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!