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!

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

Thrift Store Tips and Finds

I’m personally not a huge antique store, garage sale or flea market shopper (I have actually never been to a flea market, nor do I know where to find one. Please enlighten me if there is one I should check out in AZ). I do, however, occasionally like thrift stores. The stores give back to the community, everything is tax-free (huge bonus in Scottsdale where sales tax is almost 10%. YIKES!), and, with typical retail hours, they are easy to shop.

HGTV has a new show called Flea Market Flip and they offer some good tips on how to spot the deals. They, however, fix-up the items which is just way too much work for me. When I shop I look for items that are ready to use, and don’t require sanding, painting, re-finishing, or any other crafting project. I don’t like to create “honey-do” lists for myself if I can help it 🙂

Thrift stores can be overwhelming to shop. There is a lot of junk surrounding the treasures but with a little patience and the right approach you can find some great items for your home.

When shopping thrift stores ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have a place for it? I very much advocate a clutter free house. Clutter causes stress, anxiety and overall discomfort in a space. If you just like the piece, but have nowhere to put it, skip it.
  2. Does it go with my overall style? If you are designing a contemporary room, steer clear of overly ornate (or traditional items). Even if your style is eclectic keep true to your style when deciding if a piece is right for your home.
  3. Is it the right color? size? shape? So you have a place for it, it matches the style of your room, now inspect the details. Will it fit in the space you have? Will it coordinate with the surrounding colors?
  4. Is it “timeless”, “retro” or just “dated”? This is a tough one. I try to stay away from trendy items from the 90s and the 70s. My reasoning? The 90s are too recent to be “back in style” and I once heard 70s architecture referred to as “the dark-ages of design”. I laughed, agreed, and now always think about that when I see 70s style furnishings.

This is definitely not an inclusive list on how to successfully shop at a thrift store but asking yourself these simple questions will steer you in the right direction. I, myself, have made a few thrift store mistakes, but I do also have some treasures in my home. Here are a few of my favorites.


I found this southwestern vase for only $3.00 and I’m hoping it’s handmade. There are no markings on it, and I’m not an expert on this subject, but it doesn’t seem to be a mass-produced product. Even if it is, I still love that is has a handmade, southwestern look.


I found this unframed print for $3.00 and fell in love with the stark contrast. I popped it in a simple modern frame and it’s perfect in my guest room!


I got both the terra-cotta pot and the basket for $1.00. The pot adds a nice finishing touch to my basic Ikea plant.


I love these! They are placemats that I found for $1.00 each. It’s a cheap way to dress up a large wall.


The picture came framed and was only $5.00. My husband is the one who found it and it’s a nice addition to our “seating area” (aka the “dirty laundry catcher”) in our bedroom.

There are treasures waiting for you at thrift stores, it just takes a little more work to find them.

What are some of your favorite thrift store items?

T.V. Show Floor Plans – Impressive

One of my favorite shows on T.V. right now is Happy Endings. Six attractive urbanites in their late 20s living in Chicago, living an endlessly entertaining life, referencing the 90s whenever possible. It’s fabulous. As a designer, my favorite part of the show is admiring the character’s unique homes. There’s the single girl’s posh apartment, the guy’s industrial loft and the married couple’s million dollar condo with modern everything (it’s flawless to say the least). The show also includes storylines with the character’s moving to new places (very fitting considering how often young people move) so there continually are new homes to drool over!

Yesterday I stumbled upon the work of interior designer Iñaki Aliste Lizarralde. He takes famous shows and creates detailed floor plans of the featured homes. So cool! I have included my favorites below but there are more to see on his Etsy page (you can even buy the prints!). There’s not one for Happy Endings quite yet (fingers crossed!) but I’m sure you’ll find some of your own favorites in his collection. Enjoy the inspiration.

Penny's ApartmentTed Mosby's AptCarrie's Apt

Rustic Dining Room

Rustic Dining Room

Verona Wine Rack

Linea Chrome abstract vase
$38 –

Moroccan Carpet

Toast Tableware – Medium Bowl
$38 –

Toast Tableware – Large Mug
$38 –

Start with a Floor Plan

It’s nearly impossible to determine the correct furniture size and placement for a room simply by looking at the room. An empty room distorts the space and gives zero reference points for furniture layout. Designers use this tool because it is essential to creating a well designed room, and it’s a tool that is accessible to almost everybody! It allows you to try different arrangements and ensures you buy the right size furniture. Sofa sizes range from 70″ to over 100″ (I totally made up those figures but it really is a huge range). Before you shop for furniture (the fun part!) measure out the space and create a floor plan (the not as fun part).


examples of average to large size living room furniture

Many furniture store websites offer a room planner such as Ikea, Pottery Barn, Ethan Allen, and Lane. There are also more professional programs available such as (you can make 1 free floor plan and they have a nice gallery for inspiration). If you plan to shop a particular store check their website for a room planner.

Floor Plan

this was done on Icovia Room Planner

So you’ve measured your room, and drawn it on a room planner program. Now what?

How to Make a Better Floor Plan

  1. Decide the correct direction for the room (focal point). For example, in a bedroom, the bed should face toward the door and not be on the same wall as the door.
  2. 3′ is the minimum walk space. Anywhere people will need to walk needs to be at least 3′. No exceptions.
  3. A bed in a master bedroom should have access on both sides, at least 3′. The only time the side of a bed can be pushed against a wall is in kids rooms, college rooms and the occasional small guest room.
  4. Always consider the access to the furniture. Having to walk ALL the way around the sofa, side table, chair and coffee table just to sit down on the sofa will drive you nuts. There should be a clear and logical path to the furniture.
  5. A rug should have at least one piece of furniture sitting on it, unless it’s a runner. Usually it’s the sofa, bed or dining table, but it doesn’t have to be.
  6. Don’t forget about storage. Bookcases, display cases, and shelves are all important pieces to remember.
  7. experiment with different size furniture. Sometimes making a piece a few inches larger or smaller makes a huge difference.

You’ve made the perfect floor plan, now make sure you stick to it. Print out the plan with the furniture dimensions and bring it with you on your shopping trips. The sales team at furniture stores should be able to show you the pieces that match the size you’re looking for. I don’t recommend trying to “make something fit” just because you like it in the store. If it doesn’t fit in your space you’ll end up hating it.

This is definitely not an inclusive list, but these are just some typical questions I get asked. What questions do you have?