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Modern life and design in our historical American Foursquare home

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Our vintage nursery dresser + modern DIY inspiration

By on April 15, 2015


Today we’re sharing our inspiration and ideas for a classic modern Ikea dresser hack, plus the history behind our vintage DIY nursery dresser!

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

As you know, we’ve been transforming Toddler E’s former nursery into a big-girl bedroom (see the moodboard and plans here). We’re slowly but surely updating things like furniture, artwork, window treatments and lighting, and even the closet. Last summer, before Baby T arrived, we tackled one of the big projects on our to-do list: replacing E’s vintage oversized dresser.

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

This multi-functional piece had been perfect for her infant needs – we stored everything from clothes and baby gear to diapers and wipes inside, and also used it as a changing table. But by last summer, E was potty trained and her bedroom no longer required diaper-related storage or functionality. And we wanted to move this perfect-for-a-nursery dresser into the new baby‘s room, so it was time to find something different to fit E’s big-girl lifestyle. But before we talk about our search for her new dresser, let’s share a little backstory on the old one.

The perfect nursery dresser

There’s history behind this piece of furniture. It was actually John’s childhood dresser nearly 40 years ago, and his parents gave it to us when we were getting ready for E’s arrival. We were excited to keep it in the family and re-use it for a new generation – the dresser’s solid wood construction just needed a little DIY refresh for its next phase of life.

Here’s what we started with:

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

John removed all the drawers, took off the dated brass hardware, and lightly sanded the dresser’s case and drawer fronts. Then he primed the bare wood and painted it black, to match the crib we had bought for the nursery.

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

After the paint dried, John finished the surfaces with a protective coat of Poly Whey in Clear Satin. It’s a non-toxic and eco-friendly furniture finish that we also used on our pantry cabinets.

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

Finally, we added new hardware (classic nickel pulls and some fun blue and green knobs), filled the dresser with little onesies and lots of diapers, and put a changing pad on top.

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

We used this DIY nursery dresser in E’s bedroom until last summer, when it was time to move it into Baby T’s room. We kept the black color and just changed out the top knobs to coordinate with his nursery decor.

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

Which brings us back to our search for a new dresser for E and her big-girl clothes. We planned to put a toddler bed in her bedroom where the old dresser used to be, so the new dresser would have to go against the opposite wall and be small enough to fit in a narrow space between the closet door and a heating vent.

New dresser and inspiration

We looked around at retail stores, thrift shops, and on local online resale boards for dressers that might fit the bill. Our requirements were:

After considering many different options, we decided on the Tarva 3-drawer chest from Ikea:

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

The Tarva is a nice size that’s very user-friendly for Toddler E – she’s able to reach all the drawers to access her clothes, which is important as we encourage her to be more independent. It’s narrow enough to fit in the 32-inch wide space we have available between her closet door and heating vent. We also liked its strong and solid wood frame and its smooth-rolling drawer mechanism, making it sturdy but easy for little arms to open and close.

And of course, I immediately started thinking about how we could customize it for her new room design.

Moodboard for Toddler's Bedroom | Rather Square

There are tons of Tarva design hacks out there – it’s the perfect base for DIY customization with its simple shape and clean lines – but I didn’t want to go too crazy with this piece. I really liked the idea of a stain/paint combination – dark wood around the case to match the dark wood bed frame, and white drawer fronts for a fresh contrast to keep it from feeling dark and heavy. I found some inspiration photos, showed John, and we both thought this look would fit really well with the toddler’s other room elements.

Ikea Tarva Dresser Hack from Homepolish | RatherSquare.com
from Homepolish via Refinery29

Ikea Tarva Dresser Hack from stephandben | RatherSquare.com
from Steph and Ben’s Travels

Ikea Dresser Hack from Apartment Therapy | RatherSquare.com
from Kate Miss via Apartment Therapy

It’s a sophisticated but classic style that looks timeless. We didn’t want anything too trendy or cute or age-specific that might be dated in a few years (like a pink princess theme – yikes!), but this dark-stain-white-paint design is so fresh and simple that it should easily coordinate with any future room decor changes.

In our next post, we’ll share a little DIY tutorial on how we stained and painted the Tarva dresser. (Update: check out the tutorial here!) In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the finished piece…

Our Vintage Nursery Dresser and Modern DIY Inspiration | RatherSquare.com

Many more details to come, including our process, our experience with staining wood furniture, and how Toddler E likes her new dresser!

(linked on Remodelaholic and Miss Mustard Seed)

Links may contain affiliates.

April 15, 2015

[ 18 ]

Pruning our smoke tree into a bush

By on March 26, 2015


We’re back in the garden, and this time we’re pruning our smoke tree… again! You may remember that we originally tried this last year, with disastrous results. Well, now we’re changing up our landscaping techniques and hoping that this second time will be a charm.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

What is a smoke tree? It’s a colorful ornamental plant (genus name: Cotinus) that gets its common name from unique billowy flower clusters that appear in spring and resemble puffs of smoke. There are several smoke tree varieties (Royal Purple, Velvet Cloak, Grace, Golden Spirit and more), with deciduous leaves that vary from green to deep red to dark purple, depending on the season and species. Often used as a prominent accent in the garden because of its brilliant colors and unusual flowers, this plant can range in size from 8 to 30 feet in height, and it’s drought- and cold-tolerant. In other words, it’s very hardy and it grows fast! We’re not sure what variety ours is – John is thinking Royal Purple, but I’m leaning more toward Grace.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Last year, we planned to trim down our smoke tree to make it smaller and more contained than before. We talked about our subsequent pruning attempt (and failure) in this post, but basically we pruned it at the wrong time of year (mid-winter) and in the wrong spots (we cut the branches at their ends, instead of at the branch collars). This caused the tree’s branches to skyrocket once the weather turned warm, rather than grow into the tidy compact shrub we were hoping for.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Our goal – a cute little smoke tree underneath our dining nook window – was figuratively buried under the smoky monster that grew over and completely obliterated our backyard garden view. I mean, who needs curtains when you’ve got giant overgrown leafy branches?

Overgrown Smoke Tree | Rather Square

And by autumn, the tree branches had grown all the way to the roof line. While the bright reddish-orange color was really beautiful, the tree totally obscured our ornamental cherry tree and little Japanese maple. (Can’t see them in the photos below? That’s my point! They’re hiding next to the stairs on the left.)

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

So, obviously not the results we were hoping for when we first pruned the smoke tree. And once the summer growing season was in full swing, any further pruning would just spur more growth, so we had no choice but to sit on our hands and wait. In the meantime, we did some more smoke tree pruning research (see our sources at the end of this post), and that’s when we started to consider rejuvenating the smoke tree by cutting it almost all the way to the ground. In theory this pruning method will encourage a smaller bushy plant instead of the taller splayed tree we’ve had for the past couple of years. Ideally, we’d like to end up with something about this size:

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com
(image via Gardenista)

Fast-forward (through a long snowy Midwest winter) to a few weeks ago. With the plant still dormant in the chilly late-winter weather, John gave our new smoke-tree-to-bush pruning method a try. He started by trimming off the numerous small upper branches with long-handled loppers.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

As he worked his way down the tree, he switched to a bow saw to cut through the thicker branches. (While he’s used this versatile tool on a variety of projects over the last 20 years, a more common saw for pruning is a folding saw like this one – it’s better for maneuvering around dense branch growth and conveniently folds up in your pocket when not in use.)

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

The previous owner had tied the smoke tree to a wooden trellis staked into the ground, to support it as it grew. But when John started removing the ties to take out the trellis, we realized that it had already been pulled out of the soil by the tree’s overgrown strength. It was literally hanging on by a thread!

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

After detaching the trellis, John revved up his trusty chainsaw to cut the main trunks of the smoke tree (the same way he sawed through our giant yew bushes last summer).

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

This is what we were left with when it was all over.

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

And our view to the backyard is much improved!

Pruning our Smoke Tree into a Bush | RatherSquare.com

Now we just have to wait and see how things grow back this summer. According to our research, smoke trees usually experience a rapid growth rate after pruning (and we found that out firsthand last year) – up to 6 feet or more in height! But while the leaves will be bigger and more colorful than before, the signature “smoke” flowers may not appear until the following year.

It’s hard to imagine that this plant could go from 2-inch stumps to 6-foot-tall branches in one growing season, but we amateur gardeners are definitely intrigued – and hope we pruned it right this time. We’ll keep you posted on the progress!

Some of our sources for smoke tree information include:
The Arbor Day Foundation
Houzz article on using smoke trees in landscape design
Gardening Know How

What do you think – did we prune the smoke tree too much? Will it grow back, or will we be left with a big empty space in the garden this summer?

Links may contain affiliates.

March 26, 2015

[ 6 ]

How to choose your ideal neighborhood

By on March 12, 2015


I’m over at Porch.com today, sharing some important questions to ask yourself during your house hunt! For us, homeownership wasn’t just about buying a house, but also about joining a neighborhood community.

Our Home Buying Story | Rather Square

Doing some in-depth research to find a location that would support our young family’s lifestyle helped us discover a great neighborhood that’s been perfect for us.

How did you decide where to live? What do you like about your neighborhood, and what would you change about it?

March 12, 2015

[ 7 ]

Flea market adventures (and a little advice)

By on March 4, 2015


This past weekend, John and I had a rare kid-free afternoon and we decided to hit up the Kane County Flea Market, about an hour west of Chicago. We both love flea markets but realized we hadn’t ever been to one together (crazy!). So we drove out in the cold and snow for the flea market’s opening weekend of the year, not quite sure what to expect but looking forward to a few hours of browsing around. We mainly wanted to see what this flea market had to offer and hopefully find a little inspiration along the way.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

Flea markets are fun, but can be overwhelming if you don’t have some kind of plan ahead of time. Keeping our 2015 goals in mind, we agreed to purchase something only if A) it fit our specific home renovation needs, and B) it was a good value for the cost. John wanted to look for benches for our front and back entry areas, and I planned to keep my eyes open for cheap picture frames (for a wall art project I want to do in the nursery) and interesting drawer knobs (for the toddler’s new dresser). We also brought some essential flea market tools with us: a tape measure, our list of things to look for, measurements and diagrams of the rooms in our house, and low expectations.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

Once we got to the flea market, we kept our eyes peeled for items that were solid and affordable, and avoided the booths selling mass-market junk and cutesy-crafty stuff. We noticed that a lot of the furniture for sale was of the “vintage-repurposed” variety, like these pieces we saw when we first walked in.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

It reminded us a little of “Flea Market Flip,” the TV show where people buy raw-state items at flea markets, create something new with them, then turn around and resell them at the flea market as custom design pieces. The “flip” furniture we saw at the Kane County Flea Market was pretty cool, but not really something we’d consider buying – both because we want to refurbish pieces ourselves, and because the “flip” prices were way above our budget. Still, we enjoyed checking them out for inspiration and ideas.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

In terms of potential benches for our entryways, nothing we saw was quite right for our needs (or wallets). But because our expectations were low to begin with, it was fun to just browse around and see what else people were selling. We noticed a lot of vintage woodworking tools, like these old planers that John found.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

I spent some time looking through this table full of old drawer pulls, handles and other hardware. Nothing that was perfect for my dresser project, but I got some good ideas.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

We discovered a lot of random odds and ends, like a doll-sized metal play kitchen (so cute), an old rotary telephone (for when the toddler starts asking for her own phone), and a box of red 45s.

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

And a plethora of pop culture memorabilia, like this Star Trek game (a nice collectible for Spock fans – RIP, Leonard Nimoy).

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

I browsed around booths full of old books, and found gems like these useful handbooks for judo and revenge (hey, you never know when knowledge like that might come in handy).

Flea Market Fun | Rather Square

Ultimately, we didn’t have much luck in our hunt for benches, knobs and frames. Since we were only able to get out to this flea market during the afternoon of the last day, not a lot of good finds were left, and in fact some dealers were already calling it a day and packing up their booths. So we ended up going home empty-handed this time.

But despite the less-than-ideal conditions, we had a fun afternoon! Cheaper than a movie date (it’s $5 admission for adults, and children under 12 are free), especially if you don’t end up making any big purchases. I definitely want to go to this flea market again, but maybe when the weather warms up a bit (so there’ll be more dealers outside) and next time we’ll come earlier in the weekend when things aren’t so picked-over. And we can even bring the kids along for a fun family outing. This Conde Nast Traveler article has some great tips and advice for visiting the Kane County Flea Market, if you’d like more information.

The best advice we have for flea market goers: Have a list of ideas ahead of time, but keep your expectations low and your budget firm. Consider your visit as an adventure with a mystery ending. Expect to see fun, interesting and just plain weird things (and people!). Be flexible, and you won’t be disappointed. And if after all of that, you score an amazing find for your home too… bonus!

(linked on Remodelaholic and Miss Mustard Seed)

March 4, 2015

[ 6 ]

Pruning hydrangeas in winter

By on February 23, 2015


A couple of weeks ago, I decided that the weather was perfect to do some gardening. So I put on my snow boots and winter coat, grabbed a shovel and some pruning shears, and went outside to prune our Annabelle hydrangeas.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Yes, I probably should have pruned these hydrangea bushes last fall (like I did the first time with great success). But in the first few months of adjusting to life with Baby T, garden maintenance wasn’t really at the forefront of our minds, so the hydrangeas were left on their own as fall turned into winter.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

I’ve read that Annabelle hydrangeas can be pruned anytime between autumn and early spring (check out this site and these guidelines and this blog post) because they bloom on new wood. So I decided to put it to the ultimate test and try pruning them in the dead of winter this year. You know, in the snow and ice and freezing cold. That’s not crazy, right?

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Before starting to prune, I had to dig the bushes out a bit since they were buried in a huge snowdrift. I wanted to cut down the branches to about 18 inches from the ground, so I used a small shovel to clear snow from the areas I wanted to prune. I tried not to damage the branches, but I did end up scraping a few of them and exposed the green insides.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

When I had shoveled enough to be able to see what I had to work with, I started trimming. Some of the branches were still bent down and buried under the snow, so I pulled these out to prune them. And I completely trimmed off the few sections where I had scraped the stems with the shovel.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Once I pruned everything down to about 18 inches, I collected all the trimmed branches and put them in a yard bag for pickup later on in spring.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

We’ve had a cold and snowy February here in the Midwest, so when things warm up and melt a little, I’ll check if any stray stems were hiding under the snow.

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Pruning Hydrangeas in Winter | Rather Square

Hopefully this won’t be another pruning fail like the smoke tree (which we still haven’t fixed yet, by the way!). Is there such a thing as having a white thumb (instead of a green or black one) for gardening in winter? If this risky landscaping move works, I’m going to declare winter gardening (and #whitethumb) a new trend.

Cross your fingers (again) that I haven’t killed our gorgeous Annabelle hydrangea. What do you think – will Annabelle survive?

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February 23, 2015