Designer Tips

Choosing & Hanging Artwork

Fun Fact: I work not only as a watercolor artist but as an interior designer as well. My mom started an interior design business when I was a teenager so I grew up working with her whenever I could. One of the struggles we’ve seen over & over
(& over again) is size choice & placement of artwork. Generally, the temptation is towards too SMALL & too HIGH. So I’m going to give you some quick interior design tips for your
artwork decisions (without the interior designer price tag- you’re welcome ;).

Go Big or Go Home

Here are some general size guidelines: Framed art should take up 57%-75% of the specified wall or 2/3-3/4 the width of the furniture pieces underneath it. Example- a picture over an 80″ wide sofa should be 53″-60″ wide. You can do this with a single piece or with a grouping as shown in this photo. When grouping multiples, space them 4″-6″ apart. When purchasing an unframed piece, subtract 6″-8″ from the overall size (width) you want for the space. Grouping multiples is often more affordable than a single, super large piece.


Go Low

For the love of all that is good, please do not float your artwork halfway between the furniture & the ceiling! There are a couple of principles to help you here:
1. Art should be anchored to the furniture piece below it, as if they are a unit (3″-6″ above a bed or desk, 6″-10″ above a sofa).
2. If there’s nothing below it, the center of the art should be approximately at eye level (57″ish). In some situations you can just rest a large piece directly on, say, a mantel or buffet instead of hanging it. Err on the side of low.

If you want sizing advice for any HighBrow Hippie art, feel free to send me an e-mail with your questions- I’m more than happy to help. Prints are listed on the site up to 16″x20″ but they’re available in much larger sizes as needed- just ask!

— Jessica

Kitchen Renovation on a Budget

The kitchen of our 1941 home was fairly hideous when we moved in but it also had a lot going for it: it was the perfect size, the general footprint was good & the original cabinets were still there & in great shape. We spent very little money for the impact we achieved so I thought I’d share some of our tips, tricks & sources. Our downstairs bathroom renovation (which was a complete gut job/expansion) cost far more than we anticipated so the name of the game with the kitchen was Cheap/Gradual/DIY-as-much-as-possible. We may replace the appliances at some point but for now, the kitchen is done & I absolutely love it! I’m really happy with the balance of vintage & modern we achieved stylistically; I think it works well with the feel of our historic home.

In case you’re here for one specific category, I’ve broken this article down into parts so you can quickly scan & find the section you need. But first things first: what’s a renovation story without some dramatic before & after photos?!

Before (yikes)


WALLS: Long before we could tackle anything else in the room, we had to, at the very least get rid of the caramel-ish neutral on the walls. The entire house had been painted with flat paint so even if the color choices had been ok, it all had to go. Flat paint gives me the heebie-jeebies, like nails on a chalkboard. Inspiration shows up in odd places sometimes. I was very much in love with the pistachio green of my Kitchen Aid mixer & the vintage-feel of that color works well with our house so that was my starting point for the wall color. We ended up going slightly warmer & settled on Valspar Green Tea Latte in a satin finish.

OPEN SHELVES & ISLAND: IKEA, baby! I guess that long, blank wall was intended for a kitchen table, but I wanted more shelving & work surface, so we bought both the industrial stainless shelves & the butcher block island from IKEA & never looked back. The white metal stools on either side are from Target & they get used a lot by cooking onlookers. We also bought the white floating shelves over the coffee bar area from IKEA (the same ones we put in our bathroom for folded towels). Here’s what I’ve concluded: IKEA is great for pretty much everything except upholstery as long as you don’t overdo it. Mix a few of their items in with nicer things and no one will be the wiser (unless you write about it & post it on the internet).

CABINETS: It’s no small miracle that in the 72 years between the time the house was built & when we bought it, no one had ruined the cabinets. Don’t get me wrong- they were nothing special, but they were plain enough to not be offensive (a.k.a. no weird oak-y finishes or arched moldings on the doors). The biggest project was building 1 extra upper & 1 extra lower cabinet beside the stove in order to center it in the space. Joel did an amazing job with that- who knew I married a carpenter?! The plain style kind of worked as-is but in the end, we decided to jazz them up with some pine strips from Lowe’s to achieve a Shaker style door. We also changed out the hardware to classic brass knobs & pulls which updated them but are still in keeping with the age of the house. We gave the upper cabinets a fresh coat of white paint & used Sherwin Williams Slate Tile on the lowers. If the house is still standing in another 20 years, Shaker will probably be out of vogue & someone will be cursing us for not leaving well enough alone but oh well!

FLOOR: Despite the generous amount of light that room receives all day, the dark floor & black (tile!?) countertops managed to make it feel dark so the next project we undertook was painting the floor. I’m sure some people will be offended that we painted over original wood floors but here’s the thing: the whole house has hardwood floors & the pine floor in the kitchen, though beautiful, didn’t match the rest of the house. It’s not only a different type of wood, but the planks are a different size & it’s laid diagonally, unlike the rest of the house. It had also been finished (poorly) in a SUPER dark SHINY finish that showed up every crumb. Refinishing would have been expensive & we still wouldn’t have been able to match the other floors exactly so you know what they say- if you can’t match it, contrast it! We decided on a white & gray buffalo plaid pattern which serves both to lighten the room and add a ton of pattern/interest. I LOVE IT. I will not lie to you and say this was an easy or fast project- it was hard & slow & I wished I still had my old volleyball knee pads, but it was very worth it. No regrets all around.

COUNTERTOPS: As appealing as those 12” shiny black tile countertops were, we wanted something a bit lighter and more. . . counter-like. We already knew how expensive natural stone was since we used Carrera marble in our bathroom, so we explored other options & settled on the cheapest one- butcher block! It’s light & warm and can really go with so many styles from rustic to modern. We purchased ours from Floor & Décor for a whopping $400 and installed them ourselves. We bought the builder-grade Maple and I think it’s beautiful. The big dilemma with butcher block is TO FINISH or NOT TO FINISH. We decided not to finish for a few reasons: 1.) the stuff you use to finish them is toxic & it comes in contact with your food, potentially, so ew 2.) if you damage them in any way (you know, like, by cutting on them or dropping something on them) you have to sand down and refinish the ENTIRE thing 3.) it makes them darker which I didn’t want 4.) the finishing process was fairly involved. The downside to NOT finishing them is that there’s some ongoing maintenance. Every few months you have to clear everything off your counters, spot-sand any stains & oil them (I use a beeswax/oil combo that smells lovely- Howard Butcher Block conditioner). You also can’t let dark-colored spills sit for too long or you’ll be in for some deep sanding. The more times you oil them, however, the more repellent to stains they become. For me, this amount of maintenance is worth it, but some people want to install them and be done (& I guess hope they don’t get cuts or chips in the finish or cancer from the toxins).

Sink & Faucet: I’m still surprised by the quality of the sink & faucet we got for the price. The faucet is awesome—I can’t even deal with any other style after having one that pulls down & switches to spray mode all from the main spout (as opposed to that extra sprayer piece off to the side with the annoying hose that has to snake all the way across one of the sinks). We ordered it from Amazon (Pacific Bay brand) for $99. Yes- $99. And it is nice. It feels heavy-duty and we’ve been using it for over a year with no issues. The sink is Kohler & we ordered it from along with the necessary strainer baskets for $318. We wanted a white porcelain sink, but the apron style wouldn’t work with our existing cabinets. That left us to choose between drop-in & undermount. Joel really preferred the look of the undermount, but we went with drop-in for 2 reasons: 1.) they’re much easier to install since they rest on the countertop as opposed to adhering to the underside 2.) they protect the butcherblock since you don’t have those edges exposed to splashing water. I was initially freaked out by the way my pots & pans leave gray scuffs on the white sink but then my mother (who knows everything about these things) told me to buy Bar Keeper’s Friend cleaner & voila – takes those scuffs right off!

BACKSPLASH: This is where we reached our DIY limits. Some people brave backsplashes themselves (I’ve seen them described as “easy weekend projects”) but we just didn’t feel up to it, especially with the herringbone pattern we wanted. And boy oh boy was that a good call. I watched a professional struggle with it for a solid week. I’m 100% sure we would have ended up calling someone to finish the job for us had we attempted it. We bought the tile & grout from Floor & Décor for around $150. I’ve discovered that I actually prefer cheap tile in a lot of cases. Maybe it’s because of the age of our house, but the basic, white ceramic just appeals to me for a lot of projects (we used similar tile in our bathroom). The herringbone pattern came in 12” squares for $2.79/each. The grout color is “Timberwolf”. One tip about grout colors: it looks MUCH darker installed than on those little plastic samples. I chose “Charcoal” for our bathroom & it basically looks black, so I went 2 shades lighter for the backsplash & it’s perfect.

Hood: This was also a job for the pros. There were narrow, useless shelves over the stove that Joel had already removed but since there had never been ventilation in that room, we needed professionals to do a few things for us: run ventilation through the soffit above the cabinets & out the side of the house, add an electrical outlet & install the hood. We ordered the hood from Amazon (Cavaliere brand) for $169. I can’t recommend it without reservation, unfortunately, but overall, we’re happy with it for the price (that’s pretty darn cheap). We ended up having to remove some flimsy, plastic flaps that were on the inside because they made such a racket when the fan was on. And this may sound a bit crazy, but we also put metallic silver stickers over the buttons because, unlike the warm, under-hood lights that shine onto the stove, the button lights are LED & super, super bright. It looked like a robot. We wanted to disconnect them so they didn’t light up at all but that wasn’t possible, so we just put stickers on them and it’s a surprisingly great solution. When the under-hood light is on, the buttons are now a reasonable brightness & when everything is off the stickers just blend into the rest of the hood. What you see in the photos is actually pre-stickers & you can see how bright they are even in the daytime. I realize this sounds a bit neurotic, but we’re picky about lighting and ambiance.

So, there you have it- a kitchen refresh for around $3,000 (including the professional labor)! Of course, if you need new appliances or cabinetry, you’ll exceed that budget, but maybe my kitchen will inspire you to tackle some cosmetic upgrades that won’t break the bank. If you have questions about anything I didn’t mention or specific product sources feel free to comment below- I’m happy to help!


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