Tag Archives: eliina

Installing a subway tile kitchen backsplash – Part 1

I’ve been talking about installing a tile backsplash in our kitchen since our daughter was a few months old. It was an incredibly hot summer, too hot to have a newborn outdoors for long, and so I spent a lot of time watching HGTV while I nursed. I incidentally also got into Pinterest around the same time, so I had a treasure trove of kitchen photos to sort through.

I decided early on that I wanted classic white subway tiles. Josh liked the idea of a subway tile backsplash too. The decision made, the only thing standing between me and a beautiful new backsplash was…me. I had never installed tile before and learning a new skill while simultaneously making a huge mess in our main living area didn’t sound very appealing. I put off the project again and again.

Fast forward to the present. Alice is 19 months old, and my parents volunteered to come for the weekend to help install the backsplash and to help us keep our busy toddler out of harm’s way. My Dad is a very handy guy and brought most of the necessary tools. I bought the tile, thin-set mortar, pewter gray grout, and matching caulk.

Here are a few before shots. We planned to tile all of the space below the cabinets.

Backsplash area before

Backsplash and wall before

And here’s another before shot that shows the messy chaos. Framing the shot is everything, isn’t it?

Backsplash and island chaotic

The granite lip behind the sink and the counter area to the right of the stove did not extend behind the stove, so we had to pull out the stove and add a wooden board for support. (We hadn’t pulled the stove out in the four years we’ve lived in this condo. We discovered a lost toy and a lot of dust and dog hair).

Backsplash oven pulled out


As you can see from the before photo, there are three outlet/light switches to work around. Unfortunately they were all at slightly different levels. We wanted to avoid making awkward or difficult tile cuts in the second row, so we played around a little with our first row. Dad decided that the tiles in the bottom row should be half width, so he used the tile scorer/cutter to create a row of half width tiles. I started to apply the thinset mortar. We initially tried applying it with the notched trowel, but eventually learned it was easier to use a spatula to smear the mortar onto the wall, and then go over it with the notched trowel.


It is very important for the first row of tile to be level, so we went slowly, checking each tile.

Tile level

We had both 1/4” and 1/8” spacers, and decided that 1/8” would look best.


One lesson learned along the way was that mortar dries quickly and with our attention to detail we were moving slowly. More than once we ended up scraping off an area of partially dried mortar in an area we hadn’t quite finished.

The one tool we didn’t own was a wet tile saw. We decided to do everything we could without the wet saw before going to rent it. We were able to do a lot with the tile scorer, but in any place where more than one cut would need to be made on a tile, we needed the wet saw.

Once we couldn’t proceed any further, I went and picked up the smallest wet saw Home Depot rented for the shortest period of time. I helped set it up, and Dad quickly got the hang of using it. Since we were only renting it for four hours, (and Josh and I had a dinner reservation), I declined to learn to use it myself.

Wet tile saw and kitchen

Dad and wet tile saw

Due to the outlets, the cabinets, and the under-cabinet light, there were quite a few difficult cuts. With a little patience Dad made them all. At the end of the day, we had a beautiful wall full of tile and spacers. The mortar needed to dry for at least 12 hours before we applied the grout.


Wall with spacers


Plaid scarf pillow

Emily’s Chicago visit was months ago and I’m just now writing up our final project from that weekend.  We were super busy! In addition to my regular sofa pillows in shades of yellow, cream, and grey, I wanted to make some pillows that would work with our Christmas decor.  I searched local fabric stores for an awesome red plaid…and found nothing.  Very disappointing.  Then when I was shopping at H&M one day after work, I came across a fantastic, classic, very wide red scarf.  Perfect!

First step: confirm that the scarf is in fact cozy.  Emily performed the assessment.


After measuring the pillow we were covering, Emily trimmed the fringe off the scarf, and then cut the front panel.


Exposed brass zippers are having a moment in fashion, so we thought it would be fun to add one to the back of this pillow instead of using a pocket closure. (As with the monogram chevron pillow, I wanted this pillow cover to be removable and washable).  Emily cut two panels for the back side of the pillow.  My super helpful contribution was to pin the three pieces of fabric together!


Then, Emily did the real work.  So, I’ll let her tell you what she did.

I have never sewn a zipper into anything but I knew with a little thinking and maybe trial and error I would be able to figure it out. Now that the zipper is installed I would do it a little differently, but I will get to that in a bit.

The pillow had been all sewn together with an opening down the middle of one side for the zipper. When the fabric for the two back pieces was cut we added an additional ½ inch to the width so there was room to fold over the fabric and sew it to the zipper. The plan was to allow the zipper to show on the back of the pillow for added detail. I laid the zipper in the middle of the opening, with the fabric turned right side out, and made sure the fabric was laying nice and flat, this would help to make sure that I wasn’t pulling the fabric which would potentially make the pillow cover to small, or make it pucker. After this was nice and flat I took the fabric on the left side and folded it under to create a nice line, I then pinned this to the zipper in a few spots, making sure that the placement was fairly even down the zipper so the finished product looked nice.


After things were pinned where I wanted them I sewed the left side of the zipper to the fabric. This was nice and easy because the pillow was still open down the center.


Then as I began to repeat this same process on the right side of the zipper I realized I had made a mistake! Because I had sewn the rest of the pillow together there didn’t seem to be a way to sew the other side of the zipper to the fabric, I had left no opening in the pillow so any further stitching would end up sewing the back and the front of the pillow together…not the effect I was going for and to top it all off I had not brought a seam ripper with me so undoing a seam was going to be quite the process. As I sat and festered about this I realized that I could unzip the zipper! What a novel idea! Once I did that I continued with the same process as before of folding, pinning and sewing.

The zipper we chose was not the same length as the pillow so there were about 2 inches on the top and bottom of the zipper that still needed to be sewn together. I turned the pillow cover inside out and sewed a quick seam down to meet the zipper. Zipper installation complete!

Now for what I would do differently: I would install the zipper BEFORE sewing the rest of the pillow together. This would make the process a little easier.  -Emily

Here’s one last shot of my crafty sister Emily on my couch with all three pillows that she made for me! Thanks, Em.  -Eliina





Smitten Kitchen visits Chicago

On one of the great things about living in a city like Chicago is that no matter what you’re into, there is usually something going on that will interest you.  I’m a big blog reader, and incidentally several of my favorite bloggers have been on tour promoting their books recently.  Emily and I went to the Young House Love book signing the other week, and this past weekend I attended the book signing for the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

I have been a fan of Deb Perelman’s blog since 2008, and have tried dozens of her recipes over the years.  The Chicago book signing was held at one of my favorite independent bookstores, the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. (There is a bar in the store, what’s not to love?) I anticipated that an author of her popularity would draw a big crowd, so I arrived an hour before the event start time.  The Book Cellar is a small space, and a winding line outdoors would block the entrances to other nearby businesses.  They had an interesting strategy for dealing with the crowd that was gathering to have their cookbook signed – they assigned attendees a group, much like boarding groups on an airplane.  Each group had eight people, and since I was in group K, there were at least eighty people ahead of me.

My friend Lindsay lives in Lincoln Square, and came by to hang out with me.  Lincoln Square is an old German neighborhood in Chicago, and while the neighborhood has changed over the years, some classic German bars and restaurants remain.  We found a pair of seats at the bar at Hüettenbar and settled in for a few beers.

After leaving the bar we killed time in a kitchen shop before heading back to the store to find out if my group had been called.  I spotted the author’s husband and adorable toddler son leaving the store as I was walking in to meet her.  She was sweet and gracious in person, and as you can see posed for a photo with me.

I leafed through the book in bed later that night, and have tabbed two recipes to make for Thanksgiving dinner this week, and many more to make later.  I highly recommend her blog, and the book looks like it will be a great resource too.


Monogram chevron pillow

I’ve been pinning cute monogram pillows on Pinterest for months, and my pillow predicament inspired me to actually make one.

I loved the yellow and cream chevron material I used to recover my bar stools, and since I had some left over I thought it would look great covering a pillow on my couch.  Several of the DIY pillow projects I’d seen online used felt for the monogram, so I picked up a coordinating piece of felt.

Then, I invited Emily to town under the pretenses of a Young House Love book signing, and asked her to pack her sewing machine.  I do not know how to use a sewing machine, let alone own one. Fortunately my crafty family is usually willing to help me out.

Emily measured the size of the square pillow we were using as a base, and leaving an extra quarter edge around the edge for seams, cut out the front of the pillow.

Since this pillow would have an obvious front side with the monogram we decided to make the back a pocket.  It would be a little easier than sewing in a zipper, but would still be removable.  With my sixteen month old daughter around, spills are inevitable, and I prefer decor I can launder.  We wanted the pocket to be at least six inches deep, so Em took the measurement for the front of the pillow, divided it in two, and then added six inches.  She then hemmed the outer  edge of the pocket pieces.

Meanwhile I found a font I liked, and printed out a large letter P.  I then traced the letter onto my piece felt, and cut it out.  Emily pointed out that if I traced it backward, the ink from the pen would be on the back, and I wouldn’t have to worry about cutting off every pen stroke.  She’s a smart one, my sister.  Also, she didn’t gripe about the vastly unequal division of labor.

Em centered the letter in the middle of the front panel, and sewed into place.

After that she pinned the three panels together, wrong side out, and sewed them together.  I may have fetched a Diet Coke.  The pillow fit inside perfectly.

The finish product looks great on my couch, especially next to the crocheted pillow cover Emily made for me.

Thanks, Em!


Bringing the Love to the Young House Love Book Tour!

Eliina: It’s no secret that we at 3E Design LOVE Young House Love.  The way Sherry and John Petersik have transformed their houses in ways big and small is totally inspiring.  I love their clear instructions and conversational writing style.

Emily: My first experience with Young House Love was after Eliina showed me their weekly pictures of Clara when she was pregnant.  I thought it was fun idea that was for tracking a baby’s growth, from there I got hooked on the regular around the house projects and I became an official fan. I have passed on their website to tons of people whether they want it or not!  Reading their posts is my “treat” at work every day.  If there are tasks that I am not in the mood for I make myself get those things done before I take a peek at their morning post.  I love that they are wordy because it helps to really understand the process.  They really make you feel like you could complete any and all of the same projects.

Eliina:  They recently published a book, and planned a tour with stops all over the country.  Lucky for me, they planned a stop in my home city.  I thought it would be fun to go, and what would be better  than going with my sister and fellow fan, Emily?

Emily: When Chicago was announced as a city on the tour I knew I wanted to make a weekend trip to do the book signing and visit my favorite Chicago sister.  John and Sherry make you feel like you are one of maybe a dozen people reading their blog, though really they have millions of hits every month!  I wanted to be a part of the fun!

Eliina: The Chicago event was held at West Elm in Lincoln Park, about a twenty minute drive from my place in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.

Emily: I took off from work early on Friday and made my way to Chicago.  Smooth sailing was the name of the driving game, by some miracle the only slowdown was during the last 6 miles of highway in Chicago, and even then things moved along.  I took that as an omen for a great weekend!  I was super excited not only for the book signing but also to see my niece Alice.  She was excited to have someone to show off for, and I enjoyed every minute of my time with her.  She can even say my name!  If I wasn’t convinced of her cuteness before I am fully convinced now!

Eliina: The event started at 1pm, and when we got in line around 11:30 there were probably 200 people in line ahead of us.  Em bought a copy of the book and we settled in to wait.

Emily: Holy Thunderstorm Batman!  That’s right, with a storm like we had waiting in line it deserves the reference.  Pouring rain, (thankfully we were on the inside edge of a covered walkway outside the store), BIG booms of thunder and even bolts of lightning, all endured to get my beloved book signed by John and Sherry.

Eliina:  The West Elm folks had promised cookies and cocoa, and they delivered.  Staff members brought out house and heart shaped cookies, followed by mugs of hot cocoa.

Emily: Ok, so maybe I was getting a little loopy by the time the cookies came around, but I do love a sugar cookie and so my reaction was warranted.  One of our line mates, a lovely visitor from Estonia, had the cutest reaction to the cookies being brought outside for us.  She said “This is why America is awesome”, indeed, if you have to wait in line, cookies and cocoa make it all better.  Go USA!!

Eliina: We were super excited to finally make it into the store.

Emily: As a little teaser once we were inside the store they had a couple of projects set up for us to look take a gander at.  I thought the etched glass votives were a cute idea, and they even referenced where you could find the idea in their book.  And how could we pass up the chance to pose with a huge poster version of their book cover.  Crazy!

Eliina: After seeing hundreds of photos of these people on their blog, it was strange to see them in real life.  They were friendly and gracious during the brief time we spoke with them.

Emily: Even though we only had a few moments actually at their table to get the book signed and get a picture or two snapped they were so warm and still energetic.  There must have been over 200 people ahead of use and more than that after us so they were in a for a long afternoon of signing and smiling!  I am so happy that we took the time to go to the signing.  We had a good time chatting in line, flipping through the book a bit and enjoying our cookies and cocoa.  I would go again in a heartbeat, especially if it means getting to see my sweet niece Alice as a part of the deal.


Pillow Predicament

It took my now husband and I several weeks of looking for find a sectional that would fit into our typical long, narrow, Chicago condo.  We finally found the perfect sofa at Roy’s in Lincoln Park, an independent furniture store that had a large selection of furniture that wasn’t made for suburban McMansion living rooms.  (If you’re interested in checking them out, although Roy’s burned down this past May, they have a temporary showroom in Pilsen).  We brought our brown leather sectional home and over the past three years logged many hours of naps, movie marathons, and football games, not to mention all my nursing sessions with our daughter.

What I’ve never done is properly outfitted it with throw pillows.  I first had a little pair of blue pillows that coordinated with our old rug.  Those were replaced with a yellow and grey floral pair that work well with the yellow wall at the front of the room. Still, two little pillows floating on a decent sized sectional wasn’t doing it for me.  I’ve issued a challenge to myself to up our sofa’s comfort and style factors by adding some more pillows to the mix.  To make things more interesting, I’ve also decided that they needed to be handmade.

Here’s a photo of where we’re starting.

Let’s see where this challenge takes us!


Halloween Mobile

Shame on me for posting this way late, but my main audience (Emily) doesn’t mind.  I posted about my leaf mobile a few weeks ago.  Using the same base, I changed things up for Halloween.  Using some paper foil spiders and a skeleton garland from a dollar store, I made a spooky mobile to hang over our Halloween centerpiece.

I cut the garland apart, leaving each skeleton hanging from a length of twine.  I punched holes in the spiders with a needle and strung most of them in groups of two or three.

It was a fun and easy way to decorate for the holiday.