As a new mom, Erin Francois gave herself a break when daughter Sylvia was born. It was the first time since the age of 7 that she made nothing. “The first six months of my daughter’s life I bought (rather than made),” she says, adding, “#SurvivalMode!” Today, Erin’s sewing machine is happily humming again, designing decor and making improvements to the 1936 Tudor duplex she and her husband, Ken, bought in Minneapolis a few years ago.
“We knew we wanted to live in the city, but when we started house hunting, we realized we were running out of what we could afford,” says Erin. “Ken found the duplex the night it went on sale, and we were intrigued by the financial sense it made.” (They rent the upstairs).
Erin was immediately sold on the gable roof, the half-timbered facade and the vaulted opening between the living and dining rooms. Erin has strategically implemented minor DIY updates inside and out. The entry got a style boost from a pair of planters she assembled from store-bought wooden boxes, crown molding, drawer knobs as feet, and iron pull hooks.
While the house had a lot of built-in charm, it was in need of decorative upgrades and a kitchen overhaul. “We put every inch of the space together, from adding insulation to the walls to tiling the backsplash to planking the ceiling,” says Erin, who blogs about her projects at Francois et Moi.
Erin revived her living room with tapestry crochet pillows and a paint treatment on a pedestal side table that her grandfather made decades ago.
She made the Danish-style coffee table by repurposing the top of a children’s table she found at the Salvation Army and attaching 16-inch pine legs with three angled brackets. After sanding the table top, she gave it a smooth and durable finish with three coats of Rust-Oleum white epoxy spray paint.
“The bones of our house are Tudor, so I like to complement the more traditional architecture with meaningful pieces from different eras and styles,” says Erin.
Erin has revived her grandfather’s honey oak side table with a grain bleaching technique.
“The #1 reason I do is if I can’t find what I’m looking for in stores or it’s out of my price range,” she says. “But it’s inevitable that since I’ve had my daughter, I’m a lot more likely to buy something if the process of making it is super time- and labor-intensive.”
Crochet pillows add pattern and cozy texture to Erin’s living room. She made these pillows by stretching burlap on a wooden frame, drawing her design, and then needlepointing the yarn in 1/4-inch increments. “It’s good practice to hook the perimeter of shapes first for clear definition, then work your way toward the center,” she says.
A low-slung chair is visually balanced with a high blanket ladder and a lower wooden side table, which Erin made both. The ladder is constructed of two closet rods and six dowels, which gradually decrease in length, spaced 10-1/2 inches apart along the 7-foot ladder. She finished it off with a two-tone look: stained (Varathane Wood Stain in Sunbleached) and sprayed gloss white (Rust-Oleum White Lacquer).
Erin Francois, homeowner
“I’m drawn to a mix of a few favorite styles: Scandinavian, Early American, Midcentury and Modern. If I had to describe my home in one word, it would be collected.”
—Erin Francois, homeowner
She created the side table by cutting four 20-inch-tall pieces of pine from a 6×6×96-inch post, then using a circular saw to make angled cuts in each of the legs. The pieces are attached with wooden dowels glued in place.
“The main tool here is a tire sand that smooths out a myriad of sins — uneven legs, uneven top, and rough edges,” says Erin.
Erin and Ken created a floating media console, left, by mounting an IKEA Besta cabinet on the wall. The play also features Sylvia’s growing collection of toys and books. They have finished the case with a walnut herringbone top and brass knobs and pullers.
Ken, a commercial contractor, often collaborates with Erin on home projects, including this raw edge sofa used as a dining room chair. Ken sanded down the top of a 3-1/2-inch-thick slab of walnut and attached metal legs Erin found on Etsy. Erin made the seat cushion using a Kufri cotton fabric which she sewed with an envelope closure and placed a ready-made cushion mould. She cleverly secured the pillow to the sofa with two thin straps she found online.
“I like to create projects that have a function in everyday life,” says Erin. “I get so much satisfaction from putting the things I’ve made to good use.”
Sewing is Erin’s first DIY love and the first crafting skill she learned. “It’s helped me make a lot of custom soft goods for our own home, and I also sell pieces at a local boutique,” she says. In the dining room, Erin worked with her mother to make the roman blinds. Erin also recreated the IKEA cabinet with paint and new brass hardware. The Duncan Phyfe table belonged to Erin’s great-aunt, and the Windsor-style chairs are an affordable find from Target.
Aside from the electricity and plumbing, Erin and Ken have made every inch of their once brown and dated kitchen. They added character to the space with a plank ceiling, new white cabinetry, subway tile, and marble counters contrasting with charcoal-painted windows and bronze hardware.
“One of my favorite moments from the overhaul is the slatted sink doors that we retrofitted from the old kitchen and painted to match the new cabinets,” says Erin. (The pair reused the remaining original cabinets in the top-floor rental unit.
Erin’s back hall is a typical but clunky 1930s staircase leading from the kitchen to the basement or back door. She needed the small space to work harder. Her solution? A Shaker style pegs atop paneling that wraps around the stairs. Painted in Kilz International Grey, the zone is now a colorful welcome and useful entrance created especially with a vintage portrait of Erin’s mother when she was five.
Erin’s idea for a Murphy bed in her studio was a good one to keep overnight guests from crashing into the couch. After installing the bed (which came in 1 million pieces, Erin jokes), she and Ken added IKEA shelves to one side for a built-in vibe and to store sundries in the guest bedroom.
Erin recently added the wall brackets to create a headboard for the bed and narrow the gap between the wall and the mattress. Other homey touches include the macrame wall hanger made by friend and fellow blogger Sara Banner, and a wooden bead garland and block-print pillow, both made by Erin.
In the studio, white metal tables on casters slide easily out of the way when the Murphy bed is down. Erin keeps the room playful with a black tassel garland she made with Banner at her shop, The Forest Fern. Wall-mounted shelves above one of the tables keep supplies close at hand and tidy. Larger items and more craft supplies are stored in the nearby closet.
“One of my tips is to gather all your materials before starting a project,” she says. “It’s a mentality akin to cooking shows where ingredients are pre-measured and ready for action. The project just runs so much smoother.”
For a finishing touch in the primary bedroom, Erin wanted art but needed a certain size to scale with her furniture. She created this 2-foot square canvas with color blocks using acrylic paint in colors to complement the room. The graphic design and colors of the piece bring out the hues in her bedding and contrast with the dark gray-blue walls. The room’s traditional touches come from an iron bed frame, a discontinued IKEA piece Erin found on Craigslist, and a thrifty bedside sewing closet.
Erin Francois, homeowner
“I want people to feel comfortable and welcome in my home. Handmade, perfectly imperfect pieces help encourage a bowl-as-you-be atmosphere.”
—Erin Francois, homeowner
Erin made a custom frame for the art in her primary bedroom by cutting painted plywood strips and tacking them to the edge of the canvas with a brad nail.
Sylvia’s nursery is a peaceful retreat at the back of the house away from the action. Scandinavian-inspired wallpaper is a nod to Erin’s roots, and the modern folkloric pattern is like a fairytale unfolding across the room. Erin and Ken installed plank and batten wainscoting on all four walls and Erin hand-stitched lace on the appliqué pad she’d made for the glider.