Category Archives: Projects

Decorating Stair Risers

If you’ve been following along with the Shelly Project, you know that the stairways in this mid-century split level underwent a dramatic transformation.

This mid-century split-level home looks dated after an earlier renovation boxed in the stairway. (The Shelly Project)

Often overlooked from a decorating viewpoint, stairs are a major visual and functional part of any multi-story home. Sometimes simple decorative changes can make a huge impact on the overall look of the property.

The same home looks so much brighter with the dark panels removed. Painting the risers glossy white adds to the open effect. (The Shelly Project by Back Creek Design)

Although a bit time-consuming, redecorating stair risers is not a difficult DIY task. And the results can be spectacular, as the following photos demonstrate.

writing on the stair risers

A variation on white-painted risers, but with added personalization. What great thoughts to keep in mind as you go up to bed each night! (photo courtesy of Accent on Design)


Aren’t these fantastic? Although they wouldn’t work in every setting, what a great way to welcome a visitor to an artist’s abode. (photo courtesy of Michelle Allen at Close 2 My Art)



Beautiful to look at, and easy to maintain, tiled mosaic risers are worth the effort. (photo courtesy of

All these examples make our stairs at Shelly look so plain. But I’m happy with the result, and proud to think that the next owners will have a beautiful backdrop for their furnishings. And if they decide to try mosaic, stencils, or impressionist painting, we’ve given them a flat, clean canvas to play with.



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Filed under Design Trends, General, Projects

Quick Pics of Shelly

I swore I’d spend the day in the Driveway Garden today, cleaning out the summer vines and planting the cold weather crops.  But it’s raining at the moment, and Mike just uploaded a few cool photos of the Shelly Project that he took yesterday morning.

Not a single light on, but the whole main level is bright as can be! Don’t miss those dark red walls at all, do you? (The Shelly Project)


The view from the second level really shows the changes in the kitchen. Goodbye dropped ceiling…hello sparkly granite and stainless! (The Shelly Project)

If you want more views of the “After”, here’s a link to more photos.

We’re ready to sell this house and move on to the next rehab adventure.  So if you know someone who is looking in Anne Arundel County, or doing a BRAC relocation to Ft. Meade, pass it along.

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Yippee! Shelly is Finished!

Yes, at long last, we have finally finished the Shelly Project! Here’s the link to the listing. We are beyond excited, and so grateful to the crew that stuck with the project through power outages, miserable heat waves, torrential rain storms, and numerous ‘misadventures of real life’. And we are also thankful to the neighbors for graciously putting up with the construction and kindly sharing water with the crew when supplies ran low.

The Shelly Project, sparkling clean and ready to receive visitors.

Remember those horrid foam dropped ceilings in the kitchen? Here’s what it looks like now.

The vaulted ceilings at the Shelly Project had been hidden behind dropped foam panels. Removing those contraptions made a huge difference!


The awkward motel-like deck across the back was redesigned to allow a private retreat for the master bedroom and better access to the yard for the rest of the family.


The back deck, Before, allowed direct access to all bedrooms. (The Shelly Project)


After: Making the deck smaller actually improved function in the house. The master bedroom has privacy, the other bedrooms have better security and useful floor space. And now there is access to the backyard from the family room below. Win-win-win ! (The Shelly Project)

We’ll be updating the photos in the Before and After section in a few days.  But I’ll be sure to share some more information about the finishing touches in more detail, too.  In the meantime,  if you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

Happy Monday!


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Psst. Shelly Got a Facelift!

Do you remember poor, tired Shelly from earlier this summer? The years were taking their toll on her facade.


The Shelly Project, definitely “Before”


It’s amazing what a little touch-up can do to brighten a girl’s look.



The Shelly Project, with a little bit of work and a whole lot of curb appeal!

We’re in the home stretch now.  Just bits and pieces left to touch up, and we are starting on getting the listing ready for showings.  Stay tuned!

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Best Closet Ever

With all the excitement during the growing season, it’s been a long time since I’ve shared anything about the renovation projects. Too long. And things have been happening, but seeing them every day is akin to watching paint dry (literally) and I forget that weekly transformation is pretty interesting. I do promise to get back to regular updates, and Thank You to all who said they were missed.

Now…Here’s something that truly got my heart aflutter when I got to the Shelly Project yesterday. Our fantastic carpenter and I have been sporadically brainstorming over the last few weeks about closet doors. See, Shelly is a great mid-century home, built when some things were crafted on site. The bedroom closets are just an example. Super-tall, extra deep, and with a built-in drawer. Over the years, though, it seems the original doors didn’t hold up, and other owners resorted to using curtains instead. A great look for a country cottage, but just not right for Shelly’s retro-contemporary vibe. But the extra tall and extra wide space didn’t lend itself to standard bifold or sliding doors. Custom-made doors from the manufacturer would be ridiculously expensive. Additionally, over the years the drawers had warped and no longer opened. (As in, we needed a crowbar to pry them out)

The only closet doors that remained were definitely worse for wear.

Stubbornly, I refused to have the drawers or the scalloped edging removed to allow stacked sets of prefab doors. And no way was I even thinking about tearing these vintage beauties out and replacing with standard sized closets.

But time was ticking, and little by little, the only renovation puzzle that remained was what to do with the closet doors. I left the site the other night for a two day work assignment, with assurances from Fantastic Carpenter that he would have a solution when I got back. Nice to be able to delegate sometimes, isn’t it?


You can just see the original scalloped molding on top of these closets. The new doors are gorgeous, and provide additional storage space for small items.

Are these closets amazing, or what? The doors are custom-made shallow boxes. There is room on the back side for hanging accessories. They are held by magnetic clasps so the lines stay crisp and clean. And the drawers have been planed and sanded, so they glide as intended.

I am quite envious of these closets now. And thinking of how I can use their space-maximizing ideas in our own little house.
One of these days…


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Filed under Back Creek Design, General, Projects

Granite, Interrupted

Remember how excited I was about using that slab of Chocolate Fiorito for the countertops at Shelly?

The crew at AU Granite in Annapolis was so patient in helping me maximize my decorating dollars. We tried to eke out every usable millimeter from that slab. Alas, it was just a smidgen too small. Really, if we had skimped a bit on the overhang, it probably would have worked, but that would have looked a bit chintzy …not what I want after all this hard work and planning.

Measurement was on Tuesday afternoon, with installation scheduled for that Friday. Thats a tight turnaround in any case. But I got the call Tuesday evening that the lovely Chocolate Fiorito just wouldn’t make the cut. ( ugh…truly no pun was intended there). I would need to pick another slab first thing in the morning … And I didn’t have my cabinetry samples with me. Thank goodness that I am so enamoured of the clove-on-maple glaze that I have it imprinted on my brain!

Once again, AU Granite was incredibly patient with me and my imaginary wood samples. And the winner is….

New Bianco Romano


New Bianco Romano Granite. Oatmeal, cinnamon, and flecks of cranberry….yummy!

Amother delicious countertop confection, this time of oatmeal swirled with cinnamon and cranberries. Hard to see in this photo, but gorgeous with the rosy tone of the cabinets. The cranberry polka dots could have been a bit busy in a smaller space, but the volume of the great room with the cathedral ceiling handles it well. The view from the balcony is gorgeous.


Shelly Project, in progress…cabinets, counter, and sink installed. Floor tile being grouted.

Here’s another view, with the granite basking in the glow of the undercabinet lighting.


Shelly kitchen, a work in progress. Obviously.

Little by little, things are getting done.  As we come to the final stages of any rehab, things start to look and feel like chaos before everything settles into place.  As always….stay tuned for updates.

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Shelly Update: Stair Rails

So much is going on at the Shelly Project this week!  As much as I love knowing that the house is weather-proof and safe, the real excitement for me is when we start putting in the finishing materials.  As an example, look at what a difference this stair railing makes!  We will probably be staining it to match the hardwood floors.  A darker  color than usual will work in this house, since the ceiling, space, and lighting are so dramatic.

I’m just loving the trend of mixed materials! This balcony pops with black aluminum and hardwood railings. (Shelly Project, During)

Much better than the old dark red partition walls, isn’t it?

Dark, dreary, and chopped up in small compartments. These add-on walls cut air flow as much as visual appeal. (Shelly Project, Before)

The wall cabinets are in, and you can see the boxes of floor tile waiting to be installed.  Some of the outside work is scheduled for today, too, since the weather looks cooperative.  Later this week….the arrival of the decadent Chocolate Fiorito granite countertops.

Look for more pictures and updates, coming more frequently now that there are really visible changes.

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Granite Overload

Things are moving along at the Shelly Project. Not as quickly as we had planned, but project houses seem to always have some unforeseen adventure that delays the schedule. In this case, it was the miserable multi-week heat wave that made conditions just this side of unbearable for the crew. There’s only so much relief you can get with ice pops and water bottles, so we had to have lots of rest breaks and even shut down some days entirely in order to limit heat illnesses. The guys have been pretty fantastic all around, and now that it is not quite as steamy, have been working extra long hours to try to catch up.

One of the things that reminds me of childhood summers in the city…a colorful, sticky icepop. Or six.

Painting is just about done, except for the never ending touch-ups. This week we’ll be swapping all the mismatched electrical devices for clean, new, white ones. That’s one of the touches that nobody really notices in particular, but if it’s not done, the house just seems dingy.

The cabinets have been delivered. We went with a contemporary maple design with a clove finish. The ceramic for the floor is actually called Vanilla, and it has textured variations that look like butter pecan ice cream. So could there be any doubt that when I came across a slab of granite called Chocolate Fiorito that I couldn’t resist?

Mmmmm. Chocolate Fiorito Granite. Photo courtesy of AU Granite and Marble in Annapolis

Actually, I didn’t jump on the Chocolate granite right away. I was wallowing in choices. We’ve used Giallo Ornamental in the last two houses, and I wanted to try something a little bolder with Shelly, since we have soaring ceilings and plenty of light. Here’s just a few more samples of what I was considering.

Key West Gold Granite. Photo courtesy of AU Granite and Marble in Annapolis.


The lighter slab in the middle is Giallo Napoleon. Photo courtesy of AU Granite and Marble in Annapolis

Sending thanks out to Guy at AU Granite and Marble in Annapolis for his patience with me.  I went back and forth between these three slabs over the course of a day. In the end, the dark drama of the Chocolate Fiorito, as well as the way that the pieces we needed could  best be cut out of the available slab, helped make my decision.

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Kitchen Ceiling Jackpot

A little while ago, I mentioned our delight in finding an original vaulted ceiling in Shelly once the dropped panels were removed.  (Naturally, there were also other things to remove, such as mouse nests and a dead bird and general yuck from having a hole in the roof)

Kitchen Ceiling, Before: Dropped ceiling, evidence of hole in roof, and less-than-pretty cabinets

Since we decided that from now on, Mike would take the official “Before and After” photos, I am now free to take my quirky snaps of whatever catches my interest each day.   More fun for me, but a little tough for you, as we don’t have consistent views for the ‘During’ pictures.  You’ll have to use your imagination a bit as you try to gage our kitchen progress.

Glad to say that the appliances were FreeCycled to good homes.  Some of the cabinets were adopted, as well (although many did not survive the extraction process)

I know that decorating styles change over the years.  But I still don’t understand the trend of dropped ceilings.  I can only assume that it came of a desire to be more energy-conscious, and decrease the volume of air that needed to be conditioned.  Because, let’s admit it, those panels just are NOT attractive.

Kitchen, Before: at some point, a wall with doorway and pass-through was added. Decreased sight lines, a dropped ceiling, and dark cabinets made the room feel very cramped.


Can you believe what a difference there is already?  Cutting down that wall to bar-height made a huge improvement right off the bat.


Ripping out the dropped ceiling was a must.  The height of the original ceiling is at least 16 feet!  

Once the drywall is finished, the floor can be installed.  I am still leaning towards ceramic, but I may get a bit bolder with the design than I usually do.  This house has strong contemporary lines, and can handle a more modern pattern.  I just have to remember that I am not creating this kitchen for me, but for a family I haven’t met yet.  So I don’t want to get too personal in my choices.

Kitchen, During: The new appliances will go back where the originals were, but the kitchen will feel twice the size. Wow, what a ceiling!

We found a lot of flimsy walls in the house that had been added over the years, creating small, dark compartments. It looks like poor Shelly had been used as a rooming house, with as many small bedrooms as could be crammed into it.

It has been a hoot to see the transformation back to the original bright and open floorplan.  Luckily, the partition walls were added over the hardwood floors, and not recessed into them.  So besides the usual wear-and-tear, there is little damage to the floors.  Double jackpot!


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Kitchen Musings

We are still engrossed in the Shelly Project, with clean out and demo taking up more time than anticipated.  (So far, two and a half 30-yard dumpsters…thats 75 cubic yards of trash, not including what was recycled, FreeCycled, and repurposed)  The multiple multi-day heat waves and the bizarre wind storm/power outage set us 10 days behind schedule.  I would say ‘so far’ after that, but I don’t want to be negative…10 days behind is the MAX, and we will play catch-up from now on!

When I am not pondering the strange decor of the 70′s (plastic white brick panelling over everything…really?), I am looking forward to starting the kitchen reno at Shelly.  The cabinets are on order, the layout is tacked to the wall, and as soon as the drywall is patched, the tile floor can go down.  From then on, it’s all excitement for me, as my favorite room in the house comes together.

The kitchen at Shelly. Definitely ‘Before’. And from a flattering angle!

We are going with the cinammon-glazed maple cabinets that we used in Reece.  Everything about that sentence sounds delicious, doesn’t it?

These maple cabinets have a great clean, contemporary style, but are still warm-looking with the cinnamon glaze. Yummy! (Reece Project)

We don’t need any fancy lights in this room…when we pulled down the metal-grid/foam dropped panels, we found a 20-foot tall cathedral ceiling.  Amazing!  (Again…what was going on in the 1970′s?)

And luckily, the original floor plan was really functional, so the new stainless appliances will just go right back in the old spaces.  Since we won’t be doing any expensive replumbing or rewiring, we can indulge in granite countertops.  According to this article on budgeting for kitchen renovations, natural stone is a splurge that is not necessary.  But it turns out that we are doing a lot of the cost-cutting measures recommended, so we can justify going high-end on this.  And…well, do I really need an excuse?  The Giallo Ornamental looked so beautiful in Cresston and in Reece, that I am eager to use it again.

Giallo Ornamental granite looking lovely in light pools cast by the undercabinet halogens. (Cresston Project)

Unless I find another color I like even better.  I’m like a kid in a candy store when I go to the granite showroom!

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