as some of you may remember, when i was home in late june, i got to do something extra specially fun: i got to see my best friend joia’s new house! those who have been following me for a while may recall that two of my closest friends are also two of the oldest: i met them in preschool. yes, pre-school! there we are below over christmas break. joia is on the left, i’m in the middle, and kim is on the right.


we’re all spread across the country now–me in new york, joia in our hometown (she bunked with me in new york for a year, but ultimately moved home to be with her now husband!), and kim in san francisco–but we see each other as often as we can. because we’ve been friends for so long, we’re more like sisters than anything. we’re what my high school psychology teacher liked to call “refrigerator friends”: the people who can walk into your kitchen and open the fridge and take what they like, the people for whom your home is theirs, and vice versa.


L-R: our friends kara and sophie, then joia, and me.

so you can imagine that their sadness is my sadness, and their joy is my joy. which is why i was positively OVERJOYED when i heard that joia and her husband were house-hunting. sure, it’s fun to decorate an apartment in NYC but it’s even MORE FUN to decorate an ENTIRE HOUSE. joia and her husband, who i’ll call T, recently purchased an adorable little cape home on a street located (happily) about a 4 minute drive from my parents. the house has a big back yard (they’re planning on building a great deck and a garden!) and is across from a bubbling brook; if you listen carefully, you can hear the water from their front steps. it was recently “renovated” but in flipper style, which means that some (read: most) of the finishes aren’t exactly what joia would have liked them to be–but it has a lot of potential!

joia and T didn’t want to take on a full gut job (they both work full time and it would’ve been nearly impossible, not to mention a big financial strain), but they’re happy to work on their new home little by little to take those not so great builder finishes from drab to fab. T happens to be very handy, so they’ll be able to do a lot of the work themselves.

i know joia is a bit disappointed that the home wasn’t instantly all she ever dreamed of, but let’s be honest: few homes are. i think this is the case with a lot of first-time homeowners, especially those that don’t have endless budgets (which i think is MOST PEOPLE). you start house-hunting and you think of all the “must haves” (aka, things you’d like to have). and then you realize what your actual budget can get you, and you learn to compromise, and to live with the fact that dream homes don’t happen overnight.

the bottom line is this: even if your home starts in a yucky place (i mean hello, look at what mine used to look like!), you can get it to a happy one. and that, my friends, is where i come in! joia and t don’t have an endless budget (who does), so they’ll likely be decorating little by little, over time–but i’m going to be helping her think through her design choices as they happen, and i CANNOT WAIT. like i said, when do you ever get to help with a WHOLE HOUSE?!

so, let’s look at the before pictures, shall we?! i snapped these in early june, right before joia and T moved their furniture in. i’ve got a lot of big plans in my brain for the house, starting with the living room (which i’ll share here next week!), but let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).

read on for an ONSLAUGHT of photos!

first up: the kitchen. when you enter the house through the back/side door (where you’ll pretty much always enter), you see the kitchen straight ahead, and behind it, a large eat-in dining area. the appliances were recently updated, and while joia isn’t in love with the cabinets, they’re solid maple, so the plan is to work with them for now. she found some nice inspiration images that show this style and shade of wood cabinets with a pretty, light sage green paint, and is contemplating going that route, as a full kitchen reno isn’t in their future anytime soon.

Garner Cape_Kitchen Island 2

the kitchen island–we’ll likely paint it, and remove that weird foot bar.

joia might kill me for the photo below, but it’s the only one i got of the (VERY SPACIOUS!) pantry. god bless non-city storage space, amiright?! here, you can also see a very weird inlay detail in the floors. joia HATES this, but short of ripping up or re-staining all the wood floors, there’s no way around it. this is why god invented area rugs. behind her is a downstairs bath (with soaking tub! odd choice but hey, a tub is a tub!) and off to the right, a small bedroom that T will use for his office (he works from home a few days a week).

Garner Cape_Kitchen Pantry

here’s a better shot of the kitchen. i for one am really excited to take this on as a design challenge, as i think this kitchen is PRETTY CLOSE to a lot of suburban kitchens out there: microwave over the stove, mid-range stainless steel appliances, oak (or maple) cabinets, odd  mediterranean-esque beige backsplash tile…there’s lots to not love, but also, lots of potential for not a lot of dough. more to come on the kitchen plan later, but my first recommendation here will be to rip out the backsplash and replace it with classic white subway tile. if i have my druthers, i’ll also have them redo the counters, but that’s likely a project that can’t be done right away.

Garner Cape_Maple Kitchen Cabinets

kitchen cabinets and appliances

here’s the kitchen as seen from the large dining area. we’re not in love with what’s going on with that weird ceiling treatment (the living room has it too; we think it hides the electrical for the recessed lighting), but like i said above, such is life with a first home. you can’t win ’em all!

Garner Cape_Kitchen Island

i’d like to help them select new schoolhouse-style pendants for over the kitchen island, and again, i’m going to advocate that they paint that baby (maybe a deeper green or a simple, clean white?). here you can see that the weird backsplash goes all the way around. but there’s LOTS of good here: new appliances, a sink that overlooks a window into the dreamy backyard, good light, loooots of storage, and plenty of counter space.

here’s the dining area. i’m picturing a nice round pedestal table here, maybe with white windsor chairs? and perhaps wiring in a chandelier to draw the eye up. obviously, the odd sconces will likely go.

Garner Cape_Kitchen into Dining Area

Garner Cape_Kitchen Hallway

more weird sconces. bye bye, sconces.

the above photo gives you a better sense of the layout (i’m standing in the dining area) in terms of front door/pantry/island, etc. it’s really quite spacious for a relatively small house (i think it’s around 1500-1700 square feet).

from here, you can also get a sneak peek into the tub in the downstairs bath–with soaking tub (more pictures if you scroll down!).

Garner Cape_Kitchen from LR

here’s the full view of the eating area. the placement of the front door will limit them a bit in terms of table size, but it’s larger than it looks. i’m also thinking that some nice built-in bench seating could work with a more oval table, but i need to get in there and measure out the space. i know T could build benches in a hot second, and then we’d just need to get some cushions made to cozy it up a bit. i can see it!

Garner Cape_Kitchen from Front Door

eating area, as seen from the kitchen. they’re getting a new front door.

Garner Cape_Kitchen Eating Area

see what i mean? plenty of space!

Garner Cape_Eat In Kitchen

insert cute dining nook here

okay, moving on. this is the downstairs bathroom, which, oddly, has both a stand up shower and a soaking tub. it’s a spacious room, and someday, when joia and T have budget, they can really make this space shine, but in the interim, it’ll likely be cosmetic fixes to make it work for them right now.

Garner Cape_Downstairs Bathroom

obviously, this space needs a mirror, and new lighting would be ideal.

here’s where it gets a bit strange. soaking tub: yay! weird beige tile + red wood: NAY. some odd choices were clearly made in this room, so for now, joia’s plan is to paint the wood strips below white, and just make the best of it. a soaking tub is a soaking tub, no matter what it looks like.

Garner Cape_Downstairs Bath_2opposite the entrance to the bathroom is a third bedroom that’s actually quite a nice size. it has two windows—one that overlooks the driveway/side of house, and one that looks out on the front yard. in the back of the room is this large closet, which joia and T are going to build out with lots of useful shelving. hooray for storage space! someday, they’ll get doors made, but for now, they may just find some cute curtains to hide what’s behind.

Garner Cape_Downstairs BR Closetbelow is the front of the room. that boob light has to go, but that’s an easy fix. this room has really nice hardwoods, great light, and will make the perfect office for T on his work from home days.

Garner Cape_Downstairs Bedroom Front Window

Garner Cape_Downstairs BR

here’s where T will put his ginormous L-shaped desk. this window looks out on the driveway.

okay, now for the fun part: the living room. the living room has the same odd ceiling situation as the dining area, which joia and T will replace someday, but not right away. so for now, it’s about drawing the eyes up via high-hung curtains, and making the space feel at once light and airy, and homey and cozy. i’ll be sharing a full design plan for the living room (at least, my dream design plan!) next week, but let’s talk about the basics.

the photo below was snapped in the living room, looking into the eating area. so, through that door is where i’d love to put the little L-shaped bench/table situation.

Garner Cape_LR_Front Right Cornerthe area below is getting the biggest facelift, because that, folks, is a faux fireplace. as of today, it’s already been torn out and covered up with drywall (more to come on that next week with the living room design plan), with room left in the middle for built-in shelving to store TV consoles, cable boxes and the like. above it, joia and T plan to mount the TV (T has to watch his sports, joia has to watch her friends reruns).

Garner Cape_LR_Fireplacehere’s the back right corner of the living room, otherwise known as sectional city. that’s right, there’s a giiiiiant sectional going right here. it’s unclear what the homeowners were thinking with the little round window, but we’ll chalk it up to 1940s charm.

Garner Cape_Living Room_Sectional Area

hey, it’s T!

Garner Cape_Living Room Wide Shot 2

the light in this room is truly lovely–and the space is BIG.

Garner Cape_Living Room from Stairs

here’s the (almost) full room snapped from the stairs. picture that fireplace gonzo and you can really see how the space will come together.

ok, friends, that’s all for now. i’m saving the upstairs for the next post, mostly because i’ve typed 2300 words and i can’t imagine any of you have even made it this far. i don’t want you keeling over at the keyboard. or myself, for that matter.

anywho, if you were one of the lucky/wonderful few to make it to the end, i’d love if you’d weigh in with any questions/comments/thoughts, and even better, if you’d tell me whether you’d be interested in hearing/seeing more about the design process as it unfolds!

this is a real life home, a real life, budget-friendly process, and i think it’ll be cool to chronicle how regular folk design their homes (without endless budget and endless time).  i’m so thrilled to be helping them pick stuff out (even if my design boards don’t come to fruition for years!), and i hope you’re thrilled to come along for the ride.




hi friends! er, are you guys still my friends? i know i haven’t written here in…(goes to check when last post was published)…8 months. GOOD LORD HOW TIME FLIES! i’ve spent the better part of this year not blogging, and for the few of you that cared for my long-winded rambling, i’m sorry about that! i’d like to say i can promise i’ll be better, but clearly, i’m not very good at keeping that promise.

here’s the truth: i do miss writing. it’s just that often an idea for a post pops up while i’m sitting in the bathtub, or bored in a meeting, or riding my citibike up and down the east river. and i’ll think to myself, hey, i should write about that. and then i get home and it’s on to the next thing, and poof! the idea is gone. the motivation is zapped. working in advertising, where writing is my day job–well, there’s nothing like working at a computer all day long to make a girl not want to open a computer when she gets home.

this isn’t an excuse, but it is the truth. ANYWHO, i really do want to tell you all about the candles i made recently, because, well, they’re super cute and they smell pretty damn good and most importantly, TIS THE SEASON OF GIFT GIVING aka spending too much money on silly things that no one needs.

don’t get me wrong: i LOVE the holidays. and i love nothing more than a really great gift. i’m of the mindset that presents should be the kind of silly everyday luxuries that friends and family would never buy themselves: a facial. a pair of ultra cozy slippers. that really pretty brass coffee spoon that no one needs but is so pretty to look at.

you know what fits really well into that category? ding ding ding, you guessed it! candles, my friends! i love nothing more than giving (or getting!) a really nice candle. now, i’m not talking about bath & body works, or yankee candle. no shame in the YC game, but those babies are too strongly scented for me. i’m talking about illume, pf candle co, anything and everything in anthropologie’s candle section, or, if you’re fancy, diptyque (bury me in baies, please). all of the above are lovely options for gifts – but if you’re buying more than one, they start to add up.


that’s where making your own comes in. now, i know what you’re thinking: gee, sarah, that seems complicated. but i promise you, it’s really not. the hardest part is waiting for them to cool (because if you’re anything like me, you want them to be done and smell amazing RIGHT AWAY).



what you’ll need:

  • a glue gun (i ordered a relatively cheap one off amazon) and matching glue sticks
  • a big pot to boil water in (your wax pitcher will go in here)
  • candle pitcher (to melt your wax in/pour it out of, so you don’t ruin an actual pot)
  • clothes pins (they help keep your wick straight/in place!)
  • jars and lids (i order these and these from candle science; they have many a jar/lid option!)
  • soy wax (also from candle science, where they ship it in 10lb bags)
  • phthalate-free fragrance*, if you want scented candles (candle science yet again! they have a million scents, go wild! i buy the 1oz bottles)
  • candle wicks (also from candle science, i get the 6″ pre-tabbed eco wicks, which burn well with soy wax)
  • scissors (to trim the wicks)
  • labels (if you want to get fancy, more on that below!)

*phthalates are yucky, bad for you, cancer-causing chemicals that are in many a fragrance and fragrance oil. regardless of where you buy your fragrance oils, you want to ensure they’re phthalate-free. most of the ones from candle science are (and i do not buy or use any that aren’t). you could also use essential oils, but those are a) more expensive and b) don’t necessarily come in every scent under the sun. that said, i may try using solely essential oils next year.



a few notes before we begin:

  • i like to make a few different scents, so i do the process below a few times, thoroughly washing out my candle pitcher in between so that no fragrance lingers. each batch makes about 3-4 candles. if you were only making a few candles, or you wanted to make 10-12 of the same fragrance, you’d melt way more wax at once than what i’ve captured below.
  • if you’re mixing fragrances (i do this for all of my candles, ie, for one batch, i mixed orange blossom with a smoky, fireplace-y scent), figure out your combinations ahead of time. when it comes time to add fragrance, it happens quickly, so you’ll want to be ready to go.
  • i am no professional! i wing it every step of the way – in my mind, that’s the fun of DIY – from how much wax i melt at a time to how much fragrance i put in. if you want to get SUPER technical, there’s lots of great info on the candle science website.
  • you can make candles in just about any vessel. get creative! in the past, i’ve made them in antique tea cups, ball jars, soup cans, etc. anything that can hold a liquid can likely hold wax.
  • weather can affect your candle-making – high heat/humidity, in particular, means your candles won’t harden as well/you may experience air bubbles. if possible, do this in cooler weather/have the AC going.

what you’ll do:

first things first: order all the above. unpack it, and set it all up on your counter/table/somewhere that’s close to your oven. once your wax is melted, you’ll be moving fast.

step 1: attach your wicks


set up all of your jars, and pre-heat your glue gun. once it’s warm (a little bit of glue will dribble out. ew that sounds gross. you know what i mean!), get to work. grab a wick, and add a dot of glue to the bottom of it. immediately press it firmly into the bottom of your jar. i like to press the edges of the metal park of the wick down with a spoon, just to make sure they’re realllly stuck in there. this ensures that your wick won’t float up and away once you pour the hot wax in. repeat with the rest of your jars. let cool for about 10 minutes (the glue dries fast).

**NOTE: to keep your wicks in place, i recommend threading them through clothes pins, as you can see in the photo above. this helps keep them straight and steady once you pour your wax in. you don’t have to do this, but it helps.

step 2: melt your wax

now the fun begins! heat a little water in your large pot. you want it to just reach boiling. don’t fill the pot – you’ll be placing your metal pitcher in there, and if you do, the water will overflow. if you’ve ever used a double boiler, or melted chocolate, this is a similar process. 

scoop a few cups of wax into your metal pitcher – it will go into the pot once the water boils. i eyeball this, but it’s likely about 3-4 cups of wax at a time. the flakes melt down pretty quickly, and it’s easy to add more if you’re making a larger batch of a given scent.

put the pitcher into your water, and turn the heat down to a simmer. you want it to be hot, but not boiling over. think of it as a nice hot bath for your wax pitcher. you want things to melt, but not boil.

within a few minutes, the wax should melt, turning from white flakes into a clear, golden liquid (not that kind, gross).


step 3: add your fragrance

once your wax is melted, turn off the heat, and wait a minute or two. you’re just giving the wax time to cool ever so slightly before you add your fragrance oils. now, grab your fragrances. i usually mix two or three (with the combinations chosen ahead of time). unscrew the caps, and add a few drops of each. again, i wing it – but if a particular fragrance is really strong, or i just want a hint of it, i may just do one drop of that one. use your best judgement. either way, know this: you’re doing DROPS. like, 1/8 of a tsp, eye-balled. do not go pouring multiple teaspoons of fragrance oil into your wax. this stuff is STRONG. 


step 4: pour your candles

you’re almost there! now it’s time to pour the melted, fragranced wax into their vessels. at this point, your wicks should be attached to their jars, and fully cooled. hopefully you’ve got the clothes pins keeping the wicks in place, too. line your jars up on the counter, and pour, baby, pour! fill each candle to just below the top rim (see photo below for reference). made too much or too little wax? that’s okay – you can make a bit more of a given fragrance combo. just make a little half-candle for now, and then melt a bit more wax/add the same fragrance to top ‘er off.


step 5: let your candles cool

this is the hardest part for me. at this point, i’m super excited, i want to smell them all, light them all, shout my accomplishment from the rooftops…you get the idea.

but now, we wait. i generally let my candles cool overnight. within an hour, they’ll start to harden, and you’ll see the golden liquid turning back into the hard white wax it was in the bag.

as your candles harden, you may see little divots at the top–spots where the wax has caved in. if this hurts your heart (it does mine), simply melt a little extra and fill the hole in. it’s like when you smudge your polish at the nail salon – a little extra polish, some fresh top coat, and you’re good to go.


step 6: the finishing touches

by the next day (at least 12 hours), your candles should be cooled, and ready to go! at this point, you can take the clothes pins off, and trim your wicks so that they’re about 1/4″ long. if you’ve purchased lids, now’s the time to screw them on. if you’ve got labels, go ahead and add them.

a note about labels: i’m lucky to have very creative friends as coworkers, and they’ve helped me design mine for the past few years. however, all you really need to make a label is sticker paper – you can handwrite them, or design them on the computer and then print them out. mine were created in indesign, then printed out and cut with regular old scissors. nothing fancy!


and that, folks, is all she wrote. so, tell me: what are your questions? what’s still unclear? would you want to see this in an instagram story (aka, on video)? leave me your thoughts here, or on instagram.  i can’t wait to hear from you!