Easter Mantel

With less than a week to go before Easter, I finally got around to throwing some Easter decorations onto the mantel. I've had all of this stuff for a few years with the exception of the milk glass pieces which I have picked up at thrift stores over the past few weeks for less than $2 each, and the fresh tulips of course.

Tulips are one of my favorite flowers. I love them in this white pitcher which previously held my kitchen utensils next to my stove. So much better with tulips than wooden spoons.

Happy Easter!
Check out this week's room-by-room house tour party: Dining Rooms!


House Tour Room-by-Room Link-up Party: Dining Rooms!

Thanks to everyone who linked up their family room posts last week! Your rooms are amazing and it makes me realize how many talented people there are out there and how many more awesome blogs that I was not reading before but now am. That party is open for a few more hours if you still want to post. And, here's the full room-by-room schedule in case you like to plan ahead.

So, the house tour continues with dining rooms. I spent a lot of timing working on my dining room last year, starting with a new rug and all new artwork. For some reason, artwork in a dining room seems more important to me - maybe because if you are actually sitting and eating you might look at what's hanging on the wall. Maybe that's just me.

We really don't use this room very much but I love it when we do eat in there. This was our main eating area before our renovation so we spent a lot of time in here. We only have four chairs at our kitchen table and that is intentional. This way, if we have anyone over we have to eat in the dining room and I love that. When it's not being used as a dining room, I often use it as our home office. I have considered buying a piece of furniture to house all of our home office type equipment but I have refrained (shocking!).

Here's how it looked when we first toured the house 9 years ago (we sat at the dining room table to write the offer). We actually kept the wallpaper for 4 years or so before stripping it and repainting both the living room and dining room which are connected through a large open archway. It's hard to tell here but there was wall-to-wall carpet in the entire house.



Read more about our dining room evolution here, here, and here.

Several seasonal centerpieces:


Decorated for my friend Kim's baby shower:

Now, it's your turn! Please link-up any blog post about your dining room or another eating area in your house. The post does not need to be new but just needs to feature that room in some way (new table, art, rug, etc.).

Please include my House Tour Party button or a link to my blog in your post or somewhere on your blog! And, please feel free to spread the news on Twitter and Facebook so we can build a great library of decorating ideas!

HOUSEography House Tour Link Party

Find us on Facebook or Twitter!

Linking to Cottage and Vine Dining Room Party

p.s. Today is my birthday!


Bowling Birthday: Elizabeth is 5!

Sometimes it's hard to believe that Elizabeth is 5 now. Of course, I am in denial about my own age... 26. [joke!]

But, my first baby did turn 5 about a week ago, and last weekend we had a birthday party for her and twenty of her closest friends at the Fort Myer Bowling Center. (Side note for DC locals and visitors: if you want to bowl in a clean and family-friendly environment, this is your place.)  It was blast! But if chaos is no your thing, this is not the party for you...
One of the best things about this party was that I didn't have to do anything except bring a cake and favors. They supplied everything else! Here's her cake which I was really excited about.

I bought the cake at the grocery store (I am a horrible baker) and asked them to trim it in pink and white. I added a strip of chocolate frosting, the writing and the bowling pins ad ball. The kids loved it!

Each child took home a favor bag including a mini bowling set (same as what I used on the cake), mini M&Ms, Scooby snacks, and a bowling pencil and stickers. I made a little thank you label to seal the bag.

Here's the birthday girl once again modeling her new bowling t-shirt from A Needle Pulling Thread. They were so awesome because I only got the idea to make a special shirt for her only a few days before the party!
Look how cute she is? I love 5!

Don't be left out! Last day to enter the Gwendolyn Allis Apron giveaway - ends tonight at 11:59 p.m. ET!


Handy Hubby Tackles a Cutting Board

I had to show off my hubby's latest masterpiece. He has built a ton of built-ins in our house (4 sets by my count - most recently in our basement rec room), but he wanted to try some more detailed projects. He started with cutting boards. He made one for my mom for Christmas and then he made this beauty for me. I had to share.

He used the plans from here to make it in case you are interested in making your own.  He wants to use it for every day cutting. I just can't let that happen yet so I am going to use it for serving cheese or hors d'oevres until it gets sufficiently broken in.

Isn't it gorgeous? I'm a lucky girl. For so many reasons.


Guest Room Updates!

I probably should have saved this for guest bedroom week in my room-by-room house tour party but I just couldn't wait (and I don't have much else going on here!).  Although I loved the bed spread (discontinued from JC Penney - sorry!) and our DIY headboard in our basement guest bedroom, I never liked the bed skirt. That's kind of an understatement - I hated it. It never seemed to fit the bed correctly and always looked cheap and limp. It was the matching skirt for the spread (it was a bed-in-a-bag set) and I really needed a skirt because the bed just has a basic frame (and we occasionally store extra toys from the playroom under there). In short, it wasn't doing anything for the room or the bed.

I had not been looking for a skirt expressly but I was perusing the online clearance at Bed Bath and Beyond a few weeks ago and found a tailored Nautica skirt in brown and blue which seemed like it might work. And it was $9.99 so kind of a no brainer. I finally got around to ironing it and putting it on the bed tonight. It's definitely not high quality but bed skirts definitely don't get a lot of use if you know what I mean.

 And here's the new after picture.
 It actually fits!!!  Woohoo! And really clean looking.

But the fun doesn't end there. In the same BB&B clearance sale, I found four framed sea life prints for $2.99 each. When I bought them I wasn't sure if I would give them to my mom or find a place in our house because I didn't have a spot in mind exactly. But, as I was putting the bedskirt on the bed tonight, I started thinking about the blank wall over the dresser in the same room. Hmmm...
We had originally been thinking about getting a small LCD television for in here because our families (our most frequent visitors) all enjoy TV but there already is another TV right outside in the playroom, maybe it's not necessary at least at this point. We could also hang a TV behind the door if we ever wanted to (and we may). So, I grabbed a hammer and put these guys using just my eyeballs and no level. I got so lucky - only 4 nail holes!

You cannot really tell in these pictures but the frames have a blue-gray tint which picks up the spread color and the prints, of course, have my favorite accent color - orange!

One tip when you are hanging groups of things on a wall: Most wall galleries and groups of pictures on walls look better with smaller yet relatively consistent spacing between the pictures. If you hang them too far apart, they seem disjointed and not part of a real group.

So, the grand total for all of the updates including shipping was $28! Yippee for great deals!! What are your favorite online "clearance racks" for perusing!!


Home Renovation and Addition Questions Answered

Over the past few weeks, I have received several questions about our 2009 renovation, so I thought it might be time to do a post about it and how it all came about.

We bought our house in 2002 and it looked like this on the outside.

Now it looks like this

We bought our house in 2002 with the intention to live here for four or five years and then move to a bigger house. Well, the housing market in Arlington exploded during this time so our "step-up" house would have left us with the same size mortgage as what we have now but with a lot of work left to do. It definitely would have been a "fixer-upper" which would have been fine if it made financial sense - it didn't. At some point, we both realized that we loved the neighborhood (great schools, walkable streets, neighbors, commute) and we would end up better financially so it made perfect sense to add. Plus, we love projects and everything house-related so making 1 million decisions in a 6 month period (many sight unseen) was not a big stretch for us.

We hired an architect first in March 2008 after interviewing several. We chose Kaye because we really connected with her and felt that we would be on the same page throughout the project - we were right. She was a joy to work with.

We worked on our plans with Kaye for 6 months until we felt we were at a point where we were ready for contractor bids. Late 2008 was a tough time for contractors so we got some very good prices. We ultimately went with a contractor who had a good price but an "old school" methodology focused on craftsmanship and customer service. We also asked Kaye to sit in on our final interviews with contractors to be sure she felt the same way we did, and we all agreed that Jim was the guy for our job.

After a 6 week (sometimes frustrating) permit process, we got our permit at the end of January and Jim broke ground within hours. Over 6 months, we added 1800 square feet (essentially doubling the size of our house) on 3 floors (including an unfinished basement). We moved our stairwell from the back of our living room to the side of the house between the kitchen and dining room. Although our old house was brick, we chose to save a bunch of money and use HardiePlank on the addition. Yes, we were over budget but by less than 10% and we had planned to be over budget by 15-20%!

Throughout the process we tried to reuse and recycle as much as possible. We also made several "green" choices such as tankless hot water tanks, spray foam insulation in our attic, no VOC paint, and a high efficiency HVAC system. We were able to reuse 2 windows (in the garage), our garage opener, door hardware, our hardwood floors, 2x4s, and several doors. We also reused the brick from our old back porch for the foundation around house and garage.

In early 2010, we finished our new basement to include a bedroom, bathroom, and rec room. The old basement became Jim's workshop.

Here are a few tips for anyone considering doing an addition:

1) Above all, do the math to be sure the renovation will make sense for resale. Basically, if you sold your house pre-addition, and apply any profit to a new house plus what you would spend on the addition, is your mortgage less

Overly simplistic example: You paid $300K for your house and you owe $250K. Your addition will cost $100K. Your mortgage balance would be $350K after the addition. BUT, if you can now sell your house for $400K. A new house of similar size and finishes, in a comparable or better neighborhood, would cost $550K. You take your $150K from the sale, and the $100K you would have spent on the addition and put it towards the new house. You end up with a $300K mortgage: moving is the better option. If the new house is $700K then adding to your current house makes sense.

2) Be prepared to make a lot of decisions (many over the phone while you are at work) and live with those decisions. If it takes you a long time to make a decision, either don't do a major home renovation or start making decisions as early as possible.

3) Talk to a lot of architects and builders before deciding on who to use. Beware of a builder that says you don't need an architect for an addition. Drive around and find the houses with "warts" on them - no architect involved.

4) Hire unaffiliated architects and builders. Checks and balances are a good thing. Keep your architect on retainer throughout the building process.

5) Consider moving out. We moved out and it kept us sane. We didn't have to live with the dust and dirt, and it was worth every penny. I think we made better decisions because were not sleeping in a dusty bed every night.

6) Hold weekly meetings with your architect and builder throughout the building process - especially through framing. We used this time to discuss things like window placement and other things that we couldn't see until the building was up. We met with our builder almost every morning before we went to work to answer questions and to try to avoid mid-day surprises.

7) If a contractor says you don't need a permit - be wary. You might. It's easier for a contractor to do the work without a permit - no fees, no waiting, no inspectors. The fact is, the permitting process was created to protect homeowners and home buyers. If you get a permit and the work is inspected, you have a better guarantee that the work was done correctly. If not, you have no guarantee. Obviously it depends on your locality, but here in Arlington, if you are doing any foundation work, adding bathrooms, bedrooms, etc. You need a permit. If you don't get a permit, you may get burned when you sell your house because you'll either have to tear things out and get the permit later, or discount your selling price to account for the lack of permit.

8) Be prepared to not get exactly what you want, but also don't settle. It's a tricky balance because sometimes you do have to let things go but also don't take "no" for an answer - especially not when it's knee jerk reaction from a builder or one of the subcontractors.

9) Beware of the slippery slope - "Well, if we're doing this then we might as well do ..." Your house does not have to be "finished" when the crew walks away on the last day. You can still have things you want to do in the long run. For example, we didn't touch our existing upstairs bathroom although we probably could have done it for less than we will be able to do it for in the future, BUT we also knew we had spent enough at that time and we don't mind a project (or twenty!) down the road.

10) Sign a contract and have a professional review it. On this point, I would say there is a de minimis amount of work which I would say you do not need a contract. I would put that dollar amount at whatever amount you are comfortable with losing if the contractor walks away without doing the work. So, if you are getting $400 worth of tile work done then a contract is probably not necessary.

11) Shop around for financing (if you need it). Terms and rates vary widely between banks and mortgage lenders. We found the best rate at a local lender, when national banks wouldn't touch our project at the same interest rate. Be sure to check with credit unions as well (we refinanced with one recently) even if you aren't a member - they often offer great rates on financing.

Now for the fun stuff! I know you love pictures, so here you go -


If you want a play-by-play of our home renovation, you can pop over to my old blog where you can read my weekly posts about our progress.

Happy to answer more questions if you have any!
Check out this week's House Party: Family Rooms here.
4 more days to enter the Gwendolyn Allis Apron Giveaway here.