Month : August 2013

Basement Style


With the basement completed and ready to use, I quickly threw in a few accessories I’d been hoarding, in time to host a party the weekend we finished. (Nothing like cutting it close!)

Since then, it’s been fun to take a more leisurely approach to finding just the “right” items to bring this level of the house together. Inspired by a couple of friends’ houses and a couple of my favorite bloggers, I wanted to bring more of our personalities into this space and make it FUN. Inspired by rooms like this one and this one, the decorating goal was to make it feel well thought-out and cohesive, while still macho enough to house poker nights and super bowl parties.


For me, decorating down here started with the color scheme. We brought in the white trim, carpet, and tile from the rest of the house for continuity. But with the bulk of our house a light and bright color, I wanted to feel a mood shift when coming into the basement. And for a room that would likely host daytime sports watching, a deeper, darker color would help absorb some light when necessary.

I wanted to go a little more modern and industrial in some areas. The house still had to flow, but if we wanted to do something a little edgier, it seemed a basement was the place to try it. A little less C&B, and a little more CB2, if you will. You might remember the picture above, which I posted this time last year after paint shopping. I knew I wouldn’t find the exact pieces, but pulling together a board of elements helped me get focused.


Now that the space is a reality and I’ve been able to start playing around with accessories and art, I have a list of my favorite things already in here, and a list of things I’d still like to do.

Here are some of my favorite elements in the space:

pink tray

I love the bar counter top, because it was our own idea and we worked together to make it. We wanted an “old bar” vibe and I love the deep color and hearty depth of it.

This screen print at the top of the stairs by Jude Landry not only supports an independent artist, and is the perfect color to set the tone for coming down to the basement, but the saying floors me. I love when you stumble on something that is just SO perfect — the moment I IMed the link to Page, he said, “We NEED that!”. What I love even more is that it made ME think of the infamous “makers are going to make, and takers are going to take” comment around the election (yep, political alert!) and Page thought of it as a play on the popular lyrics, “haters gonna hate”. With a dual meaning, I love it even more. 🙂


Married on the 29th of September, there are “2 & 9” elements throughout our home. These canvas bins were the perfect way to bring the date into this room, doubling as storage for movies and games. I designed the golf print based on a quote Page loved and wanted on display.

And some future decorating projects:

I’m excited to bring the influence of seasons in here. Especially with the wood elements, I have already snagged some birch logs and have my eye on some hearty baskets to put to use in here as the temperatures drop. As the holidays approach, I’d like to incorporate the colors of the walls with some more “cabin” type holiday elements like evergreen branches and reindeer.


I’ve considered and decided against several things for this long wall opposite the bar that leads from the stairwell into the living room. I think I’ve settled on the the idea of a collage of frames (either random sizes/arrangements, or super linear like this) with a common theme. Whether they house a collection of personal photos… or a set of Friends quotes… or prints I make of the various area codes we’ve lived in together…remains to be seen. 🙂


This wall behind the seating area in the main space needs something as well. I’m hoping it might work to incorporate this deer (in silver). I ordered it weeks ago, but it has been back-ordered over and over again and will finally arrive later this month. I like a quirky element here and there that raises an eyebrow – and love that it’s a great play on basements that may ACTUALLY boast real deer heads. I’m not sure it’s enough to hold this wall on its own, so a couple flanking pieces are on my lookout list.


The bathroom turned out to feel larger than either of us anticipated when building. Even after adding in the vanity and allowing plenty of “swing room” for the door to our HVAC closet, I’d like to bring in something cool into one of the corners of this room for a little added interest. It would be great if it could double as storage for some not-so-pretty-to-display stuff like bleach and toilet cleaner. 🙂

There are a few, less exciting, things we might add if we feel they’re needed – like curtains over the bamboo blinds on the window for more light-blocking, and I’m always open to some cool dishes to have on hand in the bar. I love a good decorating project and this one promises to be a fun one!

the basement diaries: the final frontier (part 2 of 2)


Earlier this week, I posted a re-cap of the progress we made from last September through January, and our “final stretch” to-do list between June and July. I didn’t even get a chance to take many “finished” pics before we jumped in and started decorating, installing speakers and the TV, and wired a good ol’ dartboard on the wall. We figure we’ve waited long enough, and that we should start enjoying the space immediately! It will be fun to continue to play with the decor and find just the right details for this space, but we’ve definitely gotten started!

Welcome to our basement…


The stairwell to the basement was already finished and carpeted by the builder when we moved in. We added two step lights and additional switches to toggle the hallway lights from the top of the stairs, as well as some decor (future post coming on the decorating — of course!).


For the wet bar, I drew out the cabinet configuration in a design program, working from standard-size, unfinished cabinet dimensions. We painted these ourselves and made the counter from planks that we stained and glued together for an “old bar” look. (You can read more about the detailed process of building the bar here.) The cabinet color is Valspar’s “Storm” and the hardware came from here.




Because of the supporting walls, the space under the stairs was already sectioned off so we hung a door to make the area accessible as a storage closet. We also needed access to our HVAC and left room around it for additional storage space. Rather than ending up with a row of three doors down this wall, (to the closet, to the bath, and to our HVAC), we opted for a non-twilight zone vibe and kept it to just an under-stairs closet and put an access door to our utilities closet inside the bathroom.




I fell in love with this image when planning the bathroom. When all of the industrial-looking vanities we liked turned out to be hundreds more than we wanted to pay, we ordered a sofa table (no longer available) and Page picked out an awesome vessel sink and faucet and made us our own. The mirror came from Lowe’s and the light fixtures from Home Depot. For something a little unexpected (but also something easy to change out down the road), we had this room painted in Sherwin-Williams HGTV “Antiquity”.


In addition to tiling in front of the bar, we ran tile from the bathroom into the entry area in front of the exterior doors. We used the same carpet and tile that is in the rest of the house for the sake of continuity, since the lower level is otherwise a big departure from the aesthetic of the upstairs. Inspired by the house of a friend, Page created the trim above the doors and window totally ad-hoc (stud alert!).






Page schemed and framed the media wall all in one night. He designed it to have three sections of storage – the largest/middle for media components and the shelves on either side are already storing DVDs, games, and other stuff. I’m anxious to find more cool large pieces to flank either side of the ledge (you can see I’ve already started to play around!).


This one’s for the dudes. When we built our home, Page ran extra speaker cables to various spots in the basement, anticipating that we would eventually finish it. He installed the same Polk in-wall system we have on the main floor. I can tell you first-hand…they sound amazing!


As for the lighting, we put our ceiling cans and wall sconces on separate switches (and with dimmers) to accommodate different situations. The sconces came from Lowe’s and the wall color is Sherwin-Williams HGTV “Indigo Batik”.


Later, we removed one sconce and used the spot to hard-wire an electronic dartboard. It’s so hard to imagine when it’s just 2x4s how everything will lay out exactly, but we ended up with a great spot behind the sofas to create a darts area. We don’t miss the light at all (there’s plenty down here!) and I love that we don’t have to see the cord from plugging in the game.

IMG_2359 IMG_2358

After running the vacuum a final time and scheduling our final inspection walk-through with the city (happening Monday and that bright orange paper hanging in the door can finally come down!), we can collapse onto our comfy couches and high five.

Thanks for following along on our basement-finishing journey. It’s been a lot of sweat and dust and craziness, but we are in love with the additional space. As the furnishing, decorating, and eventually the patio space all come together, I’ll be sure to post updated photos – I’ve had so much fun decorating down here already…but  there are a couple more things on order that I’m very excited to add down here!

(Pssst! If you want to read more about finishing the basement, the series of progress posts can be found here!)

the basement diaries: the final frontier (part 1 of 2)

There were days when I couldn’t imagine what writing this post might feel like … but it’s official, we’re DONE with our basement!

This post got VERY long in its original format, so I’ve split it into two parts. Today’s half is to refresh memories on the progress we made up through January, along with plenty of updates since we resumed work this summer. The second post later this week will have the reveal!

We originally estimated finishing the basement would take us five months, figuring a couple weeknights here and there, and a Saturday or Sunday most weekends. In the end, it took closer to eleven months. (Page tore his ACL on a ski trip and we took about 5 months off from this project.) So all things considered, it took about the time we originally estimated, and with the few unforeseen expenses we knew would happen (we just didn’t know WHAT they would be or when they’d pop up) we came in pretty darn close to our original budget estimate.

So to refresh your memory as to where we started, here are some photos of the “befores” taken in August when we were starting to plan what we wanted to do with the space.



Following August are some “in progress” shots along the way.







You’ll notice the date – January 2013 – was where we last left off. Not far from the home stretch, Page underwent surgery for his knee in February, and any amount of kneeling, crouching, and getting up and down repeatedly was out of the question for a few months. I helped out where I could to keep things moving along, but we weren’t able to resume major progress until mid-summer.

shelving install

Our home stretch to-do list included the following from late June through July: 

  • Paint the unfinished portions of the door/window frames
  • Add trim around the window
  • Add crown moulding around the bar cabinets and pick up beverage fridge
  • Build a “counter” on the media wall
  • Build cubbies/shelves to slide into each of the three media wall openings
  • Add trim around the three cubby openings
  • Touch up ALL the trim with caulk and paint (it was pre painted when we installed it, but all the nail holes and seams between pieces needed to be hidden)
  • Install covers on all vents and the return air duct
  • Install bath vanity and hook up plumbing
  • Wash windows and doors (razoring off drywall paste drops and removing layers of construction grime)
  • Touch up wall paint throughout (several scuffs had shown up during these last steps)

trim progress

In the shot above, I was texting Page a pic of my mad caulking skills where the corners of the door frame meet. 😉 You can also see the first of the three cubbies, the counter, and the window trim, installed in the background.

tired excitement!

Are you ready?! We’re pretty excited to share the final product…check back later this week!

(Pssst! You can read the rest of the “finishing the basement” posts right here!)

the two most popular basement questions

basement sneak peek

It has taken me longer than I planned to get some “real” pictures of our finished lower level. I had anticipated a break somewhere between sweeping up the last bits of sawdust and when Page would start cutting into the walls to install speakers and hook up the TV. And then I couldn’t help myself and started hauling my loot of decor items in and playing around. And then we had a party to share the space with some friends. Things just keep moving and while we’re loving the additional space to hang (many a darts tournament have already taken place!), I know I do owe some FINAL photos – they’re coming soon, I promise!

basement sneak peek

In the meantime, some sneak peeks have popped up on Instagram — here are a couple to tide you over. 😉

Until the photos are captured, I’ve had friends and readers alike ask the following two questions more times than I can count — so I thought I’d address them here!

Did we save much money doing this project ourselves?
The short answer is yes, although you can look at this a couple different ways. We had to buy tools specifically for this project that a contractor would have already owned. We also had a materials cost curve for extra supplies since everything we did, we were doing for the first time in our lives, and yes we have some mess-ups along the way. We returned extra stuff when we could, and I’d considering CraigsListing tools we think we’ll never need again, but it was still a line item on the balance sheet. Yes, it was a lot of our own time, and we definitely figure that is worth something as well. But, when you put pencil to paper, and calculate what we were quoted to do a basic finish (standard full walls, carpet, trim, and canned lights – no “extras”, built-ins, wet bar, decorative lighting, storage closets, custom bath vanity, hook up for hot tub, etc) – we spent ABOUT what the quote was for the “bare basics” – but also gained all of the extras mentioned above. Did we need to spend some money to save some money? Yes. But in the end, I feel like we got so much more than an “out of the box” option — and for a similar price.

Would we do it again?
This is a tougher one, and probably not mine to answer! Page was very excited to start this project and now that it’s done, I see (well-deserved!) pride that he did so much of it himself, without anyone showing him how. Seriously, the dude amazes me. He’s more of a perfectionist than I am when it comes to the little details, so I know there were times he was stressed about how to make something work, but he also is a problem-solver by nature.

Would we do THIS basement again on THIS budget at THIS time in our lives with THIS skill set? I think probably, yes. It’s hard to remember the “before” stage though where we hadn’t learned the things we did along the way — finishing this same basement again now would be so much easier, but of course any project like this in a new house would be different. We’ve learned the value of hiring a pro (hello, drywall and tile angels!) and where we are most comfortable DIYing to save some hard-earned cash. While there is something pretty cool about getting to sit back and know you built/painted/thought up something once it’s finished, I would hire out more “parts” of this process the next go-round, but we’d probably take more of a general contractor role and only step in here-and-there to do tasks where we knew we could save the most bang for our buck.

It’s easy to forget the middle parts when we were sore, sweaty, frustrated, and stressed out. 🙂 But now that it’s done, I think the enjoyment factor is just that much higher knowing WE made this happen. Is this what they call a DIY high?? 😉

life in (black and) yellow.


You may or may not have heard the recent news that The University of Iowa just ranked as the top party school in the nation.

I’m not going to lie. The immature, still-wish-I-was-a-student-some-days part of me had to smile at the story (you BET we’re number one!) as if it’s a badge of honor. Okay, in a twisted way it kind of is. 😉

But then I think of the high school students deciding where to continue their education in a year or more, and the parents who may influence them to pick a school other than the party capital of the country. And I feel compelled to share a little about my experiences and gains at Iowa, away from the shot glasses.

Yes. Iowa students party. Hard. But I think it’s more the fact that they do EVERYTHING hard. They push the limits. They have lofty goals. Now that I’m removed from campus life for more than seven years (!), I see clearly that my years as a Hawkeye were challenging, memorable, and most of all formative in every aspect of my life. And I look at the fellow alum in my life who are leading well-rounded, successful and happy lives. There must be some correlation, yes?

Hawkeye Homecoming

 Aside from the fact that a Big Ten school will bond you with strangers in an airport halfway across the country (if you’re wearing black/gold in other states, you inevitably hear SOMEONE shout, “Yeah HAWKS!!” in your direction)…

Aside from the fact that the school boasts a Greek community that rivals any in the country and led me to meet lifelong friends and become involved in community and philanthropic organizations…

Aside from the fact that Iowa City is a safe, Iowa town that boasts as much culture as it does friendly smiles…

Aside from all that…you have the meat of why you come to Iowa in the first place. Education.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I was pushed (and pushed!) to become a better writer, earning my Journalism & Mass Comm degree from one of the top programs in the nation. I still remember a copy of a story I wrote at the beginning of a semester being displayed on the overhead for the class and watching as the professor took his red marker to it to “make it better”. It was bleeding red by the time he was done. The same scenario happened the week before finals with a different story; there was still a little red, but lots of green underlining the pieces that were much improved. I remember breathing a proud sigh of relief.

I was challenged over the course of my capstone semester to create (and re-create!) a 56-page business plan for a start-up company, guided by the professors in the Tippie College of Business Entrepreneurial Certificate program. When it was my turn to present my plan to our class of twelve fellow aspiring entrepreneurs who I’d worked alongside in this program the past three years, I took PAGES of notes on their feedback and to this day, can’t throw it away. The input I got that day was and still is GOLD.

And that’s just the undergraduate experience.

I look at our friends and acquaintances who are Iowa alumni and are now blossoming in a range of careers from law enforcement to law practice and everything in between. They are happy, settled, and many are creating families of their own. They are contributing to their surroundings and participating in their communities. They are also the same people who may or may not have drunk-walked home with me many a night in Iowa City. So say what you like, because students at ANY campus are bound to blow off steam in one way or another. But I’d rather be blowing off steam as a Hawkeye. 😉

building the bar

building our bar |

You’ve probably caught wind of my excitement by now that basement progress has resumed in the past few weeks, finished just in time for a party this past weekend. There are a couple last details being finished up now, but pics of the whole reveal are soon to come. For today, I’m excited to show our completed BAR!

I’ve been trying to keep the basement series of posts to only a handful, so that each post shows some real progress and not each of the fifty (million) tiny steps it has really taken to get to its current state. But while I mentioned putting together our bar in the last “Basement Diaries” post, I thought this area warranted its own post as to how we went about DIY-ing it.

We started with standard-sized unfinished cabinets from Lowe’s. Armed with the dimensions of the various pieces available, I used Illustrator to lay out options until I had a configuration that I liked and that would fit the corner we had deemed bar-space. (Note: we added spacers between the top/wall cabinets so that their total width would perfectly match the width of the floor/bottom cabinets — you can pick these spacers up in the same aisle where you’d find cabinets in the hardware store.)

Once the cabinets were delivered, I applied a coat of Sherwin Williams wood and wall primer. (I purposely wanted a little wood grain to show through, but to avoid this, I would have applied a second or even third coat of primer.)  Already knowing I wanted to do them in a dark grey, I attempted to do a little thrifty recycling and reopened the leftover paint from Page’s office (Valspar’s “Storm” from Lowe’s). Two coats of “Storm”, and two coats of polyacrylic sealer later, the painting portion of the program was done just in time to break for the holidays and some carpet installation.

cabinets painted Valspar Storm

As for the sink base cabinet, they didn’t make one in the width we needed (only wider or narrower) so we bought a regular base cabinet and I simply removed the actual drawers and railings, adhering the drawer front only back onto the front of the cabinet as a facade. This left room inside to drop a sink in, later.

drawer fronts

I ordered our hardware and with Page’s help to drill the holes (I am SO not a careful measurer!) I wrapped up this step by attaching all the pieces to the doors and drawer fronts.

cabinet hardware

Meanwhile, it was time for the counter. We had weighed options like a remnant piece of granite or a piece of stainless steel. In the end, this was a place where we could cut back on cost and still love the result so we went with a thriftier option (this cost us less than 100 Washingtons!) that was a little more one-of-a-kind. Following a plethora of Pinterest tutorials, I put together a plan to make a stained, plank-style countertop. While this was, in theory, part of the basement plan that I thought I could do myself, I did need a little help intervention when it came to cutting down the planks to the exact length we needed.

Countertop Cutting

We took two 11-inch-wide pieces of pine and cut them to the exact length we needed (in our case, 70″). To get the depth right, we added an additional 2×4 strip in the back. We lined them up and traced around where our sink would go and Page cut each of the boards along the sink lines with a jigsaw.

sink hole cutting

I gave each piece a good sanding and glued them together using Liquid Nails then used vices to clamp them tightly together while they dried.

glue drying overnight

We let them dry for a full 24 hours before I filled in the seams with stainable wood filler, which I left on for several hours before sanding the whole counter smooth. We set the counter on top of the bar to ensure everything fit properly before I began staining. (Note: the counter is pulled away from the wall in the shot below, there is not really that much over-hang.)

counter unstained

I have stained a couple things before but had never heard to use wood conditioner first. It definitely made my coats of stain go on more smoothly! You can see the deep color that came through in the very first coat…I was so happy with the color! (Yep, cleaning gloves = staining gloves.)

staining countertop

Two thick coats of dark wood stain (left on about 15 mins each time to further deepen the color before wiping away the excess), three sealing coats of polyacrylic spray, and a final 24 hours to fully dry, rounded out the finish for the countertop.

counter dry time

(You all know what happened next…Pager tore his ACL on a ski trip and doing any work down here was physically out of the question for several weeks as he underwent and recovered from surgery. We could have hired some help but we were SO close to being done and knew just what we wanted and as impatient as I can be, the truth is we were in no rush. So fast forward through some calendar pages….)

In early June, our super-helpful friend, Chris, came over to help hang the upper cabinets (we swapped services as I helped his wife plan a baby shower…but we definitely got the sweet end of that deal!). Here’s the pic the guys texted us once the three pieces (and the spacer pieces in between each cabinet) were up on the wall. It was so exciting to see something new down there after such a long break. Tools + Beer = Successful Install.

wall cabinets

Following this picture, the end cap pieces I had painted were adhered with construction adhesive and I added some bumpers (similar to these) to the insides of the doors/drawers so they wouldn’t slam when closed. The plumbing was hooked up and the sink/faucet added, but not before Page discovered the standard sink clips that came with the install kit weren’t big enough for our extra-thick counter top. (Good to know if you plan to create a similar type of counter — the ones we needed had to be special-ordered.)

We added a beverage fridge among the bottom cabinets (thanks, Amex points!) and hooked up our counter top wine cooler (thanks, Mom & Dad!). We relocated the wine glass racks I originally added to the red hutch (that’s now in our guest room, where we HOPE wine glass racks aren’t needed), and installed them under the center cabinet. After adding some trim to the tops of the cabinet (made a big difference in helping them look “finished”), our only future item is to look at some under-cabinet lighting options to go under the two longer/lower cabinets.

building our bar |

building our bar |

It was an all-out, one-person party filling up the cabinets and drawers with lots of entertaining goodies. Voila – our DIY bar! Celebratory completion martini, anyone?


And as a special “share the love, we’re celebrating!” type of thing, feel free to print your own Dom Perignon quote for yourself! You can use the settings in your printer to create it as a full page (roughly 8″ x 8″)  or scale it down to fit a smaller frame (like mine, which is 4″ x 4″).

Dom Perignon quote: Free printable |

To download, simply click or hover/right click over the words below:


Back soon with the rest of the tour…

building our bar |

Linking up today with Home Stories A to Z!

foods I’ve been eating (and loving) lately…

I’ve been trying to incorporate more of the clean eating thing lately, and have been in the mood to try some new things outside my “same old” recipe routine. Here are a few things I’ve been munching on lately, if you’re looking for meal or snack ideas!

kale chicken pasta


(adapted from Martha Stewart)

Half box of medium pasta shells
Half bunch of kale, removed from thick stems and chopped
1-2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 container part-skim ricotta
1 Tbsp butter
salt, pepper
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan, more to top

Cook the pasta while simmering garlic and butter in a separate skillet. Add the chopped kale to the skillet and cover for 5 minutes or so. Drain pasta and stir in cooked kale, adding ricotta, lemon juice, parmesan, and chicken. Spread into 9×9 baking dish and top with extra parmesan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until top bubbles. YUM!


Tazo chai latte



Okay, not a recipe – well, you do mix with milk – but that’s it. I loooove iced chai lattes in the summer, but not all the calories. I like that I can opt for skim with this Tazo concentrate (a Costco find), and keep my overall serving at about 110 calories, versus 200+ for a small at the coffee shops.


Chopped Chicken Salad



My sweet neighbor brought this recipe over last week and I barely snapped a photo of it between scarfing bites. SO good and the recipe makes a lot!

1 lb boneless chicken – cooked and shredded
1 head cabbage shredded
handful of carrots shredded
handful of red cabbage shredded
4 scallions – chopped
Mandarin oranges – as many as you like
top with toasted sesame seeds and almonds

1/2 cup of sugar
1 tbls dry mustard
6 tbls white/rice vinegar
1/2 tbls fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tbls soy sauce
1 teas grated fresh ginger
1/4 tbls minced garlic
1 1/2 tbls sesame oil
1 tbls vegetable oil
salt & pepper


I don’t have a photo for these. Ready-to-go veggie muffins you keep in your freezer. I love the Banana-Zucchini one with a few chocolate chips mixed in (couldn’t find it on their website, but Costco has them), for 120 calories total. They suggest heating them but I don’t mind them at room temp – I just let one thaw on my drive to work and eat it at the office for breakfast.


I don’t have a photo for these, either, but these pretzels are yet another Costco discovery. I’m not sure who loves these more – Page or me. Sweet and salty, all natural, and a couple handle my sweet tooth.

Have any good recipes or snack ideas to share? I’m always on the lookout to switch it up! 🙂