26 November 2013

Kitchen planning: Inspiration

I'm pretty obsessive thorough with my research, and as a result, I think I've seen just about every kitchen picture ever published on the internet. Here are some that I really love. 

I guess my tastes run pretty traditional but not overly fussy. Homey and comfortable. Grandma's kitchen without the red gingham. Streamlined farmhouse? Updated shaker? Country without the kitsch? I think I have a clear idea of the direction I'm heading with it, I just don't have the right descriptive words for it.

20 November 2013

More junk for the house

I am so glad I took a risk and bid, sight unseen, on a classroom full of chalkboards. They're 3/8" thick, silky smooth, heavy as hell, and positively gorgeous. We had one casualty when removing them from the walls, but we still have plenty for our project (and we took the larger broken chunks for practice runs, so it's not all lost). 

Removal was a lot easier than I expected. Some of the boards had been adhered with mastic and some with plaster. After we removed the quarter-round molding, the slates with mastic just leaned out - the mastic had long since deteriorated beyond usefulness. The ones with plaster required a tiny bit of prying around the edges. We got all 12 panels down in about an hour and a half. I spent the rest of the afternoon removing wood trim while Tom enlisted some help carrying the slate down to the vehicle. We were unfortunately not able to bring all the trim with us, but I think we'll be able to use what we brought home. 

One of the chalkboards held a sweet message from a former graduate:

Behind the trim I found the signature of a construction worker, along with the place and date:
Clyde Wamsley 

Cleves (OH) Dec 30, 1941 

The drive home was stressful, but we made it with everything intact. So now we've got about 1,000 pounds of slate sitting outside in a borrowed trailer. Tom is supposed to be getting some help bringing it inside this afternoon. Now I just need to get my rear in gear and get some stuff done downstairs so I can actually use some of the crap treasures I've accumulated!

18 November 2013

Kitchen planning: The window seat

Like a lot of old houses, our windows are very low, which makes kitchen planning difficult. In the area that was originally the kitchen (the in-law suite in our current plan), there are 3 windows and 4 doors, making an efficient modern kitchen layout all but impossible. I might want my kitchen to look old, but it's got to work

Moving the kitchen to what was originally the dining room helped alleviate some of this problem - the dining room has a bank of three windows that is high enough to accommodate modern cabinets. That's where we've placed the sink in our plan. But there is another window near the corner that drops to about 18" from the floor like the rest of the windows in the house. I decided to place an L-shaped window seat there instead of standard cabinets. I hate corner cabinets, so I'm actually thankful for the low window height. Like the rest of my ideas, I always think it's a little unorthodox until I start doing research and find out it's not an original idea after all. 

Our window seat is between the sink and range in prime prep location, but I'm imagining a few little helpers standing on the window seat to help with cleaning extra cake batter off the mixing bowls and spoons (don't worry - there will be a 30" cabinet between the seat and the stovetop, safely out of reach of little hands). Construction will be similar to the built-ins in the girls' bedroom - over-the-fridge cabinets outfitted with ikea drawers to maximize storage potential. 

If I discover that I really need more counter space in that area, I've toyed with the idea of adding drop-leaf countertops on the ends of the cabinets. When not in use, they'd lay against the cabinet side neatly out of the way. Again, apparently there's nothing new under the sun. My novel idea has been done!

Fortunately, that's an easy thing to retrofit, so I'm going to wait to find out if it's necessary. I've already made this into a 10-year project, so what's a little more time?

16 November 2013

Kitchen planning: Lighting

The plan for the kitchen lighting has admittedly been a difficult one. I started with one basic premise: no recessed lights. You wouldn't believe the amount of pushback those three words can cause. Apparently not many people go this route for their kitchen renovations and information on lighting a kitchen without recessed cans was hard to come by. I finally found some general lighting guidelines that might help:

30 lumens per square foot for ambient lighting
75 lumens per square foot for task lighting
50 lumens per square foot for lighting at table

So for my kitchen, which is roughly 230 square feet, I figured on 4 general lighting fixtures (100 watts each), one central light over the table/island, and wall sconces by the windows, along with under-cabinet lights wherever possible (plus the vent hood will have its own lights). This will provide plenty of light from different directions, minimizing problematic shadows and providing flexibility for different situations. Having survived just fine for several years with nothing but a desk lamp for lighting in my kitchen, I am of the mind that this is probably way overkill, but I'd rather have the ability to turn on fewer lights than to need more. Once I had the quantity sorted, I spent some time with the floor plan to locate just where they'd go. 

Now that I had the quantity and location nailed down, I could do the sourcing. To Craigslist!

I found a matching pair of Art Deco skyscraper shades for $60. 
Art Deco skyscraper shades

They coordinated well with another group of lights I bought previously (also off Craigslist - are you sensing a theme?) for the living room, these Rejuvenation fixtures:
Rejuvenation Hollywood light
Retail price: $445(!) I paid $200 for 4 Art Deco fixtures with shades, one spare shade, plus one schoolhouse light with its fixture!

A little bit of research showed that the smaller shades are fairly easy to find, so I was ok with trying to source 2 more later. Unfortunately, one of them broke on its way into the house, so I have to find 3 more. 

I am still not sure what specific chandelier or sconces or undercabinet lighting I will use. What I do know is that the sconces will be mounted on the window trim between windows. There's about 7" of space between each window, the perfect amount of room for a light. Can't picture a sconce on the window trim? Here's an example:

Since they are supposed to serve as task lighting for the sink and countertop, mine will probably be something with a metal shade to direct light downward rather than out. But at least the locations are set, so I can wire up the boxes and wait for the Craigslist gods to send me a sign.

15 November 2013

Kitchen planning: countertops

In a world where I don't have to worry about things as bourgeois as money, my ideal countertop would be soapstone. It's matte, silky smooth, heat-tolerant, chemically non-reactive, and positively gorgeous. But we're not quite in that world, so the dollar signs matter.

I got the idea to use the slate from an old pool table while perusing Craigslist one evening. I saw pool tables being offered for $100-150 each. Since slate has a lot of the same properties as soapstone, I was intrigued at the idea of getting the soapstone look for a fraction of the price. A few searches later, I discovered that I was not the first to have thought of this idea. Here are a couple of reclaimed pool tables used as countertops:

I'd probably need about 3 pool tables for my kitchen countertops, but I was worried about matching colors. Pool table slate can come in gray, green, purple, or black, and there's no way to know what you're getting unless the felt is already off the table. And relying on a Craigslist photo for an accurate color depiction? Yeah, right.

But then I saw old chalkboard slate being offered for $25 each for a 4'x5' board and the frugal hamsters in my brain started on their wheels. Thanks to Google, I was able to find a couple of examples of people repurposing chalkboards for countertops, too. Basically they treated the chalkboards as giant tiles, mortaring them to a cement-board substrate. The picture isn't great, but this was a DIY installation:

This one looks to be a professional installation, but the countertops still began as chalkboards:

Less than $100 for countertops sounded pretty appealing. But then a miracle happened. I found an auction for a school that is being demolished. They were auctioning off the contents of entire rooms at a time. And as luck would have it, those classrooms had giant expanses of chalkboard.

There's an additional chalkboard not pictured that is included

I took a gamble that it was slate and not a modern chalkboard substitute. I bid - and won! - an auction for about 40 linear feet of chalkboard. For less than $50. Yes, fabrication will take time and a little more money (since the chalkboard will have to rest on cement board and not the cabinets directly), but it's DIY-able and I think it will be worth the hassle. (Did I mention that these chalkboards are still attached to the classroom walls, and we are responsible for their removal? More on that later!) And since I'm getting way more material than I can use in my kitchen, there's always the possibility of recouping some of that money on Craigslist.

The main concern is, of course, how it will perform as a countertop. There isn't a whole lot of information about the long-term longevity of thin sheets of slate in that situation (though thicker slate slabs have been used as worktops for centuries), so it's a little bit of a gamble. The owner of that DIY installation above says that she still loves her counters two years later, so there's hope. Even if they only last 5 years, that still gives us five years to save for the soapstone I really want.

Exit question: I already know I'm off my rocker. The question is, how far?

14 November 2013

Kitchen planning: the cabinets

The tiny bit of progress downstairs has me dreaming big again (no, I will never learn). I've been obsessing over planning my kitchen for years now, and I think I've finally nailed down a lot of details and specifics.

First, the cabinets. I'm going to use Ikea. Now, you might associate Ikea with crappy particleboard furniture, but I promise their kitchen components are pretty high quality stuff. They use Blum hardware as their standard drawer glides and hinges, something which is a major upgrade with other cabinet lines. I used their drawers in the girls' room and have been very impressed. Not that my kids would ever abuse their furniture, but let's just say that the drawers easily handle two jumping toddlers and still slide smoothly with both of them in the drawer. Plus they have a 25-year warranty. I did a rough estimate of what my kitchen cabinets will cost, and I came in under $3500 (and that is with the most expensive door options!). And lest you think that Ikea will look cheap, here are a few Ikea kitchens that might change your mind.

This is the kitchen of gardenweb user brickmanhouse. He customized a lot, but he did the whole kitchen for under $20k.

This one from Stately Kitsch is beautiful as well. Again, customization is key.

This one is from blogger duo Aubrey and Lindsey. A bit modern for my own house, but still awesome, yes?

Designer and HGTV personality Sarah Richardson often uses Ikea cabinets in her renovations to keep her costs down. She usually has the doors professionally painted for a custom look.

Sunset Magazine featured this one. Not entirely my style, but it definitely doesn't look cheap.

And last but not least, this is probably my favorite Ikea kitchen of all time, by the gardenweb user oldhouse1. It has already served as a reference point for me on countless occasions. This is what my kitchen wants to be when it grows up!

13 November 2013

Moving like a herd of turtles

Unfortunately I can't find my camera, so no pictures, but we are making a little bit of progress downstairs. Don't get too excited - it's just ceiling insulation and furring strips. The strips have a couple of purposes. First, it will make the drywall much easier to install. The joists are not as regularly spaced as modern construction materials require, so spacing the furring strips every 16" will help a bit. I am also able to shim the furring strips individually to create a more even plane for the drywall. The bottoms of the joists are not totally even with each other (with the original plaster and lath construction, they didn't need to be). If you tried to attach drywall directly to the joists without shimming, you'd end up with a very wavy ceiling.

The second benefit of the furring strips is that it leaves enough space to run electrical without drilling through the joists. As we found out running wire upstairs, the 100-year-old framing in this house is practically petrified and very difficult to drill through. But with the furring strips, we can run the electrical along the bottom of the joists and save a lot of time, muscle, and drill bits in the process. We thought the additional cost of the lumber and slight decrease in ceiling height was a worthwhile tradeoff given those benefits. 

NB: The formaldehyde-free R-30 insulation that Lowe's now carries is much improved from the last time I bought it. This stuff is a mottled brown and white color (the older version was bleached white) and looks dirty, but it does not explode in a cloud of fiberglass shards when you touch it. I wore long sleeves and gloves during installation, but no dust mask or goggles. With the previous formaldehyde-free formulation, my skin, throat, and eyes were itchy for a week afterward, even with a dusk mask, goggles, and long sleeves. With the new insulation, I felt none of those side effects. So thumbs up for Johns-Manville for improving their product!

28 October 2013

The plan

I think I've come up with a downstairs floor plan that I'm happy with. The room to the right in the drawing will serve as a family room or den for a while. However, we are planning for the possibility of having to care for Tom's parents in the coming years, and the room will be easily converted into an in-law suite. It has direct outdoor access, as well as a bathroom and its own washer/dryer. Even if we never have to take care of Tom's parents in our home, having this conversion possibility is a good idea for aging in place. We are planning for the bathroom to be as ADA-compliant as is reasonable, which is why it is a bit bigger than a typical 3/4 bath, and also why I put in pocket doors where possible.


I've been doing some preparations downstairs for serious work, namely cleaning out the back portion of the house. This is what we started with:

Years worth of scrap construction stuff thrown haphazardly back there to be dealt with "later." Well, it's later. Here's the same space now:

I hope you kept your expectations sufficiently low. Most of the stuff was just moved elsewhere on the first floor, but we did get rid of a fair amount of junk, too. The plan is to get the back room framed and install flooring (to free up some room in the front of the house), then keep working our way forward to the front of the house. I think we've already exhausted plans A through Z, so I guess we're far enough removed from the original to just call this plan A again.

08 October 2013

My first Ikea hack

I've been working on a wall of built-ins for the girls' room. Their toy box died tragically, and we needed storage stat. Rather than spend a hundred bucks on another toy box they'd outgrow in a few years, I decided to build storage that would grow with them. I still need to sew a cushion for the top (probably using that peacock blue fabric on one of the upper shelves), but the construction is complete. I used two Billy bookcases and two over-the-fridge kitchen cabinets outfitted with drawers. The rest of the project was just finishing touches that make it look more custom, less Ikea. I might eventually write a tutorial about it, but for now I'm happy that this project is done!

02 September 2013

Item #104 update

I managed to get the board-and-batten wall primed and coated with one coat of paint over the weekend. I'm doing it all with brushes, not rollers, so it has been a time investment - especially since I've been painting the door trim (the two doors pictured plus one additional door) at the same time. On wood or things that are supposed to represent wood (like the drywall that is supposed to be the "board" of the board-and-batten), I insist on using a brush. It gives the surface a little bit more dimension. I'm probably the only one that will ever notice it specifically, but it really does make an aesthetic difference. One more coat of paint and this project will be totally done. Even though it's a holiday today, Tom has to work for a while, so it probably won't get done until he has a day off.

Board and Batten wall, before and after

29 August 2013

Item #104

Craftsman style board and batten with picture ledgeIt's been two months since I checked in, which is about 14 years in internet time. I wish I could say that I've been so busy getting stuff done that I haven't had the opportunity. It's more like I've been so ashamed at the lack of progress that I've been in hiding. Between the heat and the morning sickness (yep, having a baby boy at the end of January) and two very active toddlers, progress has been pretty well non-existent. I did, however, just finish building this project yesterday. It's a board and batten wall with a picture ledge on top. The headboard for the bed will be against this wall. Hopefully I'll be able to get it primed and painted this week.

15 June 2013

Just when I thought my hydrangea bushes would never bloom, this sight greeted me this morning. There are still plenty of buds left to open, too.

04 June 2013

Item #18

I finished the door trim in the guest room, item #18 on the list. Each of the doors was too close to a corner for full-width trim, so I had to rip lumber to fit. It looks a little goofy, but I've seen this situation in houses where it was original to the house.

Craftsman door trim

18 May 2013

#46 and #102 and #16

Now that the pantry is functional, I'm forcing myself to refocus on The List. I finished #46, hanging the master closet door; #102, hanging the guest bedroom door; and #16, hanging the door to the back stairwell in the guest bedroom. I had doors but no jambs, which is why it has taken so long to get to these items. But having made my own jamb for the pantry, I realized it really isn't that hard or time-consuming to make. Not only did I get three things crossed off The List (and a start on the door trim), but now I have three less doors downstairs in the living room/carpentry shop. Just in time to make room for a whole lotta windows.

Doors with DIY jambs

17 May 2013

More garden stuff.

Madame Calot peony in full bloom
I promise this won't turn into a gardening blog, but I just had to share a picture of the first peony to bloom.  It's about 6" across. The irises are still hanging in there but will probably be done in another week. Several times a week I collect a handful of wild strawberries from around the yard and the girls eat them for breakfast. About half of the dahlias I planted have sprouted, and yesterday I filled several hanging planters with petunias. Three of my faux-copper pots of pansies were stolen off my front steps, so I need to find something else to put there. Of course, stores are done with pansies for the year, so my new pots won't match the old ones. I have another post or two of house-related projects coming up, but I've been sick and can't seem to find the energy to tie up the loose ends that keep them from being totally done.