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How to get the look of graphic cement tile (for much less)

As promised, I’ll show you the steps for creating the look of graphic cement tile, for much less.

Off the entry of our house is a quiet living room. One thing we loved so much about this new house was the potential for impactful updates that didn’t cost a fortune. This room is a great example. With the help of paint, we’ve created an updated space that works with our modern/traditional style and sets the tone for the rest of the house.

The biggest impact in the room is undoubtedly the graphic fireplace tile.

We have long-terms plans to change up the whole facade of the fireplace, which left me with an almost risk-free freedom to try something completely crazy to give the fireplace a much-needed facelift. If it was a total flop, no big deal. We’ll likely pull it all out eventually anyway. Sometimes I just need creative license to try something new and the fireplace was the perfect canvas.

Before we get into the how-tos, let’s look at the before and after:

Ah, I love a good transformation!

The tile is a little crazy, I’ll admit. And yet, it feels so fresh and happy, and that makes it worth it.

If you have a space in your home (a fireplace surround, backsplash, floor) that needs an inexpensive update, perhaps this how-to will give you just the inspiration you need.

Gorgeous graphic cement tile has been a trend in home design for the past few years and it just keeps growing. While I could have just purchased tiles to replace the granite tile on our fireplace, I wasn’t excited about spending a bunch of money on an update that might not stay longterm. So rather than buy, I turned to my DIY ways and decided to just paint the surround to look like cement tile. And I’d say it worked!

To get started, I had to select a pattern. A quick search on Pinterest offered so many gorgeous examples. I looked through photos and tile companies until I found a pattern that I met my two criteria: 1. I could live with the pattern and 2. The pattern could be easily replicated and handpainted.

After narrowing it down to a couple of finalists, I decided on this pattern from a company called Tabarka Studio. I loved the simplicity, the handpainted feel and it seemed like a very simple pattern to paint.

The trickiest part was figuring out the math to make the pattern perfect.

The tiles on our fireplace are 12″ x 6″ rectangles, but I figured I could fake them into 6″ x 6″ tiles. I used a piece of grid paper, a ruler and pencil to find the correct proportions and then painted a few samples to give it a try.


With my pattern selected, I started in on the fireplace makeover.

STEP ONE | Clean the tile to remove any dirt, soot, etc.

I just used dish soap, an old scrub brush, and a magic eraser.

STEP TWO | Paint tile with primer

For the base coat, I used basic Zinsser Primer, taping off the carpet and around the mantle first.

With just that first coat of primer on there, I knew this was going to be a good choice. I taped up my paper samples just to make sure I loved the pattern, the scale, and figure out placement.

STEP THREE | Paint the base coat

I could have used two or three coats of primer, but the white was a bit stark for our house. Instead, I pulled out extra flat ceiling paint (Shoji White, by Benjamin Moore) which has a much creamier, warmer undertone.

STEP FOUR | Draw the pattern

Using a ruler and pencil, I first marked the tiles into 6″ squares (just drew a line in the center of each 12″ tile). On every tile I made small marks in equal increments along all sides and connected the lines, alternating the diagonal direction.

(That sounds super confusing. Sorry. I explain the pattern making process in the template pdf. Download below.

Penciling in the pattern was the most labor-intensive step. It took a few hours (maybe 4 or 5? split between a few evenings) and I just popped in my headphones and listened to a book or podcast.

STEP FIVE | Paint the pattern

Using a 1/2″ flat artist’s brush, paint between the lines. This part doesn’t have to be perfect – in fact, one of the things I love the most about the inspiration tile is how imperfect and handpainted it looks.

For paint, I used black chalkboard paint. My main reason was that I was hoping to get that dusty, slightly aged look (see below for more on that) and didn’t want any sheen.

Painting was much faster than marking the pattern. The first coat took about 2 hours.

The tile would have been fine with one coat, but it was a little more transparent and the brush strokes were slightly more visible than I wanted, so I went back over with a second coat.

You can see the difference between one and two coats above, and the finished fireplace below.


Our chimney has a small water leak that has caused the paint to bubble. I started the project earlier this winter and only got so far as painting the base coat and marking the pattern. At that point, we were having carpet installed and everything from the upstairs was piled in the living room for several weeks. Once the carpet was done and furniture moved back up, I went back to work on the fireplace. We were experiencing the wettest winter ever and unfortunately, moisture had caused the paint to bubble.

My two options:

Sand down the paint and start over (knowing that until the chimney is completely fixed, water will likely leak and cause damage again).

Just keep going and embrace the bubbled paint.

Guess which option I chose :)

You can’t really see the texture unless you are up close and it honestly doesn’t bother me at all. It may cause the paint to wear more, so I’ll keep you posted if it all starts peeling off anytime soon.

Also, when I removed the tape, it pulled up a bit of the paint from the tile. I just went back over with my brush and touched up.

STEP SIX | Season the chalk paint


To get that more aged look, I rubbed chalk all over the black paint and lightly wiped it off.

You may remember I did the same thing with the painted lamps in my studio. This post explains the process a little more.

And it’s done!

The graphic pattern gives the otherwise traditional room a nice dose of energy and the classic black and white pattern still feels versatile.

Many have asked – on the living room reveal post and Instagram – if the paint holds up the heat of the fireplace. I would love to give a great answer … but the truth is, we haven’t had a fire in the fireplace since painting the tile. I think it will be just fine because the tile doesn’t get very hot, but I can’t guarantee it. Most interior latex paint is rated to withstand the heat of a fireplace surround (around 200*).

If you paint an area that gets much more wear and tear, be sure to use several coats of protective finish (like this) to seal. This post is a good one from another DIYer who shows how she painted her tile floors.

I put together a guide with my template and how-to instructions to make recreating this project a bit easier.

The download is free and can be found in THE ARCHIVE, my library of freebies. If you are already a JDC subscriber, just enter your email address; if you are new, pop in your email and you’ll be in!

If you do paint your tile, please let me know! I’d love to see how it turns out …

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you asap.

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The Moody Living Room Makeover Reveal

As you enter our house from the front door, to the left sits a formal living room with fireplace and three big windows.

We’ve never had a formal living room before – never wanted one, actually – until this house. Now that the kids are older, I very much like the idea of having a quiet room separate from the casual family room for reading or sitting by the fire. We imagine this room will be where we visit with adults or host bible study or just come to get a little alone time.

Funny fact: our 9 year old calls this “the lonely room” and the name has stuck.

Over the past several months, we’ve done a few small updates that make a huge difference and I can’t wait to show you how the moody living room is coming along.

I was chatting with my friends Emily + Myquillyn earlier this week about how updating this house has been a baby-step process. I get antsy to make all the changes, but it is actually quite nice (and perhaps a bit more real-life) to just make little improvements as we can and let the rooms come together over time.

This is absolutely the case with the living room. We’ll call this the Phase One living room makeover.

Let’s go back and I’ll remind you of what it looked like when we moved in:

The shell of the room was great; it was just the finishes that felt dated. Our longterm plans include replacing the carpet with wood floors, removing the half-moon window and pushing the windows up, adding wide baseboards, putting in vintage french doors from the entry into the living room and walling off the passthrough to the dining room. Whew.

Since I’m all about making small changes today that make the space feel more like us, I have been doing projects here and there to transform the dated living room into a moody space that we actually want to hang out in.

This room doesn’t get a lot of natural light and while the temptation would be to go light, we decided to embrace the cozy feel and make it even moodier with a deep gray/green/blue on the walls. The trim and fireplace mantle got a coat of the same charcoal color we used in the kitchen and entry, and the ceiling was freshened up with white. Just switching out the paint made a BIG difference in the feel of the room.

Let’s talk about the biggest change in the room, shall we?

I am so crazy excited about the fireplace.

We love having a wood-burning fireplace in here, but the original finishes were not right for our style (scroll up to refresh your memory).

My long-term vision is to pull off the over-scaled mantle, remove the granite tiles and run a flat concrete facade all the way to the ceiling (something sort of like this) for a more minimal and modern look.

In the meantime, I figured there was no harm in trying out something totally different with the fireplace and gave it a complete makeover with paint, a ruler and a steady hand.

Yep, I painted over the granite tiles. And I’m so smitten with it.

I have lots of pictures of the process so I’ll post a full tutorial with details. But for now, let’s just say faux cement tiles in a graphic pattern is such a crazy stretch for my style and yet every time I walk by the room, I smile.

The windows have been bare since we moved in and I considered letting the walls and trim be the feature, but I’m such a curtain girl that I had to add some in here. As hard as I try to go more masculine with this house, I still love adding in some softer, feminine details. Simple white curtains on brass rings help to add balance and pull the room together.

And of course a room wouldn’t be complete without fresh flowers and greenery.

I put this arrangement together using clippings from our yard and gorgeous spring peonies. My mother-in-law makes the prettiest garden arrangements and this was my attempt to follow her lead.

I also clipped a few branches from outside and let them do their organic, perfectly charming thing up on the mantle.

This spot is so hard to get a good picture of because the lighting is super dark, but take my word for it that the bright leaves and branches look so great against the dark walls. I’m thankful that we’re surrounded by trees so I can clip, clip, clip to my heart’s delight.

Well, my friends, Phase One of our moody living room makeover is complete! More changes will come, but for now, it is such a cozy, inviting space and a big improvement from where we started.

Once again, here’s the before and after – because nothing is better than a great before and after!


Rug | Sofa | Coffee Table (similar) | Round Tray | Gold Vase | Floor Lamps (similar) | Stripe Blanket | Fur Pillow | Leather Pillow | Linen Pillow | Ikat Pillow | Curtains | Curtain Rods | Curtain RingsTable Lamp | Terracotta Pot | Green Moss Candle

Wall Color: Ancestral by Behr
Trim Color: Iron Ore by Sherwin Williams
Ceiling Color: Shoji White by Sherwin Williams

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What to do with a sweet but slightly awkward dormer window

In two of the upstairs bedrooms, there are dormer windows.

I have always loved how dormers look on the exterior of a house – it gives a traditional cottage feel that is charming and welcoming. The dormers on our house were what initially caught my eye while perusing real estate online (see the exterior here and here).

When there are dormers on the exterior, it likely means that there are little nooks carved out of the slanted roof. This is the case in Audrey’s room and the boys’ room.

Here’s the tricky thing about these dormer nooks: while completely charming, they are slightly awkward. These particular spaces are identical in each bedroom and quite narrow. My original idea was to build a bed for Audrey in her window nook. It is just barely wider than a twin size bed and the idea could be so cute. We’re still considering …

In the meantime, and to make the space as practical as possible, we’re using the nook as a reading corner.

One night when I should have been making dinner, I found three old picture ledges from IKEA and hung them up on the wall. I used a stud finder and level and popped those things up all by myself in under 30 minutes.

The picture ledges are perfect for displaying picture books. We had them in the kids’ old playroom when they were little (see that room here). I’m such a lover of illustrated children’s books – someday I will write one! – and adore having the covers displayed.

Should we talk about that piece of fabric tacked to the window? Yes, let’s talk about that. This is what my decorating process looks like: I try things out in very un-permanent ways and see if I can live with it (in this case, I can).

This is the same fabric that we used in Audrey’s old bedroom for the window and I loved it so much in there, I thought we would try it in this room as well. It is fabric from Minted and I’m crazy about it. My mom said she’ll help me sew proper roman shades so someday soon I’ll untack it from the wall and sew them into lovely roman shades with black pom pom trim.

Also unfinished? The trim. We still need to caulk and paint it all. The trim inside the window and the rest of the newly installed pieces will be painted the same white as the walls (in a semigloss sheen) and the seams and nail holes will be filled. It’s going to look amazing. Someday.

That sweet bench was a happy find at HomeGoods. I spotted two of them from across the store and was going to buy both. I wasn’t sure what for, but if there is anything I’ve learned about shopping at stores like HomeGoods it’s buy it now, return it later. Because if you wait to think about it, it will be gone.

Anyway, when I was heading over to get the benches, another shopper walked by and snagged one of them. You better believe I was very quick to grab that second one and claim it :)

Once home, I tried the bench in Audrey’s room and it tucked under the window perfectly. That scallop detail on the brass tacks is just the cutest and I’m a big fan of having a touch of black in every room – even a sweet girly room.

As we were unloading the picture books, we only made a dent in our collection with the three shelves.

So the next time I brave IKEA, I’ll pick up three more picture ledges for the opposite wall.

I think the reading nook idea works very well for her little dormer. I’ll keep you posted as we continue to finish her room out.


picture ledges – IKEA | bench – HomeGoods | pink throw – Target | linen pillow + insert – IKEA | fabric – Minted | Carpet | Wall Color – Shoji White by Sherwin Williams

For your reading pleasure, here are a few older posts with our favorite picture books:

3 Must-Have Picture Books For School-Aged Boys (according to my 8 year old)

Our Favorite Children’s Picture Books

Favorite Books for Boys

Favorite Books for Girls

Favorite Books for Baby

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18 Classic Flushmount Lights (6 of which are in our new house)

The ceilings in our house are on the shorter side at 8 feet. It gives the house a cozy feel, but also can make it feel a bit dark. The decidedly dated light fixtures throughout the house were not helping things, either (see the before pictures here).

Switching out lights is one of the easiest ways to update a room and so over the past six months, we have replaced all of the ceiling lights with more modern, brighter versions.

As I was searching for lights, I weeded through one million bad ones (whyyyy are boob lights still a thing?!) and gathered 18 of my favorites. These are classic in styling, most are under $250 and a couple are less than $100.   1. 3-Light Flush Mount $178 | 2. Scallop White Metal Flushmount $129 | 3. Dahlia Flushmount $249 | 4. Vega Brushed Brass Flush Mount $249 | 5. Mia Faceted-Crystal Oversized Flushmount $299 | 6. Thurman Flushmount $120 | 7. Industrial Loft Double Pendant $264 | 8. Fabric Shade Flushmount $79 | 9. Victoria Flushmount $229 | 10. Dauphine Wood Flushmount $499 | 11. Ricco Scalloped Semi-Flush Mount $142 | 12. Yasmine Ceiling Mount $249 | 13. Cedar + Moss Semi-Flush $159 | 14. Capiz Flushmount $199 | 15. Bell White Flush Mount $59.95 | 16. Suzette Ceiling Mount $199 | 17. Celeste 2-Light Flushmount $97 | 18. Crystal Flushmount $179

Six of those lights are the ones we chose for our house. Let me show you how they look.

In the entry, stairway and upstairs hall, we put in five matching fabric drum shade flushmounts from West Elm (#8). We bought them on sale (I think $60ish a piece) and they instantly modernized and connected these common areas.

Here you can see how they work in the hallway and stair landing. It was especially important that the sides and bottom of the fixture would give off light to make this semi-dark space as bright as possible.

Unfortunately, they are no longer available on the website, but this one is really similar.

Audrey’s light (#2) was the first one I ordered because the shape was just so darling.

It’s adorable in person and while the light does not shine out the sides (it is metal) it still feels bright enough.

The middle boys share a room and we chose this slightly nautical light (#17) for their room.

This is actually the second light we tried in here. The first did not have glass on the sides and was just way too dim for their fairly dark room. This one works much better.

In our room, there was a massive ceiling fan positioned right above the bed. I know people are fans of ceiling fans, but I am not one of them. Especially because we have central A/C in the house and rarely do our temps get over 85* anyway. So the fan had to go. In its place, we chose another linen shade flushmount (#11), except in a sweet shape.

The light is not really centered in the room and we liked the idea of it blending in more than being a statement. If I were looking for a statement light in our bedroom, I would choose #3, #4 or #10.

Up on the third floor, we picked an industrial style light (#7) that could withstand an inevitable ball or pillow or something being thrown its way.

In my studio, I picked two semi-flushmount lights (#13) in my beloved black and white as a focal for each dormer.

They make me ridiculously happy every time I see them.

I’ve been feeling mildly discouraged lately about how slow and unfinished our house is. There is not one room in the whole house that is completely done.

But then I look at these photos and see the many little changes we’re making and realize that we’re moving at a just fine pace. It is hard to be patient and balance real life with house projects. In a perfect world we would have an unlimited budget and a full crew here making the vision we have for this house come true. But that is not reality :)

So I’m going to chill out a bit and be thankful for the little things like paint and carpet and new flushmount lights.

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Reveal day! The kids’ third floor casual hangout space

If you remember from a couple of previous posts, we’ve been turning an open third floor bonus room into a functional space for our growing kids.

Since moving in, we walled in a bedroom and closet, painted the walls, changed out the lighting, updated the trim and replaced the carpet (read all about the updates here). Instead of it being a big open space, we gave the room structure and it works so much better.

With the shell of the room complete, I got to do the fun part and add finishing touches. I started with a design plan (see it here) and kept to a mainly neutral color palette (big shock, I know), pulling in a bit of green and blue for color.

The room is casual and comfy, a little bit outdoorsy and a great spot for the kids to hang out.

Now that the kids are a little older (13, 11, 9 and 7), our playroom needs have changed. No longer do we need tons of storage for toys or open spaces for floor play. Those were sweet days and I loved creating a playroom for the kids when they were little (see it here).

This hangout space needed to work as a space for the kids to watch movies, play games with friends, lounge on a comfy couch with a book or create with legos.

I loaded the sectional couch with assorted pillows because I just can’t help myself. Of course they all end up on the floor when the kids are up here, but I still insist on them because they add texture and pattern to an otherwise very plain room.

On either side of the big window are framed posters of two of our favorite National Parks. I just love the greens and touch of blue they bring.

And, of course, you can’t have a finished room without a touch of living greenery. This time, I chose a very low-maintenance plant called Zamioculcas Zamiifolia (ZZ for short). It doesn’t need much to keep it alive, so it is perfect for this room where I’m not regularly having to bring it down to water.

Next to the couch, tucked into the little nook is where we ended up putting all the legos.

Lego storage has stumped us for nearly 10 years. We’ve tried so many different solutions: colors organized into separate boxes (that was very short-lived), spread out on a lego table, under bed storage bins, lego pit (that was a fun one where Ryan built a half wall in the boys’ dormer bump-out and we dumped all the legos in there), plastic totes. You name it, we probably tried it.

Truth be told, I love legos. The boys are super creative and come up with the most amazing things. As they get older, they are less and less into building, but I still want to keep them accessible, especially for Mason (9) who still enjoys digging through, building scenes and playing with the guys.

Our current lego storage solution is working out great. The big galvanized trough is what we kept our baby chicks in for the first few weeks. Once we moved them to the coop, Ryan had the brilliant idea to use the bin for legos.

It’s super sturdy, had rounded edges so the kids don’t get hurt while digging, it holds all of our legos and won’t break like every other plastic lego bin has seemed to do.

To fill in the big wall, I hung two shelves left over from the boys’ old room.

My original thought was to fill that wall with shelves so the boys could put their lego ships/cars/guys/etc on them. But then the decorator in me came out and instead filled them with books and pictures and plants and decorate-y things.

Here’s a more pulled-back shot so you can see how the room fits together. Don’t mind the unfinished stair trim, handrail and door. Someday we’ll have all the woodwork painted :)

On the other side of the stairway is the entrance to the bedroom.

On the wall opposite the couch is the tv on a low shelf with storage baskets. This is where the boys keep the xbox, games, controllers and a million wires.

It is so nice to have this great room for the kids. They tend to hang out downstairs most of the time, but I like that I can send them up when they have friends over and it gives them one more spot to chill when they need space.

As I was taking pictures, I realized how hard it is to show how the room flows together. So I snapped over to the video setting on the camera and made you a video tour. Enjoy!


ceiling lights | couch (Costco) | coffee table (old) | pom throw | green velvet pillow | patterned pillows (Homegoods + made by me) | textured dot pillows | plaid throw | floor lamp (old, Target) | national park posters | poster frames | lego trough (farm store) | shelves (wood) + brackets | tv stand | beanbags | wall color: Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore | trim: Shoji White by Sherwin Williams

Thank you to Barn Light Electric for sending us the industrial ceiling lights. We didn’t want anything that would easily be broken by random flying objects (this is primarily a boy hangout zone!) and the caged double pendants are perfect. 

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