Succulent ‘Seat Cushion’: Hypertufa DIY Planter

I have to say that hypertufa ‘seat cushions’ are my all time favourite DIY upcycle project for the garden! You may recall the chair we upcycled for our back garden and turned into a planter, but the hypertufa planter in that project was store bought. When we stumbled upon a discarded chair at the side of the road last week, hubs and I couldn’t wait to try making our own hypertufa planter from scratch for the first time!

At first glance, we both thought the chair was cast iron, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a plastic imitation. Hubs and I loaded it into the car; luckily we grabbed it before anyone else did!


Since the middle of the seat was cracked, it was perfect for our purpose.


Once we got our newest find home hubs punched out the rest of the middle of the seat.


We measured the circumference of the circle to determine the size of the bowls we would need to act as a mold for the hypertufa:


We found a variety of metal bowls at value village.

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The two larger ones were going to be just right for the mold.

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Below, I’ve documented our first attempt ever at making hypertufa so you can learn from our trial and error! Making hypertufa is a fairly easy DIY, however it’s a long process to perfect it. It could take anywhere from four to six weeks due to the curing time needed and the time it takes to leech out the lime contained in the portland cement so it’s a safe container to house plants. Since we started ours on the July 1st weekend, it won’t be ready to plant until August – which is nearing the end of our growing season! If you make your hypertufa in the fall instead, you can let the weather work its magic and naturally leech the planter over the winter. It will be ready for plants at the start of the next season and you won’t loose out on growing time.

To create the hypertufa bowl, you will need:

  1. Mixing pails (we used two, but you can get away with only one)
  2. Water
  3. Peat moss
  4. Perlite
  5. Portland cement
  6. Plastic cup or container to measure all four ingredients (1 part of each)
  7. Paint stick to mix
  8. Rubber mallet
  9. Gloves
  10. Sheet of plastic
  11. Cooking spray (acts as a release agent)
  12. Colorant (optional – if you want to color your mix). We wanted the bowl to blend in with the chair so we added in a black liquid colorant.

We don’t mind storing bags of the three main ingredients (peat, cement and perlite) because we’ll likely make more hypertufa. However, because you’ll need only a bit of each item, if this is your first project, beg and borrow a few cups of each ingredient from family or friends who might have some extra to spare. We were able to get some peat moss from my MIL so only had to buy the portland cement and perlite.

Find a sheltered spot to work in – out of direct sunlight and wind – to keep your hypertufa from drying out too fast. We worked in the garage and laid down a sheet of plastic onto the floor in case we had any spills. Here you can see the bag of peat moss. We sifted through to remove any large pieces of debris we didn’t want in our final mix.

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Peat Moss

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Perlite and Portland Cement

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Cement colorant and cooking spray

Don some gloves and spray the inside of the larger bowl and the outside of the smaller bowl with the cooking spray (make sure you get the rim too).

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Set the bowls aside.

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You’ll need to measure out one part of each ingredient. Note that we measured out one part water and put it into the first plastic mixing pail, but it probably makes more sense to add the water into the dry ingredients so you can control the consistency better! Next time we make hypertufa, we’ll mix all the dry ingredients first and add the water into the same pail.

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In the second pail we mixed all the dry ingredients together thoroughly: one part each of portland cement, perlite and peat moss. If you didn’t previously sift through your peat moss, you might want to remove some of the larger chunks of debris now to make a smoother mix.

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Once the dry ingredients were mixed, we poured them into the bucket of water and mixed thoroughly but as I said earlier you can add the water directly into the dry ingredients instead. That way, you can control the amount of water you add. Depending on moisture and humidity, you may have to add a little more or less water to get the right consistency.

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We forgot to add our liquid colourant to the water before adding the dry ingredients so ended up adding it in after. If your colourant is dry to begin with, however, add it into the dry ingredients instead.

Our mixture was the consistency of dry cottage cheese. I’ve seen wetter, more pourable mixtures on other sites, but my preference was to leave it just hydrated enough to pack.

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Pack the wet mixture into the bowl and distribute evenly. I tried to keep the thickness to about an inch.

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Insert the second bowl on top and centre it. Continue to add mixture between the two bowls until the mixture is level at the top. Tap the sides with the rubber mallet to release air bubbles.

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You’ll need to weight down the top bowl while it’s drying so it stays centred. We happened to have gravel, but you could add rocks, sand or anything heavy that will ensure it all stays put.

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Lowes has a great video you can watch that will show you all the steps I’ve described above.  They also have some great suggestions for adding texture to the planter that we’d love to try next time.

First Stage of Curing

How long a hypertufa project takes to dry will depend on the size and thickness of your project, the humidity and the temperature. It will probably take anywhere from 2 – 4 days for the first cure. Just like every project hubs and I try for the first time, it’s all about experimenting and learning from your mistakes to gain expertise.

We placed the whole thing into a plastic shopping bag, sealed it tight and left it to cure for 24 hours on a level surface. You could use a black garbage bag, or plastic wrap, but make sure the plastic is tightly sealed to retain moisture and help it dry slowly.

After 24 hours, removed the inner bowl, then wrapped it back up again in the plastic and set aside for another 24 hours.

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On the second day, we conducted a fingernail test to see if we could scratch off any of the surface. If you can, seal it up and wait another 12 – 36 hours. If you can’t then release the outer mold carefully; it’s still really fragile!

Since the project is still damp, you might want to wear gloves when you handle it.

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As you can see above, we had to tap around the outside of the bowl to help it release. It was stubborn though, so hubs resorted to running a straight blade around the inside of the rim to loosen it.

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That did the trick, however we had it perched on top of an overturned bucket and it slipped and fell to the ground! In retrospect it would have been better to release it right on the ground so it didn’t have far to fall. Luckily it remained in one piece!

Here it is unmolded; we couldn’t wait to test the fit in the chair itself and we were happy with the results!

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Once unmolded, you’ll be wrapping the hypertufa back up in plastic again but you’ll have a decision to make on how you want to cure it.

Second Stage of Curing

This stage lasts about three – four weeks; the longer and more slowly it can cure in a moist environment, the stronger it will be in the end. You can cure your project either in direct sunlight or in a shaded area; either one will work but a cooler environment will take longer to cure. If in a shaded area, open the bag every once in a while and mist the surface to keep it moist then reseal the bag.

If you can place the hypertufa where it will receive direct sunlight you won’t have to mist it periodically. Our back patio faces south, so we left it there on top of a bench. Because the bag is sealed, it creates a humid environment. The heat will cause a lot of moisture to be released from the cement, which condenses on the inside of the sealed black plastic bag. This creates a water supply that will help keep your object properly hydrated while it’s curing.

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Just When You Think You’re Done!

After a month or so of curing, you’d think you’d be done, but you’re not! The portland cement contains lime that can be alkaline to plants so it should be leached out – either through a process of soaking it over the course of 3 days or by leaving it out in the elements to leach naturally before it’s planted (that’s where making your planter in the fall has its advantages).

To leach the hypertufa of lime, soak it in a container of water. Change the water each day for 3 days, then it will be safe for plants. If your project is too big, you can hose it down a few times a day for five days.

If you prefer to let nature take its course, leave the planter outside for one or two months.

Don’t forget to drill some drainage holes into the bottom of the hypertufa planter. We used a 3/8″ bit. You can further finesse it by sanding any rough edges smooth, but we left ours ‘rustic’ because the succulents will eventually hide the edges.

They say that patience is a virtue, but in the interest of time, and since our hypertufa planter won’t be completely cured until the end of the planting season, I’ll leave you with a reveal shot of our roadside chair find as it looks with the existing succulents from our back garden – through the magic of Photoshop:

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Depending on the size of your container, when you plant your hypertufa you can probably get away with five to eight succulents as they will spread and grow in with time. I try to leave about an inch of spacing between each one.  If you’re the instant gratification type, you can pack them in, but I like to give the plants an opportunity to get bigger and reproduce on their own.

Add a good base of soil into the bottom of the hypertufa before adding the succulents so the roots have something to grow into. The succulents should also sit above the rim of the pot so the leaves can’t rot in the soil.

I love it when succulents drape over the edge of the container and the arrangement has an assortment of different heights as shown here in the post I wrote on creative planter ideas for the garden:

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However I’ve always liked the look of having them mounded at relatively the same low height  – it just looks more lush and cushion-like to me……….

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As compared to this arrangement with staggered heights which hides more of the chair detail:

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For all our planters, the majority of succulents are hardy so they will last over our harsh winters. A properly cured and leeched hypertufa can withstand harsh winter temperatures without cracking. We’ve left our store bought hypertufa out during the winter for many years without fail, however we also sometimes store it in the garage until spring and bring it back out. Either way, the succulents seem to be happy.

If you love embellishing your garden, I hope you’ll try this project; please pin and share on Facebook!

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For other inspiring gardening posts, check out the following:

Add Some ‘Zen’ to Your Back Garden with a Water Feature

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Create a Small Water Feature to Add Curb Appeal!

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Building Trellises and Privacy Screens

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How does your garden grow?

Backyard Oasis Transformation_FINAL

Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 1): Dry Creek Bed

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Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 2): Rock Garden

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Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see upcoming DIY projects – both in and around the home.

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Jewellery Cabinet Makeover Reveal

My husband and I have a soft spot for the runts of the litter. No, I’m not talking about puppies, I’m talking about trash that no one would even think to touch let alone refurbish. When hubs spotted this old tool cabinet in the garbage, he had to try to save it!

At first I thought I’d make it into a craft cabinet, but then I had a better idea! I needed somewhere to store my silver jewellery so it wouldn’t tarnish before I had a chance to wear it. This cabinet provided the perfect solution – with a lot of body filler, sanding, a few coats of primer and paint, plus some special finishing touches, we upcycled it into a jewellery storage cabinet!!

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Here’s how it started out:


It looked even worse on the inside!


Here’s a closer look at the detail once hubs did his magic on this sad looking piece!  We added some modern handles to the drawers:

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We made it into a rolling cart of sorts by mounting wheels onto the right side for mobility while legs on the left side help keep it stationary when it’s in place. We also added a handle on the opposite side to act as a grab bar so it could be lifted and re-positioned. The trick to keeping the cart level is in making sure that the legs and wheels are exactly the same height.


Wheels on the right side allow it to be moved with the grab bar on the opposite side

Hubs removed the wooden knobs and replaced most of the hardware including the door locking mechanism so we had a key. To get the cabinet open, you have to use the key to release the right side of the door. The left side can then be opened by reaching in and squeezing the catch to release it.  Being able to hide away the key provides some peace of mind in keeping my jewellery collection secure when we occasionally have strangers in the house.

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Clockwise from left: inside view of door lock, outside view of keyed lock, door catch, gravity door holder, roller catch

Here’s the before and after transformation of the outside of the cabinet:


However, the inside of the two doors is where the transformation really gets interesting. Hubs spray painted metal panels with a durable car paint and then installed them with screws to the insides of each door:

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I purchased a bunch of high quality earth magnets:

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Then I purchased some resealable plastic pouches in two sizes to organize my stash. I made sure that the smaller size would easily fit into the larger bags so I could combine the two if necessary.

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Large pieces such as necklaces go into the larger plastic bags and then small pieces, such as earrings, in the smaller ones. If I have a matching set, I just double up by inserting the small bag of earrings into the bag holding the larger item to keep them all together!

For silver jewellery especially, this resealable bag system is ideal. Who wants to spend time polishing? Not me. If you squeeze the air out of the bag before it’s closed, your silver pieces will stay tarnish free – just be sure to close the bag tight!

I can easily see what I have when I open up the doors and the magnets make it a cinch to keep it all organized.

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Tarnish free!

As you may have seen in my previous post, the inside space was pretty bare so we added a shelf for more storage to make the piece even more functional.

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With the addition of the shelf, I now have extra storage space for purses and a few overflow shoeboxes too.

Hubs has a way of turning idioms on their end: maybe you really can make a silk purse out of sow’s ear afterall?  I certainly was doubtful we’d be able to pull off something useful from a tool cabinet that looked as bad as this one did to start!

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We temporarily had this cart sitting in our office until I decided where I wanted to place it permanently. Now that it’s in place, I’ll complete it with a mirror on the wall above it.  The mirror will add additional convenience – allowing me to see how my jewellery looks when I try it on so I can immediately return any pieces I swap out back into the cabinet.

If this project has inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook!

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The next time we made over a cart, we made it easy on ourselves and started with a brand new Ikea Stenstorp to create this kitchen storage hack:


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Add a Melamine Shelf Inside a Cabinet for Storage

Hubs upcycled this old tool cart into something special. What that ‘something special’ is won’t be fully revealed until my next post. However, in the interim I’m going to show you how to construct and insert a laminate shelf into a cabinet for more storage space.

Here’s how the cart looked before hubs sanded, filled in all the dings and repainted it:


Below is how the interior looks now (but there’s an even better surprise to come next week)! The shelf we installed increased this cabinet’s storage potential greatly.  To make the shelf, you’ll need a white melamine panel, iron-on edge tape to match the colour of your shelf (we used white laminate), scissors, an iron, rubber roller and file.

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Hubs had some leftover melamine board from a 4′ x 8′ sheet he used for a previous project. To start, mark the board to the depth you want (ours is 10 3/8″) and length. Deduct 1/8″ from the length measurement for clearance on the sides and cut out the shelf. Hubs used his circular saw with a straight edge clamped to the board to get a straight cut.

At this point, you’ll have raw press board on the outside edges and will need to apply some iron-on tape. We only did the front edge, but you could also do the sides if you choose. Since you don’t see the back, it isn’t necessary to edge it with the tape.

Clamp the shelf into a workbench:

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Cut a piece of iron-on edge tape slightly longer than the length of the shelf (you’ll file all the excess off later).

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Test it for fit.

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Heat up an iron to high and place the tape glue side down over the edge; centre it so that it overlaps slightly along all edges.

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Apply the iron to the tape and keep it moving to melt the glue. Make sure you get all the edges and don’t stay too long in any one area or you’ll run the risk of burning or melting it!

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When ironing is complete, apply pressure along the length with a roller to ensure good adherence.

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Let it cool completely before moving onto the next step. Here’s how it will look before the extra material is filed away:

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There are power tools you could use to trim away the extra material, but hubs went ‘old school’. Take a fine file or rasp and run it at an angle in a downward/forward motion along the edge of the tape. Continue filing off the extra material along all edges until the tape is totally flush with the shelf.

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Be cautious when filing at the ends; ours wasn’t quite glued down and we had to iron it again to reactivate the glue before proceeding. If it’s not glue down properly you could accidentally rip a chunk off and expose the fibreboard underneath, which would be difficult to disguise.

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Take the shelf out of the clamp and then proceed with installing shelf supports into your cabinet using these; you’ll need four supports per shelf. We got ours at Home Depot in a package of eight.

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We determined the height we wanted the shelf, put a line of green tape, then measured two holes equally from the front and back on each side.

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Before Hubs drilled the four pilot holes, he added some green tape to the drill bit to ensure he wouldn’t drill too deep (measure it against the shelf support pin).

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Hubs switched to a wider bit (to match the circumference of the shelf support pin) and drilled a left over piece of scrap board to make sure the shelf supports were going to fit properly into the hole:

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He tested it with a shelf support to make sure the fit was good:

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Apply some green tape to the new bit to mark the depth to drill (as you did with the pilot hole).

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Re-drill the pilot holes with the wider bit and insert a shelf support into each hole.

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Rest the left side of the shelf onto the shelf supports with the other end angled upward. Then slide the right side over the supports until it snaps in place. If the shelf is too tight to lower into place, you forgot to leave the 1/8″ clearance – that’s what gives it enough play to install it. You’ll have to shave a bit off and try again.

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There you have it – a new shelf! I can’t wait to show you the final reveal in my next post! Hint: this makeover is for the gals out there (and no, we didn’t turn this into a bar cart; that would be too expected)!

Until then, here are a few other storage ideas we’ve completed:

Sole Searching – A Shoe Storage Solution

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Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack


Hidden Kitchen Storage: Turn a Filler Panel into a Pull-Out Cabinet!

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The Making of a Craft Studio (Part III) – If You Build It, She Will Come!!

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UPDATE: July 11, 2016 – click here for the final tool cabinet makeover reveal!

Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ as hubs and I continue to feather the nest… one room at a time.

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Bridge Lamp Makeovers: a Bright Idea!

If you’re looking to freshen up your lighting, be on the lookout of old bridge lamps at flea markets this Spring. Consider making over two or three, like we did; they’ll light up your life!

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We love to buy old items and put a bit of a modern twist on them. On our flea marketing and antiquing jaunts, hubs and I have come across a multitude of bridge lamps in our travels. Hubs didn’t totally love them, but I knew they would make a stunning addition in our home once refurbished. One day, I was able to convince him to buy one and make it over. We loved the end result so much that before we knew it, we bought another and another! They now adorn various rooms around the house!

Our very first bridge lamp makeover is shown below. More often than not, the bridge lamp you find will be missing both the lamp shade and the metal collar that attaches the shade to the lamp. The electrical cord may be less than stellar also, so you’ll need to run new wire. We didn’t get pictures of the details on how to rewire these lamps, but it’s fairly simple.  Here’s one site that explains the rewiring process, but I’m sure you can google many others too.

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We had to source a specialty lighting store just to find the collar and it was surprisingly expensive. We took the collar with us to purchase the shade to make sure it would fit (we found the shade at a second hand store). If you can find a bridge lamp with all the original parts, it will be a much better buy than running around trying to find what’s missing.

Here’s a close up of the metal collar. This one simply clamps to the lower arm of the lamp and then the glass shade fits underneath. The screws get tightened to hold the shade in place; don’t over tighten the screws or you will crack it!

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Our bridge lamp was a brassy metal so there was no need to blast any finish off. We picked a charcoal grey car paint to repaint it. You’ll notice that we left some raw metal details for a bit of contrast.

Now you have to decide if you’re going to paint your lamp assembled or disassembled and whether vertically or horizontally. In some instances you could keep the lamp assembled and paint the whole thing. For this particular lamp, because some parts weren’t being painted and hubs didn’t want to tape them off, he sprayed the parts individually and reassembled it after it was dry.

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If you study the before and after above, you’ll see that hubs  switched around the order of the pieces when he put it back together. If you decide to take apart the lamp, my best piece of advice would be to take a picture of everything before you do – then you’ll know how it goes back together!  I guess the ‘before’ version was correct, but I actually prefer the ‘after’ version because you can see all the detail at the top of the lamp (you will rarely see or look at the base, especially if there’s furniture around it).


Prepare the surface before painting by cleaning with TSP or Simple Green cleaner. Rinse thoroughly with water and let dry completely. If the surface is previously painted, sand with fine 220 grit sandpaper or sanding sponge to get into all the crevices. Remove all traces of dust.

Hubs used a metal primer to prime all surfaces first, let it dry, sanded again with fine grit sandpaper, removed the dust and then used car paint to spray the metal. When using a spray can, hubs suggests you invest in a spray can grip to give you more control over the spray and eliminate ‘finger fatigue’:

To paint the pieces, you can wrap wire around any parts that are threaded and hang the pieces vertically to spray them. You could also run wire through the length of each tube and fashion a hook on one end to keep it slipping off and a hook on the other end to hang it if there’s nothing to attach wire to.

Lastly, if you have the right diameter, a small piece of dowel at each end would allow you to spray it horizontally between two sawhorses and rotate it around as you spray. Just set a nail at either end of the dowel so it can’t roll away – but not so close that you can’t rotate it, as shown in the overhead diagram below.

Lay down some plastic to catch over spray. Hold the can about 8″ – 10″ away from the surface and spray steadily back and forth with even passes. Several light coats will prevent runs (spraying the pieces horizontally also helps prevent runs).

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Here’s how the lamp looked in one of our bedrooms when it was done.  It makes a great reading lamp because you can swivel the head to direct the light.

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Here’s a second bridge lamp we found that we initially placed in our living room but finally ended up in our family room.  In this case, someone had already hand painted some red details on the flower petals which we liked, so we decided not to paint it at all.  We lucked out with the collar too; it was still there, however we had to rewire the lamp and replace the shade with the one you see below.

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A black accessory will work in any room. As shown below, we had the same bridge lamp in the living room before we moved it to our family room.

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Living room

Here’s how the same lamp looks relocated beside the couch in our family room.

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Family room

Because of the red accents on the bridge lamp, we added a red side table that we DIY’d with a crackle finish. The lamp fits in perfectly with other red accents in the room too, so it was a better place for it in the end!

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In the family room

The deco shade we used was found at a second hand store. There were a few and we snapped them both up; they’re great to have on hand if you ever plan to do another bridge lamp makeover – which of course we did! Once we got going, it almost became an addiction. As you can see, we put those deco shades to good use with both our second and third bridge lamp finds (see pictures above and below).

With our third project shown below, we painted the bridge lamp white, replaced the electrical cord with white wiring and we even painted the collar in white. We placed it in our spare bedroom; the white pops against the blue walls and also brings out the twist detail on the pole.

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Here is the completed 3rd bridge lamp makeover as it looks in situ in the spare bedroom.  It’s updated and ready to shine a light for another 75 years.

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I hope these three projects have inspired you to try a bridge lamp makeover; if so, please pin and share! If you decide to go flea marketing in search a bridge lamp to make over for your own home, you might want to make a DIY Flea Market Survival Kit for your travels:

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Reclaim and Maximize Space in Your Bathroom!

I’ve always wished for an expansive bathroom and never really thought we could achieve a spacious feel without actually enlarging the space, but we did just that!

Renovating a bathroom gives you the ideal opportunity to maximize the space you have (and even achieve more of a spa-like feel)! Today, I’m showing you a renovation we recently completed and what we did to gain both storage and a feeling of spaciousness.

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Some new home builders cut corners when it comes to maximizing space. Instead of building in storage solutions, they tend to drywall up valuable real estate. That’s usually the case when it comes to 5 foot bathtubs. Can you see that vertical piece of wall at the end of the bathtub run below?

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It was just begging for some built in cubby holes.  See how easy it is to reclaim space you had all along?

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When we replaced the vanity, we looked for a style that had the greatest number of drawers so that we could reclaim the vertical storage beneath. When one has cupboard doors, so much of that space goes unused and it’s not easy to keep organized in the space you do have!

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Maximize drawer space for additional storage

Builders also love to install bulkheads which can make a bathroom feel even more enclosed:

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When you’re renovating, it gives you the perfect opportunity to remove any bulkheads and expand the ceiling height over the tub.  To take full advantage of the space we gained, and brighten up the shower area, we installed a water proof LED potlight as shown below.

The vertical placement of the white tiles also helps with the illusion of more height (even with the horizontal accent stripe running through it).

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One area to gain space is with a shower niche; it gives you somewhere to put the soap and a bottle of shampoo. I find it best to use a solid surface material – at least along the bottom, if not around the entire niche – so that soap scum and spills can be easily cleaned away. If we had used the glass and marble accent tile along the bottom of the niche, it would collect soap in the grout and over time it would just look grungy!

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Another area where builders cut corners is with ventilation. If there’s a window in the bathroom, they rarely bother to install a fan – but who wants to open a window in the winter and let out all that valuable heat along with the steam? Since you’re renovating anyway, why not take the opportunity to install a new bathroom fan (you’ll be glad you did)!

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To gain a sense of spaciousness, consider the style of bathtub you choose. Here the bathtub is a standard 5 feet, but it bows out at the front. It’s still the same footprint as the old tub, but more spacious inside.

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The curved feature on the front of the tub gave us the opportunity to repeat that feature with the installation a curved shower rod to replace the old glass door (which was always a pain to keep clean).

Have you ever been in a shower and the liner gets sucked in with the heat and just sticks to you? A curved rod should help keep that situation under control (another trick is to buy a curtain liner with suction cups).

Overall, I find a shower curtain and liner much easier to maintain than a glass door as they can simply be tossed in the washing machine to clean them up!

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Finishes can have a big impact over how spacious a room feels.  The lighter colour scheme we chose with hits of black and grey to contrast tends to open up the space and makes it feel airier. The bevelled mirror – with mirrored frame – also helps to bounce light around and adds sparkle to the bathroom.

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Light colour scheme with hits of dark contrast

Next time you’re renovating a bathroom, think about all the possibilities there are to reclaim additional storage and work it into your plan!

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. If this project has inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

For more ideas, check out two of our bathroom renos: our powder room makeover:

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My Mom’s bathroom update:

Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see upcoming DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Add Some ‘Zen’ to Your Back Garden with a Water Feature

If you read my previous post on how to create a small water feature to add curb appeal to your front garden, you’ll know that we were just warming up for our next pond! That little pond in the front was just a practice run for this bigger one we built in our backyard:

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Although the mechanics of building this one was similar to the front pond – i.e. we used a drop in liner – it was a lot more tricky because it was integrated into a travertine patio we were installing at the same time. The finished patio had to precisely end at the beginning of the pond so we could incorporate an accent border of stone around the perimeter.

I’m showing you two versions of this pond: one with a bowl that acts as a centre piece (Plan ‘A) and a second simplified version without the bowl (Plan ‘B’).


To start, we bought a pre-formed rigid liner – 4 feet x 6 feet and 2 feet deep.

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Hubs dug out the hole to the exact width and length of the liner. To calculate the finished depth, we had to consider the finished height of our travertine patio. The lip of the liner had to finish even with the underside of the travertine border to both support the stone and hide the liner.

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Hubs built the wooden structure you see below to fit into the hole for the liner so we could lay in our underbase – about 18″ of High Performance Bedding (HPB) – while we worked on the patio.

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We built a retaining wall of sorts around the pond to take the frost line into consideration and hold back the HPB aggregate from falling into the pond once the liner was installed. We built the height of the retaining wall even with the HPB so the travertine border could float over the top of it.

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In the view below, you can see that there are actually three layers of cement block that mesh together to form the retaining wall.  This ensured that the patio would be less likely to shift during the winter and  also gave a solid support to the edge of the liner.  If you are not incorporating your pond into a patio – or don’t live in a cold climate – this extra step of building a retaining wall won’t be necessary.

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As you can see in the picture below, we also installed metal edging between where we ended the travertine patio and started the retaining wall. Beyond the metal edging is where I installed the accent colour of travertine around the pond to tie in with the patio (which you’ll see later).

That’s as far as we got during our first season of construction. Hubs re-inserted the wooden frame back into the hole, because winter was soon approaching, so he could install the pond liner in the spring and finish it all up then. He sealed it up with a plywood cover to prevent snow/water from getting into the prepared hole over the winter.

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In the spring, Hubs removed the wooden frame so he could continue with the liner installation.

To prepare to install the liner, make sure the bottom of the hole is dry (if not pump out any standing water) then add sand to the bottom and tamp it down.  A good bed of sand helps nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion.

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Continue to put the liner back in and check for level as you build up the sand. Making sure the pond is level is the most important step because water won’t stay securely inside the liner, where it belongs, if it’s tilted at all.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, pop the liner in and start to fill it with water from a garden hose and continue to make sure the liner is sitting level as it fills. If you notice any puckers in the liner, you’ll need to backfill with some of the dirt you removed to fill any air pockets if there are any (you can also use some sand). The liner needs to be a fairly tight fit so it doesn’t buckle under the pressure of the water.

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with dirt or sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct it around all sides. A deep dustpan works well for this purpose too — place it away from the gap between the side wall and the liner (under the lip), then brush the backfill into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

For more about liner options and installation, here’s an excellent video to watch.

Once the pond was filled up, I was then able to complete the travertine accent stone all around the edges. I leveled each piece as I went, adding in HPB aggregate underneath as needed. As you can see below, the accent stone extends over the edge of the liner by about an inch in the front. I was happy to see that our measurements worked out perfectly!

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As I came around the edges of the pond and back, to finish it off, I added in metal edging (held in with spikes) all along the edge of the stones to keep them in place.

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Here’s how the accent border looked once I was finished; a nice blank slate for finishing touches!

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It was time for hubs to turn his attention to hooking up the electrical and then the pump and water feature. Here’s the electrical service to the pond Hubs installed before he finished the final connections.

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He designed this cedar cover to hide the ugly utilitarian look of the plastic pole and electrical box. The cover is both attractive and functional:  even though the electrical box is waterproof, it doesn’t hurt to shelter it from the rain!

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Over time the grasses we planted in back of the pond grew so large, and the cedar shelter greyed, which blended it into the background of the fence.  You can barely notice it anymore – but it was a nice touch up until everything around it matured!

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Plan ‘A’

For the water feature itself, we purchased a concrete bowl, a pump and fountain. We used a powerful AquaSurge high efficiency pump to achieve the water fountain height that makes this version such a centrepiece for the pond!

We drilled a hole into the bottom of the bowl so we could install the water fountain through the middle:

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To house the pump and raise the bowl out of the water in the pond, Hubs designed a cedar casing that the bowl could sit on:

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To start, hubs built a box that was connected with angle brackets and screws on the inside corners. He drilled a hole in the top right through the centre (big enough to fit the pipe for the fountain).  On the outside of the casing he L-brackets to all four vertical sides – for a very good reason that will be revealed below.  All the metal was stainless steel so it wouldn’t rust in the water; the cedar is also durable under water.

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He cut a piece of travertine (left over from our patio) to the same size as the top of the box and also drilled a hole through the centre.  The travertine has two purposes: to weigh the box down in the water and to add a decorative element that coordinates with our patio. The wooden circle you see in the picture was an extra piece hubs cut in case he needed to raise the height of the bowl further out of the pond, however he didn’t end up needing it so it wasn’t used.

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The reason for the L-brackets? To install filters!

Hubs wanted an extra measure of water filtration. As you can see here, the L-brackets hold the filter cloth to the front and back of the box. The filter cloth just slips in and out of the channel. Shown below is the back of the box.

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Hubs turned the box around to face the front and added the piece of travertine onto the top. He then inserted the pump into the bottom of the box and connected the tubing from the pump through the hole in the top of both the box and travertine.

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Before adding the bowl, hubs cut a circular piece of rubber gasket (a bit smaller than the circumference of the bottom of the bowl) and placed it around the tubing so the bowl would be cushioned where it sits on top of the travertine.

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He placed the second piece of filter cloth over the front opening and then dropped the box into the middle of the pond, leaving the electrical cord out of the water to one side.  Hubs was able to straddle the sides of the pond to lower the bowl onto the box until it was sitting on top of the travertine. As the bowl is HEAVY, this is an awkward way to do it so I’d suggest adding a strong piece of plywood across the pond and even getting two people to help lower the bowl onto the box.

Once the bowl was seated, he then hooked up the fountain to the tubing inside the bowl. It looks like the bowl is floating on top of the travertine!

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Hubs plugged the cord into the electrical post (seen at the back of the pond on the right side) to test out the pump and set the height of the flow. Once the pond was up and running we finished off the landscape and plantings around it (like the grasses and day lily you see behind the pond).

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Each fall, we dissassemble the bowl and take the pump/box into the garage for the winter. In the spring we bring it back out again and re-connect the pump.

When the risk of frost has passed, we load the pond up with tropical pond plants!

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It’s nice to introduce some flowering plants into the pond as part of the focal point of our backyard!

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I had fun accentuating around the pond with decor items – like the yoga frogs and starfish. I also faux finished the mirror/shelf combination that you see on the fence. It adds some sparkle and depth to our small space – and also another surface for display!

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The height of the water in the fountain is fully adjustable; we generally have it higher when we have guests visiting but keep it lower when it’s just us enjoying the back.

With the addition of a canopy umbrella, we can relax in our zen-like outdoor space in rain or shine 🙂

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(Plan ‘B’) – Simplified Version

Because of the physical effort it takes to install the bowl each spring, the pond project described above won’t be for everyone! As a matter of fact, when Hubs doesn’t want to lug out the heavy bowl we revert to Plan ‘B’!

This spring, we swapped the bowl out for a much simpler, and lighter, water fountain that we can easily drop into the pond. It’s not nearly as showy a focal point, but it will be just as lovely once we add additional pond plants and bring out the rest of the decor. This is a great alternative if you don’t want to go to the effort – and expense – of building the box/filter system from scratch for the bowl.

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This fountain is run by a much cheaper pump and instead of the cedar box, hubs used a milk crate that he weighed down with two stainless steel pipes.

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He attached them onto the bottom of opposite sides with black plastic cable ties:

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He also used the plastic ties to secure the pump to the top of the milk crate. The milk crate is necessary in this instance because the pond is 2 feet deep and the fountain head needs to be raised out of the water. You’ll need to work out how high your crate needs to be depending on the depth of the liner you install.

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Here you can see the how the pump is attached with the cable ties from the underside of the crate:

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If you’re interested in installing a pond in your own garden, but want to start out with a smaller project first, like we did, check out my post on how to create a small water feature:

Create a Small Water Feature

I also show you some creative planter ideas to finish off a backyard space:

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

For those of you facing winter weather and wanting to bring the outdoors in, check out my indoor water feature. Although I used a paint can, you can substitute anything, like a watering can, to craft this fun project and make it your own!

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At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ if you’re interested in seeing other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 2): Rock Garden

Part two of Low Maintenance Gardening describes another phase of our dry creek bed project.

I very briefly talked about the sustainability of tearing out the grass and replacing it with a dry creek bed in Part 1.  Building a rock garden continues with our goal to reduce maintenance and increase sustainability in our yard: the plantings are all drought tolerant and don’t require added watering to keep them thriving. A rock garden is a great way to put water conserving into practice!

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Once we had the dry creek bed in place, the corner of our garden where the fences intersect needed some interest. I didn’t want to fill in that corner with cedar or evergreens as I’m not too fond of them. Instead, we built a rock garden to complement the back corner of our tiny back yard.

To get a sense of the area we had to work with, here’s an overhead shot of the corner of the yard where we built our rock garden.

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To start construction, we first built backer boards to be placed against the fencing to contain the soil to the height we wanted to raise rock garden.  Hubs decided to build it in one piece in the garage and then move it into the backyard as one unit.  He used galvanized metal strapping and corner braces to hold it all together (in addition to glue).

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Hubs buried the backer board below the fence line and drove some wooden stakes in front of it to keep it secure, making sure it was level.  He didn’t screw it into the fence itself because it backed onto two of our neighbours’ backyards and it needed to be independent in case they ever decided to repair or replace any of the fencing.

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We dry stacked boulders in a semi-circular pattern spanning from one corner of the backer board to the other (you can see the shape on the overview of our plan below).

Landscape Plan

Then we stacked on the second row of boulders. We recessed this second row further into the rock garden than we placed the first row by adding soil underneath to support it along the back edges. We wedged the boulders together like a jigsaw puzzle, however we didn’t use any glue. We weren’t too fussy with the esthetics of stacking the stones because we wanted it to look rustic and time worn.  We filled in the entire space with dirt (keeping below the level of the backer board).

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In between the cracks in the rocks, we packed in more dirt so we could plant some succulents.

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We planted a miniature Ginko tree and the rest of the plantings went in (all low maintenance and drought resistant plants).  Surprisingly, the Ginko tree is drought tolerant after the first three years too!

As you can see in the bottom picture below, the succulents filled in the crevices between the rocks beautifully, but some of the other plants spread too much and crowded out the others. The white billowy culprit you see below is called ‘Snow in Summer’.  It looks beautiful spilling over the edge, but only in moderation so each spring I have to pull most of it out to scale it back.

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Over the years, I’ve experimented with switching up the plants and also the ‘decor’ in and around the rock garden. One year I added a sitting frog on a concrete base to give a bit of height interest. You can also see the chair planter nestled over the fern to the right of the rock garden.

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To help keep the ‘Snow in Summer’ at bay, I introduced these creepers. They also spill over the edges to soften the hard rock.

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Once the rock garden was done, we turned our attention to finishing the dry creek bed (as you saw in Part 1):

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Rock garden complete; now onto the dry creek bed!

To recap, here’s the before and after of the complete dry creek and rock garden projects.

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When it was all complete,the south east corner of our backyard went from a lonely patch of grass to this lush green space.

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The dry creek bed and rock garden have really added a wow factor to the garden!

For more wow factor, check out my other inspiring garden posts where I’ll show you how to build trellises and privacy screens;

Trellis_Opening Picture

A coordinated mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space, and;

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Creative planter ideas:

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Low Maintenance Gardening (Part 1): Dry Creek Bed

When we finished installing a patio in our backyard, we were left with a lonely patch of grass in the back corner. It didn’t really make sense to get out a lawn mower every week to mow such a small area; not to mention how awkward it would be to maneuver it past our patio set! More importantly, not using electricity to cut the grass – or water to keep it green – was the sustainable way to go!

Our solution was to install a dry creek bed and rock garden to replace the grass (you’ll see how to build the rock garden in Part 2).  There’s nothing more rewarding than putting some sweat equity into building a sustainable garden when the outcome is this gorgeous!

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Here’s how the back corner looked before we started; to get a sense of the area we had to work with, I’ve included an overhead shot of the garden.


Here’s a complete overview of the landscaping plan:

Landscape Plan

The first order of business was digging an enormous hole to plant a Blue Danube pom pom juniper at the south end of the dry creek bed:

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By the time hubs dug this hole, we no longer had our clean fill bin to dump the soil, so he used some left over landscaping bags and filled them up. He placed the bags at the front of our house and the neighbours scooped them all up – waste not want not!

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Is China really at the other end of this hole?

Once the juniper was planted, we used a garden hose to help us outline the shape of the dry creek bed so we could dig out the grass.  We sloped the sides and dug out a shallow bottom so we wouldn’t have to fill it with too many stones. It was all hands on deck, so we didn’t get pictures of digging out the dry creek bed!

We added landscape cloth along the bottom and up the sides to prevent weeds from growing. We extended the landscape cloth a few feet over the edges so we could run it under some larger boulders we planned to place around the bed. In areas we weren’t planning on putting any boulders along the sides, we simply folded the landscape cloth under and staked it into the sides of the dry creek bed to prevent it from shifting.

When the landscape cloth was secured, we filled the dry creek bed with a colourful variety of smooth river rock.

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We then went shopping for flagstone to place around the perimeter of the dry creek bed so we’d have some stepping stones to walk around.  We handpicked the pieces at the stone yard that we thought would fit best. When shopping for flagstone, take along a sketch of your plan to help you visualize the space!

We also purchased some larger decorative boulders for the rock garden (which you’ll see how to build in Part 2) and a few extra boulders to sporadically place around the sides of the dry creek bed. When we got the stones home, we were excited to do a dry lay on-site to see how we did with our selection!

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Here you can see where the landscape cloth extends over the edge of the dry creek bed and is held down by some of the flagstone pieces. We had wanted to use this ‘landing pad’ as a base to level one side of a wooden bridge that was going to span across the dry creek bed – but we never got around to building that (you’ll see an inspiration shot further ahead)!  We were going to fill in the gaps with some pea gravel, but instead we filled them in with dirt so we could plant moss in between and around the stones (as you’ll also see further ahead).


We took our time with the dry lay of the stepping stones and boulders to make sure they were beautiful as well as functional!

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Once we were happy  with the placement, we dug around each stone with an edging tool and removed the grass as well as a few inches of topsoil. The goal was to inset the stones slightly below the surface to keep them in place and prevent shifting during colder weather.

Next, it was time to get down to fine the tuning details and be one with the earth!  I literally sat myself down in the dry creek bed and pushed all the river rock out and over the edge of the landscape cloth to hide it.


I kept a container of extra river rock (that hubs kept refilling for me) in case I needed to add more. I worked my way around the entire perimeter: it was a slow process but it really transformed the dry creek bed from a hole in the ground to something that looks like it’s been there for ages!


Where the dry creek bed ends, we found the PERFECT statue to accent the pom pom juniper. We trailed the river rock from the dry creek bed around the ornamental juniper and in front of the statue ending it beside a pond we installed when we constructed our patio.

The statue represents a tragedy and comedy mask; a great reminder of all the hard work  –  with all its setbacks and humourous moments – that we put into building the garden from the ground up!

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Dry creek bed wrapping around our ‘Comedy/Tragedy’ statuary with Blue Danube Pom Pom Juniper in the background

Once all the fine details were taken care of in the dry creek bed, we planted moss around the flagstones so it would grow in to fill the gaps between them. Around some of the boulders on the perimeter of the dry creek bed, we planted miniature day lillies (so they wouldn’t grow too tall) and some drought resistant (aka low maintenance) ground cover.

Remember the ‘landing pad’ of flagstones I showed you earlier?  Here’s the before and after of how that area filled in with moss. Isn’t it pretty?

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This is an inspiration shot of now I envisioned using the flagstone to support a bridge on either side of our dry creek bed. It’s the only thing I wish we had added, but it’s never too late – it’ll likely be a project we’ll attempt down the road.

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To finish the area around the dry creek bed, we covered a narrow pathway between it and the fence in mulch to keep the mud and weeds at bay.

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The moss gets billowy and full as it slowly spreads into the gaps

Here’s how the moss, ground cover and day lillies (in bloom) filled in over a few seasons of growth.  The dry creek bed looks seamless once the plants around it are fully grown; everything just drapes over and softens all the edges!

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The south east corner of our backyard went from this lonely patch of grass:

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… to this lush section of our surburban oasis.  For the time and effort we expended up front, it’s certainly a big payoff in the end. It’s far more interesting to look at than a patch of grass – and requires very little maintenance to maintain it! The only care it needs is a seasonal trimming of the ornamental juniper to maintain the round shape of the pom poms.

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The dry creek bed really added a special touch to the garden, but we didn’t stop there! I was happy to have hubs’ help through the next stage of the process too: I couldn’t have done it without my ‘partner in grime’ – as I like to refer to him! Check out part two of Low Maintenance Gardening to learn how to build a rock garden:

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At the side of our house, we found a way to protect our hostas from slugs – and we did it sustainably without the need for pesticides! Click here to read more.


We also added some privacy to our small yard by building trellises to support a variety of flowering vines and a screen for the BBQ area (behind the retaining wall).  In late summer we have a wall of green:

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Late Summer; we planted 3 Silver Lace Vines for this full lush look

By the time the Silver Lace Vine blooms in the fall, it’s magnificent! It’s important to select a wide variety of plants when planning your garden to provide bloom from early spring into late fall; just doing our part to attract bees to the garden!

Click the link for the DIY on how to build trellises and privacy screens.

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Autumn; Silver Lace in full bloom

Be sure to check out my other inspiring garden posts where I’ll show you how-to’s for an upcycled mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space, and;

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Creative planter ideas – where we make the most of repurposing items such as this chair and enamel pot!

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Holey Hosta Batman! How we Saved our Hostas from Slugs!

This post kicks off a 3-part series on low-maintenance/sustainable gardening. The side of our house doesn’t get a lot of sun, so we planted shade tolerant hostas and ground cover to fill in that area and crowd out weeds and aid in water conservation. The hostas have filled in beautifully over the years, but by mid summer they are all torn to shreds and have more holes than swiss cheese.

Batman may be resigned to fighting thugs, but we were tired of fighting slugs: we wanted to put a stop to their reign of crime once and for all. We tried everything from eggshells to diatomaceous earth to no avail, until we finally found the answer: copper!  Forgive the bad pun, but just like commissioner Gordon of Batman fame, a little ‘copper’ goes a long way to fighting crime.


Last year we ran an experiment: we wrapped pure copper wire mesh around the bases of half our hostas and left the other half as-is. We had read that copper repels snails and slugs because they don’t like to touch it. We thought it would be worth a try – and who doesn’t love a pest-control product that’s non-toxic and sustainable!

By the end of the summer, the hostas we wrapped with copper were hole-free as compared to the others that weren’t (you can see the large hosta in the foreground below has several holes in the leaves). ‘Hosta’ la vista, slugs! Overall, even the ones we didn’t wrap had less slug damage than usual.

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This year we put the copper around all our hostas. We could have wrapped the mesh around the entire garden, but only the hostas tend to get eaten so we only used it around those. If you do decide wrap an entire garden, push some bamboo steaks into the ground at equal intervals to act as a support to wrap the copper around.

It’s easier to wrap the hostas first thing in the spring when they are just peaking through the earth. You can also do it this time of year, but you’ll probably need another set of hands to hold back the foliage while you wind the mesh around the base and secure it.

We dug a shallow trench around each plant and buried the mesh below the soil so that nothing could sneak down under it. We pinched the ends together and crimp them closed; that seemed to hold them in place all season last year.

UPDATE: hubs’ friend was reading my post and suggested that she has used copper pennies. Unfortunately pennies are no longer being minted in Canada, but if you have some kicking around they may be worth a try too! Just sprinkle them on the ground around your hostas.

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We LOVE how the hostas look at the side of our house in the spring and summer months:

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‘Hosta’ la vista, slugs!

Saving our hostas make us feel like superheros and now we get to enjoy our them hole-free through the entire season (which sadly isn’t too long in Canada)!

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For more garden inspiration check out the following posts:

How to build trellises and privacy screens.

Trellis_Opening Picture

A coordinated mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space, and;

Planter 181_bof

Creative planter ideas:

Planter Ideas

Stay calm and relax on this summer!  If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Muskoka Chair Challenge at the Ontario Science Centre

Who doesn’t love to relax in a Muskoka chair (or Adirondack chair as our neighbours to the south call it)!  Several years ago, the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) sponsored a challenge asking for willing participants to create a unique Muskoka chair that would appeal to their visitors during the summer months.

OSC aims to inspire a lifelong journey of curiosity, discovery and action to create a better future for the planet. But all that is rounded out by a downright fun experience when you visit! Hubs and I have racked up so many great and memorable experiences each time we go, that we jumped at the chance to team up and give the chair challenge a go.  We had a blast lending our creative talent to designing one of the chairs that would ultimately be displayed around the grounds at OSC!

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A science connection was naturally something to consider, however it also needed to be comfortable to sit in, withstand the elements that an outdoor chair would be exposed to and withstand the attention and affection (aka wear and tear) that their visitors would bestow upon it!

Each team was given a dissembled chair in a box, and the rest was up to us. We started by sanding all the pieces of wood that made up the chair.

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Rather than do the obvious thing and incorporate a science theme, I decided to take a different approach to the challenge; one that no one else would think of.  I found out a long time ago through a friend, and many visitors are probably unaware of this, but did you know that all the exhibits at OSC are conceived, designed, built and finished right on-site by OSC staff?  Yes indeed, it takes the collaboration of many people to create the interesting, informative and interactive exhibits that are on display — and they do it in a way that is as green as possible!

Armed with this knowledge, I wanted our Muskoka chair to pay tribute to some of the people who are ‘behind the scenes’ in Exhibit Fabrication: namely the designers, wood workers and finishers.

Since every good concept must start with a plan, I knew that part of developing great experiences for their visitors would start with a ‘blueprint’ and hoped there would be extras hanging around and gathering dust. Why not découpage some of these to our chair?  By recycling them, we could pay homage to all the exhibit fabricators while being environmentally friendly.  I guess you could say that we turned blueprints ‘green’!

I was able to secure extra blueprint copies of the Living Earth exhibit –  a fitting theme as every element we used was recycled and/or earth friendly.

I lined up all the slats, and positioned  the blue prints over them so they would all read perfectly once assembled.  When I was happy with the layout, I ran the side of a pencil around each outline to ‘score it’ so I could faintly see where to cut each piece. I didn’t use the pencil lead because I didn’t want to erase any remaining marks after they were cut, but  I did use it to lightly number the back of the paper and corresponding wood so the order wouldn’t get mixed up. Then I glued the blueprints to the wood using a 1:2 mixture of water and glue to thin it out. When all the slats were finished I moved onto the arms (seen below):

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Because of the size of the chair, I had to overlap several blueprints.  By laying it all out first to visualize it, I was able to come up with an interesting idea for the back of the chair! I found that one of the blueprints in the set had a circular pattern rendered on it. It turned on a lightbulb: why don’t we incorporate the Science Centre logo into the design in recognition of the graphics department?


I love that OSC’s logo connects in such a way that it forms a trillium: the provincial flower of Ontario since 1937!

When it came to fabricating the logo, I didn’t want to completely mask the beauty of the blueprints (I also wanted to create a peek-a-boo effect with the trillium) so I came up with the idea of cutting out the circles from recycled coloured tissue paper.  When découpaged over the blueprint you could still make out the details through the tissue and once sprayed with a clear finish it was even better; it worked like a charm!

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Tissue paper OSC logo superimposed onto bluepint

Next, we upcycled an old wooden shipping pallet and brought it to life as a footstool and cup holder to accompany our chair (an ode to OSC wood workers). Each piece was sanded smooth, as we did with the chair, to better accept the découpage treatment.


Salvaged shipping pallet turned into slats and sides for footstool

I wanted each slat of our footstool to be representative of some of OSC’s exhibit halls – to tie in the displays that at one time all started out as blueprints! I used one blueprint and overprinted it with seven of the exhibit hall names.  Since the width of the footstool was wider than I was able to print, I added in the red, blue and green tissue paper once again to make up the width.

The project took up space on our dining room table and hubs’ workship for several weeks, but it was well worth it because we had so much fun while we worked on it together!

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Footstool slats made from an upcycled shipping pallet

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Creating the pattern for the cup holder

Hubs glued and clamped together two pieces of the pallet to gain enough width for the top of the cup holder, then cut out the shape with a jigsaw.

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The finished cup holder came together nicely; who would’ve guessed it was made from a pallet?

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We wanted a pop of colour to tie the cup holder into the OSC logo. Hubs tested a few stains and ended up choosing a red dye for the accent colour.

Our chair, footstool and cup holder were protected from the elements with water based varnish and dye, reducing the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VoCs) into the air  – and recognizing the contribution of OSC’s finishing department.

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We sprayed all the pieces individually  and then screwed the whole chair together. Next, we assembled the footstool and mounted the cup holder we fashioned from the pallet.

Before we gathered in a room at the Science Centre for the throwdown,  hubs made a last minute purchase in the gift shop. He found a coin bank in the shape of a can with OSC’s logo on it and purchased it to top off the cup holder as a final touch.

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All the submissions were fascinating as you’ll see below. We placed second and all the chairs were put out on display where visitors to OSC could admire and enjoy them!  Many years have passed since this challenge though, so I don’t know if any of these chairs are still on display.

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The winning chair was this Breathe Look Dream chair which featured a living roof!  It was stained using elements such as grass, steel wool, carrots, tea, turmeric etc., combined with vinegar and seeped in a mason jar. The canopy used birch wood felled in the ice storm and wood framing from a demolished deck. The plant trays used in the green roof were left over from annuals planted by City of Toronto workers.  Best of all, the plant materials in the gutters of the chair were curated to repel mosquitoes: Basil, Rosemary, Citronella, Bee Balm, Marigold, Lavendar and Catmint.

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The Tensegri Chair boasted a halo water misting unit and a human powered cooling fan (using a crank on the chair arm); all welcome features for those hot and humid Toronto summer days!

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Another cooling apparatus chair had a drink cooler and an adjustable canopy shaped like a leaf; it was a real head turner!

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Here’s the Solarific chair – which protects from the sun and harnesses its energy too. Along with the solar lights, the pencils decorating the arms absorb the solar rays to produce a glow-in-the-dark effect at night.

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I loved the message on the seat marked by the words “Your Curious Belongs Here” (an OSC motto). Cute!

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The OSC Camp chair sings the praises of summer day camp. OSC  has been keeping young minds happy and active in the summer with a week of interactive discovery where kids can make new friends, take part in exciting experiments and embark on unforgettable science adventures! I wish I could’ve gone there when I was a kid!

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In retrospect, the only thing I would do differently is to spray a few more layers of topcoat onto the entire chair. The trick to making this endure the elements better is in spraying many light coats of water-based varnish to seal in the paper and keep it from lifting. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could build up the topcoat, so it did suffer a bit once it was put on display.  If I were to create a découpage chair for my own home, I would situate it outside where it wouldn’t be directly exposed to the elements – like a 3-season porch or under an awning.

One day when I get around to making a chair for our own use at home, I think it would be fun to incorporate something personal to us. I would enlarge either a layout of our own house, a satellite view of our street or even an vintage map of our neighbourhood for the découpage element. Maybe I’d even use my Birdz of a Feather logo as the tissue paper element on the back of the chair 🙂

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Although these chairs were designed specifically for the Ontario Science Centre, you could easily adopt some of these ideas to make a chair for your own home; the ideas are endless!

Speaking of endless, there’s a huge variety of experiences for every age to take in at OSC; it is more than a great place for kids! If you’re ever in the Toronto area (or just haven’t visited for a while), you should definitely  check out what’s on at the Ontario Science Centre and drop in! I know that Hubs and I are due for a visit soon 🙂

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather


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Be Prepared During Tick Season: DIY Flea Market Survival Kit

When the weather turns warm in May, hubs and I love to scout flea markets and garage sales! Speaking of scout, when I was a girl scout, our motto was ‘be prepared’.  That one motto has resonated with me throughout my entire life.

Our favourite antique market is Aberfoyle in Guelph Ontario.  One day when hubs was carrying an item back to the car, while I stayed and browsed, he came across a metal tool kit in rough shape. He bought it for just a few dollars and hid it in the car so I wouldn’t see it.  Then he repainted it and surprised me with it later.  I LOVED it, but I couldn’t help but upcycle it for a better purpose. If you’re an avid flea marketer like me and hubs, you’d turn the tool kit into a DIY Flea Market Survival Kit, like I did, so you’d be prepared and have everything you need for your next jaunt!

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We love to hit the road on the weekend with just a moment’s notice so it’s a dream to have everything packed away in our kit ready for action. We just pop it into the back of the car and head out!

Here is a list of what we recommend to keep in the kit. I can’t emphasize enough that one of the most important items we’ve included is a tick kit.

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I consider the tick kit the MVP of the entire survival kit!  That’s why we’ve placed it front and centre on the outside of our box for easy access (we’ve chained it through the zipper pull and handle of our kit).  The tick kit pictured below is available for only $15 Canadian and can be ordered through CanLyme.

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Tick Kit: CanLyme

I’ll get into the nitty gritty of what’s in the rest of the kit in a moment, but I want to take this opportunity to provide a ‘public service announcement’ to all my readers that ties in well with our Flea Market Survival Kit. Not only do we love to be outdoors at flea markets in May, but May just so happens to be Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

If you’re doing ANY outdoor activities – like walking through the grass at flea markets and yard sales – you need to be prepared to remove any tick that latches on. The faster it’s removed, the less chance you have of getting Lyme disease – a debilitating and potentially chronic disease if not caught early.

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Inside the tick kit is fine tipped tweezers with a magnifying glass, band-aids, antiseptic and alcohol wipes, rolled paper towels, plastic containers to collect the tick if you happen to find and remove one and information cards. There’s also a plastic tick puller for your pet. What better way to ‘be prepared’ than to keep a tick kit with you at all times?

Like the card below says, ‘knowledge and prevention are the key’, so seriously consider either buying a tick kit or at the very least include a pair of fine tipped tweezers with the items you carry in your Flea Market Survival Kit 🙂  Although the card below doesn’t go into all the details, ticks can carry more than just Lyme disease — none of which you want to contract!

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To effectively remove a tick, grasp it as close to your skin as you can get with the fine tipped tweezers so you won’t leave anything behind. Keep steady pressure and pull straight up until the tick releases. You can save the tick in the container provided with your tick kit and send it into a public health lab to be tested (they will only test a black legged tick that is found on a person). For information on where to send a tick for testing within Canada, contact CanLyme for further details.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program! I attached a hair clip onto one of the plastic compartments that resides inside our kit. That way I have something to control my long hair on windy days. Other essentials are lip balm, insect repellent and sun screen.

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Whenever we go to large outdoor markets, I always wear a money belt around my waist and tucked under my top. It’s supplied with small bills and change in case that ‘I can’t live without it moment strikes’!  It keeps our money safe from ‘sticky fingers’ so to speak. I wear a fanny pack to carry an insulated bottle of water – to be hands-free and and have cold water to cool down with on hot days.

The tape measure and screw driver (with a good variety of bits) are a must for making sure larger items will fit in the car and for taking apart anything that can be disassembled to make it easier to transport.

I also carry a wide package of Post-it notes, a pen and marker (these items fit into my fanny pack with my water bottle).  If we purchase something and can’t take it right away, I can stick a post-it on the item and mark it with our name . I actually tear the Post-it in half first so I can also mark down the location of the booth (I obviously keep that half on the pad)! This makes it easier to remember where to make our way back to in order to pick up our purchase later.

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We tuck away two caps with visors in our kit.  I find that wearing sunglasses can be a pain when going into an indoor stall, or garage at a yard sale, because it’s too dark to see. In keeping with my preferred hands-free experience, I don’t like to fumble with my glasses. Having a cap with a visor shields my eyes from the sun, while also allowing me to see perfectly in indoor spaces, so I don’t have to wear sunglasses.

Some rechargeable batteries are handy if we ever want to test out something that’s battery operated – especially at a garage or yard sale.  They also act as a spare pair for our camera, which I’d never be without at a flea market (I don’t carry a cell phone).

A flashlight helps us see under tables and inside dark stalls so we can shine a light on hard-to-see items; you never know where you’re going to find a diamond in the rough!

After digging around and touching items all day, it’s nice to have some hand sanitizer. We usually go back to the car to get our lunch, which we leave in a cooler. Both hubs and I are gluten free, and we always build up an appetite when we’re on the hunt for finds, so we don’t travel light when it comes to food! It’s great to clean up with the hand sanitizer before we take a break; we also keep some wet-naps in the car for after we eat.

Lastly I keep a pill container in the kit for carrying any medication I might be taking or a few pain killers just in case. Having the sun beating down on you for hours at a time can bring on the worst headache, so some Tylenol and water often save the day.

After a day of hunting treasures, we take out a mini pack of gluten-free mini pepperoni snacks from our cooler to enjoy on the long drive home. That’s where the pointy scissors you may have noticed in our kit come in handy – for opening them up!

Now, with our  Flea Market Survival Kit, whenever we hit up Aberfoyle or come across a garage sale, we’re more than ready for the hunt!

If you have items you consider essential for the kit that I haven’t covered here, let me know in the comments.

I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about Lyme disease and prevention. By the way, CanLyme not only sells the tick kit featured in our flea market survival kit, but they also host an informative website if you’re interested in learning more.

If you enjoyed this post, please pin and share.

To see how we upcycle our finds, follow us here (link in footer) or on Bloglovin’ (click button below) for upcoming DIY and craft projects – in and around the home.

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DIY Wedding Ideas: Vintage Kitchen Theme

If you are getting married – or know someone who is – today’s post will give you some creative ideas on how to DIY your own decor for your special day.

We got married at a grand old house (purported to be haunted)! My husband and I love to scout flea markets so it only made sense that our wedding theme would be pulled together with vintage objects to fit in with the surroundings of the house. We both love to cook, so what could be more perfect than a kitchen-themed wedding that combines both our love of the hunt and our love for food?

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When we happened upon a garage sale one day and found an old hoosier table for only $5, we had the perfect starting point for a retro kitchen theme. From there, it was an easy decision to fashion all our floral centerpieces from old Pyrex coffee pots, tea pots, glass jugs, old blenders and even an orange squeezer!

My favourite project has got to be our place card holders! The D-I-Y rolling pin that held our place cards did double duty: our guests could use it to locate their table and then take it home with them after the wedding as a keepsake! One of our guests subsequently put it on her window ledge in the kitchen and used it to display a picture of the grand kids – cute!

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We found the mini rolling pins at the dollar store. A quick call to the store and they were able to order us in a box of 70 of them!

My husband sliced off a sliver of the rounded part to flatten it so it would sit on the hoosier table without rolling away! Then he cut an angled slot in the opposite end to hold the place cards at an angle so they could be easily read. The handles were painted with our other accent colour – an orange chalk paint. He then sealed the wood with a clear varnish.

I designed the place cards to mimic a recipe card with blenders as the borders (“Recipe for a Happy Marriage”). You’ll see the actual vintage blender we used for one of our floral arrangements further ahead in this post.

All 70 rolling pins were set up before the ceremony in the hallway at the reception; they fit perfectly onto the top of the hoosier table to greet guests as they arrived.

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Rolling pin place card holder; blender motif frames each card

Here are some of the Pyrex containers we found for the centrepieces. We took them all to a florist to fill them with beautiful flower arrangements. At the wedding, before the night ended, we raffled the centrepiece off to one of the guests at each table.

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Hoosier table, glass Pyrex tea/coffee pots and blue metal stands (in background)

Here is a picture of the bender once it was arranged with flowers (as you saw above, I used this vintage blender as a motif around the edges on the place cards)….

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And we used the Juice-King juicer to float one of many candles we placed throughout the house. I decorated it with some silk flowers and organza rosettes.

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Juicer cups acts as another vessel to float a candle

Where there was old metal to paint, we picked a retro blue. I guess we really took “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” to heart; especially when we had to borrow a van to get all our finished projects to the site!

Although we gave away all the other decorative pieces, we kept both the blender and juicer after the wedding; to this day we call the color ‘wedding colour blue’. Our complimentary colour was orange; this is what we painted anything that was wood; i.e. the hoosier table base and the handles of the rolling pins.

As the wedding approached, we would go out on the weekends to collect enough Pyrex containers for the floral centerpieces (one for each table) and to also look for vintage glassware to hold floating candles for the head table. We ended up finding shrimp cocktail servers with liners (originally meant to hold ice to keep the shrimp cold).

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Vintage shrimp cocktail glass; source: Etsy

The double compartments were perfect: we added some fish aquarium stone in the bottom and the floating candles in the top (both the same colour as ‘wedding color blue’). The second picture below shows how it looked when it all came together.

On our travels we also found several metal pieces that were perfect for holding the hobnail relish dishes we found – which we also floated candles in. To finish off the vignette, we found some melamine rounds in a Habit for Humanity ReStore – painted them blue of course – then glued mirror we had specially cut onto the rounds. All the floating candles were placed on top of the mirror and some organza flowers filled in around it.

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Hobnail dish used in head table centrepiece

The candles cast a pretty glow and added a touch of sparkle when they were all lit up:

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Shrimp cocktail servers filled with stone and placed around mirror complete one of the pieces for the head table

Because we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously, we wanted to add some whimsy to the ceremony itself, so I made ‘bride and groom’ plant stands to frame the aisle.

They were incredibly fun to make; a trip to our local value village garnered the ‘wedding dress’ (it was actually a train I was able to re-purpose), some tuxedo pants, a cummerbund and shoes for the groom. As we were pressed for time (and money) we ended up using silk flowers to complete these – but they could easily have been planted up with fresh flowers using some floral foam.

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Why not inject some humour into the big day with ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ plant stands!?

The last thing we did to personalize the day was to have an artist draw a charicature of us and matte it in black so we could have all our guests sign a personal message in the margins of the board. We were working within a limited budget so we found a student to create the charicature!

I taped up a half-inch margin around the perimeter so no one’s message would get covered once it was framed and provided several fine-tipped silver marker for guests to sign (so a few people could sign at once). I also placed some velum over the charicature (and under the black matte) to keep it clean.

After it’s framed up, it’s a great keepsake of the day!

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Our final project was the thank-you card. We scanned our charicature and created one-of-a-kind cards to send to all our guests. It was a nice tie-in!

There’s nothing like making your own do-it-yourself wedding decor; it’s so unique and a lot of fun to pull together. I hope some of these projects inspire a few ideas your own wedding day and beyond! Afterall, once a DIY’er, always a DIY’er. Our projects didn’t end with the wedding! Once the honeymoon was over, would you believe we got right back to work again landscaping our front and back garden? We turned out backyard into an urban oasis:

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We created a calming water feature by our front door!

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We then built some trellises for the front and back gardens:

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Lastly, we added in some planters (before moving our DIYs indoors to renovate the rest of the house):

Planter Ideas

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Got Chipped Floor Tile? Try This Fix!

When a fellow Hometalker asked “How can we cover up chipped spots on our kitchen tiles?“, I knew there were plenty of people out there who were faced with the same problem I just tackled.  In this post, I’ll explain how I went about fixing this common problem in my own house.

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We have white ceramic tile that runs from the front door right through to the back of the house where the kitchen is located. Over the years, if you have ceramic tile in the kitchen – and ‘oopsy-daisy syndrome’ –  you’re going to drop a thing or two (or more than a dozen!) and subsequently chip your tile where it will gather dirt and look downright ugly.

We had already done some damage to the floor, but the last straw came after we had our kitchen renovated by a contractor. As careful as he tried to be, when the reno was all said and done, we came home to a floor that looked like it had been pocked by asteroids!  We couldn’t afford to rip out and replace so much tile, so I had to do something to fix it!

My first instinct was to try to cover it over with a runner, but as you can see below all the damage was outside of the perimeter of where the runner would cover the floor:

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Before you start, gather the following tools: porcelain touch up glaze, 220-grit sandpaper, a metal or plastic straight razor blade (be sure there’s a protective cover on one end if the handle gets in the way and you have to take it off), a roll of painters’ tape, some wooden toothpicks and a few small lids for mixing.

Also have some rubbing alcohol or warm soapy water on hand to clean each chip; otherwise the touch up paint may not bond)!

When you purchase the porcelain touch up glaze, make sure you purchase it in a colour that’s the closest match to your tile. Also make sure that the bottle isn’t old stock and dried up, as I only discovered when I took it home the first time!  Shake the bottle in the store to make sure it’s still in liquid form 🙂

The ‘lid’ pictured below is actually the pull tab from a carton of milk. I liked that it was rounded because I ended up having to mix a custom colour to better match the greyish-white shade of my tile: a rounded bottom makes it easy for keeping everything in one spot with out it drying out too fast!

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You’ll also need a tray of some sort to keep all these small things together in one spot so you can move it around from tile to tile. Pictured above is a funnel tray used for sorting, but the bottom or lid of an oblong take-out container would work too (like the one shown below holding the library card pull that I’m refurbishing for another project in my craft studio).

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Lastly, as I eluded above, my tile wasn’t a pure white so the touch up paint I bought was way too bright. With a little experimentation, and some grey wall paint we had left over from our reno, I was able to tone down the colour to get a pretty close match.

To start, clean the area and let it dry completely. Cut off pieces of the green tape and place it against the edges of the chip continuing around all until it’s surrounded by tape and isolated from the rest of the floor. This accomplishes two things: it keeps any paint overflow from landing on tiles that don’t need it, and it protects the face of the tile when it comes time to level out and/or sand the repair.

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If necessary, you can buy craft paints in small quantities from the dollar store to help ‘colourize’ the porcelain. You can add them into a drop of your porcelain ‘base colour’ to experiment with getting a better colour match for your tile (or use house paint like I did).

A few words of warning: you only need to mix very small amounts to fill most chips and since the porcelain dries very fast, you need to work quickly (which is why I didn’t get many picture of the process!). The porcelain is also very stinky so try to do this work when you can open a window for airflow. Each time you use a drop of porcelain glaze, make sure to put the applicator lid back into the bottle and close it tightly.

Shake the porcelain glaze well, then take the applicator brush from the bottle and dab a tiny amount of it into your mixing lid. Then take the toothpick and dab it into your paint (or paints) and add it to the lid. Stir it around with the toothpick and take note of what you’re using so you can duplicate the colour as you need it (it dries fast so you may have to mix several batches to repair all your chips, depending on their quantity and size). Once you’re satisfied you have a good match, you can start applying it to the chips.

Use the toothpick to apply your mixture; it’ll likely be thick – especially as it dries – so dab enough of it into the chip so that you’ve OVERFILLED the area. It doesn’t matter at this point if it’s not perfectly smooth because you’ll be using the straight blade later to level it.  Either clean the lid between applications or have a few new ones on hand to keep the mixture untainted by dry paint. Remix and fill any other chips as needed then let it dry for at least 24 hours to get a good bond. The tape will help you avoid walking over these areas as they dry!

Once dry, take the straight blade and hold it flush against the floor near the edge of your repair. Make sure the blade is centered on the repair so it reaches both edges if it’s a wide chip. Slide the blade along so it shaves off any overfill leaving a smooth surface. If you’re happy with the result, remove all the green tape. If for any reason there are still some voids in the repair, you can reapply again using the same steps.

The chipped tile pictured below was the biggest one I had to fill and more challenging because of its size and because it was on the edge of the tile. I overfilled it and let it dry, but then had to come back and apply more filler again so I could sand the edge with the 220-grit sandpaper and blend it (or curve it) over the edge of the tile to meet the grout.

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Here’s how it looked after the first application of filler and pass of the blade (I took the green tape off for the photograph, but you should leave it on until you’re completely finished).

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As you can see in the closeup above, it’s a pretty good colour match. You’ll never get it perfect and you will see it when you look at it this closely, but in everyday use it won’t be that noticeable.  From a distance, it blends pretty well. Once the green tape was pulled up, I couldn’t find any of the smaller repairs at all!

Once all the repairs were complete, I avoided washing the floor for about two weeks just to ensure it was well-bonded and dry.

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Here’s a reminder of how it looked before:

And here’s the kitchen now. It takes some prep work and patience but the final results were well worth it to extend the life of my floor until we can afford to replace it.

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If you enjoyed this post, please pin and share.

Other kitchen projects we recently completed include these storage solutions:

Hidden Kitchen Storage: Turn a Filler Panel into a Pull-Out Cabinet!
Before and After_FINAL BOF
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The Making of a Craft Studio (IV): Progress Report

This is the fourth in a series of installments on the making of my craft studio. In my first post, I reached out to fellow bloggers and readers on Hometalk to help me decide the final layout of my craft studio.  The jury is in and I thought some of you might be interested in what I decided – even though it’s still far from being finished.

All I can say is that packing up my old studio and moving to the new space has been eye opening:

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It’s taken me so long to finalize the layout of my studio because every piece of storage was a previously loved item that was either given to me or I already owned.

Coming up with a functional layout with mismatched pieces is way more challenging than starting from scratch, however, I get satisfaction in seeing whether I can make it work – and saving perfectly usable items from the landfill!  I’m going to figure out a way to make them all cohesive (started with refacing), but for now, installing them is priority #1 – once the final electrical inspection is done.

Here is what I’ve decided for the final layout:

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I have not one, but two card catalogues to keep all the smaller stuff organized! We’ve already got the first one in place in the sewing room under the window (between where my two industrial machines will go).  I made some fresh number cards, so now I have to create all my lables.  I have 40 drawers in this one to play with, but if it’s still not enough all the overflow will go into the second card catalogue if I need it.

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I’m having some fun styling the top; my husband surprised me one day with the big letter ‘S’, but instead of hanging it, I like the way it looks on it’s side.

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The second card catalogue is made of walnut. It was stored out in a garage for many years so it’s in rough shape as compared to the oak catalogue (you can see them both below). It has the exact same pulls, however they are silver in colour as opposed to brass – and they’re a mess.  It’s going to take a lot of TLC to whip this one back into shape.

We were originally going to cut it down and make two pieces (like this blogger did) because it’s so heavy and it would be difficult move it down to the basement. However, I don’t really have enough floor space for two pieces, so it will likely remain intact.

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We had to take all the drawers apart and remove the pulls so we could give them a thorough cleaning.

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Here’s what one of the pulls looked like before and after it was restored; a big improvement, don’t you think? Only another 59 to go 🙁


Once those are done, we can look forward to sanding 60 drawer fronts and the rest of the cabinet!

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For the office area of the studio, I’m planning on upcycling the door that used to be on our cold room into a floating desk — as well as a floating shelf.  Some of you may have noticed in a previous post of our basement reno (Ultimate Guide to Tiling a Laundry Room Backsplash) that we’ve been using this door as a table (with the addition of some sawhorses):

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The door is 80″ high by 32″ wide. We’ll cut it into two pieces along the length and use a 20″piece as a floating desk. I may use the remaining 12″ piece as a long floating shelf – as shown in the rendering below – or I may use it under the window shown on the right side. You can also see where I’d like to put the second card catalogue.

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I’ve been mulling over whether I should  top off the ‘desk’ with some left over plank flooring. I don’t like the leather flooring shown below, but I’d like to add in a herringbone pattern somewhere.  For some reason, I just love herringbone, so the desk top may be the place to experiment!

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If you read the DIY I posted recently on this paint chip portrait I created of my husband, you may recall that I wanted to relocate it to my studio. Where I propped it below will be a great sight line as I enter my studio.  What could be better than being greeted by my husband’s smiling face!  He’s always been my inspiration and that’s just what I need in my craft studio 🙂

The only fly in the ointment is that I planned a long floating shelf there (as you can see in the rendering two pictures above). Another option is a really cool shelf we found at an auction that would fit perfectly into the space between the upper cabinet and bulkhead. If I install either shelf though, I won’t have room for the paint chip portrait because it’s too big 🙁

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The Paint Chip Portrait needs to be positioned a good distance from where it’s viewed to ‘blend’ the pixels and be fully appreciated

Did you spy the green light fixture on the pass-through window ledge above? I have a pair that we’ll be installing over the sewing machine and serger. When we first found them, they were rusty and crusty – just waiting to be resurrected.  They’re a nice vintage addition to the studio that I can’t wait to hang!

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Here’s that other shelf I mentioned earlier; it used to be part of someone’s hutch. I bought it at an auction for only $5 because it was so sad looking that no one could see the potential. Hubs didn’t like it either, but he still stripped and refinished it for me! Should I use it instead of the paint chip portrait of hubs or elsewhere?  Decisions, decisions!

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The shelf would also look good in the sewing room over my serger where I can arrange some of my serger threads on it – so that might be a practical solution for where to place it.

Here’s a rendering looking into the sewing room where the shelf could be positioned over the serger.

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For now, the shelf is sitting on the floor in the sewing room while I try to imagine how it will look and decide where it will would look best – or even fit into the space!

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Until the lower cabinets are installed and the sewing machines moved from my old studio, I’ll probably defer the final placement until then.

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I used pegboard in the space where the mirror once so I can hang some of my essentials – scissors etc.  Hubs painted the pegboard orange to match the colour of accent paint I may use for my pocket doors (seen below).

Thinking of the bottle green and the orangey stain on my maple cabinets, I chickened out from my original plan (as you’ll see below) and changed my accent colour from teal to orange. I figured orange would be a great complimentary colour to the green shade of the light fixtures and base of my pattern table.  Hubs painted up a scrap of the pegboard for the shelf so I could carry it around with me and determine if I like it enough for the doors:

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It’s funny how I have no problem choosing paint colours for everyone else, but when it comes to my own projects it’s so hard!

There are so many variables to consider in selecting the accent colour: the flooring, the colour of the hand-me-down maple cabinets (which could be painted, but I like the wood), and the color of my card catalogues (again, I don’t have the heart to paint over the wood). They all have to work with whatever I choose as an accent colour.  In retrospect, I really should have started with an inspiration board and stuck with it – even if it meant painting things I don’t want to!

The neutral space really needs a pop of colour and I’ve always loved this teal that I found adorning the doors of a retailer in a U.S. mall. The picture doesn’t really do the actual colour justice! I’m not even a huge fan of teal, but in real life this particular teal is the best balance between blue and green that I’ve ever come across.

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I’ve been wanting to use this teal from the get-go, but it would have to be custom mixed and I was nervous about how close to my expectations it would turn out. It also clashes with my bottle green light fixtures and pattern table base, which I didn’t want to paint because I like the enameled /powder coated finishes of the metal.

The orange you saw above on the pegboard was supposed to be more crimson and have more depth. Strangely enough, even though I chose a pre-formulated colour and had it mixed by a paint expert,  it didn’t even come close to the colour on the paint chip. The paint store tried to fix it, but it still isn’t quite what I wanted. Since my husband bought the base coat from a different supplier, I thought we’d be stuck with it. Turns out that the other supplier happily provided a new base – free of charge – even though they had nothing to do with colourizing it. Phew!

Now that I have a second chance I’m wondering whether I should reconsider the teal again.  I know it’s only paint, but I don’t want to make a career out of painting – or repainting – stuff either!

I’ll have to give this accent colour some further thought! Leave me a comment and let me know if you would stick with the orange or change the accent to teal… or another colour altogether!

For more storage, I’m adding these two drawer units into the craft studio/office area. They used to be a temporary storage solution for our kitchen before we renovated:

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The drawer cabinets will add additional storage space

Our contractor would’ve thrown the cabinets into the dumpster but I couldn’t let perfectly usable storage go to waste.  We never did put drawer faces on the two units, so that’s something we’ll have to get around to doing for my studio! I have something very special and incredible planned for them that no one else has ever done! You won’t want to miss my final reveal for that alone!

I also designed, and my husband built, this amazing pullout for our kitchen that never got used. It’s a more upscale version of the pullout we built in our new kitchen. One side has metal pegboard, so I can store my tools, and the other side has baskets for craft paints and such! Again, we’ll have to add a face onto it to match what we’re doing with the rest of the cabinets.

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Lastly, if I have any floor space left over after all this, I’m thinking about using at least one, if not both, of these metal retail racks. These were a real coup when another bro-in-law moved retail locations and he kindly let me have them. They were handy in my old studio so I hope I have room for them in my new space 🙂

As you can see, the craft studio is still a real work in progress.  We have to get our final electrical inspection done before we can do much more.  I can’t wait to lift all the cardboard off the floor and show you the outcome when it’s done.  Until then you might be interested in catching up on my previous posts in the Making of a Craft Studio series:

  1. The Making of a Craft Studio– Calling All Crafters: Help Me Decide the Best Layout for my New Studio
  2. The Making of a Craft Studio (II)– Design Your Space Using Ikea’s Pax Planner!
  3. The Making of a Craft Studio (III) – If You Build It, She Will Come!

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Sole Searching – A Shoe Storage Solution

After a lot of ‘sole searching’ (the kind of searching you do when you can’t find the pair of shoes you really want to wear, that is), I finally came up with a shoe storage solution that works for me.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I have an amusing story about my shoe fetish. I worked for a downtown creative firm many years ago and was known for keeping a ton of shoes under my desk. One year at Christmas time, because we were a creative bunch, the party committee decided to shoot a video. Every time they shot a scene, they would cut back to someone counting shoes under my desk. This was a running joke that went on for the entire length of the video! Anyway, that ‘amusement’ soon faded when the reality of the situation finally sunk in – which resulted in me having to come up with a solution to store more of my shoes at home 🙂

With some plastic storage containers, self laminating cards, a camera and some double face tape, this is what I came up with:

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At a glance dust free storage!

Even though I have a walk-in closet,  it is fairly small and was a cluttered mess.  I wanted to be able to easily locate the shoes I wanted at a glance.  It would take a mega-storage solution to organize my myriad of shoes!

The as-is section at Ikea can be a great resource for finding items at a fraction of the price. When I happened upon a Pax 2 wardrobe frame floor model, I just knew that it would work perfectly as a shoe tower!  The metal shelves it came with were meant to be used for shoe storage, as shown below, but I really wanted a dust free solution so I reinstalled the shelves in a horizontal position instead.



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Shelves positioned horizontally

The wardrobe turned out to be the perfect size to hold up to 40 pairs of shoes in plastic storage containers (it measures 19 5/8″ wide by 13 3/4 deep by 93 1/8″ high). Although it already came with some metal shelving, I bought a few more so I could stack the shoe boxes 3-high between each shelf. Stacking them in this way made it easy enough to pull one out from the bottom without risking an avalanche of the ones on top.

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Stacking boxes 3-high on each shelf functions well

I found this pack of ‘self laminating cards’ for only $3 for 50 at the dollar store!

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Dollar store bargain!

Then I took digital pictures of every pair of shoes I had. I arranged them on a white board to neutralize the background.  I arranged each pair, as shown below, so that I could see the shoes from the side as well as from the top. I tried to be consistent with this layout so it would look organized once stacked on the shelves.

You’ll need to practice a little to get everything into frame.  Some of my pictures got cut off a touch because of the size of the laminated card, so be mindful of this as you’re taking pictures to leave enough white space around your photos so you won’t have to retake them again!

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They might not be able to smile for the camera, but they sure do shine!  Can you tell I love shoes?

Our local photography store was having a sale on 6×8 prints so I set the pictures up collage-style (four to a page) so I could cut them down and fit them into the laminated cards. The laminated card is only 2 1/2″ high x 4″ wide, so you might want to do a test print to make sure the printed photos will work with that size.

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When the pictures were processed, it was just a matter of trimming them to size to fit into the laminated cards and then pressing around the edges to seal them up.

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I then needed stackable containers that would fit within the wardrobe. Because I needed so many, I waited until one of our local organizing stores was having a sale and I was able to get perfectly sized containers for $2 each. For anyone who’s wondering what I used, the boxes are from IRIS (13.63″ x 8.13″ x 4.38″ – 6 quart containers).

Once I had all my laminated cards done, I put some double face tape on each one and stuck it to the outside of the box. If you prefer, you could use clear double side tape and stick the picture onto the inside of the box facing out instead.

All that’s left is to put the matching shoes into the box, closed the lid and put it onto the shelf.

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The beauty of this project is that it takes up little floor space in the closet. It’s only two shoe boxes wide – the rest of the space is essentially vertical air space, leaving me plenty of room for clothes storage too!

I can store up to 40 pair of shoes in this tower.  Because of the height, I need a step stool to reach the very top but I store less-used shoes on top.

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Even if you don’t have a walk-in closet and don’t have space to devote to a whole tower of shoes, you can still utilize the laminated card idea on the outside of your shoe boxes to see what you have without having to open the lid! Easy peasy and dust free to boot!

For more storage solution ideas, you might want to check out a few of my other posts by shown below….

Hidden Kitchen Storage: Turn a Filler Panel into a Pull-Out Cabinet!

Before and After_FINAL BOF

Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack:


Behind Closed Doors: Easy Dishwasher Tab Dispenser:

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Behind Closed Doors: Easy Dishwasher Tab Dispenser

I absolutely hate some of the packaging that’s out there for dishwasher tablets; it’s hard to get those pucks out when they’re in a ‘clamshell’ and trying to dig them out from under the sink can be a challenge in itself – even when they come in a resealable bag!

I was browsing Hometalk when I came across a fellow blogger’s solution for storing dishwasher tabs. I thought this was a great solution, but I wanted mine to be easily accessible without having to dive under the cupboard to pull them out every time I needed one. I have a bad back, so I don’t do dishes. It has actually been hubs’ job to do the scavenging hunt when we run the dishwasher. The solution I came up with is easy for me to access without bending down and with a few simple office supplies, I didn’t even have to drill a hole into the back of my kitchen sink cabinet to mount it!!

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One note of caution though before proceeding: if you have young kids and want to implement this, make sure you have a child proof safety latch on the door; these pucks look temptingly like candy and you wouldn’t want the wee ones to ingest this stuff!

The plastic dispenser I used was originally made for storing sweetener.

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This has to be the simplest storage solution I’ve ever executed! I emptied the sweetener, loaded it up with the tabs, then added a binder clip onto the part of the container that’s cut away. Make sure the back prong of the binder clip is sticking straight up… this is what you’ll use to hang it with!

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Add an elastic on one side just to keep the tabs from falling out when the cabinet door is opened and closed; it keeps everything in place and it’s easy to reach in a grab one as the elastic is flexible.

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Here is my sink cabinet. Notice the knobs? I used the same screw that holds the knob in place to hang the dispenser onto the back of the door!

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Depending on the whether the clip will slide over the head of the screw, you may only have to unscrew it a little to slip it on. In my case, I had to take it off completely, sandwich the knob and dispenser onto the door and then screw it all back into place.

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Now tighten the screw so it’s snug. If for some reason the knob on the front of the door is too loose, you may have to replace the screw with a longer one. Mine was still perfect!

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To refill it, you can fill it in place, or remove the container by squeezing the clip to release it so you can restock it on your counter top .

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You may want to be on the lookout for a slightly longer container so you can store a week-full of tabs at once; however I wouldn’t buy anything wider as there’s a perfect amount of clearance to be able to close the door.

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I think hubs is happy with the convenience of having it hanging on the back of the door where it’s easy to reach; now I can do the dishes every once in a while if I choose to (oh, but wait: I don’t do dishes)! With two people in our household we only run the dishwasher once a week, so this solution could conceivably save my back for up to a month and a half before we have to replenish the supply.

In the near future (once I have my craft room up and running), I’m going to work on making it prettier. I’ll replace the elastic with a door of sorts made out of something like a clear plastic report cover so it looks better, but for now it functions great!

Although not nearly as easy, you can see my other kitchen storage solutions by clicking on the pictures below….

Hidden Kitchen Storage: Turn a Filler Panel into a Pull-Out Cabinet!

Before and After_FINAL BOF

Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack:


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Paint Chip Portrait

As a painter, my husband had amassed a huge collection of old paint chips and defunct paint decks. I also had a growing collection that I held onto from years of renovating and flipping houses. I was curious to see what one could do to recycle paint chips, so I did a Pinterest search and I came across a portrait of Marilyn Monroe done completely with paint chips. The light bulb went off: what better way to immortalize my husband, than with a paint chip portrait of himself!

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DISCLAIMER: as I already had scads of old paint chips, this entire project was an exercise in upcycling what I already had. I didn’t take paint chips from the paint store, so please don’t do that either 🙂

The blog associated with the Pinterest post didn’t really divulge much about how it was done so I had to make it up as I went along. With a few purchased items and a software program, such as photoshop, I knew I’d be able to figure out a method that worked! It was going to be a labour of love – extremely time consuming – but by breaking it down into smaller steps, this time-intensive project was going to be well worth it in the end.

Paint chip portrait_Birdz of a Feather

The first thing I did was to select my picture frame; it had to be large enough so that when I assembled the ‘pixelated’ portrait I’d be able to still see all the detail. I found a great frame at Ikea, sized 19 3/4″ x 27 1/2″.  As an added bonus, I was able to glue my paint chips directly to the hardboard backing, then reinsert it back into the frame to complete my project.

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I needed something to cut the hundreds of little pieces that make up the portrait; I found this portable plastic X-Acto paper cutter with a metal blade at the dollar store for only $3.  You can’t go wrong with a price like that; it was sharp and just the right size for storing after the project was completed. You’ll notice I made some modifications (more about that later).

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I also needed somewhere to corral all those hundreds of pieces of paint chips once they were all cut (over 800!). For that, I found this large medication organizer; the one pictured on the right is from, but I found mine at Walgreens when I was in the U.S.

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The last thing I needed was a glue stick. Once I gathered all my materials, I was ready to start.


Start with a close-up picture. For demonstration purposes, I’m going to use this picture of Lady Gaga at the 73rd Golden Globe awards that I found using a Google search:

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Using Photoshop I neutralized all the background:


I selected any apparent black pixels that were still peeking through the strands of her hair and used the paint bucket to fill them with the same colour as the background (I wasn’t too picky about capturing the lighter shades of grey):

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Then I cropped the picture very close:


Selecting Filter / Pixelate / Mosaic in Photoshop will bring up a slide adjuster you can use to adjust the size of the pixels. I played with this to get a good balance of not too many squares vs. not too much pixelation, keeping in mind the size of the frame and the need to still be able to make out the face when done! The litmus test is to look at the computer screen at a distance to see how well the squares blend.

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When I did the vertical portrait of hubs I ended up with 25 squares across the width and 33 squared in height.  By cutting each paint chip into 7/8″ squares, the final size ended up filling the dimensions of the Ikea Stromby Frame almost perfectly (I had to fill in a bit of the background colour along the right and left edges). The size of the paint chip will vary according to frame size and number of ‘pixels’ you end up with.

I numbered the bottom horizontal row and also the vertical row on the left of the portrait so I would be able to keep track of each square (I didn’t complete the numbers up the side on the example below, but you get the idea!).


The portrait above doesn’t really look like it has much detail, but when you consider that it will be seen at a distance, all the pixels will blend and the face will be totally recognizable. I have reduced the exact same picture shown above to demonstrate this effect. As you can see, it will all come into focus; I love this picture of Lady Gaga!


Now for the painstaking part. I took the eyedropper (circled below), clicked on the first square then opened up the colour picker to find out the RGB values.

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Open the colour picker in Photoshop to record the RGB values

Once I had the RGB values, I went to a website called EasyRGB. I entered the RGB values as shown below, selected a paint manufacturer, clicked the start button and it gave me the closest four colour matches to the RGB values I input.

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EasyRBG Website allows you to input an RGB value to find the closest paint match

Here are the four colours EasyRGB determined as the closest match to the values I input in the previous example:

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Closest colour matches to RGB

When you are colour matching, you need to keep in mind that everything is relative. You will never find a perfect match to the shade you’re trying to find.  However, once you assemble all your paint chips, you will get the necessary amount of contrast within what’s available in the particular line of paint you’ve chosen.  For example, the picture below shows a close-up of the paint chips I used to construct hub’s nose. You wouldn’t think such a wide range of contrasts would work when you’re trying to put together ‘flesh tones’, but when the portrait was complete (and mounted a good distance away from where it will be viewed) it just really worked. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t sweat the small stuff; you’re not looking for perfection with your colour matching!

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Close up of assembled paint chips

Since EasyRGB didn’t have all the particular brands of paint I was looking for, I also did a search online for colour-matching apps that many of the paint manufacturers now have. Some are available at a modest fee, but most are free. I was able to literally open up my picture on my IPad, enlarge it and then tap each square to find my paint match.

Once I found a match, I needed somewhere to write it down and record it. I made myself an excel spreadsheet with numbered rows and columns to correspond to those I previously added onto the pixelated portrait. I sat at my desktop computer using the Ipad to colour-match, while using my computer to record the colour in Excel. Every time I colour matched a square, I would record it on the spread sheet.

When I was ready to cut the paint chips, I was able to sort the sheet  so that I would know how many pieces of the same colour I would need to complete the portrait. The spread sheet also acted as a road map (when unsorted) to place each chip in place for assembly purposes.


Remember the $3 paper cutter? Here’s how I adapted it to cut my paint chips:

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View is from underside of paper cutter

I laid two strips of plywood onto the back (I had to shim it to keep it level); I literally just double face taped everything onto the cutter. Then I flipped it over and added a cross piece that was perpendicular and 7/8″ away from the cutting blade (also fastened with heavy duty double face tape).  The setup is similar to having  a fence extension on a mitre saw; the strip of plywood acted as a stop edge that kept all my paint chips consistently sized to 7/8″. Once each strip was cut, I turned it 90 degrees and then cut it again for a perfect square.

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Paint chip is lined up with plywood edge to keep size consistent

I cut as many pieces of one colour as I needed and then grouped them into stacked piles beside my work space (labeled with the colour number so I could refer back to my excel sheet).

Once all my pieces were cut, I ordered them – according to my excel sheet – into rows and placed them into the medicine organizer. I had more rows than space available in the organizer so I had to double up some of the sections (I put a divider between the stacks and wrote the row number on it so I could keep track).

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Assembling the Paint Chips onto the Backer Board

Once I had all my paint chips cut and organized, I did a dry run on top of the backer board (as shown above) to make sure it would all work out in the width and length. I did a final ‘squint check’ to see if I should replace any odd looking colour chips (better to do it before it’s all glued down!). I swapped out one or two of the chips out with better colours just by eyeballing it.

Now I was ready to glue. I carefully re-stacked the paint chips and placed them back into the organizer in the same order they were removed.

Starting at the lower left edge, I  applied glue stick onto the back of the first paint chip and place it firmly onto the board. I proceeded the same way with the remainder of the row making sure each chip was tightly butted up against the other.  I knew it would just snowball if I left any gaps, so I took my time.


Gluing down the paint chips – in progress

Whenever I took a break or got bored, I just closed the lid of the medicine organizer (and put the cap on the glue stick!) until I was ready to start up again. I appreciated having a closed container to keep the dust off because I was at it for weeks on end!

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Paint chips stored in the medicine organizer

Once everything was glued down to the backer board I simply put it back into the Stromby frame I purchased and added wire onto the back to hang (per Ikea’s assembly instructions).

All that’s left to do is hang it and enjoy.

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As you can see from the shot on the lower right shown above, it was hard to get a final picture of my husband’s portrait without window glare, but I love how it turned out! I plan to move it into my craft studio, once the basement is done.

Pictured below is how Lady Gaga’s portrait might turn out.

If this project has inspired you, please pin and post on Facebook!

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For another wall decor idea, check out Expand Your Horizons: Propel Your Bulkhead into the Spotlight.


Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see upcoming DIY projects – both in and around the home.

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Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack

We ran into a problem with our kitchen design when we couldn’t fit two pantries along the fridge wall due to traffic flow issues. Our renovator changed the plan on us and left us with an awkward blank spot to fill at the entry to our kitchen. Not only was it ugly to look at, but the lack of a pantry left us terribly short of storage space!

Ikea’s Stenstorp kitchen cart seemed like a great solution, but I wasn’t a fan of the open storage.  I wanted extra drawer space to hold things like my kitchen knives and towels, however, I didn’t want to permanently alter the cart in case I ever wanted to convert it back one day.  Friend to the rescue: the solution was to build a removable two drawer unit that simply slips in and sits on the top shelf. I liken this project to the ‘Turducken’ of Ikea hacks: the removable drawer unit is two boxes within a box that sits between the two rails within the top portion of the cart!


You may notice in the picture above that the colour of the Stenstorp before was a more yellowed shade of white.  I wanted the cart to look like it was made to match the rest of the kitchen (seen below), so we ended up repainting the cart a white that was colour-matched to our kitchen cabinets. We also bought the same oil bronzed cup pulls to tie in the hardware.

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As you can see by the before and after pictures below, we were left with a big empty space, but now the cart fills it in nicely.  The best part is that we can move it completely out of the way if we ever need to bring anything wide in or out of the kitchen!

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At first we weren’t sure how we would build the drawer, so we started our transformation of the cart by taking full measurements as shown below. We have a friend who’s extremely knowledgeable about furniture building so we asked for his advice. He came up with the brilliant idea of making something that wasn’t permanently attached. That was when we decided on a self-enclosed removable unit with drawers for only the top half with open storage on the bottom for some baskets.

Our friend not not only came up with the idea, but he also offered to cut and assemble the pieces for us. He then handed it back over to us to paint, clear coat (the top and drawers), add hardware and, of course, add finishing touches like baskets and artwork to decorate the space. Who could refuse an offer like that?

In the end, we really only needed the inside dimensions of the first section and also the inner dimensions of the sides, so we could add a panel to hide the fact that that the drawer isn’t ‘built in’ (A,C,I & J).

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We only used measurements for A, C, I and J

We made the final size of the box 1/8″ less in both height and width so there’s enough room to slip it onto the shelf. That way we wouldn’t have noticeable gaps that would give away that the drawers are not built-in.

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Here’s how the box looks resting on the shelf from the side and back view; we didn’t build the box to the full depth of the shelf, as you can see in this picture:

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Below you’ll see the inside and outside dimensions of the box;  the finished dimensions were 25-3/16″ wide x 11 -1/8″ high x 16-7/16″ deep.  Since it sits so snugly on the shelf, we taped off about 1/2″ around the face and painted only that part white (it’s the only part you actually see – the rest was clear coated).

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We used 5/8″ maple to build the box; again, our friend mitred the pieces of wood 45 degrees on each edge with a table saw and then glued and clamped it all together with a biscuit joint.

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Close-up of mitre joint

Watch the first minute of this YouTube video to see the process of biscuit joining a 45 degree mitre:

We used Blum drawer glides that were 13-5/8″ in length. For the bottom drawer, the hardware sat directly on the bottom of the box and the distance between that and next glide we installed was 4-3/4″.

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The finished size of your drawers will depend on the thickness of the wood you use to build the box and also the clearance you need for your particular hardware; we used 1/2″ maple for the drawers.  The drawer itself was built 23″ wide x 3-7/8″ high x 13-7/8 deep” wide to accommodate the drawer glide hardware inside the box; both drawers were built to the same dimensions.

You could join the wood of the drawer using a pocket hole jig, countersink screws or even brad nails and glue, but our friend used a dovetail jig then glued and clamped it together.  He also routed out a slot to accept 1/4 plywood for the bottom of the drawer (which was also screwed on along the back edge only as you can see below).


From left: drawer dimensions, front face and pull installed, blum hardware on underside


Dovetail joints in drawer

While it’s great that we had access to a friend who could help us fabricate a professional looking drawer, not many of you will have the tools or a friend to do this. Jenn over at Build-Basic has a great tutorial for building a simple drawer that anyone with some basic tools could do. Once the drawers were complete, my husband sprayed them with a clear finish to seal the wood.

Our drawer face measured 4-11/16″ high x 23-11/16″ wide. As you can see in the picture of the drawer below, we positioned the face 1/2″ from the top edge of the drawer and centred it from side to side. We drilled pilot holes through the box and then drove 1″ screws through the holes into the backside of the drawer front (which we also painted to match the rest of the cart).

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We installed the drawer glides into the box, then slid the box onto the first shelf of the cart. Maybe one day I’ll take off the blue protective plastic coating on the stainless steel shelves – lol!

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Then drawers went in:

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Once the drawers were in, we attached the drawer pulls, then we could fill our drawers up!

We tried our knives in the second drawer, but then moved them up to the top for better access. We’re currently using a bamboo knife tray to hold them, but it’s not a perfect fit so one day I’ll build custom dividers for the drawer (and post the tutorial)!

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Drawers hold knives and dish towels/pot holders

The final touch was to put a panel on the side you see as you walk into the room (I have one for the other side too, but haven’t gotten around to putting it on!). We used 1/8″ MDF (14-1/8″ wide x 28-1/2″long) and painted it white inside and out. The cart is the first thing you see as you enter the kitchen so it’s nice to have the panel there to hide the side of the drawer and also the baskets I placed on the bottom shelf that hold our onions and potatoes.

I used 3-M Command Strips, which are typically used to hang pictures. They can be removed in the future, if I ever want to restore the cart back to original, without leaving a mark! Since the panel is pretty light, three strips worked perfectly. I applied one to each rail of the side and then removed the paper to expose the adhesive backing. I carefully positioned the panel and firmly pressed it into place where it meets the rails to make contact with the adhesive. If you don’t position the panel just right the first time, avoid the temptation to lift it off.  Give the adhesive backing a chance to set up for at least 24 hours and then you can finesse the panel. Once the glue sets up, it’s just like removing something that has been velcroed; you can easily re-position the panel and snap it back in where you want it.

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Clockwise from top left (side views of cart): the drawer, applied 3M-strips, completed panel and close up of 3M strip

It was great to be able to move the microwave from the counter top on the other side of the kitchen to the cart; it freed up some much needed prep space! While my husband was repainting the cart the same white as our kitchen, he also clear-coated the wooden top so we wouldn’t have to worry about spills.

Here are some comparisons of the space before and after the cart:

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And here is the final shot of the cart with the drawer unit in place:

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To finish off what was once a blank corner, we added some framed pictures of vegetables that a friend of a friend took at a market; I love the pop of colour! I also added a plaque that says ‘indulge’ – appropriate for a kitchen, don’t you think?

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What’s a kitchen without a little indulgence?

To eek out even more space in our galley kitchen, my husband and I also built this pull-out cabinet.

Before and After_FINAL BOF

After the cart and pull-out cabinet were done, my husband turned his attention to finishing our basement. He’s building a craft room for me and a mancave for him (so he can finally relax after all the sweat equity he put in to building the basement)! I’ll have more how-to’s coming up in future posts stemming from the basement reno (i.e. tiling a backsplash in the laundry room, installing engineered hardwood flooring and how to install baseboard and trim).

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Powder Room Makeover – Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget

Our powder room is the first room you see as you come into our front entry and it was an eyesore. Dated oak cabinets, builder beige walls, old toilet and an ugly light fixture made for a poor first impression.

It HAD to change, but having just gotten married, we were on a tight budget. We salvaged everything that was usable and upcycled some second hand finds (one found in our very own basement), making this a budget friendly makeover – and a fairly sustainable one too!

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We started by stripping everything away that was going to either get replaced or updated; that turned out to be everything except the cabinet doors!

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We patched the walls where we took down the sheet of mirror that was over the old vanity.  I wanted to add a hanging mirror there instead but couldn’t find anything that really caught my fancy, until one day we found something fantastic in a pile of old junk in our very own basement (see the reveal as you scroll down)!

We primed the walls and then painted the entire room a dark charcoal grey.  You would think that a dark colour would make the room look smaller, but it didn’t. I think it’s because we added a lot of contrast by way of artwork, fixtures and trim paint, which were all light in colour (as you’ll see later).

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Patching the walls before priming

My husband ended up rebuilding the vanity cabinet because it wasn’t very sturdy, but he kept the doors for me so I could add a very special feature: some iridescent grey water glass.

We cut the centre panel out of each door, then spray painted the frames with a charcoal grey car paint. Car paint is great to use in the bathroom in case there’s any splashes!

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After the paint was dry, I inserted the glass into the doors, hung them on the cabinet and added new hardware.

I wouldn’t recommend putting water glass in the lower part of any cabinet if you have children because this particular glass isn’t tempered.  For us that wasn’t a problem because we don’t have young kids in the house (and I wanted the powder room to have a bit of sparkle!).


Water glass is beautiful, but it isn’t tempered so beware!

After the cabinet was done, we popped on the countertop. The counter was actually the inspiration for the colour scheme of the entire bathroom. It happened to be a left over piece from the renovation of a previous house I fixed up. I knew I’d have a use for it one day, so I held onto it – for a few years 🙂 It was the perfect size – and essentially free!

I installed a glass tile backsplash before we cut the hole for the sink. The counter gave me somewhere to work and rest my tools and adhesive/bucket of grout while I was installing the tile. Because it was such a tiny area (and we were trying to save money), I used a dollar store rubber kitchen spatula instead of a more expensive float to apply the grout! It worked great.

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Once the tile was done, we were ready to install a new ceramic sink that we found on clearance. Before installing it we used putty to seal around the hole we cut for the sink. The putty adds an extra measure of water proofing that I think is better than caulking for sealing. It also provides a cushion to bed the sink into.

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Putty is rolled into ropes before applying to sink area

Here, you can see the dramatic charcoal grey on all the walls contrasts with the while trim, towels and flooring. We also installed a new matching toilet paper and towel holder in a chrome finish to add more sparkle.

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We decided we needed extra storage because my husband was going to be using the powder room in the morning to shave and brush his teeth so he wouldn’t wake me up. We found an old wooden medicine cabinet door at the Habitat for Humanity Re Store – I think it cost a mere $2 – and built a box for it with some shelves! We measured the perimeter of the cabinet, then cut a hole in the drywall between the studs so we could recess it into the wall.  We added some 2 x 4’s along the top and bottom in between the studs to reinforce the structure to accept the cabinet.

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We spray painted the cabinet frame and door the same colour as the walls so it would blend in seamlessly.

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But then I decided to do THIS to the centre of the door:

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Testing out the spacing on the wall

I literally just decoupaged on prints from an old calendar – again, another freebie ! I added an additional decorative raised effect using venetian plaster that I troweled through a variety of botanical and nautical stencils. The next step was to crackle the surface and rub in a bit of stain to age it and highlight the cracks. Finally, I added some thin strips of wood to separate each image and added a high gloss Varathane to protect the whole surface from splashes.

The decoupaged door adds just the right pop of colour to the monochromtic space, don’t you think?

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A plain wooden cabinet get a fun decoupage finish to add a POP of colour!

Once the cabinet was done, I needed a mirror that would counterbalance it and also reflect the burst of colour coming from the ‘artwork’. Here is what we found in the aforementioned junk pile in our basement:

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It wasn’t a thing of beauty – yet, but it had potential! It clearly needed a cosmetic overhaul so, in keeping with the monochromatic colour theme, we stripped it down to bare wood and then primed and gave it a fresh coat of the same charcoal paint we used on our wall.

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I absolutely love that the mirror used to belong to my husband’s great grandmother; it adds a vintage touch to the space. I also love the authentic antique quality of the mirror glass itself. It’s see-through in spots; to me, the fact that the silver backing isn’t perfect makes it so much more beautiful!

Here’s the reveal once the mirror was in place. Doesn’t the mirror balance and reflect the medicine cabinet beautifully?

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You’d think we might have stopped there, but we really wanted to go all out with the glamour so we splurged a little and added some crown moulding at the ceiling.

First, we installed some wooden corner blocks to help us position the moulding and then we pin-nailed it in place. We caulked any gaps at the ceiling and walls with paintable caulk.

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As you can see above, we still didn’t have a light fixture in place at this point. I was taking a stained glass fusing course at the time and decided to make my own light fixture. It’s subtle, but you can see that there are starfish in the glass that play off the ceramic ones I attached to the wall above the toilet. The white in the crown mouding, light fixture and star fish are a nice contrast against the deep colour of the walls.

Here’s how the light fixture looked before and after.

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Light fixture before and after

Here are a few more afters. I added some light and airy artwork to the wall.



And a final before and after comparison:

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The makeover was a big improvement; now we’re no longer embarrassed to have guests use the power room and my husband has a nice place to get ready in the morning. At first, he thought it was too nice and thought we should reserve it for guests only. However, I truly believe that the real secret to a long and a happy marriage is never having to share a bathroom, so I didn’t see any reason to start 🙂

Have a look at some of our other bathroom renos:

Maximizing Bathroom Space:

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Reclaim and Maximize Space in the Bathroom:

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Bathroom Vanity Makeover:


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The Making of a Craft Studio (Part III) – If You Build It, She Will Come!!

In part II of The Making of a Craft Studio, I showed you how to use Ikea’s Pax Planner to design a storage solution for your craft studio (see Canadian version and US version here).

Today, I’m going to highlight installing the cabinets, some of the indispensable tools we used in the installation, installation tips specific to drawers and how we adapted an Ikea pullout to work at the bottom of one of our cabinets. I’m also going to show you how I’ve started to use the cabinets to organize all my craft goodies and tools!

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Craft studio of dreams; if you build it, she will come!


Ikea’s instructions are quite good so I’ll just hit on some of the highlights to be aware of when putting your units together.

The first thing is to be sure you have enough headroom to build it on the ground and then stand it up. For the 79 1/4″ high units that we built, you will need a minimum ceiling height of 80 3/4″. If you don’t, Ikea provides instructions for building it upright too. The front of each cabinet has adjustable feet in case your floor happens to be out of level.

When you’re hammering on the backing, Ikea provides a great little gadget to prevent you from missing the nail and hitting your fingers instead. I don’t know about you, buy I need my fingers intact to craft!

Insert a nail into the holder, squeeze the sides then hammer away stopping just short of the top of the plastic so you still have room to pull it away before you finish hammering the rest of the nail in.

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Once everything is built and placed where you want it, now is the time to screw each cabinet together. This is where it got a little frustrating for us and where you’ll want to heed the following warning:

In Ikea’s instructions, the diagram they provide for where to screw together the cabinets is somewhat deceiving. We actually misinterpreted it which called for a complete do-over when we discovered our error! Looking at the picture below, we thought you could screw the cabinets together any where along hole 1 through 5. However if you look REAL close, you can see the number 5 is slightly enlarged and the drill is pointed at that hole. Hole #5 is the only place you should be using to screw the cabinets together if you are using doors! We used hole number 3 which interfered with the hinge placement for the doors, so we (meaning my husband!) had to take EVERYTHING apart, re-drill, clamp and screw….. again.

Wouldn’t it be better if they put an X through numbers 1 – 4? I don’t know about you, but I can barely read these days and I had to squint pretty hard to to count the actual number of holes once we realized we did it wrong. I actually got on the phone to customer service to suggest that the pictorial could be improved, but it fell on deaf ears – they felt it was fine as-is.

Use clamps to keep the cabinets stable as you drill and screw them together.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, once your cabinets are screwed together, you MUST also secure them to the wall at the back. My cabinets are going to be fully loaded and HEAVY; the last thing you want is for it to come crashing down on yourself or a child because it’s not fastened to the wall.

Ideally you should screw the cabinets into a stud. Because we were building the room from scratch, and knew the cabinets were going against that particular wall, my husband inserted blocking at the correct height along the full length of the wall.

Here’s how you fasten the cabinets to the wall: put a screw through the middle of the metal bracket at the back of the cabinet. Slip on the keyhole plate as shown, then tighten the screw until it’s tight against the plate. Then snap on the plastic cover…. wash, rinse and repeat for the rest of the cabinets (so to speak) and your cabinets will be safe and secure!

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Don’t miss the step of securing cabinets to the wall!

Before we installed our cabinets, I made the decision to install baseboard in the niche where they would be placed. I didn’t want to leave the baseboard off: in case we ever sell the house in the future and take the cabinets with us, that niche would be nicely finished off like the rest of the room for the new homeowners.

By installing baseboard all around, it prevented the cabinets from being able to be pushed in so they are flat up against the back wall. We might have been able to notch the cabinets out on the bottom at the back so they would clear the baseboard, but they are over 5″ high and I didn’t want to cut that much out. My husband thought when we installed the screws, as shown above, that the cabinets might rack and twist a bit if we over-tightened them. To prevent that from happening, we cut and installed  spacers in between each cabinet (mounted beside, not directly in back of where we were screwing) to hold them out from the wall the same distance as the baseboard. We made sure to mark the strapping behind the drywall on some green tape.  Then we pinned each block behind the cabinet so half of it was sticking out to support the next cabinet beside it once it was put into place. The photos below show the blocks going in, then a side view showing the consistent gap and then all four cabinets installed.

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Installing a spacer against the back of the cabinets to prevent racking when you have baseboards

The first cabinet is in!

The complete shell:

I should mention that we could have trimmed everything out with baseboard and/or crown molding, to make it look built-in, but I didn’t want a built-in look. I intentionally left a gap between the cabinet and the wall on the right side so I could store tall rolls of paper, which I frequently use. I also wanted to add some additional hanging space outside the closed storage unit with this Komplement Valet Hanger so I could hang patterns-in-progress and keep them accessible while I work.

Once the shell is built, the doors can be attached.

Then fun part begins; building and installing all the interior components! It might have been easier to leave the doors off while we were installing the interior, but I preferred being able to see where the door hinges would impact the final placements. This is what the unit looked like a few weeks ago after my husband finished off the doors:

He also made use of a niche we built specially to accommodate a lack shelf. He finished off this little beauty by covering up one of the support posts holding up our house; it’s a great way to eek out a little more space! Here it is before.

The after shows a nice way to display my vintage iron collection.

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Lack shelving unit

Indispensable Tools

The things we found most useful to help with assembly were the clamps you saw above, a battery operated drill (with a light), drill extensions, and plastic sleeve (see Installation Tips below this section). Be sure to set the drill at the lowest setting (#1 in our case) so you don’t drive the screws too deep or strip them.

Another thing to be mindful of, when installing the Ikea lack cabinet in particular, is that you will need a looooong screwdriver extension.  Because the hanging plate is located right at the top of the shelf, you’ll be installing it close to the ceiling (especially if you’re installing it in the basement where ceiling heights tend to be lower).  Access, and being able to actually see where you’re drilling and attaching, will be an issue unless you have drill bit extensions. This is where it’s also helpful to have a drill with a guide light on it – or a friend to lend a helping hand by  shining a flashlight into the gap between the shelf and ceiling.

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A long drill bit extension is needed to reach the wall in the gap between the top of the shelf and ceiling

Installation Tips – Drawers

Ikea packs their drawer glides in two different coloured plastic sleeves: blue and clear, which is great for figuring out where each one goes! The colours differentiate between which side of the drawer the slide will be installed – blue indicates right and clear is left. Ikea makes it SO easy to get it right!

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After dropping a few screws while trying to  install the drawer actual glide, we used was a plastic sleeve over the drill bit. It prevents your screws from falling and getting lost as you attach them! My husband was raving about it; it’s a real time saver.

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Plastic sleeve to prevent screws from falling

When you’re installing pull-outs, don’t forget to put on the plastic caps – before the screws. It helps to have all the attachments in one spot before you start working (we forgot to install one pair and had to unscrew and reassemble because we weren’t as diligent about keeping our parts together)!

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Even though I printed a detailed plan from the Pax Planner (which even shows which holes to use!), I made sure I had some of the actual items on-site that I would be storing. As we were assembling, we could double check the heights of these items to make sure things would fit. Here you can see I’ll be storing some plastic bins on the roll-out. Before I installed the solid drawer directly above,  I place the bins on the rollout to see if I would have enough clearance. Better to do it once and do it right!

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Have items on-hand you’ll be storing to judge clearances!

Here is the progress so far. The glass front drawers are great for storing all my sewing thread and spools of yarn for my knitting machines. I can easily see what I have and keep these items dust free! Compare that to clutter of the pegboard I was using in my old studio; I’m so thrilled at how it turned out!

The first solid drawer below the glass ones will store all my sewing patterns. I’ll likely design some kind of DIY divider system to keep them neat and tidy. Then I’ve got closed storage at the bottom with covered bins on a pullout that can easily accessed when needed.

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Yarn and thread storage comparison

Ikea has these great felt trays for the large drawers – they come three to a pack.


I didn’t see them in the Planner, and I missed them online  before I went to purchase my items, but I immediately snapped some up when I saw them in the store! They’re perfect to keep my sewing hams and yarns (soon to come).

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Easter ham 🙂

The pullouts shown below are PERFECT for storing all my tools. I’ll have separate pullouts for stained glass tools and various other tools I’ll use on a regular basis. I’ll be customizing these pullouts even further once I’m more organized (tutorial to come!)

You’ll notice that I’m still missing a few pull-outs; when we were ready to purchase, everything was in stock when we printed our shopping list in the morning, however Ikea was sold out by the time we got there mid-day…drats! Hubs has a mission this week to scout them out at another location, so I’ll just have to be patient until then 🙂

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A place for everything and everything in its place!

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Tool storage and close bins; glass shelf keeps the dust off my tools while still allowing me to see what’s there!

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Hanging room for cardboard patterns

Customizing an Ikea Pullout

As mentioned in my previous post, the second-hand glass doors we bought for the two end cabinets had  hinges that were located too low on the door, which meant we couldn’t install an Ikea pull-out tray using the hardware supplied.

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With a little finagling, we discovered that we could still use the pullout!  However we needed to find different hardware and modify the pullout in a way that it would clear the hinges and slide in and out without a problem.

Here’s what we did to customize the pullout: using our own bottom-mounted full-extension hardware (purchased at Lee Valley), we dry-fit the drawer in place to insure it would clear the hinge.  In case anyone is interested in doing the same, the drawer glide is 22″ and full extension; below is the product code of the drawer glide hardware from Lee Valley: Ikea for the Studio 555_bof.jpg

With a piece of cardboard used as a spacer on the left hand side (opposite the hinges on the door), we had plenty of clearance to get by the hinge on the right side.

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Figuring out where to position the pullout with new bottom mounted hardware

We measured the placement of the hardware where we wanted to position it in the cabinet (sides, front and back) and transferred those measurements to the underside of the pull-out. There’s a lip underneath the pullout that has to be filled in so the hardware can be attached and slide out properly; so we cut two pieces of wood to act as spacers to be attached onto the underside of the pullout to make it flush.

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Positioning the runners

We transferred our measurements to the back of the pull-out tray with pencil so we had a guide to position our spacers.

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Measurements transferred to bottom of pull-out tray and straight lines drawn for location of wooden spacers

I didn’t want to screw into the underside of the pullout because the material is so thin, so we used double sided taped to attach the wooden spacers onto it instead.

If anyone reading this knows of a faster method of getting the plastic backing off this stuff without struggling with it for more than five minutes, let me know in the comments! Double sided tape is great but it’s the bane of my existence when it comes to time management!

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Double sided tape gets applied to the spacers and then the spacers are attached to the underside of pull-out tray

We drew a line right down the middle of each wood spacer to centre our screw holes, then we separated the two pieces of hardware. We put a small piece of double face tape at either end of the solid piece of metal (the one without all the bearings as shown below).  We lined the hardware up with the centre line we drew, then pressed it down firmly to hold it in place.

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We predrilled in three places along the length of each spacer; to prevent yourself from pre-drilling the hole too deep, wrap a piece of green tape around the drill bit at the depth you want to drill to. Once the drill bit reaches the top of the tape, it’s time to move on and pre-drill the next one!

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We installed the screws where we predrilled. We then reattached the piece of hardware we removed, flipped the whole thing right-side up again and positioned the pull-out tray in the cabinet against the cardboard spacer, ready to be screwed down.

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Re attach the mechanism you removed earlier

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Flip the pull-out tray right side up once hardware is put back together

Slide the sliding mechanism out from the pullout at the back part way and line both ends up against the back of the cabinet.  Make sure that it’s also tight against the cardboard spacer (seen on the left).

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Once the pullout was positioned exactly where we wanted it, we then predrilled and screwed the back end into place. Hubs wanted me to pass along to you that pre-drilling the hole actually strengthens the bond of the screw because you’re not ‘ripping’ the fibres apart.  There was only one exception where we didn’t pre-drill, which you’ll see below, to prevent sawdust from getting into the ball bearings.

You may notice that the cardboard spacer is on the right side in the picture below; that’s because we’re doing another pull-out tray here on the opposite side of the cabinet, so everything is flipped around.

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Vacuum up wood debris as you go and pre-drill the middle of the drawer glides through the bottom of the cabinet (we used three screws – at the back, middle and front for each side – for a total of six).

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When the back and middle are screwed in place, it’s better to remove the tray from the hardware and finish off the front, then remount it when you’re done. As mentioned previously, hubs didn’t pre-drill the front holes because he didn’t want to create sawdust that might get caught up in the ball bearings and clog them up. He simply screwed in the front without pre-drilling.

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Screw the runners at the back, move to the middle and then finally finish at the front

Here is the adapted pullout all done; now it houses my glass grinder.

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Ikea for the Studio 522_bof.jpg

Custom pull-out for glass grinder

After the first pull-out tray was done, I wanted another one on the opposite side of the cabinet too so we placed the two drawers side by side and repeated the same steps (allowing us to transfer all the original measurements as a ‘mirror’ image):

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Here is how the other side of the cabinet looked before we installed the pull-out tray. Notice that it’s hard to reach into the back to get the plastic bin (even for hubs who has long arms, unlike me!):

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And here is the completed pull-out tray before we put the glass shelf back in place:

And here is the completed pull-out tray before we put the glass shelf back in place:

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Now the bin at the back is MUCH easier to reach

Now that the pull-out trays are done, here are another few shots of the completed interior organizers. Now I just have to fill it all – which WON’T be a problem 🙂

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Not an inch of space will go wasted. I even have a stationery shelf that will hold larger flat items such as my cutting mats and tissue paper:

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If you’re wondering how much my Ikea storage solution cost in the end, I would like to answer priceless; I wish I had done this in my old studio! However, below you will find the breakdown in Canadian dollars, taking into the account the 15% discount (Ikea was running a Pax promotion at the time I bought), sales tax and the fact that I purchased my doors (and three drawers) second-hand for only $200. I  honestly thought I would have to budget around $4K in order to pack so much functionality (and beauty) into organizing my new studio!

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Grand total

Well, that wraps it for now — until I’ve transferred all my stuff from my previous studio!  I hope you’ve enjoyed playing ‘Pax-Man’ (or in my case Pax-[wo]Man) as much as I did!

Ikea store layout_Pax Man_FINAL_BOF_FINAL

If there’s a craft studio in your near future too, tell me about it in the comments. If this project has inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

Here’s a sneak peak of the final reveal of my craft studio which you can find here.


UPDATE: Now that my craft studio is done I’ve launched a brand new category on my site – Birdz of a Feather ~ Craft Rehab – that’s dedicated solely to crafting. Check it out and you’ll not only find cool (and sustainable!) crafts, but a post on how I finally organized my craft studio.

Here are just a few of the projects I’ve done on Craft Rehab:


At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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The Making of a Craft Studio (II): Design Your Space Using Ikea’s Pax Planner!

We’re almost at the finish line with the installation of Ikea cabinets to help corral what was once a messy eyesore in my previous craft studio into an organized storage solution for my new space.

In part two of The Making of a Craft Studio, I’m sharing how I used Ikea’s Pax Planner to design the storage solution for my studio (see Canadian version and US version here). Then, in part three,  I’ll show you how we built my storage solution and how I organized my craft room using Ikea Komplement interior organizers to customize each Pax Wardrobe! My step-by step tutorial (with tips and tricks) will guide you through how you can do it too!

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But first, where we last left off in Part One, I was still undecided about the layout of my studio. Thanks to all you fellow crafters out there in Hometalk-and-Blogger-land that gave your input! I’m still mulling over all the options, so there’s still time to put in your two cents worth to help me decide!

In the meantime, there’s plenty to keep us busy as we put the finishing touches on my Ikea storage cabinets. These cabinets had a huge challenge to fulfill; they needed to store over 20 years of accumulation from my old studio, which was built in my parent’s basement. Not only that, but my current studio is an nth of the size of my old one, with no room to expand (I’ll be sharing a portion of the basement with hubs who’s building a mancave for himself too).

Below is a picture of my previous studio at its ‘best’ (the worst scenario was too scary to post). As you can see, it’s full of clutter. I didn’t build in any storage solutions, other than a walk in closet that shares space with the water turnoff for the house, so storage space was at a premium. Everything literally landed where it fell and pretty much stayed there!

I have so many diverse interests: stained glass, knitting, pattern making and sewing, marquetry, crafting… the list is literally too long to type! The challenge with storage, of course, lies in all the tools and gadgets that come along with those interests!

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‘Achoo’ is appropriate given all the dust covering the stuff in my old studio! It was much bigger; the full length of the basement from one end….

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…to the other end

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Industrial sewing machine (looking into the cutting room) is in a separate room with the serger

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Serger and sewing machine are back to back in their own space

I loved my old studio space (if not for the size alone!), but I can no longer stand the visual distraction of having everything out in the open. Ikea Pax wardrobes are just the ticket! I can hide away all the clutter behind closed doors, but still have everything organized and accessible. On the interior, glass fronted drawers will ensure that I can quickly see and find what I’m looking for.

When I designed my new studio space, I included a niche that was big enough to fit two of the largest and two of the smallest width Pax cabinets.  Of course, they are supposed to be used in a bedroom as a wardrobe, but with minimal customization I think it will work perfectly for all my craft and tool storage.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Ikea has a fantastic on-line planner that allows you to design the placement of all the components, then print out a list that you can take to the store to make your purchase.

What’s great about this tool is that you can’t place a component where the hinges and any other obstructions are, so you can’t really go wrong……. UNLESS you buy some older style doors on Craigslist, like I did! I got all six doors for my cabinets at an amazing price; a pair of glass doors and four solid doors (+ three solid drawers!) for only $200 – vs. over $800 with tax for new doors at Ikea. The glass doors are no longer available at Ikea and, as we discovered when we were putting in our drawers, the hinges are in a completely different spot than currently available doors! That resulted in me having to adapt my original plan – and modify an Ikea pullout to get the result I wanted (more about that later).

Immediately below is  How to use Ikea’s Pax Planner to Design Your Storage Solution. Following in the next part of the series (The Making of a Craft Studio – Part III), you will find Installation,  Indispensable Tools, Installation Tips for drawers and finally Customizing an Ikea Pullout.

How to Use Ikea’s Pax Planner to Design Your Storage Solution

Here is how I planned my studio storage with Ikea’s Online Pax Planner ( Canadian version and US version):

I started from ‘scratch’, as shown below, since I wanted to customize each component. I selected the room dimensions suggested (the dimensions for the Canadian planner is in metric, while the U.S. planner is imperial). If your room plan is larger, you will need to select an appropriate room size. Then I selected ‘frames for hinged doors’ from the top of the add product list on the right-hand side. If you are planning on putting doors on your cabinets, do it now before you start adding the interior organizers – that way, the program will automatically tell you where the hinges are and you won’t accidentally add a component that you can’t use! Before you select your door style (if you don’t choose a sliding door), you’ll be asked whether you want slow close or regular hinges. I’m assuming each one could impact the placement of the interior organizers differently, so make sure you choose what you will actually be buying. I had regular hinges on the bargain doors I bought online, so made that selection.

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I chose the height and width of the cabinets that I determined would fit my space and simply  dragged each component into the ‘room’ one at a time and lined them up side-by-side.  Now you have the shell in which you’ll build out the rest of the storage!

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Now would be a good time to save your plan before you get too far along and forget!  You have a choice of  saving all your plan(s) to your personal computer or opening up an account and storing it on Ikea’s servers. I would recommend that you sign up for an account; when you save your plan on Ikea’s servers, there are two advantages:

  1. You will be able to access it at the store and make changes there with the help of an Ikea associate if you need to; and
  2. You won’t loose your plans, like I did!  I ran into issues when I saved to my home computer; all of my plans kept disappearing (it was probably and issue with my own computer, but who knows?). Luckily I was also saving pdfs and printing as I went, but it was still an inconvenience to have to start all over again in order to continue planning online.

I’m not positive, but think your plan stays on Ikea’s servers for up to a year.

I saved several different variations before I finalized my plan and purchased my components.  Each time I saved, I could either overwrite the file or save a new version. When saving a new version of the plan it’s a good idea to add a ‘description’ to differentiate between older versions (below, I’ve simply typed ‘draft 1’). Once the plan is saved, you can close it whenever you wish then come back anytime and open it again to continue working on it.

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By highlighting the cabinet, the interior fittings for that size will be available to choose as you ‘virtually build’ the layout

Once the door style is selected and in place, highlight the cabinet you want to start fitting out, then click ‘interior organizers’ on the right side. This will open up the selection of ALL the components that will fit the particular cabinet you have highlighted (and the doors will temporarily disappear so you can drag-‘n-drop the organizers you want).

As you can see below, I’ve added in a divider frame to the third cabinet:

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Now it’s just a matter of adding in the rest of the components. Just remember to select the cabinet you want to work on so the appropriate choices on the right hand side are made available.

Another nice feature of the tool is that you don’t always have to drag and drop from the product list. If you have multiple items of the same product, you can highlight the item then click the duplicate button as shown below.

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When you click the duplicate button, simply move to where you want the item positioned. Before you place it, you can adjust it up and down with a ‘ruler’ that shows the height and how far it is away from other items. If that item can’t be placed, you will see a red indicator warning you that you are too close to another item (see below).

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Planner shows distances between components and a red indicator warns when you run into an obstruction that will prevent placement of an item

Don’t forget to save your plan as you go (especially if your computer is prone to crashing, like mine is!) You’re only limited by your creativity – and budget, of course! The nice thing about the planner is that you can see the cost of each component as you place it. You can also see the number of items and a running total as you can go (just above the tab where you add products as shown below).

Planner_running total final_BOF.jpg

When we were ready to purchase, Ikea happened to be running their Pax wardrobe sale so we got 15% off our entire purchase; our timing couldn’t have been better!

When your plan is finalized, you can print a list of everything you’ve chosen; it will give you an itemized list with a grand total! That way, you can pare back if necessary.  Best of all, before you print, if you select the store where you intend to purchase, the itemized list will also indicate whether the item is currently in stock and the location in the store where you can pick your items up (aisle and bin).

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Aisle and bin location of item

Knowing where an item is so I can get in and out of the store faster is a feature I REALLY appreciate in the Pax Planner; shopping at Ikea can sometimes feel like getting lost in a maze! Maybe one day someone will create a computer game where you score big points if you can figure out how to make your way through each level of an Ikea store in less than two hours! They can call it “Pax-Man” – lol (I hope the good people over at Ikea have a sense of humour)!

Ikea store layout_Pax Man_FINAL_BOF_FINAL.png


But I digress! One of the best advantages of using the print feature with the Pax Planner is that it will give you a detailed printout of the hole location for each piece you’ll be installing – no guesswork!

Hole location_bof.jpg

I went through several iterations of my design in the Pax Planner.  After finalizing my plan, this is ideally what I wanted to end up with:

Planner_Final Storage Solution_bof.jpg

However, as you can see in the plan above, when you have doors on the unit, you can’t put a drawer on the bottom. And remember those glass doors I bought second-hand that were too good to be true to pass up? Well, as it turns out, the hinges on those doors are too low in order to install a pullout on the bottom; ay carumba!

The only other option available for the bottom of a cabinet is to install either a basket or a pullout. I didn’t want  either one of those for the third cabinet, so I’m thinking about routing out a channel at the side where the drawer binds so it can slide in and out freely. I’m just not sure if that will compromise the structure too much, so I may end up putting the drawer in the end unit and replacing it with a pullout after all. I’ll have to see what happens as I load it up with all my stuff.

Here’s a picture of the four drawers in place in the third cabinet; you can see where the green tape is on the bottom drawer that the hinges are impeding it and pushing it away at the side which will render it nonfunctional 🙁

Ikea for the Studio 360_bof.jpg

I REALLY wanted pullouts on the end cabinets (where the glass doors are going) so I could store my glass grinder and some covered plastic bins. In order to get a pullout in the two end cabinets, we were going to have to put our thinking caps on. We came up with two solutions: 1) re-drill the hole for the hinge on the door and move it up to clear the pullout hardware or 2) purchase new bottom mounted drawer glides at a hardware store so the pullout could be mounted directly on the bottom, which would then clear the hinges. Option 2, while more expensive, was the best option for me because I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the door by putting another hole in it. As it happened, we had a spare pair of drawer glides to test out whether it would even work, so we didn’t have to shell out any extra money for the first one :).  To see how we installed our ‘custom’ pullout, see Customizing a Pullout in the next section.

I plan to use the configured storage shown in the Pax Planner below as follows:

Cabinet Numbers_bof.jpg

Cabinet #1 houses all my cardboard patterns (I used to professionally design clothing) and will be primarily hanging space with some plastic bins at the bottom. We installed a glass divider in case I change my mind and add another pullout for some tools.

Ikea for the Studio 448_bof.jpg

Cabinet #2 is a mix of hidden storage (solid drawers) and glass fronted drawers. We installed a pullout drawer in the bottom of this cabinet for more plastic bins. In cabinet #3, we installed a divider at the bottom so that we could fit two more columns of small glass fronted drawers. I figured it would be more practical to load up a lot of small drawers with heavy stuff, rather than fewer larger ones so I don’t have too much trouble getting the drawers open! The only drawback of doing this is that the small glass fronted drawers are almost as expensive as the larger ones, (but only 1/2 the storage; $40 vs $50, respectively).

At the very bottom of the divider on the right side of cabinet #3, I’m going to store my table top sewing machine so I can pull it out when I need it. It’s an old Kenmore and it’s made with metal – not the cheap plastic they build them with today! It’s a workhorse and I’d never part with it. Even though I also own an industrial Juki sewing machine, since it only sews straight it’s nice to have a machine that can sew a variety of other stitches too!

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Glass front drawers are ideal for seeing what you have!

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Pullout for sewing machine

The last cabinet (#4) bookends the first one with another glass door. I thought I might take advantage of the glass and have my Birdz of a Feather yin/yang logo printed up on an adhesive sticker (below I taped up a black and white paper printout to see what it might look like). What do you think? Yay or nay?

Ikea for the Studio 388_bof.jpg

Inside the last cabinet, (as you’ll see in part 3 of this series) there will be more hanging storage for shorter patterns, a few glass-front drawers and a pullout on the bottom for my glass grinder. On that note, check out the Making of a Craft Studio (Part III) – If You Build It, She Will Come, for the tutorial on how to build and install your Ikea storage solution!

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Create a Small Water Feature to Add Curb Appeal!

There’s nothing more calming than the tranquil sound of water trickling from a water feature and I can’t think of a better way to great guests to the house than having one right by the front door!

Now that Spring is here, it’s a great time to start thinking about adding some curb appeal by installing a pond. Ready made ponds are a great convenience. Here’s one we installed on one side of our front walkway. Following below is a complete tutorial with the lowdown on how we did it!

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It is a simple and straightforward task to add a ridgid liner to the garden, but there are other considerations when the liner is going to be up against the edge of a walkway (as ours was). We ran into several challenges and I’ll show you how we resolved them.

But first, if you are installing a liner anywhere else in the garden, here are the general instructions. However, if you want to install a liner that will be intersecting with a walkway (like ours did), skip down to “Walkway Challenges”.

General Installation

We started with a small kidney shaped pre-formed ridgid  liner. It was very easy to install with a few simple tools and supplies (shovel, garden hose, sand, scoop, level). We placed the liner where we wanted it and then, using a hose, we marked out the outline of the shape (you can use marking paint or sand to mark also). We carefully measured the depth needed and also the depth and placement of any shelves we would also need to dig out (we have one shelf in our pond).

We dug out a hole to the shape and depth we measured and checked to make sure it was level once the liner was placed into the hole. Then we pulled it out again and added a few inches of sand to the bottom of the hole. This will help nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion. It’s a good idea to tamp the sand down over the dirt on the bottom so the liner is seated securely. Continue to put the liner back in and check for level as you build up the sand. Making sure the pond is level is the most important step because water won’t stay securely inside the liner, where it belongs, if it’s tilted at all.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, start to fill the liner with water from a garden hose and continue to make sure the liner is sitting level as it fills. If you notice any puckers in the liner, you’ll need to backfill with some of the dirt you removed to fill any air pockets (you can also use some sand). This is especially important underneath any shelves as you don’t want the liner to buckle under the pressure of the water – the liner needs solid support, both underneath and all around the sides!

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct the sand where we wanted it. A deep dustpan works well for this purpose too — place it away from the gap between the side wall and the liner (under the lip), then brush the sand into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

We purchased some flagstone to hide the edges and finish it off (more to come about that in the next section).

For more about liner options and installation, here’s an excellent video to watch.

Walkway  Challenges

When we first installed our liner it was with the recognition that one day we would be installing new paving stones. We actually ended up doubling our work because of that; we had to re-support the pond when we updated the walkway. This is how the walkway looked before we installed the new pavers. As you can see the liner is level and sits on top of the stone slab.

To dress is up, we bought natural flagstone and placed it all around the edges of the liner to hide it. Be sure to buy different thicknesses so you’re able to stack it up to different levels since you’ll have higher gaps in the back and side than the front where it meets up with the walkway!

Summer 2005 005.jpg

Here’s how the pond looked before we updated the walkway with new pavers. It looked quaint, but there was still lots of room for improvement; we knew we could do even better!

Notice that the flagstone around the edge looks a little skimpy? That’s because we didn’t buy enough initially. It’s sometimes hard to judge how much you’ll need until you’ve got the stone on site! Oh well, just be prepared to take another trip back to the stone yard. Between our front and back yards, we were on a first name basis with everyone at the stone yard by the time we were done!

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Edges could use a little more stone!

When we finally got around to updating the old stone on the walkway from concrete slabs to pavers (before and after shown below) we wanted to be able to easily pull the liner out of the hole so we could power wash it each Spring and then put it back, ready to fill with clean water.

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Before and after with new paving stones

Easy upkeep and maintenance is always an important factor to us. Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to remove the liner without disturbing the base underneath our pavers and having it all crumble into the pond each time we lifted it out.

My husband and I put our heads together and came up with a brilliant idea using some concrete blocks, construction adhesive and some metal edging that we had left over from installing our walkway. Once you read through the following instructions, it will all make sense!

Since our liner was already installed as outlined above, our first step was to set up string lines so we could determine the finished level of the walkway and where we needed to place concrete blocks to fall just under the lip of the liner. Then we dry fit the concrete blocks around the front edge of the pond where it was going to intersect the walkway. We needed to stack the blocks two-high in order to get the height we needed. We kept taking the liner out and putting it back in as we dry fit the stones to ensure it would sit level once the stones were in place. You might have to add some sand into the bottom of the hole at this point to make sure the liner nestles properly.

I know this looks like a mess, but stick with me here!

Pond construction 1.jpg

String lines in place and stone dry fit under lip of liner to exact height

Once you’re happy with the arrangement, use construction adhesive (rated for outdoor use) to glue the underside of the upper blocks to the bottom layer of blocks. Gluing them together is important as you don’t want anything to shift; the top stones also act as a base for the metal rim still to come.

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Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place

Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place.

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Let the construction adhesive dry. Since our pond was done in two stages, it wasn’t necessary for us to add any dirt or sand around the sides, but if you are building yours from scratch, this is the time to make sure you’ve supported the bottom and sides with dirt and/or sand and leveled it as in the general instructions described above. Do this BEFORE you proceed to the final step.

Final Step

We used the metal edging as a frame of sorts: we bent it until we got the exact shape of the pond.  Temporarily tape it together to make sure that the pond can easily slip in and out of the metal frame. Make any necessary adjustments then connect the two edges in the middle by either riveting or screwing it together with a nut and bolt to hold the shape. Place the metal frame with the pond liner into the hole, then tape it down in a few spots to hold it against the concrete blocks.  Gently lift out the liner so you’re only left with the metal frame sitting on top of the concrete blocks. Glue the metal frame to the concrete blocks at each tab (removing the tape as you go).

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Metal ‘frame’ is glued down to the concrete blocks with construction adhesive

There – you’ve got a metal frame that acts as a ‘lip’ to prevent the fine stone gravel that forms the base of the walkway from falling into the pond each time it’s lifted out and replaced again (we used high performance bedding stone or HPB for short)!

If you like, you can pack a little dirt under the rest of the tabs if there are any gaps (make sure you don’t skew the level) and drive a few spikes into one or two of the them to secure the metal around the edges that aren’t glued down. This isn’t really necessary, however. You’re not trying to support the weight of the pond with the frame (that work is supposed to be done by adding and tamping sand in the bottom of the hole as described in the general instructions above). As I mentioned, the metal is simply acting as as guard between the  walkway and pond to prevent migration of the HPB into the hole.

All that’s left is to fill up the rest of the walkway with the HPB base and cover up the concrete blocks to just below the lip of the metal (below you can only see evidence of the blocks in the hole itself).

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HPB covers up all the ‘hidden’ support

Our final step was to  screed the HPB to the final level and install the new pavers.

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Pavers going in

Here’s how the pond looks now: all dressed up, complete with pond plants and turtle spitter. We bought a variety of different thicknesses of flagstone and REALLY beefed it up all the around the edges since our first attempt. Isn’t it MUCH better than it was?!

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Completed water feature and walkway

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To finish off the vignette, I built this trellis.

First Trellis Project_measuring

In the fall, leaves and dirt make will their way into the pond, but we’re not so fussed about it because we know that we can lift it out in the Spring and hose it down! We simply put away the pump and then add a wooden board over the top of the pond to keep the snow at bay.

Here is how the pond looks over the course of winter (we didn’t have snow when I took this shot!).

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Board covers pond to keep out snow

With a little innovation on our part, the liner has been a breeze to pull out in the Spring, clean up and then reinstall – ready to shine as the star of our small front garden 🙂

To keep mosquitoes at bay (they can’t breed in flowing water), make sure you run a spitter and pump to  recirculate the water. You’ll need  a source of electricity close to the pond (our main source was in the garage on the other side of the wall) and a weatherproof box that’s rated to be near water. Consult or hire a licensed electrician to ensure it’s all up to code.

We haven’t had any problems with algae growth in our little pond as it’s fairly shaded throughout the day; however if yours is exposed to a lot of sun, barley straw works wonders against algae.

By the way, the walkway was the very first paver project that I had ever attempted (and I installed every block myself)!

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Installing the pavers

It was my ‘practice run’ for the travertine pavers we did in the backyard (here’s how that project looked in progress). To see how we landscaped our entire back yard, click here.

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Once the front walkway was complete, we advanced to something on a larger scale in the back!

I have one more pond project coming up in a future post, so stay tuned. Here’s a sneak peek at the water feature I’ll be featuring that we built in the backyard.

Are you ready to attempt a water feature in your own garden?

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Water feature in back garden

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather


The Making of a Craft Studio – Calling All Crafters: Help Me Decide the Best Layout for my New Studio!

I’m so excited that my craft studio is becoming a reality; it’s been a dream for over decade to build a studio in the basement.

Calling All Crafters_final_BOF

My husband and I divvied up the space: a studio for me and a mancave for him.  He just finished installing the shell of the Ikea Pax cabinets that I’ll be using to store all my sewing and craft goodies. Once all the interior fittings are in place,  that means I’m one step closer to ‘moving in’.  However that leads to another dilemma – the layout of the rest of the studio!

Here’s a sneak peak of the Ikea units my husband put together over the weekend:

Ikea for the Studio 249

My husband even managed to squeeze in some display space (in a niche he built to cover up the post supporting the upper stories of the house).

Ikea for the Studio 164

Ikea has a wonderful Pax planner that allows you to design everything; I think it’s awesome!  You select the size of the units and door style, then just ‘drag and drop’ the interior fittings you want. It even provides an itemized shopping list so you can take it to the store and order what you need!  How convenient is that?

Here’s how I’m thinking of arranging the inside of the Pax:

Ikea_Final Studio Storage Plan 2 w_measurements_BOF

Once the Pax system is fully built and organized, I’ll update you with how the storage space turned out! By the way, My husband safely secured these units to the wall, which is a must!

Now, back to my layout dilemma for the rest of the studio.  Below is an overview of the basement space we had to work with. I originally thought that my office/cutting room would share a space at the back where our laundry room is. The sewing room would be in the same room where the Ikea cabinets are installed.

Take a look at all three  options I’ve come up with below and let me know what YOU would choose….or perhaps you’ll have some ideas I never even thought of!

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Option 1

Below is Option 1 of the layout I envisioned for the ‘sewing room’ and ‘cutting room’.  I’m at odds over whether I should position my cutting table in the far room so I can access it on three sides or whether I should ‘hide’ it from view on the other side of the ‘window’ wall. I don’t think I want to see a potentially messy cutting table as my first line of sight as I enter the sewing room.  But accessibility on 3 sides would be nice to have: if I put the table up against the window wall (on the opposite side of the sewing machine), I’ll only be able to access it from two sides.

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Option 1: cutting table in line of sight as you enter

Here’s another view of the cutting table; in this view, my office area has a corner desk area and I’ll be able to squeeze in another card catalogue at the end of the run (yes, I have TWO card catalogues – a makeover project that I’ll document in  a future post!).

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Option 1: card catalog makeover to come!

Overview of Option 1

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Option 1 overview

Option 2

This is how that line of sight would change from Option 1 above if the cutting table was not the first thing you see as you walk into the far room. It has been moved to the other side of the window wall.

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Option 2: nicer line of sight into cutting room

Here’s another two views of how the far room would look if the table were tucked away out of sight. The first one is from the vantage point of looking into the sewing room, where the Ikea cabinets are installed.

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The second view below shows how my office space would be arranged with the pattern table placed as shown above.

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Option 2: office area and cutting table

Overview of Option 2

Here’s the full layout of the basement again with an overhead view showing Option 2.

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Option 2: overview of Basement with Mancave, Sewing Room and Office/Cutting Rom

Option 3

As if that wasn’t enough to think about, just to stir the pot a little, what if I switched the sewing room for the cutting room and put the table where the sewing machines were and vice versa?

In this 3rd option, the sewing machines would be arranged in an ‘L’ shape in the corner of the room shared by the laundry. The cutting table would be in the room with the Ikea cabinets (where the sewing machines were previously).

To me, Option 3 narrows the traffic flow and seems like it might feel a little claustrophobic with the cutting table taking up so much space.

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Option 3: sewing and cutting room flipped around

Overview of Option 3

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Option 3: overview of sewing and cutting room flipped around

So what do you think? Where should the cutting table go? Let me know if you would choose Option 1, 2 or 3 (or leave me a comment with your questions/suggestions)!

UPDATE: To see the entire Making of a Craft Studio series, click the links below. You can also check out my new craft category, Birdz of a Feather~ Craft Rehab, to see what I’ve been up to in my new craft studio too!

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Creative Planter Ideas for the Garden

We have a tiny garden but to make the most of it, we’re always looking for ways to squeeze just one more plant into it. On one of our garage sale treks I found a rusty old chair and thought it would be perfect as a planter once I painted the metal and removed the seat cushion.


Cutting out the middle section of the chair so planter will ‘nest’ and look more like a cushioned seat once plants fill in

At the time, I was in my ‘succulent’ phase and couldn’t wait to introduce a lush ‘seat cushion’ full of plants tucked in beside our rock garden. Succulents can be planted sparsely within the container and will spread quickly to form that lush look in no time!

At first we planted the succulents in a ceramic dish, but it cracked after only one winter.


Ceramic planter didn’t make it through the winter 🙁

With some trial and error, and a lot of luck, I finally found a circular hypertufa planter that fit the seat of the chair perfectly!

Making a hypertufa planter is a great beginner project that anyone can do!  If you want to attempt one for your garden, just click on this link for a tutorial that you can try your hand at!

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Succulents overwinter in hypertufa container and come back like a trouper every Spring!

Here’s another metal chair that we painted and is just waiting for a hypertufa planter. I’ll be fashioning something rectangular for this one, so it will be a little more challenging finding a mold with the perfect shape and size. We’ll probably end up custom-building a form for this one!

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Hypertufa tutorial will be in the works soon for this chair!

The wonderful thing about hypertufa is that it overwinters without cracking (unlike ceramic) so in the fall, while the chair goes into the garage to be stored, the planter stays out in the dry creek bed (shown briefly in the last picture). I’ve had the best success overwintering my succulents in the same container ever since; it comes back like a trouper every Spring when we bring out the chair and put it back in its place of honour in the garden! We drop it right over our fern and it happily grows right under the chair; it loves the shade!

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Fern LOVES to be shaded under the chair!

I quickly found other areas to add succulents – such as on top of a shallow birdbath in the opposite corner of the garden.The before and after is quite striking; planters of any size and scale can add a lot of interest while the garden is waiting to mature.

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Before and after: a shallow birdbath is the ideal place to on which arrange succulents in a glass dish

When the garden was young and sparse, I kept the compositions on top of the birdbath very structured – as in the example pictured below. In subsequent years, the planter arrangements became more free form as the garden started to mature.

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Let your imagination run wild – just about anything can be a planter in the garden with the right plants

The glass dish was found for pennies at a value village; I filled in the shallow bird bath with some aquarium gravel then nestled the dish into it. The piece of petrified wood and the stone was found at the same store at which I purchase the aquarium gravel. I love the way the colour of the stone plays off the flowers of the succulent in bloom and the ornate mirror/shelf combo that I faux painted.

I found the ceramic dish pictured below at HomeSense and filled in the bird bath with river rock.

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Succulents add not only colour, but a textural quality to the composition

The ceramic dish adds height and the white pops against the background greenery of the Oak Leaf Hydrangea.

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Oak Leaf Hydrangea and clematis are a beautiful background against the white planter

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Below you can see how the arrangements evolved and got more relaxed over time.  Every once in a while we will switch up the succulents for flowers instead to bring added colour to the corner of the garden.

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Flowers in bloom add a burst of colour

However, I think I may go back to succulents in the planters moving forward, now that the clematis is taking hold on the lacy backdrop of the mirror and the oak leaf hydrangea is nicely filling out the corner behind the bird bath we turned into a planter.

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Clematis latches onto the mirrors as it climbs across the fence

Before I found just the perfect planter for the shelf under the mirror, I used to decorate that area with a yoga frog which I found at Pier One about seven or eight years ago.

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Yoga frog adds a zen quality to the garden……. oohhhhmm!

Although the frog brought a touch of zen, I much prefer the way that greenery reflects in the mirror and it wasn’t long before I replaced the frog with another plant! We’re always on the lookout for interesting and unusual containers to plant in and one of my favorite finds is this vintage porcelain pot with a wooden handle. It houses a hosta that we also overwinter in the garage. Even though the hosta is in a container, it still comes back every year!

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Vintage porcelain makes a charming planter

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Concrete can add a sculptural quality to the garden as well as add a bit of height that can block the view of ugly elements such as downspouts and utility wires and pipes. We found this planter at an out of the way garden centre that we just happened to be passing by. It’s worth the effort to stop and look; you never know what you might find!

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Using a concrete planter can be a great camouflage tactic when strategically placed in front of utilities

Not all concrete has to be used for planting though. Think about where you might want to add an accent with some statuary. My husband added the ‘cool’ sunglasses as a joke one day; gotta love his humour!


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We’re too cool for this garden!

Another way to hide things you don’t want to see is to set a planter over a platform. Here my husband built a cedar planter that we set on top of a bamboo mat to temporarily hide a drainage pipe.

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Cedar planter on top of bamboo mat hides the drainage pipe

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Coleus comes in a wide variety of colours and variegations. These multi-coloured beauties are a solid performer in any garden.

Cedar is an ideal material to use as a planter box for its durability and weather resistance. Below is another idea for using cedar planter boxes. Here, we have set the planter box below a trellis that we built to screen our view from the front porch of our neighbour’s garbage cans. Each year we plant annuals that wind their way through the trellis. It’s a beautiful way to hide an ugly view.

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And on that note, I finally got around to blogging about DIY trellises and privacy screens for the garden (see the sneak peek below). They are so versatile for climbing plants – both to add greenery to the garden and much needed privacy to a tiny suburban lot. They are simple to design with any presentation software (such as powerpoint) and building them goes fast with an air gun and a bit of glue (and of course a handy helper – my husband, or as I like to call him; my “partner in grime”).

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Before and after view of neighbour’s garbage cans before vines take hold in cedar planter

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Take Your Staircase (and Landing) to New Heights

A staircase is often one of the first things you see when you step into a house and can really set the tone for the rest of the decor. Today I’m sharing a few ideas to show what you can do to transform your staircase and hallway.

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Over the years, my staircase has really evolved as I went from being a single woman in my home to sharing it with the love of my life – my ‘partner in grime’. The hallway area went from being fun and playful in my bachelorette days, to a more sophisticated look more recently.

To start, I’d like to inspire you with a few ideas on what you can do with that little piece of real estate that forms a shelf on one side of a circular stair case. Builders typically carpet this awkward area, as was the case in my house.

When I first bought my house, it was winter time and I couldn’t wait to get out into the garden and transform it. I was planning to install a pond (or two) once the weather permitted so I thought what better way to anticipate building the real thing than to bring the idea of a pond  indoors?

I was taking a stained glass course; it’s a great pursuit to take up during the winter months. When I did a weekend class on mosaics, I knew I had found a solution to jazzing up the often overlooked landing in the corner of the stairs – and it was going to be anything but boring if I had anything to do with it!

Here are some pictures of the hallway when I first purchased the house. In the first shot you can see the outdated the finishes: oak staircase and chair rail, floral wallpaper and builder beige walls.

My best piece of advice for anyone who has just purchased a house that you have renovation plans for: paint everything just to freshen it up, then live with it for a while until you decide how you want to update and/or renovate the space.

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The minute I moved in, I gave it a ‘weekend update’ (actually, a few small paint updates over the course of a few weekends). First I painted the front door a bright red. Then I refreshed all the trim – including the chair rail. For the walls above the chair rail I used a soft yellow to brighten up the space (there’s a small window in the upper front door which brings in very little light, making the hallway seem dark). Below the chair rail, I applied a venetian plaster finish to hide the ugly wallpaper. I was eventually planning to strip the wallpaper off, but didn’t have the time to do it right away.

If you look real close at the door in the before and after shot above, you can see I also replaced the dated glass insert in the upper part of the main door with a decorative piece of glass called ‘everglade’. I prepared the panel and took the glass to a company that was able to make a thermo-sealed unit for me so I could swap out with the old one. It added a unique touch to the front door!

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Everglade patterned glass thermal insert in front door

These small changes were just enough to make the house livable while I was in the planning stages of a bigger and better renovation  – just to tide me over until I had more time, energy and money (and as it turned out, a ‘partner in grime’!) to do it right.


The 80’s called and they want their wallpaper and oak trim back!

Here’s a before of the staircase. Unfortunately I didn’t get a before shot of the carpeted landing itself, so you’ll have to imagine what it looked like with the same carpet the builder used on the stairs.


Here’s what it looked like after the stained glass transformed the landing into a tranquil pond scene – complete with water lillies, Koi, turtle and a frog on a lily pad.

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Spiral staircase with new and improved stained glass landing

I used a large piece of brown paper to trace out the exact elongated shape of the landing and then used that as a template to cut a piece of 1/8″ plywood to size. I glued all my mosaic pieces to the wood, except for – as you might be able to see in the slideshow below – several places where I inserted a few glass globs in the mosaic, with a cunning plan in mind. Under those spots is where I pre-drilled some holes so I could screw the piece down to the landing. I left the glass globs completely loose and just placed them on top of the screw heads so that at some point in the future, I would be able to remove the whole thing when I decided to change my decor again. I never did get around to actually grouting the joints of the piece before that happened!

A word of caution if you ever create a similar project – be sure to remove the loose glass globs before you vacuum or they’ll get sucked up 🙂

There’s just something about my stained glass pond that brought a smile to my face every time I descended the stairs. However, being the restless DIY’er that I am, I did of course, change my decor and out came the stained glass pond…. more about that later.

Once my husband came into the picture and moved into my house, we really set our renovation plans into first gear! We decided to change the color of the yellowed and dated oak wood on the stairs to a darker, richer stain. It was a HUGE undertaking that involved stripping off the clear finish, re-staining the wood and then sealing it again with several coats of clear varnish.

There’s a simpler way to get the same effect if you already have a natural wood staircase and you don’t want to go to the bother (and smell) of stripping the wood. Minwax makes a product called Polystain that is a two-in-one product. In just one-step it can be directly applied over a polyurethane finish, changing the color of the wood without removing the existing finish! How easy is that? If you’re interested in more information, here’s a link to Minwax’s Polyshade Colour Guide. While it’s great to have options like this, we chose not to go with the simple way to change the look of our wood. We went with the traditional (and hardcore) strip and refinish route to achieving the rich look we wanted.

The first thing of course was to pull up all the carpet – along with the many years of dust, dirt and grime that came out with it! I was only too happy to see that carpet gone. Next, I used a pair of needle nosed pliers to remove every single staple and/or tack that was holding down the carpet.


Ripping out the stair runner


Making sure I pull every last staple – and doing my best impression of a contortionist

In our case, the spindles were loose and my husband determined they could be removed and stripped outdoors.The one advantage of course was that, once disassembled, the spindles were MUCH easier to strip.

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Carpet, staple and spindle removal

If your staircase is solid and stable, I wouldn’t recommend removing the spindles because it’s a big undertaking to take them apart and then put them back again – and you run the risk of splitting the wood. If our spindles and handrail was in better shape and we left them in place, I would probably have just painted them out, to save the time and effort in using a chemical stripper – as well as our lungs!

Our railing has a metal piece that runs the full length of the wood and sits just underneath where the wood is routed out. The metal serves as a conduit to attach into both the railing (from underneath) and the spindles (from above) to keep them all in place with screws. The bottom of each spindle is connected with a dowel joint and glued into a hole on each tread. Since our spindles were so loose, they easily came out with some gentle persuasion and twisting…….and a bar clamp we used for leverage…. oh yeah, and a little brute strength from the hubs every once in a while!

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Metal piece screws up into the railing as well as down through the spindles

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Sometime a little brute strength (and a clamp) is all that’s needed to twist off spindles

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Spindles and handrail goes from ugly duckling to swan

Stripper fumes are hazardous. Take every precaution by turning off pilot lights on appliances and fire places, and keeping the vapours away from hot surfaces such as stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, furnaces and other electrical appliances… and of course, don’t smoke (if you haven’t quit yet!) anywhere near the work area. We turned our furnace off before we started.

I wouldn’t recommend you undertake any stripping project indoors unless you can also open doors and windows to fully ventilate the house, so late Spring would be a good time of year to do this. To protect your lungs from the fumes, wear a full face mask with a charcoal insert – not just one of those skimpy paper ones!

Mask off all walls and any flooring surrounding the area so you don’t accidentally spray droplets of stripper onto those surfaces; it will eat through them!

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Surrounding area protected from stripper and stain

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Putting Humpty Dumpty all back together again

The worst part of the job was stripping each step – which obviously had to be done in place – because of the smell. I suffer from migraines and can’t tolerate the smell of stripping solution unless I’m outdoors where there’s plenty of airflow, so I vacated the house (which turned out to be a lucky thing as you’ll read later on).

My husband took on the task of stripping the stairs on his own. Not wanting to spend any more time than necessary stripping each step, he only stripped the varnish off the outer portion of each one. Since we were planning on putting a new runner down the middle anyway, it wasn’t necessary to spend money on additional stripper solution that wasn’t really necessary. We just had to ensure each step was stained far enough on each side that the runner would completely cover up the unstained portion in the middle!


Stair treads under runner were not stripped

Once the stairs were stained, topcoated and reassembled, a carpet runner was installed. The end result brought a new air of sophistication to our hallway that it didn’t previously have.

After the carpet runner went in, I was finally able to put up some artwork and showcase this beautiful painting from the talented Vancouver artist and sculptor Elsa Bluethner. I think it adds just the right pop of colour to the neutral backdrop of the stairs, walls and carpet!

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Artwork and accessories finally go up on the wall!

I was also itching to try something new with the landing. I removed the stained glass and installed a new piece of plywood which I painted white. Here’s how the staircase and landing looks today. Now, I can switch up the decor and have some fun displaying a variety of pieces (some of which we’ve collected on our antiquing jaunts).

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New paint colour and decor on the landing really brightens up the hallway, which tends to be dark because there is no window or skylight.

You know, the funny thing about DIY projects is that each one somehow begets another one – often before you’ve even finished the project you’re working on. After my husband banished me from the house while he was doing the stripping, I was taking a walk in the neighbourhood when I stumbled on these beauties in the GARBAGE!

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I was so excited to find teak chairs that I ran all the way home, interrupted my husband as he was in the middle of stripping the staircase and made him bring the car so we could snag them before someone else did!

I ended up setting up my own stripping station in the garage and got to work on them right away.  Afterall, I couldn’t not take advantage of the fact that my husband had stripping solution readily on hand, could I?

I love peeling back the layers of upholstery to see what surprises I can uncover 🙂

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This pattern from a bygone era would probably look right at home in today’s decor too!

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Stripping the wood

We ended up keeping the wood natural (no stain) with a low sheen topcoat so it would look like an  oil rubbed finish. I steam cleaned the fabric – what seemed like a million times, but who’s counting! Maybe one day I’ll upholster them, but for now I love the neutral tone of the fabric and wood.

I may not have gotten too far on my walk that pleasantly fateful day, but I gained a new addition to our home that adds some much welcomed mid-century modern appeal! The chairs look fab as extra seating in our family/TV room.

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Chairs in their new home

It’s amazing how some elbow grease can revitalize old wood – whether it be a staircase or castaway chairs found kicked to the curb.

Leave me a comment: what’s the most exciting piece you have ever found in the garbage and brought back to life?

For more inspirational updates around the home, check out some of the following project ideas:

Stained Glass Pond: Add Curb Appeal to a Winding Staircase:

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Expand Your Horizons: Propel Your Bulkhead into the Spotlight


Sole Searching – A Shoe Storage Solution

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Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack


Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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Spring Forward – Building Trellises and Privacy Screens

Daylight savings time is only a few days away. With Spring on the horizon, I find myself thinking about outdoor projects! When you live in a suburban neighbourhood, where the houses are packed in like sardines, it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of privacy.

If you build a trellis this spring, you could have a lush green look – and more privacy – by summer!

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When we decided to landscape our front and back yards we searched high and low for perfectly sized privacy screens and trellises – to no avail. The solution? Build our own!

Like I always advise when doing something you’ve never attempted, start small first! Get all your frustration – I mean trial and error of course – out on something that’s manageable in terms of time, effort, money and scale. THEN, you can reach for the sky and go BIG!

The original trellis that came with the house was skimpy and undersized.

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Measure the space

The new trellis is taller and wider; our clematis is much happier to have space to spread!

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Build trellis to the size you want

Doing it yourself has many advantages: you can design whatever your heart desires, build it to the size you want, in the wood you want and pick your own finishes!

For our projects, we went with straight up cedar for its beauty and durability in the great outdoors. We had several areas we felt could use a screen or trellis.

As you can see below, our first trellis projects was by the little pond near our front door. When we finished building our new trellis, this is what the entry to our house looked like when the clematis was just starting to grow:

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The clematis took it it’s new support system right away and has flourished ever since! We still have to ‘train’ it in the spring once it starts to sprout up, but other than that, it’s on its own. Here’s what it looks like in late spring:

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And here it is when the clematis is in full bloom in the summer:

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Another problem area was right by our front door; we had a less than pleasant view of our neighbour’s garbage bins – ugh.

That view went from this…

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Front entry was an eyesore

To this once the trellis was in place:

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View of the ugly garbage cans is camouflaged; once vines are fully grown the view is nicely hidden

This is how it looks when the vines start to take hold in early summer:

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Cedar planter box holds vines that get planted annually

My husband built a planter box that we placed on the porch in back of the trellis so the vines can grow through the lattice and also be viewed from the street (to see more creative planter ideas, click this link).

Before long, the trellis is covered.

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In the winter, we store our ‘summer’ trellis in the garage on hooks…..

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… so we can swap it out for another screen that’s fitted out with outdoor fabric in the centre so it completely blocks our view – and acts as a wind screen too!

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Trellis gets swapped out for privacy screen in winter

We used L-brackets to support the screen by our front door; we purchased galvanized metal and then spray painted it a dark grey to protect it even more from the elements (metal will eventually rust and have to be replaced, but painting it will slow down the damage from the harsh elements of the weather!). Here’s a better look at the L-bracket supporting the screen at the bottom:

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Once we got our feet wet with a few smaller projects, we were ready for the big time – the big Kahuna of all trellises.

After we finished landscaping our backyard, we wanted a HUGE trellis on which to grow vines that would provide us with a sense of privacy and coziness in the back. As you can see from this overview of the lot, we back on to many yards and privacy is at a premium!

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Our requirements? The trellis had to be extremely large to give us privacy and be able to support a fast-growing vine.

Our trellis was built to about 10 feet wide and 8 feet long and perfectly supports and frames our Silver Lace Vine. Not only does it look gorgeous when the vines are fully grown in the summer (when you can’t even see the trellis), but it gives us something interesting to look at in the spring too.

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Trellis overlooking dry creek bed

How did we plan and build something like this, you may be wondering? You might be surprised to learn that the design was drawn in powerpoint:

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I started off by turning on the ruler view. Since I knew I wanted an approximate 10 foot by 8 foot size, I decided that every 1” on the ruler was going to be equal to a foot. I drew dotted lines at one inch intervals – both vertically and horizontally – for my ‘graph paper’ grid.

I used to love playing with TinkerToys when I was a kid, so playing with a bunch of ‘sticks’ – albeit in powerpoint – was right up my alley.

I created long rectangular shapes and first put a ‘frame’ in place for the perimeter of the trellis. From there, I continued to draw rectangular shapes, duplicate them where needed and put them into place.

You might find it easier to sketch something out on paper first, but I just went for it right in powerpoint. I played around with cleaning up some of the lines. For instance, where the four crosses sit in the squares, I sent the crosses to the back to so each cross looked like it was cut to fit into the corners.

Once we had our plan, we developed a cutting plan and we went shopping for cedar. We bought thicker planks and ripped them all down the width of the ‘sticks’ so we could start cutting to size and building.

The Setup

Since the screen was so big and we needed a flat surface to arrange and build on, we put a sheet of plastic down in the garage so we could build away from the elements.

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First two ‘practice’ trellises can be seen in the background

We kept the construction simple. We used a pin nailer with dabs of PL construction adhesive (which we had on-hand) to secure everything together. For the X’s, we mitred the ends so they would fit nicely into the square shapes and then glued and pinned them in on all sides. You’ll need to decide which pieces you want to lay ‘in front’ and which pieces can fall to the back because it’s just a matter of deciding how you want it to look. By laying it all out on the floor first you can finalize the order of how you want to put it all together. Some sections we built like ladders, and longer pieces ended up bridging the width of the whole screen to make it more secure. My best advice would be to continue to learn through trial and error (building on what you learned on your smaller practice piece).

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Assemble frame and larger ‘ladders’ first. Then fill in between with some pieces in front and others behind the frame

Securing it to the fence

We could have gone two routes with a trellis this size – attach the whole thing to large posts by digging out holes and securing it in the ground with concrete (like a fence post) or have it ‘floating’ on the fence and propped up on top of a few rectangular stones. We went with the latter choice.

We placed the three large stones in the garden bed. Then we attached some u-shaped struts to the back of the trellis in several places. The struts we used were deep enough that we could easily get a screw into the middle of the bracket and permanently fasten it to the fence.

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We attached it this manner so we could remove it at some point in the future if we ever wanted to. Now that the garden below the trellis is all grown in with various ground cover, you can’t even see the stone it’s sitting on. And you don’t notice the brackets either – especially when the vines have matured in the summer.

Here are some pictures of how our Silver Lace has evolved over time. It makes a fantastic lush green privacy screen.

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Green and lush in the Summer!

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Silver Lace Vine in full bloom in the fall months – still looks fab!

Our next project was building a privacy screen for my husband so he wouldn’t be staring into our neighbour’s yard between the gaps in the fence every time he barbecued. We used the same principles to build the privacy screen as we did for the winter screen by our front door, except we used bamboo instead of fabric on the majority of it. We built our frame, then staple gunned a roll of bamboo onto the middle section of the frame and used fabric in the top section. This particular screen slips in between the fence and the retaining wall and is supported by ‘L’ brackets at the top of the fence.


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Because the BBQ screen is smaller than the trellis (and our Canadian winters can be brutal!), we remove it every winter and store it on hooks on a wall in our garage. It keeps the fabric, bamboo and wood from aging faster than they normally would outside.


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X & O trellises

Another fabric screen we built was one for my mother-in-law to cover up the fencing around her deck. As you can see in the shot below, the fence is quite open. She has a corner lot and the screen provides a barrier from the traffic and passersby:


Here’s how it looks now with the privacy screens in place:

In this particular instance, we used magnets to secure the screen to the structure. By attaching wooden knobs as handles, it’s easy for my MIL to install and remove since there’s no screws to deal with!

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to inspire you to think about trellises and privacy screens as your next DIY project … now go build one for yourself and let me know how you get on by leaving me a comment!

If you’re interested in more garden ideas and inspiration, check out some of our other posts:

And don’t forget to spring forward for daylight saving time on Sunday, March 13th!


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If these projects have inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow our blog here (link in the footer) or on Bloglovin’ (link below) to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

UPDATE Jan 2017: There’s now a new category under the Birdz of a Feather family: Birdz of a Feather ~ Craft Rehab where you’ll find creative and sustainable craft ideas. Be sure to check it out and follow us there too!

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Like the nursery rhyme, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?, there’s more to landscaping a backyard than meets the eye. The ‘silver bells’ and ‘cockle shells’ referred to in the rhyme were colloquialisms for instruments of torture. In a lot of ways, landscaping is much the same way—full of torture! So I’m officially calling this DIY project ‘the Mother (Nature) of All Projects’.

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I’ve never personally crossed paths with another handy woman crazy enough to build and landscape her own backyard. I used to be able to bench press patio stones with the best of them, but not now. I will likely never, ever again undertake such a strenuous project. NEVER. But then again….. maybe landscaping is like giving birth. You might swear you’ll never do it again, but then you soon forget the pain; especially as you see your creation grow and take shape.

Now, I have to preface my DIY story by letting you know that I didn’t do it all myself, but I did do more than my fair share. I needed my ‘partner in grime’ – my husband – to do some of the heavy lifting (and some of the heavy thinking—but I’ll get to that later).

My motivation for doing hardcore DIY projects is a little different than my husband’s. I had a bad experience at a young age with a contractor who ripped off my hard earned money. I swore that I would never hire anyone again, and have DIY’d just about everything ever since. My husband’s motivation, on the other hand, is that he’s cheap. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s a lot of satisfaction, and financial gain to be had, in improving your investment by feathering your own nest – and learning new skills along the way.

I guess you could call it a labour of love since we quite literally started right before our marriage and started right back up again the day after our honeymoom.  Our backyard project took a year and a half from start to finish (if you don’t count the ‘do-over’ explained at the end). The amount of time might seem excessive when a contractor could whip in and have it done in a few weeks, but a contractor would not have added all the special touches we managed to achieve.

We divided the work into four phases:

  1. Plan/dig/ compact base;
  2. Set pavers, fill in with polymeric sand, plant garden and install rock garden;
  3. Set up the pond; and
  4. Install dry creek bed/ flagstone/moss and build and install trellises so we could grow silver lace vine to bring privacy to our suburban lot).

By breaking the work into manageable sections, we were able to get it done at our own pace, and, I think, at a reasonable price (the budget came in at around $25K for everything).

If you’re not comfortable with landscape design, your local nursery often has designers on staff that will help you draw up a plan and also advise you on the plantings. The fee for this service would probably be around $60 – $120, depending on the time involved, but check with your local nursery.

Important: Before you break any ground, call your utility companies to mark the phone and gas lines so you don’t accidentally dig into these services!

My best advice when attempting a landscape project is to start small (or at least smaller, in our case!). As neither of us had ever installed a patio before, we decided to do our front walkway first – to practice and get all our mistakes out of the way before starting the backyard! Here’s a glimpse of that project, which I’ll detail in an upcoming post on landscaping the front walkway and installing a water feature:

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Practicing on a smaller project first, before taking on the mother (nature) of all landscape projects in the backyard!

Phase One

(Plan, dig, compact base)

Right before we were married, I had planned the design so literally right after we returned from our honeymoon, we broke ground.The goal was to dig the patio and pond, and get the initial base in place by the fall. Our idea was to let nature takes its course over the winter to help compact the base for us. It seems to have worked because nothing has heaved in the near-decade since it’s been completed.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of laying out a design on computer. Since our travertine had multiple different sizes of stone and an established pattern, I wanted to be sure I laid every stone in the correct order. Back then I didn’t have any fancy graphic programs, so I scanned a picture of the drawing, imported it into powerpoint and completed the paver layout there. I don’t know why, but somehow it managed to work it out to scale.

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Hardscape plan and landscape plantings

We really lucked out on the hardscape material. After seeing real travertine marble on display at the stone yard while shopping for the front patio, I fell in love with it… but not the price. My husband let his fingers do the walking and called the manufacturer to see if by any chance they were open to the public and we might be able to get a better price. Our timing couldn’t have been better!  The manufacturer was moving its entire facility and, since stone is expensive to move, they were selling off their inventory at incredible prices. We jumped right on it (even though we weren’t quite ready to start the backyard project quite yet), and placed our order.

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Travertine display at the stone yard

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Delivery Day

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Stages of prep work (clockwise from left): site grading and grass removal, digging the pond and pouring retaining wall, initial base of HPB stone in place to overwinter

Back in the day, we didn’t have a laser level so my husband used an ancient method – a water level – to establish our grade.

To start, measure out from the house where you will be digging for the patio and place some flags or markers at each corner of your project. If your patio is a rectangle, you’ll only need four flags, but we had a lot of jogs in our plan (plus a pond) to account for. Pound wooden stakes into the ground about 2 feet away from each ground flag. Tie some nylon string onto the first stake and stretch it to the one.

For the rest of the steps, I would suggest you watch this excellent video from This Old House. The video demonstrates three different methods for establishing a grade. We wanted our patio to slope slightly away from the house for water drainage so we laid out perfectly level lines, as they did in the video, and then we re-adjusted our lines 1/4″ lower for each foot out from the house to get the gentle slope we wanted.

One thing to keep in mind when you dig out the area for the patio is that you have to excavate BEYOND the size of the patio. For instance, if your patio is 10′ x 20′ you need to add at least 6″ onto each side (ideally, the area should extend past the pavers a distance that’s equal to the depth of the base material or 10′ + 6″ + 6″ by 20′ + 6″ + 6″ = 11 x 21). Of course, if one end of your patio butts up against the house as ours did, you wouldn’t need to add onto that end.

The picture below illustrates the extra width around the perimeter of our patio. When the base material extends beyond the perimeter of the patio, this stabilizes the edge and will allow you to install your edge restraints.

Once the patio is complete, all you need to do is back fill with some dirt and plant grass seed – or put in strips of sod to fill in the gap if you want it to grow in faster (be sure to water thoroughly until grass is established).

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DO NOT skip the step of installing edge restraints around the exterior edges of your patio or it will shift over time and your hard work will be a waste (again, it’s not needed up against the  house). We chose metal edging and installed at least four spikes for every 6 foot length.

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Install a minimum of 4 spikes every 6 feet

As a base material we used a stone called HPB (High Performance Bedding). I have to say that HPB was a dream to work with; it can be ordered through some local nurseries or a stone yard.

HPB does double duty by replacing the bedding layer and the base layer of material with only one material (vs. sand and stone) under pavers. HPB is also a real convenience to use because only one huge pile of material gets delivered to the site instead of two!

Before you have it delivered, but sure to put down tarps on your driveway and along the edge of the grass to keep it contained (you can drape it back over the stone afterwards and weigh it down to keep the tarp from killing your grass). If you don’t prepare your area this way you’ll be picking stone out of your grass for years to come.

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HPB delivery day – make sure to tarp the grass too!

HPB provides excellent drainage and because of the size of the chip (3/8″) it is 97% compacted without any compaction, however I would still recommend compacting it.  Don’t be tempted to dump all the HBP onto the ground and compact the stone only once – it won’t work.

Using a rented compacter, compact the ground first, then also compact after you apply each 4 inch layer of HPB.

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Compacted, graded and ready for HPB

There isn’t a rule of thumb when it comes to the depth of the base material. We used way more HPB than would normally be recommended – which might be overkill, but we didn’t want anything to heave during the freeze and thaw of our Canadian winters. You should ask for advice from your local dealer; Unilock also has a great technical guide that you can read for further information on how to determine how much material for your base (amongst other great information): Unilock Technical Guide

When removing large areas of grass, rent a dumpster that’s specifically made for compost material (as opposed to renovation waste) as it will be cheaper. If you can rent one that opens at the side for easy access, your back will appreciate it; its amazing how quickly the pile builds up! Removing grass is dirty dusty work; here you can see I’m wearing goggles, mask and gloves.

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Forget the diamonds. A wheelbarrow is a girl’s best friend (when it comes to landscaping)!

Don’t forget to trench out for electrical if you’re installing a pond with a pump. When it comes to electrical, be familiar with your local building codes – or better yet, hire a licensed electrician to complete this aspect of the project.

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Electrical wiring is protected in tubing before it’s buried in the trench

When you are doing your own landscaping, and are novices like us, you need to keep a flexible attitude because you’ll likely run into several challenges. We ran into two obstacles:

Our first challenge came after realizing that the side of our house, where the patio was extending fully to the fence, had a drop off to our neighbour’s lot line. It’s very common in suburban areas, where houses are tightly packed together, to have a subtle valley between each house to direct rain water away.This discovery meant we had to find a solution to contain the HPB base and prevent it from falling out from underneath the pavers.

We ended up having to build a retaining wall against the fence that we didn’t plan for. Since we were building a step under our sliding patio doors, we had to construct the retaining wall first. Back again we went to the stone yard to get the proper retaining wall system! Retaining  blocks have ledges that stack together, so you really can’t stack them wrong!

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When the landscaping odds are stacked up against you, you’re going to have to stack a retaining wall – or two!

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In the end, the retaining wall was a nice addition; it frames the privacy screens we built beautifully!

Our second challenge came after discovering that the entry into our backyard would also need a retaining wall of sorts too. I didn’t want a different stone there however; I wanted the travertine to be the first thing you see as your step into the backyard. Since necessity is the mother of invention, I designed a semi-circular step. It entailed making a concrete form and pouring cement so there was a permanent structure to float the patio over. We ended up mixing all the cement ourselves in one of those ‘rolling’ buckets, similar to the one pictured below. By the seventh bag, I was exhausted. If we had to do it all over again, I would plan ahead and look into the cost of getting a truck to deliver a pre-mixed batch so we could pour it all at once.

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Once the cement was poured and cured, I applied stone to the face of the inner curve with adhesive made especially for marble (other adhesives may stain and show through natural travertine). Then we were able to lay the patio stones over the top cut them to size.


Fast forward: when we finally laid the travertine up to the step, we lined it up against the edge, transferred the curve of the step with pencil to the underneath of each stone – adding on a 1″ overhang – and then cut them all on a wet saw.

Be sure NOT to cement the edges down: I know this from experience.  If there is no flexibility at the point where the pavers meet the top of the poured cement retaining wall, these stones could crack and/or heave. The best option is to adding some flexible caulking under the edge of each tile (where it meets up with the rim of the wall) to hold them down and prevent them from gradually shifting forward over the edge. If the pavers do happen to ease forward over the years, you can reapply some caulk and stick them back down.

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Our two extra challenges were a lot more work than we bargained for. However, when it comes to landscaping, as novices, you just have to go with the flow!

Phase two:

(Top up the base, grade away from the house for water drainage, set paving stones and fill in with polymeric sand, shop again – for plant material and pond accessories, install rock garden and plant garden).

After nature took its course and compacted our initial layer of HPB stone, we topped it up in the Spring and did our final tamping and grading.

You’ll need some long metal pipes to do your screeding and final levelling; as you can see here we used aluminum. Lay the metal pipes on either side of the area you’re levelling and set them to the finished height of the string you set up. Make sure you have a straight edge that’s long enough to span the two pipes and then set it on top of the pipes and drag it along, steadily levelling off the top of the stone.

After the first pull through the stone, check with your straight edge to make sure you don’t have any gaps underneath. If you find gaps, throw a little more stone in that spot and then re-screed until everything is perfectly level. When you’re happy with it, carefully pull out the screed rails and fill in the indentations with more HPB and pat it down level (I did this as I laid the patio stones because my reach into the field only went so far!).

This video demonstrates how to screed (they are using sand instead of HPB, but the technique is the same).

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I started laying my stone right in front of the step and retaining wall. I kept a small bucket of HBP with a plastic scoop by my side so I could fill in where the screed was. I also had a small level so I could ensure that everything was still flat before placing the stones.

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Filling in the screed indentations and doing one last check to make sure everything is level

Once all the pavers are laid, wash them down and let them thoroughly dry before applying polymeric sand. Polymeric sand should be swept into the spaces and lightly misted to allow it to set. It’s a great product; it will repel ants and prevent weeds from growing between your beautiful pavers. Check out this Unilock video to learn more about polymeric sand  – and no, I don’t have an affiliation with the company 🙂

Some words of caution when using polymeric sand with travertine pavers: our pavers happened to be ‘unfilled’ and in their natural state… meaning that any natural imperfections, pits and holes on the surface were not filled in. We personally love the rustic look of them, but when you add polymeric sand, keep in mind that it will settle in these crevices and may become noticeable.

There are two common sense solutions to this dilemma: buy filled travertine pavers instead or make sure the colour of your polymeric sand is as close match to your travertine pavers as possible.

Now, don’t laugh too hard but I went the extra mile and came up with a third solution to this problem – a solution that actually sucks! Yes, that’s right, that’s me vacuuming …. the patio! I pulled out my wet/dry vac and sucked all the noticeable sand out of the crevices of the travertine BEFORE I misted them with water so I wouldn’t get what I affectionately call ‘sand boogers’ on the surface of my pavers. #vacuumingsandboogers

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This job really sucks!

Once the patio and garden was done, we completed a rock garden to fill in the left corner of the yard.

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Ginko tree waiting to be planted in its new home

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Final landscaped view of back corner (rock garden in the background)

By the way, in case you’re thinking we must have had a rugged vehicle of some kind all lined up and ready to transport our MANY MANY rock purchases home with us, below is the actual car we used to schlep every piece of rock and flagstone home. It’s literally being held together by duct tape!

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The trusty old beater used for lugging stone home

Now for the exciting part: buying the plants and installing all the ‘softscape’. This is the part I LOVE – seeing it all come together.

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Busy as a bee

Phase three:

(Set up the pond)

After everything else was done, my husband took over to figure out all the mechanics of the pump for the pond.

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We found a concrete bowl, and the plan was to  drill a hole in the bottom and insert a fountain in the centre of the bowl. But because he wasn’t sure about the capacity, he bought two pumps so he could test them both out; one after the other. One hose was mounted in the pond and the other one was set up to recirculate water from outside of the pond—precariously balanced on top of our brand new green bin and weighed down by a patio stone. Upcyling at its worst …and a big mistake, as it turned out!

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The ‘makeshift’ pump

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Closeup of the makeshift pump – don’t do this at home!

One fateful day, when we were out until almost dusk, hubby left the pump with the makeshift hose running outside the pond. Some rascal of an animal knocked over the stone securing the hose to the green bin and ALL the water in the pond drained out and seeped underneath, which floated the liner like the Titanic! It was an ‘Ay Carumba’ moment of gargantuan proportion. By the time we came home, our liner was pointing up to the sky and all the plants were figuratively screaming to be rescued (sadly, even the floating plants were landlocked).

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Disaster struck

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Oh well, it’s water under the bridge…er, I mean the liner

We worked like mad to lift everything out and drain the water before it was pitch dark. But right in the middle of our panic, my father and sister dropped by for a visit. Talk about bad timing. But—take it from me—if you ever want to get rid of uninvited guests, threaten to put them to work. And then grab a tool—any tool—like you mean it! Works like a charm 🙂

See the complete how-to for the pond here.

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Next season after the ‘do over’

Once the rock garden was done, we were at the end of our first season of hard work in the backyard and had to stop to get ready for fall and winter. A LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG INTERMISSION GETS INSERTED RIGHT HERE :)…….The next spring, we re-dug the pond, fit the liner back in and my husband, bless his heart, set the pump up safe and secure and permanently attached INSIDE the pond!

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We finally turned our attention to installing a dry creek bed and replacing the one patch of grass we had left in the yard:

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Lonely patch of grass

We couldn’t really be too upset about the do-over situation when the yard had come so far. Afterall, our pond started out as a dead twig growing out of the ground and ended up as part of a tranquil spot to relax.

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From bare and sparse (to put it nicely)……

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Lonely patch of grass

Phase four:

(Install dry creek bed/ flagstone/moss and build and install trellises)

We decided it would be silly to have a tiny patch of grass left in our garden because it would be too awkward to maneuver a lawn mower through the backyard to mow it. We dug out a flowing shape for the dry creek bed, added in landscape cloth (which we staked into the side to prevent it from shifting) and then filled the dry creek bed with a colourful variety of smooth river rock

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We then went shopping for even MORE stone – this time flagstone – and handpicked the pieces we thought would fit best. Then we did a dry lay before we dug around each one (digging around each one with an edging tool and removing a few inches of topsoil so we could inset them slightly into the ground to keep them in place and prevent shifting).

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We also found the most PERFECT statue to watch over our newly fixed pond. Given the aforementioned pond disaster the previous fall, how fitting is it that we should find a tragedy and comedy mask statue???  It’s like it was meant to be!

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Dry creek bed wrapping around our ‘Comedy/Tragedy’ statuary with Blue Danube Pom Pom Juniper in the background

After the stepping stones were in place we planted moss around them so it would grow in to fill the gaps between the flagstones. We added a few larger stones on the perimeter of the dry creek bed and planted day lillies and some drought resistant (aka low maintenance) ground cover.

We left a narrow pathway between the dry creed bed and the fence that wrapped around the rock garden and ended at the pond; it got covered in mulch to keep the mud and weeds at bay until the moss filled in.

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The moss gets billowy and full as it slowly spreads into the gaps

Our final project was to build trellises to support some vines and a privacy screen for the BBQ area (behind the retaining wall). Click the link for the DIY on how to build trellises and privacy screens.

Early spring

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Late Summer; we planted 3 Silver Lace Vines for this full lush look

By the time fall rolls around the Silver Lace Vine blooms; it’s magnificent!

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Autumn; Silver Lace in full bloom

The garden facinates me as it changes with the seasons. It even looks good in the rain.Be sure to check out our other inspiring garden posts where we show you how to build trellises and privacy screens, a coordinated mirror and shelf to expand any small outdoor space and some creative planter ideas (as shown below)

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After a summer shower

Phew – I’m almost as exhausted writing about the ‘Mother (Nature) of All Projects’ as I was actually doing all the work! So the final word goes to…..


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We’re too cool for this garden!!

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Mirror Mirror on the Fence

If you live in a teeny tiny house on a teeny tiny suburban lot like us, you’ve got to use every trick in the book to make your spaces feel more expansive than they really are. What better way to do that than with mirror? Mirror isn’t just for indoor spaces; it can be a piece de resistance in the great outdoors too.

This faux finish DIY mirror and shelf idea did just the trick for our little garden.

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On one of my Goodwill ventures about 20 years ago, I came across an elaborate (aka gaudy) mirror in a dated brown stain. Not having an immediate purpose for it, I bought it and added it to all my other ‘priceless’ junk finds in my parent’s basement. I forgot about it until about six years ago when I came across a gold plastic hall shelf in my sister’s garage; I remember it hanging in her mother in law’s hallway topped with a piece of white marble. Suddenly the light bulb went on: if I paired it with the mirror and treated both pieces to the same faux finish, I’d have a great little vignette in the garden. My sister was only too happy to part with the shelf.

I picked up some $1 paints at the dollar store (in rust, brown and cream tones) and some glaze at the paint store and set to work. I painted a base coat of the rust color and let it dry. Then I mixed up the remaining two paints with some glaze (to make them transluscent) and applied them randomly with a rag. By the time they were done, they were still looking pretty dull though, so I dug through my crafting stash and found some silver leaf to glam it up. After applying the special glue and letting it dry until just tacky, I rubbed on the silver leaf. It brought all the detail to life! To seal it for the outdoors, I used a water based spray varnish and sprayed on about 5 thin coats (letting it dry between coats). Don’t forget to seal the back of the shelf and mirror too. For the mirror, it’s best to lift the glass right out and seal every inch of the frame!

Looking at the two pieces, you wouldn’t know that they weren’t meant to be together.

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Before we added the mirror near the corner of the fence, the backyard looked like this:

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With the mirror and shelf added onto the fence, there was a big improvement however the corner still needed something more.

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To round out the vignette, the following year we found a piece of garden trellis in the garbage and gave it a fresh coat of white paint:

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Once both the mirror and trellis were in place, it gave the clematis plenty of structure to cling onto – and provided a beautiful burst of colour! Now that corner of the garden is another focal point we can enjoy.

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The mirror and shelf in the garden

The ‘laciness’ of the mirror provides the perfect foundation for the clematis grow through.

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Silver leaf add’s some ‘bling’ but the flowers add a real splash of colour!

When mounting heavy pieces like these to the fence, make sure they’re secure and can’t go anywhere—especially with the mirror. You don’t want it blowing off in the wind and smashing to smithereens amongst the flowers. That would just bring you seven years of bad luck — and a poor substitute for mulch!

I recommend using a heavy-duty interlocking ‘French cleat’ hanger made of either wood or metal (like the one pictured below). One side is attached onto the back of the piece and the connecting piece goes on the fence. To mount, they just slip together and lock into place.


Metal cleat for hanging heavy objects

The marble shelf is impervious to the weather and can be accessorized with a plant or even a yoga frog for a zen effect.

And along the lines of peace and tranquility, the mirror has one added bonus: it’s positioned exactly were we can see uninvited visitors reflected in it as they open up the gate—giving us just enough time to hide 🙂

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For more inspiring ideas on gardening and decor, visit these links:  landscaping a garden and building trellises and privacy screens.

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Ultimate Guide to Tiling a Laundry Room Backsplash Between Two Walls

Today I’m going to take you through a step-by-step tutorial on how to lay a tile backsplash.

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My husband and I are novices when it comes to laying tile but we learned a lot of things along the way that I’d like to pass that along to you. I hope my how-to-tile guide is helpful if you decide to tackle backsplash too!

You may have seen my previous post where I mocked up two different tile options in Photoshop. Today’s post is about how to install the tiles we chose for the laundry room.

To recap, we decided to install these 6”x6” porcelain tiles:

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Patterned Porcelain Tiles (6″x6″)

The beauty about these tiles is that they come with what I’ll call ‘bump outs.’ I’m not sure what the technical name is for these things is – all I know is that I LOVE them. They make installation a breeze because you don’t have to stop and insert spacers between each tile.

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Notice the ‘bump outs’ on the edge of tile

The prep work is what takes the most time; it took my husband about 4 ½ hours to gather tools, set everything up and plan the layout (we wanted a random mix of the pattern but didn’t want to end up with the same tile side-by-side). The actual installation of the tile – mixing the thinset and placing the tile – took about 2 hours; the total time commitment was 6 ½ hours from start to finish.

Since we were using porcelain tile, we were advised by the tile shop to use thinset instead of mastic. Thinset comes as a dry powder and has to be mixed with water, whereas mastic is more like a glue and comes premixed in a bucket – ready to use. I think the thinset sticks to porcelain better and is much more durable for a backsplash where water could penetrate the grout and possibly loosen the tiles over time.

We had never used thinset before, so it was going to be a bit of an adventure! The actual product we used is a polymer fortified adhesive that claims to provide superior vertical non-slag performance. The last thing you want is tiles sliding down the wall after you’ve spent so much time carefully placing them!

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Thinset need to be mixed with water

How to get started

When working with a patterned tile it’s easier to have a diagram to follow. Just like my previous post, where I used photoshop to visualize how the tile would look before we even attempted to lay the real thing, I used a graphic program to map out the tile placement. This time I used illustrator instead of photoshop. I had the brilliant idea of drawing an artboard to the size of the wall space and then ‘laying’ in each tile to see how the layout would look. I could determine how many actual tiles we would need (our tile shop sells partial boxes so we were able to order exactly the number we needed without having dozens left over). Keep in mind when ordering your tile that the rule of thumb is to order 5 – 10% more than you need. Your tile store can advise you on this, depending on the tile you choose.

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Work outward from blue centre line  (black rectangles are cutouts for electrical and plumbing)

To keep things manageable in illustrator, I sized the artboard and all the tiles to quarter scale (just divide all your measurements by 4). Specifically, the length and width of our wall was 101” x 23” so I divided that by 4 for the artboard (background) to get 25.25″ x 5.75″ and our ‘tile’ squares ended up being 1.5” x 1.5” instead of the actual 6” x 6” at full size.

Once the artboard was drawn, I placed a vertical line exactly in the middle as a guideline. I drew one square tile square and then duplicated it several times. Working out from the centre, I perfectly lined up each square tile. Once I had a row, I group it all together and then duplicated it again for each row. It took a bit of time, but for me it was well worth it because I was able to also draw in our obstructions to scale (an electrical outlet and flange for the washing machine plumbing connections) to see where we would have to make our cuts. I was also able to see how much we would have to cut our tile on each end.  It’s always best to do your final measuring on-site and then cut; so although I had all these measurements, we did not pre-cut anything in case the actual walls might have been slightly askew.

I numbered each tile on the layout (87 of them!) so I could easily picture what I was working on. When we laid the actual tile, we did it in two sections doing the left half of the wall first and then finished the right half. It was helpful to have the numbered diagram because, in our case, we were working with a particular pattern and didn’t want to mix up the order. Labeling each tile with a corresponding number ensured that each one ended up exactly where we wanted it.

If you don’t go to the effort of doing a diagram on the computer, you can also just draw it out using graph paper.

Prep Work:

Gather your tools in one accessible spot:

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Gather all your tools and tiles in one area – we set up an old door on saw horses

Here’s a list of what we used, in no particular order:

  1. Sponge or rag
  2. Trowel (we used ¼” x ¼” notched trowel, but ask your tile store what they recommend for your particular tiles)
  3. Old towels and/or paper towels (to dry off cut tiles and wipe up thinset)
  4. Plastic, cardboard, newspaper and waterproof paper to protect floors and walls, and work surface.
  5. Mask, goggles
  6. Sharpened pencils
  7. Wet saw or snap tile cutter
  8. Green painters tape and masking tape
  9. Water and bucket to mix thinset
  10. Extra bucket of water for washing up tools and rinsing your hands
  11. Level
  12. Combination square for connecting marks on tile to cut for obstructions like wall outlets
  13. Marker – we used this to write number on the green tape and transfer them to the tiles so we wouldn’t get the order or direction of each tile mixed up
  14. Layout guide – if you draw one up on computer or by hand
  15. Thinset
  16. Tile
  17. Workspace. It’s essential to have something to work on that’s not on the floor. We set up two saw horses and laid an old flush door across them for our flat surface. Because it was all beat up, we didn’t protect the surface, but you might want to put down some newspaper or plastic.
  18. Two plastic ‘measuring cups’ – (one for water and one for thinset). Something like a margarine or yoghurt container is ideal for measuring out the water and thinset, but make sure they’re the same size to keep the proportions consistent.
  19. Paint stick for initially mixing thinset
  20. Drill
  21. Cement mixer attachment for drill
  22. Metal square ruler

Turn off the water and electrical.

After turning off water and electrical, remove outlet covers and flange around plumbing if you have one. We used making tape to seal up the electrical outlet to keep thinset off of it.

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Remove covers and turn off electrical

Protect walls, cabinets and floors.

Warning: draw a faint line the width of your tiles against the side walls FIRST before placing your tape and paper. If you leave anything within the space that the grout will be going, the tape and paper will get permanently stuck on by the grout you’ll have bits and pieces that you won’t be able to pull away when you’re done grouting (same goes for underneath the cabinet). If that happens,  you’ll need to carefully cut these away from the wall with an exacto knife and it will be a pain!

We laid down some plastic on the floor and cardboard on top of that to catch any thinset drips and to arrange our tile layout on. Underneath the upper cabinets and on the sides of the walls we use green painters tape to tape up 12″ poly coated paper that’s water resistant. If you don’t have that, waxed paper or even brown paper would do.

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We first ran a line of painters tape on the side of the wall adjacent to where we’d be tiling to protect the wall and then added the paper on top of that so nothing would seep through onto the wall.  Be sure not to place the green tape right up against the corner – or you will not be able to lift it off once the tile is in place (leave a space that’s at least the depth of your tile)!

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Close up of paper to protect sides of wall  (you can faintly see the strip of green tape we ran on the wall underneath the paper first)

Mark studs to determine where ledger board can be screwed in.

Place some green tape on the wall and mark all your studs.

When my husband built the basement he made sure to secure pieces of metal on each stud where plumbing or electrical ran behind so we couldn’t accidentally drill into these services and spring a leak – or cause a fire. Thank goodness he took that precautionary step, because as we were screwing the ledger board in we did hit the metal pieces so we were able to move to another stud to finish screwing in the board.

Determine vertical placement of ledger board.

If you already have a counter in place where your backsplash will go, you’ll be starting your first row of tiling from the counter up to the underside of the cabinets. Since we don’t have our final countertop yet, we determined that four rows of tile should be sufficient for the height. We took the extra measure of lining up four tiles – keeping in mind that each tile has about 1/16” of space for grout – to see exactly how much the height would be. End to end, our tiles measured 23 ¼”. We added an extra 1/8” to that measurement to allow for caulking to finish off between the top of the tiles and underside of the cabinets. Our final measurement was 23 3/8”.

Note: Did you know that flat pack cabinets drop down lower than the rest of the box where the sides meet? Neither did we! Be sure to measure down from the lowest point of the cabinet when you place your ledger (* see Important Note near end of this post below).

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Place tiles end to end to determine height of ledger board

Mark walls for the ledger board and centre start line.


Use some wood with a straight edge for your ledger board; we used a scrap piece of MDF. Measure the length of the wall to determine where the centre is and mark the centre point on the wall.

It can be difficult to get an accurate length between two walls because the tape measure must curve once it gets to the opposite end. The length of our wall was 102” so we placed a mark at 51”. To be certain we were exactly in the middle, we measured 51” in from each side and made a mark. If those marks don’t meet, all you have to do is make another mark in the middle of the two marks and you will be dead-on the centre of the wall.

Draw the line for the ledger board before you draw the vertical start line. Using the horizontal ledger line, you’ll be able to take a 90 degree square metal ruler and align it to the centre mark. Pencil in your start line perpendicular to the ledger line. Use your level to check that your pencil lines are both level and plumb.

We marked our ledger board to correspond to our studs and pre-drilled before screwing it onto the wall.

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Make sure you measure down from the lowest point of the underside of the cabinets for the ledger board (see ‘*Important Note‘ at end of tutorial). #measuretwicetileonce

Screw the ledger board in place.

A ledger board prevents the tiles from sliding down and shifting as you lay them. We were able to disconnect the plumbing and pull our lower cabinets away from the wall. As I mentioned, if you can’t do this, you’ll be working on top of your countertop.

Since we had over 10 feet in length, we had to cut two pieces for the ledger to make up the full length. Try to cut the two pieces so the ends fall onto the middle of a stud. Screw the ledger pieces into the studs using your pre-drilled holes. In our case the edges of the boards did fall onto a stud but there was a metal plate protecting the plumbing beneath, so to stabilize it, my husband screwed on a small piece of MDF to bridge both pieces of the board to hold it all together.

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Bridge between two boards when they don’t fall on a stud or there’s a metal plate beneath

Do a dry layout on top of the ledger board.

We dry laid the first row of tiles starting from the centre mark out to the edges of the wall to double check our measurements and also to plan out the first row of the pattern. We used green tape to keep the tiles from accidentally falling forward off the board.

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If the spacing isn’t equal when you’ve dry laid the tiles tightly to each end, then your centre line is off and you’ll have to re-measure if you want it symmetrical. Once we got to the second last tile, we were measured the gap on each side so we could pre-cut the tile to size. We had an equal gap of 2 3/8”on each side so we cut the tile 1/8” less (2 1/4”) to leave some room for grout and/or caulk to finish the edge. If the ends of your walls are open, purchase metal or plastic tile edging to cap the edge so you don’t see the cut ends – or see if your tile store sells matching border tiles to finish off the exposed edges.

At this point, it seemed like a good time to take a break so we stopped to have brunch. Don’t forget to eat to keep your energy up; you’ll need it for the remainder of the day!

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Enjoying a well-deserved break!

When we returned, we transferred our markings onto the tiles for the electrical and plumbing opening, then used a combination square (pictured below) to line up the markings on the tile so it was ready to cut on the wet saw. Here’s a good video for how to mark and tile around obstructions:

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Combination square

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Measurements transferred onto tile

Take any pieces you have marked on your first row to the wet saw to cut. To cut into a corner come down both lines with the right side of the tile facing up and stop short. Flip the tile over and then continue on the back side until piece falls away where the two lines intersect.

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Cut into the corner from the back side of the tile after completing starter cuts on the front

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All obstructions in the the field are cut out of tile and ready to go!

Number the first row of tiles (staring with #1 on the left). After each tile on the starter row is numbered, transfer your first row of tiles to the cardboard laid out on the floor in front of the wall. (If you’re working on top of your counter, place a piece of cardboard across the surface so you’ll be able to lay tiles across the sink – or find another place close by that you’ll be able to  work on your layout on the floor).

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Number first row of tiles before transferring to cardboard on floor

I suggest writing numbers on the green tape before cutting the tape and transferring it to your tile (that way, the market can’t bleed onto your beautiful tiles!) I arranged all the numbers on a piece of plastic first so I could add them after the first row was dry laid. I then put the rest of the numbers onto the corresponding tiles once everything was laid out on the cardboard and the pattern was finalized.

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Once the first row of tiles was in place, we took a pencil and marked the tops and edges of the tiles . I even placed numbers on the wall corresponding to my paper layout. This step isn’t necessary since the thinset will just cover it all up anyway, but it helped me visualize the final placement.

Before starting the tile work, we also placed a strip of green tape along the entire top edge of the ledger board so if any thinset dropped onto it, we would still be able to remove the board after taking out the screws.

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Layout your pattern.

My husband removed all the tiles from the boxes and placed them on the floor beside the cardboard so we could see the variety of patterns we had.

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Tiles removed from boxes and laid out

Once your starter row is on the cardboard, randomly put tiles into place for rows two to four until all tiles are used up. Keep in mind that some patterns can be turned clockwise so they look completely different from other repetitions of the same tile. Step back and take a good look at the random placement of the tiles. If there’s something you don’t like, now’s the time to make changes and adjust the ordering! Once you have it looking perfect, this is when you’ll be using the green tape numbers you previously made to lable the rest of the tiles.

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Exact placement of tile laid out on cardboard before rest of the numbers are added

Set up a clean area to work closer to the wall you will be tiling so you can stack your tiles and have quick and easy access to move them directly to the wall once the thinset is on. My husband moved the sawhorses and surface right over to the side of the wall we were tiling.

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Stack your tiles in two piles.

You’ll be working on only half the wall at one time. Divide the tiles down the centre so you end up with a left and right pile. Gather up each row of tile, making four stacks for each side of the wall as illustrated below. The first row is in the front because it goes onto the wall first with subsequent rows stacked up behind. You can leave the layout of your plan in the middle for reference.

Can you spot the slight mistake below in the stacking of  the tiles (on the left side of the picture below)? Since you will be starting at the centre of the wall and tiling toward the side, the first row of tiles on the left side should have been stacked in reverse order starting with number 11 on top down to one (I had it stacked from one to eleven). Eleven is the first number starting at the centre so it makes sense to stack your rows in the order in which they’ll be placed on the wall. We fixed the stacking order for the left side of the wall before we started to tile.

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Tiles for left side of wall and right side of wall stacked into two piles. First row is at the front with rows 2 – 4 lined up behind

Mix thinset and let sit 5 minutes.

Read your package directions and follow the instruction as each brand of thinset may be slightly different.

Here’s a good tip about the bucket you’ll be mixing the thinset in. Try to find a bucket that is shorter than the standard paint bucket. That way, you’ll be able to scoop the thinset out of the bucket without straining to get your arm into the bottom of the pail. Since my husband had recently finished drywalling our basement, he saved all the buckets from the drywall compound and they were the perfect size to mix the thinset!

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Mixing bucket and drill ready to go

Attach a cement mixer bit to your drill to get it ready. Put on a mask and goggles to keep from breathing in the thinset and to protect your eyes – thinset is caustic so be sure to protect yourself!

Pour the water into your bucket first and then add the dry powder thinset. Mix up only small batches at a time – enough for half of the wall. We weren’t sure about the proportions of water to powder so it took a little trial and error. We used a plastic container – one part water to about 3 ½ parts of thinset.

The thinset should be the consistency of thick peanut butter. My husband does two tests to check if it’s right:

1) if the thinset on the trowel doesn’t drip off, but can be shaken off. If it drips off the trowel when you scoop it from the bucket, it’s too loose and you’ll need add some powder. Conversely, add a bit of water if it’s too thick.

2) if you can scrape the notched edge of the trowel onto the surface of the thinset in the bucket and it holds the lines of the notches without slumping and smoothing out.

I’ve watched so many videos where the thinset and water are mixed together with the electric drill and thinset explodes up into the air in a puff of smoke! To prevent airborne particles, especially when you’re mixing indoors, my husband stirs the water and thinset together with a paint stick just until it’s dampened, then he finishes mixing it thoroughly with the drill and cement mixer attachment.

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Per the package directions, we let it rest 5 minutes then remixed it again with the drill. It’s now ready to use!

Essentially, you’ll spread the thinset over the entire area with the flat side of the trowel first to get an even consistency. Then come back with the notched edge and scrape it through the adhesive to get your lines. When you press each tile into the thinset, these notches will spread out underneath the tile and bond it to the wall. If you can find a video on how to use the trowel to apply and spread the adhesive, it will help you develop the technique. There’s a real knack to it and a video will help you visualize how to scoop it from the bucket and get it onto the wall (you might end up with more thinset on the floor thank the wall before you master it!).

Learn from our trials and tribulations: it will go much smoother for you that way! We started on the left side. To test the waters, so to speak, my husband initially applied thinset to start the first two rows of tile, put them in place, then applied thinset to the rest of the wall and completed the left section. You’ll likely drip thinset onto the tiles below if you apply the thinset in two stages like he did.When he got to the other side, he got it down to a science. He applied thinset to the entire section of the wall and THEN start tiling.

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Work on one half at a time. We started on the left side at the middle and worked out to the side. Make sure thinset covers entire surface of the section you’re working in – i.e  no wall should be showing (here, we’re still in the process of applying thinset to the section)

Dip the flat side of a notched trowel into the mixed thinset so that you can lift out a dollop of the material on the bottom edge of the trowel. Start at the inside of the vertical line you marked on the wall and work the thinset out to the edges and up to the underside of the cabinets. When you apply it to the wall, spread it out at a 45-degree angle to get good coverage and achieve the proper thickness.  Be sure not to cover up the centre line as you go; this is what will keep your work perfectly straight . Once the thinset is fully spread, you can flip over to the notched side of the trowel and comb grooves into thinset –  again while holding the trowel at a 45-degree angle. Continue combing into the thinset until all the material is grooved.

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That’s better! Thinset is applied to the entire right section of wall with smooth side of trowel – before notching

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Notched thinset

Lay tiles.

If you give the back of each tile a light skim of thinset with the flat edge of the trowel (or wide putty knife) it will help bond them to the wall; this is called ‘back buttering’. Back buttering ensures there’s little chance of any tiles popping off at some point in the future. On our backsplash we didn’t add in that extra step, but if we were tiling a larger surface, such as a floor or shower wall, we would definitely take the time to back butter.

Starting at the centre line, rest the tile on the bottom of the ledger board at a slight angle, but don’t make contact yet with adhesive. Slide it forward toward the wall until the bottom of the tile makes contact with the wall and then press the rest of tile upward to make full contact with the thinset. Press the tile into the adhesive firmly with your hands. You can also press it in with a grout float once a few tiles are in place to make sure there is even contact and each tile is level with its neighbour. Lay the next tile beside the first one in the same process, but be sure to bring the tile tightly up to the side of the first tile (the bump outs should be brought tightly together to form a consistent grout line between them). Clean off any thinset as you go with a damp rag. After the first row is done, continue with the second row. When you get to the end of the wall, measure the gap at the top and bottom (in case the wall is at an angle), then transfer the measurements to your tile and cut. Place the end piece in place, then continue along until all the tiles are in place.

If you run into a situation where there is no support under a tile (like we did around our plumbing flange) use some green or blue tape to support the tile from sagging. Even though the fortified thinset is not supposed to sag, why take a chance?

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When there’s no support underneath a tile, use green tape to keep tile from sagging downward

* Important Note:

When we got to the top of the wall against the underside of the cabinets, everything was going smoothly until, for some reason, the tile wouldn’t fit into place. As we soon found out, if you use flat pack kitchen cabinets that you have to assemble yourself – such as those from Ikea, the cabinet box is going be slightly longer where the sides meet (see diagram below). We ended up having to ‘notch out’ where that longer bits hit up against the top of the tile. If you have a wet saw, it’s easy enough to notch the piece out, but if you’re using a snap cutter it would be difficult, if not impossible. If you have Ikea cabinets, consider leaving a larger gap between the underside of the cabinets and tile to compensate for this glitch (i.e. make sure you’re measuring down from the lowest point of the cabinets when you set up your ledger board). You can fill the gap in with caulk; in most cases you don’t really see the underside of where the cabinet meets the top of the tile so leaving a slightly larger gap shouldn’t be a problem.

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Here you can see the pieces that are missing where tiles had to be notched to fit against the underside of our Ikea cabinets

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Last piece of tile – 2 hours after mixing first batch of grout

Stand back, admire your work and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! You need to wait 24-48 hours before you can apply the grout.

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We grouted the tile, then added some textured glass into the upper cabinets. Here’s the final reveal of our laundry room now:


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Hidden Kitchen Storage: Turn a Filler Panel into a Pull-Out Cabinet!

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Utilizing Wasted Space to Add Storage

Although our kitchen is a beautiful space, it isn’t overly functional; I knew we could do more to maximize the limited storage. The light bulb went off one day when I was surfing the net and found this base filler cabinet roll out:

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If you have filler strips in your kitchen, you can reclaim that wasted space and build a custom base cabinet into the space the filler occupies – with a gap as little as 3” as illustrated below. The inspiration shot below shows a pre-made unit used to store spices. With a little DIY magic, the sky is the limit with what you can do!

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In our case, here’s how the gap beside our sink looked before – you can see the 6 1/2” space on the left side of the sink cabinet:

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For whatever reason, the contractor who installed the sink cabinet did not centre it in the space. Instead of two filler strips balanced equally on both sides, we ended up with one 6 ½” dead space on the left side of the sink that was filled in with a wooden filler piece provided by the kitchen manufacturer.

I was hopeful that, with a little careful measuring, we would be able to gain some valuable real estate in this small area to store a few things.

Many of the ready made units I saw online had adjustable shelves, but we decided it would be simpler and faster to determine what we wanted to store and just build fixed shelves to the height we needed – the beauty of DIY’ing is customizing the size to your needs! We decided to store plastic containers on the top shelf (so we could stack them) and cooking oils on the bottom so went with only two shelves.

I’ve illustrated our dimensions below as a guide to help you find your own. Everyone’s situation will be different so I’ll walk you through some of the considerations we had keep in mind when my husband built this. You will essentially be building a box with shelves mounted in between at whatever height you determine is best for the things you want to store.


Prep Work and Steps

1. Decide on what slider hardware you will be using. We decided to purchase hardware that could be mounted on the top and bottom of our pull-out so we wouldn’t lose any space on the sides. Since the height of the pullout box needs to fit the height of the space, and you’ll need something to attach the drawer glides to on the top and bottom. My husband built a frame of sorts with a top and bottom to mount the drawer glides to. He then added in a filler strip under the counter top so we wouldn’t have an ugly gap – our filler was was 3 ½ inches long and wide enough to fit between the side between the sink cabinet and wall  (there is wood along the underside of the filler strip to mount the top glide to).

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3-1/2″ filler strip under counter

You’ll need to determine the type of gliding hardware you want before you start to build the box because you’ll need to know what clearance you’re dealing with – which will determine the finished size of your box. I also didn’t want to put any hardware onto the front to draw attention to the cabinet, so we purchased the type of hardware that you can simply push on to click it open and closed.

2. Remove the filler strip you currently have in place. Once filler strip was removed, my husband was able  determined the width and height of the gap and calculate the measurements for the size of the box we would need for the pullout.

I was worried about how we were going to create the door front and match the paint colour (the badly painted filler piece was trashed by the time my husband pried it off). As luck would have it, I was able to buy a flat panel drawer front to match our kitchen cabinets from the manufacturer and use that as our front door panel by using it on its side – no painting, no muss, no fuss! It was almost the exact size we needed (6 ¼” x 29 1/2”)! We simply had to cut about 1/4” off the bottom to match the height of the door beside it (which we never got around to doing and is hardly noticeable unless you stare at it!).

3. Cut your pieces of wood and dowel for the rails and assemble box. We chose to use maple for the box to match the rest of our cabinets, but you could probably use MDF and paint it or even veneered plywood if you finish the edges with veneer tape.

Construction was pretty simply. Cut your outside pieces and shelves to size, construct the box by fitting the shelves in between and screwing it all together. My husband squared up the box, added a little glue to the edges and screwed it all together by countersinking the screw holes (unfortunately, we didn’t get a picture of the box before it was installed but you’ll get the idea with the picture below). We also had to come up with a solution to keep our stuff from falling off the shelves; the inspiration shot had nice metal railings. My husband’s solution? Fibreglass rods he had left over from his kite building days!

Once our pieces were cut and assembled, my husband sprayed a water-based lacquer onto the wood to seal it and protect it from spills and water (especially since it’s near the sink).

We actually placed some of our items on the shelves before drilling out the holes for the rods and to determine both the best height and width for our items. Our rails were 2 5/8” above the bottom of the top shelf to restrain our plastic containers and 4” above the bottom of the lower shelf to keep our glass bottles from tipping out when the cabinet is opened. The holes for the rods should be a snug fit so drill a few sample holes for the rods in some scrap wood to test it out before drilling the cabinet itself; you don’t want o drill them too loosely and have them flopping around. My husband simply drilled a hole through the back of the cabinet (which you don’t see once the cabinet is in) and then drilled another hole to line up at the front that was slightly countersunk into the wood (not all the way through) to hold the rod in place. The rods got threaded through the back before the box got mounted into the cabinet. I think an easier way to do it might be to drill the hole in the front (which gets covered by the door) and then countersink the holes in the back of the cabinet – but either way you choose to do it will work. You could probably find small wooden rods at your local big box store that would work just as well as the fiberglass rods we upcycled.

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An important factor is the spacing between the rods. Since we knew we wanted to store plastic containers, we dry fitted them in place so we could see what the best width for the rods would be. Our rods are spaced 5” on centre – any smaller and we wouldn’t have been able to fit our containers between the rods on the shelf!

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4. Attach sliding mechanism. Once the box is complete, add your sliding drawer hardware. We weren’t exactly sure how to line up and mount the hardware, but we did it with not too much trial and error. Test it out to make sure it glides in and out properly before mounting the door front.

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5. Mount door front. Once the box is mounted into the cabinet, the last step is to screw on the door front. The door gets screwed on from the back of the cabinet into the back side of the door.  Double check to make sure that your screws are short enough, it will be a ‘doh’ moment if your screw is too long and comes right through the front of the door!

We made a template of the door cut to size out of cardboard and lined it up on the box to make sure we were happy with the way everything lined up. We then tape it securely and pre-drilled through both the cardboard and the box in two places (top and bottom) all the way through to prepare for mounting the door.  We also traced the shape of the box onto the back of the cardboard with pencil and added an up arrow. By transferring all the marks and location of the screwholes to the back of the door, we could be sure that we wouldn’t accidentally place it upside down onto the box.  You can drill a tiny divot where you marked the screw holes (or use an awl) – or you can just transfer the pencil marks onto the back of the door; we did both. Holding the door tightly against the front of the box, insert the screws through the hole in the box to meet up with the door and screw it on tightly (if you pre-drilled a divot, it can help you set the point of the screw and find the screw placement).

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All stocked up and ready to use!

I’d love to hear about YOUR kitchen storage projects – let me know what you’ve done to eek out more storage space!

Be sure to check out our next post on this Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack. It shows how we managed to squeeze even more storage space into our small kitchen! We customized an Ikea rolling cart with a removable drawer unit to use beside our pantry. Here’s a sneak peek at that project:


For more home improvement and DIY ideas, check out the home page for a listing of projects.

You might be interested in my new craft blog where I just posted a tutorial and video for this remote control holder I made hubs for his mancave. You can find it here.


At Birdz of a Feather craft, I’ve also created this duct tape portrait of Elvis. If you’re interested in the how-to, watch the video on my Youtube channel and subscribe. I’ll post instructions to Birdz of a Feather Craft as soon as I have 50 subscribers.


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Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather

Decoupaged Medicine Cabinet | Birdz of a Feather