better homes than yours · DIY · el cheapo · hackin' it · whine and cheese

Day 495: Cheap Imitations?

“I have big plans,” I informed Mr. December. “I’m going to rope K into my crazy, harebrained scheme and we’re going to do it when you’re out of the house.”

You might be wondering why I told him at all; I was wondering the same thing two seconds after I finished speaking. That’s me, though: when I’m excited about something, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Except for that time we threw my parents a big surprise party for their anniversary… but that was really, really hard.

Back to Mr. December. “Does it involve wrecking a perfectly good table?” he asked.

How did he know? “Maybe a little…” I admitted.

I don’t know if I ever told you that we have a new-to-us dining room table. It’s not the fancy epoxy table, and it’s not the custom wood table with the tree-shaped legs either. I’ve known this table for most of my life, as it’s been sitting in the boardroom of my Dad’s office for the last twenty-five (or so) years. It’s the exact size and shape that I wanted, and it was free, which means I can throw my table fund into twelve beautiful (and matching) dining chairs.

Besides, you know I’m happier when I’m hacking furniture, right? This table is—like most office furniture—really nice wood-look formica over particle board. But I have big plans here: remove some of the laminate (probably a meandering river down the middle, but who knows) and pour a very thin layer of blue epoxy into the resultant gap. I think it would look extremely cool.

Speaking of cool, my mum brought these beautiful chairs to my attention:

Image description: a chair with chrome legs and a transparent blue plastic molded seat. There are ripples emanating from the centre of the seat. It looks like water.

When I saw them—and when Mum told me how comfy they are—I started looking for them online. I found what I thought was the right chair on Overstock and Wayfair; but when I read the reviews, many of them said the chairs weren’t very durable. I found this strange since my Aunty (in whose kitchen the above photo was taken) told me that the chairs still look untouched even with all the abuse her dogs and birds dish out.

So I ran a Google search on the photo of the chair. Sure enough, there appeared to be two different companies making a nearly-identical product. Of course, I couldn’t tell which was which except by the dimensions; in typical Wayfair manner, they’ve given the chairs a name that is completely different from the model name on the manufacturers’ website. Sure enough, though, one of them is slightly bigger and presumably more durable. It definitely gets better reviews than its doppelganger.

This kind of thing makes me crazy. It’s obviously designed to make it impossible for customers to comparison-shop, and in that it succeeds; but if I ordered a set of chairs and they turned out to be the cheap imitations, I’d be pissed.

So how am I supposed to know? According to the online retailers, I’m not. I guess this means I have to email actual bricks-and-mortar furniture stores around here and ask if they still carry these. And if not… do I take my chances and order 12 online? Or do I order just two online and risk them selling out before I can buy more?

better homes than yours · crafty · DIY

Day 475: Playing Librarian

When a book is being read in our house, it travels a lot. It will turn up at the breakfast table and then get moved to the sideboard before we begin school; it gets left in one of the hammocks after lunch break; it is taken out to the back porch and forgotten out there when its reader goes inside; it goes up to a bedroom and loiters next to the kleenex on the bedside table all night. At some point during its travels, the reader will finish the book… and leave it wherever they were reading it last. Books accumulate on every flat surface—chairs, stairs, floors, and ledges—until someone does a purge or a sweep and dumps them all back in the library.

I am, it seems, the only member of this household able to shelve the books. If I don’t do it it doesn’t get done, which is how we’ve ended up with a veritable mountain of books on the library floor.

The library is my major focus this month. There are numerous little details we (read: I) never finished; now is the time. Not only will I be reshelving all the wayward books, I’ll also be labeling the shelves, putting up pictures, upholstering the window seat, fixing the glass door on the musical instrument cabinet, fixing the drawers that never worked quite right, and adding cabinet doors below the desk. Oh, and possibly getting new furniture.

I started today by clearing all the paper and books off the (very wide, very long) windowsill, top of the piano, and desk. Then I left my house (oh, the novelty!) and went to look for fabric samples so I could get started on the window seat. I brought home seven samples and laid them on the window seat. The one Mr. December likes is the one E hates. It’s looking like I’ll have to go with a monochromatic sort of look for the window seat, because for the life of me I can’t find a bright, complementary or contrasting fabric that I like enough to look at for the next ten years.

Here, I’ll just post a photo and ask your opinion:

Image description: 7 large squares of different fabrics arranged on what looks like a couch, with a dark purple-blue ledge in the background.

So we’re speaking the same language, I’ll give each sample a name. Clockwise from top left: monochrome velvet, colourful space invaders, monochrome marbled, crazy bright leaves, purple geometric, colourful ikat, and stripes. So… which one? Or none of the above?

better homes than yours

Day 408: Rugs, rugs, rugs… which is good, which is bad?

I bought a rug before Pesach, the kind that separates from the pad and can go in the washing machine. I didn’t love it, but everyone else thought it was fine. Fast forward a month or so: I needed to buy a rug for the basement rec room (now that there’s a TV in there.) While I was looking for a basement rug, I came across another one I thought would look better in the living room; since it was from Home Depot and fully returnable I decided I’d order it and try it out.

The kids and I love the new rug; Mr. December hates it. I’m giving you some side-by-side photos but not telling you which rug is which. What I want you to tell me is… which one is better in the room? And why?

(Oh, and I’m feeling much better—thanks for asking!)

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Kids

Day 352: Baby’s First Build

Okay, fine. She’s not a baby. She’s six. But she’s my baby, and this was her first IKEA build.

We’ve taken a very relaxed approach to furnishing our house. The library still has the old cushion from our old window seat (it doesn’t fit the new seat,) a super-comfy-from-the-curb rocking chair, and a beanbag. Our dining table is sagging—I’m convinced the only thing holding it up is the metal slides on the underside—and the chairs are beyond awful. My headboard is as yet unfinished, as is my built-in desk. And E’s room… where I had planned to have neat built-ins on either side of her bed, she has two mismatched (in size and colour) cube shelves that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house.

I finally decided to design the built-ins using modular IKEA furniture. The components arrived here on Tuesday, and today E declared that she was ready to “build my first IKEA thing!”

I’ve been assembling IKEA furniture for so long that I’ve forgotten that their instructions are a language unto themselves. I taught E all about what the letter “i” in a circle means, why there’s a hand pointing to a particular component, and how to tell all the different kinds of screws apart. By the end she was assembling like a pro.

Part of my plan for E’s room is a unit on wheels that can roll behind her headboard when she’s not using it, and then be pulled out and used as a dollhouse when she wants it. Not that she wouldn’t have room for a dollhouse that just sits out all the time, but I’m apparently not happy until my build has something that pulls out, rolls out, tucks in, or slides away. I’m quirky like that: I love my rolling kitchen island (that tucks under the counter,) the pull-out desk in the library, and my camouflaged command centre cabinet in the dining room.

The IKEA series I’m using for E’s room is called EKET. For the roll-out dollhouse/bookshelf I decided to have two cubes facing the room so she can access them when the unit is rolled away. That made joining the cubes a bit tricky to figure out, but maybe that’s just my tendency to overthink things; I ended up just using screws to attach the units to each other. I was a bit worried about the whole thing sagging at the joint between the units, so I flipped it upside down and screwed a metal plate into the bottom, straddling the join point. While the unit was upside down I added fixed casters (because swivel casters would be a disaster of scraping and banging into stuff. Fixed casters basically act like a drawer slide.)

I’m sure it’ll be a few more weekends before I’m really done with E’s room, so that’s all you’re getting tonight. In fact, after N sees this he’ll want to know why I started on E’s room without finishing his; right now he’s got several stacks of these IKEA cubes on his floor and the mounting templates taped to the wall. What can I say? ADHD means never wanting to finish one thing before starting another. Story of my life.

better homes than yours · DIY · hackin' it · IKEA · Renovation

Day 314: Vanity, thy name is HEMNES

When we were designing our house, way back in ’15, I already knew I wanted our powder room to have more than just a tiny handwashing sink. It needed to be able to store lots of extra toilet paper and hand towels, of course, but also things like hairbrushes and elastics for last-minute I’m-not-going-back-upstairs-for-this ponytails. It also needed to fit in a six-foot by four-foot bathroom along with a toilet and an inswing door.

“Why don’t you just do a nice wall-hung sink and store your stuff somewhere else?” the architect asked.

“What about just a tiny vanity?” the architect’s assistant wondered aloud.

“Nope and nope,” I said resolutely.

I hadn’t told them yet, but I also wanted a wide sink so that two kids could stand side-by-side to wash their hands. They didn’t disappoint: they told me that was unlikely to work in such a small bathroom.

To them I basically said, “Hold my coffee.” Then I hacked a vanity that ticked all the boxes.

Unsurprisingly (if you know me,) it started at IKEA. They had some nice big sinks that didn’t stick out too much. The one I chose—LILLANGEN—had a soap dish and a tray that fit inside the sink itself. As a bonus, I figured it could be installed so that it looked like an apron-front farmhouse sink.

But the vanity designed for that sink was one of IKEA’s cheaper ones, and it didn’t look very nice. I preferred the solid-wood HEMNES vanities with drawers. Some quick math told me that I could fit three of them along the six-foot wall in the bathroom, and as they only protruded about 12 inches into the room, there’d still be space for the toilet beside it.

(Unfortunately for those of you who’d like to reproduce this hack, IKEA doesn’t seem to sell the 12-inch-deep version of the HEMNES anymore.)

There were a couple of minor problems. The first was the colour: I could only get the vanity in black. No problem—that would be solved with some spray paint.

The next problem was that if I set the sink fully centered on one of the three vanities I was combining, it would be very weirdly off centre and half-obscured by the door when the door was open (which is a lot of the time, especially if you’re just ducking in to wash your hands.) It would look much better if I could offset the sink so that it was centred on two of the cabinets, but that would require some fancy work.

Here’s how I did it:

Step One: Purchasing
I bought three HEMNES vanities and the LILLANGEN sink. I was still a bit unsure of what I’d have to do to hack it, so I also bought a HEMNES étagère shelf as well: it was relatively inexpensive and would give me some extra (matching) materials to work with if I needed them.

Step Two: Planning for the sink
I needed the sink to straddle the post between two units. To do that, I measured and marked how low the sink would sit, and then cut one panel to the correct height.

Step Three: Modifying the frame
The vanities were only intended to have drawer glides attached to the insides of their side panels. For my vanity, though, I needed the two panels in the middle to have drawer hardware on both sides. Using the cut-down side panel from Step Two as well as an unmodified side panel, I drilled through all of the holes in the panel so that they were open on both sides. Then I assembled the vanity as I would normally.

Now I had one whole vanity frame with holes on its outside. Then I followed the original instructions to attach the outer frames to the inner one (by dropping a side panel each and using the central frame as the side panels.) Make sense?

Because the panels weren’t recessed equally on the inside and outside of the side pieces, I couldn’t just use the parts that came with the vanity to mount the drawer glides on the outsides: instead I used shims to install the drawer glides so that the drawers would fit properly. Then I followed the instructions to connect the side panels to each other so that they framed three columns of drawers.

Step Four: Accommodating the sink
I wanted the sink to look like a farmhouse sink, which meant that the front of it would have to go where the top drawers would normally be. I had already cut down the centre panel, but now I needed to fill the spaces on either side of the sink as well as add a crossbar to support the sink’s front edge. For this I used the extra side pieces as well as one long piece of wood from the HEMNES étagère that I bought. It would have been really cool to have tiny drawers there, but I was hesitant to complicate things any further.

At this point the sink fit, but two of my top drawers were now too tall.

Fortunately, the drawer boxes themselves mostly fit under the sink. I just had to cut out a bit of one side and the back of each to accommodate the sink and the plumbing. The drawer fronts were easily cut down to their new size, and I used my router on the new top edge to make it look like the original.

As for the drain, IKEA has a neat drain system where the drain almost immediately runs back to the wall and then goes down into the P-trap, so I only had to cut a bit out of the panel directly under the middle of the sink to accommodate the drain assembly.

Step Five: Colour
The vanity needed paint now. I found a colour of Rustoleum Painter’s Touch spray paint—Ink Blue—that was almost an exact match for the Benjamin Moore Starry Night Blue that covered the trim and the ceiling of our powder room. I used my spray tent to protect the driveway (although to this day my parents’ driveway still has flecks of this colour on it—sorry, Mum and Dad.)

Step Six: Installation
When I brought the vanity over to our house, there were a few tense moments trying to get it through the powder room door. Twisting and turning it eventually worked, and our contractors leveled the feet and screwed the vanity into the wall. I cut the countertops so that they were recessed from the front of the sink; the plumber installed the sink, faucet, and drain. My final finishing touch was to install ring pulls so that there wouldn’t be knobs sticking out into an already-too-small space.

Ta-da! That’s it! I’m so pleased with how this vanity turned out. If you do try it, please come back and brag in the comments!

better homes than yours · Keepin' it real · Kids · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 288: I can’t keep tabling this decision.

There’s a beautiful full moon outside my window as I type this. There were fireworks earlier, and it took me a full ten minutes of wondering why before I remembered that today is the last day of 2020.

This is by no means an isolated incident, caused by the whole pandemic lockdown thing. I haven’t really celebrated New Year’s Eve in twenty years. Along with Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve is just another day where I don’t see the point of going out when everyone else is too, and paying double the usual price to do it. I just don’t get it.

You know, I really wanted to write something profound at this point, but I keep getting interrupted by children and now I don’t remember what I was going to say.

I still haven’t bought a new dining room table. It’s getting to be urgent, though, as any time the kids put some weight on the middle of the table it sags alarmingly. I took out one of the two extension leaves to minimize the distance between the legs.

K was horrified. “You mean I have to sit CLOSER to N? No way! That’s too close!” This, even though the table fits six chairs around it without even a hint of crowding. To keep the peace I promised to be the one sitting next to her.

But with a sagging table and chairs that wobble (from loose joints, not uneven floors,) I know it’s just a matter of time before something breaks. I’d best get a new table and chairs before that happens.

I was going to try getting my design built by a local carpenter who works with reclaimed wood, but then I saw something today that made me change my mind. Isn’t this beautiful?

Image description: an angled view of a tabletop made of two pieces of live-edge wood with the live edges facing the centre of the table. The gap between them is turquoise epoxy, giving the impression of a body of water.

So now I need to politely extricate myself from talks with the aforementioned carpenter and get in touch with the folks who do this kind of work instead. From their website, I gather they might even be able to fabricate tree-shaped pedestals like the ones in my original design.

Then I’ll be back here with a new design dilemma, asking all of my readers to weigh in on what kind of chairs would go best with that table, keeping in mind my spill-prone kids and the cottagey ambience of our home. In fact, I’ll just ask now: what chairs would you pair with the table you see above, and why?

Mr. December is still putting the kids to bed (the volume seems to be dropping, but I still hear animated voices.) This is my chance to enjoy a nice cup of tea and a book without interruptions. For those of you who celebrate, Happy New Year. To everyone else, good night.

better homes than yours · DIY · family fun · Kids · lists · love and marriage · whine and cheese

Day 282: At least the drapes got done.

I had three priority items on my list for today:

  • Finish hemming the master bedroom curtains
  • Respond to the landscape designer about her proposal
  • Declutter and organize the front hall junk drawer

The three younger kids were enjoying a day at my parents’ house, so I assumed I’d have time to do all three things. I assumed wrong.

I started at 9:30 this morning. At 5:30 I was still ironing the side hems of one panel with fusible tape. I was ironing with a straightening iron (the kind for hair,) which had the advantage of not needing to take the curtains down. The drapes are huge and lined with heavy blackout fabric, so they’re a beast to wrestle. The less often I have to take them down, the better.

Image Description: image 1 shows the hem of a curtain being ironed with a Conair “shiny straight” iron.
Image 2 has two walls with floor-length striped drapes (in soft blues and greens), a hammock in the corner, and a bed in the foreground.

But the fact remains that I worked all day long and only achieved one goal (and only partially, at that, because two of the panels still need their sides hemmed.) Then K and I joined the other three kids (and my parents) for shabbat dinner. Some of us were not on our best behaviour tonight—I’ll leave it at that—and I left feeling frustrated. Discovering that the sliding doors on our van were frozen shut was just the icing on the cake.

And now I’m sitting here, fuming, because Mr. December is roughhousing with the kids instead of tucking them into their beds. They’re shrieking—howling with laughter—yelling—and all I want to do is scream at them to go the cluck to sleep. What part of “please put these kids to bed” was at all ambiguous?

“Soon enough they won’t want to play these games with me,” Mr. December explains, “already the game involves spending ten minutes coming up with names, then developing rules, then yelling at each other because the rules don’t work. And they wouldn’t let me use the name I wanted to use—Moonlight Starfire. We compromised on Starfire, but I had to be the bad guy, which meant being bitten a lot. Then back to being a chicken hatching from an egg, questions about the multiverse and then tucking in a cannibal who thought I was a banana. So I said I’m going to make like a banana…and split. They had never heard that line before so it was actually funny. “

He’s hard to argue with when he’s that hilarious. Not that I laughed, but it was too good a story to earn any sort of rebuke from me.

You know the adrenaline rush you get when you’re angry or upset? I’ve got that right now. My brain has decided to stop being angry, but my body hasn’t yet followed suit. I’m going to go curl up with the furry blanket Mr. December got me and read something trashy. And if that doesn’t help and I can’t sleep, I can go organize the junk drawer.

(And Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate. Enjoy this card that my kids and I made for a friend.)

Image description: a side-folding card, red, with a Christmas tree made out of sequins glued to it. Small adhesive jewels decorate the tree and there’s a glittery star on top. Snowflake cutouts adorn the edges. The card says “Merry Christmas!!!” in a child’s cursive writing.
better homes than yours · DIY · family fun · Renovation

Day 221: Again with the Mocking

“All you’re getting is tiny chips! I can do better than that!”

“Fine. Show me.” THWACK! “Oh, please. Move over, little girl! Watch how a woman does it.”


“See? That’s how it’s done.

“Yeah, in like seven strokes. My turn. Watch and learn.”

K and I were in the backyard, splitting logs for firewood. I had been doing it alone for twenty minutes (great workout, by the way) when K came out to join me. She’s actually quite good at it, but I couldn’t help ribbing her a bit when the logs wouldn’t split. Solitary work turned into a friendly competition with all the trash-talking and mocking that that entails.

The other mocking I did today was a hardboard mock-up of my dining room tabletop. You probably already know about my love of cardboard mock-ups for projects like my kitchen and E’s playhouse. This time I used a sheet of ⅛” Masonite that served as floor protection during our renovation. I’m trying to figure out how long I can make the table before it becomes too big for the room (right now I’m thinking around nine feet,) and trying to decide how narrow is too narrow (thirty-six inches? thirty-eight?).

And then there are the corners. Because of where the table has to be (at the entrance to the dining room, in a high-traffic area,) I’m a little worried that people will walk into the corners (okay, fine. I’m worried that I’ll walk into the corners and have a bruised left hip for the rest of my life.) So I’m going to start cutting various degrees of rounded corners to see what looks best.

Of course, deciding on seating would be a good idea too. I initially wanted a banquette along the wall, but I’m thinking people might get pretty sick of having to slide in and out, especially with a table that can seat five people on a side. On the other hand, a banquette puts a stop to people bashing their chairs into the wall when they get up. On the other other hand, it means that the table can be closer to the wall. So many things to think about.

Advice? Thoughts? Do you have a long table with a built-in bench on one side? All advice gratefully accepted!

better homes than yours · blogging · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 218: “More Me Mess”

There’s exciting stuff happening in homeschool all the time, but I’m not sure I want to devote my blog to documenting every single day. Today’s writing assignment, though, is worth sharing.

The kids were challenged to create a museum in their own bedrooms, with everyday objects as the artifacts. They were to label their “artifacts” using a minimum of two of their word cards for each object. When they were all done, we toured the “museums” together with their respective creators as our tour guides. Here were a few of my favourites:

I think the “dehydrated waterfall” faucet and the “fuzzy blossom” doll chair won for poetic descriptiveness, but “more me mess” has that great alliteration going for it, not to mention the truthfulness of the statement (it was stuck to N’s very cluttered desk.)

Hopefully all these games give the kids a different relationship with words (and by extension, writing.) Next week is a “mangled poem” assignment based on a picture of the kids’ choosing, and then in November we’re into a bit more conventional writing.

Mr. December and I have decided we need a professional development day this week, but we’re meaner than the schools. Over here a PD day means we do our own work while the kids visit grandparents and do more school. On Friday they can expect to do geography, leaf identification and classification, and art (creating a site-specific art installation using found objects.) At the same time, I expect to be able to drink my coffee while it’s hot, pay my bills, and finish my sentences when speaking to Mr. December. It’s a win-win.

One thing I haven’t had time to contemplate is my dining room table. We need a new one: ours is hopelessly rickety, not to mention warped and too wide for the space. A while back I came up with a design idea and started talking to a local furniture maker about bringing my idea to life. Then E got pneumonia (January and February), my Buby died (early March), COVID happened and my parents were stuck on board a cruise ship for an extra week (mid-to-late-March), and then I took on homeschooling all four of my kids (basically all the time since April.) You can see why a new dining table wasn’t my first priority.

But many moons ago, before my days were full of geography lessons and novel studies, I designed my own dining room table. I had intended to build it, but I’m going to have it built for me lest we end up toasting my grandchildren’s birthdays around a rickety IKEA table from 2002. Here’s a picture of my design concept:

So now I’m back in discussions with the furniture maker, but the ball is in my court right now: I’m not one hundred percent sure how long I want the table to be (at least 8 feet, but maybe longer?) and I think I’d like the corners to be a bit rounded or tapered, but I don’t know by how much. So this weekend, or maybe on my PD day, I’ll be making a cardboard mock-up (because you know how much I love those) of the tabletop and resting it on top of our existing table to see how I feel about the shape and size. I’m giving myself a deadline of next Thursday to decide on the table top.

And then the fun begins with the legs. Hot rolled steel? A different specie of wood? Tree-trunk shaped like my drawing? Or something else? Some days I think I could have been very happy as a furniture maker. Other days my carpal tunnel syndrome reminds me that I could work maybe an hour or two a day, tops.

And now my carpal tunnel syndrome is reminding me that I’ve been at the computer for too long. It’s rare that I can focus on a blog post for this long; usually other people’s noise distracts me. Tonight I’m using my new earbuds that have memory foam earpieces that act like earplugs. There could be a screaming match going on right now and I’d still be blissfully typing away and listening to Mandy Patinkin in The Secret Garden.

Ouch! What was—oh, yeah. Carpal tunnel syndrome is nagging me now. Okay, okay! I get it. No more for today!

better homes than yours · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 197: Jaw Dropping

We returned home from the cottage tonight. I walked through our front door, looked around, and said:

“Holy cow, this house is gorgeous! Who gets to live here?”

I mean, the cottage was nice, as cottages go, but this house is jaw-dropping gorgeous. All of the kids agree. I’m still looking around as I type this, marvelling at the colours (all my favourites!) and the smell of the oiled-wood floors. My office nook is cozy and neat; the pantry looks enormous to me. As much as I appreciated this house before our vacation, right now I’m astonished and grateful that I get to live here.

We decided to come home early—we have the cottage until Friday—because it turned cold and rainy today and was forecast to be that way for the rest of the week. The kids were elated to come home early; I could have stayed at the cottage a few more days, because drizzle doesn’t deter me from kayaking.

Remember how proud I was of them for their stamina and discipline in yesterday’s post? I take at least some of that back. While Mr. December worked and I bustled around tidying up the cottage, only one child helped pack without complaint. Two others did about half of what I asked of them, and the third required… shall I call it “special treatment”?

As I often say, parenting is about helping our children use their gifts for good and not evil; today I had that chance with R. When she wants something, she pesters and insists until her target finally gives in. She was perfect for this job.

“Hey R, your brother isn’t pulling his weight at all. It’s not fair. Can you please get him to vacuum the floors?”

She was only too happy to oblige, and Mr. December and I grinned as we heard her usual insistent tone being directed at someone other than ourselves.

“N! Stop being so lazy! Everyone else is working!” (Well, it’s partially true, I mused.) “You’re supposed to be vacuuming the floors, not lying here reading! Get up! Get up! Oh, come on! Get up!…” And on she went until he finally gave up on any hope of being able to read.

Was it wrong to use one child against the other this way? When I put it that way, maybe it was. On the other hand, if I call it something like “leveraging my human resources to maximize productivity,” it would be fine. Either way, I gave my daughter a way to use her gift (persistence to the point of obnoxiousness) for the common good… and in my book, that’s some good parenting.