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[ 0 ]

A short pause for a good cause

By on August 18, 2014

Our new baby boy-or-girl is due to arrive any day now! We’ve been posting once a week this summer, but expect to be more sporadic in the next few months as we adjust to being a family of four. Don’t worry, it’s temporary – once we figure out a new routine, we’ll go back to posting on a regular schedule.

A Short Pause for a Good Cause | Rather Square

We have so much more to share with you! Especially the toddler’s and baby’s room redos, which have been our primary focus this summer. We’re finishing those up right now and will have the final reveals to show you in the next few months.

Moodboard for Toddler's Bedroom | Rather Square

Moodboard for Nursery | Rather Square

You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, where we’ll probably have more frequent quick updates in the meantime.

Thank you for all your good wishes and support. We’re excited to keep sharing our projects and adventures with you!

August 18, 2014

category: Inspiration + Fun  • Tags: ,
[ 1 ]

A late summer landscaping round-up

By on August 14, 2014

It seems like we’ve been doing a lot of outdoor work this summer. Some projects were planned, others came up unexpectedly, and one or two were even emergencies. Since we knew we’d be having a new baby at the end of this season, we kept our landscaping ambitions low (in order to prioritize baby-related house updates). But somehow, we found ourselves outside every weekend working on something or other on our little plot of land. Here’s a round-up of what’s been going on.


Our biggest project this summer was cutting down the eight giant yew shrubs in our front yard.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

John did this work himself with a variety of tools (including a chainsaw) and cleared away all the debris and old mulch, leaving us with eight short stumps and a front yard full of dirt.

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

Yew Renovation Pruning | Rather Square

We knew we wouldn’t have time this summer to do any major new landscaping in the former yew space, but John has managed a few small updates. First, he divided some hostas from our backyard (we have a lot back there) and replanted them in front of the stumps. Then he added new wood mulch to the area around the stumps and hostas, creating more of a defined border around the house. Finally, he planted grass seed in the remaining yard space to fill in up to the sidewalk.

Late Summer Landscaping | Rather Square

The grass has mostly grown in well (except for one stubborn patch that we’re still trying to cultivate) and the hostas are hanging in there. Those take a few years to fill out, so we’re optimistic. You can also see a few straggly rosebushes (with no roses) near the sidewalk – we’ve left those in the ground for now, but they’ve never really flourished, and we’ll probably dig them out eventually. Finally, John transplanted some ornamental grass (that he brought from our backyard) around the horse head hitching post – some of it has thrived, some hasn’t. We’ll see what survives this next winter.

Late Summer Landscaping | Rather Square

Now that the yews aren’t crowding everything else out, we’ve got a blank slate to be really creative here. There’s a lot more work to be done, but this is a good start and will hold us over until we have more time to devote to this area in the future.


We can’t forget our Annabelle hydrangeas! We’ve got about four of these bushes, and they were kind of big and floppy last summer. They draped over our paved walkway and were starting to block the path, as you can see below.

Late Summer Hydrangeas | Rather Square

After learning more about them last year, pruning them aggressively last fall, and watching them start to come back to life this spring, they’ve really bloomed nicely this summer.

Late Summer Hydrangeas | Rather Square

It was just the result I was hoping for – smaller bushes that don’t block our walkway access, but still lots of big fluffy blooms. So I must have done something right when pruning them last fall (unlike our failed smoke tree experiment). I’m so glad they grew back and thrived this year – they’re some of our favorite flowers in the garden!

Window boxes

Back in June, we bought some leafy vines and coleus plants for our window boxes (instead of planting herbs like we did last year). We hoped they would grow and drape over the sides and look really pretty.

Window Box Garden | Rather Square

We haven’t had time for much upkeep, and we’ve only been watering the window boxes sporadically because of our busy schedules. The coleus plants have held up pretty well, but the vines kind of shriveled and dried up.

Window Box Garden with Vines and Coleus | Rather Square

This is one gardening project that has fallen to the bottom of our priority list as we get ready for baby, but if we’d put a little more effort in maintaining and caring for these window boxes, they’d probably look much better right now. Maybe next summer we’ll have more time to tend to these.


We’ve got a stone paver walkway that extends the full length of our lot on one side – it leads from the front curb to our back alley. We get a lot of weeds in between the stones and one of our long-term goals is to fill in the walkway spaces with polymeric sand for a more finished appearance. But John noticed some patches of moss growing in one shady spot near the side of the house (you can see it in the 2014 Annabelle hydrangea photo above), and decided to try and cultivate this look for now. It’s really pretty!

Cultivating Moss | Rather Square

We probably can’t grow moss along the entire walkway, because it needs shady and damp conditions to thrive, and most of the walkway gets full sun. But for this one little area, it’s been a fun experiment to encourage a mossy green interlude.

Cultivating Moss | Rather Square

Oak tree

Our large oak tree provides a lot of shade (and pretty yellow leaves in the fall) and helps keep the front of our house cool in the summer. Unfortunately, it has also been providing squirrels with a easy access route to our roof, and earlier this summer we discovered that some of these squirrels had gotten into the empty space above our sunroom. John climbed up a ladder to take a look, and realized that there wasn’t much flashing along the roof line (despite the fact that this roof was just put on a few years ago). So in order to keep animals out and to protect the exposed wood, he installed new aluminum flashing around the entire house.

Installing Roof Flashing | Rather Square

This was one of these projects we hadn’t planned for, but it was a necessary fix. Since John was able to do it himself, we saved a lot of money than if we’d hired someone to come out and do the work.

In addition, he cut back several overhanging branches on the oak tree to discourage future tree-dwellers from migrating to our house. After trimming most of them from the ground with an extendable tree trimmer, he climbed the tree with a smaller tool to get some out-of-the-way stragglers.

Trimming Oak Tree Branches | Rather Square

We’re really hoping that these DIY preventative measures will help keep the roof free of unwanted visitors from now on.


Speaking of unwanted visitors… another unplanned project we encountered this summer (and didn’t save money on) was dealing with this hornets’ nest. We noticed it out of the blue one day a few weeks ago, and it was positioned right over our front sidewalk in the lower branches of the oak tree. It was a big safety issue for anybody walking by our house.

Bald Faced Hornets Nest | Rather Square

The nest had to be removed ASAP, but we decided to leave this job to the pros. So we called in a pest control company. Once the guy came out and got a good look at the nest, he told us that we had dangerous bald-faced hornets living there. They can get really angry and aggressive when defending their space (a single hornet can sting someone multiple times), especially when someone destroys their home. So he wore full-body protection, sprayed the nest, and then cut it down while we watched safely from inside the house. It cost us $250 for the removal, but it was definitely not something we would have been able to (or want to) take on ourselves.

Bald Faced Hornets Nest | Rather Square

So unless any further outdoor emergencies come up (fingers crossed!), this is probably all the landscaping we’ll be doing for the rest of the summer. The new baby is scheduled to arrive soon, and we’re focusing on getting ready for that by finishing the nursery and the toddler’s bedroom.

How does your August garden/yard/lawn/trees grow?

August 14, 2014

[ 5 ]

Ceiling fans, curtains and shades… oh my!

By on August 7, 2014

We’ve got less than a month before the new baby arrives, so every weekend has been a mad dash of DIY projects, furniture assembly, and naps (mostly for me!). But we’re slowly and steadily making progress on the toddler’s and baby’s bedrooms. Today we wanted to share our first tasks in these two rooms – putting up new window treatments and installing ceiling fans.

Let’s start with the toddler’s bedroom – here’s the moodboard I made to illustrate the design direction we wanted to follow.

Moodboard for Toddler's Bedroom | Rather Square

A. Round Fillsta orange lamp from Ikea
B. Billy bookcase with DIY fabric backboard (similar to our previous fabric panel project)
C. Wall paint color is Urban Nature by Benjamin Moore
D. Owl prints that we bought when she was born
E. A new extendable toddler/twin bed
F. Her favorite multi-color circle rug
G. Orange blanket for her new bed

We’re working within the room’s current color palette of greens and oranges, with mostly dark wood furniture. But first, the old window treatments and light fixture (left by the previous owner) had to go.

Updating Curtains and Light Fixtures in a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

The single window in this room came with teal mini-blinds, and soon after we moved in, we hung a green curtain that we had lying around over those as a stopgap measure. We lived with this strange combination for over a year, knowing it was temporary and that obviously the entire window needed a new look.

Painting Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

Since we’re committed to staying within a strict budget for these two bedroom redos, cost was a big factor when choosing new window treatments. We looked at options such as faux-wood blinds, but ultimately we found inexpensive blackout shades at Ikea that could be trimmed to fit specific window widths. In our experience, blackout window coverings have proved to be essential in helping the toddler sleep at naptime and at night. And at around $15 each, these fit our budget too.

John carefully measured the window frame and cut the shade to fit before installing it.

Customizing Blackout Shades for a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

Customizing Blackout Shades for a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

With the blackout shades installed, I looked around for curtains that would work with the colors in the toddler’s moodboard, and found these dark-orange ones at Bed Bath and Beyond. The fabric feels high-quality and substantial, the color provides a good contrast to the light-green walls and fits with the room’s decor, and the subtle texture has some tactile dimension without overpowering the other patterns in the room. In other words, we really like these curtains! To hang them, we used simple black Ikea curtain rods and finials.

Updating Curtains in a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

Updating Curtains in a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

As for the existing pink glass light fixture in this room, John hated it from the moment we moved in. But it didn’t really bother me at first – it had a vintage-y vibe that seemed to fit the house (although I don’t think it was actually vintage). It did look a little weird with these giant CFL light bulbs poking out from the top. And while I tried to figure out a way to make it work in this room, I eventually decided that it just wasn’t the right design fit.

Old Light Fixture in a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

In fact, I started realizing that this bedroom (and the baby’s room) would really benefit from a ceiling fan. Since our 92-year-old house doesn’t have the best insulation and the bedrooms are all on the second floor, proper air circulation is important for temperature regulation and air flow, no matter what season we’re in. So instead of a fun design-forward drum shade or a chandelier, I turned my search efforts toward a more functional light/fan combo that would still be aesthetically pleasing but not super expensive.

We knew we wanted a white fan to blend in with the ceiling so that it wouldn’t be the main visual focus of the room. Something on the small side with clean lines and not a lot of fussy details, with a single light fixture instead of multiple ones. We’d be getting two fans (one for each bedroom), so cost was a factor – we looked for fans that were under $100. It was hard to find a lot of options out there – most ceiling fans in our price range are just plain ugly. But we did find a few that we thought might work.

White Ceiling Fans | Rather Square

A. Watson 34-inch 5-blade fan by Hunter ($89)
B. Wengue 30-inch 3-blade fan by Westinghouse ($80)
C. Turbo Swirl 30-inch 6-blade fan by Westinghouse ($96)

We ended up going with the Westinghouse Wengue fan for $80. The 30-inch size and three blades seemed like a good fit for these small bedrooms, and the light fixture design was simple and modern. And the low cost was a major bonus! After the fans were ordered and delivered, John was able to install them both in an afternoon, and so far they look and work great. The toddler’s bedroom has stayed nice and cool since we put it in.

White Ceiling Fan in a Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

Moving over to the baby’s room, here’s the moodboard I put together for our “is-it-a-boy-or-a-girl” second child. The room is painted in a muted blue-gray, and we’re incorporating a bold orange and yellow color palette with contrasting dark and neutral furniture.

Moodboard for Baby's Bedroom | Rather Square

A. Crib from the toddler’s room (we’ll be transitioning her to a “big kid bed”)
B. Wall paint color is Nimbus Gray by Benjamin Moore
C. Billy bookcase with DIY fabric backboard
D. Our gray La-Z-Boy rocker recliner
E. Yellow chevron crib sheets
F. A fun and bright orange area rug

In here, the new ceiling fan replaced this old light fixture. It had a similar look as the toddler’s, but with ivory glass instead of pink glass.

Old Light Fixture in a Nursery | Rather Square

White Ceiling Fan in a Nursery | Rather Square

As for window treatments in this room, the previous owner left some dingy off-white mini blinds on the two windows. We put some old brown curtains onto the existing rods as a temporary fix when we moved in, but it was definitely an unattractive look.

Updating Curtains in a Nursery | Rather Square

So we finally took down the blinds, and installed the same blackout shades from Ikea that we used in the toddler’s room. For curtains, I looked for something light and neutral to balance the room’s brighter colors and also to contrast a little with the walls. I got these dove-gray curtains at TJ Maxx, and we put them up on the windows along with the same black Ikea curtain rods and finials we used in the toddler’s room.

Updating Curtains in a Nursery | Rather Square

They’re a lighter hue than the wall color and have a linen-like texture. With two windows in this room, I didn’t want anything too bright or loud, and these give the room a bit of softness and gentleness. The dove gray color complements the black furniture and gray rocker, and won’t distract from the orange and yellow accents.

Updating Curtains in a Nursery | Rather Square

So we’ve got a good start on both of these bedrooms – but there’s a lot more to do. I’ll report back on some further updates we’re currently working on, but we’ll probably wait to share the final room reveals until after the baby is born, since we’ll be getting things ready up until the last minute!

What do you think of the window treatments and ceiling fans/lights we’ve chosen?

Links may contain affiliates.

August 7, 2014

[ 4 ]

How NOT to prune a smoke tree

By on August 1, 2014

Not all of our home improvement projects are successful… especially in the landscaping department! Today we’re sharing a pruning fail in our backyard, along with our planned next steps to try and fix it. Plus a fun surprise twist at the end of the post, so keep reading!

How NOT to Prune a Smoke Tree | Rather Square

Last time we talked about the smoke tree in our backyard was in May, when we reported on how we pruned it during the winter to try and control its growth.

Pruining a Smoke Tree | Rather Square

You can see in the right-side photo above that the tree was looking pretty sparse. At that point in the spring, we weren’t seeing much regrowth and were hoping the tree would fill in more over the summer. Well…be careful what you wish for. Only a few months later, we’ve got a smoky monster on our hands.

Overgrown Smoke Tree | Rather Square

Instead of a cute and tidily-pruned smoke tree in our backyard, it’s now growing up as high as the playroom windows. And it’s actually engulfing the little Japanese maple and the ornamental cherry tree and other plants in that corner of the garden. The difference in last summer’s tree growth and this summer’s is crazy – check out this side-by-side comparison.

Overgrown Smoke Tree | Rather Square

As you can see, our pruning efforts had the opposite effect that we’d planned. Instead of keeping the smoke tree nicely shaped and at a reasonable size, we seem to have created an even more out-of-control growth situation. The branches and leaves completely block our dining nook window, keeping us from gazing out at the backyard garden during meals. Not cool.

Overgrown Smoke Tree | Rather Square

After we noticed the smoke tree’s unusual (and unexpected) growth earlier this summer, John did some more research to see what might have gone wrong. He found this video that details the proper pruning technique for these kinds of large bushes/small trees, and basically we learned that a smoke tree should be pruned in winter or early spring by trimming at the branching-off point, to keep the tree from over-sprouting. John had instead simply cut the branches at their ends, down to the height we wanted the tree to be. He didn’t realize that pruning the tree this way would actually cause its growth to quickly surpass the smaller size we were going for.

Source: Plant Amnesty

In order to make sure this doesn’t happen again, we’re planning to reprune Old Smoky – the correct way – this winter or next spring. We can’t cut it any further this summer, or it will just rebound and continue to get even bigger. So we’ve got to live with this behemoth thing for now. We’re even thinking of changing things up and converting the tree to a bush with a different pruning method. The previous owner tied the tree to a trellis and may have been purposefully training it to grow larger, but we’re definitely interested in a smaller incarnation, so we may try the bush route.

There is a silver lining in this whole situation, though. During dinner one night recently at our dining nook table, we were looking out the tree-filled window and lamenting our loss of a garden view, when I saw something nestled among the branches.

Robin's Nest in Smoke Tree | Rather Square

Apparently an overgrown smoke tree is the perfect environment for a robin’s nest! This little bird had set up headquarters in a central spot where several branches come together. It was such a nice surprise to discover this, and it made us not mind the big tree so much. We still miss our view of the garden, but this sight is pretty special too.

Robin's Nest in Smoke Tree | Rather Square

And, a few days after discovering the robin and her nest, we saw that she had a (very hungry) baby in there!

Robin's Nest in Smoke Tree | Rather Square

It’s been amazing to watch this all unfold right in front of our window. The toddler in particular likes to watch the robin’s comings and goings while she eats dinner – it’s a great nature lesson for her. We’re trying to be as respectful as possible and not scare the robin away with our presence on the other side of the glass, but for the most part she’s been more interested in feathering her nest and feeding her baby than with our paparazzi behavior.

Hopefully when we prune the tree in the next several months, the robin will still come back after her winter migration and build her nest here again. We love having her family as our backyard neighbors!

Robin's Nest in Smoke Tree | Rather Square

Have you had any landscaping mishaps this summer? Or surprise bird sightings?

(linked at Remodelaholic)

August 1, 2014

[ 7 ]

Our budget bathroom update: Let there be light (part 2)

By on July 23, 2014

(In case you missed it, read Part 1 of this bathroom light fixture update here!)

We finally have a new light fixture in the bathroom!

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

Before I go into more detail about the installation process, here’s a quick before-and-after shot. Seriously, it’s a huge (actually, make that smaller) difference!

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

In our last post, I talked about how we began the process of replacing our old bathroom light fixture. First, we found a smaller and more modern light to better fit the space above the medicine cabinet. Then I removed the old fixture and rerouted the electrical connections to sit centered above the vanity mirror in order to properly install the new fixture. The last thing I showed you was the bare wall structure that I rebuilt after sawing a hole for the new junction box:

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 1) | Rather Square

After the junction box was in place and secure, I began the process of patching over the rebuilt lath and fixing the damaged wall areas. Since our new light fixture is smaller and narrower than the old one, we’d be exposing areas previously hidden from view – these were showing signs of damage from the heat of the old light and the paint layers were cracked and bubbling.

In addition, I tested this old paint for lead and got positive results, which gave me another reason (besides aesthetics) to cover this exposed area: safety.

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

First, I vacuumed up the dust I’d created when cutting out the old plaster, and prepped the lath and surrounding wall with a bonding agent. The bonding agent is painted on like a primer and keeps the lath and wall from pulling water out of fresh plaster patching material (keeping that material from adhering well to the lath and wall). Then, to match the look and feel of the original plaster to both fill in the hole and smooth out the wall, I mixed up some setting-type joint compound for my patching material – basically, fast-setting plaster.

Mixing Fast-Setting Plaster to Repair Old Walls | Rather Square

Mixing Fast-Setting Plaster to Repair Old Walls | Rather Square

I’ve used this product for other projects around the house (most of our interior walls are plaster), and it works really well. It’s got a similar texture to the original plaster, but dries hard in about 90 minutes (or less) so that I can apply multiple coats in the same day. Using a mixing drill with a mixing paddle attachment, I just mix up a small batch at a time in a 5-gallon bucket until I get the right consistency (something resembling thick cake icing). I didn’t need a ton of this stuff for the bathroom, just enough to build up the surface of the hole to the level of the wall and to apply a thin skim coat of plaster over the old painted areas.

Patching a Plaster Wall | Rather Square

I ended up doing a few layers of plaster, sanding between layers. It was a little rough looking, but my initial objective was to get enough plaster on the wall to fill and cover all the trouble spots.

Patching a Plaster Wall | Rather Square

Then, right after applying and smoothing out the final layer, I ran a clean damp paint roller over it while it was still wet. The paint roller had a slight nap that helped create a subtle texture to match the rest of the wall surface. This technique can also be used on a freshly spackled repaired area of a wall to help it blend in with a previously painted wall.

Patching a Plaster Wall | Rather Square

Then I let it dry completely. The new patched plaster looked and felt like it blended in really well with the rest of the wall surface.

Patching a Plaster Wall | Rather Square

The next step was to paint. I used a small roller to apply our bathroom wall paint over the plaster (Silver Leaf by Behr), and didn’t worry too much about the few minor imperfections in the painted textured plaster surface. In fact, the imperfections helped this area match the rest of the 92-year-old walls – you’d never know it was newly patched.

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

Once the paint was dry, I was finally able to install our new light fixture! Thanks to all the prep work I’d done to get the wall ready, it was a quick installation. The light sits nice and flush against the wall, which means that the layers of patched plaster underneath are pretty level.

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

You may notice that we made a few modifications from the installation shown on the box. The most obvious change is that we decided to install the new light with the shades pointing up rather than down (the original orientation shown on the box). With our large mirrored medicine cabinet below, it made more sense this way – the bulbs shine up at the ceiling (bouncing the light around the room) instead of down on the cabinet. We also removed the little knobs protruding from the end of each shade. They would have bumped up against the top of the medicine cabinet, and we weren’t enamored with the look of them anyway. Luckily, you can’t really tell that these are missing – there are some screw holes showing, but they are inset pretty deeply and just look like part of the design.

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

We LOVE our new light! The frosted white shades diffuse the light around the room really well, and the color of the light is much more neutral and bright (I used these 60-watt LED bulbs), compared to the dingy yellow-ish glow we had before. And the design of the fixture, with its clean graceful lines, helps bring our bathroom into the 21st century. So long, medical-exam-room harshness.

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

What lighting challenges or updates have you encountered lately?

Missed part of this budget bathroom project? Read our previous posts on:
Our budget bathroom update: Painting
Our budget bathroom update: Four fixes for under $20
Our budget bathroom update: Let there be light (part 1)

(linked on Thrifty Decor Chick)

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July 23, 2014