October 16, 2011

Tackling the Entryway

Now that the front door is looking better, I thought it was about time to tackle the front entryway. I started working on it last year, but the bedroom and bathroom projects took over my life. I had gotten as far as stripping the wallpaper, but that just revealed big cracks and lumpy half-plastered holes in the walls that have been welcoming our guests ever since! The trim was (once again) painted brown. Yuck. Sadly, I don't have a great photo of the space from before, but you can get an idea from this.

Notice the blue and maroon striped wallpaper above the closet doors? That's what I was dealing with. Perhaps this photo of the hallway with the same wallpaper/color scheme does it better justice?

*Shudder* (For anyone who's concerned, this is what the hallway looks like now.)

Anyway, back to the front entryway. Here's where I was on Saturday morning.

I started on the trim with a coat of primer, followed by caulking gaps and puttying nail holes - I work in that order because the primer makes it a lot easier to see where the problem spots are. It took three coats of paint on the trim and two coats on the textured wallpaper, but here's where I am as of Sunday night.

Ahh! So much brighter, and becoming much more welcoming. Next weekend, on to the inner front door, the coat closet, and patching wall cracks!

October 10, 2011

Creepy Front Steps

Yes, Halloween is right around the corner, but our front steps were starting to look actually creepy, not fun/holiday creepy. From the peeling paint around the door, to the massive cobwebs, to the dead plant detritus accumulating in the corners, it was well past time for action. So, over this long weekend, I gathered our painting accoutrements and a broom (the sweeping kind, not the flying kind) and got to righting things.

Our front door posed the biggest problem. Large areas of paint around the door trim were flaking off - it needed to be repainted. But what color? I wasn't willing to re-faux finish the trim to look like wood, so that pretty much left the option of matching it to the rest of the house trim, which is dark green. Here are the scary before photos.

I scraped off all of the flaking paint with a putty knife, and then I smoothed the surface down with sandpaper. A few spots were scraped down to bare wood, so I touched them up with primer. After filling in old nail holes with wood putty, I was ready to paint. We already had the paint color on hand since we'd used it for another touch-up project. Here's a sneak peak of the progress.

Once the front door area was painted, I started to wonder about our inner front door, which is also visible from the outside. I'd always planned on painting it white (Benjamin Moore Mayonnaise) to match the rest of the inside trim... but would that look weird from the outside? That question opened up a whole other train of thought - privacy. Because the outside door is mostly glass, and half of the inner door is glass, anyone on the street can see clear through our entryway, past the stairs, into the kitchen, and out to the back yard. That's a little too much sharing for us - no one wandering by our house should have to witness Ryan and me dancing while we cook!

We pondered our options. Frosting the glass seemed like a good way to go, but we weren't sure those spray on formulas were going to give us a nice even finish over the whole length of the door, and we worried that the stick-on film wouldn't hold up in direct sunlight. We definitely weren't committed enough to have real frosted glass installed. The previous owners had lace over the inside door, but that was a no go for us. Likewise, gathered sheer curtains seemed a bit too formal.

Then came my stroke of brilliance. Ikea sheer panels! We took a look at their website and came up with these contenders.
Ryan preferred the Anno Inez (the one on the left), so I made a quick drive to our Ikea and picked up a panel for $9.99. I also bought two curtain rods ($7) at the fabulous Frager's hardware store just down the street. We love a thrifty solution! The rods will be mounted in place - we want the panel to be fixed, not swinging about every time we open the door. The width of the panel is the same as the door's glass, so I didn't have to make any adjustments there. I did have to hem the length and add a loop at either end for the curtain rod. Et voila!

I'm quite pleased to have come up with a solution that lets in light, gives a bit of privacy, and still allows us (and the cats) to see who/what is on our doorstep.

The last part of my de-creepify was to sweep away all of the cobwebs and dead leaves. I finished up by wiping down the door and window bars. Easy peasy.

And the final before/after reveal!

Door painted, privacy instituted, steps cleaned. As soon as we get pumpkins, our stoop will be Halloween ready!

September 18, 2011

How to Make a Decision on Flooring Material

Most of the decisions we've made on the house renovations so far have been the result of careful weighing of options, costs, and the opinions of our trusty panel of advisors (hi Mom and Mom-in-law!). We'd been playing with the idea of leaving the tongue and groove wood flooring in the guest bathroom rather than tiling, hoping for a look something like these bathrooms found at DecorPad and Country Living.

Because our bathroom redo involves switching the location of the sink and bathtub/shower though, we had to pull up some of the floor today so that a plumber will be able to access the pipes. Yes, we're normally big DIYers, but we're gonna leave the serious plumbing to the big boys! Pulling up the floor boards wasn't a big problem project-wise because we had to patch a few holes and rough areas anyway. What were a few more boards to bang back into place?

We removed the floor without too much damage to the delicate tongues and grooves by taking a couple of steps. First, we removed all of the nails that we could see with the back of a hammer or crowbar (wearing our eye protection, of course!). Then Ryan applied upward pressure from underneath using a crowbar against the floor joists for leverage, while I used a 2X4 scrap and a hammer to force the boards apart at the seams.We started at one end and slowly worked our way down each plank. After each board was freed, I removed any additional nails by hammering them through from the back. The process was successful for removing most of the planks, and it looked kind of like this:

Once we opened up the first few feet of floor though, we realized that a bunch of the floor joists had been cut, drilled through, partially sistered, shimmed, patched... it isn't pretty. And it made us really nervous to put our faith in the structural stability of the mess. I'm pretty sure that our clawfoot tub will need a little more support than these Swiss cheese joists and toothpicks.

So, on to our flooring decision. It looks like we're going to need to put down a new plywood floor to help distribute the weight of bathroom fixtures more evenly across the holey joists. And if we're going to put down a plywood floor, it might be easier to just slap some tile down, since we actually know what we're doing in that department. Installing old wood flooring would be a totally new undertaking.

Now we're thinking that the floor might end up looking more like one of these bathrooms found over at DecorPad.  

bathrooms - Restoration Hardware Vintage Glass Shelf gray walls white pedestal sink glass shelf rectangular mirror subway tiles shower surround rain shower head marble basketweave tiles floorbathrooms - skylight greige walls subway tiles shower surround frameless glass shower marble basketweave tiles floor white bathroom cabinet vanity glass knobs white carrara marble countertop white medicine cabinet mirror polished nickel sconces faucet chair rail beadboard

It's so much easier to make a flooring decision when the decision is more or less made for you!

At least we don't have to worry about the joists throughout the rest of the house. The cats have been under the floor a few times today, and they've assured us that all looks good everywhere else. They also found the great Northwest Passage between the guest bathroom floor and the kitchen ceiling, and it looks like one of them even did a little electrical work for us on the sly (he had a big strip of electrical tape stuck to his belly this morning). One can never have enough helping hands when it comes to the big home renovation projects!

September 17, 2011


I'm thinking about using Lincrusta in the guest bathroom. The name conjures some kind of soap scum remover or industrial cleaner, but really it's an embossed wall covering made from linseed oil and wood flour invented in the late 19th century. It looks more or less like carved plasterwork, and we have some (or something Lincrusta-esque) in the downstairs hallway that I really like.

I think it could be a really fun variation on the more traditional beadboard wainscoting, but I can only find a couple of examples of textured wallcoverings in the bathroom (found here and here). 

Either I'm ahead of the curve on this one, everyone else thinks it's terribly ugly, or it's a lot more difficult to install than I'm imagining. In truth, we'd probably be using Anaglypta (a molded vinyl paper) rather than true Lincrusta because of cost, but either should hold up fine under the heat and humidity of the bathroom.

I've found a few modern styles of Anaglypta that I really like, all of which are made by Brewster.

Should we go for something a little different, or just stick with the traditional beadboard?

September 16, 2011

Past Projects... The Dining Room

Since we don't get many major projects done around the house during the week, I thought I'd share the details of the very first house project that we worked on - lightening, brightening and simplifying the dining room. The previous house owners were into the Victorian thing, but you know what? Just because we live in a Victorian-era house doesn't mean I have to decorate like one!

There was a lot going on in this room.

Striped wallpaper, robin's egg blue paint, gold borders, textured ceiling paper surrounded by another border, wall mounted cabinets faced with book-themed contact paper, a fireplace whose trim had trim... It was too much.

Putting the chaos factor aside, this room wasn't someplace I could see having friends over to because it also felt sort of like a dark, creepy (possibly haunted?) attic. Because our house is in the middle of a block, we only have windows on the east and west walls - so it can be pretty dark inside. While we were fortunate enough to have the original molding around doors and windows, it had most recently been painted dark brown, which made the room feel even more cave-like than it really is. It needed serious brightening.

Even though the dreary Victorian decor isn't my cuppa tea, I will say that the previous owners did seem to get the look they were going for. This drawing (found here) of an 1880s Victorian dining room looks amazingly like ours did!

Anyway, it didn't stay that way for long. The night of our closing, we ordered a pizza and started stripping wallpaper. Luckily, the paper came off pretty easily with a spritz of warm water mixed with vinegar.

I won't get into all of the nitty gritty details since we did this almost three years ago, but here's what we did to the space:
  • Removed wallpaper, trim pieces, and wall-mounted cabinets
  • Removed ceiling border (we left the textured paper)
  • Painted walls Benjamin Moore Soleil (eggshell) and the ceiling Ceiling White
  • Painted the trim and ceiling medallion Benjamin Moore Mayonnaise (satin)
  • Replaced the transom over the French doors with a leaded glass
  • Reversed the French doors so they open inwards and installed a storm/security door outside
  • Removed the excess trim from the fireplace/mantel/mirror
  • Refinished the fireplace surround and mantel, stained a lighter color
  • Tiled around the fireplace surround
  • Disconnected and removed a gas fireplace insert because the chimney isn't lined
  • Had the floors refinished to their natural color
It took us months to do, but the work was so worth it - the dining room became so much brighter and calmer. I definitely prefer my rooms to be restful and infused with sunlight!

Once we got it to a state that we could live with, we moved on to some even bigger, scarier projects (I'm looking at you, master bathroom!). The dining room is by no means finished, and here's the list of things that we still need to do:
  • Finish the mirror frame (paint or stain?)
  • Hang the new pendant light that's been sitting in its box for 3+ months (more complicated than it should be)
  • Finish installing the French door hardware, paint white to match the trim
  • Give the ceiling medallion and ceiling trim one more coat of paint
  • Reassess the possibly too yellow wall color
The room has filled out a little bit more over time. Here's where we are now.

I'd still like to hang more art to the left and right of the fireplace (in the two nooks) and organize the banjo/guitar/fiddle/bodhran corner we've got going on. And maybe, just maybe get rid of the light on the mantel with the electrical taped paper shade that's falling off? Slowly, but surely people.

And these days, we're finding candlelit dinners so soothing and cozy, we may never get around to hanging that newfangled electric ceiling light. How very Victorian we feel...

September 11, 2011

I ♥ Community Forklift!

This weekend's guest bathroom work involved a trip to Community Forklift, an amazing local store that sells donated surplus building materials and architectural salvage in support of environmentally friendly construction and home renovation. We had a few things that we were looking for, but we also took the opportunity to donate a few light fixtures that have been kicking around our garage for the past couple of years. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and all that.

The store has a huge outside lot full of cast iron bathtubs, sinks, marble slabs, fencing materials, and tons of other large-scale stuff. When we were first designing the guest bathroom, we thought that we'd reuse our old sink countertop with a new base - turns out that taking that route would be way more expensive than replacing it. I'd searched a bit online for pedestal sinks, but we thought we'd check out what Community Forklift had to offer. Here's the sight that greeted us.

Lots o' sinks! There were a few pedestal types that looked pretty good from afar, but up close were chipped and stained. I wasn't sure if chipped and stained = farmhouse chic or just pain dirty... Anyway, we decided to see what else they had in the way of plumbing inside. Here's Ryan looking thrilled in one of their sink/toilet aisles.

We found one pedestal sink in great condition that we liked for $125. The price was definitely right, but we weren't sure that the design was exactly what we were looking for, so it was a no go.

Next up, doors. We've been playing with the idea of putting French doors between the upstairs hallway and future office. That way, we can close off the room and the cats won't rub their furry little faces on the computer camera while Ryan is in the middle of Skype calls with business clients...

Community Forklift has rows and rows of doors, which can be kind of overwhelming. Since we'll be building the wall to accommodate the doors, we didn't require exact measurements, but we knew that we were aiming for somewhere around five feet for the pair. After some serious digging around in the French door aisle, we came up with a set in good condition, exactly five feet wide. They're different heights, but only because there's a 2X4 stuck to the bottom of one. How this pair worked together when one door was several inches taller than the other, I'm not sure.

Now, let me start this off by saying that we are not those people that have good luck wherever we go, but I believe these doors were meant to come home with us! Each door was originally priced at $35 - and I feel like that would have been a great deal. A set of French doors for $70 when they normally cost $300+ at the chain stores? Yes, please. Well, this weekend, Community Forklift was selling all doors priced at less than $50 at an amazing 75% off! We scored these babies for seventeen dollars and fifty cents! Add a couple of pieces of door hardware to our lot, and the grand total was $20.50.

I ♥ Community Forklift!