The power of trays

Styling the top of a little dresser

I’ve never known what to do with the top of the little dresser in the nook in Ellie’s room. The dresser itself is still filled with Mama and Daddy things–tools, notepaper, stamps. Initially the top held only the lamp my grandfather made for my childhood bedroom. But like most flat surfaces, the rest of the top has attracted… stuff.

I needed a way to corral the stuff. At the thrift store, I found a shallow wooden tray. I didn’t love the colour, so I sanded it down to bare wood. (This is how we DIY around here these days.)

Sanding while Ellie supervises

After the sanding, the tray looked a bit dough bowl-esque, which I loved. But I could still see the red undertones in the wood. I picked a stain (Puritan Pine) that I hoped had gold undertones. The colour wasn’t quite what I was looking for, so I slapped on a layer of grey to tone it down a wee bit.

In the nursery, we have a bunch of wood tones: golden wood floors and side table, neutral unfinished wood frames on the pictures and shadowbox, grey stain on the dresser. My slapdash approach turned out to be a pretty close match to the dresser.

Wood tray on the wood dresser

The best part of it all is that now I have a spot to stash stuff–the power of trays. The tray holds Ellie’s sunglasses, a footprint we made when she was just two months old (!), nail clippers and an acorn that her Daddy picked up for her at a picnic–and soon enough she’ll be picking up her own bits and bobs.

Wood tray in the nursery

The tray, combined with some overcrowding on Ellie’s bookshelf, was a catalyst to finally style the top of the dresser. I added her collection of Beatrix Potter books and now I’m really happy with how the dresser looks and works (although I do wish the figurines shelf was a titch higher). I’ll be sharing how those books magically stand upright in an upcoming post.

Wood tray on a white dresser

The tray is simple and small, but it’s very functional. And it looks nice too.

Any other tray fans out there? Who else has issues with flat surfaces? What bits and bobs do your kids collect?

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Creating a new family heirloom

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

The words “new” and “heirloom” don’t really go together. Is it possible to create an heirloom?

I love the dresser that we chose for Ellie’s room. You know I’m all about sentimental family pieces. This is a brand new piece of furniture, and I chose it specifically because I hope that it becomes a special heirloom for her.

It’s a solid wood, handcrafted gift from Grandma and Grandpa. I think it will last for many years and can have a long life beyond a baby’s room.

But whoa, it felt like a saga to get here.

Dovetailed drawer

Both sets of grandparents of course wanted to help us by buying some things for the new baby. When Matt’s parents redecorated his old bedroom, they had a Mennonite crafted dresser made.

Pine dresser

It’s country pine which is perfect for the farm, lots of drawers for storage, seemingly a good change table height (#firsttimemom #whatdoiknow). I thought something like it would be a really nice piece for the nursery–and I liked the heritage potential.

Matt’s parents were on board, so I met them at the furniture shop, and we picked out a dresser that was the same as theirs. But then the salesman told me the price. For a person who has furnished her home with mostly hand-me-downs or thrifted furniture, the sticker shock was immense. I wanted to walk out of the store and find a different dresser, but Matt’s Dad was sold.

We compromised by me paying the deposit, and they covered the balance.

Then I had to pick the finish.

Originally, I had planned to pick the same country pine finish that Matt’s parents have. But then I started to think about the rest of the furniture in the room. White crib and bookcase, grey chair. Would the addition of pine look too much like a garage sale?

The shop had a grey finish that still showed the grain of the wood, and I decided to go with that.

Usually I’m pretty decisive, but I started to doubt myself as soon as we walked out of the store. I quizzed my sisters, my Mom, my friends. Should I have gone with the pine? Or stick with the grey?

I saw this picture from Dina Holland and that sealed it for me. I loved how the grey dresser looked in the room that she designed, and I decided I’d made the right choice . (You can–and should–check out all of the rooms that Dina did in this house. They are colourful and fun and sophisticated and different from so much of what I see in decor these days).

As it turned out, I would have had plenty of time to change my mind. While the production time on the dresser was supposed to be two months, it took closer to three. Matt started to question whether the baby would arrive before the dresser.

But finally, everything came together (with free delivery to compensate for the delay). The dresser arrived and it was perfect. The size was right for the room (18 inches deep by 36 inches high by 54 inches long). The storage was abundant. The height is good for diaper changes. The grey finish still has a country style. And the quality of this piece means that it will be with us–and Ellie–for a long time.

I added simple wood dividers inside the drawers to help keep us organized (I cannot be bothered to fold baby clothes). Then I tied wooden labels to each of the knobs so that no matter who is dressing baby (including sleep deprived Mama), they know where to find things. The top is set up with the change pad and other diapering essentials.

Dividers inside a dresser drawer

Wood tags to label dresser drawers

Wood tags to label dresser drawers

In the future, I know this is a piece that will grow with Ellie and have a life beyond a change table and a nursery. I like thinking of it being in Ellie’s own home some day.

Turquoise gender neutral nurseryTurquoise gender neutral nursery

Do you have any furniture that you hope becomes an heirloom one day? How do you organize baby clothes at your house? What finish would you have chosen for the dresser? Anyone else suffer from sticker shock when furniture shopping?

Our favourite children’s books plus the nursery bookcase

Bookcase in the nursery

One of the earliest things Matt and I did when we found out we were having a baby was buy our favourite children’s books. We each enjoy reading and we love the large book collection we have, so we want the same for our child.

Our two favourite children's books

For Matt, his book was A Woggle of Witches. He didn’t have this book growing up, but he checked it out of the library nearly every week. For him, he’s all about the pictures in this book, and he couldn’t really remember the story–or even the title until his Mom helped him.

A Woggle of Witches

The witches are afraid of the trick or treaters, even the cute little ghost dog.

For me, my book was an old anthology of Little Golden Book stories. I remember being read so many stories in this book. By far, my favourite is Jill’s Jack, the story of a young girl and her extremely friendly boxer puppy (it could easily be titled Julia and Bax IMO).

Children's story Jill's Jack

Children's story Jill's Jack

This particular anthology was published in 1951, so I was not optimistic that we’d be able to find a copy. But Matt found one on eBay and bought it for me for my birthday.

Beyond our two favourites, we’ve been gifted a lot of beautiful books, and we’ve built a great library for Ellie.

To hold the library I found an Ikea Hemnes bookcase on Kijiji for half what we would have paid new. Since the old backing was falling apart, I bought a piece of beadboard and installed that instead, and then I painted everything a nice clean white.

The bookcase fits perfectly in the corner beside the window and actually helps to balance our crazy off-centre window. Children’s books are not very thick, so we have plenty of space to tuck in some toys, mementos and extra storage. Plus I like that the bookcase will grow with Ellie as her library expands.

Turquoise gender neutral nursery

Ellie is now at the stage that she’s enjoying stories, and I’m loving working our way through her collection with a few books everyday.

Do you have a favourite book that you read your children (or perhaps was read to you)? I’d love to get more recommendations. How do you store children’s books at your house?

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

How to organize all those bags of spices

Spice organization? What blog are you reading?

Yeah. I know. Not my usual topic.

I wanted to add my 2 cents to the spice organization conundrum though. My solution is not particularly fancy or photogenic. However, it’s quick, practical, easy, useable and maintainable.

Matt and I both enjoy cooking, and my husband (who’s also chief grocery shopper) doesn’t hesitate to stock up when he’s buying a particular ingredient. That’s how we end up with a spice cabinet that looks like this. Particularly, all of those bags of spices crammed on the top shelf.

Disorganized spice cabinet

How to organize bags of spices

It was next to impossible to quickly put my hands on the spice that I needed, and as a shorter person I usually had to pull out a step stool to dig to the back of the cabinet and find what I was looking for.

Also, because we didn’t know what we had, we often ended up buying more or opening another packet. That (along with Matt’s Indian kick) is how we end up with eight (!) bags of curry powder, four of which are open.

Bags of curry powder

The situation was all round annoying.

When I was organizing my office, I found some great bins at Solutions (the Canadian version of The Container Store). They have straight sides so they fit tightly into a drawer or cabinet and are clear so that the contents are easily visible. Plus they were the right size for the spices and the cupboard.

Bin to organize spices

I bought two and started sorting (and combining bags where I could).

My technique was alphabetical. First half of the alphabet in one bin, second half in another. I didn’t bother labeling the bins, because I think it’s pretty easy to figure out what bin you need based on the packet at the front.

Bags of spices organized in a bin

Two bins fit perfectly side by side in the cabinet.

How to organize bags of spices

I did a quick pass through the rest of the cabinet too, putting all of our bottles and tins of spices together, and grouping like foods together. Thanks to the reorganization, I was able to move a couple of items off the counter and into the cabinet, which felt like a major win.

Better organized spice cabinet

Obviously, I’m not Martha Stewart, but while it may not look like much, this simple system makes a big difference in how easily we can find the ingredients we’re looking for.

What’s your organizing nemesis in your kitchen? Do you have any tips to share for organizing spices? Please tell me someone else out there also has multiples of a certain ingredient?

Snoring, storing and decoring in the office

Baxter dozing

My sidekick and I made some more progress in the office this weekend. To be truthful, my sidekick snored and snuggled his dinosaur. I made the progress.

Beyond making the office pretty, I want to make it useful, organized and tidy. Usually when it comes to storage, I make due with whatever freebies I can find–cardboard cartons, shoe boxes, containers destined for the recycling bin.

While sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. So for the office, I bought proper storage containers. Thanks to all of the sorting and tossing I’ve done, I didn’t need too many.

From a big cardboard box full of old school papers, I now have one–much smaller–plastic bin.

Plastic storage box

Six smaller containers hold all of my fabric remnants and fit perfectly into one of the cupboards in the china cabinet.

Plastic storage boxes

On the pretty side of the office makeover, I worked on the gallery wall. I’m actually not a huge fan of gallery walls. But I when I thought about everything that I wanted to display in the office, I realized that the best arrangement was to put them all together.

I am not a patient person, so I tried just laying it out on the floor and translating that to the wall. But it was hard to visualize. I traced each item onto paper and then taped them to the wall. I’m glad I took the time to map it out. It helped to finalize the layout–and realize that the initial placement was much too high.

Planning the gallery wall

Once I settled on the arrangement, I started hammering nails into the wall right away. But then I had to exercise some patience again. It was hard to get the pictures exactly where I wanted just by guessing where to place the nail. I took a minute to run downstairs and grab a paint stick and a screw. I don’t know why it took me so long to make this little tool. It made hanging the pictures so easy.

Paintstick picture hanger

I’m excited to show you the final gallery wall and the rest of the office next week when the One Room Challenge concludes. You can check out all of the official participants at Calling It Home.

Do you have a gallery wall in your home? How do you handle storage? Who else has a lazy sidekick?

Walking down memory lane via the office

Sorting bills

Oooh, you’re in for a special blog post today. The next step in my office makeover was… wait for it… paperwork and filing. You can’t stand the excitement, right?

Paperwork may not be the most photogenic or interesting topic for a blog post. But it’s a fact of life, or at least a fact of my life.

I actually have some great systems to manage paper in my office. I’ve set these up over the last few years and they work pretty well for me. So even though I’m making over the office, I’m not making over absolutely everything.

This mail organizer is my main tool. As soon as the walls were painted, I reinstalled this right away. I only file paperwork a few times a year (all of our bills except for our credit cards are set up for automatic debits), so the piles of mail and bills grow and get messy. The organizer isn’t always tidy, but it avoids the piles.

Mail organizer

Receipts live in a box in a drawer until I reconcile them with my statements.

Receipts

You know we keep a pretty close eye on our finances. This reconciliation is one of the ways I do that.

Once everything is sorted, the papers go into our filing cabinet. The filing cabinet may not be the prettiest piece of furniture, but it’s very functional for us. I’ve seen some cool filing cabinet makeovers with paint, hardware and even fabric, so that may be something to consider for the future.

In the meantime, appreciate the nearly empty mail organizer.

Filing cabinet and mail sorter

The other paperwork I tackled was a huge box full of old schoolwork. As in from kindergarten through to university. Most of it ended up on the burn pile, but I kept a few things like report cards, class photos, my award-winning science project, a couple of memorable stories and this prophetic drawing.

Farm drawing

Even for the things I didn’t keep, it was fun to look back. I could see how my teacher’s comments on my grade 12 English essays made me a better writer–she was a tough marker, but completely right. In the kindergarten folder, I found this mimeographed matching sheet.

First test

On the back in my Mom’s hand-writing, it said “Julia’s first school test.” Awww.

First test

Now that I have returned from memory lane, I’m looking ahead again on what’s left for the office. Here’s where I’m at:

  • Buy and install light fixture
  • Unpack remaining boxes and organize china cabinet
  • Style china cabinet shelves
  • Sort and file paperwork
  • Install gallery wall #1
  • Install gallery wall #2
  • Reupholster seat of wooden chair

We’re down to two weeks to go in this mini One Room Challenge. Remember you can check out the official ORC participants at Calling it Home.

How do you organize mail, bills, receipts and paperwork at your house? Have you gone paperless yet? Has anyone else kept old schoolwork?

How I organize recipes

Open shelving in the kitchen for cookbooks

One of my favourite features of the island we added to the kitchen is the open shelving on the end that holds our cookbooks.

The books add a splash of colour to the wood and white of the kitchen. The shelves keep them organized and easily accessible. Plus I love cookbooks. I will sit and read them like a magazine or novel. (And, yes, you’re not imagining. The upper shelf is sagging a bit under the weight of all of our cookbooks).

However, not all of my recipes reside in cookbooks. I have a bunch of printouts from recipes I’ve found online (I haven’t progressed to a tablet yet), clippings from the newspaper or magazines, even a few hand-written recipes from family and friends.

To keep these recipes organized, I returned to the lessons learned in school–binders, dividers and page protectors.

A couple of weeks ago, I added a bunch of new recipes to my collection, so I thought I’d share my organization method with you.

How to organize recipes

First are the binders. I have three major categories which each get their own binder: Appetizers and Sides, Entrees, Desserts and Sweets. Entrees outgrew its single binder and is now split into two books. I use different colours for each grouping.

How to organize recipes

Within each binder, I’ve divided the recipes into subcategories.

In appetizers, the sections are appetizers, soups, salads, sides, snacks, breads and drinks. For entrees, I divided them into pork, pasta, sandwiches, beef, fish, vegetarian, poultry, other meats (venison, lamb), breakfast. Desserts starts with the most important, chocolate, and then goes to cookies, “buns” and bars (including muffins), cakes, pies, fruit, custards and Christmas.

How to organize recipes

The recipes themselves are stored in plastic page protectors. I’m not the tidiest cook, so the plastic sleeves protect the paper from spills and splashes.

However, it’s easy to slide the recipe out of the plastic and add notes about what worked, what didn’t or what adjustments I made.

How to organize recipes

Beyond the binders, I also use magazine holders to organize the smaller pamphlets and cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. I got two wooden holders from Ikea and stained them to match the countertop and cabinets.

Wood magazine holder

I love having my recipes organized.

In fact, I was so inspired that I flipped through the dessert binder and whipped up one of my favourite fall recipes, spiced apple muffins, using the apples my friend gave me from her own tree.

Apple spice muffins

With my recipes all organized, I feel ready to move on from fall baking on to Christmas baking.

Are you doing any baking, either fall or Christmas? How do you organize your recipes?

That time my husband dropped a 2×4 on my head

Or, as Matt tells the story, the time I followed too closely behind him while he was carrying–and dropping–lumber.

Head wound

Saturday afternoon was fall cleanup day here on the farm.

Remember this pile of lumber that I cleaned up back in the spring? I was so proud. I am woman, hear me roar.

Lumber pile at the edge of the field

Field after clearing the lumber pile

However, I really only did half the job. I brought it over to the barn, but not actually into the barn. I dumped it beside the silo.

Lumber piled outside the barn

Putting it into the barn was one of the tasks on my (mental) fall to-do list. After mucking all of the old straw and manure out of the stalls last fall, we have lots of extra space, and I knew one of the empty stalls would be perfect to corral all of this lumber.

I recruited Matt to help me, and we moved 6x6s, 4x4s, 2x8s, barnboard siding and assorted other lumber–including a few pesky 2x4s–into the barn. There is so much lumber, yet it takes up barely a quarter of a stall. Horses are big animals, people.

Lumber piled in a horse stall

Along the way we picked up the leftover fence posts that have sat by the garden all year, some other lumber, some metal posts–five piles in all.

Trailer loaded with old fence posts

I’m so happy that the property is looking just a wee bit tidier. Next year when we mow these new areas, it will look even better. I’m not sure Matt is quite as enthused yet. Especially since he’s our main mower.

Lumber pile cleaned up beside the silo

My husband knows me so well. When we came into the house at the end of the day, he asked me, “How much of that did you have planned, woman? I thought we were just moving the one pile by the silo when I agreed to this. I want to re-examine the contract. I think I might sue.”

I admitted that I had planned for three out of the five piles–the other two were just a bonus. I also reminded him of the original contract, which says, “for better or for worse.”

How did you spend your weekend?

Freshening up an organizer

Sarah in Illinois joins us today with a great makeover that adds a bit of style to an area that sometimes doesn’t see a lot of decor–her garage. This is a lesson in the power of paint. Plus the power of soap and water!

It seems like all of my small projects get set aside during the summer months. We spend all of our time outside and don’t want to be cooped up in the woodshop/workshop.

I have a pile of projects out there waiting for the cooler months, but I did get one thing finished.

I found this old metal organizer that has been hanging in our garage for who knows how long.

I thought it looked handy, plus it looked like something that could be fixed up with a can of spray paint.

I took it off the wall and took the little jars off. They easily cleaned up in a sink of soapy water. I took off the bracket that attaches it to the wall. I thought that I could just run a little sandpaper over it and start painting. But the red paint that I chose didn’t show up well, it just looked like a rusty red color.

See how the red looks flat?

I decided that I should probably have done it the right way from the start. So I started over. I ran the sandpaper over it again and coated it with a light color primer. This helped the red really stand out when I painted it and that was the look I was going for.

I put several coats of paint on it trying to avoid getting much paint on the inside of the caps on the threads where the jars screw on. Too much paint built up would have made the jars hard to screw on.

Unfortunately, after all of the years hanging on the wall, there is a little jar missing. I am hoping I find it stashed somewhere in the garage, but I am guessing it may have fallen on concrete at some point and is long gone. So I will keep my eyes open for a replacement.

My mom and my brother’s girlfriend are yard sale pros so I am going to put them on the case. In the meantime, I am happy that I made an improvement that cost very little and is much more pleasing to look at.

Do you use spray paint very often on your projects? Do you ever try to take shortcuts then have to start over? What color would you have chosen to paint this organizer?

The red brings a great pop to the garage, Sarah. I think I probably would have kept the rust(ic) look just because I can’t be bothered painting it or decorating my garage (if I’m being honest), but it looks so good. Such a cheerful addition. I love the concept of this organizer. Do you think you could DIY something like this? Perhaps with some very strong glue for the jar lids?