Coffee Table Photo Books

Obviously, based on the content of this blog, it’s clear Ben and I devote a large amount of time (and money) to fixing up our home.  We’ve made it our financial priority to fix up and pay off our home as quickly as possible.  To do so, we do sacrifice expensive family vacations, with the hope that as our kids get older, traveling will be easier, more enjoyable, and they’ll actually remember the trip.  On our previous travels, I have purchased a coffee table photo book of the area we’ve visited.

With that said, in August, we took a family trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.  It was a week of camping, sight-seeing, and about 1,000 photos taken.  Yes, I have an addiction, but it’s easier to take more and delete later.   Upon returning home, I loaded the photos on my computer and picked out my favorites.


I enlarged one and turned it into art for our basement theater space.


Another sits in a DIY frame on our entertainment center shelf.


Two down, only 998 left to get out of my computer and into regular view.  I didn’t buy a photo book while on vacation, as I planned to create our own, using our photos and memories.  After some research, with a coupon in hand, I ordered a photo book through ShutterflyNo, this is not a sponsored post; I purchased the books with my own money and simply love this product.


After loading my edited photos into my project, I set about creating a design with few words and as many photos as possible.  To create as professional looking book as possible, I picked one picture to fill the front and back covers.


Using Photoshop on a near daily basis, I didn’t like how limiting the standard editing mode was, so I switched to Advanced Editing.  From there, I stretched the photo to cover the entire front.


A simple title in a coordinating color overlays the pale sky of the photo.


Shutterfly offers a wide variety of page layout options, but again, I found some to be limiting to photo orientation.  I found it easiest and quickest to load the photos chronologically onto each page, grouping based on the site location.


Before arranging the images, I first filled all 20 pages with pictures so I knew they’d all fit in my book.


I found it so easy to arrange photos, as the software keeps the photos in the proper proportions.  In some cases, I stretched a vertical photo to fit my layout or zoom in on an interesting area.


Once arranged, I selected a hard cover upgrade and submitted my order.  Having never ordered a photo book before, I waited until this one arrived to assess the quality and my feeling about it.  When it arrived, I tore open the box and flipped through the book.  I loved it, but wished I upgraded to a matte cover.


Ben loved it, the boys loved it, so I went through photos from previous vacations and ordered three more, this time springing for the matte covers.


It’s a subtle change, but does feel much higher in quality.


For a cohesive collection, I chose the same spine, fonts, and filled the covers with a single large photo.  The backs are single images as well.


This stack lives on our stump coffee table in the family room, readily available to flip through.



As the saying goes, “a picture is worth 1,000 words” so I kept the text brief with only a location and date.


At first, I worried the 8 by 11 book size would make the images too small, but I’m thrilled with the size.  By enlarging favorite photos and keeping the supporting photos smaller, it’s a great balance.

How do you deal with the photos you take?  It’s sad, but so many great photos sit on our computers, forgotten about for who knows how long.


DIY State ‘Flag’ Art

What do you hang over a bed?  Oddly enough, I don’t have much experience in this department as our bedroom has a window above.


Even our previous home had a window, thus limiting the placement of art to the sides.


Heck, our guest bedroom is surrounded by built-in bookshelves, again not allowing art to be hung over the bed.


All that to say, I’ve had a hard time figuring out what to add above the basement bedroom bed.  I started with a print from a very talented fellow Montanan, Annie Bailey.  While I love the art, the dimensions weren’t right for this elongated space.


I also don’t like hanging detailed art high up or in a place you can’t stand right in front and soak it all in.  Basically, I wanted/needed something long and narrow, simple, but still interesting.


After considering another engineer print, I decided to go a different route with a ‘flag’.  Quotes because it isn’t really a flag, but it is a design on fabric.  Ideally, the Montana state flag would be beautiful, but it’s a far cry from the well designed California flag.  Haha, maybe we can have a do over?


Instead, I opened Photoshop and created a simple, graphic design that I feel is representative of Montana.

Montana Flag Art Design.jpg

With the design ready, I printed it out on sheets of paper and taped them all together in a Frankenstein’s monster way.  Then I dug through my fabric remnants and found a piece of natural linen slightly larger than my desired finish size of 18 inches tall by 45 inches wide.  Ironing linen is incredibly annoying, so I helped the process along with spray starch.  Once my design and fabric were ready, I taped the design to the fabric and traced to transfer.


Using left over paint from the main bathroom vanity, I filled in the design and allowed it to dry overnight.  Then I pinned and sewed the two short sides as well as the bottom, leaving the top unfinished.


To hang the fabric, I had a few options to consider.  One, a dowel through a pocket at the top.  Two, stapled to a thin strip like the engineer print.  Three, wrapped around a frame, similar to a canvas.  Four, tacked to the wall at the corners.  Or five, wrapped over a thin strip at the top, which is what I chose.  Because this is fabric, I wanted the piece to have a little movement when the air picks up.


To do this, I rummaged through our scrap pile and found a strip of 1 by 2 pine and cut it one inch shorter than the fabric width.  I wrapped the fabric over the front and top of the board, stapling the fabric to the back to secure in place.


A saw tooth hook attached at the center of the wood easily hangs from a nail in the wall.

If seen from the side, a little bit of the wood peeks out.


The thickness of the board holds the fabric off the wall, giving a slight shadow.


Unlike the framed print before, this wider design fills the wide, squatty space.


Still on my to do list is find similar night stands, but for now a petite dresser and a thrifted sewing table work.



It’s simple enough not to compete with the art on the sides, but still noticeable from a distance.  Any artful additions to your home recently?  Don’t be afraid to think outside the frame and embrace a unique hanging method.

A Quick, Easy DIY Frame

When I shared our new entertainment center, I quickly touched on the styling of it.  I love the look of art layered in bookshelves, so I snatched this almost panoramic sized black and white photo off our bedroom wall.  It fit perfectly, but I wanted the shelves to feel symmetrical and only had one.


I love odd dimensions, but it’s not a standard size frame, so DIY to the rescuuuue!  Don’t feel limited to the cheap frames big box stores carry.  Or custom frames that can get expensive really quickly.


This is the quickest way to make a custom sized frame.  Head out to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get a stick or two of Outside Corner Moulding.  I chose the smallest at 3/4 inch by 3/4 inch to better match the other frame, though the larger sizes would work well for bigger frames.


When cutting, I like to keep the trim with one side tight against the saw, and the other face up.


Keeping it like this makes cutting safer, but also easier to remember which way you have to cut it.


Once cut to size at a 45 degree angle, apply wood glue to the insides of the cuts, press firmly together, and clamp in place until dry.


While the glue dries, cut a piece of foam core to the inside dimension of the picture frame.  Apply double-sided tape around the perimeter of the print, then carefully line up the backing and press together.  Now you have a backing and the art is held in place.

DIY-Light-Weight-Frame Foam Backing

I chose not to add glass to my frame, as my other was also without.  To secure the back in place, you have a few options.  Either gently staple just above, tap small nails in place, or, if the contents are light enough, take the laziest way out: masking tape.


Yep, so, so fancy around here-ha!


After about 30 minutes of work time and roughly 9 bucks, I have a finished frame and art.  In fact, this was so simple I have plans to make more to replace the art stolen from our bedroom.

DIY Nerf Gun Armory

As our boys get older, their interests seem to have narrowed to a few main things: Legos, Minecraft, Star Wars, sports, and Nerf guns.  Fellow boy moms, does this sound familiar?  Last week, I shared our Lego sorting and storing system and now we’re back in their little play lair with another organizational update.


Our oldest is a Nerf fanatic lately, googling the best guns, hacks, and tactics.  Many times, he arranges his guns on the floor and says it’s his armory, so we decided to give him the real deal.

To start, Ben measured the angled wall, transferred the measurements to a sheet of 3/4 inch MDF, and cut the sheet.  Then, using a T-square, we marked a 4 inch spaced grid.


Put a half-inch Forstner bit in your drill, keep it as vertical as possible, and drill where the grid overlaps.  We chose not to drill the holes completely through the panel to give a stopping point to the dowels, rather than getting pushed into the wall.  The Forstner bit is helpful because it’s easy to stop when the bit is flush with the top.


The panel is held in place with four screws, directly into the studs behind.


With the panel in place, I set to work painting, including using a small brush to get into every.single.hole.  That was a test of my patience, but it made the overall project look much more finished.


Cut two 48 inch long 1/2 inch diameter dowels into 4 inch sticks, then sand the edges smooth.  I chose to stain the dowels, as they are a tight fit in the drilled holes and paint could build too thick.  Once dry, place the pegs into the holes, arrange the Nerf guns on the board, and surprise your kid(s).


Bigger weapons are held up by two pegs, but the smallest pistols are hung through the trigger on a single dowel.  At four inches long, the dowels are deep enough to accommodate two thinner guns or attachments.


To store ammo and safety glasses, I sewed two bins from duck cloth to hang at the bottom.


Each basket is easy to remove, simply hanging by two leather loops.


This system would be easy to add to a bedroom or playroom, too.  If the peg board doesn’t go wall to wall, frame around with square trim or strips of 1 by 2 boards to finish it off.

Sorting & Storing Legos

If you have kids between the ages of four and forty, you probably have/had Legos in your home.  While I love this creative building toy, I don’t love all the teeny tiny pieces that get strewn about the house, vacuumed up, and inevitably, stepped on.  When we remodeled our basement, we made a few layout changes that helped us in the Lego department.

Before demolition, a door opened from the long end of the under stair storage, going into an unlit, unfinished dumping ground for junk.


As this is also just inside the garage entrance, we decided to carve out a little space to create a mini mudroom.  At 18 inches deep and six feet wide, it covers the former entrance.


However, just around the corner, inside the bedroom is a three foot deep closet with an opening to access the under stair area.


Sure, we could have left it unfinished, but for little effort and money, we decided to finish it.  In the photo below, taken at the entrance, the blue wall on the left backs the mud nook.  With short ceilings, we decided to turn this space into a cozy reading/Lego play space for our boys, that can double as storage space down the road.


Keeping the house tidy and organized is literally a sanity saver for me, and this space is no exception.  Coming down to vacuum and seeing a Lego explosion one too many times, I knew we had to come up with a good storage system.

After discussing with the boys, they said they look for specific colors when building.  The three of us got to work, sorting the colors into lidded shoe box sized plastic bins and called it a day.  Those bins worked for a while, but the small space didn’t leave room to play when they had all bins open at once.  Fast forward a few more times of seeing the Lego covered floor and I asked why they were dumping out full bins.  Their answer?  To find the itty bitty pieces that inevitably fall to the bottom of the bins.  Thus, our current storage system was born.


Tucked under the short stair slope, we have cheapie stacking bins with an angled front that allows access, without taking up loads of floor space.  All large pieces go into these bins.


Black and gray take up two bins each, but every other color fits nicely into one bin, including the minifigures.  Built or half built kits fill the top row of bins.


In the small gap to the side, we store the large baseplates against the wall.  Three expanding pockets keep the instruction manuals contained and organized.


Just to the side, a small 60 drawer storage bin, usually used for nuts, bolts, and such, keeps all the small bits organized.


Single pieces in the first column, special 2 brick pieces in the next.  Minifig accessories, weapons, special connecting pieces, car parts, and such each have a drawer, sorted by color.


All those small pieces are easy to find, with one tiny drawer to dump, search through, and clean up.  The space on top displays a rotation of favorite builds.


It’s a flexible system that can grow with their Lego collection, as it simply requires a few more stacking bins.  My love of labels/OCD really wants to label the stacking bins for the full effect.  Do you have Legos all over your house?  How do you contain and tame the jungle of plastic pieces?