Before we left for our honeymoon, we spent a weekend putting up the walls in the master bathroom. Our friend Elizabeth came over and we worked like a well-oiled machine to cut and install the greenboard (it’s just like drywall but meant for bathrooms) all over the room. While not very technically difficult, the task is certainly physically grueling, and we were exhausted by the time we were finished! But we knew we’d come back from our wedding and honeymoon ready to FINISH THIS HOUSE!!
Just kidding, at times it feels like we will never finish the house…but at least we are motivated to finish our master suite! This month our plan is to complete our walk-in closet and move forward with the master bathroom.
The day we returned from Costa Rica, we hit the ground running. We went to an AMAZING interiors store called Floor and Decor in Alexandria, Virginia. HOLY COW HOW DID WE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS STORE BEFORE NOW!??! I am actually legitimately mad that we purchased so many of our materials for the house elsewhere, because this store is MAGICAL. They have all types of flooring and tile materials at incredible prices. They are not paying me to say this, but I want to shout it from the rooftops!
Ok, back to our master suite…this week we needed to finalize our design choices for the bathroom and buy the tile. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with baited breath on our selection of tile for the master bathroom and we finally settled on….REAL MARBLE!! I didn’t want the master suite to be a clone of the hall bathroom but we truly love our other bathroom, so we decided to go with a similar look.
Floor and Decor has an obscene amount of marble tile sizes, shapes, and patterns to choose from. We settled on a combination of three different tiles to add some visual interest to our bathroom. It was so hard to make a final decision because it feels so FINAL (because that’s what it is), but after three hours and a lot of different combos, we bought about $2,000 worth of tiles (for a bathroom that’s 9′ x 10′). We had rented a tiny Honda Civic and it was riding loooooow to the ground on our way home from the store due to all the weight (did I mention how fun home renovations are without a car?).
But before we can install the tile, we had to paint the entire room (le sigh). So this past weekend, we kicked it into overdrive to compound the seams in the walls, sand the walls flat, and paint the entire room. With the incredible help from our friend Alan, we applied three coats of compound on Saturday. To speed up the drying process between rounds of compounding, we cranked up the heat and turned on all the space heaters and dehumidifiers we could find.
Then on Sunday, Jeremy single-handedly sanded all the bumpy compound to a flat and smooth surface and vacuumed the entire room. I sealed him into the room so no dust would enter the other rooms.
Then our very helpful friend Chris came over and we primed and painted the entire room!
We decided to paint the room the same color as the other bathroom, Sleigh Bells by Benjamin Moore. It’s basically a greige that leans heavily toward green/blue. It looks pretty underwhelming right now, but once we have our vanity and tiles and trim it’ll look AHMAZING.
We even found time to tag the wall behind the vanity…for posterity.
The entire weekend was a huge amount of work but now we are ready to tackle the truly intimidating next step of installing the marble floor, walls, and shower floor. We got several quotes around $2,500 for the labor alone, so we figure should try to do it ourselves first.
I’m back with part 2 of the bonus room renovation. The last post ended as we were priming the walls. I forgot to mention that Jeremy’s parents came over and helped us to close in the side of the beam facing the kitchen. Judy even screwed in some drywall! Way to go, Judy!
Finally we were ready to paint the room! We selected a dark color and I definitely don’t love it. I wanted a dark mauve but its leaning heavily toward purple. I also don’t know how I feel about keeping the brick columns white versus painted. Either way, we don’t really have the time or desire to re-paint this room, so we will leave it this way for now.
Jeremy then sanded down the original window trim and spray painted them with primer. The spray paint version of primer worked well for this task.
Then our friend David came over and helped us install the window trim. We love any opportunity to use our nail gun, and David expertly nailed those trim pieces into place!
Re-installing original window trim isn’t too hard if you are patient and very careful to put the pieces back in the correct order. After nailing them in place, we filled the nail holes and painted them Super White by Benjamin Moore.
Next, Jeremy cut and installed the baseboard trim. Unfortunately we ran out of baseboard trim and are waiting to purchase additional pieces until we need it for other rooms. For now, the space is partially finished and feeling more like a home every day (especially after we removed the floor covering…suddenly it looked like a nice room!)
So here it is….the almost completed sun-filled bonus room! We still need to finish installing the baseboard trim, switch out the light fixture, and MAYBEEEEE repaint the walls, but for now the room has truly transformed!
The bonus room in the rear of our house faces out to the back yard. I envision that one day, the space could be used as a relaxing reading corner with lounging furniture and low book cases, or maybe a sun-filled breakfast nook. For the last few months, it’s looked like a war zone. This is what it looked like the day we bought our home:
Last fall, we hired a company to remove the load-bearing brick wall to open this space up to the rest of the house. We had the original old windows replaced. Then we demolished the remaining walls and ceiling, ripping out the plaster and lathe to reveal the studs behind the walls. And guess what we found? Two pretty cool brick columns hiding behind some hideous wall paneling.
We put up sheets of insulation between the studs for temperature control, since these walls are external, and boy, did we feel the cold on the especially windy days in early February! It literally blew into our house before we put up the insulation. Jeremy spent countless hours examining every square inch of this room looking for cold air drafts, and plugging them up with spray foam insulation.
We hired a general contractor to rough in the plumbing and electrical for the powder room (because we are certainly not qualified to install new plumbing and sewage lines). We only paid them to do the framing and behind-the-wall plumbing and electric wiring, then we would “finish” the rooms ourselves to save money.
The contractor originally made the powder room even smaller than this, which they had to re-do because no human being could comfortably use the toilet. We trusted them to build the room to code but they made it WAY too small. That’s why you should always double check their work and don’t assume they have your needs in mind. TRUST NO CONTRACTOR!
In late January, the entire space was finally ready for us to close it up! The first step was installing drywall. One day when the weather was nice, Home Depot delivered 21 pieces of drywall to our back yard. We knew we needed nice weather on this day because they don’t deliver it inside.
For the next nine straight hours, Jeremy and I were in full-on BEAST MODE. Our goal was to install drywall in our entire bonus room and powder room. This included the ceiling, the beam, and around the windows. I am really proud to report that we are supreme drywall experts at this point, after our drywall adventures over the last six months (read more about it here, here, and here). We honestly kicked ass the entire day. Our approach was simple: measure inside, cut the drywall outside without moving it from where Home Depot dropped it, then walk it inside and install it. Jeremy and I worked in shifts–he measured inside while I cut the drywall outside, then we switched places. It was straight up teamwork MAGIC.
At one point I realized I was lifting and moving around our heavy ladder, which I normally can’t lift and make Jeremy move around because I’m a weakling. There was so much adrenaline pumping through my body from the sheer productivity of it all, that I found the strength to get through the day with ease!
We were not able to finish drywalling the entire space, but we got damn close. Jeremy finished installing the remaining pieces over the next few days while I was at work (thanks, boo). Unfortunately since we didn’t finish before the sun set, we had to haul 11 whole pieces of drywall inside. It was NOT my favorite part of the day.
Jeremy insisted he could fit one single piece of drywall into the powder room and he proved me wrong…though it was a tight fit!
After the drywall was up, it was time to compound! We applied three layers of compound over the screw holes and seams. The most important thing we learned finishing this room is the value of using pre-mixed, 24-hour drying compound as the final topcoat. It is a LIFESAVER and so much easier to sand flat and smooth compared to the 90-minute or 20-minute stuff.
Another miracle tool we discovered is a drywall sanding screen, which is 5,000 times more effective than normal sandpaper.
The next step was dealing with the brick columns. Jeremy caulked the gap between the drywall and the brick, which was way easier than I expected it to be!
Then we had to seal in the brick columns. The old cement between the bricks was crumbling pretty badly, so we sealed the whole thing with two coats DryLok (meant for waterproofing basement walls). They look so much better already!
Then it was time to prime and paint.
We decided to paint this room a dark color. As I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to paint our entire house rich dark tones, but we ended up compromising on a lot of the rooms. This room has four huge windows with tons of natural light, so I’m sneaking the dark walls into this space.
I will will post a final reveal of the bonus room in a few weeks, after we restore and re-install the window trim, replace the back door, and install the lighting and powder room fixtures!
We are very close to finishing our kitchen. One of the last steps was to close the opening above the top of the wall cabinets.
Since we are our own general contractor, we did not plan for how or when to close that awkward gap above the cabinets. We hired a company to install the cabinets. We hired a plumber to move the piping for the sink and range. We figured we would close that gap above the cabinets eventually. Well, the time has come!
Last month, we hired a contractor to rough-in the framing, plumbing, and electric for a powder room adjacent to the kitchen. He also screwed stud framing above the cabinets for us to finish with drywall.
Jeremy and his dad removed the two wall cabinets and cut and screwed the drywall into the studs. Then we compounded all the seams and installed corner bead on the corners (exactly like the other wall).
The next step is my least favorite. We sanded down the compound so it was smooth. We covered everything in plastic but of course the compound dust still went EVERYWHERE so we had to clean the whole first floor after this step.
Then we painted the new bump-out Simply White by Benjamin Moore. Finally, Jeremy and our friend Logan put the cabinets back after a brief struggle getting them on their tracks!
And just like that, the kitchen is one step closer to being complete! The last three tasks are to tile the backsplash, install the range hood, and paint those last two cursed cabinet doors. And don’t worry, we have the hood duct hiding above the new drywall and ready to attach to our range hood, directly above the stove.
Today I am very pleased to share our transformed bathroom!
Before we moved into the house, we knew we HAD to remodel the upstairs bathroom. It was old and gross and sad and no one wanted to take a shower in that tub (partially because it was covered in duct tape–which is a bad omen–and partially because it hadn’t been cleaned in several years). We had every intention of doing it all ourselves, but once we realized how long it would take for us to learn and do it all, the decision to hire a handyman seemed like the best option. This was back in October before we lived in the house so time was of the essence! Our handyman was able to do the bulk of the work over two weeks, while we worked on the rest of the house.
When we purchased the house, the bathroom had a tub, a toilet, and a small pedestal sink. We wanted to swap the location of the sink and the toilet to make more room for a larger vanity, while keeping the bathtub where it was. After reflecting on the cost of moving plumbing around, we decided not to change the location of any of the fixtures, which limited how much “design” went into this renovation. We literally ripped out everything and replaced all the fixtures and materials with new fresh updates. Since the house is so old, the bathroom is really tiny and leaves very little space for modern fixtures like elongated toilets or vanities with under-sink storage cabinets.
Bathtub: Eventually we plan to build a master bath in the back of the house, but for now this will be the only bathroom. And one day it will probably be used by dozens of dogs kids so we definitely needed to keep the tub. We were worried that the bathtub was smaller than the standard 30” x 60” size sold in stores. The nasty bathtub measured only 28” X 56.” It was very hard to find smaller bathtubs to fit that space. During demo, we happily discovered that our tub WAS a standard size after all! Over the years, previous owners had installed new tile on top of older tile, essentially squeezing in the three walls around the tub. Our handyman ‘excavated’ the three layers of tile to reveal a standard bathtub size, which made it SO EASY to find a replacement. Not so easy was hauling the old, original tub outside to the dumpster–it was cast iron and easily weighed over 300 pounds. Needless to say I did not participate in that activity.
We went with this tub that I refer to as “pregnant” because it has a curved edge to allow for more soaking room. We also installed a curved shower rod to make the shower feel larger, which is important since the attic stairs cut off some of the standing room.
Shower wall tiles: We installed these 12-inch white marble tiles with white grout. I love them! They make the bathroom feel very luxurious. At $20 per box, we spent $260 on the tiles.
12 x 12 marble wall tile by MSI (from Home Depot)
Sink: Similarly, most vanities with sinks were too wide and too deep to fit the small alcove with a human also occupying the same space. We wanted a 30-inch-wide vanity but then we’d have to cut off the window sill which seemed dumb. But a 24-inch-wide vanity would have left gaps on the side for your toothbrush to fall down, never to be seen again. These are things that most interior designers probably know, but I’m learning as I go. For weeks, I was building my dream board on pinterest and starting to seriously narrow down my options for a new vanity, only to learn the hard way that all of them were too large.
I ended up buying a vanity in both 24 inches and 30 inches, hoping our handyman could somehow ‘make it work.’ Only after both vanities arrived did we realize that no vanity with under-sink storage would EVER fit in that space due to how tiny it actually is. So back to the pedestal sink we went! We ended up installing this beauty to maximize counter space, with this faucet.
Floor tiles: We installed these 2-inch hexagon white marble tiles with gray grout. They bring me so much joy and I’m thrilled we installed them. (side note: our handyman did a very bad job installing them the first time around, so we asked him to re-do them. Luckily he didn’t make a fuss when we asked him to pull it up and do the whole thing over again–on his dime. In fact, we moved into the house with only half the floor covered in tile, the other half of the room was just a cement floor. Needless to say, contractor timelines are NEVER correct).
Toilet: Most people don’t have #toiletgoals but apparently I do. I wanted the smallest possible toilet, for under $300. When I discovered how cool-looking and space-saving floating toilets are, I was sure we would get one. But they cost a TON of money to install, so I’ll let that dream lie in wait for now. Due to space limitations, we ended up purchasing this round toilet which is slightly smaller. But at least it’s dual flush which is better for water usage. Since we removed several layers of wall behind the toilet, there is now a slightly larger gap than standard between the tank and the wall. What should I do with this newly reclaimed space? Just kidding.
Paint Colors: We needed to make a paint color decision super fast after we scheduled the handyman, so I did a quick google search and decided on Sleigh Bells by Benjamin Moore. I’m so glad we picked this color (sight unseen!)–it’s a baby soft light green-blue, and makes the bathroom feel like a cool oasis. It’s hard to photograph so just take my word for it–or come over for a visit! We installed the same 7.5-inch floorboard trim to match the rest of the house, and painted all the trim Super White by Benjamin Moore.
We plan to refinish all the doors in the springtime when the weather is warmer and we can strip the paint and re-stain them outside. For now that means we have to look at the nasty old paint job….sigh, no job is ever done!
Unfortunately the 10-day timeline turned into over two months, due to delays on getting the pedestal sink and asking our handyman to re-do the floor tile. Luckily they finished the work shortly after Christmas while we were on vacation so that only lasted a few days of us living there.
Regrets and lessons learned:
Since we selected the bathroom materials in a rush, there are some things I would change but not many. I would have selected a different lighting fixture that’s less massive and a bit more feminine. It’s too late to return it, so we are going to live with it for now.
We didn’t have time to buy any blinds or window covering before we moved in, but the window faces a VERY busy main road, so we definitely need something to provide privacy. We haven’t figured out what type of curtain or shade to get yet, so for now we taped up a $6 paper “curtain” from the hardware store.
And I’m only now starting to re-think the marble tile choice. Hear me out: they are GORGEOUS but everyone is warning me how difficult real marble is to upkeep over time (seriously, how did we not know this when we COVERED the future children’s bathroom in marble??!). So the real question is: should we install real marble tile or marble-look porcelain tile instead? The porcelain alternative is comically cheaper and much easier to upkeep over time–but it doesn’t give you the same *feeling* that natural stone does, and doesn’t add resale value to the home.
My heart and my head and my wallet all want different things. I mean, how can we have real marble in the kids/guest bathroom and porcelain in the master? What would you do? Does anyone have any POSITIVE experience with marble in their bathrooms? We need to cover the floor, the wall around the shower, and the shower floor in our master–should we do porcelain in some places and marble in others, or would that look insane? Help!
When Jeremy and I decided to take on the roles of general contractor and designer, we knew we’d make mistakes along the way. So far, we’ve made several mistakes that revealed themselves only after purchasing or installing materials. The most frustrating mistake we’ve made was in the design of the kitchen. I’m sharing what we learned so you don’t make the same mistakes we did.
Mistake one: Wall cabinets too high above the countertop.
Our house came blessed with very tall ceilings. I wanted to take advantage of this height and install a VERY tall pantry with tons of vertical storage space. In our kitchen plan, I placed a 15”-high wall cabinet on TOP of an 85”-high cabinet like this:
The problem with this design is that all the wall cabinets must be mounted at the same height as the highest point in my pantry. I thought it would be fine to have our wall cabinets “higher than standard” but when they were installed it was immediately apparent what a horrible choice I had made. I could barely reach into the wall cabinet (to grab plates/glasses) let alone reach the higher shelves. Luckily we realized this error on the first day of our kitchen installation, so Jeremy and I rented a van and drove to IKEA to purchase a different size pantry. In the end, we lost only 5 inches of vertical storage space by replacing the super tall pantry with a 90” high cabinet instead.
While this mistake was relatively easy to remedy (and IKEA gave us store credit for the two cabinets we returned), it unfortunately means I will have to buy 2 new doors from Semihandmade and paint them again (remember this post about how many rounds of spraying they required?) because the ones I already have no longer fit. Ugh.
Lesson learned: While I wish that someone at IKEA’s kitchen department had pointed out this error, I suppose I have myself to blame. I knew I was going against industry standard but thought the vertical storage space was worth it. It was not. Do not repeat my mistake!
Mistake two: Purchased wrong size panel for under island.
The process of buying our doors and side panels from Semihandmade was a little nerve-wracking: I sent them our kitchen plan from IKEA’s 3D planning website and Semihandmade sent back a list of all the doors and side panels we would need. It is the customer’s responsibility to review and ensure the sizes of the doors and panels are all correct. Well I made the mistake of buying a huge side panel for under our island that was actually too small! Grrrr. The piece I bought was only 26 inches tall, when it should have been 36 inches tall. (FYI 36 inches is the standard countertop height in kitchens–the key to purchasing the correct size panel!). The piece I bought was actually meant to cover the side of a refrigerator. Blast! What a waste of time and money. Oh well, now I need to order the correct piece and paint it blue. We decided not to delay installing the rest of the kitchen since it would take several weeks to receive and paint this final piece–so for several weeks, the underside of our kitchen island was ‘naked’
Lesson learned: Make sure all side panels that go next to an island or base cabinet are 36 inches high!
BONUS lesson learned: IKEA has an ‘as-is’ sale section near check-out and they sell individual kitchen items for $20 per piece. We decided to buy this one panel from IKEA instead of semihandmade, and saved over $300 by buying an ‘as-is’ piece. If you’re painting your semihandmade cabinets yourself, I highly recommend buying your side panels at IKEA and saving a bunch of cash.
Mistake three: Cabinet door paint dried poorly
This one I am perhaps most upset about. The final round of painting our cabinets did not go so well. I have no idea why but let’s blame the weather–it was less than 40 degrees outside when I applied the final coat of paint. And it dried TERRIBLY! It looks like my cabinets have acne. We didn’t have time to sand and re-paint before the installers came in December, so we decided to just install them now and deal with re-painting them in the spring. The good news is that only about 3 or 4 pieces turned out so bad they’ll need to be re-painted. The rest look amazing.
Lesson learned: Get your doors professionally painted or wait for warm weather to do it yourself.
Some tips on how to design your kitchen correctly:
Ensure there is enough clearance for people to comfortably walk through doorways, passageways, hallways, and around islands. We decided to make the passageway between the fridge and the island 47 inches wide, which is industry standard for “two cooks in the kitchen.” We also made sure the clearance between the island and any obstacle was 39-40 inches. The minimum you’d want to go is 36 but we bought huge appliances so we needed the extra clearance.
Similarly, make sure there’s enough clearance for someone to stand in front of the appliances with the doors open. At another property we looked at, you couldn’t swing the fridge open while standing in front of it because the island was in the way.
If you buy your kitchen at IKEA, make sure you fully understand where the white cabinet interiors will show around your doors and panels. We were surprised after our kitchen was installed that you could see a sliver of the white cabinet frame which we did NOT like. So we installed a second piece of panel/filler to hide the frame and make it look more custom built in.
Our living room is SOOOOO close to being finished, which means we are DAYS away from putting furniture in the room and having a place to sit down!! I feel like a kid the night before Christmas…I’m so excited that I can almost feel those soft sofa cushions under my butt. You see, we have not had anywhere to sit since we purchased the house except for two hard kitchen chairs the previous owner left behind. When we moved in last month, we added three plastic folding chairs to sit at our island, but we still didn’t have anywhere to lounge or relax at the end of the day. We’ve been waiting to bring our living or dining room furniture into the house on a few outstanding, dust-producing tasks to get done.
But it’s a three-day weekend which means WE ARE GOING TO DO ALL THE THINGS!! Now that the plumber has replaced an old pipe we discovered in the front entryway wall and ceiling, we are going to close it up and paint it! Then we will install baseboard trim and re-finish the trim around our entryway door and two front windows.
Jeremy and I are already experts at installing baseboard trim because last weekend we installed a ton of it in our living and dining rooms. We only have a few pieces left to install after we finish the previously mentioned front wall.
How to Install Baseboard Trim
Difficulty level: Easy
Compared to some of the other tasks we’ve done, installing baseboard trim is pretty easy. We had to buy two power tools to get it done, but we think they’ll come in very handy when we tackle the basement renovation later this year.
Step 1: Measure wall
We bought extra long baseboards to ensure a single piece could reach from one side of the room to the other. We didn’t want any seams showing in the baseboard. I keep yelling “million dollar house!” and these details are how we’re gonna get there (I’m partially kidding). We measured each length of wall that would need a piece of baseboard and accounted for the 45-degree angle cut the saw would make. The goal was to make perfect, 90-degree corners at each inside or outside corner.
Step 2: Measure and cut the baseboard
We bought a 10-inch miter saw to cut wood at a 45-degree angle. Unfortunately the blade was not big enough to cut through our 7.5-inch tall baseboards…which we learned the hard way. The saw only cut through about 6 inches of the board and then we manually cut the rest with a tiny baby saw called a coping saw. I wouldn’t recommend this process but we didn’t have any alternative.
This step was confusing because we had measured the wall but didn’t know HOW to account for the 45-degree cut at the end. After a bunch of trial and error, we figured out where to cut the boards to create nice looking corners. Not all of our corners are perfect, but hopefully our friends and family won’t be crawling around looking for slight gaps at each corner. Plus, step # 4 mostly made up for this problem
Step 3: Nail the suckers in
We bought an AWESOME new, light-weight nail gun for this project, instead of renting an old, big, heavy one from the hardware store. It is so much easier to use and got the job done so fast. We nailed the baseboards into studs located behind the wall. We were lucky there were studs integrated into the plaster/brick walls, otherwise we’d have to use liquid nails which is a fancy word for super sticky glue, which is a lot more stressful to work with. We used our feet to push the baseboard close to the wall, then nailed those suckers in!
Step 4: Caulk the seams and edges
To hide any gaps, Jeremy used his trusty caulk gun to caulk the seams and edges along the top and corners of the baseboards. At each corner, he applied caulk BEFORE nailing it in place, to achieve a fully sealed-looking corner. For those corners that did not achieve a perfect 90-degree angle, I applied wood filler in the gaps to manually create the look of a sharp corner.
Step 5: Put wood filler in nail holes and any dings, then sand
To make the baseboards look flawless, I crawled around filling all the nail holes and dings with wood filler. Baseboards are not made from solid wood–they’re super light weight so they’re easy to handle but they ding at the slightest touch! The wood filler dries very quickly, then I sanded it flat to create a smooth surface
Step 6: Paint, then paint again!
We applied two coats of super white paint in semi-gloss. and BAM, we suddenly have a livable space.
We’ve been sanding the trim around our two windows, and Jeremy is cobbling together a new set of window trim for a window in the back of the house from scraps we saved during demo. I’ll post more on that once it’s done. For now, keep your fingers crossed for a productive weekend that will end in me sitting on a couch!