Tag Archives: Interior decorating

Decorating on a budget requires magic potion

Craigslist + spray paint = pure gold

Before the pandemic ruled out discretionary travel, my Beloved and I spent a lot of time driving around the greater Austin area picking up amazing deals he found on Craigslist.

Some people might avoid Craigslist, what with its reputation for being sketchy, but my Beloved is 6-foot-3 with a mean left hook, so few places and people scare him. He’ll schedule a meet-up with just about anyone. We’ve never been ripped off or beat up using Craigslist (knock on wood), and in fact, he’s found some amazing stuff and we’ve met a lot of friendly people.

Firm believers in the trope that one man’s trash is our treasure, we haunt Facebook Marketplace, Goodwill and consignment stores, too. And this willingness to sift through a lot of junk to find the good stuff came in handy as we furnished our new condo. Our winter place had been a 355-square-foot RV, so we had almost nothing to begin with.

Our new place has a garage, which means we have space to spray paint, the magic potion of transformation.

deck chairs

Picnic paradise.

My Beloved found this picnic table set on Craigslist for $225. It was perfectly functional, but a little rusty. A couple coats of matte black spray paint, and voilà. As good as new.

The matte black looked so nice on the deck table, he employed it again for a little seating area on the back patio.

back deck settee

The view isn’t as spectacular, but the privacy is nice. 


Our up-north clock is peeking out from behind that 12-foot Christmas tree there.

We spied this set outside our neighbor’s camper at the resort where we stayed prior to our move. The back on the matching chair was broken off, and this table and chair had endured more rain than use in their lives. They were just sitting there, forlorn and unloved. We offered the neighbor $25 for the two functional pieces of the set, and he jumped at it. Now we have the perfect spot for a phone call and an afternoon cup of coffee.

Our dining room needed a big piece of wall art to fill the back wall. Initially, I shopped for an oversize clock, imagining the kind of piece we’d used in our great room back in Wisconsin, the sort of decoration of which Joanna Gaines would approve. This was too specific (or on trend) to find on Craigslist. And the new ones I found online were either too small or too expensive for my taste.

While perusing the oversize art pieces at Goodwill, I found a piece of filigree metal work hidden between pieces. The price was perfect ($15), but its golden color said 1990 to me. This time, my Beloved painted it in satin black instead of matte, and now it shines.

diniing room ornament

Satin black was this piece’s destiny.

I love how the wall ornament echoes the new light fixture in the dining room. Here are the pictures of the way the dining room looked before we bought it and after we redesigned it.

Sharp-eyed viewers might notice the centerpiece on the table. This beautiful piece was neither found on Craigslist nor spray-painted, but it’s the perfect accent on our table.

candle holder

This beautiful candleholder was handmade by my dad, a talented woodworker. I’ve bragged about his work making bookshelves in my previous homes. He works with smaller projects now, and he’s mastered the art of mixing woods in the details (can you see the seam down the middle there that matches the supports?). It coordinates with the eclectic mix of chairs we chose for the table, and I love it.



Back in the home improvement groove

When we visited properties late last year with our Texas Realtor, we entertained the idea of buying a fixer upper. After all, we knew we could pull off a project like that after what we accomplished with old church in southern Wisconsin that we turned into a home.

But memories of the dust, the mess, the back-aching work stopped us from buying an uncut gem. Instead, we settled on a condo.

As I shared last week, the condo still had more than its fair share of dust (click here for that story), but at least the electrical wiring and most of the plumbing is in operational order.

Still, the carpeting was horrifying, the kitchen backsplash ho-hum and the place hadn’t been painted in more than 15 years. Rather than take up those projects ourselves, my Beloved tracked down a couple of truly excellent contractors who swooped in the days after we closed to lay new flooring, install a new backsplash and paint every last thing from ceilings to trim. Ah, the power of paint!

Since before-and-after photos are so satisfying, I thought you might find our projects interesting.

condo carpet before

BEFORE: Wear and tear on the carpet was evident.

We replaced the tiling in the kitchen, entryway and bathrooms and the carpeting elsewhere with a luxury vinyl plank flooring, designed to be attractive and long-wearing.

condo flooring after


The tile looks like distressed wood with a mix of beige and brown and gray and black to coordinate with anything.

condo backsplash before

BEFORE: The former kitchen backsplash matched the tile flooring and wasn’t different enough from the granite countertops.

I hated the kitchen backsplash and briefly considered a sparkly tiny tile, but I shook off my Las Vegas fantasies and ultimately choose an almond subway tile.

condo backsplash after

AFTER: Kitchen backsplash. Ahh.

Originally, the walls were taupe and the trim was off-white, a very straightforward choice. The effect was drab.

condo living room before

BEFORE: This is how the living room looked on our first showing. The paint job was unremarkable (and the furniture was clunky and further boring).

After painting the entire church in one color scheme which drew attention to the architecture instead of the room colors, I knew I would do that again in this condo. I decided to switch the dark and light of the original paint job by painting the thick, beautiful trim a darker color than the walls. This had the added benefit of saving money on the paint job because we had the ceilings painted the same light color as the walls.

I adore the is-it-gray?-is-it-green? vibe of the trim color. It calls attention to the most interesting architectural elements of the room–the doors and windows. And the windows become beautiful frames for the view of the lake. The trim color is part of Sherwin-Williams Nurturer collection. It’s called Sensible Hue. That darker color on the wainscoting is Illusive Green. The walls and ceiling were painted in Oyster White.

As a lake home, the condo needed a calm and watery theme (rather than Spanish Revival or whatever was going on before). Heck, if a Minnesota Transplant can’t figure out how to outfit a lake home, who can?! These paint colors coordinate with the blues and greens of the furniture and accessories we invested in.

I’ll be sharing images of some of the rooms after they’re completely furnished, which we’re still working on. But here’s a peek at part of the living room.

condo living room after

AFTER: Now, that’s better!


Location, location, location (and the view)

Back when COVID-19 was just an obscure outbreak in central China, my Beloved and I spent time with a real estate agent (within six feet of her!), driving around Lake Travis (when driving around was socially and medically acceptable) and looking at property (touching countertops, flipping light switches–we were gutsy back then).

Lake Travis is a reservoir lake on the western edge of Austin, Texas. After spending winters for a decade glamping in various locales in the southern United States, we had determined the Austin area to be “the one”: the one place in which we might consider spending multiple winters. Affordable, geographically and culturally interesting, not too humid or too hot (at least in the wintertime) and the people here reminded us of the good-hearted Midwesterners with whom we’d grown up and spent our summers.

Just before the pandemic was officially declared, we closed on a condo on the north side of Lake Travis. It was one of the first properties we viewed, and we kept coming back to it for its location, price and view.

Oh, the view!

View from the deck

Even on a cloudy day, the view from our deck is impressive.

We’ve now been sheltering in place here for two weeks. We’re quite content keeping ourselves busy unpacking, repairing various doodads and decorating. If we’re going to be stuck somewhere, March in central Texas is lovely. I’ll share some of our condo updates in a future post, but for now, I’m sharing a sunrise. Here’s to the sun rising tomorrow.

Sunrise over the lake

It’s Travel Tuesday: Let’s check out Waco, Texas

It’s Travel Tuesday and today, in keeping with the theme I began Sunday when I mentioned Joanna Gaines in conjunction with decorating the church-renovation-that-was-not-to-be and the book review Monday of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ memoir over on my author blog, we’re going to visit Waco, Texas.

Waco is south of Dallas-Fort Worth on Interstate 35, and my Beloved and I made a stop there on our way home this spring from Yuma, Arizona. April is a great month to pay a visit to Texas; not too hot, not too cold, just right. We camped at Hamm Creek Park near Rio Vista, Texas (northwest of Waco), and the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush flowers growing in the ditches in April were breathtaking.



The Silos

If you’ve heard of Waco, Texas, before it might be because of the government siege of the Branch Davidian’s property near there in 1993. But it wasn’t a religious or political pilgrimage that brought us to Waco. We came for the shopping, specifically Magnolia Market at the Silos, which home designers Chip and Joanna Gaines opened late last year. The couple, who star in “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, spent $1.4 million to transform the vacant Brazos Valley Cottonseed Oil Mill in downtown Waco into a shopping mecca for home décor and food trucks.

Parking is tricky. We found a spot on a nearby street, but apparently there are alternatives. Plan to spend some time there because you might be standing in line. Grab some food at one of the food trucks outside. When we were there, Tyler didn’t even go inside. I stood in line mere minutes, but once inside, it’s a madhouse, kind of like spring break at Disney World.


I took a picture of these tulip bouquets to match my sweater instead of buying one.

For me it was worth it, but bear in mind: It’s a store, not a museum. I left with a T-shirt, a candle and a box of stationery, which is fine with me, but if you’re coming for the design ideas, you might as well stay home and watch the TV show.


Magnolia Market selfie

We would have liked to drive around Waco to see the homes the Gaines’ have renovated, but if there’s a list of such homes or a map that exists somewhere, I couldn’t find it. We found a couple of other cute shops and malls to visit, and we enjoyed that. We did not see the Gaineses. Still, our visit to Magnolia Market felt special being there if only because you can see Joanna’s hand in the selection of items for sale and the way the store and property is decorated. I also found a little bit of inspiration in one of the wall hangings for sale.



Does this work of art make my front door look like a lush?

Oh, my god, has it been three years already?!

Yes, it’s been three years since we painted the dining room (and the living room and the kitchen).


Time flies when you’re … um … not painting every wall on the main floor of your house.

In any case, when I showed off the before-and-after pictures of the dining room following that transformation, I left out the north wall, which has looked pretty much like this for three years:

entry way before

A little naked. It’s an expanse deserving of something dramatic, so my Beloved and I have looked for that Something Dramatic for a while now (I still can’t believe it’s been three years of dithering–I could have had a Mona Lisa commissioned, painted and paid for in that time). For a while, we were looking for something gnarly (as in literally gnarled) or possibly a unique piece of driftwood.

No dice.

This week, my Beloved painted the front door. What possessed him to do this, I don’t know, but I can attest it was not me who put it on his Honey Do list. It used to be a sort of tired pine green. Now it’s a lovely shade of Pinot Noir.

He apparently also got tired of waiting for the perfect Something Dramatic to show up unbidden at our front door so he went trolling on the internet to find something to adorn the spot above the church bench. He found Something Dramatic, and it arrived at our front door today:

entry way after

I think it’s cool. If you stare at it long enough, it feels like you’re traveling through the galaxy in hyperdrive.

Hey, wine has an other worldly lure. Maybe we should have gone with Pinot Noir three years ago.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

Fairest mirror on the wall

In the vein of my continued fascination with paint and its transformative effects, here’s a look at the dresser mirror I upcycled for my Adored stepson’s bedroom makeover:

dresser after

You can see the matching nightstand across the room in the mirror reflection (you can see a little picture-taking hand, too).

mirror close upThe first three coats of the mirror were in Shalestone (same shade at the dresser drawers). The final coat came from a bit of leftover Pumpernickel from the dining room downstairs (remember that makeover? here’s a peek). I brushed it on and then immediately wiped it off with a paper towel. I was attempting to replicate the look of the floor lamp in the room, and I’m not sure I completely succeeded, but I like it a lot better than it looked before. The finishing touch was three coats of polyurethane, so the mirror is a bit shinier than the dresser, which received only a wax coating.

Here’s how the dresser and mirror looked before (no, I take no ownership of the empty Fireball bottles on the dresser in the before shot):

Steamer trunk as art

Among the things I learned first-hand this year was how paint can transform a beat-up piece of furniture. I used liquid latex back in October to promote a dark dresser without personality into a shabby chic credenza for my office.

But I’m a kindergartener with finger paints compared to Rockford artist Theresa Rowinski who turned my very old steamer truck into a work of art.

I inherited the truck about 15 years ago from my grandfather who probably got it from his mother-in-law (my great-grandmother). In all likelihood, it transported one of my ancestor’s belongings from Europe to America in the hull of an ocean liner at some point more than 100 years ago.

I came late to the “paint fixes anything” show so it is my ex-husband who can be credited with painting the dirty, beat-up truck a pale yellow. He made it better but not much. It had good bones but wasn’t much to look at. Here’s how it looked recently in my spare bedroom:

Guest bedroom: After

See there? At the foot of the bed? It contained my scrapbooking supplies.

My Beloved hated the pale yellow and thought it deserved something better. So his Christmas gift to me was to have Rowinski repaint it, only this time, the trunk became the artist’s canvas. Her work is amazing. See what she did with it:

painted chest

I mean, it’s so beautiful I can’t bear to relegate it to the spare room anymore. I’m going to find a home in my master bedroom for it.

Here are a couple of close-ups of the top and front:

So often, I think of furniture for its functional value, but I love what paint — especially paint applied by a pro — can do for furniture’s aesthetics.



Last before-and-after of the office redecorating project: The closet

The first things people often think of when they think about getting organized are their closets.

Oh, how easy it is to shove clutter into a closet and close the door.

Unfortunately, clutter multiples in the dark.

While it may be the first thing unorganized people think of, it’s also often the last thing they tackle. And so it is with me, friends.

Here’s the last before-and-after of my office transformation:

My office closet before the redecorating project.

My office closet before the redecorating project.

Since my office is a converted bedroom, there’s a standard bedroom closet in it. This is both handy and dangerous. Prior to updating my home office, the closet stored gifts, gift boxes, gift wrap (all that is behind the closed door), knitting projects, suits, boxes of old files and whatever else had no home in my office.

files beforeI found a new storage location for the gift-related paraphernalia and moved all the old files down to the basement so I could make room for my current files. My current files used to be next to my desk, and they were a mutated union of good intentions and poor follow-through. I don’t even have a good Before picture, but you can see a glimpse in this cutaway from in front of my desk.

It’s taken me two weeks to sort through all the files, dump bags of irrelevant material and re-alphabetize all them into the files drawers, which are now wisely situated inside the closet. Look! The drawers now close!  And I can close the closet doors, too, clutter reproduction risks be darned.

The closet after.

The closet after.

I painted the closet — including the ceiling — in a slightly brighter yellow than the walls of my office: Butternut.

clothes hangingI also rehung all my suits on matching hangers and organized them by color. Normal people will wonder if maybe I should have my head examined, but if you’re a fanatic for organization, this impresses you.

It won’t stay this way forever — or even for long — but it’s perfectly organized right now, and I’ve got the photographic evidence to prove it.


Picture grouping brings office space together

My Beloved hangs the moon for me. Or at least he hangs my pictures.

Putting my office back together after the paint job and bookcase installation has progressed to picture hanging today.

For those of us who love before-and-after pictures, here’s the space behind my desk before:

desk before

And here’s the space now:

desk after


Let’s start with one of the best new features of my office: The crown molding hung a few inches from the ceiling. Dad installed it with the bookcase last week (it matches the top lip of the bookcase on the wall opposite this one), and I love it. We dropped rope lighting inside and connected it to the room switch so I no longer have to cross the room to fumble with the desk lamp in the dark.

crown molding close upI saw this technique in a friend’s bedroom, and the soft lighting sets a calm mood in the evening. Here’s a shot from the top of the crown molding. Tin foil tucked beneath the rope lighting concentrates the illumination upward. The approach also made painting the ceiling easier. The ceiling is the same color as the top 9 inches of the wall (Pittsburgh Paint’s Sawdust, a light yellow), so no one had to cut in the wall color at the crease.

Before I get to the main picture grouping, I’ll note the bulletin board is now repainted (a smoky purple we never used when we repainted downstairs last year) and hung vertically to make space for the inspirational “Life” wall hanging found at a flea market this summer.

Because my computer monitor is a bit of an eyesore in the after photo above, I took another shot of the wall:

wall hanging close

Picture frames before.

Picture frames before.

The images across the top are Gustav Klimt works (same artist who created “The Kiss” in the bottom left). I salvaged the smaller prints from a weekly planner I bought but never used in 2004; I couldn’t bear to part with the beautiful pages when the year came to a close. They’re displayed in heavy frames I found at a garage sale for $1 each and repainted with the same Milk Paint white I used on the credenza.

The gold frames (right side) used to be chrome with a ridiculous ship decal in the corner (must have picked them up on one cruise or another, but there were no images in them when I found them in the closet). I spray painted them gold (same at the hardware on the credenza) and found a couple sweet photographs to tuck inside.

faith hope loveI really love the profile shelf in the middle. I’ve collected those portrayals of  words from 1 Corinthians 13:13 over the past couple of years but never displayed them together.

The whole space just makes me happy. My Beloved remarked, “This is so Monica.”

Super cool credenza brightens room (and the heart)

Paint is amazing stuff.

It covers a multitude of sins and the right colors transform a surface from beat up to practically new.

Remember this?


We found it on Craig’s List. It originally had a huge mirror with drawers on the side (yes, a mirror with drawers) which we rejected. Solid wood with nine drawers (there are three drawers hidden behind the middle cupboard), it had what I wanted despite all the dings and scratches and the gothic-looking hardware: Lots of storage space. Our offer of $100 was accepted.

The former owner was a chain smoker, so it stunk up the garage until I attacked it with a spray bottle of vinegar. Vinegar is as magical as paint! The smoke odor is gone.

I’m not expert so I won’t bore you with the details you can find elsewhere, but the remake required sandpaper, three colors of semi-gloss latex paint in three coats, three different brushes, paint tape, a can of gold metallic spray paint (for the hardware) and Minwax Paste Finishing Wax (because it doesn’t yellow like polyurethane can).

Cost of the paint and brushes? Roughly $80, but I had a Menard’s rebate so my cost was only $55.

painted credenza

The result coordinates with Pittsburgh Paint’s Yukon Gold walls in my office beautifully. Compared to industrial black and steel, it just makes me happy! The top is Bronze Eucalyptus and the body of the credenza is Milk Paint.

gold glaze close upIn addition to the Green Wave from Pittsburgh Paint on the drawers, I used a small bottle of gold accent paint and baby wipes to glaze the edges of the drawers and complement the shiny hardware. The trick here is brush over the whole surface and wipe most of it off; the glaze catches in the nooks and crannies and creates interest. The hardware is still a bit too pointy and dated for my taste, but the spray paint brightened them considerably.

I now have a huge open space above the credenza to fill with artwork which will be anchored with a copy of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss,” a beautiful painting heavy with yellows and oranges. Because I love the transformative effect of paint so much, I used Milk Paint on a set of beat-up picture frames I found at a garage sale. One of the frame needs new glass, so I’ll share that scene as soon as I accomplish that task.