I am back with an update on our Chicagoland cottage makeover
which is happily *this close* to being a wrap, though
the last few projects are extremely labor intensive and
important to get right.
If you have visited the main Fixer Upper page (by clicking
Fixer Upper in the grey bar at top of this page) which contains
the chronicles of our DIY whole house reno, you may
have seen my response to whether I would
ever take on a project like this again:
It still captures my sentiments, but at this very
moment, I think it’s likely we’re nuts
for taking on so much…knowing full well
life is bound to keep happening
(illness, visits from relatives,
kids moving back home, aging…),
and the holidays!
I mean. Christmas time is here.
How DOES one navigate the holidays
with two fixer upper projects going?
I have always been a minimalist when it comes
to Christmas decorating, not so much due to
laziness, but since I’m allergic to clutter.
If you saw my post about my mom’s house
with its pretty halls decked with
Swedish Christmas touches, then you
understand I grew up surrounded
by beautiful decor yet developed
a more spare aesthetic.
I’m a creative vixen and change it up each year.
For my Christmas decorating this year,
I kept it so simple, a baby could do it.
Fresh greenery (most from a giant tree in my yard),
white fairy lights, gold balls, bleached pinecones,
and a few collected vintage and galvanized pieces.
I snapped these photos today as the
snow fell very gently initially before piling up quickly.
Important elements missing from the images
are: fresh flowers, colorful personalities,
and all the delicious goodies
I’ll be baking this week…so imagine laughter,
empty pedestals piled high with gorgeous
frosted cookies, and fresh blooms in the
Please pardon the gnarly Frasier Fir wreath.
Oh my lord, she looks like we got in a fight,
(no evergreens were harmed in
the making of this post)
and I emerged the clear winner.
I’m not skilled at working with fresh greenery
(um…you can’t shape the branches without wire
which I will put on my list), but I will give
her a trim before guests arrive Christmas eve.
Remember where the kitchen began
when we bought this neglected house?
It was way worse than it appears in photos
because the vinyl cabinets were in terrible condition,
and there was water damage to the hardwood floors.
The cabinets and laminate countertops
are now used in a workshop in the basement.
After we gutted it, it looked so small, didn’t it?
It is still just as compact and cozy,
but all the bright white helps.
I’ll never forget that Friday night when we
made the impulsive decision to knock down
the wall between the kitchen and dining room.
Real life fixer upper types hang out
at work sites on Friday nights and
in weak moments of
ignorance groupthink drunkenness
curiosity + optimism,
sledgehammer the frack out of
drywalled, load bearing walls.
We discovered quickly that to keep it open
required expensive construction we had
not budgeted or planned for
(at this point we quickly became
the dramatic cliche emerging in
EVERY HGTV episode,
of every renovation series…
and buckets o’ cash,
or no wall-ee coming down-ee?)
We widened the opening
and added vintage French doors.
If you are new to the blog (welcome!), you might
be interested to know we lived in a rental
for 6 months when we began the DIY whole house reno
(part time in our spare time since we both have jobs)
and when we moved in, we still did not have a
working kitchen…how did we survive that!?!
Below is an image of demo-ing the floors,
and you can see the window seat which we kept.
Still need a cushioned window seat, yet it will
be a happy day when such pretty details materialize!
Things look better in here today.
Today, a simple tablescape not terribly different from
Thanksgiving’s simple, romantic, and thrifty one
is set the way I plan to serve Christmas morning’s
Swedish Pancake breakfast…they are one of my
specialties, and I don’t mind the extra work entailed.
My baby sister made the paper wreath on the window,
and it lived outside in the courtyard all summer. 🙂
My plan for this kitchen?
European-mdern-farmhouse style where full use
of vertical space for cabinetry is utilized…so it was
necessary to move the range to a different location.
Before, the range was located under the yellow-ish rectangle
you see below where the old microwave was on the wall.
Here it is today.
The image below shows that widened opening
between kitchen and dining room (which is open
to the living room and feels informal as a result).
I hated the kitchen and dining room’s swirly 70ish
ceilings so I plastered them…what a mess that was!
Things look a whole lot better today!
You won’t see much red in our house even for the holidays
since I prefer warm neutrals, and with all the
white walls, black makes sense.
Ultimately, what I see on this etagere in the
library/dining area are a few modern sculpture pieces
and maybe some books…bare shelves are just fine with me.
I need to add gold ribbon above my Oscar Wilde panels…
seeing this photo actually makes me wanna blow up the room
and start over!
For the holidays, some ironstone pitchers with
greenery from the yard and vintage gold balls
in old marmalade crocks.
Bleached pinecones and a vintage European ice skate
in an old croquet box which came from the cellar of
our very first home: a 1920’s bungalow in Chicago.
The sun was so bright when I was shooting this room!
More greenery from the yard on the mantel.
My little dog came from a vide grenier in Paris.
I’m so glad we did not sell this monstrous cupboard from Belgium.
It stores a ton of things inside and fits perfectly on this
wall in the living room.
The book on top is From Manger to Throne from
the 1800’s with beautiful etchings depicting
the life of the birthday boy, the Prince of Peace.
The tree is a Frasier Fir we had fun
(if you’re into frostbite) selecting,
decorated with handsewn felt stars
(most made by me) and delicate Swedish
wooden snowflakes and hearts.
Also in the living room is a galvanized advent calendar
from Restoration Hardware for which I made little
matchbox presents to sit inside the cubbies with
a few gnomes I have owned since childhood.
I covered plain old grocery store matchboxes with
felted wool, buttons, and vintage Swedish trim.
A simple and surprisingly satisfying craft.
My thought is, if ever I have grandchildren, I will
tuck tiny treats or messages inside for them to open.
In the entry, for now I have an old dropleaf table
in as found condition…can you believe I did not
paint or scrape the thing naked?
The French prayer chairs are special to me,
and here’s some Christmas red for purists.
Let’s trot up the stairs so I can show you one project
we are in the middle of and one we just completed.
The master bath is coming together nicely…
especially when you consider a few months ago,
the above space looked like this:
and after gutting the whole thing, moving
fixtures, expanding the shower, building a wall
and adding a clawfoot tub and vanities, we still
had not addressed the window which overlooks
a circle driveway and was begging for privacy.
We have been living with the windows
covered in a high quality etched privacy film
which allowed filtered light and looked great
from the outside, but we were ready for
a grown up option.
We felt plantation shutters were the best
option since we wanted to enjoy the sunlight
AND privacy, and I found a great company that
creates custom shutters called
I worked with Riverwood’s owner, who made
the process easypeasy and so gratifying.
I was nervous about taking proper measurements
and choosing options, but Riverwood helped me
every step and constructed a product we installed
quickly and without a hitch.
Without a hitch? Seriously?
I love the wide-louvers.
The plantation shutters function beautifully, open up fully
and make every single day of using this space
so much more pleasant and comfortable.
And did you notice the new door to the master bath!?!
My husband recently installed a new door
to the master bath, and after giving up on
finding solid wood vintage doors for the cottage,
I was thrilled to find these 2-panel unfinished
The gorgeous wood doors feel like velvet to the touch,
and as you can see, the color changes quite a bit
after the water-based sealer goes on, but the warmth
works nicely with the white oak floors, and we like
the contrast with the existing white trim.
Here you can see the job progressing, and
Pacific Entries‘ patented reversible jamb system
made ordering the doors and installing them a breeze.
Below you can see the hollow colonist 6 panel door
to my closet on the left which will also be upgraded
(You may also note the plantation shutters had
yet to be installed.)
I knew I wanted the inside of the bathroom door
to be white, so I painted it before it was installed,
and I can’t tell you how beautiful these knotty alder
doors look painted…I don’t know what I expected,
but the door has such a rich, aged appearance with all the
character in the wood, and I absolutely love it.
The oval door knob from Pacific Entries
also has the modern farmhouse
feel I am after, and is heavy and solid.
Below you can also see the oil-rubbed bronze hinges
which come with the door kit…the large painting
is by me, and I think you can see why the door
needs to be white in here since we desired
less rustic and more spa-like.
Some close-ups of other fixtures in the room:
I have to tell you about these luxurious bath towels!
I have always invested in good quality towels
for the bath because they are daily lifestyle enhancers
well worth the extra initial expense since they keep
delivering comfort after EVERY SINGLE SHOWER.
They are Vizcaya made by J.R. United, and once
you discover their better-than-hotel-towel quality,
you will see what I mean.
No need to check into a lovely hotel
when we can check into luxury at home.
See how plump/fluffy the bath towels are below?
When I upgraded from the Restoration Hardware
bath towels I loved, I was pleasantly surprised.
Moving along to ongoing projects…
the door (below) to the master bedroom
was just installed last weekend,
and what a difference it makes to
have a solid door that fits, doesn’t make
a horrible noise when it is opened, and
looks so rich and custom!
Remember all that crying I did about feeling
bad about my doors?
And how I got serious about finding replacements
and researched the heck out of rustic farmhouse doors
as evidenced in this post?
Well, the door installation continues, and let me tell you,
trying to address such renovation during the holidays
is exhausting and mentally tricky.
We have lots of these to address:
And of course, we will require just
as many sets of these:
This custom sliding barn door will be installed
where there currently is no door at the base
of the stairs leading to the lower level
is desperately needed since
there is a noise factor we need to correct,
but in addition to the function, the door will add
rustic modern farmhouse architectural interest.
And won’t it be swell to upgrade
with its working speakeasy, in its pre-finished,
gorgeous European walnut color?
The handleset is handsome and classic.
Let’s step outside for a glimpse of the current front door
which I snapped for you today on this relatively
warm day (15 degrees).
This poor door has been through a lot with
its break-ins, dents, and history of being mauve.
I painted it charcoal and slapped on another
wild Frasier Fir natural wreath.
(BTW, regarding working with all this fresh greenery:
what a royal mess! I love the scent, but oy, the
sweeping and vacuuming!)
A close friend hand lettered the sign for me from
a piece of salvaged flooring, and I move it
around the house, loving it everywhere.
I will add white lights to the tall planters
and embellish them further, but this is
as far as I got today.
You may remember I salvaged this mirror
from our master bath, and stenciled it with this
I’ll keep tweaking and figuring out
how to balance and deck the porch, and
hopefully I’ll do better with each holiday.
So nearer to the finish line we must still:
Finish and install interior doors and hardware
Finish and install sliding barn door
Install front door and hardware
Install Stikwood wood planks in master bedroom
Paint a few ceilings
Bedazzle the little laundry room
It won’t be long til it’s d o n e!
In the mean time, let’s head back to the kitchen…
where I am so ready to begin baking and make
preparations for Christmas Eve dinner.
I must also address housework since blogging
has stolen me away from too much of it,
and there is nothing quite like the sparkle
my spirit feels in a freshened, clean home.
I have grown attached to Murchison-Hume
products which have such pleasing packaging and
I love their inventory: all of these
smart, quality-made essentials at friendly prices.
Their bamboo caddy corrals all sorts of littles.
And their dish brushes
work hard and look good.
Yep. I plan to get trigger happy this week.
Still with me?
Let’s finish up with a peek at my informal
yet festive white farmhouse table.
I used pretty gold animal print
giftwrap for a runner.
The small plates are by Rae Dunn, and we have
been using them daily for many years…
The Martha book is an oldie but a goodie,
and I have created many of the projects inside.
My pretty blue FireKing Swedish mixing bowl
is a treasure, and the most genius shade of blue.
The Amish Butterpint pattern in turquoise on
white milkglass is a longtime family fave:
My parents received pieces of it as
wedding gifts so I grew up cooking
with these dishes.
My mom and I have been collecting the pattern
(translation: scouring eBay) forever and still love its
delicate farmhouse charm and Scandinavian feel.
Did you get the recipe for my Christmas cookies
that won a contest for Country Home magazine?
Let’s get our Viatera quartz counters
covered with cookie dough!
Thanks for following this
very very real fixer upper journey, friends.
I’m tired and so ready for hours of fireside
reading, naps, and buttercream iced cookies.
Find all the updates here, and I’ll
soon be bringing you specifics about
installing these doors very soon.
Peace to you right where you are.