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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

{featured} DIY Laundry Countertop & Shelving for Under $65

Hi friends! I am blogging over at Pretty Well Organized this morning, sharing all of the DIY details on how we created a countertop and shelving in our laundry room for under $65!

When we first moved in to our home, I really wanted to install a Formica countertop in our laundry closet with cabinets above, but with all of the other new expenses - including the cost of a brand new washer and dryer - there just wasn't any extra money in the budget. Nonetheless, I still needed to find a way to make the limited laundry space functional - particularly for folding and hanging clothes - so I came up with an inexpensive DIY option that has served us well for nearly 6 years!  

If your laundry space {be it a whole room or just a closet, like mine} could use an upgrade, but you don't want to spend much moolah, you're going to want to read the details of our countertop and shelving over at Pretty Well Organized. And if you want even more laundry room organization tips and tricks, including how to create storage space in a tiny stackable washer/dryer closet, I've got you covered!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

{blog conference} An Introvert's Guide to Haven

It's already been over a week since I returned from Haven Conference, and it seems that everyone else in Blogland has posted their recaps, so I was struggling with what I could add that hadn't already been said about this awesome conference.

But then as I was sitting around and chatting with the lovely ladies in my book club about our most recent read, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, and as they were asking me about my first ever blogging conference, it dawned on me... I'll share my Haven experience from an introvert's perspective!

Back Row: Corey of Tiny Sidekick, Summer of Simple Stylings, Mallory of Charming in Charlotte
Front Row: Melissa of A Prudent Life, Katie of Addicted 2 DIY, Katie of Upcycled Treasures, and ME

For those who aren't familiar with Haven, let me take a step back and fill you in on the basics. Haven is an annual conference for home/design/DIY bloggers that is held in Atlanta each summer. Imagine 350 or so enthusiastic and {mostly} extroverted {mostly} women gathering for a whirlwind two and a half days of educational sessions on blogging and business, design and photography workshops, hands on DIY classes, meeting with potential sponsors, and dance parties {oh yes, I did say dance parties!}. 

That's me in the purple dress on the right, proving that dance parties and introverts can mix...
[Photo credit: Ryobi] 
If you are an introvert, like me, that description alone might be enough to make you want to hide under a table, but I am here to tell you that it was a fantastic experience! I entered knowing no one, and despite being shy, I left with some amazing friends in addition to a whole lot of information that will help me grow this blog {slowly, slowly}. 

Before I go on, let me pause a moment for clarification. After reading "Quiet" I now have a better understanding that being introverted and being shy are not one and the same. I am both, to different degrees, but the distinctions are important. According to the book, shyness is defined as the fear of negative judgment, while introversion is a preference for less stimulating environments and quiet concentration. 

Prior to boarding my flight to Haven, I was so excited about the opportunities it presented and I was dying to finally meet some other bloggers "in real life," but I was also all kinds of nervous. 

My shy self had visions of uncomfortably milling around the outer edges of the group trying to find a way to break into the conversations, then finally finding a group to join, only to awkwardly listen to the conversation rather than joining in. And my introverted self had visions of wanting to duck back to my hotel room for a few quiet minutes between sessions, but then missing out on making connections and forming friendships.

I can't tell you how to overcome shyness, but I can tell you is that EVERYONE at Haven was so friendly, and warm, and welcoming! People went out of their way to bring me in to conversations and invite me to dinner! 

My dinner dates on the first night!
Back row: Pagie of The Pink Clutch, Jennifer of Dimples & Tangles, Claire of Honey Haven, Emily of Eleven Gables. Front Row: Krystine of Krystine Edwards Real Estate & Design, Amanda of Dixie Delights, and ME
I quickly realized that I was not the only one who was nervous. I was not the only one who didn't know anyone else. And I was not the only one who was shy. But the beauty of Haven is that you automatically have something in common with every person there. You never have to struggle to have something to talk about. 

For those shy folk out there thinking of attending their first blogging conference, I would suggest that you really utilize social media before you arrive to find out who else is going to be there. Even if you don't know anyone, it does help to be on the look out for a few familiar faces. 

For me it was much easier to approach someone and strike up a conversation when I recognized them from their blog, Facebook or Instagram, and already knew something about them. I could say, "Hi, you may not know who I am, but I loved that room you just finished decorating! {Insert question here... Where did you find that awesome chair? ... How long did it take you to paint that dresser? ...}." Instant conversation starter!

Bethany of Dwellings by Devore, Emily of Eleven Gables, Mallory of Charming in Charlotte, Summer of Simple Stylings, ME, and Aniko of Place of My Taste.
And I quickly learned to state my blog name immediately when introducing myself. While people in Blogland may not know me as Angela or may not know what I look like, it turns out that many people {to my surprise} do know Blue i Style. I would say, "Hi, I'm Angela from Blue i Style," and I was shocked how often the response was, "Oh, you're Blue i Style? I loved that argyle wall you painted!"

It's also ok to just pretend not to be shy. To simply push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It doesn't come easily to everyone, but as soon as you make one connection, you no longer know noone and being less shy just gets easier from there. 

Me and Summer of Simple Stylings rocking our stylish safety glasses at the 3M booth.
As for being introverted, my advice is a bit different. Rather than pretending to be extroverted, I instead learned how to make my introverted-ness work for me. Extroverts tend to be energized by social situations, and enjoy thinking out loud and on their feet. Introverts on the other hand are generally more comfortable listening more than they talk and thinking before they speak. 

Although I have been blogging for over a year, I quickly realized at Haven how little I know. I've been doing projects, taking pictures, and writing about them, but I haven't been doing many of the "right" things to ensure that my posts are reaching people. I have so much to learn! This is the first way in which I put my introversion to work! I prefer to listen more than I talk - so I listened, and listened, and listened! And I don't just mean in the formal sessions and workshops, I mean at lunch, during cocktails, at dinner... Everyone was talking about their blogs, the tools they use, and what works and what doesn't. By simply listening I was able to learn so many important things and I was then able to enter the conversation by asking questions and learning even more!

Of course, there are times when listening more than you talk won't help you accomplish your goals. One of the major benefits of attending a conference like Haven is the opportunity to meet with potential sponsors. Each of the Haven sponsors had elaborate booths set up, many with engaging activities {if you follow me on Instagram, the you probably remember seeing me posing for lots of photos in sponsor booths for the opportunity to win various prizes.

Hanging out in the Procter & Gamble booth.

Caught in the shower in the WaterPik booth.
Early in the Haven Conference, I was intimidated to approach sponsor booths on my own. I didn't want to have to strike up a conversation and immediately start selling myself and my blog to the brands. It was much easier to tag along with a group {back to that whole, prefering to listen thing}. But what good would it do me to listen to other people make connections and tell the brands what they have to offer. Clearly this wasn't going to do ME any good at all! 

In the Modern Masters booth with Mallory of Charming in Charlotte and Summer of Simple Stylings.
After the first few hours, I realized that while I can't change my introverted nature, I can change the situations I put myself in. Since I prefer to know what I am going to say before I say it, I allowed myself time to think about what I really wanted each brands to know about my blog and to formulate a specific pitch about a way in which we could work together. Then I would make a conscious effort to enter each booth by myself, and at a quiet moment when not many other people were around, putting myself in a position where I was forced to carry the conversation rather than being able to comfortably fall to the background. Approaching sponsor booths on my own also allowed my shy self to have open conversations with the brand representatives, without worrying so much about others opinions.

It's going to take a lot of follow up effort on my part to see if I make anything of all those conversations and connections, but at least I was able to walk away from the conference feeling like I laid a good foundation.

Chatting with the ladies of Online Fabric Store about all the pretty pillows!
The Haven schedule was jam packed and the events lasted late into the night. Throughout the weekend I met some truly amazing people, and I am so glad that I took advantage of every minute of time available to make connections and form friendships! And, might I add, Ryobi and Home Depot throw one HECK of a party!

ME, Angela of Life In Velvet, Melissa of A Prudent Life, Katie of Upcycled Treasures,
Corey of Tiny Sidekick, Katie of Addicted 2 DIY, and Aniko of Place of My Taste.
Beach party'ing with the adorable Angelique of Where The Piggy Toes Go.
Each night I got back to my hotel room around midnight, exhausted and ready to crawl into bed. But since the introvert side of me does best processing information in a quiet environment where I can concentrate, I stayed up far too late each night going over my notes and making lists of things to do when I returned home {lists that I have barely scratched the surface on!}. Fortunately my room was really beautiful and provided a tranquil place for me to collect my thoughts and process at the end of each day.

I also got up early each morning to complete blog posts and to allow myself some quiet time before joining the excitement of the conference.

During the months leading up to Haven, I kept wishing that I had a friend to attend with so that I wouldn't have to go it alone. But looking back, I am really glad that I went by myself. Being shy by nature, it would have been way to easy for me to have someone to cling to and I wouldn't have been forced to meet so many new people. But now that I've come away from Haven with some many new blogging buddies, I can't wait to go back next year so that I can spend more time with all of them!

There you have it... my introvert's guide to Haven! 

I'm not sure how many of you made it this far into the post. If you did, I'm guessing we are two peas in a pod! But my hope is that maybe my experience will be encouraging to someone who is thinking of attending her first blogging conference {or some other event}, but is feeling nervous or overwhelmed.

Now that all that heavy stuff is out of the way, here are a few more quick highlights of my Haven weekend...

It probably goes without saying that a conference hosted by DIY and design bloggers is going to be stylish! Check out the cute decor at the Saturday luncheon! I think my next party needs to have giant balloons!!

The Home Depot booth {more like an entire room} was really spectacular ... bocce ball and a popsicle cart, need I say more?! But the center piece of their booth was their DIY Hall of Fame, and it was really exciting to see that two of my projects made the wall!

Did I mention that I also got to meet Mike Holmes of HGTV's Holmes on Homes?

There were so many different sessions and workshops on the schedule that it was hard to pick which to attend in each time slot. On the second day, I was feeling like I should probably learn more about SEO or ad optimization, but I really just wanted to get hands on and make somethings. So I attended a Ryobi make-and-take class where I got to use two different saws and a nail gun to build a simple wood tray. It's not much to look at now, but I'm coming up with a plan to turn it into something fun for the backyard.

A major highlight of the weekend was being selected to particpate in the one of the Ballard Designs coffee table styling challenges. My team of five competed against two other teams on Saturday morning, and we were given only 10 minutes to choose accessories and put together a cohesive tablescape. Voting went on throughout the day, and, in the end, my team walk away the winners! That means I am now the lucky recipient of a $100 Ballard Design gift certificate that is burning a hole in my pocket!

Ashley of Cherished Bliss, Sonya of At Home with the Barkers,
Jennifer of Dimples & Tangles, Abby of Just a Girl and Her Blog, and ME

Our winning coffee table!
And the swag. How can I not mention the swag? The conference sponsors were so incredibly generous and gifted us with loads of amazing products. I can't wait to try everything out!! It was a good thing I heeded the warnings to bring an extra bag to get everything home. My boys were particularly pleased with their Teddy Bears and baseball bats! 

Haven Conference 2014 was an incedible experience in so many ways, and I am already looking forward to next year! I hope to see some of you there!

Friday, July 18, 2014

{five minute friday} How to Get Your Chalkboard Wall Back to Black!

Ever since we first painted the magnetic chalkboard wall in our kitchen, I have been on a mission to figure out how to get it clean.  I mean really clean... as in back to the way it looked when it was new. Back to black!

The constant white/gray haze drove me crazy! Because our chalkboard wall reaches all the way to the ceiling, we never draw or write on the top of it, meaning that the wall isn't even consistently grey. Instead it is nice and clean on the top - and progressively worse as it gets closer to the floor {where little hands can reach}. Now I like ombre as much as the next girl, but this just isn't a good look.

I've tried repeatedly to the clean the wall with a damp cloth, with a sponge, you name it. With water it would look clean when it was wet, but as it dried the grey, smeary mess would reappear! My older son was always frustrated because it was hard to even see his drawings on top of the constant haze of chalk on our wall.

Months ago I did a bunch of research to find a better way to get the chalkboard clean, and I came across the same suggestion a handful of times. But I just couldn't bring myself to try it. It just made me too nervous. But finally I had enough and I decided it was worth a shot. So I popped open a can of Coke, enjoyed a few sips, and then used it to clean my wall.

Yep, that's right. Coke! Coke is apparently the secret to a clean, and I mean clean, chalkboard wall.

I was extremely skeptical about this. I envisioned it being a sticky mess! So I was shocked pleasantly surprised that it worked and it didn't leave any sticky residue or film on the wall!

Coke came up time and again when I researched how to clean the wall, but I couldn't find any good instructions. Maybe it's just my type-A personality, but I like instructions! So I thought I'd share my method. It was quick and easy, and in about five minutes my chalkboard wall looked like it was brand new!

Step 1: Clean the Wall with a Chalk Eraser

I started by using a chalk eraser to remove at least a little bit of the excess chalk from the wall.

You'll notice that our wall looks textured. It was actually a smooth wall when we started out, but the magnetic primer that we used under the chalkboard paint created a bit of texture. {For more details on magnetic primer, you can read my full review.} This texture makes our chalk wall extra hard to clean, because all of the chalk dust settles down in.

Step 2: Clean With Coke on a Sponge

I started by pouring just enough Coke to cover to bottom of my bowl {I ended up pouring more in as I went, but I'd start with just a little - no need to waste a good Coke!}. Because of the slight texture on the wall, I decided that a sponge would probably be more effective than a rag, so I cut a sponge in half {a better size to fit my bowl} and dipped the sponge in the Coke.

I squeezed the excess Coke back into the bowl so that sponge was wet, but not dripping.

Then I began to clean the wall with the sponge, applying moderate pressure. Immediately I could see that it was working.

Step 3: Rinse and Repeat

The sponge very quickly became covered in chalk. So I rinsed it off with water in the sink, wrang all water out of the sponge, and then dipped the sponge back in the Coke and continued to the clean the wall. I repeated this process until the entire wall was clean.

Some areas higher on the wall that were less chalk covered only required one thorough pass with the sponge to look perfectly clean, while the lower portion of the wall required that I wipe it down a second time to get it really clean.

Here's what the wall looked like with only one section left uncleaned. You can see that it is a drastic difference!

When I was done, the wall looked as good as the day we painted it!

Obviously it didn't stay looking like this for long, because as soon as my son saw it clean he immediately wanted to draw on it and use the DIY alphabet magnets that I made for him. Which was exactly the reaction I was hoping for!

I love seeing his scribbles on the wall, but I am also so happy to now know that I can get the wall clean when I want to. No more grey, smeary mess!

To get the full effect, here's the side before and after!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

{home tour} Our Kitchen

It's home tour time of the week! Last week I kicked off our home tour by showing you the entire second level, including the nursery, our toddler's "big boy room," our guest room and guest bath, and our laundry closet.

Today we are moving things down to the first floor for a tour of the kitchen. Fair warning - there are a LOT of photos in this post!

If you've been following the blog for a while, then you've seen bits and pieces of the kitchen in a number of posts {like this one about the kitchen mudroom and this one about our magnetic chalkboard wall}, but I've never shown you the whole kitchen - until now!

Let's start with a look at the first level floor plan....

As you can see, our house doesn't have a great room style layout, with the kitchen open to the living room. Instead, our living room and kitchen are separated. Fortunately, however, the kitchen is quite large, and we have created a small sitting area in front of a double-sided fire place making it a very livable space where we spend much of our family time.

A few months ago I talked about finding the original blueprints for our house and discovering that the kitchen layout was originally supposed to be quite different. Here's a little refresher {thank goodness the washer and dryer didn't end up in the kitchen}:

Ok, so now that you've seen the floor plan, let's get on with the photos!

Here's the first view of the kitchen that you see when you turn the corner from the entry way.

When we first bought the house, it was staged with a kitchen table in the middle of the room, with a light fixture centered above the table. This table position left a lot of unused space at each end of the long thin kitchen - space that wasn't quite large enough to serve much function.

One of the first changes we made after moving in was to change the light fixture to one we preferred, and we repositioned the fixture a bit closer to the kitchen entrance, allowing us to create space in front of the fireplace for a cozy seating area.

Looking from the fireplace toward the kitchen table, you can see that we still have plenty of room at the other end of the kitchen for a sideboard with display shelving above.

The cute black swivel chairs in front of the fireplace provide very versatile seating, as they can be turned toward the fireplace or toward the television above the wine rack, but they can also allow for easy conversation with those sitting at the kitchen table or the person prepping the meal in the heart of the kitchen.

Here's the kitchen prep area as seen from the fireplace seating.

It's hard to see what the light fixtures look like when they are lit up in most of these photos, so here's a better view of the light above the kitchen table as well as the penant lights above the kitchen island.

A few months ago, when I first talked about the kitchen floor plan, I showed you that one corner of the kitchen was originally just a big, empty void.

We thought for a long time about how we wanted to use that space, before finally settling on a plan to turn that corner into a mudroom. The adjacent door leads to the backyard and our detached garage, so the bench is perfect for removing wet shoes and jackets immediately upon entering the house.

If you are interested in hearing more how we created the kitchen mudroom, you can read about the planning process and the details of the completed mudroom space.

All of the art in the kitchen is my own, including the painting that hangs between the fireplace and the back door. I used a really simple technique to create this painting, which I'll share with you soon!

When we purchased the house, the backsplash was not tiled. Although we were eager to tile right away, we waited until we did the mudroom addition, and then had tile installed the full length of the kitchen and mudroom. We selected a glass tile in a random brick pattern, with a combination of glossy and frosted tiles. Because there are no windows on this side of the kitchen, the glass tile really helps to reflect the under cabinet lighting and brightens up the kitchen work space.

When we purchased the house, the standard builder-grade wood counter bar supports just didn't fit the modern look of the kitchen. We considered removing and replacing them, but the contractor who constructed our mudroom addition recommended simply wrapping them in stainless steel.

As I discussed in yesterday's post, we did a LOT of shopping before finally purchasing bar stools for this counter space. We wanted something modern to fit with the style of the kitchen and the other furnishings, but we didn't want to make the space feel crowded. After considering many other options {check out these 15 modern bar stools, all under $200}, we finally picked these acrylic stools that are not only stylish and comfortable, but also take up almost no visual space in the kitchen.

The fireplace in the kitchen is actually double-sided, and is visible from the back patio as well.

The little table was probably one of the least expensive items in the kitchen, but it's one of my favorites. I just adore the shape of the base!

People often see our wine collection {there's even more in the basement bar} and that we must drink a lot of wine, but in reality, we have so much only because we rarely open a bottle except when we have guests over for dinner.

Our wine collection also grows when we travel, as we often bring back a bottle or two of our favorites from each country we visit. The bottle displayed in the curved holder on top of the wine rack is one that we purchased while honeymooning in Greece.

Like elsewhere in our house, the long, thin, horizontal windows positioned up high pose a bit of a decorating challenge. In the kitchen, I added one of my favorite quotes on the wall below the window: "If it's wild and exotic, we'll either eat it or invite it to dinner!" That pretty much sums it up - we are not picky eaters in this house! We also have some other fun plans for the space below the window, but I don't expect we'll get to that project until next year.

I can't make up my mind about our kitchen table. It was one of the first purchases I made after buying my first home - a loft condo in downtown Denver. The table was perfect for that space because the glass top allowed me to have a large table without it feeling like it took up to much space in the condo great room. Best of all, the table has two built-in leaves, one on each end, which slide under the table when not in use. Our current kitchen is plenty big to keep these leaves extended all the time, which allows us to easily seat eight.

Some days I still love this table as much as the day I bought it, but other days I feel like it looks a bit dated and that it's time to replace it. But since our list of projects and purchases for the house is long, it's unlikely that replacing this table will make it to the top of the priority list any time soon.

Beyond the table is the matching sideboard, and above the sideboard hang four curved glass shelves that display our blue glassware collection.

The three martini paintings that hang next to the glass shelves are ones that I originally painted for my husband's college apartment when we were first dating {back in 2002}.

After our first son was born, we decided that having a chalkboard in the kitchen would be not only fun, but also a great way to entertain the kids within view while doing the dishes or cooking dinner. I recently posted all of the details about this magnetic chalkboard wall, and shared how I made DIY alphabet magnets for my sons to use on the wall.

The giant circle painting on the wall is another of my creations - painted on four separate canvases.

In addition to decorating the kitchen, I am constantly working to make the space as organized as possible. Below is a gallery of all of our kitchen related projects, including our organized pantry:

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