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When you’re on a home improvement kick, absolutely everywhere you go offers the potential for inspiration.

Early on, Tyler and I bided our time waiting to close our deal on the church by visiting home improvement shows, home improvement stores, furniture stores, parades of homes, every show on HGTV, friends’ houses … you get the picture. We kept that up throughout construction.

Eventually, we got to the decorating phase, and I spent a lot of time at Pier 1. And as luck would have it, the nearby Pier 1 was next door to a Bath & Body Works store. So easy to stop in for hand soap (and body lotion and lip gloss …). I also spied this display in the back of the store behind the cash register. Where other people saw a brightly lit 100% guarantee, I saw 100% bright idea.

back wall inspiration
Welcome to Bath & Body Works.

The owner told me that in other franchise stores, that space filled by the sign was a big television screen with animated advertising; she just didn’t have the flat screen. I loved the lighting effect and the window pane design, and I thought, “That idea could work on the back wall of the great room.”

Click! I took a picture.

That retail display inspired the custom cabinetry on the right side of our fireplace in the church.

back wall right side
You’re going to have to use your imagination for this side.

Well, we’re not quite done, but I’ve been stringing you along on the back wall of the church for a week now. My “advertising” is still in the works. The flower, mirror and adorable picture of my granddaughter are placeholders for a grouping of a dozen canvas-wrapped vacation and family photos I’m going to display there. Also, we have rope lighting hidden in there, but these photos were taken during the day. You’re just going to have to trust me. It’s going to be epic.

back wall with pantry
This angle shows the pantry (left) and the entire back wall of the great room.

Overall, we don’t have perfect symmetry on the left and right sides of the fireplace, but we wiped that out as soon as we installed the spiral staircase. We have coordination. Matchy-matchy is so yesterday’s Sears showroom anyway.

Let’s remind ourselves where we began. Oh, dear.

sanctuary before
Here’s what the back wall of the church looked like when we purchased the building.
back wall straight on
And here’s how it looks today.

Merchant Wednesday: Ginger Blossom

As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On some Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.

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We drove by the inconspicuous property at least a dozen times before we stopped, lured in with a sandwich board sign that promoted a deal on wool sweaters.

Our curiosity was amply rewarded when we discovered all the interesting imported goods at Ginger Blossom, a vendor for ethnic and traditional crafts, rugs, furniture, sweaters, antiques and more from all over the world, displayed and sold at a farm just outside of Richmond, Illinois.

We liked the furniture offerings so much, we invested in three pieces.

china hutch

Our china cabinet is a huge piece (it came in two parts), and it displays all my china.

dining room table

The dining room table is made of teak. My father teased that it could use a good sanding, but we love the rustic look of it.

ginger blossom dresser

And the dresser in our master bedroom is a charismatic piece that adds color and interest to the room while holding sweaters inside and our TV on top.

Most of Ginger Blossom’s goods were imported from Asia, so the farm has a wide selection of stone Buddas and Hindi gods, but it also offered unique jewelry, colorful dishware, one-of-a-kind furniture, hand-woven rugs and cotton bedding. According to the website, “The core inventory features primarily home furnishings and accent pieces, and ethnic and tribal collectibles, including rustic pine furniture, furniture made from architectural salvage, and antique Swati and Tibetan trunks.” There is an entire room of fantastic rugs.

For Christmas, I gave several members of my family hand-knitted gloves I found at Ginger Blossom,  and in the summertime, it’s a great place to find pots and garden decor, too.

Ginger Blossom is absolutely worth the stop if you’re visiting the area. They’re open daily and you can find it at 3016 Route 173, Richmond, Illinois.

By the way, our china cabinet comes with a story.

My son-in-law, who has lived in the area all his life and has heard all the stories, jokes that our china cabinet is “the murder hutch.”

A couple was murdered by a motorcycle gang in 1993 at the property that is now Ginger Blossom, where we found our beautiful cabinet. The couple’s son was wrongly convicted of the crime and sentenced to die by lethal injection until a law professor and Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions took up the case. He was released and wrote a book about it, which is for sale in the gift shop of Ginger Blossom. Look for In Spite of the System: A Personal Story of Wrongful Conviction & Exoneration by Gary Gauger.

Merchant Wednesday: Accent with Braided Rugs and More

The first rug we purchased for the Hall of History was too good; it fit so perfectly, it covered every inch of the original wood character we’d so carefully revealed and  protected with polyurethane. So we put that rug in the master bedroom and renewed the search online. This time, I found the winner, instead of Tyler who normally has more online shopping perseverance.

I found our inordinately long rug runner on Accent with Braided Rugs and More, where they offer more than 250 colors and styles of rugs and also entertain custom color requests. They even sell two-sided rugs; just flip is over for a change of scene or season.

And they’re made in the United States! Our rug (one sided) arrived about three weeks after it was ordered, so I suspect it was braided just for me.

braided rug
An historically accurate modern braided rug.

Braided Rugs offers classic ovals, round rugs, half circles, heart-shaped rugs, dog-bone-shaped rugs, mice-shaped rugs and runners up to 13 feet long. That’s what we got: a 2-by-13-foot runner. It’s exactly what we needed to protect the walking space yet show off the rustic nature of our historic building. We were very happy with the look and the price.

You can shop for your perfect braided rug at Accent with Braided Rugs and More.

While we’re touring the Hall of History, where we have yet to hang all the historic photos of the old Methodist church we’ve collected over the past year, let’s look at the threshold, a small construction project for which I am grateful.

threshhold before
Ugly threshold BEFORE.

The threshold is essentially the four-inch wide piece of wood hiding the ugly place where the Hall of History meets the great room (formerly the church sanctuary). This line marks the spot where the original 1891 church sanctuary meets the two-story Sunday School and office space built three years later in 1894. The back wall of our kitchen hides most of this connective tissue, but this doorway and the one from the mudroom into the great room had wide gaps before Tyler covered them up. The gap between the mudroom and the great room was nearly an inch wide!

threshhold after
The threshold AFTER.

A threshold is a simple thing, but its quiet work is mighty:

  • It covers the ugly floor stain drips.
  • It’s the smooth and flat surface in the doorway, preventing me from tripping when I’m half awake and headed for coffee.
  • It required extra attention from my handy husband who figured out how to construct the piece so it would smoothly bridge the gap. I have no clue how to perform such carpentry magic.
  • It coordinated with the wide pine in the Hall of History and looks nice against the acorn-stained pine in the great room. It’s perfect!

Next project for the Hall of History is framing and hanging all the historical images we have collected. That is turning out to be a big project, but we are moving in the right direction.

Merchant Wednesday: Good Bones furniture

As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.

Today I’m sharing the designer who built our new coffee table.

old Sunday School room table
Interesting table. Very yellow.

Since the first time we toured the church more than a year ago, I thought the short Sunday school room table the congregation left behind might make a nice coffee table. It had been painted neon yellow, though, so it required some love to fit into my design scheme.

Even as a Sunday school table, it appeared to have a long history. It looked like it had once been a grand dining room table with a lot of leafs. Only the leafs were long gone and the table legs had been shortened to third-grade height.

stripping it
That’s the paint, reliquifying with the stripper.

First, we brought it to the dip stripper with a pair of doors to have the paint removed, but she discovered the top had been recovered with some sort of linoleum. We pried it off, and I tried stripping it myself. Very messy. I removed most of the yellow paint (and some other colors, too), but not all of it. I invested in some fusion paint.

And then I lost my mojo.

I kept procrastinating on the project until Tyler got so tired of waiting, he started shopping. And he found the most amazing coffee table offered by Michelle Herriges on Facebook Marketplace. (Lesson: Sometimes it pays to procrastinate.)

coffee table far off
Now that’s a coffee table with distinction.

It’s made of a metal stand that looks like it’s from a quarry and a top made of a number of different types of wood. The top is smooth and polished, but she’s rustic enough to rest your feet on, too.

coffeetable close up
A little rustic patina there.
cash register side table
The button on the top opens the drawer.

We drove an hour north to Eagle, Wisconsin, to pick it up, but the trip afforded us a look into Michelle’s studio, where she had a number of finished projects and a whole bunch of inspiration pieces (pieces of “good bones” that just needed a new reason to be). Rooting around among her treasures, Tyler spotted what she called a “cash register side table” made from the pop-out drawer of an old cash register. The drawer still pops out! We loved it, so we bought that, too.

One-of-a-kind pieces made by an artist. Can’t beat that.

Click here for Michelle Herriges’ Facebook page.



Merchant Wednesday: Exotiflora handmade jute rugs

It takes a village to outfit a home.

Or something like that.

As we have reinvested in home furnishings and decorations to style our Church Sweet Home, we’ve run across a number of amazing artists and vendors. Sometimes the vendor is a big-box-type store but more often it’s an online retailer or a local vendor. On Wednesdays here on Church Sweet Home, I will share our latest find and reveal who provided it to help other interested home designers.

Today I’m shared the artist who created our entry rug, a hand-crocheted jute rug.

I found Robyn in Florida through an Amazon listing when I typed in “half-circle rug.” Initially, we had a huge rectangular rug inside the front doors, and I really hated the look. Our furniture interior designer suggested we might try a half-circle rug, and he was right.

Most available half-circle rugs are smaller, to be used in front of a single doorway or a kitchen sink. When I contacted Robyn at Exotiflora, she already had a listing for a custom-made five-foot-wide half circle rug. I place the order, and she went right to work. It arrived in the mail just two weeks later.

jute entry rug
Here’s my half-circle entryway rug. Those Norfolk pines flanking the doors will be decorated with lights for Christmas.

Robyn hand crochets her rugs, and she offers all kinds of shapes and sizes. I loved the jute option for its rustic look (exactly what I was looking for on my 126-year-old refinished floor), and it coordinated with the rug we chose for beneath the dining corner table. Jute is inexpensive, sustainable and biodegradable. Robyn advertises her rugs as being easy on the feet, and they are (I put a rug pad beneath it, and the jute is crocheted so densely, you can’t see it).

You can follow Exotiflora on Facebook by searching “Exotiflora” (or click here). Her Etsy shop can be found by clicking here. Robyn’s handle on Twitter is @exotiflora.

Better safe than sorry

Our story so far: We added things like to mad to the old Methodist church we were turning into our home—a balcony, a new set of front doors, a garage—but we had a hard time getting rid of an old TV left in the basement.

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Unlike outmoded technology, we discovered some old things never lose their value.

Take old safes, for example.

We had been shopping for ideas to furnish the church—or chome, as my sister wanted me to refer to is as. “It’s not a church anymore, it’s your home,” she implored.

“I don’t live in it yet,” I said.

“You should at least start using some transition noun. Like, hurch. No, chome. Call it a chome.”

In any case, Tyler and I ticked off the furniture we’d already purchased for the “chome”: Sectional sofa, bar stools, china cabinet, dining room table. “We still need night stands for the master bedroom,” I said.

Nothing we saw inspired us, but apparently, the problem percolated inside Tyler’s mind. Somewhere, somehow, my creative husband got an idea that we should use old bank vaults for night stands, and he started shopping for a pair, on Craig’s list, of course. I loved the idea—a pair of distressed antique safes would be the perfect foil for the sleek chandeliers I planned for lights flanking the bed.

One day, an antique safe was advertised for sale about seventy miles north of us. If you know anything about good safes, you know they are very heavy, too heavy to ship. That’s the point with a safe—they’re hard to move in order to deter robbers from just taking the safe to open later. A seller within a ninety-minute drive would do. He offered only one safe, but Tyler believed another one would turn up at some point and that we should have a look at this one while it was available.

Tyler and I took a circuitous route the following Saturday morning through Wisconsin’s heartland, dodging bike racers part of the time (Wisconsin, I’ve come to realize is big into B things—beer, bratwurst, bicyclers—plus cheese and Friday fish fries). After navigating a long, curvy country road, we were greeted by the seller and a flock of fluffy chickens in the seller’s yard.

flock of chickens
Our greeting party fled the scene, probably to gossip like, well, a flock of chickens.

The chickens scattered, and the seller led us to the advertised safe, tucked behind a bunch of other miscellaneous items—including the unattached door to a walk-in safe—on an outdoor patio.

Impressive for an antique safe, the sale item stood about four feet tall. Too big.

I was crestfallen. A three-hour round trip drive for nothing. “This is too big,” I said. “We were looking for something we could use for night stands.”

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Tomorrow: Oh, did you say night stands? See what I mean here.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek

Our story so far: We found some good-looking, affordable manufactured stone veneer for the fireplace in the great room of the old Methodist church we were converting into a home.

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You know how when you’re looking for something, you tend to find it everywhere? In that way serendipity works, we happened by a fireplace store on the way home from the manufactured stone showroom. The young salesman was well-informed about all things fire (including some envy-worthy outdoor grills we’d like to own at some point when we had free time to drink red wine and grill juicy steaks), and he was happy to show us some heavy-duty manufactured wood fireplace mantels. Unfortunately, the longest one he offered measured six feet; we needed seven. And his price was appalling.

Tyler began asking around for barn beams he could repurpose into a mantel, but he met with little success. We weren’t the only people who aspired to a rustic look, making barn wood beams all the rage and therefore, pricy.

So Tyler once again turned to Craig’s List, and before long, a real barn beam turned up. The seller was asking only about a quarter of what we would have paid for the too-short manufactured beam.

But he lived in downtown Chicago. Ninety minutes of high-volume traffic away.

My kind of town, Chicago is, if you’re content to ride the “L,” the city rail system. Or flag down a rude taxi driver. Or take your chances with Uber. If you’re driving a car, it’s a video game of narrow one-way streets filled with parked cars and obnoxious jay walkers who pop out of nowhere in the middle of the block.

And driving a nineteen-foot extended cab pick-up through Chicago’s residential streets only amps up the stress.

Well, the seller lived on a street like that.

But we managed to connect with him in front of his brownstone where we double-parked briefly, and he showed us to the alley behind his house. As he flipped open his garage door, the barn wood beam inside seemed to glow. I swear could hear the sort of cinematic music set to Bo Derek’s beach scene in the movie “10” (am I dating myself?).

This hand-hewn barn-wood beam was perfect.

Eight feet long and ten inches square, this beam could have been a model for an authentic looking manufactured wood mantel. Because it was as authentic as it gets. It even sported a rusty nail.

The seller told us he personally removed the beam from the peak of a 122-year-old barn near Dyersville, Iowa, and transported it to Chicago to use part of it in his house. If Dyersville sounds familiar, it’s because “Field of Dreams” was filmed there in the midst of America’s most iconic corn fields.

“What do you think?” Tyler asked me in a tone of voice he used when he didn’t want to show the seller how much he really wanted it.

“Sure, if that’s the look you’re going for,” I equivocated.

“Will you take $200?” Tyler asked the seller. He only asked this so he could say he tried.

“$275. Firm. You won’t find another beam like that for less than three times the price.”

The seller knew his product.

“Pay the man,” Tyler told me.

Now we had to get the beam home. It weighed two hundred pounds if it weighed an ounce.

Fortunately, the seller was willing to help. He and Tyler wrangled it into the back of the truck (tailgate down), and we secured it with a tie-down. But let’s be honest. If the beam was going to fall out of the truck when we were driving down the interstate at seventy-five miles an hour, no puny ratchet strap was going to stop it. We would have just kept going.

As we were driving away through the narrow alley, our perfect fireplace mantel in tow, Tyler marveled at his exquisite find.

“Kinda crazy though,” Tyler mused. “I thought I’d find one way out in the country, and I ended up finding one in downtown Chicago.”

beam post presure wash
We successfully transported the barn beam home, where Tyler pressure-washed 122 years of dust off it. Here, it’s drying in the sun outside the church.

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Tomorrow: What a home without a hearth? Read about it here.