The Making of a Craft Studio (Part III) – If You Build It, She Will Come!!

In part II of The Making of a Craft Studio, I showed you how to use Ikea’s Pax Planner to design a storage solution for your craft studio (see Canadian version and US version here).

Today, I’m going to highlight installing the cabinets, some of the indispensable tools we used in the installation, installation tips specific to drawers and how we adapted an Ikea pullout to work at the bottom of one of our cabinets. I’m also going to show you how I’ve started to use the cabinets to organize all my craft goodies and tools!

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Craft studio of dreams; if you build it, she will come!


Ikea’s instructions are quite good so I’ll just hit on some of the highlights to be aware of when putting your units together.

The first thing is to be sure you have enough headroom to build it on the ground and then stand it up. For the 79 1/4″ high units that we built, you will need a minimum ceiling height of 80 3/4″. If you don’t, Ikea provides instructions for building it upright too. The front of each cabinet has adjustable feet in case your floor happens to be out of level.

When you’re hammering on the backing, Ikea provides a great little gadget to prevent you from missing the nail and hitting your fingers instead. I don’t know about you, buy I need my fingers intact to craft!

Insert a nail into the holder, squeeze the sides then hammer away stopping just short of the top of the plastic so you still have room to pull it away before you finish hammering the rest of the nail in.

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Once everything is built and placed where you want it, now is the time to screw each cabinet together. This is where it got a little frustrating for us and where you’ll want to heed the following warning:

In Ikea’s instructions, the diagram they provide for where to screw together the cabinets is somewhat deceiving. We actually misinterpreted it which called for a complete do-over when we discovered our error! Looking at the picture below, we thought you could screw the cabinets together any where along hole 1 through 5. However if you look REAL close, you can see the number 5 is slightly enlarged and the drill is pointed at that hole. Hole #5 is the only place you should be using to screw the cabinets together if you are using doors! We used hole number 3 which interfered with the hinge placement for the doors, so we (meaning my husband!) had to take EVERYTHING apart, re-drill, clamp and screw….. again.

Wouldn’t it be better if they put an X through numbers 1 – 4? I don’t know about you, but I can barely read these days and I had to squint pretty hard to to count the actual number of holes once we realized we did it wrong. I actually got on the phone to customer service to suggest that the pictorial could be improved, but it fell on deaf ears – they felt it was fine as-is.

Use clamps to keep the cabinets stable as you drill and screw them together.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, once your cabinets are screwed together, you MUST also secure them to the wall at the back. My cabinets are going to be fully loaded and HEAVY; the last thing you want is for it to come crashing down on yourself or a child because it’s not fastened to the wall.

Ideally you should screw the cabinets into a stud. Because we were building the room from scratch, and knew the cabinets were going against that particular wall, my husband inserted blocking at the correct height along the full length of the wall.

Here’s how you fasten the cabinets to the wall: put a screw through the middle of the metal bracket at the back of the cabinet. Slip on the keyhole plate as shown, then tighten the screw until it’s tight against the plate. Then snap on the plastic cover…. wash, rinse and repeat for the rest of the cabinets (so to speak) and your cabinets will be safe and secure!

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Don’t miss the step of securing cabinets to the wall!

Before we installed our cabinets, I made the decision to install baseboard in the niche where they would be placed. I didn’t want to leave the baseboard off: in case we ever sell the house in the future and take the cabinets with us, that niche would be nicely finished off like the rest of the room for the new homeowners.

By installing baseboard all around, it prevented the cabinets from being able to be pushed in so they are flat up against the back wall. We might have been able to notch the cabinets out on the bottom at the back so they would clear the baseboard, but they are over 5″ high and I didn’t want to cut that much out. My husband thought when we installed the screws, as shown above, that the cabinets might rack and twist a bit if we over-tightened them. To prevent that from happening, we cut and installed  spacers in between each cabinet (mounted beside, not directly in back of where we were screwing) to hold them out from the wall the same distance as the baseboard. We made sure to mark the strapping behind the drywall on some green tape.  Then we pinned each block behind the cabinet so half of it was sticking out to support the next cabinet beside it once it was put into place. The photos below show the blocks going in, then a side view showing the consistent gap and then all four cabinets installed.

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Installing a spacer against the back of the cabinets to prevent racking when you have baseboards

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From upper left: first cabinet in, side view showing consistent gap to accommodate baseboard and lined up side-by-side

I should mention that we could have trimmed everything out with baseboard and/or crown molding, to make it look built-in, but I didn’t want a built-in look. I intentionally left a gap between the cabinet and the wall on the right side so I could store tall rolls of paper, which I frequently use. I also wanted to add some additional hanging space outside the closed storage unit with this Komplement Valet Hanger so I could hang patterns-in-progress and keep them accessible while I work.

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Once the shell is built, the doors can be attached and the fun part begins; building and installing all the interior components! It might have been easier to leave the doors off while we were installing the interior, but I preferred being able to see where the door hinges would impact the final placements. This is what the unit looked like a few weeks ago after my husband finished off the doors:

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He also finished off this little beauty in a niche that’s covering up one of the support posts holding up our house. It’s a nice way to display my vintage iron collection.

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Lack shelving unit

Indispensable Tools

The things we found most useful to help with assembly were the clamps you saw above, a battery operated drill (with a light), drill extensions, and plastic sleeve (see Installation Tips below this section). Be sure to set the drill at the lowest setting (#1 in our case) so you don’t drive the screws too deep or strip them.

Another thing to be mindful of, when installing the Ikea lack cabinet in particular, is that you will need a looooong screwdriver extension.  Because the hanging plate is located right at the top of the shelf, you’ll be installing it close to the ceiling (especially if you’re installing it in the basement where ceiling heights tend to be lower).  Access, and being able to actually see where you’re drilling and attaching, will be an issue unless you have drill bit extensions. This is where it’s also helpful to have a drill with a guide light on it – or a friend to lend a helping hand by  shining a flashlight into the gap between the shelf and ceiling.

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A long drill bit extension is needed to reach the wall in the gap between the top of the shelf and ceiling

Installation Tips – Drawers

Ikea packs their drawer glides in two different coloured plastic sleeves: blue and clear, which is great for figuring out where each one goes! The colours differentiate between which side of the drawer the slide will be installed – blue indicates right and clear is left. Ikea makes it SO easy to get it right!

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After dropping a few screws while trying to  install the drawer actual glide, we used was a plastic sleeve over the drill bit. It prevents your screws from falling and getting lost as you attach them! My husband was raving about it; it’s a real time saver.

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Plastic sleeve to prevent screws from falling

When you’re installing pull-outs, don’t forget to put on the plastic caps – before the screws. It helps to have all the attachments in one spot before you start working (we forgot to install one pair and had to unscrew and reassemble because we weren’t as diligent about keeping our parts together)!

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Even though I printed a detailed plan from the Pax Planner (which even shows which holes to use!), I made sure I had some of the actual items on-site that I would be storing. As we were assembling, we could double check the heights of these items to make sure things would fit. Here you can see I’ll be storing some plastic bins on the roll-out. Before I installed the solid drawer directly above,  I place the bins on the rollout to see if I would have enough clearance. Better to do it once and do it right!

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Have items on-hand you’ll be storing to judge clearances!

Here is the progress so far. The glass front drawers are great for storing all my sewing thread and spools of yarn for my knitting machines. I can easily see what I have and keep these items dust free! Compare that to clutter of the pegboard I was using in my old studio; I’m so thrilled at how it turned out!

The first solid drawer below the glass ones will store all my sewing patterns. I’ll likely design some kind of DIY divider system to keep them neat and tidy. Then I’ve got closed storage at the bottom with covered bins on a pullout that can easily accessed when needed.

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Yarn and thread storage comparison

Ikea has these great felt trays for the large drawers – they come three to a pack.


I didn’t see them in the Planner, and I missed them online  before I went to purchase my items, but I immediately snapped some up when I saw them in the store! They’re perfect to keep my sewing hams and yarns (soon to come).

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Easter ham 🙂

The pullouts shown below are PERFECT for storing all my tools. I’ll have separate pullouts for stained glass tools and various other tools I’ll use on a regular basis. I’ll be customizing these pullouts even further once I’m more organized (tutorial to come!)

You’ll notice that I’m still missing a few pull-outs; when we were ready to purchase, everything was in stock when we printed our shopping list in the morning, however Ikea was sold out by the time we got there mid-day…drats! Hubs has a mission this week to scout them out at another location, so I’ll just have to be patient until then 🙂

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A place for everything and everything in its place!

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Tool storage and close bins; glass shelf keeps the dust off my tools while still allowing me to see what’s there!

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Hanging room for cardboard patterns

Customizing an Ikea Pullout

As mentioned in my previous post, the second-hand glass doors we bought for the two end cabinets had  hinges that were located too low on the door, which meant we couldn’t install an Ikea pull-out tray using the hardware supplied.

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With a little finagling, we discovered that we could still use the pullout!  However we needed to find different hardware and modify the pullout in a way that it would clear the hinges and slide in and out without a problem.

Here’s what we did to customize the pullout: using our own bottom-mounted full-extension hardware (purchased at Lee Valley), we dry-fit the drawer in place to insure it would clear the hinge.  In case anyone is interested in doing the same, the drawer glide is 22″ and full extension; below is the product code of the drawer glide hardware from Lee Valley: Ikea for the Studio 555_bof.jpg

With a piece of cardboard used as a spacer on the left hand side (opposite the hinges on the door), we had plenty of clearance to get by the hinge on the right side.

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Figuring out where to position the pullout with new bottom mounted hardware

We measured the placement of the hardware where we wanted to position it in the cabinet (sides, front and back) and transferred those measurements to the underside of the pull-out. There’s a lip underneath the pullout that has to be filled in so the hardware can be attached and slide out properly; so we cut two pieces of wood to act as spacers to be attached onto the underside of the pullout to make it flush.

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Positioning the runners

We transferred our measurements to the back of the pull-out tray with pencil so we had a guide to position our spacers.

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Measurements transferred to bottom of pull-out tray and straight lines drawn for location of wooden spacers

I didn’t want to screw into the underside of the pullout because the material is so thin, so we used double sided taped to attach the wooden spacers onto it instead.

If anyone reading this knows of a faster method of getting the plastic backing off this stuff without struggling with it for more than five minutes, let me know in the comments! Double sided tape is great but it’s the bane of my existence when it comes to time management!

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Double sided tape gets applied to the spacers and then the spacers are attached to the underside of pull-out tray

We drew a line right down the middle of each wood spacer to centre our screw holes, then we separated the two pieces of hardware. We put a small piece of double face tape at either end of the solid piece of metal (the one without all the bearings as shown below).  We lined the hardware up with the centre line we drew, then pressed it down firmly to hold it in place.

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We predrilled in three places along the length of each spacer; to prevent yourself from pre-drilling the hole too deep, wrap a piece of green tape around the drill bit at the depth you want to drill to. Once the drill bit reaches the top of the tape, it’s time to move on and pre-drill the next one!

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We installed the screws where we predrilled. We then reattached the piece of hardware we removed, flipped the whole thing right-side up again and positioned the pull-out tray in the cabinet against the cardboard spacer, ready to be screwed down.

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Re attach the mechanism you removed earlier

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Flip the pull-out tray right side up once hardware is put back together

Slide the sliding mechanism out from the pullout at the back part way and line both ends up against the back of the cabinet.  Make sure that it’s also tight against the cardboard spacer (seen on the left).

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Once the pullout was positioned exactly where we wanted it, we then predrilled and screwed the back end into place. Hubs wanted me to pass along to you that pre-drilling the hole actually strengthens the bond of the screw because you’re not ‘ripping’ the fibres apart.  There was only one exception where we didn’t pre-drill, which you’ll see below, to prevent sawdust from getting into the ball bearings.

You may notice that the cardboard spacer is on the right side in the picture below; that’s because we’re doing another pull-out tray here on the opposite side of the cabinet, so everything is flipped around.

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Vacuum up wood debris as you go and pre-drill the middle of the drawer glides through the bottom of the cabinet (we used three screws – at the back, middle and front for each side – for a total of six).

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When the back and middle are screwed in place, it’s better to remove the tray from the hardware and finish off the front, then remount it when you’re done. As mentioned previously, hubs didn’t pre-drill the front holes because he didn’t want to create sawdust that might get caught up in the ball bearings and clog them up. He simply screwed in the front without pre-drilling.

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Screw the runners at the back, move to the middle and then finally finish at the front

Here is the adapted pullout all done; now it houses my glass grinder.

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Custom pull-out for glass grinder

After the first pull-out tray was done, I wanted another one on the opposite side of the cabinet too so we placed the two drawers side by side and repeated the same steps (allowing us to transfer all the original measurements as a ‘mirror’ image):

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Here is how the other side of the cabinet looked before we installed the pull-out tray. Notice that it’s hard to reach into the back to get the plastic bin (even for hubs who has long arms, unlike me!):

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And here is the completed pull-out tray before we put the glass shelf back in place:

And here is the completed pull-out tray before we put the glass shelf back in place:

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Now the bin at the back is MUCH easier to reach

Now that the pull-out trays are done, here are another few shots of the completed interior organizers. Now I just have to fill it all – which WON’T be a problem 🙂

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Not an inch of space will go wasted. I even have a stationery shelf that will hold larger flat items such as my cutting mats and tissue paper:

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If you’re wondering how much my Ikea storage solution cost in the end, I would like to answer priceless; I wish I had done this in my old studio! However, below you will find the breakdown in Canadian dollars, taking into the account the 15% discount (Ikea was running a Pax promotion at the time I bought), sales tax and the fact that I purchased my doors (and three drawers) second-hand for only $200. I  honestly thought I would have to budget around $4K in order to pack so much functionality (and beauty) into organizing my new studio!

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Grand total

Well, that wraps it for now — until I’ve transferred all my stuff from my previous studio!  I hope you’ve enjoyed playing ‘Pax-Man’ (or in my case Pax-[wo]Man) as much as I did!

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If there’s a craft studio in your near future too, tell me about it in the comments. If this project has inspired you, please pin and share on Facebook.

Here’s a sneak peak of the final reveal of my craft studio which you can find here.


UPDATE: Now that my craft studio is done I’ve launched a brand new blog – Birdz of a Feather ~ Craft Rehab – that’s dedicated solely to crafting. Check it out and you’ll not only find cool (and sustainable!) crafts, but a post on how I finally organized my craft studio.

Here are just a few of the projects I’ve done on Craft Rehab:


At Birdz of a Feather, we’re feathering the nest… one room at a time. Follow my blog here or on Bloglovin’ to see other DIY projects, in and around the home.

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The Making of a Craft Studio (II): Design Your Space Using Ikea’s Pax Planner!

We’re almost at the finish line with the installation of Ikea cabinets to help corral what was once a messy eyesore in my previous craft studio into an organized storage solution for my new space.

In part two of The Making of a Craft Studio, I’m sharing how I used Ikea’s Pax Planner to design the storage solution for my studio (see Canadian version and US version here). Then, in part three,  I’ll show you how we built my storage solution and how I organized my craft room using Ikea Komplement interior organizers to customize each Pax Wardrobe! My step-by step tutorial (with tips and tricks) will guide you through how you can do it too!

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But first, where we last left off in Part One, I was still undecided about the layout of my studio. Thanks to all you fellow crafters out there in Hometalk-and-Blogger-land that gave your input! I’m still mulling over all the options, so there’s still time to put in your two cents worth to help me decide!

In the meantime, there’s plenty to keep us busy as we put the finishing touches on my Ikea storage cabinets. These cabinets had a huge challenge to fulfill; they needed to store over 20 years of accumulation from my old studio, which was built in my parent’s basement. Not only that, but my current studio is an nth of the size of my old one, with no room to expand (I’ll be sharing a portion of the basement with hubs who’s building a mancave for himself too).

Below is a picture of my previous studio at its ‘best’ (the worst scenario was too scary to post). As you can see, it’s full of clutter. I didn’t build in any storage solutions, other than a walk in closet that shares space with the water turnoff for the house, so storage space was at a premium. Everything literally landed where it fell and pretty much stayed there!

I have so many diverse interests: stained glass, knitting, pattern making and sewing, marquetry, crafting… the list is literally too long to type! The challenge with storage, of course, lies in all the tools and gadgets that come along with those interests!

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‘Achoo’ is appropriate given all the dust covering the stuff in my old studio! It was much bigger; the full length of the basement from one end….

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…to the other end

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Industrial sewing machine (looking into the cutting room) is in a separate room with the serger

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Serger and sewing machine are back to back in their own space

I loved my old studio space (if not for the size alone!), but I can no longer stand the visual distraction of having everything out in the open. Ikea Pax wardrobes are just the ticket! I can hide away all the clutter behind closed doors, but still have everything organized and accessible. On the interior, glass fronted drawers will ensure that I can quickly see and find what I’m looking for.

When I designed my new studio space, I included a niche that was big enough to fit two of the largest and two of the smallest width Pax cabinets.  Of course, they are supposed to be used in a bedroom as a wardrobe, but with minimal customization I think it will work perfectly for all my craft and tool storage.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Ikea has a fantastic on-line planner that allows you to design the placement of all the components, then print out a list that you can take to the store to make your purchase.

What’s great about this tool is that you can’t place a component where the hinges and any other obstructions are, so you can’t really go wrong……. UNLESS you buy some older style doors on Craigslist, like I did! I got all six doors for my cabinets at an amazing price; a pair of glass doors and four solid doors (+ three solid drawers!) for only $200 – vs. over $800 with tax for new doors at Ikea. The glass doors are no longer available at Ikea and, as we discovered when we were putting in our drawers, the hinges are in a completely different spot than currently available doors! That resulted in me having to adapt my original plan – and modify an Ikea pullout to get the result I wanted (more about that later).

Immediately below is  How to use Ikea’s Pax Planner to Design Your Storage Solution. Following in the next part of the series (The Making of a Craft Studio – Part III), you will find Installation,  Indispensable Tools, Installation Tips for drawers and finally Customizing an Ikea Pullout.

How to Use Ikea’s Pax Planner to Design Your Storage Solution

Here is how I planned my studio storage with Ikea’s Online Pax Planner ( Canadian version and US version):

I started from ‘scratch’, as shown below, since I wanted to customize each component. I selected the room dimensions suggested (the dimensions for the Canadian planner is in metric, while the U.S. planner is imperial). If your room plan is larger, you will need to select an appropriate room size. Then I selected ‘frames for hinged doors’ from the top of the add product list on the right-hand side. If you are planning on putting doors on your cabinets, do it now before you start adding the interior organizers – that way, the program will automatically tell you where the hinges are and you won’t accidentally add a component that you can’t use! Before you select your door style (if you don’t choose a sliding door), you’ll be asked whether you want slow close or regular hinges. I’m assuming each one could impact the placement of the interior organizers differently, so make sure you choose what you will actually be buying. I had regular hinges on the bargain doors I bought online, so made that selection.

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I chose the height and width of the cabinets that I determined would fit my space and simply  dragged each component into the ‘room’ one at a time and lined them up side-by-side.  Now you have the shell in which you’ll build out the rest of the storage!

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Now would be a good time to save your plan before you get too far along and forget!  You have a choice of  saving all your plan(s) to your personal computer or opening up an account and storing it on Ikea’s servers. I would recommend that you sign up for an account; when you save your plan on Ikea’s servers, there are two advantages:

  1. You will be able to access it at the store and make changes there with the help of an Ikea associate if you need to; and
  2. You won’t loose your plans, like I did!  I ran into issues when I saved to my home computer; all of my plans kept disappearing (it was probably and issue with my own computer, but who knows?). Luckily I was also saving pdfs and printing as I went, but it was still an inconvenience to have to start all over again in order to continue planning online.

I’m not positive, but think your plan stays on Ikea’s servers for up to a year.

I saved several different variations before I finalized my plan and purchased my components.  Each time I saved, I could either overwrite the file or save a new version. When saving a new version of the plan it’s a good idea to add a ‘description’ to differentiate between older versions (below, I’ve simply typed ‘draft 1’). Once the plan is saved, you can close it whenever you wish then come back anytime and open it again to continue working on it.

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By highlighting the cabinet, the interior fittings for that size will be available to choose as you ‘virtually build’ the layout

Once the door style is selected and in place, highlight the cabinet you want to start fitting out, then click ‘interior organizers’ on the right side. This will open up the selection of ALL the components that will fit the particular cabinet you have highlighted (and the doors will temporarily disappear so you can drag-‘n-drop the organizers you want).

As you can see below, I’ve added in a divider frame to the third cabinet:

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Now it’s just a matter of adding in the rest of the components. Just remember to select the cabinet you want to work on so the appropriate choices on the right hand side are made available.

Another nice feature of the tool is that you don’t always have to drag and drop from the product list. If you have multiple items of the same product, you can highlight the item then click the duplicate button as shown below.

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When you click the duplicate button, simply move to where you want the item positioned. Before you place it, you can adjust it up and down with a ‘ruler’ that shows the height and how far it is away from other items. If that item can’t be placed, you will see a red indicator warning you that you are too close to another item (see below).

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Planner shows distances between components and a red indicator warns when you run into an obstruction that will prevent placement of an item

Don’t forget to save your plan as you go (especially if your computer is prone to crashing, like mine is!) You’re only limited by your creativity – and budget, of course! The nice thing about the planner is that you can see the cost of each component as you place it. You can also see the number of items and a running total as you can go (just above the tab where you add products as shown below).

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When we were ready to purchase, Ikea happened to be running their Pax wardrobe sale so we got 15% off our entire purchase; our timing couldn’t have been better!

When your plan is finalized, you can print a list of everything you’ve chosen; it will give you an itemized list with a grand total! That way, you can pare back if necessary.  Best of all, before you print, if you select the store where you intend to purchase, the itemized list will also indicate whether the item is currently in stock and the location in the store where you can pick your items up (aisle and bin).

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Aisle and bin location of item

Knowing where an item is so I can get in and out of the store faster is a feature I REALLY appreciate in the Pax Planner; shopping at Ikea can sometimes feel like getting lost in a maze! Maybe one day someone will create a computer game where you score big points if you can figure out how to make your way through each level of an Ikea store in less than two hours! They can call it “Pax-Man” – lol (I hope the good people over at Ikea have a sense of humour)!

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But I digress! One of the best advantages of using the print feature with the Pax Planner is that it will give you a detailed printout of the hole location for each piece you’ll be installing – no guesswork!

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I went through several iterations of my design in the Pax Planner.  After finalizing my plan, this is ideally what I wanted to end up with:

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However, as you can see in the plan above, when you have doors on the unit, you can’t put a drawer on the bottom. And remember those glass doors I bought second-hand that were too good to be true to pass up? Well, as it turns out, the hinges on those doors are too low in order to install a pullout on the bottom; ay carumba!

The only other option available for the bottom of a cabinet is to install either a basket or a pullout. I didn’t want  either one of those for the third cabinet, so I’m thinking about routing out a channel at the side where the drawer binds so it can slide in and out freely. I’m just not sure if that will compromise the structure too much, so I may end up putting the drawer in the end unit and replacing it with a pullout after all. I’ll have to see what happens as I load it up with all my stuff.

Here’s a picture of the four drawers in place in the third cabinet; you can see where the green tape is on the bottom drawer that the hinges are impeding it and pushing it away at the side which will render it nonfunctional 😦

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I REALLY wanted pullouts on the end cabinets (where the glass doors are going) so I could store my glass grinder and some covered plastic bins. In order to get a pullout in the two end cabinets, we were going to have to put our thinking caps on. We came up with two solutions: 1) re-drill the hole for the hinge on the door and move it up to clear the pullout hardware or 2) purchase new bottom mounted drawer glides at a hardware store so the pullout could be mounted directly on the bottom, which would then clear the hinges. Option 2, while more expensive, was the best option for me because I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the door by putting another hole in it. As it happened, we had a spare pair of drawer glides to test out whether it would even work, so we didn’t have to shell out any extra money for the first one :).  To see how we installed our ‘custom’ pullout, see Customizing a Pullout in the next section.

I plan to use the configured storage shown in the Pax Planner below as follows:

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Cabinet #1 houses all my cardboard patterns (I used to professionally design clothing) and will be primarily hanging space with some plastic bins at the bottom. We installed a glass divider in case I change my mind and add another pullout for some tools.

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Cabinet #2 is a mix of hidden storage (solid drawers) and glass fronted drawers. We installed a pullout drawer in the bottom of this cabinet for more plastic bins. In cabinet #3, we installed a divider at the bottom so that we could fit two more columns of small glass fronted drawers. I figured it would be more practical to load up a lot of small drawers with heavy stuff, rather than fewer larger ones so I don’t have too much trouble getting the drawers open! The only drawback of doing this is that the small glass fronted drawers are almost as expensive as the larger ones, (but only 1/2 the storage; $40 vs $50, respectively).

At the very bottom of the divider on the right side of cabinet #3, I’m going to store my table top sewing machine so I can pull it out when I need it. It’s an old Kenmore and it’s made with metal – not the cheap plastic they build them with today! It’s a workhorse and I’d never part with it. Even though I also own an industrial Juki sewing machine, since it only sews straight it’s nice to have a machine that can sew a variety of other stitches too!

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Glass front drawers are ideal for seeing what you have!

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Pullout for sewing machine

The last cabinet (#4) bookends the first one with another glass door. I thought I might take advantage of the glass and have my Birdz of a Feather yin/yang logo printed up on an adhesive sticker (below I taped up a black and white paper printout to see what it might look like). What do you think? Yay or nay?

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Inside the last cabinet, (as you’ll see in part 3 of this series) there will be more hanging storage for shorter patterns, a few glass-front drawers and a pullout on the bottom for my glass grinder. On that note, check out the Making of a Craft Studio (Part III) – If You Build It, She Will Come, for the tutorial on how to build and install your Ikea storage solution!

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Create a Small Water Feature to Add Curb Appeal!

There’s nothing more calming than the tranquil sound of water trickling from a water feature and I can’t think of a better way to great guests to the house than having one right by the front door!

Now that Spring is here, it’s a great time to start thinking about adding some curb appeal by installing a pond. Ready made ponds are a great convenience. Here’s one we installed on one side of our front walkway. Following below is a complete tutorial with the lowdown on how we did it!

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It is a simple and straightforward task to add a ridgid liner to the garden, but there are other considerations when the liner is going to be up against the edge of a walkway (as ours was). We ran into several challenges and I’ll show you how we resolved them.

But first, if you are installing a liner anywhere else in the garden, here are the general instructions. However, if you want to install a liner that will be intersecting with a walkway (like ours did), skip down to “Walkway Challenges”.

General Installation

We started with a small kidney shaped pre-formed ridgid  liner. It was very easy to install with a few simple tools and supplies (shovel, garden hose, sand, scoop, level). We placed the liner where we wanted it and then, using a hose, we marked out the outline of the shape (you can use marking paint or sand to mark also). We carefully measured the depth needed and also the depth and placement of any shelves we would also need to dig out (we have one shelf in our pond).

We dug out a hole to the shape and depth we measured and checked to make sure it was level once the liner was placed into the hole. Then we pulled it out again and added a few inches of sand to the bottom of the hole. This will help nestle the liner into the ground and keep it level. Keep adding sand until the liner stays steady without any rocking motion. It’s a good idea to tamp the sand down over the dirt on the bottom so the liner is seated securely. Continue to put the liner back in and check for level as you build up the sand. Making sure the pond is level is the most important step because water won’t stay securely inside the liner, where it belongs, if it’s tilted at all.

Once you’re satisfied with the fit, start to fill the liner with water from a garden hose and continue to make sure the liner is sitting level as it fills. If you notice any puckers in the liner, you’ll need to backfill with some of the dirt you removed to fill any air pockets (you can also use some sand). This is especially important underneath any shelves as you don’t want the liner to buckle under the pressure of the water – the liner needs solid support, both underneath and all around the sides!

When the liner is filled about halfway with water, backfill around all the edges with sand. We used a plastic hand trowel to direct the sand where we wanted it. A deep dustpan works well for this purpose too — place it away from the gap between the side wall and the liner (under the lip), then brush the sand into the gap to fill up the sides and secure it all around the edges.

We purchased some flagstone to hide the edges and finish it off (more to come about that in the next section).

For more about liner options and installation, here’s an excellent video to watch.

Walkway  Challenges

When we first installed our liner it was with the recognition that one day we would be installing new paving stones. We actually ended up doubling our work because of that; we had to re-support the pond when we updated the walkway. This is how the walkway looked before we installed the new pavers. As you can see the liner is level and sits on top of the stone slab.

To dress is up, we bought natural flagstone and placed it all around the edges of the liner to hide it. Be sure to buy different thicknesses so you’re able to stack it up to different levels since you’ll have higher gaps in the back and side than the front where it meets up with the walkway!

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Here’s how the pond looked before we updated the walkway with new pavers. It looked quaint, but there was still lots of room for improvement; we knew we could do even better!

Notice that the flagstone around the edge looks a little skimpy? That’s because we didn’t buy enough initially. It’s sometimes hard to judge how much you’ll need until you’ve got the stone on site! Oh well, just be prepared to take another trip back to the stone yard. Between our front and back yards, we were on a first name basis with everyone at the stone yard by the time we were done!

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Edges could use a little more stone!

When we finally got around to updating the old stone on the walkway from concrete slabs to pavers (before and after shown below) we wanted to be able to easily pull the liner out of the hole so we could power wash it each Spring and then put it back, ready to fill with clean water.

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Before and after with new paving stones

Easy upkeep and maintenance is always an important factor to us. Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to remove the liner without disturbing the base underneath our pavers and having it all crumble into the pond each time we lifted it out.

My husband and I put our heads together and came up with a brilliant idea using some concrete blocks, construction adhesive and some metal edging that we had left over from installing our walkway. Once you read through the following instructions, it will all make sense!

Since our liner was already installed as outlined above, our first step was to set up string lines so we could determine the finished level of the walkway and where we needed to place concrete blocks to fall just under the lip of the liner. Then we dry fit the concrete blocks around the front edge of the pond where it was going to intersect the walkway. We needed to stack the blocks two-high in order to get the height we needed. We kept taking the liner out and putting it back in as we dry fit the stones to ensure it would sit level once the stones were in place. You might have to add some sand into the bottom of the hole at this point to make sure the liner nestles properly.

I know this looks like a mess, but stick with me here!

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String lines in place and stone dry fit under lip of liner to exact height

Once you’re happy with the arrangement, use construction adhesive (rated for outdoor use) to glue the underside of the upper blocks to the bottom layer of blocks. Gluing them together is important as you don’t want anything to shift; the top stones also act as a base for the metal rim still to come.

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Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place

Keep adding construction adhesive until all the stones have been glued into place.

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Let the construction adhesive dry. Since our pond was done in two stages, it wasn’t necessary for us to add any dirt or sand around the sides, but if you are building yours from scratch, this is the time to make sure you’ve supported the bottom and sides with dirt and/or sand and leveled it as in the general instructions described above. Do this BEFORE you proceed to the final step.

Final Step

We used the metal edging as a frame of sorts: we bent it until we got the exact shape of the pond.  Temporarily tape it together to make sure that the pond can easily slip in and out of the metal frame. Make any necessary adjustments then connect the two edges in the middle by either riveting or screwing it together with a nut and bolt to hold the shape. Place the metal frame with the pond liner into the hole, then tape it down in a few spots to hold it against the concrete blocks.  Gently lift out the liner so you’re only left with the metal frame sitting on top of the concrete blocks. Glue the metal frame to the concrete blocks at each tab (removing the tape as you go).

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Metal ‘frame’ is glued down to the concrete blocks with construction adhesive

There – you’ve got a metal frame that acts as a ‘lip’ to prevent the fine stone gravel that forms the base of the walkway from falling into the pond each time it’s lifted out and replaced again (we used high performance bedding stone or HPB for short)!

If you like, you can pack a little dirt under the rest of the tabs if there are any gaps (make sure you don’t skew the level) and drive a few spikes into one or two of the them to secure the metal around the edges that aren’t glued down. This isn’t really necessary, however. You’re not trying to support the weight of the pond with the frame (that work is supposed to be done by adding and tamping sand in the bottom of the hole as described in the general instructions above). As I mentioned, the metal is simply acting as as guard between the  walkway and pond to prevent migration of the HPB into the hole.

All that’s left is to fill up the rest of the walkway with the HPB base and cover up the concrete blocks to just below the lip of the metal (below you can only see evidence of the blocks in the hole itself).

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HPB covers up all the ‘hidden’ support

Our final step was to  screed the HPB to the final level and install the new pavers.

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Pavers going in

Here’s how the pond looks now: all dressed up, complete with pond plants and turtle spitter. We bought a variety of different thicknesses of flagstone and REALLY beefed it up all the around the edges since our first attempt. Isn’t it MUCH better than it was?!

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Completed water feature and walkway

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To finish off the vignette, I built this trellis.

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In the fall, leaves and dirt make will their way into the pond, but we’re not so fussed about it because we know that we can lift it out in the Spring and hose it down! We simply put away the pump and then add a wooden board over the top of the pond to keep the snow at bay.

Here is how the pond looks over the course of winter (we didn’t have snow when I took this shot!).

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Board covers pond to keep out snow

With a little innovation on our part, the liner has been a breeze to pull out in the Spring, clean up and then reinstall – ready to shine as the star of our small front garden 🙂

To keep mosquitoes at bay (they can’t breed in flowing water), make sure you run a spitter and pump to  recirculate the water. You’ll need  a source of electricity close to the pond (our main source was in the garage on the other side of the wall) and a weatherproof box that’s rated to be near water. Consult or hire a licensed electrician to ensure it’s all up to code.

We haven’t had any problems with algae growth in our little pond as it’s fairly shaded throughout the day; however if yours is exposed to a lot of sun, barley straw works wonders against algae.

By the way, the walkway was the very first paver project that I had ever attempted (and I installed every block myself)!

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Installing the pavers

It was my ‘practice run’ for the travertine pavers we did in the backyard (here’s how that project looked in progress). To see how we landscaped our entire back yard, click here.

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Once the front walkway was complete, we advanced to something on a larger scale in the back!

I have one more pond project coming up in a future post, so stay tuned. Here’s a sneak peek at the water feature I’ll be featuring that we built in the backyard.

Are you ready to attempt a water feature in your own garden?

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Water feature in back garden

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The Making of a Craft Studio – Calling All Crafters: Help Me Decide the Best Layout for my New Studio!

I’m so excited that my craft studio is becoming a reality; it’s been a dream for over decade to build a studio in the basement.

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My husband and I divvied up the space: a studio for me and a mancave for him.  He just finished installing the shell of the Ikea Pax cabinets that I’ll be using to store all my sewing and craft goodies. Once all the interior fittings are in place,  that means I’m one step closer to ‘moving in’.  However that leads to another dilemma – the layout of the rest of the studio!

Here’s a sneak peak of the Ikea units my husband put together over the weekend:

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My husband even managed to squeeze in some display space (in a niche he built to cover up the post supporting the upper stories of the house).

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Ikea has a wonderful Pax planner that allows you to design everything; I think it’s awesome!  You select the size of the units and door style, then just ‘drag and drop’ the interior fittings you want. It even provides an itemized shopping list so you can take it to the store and order what you need!  How convenient is that?

Here’s how I’m thinking of arranging the inside of the Pax:

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Once the Pax system is fully built and organized, I’ll update you with how the storage space turned out! By the way, My husband safely secured these units to the wall, which is a must!

Now, back to my layout dilemma for the rest of the studio.  Below is an overview of the basement space we had to work with. I originally thought that my office/cutting room would share a space at the back where our laundry room is. The sewing room would be in the same room where the Ikea cabinets are installed.

Take a look at all three  options I’ve come up with below and let me know what YOU would choose….or perhaps you’ll have some ideas I never even thought of!

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Option 1

Below is Option 1 of the layout I envisioned for the ‘sewing room’ and ‘cutting room’.  I’m at odds over whether I should position my cutting table in the far room so I can access it on three sides or whether I should ‘hide’ it from view on the other side of the ‘window’ wall. I don’t think I want to see a potentially messy cutting table as my first line of sight as I enter the sewing room.  But accessibility on 3 sides would be nice to have: if I put the table up against the window wall (on the opposite side of the sewing machine), I’ll only be able to access it from two sides.

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Option 1: cutting table in line of sight as you enter

Here’s another view of the cutting table; in this view, my office area has a corner desk area and I’ll be able to squeeze in another card catalogue at the end of the run (yes, I have TWO card catalogues – a makeover project that I’ll document in  a future post!).

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Option 1: card catalog makeover to come!

Overview of Option 1

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Option 1 overview

Option 2

This is how that line of sight would change from Option 1 above if the cutting table was not the first thing you see as you walk into the far room. It has been moved to the other side of the window wall.

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Option 2: nicer line of sight into cutting room

Here’s another two views of how the far room would look if the table were tucked away out of sight. The first one is from the vantage point of looking into the sewing room, where the Ikea cabinets are installed.

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The second view below shows how my office space would be arranged with the pattern table placed as shown above.

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Option 2: office area and cutting table

Overview of Option 2

Here’s the full layout of the basement again with an overhead view showing Option 2.

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Option 2: overview of Basement with Mancave, Sewing Room and Office/Cutting Rom

Option 3

As if that wasn’t enough to think about, just to stir the pot a little, what if I switched the sewing room for the cutting room and put the table where the sewing machines were and vice versa?

In this 3rd option, the sewing machines would be arranged in an ‘L’ shape in the corner of the room shared by the laundry. The cutting table would be in the room with the Ikea cabinets (where the sewing machines were previously).

To me, Option 3 narrows the traffic flow and seems like it might feel a little claustrophobic with the cutting table taking up so much space.

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Option 3: sewing and cutting room flipped around

Overview of Option 3

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Option 3: overview of sewing and cutting room flipped around

So what do you think? Where should the cutting table go? Let me know if you would choose Option 1, 2 or 3 (or leave me a comment with your questions/suggestions)!

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Let’s Give Them Something to ‘Tock’ About (Part 1)

Today I’m going to show you how to add some faux finish flare to an old wooden pendulum clock as seen below.  I love clocks, so when the opportunity comes along to add my creative flare to a vintage find, I’m all over it!

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Fun with Faux Finishes

But first a little story about how I introduced my then-boyfriend-turned-husband into the hardcore world of DIY….. and boy, was it on a grand (i.e. national) scale!

Being the DIY maven that I am, I’m always on the lookout for that next ‘rush’, you know? The joy of the hunt, having fun narrowing down the kajillion ways in which you can upscale an item and then finally the big reveal  – those are all great perks to DIY’ing. But what else could I do to REALLY challenge myself? Apply to be on a reality TV show to see how my DIY skills stack up against the competition, of course!

Many moons ago we used to have a show in Canada that was similar to Flea Market Flip, where teams compete to find items to refurbish or reinvent, then try to sell them for the most profit. I thought I’d be perfect for the show; however, when I applied, it was unfortunately the end of the season. The producer said I sounded like just the kind of person they were looking for and she would keep my information on file. I soon forgot about it until….

The next Spring I got an e-mail from the show inviting me to audition! The e-mail also mentioned that I could bring along one or two team-mates to audition with me if I wanted to participate as a group. Who better to invite that my brand new boyfriend that I had met only two months earlier? I thought getting him to come along with me would be a fun experience – and if we got on the show, I’d get to see what he’s really made of (i.e. did he have the chops to keep up with me, what was he like to work with under pressure?)

Well, we not only got on the show (the producers added a third person to our group), but our team won ! We also outperformed every other team (sales to investment ratio) that had participated during the show’s two-year run!

Participating in the show with my boyfriend was not only going to test our relationship early on, but would also be the best way to discover whether he was going to be a keeper down the road. What we discovered was that we are a lot alike; opinionated, wanting to do things OUR way but we managed to pull together and have fun in the process. Of course, here we are over a decade later and we’re just as opinionated and still having fun together. I guess the couple who DIY’s together, stays together!

But I digress, so now back to the clock.

We were given $200, plus another $50 for supplies to find 4 – 5 items to divvy up between the three of us. On ‘buy day’ we shopped at second hand stores and content sales around town. I didn’t know specifically where we were going to shop, but I thought it would be a good idea to do some pre-location scouting where I thought we would likely be looking. Turns out that was a great decision because $200 doesn’t really get you too far when you’re hard pressed to find something within an allotted time period (production schedules are run like a well oiled clock – excuse the pun).

When we found the clock at a second hand store downtown, I knew right away that I wanted to refurbish it for the show.The door was missing its glass which was a very easy thing for me to replace (I was working at a stained glass studio at the time). The clock didn’t work and the wood was dinged and in need of TLC.

Here’s a picture of a similar clock that’s in much better shape than the one we did for the show (and has a $295 price tag!):

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We chatted up the owner and convinced him to put the clock on hold for us until Saturday (our shoot day). If we didn’t end up buying it for the show, I was going to purchase it for my personal stash! I turned on the charm and unbelievably, I managed to talk him down to $25. What a steal! One caveat to be aware of if you happen to stumble on the find of the century like I did: make sure that it isn’t a valuable antique before you do anything to it! Later on, as we were antiquing one weekend, we found a similar clock (albeit in better condition) for $295. Sometimes it better to leave well enough alone. In this case, the glass had to be replaced and it was in rough shape, so I didn’t blink an eye about giving it an update.

I decided to faux finish the clock using an applied photocopy (I found a pretty graphic in a book) and some decorative finishes using paint, crackle medium and then some stain rubbed into the cracks to bring out the distressed look and bring it all together.

Here’s a list of the items I used:

  1. White Shellac (spray or brush on)
  2. Foam applicator
  3. Wallpaper Paste
  4. Green painters tape
  5. Spray or brush on high adhesion primer – or a deglosser
  6. Paint (white of cream colour)
  7. Stain (Natural Oak or Mahogany)
  8. Crackle medium
  9. Paste wax
  10. Glass Cutter
  11. Piece of Glass
  12. Glazier’s points
  13. Venetian Plaster applicator
  14. Photocopy (it could be anything you would want to decoupage onto the clock)
  15. Stencils

To start, find a photocopy that you want to use to act as a decoupage accent somewhere on the clock. I used only a portion of my colour copy; it had a pretty peony with a lady bug on it that I could strategically place on the front and wrap around to the sides.

Brush the front and back of your colour photocopy print with the shellac using the foam applicator and let it completely dry. Do this in a well ventilated area. It will seal the paper and prepare it for the other finishes. Once dry, mark the placement of your paper against the area of the clock you want to apply it to and cut it to size.

You’ll have to forgive the less than ideal photos that follow; they were captured from the video of the show, so aren’t as sharp as I would have liked 🙂


Colour photocopy prepared with shellac and ready to mark for placement on the clock

I removed the door so I could work on it separately and replace the missing piece of glass. I purchased a beautiful decorative glass called everglade. I measured the length and width then cut a replacement piece to fit (minus 1/8″on the total width and length for wiggle room).

I own a pistol grip glass cutter that automatically dispenses oil, but any glass cutter will do. Just be sure to add a dab of oil on the cutting wheel to lubricate it and make it easier to score the glass.


Everglade glass is my all time favourite architectural glass. I’ve even used it to make a thermo-sealed unit for my front door!


Scoring the glass

Once the glass is scored, lift it up with the score centred between your two thumbs. Then pull outward as you apply downward pressure to snap the glass apart.  I secured the glass back in place with glazier’s points around each edge. The pictures of the clock unfortunately doesn’t do the glass justice, but it did add a lot of impact.

I covered up any glass that was still in tact (over the clock face and on the sides) with green tape to protect it before starting to prime. Working on both the body of the clock and the door simultaneously, the next step was to lightly sand the wood finish and then apply a high adhesion primer so the paint would stick.  You can use a deglosser instead of sanding and priming, but make sure to use it outdoors. Apply the paint and let it dry.

We were on tight time constraints during the shoot – (and there was no air conditioning in the warehouse they were using as a studio!) – so I used a blow dryer in between each step. Once the primer is dry repeat the same steps with paint.


Prime then paint the clock

Apply wallpaper paste (or mod podge) to the back of the photocopy where you want to place it. I only applied it to the very top and around the sides.


Top and side where decoupage is being applied

Choose a stencil that goes with your theme; I added some feathery foliage to the clock. I positioned the stencil where I wanted it. Then I applied some venetian plaster with an applicator through the cutouts and carefully lifted the stencil off. You could also use stencil paste or spackling paste instead of venetian plaster to give a raised embossed appearance to some areas (I happened to have left over venetian plaster on hand). Lightly sand away any nubs until it’s smooth and you’re happy with the appearance of the raised effect.


Blow drying between each step. Here you can see the embossed look that the stencil provides

Once the embossing is dry, apply the crackle finish according to directions.  Crackle medium is unpredictable; it is affected by the environment – temperature, moisture, materials and how heavy you apply it. Generally, the thicker the application, the larger the cracks but it’s difficult to get consistency, given all the variables that can affect the final outcome. As a DIY’er you just have to learn to accept and live with what you end up with! I didn’t have the luxury of time to do a practice piece, but it would be a good idea to do one before you apply the crackle finish  to the clock – especially if it’s your first time using it.

I used a two-part crackle to apply over my coloured paint finish; one part is the base and the other is the crackle medium. After the first application, allow it to dry as recommended (usually 1 to 3 hours). The crackle medium has to be used over a dry color coating.

Once the top crackle coat is applied and dry, it can be coated over with stain to enhance the cracks and age the white paint. This coat allows the base color to show through the crackle pattern. Don’t be too heavy handed when you rub on the stain; wipe most of it away to just highlight the cracks.


The stain blends everything together and ages the white paint, while enhancing the cracks

Ideally wait at least 24 hours until everything is dry and then apply paste wax to the entire piece and buff it off. You could also brush or spray on a few light coats of matte water based varathane to seal it.

Reattach the glass door and it’s ready to hang on the wall (or sell on a TV show)!


Once the door goes back on, it’s all done!

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Before and After; and something to ‘talk’ about too

On sell day, we turned the $200 investment spent on five pieces into $825; and we had a hoot doing it! The clock got sold as part of a package deal with a wrought iron table that my (boyfriend) now husband and I worked on together. I guess birdz of a feather really do flock together (and feather the nest with DIY projects, in our case).  Less than 10 months after the show aired, were were happily married (and still are).

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Clock ended up being sold as part of a combined package

In a future post, I’ll share how to create an outdoor table for the patio. The wrought iron table shown above features a DIY multi colour stone-pebble inner section topped off with plexi glass to extend the surface area.  Stay tuned!

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Creative Planter Ideas for the Garden

We have a tiny garden but to make the most of it, we’re always looking for ways to squeeze just one more plant into it. On one of our garage sale treks I found a rusty old chair and thought it would be perfect as a planter once I painted the metal and removed the seat cushion.


Cutting out the middle section of the chair so planter will ‘nest’ and look more like a cushioned seat once plants fill in

At the time, I was in my ‘succulent’ phase and couldn’t wait to introduce a lush ‘seat cushion’ full of plants tucked in beside our rock garden. Succulents can be planted sparsely within the container and will spread quickly to form that lush look in no time!

At first we planted the succulents in a ceramic dish, but it cracked after only one winter.


Ceramic planter didn’t make it through the winter 😦

With some trial and error, and a lot of luck, I finally found a circular hypertufa planter that fit the seat of the chair perfectly!

Making a hypertufa planter is a great beginner project that anyone can do!  If you want to attempt one for your garden, just click on this link for a tutorial that you can try your hand at!

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Succulents overwinter in hypertufa container and come back like a trouper every Spring!

Here’s another metal chair that we painted and is just waiting for a hypertufa planter. I’ll be fashioning something rectangular for this one, so it will be a little more challenging finding a mold with the perfect shape and size. We’ll probably end up custom-building a form for this one!

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Hypertufa tutorial will be in the works soon for this chair!

The wonderful thing about hypertufa is that it overwinters without cracking (unlike ceramic) so in the fall, while the chair goes into the garage to be stored, the planter stays out in the dry creek bed (shown briefly in the last picture). I’ve had the best success overwintering my succulents in the same container ever since; it comes back like a trouper every Spring when we bring out the chair and put it back in its place of honour in the garden! We drop it right over our fern and it happily grows right under the chair; it loves the shade!

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Fern LOVES to be shaded under the chair!

I quickly found other areas to add succulents – such as on top of a shallow birdbath in the opposite corner of the garden.The before and after is quite striking; planters of any size and scale can add a lot of interest while the garden is waiting to mature.

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Before and after: a shallow birdbath is the ideal place to on which arrange succulents in a glass dish

When the garden was young and sparse, I kept the compositions on top of the birdbath very structured – as in the example pictured below. In subsequent years, the planter arrangements became more free form as the garden started to mature.

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Let your imagination run wild – just about anything can be a planter in the garden with the right plants

The glass dish was found for pennies at a value village; I filled in the shallow bird bath with some aquarium gravel then nestled the dish into it. The piece of petrified wood and the stone was found at the same store at which I purchase the aquarium gravel. I love the way the colour of the stone plays off the flowers of the succulent in bloom and the ornate mirror/shelf combo that I faux painted.

I found the ceramic dish pictured below at HomeSense and filled in the bird bath with river rock.

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Succulents add not only colour, but a textural quality to the composition

The ceramic dish adds height and the white pops against the background greenery of the Oak Leaf Hydrangea.

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Oak Leaf Hydrangea and clematis are a beautiful background against the white planter

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Below you can see how the arrangements evolved and got more relaxed over time.  Every once in a while we will switch up the succulents for flowers instead to bring added colour to the corner of the garden.

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Flowers in bloom add a burst of colour

However, I think I may go back to succulents in the planters moving forward, now that the clematis is taking hold on the lacy backdrop of the mirror and the oak leaf hydrangea is nicely filling out the corner behind the bird bath we turned into a planter.

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Clematis latches onto the mirrors as it climbs across the fence

Before I found just the perfect planter for the shelf under the mirror, I used to decorate that area with a yoga frog which I found at Pier One about seven or eight years ago.

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Yoga frog adds a zen quality to the garden……. oohhhhmm!

Although the frog brought a touch of zen, I much prefer the way that greenery reflects in the mirror and it wasn’t long before I replaced the frog with another plant! We’re always on the lookout for interesting and unusual containers to plant in and one of my favorite finds is this vintage porcelain pot with a wooden handle. It houses a hosta that we also overwinter in the garage. Even though the hosta is in a container, it still comes back every year!

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Vintage porcelain makes a charming planter

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Concrete can add a sculptural quality to the garden as well as add a bit of height that can block the view of ugly elements such as downspouts and utility wires and pipes. We found this planter at an out of the way garden centre that we just happened to be passing by. It’s worth the effort to stop and look; you never know what you might find!

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Using a concrete planter can be a great camouflage tactic when strategically placed in front of utilities

Not all concrete has to be used for planting though. Think about where you might want to add an accent with some statuary. My husband added the ‘cool’ sunglasses as a joke one day; gotta love his humour!


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We’re too cool for this garden!

Another way to hide things you don’t want to see is to set a planter over a platform. Here my husband built a cedar planter that we set on top of a bamboo mat to temporarily hide a drainage pipe.

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Cedar planter on top of bamboo mat hides the drainage pipe

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Coleus comes in a wide variety of colours and variegations. These multi-coloured beauties are a solid performer in any garden.

Cedar is an ideal material to use as a planter box for its durability and weather resistance. Below is another idea for using cedar planter boxes. Here, we have set the planter box below a trellis that we built to screen our view from the front porch of our neighbour’s garbage cans. Each year we plant annuals that wind their way through the trellis. It’s a beautiful way to hide an ugly view.

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And on that note, I finally got around to blogging about DIY trellises and privacy screens for the garden (see the sneak peek below). They are so versatile for climbing plants – both to add greenery to the garden and much needed privacy to a tiny suburban lot. They are simple to design with any presentation software (such as powerpoint) and building them goes fast with an air gun and a bit of glue (and of course a handy helper – my husband, or as I like to call him; my “partner in grime”).

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Before and after view of neighbour’s garbage cans before vines take hold in cedar planter

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Take Your Staircase (and Landing) to New Heights

A staircase is often one of the first things you see when you step into a house and can really set the tone for the rest of the decor. Today I’m sharing a few ideas to show what you can do to transform your staircase and hallway.

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Over the years, my staircase has really evolved as I went from being a single woman in my home to sharing it with the love of my life – my ‘partner in grime’. The hallway area went from being fun and playful in my bachelorette days, to a more sophisticated look more recently.

To start, I’d like to inspire you with a few ideas on what you can do with that little piece of real estate that forms a shelf on one side of a circular stair case. Builders typically carpet this awkward area, as was the case in my house.

When I first bought my house, it was winter time and I couldn’t wait to get out into the garden and transform it. I was planning to install a pond (or two) once the weather permitted so I thought what better way to anticipate building the real thing than to bring the idea of a pond  indoors?

I was taking a stained glass course; it’s a great pursuit to take up during the winter months. When I did a weekend class on mosaics, I knew I had found a solution to jazzing up the often overlooked landing in the corner of the stairs – and it was going to be anything but boring if I had anything to do with it!

Here are some pictures of the hallway when I first purchased the house. In the first shot you can see the outdated the finishes: oak staircase and chair rail, floral wallpaper and builder beige walls.

My best piece of advice for anyone who has just purchased a house that you have renovation plans for: paint everything just to freshen it up, then live with it for a while until you decide how you want to update and/or renovate the space.

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The minute I moved in, I gave it a ‘weekend update’ (actually, a few small paint updates over the course of a few weekends). First I painted the front door a bright red. Then I refreshed all the trim – including the chair rail. For the walls above the chair rail I used a soft yellow to brighten up the space (there’s a small window in the upper front door which brings in very little light, making the hallway seem dark). Below the chair rail, I applied a venetian plaster finish to hide the ugly wallpaper. I was eventually planning to strip the wallpaper off, but didn’t have the time to do it right away.

If you look real close at the door in the before and after shot above, you can see I also replaced the dated glass insert in the upper part of the main door with a decorative piece of glass called ‘everglade’. I prepared the panel and took the glass to a company that was able to make a thermo-sealed unit for me so I could swap out with the old one. It added a unique touch to the front door!

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Everglade patterned glass thermal insert in front door

These small changes were just enough to make the house livable while I was in the planning stages of a bigger and better renovation  – just to tide me over until I had more time, energy and money (and as it turned out, a ‘partner in grime’!) to do it right.


The 80’s called and they want their wallpaper and oak trim back!

Here’s a before of the staircase. Unfortunately I didn’t get a before shot of the carpeted landing itself, so you’ll have to imagine what it looked like with the same carpet the builder used on the stairs.


Here’s what it looked like after the stained glass transformed the landing into a tranquil pond scene – complete with water lillies, Koi, turtle and a frog on a lily pad.

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Spiral staircase with new and improved stained glass landing

I used a large piece of brown paper to trace out the exact elongated shape of the landing and then used that as a template to cut a piece of 1/8″ plywood to size. I glued all my mosaic pieces to the wood, except for – as you might be able to see in the slideshow below – several places where I inserted a few glass globs in the mosaic, with a cunning plan in mind. Under those spots is where I pre-drilled some holes so I could screw the piece down to the landing. I left the glass globs completely loose and just placed them on top of the screw heads so that at some point in the future, I would be able to remove the whole thing when I decided to change my decor again. I never did get around to actually grouting the joints of the piece before that happened!

A word of caution if you ever create a similar project – be sure to remove the loose glass globs before you vacuum or they’ll get sucked up 🙂

There’s just something about my stained glass pond that brought a smile to my face every time I descended the stairs. However, being the restless DIY’er that I am, I did of course, change my decor and out came the stained glass pond…. more about that later.

Once my husband came into the picture and moved into my house, we really set our renovation plans into first gear! We decided to change the color of the yellowed and dated oak wood on the stairs to a darker, richer stain. It was a HUGE undertaking that involved stripping off the clear finish, re-staining the wood and then sealing it again with several coats of clear varnish.

There’s a simpler way to get the same effect if you already have a natural wood staircase and you don’t want to go to the bother (and smell) of stripping the wood. Minwax makes a product called Polystain that is a two-in-one product. In just one-step it can be directly applied over a polyurethane finish, changing the color of the wood without removing the existing finish! How easy is that? If you’re interested in more information, here’s a link to Minwax’s Polyshade Colour Guide. While it’s great to have options like this, we chose not to go with the simple way to change the look of our wood. We went with the traditional (and hardcore) strip and refinish route to achieving the rich look we wanted.

The first thing of course was to pull up all the carpet – along with the many years of dust, dirt and grime that came out with it! I was only too happy to see that carpet gone. Next, I used a pair of needle nosed pliers to remove every single staple and/or tack that was holding down the carpet.


Ripping out the stair runner


Making sure I pull every last staple – and doing my best impression of a contortionist

In our case, the spindles were loose and my husband determined they could be removed and stripped outdoors.The one advantage of course was that, once disassembled, the spindles were MUCH easier to strip.

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Carpet, staple and spindle removal

If your staircase is solid and stable, I wouldn’t recommend removing the spindles because it’s a big undertaking to take them apart and then put them back again – and you run the risk of splitting the wood. If our spindles and handrail was in better shape and we left them in place, I would probably have just painted them out, to save the time and effort in using a chemical stripper – as well as our lungs!

Our railing has a metal piece that runs the full length of the wood and sits just underneath where the wood is routed out. The metal serves as a conduit to attach into both the railing (from underneath) and the spindles (from above) to keep them all in place with screws. The bottom of each spindle is connected with a dowel joint and glued into a hole on each tread. Since our spindles were so loose, they easily came out with some gentle persuasion and twisting…….and a bar clamp we used for leverage…. oh yeah, and a little brute strength from the hubs every once in a while!

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Metal piece screws up into the railing as well as down through the spindles

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Sometime a little brute strength (and a clamp) is all that’s needed to twist off spindles

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Spindles and handrail goes from ugly duckling to swan

Stripper fumes are hazardous. Take every precaution by turning off pilot lights on appliances and fire places, and keeping the vapours away from hot surfaces such as stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, furnaces and other electrical appliances… and of course, don’t smoke (if you haven’t quit yet!) anywhere near the work area. We turned our furnace off before we started.

I wouldn’t recommend you undertake any stripping project indoors unless you can also open doors and windows to fully ventilate the house, so late Spring would be a good time of year to do this. To protect your lungs from the fumes, wear a full face mask with a charcoal insert – not just one of those skimpy paper ones!

Mask off all walls and any flooring surrounding the area so you don’t accidentally spray droplets of stripper onto those surfaces; it will eat through them!

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Surrounding area protected from stripper and stain

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Putting Humpty Dumpty all back together again

The worst part of the job was stripping each step – which obviously had to be done in place – because of the smell. I suffer from migraines and can’t tolerate the smell of stripping solution unless I’m outdoors where there’s plenty of airflow, so I vacated the house (which turned out to be a lucky thing as you’ll read later on).

My husband took on the task of stripping the stairs on his own. Not wanting to spend any more time than necessary stripping each step, he only stripped the varnish off the outer portion of each one. Since we were planning on putting a new runner down the middle anyway, it wasn’t necessary to spend money on additional stripper solution that wasn’t really necessary. We just had to ensure each step was stained far enough on each side that the runner would completely cover up the unstained portion in the middle!


Stair treads under runner were not stripped

Once the stairs were stained, topcoated and reassembled, a carpet runner was installed. The end result brought a new air of sophistication to our hallway that it didn’t previously have.

After the carpet runner went in, I was finally able to put up some artwork and showcase this beautiful painting from the talented Vancouver artist and sculptor Elsa Bluethner. I think it adds just the right pop of colour to the neutral backdrop of the stairs, walls and carpet!

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Artwork and accessories finally go up on the wall!

I was also itching to try something new with the landing. I removed the stained glass and installed a new piece of plywood which I painted white. Here’s how the staircase and landing looks today. Now, I can switch up the decor and have some fun displaying a variety of pieces (some of which we’ve collected on our antiquing jaunts).

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New paint colour and decor on the landing really brightens up the hallway, which tends to be dark because there is no window or skylight.

You know, the funny thing about DIY projects is that each one somehow begets another one – often before you’ve even finished the project you’re working on. After my husband banished me from the house while he was doing the stripping, I was taking a walk in the neighbourhood when I stumbled on these beauties in the GARBAGE!

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I was so excited to find teak chairs that I ran all the way home, interrupted my husband as he was in the middle of stripping the staircase and made him bring the car so we could snag them before someone else did!

I ended up setting up my own stripping station in the garage and got to work on them right away.  Afterall, I couldn’t not take advantage of the fact that my husband had stripping solution readily on hand, could I?

I love peeling back the layers of upholstery to see what surprises I can uncover 🙂

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This pattern from a bygone era would probably look right at home in today’s decor too!

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Stripping the wood

We ended up keeping the wood natural (no stain) with a low sheen topcoat so it would look like an  oil rubbed finish. I steam cleaned the fabric – what seemed like a million times, but who’s counting! Maybe one day I’ll upholster them, but for now I love the neutral tone of the fabric and wood.

I may not have gotten too far on my walk that pleasantly fateful day, but I gained a new addition to our home that adds some much welcomed mid-century modern appeal! The chairs look fab as extra seating in our family/TV room.

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Chairs in their new home

It’s amazing how some elbow grease can revitalize old wood – whether it be a staircase or castaway chairs found kicked to the curb.

Leave me a comment: what’s the most exciting piece you have ever found in the garbage and brought back to life?

For more inspirational updates around the home, check out some of the following project ideas:

Stained Glass Pond: Add Curb Appeal to a Winding Staircase:

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Expand Your Horizons: Propel Your Bulkhead into the Spotlight


Sole Searching – A Shoe Storage Solution

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Ikea Stenstorp Kitchen Cart Hack


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