Follow the Signs: Yard Sale!

Most of my friends and family know that I adore yard sales - both having them and going to them.  We hold our own annual yard sale every spring usually with several like-minded neighbors.  We had our sale in May and I made about $700 which definitely made it worth the preparation!

I like having a garage sale both to push myself to clean-out stuff we aren't using (or plan to use in the future), and to make a little dough in the process.  And, I think I may be a store owner at heart so this is a way of getting that urge out of my system once a year. 

To prepare, I have a yard sale "sell pile" in my basement at all times.  It generally starts growing a week after the last yard sale and consists of about 10 large opaque plastic boxes (supplemented with cardboard at the very end) stacked in our storage room or under the basement stairs.  I sell unused kitchen gadgets, toys, books, furniture, clothes, comforters, decorative items, etc.  Pretty much anything someone might pay at least a dollar for! 

I learned most everything that I know about sales from my mom who is the queen of yard sales.  She has had one nearly every year for as long as I can remember.  I have a feeling I am following in her footsteps (much to Jim's chagrin).

Here are my general tips on holding a yard sale:

1) Put prices on everything.  It's a lot of work but many people will not buy if they have to ask how much an item is.
2) Dollar & up.  Price everything at $1 and up.  Group small junk items (like toys from McD's) in a clear plastic zip-loc bag and price it at a dollar or more if there is a lot in it.  Generally I make my items pretty cheap because I would rather sell for a little less and sell a lot.
3) Neighbors.  Your neighbors will prove their infinite value once again if they join you in having their own sale.  People are more likely to hit "multi-family" and "neighborhood" sales.
4) Advertising.  An ad in your local paper will generally pay-off because it will bring in the most die-hard yard salers.  It is currently $30 for an ad in the Washington Post.  A free posting on Craigslist is also a good idea.  Take advantage of it's free-ness by including pictures and a laundry list of items available.  Easy to read signs on the major roads near your house are absolutely necessary (my own sample above which we reuse every year).
5) Start early.  Your sale should start no later than 8 a.m.  You'll make about 75% of your money before 10 a.m. so make the most of the time before then.  Even if you have an 8 a.m. start time, be ready by 7 a.m. because you'll inevitably have early birds.  
6) Change.  Have a lot of 1s and 5s on hand (at least $100 total).
7) Avoid competing with large group sales.  In Arlington, there is a large community sale on the first Saturday of every month.  I generally avoid the first weekend of the month although it was unavoidable this year, and I think we definitely lost out a little as a result.
8) Stick with your asking prices on large items until 9 a.m.  If you don't get your asking price before 9, then be willing to bargain. 
9) Clothing.  In my experience, clothes and shoes sell - especially men's clothing.  Put prices on major items like coats, suits, and nice dresses.  For the rest, make a couple of large signs with the prices like $3 each piece or 2 for $5.
10) Store style.  Have as many tables as possible even if it means a piece of plywood on some saw horses.  Keep like items together so all kitchen stuff on one table, electronics on another, etc.  Put the best stuff and furniture near the street so people can see that you have good stuff and will be more likely to stop.

We have a general rule (well, Jim has a rule) that nothing comes back in the house.  He loads up our SUV with whatever is left over at the end and brings it to Goodwill or another local charity.  He comes home with a tax receipt (an added bonus), and usually a big bag of McDonald's!

At lunch time (also known as quitting time), it feels great to have a big pile of cash replacing the big pile of stuff I had at the beginning of the day.  We like to find something to use the proceeds towards such as the new patio furniture we bought with last year's proceeds.  This year we didn't have an intended purpose but we have already spent that money many times over - mostly on Thai food delivery and babysitters!


FREE-ography! Beaded Stainless Party Picks from H&A Designs!

A landmark day here at HOUSEography with our first FREE GIVEAWAY!  Hopefully it will be the first of many over the coming months.  It's only fitting to keep up the summer party theme as everyone begins their 4th of July preparations!

We are giving away an adorable set of 8 STAINLESS STEEL PARTY PICKS courtesy of Carol Shogren at H&A Designs... great for drink garnishes or appetizers, or just looking cute hanging out in a glass vase on your kitchen counter ready for an olive or piece of fruit! 

They feature 8mm Swarovski crystal beads with a combination of red and blue acrylic stars, clear czech glass stars, red, blue, and white swarovski crystals, and blue Czech glass round beads.  Environmentally friendly - hand wash them and use them over and over!!  Fun for any occasion, but these red, white, and blue picks are especially perfect for the 4th of July party you are hosting, or attending - a great hostess gift!! 

Here are all of the ways to see more incredible jewelry and housewares from Carol Shogren of H&A Designs: Etsy, Artfire, Twitter, or become a fan on Facebook to hear about her awesome coupons.  Thanks Carol for sponsoring our first HOUSEography giveaway!


TO ENTER, submit a comment below and type "PICK ME!"  For fun, you can also tell us your favorite food to make or eat on the 4th of July!  Be sure you sign in before leaving the comment or leave your email address in your comment.

The contest ends on Monday, June 14th at 11:59 p.m. ET.  One entry per email address.  The winner will be chosen randomly using random.org.  Must be a US resident at least 18 years of age with a mailing address in the lower 48 states.  Winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 15th.  Good luck!

It's summer time - party time!

Nothing makes a house feel like a home more than a party with loads of good friends and family!  Summer is filled with many reasons to have a party - warm weather just makes you want to hang out with a lot of friends out in the sun or under the stars, long holiday weekends, fireworks, birthdays, and the overall relaxation that inevitably sinks into your bones making you want to stay home and invite some friends in for a drink and some casual food.

Over the next few weeks, I'll give some tips on how to prepare your house for parties (both indoors and out), what serveware we love and what food to serve (keep it simple!).  We'll also be hosting our FIRST FREE GIVEAWAY starting this week!  Stay tuned!!! 

Of course, we cannot risk any excuse to have a party no matter what time of year.  Summer hadn't even officially started and we were preparing to host our son's first birthday party with 75 of his closest friends in the backyard.

This was our first large gathering outside since we moved back in after our renovation last year, and the house lived up to its potential.  Entertaining was a major consideration when we renovating our house.  We wanted great interior flow, preferably a circular flow in the entire first floor.  We also wanted the inside spaces to flow with the outside spaces.

I whipped up the below inexact floor plan to give you an idea of what our first floor looks like (for those who haven't been here).

The circular flow works great for parties, both in the entire first floor and in the kitchen around the island.  So far, it has been great and people commented on how much easier it was to get around the house during our large fall/winter parties.

Come party with us!


Crayon Masterpieces

If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or anyone with kids in you, then you probably have been the recipient of some awesome art from a child in your life.  I find it sad to see these mini masterpieces sit in the junk mail pile or in a folder in a drawer, so I set out to find a place to put them other than on our new stainless fridge (which, like all stainless steel, is not magnetic).

My favorite solution is to frame them.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), preschool art does not come in standard sizes will not fit into standard frames. I found these great 11x14 frames at Target (in the store only but I have seen them other places as well) that have a wood frame but the picture is sandwiched between them.  It looks very professional and fashionable, but doesn't detract from the art itself.

Here's our little gallery!

Since the frame is generally larger than most pieces of paper, her art fits in there nicely.  It's also really easy to change the art out, which I do every time a new favorite comes through the door.  Nothing can really top this self-portrait though.

I am considering adding a few more which will likely become a necessity as my son gains artistic skills!

I also display a lot of my daughter's artwork in her room on bulletin boards and on the walls behind her door.  She gets to look at it all time and we still talk about some of her pieces before bed.  Just another reason for her to avoid sleep!


It's the little things

Knickknacks. Chachkis. Accessories. Trinkets. Stuff.

No matter what you call them, we all have some of these laying around the house.  Some may be artfully arranged on a shelf or mantle, and others may be laying in a dusty box in the back of your attic.  I definitely have some in both categories!

I love the look of a beautifully organized bookshelf with the right mix of books and other things, or a mantle which plays up the architecture and the fireplace but doesn't necessarily compete.  But, what is too much and what is too little.  I admit, my current mantles (family room and living room) are too bare but I am not going out to buy things just for the sake of filling them up.  

Instead, I am waiting to find the right thing either on one of the many trips we are planning to take this summer, on one of my many trips to Marshalls, or a neighborhood yard sale (there's a big one next weekend!).  You never know where you are going to find something that you really like, and the perfect place to put it may not immediately present itself.  My advice - unless it's a hugely expensive piece of art - buy it.

Although my favorite little things in our house are things that remind me of trips we have taken, gifts, or family heirlooms, I still have a lot of things that I really like for some unexplainable reason. 

Here are some examples.  The new bookshelves in our family room include a conch shell that we got in Nevis about 8 years ago.  It was our first vacation as a couple after we bought the house.  Great place - I would go back in a heartbeat - but I would definitely get the requisite certificate from the St. Kitts & Nevis Department of Agriculture before trying to pack it in my suitcase!  Fortunately the security guards at the airport gave me a pass when I started to get a bit tearful!  But I digress...

The ceramic pear on the shelf came from my favorite consignment shop REfind in Vienna, VA a few months ago with my mom.  I kept walking by it and liked it - no explainable reason - just liked it.  Bought it.  Incidentally, the glass hurricane on my family room mantle also came from the same store.

Of course, not all of my displays are as glamorous but I try to save those for the top of my dresser in our bedroom.  I think this is a great place for those special things that are a bit more personal and mean a lot to you.  I contain them on my dresser using a tray that I got as a gift from friends years ago.  Most of the things were gifts from my grandmother with the exception of the adorable frame which was a Christmas gift from my cousin Victoria (and fellow blogger!).  The "flower pot" was a Mother's Day gift this year from my sweet 4 year old, Elizabeth. 

In the yard sale category, I found this ice bucket at an estate sale on our street soon after we moved into this house.  I think I paid $3!  It's not really usable as an ice bucket any more because the lining is cracked, but it's a great conversation piece and can be used to serve food with a lining of some sort.  Reminds me that I need to break out the silver polish!

My advice - look around your house and see what you already have that can be reused in a decorative way.  Maybe skip the softball trophy on the mantle but maybe you have an interesting vase, shell, or other small item that would work well in your space.


It's Curtains!

After I blogged about window treatments last week, I started thinking about putting curtains on our screen porch to give it more of a "room" feeling and less of "porch" feeling.  We also needed a break from the morning sun (it faces southeast) when we have breakfast out there on unhurried weekend mornings (rare!), and a little privacy from our next door neighbors whose driveway is right next to our porch.

I didn't want to make a big investment since it's our porch and they could get really messed up in the elements (or when I forget to bring them in before it snows).  For about $100, I scored 8 curtains and 4 large rods at Ikea.  Here's the result (with the evening sun streaming in)!

The best part (other than the price), was that I hung them in about an hour by MYSELF thanks to Jim's handy new cordless drill (a Christmas gift from my parents)!  I think it adds a lot of charm to the room and makes visitors feel like laying on the sofa and reading a book (or a decorating magazine!).  The curtains look like linen and have really interesting vertical stitching on each panel. They look expensive but they are machine washable which is critical for an outdoor application.  I am still deciding whether or not to use the tiebacks which came with the curtains (added bonus!).

I am still working on some other touches for the porch, but I feel like it really is ready for summer now!


Linen Closet Mecca!

I get a unique thrill out of a cleaned up closet!  I generally like to keep my closets orderly but for some reason, our master bathroom linen closet got really out of hand over the last few months. 

I just spent 15 minutes (literally!) cleaning it out ...

And the super organized after - no more wondering if there's any more shaving cream!

I had all of the baskets and plastic bins already.  Where are all the towels?  They are stored under our vanity on an open shelf - very easy to grab a new one when you need one.  I had originally thought I would put them in baskets, but since I like my towels folded neatly and consistently, no baskets were necessary! 

I also took the opportunity to throw out any expired medications and beauty products in our medicine cabinet over the vanity.  I LOVE opening that closet now!


HGTV Inspiration

If you are reading my blog, you have probably watched HGTV on occasion.  I admit that I am a total HGTV-aholic and Jim has been dragged along for the ride.  I even DVR my favorite shows so I don't miss a beat!  My mom (an avid designer and re-designer) frequently laments that HGTV has left it's "design" roots and has instead become a "real estate" channel, but I still love the channel.

My mom did turn me on to my current favorite, Sarah's House hosted by Sarah Richardson.  She is such a fantastic designer and I LOVE nearly everything she does.  The show's premise is that she buys a house and remodels the entire thing to her design aesthetic.  Every room makes me want to dive through the TV (fortunately Jim is there to hold me back).  And I am madly in love with her hysterical assistant, Tommy, who I want to be my new GBF ("gay best friend").

You can learn a lot from watching these shows.  Sarah talks a lot about why she makes her design decisions,  particularly her methods of mixing fabrics to create an overall feeling in the room.  I also love how she shows all of the hiccups and problems she encounters during the remodeling process.  I just wish I had her budget!!

The show is currently airing on HGTV on Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. ET.  Set your DVR!

Image courtesy of Sarah Richardson Design.


Mantel Mantra

We are lucky enough to have two fireplaces in our house - one wood-burning in the living room and one gas in the family room.  Soon after we moved into the house, we covered the blackened and dated brick fireplace in our living room with a tile and wood paneled fireplace surround and mantle.  Fast forward 6 years later and we are nearing completion on our addition.  Instead of having our builder finish every last detail, we decided to save a few projects for ourselves so we could put our own stamp on our beloved renovated house.  The new mantle was one of those projects.

Here's the BEFORE (after our builder was basically done) -

Then, Jim asked me what I wanted it to look like and I told him I wanted the same as our living room.  I think he was a little surprised (and super happy since he had already knew what he was getting into!).  So, we set out to mirror the same details   A little tile work both on the hearth (level with the hardwood floors) and surrounding the gas fireplace, some thin plywood and some small picture frame moldings and we had a great after.

Pretty impressive I think.  Jim really makes some amazing stuff happen in our house in a weekend or two (much more on that later)!  I had no part in it other than the basic design and some caulking and painting.


Steal-o-graphy: Table Touches

Summer is here!  Time to freshen up your table with some beach-inspired touches.  Here are a few steals from the Crate & Barrel outlet page which could make your summer themed dining room a real show stopper. 

Table Runner - Take note of the comments that say the colors are more vibrant in person.  I've ordered one so I'll let you know for skinny when it arrives.  I love that it's available in 3 different sizes depending on your table size, and at $12.95 - 16.96, you can afford to pick two of two different sizes depending on how many guests you have over.  Hurry - these are only available in limited quantities!

Platter for a centerpiece.  It's a new take on a traditional centerpiece bowl but equally charming grouped with the right other items.  I love this one because it feels shell-like but it's not as limiting as a shell dish can be.  You can amp up the shell effect by piling your own collection of shells on it (or buy some at Pottery Barn!).

Add some candlesticks, ice blue candles, and maybe some tea lights (if you love candles).  Ta-Da!!  Centerpiece! 

Photos courtesy of Crate & Barrel


Although TVs are getting sleeker, the stuff that makes your TV work so well is NOT getting any smaller or prettier.  Our hideous TV components include audio receiver, cable box, Blu-ray player, and sub-woofer.  Although Jim thought everything looked fine on the fireplace mantle (kidding of course), I was able to easily convince him to build a place to put everything.  Knowing that we were going to need to hide this ugly stuff, when we designed our family room addition, our architect designed a nook in the corner of our family room about 7 feet from the fireplace for a built-in cabinet to hold the components, some DVDs and the wireless internet router.

Pretty, right?

Fortunately we remembered to fish the cables behind the fireplace and through the floor and into the cabinet BEFORE the basement ceiling was drywalled!  This cabinet can get HOT so it's important to ventilate it well.  We achieved that with metal radiator screen (purchased at Home Depot) painted to match the trim which is fitting for our colonial.  Even with ventilation, it was still really warm in the cabinet, so we added a small fan with a thermostat to help circulate the air further.  The fan has made a huge difference and you cannot hear it even if you are sitting next to the cabinet.

An RF remote for less than $60 allows us to keep the cabinet door closed but still control the components and TV.  Although there are certainly fancier models available, we decided to go with a less expensive model since the remote is a favorite toy for our kids! 

Every true surround sound system also needs speakers.  Since we already owned a good Bose system, we ran the speaker wire prior to drywalling the room during renovation, but there are also some nice wireless systems available which would help avoid this hassle.  Our speakers are nice because they are relatively small and white so they blend in with our white ceilings and crown molding.  Of course, surround sound makes all the difference on movie night!


Steal-o-graphy: Let there by LIGHT!

I really, really like lamps but right now I am having a hard time finding some that will work in my house.  I came across this one in the Ballard Designs clearance section.  I particularly like that it's 30" tall and made out of wood - seems like it would be more sturdy when my 1 year old knocks it off the table!!  I'm considering ordering one.  What do you think?

Image courtesy of Ballard Designs.

Guest Room: Lovin' our Guests!

Over the last few months, we have been working on making our own guests spaces nice for our family and friends.  For our new basement guest room, we recently found this fantastic dresser at a local flea market (Eastern Market for the DC locals).  We were very constrained in space because of the closet and main doors, but this one fit perfectly.  It also has a fun secret drawer on the top!  As an added bonus, we got it for less than some options we found at Target and Ikea and this one was probably made in the 1920s out of REAL WOOD - shocker!  Just one of the many reasons why I love used furniture.

In our upstairs guest room, we have a lot more closet space (over 7 feet wide!!!) but no real space for a dresser in the room.  I've considered putting drawers in the closet, but in the interim we have a small night stand with a lot of drawers and plenty of shelf space in the closet.
Stay tuned for our next project - making an upholstered headboard for the basement guest room.  We're hoping to start tackling it this weekend (fabric purchased and measured drawing completed!) so hopefully I'll have something report back on next week.

I would love to hear about some of your decorating questions to see if I can help you out.  Just shoot me an email and ask away!  I may even feature your question (and hopefully the resulting changes) in a future post.


Steal-ography: Bed-to-Go

Continuing the guest theme, here's a great deal on an AeroBed inflatable guest bed!  Great if you live in a small apartment with no guest room - if you have floor space, you have a guest room!  We use ours for when we have loads of guests in town and we need extra sleeping space.  It blows up in seconds and is surprisingly comfy.  We've also taken ours on trips where we know sleeping accommodations are limited.  At about $70 and free shipping, it's a steal!

Aerobed Guest Choice Queen Inflatable Bed

Found a good deal?  Email it to me!

Home Sweet Basement

As we begin a long holiday weekend, it seems only fitting to talk about guest rooms.  Surprisingly, we don't have any guests this weekend, but all out-of-town family (and loving grandparents), we frequently have guests in our house for several days at a time.  Currently, we are lucky enough to have 2 guest rooms (one on the second floor pictured on the right, and one in the basement pictured here).  But, we love having guests (and seeing our families without getting in the car or on a plane), so we want to make them feel at home as much as possible.

Although it's subterranean, a basement makes an ideal guest room space even if your space is not a completely separate room.  Minimal natural light is not generally a big issue since people are mostly just sleeping in their room, and spending the rest of their time in the main living space.  A basement with a bathroom of any sort (even a half or three-quarter bath) makes it absolutely perfect.  When we stay in other people's basements, I LOVE IT!  Very separate, quiet, private, and relaxing, and I don't feel as if I am interfering in their living space as much.

If you are planning a renovation in your house including a basement guest area, consider including an egress window which will, in most jurisdictions (check your local building codes), make your space a legal bedroom adding tremendous value to your home and gives more natural light to your guests (and thus feels less like living among the mole people).

Also, don't overlook home offices and a child's rooms as alternate guest areas.  A twin bed with a trundle or a pull-out sofa in a home office make that space serve double duty. 

Here are a few considerations when planning a guest area:

Traditional Style Black Finish Daybed with Trundle1)  Sleeping Space - A full-size (or larger) bed is the most ideal for a guest area but space or budget may restrict this choice.  Some alternatives are a twin day bed (with or without a trundle - I love the option pictured at left), a futon, or a comfortable pull-out sofa.  If you want your guests to still like you in the morning, lay down on the pull-out mattress for a few minutes before buying it to see if you feel any bars.  I have heard (but have not experienced), the pull-out sofas from American Leather are extremely comfortable because they do not have a traditional folding mechanism and, therefore, no bars!  A good quality air mattress is also a good addition for overflow guests even if you have to blow it up in your living room!  We are big fans of Aerobed brand mattresses and have slept on them ourselves on multiple occasions.

2)  Drawers - It doesn't have to be a full size dresser, but even a few tables in a bedside or end table are a nice way to let your guests unpack a few things and not feel as if they are living out of a suitcase.

3) Hanging Space - Although a small closet space (or part of a closet) are ideal, even a few hooks on the back of a door (or in the case of our old basement, some hooks on a paneled wall) and a few regular and pant hangers are really helpful for your guests. 

4)  Light - A small non-overhead light for bedtime reading makes a room feel so much more comfortable.  Also, consider adding a small night light (LED if you can find it) in the bathroom and/or near the stairs leading to the main floor. 

5)  Clock - Although it's a small detail, being able to open your eyes early in the morning (especially if there is minimal natural light), and seeing the time is a great thing.  An alarm is an added bonus - especially if your guests are going out on their own in the early morning.  Our basement guest room even has a clock RADIO.  Super fancy!

6)   Linens - I am a sucker for nice sheets and towels and, for me, that's the difference between a 3 and a 4/5 star hotel.  Same is true for guest space - make sure there are nice, super clean sheets and towels.  You really don't need to spend much and you can find great options at Home Goods or Marshalls.  An extra blanket and the option of a down pillow are also nice additions.

I'll share some of our own guest room choices in tomorrow's post!  

What makes you feel at home when you're staying at someone's home?  What have you done to make your guest area welcoming?