Fireplace Makeover

I have always HATED our fireplace. The mantel was constructed from an awkwardly small piece of left-over granite that was unable to properly display any décor pieces. The box was left unfinished which left much to be desired. And, I could NEVER find the right picture to hang in the cut-out above the mantle. The fireplace should have been a stunning focal point in our living room and instead it was a lifeless and mostly useless (in AZ) space-sucker.


UNTIL! The make-over!



We used tumbled travertine tiles to give the look of brick.



We used 1 x 8 boards to build out the mantel. Then with hammers, chains and nails I distressed it to look a little worn. I used Driftwood stain as the first coat then a custom mixture of stain for the top layer.


Then with a few accessories from Home Goods, it was finished!

Total cost of the makeover was around $150 and now I have a fireplace that I LOVE.


Mother-In-Law Basement: Before and After

I worked with a stylish Minnesota mom via Long Distance Consulting to transform her basement into a Mother-in -Law suite with the goal to have her home be a future income property.

Here’s where she started:

“We initially had red shag carpeting, price-is-right game themed tiles, a pink bathroom and knotty pine tongue and groove down there. It was straight out of the 50’s-60’s. When we ripped out the walls and ceilings we found old newspapers from the 50’s used as insulation, some of which were so interesting we kept them!

I argued with my husband Tony back and forth about the hardwood floor look. I wanted it to be inviting and not look like a basement, as our house is considered a registered duplex, I felt it would add to the value more if it were treated as a main room and not an afterthought. We are both glad we chose the engineered hardwoods. They were a breeze to install (after some base floor leveling) and ended up looking great and really warmed up the space.”

After the major renovation was complete she asked me to help her finish the project. She had great ideas as to what she wanted for her space and with my help she was able to have the confidence to pull it all together.

Here is where we started our project together:

From there we created a workable floor plan for her tricky living room that also needed to feature a separate-feeling entryway, storage space, and multiple walkways to flow from room to room. She wanted clean lines, neutral colors and simple decorative touches that would entice potential renters.
Here’s what we came up with:
Jackson Basement Photo 1
She also staged the bedroom with a striking accent wall and a few DIY projects:

Upon completing the project a job opportunity moved her and her family to a neighboring state. She still had some time to enjoy the space and had this to say about the final product:

“What I love about the space is the “soft urban loft feel.” It’s fun to see an idea you sense come into fruition through the physical aesthetic. It was tough not to go overboard with personalization but I knew we might be moving so I tried to stick to current neutrals which of course you helped me with along with many other aspects!!

Thanks again for your help and insight. We are currently living in an even smaller space here (a temp. apt) and I’ve already used some of your tips and tricks for making it work.”

I am honored to have helped with this project and happy she allowed me to share the transformation with you!

At Home With… Tanya Brothen

My apartment is not my home, but it is my refuge in a foreign land.  I am a Foreign Service Officer (AKA, a Diplomat) working for the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Home is Minnesota, and since my job keeps me away from there the vast majority of the time, I rely on my apartment – its design, contents, and character – to make me feel at home even on the days when I truly feel like I’m not.  The apartment isn’t just a place to store my stuff, or to sleep at night.  It’s a cure for homesickness, a space for welcoming friends and family who visit, and my little corner of the U.S.A. in Argentina.


Enjoying a sunny day out on my patio

That’s a lot to ask of an apartment, and one of the challenges I faced when decorating was making it feel like my own when I chose neither the space nor the furnishings that filled it.  The Embassy assigned me this residence and filled it with standard-issue furniture meant to withstand use by countless other Diplomats, their families, and their pets.  Not having to locate your own housing overseas is a definite relief in many ways (left to my own devices, I’m not sure I would be able to negotiate a rental agreement in Spanish…), but the chances that the surroundings you rely on to be your home away from home will feel even remotely homey are slim if you have no say in them.

I overcame these challenges with two simple fixes.  First, I purchased slipcovers for both the couch and the matching armchair.  This allowed me to select a neutral color on which I could place colorful and patterned pillows to add visual interest.  I was nervous about the slipcovers needing constant repositioning and re-tucking, but that has not proven to be an issue.  The material softened up when I washed it, and now the couch is my favorite cozy nap spot.  I readjust the covers once a week or less.

Living room

Second, I purchased a few, inexpensive items of furniture to give the space at least some of my own style.  The white coffee table provides a blank slate for placing decorative objects and the two end tables are great spots for holding my favorite magazines from home as well as a rotating array of fresh flowers from the wonderful flower stands in my neighborhood.  The small armchair with the leafy pattern was a going-away gift from a friend and it quickly became my favorite reading spot.

Reading corner

The living room did come with one feature that I didn’t choose but that was luckily perfectly matched to my tastes: lots and lots of natural light!

Table and balcony Side table

Two adjoining walls are nothing but windows, which fill the room with light even on the shortest days of June, July and August, our Southern Hemisphere winter months.  My living room has without a doubt become my home away from home, and it needed only a few, simple fixes to get it there.

Hostess with the Mostest

Hosting is a tough task and most of you will, at some point, find yourself in the hosting seat. Housewarmings, engagement parties, baby showers, birthdays, holidays. Even a casual get together with friends requires you to play hostess. The role of the host is to make sure guests feel welcome, comfortable, and have an enjoyable time. You’re greeting, serving food and drinks, introducing people, starting conversations. In other words, at all times you’re working the party.

The number one concern of the hostess is to make people feel comfortable. As a guest we want to feel welcomed, cared for and involved in the party. If a host fails to introduce us to new people, fails to engage converstations and fails to provide proper refreshments and nourishments, as a guest you will feel unimportant, left out, intrusive and nervous. Fancy drinks and appetizers will not make up for lack of conversation and and unwelcoming environment. You can have the best decorations, best tasting food and the most unique drinks, but if your guests feel uncomfortable at the party, that is what they’ll remember. We always remember how we feel.

It is important to remember that you are not a guest at your own party. As a host there is always a job to be done.

Know your audience

Are you hosting a bridal shower with a mix of family and friends and muli-generational guests? Be prepared to host a bridal shower where both great-grandma and pre-teen cousin will feel comfortable. Prepare food and drinks accordinly and play games (if necessary) that are appropriate for the masses.

Also, be prepared to know the guests. You may not persoanlly know them but know names and relations so you can have an instant connection as you greet them. “Oh yes! Carrie! You’re Eva’s neice. Eva told me you came all the way from Sedona for this party. I appreciate you making the trip and hope you enjoy your afternoon with us. Can I offer you a beverage?” Then make sure to introduce people as necessary and apporopriatly.

At many parties there is a guest of honor to focus on, but it’s important to not forget about the guests. If the guests feel special, so will the guest of honor.

Prepare accordingly, and let your guests know the agenda

If your guests are expecting a casual backyard BBQ, they should arrive to find to a casual backyard BBQ and if your guests are expecting a formal dinner party they should arrive to find a formal dinner party. Makes sense, right?

If you asked guests to bring dessert, wine, an appetizer etc. make sure their contribution stands alone. Asking a guest to bring something, then three others arrive with the same thing, makes the guest feel unspecial. What if they brought a cake, and another guest brought a homemade, buttercream frosted, triple layer, berry filled cake that everyone gushes over? How do you think the other guest feels? Silly, embarrassed, unacknowledged. Make sure a guest’s contributions are well received.

Follow rules of ettiquette

Ettiquette is not pretentious, condecending or snooty. It’s not a way to act “better” than everyone else. It’s actually a way of making those around you feel at ease because they know what to expect. In other words, if you act appropriatly, it makes everyone around you feel comfortable.

You also need to “lead by example”. If you want your guests to start eating, you start eating, and welcome guests to join. If you want guests to use a coaster, you use a coaster, and conveniently provide coasters anywhere a guest would place a drink.

Manage the flow of the party

Drinks, food, converstaion, games, gifts. Make sure your agenda is flowing according to time, and your guests desires. Is conversation dwindeling? Maybe it’s time for gifts. Are the kids running wild? Maybe it’s time for games. If it’s a dinner party manage the conversations so everyone is comfortable with the topic. If it starts to get heated, wrap up the argument (don’t take sides) and politely offer a new topic to discuss.

Wrap it up

If an ending time was noted on the invite be prepared to wrap up the party at that time. If no time was specified it’s up to you as the host to determine if your guests are ready to leave (but don’t want to be rude) and provide them with a comfortable exit. Watch for body language (fidgiting, checking phones for time and missed messages), coversation between couples (couples many times start a conversation between eachother to begin their exit). If you see these cues, begin wrapping up their visit.

Gather their coats, favors, dishes they provided, or any other items they need to take home. Engage friednly conversation summarizing their contributions to the party

“Thank you so much for bringing the wine. We all enjoyed it and it went perfectly with dinner”

“Your stories from your new job were hillarious. Thanks for sharing. I know we all enjoyed a good laugh.”

Walk exiting guests to the door. A guest should be greeted when they arrive and escorted out when they are departing. Thank them for attending. This will be their last impression of the party.

At Home With… Sara Plath

Hello! My name is Sara and I am a clothing designer, blogger & artists. I have always loved creating things ever since I was a little girl. What I love about being creative is seeing my ideas come to life. I started my blog, Red Lipstick and French Toast, as an online journal of my projects and travel. Aside from blogging and creating things, I love being outdoors and on the go. I’m so flattered Grace has asked me to do a guest post about my apartment in Uptown, a neighborhood in Minneapolis, MN. I’ve picked two of my favorite rooms to share with you today!

Sara Plath 1 0Sara Plath 2

My kitchen and living room are so close that I wanted to bring the cozy aspect from my living room to my dining room. I had made large pillows a couple of years ago and decided they’d work well in the dining room. I also didn’t have a bench at the time and used an old coffee table as a temporary bench but turns out it made a great as a bench and so it stayed. I love finding new uses for old items! One thing I wish I had at my apartment was a patio. To create the ‘patio feel’ on nice summer nights I open my kitchen window as wide as it will go,  place candles in lanterns on the table, pour some red wine & turn on white lights framing the window. My friends laugh when I tell them this but I think it gives it the best patio feel for date night at my apartment! It’s all about working with what you have! Lastly, picking up fresh flowers at the grocery store or farmer’s market is always worth it. It just brightens up the whole space.

Sara Plath 1Sara Plath 3

I love the built in cabinets in my kitchen. These cabinets are pretty common in the Uptown area with the early 1900 style apartments. I added a pop of color to the cabinet by just lining the back wall with large paper (because it is a rental) from Paper Source. They have a ton of colors and patterns to choose from.

This mirrored tray for my bar is from one of my favorite vintage stores in the area called Hunt
& Gather
in South Minneapolis. This is the place where you could easily spend 20 minutes digging for scrabble letters in a wheel-barrel until your friend drags you out of there. You never know what you’ll find!

Sara Plath 4

In the wall collage I have pictures I took while traveling, sketches from my sketchbook and artwork I’ve started to collect by local designers and at the Uptown art fair.

Sara Plath 11

These glasses with gold detail were part of the Target Collaboration with Neiman-Marcus. The story goes that this technique hadn’t been used for so long that they brought this old machinery out of storage and the person who knew how to use it was retired but agreed to come help with this project and make this design come to life. I loved the story behind the glasses. Also, I absolutely loved the gold. I want gold utensils next! The cute cupcake teacups were a gift from my boy-friends parents. My niece came over the day of the photo-shoot and loved them!

Sara Plath 5

Sara Plath 8

When I first moved into my apartment it was a blank canvas. I had cream walls and white bedding… it was beyond boring! I wanted to add an accent wall & pops of color. I wanted the room to have a nature-inspired feel that was also whimsical and relaxing. I decided on a navy wall because I was really drawn to that when I looked through magazines & online. I think it has really helped ground the room. I swapped out my Ikea dresser knobs with a variety of Anthropologie knobs & the artwork in my room is very whimsical inspired. Just recently, I added the pillow shams and the bright orange pom-pom blanket which add the pop of color that I wanted. ‘Dream’ bedside artwork from an Etsy shop, theloveshop.

Sara Plath 6

I picked up the white ornate frame from Patina while I was still in college. It was one of those things that I just had to have! I still love it! Framed is a postcard from when I traveled to Paris. The miniature fashion form was a gift from my mom since I got my degree in Apparel Design.

Sara Plath 7

I like to hold onto books that I get as gifts and have built a small collection of fashion and interior design books. I feel like can always use more. I love them!  The picture in the background is a London building sketch from my sketchbook.

Sara Plath 10

I did a little makeover on my closet last fall which I blogged about here. It has made such a difference having the overhead light and the bright aqua walls. I can actually see my clothes now! I also only put clothes back in the closet that I liked and wore often (makes sense right, ha) and sold or donated the rest which I blogged about here. I love picking out my outfits now and if I make time I’ll sometimes pick out outfits for the week & hang them behind my closet door. It’s my smaller version of a clothing rack and go-to outfits for those mornings when you don’t want to think about it.

Sara Plath 9

Hope you’ve enjoyed the tour! Thanks for hosting Grace!

~Sara, Red Lipstick & French Toast

How to Smudge Your Home

Smudging is the ancient ritual of burning herbs to cleanse and heal a space, person or object. It includes the use of a smudge stick (found at natural shops or online) or loose herbs. Sage is known to have healing qualities and is the preferred herb for smudging ceremonies but other herbs, such as cedar or sweetgrass, can be incorporated as well.037

The basic idea of why and how smudging works lies in the subatomic energy that surrounds us and how it makes us feel. Energy can become trapped in a space creating a barrier for new energy to enter. This can cause feelings of discomfort, agitation, depression, and anger, to name a few. Smudging, i.e. upward dispersing smoke, helps lift up the current energy, allowing you to replace it with your own positive and creative energy.

So when should you smudge?

It’s a good idea to smudge a new home before you move in. It cleanses the air and provides a fresh space for you and your family to bring your own energy.

Smudging can also be done when a current space has a “bad feeling”. We’ve all been in a room that gives us the “creeps” or makes our hair stand up. This is a reaction to the current energy in the space. Smudging can help eliminate that bad feeling.

How to Smudge Your Home

Items Needed

  • Smudge Stick
  • Bowl (or shell)
  • Matches

Using a shell incorporates all four elements – earth, air, fire and water (herbs, smoke, burning embers, and shell, respectively). It is not crucial to include all four elements but it can enhance the experience.020

Set your intention for the smudging. It’s very important to have a positive mindset when smudging. Light the smudge stick and let it smolder. You don’t want a flame, just smoke to billow out of the end (too much smoke will set off smoke detectors. Use caution). Once the stick is smoldering begin by moving clockwise through each room, wafting smoke into all corners of the room. Open doors, cabinets and drawers so the smoke can move freely through all areas. As you exit each room smudge the doorway. Move through the house in a clockwise direction.

You can internalize your thoughts or you can use words to express your intentions. Are you smudging because you just moved in to the home? Vocalizing your hopes for your new home can help personalize the ritual.

Focus on areas of the home that feel dark, closed off, stale or heavy. As you smudge, be sure to replace the bad energy with positive words and thoughts in these areas.

After you complete the smudging you should feel calm and light in your home. Continue to bring positive energy  into the space to maintain that feeling.

The effects of smudging are not visible to our eyes, making it hard for some to believe that it works. Smudging creates a feeling, a mood, an energy. If you don’t believe, you won’t feel the benefits. It’s truly a mind over matter phenomenon so your mindset when smudging will ultimately affect the outcome. Please only smudge if your intent is pure and positive. Only then will you receive the rejuvenating and healing benefits of smudging.

Alexander, J. (2005). The smudging and blessings book: Inspirational rituals
to cleanse and heal
. New York: Sterling Pub.

Lembo, M. A. (2011). All about smudging. Woodbury, Minn: Llewellyn

Dining Room Mood Board

Dining Room Mood Board

Your Perfect Nursery

Sugary pastels, whimsical wall decals, fluffy tissue mobiles and a cliché sign noting a prince or a princess lives in this space. For some expecting parents, this describes the most magical nursery they can fantasize. But what about the others? The parents who want a welcoming and comfortable nursery that complements their style and their home.

Parents are bombarded with advice, criticism and judgements everyday, and some feel they have to follow the “norm” to avoid dealing with the critics. The norm, when it comes to nursery design, may not reflect who the parents truly are.

I believe that bringing personal style to the nursery connects the baby with the parents. It’s a space where parents spend many hours creating intimate bonds with their baby yet it also can be a stressful place. Crying, screaming, dirty diapers, late nights. It’s not all sugary pastels and whimsical wall decals.

So, what’s a parent to do? A few tips for creating a nursery the whole family can enjoy:

Use furniture with history. Great-grandma’s sewing table, grandpa’s old dresser, a rocker from the family farm. Whatever. Paint it, or don’t. It’s up to you.

Paint with colors that complement the rest of your home. The nursery doesn’t have to stand out like a bright pink in a sea of neutrals.

Meaningful art. For me, that’s artwork created by family members. For you it may be a family saying printed out and framed. It doesn’t have to be something about miracles, blessings, or sweet baby angels. It could be a funny inside joke you share with your spouse.

Bring in family photos. Not cheesy ones. The real ones, showing life being lived.


Nursery Collage2

Nursery Collage

When decorating your nursery remind yourself that you will be spending a lot of time in the space. Bring personal comforts you can share with your family and your new baby. Remember, it’s not just a baby’s room, it’s a shared space where families grow together.

What do you love most about your nursery?

What are your visions for your future nursery?

5 Ideas to Boost Inspiration

Finding inspiration for an interior design project is half the battle. Feelings of doubt and confusion are normal when starting something new, but negative feelings will crush the creativity needed to create your new space. There are tons of ways battle doubt and ignite your creativity. Here are a couple of tricks I use whenever I’m feeling less than inspired:

1. Read Design Books

Buy or rent. Bargain shelves at bookstores are a great place to start your own design book collection. Or, to keep it totally affordable, the library has tons of fantastic books on all topics of design. Magazines are great too but I personally enjoy the feel of flipping through a bound book vs. a flimsy magazine. E-versions of design books are also great because many times they are interactive.018

2. Draw/paint/craft

Little to no skills required. Draw a stick figure. Paint an unfinished photo frame from the craft store. Turn on some music for extra inspiration. Exercising your right brain can open up the floodgate of creative ideas. (I lived in Wisconsin for a few years. Totally normal to have a sketch of a cow…)029

3. Look through photo albums

Photos are art, and you take photos of things you like, so it’s not too far-fetched to think you’ll find home design inspiration from your own art collection. Vacation photos are a great place to start but don’t forget about your own backyard. Photos of landscape, people, and places from around your town remind you of the everyday things you love. Personal photos should be used to create a cozy space so pull a few of your favorites and frame them. Cheap and meaningful art.026

4. Find One Piece to Work From

This gives a true starting point. Working with a white room is the hardest challenge because it offers zero inspiration. Find one piece you know you want to use/keep and work from there. I recommend starting with something that has personal meaning. This is a painting by my grandma Pat Brothen. While I don’t need it yet, it will one day be the inspiration for my nursery. Special pieces such as this create the perfect starting point for a room.036

5. Use Technology

Pinterest, of course, is a hotbed of inspiration. Make a specific board for your project to keep your ideas organized. is also a fantastic website with a pinboard-style format. It features ever-changing posts and I appreciate that it features “real” homes, not just the over-staged model homes we’re used to seeing. For a more personalized experience use Chip It! by Sherwin Williams. Upload a photo of choice and it will give you custom color board to work from. It’s super addicting. Photo courtesy of Tanya Brothen at http://www.parisianspring.blogspot.comFarmland