Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Thrift Week Day Six: Young House Love

One of my birthday presents from my mom this year was a book by Better Homes and Gardens (aka BHG) called Do It Yourself Kitchens: Stunning Spaces on a Shoestring Budget. It shows several kitchen "remodels" (although most of them appear to be just cosmetic changes, with no appliances moved) done at different budget levels, from $1,000 to $10,000. As my regular readers will no doubt surmise, I was delighted with this present, because I absolutely love seeing how a room (or just a single piece of furniture) turned from drab to dazzling with just a tiny outlay of cash. It's almost like watching a magic trick: we take this perfectly ordinary table, adjust the height, add a little paint, put on a new top, and presto-chango, it's a gorgeous kitchen island!

I could easily devour a book like Do It Yourself Kitchens in a single sitting every day, but at $20 a pop, that would run into money pretty quickly. So I tend to turn primarily to the Internet to indulge my budget-decorating fantasies. I'll often do a Google search to find pages on a specific topic, like "add more closet space" or "curb appeal on a budget," but there's also one site that I visit on a daily basis for all-around inspiration: Young House Love. This site is run by John and Sherry Petersik, two self-described "DIY dorks" who started a blog after buying their first house as a way to share updates on their decorating/remodeling adventures with friends and family. (It was originally called "This Young House," but they had to change the title after the makers of a certain TV show, which shall remain nameless for copyright reasons, threatened to sue them.) It soon became a hit with others as well, and eventually they both quit their jobs to work on the blog full time. So basically, what these folks do for a living is fix up their house and then write about it. Yes, I want their life.

The Petersiks have since expanded their franchise to include a second blog, Young House Life, which is all about the stuff they do other than fixing up their house, and more recently, a book that has hit the best-seller list. I haven't sprung for the book yet, though I might do so sometime, because I find the format of the blog itself more appealing. The book basically provides step-by-step walkthroughs for over 200 specific projects you can do in your home, which is great if you happen to have an interest in one of those particular projects, but not as useful for general design advice. The blog, by contrast, covers a wide variety of topics, such as:
  • Makeovers of specific rooms in the Petersiks' home. These are probably my favorite entries. Because these are usually a multi-stage process—e.g., painting, then furnishing, then accessorizing—you can watch the room evolve gradually over the course of several posts. When it gets to a point that they deem "finished," they'll flash back to the beginning with a "before" picture, contrast it with an "after" picture, and then provide a handy breakdown of their costs. (Here's an example: their recent kitchen remodel, which, at around $7,000, would fall squarely in between two budget categories in the BHG book.)
  • Makeovers of rooms in other people's houses. Labeled as "Reader Redesign," these posts feature before-and-after pictures and sometimes, but not always, include a budget breakdown. (To date, they haven't published my submission of the downstairs bathroom we remodeled for under a grand, even though I think it's at least as cool as this kitchen nook, which doesn't even have a budget total attached.)
  • Retrospectives, in which they compare, for instance, their color choices in their new house with their previous home.
  • Mood boards, in which they put together a whole bunch of pictures and color swatches to create a preview of what they have in mind for an upcoming project. (A recent example: envisioning furnishings and accessories for their new patio.)
  • Giveaways of home-decor goodies supplied by their sponsors, from office supplies to wall-sized maps.
  • Lots of cute photos of their two-year-old daughter, Clara (often referred to as "the bean") and their Chihuahua, Burger (whose age is undisclosed).

Unlike the other sites I've been covering in these Thrift Week posts, this one hasn't necessarily saved me money in any specific, identifiable ways (unless you count the $7,300 a year I might otherwise be spending on design books, as noted above). But I can say that it's been incredibly helpful to me as a source of ideas. For instance: I have been toying for a while with the idea of spray-painting our kitchen cabinet hardware. I really like the cabinets themselves; their dark wood might look "dated" to some, but I love the beautiful grain of it and would consider it a sin to cover it up with paint (as many of the homeowners in Do It Yourself Kitchens have done). The hardware, however, is in really bad shape. It has a copper finish that has darkened over time so it no longer provides much contrast with the wood color—and when I attempted to shine it up with vinegar, I discovered that the copper plating had actually worn off in many places, exposing the base metal underneath. So I was thinking about painting all the handles flat black to resemble wrought iron, but I wasn't sure how well it would work, especially for handles that see a lot of daily use. Then I read this post on Young House Love about how Sherry had updated some of their door handles with an oil-rubbed bronze (ORB) metallic spray paint. (Sherry absolutely loves this color. She uses it so often, on everything from doorknobs to chair legs, that she has turned "to ORB" into a verb.) As soon as I read Sherry's description of the project, I became convinced that
  1. Yes, this is totally doable;
  2. Yes, it will hold up okay in the long term, as this follow-up post indicates;
  3. Even if it doesn't hold up well in the long term, it isn't a big deal, because the total cost for a can of self-priming paint and a can of deglosser is about $10; and
  4. A dark oil-rubbed bronze finish would make a much cooler contrast with our wood cabinets than flat black.
So "ORBing" the handles has now moved to the top of my home project list (or at least, my list of indoor home projects to keep me busy until we can start our landscaping projects in the spring). And if it works, it will have saved me at least $50 (since it would cost about $60 to replace all our cabinet handles with budget-priced ORB-finish handles from Home Depot, and they wouldn't look as cool as our existing ones).

Of course, to be honest, reading Young House Love has probably cost me money on occasion, too. For instance, if I hadn't read Sherry's post about hiring a landscape designer (for half price through a Groupon deal) to help them come up with a plan for their yard, I might never have decided that bringing a landscaper in to look at our yard (at full price, since there were no Groupon deals available) was a good idea. On the other hand, I do think that the ideas we got from that session may well turn out to be worth at least the $150 we paid for it, so that could end up being a cost savings in the long run. In which case, I will not hesitate to give Young House Love the ultimate credit for all the money we save on fresh fruit years from now.
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