Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tessa Meets the Corona Excalibur Brush

This is Tessa.  She looks cute, I'll give her that.  But behind those eyes lurks a bizarre sense of humor and a complete lack of fear and forethought.  

See, a week and a half ago, she microwaved something for 30 minutes or more.  The entire kitchen filled with black smoke and my wife and I spent nearly 5 hours (till 2:30 in the morning) scrubbing and cleaning and washing and airing out the home.  

That was bad enough, but then last night, Tessa almost pushed things over the top.  Almost. She was thwarted in her attempts because of a wise purchase I had made a few hours earlier.

Allow me to explain:  A couple nights ago I started a paint project in our kitchen. I had finished most of the work on that first night and last night, I decided to finish up by painting some chalkboard paint on a small area on the wall so my wife could make notes, keep a small grocery list or whatever.

Anyway, that was last night's project and before I left RepcoLite at the end of the day, I walked through the aisles picking up the supplies I was going to need. I grabbed some tape, a roller, some primer for another project and then, finally, I ended up in the brush aisle.

Now, you may remember another blog post where I wrote about a particular brush that I really love—the Chinex Excalibur brush from Corona. It's a great brush—it cleans up easily, it applies paint beautifully and in every other way, it's been the best brush I've ever owned. I've talked about it on the radio, I've written about it, and I've plugged it to our customers over and over and over again. I love it. Actually, I LOVED it.

See, about a month ago, I wrecked mine. I used it for polyurethane and forgot to clean it up. I found it a few days later, lying face down on my workbench. It was a terrible loss—an inglorious end for such a magnificent tool—and I've been mad at myself ever since.

Anyway, back to yesterday: I was walking through the aisles at RepcoLite and I came to the brushes.  My first inclination—since I'm trying to watch what I spend—was to pick up the cheap brush for my paint job that night. I could get a $7 brush, get a couple uses out of it and toss it. I was just about to do that when I saw a new Chinex Excalibur brush on the shelf. That made me pause. I debated back and forth for a while and finally settled on the more expensive brush—exactly the same as the one I had wrecked a month or so ago.

I felt a little bad about spending the extra money . . . but before long I was at home working—applying my black chalkboard paint to the wall using my new brush.

Well, everything went well:  I finished the project quickly and started to wash out my new brush and put my stuff away for the night. I had only run the brush under the tap for about 30 seconds when one of the kids hollered for my attention. When they didn't quit, I quickly spun the brush in my hands to remove the excess water and I set it on the counter planning to come back later and rinse it a little better.

5 minutes later, after dealing with the kid who needed help, I came back to finish my brush cleaning job and discovered the brush was missing. I looked everywhere. It was nowhere to be found. So I did what I always do when I can't find something: I called for the kids and asked who took it.

Well, it didn't take long for Tessa (ahh, back to Tessa)—the one who microwaved our kitchen a couple nights ago—to come slinking out of the living room with my brush in her hands.

When she gave it to me, I asked her what she had been doing with it. She answered, as all kids everywhere answer: “nothing” and then she quickly tried to leave.

Well, something wasn't quite right, so I pressed the issue: “were you brushing things in the living room?”

She looked down, up, sideways—everywhere except at me—and finally answered: “yes.”

Well, that made me nervous—she'd been brushing in the living room with a brush that I'd just had black paint in and which I had only rinsed out for a few seconds before putting down on the counter . . . and then I moved beyond nervous when a horrible thought hit me: we had just received new chairs from my inlaws. The only new things in our home right now. The only things that really could be damaged or wrecked by a little kid with a paint brush.

I gulped and asked the question I didn't want to ask: “Did you brush the chairs?”

Tessa looked at me . . . debated . . . I could see the turmoil in her little crazy 5 year old kid eyes . . . and then she finally answered: “Well, Hannah told me to do it.”

Now, this is Hannah.  She's 3 years old. Would you listen to Hannah if she told you to do something?  No.  Nobody in their right mind would listen to Hannah on matters of grave importance. Why Tessa routinely chooses to listen to her is something that I cannot even begin to understand.  However, at that particular moment, I wasn't even thinking about it. I was thinking about all the different tricks I know to help me get black paint out of light fabric. That is, I was thinking about those things until I got to the chairs and noticed something amazing: they were completely clean.

Tessa even showed me where she brushed them. I turned on all the lights, examined them closely, and still . . . no paint. Not a smudge . . . not even a watered-down. gray streak. Nothing.

Well, naturally, I grabbed the brush and looked it over . . . and I realized how wise my purchase at RepcoLite earlier had been: the brush was perfectly—absolutely—clean.

I had only given it a quick, 30 second rinse in the sink. I had been pulled away from my task before I could adequately clean it. And yet, because of the special nature of the bristles used in this brush . . . that 30 seconds had been enough to rinse away every single last ounce of black paint. In fact, after just 30 seconds under running water this brush was clean enough to brush over brand new chairs and not leave a mark.

Now, I wouldn't recommend trying that. In fact, I'll never intentionally try it again . . . but I will, one more time, recommend the corona excalibur brush as THE best brush I've ever owned. Do yourself a favor . . . and pick one up. Drop the money just once and you're not going to be sorry.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Tis the Season for Squirrel Feet

Christmas is rapidly approaching and as we all struggle with the pressures of finding the perfect gifts for our friends and family, I thought I'd take a post or two and highlight some of the most amazingly thoughtful and original gifts floating around the internet.

Squirrel Feet Earrings

***SPECIAL NOTE:  This is a joke.  We do not sell, condone the selling, or even recommend the selling of Squirrel Feet Earrings.  They are gross, inhumane and unbecoming for a lady.***
Maybe your wife (like mine) gets a little misty-eyed over those stupid Kay Jewelers commercials. You know, the ones where the guy in the scene pulls a little gift-wrapped jewelry box out of his pocket and makes his wife or girlfriend collapse in his arms in a rush of gooey emotions?  Yeah, those.

Well, I see those and then I look over at my wife--and she's sitting there looking at me and smiling.  She'd like diamond earrings or a diamond this or that.  But come on, really, when you boil it all down, what's more impersonal than diamonds?  It's the gift--come on, guys, you know it's true--it's the thing we buy because we either ran out of time, we forgot to buy something, or we had no idea what to buy.  If any one of those three things happen--or any combination of them--we opt for the quick trip to the jewelers and we pick up something with the word "diamond" in it.  It takes no time, no thought, no creativity.  It's impersonal to say the least.

But that's not the case when it comes to this gift for your jewelery-loving wife or girlfriend:  Squirrel Feet Earrings.  A gift like this takes thought and time--you can't just stroll into Kay Jewelers and pick out a pair in black and a pair in brown.  You've got to search for them.  You can look online or, you can get crafty and start looking along the sides of city streets.  Either way, it's a Christmas gift with that old-fashioned, "I-made-it-myself-just-for-you" kind of appeal.  And best of all, if you wrap a pair of these beauties and drop them under the tree, you'll never have to worry about that awkward moment when she unwraps them and lets you know that she already has a pair just like them.  No--she may have a hundred pairs of earrings, but I can almost guarantee you, she doesn't have a pair like this.

The Octodog Hot Dog Converter
Here's one the whole family will enjoy:  the Octodog Hot Dog Converter.  (Yay!)  Now, many of you may be asking, "What is an Octodog?"  Well, for the uninformed, it's a hot dog that's all chopped up so that it looks like an octopus (see the picture).  According to the website manufacturing the Octodog Hot Dog Converter, this is "all the rage right now amongst Hot Dog Connoisseurs".  And, they go on to point out:  "kids love 'em."

Yeah, I don't know about you, but I'm bringing back the video games we purchased and the other toys and the books and I'm swapping them all for Octodog Hot Dog Converters.  Can't you just imagine the raw joy on the kids faces when they rip open those brightly-colored Christmas packages and discover that they each have their own Octodog Hot Dog Converter?  I'll probably have to pick up a pack or two of hot dogs for them and then we'll spend the rest of the day converting hot dogs into processed beef/chicken/pork/mystery meat monsters!

This gift has everything:  it's creative, it's fun AND it teaches the kids the value of hard work.  Really, what's better for their young, impressionable minds than working in the kitchen, crafting a delicious Christmas meal for their family with their new Christmas presents?  And really, when you look at the picture, don't those Octodogs just look delicious?  My mouth is watering already as I imagine myself slurping down those wiggly hot dog tentacles come Christmas morning....

Monday, November 22, 2010

5 Simple Projects that Will Instantly Spruce Up Your Bookcases!

One of the Christmas projects I'm working on this year is a simple bookcase for my kids.  They love to read and I thought it'd be a great way for them to organize their books and keep them within easy reach (without letting them clutter up every corner of our home!).

So I went to work designing a straightforward bookcase that will have six shelves--one for each child and then one "everybody" shelf for the massive quantities of books we bring home from the library.

Everything was cruising along well with this project until I came to the way I was going to finish the piece.  Now, all along, I'd planned on just painting it a single color and then maybe distressing it a little bit.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how boring that was.  So I started looking around the internet and doing some thinking on my own and I came up with a number of options that have a ton of potential.  What do you think?

1.  Bring in a New Paint Color
OK, this one isn't really all that ground-breaking . . . but it's a place to start.  With this idea, rather than paint the bookcase one solid color, go ahead and paint the backer--the area behind the shelves--a darker or contrasting color.
I've seen bookcases online where the backers have been painted bright green, pink, red, blue, or any other bright color.  I've also seen built-ins or bookcases like the one at the right where the backer color is much more subtle.

Whatever you decide to do--bright color or subtle shades--a different paint color on the backer can add a ton of visual interest to a piece that otherwise might have seemed quite boring.
  • Quick Tip:  Also, don't lock yourself into using just one color back there, either!  If the concept would work for you (as it would with my bookcase), don't be afraid to paint different parts of the backer different colors.  In my case, I could make the backer behind each child's shelf a different color.  
2.  Bring in the Wallpaper!
Another great way to infuse your bookcases with some visual pop is to simply install some extra wallpaper on the backer.  It's a quick project--would take very little time and cost very little money--but as you can see, it will definitely help you create something unique and interesting out of even the most simple bookcase.

And again, as was the case above, don't limit this idea to bookcases--this would work for any built-in you own.  It also works beautifully in glass door cabinets.

3.  What About Fabric?
If wallpaper would work as an interesting backer for a bookcase, then so would fabric.  While wallpaper will create an interesting and warmer look, nothing warms and softens an area quite like fabric.  Sure, depending on the type of fabric you find, you may need to experiment with some different glues, but the end results would be worth it.
And don't limit yourself here.  I've seen some interesting cabinets where the back walls were lined with old potato sacks--complete with black lettering.  So check out those fabric stores and craft spots, but don't forget to branch out and hit the antique malls and junk shops and flea markets. 

4.  Cork Board and Thumb Tacks
Once the idea of putting fabric up behind the shelves crossed my mind, the very next idea that came up was some sort of bulletin board.  And that led to me to those rolls of cork board you can buy (very inexpensively) at any hobby or craft store.
While unusual for the backer of a bookcase, I can't help but think that they'd work out great and would provide a huge amount of visual interest while at the same time offering a wide range of personalization options.

After cutting and gluing the cork to the backer of the bookcase, all I'd need to do is provide the kids with some thumbtacks and let them go nuts.  They could post lists of their favorite books, they could pin up postcards or letters or photos.  They could hang drawings they've made, notes they want to keep or even a small calendar.  The possibilities are endless and would give them an opportunity to make "their shelf" truly theirs.

5.  Temporary Holiday Bookcases with Wrapping Paper.
Since the Holidays are rapidly closing in on all of us, I found myself wondering if there was a Holiday Decorating aspect to all of this.  You know, a fun, Holiday-themed design you could put on the backers of built-ins or bookcases or cabinets throughout your home.

Well, even though I thought the idea had merit, I discounted it for one main reason:  nobody wants to go and put up holiday-themed stuff all over the backs of their cabinets and then have to live with it all year or go through all the work taking it down just a month later.

But then I hit on the perfect solution:  Temporary Backers!  

All you'd need to do is cut some cheap foamboard or matte board (picked up from your local hobby store) to fit snuggly in that rectangular opening behind each of your shelves.  Then, once you've got this piece cut to fit, go ahead and wrap it with Christmas wrapping paper.  Pick a great design--something that will blend with the decor in your home--and wrap those panels you created.

From there, all you need to do is place them in that area behind your shelves.  If you cut them to fit snuggly, they should wedge in there nicely without needing any kind of adhesive at all.

When the Holiday's are over, all you need to do to remove them is pull them out.  If they're wedged in too tightly to do that easily, either carefully slice a chunk out of it with a razor knife or carefully turn a screw into the board and use this to pull the panel out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Must-Have Tools for Every Homeowner

Many of the common home improvement jobs we run into during the course of owning a home are of the small variety:  little touch-ups on our trim, patching some dinged-up drywall, and stuff like that.

In and of themselves, these jobs take 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there.  But, unfortunately, many of these little jobs require some specific tools.  If we don't have the right tools on hand, the tendency is to put the job off, to wait on it until we get the right supplies.

And when we do that, it doesn't take long for the jobs to pile up into mountains of work.  Suddenly the 20 minute job is joined by 14 other 20 minute jobs and we find ourselves looking at hours and hours of work.

Having the right tools on hand means you can accomplish jobs quickly and easily.  You can basically cross them off your "To-Do" list before you even put them on.  And best of all, compiling this "emergency kit" of "Must-Have" tools should cost as little as $50.

Let's Get to the List

ROLLER FRAMES.  We recommend that you have at least one 9" roller frame and one 4" roller frame in your kit.  Most folks already have one or more of these, but if you don't, then you'll want to make sure you pick up one or more.  Having a 9" roller frame is great for those larger areas you need to paint.  And the 4" frame is perfect for small jobs and touch-ups.

ROLLER COVERS.  Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that your roller frames are only going to be useful if you've got a couple covers to go on them.  At RepcoLite, we recommend that you have at least one 9" cover and one 4" cover on hand at all times.  And, if at all possible, make sure they're new.  Used roller covers can work out OK for priming, but if you're trying to do any touch-ups or repainting, you'll want a brand new roller cover.

9" ROLLER TRAYS.  Most folks have a roller tray or two sitting around in their basement or their work room or possibly even their garage.  However, if you're not one of those people, then get your hands on one.  You could purchase a standard metal tray (which works well with cheap, disposable tray liners) or you could opt for a cheaper plastic tray like the one pictured at the left.

4" ROLLER TRAY.  Besides making sure you have a standard 9" roller tray on hand, you should also buy a handful of disposable 4" trays as well.  These 4" trays are great for all sorts of little touch-up work and other small projects.  They clean up well and will easily last you through 3 or more paint jobs.  Best of all, they usually retail for just over $1.00.

THE CHINEX EXCALIBUR BRUSH from CORONA.  OK, this is the one area where we'd recommend that you splurge a little.  This brush from Corona is comprised of special filaments that are chemically engineered to release latex paints.  This means a couple of things.  First, the brush will apply latex paints remarkably well.  Secondly (and more importantly, in my book), this means the brush will clean up easily.  Literally, you can swirl this brush around in a bucket of water for about 30 seconds and then run it under a tap for 10-15 seconds more and it will be perfectly clean.  That's why we recommend it for your "Emergency Kit".  The ease with which it cleans up makes it less of a pain for you to switch colors and accomplish multiple little touch-ups quickly and easily.

SPACKLING COMPOUND.  Another key component for your "Home Repair Emergency Kit" is an 8 oz containter of White Lightning Lightweight Spackling Compound.  It's easy to work with, it dries quickly and resists shrinking and, best of all, it's a breeze to sand!  Having a tub of this stuff on hand at all times means you're always ready to patch a ding in your drywall or fill nail holes.
PUTTY KNIVES.  If you're going to stock up on a little bit of spackling compound, then you better get a few putty knives to go with it.  Now, if you want some high-quality knives, you can buy them at RepcoLite for about $5.00 - $7.00 or so.  But if you want something cheaper for your "Emergency Kit", look into the plastic knives we stock.  Oh, they're not going to last forever, but if you're just filling a few holes or doing a little puttying, they'll be fine.  You can purchase them in 1", 2" and 3" sizes--each one less than $1.00.

6" and 10" JOINT KNIVES.  However, though plastic knives will work out alright for most patching work, you'll probably want to invest in one or two drywall joint knives.  These are 6" or 10" knives that run between $4.50 and $7.25 and they're very handy to have if you're filling any large areas--a definite must-have in your kit.

TAPE.  Always have a roll of safe-release painter's blue tape from 3M around.  Sure, you could purchase cheaper rolls of tape, but the safe-release tape is nice because it can be used on so many different surfaces.  It's the only tape I know of that can perform well on walls, trim, freshly painted areas, and wallpaper.  Regular tape is limited as to where it can be used, but the safe-release 3M tape can be used in almost any situation you encounter.  And, as an added benefit, this tape offers remarkably crisp cut-in lines. 

DROPCLOTHS.  Besides masking tape, we'd also recommend that you purchase a 12' x 15' or  so plastic dropcloth.  These aren't expensive and they can be used for any number of little jobs that come up:  from protecting your floors while you're painting to protecting your furniture from dust if you're doing any remodeling.

SANDPAPER.  One of the easiest tools to overlook is sandpaper, yet it's something that we used in many typical home repair projects.  Whether you're repainting, patching walls, or painting furniture, sandpaper plays a critical role in the process.  So get your hands on six to ten sheets of 220 grit, 150 grit, and 120 grit paper.  Those are the most commonly used grits and having a stock of each one on hand will help you out immensely.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sheep from Norway and Web-Based Color Tools

Sometimes, the most difficult part of the painting process is picking the right colors.  After all, nobody wants to spend money and time on a project only to end up with colors they don't like all over their walls.  For that matter, nobody wants to spend time and money on a project only to end up with colors that they "like" on their walls.  We want to go through the work of that painting process and end up with results we love

And so, many would-be home re-decorators find themselves bogged down in the very first step of the painting process:  color selection.  Because really, it's all about color.  If you put the right combination of colors together, the project turns out great.  Use the wrong colors and it's not going to matter whether or not you used the highest quality paints, the best brushes and roller covers made from the wool of spotless sheep raised in the pristine, picturesque landscapes of Norway (or wherever).  All the fancy tools and quality paints in the world can't save you from a bad color combo.  

Color's critical to every paint project and finding your inspiration isn't always easy.  As a result, many people start a project expecting to make big changes in their home.  By the end of the project, however, they find that they've fallen back into old standards they've become comfortable with.  They know those color schemes worked in their home and they know they're safe.  But we also all know that "safe" isn't always fun.  

Finding new colors, new combinations, exciting themes seems tricky, but it doesn't need to be.  In fact, the internet is filled with great color tools that will help you visualize color combinations you may never have thought of before.  These tools are designed for various purposes, but all of them can be used by the savvy home re-decorator to narrow down her colors, and, most importantly, to help her step outside of her standard color schemes. 

Benjamin Moore's Color Chooser
The first online tool I want to recommend to you is the Benjamin Moore Color Chooser.  This is a standard tool designed specifically for selecting paint color combinations.  

When you click the link, you'll be taken to a page where you can create your own projects, store colors and do all kinds of other tasks.  But the main thrust of the site is to allow you to pick from a variety of sample room photos and then fill in the walls, the trim, the ceilings with the Benjamin Moore Colors of your choice.  You'll be able to see how the colors interact with each other and you'll get an idea about what certain color combos might look like in your home.

Spin the Color Wheel
Another great tool is called Spin the Color Wheel.  And while it sounds like a game show, you're not going to win any prizes here (except maybe a cool color scheme for your bathroom).

Spin the Color Wheel is actually a tool that's designed to help web-designers find perfect color schemes for, well, websites.  And it's actually kind of fun.  (Even without the prizes.  Or Pat Sajak.  Or the crowd chanting "Spin. The. Wheel!")

You just go to the site and click the "Spin the Color Wheel" button on the right.  When you do so, you'll be presented with 3 random color samples.  If you don't like any of them, you can "spin again".  If you like one or two of them, you can press a little "hold" button.  This will lock this color down so it doesn't change with subsequent spins of the wheel.

After going through it a couple times, I found 3 or 4 color schemes that I thought were pretty interesting (one of which is displayed in the picture above). Oh, they may need a little tweaking here and there, but still . . . I went from having no idea what colors to choose or what would look good together to having 3 or 4 places to start from.

The Color Wizard
The Color Wizard is another web-designer tool.  But, just like the Color Wheel one we just talked about, the Color Wizard can help you narrow down paint colors and discover new themes.  

This one works based on some RED, GREEN and BLUE sliders.  You just drag the sliders from left to right and your color samples change.  Sounds pretty basic, right?  Well, there's an interesting twist to this site that makes it worth checking out:  using a selection panel on the left of the color sample window, you can select different types of color schemes.  You can select Complimentary Colors and the options you receive when you drag the sliders will represent complimentary colors on a color wheel.  Or, you could select Analagous Colors and you'll be presented with samples that are strictly analagous.  It's a great way to explore color, and, like the other tools I mentioned above, it's a great way to jump start your creative mind and help you discover color schemes you may never have considered before.

All in All...
All in all, tools like these are great ways for nervous or newbie decorators to discover color schemes and open their eyes to the wide world of color.  However, I'd recommend a couple cautions.

First, remember that the colors you see on your screen (especially when using the Benjamin Moore color chooser or any other paint-related color tool) are not necessarily accurate representations of the color in real life.  Your monitor may show colors with a greener tint than they really have, or maybe a redder tone.  In real life, when you see the chips you thought looked so good on the computer, you might find that they don't look good at all.  

But don't despair!  Use the color selection tools on the internet for a basis for color selection.  If you saw a great tan, blue and green combination, but don't like the color chips when you see them in real life, then find other chips that come close to the colors as you saw them on your monitor.  

A second caution I'd urge is this:  the web-designer tools are not going to present you with nice and tidy paint chip references.  Instead, you're going to get color names like "#FF7700" or the ever popular "#D1BEAD".  These are web colors and web-designers and other geeks know what they mean.  If you go into a paint store with those numbers, you're going to get a lot of blank stares.  So, use those colors as starting points.  Use them to figure out what colors you like to see together and then, when you go to the paint store, do your best to recreate what you found.  Good luck, have fun . . . and most importantly, get painting!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Silicone Caulk: The Cheese Grater of the Home Improvement World

OK, that title is convoluted at best.  But it's more attention-grabbing than the first title I tossed up there:  Silicone Caulk--Use With CAUTION.  Yeah, after typing that, I almost fell asleep.  So I changed the title in the hopes of infusing it with energy and lively interest.

Anyway, if you read the earlier post about cheese graters, you'll realize what I'm getting at here.  If you missed the post about cheese graters . . . well, you need to check it out (here!).

The point of that post was to poke fun at myself and stress the point that there are certain items out there . . . in the wide, scary world . . . that look innocent, but can really screw up your day.  Cheese graters and dental picks are just a couple.

Today, we're shifting back into the world of home improvements and were going to talk, as the title suggests, about the Cheese Grater of the Home Improvement World:  Silicone Caulk.

See, silicone caulk, if you're not familiar with it, is a type of caulk that sticks tenaciously to almost any surface.  It's also extremely water resistant.  Those two qualities make it tremendously useful . . . but also, "sneakily" dangerous.

Let me explain:  silicone caulk is so resistant to almost everything, that nothing . . . NOTHING . . . will stick to it.  It repels water, moisture, paint and even itself.  And that's where the danger lies.

Every now and then, folks pick up a tube of silicone caulk by accident at a home improvement warehouse.  They just wander down an aisle, grab a tube and take it home.  Then, they go ahead and do all their caulking.  They caulk around their woodwork, around their windows, around their crown molding . . . they caulk everywhere.

And then, after all that work is done, they start painting.  And that's when they notice that the paint doesn't seem to be sticking.  At all.  Wherever they applied their caulk, they discover the paint won't adhere.

Now normally, when this happens, people are sad.  They're frustrated.  They're angry.  But they're usually not flipping out yet.  And this is because they don't understand the nature of silicone caulk.  They figure they'll just buy some new caulk--some paintable caulk--and they'll put that over the silicone.  Or, worst-case-scenario, they'll prime all the silicone caulk with a special primer before they paint.  Either way, they figure there's a relatively simple solution.

But unfortunately, there's not.  As I mentioned earlier, nothing will stick to silicone caulk.  I even used ALL CAPS to express that idea.  Nothing will stick to silicone--not even silicone.  And that means the only way to truly fix the problem is to remove the caulk.  Completely.  

Now, for some people, caulking and painting a room is bad enough.  Not everybody wakes up every morning, just longing for another paint job to accomplish.  But even if you like painting and caulking, nobody likes caulking, painting, discovering a problem, removing the caulk, scrubbing the walls, re-caulking and finally re-painting.  That's just no fun at all.  

And that's why I'm suggesting that silicone caulk needs to be used with caution.  In the right situation, it can't be beat.  In a bathroom, between your tub surround and your tub, it's ideal.  But in an area where you plan to do some painting . . . avoid it like the plague. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cheese Graters and Dental Picks

There are some products or items that should only be used with extreme caution and with a full understanding of the ramifications. 

Case in point:  cheese graters.  I've sliced up a finger and two knuckles just this past week alone.  And really, honestly, that's only half the inconvenience.  The other half is trying to find all of the knuckle-skin I've shredded off without letting anybody else know what I'm doing.

You know how it goes:  you're standing in the kitchen, helping your wife make pizzas for the family on a Saturday night and you drag your knuckle over the cheese grater.  Instantly, quickly and easily, a nice hunk of flesh is removed and deposited in the pile of grated cheese.

When that happens, you gasp, grab your bleeding knuckle and try to staunch the flow of blood.  And while you're doing that, your wife (who's standing there rolling out the pizza dough), asks what happened.

You look at your hand, see the quarter-inch-sized patch of missing skin and then your eyes drift over the mounds and mounds of mozzarella cheese on the counter.  And of course you say: "Oh, nothing."

And then, you start sifting through the grated cheese--nonchalantly, trying to keep things on the low down--as you look for the part of you that the cheese grater lopped off.

But inevitably, when you start that, your wife clues in to what's going on (you know how wives are--they have this sixth sense when it comes to hunks of skin being randomly shredded into the pizza cheese) and she says, "Oh, don't tell me you lopped off another big hunk of skin into our cheese...."

And just the way she says it makes you feel stupid and disgusting--repulsive.  It's almost as if she thinks you did this on purpose.  As if the sole purpose of helping grate the cheese is because you're looking for your chance . . . your opportunity to grate your knuckles off into everybody's pizza cheese.  (I don't know about you, but nothing sounds better to me on a Saturday night than a good movie and some "me time" spent resting, relaxing and grating thick layers of my knuckle-skin into the mozzarella cheese.)

Anyway, as I pointed out at the beginning, there are certain products, items or tools that should be used with extreme caution.  One of these is the common cheese grater.  Another of these items is the dental pick--you know, the little metal hook or scraper that dentists use to scrape plaque off your teeth?  Yes.  Those things.  You need to exercise extreme caution when using those.  

See, the other day, while wandering around Meijers, I discovered that you could purchase these tools for yourself:  for $5 or so, you could buy a kit that came with a little handheld dentist mirror and two metal scraper/pick things.  Well, naturally, I thought that was really cool--it'd be like being your own dentist--and so I bought a pack.  After all, this $5 purchase could well save me hundreds of dollars down the road if I could pull it off.

Anyway, I bought a pack and spent the rest of the day thinking about them.  When I arrived home that night, I grabbed my new purchase and made my way excitedly to the bathroom to begin doing dental work on myself.

I moved in front of the mirror, flicked on every light in the bathroom, opened my mouth wide and started poking around inside with the metal pick.  It was an amazing experience.  I felt important.  I felt "dentisty".  And then, I felt pain.

See, I started scraping at what I thought might be plaque and the tool slipped.  It bounced off my tooth and firmly embedded itself, point first, into my gum.  Just below my tooth.

And of course, as I stood there with my hands in my mouth and my little hand-held dentist mirror trembling in my now shaky hands, trying to figure out how deeply the pick was imbedded in my now bleeding (profusely) gums, my wife started hammering on the door. 

"What are you doing in there?  Can I come in?  What's going on?  Are you crying?"  You know, all kinds of questions, fired at me machine-gun-style.

I just shouted "I'b fide.  I'b nob do-id anydin.  Bud dobe cub in . . . ."

In the end, the whole thing was just like being at the dentist:  I was bleeding, my teeth and gums hurt, I was forced to talk with fingers and tools in my mouth . . . and when my wife walked in and saw what I was doing, she gave me the same look of pity mingled with disgust the dental assistants always give me when they tell me I should floss regularly.

So there you go:  dental picks and cheese graters.  Two tools or products you shouldn't use without understanding the risk.  Next time we'll take this topic and apply it to home improvement stuff.  We'll talk about some commonly used items which commonly cause problems.  And we'll talk about how you can avoid those mistakes in your own home.  Until then, leave the dentistry to the dentists and don't eat pizza until you've given it a good once-over.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Little Color Here, A Little Color There

Many times, people think that in order to create a room with some "visual pop", they're going to need to pop open a gallon of Safety Orange paint and roll it all over their walls.  

We tend to view that big transition from the world of "neutral" to the world of "color" as being . . . for lack of a better word . . . violent.  And not everybody is up to the challenge.  Not everybody has the intestinal fortitude to make such a bold shift.  And so, as a result, there's often a feeling of frustration that builds in the home decorator who's trying to make the change. 

There's the desire to step out into the world of color, but there's the fear they will go too far, lose control of the color and  let it overpower their room. 

And so, in the end, what often happens is this:  the people on the verge . . . the ones who'd like to bring in color, but who are a little nervous, usually end up reverting to whatever was on their walls in the first place.  Maybe they try for a darker tan than they had before, but typically, they stay in the same, safe color range.  When the room is finished and the new paint is dry, they often feel a little sense of disappointment--it doesn't look terribly different from the original.  It's safe.  It feels boring and blank.  And yet the alternative--walls splashed with Fuschia and Teal and Turquoise and Lime Green--seems too crazy, too schizophrenic.  And so, they come to despise home decorating projects.

Well, if you've ever found yourself in that place--if you've ever wanted to step out boldly with color, but have been too nervous to try it . . . well, I've got good news:  It can be remarkably easy and, most importantly, SAFE.  All you need to do is this:  bring your color in with accessories.

It's a simple solution and it's used by Designers and Professional Decorators all the time.  It's the ideal way for those just stepping into the world of color to get their feet wet.  You simply find a nice, calm, reasonable, safe neutral tone for your walls and then spice it up with accessories.   

Paint some of your boring picture frames bright pink and green.  Maybe stripe a couple of them and mount them.  Or maybe, take a look at your dresser.  Maybe you don't want to paint the whole thing, but what would happen if you painted two of the drawers?  Or, what if you'd paint just the top?  

Pick up some simple shelves and splash them with a bright color and you'll be amazed how much character they display.  These simple, boring, run-of-the-mill shelves suddenly look like designer pieces when we see them in a pink or a bright yellow.

And what about that boring lamp on the desk?  What if you'd paint the base white or neutral and then pick up a bright lampshade?  Or, reverse that:  keep the lampshade white and simple and paint the base a bright color.  

One of the most impressive uses of color in a small room that I've ever seen is pictured above.   They made perfect use of this concept:  the walls are a light, neutral green.  They're safe.  Simple.  Dangerously boring.  But then, the designers added the dark brown bedspread and the brown picture frames.  These constituted another earthy color, another safe choice, but they added to the overall effect. 

The bench with the darker green stripes goes even farther towards adding some visual interest, but I think it's easy to see that even then, the whole room has a very safe feel to it.

And then there's the bed.  The bright green on the bed suddenly gives the room a shot of life.  It makes it vibrant, exciting . . . the kind of place you walk by and then walk back to so you can take a longer look.  

And the reason it works so well is twofold:  first, the green is so bright and bold that it instantly grabs your attention.  Secondly (and more importantly), the green is in the last place we'd normally think to look.  In a normal situation, the bed might be brown and the frames might be lime green along with the legs of the bench.  And if that were the case, I don't think the room would have it's flair . . . it wouldn't make the statement that it does here.

But instead of doing that, these designers "messed with" our expectations and, in so doing, by putting the color in the last place we'd expect to see it, they created something that really stands out. The color in the room isn't overpowering, but the intelligent, controlled use of the bright green pumps vibrant life into the setting.  

And that's what I'm talking about.  You don't need to go crazy and cover your walls with  circus colors in order to spruce up your rooms and infuse them with energy.  You can do it through accessories, through the compelling choices of bright colors and interesting items, through the intelligent, well-thought out placement of these colors in areas we might not usually expect them.  Remember, you don't need a room full of color to make a statement.  You just need the right colors in the right locations.

Give it a try!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Quick Hitter" Project 2: Striped Frames (Child Not Included)

I found the picture frame at the left when I was cruising around the internet.  It was pretty much the type of frame I needed for a particular project I had in mind.

However, there were two problems:  first off, the frame I found, the one in the picture here, came in that color green.  And that's the wrong color green.  I needed a slightly darker, less olive green than what's pictured here.

But that's not important.  Color's not important, because the second problem with this frame was that the asking price was . . . wait for it . . . $120.  Yes.  Apparently, the child in the photo comes with the frame.

Needless to say, when I saw the $120 price tag, I quite naturally backed off and closed the computer down for fear that I might mistakenly bump a couple of keys and put that obscenely-expensive frame into "my cart."

A couple days later, I was back, looking for more frames.  And I found them.  And this time, they were a real bargain:  only $40.  They looked nice and were mostly (again) what I wanted . . . though the colors weren't perfect and the price was still (in my opinion) high.  

I was just about to toss them into "my cart" when inspiration hit me:  I work at RepcoLite.  I deal with paint all day long.  Why in the world would I buy a frame like that for $120 or even for $40 when I could turn a frame I already own into the same thing for free?  

See, I've got the perfect frame at home--it's just got a gold-leaf look to it and I don't want that anymore.  I also have a couple quarts of two different greens at home because I painted a dresser earlier this year for the same room.  From there, I put it all together and came up with a great, quick, simple, money-saving project that I'm going to pass along to you as today's "Quick Hitter."

What You'll Need:
  • 2 quarts Hallmark Ceramic paint in your desired colors (check your basement shelves or stop out at RepcoLite!)
  • 1 can of flat black spray paint  
  • 1 picture frame
  • Sandpaper
  • Brush
  • 3M Safety Release Blue Painter's Tape 
  • Old newspaper or a plastic dropcloth to protect your work area.

How to Do It:
This project is about as simple as it gets.  Just start by doing a light scuff sanding of your picture frame (with the glass removed, of course).  Just dust over it to take some of the shine down--you're not trying to bring it down to bare wood! 

Once you've done that, wipe it clean with a dry rag.

After wiping it down, place the frame on a large sheet of plastic and spray paint it lightly with your FLAT black spray paint.  Don't try to make the first coat cover if it doesn't seem to want to.  Multiple light coats are much better than a single heavy coat.  

Once the frame is coated solidly black and is completely dry, take your lighter color of Hallmark paint and apply it to the entire frame.  If you need a second coat, apply it when the first coat has finished.

Now, once that initial color has dried (overnight to be safe), take your special 1" Safe Release 3M Painter's Tape (you'll notice it should have an ORANGE cardboard core) and apply it in straight lines down your frame.  

To mimic the look of the frame above, just run the tape down the parts or areas of the frame where you want the original color--the lighter color you first painted--to show through.  Leave the other areas untaped and  paint over them with your darker color.  As soon as you've finished, carefully remove the tape.  You don't want to pull it too quickly or it could lift your original coat of paint off.  (And, just a quick note:  that's why we recommend using 3M's Safe Release Blue Tape.  Any other tape is lightly going to cause problems).
Once you've removed your tape (and have let the frame dry), you should have a chic, hip and happening striped frame that you can incorporate into your decorating.  If you want to get fancier yet, go ahead and scuff the frame slightly to distress it, bringing out the undercoat of black along the edges.

Conclusion and Suggestions
Now, possibly, this project sounds complicated and long, but let me assure you:  it's not.  You should be able to easily accomplish it with a total work time of about 1 hour per frame (at the very most).  Doing multiple frames at the same times will also save you a fair amount of time.

And finally, if you decide to give this project a try, go ahead and get creative beyond the scope that I've already described: Alternate the color patterns on multiple frames, vary the sizes of the stripes.  Run the stripes up and down on some frames and side to side on others.   Overall, just have fun with it and realize that with the right paint and a little creativity and energy, you can duplicate almost anything you see at a home decor store--for pennies on the dollar!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Quick Hitter" Project 1: Picture Frames with that "Hand-crafted" Touch

OK, for our first Quick Hitter project, we're going to look at a quick, easy, inexpensive and incredibly effective way to infuse some life and color into a boring bedroom.

What You'll Need:
  • 1 Quart Hallmark Ceramic Matte Paint from RepcoLite (it's the best, afterall!)
  • 1 Quart RepcoLite's Prime-All Waterbased Primer 
  • 1 picture frame
  • 1 scrap of wallpaper (or decorative paper) big enough to fit in frame
  • A few sheets of heavy-duty artist paper
  • Some old newspapers (to protect your work area)
  • An old paper grocery bag
  • Double-sided tape or photo adhesive

    How to Do It:
    This is a great project that will take you very little time, but that will pay off big in terms of visual "pop" in your home.

    Just start with a standard picture frame. If it's already stained and finished, then do a light sanding with some 150 grit paper and prime with RepcoLite's Waterbased Prime-All primer. Once it's dry, apply the Hallmark Ceramic Matte finish paint in whatever color you selected using either a roller or a brush.

    Set the frame aside to dry (with Hallmark, it will only take about 30 minutes or so to dry).  

    While the frame is drying, take your scrap of wallpaper or your decorative paper (picked up cheaply at any hobby store with scrapbooking supplies) and cut it to fit inside the frame.  (A simple way to do this is to save the paper insert that came with your frame.  Use this as a template).

    Anyway, cut the wallpaper or decorative paper to fit the frame and set it aside.

    Once you've got these things accomplished, it's time to create the handprint in the center.  Now, this is not a difficult process, but there are a few things to know that will make your results turn out well.  First, you've probably seen this done before (at school) where the handprint is "globby" and, well, for lack of a better word...ugly.  The reason this happens is because kids usually mash their hands down on the paper while they're covered with way, way, WAY too much paint.

    The easy way to fix that is this:  carefully brush the paint you used to paint the picture frame onto your child's hand (if you've used Hallmark Ceramic, it's perfectly harmless--though you will want to supervise for obvious reasons).  Making sure your child doesn't touch everything in site or eat the paint, help your child press his or her hand onto a paper grocery bag.  Do this a number of times until you start to see a clearly defined handprint.  Once you get to that point, shift from the paper bag to the sheets of heavy duty white artist's paper.  Help them firmly press their hand onto the paper and then help them lift their hand off without smudging the print.

    Maybe make a couple just to be sure you get a good one and, while those are drying, wash your hands and clean up your supplies.

    When everything's dry, cut the handprint paper down and tape it or affix it using photo adhesive to the center of the wallpaper scrap.  Mount everything in your frame, hang it up and there you go:  something cool, something unique, something that will serve as a great memory and something that will add some visual pop and interest to your room!

    Introducing our NEW "Quick Hitter" Feature

    RepcoLite is all about helping you turn your house into a home.  (Hence the name of our blog!).  We're all about helping you take plain rooms and, with a little paint, turn them into warm, comfortable, relaxing or exciting spaces in your home.

    With that focus in mind, we're introducing our new "Quick Hitters" feature on this blog.  These "Quick Hitters" are going to be simple projects that you can complete in a few hours.  Each one will offer pictures, how-to advice, a list of needed supplies and everything else you need to know to jump right in and accomplish the project.

    You'll be able to pull up a list of these projects by scrolling to the "Quick Hitter" tag on the right hand side of the page.

    We're hoping this new feature is going to provide you with practical, straight-forward, creative projects that will help you add some flair and excitement to any room in your home without having to drop tons of money to do so.  And, most of all, we're hoping you'll get involved.  Please add your comments to each Quick Hitter--let us know how it went for you.  Let us know if you have a better idea.  Let us know if you ran into trouble.  And, if you're really successful, we'd love for you to post pictures of your projects on our Facebook Page!

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Register to Win U of M/MSU Tickets!

    Staring today--Friday, September 24, 2010--at 3:00 in the afternoon, you can stop out at any RepcoLite or Port City location and register for your chance to win tickets to the Michigan/Michigan State game on October 9th in Ann Arbor.

    There's only one pair to give away and you've got to register on site to have a chance--so get there!  If you need directions to our locations, click here!

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    A Self-Centered Portrait of Grand Rapids

    If you've been reading this blog regularly, you realize that RepcoLite got involved with a number of Art Prize artists this year.  We worked with them and donated all the paint they needed in order to complete their projects. 

    We've already spotlighted Dan Fenelon and Michael Mayorsky.  Today, we'd like to introduce you to Brian Reeves and his one of a kind entry. 

    Brian's work is entitled a "Self-Centered Portrait of Grand Rapids" and that's exactly what it is--though probably not for the reasons you may think.  Watch the video to get a feel for what Brian's doing--it's very cool.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Meet Michael Mayorsky, Art Prize Artist

    This week, I've been spotlighting some of the ArtPrize artists who RepcoLite was fortunate enough to work with during this year's contest.  Today, I want to show you some of the work done by Michael Mayorksy.

    Michael's from Illinois and he's tackled one of the most ambitious ArtPrize projects I've seen:  a 5-story mural on the side of the Goodspeed Lofts building on Grandville Ave. in Grand Rapids.

    I stopped by and spoke with Michael yesterday and was surprised to hear that none of this painting was worked out ahead of time--none of it.  He simply pulled into Grand Rapids a couple weeks ago, took a long look at the side of the building and started painting what came to mind.

    It's an amazing piece and it's easily going to be one of the highlights of ArtPrize this year.  Be sure to get there and check it out in person.  But, in case you can't make it . . . or to whet your appetite . . . here are some shots of the work in progress.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Meet Dan Fenelon, Art Prize Artist

    ArtPrize starts tomorrow--it's a huge art competition in Grand Rapids involving, among other things, a Grand Prize of $250,000.

    It's an amazing event that will draw thousands and thousands of visitors from all over West Michigan and beyond to see the works of over 1,700 artists from all over the world.

    Today I want to briefly introduce you to one of these artists, Dan Fenelon.

    Dan's a mural artist (among other things) who's created a huge, 30' x 120' mural on the side of the Witters building in Grand Rapids. This building houses The Dwelling Place and Ferguson Dental Center and is now home to an enormous, colorful mural painted entirely with RepcoLite Paints.


    Early this summer, Dan contacted RepcoLite and made arrangements for us to supply all of the paint he'd need for this bold, bright and colorful mural. We were happy to comply and, after seeing the results, we're thrilled to be associated with Dan's work.

    So often, our exterior paint is made up in the colors of the day: clays, taupes, greys, forest greens . . . and occasional burgundy for a front door . . . you get the idea. It's not often that we get to go nuts and show people that our paint can be as bold and bright and powerful as they can imagine. It just takes some creativity and you can do wonders!

    And that's not just true in the art world. I'm hoping people will see Dan's work for Art Prize and will start to realize that they can make a powerful statement in (and on) their own homes. Oh, maybe not as bold or crazy as Dan's work--but still, something that stands head and shoulders above the crowd.

    Anyway, check out Dan's mural during Art Prize and be sure to cast your vote for him!  (And follow his progress on his blog!)

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    My First Night on the 15-Minute Home Improvement Regimen

    Well, if you haven't been reading this blog lately, you need to check out the last post.  In that one, I talked about what I think is potentially one of the best home-improvement ideas we've ever talked about:  The 15-Minute Home Improvement Regimen.

    It's a big, long name . . . but the concept behind it is extremely simple:  just take 15 minutes a day, two or three times a week, and work on some of the little projects around your home.  

    Now, you may wonder, why 15 minutes?  Why three times a week?  Why not longer?  Why not more often?

    Well, I'll tell you.  15 minutes is the perfect amount of time because it's manageable.  It's a painless amount of time to spend and it's easy to dig up an extra 15 minutes here and there.  Doing this two or three times a week is perfect because it guarantees that you'll be able to keep up on it without too much difficulty.  It won't overload you.  It won't fill you with dread.  If you set your goals or standards too high, you'll wear yourself out quickly and you'll abandon the program right away.  But if you set manageable goals, you'll be able to stick with it.  And if you do that--if you stick with it--you'll see tremendous results by the end of a year.  In fact, as we mentioned last time, if you spend 15 minutes a day for 3 days a week and do that for an entire year . . . by the end, you'll have put almost 40 hours of maintenance into your home.

    Anyway, that's the idea.  Last night, I started my own 15 minute regimen and in so doing, I quickly discovered two benefits of this idea that I hadn't anticipated. 

    Let me explain:  I finished up my RepcoLite work around 5:15 or so last night and then went out and mowed the yard.  That took another 20 minutes or so.  When that was done, I came in and asked my wife to set a timer for 15 minutes.

    Well, she looked at me with a confused look on her face and asked me what I was doing.  When I told her, explaining my plan to accomplish little jobs around the house in 15 minute increments, throughout the next year, she surprised me.  She told me she'd start the timer, but that she'd also work on little jobs she wanted to accomplish while I was working on mine.  

    I hadn't anticipated this.  In all my talk and writing about this idea, I hadn't envisioned multiple sets of hands at work.  Needless to say, I was excited.  If we both stuck to this schedule, we'd accomplish almost 80 hours of work on the home by this time next year--twice as much as I had hoped.

    That was the first discovery I made--and I urge you to keep that in mind.  Bringing your spouse into this program will instantly double your productivity.  And don't be afraid to expand from here.  I've got 5 children--4 of whom can actually do a fair amount of work when they are asked.  If we'd all commit to spending 15 minutes a night working together on little tasks--sanding some trim, cleaning a room, organizing some toys, cleaning some closets . . . if we'd all do that, we'd accomplish nearly 234 work hours on the home by the end of the year.  Pipe dream?  Possibly.  But it's definitely worth thinking about.  

    Also, before you label me some kind of child-labor proponent, let me point out that bringing your kids (and your spouse) into the work can be a good experience for all of you.  Your kids will learn the value of hard work, you'll be spending time together, and, if you keep the work time limited to 15 minutes, it's never going to be too much of a burden for any of you.  So think about it.

    Anyway, that's the first discovery I made.  The second one was just as exciting--at least to me.  

    See, when my wife set the timer, we both jumped straight into our tasks.  She went straight downstairs to start organizing a messy storage area we have down there while I headed outside to tackle our storage shed.

    When I opened the doors and looked at the mess, I realized I had a job ahead of me.  The summer had taken its toll on my barn and as a result, there were piles of bikes and scooters and extension cords all heaped over with various kids toys--bats, balls, gloves and little shovels.

    Now normally, I would have stood there for a while, staring at the mess and growing progressively more and more angry.  But last night, I didn't have that luxury.  I didn't have time to stare and get angry.  I had 15 minutes--probably 14 by now--to get that barn clean.  And so I went to work.  

    I hauled everything out, stacked it, organized it.  I threw away the garbage and swept out the grass clippings, the dirt and the dead leaves.  I worked quickly, almost nervously, because I knew that timer was going to go off any minute.  It became, in my mind, a race against time.

    And that's when I made the other discovery that surprised me:  I realized I was having fun.  I was hustling to finish the job before the buzzer.  I was up against the clock and I loved it.  

    Now, I don't know about you, but when I've got a deadline . . . time seems to fly.  When I've got all day  to accomplish something, time seems to crawl.  Last night, I accomplished that entire barn-cleaning and re-organizing in 16 minutes.  It looks great and the time it took to do it literally flew by.  My wife expressed the same thoughts when she emerged from her task.

    We both accomplished a lot of work in a short amount of time and we had fun doing it.  Tonight is our next work night.  Then, our plan is to put in another 15 minutes on Thursday and tall it a week.  I won't report our progress every night--who'd want to read that--but I'll keep reminding you of this idea from time to time because I really believe it will make a difference in your home.

    So, do yourself a favor and give it a try.  No matter what jobs you have to accomplish in your home, this is the perfect way to tackle some of them.  Try it and see for yourself:  it's painless, effective and almost . . . in a weird, race-against-the-clock-kind-of-way . . . fun.