Chances are, your yard work stories are a lot like mine:
Part 1: I know! Let’s plant some heather along that awkward retaining wall in our front yard. It will soften the wall and give the dogs a visual clue not to fall three feet into the gully behind it.
Part 2: Hmmm, now that we’ve dug out a planting strip along the wall, I am reminded of how uneven and lumpy we left our yard from the last big project. Maybe we should just level out this part a little bit…
Part 3: We are now digging up and leveling our entire yard. This work will never end. Ever.
The good news is, this story has a very happy ending: the broadfork. After spending hours using shovels and hoes to level out just a tiny section of yard, we decided to a tiller would make the work go faster. The tiller was already checked out of our local tool library (more to come on those), but the volunteer suggested we give this big, heavy, slightly ominous looking steel fork a try.
I’m not kidding when I say, the broadfork completely rocked our yard work world! This one in particular is one piece, forged from steel by Meadow Creature on Vashon Island, a charming island 15 minutes off Seattle’s far southwest shore. You can find them in a combination of steel and wood, but the one-piece construction will no doubt last longer, and the heaviness (although it was NOT too heavy for me to lift, and my upper body strength is pretty pathetic) made the process super easy in breaking up hard-packed dirt and grass:
First, lift the broadfork up about a foot (being careful of your own feet — those tines aren’t exactly friendly) and then drop it down, letting gravity do the work.
Second, step onto it and wiggle it back and forth in the dirt — this is the fun part.
Third, push down on the handles, lift dirt
Then move the whole thing a half-step over and repeat.
Using the broadfork was a revelation: in just three hours, we’d completely leveled three times what we’d struggled with the day before. Once the dirt was loosened, it was easy to rake it into our yard’s lower section.
Best of all, using the broadfork was fun and gave me some exercise, too — kind of like doing light step aerobics, only with some upper-body work involved.
At nearly $200 each, broadforks are not exactly cheap, but if you have a lot of tilling work to do each year, they do come recommended. Or you can look into joining a local tool library like ours! — Mary T.
In a blink of an eye, spring is suddenly in full bloom! Blossoms are on the trees, the bulbs have all sprouted — even the mosquitoes have come out. Hopefully it’s not too late to get my act together and prepare for the growing season ahead. Last weekend I gave the grasses in our front yard a haircut, and this Saturday it’s time to prune the crepe myrtles. I also want to get some herbs and veggies growing inside the house. I love this idea from Cottage Hill blog: recycled newspaper seed pots. They’re made using a tin can as a mold. Once the pot shape is formed by the folded paper, fill it with soil and compost. When the seedlings are ready to be planted, you can put the whole thing — newspaper pot and all — in the ground. Genius!
What are you doing to get your garden ready? I need tips!
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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?
Can you tell that we have spring on the brain? There’s still frost on the ground in the morning, but we are already plotting our gardens for springtime, and herbs are on our the top of our must plant list. We spotted this idea the other day on RecycleChicken.com: gutter gardens! We’re not sure how we’d attach this to the house, but the elevated position would be great to prevent ground critters from nibbling, and new puppies from digging. What do you think? Could you rock these sprouts?
A friend of ours posted a link to this Sunset magazine video on her Facebook page this week and we’ve been thinking about it non stop. It’s a tour of a zero-impact kitchen by Béa Johnson’s (her whole house is like this but it’s the kitchen that is most inspiring). Not only is it clean, modern and and bright but every drawer and cabinet is filled with smartly-used glass jars filled with locally-grown food. I love the idea of no-impact living, but I think it’d be really hard to pull off unless you lived in the right place. My dear friend Henny tries to maintain an uber green lifestyle and is constantly pulling out re-used produce bags from her backpack when we’re in stores. I oblige when she’s with me, but on my own I only remember our grocery totes about half the time. We bring them in and then forget to put them back in the car! What about you? Could you imagine living a no-impact life? Or perhaps just having a zero-waste kitchen? Here are some tips from Béa’s Sunset feature, below:
1. Get rid of your trash can. Everything goes either into the recycling bin, or it gets turned into compost. If you can’t do one of those things with it — eat it!
2. Pillow cases work in the freezer. This Californian buys a week’s worth of baguettes, cuts them in half and freezes them in pillow cases for the week.
3. Make your own orange juice. We can do this. We have a juicer we never use!
4. No more plastic containers from the store. Bring glass jars, hit the salad bar and bulk aisles, and stock up. Granted, cashiers at Whole Foods might do this, but I can’t imagine our local grocery store pulling it off.
P.S. Béa has a blog! zerowastehome.blogspot.com
P.S.S. If you feel a little insecure after watching this video, and after recently learning that French women are better moms than us, you’re not alone. Sigh.
Just today I was feeling glass jar guilt. I saw a page in the new MSL that suggested we use them to store things like pre-chopped garlic and unused onion halves, and I thought, oh, I’ll never be that organized. I save a lot of glass jars, but except for firefly catching in the summer, they don’t get much use. This supremely clever item at Uncrate, called the Cuppow, could help me be a much more practical recycler. It’s a reusable top that acts like a coffee cup lid. Of course, pouring hot liquid into a glass jar is not the smartest way to consume your joe (ouch!) but it could be great for lemonade and iced tea in the summertime. Stick a straw in it (and repeat stern “two hands!” instructions over and over) and I’ve got a spill-proof starter glass for Isadora. Available at Uncrate, $8. — Angela M.
What do you do with your old glass jars? Send suggestions and ideas, please!