Do you remember a few months ago when I posted about my friend Bonnie’s windowless classroom? Previously the 7th & 8th grade history teacher, she is now the middle school counselor. For the past month and a half, we have been chipping away at her inherited guidance classroom, with still a few more projects left to go. We are taking a little pause for the next month, so I thought it would be fun to give you a progress report today.

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

If you recall from the original post, we are dealing with a large windowless room with unsightly ceiling tile and fluorescent lighting. Not exactly Better Homes & Gardens material 🙂 The perfectionist in me would like to spend quite a bit to make some major changes, but the realist in me realizes that we need to work with what we’ve got and do what we can.

Before I show you where we are now, let’s take a look at what the space looked like when I first saw it. From what I hear, it was a big improvement from what it looked like before.

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

A few days after seeing this, it got worse. Scary worse. The custodial staff kindly put all the old furniture and stuff from the previous counselor back into the room and it looked like this:

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

I wish we had some good scary sound effects to go with these pictures. I am sure you are sufficiently horrified though. I certainly was. Besides giving you an idea of the amount of stuff this room contained, it also shows you what the existing furniture we had to work with looked like. Not pretty. Lots of particleboard and metal cabinets.

Let’s take a look at where we are today:

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report

Much better, right?? As you can see, the biggest impact has been made by taking things out. Editing is probably one of the most powerful tools in transforming a space and it does not cost a cent. Besides doing a deep declutter, the next inexpensive change came from painting several of the existing wooden pieces with Annie Sloan chalk paint in French Linen. Although it was time consuming to paint and wax all of the surfaces, it sure saved a lot of money. Plus, it brought a little much-needed cohesiveness to the room.

Classroom Progress Report:

  • Painted existing furniture with Annie Sloan chalk paint.
  • Added area rug.
  • Added two upholstered chairs.
  • Purged (a lot).
  • Added art & decor
  • Edited & styled bookcase.

Room for Improvement:

  • Address back wall with filing cabinets.
  • Address corner with accumulated stuff.
  • Style and create more function around the credenza.
  • Style the big table.
  • Bring in greenery.
  • Cozy up seating area.

Here are a few more photos with notes on what we did and mental notes on what is still left to do.

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

Furniture Additions

Adding furniture was not really an option, except for the upholstered chairs. Bonnie wanted to get some comfy chairs to bring in that would be welcoming for anyone going through a hard time that might want to talk. I scoured the web for two comfortable upholstered chairs that Bonnie could purchase for less than $150 each with no luck. The only ones I could find were armless. And we all know an armless chair is lacking in the cozy factor 🙂 Guess where we ended up finding the chairs? My house. As I mentioned in THIS post, we were looking to replace our two chairs with a leather couch. So we went ahead and sold our chairs to Bonnie.

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

New Decor Additions

You might have noticed that the area rug in the classroom is not at all like the ones in the initial inspiration boards. By the time she went to purchase the other rugs, they were both unavailable in the size we needed. What was initially a frustration, ended up being a blessing in disguise. As we started to search for alternatives, this area rug suddenly appeared at Target:

Bonnie's Windowless Classroom Progress Report - The Outside & In

Bonnie ended up loving this rug even more than the previous options. I did too. It is obviously not a real vintage rug, but it sure does look like it. The colors were a fantastic jumping off point for the lamp and the artwork purchases.


So that’s where we are as of today. Bonnie has put the breaks on any spending for the next month (understandably). Even clearance items add up! And I am sure she doesn’t want to keep pouring money into her classroom. She is going to budget a little for November and December to see if we can finish up some of the items still left. After that point, I think we are going to call her classroom complete. I think this project is a good example of striving for progress over perfection. When I look back at where this space started, we really have come a long way!

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Last weekend my mom sister and I took a little trip to Atlanta. I recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and taking a girls trip was a fun way to commemorate it.  You can never go wrong with some good food, shopping and sightseeing. Atlanta has always been a bustling city with things to do, but they seem to have really stepped up their game in recent years. Having explored the Buckhead area and downtown several times already, we were curious to check out some new (to us) neighborhoods.

Most of the places we visited were near the East Beltline Trail. The Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park neighborhoods to be specific. If you are from Atlanta, then you are fully aware of the crazy development happening in these parts. If you have never been or have not been in a few years, then you have lots to look forward to 🙂

Before the trip, we did some light research on the areas we wanted to visit. I found this Garden & Gun article particularly inspiring. Friends who live there or visit often shared their recommendation with us too. My friends Maria and Beth both gave me some helpful tips on what to expect at Scott Antiques Market.

Although we only had two full days in Atlanta, I feel got to really make the most of our time. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

What we did in Atlanta:

Scotts Antique Market – The main reason I chose Atlanta for my birthday trip destination was because I have been itching to check out Scott Antique Markets for a loooong time. Scott’s only happens on the second weekend of every month and is about a 15 minute drive south of downtown. The market is basically two gigantic expo center warehouses full of home and garden vendors of ALL types. There was a huge selection of furniture, lighting, plants, art, area rugs and tons more. We were there for 3 hours! I would highly recommend Scott Antique Markets if you are on the hunt for a few pieces for your home. Because the market is SO big, I think having a list of specific items you need would be very helpful in not getting overwhelmed.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

One of the hundreds of vendors at Scott Antique Markets

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Antique carved doors at Scott’s

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Framed treasures at Scott’s

The Atlanta BeltLine – Have you heard of the Beltline project? The Atlanta BeltLine is a genius way that the city planners are addressing sprawl in the city. They are taking an old existing railway track and converting it into a paved trail that will eventually go around the perimeter of downtown. If you have been on the Highline in New York, it is very similar. On our visit we explored the completed East BeltLine Trail, and let me tell you, it was bustling! People were walking, jogging, biking up and down the trail. On either side of it were new apartments, condos and restaurants. The revitalization of Atlanta through this structure is going to be transformative. While I am sure there are some downsides, it truly seems like progressive city planning at its best.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside and In

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Taking time to leave a positive message on the BeltLine.


Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Trash made into art under a BeltLine overpass

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside and In

Saturday morning on the BeltLine

The Lantern Parade on the Atlanta BeltLine – We lucked out on the weekend of our visit because it happened to coincide with the BeltLine Lantern Parade. The parade was SO fun! The website claims it is the “largest temporary art exhibition in the South.” People set up blankets and chairs all along the sides of the BeltLine from Krog Street Market to Piedmont Park, which is like 3 miles! It was bustling with people getting set up hours before the parade even started. The spectators have created lanterns of their own to light up during the parade. Once it got dark, around 8:30pm, all the people who were in the parade starting walking down with their lanterns of every imaginable theme. We were right at the start of the parade, and about an hour after it started, people were still lined up to walk!

People getting ready for the Lantern Parade

People getting ready for the Lantern Parade

Atlanta Weekend - The Outside and In

The Lantern Parade

Ponce City Market – Housed in what used to be an old gigantic Sears & Roebuck Factory, Ponce City Market is a mega shopping and eating destination. How can I describe this place? First of all, it is huge, with both indoor and outdoor areas. Inside the main floor is a giant food hall with local food vendors of every imaginable cuisine on either side. The center of the hall is filled with tables and spots to perch with your food. There are also at several sit-down restaurants.  Secondly, the design is gorgeous. Having embraced the industrial feel of its factory roots, the space is airy and bustling. There are entrances and exits in every direction as people come and go with their food and shopping bags. Speaking of shopping bags, the retail in this place is incredible. In addition to some of the expected regular haunts, there were so many local and unique vendors. There is something for everyone.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

My mom, sister and I at Ponce City Market

Krog Street Market – Krog Street Market is a food-lovers paradise. If you have ever been to Chelsea Market in New York City, it is very similar.  Imagine it like a food court, except instead of the sketchy-looking Chinese food and Sbarro, replace it with Korean noodle bar, a Southern fried chicken joint, a fresh juice bar and many more local and delicious vendors. The picnic tables and communal tables are perfect for a group that each wants to grab their preferred meal and then meet up with their friends. There are sit-down restaurants as well. Besides the food, there was one retail shop here worth mentioning – The Merchant. Such an amazing shop filled a huge variety of products including what seemed like Rifle Paper Co’s entire product line.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Entrance to Krog Street Market

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Lots and lots of choices at Krog Street Market

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

The Merchant at Krog Street Market

Center for Civil and Human Rights – On our last full day in Atlanta, we were trying to decide between visiting the High Museum of Art and the new Center for Civil and Human Rights, which I had read about in this Garden & Gun article. I am so glad we chose the Civil Rights Center – it is an incredible building and exhibit. You know how sometimes you go to a famous museum, and you just go from piece to piece, staring at it for a few seconds before moving on to the next thing? After about an hour of that, I get real bored. When a museum gets it just right though, it can be transformative. This museum fits in that category. The space inside is exquisite and filled with natural light from the wall made of windows on one side. The main floor is dedicated to our nation’s Civil Rights story. And it is GOOD STUFF. You are not just walking from photo to photo reading captions. Not at all. This is an entire multi-sensory experience. I don’t think I have ever grasped the continuum of the black struggle as well as I did in this exhibit. We will definitely be coming back here with the boys as I sincerely doubt they could ever learn about this in a classroom as well as here.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Center for Civil and Human Rights

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

A few of the heroes in the human rights movement.

Downtown Decatur – We spent Friday afternoon exploring Downtown Decatur.  This  neighborhood on the east side of Atlanta has an adorable downtown square surrounded by shops and restaurants. We enjoyed a casual but healthy lunch at Souper Jenny and then popped into a bunch of cute independent stores. I especially loved “Little Shop of Stories”, an independent children’s bookstore. I think it would be so cool to open up a shop like that in our town. Maybe one day! I also had my first Jeni’s Ice Cream experience.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Charming downtown Decatur

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Little Shop of Stories in Downtown Decatur

Where we ate in Atlanta:

Brezze Cucina – Somehow we ended up at Ponce City Market twice around dinnertime and we ate here both times! We tried a large part of the menu and all of it was delicious. The kale salad was probably the all-around favorite. I know, it sounds like a health food, but it was unlike any other. The kale was small and curly, and the dressing was super garlicky. They little bits of toasted breadcrumbs in there added the perfect crunch. The wood fired pizza was delicious too!

Souper Jenni’s – This Downtown Decatur cafe was a great casual spot for a soup and salad pit stop. The menu consisted of about 3 or 4 varieties of soups, sandwiches and salad options that were made that day on-site. It tasted like homemade and hit the spot.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Jeni’s ice cream

Jeni’s Ice Cream – If there’s a hyped up local(ish) ice cream place I haven’t tried yet, I have to stop. So when I saw Jeni’s in Downtown Decatur, I wanted to check it out. The flavors were so creative. We tried several before settling on a poached pear sorbet and dark chocolate ice cream combination. It was very very good. Not as good as Morgernsterns in New York or Bi-Rite in SF, but still up there.

The Little Tart Bakeshop – This little coffeeshop/bakery in Krog Market was our breakfast stop one morning. If you are a pastry lover, you will probably swoon over the creative bread puddings, croissants, muffins and many more goodies. My sister and I had their greek yogurt  and their homemade granola, while my mom enjoyed the brioche egg sandwich.

Dancing Goat Coffee – Before heading back home Sunday morning, we stopped Dancing Goat Coffee at Ponce City Market based on this list. They have a small selection of breakfast food, which seemed like they bring in from other vendors. The coffee and light breakfast hit the spot before our 5 hour drive home.

Superica – Pretty much anyone and everyone recommended this restaurant in Krog Street Market. The description of its food is Mex-Tex, which I assume means it is more Mex than Tex. They offered many of your Mexican food favorites, but with a small twist and more interesting ingredients. I had a delicious green ceviche. My sister and mom shared the veggie fajitas, which included veggies like sweet potato, mushrooms, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

Where we stayed in Atlanta:

We booked this AirBnB rental located in the Old Fourth Ward District. The Old Fourth Ward is an area that is a bit transitional. Before the BeltLine project, it was probably not the safest part of town. Considering it now includes the gigantic and upscale Ponce City Market, it is definitely changing. Our AirBnB hosts were super friendly and responsive. The apartment was spacious and comfy. The location was not our favorite though. It was right off a busy road and not somewhere you would likely be strolling around at night. With that being said, we were a 5 minute Uber ride from everywhere we wanted to go, so that was super convenient.

Weekend in Atlanta - The Outside & In

Living area of our AirBnB

Have you been to Atlanta lately? What were your highlights? And if you live in Atlanta, what should I add to our list for our next visit? And there will be another visit 🙂

Today I wanted to share with you a tactic that stylists and designers use to elevate a room’s presence. During the decorating phase of a project, pros often create little “vignettes”.

When you see the word vignette, what comes to mind? Wikipedia describes a vignette as:

” … a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or character and gives a trenchant impression about that character, an idea, setting, and/or object.[1] It’s a short, descriptive passage that’s more about evoking meaning through imagery than it is about plot.”

This description is very much in line with how a vignette functions in a home. I would describe a vignette as a little “moment” within a larger space. When I am shooting a house for a home tour on the blog, I often seek out these spots because of the emotion they evoke. That is one of the differences between looking at real estate photos of a house versus a magazine spread. Real estate photos are mostly “whole room” shots, while editorial style photos incorporate vignettes and close-ups. The approach is different because the objective is different.

Here are a few examples of some beautiful vignettes:

Nice, right? Vignettes are usually functional, but also styled in an appealing way to draw you in. Perhaps you’re wondering what the difference is between a vignette and all that jazz I recently described in my post about styling. There is a lot of overlap. A vignette is usually styled. But not all styling is done for a vignette. For example, a kitchen can be “styled” with a bowl of oranges on the counter, maybe a big case of flowers or a pretty dish towel. But within that kitchen, there may be a cute little coffee station or a bar cart that has not only been styled, but is actually its own vignette.

Spotting Vignettes:

To better help illustrate this concept, let’s take a look a look at an example of a room that has been styled, followed by the vignettes within the room

This shot captures the whole room. The throw, the pillows and that fluffy white thing were all added to style the room and make it more appealing. I also see at least 3 vignettes: 1) the fireplace mantel, 2) the console table with the round mirror, and 3) the console with the artwork over it. Not surprisingly, the photographer has mixed in photos of the vignettes along with the pulled back shots in the post that features this tour.

Why are vignettes even a “thing”?

Now that you hopefully know how to spot a vignette, you will probably notice them a lot more in your favorite decor magazines or blogs. Maybe even at your friend’s house that looks effortlessly put together. Beyond just being able to identify them, here are a few reasons why you might want to create a vignette in your own house:

  • Gives your room/house a more pulled together look.
  • Creates a more intentional space.
  • Adds emotion and feeling to a space.

Creating a vignette in your home:

Adding a vignette or two in your house can be a fun exercise in creativity without much cost. Just thinking about each space and the function you want it to serve will create little intentional moments. These moments will add up to creating a personalized and interesting space that is uniquely yours. Here are a few steps to creating a vignette in your house.

  1. Pick a spot in your home. This could be a little reading nook, a console in a foyer, a dressing table in your bedroom. The location is up to you.
  2. Establish the major pieces of furniture (if any). In the case of the mantel, you may not need to add any furniture. If it’s a reading nook, you might have the chair, but not a side table. Bring in what you need.
  3. Layer on your supporting players. You may need to add a lamp, a vase, a mirror. Just some interesting pieces that will add function to the space. Try to find interesting, unique pieces that make a statement.
  4. Style away. Add a few meaningful or beautiful touches to draw you on. This could be some flowers, a sculptural object or a piece of art that you love.
  5. Take a photo. Once you are finished assembling your vignette, take a straight on photo with your phone. Does the spot look inviting all on its own? You are on the right track!

So are you ready to give it a whirl?

For more tips and advice on home decor, see the rest of my “Design Lessons” HERE.

I recently finished the book, “Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big” by Bo Burlingham. This book was on My 2016 Reading List, so I was happy to be diving into it. Having worked under a variety of different management styles and cultures, I am so curious how some companies get it right while others miss the mark. Not that I am planning on starting a company in the near future, but if ever I did, I want to know what the good ones are doing 🙂

Recent Read: Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

As the subtitle clearly explains, the book profiles companies that chose to take a different path to success. In the introduction, Bo Burlingham goes into detail as to how he selected these companies out of thousands of possibilities. He established some criteria that would help him whittle down the options, and then narrowed it down to 14 privately held companies.

The 14 companies Bo Burlingham featured and followed for the book were:

  1. Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, California
  2. Citistorage in Brooklyn, New York
  3. Clif Bar & Co in Berkley, CA
  4. ECCO in Boise, Idaho
  5. Hammerhead Productions, in Studio City, California
  6. O.C. Tanner Co. in Salt Lake City, Utah
  7. Reell Precision Manufacturing in St Paul, Minnesota
  8. Rhythm and Hues Studios in Los Angeles, California
  9. Righteous Babe Records in Buffalo, New York
  10. Selima Inc. in Miami Beach, Florida
  11. Union Square Hospitality Group in New York, New York
  12. The Goltz Group in Chicago, Illinois
  13. W.L. Butler Construction in Redwood City, California
  14. Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Of these 14 companies, I was only familiar with Clif Bar, Union Square Hospitality Group, and Zingerman’s. You’ll see in my recap of the book how this played into me losing focus at certain points.


Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group – Image Source: Chicago Tribune

As Burlingham researched these companies, he found that these companies all had a certain “mojo” in common. Discovering the source of this “mojo” led him to really explore what these companies were doing differently. Despite the extreme differences in industries and size, the common threads he found were:

  1. The traditional definitions of success did not restrict these business owners.
  2. The leaders had overcome the enormous pressures to grow exponentially.
  3. Each company had an extraordinarily intimate relationship with the local city, town or county in which it did business.
  4. These companies cultivate exceptionally intimate relationships with their customers and suppliers.
  5. These companies had intimate workplaces.
  6. They followed corporate structures that worked for them.
  7. The leaders had deep emotional attachments to the business, the people who worked in it, and its customers and suppliers.

The book is organized under these observations. Each chapter is dedicated to one observation. Within each chapter, anecdotes from a handful of the fourteen companies are used to illustrate the observations. Not surprisingly, my favorite profiles were of the companies I was more familiar with.

Recent Read: Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

Clif Bar founder Gary Erickson – Image Source: Outside Online

Takeaways from Small Giants:

Bigger doesn’t mean better – I really loved that these companies all chose different definitions of success for themselves. Despite the pressure to keep growing no matter what, these leaders had the strength to say no and follow their own paths. Seeing these companies all choose to play by different rules was very refreshing to see.

The notion that bigger — and more — is better has so pervaded our culture that most people assume all entrepreneurs want to capitalize on every business opportunity, grow their companies as fast as they can, and build the next Microsoft or Citicorp.

A business can shape a community and vice versa. All of the companies profiled in Small Giants have a deep connection with their community. Outside of providing jobs, the companies seem to take to heart the needs of the community. Outreach and giving is a natural extension of the work these companies do. It was really fun to read about the personal way that these companies give back.

Great work environments are built with intention, not by accident. I can only imagine how difficult it would be as a business owner to prioritize company culture over profits. It would take a lot of vision and forethought to realize the rewards for making your company a place where employees not only spend their time, but give their everything to.

In addition to having the right people on board, you need to keep the bus in good running condition. That may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies with wonderful intentions trip themselves up by having poor internal communications, or bad coordination between departments, or inadequate follow-through on decisions, or any of a thousand other management issues that can negate all the positive initiatives those companies undertake. 

Recent Read: Small Giants by Bo Burlingham - The Outside and In

Co-founders of Zingerman’s, Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig – Image Source: NY Times

Final Thoughts on Small Giants:

Despite the lessons learned, I have to admit, my mind did wander a bit in certain chapters of Small Giants. I think it had to do with not knowing all of the companies that Burlingham was diving into. Especially if it was a manufacturing or construction company. Whenever he would share anecdotes about one of the companies I was familiar with, I was all ears.

Business owners should definitely add Small Giants to their reading list. I would also recommend it to anyone who leads a group of people in a common mission, like a school principal or non-profit leader. There is some fantastic content around creating a culture of intimacy with your employees and customers.

Have you ever worked for a company or organization with “mojo”? What about one that had the potential, but stumbled? What do you think made the difference?

For more “Recent Reads” and book recommendations, find them HERE.

The best podcast I heard this week was Episode #179 of the Tim Ferriss Show: “What’s Important to You?” This episode was not your typical Tim Ferriss Show format, in which he interviews a world class performer. Instead, Tim chose to share an audio chapter from Ryan Holiday’s new book, “Ego is the Enemy”.

Tim Ferriss Show Episode #179 - What's Important to You?

I have not read “Ego is the Enemy” yet, but I have definitely been curious about it. Ryan’s last book, “The Obstacle is the Way” which I reviewed HERE, was a fantastic read. Have you read it? I think it could be a slam dunk college graduation gift for a young person just starting out.

The chapter of “Ego” we get to listen to is titled, “What’s Important to You?” It’s read by Ryan Holiday himself. One of my favorite aspects of his last book is how Holiday weaves history into all of his chapters. It seems he carried the same approach over to “Ego”. To set up his point, he starts the chapter comparing the lives of Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman after the Civil War. Both generals were in a position to do as they wanted after the war, yet they took completely different paths. One led a fulfilled life of purpose, the other went seeking “more”. These paths led each man to massively different levels of contentment.

Holiday uses this comparison to dive into the reasons we must figure out what is important to us. And by us, I mean you and only you. How often do you find yourself wanting to do something because someone else is doing it? Or because it is the expected course? This is a surefire way to never feel satisfied. You can see the implications of saying yes based on someone else’s values and desires. According to Holiday:

“We say “yes” because we don’t want to miss out. We think yes will help us accomplish more, when it actually prevents what we actually seek.” 

In other words, identify what is important to YOU and you will have a roadmap for your life’s journey. From there, you can make decisions based on your unique destination. It should become easier to ignore what the pack is doing. You can start saying “yes” only to the things that will get you closer to your goals.

Ryan Holiday's Ego is the Enemy on the Tim Ferriss Show

Author Ryan Holiday

This Tim Ferriss Show podcast episode is short and sweet. Maybe 12 minutes or so of the actual content once you get through sponsorship talk at the beginning and end. To skip the sponsors and get straight to the content, fast forward to the 4 1/2 minute mark. Listen to it HERE. And let me know what you think!

And if you would like other podcast episode recommendations, find them HERE.