Category Archives: Design

Voice Controlled Home Automation (Video included)

Although I have tons of interests, I am a tech geek at heart.  I love playing with new gadgets to see how they can make our lives “easier”.   After combining several gadgets together, some DIY electrical work, and configuration settings, we were able to make our house do some cool tricks just with the sound of our voice.

We started small and  mainly used home automation to off turn off our master bedroom lights from our phone so we wouldn’t have to argue about who should get up!  But after some more pieces, the possibilities seemed endless.

Devices (everything is under $200!):

SmartThings is a neat home device product because there is no monthly fee and is compatible with both ZigBee and Zwave protocols which are the 2 most common.  You start off connecting it to your Wi-Fi and downloading an app on your smart phone.   There are 3 ways to connect lights for home automation.

  1. Outlet – plug a wireless communicating outlet into the wall and plug your lamp into the outlet.
  2. Bulb – Replace bulbs with a wireless communicating Bulb
  3. Switch – Replace the wall switch with a zwave switch.

We mainly used switches.  If you know how to turn off the control panel, use a screwdriver and move 3 wires from your old switch to the new one, you don’t need to hire an electrician.

Tip: Zwave switches require neutral wire so if you don’t have one in your box, check the box next to it and you can fish a wire through after verifying it works. If there isn’t one, use a Zwave dimmer switch.

Harmony Hub integrates with SmartThings and can control your entertainment system.  It also allows your phone to function as a universal remote.  Since our hub was on the other side of the house from the router and behind a cabinet, we needed to add a Wi-Fi extender to give it a stable connection.

Amazon Echo is a cool device on it’s own.  Think of Siri but better and for your house.  Integrating it with SmartThings broadens it’s possibilities tremendously.  Sonos also works with SmartThings to allow you to turn on and off playlists.

It’s not perfect, for example, you have to say “turn off good night” but nonetheless pretty cool.

Next on the list, garage door control that senses your proximity based on your phone’s GPS location.  If only I could make it move the elf!

10 Steps to Hosting a Sleepover Birthday Party

My baby girl turned 9 yesterday.  While I try not to spoil her, I also would do anything to make her happy.  For my oldest daughter, Avani, it is actually easy because she is an EXACT copy of me.  From our looks to our personality/interests and everything in between.  Good and bad, she is my mini-me.  So to determine what I could do to make her feel special for her special day, I just thought about what I would have wanted for my 9th birthday and did that.

Follow these steps to throw your daughter a birthday sleepover she will always remember!

1- Pick a Theme – Anytime up until a week before the party.  Do you need one?  No but it makes it easy to decide on the rest of the stuff like invites, décor or cake when you have one.  For her 9th Birthday, we didn’t want anything too babyish but still pretty and pink so went with roses based on one of crafts (see #4).

2- Pick a Date – 6 weeks pre party.  Make sure she doesn’t have a big event the next day as she will probably be half asleep.  Check the school calendar to ensure there are no school events.  (Unfortunately my daughter’s soccer game was moved up last minute so we had to leave at the same time the girls were supposed to be picked up in the morning….oh boy).

 3- Invite her closest friends – 6 weeks pre-party.  Try to get your invitations out well in advance.  That way her BFFs (as there may be multiple of them) are more likely to be available to share that special day with her.  I would recommend 6 weeks in advance.  Don’t invite too many, there is a possibility that everyone can come so you don’t want more than you can handle.  Don’t invite any “trouble makers” as they will be in your house over night, so you don’t want to have to be on constant alert.

4- Plan an activity – Anytime up to 2 weeks before the party (to order supplies online)  If this is not your forte, hire this out.  There are plenty of professionals out there (artists, chefs, nail techs, etc) that you can pay to do all the heavy lifting for you.  If you are a little braver, you can plan the activity and hire your babysitter to run it.  You can save yourself some money this way but have help at the same time.  If you are really brave (aka crazy like me) you can do it on your own.

I selected 2 activities that I thought would be pretty simple for the girls who would be attending (ages 7-11) would be able to do.

Apple Roses – I saw this posted on one of my friend’s Facebook wall and although I really can’t cook, it looked simple enough that even I could do it.

I broke them up into 4 groups to work together.  It was actually pretty easy and even the ones that weren’t perfectly shaped, tasted delicious. (see results below)

No-Sew Tote Bags – I have always put a lot of thought into what guests take home from a party.  I hate giving out junk.  Junk costs the host money that the guest ends up tossing or cluttering up their home unnecessarily.  For the last 2 birthday parties we did for my younger daughter, Aria, she choose to donate the money we would have spent on the junk instead.  Avani is really into crafting so we spend the goody bag money into making a fantastic craft.  Something that is useable, you don’t through away, unique for this event, and cool!  These DIY tote bags are beautiful and just required some cutting and gluing, easy peasy. (results below)

Supplies Needed for Project

Relax…you don’t have to worry about this for a while..

5- Order Cake – 1 week pre party.  Honestly, the kids don’t really care where you bought your cake.  Cake is cake so if you want to make it easy on yourself, just go the local grocery store.  I went with Jewel where you can order as little as 24 hours in advance.  Some bakers require a longer lead time so check with where you plan on ordering before procrastinating to the last minute.  If you live in the Chicago burbs, several of my friends swear by Jarosch Bakery and will go out of their way for it.  I have also used some local moms who bake from their home for some truly unique cakes.

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6 – Order Food – 1 day pre party.  Pizza?  Yes, simple.  If you ever get tired of pizza, there are also lots of other easy other options as well.  I have used Noodles & Company, Portillos,  Potbellys, Qdoba, and Panda Express which are all just a bit more and pretty easy.

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7 – Decorate – Day of Party – Using some stuff you already have in the house you can actually make something pretty special.  Concentrate your decorations into one area instead of spreading them out.  Then you have one spectacular area instead of just a piece here and there.  I just to decorate the basement where the girls would be sleeping.   I used some Christmas lights, bed canopy, quilts, hanging lanterns that I already had.  Buy a couple packs of command hooks, which are pretty awesome, to hang things up and you have instant setting.

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8 – Don’t Forget Snacks!  – Day of Party – While out buying tableware, plates, candles, bagels, and juice  (notice the grocery list), don’t forget a late night snack for those hungry girls who will no doubt be raiding your kitchen in the wee-hours.

9 – Monitor – Day of Party – Where did I put that baby monitor???  Well you better figure it out because it comes in handy.  Instead of having to sleep near the kids, or trek up and down the stairs 10 times, stick your baby monitor down there.  Let the kids know that it is there and if there is any misbehaving, you will not hesitate to call their parents to have them picked up.  Luckily I have never had to make a call but the threat enough seems to do the trick ’cause who would want to leave this awesome party?

10 – Bedtime – Night of Party– After all the activities have completed.  Have them wind down by watching a movie after changing into their PJs, brushing teeth, and in their sleeping bags.  Arrange their sleeping bags for them in a circle, heads in, so no one feels left out.  At a reasonable time, let them know its lights out and time for bed.  Expect some chatting after you leave.  30 minutes later, enforce by staying there until a few are sleeping, they will be so exhausted it shouldn’t take long.  Quietly leave while the rest of the girls follow suit.  Don’t forget to check your monitor!

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Good luck!

Pictures from Apple Roses and Tote Bags:

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Interior Design Plagirism

Have you ever seen something on HGTV and thought how amazing it would be to have your place look like that?  Well, why can’t it?  I would love to take credit and say I was the creative genius behind all of the rooms I have renovated.  The truth is, for some of the rooms, they started as an idea in my head.  Then I searched Houzz and found that idea in a design that I loved, so I copied it.  The biggest benefit is knowing that you will love the finished space rather than wondering if these 2 components are going to look good together.

If you are wondering if it actually is plagiarism?  Have no fear, if you were to have the exact same dimensions and use the exact same components, maybe.  I 100% guarantee that will not be the case.

Craft Room key features desired:

  • White Cabinets
  • Large Work Area
  • Homework Aea

I found this design:

Our final product:

Copied Design for Craft Room
Finished Craft Room

Boys Nursery key features desired:

    • Horizontal Stripes
    • Pale Blues

I really like the contrast of the colors in this design.

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Boys Nursery

In the design I found, the trees were too creepy for a nursery and we were using an existing crib.  Luckily the modifications still came out great.  Check out DIY Murals and Designs on painting the stripes and decals for the trees.

During my first renovation project, I saw a design of a backsplash that I really loved.  It had little accent tiles added to a horizontal beige random tile very sparingly.  I loved my accent tile so much, that I added full lines of it to the top and bottom of the backsplash too.  Unfortunately it did not have the same effect, and I ended up tearing it out.  Tweak cautiously.  If you can, copy in a way that you know you will love the final result.

Time to Update the Kitchen – Refinish, Reface, Replace, Rewhat??

“The kitchen is the heart of the home” is one of those clichés that is overused for good reason.  It is the area that will see the best ROI when it comes to resale frankly because people just gravitate there.  A perfect example is ladies night at my house last week.  Several of the local moms in my neighborhood participate in a ladies night once a month where we all take turns hosting usually at our homes.  Last week it was my turn and regardless of the fact that I have 30+ places to sit on my first floor, the group of women stood around the island for the entire night as they have every single ladies night before mine.  Many nights, we have stood around the island into the wee hours of the night, not returning home until 2am!  (No, we don’t spend the entire night complaining about our husbands, only a small portion of it)

After moving into our dream neighborhood with our fixer upper , we decided that we needed to do something to the kitchen, there were lots of options to explore with a huge variety of budgets.

The options can be overwhelming but let me try to help make heads and tails of it all with a range of budgets from doing it yourself (DIY) to hiring a professional.

Simple(r) Updates:

  • Declutter (Free!).  Having a massive amount of items on your counter tops might be the most convenient but it says that you don’t have enough cabinet space for all your stuff.  Try buying more storage solutions for drawers/cabinets so there is a place for everything.
  • Repaint the walls ($40-$150) A fresh coat of paint removing all the scuffs and dings can go a long way to making the kitchen look refreshed.  Lighter neutral colors can also help brighten things up with lots of opportunities to add color through kitchen accessories.
  • Replace Knobs – ($100-$300) – You can make an outdated kitchen look modernized with some new knobs pretty quickly.  Make sure that you pick a know with the same holes as your existing knobs.
  • Replace an existing light fixture ($150 – $500) Lighting makes a huge difference in your space.  Choosing the right light fixture can create a new focal point and offers a chance to show off your style.  If you are handy enough, you can replace the fixture on your own by watching some youtube videos and save yourself around $100.

  • Add a Backplash – ($200-$500)  Think about the backsplash in your kitchen like a necklace or a tie.  There are millions of stones, tiles, colors, and patterns to choose from that this is a great opportunity to put your own personal touch into your kitchen, especially if you have basic builder grade cabinets.  Another area you can take advantage of you tube videos to do some DIY tiling.

  • Replace Counters -($1500-$4000)  There are many options to choose from here and can make a large impact.  We will get more into counter choices in another blog but don’t default to granite.  My recommendation is quartz but there are more to counters than just granite!!  Granite is the #1 upgrade homeowners make before listing their property which I think is a huge mistake.  Even if your listing says “granite countertops”  new buyers will just think about the money that you wasted when they have to replace it.

Then comes the major part of your kitchen – CABINETS!

The first few options can be considered if the layout of the kitchen is good as well as the quality of the cabinets.

Renew – ($2000 – $7500) Renewing your cabinets is a pretty thorough deep clean.  The idea is to try to scrub out all the dirt and grime and repolish the wood to make them bright and shiny.  There are some options to change the color here but it usually is only to make it darker.

Refinish – ($3000 – $7500)  Refinish includes sanding down your cabinets and restaining or painting them.  This option can offer the biggest change for the smallest budget.  Keep in mind that your cabinets need to be in good shape for this option.  This also offers you an opportunity to add additional cabinets that you can now match with the existing cabinets.  Also consider adding crown molding to upgrade your kitchen.  Big box stores offer this service about double the cost of the small guys, but you also know that you are working with a reputable company.  Notice in the picture below that the doors are exactly the same with just a different color.  There are also some DIY Kits to get it done for less than $100 which they were talking about at ladies night and had some good reviews.

Reface – ($5000 – $12000) The existing cabinet frames are refinished while the doors and drawers are replaced.  If the layout is good but the style of the doors are out dated (think raised panel with arches) you can get a completely new look without having to pull out counters and frames.  Not only can you add molding but some glass accent doors can also make a big impact.  From my experience, this option is one of the hardest to find providers for.  Big box stores complete these project with large price tags.  For a small contractor, there is more work because fronts need to be precisely measured, custom ordered, and rehung. Many cabinet manufacturers will not entertain a refacing job and even worse, won’t sell directly to home owners.  On the bright side, cabinet manufacturers that do these jobs offer adhesive veneers so instead of having to paint or if you have a different type of wood, you can make it all look cohesive.

Replace – ($15,000 – $100,000).  The sky is the limit when it comes to replacing.  At this point, you can change the layout and move electrical and plumbing.  The range of price tags when it comes to new cabinets is immense from off the shelf builder grade to high end custom.  Unfortunately when it comes to replacing, the probability is high that you will also have to replace the counters as well (which is why adding granite tops to sell your house is a waste).

When it comes to replacing, you don’t only have to consider the current footprint of the kitchen but can also consider expanding into another room in the house.  Pulling down the wall between the kitchen and dining room is the very popular at the moment as is open concept.

Whichever your time, budget, and space allows for, choosing any of these options can help improve the look of your kitchen which after all is the heart of your home!

 

DIY Murals and Designs

I love the look of a well painted mural on the wall in a child’s room.  I have seen a number of beautiful murals of Disney Characters, Winnie the Poohs and others animals painted by extremely talented artists.   My own personal preference is to keep my children’s rooms fairly mature.  Whether you choose a whimsical forest creature or sophisticated scenery, a small design feature is the perfect element to finish the room.

Here are several options for simple DIY projects.   Hiring a professional can be costly simply due to the amount of time it takes to complete but not necessarily the complexity.  Since we are always at home and love a bargain, we were able to complete unique looks on our own time and save money.

Stripes – All you need is paint, painter’s tape, laser leveler (or even measuring tape) and patience. Generally you want to put down a base coat of one of your colors first.  One that is dry, it is easiest to wait 24 hours, you apply painters tape using the leveler.  If you don’t have one, you can also just measure from the corner and mark out your stripes.  Once taped off paint in your stripes.

Baby Girl Nursery with Striped Walls

Baby Girl Nursery with Striped Walls

Mural – If you can do it free hand, more power to you.  I have tried in the past and am not as good of an artist as I would like.  Instead my first step is to borrow a projector.  Generally someone at work (try the sales people) has a portable one you can borrow for a night.    Find an image that you like and then project it on the wall.  Trace the image with a pencil and then paint it in.

Castle Painted with Projector
Castle Painted with Projector

Decals – These tend to have the best results but can cost a bit more.   Etsy has a ton of sellers and you can even customize your own.  If you order them, they take some time to come in so be sure to account for the lead time.  Most come with simple instructions but you do need patience to lay them all out properly to ensure your spacing before sticking them on the wall.

Tree decals purchased from Etsy
Tree decals purchased from Etsy
Stripes and Decals used in Baby Boy Nursery
Stripes and Decals used in Baby Boy Nursery

Even better do both, I used a projector to tape off stars in the play room.  Painted them with white board paint and magnetic paint.  Covered the magnetic ones with purple glitter and added a decal.  Pretty cool, huh?

decal
Word Decal purchased from Etsy with White Board and Magnetic Stars Taped off with Projector

Beyond Granite for Countertops

When renovating, there are a million and one choices to make.  One of the choices with a big impact and big price tag is your counter top selection.  Your selection will not only impact the style of your space but also the maintenance involved.  If you have ever tried to buy or sell a house, you have undoubtedly read “granite countertops” on a listingTruth is, there are many more options, some arguably better, than just granite.

Quartz is an engineered material made of chunks of stone mixed in with resin and other coloring.  It is now the leading material used in kitchen and baths when designed by a professional designer.  It is virtually maintenance free requiring no sealing and does not stain or scratch.   Quartz comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns whether you like solid, speckles or sparkles.  Previous complaints were that it looked to man made but new designs and patterns can closely mimic natural stone.   Quartz falls right in the middle of granite and marble in regards to price.  Quartz is #1 my recommendation for functionality and value.

Marble White Quartz
Plain Quartz Countertops

Quartzite is a very hard metamorphic rock that originated as sandstone. Through a process of high heating and pressurization sandstone is transformed into Quartzite. When heated, individual quartz pieces recrystallize giving it a beautiful and decorative sparkling pattern. Quartzite is beautiful and comes in some gorgeous whites and cool colors, while it is stain resistant, it can scratch and chip.  This material does require regular annual sealing which can cost a few hundred dollars.

Quartzite

Granite is still a top player in the market.  It is a natural stone that is heat resistant, stain resistant, and scratch resistant.  Keep in mind that resistant does not mean that it can not, just more durable than other materials.  Since it is a natural stone, there is a lot of variation which can also make things tricky when it comes to matching up seams.  There are a variety of colors but no pure whites.  You can get granite in both polished for a sleek look or honed for matte.  This material does require regular annual sealing.

Venetian Gold Granite

Marble stone is formed from limestone, superheated to form its unique crystalline structure.  Marble countertop surfaces are timeless with their classic beauty and elegance. If you are looking for a surface to sustain through the ages, this natural stone countertop material is perfect for you. Its naturally cool temperature is pleasing for cooking as well as keeping any workspaces temperature controlled.  Marble countertops do  stain and scratch which is known as “patina”.  Homeowners who own marble tops learn to embrace the patina as part of the beauty.  This material does require regular annual sealing.

Calcutta Gold Marble

There are many more options that are not as popular but offer a beauty of their own:

Soapstone
Wood Butcher Block
Stainless Steel

 

Digitally Design a Picture Wall

A beautiful way to display your favorite art and pictures is on a well laid out picture wall.  Personally I love having my walls filled with pictures of the things that matter to me the most, my children.  It gives personality to a home and tells a story.

According to my husband, we have too many pictures on our walls.  He also wanted to bedazzle our entire kitchen take all feedback cautiously.  If you are anything like me, you have thousands of pictures digitally saved but not printed out.  Worse yet, still only on your phone.  Half the challenge is figuring out which pictures to print out and which size to print them. In order to determine how a group of pictures will look together on the wall, you can easily simulate the picture wall digitally.  If you have a PC, you already have the software you need; PAINT!  Photoshop and other software packages that offers layers are much better if you have them.  If you don’t and don’t want to bother installing anything, Paint will do the trick.

Open Paint from Windows and turn rulers on by selecting View –  Rulers.  You do want to draw things to scale to see how things will look together.  I found using 1 inch = 10 pixels works well.  If there is enough interest, I will put together a video to show you how this is done step by step.   Please comment on the post and let me know!

If you already have frames selected measure the outside of the frame and make rectangles for each frame.   If you don’t, then go straight to picking pictures.  I had already picked out the Pottery Barn Studio Wall Easel system with discounted frames from the craft store.  You can also layout the frames on the floor to see if you can find the right layout before adding them to the design. option 1 picture wall Option 1 Option 2 Option 2

Once you have added determined the right layout,  it is time to start selecting pictures.  For each picture you are considering use Windows Snipping Tool, also already installed, copy the picture and paste it into Paint.  Resize the rectangle until it is to scale of your wall.  You want to look at the wall as a whole and not as individual pictures.  Move frames around until you find a design that appeals to you. add picture to option 1 Just by looking at my wall digitally, I quickly realized that my layouts were too crowded for the space and needed to be scaled down.  I had to remove half the frames and reduce the overall size before I found the perfect design. Final Picture Wall Once I was comfortable that the right pictures were the correct size, I could purchase appropriate frames if needed.  I am ready to print my pictures!  If you aren’t using a wall easel, put down wrapping paper on the floor and put the frames on top.  Trace the outline of each frame onto the wrapping paper.  Remove the frames and transfer the wrapping paper to the wall, secured with painters tape.  Hang the frames directly into the traced boxes and you can easily rip out the wrapping paper after the frames are up.

Picture Wall

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Here is an example of how I used the same method on a different wall:

kitchen picture wall2

kitchen picture wall actual

Lifestyle vs Niche Blogging

After being inspired by my brother to start blogging more, I decided that if I was going to dedicate time to it, I might as well do it properly.  While persuaded to pick a single theme to post about, there is way more to know about me than just my passion for interior design.  I also enjoy making crafts, throwing parties, I am an active member of the community, I was learning how to cook (that one isn’t going so well), learning photography and most importantly a mom.

Here are some pros of a lifestyle blog.

  1. You are not confined to blogging about only topic.
  2. You don’t get bored of it as easily.
  3. You are establishing yourself as a brand.
  4. It is easier to come up with content.

Here are the cons.

  1. You are not establishing yourself as an expert as you would in a niche.
  2. Potential subscribers need to be interested in most of your topics
  3. Chances of monetizing your blog is lower.
  4. You aren’t forced to expand your own knowledge.

Julie Neidlinger says that “Niche blogs give you an audience that you understand, and that understands you.” in her blog “How to Start a Niche Blog (And Why You Should)”.


After weighing the pros and cons, I decided that a lifestyle blog is more appropriate for someone like me, not to mention very trendy at the moment.  Not only will I be able to share my knowledge with the world, but it will serve as my own therapeutic release and my online journal.  Certainly a lot cheaper than laying on someone’s couch!

To help me get inspired and get my wheels turning, I looked for who are some of the top lifestyle bloggers.  I heard one of the most famous was www.cupofjo.com.   After cruising her site I quickly realized that she is like me.  A woman with lots to offer to the world and if people were interested in her, they could be interested in me.

The free blog with long name had to go.  I needed something catchy, easy to say, and easy to type.  This blog had some tips that seemed natural to me.  I played with Realty and Reality but it didn’t feel right.  After thinking about what I am all about, the word “live” stood out.  You live everyday, you live in a house, you live for your family.  Hence birthed Live Like Anj.

I did need to do some research on how to make a proper blog and I found Amy Lynn Andrew’s blog  on how to make blogs the most helpful.  I don’t expect for this to be my new career path, despite my brother’s faith in me, I did find her how to make money blogging interesting.  I might hold off on that for now, and just try to see if anyone is interested in hearing what I have to say!