Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Have a Stylish House and Small Children at the Same Time

I am sure you guys are sitting here after reading that title going, "Um, right Marian. Aren't those two things pretty much mutually exclusive?" In my world, yes they are. I have never figured it out. As you can see in this post, my house is always trashed. But my sweet water- colorist for the barn sale, Samantha Mattox, has unraveled that equation. She is far more brilliant than I in all matters regarding dealing with small children and their many things and messy habits. So I went over and House Crashed her place last week so I could bring her simple, inexpensive, and insanely innovative ideas to you all.

Note: This is going to be a pretty long post, so for those of you looking for something specific, and those of you who are just busy or impatient (Don't worry, I qualify for all of the above most of the time) I will add titles to each section, so you can find the type of room or ideas you are looking for quickly. Isn't that so thoughtful of me? I'm actually rather shocked I thought of it.


This is Samantha's house, your typical Northern Virgina Colonial-style townhouse. her good ideas start before you even get in the door. The fun fun landscaping with the stacked stone planting beds, liriope lined walkway, and red window box are so welcoming. And can you think of anything more cheerful than being surrounded on the step by hydrangea? So charming.

Let's go inside, shall we? 

When you walk in the door, you are greeted with all kinds of cards and paintings to suit the season. When one is "blessed" with a bathroom door in the foyer, one must be creative. She's included her children's drawings, her paintings, and various craft projects to turn this oddly placed door into a fun, seasonal collage. Off the counter and on to making the entry festive. Brilliant! 

And right next to it is a giant ruler growth chart. This was a gift made by a dear friend, but it wouldn't be hard to create yourself. All you'd need is a nice flat 1in x 6 or 8in x 6ft piece of lumber. A ruler, a few number stencils or decals, some black paint (or even a sharpie in a pinch) and you're all set! In fact, here's a cute tutorial using a shelf from Ikea. People are so ingenious.

If you walk in and turn around, here's the other view of the entry.

Right off the bat, a bunch of great ideas. In the absence of a front closet, Samantha and her husband built large shelves right against the wall and then hung pretty curtains on a rod to hide the clutter. 

To keep track of bills, assignments, favorite photos and events, Samantha made a fabric covered pin board. She said she recommends getting the cheapest one you can find at Walmart, etc because it was light enough to hang with wall mounting tape strips. Just wrap your fabric tightly around the cork board and then staple it to the back and sides. Staple opposite sides, to keep it taught, then go around the perimeter, stapling and pulling  the fabric tight and smooth as you go.  Once the fabric's attached, add your adhesive strips (following the directions on the package). Then simply stick onto the wall. So easy.

The chalkboard is fun for daily sayings, reminders or inspirational quotes and the wall mounted baskets provide a home for keys and other small, easily lost but needed items. A small, but pretty painted side table over a large basket makes a great corral for backpacks when the kids come home from school.

All these great ideas, and we're barely in the front door! Aren't you excited to see the rest?


Samantha was lucky to get a place that already had a large, open family room space. Since this is where the kids spend the most time, she chose to leave it very open in the center, to allow for pretend games, the occasional game of tag, and any other activity that a 2, 5 and 8 year old could conjure up. She did mention that while she loves the layout, the heavy shag carpet has not worked out as well as she had hoped. It has a very deep pile, so it's hard to clean and it's size makes it too heavy to shake outside. So if you have your heart set on a giant round rug, go with a low pile.

To keep as much open floor space as possible, Samantha opted for a corner armoire. It hides the TV and various components, as well as toys and other child related debris. When it's time for the TV to go off, the doors are shut and it becomes "out of sight, out of mind." A great way to cut back on whining and begging once you've said "No."

And notice that all the wood furniture in the room is painted the same crisp white. This allows Samantha to mix and match as the Craigslist gods see fit to shine on her and still have everything look cohesive, no matter it's source.

On the left side of the room, she has a comfy couch, positioned to see both the view out the large front window and the TV, when it's out. My favorite part of this section of the room is the family photo gallery that lines the walls. The white mats and soffit draw your eye right to the pictures. And rather than tightly posed, traditional portraits, Samantha has opted for not quite candids, of the family loving on each other. By using all sepia toned pictures in identical mats and frames, it gives the feel of order to this heavily used room. As well as reinforcing the warm, loving feeling Samantha is trying to teach them.

To help deal with the ocean of  toys and things that kids inevitably amass, Samantha's husband Casey, built this custom window seat. He started with the two large drawers, which were originally rolling under bed  drawers off Craigslist. Then he added the basket cubbies, and finally finished the rest of the design around recessing the cushion Samantha bought inexpensively online. So nice to have a handy husband.

Another of Casey's good "handy husband" ideas was the addition of built in recessed shelving between the studs. It serves as a book case, display area, and as a special way to keep both Samantha's mother and Casey's father, who have both passed on, close to their hearts.


Samantha is a whiz at filling her home with things that have meaning for both she and her family. No where is this more evident that in the dining room.

Don't you think she's just the cutest person?

To give a hand-me down table a more current look, Samantha chose to paint the table and chairs contrasting colors, The aqua/white combination runs throughout her public spaces in varying hues and combinations and lends a sense of coherence and lightness to the whole house. She says she just really likes aqua and white. I say, brilliant design idea.

Every surface in this room has something meaningful on it. Let's start with the biggie. The back wall.

 It's the first thing you notice when you walk in the room.

She wanted this to be a tribute to celebration while eating. Such a festive way to spend your dining hours! Everything on these large shelves relates to celebrating or eating in some way.

This piece is a framed and matted computer print out of the prayer that she and Casey used before they ate in the church choir they met in. Doesn't it look so pretty and expensive. I would never have even thought of using such a charming piece of my history to decorate with.

And Casey is an Alabama fan. Enough said.

On the right side wall is an unexpected addition to a dining room.

Yes folks, it's a piano in the dining room. But think about it. You have limited space. If you have a formal dining room, it is probably the least used room in your house. Why not put the piano in there? Especially if there's no other place for it, as is the case here.

The water color above the piano is a study Samantha did in 2003. She was trying to explore the different ways the street reflections were distorted on the front windows of her favorite restaurant. 

Here's a closer shot. The bricks just kill me. And it looks like the chandelier added it's own little distortions to Samantha's work. Sorry about that. One of these days I'll be a better photographer. Thanks for bearing with me until then.

A few more inexpensive, but clever ideas are sitting on the table. Samantha made a table runner by layering leaf shaped place mats down the center of the table. She topped this off with white ceramic pumpkins form the Target $2 section and some clean lined votive candles. The accents are linen wrapped pumpkins (that my daughter made for the last barn sale!), and over-sized resin acorns. 

Samantha even puts her walls to work.

A wall mounted wine rack keeps glass bottles out of little hands while saving limited floor space.

This simple display of plates reminds Samantha of the Girl's Day Out with dear friends in West Virginia, where she couldn't pass them up at an auction. The whole set of dishes, glasses, etc cost less than $30 and does double duty as a chic wall display and a reminder of a wonderful adventure.


What to do if you inherited a kitchen you don't love, and don't have the $ to tear it all out and start over? If you're Samantha, you work with what you have. 

First, she painted the original dark cabinets a crisp white and changed the dated hardware.

Then she bought herself some pretty dishes and bowls and took the cabinet doors off to give the illusion of more space. Casey added bead board paneling to the back splash all the way around the room to lend a feeling of cottage charm. 

I love the bird plates and mouse shaped timer over the stove. I tried really hard to get a close up shot of those, but alas, it just wouldn't come together for me.

While Samantha does have a large window in the kitchen, it is unfortunately not behind the sink. So Samantha just added another one. She changes the view seasonally by pulling out the picture and adding a new one to suit every so often. 

You could recreate this any number of ways. The easiest would be to buy a white frame, tape out the grid on the glass, and then add the picture of your choice. You could also use a real old window and add a piece of wood held in place by mirror clips screwed into the frame to keep your scenery in place.

Now I am not a big fan of baby items, but this little bottle drying rack totally caught my attention. I love that it looks like grass! What a fun thing to have on your counter. Way better than a normal drying rack. Samantha said she found it at a baby super store, like Buy Buy Baby. (One of the more obnoxious names in the history of retail).

Near the window and opposite the stove is the island. While this is convenient, it's the pas through I wanted to point out. If you have a load bearing wall, or just can't afford to take out and re-frame a whole wall, but you want to visually open up your kitchen, a pass through window could be the solution. Here's a whole show from DIY network about how to build one yourself.


See the nice flow through to the kitchen? So much better than being shut off in a closed off kitchen, especially if you have kids running around, potentially causing all kinds of mayhem. And you can see a better view of the cool table runner in the back ground.


Samantha put a ton of effort into her son Jonah's nursery. It was the first room she suggested when I brought up the idea of doing a post about her house. Let's go up there and check it out.

 Super cute for a little boy, right? 

 (My sister Sarah would love this room. Green and brown are her favorite colors. 
She likes them so much, she moved to Oregon.)

So let's start above the crib. This is one of the easiest of Samantha's ideas to recreate. If you had the stuff, you could do it in an afternoon. It might even be quick enough for a birthday party

The Jonah name banner is made of paper, vinyl stickers, grosgrain ribbon, and clothes pins.  
Samantha got some of the stickers as a set with the crib bedding. Others she had or found at craft stores. If you didn't want to bother searching for letters you could make them by using various fonts in various colors on your computer, sizing them very large, and then cutting them out by hand. 

For each letter, she traced a circle (a salad plate would be the perfect size, depending on how big your stickers were) on a piece of thicker paper, like scrapbook paper and then cut out. You put each sticker letter on in the center of each circle (or glue it if you made your own), making sure it's adhered really well. To know how much ribbon you need, lay the whole name out on the floor with the letters the distance apart you want them on the wall. Give yourself about an extra 10-12 in on each side and cut the ribbon to length. Then clip your letters to the ribbon with the clothes pins. Grab pair of push pins and stick the whole thing in the wall, one push pin for each side, taking care to push pin about 3-4in in from the end to avoid fraying the ribbon.

Another really cute idea is the bead bracelet collage she made.

Paper circles, scrapbook paper for the back ground, twine, and letter beads. So simple. You need to remember to remove the glass from the frame, as the beads will be too thick to fit under it. And don't hang these where little hands could reach out and grab them. That would not end well for the picture or the kid. 

Samantha's favorite project was the poem/scripture collage she made opposite the crib.

 What a wonderful thing for a child to grow up reading every day! 

Wanna see some detail shots?

Samantha made each piece using the alphabet letters that came with the bedding and then making any other letters she needed. The animals are all stickers. Everything else is made from scrapbook paper by hand. You can see pretty clearly how it's all put together in the bottom picture.

And I really love how she set the whole thing off with the turquoise rectangle painted on the wall behind it. You could use that idea to set off any frame collage. Imagine how cool a collage of all black and white photos matted and framed in white frames would look framed in by a red rectangle. Or a gray one. Talk about making something pop!

 And I couldn't resist showing you this last idea. The big hand in the above photo is one of the grandpa's holding Jonah's baby hand. What a lovely thing to hand down to a child. And I think the old teddy bear was Casey's. Samantha is the master at building meaning into an environment.


This room knocked my socks off. I hadn't ever been upstairs before and 
Samantha modestly says, "Do you want to do the bathroom?" I was all, "Is it cool?" 
And she opened the door to this:

Cue the angels singing. 

Um..yeah, Marian. It's cool. 
Someday I might learn.

The wall is pine boards, attached to the studs, white washed, sealed, and trimmed out. The cracks in between are filled with clear caulk, to make things more water resistant.

They tore out the tub and shower and replaced everything. I don't know if they installed the tub themselves, but they did do the tile themselves. To save some money, they went with stripes of the expensive iridescent tile to give a lavish feel, but used inexpensive white tile for the rest of the wall. Samantha said that for her, tiling was the hardest part of the reno.

I really do have a weakness for iridescent aqua tile. 
It just pushes my happy buttons every time.

I almost got out of this picture. Oh well.

Samantha got a lot of extra square footage in this room by removing a built in linen closet that was accessed from the hallway, and adding freestanding storage pieces inside the bathroom.  You can sort of see it on the left, but it really does make the room feel very open and spacious.

Love the photo of their family name in the sand.

The good ideas even extended to the ceiling where Casey installed vinyl bead board paneling to avoid any potential molding issues.

Such a pretty room.

 OK, All you long suffering people. We're almost there. 
But there's one room left. And this one's not for kids.


This room was designed to remind Casey and Samantha of their "baby moon" to:

Water colors, flowing white linens, sounds like paradise to me.

But this room didn't always look so dreamy.

They tore out one of those hideous 1970's spindle dividers and 
built this cool open shelving unit instead.

A tired, builder grade sink was replaced with a slick counter top vessel, 
accented with more luscious tile, a marble counter, and a decidedly non-builder grade brushed nickel faucet.

And they tiled the entire shower in this iridescent yumminess.

Samantha painted the canvas over the bed with the idea of creating something peaceful and soothing.

She free handed the custom monogram on the pillow with fabric paint and 
then sewed on the washable ribbon surround. If you are uncomfortable free handing the letters, you could print something out from your computer on transfer paper and then (following the package directions) apply it to the pillowcase.

Here's a few more pics from "Capri" just to make you feel restful (as if listening to me talk this long hasn't already made you tired.).

So, was that enough excellent ideas to keep you busy for a while? 
I sure hope so, because I'm beat. And I didn't even get to the art. 

Hmm...I tell you what. I'll post the art on Facebook. 
Look up either "Gathering Branches" or "CM Shaw" and it'll be there. I promise. 

But I think for now, I might just spend a little more time in Capri.