DIY Couched Flag

If you’ve been reading RHW since early days, you might remember that we redid our downstairs bathroom last year.  I’m still really happy with it, but there was one small area that has long stymied me.

Right above the red cabinet there’s a little expanse of wall that I never knew quite what to do with. For a while I had a fern in a hanging planter there, but Cromwell devoured it in a fever of vegetative desire.  Then I had the thrifted cross-stitched pansies (they had a cameo appearance in the breakfast nook too), but I was never really happy with them there.

Because this is the bathroom where I usually get ready in the mornings, I thought it would be nice to start the day with a positive note. I’m not usually one for typographical art, but I recently saw this tutorial for couching–a very simple technique for embroidering with yarn–and I was intrigued. I figured I would give it a try and create a flag with a positive note for the confounding bathroom wall. YES!

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

First I gathered my supplies:

-thick yarn
-contrasting embroidery thread
-a piece of fabric (I used canvas like hemp fabric left over from my headboard)
-small dowel

To make the flag I simply cut a rectangle of fabric that was a few inches wider and longer than the size I wanted the flag to end up being. Then I folded it in half, and marked where I wanted the angle to make the point on the bottom:

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

I folded the edges and seamed them, beginning at the bottom. To make the point seams lay flat I snipped the point, like this:

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

Then I seamed the edges, until I got to the top. At the top I folded and pressed the edge, and then did a second larger fold to make a tube for the dowel.

Next I wrote “yes” so many times that my eyes crossed and the word started to look like it couldn’t possibly be spelled correctly.

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

When I had a “yes” that I thought looked okay and was the right size, I cut the word out and placed it on the flag. Then I laid the yarn over the top, and did a few stitches with the embroidery floss to keep the word from shifting. Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

Because the stitches went through the template, I carefully cut the paper away, leaving the yarn in place.

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

Then I just added small stitches to the letters. I didn’t worry about making them perfectly even, I just eyeballed it as I went along. And voila! My own little fist pumping daily affirmation to enjoy as I spackle under-eye concealer on my vitamin D deprived face each morning.  YES!

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

A palindrome would have been a cool effect next to the mirror, but “able was I ere I saw Elba” isn’t quite the uplifting motto I was going for.

Here is a close-up taken in the only room in the house with a hint of sun during darkest January (sorry for the sub-optimal pictures in this post–dark times, my friends, dark times):

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

Now I need to make another flag for Winnie that says NO!

Red House West || DIY Couched Flag

I’m glad I have couching in my crafting arsenal now, and I’m liking the flag in the bathroom a lot.  Thanks for reading along everyone, have a great rest of the week!

Design Definitions: Gustavian Style

We both love perusing design books and have paged through several lately that refer to “Gustavian” style.  It’s a phrase we’ve passed over without really stopping to think about what it means.  It’s clear from the context that it refers to a variant of Scandinavian style–one less minimal and modern than what we’re used to thinking of as “Scandinavian.”  So we thought it would be interesting to dig a little deeper and find out where Gustavian style came from, and what it really means.

Let us just take a second here to say that we’ve had so much fun thinking about Gustavian style and doing a little research about it that we’ve decided to create a semi-regular series on RHW  called “Design Definitions.”  For each one we’ll take a closer look at those design words we see all the time but, if pressed, would have a hard time giving a clear definition for.  Like just what is the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau?  We’re excited to find out!

Now, back to Gustavian Style.  Turns out the style arose from a trip King Gustav III of Sweden took to France in the 18th century.  He was so inspired by Versailles that he decided to imitate elements of it in his own palaces, but with a Swedish interpretation.  The style is characterized by a whitewashed palette, bare floors, carved-legged and often painted furniture, and sometimes sparkling chandeliers or gilded mirrors. These first two pictures show the soft, pale colors indicative of Gustavian style.  Except for the floors, all of the wood is painted or washed with a light color.

These children’s rooms embrace the white-on-white-on-gray Gustavian palette but are still fun and whimsical, with plenty of room for imagination.

Peek at the comments on Apartment Therapy on any given day and you’ll find an almost unanimously vitriolic response to painted furniture. Ol’ Gustav III would have probably been raked over the coals for his obvious love of furniture washed in pale colors.

Gustavian style embraces intricate detailing–we think it’s a nice break from the more austere mid-century look that has been dominating the design world.

Another thing that researching Gustavian style led us to was learning a bit about the Swedish Mora clock. These clocks are omnipresent in Swedish homes (the ones pictured in design books anyway), and also hail from 18th century Sweden.

Here are a few rooms that have a modern take on this classic style:

What do you think about this style–is it too shabby chic, or are you a Gustavianite? We love to hear your thoughts! Come back on Wednesday for a little crafty update to Mera’s bathroom. Thanks!

Chamber of Secrets Part Two: Designing the Shelves

The transformation of the Chamber of Secrets into the Chamber of Nice Things (might need a catchier moniker) is underway.  Just so your hopes don’t get dashed like waves upon the shore, this is by no means an after post.  There’s still exposed insulation, an ugly ceiling fan, and teetering stacks of boxes, but don’t despair!  Decisions and progress were made! As a reminder, here is a photo (in all its hideous glory) from a few weeks ago when I introduced you to the Chamber:
Red House West//Designing Built-ins

As I mentioned in that post, this room needs to function as both a guest room and an office.  We’re in dire need of bookshelves, as well as some closed storage for craft supplies.  Our initial plan was to do cabinets the whole length of the wall with bookshelves up to the ceiling, but as we discussed it more we decided there might be merit in adding a closet.  Of the three bedrooms in our house, the only one with a closet is ours.  This wasn’t a deterrent for us when we bought the house, but long term we thought it would be a good addition to this room.  Our first thought was to add a narrow closet that was the same depth as the cabinets.  There would be some extra space because of the slope of the eave, so we considered putting in a couple of drawers too.  Like this:

Red House West//Designing Built-ins
In this first iteration, it would have been just deep enough to accommodate hangers, but I could already imagine the frustration of a door that wouldn’t close because of a bulky coat. It felt like a token closet and we decided a closet would only be worth it if it were actually functional (we like to shoot for the stars, obviously).

Then we remembered a funny, tiny door that had been tucked into the corner of the garage when we moved in, and with the recollection of that door came a plan.

Red House West//Designing Built-ins

In our new plan we still had the closet tucked under the eaves, but bumped it out so it was deeper than the cabinets.  We didn’t want a huge box of wood in the corner so we opted for drywall instead.

Red House West//Designing Built-ins

The door is solid and heavy and probably original to the house.  Because it’s little, we’re going to hang it high so it’s easy to see into the closet. It still needs to be painted, but I decided to give the hardware a little makeover right away.  After a quick Google search, I found that the best way to remove old paint from hardware is to boil them.
Red House West//Designing Built-ins

This was my favorite kind of project – fast, simple, and satisfying.  I just put the hardware in a pot (it’s a pot we use for making soap and such, not for food) and added a little dish soap.  Then I boiled my restoration stew until I could see the paint lifting off.  I transferred the pot to the sink and used the scrubby side of a sponge to work the paint loose.

Red House West//Designing Built-insIt required very little effort and it looks about a million times better:

Red House West//Designing Built-ins

So nice! Even though the room is still in chaos and footprints of drywall dust line the hallway, just looking at the cleaned-up hardware makes my heart feel calm and happy.

Here’s what the room (after lots of running up and down the stairs to the shop, so much mudding and sanding of drywall, (and Cameron saying, as he placed another shim, “it’s like this house was built by fu*#ing Dr. Seuss) looks like now:

Red House West//Designing Built-insIsn’t that closet going to be so cute?  I love that little door and I think the house is happy to have it back in use.  There will also be shelves on the side of the closet that wrap into the corner, like this:

Red House West//Designing Built-ins

I like to think about how one day, from the vantage of my highly-skilled-with-Photoshop future, I’ll look back on this photo and laugh tenderly at my embarrassingly bad mock-up skills. Thanks for bearing with me until that day comes.

The cupboard doors are almost done and then the window seat, with a hinged top, will go in next.

Red House West//Designing Built-ins

I also settled on a paint color.  My initial plan for this room was to paint the walls Crystal Ball (which I love so much in our living room) and the cabinetry and trim bright white.  I started to worry that with the sloped ceiling and all the woodwork it would look choppy, so I decided that a single color -with a matte finish on the ceiling and walls and semi-gloss on the cabinetry and trim – would be better.  Once I made that decision I put up swatches of four paints I already had, and very quickly I decided on White Dove by Benjamin Moore.

Red House West//Designing Built-insIt’s a really pretty almost-white that reads a little almond.  When the whole room is painted it will just look white, but with some warmth.  This decision feels great, and the all white background will really allow me to play with the textile patterns on the daybed and window seat.

I’m learning a lot on this project.  Cameron grew up building things, and also did it professionally for a while.  I did not.  When we first moved in together I brought to our shared home a spray-painted particle board bookshelf.  I had wanted to run my stereo cords through the back but, because the only tool I owned was a hammer, I’d just hacked my through it – leaving a jagged hole.  An inelegant solution, but I guess it showed determination?  Point is, I could do a way better job on that bookshelf now!

It feels good to have the foundation of this room figured out, and I’m putting together the plan for furnishings and decor which I’ll share with you soon.  Thanks for reading along!

What Makes Eclectic Style Work?

If – like us – you are thrifty, it is good to also be eclectic.  Our own homes are a mix of old and new, pulled together with things we’ve inherited, made, scored at thrift stores, or saved up to buy.  It is perhaps not by accident that images of rooms we’re most drawn to on the web also have a mix of old and new.  None of them could be designated wholly mid-century, antique, country, or really anything other than . . . eclectic.  There’s always a risk that a room intended to be eclectic will veer toward jumbled mess, so we thought we’d take a critical look to see what makes some of our favorite eclectic rooms work.

As we looked at images and talked it over, we realized that the eclectic spaces we love most are often actually quite unified, but with one disparate element.  Something that throws the whole look charmingly off-kilter, and that elevates a room from pretty to stylish.

In this room everything is sweet–the pale pink walls, the sloping ceiling, the rose bedding, the ornate vanity.  The addition of a space-age tulip chair gives this pretty princess chamber a much needed edge, and makes it a room we love.

Everything in this entryway calls out to us (including the scruffy dog), but what really makes this room sing is the contrast between the sleek modern lamps and the ornate wallpaper and mirror.

This antique filled room is decorated with beautiful furniture and details, but without the quirky touch of the dome-shaped lamp and the zebra cut-velvet upholstery on the couch, it might feel cloying.  The modern touches tip the balance from just another beautiful room to being in our all-time favorite top three best rooms list.

This kitchen is another favorite of ours, but here the balance is achieved by adding a single antique piece to an otherwise modern space. The cabinet makes a room that might skew stark into an interesting room with a story.

This kitchen is a bit more industrial, but like the kitchen above it benefits by the addition of the antique cabinet. The curved ornate lines balance out the linear shapes that dominate the rest of the room.



In this room the painted cabinet might be a little shabby chic for our taste, but paired with the upholstered Danish armchair, it drops the shabby and is completely chic.

This chair wears its history proudly, and next to the modern lipstick-colored table it’s reinvented as perfectly now.

What do you think makes an eclectic room work? Do you mix decades with wild abandon, or do you prefer to stick to a single era? We’d love to hear! Come back Wednesday for an update from Katie about the progress she’s made in her Chamber of Secrets.

Mera’s House: The Breakfast Nook Reveal, 2 Ways

At long last, I’m ready to show you the progress I’ve made in the breakfast nook!  There are a few things I still want to do in this space, but for now I’m really happy with the way it’s coming along.

The ‘after’ in this post is coming to you in two parts.  You might recall from the inspiration post that Chester and I had a debate about the table.  We both love it, but to me it just seemed like too much wood with the floor and bench seats.  Chester, who rarely expresses an opinion about decorating, liked it just as it was.  Then this fall I found a tulip table (from Ikea–not the real thing. I wish!) on Craigslist.  So, version 1 of the ‘after’ includes the original table and version 2 is the tulip table.

This is what it looked like before:

Here's the before again, so you don't have to scroll up to see what I'm talking about.

Looking at this sunny picture from the depths of darkest January makes me yearn for light! But, apart from the lack of sun, the nook is looking a lot better now.   Here is the ‘after,’ Version 1:

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

And here is Version 2:

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

The rug is an eBay find.  With two dogs on constant high alert snack-patrol, it’s holding up well.  I made the bench seat cushions with 2 inch foam.  I’ve done enough upholstery projects now to know that cutting foam is a boar, so I went ahead and bought this electric carving knife and it made a huge difference.  The electric knife cut the foam like warm butter and left a nice even edge.  The fabric is canvas-like utility mattress ticking.  I sewed a zipper onto the back edge of the cushion covers so that they can be easily removed and washed when the inevitable hairball/muddy dog nose/marginally potty trained kid/coffee splash accident happens.

I also bought a Rust-Oleum cherry stain touch-up pen to repair and conceal scratches on the wood benches, and it worked wonders.  Most of the scratches can be traced back to the incorrigible Winifred.  I am happy to report that her behavior has improved considerably, especially in the table-cruising category.  It’s been at least two months since I’ve caught her with all four paws on the table–progress!

Oh, and at last the walls are white!  This has made a huge difference in the whole living room–I can’t wait to show you changes that we’ve made there too!

Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two versions and the various things I did in each.


Red House West || Breakfast Nook

The chair in Version 1 is another craigslist score, and I’m not sure whether it’s the real thing or not, but it’s got a solid metal base and seems like it’s a quality piece of furniture.   It was covered in hideously stained burgundy suede when I got it.

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

Because this is where Opal usually sits, I reupholstered the seat with easy to clean oilcloth.

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

The artwork hanging in the corner is a pair of cross-stitched pansies that I found at a thrift store.  The reddish-purplish pillows are from eBay (they are the “Morroccan” pillows mentioned here that I got for a song because of a fortuitous (and embarrassing) misspelling on my part and the part of the seller).  The blue pillow is one that I sewed from my fabric stash.

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

Now for the specifics of . . . VERSION 2:

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

This version includes the sweet old bentwood chairs that I picked up at a thrift store a while ago.  I love bentwood, and I love caning, and these chairs have both.  I gave them a little rub down with Restor-a-Finish and they look much revived.

The artwork in the corner is a card from Carol Bryner that she gave to me when I got married. The portrait of Steinbeck underneath the shelves is another eBay find.

Red House West || Breakfast Nook

I have to say that I think the tulip table looks better, but the wood table is more solid and more tactilely pleasing.  What do you think?  Which version should we go with?

I’m still working on a pendant light fixture, and I’m trying to figure out blinds or curtains so that I can filter those glorious rays of sunshine that are coming our way in a mere 90 days or so (cue close up scene of a chapped wintery lips heaving a heavy sigh).

Thanks for reading along, have a great week everyone!

2015: The Year of Before & Afters

Happy New Year and thanks for coming back to Red House West!  We both had wonderful holidays and feel recharged and excited to be back on the ol’ blogging horse.  We took advantage of the break to get some work done on our own homes, which we’re looking forward to sharing with you in the next few weeks.

The amount of work we got done – and our excitement to share it with you – made us rethink our posting schedule a little bit.  Starting this week we’ll be posting on Mondays and Wednesdays, but no longer on Fridays.  Each Monday we’ll write a post together, and on Wednesdays we’ll alternate posting.  We think the change will give us more time to complete the bigger projects we’ve been wanting to do in our homes, keeping the blog exciting for us and for you.  We’re envisioning 2015 as a year of dazzling before and afters here at Red House West!

In honor of this change we thought we’d share a few of our favorite transformations from around the web, because is there anything that can make hours spent covered in drywall dust more bearable than seeing a beautifully completed project done by someone else?  (“No,” says Katie, speaking from recent painful experience, “there is not.”)

We are big fans of this kitchen remodel over on Remodelista.  The venetian plaster, simple cabinetry and marble-topped island turn this into a room with soul:




We’ve loved following the restoration of Daniel Kanter’s old home over on Manhattan Nest, and his dining room makeover almost makes us wish we had acoustic tiles on our ceilings just so we could have the satisfaction of removing them.

Manhattan Nest Dining Room Before

Manhattan Nest Dining Room After

Ariele Alasko’s chair redo with hand-printed fabric is the kind of project we turn to again and again for an adrenaline shot of inspiration:
Ariele Alasko Chair Reupholstery

Ariele Alasko Chair Reupholstery

We are big fans of everything Jersey Ice Cream Co. does (they did the first kitchen we shared in this post too) and this kitchen is no exception:

Red House West || Before & Afters JICC_02_kitchen1_after

Thanks again for joining us!  If the altered posting schedule leaves you missing us with the ferocity of the coming polar vortex, fear not!  We post photos of our fat and furry creatures (and other snippets of our lives and homes) over on Instagram and you can follow us there!

Come back on Wednesday to see all the work Mera has done on her breakfast nook and to weigh in on a couple of design decisions!  Happy 2015!

Our Holiday Wish For You: Cozy Reading Spaces

Hi everyone!  As we mentioned on Wednesday, today will be our last post of 2014. We are both looking forward to lots of time with our families in the next two weeks, but also hoping for some quiet moments amid the chaos of the holidays. We are each deep into great novels right now (Katie is reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and Mera is reading book three of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante). Our year-end wish for you, dear Red House West readers, is that in the coming weeks you too can find a quiet moment to cuddle up with an engrossing book, or furry creature or, better yet, both. With that in mind, we bring you this cozy roundup of beautiful reading spaces. We look forward to seeing you back here after the New Year and wish you the happiest of holiday seasons.

Which one would you most like to curl up in?