.

standing back a bit.
i love the play of the patterns, both in their design and their scale.  i now have the large organic floral paisley of the rug, the medium geometry of the zigzag, and the small detailed design on the throw pillow (hand creweled by my maternal grandmother) all working together to create a visually dynamic little spot to hang out.

the zigzag helps downplay the utter simplicity of the cube shape.
after assembling all the elements, i spent about 4 hours making the new cover.  it probably could have gone faster if i hadn't had a bit of struggle with figuring out how to correctly make the piping. it was tricky because i don't have the proper piping foot for my sewing machine and had to substitute the zipper foot.  but basically i just cut out five equal sized squares of the zigzag fabric, sandwiched everything together with the piping and ran it through the machine.

the red piping fabric actually has its own subtle pattern.
i'm happy with stool's new and improved look, especially since the whole thing was very inexpensive.  i spent $1.00 on the cotton piping, $8.37 on a yard and half of the zigzag fabric and $5.39 on the red fabric, for a total of $14.76.  including the original cost of the stool the whole thing still only cost $29.75.  not bad for something that adds some zest to the room, ties the colors together, and actually makes me like my rug more.

mimosa me!


color matters: a bedroom transformation

here's a space that is nearly square with one exposed brick wall and high ceilings.  in it's former life, this loft bedroom was monochromatic and random.  it had no focus, no definition, no sense of place.  and here's how i transformed the room into a chic place to spend time asleep and awake:

the space desperately needed some color!  color not only to enliven, but also to define such large featureless walls (a common problem in loft-style apartments).  the only two elements definitely staying were the bedframe and the painting of fell's point, baltimore by the owner's grandmother.

view from the bedroom doorway. where to look?  before.

the first and most striking change made was the wall color.  the three non-brick walls were painted a deep blue-green (benjamin moore's newburg green HC-158). the chunky grey metal bedframe, with its low profile, was previously lost against the old stone colored wall.  now a yellow-green stripe (benjamin moore's anjou pear AF-425), painted exactly the width of the bedframe, immediately draws your eye to the bed.

there's now no confusion as to the room's purpose with the attention on the bed.

 the owner knew from the start that he wanted west elm's martini side tables for nightstands.  their shiny white texture is repeated in the dressed-up-industrial swing arm lamps and contrasted with the plush texture of the shag wool rug, also from west elm.  the painting by his grandmother was given a new life reframed with a square and flat espresso finish frame. centered above the bed and in closer proximity vertically, it now ties together the room's new colors and also holds pride of place as part of that wall's focal point.

to the bed's left, the brick window wall previously blended in with the adjacent wall color.  and the space looked and felt vague in its style.

spacious, but undefined.  before.

here the shaggy soft texture of the light rug breaks up the sea of maple flooring and contrasts with the gridded rigidity of the bedframe, the metal window casings and the orderly bricks.

now we're somewhere!
the owner had removed a couple narrow ikea billy bookcases from his hallway in an effort to de-clutter his entry, and now he needed a home for the contents of those shelves, including his extensive collection of cookbooks.  we considered a basic white 16-cube ikea expedit unit in white, but it seemed too common and too cheap-looking to properly fit in with the rest of his apartment's sophisticated aesthetic. enter a pair of the wooden ikea linnarp bookcases stained in red.  the bright punch of color and graphic arrangement of the shelves serves to fill and define the wall to the left of the windows and its contents add interest.

here's that bookcase wall looking drab.

big and blank.  before.

and now in all its colorful glory!

ample shelving, visual intrigue, with room to spare.

another aspect of the room that was previously lacking was lighting.  besides the bedside lamps, there was only the garish overhead light that only served to depress.  adding discreet white grundtal cabinet-mounted lights from ikea that link together to operate on one step switch (visible under the shelves) creates functional and atmospheric lighting over the bookcases.

the right color palette was the key to bringing this bedroom to life, and a variety of textures and finishes add depth to the visual experience.  such a big space can handle the saturated colors of the walls and bookcases because they're offset with the neutrals of the rug and bedding.  the finished space is no longer forgotten and is instead a space the owner enjoys any time of day or night. 


an urban patio plan

(UPDATE: the finished urban patio is unveiled here.)

some friends recently bought a vintage condo that faces one of chicago's famed boulevards.  one of the best aspects of the condo is the wonderful covered and semi-private patio that leads off their bedroom.  other than the handsome reddish purple brick, there's not much to see out there right now.

a.   the view of the patio from inside
b.   standing in the patio doorway looking north onto the tree-lined boulevard
c.   standing in the doorway looking left (west)
d.  standing in the doorway looking right (southeast) towards the bedroom window and towards the fence that divides the patio from the neighbor's half
e.   looking back at the doorway from the bedroom

the space has lain dormant for the winter but now it's ready for some action as it warms up!  the couple are newly parents and both are hard-working school teachers, so when school lets out for the summer, they look forward to some serious chillin' with each other and their baby.  to help them fully enjoy chicago's best season, i've created this mood board to demonstrate how a mix of textures, colors and patterns in durable outdoor-ready materials will make for a cheery, comfortable and functional outdoor room.
#1 & #2 diy benches modified from ana white's simple outdoor bench plan, stained in a dark chocolate - topped with crib mattresses (27" x 52") from ikea.
#3  dark brown outdoor fabric to cover the crib mattresses combined with bold graphic fabrics for loose pillows and dining chair cushions.
# 4   urban chairs in white from ikea (the couple already owns these).
#5   motel dining table in enameled white from crate & barrel.
#6   casbah outdoor recycled polypropylene rug from cb2.
#7   pedestal side tables in enameled peacock from crate & barrel.
#8  frosted 1.5" globe string lights.
and now here's how it all will lay out in the space.

#1 & #2 diy benches modified from ana white's simple outdoor bench plan, stained in a dark chocolate - topped with crib mattresses (27" x 52") from ikea.  these will be arranged in an l-shape to create sectional-style seating
#3  dark brown outdoor fabric to cover the crib mattresses along with bold graphic fabrics for loose pillows
# 4   urban chairs in white from ikea (the couple already owns these)
#5   motel dining table in enameled white from crate & barrel
#6   casbah outdoor recycled polypropylene rug from cb2
#7   pedestal side tables in enameled peacock from crate & barrel
for max relaxin' possibilities, two modified crib mattress-topped benches will be arranged perpendicularly to each other to create an l-shaped seating area tossed with plenty of pillows.  two small low tables add a pop of color and spots for books and drinks.  for meals al fresco, the dining table will seat three when placed in the corner, but could easily fit more when pulled out towards the middle of the space.  

and here's a cost breakdown of the whole project, not including labor.

the finished space might look something like this (pardon the limitations of the computer software's furniture designs)...

from inside their bedroom, looking out to the new space
view from the doorway
impossible viewpoint as you'd be floating mid-air to ever see it from this angle, but a good overall picture
another impossible view point, but again it helps give a sense of the overall space

as this is an outdoor space, i'd naturally add potted plants and/or long rectangular boxes along the wide wall caps, particularly on the west facing wall to further lend visual interest and privacy to the space.

selfishly, i hope that, if for no other reason, they go for the plan so that i myself can lounge in style all summer long, as i have no patio or outdoor space of my own.  (crossing my fingers!)
p.s. happy first mother's day, kwk! 


you'll find me outside from here on out

spring: a true, unabashed wonder.  it was an arduously long winter in chicago, followed by a grouch-making record-breaking rainy-heavy-gray april.  the many months of cold and dark were difficult to tolerate this year.  very difficult.  now may.  genius may!  the amazing plant life, so attuned to the smallest incremental changes in temperature and increasing seconds of daylight, awakens.  time to live outside.  won’t you join me?
the balcony of sedar gulgun's istanbul apartment, image from At Home in Turkey, photographed by solvi dos santos
i’m not usually a fan of black and white tiles, but paired with the bright gold textile and a view of a huge magnolia and a grand turkish building, you’d find me out here every chance i could.

a deck in the upper west side of manhattan, image from The New City Home by leslie plummer clagett
hell, let’s get back to basics: just give me a deck and some raised planters overlooking the handsome backsides of some manhattan rowhouses and i’ll be happy.

an architect's london garden, image from terrance conran's small spaces
how about a deck surrounded by even more greenery off a 300 sf(!) garden apartment?  the fenced patio is nearly 1/3 the total area of the lot.  that’s the kind of indoor/outdoor space ratio i’m into.

stephen skinner's marrakesh rooftop patio, image from the world of interiors, january 2003
 if you don’t have the garden space, take it to the roof.  if you’re in a hot climate like marrakesh’s, install bamboo screening and curtains to create a comfortable shaded outdoor living room.  at the very least, make giant outdoor beds.  who wouldn't enjoy giant outdoor beds?

a terrace designed by jeffrey bilhuber, image from house beautiful, september 2003
if it’s even hotter and drier than morocco, and lush greenery isn’t possible, do it up with a simple pea gravel patio layered with textured shades of brown.  you can't exactly lounge here but you could eat fantastically.

an urban garden in toronto, image from The New City Home, by leslie plummer clagett

let’s hope that you CAN grow lush greenery -- much cheerier that way.  even still, let’s suppose your lot is surrounded by an unsightly high cinder block wall.  ain’t no thang if you’ve got plants of all sizes and heights and a modern water sculpture and a koi pond.  oh, and a huge glass wall that swivels open like a door.  yes, please.  yes.


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