Keepin’ It Cool

We recently hit the height of Minnesota Summer.  The last couple weeks have been toasty.  Like temps in the high 90’s and heat index of 110+ kind of toasty.  Yeah, yeah, anyone in Florida or Arizona or some such place may be laughing at me, but I’m sure ya’ll have central air.

Point is, we haven’t the ideal conditions for painting an upstairs hallway so I’ve had to turn my attention elsewhere.  I decided to tackle my basement work space because it’s virtually nonexistent at the moment.

workspace1

It’s really just a corner of the basement where we stash our tools, but it’s totally disorganized and generally ucky.  I needed a place to organize tools and store supplies, and also a place to work without me constantly crouching on the ground since my back has decided to rebel ever since I turned 30.

I started by peg-boarding the ucky wall.  The space was 3 inches too long to get away with 2 sheets of peg board so I had to buy 3 sheets.  ARGH!  Luckily it’s cheap.  I had the hardware store cut the sheets down to the sizes I needed because I have a small car and no table saw.

The boards were all cut so the edges would center on the existing studs.  This was so I could both anchor the edges well and fit everything into our car.  And, of course, because it’s our house, none of the studs were evenly spaced so had boards that were 30.5, 22.5, 23.5, and 24.5 inches wide.  Brilliant.

Now I just had to cut out holes for the outlets and pipes.  First I tried using a handsaw but it was way more of a PITA than I anticipated.  Then I tried my dremel with a cutting wheel but it started smoking and then the wheel shattered.  Oops.  Finally I broke down and demanded that we buy a jigsaw.  They’re actually cheaper than I expected (at least they can be, they can also be pretty splurgey, but I didn’t need anything fancy).

workspace2

It’s been YEARS since I used a jigsaw and I didn’t actually have the correct blade to cut hardboard so the cuts are pretty rough.  I also started with the most complicated panel and ended with the easiest.  Brilliant right?  And then in the middle I totally effed one of my measurements around the the outlet.  So basically it looks kind of crappy, but it’s a basement right?  It doesn’t have to be perfect, just functional, RIGHT???.  Please humor me here otherwise I may go out and buy more pegboard to fix it because, yes, I am that insane.

Speaking of insane, I also switched out all the outlets for white ones so they’d match the pegboard.  While switching out the outlets, I added spacers to bring the outlets even with the front of the pegboard as well.

Once the pegboard was all set up, I picked up a work bench kit.  I wanted to use the 2×4 Basics connectors to make a custom sized one, but an 8′ long top would be really hard to fit in my car so I opted for a 6′ kit instead.

When you see “kit” would you assume pre-drilled holes?  ‘Cause I sure did and was incredibly disappointed.  What I imagined taking a couple hours ended up taking several evenings worth of work because I would get frustrated and walk away.  It went way smoother when Matt was free to help me–he held stuff in place and drilled pilot holes while I followed with another drill to screw everything together.

workspace3

Fast forward through a few hours of swearing, a trip to IKEA, and a few more hours for organization and voila!  I have a somewhat organized work space!  I still need to pick up a miter saw table since the work bench isn’t big enough to set that on, and I’ll be need a stool as well.  All and all though it’s a pretty awesome improvement, and I got do it all while hanging out in our (comparatively) cool basement.

workspace4

Save

Repairing the Stair in the Lair Part 1

When I ran through the Before pictures of the stairway I mentioned that the railing was in need of some tender love and repair.  In general it’s a mighty fine looking staircase, but the finish is a little worn and most of the newel post are missing chunks of trim. Sure, it’s actually not all that noticeable if you’re not really paying attention, but this staircase deserves better.

I started by ripping off the existing caps on the newel posts.  I left the one on the large post at the base of the stairs and the one up by the attic door since it was that one would need some more complicated cuts if I tried to replace it.

stairRepair4

If your house has standard sizes, you can order Newel Cap kits which would be super easy.  Nothing in our house is standard though (the kits are designed for 3.5″x3.5″ or 5.5″.x5.5″ and our posts are 4.5″x4.5″) so I had to go custom. Because I want to keep (most of) the stairs natural wood, I picked some red oak to make my replacement caps.

I was lucky enough to find a small crown molding that was reasonably similar to the existing trim.  I started by staining the whole piece as close to the existing wood finish as I could.  No worries, that it’s not perfect, there will be another layer coming later on.

If you need a lot of pieces cut to the same size, the easiest thing to do is to create a jig of sorts.  Once I figured out the size I needed for the trim, I cut a bunch of pieces about 2 inches longer than I needed (I just eyeballed it).  Then I flipped my saw around so I could cut the opposite angle, and using my already-perfect piece as guide, clamped a piece of scrap wood into place.

stairRepair5

Now I just have to butt the short pieces up the block and cut off the excess.  Voila, perfect sized cuts every time!  I did still double check each post before cutting the trim pieces because I’m neurotic and the slightly variation in size could make this fail miserably.

I was a little worried about what to do for the top piece.  I only have the tools to cut a square block.  Laaaaame.  It would have looked sadly out of place.  While idly wandering through the hardware store* I started checking out router bits.  There was one that was super similar to our existing caps that I started eyeing.  Twenty bucks for a router bit?  Yeah, I’d spend that…. but another $200 for the router itself?  That I may never use again?**  Umm, not so much. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my dad several years back.

Dad: I got a new router!

Me: Computer or power tool?

Dad: Both actually!

Yup, dad’s tool hoard to the rescue!  Matt and I were even making a Milwaukee trip to celebrate his sister’s college graduation.  After the party Matt hung out with his family and my dad and I Got Shit Done.

Like most projects, the bulk of the time is spent on prep.  I brought a set of trim pieces with me so we’d have the exact sizing but then there was math.  The router bit we bought didn’t tell you how much it took off from the bottom, which was the measurement we really needed.  We measured a piece of scrap wood, ran one side through the router, and measured it again.  Our chosen bit took off a 1/2″ so we needed to cut blanks 1″ larger on all sides so the bottom would line up with the trim pieces.

Stair repair edging

When cutting the test piece we also learned that the way the router sat in the router table left a super skinny edge on the top of our finished piece.  Stairs are high traffic areas and take plenty of abuse.  Skinny edges will break easily.  Baaad combo. We couldn’t really lower the router, so we decided to raise the table surface.  Dad’s scrap wood hoard the rescue!  He had some left over pegboard that was perfect size, so we cut out a notch  to go around the bit and then clamped it onto the table.

Router table setup

Alright!  We had all our blanks cut!  We had the router set up!  We were ready to Do This Thing!  Aaaand it’s time to leave for dinner.  Matt and I were planning on leaving the next day right after lunch so he was a little concerned when he learned we still had to route about 90% of the pieces and we had already put in about 3 hours worth of work.

But everything was set up for the easy stuff now!

Routing newel caps

Now we just had to zip everything through the router.  Easy peasy!

stairRepair6

After everything was cut (and transported back home) I took my palm sander and rounded down the edges and corners so they would look a little worn.  Then I hit them with a couple coats of the stain I used on the other trim so they’d be in the ballpark of the existing railing color.

Now we just have to attach and the new caps and wait for the humidity to come down so I can stain the entire thing.

 

*Yeah, I do that.  Anyone surprised?

**According to my sister though, once you have a router, you will find things to route.

Save

Save

Save

Ladies and Gentleman, We Have a Wall!

When we last left our basement we had a giant, gaping hole that was in desperate need of some masonry work.  Thankfully our mason decided that this past week (with temps in the uppers 90’s to 100’s) was a good time to work on a basement project instead of out in the blistering sun.

basementDoor2

Lovely, no?  Ok, not really… but it’s way better than the the rotting door and collapsed stairwell.

basementDoor1

The outside has now been upgraded to Giant Treacherous Pit.  Thank god we have no small children, but we still need to get this filled in the near future so we don’t have to worry about small animals or wandering Pokemon Go players falling into it.

We had a little bit of water leakage this weekend because it was pouring on Saturday, but we’re hoping that water-proofing and proper fill will prevent that in the future. We’re also planning on adding a concrete patio over that section of our yard so if all else fails THAT should stop any water.  I think pavers would look better than poured concrete (and be DIYable!) but concrete is more water-tight and our house doesn’t have gutters.*  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that stamped/stained concrete will be in the budget, otherwise rock what ya got!  …but that’s all a project for another day.

 

*We plan to get gutters in the future, but it’s pricey and we haven’t had water issues so far so it’s not at the very top of the list.

Not Dead Yet!

A while back we pillaged a bunch of plants from our friends and their neighbor.  And by “pillaged” I mean “took all the shit they were digging up and getting rid of anyway.”  We got a bunch of ferns (with some bonus Bishop’s Weed that you may either love or hate*), some hydrangeas, a clump of purple violets, and something that was pretty but I have no clue what it is.  We even held off painting that day so we could add them to our garden right away.

Things immediately started to look really sad after they were transplanted.  According to my dad ferns (and lilies) tend to look awful right after they’re transplanted but should bounce back in a few months or at least by the next year.  “Awful” is one thing, but mine looked straight-up dead.

notDead_2

Whomp whomp.  Epic gardening fail, right?

Not quite!

All but a few of the ferns are starting to make a comeback.  See the cute little fiddle-head?  All but one of the dead patches are now showing signs of life!

notDead_1

Our yard also got a little pummeled by a nasty storm the other week.  We only lost a few, already dead, branches from our trees which is better than a good chunk of our neighborhood, but our plants also got a little flattened.

notDead_6

My mini container garden is still going strong though!  We’ve got around 6 baby tomatoes!  The basil I planted isn’t dead yet either!  In fact, it’s still going strong which for me is some kind of miracle!

notDead_3

notDead_4

And more and more things are coming into bloom!

notDead_5

Now that I’m seeing what’s-what, I’m starting to formulate a plan.  I want to try and keep as many of the existing plants as I can (plants ain’t cheap!) but move them around so they look a slightly more landscaped than hodge-podge.  I’ll admit though, my absolute favorite garden feel is the slightly-overgrown look, our current setup just needs a little organization first.

 

*I’m actually all for a fast-growing ground cover that may take over my entire yard, so I deliberately kept it.

Save

Save

Save

Rain Rain Go Away. No Really, We have a Giant Hole in Our Basement.

When it was built our house as designed with a cellar entrance.  By the time we moved in the outside was boarded up, the stairs had collapsed, and any wood pieces had rotted away.  The door inside the basement was still there but super nasty and didn’t close all the way.  This was the cats’ favorite place to explore and I’m pretty sure it’s where Schmutz found her dead mouse (it’s also probably where the live one gained entrance).

What I’m saying is, we had this unsightly, ancient door in our basement, an unsightly cover in our yard, and a prime weak spot for vermin to sneak in.  Not. Good.

We’ve been trying since last fall to recruit a mason to brick the whole thing up.  You’d think this wouldn’t be too hard, but it was a giant PITA.  They were busy, they wouldn’t work over winter, then they wouldn’t give us an actual date, only vague answers, and that was IF they answered the phone.  Matt finally tracked down a different mason (who was also way cheaper!) who checked out our hole and told us what we needed to do to prep.

Pro-tip:  If you want to save some money, try and handle the “easy” manual labor yourself.  We didn’t really want to pay mason rates to dig and fill a hole. Is it a lot of work, yes.  Is it totally doable, YES.

We (and by “we” I totally mean Matt*) started by clearing out the excess debris and digging down about 10″ so the mason could pour a concrete base for the blocks.  It was a combination of dirt, sand, giant rocks, and tree roots.  Good times.

Basement Interior Believe it or not, this is the After and looks WAY better than what we started with.

After we had excavated, we (again, meaning Matt) turned to demoing the outside cover.  The visible cover lifted off (it was heavy as hell, but not actually attached to anything).  Under that was another layer of shingles, under those was sort of thin sheet metal/flashing, and under THAT was the wood that you can see in the picture above.

basement2

Whoohoo!  We have a hole!  Unfortunately the mason wasn’t going to be in until later in the week, so we had to cover the giant hole back up.

basement6

We also have a backyard that is starting to resemble a junk yard.

basement4

We added a tarp and then put the pre-existing cover back and thought we were being pretty smart.  And we were… at least mostly.

It rained that night though.  Like a lot.  I went down to check how things had help and promptly informed Matt that we had “a good-news, bad-news sort of situation.”  The good news was that not much water ended up in our gaping hole.  The bad news was that a TON of water had pooled in the tarp and wasn’t about to go anywhere on its own.

basement5

Luckily we had a bunch of buckets.  Matt cut a small hole in the tarp and let it drain into a bucket.  I was on standby with another bucket so he could swap them out and I could dump the full one down out utility sink.  This took quite a while we estimated that we emptied out over 20 gallons from the tarp.  Peachy.

basement7

Schmutz has been very upset about what’s been happening to her cave and decided to come and investigate further.

On Monday the mason came to pour the concrete–yay progress!  Matt I also attempted to re-jigger the tarp (since it now has a hole in it….).  We’re supposed to be getting more rain throughout the week, so keep your fingers crossed that we don’t end up with an indoor water feature!

 

*I helped a little, but I have some serious Arachnophobia and refused to actually enter this particular spider-pit.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Revamping the Vestibule

Our house has this goofy air-lock style entryway. The porch seems to be an addition so the double entry would have provided some extra insulation back in the day.  Lacking a better term, I’ll be referring to this mini space as “the vestibule.”

I don’t actually have any good before pictures because I honestly didn’t give the space much thought before we started working on it.  You can see a bit of it from this picture of the entryway.

vestibule_1

The storage consisted of a single, junky closet rod.  While we do need a place to store coats, we could do a little better in the style department.

We ripped out the rod and the 2 boards that were poorly attached to the wall.  There was some wall damage underneath the boards, but that was fixed with a few layers of joint compound and some sanding.  Then we installed new boards (1x6s) so the closet rod would have better place to anchor than plaster.  We used 3 boards set in a U shape, rather than just 2 on the sides because we wanted a shelf above the rod for extra storage.

vestibule_4

Looking good, huh?  The boards are the same color as the trim (BM Simply White) and the wall color in the same as the rest of the entryway (BM Paper White).  The screws still need to be camouflaged, and the rod is getting a coat of paint this very minute so it looks less like a pipe.*

vestibule_3

The only other notable feature in the vestibule was the light switch for the porch light.  It was sort of gross looking and the cover plate had been painted over like a billion times.  Easy fix though, right?

vestibule_2

This is what I found when I removed the cover plate.  What. The. Fuck.  Apparently they wedged the switch into a mass of spray-foam insulation. There weren’t even any screws holding this thing in place. Why?  I have no freakin clue.

After cutting the power, I pried out the switch and the surrounding insulation.  Thankfully it wasn’t that difficult, I just scraped it out with a flat-head screwdriver.  I probably should have used a non-conductive tool but I wasn’t terribly concerned with the power off (plus I’d already be using a screwdriver while replacing the switch anyway).  Then it was just matter of attaching a new, non-grody switch.

vestibule_5

Not to shabby, huh?  A little touch-up paint is needed, but it’s still a huge improvement.  I also added some insulation that was actually designed for light switches/outlets.  Crazy idea huh?  You can find foam plates that are cut to fit around the switch and inside a cover plate. Easy-peasy and not a bad idea for exterior walls…. especially in older homes.

 

*Which is what it is–piping in the same diameter was cheaper than the wooden closet rods… go figure.  We had this left over from when we added a closet rod to my closet, so you get more length too.

Save

Save

The Make Room Challenge Week 4–The Craft Room

I’ve already shared my shame with the internet when I shared the state of our bathtub and the state of my dresser.  Ooof.  So what’s a little more online humiliation, right?

MRC_crafts1

This is my craft room… studio… office… whatever you want to call it, and yes it’s looked that pretty much since we moved in.  Sure it’s been slightly more tidy off and on, but it’s always returned to this state.  If you’re wondering where my computer is, it’s a laptop I keep parked in the living because this.  Awesome, huh?

The biggest culprit is probably my jewelry supplies.

MRC_crafts5

I got one of these bad boys for Christmas last year and it’s wonderful and stack-able, but a little pricey for as many as I need.  I picked up a couple more (1 tiny, 1 small–the “small” is what’s shown here) for smaller beads since it’s sooo nice to be able see them all at a glance.  The fancy case isn’t necessary for all my stuff–findings, wire, tools–so I picked up this guy last time I was at the hardware store.

Love the drawer sizes and adjustable dividers… not lovin’ the uber industrial look.  I already had some white spray paint on hand for my radiators, so I hit it with a few coats of that.

MRC_crafts3

If you think this and the container units are the extent of my jewelry supplies you are very, very wrong.  I have 4 full cubbies of my Expedit unit crammed with beads, wire, and tools and could easily use another 10 of the container units, but will probably work in more of these drawer units because they are WAY cheaper.

MRC_crafts2

Still a long ways to go, but better right?  The closet is still filled with boxes that I need to go through but I’ve also cleared out tons of stuff and rediscovered my floor so I’m calling this a success.  The room is going to be a long-term project for sure, but it’s at least no longer completely overwhelming.

 

 

 

Don’t Neglect Your Neutrals

When we bought our house every room was “builder beige” (expect for the Brown Bathroom of Despair which was straight-up brown). You know, that warm, slightly off-white that’s like the go-to color when you want to remove all personality from a space?

Ok… that’s a bit harsh, but that’s often what realtors try to do when they’re selling homes–remove the existing personality so the future owners can better imagine themselves in the space.  I get it… I think it’s unnecessary (although I’m a good visualizer so I may be biased), but I get it.

What I don’t get is living with a neutral color that isn’t working for you just because it’s “neutral.”

There are a million different flavors of “neutral.”  You’ve got white, beige, gray, cream, and then assorted shades of each.  Is it a warm or cool grey?  Is it a yellow or pinky cream?  The changes are subtle, but they can make a big difference.

Which is why the “builder beige” had to go in our house.

If you look at the rooms we’ve redone so far you can see there’s a decided cool (blue-green-purple) theme happening.  A yellowy cream isn’t going to cut it.  My personal favorite neutral is Benjamin Moore’s Paper White.  It’s a slightly cool, pale gray–bright enough for low-light spaces (like hallways) but has enough contrast to make white trim stand out nicely.  I knew we would be using a bunch of it in our house so I stocked up last year when Home Depot had their 4th of July paint sale ($15/gallon for Behr!!!!! and they can easily tint to BM colors).

Before:

MRC_week3

After:

hallwayPainted

Before our hallway was decidedly yellowy… it actually looked kind of dirty compared to rich blue-gray in the neighboring dining room.  The after picture may be pretty subtle, but there’s a much more natural flow between the two rooms now.

If there are spaces in your house that are “builder beige” and you’re totally fine with it, go you!  Just don’t talk yourself out of painting over one neutral wall color with another neutral wall color because you don’t think it will change anything.

Think about what your primary decorating color choices are.  Red/Orange/Yellow are your Warm colors and Green/Blue/Purple (and usually Pink) are your Cool colors.  If you’re using mostly cool colors chances are a yellowy (warm) beige may look a little out of place.  If you’ve got a primarily warm palette happening than my choice of Paper White (cool) may not be for you.  I also personally think earthier colors look better with creamy (warmer) neutrals, even if green is technically cool…. it all depends on the big picture.

Warm White:

warmWhite
Via Houzz

Cool White:

coolWhite
Via Houzz

 

The Behr swatch section in Home Depot has very nicely labeled their whites by red toned white, yellow toned white, blue toned white, etc.  If you’re somewhere that doesn’t have it spelled out (or you’re veering away from white), snapping a quick picture can make the undertones of a color really pop, especially if you get multiple swatches in the same shot, then you can directly compare them.  And, of course, tape up the swatches you’re thinking of in the room so you can seem them in their correct lighting environment (and take another picture as the lighting changes).   Picking up a couple sample pots once you have it narrowed down can be a huge help too.

The Make Room Challenge Week 3–Entryway

Ooof… this one was badly timed…. although I suppose we currently have tons of room in our entryway.

MRC_week3

Heck, we don’t even have the door taking up space!

Mail is one of those areas that tend to get out of hand for us pretty quickly.  Usually every weekend we stare down at the small mountain of mail on our table, sigh resignedly, and sort through it.  Most is of it is junk mail and just gets tossed, but we still pile it back up every week.

Part of my goal with the entryway is to (hopefully!) streamline our mail system.  I’m thinking a wall sorter (his-hers-ours) and a trash can immediately on hand may help.

Our coat-closet-that-is-also-a-vestibule needs a little work too.  We already picked up supplies to add some shelving and I’ve resigned myself to purging my coat collection.

That’s all going to have to wait until after everything’s painted though so no After photos for you today.  I’m lame, I know.

Week 1–The Master Bedroom

Week 2–The Master Bathroom

Destroying Historical Fabric One Room at a Time

A while back Matt was reading an article on restoring old homes and it mentioned that you shouldn’t insulate because it would “destroy the historical fabric.”  It’s one of the reasons the Historical Preservation Society is often referred to as the Hysterical Preservation Society and has been a running joke with me and Matt ever sense.

Don’t get me wrong, the HPS is important, and recognizing historically significant homes is important. Here’s the thing though, not every old home is historically significant.  Our house is an American Foursquare… sort of the cookie-cutter house the early 1900s.  Is it pretty awesome compared to more recent architectural styles?  Hells yes!  It this specific house historically significant? Our neighborhood is filled with the same style houses, are they all historically significant?  No and no.

When I shared my dining room reveal on Apartment Therapy a while back, a handful of people decided to ream me out for painting the trim.  They claim I had “destroyed” the house and the final design was a “travesty” and merely “trendy” (*gasp*).  What do I have to say to that?  BAH!

Your home is a reflection of YOU.  Unless you own a house that’s on the historical register you can do whatever you damn well please (and people often do*).  I have been trying to keep the bones of the house pretty traditional, but have some fun with the fixtures and furnishings which suits my more eclectic nature.  I also don’t feel like white trim is trendy and I’ve seen it in tons of similarly aged homes including million dollar properties and historically recognized homes (ok, only certain rooms in this one–but important, public rooms).  It also lets me brighten our home and cost-effectively replace damaged trim pieces.

Which is why we’re continuing to paint the trim.

Yup.  The critics haven’t dissuaded me and we’re continuing the paint into our entry way/stairwell/hallway.

We also picked an awesome weekend to start painting.  Saturday was in the upper 90’s and Sunday was (only!) in the 80s. Keep in mind we do not have central air.  Yeah, it was boiling.

HallwayPrimed_1

We got the first section primed on Saturday by working in the morning and then late at night when the temps were a little cooler.  We were still dripping buckets of sweat.  Lovely.

hallwayPrimed_2

Notice our lack of a door?  It’s currently hanging out  (haha!) between our living room and TV room.  It’s not the locking door so I insisted we take it off so I could better paint the trim.  Matt rolled his eyes and said I was crazy, but humored me anyway because that’s what makes our marriage work.

hallwayPrimed_3

Big difference right?  This is just the primer, but it’s already made a huge difference on the stairs–that smaller landing was nearly invisible on the way down (leading to many missteps and trips), now you see the changes outlined against the white and it is SO much easier to see!

We continued to power through on Sunday so everything has its first coat of paint now too.  It’s been super cloudy and rainy all week so I don’t have any good pictures of that, but it won’t be impressive until the final coat of paint anyway.

 

* Sure people make crappy decisions all the time but the worse case scenario is that future homeowners will roll their eyes, mutter WTF? and change it all.  Big whoop. The less rehab inclined may just not buy the house in the first place, so it’s good to at least keep resale value in the back of your mind, just don’t let it paralyze your own dreams.