Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Throwing a few books into your eclectic design!

Remember when the word "Eclectic" was thrown around like air on every design show?  That was about the same time that "shabby chic", "country chic" and "cottage shabby" was thrown around too.  At any rate I liked the designs that were lumped into those categories.  They all had one thing in common.  They took things already in your house or things found on the curb, and made them pretty. For the cost of a little sandpaper and paint, you had a pretty room.  

Eclectic was very similar to the other looks but the great thing about eclectic was it could be anything you wanted it to be.  Fabric doesn't match your wallpaper - it's eclectic.  The wood tone of the floor clashes with the wood tones in your furniture - it's eclectic.  Books all over the floor and pictures leaning up against the walls rather than hung?....again....eclectic.  Basically, it's a catchall word meaning that you stuck stuff you liked in a room whether they match in any way at all and called it a day.....eclectic.  

I rather like that design choice.  Most of the things in my house don't match and a lot of them clash with one another.  But I like them so I keep them.....I have a very eclectic house.  

Books hold a huge role in the decorating of my house.  I have them in every room - in fairly large quantities. Most of them I have read repeatedly and love, but there are many of them that were given to me as gifts, or I found at thrift stores and bought on a whim because of the binding or the age of the book.  Since I have promised myself that I will not buy another single book until I get the "collection" that I currently have under control (meaning find more room for more books), I sat down to think about what to do with the books that are slightly damaged - maybe a few pages missing or water damaged from a flood I had in my basement a few years ago.  Some of them have a nice cover but the contents of the book were not at all interesting (to put it nicely).  What to do?  

As with most conundrums in life, I was saved by the internet.  I can make a lamp out some of them!!  How great would that be to have in my library/office??  I found a few more awesome ideas as well and I will share each of them with you here.  Now if you don't have a ton of books laying around to make these great items, then head down to your local thrift store or yard sale. Hardback books at those places can run as cheap as $.25 a book.  Always get the ones with good covers.  Even if most of the pages are missing - you can always stuff copy paper or even newspaper in there to make it even.  So let's get busy!

How to make a lamp out of books

There are approximately 9 steps to this project.  I have included pictures and instructions found at www.HGTV.com  

It might seem a bit daunting but it's really not difficult.  I like the lampshade he used.  A simple wire basket covering a bulb.  Great vintage look to top vintage books.

Materials Needed:

  • old hardcover books, about 8
  • lamp kit
  • lamp shade
  • spray paint
  • drill
  • 1/2" drill bit
  • razor blade or box cutter
  • 1-1/4" screws
  • 2" screws
  • screwdriver

Step 1

Paint Fittings

Spray paint lamp fittings to desired color, and allow it to dry.

Step 2

Arrange Books

Stack and arrange the old hardcover books. Place the lamp's threaded rod next to book stack and make sure there is one inch of clearance on the top for the remaining lamp assembly.

Step 3

Drill Into Base Book

Clamp down the bottom book to the table, and using a half-inch drill bit, drill a hole in the center of the book about halfway down.

Step 4

Create a Channel

Open the base book. Using a razor blade or box cutter, cut a channel where the electrical cord will be placed. Make sure it matches the width and thickness of the cord.

Step 5

Attach Rod

Use the washer and lock nut from the lamp kit to attach the threaded rod to the base book. Close the book and tighten down the top lock nut.

Step 6

Slide in Wire and Secure Base

Entering from the bottom, slide the electrical wire through the threaded rod. Leave 1-1/2 to two inches of electrical wire at the top of the threaded rod so you can attach the lamp parts. Drill 1-1/4-inch screws to secure the book to itself. Use four to six screws, making sure to avoid the electrical wire.

Step 7

Attach the Rest of the Books

Clamp down and use the half-inch drill bit to drill a hole in the center of each book. Slide the books, one by one, through the threaded rod, drilling four 2-inch screws to secure each book to the book beneath it.

Step 8

Secure Top Book

On the top book, open the cover, and secure it with four 2-inch screws.

Step 9

Assemble Kit and Attach Shade

Assemble the lamp kit parts, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Attach the lamp shade.

How to make an occasional table out of books or even a book shelf out of books
The next couple of ideas (and images) were brought to you by the following website: http://asimplemodernlife.com/2012/07/19/10-amazing-book-storage-ideas-26/
To make a really attractive occasional table all you need are hardback books with interesting covers and in varying sizes and glue....yep....that's it!  If you want to get super fancy you can always drill a hole through all of them and insert a rod or screws to make sure they never fall apart, but if it's just an occasional table and you don't have energy filled children and/or pets running around in that particular room, glue will work just fine. 
Remember to always use a book that has a water repellant cover for your top book or brush on some shellac to give it a water shield just in case someone sits a glass of iced tea on it. Water is not a friend of paper!

How about using books to hold books???  Some of us cringe at the thought of drilling holes into books or even putting glue on them, so the next project should ease your anxiety as it doesn't damage your books at all.

How did they do this???  Look below

How simple is that??

Now how about you get off the internet and head out to your local thrift store and buy up some hardback books!!!

As always, enjoy your space!!

Sunday, July 6, 2014


When good renters move from one place to another within the same city, it's normally for one of 3 reasons. (1) Location.  Maybe they want to live closer to work - or farther away.  Or maybe they want a neighborhood that allows them easy access to shopping or a neighborhood park? (2) Price.  Some want a cheaper place while others want an upgrade.  And finally, (3) Storage.  

Houses/apartments can look pretty spacious when they're staged right or even when they're empty.  But once you begin bringing your stuff into it, all of a sudden the house doesn't seem to be as large as you remembered.

If you love your location and the price is good, let's look at some easily affordable ways to add storage to your space.


Cubes are an awesome thing.  They add seating while offering extra storage.  Use them to store children's toys, sofa throws, blankets, books.  You can even keep one or two in the entryway so when you come home you can sit on the cube, take off your shoes and then put them into the cube.  This keeps your entryway neat and organized at all times.

You can buy these practically everywhere.  Some are inexpensive while others might cost as much as $250 each.  You can also make them.  Below is a link to a site that gives really easy instructions.

The next link is just another way to build the cubes and at the bottom of the page, it shows how to build a storage bench. http://www.hgtv.com/decorating/build-a-movable-storage-seat/index.html

I have included another picture to further illustrate cubes and their functions.  They can be used for seating, as a coffee table, side table, at the foot of a bed....uses are pretty endless.

Here is another site that offers another take on the cube.  This one doesn't involve fabric so it can easily be painted or stained to fit your mood/decor changes.


What if you change your design?  Cubes are perfect for that.  All you have to do is get a yard of fabric and staple it to the frame of the cube and you have an instant new look to an old cube. Same thing with spills.  Cubes are so easy and cheap to refinish, I can't imagine why anyone would ever throw them out.

Built in shelving

I have written about this before.  Note.  If you are a renter - get permission IN WRITING before you even attempt this or you can kiss your deposit (and rental reference) goodbye.

This link (http://www.familyhandyman.com/woodworking/shelves/built-in-shelves/view-all) will take you to a site that offers easy to follow instructions.  This process may seem daunting to a lot of people but it really is just building a box and adding some shelves and a little finishing touches to it.  The worst part in the process is cleaning up the dust and sheetrock once you bust through the wall.

The greatest thing about built in shelving is the fact that it takes zero floor space while adding storage.  I have done these in a bathroom, hallway and kitchen and it is wonderful.  It takes a solid wall and gives me storage while looking great at the same time.  Adds a lot of character to your space.

Walls are the largest potential storage in your house.  If you can't insert shelving, try buying a few picture hooks and use them to hang your jewelry, scarves, ties, hair accessories, etc.  No damage to the walls that a tiny bit of spackling won't fix and you've made an interesting wall feature at the same time.


In a small room doors can take up a lot of space.  After all, you need that extra footage so your door can open fully.  But if you also need that footage to have room for your sofa or bed....well, you see the problem.  Below is a great solution to that issue.

This savvy renter took the door off their closet and replaced it with a curtain.  Great idea!  As for the door they removed, simply put it in the back of the closet or beneath a bed so you will be able to reinstall it before you move.

Baskets and old dressers

These are two of the best storage containers ever invented.  My daughter moved into a basement apartment while in law school.  Her bathroom was larger than her kitchen.  She used an old chest of drawers located against a wall between her kitchen and bathroom to store her canned goods, plastic containers and other kitchen items that simply would not fit into her small space.  The top of the chest of drawers became home for her blender and microwave.  Great solution.

Same thing can be done for the bathroom.  Everyone has items that need to be in the bathroom for convenience sake.  Toilet paper, bath salts/oils, towels, hair dryer, etc.  If space permits, why not put a chest of drawers in there to hold all that stuff?

Everyone has extra stuff in their living room that we want to keep in there but at the same time we don't want to see it.  How about putting a basket or two behind a chair or sofa to store those things until we need them?  This is a great idea for books, magazine, children's toys and anything else that we might want to quickly get out of sight when company's coming over.  

Under the bed storage

Next to walls, under your bed offers the most storage possibilities.  You can purchase the plastic containers on wheels that are specifically made for this purpose or you can get creative and build your own.  All it takes is knowing how to build a large box and a few drawers.

Here is a link to a video that will give you step by step instructions.  http://www.bhg.com/videos/m/32071732/build-handy-underbed-storage.htm

Kitchen storage

Again, utilize your walls for storage.  Floor space is a premium in all rooms but especially in kitchens.  Developing creative wall storage ideas will not only make your kitchen more convenient but it will also make it more interesting and appealing.

The first picture shows pretty empty cans nailed to an old cutting board and hung on the wall.  I love it!

I use the trick below all the time.  I don't get fancy and pay a lot of money for the rods that are specifically designed for this purpose.  Rather I use the cheapest cafe curtain rods that I can find, spray paint them to coordinate with my kitchen color pallette and hang them on the wall.  My favorite trick is to get the spring loaded cafe curtain rods and mount one at the back of my vent over the stove.  I add some "S" hooks and that is where I keep the utensils that I use most.  Right in front of me within easy reach.  This clears a ton of space in my drawers to house the utensils that I don't use all the time.

Of course, the easiest solution to not having enough storage for your things would be to get rid of most of your things.  Sounds simple and logical doesn't it?  But if you're like me, that's simply not going to happen.  So my solution is to think outside the box and make room for the things I've acquired.  Who knows?  If I am creative enough I just might be able to find room to add more???

Enjoy your space!!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Garbage into beauty!

Have you painted recently?  Do you ever eat canned veggies or fruit? Do you buy your coffee by the can rather than the bag?  Have you discovered that you have WAY more colanders and graters than you really need?

Below are just a few suggestions for empty cans and other assorted metal objects that almost everyone has on hand!

You can use cheese graters, buckets, mason jars, coffee cans, paint cans or even soup and/or veggie cans to create these one of a kind lights!  All it takes is a simple light kit that can be bought from any craft store (and even from some big box hardware stores), a can, some imagination and you have a light fixture that cost you next to nothing.

If you're really creative, punch a design in the cans so that the light will form interesting shapes on the ceiling and walls at night.  Great thing about using metal cans is they can be installed inside or out.

What about those colanders and graters I mentioned?  What can you create with them?  What about a planter?

Or lighting?

If you don't have extra colanders and/or graters laying around, head down to the nearest thrift store and pick some up.  Doesn't matter what they look like, spray paint can make anything look great.

Maybe you might even have a bucket or two laying around.....guess what?  Lights can be made from them too!

Do you ever replace the drip pans beneath the burners of your stove from time to time? If you do, wash them, spray paint them and use them as a cover for your string of lights.

None of these projects requires a lot of skill or money.  Of course, if you want to hardwire the light into your ceiling or wall, that will require either an electrician or a very high DIY skill set.  But if you're a renter, that would probably not be a good idea.

The easiest thing to do is either use an existing light to cover or buy a light kit with a long cord, a hook for your ceiling and an extension cord that is long enough to allow you to reach an outlet.

Put your light together, run the cord through the hook you've installed in the ceiling, then run the extension cord along the ceiling and down the wall to the nearest outlet.  Staple the cord every 6 inches or so to keep it taut.  (Be careful not to staple directly into the cord)  You don't want the cord to stand out like a sore thumb so either choose a cord that is the same color as your ceiling and walls or paint it with the same paint you used on your ceiling and walls.  Since the cord won't be bothered, the paint won't rub off or fall off so you can use any leftover paint that you have on hand.  The closer you hang the fixture to the outlet, the less cord you'll have to camouflage. 

If you are going to punch out a design, it's best to draw the design directly onto the can using a felt marker or pencil, then using a phillips head screw driver and a hammer, punch the holes.  If you're afraid of making a mistake that can't be erased, draw your design onto paper, wrap it around the can securing it with tape, and then punch the holes through the paper.  Once you've finished, simply remove the tape and paper, string the light kit and hang your light.

This idea can also easily be moved outdoors.  Take a string of outdoor "fairy" lights and after punching holes in the cans, string the lights through the cans and hang on your patio or deck.  

No outdoor outlet by your patio or deck?  No problem.  Put candles in the cans and hang them.  

I love repurposing items that normally find their way to the landfills.  Nothing makes my heart sing like looking at a pretty project that cost me next to nothing.

Enjoy your space!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Days of Lipstick and Mascara are Over

This post may be a no brainer to a lot of investors and/or potential investors.  However, it has been my experience that a lot of seasoned investors need a little help when it comes to this topic.

Unfortunately a lot of investors began their career in this field back in the days when property turned over as quick as it hit the market.  No fuss needed.  No sprucing up needed.  The inventory levels were such that demand was greater than supply.  They developed a habit of doing the least amount of work possible.  Now they wonder why their properties aren't moving like others or why they can't command higher rents than others.

One byproduct of the still felt real estate crash is the fact that while tragic for many, it opened the eyes of many investors.  Before the crash, it was often easy to slap lipstick and mascara on a pig of a house and turn a very nice profit.  It was easy to paint, lay carpet and charge a premium rent for the worst house in the nicest neighborhood.  Now?  Not so much.  Renters aren't as desperate as they were at the height of the foreclosure era when there were far more renters than properties to rent.

These days it's just not enough to paint and mow the yard .  These days in order to get that premium rent, you have to justify the extra expense to the potential renter.   How can an investor do this without breaking the bank?  Be creative.  Always look at a property as if you were personally going to live there.  Depending on the neighborhood, some properties will require more creativity than others.  Obviously a house in a "soso" area will require more of a wow factor to fetch a higher than average rent than a plain house in a really good area.  The most important areas will always be the kitchen and bath but what about storage?  You can have the most expensive counter tops in the world but if there's no place to store dishes and food, the kitchen is worthless.  Big bedrooms are nice, but taking a little of that bedroom and building out a nice closet is even better.

Lots of investors spend all their money making the inside nice but completely neglect the exterior.  Renters are like buyers in that they will drive by and look at the property from the outside before scheduling an interior viewing.  If the curb appeal doesn't draw them in, they'll never call again.

While you're sprucing, don't forget to stage.  A staged - even a partially staged - property will rent/sell quicker and for more money than one that is not staged.

How do you stage?  You can hire a professional or you can do it yourself.  It's not as hard as people think.   All you have to do is define the spaces that might present a challenge to a viewer. As an example, suppose the floorplan involves a living room/dining room combo.  A viewer might be concerned that the space is large enough for one but not both functions.  You need to show them that it will serve as both.  You don't have to buy new furniture.  You can rent furniture or use a card table set or even a patio set with a table cloth in the dining area and a loveseat, small coffee table and chair in the livingroom. Staging done!  You can even just lay down rugs to define the spaces.  Get a large one for the living area and a slightly smaller one for the dining area.  There's no need to hang pictures or put out plants if you don't want to.

If there is perhaps a question about whether the master can accommodate a king size bed, buy a king size air mattress, cover it with a comforter and pillows so it's obvious that it fits.  It's also not necessary to stage each and every room in the house.  Just the rooms that either need definition or the rooms that might appear to be smaller than they actually are.

I never recommend fresh flowers or anything "smell good" to be used.  The  reasons for this is (1) LOTS of people are allergic to certain flowers and to lots of the chemicals contained in perfumes, potpourri and plug-ins. (2) If you use live flowers and/or plants you will have to go by the property on a very regular basis to water them and/or remove the dead ones and (3) Some people will wonder what awful smell you are trying to cover up.  The best thing to do is to arrive at the property 30 minutes to an hour before the appointment and open the windows up to allow the air to circulate and the stale air to exit the property all by itself.

The best thing that you can do to a property to turn it over is to clean it and keep it clean.  Every surface inside and outside should be cleaned.  No spots on the carpet.  No dust bunnies hanging out by the baseboards.  No grime on the ceiling fan blades or covering the light switch plates.  No old, frayed, stained liners in the kitchen/bathroom cabinets. If a potential renter walks through the house and sees only clean...they will likely assume that the landlord takes excellent care of the property and will feel more comfortable renting from that landlord.  They will assume that if the landlord takes such great pride in the cosmetic appeal of the property, they will also take great pride in the mechanics of the property.  While we're on the subject of cleanliness, how about going by the property at least once a week to look for bugs and to dust. Empty houses, especially those with basements, tend to draw bugs.  Water bugs, flies, spiders, ants, or even mouse droppings.  Nothing will kill a sale like a prospective buyer/renter opening the cupboard and finding a huge water bug in there or evidence that a mouse has been to visit.

The last thing I recommend doing is to set yourself (and your property) apart from the rest of the pack. Renters, like buyers, will view multiple properties before deciding which one to go with.  After a while, they all tend to merge together in our memories.  You will want to do something that will stick in their memories. While they might not remember that your property had the most closets, they will remember that your property was the brightest because of all the windows.  They will remember your property was the cleanest and the most move in ready.

I recommend going to the local dollar store and buying a large basket.  In that basket, place a roll of toilet paper, a roll of paper towels, a container of hand soap, a container of dishwashing soap, a couple of small bottles of water and maybe even a small package of cookies or cheese/crackers.  Add to this a nice thank you card and place the basket on the kitchen counter.

Years ago I rented an apartment that was actually not as nice as some I had looked at and was a bit over priced in my opinion.  But at the end of the day, this particular complex had a very nice gift basket on the kitchen counter that contained a calendar, menu's from several restaurants close by, a magnet that listed useful phone numbers, as well as, the above listed items.  It made an impression on me and I chose to rent from that management company.

One last tip.  LEAVE THE CURTAINS/BLINDS OPEN.  This is so important.  Not many landlords choose to do this and it's a shame.  As I've said, prospective buyers/tenants always drive by the property before they make an appointment to see inside.  They will get out of their cars and walk around.  They will try to peek in the windows.  Let them get a glimpse of the interior.  If there's a flaw with the interior, then they will see it when you let them inside anyway so why try to be sneaky and cover it up?  Let them get a preview of what they might be getting.  If they don't like it - you've just saved yourself a useless trip because they won't call for an appointment.

Another reason to leave the curtains/blinds open is because it fills the house with light.  Light makes everything look better.

Last two reasons to leave the curtains/blinds open has zero to do with renting or selling it.   (1) If you shutter the house up tight and a vandal/thief wanders across it, they are going to think there's stuff inside that they might be able to steal and closed curtains will not prevent them from doing a lot of damage in order to get inside your property.  If they can see inside, chances are they will move along when they don't see anything of value that they can quickly snatch.  (2) If the vandal/thief decides to go in anyway and you have the curtains/blinds open, a passerby and/or neighbor will be able to see them or their flashlight moving around in the house and will probably notify the police.  OR the neighbor will notice that while the curtains/blinds were open earlier in the day - they are now closed - and will call the police.  Either way, you might be saved a lot of damage and money.

At the end of the day, the business of investing is a risky business.  By applying the above simple tips, I think anyone can get ahead of their competitors.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Creating an outdoor space out of nothing - practically

Spring is here!  The time of year when we put the coats and sweaters in plastic storage containers and haul them up to the attic.  The time of year when we want to be outside all the time.  When we want to sit outside and watch the flowers bloom and the birds.

But what if you don't really have an outdoor space that is specifically designated for relaxing? What then?  If that's the case, (unless you live in an urban high rise) then it's time to get creative and make an outdoor space specifically designated for your enjoyment!

Let's look at some great ideas.

The picture below was snagged from Southern Living.  I include this shot because of the curtains.  If you live in an apartment and have a patio that isn't private or maybe you live in a house or duplex with a yard that's not private, this is the perfect way to gain privacy and even a little bit of shade.  Anyone who reads my blogs knows by now that I am a HUGE fan of fabric.  Fabric can transform any space....even an outdoor space.

To accomplish this look on a budget, all you need are some plumbing pipes and fabric.  I actually recommend PVC pipes because they don't rust, they aren't heavy and they aren't pricey.  All you have to do is get as many as you need, get the PVC connectors (I've included a shot of those as well.  They run about $2 each) and just thread your material onto the pipes and stick them as far into the ground as possible to give them stability and you have an amazing privacy screen that can be changed out on a whim if you find different fabric that you like.  You can also add whine chimes in between the curtain panels for that extra touch.

As for the fabric, of course you can buy the expensive indoor/outdoor fabric if your budget will allow. However, you can also buy cotton fabric that you can find online for under $5 a yard.  True it won't last as long or stay as pristine as the indoor/outdoor fabric but it should last for several months and by then you'll probably be ready for a change anyway.

Before you do any permanent changes to your outdoor space (if you're a renter) always get written approval from your landlord.  Also, find out from him/her what parts of  your changes are going to have to stay there when you move.  My rule of thumb is $500 per year in improvements to property that you don't own.  

That means I don't mind spending up to $500 a year improving my space and then leaving the improvements for the next tenant to enjoy.  Some folks might have a higher or lower number in mind.  However, you can do some pretty fantastic improvements to a rental for way under that number provided you take your time, do a lot of research, visit a lot of garage sales/junk shops and use a little bit of creativity.  In my mind it's far cheaper and convenient to improve my space than it is to move.

Have a limited amount of yard space but want a garden?  Look at the shot below for an awesome idea!

Cinder block patio garden!  The great things about this is (1) it takes up very little space and (2) if you are so inclined, you can take it with you when you move.  These blocks cost about $3 each, factor in the potting soil and the paint and you're probably out a total of $100 for the whole thing based on the proportions shown above.

Do you have a wooden or brick fence or wall next to your outdoor space that needs some color and life?  Try this:
Coffee can planters!  You can also use old paint cans as long as you clean them out really well.

There's a really nifty blog out there called "apartment therapy".  (http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/before-after-bare-backyard-turned-lush-patio-170571) It is chock full of great ideas for sprucing up rentals.  Well worth a view.  Look at the transformation below.
The picture above looks pretty barren and not at all enticing.  I can't imagine wanting to spend any time in this space.  Now look at what the tenants did to this very same space:

What a transformation!!  BTW the concrete pavers can be done using a mold and some quick setting concrete for a fraction of the price of purchasing the already molded pavers.  Plus, you don't have to lug all these heavy pavers home.  Another added bonus of making your own pavers is that you can color the concrete to personalize it anyway you want.

Quikrete sells these molds at most hardware stores and they run anywhere from $20 up to $60 depending on how fancy or big you want them to be.  Below is a shot of one of them.
They're super easy to use.  All you have to do is level the ground where they're going to be set, put down the mold, fill it with mixed concrete, let it set and take off the mold.  Then it's on to the next one.  These are also reusable so it's really well worth the investment.

Just remember, anytime your design might kill the grass or impede its growth, you must get your landlords permission.  If you don't, bad things could happen when you move out and the landlord sees what you've done.  Now you and I think that this is a HUGE improvement over the barren wasteland that once was this side yard.  However, the landlord just might not be as design savvy.  There's just no accounting for folks taste - or lack thereof - so always always run your plans by your landlord in writing and get his approval in writing before you buy the first thing.

How about a nice firepit??  I mean who doesn't love a firepit with comfy chairs around it?  I use mine even in the summer months.  I go out late at night, fire it up and just enjoy sitting by it and watching the flames.  I even cook using mine.  I skewer meat and cook it over the fire.  YUM.

Of course, everyone wants the firepit pictured below don't they?  And you can certainly make one of these if you have the time, money and skill set.  But what if you either don't or just don't want to spend that much money on a firepit that has to stay put when you move?
Then I suggest a washtub firepit.  Now you can be modern in your approach or you can be more rustic. Meaning you can actually use the tub of a washing machine or one of the old galvanized tubs.  The actual washing machine tubs have perforations in the sides that really allow for the fire's glow to shine through as is shown in the picture below.

It also allows a fantastic flow of oxygen which can keep your fire going strong and big.  But if you can't find or don't want to fool with looking for the tub to an old washing machine, you can go for the more rustic look of a galvanized tub.  Below is a picture of what one looks like.

These aren't expensive.  All you will need is (a) the tub (b) 4 fire proof bricks, cinder blocks or other fire proof material to suit your budget and taste and (c) wood.  Now you can get fancier with this idea if you are so inclined and buy a grate to keep the wood off the bottom of the tub which will allow more oxygen to flow thus creating a better fire.  You can dig a hole (with landlord's permission),  set the tub in the hole about 3/4 of the way and then fill around the tub with crushed marble or pea gravel to really give it a more appealing look.  With mine, I cut a piece of plywood just large enough to completely cover the opening, then I took an old cabinet handle and attached it to the plywood which makes it easier to handle.  When my firepit isn't in use, I keep this cover on it to keep the rain out of it because I don't want to have to take it out of the hole, dump the water out and wait for it to dry every time I want to use it after a rain.  Also, it will rust over time and I want to prolong the life of it as long as possible. So far, mine has lasted nearly 5 years.

Now that we've got the privacy fence and the beautiful cinder block garden coupled with the coffee can planters and an amazing firepit.....now all we need is some furniture so we can sit outside and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

How about some cinder block furniture?  Yep, I said cinder block.

Bench and coffee table anyone?

Or what about a comfy sofa?

Or what about making an entire set of furniture out of cinder blocks?

You can get fancy with your cinder blocks and spray paint them or (like the photo above) stain wood and use it for caps on the tops of your cinder blocks to add that punch of elegance to it.

If you're going to have cinder block furniture you will need cushions.  Outdoor cushions can cost a ton of money....so I never buy them.  I make my own.

First I visit my local thrift store and look for pillows, throw pillows that are the size and shape of what I need.  Sometimes I even find actual bench or sofa cushions there.  It doesn't matter what they look like.  All you are worried about is the size/shape.

Then I head to the dollar store to look for vinyl tablecloths.  These will cost anywhere from $1 each to $10 each but each tablecloth will make about 4 pillow covers or 2 bench seat covers.  WAY cheaper than buying the pre-made cushions.

Once I get home, I wrap the pillows "envelope" style with the flannel backing towards me. By wrapping it, I get one side that is seamless (this is the side that will be turned up towards the sky and will keep any rain from seeping through to the pillow inside.)  I fold the edges of the fabric a couple of times to make as water tight a seal as possible and then using an ordinary desk stapler, I staple the side openings.  Next I remove the pillow, turn the fabric so the vinyl side is showing, replace the pillow and (again) folding the opening I staple the top closed.  Put the pillow on your furniture and you're done!  If you make sure that the stapled opening is facing towards the bottom of the furniture, it will keep any rain from dripping into the pillow case and soaking the pillow inside.  My pillows last an entire season.  Once winter comes, I throw them out and when spring arrives, I make more.  They're so cheap and easy to make - it's totally worth it.

Everything I've mentioned above can be disassembled and taken with you when you move.  Also, nothing above will break the bank budget wise.  However, everything mentioned above will give you the private, comfortable and affordable outdoor space that everyone craves this time of the year.

Enjoy your space!