Category Archives: House 1.0

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.

Kitchen: House 1.0

The kitchen was one of our biggest projects in the house, and a lesson in how to paint cabinetry.

First, let’s check out the before pics:

Original kitchen

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Original kitchen 2 Original kitchen 3 Original kitchen 4 Original kitchen 5 Original kitchen Pantry original

We wanted a new look for the cabinets, but could not afford to replace them. We decided to paint them, which was painstaking, but ultimately looked great. Here’s how you do it:

1.) Wipe the cabinets down with TSP.

2.) Steel wool the wood to ensure that it will take the paint.

3.) Use Sherwin Williams oil-based paint, which will resist the hard wear of a kitchen. Apply it in smooth strokes, using light layers with each coat. It takes a long time, so get comfortable. (Be sure to take off the cabinet doors. Do the boxes first, then the doors separately.)

4.) Replace or restore the hardware, depending on what kind of  shape they are in.

Once the cabinets were done, we also upgraded to granite countertops and added a tile backsplash. The pic below is when the countertops were off, and our cat made a home of it.


And here’s the old porcelain sink, which we replaced with an undermount stainless. (We donated this one to Habitat for Humanity.)


The final result:

08809470_8_3 08809470_9_3We splurged on Anthropologie knobs for the hardware because we’d saved so much on the cabinetry. Plus, I like to create situations where people tell me, “Hey, nice knobs.” The backsplash is mosaic tile that we found on clearance at Home Depot, so we really cleaned up there. My mom created the custom valance from quilting fabric I loved (the Joel Dewberry Modern Meadow collection), which also inspired the retro, 1950s wall color.

The final pantry, with the same finishes as the kitchen.08809470_10_308809470_7_3

Family Room: House 1.0

The family room was originally a three-season porch that previous owners turned into a family room. The walls were rough paneling that had been painted shabby-chic style.


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Family room original 1

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We were originally going to rip out the paneling and replace it with drywall, but we didn’t have the money. Instead, we painted the paneling to buy ourselves some time, ripped off the mantel and painted the faux-brick gray. (We also made an area rug out of the carpeting we had ripped up in the other rooms. Recycling!) My mom made the curtains from Annie Selke fabric, and they turned out great. The Franklin stove, which I was originally just meh about, turned out to be a really cozy feature. We were happy enough with the results that we never did the drywall, and the family room became the hub of our house.


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Living Room: House 1.0

The living room just got a few cosmetic updates, as well as some refinished hardwood floors after we ripped up the carpeting.


Living Room Living room 3 Living room 2




The chairs were an old garage sale find my mom got for $4 a piece. We had them recovered, and they still cost less than a standard, less comfortable chair from IKEA.



For the walls on either side of the mantel, we applied a paintable, textured wallpaper and then painted it the same wall color. It turned out beautiful, and I think I’ll find a place to do it again in the new house.


The old Expedit bookcase from IKEA (at least 12 years old at this point and still going strong) to showcase the library and camera collection.

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!


Basement Playroom Makeover: House 1.0

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The house came complete with a retro, wood-paneled basement that we turned it into a playroom on a pretty tight budget. So how do you turn a Brady Bunch basement into a crisp white kid zone? See below.

First up, tips on how to paint the paneling.

1.) Sand it to get the sheen off. This is messy—masks recommended. We used an electric sander on the main part of the paneling, and then hand-sanded into the grooves. It took a weekend to complete.

2.) Wash the walls down to remove the grit.

3.) Prime the walls using Kilz primer. This effectively covers the knots in the knotty pine and gives a surface for the paint to grip to. This step took us a weekend and some weeknights after the kids went to sleep.

4.) Paint the walls using semi-gloss white paint. This took two coats.

5.) After we finished the walls, they looked so fresh and white that the ceiling looked drab so we painted that as well.

Before and after view down the basement stairs:



Another before and after view. Totally de-knotty pined.



The curtains and window seat were created from cute sheets I found at Urban Outfitters. The shelves are IKEA, and the train table — the bargain of my life — was obtained for $25 at a kiddie consignment sale.



We turned the nook into a reading spot and toy storage. The decals are from Etsy, the pillows are Marimekko, and the pads were covered by Urban Outfitters sheets.



My mom created toy bins in the seats by sewing canvas bags and velcro-ing them around the top so they can be removed and cleaned.


The cockpit was made by my husband (the door behind it hides the sump pump, so we don’t need to access it).



Expedit shelving and Sophie the Giraffe should be issued upon a child’s birth alongside those blue and pink striped newborn blankets. The shelvingand bins are Ikea; the couch is re-purposed from my parents house. The art along the back is homemade — a spaceman collage, ferris wheel and gumball light. The play table and rug are from the Land of Nod outlet in Naperville.


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My husband had to make a door out of knotty pine so we could keep the kids out of the unfinished part of the basement. The result is here, complete with cat door.



And there you have it! A basement play room for some sweat equity and a whole lotta white paint.

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.


Dining Room: House 1.0

The dining room was one of the first rooms we re-decorated when we moved in, in part because peeling off wallpaper is so satisfying. Here are the before and after shots!

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I am obsessed with this wallpaper and plan to use it again in the new house. It took a while to convince my husband, but the compromise was to use a neutral gray below to offset the wild pattern. The chandelier was original to the house and just needed to be cleaned (vinegar did the trick) in order to be restored to full reflectiveness. We also pulled up the carpet and had the hardwood floors stained in a dark tone.

The buffet and china cabinet once belonged to my great-grandmother, and the dining room table and chairs were once my aunt’s. I still plan to stain or paint the chairs a darker tone, but just didn’t get around to it in this house. That, and recovering the seats, are still on the to do list. I’ll get around to it eventually. In the meantime, the kids spill spaghetti on the old fabric.