I spent most of my life in Ohio, so moving to the Pacific Northwest was a shock for this laissez-faire gardener, who used to just throw tomato seeds on the ground, then sit back and harvest all summer long, thanks to the hot weather and frequent storms. Our first summer in Seattle, I got a reality check: it was in the 60s most of the time, so my tomato plants just kind of did…nothing. Silly me. The disappointment put me off vegetable gardening for five years, with last summer moot as I wasn’t living here at all.
This year, I decided to finally learn to vegetable garden in Seattle. I knew this would take a lot of planning, and it seemed that raised beds were the key. Not only are they better in a cooler climate because the soil warms up faster above ground, they are easier to weed and, in my case, easier to keep out of range of two big, nosy dogs.
Cement Block It Is
After doing some reseplace, I realized that I didn’t have to go all spendy on (admittedly nice looking) wooden raised beds. Instead, I could simply use concrete blocks to put a bed together. I’ve been using this SHTF blog tutorial on building a concrete block raised bed as my guide. I love the idea of cement block because they’re heavy (so there’s not as much digging required, as “Ranger Man” at SHTF points out), they’re inexpensive, and you can even plant inside the holes in the bricks. We’re putting our beds in a section of yard that’s oddly shaped and not visible from our house, so it didn’t matter to me that the cement block wasn’t quite as pretty.
How Much Will Blocks Cost?
After measuring the space where our beds will go, I calculated what I might spend, figuring that prices at the Home Depot site were probably a good standard to follow. The typical 16″x8″x8″ blocks cost $1.32 each at Home Depot. If each bed was three blocks high, three blocks wide, and seven blocks long (exactly the same as the SHTF post, basically), for a total of 60 blocks, I would be spending about $80 a bed. That was more expensive than I had hoped, so I went to plan B:
I posted that I was looking for concrete blocks, and got two responses in less than a week: one from a man dismantling his old retaining wall (those are his aged blocks above) and one from a woman whose blocks were just a few years old — and all for free!
I ended up with 60 blocks total, and we decided to try to break these into two smaller beds rather than keep trying to find more blocks for two bigger beds. Partially this is because I don’t want to burn myself out by taking on too much garden since it’s still a learning experience for me. Partially this is because, well, remember how I like the idea of concrete blocks because they’re heavy? Yeah, they’re heavy! Which means, they take some effort to transport. Our van just could not handle more than 30 blocks at a time — we really didn’t want to see how low we could make it sink onto the tires and still move forward. So we decided to call off the block seplace for now until we get what we have in some semblance of order. More to come!
Here at Shelterrific, we’re always on the lookout for beautiful design solutions to traditionally ugly things, like humidifiers or water filters. When we spotted this futuristic air purifier at Designer Pages, we immediately fell in love. Made by AirMineral, this ingenious little device is called The Island, and it distributes a “a natural marine bio spray.” No, that’s not a fishy smell that gets squirted into your home, but rather a “mineral serum” that contains micro particles that help your body retain moisture and fight off toxins, reinforcing your whole immune system. We haven’t tested it so we can say whether that’s true or not, but anything looks this good and helps you breath smarter, cleaner air can’t be a bad thing, right? So new it’s not yet for sale online, but you can read more information about it at airmineral.com
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The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! The reveal of the final rooms in the Re-Energized by Design Competition is live, in a super-sized two parter. This time, the two remaining teams have TWICE the budget, a room full of LED lighting from GE Lighting, and a full range of gorgeous and energy efficient appliances from Frigidaire to pimp their room. We are REALLY going to see some major transformations happening here.
The GE LED lighting is available in many different “temperatures” of color, something that can dramatically affect in how things look in your kitchen. I experienced this first hand after I painted my own kitchen recently. I loved the paint color in daylight, but at night, the color looked awful. I switched out to a softer LED bulb (3000K) and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. And I won’t be needing to change the bulb (or the wall color, thankfully) for 25 years!
I really wish our team, the Bedford family, had made it to this final round. They could have really benefitted from those new Frigidare Gallery appliances — the ultra efficient induction range alone is a huge safety boost for families with young children (less burning risk). There’s no need to replace existing cookware, either — if a magnet sticks to the pan, it will work with induction. And a convection oven is a must-have for those of us who love to bake.
The Sayers, of course, did not disappoint in this challenge by using some unconventional materials to maximize their budget — and because they are obviously just cool like that. I loved their use of the salvaged steel chalkboard as a backsplash; and that mirror in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning it) reminds me of my days as a culinary instructor, where we taught with a huge mirror over the butcher block. All this and surprisingly below budget!
The Reilly family has consistently been more traditional in their design choices, though I’ll admit I really liked what they did in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with the combination of white subway tile and dark grout, I always say. And the paint treatment on the cabinets? Spot On. No matter what team wins the grand prize, both these families have beautiful new kitchens to enjoy for years and years to come.
What do you think of the final room? Is it the Sayers family’s funky loft or the Reilly’s clean classic kitchen that should earn the $5000 grand prize? Watch and see who takes home the giant check below!
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Even though our team is no longer in the running, it’s still fun to keep up with what’s going on in the Re-Energized By Design competition. This week, the remaining three teams made over their laundry rooms.
In addition to $500 and energy efficient lighting from GE, the homeowners each received an brand new set of Frigidaire Affinity laundry equipment. These are not your average high-efficiency washers & dryers — this is serious technology in action here. The Affinity dryer will dry a full load in less than 30 minutes, and the washer features allergen reduction and sanitizing features along with having the highest energy star rating. And aesthetically they please, too (though I have to wonder why no one picked the red option).
Love what those scrappy Sayers did in their space with that upcycled laundry drum light fixture. Their creative approach is always surprising, and will be tough to beat in the final round. In the end, the Mendes family’s pastel laundry room didn’t make the cut — that leaves the Sayers and the Reillys to duke it out in the kitchen challenge! who do you think will win?!
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It’s that time again — time for the next challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition! This week, the remaining four teams are making over the living room. The Bedford’s room is dramatic, with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows (with some broken panes). I found the space overwhelmed by the arc lamp and the red brick fireplace, but not in a good way. Also — there was not a lot of lighting options. Reading was impossible on the couch unless it was daytime, and entertaining? Dim lights might be fine for a nightclub, but for a family-friendly party? Not so much. The stairs were just exposed plywood splattered with paint. Not much on the walls in regards to art, either. Their furniture was good though — a nice neutral modern sectional, and an heirloom mid-century lounge chair and dresser.
Rather than using bold bright colors on the walls, we went dark — Dark gray on that red brick fireplace. Instead of painting everything one color, we only painted two walls in the dark gray; and used a lighter gray on an accent wall and staircase, leaving the rest of the room white, allowing the space to feel more intimate and cozy without overwhelming the space with such a dark color. And next to the fireplace, Slade put in some nice open shelving painted to blend into the wall, styled with art and objects from around the house. We also broke up their sectional and reconfigured it, and flipped over their old rug for a more industrial look. Kristen also repainted their coffee table glossy black.
Kristen made some colorful decoupage art; and I (along with my uber-talented seamstress pal Suzanne) got to work on some accent pillows, a floor pouf, and the reupholstering of the mid-century lounger with a colorful new fabric. I thought the chair turned out gorgeous, going from something you barely noticed to something that can anchor a space on its own. If you know me, you know I had to work in some of my signature vintage orange velvet, too. But I’m honestly proudest of that pouf: my first sewing project in 4 years, made entirely by myself, with NO PATTERN. The boys instantly gravitated toward it. Liam declaring it “his dice”, proceeded to toss it around the room and jump all over it.
In the energy improvement category, the Bedfords did a lot as well to improve their usage. Slade installed (from scratch) a LED track lighting system that we hid behind the beam, so we could add light around the room on the bookcases, on the couch, and on the new art. We also swapped out LED bulbs for incandescent in the other lamps around the room, adding significantly more light to the space while reducing the wattage in half. Slade caulked all the windows and beams, helping to reduce heat loss. They also put their stereo and charging docks on a smart powerstrip, so they can reduce that energy loss when not in use. And if that wasn’t enough, they reduced their thermostat 3 degrees to produce a significant savings in energy usage.
Alas, it wasn’t enough for the judges, sadly. I loved our room — basically, I think it all came down to a matter of points. I wish we had more time on this room, we could have done so much more. My project checklist had about 10 more to-do’s left unchecked, believe it or not. Our fatal error was when our plans to make fabric roman shades for the windows became impossible; rather than the shade choice made, I wish we could have thrown up some cute no-sew curtains on tension rods. I think that could have made enough of a difference to get us into the next round. Twenty-twenty hindsight, I guess. Honestly, I’m proud we made it this far; a lot of which I should credit to the valiant efforts of Kristen and Slade. Our rooms were up against some pretty stiff competition from professional architects and designers, so our rag-tag team of DIY’ers made a good show!
Stick around for next week’s post, where
I bitterly tear apart the remaining contestant’s rooms with derisive judgements we see how the competition proceeds with the laundry room challenge! Who will get the chop next?
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The second elimination challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition is here! This time, each team had the option to makeover either the garage or an office. My team, The Bedfords, decided to makeover an office.
This space serves as a multi-purpose room for the Bedfords: an office for Slade, a guest room, and a napping space for the youngest member of the family, Theo. I was overwhelmed by the dark window coverings, multiple desks, and overall cluttered feel of the room. Something struck me immediately though — the giant, vintage pull-down school map of the United States. SO COOL! I decided to let that be the focal point of the space, and pulled all of the room’s inspiration from the color palate and theme. The color, Overjoy by Sherwin Williams, is a nice, warm golden yellow. It’s a perfect counterpoint to grey Seattle skies, and also complements the yellow and golden hues in the map without looking to pastel. This is a man’s office after all, so I wanted an air of distinguished masculinity to permeate the room. That being said, Slade wasn’t too convinced of my bold color choice at first.
Not having tons of money ($500), we scrapped plans for new furniture and instead focused on organizing and styling the space. We got rid of one of the two heavy dark wood desks, immediately making the room feel more open. I took the yellow-brass drawer pulls from the desk and antiqued them, making it look more expensive and more like an actual antique than the 1990’s repro it actually is. We purchased some dark wood shelving, a new set of Nate Berkus curtains from Target, and some nice dark wood blinds to help block out the light when little Theo is taking a siesta. Bonus — those window treatments will help reduce energy costs by blocking out the brutal summer sun through those west facing windows.
Instead of buying a brand new light fixture, we found a vintage one at our local buliding salvage for a song. We paired it with a dimmer switch to allow maximum flexibility for the multi-functioning room. The brassy 70’s feel of the fixture helped tie some of the pre-existing furniture into the new design. In fact, our motto for this room became “embrace the brass” — Kristen scored a few vintage hand-me-down brass lamps that really added some warmth and more focused light around the room. We outfitted everything with new GE LED bulbs, modernizing the vintage fixtures and adding an abundance of more functional light while simultaneously reducing the overall wattage.
Once again, the room was styled mostly with items from the Bedford’s home: an emerald green ceramic stool from the backyard added a touch of the orient, a vintage beer barrel from the basement served as a unique side table, and memorabilia from previous travels became art. My favorite little touch? Those three inexpensive matching clocks echoing the travel vibe. So fun.
I couldn’t be more pleased with how this room turned out. Slade, despite his reservations at first, loves it as well. And most importantly, the judges loved it! They gave me high praise for my color selection this week. Let’s see if this momentum keeps up — the living room challenge is next week!
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Well, the time has finally arrived — time for the first room challenge in the Re-Energized By Design competition! Our first room to be made over: the bathroom.
Kristen and Slade’s downstairs guest bathroom was not lacking design challenges. The ceiling was (and still is) crazy-low, compounded by the globe light fixture stealing precious head room. The long, narrow, space was overwhelmed by a wall-length mirror and a clunky MDF storage unit. The bright white walls clashed with the off-white tiles and beige tile floors, which were actually kind of cool and in good shape. The bathroom, though a guest bath, also functions as the primary bathroom for the Bedford’s two young boys.
My goal for this bathroom was to create a whimsical yet modern room that feels much more open and bright, with a definite nautical vibe for the boys. I suggested that we use a nice bold marine blue paint (Sailor’s Sea Blue from Benjamin Moore) to complement the warm neutral tone of the tiles; and took the paint up to the tile line rather than the ceiling to give the illusion of a more open space. Since the room’s only window is in the middle of the shower, we used a double curtain open in the center to frame the window like drapery rather than a traditional single curtain. And we used an unconventional material for those shower curtains: canvas drop cloth from the hardware store! A smaller porthole-like mirror, dark-stained wood shelves and bright red towels added some functionality to our design; and Kristen shopped her own home to style the space with art and fun accessories.
As far as energy efficient changes go, Kristen and Slade installed a new low-flow shower head and WaterSense faucet, significantly reducing their hot water usage. That claustrophobia-inducing globe light fixture? Replaced by a recessed fixture with a low-wattage LED that gives them better lighting and more space. And the piece de resistance: a new light fixture over the mirror that gives more focused light for makeup applications and adds a great deal of that nautical vibe to the room. We sourced our fixture somewhere you may not have expected: the outdoor light section. Outdoor fixtures work in damp environments, and can have that industrial modern look that we needed for this project. And the GE Bright from the Start CFL didn’t look tacky in the clear glass globe, a definite change from the CFL’s I had become accustomed to.
I loved how our bathroom turned out. I’ll be honest, this was my first foray into design for someone other than myself, and I was delighted by the result of collaborating with the Bedfords. Thankfully, the judges loved the space as well, declaring it “phenomenal” — so we’ll be going on to compete for the next room. What did you think of what we did?
Lets face we it: We don’t think about where our plastic comes from — or where it goes when we’re done with it — nearly enough. Sure we clean things out and toss it in the appropriate bin, but then what? Even the best intentions can end up in a landfill — or worse, washed up on a distant shore of a far away beach. No one knows this better than employees of Method, like creative director Sally Clark, who spent time over the past year and half literally picking up bits of plastic waste from the beaches of Hawaii.
Method partnered with Envision Plastics, an innovative recycling company, to develop a way to turn rigid, opaque plastics recovered from the ocean into high quality recycled plastic. The slate gray color is the material’s natural state, and is the result of the chopping, washing and blending undergoes during recycling. Slightly resembling a sea urchin with small ridges running its length, the bottle contains a super clean smelling 2-and-1 hand and dish soap, that will freshen up even the worst-onion-chopping hands. The limited-edition product is available at Whole Foods and at methodhome.com for $5. A portion of the proceeds will go to Sustainable Coastlines Hawai’i and the Kōkua Hawai’i Foundation so more beaches can become plastic-free.
When it comes to being green, I try my darnest to be smart about not wasting things: LED lightbulbs? Check. Reusable grocery bags? Check. Eco-friendly cleaners? Check… Compost bin? … Um, compost bin? Okay, I confess. This is one green thing that I know we should be doing but I just haven’t yet made plunge to saving our organic scraps and making better soil for our garden. I know it’s easy and makes sense, but somehow changing our “everything goes in the garbage” habit has been a tough one.
This new Eco-Bin Composter might be the thing to push me towards productivity. It seems insanely easy. Its collapsible, spring-loaded design means that when it’s not use it won’t take up a ton of space in our garage or basement. It has an open bottom so worms can get up in there and do their thing. The sturdy mesh allows air in for faster decomposition, but it’s puncture proof. It comes with a lid and you can tie it down to an anchoring stake so it won’t blow away. Best of all, it’s only $40.
But here are some of my concerns; maybe some of you compost aficionados can alleviate them for me?
1. Won’t it smell? Our back yard is small and I’m worried about stinking up a corner.
2. Won’t it attract critters? We have raccoons, groundhogs, possum.. not to mention our dog!
3. It is only accessible from the top, how do you get to the good stuff down at the bottom, without making a mess?
4. Do I need counter-top container for gathering kitchen scraps?
Are you a backyard composter? Please let me know what lessons you’ve learned and what products you recommend for getting started. Soon we’ll be gathering piles of fallen leaves in our yard, so I figure it’s a good time to get started. Thanks!
Zero-Waste Kitchen: Could You Live Like This?
There’s a battle waging in our kitchens right now: The Fruit Fly war is in full summer swing. We figured since it was on our minds, it was probably on yours. Here’s a way that has worked for Megan in the past. What about you? got any good tips on how to eliminate the pesky gnats?
I admit it: I had a fruit fly problem. Fruit flies seem to go hand in hand with summertime, delicious ripe fruit, and a busy kitchen. This summer, though, I’ve taken control, and my fruit fly problem is now more like a minor annoyance. The first step is to remove the source of food. This means, for me, keeping my ripening nectarines and tomatoes wrapped securely in plastic bags until I’m ready to use them. My onions (apparently, they love onions) are now being stored in the fridge. Second step: sanitation. I clean my drains daily with baking soda and white vinegar — those pesky little buggers like to lay their eggs in the goop that resides in drains (barf). The third step — and this one’s the most rewarding — is to build a trap. I’ve tried funnels and plastic wrap over jars of overripe fruit, but I’ve found the best trap is plain old apple cider vinegar in a dish with a few drops of liquid dish soap. The soap apparently breaks the surface tension of the vinegar, causing the fruit flies to fall in and drown rather than sip and fly away. After a few days of changing the traps, you’ll notice the numbers dwindling. Does anyone else have more fruit fly solutions?