Monday, February 28, 2011

Love at First Sight

When we first moved to Alabama we were new college grads (for two months), newlyweds (for one month), and newly facing the real world. We got a nice two bedroom apartment in Huntsville and were so ecstatic to be on our own and in our new little home. We loved our time at the apartment and enjoyed walking on the greenway nearby where we would see rabbits, horses, and cows. However, high rent and little leftover money each month made us begin to look elsewhere. In addition, we were trying to add to our scant furnishings on a tight budget which involved refinishing an old chest on the breezeway and building a bookshelf in our living room. Our living room was under tarps for two weeks and things were feeling a little cramped with our projects. 

Our best friends lived in Morgan County and we began looking online for houses in that area since real estate was much cheaper there. One little cottage in particular caught our eye and we began our love affair with our house and the town of Hartselle. We took several trips to Hartselle to drive by the house before having a real estate agent take us through. We loved the little town and the fact that the house was only two blocks from Main Street.

The house was built in 1939 and had white aluminum siding. The house I grew up in was also built in 1939 and also had white aluminum siding. My great grandparents built the house and raised my grandmother there. When my grandmother got married she and her husband moved a block away where my dad was raised. When I was born we lived in the house (about 800 sq. ft. with three kids) across the street from my great grandparents and when they died (I was two) we moved into their house. It was a two bedroom house but was larger than our previous house. My brothers got the big bedroom across from my parents and my parents converted the old back porch into a room for me. Even though lots of things were broken and worn, I loved that old house. We lost it when I was fourteen during the flood that hit North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd. Perhaps in some ways the Hartselle house was my attempt to recapture the feeling of that house.

Ok, enough of that. The house had a few quirks when we first looked at it. I thought it was a little odd that the front door had about five different kinds of locks and felt it could be improved upon.

When we started getting really serious about making the purchase, we consulted with our best friends who served as surrogate parents for the house tour so that we could have some wisdom to combat our excitement. 

While we were looking around we found a mysterious door in the dining room:

Behind that door was probably the house's most helpful feature during our remodel: the walk-up attic.

Pretty much the entire time we lived in the house, the attic housed our kitchen gear, seasonal clothing, books, and random items. Since we usually only had about 400 sq. ft. of livable space at any given time due to our ripping walls out in various rooms, it was a lifesaver. 

After eight months of living in our apartment, we bought our first home. We closed on October 31, 2007. The same day I got the call that I had gotten a job at a local company. I had been looking for a job since we got to Alabama and except for a brief stint at a coffee shop, had had no luck. Finally we had our house and I now had the job to fund remodeling it. We were very excited about the 1,000 sq. ft. we now owned and were a little overwhelmed by the fact that we were now homeowners, and apparently adults. We got the house for $75,000 and successfully lowered our monthly housing payments by about $300 a month. It still seemed like a huge responsibility to owe that much money, though looking back I can't believe we were able to get a house in such a great location for that cheap.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award

Joy at Thrifty Parsonage Living was sweet enough to give me a Stylish Blogger Award: 
The rules say that I have to share seven things about myself so here it goes:

1. I have been married for four years to the best husband ever.

2. I have a super sweet 18 month old daughter who I adore.

3. I like to microwave my m&ms for about a minute before eating them. Seriously, it's one of my favorite snacks. Try it and you'll be hooked. Just make sure the m&ms are in a single layer on top of a paper towel. I want to eat some just thinking about it.

4. I love wall clocks and the bigger the better!

5. I love to cook.

6. I grew up in a small town and it seems that every time we move (which has been 3 times now) we always move to a small town outside the city where my husband works. 

7. I used to work as a barista in a coffee shop and I loved it! It was so fun perfecting all the drinks, learning what people loved in their drinks, and getting to know the regular customers.

Now it's my turn to give the award to seven other people:

Stylish Blogger Award....
-Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post. 
--Share seven things about yourself.
--Award seven recently discovered new blogs.
--Contact these bloggers and let them know they've received the award. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Closing the Gap

This is Dave, Rachel's husband, seizing the chance to guest post and share a story from our home remodeling adventures. Rachel's not been feeling well for at least the past week, so here's my chance to guest post.

This post requires a little history. Our house sat on a quarter-acre corner lot, facing College Street, with a decent sized backyard. The previous owner was a little crazy and wanted to squeeze as much money out of his deceased aunt's old house as he could. He decided to subdivide the quarter-acre lot and sell the second lot for someone to build a townhome on. Yes, one townhome...behind a house. This division would have taken all of the land in the backyard right up to the back porch for the second lot and the house would lose its back yard and driveway. In order to be able to do this, he had to "relocate" the front door to face Corsbie Street as the side-lot setbacks were less than the backyard setbacks. For some reason he thought he could make an additional $20k by selling the backyard as a seperate lot. However, his real estate agent was able to convince him that, in the small town of Hartselle where real estate was not really booming and house prices were very low, it wasn't going to happen. We bought the house and "both" lots with it, but not after he had already done the damage (seen in the picture below) to the house by adding the new "front door". Fortunately, the city had not approved the lot subdivide because he hadn't yet relocated the mailbox to that side of the house. 

So our goal for this remodeling adventure was restoring the original intent of the house. The real front door is just off of this picture to the right. The other "front" door looks awkward placed below and needed to be taken out.

The lesson to be learned: Plan your time wisely, especially when beginning a project involving opening a giant hole in the side of your house. You'd think I would have learned my lesson after taking over 24 hours to get the front door in securely on one of the coldest days of the year. This project only took me 8-1/2 hours. In theory, that sounds like a great improvement, unfortunately I began this work at 6:30pm.

Much better without the door and porch/deck/landing/awkwardness?

Below is the progress by 9:00pm. It took me a while to get everything removed (there was significant water damage underneath the poorly-installed door), cleaned up and ready to begin adding structure back. The sun went down, our mostly elderly neighbors were probably in bed, and we still had a huge hole in our house.

Below is the progress by 10:00pm. I reconstructed the sill and one of the joists and put up the sheet of plywood to try and keep some of the noise from getting to our neighbors' houses.

It took until 1:00am to get the wall framed in and the exterior sheet of plywood in place.

Finally done at 3:00am.

The following two pictures show the results. I'm so glad we went ahead and restored the house back to its original condition. Not only does it look more natural from the outside, the inside is actually functional; no doors opening into other doors. 

Remember: It might not be the best idea to tear a hole in your house after dinner.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Paint Colors

I've had several questions about paint colors. I have always had such a hard time picking out colors from a swatch that translated well when applied to an entire wall. Recently I've gotten a little better at this with Sherwin Williams colors but for most of the rooms I have painted I have taken advantage of color matching. The color for our bedroom and bathroom in the Alabama house were taken from a pillow sham. I custom mixed the blue for the kitchen/dining room, the green for the nursery, and the tan for the hallway/living room from samples when I couldn't find just the right shades I wanted. If you are having a hard time finding your perfect color and think you could mix one, go ahead! I had a hard time with the green in the nursery because it seemed like the colors were either too limey, too bright, or didn't have quite enough yellow in them. When I combined a few colors and added some white I got just what I wanted. Make sure to test your color on the wall and let it dry before deciding. Paint a scrap piece of drywall or even a piece of paper to take to the paint store for them to match. Then hold on to your paint formula and you can buy the color for as many projects as you need!

This is the color we used in our bedroom and the bathroom:

This is the color we used for the kitchen and dining room:

I don't know why I wrote "dark" on there but you can just ignore that.

For all of our trim and our white cabinets we used Valspar Swiss Coffee (formerly Sawyer White). I am now using Greek Villa by Sherwin Williams as the white in our new house. For the black on our French doors and our cabinets we used Black of Night by Sherwin Williams.

I can't find the formulas for the living room tan or the nursery green but if I come across them I will definitely post them. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Nursery

Often from humble beginnings come great things:

A lot of people I know have their nurseries all decorated and ready months before their babies arrive. This was our nursery when I was about six months pregnant.

As I was no longer allowed to hang drywall (I can't imagine why), our good friend Barry came over to graciously lend a hand.

Luckily for us, the exterior walls in our 70 year old cottage were fairly well insulated so we were able to just put up a vapor barrier and slap up the drywall. Since I was no longer doing any major projects, we hired out the mudding.

We tried several different paint colors and as always I wasn't satisfied and mixed my own.

My best friend's aunt made us these fabulous curtains. Thanks Aunt Cindy! We got the chair on sale at Babies R Us and our parents gave us the beautiful crib. The cross came from Hobby Lobby (Oh how I miss that place as there are none in the Low Country).

The crib bedding, accent pillows, and three prints are from this collection. I got the quilt on the full bed for $30 at T.J. Maxx.

I always wanted to do bead board wainscoting in a nursery and I love how it turned out!

I needed a place to put my computer so I could work from home after the baby was born. My husband built a floating desk in the closet and ran cable and electrical outlets to it. My computer later replaced those toys.

The photos don't really do it justice. It was a beautiful, bright, and fun room for a little girl to come home to. Yes I know ending a sentence that way is grammatically incorrect :-)

My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Discount Dining Room

Sadly I don't have a lot of photos of the dining room but I did want to talk about the space since it was definitely a budget conscious room. 

The first element of the dining room that we bought was our dining table and chair set. It was actually the first large purchase we made after we got married when we were living in our apartment. When we moved to Alabama we had a full sized mattress, a broken papasan chair that my brother had given us, a super heavy tube tv, a desk I had rescued from the dump, a drafting table, and a suspiciously unstable tv stand. We definitely needed a place to eat and I remember being so excited when I found our table and chairs for $300 at a consignment store.  I put them on layaway and made a couple payments before we brought them home. 

When we moved to this house we had little extra money and I still hadn't found a job after eight months of looking since we moved to Alabama. I was offered a job as an administrative assistant the day we closed on our house (October 31, 2007...yep Halloween). The money from my job funded our house transformation and was a timely opportunity.

A co-worker and friend of mine invited us to her house one night and when I entered her living room I immediately noticed the chandelier at one end. I assumed it was something from one of her grandmothers since I knew she was close to them. When I told her how beautiful I thought it was she informed me that she hated it because it didn't match her more contemporary style and that I could have it. I was pretty excited. It is a 1950s reproduction of an antique Delft chandelier and I love its vintage/antique charm. It was the perfect addition to our dining room which had previously been illuminated by a very cheap and ugly chandelier. I researched online and found similar chandeliers to our Delft one starting at $500 so that made me even more excited about it. 

Our curtain rods came from Ross and were about $15 each. We used $10 drop cloths from Lowe's as curtains, a trick which I got from The Lettered Cottage. With the addition of curtain rings and some cheap sheer curtains from Ikea our window coverings cost under $100 for three large windows.

Rugs were difficult for me to shop for. I had a hard time finding any in my price range that I really liked. I wanted something understated but I still wanted it to have vibrant colors and be interesting enough to be the main decorative element in the dining room. One day when I was walking through the J.C. Penney outlet I came across a runner for my hallway that I absolutely loved. I bought it at significantly less than the retail price (I think about $70 if I remember correctly) and decided to try to find a larger rug in the same collection for the dining room. It's a Kathy Ireland rug and the best price I could find online for the one I liked for the dining room was $500. Once again the local flea market was a lifesaver. The guy who sells rugs there had some from the same collection and was able to order me the rug I wanted for $300. 

With our dining room decor as with a lot of other things we bought for the house, it paid off to research the things we wanted and look for innovative solutions to decorating needs. The Lettered Cottage was the first decorating blog I discovered (about two years ago) and that opened up a whole new world of ideas and resources for me. I'm definitely thankful for the inspiration!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Icing On The Cake

Every cottage-loving girl dreams of beautiful moulding and wainscoting throughout their house. Nothing adds interest and subtle beauty quite like architectural details. When it came time to wrap things up with the construction side of the house and add the finishing touches we had just had our first baby and we were running low on DIY energy. So, we hired our trim guy who was amazing and incredibly sweet. He did a great job bringing our ideas into reality and helping us finish the space. Here is a photo of the kitchen moulding he did before we painted it:

Under our clock in the kitchen there was an awkward little storage space. It was great for storing things but not so great for the flow of the room or the look of the wall. It was actually the space underneath the staircase to the attic.

We added bead board to the wall to bring a somewhat continuous feel instead of having an obvious door and used a latch that opened when you pushed on the door so we didn't have to have any visible hardware.

The idea for our archways came from a couple cottage living photos. The inspiration for the overall look came from a photo that I have only been able to find recently at another blog. It's the one on the left side in their notebook here.

The cross detail on the arches was taken from this cottage living photo: 

Like every cottage/country loving girl I dreamed of having a farmhouse sink. Of course we didn't have a thousand dollars to shell out so I didn't think my dream would become a reality. I was pleasantly surprised when we found one online that was half price because it was a return item. Even though $500 was a splurge for us on a sink, I'd say it was totally worth it. 

I wanted to use the same style faucet in the kitchen as I had used in the bathroom. Although I'm not super wild about how close the color of the faucet and the color of the countertop are we had the faucet long before we decided on the wood counters and just decided to go with it. We did a lot of scouring on the internet as we were stocking up for our remodel and found this faucet half price. 

I love the look of the new moulding around the window Dave put in. The cafe curtains are a couple of $10 canvas curtains that I got from TJ Maxx. I added grommets and had a friend hem them (as I don't yet sew). The rod is actually a tension shower rod that I had from our bathroom remodel and had forgotten to take back to Target.

We covered the circuit breaker box with a seagrass pin board from Target. It was nice to have that covered after staring at it for two years. I guess I could have put something over it before but it was pretty much in constant use.

My clock (see previous photos) was a purchase from either Ross or TJ Maxx (can't remember now). I love it so much. I felt like it was perfect for the space and left it for the new owner though now I am having a hard time finding one I love as much for my new home.

Chic on a Shoestring Decorating

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to Shop for Kitchen Appliances!

When we began the remodel I had visions of vintage appliances and running around the house in cute little dresses looking like Donna Reed. Once I realized that I was in fact running around the house in Dave's old sweat pants and a bandana and couldn't find any working vintage appliances we could afford, I snapped out of it. I decided to go with glossy white appliances as a nod to vintage style while still updating the cooking/refrigerating capabilities of the kitchen.

Once that was decided we started scouring the local appliance stores. In one store I started drooling over a beautiful Kitchenaid refrigerator. What girl doesn't love Kitchenaid? How proudly we display our Kitchenaid mixers and to be able to have that label slapped across all your appliances is like domestic diva bliss. However, with the $2,000 price tag I knew there was no way The Man was ever going to let that one come home with us. So, we continued our search. One day while we were walking through the scratch and dent section at Lowe's the clouds parted and down from the sky came the same exact refrigerator that I had been drooling over (ok so it may not have been quite that dramatic).  Apparently it had been a special order item and it had come in with a few dime-sized dings in the side. Since they needed to get it off the floor they were selling it half price. We walked away from Lowe's with my dream fridge for $1,000.

We had already seen the matching dishwasher at another store for half price because it was a model closeout.

Soon after we found the range on ebay at a store in Birmingham for half price. We made the hour long trek down there our the 1993 Ford Escort station wagon (inherited from my mom and affectionately known as "the truck") and brought it home.

We got all our appliances for about $2,200 even though they retailed at around $4,400. I seriously believe God went before us in that and for some reason let me have my silly appliance fantasy turn into a reality.

As an added bonus we found our brand new Kenmore microwave for $40 (normally retailed for around $200) at our local flea market. A woman had a booth where she was selling the items that Sears had overstocked for Christmas and sold to her at a huge discount.

My advice for appliance shopping is to get started early. If you wait until it's time to put the appliances in the kitchen to start looking you will most likely either pay more than you should for nice appliances or end up with lower quality appliances than you could have gotten for the same price. We had our appliances months before we finished out the kitchen. This goes for all kinds of appliances and items but obviously big ticket items make the biggest difference in a renovation. We saved about $500 on a Rinnai tankless water heater by buying it on Ebay rather than purchasing it from a retail store.

Have a general idea of what you are looking for and go to all the appliance stores in your area. Look for model closeouts and scratch and dent items. Check out the scratch and dent section at Lowe's (ask at your local Lowe's if there is another Lowe's nearby that carries more scratch and dent items. Go to and search stores near your area. Look on Ebay, Craigslist, and Google Shopping. I generally look for closeout items, floor models, or scratch and dents where the damage is in an area that will be hidden by cabinetry. I usually avoid items that have been refurbished as they may end up having problems later. We just bought a Kitchenaid stainless dishwasher that retails for $1,500 for $650 including tax. We found it on and it was a floor model at a Sears 20 minutes from our house. It looks amazing and is so quiet I have a hard time knowing if it's running. If you are willing to take a little time and make the effort, you can get great appliances for a steal.

The Lettered Cottage