Category Archives: Girlfriends Got Me Through It

The girlfriends-power house remake, Pt 1

A buffet makes a statement,

sparks redecorating frenzy

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I only wish I had taken “before” photos of my friend Susan Rowe’s living room and dining room before we redecorated–the transformation is that dramatic.

Susan Rowe's oak buffet

The oak buffet that kicked off a make-over

And we did almost all of it with things Susan already had. That’s a lesson in looking at what you have–shopping your own house. When you do, you often get a clarified sense of your own taste. You notice the commonalities of color, pattern and style preferences. When you pull together items that, for one reason or another, have been scattered throughout the house, you’re rewarded–as Susan was–with a impact much bigger than the effort to make it happen.

A description of Susan’s downstairs, pre-makeover will have to suffice. The last time she redecorated, she was going for a monochromatic neutral look. The rugs in both the living and dining rooms were pale gray-on-white patterns. The window treatments in both rooms were Roman shades in a nubby cream, with sheer half-curtains below for privacy. Threads of orange and khaki in both materials were the only colorful accents. Both the sofa and love seat were off-white, rolled-arm, tufted back pieces. There was an upright piano in one corner of the living room, a contemporary black desk in another, along with a random armchair.

The walls in both rooms were painted a creamy neutral. Photos of Susan’s two kids were plentiful, both on walls and almost every surface. Small paintings by her father were a little hard to see, as they were hung too high or in out-of-the-way corners. Lamps, I am sorry to say, were too-few and in sad condition. You know how it goes–you decorate or redecorate, get consumed in work while raising your kids and volunteering at church and pretty soon, twenty years have passed. That once-fresh decorating is dated and possibly faded!

What does it take to get started? Time, for one thing. And a buddy, for sure. Having someone else along for the ride, at least at first, makes all that decision-making (where do I put the sofa, should I make curtains–or take a nap) much easier. Susan’s decorating streak burned brightly for several months after our mission in the living room and dining room was complete.

Susan’s  house is beautiful, with hardwood floors, pocket doors, a big bay window and elaborate mantels over the fireplaces, one in each room. The dining room mantel includes built-in glass cabinets. Like most of us, Susan had acquired and accumulated knick-knacks and decorative items that crowded the cabinets and almost every surface.

Susan opened her own law practice, working from home. The two kids are grown, graduated and out of the house. All of a sudden, she had time to look around and make changes. And boy, did she!

 

susan's dining room, with rug and valences

The dining room got a new, Craftsman-style carpet, new seat cushions and a decorative valance over the window. Susan loves sunflowers and keeps a bunch in a vintage green glass pitcher that was just a few dollars at Goodwill.

I don’t know where she got the courage, but she ordered a massive Mission-oak side board for the dining room on eBay. When I arrived, it was shrouded in cardboard, awaiting placement in the dining room. The designated space was occupied by a much smaller buffet. My first night there, I was up late so I tore apart the cardboard shroud and moved the sideboard into place. It looked magnificent, perfectly scaled to the room. That was the start of our decorating frenzy.

The final results are pictured above. With the new buffet in place, and the old one on a more appropriately sized wall, we rehung the art. You can’t see it because of the reflections in the glass, but the piece at the far end of the room is a Japan-esy abstract of leaves floating on a lake. We took four of the largest formal portraits on the Susan and Ross’s children, and grouped them above the buffet–which created a much bigger impact. The antique lamps on the new buffet belonged to Susan’s grandmother (we found them in the basement) and the big pottery platter was purchased during a visit to North Carolina. Susan had the antique gas lighting fixture–original to the house–rewired and placed on a dimmer switch.

DSCF2009

We cleared the clutter out of the mantel shelves and hung decorative plates above.

Textiles made the biggest difference in the look of the dining room. After a long online search, we settled on the geometric rug from Lowe’s. We saw a lot that were more elaborate or more striking–but also more expensive. This rug, as I recall was around $200. Susan and her friend Barb Montgomery recovered the dining room chairs with fabric we also used to make Roman shades in the living room. The two of them also made valances from a different but coordinating fabric over the dining room windows. Susan later used that material to make accent pillows for a couple of chairs.

The takeaways

  • The big, beautiful buffet provided a huge focus for the room. We balanced it’s heft at the end of the room with the smaller buffet, topped by a large piece of art.
  • The Craftsman-style rug is stylistically compatible with the quarter-sawn-oak, Craftsman buffet.
  • The colors of the rug, the window valances and the chair covers complement one another without being “matchy-matchy.” The fact that the chair covers are the same fabric as the Roman shades in the living room, and that there are living room accent pillows out of the valence material in the dining room, pulls those adjoining rooms together into a relationship.
  • The shape and size of art work matters almost as much as the subject matter. Grouping the portraits together made them more “important” than when they were hung singly. The size of the print over the other buffet gave that wall enough heft to balance the bigger buffet, as well as the elaborate fireplace that takes up the wall to the left of the table.
The Resale Evangelista is all about simplifying and clarifying while creating a more artful life. A beautiful house that reflects who we are is one way of making life more artful–and it doesn’t have to cost much. Next up, a look at Susan’s redecorated living room, as well as a before and after post about  her revitalized garden.

 

The “good enough” DIY garage and garden renovation

Perfection: A worthy goal…sometimes

Perfection: A worthy goal...sometimes

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Work on my friend Susan’s garden and garage is almost finished. The garage is painted, the shade garden is an oasis of hostas and ferns, the yews are lacy shadows of their former selves, while new azaleas, rhododendron and hydrangeas are positioned to put down roots.

The result is a 1,000-percent improvement, a restful environment under the spreading limbs of a maple tree. But it is by no means perfect–and we didn’t aim for perfection. This is a garden project accomplished within the limits of time, energy, money and ambition of two working women of a certain age.

It’s the good-enough garden restoration, which fits into my philosophy of incremental improvement. Sure, we could have gone for perfection. If we had, we probably would never have gotten started, let alone finished.

An Imperfect--but

We painted Susan’s garage a mossy blue-green, to complement the shade garden to the right.

This isn’t a philosophy that comes to me naturally. Incremental improvement, in this case in the garden, means waiting until next year for the hostas and ferns–dug from the gardens of friends and neighbors–to reach their full potential. A good-enough paint job meant we didn’t reset every popped nail in the garage siding.

Ambersand Before

I have friends who are true craftsmen when it comes to building projects, gardening or handiwork. They might be appalled by the unfilled nail holes or the fact that we planted the hostas in the middle of July, rather than in spring or fall. My thought is, you gotta start somewhere. I’ve never painted a garage before–next time, I’ll probably get it done with a little more finesse.

I’m not saying you should do a sloppy job–some corners shouldn’t be cut, no matter what the task. Be realistic about your resources, then accomplish what you can within those limits.

So, if there’s something you’re waiting to do until you can “do it right,” consider plunging in and doing a good enough job for the time being. You can always go back and make it better.

The good-enough garage paint job

The garage before a good-enough paint job.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Sometimes that means going for what works for the moment and planning to circle back later for more improvements. Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some of it–whatever “it” is!



Girlfriend power

The bourbon-slush-and-buddy garden renovation process

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Sometimes all you need is a friend and a refreshing treat to get done what’s needed for so long to be done. Could be weeding out the stuff that’s accumulated in the china cabinet over the years, sorting through three Weight Watchers cycles of clothing, or parting with 14 boxes of college textbooks which are not only out of date, but available somewhere on the internet.

For any of these onerous tasks, a buddy can be the secret to success. The refreshing drink? That’s the reward for the friend willing to sally forth with you into the dark corners of your clutter.

I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of partnerships many times. This week, I’m the willing buddy. While visiting friends in St. Louis, my friend Susan Nell Rowe and I tackled her backyard garden. Five days later, we’re bruised and hobbling, but triumphant.

We did it the ResaleEvangelista way. Between Goodwill and the death-row plant tables at Home Depot and Lowes, as well as using things Susan already had—many of them hidden in the basement—we kept the cost under $750. That total included a new garden gate and painting the garage. (Yes, I said we painted the garage. I can’t believe it, either.)

The bourbon slushes—oh dear, I just noted that a mere typo would make that “bourbon lushes”—kept us going. Recipe to follow.

Anyway, the real key is what another friend, Laurie Vincent, calls your “body double.” This is the person with some special talent that you, yourself, lack.

Could be she/he is an organizational genius, has off-beat ideas for repurposing stuff, will firmly insist it’s time to discard the silk roses from your (first!) wedding (and the mauve china, too), possesses the tools and skills to repair almost anything, or simply has the patience to sit and talk while you work.

When you draft this person into service, some magical synergy occurs. Your own energy and abilities multiply, and you accomplish what previously seemed impossible. Like painting a garage.

I’d write more about the garden project, but Susan is tapping her foot. The garden is almost done, but there are pictures to be hung in the dining room. So, more details in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe for bourbon slushes:

Bourbon Slush

  • 1.75 cups of bourbon
  • 12 oz frozen lemonade
  • 6 oz frozen orange juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar (optional—we do the diet version)
  • 2 cups strong tea
  • 6 cups of water
  • Mix the lemonade, orange juice, water and tea in a large pitcher.
  • Add the bourbon, stir and freeze in a large, flat container
  • Serve scoops into a glass, garnish with mint (optional)