All posts in: DIY Tutorials

I Built a Fence!

Status report: my inexpensive and talented but very flakey electrician keeps canceling (also known as not showing up), which means we haven’t been able to have the work finished, which means it can’t be inspected, which means stuff like the pantry and the ceiling-less dining room and the ceiling-less front room and patching the swiss-cheese walls in the entryway have more or less come to a stand-still. For a week or two, this led me to destroy more things (different post, different day) on the inside of the house, which is technically forward motion but kind of just feels like I’m making everything worse in our torn-apart house. It’s like I’m trying to figure out how many things I can break down before I start putting them back together again. It’s this fun game I play with myself where I end up totally insane.

I need a new electrician. And someone needs to confiscate my pry bar.

Honestly, I’m a little sulky and annoyed about the electrical thing, but secretly (except now, since I’m telling you) it’s also been a perfect excuse to finally get out of the house and get my hands dirty in, like, actual dirt instead of plaster dust and other types of dust and more dust. What a concept.

We’ve been in our house a whole year (and eleven days, technically) and thus far this is all we’ve accomplished in terms of exterior projects:

newporchlights

1. We added some new light fixtures. Big improvement, but I had very little to do with it beyond coordinating the electrical work and buying and installing the lights.

service

2. We had new electrical service run to the house, including a new service drop and converting to a single meter rather than two, since now the house is a single family. Hard to decide if it looks better or worse.

3. Mowing the lawn. Occasionally. Weed-wacking even more occasionally. We’re a mess.

yardclearing

4. Clearing a crazy jungle that had cropped up on the side of the garage, a bunch of grapevine that had run rampant from a neighbor’s property, and miles of Virginia Creeper that had overtaken the saddest and weediest flower bed ever at the back of the property. Much of which is creeping back a year later. Go figure.

roofbeforeafter

5. Getting a new roof, which was a hellish and drawn-out ordeal involving 4 different roofing contractors spread out over about 8 months and something I’d pretty much rather die than repeat. What. A. Nightmare. But it’s done. Or done-ish. Done enough. Fuck roofing.

We’re awesome neighbors. I’m guessing the neighborhood had higher expectations when the house sold and a couple of homosexuals moved in. Homosexuals are notoriously good at having good taste and making things prettier, and I feel like we’ve been letting everyone down since our beautiful tiny laundry room hardly qualifies as an appreciable improvement to the curb appeal of our house. Most of the houses on our block don’t have a whole lot going on in the way of landscaping and whatnot, so I’ve tried to stem my guilt by thinking about it that way, but I’m a neurotic Jew. Guilt is my #1 emotion and way of being.

ANYWAY. Let’s remind ourselves of our yard situation:

YARD

As you can see, there are a few different issues.

1. All the asphalt. It must go. I hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’d give my left kidney to have it disappear and be replaced with something. Anything. I don’t care if it looks like the fucking dust bowl. I don’t even care of the Virginia Creeper wants to colonize the entire thing. I just want it to be gone. I guess the previous owner of our house had several cars and decided to pave half the yard with asphalt, but we have one car and it is tiny and I don’t need or want it at all. Not even a little bit. I think we’ll still have some kind of a gate and parking situation next to the garage, but I’d much rather just have two strips of bluestone or concrete or something with pebbles or ground cover surrounding it. I hate asphalt.

2. I found out from my neighbors that the old foundation (cinderblock disaster/weed jungle) just behind the garage was actually a half-baked plan to extend the garage, which is a horrendous idea that I’m glad never came to fruition. The garage is actually a really pretty cute little structure and I shudder to think what any kind of renovation would have done to it. That said, now we are stuck with a wildly unattractive crumbling foundation of broken dreams that all needs to be excavated and hauled away. Boo.

3. The biggest problem here, strangely, is the fence. There is fencing surrounding the entire property, which is great. I’m glad it’s there. But the purple lines demarcate an old (original, probably) wrought-iron fence, which I love, and the black lines are all cheap and very crappy chain link that’s all falling apart and looking a hot mess. And as much as I love the wrought iron fence, it’s only 3 feet tall. And despite that the top of it is surrounded by a threatening row of spikes (so witchy!), I have a Pit Bull with a very impressive vertical leap who can clear it with a smile on her face. Not safe.

wroughtironfence

Now, we never leave the dogs in the backyard unattended, but there’s always the risk that Mekko will get excited by something and jump over. It’s happened three times in the course of a year, and she hasn’t done anything bad or anything like that, but it’s so scary. We live on a fairly busy street in terms of both foot and car traffic, and I’d really prefer if my dog didn’t get hit by a car or terrify an unsuspecting neighbor who wasn’t quite prepared for a Pit Bull to jump the fence to greet them. Even if it’s friendly.

So, when Mekko jumped the fence last week to go see her friend(ish…they have a rocky relationship) Bailey from across the street (an adorable 150-pound white Boxer…I don’t blame her), I felt very overcome with the need to do something and do it now in terms of getting our fence situation sorted a little bit. Panic is pretty much my main motivational tactic (aside from guilt, as we have established, but the two go hand in hand), and the idea of my dog’s safety being at risk pretty much brings my panic-meter off the charts. So I built a panic fence.

This panic-induced fence was actually kind of a good thing. I’ve been planning it more or less since we moved in, but fencing is intimidating. There are so many different styles and decisions to be made, and after mulling it over for so long, I was more overwhelmed than anything else. Vertical boards or horizontal? Pre-fab panels or individual pickets? Attractive gate hardware? Post caps? Paint? Stain? Seal? Let it weather naturally? I’m exhausted.

There is SO. MUCH. TO. THINK. ABOUT. This is the kind of shit that keeps me up at night.

Added to this is the exact location of the fence. I definitely don’t want my house to look like some kind of fortress, and the old wrought-iron fence had to stay, which basically left building a new fence behind the original fence as the best option. Which is a good option, since it gives us the opportunity to have a front yard and a backyard instead of just…a yard. Like so:

YARDnewstuff

Anyway, this  panic-fence didn’t have time for complex decision-making. It just needed to happen. I already knew the general location, so I just measured and took myself to the local lumber yard a few blocks away, made a quick decision between standard stockade fencing and dog-ear style fencing, bought my stuff, stole my friend’s truck, and hauled it all home.

Newsflash: even cheap fencing is expensive.

Newsflash: it’s also very heavy.

Somehow I managed to unload the truck myself (and splinter-free!) and haul my six 6′x8′ panels and 8 4″x4″x8′ posts into the driveway.

I was less than thrilled with the panels I purchased, but at the time they seemed like the cheapest and most attractive option. But they were not nice. The wood was either pine or spruce, and it wasn’t even pressure-treated. Each panel had a few super crappy looking boards, the pickets themselves were narrow and unsubstantial, and they were about $65 a piece.

But then I went to Lowe’s, which is basically my home away from home. The employees are all starting to laugh at me every time they see me there since I am there constantly. I was just getting some supplies for the fencing that I couldn’t find at the local place, and then I meandered over to the fencing section, and developed a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Lowe’s had MUCH nicer dog-ear style fencing. The boards were wider. There was a pressure-treated pine option for about $48/panel and a cedar option for $50/panel.

Now. I’m all about supporting local businesses. Don’t get me wrong. Really, I am. I’m willing to pay a little more to shop local, despite the sorry state of my bank account, because I feel like it’s the right thing to do when given the option. But I’m not willing to sacrifice on quality. Lowe’s was offering a much better product at a much lower price, and it just didn’t make sense to stick with the garbage panels I’d already purchased, particularly since we plan to install the same fencing around the rest of the house to replace the chain-link, and I’d like all the fencing to match. Them’s the breaks. So I had the lumber yard swing by and pick up the shitty panels, loaded my new cedar panels into my friend’s truck, and hauled that all home and unloaded it, again, splinter-free. Tiny miracles, small victories.

Posthole1

Deciding on the exact location of the fence turned out to be easy due to this weird section of missing bluestone next to the foundation a few feet behind the front of the house. The missing bluestone had been filled in with a thin-ish layer of concrete, which was getting in the way of digging my first post hole. So I rented a jackhammer, you know, like you do. This location turns out to be perfect since it’s about 4 feet back from the front corner of the house, and gives is over 18 feet of front yard space between the wrought iron fence and the new fence. 18 feet! Right now it’s all sod, but eventually I don’t want any grass whatsoever and I want it to be a luscious magical garden that both I and the neighborhood can admire. I’m so excited.

Back to the jackhammer. There is no photographic evidence of this, unfortunately, since I was mostly flying solo here, but I discovered that using an electronic jackhammer is not only really very easy, but also really very fun. I’m a tiny person without a lot of weight or muscle, so if I can do it, you can probably do it. The hardest part was carrying the thing around, since it probably weighs about 80 pounds. And then clearing out whatever you’re jackhammering.

concretepath

While I had the jackhammer at my disposal, I also decided to get rid of this weird concrete path in front of the house, next to the entryway steps. I don’t know why this path was ever put in, since it has no access from the outside or from the porch, really, but I figured the space could be much better served by plants than by concrete. Little did I realize that the concrete was VERY deep in spots and underneath it was a ton of rock, which all had to be excavated and hauled out before it could be back-filled with dirt. Luckily, digging fence posts creates a lot of displaced soil.

concreteremnants

Here are the remnants of the path and the rocky dirt, which I finagled Max into loading into a wheelbarrow and dumping onto the asphalt. It will get hauled away when the asphalt is removed. Which is hopefully super duper soon.

ANYWAY. Once I got the jackhammer situation sorted out and my first whole dug, it was time to place the first post!! EEEEEE! Progress.

post1

BETCHA WEREN’T EXPECTING THAT. Maybe you were. I decided that the fence should be black. I really want it to look as unobtrusive as possible and really recede, and I think the black will do that perfectly. I don’t want a “statement fence” and I don’t want it to detract at all from the architecture of the house. And even though the cedar panels are pretty brand new, they’ll fade over time and I hated the idea of a light wood fence next to the house, calling attention to itself. I’m very, very, very happy with this decision. I used Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain (tinted black, obviously), which goes on much like a paint and looks like paint, but should still allow the wood to breathe while also protecting it a bit from the elements. The benefit of using a stain rather than a paint is that it shouldn’t chip and peel over time and need to be redone like paint does.

For the posts, I bought 8 foot long 4×4 pieces of pressure-treated lumber. I dug each post hole about 30″ deep (which, by the way, is really fucking deep), then threw in about 6 inches of drainage gravel, and then filled it in with fast-setting Quickrete, which you just dump into the hole, soak with water, agitate a bit to mix it up (I used a stick), and let it sit, all the while checking that your post is super duper level and won’t move. The concrete sets up in about half an hour. One thing I didn’t account for is that while the local hardware store employees claimed I’d need one 50-lb bag of Quickrete per post, I averaged more like 3 bags per post. Back to Lowe’s! This section of fencing is about 30 feet long, and I think I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 bags of Quickrete for the posts. Luckily it’s cheap.

I bought a post-hole digger for this project, but ended up returning it immediately. Soil in Kingston tends to be really rich and kind of sandy, which makes it really very easy to dig. I averaged about 30 minutes to dig each post hole with a shovel. The post-hole digger I think is better if you have really hard soil, but I found it completely worthless for us.

gatebuilding1

After the first post was in and setting, I built the gate! To do this, all I did was cut down one of the 8 foot panels with a jigsaw and added vertical 2×3 supports, which are attached to the original 2×3 horizontal supports. All in all, very easy. It seems super sturdy to me.

gatebuilding2

gate

After it was stained and the second post was in, I put it up! You’ll notice that it’s a bit wider than the path (the gate is little over 3 feet) but I wanted it to be wide enough to cart a wheelbarrow through with ease. I’ll find a way to tastefully widen the path a bit, I think. I picked up a gate hardware kit from Lowe’s (I can’t find the link, sorry!), and two gate hinges. I think I may add a third one to the middle, just for some added support. All are made by Stanley.

L-brackets

The one thing I did do to complicate things for myself was that I decided to space the rest of the posts evenly, rather than 8 feet apart and end up with a shorter panel on the end. Then I decided to attach the panels with stainless steel 5″ L-brackets (spray-painted black) rather than screw the panels into the front of the posts. The L bracket is screwed into the bottom of each of the horizontal 2×3 supports, and then into the 4×4 post. This leaves the front of the post exposed, which I think looks a little nicer and more custom from both the outside and the inside. I was assured that I wouldn’t have a problem with the brackets rusting or falling apart, so I’m hoping for the best. If we run into problems down the line, I think I could replace the brackets with vertical pieces of pressure-treated lumber (exactly like the gate, pretty much), and screw those into the posts. If that makes any sense.

trench

Once all of the posts had set for 24 hours, it was time to put up the panels! Before doing this, I decided to dig about an 8″ deep trench under where the panels would sit and fill them with drainage gravel. We used about 15 bags, which added about $60 to the overall cost of the project, but the gravel should help keep weeds from growing at the fence line, and provide drainage underneath the fence so that the bottoms of the pickets don’t rot out. Additionally, because the fence is black, the gravel should help keep the color looking good when it rains and soil crap would splash up onto the fence if the rocks weren’t there. I think it was worth it.

chainlink

I’m sorry this picture is so awful, but I also wanted to address the section of chain-link fence that would now sit in front of the new fence, which separates our yard from our neighbor’s. Chain-link is just such a bummer, particularly when it’s so close to the street, and I wanted to find something better that would tie in with the original wrought-iron fence in front of both our properties.

fauxwrought

I searched a couple salvage places for something old (no dice), but then on another trip to Lowe’s I found this stuff! It’s nothing super fancy—galvanized steel that’s been powder-coated black, but the size was good, the price was good (about $30 for a 4′ section), and installation seemed (and was) very easy. I really hope it lasts. I thought removing the old chain-link would be a huge pain in the ass, but it was super easy. I used bolt cutters to detach the chain link from the posts, and the posts—which I thought would be set in the ground with concrete) just pulled right out of the ground with a little of my manly brute strength. Awesome. To fit our dimensions, I just had to cut one of the panels down with my Sawzall, which took roughly 30 seconds, and attach it to the last post. Overall, it’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but it does look good and feels pretty rigid, and it ties in nicely with the original fencing.

noraandmax

Did I mention my wonderful and long-suffering friend Nora was here during all of this? Poor thing thought she was coming up for a nice few days in the Hudson Valley and got sucked into my insanity. While the panels were going up, I put Nora and Max on staining duty, which they were obviously loving. It was pretty much the time of their lives. As you can see.

paintingprocess

EEEEEE! Almost done! I include this process image mostly to show the difference between the cedar and the black. See how the cedar is super visible and kind of obtrusive, whereas the black just kind of disappears? I think so, anyway. I also like that it ties in the with the black window sashes and other black accents I have planned for the exterior.

fromback

Annnnnd, DONE! Here’s the view from the back, which I know is nothing amazing but I think a hedge or something will do wonders. The gravel should settle down a bit and look less ugly over time, besides. After all the panels were up and stained, I used my Sawzall to cut the posts to the same-ish heights and topped them with these generic and affordable fence post caps from Lowe’s. I think they look nice!

corner

In the front, I’m super pleased with eliminating the area of chain-link while we were doing this anyway. The fencing on the left is the new faux-wrought iron, which I think looks pretty damn good for what it is. Again, it’ll look better with some plants and whatnot, but it’s just so much more inviting and pretty.

cornerwithpvc

I secured the last faux-wrought-iron fence panel to the wood fence with some super cheap plastic PVC connectors I found in the electrical aisle. They do the job. I spray-painted them black. Exciting stuff, I know.

gatefromoutside

I’m really pleased with how the gate turned out. Nothing fancy, but it opens from the inside and outside and it looks good. Obviously we need a better situation for the hose, but I’ll save that for another day…I have a couple ideas. Let’s just all ignore the vinyl siding and the missing end of the downspout and the foundation work we might have ahead of us. This is about the fence!

fencefromacrossstreet

I really like how it looks from the street, which was obviously a big challenge when thinking about this project. Setting it so far back keeps it really unobtrusive, and I’m SO excited about our new dog-free front yard! I think the fence will look a million times better once we get a bunch of plants growing in front of it and some real landscaping going. All in due time! In the meantime, I have pretty much no experience with landscaping and could use some plant suggestions and ideas for how to use the space…hint, hint.

frontgarden

I’m also really glad I broke up that concrete path and got back those couple of feet of gardening space in the front next to the entry. I backfilled the hole and obviously need to plant some things and mulch, but I think it already looks better. I also went on a MAJOR weeding/pruning spree to try to get the Rhododendron under control a little. I actually really don’t like Rhododendron in general and I don’t like them here (too tall!), but the pruning definitely helped me like them more. Someday I’d like to get rid of them altogether (or at least the one on the right) and replace them with a bunch of other stuff I like more.

header

ANYWAY, I’m so excited to have this new foundation to work with as we start to plan some more landscaping! As for the rest of the fence, I’m not sure I have it in me to DIY-it (it’s a TON of fence…) but we’ll see. There’s also the whole matter of cost—I haven’t added up every little thing, but I think I probably spent about $700 for just this section of the fencing, including the faux-wrought-iron business, so I might continue to just do it in sections where it’s most necessary and go about things that way. For now, I’m just glad to have this section taken care of—not only do I think it adds some curb appeal, but it definitely gives me some peace of mind where the dogs are concerned. They still have plennntttyyyy of space in the backyard to run around and play and poop, and this just goes such a long way toward keeping them safe. So that’s good!

I want to plant stuff. Tell me what to plant.

Replicating Millwork and Stuff in the Laundry Room

Things have been moving right along in the laundry room! So far, smooth sailing. Zero complaints. Looking good. PLUS I got to buy some new tools and try some new stuff and it was fun, which is mainly the subject of this post.

SO. MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RECAP:

recap

1. The washer and dryer were delivered and they are WONDERFUL. Backing up a bit: we picked out our machines online and ordered them from a sales associate (Frank) at our local Lowe’s store. Frank was truly a delight. Since we’ve never bought a washer and dryer before, Frank really took us through everything we’d need to know about installing and using our new machines, anything additional we needed to buy (dryer vent parts, which dryer plug to use, stainless steel supply lines, that kind of thing), what kind of detergents to use, etc. Since we wanted our dryer to vent out the side instead of the back (so that the machines could sit as close to the wall as possible), Frank also helped us locate the exact part number we needed to order from Lowe’s separately (which, incredibly, was delivered the day after I ordered it over the phone). We scheduled our free home delivery in the store, which was also great. The guys who came to deliver the machines were super nice and very knowledgable. Since we weren’t ready to put the machines in place yet, we opted to leave the shipping bolts in, and the delivery dude showed me where they were and how to remove them and all that. He also advised us to run the dryer empty for an hour to burn off any lingering shipping oils. These guys were excellent is what I’m saying—the whole experience, really. FYI—Lowe’s has not asked me to talk at all about any part of the buying experience or anything like that—I was just legitimately very impressed. Customer service! AND the machines themselves? They work SO WELL. I’m thrilled with them in every way. In case you’re curious, this is the washer and this is the dryer.

2. Both plumbing and electric have been installed. SO EXCITING. This is another one of those things that feels like a really big improvement to our house, and that makes me happy. This house has NEVER had a dryer, and the old plumbing for the washer was tooootttalllly not to code and really old and just no good at all. This also means that the second half of demo-ing the downstairs bathroom went well. Post coming up soon.

3. I started tiling. Then I almost finished tiling. Spoiler: looks great; I’m very good at subway tiling now.

4. I installed the dryer vent. This involved cutting a 4-inch circular hole through the house, which was moderately stressful because I had to go through drywall, plaster, lath, brick, clapboard, styrofoam insulation stuff, and vinyl siding to reach the outdoors. But I did it and then I used some spray-foam insulation around it before closing it back up on the inside with a piece of drywall. Success!

SO. ALL THAT HAPPENED. And that’s not even what I want to talk about.

windowbefore

Remember that little window in the laundry room I talked about in my last post? Basically the deal is that the whole thing—window and surrounding casing—were installed very crooked and it drove me crazy. The rest of the room is surprisingly level, but this window sort of made everything look fun-house-y and sad and strange. The window is fairly small and doesn’t open, which is kind of a drag, but replacing it is just not at all in the budget, and trying to level the window itself seemed like potentially a HUGE project that would involve a lot of opening walls and causing general disaster and despair, and it really just didn’t seem worth it at all.

Back when we painted the room we also patched up and painted the casing, but now that we’re really renovating the room I started to have more ambitious ideas. The casing was obviously nothing special, so what about prying it off and trying to replicate the type of millwork that is original to this part of the house? And if I installed all of that level, maybe it would give the illusion of the window also being level.

Cool. Good Plan.

moldinginspiration

Here is the molding situation I wanted to try to copy. Fancy. From what I can tell, our house has three original different molding profiles, which are basically related to the fanciness of the room. This is the least fancy molding, used in the kitchen, the upstairs office, and adjacent original servant’s quarters which became the upstairs kitchen. It’s still pretty bulky and awesome, but the windows just have simple sills (instead of paneling detail to the floor) and the baseboards are this super simple shape.

Anyway. This door/window molding is basically 3 separate pieces: on the bottom there’s a 1×4 with that innermost detail routed out, then a fancy piece of trim molding, and the whole thing is encased in 1x2s. Seems simple enough.

The one complicating factor is that these moldings were made when lumber was still the actual listed dimensions (so a 1×2 is actually 1″ x 2″, not 3/4″ x 1.5″), so I had to get a little creative with my lumber selections. If I used the modern equivalents of the old lumber dimensions, things would looks sort of wimpy and wrong. Soooo…

1x2cutting

Luckily, Lowe’s sells a 5/4″ x 6″ board (actual dimensions = 1″ x 5.5″), which I could rip down to 2″ strips to make my dimensional 1 x 2. So that’s what I did.

stairtread

Luckily, Lowe’s also sells these long pine stair treads for about $10, which are the perfect thickness for old school window sills, AND have the necessary bullnose edge to match the original one upstairs. Dope. So far so good.

For the innermost piece, it wasn’t so hard to cut one of the 5/4″x6″ pieces of lumber down to an actual 1″ x 4″, but then there was the matter of the fancy routered detail on the inside edge.

I NEEDED NEW TOOLS. NEW TOOOOOLSSSSS!!!

router

BOOM hello router! You are lots and lots of fun and can do so many exciting things, like help me convincingly replicate old molding.

I’ve used a router maybe once or twice in my life, but its really a very easy tool to get the hang of. Along with my router (this one!), I also picked up a plethora of bits (these ones!). I basically just combined two bits to get the shape I needed. The first made the rounded edge, and the second cut a groove. Once it was all done and sanded, it looked pretty legit.

molding2

That little trim piece in the middle was just a stock piece I found at Lowe’s. I wish it was just a little more substantial and interesting, but it’s good enough. I can’t have EVERYTHING.

sillinstal

I’ll spare you all of the nitty gritty, but basically I wanted to install the sill first. This involved cutting down the stair tread, routing out part of the bottom, cutting away the sides, and using my router to chamfer the outer edges. Pretty fancy stuff. Then I installed it very level, using my handy level and lots of shimming magic. Then I installed everything else. It was relatively fun and relatively fast.

windowmolding

And there it is! I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but once it’s caulked up and painted, I think it’s going to be gooooood. I’m so happy with how it came out, and while the window itself is still crooked, the level casing really does completely distract from it in real life.

glamorshot

Glamor shot of the corner, just because it looks so damn profesh.

apron

If you’re very observant, you might note that the apron on this window is quite a bit longer than the one on the original window upstairs. I originally made an apron that small but it looked silly, so I pried it off and just eyeballed the proportions. I chamfered the outer edges with my router, like the original apron, and it looks…really good. It’s the little things!

So woodworking is fun and exciting and the window victory made me feel like I wanted to work more wood. I started to get all ambitious and stuff.

doormoldinginside

Part of the fun of this room is that at some point, the previous owner drywalled right over the original plaster and didn’t remove the door casing—meaning that the edge of this casing was basically flush with the drywall. It wasn’t a great look, but it would be an especially BAD look once I started tiling the walls. Additionally, I had ideas about the doorway. What if we added a door?

door

This door. I found it in the basement. It was covered in spiders. I braved spiders for this door.

I like this door because aside from being free, it has a big glass panel cut-out (no glass, though…so we’ll have to get something cut), which will still allow plenty of light to get through from the laundry room window into the kitchen but will still help the rooms feel like two separate places. The plan is to hang this door to swing in both directions (using this business from House of Antique Hardware).

This door is smaller than the opening between the kitchen and the laundry room. Rather than try to enlarge the door, I decided that the doorway between the two rooms was sort of big anyway and it made more sense to enclose it a little bit, thereby increasing the space for the machines.

Yeah. I made a doorway smaller. I’m so counterculture.

kitchenprogress

To do this, I had to pry off the molding on the inside of the laundry room (salvaged) and on the outside in the kitchen (plain new 1×6, not cute, not old). This was fun and exciting because the kitchen is basically renovated and nice and here I am destroying it again. WHY NOT, RIGHT?

doorwayshrinkage

Then I added some pieces of wood to the inside of the jamb to make it smaller, like so. The right side lost .75″, the top lost 1.5″, and the left side lost 1.75″. Nothing too drastic, but now the door should fit AND the slightly smaller proportions of the doorway fit the kitchen better. I’m happy with it.

Then I just milled myself a TON more wood, just like for the window but on a larger scale. I made door frames. I made baseboards. I made a LOT of sawdust.

doorframe

Here’s basically what the door frame looks like, but I still have to attach that middle piece of fancy trim molding to make it complete. Then patch, caulk, prime, and paint!

baseboards

Here’s the deal with the baseboards. It’s a subtle difference from plain 1×6 boards, but I really think it makes a big difference in this case. The gap between the tile and the baseboard will get caulked and everything will get patched and painted.

Here’s an idea of how it all kind of looks together! I think it was SO SO WORTH IT to take the extra time to really sort out the millwork situation in here before just slapping up the tile. Adding back some architectural detail to this space with moldings that look like part of the house is what’s going to really make it feel special and nice when it’s all done, and it makes me happy to make this room feel like it belongs.

Patching up the kitchen side of the doorway is a little more involved since I’m working around existing cabinets and tile and it entails some creative patchwork, but it’s going to look way better than it did before when it’s all finished.

It’s getting close! Next up is grout, caulk, paint, and some finishing details I’m pretty excited about, but right now we’re just THRILLED to have a working laundry set-up, even in a half-finished room. We’ve basically been washing things non-stop for days and it’s bliss.

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

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.

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