Creating a sun-filled oasis–Part 2

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!

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Judy learned to screw in the drywall
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Judy and jeremy closing in the beam with drywall

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.

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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.

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Our window trim, sanded smooth and primed

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!

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David expertly nails the window trim back 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.

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Honestly using a nail gun is fun!

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!)

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Removing the floor covering to reveal a nicely finished 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!

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Our (almost finished) sun-filled bonus room!

Learning as we go in the master bathroom

We passed a sign in our neighborhood for an apprentice school for high-schoolers to learn construction trades and it made me realize these last six months have been one long apprenticeship for both of us. We are constantly learning how to use new tools and are jumping from one trade to the next: demo, electrical, framing, drywalling, painting, etc. etc. etc. And now we are learning the trade we are both most intimidated by: finishing the bathroom. This series of posts will highlight how we are taking the space from this to a master bathroom oasis:

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Before: the future master bathroom awaits
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We plan to close the left doorway and put the stand up shower there.

This series will also highlight mistakes we made along the way and how we fixed them. 

Before we could do ANYTHING to transform this space, we of course had to demo all the walls and ceiling, which meant a ton more plaster dust, lathe, and insulation to get rid of (not to mention that horrible fake wood paneling). Our friends Julian and Chris came over to help demo because who doesn’t love smashing things to bits?

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The only photo we have of demo day!
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Just shoveling some insulation away

Once demo was completed, we were ready to start the project! 

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Jeremy and I started tackling the master bathroom this weekend. Our general contractor roughed in the plumbing and electrical for us and poured the concrete base for the shower, and left the rest for us to finish. I don’t have a photo of the demo-ed room before we started, but imagine a 9′ x 10′ room with open walls  and ceiling and the original wood floor. 

We are now tasked with finishing the room–which means putting up the ceiling, walls, the floor, installing tile, and putting a vanity with a closet in place.  The tasks that lie before us honestly scare the crap out of me, but we are going to take it one step at a time and see how it goes.

The first step was installing normal drywall on the ceiling, which we did on Saturday. We used our trusty drywall lift which makes ANY ceiling work so much easier. We are drywall experts so this wasn’t too tough.

The next step was preparing the floor for tile. This room had gorgeous, beautiful 100-year old heart pine as the floor. We seriously considered keeping the wood floor but after much debate and research, we decided real wood floors in a master bathroom were just not a great idea. We didn’t want to risk the floor warping from water damage over time, so we made the sad and difficult choice of covering it with tile (to be fair, I did try to sell the planks but no one wanted them). To ensure the tile floor won’t crack over time, we were sure to do the prep work right and not cut any corners….which meant a TON of grueling, back-breaking labor.

Cement board is NOT FUN to work with–it’s waaaaay heavier than drywall and infinitely harder to cut or screw into. I did a lot of complaining this weekend about how much I hate working with it. Here we ran into mistake number 1: we did not have the correct type of blade to cut the cement boards. Always make sure you have the correct tools before you start! With much difficulty, we cut all the pieces we’d need first and “dry fit” them onto the floor to make sure we covered the entire bathroom floor.

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Dryfitting the cement boards

Then we mixed thinset in a bucket, then I spread it across the floor using a notched trowel.

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Mixing thinset in a bucket
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Spreading the thinset across the floor.

We laid down each sheet of cement board and Jeremy screwed it into the floor using a special cement board screw. This is where we encountered another problem–we didn’t have a powerful enough drill so the screw heads would not screw flat into the floor–they popped up ever so slightly. The bumps from each screw will make it difficult to lay down floor tile, so Jeremy ordered a special drill that hammers while it screws (who knew?!) so he will have to go back and push down each damn screw again.

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Screwing the cement board to the floor below

I used a special kind of tape on the joints between each board, then spread thinset across the seam–all of these steps are required to ensure the subfloor is correctly installed so the tiles on top won’t crack. We have read that lots of people cut corners during this prep phase but come to regret it later when the tiles crack or pop off the floor.

Jeremy also took on the task of screwing the boards onto the wall around the shower. This is where we made our next error. We both completely forgot that we want to install a shower niche to hold shampoo bottles and soap, so we have to remove these three boards and install the niche directly in the middle of this wall. What a waste of time and effort!

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It may not look like a lot was accomplished, but it took two full days to get it to this point, all of which was NO FUN.

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The cement board floors after one million hours of work
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The face of proud exhaustion

The next steps will be to install the shower niche, waterproof the entire shower stall with RedGuard, and install the rest of the walls around the room. Then we will take a quick lil break to get married and go on a honeymoon, then return ready to finish this damn room!

Creating a sun-filled oasis, part 1

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:

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The bonus room on the day we bought the house

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.

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We uncovered the brick columns when we demo-ed the plaster and 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.

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Putting insulation in the walls and ceilings made a big difference!

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.

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The roughed in tiny powder room

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.

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The bane of my existence…moving drywall 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.

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After only 8 hours of work, the space was transformed!

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!

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Just enough space for one man, a light, and a huge piece of drywall

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.

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All the seams and screw holes are covered in compound

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!

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The gap between the drywall and the brick column looking nice and seamless!

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.

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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!

 

 

 

Kitchen update–one step closer to the finish line

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.

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Say goodbye to the useless gap above the 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).

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Compounded and ready to sand

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.

 

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Covering everything in prep for the sanding/dust storm to come

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!

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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.

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All that work for this little wall above the cabinets!

Building a wall that America actually needs

As I mentioned in this post, our living room was ready to finish once the plumber replaced an old pipe in the wall. So over MLK weekend, our dear friend Elizabeth came over and helped us close in the wall. This was my first foray into compounding which felt super intimidating for some reason.

Walls may just look like walls, but so much work goes into it. To make a wall look like one long, flat surface, you need to hide the seams between each sheet of drywall using tape and compound.  But we didn’t want to pay a handyman to do this type of work so we did it ourselves!

Compound is essentially light weight cement powder that you mix with water and then slather onto the drywall. We used the type that dries in 20 minutes which allows you to apply all three layers of compound in just one day (rather than waiting 90 minutes or 24 hours for other types of compound to dry.

The first step in our journey to finish the wall was to screw drywall into the ceiling to cover the hole the plumber made.

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Then we screwed strips of metal corner bead onto the outside corners, which protect the corner if anything bumps into it.

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Screwing in the corners

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Then we got to work compounding over all the seams, screws, and corners. It was not hard at all!

We put tape on the seams by plopping a dollop of compound on the drywall and then gently pushing the drywall/putty knife down along

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Very proud of my corner

We bought a fun tool to help with the inside seams that worked like a dream! It’s hard to make these inside corners look like crisp 90-degree angles but with my new tool friend, it was super easy!

After two applications of compound, we sanded it down using sanding blocks (which covers everything in a fine compound dust). Then we painted. Then Jeremy cut and installed the baseboard trim and quarter round.

The whole project took about 2 full days to complete, and my god it almost looks like a normal house!!

We built that wall!
We built that wall!

For comparison sake, we would have paid our favorite team of 2 handymen around $1600 to complete this task. I’ll take free over $1600 any day of the week! #Winning.

 

 

 

 

Bathroom reveal + the big marble debate

Today I am very pleased to share our transformed bathroom!

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Our new hall bathroom–a marble oasis!
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The old bathroom–a disgusting and scary place to spend any amount of time

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.

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Our new bathtub!

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.

Nasty old tub
The nasty old tub with tired tiles on the wall

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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.

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Our pedestal sink may not have any storage but at least it looks pretty!

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).

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Hexagon marble tiles by MSI, purchased at Home Depot

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.

The toilet with a gap behind it
Our toilet with a big old gap behind it
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The old toilet…yuck

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.

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The lighting fixture makes me feel NOTHING

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!

The couch controversy and the credenza conundrum

I’m sure you’ve had many sleepless nights since I posted about our goal of moving our couch into our living room. Well I’m pleased to share that two weeks later, we finished every single task for the living room and finally moved our furniture upstairs!!

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Those first few moments having our things back in our daily life felt so surreal—until I sat on our couch. This couch has been a point of contention between Jeremy and I ever since we met. Jeremy bought it back in his single days. It treated him well, but when I came into the picture I informed him that it was too soft, to slippery, and looks like a brown potato. So we agreed to buy a new couch once we moved into a more long-term home. I’ve been looking forward to replacing this couch for so long. I’m dreaming of soft, supple cognac brown leather, or maybe tufted velvet. I’ve been pinning a ton on my living room dream board, and I can’t wait to buy new pieces to make this room truly special.

So here we are, in our long-term home and we finally have some furniture in our living room and I’m realizing how hard it will be to fit my beloved mid-century credenza.

The Credenza
The credenza is actually two stacked pieces.
The credenza works if we only use the lower piece–but what about the upper half?

This piece of furniture is so special to me—it sat in my grandparents’ dining room for decades and they left it to me after they both passed away. It is so gorgeous, has open shelving to showcase beautiful items, AND it has a ton of storage space. The problem is there’s no where to put it in our living room! We made the room open concept so there’s only one solid wall remaining. The other wall is full of windows so we can’t put the credenza there without blocking the windows, and the rest of the room is wide open so a 6-foot tall shelving unit wouldn’t make sense in the middle of the space. What are we to do?

One solution is to split the credenza into two pieces and place the TV on top of one piece but where would the other piece go? We are considering putting the buffet-style bottom piece behind the couch (similar to a console table) but then I’m worried the room will look too crowded and the couch would be pushed too close to the TV.

Solution #2 would mount the TV on the wall between the two windows, with the credenza up against on the solid wall. This idea would totally work, but we are worried about watching TV with daylight streaming in from behind the TV—we’d need to close the curtains whenever we watch TV and that seems annoying plus would cut the room off from natural light.

The third option is to keep the two pieces stacked and place our TV on the credenza, effectively blocking a lot of the upper shelves and cabinet doors. This way we could keep it together as it was originally designed, push it up against the solid wall, AND avoid the sunlight problem in option #2. But how silly is it to block the top half of this phenomenal piece of furniture with a huge dumb TV?

What do you think we should do? I’m determined to find a solution so this piece will continue to bring me joy for years to come—and I welcome any suggestions.

Also, if you know of a sofa that is very firm with solid back support that’s less than 90” wide—I want to hear about it!

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The next time you see this living room, it will look drastically less brown and boring!