My favorite things about Washington, DC... So far

It has now been almost 4 months since we moved to Washington, DC. Below, I quickly share some of my favorites thus far. The things that you won't see here are food places (yum...) or museums. The first will be hard to write about... I refuse to take pictures of my food :). The latter requires a whole dedicated post to itself.

So, without further adieu... My three favorite things in DC! (So far):


1. The Commute

I am sure no one has ever muttered these words before, but I absolutely love my commute to work every day! Unlike in Houston, public transportation here is an integral part of the city and many people take full advantage of it (including me). I am lucky enough to not have to switch buses... and the above images are taken from my daily walk to catch the bus. It is easy on the eyes!

And I never realized how stressful a driving commute can be until I no longer had to go through it. In Houston, I had to drive an average of 30-40 minutes to get to work and from work. This was peak rush hour and inevitably, it resulted in plenty of almost-accidents, honking, swears, and fake road rage... Well, road rage no more! My daily bus commute involves me, my podcasts (NPR One!) and peace and quiet. 


2. The Office

I have noticed that working for universities has many wonderful pluses (vacation, anyone?:), one of which is that typically, your office location is rather beautiful. AU and Kogod don't disappoint. Actually, AU's campus is a nationally registered arboretum! Being surrounded by trees and gorgeous landscape calms the soul, even if you have had a long and tiring day.


3. Local Travel

The East Coast feels so tiny! Aka, very easy to travel! Since we moved here, we have spent time in Maryland, Virginia (Great Falls and Wine Country), Pennsylvania (Falling Water) and NYC. The longest of these trips was our Falling Water trip that took as about 3.5 hours each way... 3.5 hours in TX would barely get you to Austin! Needless to say, Chewie likes joining in on the fun because of that!


So this is it... the three simple joys of our recent move! I am sure there will be plenty more to come :). Have a great Friday!

Posted on November 10, 2017 and filed under Travel Diaries.

Save $2,287 with this DIY!

Well, okay, so you won't really save that much unless you have always wanted to buy a random light but never had the budget for it. What is a random light, you ask? Well, let me explain!

The random light was designed by Bertjan Pot and it has been in the moooi collection since 2002. I have been in love with it since 2010. But that was only because it took me 8 years to discover it. Typically, designers use these lights in large spaces in groupings of 3 or more because they provide a very sculptural design element to tall ceilings and lofts. Here's some evidence:

The light comes in three sizes and two colors: small, medium and large and black and white. And, surprisingly, the process for the real light is not very different from the process of the DIY version:  a resin drained yarn is randomly coiled around an inflatable beach ball creating a translucent 3D fabric. The beach ball is then deflated and extracted from a round opening in the lamp. Sounds simple, right?

Well, it is and it isn't. Let me explain. 

First, for the record, this is version 4.0 for me. Version 1.0 and 2.0 did not succeed because I did not use the correct materials and did not have the patience to finish respectively. 3.0 was a fantastic light that was well loved for a good 5 years. Unfortunately, it met its early demise in transportation to DC. Which brings us to version 4.0! This version had its own challenges, mostly, due to our new location and my lack of desire to drive anywhere... I wanted to make this light entirely with materials bought on Amazon. And surprisingly, this actually worked!

Here's what you'll need (for a total of $66.88!!)

As you will notice, I picked a ball that is 36" in diameter because I estimated that to be the size that would fit best in our breakfast nook. You can choose as big or as small of a ball as you'd like. I had actually purchased a 42" ball originally, but then realized that this light fixture will end up being larger than the dining table under it...

Next disclaimer? This is one MESSY process. Wear something you won't be upset about ruining, and do it in an area you won't be upset about messing up. I did this in our tiny back patio. 

Here are the steps you will need to take:

  1. Inflate beach ball.
  2. Using a sharpie, draw a circle towards the top with a diameter of about 5" or so.
  3. Cover thoroughly in vaseline.
  4. Open wallpaper adhesive (in lieu of resin).
  5. Open yarn roll (but do not unroll).
  6. Submerge said yarn roll in wallpaper adhesive bucket. 
  7. Hang greased beach ball from a high place (I used the cable that holds our string lights).
  8. IMPORTANT: Put on gloves. 
  9. Start coiling soaked yarn around ball in random patterns.
  10. Avoid coiling over your drawn circle. This is the opening you will use to extract the deflated beach ball and change the light bulb later.
  11. NOTE: The first few rounds that set the foundation are the hardest. Once you have a few layers, it becomes a repetitive and rather easy process.
  12. ANOTHER NOTE: This glue holds very well so do not stress if the yarn is not stretched tightly around the ball. It will still hold its shape when it's dry. 
  13. Put as many layers as you would like. I liked mine tightly packed because it serves as a better light diffuser that way. But you don't have to make it as tight. I used the entire yarn ball and all of the glue for 4.0. 
  14. Let dry for at least 24 hours, or maybe more. This depends on your humidity. The more humid it is, the more time it will take to dry. This one dried in about 24 hours. And it was bone dry by that time.
  15. Deflate beach ball.
  16. Attach light kit (I was surprised to see that the small opening on top where I had attached the ball to hang it was stiff enough to hold the light kit without losing the light's round shape!). 
  17. IMPORTANT: Turn off electricity.
  18. Install light fixture at the height you would like, which will depend on your ceiling height. Our ceilings are at least 11 ft high and I therefore installed this at about 40" above the table. 
  19. Turn electricity back on and enjoy your magical new feature!

And this is it! A couple of hours of elbow grease and a few thousand dollars saved later, you will feel as accomplished as ever!

Posted on October 24, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.

LIFE UPDATE: Five lessons for first-time home sellers and how we got six offers on our first day on the market

Dear friends,

It's official! We are no longer Houstonians, and I guess we are now Washingtonians? I think that's what it's called. They do have a magazine named Washingtonian around here, so I am taking my cues from that (such a rookie move). 

But this post isn't about our new digs (that shall come too!). It's about how we sold the old ones. And, as you might expect, there were plenty of interesting lessons learned through the process. I have tried to synthesize them into a digestible 5.

Disclaimer: I am not a real estate agent. Also, this may not be true for every market. Houston (at the time of selling) was, more or less, a buyer's market. And, I will be the first to admit, we may have just gotten lucky. Which would make the below 5 lessons completely baseless. =)

GetMedia.jpeg

LESSON 1: STAGING MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE

Granted, interior design is clearly a hobby for this blogger and not everyone has the time or desire to decorate their space, but I imagine the staging of our house helped us A LOT. Beyond de-cluttering, I tried to make everything look as photogenic as possible. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest (certainly more than necessary) and that has taught me how to mimic styling that photographs well. My advice is to research what is popular there and try to mimic the photographic angles and styling that best fit your house decor. 

As an example, below are some images from previous listings. Compare those to our listing:

PREVIOUS LISTINGS:
OUR LISTING:

Which takes us to lesson two:

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LESSON 2:

 

ONCE STAGED, INVEST IN PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Whether you hire a photographer or take the images yourself, make sure you show off your home's best assets. You are best qualified to control this process - after all, you know every inch of your space - so don't be shy about requesting specific angles and views if you work with someone else. I chose to do the photography on my own. It required a small investment in a wide angle lens (you can find mine here) that cost about $320. 

What were our perceived best assets? For the living room, I wanted to show that it is 1) big (hence no rugs on the floor and the removal of some extra furniture) and 2) bright (I pulled up the blinds and used high exposure on the camera settings). For the bedroom, I wanted to show its 1) size (big enough) and 2) incredible organizational prowess (an Elfa closet system). For the master bathroom, I focused on the fact that it is 1) freshly remodeled and 2) funkily designed. For the kitchen, the selling points were the 1) miles-long granite countertops and 2) brand new appliances. 

Identify your top two selling points per space and make sure your photographs really show those off.


GetMedia (5).jpeg

LESSON 3:

 

YES, DO THAT REMODEL, BUT...

...be smart about it.

When the house was originally purchased, the kitchen was in a rather pitiful shape: the floor tiles were cracked and poorly installed, the appliances were paying homage to the 1980's, the countertops were cracked and poorly installed tiles as well, and so on. Since we have more than 70 sq. ft. of countertops and cabinets to support them, the sheer size of this project was so intimidating that it held us off of ever tackling it.

After speaking with our realtor and researching the competition, it became obvious that something had to be done. The "a-ha" moment was when we realized that not EVERYTHING had to be done. So instead of demolishing the entire kitchen, we decided to simply upgrade its not-so-great parts - the floors, the counters and the few appliances that had not been upgraded yet. After we were done, we were stunned at what a huge difference it made. And sad that we hadn't done it earlier. Altogether, we were able to pull that off with less than $4,000. Money well spent!

OUR LISTING:
PREVIOUS LISTING:

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LESSON 4: RESEARCH YOUR COMPETITION

DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Use your local real estate website and see what you are up against. Your realtor should also help you with some further analysis on what has sold around you and for how long it was on the market. But being informed is a must - do not just rely on your realtor. This research should help you identify a two important things:

  • What to upgrade/renovate (as it did with our kitchen)
  • The price range that would be acceptable in the market

Always remember that your real estate agent is, yes, there to help and guide you along. But they also only get 3% of the selling price. $10,000 more or less in selling a house results in a mere $300 difference for their commission, but for you, the difference would be $9,700 more or less in your bank account. So, their incentive is to sell your house as fast as possible, which may sometimes result in a price suggestion that may be too low. For example, our realtor suggested that $229,000 will be the maximum we can ask for with our kitchen situation. After investing the above-mentioned $4,000 in our kitchen, I set the selling price at $249,000.

We had six offers (five of which were above asking price) in one day with us ultimately accepting $265,000. This tells us we still underpriced it! Always do your homework and look after your own interests.


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LESSON 5:

 

YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION

 

So you have to make the best of it! The first week of a listing is critical for its success. If you have priced it well and your place stays on the market for more than a week, people will simply assume that there is something wrong with it. For that reason, if you can afford it, be patient. Only list your place after you have reviewed and approved ALL photos and ALL descriptions. Adding those later will simply deflate your ability to appear that you are in demand.

Also, chose your BEST image as your headliner. We had the option of using the outside shot (from above) or the living room. Most listings show the outside as it is the most logical first image - that's what you see first. We chose the living room instead because we knew that it has the power to capture attention. And the more people open your online listing, the more people are likely to show up, and the more offers you are likely to receive. It's purely a function of math. And it goes straight to the bottom line. 


And this is it, friends! I hope this was at least somewhat helpful to anyone who is about to embark on the scary process of selling their house for the first time. Good luck and let me know how things go in the comments!

We are on the market!

Living room on 1st floor

I cannot believe that we are here already... This home has been so loved and cared for. But it's time to hand it to someone else who will show it the same love and appreciation! 

We are on the market!

(Well, at least as of Monday :)

Living here has been so wonderful, and frankly, it will be hard to say goodbye. But at the very least, I gave this home one last push of loving. We just completed renovating the kitchen (see below!!) and, as you know, we recently re-did our master bathroom. The things you do not see here are the new roof, paint, window trim, power outlets, and so much more. Because we just cared for this place a LOT.

While we were working countless hours downstairs, the upstairs became an oasis away from the craziness. And for a neat freak like myself, looking at our organized closet just made me feel good, haha. Re: the shower curtain... Well, that's just coming with us because I like it way too much. Besides, our realtor believes some people wouldn't like it... (although I cannot imagine how that's possible at all :). 

And there it is! Our future ex-home, all nestled in our quiet cul-de-sac and ready for someone new to take care of. 

Large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking private yard and gated common area

Now, back to packing :)

Posted on July 21, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.

Some news...

Time to say goodbye, Houston!

Houston has been my home for nine years now... And Houston has been good: the people I've met, the relationships I've built, the food! This is the place where I had my first home away from home, with my family away from family.  This is where I found Chewie. And Robert. I'd like to think that this is the place where I have grown the most. Where I learned to be more patient, more kind, more generous... heck, I even learned to love running!

So, yes, Houston, you will be missed. But...

Your replacement is not too shabby either. World, we are moving to Washington, DC! And my oh my, does it feel like I am finally coming home! Our frequent visits to DC reminded me exactly how much I miss Bulgaria. The four seasons, the ability to walk everywhere, the crowds of international people, the plethora of foreign languages around you, the old buildings, the old world cafes and restaurants that invite you into their priceless sidewalk vistas for people-watching... there is so much to savor!

So stay tuned! As you might expect, a cross-country move is so much fun! And I hope to be able to tell you all about it! 

Now, back to packing and making sure this place is in tip-top shape for the market :)

Posted on July 8, 2017 and filed under Travel Diaries, Design + DIY.

Our bathroom.... the reveal!

Well... hello, hello, hello!

A few months back, we started a rather BIG project - renovating our tiny bathroom. We had two lofty goals: spend less than five days and less than $5,700 on it. Well, today is the time to look back and see how we did!

1. Time spent renovating - as you might expect, renovations never go as planned (oh, the irony!) However, I am happy to report that our overtime spent here was a mere two days. Some of the hiccups we faced included the need of new insulation, working within a very tight space to remove and install a new bathtub, some miscommunication with the contractor and the usual plumbing surprises.

2. Budget - even with all the contingencies we had planned for, we still went slightly over budget. All said and done, we spent slightly less than $6,000.  And given that the average bathroom renovation cost runs between $8,000 to $10,000 (and we gutted the whole thing!), I'd say we did better than average!

And, as with any project, there were plenty of lessons learned. For instance:

1. How to talk to a contractor about your budget:

  • Option one would be to ask how much your plan will cost (we tried that first).
    • Plus: you can demand perfection
    • Minus: boy, is it expensive (our initial quote was for $8,500 excluding all the materials we would purchase, such as tile, fixtures, etc.)
  • Option two would be to tell them how much money you have to spend.
    • Plus: it is affordable! You spend what you have
    • Minus: you cannot nag about fixing those imperfect corners

As you might expect, we went down the rabbit hole of option two. But I was very pleasantly surprised with the results! When you find the right contractor, they will care about the quality (almost) as much as you do.

2. Know what YOU can do vs what you need to have done FOR YOU:

  • Things that are easy to do (for us, anyways) included painting, hanging things, installing mirrors, lights, switches, shelves, shower rods, etc.
  • Things that are easy to do for more advanced DIY-ers (not us :): install electrical (e.g. fan), fix drywall, etc. 
  • Things I would always outsource, even if I am tempted not to: tiling and plumbing.

3. Know where to splurge and where to save:

  • Things I will always splurge on are paint, tile (sometimes) and fixtures. These items tend to look their money! 
  • Things I will always save on? Accessories (TJ Maxx and Marshalls are your best friend) and tile (when it's a surround - your floor tile should be good quality because it gets a lot of traffic!). I also always look at used Amazon deals... For instance, our door handle was half the cost, and it was in perfect shape! 
  • Have a wink - without splurging. My favorite part of our bathroom is this very affordable shower curtain that is just too much fun. 

Below is a breakdown of everything we purchased! 



And, this is it! Our bathroom renovation in a nutshell. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Instagram for traveling and design ideas (you may notice we have been busy!). Now back to nursing this pesky fever (yuck!). 

Posted on May 31, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.

Something BIG is in the works!

Alright, friends!

Here comes the big news... We are starting a RENO! That's right, the first-ever, complete renovation of any interior room of this house... Which is where it gets interesting. Because the only experience with a reno for this blogger is the ever-glorious yard. Which, in itself was a huge feat! But, in comparison, far less intrusive as a renovation. 

Our plan? Spend less than $5,700 in less than 5 days. Above, you can see the mood board and purchasing list for this project. The only possible way of accomplishing such an affordable reno of a master bathroom is if you are extremely frugal in your purchasing and exceptionally good at negotiating...

Happy to report that thus far, we have been doing pretty well on both accounts. It has been a bit of a give-and-take (as usual) so our ability to save on some items has enabled us to compensate for some mistakes. For example... my math on how much tile we need, as it turns out, was way, way off. But, by saving on the bathroom vanity and the faucets and finishes, we are still within budget.

So, where have we made some changes already?

  1. We have swapped the faucets for the bathroom vanity and the bath tub with more affordable options.
  2. We also changed the bath tub model for the one we were able to see in person.
  3. We found more affordable mirrors (more on that below).

Where did we save big time?

1. The mirrors.

Originally, we had planned for these geometric Umbra mirrors with black frames to contrast the future white walls and complement the wood, grey and white palette. However, during a random walk through our local Target, we came across Dwell's Modern line for Target (ON SALE!). Before we knew it, these two babies were in our cart on the way home.


2. The faucets! 

The original plan had some sleek faucets from Home Depot and Allmodern.com. And as much as we liked those, we found some more affordable alternatives at IKEA and the Home Depot that we got to see and pick up in person!

The best news from our shopping excursions though was the bathroom vanity! We had originally planned to spend north of $500 on that from IKEA. After some back and forth on inventory availability (and minor panic attacks that the centerpiece of the remodel is... um... nonexistent), we lucked out to secure on of the last three vanities in Houston... at half its price! So exciting!!

Okay, enough bragging about the savings. Where are we NOW?

You may think... Hey, this is not a TERRIBLE bathroom... Why change? Well, hold on! Let's show you some close-ups (SPOLER ALERT: not for those who get grossed out easily):

Yup... GROSS. One of our skylights had leaked thus creating some serious leakage and mold. After fixing the skylight sealing, we let the whole thing be... Resulting in this! In addition, it's safe to say that the vent in the bathroom was anything but effective. We are fixing that with a new, powerful fan that should be arriving tomorrow... 

And this is it for now! After today's demo is done... you can expect more images to follow :). Wish us some good luck, please!

Posted on March 20, 2017 and filed under Design + DIY.