DIY Moroccan pouf and other footstools you can make yourself

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

One of my must-haves for the nursery was a spot to put up my feet. I knew a footstool of some kind would make nursing, cuddling, storytime and all the rest of baby time much more comfortable.

I love the look of the Moroccan poufs, so I was excited to find a free pattern to sew my own from Better Homes and Gardens.

Free DIY pouf sewing pattern from BHG

I made a few modifications to my pouf. First, I lengthened the pattern just slightly. I extended the side pieces by about an inch to make my pouf a bit taller.

Another change was my fabric. Rather than using the burlap and muslin that the BHG team used in their sample, I went with a white vinyl. Wipeable, durable, good for a nursery. However, I will say that vinyl is not the easiest to sew, and as the pouf got bigger it was much more challenging to manipulate. I’m sure the burlap would be easy-peasy.

I also chose to do my top stitching by machine, rather than going with the decorative hand embroidery BHG showed. Vinyl does not fold and cannot be ironed, so the top stitching helps my seams to lay properly.

DIY Moroccan pouf

The final change was I added a zipper. Even though the vinyl is wipeable, I liked the idea of being able to remove the cover if I ever need to. So at the very bottom of the pouf, I put in a 20-inch zipper. Stitching a zipper in vinyl, especially where all the seams came together, was not my funnest sewing moment. (Again, in another fabric it would be NBD.)

Zipper in the bottom of a homemade Moroccan pouf

To stuff the pillow, BHG recommends towels and fibre fill. I happen to have a large stash of pillows (anyone else find the search for the perfect bed pillow challenging?), so I mined that to stuff the pouf. This thing held seven full size bed pillows. Honestly, I’d love to fit an eighth in there, but I’m afraid the seams might not hold. Getting the pillows to lay smoothly inside, so that the pouf doesn’t look overly lumpy took a bit of effort.

DIY Moroccan pouf free sewing pattern

As soon as the pouf was finished and I set it in the nursery, I was thrilled. It’s the perfect height with the chair, and the white goes well with the other elements in the room. Now that we’ve been using it for more than a month, I also have to say that I’m glad the pouf is light weight enough that I can kick it out of the way when I am trying to oh so carefully put Ellie back in her crib without waking her up.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

I’m also really proud that I made this myself.

In my experience, poufs, ottomans and footstools are pretty easy to make. Even high-end poufs that I see online get my creative juices flowing as I think how I could make them myself.

Here’s a round-up if you’re looking for inspiration.

DIY Poufs

Ready-made poufs that you could DIY

If you’re looking for a Moroccan pouf similar to the one I made.

I think these buffalo check cubes were originally at Target and seem to now be discontinued, but they’d be super easy to DIY (a cube is really easy to sew). And wouldn’t the check fabric and the leather handles be perfect for a farm?

It might take a bit of searching to find a textural fabric like this, but once you do, it would be a snap to whip up this large ottoman.

Other footstools I considered

I truly love this Ikea cowhide footstool for its fit with our farm theme, but it appears to only be sold at Ikea in the US… and my DIY option was much less expen$ive.

My original nursery plan called for a lot of colourful accessories, like this beanbag ottoman.

A storage ottoman is a favourite for obvious reasons–it’s dual purpose, providing a spot to sit or rest your feet as well as a spot to stash blankets, toys or other nursery stuffs.

In the end, I’m very happy with my pouf. The price was right and so is the style.

What’s your favourite style of footstool? Have you ever made a pouf?

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How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

I firmly believe you can never have too many hooks. Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens. Hooks are good.

So when I was putting the baby’s room together, hooks were on my list. We have a relatively large empty corner behind the door, which was going to be the perfect spot.

How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

Originally, I planned to make simple hookboards similar to what I did in our master bedroom.

Brass and white hookboards

But then I had a brainwave. What about the Hang-It-All by Eames? It’s definitely not farmy or rustic. But it’s colourful and fun, which were some of the other qualities I was looking to incorporate into the nursery.

Eames Hang-It-All

The Hang-It-All is not at all in my price range ($200+ for a coat hook?). I did find a mini version for $4 at the Dollarstore of all places, but it was much too small for what I was looking for.

Dollarstore knock off Eames Hang It All

I decided my best bet was to make my own. Here is my tutorial.

Materials

  • Wire hook rack (mine are 20 inches wide and sport 12 hooks each)
  • Wood balls (1 inch, one for each hook)*
  • Craft paint or stain in your preferred colours (depending on what version of the Hang-It-All you’re making)
  • Scrap 2×4 and 3 inch finishing nails (for drying rack)
  • Glue (optional)

* You can buy wood beads, but I found that they were flat on two sides, rather than perfect spheres. Also, since the hole goes all the way through, you’ll have to patch one end with wood filler. If you go with the balls, you’ll have to drill holes in them yourself. Buy a few extra as they may split when you drill them.

Materials to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

Tools

  • Small paint brush
  • Drill and appropriately sized bit(s)
  • Hammer
  • Adjustable pliers or vice

I liked the look of the version that is white wire with colourful balls. But of course, I couldn’t find a rack in white (there are some good sources online). I bought a grey version and hit it with white spray paint in a very makeshift paint studio, also known as our utility room. (I really need the temperature outside to warm up again. This was beyond awkward.)

Makeshift spraypaint studio

Then I was able to begin assembling my homemade Hang-It-All. Here are my steps.

1. Remove rubber tips from your hooks. This is optional, but I found I was able to get a better fit on the wire itself.

2. Determine what size holes you need to drill in your balls. This took a bit of trial and error and a few balls were sacrificed in the process.

Broken wooden ball

Drilling smaller pilot holes with a 1/8 inch bit helped to keep the balls from splitting. For the final holes, I ended up going with a 3/16 inch drill bit. It was a tight fit, but the balls slid onto the hooks with a bit of muscle.

3. Determine how deep to drill your holes. I measured the length of the rubber sleeves that were originally on each hook and then marked my drill bits with a bit of tape so I knew when to stop drilling.

Mark your drillbit with tape to ensure you drill holes to the right depth

4. Drill your balls. (What a terrible sentence.) Use a vice or pliers to hold the balls. I found my adjustable pliers worked fine. I used an old sock as a cushion so that the teeth on the pliers didn’t mark the balls. Remember to stop when you reach the edge of the tape on your bit.

Drilling holes in wooden balls

5. Assemble your drying rack. Hang-It-Alls come in a variety of finishes. Whether you’re painting or staining your balls, a drying rack will be helpful to get a nice finish. I tapped a bunch of nails into a scrap 2×4, which worked very well. I could slip the balls over the head of each nail so they dried cleanly. Tip: Tilt your nails in alternate directions so you can fit more balls into one piece of wood.

DIY drying rack for painting wooden balls

6. Paint or stain your balls. A small craft brush will be helpful here. I tried to match Eames’ colours, but then decided to keep it simple with the primary and secondary colours. I was doing 24 hooks, so that meant 4 balls in each colour. Tip: If you’re staining your balls, watch out for different wood tones. I found between the two packages of balls that I bought, one was darker than the other.

I did two coats of paint. The finish with the craft paint is a bit dull, so if you like the glossy finish of the authentic Hang-It-All consider using a glossier paint or adding a final coat of a clear sealer.

7. Stick your balls on your hooks. My 3/16 inch holes were a very tight fit, so I didn’t use glue or any other adhesive. I simply twisted each ball until it covered up the dark grey unpainted tip of each hook.

How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All

8. Install your rack on the wall. Admire your handiwork and pat yourself on the back for being so thrifty.

Cost (for one DIY Hang-It-All)

  • Hook rack $11.28
  • Wood balls $5.99
  • Craft paint $7.14 (6 bottles at $1.19 per bottle)
  • Total $24.41

Much less than $200.

Turquoise gender neutral nurseryTurquoise gender neutral nursery

Right now, these hooks hold the diaper bag, our carrier, her warm outdoor outfit and a bath towel, and they’re a fun surprise when you look behind the door in the baby’s room. In the future, I can see these being useful for more tiny clothes and eventually dress-up costumes or backpacks.

For more about the Hang-It-All, check out this post by White Cabana.

How to make your own Eames Hang-It-All for less than $25

Creative, affordable and personal art for a nursery

My approach to art is all about keeping it personal and affordable. When it came to the nursery, I had so many ideas that I couldn’t fit them all on the walls.

I thought it might be helpful to share the ideas here–including some that we did and some that we didn’t. I’d also love your input on what art you’ve incorporated into your babies’ rooms and other ideas you have.

Family mementos – The most sentimental piece of art in the room by far is Matt’s first pair of sleepers. These were what he wore home from the hospital. Can you believe it?

Baby sleepers framed in a homemade shadowbox

I built a simple shadow box, which protects and displays the sleepers and hung them in the little nook just inside the door. (I’ll be sharing more details on this project in an upcoming post.)

Anything can go in a shadow box–and a shadow box makes anything look artsy. Consider displaying a special toy, a small collection or a hospital bracelet. They would all make beautiful art.

Sleepers framed in a shadow box

Baby animals – Is there anything as cute as a baby animal? Before we considered having children, I knew if I was ever decorating a nursery I wanted some prints from the Animal Print Shop–they’re a nursery staple for a reason. The photos are so crisp and full of personality.

Animal portraits in a turquoise gender neutral nursery

I picked three animals that you may find someday on our farm. They make me smile every time I see them–although Matt thinks the duck is scheming something. Paintings, drawings, illustrations or photos, there are lots of options online–or even on your own camera–to get some cute animal art.

Animal busts – While I’m not advocating taxidermy for a baby’s room–not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s meaningful for you–I love the different options that are available now for displaying animal heads on the wall. Most are really fun and whimsical.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

Way back, before the third bedroom became my office and before my office became the nursery, I bought a papier mache goose head on Etsy that reminded me of the pet goose I had growing up. Bill has made the transition from office to nursery, and I think he’s a perfect fit for our farm theme.

Paper mache goose head

A favourite story book – There are so many great children’s stories out there. Consider scanning or cutting pages from your favourite story book, framing and displaying them. This isn’t something we’ve done in our nursery, but I know exactly what story I’ll choose if I ever change up the decor.

Children's story Jill's Jack

Children's story Jill's Jack

Growth chart – While it’s not applicable to an infant, I love a growth chart to track Ellie as she grows through the years. I made growth charts for both of my sisters when they had their first children, and I was excited to make one for our own baby.

Ruler growth chart

Alphabet/numbers art – Babies and children are learning so much, and we want to start them off right. So educational art is a natural fit for nurseries. Plus so much of it is pretty cute too. I found these animal alphabet flashcards through The Grit and Polish and knew right away they’d be perfect for the baby’s room.

Alphabet flashcards above the changing table

Like many of the commenters on Cathy’s blog suggested, I had them laminated so if they ever go on to a life as actual flashcards, they hopefully won’t get too tattered. Rather than framing 26 individual cards, I strung a pair of twine clotheslines and clipped the cards up with miniature clothespins. Etsy is a great source for beautiful flashcards (my set are by Susan Windsor).

Alphabet flashcards hung on a twine clothesline

Ultrasound print – Ultrasounds are very special moments in our journey to being parents. For me, the first ultrasound was the moment our baby became real–“holy moly, there’s really something in there.”

Remember that moment you first “met” your baby with a print of an ultrasound picture. If you have a bit of Photoshop or design skills, this is something you can DIY fairly easily. Or there are lots of services that offer ultrasound prints these days. Chris Loves Julia shared one in their daughter Polly’s nursery.

Ultrasound art

Quote – I admit I’m not the biggest fan of typography art. A sign with a word or two just isn’t my thing. But these longer quotes that I first saw on The Painted Hive are absolutely lovely and really speak to me.

Book quote art by the Painted Hive

You could use a quote from a favourite story (this would go great with the storybook art idea above), a song verse, an inspirational wish for your child or something that is particularly meaningful to you. For a different treatment, The Handmade Home does beautifully coloured quotes.

My mama choice would be this poem from Kahlil Gibran On Children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

A talisman – This idea may be a bit abstract, but sometimes there’s something that we associate with our children. At the baby shower Matt’s family hosted for me, his sister-in-law decorated each table with sunflowers and sent every guest home with a packet of sunflower seeds to plant in their gardens. Sunflowers have now become something that I associate with our baby, and I love the idea of incorporating a photo of a sunflower or an artificial sunflower into the room. Nicole at Making it Lovely wears a special piece of jewelry for each of her children, which I think is absolutely… lovely (of course).

Sunflower puckered up for a kiss

Online printables – There is so much beautiful art available online. Minted and Jenny’s Print Shop are popular sources, but there are many more too. Don’t forget free printables as well. This pencil drawing from Shades of Blue Interiors is an extremely moving image for me. I printed and framed this as a gift to Matt’s brother and sister-in-law just before they had their first baby, and I still may find a spot for it in our baby’s nursery too.

Shades of Blue Interiors nativity print

Silhouettes – Anyone remember tracing their profile in silhouette in grade school for art class? A silhouette of your child’s profile is a super easy DIY and super personal. I spotted this silhouette via Shailey Murphy on Instagram, and I love how the artist Kendra of Lilac Paperie incorporated flowers (including Shailey’s daughter’s birth month flower) and other elements to make it even more special.

Child's silhouette by Lilac Paperie

Family tree – I made this fan family tree for our master bedroom, but I think it would be perfect for a baby’s room too. Put her name and birthdate in the centre and then branch out from there. It’s a lovely reminder of the heritage you’re carrying on in your family. (Martha Stewart has a free template).

Fan family tree

There are so many more creative ideas out there for creative, affordable, personal art. You can make a space that perfectly fits your style and is meaningful for your family.

What’s your favourite art idea from this list? What other ideas would you add? Have you tried any of these? What art did you use in your baby’s room?

12 creative, affordable, personal ideas for nursery art

DIY Benchwright coffee table with double-sided drawers

DIY Benchwright Coffee Table

The Benchwright coffee table from Ana White (originally by Pottery Barn) has been on my wishlist ever since we moved to the farm. I loved the look of it, the storage potential that came with the drawers and lower shelf, and the DIY factor–building myself versus buying is pretty much always a win.

Well, I’m excited to share that the coffee table is finally done, just in time for Ellie’s arrival.

Ellie in her chair on the coffee table

In a lot of ways, the new coffee table may not look all that different from our old one.

Comparing our old and new coffee tables

The old one cost $15 at a garage sale when Matt and I were furnishing our very first house. My Dad helped me add a lower shelf, and then I painted the whole thing dark brown–and I just discovered that I missed a spot on the inside of one of the legs. It only took me 10 years to notice. Whoopsie.

The size and the shelf worked really well for us, so I knew I’d like those on the Benchwright. But I was ready to move away from the heavy brown paint to real wood, and I loved the idea of drawers to tuck things away–like remotes, if it turns out our new small person likes buttons.

Drawers on the coffee table

I won’t post a full tutorial because Ana’s plans have that pretty well covered. I’ll talk a bit about some of the changes I made and what worked and what didn’t.

I will say that this is my first time using an Ana White plan. I think her library is a tremendous resource for DIYers. I would agree with the “advanced” rating on this plan, not because of the drawers or overall complexity, but because a certain amount of detail is skimmed over on the plans.

I’m not sure if this is typical of Ana’s plans, but I often had to study the drawings, written instructions and cut list together to figure out what piece went where. In fact, I had two tabs open on my computer so that I could quickly reference the cut list without scrolling up and down repeatedly.

Nothing stumped me, but I did spend some time figuring things out as I went, and I think that would have been the case even if I hadn’t customized the plan.

Speaking of, I made one big change to this coffee table by doubling the number of drawers so that we had two on each side.

DIY Benchwright Coffee Table with four drawers

On the fireplace and TV side we can store newspaper, the lighter or DVDs.

Drawers on the coffee table

Then on the couch side we can tuck away remotes, magazines, books or other Mama and Daddy things.

The shelf underneath can hold bébé things, like toys or books–and be easily accessed for time in the baby jail play yard.

Toy storage under the coffee table

 

Doubling the number of drawers was not as difficult as I thought it might be. If you want to do this yourself, it’s important to start building the coffee table at step 8, the drawer frames.

Two sets of drawers slightly changes the dimensions of the coffee table, so you need the drawers first to determine all of the other measurements.

In Ana’s plan, the table measures 24 inches wide from the outer edge of each leg (this is not the overall width, as the top has an overhang that makes Ana’s table 27 1/2 inches wide in total). My table ended up being 27 1/4 inches from leg to leg.

In Ana’s plan, her drawers are 16 inches deep. I didn’t want the table to turn out too much wider than hers, so I shortened the drawers to 12 inches. All of the length measurements I kept the same. As you can see from the measurements above, my table ended up being 3 1/4 inches wider than Ana’s–not too much bigger.

I made two face frames–Ana’s plan calls for just one–so that I had one for each set of drawers. All of the drawers connect to one centre support, which again, I built according to Ana’s plan. The only change was the location because my support is right in the middle of the table.

Benchwright coffee table drawer frames

The back end of the drawer slides share the centre support. Installing the drawer slides determined the placement of all of the frames and the overall dimensions of the table. I used 12 inch drawer guides by Richelieu and attached them with 3/4 inch screws.

Richilieu 12 inch drawer guide

Attaching drawer guides with 3/4 inch screws

Drawers are intimidating to a lot of people. They’re actually not all that difficult. With purchased slides, you build your drawers to be 1 inch smaller than your opening. The slides take a half inch on either side.

On the table, you attach the slides in 3/4 of an inch from the outside edge. On the drawer, you attach them even with the front edge of the box. At the end, you cover the front of your drawer box with a “face” that hides the slides and the gaps. (Ana’s plans cover all of these details, so trust the instructions.)

Ana preaches throughout the plan the importance of building your drawers and frames square. I found that wasn’t a huge challenge. I followed the measurements, used my speed square and made sure my saw blade was set properly. The result was that everything stayed pretty square.

Speed square

Once I had the drawer frames built and the slides installed, I knew what the new width of the coffee table was going to be. Again, 27 1/4 inches (not factoring in the top).

This affected the side “aprons” on the top and bottom, and the dimensions of the bottom shelf and top. Again, I kept the length and height the same as on Ana’s plan.

Benchwright coffee table drawer frames

So with the drawer frames done, I went back to step 2 and started building the base. I say step 2 because for the bottom shelf (step 1), I used a piece of nice plywood, rather than piecing it together out of 1x12s as the plan called for. I had some good quality plywood leftover from another project, and it seemed easier to use that when I would have had to add an additional small piece of lumber to the 1x12s to get the width I needed.

Benchwright coffee table base

The one issue that I uncovered with the base, which would have been an issue even if I’d built the coffee table completely according to plan, was teeny gaps around the legs and drawer frames. Ana’s plan relies on exact measurements of your lumber. As in no overlap.

Gaps

They’re little tiny hairline gaps (despite looking giant in that picture), but they had me worried for awhile. I didn’t love the idea of seeing the gaps on my finished table. Fortunately, with the drawers and top in place, there are enough shadows that you can’t tell the joints aren’t completely tight. If I shine a flashlight through them, you’d see them, but I don’t expect that to happen, so I’m not worrying about them now.

For the top, you may recall that I debated whether 1-by or 2-by stock was the best choice. The resounding feedback on my last post was 2-by and you guys were all right.

Toy storage under the coffee table

 

When it came to the top, I decided that I wanted less of an overhang than Ana’s plan called for. Her table appears to have a roughly 3 inch overhang on either end and 1 3/4 inch overhang on the sides. I decided a 1 inch overhang all the way around was what I was aiming for, which meant my top was going to be 52 inches by about 30 inches.

The top is probably the area I struggled with most. Calculating the dimensions and the materials I needed wasn’t the problem. The problem was the wood itself. I bought all of my lumber at Home Depot, and the selection at my local store was terrible. In the 2×8 and 2×6 piles (I ended up using both to get the measurements I wanted), most of the wood looked like it had been chewed by a wild animal. Those that hadn’t been mauled were twisted like spaghetti noodles. In hindsight, I should have gone to my local lumber mill, but after this pregnant lady had single-handedly dismantled most of the stack, I just wanted to buy some wood and go home.

As I did when I made our wood countertop, I had the wood milled to ensure my pieces were completely square without the rounded edges typical of stock lumber. The staff member at HD was not at all happy by my request (apparently they’re not permitted to rip lumber like that), but he did it for me (looking over his shoulder for his manager the whole time).

The square edges make it much, much easier to get a tight joint and smooth top between the boards. However, because my lumber was so badly warped, we ended up with a few imperfect joints. Matt used all of his strength to try and hold the boards straight while I screwed them together (using my Kreg Jig).

In the end, the joints aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. I used a bunch of woodfiller, which is visible along some of the joints. I also sanded and sanded a few spots that were particularly chewed, which gave us a couple of dips.

Pregnant lady sanding

The biggest issue though is that the top as a whole had a huge twist from the warped boards.

Warped coffee table top

When we attached the top to the base, it pulled the base out of line. We ended up with a very tippy table. Matt’s advice was to ball up some paper and tuck it under the elevated leg. Thank you, husband.

Uneven table leg

My solution was that we each spent some time sitting on opposite corners of the table, trying to bend the top back into shape. We managed to twist it in the right direction a bit, but not quite all the way. I leveled it with a stack of foam pads. Perhaps not all that different than a ball of paper, but I feel like it’s a little less obvious.

Levelling coffee table with foam pads

Fortunately, all of our drawers still slide nicely and haven’t been pulled too far out of square. Just in case each drawer fits slightly differently, I’ve labelled the bottom and frame of the drawers so that we know which goes where.

Labelling drawers

Labelling drawers

None of our furniture is precious, so I’m happy to live with the top as it is. We have meals and snacks at this table. We put our feet up. Some day, Ellie will likely be drumming and then colouring on the coffee table. I’m not going to worry about any of it.

If I decide to in the future, the top will be easy to rebuild–with better lumber. It could also be replaced with a beautiful live edge piece if I want to go for something a little more precious.

We finished off the table with stain in Minwax Provincial, a couple of coats of Varathane and simple black handles from Lee Valley.

Black drawer handles on the coffee table

I’m very pleased with how it all came together and that we were able to build this ourselves. I love having it in the living room after years of envisioning it in our home.

DIY Benchwright Coffee Table

Thanks Ana for a very good plan. Thanks everyone for your input on this project. If you have any questions about the drawers or other aspects of this table, please leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to explain my process.

Four tips for simple Christmas decorating

Sarah is here to share a touch of Christmas from Illinois. Her front entrance is looking very festive, and decorating didn’t take her a lot of money or time. She’s sharing her tips for easy, affordable and attractive Christmas decorations below.

I love just about everything about the holiday season. One of my favorite activities is decorating our house both inside and out.

We had never done this before, but Steve asked if this year we wanted to decorate with a theme, so we chose “red and gold.” I think this will become a new tradition. It has made decorating much simpler and everything feels less cluttered and classier.

I used this line of thinking when decorating our front step and chose to go with the gold part of our theme. I thought I would share some tips I have when decorating.

This is the sad view that I started with. What you can’t see is the rotten pumpkins that I had just removed from the steps.

I began by going to my parents’ and helped my mom gather clippings from her boxwood bushes.

Tip #1: You don’t have to buy expensive decorations. Branches from pine, cedar, boxwood and other evergreens make beautiful natural decorations.

I gathered my supplies and laid my branches out in the general shape and size that I wanted to hang from my front door. I used floral wire to tie small bunches of branches together.

Tip #2: When wiring together live branches make sure to tie them really tight. The branches will shrink as they dry out.

I used ribbon for decoration and also to hide the wire that I used. I like to use wired ribbon to help it hold its shape.

Tip #3: I always scour after Christmas sales for ribbon. I can often save 50-75% by doing this.

For my lanterns I wired a few branches from my trees to the handles.

Tip #4: When trimming branches from a tree, look at how the branch is hanging before it is cut. If you want the branch to hang down, but it is curved up on the tree, it will be very difficult to force it into the position you want.

I also added some pinecones that my mom’s cousin had given us. Again I used floral wire to tie them together and tied them to the handle. I took some more wired ribbon and tied a knot to finish it off.

To complete the look, I added a really cute dog.

Merry Christmas from Illinois! I will be back after the New Year.

That is indeed a cute dog. Does the craft store sell Blitzes?

Thanks for all of your posts over the last year, Sarah. It’s been great to see what you and Steve are up to in Illinois. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

Coffee table – Input needed

Car loaded with lumber

I bought materials for the most exciting project on my fall to-do list, our new coffee table. However, before I start construction, I need your input.

I’m going (roughly) with this plan from Ana White.

I love the idea of the drawers. So much in fact that I’m going to be doing four drawers, two on each side.

This addition may end up changing the dimensions of the table a wee bit, so I’m going to take it slow and buy more material as I need them.

The one area where I’ve bought absolutely no material is the top.

In Ana’s plan, the top is made out of 2x6s. A 2-by top seems very heavy to me. Unnecessarily heavy. Plus I’m not sure it’s proportionate with the rest of the table, which is 1-by. Our current coffee table (which is nothing special, but has served us very well for 10 years) has a top that’s half an inch thick.

In fact, our current coffee table isn’t all that different from the Benchwright table, minus the drawers.

So what do you think readers, a 2-by or a 1-by top? What would you do?

How to build a simple toolbox from scrap wood – Free plan

When I was working with my contractor father, every job, big or small, would inevitably start the same way. “You might as well go get the toolbox. Otherwise we’ll spend all our time running back and forth for tools.”

Within a few months of Matt and I moving into our first house, my Dad gifted me with a toolbox of my own.

How to build a simple toolbox

Like most DIYers, our tools are in a variety of places, and we endeavour to have hammers, wrenches, tape measures and whatever else we might need wherever we might need them. However, no matter where we’re working and how I try to spread tools around, we usually end up needing the toolbox as well.

(I might think a screwdriver and a pair of pliers will be sufficient, but the universe usually laughs at my overconfidence.)

After Sarah in Illinois got a glimpse of my toolbox in a post a few weeks ago, I thought I should share it here. It’s an indispensable part of my DIY life.

How to build a simple toolbox

The idea of this toolbox is not to hold every single one of our tools. The idea is to hold the basic tools needed for most jobs. Limiting the number means that the toolbox stays relatively light, so I can easily carry it to wherever I’m working. (When I once complained that the box was too heavy, my Dad’s helpful response was, “You’ve got too much in it, honey. You don’t need all that stuff.”)

There’s a main area that holds the bulk of the tools. (And yes, there are two hammers here, because Matt and I each have our own.)

How to build a simple toolbox

My Dad added a partition on the one side that makes a spot for blades–a couple of utility knives and a large and small hacksaw.

How to build a simple toolbox

On one end, a “pocket” holds a chisel, pencils, crayons and earplugs. How many times have you found yourself pencil-less in the middle of a job? Just me?

How to build a simple toolbox

And finally a bar on one side of the box holds screwdrivers. This bar is one of my favourite features. It keeps the screwdrivers out of the jumble of the rest of the tools in the bottom of the box and makes it easy to find the one I need.

How to build a simple toolbox

I like that this toolbox is open. I don’t have to deal with latches or trays. I can simply reach in and grab what I need. Plus, if I know I’m going to need more wrenches or sockets or another tool that doesn’t normally live in the toolbox, I can easily toss in the case, and carry it to the worksite.

Here’s what I have in my basic toolbox:

  • Hammer
  • Tape measure
  • Speed square
  • Pliers (regular, needle-nosed, side cutters, adjustable)
  • Vicegrips
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Electrical tape
  • Stubby screwdrivers (slotted, Robertson red and green, Phillips)
  • Nailsets
  • Awl
  • Screwdrivers (Robertson, Phillips and slotted in various sizes–12 in total)
  • Trowels (medium and small)
  • Chisel
  • Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Earplugs
  • Hacksaws (large and small with spare blades)
  • Utility knives (two with spare blades)

If you’re interested in a building a toolbox like this for yourself, I’ve sketched a plan that you can download. Since this is built using scrap wood, adjust it for what best meets your needs.

How do you store your tools? Anyone else have a DIY toolbox? What are your indispensable tools?

How to live with your kitchen until you’re ready to renovate

Ugh, our kitchen. Our poor, poor kitchen. I’m so excited for the day that we finally renovate this room. However, I’m a bit scared too because I feel like we’re going to uncover so many issues when we pull everything apart.

One of the hinges on our cabinet doors had come loose (not unusual, all of our cabinets are falling apart).

Cabinet hinge with stripped screws

Repairing a stripped screw hole with toothpicks and glue

As I was putting it back together last week (wood glue + toothpicks = repaired), I was thinking about how we’ve lived with this kitchen for 5 years and will continue to do so for awhile yet.

Kitchens are important rooms. We spend a lot of time in them, so we want them to look nice and work well. But they’re also expensive and disruptive to renovate.

As a result, many of us live with lackluster kitchens, waiting until that magical day when we pull out the sledgehammer and start to forge the kitchen of our dreams.

For me, I hate to invest time or money into a space that I know I’m going to gut, even if that gut isn’t going to happen for 5 years or more. However, there are a few things that we’ve done in our kitchen that have made it more liveable, more functional and more attractive.

I thought I’d share them today in case they help someone else living in a similar kitchen situation. And I’d love to hear your ideas too for making a less than ideal kitchen work for you.

Paint

Between cabinets and appliances, wall space in a kitchen is often minimal, so giving your walls a fresh coat of paint is quick and inexpensive. With our open concept main floor, painting the kitchen, living room and hall the same colour made the spaces cohesive and the light colour that we chose brightened up the rooms a bit.

Painting cabinets is another update that can have a big impact. I did this in our first house and it was a great transformation. However, it was also a bigger job than I expected, so I was in no hurry to do it again–especially since our cabinets are falling apart and I feel like paint will not help the situation.

Hardware

Updating cabinet hardware can be another quick way to inject some style and personality into your kitchen. I spray painted our hardware for a mini update. The results have been mixed. The paint has chipped off some of the handles, but others have held up pretty well.

What is this?

The nice thing about a hardware update is if you truly love the handles or knobs that you choose, you can easily reinstall them in a new kitchen down the road.

Lighting

Just because you don’t have your dream kitchen doesn’t mean you can’t have your dream lights. I loved the idea of a pair of schoolhouse style pendants over the island, so I went and bought them.

We only had one light fixture in the kitchen and it wasn’t positioned quite right, but I didn’t let that stop me. I put up one of the lights anyway. Maybe a single, randomly located pendant looked a bit weird, but it made me happier than the boob light that was there before.

A year or so later when we had an electrician in for some other work, I had him move the first light and install a second. The electrician’s labour was relatively inexpensive.

School house pendant lights over the kitchen island

Even if you’re planning on reconfiguring your kitchen down the road and will need to move lights again, the investment in an electrician is not that significant. And assuming you still love your lights, you can reuse them.

Island

The biggest addition to our kitchen has been the island. I bought the doors at Habitat for Humanity and we DIYed the countertop. Having a cabinet maker build the boxes was still a bit of an investment, but worth it for us for the storage and prep space we gained.

Kitchen island painted white with wood countertop

I can’t imagine working in the kitchen without having this extra space. And I’m hoping that we can reuse the island in our future kitchen.

Accessories

Just because a kitchen is a utilitarian space doesn’t mean you can’t decorate it. Accessories can add function to the room as well as style. A long towel bar on the end of the island gives us a space to hang oven mitts and towels within easy reach. Plus pretty towels inject some personality and colour. We also removed a wine rack that was above the fridge (we don’t drink much wine and I can’t reach the space anyways) and put a fun country rooster and our kitchen scale on display.

Organization

No matter what your kitchen looks like or how large it is, keeping things organized can dramatically improve how you feel about the space.

In adding the island we were able to add storage for a few key things: cookie sheets, cutting boards and cookbooks. Our kitchen is lacking in drawers, so we also added hidden drawer to the island.

The few drawers that we do have are too small for most organizers, but I found a plastic organizer that I could cut to size with a utility knife, so I was able to keep our cutlery sorted.

Narrow cookie sheet shelves in island

Making a kitchen work until you can do a full reno is about trade offs. What can you live with and what can’t you? How many repairs are you willing to do? How much money are you comfortable spending, knowing that whatever you add may end up in a dumpster? For us DIYers, how much time and effort are you willing to invest knowing that you may be ripping out your hard work down the road?

For me, I think I’ve found a balance that is tolerable.

What are your tips for holding a kitchen together? How do you feel about mini renovations to tide you over until the big one? Have you made any improvements to your kitchen that have made a difference in how it works or looks?

Denise at Happy Haute Home (who often comments on my posts) recently renovated her kitchen for the One Room Challenge. While it’s a much grander space than ours, she embraced a very similar philosophy to mine. She shared her tips for how to update a kitchen on various budgets in her reveal post.

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

Alternate title for this post “That time Matt’s Dad didn’t suffocate and fall off our roof.”

If you’ve been reading along here for any length of time, you know how much we enjoy our wood-burning fireplace and have fires nightly as soon as the weather turns cold.

It’s been three years since the fireplace was rebuilt and over that time we’ve never cleaned the chimney.

Before we fired anything up this year, I knew I wanted to address that.

Red brick chimney

Our go-to was Matt’s Dad. He heats his entire house with wood and cuts and splits all his own firewood. He’s our resource for all things fire.

He initially suggested dropping a heavy chain down the chimney and using it to knock off the soot. I was skeptical, but after a quick online search it seemed like that was a legit method of cleaning a chimney. However, consensus seemed to be that a brush was a more legit method.

Onto my Dad. I was pretty sure I remembered seeing a chimney brush and poles up in the rafters of the garage. After spending some time on a ladder peering around the garage, I found the poles but no brush.

So onto the store. I found a brush that I thought would probably fit our chimney and brought it to my parents’ house to try it on their poles. They didn’t fit together.

Back to the store, where I bought a handful of poles guessing at how many might be needed to reach the full length of the chimney.

Chimney brush in front of the hearth

Once we had the equipment, we needed to prep the inside of the house. I cleaned out the hearth, opened the damper and then covered the mouth of the fireplace to prevent dust from coming into the house.

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Covering the fireplace to prevent dust during chimney sweeping

Then it was onto Dick Van Dyke Matt and his Dad. (I asked for a Mary Poppins rooftop routine, but they were not in the mood. Although Matt did give me a strong man demonstration.)

Matt goofing around while cleaning the chimney

They popped the cap off the chimney and took a look.

Taking the cap off the top of the chimney

The chimney wasn’t too dirty. You can see the flakes of soot on the flue.

Soot on the inside of the chimney flue

They screwed the brush onto the first pole and got ready to sweep.

Chimney cleaning brush

Then this is where the suffocation comes in. Before he stuck the brush down the chimney, Matt’s Dad stuck his head in a large plastic bag–probably one that has a suffocation warning printed on it.

Cleaning the chimney

When he cleans his own chimney, my FIL does it from a ladder, which doesn’t give him much maneuverability. Therefore, there have been times where the wind has blown soot back in his face. The plastic helps to protect him from getting entirely dirty. On our roof, they could move around to avoid the wind if necessary.

The next stage was–to quote Matt–“dunk and scrub.” (My husband loves his movie references… although the line is actually “plunge and scrub,” but my darling husband maintains that “dunk” sounds better than “plunge”… or at least it does in his version of an Irish accent.)

My FIL dunked plunged the brush up and down in the chimney until the soot was removed. As he reached the end of one pole, he and Matt screwed on another section.

Attaching chimney sweeping poles together

Once they’d done the full length of the chimney, that was all there was to it. They put the cap back on top, came inside and pulled the plastic off the opening, swept the wee bit of dust out of the hearth, and we were ready for a fire.

Logs burning in the fireplace

Cleaning the chimney turned out to be pretty easy (so says the woman on the ground… but seriously, I know I could do it and you can too). I’m very grateful to Matt and his Dad for their work.

Here are my tips to clean your chimney yourself.

  1. Find a brush that fits your chimney. Our chimney has a 12 inch square flue. Most of the brushes I found in different stores were smaller and round. That works for my FIL’s woodstove, but not for our masonry chimney. Eventually, I found a brush that was an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Even though it wasn’t the 12 by 12 that I originally had in mind, Matt’s Dad said that it worked very well.
  2. Buy extra poles. It turns out that two poles and a long arm (to quote Matt’s Dad) are enough to do our whole chimney. I bought five because I did not want to come up short. I’ll be returning the other three.
  3. Lubricate your poles. The poles screw together so that the handle of your brush gets progressively longer as you proceed down the chimney. Before he went up on the roof, Matt’s Dad gave the threads a shot of WD40 to ensure they’d easily screw and unscrew this year and for the years to come.
  4. Cover up inside. Tape a sheet of plastic over your fireplace opening. If you have doors on your fireplace, this step may not be necessary. With our open hearth, there was a good chance that soot and dust dislodged during cleaning would float into the living room. Covering the opening with plywood or plastic helps to contain the mess in the fireplace, where you can sweep it up later.
  5. Dunk and scrub (or plunge). Jostle your brush up and down inside the chimney. Be relatively vigorous–you want to knock off all the soot–but a bit gentle–you don’t want to damage your chimney.
  6. Watch which way the wind blows. It’s probably not necessary to don a plastic hood and face shield à la Matt’s Dad. However, chimney cleaning is a dirty job (another Mary Poppins clip, anyone?), so wear old clothes or coveralls, gloves and try to choose an angle where you won’t have soot blowing in your face.
  7. Do this yourself. Chimney cleaning is an easy DIY. It took about a half hour start to finish and in total our investment in the brush and the poles is less than $100. We’ll have the equipment for years. We didn’t get a professional quote on cleaning the chimney, but I’m certain that we would have spent more than $100 if we’d hired this out.

Now we can enjoy the fireplace, confident that it’s safe and clean.

How we cleaned our chimney ourselves

Trials and errors in Illinois

Sometimes, we cross our fingers and give something a try. We’re hopeful that it will work, but not quite sure how it might turn out. That’s the case in many aspects of life, but especially DIY. Sarah in Illinois is back today to report on the results of two experiments.

There have been a few projects in the past that I have posted about and said that I would report back how they turned out. I thought I’d report back on two of them today.

The most recent was the storage tomatoes. You can see the process I used here. But unfortunately, it didn’t work at all. Two weeks after I put them away, they looked like this:

My best guess is that the garage that I stored them in was too warm. Next year I plan to try again but find a cooler storage spot. I may also try another variety like Longkeeper.

My second follow-up is for the table that we refinished for the deck.

I said in my original post that the epoxy we used stated that it wasn’t for outdoor use, but we chose to use it anyway.

They are a few small issues that popped up after a summer of outdoor use.

There are small cracks appeared in the epoxy which allowed moisture to sleep down underneath.

Also something that sat on the table, possibly a pot of plants, held moisture against the epoxy and made a cloudy ring where it should be clear.

I wouldn’t consider this a complete failure for the project, but it tells me that the finish won’t hold out as long as I hoped. My plan is to see how it looks after using it again next summer then possibly trying a different method to coat the wood.

So unfortunately, both trials didn’t go perfectly, but that is why they were truly experiments for me. Most things in life are trial and error. The best thing to do is learn from it and move on.

That’s about the only choice, Sarah! I’m sure these results are a bit disappointing, but they are absolutely learning experiences.

I have to say I’m bummed about the tomatoes and the table for you. We lost a bunch of our favourite potatoes this year just a couple of weeks after we put them in storage. There wasn’t anything to do but move on, but it was frustrating that we’d had such a good harvest and then so many didn’t keep–and especially that it was our favourite variety that was hit. Also, the last time you shared that table, it was so shiny! 😦