Decorating home, one element at a time.

Category Archives: Cobbling 101

Jackie here.

I confess it: I lead another life. Well, another decorating life. And it’s called the Facebook photo album. What am I talking about? Whenever I buy some new piece of junk [read: awesome thrifty item], I snap a photo of it, hook my camera up to my computer, import and upload that sucker in under two minutes, slap some sassified comment about how much I spent/what my plans are in the photo info box and baby, I am done. It’s not like this blog-thing where I am programmed by my spastic writer’s nature to see this blank space and think:

OOOH I MUST FILL IT UP WITH WORDS.

But here’s the benefit of having a FB album I tend to tend to (nice, two parts of speech!) so easily and readily: I’ve got a grand repository of picture-inspired bloggo ideas to draw from when I finally get around to it.

Today’s topic: shelves. Which I hate.

And this is a problem because there’s always crap I want to put places, and gee wiz, it’s hard to do that, as well as effectively decorate a room when you hate shelves.

Well–let me nuance that. I don’t hate shelves–things you can set other, smaller things upon–it’s shelving I hate. It’s Big Box aesthetics. It’s boring, stupid, yucky poo poo crap that passes for interesting decor.

So what kind of shelves does a person who hates shelves put up? Let’s go to the tape!What you’re looking at is my solution to the shelving, you bore me, dilemma: thrift and vintage crates and boxes. Starting from the top left, you’re looking at a Goodwill crate ($4), a vintage box ($7) and a vintage diet rite crate ($15).

Immediate benefit of this type of shelving: they’re interesting all on their own. WHAAAAT! Most shelves when empty we’d like to see fade into the sunset because they’re so banal, but when you choose vintage/thrift pieces of different sizes and depths and colors of wood, visual interest is pretty much automatic.

Here are the boxes from the side:

So because these objects did not come into the world thinking they’d be going on a wall as shelves, I had to get them ready to be hung up. I purchased some sawtooth picture hangers from Lowe’s (get them just about anywhere that carries hardware) to hammer into the backs of each box/crate—don’t be scared; this is really easy! No nails needed whatsoever. Just grab a hammer, and in mere moments you’ll have a bunch of easy-to-hang objects. If you’re hammering these into something with edges of varying heights (like the rightmost box of this cluster), either place the box on a book so the long edges of the box are hanging above the ground or fold up a towel in half and in half and in thirds, and set the box on that. This’ll prevent you from bashing it up and adding unplanned character to the edges.

Before you actually hang anything on the wall, mock up your placement on the floor by sliding the boxes around till you have a cool setup. I even traced the boxes out on kraft paper and stuck the paper shapes on the wall to figure out what I liked and at what heights (TIP: don’t hang your arrangement too high. It should be more or less at eye level.) After I had a sense of where I wanted the boxes to be in relation to each other, I started to map out on the wall all nail placement locations. And there’s a really, really easy way to do this:

Toothpaste.

Run up to your bathroom, grab your mangled tube of white paste, and totally and completely simplify object-hanging. Stick a glob on the picture hanger on the reverse indicating where the nail should go, hover the box next to the wall till you have it where you want, and press it against the wall. Remove the box carefully—don’t smudge! You’ll have a perfect indication of where you need to put the nail.

Once your boxes are hung, it’s time to fill. SECOND TIP: DON’T OVERFILL. It can be so tempting to look at an arangement of shelves and think, gosh now I should put something in every available spot. By  no means should you do this! Negative space—the empty area—is just as important to the overall look as is picking fun objects.

It took me awhile to get it right when I first ‘merchandized’ these shelves, but here’s what I came up with:

I’ve changed a couple of things since then, but the basic  idea remains: I didn’t fill every ‘spot.’

So that’s it! The shelving-hater does shelves. What unconventional shelving types have you tried in your home?

*DISCLAIMER: The shelf-loathing expressed in this blog post is a particular hang up of Jackie’s. Rachel is much more rational in this aspect of decor. We’ll let Rachel come forth with her own issues as she is ready. =)

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Rachel here. Is it too early to divulge the most needed quality and yet, worst part of cobbling? Dah well, here it is: Patience.

Who hasn’t suffered from and with it? I could approach this valuable attribute from different angles:

  • As a former art teacher… patience was needed when sixth grade boys insisted on including guns in every composition (Arkansasans are born in camo) or when the “mature” high school male was so inspired in his painting that he would not restrict his paints to the canvas.
  • As a current admission counselor…(still) dealing with some high schoolers who live in an instant world and who expect immediate gratification without necessarily exerting any effort. Having patience can be helpful when working with people who lack it.
  • As a painter/artist…well, the Mona Lisa wasn’t painted in a day.

Now in my cobbling… Patience consumes the process as I’m planning, visualizing, searching, waiting, searching some more, arranging, waiting again- all in the goal of creating a unique space. Maybe if I controlled time and could put everything else off? Or just ignored “everything else” that needs to be done in a day? Hmm…

It’s hard for me to cope with an incomplete space and I have a fair share of those. However, I try not to compromise my design aesthetic and goals just to have a space be “done”…if indeed that is a stage that can be attained.

One such incomplete space is at the bottom of my stairs:

Early on I decided that I didn’t want an everyday, entry way/console/sofa table. Since the space is visually unavoidable and predictable, why settle for the expected?

I’ve envisioned a real piece de resistance: an old card catalog, an antique radio, a gossip/telephone table, some type of old store display cabinet… whatever it would be, I knew I’d know it when I saw it.

And then, I did. And that’s the best feeling- to have your patience met- the waiting over (I know Jackie knows exactly how this feels, but for more than just cobbling!).

Let’s call this “before” and I ask your patience as I transform it into “after.” Hopefully soon!


I, Jackie, mused publicly on Facebook that, “I think I’m serious this time about repainting my living room.” This, of course, suggests that I have NOT been serious about repainting my living room in the past, but what it really is, is I love color so much that it’s hard for me to rest where I am, on the color I’ve chosen. So, even though I’ve had my current living room color for a little less than two years (we bought our house the summer of 09), I tend to keep thinking. Unquenchable thinking, that occasionally leads me to blurt out such statements as the one above, even if I don’t ever go through with it.

But me making this admission publicly caused a friend to wonder why I’d want to change my living room color at all. She—and many others, including me!—likes the current color. When we moved in, Alex and I labored, hours, over creating the perfect palette for our house, and we started it off with a dose of Meditative Blue by Sherwin Williams in our living and dining rooms.

This friend also raised the question of design sequence. Many people, she noted, choose a wall paint color and decorate from there, wedding their accessories, etc, to the selected color. It seemed to her that I was working opposite to that rather common occurrence, and that maybe that could be good, and useful, what I was doing.

So I want to say something about design sequence, and why I would chose to paint my room, collect a bunch of stuff that doesn’t necessarily meld perfectly with that chosen color (though it certainly goes okay), and THEN pick a NEW paint color.

Other than me being a bit of a masochist, I’d say it goes back to my design/decorating philosophy. I believe in surrounding myself with objects that interest me, that I think are special. Sometimes when we don’t do this—surround ourselves with interesting, beloved items—we end up with rooms that “go” perfectly but lack any visual interest, lack anything that says JACKIE LIVES HERE. That’s like being a Bluth and trying to live, without irony, in a model home in Sudden Valley. Talk about a lack of connection between personality and physical space….

When Alex, Oliver and I moved into our house almost two years ago, we didn’t yet have a remarkable collection of worthy objects. (The rental life tends to impede this, at least for me.) So we chose a paint color to compliment the thing we knew we couldn’t afford to replace right off—our couch—satisfied that the color was also one we liked and went with the other colors in the house (and this is true).

When you’re a Cobbler, sometimes you make decisions based on your now-reality. And when you’re a Cobbler, you sometimes must conscientiously choose to turn toward your decorating destination. When you’ve got even one item about which you can say, hey, I really, really like that. And I want to have it around, that’s when decorating like you becomes possible. That’s when you can stop saying, I’ve got to be a slave to this wall color I picked five years ago and start asking, what makes sense now? Who am I today?

Don’t be afraid to change. Don’t be afraid to look to the objects that you love for inspiration, instead of flippantly committing to a wall color because walls are bigger than your prized collection of vintage fly swatters. Let the fly swatters guide you—trust the instincts that told you you wanted them in the first place, and then pick the paint color that’ll compliment them.