When we started Curbly in 2006, saying that your job was 'blogging' was a recipe for confusion. Lots of people didn't even know what a blog was. Fast forward a decade or so, and blogging as a profession is so well-accepted that you probably have a blogger or two living in your own neighborhood. That why we were excited, but not entirely surprised, when we discovered that prolific food bloggers Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom, from PinchofYum, lived about a mile from us.
Today, we're excited to share a tour of Bjork and Lindsay's bedroom, which they recently finished remodeling. When we met up with these two to talk about their space, they were well on their way to designing it. They'd chosen paint colors, laid flooring, and picked out the major pieces, so styling was the main thing they were looking for help with, and we were more than happy to oblige.
Here's a look at how we styled the space, along with some of Lindsay's take-aways from the whole remodeling process:
The other day I bumped into someone who told me she was working on a novel about a lifestyle blogger, and it occurred to me that 'blogger' has now become a real, legitimate job title. You can even write a novel about it! But it wasn't always that way; for years I had to explain what blogging was before I could get to talking about my job as a blogger. Still, it's not a profession most people know a lot about, or understand well, so I decided...
The 2017 Curbly House is done! It went on the market last weekend, and (to my surprise and delight), we've already had several showings. After two-and-a-half months of intense renovation work, it feels a little weird this week, knowing there's nothing left to do except blog about it. I keep checking my 'To-Do' list, and it's all crossed off, which is my JAM!
Scroll down for the full, room-by-room reveal of the 2017 Curbly House, along with complete product lists (from our featured vendor partner, Hayneedle) and details about how we transformed each space.
Table of Contents
(All photos by M.E. Gray unless noted)
The Curbly House dining room had all the right ingredients to become a focal point for the entire home: big east-and-south-facing windows, a large open plan, and a great built-in shelving unit ripe for styling (and lots of paint). But it also had a weird closet in one corner (who needs a closet in the dining room?) and multiple ancient, sparking light fixtures.
I came up with a plan to style the room in a whole new way, with a unique, attention-getting chandelier over a chunky trestle table to ground the space. And we tore down a wall between this room and the kitchen, creating a huge live/eat/work space that flows seamlessly.
As with several other rooms in the house, all the furniture in this room is from our friends at Hayneedle (click here to shop the entire house). We loved working with them on this project because their products are curated, eclectic (hey, chandelier!), stylish (hey, table and chairs!), and shopping their site is the opposite of overwhelming (which is exactly what you need when you're designing an entire home). Scroll down to see all the before and after pics, and get a full product list:
The living room is the first room you see when you enter the home, and I wanted it to set the tone for the entire house. It was the first room I created a mood board for, and it was the design blueprint for the entire first floor, which set the tone for the whole house. The living room had shaded, south-facing windows which gave it a calm, quiet feel we loved. A big oak tree just outside keeps the harsh southern light out, but sprinkles bright streaks of afternoon rays across the newly-refinished hardwood floors.
I chose a color palette that was muted and neutral, something that would let the sunshine do its thing without getting in the way. The focal point of the room is the gorgeous sofa, with its clean, curved lines and nailhead trim. But, in my view, the leather chairs are the showstoppers: they draw a comment from everyone who walks through the house. And, in case you're curious, they're very well-made and comfortable to sit upon. We've owned plenty of original mid-century-style chairs, and these definitely feel like heirloom pieces.
The master bedroom has just about as much 'character' as you can squeeze into a room. The ceiling lines, the big windows, the charming gable-end nook, and built-in drawers scattered throughout. These are the kinds of architectural details that are so hard to come by in new construction, and while some of them are weird and funky (and hard to design around), that's exactly the point: this room is anything but an empty box. It comes with its own opinions about how it should look, and the interplay between the designer and the room is what makes things interesting, and ultimately, beautiful.
We teamed up with Hayneedle to outfit this room with a delicate design that takes full advantage of the 100-year-old quirks inherent to the home. The house sits atop a hill, and from the bedroom windows you have a full view of the fall foliage and, in the distance, the Minneapolis skyline (picture a soft-toned heart-eye emoji here, please). It's a perfect retreat, with incredible afternoon sunlight, and although it's not a huge bedroom, it has two (modest) walk-in closets and enough space for a spacious dresser.
Shop the products in this room on Hayneedle, but don't expect to find the skyline view for sale: you have to buy the whole house to get that one (now, insert the winky face emoji).
The kitchen! The kitchen! Oh, have mercy! I am beyond the horizon thinking about the transformation we were able to achieve in this room. When we walked through the house for the very first time, it was – honestly – easy to just overlook the kitchen. Where was it?! Did we miss it? It was tiny! In a wee closet.Just about seven feet by seven feet (which is basically like a cubic version of LeBron James), with an exterior door opening right into the space, blocking the fridge and the stove. I'm not exaggerating when I say that you couldn't comfortably fit two people in the kitchen at once.
We knew this would be our biggest challenge in the remodel. We played around with lots of different plans, but finally settled on one that we thought we could pull off without moving any plumbing (important to help keep the cost down). We tore down a wall between the kitchen and the dining room, creating an amazing butcher block-top island (from our partners at Lumber Liquidators).
Then we took a very classic (dare I say, simple?) white shaker cabinet and elevated it with shiny brass hardware, and a very bold black-grouted subway tile backsplash. The pendants, from Lamps Plus, complete the elegant look, drawing your eye around the room and casting a soft, golden glow (even when they're turned off).
Let me digress for a brief moment with this PSA: Lighting is everything! Your lighting is a ceiling sculpture, a work of art, and you are doing no one any favors by selecting boring, basic, flush-mount boob lights, or snazzy, tiny marbley-colored pendants. Go big with your lighting! It's totally worth it! Do you see these charming, brass pendants? They take your breath away! They demand respect! They are perfect! Thank you!
Here's a look at what the kitchen had to offer (nothing!) before we got to it, and how it looks now (all the BIG heart GIFs, etc...):
I will grant you that heading is a little awkward (I couldn't think of another way to title it), but you know what's not awkward? That absolutely stunning new front door we put in (on) this house! And the best part? It's not really a new door at all; it's the same old door with a new glass insert from Zabitat.
Take a look at what an incredible difference this insert makes:
Above: it's the little details that give a home true character. Things like original door handles, and this charming little entryway nook.
The cool thing about this glass insert is that it's a totally DIY-able project. Anyone who can handle a jigsaw (and Bruno says, that's anyone) can do this in about two hours. You simply cut out the middle part of your old door, set the new insert in place, and fasten all the screws. The carefully-designed trim pieces give you lots of leeway to make your cuts, so it's pretty hard to screw up.
We liked the front door insert so much, we decided to try one on the new back door as well:
This one has built-in blinds (enclosed within the door glass, so they never get dirty). The rear-door glass insert allows lots more light into the dining room, which we love. We added a Brisa retractable screen here too, so in the summer, the dining room will get lots of cross-ventilation and feel open and airy.
Well ... the people who lived here before did not like grass. And I get it, grass can be kind of a pain to take care of, but this yard was a f'real jungle (front and back):
We envisioned a family with kids living in this house, so we knew the yard would need at least some usable play space. Also, we added a storage shed for bikes, lawn mowers (and snow blowers), as well as a big two-car parking pad and brand new sidewalk.
Before this backyard transformation, the only way in and out of the house was up the long front steps. In the winter, that would've been a real hassle for someone carrying groceries. Now, there's a convenient place to park off the back alley, and access to the rear door is easy (and flat).
Those shutters were a quick DIY project that Bruno pulled together. Just a few exterior trim boards from the hardware store, measured and cut to length to make board and battens. Don't they look sharp?
The narrative for the next three rooms (the children's bedrooms) is going to sound like Groundhog Day, because that's how I feel about their design. While designing these rooms, I discovered that it's tricky business to create beautiful spaces for children that exist only in your mind. I suppose that's true of all design, but for me, these rooms had to straddle "adorable/stylish/childlike" without being too specific. So, I followed a brand-driven template for the rooms that worked pretty well. Each child's room is a pie-chart divided evenly between Target, Rugs USA (or Amazon), and Land of Nod. All three companies hit children's decor out of the park. So, I came up with a system, and repeated it. Do I fear they're formulaic? A little bit, but I also LOVE everything I chose and believe they're primed for little touches of extra character the new owners will add.
My favorite part of the little's boys room (we called it this, but obviously, it's ready for any child) is the starry accent wall. I love the symbolism of a starred wall - you can reach for them, wish on them, and more. I love the way the wall creates a focal point of the room, but remains neutral and pretty chill.
I wanted this room to feel joyful (and ultra-flexible). I centered the design around a bright, yellow rug, and lots of tassels and llamas. The pops of colors are vibrant and wowee(!), but the room is balanced with lots of light neutrals that make it feel like it's a part of the same house. I love this! I love it so much because the only thing its missing is a child with a big personality to elevate the whole look.
This sweet room is the smallest in the house, but the space is perfect for a wee one. The room is located steps from the master bedroom, and set apart from the other two children's bedrooms. It's sweet and simple, easily adapted, but also lovingly put together. While there's nothing over-the-top about the room, it was a real throwback for me. It reminded me so much of the way we put our daughter, Ayla's nursery together. We wanted her room to feel open and minimal, because she was new, and we didn't want to send her a strong message from the start (rather, we wanted the room to grow into, and mirror, her).
So, I hit repeat with this room. I wanted it to feel beautiful and basic. I want it to be filled with love, and I think the space is ripe for that kind of transformation. I am in love with the accent wall (the wallpaper is removable), and the light fixture (its twin is a gold version that's located a floor below in the office). The room is functional and exactly what you need for a tiny child.
When we bought the house, the room looked like this:
As ridiculously retro as those track lights were, we had to let them go:
I'll be honest: I wish we could've done a lot more with the upstairs bathroom (the downstairs will be revealed in a later post). I wish we could've doubled the size, rebuilt all the plumbing, put in a double-vanity ... the list goes on and on. But every home renovation (especially a flip) requires prioritizing, staying on budget, and making tough decisions. In this case, drastically improving the bathroom would've required some serious structural changes to the house (and losing a bedroom), as well as tons of plumbing and HVAC costs. It just wasn't possible given the scope of what we wanted to do, and the timeframe we were working on.
So, with the apologies out of the way, let me say that I really love what we were able to do with this room! We added bead board wainscoting, a new marble tile floor, and Bruno and Jon worked way harder than anyone wants to admit to get an actual vanity in there (as opposed to the tiny wall-mounted sink it had before).
Throw in a new faucet, a dual-flush toilet, a flowy curtain, and a really pretty light fixture, and the bathroom feels like a completely new space. As you can see, it's a big improvement over what we started with:
For a not-very-huge house, the Curbly House actually packs in a lot of rooms! One of those is this first-floor 'bonus' room, which the previous owners appear to have used as an eating space, but we're treating like an office or family work space. It's a place to go through mail, check your e-mail, do homework, write blog posts (wait, that's our family), etc.
There wasn't much to do here except paint, add some well-designed furniture (that desk & chair were a Craiglist steal at $145), and top everything off with a really nice, eye-catching light fixture. Check it out:
So, here we are at the very end of the post. We've been working toward this moment for nearly ten weeks, and somehow it feels anticlimactic to just end it with an ordinary paragraph. But that's what blog posts do ... they end. And so do house renovation projects, like the 2017 Curbly House.
Although today we mark the completion of this project, it's also an opportunity to celebrate, and look ahead to what's coming next. Doing a large-scale home renovation was equal parts challenging and rewarding, we're already dreaming of doing another one. So as soon as we're able to, we'll let you in on what our plans are for the next Curbly House.
Finally, I can't wrap up this series without acknowledging all the hard work of the people who made this possible: Jon Peterson and Bruno (for being crazy enough to push this idea in the first place and for being two of the hardest-working people I know); M.E. Gray, for doing anything and everything she was called on to do, and for doing it with joy; Chantal Nason, for pitching in with hard work and great ideas; and Chris Gardner, for holding down the Curbly fort. And of course, thanks to our families, for putting up with long stressful weeks of late work nights and twists and turns.
This project was completed in cooperation with several brand partners, who donated products for us to use in the home remodel. We're grateful for their support: Hayneedle, Sherwin-Williams, Purdy, LampsPlus, Zabitat, and Lumber Liquidators. This post may contain affiliate links (learn more).
It's been twenty days since my last progress update, and although that might seem like a long time to you, for me it has absolutely flown by with non-stop action at the house. We're really hitting the home stretch (is that pun? a bad joke? just bad writing?) now, and the whole team has gone into overdrive trying to get everything done. We're hoping to list the house for sale within the next two weeks, and I'm pretty confident we can do it ... if everything goes right. Here's what we've been up to:
We're making headway on the Curbly House and the next two weeks will bring about a big leap in the transformation we've been dreaming about. We spent much of the last week trying to finalize our choices for kitchen cabinetry, countertops, appliances, and fixtures. While the room reveal won't be ready until later, I wanted to share a peek at what inspired the design.
Check out the progress at the Curbly House! Demolition is done, and framing is mostly complete. I've been working on a project in the basement, and painting is well under way in the rooms that aren't in need of any structural work. Here's a quick visual progress tour:
I'm not sleeping all that well. I wake up in the night – the sound of thunder, my kids coughing, a truck going by – and when I try to go back to sleep, my thoughts run wild. Will the kitchen cabinets ship in time? How are we going to pay to move that ventilation duct we unexpectedly found? Why isn't that house down the block selling?
These are the sleepless thoughts of someone in the middle of a house flip. The obvious question is: why...
This is a guest post from Curbly House partner and real estate investor, Jon Peterson.
If you’re following along with our Curbly House project, you know we’ve just embarked on a pretty ambitious home rehab project. We spent months searching for the right property, and now it’s time for the fun stuff to begin (demo, construction, staging).
Have you ever considered taking on a similar project? It can be a very rewarding experience; you...
Well, folks, it's official! Jon* and I signed the closing papers last week, and we are now the proud owners of the new Curbly House! Now all we have to do is put in a new kitchen, renovate the bathrooms, add a new back door, replace the HVAC, finish the basement, improve the landscaping, and figure out how to get a parking space into the back yard! No biggie.
*Reminder: Jon's my partner on this project; he's a real estate investor with...
Earlier this week we told you all about our new Curbly House makeover. A house we're so excited to take on, get to know, make beautiful, and then put on the market again (furnished and polished and perfect).
Y'know, it's weird. For the better part of a decade, Alicia and I have made a living by (I hope) making spaces beautiful. But we've never really embraced that as our job. We've always viewed as "we run a blog, and we get to do room makeovers sometimes, too." This year, we're embarking on a totally different project: a complete home remodel of a property that we don't plan on living in.
See, earlier this year I got to thinking, there are...
April's my favorite month. Always has been. And yes, part of that is because it's my birthday* month. But it's also because April is just such a profoundly transitional time. Where I live (Minnesota), April can contain winter, spring, summer, snow, rain, sun, grass, tulips, ice skates and Rollerblades. It's a little bit crazy, a little bit hectic, and a lot going on. To me April has the feel of a car engine starting up, or a runner taking off...
Coordinating all the content on a blog like Curbly is no small feat. We have four full-time employees, plus a cast of incredible freelance contributors from all over the country (and the world!). We want our content to be relevant, focused, and thoughtful - so how do we do it? Today I want to share all the behind-the-scenes stuff that happens here at Curbly, every month, in order to get more than 30 blog posts pitched, written, edited, and published. Read on for the grisly details!
If you've been following along our #behindthescenes blog posts, you've probably heard me talk about Alt Summit (Altitude Design Summit). So, what is Alt Summit anyway? Is it enough to say it's a conference for bloggers? A lot of the people reading this might not really know what a blogger does, or why they would need a conference to talk about it.
If you're a blogger doing sponsored content, it's important to remember that what you provide to brands is not a product, but a service. That's what they're paying you for, and unless you go into each project with a very clear understanding of what they expect in return, you could have some problems.
This can be a little scary if you're new to doing it. Most people aren't used...
Next week I'm speaking at Altitude Summit, a conference for design, DIY and lifestyle bloggers. I'm really excited to be sharing the stage with Jordan Ferney, boss-lady at Oh Happy Day; I've admired her blog/business for years, and can't wait to learn a lot from her.
Our session is titled "Monetizing Facts & Figures - All the Numbers You've Been Dying To Hear", and we'll be speaking about our experiences with making money as bloggers. I'll be focusing on sponsored posts and display advertising, Jordan will be talking mostly about how to monetize an engaged social media following.
There's this billboard near the off-ramp I take almost every day on my way home from work, and it always makes me chuckle. See, the highway, at that point, has a pretty high sound barrier along the east side, which makes it impossible for anyone driving north to see more than about half of that billboard.
I drive by it, day after day, wondering what it might be trying to advertise to me. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, the company's logo will be on the half that I can actually see, so I know, for example, that McDonald's wants to sell me something, but I'm not sure exactly what, or at what price. Is it chicken nuggets? A Big Mac? A Big Nugget? A Chicken Mac?
What are you trying to say to me, billboard?!!!
When I realize my windows are down and other drivers can probably hear me, I try to calm down and move on to other concerns, but the question remains: who would spend money to advertise on that billboard? No one can even see it!
Well, interestingly, this question has become especially relevant to me recently. See, Curbly makes a big chunk of its revenue from billboards. Not on highways (I wish ... with the cherry pickers and the giant letters and the ...), but on Web pages. And although we don't have sound barriers on the internet (again, I wish), there is a question about who actually sees your advertisement when you pay to have it shown on Curbly (or anywhere else).
It's called viewability. A stupid term, I know. But online advertising seems to have been created primarily to support stupid jargon and acronyms, and only secondarily as a way to make money.
Why viewability matters so much to publishers and advertisers alike
Viewability means the same thing online as it does on the side of the highway: how many people can actually see my advertisement? For billboards, it's not that easy to measure. You'd have to drive around to every one, check it from a bunch of angles, count how many cars are going by.
But for digital advertising, it's not that hard. Your browser can measure which parts of the screen are viewable, and for how long. If Curbly shows an ad at the bottom of this page, but you never scroll past the first paragraph (What?! Why? You don't like me? Why aren't you reading my beautiful blog post!?), then you'll never see that ad. And that advertiser, rightly, isn't going to want to pay for it.
McDonald's shouldn't be paying for that half-a-billboard near my house, and they certainly are justified in not wanting to pay for a banner ad that was never even in the viewable area of the browser.
So why, as the publisher-slash-billboard-owner, should I care about this? After all, it's better to get paid for those unviewed ads, isn't it?
Well, yeah, kinda. At least, it used to be. For a long time, no one (including the publishers) was really measuring that statistic. But in the last few years, viewability has become a must-have metric for online advertisers and publishers alike.
But there's more to it. In fact, un-viewed ads never helped publishers that much. Sure, maybe we got paid for them before, but because they were never viewed the CTRs (click-through-rates) were always terrible, which meant the CPMs (cost-per-mille, or amount earned per thousand times that ad is served) were terrible. And those ads, viewable or not, added to our page latency (load time), which annoyed visitors and lowered our TOS (time-on-site).
(Remember about the stupid jargon and acronyms? I wasn't kidding about that.)
So ads with very poor viewability hurt publishers too, both in terms of the revenue they generate, and in the user experience. Plus, as a publisher, you want advertisers to view your space (your 'billboards', if you will) as premium quality. Those low quality placements were dragging down the perception of quality for all our ad spaces.
Fortunately, there's something we can do.
Lazy loading - an approach to improving ad viewability
It's called lazy-loading. Lazy-loading means, simply, not loading something on the page until you absolutely, positively have to. Kind of like how I do laundry, or bathroom cleaning, or taxes.
We already do this for images, by the way, and have for a few years. Images are an important part of our site (it's possible, though it hurts my pride to admit it, that some of you are just skimming the text of this article, and mostly looking at the pictures), but they have a big impact on that page latency number. Basically, they're big (file-size wise), and take a long time to load. That costs us in latency and money (we pay for the bandwidth), so why load images that no one ever scrolls down to see?
Aside: yes, those little fairy dust sprinkles do actually serve a different ad for every visitor, depending on their location, device, time of day, and a million other factors. And yes, that's why if you go looking for new shoes on Zappos, you will then see ads for those exact shoes on every Web site you look at for the next few weeks, or until you clear your browser cookies.
Normally, when you implement those DFP tags, they tell the browser to go ahead and load all the ads right away. All we have to do is include one line of code that tells it not to do that:
We listen for the custom event that Lazysizes emits whenever an element with the 'lazyload' classname is about to come into the viewport. If that element has a 'data-ad-slot' attribute, then it's an ad snippet, so we tell DFP to refresh (or, since it was never loaded, fetch) that ad slot.
Boom! Simple as that; now our ad slot isn't loaded until it's about to be viewable in the browser window, meaning our viewability metrics go up, which means advertisers will want to pay more for those ad impressions.
True, it also means our overall number of ad impressions goes down. But as I said above, that not really a bad thing, since we're just losing the ad impressions that were never getting seen (or making much money) anyway, and cutting down our page load time in the process.
Does it work?
I just implemented this change last month, so I don't have great numbers to back this up, but I'm pretty confident this is going to be a good thing for us (I'll check back later this quarter when we've had a chance to see how things have played out).
Here's a comparison of our viewability percentage and impressions for one ad slot, before and after the change:
Clearly, viewability went way up, impressions are down. Are we making less money? Nope. Here's the CPM before and after:
That ad slot CPM went way up! Meaning, we're making more money per thousand impressions. So the higher CPM makes up for the lower impressions. In fact, it more than makes up for it. We're actually making more money on that ad slot, per day, than we were before.
Ok, it's a little more complicated than that; we're still trying to work out some details about how to make lazy loading ads work with our header bidding adapter (Prebid.js). And there are so many factors involved in our advertising performance that it's tricky to isolate and analyze the effects of a change like this.
More importantly, this seems to me like technology that should be built in to the ad server (in our case, Google's DFP), not tacked on by the publisher. I think we'll probably see the big players in the programmatic ad-serving space start to address this soon, giving publishers an even easier way to ensure they're not showing chicken nugget ads to people who can't even see them.
Tired of watching your ad revenues fluctuate randomly? Maybe you need to focus more energy on sponsored content revenue. Lucky for you, I've got a free, seven-day sponsored content crash course, and you can sign up today.
Woah! I can't believe it's already been six months since we moved into the new Curbly studio space! I wanted to check in and give you an update on how things are going so far. Moving into this space was one of the biggest changes that has happened at Curbly in the last five years, it was the first time we've had a real, legitimate office space for the business.
Taking on this added expense was a little anxiety-provoking, to be sure. Not to mention all the little responsibilities that come along with having a 1,500 square foot office to furnish and maintain. Guess who mops the floors, takes out the trash, and waters the plants?
Don't worry, this post is rated G (sorry if you were hoping otherwise). But although there's nothing racy that follows, there is a pretty inspiring story. As I mentioned last week, one of my big goals for the coming year is to push myself to do things that feel completely, totally crazy and out of my comfort zone.
This is not my natural tendency, at all. I always like to say I'm a small thinker, and maintainer, a meticulous tender. Big...