Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Balcony Rises from the Ashes

When I first moved into my apartment, I was a little too excited about having a patch of the outdoors to call my own. I had visions of home-grown tomatoes, little herb gardens, enjoying cool afternoons lounging outside with a glass of wine. I was so eager to get started that things moved pretty quickly once I discovered that Target's garden section had all the Coleus plants I could ever want (Coleus is a shade plant, which was great since my balcony literally NEVER sees direct sunlight). Here's what my balcony looked like not long after I moved in:

It's almost as though it were a fairytale. I got two chairs from CB2 (on sale for $30 each!) as well as those awesome cube planters. IKEA provided the laptop table, rug and round metal planters, including the little ones hanging on the railing. <3

It looked lovely for a couple months. Unfortunately it was unknown to me that something called "downy mildew" basically infected Coleus and basil plants throughout the entire state of California, for which there was no cure (that didn't involve drowning them in fungicide). My coleus and basil plants died pretty slowly and dramatically, first by hosting a fair amount of mildew, losing brown rotted leaves one-by-one, then by hollowing out the main stem in a final display of what I can only describe as "plant suicide". I was left with some tomato, herbs and Dracaena. After a coldish "winter", all but the Dracaena was alive, and this is what my balcony had been reduced to:

Yeah, not a lot of wine drinking and relaxing going on out here! Even Teako doesn't want to stand on that cold 'n' dusty concrete.

With the weather warming up, I decided to start anew, but this time I would stick to plants that grew really well in the local area. On our walks with Teako, I had paid close attention to the flora and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. As of this last weekend, here is what the balcony looked like:

Ahhhhhhh so much better! It's not quite as colorful and lush as the coleus version, but I have a good feeling about these guys. Here's a breakdown:

Phormium plant on sale due to reverting
(losing pink color), but we liked it
Herbs and tomatoes: parsley, chives, cilantro, rosemary, thyme.
Orange Libertia grass added for color
"Lemon Lime" Dracaena, my only winter survivor
Bottle Rush Reeds
Pink Panther Phormium, Dracaena, Orange Libertia
and Nasturtium (the round-leafed ones)
Pink Panther up close
Aeonium Arboreum of the succulent variety.
I just love this plant
More Nasturtium and a bed of Reindeer moss
Front to back: sage, chives, parsley, thyme
Weber Grill
That Weber Grill is pretty much the best $60 I've ever spent. It's easy to clean, heats up quickly and cook the most delicious food ever. I've made the best chicken, steak, salmon and burgers of my life on this little guy. Some people confess that they keep this one inside of their huge fancy grills because it's just that good.

So there's the current status of the balcony. If I manage to kill these hardy plants, I might have to face the fact that I do, in fact, have a black thumb. But let's hope that's not the case.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Craigslist Tub Chair

I'm so excited, look at what my sweet boyfriend got me!

Not that he had much of a choice...I practically kidnapped him from work to make the 45 minute drive south to pick it up. Luckily this didn't end up like the many Craigslist horror stories you hear about. The couple who sold it to us lived in a posh neighborhood and were perfectly sweet. They got a kick out of watching us try to maneuver the chair into the car (after getting this coffee table into the back seat, I should be able to fit this thing no problem right?). It ended up riding shot gun and getting to control the radio with one of its legs!

Best of all, the chair only cost us $60, and they threw in a matching ottoman for free!

I swear, the wood and fabrics match the chair...it's the lighting.
Pretty good deal for a microfiber set in excellent condition with beautiful lines! I've been on the hunt for a good club/tub chair for a while now so I'm really stoked that we managed to get our hands on this one. Here's a picture of it in the grander scheme of things.

Ahhhhh it makes me all warm inside. I'm thinking of getting a sheepskin throw for it to tie it in with the lighter colors around the room. It's practically got a spotlight on it in the above picture, but it really is the color of that ottoman.

In other news, my new lens finally came in! It's a Canon EF-S 18-200mm IS lens and it is AWESOME! I've been wanting to get a versatile lens with a nice focal range so I wouldn't be constantly switching lenses when I'm in a hurry or lazy. The image stabilization is pretty unbelievable as it allows me to take photos at 1/30 or even 1/16 and still have a very good chance of getting a crisp image. Few things are more heartbreaking than uploading photos at the end of the day only to find out that your stupid shaky body messed them up.

Every Friday the photography mail alias at Pixar does a photo share...my goal this week is to use my lens to take something worthy of sharing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bedroom Moodboard: California Poppies

On my walk this morning I was hit with some inspiration for a painting I want to do above the bed. Since the color theme is teal and yellow-orange, and since I'm living in California now, what could be more appropriate than a painting of the state's flower, California poppies?

Feeling totally in the zone, I created this mood board.


Here's the breakdown: 
  1. A photo of those Cali poppies I found. These are the colors I'll be using in my painting. Deep teal background (possibly a bit darker than this) with bright pops of orange. It's gonna be sweet!
  2. "Alang" table lamp from Ikea. We've just added this to the bedroom to replace the hanging lantern. It was on sale for $20!
  3.  My lovely color muse. Scored at Ross for $8. I need to think of a name for this gal... maybe "O", because of the shape and because she solves all my problems ;).
  4. "Solarized duvet cover" from West Elm. The thing that started it all.
  5. Gray curtains from Target that EXACTLY match the color of the duvet.
  6. Home Centric on Etsy makes these totally gorgeous pillows and I want them all. I'm gonna try to get a custom one made, see below.
  7. They aren't poppies, but they're the right colors! I may try my luck again at keeping some orchids alive (I've already killed two) but I may end up resorting to silk flowers.
  8. Some dark brown baskets for storage. I've already nabbed one from Michael's for $5 to store stuff on top of my "night stand"
The great thing about Etsy is that many of the sellers will do custom orders. Lucky for me, Home Centric does them too! I did a photoshop mockup of the pillow I want and sent it to her (though looking at the sheer number of pillows for sale in her store, I suspect "she" is more of a factory of sorts). May I present to you, the perfect pillow:

Can you see the poppy influence? I've placed a custom order for two of these at $34 a piece. A bit on the pricey side, but I like to support Etsy sellers whenever I can, and c'mon, it's custom made. 

So, pillows: check.

Still feeling inspired, I went home and did a small "preview" painting. In addition to desperately needing  to restock my Etsy shop, I also wanted to see if I could pull this whole poppy thing off. This is one of the first paintings I've done in 4 months (I fall completely out of the zone when I've done three or more bad paintings in a row, which is what happened, well, 4 months ago). But once I placed the final touches on this one, it was totally an "Aww yeah!" moment.

Can you picture it all coming together? I've been feeling so inspired by all of this that I actually did three GOOD paintings in a row. Phew, thought I would be stuck in a rut for much longer than that. You'll see them pop up in my Etsy shop soon!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Coffee Table Gets a Facelift

I found this FANTASTIC coffee table on good 'ol Craigslist for $40! The price was right, the shape was perfect, all I had to do was haul the 50-pound, unwieldy thing from SF to Berkeley...by myself. And oy, this was before Boyfriend moved in.

The relocation of this thing proved to be a very painful, very strenuous process. It still makes me cringe just thinking about it. In summary: small Asian woman, her blind roommate and I attempt to carry the thing to my car while her toddler son stands by and cries. Very large black neighbor asks me to hold his pit bull while he shoulders the entire thing by himself and carries it effortlessly to my (might-be-too-small, I suddenly realize) car. Fit the table into the car only after rolling the windows down to allow the legs to stick out (poor car receives scratches and dents). Once home, I attempt to get the thing out of my car and wheel it up to my place, solo, incurring many scratches, bruises, and possibly some type of psychological trauma that has yet to surface (I'm guessing it will be a fear of dolly carts and bungee cables).

BUT without further ado, here it is:

Sadly it came in less-than-perfect condition. The wood was a weird color and completely lackluster and there were lots of scratches in the table, much like a child had scribbled on it with a pen....
But it was only $40, and that's a great price for good bones!

A serious makeover was in order. The table would have to be taken apart and the finish stripped away. I used a gel-like varnish remover and covered it in seran-wrap to keep it from drying out (this all took place on my very cold balcony...also, I do NOT recommend doing this on a balcony).

Notice that I forgot the very important step of taking the table apart. :(  I ended up getting some remover on the metal legs, which had been finished with some sort of matte coating to make it look like brushed metal. Underneath was a shiny metal that looked pretty sweet, but that meant another piece to add to the two wood pieces already on the list.

Once I scraped away the varnish and remover, I cleaned up any remaining goop and went to work on the rest of the stain with an electric sander (thank you Nick!). This was probably the most taxing part of the project in terms of messiness, physical effort and um, the neighbors' peace and quiet. Seriously for about three Sundays in a row I was outside for several hours sanding away (Sunday, because the apt. office is closed and no one can complain about me :D).

And remember, I did all that sanding for TWO pieces. Working with an electric sander does strange things to the nerves in your hand. After a while, they start to have that tingly feeling like when your hand is coming out of numbness, but it lasts for a really long time. Probably not natural.

Once the wood pieces were finally stripped down to their beautiful bare selves, it was time to apply a new finish. It was also time to raid Teako's old sock stash.

I'm a big, big fan of bringing out the natural color of a good piece of wood rather than using a stain, so for this guy I used a clear, glossy Polyurethane.

This is what it looked like after the first coat. You can already see the natural luster of the wood coming out beautifully.

I did five coats for the top piece and three coats for the bottom. I also stripped away the rest of the matte finish on the metal frame. Once I finally put it all together (about 2 months after starting the whole project), it was lovely.

I'm totally in love with this table, and even more-so because I feel like all the sweat and tears I put into it really made it mine. And to all you obsessive coaster people...I get it now.

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