We replaced the staircase going into our basement! To tackle this task, we decided to keep it as simple as possible. We originally had dreams of building under-stair storage with cute doors, but by the time we hit the 15-month mark on our renovation, we were both so fatigued that we coined the mantra “It’s Just A Basement.” We decided not to kill ourselves on the details and just FINISH the damn thing.
When we bought the house, the basement was unfinished and the staircase was barely holding on. The bottom step broke off, forcing us to leap down to the floor (which my mother hated! Sorry, mom). The railing and post were real wobbly and every time I walked downstairs, I braced myself for impact in case the stairs collapsed.
It took about 13 months of living here and running up and down these steps, but we finally got around to replacing them! We waited to do this project until the VERY end. I wanted everything else in the basement to be finished so that we wouldn’t get dirt or drywall dust or paint all over the new steps….but also because DAMN this task intimidated me. Why? Because steps have angles, they require cutting each step and riser with precision, and because the current staircase was such a deathtrap, I didn’t know if we could make it safe.
Luckily, the three stringers under the old staircase (which are the zig zag looking pieces of wood that support the steps) were in good enough condition to re-use. Otherwise, we would definitely have to have hired a carpenter to make new ones for us, which is not cheap. So here’s how we did it:
First we installed the walls and ceiling that surround the stairs, then painted them. Always try to paint the walls and ceiling before replacing your floors! We did this all over the house and it saved a LOT of time covering and protecting the floors. Then I painted the stringer white while Jeremy reinforced the bottom step by ‘sistering’ new blocks of wood next to the three older pieces. Now it will never collapse! Gravity: thwarted!
Next, we pried off the bottom riser and step using a crow bar. Easy enough. For the risers, we used a primed, 8-inch wide piece of finger jointed wood. We measured from the edge of the step to the wall and made a straight cut! It wasn’t so bad! For the step itself, we used these unfinished steps, which are sold longer and wider than you need so you can cut it to the exact size of your staircase. (Side note: stair cases are like snowflakes, they are made by carpenters to fit your exact home. If your home is like ours, the floors, wall, and ceiling are neither level, nor straight, which makes this next step harder). We measured and cut the width and length of the step using a circular saw. A CIRCULAR SAW? ARE WE NUTS? Yes, we are. Because a table saw would have been infinitely easier but we didn’t want to shell out $200 for a tool we’d need on the very last project of the entire renovation! Jeremy had the genius idea to use a straight stud as a guide, and he managed to rig up all the pieces and use the circular saw to “rip” the steps (rip is a fancy shmancy word for cut a long straight line). Once cut, we nailed them in place using our beloved nail gun, aiming to use as few nails as possible so they wouldn’t be too obvious.
We removed a few steps at a time, so Jeremy would cut outside while I measured inside. We got into a nice productive rhythm. Before we knew it, we had replaced all the steps in a few hours!
A few days later, we installed the post on top of the bottom step. There are many methods and ways to do it—we chose to put the post on top of the step because the floor is concrete and nailing into it is very challenging. We bought this post that came with a block that you nail to the ground, then you plop the post over it. It was not that simple but after a little bit of trial and error, we had our post securely fastened!
I didn’t take any photos of the last few hours of work, but we basically installed and painted the bannister and spindles. Then I applied polyeurethane to the steps to seal them, and BOOM, we were done.
The steps aren’t perfect. But they are strong, they are functional, and they are way better than what was there before! Plus, It’s Just A Basement.
The kitchen is FINALLY complete! I started writing this post a YEAR ago but have waited to share it until now, because renovation delays are very real. Since everyone likes a good before and after shot, here you go:
BEFORE: The kitchen was dirty, dated, closed off (with a pass-through to the dining room) and cramped with the fridge, sink, and stove all in a row along the wall.
AFTER: The huge island is open to the dining room and living room, with blue cabinets and brass accents. The sink is across from the fridge and stove, and the cooktop is gigantic.
Read on for all the juicy details about our kitchen, including the cost at the very end.
After months of demolishing, prepping, planning, ordering, and waiting, we can finally cook in our home! This kitchen is HUGE, open to the rest of the house, and so fun to cook in.
Preparing the space:
To prepare the space before we planned out the new kitchen, we had to rip out the old kitchen. An engineer drew up our plans and a contractor removed the load bearing wall and installed some support beams.
Then we hired electricians to rewire the electric to where the appliances and lighting would be. After the electricians finished roughing in our electric work, we were ready to “close in the walls” with drywall. After doing the two bedrooms upstairs, we were easily able to cut and install drywall around the new column, support beams in the ceiling, and the kitchen wall behind the cabinets and appliances.
We had to install new flooring BEFORE the kitchen was installed. Sadly, the existing floor was in such bad shape that it could not be refinished. We picked a reasonably priced solid birch floor to flow throughout the entire first floor, including the kitchen. Before it could be installed, we had to install a new plywood subfloor to create an even, flat surface for the hardwood to sit on. We decided to screw down the plywood ourselves to avoid spending $$$ for someone else to do it. Home Depot delivered 35 sheets of plywood to our curb and my awesome aunt and uncle helped us haul it inside (FYI this all happened in November of 2018).
Then Jeremy and I had the joyful task of cutting each piece to fit the entire main floor of our house, and screwing it to the floor with 24 screws per sheet. My knees were aching by the time we were done, but it was worth it when our new hardwood was installed.
Installing the kitchen cabinets:
IKEA delivered about 40 boxes of our kitchen cabinets in November, and the installers started putting together the cabinets in December–it took about a week for them to finish and we are SO GLAD we hired them to do it. We had enough on our plate. We designed our kitchen at IKEA with the help of a kitchen planner, who visited our house and took measurements to ensure the design would fit.
Going with IKEA for our cabinets was truly a budget-driven decision, but we wanted the kitchen to be a showstopping centerpiece of the home. After all, we spent a lot of effort and money removing the walls to create an open concept, so the kitchen would be visible from all vantage points on the main floor. To achieve a more luxurious look, we decided to purchase real wood door fronts for the cabinets from a higher-end company called Semihandmade. I like to think our kitchen is the perfect combo of high-end and low-end finishes.
Read all about the incredible effort that went into painting these beauties here. Just know that using a paint sprayer to paint your kitchen cabinets is not for the faint of heart. You need TONS of outdoor space for painting, tons of indoor space for drying, and lots of patience to repeatedly carry the doors inside and outside as it requires six rounds of spraying with ample drying time in between–I’m talking weeks of work, not hours. These doors have been in every room of our house to dry, and spent lot of quality time in our back yard as well.
After the cabinets were installed, a countertop company came to measure the tops, then returned a few days later to install it. We selected a marble-looking quartz countertop called Statuary Classique by MSI. We decided to have “waterfall” sides to our countertop, which means the quartz flows down the side of the island and hits the floor. This added significant cost to the project given the size of the island, but it was something we could justify from saving a lot of money doing most of the work ourselves (a breakdown of all the costs is at the end of this post).
The handles and knobs are from Pottery Barn. I knew I wanted brushed brass fixtures (I am a millennial, after all) but didn’t want anything overly trendy or modern, given the age of the house. These handles are really gorgeous against the blue cabinets and I love how uniquely they’re shaped.
The faucet is by Delta in champagne bronze color, with a matching soap dispenser. We looked for a kitchen sink that could fit into a 30” cabinet with only one bowl. Luckily we both agreed that we didn’t want a two-bowl sink, which some people like but we don’t care for. Our kitchen sink is a 28” steel undermount by Elky. I was much more attracted to the look of a quartz sink but was scared away by horror stories of quartz sinks cracking after people poured boiling hot pasta water down the drain, which was enough to dissuade me. This is probably my biggest regret (or “what if”) about our kitchen design, because I’ll never know if those fears were founded. Either way, our steel sink will NEVER crack and that’s good enough for us.
Over the island, we hung 3 gorgeous Structural Glass Geo pendants by West Elm. Figuring out the correct number and size of the pendants was a real struggle but I think we got it right (our island is HUGE by the way–committing to a 10-foot island was a little scary but it’s really the central cooking, eating, and gathering point of the home). I wanted simple, clear glass pendants with a brass finish. I scooped up these bad boys on sale during Black Friday (last year!!).
One of the first pieces of furniture I bought for this house was the set of three bar stools. They are so comfortable and pretty and I love looking at them!
Deciding on appliances is hard. There are SO many options and SO many conflicting opinions and reviews on the internet about brands and models. We have been using our appliances since December of 2018 and so far we love all of them.
Our fridge is by LG. It is so huge and I feel like I’m walking into a spaceship when I open the French doors. It has a secret smaller door for you to grab a quick snack or drink, and it even beeps (in a soft pleasant way) if you accidentally leave the door open. Our microwave is by Ikea and is built into the tall pantry/cabinet. At $700, this thing was NOT cheap so hopefully it will last a very long time. We learned that larger, built-in microwaves are unfortunately very expensive but we didn’t have a lot of counter space along the wall so we knew it had to sit in the cabinet.
Our range is our favorite appliance. We opted for a larger, 6-burner range because we love to cook and knew we wanted it to be the center of the kitchen. It’s 6 inches wider than a standard oven, and man those six inches cost a LOT of money. Most 36-inch ovens were in the $4-6K range, which was WAY over our budget. We opted to go with Zline, a brand that makes range hoods. There weren’t hundreds of reviews on their range, giving the impression that it’s a relatively new product. But it was way more affordable so we took the risk and ordered it anyways. Our hood is also by Zline. You can read about how Jeremy installed it himself here.
We cooked our first thanksgiving meal for our parents in this kitchen last month, and I’m happy to report that the stove worked perfectly, the turkey was fully cooked, and the space functioned exactly as we had envisioned!
For those interested in costs, here’s a breakdown. We had budgeted a max of $30,000 for the kitchen, and we were extremely happy to come in below that number. We hired tradesmen to do the electric and plumbing work, and a team to install the kitchen cabinets. Besides that, we did all the rest of the labor ourselves (including demo, drywalling and painting the walls before the kitchen was installed, painting the cabinets, and tiling the backsplash), easily saving at least $10,000 in additional labor costs. I didn’t include the cost of floors because they were installed throughout the first floor of the house, nor the cost of removing the load bearing wall.
Plumber to move the water and gas lines
Electrician to move the wiring in the kitchen, living room, and dining room
When we started renovating our house last August, the basement was the last thing on our minds. We knew we wanted to eventually finish the basement and make it part of our living space, but it felt very unimportant in light of the massive undertaking the rest of the house required.
All this junk was waiting for us on day 1
In the first month of home-ownership, we needed to accomplish two things in the basement: remove the junk and get a new hot water heater. The previous owner left a lot of ‘stuff’ in the basement (including 8 mattresses and a bathtub full of expired and unused condoms), so a junk hauling company removed it all the day after we closed on the house.
We needed to replace the broken hot water heater in the first month of owning the house. At the time, we told the plumber to place the hot water heater in the same place as the old, one. THIS WAS OUR FIRST MISTAKE! We were overwhelmed by all the house-related decisions we were making in that first month and we didn’t think critically about the type or location of the hot water heater. In hindsight, we should have selected a tankless gas heater instead of the gigantic electric tank we went with, and we would have put it along the exterior wall instead of plop in the middle of the living space! At the time it felt like a huge feat just to get hot water working in the house so we patted ourselves on the back…and then we stopped thinking about the basement for many months.
Then…in January, a general contractor added plumbing for our two new bathrooms upstairs and connected it to the sewer line that’s accessible in our basement. They dug a huge hole in the floor, connected the pipe, and then covered the hole with cement. We started thinking a little be more about how we wanted to use the basement: where should the washer and dryer go? How big do we want the basement bathroom? When we removed the load bearing wall upstairs, we had to put two additional support columns in the basement which presented new challenges for the layout of the basement. We did some thinking and then continued to ignore this space while we finished the kitchen, the bonus room, and the master bathroom.
By the time summer rolled around, it was time to get serious about finishing the basement. It seemed like a huge undertaking since it’s about 600 square feet, including a staircase, the laundry, and a full bathroom. Before we could start making it look livable, we had to fix one huge glaring problem:
All the pipes and electric wires that feed up into the rest of the house were hanging below the ceiling joists. This prevented us from installing a ceiling in the basement because the pipes and wires ran across them. So Jeremy did something I didn’t think a homeowner could DIY: he moved all of the pipes and plumbing himself (except the gas line….for which we hired a plumber).
The old cast iron radiator pipes were hanging reaaaaal low
Jeremy diligently spent the better part of three weeks tinkering away in the basement while I provided emotional support. Well, I did help to remove the old cast iron boiler pipes, but that was it.
To remove the cast iron pipes from the now-defunct boiler system, we first tried to smash the elbows with a hammer and mallet, at the suggestion of our plumber. It was basically impossible, so then we used our reciprocating saw with a metal blade. It worked MUCH easier, but it was LOUD.
Then Jeremy cut the copper plumbing lines that were hanging below the joists and connected them to modern plumbing connections using the Shark Bite brand of plumbing materials. This man learned how to cut, move, and re-establish all the plumbing lines in our entire house by googling it and watching YouTube videos!
He was able to move all the plumbing up into the beam, and run it around the house along the beam in the basement. There was only one or two major hiccups when he forgot to glue two of the connectors together…which we discovered when we turned the water on and it sprayed all over the place. Ahhhh the joys of DIY remodeling.
After Jeremy moved all the plumbing around, we decided it was worth it to move the hot water heater from it’s unfortunate location in the middle of the living space to underneath the stairs. We emptied the hot water tank by hooking up a hose and sending the water outside to an outdoor drain. Then we cut the connection and literally swiveled and danced the hot water heater across the room until it was in place under the stairs. Jeremy hooked it back up to the water lines and voila–we had successfully hidden the hot water heater and reclaimed a large portion of the basement for ourselves!
In my next post, I’ll share how we framed out several walls in the basement and installed electric outlets and ceiling lights, and how we insulated the basement to protect from the cold and sounds from upstairs!
Today we reveal our master bathroom. It took over 8 months, but we finally made it. And It. Is. Glorious. All of our hard work paid off in a huge way, and I am proud to share the work that went into finishing the bathroom.
In June, we were finally ready to install the vanity and linen closet! We ordered ours from Ferguson Showrooms instead of buying a pre-fab one because we wanted it to fit the entire room from wall to wall. Basically we ended up placing three separate cabinets next to each other and then installing a countertop over it–just like you’d do in a kitchen. We went back and forth about the linen cabinet because it was not cheap but we wanted it to match the vanity and maximize as much space as possible for storage. We decided to go for it and purchased the linen closet and I REGRET NOTHING. Just look at it! It even has a pull-put laundry basket at the bottom. Form and function never looked better.
The vanity came in four pieces. We had to drill holes in the two sink cabinets for the hot and cold water lines, plus the drain. It took a lot of measuring, a few mistakes (which luckily will be hidden in the bottom of the back of the cabinet under the sink), and these drill bits to cut perfect holes in wood, but we did it!
To install the vanity, we had to address the challenge of the floor being slightly sloped in one direction. We thought we’d be able to shim them but it was proving too difficult. So our friend Chris came over and helped us to screw all three of the vanity cabinets together to create one long piece, then we lifted it over the hot and cold water pipes into place. Pure genius! Then we shimmed it to make it more level, and secured it in place by screwing the vanity to some studs
We hired a handyman cut some filler pieces to fill the gaps on the left edge of the linen cabinet and right edge of the vanity — it was just a few inches of blank space. When designing and installing kitchens and bathrooms, filler is your friend! It’s way better to fill an empty inch of space then for your cabinets to be too large to fit!
We went to countertop heaven in Maryland and selected a remnant of an all-white quartz counter. Hot tip: you can buy leftover pieces at great prices from other people’s countertop projects at marble and granite yards. And they are really fun to walk around! They installed the counter the next week, including these undermount sinks.
Ok, back to the shower. Jeremy installed this shower system by Delta. Technically the color is called Champagne Bronze but it’s a brushed brass look. I don’t love this product. Our kitchen faucet is also Champagne Bronze by Delta and they both suffer from showing very obvious water spots. I brush them clean about once a week with my towel but it’s still mildly annoying. Unfortunately there are not many affordable options for ANY fixtures in brushed brass, which is why I stuck with Delta. The pictures below show the fixtures how they normally appear with water spots, and after I cleaned them with a towel.
When we tiled the shower walls, we cut holes for the plumbing so Jeremy could attach the fixtures. Our general contractor had to come back to fix one of the roughed-in pipes but luckily we hadn’t closed up the wall behind the bathroom yet so it was easy enough. Then we tested both shower heads in a moment of truth and luckily the shower heads functioned just fine! I was sort of expecting a pipe to burst and flood our entire house, but thankfully we don’t live in a movie and that didn’t happen.
For the glass shower door, we got five quotes from glass companies that ranged from $1900 to $5000. The range of quotes we get is proof that it ALWAYS pays to get at least three quotes. We didn’t want to blow up our budget so we selected the cheapest option (they had many good reviews so we hoped for the best). And they did an EXCELLENT job! We ordered all the shower hardware in satin brass, to match all the hardware in the room.
Here’s a close-up shot of our perfect shower niche
Months earlier, Jeremy had the foresight to plan where the electric wires for the lights should go, so now that he was ready to install the lights, all he had to do was cut a hole and pull the wire through. It worked perfectly for three of them, but the fourth wire was stuck behind a stud (blarg! so close!). He did some adjusting and cut a few holes in the drywall and the stud, but eventually he pulled it through and installed all four lights.
We purchased our wall sconces from Amazon and they are beautiful. I actually bought 4 different styles and brands of light, and this one by far was the best in terms of quality, and at such a great price. I won’t go over the inner struggle on selecting a style, but suffice it to say that picking one light from an infinite pool of possibilities is difficult. I didn’t want everything to be too ‘matchy-matchy’ but I also wanted it to look a designer who knew what she was doing was involved. I think this one is juuuuuust right.
The mirrors are actually medicine cabinets! They are huge, so they fit tons of stuff, and they are pretty! The faucets are also from Amazon, by a lesser known brand called Symmons. Again, finding ANY faucet in brushed/satin brass was proving to be a small fortune, to the point where I was going to give up and get one in black. Until I stumbled upon this brand. They sell several brushed brass faucets at a fraction of the price of the established brands.
We decided not to install any window treatments, but rather frosted the bottom half of the window for privacy. And we luckily don’t have back-door neighbors! We painted the walls the same color as our hall bath, Sleigh Bells by BM, and it brings some much needed color to an otherwise black, white, and gray room.
Our bathroom is everything I hoped it would be. It was so difficult making all of the design choices. I was nervous that it would look wrong, or things wouldn’t match, or it would look like someone who didn’t know how to design a bathroom obviously did this one. But it looks amazing and I couldn’t be happier. Jeremy did so much work to do all the final tasks and finishing touches. I am so lucky that he knows how to AND enjoys doing both plumbing and electric work!
For reference, this bathroom cost us just over $11,000 in materials, and we easily saved over $20,000 in labor costs by doing it ourselves. Purchasing slowly over the course of eight months definitely helped to soften the blow of such expensive materials. We are hoping that the quality of the materials plus the addition of a new sweet-ass, baller master bathroom will increase the value of our home to make it worth it. But even if it doesn’t, my love for this room and the amount of happiness I feel when I’m in it is worth every penny.
Somehow an entire year has passed since we closed on the house and started the most challenging, rewarding, and time-consuming undertaking of our lives. We haven’t posted on the blog in a while because frankly, we are just too busy working on the house! But the good news is we see the end in sight. We finished our master bathroom (a reveal post is coming up shortly), and we’ve started doing a TON of work on the basement. But today I’m going to pause and think about all that we’ve learned in case anyone reading this is thinking about doing a similar DIY home renovation.
So what have we learned? In no particular order:
Nothing is a simple or fast as we think it will be. But things do get easier over time as we apply new skills over and over. For example, I remember the first time we installed drywall, I was so intimidated that it would be hard, or it would look bad, or we wouldn’t figure out how to do it. Fast forward, after installing it in many, many, many rooms, we can now install drywall in our sleep. We estimate how long a new task will take after googling it and watching a bunch of how-to videos. I usually over-estimate the amount of time it’ll take and Jeremy usually under-estimates it. We faced so many time-consuming delays that we’ve learned to roll with the punches and have a flexible timeline.
Buy all the tools. We started this project with just a few hammers and one lil baby drill. Every time we started on a new task or room, we ended up buying a new tool. Some tools can be rented, but everything is so cheap that buying just made more sense. Keeping the tools organized has been a struggle so we make time about once a month to go around the house, gather all the tools, and organize them into boxes by category. We bought:
A miter saw, a reciprocating saw, an oscillating saw, and a circular saw
A random orbital sander
A nail gun compressor with two different types of guns
A gun powder actuated nail gun (to drive nails into concrete floors)
A drill-driver, a hammer drill, and an impact driver drill (all for different uses)
A ton of drywall tools
A ton of painting tools like brushes, rollers, poles, drop clothes, etc.
And so much more! The point is, don’t be afraid to buy a new tool and learn how to use it.
Youtube and google are everything. We have learned how to do 95% of our home renovation tasks by googling it. We literally watch videos and read how-to instructions online before buying the tools and taking it on ourselves. A lot of people assume because Jeremy is an engineer and a male that he has done this type of work before. But the truth is, neither of us have done any sort of home renovation work before. Jeremy has always been handy and confident with tools (he could always fix any broken appliance), but we are BOTH learning as we go. Jeremy has a natural inclination for learning how stuff works and why certain methods are best. And I have a natural inclination for reading the instructions. So if you think you can’t do something to fix up your house, just tell yourself that you don’t know how to do it yet, google it, and then try it out. We figure that materials cost 1/3 of a traditional home renovation, while labor costs about 2/3 the total price. We have saved close to $100,000 by doing almost all the work ourselves. Which brings me to my next point.
Always get a ton of quotes!! We hired professional help for several aspects of the renovation that we just couldn’t do ourselves. Namely: replacing the roof; installing a brand new HVAC system for the first time; updating the electric box; moving the pluming around in our kitchen; removing and replacing the original gas line in the basement; installing the glass wall in our shower; adding rough-in plumbing and electrical for two new bathrooms; and removing a load-bearing wall. The range of prices that we get quoted are truly mind-boggling. For example, quotes for the glass wall in our shower ranged from $1,900 to $5,500!! For the exact same product! The basement gas line also got an insane range of quotes–from $950 to $10,000!! How is that even legal? It always pays to get at least three quotes, but five is better.
Taking on a full gut renovation is a LOT OF WORK. We did not realize when we committed to this project just how much work we were taking on ourselves. It has really changed our lives in a profound way–we have way less free time to socialize or travel, and we feel that we should be working on the house every evening and weekend. After a year of living like this, we are ready for our lives to go back to normal soon. We always have the option to hire help, but every time we consider the costs and benefits of hiring someone, we decide to keep slugging along at our own pace. This home is a huge investment for us, and we are trying to keep as much money in our pockets as possible to make it worthwhile. A single day of work by a handymen costs around $500! One potential benefit from doing it all ourselves is we can start investing in properties that need more work–because now we can do the work on our own. This past year has been one long apprenticeship in home renovation/construction, and we will NEVER need to hire a handyman again.
Historic homes deserve love. Our home is 100 years old and luckily had many gorgeous original features intact. We were very careful to keep as many of them as possible, even though restoring them has proven to be incredibly time consuming. For example, all the window and door trim and the staircase banister and railing are original gorgeous solid wood. It took a long time to strip, sand, and paint or stain them back to their glory, but it was so worth it. I’m currently in the midst of restoring all our interior solid wood doors (including removing layers of paint from the hinges and knobs) and let me tell you–its a TON of work. But they are going to last for another 100 years and hopefully bring joy to many people who will live in this house.
Home renovations are dirty, unorganized, and chaotic. Our house still doesn’t feel like our dream home, because it’s full of piles of tools and old doors, an ugly work table and dirty chairs that the previous owner left behind. And honestly, it is always filling with more dust no matter how much I vacuum. Home renovations produce insane amounts of dust and dirt–especially when you demolish plaster walls. The one piece of advice I wish I had known to follow was to cover all our possessions being stored in the basement in huge plastic sheets. We did not, and as a result we had to dust and vacuum every single thing we owned before moving it upstairs as the bedrooms and kitchen were ready to be moved into. Also we haven’t had time to fully unpack and move into our master closet, even though it’s been done for months! There just hasn’t been time to get organized and decide where we want things to permanently live in our house, so for now it’s just an unorganized mess. You have to be able to embrace the chaos during a DIY home renovation. For example, we had to remove and re-paint 4 cabinet doors in the kitchen due to a shitty paint job, but then the summer was too hot and humid to spray them outside. So we just didn’t have cabinet doors for about 3 months. In conclusion, your house will not look like the big reveal at the end of an HGTV show for a looooooong time. But it’s a process and each day we see progress.
The most work goes into planning and prepping, which is not satisfying at all. The planning part is mental, and includes looking at the existing space and thinking about what the new room will look like, what we will use the space for, and any structural things currently in place like pipes, wires, supporting walls, etc. The prepping part is physical–it includes removing or demolishing any old materials, pipes, wires, and cleaning off or prepping any surfaces for new building materials. Actually installing and finishing floors, walls, ceilings is quite easy once you get the hang of it. The planning and prepping don’t come with the satisfying feeling of making progress, but they are both vital steps!
My measurements were PERFECT
open column framing with newly wired switches and outlets
There are a TON more that I could add but I’ll stop here.
It has been a whirlwind of a year. When I go back and read some of our earliest posts, I genuinely can’t remember everything we’ve already put into this house. It almost feels like childbirth–I’ve just blocked out the difficult parts so that I can keep on going.
Up next, we plan to finish our basement. It was a scary mess when we bought the house, but we plan to add a ceiling and some walls, paint some of the brick walls, and add a floor. Jeremy has spent so many hours removing or moving the pipes and electric wires so that we can close up the ceiling, and we are almost ready to do it!
But we hope to be finished with the basement by November, and then we can start the fun part–decorating!! We don’t have much furniture of our own in the house besides Jeremy’s loved and hated couch, but we are very pleased to announce that we have found it’s replacement! Once we get the couch, I’m ready to furnish the rest of the living room. I already have a master plan in my heart, but it’ll take a while to make it a reality. Like I said, this is not like an HGTV show with a hard deadline and a big reveal, but rather a slow evolution. In any case, we are ready to take on the last interior space in the basement, and then we will move on to the exterior!
The smallest bedroom is complete! We had waited until all the other rooms upstairs were finished before starting to work on this room for a few reasons. First, it was our storage room for tools, supplies, and furniture while we worked on the master bathroom, master bedroom + closet, and medium-sized bedroom. The plumbing to the new master bathroom shares a wall with this room so we waited until the shower was finished to close the wall up. Also we knew it would be the “easiest” room to finish since it was technically the best room in the house when we bought it 10 months ago! This is what it looked like the day we bought the house:
In December of last year, we demolished the original (and tiny!) closet in the corner of the room with the intention of putting in a larger closet. The house suffers from lack of storage space so we decided to do an IKEA hack and create a large ‘built-in’ closet using their PAX closet system. After demo-ing the old closet, we patched up some of the wall that would be exposed. Then….we shut the door and didn’t do anything in this room for half a year.
Honestly the door to this room had been closed for so long I had forgotten what it looked like in there. But after we finished tiling the master bathroom and tested the shower (it worked!!), we were ready to close the wall and finish this small bedroom. After we moved all the crap we were storing in there out, I realized how big it felt! Yes there’s only one window but this room has potential to be a nice sized bedroom or home office.
This room originally had a door to the bonus room (now it’s the master bathroom), so we framed it out and covered with drywall. Jeremy is such an expert at drywalling and compounding that he closed up this wall in one day!
He also easily closed up the HVAC duct with studs and drywall. He really is unstoppable.
Jeremy also added two more outlets to this room, applying his brick-chiseling skills that he learned downstairs. The room originally had only one outlet so this was a must!
We primed and painted the walls the color Metropolitan by Benjamin Moore (and a huge thank you to Elizabeth for helping me paint the room!!). It is their 2019 color of the year and I am so fatigued of trying to figure out color palates at this point that I figured the best color of the year would work for us! As a contrast, we painted the built in IKEA closet Hale Navy. Jeremy made it look built in by propping it up on a platform and installing baseboard trim around the base. In fact, he cut and installed baseboard trim around the entire room. Again, he is UNSTOPPABLE.
We had removed the window trim last year and put it in the basement for safe keeping. Now we were finally ready to sand it down, re-install, and paint it.
Jeremy replaced the sad dangling light bulb with this beautiful, simple light fixture I found on Amazon for $140. I love it so much….and it brings much needed light into the room! We opted not to install a ceiling fan because the room is pretty narrow and there wasn’t enough space. Will we regret this decision? Only time will tell!
One of the most exciting things we did was install the interior closet organizers. Last year, we demolished the closets in all three of the bedrooms in our house, plus there is no closet of any kind on the main floor of the house. Needless to say, I am PUMPED to now have TWO whole functioning closets in our home! The last thing to do in this room is install crown molding on the top of the closet to hide that ugly patched ceiling, so STAY TUNED!
We got this beautiful bed from a neighbor who was giving it away for free! I couldn’t believe our luck when I saw it posted on our neighborhood freecyle page. It is GORGEOUS and the right size for our mattress. Jeremy’s parents were visiting last weekend so luckily they helped us pick it up and put it together.
And just like that, the smallest bedroom is complete! We still need to install curtains and outlet/lightswitch cover plates, but we had our first guests stay overnight last weekend and they slept like royalty!
You’ve already seen how we tiled the floor in the master bathroom. The next and more intimidating task was to tackle the walk-in shower. We needed to tile the walls, the “curb” that you step over to get into the shower, the shampoo bottle niche and the floor. We were confident about tiling the walls but the niche and the floor seemed a bit more challenging. Read on to see how we did.
We screwed a 2×4 into the wall to serve as a flat base for the first row of tiles to rest on. The we installed a white metal edging piece (which is really just to make the edge of the tile look finished). Then we started installing the first row of tiles, using spacers to keep them evenly spaced. I’m glad we used the 2×4 as a base because gravity definitely would have pulled them downward before the thinset had a chance to dry and adhere fully to the wall.
We finished almost one entire wall on the first night. Jeremy used special drill bits to drill holes in the tile for the shower head and handles. Most of the tiles were full pieces (thank god!) but as we got toward the inside corner we knew we’d have to cut some to fit. We got into a nice flow where I would measure and Jeremy would cut the tile, then I would install it. I used painter’s tape to keep some of the tiles from sliding around (gravity is strong!).
On the second day, we finished the top of the first wall and started on the wall with the niche. It was easy enough but we waited until the third day to tackle the niche.
By the third day, we were ready to tackle the hardest part of the tiling project: the niche!! Tiling the niche is much harder because of all the 90-degree angles. Ours has three separate compartments which means even more corners to deal with. Jeremy used the tile saw to cut the edges of the tiles at a 45-degree angle so they would come together to form a perfect right angle. You can see what I mean in this photo:
We had 12 corners in total, so he had to do a LOT of those tricky cuts. We purchased a darker gray tile (for some contrast) with a bullnose edge for the walls of the niche from The Tile Shop in Tenlytown. That store has beautiful tile but it’s quite expensive, so we only go there for hard-to-find finishing pieces like bullnose. It took a long time to install the sides of the niche but we were very pleased with our progress, despite the slow down!
On day 4, we were ready to tile the inside flat wall of the niche with sheets of mosaic tile. We purchased these beauties from Floor and Decor for $10 per square foot. The pattern comes attached to a mesh sheet to allow for easier application, but we still needed to use the tile saw to cut it exactly to size. To get the edges to look nice and clean, Jeremy had to cut tiny pieces for us to fit into place, almost like a puzzle. And it was challenging–we had to throw away our first attempt because it was about half an inch too small. But eventually we got it right for all three sections of the niche and were so happy. UNTIL I LOOKED AT THIS PHOTO.
Turns out, we accidentally cut and installed the pattern facing the wrong direction on the bottom section. UGH. Luckily we realized this mistake before the thinset dried, so we sadly pulled the tile off the wall and went to bed feeling silly and defeated.
The next day, Jeremy correctly cut the last bit of mosaic tile and I installed it. we were FINALLY done with the hardest part of this project. Jeremy quickly moved on to cutting and placing all the mosaic tiles for the floor, and we both worked to install it on the shower floor. We were careful to install it following the subtle slope toward the center drain. We also installed tile on the sides of the curb.
The next day, we installed the curb itself. We bought these solid white marble curbs from Floor and Decor. We wanted to do a miter cut at 45-degrees but we decided against it because of how challenging that type of cut is. We went with a square edge instead, and once it’s grouted, caulked, and the glass wall is installed I don’t think anyone will notice the lack of miter cut at the corner.
I don’t love how dark gray the shower walls turned out. I was expecting it to look a little more white then they turned out to be. We actually tried to buy a different tile from Home Depot but they have horrible quality control and we gave up on that option for annoying reasons I won’t go into. When I saw the above photo I felt really annoyed at how gray the tiles look. Sigh….for our next master bathroom maybe I’ll be more thoughtful about the shades of carrara marble.
The next day, Jeremy sealed the marble with a liquid sealer. After 24 hours, we were ready to grout! It took us about 3 hours to grout the entire room over 2 days. Grouting is easy but a little messy. Jeremy and I got into what I like to call “teamwork magic” mode, where he applied and grout and I wiped away the excess with a sponge. It allowed us to keep moving across the room and waste little time. We were like a well-oiled grouting machine! When we were finished, the shower looked much better! The white grout nicely contrasted the gray tiles and even pulled out some of the white undertones. And the grout made the niche and shower floor look AMAZING.
So that’s it for now! Our vanity is being delivered next week (WOO HOO) and we are getting a bunch of quotes for the glass shower door/wall. While we wait, we are going to switch gears and focus on finishing the new tiny powder room on the first floor.
The first step was for Jeremy to install the heated floor pad. I’ll let him tell you how he did it in his very first GUEST APPEARANCE on this blog! Read on to hear it from his perspective:
I watched many videos about how to install the heated floor and it seemed simple enough: just lay it down and wire it up. And it really was that easy. For example, laying the mesh has a lot of instructions: don’t put it within 6 inches of a toilet ring, don’t put it under heavy/permanent objects (like a vanity), etc. etc. One thing I tried really hard to figure out was where to put the heating element so when you’re using the toilet, your feet are nice and toasty! I even squatted over the toilet area just to see where my feet would land.
After laying out the mat, the instructions recommend chipping out the floor to fit the larger wires, such as the temperature senor. This was easy enough with a screwdriver and hammer.
The sticky tape that came with the mat did not actually stick to the floor so I used a glue gun instead (also recommended in the instructions) so it won’t move when I apply the thinset.
It’s very important to remember during installation to NOT CUT THE METAL WIRE! If the wire is too long for your room, you need to use it anyway. The product comes in different sizes, so it’s important to purchase the correct size for your room. If you overbuy, you’ll have a lot of leftover wire to run around. In our case, it was only 3-4 feet and I just ran it along the shower.
I also used this nifty gadget that the manufacturer of the heated floor pad makes. It’s a $25 simple plastic device that you connect to the heated floor wiring. It makes a very loud noise if you accidentally cut a wire during installation. Basically it screams if the electric current is interrupted in any way, letting you know that you’re screwed! It’s important because if you damage the heating element as you’re installing it or tiling over it, and you don’t know about it, you won’t know it’s broken until the tile has all been installed…and then you’re just out of luck.
After the heated floor pad was installed, it was time to wire it to the thermostat to test it out. There are a LOT of wires and it was daunting, but they all have their place. There are 3 from the circuit breaker, 3 from the floor and 2 for the temperature sensor. I hooked it all up, turned on the circuit breaker and held my breath–hoping it would work! The thermostat first read the floor at 67 degrees so I cranked it up to 80. Soon enough, it was heating up to 72 degrees and I could feel the floor wasn’t cold anymore. It’s been off ever since because the instructions say to wait 4-6 weeks after the tiles are installed to use it. (Something to do with messing up the curing of the thinset and grout….something I do NOT want to mess with).
THANK YOU JEREMY FOR YOUR FIRST EVER POST!! For those of you interested in Jeremy’s daily home renovation adventures, please follow us on Instagram @usagainstthehouse. I just gave Jeremy the password to our account and he is constantly posting to Instagram stories. Now back to installing the floor tile….
After the heated floor pad was down, it was time to install the floor tile! We selected 6” x 12” bianco carrera marble tile, and decided on a 90-degree angle herringbone pattern (which is slightly easier than the pattern we followed for the kitchen backsplash–it requires way fewer cuts in the tile).
We mixed the thinset mortar in a bucket and got to work. Being careful not to disrupt the heated floor mat, I installed the tiles on the floor. While I laid the full pieces of tile, Jeremy cut all the pieces that go around the edge of the room. We purchased a wet tile saw from Amazon to get the job done. It was the least expensive saw large enough to cut through a 12” tile on the diagonal. So far it’s worked well with our thick marble tiles.
By the end of our first night laying tile (about 2 hours of work total), we had completing a quarter of the room. By the second day, we were already much faster and better at cutting and installing the tile, and completed another quarter of the room. OR SO WE THOUGHT!
On the third day, I noticed that some of the tiles I laid on day 2 were not laying completely flat next to each other, with one or two corners popping up. This problem is called “lippage” and basically presents a permanent toe-stubbing hazard if left uncorrected. I was very frustrated to pull up the tile and try again, but that’s what we had to do! Jeremy pried off three pieces of tile and then we chipped away the thinset below to create a newly flat surface, then re-installed the tiles. Luckily, Elizabeth had volunteered to help on the third day so we got past this speedbump pretty quickly, then moved on to install more of the floor.
Predicting that we would face the same lippage problem, I purchased this tile-leveling system on the third day of installation. And it works like a charm! It seriously helps to prevent lippage and keep the floor completely flat and toe-stub free. Oh how I wish I could turn back time and start the project with these incredible little devices! Every time we laid a new tile down using the levelers, I cried out in joy at how perfectly flat and smooth they were next to their neighboring tile.
You can see the tile leveling system in action here:
You can watch our progress over four days here:
This is what the room looks like now. Jeremy sealed the marble yesterday so it won’t easily stain. The only thing left to do is grout and then our vanity can be delivered and installed!!
A few weeks ago, we found beautiful white tiles at a store in Alexandria and I knew they were meant for our kitchen backsplash. So one Sunday, we spent all day installing the tile. The tiles are larger than a classic subway tile and have a gorgeous subtle texture to them. We considered two different patterns: herringbone or subway
Thank god Jeremy had the foresight to double check that the range hood fit between the two cabinets before we started. The hood is 41 inches wide and space between the two wall cabinets was supposed to be 42 inches. We lifted the hood into place and GUESS WHAT!? It didn’t fit! While I had a panic attack, Jeremy used his brain and discovered that the left cabinet had about half an inch of room left so he simply slid it over some more. CRISIS AVERTED, let’s move on.
Before we could start the project, Jeremy had to install an outlet that the range hood will be plugged into. We had paid an electrician to “rough in” the wiring a few months ago, so yesterday Jeremy quickly installed the outlet in its place that will be hidden behind the hood.
We decided to go with a herringbone pattern instead of subway tile pattern even though subway tile is much easier and faster to install. We watched a bunch of videos online about how to install tile in a herringbone pattern and then we started to try it ourselves. The first step was to lay out all the tiles on a flat surface in the exact size and pattern we wanted them on the wall. I laid out a drop cloth to protect the floor from scratches, then started laying out the tile one by one, with 1/8-inch spacers between.
After I laid enough out, I taped and marked the edges of the wall where I’d need to make cuts. Then I used a simple tile cutter we bought at the hardware store to score and cut each tile. This tool is good for simple jobs and thin tiles, and I only accidentally broke 10 tiles the entire day.
While I cut all the edges of the tiles, Jeremy was tasked with making the very difficult 90-degree cuts in four pieces of tile. This task is almost impossible for reasons I won’t get into, but suffice it to say Jeremy spent hours trying and only managed to complete two out of the four cuts we needed. Oh well, we decided to move on and just call a handyman to come over with a more advanced tile cutter to make the last few cuts we needed.
To start installing the tiles, we smeared pre-mixed thinset onto the wall using a notched trowel. HOT TIP: If you want to install your own backsplash, be sure to pick the correct color thinset! Thinset mortar comes in either gray or white and the color only matters if you want white grout lines. We selected white thinset for this reason.
We also smeared a thin layer of thinset onto the back of each tile (which is deliciously called “back-buttering” in the industry) and then stuck each tile into place on the wall. We tried to use spacers but gravity kept winning and they kept falling to the ground. We managed to stick some spacers in but definitely not as many as we probably should have.
We of course ran into some problems during installation (namely some of the pre-cut tile didn’t perfectly fit along the ceiling or walls) but we were able to quickly cut new tile pieces that fit better and it all worked out. The entire project took us about 9 hours, including the freak-out about the range hood, installing the outlet, and spending a lot of time on those difficult right-angle cuts. If I were to do the project again, I would not pre-cut ALL the tiles, but rather just one of the straight edges. This is because some of my cuts were a 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch wrong, which could be avoided by just measuring once they are on the wall.
A few days later, after our handyman cut the last few tricky pieces, we grouted in Brilliant White and then BOOM our backsplash was finished!
Or so we thought…there was a slight haze left of the tiles from the grout, so Jeremy used grout haze remover (because there’s a product for everything), and wiped each tile clean. Then he applied a thin line of white caulk on the edges of the backsplash, where the tiles meet the cabinets and countertop.
Because we had tried to squeeze the range hood into place when the cabinets were too close together, I had to do some paint touchups where we had scratched the cabinets. The thinset and grout also left ugly marks on our cabinets, so if you plan to do your own backsplash, protect your cabinets with painters tape! I wish we had.
Then we moved on to install the range hood. Jeremy cut a hole through the ceiling drywall and pulled the duct through. He installed the support screws directly in the tile for the hood to sit on. Then Elizabeth came over and helped up lift the hood into place. Jeremy screwed a third screw directly through the back side of the hood (just for extra support because why not?). Then he connected the duct and tested it out! It worked, but made an annoying rattling sound when he turned it on. He fiddled around with some screws and thankfully it stopped making that strange noise.
The last step was putting the chimney and crown molding over the duct and VOILA! We have a fully functioning range hood! It’s SO big and it really pulls the kitchen together. We love it. Now that ACTUAL last step to completing the kitchen is to paint those last two dastardly cabinet doors.
One of the first “difficult tasks” we did for our home renovation back in AUGUST of last year was the frame out the walls for our walk-in master closet. Well it’s been eight long months of living in complete disorganized chaos, but we are FINALLY ready to finish our master closet and put our stuff away. Our clothing has been strewn about our master bedroom in boxes or on temporary hangers since we moved into the house in December. It has not been fun living this way.
To finish the walk-in closet, Jeremy started by focusing on the interior walls. He applied compound and then sanded the walls smooth . He is now a super professional and can do drywalling and compounding in his sleep, so this task was pretty easy for him. After Jeremy finished sanding the walls inside the closet (I sealed him and the dust inside), I painted the walls Tundra (the same color as the bedroom).
We considered many different closet systems. The problem challenge with our bedroom that we don’t have room for ANY dressers in the room, so we need to fit all of our clothing into the closet, including hanging clothes AND folded/dresser clothing. We needed to find a system that maximized every square inch of available space in the closet, wasn’t too expensive, but also didn’t look or feel too cheap. We looked high and low and finally settled on Home Depot’s ClosetMaid system (due to price and quality).
We bought a few pieces online as a sample and we decided to go for it! It all arrived in the mail and we put it together (it was easier than Ikea furniture but still very time consuming). We anchored the dressers to the walls and put up the brackets and shelving. One of the walls is brick so Jeremy used our heavy duty hammer drill to screw things into that wall.
After the rest of the items arrived in the mail, Jeremy quickly and expertly installed the remaining shelves and rods while I was at work, and I came home yesterday to this AMAZING master closet!!
There’s space for short and long hanging clothes, plus all of the drawers we will need to replace our dressers. I don’t know if it will fit everything we own, but it’s still so great and exactly what we were hoping for!