Archive for the ‘mixed bag’ Category

Any housing market that has a quickly growing buyer pool without available home inventory makes “flippers” take notice. The decision to buy your own “fixer upper” property rather than purchasing a newly renovated home may not be an easy one.

Recently, my husband and I purchased a circa 1980’s home with many original features (including the kitchen.) We dug right into demolition the first week with only two months left on our current rental property to make the new place somewhat habitable.

The original thought was, do all the messy demo, especially removing popcorn ceilings, odor filled carpet and jack hammering floor tiles before moving in. We felt at least 2-3 rooms would have to have all painting done and flooring in so we had a place to put our furniture while we finished up.

Fortunately, no kids or pets live with us currently, so we thought “we can rough it” and considered ourselves weekend reno warriors! My only stipulation as we tore up ALL the rooms, was to keep one un-touched bathroom. Hot shower everyday, etc was a must!

So now, 10 months in, we are about 80% done and still loving our decision. (More “after” pics in coming posts.)

Here are a few pics so you can get a slight feel of the process we went through in the two months prior to moving into our Austin Fixer Upper (wear a dust mask…)


The “before” kitchen had no island and the walk in pantry door was too narrow for my husband’s shoulders to pass through! Black mold was in the back and under several cabinets.

This pile of rubble was the existing kitchen just 7 days after purchase. As you can see, no cooking blog segments filmed here!

We removed a wall adjacent to the master, so the new kitchen would be larger. Took out all the soffit and put in can lights ourselves. Twelve feet(YES 12) of the back of the house was taken out for a new glass slider. We hired two “handy guys” to help us get the header up and shore up the small door we took out. The frame with two center sliding panels went in easily and then later we had a glass company do the glazing on the two stationery panes.

Moving the front door into a better location and taking out the odd chimney, meant demolition of the fire place as well. The oversized stone really swallowed up the 20×14 livingroom, and we had a more contemporary plan in mind. Demo went smooth with a light weight jack hammer and point tool rented at the local big box.


With structural changes done, we hired a sheet rock pro to put in the sheet rock patches and float and texture our new space except for the living room.

Before moving in, we managed to get the concrete floor ground down ourselves. The folks at Deco Prep in Austin, TX, actually delivered a huge floor grinder to our door as well as a high powered vac to suck up the cement dust. After a day and a half of grinding, our living room and kitchen were ready for a micro layer of new colored cement and a bled out white stain in places.

During this timeframe, the four bedrooms had all popcorn removed (myself and a few friends took on this task.) Our sheetrock pro textured those rooms as well and we painted them with friends. A few days before move in, we hired a flooring pro to float our engineered hardwood (hickory) in the bedrooms and hallway.

We opted to add the trim boards ourselves later as we took out all the dated 80’s trim throughout.

We took on one additional huge project to get the dust out before move in – all parallel in timing to the kitchen and bedroom work. Jack hammering the slab to put pipes in the house for the washer and dryer (originally in the garage) had to be done while the dust was flying.

I was glad I had planned out the space virtually first to get a new master bath layout, closet and laundry within the existing space. The 1980’s 84″ repainted cabinet and shell sinks had to go. They didn’t look bad, but open up the cabinet and smell the musty dampness underneath – ugh – and we needed to reconfigure the master to make the laundry room fit in the house.

Both of these mock plans show places to move the laundry room. But the location in the black and white image would have cost almost double since there was currently no water lines in that corner of the house.

Even with jacking the slab ourselves, the plumbing to move the shower and add washer and dryer was over $3500. Important to keep it close to existing water lines! The master sink and cabinetry was taken out and we built all the framing for a new shower area and toilet area. When plumbers had finished we poured sand and patch concrete on top and finally floated a leveler over the repaired floor areas in the master and laundry.

Fortunately we finished all this in conjunction with doing the livingroom/kitchen cement floor, so we kept going in the laundry area so that floor would be done prior to move in day. I would have a washer and dryer hooked up in the first week we lived in the house!

So with a marginally cleanable floor, and fresh paint in the bedrooms, laundry and kitchen we moved into our Austin fixer upper.

Here is the front of the house as we saw it on moving day….and the plan we had for conversion.


Read Full Post »

Hiking west Austin has been my hobby for while now. The artistic craggy rocks and tree roots often grow above the ground looking for any rock crack to seep in and look for moisture. As an artist, this added “texture” is incredible.

Take a walk with me…. Great Hills Park Feb 15th, 2015. The trail is dry and dusty.

Dry Trail Feb 2015 - great Hills Park Austin, TX

Feb 2015 – Great Hills Park Austin, TX

Turning a corner on the trail, we see the water source in the park. The winter moisture has the creek hardly moving hoping to wake the plants near her edge. The water is clear and grey is the dominant color, though permeated by hopeful green.

Painting inspiration - photographed Feb 2015

Painting inspiration – photographed Feb 2015

It is a peaceful setting. Hardly anyone on the trail. A great time to reflect on the winter and look forward to spring.


A couple months later, May 2015, I am standing in my painting studio looking at a large 5ft wide by 4 ft tall blank canvas. This painting has to be incredible in order to carry off such a large format.

I browse through my photos saved to inspire.  I happen across the Great Hills Park trail shots and the creek shot. This is it!

From an artist standpoint, I look at the photo in a whole new light. How will I interpret it? I don’t want to create a copy of the image, rather a painting that reflects how I saw the scene as pure poetry at the end of a grey winter. Paint the hope that will bourgeon into a romantic spring.

Starting the base palette

Starting the base palette

I see pinks and mossy green beneath all the grey. After misting the canvas with water, my background roller is moving fast. I can envision some of the end result, which is hours away, and I want to get there…. A storybook scene in the making.

Painting deeb shadows that will sit below the surface layer

Painting deep shadows that will sit below the surface layer

As I paint, I switch to a palette knife for heavy scratch and thicker paint. Mixing heavy matte gel into my paint allows rocks to build up, like the years of compression it took to make the actual boulders – just in minutes instead of centuries.  The branch “fell” in the foreground.

More deep shadows that will create dimension later

More deep shadows that will create dimension later

Rather than keeping the nearly black water, I balance the pink undertone layer with a soft blue grey and start to fill in the rocky ground cover with a large brush and palette knife.

By the end of three hours, a few branches and tree leaves have been added. This is a great place to stop on day 1 so the next top layers don’t get murky.

After three hours...

After three hours…leaning against the work table for a better view

The next day was a series of working sections with more vegetation and variation. The far bank needed a lot of work over the grey shadow layer. Rocks were painted with flat brushes.  Darker colored shapes topped with lighter shades gave them dimension.

Roughly 4 more hours of working, stepping back and “growing” my vision for the poetic version of this February day. With a few watery details creating shadows and glassy reflections, the painting takes on the feel of a watercolor, even through acrylic paints and mediums were the only products used. Blacker shades like raw umber start to showcase the darkest details. A branch is added in the top right corner and it is 99% done.

Details 99% done

Overall 99% done

Just a few tiny details were popped in and my signature added after the piece was hung on the gallery divider wall. My vision of the Creek at Great Hills Park is finally realized. Time to go out for another hike…

Feeling at home in the gallery

Creek at Great Hills Park by artist Deb Otto, feeling at home in the gallery

Read Full Post »

So often art imitates life, but on occasion, as is the case with anyone born to follow a certain career path, life is directed by art.

Melanie Hickerson was one of 8 siblings growing up in the “oil patch” of north west Texas. Her mother was an artist in her own right, and encouraged music, dance and painting even though she had given up her creative career with her growing family.

Melanie with her Siblings (left top face)

Melanie with her Siblings (plaid blouse far left)

Melanie’s first memory of her own creative work is of her mom giving her a section of wall in their home to paint how she saw fit. The wall was to be torn out in a few months for a remodel, but Melanie, age 10, put a dragon on it! Years later she depicted this time in her life with a “tribute” to her mom called 1956 (West Texas).


“1956 (West Texas)” acrylic on canvas by Melanie Hickerson

In the painting, the art on the wall replicates the actual piece her mom painted and hung there. Of course the flying parent cooking is her mom and her youngest brother Riley (Demon Boy) shoots underfoot along with Foxy their dog.

So from the beginning Melanie had art in her veins. But, as many children of the 50’s will attest, art did not seem a practical life path. In 1964, her dad said he would help her go to college as long as she did not major in art. After one year, she dropped out and left for love and adventures in California. She never gave up pencil and paints though, and by 1977, accepting that art was in her blood, she had her first one person exhibit in a book store in Austin. She designed a cover and art for an underground newspaper (The Gar) but adventure called again.

Having divorced in ’76, she left for Italy with her school age son and painted small scenes of the Italian ruins and countryside. Hickerson estimates she painted 4-5 of these pieces a week for 7-8 months.


Ruins in Piazza Navona circa 1978 by Melanie Hickerson

Commissions and murals paid for plane tickets back to the US in ’78. By 1980 she finally started the education she wanted, graduating with an MFA in 1985 from UT in Austin. She had another successful one person show at the edgy Data Gallery, then she taught at SWTSU (San Marcos) and Laguna Gloria (Austin.)

Common with many artists, Melanie yearned for more opportunities and creative energy. She described it as “wanderlust.” So in 1986, off she went, this time to NYC with her son.

Following some exhibits in commercial galleries, she eventually joined the Ceres gallery (also called the NY Feminist Art Institute) targeting women artists at a time when they were just not shown as frequently as their male counterparts. She was active on the Women’s Caucus for Art and worked as an artist for the City of New York. Many grants, commissions and also teaching made her 12+ years in NYC a challenge and an adventure, contributing heavily to her artistic growth.

I asked Melanie how the art world for women artists changed from the 80’s (possibly in NYC or Austin) to today…

According to Melanie, “The art world has IMPROVED a lot, but less so than banking for example. Tradition has had tremendous influence in the art world plus subjectivity  and women still get less than 15% of spaces and jobs (except administration) overall. In the 90’s I participated clerically in gathering stats on women in galleries, museums, universities and we came up with about 5%. Nevertheless, nowadays it isn’t just assumed that a woman artist is present only to stretch canvases for the guys.”


Melanie Hickerson 2015

By 1999, Hickerson returned to Austin in her home state once again. She was finally universally defined not only by herself, but by her family and fellow Texans as an artist.

With thousands of pieces attributed to her pencil and brush, Melanie continues to teach at ACC in north Austin and shares her love of the world and life. I asked how these young artists differ from her early years…

Melanie relates, “The young artists coming up now have such a different perception of art. They are much more engaged in multiples, not a one-of-a-kind concept. Reproduction materially as well as electronically. That is a big question. The internet is so new. The digital world is having broad effect. One thing is for sure, we need more art, for the culture and for the individuals in this culture.  The taste, or experience [of art] is in danger of becoming so homogenized that the individual disappears. Like the disappearance of nature. Opportunities to quietly contemplate, experience, are more rare. Opportunities to connect are changing but it is a “noisy” (crowded) world. ”


“Me and My Mom” acrylic on canvas by Melanie Hickerson

As far as Melanie’s creative mother…  A work Melanie did of her mother’s final days in the nursing home before she passed on will be featured in a 2015 exhibition at the Austin City Hall February 27th sponsored by the Cultural Arts Division, Economic Dept of the City of Austin.

2013 Mom in NH by Melanie Hickerson Austin TX

“Mom in Nursing Home 2013” acrylic on canvas by Melanie Hickerson

Melanie has focused primarily on portraits in recent months, capturing so many others as they follow their path through life. Maybe those of us who have a creative path notice the paths of others just a little closer.


Colorful Portraits by Melanie Hickerson – acrylic on canvas






Read Full Post »

Not everyone looks at a space the same way. Someone who lives there everyday may see small imperfections as well as function issues. A visitor who has never been in the space sees a big picture and bases an opinion on first impressions. So how are both the constant and occassional visitor visually enticed? Abstract art.

Texture, light, color and scale make abstract painting relevant in any living space.

Long time California artist, Elise Tysick has a great overview here of why abstract art is so sucessful:


Read Full Post »

Tom Shelar Headshot
We are proud to announce the newest addition to our art gallery, the work of painter Tom Shelar. Born in the mountains of North Carolina, he was an early fan of racing at age six. His parents, also racing fans, often took Tom to the local drag strips. His fond childhood memories of visits to the race track is what influences his work today. He often paints classic cars, but also enjoys painting farm inspired paintings. Tom also passionately loves wildlife, which he also thematically injects into his body of works.

Texas Reflections – 2014


Self Taught, Tom has been painting for over 30 years. His work has been featured at the Hall Gallery in Lexington, the Frame Gallery in Winston Salem, North Carolina and the Revolution Showroom in Highpoint, North Carolina. He also has a number of private collectors, eager to scoop up his latest works.

Wet Windshielf

Wet Windshield – 2014

Tom pushes the depth of his work and also creates 3D pieces that incorporate objects. Currently in our gallery, you can find two pieces that exhibit his unique approach to 3D art. One piece features an actual vintage bucket and facet head. Another painting of a ’57 Chevy has a real headlight. Tom found the headlight in a junk yard, researched the year, and then he painted the original car completely restored! His work definitely evokes a sense of nostalgia, capturing moments of the past in a very genuine way.

Read Full Post »

Mill & Leaf Coming Soon

Full steam ahead here at Mill & Leaf! We’ve got our team working hard to design and shape up our space. Shipments keep coming in and the todo list just gets longer and longer, but we’re excited to announce that our opening date is coming up on us very soon! Be looking for a soft opening coming this weekend in the Arboretum.


Read Full Post »

With Mill and Leaf, I occasionally go out on private design projects. Most recently, I worked for about 2 months converting a “vanilla box” family room into a collector’s trove of sports and music memorabilia. Near completion, I quickly shot some pictures to share with our readers. Pardon the photo quality…but enjoy the post from my designer’s perspective!

From a young age, this Austin, TX area home owner collected all types of signatures and items that seemed important at the time. From General Patton’s signature on his original Life magazine cover to Elvis and Buddy Holly, even Mickey Mantle and several other sports giants, I never knew what would show up on the list next.

Framed Life Magazine from 1941 signed by General Patton himself!

Framed Life Magazine from 1941 signed by General Patton himself!

Yes there was a list. An Excel with over 200 items sorted by category and person/team with measurements and notes on each item. This list proved invaluable, initially to calculated the largest parts of the collection (in sq inches) and later to sort by frames needed to purchase, etc.

After the initial list was made (of course more items showed up later) I began sketches for the final project sign off.

Here are a couple of the walls I saw at first walk through.

Sofa wall before

Sofa wall before

Doorway to existing bedroom

Doorway to existing bedroom

It became apparent that transforming just one room would be inadequate for the full collection. So we choose to take out the bedroom door and open up the bedroom wall into the main room to combine both spaces. This made a unique opportunity to make the former bedroom into the music bar area and the current family room into the sports den.

The large bar would relocate into the bedroom area, giving ample floor space in the family room. Large plank wood flooring was run throughout the two spaces to keep continuity in the design even though the subject matter changed.

Here’s a look after the wall was out and decor almost finished…

New wall opening and old doorway roomed (was located where ed polo hangs)

New wall opening and old doorway removed (was located where red polo hangs)


But I am jumping ahead… let’s back up to the original sketches.

We spent a few hours photographing each item so I could envision how the items related. As an example, the homeowner had worked for Kodak as VP of Sales and Marketing for years. Sponsoring racing drivers and cars was a common event. So he started collecting Jimmy Vassar items (one of the Kodalux drivers.) An authentic racing suit, worn in formula races, trophy replica, signed thank you photos and even a Wheaties box featuring the driver were a few of the items pulled out of storage.

The back of the actual Jimmy Vasser racing suit

The back of the actual Jimmy Vasser racing suit

So the adventure of designing each area, perfect for the items to be displayed began.

Jimmy V on the Wheaties box

Jimmy V on the Wheaties box


The sketch out of a portion of the race area where Vasser racing suit would be hung

The sketch out of a portion of the race area where Vasser racing suit would be hung

Specific “bump out” display shelving was designed for certain items in the collection to differentiate them from the mix. The Jimmy Vasser suit would be encased in a type of plexiglass “door” with chrome hinges and handle. This would allow the piece to be swung out into the room to see both sides of the piece.

Racing Suit case on hinges to reveal back

Racing Suit case on hinges to reveal back

The “bump out” areas were textured like the existing walls, but painted a lighter grey than the room walls inside the shelving areas to make them visually stand out. LED lighting was run in strips along the sides of the shelving and LED gimbal recessed can lights (mini spots that tip) were placed at the tops of shelving areas and in wall boxes at the top along the ceiling where displays would mount below.

View of the completed Vasser display area

View of the completed Vasser display area

The plexiglass box with racing suit had an additional plexi layer mounting the poster of Vasser in the Kodalux car and Certificate of Authenticity concerning the suit. This kept the lower portion of the suit (no logos on the legs) from being too non-eventful, also visually balancing out the busy display on the left.

Without belaboring the process, the design continued around the room. For the baseball area, I converted the large valance by recovering and attaching two huge hand stitched baseballs. The many balls, bats cards and collectors magazines were layered by adding a block behind some pieces to hang them out 1.5 inches from the wall so they could layer over a corner of another piece that was flat on the wall. This optimized our scant wall space for such a large collection, while adding a natural design rhythm to the groupings.

Valance before

Large 108 inch window valance before

Baseballs attached to recovered valance. Team collections on right and left wall areas.

Baseballs attached to recovered valance. Team collections on right and left wall areas.

One area of the baseball section featured older items. During the project, they discovered a vintage suit worn by a family member nearly 80 years ago was still with a sister.They managed to procure the piece and I placed it in a protective box with Grandpa’s vintage glove and hankie. This section really echoed the Hall of Fame feel.

With Mantle and Maris on the Life covers and an heirloom baseball uniform, this area became a mini Cooperstown

With Mantle and Maris on the Life covers and a family heirloom baseball uniform, this area became a mini Cooperstown.

Football was also quite the draw, so we incorporated seats at the 50 yard line to watch the game on the TV on the opposite wall.

The field graphic was a shot I had taken years ago when a company outing took my husband and I to a skybox at a Husker game in Lincoln, NE. The photo was first cleaned and skewed in Photoshop, then enlarged to 91 inches and spray mounted to masonite sheeting. Mounting plexiglass over the top made it a more professional looking graphic. Spacing it 1.5 inches off the wall, lights were run behind to give the effect of upward stadium lights at night. A large shelf was added below with additional lighting and a place to prop large signed items. (Cowboys and Oakland Raiders items on the same shelf…hope they behave.) With the wall nearly full, I added a corner unit to make 22″ of wall become 34 on the angle so a 30 inch plexi box with a signed Joe Montana jersey could hang.

Seats at the 50 yard line

Seats at the 50 yard line

Corner custom display for the Joe Montana Jersey

Corner custom display for the Joe Montana Jersey

For music fans who have been patiently waiting for some tunes in this post, here we go.

The bar area was accented with Lone Star, True Grit, Waylon and Willie as well as many other  heartbroken and lonely country stars (like the three Hanks). Again signatures abound. Most could be framed, but a Clint Black signed jacket and actual guitar with Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s signatures needed a larger case. So we made the awkward area where the door used to enter the bedroom into a floor to ceiling display area. Every inch of the room was hung with record covers lining the ceiling border.

Edison bulb fixtures and the new Lone Star LED sign layered over a vintage poster keep the bar area interesting

Edison bulb fixtures and the new Lone Star LED sign layered over a vintage poster keep the bar area interesting, while cool and efficient LED spots accent the albums

No respectable bar in the Austin area would miss a collage of the renowned WN

No respectable bar in the Austin area would miss a collage of the renowned WN. The table in the foreground was the owners childhood game table. A collage of old music clippings, Texas map and concert posters under glass hide the original top.


Next to Willie are the "Three Hanks." Even the sliding doors were decked out with thin pieces on the left so the closet is still functional.

Next to Willie are the “Three Hanks.” Even the sliding doors were decked out with thin pieces on the right so the closet is still functional.


The former room entry area is now an enclosed display case

The former room entry area is now an enclosed display case


A bit of "Jail House Rock" and "Riding High" keep the rhythm going

A bit of “Jail House Rock” and “Riding High” keep the rhythm going


The Waylon album collection continued over the archway back into the Sports den

The Waylon album collection continued over the archway back into the Sports den


No rope accent should be without its glitzy LED light rope partner. This section is filled with Hollywood and wine tasting memorabilia

No rope accent should be without its glitzy LED light rope partner. This section is filled with Hollywood and wine tasting memorabilia

The homeowners tell me they have a great time relaxing in their newly displayed memory rooms. They might be able to charge a cover to offset the design fees! I would… (just kidding). But overall what a fun project for me and a great space for their entertaining hours.










Read Full Post »

Older Posts »