Cabin Dreams: Inspiration for a Future Retreat

I planned to write this post from the site of our future cabin–cup of tea in hand, words flowing onto my computer screen inspired by a gentle breeze and incoming tide.  But no.  Thanks to a catastrophic plumbing situation here at home, a very naughty move by Winifred, and a gale wind warning and small-craft advisory, I am not.  Instead I sit at my kitchen table surrounded by dirty dishes and piles of toys and laundry, yearning for cabin life.

This weekend was to be our last summer trip to my parents’ cabin in Halibut Cove.   My sister and I grew up spending summers on the small island community, which is six miles across Kachemak Bay from Homer, Alaska.

Red House West || Cabin Dreams

The view from my parents’ porch.

Halibut Cove is only accessible by water--Opal loves to drive the boat!

Halibut Cove is only accessible by water–Opal loves to drive the boat!

Halibut Cove is the place where I feel happiest in the world.  I really want Opal to grow up with the freedom and wonder that I felt as a kid there, and so this summer we started seriously exploring the possibility of buying property on the island. We looked at a few spots and then my parents very generously offered to let us build a cabin on their property!

Exploring the rocky intertidal zone--it's always much more fun when Katie is there to tell us about the secret lives of nudibranchs and chitons.

Exploring the rocky intertidal zone–it’s much more fun when Katie is with us to explain the secret lives of nudibranchs and chitons.

I am beyond excited and also a little overwhelmed by the project. Construction is set to begin in the spring (and please understand that when I say ‘we are going to build a cabin’ I mean ‘we are hiring professionals to build a cabin for us’) and so I have been feverishly collecting images and ideas, and I thought I would share a sample with you here.

We’re aiming for about 900 square feet and two storeys. Here are a few cabins from the interwebs that capture something of the feel we’re going for:

Katie's sleeping nook?  Source.

Katie’s sleeping nook? Source.

It would be great to have a bunk room for Opal and her cousins.

A bunk room for Opal and her cousins would be so great!  Source

Just looking at these pictures is getting me so excited, I can’t wait until next summer!  I wish I could be in our cabin right now instead of looking at the ever-growing midden piles here in our house.  Time to put pen to paper and start making lists and drawing rough designs.  Any advice for good cabin inspiration sources, or specifics we should consider as we go through the design process? Thanks for reading along–there’s a lot of blog fodder in this project so stay tuned!

Tips for Scoring Treasures at Thrift Stores and on Craigslist

Well first of all, I’m really sorry about that unintentional peek at the first draft of this blog post which landed in the inboxes of Red House West subscribers yesterday. I’m still cringing with embarrassment, though when I called Mera to see if she thought we should fire me from Red House West, she put it in good perspective. Relative to Jennifer Lawrence, she said, my shouldn’t-be-published-on-the-internet woes were small. She’s right, as usual, and I am grateful. I heard it helps to share your gratitude, so here’s mine:
I am grateful that there were no nudie pictures of myself in the rough draft of a post about thrift stores that I accidentally published.

Forgive me? And moving on…

Predictably (though somehow I’m always surprised), I am not ready to share the dazzling living room ‘after’ shots as I’d originally planned this week. I’m not even ready to share progress shots – I mean, as scintillating as pictures of partially painted trim and primer-white walls are, I think we can all hold out for more notable progression.  Not to worry though!  The beauty of repetitive work like painting is that the mind is free to wander, and I’ve been mulling over a request that RHW reader Nina made some months ago that we share some tips for thrifting household items.

As regular Red House West readers know, I am an avid thrifter.  Our home is – with only a couple of exceptions – furnished and decorated entirely with items that we got secondhand. Though I’ve certainly made some missteps, I’ve also made some great scores. Here are things I’ve learned along the way.

10 tips for successful thrifting

1. The odds of finding really great things go way up the more time you spend looking. Check Craigslist as often as you can (especially if you’re looking for something specific) and drop into your favorite thrift stores regularly.

One of my favorite pieces of furniture in our house is the credenza that sits in our front room.  I spent months searching for it – I wanted something that would house our stereo and some records, and that would fit along a specific wall in the room.  I also wanted it to be mid-century modern with lovely legs, and it couldn’t cost much more than $100.  This was a tall order that had me compulsively checking Craigslist and haunting the local thrift stores.  As you probably know, a great find on Craigslist is more ephemeral than a desert salt pond (I once saw a Barcelona chair listed for $25 – and described on Craigslist as a ‘metal chair.’ I was the second caller so I didn’t get it, but it had only been up for a few minutes before the vultures (myself included) were circling).

Red House West//tips for successful thrifting

We found our credenza one night when we stopped at a St. Vincent de Paul on a whim.  Luckily I had the measurements of our wall with me, and so we knew this one would fit with just an inch on either side to spare.  Which brings me to my next tip:

2.   When you’re on the hunt for a specific item, keep the measurements you’re looking for with you at all times. 

I keep them on my phone along with a picture of the spot I’m planning to put the item.  Having the dimensions written on a piece of paper kept in your wallet would work just as well.

3. On Craigslist, synonyms are key!  One person’s footstool is another person’s ottoman.  Cast a wide net and vary your search terms – also be creative with spelling.

I didn’t end up finding the credenza on Craigslist, but I did figure out a few tricks that helped me find some contenders.  Synonyms are key, so I would search for dresser, buffet, hutch, credenza, sideboard and even shelving.  Consider that your dream item might be listed but misspelled, so be creative with your spelling (Mera found a really beautiful ‘dressor’ one time) when searching too.  I also searched the terms ‘mid-century’ and ‘mid-century modern.’

4.  Find items posted by regular sellers on Craigslist by searching their name, phone number or neighborhood.

Another thing the Great Credenza Hunt taught me about Craigslist is that – in Eugene at least – there are people who regularly sell the contents of storage units, or who are pickers who search for items to sell on Craigslist (I found my dining room chairs by specifically searching for listings by a guy who sold a lot of mid-century modern items).

5. Be realistic about your repair abilities/the cost of having a piece professionally done.  If you can’t afford to have it redone right away, make sure to ask yourself: Can you live with it as it is until you can?

My early forays into thrifting were characterized by a robust optimism that bordered on delusion.  There was nothing I could not fix! And so many of the things I dragged home had revolting, smelly upholstery or featured badly chipped veneer or unsalvageable finishes.  This couch is a case in point:

Blue flowered couch

I still love the lines of this couch, but it smelled like the territory of 100 feral cats.  It was free in the last hours of a yard sale so I dragged it home, thinking blithe thoughts of reupholstery. Never mind that this sofa would cost at least $1000 to have redone, or that by the time I learned to do it myself, it would have been living in the carport for years – a target for the territorial markings of at least another 100 cats. Since then, I’ve often referred to Emily Henderson’s guide for ballpark costs of upholstering vintage furniture before bringing home something that will need to be dealt with professionally.

6. [Chanted in my best cheerleader voice] B-E-A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E BE AGGRESSIVE BE BE AGGRESSIVEIf you see something you like, hold on to it until you’ve made up your mind!  Think you might love a chair?  Sit in it with your hand on the tag until you’ve made up your mind!  Thrifting is a ruthless business, and nice folks finish empty handed.

I’ve been burned badly twice by my fellow treasure hunters.  Just last month, a local thrift store had a huge rack of recently donated upholstery fabric in the middle of the store.  I found a roll of unusually vibrant fabric that I thought might work for a project, but as I was standing there trying to visualize it on a chair, I noticed an elderly woman was standing behind me with her shopping cart almost pressed against my back.  The aisles were narrow and I moved out of the way so she could get by me.  Which she did, grabbing the roll I’d had my hands on moments ago and putting it in her cart.  True story.

A similar thing happened while I dithered over a chair that looked much like the one in this image:

Why in the world was I dithering!  It was adorably yellow and only $15!  I’m still kicking myself!  Of course if I’d followed my next tip, I could have saved myself the heartache:

7. If there’s an item you love but you’re not sure you need it, put it on hold so you have time to think it through.

Most thrift stores will hold items for at least a couple hours and many will hold them until the end of the day.  If you’re vacillating on something, put it on hold so you can take a breath and think it through.  That’s how I got this lamp, and I love this lamp like Mera’s chubby cat Wolsey loves kitty treats. So much.

Red House West//tips for thrifting

8. Check the item you’re considering for smells, structural defects and other problems.  Even if the seller is watching you.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it can be hard to take a big ol’ whiff of a piece of furniture while the person who’s selling it is watching.  You are NOT casting aspersions on their character by making sure all the drawers of the dresser they’re selling open.  Trust me, you don’t want to get home with a rug you were too embarrassed to smell that you then have to try and offload on Craigslist but – because you know it’s smelly – you feel compelled to tell all prospective buyers about it.  Which means it takes a pretty long time to sell.

9. For each item you bring home, let another item go (even if it causes you physical and emotional pain)

When we moved into our house two years ago, we really needed furniture.  That’s no longer the case, and I’ve recently implemented a rule of ‘one thing in one thing out.’  Do you guys remember my little confession and this photo?

Red House West//tips for thrifting

Well, there’s a moratorium on chair adoption unless I let one of these little honeys go. I know, it hurts me too.

10. If you have an eye on something in a consignment shop but think the price is too high, make an offer at the end of the month. Sellers are more likely to accept offers when they’ll be seeing a check in the next day or two, rather than weeks later.

The owner of a consignment store shared this tip with me recently when I went in to visit a piece of art that I really like but can’t afford.

What do you think, are any of these tips new to you?  What would you add to this list?

Etsy Finds Friday!

Hallelujah It’s Friday (HIF)!  The weekend stretches before us and we’re both up to our eyeballs in house projects.  As fun as spackling holes and painting ceilings is, sometimes it’s a nice boost to look for inspiration – to dream of the day when a room is complete enough to hang new art in, put down a rug, or set out a pretty vase of flowers.

We both love finding inspiration and unique treasures on Etsy, so we thought we’d round up a few of our favorite Etsy items and sellers so you can see them too.  Thanks for joining us!

From Katie:

I love the quirky art of Etsy seller Yelena Bryksenkova.  I’m especially drawn to her magical prints of interiors; detail-rich rooms I’d love to visit that are filled with gorgeous patterns, cozy scenes and the occasional sleeping cat.


I also love these petite indigo watercolors by Renee Anne.  They’re sweet and simple and might be just the little monochrome moment my blue walls need.


From Mera:

I love the creepy glamor of this print by Julienne Jattiot.  I don’t read a word of German, but my guess is that this did not end well for Leda (and I apologize if this actually says something totally heinous and offensive; I know ignorance is no defense but my defense is ignorance).


It’s pretty hard for me to resist an irreverent cross stitch, and plus my daughter’s initials are OG so doesn’t that make me the O OG?  Yeah, it does feel good.

I actually own an articulated paper horse from artist Emma Kidd’s Hinged Beasts series and I would love to have a herd.  The one I have is magical and dreamy, with such a cool winged-fantasy paper-doll feel but with all grown-up artistry.  I wish this appaloosa would trot right up to my door.


Have a terrific weekend! Check back in on Monday for the next stage of Katie’s living room redo!

Mera’s House: DIY Mid-Century Planter

Have you ever noticed how adorable planters are when they have legs?  It’s one of those essential truths, like that cats are cute and beer is tasty.  Here’s what I mean:

Something about lifting them off the ground elevates them from the ordinary; take the legs off and any one of these would be just another basic planter.  The problem with these leggy beauties is that they cost a bazillion dollars: In order from top to bottom $160 (for the knock off version), $695 (planter on the left) and $189 (planters middle and right), $388, and $325 (according to an expired eBay listing).  Yow!

On a recent thrift store outing I found a planter with pretty legs, but a fugly body:

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

The faux terra-cotta color obviously had to go, but I also didn’t like bucket shape atop the legs.  (About a million years ago I had a boyfriend who lived on a boat who made a similar looking bucket to use as his toilet.  The memory is vivid.)

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

But I loved the legs, and I decided to try to make something similar to the elegant mid-century planters I’ve been coveting.

I picked up three packages of Model Air Clay at Joann’s:

Joann's always has awesome coupons you can pull up on your phone at the checkout counter!

Joann’s usually has coupons you can use by pulling them up on your phone when you’re at the register!

The clay dries after being exposed to air for a while, but I found it was pretty forgiving and didn’t dry so fast that it was hard to work with. I began by covering the bottom of the planter, and then worked toward the sides.

I stuck the chop sticks in the leg-holes thinking that I might need to cover the whole surface.  Totally unnecessary.

I stuck the chop sticks in the leg-holes thinking that I might need to cover the whole surface with clay. Totally unnecessary.

From each package of clay I would tear off about 1/4, then push and roll it out with a rolling pin. When it got stiff, I just put a little water on my hands or spritzed the clay. After rolling it out, I smeared Mod Podge on the planter, just to ensure that it would adhere to the wood. Then I placed the clay slab on the planter, and, using water and a little pressure, adhered it to the adjacent clay.

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

I covered the outside and about 2 1/2 inches down into the inside of the planter.  Then I spent a fair amount of time trying to smooth the surface using a damp sponge and my fingers.  I knew that it would have a more organic look than the fiberglass mid-century planters I’ve been coveting, but I didn’t want it to look like a kindergartener’s pinch pot (which it was definitely veering toward at this point).

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

I let it dry for a day and half. A few cracks showed up, but it didn’t seem to shrink over all.  Once it was dry I used really fine sandpaper on the roughest and most textured spots, being careful to not thin any particular area too much.

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

I bought a rubber plant a while ago and stuck it in a pretty basket and forgot it. I never repotted it, and now it’s really suffering. Hopefully this homespun version of a mid-century planter will give it a new lease on life!

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

Red House West || Mid Century Planter

If you’d like to make your own version from scratch you can buy mid-century wooden legs at Ace Hardware for a song!  Pick out a rounded plastic planter, like this one, and attach the legs with angle plates.  I actually think the air clay will look better over plastic–best to start with as smooth a surface as possible.  Now I’ve got myself excited to try doing this project again!

Thanks for reading along, check us out on Friday when we debut a new series featuring our favorite Etsy finds!

Painting the Kitchen and a Trip to Farrow & Ball

It’s hard to express how happy I am to be back home in our red house after four months away.  I’m so appreciative of the light and space and the fat furry creatures who live here with us.  I’m also grateful to have an outlet for the considerable energy for household projects that built up while we were gone, and I opened the floodgate this past week by painting my kitchen walls.  Three times.  I felt like Goldilocks: at first it was too shiny, then it was too light, and finally, it was just right.

Red House West:Dark to Light 7

I knew I wanted the blue in the kitchen to be just slightly darker than the dining room.  The difference is subtle enough that it’s not obvious in all light, but to my eye the slightly different tones help delineate the rooms.

Red House West:Dark to Light 9

Uncharacteristically, I didn’t dither about the color at all.  Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore was a strong contender when I was choosing paint for the dining room, and I knew it had just the right depth of color for our kitchen.

So what led me to paint this room three times?  An inability to stop before it was too late.  I began painting with a quart of Hale Navy I had on hand, and managed to get a decent first coat up before it ran out.  When I went to get more, I realized that the paint I’d used had an eggshell finish, rather than matte like the rest of the house.  Did I stop? Nope, I soldiered on.  The finished walls looked like plastic compared to the matte blue of the adjoining dining room, so I decided to redo it – properly this time – and get a gallon of Miller Paint’s Evolution line (which I used and loved in my dining room) color matched to Hale Navy.  After the first coat I was thinking it looked a little light, a little – dare I say it – Smurfy.  Did I stop?  Nope, I soldiered on.  It did not become miraculously darker when it dried, so back I went to the store for the third time.  The folks at Miller Paint were great and mixed up a fresh (correctly tinted) gallon free of charge.  And, thank goodness because I was losing my will to live, the color was just right.

Red House West:Dark to Light 4The real reason I like these dark walls is because they provide such a nice backdrop for this lithograph of Dean (well, a cat that looks a lot like Dean) that I got at the thrift store.  I am in grave danger of becoming someone who collects anything that resembles her furry little darlings.  Help keep me sane folks, but this one was too good to pass up – am I right?  The artist really nailed Dean’s haughty glare.

Red House West::Siamese Cat LithographNext on the agenda is painting the living room.  A couple of weeks ago I shared some Farrow & Ball colors that I really wanted to see in person (but didn’t want to pay shipping costs for),  so I made a detour to downtown Portland on my final trip back from Walla Walla.  It was totally worth the extra hour in the car (I cleverly hit Portland just at rush hour) to go into the cool, clean, industrial-chic boutique and see the lovely displays of Farrow & Ball.  I gotta say that I pretty much felt like Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’ when she went to the shop on Rodeo Drive in her hooker garb and everyone sneered at her.  Except instead of prostitute garb I was in my comfy but disheveled car clothes.  And the saleslady wasn’t mean to me at all, she just gave me a weird look when I literally purred over the cute little F&B inspiration booklet she gave me.  And of course I’m just somebody who blogs about her house,  not a prostitute with a heart of gold (has there been a worse premise for a movie??) and this parallel is falling apart – BUT I did feel out of place because the store was clean and pretty and I smelled and looked like road trip.  The awkward feelings were worth it though! Just look at the goodie bag I walked out with (this ain’t no hardware store folks).

Farrow & Ball Schwag

So I’m really excited to move forward and get painting, but I admit I’ve been having a little trepidation about the flow between a light-colored living room and the dark-painted dining room/kitchen area.

Red House West::Dark to Light

All the paint colors I’m considering for the living room are much lighter than the current greenish color.

To ease my mind I did an online hunt for rooms with color contrasts similar to the one I’m envisioning for our house.

And now I feel better!  I think it’s going to look just fine.  Thanks for reading along – check back in on Wednesday for a post from Mera!

DIY Friday Vol. 5

Hey everybody, and welcome to the fifth installment of our DIY Friday series!  One Friday a month we do a roundup of DIY projects from around the web that we’re dying to try.  You can check out previous DIY Friday posts, as well as some of our own DIY ventures, here.  Now for this month’s inspiration!

From Katie:

I have piles, nay mountains, of unframed artwork accumulating in corners of my home.  Framing can be expensive, so I’ve been hunting for affordable and simple DIY alternatives.  This would be a great way to get stuff off the floor and onto the walls!

How adorable are these bookends?!  They look super easy to make – just spray paint plastic animals (it would be a fun thrift store mission to hunt for some) and glue them to chunks of stone or brick.

From Mera:

Fall in Alaska means cooler temperatures and shorter days, but it also means the abrupt end of spray painting season.  The day is fast approaching, so I’m eager to do all the spray painting projects I’ve had in mind but haven’t gotten to including this idea for DIY tomato cage plant stands:


Image Source and DIY Source

The shorter days also mean that I’m turning on more lights in the evening and trying to create a warm and cozy feeling in the house. Nothing does that better than string lights, but I’m not a big fan of bare bulbs of any sort. I have lovely paper covered string lights my mother-in-law made in the entryway, and this DIY looks like it could provide a nice complement to those (probably in different colors than shown here though).

Thanks for popping in to check out our DIY wish lists.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Starting Point: Two Rooms from a Single Element

While we were hanging out earlier this week, we came up with an idea for a collaborative post series that we’re excited to do and excited to share here on Red House West! From time to time Katie & I will find one thing–artwork, a chair, or a textile for example–and each set off to design a room around it.
For our first attempt, we chose this artwork from artist Annie Seaton via Minted.

Red House West||Starting Point

Katie and I have similar styles, but not the same, so we thought it would be fun to start from one common element and see where we each ended up. There are no rules or restrictions, it can be any room in the house with anything added in.  For this first attempt we didn’t take cost of items into account, so these rooms are definitely firmly in the ‘fantasy’ category for us.  For future posts we’ll try to be more realistic!  Oh, and if you subscribe to Red House West you may recognize the pillow in my room from an email you got from us–SORRY!  We are experimenting with making mood boards, and I’m not sure what happened but I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.  My B!

Anyway, away we go!

Mera's Calm & Cool Bedroom



Katie's Mid-Century Living Room

That was fun, and I think I want Katie’s room more than my own (story of our friendship)! We’ll be back on Friday with some DIYs we’ve been wanting to try, hope to see you then!