Category Archives: Crafty

Kid’s Bedroom 2 – Stage 3

I was looking for a piece of furniture for this room and liked the cubic bookcase from Land of Nod. I did not, however, like the $299 price tag.


Instead, I found the Nornas sideboard at Ikea ($169 when I bought it; now $179) and decided to stain it to match the furniture I already had for the room.379

Here are the stained pieces as they dry:381

And here is the completed piece, which includes two more cubes of storage than the Land of Nod model, for $120 cheaper. Done.


Make a Cork Board: House 1.0


I filled a blank wall in my kitchen with a massive cork board to hold art projects, notes from school, and various other nonsense that piles up on the kitchen table. Standard cork boards were too small for my wall (not to mention boring), so I purchased some cork, fabric, and framing and got to work.

1.) Purchase cork board squares. I got mine at—specifically the 3/8″ x 12″ x 12″ self-adhesive six-pack of wall tile squares.

2.) Choose fabric.  Buy fat quarters, which are much cheaper than yardage and work perfectly for the dimensions of the cork squares. If you’re looking for inspiration, The Needle Shop (2054 W. Charleston St., Chicago, 773-489-4230) in Bucktown is one of my favorite fabric spots. Or check out these sites:

I used Joel Dewberry’s Modern Meadow collection, which is one of many designer quilting fabric collections that tend to be way more fun and graphic than standard lines.

3.) Prepare the cork tiles. Unwrap the cork tiles and scatter them individually because they have to acclimate to room temperature for 72 hours before you can do anything with them.


4.) Wrap fabric around the tiles.  After letting the tiles sit out for three days, take the fat quarter fabric and wrap each cork tile like a present. (Note that I ended up not utilizing the adhesive on the back of the cork tiles because I didn’t want to adhere the board to the wall permanently.) Make sure and pull the fabric tight on all sides so that it looks taut in the front square and fasten the fabric to the cork with a staple gun.



5.) Duct tape everything. Arrange the tiles in the order you want them in the cork board, then flip them onto their backs. Enter the world’s most amazing invention: Duct tape. Duct tape across the back of the tiles in a tic-tac-toe pattern to keep the squares together and be sure to add a line of duct tape along the seams.



6.) Add ribbon. Optional: Run ribbon covering the seams in the front, which is decorative and also functional for items you don’t want to put a pin hole through. Simply run the ribbon along the seam, and then adhere it to the back with tape and a staple gun.

7.) Add structure to the frame. The duct tape is holding the tiles together at this point, but the board needs more structure. Buy moulding, preferably with a lip—I found some for .49 cents a foot at The Home Depot—and cut to fit. Cut the ends of the moulding at 45 degree angles. The frame may not be perfectly square because the cork tiles may expand and the fabric adds a bit of width to the squares. As long as the frame fits, it won’t be obvious to the naked eye. Fill the corners of the frame with caulk if there are gaps.

8.)   Finish the frame. Pick up the cork board, place it into the frame, and then drill nail holes into the frame. Hammer through the frame into each cork tile. (The middle will stay in place due to the duct tape.) Be sure that the nail goes into the cork tile and not between the cork and fabric. Once done, cover the nails with wood glue and paint the spots to match the rest of the frame.


9.)    Add hanging hardware. Attach hanging hardware to the cork, rather than the frame. (If you hang it from the frame alone, it will pull over time and the cork will separate from the frame.) Run two screws into the back of the cork in the top left and right squares, and add picture wire between them. I used the staple gun liberally along the picture wire between the two screws (see below) for extra sturdiness and also because I love to use a staple gun.


10.) Hang it.


It turned out pretty cute and would work just as well for a kid’s room. Buying cork squares means you can do it on a much smaller (and therefore cheaper) scale. I used nine cork tiles total, which resulted in a 3 ft. by 3 ft. frame. I purchased two packages of six tiles ($48), 12 fat quarters to give me some options ($43), and framing ($10.) For about $100, I got an enormous cork board with more personality and style than anything off the rack.

Playroom Art: House 1.0


I had an old gumball machine that I hadn’t used in years, and now that gumballs are a choking hazard for half of my household, it was time to do something else with it. The solution? Turn it into a light for the playroom. And it was so easy.

1.) Start with an ordinary gumball machine.


2.) Unscrew the top of the gumball machine and the top bracing mechanism. I also took out some of the lower “guts” to make room for more lights. All pulled out easily.

3.) Take the wall plug and push it through to the bottom and out through the side.


4.) Wind the lights around the center pole, as though you were decorating a very small Christmas tree. I used a 300 strand of colored lights because that’s what I had leftover from Christmas, and that turned out to be a lot of lights. I ended up pushing some down into the lower portion, which has the fun effect of making the gumball dispenser area glow. The 300 strand is maybe too many lights, while the 100 strand looked too puny. A 200 strand (or two 100 strands) seems to be the Goldilocks number.

5.) Turn down the lights, and it will glow. (As far as I know, it cannot rock a mic like a vandal.)


6.) The glass gets hot after a while, so do not leave the lights on for long stretches (overnight would be a bad idea) and make sure to keep it out of reach of kids. LED lights would generate less heat, so I recommend those. Enjoy!

Playroom Art: House 1.0



The ferris wheel art in the basement was leftover from my son’s circus-themed first birthday party.

I took quilting and embroidery circles and spray painted them black. My mom helped me tie string to look like spokes (we superglued the knots to make them sturdy) and then bought blue and red takeout boxes from Oriental Trading Company to use as the gondolas. (We also superglued the top gondolas in place because they were hanging a little wonky when they were freewheeling.) The base is a piece from the bargain bin at Ikea.

It was just enough work that I placed the ferris wheel in the play room after the party because I didn’t have the heart to disassemble it after making all of those spokes.

Playroom Art: House 1.0

The flagship location of the Land of Nod (900 W. North Ave., Chicago, 312-475-9903) has a dramatic, whimsical piece of art behind the checkout counter.



My iPhone photos are not doing it justice, but it consists of dinosaur toys affixed to an enormous canvas, unified by blue paint. I loved it and decided to try it myself. This idea works with almost any theme or toy  so you can customize it to your kid’s room or play room. I chose outer space.

I bought this bucket full of space-themed goodies at a craft store for about $15 (with a coupon), not bad bang for the buck considering it came with enough pieces to fill a canvas.
I used an old canvas from a previous failed art project, but you can get them at any art store. I played with the arrangement of the space objects which included two space shuttles, two rockets, a satellite, a lunar module and plenty of astronauts. Once I was reasonably happy with the arrangement, I hot glued the pieces to the canvas, then spray painted the whole shebang silver. (In retrospect, I wish I had randomized the orientation of the astronauts a bit more, something that wasn’t as evident until spray painted, so keep that in mind if you are working on your own project.)
The end result, hanging in the play room. When my toddler saw it, he gasped and said “That is so cool. Look at the outer space!” The total cost was $21 for the toys and spray paint, and it took less than an hour total (excluding spray paint drying time.) Happy crafting!


Dining Room 1.0: No Phones at the Table


My sons are too young to have their own devices, but I wanted to set a precedent early that the dinner table is a phone-free zone. (And, obviously, adults can use a reminder, too. Reddit will still be there after the dishes are cleared.) I downloaded a free trial of InDesign to make this sign, framed it and hung it on the dining room wall. Yes, there’s been some eye-rolling, but I consider it a victory that I can at least see those eyes and they’re not glued to a smartphone. Download this version here.


Photo Wall: House 1.0


I wanted to make a family photo wall for years, and finally got around to it during the particularly strong nesting phase of my second pregnancy. I’ll be honest—it was a huge pain, took much longer than I expected, and made me temporarily resentful of the friends and family housed within the frames. (Lookin’ pretty smug there, Grandma. Don’t you judge me.) But once complete, it was happy and homey, and my kids both loved looking at the photos every day on their way up and down the stairs.

Here’s a step-by-step guide that streamlines the process, sans the stops and starts I had along the way.

1.) Gather family photos together. Printing digital photos is easy enough, but I wanted wedding photos and other old pictures from our parents and grandparents, which required borrowing, scanning, and re-sizing photos. Give yourself some time for this step. (Like maybe over the course of a month.) I stuck to printing photos in 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 to keep it fairly uniform.

2.) Buy frames. Home improvement magazines and design shows would recommend buying identical frames. This is fine if you are doing 15 or fewer frames, but is way too expensive if you need enough frames to cover a hallway. I chose a standard color (black) and bought all the 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 frames I came across over a period of four months. I mostly purchased from Michael’sGarden RidgeBed Bath & Beyond, and HomeGoods, because they had the cheapest options. It created a less uniform pattern overall, but I think the random assortment is more visually interesting.

3.) Prepare the frames. Remove the stickers from the front of the glass with a razor blade and, if any of those you purchased were also table frames, remove the easel back so it fits flat to the wall when hung.

4.) Frame the photos. Place the photos in frames, being mindful of whether or not you want a standard pattern (for instance, all wedding photos in 5 x 7 frames) or if there are any other groupings you will eventually want on the wall. I printed all wedding photos in 5 x 7 and black and white, but varied the frame styles.

5.) Plan the wall. Decide roughly how you’d like the photos to look. I measured 1″ above our chair rail, and then eyeballed a distance above the chair rail as a top line for the photos. I placed painter’s tape down the wall to definitively show the top line; the bottom line I measured each time before hanging a photo.


6.) Plan the assortment. This step takes forever, so plan accordingly. My wall had three segments—two standard rectangles at the bottom of the stairs (pictured above), and then the long, diagonal part of the wall above the stairs.

For the rectangles, I measured a piece of butcher paper in the dimensions of the area I wanted to fill with photos and played with the frames until I was happy with the design (below).


For the part of the wall that included the rise of the stairs, I used an angle finder (below) and a piece of wood to mimic the angle of the rise at the height where I roughly wanted to keep the top line of the frames. (I ditched the butcher paper for this step because the area was too large, but that would work just as well.)


Then I started filling it in with frames, playing around with different combinations and varying the assortment between black and white and color photos, eras of photos and the family members pictured.


I used my bedroom floor as my workspace because it was the widest open floor space I had. I spent about a week experimenting with different photo combinations and drove myself crazy–for no good reason. Save yourself this unnecessary step by approximating a combination that you think you like, snapping a photo of it, and looking at the photo later to see if it is a pleasing assortment. For some reason, looking at it in a photo rather than staring at the arrangement itself helps prevent eye

7.) Transfer the plan to the wall. Once you have the layout perfected, the next step is to transfer it onto the wall. My husband and I hung the photos together, and it definitely went faster as a two-man operation. We started hanging the photos from the bottom, using the chair rail as our guide, and systematically transferred the frames from our layout to the wall, two frames at a time. We measured the distance between the photos in our layout, mimicked it on the wall, and built the design slowly but surely. (This took about six nights of working an hour at a time. It was painstaking, so doing it in shorter bursts was less frustrating.)

8.) Hang the frames. Measuring the distance between the frames was much harder oncesecuredownload
hanging hardware was involved. It looked perfect on my model, but then the hanging hardware was two inches below where we wanted the top of the frame to hit. The solution: Tape a nail into the hanging hardware so it is sticking out, line the frame up where you want it, and then push the nail against the wall so it makes an indentation. Then hammer into that indentation.

9.) Enjoy!

Powder Room: House 1.0

First floor powder room original

I know some people go bananas for toile. I am not one of those people. (I don’t care for pastoral scenes in any context.)  Luckily the fixtures were high-end and in great shape, so the re-decorate was just a matter of taste.


Farewell to toile. In addition to the wallpaper, we pulled down the shelving and the mirror to replace them with items that didn’t jut out as much into this small space. The Moulin Rouge dancers (artwork, above) I purchased from a street stall in Paris 12 years ago and had never found a place for them. Now these coquettes have a home. The curtain is actually a shower curtain that my mom retrofitted for use on this window.


I also made this piece of inexpensive art (directions below) from print blocks, which I picked up at Architectural Artifacts (4325 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, 773-348-0622).



These particular blocks were used to print the labels for the infant bloomers made at the Rubens Baby Factory. (You might remember the old sign from the building on Racine and Fullerton. It closed in 2004 and and has since been razed to make way for shops, restaurants, and other things of interest to DePaul students.) Anyway,  I thought print blocked underwear was funny and a perfect fit for a bathroom. Here’s how to frame them, cheaply and easily.

1.)    Find print blocks to provide artistic inspiration. The selection at Architectural Artifacts includes letters, old labels, print plates, and more vintage ephemera. I got all three of my blocks for less than $15.

2.)   Buy a suitable background. I found a piece of flat wrapping paper at Paper Source that matched my bathroom décor for $2.50.

3.)   Get the frame. The Ribba shadowbox frame at Ikea ($9.99) worked well because it allowed plenty of room between the background and the glass for the depth of the print blocks. I removed the included matting for my project.


4.)   Use the paper to wrap the back of the frame like a present. Scotch tape worked just fine.


5.)   Wood blocks are heavy enough that they need more than tape to stay put, so I used a power drill to attach them to the back of the cork frame.



6.)   Pop the backing into the frame and done. Fifteen minutes and less than $30 for a piece of creative art that is a conversation piece for everyone that uses our bathroom.