Bargain Pillow Throwdown: DIY Designer Looks For Less

Cat on Blue Comforter Bed

Designer pillows can transform a pocket-sized space but if your budget is as slim as your little nest, here’s how to get that designer look for less. It only takes a little DIY to make a custom pillow unique to your space.

DIY Block Print

John Robshaw Blue Block Print Pillow

John Robshaw Block Print Pillow

Block print pillows by John Robshaw are front and center on my design inspiration board but one tossed pillow runs between $115-175. I discovered that kitchen towels, napkins and placemats are perfectly sized to cover standard pillow forms without much sewing involved. These blue and white, block-printed cotton napkins measure 20×20″ and fit a 20″ pillow form I already had. Just sew 3 sides and attach ribbons to tie the open seam closed. The napkins are from and come as a set of 4 for $30.

Blue Napkin

Kitchen Towel Pillows

Coral block print kitchen towels from are sold as a set of 2 for $8.98 and were just the color I needed in the living room. The towel measures 20×26″ and fits a 14×20″ pillow insert using an envelope style cover.

World Market Pillows

Carefully remove the pom-pom trim and save for another project. Fold the 26″ side of the towel in half and press the seam. Drape the towel over the pillow form and place the fold so it is at the center of the form.

Coral Pillow Pinned

Next, continue to pull the fabric towards the back so the two ends overlap. Pin the 2 sides closed, leaving the center flap open. Attach ribbons to tie the pillow case closed.  Once you tackle this project, why not try felt appliqué pillows for the bedroom? Take a peek. Enjoy!

Coral Pillow Sky Shot

Shiny New Painting: Original Art

Brittney Jette Original Portrait Painting

Original Art on a Budget

I am just putting the finishing touches on my master bedroom and the remaining decor budget is devoted towards acquiring original art; nothing more than $50 per piece is the goal.  Not an easy feat.

I wanted a small painting to hang to the left of a large mirror that takes up most of the wall. The artists on never fail to offer soulful paintings that fit a slim decor budget.

Close Up Painting Nr Mirror

Portraits Set the Mood

Artist Britney Jette’s portrait work caught my eye and now one of her paintings helps establish a happy, relaxed mood in the space. I love supporting these talented, independent artists and would much rather give them my hard-earned decorating dollars than to a big box store. Thank you, Britney!

Go Big in a Small Space

For larger original work on a shoestring, look for paintings or drawings on artist paper instead of canvas. But finding a frame to match is often more expensive than the painting itself. Check out this cool DIY gallery frame, which was a design game changer.

Stay tuned…many more small space decorating ideas to come.

Pom-Mania: Add Trim to Transform Old Pillows

Red Pom Pom Pillow on Bed

It’s not rocket science, but the magic of a good pom-pom  (these red yarn balls were handmade by Wandering the West on can bring life back to old tired pillows and plain Jane curtains. A little pom trim can help elevate and soften the edges of a boxy studio short on architecture.

PomPom Red Pillow

Pom-Pom Curtains

Yellow Hand Painted Curtains

The easiest, no-sew way to add pom-pom trim to curtain panels is to glue it. Since I added the trim after the curtains were already hung (and felt lazy), I  glued the trim onto the sides of each panel right on the spot, using clothespins to keep them in place as they dried. The local dollar store is the place to buy  clothespins on the cheap.

Close Up Yellow Hand Painted Curtains DIY Clothespins

Let Your Maximalist Flag Fly

I used to be a little timid about revealing my true maximalist design tendencies, especially living in such compact quarters. But after reading Justina Blakeney’s delightful book, The New Bohemians: Cool and Collected Homes, I feel a new found freedom to fully embrace a “more is more, and less is a bore” decorating spirit. The book features one layered room after another, highlighted by global touches, with no apologies. Living in less than 800 square-feet forces you to edit, but layering in small touches like colorful pom-pom trim, can transform a petite abode into a cozy cocoon.

Feeling Beige

Sherwin-Williams Amazing Gray Color Room

Gloria Vanderbilt once wrote that “decorating is autobiography,” so I guess you could say I am in a bit of a beige mood. The master bedroom is the last room in my beach cottage to get any design attention and changing the flat contractor white walls was first on the to-do list.

One of the biggest misconceptions about small space design is that white walls will make a bedroom appear more spacious, brighter, more relaxing and less cluttered. Here’s the challenge. It takes a tremendous amount of natural light, from dawn to dusk, to make white walls come alive and not appear dead and sterile. In this petite cottage, the master bedroom is located very close to the house next door and although it gets natural light throughout the day, it is filtered and shaded, making the plain white walls look muddied and somewhat dull.

Sad White Bedroom Walls Low Light

Bedroom BEFORE

Painting a relaxing gray-taupe neutral (Sherwin-Williams Amazing Gray) on the walls will make the room feel and look expansive, instead of boxed in. I had Sherwin-WIlliams make the paint color 30% lighter (not whiter), which looks great in the day and at night under incandescent lights. Here is the paint label in case you need it as reference. I will post photos as soon as I finish painting!

Amazing Gray Paint Label Sherwin-Williams

I am a lover of bold colors and Amazing Gray will provide the ideal neutral backdrop for splashes of bright hues and patterns to come into play for an added dose of happy. Stay tuned!

Dapper Drapery: Matisse-Inspired DIY Painted Curtains


Hand-painted stenciled curtains

Over the years, in each of my nutshell-sized spaces,  dressing up the windows was one of the easiest ways to add color, a style punch and a custom look to a generic shoebox. It can be easy on the budget if you make your own and the best part, you can take them with you.

I change the look of my rooms often so I don’t like to invest too much money into window treatments. For the new drapes in the living room, I bought white Ikea Vivan curtain panels. They are sold in pairs for only $9.99.  If you need panels that are longer than the standard 84″, Ikea is the place to shop.  The Vivan panels measure 98 1/2″ long.

Matisse Cutout

Still From Carrie Diaries

I knew I wanted a hand-painted pattern on the curtains and was inspired by Matisse’s paper cutouts and the set design of the now defunct Carrie Diaries. Just love that green wall covering! Making my own custom stencils was the way to get the look for less.

DIY Curtain Stencil

Martha Stewart Fabric Medium

Custom Curtain Stencils

• Draw and cut out two stencils, sort of free-form leaves,  from mylar available at craft stores. Alternate each leaf stencil in the overall design.

• Buying fabric paint can get expensive and the available color palette is limiting. Instead, use Martha Stewart Tintable Fabric medium and mix it in with Martha Stewart Meyer Lemon acrylic paint color.  Follow the directions and use 2 parts paint to 1 part paint medium. The medium will not change or dilute the color of the paint. Use a sponge brush for easy applicationThe paint should be runny and when it dries it will be soft and flexible. Let the paint dry for 24 hours and then on the reverse side, heat set with an iron on medium-high heat.

DIY Close Up Painted Curtain Stencil

When all is said and done, I have custom-painted drapes for about $10 per panel. Cheap, cheerful… and oh, so chic!

Korean Nutshell Living with

Screen shot 2015-01-07 at 4.53.25 PM

Celebrating Asian-American Women

Asiance Magazine features Asian-American women doing cool, innovative things in the world of art, health, business and entertainment. They were kind enough to post a one-on-one interview featuring me and the budding Living in a Nutshell brand.

Editor, Jaymie Moran, helped me make the connection between growing up in a large, boisterous Korean household (six kids), never having a room of my own, which fueled my passion for small-space design. Thanks so much Jaymie!

Check out the full interview here.

Oh, Suzani: Supersize Wall Stenciling

Cropped Wall 2

Go Bold With Color

My petite guest room was a standard contractor’s white, featureless box, clocking in at about 136-square feet. I decided to go with a bold pink patterned wall to make up for the lack of architectural detail and charm in the space.   I don’t have a lot of pink in my wardrobe, but I always feel energized using this bold color in interior spaces.


I went with a deep, red based pink called Cerise (which means “cherry” in French) from Sherwin-Williams. Because you use a dry brush technique with stenciling, you can control the amount of color saturation to fit your taste. I wanted the overall look to appear timeworn and faded on the edges so I tended to paint with a lighter touch.

Go Big with Pattern

This modern Suzani-inspired stencil from Royal Designs is like art and architecture on the walls and helps to make this room feel grander.  If you are painting a large space, I like to buy two stencils so one is always wiped down and clean while the other one is in use. Then alternate stencils once the paint builds up on the edges.


A little paint goes a long way. For a small bedroom, you can stencil the walls using a paint sample-sized can for only $7. Sherwin-Williams paint samples cover 75-square feet with regular wall overage and with a dry brush stencil effect, you end up using very little paint.

Close Up Stencil Wall 2

The fresh paint color and wall pattern have inspired a whole new approach to bed linens and duvet covers. I am thinking it’s going to be boho chic with a mixture of feminine and masculine colored pillows and linens.  Stay tuned for the unveiling.

InkJet Printed Pillows

Medium Wide DIY Laser Print Pillows

Custom Pillows From Your Inkjet Printer

It was time to purge some of the custom pillows I made from my collection. My sister and I organized a sample sale of inkjet and fabric transfer pillows made from silk and linen.  I realized how much I rely on fabric transfer paper as my personal atelier.  One way to keep your petite pad from looking like a cookie-cutter shoe box is to add custom pillows to the space.


Fabric transfer images look extra chic printed onto textured shantung silk. The transferred images reveal the nubbiness of the shantung, appearing a bit distressed and faded. To soften the stiff texture of a photo image on cotton or silk, try draping silk chiffon over the image for a nice effect as you can see in the pillow below.

Silk DIY Fabric Transfer Pillow

Use Avery T-Shirt Transfer Paper for inkjet printers because it is available everywhere. Once you tackle the basics of fabric transfer, you’ll discover lots of ways to add a custom stamp on an entire range of accessories and art.

It is sad to see these pillows go but hopefully they will help make someone else’s space feel like a home.


Boutique Bookcase: Ikea Hack

Ikea Gold Boutique Bookcase

Ikea to the Small Bedroom Rescue

In my never ending quest for stylish storage that won’t make a space look like a storage warehouse, I once again turned to Ikea for the solution.

Ikea Shelving

The Fjalkinge metal bookshelf is sturdier than the MDF particle board options and was only $100, which fit the budget.  More importantly, the bookshelf was skinny enough to fit into a tight corner.  In small spaces, look for bookcases with an open back design, which feels less cramped and closed in.

Bookcase Hack

I was looking for a little more pizzazz than a plain white bookcase for the guest bedroom. I decided to spray paint the metal frame a brassy gold to add a little shine into the space, while being neutral enough to match everything in the room. The shelves were left white and the edges were lined with gold washi tape.


Make sure and choose a paint and primer in one to keep paint from  scraping off easily.

Bookcase With Added Storage Hooks

Bookcase Boutique Storage

The gold metal frame reminded me of display shelving you see in a chic boutique. Attach gold coat hooks from the “roof” of the top shelf to feature favorite pieces from your wardrobe.  In my case,  that meant displaying my vintage collection of handbags, hats and furs my mother passed down to me.  The shelves are metal so you won’t need to use anchors to keep screws from weakening and falling through.

Bookcase Store Display Hats

Vintage beauty pageant trophy cups have become perfect hat display stands.  Now, the guest room is taking shape. Time to paint the walls! I have an aversion to plain white walls. Color makes me the happiest. Stay tuned!

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Sacked: Burlap Covers For Metal Pantry Shelving

Burlap Cover USE

Burlap: Working Woman’s Linen

To me burlap is the working woman’s linen.  With its friendly price tag of $3 (or less) per yard, you can add a touch of French, rustic charm to any petite space without breaking the bank.

Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 5.28.01 PM

When I relocated my wire-shelving tower* from the kitchen to the guest bedroom/craft room,  I stocked it to the brim with messy art supplies. The open-shelving started to look like clutter. To keep the bins undercover when not in use, I sewed a burlap cover that incorporated salvaged fabric left over from past projects.

FInal Close Up Burlap with Sunlight

Vintage Grain Sack Cover Art

A vintage French grain sack from ebay, became the front feature of this pantry shelving cover. Black and white-striped seersucker fabric and a few yards of burlap for the back and sides filled in the gaps and pulled the cover all together.

Canvas Garment Rack Cover  - Sacked: Burlap Covers For Metal Pantry Shelving

No-Sew Alternative

If sewing is not your thing, look for pre-fab canvas garment rack covers like this one from Target and embellish it with fabric paint or trim to boost your decor.  To custom fit the cover to the size of your rack, you can fold, pin or clamp excess fabric along the seams from the inside.  Give it a whirl!

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