Jennifer Rooke

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Jennifer Rooke
Retired USAF colonel turned homemaker--14 moves in 24 years! Found final nesting place in Belgium with my husband and two almost adult stepchildren.
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Teen Bedroom Makeover

     Wallpaper! That kept me from redecorating my step-daughter’s bedroom for more than two years after we moved into this house. My previous experience with the stuff was enough to prevent me from ripping down a fuchsia-colored print that Liesbeth was never fond of. It covered only one wall; one with a slanted ceiling at that, thus not really even a full wall. Silly me! One day I finally decided to just take a peek underneath by peeling back a small piece in a corner. Fifteen minutes later, the wall was bare and the floor was covered with intact rolls of fuchsia. Except the wall wasn’t completely bare. It was covered in paint…fuchsia paint. Ha! It was also covered in several blotches of putty where the previous owners had attempted to repair some blemishes. I couldn’t leave the blotches as they were since they’d show up as uneven imperfections under new coats of paint, so I sanded them down and covered several other holes to smooth out the wall. All in all not a difficult task. That’s how this decorating project finally got rolling!

     We then focused on colors and furnishings. She already had a twin bed, two deep purple beanbag seats, a white IKEA desk, her grandmother’s rather old-fashioned armoire and a chromed ceiling lamp. I wondered where to start exactly. She takes drum lessons and likes heavy metal. She’d been through a ”goth” phase and was then into a “grunge” phase. She doesn’t like fuchsia and hot pinks but adores dark purple. Not quite sure about which direction to take, I simply let her make the first big decision by selecting the curtain fabric. Some people choose curtains last to help bring everything in the room together. I thought it best to start with something new that would suit her own taste. She chose something quite unlike what I anticipated! Something very sophisticated and grown-up! That should not have entirely surprised me though, as she’s 18 and just starting studies at a nearby college to be a veterinarian assistant. They grow up fast before you realize it, don’t they!

     I then had to scratch my head about how to tie in the purple beanbags with a fabric of darker flower silhouettes on a background of graduating shades from gray to beige. Challenge on! Given her love for animals, we decided to create her “sanctuary” based on the flora and fauna of the local nature preserve. We live near a heather marshland, so the beanbags became the “water” around an old coffee table that I painted purple to match and also applied a vinyl photograph of lily pads to the top. 

     We painted the walls a neutral greige as a backdrop for the curtains and the vinyl “birch forest” stickers on the opposite wall. (I found all the vinyl appliques on Etsy.) I used the leftover lighter beige shades of the curtain fabric to make a velcroed decorative top for the duvet cover. The duvet cover colors worked well in the room, but the zig-zag striped pattern didn’t, so covering it up with the removable fabric worked out perfectly. I also bought modular IKEA units to complement and provide extra storage.

     I added a bit of character to the old wall mirror by creating a sort of diorama of the nearby pond. I cut and glued a piece of wavy patterned glass to fit within the frame, then filled it with blue gravel that I found at a local crafts store. I added a miniature plastic rabbit and set of cattails as well as a couple of small twigs to emulate trees.

     I painted a colorful landscape on the face of the old armoire to emulate heather in the foreground, then grasses and hills in the background.

     Finally, I also added some paint to the ceiling lamp to cover up the chrome and make it look a bit more natural.

     Lies is very happy with the result, and it now provides her a serene place to study or relax!

Rental Remedies

     When my husband got reassigned to a new job three hours away from home, we found this little fully-furnished rental and decided it would be a great place to create a temporary nest and avoid packing up all our furniture for the move. I’m delighted with the old farmhouse character, but a bit disappointed that it’s not my own to decorate fully to my tastes.

     However, I have jumped at every opportunity to address my husband’s complaints about living in a 200+ year-old building, such as: “This bare wooden floor is cold on my feet”, or “Brrr, there’s not much insulation around these old windows”, or “That street light that streams through the hall window into our bedroom when we leave the door open is really irritating”. That’s music to my ears because it invites me to find a creative decorative solution to his very practical problems! 🙂

     As autumn nears the evenings will become brisker, but his feet will remain warm with the softness of sheepskin underfoot.

     On cold winter evenings, now all we need to do is pull the plaid blankets closed that I repurposed into curtains. No sewing involved!

     We can also now sleep with the bedroom door open since I repurposed a couple of grain-sack pillow cases into a curtain to replace a flimsy see-through lace curtain hung by the landlords.

     I can’t wait to hear his next complaint! 🙂

Love Your Home Challenge: Set A Spring Table

     Although it’s still snowy and cold outside, Melissa has motivated me via her #loveyourhomechallenge to bring some spring cheer into my home and prep for this year’s Easter tablescape. I’ve cleared the normal daily clutter off our dining table and created two centerpieces composed of eggs and crocuses. I’ve currently used natural egg shells, but I’m contemplating dying them in colors to match the place settings. I also placed moss in one glass vase to cover up the crocus pot and old straw in the other. I’m as yet also undecided on which of those I like best, though I’m leaning toward the moss. What do you think?

     I love ceramics and glass, and I enjoy combining them into colorful place settings. Here, I’ve mixed my set of vintage Alfred Meakin “Audubon Birds of America“ dinner plates that each feature a different illustration along with some duck-egg blue salad plates, Portmeirion “Birds of Britain” appetizer/dessert plates and a set of glass bowls from Biot in France. The glass bowls blend very well with a set of wine goblets I found years ago in Murano in Italy and a set of 1950s water glasses my mother-in-law gave me. I complete the look with my favorite spring-time silverware set embossed with daffodils, which I notice need a good polish. Good thing I’ve got a couple of weeks left before Easter to get to that little chore!

     I wish everyone a cheery spring season!

Magic Lantern

     I’m sitting in my “home away from home“ in Germany, peering out the window as light snow covers the ground, the car, and well, everything. We’re expecting to wake up tomorrow to a significant snowfall and temperatures that will continue to drop into next week. This is our first real sign of winter in this part of Europe, and it’s going to stick around for awhile. Brrrr! I’ve finally stashed away all the Christmas decorations, which left our cozy little renovated barn rental somewhat lacking in ambiance, or at least ambient light. So, I decided today to play around with a lamp shade option for the floor lamp in the living room. I’d appreciate any frank feedback on how you think it looks—I’m certainly going to get it when my husband returns from work this evening, and I’m accustomed to his brutal honesty! :-)

     This is a fully furnished rental that we occupy while he works here for the next three years. It’s about three hours away from our permanent home, so I’ve been traveling back and forth between the two quite frequently. Since neither the house nor the furniture are ours, I’m significantly limited in what I can do decor-wise, and I’m sure all you like-minded decor fanatics must understand how agonizing that can be! However, Melissa’s latest book has motivated me to add what personal touches I can to make this house feel like our home. I’ve actually been working on this lamp shade since before the holidays, and I originally intended it to be a ceiling pendant lamp. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out in various locations for a couple of reasons—either hanging too low for my tall husband’s clearance height or not covering the bigger hole in the ceiling left by the lights I’ve tried to replace.

     Here’s a “before” photo of the lamp that I re-styled. It’s got an antiqued metal base with a scrolled arm. The original shade was a red Moroccan-style cone with a tassel at the bottom. It was really fine as it was, but I have chosen an accessory color palette that doesn’t include red, and the style just doesn’t quite fit in with the rustic farmhouse vibe I want to create. So, I decided to try to adapt my DIY ceiling light as a shade for this lamp.

    The new shade required assemblage of several components to make it unique and personal. Since this is actually my third time living in Germany, I decided it’d be cool to create something out of collected souvenirs of places where I’ve either resided or visited. I had some vintage souvenir charms and spoons, so I had to figure out how to hang them on a lamp shade.  I found a rusty old wire basket with a hole already designed into the bottom, which meant no drilling or metal cutting would be required. Now, I understand most people wouldn’t even consider bringing something like this inside their home, much less incorporating it into their decor…but I have! 

     I then got some great inspiration from the internet! I came across something called a magic lantern glass slide. It’s a predecessor to the now obsolete 35mm projector slide. It‘s larger than the 35mm versions, and it’s made of glass. Up to the beginning of the 20th century, transparency images of popular tourist locations were printed on the glass and projected onto a bigger screen by something called a magic lantern. How cool would it be to let light from a lamp shine onto a transparent image like that?! I searched on Ebay for such slides of Germany. There are loads to be found, like the one below of Nürnberg! I selected a few and then set about creating the lamp shade, simply using thin wire to attach everything to the basket. 

      Here’s the end result. I’m happy with it, though I think it’d look much better as a ceiling lamp. I’ve already got a ceiling picked out in my home in Belgium where I’ll hang it in three years—my basement workroom. Perhaps by then I will have added a few more mementos, and I’ll look back fondly on my times in my “home away from home”.

My inspired room

     I have followed Melissa Michaels’ interior decorating blog, “The Inspired Room”, since I discovered it a couple of years ago. She’s one of my favorites because she delivers a simple message that resounds with me—someone who chose a career in the military that took me to some faraway places, sometimes of my choosing, but most often not. It’s all about loving the home you have, no matter where life takes you, no matter whether it’s your dream house (or likely not). It’s all about instilling your own personality in your unique decor to make your house your home, which is actually really just about comfort and refuge for those who are a part of it. She recently released her second book, “The Inspired Room: Simple Ideas to Love the Home You Have”, and I ordered it straight away. Since I live in Europe, I can’t just hop into a Barnes & Noble to pluck it off the shelf, but it is available at this link: They just emailed me that it will be available for shipping much sooner than anticipated—next week instead of later in December. Yay!

     After 14 moves within 24 years, I retired from the military and planted myself in Belgium with my Belgian husband and two step children. After so many different homes, I finally found one that will be my forever home. I’m taking this opportunity to share my inspired room, which is my sunroom. It’s a rather eclectic combination of memories from my childhood in the American South (mason jars), as well as mementos from my travels in France, Polynesia and Africa. It’s also a place where we make new memories, especially on Sundays when my in-laws stop by for coffee and pie. On special occasions, such as Thanksgiving—which I think my Belgian family enjoys celebrating as much as I do—it enables us to extend the seating area for the entire family and special friends beyond our dining table and into the adjoining sunroom simply by opening the French doors.

    I very much enjoy decorating the table according to seasons.

     It’s also a place where I enjoy snuggling up to read, and I even find it quite comfy with a space heater and blanket as the weather turns colder outside. I also often spy my husband flipping through his airplane modeling magazines with his feet propped up on the yellow ceramic garden stool.

     I especially enjoy my selected books about Easter Island, where I once participated in an archaeological dig, as well as those I’ve collected about Hawaii‘s rock art.

     I use the room as a storage space for outdoor entertaining accessories—seat cushions, table cloths, tea lights, ice bucket, etc. Before the first frost, I bring in my antique French confit pots from my backyard so that they don’t crack.  

    I’ve managed to combine my antique American cherry wood dining table with my husband’s rattan Belgian farmhouse-style chairs, a Hawaiian koa wood coffee table, a Polynesian bench, Indonesian teak shelves and a French champagne riddling rack. I think it works. I hope you do, too!     


Fall is in the Air

     Ooh, this looks like a fun spontaneous block party not to be missed! 🙂 In addition to the hand-made door wreath, I’ve added some plants in the entry and dining room to fall-ify my house.

     I’ve combined some mint green planters with darker green foliage, as well as shades of burnt orange and ivory. My mother-in-law gave me this milk glass planter that sits in the window sill next to the front door. It used to be the base of an old lamp!

     I placed succulents and ivy in the two planters on my dining table. They’re rather hardy plants, so they should be able to survive the season, even with my abuse! The table runner is antique handloomed hemp linen—it was originally intended to be used as a stair runner, so it could be well trodden. I placed small candles in vintage tea cups atop an old baguette tray and added natural elements such as dried pomegranates and magnolia seed pods. I collected the magnolia pods more than 20 years ago from my childhood yard and have kept them ever since—they always bring back fond memories. The pear is actually a burned-out light bulb wrapped in twine…one of the easiest craft projects I’ve ever done!

     I’ve simply placed some pruned tree branches in an old wooden Indonesian vase on the floor at one end of my console.

     I’ve also set out metal male and female pheasants atop the console. I think the female’s playing hard-to-get behind the vases. :-) For Thanksgiving, I’ll move them to the dining table as part of the tablescape. I actually display the old bird’s nest and pussy willow year-round.

    Barely visible in the photo above but better seen below nestled between the two vases, you can spot a groundhog couple. It was my wedding cake topper (we got married on February 2nd). I always find a spot for it somewhere, and for the holiday season it goes on the Christmas tree.

     Enjoy the season!

Home away from HOME

     My emotions recently turned from dread to looking ahead. This will soon become a favorite reading nook of mine. It’s the space at the top of the stairwell of the rental house my husband and I have found in a small village in Germany. My husband has been reassigned from Belgium to Germany and starts his new job on Monday. That may sound like a big move, but it’s only 3 hours away from our permanent home and only a 3-year assignment, so we decided to maintain our home we’ve created here while renting a fully furnished “home away from home” there. I’ll split my time between the two. I haven’t quite figured out yet how often I’ll make that drive back and forth, but we’ll be spending most of the weekends in Belgium with the kids, who are in college and the last year of high school.

     I expected that we’d end up with a small apartment with no character at all and barely enough room to maneuver about, but I was very pleasantly surprised when we found this little gem. It’s more than 200 years old and oozes with old world charm, both inside and out. It’s a converted farm building, with original wood beams and some of the stone-faced walls exposed. The furnishings are even stylish—farmhouse meets art deco (that just happens to be my favorite design period!), so when we viewed this I thought it was perfect just the way it is. Of course, there’d be NO fun at all just leaving the decor as is, so I will add my own touch here and there. I’ve challenged myself to figure out how to do that without spending much money. I’ll try to repurpose things. I’ll also have to restrain myself and purposefully add things only if I know I can use them in our own home 3 years from now. Since it’s a rental, I’ll also restrain myself from adding unnecessary holes in the walls, etc. That’s a challenge, but a fun one!

     I hope you enjoy this little photo tour of this home’s unique architectural elements.

     I even like the copper piping surrounding the front door—it adds a bit of an industrial feel.

     The outside even oozes with character, to include apple trees and a small vinyard maintained by the owners!

     This little corner will become our outdoor entertaining area. Prost! (That’s German for “Cheers”.)

Love Your Home Summer Challenge #1

     Finally! I finished a major project that I had planned to begin before the hot summer days arrived; however, one of life’s curve balls threw me off course for a bit. I only managed to complete it as autumn’s cooler days approach, but there are still a few sunny days to enjoy some relaxing meals outside! I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted some shade over the pergola so that we can sit at the outdoor dining table without the sun glaring down on our backs or in our eyes. It will take a few years before the wisteria we planted around a couple of the posts grows to provide an attractive cover. I created a flexible shade cover composed of fabric panels strung on a frame of stainless cable wires. I can pull each panel forward or backward as desired using this simple hand-made pole with a hook on the end.

     I cut the panels to size and sewed the hems (I’m a novice sewer, but straight lines were not too difficult). I then inserted grommets at intervals along each side and attached them to swiveled lobster clasps so they can hang loosely from the cables. I attached the cables to the pergola using turnbuckles on one end and S-hooks on the other. The turnbuckles will allow me to tighten the cables if they sag a little from the weight of the panels or force of the wind, which is VERY strong here in Belgium.

     The lobster clasps give me the option of easily removing the panels during bad weather or if they need to be cleaned. Since I used strong outdoor fabric, I can also leave the panels in place and retracted overnight without worry.

     Here’s one last photo, with the sun glaring down, just to give a sense for why I really wanted some shade over the dining area. There’s a noticeable difference now when sitting at the table. I am happy with the result of this #loveyourhomechallenge!

Love Your Home Summer Challenge #2

     Yay! I’ve successfully completed at least one home project I set out to do this summer! A cushion for this outdoor bench was actually #2 on my list. I haven’t posted anything about #1 yet because my initial attempt went awry during execution, and I’m now back in the design phase…more about that one later.

     I’m no seamstress, so this cushion proved quite the challenge for me. I’m still learning how to use all the functions and accessories on my sewing machine—mostly by trial and error. I’m not one to read instruction manuals and usually like to jump right in and figure out how to use an appliance all by myself, but I had to keep the manual close at hand throughout this project. Unfortunately, I don’t recall reading any details about proper needle placement when using the zipper foot. Perhaps those of you more experienced with sewing will chuckle a bit at my failure to re-position the needle from the center point to either the left or the right of the zipper foot so that it would stitch through the fabric and not smash into the metal foot. Duh! I lost that needle but learned how to remove and replace it in the process. :-)

     My goal this summer has been to make our backyard space more comfortable. The bench I placed in this corner definitely needed a cushion to soften the seat. Since it’s not a standard rectangular size, I couldn’t simply buy a ready-made cushion. And, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a custom-made order when I knew I had the resources necessary to do it myself. So, I did it! I chose a floral fabric to go with the blue paint I’d already applied last year. I attached piping to the top and bottom as well as a zipper on the back so that I can remove the cover when it needs to be cleaned. Ok, it’s not perfect…don’t look too closely at the seams around the piping nor the extra stitching around the zipper! But, it was my first big sewing project, and it works. Mission accomplished with enough sunny days still left to enjoy it this summer. :-)

     Now, back to Challenge #1. I want some shade over the pergola so that we can sit at the outdoor dining table without the sun glaring down on our backs or in our eyes. The yard faces south, thus it gets sun throughout the day. We’ve planted wisteria around a few of the supporting posts, but it will take a few more years before it grows to provide an attractive cover. I found some great ideas on Pinterest, but again I didn’t want to spend the money for someone else to customize and install something. I came up with a plan to drape fabric panels across the top, but I wanted it to be easily retractable so just hanging them on the wood beams was not the best option. I successfully sewed eight 4-meter long fabric panels. (Yay! I’m getting somewhat adept at sewing in straight lines.) I purchased black curtain rails and rods and successfully installed them. I hung four of the panels on one side of the frame and was very proud of myself…for a few hours. I took this photo before the rails failed the fierce Belgian wind stress test and the whole thing came falling to the ground. I should have paid more attention in my university mechanical engineering course!

     Back to the drawing board, and I’ve come up with a new design using stainless wire cables attached to the pergola frame with eye screws. I’ll also use turnbuckles, cable clamps and grommets to string the fabric panels onto the cables. This SHOULD work! It will be manually retractable, and I’ll be able to remove the panels during the winter or when they need to be cleaned. Hopefully I’ll gather all the materials and install before the official end of summer—I’ve still got a few weeks. :-)

     Fortunately, I’ve also come up with a plan to salvage the curtain rails and rods so that they’re not a complete waste of money. I’ll use them indoors—for which they were designed—by rigging retractable shade panels for the sunroom/conservatory ceiling. That project might get done in time for next summer’s #loveyourhomechallenge! We’ll see…

20 little things

     What a great block party theme! I think #20littlethings has given us the opportunity to contemplate precisely why we love the homes we have. My husband and I settled in ours exactly two years ago next week. We foresee that it will be our “forever after” home since I have no desire to move again…ever. Neither of us consider it our dream home. Mine would be an art-deco period row house with a shady inner courtyard located in an old city center. My husband’s would be a contemporary new-build with rock-garden landscaping. Together we chose a typical Belgian farmhouse-style home built in the 1980s in a rural suburban location. I was willing to put some sweat equity into a home that needed renovation. My husband was insistent on a move-in ready home that needed nothing more than maybe a new coat of paint. His practicality won out over my fantasies…we have absolutely no remodeling experience, and we have yet to apply any new paint. But, we have spent the past two years slowly making this home one that reflects who we are.

1. At the end of the day, I think that’s what I love most about it and what will eventually make it our dream home.

2. I love our corner desk (above) filled with family photos. The quote on the wall sums up our experiences due to our military careers: “Life takes you to unexpected places; love brings you Home.” We will eventually use stick pins or something to mark the places we’ve been to on the old school world map hanging on the adjacent wall.

3. I love several architectural elements of the house, such as the front door.

4. I love the fireplace and TV surround in the living room. The former owner was an interior designer, thus we inherited her very tastefully done design. We hide all the electronic devices in the built-in cabinet. The colors actually coordinate perfectly with my treasured vase made out of Mississippi mud by a potter near my mother’s childhood home.

5. I love the crown molding and the working shutters surrounding the doorway to the sunroom.

6. I love the sunroom, which provides a comfortable indoor/outdoor transition space.

7. I love the cobblestone-paved driveway.

8. I love the wall of green around our backyard. The ivy looks great and provides some privacy in this suburban setting. We’ve planted and pleached some trees to afford even more privacy in the future as they grow, but for now they just look like twigs. 

9. I love the pergola that we had built last year. The wisteria is still young and will need a few years before it grows to provide shady cover above the outdoor dining area. I hung an old bottle dryer over the table so that we can enjoy candlelight dinners after dusk. I will eventually hang string lights from the rafters to enable even more evening ambiance. 

10. I love that my husband and I share an interest in airplanes (I served in the US Air Force, and he’s still in the Belgian Air Force), so we’ve integrated them in one form or another throughout our home decor as seen here in the entryway and stairwell. The prints on the wall are 1930s air route maps from the age of early luxury air travel. My husband had a pre-WWII wooden propeller stored away, but we pulled it out for prominent display on the stairwell landing.

11. I love that I can wake up each morning to Snoopy, the WWI flying ace and his Sopwith Camel aircraft, while enjoying a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Who doesn’t smile at Snoopy?!

12. I love that I’ve continued the aviation theme in the guest toilet to create a unique look. “Bombs away” or “Nuke ‘em” would perhaps be an appropriate motto for this room. :-) Ha ha…a little toilet humor!

13. I love that we’ve incorporated our individual collections into decor that we both like, even if it doesn’t really flow in a unified scheme. I hang plates on the wall to one side of a door, and my husband prominently displays his airplane models on the other side. Perhaps one day I will come up with an ingenious design that seamlessly integrates the two…lol! Ideas anyone?

14. I love that my husband’s parents gave him their oil painting of the harbor in Ghent that he always wanted since he was a boy. It’s a rather moody and impressionistic depiction of a brewing storm. It coincidentally blends very well with the colors in our living room. 

15. I love the collection of old prints and other artwork I’ve accumulated from my travels that allow me to reminisce over good times spent in some far-away locales, such as one of Easter Island and another a Tanzanian “tinga tinga” painting of a hyena.

16. I love that I’ve combined a set of old transferware plates of birds with a set of wine goblets I found in Murano, Italy, and a set of vintage 1950s water glasses my mother-in-law gave me.

17. I love the “boho” corner I’ve created in our bedroom. I needed a space to stash the pillows from the bed that we don’t use when sleeping. I first just heaped them on top of a Chinese kang table in the corner, but then realized that it’d be more practical if I actually made a sitting area out of the space, so I added a big kilim cushion. I then hung an old chandelier that I bought at an antique market years ago. I had been so disappointed that the upstairs ceiling was too low for it to hang anywhere without my 6’5” husband bumping into it. Now, it’s out of his pathway, and the next step is to get an electrician to route wiring to it so we can actually turn it on/off. 

18. I love this old chair that I found about 12 years ago at a French flea market. I thought I got a great bargain on it until I got it home. Soon thereafter I smelled something unpleasant in the room and realized that the chair reeked of mildew. I had to completely remove the original upholstery and even the springs and horse-hair cushion…that’s what actually caused the smell. It must have been stored away and neglected for years in an old barn. I was then left with just the frame, and it remained that way for another five years as I moved from place to place. At one point, I wove rope across the seat so that it could actually be used, but it wasn’t very pretty. Finally, I had it reupholstered and voilá! I chose two separate patterns to give it a traditional but also modern look. 

19. I love that our home is located within easy walking distance of the neighborhood bakery and grocery store. It’s great to always have freshly baked artisanal bread. 

20. I love that we can also take a leisurely walk to the nearby nature reserve. It’s a wooded marshland area with a heather landscape (photo taken in the winter). It’s also flanked by a canal with excellent bike paths on both sides.

     If you’ve lasted this far to the end of my list, thanks so much for indulging me, and I hope you’ve also enjoyed some of my favorite little things!