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Fixing the Back of the House: Part 1!



So…I kind of dove head-first into fixing the back of my house.


Quick refresh: it looked kind of like this after the big mudroom addition came down. Not adorable! After removing the vinyl siding, it became very clear that I needed to do something with the door and the window on the second floor, since they’re clearly later additions that are neither functional nor attractive.

So the plan became a classic rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme: I’d tear out the double casement window in the kitchen, replace it with a cheap stop-gap window (down the line it’ll get a nice, enlarged 6-over-6 to match the rest of the house), and split the casement sashes into two individual windows for the second story—one on each side of the chimney running up that wall. As you can see from the pictures, all of this would involve a lot of clapboard patching. Patching clapboard is kind of like patching wood floors or something—you don’t want to end up with an obvious patch, so you need to feather your boards so they vary in length and joints are staggered.

I was planning on re-siding just the top half of this wall to accomplish this, and leave the bottom half intact since the clapboards (especially the green parts) were in relatively good condition, just with a ton of old crusty paint that needed to be scraped and stuff before repainting.


I had this idea that I’d use Peel Away, which is a great chemical stripper that’s widely used in restoration projects. It’s basically a thick paste that you apply fairly liberally and cover with their special magic wax paper and leave for about 24 hours. I decided to do a test sample before committing to the whole wall to see how it would work.


After about 24 hours, you start, well, peeling away. The paste stripper binds pretty well with both the paint and the wax paper, so it all kind of sloughs off in chunks.


So, it worked…okay. Since the green part of the wall was inside the mudroom for so many years, it only seems to have a couple coats of paint on it and the Peel Away worked flawlessly there. The white part, though, has about a billion layers of paint…and caulk…and tar. I guess as boards began to split or rot, a previous owner opted to smear them with tar which is super sticky and probably not the greatest substrate for new paint.

Peel Away is very effective on paint but doesn’t really do anything to caulk or tar, so I was left with decent but not great results. I figured I’d do it anyway and then just scrape and sand a LOT to get things ready for repainting, which sounded like the opposite of fun but short of replacing all the clapboard I wasn’t sure what else I could do.


While I mulled over that, I shifted my focus to replacing the window. I told you, nothing fancy! The idea was to buy a replacement window that would fit in the frame of the old window so I wouldn’t have to do anything crazy like totally re-frame and redo the trim on the outside and destroy my kitchen on the inside and all that.

I found a window that was the right dimensions at Lowe’s, where somebody had special ordered it and then returned it. Since it’s a non-standard size, Lowe’s unloads these at a deep discount…I guess this window would have run about $175 for the person who bought it, but it was mine for about $25! Cool.


Even though I think of this window as temporary, it’s going to be on the house long enough that I figured I could put a little extra effort into making it look better, so I also picked up a can of gloss black spray paint (Valspar brand that said it would work on plastic), covered the glass with paper and tape, roughed up the plastic a little with a sanding block, and hit it with a few coats of paint. I think it looks WAY better and since the other windows on the house are already black, I think it helps it blend a little more even though it’s vinyl.


When it came to actually putting in the new window…I messed up. I measured wrong! So the window that was supposed to fit in the old frame to make my life easier did not, and I didn’t want to go out and buy a new window and eat the (small, but still) cost of the new window that I’d already spray-painted. Doh! So the old frame came out, the old exterior trim came off, and I furred out the framing so the new window would fit snugly. I also managed to install it 100% by myself (turns out it’s kind of hard to hoist a big window into its rough opening, make it level, and screw it into place with only two hands) which I was pretty proud about.

ANYWAY. As you can see, at this point I’d removed a fair amount of the old siding to redo the trim around the new window, and I was finding that taking down the siding intact wasn’t so bad.


I was also noticing more and more that the condition of the old clapboard was not good. This is an area under the window where the siding meets the cornerboards, which was so caked in old paint and tar that it didn’t really even resemble wood anymore. Argh. I actually kind of like when old clapboard houses have that scale-y texture from being scraped and repainted over the years, but this level of disrepair seemed a bit beyond that and not a good candidate for scraping and repainting.


So one thing led to another.


And I took down all the clapboard.

A couple of years ago, seeing the house like this probably would have sent me into major panic mode…but I gotta say, this was all kind of fun and thrilling. Like, oopsie! Now I just have to fix it! No biggie!

You’ll notice that my house doesn’t have any sheathing at all, which would typically be between the studs and the clapboard. In my case, sheathing either came later or just hadn’t really hit Kingston yet…I don’t tend to see it on houses around here that were built before about 1890. My house and a lot of others is just clapboard nailed to the studs.

You might also be wondering what the hell all that brick is about? Well I’ll tell you. It’s called nogging, and was a fairly common practice during the 19th century. Basically the frame of the house would be built, clapboard applied to the outside, and then the wall cavities between the studs would be filled with brick and mortar from the inside before the lath and plaster went up. Crazy, right? It’s not structural—instead it was a form of insulation and pest-proofing, since rats and mice aren’t super keen on chewing through bricks.

The problem with the nogging is several-fold. Firstly, as insulation it has an R-value of less than 1, so it’s not all that different than just having no insulation. Because the walls are already jam-packed with this stuff, there really isn’t any way to install better insulation without removing it all, but access to it is the obvious issue since tearing off all the clapboard sounds mildly insane and tearing out all the necessary plaster inside would be a huge amount of energy and expense and, to me at least—lover of plaster walls—super sad for the house. The nogging is made out of what are called “salmon bricks,” which are basically garbage bricks that weren’t close enough to the heat as they were getting fired, or broke during production or transport…stuff like that. The vast majority of them do not hold up to any kind of moisture—instead, they absorb it like a sponge and then break and crumble, which is not really the kind of thing you want lurking behind your walls!


ANYWAY. It’s the 21st century! We have lots of insulation options now that are better at insulating than garbage bricks. The nicest option is closed-cell spray foam, but it’s also really expensive, and would ideally be done from the inside in a larger application than this to make it worth it. Normal fiberglass bat is also an option but I was concerned about how it would fare on a wall without sheathing—it has a tendency to kind of compress itself and become useless when exposed to moisture and it’s no fun to work with. I read online somewhere about using a combination of rigid foam insulation and canned spray foam, and that seemed like the best option for here.

So I picked up some 4’x8′ sheets that are 2″ thick and supposed to have an R-value of 10. I know 10 is still fairly low but it’s a huge improvement, and I think one that makes sense for a house that will always be somewhat drafty no matter what. Each sheet was about $35 (I used 5 on this wall for both levels) so the price was also manageable.

The process of installing the foam insulation was really simple: measure the width (each was a little different), rip it down on the table saw, and put it in place. They fit snugly enough that no other fasteners were required.


After a bunch of panels were in place, it was time for the Great Stuff! Great Stuff is, well, pretty great for sealing gaps and cracks. I sprayed it around each edge of the foam panels and waited for it to expand and dry. It served kind of a dual function of locking the panels in place and really buttoning up the whole installation.


Before re-siding, I went around and used my handy flush cut saw to remove parts of the spray foam that had expanded past the studs. It’s also easy to cut this stuff with a box cutter. Just make sure it’s dry, because spray foam is a sticky nightmare if it isn’t.


OK! SO! Finally it was time for the magic to happen! I had my pile of boards that I’d removed from the house, and then more clapboards I was hoarding in the basement that came off of the mudroom when I tore that down.

I experimented with a few different methods of trying to safely and relatively easily remove the paint/caulk/tar special plaguing most of these boards, and all of them basically sucked.


Until…the planer!! I bought this DeWalt planer secondhand about a year ago for something else. It’s a really fun tool to own because the gratification is so instant and the transformation is so dramatic! I hooked it up directly to my ShopVac fitted with a HEPA filter (VERY important because there is definitely lead paint involved), put on a respirator and some ear protection, and started feeding boards through.


DUDES. SO EXCITING. Each board took about 2-4 passes, but being able to totally strip down 10 or 12 foot lengths of clapboard in about a minute? Awesome.


So the boards go in one side looking like this.


And out the other looking like this. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.


The ShopVac set-up was very effective, by the way. Small paint chips still escaped but the vast majority got sucked right into the ShopVac and most importantly it was extremely good at keeping the really fine dust out of the air. No system of dealing with lead paint is perfect but I feel good about this one.


The final step in prepping the boards for installation was to run them through the table saw to shave off just the tiniest amount on the bottom of each board where there was still paint, since only the face of the boards got planed.


The actual installation went surprisingly fast and was totally fun and made me feel like a cool wizard. I used this DeWalt siding and trim nail gun (borrowed from Edwin…have I mentioned how great it is to live next door to a friendly contractor?) fitted with 2″ siding nails. The nail gun was essential since I was alone, but even with another set of hands I can’t really imagine nailing all of this by hand. It’s extremely important to use nails specifically for siding—framing or finishing nails will rust.

By the way, I considered adding sheathing and weather wrap but nixed it because I didn’t want to add thickness to the wall and then end up with my clapboards protruding past the elements of the cornice at the top of the wall. I know that might seem iffy but this is how the house was built and I guess it’s been fine so far.


To conserve as much material as possible, I laid out all my available boards in order of size (this was the area for small boards—there was another for medium-sized boards and another for the really long guys). That way I could easily find the piece closest in length to the one I needed and end up with a smaller off-cut. This project generated really little waste, which always feels good!


After selecting my board, it was over to the chop saw to cut it to length! A lot of the boards had really rotted or split ends but were fine in the middle, so I’d usually cut a little off of each end.


The boards are about 6″ wide (they vary) but the reveal is 5.25″. To keep the reveals consistent, I just ripped a piece of scrap wood down to 5.25″ and used it as a guide to correctly place each board.


With each run I tried to pay special attention to where the joints would fall in relation to the previous boards so that they’d look staggered and random. The disadvantage of doing things this way is that you want to get rid of any “bad” parts of each  board, so I ended up with more butt joints than there used to be, but I’m OK with that if it means being able to retain the original boards.


Not bad for wood that’s been outside for 150 or so years, am I right?


I’m so happy with the way this project is shaping up! Wait until you see the top half…it’s not totally done yet (some painting and caulking still to go…) but I think it’s going to look great.

So, am I crazy? I honestly feel like I could do the whole house this way (maybe tweaking some parts of the process)—restoring the clapboard and insulating one wall at a time. Right?

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Lowe’s has kindly provided me with merchandise credit, but specific product selections, opinions, designs, and stupid ideas are all mine.

Fence Staining!

If you’ve gone through a major renovation project and you live in a place with seasons, you might know what this time of year feels like. There was a time in my life when fall was my favorite season, but now it’s all stress and craziness and just trying to get everything OK for the impending winter. It’s not like everything comes to a screeching halt in these upcoming cold months, but cold and snow are definitely added challenges that don’t make anything any easier. Multiply that by three houses (yes, Bluestone and Olivebridge Cottages are still in the works…exciting updates to share on both fronts, FINALLY!) and you’ve got yourself one crazy, nervous little blogger person who is me. Hey, October? YOU WERE BANANAS. Hey, November? You don’t seem much different. Just darker.


That’s not really the point of this post, though. The point of this post is my fence. Remember my fence? To review, I used to have a really awful chainlink fence until the nice professional installers from Lowe’s came to replace it with a nice simple wood dog-ear style privacy fence that I love. It was maybe the single biggest quick improvement this house has seen to its exterior bits under my care. Now my backyard is pleasantly private and my house almost looks fancy from the street, which is unusual and thrilling after living with chain-link surrounding my property for 2+ years.


Last year, I built a short (in comparison—it’s still 30-ish feet long) section of fencing to demarcate the front yard from the back, and I stained it with an opaque black stain. Black might seem like a weird, goth-y, ominous, bold, scary, whatever kind of a choice, but I think in this context it works. Greenery, which I keep adding more and more of, looks great against the backdrop of the black fence, and I think the color helps offset the white house by allowing everything else to recede. It was one of those things that I figured I’d try out—worse case scenario, I could spend a day painting over it with a different color, but I ended up feeling glad I trusted my instincts because I really love it. No regrets!


After living with my black fence for a while and really liking it, I committed to doing the rest of the fence to match. I may have underestimated how arduous of a process that would be. Staining both sides of 200 linear feet of fencing (2,400 square feet, with nooks and crannies all the way) is a big job, just in case that wasn’t impeccably obvious to everybody except me.

I started the staining process by working between a roller and a 3″ angle brush. It was taking a long time. One side of each panel took maybe half an hour (more?) and I quickly started to feel like this was a really bad plan that I wish I hadn’t signed up for.


Then Edwin got home, saw me working, and immediately offered the use of his paint sprayer. A paint sprayer! What a guy. So he retrieved it from his basement and brought it over with a slice of watermelon for each of us and taught me how to use this magic futuristic device.

I’ve always written off paint sprayers as being more trouble than they’re worth and a big waste of paint (or stain, as the case may be), but YOU GUYS. It was so amazing. I don’t feel like I can really justify buying one for myself (this is the kind of tool you really don’t want to skimp on, and I guess the good ones are several hundred bucks), but if I ever have a really huge project where it’d come in handy and save me lots of time and money, I’d budget for it for sure.


Holy cow, this poor backyard. I promise I’ve really cleaned it up since this picture was taken. Mostly.

The trick with the sprayer, by the way, is very short, consistent strokes that sort of “feather” in and out at the ends. It’s harder than it looks or sounds and definitely takes a little practice to get into the groove of it, so I’m glad I got to get my sea legs on the fence with a product that’s really forgiving—if I sprayed it on too thick in sections, it was easy to just back-brush the excess and move on, and you can’t tell once it’s all dry. Since the wood is so rough, there wasn’t really any need to back-brush to avoid that sprayed-on finish that can look bad on the siding of a house, for instance.


ALSO! Sprayers are, well, sprayers, so you have to be very cautious of what’s around you when you’re using them! Professional painters actually need additional insurance to use sprayers because of the risk of overspray messing up someone’s car or house or whatever. One area of my fence is very close to the neighbor’s house so I switched to hand-brushing for those sections, but masking off her house with plastic would have also worked.


Anyway! Even with the sprayer, staining the whole thing took several days of 3-4 hour sessions, but I got it done! You can kind of see some lighter spots in this picture so after I was done I just went around and did touch-ups where necessary, and that was pretty much it!


Let’s talk for a minute about this stain? I used about 15 gallons of stain for this project, but the friendly folks at Cabot decided to help a brother out and send me 8 cans on them! So nice. I love this Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain—it’s such good stuff. This is the same product I used on the other section of fencing last year, which still looks basically like the day it was done. Unlike any stain that I’m used to using, it has about the same consistency as a normal can of paint and the application is the same (you don’t need to wipe off excess or anything, like when you stain a piece of furniture), but it seems to really soak into the wood more than paint would and provides a really nice, totally opaque and totally matte finish. Because it’s water-based, clean-up is just like a normal latex paint and it cooperated beautifully with the sprayer! I think opaque stain is such a great alternative to paint especially when you’re dealing with pressure-treated lumber, which is typically supposed to dry out for several months before being treated especially with normal paint. Even after letting PT lumber dry out for longer than the recommended period, I’ve had a couple experiences now with regular (but high quality) exterior paint flaking and peeling after only a few months, but never with this stuff.

By the way, you also don’t need to prime—in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. This goes right on the wood. According to the folks at Cabot, it can also be used to cover previously painted or stained surfaces too, which is pretty cool. I’ve only ever used it on fencing, but I also wonder if I should be using it on the clapboard on my house, except in white. Since it still allows the wood to breathe, it seems like it would last much longer than paint without peeling? Hmmmmmm. It might be worth buying a gallon just to see how it looks…

The coverage is also really amazing—I was concerned before starting that I’d need at least two coats but it just took one (!) to achieve the deep, even finish I wanted. YAY!

Cabot products used to be sort of tricky to find, but they recently started selling them at Ace Hardware locations nationwide which is great. Cabot for everyone!


This picture was taken while the stain was still drying (which is fast—totally dry in about 30-45 minutes) but check it out! I really didn’t mind the way that the wood fence looked with the black garage, but knowing how it would weather makes me glad I pulled the trigger on treating it this way.


The final piece was staining all the little post caps! These are just these simple wood post caps from Lowe’s that I think REALLY finish off a fence. I think functionally they’re supposed to extend the life of the posts by creating a peaked surface on top for rain and snow to run off of (much like the roof on a house), but aesthetically they also just make the fence look fancier and more finished.

I used the sprayer to get a good coat on the tops of each cap, but ended up staining each one with a brush so I could get into all the nooks and bottom edges and all that.


Post caps have a little adhesive strip inside of them to hold them securely to the posts, but they don’t seem particularly strong so I added some construction adhesive (liquid nails) to them before putting them in place. I placed all of them pretty quickly and then went back around and hammered them down with a rubber mallet to get them level and really set on the posts.


So! Here we were back when I bought the house…


And today! There’s still some serious landscaping that needs to happen even here, but I’m really happy overall with this as a foundation to work off of.


Those garage windows look a little funny because they’re sort of blown out in the photo, but there’s actually a cute ticking stripe fabric on the inside of the windows. I’ve been so busy and just wanted to get SOMETHING up so I rummaged through my extra fabric bin and pulled out this window shade I bought a while ago for a couple bucks (just for the fabric) and it was enough to cover all four windows. It’s just stapled to the door on the inside…it’s like the OPPOSITE of fancy but it looks nice from the outside and more importantly doesn’t expose folks on the sidewalk to the jumbled mess on the inside of the garage…


Also, I wired some lights on the garage! I like them! I don’t love them, but I like them! I ended up ordering the Harbor Sconce from Restoration Hardware during a sale. This is the large size in “weathered zinc”—the finish is kind of super lame and faux-looking in person, but the shape is cute and they look fine and sometimes fine is…fine. The bulbs are LED faux-edison bulbs which I LOVE because they are so super hokey but they really look good at night and the light is so warm and glow-y. The lights are on a timer switch (found at Home Depot) so they come on and off more or less with sunset and sunrise. Boom!

I know people have problems with exterior lights at night from a light pollution and environmental standpoint, but these have been met with GREAT enthusiasm from the neighbors. This is still an urban area, and this is a small under-lit cross-street—beyond just looking cute, a reasonable amount of light at night actually improves public safety, so I’m glad to have done this.


So here was the house about a year and a half ago, all chain-linked and mudroom-ed and white garage-d.


And today! I feel like the absence of the lush summer foliage isn’t making this comparison as dramatic as I want it to be, but whatever. You get the idea! This side of the house has a MAJOR makeover ahead of it, but it’s come a long way! And I really do feel like the black fence and garage go a long way toward sort of visually isolating the house and letting that be the focal point, which is kinda the goal.

In case you’re thinking this, I’m thinking it too: the contrast is TOO stark. It’s this big wash of white, and then this big wash of black, and that is not the intent nor do I think it looks particularly good as it stands. There are two major things that I totally believe will fix this:

  1. The fence and garage need to be softened. Everyone will tell me I’m an idiot, but fuck it: I’m going to let some english ivy do its climb-y thing on that sidewalk-facing side of the fence. I know it’ll spread. I know it’ll be hard or impossible to get rid of. I know it’s bad for the wood on the fence. I want it anyway. I’ll guard it from the house with my life, but the fence needs something to naturalize it into the landscape and I think it also needs that shot of traditionalism that ivy would offer. It would also be nice all winter, and…well, that’s that.
  2. The house needs more black accents! The house itself will stay white, but it’s very traditional for Greek Revival houses to have black (or dark green) windows, shutters, and doors. My window sashes are already black (whatever previous owner did that, thanks a bunch!), but the storm windows are yucky 70s aluminum and the shutters are longggg gone. Spray-painting the frames of the storms will make a bigger difference than you’d think, and I’m determined to get shutters back on this baby! Doing shutters “right” is one expensive endeavor—let me tell you—but of course I want them to all be sized correctly, with period-appropriate hardware and the correct style and all that. Bad shutters are a big pet peeve of mine so it might be a while until I can splurge on that exciting improvement, but let’s all just keep it in the back of our brains, cool?

 This post is in collaboration with Cabot! Cabot generously provided a portion of the products used here but all opinions and stuff are my own, like I do.

Repairs, Painting, and Tree Day!


After we dealt with the necessary structural repairs, work on the exterior of the cottage kept moving right along! The weather has been cooperating beautifully, so there’ve been very few delays in work the past couple of weeks. If all of my projects moved at this pace, I wager I could renovate the state of New York by the time I’m 50? Sounds reasonable.


As with any paint project, prep is 90% of the work. Not only was the entire house pretty filthy, but the whole thing hadn’t been painted in probably 20 years. The yellow paint on almost all of the clapboard was peeling off, meaning that the entire house had to be scraped of loose paint and sanded to prepare for the new paint job. If this were my own house, I’d probably take it slower and try to paint the whole thing myself, but with winter around the corner and an exterior to hopefully finish by then, it only really made sense to hire it out.

Another reason to hand the job over to the pros is the whole issue of lead. The outer layer of paint is too new to contain lead, but I’m sure layers underneath do. Restrictions (and enforcement) of this kind of stuff vary by place, but technically this isn’t the kind of work somebody who isn’t certified in lead abatement should be dealing with. My contractor had the necessary equipment, experience, and training to handle the job, so I let him do the honors.

I pitched in a little bit by helping pull a bunch of the billion staples stuck everywhere! Everything in my house was fixed with masking tape and caulk, but I think everything in this house was fixed with staples. I’m guessing all these staples are remnants of efforts to weatherproof the windows with plastic in the winter, and the cumulative effect of doing this over many years lead to the major staple build-up. They are EVERYWHERE, inside and out. It’s sort of astounding. Hello, blisters!


Prepping everything took several days. First all of the clapboard around the entire house was hand-scraped (the chips fell onto 6 mil plastic that we laid around the perimeter of the house, which was then disposed of). Then all of it was sanded with a special sander attached to a special vacuum with a special filter to contain any particles, just to smooth everything out and rough up the surface of the remaining old paint.

People go to various degrees of insanity when they prep old clapboard to paint. Some people who have lots of time and lots of energy go as far as stripping all of the paint down to the bare wood either with chemical strippers, ultraviolet strippers, heat guns, or some combination. Unless, of course, you’re Martha Stewart, in which case you have the entire house sandblasted, just to make the mortals feel inferior. But the level of prep done here is more typical when you hire it out to a normal painter—scrape what’s loose, paint over what isn’t. Sure, the clapboard doesn’t look perfect—even after sanding, you can still see layers of paint below the new paint—but I don’t mind it. Just like with the inside of these houses, sometimes old stuff is allowed to look old. I’ll take the texture of this over vinyl or aluminum siding any day.

ANYWAY. I considered a lot of different paint schemes for the house, trying to take into consideration what’s happening with the neighboring properties and the unique nature of this tiny house set way far back on this tiny lot. I felt like maybe I could get away with doing something a little off-the-wall and considered painting the whole thing some bright, exciting color, but ultimately I felt like that wasn’t the right move. For starters, I’ve never painted the exterior of a house, and part of me felt like I had to crawl before I could walk here. I also just felt like I want the house to be cute and sweet and classic, and some bolder choice might not accomplish that.

So I went with grey. I KNOW, I’M SO BORING. Sorry to the color-lovers. I’ll try to make it up to you. I have ideas and stuff.

(maybe. no promises.)

Specifically, I went with Martha Stewart’s Bedford Grey, which is a color I’ve used a couple of times as an accent color in my house. It’s my favorite mid-tone grey paint color: warm undertones, so it never goes blue, but it’s also never taupe or beige. It’s basically perfect, much like Lady Stewart herself.


For the entire exterior, we used Valspar Reserve paint from Lowe’s! I used the interior version of Valspar Reserve paint in my dining room (and will probably continue using it throughout the house—it’s amazing paint), and the exterior version did not disappoint. My contractor, Edwin, typically uses Benjamin Moore when he paints exteriors and gave me major side-eye when I came to site toting my gallons of Valspar, but every single person who had a hand in the painting (including Edwin!) ended up commenting on the quality and coverage of the Valspar Reserve. We did two coats on the entire house, but look how well it covers up that intense green with just one! It really is great stuff. And at $40/gallon less then Benjamin Moore Aura, the savings is insane. Sorry, Ben. We used 17 gallons of paint on the whole house (with a little to spare on touch-ups), which worked out to a little over $750 in paint. Not bad!

I’ll stop gushing about paint. For now.

For some reason, one of the major challenges I’ve had here is figuring out exactly how to paint this house. Is it because the green trim and windows everywhere is so distracting? Is it because I’m just bad at this? I don’t know. It seems like there’s opportunity for a few different paint treatments here, and figuring out what should go where proved weirdly complicated. I’ll try to break it down.

1. The clapboard. All one color, obviously.

2. The window trim. Different color? White? But it’s so simple, and there’s something strange about how the trim around the casement windows in the front meets the trim around the sidelights, and…I don’t know.

3. If the window trim goes white, then what else qualifies as trim? Everything that’s currently green? What about the corner boards? What about the eaves overhang, which is currently the siding color? What about the fascia?

4. The window sashes. Should they be the trim color? Or a different color? Will it be too busy if they’re a different color? My head is spinning.

5. The sidelights. Do those qualify as windows? So they should be the window color? Or should they just be the same color as the door? Or should they be the color of the trim? I feel dizzy.

6. The door! Should the door be the same color as the window sashes? Or the trim? Should the door and the sidelights be the same color? Should the door be some other fun color? And then what to do about the sidelights?

7. What about that sunburst detail thing (does anyone know exactly what to call that?) over the door? I sort of want to accentuate it in some way, but I don’t really want to introduce another paint color, especially if the clapboard is different than the trim is different than the window sashes is different than the door…yikes. I just threw up.


How many times can I mention Martha in one post? Let’s find out. The color Bedford Grey was originally formulated for Martha’s home, Cantitoe Corners, in Bedford, New York, so I decided to re-familiarize myself with how it was used there and maybe get some answers to my paint problems.

Monochrome. Huh. I mean, how perfect is that house? Very perfect. Somehow it looks really classic and modern at the same time, and the monochrome scheme is just the right solution for disguising the asymmetry of those second floor windows, which would otherwise be kind of glaring if the trim color offset too much with the house.

I still liked the idea of doing something different with the window sashes and the door color, but painting everything else out monochrome seemed like maybe just the right solution to freshening up the house and solving the never-ending what is trim and what is not-trim debates I was mentally wrestling with.


While the painting proceeded, we continued to make a few repairs to the exterior, including replacing the crown molding around the overhang on the front of the house. Parts of the existing crown were missing and other parts were completely rotted, but luckily the molding wasn’t really anything super special and I was able to find a near-exact match at Lowe’s. Cutting all of the angles correctly was horrible and trying and I think Edwin wanted to slaughter me throughout the ordeal, but it looks great so I’m glad we threw a little money and time at that detail.


I also decided to replace the back door after all, which turned into ripping out the door, the old (very broken, messed up) jamb, the rotted trim around the old door, and some of the clapboard to the right of the door, which was just very messed up and better to replace than try to repair or just paint over. For the entire exterior, we used about 3 packs of new wood siding from Lowe’s where the clapboard needed to be replaced. It added a little over $200 to the materials cost, but matches the old stuff perfectly and looks great. Edwin used 2″ finish nails to attach the new clapboard—I didn’t know at the time, but larger nails with larger heads (7d nails) are recommended for clapboard, so I plan to go back and add those the old-fashioned way. Ah well.


Here’s the new back door! So nice! It’s almost exactly the same as the original door (it has three panels on the bottom half instead of two), except it’s not completely broken, rotted, missing mullions, etc. I saved the old door and may try to use it inside or just hoard it in my basement for some other project someday. Like the front door, this new door came from The Door Jamb—the local discount window and door place up here. It’s a little nicer than the front door—stain-grade fir instead of paint-grade pine—so it was $125. Still a great price for such a nice door, I’d say! We had to cut 1.5″ off the top and bottom to make it fit the existing opening, but that was easy.

For the trim surrounding the door, we ripped down 5/4 x 6″ lumber to match the thickness and width of the original trim that we couldn’t salvage. The new sill and piece below it are 2×8 pressure-treated wood we had leftover from the sill replacement in the front.


After the first coat of paint was on the house, latex caulk was applied where necessary, which gets painted over during the second coat. I think we used somewhere around 20 tubes of caulk for the whole house. Vertical surfaces like where clapboard meets corner boards and trim gets caulked, but you don’t want to caulk between the clapboards themselves—this is what allows the house to “breath.”


Tree day happened over the weekend!! HOORAY! I took care of removing all of the insane weeds and vines and stuff myself, but I hired out removing the large Catalpa tree in the front, the three overgrown shrubs up by the sidewalk, and a few other trees growing too close to the foundation in the back and the side. It took two guys an hour or two (and a really awesome chainsaw) to take care of everything and cost $750, which included hauling everything away, grinding the stumps, and removing the enormous pile of brush I’d made of all the weeds and vines. I was planning to haul the smaller stuff to the dump myself (and save $150), but the convenience of just having these guys take care of all of it won out.

before progress

Helloooo, little house! You can be seen from the street now!!

Now you can really get a sense of how tiny this house is in comparison to its neighbors, and how far back it is from the street. It’s such a bizarre little place! I’m almost positive that this house started out as a carriage house (or some kind of secondary structure) for one of the houses adjacent to it, and then became its own house after 3 or 4 major additions. I’ll get into that more in a future post—it’s kind of interesting! At least to me.

I’d already decided at this point that I really didn’t like the monochrome paint scheme (the house just isn’t interesting enough to pull it off!), so plans switched to paint the trim white—which, spoiler, looks way better. Switching gears partway through painting ended up tacking $550 onto the initial quote of $4,500 for painting the whole house. It kind of sucked to eat that cost since it was my mistake, but it’s worth it in the long run to get it right. Oh well.

The yard still has a LONG way to go, but getting the trees and shrubs out of there was an enormous first step! Now that the yard is more of a blank slate, it’s time to really get going on the landscaping! There’s a whole lot of grading that needs to be taken care of to get the yard sloping out toward the street instead of back toward the house, that fence situation needs to go, and a lot of general clean-up and stuff needs to take place, but this is huge. I can’t even count the number of people who walked by that day who were either shocked to find out there was a house lurking back there, or had to check that they were even on the right block. It feels good.

Diary time!

Day 8: Went to Lowe’s to buy some lumber and other small supplies. Worked on landscaping scheme, began building planters. More yard clean-up. Decided what parts of house to paint white versus grey.

Day 9: Went to Lowe’s to buy more paint and a few supplies. Went back to site to deliver everything. Edwin had trimmed out front door and replaced most of missing siding on front. Went back to Lowe’s for more lumber for planters and crown molding for front. Ran to Door Jamb in Edwin’s truck to purchase door that has been on hold for the back entrance. Edwin and Edgar installed it in 45 minutes—still remaining is installing lock and knob set. Did not want to cut 3″ off one end, so cut 1.5″ off top and bottom to make it fit.

Day 10: My birthday. Oversaw tree removal starting at 8:30 AM. Worked on building planters briefly with Max. Left earlier than I wanted to so we could get to Garlic Festival in Saugerties.

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

Starting Work on the Exterior

You know that feeling you get, like if you oversleep by accident or get stuck in terrible traffic, and then you spend the rest of the day chasing that time you missed out on?

Yeah. That’s pretty much how the cottage renovation started out.

I woke up the morning of the closing with a fever and popped some Tylenol. I’d been in this pattern for about four days, and I guess I might have been more concerned about it if I wasn’t also in the thick of buying a condemned house, helping renovate a friend’s bathroom, trying to work on my own dining room, trying to procure an insurance policy for the cottage before closing, wondering why my Check Engine Coolant light never turns off, wishing I had a bagel…you get the idea. Generally feeling a little bit crazed, which is more or less how I (dys)function always and forever. Works great.

Admittedly, feeling this way before embarking on another major renovation probably should have served as some kind of warning, but whatever. I signed all the papers and handed over all the money and bought that house! And then the next day I found out my mysterious fever was actually Mono.

I turned to my primary care physician, WebMD, which informed me that everything was about to get worse, maybe for weeks, maybe for months. Then I mentioned having it on this blog, and among the well-wishes and get-betters were horrific stories of 6, 8, 10, 20 months-long ordeals with the affliction of which I had recently been diagnosed.

This was such bad news. Buying this little condemned house sort of felt like buying, I don’t know, a baby. Like I bought a helpless, defenseless little thing with the promise and understanding that I’d take care of it, and then my body was basically like “NOPE. You will go to sleep indefinitely instead!” So that’s what I did, more or less, and it super sucked, except for the part where I watched all the TV.

Luckily the worst of it was over within about two weeks, which brought us to mid-September, when I declared that the first day of work would officially begin on the cottage. I’d been up on my feet a few days and it seemed like it would be OK to, you know, ease back into things. Just get my feet wet a little bit.

Then I proceeded to pull weeds and vines and pick up trash for eleven hours straight. Why? Because I am dumb. And I really wanted the painters to be able to access the house to start prepping. Mostly because I’m dumb.

Anyway, hopefully this is the last you’ll hear me complaining about mono because it won’t come back and everything will be terrific forever. Fingers crossed. I’m trying to be good about not pushing too hard. It’s going moderately OK.


Lest we forget, here was the state of the front yard before (standing at the house, looking toward the street). It’s sort of crazy seeing this kind of thing in a fairly densely populated urban area…I’ve noticed that even empty lots don’t look like this in Kingston, let alone ones with houses on them! Bananas.

ANYWAY. The name of the game with this yard is pretty much to start over. There isn’t really anything except the bluestone hardscaping that can be salvaged, and I guess the fence posts are in OK shape. The super overgrown shrubs along the front and the large (but poorly located and very ugly due to some old aggressive pruning over the years) Catalpa tree will have to get removed professionally, but I figured I could save a little money by handling pretty much anything that didn’t require a chainsaw by myself. People have suggested keeping the huge evergreen shrubs in the front for privacy, but I sort of feel like it’s important for the street for this house to be seen, since it’s going to look all spiffy and whatnot. Removing the shrubs should also bring more light into the main floor, which would be nice!

I’m really, really excited to say that I’m teaming up with my friends at Lowe’s again (they also worked with me on our laundry room) to get this exterior into shape! The team at Lowe’s was as excited about the project as I am, and have been completely dreamy to work with. I pretty much do all of my shopping at Lowe’s in general (I love the employees at our local store! So much!), so I’m all-around super thrilled to be doing this with them by my side! They’ve given me complete creative freedom with this, by the way, and—as always—all opinions are my own.

My basic strategy was to start at the perimeter of the house and work my way out, clearing space for the painters first (who, achem, didn’t end up coming that day) and then worrying about everything else. I essentially just threw everything in a large pile…it’s really too much to be wrangling into individual yard bags. Kingston’s Department of Public Works has a program where yard waste can be brought to a place nearby, where they chip it into mulch, so the plan is to borrow my friend’s pick-up and do that. You can actually rent a dump truck for a weekend for $50 for this very thing, which I guess they drop off on a Friday and pick up on a Monday, but my understanding is that the entire city basically shares one and so that option only really works if you’re not on a deadline. The other cool thing I learned is that once everything is chipped into mulch, any Kingston resident can take it! As much mulch as you want for free. So cool! I only mention this stuff because it all seemed to novel to me and maybe other people are missing out on similar fun and exciting municipal services.


So part of the trouble with the yard being SO overgrown and unruly was that it was a little hard to even tell what was going on with the exterior of the house. Everything looked more or less OK, but so much of it was obscured by plants that me, the inspector, and everyone else may have missed a few little details.

Like, oh, the front of the house sitting below grade. Nice.

As I went about my weed-pulling, I started to notice that under all the overgrowth was a massive amount of dirt. There’s something around 30 feet of front yard between the house and the sidewalk, and the whole thing is graded super wonky, like there’s a big hill in the middle and about 3-4 feet of soil build-up behind the fence that’s pretty much just being held in by a couple of horizontal 4×4 posts and the root system of those evergreens. It’s really strange. As it stands, the whole thing basically needs a retaining wall. It looks like I have a lot of dirt-moving in my future. Maybe it can come to my backyard? Somehow? Hmmmmm.

ANYWAY, a consequence of the crazy dirt situation and the crazy grading is that the bottom course of clapboard was basically completely buried, meaning the bottom part of the exterior sheathing and the sill plate (that thing between the studs and the foundation, which holds up the house) was also sitting below grade. YIKES.


I mean, HOLY SHIT. The entire front of the house is resting on that rotted out disaster. To me it kind of looked like termite damage more than regular wood rot, but there weren’t any signs of an active termite infestation, so at least that’s good. Anyway, a little quick evaluation told me (and then, later, my go-to contractor Edwin told me) that the whole thing needed to be replaced.

Ouch. Ouch Ouch Ouch. This is not the kind of information you want to get on DAY 1, FYI. Basically we’d have to figure out a way to support the whole front of the house from collapsing (easier said than done without a basement under this section) while we took out what was left of the existing sill plate and replaced it with new pressure-treated lumber. The whole thing sounded horrible and potentially astronomically expensive and I basically could just picture that emoji I’ve grown so fond of using—that one with the wad of money flying away with its set of wings.

BUT. It wasn’t that bad. Really. The house sat like this for a few days, which made me crazy anxious for some reason, but then we got to work. There was also a section of sill plate that was rotted out at the back of the house near the kitchen (due to a damaged gutter…gutter maintenance is important, people!), that needed replacement, and Edwin quoted $800 + materials (which ended up costing about $200) for the repair of both. So…not cheap, but not totally decimating the budget either. OK. Deep breaths and stuff. We’re still good. Luckily the rot hadn’t extended up into the studs or past the sill plate into the joists, so that was good news. I was a little worried the whole house was like this.


This is what the entire front of the house was resting on! It’s sort of a wonder the whole thing hadn’t collapsed? I mean, damn. It’s basically a toothpick!


But, we fixed it up! The process involved supporting the front of the house very temporarily (like 10 minutes) with 2x4s and sliding two new 2 x 8 pressure-treated boards into place, which were sistered together with a framing nailer. So fresh and so clean! Then the front wall was shockingly easy to move back into the correct position, and the studs were re-attached to the sill plate with the framing nailer at a few different angles, inside and out. Solid as a rock. This isn’t how houses are built today, but it’s worked here for many decades and now can continue to work for many more! HOORAY.


After the new sill plate was in place and secured, we shimmed the whole thing out another inch to match the thickness of the original sill.


Then all we had to do was cut a piece of 3/4″ pressure-treated plywood to create the sheathing. I had the plywood leftover from my failed attempt at fixing my own box gutter, so the material for this part at least was free.


After the sill plate was replaced and the new sheathing was installed, we opted to add 14″ high aluminum flashing to help keep water away from the new sill plate and foundation. A few courses of new clapboard will be installed over top of this (the old stuff wasn’t salvageable), and everything will be OK. The house will be solid and more equipped to handle water and stuff than it was before. Excellent.


Throughout this ordeal, we realized that the existing sidelights and door were framed in COMPLETELY incorrectly…no header, no real support…the whole thing was a mess! Rather than trying to work with the existing crappy job as we were installing a new front door and jamb, we made the quick decision to rip it all out and re-frame the entire thing. It cost me a couple hundred bucks in extra labor hours and materials, but it was entirely worth it. The front of this house is not going ANYWHERE.


The new header meant that the old sidelights had to be cut down a bit to compensate. I’m seriously debating these sidelights. They’re REALLY not very old and REALLY not very nice, and a ton of the panes are broken, and I think I could just replace them with something nicer and new for about $200. I’m really tempted…I have so much window restoration on this house already, and this is one of those things that I can make a little bit easier and a little bit nicer for a little extra money, and it kind of seems worth it. I don’t know! For now, the old ones went back in place (with temporary stops, so I can easily remove them for restoration and paint), but we’ll see. I’m not married to them. They’re really pretty bad, believe me.


Anyway, look at that fancy framing and that fancy new door!! AHHHH! Finally the house has an actual LOCK, and I can stop being super paranoid about people coming in and stealing my tools. Obviously in this picture we still have to add back the sidelights and trim everything out, but it’s already and improvement. I changed the direction that the door swings, and I think it makes a lot more sense this way.

Oh, about the door! I’m super happy with it. I went to a place called The Door Jamb nearby, which basically sells overstocked or slightly damaged doors and windows at great discounts. This door is solid wood (not stain grade, though, so I’m planning to paint it), really nice, and only $95! That’s super cheap for an exterior door. I wasn’t really planning to find anything I liked that was new production, but I think this door suits the house super well, especially when I put the first floor casement windows back in place (I took them down for repair/painting…the windows in the picture are just the storms).


One of the things about there only being one of me is that I can’t be in multiple places at once! I’ve spent a lot of time running back and forth to Lowe’s to pick up more supplies—more lumber here, more paint there…I’m typically there like 1-3 times a day, which means sometimes I miss things back at the ranch! I casually mentioned to my contractor that I was planning to put new beadboard up in the arched area above the door (which was totally rotted/eaten by animals), but I never planned for him to do it for me! I guess the installation must have been easy since he banged it out in about 20 minutes, but I missed the whole thing! This is just tongue-and-groove breadboard wainscoting that comes in a pack (I bought 4 foot lengths, and I think this took a little more than 1 pack), attached with 2″ finish nail. It looks so good. I thought for a second about trying to stain it, but I think it’s getting painted like everything else. I don’t want it to look glaringly new, you know?

Is that enough progress for one post? It’s hard to know when to stop! Even though a lot of this stuff was a little bit unexpected, I’m really glad that we got it resolved quickly and properly (and relatively inexpensively) and can move forward with the beautification process and start seeing some non-invisible changes around here!

By the way, I’m sorry about the (in)frequency of posts in the last couple of weeks! I promised more and then you did not get more! Obviously this is a big project, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going through some growing pains right about now…trying to manage all the work and keep everything moving and also have time to blog about it and eat and sometimes sleep and pay my bills and all of that is proving a little tough. We’re only a couple weeks in, though…I’m trying really hard to strike a balance and figure out how to make this work a little better. Just FYI.

Totally unrelated, but I had this kooky idea…continuing in the grand tradition Martha Stewart’s New Old House, I thought maybe it would be fun to maybe end these posts diary-style. It’s all well and good to see a bunch of progress in one post, but I always sort of wonder what the day-to-day looks like. I skipped over those sections the first time I read Martha’s book (which is amazing and totally insane—I love it), but reading through it the second time was sort of amazing…the entries are informative but also reveal her neuroses and anal-retentiveness in a really adorable Martha-y way. So why not? Fun? Let’s find out.

Day 1: Bought new front door.

Day 2: Yard clearing. Took a break to purchase some supplies. Uncovered structural issue on exterior and worked on solution with Edwin. Used Edwin’s truck to buy pressure-treated lumber to replace sill plate.

Day 3: Cleaned up around yard and interior of cottage while Edwin started prepping clapboard for paint.

Day 4: Edwin continued to prep exterior for paint. Painted sample of siding color on clapboard for review and approval. Debating how to paint trim, window sashes, and doors.

Day 5: Went to Building Department to apply for building permit while Edwin and crew continued to prep for paint. Edwin and I brainstormed exactly how to replace sill plate. Lack of basement makes things complicated.

Day 6: Bough caulk for painters. Went to Lowe’s for 2×4 lumber to reframe door and sidelights, aluminum flashing, and Sawzall blades. Edwin and Edgar worked on replacing sill plate—almost complete by the time I got back. Edwin and Edgar moved on to removing old door and sidelights. Painting began on underside of rafters and trim. After workers left, cleaned up site and met with tree service professional, Armin, about removing larger trees and grinding stumps. Quote seemed reasonable, nobody else has returned my calls—hired!

Day 7: Went to Lowe’s to buy plants (before they are out of stock), new cedar siding, more flashing, and exterior paint. Changed painting plan slightly—$550 mistake on my part. Edwin and Edgar re-framed doorway and put back old sidelights. Edwin installed beadboard wainscoting over entryway. Edwin installed door, threshold, weather-stripping, and new locks.  Ran back to Lowe’s to buy 2×6 pressure-treated wood to replace upper portion of trim and 5/4″ x  6″ for trim pieces around door to match original 1″ thickness, which will be installed next working day. Rain in forecast tomorrow.



This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

The Laundry Room is Done!

I’m sure if you had asked me about the laundry room after we first looked at our house, I wouldn’t have really remembered anything about it beyond that it was disgusting. Little details like the lack of a dryer seemed insignificant (and I didn’t really think about the fact that dryers need their own electrical supply and vent and stuff…which they do, FYI). This was still in the rose-colored glasses days, when all I saw were all the amazing original details I wanted the opportunity to save, and all the potential the house had. Even when thinking seriously about all the work we had ahead of us, the tiny little laundry room off the kitchen was so overshadowed in scale and biohazard-ness that I really don’t recall considering it at all. It’s just a laundry room, right? The idea that we might someday even have a washer and dryer in our place of residence seemed more than posh enough for us, so I really didn’t even think about how it would look or what form a renovation of the space might take.

But then things changed. Demo and dust and debris and general filth became a huge part of our lives, which meant that laundry became a huge part of our lives. And when you’re in Obsessive Renovation Mode, as I am between 99-100% of the time, having to stop everything for a few hours on a Saturday to get your tushy to the laundromat carting so much gross laundry really kind of sucks. I’m well aware that this is the reality for plenty of people for whom having their own laundry isn’t an option, but for us it was an option. All of a sudden, having a working laundry room couldn’t come soon enough. Added to this is that Max—while hardly involved in the nuts-n-bolts of renovation at all—loves to do laundry. All I had to do was renovate a room, and then I could pass the torch to my boo to actually use it. So, since I like to think of myself as both romantic and stylish, I decided to build that boy the best damn laundry room this little space could handle. The room had to be utilitarian, yes, but it could also stand to be beautiful and fancy-feeling, so that Max could really commit himself to removing the frequent blood/grease/filth stains from my clothing with panache and style.

You guys. I totally did it. My semi-evil semi-romantic plan is working.


Let’s take a horrifying look back, shall we? Way back. Here’s a picture of the kitchen looking into the laundry room after about a week in the house. The funny thing about this room that separates it from basically all the other spaces in our house is that pretty much any nice architectural detail that perhaps once existed had been stripped from it years ago. On the kitchen side, 1×6 pieces of lumber had been cut to various thicknesses (why? Who knows! But each side was different!) to frame out the doorway. Inside the laundry room, the same 1×6 lumber had been used for baseboards, and dinky 1×3’s surrounded the super crooked window in a super crooked way. The window itself is old, which is kind of nice, but that’s about it. The original plaster had been covered over with drywall, and anything that may have been nice about the room way back when had just been lost in the process. So unlike in other spaces, where I want to highlight all the original architectural details, the task here ended up being to basically recreate them to give this room back some old-fashioned charm.


Ohhhh yeahhhhh. That looks a whole lot better, can we agree? I hope we can agree.

I ended up slightly decreasing the size of the doorway (both width and height) to accommodate an old door I found in the basement. The plan was to erect this poor forlorn door as a swinging door between the two spaces, which I still intend to do, but it just hasn’t happened yet. But that’s OK! It will. Some other time. After some careful/creative drywall, tile, and baseboard patching, it really looks like this doorway has looked like this all along, which I’m so happy about. If we ever get to gut the kitchen, I think this doorway will be one of the few things that just stays put as it is.


The molding on the outside of the doorway actually came from the only thing that was really worth salvaging from the inside of the laundry room, which was the original door casing! I carefully pried off the pieces (which, due to the later addition of the drywall over the original plaster, were basically sitting flush with the drywall—not cute), and then verrrry carefully cut them down to their new size to accommodate the smaller opening.


In the process, it looked kind of like this—which was a whole lot of sadness, considering the kitchen was looking pretty good before I had this bright idea to destroy it again. Whoops!


This is a truly horrendous picture, but after cutting the old pieces to their new sizes and nailing them up, I wrapped them in 1×2’s and then added this stock piece of pine base cap molding from Lowe’s. These added details do a nice job of matching the original 1850s moldings in the kitchen, and after it was all primed, caulked, and painted, it looks really authentic!

OK, enough dorky molding talk (jk, there will be more). Shall we go inside? WE SHALL.


Just look at this sad awful mess. It was sad and awful.


I don’t even know where to begin. I’m overwhelmed.

1. You can read all about how I replicated the original moldings for the window casing and baseboards here. I’m so proud of how this turned out! Even if they don’t look 100% original, they definitely tie the room together with the rest of the house and really make the space feel special. I obviously tell everyone that I made all the millwork, because I have zero shame and a developed need for praise, so for that reason alone they aren’t fooling anyone.

2. I am in LOVE (LOVE LOVE LOVE) with our machines. We wanted to get machines that were the largest capacity we could, while taking up the smallest footprint, and of course with good ratings. These LG models (washer & electric dryer) fit the bill perfectly—they’re slightly shallower than competitive brands, meaning they fit the space between the back wall and the doorway like a glove, they have amazing reviews, large capacity, fancy features, and even sing a very jolly jingle when they’re finished with their cycles. I could go on and on! I can’t imagine being any more satisfied with them. One thing of note is that we purchased them at full price, but a couple weeks later Lowe’s was running a promotion (10% off, I believe) on large appliances! We brought back our receipt, and Lowe’s was happy to honor the current promotion because it was happening within a month of our original purchase. We got about $300 back in store credit, which I immediately spent on…wait for it…A TABLE SAW. There may have been tears. Table saw = life-changing.

3. Since this room is attached to the kitchen, we wanted to tie it in visually with our earlier kitchen renovation—which meant subway tile, and lots of it! I’m so happy with how the tile came out—combined with the millwork, it really makes the space feel finished and fancy, not to mention how nice it is to clean and everything. Regular 3×6 subway tile is really inexpensive, too, so tiling the whole room was only a few hundred dollars. Can’t beat it! These are American Olean white subway tiles, and the grout is TEC unsanded grout in Raven.

4. Are you seeing that little cabinet next to the dyer? Are you seeing it? Well…


There’s about 8 inches of space next to the dryer, which I didn’t want to go to waste. To keep the machines as close to the back wall as possible, I had the electrician install the dryer plug to the right of the dryer itself, and we chose to side-vent the dryer for the same reason (lots of dryers offer this option nowadays, and the conversion is easy with a couple special-order parts). This left an awkward little ugly space that I didn’t want to look at, and it seemed like letting it go to unused would be a wasted opportunity.


So, out of some scrap plywood, I cobbled together this little rolling cabinet! It holds all kinds of stuff that we don’t really need for every single load of laundry, but do end up using frequently. As you can see, it isn’t even full, so we do have some room to expand where our laundry potions are concerned.

For the top, I just cut down a piece of our old fir countertops (gone, but not forgotten), gave it a good cleaning, and sealed it with three coats of water-based polyurethane. The polyurethane is a HUGE improvement over the original oil finish in terms of keeping it clean and wipe-able. I made it extra-long so that the back edge of the countertop hits the wall before the back of the cabinet can hit the plug or the dryer vent. Sneaky!


I’m so happy with how it came out, and the wood top adds a nice natural element to the space to keep it from feeling too cold. The handle is just a cheap brass sash lift I had lying around for some reason. I painted it in Bedford Gray by Martha Stewart’s line for Glidden, color-matched in semi-gloss to Valspar paint from Lowe’s. I love this little thing! Even though the decorative paneling elements on the front are a little more traditional than my style tends to skew, I feel like it fits right in in this space.


On top of the machines, I made a simple ironing board out of a piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to size, cotton batting, and a piece of a canvas drop cloth, which was inspired by a Martha Stewart project. The original concept was to make a removable cover that could be washed, but once I broke out the sewing machine, I quickly got overwhelmed and just stapled the fabric to the underside of the board. I still have plans to make a removable cover…if I can figure it out with my rudimentary sewing skills, I’ll do a whole DIY tutorial. For now, though, this is totally fine and a functional way to take advantage of the top of our front-loaders, and the natural cotton texture is really nice in the room.

Also, SHELF! The copper-coated brackets were a lucky find from a local coffee shop/vintage store in Kingston, Outdated (who also have an Etsy shop!). They were super rusty when I bought them, so I soaked them in CLR, scrubbed them with Barkeeper’s Friend, and spray-painted them with matte varnish to keep them from rusting. I love them. The enamel tray is vintage, and the stainless steel spray bottles and medicine droppers are from the Container store.

The shelf is a piece of super old salvaged wood from the attic, which I cut down to size, sanded, and coated with water-based poly. Really old far-gone-looking wood cleans up so well!


I figure it’s been like this for about 150 years, so I’m not too worried about it warping.


One of my favorite things in the room is this ENORMOUS poster that Max designed—Martha Stewart’s Household Stain Treatment Guide! We defer to Martha for all things home-maintenance related, and homegirl knows a thing or two about doing laundry. I know the writing might look illegible, but that’s just the picture…it’s easy to read in real life and reference in a stain-fighting conundrum. We had it printed at Staples for a few bucks (it’s just one of their cheap 4’x3′ posters, cut down to size). I wish I could offer the image as a free download, but I fear it would violate all sorts of copyright laws and I can’t have Martha on my bad side.



I made the frame myself out of some scrap wood and a few inexpensive trim pieces from Lowe’s, and painted it the same Bedford Gray as the rolling cabinet. For the glass, I had a piece of plexiglass cut to size at Lowe’s, which was awesomely easy and cheap.

The walls, by the way, are Benjamin Moore’s “Calm” color-matched to Valspar in matte. I’m really glad I tried out this Valspar paint—I went one level below the top-of-the-line option, and the paint is SO nice—especially for the price (like $34/gallon). I used the color recently in a client space and I love it—it’s such a nice super pale grey that contrasts nicely with white trim and doesn’t go purple or blue. It’s my new leading contender for the entryway!


At the end of the shelf are a couple of enamel canisters from West Elm, which hold our powdered detergent and Borax, which Max uses as a laundry booster. We use these for pretty much every load, so it’s nice to have them accessible but also pretty and decanted into these containers. The labels are from the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. (are you sensing a theme? no? WE LOVE MARTHA THAT IS THE THEME.)


The shelf is hung just above the outlet for the iron. Check out how pretty the doorway molding is! I MADE THAT. Check out how cute that frame is! I MADE THAT TOO.

Other side of the room? Other side of the room.


Obviously, this was a bummer. I only include it for the DRAMA.


There’s only about 14″ of space between the doorway and the wall on the other side of the room, but I fell in love with the idea of installing a hanging rack for things that need to hang-dry. Enter the WOODi! It’s the same idea as the very pretty Sheila Maid that a bunch of readers suggested (thanks, guys!) but I found it at one of my favorite Brooklyn shops, Dry Goods, and I liked that it was a little more contemporary and American-made. It lifts up or down on a pulley system attached to the ceiling, which sounds intimidating but it was really simple to assemble and install. So cute, right? It fits the room perfectly, and I love the functionality.


The rope for the WOODi (which could be exchanged for a cotton rope or something else, but I used the stock nylon rope it came with) is held up by a little chrome cleat that comes with it, which I attached to the new doorway molding.



Can we just talk about the window some more? I think it’s my favorite part of the room. It’s the little things! This window was such an eyesore before since it was so small and crooked, but adding beefier moldings (and installing them LEVEL) changed EVERYTHING. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a new window, I spent maybe $50 on lumber and made this one work, and I’m SO glad I did. Now it feels like the perfect size for the space, and I even like the crookedness of the window itself in its own funny little way. The whole thing makes me happy every time I look at it.


I swear I’ll shut up about the moldings at some point, someday, but man—it just made all the difference. From this, up there…


To THIS. Worth every bit of time and effort and expense. I probably dropped about $300 on lumber for just this little room, but I can’t imagine it any other way. Trying to make all the tile work with the existing moldings would have been an ugly nightmare!

The trashcan is by Brendan Ravenhill for West Elm (and currently on sale!)—the top part lifts off to become a dust pan, and the little broom is held on by magnets! So smart. We originally bought it for the kitchen, but there isn’t really any space for it in there, so now it collects dryer lint and whatnot. I love this trashcan, so I’m glad we found the perfect place for it!




I’m so, so incredibly thrilled with how this room came out—and I can say, really and truly, that it’s changed our lives in such a great way. I so appreciate all of the input and encouragement from you guys along the way, and I’m so thankful to Lowe’s for helping us make it happen! Getting this little room checked off our incredibly long list is such a morale boost, and I’m so excited to start working on all the other spaces calling out for attention!

Yay, clean clothes!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Lowe’s has generously provided funding for this project, however all designs and opinions are my own.


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