Decorating with Family Treasures



We have a bunch of old optometry-themed pieces.  I used to display the stereoscope with a single card before we moved, first on top of the piano then on top of the mantle.  This time, I wanted to create a themed display that would be more visually interesting and more of a conversation-starter.

The large 24"x30" shadow box came from JoAnn Fabrics.  The inside back surface it came with was a black felt-like fabric.  I wanted more visual contrast, so I had the custom framing department at Michaels cut a piece of acid-free mat board to put in front of the fabric.  The cards are held in place with removable Scotch Wall-Mounting Tabs. 


My father-in-law and his father, too, were optometrists.  They would have used the stereoscope and these fun cartoon cards to check how well a child's eyes were working together.  The two images would appear as a single 3-dimensional image through the stereoscope, and feedback about whether or not objects appeared to align would be used to diagnose vision problems, such as "lazy eye."


There is plenty of trendy stuff out there that has one purpose - to catch your eye and convince you to buy it.  You know the stuff I am talking about - the "that was SO yesterday" decor you see all the time at garage sales.  You have to listen very closely to that little voice when you are out shopping, asking you, "Is this just for a future garage sale?"

And, maybe search the attic first.  Sometimes a little creative thinking can result in something you would have paid money for -- but is so much more meaningful because it has a family story to tell.

Can't-Go-Wrong Paint Color Palettes


Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate if you click through and make a purchase.  All opinions are my own.

Miller Colorevolution (the replacement for Devine Color)


Earlier this year, Miller Paint Co. discontinued use of the Devine Color trademark its licensing agreement with Valspar Corp.  Devine Color was developed specifically for the overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest.  There was just something magical about their rich, proprietary paint base that added depth to the colors, unmatched by its competitors

Thankfully, Miller has introduced a new line of paint, the Evolution line, which uses the same paint formula as Devine.  The Colorevolution series is a similarly curated selection of just 168 colors inspired by designers in the Northwest.  If you are easily overwhelmed by too many choices, or if you are going for rich-but-not-too-dark colors, this is my recommendation if you have Miller Paint stores in your area.

Benjamin Moore Affinity


Benjamin Moore markets its Affinity paint colors as so easy to match that you can flip the sample book upside down and pick 3 colors, any 3 colors.  One for walls, one for trim, and one for an accent color.  Not that I would do that -- but the point is that all the colors in the fan go with all the other colors in the fan, so there is no chance of clashing colors. They won't say what their secret is, but they are giddy about discovering whatever it is.  The paint is expensive, but if you are worried about your ability to pick colors that will "go" together, this is a nice trick to know about. Click here to order your Affinity Fan Deck from amazon.   


Even with the color palette in your favor, I would STILL swatch.  Buy a sample size and paint it on a piece of foam core (available at your local crafts or art supply store), drywall, or masonite that you can move around the room.  2' x 2' is a perfect size.  Lighting, both artificial and daylight, make a huge difference on how a color will look in a room.  Examine the color in the most brightly lit area of the room as well as in the darkest.  

And, please be sure that you are looking at the new color on a neutral background.  Prime the wall first, or get a large white area around the paint swatch (you could hang a large piece of paper or a sheet).  That way, you won't be analyzing the swatch within a field of color that may shift the appearance of the swatch color itself.  

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate if you click through and make a purchase.  All opinions are my own.

7 Tips to Stay on Budget

1- Start with an honest discussion about your budget.

In my opinion, most projects that go off track were never on track to begin with.  Your very first meeting with your architect and contractor should include a discussion about your budget and what you hope to accomplish.  But, there is more to it than that.  If they don't take the lead in asking you for a deeper understanding of your budget, it is up to you to make the following clear:

  • Do you intend for that budget to pay just the contractor, or to take care of all project-related expenses?

A basic equation for differentiating between the two is Construction Cost + 35% = Project Budget.  Construction Cost (also referred to as "hard cost") is the total amount you pay the general contractor.  The 35% is an estimate for "soft cost" items, including design fees, engineering fees, permit fees, a contingency fund of at least 10% to have on hand for mitigating unforeseen issues that are revealed during construction, and other reimbursable expenses such as prints, copies, parking, etc.

  • When you say "Construction Cost," do you include sales tax in that amount?

Many contractors soften the sticker shock by not adding this to the discussion until later.  You have to make it clear from the beginning that you want all discussions regarding Construction Cost to INCLUDE sales tax.  (In Seattle, the sales tax is 9.5%, so not including it from the get-go puts you nearly 10% off the mark.)

  • Are there other expenses that you assume I will be responsible for directly?

Typically, homeowners will purchase some things directly that may not included in the equation.  The most significant is appliances.  It makes sense to keep this outside the Construction Cost budget, as having the purchase in your name simplifies getting warranty service.  Appliances can range from a few thousand dollars to tens-of-thousands of dollars.

Recessed can lights, exhaust fans, switches, and outlets are typically provided by the electrician (who buys wholesale, in bulk).  The decorative fixtures, though, like chandeliers, pendants, sconces, etc. are often provided by the homeowner.  Prices can range from $15 per bulb to $100+ per bulb, and up.

Cabinet knobs and pulls are often provided by the homeowner.  Prices can range from $2 to $20+ each.

If you need to fit these into your total out-of-pocket, you will want to work with your architect and contractor to establish budgets for those and adjust the equation accordingly.

2- Go with a FIXED PRICE for construction, unless you can tolerate the risk.

Many clients sign up for "cost-plus" pricing with their contractor.  "Cost-plus" is also called "time and materials." It means that you will be charged the actual cost of labor and goods plus a mark-up on the total.  How high can the cost go?  Generally, there is no limit, and it is difficult to get a contractor to agree to a limit.

A great contractor with excellent references will generally come within 10% of their original number.  However, the tracking underestimated labor versus additional work may be somewhat fuzzy.

The sales pitch for "cost-plus" is that if it takes less time/labor, you will save money.  The reality -- in my 17-years-and-counting in this field -- is that it is rare to have that happen.  How rare?  I have seen it happen twice.  TWICE in 17+ years.  If those odds sound good to you, and you are comfortable with the strong possibility that your project will exceed the target by 10% (maybe even more) with a "it took longer" explanation, then go for it.

In my opinion, your best value is achieved by having a solid set of drawings and specifications, a fixed price for that work, and strict tracking of unforeseen and/or additional work.

3- Competitive bidding is necessary, but competitive bidding of general contractors is not always necessary.

There are two approaches to selecting a general contractor:  Pre-selection or selection after competitive bidding by several general contractors.  A common misunderstanding is that you lose the competitive edge when you pre-select a contractor.  But, if you choose the right builder and have an experienced architect on board, there is a way to have the best of both.

When you interview, you need to make it clear that you expect the builder to obtain several bids for each subcontracted portion of the work (plumbing, electrical, paint, drywall, etc.).  That way, the competition is built into their pricing.  If the response is that this is "too much work", move on to another candidate.  You should not promise to hire a contractor who isn't willing to put in the work to get you the best value for your dollar.  Also, if the response is "I only work with one" you can advise the contractor that your architect will review the subcontractors' prices and request competitive bids if any seem to be out of line.  If they are not receptive, move on.

4- Build in options, but start with basics.

Inevitably, there will be a dazzling tile, fantastic appliance, or other splurges that you are excited about.  Chances are that with a reasonable budget, at least one of those may fit.  into it.  The easiest way to facilitate decision-making is to analyze additions the bottom line, after your basics have already been defined. Asking for a few options to be priced is reasonable, but limit your base price to the most cost-effective options.  That way, your base price can be assumed the "wouldn't-be-less-than" number, and you won't go crazy trying to figure out what to change to reduce the cost.

5- Negotiate the fee upfront.

Contractors in Seattle charge anywhere from 10-18% for their "Profit & Overhead".  When you interview, ask what their P&O fee is.  If it is high, ask if they are negotiable.

6- Time, Quality, Price:  Pick two.

This is an age-old truth.  There are three factors, and you must pick only two to optimize.  You cannot optimize all three.  Want it done fast and top quality?  You will pay a higher price.  Want top quality for a value-driven price?  You will have to be flexible with your timeline.  Want it on your schedule and for a low price?  Quality will suffer.

The most common approach to negotiating a lower fee is to be flexible with your schedule.

7- Be nice.

Flattery and thanks will get you everywhere.  Your team takes pride in their work, and the ultimate satisfaction is seeing happy homeowners enjoy their home for years to come. Remodeling is stressful, and your team should make it as enjoyable as possible.

Hire someone you feel you can talk to, and make them feel appreciated.  It is human nature that feeling valued is motivation to work harder.

(It is helpful to know that you will be on an emotional roller coaster.  This graphic is a lighthearted way to put it in perspective.  Sometimes, just knowing that it is normal to be feeling a certain way at a point in the process is enough to take the edge off.)