Our Living Room Remodel Revealed: Before & After Pics!

It’s finally done! After my annoying back-and-forth with West Elm, and scouring my garage for interesting mantle items, my new living room is finally finished!

And I’m loving it. Our room before was just a hodgepodge of things that we had both brought into our marriage, but now we have a single defined design for the whole space. Our house feels more airy, open, and full of light.

So what do you think? Check out my before and after photos below, or look at my list of vendors toward the bottom of the post!














  • Couch – West Elm
  • Rugs, Drapery – Wayfair
  • Coffee Table, Chairs, Dog Bed – Overstock
  • Pillows, Wine Rack – Amazon
  • Botanical Prints – Etsy (Artist)
  • Frames – WalMart

And everything else was just “recycled” from stuff we already had. We can’t wait to start entertaining in the new space!


Styling a Mantle with (Mostly) Found Objects

As part of our ongoing living room redecoration, it became evident that my old mantle styling (which centered around a tile mosaic of one of my favorite vintage Italian alcohol posters) could use an update as well.

I’m a big fan of the “asymmetrical balance” approach to mantle styling, and I also don’t like the idea of spending a fortune to style a mantle; I feel like what you display there should tell a story about the room’s occupants, or highlight some of your favorite things.

The old mantle styling highlighted a favorite artwork and a small wine rack. 

So, I went on a treasure hunt throughout my house to see what I could come up with that might work within the new mantle decor. First, on the left, I re-discovered a pair of candle stick holders my grandmother had given me well over a decade ago.

Next, I repurposed our large living room wall clock; we like having a clock in the room, but it wasn’t going to work anymore in its old location and would be needing a new home anyways.

On the right hand side, I pulled out a large white ceramic vase that had been hiding in our garage for many years, and to help give it a little height, raided my bookshelf until I found a couple books with pretty, embossed spines that also fit the room’s overall color palette.

At this point, I was just about finished. I headed off to my local crafts store to gather the finishing touches: new candles for atop the candle sticks, a complimentary vase and some flowers to fill them. I discovered the crowning touch, my silver rhino statue, on sale for $12 at At Home. The hubby and I have a running joke about putting a giant rhino statue in our front yard to scare the neighbors; as such the rhino fits here because it’s not just a decorative object, but one that connects to us as the homeowners.


To me, this all works because of that asymmetrical balance – you have two similar, but slightly differentiated, items (candlesticks) on the left side, you have two similar, but slightly differentiated, items (vases) on the right side. You have a large round object on the left (clock); you have another round item (round vase) on the right. The heights, materials, and colors all vary. It looks composed, without looking cluttered.

And the total cost in new object to bring this together? Only about $30. Win!

Warning: Be Careful Before You Buy Furniture From West Elm

Today, I had a really unfortunate interaction with West Elm, and thought my readers should be alerted to some rather dishonest policies they’re hiding from customers.

This story all started a couple weeks ago. We decided that it was finally time to replace our old couch, and after looking at literally hundreds of different L-shaped sectionals, we finally landed on the Paidge 2-Piece Chaise Sectional, pictured above. The pricetag was hefty, but we really liked the look of it, we wanted a quality piece, and we liked that West Elm promised this piece was made & assembled in America.

So we pushed “order,” and looked forward to our couch arriving in a few weeks.

Things started out as expected, then something weird happened. The charge for the couch started out as pending on our credit card, but after a few days, disappeared completely. Going to my order status page just revealed somewhat cryptically this message:


So I called customer service. When should I expect the charge to hit my credit card, I asked?

And they couldn’t tell me.

As the reps explained, the problem lies in the fact that my piece was being custom-built by a third party vendor. (Um…what?) This was news to me, but looking into the fine print, there is, in fact, a link to this video, which explains this product is actually made by “Mississippi Made Upholstery” under the West Elm name. Other than this video, this company doesn’t come up on Google at all, and is not referenced on WestElm.com.

And this rando vendor, they told me, will bill me whenever they deliver the product to West Elm’s warehouse. Which could be anywhere between now and April 12th. I don’t even know if the charge will come from West Elm or Mississippi Made Upholstery.

So, to recap, my credit card will suddenly get hit with a $2k+ charge sometime between now and APRIL, and I’ll have no warning or clue when this is likely to happen.

I don’t know about you guys but I find that completely unacceptable. When you click “order” on an e-commerce website, you expect that you’ll be charged immediately, not at some unknown point in time in the next three months. How could anyone plan their budget if they never know when a charge is expected to appear?

Also, as I wrote about recently, I’m currently in the middle of a round of minimum spending to earn the bonuses for my two new Southwest credit cards. We specifically timed the couch purchase to help us earn our Companion Pass status for 2017-2018. Now that the charge is delayed, who knows when we’ll reach our status for this year.

I asked if they could go ahead and charge me immediately, and they refused. I pointed out that this bizarre billing policy is not disclosed ANYWHERE on their website, and they apologized, but nothing more. And of course, since this is considered a “custom order,” there’s no way to cancel and receive a refund.

For me, this is a deal breaker. This will be the first and last order I ever plan to make at West Elm. Just thought you guys might like to know.


Quick & Cheap DIY Project: Re-Plumping Flat Couch Cushions

I purchased our current traditional-style leather living room furniture the year before the hubby and I got engaged, which means it’s now seen a healthy five-and-a-half years of daily use.

While the material itself has held up fairly well in that time, the couch cushions themselves have not — the filler material had flattened considerably, and you were starting to be able to feel the bars of the sleeper bed below, especially when you sat on the middle seat.


Although part of me wanted to just go out and buy new furniture, the more Mustachian part of my brain said we could easily get a few more years use out of this set with just a little TLC. So I scavenged the garage until I found the object of my current desire: a memory foam mattress topper we had used on an old bed.

Because we already had one, this step was free for us, but if you needed to order memory foam, it’s fairly cheap: you can get a twin-mattress size piece for under $50 on Amazon.

So I went to work, first measuring the cushions and marking out pieces the same size as the existing cushions on the memory foam, and used just regular old sewing scissors to cut through. Then, I unzipped the cushions and shoved the memory foam underneath the existing batting, making sure to smooth it out so that it would sit flat all the way into the corners.

It took a little wrangling, but in less than 20 minutes, all three cushions had been re-stuffed.  Swapping out the left and right side cushions in order to make sure they got equal wear was the final step, and voila – I was done. (The finished product is the top photo.)

I can’t even tell you guys how much nicer these cushions both look and feel now — it’s almost like sitting on a whole new couch! And considering this will get us a few more years out of this living room set, I’d call that a totally worthwhile weekend project.

Home Improvement 101: Faking Recessed Lighting

The house my hubby and I call home was built in 1982, and so like many homeowners whose houses were created in this era of tackiness, I’ve been on a mission to eliminate the outdated and garish decor elements from my home for sometime now.

This has included getting rid of brass hinges and doorknobs, almost completely redoing our kitchen, changing out faucets on all the vanities, etc.

And today, one of the last holdouts of ugliness has fallen!

Our upstairs hallway featured three of the ugliest, brassiest, (most-likely) cheapest light fixtures around.  We had wanted to replace these with can lights/recessed lighting for quite some time, but because that requires climbing in the attic, moving insulation around, potentially some drywall repair…we’d been putting it off.

But then, lo and behold, when the hubby went to Lowe’s to buy birdseed yesterday, he stumbled across a set of ultra low-profile (less than an inch!), LED-powered lights in a brushed chrome finish.  They were perfect!  A pair of two only cost $40, and each light took him less than five minutes to install. They’re even dimmable and approved for use in wet locations, if you’re fancy.

So now, we have the look of recessed lighting, with almost none of the effort or expense.  Renovation win!

Home Improvement 101: Kitchen Remodel

IMG_2713 (1)
Our brand new kitchen!

Over the past two weeks, the hubby and I took on one of our more ambitious home improvement projects: we installed a glass tile backsplash in our kitchen. 

The impetus for this project was that we finally replaced our old laminate countertops with a beautiful grey quartz — and compared to our beautiful new countertops, the bare walls were just not going to cut it.

This was our second tile project (we’d previously done the upstairs guest bathroom) so we weren’t total newbies, but there was still a lot of learning on the fly. There are plenty of other tutorials for how to install tile all over the internet, so we’ll just share our top tips that we learned instead:

1. Mix Your Thinset To The Consistency of Hummus
You’ll see a lot of comparisons for how thick you should mix your thinset. Some sources say toothpaste, others say pancake batter, etc. We found that if it set up somewhere between whipped cream cheese and hummus, you generally got the best coverage and it made back-buttering tile a whole lot easier.

2. Silicone Caulk Drys REALLY FAST.
When the hubby went to caulk, he tried to do the entire back wall in one section, smooth the entire section, and then pull up the tape so the “overflow” didn’t dry that way.  Except it was already dry on the surface by that point in time, and so pulling up the tape didn’t actually pull off the rough edges, it just made the surface appear lumpy.


We ended up having to remove the first attempt at caulk, redo it completely, and on the second go, we just let it dry completely with tape in place, then pulled up the tape w/ a razor once it had dried overnight.  This worked MUCH better.

3. Teamwork Makes Quick(er) Work
As this was our second tile installation, we kind of had a system down by now: the hubby cuts the pieces into the right lengths/shapes using the tile saw, and I lay the actual tile.  Doing these things in tandem allows us both to stay working at the same time, and we finish a lot quicker.  Even better, we don’t have time to “critique” each other’s work — we just stay heads down, focused on our area, until we’re finished.

4. Don’t Run the Dishwasher While Tiling.
Dishwasher = steam. Steam = humidity. Humidity = sweating your balls off the entire time you’re working near the dishwasher. Trust me.

So, without further ado, the before and after:

IMG_20131024_095904_142      IMG_2713 (1)

Share your top tile tips in the comments, and let me know what you think of the new look in our kitchen!

Saving Money with Rain Catchment Barrels: Doing The Math

14458354548_b5f423512d_zPrepare yourselves: this post contains math.  (Ack, the horror!)

In case you were wondering, it’s been balls hot in Texas lately.  As such, our garden is feeling the effects.  We’re having to fill the resevoir in the raised bed daily, and our in-ground roses, begonias, salvia, and snapdragon at least every other day.

Which means, we’re using somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 gallons a day to water our plants at the moment

(For those that are interested in the math – we have an approximately 8’x4’x2′ reservoir in our raised bed garden, but it’s filled with rocks.  Assuming that the actual portion that the water fills is about 1/4 of the reservoir, then, 8 cubic feet of water.  8 cubic feet is about 60 gallons.  Assuming I use about half as much again to water the in-ground plants (but that I only do it every other day) then that averages out to about 15 additional gallons a day.)

It’s that hot in Texas from about July – September.  The rest of the year, we water once or twice a week, so even taking the lower once-a week figure, that’s roughly 10k gallons a year just going directly into our flowers & veggies. Considering that our water rate (given our other residential uses – laundry, showers, cooking, etc.) is roughly $7.48 per thousand gallons used, that comes out to around $75 a year.

For water. That we’re putting right back onto the ground.

So what’s an aspiring gardener to do? Our answer: rainwater collection barrels.

We found 50-gallon barrels on Woot for $69.99 a piece.  Given that Texas (and some other states) exclude sales tax for rainwater collection, and our city subsidizes the purchase of rain barrels to the tune of 50 cents per gallon, that means we were able to purchase two barrels (or 100 gallons capacity) for just $90 total – a pretty good price.

According to stats that I found online, Austin averages between 25-40 days a year of precipitation.  Meaning our new rain barrels could help us save up to 4,000 gallons of city water, or approximately $30, a year. In other words, our rain barrels will pay for themselves in three years time, and after that, they’ll start making us money.

But wait, you say. Even if it rains 40 days a year, that doesn’t mean you’ll fill your barrels with every storm.  And that’s true, BUT…the genius of rain catchment systems is that they use the large surface area of your roof to funnel water into your barrels.  The conventional formula is that 1,000 square feet of roof + 1 inch of rain will yield you approximately 623 gallons of water.

I’m not entirely sure of our roof size, but it’s probably fairly close to 1,000 square feet.  Which means that I only need 1/6 of an inch of rain to fill our barrels.  I’m liking our chances.

So if you really want to grow your own vegetables and have it be economical, it’s basically a no-brainer. But beyond that, it’s also environmentally friendly (especially in drought-prone areas) and in an emergency situation, they can even serve as backup water for you and your family (so long as you boil it first). Win-win.

Do you use rain barrels?  Tell us your experience in the comments!  Header image courtesy of Flickr user mwms1916, under a Creative Commons license.

How To Upgrade All Your Kitchen Appliances for Free

Our snazzy new dishwasher.
Our snazzy new (free) dishwasher.

Since I can remember, I’ve hated our appliances.  We have a nice, new, energy efficient refrigerator in black, but everything else is slightly-yellowing-white, bottom-of-the-line stuff that’s been in here since the house was built.

I’ve wanted to replace them with stainless w/ black trim since I moved in, but since they all worked just fine that seemed like an unnecessary luxury. But a few weeks ago, when the hubby decided to pull out the dishwasher in order to mess with some electric wiring, I decided enough was enought.  So I jumped on Craigslist, maneuvered over to the “For Sale – Appliances – By Owner” section and started looking for deals.

And on that day…I didn’t find any. The old white dishwasher got reinstalled.  Boooo.

But the next day, I looked again.  And whatdya know, a woman had a GE stainless-steel and black gas stove, only three years old, that she was getting rid of for $250 because she wanted the newest “slate” style. Done. So we went and picked up the perfectly – new looking gas range, and it was good.

And then the next weekend, it happened again.  A dishwasher, only a year old, stainless steel and black, and even the same GE brand as the range – someone in the suburbs wanted to replace it with one that had a stainless steel tub.  The cost to me? $50.  Done.

Finally, the next day came my piece de resistance: a stainless vent hood microwave combo that was selling for $150. Completely new, still in box, never been used.  The guy bought it and then decided he wanted just a vent instead. Done.

So if you’re keeping track, at this point, we’d spent $450 on new-to-us appliances, and in the process got ones that all happened to be under three years old, were in good working condition, and matched. Amazing.

But I wasn’t done. We went to work installing our new appliances, and then put our old ones on Craigslist as well: $100 for the dishwasher, $200 for the stove, $50 for the vent hood, and $100 for the microwave.

And we got what we asked for them.  So today, I’m enjoying how lovely my fully upgraded kitchen is looking.  And I got it all to be that way totally, 100% free.

Sprucing up boring furniture on the cheap

tablesOne of the hubbies favorite things about Christmas is that we move “his” recliner and side table next to the couch (thereby allowing him to watch tv from it) in order to make room for our tree.  Yet this year, when we put the room back in its normal arrangement, what he missed most wasn’t even the recliner next to the couch, it was the side table.

So, we started the hunt for an inexpensive circular side table, no bigger than 20″ wide.  After visiting a few different websites, we stumbled on this tablefrom Wayfair, that was on sale for $49 as part of a deal of the day.  We liked the Art Deco look of it, and the “Antique Copper” finish looked like it would work with our other living room furniture.

Well, fast forward a week, and the table arrives…only it’s not “Antique Copper”.  What we had really ordered was a cheap steel table that’s been spray painted gold.  Womp-womp.

Still, undeterred, I liked the original shape, and felt fairly confident that I could fix it up a bit.  A quick trip to the craft store and I was armed with a tube of dark sienna colored acrylic paint, a bag of glass rocks (like the type you put in the bottom of a fish tank or in a jar of flowers…) and some super glue.  Total cost of supplies? Under $15.

Using a dry natural-bristle paint brush, I very lightly brushed on the acrylic paint.  The goal for this sort of treatment isn’t to get full coverage, but rather to let the underlying paint color show through.  Concentrating on the top edge and the corners throughout, I soon had a piece that looked more like oil-rubbed bronze than cheap spray-painted metal.

But I wasn’t finished.  Up next, I glued the glass rocks smooth side down in a random pattern to give the top of the table a little more character. I chose fairly neutral colored pieces, including clear, again to let the natural color shine through.  Within an hour, I was gluing the last piece on, and had a completed table in time for the Super Bowl this afternoon.

So that’s it.  An hour’s work and $15 worth of elbow grease and we now have a custom end table.  Not too shabby.

Getting rid of brass fixtures, on the cheap

IMG_1874 (1)I don’t know about you guys, but personally, I *LOATHE* brass fixtures. They just scream outdated and cheap and also clash with just about everything.  Unfortunately, our house was built in 1982 – a bumper year for brass, apparently.

Getting rid of the brass in our house has been a slow but steady process requiring the updating of light fixtures and ceiling fans, towel holders and shower rods. And we were about 90% brass free EXCEPT for the obtrusive eyesore lurking in every room of our house – the hinges and doorknobs of all our doors were still brass.

Looking at Lowes, getting the same type of interior doorknobs we had, only in brushed nickel, was going to cost us about $20 a piece. New hinges would cost about $3 each, or $6 per door.  Throughout our house, we have 12 doors (including all room doors, closet doors, and entry doors) needing to be de-brassed, meaning replacing all the parts would have run $312. Not awful, but not great, either.

Luckily, there’s a cheaper option.  Rustoleum is a brand of spray paint that can stick to pretty much anything – including metal.  And they just so happen to make a “satin nickel” variety, which is exactly the color we wanted.  For $15 and a little drying time, we got the exact same look as replacing all our door fixtures, for less than 1/20th of the price. Pretty sweet!