All posts in: DIY Tutorials

How To Build A Simple Floating Desktop + Shelves!

shelvesdesk1

If you saw the big post about my office a couple of weeks ago (indeed, I am still talking about that…), you may remember that I promised a little tutorial for how I built the super simple floating desktop and shelves! I’m really proud of how these elements of the room turned out—they were very easy to construct, pretty inexpensive, and look and function exactly how I wanted them to. There isn’t anything particularly fancy about them, but I sort of like that—they’re clean and modern but still look a little homespun and handmade, which I think is kind of nice and appropriate for this modest room.

The basic construction of the shelves and the desktop is exactly the same: cleats underneath, a 3/4″ thick board on top, and a 1″x2″ piece of lumber glued and nailed to the front edge to give it the extra bulk, which serves both to hide the cleats and make them look a little more substantial and finished. See? Simple! Now I’ll make it complicated for you.

steps1

The most difficult part of the project is probably creating and securing the cleats onto the walls. Because I wanted the 1″x2″ board in the front to conceal the cleats, I had to make my own skinny little 3/4″ thick cleats to support the desktop and shelves. If that’s confusing, it’s probably because wood dimensions at the hardware store are a bit misleading—a 1″ thick x 2″ wide board is actually 3/4″ thick x 1.5″ wide. So, because only 1.5″ of wood would cover both the edge of the 3/4″ thick desktop and the cleat, the cleat could only be an additional 3/4″ without peeking out the bottom.

I probably just made that more confusing. Lesson: wood is smaller than the label says it is. Measure it if you’re unsure.

STEPS:

1. I used some scrap 3/4″ thick pine lumber and cut it into 3/4″ wide strips with a circular saw for the cleats. A table saw would have made things a little more precise, but I don’t have one! Then I used a miter saw to cut them to the right lengths. For the desktop I only made two cleats—one for either side, since I didn’t want to drill into the wallpaper. For the shelves I made 3 cleats for each shelf—both sides and the back. I made three equally-spaced pilot holes with an 1/8″ drill bit in each cleat, and then went back with a 1/4″ drill bit just to enlarge the top of each hole so that the screw heads would sink below the face of the wood (allowing me to fill and paint the holes later).

2. I used a level and a pencil to mark where I wanted the top of each cleat, and aligned the cleat with this line. I inserted a smaller drill bit through my pre-drilled holes and into the wall a bit, just to give myself the most accurate guide for where to drill my pilot holes for my anchors.

3. After drilling my three guide holes in the wall and setting the cleat aside, I went back to the guide holes and enlarged them with a 1/4″ drill bit, which was the size required by my plastic anchors. This will obviously vary based upon what type of anchor you use, but normally the package will specify what size drill bit is required.

4. There are lots and lots of different anchors on the market for different weights/applications/wall materials, but for plaster I generally find that regular plastic anchors work very well.  You should be able to insert the anchor into the hole nearly all the way with your hands, and then you’ll want to tap it flush with the wall with a rubber mallet or hammer.

screws

The anchors come with their own screws, but because the screw had to go through 3/4″ of wood, I needed longer screws to make up for it. Plastic anchors like these will interface fine with other types of screws, but you do want to make sure that the screws are the same (or a bit bigger, even) thickness. These #10 wood screws were as thick as the screws that came with the anchors, but the 2″ length gave me the length I needed to go through the wood and the anchor.

Note: obviously screwing directly into studs would give your project the most strength, but that isn’t always an option for applications this small. It can also be difficult to find studs in plaster walls because spacing may be non-standard and stud-sensors generally do not perform well with plaster & lath. Anchors such as these are typically rated to bear a certain amount of weight, so read the package and use your best judgment. These cleats are more than secure enough for shelves this small, even if they were loaded with books.

steps2

5. Insert the screws partway into the cleat with your screwdriver, then hold the cleat up to the anchors, align it, and drive the screws all the way in. Once all three screws are in, the cleat should be very securely attached to the wall.

6. This wasn’t really necessary, but I chose to patch over the screw holes with Ready Patch, sand, and paint the cleats with the same paint as the walls. It didn’t take very long, but I do think it looks a bit more finished to have the screw heads concealed and the cleats a bit more camouflaged.

7. Then it’s time to cut the shelves! I used 3/4″ thick x 12″ wide boards for the shelves and 3/4″ x 18″ wide for the desk. These boards were the big revelation of this project:

aspenpanel

I did not know that these existed, but at a magical land called Lowe’s, you can buy these fancy pants panels in all these different dimensions for cheap. The largest pine boards available are usually only 12″ wide (which is really 11.5″, remember…), and I really wanted the desktop to be a continuous surface rather than multiple boards butted up against each other with seams. These panels are really just a few pine boards joined together to make a bigger pine board, which isn’t necessarily all that fancy, but they do feel and function as a single piece, which is exactly what I wanted. I know that it’s obviously possible to join wood on your own, but I’ll leave that kind of woodworking time/effort/expense for someone else. For this, these panels were an absolutely perfect solution.

Because the walls are old and wonky, each shelf required its own special dimensions and finagling. I could have really gone all-out and made templates of each shelf and scribed everything and cut them to the exact crazy irregularities in the wall, but that just seemed like way too much effort to put into these little corner shelves that would be covered with stuff anyway. Once the 1×2 is nailed to the front, the fit really does look perfect and precise. After the shelves were in place, I nailed them into the cleats from above just to give them a little extra security.

supplies

8. To finish off the build, I just had to affix 1″x2″ select pine boards (I tried to buy the prettiest/straightest ones I could find at the store) to the front edge of the shelves/desktop. After cutting them to the proper lengths, I applied a line of wood glue to the 1×2, and held it up the the edge of the shelf with one hand and nailed it into place with the other.

I’d highly recommend a pneumatic nail gun for this part. It may not be totally necessary, but it does make it much easier to keep everything flush and positioned correctly. I have a Craftsman Evolv Air Compressor with 2 inch Brad Nailer, which is OK for stuff like this. I really liked this thing when I first got it about 6 months ago, and in all fairness it’s seen quite a bit of use in that time, but for some reason recently the PSI won’t go above 60 (which is the minimum working PSI)! I can’t seem to figure it out, other than to say that it just probably isn’t a very well-made piece of equipment. If all you’re ever doing with it is installing a little crown molding and base shoe it’s probably great, but I’m sure I’ll end up investing in something heavier-duty down the line—both because I’ll probably need bigger guns for bigger nails (and higher PSI) and because this one already seems to be failing, unfortunately. It is cheap, though. I’ll say that much!

ANYWAY. Once the 1×2 wood is attached, all you need to do is fill the nail holes with a little wood filler, wait for it to dry, and give it a little sanding, paying special attention to the wood filler! The panels and select pine should already be pretty smooth, but it doesn’t hurt to give them a few passes. I also drilled a 1.5″ hole in the back corner of the desktop for lamp/computer cords and sanded that smooth as well.

Then I just wiped everything down with a damp lint-free cloth and sealed with a satin water-based polyurethane! I have to say, I ALWAYS seem to get lazy and skimp on poly (or any finishing coat, really…), but I am publicly pledging to not do that anymore. I did 3 coats of water-based poly (sanding lightly with 220 grit sandpaper in between coats), and the finish feels so nice and smooth and durable and has a very pleasant sheen. I used water-based both because it dries fast and cleans up easily and because it won’t yellow over time. I really wanted to preserve the pale tone of the pine rather than risk yellowing it with an oil-based product.

deskafter

That’s it! The desktop and shelves probably cost all of about $85 in materials, which is just fine with me.

Cheap! Easy! Fun! Functional! Stylish! Huzzah!

Replacing Broken Window Panes with Salvaged Glass!

“You know,” our neighbor said on our fourth day in the house, “you ought to put in smaller windows.” Max and I had been out working on cleaning up the yard, and he and his friend had walked over to introduce themselves and dispense some free renovation advice.

“Smaller windows?” I asked.

“Yeah, for heat,” agreed his friend. He leaned in over the fence and dropped his voice. “Here’s what you do. Rip out those old windows and replace them with some smaller ones. But don’t throw those away——put them on eBay. Make sure you put something about how they’re from historic Kingston. Some sucker will love that. I bet you could get a few hundred bucks a pop.”

“Yeah, historic Kingston,” the neighbor agreed, “don’t forget that part. And say how it was the first capital of New York. People are into that stuff.”

“I’ll definitely consider it,” I told them, suddenly overcome with the desire to embrace each one of our newly-acquired 150 year-old windows and whisper softly to them, reassuring them that they were safe with me.

“I’m sure you got a lot of work to do on that place, but you’re gonna want to do it before winter sets in.”

“I’ll try to squeeze it in,” I said, looking back at the house, trying to think of a way to redirect their attention. “Right after, uh, we take care of this lawn. Grass, you know??”

It probably took these well-intentioned gentlemen roughly 0.0 seconds after meeting us to deduce that homosexuals had bought the vacant house down the street, but they’d failed to put two and two together. Homosexuals love old windows. They love old moldings and doors and floors and walls, too. I, for one, would do all sorts of things before I’d tear my old windows out, including but not limited to going bankrupt from heating costs and freezing to death in my sleep.

Admittedly, friendly neighbor might have a point, kind of. Advances in window technology over the past century have made windows more energy-efficient—what with double and triple insulated panes and more airtight seals. And smaller windows mean more solid wall, which means less heat loss. Hell, maybe just get rid of the windows altogether! Who needs ‘em, am I right?

But not only are old windows almost always more beautiful, they can also be pretty efficient when well-maintained (especially with decent storm windows). Even windows in terrible condition can usually be restored in a few simple steps and with a few inexpensive products. And while new production windows (vinyl, aluminum-clad, or wood) normally fail and have to be replaced after a couple decades, old wood windows can literally last centuries. My buddy Anna gives me a lot of hope when it comes to fixing up my old windows.

We have a lot of windows in this house (somewhere around 30…I’m too afraid to count), and all of them need some love. But that’s OK, because they’re super cool six-over-six double-hung sash windows that are original to the house, and almost every pane of glass is original and wavy and incredibly beautiful. The glazing on the exterior of most of them is in various states of disrepair, paint on the interior is chipping and falling off, we have broken sash cords, cords that have been replaced with chains, sash locks covered in too many layers of paint, top sashes painted or nailed closed, areas of rotted wood, broken panes…pretty much anything that can go wrong on an old window can be found somewhere in our house. Something tells me I’m going to be a pro at restoring old windows by the time we’re done renovating…50 years from now. Luckily we have storm windows on almost every window, so keeping those closed should help a little with the draftiness and offer some protection from the elements to slow further deterioration until I can really address things more comprehensively.

brokenwindows

Just to scratch the surface, though, it was really important to me to replace two shattered panes of glass. The one on the left was sadly broken a couple weeks ago (we’re guessing by some asshole neighborhood kid…ugh), and the one on the right has been broken since before we even saw the house for the first time. Aside from the the obvious concern of having gaping holes in our home when winter is just around the corner, it’s also just our responsibility as homeowners to stay on top of this stuff. It isn’t good for our house or the neighborhood to have obvious signs of disrepair and neglect on the exterior of our house, even if we’re working our butts off on the inside.

tools

Here’s my arsenal of tools!

1. A straight-edge for cutting glass. You can obviously have your glass cut for you (Lowes does it), but I wanted to try it out for myself and I had some glass on hand. This straight-edge is actually a metal transition strip for flooring because I’m disorganized.

2. A carpenter triangle, to ensure that the straight-edge isn’t set at an angle.

3. Window glazing putty. In the past, I’ve used the type that comes in a plastic tub, but I decided to try this kind out. The plastic tub kind has a play-doh-like consistency, whereas this stuff is much more liquidy. I found the other type easier to work with, honestly, but neither are super-difficult.

4. (not pictured) A heatgun for softening old glazing putty.

5. Measuring tape or ruler.

6. Glazing points, which hold the glass in place.

7. A razor blade.

8. Glass-cutting tool.

9. Glazing tool.

heatgun

To get the old glass out, I used a heat gun on the lowest setting to soften the old glazing, and my glazing tool to slowly peel it off. It’s tempting to turn the temperature up, but not only could that create lead vapors if dealing with lead-based paint, you also run the risk of overheating and cracking the glass further. This is obviously something you want to avoid if you’re just trying to redo the glazing and save the existing glass!

My pictures of the actual glazing process are horrendous (this project was particularly hard to take pictures of in-process…the lighting was a mess, and Max was busy!), but Alex at Old Town Home has a terrific run-down explaining how it’s all done. I stupidly skipped priming my sashes before applying new putty, but because the glazing on all of the windows really needs to be redone at some point anyway, I’m not going to sweat it right now. When I have the time to restore the windows for real I’ll fix it, but for now I’m just glad the glass is fixed!

newglazing

For the first window (the bottom corner pane of one of the big living room windows…boo-hoo), I thought I’d be super clever and reuse glass that I’d saved from the vestibule wall “windows.” It totally worked and looks totally fine and the dogs are clearly OK with it, but…

newpane

See that? See how the surrounding three panes of glass are all wavy and look like a Dalí painting, and the new one is super crisp and clear?

Screw you, dumb neighborhood kid.

I didn’t think it would bother me. I’m generally OK with new repairs looking like new repairs, but this is an instance when I don’t feel OK with that. It bothers me. I mean, it’s better than being broken, and I’m sure I’m probably the one person out of a thousand who will ever walk in this room and notice that one pane out of 54 in the entire room doesn’t bend the light and the view the same way that the others do, but still. I want my old beautiful glass back.

Before moving on to broken window pane #2, I was complaining about this with my friend John (whose AMAZING house tour is on Design*Sponge today!) over text message. John is a beautiful, wonderful person with terrific style who has been renovating his nearby 1723 (!!) home for the past five or six years, so I knew he would sympathize. Not only did he sympathize, but he offered to let me dig around his old window hoard in his basement to salvage some old glass! Because what self-respecting old-home renovator doesn’t keep old windows around for  a rainy day or a neighbor in need?

sparewindow

BOOM, old window. I see old windows like this ALL THE TIME at junk stores and architectural salvage types of places for practically nothing, but I’ve never really felt possessed to buy one. People are often quick to rip out perfectly good old sash windows instead of repairing them, often with the original glass and sash locks intact. John was after the sash locks, so he didn’t mind me taking some glass off his hands.

glazingremoved

I quickly went about carefully removing the old glazing with my heat gun and glazing tool. Once I felt confident that the glazing had been sufficiently removed and I’d found and removed all the old glazing triangles, I gently pushed on the backside of the glass. It popped out of the window frame pretty easily and intact. Yay!

glasscutting1

Cutting glass is really very easy, I found out. I just measured the size of the opening to figure out what size I needed and drew two small lines demarcating the width on either end of the glass. Then I used my triangle and straight-edge make sure I had a straight line to cut against.

glasscutting2

I was skeptical about how well this little glass cutting tool would work (it’s less than $4!), but it was great! Wearing protective gloves, you just run the wheel down the straight edge. Don’t be afraid to use some pressure—you only want to make ONE continuous pass, and you want to score the glass well to increase the chance of a clean break.

glasscutting3

It’s hard to get a good picture of the score line, but I hope you can see it to the right of the straight-edge? It’s subtle.

glasscutting4

Turn the glass so that the breaking point rests on the edge of a table or countertop. Apply firm, even pressure on the off-cut, and the glass should make a clean break! This is definitely easier with thinner glass like this, but the same method can work for thicker glass as well.

oldglass

It’s hard to get a great picture, but the “new” pane is the one in the top left corner! See how it’s all wavy and pretty and matches super well? I’m so pleased.

We have several more broken panes throughout the house (not shattered like these two, but with large cracks running throughout), so I guess I’ll start buying up old windows for future repairs. When I do a full overhaul on that first window and replace all the old glazing, I’ll probably go back and use this same method again. I know I’m a lunatic, but I really do think it’s worth the extra effort to maintain what I see as one of the house’s best features.

DIY Wood Plank Countertops

oldcounter

UPDATE: If you want to see how these countertops fared and were eventually upgraded with another cheap DIY solution, head on over here…)

As we have established many times over by now, my kitchen was full of a lot of nightmarish problems that added up to everything being pretty much terrible and disgusting. One of the things that was actually OK, though, were the old countertops. I’m sure they were original to the rest of our 1950s kitchen, and they’d actually held up pretty well over time——fairly scratched up and pitted in a few places, but overall there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with them. I even kind of like the off-white/gold-flecked formica thing in the right space, but they just really didn’t fit with the overall design plan of the room. Even though it goes against most of my instincts to start getting rid of things that are more or less functional, this was just one of those situations where it made sense.

I thought briefly of doing this super cool faux-concrete treatment to the existing counters, which seems relatively easy and looks great, but I felt really strongly that the countertops should be wood. I love the section of butcher block I have in my apartment kitchen, and given that the rest of the room is mainly black and white, I worried that the concrete would end up making things feel too cold and flat——the kitchen really needs some wood color and texture to bring it to life and inject some warmth.

I really wanted butcher block counters, but even at IKEA (which seems to be the cheapest option around, after much researching), the countertops alone would have run me about $320, not to mention the cost of transporting them here. The closest IKEA is a little over an hour away, and I have a tiny car, so it would have required a car rental…and a headache…and tears…and all of a sudden butcher block felt a little out of range. I know I keep repeating this, but we hope to totally redo this kitchen *for real* sometime down the line, so I didn’t really want to invest that much time and money in fancy countertops that——more likely than not——won’t get reused in a future renovation. So I wanted cheap, fast wood counters that wouldn’t be too precious but would get the job done.

countertopwood

I decided to check out the offerings at the local lumber yard, and found 2″ x 12″ x 12′ and 2″ x 6″ x 12′ fir framing lumber, priced at $19.01 and $8.05 per piece, respectively. Since I needed two pieces of 2″ x 12″ x 12′ and one piece of 2″ x 6″ x 12″, that’s $46.07 for new countertops! I decided to buy an extra piece of each, just in case I messed something up, and have it all delivered for an extra 20 clams.

Because lumber is weird, 2″ thick lumber is actually 1.5″ thick (which is standard for countertops), 12″ is a little less than 12″, and I needed my counters to be 25″ deep, so I needed to bond three boards together to achieve the right dimensions.

Now. Admittedly, these countertops are not fancy. They look very homespun and a little…rustic, which I actually kind of like. If I really knew what I was doing and had the right tools and supplies, I would have ripped the edges of the boards on my table saw (which I don’t have) and joined my pieces of lumber with a biscuit joiner (which I don’t have) and planed down my boards with a planer (which I don’t have) and I would have had nicer countertops. At least I think that’s what I would have done? Like I said. Not fancy.

Instead, what I did have is my handy little Kreg Jig! I bought this thing for a freelance project a while back, and it does a fabulous job of joining pieces of wood easily by helping you drill nice little pocket holes. The joint ends up being really strong and pretty hassle-free and easy to do. I bought a cheaper pocket hole drilling guide thing before I got the Kreg, and I have to say that the Kreg is really worth the extra cost at about $100, if you’re going to use it.

drilling

Here’s how it works! Basically you put the wood in, set the height adjustment, and drill your holes. I forgot that the bond is much stronger if you drill two holes instead of one at each screw placement, so I did that for the second countertop (which I stupidly did not photograph). I eyeballed where the screws should be, placing one about every 8 inches.

holes

They sell special clamps for keeping the wood level with itself (if you just try to screw it, the piece you’re screwing into tends to lift up about an 1/8″) but I just used the very pro method of having my friend Nora stand on the joint to keep it level while I screwed. I like to pre-place all my screws in the holes beforehand, since it’s easy to lose track of which holes have screws in them, and they’re almost impossible to see after they’re sunk in the pocket holes.

nora-sanding

I used my circular saw to cut the depth down after everything was joined together, and then we started in on the sanding! Framing lumber tends to be VERY rough, so the sanding was definitely the worst part of this whole thing. Nora and I just switched on and off when our arms began to feel like Jell-O, and it probably took about an hour (maybe more) for each countertop. We started with 60 grit sandpaper and just worked our way up the ranks, finishing with 220 grit. The lumber went from being super rough and a little ugly to suuuuuupppper smooth and soft and gorgeous.

sanded

After the sanding, this is about what we were left with. The bigger knots aren’t going anywhere, but the other parts felt like silk. So lux.

If I were going to do this all over again, I probably would have tried to have the adjoining edges at least ripped on a table saw about 1/4″, since the edges of the framing lumber aren’t very crisp. With perfect flat edges, the joints probably could have been tighter and more seamless, but I don’t really mind. I actually made a smaller section of countertop for my friend Anna after I made my own and attempted to do this with a circular saw and a rigid metal cutting guide, and that worked pretty well. Not perfect, but perfection is overrated!

countertop

I’m not entirely sure what to seal the countertops with in the long-term, but for now I put a generous coating of mineral oil on them to give them some water resistance and bring out the natural color of the fir. I love the way the wood looks with all of the knots and imperfections, and the tone of the wood is so pretty. I think they’ll look nice over time as they get dings and scratches, too——I like when things like this look well-used and have some character. The wood is too soft to double as a cutting board, but we’ll have a section of butcher block directly next to the stove and normal cutting boards available for all of our chopping desires, so I’m not worried about it.

If we had a bigger budget, we probably would have just sprung for actual butcher block, but for about $80 for all the materials and delivery (since I also had to buy the proper screws and a buttload of sandpaper), I feel pretty good about these counters! We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now, and they’re doing exactly what they need to do, and that’s good enough for me!

beforeandprogress

Imagine with me for a moment that there are cabinet doors and drawers and new hardware and a different floor and pretty things on the counters and no hanging wires or weird exposed plumbing in that second picture. Also that I hadn’t left that little yellow sponge on the floor.

Can you see it? I can see it.

The Kitchen has a New Floor!

floor4

One of the more perpetually hilarious/depressing things about looking at apartments in New York is seeing the ways that landlords try to get creative when renovating and preparing a unit for the next tenant. I recently got an email from a reader who uncovered a beautiful original hardwood door in her Harlem apartment, which at some point had been covered with a piece of 70s wood paneling. When my friend moved into her apartment near me, the trim had all been painted alternating shades of fleshy pink-beige and baby-poop-brown. Of course, there was my last apartment with the pink laminate cabinets and the pink-ish laminate countertops and the pink-ish faux-marble ceramic floor, but that wasn’t so bad. At least it was all pink?

It’s cute, when you think about it. Why not just go the easy route and pick stuff that’s totally neutral? Because landlords are people, too, with creative impulses that cannot be tamed by worrying about what any other sane person might possibly want to live with. They like to experiment. They like having some room to play. It’s very adorable and very frustrating to live with the consequences.

Floorbefore

floorbefore2

Pretty much my single biggest gripe with my apartment has always been the kitchen floor. What a terrible piece of shit.

Let me count the ways:

1. Stupid design with the black edge and big black square in the middle. Why? Just because.

2. White ceramic in a kitchen. You guys, I’m a clean dude. But a white ceramic floor in a small kitchen is just not a great idea if you don’t want to be mopping every 4 seconds. No matter how often I cleaned this floor, it ALWAYS looked filthy.

3. Cracked and chipped tiles. Everywhere. ‘nuf said.

4. So, so uneven. Yes, the floors all over our apartment are uneven, and that’s OK. But this kitchen floor was so bad because this tiling job is so terrible that none of the tiles themselves are at all level. This means that cleaning the floor essentially amounted to all the gunk getting stuck on protruding edges of errant tiles. Pretty traumatic stuff.

5. Grout. I actually always assumed these huge grout lines were dark grey, but once I started really scrubbing some of the lines, I realized it was actually originally white. I think. EW. But there’s only SO MUCH bleach and baking soda and a toothbrush and my willpower can accomplish, so it never really cleaned up beyond a piss yellow. Which was worse than the “dark grey” (dirt), in my opinion.

I thought maybe I would just live with this tile because I otherwise love my apartment and could maybe just concede on this one thing. It could probably be worse, right?  And besides, what do you do about a tile floor? There is just no way that I’m going to demo and replace a ceramic floor in a rental apartment. As this blog has proven many times over, I’m a lunatic, but I’m not, like, completely unhinged. Give me some credit.

rubber

Then, I had an epiphany. I didn’t actually have to alter the floor in any major way to get rid of it. What Dean at My Little Apartment did in her bathroom years ago popped up in my mind (holy cow, that was back in 2007. am I the Rain Man of home blogs?), so I thought maybe I could do something similar. Rubber was the answer to my prayers (/incessant whining).

I ended up buying my rubber from a company with the catchy name of Rubber Flooring Inc. Most of the companies I found only sold this style of rubber in 4-foot wide sheets, but I was nervous about how a big seam running up the middle of my floor would look/function over time. I really just wanted one BIG sheet, like a beautiful black sea of gorgeous hospital-y rubber. Luckily, the Rubber Flooring Inc. roll is 7.5 feet by 17 feet, which is almost the exact dimensions of my kitchen.

I love you, Rubber Flooring Inc. I love you and your straightforward, no-nonsense, branding and your sale that allowed me to get free shipping and a brand new kitchen floor for $250. It’s not chump change, but after living with this floor for a year and a half and figuring I might well live with it for another 5 or 10, this seemed like my best option.

process

I accidentally deleted the process photos off of my camera, but here are a couple I snapped with my iPhone. The whole thing was very straightforward, I just drew up a diagram of my floor plan and where I needed to make the cuts, unrolled the whole thing in my living room, and hacked it up accordingly.

I should probably take a moment to note that this roll of rubber, which looked fairly modest in size, was very literally the heaviest thing I have ever attempted to carry in my life. I still have no idea how Max and I manhandled it up to the 5th floor, but I do recall almost breaking an arm in the process.

floor2

SHAZAM, new floor.

I love this floor. It’s so, so easy to keep clean, it feels nice underfoot, and it magically evens out the whole wonky tile business underneath. I can forget about the bad tile situation and move on with my new life. I’m very happy with it.

As per the manufacturer’s instructions, I stuck down the edges with double-sided carpet tape. For a few days, this worked great, but it soon became unstuck from the tile underneath. The rubber is heavy enough that it’s till OK, but I really want to find a solution to keep it stuck down better. I tried hot glue, which was a massive fail, and now I’m thinking maybe rubber cement? I don’t know. I don’t want to damage the tile floor, but I want this thing to sit as flat as humanly possible. This would have been a non-issue if I had had the foresight to do this BEFORE installing new cabinets and baseboards, but I didn’t, and now I must suffer the consequences.

ANYWAY. Enough about that.

Hey, look! I installed new white toe-kicks on the old wood cabinets. Doors and drawer fronts to follow, finally, if it kills me. I will have matching cabinets it it’s the last thing I do on this earth.

rug1

The DAY after I put down the new floor, I was hanging out and thrifting with my friend on the Upper West Side and we went in this little tiny very fancy looking antiques store, filled with gorgeous expensive furniture. Now, I usually don’t even go in places like this, and when I do, I immediately look at the ceiling and the floor. That’s where the bargains are. Sometimes. Maybe.

“Is this for sale?” I asked, pointing at a very dirty, perfectly beat-up oriental rug under a bunch of stuff.
“I don’t know, I guess it could be? You really don’t want that rug though, it’s filthy. We’ve just been using it in the store forever.”
“OK, so how much could it be for sale for?”
“Say $125?”
“Could you do $100?”

We took the rug outside and laid it on the sidewalk, where the owner proceeded to tell me how much I did not want to buy this ratty piece of crap rug. Assuring him I did, he assured me it wasn’t worth that much, and decided without further urging to sell it to me for $45. Then he put it in a garbage bag and I was on my way.

Like magic! I love this rug. It’s the perfect size for the space, and I love having a rug like this in the kitchen. Antique orientals aren’t too precious because they’ve already taken a lot of wear and abuse, so it’s perfect. Upper West Side. Who would have thought?

rugcloseup

A sale’s a sale, folks. It never hurts to ask.

floor1

Mekko also seems to appreciate the transformation, which is really all that counts anyway.

Tiling: Part 1!

howtotile1

I am really not one of those people—the people who get sick a million times every winter and spend the rest of the year dreading the cold months with a palpable sense of terror and despair. I generally weather the winter months just fine, save for three years ago when I contracted Swine Flu and was quarantined to my dorm room with little more than a box of Kleenex, a few DVDs, and some cough syrup with codeine. Which really just ended up being kind of a fun vacation, at least the parts I remember.

But this year has been so different! Head colds here! Sinus infections there! I am a walking cesspool of virus and disease! Over the course of the past week, I have demolished entire jumbo boxes of Puff’s tissues with ease, spent more hours in bed than I previously thought possible, barely showered, and asked in earnest “what’s a credit card?” during a bout of fever. I am so done with this bullshit.

This got me thinking about the last time I was sick, which, as it happens, was only a few weeks ago. I remember this time vividly because I chose the opposite recovery strategy: instead of lying low, biding my time, and staying hydrated, I decided to live large. Nothing would hold me back. It was time to tile my kitchen’s backsplash, and neither searing headache nor minor fever would hold me back.

I don’t know if it was the tile or just a much, much less miserable virus, but distracting myself with tiling while also feeling generally terrible turned out to be an OK strategy. There were no bowls of steaming soup or cups of tea, but there were headachey trips to Home Depot and then Lowe’s looking for a simple saw (later ordered on Amazon anyway), and some fun coughing fits while hauling a 50-pound bag of thinset powder down a street and up five flights of stairs.

The important question isn’t why I got myself into this, but what I got out of it, which was basically not feeling totally useless and hopeless. Which, after the past week of feeling nothing but despair and misery, I can say is worth a lot.

BEFORE

I talked about tiling my kitchen backsplash a while ago, and mentioned that it was proving difficult to find white 4″x4″ tile to match the existing tile that the landlords installed about a decade ago. In theory, matching this tile seemed like a pretty simple proposition, but there are many different brands of tiles, each of which boast a range of different whites. Added to that is that even the same white may vary between dye lots. Oh, and glazes tend to change slightly over years of exposure to sunlight. So yeah—100% matching tile, not happening. Like ever.

I know a lot of people had strong, valid opinions and ideas regarding this very important topic. There were ideas about doing something different behind the stove to break it up, about using a different material entirely, about ripping down the existing tile and replacing it entirely, but ultimately it all seemed like too much. Backsplash tile is supposed to be utilitarian and functional, and that’s all I really wanted. Tearing down the existing tile seemed just a little over the top for a rental (EVEN for me), and would probably lead to a whole mess of drama of replacing the drywall, discovering mold/monsters in the walls, dying, etc.

subwaytile

So ultimately I just decided to match the tile as closely as possible and move on with my life. This is, after all, a Brooklyn rental apartment, and that’s kind of how it goes here—things don’t always match, nothing is perfect, and that’s OK. Hell, most of the NYC subway stations are tiled with white 4×4, and it’s all a crazy patchwork of different whites. Look at that picture! There are at least 4 different whites there. But it’s fine. It’s whatever. It’s New York. Deal with it or GTFO.

So, my backsplash! It’s not perfect, and I’m fine with it. And I really think that once the kitchen is finished, the mis-matched tile will be hardly noticeable.

supplies1

supplies2

My beautiful tile-happy friend, Anna, came over to teach me how to tile since this was my first time, and I’m super grateful. There was a LOT I didn’t know, and I now realize that my plan to “kind of wing it?” was severely stupid and I’m so lucky to have an Anna in my life. If you don’t have an Anna, I will try my best to teach you my limited knowledge of tiling now.

Firstly, supplies! I really should have taken these pictures before I used everything and mucked it all up, but you’ll definitely want:

1. Tiles. Duh. Don’t be stupid. I used U.S. Ceramics brand Bright White tiles, which are $20 per box (each box covers 10 square feet).

2. A couple of big-ish buckets.

3. Thinset mortar. I actually used a mix of pre-mixed thinset and powdered thinset during this project, and to me they seem to work the same, although powdered is supposed to be stronger. Thinset comes in either a grey-ish color or white—I’d recommend white but it doesn’t really matter with solid ceramic tiles.

4. A box of disposable latex gloves. Tiling is MESSY and you’re doing yourself a HUGE favor if you can just periodically remove your gloves and toss them. It seems wasteful, but it’s really kind of necessary.

5. Notched trowel for applying the thinset. Try to take care to wipe this thing down FREQUENTLY. Or be like me, let a hard cast of thinset completely dry around the handle, and learn the meaning of real shame when Anna asks to borrow it a few weeks later and says when you hand it over, “oh, you don’t take care of your tools, do you?”

6. Rubber float for keeping the tiles even and applying grout.

7. Nippers. If you have to make any small cuts to work around irregular stuff or remove spacers or whatever, you need these.

8. Sponge.

9. Score and snap tile cutter. This handy tool is very easy to use and only about $20, and way less scary than a wet-saw.

10. A level! You really need to make sure your tile is staying level, so this one is important.

tileprep

First, you need to prep the space. For me, this meant removing the shelf and patching the holes in the wall, removing the last column of existing tiles (it had a plastic trim piece at the end, which is installed under the last row of tiles, so the tiles needed to come down to remove it), and painting the wall where the old thinset took the outermost layer of drywall with it. Because thinset is water-soluble, the surface it’s being affixed to should always be painted—never tile directly over unpainted drywall or joint compound. At the same time, thinset won’t adhere as well to glossy paints, so either rough up the surface a bit with sandpaper or scrub with TSP, depending on how glossy the paint is. I’m really not an expert on this.

Next, Anna and I mounted a piece of wood to the wall to support the bottom row of tiles. Tiles will move with gravity while the thinset is wet, so they need a solid surface to sit on while they’re drying.

tileplacement

Mixing directions will be on the back of the thinset bag, but it should be about the consistency of mashed potatoes or peanut butter when mixed. It’s important to get the consistency right—thinset that’s too watery is bad news. Make sure the grooves stay rigid after being applied with the trowel and it should be OK.

Obviously, putting ANY amount of thinset down your drain is a terrible idea, so this is where the buckets come in. Mix the thinset in one bucket and fill the other with water, which you’ll use to wet your sponge and keep tools clean throughout the job. Later, when you’re finished, use the bucket to give your tools a cleaning and dump it outside, where it won’t fuck anything up. If you have access to an outdoor hose, you are SO LUCKY.

We decided to back-butter these tiles, applying thinset to the tiles themselves instead of directly on the wall. This allows for greater precision, which was important because the new tile is butting up to existing tile, so it was really important to constantly make sure things were level and looking OK.

When applying thinset, it’s important that it be multi-directional (the grooves act like suction, so using multiple directions improves adhesion…or something). Each tile needs to be pushed gently into the wall, and it’s a good practice to use your finger to remove any thinset that might come out from around the edges after every tile. This keeps the job clean and orderly instead of chaotic and nightmarish. You’ll also thank yourself later on when you don’t have to scrape your grout lines before grouting.

Every five tiles, Anna recommends using a lightly damp sponge to clean the surface of the tiles, the grout lines, and around the edges of the row. Again, this keeps things feeling clean and manageable and makes clean-up at the end much, much easier.

Also every five tiles, run your rubber float over the tiles just to make sure that things are all on the same plane. Especially when back-buttering, it’s easy to have inconsistent thinset thicknesses between tiles, so it’s important to frequently check if everything is flat and even and make adjustments accordingly if they aren’t. You don’t have long to remove an odd tile and add more thinset, so consult with the float frequently.

I basically just went on like this for the entire wall, building from the bottom row up. Tiles likes this are self-spacing, so there’s no need to use spacers (you’ll have huge, sad grout lines if you do!). If I’m being honest, all of this took a lot of time and energy and overall was surprisingly torturous. Tiling is a weird thing that makes you feel miserable while it’s happening, and then for some reason hungry for more when you’re done or between sessions. I simultaneously want to tile all the things and never tile again ever.

tileafter

And here’s the current status! I’m totally ashamed to say that I STILL haven’t grouted, which is why it all looks kind of dumb and unfinished. I know grouting shouldn’t be that difficult, but I really need to be able to set aside a few hours for it and I’ve just been either super busy or super sick and it just hasn’t happened. The main point of this post is to shame me into making sure it happens soon though.

SO. You can definitely see where the two different tiles come together. It’s not a great match. BUT. BUT. BUT. I really think that once everything is grouted (the old tiles will be re-grouted), the tiles will look much more unified. AND when I get around to mounting the second half of the ledge (it has to be cut down a bit first), the transition point will totally recede and nobody will even think about it. I think. I hope. If I keep saying it, it’ll definitely be true.

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