DIY home improvements that cost almost nothing

I confess. I procrastinate. A LOT. I always say that I am most creative when it’s the 11th hour and I’m on a deadline. So it would only be natural that I write a story for This Old House about super fast fixes, quick upgrades and easy DIY home improvements that you can do on your home before company arrives. Haven’t yet hung pictures on the wall, even though you’ve lived in the place for months? Gave up on a set-in carpet stain (you don’t have to!)? Need to rid the guest bath of rust? All these answers—and 32 others—are in the November/December issue of This Old House and here too. And you can do most of them in a few hours. Don’t wait until Aunt Bethany comes knocking to get your home in entertaining-ready shape. Start on this list this weekend.

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Here’s a peek at some of my favorites that are super cheap too:

1. Perk up your front or back landscaping with potted boxwoods. Could be my favorite plant of all time. Why? Because boxwoods grow like living sculptures in a pot, look just as good in January as they do in June and require almost NO maintenance (they’re drought tolerant). Oh, and they’re incredibly affordable. Home Depot and Lowe’s have them for about $7.

Boxwoods

I planted four on our patio last December (part of Scott’s Christmas gift; full post on that coming in a few weeks).

2. Hang some photos—or not. I have a trick for hanging heavy items with two hooks on the back. It involves painter’s tape and a level and can be found here. But why hang when resting and layering looks incredible and requires no quick—and rash decisions—and zero commitment, like I did in this dining room. Or here in this office, resting photos on a bookshelf looks modern, fresh and relaxed.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.26.20 PM(Photo courtesy of CasaSugar)

3. Light the walkway with lanterns instead of standard landscape lighting. I like the flexibility that lanterns give. We lit the aisle at our wedding with lanterns, and now I have those same lanterns scattered around our tiny patio to create a bit of ambiance when we’re using the space at night.

CIMG3926

What do you have to fix, repair or upgrade before family arrives for the holidays?

 

 

 

Customize curtains in less than an hour

Curtains can certainly be pricey, but what they do for a room is amazing—they add depth, privacy, texture and style. I’ve made no-sew curtains before, but this time I wanted something different, even simpler (if you can imagine).

I bought these very inexpensive sturdy-weight, linen-like curtains from Ikea.

CurtainsTo dress up the curtains and give them a more custom look, I added this velvet trim to the leading edges using heavy duty Stitch Witchery, a nonsewer’s best friend.

Black velvet trim

Because I was inspired by these I saw in Elle Decor.

Curtain inspiration

Here’s how:

1. Iron the panels.

2. Lay one panel out on the ironing board, right side up. Roll out a small section of the Stitch Witchery (like 12 inches) and place it on the panel where you want the trim. I adhered mine right up to the edge.

3. Lay the trim on top of the Stitch Witchery, cover with a damp—not wet—white cloth (colored towels can bleed).

4. Set a steam iron on the wool setting on top for 10 seconds. Don’t move the iron. Note: Don’t cut the Stitch Witchery or the ribbon. Unravel each as you go—until you reach the bottom of the first panel.

5. Repeat all the way down and cut the edge flush with the curtain using good-quality fabric scissors. Then continue down the other edge and on the rest of the panels for the room.

Here’s how ours look.

Our curtains

And here are a few other ideas:

Curtain trim options

How have you customized your curtains?

 

Get the look: Prague vacation rental

I’ve been using Airbnb to book apartments in almost every city Scott and I have visited. It’s typically less expensive than staying in a hotel–rates are less, and you can eat some meals at home–and I love really getting a taste for how the locals live.

I’m always interested to see the design of the apartments (remember, I designed a vacation rental too), and I was particularly impressed with the flat we rented in Prague for a long weekend.

Prague flat 1

I loved the modern neutral wallpaper in the hallway. Paired with the natural wood stools and pendants, the mostly-white apartment felt instantly warm.

Prague flat 2

The mix of furnishings make them look as though they were collected over time. My mother-in-law and I wanted to take the vintage-looking, French-inspired, cane-back dining chairs with us.

Prague flat 3

The bedroom was extremely simple with tons of natural light and soft neutral furnishings.

Here’s how I would get the look for little money:
Prague flat get the look

Have you rented a place you wish was your own?

 

Creative ideas for your holiday table

Back in mid July, I was asked by friend and writer Sarah Stebbins to pitch a few imaginative creations for a story for Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine. She wanted thoughts for a Thanksgiving table–including kid-friendly options–things like centerpieces and simple projects. The idea was that it had to be quick, something you could do in less than 30 minutes and be proud to put on the table.
Rachael Ray November issue
Well, the November 2013 issue is on newsstands now, and I am thrilled to announce that Wendy James Designs is part of this story. It is an incredible honor to be featured with event designers like David Stark (his apple idea, below, is so simple and fun), TV personalities like Clinton Kelly (I am more than a little obsessed with his jewel-tone gourds) and my favorite environmental lifestyle expert, Danny Seo, who creatively repurposed a thrift-store find. Man after my own heart.
Rachael Ray page
My easy decor gets a thumbs-up from the kids’ table. Add googly eyes and a paper beak to inexpensive striped kids’ gloves, fatten (er, fill) with candy and tie with a ribbon (pictured in the bottom left corner of this page).
My Rachael Ray page

Pick up the November issue to sift through 15 fun ideas or keep reading and try one of mine that didn’t make the magazine, like these DIY polka-dot napkins, inspired by the ones pictured below from Anthropologie. (Dotted napkin photo courtesy of RealSimple.com.)

Polka-dot napkins

1. Wash and iron cotton/polyester blend napkins. Don’t use fabric softener.

2. Put a piece of cardboard under the napkin to protect your work surface.

3. Dip a flat unused pencil eraser into gold fabric paint, dab on a clean paper towel once or twice and then onto your napkin.

4. Repeat this process, dotting away in whatever pattern you like.

I opt for plain white dinnerware because I tell myself that whatever I cook–no matter how messy or unattractive–looks better when served on white. But for dinner parties and holidays, sometimes I dress it up. For Thanksgiving, try tucking one large autumn leaf or a collage of a few smaller fall leaves between your a white dinner plate and a clear one.

Leaf platesMake your own tiered trays and serving pieces. I did something similar with a dinner plate and candlesticks to give a client more room to merchandise makeup compacts, but you could easily do this with rustic tree slabs, inexpensive candlesticks and epoxy that’s suitable for wood and glass.

Tiered traysTell me: How are you decorating your holiday table?

 

 

 

 

Shopping the flea markets online

Scott asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday this year. I turn the big 35. I said I wanted to drive up to Los Angeles (this is assuming we’re home) and hit one of the big flea markets up there–Rose Bowl, Pasadena City College, Long Beach Antique Market, Melrose Trading Post, Santa Monica Airport Outdoor Antique & Collectible Market or Downtown Flea. I don’t need to hit them all. Not in one weekend at least, but what I want is uninterrupted time to hunt.

The hunt is what I love most about a flea market. Scott and I went to Geneva’s flea market again this past weekend, and while we didn’t make a purchase, I still loved sifting through vendors’ boxes of junk to find one hidden treasure. I did, in fact, find a treasure–a rusty metal pagoda that I envisioned repainting–but the seller wanted the equivalent of $20 and was not budging, and negotiating is the second thing I love most about flea markets.

Anyway, I digress. Today’s post is about a fantastic online flea market I stumbled upon. It would seem that it might feel like my fun would be gone if all I am doing is scrolling through pictures online rather than really combing through someone’s pile of castaways. To be sure, I will not give up visits to actual flea markets, but I will definitely shop this virtual version on a lazy Sunday morning or when it’s raining. It could be dangerous.

So welcome, FleaPop, an online marketplace that teems with fantastic furnishings, lighting, art and accessories. Each vendor occupies a different booth–er, page–and you can contact the sellers so the art of negotiating might not be totally lost.

Here are a few of my favorite things (read: Honey, if you’re reading this blog, any one of these things would make an excellent present):
Flea Pop Favorites
This high-back, velvet upholstered chair is the perfect reading chair with the addition of a footstool or pouf. A Turkish rug has been on my wishlist for some time. This one would be great in an entryway. The woman behind this cobalt hutch has some serious painting talent. I liked a number of her pieces–though I enjoy DIYing it. Motel prints like this make me think of California and smile. A chrome stool/side table belongs in any room. Seriously any room. A plaid ottoman looks fun and sophisticated in a family room or study. And this fish that I really want happens to come from my favorite shop on FleaPop.

Searching is not super easy on FleaPop. After I made my finds, I wanted to go back and give them a second look, but searching for yellow chair did not yield my velvet pick, neither did cane chair. And searching for fish brought up fish bookends and buoys but not my coveted sailfish. Likewise, a search for California did not bring up all California-based shops. To be fair, there is an “around me” button that pinpoints your location. It couldn’t find me in Switzerland though.

I also tried signing up for the site hoping that I would be able to subscribe to get info on new items or shops. The name fields are currently not functioning, so I couldn’t do it. I wanted to see if there was a possibility to favorite a shop or something so I would be alerted when that shop adds new items.

What are your favorite items from FleaPop?

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