Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Custom Stool Makeover

Sometimes you just have to do it yourself.  That's what I thought when I was trying unsuccessfully to coordinate window treatments with extra seating for the kitchen area in our Florida house.  First, I fell in love with window panels from West Elm.   The style, design and color were perfect for the space.

Once the curtain decision was made I went on the hunt for a bench solution that would fit under the window.  I wanted something that could easily be moved.  The house is small and the main living space needs flexibility to easily accommodate family and friends.  Ideally, I wanted two small stools that could be moved around whenever needed.  I also wanted my stools to be inexpensive, or better yet, cheap!

So the search began.  I looked online.  I looked in retail stores.  I looked in consignment shops and second hand stores.  I looked and looked until one day when in Target I spotted two stools.  They were simple, upholstered stools covered in a gray floral fabric.  They were right height and size for the space and perfect, except for the fabric.  The clearance price of $17.00 for each made me stop and think.  I hemmed and hawed.  Could I slipcover them?  Did I have the nerve to attempt to recover them?  After all, I have never attempted upholstery projects before.   In the end the price and my can do spirit won me over and convinced me it was worth a try to recover them. I apologize that there are no before pictures.

This post is not a tutorial on recovering stools.  It really is a simple project.  You can find a number of YouTube videos that will help you get the job done.  This post is about what I learned in the process of recovering my stools.  I hope what I learned will help you when you attempt a project like this.

Lesson 1
You need the right tools.  I was gung ho to get this project underway.  I had my fabric.  I had my stools.  This was going to be easy.   Hmmmm, two years later I actually finished this project, but I initially thought it would take me a couple of hours.  I started by removing the original fabric from one of the stools.  The only tool I had was a screw driver to pry off the staples securing the covering.  It took me hours and hours.  It is a miracle I didn't end up in the emergency room as the screw driver slipped and I nearly stabbed myself, not once or twice, but many times.  I was so disgusted by the time I got the fabric off of one stool that I put both of them in a corner and walked away.

Lesson 2
Ignoring an unfinished project doesn't get the project done.  Every time I looked at those stools tucked away in a corner they reminded me I had given up.  I began to rationalize, telling myself it was okay not to use those stools.  Perhaps I should just spend $250 on a plain navy blue bench I saw online.  Maybe I could take the stools to the local upholstery shop and have them finish the job.  Yes, those were both practical solutions, but deep down I wasn't ready to let this simple project get the best of me.  As time went on, those stools started to haunt me.  Something had to be done.  The two years this project took to complete was due to 729 days avoiding the project.

Lesson 3
Rely on the experience of others.  One way to do learn a new skill today is online through blogs and YouTube videos.  The tutorials I found online were very helpful and gave me the courage to start the project, but they didn't share the pitfalls.  Those little pitfalls are what can make or break a project.  The turning point for me was a conversation I had with a neighbor who had just recovered some chairs in her dining room.  Not only did she have some helpful tips, but she had the right tools and she was willing to lend them to me.

Lesson 4
Keep it simple.  To keep my project simple I took the stools apart carefully so I would be able to follow the original covering approach.  That meant I had a custom pattern already prepared for me by using the fabric on the stool for that purpose.  I also decided not to tuft the top of the stools.  I didn't have the right tools for that and I thought a smooth seat would have a more modern style.  I also reused as much of the original materials as I could.  I used the original cording to make custom piping for the recovered stools.  I reused the black fabric finishing piece for the underside of the stool that would cover all the staples.  I would have reused the decorative studs along the edge of the stool, but too many were too bent by the original application process for reuse.

Lesson 5
Little things make a difference.  It's the little things that will sabotage your project.  For example There is a big difference between a screw driver and a tack lifter.
Tack Lifter
Once I had a tack lifter the task of removing both the staples and decorative studs was quick and easy.  Using a simple pattern can make your life easier.  For example, I needed something to help me space out the decorative tacks.  For that I measured out the desired spacing on a strip of paper and reused it as a guide on each side of the the stools.

My Tack Guide

One tip I picked up by reading customer reviews when purchasing the decorative tacks for this project.  It was simply to use needle nosed pliers to hold the tacks when hammering them into the stool.

A Simple Tip for Nailing Tacks

And finally, be sure you have a good stapler.  I used a staple gun attached to an air compressor that made the stapling part of this project a breeze.
The Final Product-Custom Stools

I learned a lot from this project about recovering furniture and about myself.  The actual time it took to complete these stools was about eight hours.  That includes the frustrating time I spent with the screwdriver removing staples on the first stool.  Learn from my lessons and you can probably do it in half the time.

Good luck!


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dining Room Update

It's absolutely true what is said about the snowball effect of home upgrades.  A little paint here turns into new paint everywhere.  Fix a broken tile here and soon whole floors need changing.  Well, that's what has been happening in my "Just One Donna" home.  Spring brought us a brand new kitchen and that kitchen makes everything else feel old and worn out.

Not one to throw it all out with the bath water, so to speak, I have been working hard to find ways to update on a budget.  One room of focus has been the dining room which is adjacent to the kitchen.  It's a work in progress, but I've made a few changes to get some momentum going.

First let's take a look at the before dining room.  You can see it it is a very traditional dining room.  I love the traditional feel, but wanted to add some more modern accents.

Three things have changed.  The first, and most impactful change, was replacing the rug.

Then I decided it was time for the fake ivy, which had been on either side of the china cabinet, to take a hike.  Lastly, I wanted a more modern chandelier for over the table.

Here's the result of those changes.

I'm very happy with the new look.  I still have a few more touches to add.   I want to replace three botanical fruit prints with one large art piece (one barely shows in the before picture), find a new lamp for my buffet and replace the mirror I have hanging above the buffet.  I haven't found the right pieces yet, so I'll be patient until I do.

Here are the shopping details for this update:

The rug:  Bella NuLoom 8'x10',
The Chandelier:  Elegant Dangles,
Wall Panels:  Trellis Wall Panels,

Be sure to watch for sales.  That's what I did.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kitchen Renovation-The Plan

Once I had some clarity about what I wanted my new kitchen to look like, and I had established an overall target budget for the project, I needed to figure out how to get from the "idea" to an actual finished kitchen.  That meant I needed a "PLAN".

The first element of my plan was a drawing of the layout I wanted for my kitchen.  This was easy for me because I didn't want to change very much about my existing layout.  I had lived with and loved my existing kitchen layout for many years.  That may be a reason I resisted a kitchen renovation for so long.  The existing kitchen was working pretty well.

My Kitchen Layout
You can be more fancy than I when drawing your plan, but all I needed was a measuring tape, a piece of graph paper and a pencil.  My plan is not drawn to scale, but I did try to keep the sizing relative.  I also included accurate measurements for all of the spaces.  I planned to use this drawing when speaking with prospective kitchen designers and other trade professionals and I knew they would want specific measurements.

I thought long and hard about the existing placement of all the cabinets.  Did I want to replace any of them with a different function.  Would I replace stationary shelves with pullout shelves or drawers?

The Cabinets Above the Cook-top

One thing I knew for sure was that the existing row of cabinets above the cook-top, that separated the kitchen from the family room, would be removed. I needed to be sure the storage space that would be lost by removing those cabinets would be found somewhere else in the plan.

Counter Clutter
 I also knew that, if possible, I wanted to eliminate as much of the counter clutter as possible.

Once the current layout was completed I sat down and made a list of all the things I wanted to change:
New cabinets, new hardware
Remove cabinets over cook-top
Eliminate soffit, upper cabinets to reach ceiling
Replace kitchen windows
Replace kitchen door
Install beverage center in nook, wire for electricity
Extend island 24", move microwave to island, install electric outlets
Replace sink and faucet
Switch placement of refrigerator and double ovens
New dishwasher and cook-top
Granite counters
Install a bar on cook-top counter, new electric outlets
New tile floors
Install lights above cook-top
Replace light above sink
New light fixture above kitchen table
Remove baseboard heater along wall.  Install kick heated under sink cabinet.

This became my project task list, each requiring a budget.  For the budget I started a spreadsheet, listing each task and assigning each a target budget.  Once this was done I felt ready to begin talking to kitchen designers and installers.  Those discussions would take me to the next step, refining the plan.

That will be my next update in this series on my kitchen renovation, Refining the Plan.

Read other posts in my kitchen series:
Time for a Kitchen Renovation
Five Questions to Answer When Planning a Kitchen Renovation


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Five Questions to Answer When Planning A Kitchen Renovation

According to my astrological sign I am a homebody and get comfort from my home.  Perhaps that is why whenever I think about tearing my home apart I get a panic attack.  The thought of the disruption is always a good reason to put those renovation thoughts on the back burner.  It's one thing to know that you want your kitchen renovated, but it's another to actually take the steps to get the work done.

You can't delay updates to your home forever though.  Short of moving there is no other way to to address the to be expected wear and tear a family of four leaves on a home.  Let's face it, the kitchen takes a lot of abuse.  I had experience with a family room addition several years ago and was resistant to repeating those trials and tribulations.  In that project, the three month family room addition turned into six months, of which about four weeks were spent with the back of our home totally open and unsecured.  Plastic sheeting was all that protected me from the critters and weather.  I was loathe to repeat that experience, but after hemming and hawing for much too long, I finally acknowledged it was time to plan a kitchen renovation.

For me, there were five key questions I needed to answer to get a kitchen project going. Answering these questions should help to get you started as well.

What do I want the kitchen to look like?  Answering this question took me several months.  I started gathering decor inspiration by watching HGTV programs like Property Brothers and Flip or Flop.  This helped me to see the direction of current kitchen design practices.  I also started an inspiration file using pictures of kitchens from

One Kitchen Inspiration Picture

Building my inspiration file took me hours and hours and hours, but it was time well spent.  By watching the television shows and flipping through hundreds and hundreds of pictures online I was able to zero in on just what I wanted for the look and feel of my kitchen.  Knowing what I didn't want was just as important as knowing what I wanted.   This helped me to be very clear and specific when I was ready to speak with the kitchen designers and trade professionals who would execute the plan.

How much will it cost?  This is perhaps the most important answer to determine in a kitchen renovation.  I started by Googling the question to see what a typical kitchen might cost.  Well, try it, and you'll see you get no real answer.  The real answer is a kitchen renovation will cost as much as you let it cost.  This realization sent me back to my first question about what I wanted the kitchen to look like.  I realized I needed more detail in my inspiration file.  I needed to get specific about the cabinets I wanted, the counter material, the sink, the faucet, the appliances, the flooring, the windows, the lighting....  Are you getting the picture?
Getting the Details Nailed Down

Who will do the work?  Who will do the work is a very important question to ask and answer.  First I had to decide if any portion of the work would be done by me or Hubby.  For this you must be realistic.  Do you have the skills?  Do you have the time?  Do you have the desire?  After going back and forth on this question Hubby and I decided I was the only one who would be available to do any part of the project.  The work I had the skills and willingness to tackle would be the project planning and painting.  I needed to find professionals to do the rest.  That meant I needed a kitchen designer, a carpenter/installer, a floor tiler, a plumber and an electrician.  More about these professionals will come in subsequent posts.

How long will the renovation take?  If you watch those HGTV shows you might think a whole house can be renovated in six weeks, but due to my prior experience I knew that wasn't true.  I did think that it would be reasonable to expect a kitchen renovation with no structural changes could be accomplished in six weeks, excluding the painting that would be my responsibility.  Six weeks in the spring of 2015 was my to be my target.  The planning started in the summer of 2014.

How much disruption will I have to endure?  The answer to this question is directly related to your planning and the professionals you engage to execute the plan.  It also depends on whether you plan to reside on site while the renovation is underway or you can plan to be away for at least part of the work.  Knowing myself as I do, I decided it would be wise for me to plan to be away for as much of the work as possible.  If you will be living in your home while the kitchen is being renovated you must be prepared to be without your sink and appliances for the duration of the work.  How will you handle that?  You'll need a plan.

Are you contemplating a kitchen renovation?  Start by answering these five questions.  Then you'll be ready for the next step, developing the kitchen plan.

Next in the series:  Kitchen Renovation-The Plan
First in the series:  Time for A Kitchen Renovation



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Linguine with Shrimp and Fresh Garden Tomatoes

Linguine with Shrimp and Fresh Garden Tomatoes
All of a sudden the tomato plants in my little garden are pumping out plump, red tomatoes.  This
season has been touch and go in my garden and the tomato plants have contributed to the uncertainty.  Once planted they were slow to grow.  I watered.  I fed.  I talked to them.  Day in and day out I tended to them.  It wasn't until mid July that they started to produce fruit.  The heat of August has been good for them.  The little green tomatoes have grown into lovely full-sized fruit and this past week has produced an abundance that I find hard to up with.

One solution to my abundance problem was this quick and easy pasta dinner.  It made a serious dent in the bowl of Roma tomatoes I had sitting on my counter. It also makes great use of the parsley and basil I have in my garden.  This recipe is easy to prepare and quick to cook.  Total time including chopping the ingredients is 30 minutes.  If you have a garden it's a no-brainer.  If you don't have a garden a trip to your local farmers' market will do the trick.

Linguine with Shrimp and Fresh Garden Tomatoes
Serves 2

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb linguine
3-4 cups diced fresh Roma tomatoes
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
handful fresh, chopped parsley
handful fresh, chopped basil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine, Pino Grigio works great
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic.  When you smell the garlic cooking, add the tomatoes to the pan,  Bring the tomatoes to a boil, reduce to simmer.  Add the wine, 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper,  Add the crushed red pepper.  Cover and simmer while the pasta is cooking.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the linguine and cook for four minutes.  Reserve one cup of pasta water and drain the linguine.  Add the linguine to the tomato mixture.  Stir to combine.  Cover and cook for four minutes.  Add the shrimp.  Cover the pan and cook for three minutes.  Toss the pasta mixture with the parsley, basil and Parmesan cheese.  If dry, add a little of the pasta water.  Turn off the heat.  Cover and let sit for a couple of minutes.  Plate the pasta and garnish with extra Parmesan cheese.

This is a quick, week night dinner that showcases the abundance of the season.

Get the linguine with shrimp and tomatoes recipe.



Thursday, September 3, 2015

Grilled Peaches with Caramel Ice Cream

Grilled Peaches with Caramel Ice Cream
One of the things I love about the end of summer in Rhode Island is that local peaches are abundantly available.  I actually have a love/hate relationship with peaches.  I love the juicy deliciousness of a ripe peach, preferably picked straight from the tree, but I hate the fuzzy skin.  I usually cut the skin off the fresh peach because the fuzz makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  I know, it's weird.

Recently, when out to dinner, I ordered a salad special that was a grilled peach with balsamic vinegar and Gorgonzola cheese.  It was so delicious that I've had grilled peaches on the brain ever since that dinner.  When I saw the beautiful, local peaches at the store this week I had to buy some.  I decided to grill my peaches for dessert.  This grilled peaches dessert was so quick and easy that I wanted to share it with you in time for your Labor Day barbecues.

Grilled Peaches-The Simple Ingredients
Grilled Peaches with Caramel Ice Cream
Serves 4

2 firm, ripe peaches
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
Caramel ice cream
Caramel sauce
Whipped cream

Start 30-60 minutes before grilling.  Cut the peaches in half and remove the pit.  In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Pour the cinnamon mixture onto a plate,  Brush the cut side of the peaches with melted butter.  Place the buttered side of each peach into the cinnamon mixture, leaving the peach face down on the plate for 30-60 minutes.

Heat your grill.  Place the cut side of the peaches onto the hot grill.  Leave them there to grill for 5-8 minutes, until you have grill marks and the sugar has started to caramelize.  Turn the peaches over to grill, skin side down for another 3 minutes.  If you have any left over sugar on the plate, scoop it onto the top of the peaches.

The grill times are approximate and depend on how ripe your peaches are.  Use a knife to check for doneness.  The peaches are ready when the knife inserts easily, with no resistance.

Serve your peaches warm, with caramel icecream and whipped cream.  Drizzle with the caramel sauce.

Grilled peaches with caramel ice cream, what a delicious end to summer!



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Time for A Kitchen Renovation

When is it time for a kitchen renovation?  We'd been thinking about a kitchen renovation for a long time.  The kitchen in my house was original to the home, built in 1981.  It was a beautiful kitchen when built, with custom cherry cabinets and well thought out use of space.

We made some changes in the past by installing double ovens in a mysterious closet space,

and an electric cooktop, with a cabinet with sliding drawers, where there once was a range.

These updates made the kitchen very serviceable and a pleasant space for cooking and entertaining.  As my sons grew we made daily use of our kitchen table, especially enjoying the morning sunshine while eating breakfast.

You can see in the picture above that I added a mobile kitchen cart to the end of my island as a way to test whether or not I would want the length of the island extended.  I found the additional 24" of length to be very useful, especially when taking hot dishes from the double ovens.  This helped me decide that lengthening the island would be a good thing.

Over the years we came to dislike the hanging cabinets and the hood vent above our electric cooktop.  We found that we never used the noisy vent and the hanging cabinets seemed to close off the kitchen from the family room.  We wanted to eliminate them if ever we renovated.

Then there is the tile floor.  Yes, I'm talking about those dark brown tiles.  I actually disliked that floor from the day we moved into this house.  I love tile floors in the kitchen, but dark brown tiles are not my favorite look.  I must say this floor was very serviceable throughout the years as it hid muddy footprints from kids and dogs and held up to bits of gravel tracked in during snow or rain.  This floor had a long life and it was time for it to go.

So, friends, 2015 was my year for a kitchen renovation.  The renovation was completed in May.  Now that I have some time to share the process and results I'll take you through my process is upcoming posts.  Perhaps my experience will help you if you plan to renovate soon.

More updates to come...

Next in the series:  Five Questions to Answer When Planning A Kitchen Renovation



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