Hi, I’m Kathryn. Or Kat. But not Kathy, please. Designing Around is about working with what you have, whether you’re engaging in home renovations, furniture rearranging or simple homemaking. I, personally, like a design challenge. Or perhaps I’ve just learned to like them, as our charming 1923 bungalow was clearly built by drunk squirrels. - See more at: http://designingaround.com/about-ii

So, I Moved Some Stuff Around.

living room jan 2013 001

After moving the sofa (again) several months ago, I finally got around to relocating the shelves. And then I styled them. As you do. Look I even made you a vignette next to the TV this time. Fancy pictures. Fancy pictures with poor lighting because, as we’ve discussed, I can’t get the house clean in daylight. Moving on.

I’ve moved the sofa from one side of the room to the other for about a year now, trying to decide if we wanted to duck under shelves to sit or use them as planned, as visual camouflage for the TV. Moving a sofa is far less work than taking down shelves and patching the wall. Especially when the room is only 12 feet wide.

It’s not like we didn’t know I was indecisive.

living room jan 2013 002

Once I finally decided that the room flowed best with the sectional against the wall instead of the windows, it was time to admit that the shelves had to move. I like the new location though, the shelves seem more intentional. And those vertical supports, which always drove me crazy, bug me far less with this arrangement. Probably because when I sit down at night I’m not staring at them the whole time.

Styling the shelves was much easier in the new site as well. I had a hard time deciding what to put on them before. They looked nice, but I found myself buying things to style them with and not using them to hold what we actually used. And while I’m all for pretty things, I like mixed use shelves. Now they are a nice mix of styled, but well read, books, objects, and games (and keys, kleenex, random kid stuff, magazines, etc. Like every other horizontal surface in my home).

living room jan 2013 008

I did buy a one new thing for these shelves. New to me at any rate.


Angry quail. Every home needs a pair of angry quail, yes?

My Real House Update

cover short
I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to the my real house 365 Instagram project *. More importantly, I’ve been inspired. It’s interesting to see the quirkiness of others homes. This tag is not only an opportunity to air your dirty laundry (and dishes), it’s a chance to feel that doing so means you are living life. And within that life of everyday messes and chores, there is an opportunity to notice the beauty. Like these.

And beyond. The beauty that comes from remembering moments. Even moments that are fraught with stress and frustration.

And the brilliance of washable slipcovers.

And the brilliance of washable slip covers.

Thank you all for sharing. For connecting. And if you haven’t yet, check out the #myrealhouse stream (is that what it’s called?).  There are now 177 photos there. And join us. If you don’t have Instagram, you can post to the Designing Around fb page. Start with your messiest. It’s like a band-aid, just rip it off and don’t worry. It’s really not painful at all. Unless you forgot to shave. Cause we all know that hurts like a …


*A huge part of the community being developed here is due to the efforts of of Julie Burwell. Go check her out, she’s awesome. You can find her here. And here

A Layered Bedroom in Navy, Gray, and Brass

navy gray and brass bedroom www.designingaround.com

As I was putting together the January collection for Houzz (A Layered Bedroom in Navy, Gray, and Brass – wonder where I got that idea?) I realized I’d never shared pics of our finished space. While I’m still playing with the gallery wall, the bedroom reboot has been mostly finished for quite a while. Oops.

navy gray and brass bedroom www.designingaround.com

Rather than a complete redesign with all new furnishings, the only new things in the space are the textiles – the curtains, bedding and sheepskin rug. The remainder were re-purposed from other rooms, as per my usual rearranging. I stole a nightstand from the guest room, moved the gray sofa out of the living room (and got it stuck coming upstairs).

gallery wall

Because really, how often can we just start over? We all use what we have, just re-imagining how it will be used in our lives. I also removed a lot of clutter. So much clutter. Why do I always have so much stuff?

finn dressers

kat dressers

I like to tell myself that the linen duvet is charmingly rumpled. It’s certainly cozy, with a nice weight to it for the crazy polar vortex winter we’ve had here.

navy gray and brass bedroom

I really liked the way Nicole had designed the space, but I’m also enjoying the lack of pattern there now, much more than I thought I would at the start.

It is less designed than it was before. Part of me misses the polish. The sofa looks odd between the dressers. But I really like that little sofa and it’s nice to have a place to sit and cuddle with a child or put on shoes (and throw all the dirty laundry on instead of putting it in the basket). So it stays.

dressers and sofa

What I realized through this was just how much more comfortable I am when I allow myself to stick with the colors I consistently like. I like yellow and blue, but what I really like, what I wear all the time as well, is gray and navy. My house has a uniform. And that’s ok.

gallery wall

I continuously gravitate towards grays and blues. And I think I’m figuring out how to make my home work with this more monotone scheme. We shall see. I took lots of pictures today, as the house was finally clean and the light was ok. So I’ll be sharing the rooms over the next bit and you can let me know.

And since I’m sharing the #myrealhouse over on Instagram, here are the outtakes from today’s photos.

laundry and donations
Laundry and the donations pile that kept moving around the room to stay out of the shots. I guess I haven’t really decluttered till I actually take the crap out of my house.

stair well
Rejected decor and scraped paint in the stairwell from the sofa debacle.

And finally, how my bed usually looks.


DIY projects in this room:

Wreath. Barn Door. Headboard.

My Real House

Well hello there. It’s been a while. How were your holidays? And happy new year! I keep wanting to pop in and share things with you, but I just can’t seem to get things together. There’s either stuff everywhere or it’s too dark for photos. Or there’s stuff everywhere AND it’s too dark for photos (4:30 sunset you can not go away soon enough!).

Which is silly, really. You guys know that my house, like yours I imagine, contains four people with lives outside the internet. It’s rarely, if ever, tidy (I make judicious use of the quick tidy and the careful crop in every picture you see) and just as rarely (if ever) Pinterest worthy (that’s a thing now).  And I went into this blogging thing interested in making people feel like their regular homes could be beautiful. That my regular home could be beautiful. And instead of inviting you over for tea, I ended up tidying it up for you. Don’t get me wrong, I really like my house to look nice. But I also like to live there. And I like my family living there. 

So I’ve made a decision. I’m showing you my real house. Some days it looks good. Some days it’s dreadful. Most days it’s somewhere between. And since Instagram is for over sharing, and because everyone likes a 365 project, I’m going to take a picture of my house (#myrealhouse) every day this year. Or, you know, every day that’s left of this year. And I’d really, really like it if you’d join me. 

To get us started, I’m baring it all. Here’s my real house. Laundry, legos, blurry (and poorly lit) photos and all. And no, this is not as bad as it gets. We don’t know each other that well, I have to save something for the third date.

Nothing says welcome to our home like a too long runner and large bucket o'shoes.

Nothing says welcome to our home like a too long runner and large bucket o’shoes. Of course it’s now snowed a bunch, so imagine this with all the boots piled in front of the door so that no one can actually get in or out.


Sometimes I just have random stuff on shelves. I'll make it pretty later. Maybe.

Sometimes I just have random stuff on shelves. I’ll make it pretty later. Maybe.

Legos. I might be bragging here, because they're currently confined to one room. One room you can't walk through, but still.

Legos. I might be bragging here, because they’re currently confined to one room. One room you can’t walk through, but still.

Hi there. I do laundry. This may or may not have been there for days.

Hi there. I do laundry. This may or may not have been there for days.

I moved stuff. Now there are holes in the wall.

I moved stuff. Now there are holes in the wall.


We do projects. They require supplies. We dump them here. Pretty, right?

We do projects. They require supplies. We dump them here. Pretty, right? (you’d think with the supplies right there, I could go ahead and fix the holes in the previous picture. But no. Baby steps.)

Vignette. Go ahead. Pin it.

Vignette. Go ahead. Pin it.

A relatively clean dining room table. With bonus light bulb that still hasn't been replaced.

A relatively clean dining room table. With bonus light bulb that still hasn’t been replaced.

Dead plants. Not recently dead.

Dead plants. Not recently dead.

We live here. And we use dish soap that doesn't come in a pretty bottle.

We live here. And we use dish soap that doesn’t come in a pretty bottle. And dishes don’t get washed immediately. etc.

Cereal boxes are not attractive. I buy them anyway because we, well, we eat cereal.

Cereal boxes are not attractive. I buy them anyway because we, well, we eat cereal. Also, sometimes we have old fruit and tomatoes randomly on the counter. Also wine. Because wine.

So there you go. There are more pictures, but I think that’s enough reality for one day. Must keep some of the mystery in our relationship. So, will you join me? I’m really interested to see your spaces. Mostly though, I just need to know that there are more of us out there. Pinterest is lovely, but sometimes, when I look over and see reality, I know that that is lovely too. It really is.

Want to follow along? Or better yet, join me? Share your house, your real house, on Instagram (you can find me here) or on Designing Around’s Facebook page. If you use Instagram, use the #myrealhouse so I can follow along (and feel better about myself). As we go, I may even shake up Pinterest with some real homes. I know, so crazy.

DIY Brass Pendant Lights

DIY Pipe lights for $100

Finally. The kitchen has lights. In truth it’s had lights for several weeks now, but there’s been very little times when the kitchen clean while it was light enough to get a decent picture. I know, my life is hard.

When last we spoke I was soliciting pendant advice and bemoaning the necessity of track lighting in our kitchen. With it’s three different ceiling heights and limited light box options (without major electrical work), I felt we were stuck with at least semi-ugly. Luckily Finn had other ideas.

DIY Pipe lights from hall

Behold, the DIY Brass Pendant lights. Designed by Finn to accommodate our crazy ceiling and electrical issues. Added bonus of being both more attractive and cheaper than any of the other options ($100 for three lights!). Plus they coordinate nicely with the Lindsey Adelman light he built last year.

A closer look at the ceiling issues. Original kitchen ceiling, header, and the lower ceiling from what used to be an enclosed porch. Fun stuff.

close up

ceiling view

I may add some glass shades, although the bare bulbs aren’t bad. And along the shelves we added simple Ikea clamp lights, which Finn wired to run from one switch. Not ideal, but it works for now. The lights are built from simple lamp parts from Grand Brass. Let me know if you want a tutorial.

clamp lights

And just because I finally replaced all the dead plants with live ones, my little glass globe terraria. Dust free and full of living plants. For the moment anyway.

glass terrariums

And a final shot of the lights on. Shiny!

kitchen lights 035


Linking up to Thrifty Decor Chick.

A DIY Himmeli Wreath

DIY Himmeli Wreath www.designingaround.com

How to make a DIY Himmeli Wreath when you have the crafting patience of a gnat. A 17 step process.

  1. Covet expensive wreath for months.
  2. See CB2 ornaments* and have genius DIY idea.
  3. Purchase 15 ornaments with manic gleam in eye whilst sales clerk gives you the side eye and your 7-year-old maybe destroys a display.
  4. Deconstruct ornaments.
  5. Wire ornaments together randomly, sure that your genius will triumph.
  6. Go to hang brilliant wreath only to discover it is sad and falling apart.
  7. Add more wire. More wire will make it work.
  8. Realize more wire is not the problem.
  9. Open a bottle of wine (should have done this first).
  10. Take it all apart. Start over.
  11. Repeat.
  12. Repeat.
  13. Repeat.
  14. Get up in disgust, tell husband to fix it, go to bed.
  15. Come downstairs to finished wreath**.
  16. Decide not to feel inferior because look, pretty wreath.
  17. Post on the interwebs claiming credit because was your idea.

Now I just need to find the perfect place for it. There have been some suggestions.

wreath 008


wreath 002

*no longer available. I’m sorry. They do have the silver ones, I have another idea I’m working on with those. Or rather, another project I’m likely going to get frustrated with and then leave out on the couch overnight for my wreath making elves.


**the real directions are pretty much what I’ve posted, he’s just better at geometric visualization. Play with placement of ornaments, wire them up, add the next. You have to put some tension on it to create the wreath shape and every fourth ornament or so has to turn to create that star point. If they all face the same direction there is no structural integrity.



Linking up with Remodeloholic.

Organizing for Winter

small entry mudroom

You guys are my people, yes? So you know when I tell you that I was forced (forced!) to rethink how we store our winter accessories and the children’s shoes, that I was in fact excited to spend an afternoon organizing. Because I’m a dork.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way. For years now I’ve stored all our hats, scarves, gloves, etc (we live in Chicago. It’s cold here) along with the children’s shoes in a long dresser. This dresser, actually.

living room august 2013 009

The kids feet are getting bigger though (the tall one and I will soon share shoes), as is the rest of their stuff. It was clear that this option would no longer work.

Now you may wonder why we store everything in a dresser. Shockingly, homes built in 1923 do not come with a plethora of closets. In our entire house there are two (TWO!) closets. And they are small and not located near either door. I know some of you feel my pain. The other problem is that we now use the front door a great deal, which means that storage should ideally be located nearby. The front entry is tiny. Six feet by four feet and the door has to open in there.

I decided I needed a console table with a shelf and open lines underneath. The table could be no more than 10″ wide and no longer than 50″ (vent. of course). And I was going to have to break down and get a coat rack. I hate coat racks. They are cluttery. I don’t buy pretty little coats that look good on coat racks. I buy big, practical, Chicago winter coats.

Still, research. That’s always fun. My measurements and shelf requirements (and my budget) ruled out most consoles. I found this one at West Elm that would work though. The finish isn’t my favorite, but it fits. Barely. And this coat rack has plenty of pegs, with minimal space requirements. Coat racks, for a space-saving idea, are often surprisingly large.

entry 003

Teeny tiny organized entry way. There’s a basket for each of us to hold winter gear. The coat rack only holds the coat currently in use, not the plethora of jackets, heavy jackets, winter coats – all the options you must have to deal with Chicago. Coats not in use go in the one available closet, in the guest room. All the dog stuff is corralled in a wire basket underneath and there’s an empty one for guest’s shoes so the dog doesn’t run off with them. She likes to lick shoes. Dogs are weird.

But what about all the kid’s shoes? I know. Guess where they went? That’s right, more baskets.

Shoes are here.

entry 009

The furniture is not as blurry in real life. The dog is though. Under the console (the under the window console, not to be confused with the in front of the door console. Obviously.). None of the baskets match, nor are they quite the right size. They were the right price though, as I just dumped other, less important things out of them and repurposed.

A basket for slippers, a basket for kid’s shoes, and a basket for whatever adult shoes happen to be lying around. I have too many shoes to keep by the doors, so I try to remember to bring them upstairs. After years of not caring because our house was a construction zone, we’re trying to switch to a shoe free home. We’re good about reminding the kids, not so good about reminding ourselves.

entry 001

I also added an extra long runner to absorb the melting snow (and hide the mud) that will inevitably be tracked in and a tray for boots. I need to grab one of those handy mitten dryer things. Done. So far it’s working really well. Probably because the only thing we’ve need to grab are coats and boot season hasn’t hit.

And yes, I rearranged the furniture again. And not just in this room. I really need to update that house tour.



Linking up at Remodeloholic.


Want to talk about homeschooling? Yep, thought so. Everybody does. And truthfully, so do I. Because its kind of cool. Mostly it’s cool because we’re still making it happen. And it’s working. Since this is kind of decor blog, however, I thought we’d start by looking at where we do most of our schooling. The formal part, at any rate. We do it (ha! I’m so mature) in the library. Because we’re fancy pants homeschoolers. I’ll do a second post discussing what, exactly, we’re doing with the actual schooling, but today, let’s chat about form v. function. Or, better yet, form and function. Because really that’s the goal, right?

We currently have a separate room for “school”. We tried working in the dining room for a bit, as well as in the living room, and we’ve found that for our kid, having a dedicated school space is more functional. The school room is in what we call “The Library“. It used to be “The Office“. I’ve rearranged the library quite a bit since you last saw it. As per usual. I really need to update the house tour section, as the house looks nothing like that now. Anyway.

Ta Da.
study room

The Library. Capital L, of course. The Library, as with most rooms in our house, is small. 9′ x 11′ as a matter of fact.

I needed the room to function as a homeschooling space, with room for two kids and an adult to work after-school, as well as be a space for electronics projects and music lessons. And since it opened onto the living room and I had to see it everyday, I really needed it organized enough that things could be put away easily and that it looked like it fit with the house when we had company. I recognize that not everyone needs that level of tidy, but it keeps me sane. I work full-time, I co-homeschool my kid, I do a lot of freelance writing and blogging – I just need some things to work well without a lot of maintenance. Which for the first couple months of the year was not happening.

The space needed a lot of furniture to work effectively. Into that space I needed to cram the 5 billy bookcases, a reading chair, a desk large enough for projects, filing cabinets for all the school stuff, and a computer desk. For a small room, that’s a lot to ask.

When we moved the gray sofa out of the space I kept the bookcases in a line along the back wall. There was a larger desk where the table is now, the reading chair was across from that. Blocking the doors to half the bookcases. The desk also held the computer. And the built-in desk on the other wall, it just held piles of crap. As did the desk and the chair. This is the only picture I have of the room in that configuration. It was a mess. It had all the components, but none of them were working well together. The desk was too big for the room, the chair didn’t fit and the bookcases looked great, but we couldn’t get to anything. Anyone else have a room like this? You know what you need in there to make it work, but what you have doesn’t work together?


You can see the bookcase issue. And keeping the computer there meant that the boy kept “accidentally” turning it on when he was supposed to be working. Not functional for anyone.

So I pulled the room apart and started over. The sofa moved upstairs. The giant desk went to basement storage (usually I just sell stuff, but I like the desk and think it might eventually find a home elsewhere). The bookcases went into an l-shape around one corner and got a serious clear out of decor clutter.


The big aha moment came when I realized I had a folding table that might work elsewhere in the house. So I moved my grandmother’s gate-leg table down (it had functioned as a nightstand in our bedroom). The table really was key, as its folding makes the room function for music lessons and non-school time, but unfolded it’s large enough for two to sit at for home school or for Emm to spread out at for homework. It’s not perfect, as it’s antique and a little awkward to unfold with the rug, but it’s so much better than what we had. I do like seeing that table everyday, seeing it used. And it was free.

computer desk


The computer (not pictured, as it was at the genius bar) moved to the built-in desk and the home school drawers got a huge clean out and reorganization. Exciting, right? Exciting for me anyway. Better yet, I did all this a month ago and the room has stayed relatively tidy since. Everyone can find what they need for projects, books get put away as we finish the subject and there’s plenty of reading material within easy reach when certain people get “bored”. The room has never functioned this well for the entire family.

Will this arrangement always work well? Who knows. It seems that this year, especially, I’m having to adapt quite a few systems that worked well for years, because with bigger children they just aren’t functioning. But it works for now.

So that’s where we home school. And do hours of middle school homework. And play minecraft. And solder Halloween costumes. And practice guitar. And, hopefully, create memories. Good ones, not just ones of parental nagging*. Oh who am I kidding.

*you may have noticed I didn’t list reading here. In the library. Weird, right? Turns out the kids like to grab books from the space and then cart them around the house (most of the time) instead of just curling up in that comfy chair I provided.They will, in fact, go sit in the most uncomfortable chair in the house with their book. Probably because they like to hear me ask them to put things away. They just can’t get enough of that. They move things where they don’t belong all the time, just to hear me ask them to put the things way. Sometimes they pretend they can’t hear me so I’ll ask more than once. Those kids. They just love to hear me talk.

Kitchen Pendant Choices

ranarp pendant Ikea has a new lighting line (Ranarp) that I’m coveting. Clean lines, white with brass detail, and nicely styled. And affordable. I went to check them out in person the other day and realized that I could potentially use the pendants in our kitchen and expand the track. Ikea’s track is much more attractive than what we have and replacing it wouldn’t be crazy. While I was there though, I saw this pendant (Hektar)as well. Now I can’t decide which one I want. 78b0c238bc32ba3246c8e2c897a5347e What do you think? I like the white and think it ties in well, but I also like the contrast of the dark grey and it’s connection to the dining room walls. Here, I’ve had my helper place them for reference. 7d4e5a7c416411e3895f22000a9e4895_8 I know, that didn’t really help me either (and he’d been gamely holding them up one at a time for a while at this point, thus the less than enthusiastic look about one more for a picture). The poor iPhone photo does illustrate just how badly we need to fix the lighting situation.  And yes, my kid was on my kitchen counter with his bare feet. Whatever, I cleaned it later.

Trim on the Kitchen Island

island after

The details are taking forever with this kitchen, but finally crossing them off the list (this one after ten years!) is so, so good. When we first demoed the kitchen we were so overwhelmed with what needed to be done with the rest of the house we got it to functional and moved on, never finishing all the little things that make a room look planned. I’m determined that won’t happen this time. Finally adding trim around the island is a relatively small project, but it makes a big difference in the space.

Here’s where we started this time around, just six months ago.
kitchen and headshots 001

Three months in, we reached the point at which I would usually move on. The major players were in place,  the room was pretty good and definitely functional.
kitchen reno june 2013 002

Not this time though. After much debate, we ended up adding a fairly simple framing detail to the back and sides.

Using 1×4 to create the vertical bars, as well as run along the top, with 1×6 along the bottom.
unpainted from hall
The floor slopes about 1 inch towards the windows, as half the room used to be a porch, so we used a larger sheep’s foot molding to cover the gap.
unpainted detail
A little putty, a little caulk, a little paint (Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy) and finally, the island looks finished.

island after

Up next, creating a “cabinet” to go around the fridge, adding molding to the upper cabinet, installing the plinth, and finally figuring out lighting. Progress.

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