23 Jan

DIY an inexpensive way to hang posters and prints


If you’ve tried to buy a frame for a large poster-sized print lately, you know how frustrating it is. Nice frames that size are ridiculously expensive. Other frames are less ridiculously expensive, but look cheap. Just tacking or taping the posters to the wall gets old once you’ve graduated from college dorm walls. I have a ton of large movie posters I want to hang in my home, but they aren’t hanging yet because framing them is a big investment.

Then, for Christmas this year, I received a gift card to Parabo Press (thanks, Dave!) where they will print poster-size “engineer prints” from your photos. I ordered one from an Instagram photo, and was pretty happy with the print itself:

But… as you can see, it’s just taped to the wall there with washi tape, and that was not going to be my long term solution. I had to find something else. Read More

15 Dec

Project: Chalkboard stairs

Yes, I'm a Beatles fan. How did you know?

I have a stairway that goes up to the attic level of my house (that’s where my bedroom is, though originally the attic was unfinished.) The stairway was last painted some decades ago with boring gray floor paint. The walls are dingy “landlord white.” I’ve meant to do something with the stairway for 18 years, but was never sure exactly what. Bright colored steps? Dark? Wood-finish? And what to do with the walls?

I spent a lot of time looking for ideas and inspiration. I made a Pinterest board that currently contains 244 pins of interesting staircases. But the solution to the stairway eluded me.

This is about the best the stairs ever looked. Because you are far enough away not to see the flaws.

This is about the best the stairs ever looked before now. Because you are far enough away not to see the flaws.

You can see in the photo what my stairs looked like. Plain gray, with a curtain to hide them (and keep the heat downstairs when necessary). They look better in the picture than they did in reality. In reality, they are so dull, old, and dirty-looking. No amount of cleaning makes them look nice.

Redoing them is an annoying task — finding the right floor paint, and the right color, and setting up a gate to keep the cat off the stairs, and keeping off the stairs myself while the paint dries. I just haven’t had time to think about it much. But I realized that I could just decorate the risers — the front part of each step — without much fuss. I could draw on them, paper them, paint something, whatever. Eventually when I redo the whole stairway — which I still need and intend to do — I can remove or paint over whatever I do now.

I thought about lettering something interesting on each riser. A quote of some kind. And then, I remembered chalkboard paint. Ah, chalkboard paint. So fun. And, at the moment, so trendy. One thing led to another, and a few days later, this was my stairway:

Yes, I'm a Beatles fan. How did you know?

Yes, I’m a Beatles fan. How did you know?

The risers are now chalkboards, and I can change the lettering any time I like. Or I can just draw things on them. I could even write reminders on them like “Don’t forget to pick up the laundry while you’re up there!” if I wanted to.

The top of each step is still the ugly old gray paint. But even with the dingy grey steps and white walls, the stairs look 100% better than they did before, and the whimsy of my chalkboard steps makes me smile whenever I see them.

Closer look at the stairsIt’s also a fun place to practice some chalkboard lettering styles. Chalk is pretty forgiving! Some of these words were easy to write, and others involved some erasing before I was happy with them.

“Chalkboarding” your staircase is easy. I used Rustoleum’s chalkboard paint in a quart can (not the spray paint). The paint goes a very long way. This is the second project I’ve used it on, and I am maybe 1/4 way through the can. Ideally you are supposed to use a foam brush or roller to get the smoothest finish, but I just used a normal brush. (Living dangerously, I didn’t bother taping around the steps, either. It worked out fine, but unless you like to live as dangerously as I do, you might want to tape some paper or plastic down.)

Clean the surface you are going to paint. If it’s rough, sand it or your writing surface won’t work well. (I didn’t need to do this — the surface is a bit rough here and there, but it seems to be OK.) Paint a coat of chalkboard paint. At this point, you’ll probably ooh and ahh at the deep, rich black finish. That is, if you use black paint. Chalkboard paint really does look nice when it hasn’t been chalked on yet!

Wait four hours before the next coat. Then give it at least one more coat. Two, if you can. (I used one.)

Now comes the hard part. If you’re like me, you want to start writing on your new chalkboard steps! But you can’t. You have to wait three days for the paint to cure. Three days! If you don’t do this, I’m told that the words you write on the board might be permanent. And you don’t want your steps to be that unforgiving, do you? So be patient, and wait.

In three days, break out the chalk. But, wait! Don’t write yet. First, you have to condition the chalkboards. (You may need a lot of chalk for this step.) Take some chalk on its side and cover each step completely with chalk. Then wipe the chalk off with a dry cloth, leaving a fine film of chalkdust on the surface. (At this point you lose that beautiful deep rich black color, but instead, the surface gets that slightly cloudy chalkboard look. Don’t stress out about it. That’s what it’s supposed to look like!)

Now you can write on it! Be a bit gentle with it at first while the paint continues to cure a bit more. What will you write on yours? I started with a Beatles lyric. But I have other ideas — poems, famous quotes, Burma Shave ads…

Eventually, I’ll paint the walls and the steps and brighten this area up a bit. I may or may not keep the chalkboard risers at that time. But in the meantime, I have something I can enjoy, in a part of my home that always depressed me before.

hallway before and after

19 Nov

Pinterest and the bedroom project

The wall around the walk-in closet is now an accent wall in a rich chocolate brown. The baseboards are wider, and the art on the walls is better proportioned to fit the space.

It probably goes without saying, but Pinterest was an immeasurable help in getting the bedroom project designed and completed. Back in the old days (by which I mean 2009), when I planned my new kitchen, I did it semi-old school by creating a digital inspiration board:


and a digital materials board:


Both of these were helpful, but they were a bit tedious to put together. I had to find the images I wanted, copy or scan them, and paste them into Photoshop, where I would try to make them fit into the page.

Pinterest has made that process completely simple, as long as the images you want to use are in digital form somewhere. Click a button, edit some text, boom! You’ve got an inspiration board. Or a materials board. Or a brag board. Or some combination of the three.

I used one to compile ideas for this project for a long time: possibly a couple of years. And now it also contains images of the finished room.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.24.37 PMCertain patterns became obvious almost from the beginning: painted white floors; pink, red, and orange; rich fabrics; attic doors; built-in bookcases. And so the design developed almost organically from the collection of things I loved.

Some pins very specifically inspired me, however, and I’d like to credit them here. Click on the photos to see the pins on Pinterest (from which you can usually click through to the original source material).

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 12.33.45 PM

The painted red table is easier to clean than the old unfinished pine.  The basket on the lower shelf hides things that might otherwise be messy.

When I saw this pin, with the coral-red painted RAST nightstand, it was a revelation. I already had two of those nightstands, still unfinished pine, that I’d owned for more than a decade. I hadn’t decided yet whether to keep them. This pin (unfortunately, I do not know its source, but I will credit it if I find out!) showed me that a painted RAST would be well worth keeping. A can or two of Rustoleum later, and I had glossy red nightstands that look great against the pale pink wall and white floor. Read More

19 Nov

Before and after: the bedroom project

The painted red table is easier to clean than the old unfinished pine.  The basket on the lower shelf hides things that might otherwise be messy.

My bedroom was bad news.

After 18 years of living in the house, the bedroom walls were still the same dingy white they’d been on the day we moved in. Only dingier. The nasty blue carpet had been partially removed, revealing plywood with random splotches of paint. The Venetian blinds were broken. And the worst thing? The horrible, awful fluorescent light fixture that blighted the ceiling. It was like this one:

Yes, one of those. In a bedroom. I hated it. And yet, for 18 years it stayed. And stayed. On as little as possible, but it stayed.

Here are a few “BEFORE” pictures of the old bedroom.



Note plywood covering big hole in the wall. Note also, horrible blue carpet. And cat tree.


This is about as good as any part of that room ever looked. And yet… the dingy white walls, brown trim and blue carpet are not a look any room should have.

It doesn’t look like that any more!  Read More

23 Mar

Before and after: the office project

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