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Tackling The Basement: Chapter Eight

We know this was supposed to be the final chapter when it comes to our big basement makeover, but because we tackled two different DIY projects (making a screen to block off our fugly water heater and frosting the windows for 100% privacy that still lets in the light) we realized it would be crazy to try to squeeze all those step by step photos and instructions into one post… so we’re breaking it down to two. Just look at it as twice the fun. So without further ado, here’s how we made a custom screen to hide our eye-sore of a water heater with $18 worth of secondhand bi-fold doors and a quart of punchy bright green paint (stay tuned for the window-frosting tutorial coming soon).

Before we get into all the nitty gritty details, we should remind you what the aforementioned water heater looks like. Remember this guy?

Of course the room has come a long way from that point (we added a rug, brought in a bike rack, upgraded the the lighting situation, papered the insides of the armoires, hung some art, brought in some storage, and organized our paint). But the frighteningly gross water heater remained… taunting us with its hideousness. We debated springing for a tankless variety, but because we’re big fans of working with what you have (and didn’t want to cart off our fully functional water heater to a landfill) we opted to create a screen that will block off the water heater along with the ugly trap door in the wall behind it (which leads to the crawl space under the house). And when this water heater finally breathes it’s last breath we’ll definitely consider upgrading to a tankless one (and we’ll still be able to use the screen to hide the unsightly trap door in the wall behind it).

But how did we end up with a giant screen without blowing our meager basement budget (many store-bought ones are in the $100-300 range and a bunch of those weren’t even tall enough to work for our space)? We just brainstormed materials that we could use to whip one up on the cheap. Here’s how it all went down.

Step 1: Locate three adequately tall bi-fold doors that are sturdy enough to stand on their own and will easily obscure a 6′ water heater. After debating the use of everything from all-weather curtain panels hung from the ceiling to bookcases on wheels (which could be pushed aside for water heater access) we finally decided a screen was the perfect solution for our space. And what’s an easier way to make a screen than hinging three bi-fold doors together and calling it a day? At first we thought about cutting a full sized door in half but bi-folds are like pre-cut doors, so they’re ready to go. Even better. Plus they’re easy to move, relatively simple to find, and definitely would add some playful color to the room if we opted to paint them a bold hue.

So a plan was born. For just $18 we snagged these three bi-fold doors at our local Habitat For Humanity ReStore (they were having a 40% off door sale when we went in- uh, awesome!). Plus they already came with enough hinges to join them all together and create one large screen. Jackpot.

When we got to the checkout the lady was like “um, you’re missing a door” (since there are supposed to be four) but we explained that this wonky set of three bi-folds was actually perfect for us since we were going to make a screen by joining them together and didn’t need a fourth. She seemed excited for us until we mentioned that we were going to attempt to shove them into our good ol’ Nissan Maxima. Then she just shook her head and muttered good luck. Of course we took it as a personal challenge…

That’s me flashing my victory smile. A lot of people write to us and ask how we take on so many projects with such a small car. We’re just like anyone else with a modestly sized ride… we squeeze things in when we can and call John’s sister and beg to borrow her Ford Explorer when we can’t. In a pinch we’ve even been known to rent a pick-up truck from Home Depot for a few hours, just to cart something around. It’s all about, in the words of the ever-fabulous Tim Gunn, making it work.

Tip: when you recline the front seat and place large objects in the car as we did above, you can actually fasten the passenger side seat belt across them, which can help keep things safely in place so they don’t slide around and encroach on the person in the back seat- especially when she has an ever-expanding belly full of baby to protect).

Step 2: Place bi-fold doors on cardboard (for painting) and hinge them together in the room where your screen will be living (to avoid the annoyance of building it in one place and then moving it halfway across the house afterwards). When we finally got our precious cargo home we placed the doors on a large piece of paint-ready cardboard, hinged them together with the free hinges that we inherited with the doors, and stepped back to take a look. By golly this just might work. We also did a bit of puttying/sanding to fill in any recessed parts of the doors and smooth out anything that wasn’t exactly ready for paint (but for $18 pre-used doors, they weren’t bad at all).

Step 3: Paint your newly made screen. That’s it. You’re done. I guess we should elaborate a bit. We used one quart of semi-gloss latex paint by Behr, which we had color matched to Benjamin Moore’s Bunker Hill Green 566. Two coats later John was finished. I love this whole being pregnant thing. No painting for me (of course for the impending bathroom and nursery projects we’ll be using no-VOC paint so I’ll be back on painting duty, but for the separate entry basement we figured low-VOC Behr paint worked for us- and at just $14 for the quart it put our total cost for the entire screen project at… (drumroll please)… $32!

We love the happy burst of emerald green that it brings to the space (it complements the paper behind the armoire doors, the large green tupperware bins we brought in, the storage boxes in our Ikea workstation, and even the subtle green stripes in the rug). And the function is great. It definitely hides the ugly stuff but still makes it easily accessible. Best of all, there’s still more than enough room- over 35″-  to walk to the other side of the basement, roll out our bikes, etc.

So that’s how you give an old set of bi-fold doors a whole new life on the cheap. We’ll be back with a window frosting tutorial followed by an entire basement project wrap-up (complete with photos from start to finish and even a budget breakdown for your viewing pleasure). And while we’re on the subject of repurposing bi-fold doors, have you guys reused doors or windows in any interesting ways? We’d love to hear how you’re giving old household staples a second life with a bit of DIY determination so do tell.

Psst- Want to look back on our big basement makeover from start to almost-finished? Here’s the first post, the second post, the third post, the forth post, the fifth post, the sixth post, and the seventh post. Ah memories.



Our Holly Jolly Gift Guide

Just like last year’s roundup of budget-friendly holiday gifts, we’re back to share what tickled our fancy this year. So we set off to three mainstream stores that hopefully many of you have access to (if not there’s always online ordering) and snapped a few pics of our favorite non-fund-depleting finds. The best part is that many of them can be had for just a few dollars and nothing in our roundup is over the 20-something range. Plus some of these items can be adapted or DIYed so you can whip them up for even less at home. Doesn’t that put some seasonal spring in your step? So without further ado, here’s what made us want to rent a Santa suit and utter “ho ho ho” to anyone who would listen…

First we stopped at Crate & Barrel since they’re always a great place to sleuth out pretty glassware, bud vases, and more on a dime. We always walk into the store assuming that things are in the $50+ range but there are so many amazing items that still look super high-end but can be snagged for just a few bucks. Like these stemless wine glasses for example. At just $2.50 a pop you can grab a set of four for $10 and just pick up a bottle of bubbly or cider to round out the gift in under $20. Plus C&B will wrap everything up so nicely for you (in tissue and a chic Crate & Barrel box for free) that we guarantee your giftee will never guess that you only spent a few bucks on each wine glass. Bonus- they’ll think of you every time they share a toast. Plus you can even etch them with a custom monogram for a DIY spin that’s super personal and sure to be appreciated.

These festive under-$5 mugs would make great little gifts full of hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows or gourmet biscotti. They could even be paired with a tin of fancy tea and an inexpensive tea infusers for a charming tossed-together gift that looks elegant and anything but haphazardly glued and over-glittered.

Then we have these pretty $7 and $10 jars that are made from gorgeous green recycled glass and would look adorable full of homemade cookies (you could tie the recipe on a string around the rim). You can even stuff them with something more personal (like yarn for someone who loves to knit or pretty stationery for someone who sends out frequent letters). We’re always a fan of presents where the packaging isn’t tossed away and actually serves as part of the gift- and these containers would be amazing if they lived on as chic sugar or flour containers on a kitchen counter.

And if the jar-o-cookies thing is a bit too tried and true for you, this cute little recycled cruet (which is under $6) would be a pretty holiday hostess gift full of some sort of handmade dressing or marinade (again with the recipe tied to the rim, so the giftee can whip it up again and again). Or the lucky recipient can enjoy your gourmet dressing and then choose to use their cruet to store olive oil or vinegar in style for years to come. Again, you gotta love when the package is part of the present…

These pretty little $3.95 birch-wrapped votives were so natural and cozy that we instantly fell in love. We could picture one atop a tin of gingerbread cookies for a charming gift that looks and smells as warm and inviting as it tastes. Is there anything better than enjoying gingerbread by the light of the fire- er, candle?

Although the goal was to find as many $5-10 items as we could, these bookends were too cute not to mention. At $29 they shouldn’t totally break your budget, and how great would they be if you gifted them along with one of your favorite reads to a fellow bookworm?

We also loved this trio of small frames for $14.95 (which means they break down to less than $5 each if you separate them). You could frame three memorable photos of yourself and three different giftees to create three personalized presents for under $5 a pop. And they’ll all have heartfelt meaning and some serious style.

We also loved this va-va-voom red bud vase that’s just $8.95. You could fill it with fresh flowers or even pair it with tickets to an arboretum (or anything else that’s flower themed). But it doesn’t stop there, you could also gift it along with a box of red and white striped candycanes or gourmet peppermint candy for a red themed present that’s half edible and half keepsake. And everyone knows someone who proudly proclaims that red is their “signature color.”

These cocktail glasses are even cheaper than the stemless wine glasses we shared above (just $1.95 each) and four of them would be super fun paired with cocktail mix and even one of those sugar-the-rim drink kits for an easily under $20 gift that feels festive and fun.

And not all glasses have to be used for drinking. In fact, we thought these pretty colored glass tumblers (on sale for under $4 each) would make charming little votive holders. Just toss a candle in two or three of them (you could go with one of each color or three of the same hue) and even include another item in that color palette (like a jewel toned table runner for example) to round out the little tabletop decor kit.

And for anyone seeking a slightly more substantial gift for someone special, if that person is a wine lover we’ve got you covered. Who wouldn’t adore this gorgeous, sculptural wooden wine rack that just happens to be on sale for $24.95?

And Crate & Barrel is also great for a few little things that round out a gift that’s almost there but just needs a dash of customization (or even just a little something tucked next to the bow on top of the box). These small leatherbound Sudoku and Word Scramble booklets are under $8 and the chic luggage tags and picture clips are in the $2-5 range so they all qualify as stocking stuffers or gift toppers with more flair than the average checkout-counter find.

Then we dropped in on Pottery Barn which had some really pretty holiday decor (this gleaming moss and ornament filled enclave reminded us of these little moss and ornament decorations that we made last year). Gotta love when natural things like fresh green moss meet seasonal sparkle for an understated and charming effect. DIY alert: you could grab some glitter-spray at any craft store and make your own sparkling seasonal pine cones to add to the mix just like they did here.

But back to the gift guide… sorry for that decorating diversion. We loved these gorgeously European-looking ceramic latte cups, coffee mugs, and cuppuccino cups that range from $8-10 and look so high-end and detailed they’d be gorgeous everywhere from a bathroom full of q-tips to a glass-fronted cabinet in a kitchen. Just like the Crate & Barrel mugs they can be filled with hot cocoa mix and marshmallows or even bags of gourmet coffee or cuppuccino for any coffee lovers out there. Heck you can even toss in some biscotti for extra credit.

And because everyone knows someone glamorous and confident enough to appreciate a $10 faux-fur wine cozy (that’s right, not only do they exist but they made our roundup!), this little sleeve of festive holiday ooh-la-la can be gifted along with a posh bottle of wine or cider. Is it weird that I want to pet it for hours?

For anyone who is a bit more decor obsessed (or even math or science obsessed) one of these elegant hourglasses (the big ones are $18 and the little ones are $9) would make quite a memorable present. Can’t you picture the large one on a cool looking Domino desk and the little one serving as an ultra chic paperweight atop a pile of bills and receipts. Nothing like a little accessorizing to make a stack of unpaid bills look good…

We also especially loved this simple stack of towels bound together with a gleaming ornament, so for anyone who is giving anything that can be folded and corralled with a bit of ribbon (dishtowels? placemats? fabric napkins? etc) channel the PB style gurus and add a little ornament to keep things fun and festive. Again there’s no wasteful one-time-use gift wrap that’ll get all balled up and tossed in the trash- and we love that you can pick an ornament and some ribbon that will work with whatever you’re “wrapping” for a chic little coordinated effect. Note: for more ways to wrap gifts in unexpected ways (that are easy on your wallet) check out this post from last year on the subject.

Finally we slipped through Urban Outfitters since they’re full of hipster-fabulous finds that are quirky, unique and oh so entertaining. Plus they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. First I found these gorgeous ceramic doggy banks (I used to think I only loved white ceramic animals but it turns out I have a thing for black and white ones too!). And at just $18 a pop they’re amazing gifts for anyone who loves dogs, banks, or just having some cool conversation piece on their bookcase or mantel. And they’re actually pretty big too (the photo sort of dwarfs them) so they’re definitely statement-makers for less than 20 beans. And in case it’s not painfully obvious, I want one really bad (are you reading this honey?).

To stick with the ceramic animal theme here for a minute, these $20 cow banks are pretty darn cool too. They’re definitely not for everyone, but you just might know some cute farm guy or gal who would adore one (and you could pair it with a cow creamer or some cow tails to take it even further).

And because we’re both pretty personalization-happy, and John is a lover of all things typography, we couldn’t fail to mention these amazing oversized metal letters that run in the $18-20 range and would definitely be cool gifts for anyone with… oh, a first or last initial for example. You could even get two initials and an ampersand for any paired off friends or relatives that you think would love something so bold and graphic. And maybe we just have babies on the brain, but we’re thinking one (or a collection of a few) would look pretty cool in a nursery too.

They also had these $8 wire letters that make a cool gift for anyone with a modern aesthetic or a love of industrial-chic design (they’d look especially great in a raw studio apartment or loft space). Plus at just $8 for these you could tie one of them to any gift you’ve already wrapped with ribbon as sort of the ultimate gift topper/accessory. They’re pretty darn fun and almost impossible to put down (I had to pry more than one out of John’s hands before we left).

I’m also a big fan of giving a beautiful scarf or a pair of exotic earrings to a good friend or relative, especially if I see something that screams their name. And these textured scarves actually screamed a lot of my friends’ names so I figured they might help you guys find that perfect gift for the fashionable gal on your list, whoever she may be. They’re far more elaborate and posh looking than their $10 price tag, and we also love using beautiful scarves like these as “gift wrap” of sorts, so you could twist them around a sweater or even a clutch with some ribbon and a card and there you have a stylish little gift pack for your fashionista complete with a scarf and another fun accessory.

And last but certainly not least, this $20 jewelry tree was so charming and sweet that we thought it would work for everyone from a coworker to a best friend and even a mother or grandmother. It’s made from white painted metal so it’s substantial and elegant in your hand, and imagine how pretty it would look on a dresser or night table with earrings and necklaces draped over a few of the branches.

So that’s a roundup of all the little tokens of love and friendship that we think could make thoughtful (and affordable gifts) for you and yours. Because there’s nothing like giving a ceramic cow without having to utter “holy cow” when you open your bank statement a few weeks later. Ok, so maybe the bovine joke was a bit of  stretch, but we really hope you enjoyed this year’s little virtual shopping spree with us. And don’t forget to drop in on last year’s Holly Jolly Gift Guide for even more ideas that are as easy on the eyes as they are on the wallet. Happy holiday shopping to one and all!

Note: None of these stores paid us for this mention or otherwise rewarded us in any way. They’re just real places that we actually shop for gifts (in fact we picked up a few things for our family and friends as we went) so they’re perfect sources gift-giving inspiration.