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Shoddy Chic

A step-by-step guide on how to out crate Crate & Barrel

By Sara Bir

Alas, we cannot all reside in the house of our dreams--but we can personalize the humble home we occupy already. Decorating trends have shifted to emphasize realism, with a comfortably lived-in look that still maintains a sense of refinement. Such an approach finds its stride here in our idyllic Northern California wine country setting, melding so naturally with our casual lifestyles and appreciation for culture and fine things.

But--alas again!--not all can afford those fine things, particularly in these thin times. A slimming bank account does not mean you must settle for life in an unadorned shoebox: a lack of funds can be compensated with a surplus of creativity. Finding that the cost of assembling standard household needs outreached my budgetary limitations, I was left with no option but to strap on my thinking cap and keep a watchful eye on the curbside for treasures come garbage day.

Here are three examples of how--with little to no budget--to furnish yourself and your home in your own unique style. The following sets of instructions truly do work, as I developed them myself and every day find joy in using and enjoying the small touches of luxury they have brought to my life.

Rustic Furniture

1. Work as cook in commissary of catering business. Liberate two empty wooden asparagus crates from caterer.

2. Visit friends in San Francisco. Admire their Nob Hill apartment while feeling thankful for your own apartment, which is less than half the rent for more than twice the space. Spy ugly framed print in Nob Hill neighbor's garbage. Thank friends for visit. Take framed print home with you.

3. Using images clipped from backlog of Wine Spectator, Saveur, and Food & Wine magazines, assemble wine-themed collage over ugly print. Replace print in frame.

4. Place frame, collage side up, over asparagus crates. Admire new coffee table.

5. Crack glass in frame by using coffee table as footstool one too many times. Realize your furniture is dangerous. Go to TAP Plastics (in Santa Rosa: 707.544.5772; in San Rafael: 415.454.6393) and purchase large sheet of unbreakable clear plastic. Cut to fit with heavy-duty scissors and replace glass.

Total cost: $8.99 for plastic, one trip to San Francisco, and several messy evenings cutting pictures out of magazines.

Classy Window Treatments

1. Landlord apologizes for your bedroom's total lack of window treatment and tells you that if you change in the closet, passers-by will not see you naked.

2. Landlord selects cheesy, unsturdy curtain rod from hardware store and installs it while you are at work. Landlord hangs pair of mint-green velvet drapes, which clash horribly with desired rock and roll aesthetic.

3. Landlord sells house and takes drapes. New homeowners too overwhelmed by duct tape holding shower tiles in place to worry about tenant's privacy.

4. Dig through blankets in storage. Find harvest-gold-toned bedspread that belonged to parents circa 1966 and in subsequent years evolved into picnic blanket and painting tarp. Wash bedspread. Examine for holes. Mend hole. Find another. Mend. Find another. Decide hole is too small to matter.

5. Measure window. Measure much-mended bedspread. Cut bedspread in half and hope it fits.

6. Drag out sewing machine. Discover it is broken, probably because it predates bedspread. Take to repair shop.

7. Call repair shop. Ask why you have not heard from them in four weeks.

8. Pick up repaired sewing machine two weeks and $140 later. Convert halved bedspread into drapes with five, easy minutes of sewing.

9. Decide drapes are boring and attach shiny strands of beads made for decorating Christmas trees. Locate forgotten spool of tiny silver plastic beads and edge drapes to echo Christmas garland theme. Drink tea, hum to self, feel cozy.

10. Hang up drapes. Realize you have just created ugliest window treatment in history of home decoration. Decide newfound privacy feels too good to care. Close drapes, get naked, and jump around room.

Total cost: $140, plus phone call to mother bragging about earth-friendly recycling of bedspread, plus rental of video to keep self entertained while sewing tiny plastic silver beads around edge of drapes.

Fragrant Herb Knot

1. Admire rosemary shrubs in neighbor's yard. Rub fingers against them every time you walk past to release pungent perfume. Think about yummy rosemary focaccia. Return at twilight with scissors and remove a few branches. Enjoy homemade rosemary focaccia with herb-rubbed loin of lamb for dinner next night.

2. Survey own yard. Notice that gigantic top-heavy cactus can hardly support its weight. Decide this is nature's way of pruning. Ignore yard.

3. Hear ominous thud against bedroom window in middle of night. Work up courage to go outside and check out situation, only to discover that cactus collapsed and fell on window. Return to bed.

4. Notice yard looks empty without Volkswagen-sized cactus. Devise plan to plant pretty grouping of herbs in front yard, which will both beautify and flavor life.

5. Take trip to garden center. Purchase parsley, cilantro, thyme, and sage plants. Justify cost because upcoming bounty of home-grown herbs at fingertips will save money on grocery bills.

6. Clear mulch away from not too shady, not too sunny spot in yard. Visualize arrangement of herbs. Try to locate trowel. Discover you do not own one.

7. Locate sturdy stick. Violently stab shallow holes in dirt. Plant herbs.

8. Curse feral neighborhood cats for eating cilantro plant.

9. Curse feral neighborhood cats for eating parsley plant.

10. Notice sage is dying. Pick off its three remaining spotty leaves and add to bean soup.

11. Realize thyme plant is not anywhere to be found. Wonder what happened to it.

12. Opt to decorate yard in manner that requires less maintenance. Find pottery piggy bank from Mexico in friend's garage. Place pig in yard over former herb knot and name "Javelina."

Total Cost: around $10 for herbs, trowel optional.

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From the April 11-17, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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