Small Victories: Getting Art off the Floor and onto the Wall

Now that our living room is painted and I have few new tricks for creating inexpensive frames up my sleeve, I thought it was time to give a gallery wall a try.  I have always liked the look of walls filled with art, and I’ve been debating what to put above the credenza for quite a while.  To refresh your memory, here’s a picture of the space I’m talking about:

Red House West//Miller Evolution Paint

The last time I tried hanging a gallery wall – at our old house – it was an abject failure.  In retrospect I think the pictures I hung were too small and the wall too large, but whatever the reason the result wasn’t good.  This time I decided to be more scientific about my approach, so I made a round up of art walls I love then tried to dissect why.  Here are the pictures I referenced:

Looking at these images I decided I like art walls that:

1. Have a mix of sizes and shapes, and a variety of frames (not all matching)

2. Have a loose arrangement – I don’t like a perfect grid, but prefer irregular space between the pictures

3. Have a mix of media

4. Cover the whole expanse of the wall

5. Balance color – it looks more like a collection when there are common colors among the images

The first thing I did was gather my pictures together.  The art for this wall is comprised mostly of woodcuts and drawings, and is a mix of pieces I’ve had for years and a few things I’ve recently picked up at thrift stores.  I measured a space on the floor in the same dimensions as the wall and played around with the arrangement.  In trying to make a balanced composition, I considered the size and color and how much black there was in the image and frame.  I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of this step, but the picture I took is on my phone which is – most inconveniently – in my mom’s car an hour away.  I am pretty alarmed by how unmoored I feel without it.

To make things more cohesive I painted the frame of the portrait black (bottom right in the photo below) and painted the matting of the two kelp drawings with a leftover sample pot from Farrow & Ball (top right).  Once I had an arrangement I liked, Cameron and I worked together to place most of the art on the wall.  We started by hanging the largest picture in the bottom left, then worked our way up and over.  We decided to line up the outside edges of the frames but just eyeballed the spacing otherwise, so the layout wouldn’t be too rigid.  Our living room walls are plaster so we used a drill to make pilot holes for the nails, and we used a little level to make sure things were hanging straight.  There were four pictures I had trouble deciding on where to place, so I traced them onto newspaper and played around with the configuration. Once I figured out their placement, I measured where the nail needed to go for them to hang at the right height and drilled right through the paper.  This method worked great for arranging the smaller frames!

gallery wall with newspaper templates

And here’s the completed wall:

Gallery wall

The picture on the bottom left (by Alaska artist Sydney Bishop) is one of the very first pieces of art I ever bought, back in my transient days when I never lived anywhere long enough to actually hang things up.  I carried it around for ages and then my mom had it framed as a gift a few years ago–I love the style of it and the setting.  The two smaller pieces are also from Alaska, and I like them next to my  $0.99 thrift store drawing and its fabric-covered mat.

gallery wall left sideI was determined to include this art deco frame on the wall.  I liked that the shape was different from all the other frames, and it’s way too pretty to be languishing in a closet.  I don’t have art that fits it though, so I covered a piece of cardboard with black fabric and attached two ravishing airplants.  I just balanced the plants on straight pins so they’ll be easy to take down to water.  They’re looking mighty fine above the adenoidal lady portrait.


As I was taking pictures, Dean got sick of all the attention that he wasn’t getting and decided the gallery wall would be much improved by the addition of a fat fur beast.

gallery wall 2

He was right of course!  I’m liking the gallery wall, and like how the many frames on this wall are balanced by Beatrice’s looming visage on the opposite one (don’t know who Beatrice is?  You can see a picture of her in this post).  Hope you all are having a great week – come back on Friday for a round-up of costume ideas for Halloween!

When Shibori and Batik Love Each Other Very Very Much . . .

Remember this chair that I scored off Craigslist this spring? She’s a beaut, but seriously in need of a new ensemble.

chair cushions

You might remember that for the short term I took off the back cushion and covered the seat cushion with a wool blanket.  But with sub-freezing temps all of a sudden I kind of want my blanket back, so I thought I would try to make some new clothes for this guy.


The blanket I was using is a white and grey plaid, and I liked the look of the pattern in my living room.  I thought I would try to replicate it with a simple accordion fold shibori technique (you can read my shibori tutorial here).

I had some yardage of really nice heavyweight hemp fabric left over from a previous project, so I folded it up and dyed it with the indigo I had left over from my first attempt at shibori.

I don’t know if it’s because I was using a larger piece of fabric, or something about the fabric itself, but it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

Red House West||Shibori Batik

The dye bled unevenly, some creases didn’t get any dye and others got too much.  It was just a mess.  Luckily I wasn’t totally wedded to the idea of shibori on this chair, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  I decided to see what would happen if I did a little batik on top of the shibori mess.

I had read that Elmer’s blue gel glue works as an alternative to wax for batiking, so I grabbed some out of Opal’s craft supplies.  I was still stuck on the idea of plaid, so using the glue I drew lines diagonal to the shibori pattern, and then another set of lines parallel to the shibori pattern.  I used the side of a cardboard box as a rough guide to help me draw relatively straight lines.

Red House West||Shibori Batik

I let the glue dry overnight, and then gave it a quick dunk in the indigo bath.  Wearing gloves, I swirled it around in the dye for about two minutes or so, and then laid it flat on top of a drop cloth to oxidize and dry.

Red House West||Shibori Batik

When the fabric first came out of the dye bath the glue lines where dark, almost black, and I wasn’t sure whether that was just the glue, or whether the fabric was actually going to be darker.  I liked the look of the dark lines, but when I rinsed the fabric (after letting it oxidize for about 10 minutes) the glue rolled right off and the fabric underneath was still pristine white.

After rinsing I let the fabric dry thoroughly.  It was sort of sticky all over from the glue, so I just tossed it in the washing machine and washed it in warm water.  It came out looking really great, not at all sticky, and the indigo didn’t bleed into the batik lines at all.

Red House West||Shibori Batik
Red House West||Shibori Batik

Actually, the non-batiked side of the fabric is pretty fetching too:

Red House West||Shibori Batik

I laid the fabric on the chair to get a sense of what it would be like.  I really like the pattern, but I’m not sure it’s quite right for this chair.

Some might say that there's something not quite right about that cat, but not me.  To me he's perfect.

Some might say that there’s something not quite right about that cat, but not me. To me he’s perfect.

Cromwell did his best to convince me that the fabric was perfect for the chair, but even his entreating gibbous eyes and sweet, loose-fleshed belly couldn’t convince me.

Red House West||Shibori Batik

Maybe it’s that my shibori-batik lacks any hint of the preppy gray and white plaid, or maybe it’s just that there’s too much going on.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but despite the fact that this emperor chair still has no clothes I’m glad to have experimented with this batiking technique, and I’m sure I’ll make good use of this fabric in another project.  Cromwell suggests a down-stuffed, heated cat bed.

Thanks for reading along, stay tuned for Wednesday when Katie posts about creating a gallery wall!


Unexpected Color Combo We’re Loving: Pink and Mustard

Hot Damn It’s Friday (HDIF)!  We’re happy to be on the cusp of some free time, and also glad to bring you a color combination that is perhaps on the cusp of good taste: mustard yellow and pink. It’s a combo we find strangely appealing–complementary yet contradictory in a way that’s pleasing all over.  Here are some rooms that use this mix in just the right way:

Found on Pinterest, if anyone knows the proper source please let us know so we can add it in!

Found on Pinterest, if anyone knows the proper source please let us know so we can add it in!

Found here, image from the book Urban Vintage by Ida Magntorn.

Found here, image from the book Urban Vintage by Ida Magntorn.

Are you picking up what we’re putting down?  Or were you mentally captioning each photo with the words “bilious flesh”?  Either way, we’d love to hear!  Have a terrific weekend and make sure to check in on Monday for a new post!

Easy DIY Ways to Frame Art

I woke up this morning to the sound of a torrential downpour.  The rain lasted all morning and the light was flat and gray.  Intimations of the Oregon winter to come, for sure.  It was a cozy morning to be inside, and I sat in the living room with Dean on my lap and coffee in hand.  I am very pleased (and a little bit relieved) to report that the Crystal Ball paint did not turn cold or stark, but was bright and cozy and reflected what little natural light there was.  I have a feeling I’m going to be choosing to spend a lot of time in there this winter, and I’m motivated to get the stacks of art off the floor and onto the walls.

Just the tip of the neglected art iceberg

Just the tip of the neglected art iceberg

I have some really lovely pieces that are already framed, but I’ve also amassed quite a collection of art from thrift stores and garage sales that are irregularly sized and don’t fit into standard mats and frames.  Custom framing is out of reach, so I decided to get a little creative with how I display things.

You might remember seeing this pretty lady when I showed you the living room paint last week:

oil portrait 2

I bought the little oil portrait on eBay awhile ago, but hadn’t found a good way to display her.  I had a brainwave when this incredible room popped up in our Pinterest feed:

farrow and ball wallpaper

Man, Farrow & Ball really has my number.  This photo is from their recent collection of wallpapers, and it manages to instill in me an ineffable longing.  Let’s zoom in:

I decided to try and recreate this on a much smaller scale – to slake my yearning and quell my avarice by creating a little vignette reminiscent of this beauty. I carved a stamp and printed an old piece of mat board I had laying around.

Stamping the background

close up of piping

The frame is one of many I have dragged home from thrift stores, and I used a piece of piping to border the painting and give it a little depth.  I just used scotch tape to affix it to the back of the portrait:

attaching the piping

Then I used double-sided tape to stick the portrait onto the mat board, put a little plant in front to mimic the one in that original image and voila!  A very inexpensive Farrow & Ball-inspired moment.

Red House West//Inexpensive ways to display art

I bought this abstract pen and ink drawing for $0.99 and really like it, but it was stuck in a closet for ages while I waited for inspiration to strike – which it finally did!

framing supplies

Using poster board, black fabric, spray adhesive and a cheap thrift store frame, this little baby is finally ready to see the light of day.  To start, I cut the poster board to fit the frame then cut an opening to display the drawing.  I read somewhere that matting looks best when it’s slightly wider on the bottom than on the top – something about the eye seeing it as centered – so I did that and I’m happy with the result.

cut frame

Next, I cut a piece of fabric slightly larger than the poster board.  I took everything outside, spread out a sheet, and sprayed the poster board with spray adhesive (below left).  Then I flipped it onto the fabric and smoothed out all the wrinkles.  I trimmed the edges then cut an ‘x’ in the middle opening so there were four triangle-shaped flaps (below right), trimmed the excess and used spray adhesive to glue the edges.

Red House West//Inexpensive framing

I waited for it to dry then reassembled the frame (full disclosure: I actually had to reassemble it three times because not once but twice I noticed cat hair trapped beneath the glass).  I’m really happy with it!  I like the texture of the fabric and think the depth of the black looks nice with the drawing. The edges look far better than any  of my previous attempts at cutting mat board at home.

Close up of the fabric mat taken without the glass.

Close up of the fabric mat taken without the glass.

Red House West//inexpensive ways to frame art

I’m happy to have these images on display, and feel inspired to get to work framing some more things.  I know we have some artists who read the blog – do you frame your own art?  Any tips you can pass on?  Thanks so much!

Dyeing Leather the Easy Way

Based on the subject of this post, you may be picturing me swirling gory animal skins bicep-deep in a steaming vat while an angry chemical-induced rash blooms on my face.  Not so, not so!  This really is leather dyeing the EASY way!

First, a bit of background.  A few weeks ago I scored a gorgeous Rykken and Co. of Norway chair and ottoman from the 1960s.  It is leather with bentwood and a beguiling corded back. Best of all, it rocks, swivels, reclines, and is unbelievably comfortable.  I got it, along with three teak nesting tables, for $60!  I could hardly believe my luck, but I also knew right away that the leather on the chair wasn’t going to work for me.  It’s in amazingly good condition, but something about it read naugahyde to me and it was the color of an overripe–nay, festering–persimmon.  Even that sounds better than it was, and honestly it looks better in pictures than it was in real life.  It had a sort of gruesome, congealed tinge, and I knew I wouldn’t use it until I either reupholstered it or figured out a way to change the color.

Red House West||Leather Dyeing

In real life it was much worse than this picture suggests. I was so eager to change the color that I started before realizing I didn’t have a proper “before” shot.

In general I’m not a huge leather person and ultimately I think I would like to reupholster this guy in fabric, but with my Grandma’s couch still in tatters (I’m weighing about a dozen fabric options and leaning toward a silver gray mohair that I found a bunch of for a great price) I wasn’t about to sign up for another big upholstery project.

I searched the web, and didn’t come up with many options, until I stumbled on a company called Rub ‘n Restore.  Rub ‘n Restore is a mother-daughter owned company in California that makes water-based dyes to recolor and restore vinyl and leather.  I watched a YouTube video of dyeing a dark green couch a lighter tan color, and I poured over the reviews I could find to see if it was too good to be true that you could go from a darker to a lighter color using Rub ‘n Restore.  The reviews were resoundingly positive, so I decided what the hey and ordered an 8 oz. bottle of the camel color.

Application couldn’t be easier: you just put a little of the dye on a slightly damp sponge, and rub it all around.  The dye isn’t stinky at all and is really forgiving.  At first it looks uneven and streaky, but that only lasts for the first few coats.  You have to let it dry completely between coats, but I followed the recommendation of the company and used a hairdryer to speed up the process.  With a quick blast from the hair dryer, drying time took about 10 minutes, and application of each coat on the ottoman took probably 5 minutes.

Red House West||Leather Dying

The final picture was taken after about 8 coats.

After completely coloring the ottoman, I decided that camel wasn’t the color I wanted after all.  I was hoping for something less taupe, more saddle, so I contacted the company about whether I could mix another color into the camel.  They emailed me right back, and said that cognac would be a good color to mix in to create a warmer tone.  So I bought a bottle, did a little mixology, and came up with a color that I’m really pleased with.  It’s a warm fawn color closer to what I was picturing than the camel color, and much nicer than the original crust-around-the-ketchup-bottle-rim color.

Because it wasn’t such a dramatic change, going from the camel to the camel+cognac color took only a few coats on the ottoman, and probably eight total coats on the chair.  Here is the dyed and redyed ottoman next to the chair before I started on it:

Red House West||Dyeing Leather

As you can see there are lots of tufts and folds on the chair, but it was really simple to dye.  You just sort of pull and smooth the creases back and rub the sponge over all of it.  It honestly couldn’t be easier.  If not for job and kid duties this could have been done in a single day, but I did it over several mornings and evenings.  In fact there were a few mornings when I got dressed for work, went down to the basement to put on a quick coat of dye, and then headed out the door for the day.  It’s not a messy process at all!

I’m really happy with the results, and I’m so glad that I can have this chair in my house now without cringing at the color, especially since it’s so comfortable.  Oh, and here’s that gorgeous corded back I was telling you about:

Red House West||Dying Leather

Red House West||Dying Leather

Red House West||Dying Leather

Winifred is already doing her best to help the chair achieve a more distressed look:


And then Wolsey showed up to do his part too:

This cat has brass balls (even though in reality he has none).

I swear this cat has brass balls (even though in reality he has none–spay and neuter!).

Okay, and now for the best part: Rub ‘n Restore has graciously offered to give Red House West readers 10% off if you want to try this magical potion!  Just use the code RnR<3RedHouseWest at checkout.  They have tons of amazing colors, including some fun ones like turquoise and buttercup yellow.  Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you have a great week!

p.s.  In case you’re wondering, Red House West is not affiliated with Rub ‘n Restore and did not receive any compensation or remuneration for this post.  It’s just me, lovin’ on a product that actually works!

Etsy Finds Friday!

We both love finding inspiration and unique treasures on Etsy, so once a month or so we’ll be sharing round-ups of some of our favorite Etsy items and sellers so you can see them too.  Thanks for joining us!

From Mera:
I’m nuts for  KinskaShop’s ceramics.  The simple bold graphics and sweet shapes really do it for me:

This little Bipolar cache pot has been in my Etsy cart for about a month now, and I think I’m ready to pull the trigger.  Wouldn’t this be so great atop an antique dresser or hutch like Katie’s with some other potted friends and treasures?

I’ve been trying to craft a pendant light for the breakfast nook recently, and so far what I’ve learned is that it is harder than I thought it would be.  I haven’t given up entirely, but I have taken to casually looking around the internet in case the perfect pendant pops up. This gorgeousness may convince me to direct my DIY energies elsewhere:

From Katie:

In Dan-Ah Kim’s brief Etsy bio she writes:   My personal work explores stories, from battles with the supernatural to those special mundane moments with one’s cat.

Sounds good to me, and this print, titled ‘When the World Sleeps,’really speaks to my winsome, traveling heart.  I love the mix of media, and it makes me immediately start filling in a narrative to go with this scene.

when the world sleeps

The Etsy shop Gypsya sells handwoven rugs and beautiful textiles.  I want pretty much everything in their shop, but if pressed to pick out a couple of favorites I’d choose this tablecloth/bedspread and this emerald green rug:

What do you think?  Any must-haves from our picks, or any Etsy shops you think we should check out?  Mera will be back on Monday with a post about her experience with dyeing leather – definitely come back and check it out.  Have a wonderful weekend!


Katie’s House: If I’d only had (a) Crystal Ball

Well I’m thrilled to report that our living room no longer looks like a little boy’s nursery!  I admit to feeling pretty defeated when I realized just how wrong the color was.  Repainting meant not only that the house would stay in a state of chaos for longer, or that I had hours and hours of work ahead of me, but also that I had to find a new color – and that this time I better get it right.  My spirits were low and my confidence was shot, but I had to gird my loins and do the paint sample parade again.  Fast forward through some real anxiety, many a text and photo sent to Mera, a cricked neck from all the ceiling edges, and two complete audio books plus innumerable podcasts, and it’s done!  And… I love it!

Red House West//Miller Evolution PaintThe color is luminous, the room is much brighter, and it does not – in any light – read nursery.  The name of the paint is – with no shortage of irony – Crystal Ball.  If only I’d had one, I could have saved myself a lot of heartbreak.  It’s from Miller Paint in their Evolution line (the same paint I used and loved in our dining room) and was actually a color I initially considered for the space before I succumbed to the expert advertising of Farrow & Ball.  Its name may not evoke the soot-blackened walls of a cottage nestled in the English countryside, but it sure is pretty.

We’ve put a few things back into the room, but it’s mostly still a blank slate.  It’s nice to take a little time to think about where art and furniture will go, and it feels wonderful to be liberated from the green paint that was in here – there’s so much more potential to bring color and pattern into the room now.  This week I decided to spruce up the booze hutch, an antique British cabinet that Cameron and I bought at a thrift store soon after we moved in.  As the name implies, we use it to store our hooch and glassware.

That wall color is so pretty it makes angels sing

That wall color is so pretty it makes angels sing

It’s a pretty piece, and its curves are a nice counterpoint to the mid-century modern furniture also in this room.  There’s an awful lot of wood in this space though, and this seemed like a good opportunity to dress it up a bit.  I am crazy for Rifle Paper Co.’s wallpapers and would love to paper my whole house in them, but for now I thought I’d do something smaller scale and a whole lot less expensive.

Red House West//Rifle Paper Co Gift WrapThis Rifle Paper Co. gift wrap is $8.50 for three sheets (and it only took three to paper the hutch).  There are lots of pretty patterns, but I couldn’t say no to the colors of this one.  It might be a wee bit feminine, but I figure that it’s just a small space, and it will be partially obscured by booze which is totally gender neutral, so it’s okay.  I didn’t want to permanently adhere the paper to the hutch so I decided to just use double-sided tape.  This way, when its tenure as a backdrop for spirits is up, I can still use it for something else.


Red House West//Rifle Paper Lined Hutch

Red House West//Rifle Paper Lined Hutch

Red House West//Rifle Paper Hutch

So there you have it!  Almost two weeks of blood, sweat and painting-related angst plus one easy update distilled into one short post!  I’ll show you more of the room (and no doubt solicit your opinions) as I start to move more things back in.  Thanks for reading along and make sure to check in on Friday!