Black and White for Fall

I love a pretty table. I love it so much, in fact, that I literally hired a friend's daughter to come over and play with my twin toddlers just so that I could spend an hour taking our formal dining table from "official drop zone for tupperware, mismatched toddler socks and Amazon boxes" to "pretty table that nobody uses." Because you know what's prettier than a bunch of junk on a table? A bunch of pumpkins on a table.

This tablescape is pretty easy to recreate. I bought two real pumpkins and a dozen roses at Walmart. When those beauties were arranged on the table with a runner made of buffalo check scrapbook paper, my collection of faux pumpkins and gourds, new woven chargers from Target and my thrifted china, I suddenly want to sit down and have some pumpkin cheesecake or something. (Maybe I should hire her my babysitter for another hour so I can do that, too!)

Now that I have two miniature people who love nothing more than to grab and throw everything within reach, I have to be selective about the spaces I decorate. My decor is limited to the center of tables and the top half of my shelves. In fact, as soon as I finished decorating, my daughter immediately went to the dining table and ripped the edge of my scrapbook paper table runner. (It's a good thing she's so cute.)

I've never done a black and white color scheme for fall, and I'm surprised by how much I love it. The varied colors of the pumpkins, flowers and candles just pop off the table because of that strip of black and white buffalo check paper down the center. I bought a roll of this paper at Hobby Lobby one day because I've never met a buffalo check pattern I could resist, and it's so perfect for an easy, afforable, kid-proof table runner. I just use tape to secure it underneath the table. 

If you want it to look more Halloween, you could simply use traditional orange pumpkins and flowers. That would completely change the entire vibe, but I think it would still be a great look. 

Behind the table we have my favorite Wisteria shelving unit. Now that we have children this shelving unit is securely fastened to the wall and I only style the top two shelves. Those baskets of pillows stay there year round and thankfully the kids are not interested in playing with those. 

I don't think I've posted a photo of this room in a while, but that mirror is a spontaneous HomeGoods purchase that my husband did not agree with, but now he loves it. Those black and white pillows are brand new from Target, and the curtains are Ikea.The table and chairs are both secondhand.

(If you're interested in that lantern above the table, read my full DIY here.)

 I filled those top two shelves with things I already had - wooden candle bases, faux white pumpkins, dried gourds, a few roses and some greenery from our yard. I'm a big believer in shopping the house before buying more things. Luckily for me I've accumulated a decent collection of random objects to decorate my shelves, and I love rotating them out.

The greenery was so important. Before we added those pops of green, it was just a bunch of beige objects next to each other, and it was not a great look. Fresh plants always help!

And since this dining space opens to the formal living room, I brought some touches of black and white to that side of the room as well. The Hi pillow also says Bye on the back. It's very cute and looks good everywhere I put it, although my kids yanked the pom pom off immediately. (Tiny destroyers!)

That's my scarf on the table, pretending to be a throw blanket. When you don't have the blanket you want, check your scarf collection. You never know what might work. 

Full disclosure: I styled my coffee table for photos while the kids were napping and then immediately removed everything because you know I can't leave that stuff on the table when the twins are around! 

Regardless, it's a breath of fresh air to have a decorated table again. Never mind the chaos exploding from the playroom - at least this one spot of our house looks nice.

As always, I love to post on Instagram during the long breaks between my blog posts. Feel free to check in with us there if you're wondering what sort of shenanigans we're up to. I must say, 18 month old twins are excellent cardio!

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Making Our House Smarter, One Light at a Time

Update: Congrats to Stacey G., the winner of our Leviton Decora Smart giveaway!

I love our house to pieces, but it's not very smart. We don't have a "smart" thermostat or any smart appliances, light bulbs, home security systems, etc. We do, however, have the Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot, so when Leviton gave us the opportunity to try their Decora Smart light switches, plugs and dimmers that work in conjunction with the Echo, we jumped at the opportunity.  

Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to enter our giveaway - you could win some Decora Smart switches, dimmers and plugs to try in your own home!

My husband completely geeked out about the Decora Smart technology and its ability to allow us to adjust our lighting in our favorite rooms simply by saying a few commands to the Echo or tapping a few buttons on our iPhones. He's really into this type of thing even when it's not "smart" by today's definition (he's done all of our electrical and home audio wiring), so when you add sleek modern technology to the mix, it's even more exciting for him.

Our first step was to decide what rooms would really benefit from this smart technology. Did we really need smart switches in our formal living and dining rooms that don't get used very often? Nope. But we did think it would be pretty fantastic to be able to go hands-free in our most-used rooms in the house: the playroom, the den and the master bedroom.

All three rooms have different reasons why the smart technology is useful, so I'll walk through how the Decora Smart products have made our lives easier in each place.

First, the playroom. This is the room where we first worked with Leviton on the decorating challenge - remember that? I loved my office so much. It's changed to accommodate the kids, but it's still one of my favorite spots in the house.

Just to the bottom left of the G bookshelf, you can see our Decora Smart plug that makes our gold task lamp from the thrift store suddenly a product of the 21st century.

We have another Decora Smart plug hidden behind the changing table that allows us to turn on this bike lamp with our voices, as well. The two are connected so they come on at the same time when we want the lights on in the playroom.

The playroom was the perfect place to try the Decora Smart plugs with Wi Fi technology, which allow you to turn on anything that plugs in to the wall--in our case, two lamps-- using your voice. (We used the Decora Smart line with Wi Fi technology that works with Amazon Echo or Google Home, but Leviton also has Decora Smart products that work with the Apple HomeKit or Z-Wave Plus Technology.) We spend a ton of time in the playroom with the kids, and as you can imagine, twin toddlers are a handful. To be able to walk into a dark playroom at 6 a.m. with a squirmy toddler in your arms and simply say, "Alexa, turn on the playroom lights," is an amazing luxury. It falls in the category of "I never knew I needed this but now I really don't want to function without it" category right alongside back-up cameras in our cars. (Seriously, what did I do before I had a back-up camera in my SUV? Somehow I survived before I had that technology, but I'll never go back to that.) Plus, it's just cool.

We took a quick video on my phone to demonstrate. (Pardon the noisy toddlers.)


The den is our happy place, where we go at the end of long days to curl up on the sofa and watch movies. My husband wanted an ideal home theater experience, so he'd already installed various recessed and overhead lights with dimmers to allow us to go from regular mode to full-on "movie mode."

See those three recessed lights above our built-in shelves? We used a Decora Smart switch with a dimmer to allow us to adjust those lights through our phone and/or voice command.

Since the husband is the real movie geek around here, I had him demonstrate how he takes the den from regular mode into "movie mode." Please enjoy our lack of professional video skills and general goofiness/discomfort being on camera. :)


Lastly, we smartened up the lights and ceiling fan in our master bedroom. As I mentioned before, we have twin toddlers. That means sleep is sacred. I do not mess around with my sleeping situation, and I embrace anything that makes it easier to catch some extra Z's. Thanks to the infomercials of my youth, I have always dreamed of clapping my hands and having my lights turn off automatically without me getting out of bed. Now I can do that by simply asking my pal Alexa to turn on the lights. Alexa already wakes us up in the morning, tells us what's going on in the world and plays music for us, so why not turn on our lights? Smart technology is so cool, am I right?

In this room we used two Decora Smart switches - one with a dimmer and one without - so we could control the four recessed lights and the ceiling fan.


 And in case you're wondering, the app is very simple to use. If you'd rather control your lights with your phone instead of your voice, you can do it that way as well.


And now for the fun part: GIVEAWAY TIME!

Would you like to make your home smarter? We are teaming with Leviton to give away a set of Decora Smart switches (a regular switch, a dimmer switch and a plug) worth $135 so you can try them yourself.

How do you enter? Leave a comment on this Facebook post explaining what room you would choose for the Decora Smart technology, and a winner will be chosen at random. The contest is open until midnight on Friday, July 14. Good luck!

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Custom DIY Media Cabinet

After living in this house for four years, we've gotten to the point where we have the major projects completed and we're starting to look around for smaller upgrades, little improvements we can make to our existing stuff that ups our game a little bit. Case in point: the media cabinet in our den. It wasn't anything special; it was just a damaged cabinet we got for a great price in the "as is" section at Ikea that I'd gotten really good at ignoring.

It wasn't until I was watching a recent episode of The Weekender, an online home improvement video series from Lowe's, that it even occurred to me that we could just build our own media cabinet and make something so much better than what we already had. In episode 9 of season 2, they designed a sleek media storage cabinet that spanned the entire length of one wall in the client's living room, providing tons of functional storage below an equally stylish mantel that ran the full length of the wall. It was a different style than we needed for our den, which is much more traditional in its architectural details, but the tutorial gave us the basics we needed to understand the process and customize it to our own home.

The husband outdid himself on this media cabinet, am I right? It's even better than I envisioned when I sketched it out.

DIY media cabinet

Ahh, so pretty! But before I share a million photos of our new cabinet, let me start at the beginning.

When you're building a custom piece of furniture and can design anything you want, it's overwhelming. I started sketching out concepts, and I was all over the place. I didn't like any of my ideas and that was frustrating. What finally helped me land on the winning design was picking out something we already had to inspire me -- in this case, I decided that I would use the custom DIY photo frames we made for the den to provide direction for the media cabinet. I loved the mix of the raw wood with the sleek black frames, and the touch of white really brightened up the frames against our dark grey walls.

Here was my initial sketch:

This cabinet was designed to be much bigger than our previous cabinet, scaled to match the width of both the TV and the speakers on the side so that it would be visually balanced. The overall design is modern but not too modern because we softened the hard edges by adding the shaker cabinet doors and the cutest chubby bun feet. (Picture me holding these bun feet up in our local Lowe's and embarrassing my husband by singing "I like big buns and I cannot lie." It was magical.) I decided to go for the white/natural paint scheme because our entire den has a nice mix of white and natural wood textures, so I thought it would be right at home. The matte black pulls added the perfect tie-in to the black photo frames, TV and AV equipment. 

Once I finalized my design, I handed the baton to the husband and told him to make me a gorgeous cabinet. And because we have twin toddlers and busy work schedules right now, he did his best to squeeze in carpentry time on weekends, during naps and late at night.

We put some considerable thought into what wood to purchase. I had no idea there were so many different types of plywood. It's mind boggling when you're standing in that aisle trying to figure out what to buy. (It makes me grouchy, but my husband thinks the lumber aisle is just delightful.) This is a helpful resource for how to choose the right plywood for your project. I didn't really care about the wood that would be painted white so I let Scott figure that out, but I did pick the wood for the doors because I wanted the right tone for the wood grain to shine through.

The box is built with one 4x8 sheet 3/4 inch maple plywood along with one 2x4 sheet of oak plywood. He used the maple for the outside and the top shelves (the part that would eventually be painted white) because one side was already primed to help with the painting process. He used the oak plywood for the bottom shelves inside the cabinet doors.

The cabinet doors are made with 1/2 inch oak plywood, and he used 4 select pine appearance boards (1 inch by 2 inch by 8 feet). You need to add the trim so that you have a smooth, finished edge instead of seeing the layers of the plywood. The backing board is a 2x4 sheet of 1/4 inch luaun plywood.

The first step was to make all of the cuts using a table saw. 

Then he used his Kreg jig to create pocket holes to join the shelves to the box. If you know someone who wants to get serious about carpentry, my husband was raving that the Kreg jig is a must-have item. (Father's Day gift, anyone?)

Once he had the pocket holes, he applied wood glue and used his impact driver to drive screws in and attach the shelves to the box.

Slowly but surely, our media cabinet started to take shape. 

He used 1-inch L-brackets to connect the top piece to the rest of the box without having to have screw holes in the top of the board.

Next step? Trim! He used his miter saw to cut the pine board to size and attached it to the box with wood glue and finishing nails.

Once the trim was finished, he used wood filler to conceal the seams and nail holes. If you haven't worked with wood filler before, you simply plug the seams and holes, let it dry and then use sandpaper to smooth the surface before painting.

It was amazing how much more polished the cabinet was once he finished the trim and added the bun feet. This is when I started getting very excited. I'm his biggest cheerleader during these projects, ha!

Then it was time to make the cabinet doors. He measured the dimensions of each bottom opening in the cabinet for his cabinet faces and then ripped 2.5" strips of the same plywood to create the shaker details. 

Finally, it was time to paint! We really dislike painting, but he sucked it up and did a great job. He used a 4" foam roller to apply two coats of primer and one coat of white paint (left over from the trim and built-in cabinets in our den) to the box and one coat of semi gloss polyurethane to the doors. We also used the poly to stain the bun feet, and they ended up matching the doors really well even though they are different types of wood.

After attaching the cabinet pulls to each door, he started installing the cabinet doors. I wanted them to pull down because I thought that made more sense with the proportions of the doors. They are wider than they are tall, so I thought it would be weird for them swing open like normal doors. We used the same inset hinges that they used in that Weekender episode and they work really well. 

Side note: We will need to baby-proof this cabinet quickly because I can see the twins opening these doors over and over just like every other cabinet in our home!

Lastly, he attached the backing board with finishing nails and used the hole saw bit for his drill to add a 1.25" hole in the back of each upper compartment to allow for the cords to pass through.

Then we were finally ready to let our new cabinet shine in our favorite room in the house!

I am so pleased with how all of the cabinet's finishes feel right at home in our calm, cozy den. The warm of the wood doors really works with our accent chairs and travertine floors. Our previous media cabinet was a medium grey color that blended in with the walls, but this new white cabinet really pops and brightens up that side of the room.

Of course I had to put my feet up and test the view from my favorite spot on the sofa!

This cabinet definitely took some time and effort, but we are so pleased with the result. It's a huge upgrade over our old media cabinet, and it makes this room feel so much more custom and expensive. I'm so impressed with my husband's ever-growing repertoire of carpentry skills. I'm already scheming about what custom furniture he's going to build us next, and he has no idea!

Let's talk about The Weekender:
The Weekender is a Lowe's original series that shows you how five simple projects can transform a room in one weekend. It features super-talented home blogger Monica Mangin of East Coast Creative, and it's really a great resource. I love the online format because I can watch it whenever I want. They are shorter than regular home makeover TV shows, so it's easy to squeeze two or three episodes into my lunch break at work. The project ideas and tutorials are really smart and easy to follow. You can watch it on the Lowe's YouTube channel or Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV. (We're Apple TV people ourselves.) If you're an interior design junkie like me who lives for a good room makeover, you should check it out.

This post is sponsored by Lowe's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.

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