Category: DIY



Intellectually, I’m not a huge fan of new year’s resolutions—heck, I’m not even sure about how you capitalize and punctuate the phrase. :) I like to think that the time of year shouldn’t have a massive impact on deciding to make improvements in your life, you know?

But I’m in a weird spot this year. My part-time tech writing contract comes to a close at the end of January, which means I’ll be circling back to working on The Heartographer full time. I’m launching a few new products and initiatives soon that just happen to be coming out in Q1 2015. And I have a medical procedure coming up in March that will go much more smoothly if I can get a better handle on my physical health in advance.

For me, January 2015 will end up being a time to spark change and transition, whether I meant it that way or not. And while the philosophy of “make improvements independent of the new year” is a sound one, I never actually implement changes. Like, ever.

Discipline and follow-through have long been huge weaknesses for me. But as I prep for business and life shifts over the next year, it’s increasingly important that I get a better handle on the part of me that resists working hard to effect positive change in my life. It’s time to start actually trying instead of pooh-poohing the whole idea.

On La Dolce Vita, Paloma Contreras shared a few thoughts about how to make 2015 the best year yet. First on the list was setting intentions instead of resolutions. This totally jibes with me—on the one hand, I’d love to not give myself wiggle room to bail on what I set out to do, but I’m self-aware enough to know that the whole fear of failure thing would make me drop all my firm resolutions as soon as the going gets tough.

So, in the spirit of actually following through with some intentions, even if the outcome isn’t as drastic or simple as I’m hoping, I’ll share with y’all some of my intentions for the new year and beyond.


I’ve been wanting to get savvy with photo and graphic software for ages, so I can better self-help when I need to create a quick visual asset for my business or one of my many sites. I’ve made my poor husband (who is a video game designer, NOT a graphic designer) create and modify SO MANY business cards, ad graphics, logos, header images, you name it.

Photoshop is top of the list in terms of learning to create my own stuff, but OmniGraffle is next, as well as learning a bit more about actually manipulating a camera to take better pictures.

And this may sound frivolous, but I’d like to get the hang of applying false eyelashes. I’ve read how-to guides online and grilled every makeup artist who’s ever applied them for me, but I think what I need more than anything is a few extra pairs and some dedicated time to practice.

Falsies (I swear they’re called that) make a huge visual impact in the videos I produce! Of course they’re fun in social settings too, but I really mainly wear them for business. God, how weird and boring is that? You’d think I was a burlesque dancer or something! :)


I’m working on an iPhone app with Brandon, who does 99.9999% of the actual coding. While he’s helplful in teaching me some stuff, I can only have a certain impact in how much progress we make—but if I stay motivated, ask questions, meet regularly with him, and generally keep the marketing and production balls rolling, we tend to do more actual coding work too. I’d love to see a working app prototype on my device by the end of this year, even if we don’t actually get a smoothly tested version for sale on that timeline.

I’ve been writing a book since 2009, for Frey’s sake, but I finally started making true progress this fall after applying a sort of GTD-like system to the project. I’d like to either get that book fully self-published this year, or have a firm deal with a traditional publisher.

I’m launching some video courses soon, which have been in the works since last summer. I expect those to ship in Q1 of this year, yay!

I’m also FINALLY launching a podcast soon. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be out in time for Valentine’s Day. Woohoo!

I’m also launching another blog at some time this year, which will be a more personal but specific venture. I’ll post here when it goes live.


What a douchey word, right? But I need to make it a greater focus in 2015 and beyond. I spent the first seven whole years of my business under-charging, partly because I love what I do but also because I wanted my focus to be on great service and customer experience instead of great profit. But I’ve grown up and come to learn that those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s OK to make a decent living doing something you love.

Now that I’ve laid that foundation, I need to have a firmer focus on monetization with every single business decision I make. Heck, even that new personal blog I mentioned is going to have ads, something I’ve kept off my other sites for the most part. The advent of sponsored content makes this so much more OK for me—I’ve seen poorly integrated sponsorships as well as amazing ones, and I’m confident I can find a way to make good money on a blog and still provide unquestionable value to readers. I’ve never ever tried making a blog profitable before, but this year I’m going to make it a focus and at least see how it goes.


We need to lose weight. Especially me. We’ve needed this for a while, but it’s particularly urgent as I have a surgery type thing in March that will go better if I’ve lost even ten pounds.

The problem, in many ways, is that my weight is HAPPY weight. I met the love of my life, found a love of video games, and have been slowly getting fatter as I enjoy sitting around doing stuff I enjoy with someone I adore. The only times I’ve ever drastically dropped in weight were both when I was living abroad, isolated, and terribly ill to the point of hospitalization. NOT a good association, you know?

We also need to limit our expenses. We’ve never made or stuck to a budget; we barely even try. But as we plan for our future, it’s more and more crucial that we not overspend. We’ve kept our heads above water and been delightfully debt-free or close to it except (now) our house, but we don’t really save and plan ahead.

I’d like to have a fund for home décor splurges, as well as unexpected repair projects. I’d like it to be no big deal when we’re confronted with astounding hospital bills from unexpected medical issues. I’d like to save up for vacations we don’t even know we want to take yet. But I need to get much more serious about seeing this desire through. Now’s as good a time to start as any.


I have a ridiculously massive wardrobe, and yet I tend to get stuck wearing the same 5% of my clothes over and over again. That sort of makes sense to a point, since they’re items I love and feel great in, but it’s a bit silly and limiting. I also want to “shop” from my previous wardrobe by trying on stuff that I haven’t been able to fit into in ages—weight loss will give me a guaranteed shopping spree.

I have tons of craft supplies for cool projects that we just finally started unearthing when we cleaned out our basement. I’m excited to, say, check my Artsy Drawer (or Dresser) before I drive my ass all the way to Michael’s.

I feel the same about home décor and hardware—sometimes, we already have the right curtain rod that would look fine in a given room if I could just set my hands on it. I’m hoping that our Giant Basement Cleanse will assist.

Oh, and I love skincare and makeup, but I barely use most of my cool products. (For someone with an entire blog about this stuff, you’d be amazed how many nights I go to sleep without washing my face and then wake up annoyed that I have irritated skin.) I always want to spend more time and energy with my fun grooming products, because they really have an impact on how I look and therefore how I feel about myself. Why the hell am I just letting them expire under the sink? Let this year involve more masques and whatnot. And eyeliner. Use it or lose it.


So yeah, that’s my summary. What are YOU resolutish about this year?

Quit lying about cords and cables

Quit lying about cords and cables

Something has really been bugging me lately. As I’ve become increasingly obsessed with fancy shelter magazines and blogs in my quest to beautify our home, I’ve come to realize that those publications totally bullshit their readers.

The glossing over of cables and heaters and vents is as maddeningly deceptive to me as celebrities Photoshopping out their imperfections. I feel like all these helpful make-your-home-nice guides are presenting a completely unrealistic standard by hiding every cord and cable in their perfectly uninhabitable but elegant spaces.

Emily Henderson offered a helpful peek into that world in her recent post. I’m OK with some tweaks to sell a pretty magazine—like Photoshopping out how that one console thing totally bowed in the middle (I guess). I’m also fine with contrived styling for a perfect shot—I mean, I like when Emily posts realistic shots side by side to give a dose of reality, but I accept that a stylist and designer is mainly going to post designed and styled images.

Right = truth, left = LIES. (All images via Emily Henderson’s blog.)

But I dislike LIES (which were clearly at Domino’s behest, not Emily’s. I don’t fault her, I fault the industry!) Little beautifications I get. But removing unsightly but NECESSARY elements like heaters and cords pisses me off on principle; it’s like pretending we don’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. These innovations have an aesthetic tax. Admit it, embrace it, and show me how to work around it, dammit!

Anyway, in my reality, heaters and cords exist and it sucks. Heaters can be hard to work around, for sure. I’m glad we now live in a home with forced air vents instead of baseboard heaters—those are both ugly and a major fire hazard! We just have to get stuff that sits up on legs and allows heaters to flow air underneath.

But oh, the cords. THE CORDS! Cord management is my single biggest annoyance in the two rooms I care most about, appearances-wise—our living room and my office.

Here, for example, is my new media console solution, complete with the consoles that mainly belong to my video game designer of a husband:

Trust me that this is the Extremely Pretty version.

Looks busy but decent enough, right? (Try to ignore the giant white cable on the right; I refuse to/have no idea how to Photoshop it out. It’ll be gone once we rewire the outlet because blah blah 1947 house.)

And here it is in relation to our TV, in case that helps explain the context of the entire space and its constraints:

Bonus points for noticing the crooked Wii sensor bar!

But here’s my secret efforts to make it look even this okay:

Don't even get me STARTED about how no blogs ever show rooms with honeycomb blinds like these.

See? There’s a huge mass of cables I’ve only somewhat concealed. You can see them if you look at the whole console at a fully level height, but it’s so low that mostly you can only see the tangle back there when you’re sitting on the couch and deliberately looking for cords. Possible, but not super likely.

Oh, and here’s my other sneaky trick: be careful with those curtains!


Yeah, these lightweight silk curtains are kind of puffed out from the wall because they’re basically concealing an entire R2D2 chassis width of just cable knots back there.

If I lived my life in the Domino Universe, I could just magically wish away these sorts of mortal tech-loving concerns. Instead, I spent hundreds on curtains plus hardware for the entire space in part to disguise this sort of cordage. I obsessively measured and fretted for months and pinned media storage solutions that were low-profile and kept that space feeling light and airy enough but still offered enough storage to fit all our consoles, somehow, yet breathed enough to let them all vent sufficiently (a real problem that glass-doored media consoles fail to address, FYI) and allowed our heater to heat. I stacked books and arranged lamps and pretty baskets filled with DVDs to conceal the worst of the cords. And it’s still nowhere near as schmancy as a magazine would tolerate. Which I’m OK with, but I wish they were, too!

I would MUCH rather buy a magazine that showed me expensive but insanely clever tricks for, say, building cord-management conduits directly into your walls, than faking that they just didn’t exist. Hell, I have this entire board of TV and media console disguises. I ought to start a board just for managing cord concealment options. Domino sure as hell isn’t going to do it for me!

Help me make a closet look cool

Help me make a closet look cool

Recently, all our closet shelving came crashing down in the middle of the night. It sucked. But I’m taking the opportunity to install a way better system than the cheap janky poorly-installed one that the previous owners had put in. And I need help!

After some useful Facebook input, I opted for The Container Store’s Elfa system. Even though it’s kind of expensive compared to some other systems, it’s worth it to us to buy the system that can be installed by someone else, since the main blunders we’ve made in home ownership involve attempting to mount things in the wall and failing. Boo. So we’re doing Elfa in platinum. Here’s an example closet that’s hilariously perfect looking!

Hey, but it sort of matches my blog, right?

I’m sort of tempted to take the opportunity to turn our closet into some weird glam corner of seductive mystery (probably in part because I’ve been looking at pictures like this one; it doesn’t help that half their stock photos have like an overstuffed armchair and a lamp and a fucking birdcage inside the closet). After all, this may be the only time since we moved in that I’ll completely remove everything in it, leaving the walls open for some sort of design revamp, you know? And a walk-in closet feels like a safe fun space to go a little design crazy, since it’s not as prominent as any other area in the house. And who doesn’t want a little fun when they get ready in the morning?

Daydream in Red by Hygge & WestMy first thoughts leaned towards wallpaper. I love the idea of wallpaper *right now* somewhere in our home, but I’m sure that my desire to trend-proof will mean that I’m regretful of it down the road. A closet seems like a less regret-prone space than, say, a bathroom or hallway. So I was thinking this Hygge and West pattern, that’s super cheery and fun and bright and on clearance! Great, right?

But then I asked Grant about it and he summed it up well that this is something that looks like a very specific era (i.e. like 2008, my guess not his) and that we’d be sick of it in ten years. Which is totally true, and while not tragic, it’s kind of annoying, right? I mean, I’m not going to want to strip and redo it then. And it DOES read as something incredibly au courant as of like four years before we even bought the house. Already dated; move on.

I don't know the source for this. :(My next inspiration was Nina Campbell’s Perroquet wallpaper, which while stunning is probably insanely expensive and way too girly for Grant’s taste. I mean, he’d let me steamroller him into putting this up, but I’d always feel a TINY bit guilty about it.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 6.18.27 PMA close runner-up in the “vaguely avian Chinoiserie” category included this Anthropologie paper (one of their less expensive) which I love but has similar girliness and timelessness concerns, plus I dunno about the yellow.

For some reason it looks way better in this image (which I got from bossy color).And then there’s something super Asian and saturated, like Schumacher’s Chiang Mai (inspired by bossy color). But then this is ALSO probably ungodly expensive, and I don’t like the knockoff nearly as much. Even though it is more masculine feeling (at least to me, dragons over birds) I still suspect Grant will find it a) too Asian, b) too busy, and c) too bright.

sheila bridgesIf I had all the money in the world, I would get some Sheila Bridges stripey wallpaper in this orange color and install it everywhere, walls AND ceiling, and be done with it, because our master bedroom is already orange and black and white and JUST LOOK AT THIS AWESOMENESS. (Sheila Bridges is, like, Domino fancy—I first learned of her via her Harlem Toile de Jouy design in their magazine/book/somewhere, and some silly part of me loves having a *recognizable designer something* in our home even though I logically know that’s ridiculous for non-rich people.)

I just can’t spend $175 a roll right now; sorry Sheila. It’s a stretch to even do the Elfa system given that in the space of one month, our car broke down, our closet shelves crashed, our washer leaked so we need a new one AND we need to spend money repairing the damage we can’t DIY from that, AND we took two trips to see two friends get married which involved paying for two hotel stays. Sigh. No badass bold stripes for moi, nor any other designer elements. Those Hygge & West and Anthropologie wallpapers are probably my only viable options price-wise, which made me start leaning away from paper since those are my least favorites.

PLUS, the walls and ceiling in our closet are full of crazy cuts and angles, which make it insane to wallpaper, AND I realized that I’d be covering up most of the walls with clothes, which sort of makes wallpaper cost and effort pointless, unless I only did the ceiling, which is an option since it’s huge and sloped and prominent, but is still maybe more work than it’s worth and maybe more expense too since it’s hard to get smaller quantities of nice wallpaper.

SO. Now I’m thinking painting. But not, like, painting the whole room, because a) I’m lazy (I can rope my mom into helping with wallpaper but not necessarily paint although I haven’t tried that hard yet, see “lazy” above) and b) I can’t think of a single specific color that I would want to do. BUT I saw this weeks ago in my RSS reader, and I kind of love it.


It’s this super organic pattern that Shauna from Beautiful Matters did by hand, and I think it has a cool bold organic yet modern vibe and would be some work, sure, but actually seems less annoying than actually painting the room—I could leave the blah contractors’ beige in there and even do the stripes in a metallic that would play well with the platinum shelving.

But I showed this to Grant and this is what he said:

I think that idea is much better than the execution.

Like, I don’t think it looks bad, but if I went through that much work I would want it to look much better.

This room is by Mary McDonald but I have no idea where the pinner got the source image.I totally get what he’s saying, but I’m not sure I … care. I pressed him and I think it mostly means that his taste gravitates towards a more regimented, taped-off intentional stripe look. But, like, Shauna’s project seems WAY easier than taping and painting bold stripes. But then maybe I’m crazy! Maybe tape WOULD make doing stripes super duper easy! And I’ve always loved this one green stripey room by Mary McDonald; maybe I should try to paint THAT!?

Should I paint weird hand-done vertical stripe thingies like this in the closet? Should I tape and paint (or free-hand) a more graphic stripe like that Sheila paper I love so much or this Mary room I love so much? Should I just leave it blah beige since it’s JUST A CLOSET? NO I can’t do that, not when I roped my mom into assisting me in transforming it.

Please assist me in making a decision so I can make my closet punchy and fun, people! I welcome your ideas. :)

Design lessons from narwhals

Design lessons from narwhals

This is a whale tale. It’s a father-daughter story. It’s also a lesson about a design job gone wrong. It was inspired by a recent blog post from Seth Godin, soliciting a narwhal logo for the Krypton College project he started. (You can see the logo they ended up with here.)

When I was in second grade, my class studied whales. We each got to pick a specific whale to specialize in, but we also studied whales in general. We took some really cool field trips to areas where we were supposed to see orca whale pods that never actually materialized—but we had loads of fun, and we played with jellyfish and tidepool crabs and generally managed to still learn a lot. Much of which I still remember, if you feel like quizzing me!

My whale was the coveted narwhal—coveted of course because of its similarity to a unicorn. In case you were wondering, most second-grade girls LOVE unicorns. (Heck, the boys probably liked ’em too, but I was the big Unicorn Whale Winner that year.) I was SO STOKED! I think I liked narwhals EVEN BETTER than unicorns!


Image: Unicorn Free by Amy Hoy
Image: Unicorn Free by Amy Hoy

On one of our educational field trips, we went into a whale-watching museum gift shop. There was this cool little toy of a curvy orca impaled with a dowel, who could be spun along this track of two pieces of wood. You’d spin the dowel and the little orca would somersault in flip after flip; it was delightful, kind of like a Pacific Northwest executive toy for a desk, you know? (I’ve tried and tried to find an example to show you, but it’s elusive.)

I of course wanted one, but in a narwhal instead of an orca, duh. I wanted this badly, despite my not considering the factors a) that the narwhal was much longer proportionally, especially when you included its horn; and b) that in fact the cool toy-rendered spinny motion was not a natural behavior for either species of whale. No matter; I wanted a spinny narwhal toy, and my father was a hobbyist woodworker who was delighted to potentially grant his daughter’s wish. So Dad and I set about making our own narwhal version of this toy.

Well, first of all, I failed to articulate that the orca toy had been painted, so all of its black and white detail showed. The narwhal isn’t nearly as high contrast or recognizable in its markings as the orca is, but I still probably envisioned a dappled gray end result with a stained ivory tusk. Instead we did the whole thing in some sort of soft wood, with a walnut stain effect. It turned out lovely, but eight-year-old me was probably confused as to why it didn’t look more like the toy I had remembered and (to my mind) faithfully described.


A real narwhal.
Credit: Save the Narwhals

Second of all, there was no internet. This was in the late 80s, and we couldn’t just Google up a narwhal’s dimensions. So I think we either winged it, or *maybe* dug around trying to find a relevant National Geographic before winging it. Some sort of Encyclopedia Britannica or Commodore 64 action may have been involved as well. In the end, the narwhal we produced had a tusk that was much shorter than a faithfully realistic narwhal model’s would have to be. I don’t think I even noticed this as a kid, but I can’t help noticing it now, haha.

Lastly, I thought I had described the orca toy’s spinning and flipping and catapulting well—in hindsight, its motions were actually more like that of a seal than of any whale family member I’ve seen in action. But anyway, it spun. Like, all the way around, somersault style. Multiple times from one push. It spun from either the rightmost point on the tracks all the way to the left, or vice versa if you flipped the toy around, and it completed MANY revolutions in that distance with minimal user effort; this was greatly satisfying. We, ah, we may have miscalculated that part. (I’m guessing I didn’t fully articulate the spinning nature, nor did I pipe up authoritatively during the manufacturing process when I realized that there was no way this non-curved narwhal with its lengthy tusk was going to be able to spin around on its own competently.)

Our end product was a gorgeous walnut-stained narwhal with a short tusk, straight body, and tracks that could accommodate only a faint rocking back and forth motion. Furthermore, we failed to take into account the balance of the whole narwhal’s body, so its head leans forward significantly when at rest. (The orca is pointless to compare to here since its shape was totally different, but I believe my young self would want the balance to be even or slightly favoring the head, if she had to give up on the spinny action. Just a hunch. Because, you see, the head comes up for air. I was weirdly kid-logical even at eight.)

Interestingly, Dad actually added in a few improvements. That textured detailing on the horn was pretty painstaking, I’m betting. That’s true to form and outside the scope of my original vision/request. And see how he used a router to round out the edges of all but the tail and fin spots? That gives the whole thing more depth and dimension than I had envisioned; the orca I was modeling my request after was more 2-D. It was flat on both sides and maybe a centimeter and half thick in the middle. None of the edges were rounded like this; any dimension on the orca came from paint rather than actual texture or form.

My little narwhal

I absolutely treasure my adorable little narwhal model now, and I’ve had it on display in every home I’ve lived in as an adult. It (he, I think) gets lots of compliments. But I still think it’s an amusing window into how the design process can go very wrong. (Note that I’m not a designer at all, and neither is my dad; I’m just amused to ponder this as a Pretend Case Study.) I want to make clear that I don’t intend to take away from the awesome work of my wonderful father, whose generosity and joy in creating cool woodworking items lives on. But let’s put on our Design Hats break down where we went wrong if this had been an official modern adult design transaction.

1) I failed to articulate my needs. I wanted some very specific elements to be included, like paint and functional motion, but I didn’t specify them, and my dad as a non-designer didn’t know how to ask questions that would draw out a complete spec. He worked with the vague picture I painted and he created a mental picture from scratch based on my youthful ramblings.

2) We failed to adequately research. Between the two of us, we probably could have come up with some data point indicating that the narwhal’s tusk would have to be n percentage of its body length; we then could have figured out how much space it needed to clear in order to turn an orca-like revolution.

3) I didn’t speak up or halt the presses when I saw things going wrong. This is assuming I even saw things going wrong or had any ability whatsoever to compute this; really, I have no recollection. I was eight. But I think I could tell that it was shaping up differently than my mind’s eye when I saw Dad at work. (I would watch and learn as he created things.)

4) We both allowed design assumptions to be made, without checking in. Dad actually did something much more elegant than the orca; he rounded the edges of all but the tail on our narwhal. This is way more sophisticated and realistic-looking than the more 2-D orca toy which inspired the project. But he also assumed stain was fine, he assumed the dowel placement didn’t matter, and he assumed the piece was more for display than for toy-like use (I think). I assumed he could read my mind.

These are all interesting problems that I imagine actual design professionals face. I myself am learning to define my intentions, articulate them better, and check in more regularly when I hire creative vendors for my online dating coaching company. What say you, Actual Design Professionals? Have you run into anything like this with a grown-up client?

My Apple announcement annoyances

My Apple announcement annoyances

Last week was the Apple announcement about iPhones, as we all know. I lazily covered the coverage with a couple Internet pals here and here, in case you feel like watching a lot of awkward banter and dead air. :) One week after the Apple shebang, here’s where I’m at:

I don’t give a crap about the 5c. I get that the strategy is theoretically interesting to many, but I just don’t care how it affects Apple’s business. I take a pretty narrow view on Apple stuff; I care about how it affects me directly. I want the newest fastest thing whenever it’s upgrade time, and my 4S has been frightfully slow lately so there’s no way I’d go up only one processor tier when I have the option of going up two tiers.

Edited: I had originally posited here that the 5c was potentially pricier than it seemed because the back couldn’t be swapped out easily like its predecessors, so you had to factor in the cost of going through Apple’s expensive repair path if you scratched up the camera lense as I am prone to doing. However, Friendly Internet Helpers have since pointed out that this easy back panel swap-out actually hasn’t been around since the 4S. My bad. (It IS possible with a 5; it’s just a pain in the ass.)

-I will be getting a 5s the second I can hop online and pre-order one. After much deliberation, House Roberts is sticking with overpriced AT&T as our carrier, but we will drop text messaging from our plan after the comp period I wheedled them into is over. I looked into switching to T-Mobile but I’m just not convinced the coverage is sufficient. 1 I’m still debating 32GB or 64GB, because I love having a massive music and podcast library and I mistrust streaming and cloud services, but realistically I haven’t been all that pinched for space on my 32GB 4S (or its 32GB 3GS predecessor), and on the one hand what’s a hundred bucks for two years of hard drive freedom but on the other hand why not save it. I’m also deliberating gold or black, because I dig the gold in theory (and amusement), but I can’t ignore the dings on my white 4S nor John Siracusa’s sage point that a white surround means the screen white will never be as brilliant seeming as when it’s next to a black surround. (Feel free to weigh in on either of these minor remaining decisions if you think you can sway me; Decision Time looms!) It’s a little bit of a bummer that the pre-order time is during the XOXOfest party. I’m not invited, but I still plan to be in Portland networking and hanging out with friends, so I hope everyone considers it socially acceptable for an entire bar/room full of people to stop mid-sentence and fire up the Apple Store app, haha.

-I only really care about the new camera. I mean, I’m pleased by the fingerprint stuff, and 64-bit seems just snappy to me for development down the road, but I don’t really care about that stuff. No, what I’m stoked about is the camera. The warmer flash color, the burst mode, and the increased stabilization are all going to be AMAZING for my business, in which I often take random shots of clients for their online dating profiles. I do work with a professional photographer sometimes, but some clients are too cheap or busy to schedule a photography add-on with her, and besides I snap pics of friend-clients all the time for free. (I’m no pro, but I know what you need to look great in an online dating context. Subscribe to my newsletter if you wish to also have this knowledge.) I also just snap casual vanity pics of myself, my husband, my cat, and whatever I find pretty (or ugly) for social media purposes, especially with the advent of The Cover Image. 2 (Oh, but I don’t care about slow-motion video, although go nuts if that’s your thing.)

-I’m quite frustrated the 4S is still on the market. Wanna know why? Because I want more STUFF. I’m a huge fan of third-party accessories—car chargers, pretty docks, speakers, etc. I love when we stay in hotels that have little clock radios that we can plug our iPhones into. And for MANY years now, the 30-pin connection has been standard. When I bought my 2006 Scion xA brand new, you could get an iPod connectivity option that worked with the iPhone and as far as I know still does. I was too cheap for that, but I’d do it now… except the marketplace is not adapting to the Lightning, er, adaptor. I still see so much crap out there that’s 30-pin-only. And as long as the 4S remains the free with contract option, I don’t think designers and manufacturers are sufficiently motivated by market pressure to update. There are still people who will buy that crap, especially if it’s discounted. But I LOVE accessories, and I look forward to when the new Lightning standard is fully adopted and we can all get on board with a more diverse marketplace of compatible accessories. (They still need to kill off the iPad 2, and I expect them to do that in October so I’m annoyed that the 4S is still a little old-tech thorn in my digital side.) Maybe I’m wrong; maybe lots of awesomesauce Lightning accessories are finally going to flood the market. But I don’t think so. I think the 4S has to die its death (presumably next year) before we see a real accessory Renaissance, and well, that annoys me.

The iPhone 5c with a case.-I mistrust first-party cases. The 5c-designed case seems pretty, but I really hate the stupid ill-designed peekaboo holes placement. Irksome. The leather 5s case looks lovely, and I might pick one up, but I’m concerned that an Apple-designed case will not have a sizable enough headphone aperture for non-Apple headphones, which will be an Original iPhone type problem. (Every model since then has done away with the recessed headphone jack, but I found that, with a case on, my 3GS and 4S often couldn’t accommodate non-apple headphones. And the overpriced recessed adapters available at the time were, predictably, utter crap.) Because of the headphone aperture issue, I mistrust these cases, until I can get my actual hands on one and try it out with headphone cables that I probably will never have on hand when I’m out shopping. (I will be in Portland on Preorder Day so maybe I’ll pick one up tax free if the lines aren’t too insane and just return it if it sucks, sigh.) That one Apple iPad case with the back on it was such an overwhelming failure that I am skeptical about Apple suiting up their own equipment properly. (Don’t get me started on how there’s no first-party car charger or screen protector.) I also hated those iPhone 4 bumpers. I dunno. I don’t think cases are their strong suit.

-I’m stoked to be in the club. I’ve been an iPhone owner from the first gen, and Grant and I have traded models ever since. (I had first, I bought him 3G, I got 3GS, he got 4, I got 4S, he got 5.) Despite my long iPhone user history, I’ve never actually had the shiny new thing on the same day as everyone else. I’m pretty stoked! I’m much more of an Apple nerd and tech nerd in general than I ever was before, so it’ll be fantastic to be on the same wavelength as all the other overly picky entitled tech whiners. Wooooo!

-I’m not done whining. Now that we’ve gotten the phone we all wanted, I am desperate for a retina iPad Mini and an updated Thunderbolt display in the skinny new iMac chassis. Hurry up, Apple! 

-One final whine: 5c and 5s? Not 5C and 5S? REALLY? Steve Jobs would never I mean just

It’s not just me. Maybe hire someone to whip up a goddamn style guide. Heck, I’ll do it for free.

  1. I like GSM better than CDMA for dull I won’t go into here, so I was never considering other technologies. Ask me if you really wanna know why.
  2. Sigh. I hate cover images. I already feel stressed out by the prospect of having to come up with multiple different avatars and, you know, content. I can never come up with anything polished and cute and unique enough for multiple cover images across all the many different profiles I have, both personal and business. A sexier camera does make this task easier. Yay!
TV above the fireplace

TV above the fireplace

Ever since flat screen TVs took over the old cathode ray tube models, people have been mounting them on the wall, causing the earth’s interior design community to have a collective cow. Wall-mounting is so practical, though! It saves valuable floor and furniture space since TVs no longer have to rest atop a bulky media cabinet, eating up precious living room real estate. 1 When we toured a zillion homes before settling on this one, we saw living rooms with no TV or a wall-mounted TV, often above the fireplace, and an increasing number of finished basement dens with the “big” non-wall-mounted TV. People are changing the way they use their homes and view their TVs, and I think interior design is foolish to resist this shift. 2

We subsisted mainly on the projector in our finished den for two years, but then we sucked it up and bought a living room TV, mainly for parties and entertaining. We’re SO GLAD we did; we spend way more time on the main floor of our house now, enjoying natural light and sunsets and open windows while still being able to consume the media we love. I kind of can’t believe we waited this long; having a TV upstairs has really made us happier homeowners, and everything about our upstairs living room feels friendlier and more welcoming now. A TV also helps us figure out better furniture placement, and it just generally dictates how the room is used. And we spend more Couple Time there, since now we can play co-op games in the same space without me feeling like I have to slink down to the basement-cave. 3

After researching the right tech, size, price point, and features, we got our TV at Best Buy and paid them to mount it above our (functional, brick, wood-burning) fireplace.4 I know hanging a TV above a fireplace is a design sin to many, but it really is the only space that makes sense in our living room. I styled it in with a bunch of little knick-nacks that help hide all the cords and that blend it in a bit. We eventually hope to get hard-wired sconces flanking it, but given how pricey the rewiring and drywall is, for now we’re happy to just suck it up and use these lamps I got at a consignment shop. 5

This may sound insane, but aside from thinking ahead about how many HDMI ports we would actually need (answer: more than two, eventually) here’s my only TV purchasing regret: I actually am constantly bothered by the uneven bezel width around our LG model, and I wish we’d paid the several hundred dollars more for a similar Samsung choice that had a thin but even bezel all the way around. I realize that’s not a logically sound way to spend money, and that no one but me and Grant will ever notice or care about this, but it bugs me and next time around I think I’ll lobby him for the better industrial design aesthetic. 6

A larger shot of our TV and surrounding elements.

You can see my TV and fireplace here as they relate to the rest of the room—our front door is to the left, with only the storm door closed right now, and then a big blah but functional table/shelving unit house our DVR and consoles to the right. Beyond that is a corner window obscured by an enormous cat tree I promised not to move until Trumpy kicks the kitty bucket someday. I hate that black cabinet, but we needed something for the DVR and XBox 360, and this was $20 at our local thrift store. It’s solid, it already had a hole in the back for cords, and I don’t care if humidity or moisture from my plants screws up the already crappy finish.

Since we don’t really have a proper foyer/entry area, the spot just past the front door is where we put the mirror that used to be above the mantel. This works really well to have a sort of “check yourself” area before leaving the house. And while the TV above the fireplace isn’t perfect, I think/hope I worked it in OK. You don’t see it at all when you first walk in, because it’s behind you. Many clients don’t even notice that we have a TV until they leave, if at all.

A picture of my TV, styled in with antiques and other decorative objects.

The other day when I was rearranging the knick-nacks to add in some new antiques, I realized we are like the opposite of the Islamic design principle of aniconism. We have SO MUCH flora and fauna! Let’s see, there’s a brass owl, a ceramic rabbit, a steel larch tree, a glass hedgehog, a porcelain cow, a crochet cat, a jade dragon, a brass apple bell, and a ceramic foo dog. And that’s just the ones I can obviously identify in this photo. Plus there are subtler things like the floral pattern on one of my Voluspa candles, a ceramic vase that looks like a weird seed pod, and a viney pattern to the photo frame. And behind the Kinect upon which the kitty rests, there are some glass birds and some floral cream and sugar porcelains just to make it not look weird and bare back there. We are veritably obsessed with nature at House Roberts.

I also keep thinking maybe I should blend the TV in better by painting the fireplace bricks a dark gray or black. Ever since we bought the place I’ve been uncertain what to do with the fireplace. Redoing anything with actual stone/masonry seems insanely expensive and pointless since trends cycle back around and we may end up hating something new and wanting to go back to this original 1947 brick and wood look, ya know? Plus, while I dislike the terra cotta floor tiles, they do blend in pretty subtly and I don’t mind the actual brick or the wood mantel now. I maintain Pinterest boards for both TV disguises and fireplaces, and I keep thinking about what I could do to snazz this up, but I haven’t been inspired to inject change into this particular area of our home. I think I’ll wait and see how things look once we get our lovely gray Farrow & Ball paint up on the walls before we go too crazy! My dream fireplace would be in a marble like Carrara, but not too mod and not too traditional, and probably something with a little tan or gold veining in it too to tie in with all our warm wood floors and trim. I just don’t see it being worth the expenditure when this one feels fine enough to me, and we have loads of more functional and urgent updates like windows and a deck.

Anyway, the whole reason I bothered putting these ramblings into a blog post was because Jenny of Little Green Notebook posted about how she’s putting her TV above her fireplace. The woman is a professional interior designer, with a massive blog following, so clearly she’s got hecka great taste. If she can do it, so can we! :)

  1. This presents new challenges, though, since most of the “smart” TVs out there aren’t all that smart yet, so we still have to connect one or more bulky devices to our TVs with annoying unsightly cables. At least devices like the Apple TV are small enough to be worked into a typical mantel; not so with consoles like an XBox or with most physical disk readers. I expect this to change over the next five to ten years, removing the need for any media cabinet at all eventually. But it’s a slow process and it’s expensive to adopt all the new tech.
  2. I also think a TV hung up high is subtler than one shoved in a corner looming at you. And we don’t find the viewing angle at all troublesome, ergonomically; if anything, I think it encourages better posture/neck angles, and is easier to view when lying down on a couch.
  3. I get so sick of the misguided “Kill Your TV” mantra I received as a kid; TV is so much smarter and sharper and higher quality than it ever has been. After all, we’re watching incredibly creative projects like LOST and Breaking Bad and Orphan Black and Archer, not Hoarders Who Horde or The Real Housewives of Shut Up Already. (And lest ye feel judged, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching that stuff, it just doesn’t speak to me at all. And I don’t really get TV as a zoning out mechanism for the most part, because I prefer to zone out in other ways. But whatever works, man! Quit whining about killing TV and go find some super high quality program that captures YOUR interests!)

    Also, we can entertain our friends better. Whether you admit it or not, cartoons and games are GREAT for calming a fussy kid, and now that we have a TV with a couple gaming consoles hooked up in our living room, we can capture the attention of babies on up to five year olds who would otherwise find it boring when we tried to interact with their parents. I assume our TV will come in handy when we have kids of our own, too. ;)

  4. This was a complicated, stupid, expensive process, fraught with insanely ineffective bureaucracy BS and numerous hidden fees. I managed to get them to knock off a couple hundred bucks for being such incredible nitwits about the whole thing, but I urge you to not do what I did. I’m not very handy or confident when it comes to big structurally dependent projects like this, but I would absolutely DIY this process if I had to do it over again. If you DO hire it out, save every single receipt and get written quotes with names and employee numbers for every single aspect of the process if you have a big box retailer do it, and tell them you want the wood-only installment but you want the team to bring masonry tools just in case, and that you’ll pay for the masonry upcharge at that time if and only if it’s truly necessary. Also, insist on waiving any kind of consultation appointments. It’s a totally unnecessary upcharge, like gold-plated USB cables.
  5. I paid more than those lamps were worth to get modern drum shades put on them at my local lamp shop, because I can just never find ready-made lamp shades that look anywhere near as nice as the hand-made ones do. I consider this expense totally worth it. If you have a lamp whose shade is irking you, I urge you to visit your local lamp store and look into this. They tried on multiple harps until they found the right one, and they adjusted everything perfectly so everything sits at just the right height, lighting up the room but not blinding anyone with an inadvertent glimpse of exposed bulb.
  6. I literally still haven’t bought a single humidifier because none of them look like this.
The Karlstad leather collection from Ikea

The Karlstad leather collection from Ikea

A lovely lady named Madeline recently tweeted at me to learn more about my Karlstad leather sofa collection research, and she found my lengthy email reply helpful. I’ve been eyeing this sofa collection from Ikea for a couple years now, I have a special Pinterest board devoted just to this couch and its many stylings, and I think we’re finally almost ready to bite the bullet and buy us some Karlstad soon. (We have yet to actually purchase the thing, as I have to find a good day to drag my husband to Ikea to check it out in person and sign off on all this white leather.) I figured the rest of you might find my obsessive Internet sofa research useful, so here’s what I sent her (edited to add more links, images, formatting, and information for y’all).

Oh, and my Internet Pal Paul pointed out that I utterly failed to include any pricing info. I guess I’m not used to doing retail-minded posts, haha. So I’ve gone in and stuck USD prices here. All are for the birch leg option; models that for some reason offer chrome versions ready-made are $20 more. But really, price-wise, you’re better off getting the birch version with separate chrome legs since it’s the same cost and now you have a choice, ya know?

Ikea Karlstad leather sofa: $899
Ikea Karlstad leather loveseat: $879
Ikea Karlstad leather chaise add-on: $600
Ikea Karlstad leather loveseat plus chaise combo: $1,479
Ikea Karlstad leather footstool: $249
Ikea Karlstad leather armchair: $549

The Karlstad leather sofa in Grann White, with birch legs.


• I could NOT find clear reviews of how the leather version of the Ikea Karlstad sofa holds up, so I tracked down every Pinterester or blogger who had a white leather Karlstad sofa, and I commented, tweeted, and emailed them ALL for feedback, haha. This included a handful of moms and pet-moms who’ve had the thing for a while. All of them said it holds up really well to family and furry abuse; no scratches and it wipes clean pretty easily. I was really skeptical about this, but everyone seems quite pleased with how it’s lasted over time. (I was specifically asking after the Grann white leather finish, but it stands to reason that the darker ones handle even better, since the leather is dyed-through. I verified this in person and thoroughly inspected models of all colors. Dyed through means that scratches on dark models shouldn’t show a light color underneath like they would with most vinyl or cheap leather, because the dye permeates the entire thickness of the hide. Ew/yay.)

The striped Stockholm rug from Ikea.• Color-wise, the Grann white is much more of a creamy white than the site shows, which is nice IMO. I have a few of those cheap Ikea Rens sheepskins and I don’t think they’d look out of place draped on an armrest (for the cat) even though they’re a bit creamier; it’s the same family. The Grann white leather finish matches Ikea’s black and off white graphic Stockholm cushion and their black and white offset stripey Stockholm rug pretty well, in case that helps. (This image is of that rug with an even creamier Stockholm leather sofa, though, which is apparently no longer available in that color.)

• Ikea Fans has a couple different posts questioning/suggesting that using the Absorb leather care that Ikea sells will darken the color an unknown amount. This isn’t a HUGE concern to me; my main concern is “What happens when my tipsy friend and/or self spills red wine mixed with Diet Coke on my new white leather couch?” because that is bound to happen at some point. Time will tell. There’s a reason we’re purchasing leather stuff as we transition away from rowdy Rock Band parties with drink spill adventures into more diaper blowout type adventures. I honestly think the latter will make for easier cleanup; time will tell on that frontier too I guess.


• Everyone online concurs that the Karlstad leather collection’s seating/cushioning remains firm and comfy, and from what I gather the leather one gets much less compressed/lame over time than the fabric model. It felt pleasantly soft for tufted leather, but much more substantial than the fabric Karlstads I’ve sat on both at friends’ houses and in the store. ALL of the complaints I saw online about Ikea couch cushioning getting compressed and wonky were about fabric sofas.

• I sat on several models at Ikea and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and durability, so I thought. It’s not as hard as it looks like it’ll be in the actual seat area, but in a good way. However, if you plan to sit with your back against an armrest instead of the back, DEFINITELY get a few thick and tall throw pillows as a buffer, and be OK with a couch that requires throw pillows in order to lean against the arm part. (Our current monstrosity-couch has these enormous padded armrests that are the same height and thickness as the back, which is lame for aesthetics IMO but awesome for comfort.) I wish they made a leather version of this Karlstad cushion to stick there, but they don’t seem to.

• Other commenters/bloggers noted that it’s a very low couch, and therefore they had to adjust to lower end tables and lamps accordingly. (I find it the right height and I’m OK with end tables that hit the exact height of an armrest; maybe I’m the weirdo.) Also, when I sat on the floor models I noted that the whole Karlstad leather collection is quite deep, too. You may want to use throw pillows behind your back both for cushioning and to adjust to a more normal couch depth for sitting. We like a deep couch, though. But…

• The dimensions are a little surprising to me, so you may want to measure your floor space and really make sure it’ll fit well. It has a smaller feel because of the narrower and up-on-legs scale of everything, but that depth really eats up quite a lot of floor space, I found, so it’s just bigger than it looks when I go by the actual numbers. I taped out profiles on my LR floor to make sure I could accommodate what I wanted (two full couches facing each other) and found that I definitely couldn’t, so we’re going with a different configuration…

• The interior seating area of the Karlstad loveseat is longer/wider than many loveseats, while still having a dainty look overall, so you can sit on one side with your back against the armrest and fully extend your legs if you’re tall like me. :) However, the interior of the full Karlstad sofa is not long enough for a tall person to fully lie down. In order for a tall person to recline comfortably (I’m 5’11” and my husband is 6’3″) you need the Karlstad loveseat plus chaise combination.

• The combo of the leather Karlstad loveseat plus chaise is cuter and comfier than I anticipated, and for what it’s worth the spacing of the seats exactly matches the loveseat, you know? Like it makes it a three-seater instead of a generous two-seater, seam-wise. We now plan to buy two loveseats with one chaise add-on for one of them. However, I was disappointed to realize that…

• There’s no leather option for the Karlstad corner sofa. I don’t know how that slipped me by! It’s a bummer because I personally think the sofa-plus-chaise look is a bit dated and not nearly as comfortable or accessible to guests as a full-on corner sectional, but I guess we will have to make do, and this *will* probably fit our space better. I actually think I’ll be more OK with it than I was with our last be-chaised sofa; that one sucked because the chaise was created by swapping in an ottoman and a longer cushion, so it never really fit well or stayed put. The Karlstad chaise add-on unit feels more like a part of the couch is acting as a second ottoman, if that makes sense. I awkwardly pretended to be my own guest at Ikea, sitting and flopping and lying all over all areas of the loveseat plus chaise combo, and I deemed it acceptable.

• The Karlstad leather footstool (or ottoman, as I like to call it) is nicer and more useful looking in person, so I think we will end up getting one and sticking a tray on top of it as an auxiliary coffee table unless we need additional seating. (I never really thought about turning ottomans into tables via trays until Emily Henderson schooled me.) The price discrepancy between a small ottoman and a large sofa isn’t that great, I know, but I think it’s like an initial dollar amount for them to produce ANYTHING Karlstad and leather, and nominal amounts past that to make things bigger, ya know? What do I know. Anyway, the ottoman seems very stable as seating, a table, or a footrest. We’ll put this in the empty space in front of our fireplace. That space is sort of wasted in our gas-heated rooms, but it looks weird to completely block a fireplace with something more substantial, so a low dainty footstool which will probably mainly be a cat-bed is just perfect.

• We prefer sofas/loveseats over chairs for our setup, but I sat in a Karlstad leather armchair and it was perfectly comfortable and nice.



Like many design snobs, I think Ikea’s standard birch block legs are ugly. I’m determined to change them even though they actually match some old Husar unfinished pine hutches we have in our dining room. Our seating area is far enough away from those that I don’t think it’ll be clear we were matching them; we’ll just look like we were cool with leaving the ugly blocky pale SO UNSTYLISH original legs on. :) So we plan on buying others (because the shape bugs me too, not just the color).

• If you want to downplay the legs while saving money, you could just paint them, or do like Young House Love and get all crazy with an oil-rubbed bronze finish. Like many unfinished-looking Ikea things, they actually have just enough clear lacquer on them to make it annoying to change them. But that’s your cheapest and probably simplest option, especially if you’re on a tight budget or you have a lot of legs to tackle. I do think that you’ll barely notice the blocky shape once they’re a darker color, if that helps make your decision.

Hahahaha I'm sorry but I couldn't help myself. This image at the end of every Ikea instruction manual always cracks me up.• For an extra $20 per set of four I think, you can get Ikea’s chrome legs. The problem is that those are uglier than they should be. If you look at this old Jezebel article recommending the prior Karlstad fabric model, you can see that the cool sleeker chrome frame extended along the entire bottom of the couch. But since we no longer have that option, we have to go with the weird chrome awkward angle-tapered ones that to me look like shelf brackets. Oddly enough, these I would like better if they WERE blocky, like the ones shown on Jezebel. Alas, if you’re determined, I’m sure you could find legs somewhere that are the right metal look, or you could even check out the rest of Ikea’s legs that are sometimes not even meant to go with couches. I’m sure their customer service can help you figure out which ones would hold up actual furniture.

• If you buy third-party legs, be careful to make sure they fit the holes (insert juvenile joke here; go ahead, I’ll wait). Ikea’s legs apparently are threaded with a metric bolt or some such, so make sure the vendor of sexy legs has a bolt that will work with that. I forget where I read about these woes but I think a lot of hackers ran into a lot of grief over this and had to jigger special solutions to make their new legs work, so either be handy or buy from a more trusted source that specifically fits Karlstad.

The folks from Our Mid Century did their own legs for cheap from Ace Hardware. Seems annoying to me and I prefer a stain-free choice for no scratches or dings showing through. But you can copy them if you like!

Alternate sofa legs from Uncle Bob's Workshop.• The legs by Uncle Bob’s Workshop are the best I’ve seen, after careful (OK, compulsive) review. The reason I like these the best is because I prefer ordering stuff that’s a solid wood that doesn’t need to be stained, since that way it doesn’t show scratches. Most other vendors only offer stained or painted legs. Also, I’m lazy and skeptical that I’ll do a great job if I DIY, and I want something totally stable and solid and gorgeous. These are made especially for the Karlstad, but you can also get a conversion option for some other Ikea models which you can select at purchase.

This Etsy store Thirteen Colonies also sells legs. They make a couple different heights, so hey, if you’re bothered by the lowness of the Karlstad maybe this is a solution.

• If you’re into upping the funk factor, you could look into legs from Pretty Pegs, or probably DIY one of their designs yourself. Personally, I think this all starts to get too busy given the texture of the tufting already present on this otherwise clean and streamlined collection. But I suppose it all depends on your room’s vibe.

• If you want a less Mid-Century Modern look, you can get more transitional legs like these. Poke around. Just bear all that Karlstad-specific stuff in mind, and also keep in mind how much buying legs adds up to your total price point! If I get all the fourteen dollar solid teak legs I need plus shipping and tax for two loveseats, a chaise, and an ottoman, I’m looking at over two hundred bucks. That’s manageable, but it adds up so that may factor into your ultimate leg choice!

I will continue pinning any cool new leg ideas I see on my Karlstad sofa Pinterest board. Gosh, I’m almost thinking you could, like, DIY gold leaf them or something. Gah. Save me from myself!


A sofa with the Bemz Loose Fit Urban Slipcover.Slipcovers: Most slipcovers are designed for fabric Karlstads and not leather ones. However, even though Bemz claims their Loose Urban Fit slipcover isn’t meant to fit the leather model, I actually think it would fit, if you ever wanted to switch it up, protect it, or change the color and look down the line. This is what Bemz said back to me when I pressed them about whether I could sneak a Loose Fit Urban onto a leather Karlstad:

Our slipcovers are custom made to fit the IKEA Karlstad model with the removable fabric slipcovers. Like you say, our regular fit covers are tight fitting and do not fit over the leather version.

But with the Loose Fit Urban covers there is the concern that the slipcovers may be very slippery and not sit properly on the sofa if there is leather underneath. This will cause extra wear and tear on the seams. As we do not recommend putting our slipcovers on leather sofas our 3-year guarantee does not cover that sort of wear and tear.

So that’s actually not such a big deal, if you know what you’re getting into in terms of warranty and wear-and-tear. If I were to buy one of these, I would get the seams reinforced by a tailor, or possibly just get the whole thing in a heavier fabric like canvas. Either way, it seems to me that since the actual dimensions of the couch are only 1/4″ different between the fabric and the leather, you just might be able to get away with some slipcover wizardry. PLEASE let me know if you try it; I’m curious to know if I can slipcover over white leather if awful stains do happen to me down the road!

For what it’s worth, I ordered some Bemz swatches just in case. I was pleasantly surprised by their quality and texture as well as free-ness, mildly surprised by some of the colors as compared to the website, and mildly disappointed that it took a very very long time for them to arrive. Duh, international bulk mail is not speedy. Plan ahead if you’re pondering a slipcover and need it in a specific time frame!

I’ve also seen the Australian slipcover company Comfort Works, but I find their site design annoying and the Bemz fabrics appeal to me a bit more.

I peeked at Knesting too but frankly theirs look cheaper for a similarly high price point, and they don’t cover nearly as many models. Boo.

Pillows: I already talked about throw pillows you can get from Ikea above, and really, I’ll let you enjoy exploring those on your own. But for what it’s worth, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the very affordable pillows I snagged from H&M’s new online storefront. I’ve taken the liberty of creating an overwhelming custom H&M throw pillow search URL for you here. Go nuts! (I bought a pair of these in black and white stripes, which are actually soft black and off-white; a pair of these in charcoal; a pair of these in medium gray (violet undertones) and in peacock (lovely); and now I am forbidden from bringing new pillows into our home. None of them are AMAZING quality, but they’re all decent, and they were so dang cheap! I do recommend sucking it up and buying the H&M brand fillers since the sizes are a bit odd. But those inserts are also pretty cheap, and decent quality.

Blankets: The Karlstad leather sofa’s clean lines are kind of begging for a great throw blanket or two, maybe stacked on the nearby footstool when not in use. I’ve never been particularly thoughtful about throws before; I always used whatever weird ugly thing we had on hand just for warmth. But reading a bunch of design blogs makes me realize what a great design impact the right throw has, so I have been on the lookout for something both boldly stylish and functional. I was SURE I’d be snagging the Ikea Eivor throw based on this Emily Henderson post, but in person the thing is super duper cheap and lame looking. Obviously acrylic, ugly black stitching that looks weird on the cream parts, and just generally not nice up close. I can totally see how it makes for an amazing graphic pop in styled photographs, but I have no interest in snuggling under this thing during a movie marathon. So then I ordered this faux leopard blanket, but it got lost in shipping so they refunded it and I’m kind of glad since I was worried it is maybe a little too RAWR COUGAR for this 30-something household. :) Still searching.


I’m a bit of a leather snob, and also a cheapskate. The Ikea Karlstad leather sofa is THE leather couch whose quality and price point are acceptable to me. You can learn more about leather types here if you like, but I dug up some relevant info for you because I want you to love your couch as much as I hope to love mine.

Here is what Ikea says:

Dyed through grain leather from cattle, with an embossed and pigmented surface. Soft, hardwearing and easy care leather ages gracefully. A slight treatment allows the leather to breathe well and keep its natural structural variations.

And here is what Wikipedia says about what I can glean is the type of leather Ikea is using in this series:

Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.

What I can tell you is that the leather I touched on this particular Ikea collection felt higher quality than the leathers I’ve seen at places like Kasala, Dania, and Crate & Barrel. I was very pleasantly surprised. Also, I’ve spent like a year trying to follow Emily Henderson’s leather sofa tips, but I don’t think we’ll ever find anything that’s better than the Karlstad pricing-wise and I’ve never seen anything in Seattle that was, like, an amazing vintage leather sofa steal. Never. Nor have I seen things affordably priced enough at our Restoration Hardware outlet to justify pulling the trigger (although it’s true that if you want non-white, their stuff is way sexier than any other new leather I’ve ever seen. I particularly love their “Glove” color.)

I can also say that I now believe you should never, ever buy any furniture in vinyl. I know fancy bloggers like Little Green Notebook and good old Emily Henderson will tell you otherwise, but I just think it smells and sounds weird and is all sweaty and sucks and when a mark or stain happens it RUINS the thing, whereas with leather that’s a decent enough caliber a scratch or scuff just “adds character,” you know?

Anyway, when it comes to leather it pays to be picky, but I really think this Karlstad leather (and that of Ikea’s Stockholm sofa) is shockingly good value and quality.

So, folks, I think it’s officially time to stop writing about sofas now. I hope you find this helpful! Refer me clients if you do! ;)

Some final programming notes

• Please forgive the many linked names to the Karlstad leather series or to its individual pieces. My Karlstad Pinterest board is my most-followed social media thing except maybe my ergonomics board, and I get the feeling this post might kinda blow up with people considering a Karlstad sofa so I’m SEOing the crap out of it even though that might be a tiny bit annoying for readers. Please love me anyway; I’m only human, and I only really want everything I do on the web to hopefully have the side effect of reaching people who could use my help as an online dating coach if I can!

• If I seem to allude to your blog but I failed to actually link to you, please let me know and I will do so. I’ve done SO much deep diving on this couch that a lot of the info I’ve included is more like little memory fragments than specific references, which is why you’re not seeing the link you desire. But I will gladly link it up if you help refresh my memory, and I would totally appreciate you returning the favor! Isn’t that how this blogging thing works? (Serious question; I clearly have no idea what I’m doing here.) So far I got helpful input from Visual Jill, Ella Pretty, Denise, and Brandi.

• If you love my writing and my level of detail, and you’re single or you know someone who is, please check out my online dating coaching site at The Heartographer. Thanks! <3

Farrow & Ball gray paints

Farrow & Ball gray paints

Even though I’ve been mostly stuck on bedrest lately, I was so giddy to finally choose a paint color for our living/dining room that I sucked it up and painted all six of my Farrow & Ball samples. I cut three big posterboards in half, and I used the fourth one as a makeshift dropcloth since I can’t find my actual canvas one. I banged this task out really quickly; I used a disposable Clinique blush brush from some dumb gift with purchase because I couldn’t find our paint brushes, haha. (It shed like crazy but it was fine for just this simple sample task.)

Me, painting a sample.

The paint dried quickly, but not quickly enough!

A close-up of a paint sample, with a fly stuck in it.

I followed Maria Killam’s advice size-wise, and I made these as big as possible so they would still fit in my messenger bag. I want to be able to bring them with me when I go shopping for furniture and other fabric items, to compare undertones. But I also knew that I needed to see them pretty darn big against our walls, trim, doors, and brick fireplace. It works like a charm; the colors and undertones are SO much easier this way! Here is the six grays we had picked out. Captions are misbehaving, so from left to right, they are Lamp Room Gray, Manor House Gray, Hardwick White, Pigeon, Blue Gray, and French Gray.

A selection of six gray paints by Farrow & Ball.

It blows my mind how much easier it is to see the undertones and the true compatibility of each color when you blow them up like this. Holding these big boards against everything really helps highlight everything. Several of these are much more green or beige than even the larger index-cardish sized store samples show, and of course the light in our house is different than the light of that store. The last three are WAY greener than we want, which is good to know.

When you’re holding them up, you have to hold them right against the fixed elements they’ll be working with. We held them against hard surfaces like trim, doors, brick, and even hardwood floors, but also against soft items like the rug, sofas, and even our big beige cat tree, haha. (I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t look like even MORE of an eyesore with new paint!)

Testing large paint samples.

I had suspected all along that what we really wanted was either Lamp Room or Manor House Gray, and I was right! In the image of swatches you can tell that Manor House has much more violet undertones here whereas Lamp Room reads closest to a truly pure, neutral gray, which is exactly our goal. I’ve read so much about how Farrow & Ball paints have lovely different pigments that look different in each light, so I’m sure it’ll shift a little from day to night and winter to summer, but still. Lamp Room it is! That’s the color I’m holding against our fixtures above.

One smart thing I did (even if it’s perhaps pointless now) is that I painted the tops and the labels of each can, like so:

The tops of my paint sample cans, now painted.

The labels have really terrible pixelated color dots that are not good representations of their contents, so this will be much more accurate if I ever use these for projects down the road.

The labels of my paint sample cans, now painted.

I don’t know when we’ll be able to actually paint our walls, since I will have to run to Portland again for more F&B paint if I do decide to go with that. But I might take this to Home Depot and see about getting them to color match Lamp Room Gray in a cheaper brand, just in case that’s as satisfying a result (of course I’d do the same sample trick with that to be certain). Or maybe we’ll just suck it up and have it shipped. I honestly have no idea how much I’ll need, but the samples that look best are the ones with really thick coats, so I know I won’t want to have to skimp on the walls.

Also, we might try to find a good lighter shade for the ceiling, and possibly a slightly darker one for the crown molding. Still deciding on that part. If we do that, we’ll have to get extra trim to seal off this one awkward bit where the molding ends at our staircase, because it would drive us crazy not to have a clear definition there of where the ceiling paint should end and the wall paint should begin. One thing I’ve decided for sure is that I’m painting it myself if we do it to save money, because it’s just not that hard if you suck it up and go for it. After all, why do I work from home if not for the flexibility to tackle things like this? :)

My crown molding.

Anyway, I urge other Styler Curers out there to take time to paint large samples and really compare them against the elements that are going to remain in your cured room, as well as against the new items you’ll be moving in there. You’ll be glad you did! Go buy Maria’s book if you need more guidance than this post. :)

Style Cure Day 10: Success and failure

Style Cure Day 10: Success and failure

Well, today is Style Cure Day 10, and the task is to make a shopping list and a budget. I basically already have that done, except that I’m still waiting on window treatment quotes. But I had a bit of a finances scare—nothing truly outlandish, but because I’ve been under the weather for so long, I’ve been less diligent about keeping tabs on our finances these past few weeks. And in checking into those, I’ve come to realize that my months of less-than-affluent entrepreneurship have been slowly taking their toll on our income and savings. So I suspect that my Style Cure will be put on hold until we feel more comfortable spending on bigger purchases like sofas. (We might still get the rug we have in mind since it’s a relatively inexpensive way to make a bold visual impact.)

I did get up the energy to paint my gorgeous Farrow & Ball large paint samples yesterday, so I’ll photograph and blog that soon. But that’s less exciting than the OTHER project I finally took on, haha.

The cover image for my ebook, "Window Treatments for Modern Pragmatists"I wrote a book! Sort of. A libellus, a brochure, a petit livre. I finally just went ahead and hit publish on this little ditty about curtains. I’m still looking into converting it to iBooks, but that’s in the works.

Why the heck did I write about curtains when I’m an online dating coach by trade? Well, I’ve been pondering and researching window treatments ever since we bought our house, and this really kicked into high gear since the room we were planning to redo for Style Cure is our living room that faces directly west. The windows have been bare for two and a half years, because we just haven’t been decisive enough about exactly what would work and look best. After all, it’s hard to part with money on an expensive fixed element like that when you know you’re going to change your whole look eventually, ya know?

But we recently had some house guests stay with us, whose squinting and sweating in the hot July sun made us realize it was time to suck it up and dress those windows. So I researched, and I blogged, and at some point my blog post was so dang extensive that it just seemed fit for book format. And I’ve been working on an online dating book for ages, so this is a convenient safe little test run just to make sure I know how Kindle plays and can hammer out any kinks before my *important* book comes out eventually.

So! As soon as Amazon lets me, I plan to switch the price to free, so my friends and clients can snag it for no money if they want. I’d make it free forever, but I kind of want to test how royalties and payment works as an Amazon author, so I priced it at the lowest US value possible. (I also made it a 99-like price in all other markets, even when that meant it cost slightly more. I doubt all of Europe and Asia will rise up in outrage over it!)

Anyway, there you have it! This is very much geared towards people with similar taste to mine, but if you’re designing a clean, modern space and you’re stuck on window treatment ideas, it just might help you out. And yeah, that goofy cover image is in fact a picture of some of my curtains, haha. I’ll probably change both the cover and title eventually, but I wanted to just hit go and get it out there, ya know?

Living room makeover

Living room makeover

I didn’t grow up super decor-minded, you guys, despite what you read on this blog and possibly see in my obsessive Pinterest habits. I grew up in a bunch of weird different homes over the years, the most stable of which had cheap-ass wall-to-wall builder-grade beige carpet, Formica countertops, those ugly schoolhouse linoleum floors, and aluminum blinds. It also had ugly pseudo-modern 90s light fixtures with that pale green glass and shit, and the first-ever energy-efficient CFLs, which were not all that C and which emitted an even greener, buzzier, flickerier lighting than today’s CFLs. I kinda thought everyone grew up with builder-grade fixtures; I was fascinated by the people in my co-housing community who had a bunch of fancy much-nicer upgrades done to their unit. I never had, like, coordinating sets of anything growing up, except the duvet and matching sham my mom made me, and I rarely cared about things like thread count. I had a preference for natural materials, but that was about it. (It blew my MIND in 1998 and 2001 that all the Spanish kitchens I saw had granite countertops. I literally never met a single person growing up who had those. Were they just not a thing before the 90s in this country?)

Because of this less Home and Garden focused upbringing, it took me a long time to blossom into someone who appreciated nesting. Before I had my own apartment, I was really uninterested in home décor stores; I’d get super bored while my nestier friends wanted to poke around looking at cute vases and photo frames and such. And my first apartment on my own was a tiny studio and I was super-broke, so I didn’t do a ton of decoratey spending there either. From that abode I moved into a house with roommates so I also didn’t feel wildly motivated to decorate outside my own bedroom. However, being annoyed by one roommate’s constant revolving door of dudes I had to awkwardly share a bathroom, kitchen, living, and dining room with meant that I really put a lot of effort into making said bedroom an amazing little sanctuary. I went high-end for Ikea (this was pre-Stockholm collection) and bought stuff from their actual-wood HEMNES collection. (I guess having a woodworker for a father did rub off on me in that way; I’m not super duper handy or crafty and I certainly can’t build my own furniture, but I do have a respect for wood itself rather than MDF crap.) I also scoured Garnet Hill and West Elm for great clearance bedding and Overstock for great basics like real down pillows and comforters, and I suppose that broke-yet-nesty period was the beginning of the home décor obsessed Virginia I am today.

It wasn’t until I moved from that shared house into an apartment with Grant that I really started to get the appeal of interior design. And that, my friends, has still been a slow process. Plus, in blending our two tastes, as well as working with the strange 50s fixed elements in that rental, we haven’t always been that interesting, because we’ve tended to stick to kinda boring palette of too many neutrals as a strategy for compatibility and for blending a bunch of different stuff together. But that All Neutrals All The Time crap is getting boring.

A picture of my house, featuring a chair with my cat Trumpet sleeping on it.

We own a house now, that we’ve been in for two and a half years with only this amazing yet possibly way impractical rug as a major purchase. We’ve been here long enough and we’ve fixed and re-fixed enough small things that we’re finally getting kinda handy, a little, and we’re getting used to the idea that we can do whatever we want to any of the walls and fixtures, and we’re starting to actually become comfortable with spending some of the money we’ve saved up.

This is not a starter home; we hope to raise our kids through college here if life permits it. (I moved around a bunch as a kid, Grant didn’t; our small survey indicates the latter is better if you can pull it off, so we saved up to avoid the Starter Home phase.) That knowledge of this being our Foreverish Home has made us yet slower to make big changes, since I’m now consciously striving to be less trend-driven and go for more timeless/classic looks, which sometimes means not updating fixed features like a brick fireplace or an old-fashioned lighting fixture since you may regret it in five or even fifteen years when the old look comes back around and it’s hard to undo and you wish you hadn’t spent that money in the first place. You can see how this type of evaluation would take me time! But over the past few years, I’ve been researching home design excitedly, and let me tell you, shit’s about to get real. Real bright and colorful and coordinated and classy and comfortable and maybe even a bit glamorous, that is. And probably real messy while we figure it out.

A picture of my dining room.

Next on my list is a combo of things: sofas/LR seating for better flow, capacity, machiness, and comfort; possible rug swap-out for better matchiness; window treatments for light blocking, coordination, and drama, not to mention energy efficiency; paint for looks; lighting fixtures for looks and functionality; and possible fireplace and surround revampification for total room coordination and possibly glamour/drama. Not necessarily in that order, but probably, sorta.

I’m taking advantage of Apartment Therapy’s Style Cure program this month to (loosely) follow along and stay motivated about making the changes we’ve been fantasizing about for years now. The primary focus is the living room, which is super important because it’s what our front door opens into, and where we spend the vast majority of our time now that we have a TV in there. (I don’t wanna hear it, hippies; it’s well documented that TV is higher quality than ever and we don’t watch the crap. Well, mostly. I haven’t stopped watching True Blood yet but I’m ashamed of and exasperated with myself, and I’m working on it, OK? OK.) PLUS, my Heartographer clients walk through that space to get to my office, so I want it looking awesome. Therefore, we’re tackling every single one of the above-mentioned topics in just that room alone, haha. With no clear budget, more like “as little as possible yet make it as awesome as possible” so yeah. It’s a bit cray.

Even though it may seem like a lot, I’m reveling in this new-found joy of decorating. And in all this research, I’ve come to realize some things that are damn near epiphanies to this cheap-historied décor novice. I’m going to start blogging about some of those epiphanies soon, in sort of mini-installments by topic so they don’t get overwhelmingly long, and I’ll also probably do a couple of round-ups of my favorite sites and resources since many friends have been asking me for those lately anyway.

First up will be one about curtain (and window treatment in general) epiphanies! So look out for that post soon if you give a damn about all this decoratey stuff, and if not, please feel free to ignore this blog until I go back to whining about iOS 7 in September-ish. ^_^