Friday, December 23, 2011

On the verge of a new year. New format. Kinda.

So... I've not written in awhile, and I just wanted to make some changes on the cusp of the New Year. I've decided to broaden the scope of my 'lil blog to incorporate everything I want to talk about. So...yeah... that means I will write about ANYTHING... rather than just narrowing my focus to inexpensive Kid-friendly design. Although there will still be some of that  - it will just be smattered in with whatever other things might be on my mind. It could be design related. Or school related. Or kid related. Or my latest thoughts on Sustainability or review of natural beauty products. So, my 3 dear readers, be prepared for anything. I know... you can't WAIT, RIGHT!?! Oh... the adventure!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When is somebody going to design the perfect (affordable!) apartment?

My husband and I have to move our family. It's not on a whim, its a financial necessity. The duplex we live in is costing us an unbelievable amount to heat in winter and since its my last year of full-time school, we just have to cut back.

So for the last 3 weeks, we've been searching high and low for a place to live. And let me tell you, the current economy has completely changed the rental landscape. Two years ago, when we moved in here, we had shoddy credit but still had our pick of 3 wonderful duplexes. Now, anything in the lower price ranges in a two bedroom place are renting before we can even get an appointment to see them. Then when we DO see them, we're suddenly getting turned down for credit... despite having an impeccable rental history and references from our landlords. This was never a problem before. Then add in the current economy where everyone (including our family!) is trying to cut back and there is a glut of people trying to find a low-cost place to live. All the people who would normally have been creating vacancies by purchasing homes are gone, so fewer rentals are coming into the market, and those that do are: a) Being very picky about who they rent to and getting snapped up quickly OR b) a really sad place or in a bad neighborhood. We've never quite seen anything like it!

So it made me wonder... I think most people are looking for the same ammenities in a home/apartment. But yet, new construction apartments (at least in my area) are just not planning for these. In my mind, most people want the same things I look for: Safe location, good sized rooms with decent layout, modern conveiniences like a washer and dryer in unit, dishwasher, and parking for two cars. Then there are some practical requirements - enough counterspace in the kitchen to actually cook anything and enough cabinets to store food and dishes. A hard floored dining room - because with little kids, a carpeted eating area is just a disaster to keep clean. A storage area that is big enough to actually store seasonal items like bikes. You'd be amazed at how few places actually have these things.

Is it possible to design an AFFORDABLE family-friendly apartment building with all the conveniences? After this search, I sure wish I could build some real-estate! What about you, dear readers? When renting (now or past) what were you looking for in a home?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Furniture Rehab - Paint Tips

How did I do it? Here was my process:

1. CLEAN IT - Clean the piece you plan to paint very well with a grease fighting cleaner such as TSP (when using TSP, you MUST rinse off any residue afterward). You can also use denatured or rubbing alcohol to rub down the piece to take off any grease.

2. SAND IT - You need to give the paint and primer something to stick to - particularly if the finish was very smooth or varnished in any way. For previously painted, varnished, or polyurethane finishes a 120-180 grit sand paper works well. Use a sanding block or paper to get in small areas or areas where you don't want to sand off details - like edges. But do yourself a favor and hit the large surfaces with an electric sander - unless you need an arm workout.

3. PRIME IT -Now, as a former painter, I have to say that I constantly lecture about the need to PRIME your surfaces properly before painting. Primer will help to seal in stains and ensure better adhesion of the paint to the surface - this is particularly important for items that have a very smooth surface or that will see a lot of wear-and-tear. Some of my favorite primers are Zinsser B-I-N and Kilz, both of which are alcohol-based and require denatured alcohol to clean up. They have some wicked fumes, so use them with excellent ventilation or outside if possible. They will seal in stains like oils, marker, wood resins, etc. If you don't need to seal the surface but need good adhesion - like say on a kitchen counter or tabletop- you could use a water-based primer. My favorite is Benjamin Moore Fresh Start - that sticks to just about anything. If you're painting a dark color paint, I recommend tinting your primer to a 1/2 shade of the color - or grey. That way if you get a chip, it shows less than if you see white primer. It also allows you to do less paint coats!

That said, I BROKE my cardinal rule on my living room table. WHY? Because I know my son will beat this table up mercilessly. I had a smaller table I had primed and painted that was showing white primer on all the chips and I didn't like it. So with this table - which I was painting black - I wanted any chips and dings to show woodtone. I also didn't mind if the piece looked distressed and a bit rustic, since the styling suited that sort of feel. So... I broke my own rule... I cleaned, sanded, and then applied the paint directly to the piece. And the results? EXCELLENT! The black acrylic paint has help up very well, and dents and dings just add character to the table!

4. PAINT IT - Select a color and paint. But HOW? If it is a small piece, or you want a very even and glossy smooth finish (like on a chair) I always opt for spray enamels - I like Krylon's paints for sheer range of color and quality. They have everything from Chalkboard and Iridescent sprays to basic flat black and grey. If the surface is likely to take a beating and/or I want a more handpainted or rustic look, I will often brush or roll on an acrylic paint. Acrylics are a bit more flexible when they dry and don't tend to chip quite as much as spray enamel, and I find them easy to touch up too!

Huzzah for spill-proof bubbles!

For every terribly designed toy or kids item, there are many good ones. My most recent delight cost me a whole $6.99 at Target a few weeks ago. It makes one of my son's favorite outdoor playthings a whole lot easier on mom. Now we finally have neater BUBBLES.

My son LOVES blowing bubbles. We do it all spring and summer long until mom just can't puff them out anymore. But the worst part, as most parents know, is the sticky mess the bubble soap makes all over the kids, you, and the driveway and nearby plants. Invariably, the kids want to hold the bottle with the liquid and just as invariably they knock it over or drop it and there goes all the bubble liquid. Tantrums generally ensue.

But NO MORE! I don't know HOW I missed this thing but some genius has designed a spill-proof bubble liquid container! Apparently it's been around quite a long time. I guess maybe it's just because I didn't have kids until recently. But I must say - I could kiss them! I sincerely hope they are making millions on the design, because it has (albeit in a small way) made my life easier and happier.

The one we have is called the No Spill Mini Bubble Bucket and it's made by Little Kids. There's also a BIG bubble bucket and a bubble tumbler that is "individual size". What I love is that all three can be turned completely upside down and they don't spill. The wand fits inside and comes out ready to puff out bunches of bubbles.

Now, if they just can make mom with bigger lung capacity, we'd be ready to rock. Oh wait, that's why I also bought the Extream Bubble Gun by Placo (also available at Target) for when mom just can't puff another puff... then battery power takes over.

Yar there me hardies! This be a cool kiddie room!

WOW. That's about all I can say. When it comes to creativity, many of us as designers never get the opportunity to do something truly over-the-top. Not so for Steve Kuhl. This Pirate Ship room he designed for a client is truly awe inspiring.

Now, most of us would never have the budget to do something this  big, but still, there is some inspiration to be gleaned from his work. And nevermind the debate about if it's "too much" or if it's safe (you can get away with a LOT in residential construction!) - it really is just plain COOL!