Bluestone Basement Laundry: Moldings! Walls! Storage!

This post is a paid partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

A little over a year ago, you may recall that I got back from the most insane once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica. Antarctica! I still have a hard time grasping that it was real, but I went with my family and they’ll back me up on this. It was decidedly more of a vacation than an expedition, but the tour company insisted on calling it an expedition and that felt so much more adventurous and exciting. Whatever it was, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

An unexpected side-effect of going on this trip didn’t hit until a couple of months ago, though. I began having some variation on the same dream every single night—that due to some clerical error, or a last-minute cancellation, we were all headed back to Antarctica to do it all over again. Another Christmas celebrated at the bottom of the globe with penguins and icebergs. It was news I could not have been more excited about as I’d quickly clear my schedule and pack up all of last year’s gear and get ready to depart. Then I’d wake up really disappointed that I’d imagined the whole thing and think about it a lot throughout the day.

I don’t usually dream like this, by the way. Or make a habit of talking about dreams, because it is objectively the most annoying thing ever. Like even more annoying than talking about your own vacation which I AM ALSO DOING RIGHT NOW. I guess you could say I’m on THIN ICE here!!! GET IT?And now I’m your dad.

What is happening. I promise this is going somewhere.

Obviously, Antarctica is mostly about the wonders of our natural world, but I found myself really compelled by the unnatural wonders, too—specifically, how human beings in all their perseverance and inventiveness figure out how to make the most inhospitable place on earth into home. For decades now, Antarctica has hosted researchers from all over the world. You have to get there by ship, and it’s not an easy or fast or inexpensive journey. Once you’re there, you’re there. You have only exactly the supplies you were given—to eat, drink, stay warm, stay clean, stay entertained, do your job, keep from going nuts. When it’s summer in the northern hemisphere, these researchers basically don’t see the sun for weeks. Close quarters. Strangers you very quickly have to get along with. Grueling conditions outdoors. No real recourse if something goes wrong. It’s not unlike working on a space station, except imagine if the spaceship had to be built IN SPACE by the astronauts on board. It’s basically that.

Here’s the point: when I first got the go-ahead from Lowe’s to renovate the basement laundry project for Bluestone Cottage, I leapt at the chance and then realized I had no idea what I actually wanted to do or how I actually wanted it to look. I’ve thought a lot more about the rest of the house than I’ve ever dwelled on the basement, and so I figured I’d take the whole figure-out-the-basic-strokes-and-feel-it-out-from-there approach that sometimes I am wont to do.

AND THEN, one bright morning, inspiration struck. I awoke with A VISION. OF A THING I’D SEEN. Grabbed my phone. Located the pics from Antarctica. Port Lockroy, circa 1944. It’s a British research station that’s now a historic site, and also hosts the continent’s only gift shop and post office. That’s the exterior, above, clad in black tar paper and that hot hot hot red/orange trim. So good.

Oh, hello! This is a direction I can get behind for a basement laundry room. And I imagine the construction of it looked something like how I’m currently spending my days—working in a confined space, in the cold except for my Craftsman propane heater (a TRUE revelation, omg), with whatever supplies I have available, trying to keep any waste to a minimum and just make it happen.

(I know, I know. Yes, Lowe’s is sponsoring and supplying most of the materials. But to provide some insight on that, that doesn’t make it a blank check! I still have to be scrappy and crafty to make this room work, considering it needs E V E R Y T H I N G. Also, actually procuring those materials isn’t as simple as regular shopping, so MUCH LIKE THOSE ANTARCTIC EXPLORERS (except not at all), I can’t just run out every time I need something. Except to my garage, which like, those guys had to keep their stuff somewhere. Right? Except they didn’t really have power tools. You know what, never mind. I actually can’t imagine the logistics of building something on Antarctica in the 1940s; I’m sorry, I gave it my best effort, and now we will move on.)

Am I crazy? I might have gone crazy. But I also really want to rip off THIS WHOLE LEWK because it just makes me so happy? I love how modest and simple and un-done these spaces are. It’s preserved from when it served as both living quarters and an active research station, and had to function well for both so nobody lost their damn minds—a legitimate risk with all that isolation! I love how homespun everything is. And I love the use of color—you have to imagine that between the harsh conditions and the long stretches without daylight, it was a smart, strategic decision to introduce bright colors into the space and paint everything including the utilities. It feels like kind of unintentionally great design at work, and very appropriate for that finished/un-finished old house basement vibe. It’s never going to feel like just another room in the house, so let’s…not make it like the rest of the house!

How much do you want to bet they mixed the dark green chair rail paint (which is really just a painted line, not molding) with the white to make that color on the lower half of the walls? I bet they did. And it’s pretty perfect. I’ve become a little fixated on it.

I even love the glossy glossy walls! This is certainly old oil paint, and it just feels very…British. They know how to slap on a perfectly-imperfect glossy coat of paint like nobody’s business. I think this is true but I could just have a weird bias expressing itself. 

Look at this simple ceiling-mounted drying rack! Looks like a fun afternoon project. I love that someone took the time to create that angled detail on the side instead of just using square boards all the way around.

OK, are we feeling this direction? If you are not, well, that is TOO BAD because I am. Sorrynotsorry. Let’s paint some stuff bright green and party in the basement.

Here’s a quick sketch of what I’m thinking space-wise! I want the room to function well as a laundry space but it’s also going to need to pack in a lot of storage and still house all the utility stuff that makes the house work.

That little boiler room in the back is where you used to enter the basement when I bought the house, but relocating the stairs saved precious square footage in the kitchen AND created that little closet in the basement perfect for a high-efficiency hot water heater/boiler combo (likely the same one I have in my own house!). The alcove seemed like the most natural place to put the washer and dryer, side-by side (you MIGHT be able to squeeze stacked units in here, depending on the size/brand, but it would be VERY tight. The ceiling height is only slightly over 6 feet) with a nice work surface on top and some kind of storage above—I’m still tossing around ideas for that! Opposite the machines, I think I’ll just mount pegboard over that whole wall, and a vintage ceiling-mounted drying rack in front of it, with enough clearance between the two so it’s not weird. I had considered pegboard over the long work bench and shelving on this other wall, but I didn’t think that worked with the drying rack, and there’s nowhere else for that, so. We’ll all find out together.

This is where we left off, with the walls framed, electric and plumbing roughed in, Sakrete Self-Leveling Resurfacer laid, and baseboards installed! While I obviously want this to feel like a finished space, it’s still an old house basement—in other words, I don’t totally trust it, haha! So I’m trying really hard to be smart about the materials and the way the room is assembled, so any potential issues down the line can be addressed without major upset or drama. Basically I want the whole room to be an access panel because you just never know.

To that end, I used scrap Azek boards for the baseboards—a PVC board that’s really for exterior work, and therefore won’t mold or rot in the case of any moisture intrusion issues. Once painted it looks like wood, and it’s felt SO GOOD putting those piles of scrap to productive use!

I took this hot n’ sexy selfie to commemorate my second encounter with DIY closed-cell spray foam insulation. I don’t think we need to go into that process again because WE JUST WENT OVER THIS, but I had a couple of leftover boxes of Dow Froth-Pak 210 from my guest room and decided to use them here. I’ll more than likely hire out the insulation of the rest of the house, but I needed this done now and it’s a reasonably small space to do it. Spraying over stone foundation walls feels…I don’t know, wrong? But it’s extremely common practice here for finished basement walls because it provides insulation, is unaffected by moisture, and creates a great vapor barrier—better than other materials because it doesn’t leave voids up against the uneven surface of the stone. In a newer basement with block walls or poured concrete, rigid foam insulation like this is more typical, and a big cost savings.

For the walls and ceiling, I opted to use this 1/4″ beaded birch plywood. Since I’m working almost entirely alone save for some help with the heaviest lifting, this material is lightweight and easy for me to manage on my own as I cut and install it. I think it’ll add some necessary texture and detail to the space, too! Covering the seams with simple trim and leaving screw heads exposed should make it pretty easy to remove the panels for whatever reason down the line, like if you needed to access a pipe or an electrical cable or just want to check on what’s happening behind the walls. And then easy to put back up!

As a precaution, I primed the back of each piece with this Rust-Oleum mold-killing primer, which seems to really be for safely painting over an already-moldy surface, but also should prevent mold from growing (or recurring) in the first place, if I’m understanding the can correctly. There’s an MDF version of this plywood, too, but MDF and moisture do NOT mix well, and…you know. I WORRY. ABOUT EVERYTHING.

Walls, going up! Getting to this stage is so nice. Something to look at!!

CAN WE KINDA SEE IT?! I still had scrap Azek boards, so I ripped them to 1/2″ thickness on the table saw and used them for the “chair rail” and the vertical seams. Those little trim pieces are just tacked up with a few brad nails—easy to pry off to access the screws holding the plywood up. I’m trying to squeeze every square inch out of each sheet of plywood, so you can see off-cuts from the walls beginning to make up the ceiling. It’s starting to feel like a room!

OK, so! In terms of some specific products that will make this MAGIC happen, I’m keeping it super simple and utilitarian, with a couple of upgrades!

THE MACHINES! Obviously the washer and dryer are going to be a pretty important part of creating a laundry room, and there are SO MANY options available now—I think back to buying my washer and dryer only 5-ish years ago and it’s like a different world out there! Washers that connect to Wifi! Dryers with built-in drying racks! Bright LED lights! The future is now, and it’s nuts. On top of that, there’s the age-old front-loader vs. top-loader debate, and now these incredibly snazzy machines like the Samsung FlexWash and FlexDry that have BOTH. Since I’m not honestly sure if this house will be sold or rented, and I didn’t want to blow my entire budget for the room on the machines, I was looking for something kind of mid-range and with good reviews. I’ve LOVED my LG machines in my own house, and I also love having a nice big worktop over a set of front-loaders—I prefer it to top-loaders or stacked units, personally, so that kind of eliminated the fancy Samsung FlexWash/FlexDry notion. Lowe’s tends to have a lot of appliance sales throughout the year, and I’ve noticed that last year’s models tend to go on clearance when the new ones come out, so that’s where I like to start my search!

THEN. And I’m embarrassed to admit this: I thought to check the measurements. Not of the nook where the machines are supposed to go—that’s definitely big enough—but the doorway down to the basement that machines need to fit through! OOPSIE. SOUND THE ALARM. WE HAVE A MAJOR SCREW-UP. Um. Do people still use…washboards? Because machines are not fitting down into this basement.

LUCKILY, because this is Lowe’s and solving conundrums such as these is kind of their thing, there were STILL a lot of options for me! Just different options—smaller options! It’s a small house, so I’m not going to sweat small machines. I actually think it makes a lot of sense. After lots of comparing reviews, prices, and features, I landed on this highly-reviewed Bosch 500-series washer and the matching electric dryer. There’s a slightly cheaper 300-series and a slightly more expensive 800-series—but I didn’t really see myself using the added features of the 800 series, so the 500 felt like a good bet. Other brands like Samsung, GE, Whirlpool, and LG all make their own version of machines this size, all available at Lowe’s, but the Bosch reviews put it over the edge for me.

One thing that’s highly intriguing (to me. just me?) is that the dryer is ventless—which some people love, some people hate, and most Americans don’t even realize is a thing. I guess in Europe it’s the norm if you have a dryer at all, so it’s gotta be OK right?! These small machines are also the norm across the pond, and often installed in kitchens like a dishwasher. From what I understand, the ventless dryer does take longer and clothes aren’t likely to come out bone dry like they do with a vented dryer, but the result is a more energy-efficient laundering experience that’s much gentler on your clothes and linens. So let’s embrace it. It also means I don’t have to figure out a way to vent a dryer here, which was MORE than welcome news—please don’t make me go into the crawlspace, for I may never return.

SO. Having cleared that hurdle, the other stuff came pretty easily. Let’s run it down. Here’s the same mood board again for easier reference, in case you haven’t committed it to memory.

WALLS! Walls and ceilings are this beaded plywood! At my store, this is back with the moldings rather than up with the lumber where the rest of the plywood is, just head’s up! There’s a different beaded plywood in the lumber section, evidently suitable for interior or exterior use, but it was a lot rougher and I worried the prep would kill me. The panels I’m using are very smooth and nice—just like the MDF panels but real plywood! It would be great for backing cabinets or bookshelves or a million other things, too.

PAINT! I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to rip off that kitchen in Port Lockroy. I got samples of Ginger Sugar, Kelp (how appropriate!), and Palace Green, all from Valspar—eek! So bright! Greens are tricky. I hope this works but like, it might not. Ha! I also think I’m going to take the cue from my inspiration and bump it all the way up to high gloss—I’ve never used this Valspar High Gloss enamel, so I’ll let you know! SO MANY THINGS SO UNLIKE ME, I KNOW.

STORAGE! First up is regular old pegboard! Pegboard walls are just so functional for a small storage space like this one, so cheap to execute (63 cents a square foot!), and have that cute vintage vibe. For a bit more money, steel or polypropylene look-alikes are available too. I’ll probably just pick up a mixed bag of hooks and stuff for it. I’m hoping this room also comes in handy for ME as I renovate the rest of the house!

For the workbench, I picked up one of these inexpensive, old-faithful Edsal shelving units. I grew up with these in my basement! I have them in my current basement! I’ve never assembled one as a workbench, though, even though it’s designed to do both, and I’m weirdly excited. Unfortunately the particleboard shelves it comes with are basically trash (they’re thin and sag with any weight) so I’ll be swapping those for cabinet-grade ply. I’ll probably paint the metal frame with one of the accent colors.

For the top of the workbench AND for the worktop above the machines, I sprung for this nice Baltic Birch butcherblock counter rather than ply or particleboard, and I think it’s going to be VERY classy. It’s actually the exact same butcherblock I currently have in my kitchen, and it’s great stuff—solid Birch and good quality. There’s not a lot of fancy happening down here, so I felt OK about spending the $240 for an 8′ countertop that should last approximately forever if properly maintained. I also think that natural wood element will add some nice balance with all the painted surfaces and the concrete floor.

For shelving, I’m keeping it simple, simple, simple. I think I’ll even reuse the wide boards that used to live elsewhere in the basement as shelving when I bought the house, and just use a few inexpensive, sturdy brackets like these.

LIGHTING! I had the electricians rough in 4 recessed lights, plus a box over the machines that I’m not entirely sure what to do with yet. Normally I’m not into recessed lighting in an old house, but in a basement with 6′ ceilings, I’m not sure what else you’d do! Recessed lighting has come a long way from the cans I grew up with, though—all the LED options are much less conspicuous, and they last 30 years!—so I think they’re a really practical choice here. Good lighting in a basement is absolutely essential to it feeling like an OK place to be. I’m hoping I like the light quality of these GE 65-W equivalent dimmable lights, which will just screw into the housing that’s already there and sit flush with the ceiling.

STYLE! CHICNESS! I’m excited to dress this room up with a few accessories and things (even if it’s just for photos, it’s so much fun after you’ve done a bunch of hard renovation work!). Most of that stuff will probably be practical items like tools and vintage bits and bobs, but I think a simple warm indoor-outdoor rug will work well down here, and Lowe’s carries a great selection of them under the Allen + Roth label—which, by the way, has rescued me countless times when I need something good-looking and well-made and affordable (so good for lighting, especially!). A rug feels like something very faraway and distant, but I’m trying to have this done in like a week, so I guess nothing is really that far off—ha! WISH ME LUCK. It’s possible/probable I’ll need it.

Adding Self-Leveling Concrete to a Basement Floor!

This post is a paid partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

If you caught my post yesterday, you know that I’m back at work on the long-suffering Bluestone Cottage, and that the first space I’m really tackling is…THE BASEMENT. I’m finishing a basement! This is a first!

This is where we started so many eons ago. It was awful for many reasons.

It’s made less awful by the addition of work lights, not to mention the passage of time, but it was really, really bad. Aside from all the junk, there was also a defunct oil-burning boiler, obsolete heat pipes, rotted posts, termite-damaged joists, and—to my surprise—a moldy falling-down drywall ceiling and CARPETING. WALL-TO-WALL-CARPETING. That carpeting probably tops the list of grossest things I’ve ever removed during a renovation, and that includes mummy squirrels, a tub that someone died and partially decomposed in, and an enormous pile of 90s porno mags for people with an affinity for extremely large-busted women.

When I was designing how this house would work, I decided it was just too small to dedicate living space to a washer and dryer, but I still wanted it to have both. That left one option: basement laundry. I’ll let that shiver leave your spine. I know that’s not most people’s ideal, but it’s better than no laundry at all and I’m determined to make it nice, finished-feeling, and an asset rather than a bummer. It’s 200 square feet of potential, and I’m going to try to make the most of it!

Finishing a basement in an old house makes me a little nervous. In part because I’ve never done it, and in part because back in the day, these spaces were never meant to be finished in the way the rest of the house was. A lot of old basements, like mine, are so clogged up with wiring and plumbing and support posts that the idea of finishing it feels borderline ludicrous. And since my own home renovation is such a long-term project, I frequently need access to the utilities as new work is added and old work is removed. The basement just can’t be a precious space in many old houses—but clean and comfortable and utilitarian all feel like achievable goals, especially here where all the utilities are brand new.

Totally different angle (that nook is over to the left, just out of frame), but this is where I started a couple of weeks ago. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but this does actually represent major progress, just not the beautiful kind. It happened in fits and spurts. You’ll notice a MESS of wiring waiting to get tied into the panel (all new, though!) and a bunch of new pex and PVC plumbing that will eventually make 1.5 bathrooms, a couple of hose bibs, a kitchen, a washing machine, and a hot water radiator heat system all function. LET. US. PRAY. Also, all the walls are now framed for insulation and finishes,* and the floor joists above have been reinforced and the old support “posts” have been removed. SO IT LOOKS LIKE GARBAGE but it’s actually a lot of money and work to get to this point of dungeon horror.

*We framed the walls in pressure-treated 2x4s. I learned later that this was maybe overkill—you’d definitely want to use pressure treated for the bottom plate as it’s in contact with the concrete, but vertical supports are typically done in fir or white lumber unless they’re actually affixed to the masonry. Oops. Now we know.

NOW LET’S START MAKING IT PRETTY. PLEASE. I NEED TO SEE SOMETHING NICE-ISH. It’s not good for your brain to have a job site look like this for long. As me how I know.

VERY CLEARLY, THERE IS A LOT TO DO. And I can’t be spending a ton of time or money on it, it just has to get done. So first order of business? Getting the floor in shape. It didn’t necessarily have to come first, but for my sanity it did, and also the machines are being delivered soon and I want to be able to have the delivery guys bring them downstairs because it’s going to be tricky getting them down.

So. Floor. On the bright side there was already a concrete floor, so we’re not starting COMPLETELY from scratch, but it was ROUGH. Very rough—think some crumbling, some cracking, some holes, various old patch jobs, and not remotely flat or level. I think part of making this basement laundry plan work lies in making sure all parts of it feel nice and clean-able, and the existing floor was anything but! It was well beyond the point of any kind of quick and easy solution (like just painting it, or an epoxy kind of resurfacer), so it seemed like a job for self-leveling concrete as a first step.

Now, I’ve used self-leveling concrete a couple times over the years, and I’d always been under the impression that it was all supposed to be used as an underlayment for something else—like a floating laminate, a stick-down tile, a ceramic tile, etc,—but not as a finished floor surface. And that does appear to be true for some of these products, but some sleuthing confirmed that Sakrete’s Fastset Self-Leveling Resurfacer can actually be used either as an underlayment or as a wear surface! I’m totally fine with a nice concrete floor for a basement, so my plan became to just seal the concrete rather than going through the time and expense of adding a whole layer of additional flooring. Groovy.

That being said, actually installing the concrete is a bit more involved than just mixing and pouring! There are a lot of products to compare and instructions for each to follow for best results. Note how I say best results—SOMETIMES it’s not possible to follow every single instruction or meet every single ideal condition, and you know what? SOMETIMES you just have to do your best. My experience with concrete has been that it’s more forgiving than package instructions might lead you to believe, and you can still get a very nice, long-lasting and good-looking result without necessarily achieving the OPTIMAL result or performance (we’re talking about cosmetic work here, not load-bearing). It’s ok. Sometimes you’re working in an unheated, uninsulated old house in upstate New York in January with a $100 propane heater, trying to make it work. FOR INSTANCE.

So here’s what I did:

STEP 1: PREP.

The most underrated phase of any project is the prep. It’s no fun but you can’t skip it. With self-leveling concrete (or really any kind of coating at all, like paint!), you want a clean and stable substrate for the new material to bond to—which in this case was a tall order.

I thought I could prep for the concrete in a few hours. It took like four days. I hauled—and this is not hyperbole—on the order of about 150 pounds of just DUST out of the basement. Dirt and dust and sawdust and other detritus captured by the Shopvac (I have a huge Shopvac, but I find that I really prefer this little guy when working in a small space). I swept. I vacuumed. I swept some more. I vacuumed some more. I scrubbed the really dirty areas with a wire brush. I vacuumed some more. I did my best. The instructions mention mechanically profiling the surface to promote adhesion, but I didn’t do that. I also didn’t use any special chemicals or anything, since I needed the floor to be dry enough to accept the primer and concrete—outdoors a pressure-washing or something might be a better option than for indoor work where there’s nowhere for water to drain. I just cleaned as thoroughly as I could and called it good enough.

STEP 2: PATCH

All of my cleaning efforts exposed a few areas of major damage in the floor—in severe spots, right down to the dirt underneath the slab! Yikes. This is not how you’d pour a slab today, ha! But it’s what I’m working with, and excavating it all out and installing a vapor barrier and gravel and a new few inches of reinforced concrete is very much not in the cards.

There are various products around for patching areas of damaged concrete, and I used this one because I had it! I’m pretty sure this came out of Anna‘s basement, meaning this 10-lb bucket of concrete dust has probably been passed around for about a decade now—ha! One of the joys of finishing this house is going to be using up SO MUCH STUFF I’ve accumulated either with this house in mind, or leftovers and scrap from other projects. It’s highly motivating.

Just follow the mixing instructions for whatever patch product you’re using and make sure you give it time to cure before moving onto the next steps! For this step, I used this concrete binding adhesive in place of water for extra security. The dark areas are what I patched.

STEP 3: PRIME

It’s probably a good idea to vacuum again right before priming. Again, priming will depend on the concrete product you’re using—mine called for the use of a self-leveling bonding primer, although it didn’t specify a specific product. Of course it didn’t!

After some hunting around, I landed on this MAPEI Primer T from Lowe’s, which appears to be for this very thing. It was actually back in the flooring section with thinset and grout and stuff, rather than up by the concrete in the building materials area. Just FYI!

For added excitement, the primer is hot pink! The package instructions said to water it down by about half for this kind of application, so that’s what I did. Watered down, it’s very thin and sticky, like a glue.

Thinning it in a bucket made it easy to just pour some on the floor and roll it out with a 9″ rough-nap roller to spread it, aiming for a nice even coat. This stuff is a little tricky—it’s dry and ready to go in a few hours, but you want to lay the concrete within 24 hours of priming or they recommend re-priming. This gives you a 20-ish hour window to pour all the concrete.

STEP 4: POUR

Following the instructions on the Self-Leveling Resurfacer, I measured out my water and mixed in my concrete—each 50-lb bag fits nicely in a 5 gallon bucket. The package specifies 2 minutes of mixing, which is not a short amount of time when you’re standing there controlling the drill, so it’s good to use a real timer.

Speaking of the drill, almost immediately I knew I had a problem! I thought I could get away with using my regular drill, which was a mistake (I do love that drill, though. All my Porter Cable tools have been such workhorses, and they’re really reasonably priced. Just not for mixing concrete). Then I thought I could get away with the more heavy-duty hammer drill that I have for occasions such as mixing joint compound, and before long that one was emitting smoke and not at all cutting it. So I got through three bags of concrete before calling it quits, and deciding I needed to pick up a more powerful mixing drill.

One tricky thing to keep in mind is that for a solid slab, as far as I understand, you really want to do the pour in one take. If you can’t for some reason (like if your drill is weak and Lowe’s is closed), it’s better to re-prime and re-pour over the section you already did than try to blend a dried pour with new stuff. Oof.

ANNNNNNNNND, curveball! The electrician finally got back to me. They could be there the next morning to finish tying all the rough electric into the panel (which I’ll need in order to close that wall), get the recessed lighting powered up so I could stop dangling work lights all over the place in this dark basement, and add a few outlets around the room since I wasn’t especially focused on the basement when they did the initial rough-in and didn’t specify them.

When the hard-to-get-ahold-of-tradesperson says jump, you ask how high and rearrange your whole life to accommodate.

That morning, the area I poured looked like this, which was VERY exciting. It was…relatively smooth (that huge hole was in the middle of that floor!). Solid. Dry. But also very…grey. And very…flat. Which is how it’s supposed to look, but I guess I was hoping for something with some more variation and movement. This was more like someone spilled a thick layer of grey paint on the floor. Hmmmmm. Something to stew on!

So the electricians did, in fact, show up, do all the things I asked, and it was a relief. Time to get back to work on this floor.

PSYCH!

ANNNNNNNNNNND, then the plumber got back to me. He could be there the next morning to finish a few little undone things with the rough-in, and take a look at re-routing some of the more lazily run pex through joists and in bays rather than on the surface of the joists, where I’d like to be installing a ceiling.

Floor can wait, I guess.

Morning turned into afternoon, and the plumbers showed up. They got to work. There wasn’t enough time in the day left for them to finish, so they’d be back in the morning.

Morning came. Midday came. Afternoon came. Plumbers cancelled. Next morning. Oy vey. I occupied my time by talking about my puppy.

The plumbing took all of the next day. And then he was missing a part, so he’d be back the next morning. I JUST WANT TO POUR MY FLOOR ALREADY EVERYONE GET OUT OF MY WAY. These things happen.

So, with everyone out of my hair: take two. Re-clean it all. Much easier with that layer of bonding primer.

Re-prime the floor. This was also easier the second time around, and used about half the amount of product because the concrete isn’t as porous with a coat already on it.

Like I mentioned, I really needed a more powerful drill to handle mixing the concrete, so I picked up this DeWalt hammer drill from Lowe’s which was on sale for $99! Not bad! It’s 10amps and didn’t struggle at all as I went through bag after bag, much to my relief. It’s fitted with this mixing paddle, which is recommended for this type of concrete.

I also decided I wanted to attempt something different than the solid grey look of the self-leveling resurfacer, so I bought some powdered cement pigment! I read in a couple of places that using regular latex paint in place of water to tint concrete also works nicely, but I figured I’d stick with the product that’s actually designed to do this job instead. I wanted to warm up the color—kind of an orange-ish yellow-ish brown-ish beige-ish, maybe?—so I got colors called Red, Terra Cotta, and Buff. I figured if I combined them I’d get something close to what was in my brain, and if I was a little inconsistent between batches I could blend as I went to get some variation across the pour. I used a 1/3rd cup measuring cup to measure my powders, and about 1-1.5 cups of powder per bag of concrete. I’d suggest buying more than you think you need of any product in this post including the concrete so you don’t run out, and then returning what you don’t use.

To mix the concrete, I found it easiest to measure out the water first, mix that with the pigment, and then add about half the bag of concrete and mix. This should combine quickly and easily. Then add the second half and mix for two minutes, pausing to scrape around the sides where powder may not be getting incorporated properly. It’s about the consistency of cake batter. It’s tempting to add more water but you really shouldn’t because it’ll affect the strength as it cures. A white film on top of the concrete as it’s setting is an indication of too much water.

If you can wrangle a second set of hands, I’d recommend it. If you have one bucket mixing while the other is pouring, the whole process will move faster and speed is pretty key here. Each bag has about 25 minutes of working time, and you want to keep a wet edge throughout the process. Obviously don’t work yourself into a corner, but try to start in the high spot if you can.

If you can’t wrangle a second set of hands, don’t despair. Someday we’ll both find friends who want to play concrete with us, just not today. You got this. Don’t need no man.

Now we’re cooking! I stand by my pigment ideas, but I wish I had spent time making up samples and letting them dry and adjusting as-needed—at this point my timeline was blown and I just wanted to get it done and I couldn’t tell whether the color would change a lot as it dried, or not, and I just kept moving and embracing the mystery of it all. Jesus, take the wheel.

(There’s also plenty you can do to change the appearance after the pour, so don’t freak!)

Working by myself, it took 3-4 hours or so to mix and pour all of the concrete start to finish. Then, at the end, I was feeling a little bonkers and like the floor was still looking kind of…flat, so I started using my hands to kind of fling droplets of water onto the surface for the splatter-y effect. This is…not part of the instructions. It’s called CREATIVE LIBERTY, OK?

Interesting. Very interesting. I’m not sure. The stakes are low here; I am not concerned.

Again, to be clear: the “self-leveling” part of the “self-leveling resurfacer” is only partially true. It levels out to a smooth texture on its own, but it doesn’t really level the floor on its own—it does kind of maintain the pitches and contours of the substrate. You’re also not supposed to apply less than 1/8″ or more than 1″—in other words, your floor already has to be fairly level if that’s truly what you’re after. One way to compensate is using a different concrete product to build up really low areas before using the self-leveler, and/or to lightly use a trowel or a 2×4 to skim and level as you pour, starting in the high spot of the floor if possible, although the instructions explicitly state that a trowel is optional and should be used sparingly if at all.

OR, you take my approach, which is basically that dead-on level floors don’t belong in old house basements anyway and clean-able was the whole goal here to begin with, and you’ve pretty much achieved it and that’s a win.

Now that it’s had a couple of days to dry out, I think I like it?! It’s not unlike the color of a bandaid, but the splattery effect came out kind of nice, and most importantly it’s smooooooth! It’s easy to sweep! It’s easy to vacuum! The space feels SO much brighter and cleaner already, and there still aren’t even walls or ceilings.

I went ahead and installed baseboards because I can still insulate with them installed, and it was something to do while I considered a third pour—partly to try again on the color, partly to try to continue to improve the leveling. I decided that 14 bags—a mere 700 pounds of concrete powder— was enough, though, and I’m just fine with this! I’m tired. That being said, the baseboards are level so you can see how the floor still pitches. I think I’ll cover those gaps with a shoe molding and call it a day.

Even though this basement is luckily quite dry, I’m still trying to take every possible precaution against moisture and mold—so for the baseboards, which seem the most likely to get wet should there be any water intrusion, I used PVC boards usually for exterior trim (which, woah, I guess are on major sale right now?! 75% off?!). Also? I ALREADY HAD IT! I was able to rip down scraps and use entirely off-cuts from work on my own house and a couple other projects over the years. It’s not an inexpensive material, so this worked out great—plus there’s one less pile of stuff in my garage! The Cortex hidden fasteners made for this stuff are amazing—screw, plug the hole with a little pre-made plug, and you’re ready to paint! A little spendy, but worth it.


I think it’s best practice to wait 28 days for the concrete to fully cure before adding a sealer, so I’m not trying to screw it up pretending they mean hours instead of days. I did want to get a glimpse of what it would look like with a sealer on it, though, by just wetting an area down a little with water. It does make the color nicer, I think! Still not sure. I want to see more things come together first. But now that the concrete is in place, there are so many options! It could be painted, stenciled, paint-splattered, stained, epoxied, or sealed with a number of different products.

Coming along! For now, I’m going to let the floor simmer a little bit while I move on to the rest of the space—insulation, walls, ceilings, storage, paint—eek! I think this might actually work!

P.S.— I don’t even really know how to begin to respond to all the genuine kindness and understanding and just all-around-amazingness that came my way yesterday after I hit publish on that big ole post. It was a difficult one to write and put out there, and I’m just so beyond grateful and lucky to have this community around me, and that we can all feel safe talking to each other about hard stuff. It’s an extraordinary thing to be a part of, and I cannot thank you all enough for creating it.

I’m Sorry, Bluestone Cottage. I’m Still Here.

Have you ever seen a problem, thought you could help be part of the solution, and accidentally magnified the problem you set out to solve? I have. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll give you some insight: it feels fucking terrible.

I bought my house in Kingston in the summer of 2013. By that I mean the house that I live in, the one we talk about a lot on this blog as I try (and try, and try, and try) to renovate and restore it inside and out. As anyone who’s renovated an old house with even some level of care will likely tell you, it’s a huge undertaking. It’s a strain on everything—emotions, finances, time, creativity, motivation, muscles, relationships. Your whole life, pretty much.

So I’m 23, and I now own this once-beautiful house in this once-beautiful town. That’s harsh: both the house and the town retain a lot of beauty and much of their original character, but the passage of time has not always been kind. Periods of economic hardship have brought neighborhoods to the brink, and the rebound has often taken the form of absentee landlords picking up houses on the cheap, putting minimal money and care into them, and collecting their rent checks. If my house had needed less work just to get it operational, I have zero doubt that’s exactly what would have happened to it.

If you hear “small city in Upstate New York” and think rolling hills and small town charm, Kingston is likely not what you’re picturing. There’s a slice of that, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s got some grit. It has its problems. It’s not a wealthy city and there aren’t nearly enough jobs. The rent is too damn high. The litter is out of control. There are a lot of houses with a lot of problems. And it’s where I decided, fairly quickly, that I actually wanted to make my life—not commuting between here and Brooklyn, not trying to make ends meet with AirBnB income and constant hustle and jobs I’d never want if not for needing the money to support $22,000 a year in rent. And I saw something here that I wanted to be a part of. Not that Kingston is a problem to be fixed, but it’s a place where one person can get involved, get things off the ground, and make a difference in a tangible way. There’s community. I felt good here. At home here. It’s exciting and a little scary to put all your eggs in one basket that way, but I’ve never regretted it. This is where my life is. And I really want to do right.

Fast-forward 14 months. I’m still in the early renovation stages of my house, trying to figure out this whole how-do-I-make-money-in-this-place-thing. I had…this blog that had the traffic and available content to probably do really well if it were correctly managed. I had…some renovation ability, and the hope that I could convince people pay me to make their houses nice. I had…a home address in a place where houses still sold for the price of a mid-range SUV, and the unique ability to potentially offset renovation costs with sponsors who could provide materials, funds, or ideally both.

Remember what I said about some grit? While my own house is largely surrounded by multi-family apartment houses (some better managed than others), it’s a slightly different story just a couple of blocks down. This block had 3 condemned houses on it…out of 10 total. Of the seven habitable structures, only one was owner-occupied. In the summer, it was routine to look down the street and see the flashing lights of a police siren from my bedroom windows, either speeding toward or parked on that block. The neighbors related stories of hearing gunshots at night that woke up and scared their children.

Tucked into a little 23-foot wide lot was this wee house, set back from the street and obscured completely by overgrowth, with a condemned sign posted on the front door. It had recently been listed for sale by owner online but didn’t have a sign out front or anything, and when the real estate agent didn’t show up for the walk-through, he instructed me to just let myself in. Because the door was unlocked. And oh right, he was in California—a detail you’d think he might have mentioned when setting the appointment in the first place.

Nonetheless, an idea was born. If I could secure some financing to buy it and cover some of the renovation costs, I could use my Powers of Blog to cover various expenses through brand partnerships, which would in turn bring in more income that I could reinvest in the project or use to float myself financially through the several months of not getting a regular paycheck while I dedicated myself to it. At the end, this sweet little house would be nicely renovated on a street where it otherwise likely didn’t stand a chance (which also happens to be RIGHT BY my own house—which couldn’t hurt my own property value). More than that, it would be occupied—and as long as it made reasonable financial sense, by a new owner. This cute, nicely maintained house, now joining the other owner-occupied house (also very nicely maintained) would bolster the whole block—hopefully inspiring other prospective buyers to see the street in a better light and consider giving the other two condemned houses the type of care and attention they deserve. Maybe one of those prospective buyer could be me, doing it all over again. Neighborhood stabilization has to start somewhere, and who was in a more privileged position to get the ball rolling than me? I could be part of a solution.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Famous last words, if you’ll excuse the cliché.

I made a mistake. I can see that clearly now. In August, I’ll have been living with that mistake for 5 years—an amount of time I couldn’t even fathom when I truly believed I could do this in six months.

What went wrong? A lot went wrong. And as much as I either hated to or couldn’t admit it at the time, a lot of what went wrong was me. It’s kind of the story of my 20s, and weirdly, it’s mostly laid bare in blog format. I’m hoping being aware of it leads to change. That owning these choices—and seeing them as choices rather than things that simply happened—will help prevent me from making similar ones in the future. It’s the kind of personal work I expect to be doing my whole life—but now, as I approach the big THREE-OH (stop laughing, I’m trying to get something off my chest!), I think I’m starting to see it a bit more clearly.

I overcommitted—problem number 1. Thinking I can take on WAY more than I actually can has been a life-long struggle that I used to play off as cute and plucky, but really isn’t anything to be celebrated. All it means is that you’re miserable. All it means is that you’re not doing anything well, including the things that matter the most because there’s just too much going on. I should not have taken responsibility for a second house a year after diving into a huge rehab project of my own. Some people manage this type of thing well, although exactly how remains something of a mystery to me. Having a partner to do it with, I assume, helps enormously—but that’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship if you’re not both 1,000% into doing this kind of work. We weren’t. And soon we were done, and I was alone—two dogs, two houses, and a single, unreliable and variable income.

Things started out, by most standards on a project like this, fairly well. I tackled the exterior first, in large part to signal to the neighborhood that things were changing for this little eyesore and community hazard. That went mostly well, although we ran out of cooperative weather. We gutted the interior, too, which normally I’d consider overkill but the house had undergone at least one previous renovation and there was next to nothing worth preserving. We re-framed every interior wall according to plans I’d drawn up on the computer, since the layout was also not worth preserving.

Various members of neighborhood were so excited to see something being done, at a very good pace, with this guy—me—at the helm, who really seemed to give a shit. That guy—me—was giving people work. He was friendly with the neighbors, and sympathetic to their understandable dismay over the condition this house had been in for so many years. He’d chat with Miss Margaret from next door while she waited for her ride over to the grocery store or the doctor, and programmed his number into her flip phone with instructions to call if she ever needed anything (she did, once, and he was there in minutes). The pastor of the church down the street was ecstatic about the progress, and soon one of her volunteers was walking through the house, dreaming of buying it and starting her family there when the renovation was complete. One of the owners of the owner-occupied house had her sister by—she was getting older and looking to downsize and be closer to family; it was a perfect fit. The guy who lived below Miss Margaret allowed us the use of his hose at no charge, since there was no running water on site. Someone started dropping off pies from the grocery store—cherry, blueberry, apple—on the front stoop with notes of encouragement.

And then, as quickly as work began, it halted.

I screwed up in myriad ways. I thought I could manage a rag-tag crew who desperately needed the work, and I could not. I placed trust where I absolutely shouldn’t have. I naively put myself, my investment, and my things at risk—luckily, only the things saw any lasting consequences, although having various expensive items you rely on for your livelihood stolen by people you trusted even briefly is a real punch to the gut.

I thought I could make the blog thing work, but I couldn’t. Not at the time, anyway. I didn’t figure out how to make the time to actually create the content that would further increase the traffic that would drive the sponsors that would make the money. I’ve never been a professional blogger and I was, basically, flying by the seat of my pants. I should have asked for help. I should have done…something. I didn’t know where to start, or what kind of help to even enlist. Just having decent site traffic does not a living income make.

Worst of all—and impossible to admit at the time, but easier to stomach now—was that, frankly, I didn’t even really know how to renovate this house. I thought I did. The basic strokes, sure. But let’s remember: I have no formal training in this stuff. I’m self-taught. I was young, and had never taken on an entire home rehab like this—not even my own house qualifies, which I’d barely scratched the surface of anyway. And now I had a completely gutted shell I had to put back together, and I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around all the many, many ins and outs of making that happen. This is, in part, evidenced by my initial design decisions, wherein I didn’t include any plumbing chases despite plopping a bathroom in the center of the second floor. Or thought we’d heat the house with a forced air system, in spite of having no space for ducts or air handlers.

There was a leak in the gas line that took the utility company 8 months to repair because of the winter and the frozen ground. Somehow at the time I couldn’t fathom a way around that—the house was freezing cold, and without a heat system (which will run on the gas), there wasn’t really any reason to move forward with a plumbing rough in, and without that I really shouldn’t have the electricians in, either, and both of those things would hold up insulation and finishing work, and really the flooring should go in between the heat system rough and actually installing the radiators, since I can’t install flooring AROUND a cast iron radiator. And OH RIGHT now I have to source and procure a house-worth of cast iron radiators because I simply will not do baseboard radiators and the fact that forced air isn’t really an option is news to me, and this will hold up the plumbing rough-in because they need to know how big each radiator is to get the pipes in the right place.

So I read up on sizing cast iron radiators (there’s science and math there, it’s not just whatever fits the space best) and gathered them from far and wide. Two came, actually, from a reader. One came from my house. A couple came salvaged. The plumber who was going to do the work disappeared. The house was freezing. My relationship was ending. I was failing at the blog stuff. And this block of time—during which I thought I was going to be working on this house and, hopefully, recouping the money I had into it—was quickly expiring. And I had a shell. With an unfinished exterior, nothing but framing inside, and a collection of antique radiators with no plumber to make them actually do anything.

This entire plan, essentially, hinged on everything going basically right. On me knowing what to do when they didn’t. And it didn’t go right. And I continued to not know. While I had the financing available to renovate the house, I wasn’t making nearly enough to live off of while I did that. And girl’s gotta eat. And pay bills. Adult things. So I took a little freelance job that spring, thinking with the weather back on my side I could totally do this freelance house, continue the more pressing work on my own house, and really dive back into Bluestone. At the very least, I’d make myself a little bit of money from the gig, and at least be able to support my shit through the next phase of work.

That little freelance job turned into the beast that was Olivebridge Cottage.* It was a job we’d budgeted 8 weeks for, and when all was said and done it took almost two years of my life and resulted in, essentially, a brand new house that I was responsible for designing and building. The workload was immense, the pay was not enough, and it took over my life. Finding the time to blog regularly was incredibly hard, and site traffic steadily decreased accordingly. Hell, finding the time for much of anything was incredibly hard—work at my own crazy house slowed to a stand-still, and any illusions I had about being able to work on Bluestone at the same time as this gargantuan project were sorely misplaced. It’s a time thing and a logistical thing and an energy thing. Not enough hours in the day. Various tools are at another jobsite. No energy, mental or physical, to put in long hours at two construction sites everyday. So it sat. And it sat. And it sat.

*The Olivebridge project will come back around on the blog at some point. For now, the owners have respectfully asked me to take down posts about the house, lest it’s unclear to somebody reading about it that all the many problems we uncovered were resolved. I don’t necessarily share the concern but I do respect their wishes—it is their house, and they shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable with what’s out there about it. Blogging is still not my full-time job, and those posts in particular take hours upon hours to put together—which is the same time I have to write other posts that, basically, I’d rather be writing.

One of the other condemned houses got picked up for pennies at auction. In short order all the exterior rot was inelegantly covered in aluminum flashing, some work was undertaken on the inside, a For Rent sign went up in the window, and the newest absentee landlord on the block began collecting his rent checks. And I can’t even say a damn thing about it, because my piece of the block is still just sitting there, waiting. An empty shell.

Eventually, a plumber was successfully enlisted to perform the work of the rough-in. A deposit of 50% on the single biggest line item in the budget was handed over. It should have taken a week, tops. The first day got cut off by some emergency call, if memory serves, but it went well. The next day, he’d be back. That day turned into a week. Which turned into a month. Which eventually turned into 14 months of hounding, and them coming for a few hours, followed by more weeks or months of hounding, until the rough plumbing work was mostly complete and able to be inspected. Then he was unceremoniously let go. That piece of shit.

On the bright side, I love the new plumber. So there’s that.

I didn’t leave the Olivebridge project with a lot in my pocket, and at the tail end of it I all but destroyed my house in a fit of pent-up I-MUST-MAKE-SOME-PROGRESS-ON-THIS-HOVEL-BEFORE-I-LOSE-MY-MIND—another hideous error in judgment and delusion about how much I can pile on in a given period of time, not to mention the money it cost. Olivebridge was brutal. Then what I did to my house was brutal. What this did to my depression-prone brain was brutal. Plumber at Bluestone still being a garbage human. No progress over there. Everything was terrible, and I felt so stuck.

I’ve talked before about the anxiety-avoidance cycle I’m prone to fall into if I’m not careful. And it happened with Bluestone. How it starts:

I begin to look away when I drive by it. I don’t go over nearly enough to tend to the yard, where the weeds grow increasingly thick and tall. I don’t like to go inside, so I don’t. When I walk over, the neighbors ask where I’ve been, or what’s going on, and my answers are unsatisfying at best. I don’t know what to tell them. The time has gotten away from me. And I don’t really know what’s going on.

The guy who used to drop off pies drops notes instead, asking me to call him. He wants to buy it—not even in a predatory way, just in a let-me-take-it-from-here kind of way. He’s disappointed but kind. Everybody is disappointed but kind, really. I tell him honestly how much money has gone into the house, which doesn’t surprise him but does make the price rather high on a property that no bank would approve a loan for. It breaks my heart that I don’t even know what I’d do if he came to me with a check. I don’t want to abandon this project but I also wish it would go away.

I stop by less and less frequently. I look away more and more. My own house still feels terrible. That house, sitting down there, feels like death. It gets broken into during the winter, but I don’t find out until months later from the landlord next door. He is inexplicably nice to me. I would not be this nice to me—not even close. He tells me a lot of people were in the house. He and his son re-secured it so it wouldn’t happen again. He was surprised I didn’t know. Inside, a small fire had been set in a cast iron sink I’d set aside years before—with so much optimism—for the half-bathroom. They’d used lath as kindling. The sink was destroyed but nothing else—a miracle I don’t think is appropriate to describe as “small.”

It was devastating. Imagine if something happened. I sobbed. I felt sick. I’m precisely the problem I set out to solve. It’s a dark, dark feeling. The worst that I’ve ever felt about anything in my life, I’m pretty sure. Every part of me felt awful. And by association, so did Bluestone. It became the physical embodiment of Daniel, The Spectacular Failure. And it’s right. fucking. there. Inescapable. Unavoidable.

Miss Margaret died. I found out from the guy who let us use his hose. I’m quite sure seeing the house next door to her apartment get renovated was not her dying wish, but that she never got to see it reborn still makes me sad. The pastor has moved away, and her volunteer with dreams of a family did buy a house, somewhere else in town, where she now lives with her husband and their new baby. I get the sense she dislikes me now when we pass each other in the grocery store and whatnot, but I could be projecting. Or I could be right, and frankly, she has every right to. Even Methodists have their limits.

The third condemned house sold, a large Victorian divided a few decades ago into four apartments. Now, it will again be four apartments, just altered. They slapped a coat of paint on it, ripped out all the windows, ignored clear structural deficiencies, enclosed a porch, tossed the radiators, and removed the rafter ties so the second floor could be vaulted all the way into the attic space—so basically the roof might collapse with a heavy snowload now. The owner is an “artist” who lives…somewhere else. And, once again, I can’t say a goddamn thing about it, because at their pace he’ll be collecting rent checks before Bluestone has a working toilet, let alone a certificate of occupancy. And it’s my fault.

A year ago, I wrote this post. I wanted 2018 to be better than the prior few years. I needed it to. I needed to figure out how to get myself out of this mess and this cycle—of taking on freelance work I don’t necessarily even want that overtakes my life, of deluding myself into thinking I can do it all at once, of allowing this project—now a hazard unto itself—to get pushed off again and again.

I didn’t solve all my problems in the space of a year. But I was better. I know I was better, in ways measurable and not. I wrapped up one big freelance job, did another, and started a third that didn’t require as much of my time (still far more than I expected and/or quoted for, but that’s a whole other story). I asked for help with managing the blog stuff and, briefly, got some (although that’s also a whole other story, but I’m giving myself some credit for trying). I got my hair cut 10 times, and even though I missed two appointments it was still a personal record. That’s neither here nor there, but it was a 2018 resolution so I’m inclined to mention it.

Mostly, I hunkered the fuck down. I worked my ass off, from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter.

The lion’s share of this ass-that-got-worked-off, admittedly, was closer to home. Specifically, at home. It was a big year for my house—essentially, one of rebuilding. At the start of the year, it felt like ruins. Various spaces were gutted. No laundry. No kitchen. No pantry. Not enough heat. Incomplete exterior work. And just a phenomenal mess—too much stuff in too few rooms, disorganized, and plain dirty. There wasn’t really a choice but to roll up my sleeves and step up my game, so I did. I worked, and worked, and worked, and worked. I reacquainted myself with my own things, trying to remember what I’d loved and valued about them before they became dusty obstacles cluttering my life. I cleaned. I rearranged. I spread out—which sounds weird, since I live here alone, but I still catch myself feeling like this space isn’t entirely mine. Like I have to keep myself contained, small, hidden. I made hundreds of lists. Did I mention I worked a lot? And slowly, but not that slowly all things considered, it started getting better. Creating a laundry space made it easier to really care for my stuff again. Getting the kitchen to a point of basic functionality allowed me to reclaim my living and dining spaces and actually start cooking again. I made some solid progress in the backyard, and spent months wrapping up the restoration of the south and east sides of the house. I constantly had to remind myself that big progress can only be accomplished through a thousand small steps—like building a stone wall, there’s no shortcut. You just have to keep stacking stones on top of other stones. As it happens I also built some stone walls and the metaphor was never far from my mind. That’s all any of it is, really—stacking stones, one by one, on top of other stones until something satisfying emerges.

I got a lot done. I didn’t get Bluestone done, but did get the electrical roughed in, which is another big step toward completion. I took better care of the yard. I stopped turning away when I drove by. I began—for the first time in a long time—to allow myself to think about finishing materials and how I want this house to actually look and feel. It’s looked and felt so bad for so long, but having a clearer picture of the end goal helps.

Something happened several months ago that you may have picked up on, which is that Lowe’s came a-knockin’ with a proposal, basically to do various sponsored projects over the course of several months. While I’ve worked with different brands on sponsored content in the past, I’ve never done anything more than a one-off kind of project—which has always been part of the challenge with monetizing blogging for me, because I might do one sponsored thing and get a decent little paycheck, but I can’t play financial roulette and turn down non-blog work and risk that there may not be a next sponsored thing with a decent little paycheck, so freelance work just ends up feeling more like a sure thing. The trade-off is that it keeps me away from things I’d rather be working on, including working on blog posts and responding to emails from potential sponsors that might make the blog thing actually sustainable. This is why I need help.

But this was Lowe’s—a team of people I’ve worked with on and off in the past, with a retailer that I probably spend the most time and money at of any other in my life (I have the Lowe’s/Synchrony credit card debt to prove it, folks!). I couldn’t ask for a more perfect fit. The way this works—both normally and in this situation—is that the content creator (that’s me!) pitches ideas to the sponsoring brand, they select their favorite ideas and the ones that align best with their budgets and editorial goals, and then I tell them the supplies I need to get it done and those materials are provided. I get paid both in the form of materials (which typically are either things I’d be purchasing anyway, or at least want to) and in the form of actual money for my time doing the project and producing the post and, of course, promoting it through this dog and pony show you see before you.

Anyway. I entered into this agreement with both trepidation and intention. I’ll come back to the intention part. Trepidation for two reasons: whether I was truly up to the task I thought and Lowe’s seemed to think I was up to (I’m trying to be more careful with my commitments, like I said!), and how it would go over with you, my DEAR READER. Because I like you (at least, I assume I do) and of course I want you to like me, and trust that I’m being honest with you, BECAUSE I AM, and this kind of sponsored set-up was a real departure from how I’ve been bopping around in this world for the past 8+ years. Because I know sponsored content is lame sometimes. I’ve skipped over it on other blogs, too. See how cool and relatable I am? I know right.

I think there’s an impression that when bloggers do sponsored content, it’s less real than their un-sponsored content. Or that the blogger is, like, greedily raking in the dollars for putting some dumb thing in their house and taking some photos of it. And while I’m not saying those things don’t happen, I can say this: these projects have been intense. In part because there are still various other things going on in my life, but in part just because all of these sponsored projects have been a ton of work. These bloggers that do this stuff on the reg and still manage 5 posts a week? I literally don’t know how they do it. In typical fashion, I way overshot on pretty much every single project—committing myself to more work than time really should have allowed for, and honestly more than was really necessary to pack into ONE blog post. Even after all this time, I still find it very difficult to predict how a post will actually pan out until I’m writing it, and I worry about it not being enough…and the idea always sounds like less work than it is. Always. Every time. And I wanted to do a really good job. I don’t know what the future holds for that partnership in particular—I would love for it to continue—but either way it’s been an invaluable insight into what pro blogging might look like for me. I’m not really an affiliate-link-the-shit-out-of-everything-on-Wayfair kinda guy, if you haven’t noticed.

The intention part was basically this: that this opportunity, at least for these few months, is maybe the beginning of me crawling out of this tangle of weeds. That this enables me to work on the projects I want/need to work on (BLUESTONE), and provide some stable income so I can, actually, pivot energy and attention onto this blog. Essentially, all I’m saying is the thing we kind of know to be true but forget: that the sponsored content isn’t just the sponsored content; it also supports the un-sponsored content. It’s a huge thing I’ve had a hard time totally grasping for myself all these years (no trouble understanding it for anyone else—what’s with that?), because I feel like I “should” be blogging more simply because I like it—but liking it or not liking it has never been the issue. The issue has always been the time it takes vs. the time I have because I’m wrapped up in all this other stuff.

(OK, sometimes I get dark and spooky and exceptionally anxious for weeks or months that the whole world hates me, and then I also don’t tend to blog. But usually it’s the other thing.)

So. I’m learning how to do this. It’s challenging, but a good kind of challenge. The kind of challenge I actually want.

Many of the projects I proposed were for Bluestone. The projects were selected and approved over time, not all at once, so it was a little hard to predict where I’d be headed next. A couple of projects I initially wanted for Bluestone, but my house ended up being the more practical or reasonable option for various reasons. AND THEN.

Lowe’s approved the Bluestone basement. The basement laundry room! Which is the whole basement, by the way. At first I was like…well that’s a weird way to start this renovation, but it’s actually kind of perfect? It gets me back in there. It’s subterranean, and 200 square feet, and a great little winter project I can do myself with a propane heater and the right supplies. It also started as the most disgusting, terrifying little space, so that makes any improvement feel extra good. Taking on this project prompted me have some of the bad work from the old plumber fixed—just sloppy stuff I probably would have ignored and then regretted ignoring down the line—which lead to wrapping up the un-done work upstairs, and that feels so much better. The electricians also returned for some outstanding items we didn’t need to pass inspection but should have been done. And it’s starting to look like something down there—like something rather nice.

It’s been a very long time since I spent this much time in this little eyesore o’ mine—since the beginning of it all, really. And it’s kind of a strange thing, to go back to a place that you never really left, but look at it with fresh eyes. Look at yourself with fresh eyes. I’m different than I was when I was 24 and had this bad idea. As much as I’ve groaned about this job and that job and stuff I did in my own renovation that made Bluestone feel impossible to really work on, I also learned what I think neuroscientists refer to as a fuckton through those experiences. They have all felt challenging because they were really fucking challenging. And that’s how trial by fire feels. That’s how learning the hard way feels.

And this, I think, is how moving forward feels. I don’t know how to resolve my guilt over the neighbors and probably the answer is that I don’t need to. I can apologize. I can feel guilty about what’s happened because what’s happened has been shitty. I can, at the same time, do what needs to be done to make the future different. And better. I know how to do this now. I’ve done it before—not this exact task, but I’ve done a lot. And I keep doing stuff, and I keep learning stuff, and I am—as of this writing—more capable than I have ever been before of taking this on. You probably are, too, with whatever thing you might have going on. Think about it! Tomorrow, you’ll be more capable. Because we are learning beings that, in spite of our flaws, have made it this fucking far.

One foot in front of the other. One stone on top of the next. That’s all any of it is.

Pupdate!

I know it’s only Wednesday, but it’s been one of those weeks, so in lieu of the home renovation content you probably came here for, let’s just look at photos of my cute dogs? Sound alright? Great. I wasn’t actually asking.

It’s been a month since I brought this little guy home, and Mekko and I just adore him. He’s so sweet, hilarious, smart, playful, and all-around just such a good boy! I feel like we really hit the puppy jackpot with him.

Potty training is going pretty well (some days are more successful than others), we’re all sleeping through the night, and a round of dewormers seems to have done the trick for the various intestinal parasites. He’s almost 14 weeks old now, and weighing in at about 16 pounds! Such a big man!

So far his hobbies include playing with his big sister, snuggling, being such a gentleman and also the handsomest boy, sitting on command, laying by the fire, and following me everywhere. He has a newfound interest in shoes that I am trying to discourage. So far he has been minimally destructive and I hope that holds.

It is incredibly difficult to get anything done. Everything he does is v v adorables.

Mostly, this burgeoning partnership between him and Mekko has just been a complete and utter joy to watch. She’s having so much fun with him around, and really seems like a happier—if more exhausted—dog. I really think they’re a good match, which of course is also a relief.

Look at that baby Mekko smile. Look at those nice neck folds.

Watching him develop is such a trip. It happens SO FAST. Little things change with his nose and markings daily. His eyeliner started coming in! There’s a new spot where there wasn’t before! His coat is all nice and shiny now, and very different from Mekko’s—like thicker and with an undercoat. I still think he’s at least half pit bull, but the speculation continues! Should we place bets on his adult weight? The DNA results?

Did I mention the cutest things happen all the time and I can hardly stand it? Because. See above.

Also here, both being very cute. High marks, dogs. Even though he’s practically doubled in size, he still does this thing when he jumps up on the bed, which is like rehearsing few practice leaps that don’t quite get him there, before he makes a bolder leap and kind of pulls himself up like he’s scaling a wall. Jumping on the higher couch or chairs do not seem to present the same challenge. Will report back.

I am not interested in human feet but I love these dog feet. Little toesies.

The other day I color-matched his belly and the color was called “Nice Berry.” Indeed.

He’s so soft. So so soft. With nice stretchy skin and delicious breath.

We—and by “we” I mean “I”—have decided he shall be called Bungee. Like a bungee cord, or a bungee jump. It seems to suit him and he seems to like it. So that is that.

Welcome, Bungee. I hope you like having your picture taken and your face kissed all over.

Life
Tagged: , ,

How to Build Your Own Vintage-Style Cabinets

This post is a paid partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Let’s build some cabinets for my pantry! If you read my last post about the progress in the back of the house, you know what we’re starting with. A plywood box in need of ALL the finishing work!

Here’s the thing. As much as I love to learn new things, I’d always been a little overwhelmed when reading about building cabinetry. I’ve looked into it. I bought one of those books on display by the Lowe’s Pro Services desk a few years ago. Exhibit A:

Once in a while I will look at this book and quickly become overwhelmed. Building cabinetry feels like that fine line where DIY becomes…woodworking. As in, I am a woodworker. I feel like a special kind of person gets to say that, and I am not that person.

Added to this, there are SO. MANY. WAYS. to build cabinets. Cabinets that look more or less the same can be constructed completely differently, from the materials to the way the joinery is accomplished to the construction of the shelves, doors, face frames, drawers, and on and on. Most of it looked really hard. Like, too hard. I have neither the tools, the skills, or the shop space for a lot of it. But then—enter the butler’s pantry, stage left. It really calls for custom, because the sizes are weird and I want it to look old. So I decided to brush off the fear and get to work devising a way to accomplish my cabinetry goals THE EASY WAY. Crawl before you can run, right? So I consulted various tutorials and how-to’s, and then combined them to form a process that felt achievable given my limitations.

OH RIGHT, I HAVE LIMITATIONS! For instance:

Number 1: I herniated a disc in my back, causing super intense sciatica! The physical pain of this is matched only by the psychological pain of knowing that my body has begun to degrade, and soon I will be dead. But more pertinent to this project is that lifting heavy things was a no-go, and I couldn’t be going up and down a million stairs. I had to keep it light, and my work within a limited amount of space.

Number 2: I have to transport plywood in a regular car, because I was too dumb to buy a pick-up.

Number 3: I don’t have a nice big shop space or an enormous variety of tools. I have some tools. But not all the tools.

So! You know what we’re dealing with. Let’s get into it.

STEP 1: PICK A STYLE!

I assault you with this bummer picture from my old Brooklyn kitchen because it conveniently contains both of the most common styles: full overlay and partial overlay. Full overlay is where the doors cover the entire face of the cabinet—it’s what we probably see (at least in blogworld?) most in new kitchens. These are simple to assemble because they don’t have a face-frame, work well with soft-close hinges, and maximize interior space. These cabinets often come flat-packed and ready to assemble.

Partial-overlay style is a bit different: there’s a face frame and a door that covers part of it, leaving part of it visible. The backside of the door is typically rabbeted to fit within the rough opening created by the face frame. These are usually pre-assembled, ready to install, and inexpensive.

The third is the inset style, which is has a face-frame and doors and drawer fronts that sit flush with it. This example comes courtesy of some friends of mine in Kingston restoring a Victorian—how gorgeous, right? This is the style we probably associate most with pre-war cabinetry, or all those fancy trendy British kitchens from the likes of DeVol and Plain English. Nowadays it’s almost entirely reserved for custom cabinetry, at least in the States, which of course is the most expensive option, requires the most precision to build, and of course is exactly what I wanted! We’ll be building this style.

STEP 2: MATERIALS SELECTION!

A mistake I often see in the DIY world is getting the wrong materials—for instance, using 3/4″ plywood intended for subfloors where a paint or stain-grade surface is desired. Don’t do that! Luckily, there are multiple engineered options that are appropriate, including cabinet-grade plywood, MDF, MDF-core plywood, and particleboard-core plywood, to name a few! I prefer a good cabinet-grade plywood myself (it’s strong, stable, holds screws well, and is pretty easy to work with), so I selected this 3/4″ maple plywood from Lowe’s for my cabinet boxes—or the carcases, or the carcasses, if you want to get fancy. I’ve gone on a deep dive into the correct spelling and it appears carcase and carcass are both correct. Carcass is certainly the most fun to say over and over again, so we’ll go with that.

STEP 3: CUT LIST! AND IN-STORE CUTTING.

Prior to going to the store, I spent some time figuring out all of the individual pieces I’d need for the sides, tops, bottoms, and shelves of each cabinet. Using that cut list, I diagrammed the rip cuts needed for each sheet of plywood so that a store associate could take care of the bigger cuts for me. If you’re working alone, it can be very difficult and/or unsafe to manhandle a full sheet of plywood onto a table saw (it’s better to cross-cut into a more manageable size with a circular saw first) so this made the individual pieces easier to lift with my decrepit back and my impractical car, and the whole job easier. All in all, I needed 7 sheets of plywood, which left most of a sheet leftover for mistakes, extra shelves, or my next plywood project!

I like to give the store associate measurements a bit larger than I actually need, as I’ll refine them to exact dimensions at home. Their cuts tend to be a little inconsistent, and you may end up with pretty eaten up veneer along the cuts if the store hasn’t changed the saw blade recently.

STEP 4: PRIME!

Once home, it’s a good idea to pre-prime your panels. You may only need to do one side if the exterior of your cabinets won’t be visible. I skipped this, but it could save some time later on.

STEP 5: CUT YOUR PIECES TO EXACT SIZE!

Once home, it’s easy to run the pieces one after the other through my table saw, producing the identical, consistent pieces I need for construction. Label all your pieces with a pencil. I’ve had this Porter Cable table saw from Lowe’s for a number of years, by the way, and it’s been great even with heavy use and abuse. It doesn’t appear to still be available, although this Rockwell one looks to be very similar.

No table saw? No worries! Two products you might want to know about: the Kreg Rip-Cut and the Kreg Accu-Cut, both available at Lowe’s. They’re very similar products, although the Accu-Cut is likely a better value because it handles cuts up to 48″ rather than the 24″ limitation of the Rip-Cut. All you need is a circular saw (a lot cheaper and easier to store than a table saw!), and you’re off! I love it because if I need to be mobile for a job, I don’t have to lug a table saw around. I have an older version of this Hitachi circular saw, although I’d probably go cordless if I were buying new!

STEP 5: DRILL YOUR SHELF PIN HOLES

If you want adjustable shelves in your finished cabinets (highly recommended!), now is a good time to drill out the holes for the shelf pins! This might sound difficult. I promise it is not with the Kreg Adjustable Shelf Pin Drilling Jig. This thing makes it SO simple—using a special drill bit that will stop at the exact right depth with perfect spacing. I used an off-cut piece of plywood as a guide to where I should start drilling my pin holes—you generally don’t need a shelf to adjust lower than about a foot above the bottom of the cabinet, but of course you can customize to your heart’s content. The jig is designed to work equally well whether you drill the holes before assembly, or want to retrofit them into an existing and/or already assembled cabinet (hello, easy upgrade to cabinets with fixed shelves!). It’s a great little tool.

STEP 6: ASSEMBLE THE CARCASSES! (also the title of my memoir)

Like I said—a million ways to do it, and I chose the easiest of the easy. One of the guys in the book said it was OK so I ran with it. While I could have built a few really big cabinets rather than 11 individual carcasses, I also needed to be able to work in the limited space of my kitchen and be able to move the carcasses around by myself. So. READY FOR THIS? It’s literally just making a box. You can make a box. I can make a box. Boxes for all! Even within this so-easy-I-hesitate-to-call-it-a-method, you have lots of options for exactly how to do it. I’ve seen a lot of people use the Kreg pocket screw system for this, but I think this way is easier and just as good if you don’t really need hidden fasteners.

First, apply wood glue to the edges of plywood where joints will be. Be generous!

Using a finish or brad nailer fitted with nails around 1.25″ (you could adjust up or down if you have something else around, just as long as it’s at least 1″), tack your joints together. Maybe 2-3 nails on each joint. These are JUST to keep things in place temporarily while you construct your box. A pneumatic gun (mine is no longer available, but this one is similar!) is extremely easy to use and control, and quite precise, so you can keep things aligned properly with one hand and fasten with the other. Use a carpenter’s square to check for squareness.

With the box assembled with glue and nails, use a 1/8″ drill bit to pre-drill a few holes along the joints, where you just nailed. Aim for every 8″ or so—you don’t have to be super exact.

Using 1.5″ (again, you can adjust a little up or down—I have an enormous container of miscellaneous screws I mined for this special occasion!) #8 coarse-thread drywall screws, drive screws into your pre-drilled holes. You should be able to feel them catch and they will easily sink below the outer layer of veneer. If they don’t, swap for a longer screw and try again. You may notice the joints tighten a bit, squeezing glue out of the joint.

I love drywall screws for this. They’re very strong, very cheap, and don’t tend to strip like a wood screw does. Coarse thread is the key!

Using a damp cloth, wipe away any excess glue. Remember to check again in a few minutes to see if glue is dripping or pooling anywhere.

STEP 7: DRY FIT!

With the carcasses assembled, I did a dry fit just to make sure I hadn’t really screwed anything up. All good!

If I may, for a second. My new chop saw. It’s awesome. I really needed a new chop saw, and then mine broke, and then I really needed a new chop saw, and I (Lowe’s) stepped it all the way up with the DeWalt 12-in sliding compound miter saw, and it is a DREAM. I’ve never had a chop saw this large or powerful, but I’ve worked with them, and making larger cuts makes a huge difference particularly on miters. Even at 90 degrees, my busted chop saw made a crosscut of less than 6″, and this one can cut 14″! This was so helpful for parts of the frames, shelves, face-frames—oh man I’m so glad to have it. Now it needs a shop space to live in! I do have to transport tools around kind of a lot, though, so while this is overkill for a small job, it’s also not so bad to close down and throw in the trunk, weighing in at 56 pounds. I’ll stop going on about my new toy now; thank you for indulging me. Let me know if you have questions.

STEP 8: ASSEMBLE THE BACKING!

At the top of each cabinet in the back, I used a piece of 1×3 cut to the interior width of the carcass, glued/nailed/screwed from the sides and the top, just like the rest of the box. This helps keep the box square, and also provides a really easy way to hang the cabinets by just screwing that piece to the wall/framing members. For extra long cabinets, you may want to add an identical piece to the bottom and perhaps the middle. This is a great situation to use wood from the scrap pile. Renovation consumes so many materials and produces so much waste as it is, and it saves so much money when I can just run to the garage instead of to the store!

I chose traditional 2″ beadboard backing for my cabinets—one of those good old Victorian standbys that are, luckily, still readily available and affordable! For an even more affordable, simple solution, beaded plywood and beaded MDF made to mimic this is available, too! Personally I like the imperfections of using the real deal, but hey—you got options! You could also totally use 1/4″ or 1/2″ plywood for the backing which would be even easier. I think 1/4″ is more typical, but an actual woodworker friend of mine told me that he uses 1/2″—and builds his carcasses almost exactly like this, which made me feel very validated.

This beadboard from Lowe’s is sold in packs of 6 (covering about 14 square feet per pack), in either 8′ lengths or 32″, which is so convenient if you’re doing wainscoting under a chair rail! The quality is so-so—there tend to be a lot of knots, and it would be a good idea to pre-prime every board, which I skipped due to lack of self-control. I’m fine with painting it but I wouldn’t really consider it stain-grade, personally.

With your boards cut to size, apply wood glue around all the back edges of the carcass and secure the beadboard. I used 3/4″ brad nails (I have an old Craftsman brad nailer probably a lot like this one I bought forever ago that’s still going strong!), and because you’re fastening to the back of the carcass you can just face-nail the boards at the top and bottom rather than nail through the tongue as usual. The beadboard is only 5/16″ thick and very lightweight, so you don’t need to go nuts—a pneumatic stapler would likely do the trick, too. Glue and some brads—it’s like a craft project! Funsies!

You may need to rip the last piece to size, of course. The beadboard goes super fast. It’s very satisfying.

STEP 9: MAKE THE BASES!

Modern standard base cabinets have a 30-31″ high frame and a 4-5″ base to make the total height 36″ when accounting for the thickness of the countertop. I’m building mine to a finished height of 34″, simply because I can.

To assemble the bases, framing lumber is inexpensive and provides a nice stable base. Because I’m basically drowning in salvaged lumber from the house, I took the opportunity to yank some old studs out of the basement and use those. To account for uneven widths, I ripped them each on the table saw down to 3.5″—the actual measurement of the 4 in 2×4. Obviously skip this if you’re all FANCY and have brand new 2x4s like some kind of ARISTOCRAT.

I assembled the bases in 3 sections to make them easy to maneuver, and then screwed them together and to the walls once in place, shimming to account for the out-of-level floor.  I used 3.5″ deck screws for the frames because I had them.

STEP 10: INSTALL THE BASE CABINETS

Set the carcasses on the bases and attach them to each other, using a set of Kreg clamps to keep the faces flush and caracasses level with each other. I used 1.25″ Kreg coarse-thread screws to fasten them together at the front and back of the frames—three in the front and three in the back. Keeping the screw toward the front of the frame will keep them out of sight once the face frame is installed.

I discovered that my room was hugely out of square, so I also had shim the backs of the base cabinets as I went along so that the finished floor space would be square. I have big tile ambitions that will require squareness. With shims in place, I fastened the cabinets to the wall through that top rail with drywall screws.

STEP 11: INSTALL THE UPPERS!

The uppers were physically more difficult to hang, but the plywood walls really helped here because I could shoot a few finish nails through the hanging rails to hold the cabinets in place briefly. The finish nails allow some flex, so it was easier to fasten the cabinets together with their frames nice and flush before screwing them securely into the wall.

So, see that big crazy gap at the top between the two tall cabinets? I MESSED UP. MY CABINET WAS NOT SQUARE. ALWAYS CHECK FOR SQUARE, DUMMY. Me, not you. You’re smart. You always check for square.

I decided to hang it anyway. The gap will get covered by the face frame, and I didn’t drill the shelf pin holes yet, so the shelves would still be level. I’m not necessarily endorsing it, but it’s the choice I made. These are the moments (some projects have a lot of these moments) where I like to claim wabi-sabi. Do you know about wabi-sabi? It’s Japanese. It has to do with the beauty of imperfection. Bloggers really liked to talk about it a few years ago. I say it jokingly to excuse my flaws. I think it’s endlessly funny; mostly it’s very annoying. But. I do it anyway.

Now we can move on and not speak of it again. Even at this early stage, I have to say—the room feels HUGE! It’s bigger than a Manhattan kitchen! It’s more cabinets than in my current kitchen! Tools like SketchUp are great and all, but they aren’t nearly as fun as the real thing.

Also, hi Mekko. Smooth photobomb.

STEP 12: ASSEMBLE THE FACE FRAMES

I have seen lots of old cabinets. I have seen a lot of varying face frame dimensions, which is sort of liberating, but you want to be mindful of keeping good proportions. In this case, I consulted the 1920s built-ins in the other room and landed on a really bulky face-frame. On the lowers, the verticals are 2.5″ wide and the top rail is 2″, and all the wood is a full inch thick, otherwise known as 5/4″ lumber (as opposed to 1x, which is actually 3/4″ thick). The 3/4″ vs. 1″ difference is, admittedly, a small thing, but I prefer 1″ in a lot of cases for old house stuff. The thinner modern 3/4″ boards just don’t look the same! 3/4″ boards are much more readily available, though, and ideally you want to be working with good, straight and knot-free lumber—poplar is nice for a painted finish, clear pine, or even oak for a stain-grade or just a very snazzy cabinet.

For this, too, I used salvaged wood. This was a pain but I did it anyway, because I have a thing for overcomplicating and I like using up my supply so I feel less nuts. Because the wood was a rag-tag pile of old, old-ish, and kinda-new-but-not-new-new, I had to run it all through the planer to get it to even thicknesses—essential for face frames. With new wood, you’re probably safe to skip this step.

There are multiple ways to go about a face frame, so I thought I’d try two of them. The first way is to pre-assembled it using some kind of joinery—in this case, the Kreg pocket hole system, which is easy to use and people love. From there, you can glue and face-nail to the carcasses, or attach it with pocket screws pre-drilled into the outside of the carcasses. I like the glue and face-nail approach because it’s easy.

Part of the goal here is to make the cabinets appear as one substantial unit rather than individual boxes, so a pre-assembled face frame can get rather large and unwieldy—getting the one for the two big uppers into position was actually kind of difficult, and I felt like maybe this approach wasn’t worth it.

So for the rest of the cabinets, I assembled the face-frames piece by piece, glueing and nailing them directly to the carcasses, being careful to maintain evenly sized (AND SQUARE) openings for the doors. With bulky stiles like this, you could also opt to make the carcasses a little smaller and use spacers between them, so that the face-frame only overlaps the interior of the cabinet by about a 1/4″. For a soft-close hidden hinge, that would definitely be the better approach, but my hinges will be attached to the face frame itself so it doesn’t really matter. I decided I’d rather keep the interior space in the cabinets.

If that top rail of the face frame up at the ceiling looks a little bulky, by the way, it’s because part of it will be covered with a simple crown—this one, I think!

The bottom rail, where the cabinet meets the floor, is going to be flush with the face-frames (like in my friend’s kitchen!), but I think it will be better to install that once the flooring is in, so I’m holding off. I’ll have to shim out the 2×4 bases for that, which isn’t such a big deal. Ideally they would be the same depth as the carcass already but I didn’t realize how far I’d be shimming the cabinets to make the room square. I’ll also finish off the big cabinet next to the fridge once the countertop goes in—I have to decide whether I want the backsplash to wrap the sides or just be more painted wood. Decisions!

STEP 13: BUILD AND INSTALL THE SHELVES!

I found it pretty equally easy to drill the shelf pin holes before assembly and after, but I think I prefer to do it after because seeing the cabinets installed gives me a better sense of where I’ll actually want adjustable shelving. Since the Kreg shelf pin drilling jig is only 6 holes, they include that chrome piece you see in the bottom hole, which allows you to just move the jig up, insert that pin into the top hole of the line you just drilled, and drill 5 more. And so on! Perfect spacing!

To construct the shelves, you can make this easy or you can make this complicated. I chose both.

One approach: For the tall upper cabinets, I planned for glass doors so it matters more what the shelves look like—and again, 3/4″ thickness just looks too flimsy for my pain-in-the-butt tastes. To save some time and energy, I bought pine stair treads, which are a full inch thick, from Lowe’s and just cut them to size, keeping the bullnose for the front-facing edge.

Another approach: Use regular 1x lumber for shallower shelves.

Another approach: Cut 3/4″ plywood to size and use iron-on edge banding to finish off the front edge. Stain or paint.

Another approach (above): Cut 3/4″ plywood to 1″ shy of your desired depth, and then glue and face-nail a bullnosed piece of 1x OR 5/4″ to the front. Using 5/4″ will give the illusion of a thicker shelf, but make sure it doesn’t interfere with your shelf pins. I made the bullnose on my router table using a 1/2″ roundover bit. You could also just use a regular square piece of trim to fake the thickness, too, if the bullnose lifestyle isn’t for you.

STEP 14: PRIME, SAND, AND PREP FOR FILLER AND CAULK!

Because I was exceedingly lazy about pre-priming, I had to prime everything once assembled. There are a LOT of knots between the beadboard, the stair-treads-turned-shelves, and even the face-frames, so I opted to just prime EVERYTHING with Zinsser’s Shellac-base primer. I love this stuff. I find shellac primer by far the most effective for blocking bleed-through from the knots, and it goes on thin and dries VERY VERY fast, meaning I can get a lot done in a short period.

I like to prime and then give everything a light sanding—this, I think, is the key to a slick paint job. You know how sometimes, you can sand and sand and sand and the wood is still kind of…fuzzy? This takes care of that problem, because the primer will basically bind and harden all of the texture and fuzzies softer woods like pine have before painting, and then a light sanding takes it all off and leaves you with a silky smooth surface to accept your finish paint. It’s also best to pre-prime before applying caulk or fillers—both will hold up better when applied to a primed surface rather than raw wood.

Also. I really want to have the sink/countertop in before I commit to the tile and/or the paint color for the cabinets, but I can’t possibly be expected to live with all these empty cabinets until that comes to pass. GIMME THAT STORAGE. There’s also no reason I need the doors installed right now, except that they would help keep the interior contents of the cabinets from gathering dust. But having everything primed at least means it’s all easy to wipe down in the meantime!

OBVIOUSLY AND VERY CLEARLY there’s still a ways to go with this room, but it’s still going to be quite a process for all the elements to really come together. But can you…see it?! I’m SO HAPPY. For the first time in YEARS I’m able to have all the kitchen stuff IN THE KITCHEN PART OF THE HOUSE and it just feels so very civilized.

LOOK AT ALL MY STUFF! LOOK HOW THE VACUUM CLEANER HAS A HOME! MY CAKE STAND HAS A HOME! MY DENTED REFRIGERATOR HAS A HOME! I’m not completely sure how I want to arrange storage in that tall cabinet next to the fridge, so for now I hung some old track shelving in there which is a good start.

Hilariously, the microwave wound up being too deep for the cabinets I built specifically TO HOLD THE MICROWAVE. Doh! I realized it halfway through building the carcasses, and committed to just getting a new microwave when I’m ready to install the cabinet doors. For now, whatever. It’s a decade-old microwave I got from my friend Anna, so it’s OK. I’m a grown ass man. I can buy my own microwave I guess.

I’m sort of amazed by how much material is going into this room! The beadboard ceiling is installed but the walls aren’t, I need to install the crown, make all the doors, trim out the window and exterior doorway (the current door trim is 1 part of a 3 part built-up trim), trim out the entrance from the kitchen into the pantry (with a transom window!), install lighting, make a wood medallion for the ceiling fixture, have the sink and countertop fabricated and installed, figure out a backsplash, install the floor tile, paint everything…but getting to this place of basic functionality feels great. And did I mention huge?! I’m super pleased with how much function is getting packed into this less-than-60-square-foot space!

Oh, and by the way? This was also the last project at my house for 2018, and now we’re going to hop on over to…the cottage! It’s your moment, little house! So. Excited. I. Can’t. Even. We’ll circle back to this pantry when I have more to share!

Back to Top