Crafting and Cocktails: Pimm’s Cups, Barnacles and Porcelain Pens

This was a crafty kind of weekend.  I tried a couple of artsy projects that have been on my radar for a while – with varying degrees of success – and also perfected the craft of making a superb Pimm’s Cup.  I want to share all three with you – the good, the so-so and the delicious.

Remember the paper clay barnacles I shared a couple months ago as a DIY I was dying to try?  Well I finally did, and it was FUN.  The full tutorial can be found over on Design Sponge, but I made a few discoveries and modifications along the way that worked for me.

barnacles 2

The original tutorial includes directions for making the paper clay mixture at home, but while the place we’re renting for the summer – used mostly as a vacation rental for visitors to wine country – is amply outfitted with martini shakers and wine glasses, it’s a little scant on actual cooking implements.  Even if there were a mixer here, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable using it to mix glue and joint compound, so I was excited to find a ready-made mix at JoAnn Fabric that worked for this project.

This stuff is really easy both to make and to clean up after.  You mix the powder with water (they provide some measurements for different consistencies, but it’s pretty intuitive) in a ziplock bag and massage it around until it’s uniform.   It didn’t adhere easily to the  balloons, so I laid out a piece of plastic wrap and spread it out (below left) then just wrapped it up around the balloon and smoothed it with my fingers.
barnacle process

I really like how they turned out – I’m planning to put air plants in them when I’m back home – and the total cost was about $7 (for balloons and mix – I used a coupon) with lots of both left over.

barnacles 3

Barnacles have a special place in my heart.  In fact, they’re one of my favorite animals.  They may seem inanimate, but they are living some extraordinary lives out there in the ocean.  Their life history is a tangent I could wander down for ages, but I’ll just share a couple highlights.

Baby barnacles

That’s a nauplius on the left and a cyprid on the right. I took these pictures when I was in grad school and had access to all the lovely seawater and microscopes my heart desired.

Those are BABY barnacles!  Well, barnacle larvae.  They’re released into the ocean looking like the little critter on the left, where they drift around and eat before metamorphosing into the bean-shaped cutie (essentially a teenage barnacle) on the right.  Its job is to crawl around and find other, adult barnacles (by smelling for ‘em) on rocks, docks, boats, whales – wherever they might be.  Then – and this is where it gets crazy – they secrete a cement out of their head, stick it to the rock, and build their shell around them.  They are doing a headstand for THEIR WHOLE LIVES and eating with their legs.  Seriously awesome.  Next time you’re at the ocean, belly up to a tidepool or the edge of a dock and watch their hairy little legs comb the water for food.  It’s mesmerizing.

Okay, back to crafting.  I had a less successful foray into the world of porcelain pens, though I’m going to blame user-error rather than the product itself.  I’ve been wanting to try these for a while and I ordered a black and a white one from Amazon.

porcelain pens

I picked up two plain vessels – a planter and a vase – at the thrift store for about 99 cents each.  The paint goes on quite thick (I found it was thicker with the black pen than with the white) and dries quickly, so it’s pretty easy to work your way around without smearing the part you’ve already done.  As it turns out, though, drawing straight lines on curved surfaces is HARD.  I might try a more free-form design next time, or  Cameron had some ideas for how to use our lathe to turn the pot so I could just hold the pen in one place to get a straight line.

painted vessels

Pimm’s Cups have been our drink of the summer, and I’m happy to share an easy recipe that we’ve perfected with plenty of practice.  These are refreshing, slightly herbal and not too sweet.   Just right for sipping in the backyard on a hot evening.

Pimm's Ingredients

I feel compelled to mention that we’ve been working on this bottle for over a month.


  • Pimm’s
  • Ginger Ale or Ginger Beer
  • Lemon
  • Cucumber
  • Ice

Muddle (smash) three slices of peeled cucumbers and a quarter of a lemon in the bottom of a glass

Muddled cukes and lemon

Add a two to one ratio of ginger ale to Pimm’s.  We put in 1/4 cup Pimm’s and 1/2 cup ginger ale.  Stir, then add ice and garnish with sliced cucumber and lemon.  Enjoy!

Pimm's Cup

Thanks for reading along!  Did anybody else do some weekend crafting?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Pinterest Friday: Bookshelf Inspiration

Hi everybody and welcome to the third edition of Pinterest Friday!  One Friday a month we comb our Pinterest boards to pick out our favorite spaces and design ideas.  This month, because both of us are voracious readers and book lovers, we decided to do a roundup of the dreamiest bookshelves we’ve seen.  If you’d like, you can check out previous Pinterest Fridays here.

From Katie:

Yes please!  This is such a pretty space with its tall windows and curved shelf–add a cozy chair and I’d never leave.

The varying shelf heights make this visually interesting, and I really like the way art, objects and textiles have been incorporated into these shelves (but that it’s still primarily books).

Shelves with textiles

From Domino Magazine originally, but image found here

Man, this is so amazing that I don’t even care that there doesn’t seem to be a way to reach those upper shelves.  I’d happily clamber right up the front of them if I could have this in my house.

From Mera:

When we were in London we stayed in a great flat where most of the doors had bookshelves above them.  Space was at a premium, so it was practical, but there was also something really magical about it, and it’s a modest detail that I’m really drawn to:

[I can't find a proper source for this--if anyone knows where it originated, let me know and I'll add it in--giving proper credit is important to us!]

[I can't find a proper source for this.  If anyone knows where it originated, let me know and I'll add it in--giving proper credit is important to us!]

Speaking of magical, I’ve got two words for you: library ladder.  Can’t you just picture yourself braving the top rung to pull out an old tome, blowing a cloud of dust off to discover a first edition, or crumbling pages filled with ancient family secrets?

And finally, I love the grand scale and architectural detail in these shelves:



Thanks for perusing our bookshelf pin collection!  And speaking of perusing our pins, we’ve recently combined our Pinterest accounts into one account for Red House West.  If you’re a Pinterest user, you should follow us!  Have a great weekend everyone!

Opal’s Room: A Quick Tour and Plans for a Big Girl Room

At 2 1/2, Opal is an extraordinarily good-natured person, and quite the conversationalist.  She often inhabits an elaborate imaginary scenario in which she is Baby Boy’s mom (Baby Boy is the proper name of one of her dolls) and she drives around in her pickup truck (we have a Volvo) with him safely in his carseat and flies him around in a floatplane (she has never been in a floatplane).  Also, her favorite place to go on a rainy day is Cabela’s, where she has taken an archery class, and she can tell you about the finer properties of waders and different types of camouflage.  Her good nature must come from my husband, and I have to claim the love of driving and flying, but the truck and hunting equipment fascination is all her own.

Opal's room

She also loves to instruct us about things.  For example, she recently taught me how one would, if one wanted to, climb out of a crib: “you put your hands here, and your foot over the top . . . .”  She hasn’t actually climbed out yet, but she is obviously able to should she so choose.  So I’ve been thinking more and more about the transition to a big girl bed, and what I’m hoping to do in phase two of her room.

Opal's room

The room is tiny, full of angles and slanted rooflines.  It’s a sweetheart of a room, with windows that look out on three (yes, three!) sides of the house, plus an internal window into the hallway.  The internal window allows a lot of light from the big windows in Opal’s room to filter into the hallway, but because light also goes from the hallway into Opal’s room, we have covered the window with a beautiful quilt, a gift from a relative when Opal was born (thanks Netzy!).

Netzy's quiltOpal's room

I painted the room green long before Opal came along, and added the blue skyline and creature decals (purchased from Etsy) just before her arrival.  The animals are cute and have a hand-painted look in person.  Opal used to love saying goodnight to each of them, but it has been a long time since she mentioned them and I don’t think she’s very attached to them anymore.

Opal's room

Opposite the bed there’s a window seat, and these great bookshelves that we had built before Opal was born.

Opal's windowseat

The birch tree running through the bookshelves came out of my parents’ yard.  The room has always felt like a little treehouse to me, and I love the way the tree brings that in without being too theme-y.

Opal's shelves

Another thing I love in this room is the handles on the closets and drawers: orange leather!

Opal's room

Opal's room

So orange is a given in any future color scheme, which is fine by me since I love orange (in small doses).

As you can see, her crib is in its own little alcove, and the future big girl bed will have to go in the same spot.

Opal's roomAs I’ve mentioned before, I have an idea for creating a curtained and canopied sleeping area for Opal.  I love forts and tucked in nooks, and I think I could create something really sweet in this spot.  I don’t picture it being too frilly or pink–that’s not Opal (at least in this stage of life), and I would like for phase two of her room to be something that can easily transition with her as she grows up.  I recently scored this vintage embroidered fabric valance, which is just a little wider than the width of the bed nook in Opal’s room.

Hung here for demonstrative blog purposes only.

Hung here for blog demonstrative purposes only.

I asked Opal if she would like to have it in her room, and she said “yes, right now!”  Then she went on to list the animals she recognized:  “monkeys, horses, mariposas, elephants, peacocks–I don’t like peacocks but I love parakeets!”  Doesn’t like peacocks?  Loves parakeets?  Who is this kid?  I didn’t know she even knew the words peacock or parakeet, let alone held strong opinions about their relative virtues!

Needless to say, I think she’s excited about it, peacocks and all, and I’m hopeful that the valance animals can replace the wall-decal animals without any strife.  The idea is to hang this across the width of the alcove, and then make curtains to go behind it.  I have a vintage cut-lace table cloth that I think I can use to make the curtains, and in the end I’m hoping it looks similar to this, but on a larger scale:

From Oh Dear Drea (I really like this blog, by the way).

From Oh Dear Drea (I really like this blog, by the way).

I’m still trying to figure out how to craft the canopy and sides.  The idea is to have Opal’s bed enclosed so that the interior window doesn’t have to be covered.  Also on the to-do list is to paint the walls white (the list of walls to be painted white in this house grows ever longer….).

So that’s the plan.  I could use some engineering help figuring out the best way to suspend the canopy and curtains.  Any suggestions?  Check back with us later in the week for another installment of Pinterest Friday!  Thanks everybody!

A Home for Wayward Chairs: Confessions of a Chair Addict

When I was a little girl, my favorite books and movies were ones of transformation. In particular I loved stories of neglected horses who, because someone was able to see potential beneath their woebegone exteriors, were transformed into show horses or race horses with the aid of a curry comb, a bag of oats and some love.

I’d like to introduce you to my stable of beauties, safely rescued and ready to be coaxed back from the brink of death with proper care – and a highly descriptive montage of training, setbacks and, ultimately, triumph. Set to stirring music. It might be presumptuous, but the way I see it I am to thrift store chairs as Mickey Rooney’s jaded jockey-turned-trainer was to Velvet and her horse, Pie, in National Velvet.

All the chairs

How many people live in my house? Two. By my calculations, and also taking into account the three chairs not pictured, there are 10.5 chairs per each human in this household. 5.25 chairs per every mammal that resides here. We also have couches and kitchen stools, so if we were counting actual seats and not just chairs then that number skyrockets and – I’m afraid – it might be a bit excessive.

But those chairs are beautiful! And such bargains! And so loaded with potential and they need me.   You’ve met much of my stable already here on the blog; seen the transformations of some, and read about the plans for others.  Today I want to introduce you to a few you haven’t met, and first up is this Ward Bennett chair. I found it in the book section of a local thrift store, bedraggled and abused and in need of some serious attention. Under the soiled upholstery dwelt the bones of a thoroughbred, and as I gingerly perched on it to assess its soundness I knew I couldn’t leave it there. The price tag read $2.99 and I carried it (dragged it) home, exultant.

Ward Bennett front

Slide1A tag on the bottom of the chair reads Ward Bennett Designs for Brickel Associates.  Indulge me for a moment and let me transform from Mickey Rooney horse trainer to a modern day Sam Spade (perhaps a Veronica Mars?) sleuthing for the past of this chair.  I learned that Ward Bennett was a prolific and well-known designer who has designs in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.  On the Herman Miller site (they are still making and selling a couple of his chairs) they say that Bennett “learned a great deal about lumbar support, the importance of chair arms, and designing the right “pitch” from working with the doctor who treated John F. Kennedy’s bad back.”  Folks, this chair is practically presidential.

I found this poster of Bennett’s designs for Brickel, but though the chairs in the middle of the fourth row are very similar they are not exactly the same.

Though the bone-colored finish is a little marred, I’d be reluctant to try painting it myself. This kind of hard, enameled finish is hard to recreate at home and I fear I’d end up with a drippy mess. I may look into having it professionally lacquered, but my first choice would be to try to make the white work for me. Up close, the original velvet upholstery has a subtle faux bois pattern, which would be fun to replicate. I’m considering a black velvet for the seat and front and then something unexpected – like an embroidered piece – for the back. I probably wouldn’t do the whole thing with this much pattern – though this chair makes it tempting – but I’d love something similar for the back. I’m on the hunt at thrift stores for something with rich colors and a not-too-traditional motif.

The next in my stable of diamonds-in-the-rough is also mid-century modern, and also a lucky thrift store find. I found it one morning at a local Goodwill and it was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time.  I’ve never bought anything of note at this particular store, so when I spotted this little honey I broke into a full sprint until I reached it then cradled it possessively in my arms all the way to the cash register.

Kosuga Front

Kosuga Side

In contrast to most of the chairs I bring home, this one’s upholstery is in pretty good shape.  No weird stains, no gaping holes, no offensive patterns or smells.  The wood is pretty dinged up, and I’m not sure yet how to fix it – I fear the depth of the gouges is beyond the help of even my beloved Restor-a-Finish.

Kosuga tag

I’ve had trouble finding more about Kosuga – there’s a current website with the same name, but the text is in Japanese and Google translate doesn’t seem up to the task. I have seen chairs with the same Kosuga tag on eBay and 1st Dibs, but they don’t offer any additional information.  Searching the web, I found myself over at the Design Addict forum where this response to a query about a Kosuga chair pretty much summed up the fruitlessness of my search:


those were made………..

by Klingon craftsmen in the period of 1972-1976 in the alpha centauri region of what is now know as the french-canadian crescent valley.

they were built using old-growth peanut wood and are very rare.


Ha!  The internet can really bring out the best in people.

The Ward Bennett and the Kosuga chairs are ones I remain enamored of even after the thrill of discovery is gone, but I’ve also made a few missteps. Just after we moved into our house, when acquiring chairs was essential not excessive, I found a Craigslist listing for four mid-century chairs in a town about 30 miles north of Eugene. Cameron and I drove there and I gleefully paid $10 for all four plus a little ottoman. They are cute, but in varying states of disrepair.

Fan Chair


Made in Czechoslovakia

Made in Czechoslovakia

The wood is brittle and splitting in some spots, the finish is red and worn and I just can’t see myself devoting the many hours it would take to sand them down and redo them. Not when so many more alluring projects await. I’ve considered painting them – perhaps a saucy bright color – but the truth is that while the chairs aren’t exactly uncomfortable, when presented with a room containing these and all the other chairs in our house, these are always last pick. I’m pretty sure the only reason I’ve held onto them for so long is because of this picture:

The ones in the picture aren’t in great shape either, but something about the way they look with that lace tablecloth is so romantic *sigh*.  HOWEVER, I think it’s time to let go and move on (I’m saying it here publicly so I’m accountable).

Whew, this is a long post.  It’s the fever of the chairs!  I’m powerless to contain myself.  So just one more quick story to wrap up this chair saga.  This one involves an unexpected journey taken by a chair you may have already read about: the tulip chair.


When I rescued the tulip chair it had two tags, one stating that it was made for Knoll and one that it was property of Welton Becket and Associates.  I didn’t pay it much attention at first, but when curiosity got the better of me I turned to Google and found that Welton Becket was a famous mid century modern architect and designer in Los Angeles.  He is credited for both the Pan Pacific Auditorium in LA (which has since burned down) and the Capitol Records building, as well as other buildings all over the world.

Oh that this chair could talk.  I’d give a lot to know more about how it made its way from the office of a well-known mid century designer and architect to be bedraggled and goat-bearded in a jumbled garage in Eugene, OR.  Sounds like a story I would love.

Thanks for joining me on this ramble through my stable of chairs!  Mera will be back with an assuredly more succinct post on Wednesday.  See you then!

DIY Inspiration Vol. 3

Hey everybody, and welcome to DIY Friday volume 3!  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:

These yarn banners seem simple to make and are so pretty!  Since painting my dining room dark blue I’ve been thinking of art possibilities in there, and these would be a great way to bring in some color and texture.


I’m completely in love with all things Rifle Paper Co. and also in need of a wall clock, so this DIY from Henry Happened is really speaking my language.  I love that she painted the clock hands bright pink!



From Mera:

I like the idea of dream catchers, but visually they are not usually my favorite things.  This version, with it’s off-center inner circle and tidy embroidery thread dangles is so pretty and delicate, and I’m intrigued (I would probably omit the feathers).

My tassel love is evolving into a love of pom poms.  Plus, I have quite a few friends who are about to have babies, and I have a some baby-friendly pom pom projects floating around in my brain.  This looks like a great tutorial, and I think I’ll give it a go.

Have a great weekend everyone!  Katie will be back on Monday with a confession of sorts, so check back in with us then!


My Week at The Interior Design School in London

If you follow us on Instagram (if you don’t, you should! Who wouldn’t want to see more pictures of our tubby cats in repose?) you may already know that I have been in England for the past few weeks! We went with Chester’s side of the family, and spent the first week hiking in the Cotswolds, an area that lives up to all of its fabled beauty.

IMG_7806 IMG_7784IMG_7808
We spent the second week of the trip in London. Chester and his parents did the two-year-old’s tour of London, and I went to The Interior Design School for a five day crash course in interior design.
Red House WestThe school was founded in 1991 by Iris Dunbar, and offers a full-time one-year diploma course, as well as fun one-day classes.  They also do a three part professional certificate course, and what I did was the first module of the certificate program, titled Design Process.

Red House West

There were ten students in the class, who hailed from all over Europe.  Apart from a lovely woman who grew up in the Midwest but has lived in Paris for over 20 years, I was the only American in the class.  Other students came from Spain, Austria, Romania, and there were several Londoners as well.  Most of my classmates were just like me: people interested in design who have never had the opportunity to learn the basics in a formal setting.  Several students had a professional background in design or architecture and were looking to revitalize careers put on hold because of growing families or international relocations.  Everyone was so fun and interesting, and hearing about what led each of them to the class was fascinating.  Truly, meeting the women (all the students were women) in the class was alone worth the trip.

The focus was definitely on design, rather than decor, and we learned how to scale, draw plans and elevations, and create essentially a pre-computerized world mood board. We all worked on the same space–basically a 20×20 garden shed–but had different assignments about what the space would be used for.



One of the exercises we did was to paint a color wheel. I didn’t quite understand the purpose of the exercise, but it was fun to revisit this grade school staple.


We also got to paw through samples of all sorts, which I totally loved.

The process we were taught involves distilling the envisioned project down to a few choice adjectives, and finding and clipping images that evoke a feeling or sensation based on those adjectives (but aren’t a literal picture of what the room should look like).  From the clippings we selected and edited a color palette, and then chose furnishings, objects, and lighting within the palette and otherwise consistent with the adjectives and project goals.

It sounds simple, and it is, but it helped me to realize that when I have set out to design a room in the past, I have started at the end–choosing things I like and hoping they go together–with mixed results.  Following the steps taught by the school does seem like it will lead to more deliberate, cohesive, and pleasing spaces.

Designers at work.

Designers at work.


My desk.


Top left: my ‘feeling’ images; bottom left: the scaled plan; top right: plan elevation; bottom right: my color palette and the furnishings and objects I chose for the space.



One of the teachers, Lynne Rossington, critiquing material sample choices.

On the final afternoon, we all presented our plans as if we were presenting to our clients. It was amazing to see all the different ways that people imagined the same small space.



It was such a great trip, and I am really grateful to Chester and his parents for making the whole thing possible!  I am excited to try to apply some of the techniques I learned to my own home (which looks even more like a mish-mashy hodge podge through a slightly educated lens), but right now I am facing more immediate issues. For example, this is what my house looks like at the moment:

Keepin' it real.

Opal was really excited to get home to her toys and thought it would be a good idea to do a full inventory.  Also, will the laundry never end?

I’m happy to answer questions about my experience at The Interior Design School, and you can also learn more by checking out the website. Thanks for reading about my little adventure! Check back with us on Friday for another installment of DIY Friday.

Floor Pillows: Using Thread to Make Patterns on Fabric

Well, it’s hot as Hades up here in Eastern Washington – around 106 degrees today – and I find my life is confined to the indoors in a way it rarely is even in the darkest part of our wet Oregon winters.  Once the heat dies down in the evening, Cameron and I have a new routine of a neighborhood stroll followed by a cold (usually adult) beverage in the backyard.  Prompted by the discovery of two large pillows at Goodwill for a couple dollars each, I decided to add some comfort to our evening repose.

Red House West - Lounge Pillows with Thread-Patterned Fabric_6

The pillows looked new and passed the sniff test (is there anything akin to the trepidation of the moment before you take a big inhale of a thrift store item?) so I brought them home, washed them in hot water, and hung them out to dry.  I have brought a small fabric stash up here with me, including remnants of black and natural-colored canvas from the diamond planter I shared last week, and the last of the cotton-linen left over from when I made my living room curtains.  It seemed a little plain though, so I decided to experiment with another item I already had on hand: thread.

Red House West - Lounge Pillows with Thread-Patterned Fabric_7

Red House West - Lounge Pillows with Thread-Patterned Fabric_8

I kept a neutral palette, because when we’re back home I envision these as floor pillows in my living room  and, though I haven’t shown you yet, my living room also houses an orange velvet couch and Beatrice – a six-foot tall vibrantly colored painting of a heavy-lidded and morose woman’s face next to a bird in a party hat.  Don’t worry, you’ll meet her soon.  Anyway, in deference to Beatrice and the orange couch (and in an effort to avoid full-on crazy), I have been opting for fairly subtle colors in the rest of the room – like the gray fabric on the bed chair.

Back to the task at hand.  I loaded my sewing machine up with thread and started stitching.  I tried a few different shapes, and settled on a couple to use for this project.

Red House West - Lounge Pillows with Thread-Patterned Fabric_4

I even made a video (well, Cameron did some sweet cinematography while I sewed).  I know this isn’t rocket science, but it does give a sense of how long each cross took.

This kind of easy, non-precise sewing is right up my alley.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but I am no type A personality.  More of a type C, or maybe even D.  Not that I don’t like things to be nice or done correctly, but I rarely strive for (or particularly appreciate) perfection.  Drawing these shapes with thread wasn’t at all complicated, but it did get a little tedious.  I just set my laptop – with a roller derby game that was streaming online – up behind the sewing machine and kept an eyeball on each.  A very pleasant way to pass a couple air-conditioned hours.

Sewing the now-patterned fabric into pillow covers was very easy; they are ‘envelope style,’ and I’ve used this great tutorial over on Little Green Notebook many times.  She recommends making the pillow covers a little smaller than the pillow itself – and for down pillows I agree – but for flat, non-malleable pillows like the ones I used here I prefer exact measurements so they don’t fold.

Sewing the cover - patterned fabric right-side up, with overlapping canvas pieces making the envelope in the back.

Sewing the cover – patterned fabric right-side up, with overlapping canvas pieces making the envelope in the back.

I’m really happy with how these turned out!  It was fun to come up with a new way to use materials I already had.  The only cost of this project was the pillow inserts from Goodwill, but even if I’d had to buy fabric and thread it still would have been a really inexpensive to do.

Gotta run - the ice in that Pimm's Cup isn't going to last long

Gotta run – the ice in that Pimm’s Cup isn’t going to last long

I’m already brainstorming other ways to use this technique – how about you?  Mera will be back on Wednesday with a post about her recent adventures – see you then!