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We’re thankful for…

By on November 25, 2014


It’s nearly Thanksgiving! The time of year when we pause and take stock of the good things in our lives. And there’s so much John and I are thankful for…

We're Thankful For | Rather Square

We’re thankful for our family, especially our two healthy and happy kids. Toddler E and Baby T definitely make life interesting around here!

Baby T | Rather Square

We’re thankful for the roof over our heads and all the projects we’ve been able to complete this year (like our budget bathroom updates and DIY painted furniture for the nursery).

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

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

We’re thankful to be gainfully employed and able to support our family. This helps us to build an emergency fund, which came in handy this year when both our refrigerator and furnace broke down. We were able to replace these essentials without going into debt. Being a homeowner means always being prepared for the unexpected!

Old Furnace, New Furnace | Rather Square

Installing our New Refrigerator | Rather Square

And we’re thankful for all of you, our readers and friends! Blogging our experiences as homeowners has been really fun, and we’re thankful to all of you for your comments, feedback, and support.

House Tour Page | Rather Square

Your turn! What are you thankful for?

November 25, 2014

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Testing, testing: Our knockoff Eames rocker review

By on November 19, 2014


Remember when we ordered a new rocking chair for the living room? We needed a baby-friendly seating option on the first floor, and found this knockoff version of the classic Eames chair online. Since it arrived, we’ve been using it daily… and here’s what we think.

Our Knockoff Eames Rocker: A Review of the LexMod Molded Plastic Armchair Rocker | Rather Square


PROS

Size: Its smaller size is perfect for our living room. We’ve already got the Karlstad sofa and our found coffee table, and this rocking chair fits in easily without making our space feel crowded or over-furnished.

Design: It’s clean, modern, and (a little surprisingly) comfortable. The curves of this chair are a nice contrast to the more squared-off lines of the built-in bookcase and the sofa, and the white color is fresh and fits with our decor. Plus, the plastic seat material is low-maintenance (it’s easy to wipe up any spills or scribbles).

Construction: It’s a solid piece – the seat is made of polypropylene and the legs are chrome metal and beech wood. It feels like it will hold up for many years of rocking without collapsing or breaking.

Portability: Usually we keep it in one spot, but we love that we can move it around the living room (or even into other rooms) to suit our needs. This came in handy recently when we rearranged furniture for an extended family gathering.

Value: At around $100, it was a good balance of affordability and quality for us.


CONS

Weak back support: We’d read about other people’s experience with this in the product reviews, so it didn’t come as too much of a surprise: the back support on this chair is not great. It’s not something we’d like to sit in for hours at a time, but for feedings and short baby naps, it’s fine. Maybe a strategically placed cushion would help? We’re open to suggestions.

Construction: Wait, didn’t I list this above as a pro? For the most part, the chair is securely constructed, but we’ve noticed that after a few days of regular use, the hardware that attaches the legs from the seat gets a little loose. Not to the point where we’re afraid the legs will suddenly fall off, but they do require some minor adjusting more often than we’d like.


VERDICT

Our Knockoff Eames Rocker: A Review of the LexMod Molded Plastic Armchair Rocker | Rather Square

We like it! Overall, this chair fulfills our functional, aesthetic and budget requirements. It’s a comfortable piece of modern furniture that we use every day, and (despite its weaker back support and occasionally slightly shaky legs) it’s become our favorite place to feed and rock Baby T. If you’re looking for a well-designed rocker that won’t break the bank, definitely consider this one.

So tell us – have you ever sat and rocked in one of these chairs? Do you agree with our pros/cons list?

Links may contain affiliates.

November 19, 2014

category: Design + Projects  • Tags: , ,
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Buying a house: Our journey to home ownership

By on November 11, 2014


Today we’re sharing the story of how the Rather Square house became our home!

Buying a House: Our Journey to Home Ownership | Rather Square

While buying a house is a different process for everyone, we wanted to talk about our own experience with this major life event, since we feel like we learned so much along the way that might help others who are considering a home purchase. You’ve read a brief account of our house hunt before, but below is the detailed story of our journey to home ownership. It involves an equal balance of uncertainty, frustration, and discouragement with hope, perseverance, and a little sprinkling of luck.

This story begins a few years ago, when John and I were living in a two-bedroom rental apartment on Chicago’s north side with our new baby daughter E. While we really liked our urban neighborhood, we didn’t see ourselves staying in the city permanently. We dreamed of buying a house someday in a good community where we could settle and grow roots. But we wanted to stay near Chicago as well, to be close to our jobs and our families.

One area we both really liked was the village of Oak Park, a suburb just outside Chicago’s city limits. It’s not an inexpensive place to live, but the schools are excellent, and it’s a very active and tight-knit community. And its rich historical and cultural background fascinated us (Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway were famous Oak Parkers).

Our Home Buying Story | Frank Lloyd Wright | Rather Square

It also has multiple mass transit options (one commuter train line and two branches of Chicago’s public transit system) for getting to and from the city easily.

Our Home Buying Story | Mass Transit | Rather Square

It sounded like a good fit for us, but we wanted to be sure before committing to buying property there. So we found a two-bedroom apartment to rent within walking distance of Oak Park’s lively downtown district and signed a one-year lease. This way, we could spend some time getting to know the area and exploring our surroundings without feeling like we were locked in permanently.

We chose our rental apartment for its location near the center of the village, because we initially thought we’d want to settle in that neighborhood. But during the year we lived in that apartment, we came to the conclusion that while we loved Oak Park, we wanted to be in a different area of the village. Being close to the downtown district – within walking distance of major shops and businesses – turned out to be not a high priority for us, and more of a hassle than an advantage, with difficult parking and traffic. We realized that we ultimately wanted a quieter neighborhood to settle in. And since Oak Park is only about 5 miles square overall, we could drive or bike anywhere in the village in a matter of minutes from wherever we chose to live.

Oak Park Farmers Market | Rather Square

As our one-year lease came to a close, we debated if we should continue renting or take the plunge into homebuying. And then we were informed by our landlady that she would not be offering us a lease renewal – she was planning to rent our apartment to family instead. This brought our musings about buying a house into sharp focus. With home prices and mortgage rates at an all-time low, it seemed like the optimal time to buy. We’d already been scoping out affordable listings in more residential areas, and there seemed to be a lot of properties with potential in family-friendly neighborhoods.

Our Home Buying Story | Rather Square

But our timeline was short – we had three months before our apartment lease was up to find a house, go through the financing and closing process, and move in. I didn’t know if we could pull it off (and even our realtor was crossing her fingers). If we didn’t find a house in time, we’d have to move into a short-term rental in the interim – something we were definitely trying to avoid.

Over the next three weeks, we went to many open houses and viewed a lot of properties. At first, it was discouraging because the houses we liked were out of our price range, and those that we could afford were generally in need of serious repairs that we didn’t feel we could take on. 75% of the homes in Oak Park were built before 1960, and many of them still have original features that sometimes haven’t been maintained well or updated to modern standards or building codes. With a young child and two full-time jobs, we didn’t want to take on immediate major renovations. Our house had to be livable while we worked on any updates a little at a time on our own.

The Refrigerator Dash | Rather Square

We did see a few places that seemed to have good potential. We made an offer on a ranch house with a full basement, but were outbid. Looking back, that particular house had an awkward layout (like kids’ rooms off the kitchen) that would have been problematic for us, so it was good that we didn’t get it. Then, another house we initially liked (a two-story house on a cul-de-sac) went under contract before we had a chance to bid. But that was another “not meant to be for us” home – it would have needed all the electrical and the windows replaced, and the location was not ideal for our needs. Neither of these homes felt quite right.

Seeing all these “not quite right” homes was discouraging, but it actually helped us get a good feel for the local housing market and what kind of home we could realistically expect to find in our budget. Still, our available window to find a “just right” house was closing fast, and we were getting nervous. I started checking out short-term rentals as a backup plan.

Then John found a listing for an upcoming open house that looked interesting. The list price was a little high, but the property had a lot of promise – great location, hardwood floors, landscaped yard, workable kitchen. The open house was scheduled for the following weekend, but we contacted our realtor and asked to see it before then.

Buying a House: Our Journey to Home Ownership | Rather Square

As soon as we walked into this house, we knew it was the one. While it was just as old as many of the other houses we’d seen, we could see that this home had been loved and taken care of over its lifetime. It needed repainting and and other updates – projects we could mostly take on ourselves – but no major renovations right away. It wasn’t perfect – the main floor lacked a bathroom, the garage looked a little shaky, the kitchen was outdated, and the carpeting was old and worn. But it seemed structurally sound and the floor plan layout was ideal. It felt like a natural fit for us.

We made an offer that afternoon because we knew that the upcoming open house would probably attract other interested parties, and we didn’t want to miss this chance. We even wrote the seller a letter introducing ourselves and telling her why we wanted to buy her house. The next morning, we got wonderful news – our offer had been accepted!

Living Room "Before" | Rather Square

Kitchen Before

Upstairs Hallway "Before" | Rather Square

Master Bedroom Before | Rather Square

We went under contract and began the closing process immediately. Luck was on our side – we had less than 90 days between our offer being accepted and our apartment lease ending, but we were able to get everything squared away within that timeframe. Our home inspection went pretty smoothly as well – while a few concerns came up (like the deteriorating condition of the garage, the old furnace, the outdated electrical wiring), there were no glaring red flags that would make us walk away. The house was in great shape for its age and had been relatively well-maintained over the years.

Bathroom Before

Playroom Before | Rather Square

Kid's Bedroom Before | Rather Square

Basement Electrical Box before

On closing day, we signed a lot of papers and got the keys to our new home. But we didn’t move in right away. We wanted to get some larger tasks out of the way while the house was still empty (so we wouldn’t have to live amongst the mess). So we packed our furniture into a portable storage unit, crashed with our families nearby, and spent the first twelve days of home ownership tackling several house projects.

Some of the things we worked on in those first twelve days were:

red-gray-swatch

Wallpaper Removal | Rather Square

Entryway, Stairs & Hallway Paint | Rather Square

Painting the Spare Bedroom | Rather Square

Painting Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

New carpet over stairs | Rather Square

Built-In Bookcase | Rather Square

Painting Wood Paneling | Rather Square

garden-electrician

Painting Wood Paneling | Rather Square

And of course, since those first twelve days, we’ve taken on many many many more home improvements, DIY projects, room renovations, appliance and system upgrades, landscaping, and a variety of other house-related updates. We’re keeping track of all this on our House Tour page, if you want to follow along.

House Tour Page | Rather Square

Almost two years after our home ownership journey began, we’re still so happy with the outcome and our 92-year-old “new-to-us” house. We definitely feel like we ended up with the home we were meant to have. It’s far from perfect and we’ve got at least 20 years worth of projects on our to-do list… but we’re having fun making it our own.

Buying a House: Our Journey to Home Ownership | Rather Square

Hopefully sharing our house buying story will help others – it can be an intimidating process, but we survived, and even feel like we gained a better appreciation (no pun intended!) for home ownership along the way. It’s a big investment of time, money, energy, sweat, and patience… but (for us, at least) it was all worth it.

Do you have your own home ownership story, or any advice based on your particular experience? Maybe you’re thinking about buying your first home and have more questions about what’s involved? Please share in the comments below. Thanks!

November 11, 2014

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A spooky + sparkly Halloween

By on October 28, 2014


It’s that spooky (and sparkly) time of year again – Halloween!

Spooky and Sparkly Halloween Pumpkin | Rather Square

We picked up a free pumpkin from our park district (just like we did last Halloween) earlier this month and brought it home for Toddler E to decorate. She saw some glitter faux pumpkins at Target a few weeks ago and declared she wanted a “sparkly” pumpkin for Halloween, so we went with last year’s glitter glue method to use again on this year’s pumpkin.

Spooky and Sparkly Halloween Pumpkin | Rather Square

We’ve had great success with this pumpkin decorating method – the glue keeps the glitter contained so there’s not a huge glittery mess to clean up. But it’s also washable, so any inevitable little spills are no big deal. We helped E with the pumpkin design last year, but this year she was old enough (she turns 3 the day before Halloween!) to decorate it all on her own.

Spooky and Sparkly Halloween Pumpkin | Rather Square

She had fun trying out all the glitter colors and creating big sparkly blobs. When she was done, we let the glue dry overnight and then put the finished pumpkin outside in the front yard.

Spooky and Sparkly Halloween Pumpkin | Rather Square

To me, the colors and shapes evoke the changing leaves of autumn. It turned out kind of Abstract Expressionist actually, like a painting by Cy Twombly or Helen Frankenthaler. And also sparkly, per E’s vision. Our little artist!

Spooky and Sparkly Halloween Pumpkin | Rather Square

Have a fun, spooky, and safe Halloween, everybody!

October 28, 2014

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Painting fabric drawers: A DIY furniture project for the nursery

By on October 14, 2014


I took on a relatively simple DIY project for Baby T‘s nursery recently – transforming this basic fabric drawer unit into a custom furniture piece, using a little paint, pattern and creativity.

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

We bought this handy little 3-drawer unit when Toddler E was born (I think we paid $30 for it at Target) and used it in her bedroom to store things like pacifiers, burp cloths, little toys and books, etc. It’s 20 inches high, 14.5 inches wide, and 15 inches deep, with a black particle board casing and three green fabric bins that act as as sliding drawers. The drawers are collapsible, but they hold their shape when open with inner cardboard supports. Pretty basic construction, but it’s held up well over the last three years, with only a few stains and scuffs.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

I wanted to re-purpose this for the new baby’s room, but not go overboard with our time or money. The green color had worked well for E’s room, but didn’t fit with the orange-yellow-blue palette for the nursery. So I decided to try painting the drawers a pale yellow and lining them with some coordinating patterned fabric.

Since I haven’t really painted fabric before, I did some online research to see what it might entail and how to go about it. I actually found quite a few tutorials and examples of painting upholstery (such as Kristin’s blue chair, A Beautiful Mess’s couch, and this DIY Ikea hack) and the results were amazing – seemed like if you do it right, painted fabric will hold up really well without the color flaking or rubbing off.

Because my project was a little different – instead of a piece of furniture that needed to be as soft and comfortable as possible, my drawers would be used for storage, and so holding their shape and staying a little stiff wasn’t a bad thing – I took these tutorials and adapted the materials and steps a little to get a specific end result. Here’s what I did.

First, I pulled the drawers out of their case and set up a little painting station in our garage. (Sorry for the bad early-morning lighting!)

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

I also gathered all my project supplies together, including:

Even though I was painting outdoors with zero-VOC paint and lots of fresh-air ventilation, I was also eight months pregnant, so I decided to wear a mask just to be safe!

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

From the upholstery painting tutorials, I learned that the best formula to use is a ratio of 1 part paint, 1 part fabric medium, and 1/2 part water. The idea is to do several coats this way to help the paint mixture bond to the fabric fibers, while retaining as much softness as possible. Again, since I was painting drawers instead of furniture, I adapted this to fit my particular needs – I didn’t think I’d need as much fabric medium in my “recipe” since I preferred keeping a measure of rigidity and strength on the drawer surfaces.

So for the first base coat on the drawers, I started out with 1 part paint, 1/2 part fabric medium, and 1/2 part water. I used stock white latex paint for this first layer instead of the Pale Daffodil, to help initially cover the darker green for the subsequent yellow layers. And I pretty much just eyeballed the “recipe” amounts (because I’m a rebel like that).

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

The paint mixture was very thin and watery, which I had read would help this first coat to soak well into the fabric fibers.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Just before applying the first coat of paint mixture, I brushed plain water on the fabric with a clean foam brush so the paint would adhere better, another tip I found during my fabric-painting research.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Then I started painting. The white paint mixture went on pretty smoothly and created a good bond with the fabric. I used the corners of my foam brush to get into any seams and make sure the slight texture of the fabric was totally covered.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

I had plans to cover the bottoms of the drawers with a fun patterned fabric instead of painting them (more on that in a minute), so I didn’t paint those – just the front, back, and sides of the drawers (both inside and outside). The heavier white spots show where the paint is still a little wet.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

After the drawers were all painted with the base coat, I let them sit for a few hours until they were completely dry to the touch. I noticed that the white base coat hadn’t made much of a color change on the fabric, because it had been so thin – the drawers just looked like a paler shade of green (see the photo below).

So for the next coat of paint, I switched to the Pale Daffodil yellow. I used 1 part paint, 1/4 part fabric medium, and 1/4 part water. This second layer of paint covered the base coat pretty well, but I still kept my application relatively thin. The upholstery tutorials I referenced suggested several thin coats to keep the surface as flexible as possible. Even though I didn’t need a super flexible surface, I did want the painted drawers to be durable and not crack or flake. So I made sure not to glop this second coat on too heavily.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Again, I let that dry for a few hours. The color was looking better – definitely yellow, but I could still see a green undertone.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

I was crossing my fingers that just one more coat of paint would do the trick, since I was doing this project over the course of one weekend and really needed to finish it in that timeframe.

Before starting the third coat, I lightly sanded the painted surface – I was starting to see some rough fibers coming through and wanted to smooth them out. My mixture for the third coat was mostly paint, with a small dash of fabric medium and water. Again, this combination would probably make an upholstered chair feel stiff and uncomfortable, but that didn’t matter so much for the drawers, and I was trying to get as much color coverage as possible.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Even though it was the thickest mixture so far, I made sure to apply it smoothly and evenly, working the paint well into the fibers and staying glop-free. The color looked pretty true to the final shade I was going for, but I left it for four hours again to see how the paint would look when dry.

And luckily, the color looked perfect! A pale yellow with no hint of green underneath.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

The last step of this fabric drawer transformation was to add a fun pattern to the bottom of each drawer. The drawers came with a square of green fabric-covered cardboard, so I decided to cover these with my own fabric.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

I had this yellow-and-gray fabric on hand from an earlier project, and it worked well with the new drawer color and the room’s overall palette. For a more detailed tutorial on how I put these together, check out my similar post on how I made the covers for our DVD bookcase shelves. It’s a pretty simple method of just using heavy-duty masking tape to secure the fabric around the edges. I also cut a small slit in the fabric to allow the little tab to pop through the fabric (since the inserts fit pretty snugly into the drawer bottoms, and we do need the tabs to pull them out). Notice that even though I left these bottom inserts unpainted, I did paint the tabs yellow since those would be visible and uncovered by fabric.

Painting Fabric Drawers for the Nursery | Rather Square

Painting Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

Then I set the new fabric inserts into each drawer, put the drawers back into the black case, and moved the unit into the nursery.

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

I love the way it turned out! Functional, practical, and super cute. With our gray rocker-recliner, orange rug, yellow throw blanket, and blue print pillow, this 3-drawer unit fits in perfectly.

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

Not bad for a quick upgrade to a basic piece of furniture that we will use a lot every day. And it only took one weekend and about $22 to do this. The cost included the quart of Pale Daffodil paint ($12), and the fabric medium ($10). I already had the fabric for the inserts, the white base coat paint, the foam brushes, and the paint cup. But even those would probably add only an additional $15 to the budget. Since we paid $30 for the 3-drawer unit in the first place, it’s nice that our DIY upgrade came in at less than that original price!

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

(And now that I’ve shown you this one small corner of Baby T’s nursery room redesign project, I need to finish the rest of it for the final reveal. You know, before he goes to college!)

This was such a fun project! Have you had any experience painting fabric before? What method did you use?

I was featured on Remodelaholic

(linked at Miss Mustard Seed, Thrifty Decor Chick, Remodelaholic, and Massive Sway)

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October 14, 2014