Tag Archives: furnishing a home

Empty walls

It’s been almost a full year since we bought our house (can you believe it?), and I STILL have nothing on my walls. You think I’m exaggerating, but sadly, no. Literally, the only thing I have hung on my walls is a television (it became evident that our TV wasn’t going to be able to stay on a table shortly after Judah started walking) and a dry erase calendar in my kitchen. No art, no pictures, no shelves. Nothing.

In my defense, we have been “going to paint” since we moved in. Our walls are plaster, so I didn’t want to deal with filling in nail holes and moving things around when we finally painted. But now that the living room, dining room, and kitchen have fresh paint, I’m starting to feel more guilty every day about my empty walls.

On a recent trip to IKEA, I bought a ton inexpensive photo frames, and I have so many great pictures from our travels and Judah’s first year that it should be a cinch to decorate my living room walls with family photos. But every time I think about it, I just get overwhelmed and put it off for another day. I need to choose which photos I want to include in the gallery (out of literally thousands), make prints in the right sizes, and then decide which configuration to hang them. I’m usually pretty decisive, but when it comes to this sort of thing, I second guess myself until it makes me crazy.

The kitchen and dining room are not so easy. I don’t want family photos on those walls, but that leaves me wondering what to do instead. I don’t typically like store-bought art (not at the prices I can afford anyway), but I sort of like the idea of cheap framed prints. Here are some ideas I’m tossing around.

Framed post cards

I’ve bought post cards for each of the cities Tony and I have traveled together since we started dating, and I want to frame them and hang them somewhere in the house. I don’t know if they’ll fit in the dining room, and definitely not the kitchen, but I might hang them in the hallway or den? We still need to paint the den, so I’ve got some time to decide what to do in there.

Kitschy kitchen prints

I found these kitchen prints on Pinterest, and I love them. They’re available for free download in these colors, and customizable through the artist’s Etsy store for just $5. I have a tiny bit of wall to fill between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling, and I think they might look cute there.

All You Need is Love prints

I think these cute prints will work nicely in the dining room, and since we’re big Beatles fans, it’s even better.

Kitchen conversion chart

I am in love with this measurement conversion print from Chasing Delicious (available for purchase for just $24!), but I don’t know if the red will work well in my yellow kitchen, and I’d also like it to be a bit bigger than the largest available size (11×17). I’m on the hunt for a similar large print in colors that will work better in my kitchen.


I’ve seen ideas all over Pinterest with framed maps, and I’d like to do something like that with the three major cities where we’ve lived. I want something more creative than just framing the maps, though, so I’m still hunting around and thinking it over.

I want creative but cheap wall decor, and it’s turning out to be much harder to find/create than I expected. Frames alone cost a fortune!

What ideas can you share with me? I’m dying to know what’s on your walls.

One room down, three to go

I’ve been wanting to share our new and improved living room since our furniture arrived last week, but I haven’t been able to get a good shot in natural light that accurately represents the paint color. The light from that dang window is just too bright. I would also benefit from a camera class, but I digress.

This is the best I’ve been able to do anyway. The overhead lights throw the color off a bit in the corner, but if I turn them off, the rest of the room is too dark with the light from the window. At first, I wasn’t sure about the color. I think I just stared at it too long while paint, though, because after a few days, I grew to love it. The room is so much lighter and airier, and I can definitely feel a difference in my mood now that I’m not staring at those dark orange walls every day.

We love the furniture. The recliner closest to the camera is left over from our old furniture, and I can’t decide what to do with it. I don’t love it there, but the extra seating is nice for company. We tried it out in the master bedroom, but the awkward shape of the room just made it not a good fit there. I originally wanted it in the den, but now with the couch back there, there’s really no room for the chair. (That’s a post for another day, though … when we finally get brave enough to paint the den.)

We’re in the process of searching for inexpensive wall art to perk up those bare walls. Wall art suggestions are welcome. Stay tuned!

Painting plans

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never painted anything in my life. Unless you count finger paints. But honestly, I don’t think I used those much either. I always preferred crayons, and so did my mom (for obvious reasons). Since scribbling colored wax on the walls and calling it good isn’t an option for our home, I’m nervously venturing into the world of interior paint.

When we bought our house, it had been newly renovated. The paint was fresh, even if it isn’t a shade I would pick myself. I don’t love it, but I could live with it, so we decided to leave it alone for a little while. As you can see in the photo on the right, most of our main living space is orange. Orange. This has become decidedly more obnoxious the longer we’ve lived in the house, so it’s time for the orange to go.

Part of our motivation comes from the fact that we recently purchased new furniture for the living room — a Pottery Barn Comfort Roll slip-covered sofa, armchair, and ottoman. It should be delivered in the next few weeks. While the Pottery Barn furniture of my dreams is light in color, that obviously would have been a really dumb move with a toddler running around. Instead, we opted for the darkest shade they have — espresso. Here is the couch:Because the furniture is so dark, we want something light for the walls. But I’ve lived with off-white walls for most of my life, so I really want some color. The master bedroom is a pleasant light mocha color, so we’re leaving it. Judah’s room, the guest room, and the guest bathroom are neutral off white, so we’re holding off on painting those, too. For now, we’re just doing the living room, kitchen, and den.

The kitchen is super orange right now.

And the den sort of looks orange in this picture, but it’s really kind of an orangey pinkish coral color.

Since we have an open floor plan, I want the colors to coordinate with each other. We’ve pretty much decided on a pale blue in the living room, light yellow in the kitchen, and light green in the den. We’re still looking at swatches and trying to make decisions about shade, which seems impossible with all of the options available to us. But I feel pretty good that we have it narrowed down to those three colors.

Basically, I’m looking for tips, shade selections, favorite paint brands — anything you can tell me about interior paint would be much appreciated. I’m hoping we can get this done without screwing up too badly the first time, so I need expert advice from my readers!

Thrift store furniture shopping: Am I doing something wrong?

Several people suggested that I hunt for the furniture I want at thrift stores. The thing is, I have been searching for furniture at thrift stores for years. I just don’t seem to have any luck.

Thrift shopping is one of those frugal activities that fascinates me, and I would love to do it, but for some reason, it’s never worked out for me. Couponing and gardening both used to fall under that category. I finally figured out how to make them work for me, so I’m fully aware that the problem is probably me.

I’ve been to a number of thrift stores in North Carolina and now Indiana. I’m looking for the perfect piece of discount furniture that just needs a little TLC. Here’s what I find instead.

Overpriced, poorly made particle board furniture.

The thing about refinishing and fixing up furniture is that you need a solid base with which to work. That cheap particle board stuff that costs under $100 new in a million pieces and assembles with a few Allen screws? It’s not really possible to refinish it. It’s cheap when it’s brand new, it doesn’t last long, and most thrift stores price it around 75-80% of new retail value. That would be fine if it was sturdy, in new condition, and assembled properly. It’s usually not. What I see most often is particle board that’s rickety, falling apart, and still way overpriced. I’d rather spend an extra $20 to buy it new so I can be sure it’s assembled properly and safely.

Dirty, smelly, uncomfortable couches.

Some people don’t like the idea of used couches. Our couch was purchased used for just $30 from an international college student who needed to get rid of his stuff before hopping a transcontinental plane to get home. I found it on a Craigslist-style forum specifically for college students at my school. It’s not the most stylish couch ever, but it was clean, sturdy, and comfortable. A major bonus is that it is an unoffensive neutral brown. It’s worked fine for us for 5 years, and we’ll probably be able to resell it when we don’t need it anymore.

Based on what I’ve seen at thrift stores over the years, I wouldn’t buy a couch at a thrift store. Most of the couches I’ve seen are stained and dirty. They often smell of cigarette smoke, or they’re covered in cat hair (my husband is extremely allergic).

Ugly patterns can be covered with a slip cover, but I’d rather avoid that if I can. I don’t much care for the look of slip covers, and they usually drive me crazy because I’m continually straightening them if they’re not fitted specifically for the couch (I had a slip cover on a couch in college that almost drove me to the looney bin).

Most importantly, the thrift store couches I’ve seen are uncomfortable. Wooden arms, wonky cushions, flat cushions. No matter how cheap it is, it’s not worth it to buy an uncomfortable piece of furniture you won’t use.

Overpriced and too ugly to fix.

I lived with cheap ugly furniture throughout college. My college furnishings were a mish mash of furniture that was given to my roommate and me for free. It didn’t matter that it didn’t match. We were broke, and we needed something to sit on, so we didn’t care. I’m a grown-up now, and I don’t really want to live in a place with mismatched furniture.

Most of the solid wood furniture I see at thrift stores is hideous in a way that can’t be fixed. Giant and clunky. Too big to move with anything but a U-Haul, and too dated to match anything in my house. The problem isn’t that it’s worn or needs to be repainted. The problem is with its design.

I’m not at all saying it’s not possible to find beautiful used pieces and furnish a home with them. I’ve done it. 75% of our furnishings are used. I didn’t find them at thrift stores or Craigslist, though. Most of it came from that awesome college classified website where students practically gave away great stuff just because they don’t want to move it. I haven’t had that kind of luck with used furniture since.

Oh, and “bargain” or “used” furniture stores? Pfft. I can usually find new stuff cheaper than they sell it there. Go figure.

So tell me your tips for finding great furniture at thrift stores. Do you have any luck at Goodwill? Because I find mostly junk at Goodwill, and other consignment or thrift stores are typically just way overpriced. Teach me! I want to learn.

Photo credit

Mini home makeover wish list

When we started house hunting, one of the main things on our list of “must haves” was that the house needed to be move-in ready. We weren’t looking for a fixer-upper. We’re not handy enough for that sort of thing, and we knew we’d ultimately underestimate the cost of renovations and get in over our heads.

We lucked out when we found our house. Someone had already done the heavy lifting, and according to our neighbors, his renovation work has made a world of difference. Unfortunately, we don’t have any “before” pictures. But we’ve been told the handcut stone masonry on the front of the house was added in place of worn vinyl siding. Gorgeous dark laminate floors replaced worn carpet throughout the living space. The bedroom carpet is new. The kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry room are outfitted with ceramic tile instead of vinyl flooring. The windows are brand new. The kitchen counters and cabinets are new. The paint colors aren’t what I would have picked, but it’s fresh paint, so we’re making it work for now. In short, the house was gutted and redone from the inside out.

We are blessed in that we don’t have any major renovating that we want to do to the interiors. It’s all been done for us, and we love it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a to-do list, though.

I have a wish list of items I want to makeover our sadly sparse space. I know what I want, and now I’m just saving up the money and keeping my eye open for deals. Here’s what I’m looking for.

One of the things we fell in love with in the house is sort of an odd space behind the kitchen and next to the garage. It’s a narrow room with a fireplace. It’s on the opposite side of the house from the bedrooms, which makes it the ideal spot for us to relax after the baby is asleep. The living room is right in the middle of the house, and the occasional loud commercial has been known to wake the baby. We want to transform the den into a place where we can work, read, and relax without worrying about waking him.

Over the weekend, I found an old sewing table that perfectly fits my sewing machine. It doubles as a laptop desk for me when I close the cover. Tony’s desk is back there as well as our record player and a small bookshelf. The last thing I want is a set of matching small but cozy chairs and an ottoman so we’ll have a place to relax and read by the fire in the evening.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to pick up these IKEA chairs and ottoman when we get a chance to trek up to Cincinnati. At just $99 each plus $139 for the ottoman, we can afford them now. They’re small enough to fit in the space, but look comfy. The ottoman doubles as storage space.

In the kitchen, we have an empty corner that could fit a small table and chairs. What I’d rather do is buy a freestanding cabinet to use as a pantry. Our cabinet space is lacking, and a freestanding shelf unit would give me plenty of space for stockpiling nonperishables.

I envision something like this, but I’m on the lookout for something much cheaper than its nearly $400 price tag.

Our kitchen is also lacking counter space. What we lack in cabinet and counter space we more than make up for in floor space, so there’s plenty of room for a freestanding kitchen island like this one. I love the butcher’s block top and knife storage. I also love that the wheels would allow us to push it out of the way if necessary.

For the living room, I’ve been dreaming of upgrading from our decades-old secondhand sofa. I am absolutely in love with the classic look of canvas slip covered sofas. The designer ones from Pottery Barn come with a hefty price tag, and I’m hesitant to make that kind of investment with a baby who will be a toddler soon and siblings sure to follow. Luckily, I found this considerably less expensive version at IKEA in a darker color that will mask toddler stains. We’re hoping to get the furniture next spring. We’ll also get a matching armchair and ottoman. Actually getting them here from Cincinnati will be an ordeal, but I’ll save that for another post. Hopefully they’ll last us through our young children years and we can get something fancier later.

Finally, for the master bedroom, we desperately need a closet organizing solution. Our house was built in 1970, so there are no fancy modern walk-in closets. For an older house, the closets are a good size, but we need a closet organizing system to make the best use of the space possible. For right now, we’re using the closet in the guest room for our clothes, because our master closet doesn’t even have a rail.

I’m also on the lookout for cheap, do-it-yourself wall art. Our walls are sadly bare, and with all of these other functional items I want, I don’t want to use our budget for expensive wall art. Any brilliant ideas would be much appreciated.

Of course, thus is just my wishlist for the inside. My ideas for the acre of land are endless.

What’s on your wishlist?

The real cost of buying a home

If you’re planning to buy a house in the near future, then I’m sure you’ve heard this from a million people already, but I’ll tell you again: it ain’t cheap.

So what does it really cost? Well, you’re probably already saving 5-20% of your purchase price for a down payment and 1-3% for your closing costs. That’s not a small chunk of change. Unfortunately, that’s not all you’re going to need to save. Here are a few of the costs we encountered on our little home buying adventure.

Emergency fund

Up until now, you’ve probably had a landlord. If your heater stops working, you call the landlord, and they send someone to fix it on their dime. Roof leak? Call the landlord. Broken refrigerator? Call the landlord. Now that you’re a homeowner, the landlord is you. Don’t plan on spending every last cent of your savings account to move into your home. As a homeowner, access to an adequate emergency fund is more important than ever. Negotiating a home warranty into your purchase can relieve some of this responsibility for a year or so, but it won’t cover everything. Make sure you have some cash on hand to avoid getting in over your head.

Appliances – $500 and up. The sky is the limit if you want to get fancy Food Network appliances!

These days, the housing market is full of foreclosure properties. Sure, you can get a great house for a low price, but often these homes don’t include appliances like a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer or dryer. Sometimes if you’re buying from a seller instead of a bank, some or all of the kitchen appliances will be included. Sometimes they’re not. We saw several houses that didn’t include some or all of the appliances. In our case, we were lucky to buy a house with a stove and dishwasher. We already own our washer and dryer (bartered from a friend in North Carolina in exchange for moving help). But our home did not include a refrigerator, so we had to purchase one.

Sometimes a good deal can be found at secondhand or consignment shops. However, you are taking a risk that the appliance bought will be missing one or more vital parts. Luckily, no matter what brand — Kenmore, Electrolux, General Electric, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, and others — it’s usually possible to find replacement parts inexpensively. You may even be able to get an old refrigerator running like new for only a few dollars.

Lawnmower – $200 – $5000

If you’re moving into your first home after living in apartments, you’ve never experienced the joy of yard maintenance. Now instead of cursing the landscapers for kicking up pollen and noisily mowing away outside a few times a month, that will be your job. We have almost an acre of land that’s quickly growing out of control, so we’ll have to buy a mower before we move in.

Window coverings – $200 and up

Some homeowners will leave things like blinds, curtains, or other window coverings that were custom-made for the home. Often they don’t. Because our house was recently remodeled and new windows were installed, there’s nothing covering them. Unless we want to give our neighbors a peep show, we’ve got to invest in some blinds. As much as I love our dramatic, custom windows, I learned the hard way that fancy windows are more expensive to cover. We had to order custom-cut blinds to fit our unique window sizes. If your windows are standard size, mini blinds can be a cheap option to cover your windows until you can save up for something fancier.

Propane – $500 – $1000 depending on the tank size

I’m a city girl, and I assumed that everyone in the world has access to a natural gas line in their homes, and they just receive a heating bill every month. Not so. If you’re moving into a house in the country, you may have a giant propane tank next to your house that needs to be filled. Rates are lower in the summer when demand is lower, and in our case, the first fill has to be paid upfront. After that we can get on a monthly “budget” plan to build a credit and cover the next fill-up.

Optional costs – Prices will vary.


If you hate the colors the previous owner chose or the paint needs a touch-up, be prepared to invest some money and elbow grease into repainting. Our house was completely repainted as part of the remodel. They’re not the colors I would have chosen, but it’s fresh paint and I don’t hate the colors, so we chose to leave the walls as they are for at least a year or two.


If you don’t repaint — or you choose a color much different from your previous home — you may discover that the decorations you bring no longer match your decor. You can always choose to add decorations a little at a time to reduce the upfront cost. If you don’t have the money to decorate right away, be prepared to live with bare walls for a little while.


The square footage of our new home is almost double that of our apartment. When you suddenly gain that much extra space, you realize just how much furniture it will take to fill it. We’ll have to live with an empty den for a while until we can find a nice used sofa or save enough to upgrade our living room furniture and move the old stuff into the den.

Thankfully, we’ve been saving for the past 5 years, so even though we underestimated the amount of cash we’d need to buy our house, we can afford the extra costs. Be sure you count on some extra costs if you’re planning to buy a home.

Photo credit

Assembling a home from scratch

Last weekend, Tony and I finally moved into an apartment in the city where he’ll be teaching this fall (and hopefully spring). We were very lucky to have lots of help from both of our families.

We’ve only been married for a little over two years now, but in that time we’ve built a frugal collection of furniture and other items to fill our home. I was so proud of the compliments we received as our parents helped us unpack and arrange our furniture.

“I love this table.”

“What a lovely lamp.”

“This bed is so nice.”

In our culture, it seems that pride in the things we own most often comes from the expense. Many people collect fancy, overpriced items to fill their homes, and the things they own become a status symbol for their financial success.

I was proud for the opposite reason. Each time someone commented on a piece of furniture or some other item in our home, I was struck by the fact that we’ve assembled all of these things from a hodgepodge of resources — and most of them were very inexpensive or free.

  • The full-sized washer and dryer that were given to us after helping some friends move into a new home.
  • The couch that I bought second-hand for $30.
  • The bed that was passed down to Tony from his grandparents.
  • The coffee table and side tables that were given to me in college by the older couple who owned the bowling alley where I worked.
  • The chair and ottoman that were given to me instead of being dropped off at the thrift store after I saw them in the back of a co-worker’s truck.
  • The television that we bought second-hand from a friend.

The prospect of furnishing a home can be overwhelming when you’re first starting out. Furniture stores prey on newlyweds and new homeowners with 0% interest deals. It’s easy to walk into a furniture store and spend thousands on brand new furniture and appliances. But with a little imagination and ingenuity, it’s just as easy to assemble a beautiful home for next to nothing.

If you’re planning a move, now is the time to start scouting out yard sales, browsing Craigslist, and letting friends and family know that you’re on the lookout for gently used home furnishings. Look at each piece you find with a creative eye. It may look old and worn, but ask yourself if it would benefit from a new coat of paint or an inexpensive couch cover. You’ll be amazed at what you can find for drastically lower prices than in stores. And each well loved item will add a little extra character and history to your home.