Decorating With Mardi Gras Beads

Mardi Gras is over, and if you’re lucky enough to live in an area that celebrates it, you might be wondering what to do with all this colorful junk you got by flashing everybody. There are plenty of sites out there offering up projects that incorporate Mardi Gras beads, but this is not one of them. Despite not living in New Orleans or Mobile, I absolutely love decorating with Mardi Gras beads as-is. Call me tacky all you want but I think they’re really fun.

One thing that surprised us in New Orleans was that even when it was not Mardi Gras, even when we were not in the French Quarter, the beads seemed to just grow on trees and out of the ground. The trees were beautiful all strung up with the discarded remains of past celebrations like so many outdoor Christmas trees. In fact, the Christmas tree that was put up in the house we were staying at was completely Mardi Gras themed, an idea we immediately took up for our own home and which you MUST remind me to write about come Christmas. But once the trip was over and the Christmas tree was taken down we had to figure out what to do with all these things. The short answer? treat your house like a sexy party animal and put them everywhere.

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There are many places you can drape your beads for a year-round festive effect. It’s also good to remember that it looks by FAR the best when they look like they’ve been tossed half-haphazardly in a romantically tangled mess. This look does not lend itself to neatness, such a thing with Mardi Gras would be damn weird. Some places we’ve put ours?

Tacky? I think not.

Tacky? I think not.

-Hanging from curtain rods

-On doorknobs

-On lamp shades and wall sconces

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-Hanging from chandeliers

-Hanging from all sorts of household plants

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At the bottom of the fruit bowl

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This is a spiderweb bowl, with sparkly spiders 😀

-In the horn of our phonograph, like a new kind of plastic cornucopia.

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Of course there are never enough beads to satisfy me and I’m always looking to get more. Eventually I’d like to place hooks under a shelf in my dressing room and hang from them an absolute curtain of the things as a backdrop for hanging jewelry where it will be easy to access above the vanity. I’d also like to cover the headboard in them, and ever since I saw the house on The Real World New Orleans I dream of having stairs I can decorate in similar fashion. A liberal use of beads is also the essential finishing touch in addition to other decorative items such as jazz album covers on the wall, wrought iron, carnival masks, and of course copious amounts of alcohol in beautiful vintage-style bottles in creating a fun New Orleans themed home. Make the look a little darker with voodoo dolls and skulls and you have yourself a nice little gothic abode where almost anything can happen. It’s not as tacky as you might imagine, and if somehow it still turns out that way, can a place that invites a policy of toplessness ever be a bad thing? Well, only when your relatives come over.

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DIY Bookshelf

If you’re like me and you have a habit of occasionally reading and getting angry, as most people do, you’ll know that “bookcases” sold in stores exist only for storing a small pot of flowers and a couple CDs. Trying to store actual books on them is an absurd idea, as you will no doubt see here.

Sonofabitch!!

Sonofabitch!!

It is almost always true that the older something is, the more it was built to last. So vintage or antique bookcases are always superior, and often more beautiful,  but not always affordable. It may also happen that the place in which you’d like to store your books is not ideal for a bookcase. So this, Strangers, is why I built my own, and why you should consider doing so too.

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First of all, this shelf is built right into the wall, instead of being a standalone book case. So to give it a more “complete” look as opposed to something just floating (which is still not at all a bad choice) I covered the wall where the shelves would be with an accenting wallpaper, which came in a little roll at Walmart. Our living room is a beautiful grey-blue, so for the wallpaper I chose a distressed silver damask. I would also love to make a second accent with this above the mantle, but that will be for another day. The exact height of the paper doesn’t really matter. I matched mine up with the light switch and thus is looks somewhat like a back splash. You may want to get some help with this, because putting it up is very awkward. Consider it a team-building exercise.

A shelf I built 8 years ago with bird feeder hangers, and a great place to display my sword.

A shelf I built 8 years ago with bird feeder hangers, and a great place to display my sword.

Next up, the brackets. To know how far up the shelves need to be from each other, measure with your largest book. That way you’ll know that all of your books will fit and won’t have to be placed front end down, because that’s annoying and you can’t easily see what the book is that way. As far as horizontal distance, we placed each bracket more towards the center than on the absolute edges of the space to prevent bowing of the shelves. The longer your shelves are of course, the more brackets you’ll need. You can get these at different price points from Home Depot, but years ago I used beautiful wrought iron bird feeder hangers that cost just $2 each, so keep in mind that improvising is totally ok here. Remember also to use a level.

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For our own shelves we salvaged what was left of the old bookcase, but barring any available scrap you can get some small sturdy shelf boards from Home Depot or even better just cut some solid wood to size and stain it the shade of rich mahogany, or whatever color you prefer. You don’t absolutely need to secure the boards to the brackets. We didn’t. You’ll see here that although we used a level, the boards appear to be slanted. This is because the actual house is slanted, so what can you do.

Because our baseboards are quite high and we didn’t want to ruin them with holes, we used the baseboards themselves as a support system for the bottom shelf. To prop up the remaining corner we piled beautiful yet totally useless old dictionaries to the correct height. If your house is similar to ours in this way you can do the same thing, and use anything you like here, like a pretty dowel or a skull.

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Speaking of skulls, no spooky library is complete without one, so among some of the decorative features I placed on the shelves is a beautiful skull candle. The wax inside is red so it looks like it’s bleeding when you light it, but we thought it was just too pretty to burn. Don’t overdo the decorations though, this is a place for books after all. If your decorative items are heavy and unbreakable enough you can use them as book ends. Just to be sure though I used some cheap standard ones I got from Staples. You’re going to need book ends if your shelf doesn’t have sides!

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Ta-Da!

Creating shelf space in this way doesn’t have to be just for books, and is ideal for small spaces. We did this for night stands, and you can also put a very long shelf on the wall behind your couch to act as a console table or end table. You can even create a lovely little surface by lining an old drawer with beautiful wall paper and hanging it vertically on the wall as you can see in this lovely example. Of course once I do this I’ll probably still fill it with books.

Unleash Your Inner Six Year Old With Spool Knitting

The other night someone on Facebook posted some pictures of yarn bombing. For some reason this immediately reminded me of when I was a little kid, and I had spool knitting to keep me occupied on long trips. What the hell is spool knitting you ask? Spool knitting aka French knitting is basically knitting done in a constant spiral instead of in rows. It’s typically used to make sleeves and socks, but a small spool, like the kind I used as a kid, produces what’s basically a long rope, or an i-cord. Since I’m apparently a highly suggestible person I of course wanted to start a spool knitting project RIGHT NAO!! though because it was 1am I couldn’t go to the craft store to get a knitting spool.

Well clever me, I figured out how to make one, and you can do it too. I used a toilet paper roll. I cut into the top of it so that I had four “prongs”, similar to if you were using this to make a little cardboard castle tower, and reinforced the prongs with toothpicks and painter’s tape like a splint, since that’s what I had lying around. You could also tape four Popsicle sticks to your roll, and many people stick nails into an actual wooden spool. But as long as you have a little tube with prongs around the top, you’re good.

Ta-Da. Ava Strange in a new episode of McGuyver, coming soon to a day dream near you.

Ta-Da. Ava Strange in a new episode of McGuyver, coming soon to a day dream near you.

To start your rope, make a slipknot in some yarn and put this on one of the prongs, with the tail hanging inside. Loop the yarn around the other prongs. Then you’re going to wrap the yarn around and around, always lifting the yarn from the last pass up and over the new yarn and prong. Eugh, this is easier to do than to explain. Here’s a video that I didn’t make.

If you don’t have a knitting needle like in the video, you can use another toothpick, and if you have stiletto nails like me you won’t need anything!

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This is what it looks like coming out of the spool. You can also easily change colors by tying the old color to the new one and tucking the knot inside the rope as you continue to knit. From the top it will look like this…

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Switching colors.

So besides keeping six year olds occupied on road trips, what’s the point of this? There is of course killing time and making yourself appear more talented than you really are; there are a TON of different projects you can do, from necklaces and scarves to purses and super unnecessary pen cozies. But the simplest thing to make is a great big circle by sewing your rope around and around. Depending on how long it takes you to get bored you could end up with anything from a pot holder to a rug. Mine just passing dog/cat bed territory right now and will hopefully grow up to be a rug. And it better, because there is a lot of fighting for space on the thing right now. You could also make two of these circles, sew them together, and stuff them to make a pillow. And if you’re Hugh Hefner and you have a round bed, this is the dorkiest/most awesome way to get a new blanket.

Or perhaps a new shield for your grandson, Captain America.

Or perhaps a new shield for your grandson, Captain America.

That’s pretty damn good for some yarn and an old toilet paper roll eh?

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I’m his hero right now. I think I’ll call myself Captain Canada.

Small House Decorating – Dressing Room

I’m late posting, I know. I’m way behind on a lot of my reading and writing, I have no idea what to catch up with first. But I have an excuse, I’ve been very busy transforming my dressing room from an ugly kid’s room into a glamorous adult refuge.

I’m pretty damn good at decorating. I get it from my dad. Nobody seems to know this, but he has a fantastic sense of style in all things, and he’s awesome. We enjoy discussions about warm vs cool colors, refinishing old furniture, and how much we hate wallpaper borders. Even so I was a bit nervous about this, because I was going bold. But a small room that you’re the only real user of is a pretty good excuse to be experimental.

Before: I forgot to take any official before photos, so this is one of the dresser that I took for the purpose of telling Facebook it was up for grabs.

Before: I forgot to take any official before photos, so this is one of the dresser that I took for the purpose of telling Facebook it was up for grabs.

The previous owners of our house were using this room as a nursery. It was pastel purple with white trim, and during the showing had a white crib and changing table. I have to admit that even for a baby this room was tiny, being only twice the size of our bathroom, so I’m pretty sure this is why they moved out. Of course I have no use whatsoever for a nursery, so what’s a girl to do? Dressing room!

Before: I had started moving things out of the room, and in my moment of color-anxiety I took this so I could try out different shades in good old photoshop.

Before: I had started moving things out of the room, and in my moment of color-anxiety I took this so I could try out different shades in good old photoshop.

For the last year or so though, this room still looked like it belonged to a little kid, just one that had no need to sleep. I was still using the dresser my dad had bought me when I was 12, supplemented for storage by a ghetto, sagging bookshelf that belonged to my father in law in the 60s. It had one of those big old pencil sharpeners on it that you’d see in classrooms. I’d always wanted to upgrade my dresser to a glamorous vanity and couldn’t afford one, so when my mom and step dad were downsizing from their condo into a smaller house, I got crazy lucky in that I got to take the vanity and cabinet set that had been in my family for many years. I remember these things being in the spare bedroom of our house when I was 7 or 8, but of course back then I didn’t appreciate the beauty of them. To a kid who grew up in the 90s, everything wood, old, or even just brown is often assumed to be “70s” and not worth paying much attention to. Kids are stupid.

After. That is one hell of a transformation. These hat boxes are decorative that I bought from Homesense. I use them for lingerie, which is brilliant. The dresser itself is also jam packed with lingerie.

After. That is one hell of a transformation. These hat boxes are decorative that I bought from Homesense. I use them for lingerie, which is brilliant. The dresser itself is also jam packed with lingerie.

When my step dad and brother brought these over to my house unexpectedly one recent afternoon before their move, I was stunned. These were just TOO gorgeous, how did I get so lucky? Of course it makes sense to paint a room before you get the furniture in, so I decided that was what would be happening this weekend. FINALLY.

This bench that my mom gave me out of her foyer with bolster pillows is a necessary soft place to sit, because there's absolutely no room for a bed. The space just wouldn't be complete without it. I'm aware some spots in the painting were missed. I'll have to get to that later.

This bench that my mom gave me out of her foyer with bolster pillows is a necessary soft place to sit, because there’s absolutely no room for a bed. The space just wouldn’t be complete without it. I’m aware some spots in the painting were missed. I’ll have to get to that later.

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At first I was going to go with a bright classic teal, the kind you see in 50s style decor and graphics. I figured it was still kid-friendly enough that it would keep the room “sellable” when we decided to move again. At that last minute though, I changed my mind. I wanted to distance myself from that look as much as possible. So I took the shade much, much deeper.

This is the vanity, and pictures just don't do it justice. The grain of the wood, the detailed craftsmanship, this thing is stunning. Because it's so small, a regular chair is enormous, so I'm using a small fold out ottoman/seat that I got for Christmas. It was probably pretty cheap and the top comes off for even more storage, and after using this three different ways in my house already, I totally recommend them. I think I should get a couple more.

This is the vanity, and pictures just don’t do it justice. The grain of the wood, the detailed craftsmanship, this thing is stunning. Because it’s so small, a regular chair is enormous, so I’m using a small fold out ottoman/seat that I got for Christmas. It was probably pretty cheap and the top comes off for even more storage, and after using this three different ways in my house already, I totally recommend them. I think I should get a couple more.

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I love those colors that are in between two or three things so they seem to change with the light. That’s what this is. I would consider it more or less straight up blue, but in the golden glow of artificial light, it turns teal green. It looks like the sky moments before full darkness, and that reminded me of New Orleans. Suddenly I had a theme in mind. I’ve always loved decorating with Mardi Gras beads, even our Christmas tree looks more like something off a Mardi Gras parade float, so why not run with that?

This is the matching cabinet, and it screams art deco. It holds plenty of stuff, but I won't be putting anything very heavy in it. It's very light and feels a bit delicate so I'm going to be very careful.

This is the matching cabinet, and it screams art deco. It holds plenty of stuff, but I won’t be putting anything very heavy in it. It’s very light and feels a bit delicate so I’m going to be very careful.

It’s not finished yet, but the big stuff is done. I still need to get a non-modern area rug to cover the multiple stains on that nasty grey carpet. One day we’ll pull it up and bring it back to its former hardwood glory. I’m going to decorate the walls with wrought iron and jazz album covers. I plan on making a shelf above the vanity that looks like a mini New Orleans balcony complete with wrought iron railing, ferns, a Bourbon Street sign, and with a MAD curtain of beads hanging from hooks underneath. But so far this looks like an entirely different room, and I’m finally not disgusted by it.

And now for more pics!

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When you just don't have much space, go vertical. These wall shelves are great for keeping all my bottles of perfume, jewelry, and some other things out of the way, and are decorative too. Attaching shelves directly to the wall is also great for nightstands in small bedrooms (which we've also done) or console tables above the couch when you just can't squeeze in an end table.

When you just don’t have much space, go vertical. These wall shelves are great for keeping all my bottles of perfume, jewelry, and some other things out of the way, and are decorative too. Attaching shelves directly to the wall is also great for nightstands in small bedrooms (which we’ve also done) or as console tables above the couch when you just can’t squeeze in an end table.

Goth Rosary and Britney Spears perfume, a winning combination.

Goth Rosary and Britney Spears perfume, a winning combination.

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If you're the type that loves flower and feather hair clips, keep them on a ribbon. They're easier to access, look great, and it fits as many as you'll ever want.

If you’re the type that loves flower and feather hair clips, keep them on a ribbon. They’re easier to access, look great, and it fits as many as you’ll ever want.

Shot glasses can be a cool way to store small items like bobby pins and earrings.

Shot glasses can be a cool way to store small items like bobby pins and earrings.

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Well, I guess that’s it for now! What do you think?

Pimp My Soup

Soup is pretty much my favorite food ever. I also just don’t cook, so I eat a lot of soup out of a can. That can get super boring though. So I’ve been fucking around with it for a while now, and all my soups now taste completely different than they did before. They are amazing. Here is some random stuff you can put in your soup. It really doesn’t matter what kind, I put this stuff in all of them.

A big chunk of cheese. Always

Kraft singles/baby bels/whatever other cheese you have in the fridge is great.

Popcorn seasoning

Meat seasoning

Celery salt

Cream cheese

Cream

Butter

Salad dressing

Louisiana Hot Sauce

Parsley

Pepper

A tiny pinch of cinnamon

Bacon

Wine

Beer

There you go, pimp soup. Oh hell yes.

My Cute Little Cottage

We bought a house! What, you didn’t know? We did. We bought our very first house, and somehow in this crazy buyer’s market, we got it for asking price. All the stars really aligned on this one. But because we’re not millionaires, it isn’t perfect. Its size is actually one of the reasons we managed to get it. You see, when you deal with a real estate agent, you get emails of listings customized to your criteria. If you want a minimum of 1000 square feet, you don’t get sent any listings for houses smaller than that. Our house is 995 square feet. It’s missing floor space half the size of a tiny closet so it fell off the radar of a  lot of people. So guys, if you’re looking for a house this way, put your limit lower than what you actually want. No use missing out on a great house over a lack of space smaller than a bath tub.

So yeah, this is a small house. It’s so small that when I google image search (I do a lot of this lately) “small house decore”, I get to look at the most glamorous houses twice the size of my own. Helpful, eh? But when it comes to any kind of art, there is no such things as problems. There are only new ideas, and new sources of inspiration. When your house is small, don’t be silly by trying to decorate it as though it’s a mansion. Yes, some very opulent pieces are great for balance and interest. But don’t lie to yourself. It’s just sad. Instead, focus on each aspect of your house in a positive way. Cottages are small. Cute little fairy houses are small. And those are awesome. They’re so charming and cute. So we’re going to go with that, in an adult-friendly way of course. We’re going to accentuate what we have in a way that makes it look like we wanted a tiny house the whole time.

Size doesn’t tell you shit about what it looks like though, so I’m going to go off the trail here a little bit and describe it to you. It’s a 1921 bungalow, with a garden for a front yard (yes the whole thing) and a charming back yard which we just discovered has an apple tree. Across the front of the house is a 4-season sun room. The living room is about 16 x 11, the same size we had in the apartment, with a pretty little fireplace with red and blue tile. Next to the living room is the master bedroom, which has french doors opening onto the sun room. Behind the bedroom is the bathroom and second “bedroom” (ie big closet because a bed can’t reasonably fit there), and behind the living room is a tiny formal dining room with built-in china cabinets on either side of the door. Going across the back of the house is an eat-in kitchen, with plenty of floor space but almost no counter space. It’s also yellow, and the appliances are so small I think they were made by Fisher Price. It needs work. But it has cork floors, which is super soft and eco-friendly. The rest of the house minus the bedrooms has the original hardwood floors, and original wood trim.

The house is in such great condition that it feels like walking into a 1921 house back in 1921. It’s solid, perfectly maintained, and original. The previous owners have all respected the house’s history, which is a huge thing for us. They left the lazy susan in the kitchen wall, and even the garage must be from about the 40s. On the day we moved in we found a whole pile of legal papers relating to every owner the house has ever had. It was the coolest thing ever. Other details include that the builders were perfectly aware they were building an over-sized doll house, so the master bedroom has a dresser built right into the wall with an ancient pull-out tie rack(!), and the stairs going to the fully insulated basement have a drawer in them for shoes. This is just genius, I highly recommend it. When we finish the basement one day, we’ll have twice as much space. I’m already jumping for joy over the storage. Nobody likes having useless shit in their face all the time when they live in an apartment. It’s half the reason our Christmas decorations were up half the year. There was simply no other place to put them. This by the way, is greatly remedied by decorating for christmas mardi gras style. It gives you 2 more months to leave that shit up without embarrassment. It’s also way more fun, and an excuse to drink more. I digress.

So that’s the plan, go with what we have in a positive way. We’re going to play up the small, not play it down. Here’s an example I’m particularly proud of. We have piano windows in our house. Another smart move by the builders, because you don’t want to look at your neighbor’s wall, but you still want to let light in. But the rule for curtains has always been that they should reach the floor or they’ll look like flood pants. With piano windows this doesn’t seem to make any sense. And I hate blinds. They bore me. Give me opulent luxurious curtains please. So we found ourselves a little stuck. Big curtains would look silly on our piano windows. Small ones would make it look like a basement. What I remembered then however was that when I was a kid, my mom (who goes on a different crafting kick every few years) would actually paint windows to look like stained glass. She could make real stained glass too, she did it a lot when she was a teenager. But you can actually create the look through special paint. It also peels right off, so it’s non-permanent and if the next owners are boring they can get rid of it in a snap. So here’s what we’re going to do. The bedroom is going to be stained-glass-painted in spider webs. This creates privacy while letting in the light, and is just awesome. It also ads that elegant little touch of “fairy house” without looking like a five year old designed it, and appeals to my gothic sensibilities, which refuse to let go. The larger windows, which we actually do look out of, will have spider webs painted in the corners, with pretty jeweled spiders hanging down, just to tie the whole thing together. I’m super excited for this. I’m a damn genius.

Keep in touch here to see how it all turns out, bit by bit. Then who knows, maybe you’ll see me on Nate Berkus’s “House Proud.”

Ribbon and Lace

About a month ago, we bought our first house. As I planned the boudoir I hoped to have (I got a joke of a second bedroom/large closet instead) , I accumulated a lot of ideas. Last night I had a dream where all the paint swatches I picked up had black lace patterns on them. But really, isn’t that kind of genius? Generally speaking, google image searches incorporating this idea aren’t that great. Maybe it’s because most people have really lame taste in colors so the rooms look like one giant doily, or maybe it’s because the pattern is too small to really discern. But I think there’s some real potential here. It’s just in how you apply it. You can go subtle, or you can go bold.

The most subtle way I can think of is using lace as a stencil to paint over your baseboards. I don’t need to go into too much detail here. But it would be a really cool little accent. You could also take it a step further and use it for the bottom half of your walls to give the effect of wainscotting, either lace itself or again as a stencil for a contrasting or complimentary color. Lace can be applied to your walls using starch, in a method that also allows you to wallpaper with beautiful fabric without any damage to your walls if you’re renting from a nazi. My favorite idea for lace at the moment is using wide lengths of lace ribbon to create vertical stripes. Now that I think of it, you could go gingham with this method too. That is if I’m not talking out my ass on this one. I’m sure some interior decorating genius could make it awesome. The easiest, most dramatic, and unfortunately most expensive method would have to be this. Don’t you just love this?? If I could afford all that lace I think my new big closet would look like this.

So what’s your favorite? Do you have any more ideas?

Now the next thing is something I already do but the picture above gives me ideas for expanding on that. Ribbon as storage. I’m not high. I have a LOT of flower hair clips. There is no box large enough to hold these things. So what I have is a wide gold ribbon from a christmas present hanging from the wall beside my dresser mirror. All my flower and feather hair clips are clipped to this ribbon. They’re easily accessible there and it looks great, like some sort of garland. Now I’m also thinking you can hang a ribbon horizontally to hold and display jewelry in a similar way. You can drape necklaces and bracelets over it. You bought this stuff because it was pretty, you might as well show it off. You could put it at the top or bottom of a mirror or picture, or on a bulletin board. And personally, I would be more inclined to put things back where they belong if it was just tossing them over a ribbon right in front of me. Otherwise I might just leave it on the dresser. I’m not a very neat person, you should see my dresser, it should be declared a national emergency. The other great thing about this is you can adjust your ribbon to the length you need. It’s very versatile, unlike a box that you have to dig to the bottom of and then it gets too small as you get more stuff. I’m really liking this. I think you should do it.