Dec 20

All-Star Gingerbread Build.

In high school we had this competition called “Spirit Hall” where a bunch of kids from each grade would pick a theme, rally as many students as possible in their grade, and decorate a long hallway to fit that theme. My junior year was the inaugural year of the competition and we chose an “Under the Sea” theme — we lit the hall with blue lights, wrote all the juniors’ names on hand-cut paper fish, and made jellyfish out of iridescent cellophane strips. My senior year, we called our hall “Zoom In,” and we made everything gigantic as if you were walking through the set of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids — giant grass, giant ants, giant sneaker laying in the giant yard, etc. My class won both years.

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that a) I love crafting b) I am competitive at team crafting and c) I especially love larger-than-life competitive team crafting.

gingerbread0pin it!Fast forward 12 years and I’m sitting at my desk at the Halloween Baking Championship and my boss comes to me and says that he is putting together a team for a fun holiday show — 2 guys from HGTV partner up with 2 guys from Food Network, and they will compete in building/decorating life-sized gingerbread houses!!! !!! !!! As most of you know, I’ve worked on quite a few Food Network shows, and I also happen to be obsessed with HGTV, so this was pretty much my dream job. I know I say that about a lot of jobs, but for real this time. Giant miniature houses…yay!

They recruited Ron Ben-Israel and Jonathan Scott to go head-to-head against Duff Goldman and Drew Scott. I art directed Ron Ben-Israel’s show Sweet Genius, and that guy’s cakes are B-A-N-A-N-A-S. They are so incredibly delicate and detailed in person. He’s basically cake decorating royalty. Duff is the host of Kids Baking Championship, which I also art direct, and he has an entire dessert empire and an army of talented young bakers that help him bring his crazy cakes to life. And I’m sure you all know and love the Property Brothers – Drew and Jonathan Scott.

Oh, and did I mentioned that these houses had to be completed in a mere 36 hours?!

gingerbread2pin it!We built the entire set at the Westside Pavilion mall in Los Angeles. The idea was to build the gingerbread houses inside this huge empty retail space so we could eventually invite mall patrons inside to vote for their favorite house.

gingerbread3pin it!Only problem was that the retail space looked like this on the inside. It was completely raw — no doors, no walls, no lights. We only have a few days to make the space TV-ready so I called up my best and brightest and we started designing and building a winter wonderland.

gingerbread4pin it!We built windows and doors, glittered countless snowflakes, and brought in 12 ovens and an entire workshop full of tools sponsored by Sears.

gingerbread5pin it!Our amazing carpenter (affectionately known as Magic Michael) took my design for the entrance and brought it to life. He built those doors from scratch!

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gingerbread6pin it!After the set was clean, colorful, and ready for camera, the 2 teams came in and started designing their dream gingerbread houses. The Red Team (Jonathan and Ron), wanted to make a chalet-style lodge, and the Green Team (Drew and Duff), opted for a curvy, Dutch cottage.

gingerbread7pin it!Both teams were given 3 “elves” to help them build and decorate. Shoutout to my art team — Michael, Emmett, Amber and Elizabeth. You guys look adorable in your mini-aprons :)

gingerbread8pin it!The first walls of the Red Team house go up.

gingerbread9pin it!Chaos at 3am.

gingerbread10pin it!Jonathan works on planters for the chalet while Drew assembles a picket fence for the cottage.

gingerbread11pin it!After the houses were framed and skinned with wood, we began “gluing” our gingerbread tiles on with royal icing. We ordered over 10,000 bricks of gingerbread, but even that wasn’t enough! Thankfully we had 12 ovens to bake even more.

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It may not look like that much candy from here, but trust me, we had hundreds of lbs of candy for the guys to choose from. By the time we were done with the houses, I vowed never to eat candy again. That only lasted about a day.

gingerbread13pin it!Candy brainstorming for the Dutch door on the cottage.

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It looks like fun and games, but  these houses were a TON of work and we were all actually sleep-deprived and delirious by the end of it.

gingerbread16pin it!Duff had his team make this insanely perfect reindeer out of fondant as an final touch to his cottage.

gingerbread crowdpin it!By the time we completed both houses, mall patrons started lining up to meet the cast and to see the finished houses.

gingerbread17pin it!Behold! The Green Team’s cottage complete with a marshmallow chimney, chocolate chip covered Dutch door, and a fondant covered reindeer.

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gingerbread23pin it!The Red Team’s chalet!

gingerbread24pin it!The stained glass window was made out of colored sugar that we melted and poured into the frame!

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gingerbread26pin it!We let the mall patrons in, and each person grabbed a gingerbread man to cast their vote for their favorite house.

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gingerbread30pin it!In the end, the Green Team cottage with the reindeer head won. The losers had to don Santa and Elf costumes and walk around the mall.

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gingerbread32pin it!Even though this was one of the hardest projects I’ve ever worked on, we had a blast and I can’t wait till next year so we can do it again!

Massive thanks to Erin, Michael, Emmett, Rick, George, Aubrey, Nick, Giles, Amber, Elizabeth, Renata, and Lynsey. A thousand hugs for Morgan, Beryl, Dave, Alex, Amy, and co. And high 5’s to Hillary, Whitt, Steve, Larry, and Dustin. XXOO

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Posted by Jen at 3:31 pm — 1 comment
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Oct 31

The Halloween Baking Championship.

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I can get down with Halloween. I love the idea of it, but I usually procrastinate or don’t really have anywhere cool to go, so I opt out more often than not. What did you do for Halloween? I hope you wore a sparkling polyester unitard and stuffed your face with candy because I sat at Houston International Airport for 4 hours waiting for my connecting flight to Jackson, Mississippi.  (High five to this airport for providing FREE unlimited internet!!) The good news is that it gave me ample time to archive photos. I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted pics from a show RIGHT after it aired as opposed to 1-3 years later. Hooray!

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I art directed my first cooking show, Sweet Genius 2, about 5 years ago. I remember loving it and telling my colleagues that I wanted to work on more cooking shows.  I love custom making anything and everything, so there is something about the hand-crafted nature of cooking and baking that complements my design/build/arts-and-crafts approach to art direction. I worked on a lil’ Food Network special called the Holiday Baking Championship last year, and I had no idea that it would blow up into an entire franchise of baking shows including the Kids, Halloween, and Spring Baking Championships.

The shell of this set was designed by Shaffner & Stewart and my amazing art department KILLED it this year with the set dressing and custom builds. We had so much fun making all things smoky, slimy, and spooky.

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My set decorator Andrea and I spent an absurd amount of time scooting things around on these shelves.

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My favorite vampire.

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For the most part, I design and hand-draw the signage on all of our shows. I’ve gone back to using pen and paper when designing and I find that it’s so much more fun and freeing than designing everything on the computer.

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My awesome assistant Ryanne outlining letters in white paint pen.

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This “fire” is actually 3 light bulbs, and a mini fan blowing around small triangular pieces of white lining. TV magic!

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My carpenter Michael is basically like a human 3D printer. He can literally make anything. I drew this sketch of a gothic table, and 1 day later, he texts me this picture below. Like… no big deal… just banged out a custom judges desk in 8 hours. Ugh. Show off. ;)

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A big part of my job is figuring out how to visually convey ideas that the producers have for challenges. For this challenge, we needed a tree with 2 kinds of apples, the red ones would have secret ingredients written inside. The green ones would have creepy adjectives — and the bakers had to combine the two words and make something delicious and scary out of it. As you can see, not every display  is an instant success. It takes A LOT of collaborative brainstorming to get a galvanized bucket and a tree branch to a point where it’s TV ready.

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A dollhouse that we “hauntified.”

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Again, Michael being crazy and amazing. I asked him to build a fireplace surround. Whatever he wanted…surprise me! And he took a pile of MDF and made it into this in a couple days.

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That’s it for now, but the passing of Halloween means that everyone is going to be playing Christmas music by tomorrow. It also means that the Holiday Baking Championship is returning and my art department dressed the hell out of that set too, so come back soon for more pics!

Posted by Jen at 11:29 pm — 1 comment
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Sep 30

The California Cottage: Progress on the Kitchen.

In the 90s, most kitchens looked more or less the same — medium brown cabinets with brownish Formica or granite countertops. Sometime in the late 90s, the “great room” became a must-have for modern families and people were knocking down walls left and right to integrate kitchens with living space. The popularity of the great room lead to the rapid proliferation of the statement kitchen. Nowadays if you do any kind of kitchen image search, the variety of styles and materials that people are using in their kitchens is mind bogging and inspiring.

Kitchens are my favorite room in the house to design. I’ve always been obsessed with space planning and maximizing efficiency, so I was excited to overhaul the dumpy kitchen in my cottage. When most people think “cottage,” they imagine a space that is kind of rustic, warm, and maybe a little shabby-chic. As a design experiment, I veered away from a traditional cottage look and went for a more Scandinavian look, using really clean lines and stark color contrast.

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I bookmarked a few images that tugged at my heart strings — all really bright and clean with a heavy dose of black and white. My kitchen is small and doesn’t get a ton of direct sunlight so the logical decision would have been to do white cabinets, but I had a hard time getting excited about an all white kitchen. I knew I was going to use Ikea cabinets and all of their white doors were either too plain, too traditional, or too glossy.  I hemmed and hawed about it for months and by the time I was finally ready to pull the trigger on cabinets, they came out with a new dark black-brown cabinet door called Tingsryd that has a subtle dark gray wood grain that ran horizontally. I was seduced by the idea of the high contrast, but I didn’t want to make the kitchen too heavy, so my solution was to do ONLY lower cabinets, concealing all of my food storage and appliances below the countertop.

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This was my dumpy kitchen before. (It was a lot grosser in real life.) There was about 15 years worth of cooking grease and spider web build up. I planned on leaving the plumbing and gas lines in the same place.

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One of my biggest issues with this space was the windows. It drove me nuts that they all had different mullions—4 paned, 6 paned, and 9 paned windows all along one wall! It took a bit of sleuthing, but I figured out that the 4 paned window originally belonged in the back of the cottage in the bedroom, the 6 paned window originally belonged in the dining room of the main house but was removed to accommodate a window a/c, and the 9 paned window was just some random one-off that didn’t match anything on my property.

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I demolished the kitchen myself. Whoever installed the previous kitchen used about 1000 screws and nails to fasten the cabinets to each other and the walls. It was not an easy feat, but eventually I managed to rip all of the cabinets out. I threw away the weird triangular cabinets that fit in the angled part of the bay window. I kept the cabinets that were still in tact and moved them to my shed to use as storage.

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I pulled out the window in the center because it drove me nuts that there were 3 asymmetrical windows. I planned on covering that gaping hole with drywall and wood siding on the outside. I also ran laminate flooring across the entire room before bringing in any kitchen components. 

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My amazing friend Michael helped me install the kitchen. There were some complex/funky angles in this project and he made my narrow rectangular cabinet in to 90-degree trepezoid cabinets like the one you see on the left!

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I splurged on quartz countertops. I’m a messy artist at heart, and I knew that I would need a relatively indestructible countertop to stand up to my abuse. You can’t really tell in this pic, but the quartz is warm white with tiny speckles in it. I love it.

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I wanted SO badly to have a matching under cabinet fridge and freezer, but because of the space constraints, that just wasn’t possible. It doesn’t really bother me, though because both of these are concealed behind doors.

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We installed a small sink, 24″ gas stove, and Michael framed out my window openings and made me new custom windows :).

12pin it!This is more or less what the kitchen looks like today. Ain’t it pretty? My pulls are black, so you can barely see them. I need to put a door over the microwave, but it’s a weird size, so it needs to be customized. Hopefully I’ll have time to do that soon. Now I’m trying to decide on a backsplash material. I love this tile that I saw at home depot because it looks A LOT like my floor. But is it too plain? I’m also auditioning other crazy patterns and materials. More on that in the next post!

Posted by Jen at 5:17 pm — 2 comments
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Sep 18

Lara Spencer’s NYC Pied-a-terre.

I art directed 10 seasons of Project Runway/Project Runway All-Stars. Every summer (for pretty much the majority of my 20s) you could find me a couple blocks south of Times Square, melting to death in the heat, mocking up crazy patterns on walls and lugging furniture and bedding for 16 contestants. Then one day my friend Sue had a proposition — work on her show Flea Market Flip instead. The decision wasn’t easy, but eventually I decided to retire from Runway and give this new gig a shot.

Flea Market Flip is the brainchild of Lara Spencer, the effervescent host of Good Morning America who happens to be a thrift store/flea market/garage sale-trolling guru. (Did you know she hosted Antiques Roadshow for a while?) Long story short, I designed the set for Flea Market Flip, which led to the opportunity to work on her home makeover show I Brake for Yard Sales on HGTV, which led to Lara hiring me to project manage the renovation of her NYC pied-à-terre.

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Lara has multiple design personalities. Her homes over the years have all been distinctly different styles. She told me she she wanted her NYC condo to be more industrial and rustic than her previous homes, so I whipped up a simple mood board, pulling inspiration from some flea market finds that I knew she had been hoarding…just waiting for the perfect project to feature them.

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Her 600 square foot studio was in great condition but had virtually zero personality. Our priorities were to maximize space, incorporate enough sleeping spaces for her family, and update the kitchen.

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This photo above is of the bedroom nook.

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The kitchen was not representative of her chic style at all. Instead of gutting it, we kept the cabinets and the appliances but completely transformed it with trim and paint.

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Lara is a brave lady — she proposed painting her wood floors, then putting wood floors on her walls. I was always 100% on board with the wood wall idea, but I was initially a little nervous about painting the floors. There’s no way a rustic wood wall would have worked with the color of her existing floor, so I’m glad we painted the floors in the end.

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All of her doors were solid but super plain. We painted them a deep navy/gray and added moulding and new knobs.

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The kitchen was definitely the most challenging project. First, we ripped out the 2 small cabinets that were over the sink. There was a large gap above the cabinets so Aaron closed up that gap with some hardwood and moulding to give the kitchen a more high-end look. We painted the cabinets a dusty blue/gray color and added a mini-subway tile backspash and new countertops.

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We had some leftover wood scaffolding from another project, so we cut a couple to size and made some display shelves for over the sink.

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There I am… re-wiring a chandelier that Lara found at a flea market. I love how this condensed blog-style summary makes everything seem SUPER simple. It really wasn’t easy at all, especially because of the space and time constraints, but it’s of those things where you look back on a project a year later, and you forget how hard it was and you only remember how pretty it turned out :).

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I could not have done this project without Aaron. He basically made all the furniture in here that wasn’t from a thrift store. Lara wanted a day-bed style sofa so her kids could crash in the city with her, so Aaron made this custom platform sofa to fit perfectly in the living room.

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All the textiles and bedding were from John Robshaw. I remember the day all the pillows came in the mail. I pretty much freaked out and instagramed the hell out of them. They are so pretty. (Insert heart eyes emoticon.)

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And voila!

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With the success of her first book, I Brake for Yard Sales, Lara landed a deal for a 2nd book, Flea Market Fabulous, based on the makeovers from her HGTV show. You can find more photos of this makeover and many more in the book, which is available an Amazon, and pretty much everywhere else.  Some of the photos above were taken by ChiChi Ubiña who also took most of the photos in the book.

 

Posted by Jen at 6:40 pm — comment
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Mar 23

The California Cottage: Invisible Work.

Hi guys. I’m alive. My dumpy cottage is looking pretty awesome (at least to me), but it probably looks so-so to everyone else because most people didn’t see how tragic it was before I started the renovations. (SO tragic, that my friend Sue insisted that I refer to it as a “shack” rather than a cottage.)

My roommates and I recently had some people over for a BBQ and a lot of folks asked me, “So what kind of renovations have you been doing?” My response: “I’ve basically been spackling for 12 hours/day for the last month.” NO JOKE.  Allow me to share some details shots of the the general crustiness and you’ll get the gist.

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I can’t tell if the people who built/renovated this place cared a lot (by installing a cove ceiling, bay windows, etc), or just didn’t give a s**t (as illustrated by the images above). I knew what I was getting into when I bought the place, and I am comfortable with “extreme cosmetic repair,” so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 2 months. It’s really not fun at all, but it’s satisfying enough that I’m willing to do it just to see it done.

I’ve been wanting to share some progress pictures, but the truth is… for a long time there wasn’t really much to see — just a bunch of bad iPhone pictures of dirt and spackle.  I’ve been doing a lot of what I call “invisible work” — meticulous, mundane, time consuming, not-exciting work that includes:

-demo and cleaning

-installing new drywall

-smoothing out lumpy walls and trim

-re-hanging doors and windows so they open out, rather than in,

-repairing busted windows

-spackling, patching, painting, and repeat, repeat, repeat until my arms fell off

At this point, the bedroom is 80% done, the living/dining is 65% done, and the bathroom is just terrible, so let’s not talk about it. Since the bedroom is looking the most presentable of all the rooms, I’ll start by showing you some pics of that first.

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If you read my last blog post, you may remember this “before” photo.  The paneled wall on the right was kind of spongey and I couldn’t resist peeling back the layers to see what was back there.

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Behind the wood paneling was… 50’s drywall? I’m not sure what they used to make walls out of, but this stuff was kind of soggy and crumbling too and covered in 2 layers of textured wallpaper, so I took a crowbar to it and found…

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The original wood plank for the cottage! This is both the interior and exterior wall. Obviously, this had to stay, but there was definitely some termite damage, so after I demolished all of the old drywall, I rolled on 3 coats of this green foamy wood preservative that is supposed to inhibit termite damage and rot. It seemed to cover really well, but it smelled like death, so if you plan on using it indoors you definitely can’t live in a space and use this stuff at the same time.

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After a few rounds of DIY termite damage control, I hung brand new drywall. Basically all the walls around the perimeter of the cottage had to be re-done, but the interior walls (bathroom/wall separating the bedroom and cottage) were fine and just needed some patching.  Oh! I also built a new door frame for my bathroom door. That’s the fun stuff that I actually enjoy doing.

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Now that everything is primed, it looks and feels so CLEAN. The new walls basically took 45 years off this place. Oh, and I painted my ceiling pink! WHO AM I?! Don’t worry, I’m wallpapering this room, so don’t judge my poorly cut paint lines.

Annnd… that’s all I have for you for this side of the room. It hasn’t really evolved much since. In fact, I took the door off for repair and painting, so in a way, this corner is looking even worse than it does in this pic. MOVING ON!

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This is the other side of the room. Whoever installed the bay window stopped short of completion and it just sat there looking sort of sad for decades. At some point someone used this nook as a closet, which is creative, but… NO. This little corner needed A LOT of love.

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First, I took off the drywall to see what was underneath. The bay was encased in plywood that was relatively flush and in okay condition, so I slathered joint compound on it, sanded, slathered, sanded, then built a little window sill.

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The bay window had a soggy ceiling that had some small holes and cracks.  I briefly contemplated just patching over it, but then curiosity got the best of me and I decided to smash my hammer through it just for kicks and before you know it, I had to rip the whole thing out and re-drywall that too. More spackle, more sanding, more paint. OH THE JOYS.

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This is the bay, nearly ready for paint. I sanded down the blue because it was lumpy and the blue paint had poor adhesion to the layer of paint beneath it. I added baseboard, ripped 1000 staples out of the windows, and patched those too.

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BUT LOOK! As you can imagine when I FINALLY got to prime this wall, I nearly jumped for joy.

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And then, friends, this is why I do what I do. By the time the patching and painting was done, I was feeling zen and decided I could handle installing floors myself. I took my time with it and made sure to be super precise with my cuts, and it was actually not a terrible project to take on by myself. I bought the flooring from Best Laminate after auditioning literally 25 different shades of white/gray and I am LOVING the color. This is exactly what I wanted. Something a little rustic, but also a little modern and Scandinavian.

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I moved my bed in, and though it still needs furniture, curtains, and wallpaper, it’s totally cozy and livable. I don’t want this post to get ridiculously long, so I’m going to stop there and post updates on the living/dining area next time.

Posted by Jen at 8:49 pm — 3 comments
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