Two-Person Desk and Gallery Wall

Hey-oh: we’ve got a proper desk area in our living room! I prefer having our computers in our main common area (instead of sequestered upstairs in the guest bedroom, for example), and this side of the living room seemed perfect for an office setup. I wanted a functional, comfortable, dedicated workspace for two people. No more camping out at the kitchen table!

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To see what the living room used to look like, check out this post.

The Desk Setup

All of the components for this 8 foot desk came from IKEA: I used the 98″ KARLBY walnut countertop, the ALEX drawer unit, and LERBERG trestle legs. IKEA used to carry the ALEX and LERBERG in black – which I prefer – but they transitioned to gray this year. I was able to snag a black drawer unit before they went out stock, and I spray painted the metal trestle legs black.

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Putting together the desk was super simple: the countertop simply rests across the legs and the drawer unit. It’s a big, solid setup. Hanging frames and wrangling cords was the time-consuming part. Oh, and I built a frame for the first time! Let’s start there.

Building a Floating Canvas Frame

I already owned most of the art I used in this project. But I knew I wanted to add a large antique oil painting to the mix, for some texture and warmth. I dug through eBay until I found a painting that I really liked. Good lord, there’s a lot of crap art to wade through on eBay. Filtering by time period (1900-1949) helped a little.

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The original frame was overly ornate and, in my opinion, distracted from the painting. To replace it, I built a simple floating frame using cheap pine from Home Depot. It was a lot of careful measuring and cutting and making it up as I went along.

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I stained the wood black to match the moodiness of the painting, and to help balance the black wall-mounted monitors.

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I totally winged this entire process, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out!

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Cat inspector on the job again.

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Hanging the Gallery Wall

Having wall-mounted monitors meant the gallery wall needed to be planned out pretty well. It’s easy to tweak the placement of a frame by moving a nail a few inches, but I wouldn’t have any flexibility with the monitor placement once heavy-duty toggle bolts were in the wall. So, I over-planned, as I do.

First, I did a real crappy job of Photoshopping my two options: gallery wall vs. picture ledge. For the mock-ups, I used Chris Loves Julia’s picture ledge and our previous dining room’s gallery wall.

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Then I solicited input from a friend who has good taste in nearly everything, with the exception of appropriate footwear.

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I used a mix of white, black, and brown wood frames. The art is a mix of screen prints, paintings, and photos that I’ve collected over the years, and there’s a bit of a theme to it – mostly plants, houses, and birds (thanks for the Japanese ducks, Kei!).

I fussed around with the frame arrangement on the floor.

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I also did the thing the internet suggests you do: used paper to visualize the frames on the wall.

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This step seems excessive for most purposes, but it was helpful here. I did not want to regret my placement of the monitors.

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All hung!

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Hiding the Cords

Did you notice what you don’t see on that office wall?  All the cords. A whole lot of wire wrangling went into this. If I could make a living hiding cords, I would change careers. So gratifying!

On the wall, I used a raceway for the monitor power and DVI cords. That monitor arm is a cheap guy from Amazon, by the way: VideoSecu TV Wall Mount Articulating Arm Monitor Bracket. It lets us push the monitor back when not in use, and pull it forward when we’re working / wasting time on the internet.

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Under the desk, I added a J channel cable raceway – I bought one and cut it in half to use on either side of the cabinet. The raceway routes all of the wires to a power strip I mounted on the wall behind the cabinet.

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I bought the Belkin 8-Outlet Pivot Surge Protector with 6-Foot Cord (based on The Wirecutter’s recommendation); the pivoting outlets are awesome and crucial for this setup.

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This hidden surge protector powers everything – my Apple charger, Jarrod’s Dell dock, the monitors, the desk lamp, the Jambox – with only one visible cord. To make it even less conspicuous, and because crazy, I wrapped it with white ribbon.

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The Finishing Touches

The Kurdish runner rug is vintage from eBay. The rolling chairs are from Overstock: Porthos Home Monroe Adjustable Office Chair. I would have preferred something vintage, but finding a pair of reasonably-priced vintage adjustable chairs was not happening. These Overstock chairs are sturdy and comfortable, and they’ll do until I have a lucky find.

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I did have a lucky find in the floor sample pile at Room & Board: this Nelson wall sconce. At 30% off, it was still a splurge, but I love it so. It provides such a nice glow.

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I also added a Threshold Two Head Task Lamp from Target. The rattan stool is from Target as well – I plan to add a plant on top.

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And that brings us to where we are today, and where I’m typing this blog post right now.

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It looks something like this:

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Thanks to Jarrod’s dad Rodger for the action shot, and for letting me experiment with his camera this weekend! I also borrowed my friend Carolyn’s camera (thanks, buddy!), so I have a lot of photos in the hopper for more posts in the coming weeks.

Living Room and Sunroom: Progress and Plans

I did a six-month check-in of the kitchen and bathroom, and now it’s time to share photos of the living room and sunroom. This space is the one that’s changed the most since we bought the house. I know these photos may look stark in comparison, but that’s because my grand plans have not yet been realized. GRAND PLANS, Y’ALL.

Before:downstairs1

Now:Window

Whoa.

The sunroom used to be an exterior front porch. It was enclosed decades ago. The pizzeria window arch crimes were committed in the 1970s or 1980s, I think. I would have totally kept them if they were in a basement rec room, but for our living room: nope. They also blocked a lot of precious light from reaching our living room.

What’s been done:

  • The plaster cake frosting ceiling was scraped, smoothed, and painted.
  • The ceiling beams were painted.
  • The plaster walls were covered with 1/4″ drywall and painted.
  • The window arches were made larger, squared off, and drywalled. The lattice, posts, and fluorescent lights were removed.
  • The panelling on the other side of the arches was removed and replaced with drywall.
  • The doorway to the sunroom was squared off.
  • The faux bricks were scraped off the wall.
  • Curtains were hung.

Other than curtains, I did none of that work. Our amazing painter did it, and he did it for less money than some contractors quoted me for the paint job alone. Eduardo wasn’t cheap because he did shoddy work, either. He was a total pro. I am very grateful that our first experience hiring a contractor was so successful!

I’ve got a lot of progress shots for you. Eduardo started by sawing into the wall to square off the windows.

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After removing the fluorescent lights, I asked him to cap off the electrical wires in the wall so that I can use them to install sconces. Don’t know if I will, but I like having the option.

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The walls were covered in a yellowed-with-age wallpaper that was bubbling in some areas, and melded with the plaster in others.

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I learned while gathering quotes that I had three options for the walls:

  1. Attempt to remove the wallpaper, which would damage the plaster and require laborious work from a skilled plaster contractor.
  2. Remove the plaster walls entirely and replace them with 1/2″ drywall.
  3. Cover the existing plaster walls with 1/4″ drywall.

Different people had different ideas about the best way to proceed. I chose #3 because it was Eduardo’s recommendation, and because it seemed like the correct middle-ground approach. My only regret with this option is that it may have been helpful or interesting to see what it looks like behind our walls. But it also may have been horrifying.

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After the drywall was up, Eduardo slayed the cake frosting plaster ceiling. This is what he used to scrape it off. I can’t even imagine the arm exhaustion.

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Bless this man.

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Ceiling smoothed, drywall hung, and beams primed:

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First coat of paint:Living Room Arches During.JPG

Now let’s step back in time for a proper Before:downstairs4

Now:Living Room Sunroom.JPG

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Now:Living Dining Room.JPG

Obviously this is not our permanent furniture arrangement! That’s a junk table left behind by the previous owners that I’ve been using as a desk. And nothing has really been decorated yet, though I did hang up the furoshiki scarf that I framed and my engineering prints.

Before:downstairs7

Now:Living Room Fireplace.JPG

What I plan to do, short term (within a year or two):

  • Figure out the living room furniture arrangement and start buying pieces as I find them/can afford them. It will be a mix of new and used things. I’ve got a lot of Craigslist alerts set up!
  • Create a desk area on the south side of the room.
  • Lamps and light fixtures and plants and art.
  • Tackle that terrible sunroom ceiling. Those tiles are glued to the original(?) beadboard ceiling. I’ll use that if it can be restored.
  • Tackle the sunroom floor. The peel-and-stick tiles are in bad shape. Not sure what I’ll do yet: hardwood, tile, linoleum (real linoleum, not vinyl), or I might try peel-and-stick tiles myself as a budget-friendly option. There will be a lot of rugs going on throughout the first floor, so I kinda like this floor space left bare. Especially since it will be filled with plants!
  • Paint the fireplace brick (it’s already painted – that’s red paint with gray paint mortar).
  • Rebuild the bookshelves and condition that wood – it looks parched.
  • Add trim to the windows and doorways.

The openings look starkly modern and characterless right now. They’ll fit the bungalow style better once I add substantial Craftsman trim, which I’ll be doing throughout the house — something like the trim in our previous apartment, or like this:

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I didn’t really hesitate to paint the beams white because the color was a gross reddish-brown and because this room doesn’t get much natural light. The only moment of regret I’ve had was upon seeing Jessica Helgerson’s amazing work in this house:

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Those awesome black beams had me second-guessing, but that ceiling is higher than ours and that space is one thousand times (and one million dollars) cooler than ours. More pics of this former library-turned-house are available in this NY Times feature.

Back to reality!

Before:downstairs6

Now:Living Room Window.JPG

As I mentioned previously, the brick on the original exterior wall is real. The “bricks” on the interior side was not. They were plastic!

Before:downstairs5

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Now:Sunroom Wall.JPG

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Now:Sunroom Window.JPG

What I plan to do, longer term (within two to, I don’t know, seven years):

  • New windows! That huge plate glass picture window is a straight-up Don’t in the Design Guidelines for Historic Chicago Bungalows. I won’t follow those guidelines to the letter — for one thing, they’re overly preachy; for another, this house’s preservation levy was breached decades ago — but it’s a helpful resource for bungalow details.
  • Install a transom-height window in the south wall of our living room.

Adding a high, south-facing window would let in so much light that we’re not currently getting, while maintaining privacy. I actually hung a mirror (which you can see in the photo above) to help me visualize it. It will be approximately 6′ wide by 12″ or 16″ tall. Something kind of like this:

TransomWindow

Cutting a hole through a perfectly functional wall is incredibly daunting, but I think it’d be worth the nerves and the money. I need all the natural light I can get.

Speaking of more light: we removed the awning from the front of the house! I’ll include photos of that change when I do an exterior post. It made such a big difference.

Before:downstairs12

Now:Sunroom.JPG

I’m currently building a long console table so the cats can enjoy the window.

Painting original trim tends to bring out the DIY blog trolls. If you think I did something sacrilegious, please make any comments foul-mouthed and funny.

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New House Tour: Main Floor

Thanks for dining at Palermo’s Pizzeria! Jarrod’s your waiter and he’ll be taking care of you this evening while we tour the first floor of our new house.

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Let’s start in the kitchen. It’s the best room of the house right out of the box, which isn’t to say it’s perfect, but it’s functional and is the closest to being pretty decent!

In case it’s not obvious, that’s not our table nor our curtains. The house had been vacant since October 2014 and was mostly empty except for a lot of junk in the garage and basement. I think this table was an attempt at staging, to make the place seem homier. It disappeared the day before we closed; the junk unfortunately stayed put. (The house was sold as-is, so they didn’t have to clean it.)

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We’re not going to talk about that enclosed back porch right now: please pretend that moldy mess doesn’t exist. That’s what we do every day.

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The kitchen cabinets are kinda nice: the drawers are full-extension and everything’s sturdy, but they were also put together poorly and some weird choices were made. That upper cabinet to the right of the sink, for example, is a base cabinet: it’s way too deep to be up top and Jarrod is definitely going to ram his head into it while loading the dishwasher.

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That island is gigantic. I’m excited to have so much counter space on either side of the stove and four matching stools lined up at the bar.

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Another “Good ’nuff!” paint job from the previous occupant. That door on the right leads to the basement.

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Past the kitchen is the staircase I love, terrible beast of a project that it is. Looks like someone started stripping that sixth baluster and then said “Fuck this!” A few months from now, I’ll probably do the same. My only saving grace is that I don’t want to strip to the point of re-staining (that would kill me and/or I’d set my house on fire), just to the point that it can be a clean paint job. I want the risers and balusters to be white, with the handrail and stair treads stained brown.

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There’s a half-bath next to the stairs. The toilet flushes and the sink drains water, and that’s about all it has going for it currently.

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I’ll make it as nice as possible with a minimal amount of money, and then do a full renovation down the road. This bathroom renovation will take priority over the upstairs one because more people will use it and it currently feels crummier.

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downstairs11Moving on to the living room. I love this view.

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Blogging is weird: it’s hard to know what balance to strike between “We’re excited about this house we bought!” and “Look at this messed up thing! Here’s another bad choice! And why in the hell would someone do this?” Just know that while I point out all the flaws, I’m excited about the overall promise of the house and still think (85% of the time) that we got a good place! Like George Harrison said in that weird music video that creeped you out as a child: It’s gonna take time, a whole of precious time, it’s going to take patience and time, to do it right and undo all the things some idiot did before you.

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This decorative fireplace will be nice eventually. I’ll paint the brick (it’s already painted – that’s red paint with hand-drawn gray “mortar” lines) and rebuild the shelves. Art — not a TV — will go over the mantle. Nothing against TVs, I just don’t like them up high.

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I’m a little overwhelmed by how to arrange furniture in the living room. There’s a lot of room to work with, but the space is divided visually by the entryways. Neither half is big enough to contain an entire seating area, so whatever couch + chair arrangement we come up with will have spill into the middle of the room. My friend’s mom (hi, Mrs. Priebe!) is an interior decorator and I’m roping her in for advice.

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The front sunroom used to be an exterior porch. It was enclosed a few decades ago, with cheap linoleum on the floor and cheap acoustic tiles on the ceiling. All of it will get changed in time. It’s a sunny bonus room and I look forward to having some comfortable chairs out there for reading and coffee. And lots of plants!

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The brick on the original exterior wall is real. The “brick” on the interior side is not.

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Those are plastic bricks, glued to a thin layer of concrete, which was applied to a piece of wall panelling, which was stuck to the plaster wall. Yeesh. This was one of things we were able to tackle prior to moving in, so it looks quite different now. Pics to come!

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The next post will tour the basement and outside, where we’ve already done a lot of work, so there will be before & after photos of some unglamorous but very necessary changes.

Lighted Leaning Bookcases

My wariness of decorative items — as mentioned in my last post — extends to books, which might be an unusual stance for someone with a master’s degree in Library & Information Science.  But, having worked in three libraries, an illuminated manuscripts gallery and a rare books shop, I agree with the first law of library science (though I’m not sure it’s enforceable in any jurisdiction): Books are for use.  Sure, they’re pretty, but without use, there is little inherit value.  I got all preachy about this before our last move and streamlined our collection, trying to keep only the books that we love, would want to read or reference again, or would want to be able to loan to someone else.  Maybe I’ll hoard books in the future when we’re homeowners, but as frequently-moving renters, a smaller library makes sense.  Books are heavy, man.

Here’s what the bookcases looked like the last time you saw them:

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And here’s what the bookcases look like these days:

Styled Leaning Bookcase

I swapped out some houseplants, got a new stereo and moved the booze to a bar stand.  I tried to style it up a bit, which isn’t my strong suit, but I’m really happy with the current look.

Bookshelf Styling and Storage

Sloane Leaning Bookcase – Crate & Barrel
HEKTAR – IKEA
Big Jambox – Jawbone
Rugby Stripe Bin – The Container Store
It seems like the EcoLogic Pots may no longer be manufactured, which is too bad because they’re awesome looking. I have them scattered throughout our apartment.  Chicagoans can find them at Gethsemane; they’re pretty expensive on Amazon.

Leaning Bookcase Cat

We’ve had these bookshelves for five years and they’ve held up really well.  They’re available only in brown now; some similar white options are:

Bookshelves Storage

The striped bin is perfect for hiding ugly board games and whatever else we want to toss in there, and the HEKTAR spotlights cast a really nice light in the evenings.

Lighted Leaning Bookshelves

The Big Jambox was a splurge and well worth it.  It’s plenty loud for our apartment and it connects wirelessly via Bluetooth with my iPhone and iMac and Jarrod’s iPad mini.  It has a super long battery life, so we can move it to the kitchen or backyard for hours without a power cord.

Styled Leaning Bookshelves

See that electrical outlet on the floor to the right of the bookcase?  That is some crazy stupid luck.  I don’t know why it was placed there originally, but the location couldn’t be more ideal for this arrangement.  All of the cords are hidden neatly behind the bookshelf.

Leaning Bookshelves

Read any good books lately?  Or read Emily Henderson’s blog and been driven crazy by the fact she doesn’t spell “cord” correctly?

The Framer’s Intent: DIY Scarf Display

A few months ago Design*Sponge posted a round-up of art scarves, including this awesome furoshiki from The Link Collective:

Furoshiki Scarf

Folded Paper Furoshiki designed by Lucinda Newton Dunn
(Photo copyright: Link)

Link says: “Furoshiki (風呂敷, fu-rosh-ki) is a type of traditional Japanese wrapping cloth. Each of our products has been hand printed in Japan, using traditional printing techniques.” Check out Spoon & Tamago for an interview and some great photographs of the production process.

Furoshiki Scarf Printing(Photo copyright: Link)

Because I have a gallery wall of black frames in our dining room, I thought something large, textured and non-black-framed would be nice above our sofa. This furoshiki seemed like a good bet.

Airmail

Airmail is the best mail, no?

I wanted something more substantial than simply hanging the scarf on the wall, so I bought a 36″x36″ stretched canvas and set to building a frame to wrap around it. I used inexpensive pine lattice trim, which I stained with Minwax Wood Finish in Ebony.

Lattic Wood Trim

Wood Stain

I wrapped the canvas with some lightweight, neutral fabric I had on hand. It’s barely visible, but I think it’s a much more polished-looking background for the scarf than the bare canvas would have been.

Fabric-wrapped canvas

I used my chop saw to make simple right-angle corners and nailed the wood around the frame, staining the cut edges and using wood filler to disguise any nail holes.

Frame Corner

For the final step, I attached the scarf to the canvas with brass upholstery tacks. I punctured the scarf with a fine needle first, to avoid pulling any fabric threads, and then inserted the tack through the opening.

DIY Fabric Hanging

That’s it! Doozy worked his angles like a pro as I took these photos. Just kidding: a proper catloaf does not have angles.

Living Room Wall Hanging

Living Room

Living Room

Living Room Fabric Hanging