Hannah Drake

DIY

6 Ways We're Going Green at Home

At HomeHannah DrakeComment

This year, Luke and I are tying to commit to being a little bit greener than we were last year. We have a ton of ideas and a list of products we want to purchase to help in that, but we’re trying to take it slow and staying within our budget. Still, you have to start somewhere, so here are six things on the top of our list, some of which we’ve already started, some of which we’re planning to start this month.

BUYING & STORING FOOD WITH LESS PLASTIC

In November, our grocery store moved to a new, bigger location and I think it’s so fantastic that I actually look forward to going to the grocery store every weekend. (It kind of reminds me of a Super Target, except it’s at least 60% groceries. Maybe 70%.) With their new location came some other awesome changes, including Smart Shop and more loose vegetables. With Smart Shop, we can use our loyalty card to check out a handheld scanner before we start shopping. We’re able to scan and bag all of our groceries as we go through the store and then quickly check out at a kiosk. Since we have reusable bags (all stores charge 5p for bags in the UK), we skip the plastic bags in the produce section since they immediately become trash at home. Maybe it’s the idea of loose produce rolling around in your shopping cart that makes people bag their produce in extra bags, but it’s nice to have the option to skip that step. Unfortunately, they still package a lot of the produce (like apples in plastic bags or cucumbers in shrink wrap), but it’s getting better!

At home, we’ve made a concerted effort to move away from using one-use plastic baggies. We’ve built up quite a collection of quality reusable storage containers to store left overs, including things like 1/2 of an onion or other produce we used to just toss in a plastic baggie. We try to only use plastic bags when we’re freezing things like pasta sauce or dumpling filling that we want to freeze flat in order to maximise freezer space. Or when the sneak popcorn into the cinema. But even then, we’ve started reusing those bags since it’s just popcorn and we go often enough.

Reusable bags are getting increasingly popular and available at most grocery stores and even some shops. If it’s not an option for you to bag as you shop, invest in some cotton produce bags, like this set of 7.

STORING FOOD MORE EFFICIENTLY

I’ve never for one minute given any thought into how to best store different foods until I was responsible for my own grocery shopping and cooking. Since we’re trying to cut down on all waste, but especially food waste, that means doing a lot of research into the best methods to store different types of foods.

Did you know that mushrooms should be kept in the fridge in a brown paper bag? Our store now has “mushroom bags” next to the mushrooms in the store, and since we’ve started using it, our mushrooms have lasted d a y s longer than keeping them in the packaging they come in or transferring them to our own plastic storage container. It traps too much moisture in with the mushrooms and makes them go back a lot more quickly.

We’re also looking at getting a fresh herb keeper to extend the life of our herbs. Our grocery store only has one size available for most of the herbs and we often don’t use it all in one recipe and won’t use it again before it goes bad. Extending the life gives us more time to plan to use the rest in another recipe, which admittedly is another valid options. Along that same line, we want to try our hand at another herb garden this year. We didn’t have much luck last year when we tried to grow rosemary, basil, and coriander (cilantro). The basil did the best and we used it often, which was great. But this last summer was incredibly hot and we forgot to get someone to water our plants while we were away for nearly 2 weeks so our coriander got absolutely fried. It was yellow and dry when we got home and didn’t stand a chance at coming back.

MAKING OUR OWN NATURAL HOUSEHOLD CLEANER & ROOM SPRAY

This year, I bought some amber glass spray bottles and jars from Amazon to make our own household cleaners. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but I wanted to use what we had already purchased first. My reasons for doing this were two-fold: It reduces plastic waste by reusing the same bottles. (Not to mention they’re more aesthetically pleasing, something that we all look for in our cleaning supplies, right?) And it reduces the chemicals introduced to our house. It’s no secret we’ve been itching to get a kitten and a puppy and eventually we’ll have kids. All of those little creatures are going around putting their mouths on everything and we want them to be safe. We don’t want them touching or licking surfaces that I’ve just sprayed down with harmful chemicals. Come to think of it, the cat definitely wouldn’t do that because cats have more dignity than that.

I looked into a couple of different methods and found a fairly similar theme. I knew I wanted to stick with just a vinegar and water cleaner, but infusing the vinegars was key. Hence the jars. Here’s what I did:

  • Put 1/2 cup dry ingredients into a 16-ounce (490ml) preserving jar. I did the following mixtures:

    • orange lemon thyme (peel from 1 lemon, peel from 1/2 orange, springs of thyme)

    • lavender sage (1/4 cup dried lavender buds, leaves of sage)

    • orange cinnamon clove (peel from 1 1/2 orange, 2 Tbsp whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks—although I used 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon because we couldn’t find any sticks)

    • lavender (1/2 cup dried lavender buds)

  • Fill with distilled white vinegar. In the States, distilled white vinegar should be readily available, but there’s no such thing in the UK. After some research, I discovered that the closest would be distilled white pickling vinegar. The key is the 5-7% acidity and the brand I found had 6% acidity.

  • Sit in a sunny spot (window sill is best) for 7-14 days. I opted for the full two weeks to allow for a deeper infusion.

  • Mix in a spray bottle at a 1:4 ratio with distilled water. Of course it depends on how big your bottle is, but the ratio is important. For every 1 part infused vinegar, add 4 parts distilled water. If you don’t have a purifier or filter for water, simply boil water and let it cool to room temperature before mixing.

  • Optional: Add a few drops of essential oil to enhance the scent. I use Young Living Essential Oils (though I recently bought a large bottle of lavender oil from Cotswold Lavender). They have cinnamon bark, clove, lavender, lemon, orange, sage, and thyme oils available.

Our vinegars will be ready to use this Sunday and I can’t wait! From everything I’ve read, these should easily replace your all-purpose and glass cleaners (and you’ll never want to go back!). However, do not use a vinegar-based cleaning solution on marble. It will erode the stone. Since we don’t have marble counter tops, I didn’t do any research into a natural alternative.

We also decided to make our own fabric and room spray, inspired by my Instagram friend Megan’s recent post. Add 30-40 drops each of two oils (she uses orange and bergamot) to distilled water. Again, use the amber glass spray bottles, which protect the contents from damaging UV rays. (If you’re storing them in a dark place, like in the cabinet under the sink, it should be fine in a clear glass bottle.

INVESTING IN MULTI-USE ITEMS

A few months ago, we bought a four-pack of microfiber cloths to use in our kitchen in place of paper towels. I was thinking about it this week and realised we’ve cut way down on the volume of paper towels we have used over the last few months. I wish I had exact numbers, but I didn’t think to keep track of it. Still, using the same cloth for a couple of days is a big difference than using a handful of paper towels to wipe down the counters after every meal.

Over the holidays, we bought some metal straws and a straw brush to start using more. I’m trying to remember to ask to not get a plastic straw when we’re out and instead use ours, but it’s a new habit that I need to build to. I recommend this set of 8 straws because it includes 4 straight and 4 bent, plus 2 straw brushes and a bag. We only have 4 bent straws and had to buy a brush separately and I do wish we had straight straws because they would be easier to travel with.

Luke got me a stainless steel water bottle in my stocking to replace a 5 year old Nalgene that definitely needed to be replaced a lot earlier. I really didn’t want to get another plastic bottle, but this does have a plastic lid.

I also currently have Keepcups and stainless steel lunchboxes in my Amazon cart waiting for purchase. However, it doesn’t make sense to replace a plastic item that you can continue to use and would have no other purpose for. So we’re going to wait to buy both items. We both have good non-plastic to-go cups and our plastic containers are holding up well to store left overs and pack lunches for now. We just won’t replace them with more plastic.

SWITCHING TO BIODEGRADABLE PRODUCTS & AWAY FROM PAPER PRODUCTS

We’re trying to cut down on our waste in a lot of ways and one of the easiest is to switch to biodegradable products. Instead of plastic toothbrushes, buy bamboo toothbrushes. Instead of plastic q-tips, buy bamboo cotton buds. Instead of sponges, buy bamboo brushes. Switching from plastic to bamboo is possible for a lot of household options. And while it might be slightly more expensive, it’s worth investing in our environment.

We’re also trying to use fewer paper products. I mentioned above we’ve made the switch from paper towels to microfiber cloths, which has made a noticeable difference already. I also made a new grocery store template to use after going through a whole note pad just for grocery lists. I laminated it at work and use dry erase markers on it. I punched a hole in the corner and added a ring to it so I could hang it up on a hook in the kitchen. If you want to use it, you can download a copy:

COMPOSTING

To be honest, I’ve been kicking myself for months for not doing this sooner. We throw away a lot of food scraps that could become compost. When you throw food away, it goes to a landfill where it rots and produces methane gas. The nutrients of the food are never able to return to the earth. The amount of wasted food is absolutely staggering and the percentage that is actually composted is a mere blimp on the radar. We certainly want to take responsibility for our food waste and do our part to help decrease the damage a banana peel tied in a plastic bag is doing to our earth.

We’re definitely not experts at any of this stuff, but we’re committed to making these changes in our household this year. My hope is that by this time next year, we’ve decreased the amount of plastic we use drastically, we’ve decreased our food waste, and made other substantial changes in our lifestyle to help our environment. It’s absolutely a learning process and we need to do more research on all of these things. But we’re taking the first steps and pledging to be better and that’s what matters today.

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DIY Bar Cabinet

At HomeHannah DrakeComment

I am SO excited about this post today because this has been such a fun project for us and we're so happy with the end result!

About two and a half weeks before the wedding, Luke sent me this chest of drawers from Freecycle and asked if I wanted it. I told him yes, but not what he thought I wanted it for. I sent him a before and after idea of an old chest of drawers turned into a bar cabinet and he was immediately on board. (He says he envisioned doing something with it, but wasn't quite sure until he saw the idea I sent him and realised it was exactly that.) He arranged for a pick up from the man who posted the chest of drawers, but despite enlisting a friend with a slightly bigger car to help, he said the guy who was giving it away ended up having to drive it over to our house for them because it wouldn't fit in either car.

So there we were, less than two weeks before the wedding, finishing up final wedding details and taking on a brand new DIY project. That's totally sane, right?! We decided to get rid of the table that was in the kitchen since we literally only used it for folding laundry. We never eat there because the frame wasn't very well cared for so it was a bit out of alignment and two of the chairs were quite a bit out of alignment. Luke took the table top off the frame so we could keep that, which came in handy the following weekend when we had beautiful weather and basically ate every meal outside in the back garden.

Since I was off for the week before the wedding, I alternated between wedding projects and painting the drawers (which Luke had already stripped and sanded). We wanted it to look a little distressed, so even though I did a coat of primer, I only wanted to do one coat of the paint. We used Rust-oleum Chalky Finish Furniture Paint in Clotted Cream and finished it with a wax coat to seal it. Unfortunately, there were a lot of air bubbles in the paint so there were sections that I had to add a second coat to, making the dark wood a little less visible.

Luke did such a fantastic job on the design and the execution. We ran through a few options, like adding racks to the bottom of the shelf to be able to store glasses, but ultimately decided we would just store alcohol in the cabinet between the shelves and the wine rack and keep all the glasses on our little black shelves off to the side. Anyway, we knew no matter what, we wanted to keep the two smaller drawers on the top, which we use to store our more bar tools, smaller mixers, table linens, and other entertaining odds and ends that don’t otherwise have a place.

When we decided that the area where the second drawer had been was going to be the wine rack, Luke drew up a few different designs before ultimately settling on what we did. Major props to him, to be honest, because he doesn't have a ton of tools and the front of the cabinet is curved, so he really did a fantastic job! Luckily all the drawers sat on shelves already, so there was already a bottom, though he had to take out the shelf between the bottom two drawers to open up the space. He reused the bottom of one of the drawers we were getting rid of to add a back to the wine rack. He drilled holes in the back for the dowels to sit in to support the top row of wine bottles. He also added tracks for the bottom rack so the bottles wouldn't roll around and would go in straight with the leftover wood from the font.

For the bottom, I wanted to keep it simple and just add "stadium seating" for the liquor bottles so they would all be visible. He got some wood and used the same stain from the wine rack to stain those and I just love the contrast of the dark wood--also on the top--and the light creamy, almost yellow, colour of the rest of cabinet.

We finished it off by adding fairy lights in it, which I love. Honestly, if I could, I would have fairy lights everywhere. We also decided to keep the original hardware on the drawers we kept, which I really like. Luke tasked me with finding out how to clean brass. I made a paste with white wine vinegar and flour and let them soak for about 10 minutes in it before scrubbing it off. It made a world of difference! And let's talk about how perfectly it works with Luke's 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall display that's been up since the beginning of the year. It's like it was meant to be. (It's worth noting it took him about three years to collect 99 unique bottle caps that were in good enough condition to keep.) I moved one of the plants Luke's parents gave me for Christmas on the top so it finally has the perfect home. And we decided to display our best drinkware--the Moscow Mule mugs and champagne glasses my mom got us before our wedding--on top along with the bottle opener my sister gifted me before her wedding, and Tequila Mockingbird, a cocktail book we picked up at a charity shop to use in our wedding centrepieces. Later, Luke finished the top with a few coats of wood oil and it made a world of difference. You can probably spot the darker colour and smoother finish in some of the photos.

STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

  1. Find a chest of drawers with good “bones”. Ours was great because it was sturdy, dark, and required few cosmetic upgrades outside of our project. The drawers also rested on shelves instead of on rollers or only side tracks. This was very helpful for building in the wine rack. To create one like ours, you need at least four drawers.

  2. With your new chest of drawers as a starting point, design a bar cabinet that will best serve your needs. Consider if you want it to store glasses, include a wine rack, have ample storage, etc.

  3. Remove hardware. You can find new hardware if you want, but if you want to keep the original brass hardware, make a paste out of flour and white vinegar. Soak the hardware for 10 minutes before scrubbing them clean. The brass should look brand new.

  4. Strip the chest and sand it down.

  5. Choose your paint (I recommend furniture paint) and a primer to go underneath. If you want a distressed look, you don’t need to worry about multiple coats or covering every inch. Finish with a sealant (like furniture wax) to protect the paint job from any liquid that might spill.

  6. If you’re keeping any of the original wood, sand it down to remove any blemishes. Cover with a wood stain and finish with a sealant to protect the wood from liquid.

  7. For the bottom shelf, stack two pieces of wood that are the length of the bar and one half the width of the other. This creates three levels for your bottles to sit, making it easier to see everything. The wood we used was 2 inches thick so the back row isn’t too high.

  8. For the wine rack, choose a design to store the bottles. Add a back to the shelf as it won’t be the depth of the cabinet. Create “shelves” for the bottles in the top row to sit on using dowels, sat in holes in the backing. Attach dowels to the bottom of the shelf to keep bottles on the bottom row from rolling around.

  9. To finish your bar, consider adding fairy lights (which bounce off the bottles beautiful) or even a mirror behind the spirits, like you would see in a real bar.

I'm so impressed we (Luke) were able to finish it before the week of the wedding so when my family was visiting and touring the house, we got to show it off. One of our friends came by to pick up the photo booth props we had borrowed for the wedding to use at their birthday party and I showed it to him. He said after they cleaned up their party, they decided to use their little cabinet as a gin bar. 

Now we need to have a party to christen our new bar! In the meantime, I wanted to share another cocktail recipe with you. You may not be interested in upcycling a piece of old furniture, but I think we can all agree there's nothing like a refreshing drink outside on a warm summer evening. If there's any drink that perfectly captures British summertime, it's Pimm's. It's a simple drink you definitely want to make in a pitcher. ("No one just makes one Pimm's." - Luke) It goes best with sunshine and friends, so enjoy!

  • 1 part Pimm's

  • 3 parts lemonade*

  • strawberries

  • cucumber

  • mint

Mix Pimm’s and lemonade in a large pitcher. Add chopped strawberries, cucumber, and fresh mint to garnish.

Because Pimm's is a pitcher drink, you can definitely eyeball the measurements. In England, lemonade is a clear sparkly drink, more like Sprite, so I would definitely recommend for all my American readers to opt for a lemon or lemon-lime soda like Sprite. If we notice our strawberries might go bad before we eat them, we'll dice them and stick them in the freezer until it's Pimm's o'clock again. 

Shop the Post & Our Favourite Bar Tools:

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Pimm's photos by Peter Horrox Photography.

Updated March 2019.

Home Update

At HomeHannah DrakeComment

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably noticed that we moved about a month ago! We decided our best course of action was to wait to find a place until I moved to England so we could look together. So after Luke's lease ended a few weeks after I arrived, we moved into our friends' house while they were in the States for the summer. From there, we started looking. We're renting this year while I settle into my new normal and get more acquainted with Birmingham. Our hope is to start looking for a house to buy when this lease is up. Eventually we found a place--that ironically Luke didn't set foot in until we got the keys to move--and we've been trying to make a house a home ever since.

You have also probably caught on that I'm not working at the moment. The two questions I get asked the most are what job do I want to get and what do I do all day? Well, let me show you some of the things I've been doing to fill my days.

I'm pretty rubbish at remembering to take "before" pictures before I start a project, hence some of the photos only showing part of the thing.

THE RECORD PLAYER TABLE

Luke's sister gave us this table when she came to visit before we moved. I had no idea what we were going to use it for. I didn't feel like it was the ideal coffee table since it curves on the edges, losing some of it's good surface area. But who's going to turn down free furniture when you live in an empty house? We went to HomeBase to pick up what we needed for my upcycle projects: paint, sand paper, a drop cloth, paint brushes, paint cleaner, etc. There, I found the perfect paint. Rustoleum Furniture Paint. They have four different finishes, so I picked out China Rose in their chalky finish for the table and it only took a 125mL can. I'm on a blush kick right now, which I'm positive you'll be seeing more of in the future. I gave it a good sanding and then applied four coats to get it looking how I wanted. It's always tricky going from a darker tone to a lighter and it seemed even trickier with the textured wood that made up the table top. Still, I wasn't sure where the table would go, but once we moved, it seemed perfect for our record player and I loved the contrast of the sky blue with the delicate pink. 

THE DINING ROOM TABLE

My second project was the IKEA table and chairs we got from Freecycle. As soon as we picked it up, I new it needed some work. I immediately got to work brainstorming ideas, but Luke quickly vetoed the idea of spray painting the frames either gold or copper. I figured white would be the best bet, so I picked Cotton in Rustoleum's satin finish paints. (Let me say now before I forget, that one of the best things about this brand is that it's dry to the touch in 20 minutes and it says it's completely dry in 4 hours, but I don't think it needs that long.) Anyway, again, I was going from a dark tone to a lighter one, but I thought the satin finish covered better than the chalky finish and I only needed three coats. Once the table and seats were painted, I came around to the idea of not painting the frames as well. Speaking of frames, the frames needed some work in more ways than one. Luke had to bend two of the chairs to get the legs straight and without the table top and some of the seats, you could tell they were really out of alignment. We also tried to clean up some of the grime off the finish, but we weren't able to. So if you know of anything, let us know! Regardless, we're both really pleased with the result and it brightens up our little dining nook quite a bit.

THE TV STAND

The TV stand is actually Luke's old bedside table, the only piece of furniture he actually owned before we moved in. Since I wanted matching tables in our room, we decided to use it as a TV stand instead. It had been painted cream but it had definitely seen better days, so I gave it two light coats of the same Cotton color I used on the table and it was looking good as new. I also switched out the old fish handle for a blue and white ceramic knob from Amazon. It only came in a set of 6, but I knew I could put the others to good use later. Luke drilled a whole in the back so we could run the cords to the Xbox through. Getting a decent picture of it set up in the corner by our glass back doors proved to be a challenge in itself.

THE CHEST OF DRAWERS

We got a chest of drawers on Freecycle from a lovely couple who sadly had to clean out his father's house after he passed away. They offered us our pick from everything they had, but we only came away with this chest of drawers. My hope was to give it a good cleaning and switch out the hardware, but while wiping it down, I discovered just how dirty it was and couldn't get all the dirt off. I decided to freshen it up with two coats of Cotton since we had plenty of paint and I had plenty of time. The difficult part was deciding on how to replace the handles. We weren't able to find anything that fit the holes that were already there and we couldn't even decide if we wanted something to match the handles on the wardrobe from IKEA or like the ceramic knobs I got to use on the bedside tables. We ultimately decided to use the ceramic knobs, so we ordered another set of six from the seller on Amazon. Eventually we'll get around to filling the old holes and drilling new holes to line up all the knobs in the center of the two smaller drawers.

THE BEDSIDE TABLES

Our friends generously allowed us to scour their garage to see what furniture we could find. They had purchased a house in the last year and upgraded some of their old furniture, as well as accumulated some "new" things from the purchase of the house. In the end, they gave us a coffee table, two bedside tables, and a desk and we are so grateful! The bedside tables needed a bit of a facelift, so I picked out the Powder Blue color for them. Originally, I was hoping for a satin finish paint, but I felt like the Cornflower Blue was too dark. They only needed two coats before they were looking brand new and I finished them off with the same ceramic knobs that I used for the TV stand. I'm obsessed!

freecycle-upcycle-diy
freecycle-upcycle-diy

We found almost the exact same bedside table for our guest room with a much darker finish and a different handle. I originally wanted to paint it pink, but I'm glad I decided against it. We have darker wood in the room--which is already small as is--with the bed and the chest of drawers, so I decided white would lighten up the room a little bit and I could finish off the rest of the Cotton paint.

THE SPICE RACK

We bought 20 spice jars from IKEA, but didn't care for their (two) options for a spice rack, especially since we can't really drill into the walls. (How does IKEA only have two spice rack choices?!) We searched for other options elsewhere, but Luke has been wanting to try his hand at woodworking, so we decided to build one instead. With a saw, a pencil, some nails, and a little bit of wood glue, he built us a perfect spice rack! He made sure that it fits perfectly on our counter under the top cabinets and fits all 20 spice jars. I gave it two coats of our white paint and it was good to go! We also bought chalkboard paint and a fine tip chalkboard pen to put the labels on the lids. And of course, because it's me, we've got our spices in alphabetical order on the rack. We just have a few more jars to fill up. We need a good bulk spice supplier.

THE RECORD CRATE

We thought we found the perfect vintage-looking apple crate online to repurpose as a place to keep our records. But we discovered when it arrived that the crate was wide enough for records by the outside measurements, but not the inside. After a poor review on Amazon, the seller offered to let us keep it and refund the money instead of us shipping it back. We decided to keep it and now we keep our card games in it. Meanwhile, Luke decided to build one from a palette we found. The best thing about building what you want is that you end up with exactly what you want! It's perfect under the table our record player sits on and we're excited to fill it up with more records over the years. Luke did a great job. (He ended up taking off the top rung (I don't know what to call it?) after I took the picture so that it's a little shorter and we can see the records better.

THE POTS

Luke found a bunch of pots, both terra cotta and plastic on Freecycle and we were able to snag them before anyone else. We got 13 terra cotta pots and a bag of plastic pots that is currently in our shed. They weren't in perfect condition, but that just adds character, right? I decided to use the rest of the Cotton and China Rose paint on three of the pots, but then I ran out making sure they were evenly coated. I painted four more in Powder Blue and then decided to get a darker green so they didn't look so pastel-decorations-at-a-gender-reveal-party. I'm in love with this green, Bramwell. It's lighter than I thought it would be, but it's actually how I thought their Laurel Green shade would look, which is what I originally wanted. After I saw how it looked, I told Luke I wanted paint everything in the house Bramwell. We got gravel called "Cotswolds" to fill the pots instead of planting anything for the time being.

THE VANITY STOOL

So far, it's the only thing I've done anything to that we bought new. To add some Bramwell to the house, I decided to paint the legs of my vanity stool green. I figured that was the perfect solution because I knew I didn't want them pink and I thought using the Powder Blue again would be too matchy-matchy for the bedroom.

THE MIRROR

Our friends are recently moved from an unfurnished place to a fully furnished place, so they had a few things they had to get rid of. We ended up buying a big mirror to go over our mantle and a new couch. It was a steal! The mirror was originally gold and looked a bit weathered. I liked it, but it didn't look right in our living room with the faux chandelier. It felt too gaudy to me. I knew I would also love it in green, so I decided to paint it. I love the result, but now we need to get it hung. (Yes, those are Game of Thrones funkos on our mantle.)

rustoleum-colour-swatch

I'll do a home tour post after the rest of my belongings arrive from Colorado!

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