Finishing our kitchen backsplash

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

10624429-787B-4D21-AB37-08E18E29C3BB.jpg DC2292FE-B1BD-4108-9502-A775DA02EF6E.jpg
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.

IMG_4607.JPG
Installing the outlet for the range hood before we begin tiling

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.

IMG_4603.JPG
Laying out the tile one the floor in the exact pattern it will be on the wall
IMG_4616
Laying all the tiles out and cutting the edges off

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.

img_4620.jpg
Our cheap but effective tile cutter
FE7F7040-2DC4-45C5-8149-6A781BD3BE42
There is no reason for this gratuitous picture except to show the world how CUTE my foreman is.

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.

IMG_4625.JPG
Trying to cut a 90-degree angle into the tile….basically an impossible task that I gave to Jeremy. Many tiles were sacrificed

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.

20190407_170353.jpg
Applying the first bit of thinset onto the walls. PROTECT YOUR CABINETS WITH TAPE!!

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.

img_4628.jpg
Installing the tiles on the wall

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!

IMG_4788.jpg
White grout applied…getting there

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.

hood.jpg
Jeremy installed the range hood!

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.

hood2.jpg
The range hood in all it’s glory!!

 

Master closet is complete!

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.

IMG_4821.JPG
Behold the hot mess that is currently our master bedroom…our clothing has no where to go!

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).

IMG_4634.JPG

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.

IMG_4827.JPG
Starting to install the closet system!

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!

 

 

 

Master suite adventures continue

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!!

IMG_4790.JPG
Wallboard installed and waiting for us to return from our honeymoon!

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.

20190413_211741.jpg
After we applied compound to the walls

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.

7318A6E5-61BA-4BE0-8699-065EA373A51F.JPG
My hero after sanding the entire room!

Then our very helpful friend Chris came over and we primed and painted the entire room!

IMG_4802.JPG
Chris helping to prime and paint our bathroom!
IMG_4801.JPG
Priming is boring but necessary

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.20190415_090718.jpg

20190415_090656.jpg

We even found time to tag the wall behind the vanity…for posterity.

2FDFE369-E5CA-4A6C-AAC1-03AEE87132D2.JPG

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.

 

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!

20190215_162808.JPG
Judy learned to screw in the drywall
20190215_171512
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.

IMG_4078.JPG

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.

IMG_4079.JPG
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!

IMG_4081.JPG
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.

20190303_184544.JPG
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!)

IMG_4195
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!

IMG_4198.JPG
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:

KBZG2130.JPG
Before: the future master bathroom awaits
UXED0421.JPG
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?

IMG_4130.JPG
The only photo we have of demo day!
IMG_4131.JPG
Just shoveling some insulation away

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

***

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.

IMG_4124.JPG
Dryfitting the cement boards

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

IMG_4126.JPG
Mixing thinset in a bucket
20190310_141936.jpg
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.

IMG_4129.JPG
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!

InkedIMG_4122_LI 2.jpg

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.

IMG_4127.JPG
The cement board floors after one million hours of work
IMG_4125.JPG
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:

IMG_1972.jpg
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.

IMG_3154.JPG
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.

IMG_3825.JPG
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.

IMG_3814
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.

IMG_3830.JPG
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.

IMG_3835.JPG
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!

IMG_3839.JPG
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.

IMG_4001.JPG
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!

IMG_4023.JPG
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.

IMG_4034.JPGIMG_4030.JPG

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.

IMG_3490.JPG
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).

IMG_3976.JPG

IMG_3974
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.

 

IMG_3997.JPG
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!

IMG_4006

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.

IMG_4015.JPG
All that work for this little wall above the cabinets!