Basement Blues

I imagine designing a space for a stylish client could go one of two ways. It's either a joy wherein ideas are welcomed, flow freely, and are implemented with speed and confidence, or, they're second-guessed and scrutinized with a constant "Why did I hire someone else to do this when I could do it better myself?" undercurrent. I got lucky because working with Bethany was completely the former. Another cool perk with these design projects is you basically get a crash course in fast friendship. You're spending a lot of time emailing back and forth, being transparent with ideas, giving and receiving feedback and developing trust. As an introvert who pretty much takes a solid year to get to know anyone this is definitely a bonus. Wait, did I just describe transactional as my preferred method of friendship?    

Let's take a look at some before photos to really get a feel for where we started.

The first order of business was painting all the remaining oak woodwork white. Bethany got that job while I learned how to build furniture. Painting trim isn't glamorous, but the result is always satisfying and so much more modern.

Then came the wallpaper. Armed with some googled instructions and a bottle of wine we got to work. I don't know if there are hard and fast rules with accent walls but typically the wall behind a sofa gets the special treatment. Well, in this case, the meticulous cutting around all of those ceiling beams was way beyond our first-time wallpaper installation skills. So we opted for the side wall you see when you first enter the room. And I love it.

I'm obsessed with that rug. It's from Ikea and super affordable. I love how bold and punchy it is, but how well it still works with all of the different patterns and colors in the room. And that hairpin legged coffee table from Tiffani, it's perfection. Also, look closely and you can see the Darth Vader pillow I made as a surprise for Allen. It's obvs very important to appease both clients and their respective design sensibilities.

Art is probably the toughest aspect of designing a space quickly. It's just really rare to find affordable, non-generic, interesting pieces that work with a room's design. I was super excited when Bethany showed me one of her photos she'd had enlarged and printed on industrial paper. She'd never framed it and wasn't even sure if she was going to use it anywhere. It was the perfect nature-influenced element to throw in the mix with all the other super saturated color and contrasting black and white. To frame it I stapled it to some 1x2s, attached some black chain, and screwed it to the wall so the print wouldn't buckle.

On the other side of the window we installed a gallery wall. I wanted the small basement window to feel like it was part of the overall presentation so we used varying prints, thrifted objects, and some DIY prowess to create a less structured and more organic grouping. We also had the pleasure of featuring our friend, and talented hand lettering artist Cheryl Dyer's commissioned work "There is no such beauty as where you belong." It's a line from The Road Home by Stephen Paulus, one of Bethany's favorite choral pieces.

And of course there's the cobalt console that I previously took two posts to write way too much about. But she is so pretty. The painted white built-in shelves got a stealthy splash of cobalt too.

Overall, I'm thrilled! And I can't wait for whatever the next project is.

The Console: Part 1 (The Bad News)

Some projects are effortless. A flurry of ideas swiftly edited into a tight vision, executed on budget, within a succinct time-table. Specifically, as this relates to DIY projects, for this to occur one must realistically acknowledge one's own DIY abilities and limitations. This is the moment where I must hang my head and admit I will most-likely forever fail in this regard.

After the initial walk-through with Allen and Bethany one of the first areas I wanted to address was the space beneath their TV. All of their electronic components were nicely nestled out of the way in the adjacent built in shelving and their flatscreen was mounted. They didn't need a storage unit to house anything, but it felt off balance without a structure below to ground it all.

I checked out Ikea, Target, West Elm and all the other reputable big box stores for an affordable media console. The catch was it had to be inexpensive enough that I could feel good about painting it the cobalt blue we'd settled on. No luck. Good design at a low price is a hard sell. I also obsessively perused Craigslist hoping I'd stumble upon a mid century piece with good bones, the perfect measurements, but in a not-so-nice condition so I wouldn't piss off the wood purists if I painted it. No luck.

Here's where I got ahead of myself. Instead of altering the vision I decided that fate had forced my hand and the only option was for


to make the perfect media console for the space. The thing about DIY projects is when you finish one you sort of feel this brazen arrogance about your accomplishment and forget to acknowledge how glaring your inadequacies were made throughout the whole process. I do this

EVERY TIME. I mean, who do I think I am? People spend entire careers perfecting the art of cabinet making. I am not a craftsman. Still, I went for it.

After googling "how to build a media console" I stumbled across a few plans that seemed relatively manageable. The two that most inflated my confidence and highly influenced the design were

this one


this one

. I thought, "I have a kreg jig! I can totally do this!" What I didn't have was a saw. So I drew a plan for each of the specific cuts that needed to be made on one 3/4" sheet of 4x8' plywood and hoped some kind soul in the lumber department at Lowes would take pity on me. It's sort of strange to know that because I am young and relatively attractive I receive special treatment at these stores. However, it's also awesome. After a few hours working with the best and most patient employee I left with all the individual pieces necessary to put together the cabinet frame. Walking to my car I thought how eerily similar it was to Dexter starting out with such a sizable sheet of lumber, but leaving with tidy, transportable parts.

The cabinet went together relatively painlessly within a few hours. Then I moved on to the base and things got dicey. Comprised of 1x6s attached to a 1x3 I used the cheapest wood at Lowes (I think they call it "white board") and the results weren't pretty. I don't know if it was because of the lesser quality wood or because the density was different than the plywood, but I could not get the pocket holes/screws to go in the wood correctly. They'd either stick out too far, go in crookedly, and more importantly wouldn't securely connect the boards. Finally, in a fit of frustration I just screwed straight through the ends of the boards leaving visible screw heads on all the corners. Not pretty and it totally split the wood, but the connection was tight and I was banking on wood filler coming to my rescue. The same issue arose when I started on the trim for the frame so I skipped the screws altogether and just used wood glue. Yes, that's tape holding my seams as the glue dries. I still have yet to purchase clamps.

So this is how it sat in my upstairs landing as I vacillated over what to do about the doors. I liked the basic design of the Ana White plan, but I preferred the look of completely closed storage. I went back and forth between what type of doors I should do - inset, partial overlay, full overlay. I was really into the idea of using brass hardware and exposed hinges with the cobalt blue cabinet. I just wasn't in love with the idea of inset doors because it would look a little too colonial or turn of the century. I could still use exposed hinges if I did partial overlay doors, but that seemed sort of 90s. So I landed on full overlay doors as it would be clean and modern even though I'd have to give up the exposed brass hinges for hidden ones.

After that excruciating decision was made I quickly measured the face frame area, divided by three, shaved off a few 1/8" here and there to account for door opening/closing etc. and went back to Lowes to get my doors cut. My haphazard approach to measuring for the doors was a big mistake, but I wouldn't know it for a while.

I decided to go with 1/2" plywood for no good reason other than I couldn't find a lot of info on door thickness online. My kitchen and bathroom cabinets appeared to be around 1/2" thick and generally 3/4" thickness seemed excessive. Unfortunately the hidden hinges I bought were made for 3/4" thick doors so I did have to go back to buy a set of shorter screws later on. When I got home and temporarily placed the doors in front of the cabinet I let out a shriek of happiness because IT WAS PERFECT. In that moment I also sort of understood the wood purists and had a fleeting second thought about painting it because it really was so pretty.

Despite the already referenced mishaps, up to this point the process had been running fairly smoothly. I then entered the painting phase of the project which was so much harder than it should have been. Maybe not hard, just time-consuming/frustrating/boring as it stretched on and on. In the end I did three coats of primer and four of the top coat. But the doors and the base each had to be flipped over every time another coat went on so it was almost like 14 coats! Wake up put a coat on, come home from work flip doors put a coat on, day off put two more coats on, flip doors again, sand, coat, flip, sand, coat, flip...

Then one beautiful day the sun came out, the painting was over, and it was time to attach the doors. But this, this is where all the sad and angry emoji faces belong. I followed the instructions, I measured carefully for my hinge placement, but no matter what I did I could not get the doors to hang correctly. I'd attach one, then the other wouldn't meet it. So I'd reposition one and then, bang, now they'd overlap and hit each other. Over and over, repositioning, more holes in the cabinet, different holes on the doors, so many choice words, and still nothing would work. !*$#!*$!!!!! So I thought, ok, it's because I'm trying to do this by myself. I just need another set of hands. The following day armed with reinforcements (Luke) I tried again. Nope. Same story. It turns out doors require meticulous measurements. I didn't have them. And finally I just had to call it.

I have no pictures of any of this because I was too busy internally raging, then subsequently panicking. Convinced I'd wasted all that time and money and would have nothing to show for it, I kept racking my brain trying to come up with different ways to salvage it. But I was in such a frenzy that no good or reasonable ideas would come. And that brings us up to real time. So this is where I'll leave you hanging on the edge of your seat, fretting, and biting your nails. What will she do??? The good news is I've got a plan, but since it's in the process of being executed it's still unclear whether it will actually work.                                        

The Gilbert's Basement

A few months ago my friend Bethany asked if she and her husband Allen could hire me to help decorate their basement. They'd recently finished a mini basement refresh in which their old carpet was replaced with an updated neutral, all the walls - including the existing dull sage green wainscoting - got a crisp coat of white, and they purchased a modern grey sectional for optimum Netflix binge-watching. All of these changes helped diminish the typical dark basement vibe and provide a nice neutral foundation. However, after living with the changes for a while they felt it lacked the coziness of a room interestingly and intentionally decorated.

Bethany is a talented photographer, incredibly stylish, and has great taste as evidenced by her already lovely home. So, I suspect she and Allen mostly wanted to throw their fledgling designer friend a bone. And I was incredibly excited to accept their offer! 

Sometime between agreeing to work on the basement and before chatting with Allen and Bethany about their vision I saw this picture on Kelly Wearstler's Instagram. I was completely inspired. I couldn't get that rich cobalt blue out of my head and sent a quick text to Bethany asking how she felt about the color. To my joy she was into it! After we got together to chat about what they wanted for the space I came up with this inspiration board filled with cobalt, lots of pattern mixing, and a killer wallpaper from Graham and Brown:

Gilbert's Basement

Gilbert's Basement by mpettipoole

Initially, my idea was to paint the wainscoting cobalt. I thought it would be just the right jolt of energy and enhance that detailed character around the room. While she was keen on so much of the inspiration board, in the sweetest way, Bethany expressed that she and Allen were both apprehensive about that idea. Having spent so much time covering the previous sage green she didn't relish the idea of an even darker color encircling the room's perimeter. Totally reasonable. She may have even saved me from making a big mistake anyway. Instead, we've decided to paint the back of the built in's and the media console cobalt. This should still give us the punch of our inspiration blue, but help keep the room looking light and fresh, and most importantly, not basement-y. 

Tomorrow we'll wallpaper the accent wall and I'm excited for the room to start noticeably taking shape. At this point my only experience with wallpaper was watching my mother cover almost every room in our house during the mid-90s, but I'm feeling moderately prepared after viewing multiple youtube videos and googling various forms of the phrase "how to wallpaper." Wish me luck.