Fort Benton Cottage — Part 1

Last spring I was given the opportunity to work on a very fun project. Some friends of ours had purchased a darling little cottage in our home town in hopes of eventually retiring there and slowing renovating it. Unfortunately for them, circumstances changed and so did their plans. They no longer needed the house. Rather than re-list immediately and probably lose money on their investment, they decided to make some of the improvements they wanted to make anyway, in hopes of later reselling for a higher price. 

The market in Fort Benton has been in a bit of a slump this winter, so the house is still on the market and waiting patiently for the right match to snatch it up. It is a small house, but it is perfect for the cute retired couple, smart single, or small family looking for an updated home with character. The listing is here, in case you are interested! :)

Because the homeowners lived several states away, they hired a local contractor and then hired me to oversee the renovation and make all the design decisions. I must say they were the dream clients. The budget was small but I had complete freedom within those restraints. 

The exterior of the house was already cute. Its redeeming features included a front porch, rock chimney, solid metal roof (albeit in a distracting blue), original wood windows and clapboard siding, large front yard, and cheery landscaping. The property also included a very nice detached garage with an attached bonus space that could be finished as a guest space. Less appealing was the chipped paint on the concrete stairs and metal pipe railing and those odd porch roof posts that seemed to call too much attention to themselves.  

I wish my after photos stilled featured the pretty hollyhocks and foliage shown in the before photo, but it was late fall when these photos were taken, and the poor plants had been a bit trampled on by the house painters. :) Nevertheless, the changes are subtle but nice.

  • Simplified the post structure on the porch
  • Repainted the house to a slightly less pink color with crisp white trim
  • Removed the screen door so the wooden door could shine
  • Moved the house numbers off the door frame
  • Removed the ugly satellite dish!
  • Painted the flower boxes and front door in a dusky blue-green to tie in both the stone and the roof color. 
  • Added new iron railings and painted the cement steps
  • Added a new lockset on the front door and replaced the brass porch light with a black one to tie in with the other black accents.

When these photos were taken in late fall the leaves were falling obviously. But imagine it all styled up with flowers in the window boxes, plants growing in front, and a few comfy porch chairs!

Next post I will take you inside!

A new year

I'm not sure if anyone checks this space anymore after my unplanned hiatus, but if you are still here, thanks for sticking around! I have a lot of catchup posting to do, including a number of projects I've worked on for my design business, so I hope keep the posts rolling for awhile.

We kicked off 2016 with a fun-filled trip to California to see the Rose Bowl Parade, courtesy of Tom's parents. I thought I would ease into blogging again with a few highlights from our trip. 

After a stop in Bozeman for Christmas, we hit the road and spent our first couple of nights back in Utah, catching up with friends and hitting our favorite old spots. We rode the Front Runner train downtown for a day of shopping and a Jazz game.

How do you like our new Bobcat hats? We found them on clearance while shopping in Utah. Guess their aren't too many Cat fans down there! So we did them a favor and cleaned them out.

These girls have been to a number of Jazz games in their lifetime, but now they were old enough to really appreciate it! They had a great time!

Once we arrived in California we spent a day going to the Bowers Museum and Children's Museum. The girls had fun with the green screen:

We braved the cool temperatures and hit our favorite beach at sunset—Corona Del Mar.  

Next on the agenda was a very fun-filled day at Knott's Berry Farm, complete with Mrs. Knott's Chicken dinner and a few queesy stomach flips on my part. :)  Eva overcame her fears and was a kid-ride expert by the end of the day.

After all that fun we still had one major highlight left! On New Year's Day we bundled up in our warm gear and found our spot in the grandstands for the Rose Bowl Parade. We were glad we were prepared Montanans with hats and gloves because it was quite a chilly morning!

The array of marching bands and flower adorned floats did not disappoint. Claude and Cheri had the opportunity the next day to go see the floats up close, and if I ever have the opportunity to do this again I will make sure that is part of the agenda. The detail on these floats is nothing short of incredible. 

As a side note, we won't forget the appearance of sky writers that flew above us halfway through the parade. It was rather distracting to the point of annoyance, but I must say it was a pretty brilliant piece of marketing. 

In case you've never seen this before or missed the news coverage, it is done by a series of 5 planes that fly in formation and release gases to form letters in a dot pattern. They started out with "America is Great" and we all cheered. The guy behind us remarked "I bet this is Trump's doing". Sure enough, the next word was "Trump" and we all laughed. But then it continued to say "Trump is Disgusting" and followed with a number of phrases slamming Trump that I won't repeat. Definitely not Trump's doing! Someone found an effective way to get their message across, anyway.  Adding to that, the Rose Bowl Parade was followed by a large number of Bernie supporters in their own parade of support. Ah yes, it is indeed an election year. 

Sadly, we started off the next day for the long 2-day drive home. All good things come to an end. Thanks for the wonderful trip, Claude and Cheri!

Black Hills trip

We kicked off our summer with a fun trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. The reason for our visit was another training session with our Farmer's Union Leadership Couples group. As with our Wisconsin trip last year, we were able to bring our families. We left a day early so we could spend some time sightseeing. Nanna and cousin Dawson met us in Rapid City and took us for a rainy but super fun day. First stop: the Journey Museum.

The Museum kept the kids entertained for the morning with the usual dinosaur paraphernalia. The Black Hills are a pretty interesting geological formation so we enjoyed learning about that also. I also enjoyed the exhibit about a 1972 flood when the dam broke on Lake Pactola, flooding campgrounds all the way down the mountain and Rapid City. It was a bit disconcerting knowing there were flood warnings out throughout the day for all the creeks in the Hills due to heavy rain.

We spent the afternoon with crocodiles and slithery snakes at Retile Gardens. It's a pretty fascinating place also, but a sheet of glass isn't near enough space between me and the most deadly snakes of the world. Ewww.

Since it was Eva's actual birthday, we picked up some cupcakes to celebrate, and then the kids settled in for an evening of movies with Nana. 

Tom and I took the opportunity to get away for date. We fired up Papa's '82 corvette and took it for a spin up to Deadwood, where we met with one of the couples in our Farmer's Union group for a tasty steak dinner. It was a perfect night and I only wish I had pulled out my camera to record it...

The next morning we joined our group in Custer State Park. 

After an afternoon of training, we were treated to a long jeep tour of the park.

I was a little disappointed to learn that some of the larger game we enjoy seeing at our Montana state parks are either missing our sparse in the Black Hills. We did see antelope, bluebirds, prairie dogs, deer, and buffalo. 

The buffalo are little smaller (and probably healthier) than our Yellowstone bison. I was interested to learn that they manage this heard much like a cattle heard, even vaccinating and selling off a number of them every year. In fact, most of the park where they roam is actually fenced in. State game reserves just have different management philosophies than our National Parks that try to let things exist naturally (if that is what you call it when we reintroduced wolfs back to the ecosystem...)

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our tour and the scenery was amazing. As the highlight of our trip, we ended up at a proper Chuck wagon Roast in the back woods. They gave everyone hats and bandanas for the occasion, and we all ate steaks and burgers to the crooning of old cowboy songs. Thank you, Farmer's Union, for the amazing night!

We finished off another day of training with enough time to enjoy another afternoon and evening of sightseeing, so we choose another route through the Hills to explore, and it did not disappoint. Another highlight of our trip: the Needles Highway.

Starting out on the windy drive, there were lots of beautiful vantage points of these cool rock formations. Looking at it from here, it doesn't look like a very good place to build a highway...

But we kept driving and winding and found ourselves among those rocks.

At the top we were treated to this narrow one-lane tunnel and the eye-of-the-needle rock.

Unfortunately Eva napped through this whole part of the trip. :(

Coming back down the other side we had to stop the car again when we passed the perfectly picturesque Lake Sylvan. There is a lodge and quaint cabins here, so we mentally added this to our future ideal vacation list. 


Our mission for the evening was to end up at Mount Rushmore to check that stop off our list. But for a twist we decided to visit it at night. We met up with Tom's parents and nephew in nearby Keystone for dinner, and then they joined us at Mount Rushmore just in time to see the lighting ceremony. They show a film about the presidents honored and then they honor all the veterans present. It was a neat time to visit, if not the most ideal for photos. :)

We spent one more night in Custer State Park and headed out for the long drive home. But we look our sweet time driving even more roads through the hills, and met up with Tom's parents again at Johnson Siding for a nostalgic side trip visit to the home his Grandparent's had built and lived in. The house is vacant and for sale now. If we could spare three quarters of a million we would snatch it up for a vacation spot. It might have been a little uncomfortably close to the creek when it's overflowing it's banks... but wow—this spot really can't be beat for beauty under the shadow of those granite cliffs.

Goodbye, South Dakota, and thanks for the great memories!


I'm doing some more catching up here. I had to share some highlights and videos from the girl's dance recital at the end of the year! Eva did 2 dances and the other girls did 3 each. I was a busy mom getting them through their costume changes backstage, so pictures and videos are courtesy of Tom and my mom.


A special thanks to Nanna for the flowers and for driving up to watch them!

Eva turns 5!

I truly cannot believe my baby is 5 years old today. 

I both love it and hate it. She is more and more independent which definitely makes life easier, but it also marks the passing of a big stage of our lives.

This one is full of personality, though she might not let you in on it right away. She has her Dad's sense of humor and her Mom's persnickety preferences. She has her biggest sister's kindness and her bigger sister's precociousness. And plenty of her own individuality. She definitely completes us. 

She asked for a rainbow party this year. (It's never a character with her. Instead it's a color or an idea, like "umbrellas" or "pink and purple".) Sarah made this banner for her, and dressed her in one of her old dance costumes. Sarah had fun playing the roll of party planner.

Eva graduated from Preschool this year. They had an adorable end-of-year program, as usual. In the photo below, Eva is on the far right, second from top. She clapped for herself after every song. :)

We are thankful for the excellent foundation her teacher, Mrs. Briese, gave her.


Eva is all signed up to go to Kindergarten in the fall. Here is she dressed up for Kindergarten Roundup.

She even made the front page of the paper that week!

We love you forever, Eva! Happy 5th Birthday!

Track season

Our last month of school passed with a flurry of activity and now I have a lot of blogging to catch up on! 

Abby started track this year, and because it overlapped with basketball she only had a few meets. That was long enough for her to LOVE it, and she really had a successful short season.

Her events were 100 M and 200/300 M hurdles, 4 x 100 M Relay, 4 x 400 M Relay, and Long Jump, which she swapped for the 200 M dash when she realized it was a great event for her. 

After she fell in her first ever hurdles race on our cinder track and sported some pretty good road rash, I was a nervous wreck every time I watched her run hurdles. She has great form though and didn't have any more falls. 

A highlight for me at the District Track Meet was her 200 M second place finish right behind 8th grade powerhouse Leah.

The girls team finished 2nd in their district. (In Junior High they don't advance beyond District.) Abby placed in all of her events and was the 2nd highest point earner, as a sixth grader competing against 7th and 8th graders. She should have a good career ahead of her!

I had fun watching these boys also. They put in so much effort and finished strong in 3rd place.

Abby finished her season beating 2 school records—one in the 4 x 400 M relay and one in the 200 M hurdles. We are so proud of you, Abby!

weekend update

This weekend on the farm:

We finished our spring seeding. Now we just pray for rain!

Spring seeding wasn't entirely uneventful. If the seeder looks a little . . . wonky to you in this photo, that's because it had just broken an axle. It is a monster piece of equipment (this photo doesn't do it justice) and it is a little disconcerting to have just it just . . . break. It can be overwhelming sometimes to think about the size of things on the farm. Everyone has problems, but on the farm those problems can be VERY BIG problems. My parents spent a couple of days over Easter weekend running to Canada for the parts needed to fix the axle, and they were up and running again shortly after. Could have been worse.

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago while on a run on the bluffs overlooking Fort Benton. Things are greening up. I love spring!

In other news, basketball (of course).

Abby finished up her season with a 10-0 record. Sarah has one week left. Both girls played in a 3-on-3 tourney this weekend. Abby is an old pro but this was Sarah's first. 

I think the remarkable thing about the photo above is the dramatic difference in height between the two girls. (3 years age difference). Eva might be tall like her sister Abby!

This is Sarah's cute team. They finished strong in second place.

Abby's team took first place. The team they played in the Championship game were girls from their own Flight traveling team (right). They were all great sports and enjoyed playing each other. 

I turned another year older this weekend, too. Just one more reminder how fast time flies. I looked at old photos of the girls as babies. Wah! It just reminds me how important it is to record these moments because in a few short years we will be looking back on these busy days with faded memories and wistful nostalgia. 

baby McKenzie

When I launched my design business Joellyn Clark Designs, I included photography as part of my services, along with Interior Design and Graphic Design. I thought it was important to have a diverse skill set to get enough business in my small rural area, and so far I have kept busy with projects in all three areas. 

I have had a hard time having the courage to share my photo work here on the blog. You see, I have worked with some really really amazing photographers in my career as a designer, and I know how hard each of them have worked to refine their craft and how competitive and difficult a field it is to make a living. I know how expensive equipment can be and how much they have invested. I can't/won't even pretend to compete at their level, nor do I want to make as big as an investment into this area. I don't and probably won't ever have a studio. I prefer to shoot with natural light in natural settings. However, I kept getting requests to do photography, and I figured I might as well get paid for what I am doing. My design background is an asset and I do know I at least I have more skill than the average person with a digital camera. And so, I am going to make an effort to share some of my work here. 

And to those afore mentioned Photographers I know and love (you know you you are), I welcome your feedback and criticisms because I know how valuable it is to learn from others. Working alone can be difficult sometimes and I miss that element of support!

Without further ado, here is the beautiful baby McKenzie, born back in December. I could cuddle and smell her sweet baby smell all day long.

Easter weekend recap

We just enjoyed a quick weekend at Nana and Papa's in Bozeman to celebrate Easter. Nana made it fun for the kids with all the usual festivities.

The kids dyed the eggs and we used them to decorate our Easter dinner table.

My pictures are all dark and moody because that was the weekend weather. The kids didn't enjoy their Easter egg hunt any less because they were getting rained on, nor did the intermittent snow storms dampen the mood. The kids all agreed it was the most fun weekend!

Thank you, Nana and Papa!

A Living Room Refresh

I'd like to share with you another long-distance project I had the privilege of working on. This client was looking for a living room refresh. The problems were common ones: builder beige colors and finishes, too-large, adequate but blah furniture warehouse furniture, and a general lack of design direction. (This is where we all start, isn't it? We buy the furniture that is easily accessible and what we can afford and acquire things slowly, and sometimes it is hard to pull it all together into a cohesive look.)

I was given some before photos and very little design direction. I learned from this project that sometimes people don't know what they want until they see what they DON'T want. It is all about the process. In this case the client's only requests were to keep the original paint color, flooring, and sofas (which were comfy and far from the end of their life).


I just love the couch cushions all over the floor! This is real life, and speaks to how the room is used.


My first focus was to address the layout. The half wall by the entrance felt awkward with the couch where it was, but removing the wall was not an option because the flooring was staying in place. Plus, it helped to define the main entrance area. The back of the second sofa faced the dining room, and the result was not very Feng Shui. 

Through 3-D SketchUp drawings I was able to convince the client that eliminating one of their sofas would help tremendously with the layout issues, opening up the traffic flow between rooms. (Buying matching sofa/love seat sets are what most of us do—it's what I did—but it is rarely the best design decision). They agreed they could sell one piece and invest instead in a comfortable chair that would fit the space better.

This is where I made a crucial mistake, however. Several days later they came back to me and said this arrangement was NOT going to work for one critical reason. This space was not just a living room, it was their family room and only TV watching space. Comfortable viewing distance was paramount and having the sofa not face the TV was a deal breaker. 

Rethinking the layout, we decided we could keep the love seat instead of the sofa (it was rarely used in the old layout and so it was in better condition anyway). They could instead sell the big sofa and buy 2 smaller sized chairs. The shorter sofa plays better with the half wall. This layout dictated a round coffee table for better traffic flow. 

Most importantly, no furniture was blocking the entrance and flow into the dining room.

We also explored the option of adding a fireplace to this wall. While it would be a nice addition (and it could still be added at any time), I showed them how they could make this wall more of a focal wall without the expense of putting in a fireplace. The first design incorporated a media cabinet and bookcases. The client is not a knick-knack or clutter person, however, so the idea of filling these shelves made her realize this look wasn't for her.

Ikea is such a great source but here in Montana where we are 2 states away from the nearest store, I usually try to avoid it. In this case, though, it was the perfect solution. Even with high shipping costs, their products are cost effective enough to still make it a good option. We ended up reworking the media wall with some Ikea media pieces and closed storage, mixed with a few handmade wood shelves.


Since the room was a beige box and the canvas wasn't going to change, and neighboring rooms used very earth tone colors, I chose my design direction to work with that. I brightened up the look of the room by adding more white, which was already present in their trim color.

To level out all of the warm tones, I mixed in warm grays and black and white accents. 

They wanted a plan they could incorporate over time, so the room in in progress. I've noted below the things they have purchased thus far with an asterisk (*). 

Cotton Geo Lattice Curtains, West Elm*, Chosen for the light and airy quality to brighten up the room, even though they had blinds and didn't need them functionally.

Autumn in New York Art Print, framed,*  I just love oversized photography and it suited their clean style. This print set the color them for the room. Minted has such a great selection of art prints at fair prices and you can order them already framed which just saves an extra step.

Axis Ceiling Fan, Restoration Hardware   Light fixtures can be a hard thing to invest money in, especially when you have fixtures that function just fine, but they can have a huge impact on your room. They are like the jewelry for your room and can finish off the look. In their case, the ceiling fan was useful so we stuck with that. I recommended this more polished version. 

The original plan featured this white stairway bookcase and this Chill media console from CB2, but as I mentioned above we changed course and instead purchased components from the Ikea Besta line.*

Boardwalk-Andes Granite Bench Cushion from Crate and Barrel  The plan was to use a bench cushion on top of the media console on the window side to create a window seat. The cushion was purchased and later returned and that plan was scrapped. Money better spent elsewhere.

Like on these fabulous pillows: Beasley Yellow, Crate and Barrel, Studded Velvet Pillow in Horseradish from West Elm*, and the Woven Isle Pillow from CB2. These pillows were all important factors in carrying the color story throughout the room and tying in the beige sofa.

Heathered Hand-Loomed Rug from Pottery Barn.*  I hope to see this rug in person at some point because the photos look beautiful. I love the texture and the warm gray color to balance out all the brown.

This Chevron Coffee Table from CB2 is a fun choice, but now we will look for similar characteristics in a round option instead.

The Go-cart Rolling Side Table from CB2* is inexpensive and brought the white accents across the room. We also liked the playful industrial style to keep the room feeling casual.

Avery Table Lamp from Crate and Barrel.*  They actually didn't immediately order this lamp. It seemed like a lot to spend for just a lamp, and they wanted to wait to see if they could find something else they liked that was less expensive. After awhile they decided to invest in this one, and they love how it looks.

This specific black and white pouf was from Target and is no longer available. However, any type of pouf provides extra casual seating and would be perfect for game nights with the kids. I liked the black and white pattern and texture in this option.

And last but not least, the Cavett Leather Chair from Crate and Barrel. Oh this chair. I am absolutely in love with this chair . . . oops, sorry, that is my drool all over it. But I confess, the clients didn't love it. For them, comfort is key, so they will be looking for something with upholstered arms. They need to keep it on the small side (since there is now a pair of them in the layout) and look for something with legs and space underneath to keep the room from feeling closed in and heavy. 


I hope you enjoyed this little tour. I have been dragging my feet about posting about some of my design work. Partly because these posts take a lot of time to write. And partly because I like to have photos of the finished room to share. But in reality many projects happen like this—over a long period of time, and for many it takes a long time to get to the stage where you can style and shoot a room. Some may never get there. I do envy those big designers who have the budget to see a project from start to completion, then hire a fancy photographer and stylist to shoot it for their portfolio. I will try to do better about just sharing the process, and hopefully someday I will have some nice glossy after photos to share! Thanks for coming along for the ride, and thanks to these very cool and adventurous clients who have put their faith in me. :)

March family update

I am declaring Monday family day on the blog. After hearing over and over that I was not posting enough pictures of my family, I decided I should work a little harder at it. I hope adhering to a schedule will force me to try a little harder to post a few personal things. So hold me to it. Good? Good.

Now, where to start? There is so much. I think I will start with one massive photo dump and try to catch up in one fell swoop. 

This winter Tom took on the opportunity to coach the first Lego League team in Fort Benton. Abby participated on the team. In addition to programming a lego robot, the team also had a number of other projects to do including a research project and skit. The topic for the year was "learning", and the team took on the difficult topic of Alzheimer's Disease. Abby and I worked together to design their cool t-shirts!

The team competed in Bozeman at the state competition and met their goal of learning a lot. They even came away with a trophy for "gracious professionalism."

There have been lots of babies born close to us, and we especially enjoyed welcoming our new nephew/cousin, David! It is fun having him so close to cuddle.

I think I have mentioned before that Tom and I are participating in a Farmer's Union leadership program. We join 5 other couples (from 5 different states) for various training activities over the course of about 18 months. We recently traveled to Wichita, KS for the National Farmer's Union Convention.

Our hotel was a great place to stay right along the Arkansas River.

The conference was great and we enjoyed speeches from Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack, Gina McCarthy (EPA Administrator), and Temple Grandin. It was fun to see the policy making in process also.

The few times we were able to break away were to enjoy a run by the river with the talented and kind Katie Bangs, and after a memorable dinner with our leadership group, a stroll along the river at night. The whole trip was wonderful (minus the part of taking Tom to the ER to get antibiotics for strep throat. Ugh.)  The girls stayed with Grandpa and Grandma and we appreciated their efforts to keep up with the girls' busy schedules.

March also took us to Spokane twice for Basketball. After Abby's junior high bball season she was asked to play on a club team in Great Falls (along with two other girls from Fort Benton). With practices an hour away 2-3 nights a week and tournaments for several weekends in a row, it wasn't a small effort, but we really had fun. The team is quite successful, so in order to seek out some stiffer competition, the team traveled to Spokane for a tournament there.

We enjoyed the family time together despite the extra miles to get there. Here we are enjoying a meal at Olive Garden.

Eva is a great sport and a great traveler!

Here is the Flight team after the came away with a first place finish in Spokane! The competition was stiffer, but the girls stepped up and met the challenge. Because of this, they were invited back two weeks later for a Tournament of Champions (all teams who had won tournaments throughout the year). So two weeks later we trekked back to Spokane. This time the girls won 3 of 4 games. The team the fell to had just finished an 86-1 season! To say the least, we were proud of their accomplishments, and we were proud of Abby's contribution.

We did a lot of basketball watching also. The Fort Benton Longhorn girls made it to Divisional tournaments. Abby's 6th grade class was called on to cheer with and support our first ever Longhorn Mascot. The Longhorn school spirit is alive and well. I love the picture above because the several of the Great Falls Flight girls came to support our Fort Benton girls and cheer for us.

This is how Eva and her buddy endures the hours of basketball. An ipad and a comfy place to crash- even the team's gym bags!

In Spokane, one of the facilities where we played had purchased the old Delta Center Jazz Basketball floor. Tom of course had to take advantage of the photo op! Oh, and I can't forget to mention that John Stockton himself was coaching a boys team, and Tom was able to walk up to him and say hi. A starstruck moment for him. 

Abby is done with her Flight season and has moved on to playing 5-6th grade basketball with her Fort Benton team. Sarah is playing basketball right now also! I don't have pictures yet of her in uniform. 

This year was Sarah's last year to participate in Junior Cheerleading. She really enjoyed this program.

They got to perform at a school assembly and at half time of one of the varsity games.

Starting them young! Total cuties.

No basketball for Eva yet, but she is enjoying her first year dancing. She pliés everywhere she goes. We love her energy!

Hopefully you enjoyed this update. I will hopefully be back for more next week!

Feng Shui Friday — Becoming Unbusy

To me Feng Shui is just about peace and simplicity. Right now my house is not very Feng Shui and if you are here for inspiring photos of beautifully organized spaces, you will not find it here. Today at least. As I juggle the myriad of activities in my life, the house has trickled to the bottom of the priority list and for now, that is just the way it is.

Today Feng Shui is about peace and simplicity in my LIFE (not just my space), so I was inspired by this article : A Helpful Guide to Becoming Unbusy, by Becoming Minimalist.

“‘Busy’ has become the new ‘Fine’.” As in, when you ask somebody how they were doing, they used to answer, “Fine.” But nowadays, everybody answers, “Busy.”
— Jeff Shinabarger, A Story of More or Less

From this video. Watch it. Food for thought.

And this:

Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuits, it is actually a limiting factor to our full potential. It is okay to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is okay to not be busy.
— Becoming Minimalist

Today my mission is to focus on the good things in life. Relationships, love, joy... and let go of the fake ideal of all the things I think I need to accomplish. I'd like to spend my time wisely.

Happy Friday!

Feng Shui Friday — what is really essential?

A couple of weeks ago I was really feeling sorry for myself because I had managed to dump my brand new iPhone 6 in the toilet. It was a goner despite my greatest efforts to dry it out. It ruined my day. Maybe even ruined my weekend. I was very unhappy with myself; for being greedy and having to splurge on the latest and best model, for being stingy and not buying insurance, and for now having to spend even more money now on something that I considered essential to my daily life.

Then I ran across this excellent article online "When Bread Bags Weren't Funny" and felt even worse about myself. No, I felt better. I felt more relaxed about being patient and waiting to spend the money to replace my phone. I felt less distressed. It's just money. It's just a phone.

The premise of this article is about how as Americans we have so much wealth today that we forget how life was even a generation or two ago. We laugh at the idea that one might use bread bags to cover their shoes because they might not own a pair a boots. We forget that owning even one pair of shoes was a luxury. For MOST of the country, not just a small percentage of unfortunate.

In every generation, we forget how much poorer we used to be, and then we forget that we have forgotten.
— Megan McArdle

I have been guilty of teasing my mom for keeping old butter and cool whip containers to store leftovers in instead of buying tidy new Gladware containers that stack perfectly in the cupboard. I'm sorry for this.

We are a blessed generation. Or are we? The more we have, the less thankful we are. This article was a good reality check. It makes me not only want to purge and streamline my possessions, it makes me want to carefully evaluate any new purchases I make. It makes me want to question what I consider to be truly essential.

Lego table

Since we haven't been making much progress on big projects, I thought I would share a small win instead. Since Christmas our dining room table had been taken over as a Lego playground. The kids were playing with them constantly. And since I think Legos are one of the best toys ever in the way of constructive playing, I didn't want to make them clean them up. 

My solution came by way of an IKEA hack. I had this IKEA Lack coffee table in my storage room because we were no longer using it. I recently tackled a storage room clean-out and had set this table out in my huge pile of ReStore/Goodwill donations. Fortunately, this brainstorm happened in the nick of time. It would make the perfect lego table!

We simply used some 1x2 boards we had laying around and cut them to make 3 separate compartments. (The Barbie set above is a different brand so it is nice to have separate areas so the sets won't be mixed up.) The boards prevent the pieces from scattering all the over the floor! Tom screwed them into the table from the bottom. We left them unfinished and the blend nicely with the table finish. 

The shelf underneath can hold containers of their other sets. Simple, easy, perfect! I even have a glass top to set over the top if I ever want to use it without the dividers.

We put the table in the basement, but already noticed the girls don't play with them as much. Since it is easy to move I think we will bring it up to our living room or into the girls bedrooms. At least it isn't on our dining room table!


Christmas cards and more


So, I guess if you usually get a card from us and would rather see it in person first, you might want to skip this post. Otherwise, carry on. :)

I tried a new vendor for my Christmas cards this year, and I am so happy with them I just had to share. I recently ordered an art print for a client through Minted, and realized I really liked their card designs as well. So when the time came to order mine this year, I payed them another visit.

See, the cool thing about Minted is that they take submissions from designers anywhere. Those designs are voted on and then sold on Minted. Most of their options are modern and clean, which appeals to me. I had no problem finding lots of options I liked. The problem was narrowing it down.

But the BEST THING about it? They print the recipient address on your envelopes for you!! For free! (Well, I should be clear. You pay a little bit more up front on Minted than through some other popular sources, but their quality is way better.) Yes, that is in bold because I think it is SO IDEAL and I want to shout it from the rooftops.

I absolutely LOVED this service—both for how it looked and the time it saved me! I usually print my address file onto labels. This time I just uploaded my addresses in an Excel file when I ordered my cards and they printed them right on the envelopes. They look so professional! 

I also payed a little bit extra to upgrade the paper to a thick recycled stock (because I'm a design nerd and care a great deal about the quality of the paper) and ordered skinny wrap return address labels that you see above.

We just snapped our family photo last minute with a self-timer in our living room. And sometimes I like the simple black and white snapshots the best anyway!

I know it's a little late to be posting about this, but in case you are behind the eight ball this year (me, many times) and haven't yet ordered your cards, I highly recommend Minted

DISCLAIMER: The links above are affiliate links, meaning if you click on the links in this post to go to Minted and place an order, I will get a small kickback from them in turn for sending them your business. Good for them, good for me, and good for you. Win, win, right?


I didn't always take the time to do Christmas cards, but I started probably 7 or 8 years ago and have done them ever since. I love connecting with people that way and really love getting cards in the mail also. As a designer I feel the pressure to make it amazing every year, but I'm leaning every year to more simplicity. Not just in my Christmas cards. This year we did 90% of our shopping online and it was wonderful. Let the stores come to me, I say. UPS and Fed Ex are getting tired of our gravel roads, I'm sure. 

We also kept our decor simple. But I do love a few twinkling lights to brighten up the dark winter nights. The girls love it too and do most of the decorating work! Here is our festive little corner of our living room:

We also love all the fun Christmas programs. In addition to their regular school programs, the girls each danced in our community holiday concert, and again at the retirement home here in Fort Benton. 


Look at Eva and her beautifully pointed toes! I am so proud that in spite of her shy nature she willingly goes up on stage and fearlessly performs. All my girls adore dancing and it is so good for their coordination and strength. 

I hope you are all able to simplify and enjoy your own holiday season. Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

kitchen with a mountain view

Since I put my shingle out as a designer I've had a few inquiries about doing long-distance projects. With a couple such projects under my belt now, I can confidently say it works quite well! Today I am excited to show you a project where our primary communication was via e-mail. This client found me when my kitchen was featured on Apartment TherapyThey do live in-state, so I was able to visit the home once before the plan was presented, and again when the project was complete to take "after" photos. 

The client provided measurements and photos of her kitchen. We discussed her wants and needs in depth through a series of questions and answers via e-mail. At that point we had the opportunity to meet in person before I finalized their plan.

existing kit layout.jpg


The original kitchen in this late-century ranch home felt dark and closed in. It's single window faced north, and the built in florescent box light topped the hit list. The red sink dictated the color scheme and limited their decorating options. The cabinets were showing wear and many of the doors wouldn't close properly. Otherwise, the galley style layout worked well for them. They weren't interested in opening the wall (left) to the living room, however there was an unused back door at the other end that left some opportunity to add additional space. (There is also a sliding door in the dining room that provides access to the back yard.)

I provided two 3-D layouts to them to help them visualize annexing the back door and pantry space into the kitchen area. Both designs called for removing the short end walls on either side that were non-load bearing, eliminating the soffits and florescent light box and installing can lights.

The first layout involved removing the back door all together, removing all upper cabinets on the north wall, and adding extra windows to make the kitchen feel lighter and larger and maximize their beautiful mountain views.

A second option showed the dividing walls removed but the back door still in place. The old pantry closet was replaced with cabinets to unify it with the kitchen. The single window was maintained and open shelves were added to replace the lost storage of upper cabinets.

On the opposite side, the appliance locations were maintained to save costs. We also explored the idea of glass upper cabinets to increase the light and airy feel.

The renderings helped them visualize the end result and in the end they took the leap that would give them the biggest impact—removing the back door and expanding the window. 

While their electric cooktop functioned okay, they eventually decided to make the switch to a gas stove. They opted for a range instead of a cooktop, adding a range above and eliminating the wall oven/microwave combo which provided them with extra counter space. They found a spot for their microwave by borrowing space from a coat closet and creating a niche just to the right of the refrigerator.

I also provided them with a mood board to help them make design selections since I was not involved in the shopping and sourcing portion of the project. 

I recommended a two-tone cabinet color scheme with a warm white on top and gray on the bottom. The light color would keep things light and bright, and the gray would add variety and durability to the cabinets that get the most wear. The design also included white subway tile and beautiful feature sconces from Rejuvenation above the windows. She had expressed a love for cobalt and had an inspiration photo with a stunning cobalt gas stove. I suggested that lighting might be a great opportunity to bring the color in without making a permanent commitment. (Shades could easily be swapped out later). I was thrilled that they decided to adopt the lights in their design, though they did opt for a more classic and neutral option (also from Rejuvenation).

Because their kitchen footprint expanded, they would need to either match their existing oak and refinish the entire space or replace it with something new. Their contractor found them a deal on reclaimed wood from an old gymnasium, so they chose to replace it. I love the character and warmth the new floor brings to the space.

Now for the reveal:

























A few fun features in their new kitchen:

I hope you enjoyed this tour! I certainly enjoyed working on this project and seeing the transformation when it was finished. Do let me know if you have any questions about sources and I will try to track down the info for you.



new quality rug pads

Note: I was offered free rug pads in exchange for a product review. All words and opinions are my own. I will only except offers from companies I would personally use or products that are relevant to my blog content or current projects. Don't miss the discount offer below!

When Rug Pad Corner contacted me about doing a product review, I wasn't really in need of any rug pads. I was, however, working with a client who was in the process of purchasing a new rug, so I agreed to accept a pad in the size she needed. They were kind enough to also send pads for the smaller rugs I had in my girl's bedrooms.

When the pads arrived, I was immediately impressed with the quality and wished I hadn't offered to give it away to my client! :)  In the end, my client was very concerned about having a no-slip pad, and the new pad they sent is not their best option for that. Easy fix—I simply swapped the new one out for my own 8'x10' pad and passed my old one along instead. Lucky me!

The first pad they sent was their SUPERIOR 100% felt rug pad. It has the following features:

• NON SLIP: No- Best used with rugs that do not tend to slip
• PROTECTION: Resists ALL penetration to your rugs and floor
• COMFORT: Enjoy a full 1/4″ or 3/8″ thickness
• FLOORS: Approved as SAFE for Hardwood, Laminate, Tile, Vinyl, Heated and all
• ORGANIC: CRI Green Label; No adhesives; Does not off-gas or smell
• ORIGIN: Made in The USA with GENUINE American felt
• NOTE: Superior does not contain rubber, so does not prevent slipping. Smaller rugs or runners should use Ultra Premium

It was my fault for not specifying a no-slip rug pad. Without reviewing my options, I had requested their thickest, cushiest option, and it is definitely that. Here you can see how much thicker it is than my old pad:


At $105 for an 8 x 10 (free shipping!), this pad came out roughly double what I spent on the nothing-fancy gripper pad I had purchased from Home Depot. So the million dollar question is—would I spend the extra money next time?  Yes, I believe I would. What I love most is that it is American made and uses all natural materials. And if you have family members who are prone to allergies, it would be an even easier choice since it is completely hypoallergenic and free of off-gassing and odors.

And in an 8 x 10 size, my shag rug is definitely heavy enough to keep it in place. With my furniture on it, I haven't experienced any slipping. For smaller rugs, however, you might want to consider this next option.

For the rugs in Sarah's and Eva's rooms they sent their Ultra Premium Pad.  $64 for the 5 x 7 size, free shipping.

•  NON SLIP: Yes-  Prevents ANY rug slipping on ANY hard floor
•  PROTECTION: Resists ALL penetration and stress to rug and floor
•  COMFORT: Enjoy a FULL 1/3″ thick comfort
•  FLOORS: Approved SAFE for Hardwood, Laminate, Tile, Vinyl, Concrete, Heated and all
•  ORGANIC: CRI Green Label; No chemicals; Does not off-gas or smell
•  ORIGIN: Made in The USA with GENUINE American felt and rubber

This pad still features the thick layers of felt, so they provide plenty of cushion. The girls have white laminate floors, so I was happy to see these are considered safe for laminate. No glue and natural rubber means there will be no rub-off or staining on those white floors. And with that rubber backing, those rugs aren't going anywhere! 

So, the verdict? I would absolutely recommend these rug pads to anyone. While it maybe isn't one of the most fun things to spend your money on (it is the behind-the-scenes supporting role to the showy leading role rugs), we can all agree it is pretty important to care for your most expensive investment: your floors. And nobody likes a shifty rug.

The Rug Pad Corner website is very well designed and easy to use, which of course appeals to my designer sensibilities. Click on over and check them out. And if you find yourself needing a rug pad for your own home, as a reader of this blog you get to enjoy 15% off your purchase by using the links in this post and entering the code REVIEW15 at checkout.

Thanks for reading!