The Barn Quilt

October 06, 2017   //  Posted in: Barn, DIY, HGTV + DIY Network Projects   //  By: Emily   //  one response

The barn quilt I created for DIY Network is a special project–probably my favorite project of the year–and I wanted to be sure you didn’t miss it. If you’re ready to go down a rabbit hole and want shortcuts over to my editorial pages, visit here for DIY Network, and here for HGTV.

A handmade, hand-painted barn quilt made featuring modern, vivid colors / diy network

I’ve followed Buffalo-native Whitney Crispell @whitneyarlene for quite some time on Instagram, and when she announced earlier this year that she was launching her own heirloom quilting business @localcolorquilts, I crossed my fingers and hoped she’d be willing to collaborate with me for the barn quilt I had been envisioning for our home. Her use of color! Her appreciation for modern design and pattern! So refreshing, and her projects always caught my eye and earned a double-tap. She bit the bait, agreed to an interview for HGTV (it turned out amazingly) and the rest is history.

Part of the story that isn’t told in the DIY Network tutorial is how I became drawn to barn quilts everywhere; every winter when we venture down back roads to our favorite ski resorts, we pass lots of old barns, many adorned with barn quilts. Their patterns, classic, sometimes weathered by blustering wind and snow, but other times freshly painted and bright, as if it was the owner’s mission to keep it looking sharp even when the barn was aging. From what I researched, they’re typically 8’x8′ in size, but country homes often are seen with miniatures on the porches, and we even spied a few giant interpretations painted onto old brick buildings in small villages for town beautification initiatives. We snapped photos, I pinned my heart out, and wondered curiously why there wasn’t yet an app that maps a barn quilt trail across the country for road trip enthusiasts (there’s your million dollar idea, barn quilt people).

After I painted the barn earlier this year (a $200 project that turned our sad little barn into something that looked superb), I knew I wanted to install a quilt of my own. Whitney fortunately had the vision and attention to detail that I was lacking, and contributed the pattern and color palette that you see in the finished project on DIY Network. (She actually gave me a lot of designs – her reinvention of some classic quilting patterns is worth some gold and if you want a cool, original pattern for yourself, you might want to get in touch with her directly).

Painting a modern barn quilt.

The other part you wouldn’t have heard about in depth on DIY Network was that I was able to source the wood from trees cut down on my parents property, which my Dad had planed into gorgeous, red spruce boards. He had been saving them for a long time, and I managed to convince him this was the project that would do them right. I went back and forth on how/whether to stain the natural wood, but decided on using a splash of stain from what I had leftover from refinishing the barn, but diluted down a bit with water so that the grain of the wood would display. It turned out so nice!

Wooden boards sourced locally from Buffalo, NY to be used in a handmade barn quilt.

No fancy joinery with this project–briefly considered biscuits but didn’t think they’d be strong enough alone–and no fancy hanging apparatus, either. I mounted the red spruce to a piece of plywood, and then straight to the wall of the barn with some 5″ bolts, and that’s where it will probably remain until the structure completely decays.

Enjoy the full how-to tutorial here on DIY Network.

Modern, rainbow-colored barn quilt on our mid-century home's outbuilding.

How to build and paint a modern barn quilt as a nod to traditional outdoor decor.

How We Made An 8-Foot Planter Box

October 03, 2017   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  one response

Elaborate landscaping and flowering gardens exist in our dreams; not so much in reality. Container gardens are my domain for now, and between herbs and potatoes and flowering front porch planters, we kind of rocked it this season. I always knew I’d get around to adding great, large planter on the treehouse, and early in the summer, it came to life (and of course it was completely assembled and installed in, like, an hour… just a reminder to stop putting stuff off, E.)

We couldn’t be happier with how it blossomed this growing season.

A DIY 8-foot long large planter box mounted to our kid's treehouse.

Things I used:

  • Two 5/4×6″ 8-foot deck boards
  • Four pieces of 2×6, cut to 6″ in length
  • Steel mesh fencing
  • Drill with assorted bits
  • 20+ 3-1/2″ exterior screws (this thing will never fall apart, nor fall down)
  • air compressor and a nail gun fitted with 1/2″ staples
  • my favorite natural stain made of vinegar and steel wool
  • a very tool-savvy tween who enjoys herself some DIY

If you’re looking for a fast project, this is it. The full 8-foot deck boards extend as the front and back of the planter–selected because deck boards are lighter than 2x lumber–and the cut 2×6 pieces form the ends of the planter, and act a few cross-braces for added durability. Sandwiched in there, the 2x offers bigger target to hit when you’re drilling through a deck board and trying to hit something on-center. And they’re undeniably more solid. If you’re considering your own DIY window box, after 4 months hanging filled with dirt and plants on our treehouse, this is a construct that I would do again 1,000,000x over. It’s solid as can be.

Step 1: Make your big rectangle

Dry fit the 8-foot boards, with the 2x pieces sandwiched perpendicularly in between. Do a rough layout, clamp it in position, and predrill everywhere you need to attach. Don’t scrimp on screws, use enough to feel confident that it won’t warp (3 at each joint should do the trick). Use the long screws to assemble the outer rectangle that will become your planter.

Step 2: Install your base

Drainage is a big issue with planter boxes made completely of wood. If it doesn’t have good drainage, your plants might suffer and the wood will deteriorate faster, and maybe troubleshooting this aspect of the build is why it took me 3 years to get this made. I eliminated my concerns about rotting by installing a heavy-duty steel mesh across the bottom of the planter, like a little planter hammock, if you will. I draped it along the inside of the assembled rectangle, trimmed it to size, and then we used a staple gun to pin the metal in place around the inside bottom edge of the planter.

Building a DIY planter box with a steel mesh bottom, to allow for drainage and root health.

Step 3: Add cross braces for reinforcement

How many cross pieces you install depends on your confidence with the construction to this point. I added two–evenly spaced at 1/3 and 2/3 marks along the 8-foot length, knowing that it would really help to keep the planter square and distribute the weight of the soil against the front of the planter. You’ll get the visual in the next photo.

Step 4: Install that planter!

I guess it’s worth noting that I also stained it prior to installing, using what is typically my favorite natural stain. It usually takes a few months to fully transform the color of the wood, but I think the solution I applied hadn’t brewed long enough; even today, the color is much lighter than I expected it would be. Shoulda been more like the color of this garden box accessory. Another coat of stain to come in the future.

Every single time I’ve considered adding large planter boxes beneath a window, I’ve felt conflicted because of the commitment factor – either you’re putting them there for life and committing to maintaining them, or you’re putting holes into your siding or trim and opening up the chances of rainwater seeping through those openings. I’m really sorry I don’t have the right answers for those of you doing that type of planter box, because my planter is outdoors, in an unfinished space that already gets wet, attaching to a railing that is already a solid, sturdy natural hardwood. All I can say is that I used 12 giant exterior screws to mount this to the railing, which averages a screw every 8″, and some might say that’s overkill but there’s no such thing as overkill when you’re securing a heavy wooden box that’s going to be filled with heavy soil and growing plants directly above where your children hopscotch all day long.

Attaching an 8-foot window box to a treehouse railing for a raised planter area.

Step 5: Fill it up

Whoa there. First things first. Along the bottom, before adding dirt, we shaved pieces of moss from the yard and laid it soil-side up in the planter. With the moss facing down, we formed a living base that continue to thrive beneath the plants, and would also prevent muddy run-through without affecting proper drainage. I’m happy to say that it worked well and continued on with its green, mossy self.

Using moss as the bottom layer in a window box.

Our assortment of small market-bought herbs, flowers, and cascading greens filled in nicely, too. I trimmed the herbs like it was my job (photographed them too, for this piece on why/how to prune and grow herbs for DIY Network), and just this week began to transplant them indoors to see if I can get them through the winter to re-plant next spring.

Bonus Points:

I attached a row of Pon Pushpins (my fave of all the pushpins) on the railing, so that the kids could ID the plants and remember which was which as they grew. It was pretty brilliant, if I do say so myself, since the plant markers are covered by soil, or moved around and hidden within a few weeks of planting. This not only helped us remember which plant was which (apparently we aren’t people who can tell the difference between parsley and cilantro nor stevia and lemon basil, when under pressure <shrugs>) but it also taught the kids to be mindful of what the plant likes, what it looks like when blossoming, etc.

Pon Pins used in our treehouse as an alternative to sharp pushpins on a cork board.

If you’re not familiar with Pon Pins yet, welcome to your next happy thing. An alternative to push pins, they press in like you would expect, but rest flush against the surface and host a tight coil in which you can slide artwork and photos through without devastatingly having to puncture holes into your stuff. To get them secured in wood, I simply drilled a small hole, poked the end of the Pon into some strong adhesive, and then tapped it into the predrilled hole. Have not had an issue with them popping loose yet, though the labels for our plants have been the only things occupied this year.

View from inside the treehouse, with peeks of our large railing-mounted planter box and Pon Pins holding our plant ID cards.

Our gardens were time-sucks this summer, and I loved every minute of it. There are a few other things I want to get around to sharing this fall that might help you plan for next spring, but you can also see peeks of these things on Instagram if you scroll around the feed @merrypad.

A Tiny + Modern Garden Storage System

September 05, 2017   //  Posted in: DIY, Gardening, Organized   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Alt title: The Thing the Woodpecker Nibbled Before it Could Be Photographed

Alt-Alt title: The Thing that Wasps Found Before I Could Finish This Post

Dry storage space in the garden wasn’t really an issue until this house, where most of our hand tools are stored nowhere near our garden and either forgotten and left in the rain, or unused; for years, I’ve wanted a small container that would keep my hand tools and assorted necessities out of the rain–or just a shelter, that would have worked too–so once the fence itself was built, I whipped this up one weekend, a simple cabinet with hinged door, to satisfy what we were missing. As the above alt-titles suggest, I’m not sure how long it’ll last before the woodpeckers smash it to bits, and the wasps definitely made a nest in one of my gardening glove fingertips, but those details aside, this tiny storage unit fits right into our space.

DIY garden storage to keep tools and accessories dry.

I installed it on the inside of one of the posts of our garden fence. No, there’s no plan to follow (it’s in my head), and no, definitely not a work of art, but simple and effective and I love what it does, and does so well.

It’s size is 10″w x 8″d x 24″h, and it’s mostly constructed out of some remaining cedar from when I built shelves inside my closet. Another scrap board for the roof, too. Design-wise, I kept it super simple, and assembled it only with wood glue and some small nails because it wouldn’t be holding anything too hefty. Inside, I added in a small shelf to vertically divide the space (and also to mildly prevent those long side boards from warping after rain and snow show their stuff).

Building storage for the garden using cedar boards.

The hinged door was a straight-forward design–the width of the door and the back panel are the same, so it made sense to have the door fit right into the cabinet. It was the fewer-cut route too, always a popular one for the DIYer embracing convenience, and I figured it would also be less inclined to flop around in the wind. Speaking of lazy, I briefly planned on it having a plexi window on the door, but decided plexi wasn’t worth an extra trip to the store and more time/money. Simple narrow hinges were the only item I purchased.

Narrow hinges for our garden storage door.

I used a router in two ways for this project: with a straight bit to etch out spaces for the hinges;

Our DIY garden storage shed made of cedar boards.

And a rounded bit to ease off the inside edge of the door so that the door would open more easily without a “square” inside left edge.

How to make a small cedar garden storage shed.

The roofline needed to be nothing more than a piece of wood to protect the interior from excessive moisture, and before attaching it with 4 finishing nails, I cut the top of the roofline to be flush with the vertical board on the backside (you’ll see what I mean in a photo lower down the post).

Anyone else remember the beetle knobs that I picked up from Anthropologie in 2012? Throwback. They lived on bifold doors in the old house, and I reused one of them here. (Also, Potatoes in containers. We harvested them already.)

Hardware attached to the garden storage container.

I used the same natural vinegar + steel wool stain that I use for all of the things, and obviously it worked perfectly, that’s why I love it so much. Upon application this is what it looked like, but remember at the top of the post (and in the next few photos) you’ll see that it darkens with time.

Using DIY vinegar stain on our garden storage cabinet.

I installed it on the post in the garden not long after the previous photo was taken, and added a few nails to the inside back wall to serve as hooks, too.

In addition to a pair of gloves and a few simple hand tools, it was nice to have spare seeds stored out there for extra plantings (except that the aforementioned wasps knocked the cukes into a spinach container garden sitting beneath the cabinet, and now we have a bunch of rogue plants doing their thing).

DIY garden storage to keep tools and accessories dry.

Garden 2017 is killing it. If you want to see how we built that fence, check out this post. And just for fun, here’s a tutorial showing how I made my favorite-ever raised beds. And because the evolution of the garden has been fun to see, check out 2013 (crushed by a tree), 20142015, and 2016.

Modern garden storage idea to keep tools and extra seeds and gardening gloves dry.