Saturday, May 1, 2010

Project # 2: Semikolon-esque Magazine Files / Cost: $$

I have a horrible lust for all things Semikolon.

If you've never seen their products before and like color then SEEK THESE OFFICE SUPPLIES OUT! Seriously, this company gets how to make sleek office supples in a rainbow of color options in a way no one else seems to. Unfortunately their products aren't particularily cheap. They aren't ridiculous, but they're in a mid-range that's a little bit out of my range right now, at least if I want to do my entire home office in their line.

My plan is to slowly but surely pick up a few pieces here and there (in the magenta and grass green colors if you were wondering) and eventually have a home office that's all Semikolon or things that match Semikolon... in, like, 10 years or so because really... this stuff is frustratingly priced. It's priced low enough that I can actually buy it, but high enough that I can't buy much of it at any time. Ah well, I should just be happy it exists and just eventually resort to petty crime so I can afford the overpriced secretary they make.

I was in need of some magazine files, but the Semikolon ones were just a bit too steep for me at the time. Thankfully I bumped into some extremely cheap wooden magazine files at Ikea: Knuff. They were on sale for $3.99 each, so I snatched up three. In retrospect I should have bought more since my Ikea no loger carries these exact ones, but what can you do? It's hard to go to Ikea and not spend eight times what you meant to... I was trying to be vaguely fiscally responsible.

Wood is great because you can paint it quickly without a lot of drama. I figured it wouldn't be too hard to make these puppies look like the Semikolon magazine files I longed for.

The first step was to prime the files. Untreated wood is exceptionally thirsty. If you try to use acrylic paint directly on wood you'll find that you'll have to use tons of it because the wood soaks up a large amount of the water in the paint quickly, so it won't spread very far before you have to reload your paintbrush. The best way to combat this is to do a primer coat. Primer paint is significantly cheaper than regular paint, so you can use a lot without spending a lot. It also creates a smooth surface that your paint will adhere well to. In this case I used gesso, a primer used on canvas, to prime my boxes. Why gesso? Because it's a cheap primer and I had a bunch already sitting in a box wanting something to do. You can pick up a reasonably-sized jar of gesso at art and craft supply stores. For projects like this don't bother with fancy gesso; you just need the most basic one you can find. Liquitex Basics brand gesso is fine, or any other gesso around the $5-10 price point. A small container should be enough. I used maybe 1/4th of the container you can see in the picture on these files.

Prime the entire file, inside and out (unless you're planning to leave parts unfinished. Mask those parts off with tape before you prime if you're going this route). I started by doing the bottoms, waiting for them to dry, and then priming everything else. If you end up with any dried gesso lumps (which I did since my gesso was old and a bit dehydrated) you can use a fine grade piece of sandpaper to lightly sand them out.

Once the priming is done now you can break out the paint. Primer is not an attractive finish, so I highly recommend that you paint overtop of it, even if you're planning to stay the same color as the primer. While paint primer has a nicer color than car primer (ewww... primer grey and brown... I shudder just thinking of the cars that drive around painted in just primer), it still has an unfortunate flat finish that doesn't have the richness of a proper acrylic paint. Take the extra time and paint over every speck of it.

For this project I wanted to simulate the white borders of the Semikolon products on my files, so I took white acrylic paint and painted all of the edges a bit beyond where I thought the bands of white would be (having some paint overlap is a good thing). Preciseness was unnecessary at this point since I was going to be masking off things in the next coat. Expensive paint was unnecessary too... I just used cheap Liquitex Basics paint. You're not painting a masterpiece... you just need a basic color with good performance, which the Liquitex Basics brand provides.

After I painted the white edges I then masked them off with masking tape. Rather than using a ruler and precisely masking off a set measurement I just used thinner masking tape and, by eye, placed it so half the tape was on one side, and the other half was on the other. It's not that hard really... people are somewhat decent at cutting things in half by eye.

When you're placing the masking tape (or painter's tape if you have it) make sure you press it down on the file very firmly. You don't want it to accidentally peel off while you're painting the main color. Don't worry, even if you press it down firmly it'll still peel off without pulling up your paint.

Now that your white corners are masked off, get your main color ready. If you can purchase your main color premixed either in a tube from an art supply store or mini pail from a home renovation store do this. It's way easier than trying to guesstimate how much you'll need and premixing it or, even worse, trying to remix the same color again after you've run out mid-project (which I had to do on this project... I made it work, but it SUCKED to have to so). I didn't realize this when I was doing this project, but at places like Home Depot you can buy small containers of their wall paint fr about $5 mixed to any of the paint chips they have. This is supposed to be for trying out a color on your wall or something, but there's no reason you can't use it on a project like this to get the exact color you want. Depending on how dark your color is you may need to do two coats (darker usually equals more coats to get the color even).

When your paint is partially dry you can peel off the masking tape. If you're using house paint this isn't as crucial, but art paint sometimes doesn't peel off cleanly if you take off the masking tape once it's completely dry. The part attached to whatever you painted can sometimes stay attached to what's on the tape, so when you pull the tape off it makes the edge ragged. Make any small paint touchups you need to.

After the paint fully dries you're done. Semikolon-look, but MUCH cheaper (especially if you already have the paint and supplies)

Final project cost to me: $12
Time to complete project: About 2 hours spaced over many small painting sessions

Friday, April 23, 2010

Website Link: Top 5 Cheap Furniture Basics

I've bought a wide range of cheap furniture of, over the long-term, varying quality. The very worst? An over the toilet bathroom organizer from Zellers that was terrible to put together (I got blisters from it! Ouch!). The best? Probably my Billy bookcases from Ikea.

I'm a firm believer that stores like Ikea have, amidst the cheap stuff that'll do the trick for a year or two that you'll toss out when you move, a few top notch inexpensive items that'll actually hold up.

Apartment Therapy released a set of recommendations awhile back on the top 5 pieces of cheap furniture and I couldn't agree more with them (well, except for the part where they left out my beloved Billy bookcases that is). The commenters also left a long list of additional good finds. The article is a great list of cheaper stuff that you can rely on to last (unlike the aforementioned POS bathroom organizer... damn you Zellers!).

I'd like to add my deep love for Ikea's Expedit unit for a reason Apartment Therapy didn't mention: it is VERY VERY light. That fact may not matter to some of you, but I'm a massive weakling, so it's nice to know I have furniture in the house that I can actually move myself. A few years ago I picked a horrid cheaper Expedit-like shelving unit that Ikea made for about 10 seconds and then smartly discontinued, and I was completely unable to lift the box it came in myself. Expedit: it's not just a sheving unit; it's also good for people with no upper body strength!

The Expedit units have a number of great storage box and shelf options available, both from Ikea and from other companies as well. I personally have these Kassett boxes in green for storing my craft supplies and they both look attractive and do their job well.

If you want a cheap table to inflict your creative whims on I'd also recommend Ikea's Lack tables (yet another super-light friend for the strength-challenged). Their finish doesn't hold up the best over time (I have a few water-related mini-warps in the finish on mine), but they're one of the most delightfully hackable tables out there and are cheap enough that you won't be too upset if your hack doesn't go as well as planed. They're a good practice ground for hacking furniture, as this article notes. The Home Cheap Home book I reviewed awhile back also had some beautiful ideas for more artsy (and a bit harder) Lack table alterations.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Website Link: Knock Off Wood

I'll get back to posting projects of my own soon (I've actually done a few... I just haven't had the time to write the blog entries yet), but for now I'm sharing a link to another blog: Knock Off Wood.

The site gives you all the measurements, supplies lists, and instructions to easily create your own versions of popular furniture pieces. Say you want some Billy bookcases from Ikea but want to make sure they'll be made of something stronger than particle board... they've got some pretty darn simple instructions for that. How about a version of Ikea's Expedit or West Elm's Rolling Storage? They've got that too.

Because the blog outlines simple do-it-yourself furniture that means the vast majority of it is in a modern style, so if your home says more "antique" than "clean and simple lines", than this might not be the perfect site for you. However, if you've got a few tools and have always wanted higher-end modern furniture for around the cost of the particle board versions, this site is a godsend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Link: How to sew your own duvet cover

Can't seem to find just the right duvet cover? Make one yourself with this easy set of instructions from Design*Sponge. My favorite part of the tutorial: the suggestion to purchase two sheet sets to use as the duvet fabric. If you find cute sheets on sale this could be a way cheaper option than buying 10 yards of fabric.

Friday, February 5, 2010

General news: My Google Reader addiction

I've recently gotten pretty frothy about using Google Reader... yes, I know, I'm super-late to the game, especially since I myself have been blogging (both here on Blogger as well as Livejournal) since what seems like the dawn of time (or, more accurately, at least the last ten years).

Okay... so I admit lameness on only jumping on the Google Reader bandwagon recently. I hope my complete enthusiasm makes up for my pathetic lateness.

I've been using Google Reader for a number of reasons, but one of the the main ones is for inspiration for projects for this site. I'm sampling home design blogs like a hungry kid nibbling on samples at Sam's Club/Costco and you, dear readers, can benefit from my bloated excess of reading. Yes, I'll slog through the garbage and pull out the stuff worth your time and limited attention span.

First, I'm planning to add any blogs I'm in love with to the already existing blogs listing on the right... same with any great sites (especially those you can buy fabulous home design products from) too.

Second, feel free to peruse my Google Reader Shared Items list. I'll be focusing on sharing the best inspiration and project articles I find, some of which will likely be used as the basis of projects I complete for this site.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Link: How to remove a stripped screw without an extractor

I am afeared I will at some point will need this detailed article from Apartment Therapy on how to get a stripped screw out... and so may you, so here's the link.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mini Project #2: Headphone Hook / Cost: $ to $$

Uggg! Last month's race to finish the first draft of my Masters thesis was brutal. I didn't even have the time to do any major home projects last week. I did, however, manage to do a tiny one.

I attend online classes that require headphones with a mike. For the past 9 months I've just hung them off of my computer screen... which is a tiny thing, but it's really just so ugly that it bugs me on a visual level in a way that has no real relation to the actual size of the decorating problem.

What's a girl to do? I use the damn things so often it doesn't make sense to put them away, but they just get in the way all hanging off my screen all willy nilly.

Solution: cheap hook!

I had this hook lying around the house... I think it came from Ikea for some ridiculously cheap price. Seriously, you can get these things dirt cheap from home repair stores and the like. If you feel like being fancy, try this slick Moen hook from Home Depot for $19.99. Or how about these puppies that are on sale... they respect my deep love of orange AND are on sale at three for $7.49.

 If you're cursed with some walls made of solid concrete like I am (they are a decorating NIGHTMARE I tell you!) you still have options. 3M (and likely some other companies too) makes hooks that use a super-strong adhesive to stick to your wall, making screwing or nailing the blasted things in thankfully unnecessary. I remember when they used to be ugly plastic nubs that could barely support any weight; now they're actually decent looking and can support some serious poundage (this hook supports up to 5 pounds of weight without falling off your wall, is a somewhat reasonable $12.98, and is snappy-looking to boot).

Lucky for me my computer sits against a regular wall, so all it took was a minute to nail the thing in and presto, more tidy headphone solution!

Now, this doesn't solve the problem of the headphones being ugly (that's a mod project I probably won't get around to until school is done, but at least it gets them out of the way in a manner that doesn't make me loopy.

Final project cost to me: $0 !!!
Time to complete project: About 1 minute

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mini Project #1: Custom Post-it holder / Cost: $$

I'll admit it: I have an unhealthy love of Post-it notes. Wherever I work you can always tell which desk is mine as it's the one the looks like it's completely held together with those little yellow stickies. I use them as reminders, for class notes, for organizing projects, for bookmarks... I just love the things. Really, if you have to have a vice, Post-its aren't a bad one.

So anyway, I just started a job that requires me to work from home and, with the inevitable restructuring of my office space that comes with such a new job (oh trust me, there'll be more on that in here later), has come the need for copious amounts of office supplies including, my friend and yours, Post-its.

I was out shopping for said supplies when I found the following: a Post-it holder (I've seen them in the $11-15 range at office supply stores. I picked up mine for a bit under $11 at WalMart).

Of course, it was cursed with a hideous flower print theme, but the box noted something every vaguely crafty person loves to see: the unit had removable faceplates.

Yes, removable faceplates. If something has changeable faceplates, chances are you can easily make your own faceplate yourself... and I just happened to have some amazing chiyogami paper that was dying to be made into something pretty.

Chiyogami paper is a Japanese paper whose pattern is made by layer after layer of silkscreening. The stuff is just gorgeous and has a lot of uses in decorating if the prints suit your fancy (it'll be coming up in several future projects here). It's reasonably easy to order online, however I happen to be lucky and live decently near a store that sells it: The Paper Place. If you're in the Toronto area I highly recommend a stop at this store. If not, they ship to Canada, the US, and the UK. The paper runs a bit on the expensive side at around $16 for a 24x36 inch sheet, but it goes a lot longer than you'd think and the quality is superb. I estimated I used about $0.50 worth, but that might even be a bit high.

If chiyogami isn't your thing or it's too hard for you to get, you can use any sort of decorative paper such as wrapping paper or scrapbooking paper; just make sure it's a smaller print and it's something you love. It doesn't hurt if it's also paper that'll match a Post-it note colour.

To get started, take the Post-it holder apart... okay, let's be honest here, yank the damn thing apart. It's awkward and frustrating, but only for a few minutes, I promise.

Then you want to take the vile, disgusting faceplate off. Post-it makes these holders in several prints... all of them range from mostly off-putting to truly tragic. Thankfully this one won't be staying around for long.

Use the soon-to-be-rejected faceplate as a stencil and trace its shape onto the back of your paper. I probably should have turned my faceplate over so as to spare my eyes from the horror.

Now that you've got the faceplate shape traced, resist the urge to immediately burn the old faceplate; you may need it later unfortunately. Now cut out the new faceplate (you may want an X-acto knife for the inner portions).

Now it's time to put the holder back together. If you have nice, thick paper just pop the new faceplate in place and attach the transparent cover. If your paper is a bit thinner, like mine, you may need the old faceplate at this point. Put the old faceplate in right side up, and then overlay the new faceplate on top of it before you add the cover. This will give your new paper the bracing it needs to smoothly align with the clear cover's curves. If your paper is thin and the old cover shows through (or you just can't bear the thought of the old cover being within 50 feet of you) you can always trace a second faceplate out of white card stock and use that instead.

In about 5 minutes you've gone from freakish to fab. I've got a lot of chiyogami left, so I'll be customizing quite a few more supplies in the future in hopes of eventually having a fully matched office set (but not too matchy-matchy... that ends up creepy and/or artificial).

Final project cost to me: $11
Time to complete project: About 5 minutes

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book recommendation: "Home Cheap Home" / Cost: $

So I originally wanted to call this blog My Home Cheap Home... and the name was available too. Turns out though that I accidentally borrowed the title from a book I had read just last month (yeah, I've got a short memory for those things I guess). I realized my mess up in time, the blog name changed, but the book is still excellent.

Home Cheap Home gathers tons of reasonable tips, suggestions, and projects for making your home stylish without having to go broke in the process. They're also projects and suggestions that almost anyone with some semblance of hand-eye coordination and ability to follow instructions should be able to pull off, so don't worry about needing to have big-time art skills to find the tips useful. The book goes for many smaller suggestions rather than just a few big projects, which I like because it means that no matter what your style is there'll be something in here that'll make reading the book worth your time.

I should note, though, that the authors of this book had a wide price range in mind when they decided to define what "cheap" meant to them. There are some suggestions for pieces to purchase that definitely wouldn't initially strike me as affordable. However, most of the pricey items are things intended to stay in your home for the long-term. It's not too terrible to think about spending, say, $600 on a table if the table is going to be with you for the rest of your days (and normally sells for way more than that to boot). I'm a big believer in spending more up front to spend less in the long run, so I'm letting Home Cheap Home slide on this a bit.

The book was put together by the editors of Budget Living Magazine, which was my favourite magazine back in the early 2000's. And, naturally, because I loved it with all my heart it of course went under. If you can find old copies of the magazine they've got great suggestions for making the best of a minimal budget (several of the features in this book are directly lifted from the magazine word for word).

The magazine is out of print... and guess what? So is this book (such is my fate). I borrowed my copy from the library. Want to take a peek through it? Check and see if your library has it (look, if my suburban library did there's a decent chance yours might too). Want your own copy (I know I do!)? Barring haunting your local flea markets and garage sales, try your country's version of Amazon. I found used copies, all under $10, on both the Canadian and American versions. Ebay has it too sometimes. Needless to say, it's not too hard to work around the out-of-print-ness.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Project #1: Curtain closet doors / Cost: $$ to $$$ (depends on size of project)

Okay, so my boyfriend has been in this apartment for 3+ years. When he moved in he was missing the sliding closet doors that should have been on the hallway closets, but was promised they'd be installed shortly. As you can see below, the promised doors never arrived (despite my boyfriend placing MANY work orders for them since then with the ever-changing building management).

Clearly at some point we just gave up on the whole idea completely and let the closets just do their thing... which clearly was "be ugly."

We'd been meaning to start bugging the new building management about the issue again, but realized doors might cause a problem now that we had gotten accustomed to using the open closets for air drying laundry. Doors just wouldn't work anymore, but what we had looked cluttered and just plain ridiculous.

I had some fun green curtains from my last apartment (I love decorating with green... you should just get used to seeing it here a lot) that had never found a place in this home and were slowly deteriorating unloved in a drawer. I figured why not use them as makeshift doors?

First I tried putting it all together for "cheap as free" and used some hooks and picture hanging wire i had already to string the curtains across one of the closets. It was a bootleg solution at best; the wire sagged and one of the hooks got pulled out of the drywall when my boyfriend valiantly tried to force the wire to be more tight already. Clearly this was a project that needed a small amount of cash.

What ended up being a great solution was tension rods. They're usually used as a simple solution for putting up both window and shower curtains in spots where it would be hard/impossible to use more traditional rods with hook supports drilled into the wall. Tension rods have four great perks: they come in a variety of sizes, they're self-adjustible (so you only need a rough measurement of the area you need them to span to make them work), you can put them up and pull them down in under a minute with no damage to the walls, and (best of all for this blog) they're stupid cheap. I needed three tension rods (two for the 23" openings and another for the 54" one) and the grand total for all of them came to around $25.

The tension rods looked much more on purpose than the wire and I'm super happy about the punch of colour this project added to my hallway (as are, apparently, my cats).

Because I already had the curtains, my grand total for this project was the $25 for the tension rods. If I had to add in the curtains though, the project doesn't actually cost much more since I picked up the four curtain panels for $20 total on massive clearance at Linens and Things back in 2007 (they're half poly, half silk if you were wondering). If you keep your eyes out you can usually find curtains on sale at home or clearance stores like TJMaxx or HomeSense.  If you can't wait for a sale, do check out stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Ikea for great low cost options. The nice thing about curtains is you can almost always find ones that look half decent in the cheap range, and since you don't need to block out out sun with these curtains you don't have to worry about finding ones with lining, which always adds to the price.

If you want to go one step further, you don't even need to pick up actual curtains. Get your hands on curtain rings with clips on them (like these Riktig rings from Ikea, which are a steal at $3.99 for 10) and then just clip up sheets or raw fabric that you like. If you use sheets you don't even need to sew hems; just adjust the sheet to the length you need, fold the excess over at the top of the sheet, and clip them at the fold.

Final project cost to me: $25
Time to complete project: Under 5 minutes (not including ironing the curtains, which bumps it up to about 20 minutes)

"My Cheap Ass Home" mission statement


I'm starting this blog partially as a way of sharing information ('cause that's the kind of dork I am: the sharing variety) and partially to get my arse in gear and actually get around to making my apartment vaguely livable and decorated with a minimal amount of cost and effort.

I've been living in the same apartment for a little over a year, but due to not being remotely emotionally invested in the place, as well as having very little spare income, I hadn't gotten around to decorating much. It's hard to get motivated to spend money on a home that I know I'll leave as soon as it makes financial sense. And so, despite actually liking having a nicely designed pad to call my own, the apartment languished in undecorated hell. Yup, mismatched furniture, some of which is inherited and ugly (the champion of this being my couches that look like they toddled out of Miami Vice), bare walls, and no cohesive style.

I've finally gotten to a breaking point though and decided to break down and make the place look like a real home rather than an apartment I just moved into last week. Of course, I have limitations. I'm in grad school and am only working part-time, so my budget is VERY limited. I'm also thinking long-term, so I don't want to invest in lots of improvements that I can't take with me when I move and/or would have to spend lots of money to remove when I finally can ditch this place for something more permanent... so no built-in shelves, wallpaper, or painting.

Of course, I've got some things on my side too. I've got a bit of extra time, a natural cheapskate manner, a background in art, several relatives and friends who do home repair who I can bug for advice, and (possibly best of all) an Ikea mere minutes away (have you seen the "As Is" sections at Ikea?! They're a bargain hunter's paradise if you know how to tweak furniture and find the few Ikea pieces that actually hold up over time).

To keep me motivated I decided to track my efforts with a blog because maybe other people reading about what I'm doing might help be be motivated to actually get going on some of the projects I've got brewing in my head and stop being so lazy.

So, over the next while I'll be posting the projects I'm working on (including pics, instructions, costs, and even the mistakes I made along the way so you can avoid them). I'll also be posting links to articles, books, and shops I've found that have either helped me in my efforts to make my place less sucky on the cheap and/or have inspired me.

Hopefully by the end of this journey I'll have an apartment that doesn't shame me every time I have visitors as well as a blog that helps people out of their own lame apartment fail.