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Lowe’s Spring Makeover: Dream Team in Baltimore Edition!

Here’s a crazy proposition for you: take five house-bloggers who’ve never worked together, plop them in a city far away from any of their homes, and give them a kitchen to renovate top to bottom in three days. Sit back, relax, and see if they all survive?

That’s pretty much what our friends at Lowe’s asked me, Kim and Scott, and Julia and Chris to do. HOW EXCITING AND ALSO TERRIFYING?! Sure, why not!

I’ll tell you why not.

Because renovations are hard, and usually take a while, and cost a lot of money, and it’s difficult enough to make decisions by yourself without adding four other opinions to the mix about every little thing that goes into creating a room—especially one with as many moving parts as a kitchen! Amplify that chorus of opinions and different approaches and methods when something unexpected comes up (newsflash—it always comes up) and you possibly have a recipe for five otherwise nice people who happily coexist on the internet to, I don’t know, murder each other. I might have said a resounding YASSSSSS to joining this Dream Team without fully appreciating the risks involved.

BUT! WE DID NOT KILL EACH OTHER! Quite the opposite, actually! All that stuff I said above, about the lack of time and slim budget and difficult decisions and unexpected surprises and multitude of opinions and methods? Actually made it a lot better. It was FUN, folks. Everybody brought many-somethings to the table, and it was truly a privilege to work alongside all these talented and kind and hardworking and awesome people. Here’s how it all went down!

Chris and Julia were our brave team leaders, and the ones who had the pleasure/pain of sifting through over 2,500 applications that were submitted. Insanity! They narrowed to a top ten, at which point me and Kim and Scott weighed in, and then Chris and Julia duked it out some more (in literally the kindest way possible, I’m sure, because they are aggressively nice always, but most especially to each other), and that landed us in this 1900 Baltimore rowhouse owned by Aura and Nate, renovating this kitchen! Can you smell the potential from there? That’s one pretty dreamy project, I’d say!

Then Julia and Chris spent a few weeks going between the homeowners, each other, and our pals at Lowe’s to figure out a reasonable scope of work and, of course, a whole design plan! Obviously we had to be able to do it in 3 days, which was the first major requirement, but we also had to get it done for under 5K (including all new appliances!!) and create a kitchen that would complement the age of the home while balancing the homeowners’ more modern sensibilities. Easy, right? HA. HA. HA.

So Chris and Julia sent Kim and Scott and me the design plan, and one of the first notes was something to the effect of “we’re not really sure what to do about the columns.”

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE COLUMNS?! SAY WHAT?! Then it emerged that the homeowners disliked the columns and were convinced that they couldn’t be original to the house, like maybe they were a hokey post-modern 1980s addition or something? Which I can totally understand because people did do some horrible stuff sort of meant to look like this in the 80s, but NO! This is not that! They’re wood, they have a thousand layers of paint on them…they’re the best part of the whole space! I thought that’s why we picked it! Ionic goodness! I will tie myself to those columns and take a sledgehammer to the gut before watching them get demolished! That or they will come back to New York with me and live in my basement until I figure out what to do with them! So immediately, Daniel Kanter is causing drama over old house stuff. I’m zero fun to work with; ask anyone.

But in classic Chris and Julia fashion, they were generous about hearing me out, quickly course-corrected, and I think implored the homeowners to trust us and let us work with the columns instead of against them. Thankfully they agreed and we could all proceed in a non-violent fashion.

By the time we arrived Thursday evening, here’s where we were! Nate and Aura had been busy bees, ripping out the dingy tile floors and upper cabinets and formica backsplash. We knew, I think, that we were going to demo the old soffit, but…IMMEDIATE CURVEBALL, THAT CEILING IS FAKE! Nobody knew this. Haha!

It’s hard to appreciate in photos but was pretty dramatic in real life—that’s the actual ceiling height above the soffits…almost a foot and a half higher than the existing one! So we were working with, in order from top to bottom: ceiling joists at about 9.5 feet, lath, plaster, furring strips, acoustic tiles, and then a whole second ceiling shoddily framed at about 8 feet and sheetrocked. Those “beams” are completely decorative—just 1×6 pine boards stained brown and glued and nailed to the drywall. Of course the modern framing did not run beyond the soffits or over the pantry closet we removed, so Chris and Julia and I had an emergency team meeting (“Hi Chris, nice to meet you!”) before Kim and Scott’s plane even landed to discuss what to do!

The options were:

  1. Keep the existing ceiling, patch in where necessary, and somehow figure out how to remove the “beams” or extend them so it would all look continuous. This plan was problematic for several reasons (is it actually any easier or faster than just taking it out altogether? Because the “beams” were glued up, they’d take a lot of drywall with them on their way down. Also, lame! Who doesn’t want higher ceilings! Go big or go home!), so my solution was to get bossy and loud until that option was off the table. I DID IT FOR THE COMMON GOOD, OK?!
  2. Total demo, new sheetrock. OY VEY. Nobody wants to demo plaster, ever, and that’s a HUGE extra amount of mess and waste to squeeze into in an already extremely packed order of work. Then I innocently asked if anybody was particularly good at drywall work, because hanging is the easy part but mudding and taping typically takes three days alone and is very difficult to do well, especially on a ceiling! Nobody seemed all that confident so it seemed like maybe testing our underdeveloped drywall skills on a stranger’s ceiling that had to be done in a matter of hours was not the best place to take a gamble.
  3. Something else! So I suggested leaving the plaster and lath intact and furring strips in place, and affixing our new ceiling material to that. But what material? Beadboard, duhz! But actual tongue-and-groove beadboard would have also been a big time-suck and pretty expensive for the square footage we needed, so I suggested those inexpensive 4×8 MDF panels that look like beadboard, with some nice simple molding treatment to cover the seams. Easy and fast, I told everyone! I promise!*

*never listen to me if I claim anything will be easy and fast. it never is.

But after looking at a couple inspiration images, Chris and Julia were on board and so we walked into Day 1 with a reasonably solid plan and tried to project confidence about it to two increasingly wary homeowners who were probably beginning to regret signing onto this madness while watching us immediately dive in to just wrecking their house. It felt exactly like that scene from The Money Pit. You know the one.

Let. The. Games. Begin.

Can I just say that watching Kim and Scott work together in real life just warmed every cockle of my cold jaded heart? Scott has the enthusiasm of a camp counselor and Kim has the patience of a saint and they’re both so good at just doing it right. It’s a jealousy-inducing pleasure to witness. Jerks.

Here’s a classic when-one-thing-leads-to-another moment—we did not plan on demoing this whole wall, but it was sheetrock over 2×3 furring strips over plaster over lath, but the drywall and furring strips didn’t run all the way up to our new ceiling height! Added to that, we needed to get them some outlets and a sconce on this wall, and the wall to the right of the window was inexplicably bumped out a few inches, so once again I was like “HEY GUYS LET’S JUST RIP IT ALL OUT!” and for some reason they listened to me. Suckerrsssss.

Check it out though—you can see where there was once a window! We momentarily considered using the void, at Aura’s brilliant suggestion, to do little recessed shelves for spices and stuff, but then again we already had a more functional shelving plan and it probably was not the best plan to leave that big space uninsulated for the sake of cuteness. I love that idea though—slightly different circumstances and it would have been SO GOOD.

UGH, KIMMY MY LOVE! Obsessed with this one. POSSIBLY my favorite part of this whole experience was when Kim shocked and delighted me with a stiff slap on the ass while I was bending down to do something, and then we spent three days waiting for various opportunities to get back at each other. CAN YOU BLAME ME.

I’ll stop objectifying Kim now.

ALSO JULIA. SIT DOWN, LADY! She was the only one among us simultaneously growing another human being inside her body, and she’s still an beast! She was appropriately cautious and safe and all that, but good lord if anyone had an excuse to sit out of some physical work, it was her! Serious. Badass. If that baby isn’t tiling walls with the best of them by the time she’s in preschool, I will be shocked.

Just to give you a small sense of the pace of all this, it was insaneeeeee. My house would be done in a week if I had all these amazing people around! OFFER STANDS, YOU GUYS.

Literally before the dust from demo had settled, Chris and Scott and Chris’s brother Brandon were following behind with sheetrock! Scott ran mesh tape and Chris and Brandon tag-teamed the first coat of mud. Seriously, blink and everything changes.

While the joint compound dried, Chris and Brandon started cutting our faux-beadboard panels to size (we didn’t use full sheets so that we could arrange things in a more visually pleasing grid) and Scott and I worked together hanging them up! We ran construction adhesive across the furring strips and attached the panels with 16 gauge finish nails from a pneumatic nail gun. Pow, pow! It was a little tricky to get the hang of because the nail depth had to be set jusssstttt right to hold the panels instead of going right through them. The homeowners followed behind with a nail-set to sink any stubborn nails, and then covered each hole with a little dab of spackling compound to be sanded smooth later.

At this point the ceiling looked like total garbage and even I was privately a little nervous about it. Without anything covering the seams and a bunch of nail holes, it just looked really flimsy and not attractive at all. DON’T WORRY!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I do not enjoy skim-coating. But you guys, practice pays off!! Since we hung sheetrock over a 120 year old brick wall with 120 year old furring strips and 120 year old lath, things were not exactly even—easily a recipe for seeing every seam and having a drywall job that would look terrrrrible. I mean, we could blow it out enough in photos to look nice for you guys, but that ain’t our game! So I took on the second and third finish coats of joint compound, and guys…crushed it. I wouldn’t normally gloat like this (maybe I would? maybe self-awareness is not my strong suit?) but I was using fast-setting 45-minute joint compound, so you have to work fast, and I couldn’t sand much because people were painting and tiling and stuff so I had to burnish the walls with a spray bottle and a trowel, plaster-style…anyway, I’m proud of that there drywall work! After paint it looked totally pro.

Also, window trim! I pushed to match the moldings to the ones around the columns, which were just simple 1-by lumber with rosettes in the corners, and Lowe’s carries a near-perfect match! I made a quick windowsill out of a standard pine stair tread, chamfered the apron on the table saw because we didn’t have a router…ya know, special little details. Fun times!

While cabinets were going up and getting painted, Scott and I worked away on finishing up the ceiling install! Originally we thought we’d maybe use little lattice strips to cover the seams and a more traditional crown molding around the room, but I LOVE what we landed on! We used 1×4 (pre-primed boards to save time) to cover the seams, and as a super minimal crown treatment around the whole room! I love how substantial it looks without feeling overdone.

The home stretch was an absolute flurry of activity. Everyone trying to get their projects checked off the list while also staying out of each other’s way…madness! When exactly nobody volunteered to do the crown molding around the tops of the cabinets (we’re wimpy about some stuff, I guess!), Chris jumped in and banged it out in like half an hour! Awesome. Kim, Aura, Nate, and Julia took on tiling the backsplash, which is just simple and budget friendly 3×6 white subway tile—just 22 cents a tile! Can’t beat that, and of course it’s a clean, classic choice that allows other features like the exposed brick wall to really shine instead of competing.

Scott had to get back to Chicago on Sunday afternoon (I do NOT envy that he then had to wake up Monday morning and go to his super serious grown-up job…this was EXHAUSTING!), Julia and Kim and I worked until about 2 in the morning before turning in, and Chris and Brandon stayed all night laying the flooring! Then on Monday morning there was a mad dash to the finish, adding extra coats of poly to the countertops and installing baseboards and shoe molding, and caulking and touch-up painting everything in sight. But we got her done. And she looks goooood!

From this…

To this!

THREE DAYS, PEOPLE! There wasn’t nearly the time to throw a full column restoration into the mix, but we did give them a fresh coat of paint in satin finish to match the rest of the moldings. Just knocking down the super high gloss paint that was there before made a huge difference in making them look like the beautiful and grand antiques that they are instead of a kind of misplaced vestige from another time. You go, columns!

AND GUESS WHAT? Aura said, without prompting or persuasion, that the columns fit in now! They work! And that, to me, was the best. Learning to love what makes their house unique and special is kind of the best possible outcome, right?

Let’s take a walk around!

Even though the window molding butts right up to the fridge surround, it just feels so…right, I think! The windowsill almost got nixed in favor of a more simple casing, but I really think it’s that kind of detail that makes it feel authentic to the age of the house. It’s really not a lot of extra work to just do it up right!

Also, check out those shelves! Such a good idea, Miss Julia! I guess the brackets are meant to be table legs, but Chris drilled pilot holes through the backs so they could be mounted to the walls and used as shelving brackets. Fun!

The ceiling! The ceiling! I really really do love the way it came out. I wouldn’t typically use those MDF panels because I like to make things as painful as possible and use the real deal (also available at Lowe’s, of course!), but they really look great after the requisite patching and caulking and painting. Everyone was pretty into it, and—joking aside—it really was very uncomplicated to do and looks way fancier than the price tag would indicate at just 63 cents per square foot!

Even the little existing pantry closet got a lot of attention, and actually fits in now! I wish it was just a few inches shallower and didn’t overlap the original moldings, but in terms of working with what you’ve got…it’s a huge improvement! The bifolds got painted and new hardware, and I added another simple casing to match the window and original moldings with a simple 1×6 baseboard with a stock base cap to finish it off. I had to play dirty to get those moldings…Dad (Chris) said no because he was worried about time so, ya know, I had to go ask Mom (Julia) who gave me the go-ahead. I’m the worst! Scotty built out the top with a few pieces of framing lumber, 3/4″ plywood, and cove molding to bring the height up to the ceiling.

Funnily enough, I had no idea that the plan for the countertops was exactly what I did for my countertops in my now-demolished kitchen a few years ago! They look kind of like butcherblock but are really just 3/4″ pine project panels (small pieces of finger-jointed pine, essentially), with a 1×2 pine board face-nailed to the front to give the impression of a normal countertop thickness. These got stained with Minwax “Provincial” and three coats of water-based poly.

To be totally honest, since I feel I bear some responsibility here—the countertops aren’t something I’d recommend for a long-term remodel. Mine held up OK for the couple of years that they were in use, but not amazing, and real butcherblock is a more expensive but still very affordable (and classic!) choice. Given the budget these were a good answer, though, and they’ll be really easy to swap out down the line should the homeowners choose. Conveniently, Lowe’s happens to sell really beautiful and good quality (not to mention affordable!) butcherblock in a few different sizes (which of course can be easily cut to size), which is something I’m considering for my own remodeled kitchen! So, ya know, proceed with caution—there’s a reason for that difference in price and I’d recommend spending the little extra money for the real deal if you’re renovating for the long haul.

Oh! That brick!!! Isn’t it great? It was just hiding under the plaster. I’m not always a fan of exposed brick, actually, but it works so well here. The homeowners had already exposed it by the time we got there (THANK YOU, GUYS!!) and it’s just so perfectly-imperfect in a way that a new brick veneered wall or something wouldn’t be. It’s sealed to keep any dust and stuff contained.

So there it is, I guess! A kitchen in three days, with five bloggers and a handy blogger-brother too! And want to hear something that even shocked me, even though I was literally there the whole time? The budget came in at right around $4,500—and that includes all materials, cabinets, a new fridge, stove, range hood fan, dishwasher, sink, faucet, lighting…I MEAN, COME ON.

I love that the final product isn’t something any one of us would have done independently—it really does have a piece of everybody represented, and it’s so much better for it!

Now come to Kingston, you guys! Mine next! I GUESS we could even give ourselves a whole week or something crazy. Plus a spa day at the end. Definitely a spa day.

If you want to read more about this renovation, don’t miss Kim and Scott’s recap over at Yellow Brick Home and, of course, our fearless leaders’ take over at Chris Loves Julia! I’m off to go do that myself, ha! Chris, Julia, Brandon, Kim, and Scott (and Nate and Aura, of course!)—thank you thank you thank you for being the best teammates ever and bringing me in on the fun. I had a blast and can’t wait to do it again. Hint, hint, Lowe’s PR. :)

This post is in partnership with my long-time sponsors and pals over at Lowe’s! Thank you for your support, friends!

My Lowe’s Spring Makeover: Alex and Apryl’s Backyard!

Remember a few months ago when I partnered up with Lowe’s to do a spring makeover for a reader? WELL! IT IS DONE! Wanna see?

before2

OK, this is clearly a before photo. I never make it that easy. C’mon.

This is the backyard of a rowhouse in Washington, D.C., and clearly it needed some love. This sweet young couple of first-time homeowners named Alex and Apryl bought this house roughly a year ago. They knew it needed major renovation, but thought that would take a few months and they’d be sitting pretty in their new digs by last fall, hosting Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen (sound familiar??), but after months of hard work, they’re finally reaching the finish line of overhauling the entire house! Except for one big piece of it—the backyard! Unless you count using it as a dumpster during renovation, in which case it had performed admirably. But they had bigger dreams for it. I can relate to those dreams because they are also my dreams.

Like many attached urban houses, this one has a really little backyard. I mean really little. The whole thing is only about 20 x 20 feet, but there’s a set of stairs right in the middle going to the first floor and another one down to the basement, eating up over 20% of that space! So we’re left with about 315 square feet to play with, which I think is roughly the size of most outdoor sectionals.

before1

before3

They included a few photos of the space on their application (can anyone say dreamyyyy?), as well a short list of what they wanted the space to achieve, which included:

  1. New fence.
  2. Patio pavers.
  3. An outdoor grilling/kitchen set-up with bar seating.
  4. Plenty of green space to plant.
  5. Entertaining space with comfy lounge seating, possibly set up to double as an outdoor movie theater.
  6. A fire pit hang-out zone.

All in 315 square feet. There was also mention of a soaking tub but I’m choosing to believe that was a joke. Then they showed me some inspiration images they had gathered of these GORGEOUS backyards and I got real intimidated, real fast.

Aside from the construction debris situation, I worried about the lack of barrier between the backyard and the stairs down to the basement. There ought to be some kind of railing or knee wall there to protect you from tumbling down. So I added that to the list of stuff to address.

It took me a week or two to sketch and think and hem and haw and figure out how to lay things out in these cramped quarters. With a space this size, there’s really no room to just wing it or figure it out when you get there, ya know? So here is what I came up with:

LOWE'S-DESIGN-PLAN-1

Once again, my Sketchup abilities pretty much cap out at “nearly sufficient,” but hey! There are shapes. Shapes help, I think.

Let’s go clockwise: A few evergreen trees in that skinny place next to the stairs to screen off the neighbor’s enclosed porch which is basically RIGHT there. Raised planting beds wrapping part of the side and part of the back of the yard. An outdoor sofa floated a little out from the raised beds, with a fire pit, maybe a side table, maybe a lounge chair to complete the hang-out zone. Then there’s a bar on the right side fence, with a shallow raised planting bed next to it for veggies and herbs, and right across from that there’s a grill with some prep space on both sides that sits in front of a knee wall to protect from the whole basement stair hazard situation.

Also there is a new fence and new pavers with spaces between them for either sod or a ground cover to fill in between, which I always think looks nice. Alex and Apryl knew they wanted pavers and it’s common in their area to just cover the whole outdoor space with them, but I think the gaps will make it feel so much warmer and nicer to hang out in.

Save for a couple small requests that I’ve already forgotten, Alex and Apryl were totally on board with the plan which automatically made them my favorite clients of all time. Then they claimed to be relatively handy and well-stocked in the tool department and I did some brief research on the polygamy laws in D.C., because break me off a piece of that. 

So anyway, Alex hauled the garbage to the dump and I packed up the car and drove to D.C. and it was MAKEOVER TIME.

AlexandApryl

First of all, nobody told me these people were also totally adorable. They wisely did not include a photo on their application because I would have passed immediately on the basis of not wanting to feel like a troll for an entire weekend. Clever move.

Gorgeousness aside, they could NOT have been more helpful! Day 1 was just me, the homeowners, and my friend John who generously volunteered to tag along, and Day 2 was just me and John! IT WAS ALL REALLY INTENSE.

aprylstaining

Alex and Apryl were TOTAL champs, from helping me wade through a longggg supply list at Lowe’s, to helping haul everything back to their house, to unloading and cutting and staining and assembling…it was non-stop action and there was NO WAY we would have gotten it all done without them.

Apryl, by the way? BEAST. You can kind of see a big pile of super heavy leftover concrete pavers behind her, which she moved out to the alley without so much as a water break, like it was nothing. Damn.

process1

The raised planting beds are simple 1×6 pressure-treated lumber that we stained with my old standby, Cabot’s Solid-Color Acrylic Siding Stain in black. I can’t say enough about how great this stuff is! Totally matte, solid, easy to work with, often fine with one coat, dries quickly, seems to work fine on pressure-treated lumber that hasn’t really had time to dry out…A+. It used to be kind of hard to find, but Lowe’s carries it now! We used 4×4 pressure-treated posts in the corners, with a few in between to keep them from bowing out and losing their shape once filled. The boards are attached to the posts with shanked siding and trim nails. I’m in the process of completing similar raised beds for my own backyard, so I’ll post a more detailed step-by-step then!

barbuilding

While I set the homeowners on staining wood, I worked on assembling the bar seating! I couldn’t find a stock option that worked for the space, so building it seemed like a good plan. I used 4×4 pressure-treated posts for the legs (it’s upside-down in this photo) and wrapped the whole thing in cedar planks, also using trim and siding nails.

By the way, to compensate for the lack of volunteers on the actual makeover weekend, Lowe’s very kindly helped coordinate having contractors come in prior to my arrival to install the fence and pavers. The pavers are set on a base of crushed stone and paver sand, which all has to be hauled in, leveled, and compacted, so just having it DONE was a HUGE help. The plan called for these 2’x2′ concrete patio stones, but those weren’t available in the D.C. store so we used 16″x16″ stones instead. Fine by me!

The fence is constructed of 4×4 pressure-treated posts with horizontal cedar boards attached, and I love how it came out! The cedar decreases in size as you move from the bottom to the top, and we left it untreated to allow it to fade to a silvery-grey in the next few years. If Alex and Apryl decide they don’t want that, they can always seal it to maintain its natural tone longer, but personally I like the faded look.

As the sun was setting on Day 1, we all went back to Lowe’s and bought plants! I was a little nervous about this part because we were just totally at the mercy of what the Lowe’s nursery would have in stock, but luckily we weren’t short on options. I’m glad the homeowners got to be involved in this part because I know they like what we planted. We did our best to choose plants that ranged in size and were appropriate for the different light conditions in the yard, and I can happily report that apparently everything is still alive and thriving! YAY!

BanisterProcess

We didn’t really do anything to the house itself aside from replace the light fixture next to the door, but I couldn’t just leave this sad iron railing alone, could I? It was covered in chipping paint, which John did an AMAZING job of removing with a wire-brush attachment to my drill. It’s best to use a corded drill for this kind of thing, since a battery-powered one will die pretty quickly. We masked everything off with plastic and hit it with a few coats of glossy black Rustoleum spray paint, and it looks sooooo goooood.

process2

Day 2 with just John and me was mildly insane! I think that poor guy made 3 different trips to Lowe’s to get enough bags of soil to fill those big raised beds, and mulch to top them off…I think 160 bags in all, which works out to about 6,400 POUNDS OF SOIL. WHICH WE MOVED. BAG BY BAG. From the shelves of Lowe’s, into the trunk of my car, from the trunk of my car across a sidewalk, up a set of stairs into the house, across the living room and dining room and kitchen, down a set of stairs and into the yard. FUN. TIMES. Anyway, we used a mix of topsoil and garden soil to fill the beds, so those plants should be mighty happy for years to come. We then used a nice thick layer of black mulch (of course we did!) to top everything off.

Then Alex and Apryl got home and they were all:

alexandaprylreveal

Because their backyard used to look like this:

before1

And now it looks like this:

aerialafter

Not bad for a couple days of super intense work, am I right??

after1

Let’s take a walk around, shall we?

before2

after2

The real star of the show here is that fire pit, which Alex and Apryl made a while ago from a washing machine drum they found at the dump! People after my own heart, let me tell you. I don’t think they’d ever actually gotten to USE the thing, so being able to light that inaugural fire was an honor.

Also, I love fire. Some people call it a problem. I don’t.

yellowchair

How cute is that sunny lemon yellow adirondack chair? SEE?! I LIKE COLOR. I kind of want a couple for myself, but don’t tell anyone or I’ll ruin my rep.

beds1

bed2

I’m so thrilled with how the raised beds came out! I tried to plant things so that there was a nice mix of textures, colors, and height, but leaving enough room for things to fill in over time. It’s oddly hard to lay out raised beds! These are only two feet deep, so you can do some layering but not a ton. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the names of everything we planted, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that my readers are kinda brilliant so if you have specific questions on plantings, shout them out in the comments and hopefully someone smarter than me can come to your rescue.

ajuga

We filled in between the pavers with the same topsoil/garden soil mix and planted ajuga all over the place between the stones. Ajuga should do well in their low light conditions, and it’s hearty enough to take kind of a beating with foot traffic. I want updated photos in a couple years when things really fill in!

pillows

The sectional and pillows are all from Lowe’s! Look at those trendy-ass pillows! So cute. Lowe’s carries such a nice selection of pillows that are super easy to mix and match, and the quality seems great. I used these and these and these. The sofa is this one!

bar2

The bar seating worked out! I don’t have a lot of experience building furniture, but it’s solid and pretty and I like it! The top is nominal 1×2 cedar with about 1/4″ space in between (I used my iPhone as a spacer because I’m a pro, haha), so rainwater should be able to easily drain through.

It was pretty dark by the time we were ready for the full reveal, so I came back the next day to take more after pictures. Because I am Blogger and I couldn’t help myself, they are staged somewhat like a fake party. Forgive me.

bar

The bar seating area got rounded out with these simple stools, which look like wood but are really plastic! The quality is great. The bar area comfortably seats three, and the stools can easily be stowed underneath if they ever have a bash where they just want to just use the table as a bar space. I love how many people you can comfortably fit in this yard now!

grillarea

One of the areas I’m MOST proud of is the grill area! I built a knee wall anchored to the brick masonry wall next to the stairs, which accomplishes the safety goal I discussed earlier. ALSO! One of the things I never really thought about is that grills generally aren’t that deep, but opening the top drastically increases the depth…making them difficult to place in small spaces, because you can’t place them against the wall without floating them out a foot or so. I built the knee wall so that it was low enough for the grill top to flip over the back of it, meaning the grill can sit right up against it and doesn’t take up any extra space when open. Hooray!

alex

We used this Weber grill but removed the side panel made for prep space to allow for more space for this custom prep space. How many times can I say “space” in a single sentence? That many times.

prepspace

Here’s a glamor shot of the prep area, because typically you are cutting up asparagus and watermelon at the same time. Right? I’ve never been to a barbecue.

watermelon

So the back of the knee wall matches the planters and the top of the prep space matches the bar and the fence and I’m so predictable, but…it took some self-restraint to not go CRAZY on this little space and do all sorts of different things. I feel like the result is nicely balanced with a good repetition of materials and finishes. Or something.

hosestorage

Underneath the prep space is the hose, so Alex and Apryl can keep all this stuff alive! I love these coiled hoses especially for small spaces—it does the job and fits easily into a cute perforated metal bucket. There’s plenty more space for extra propane tanks, and it would be easy for them to add a shelf if they wanted.

vegetablebed

The raised bed across from the grill area worked out so well! It’s about a foot and a half deep and 8 feet long, so there’s a nice amount of space to grow herbs and vegetables. Here they have rosemary, mint, basil, a couple different types of peppers, and thyme. I can see a tomato plant or two doing well here, too. Alex and Apryl were advised that the mint might need to be transferred to a pot to keep it from overtaking everything.

By the way…I know there’s a negative knee-jerk reaction to using pressure-treated lumber for beds made for edibles, but from everything I’ve read about it, it sounds like the risk of chemicals leaching into the soil is extremely minimal to non-existent. The process used to create pressure-treated lumber has changed dramatically in recent years, so the risks associated with it no longer seem to apply. Only the top course of the planters are stained, so the stain’s contact with the soil is also very minimal.

drinkdispensor

Ahhhhh, I can taste it now! Here’s my favorite cocktail, which is one part bourbon and one part…oh wait, never mind, it’s just watered down Brisk Iced Tea with some lemons and ice floating in it. #blogger

russiansage

Let’s take a look at the plants! I love Russian Sage. It has such a great color and texture.

hydrangea

In the corner, there’s a nice hydrangea that should fill out beautifully and provide some nice height up in that corner.

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foxglove1

Foxgloves are peppered around the planters, which I LOVE. I LOVE THEM. Why don’t I have any foxgloves yet?? Working on it. They’ll have to be a front garden plant for me, as they’re toxic for dogs.

cypress

Next to the steps up to the house, we planted this sweet cypress tree. The Sketchup plan shows three trees here, but that was crazy, so we just did one to give it room to grow and spread out. Hopefully it’ll provide a little privacy screening from the neighbors as it continues to mature.

candle

Between the tree and the raised beds, we planted some ornamental grasses. So pretty! I think they’ll really fill in this area nicely as they mature.

throughgate

So there it is! I’m so happy with how this came out. Alex and Apryl, I hope you get to enjoy it for years and years to come! You couldn’t have been more gracious and wonderful hosts. Thank you for making this so much fun!

Psssst…want to see the other Lowe’s Spring Makeovers? Head on over to…

Yellow Brick Home’s living room transformation

Chris Loves Julia’s entryway/sitting room makeover

French Country Cottage’s outdoor living space 

Emily A. Clark’s patio overhaul

Design Post Interior’s patio makeover

Wit & Delight’s artist’s studio makeover

Simple Styling’s backyard makeover

 

This post has been in partnership with my wonderful sponsors, Lowe’s

I Did Another Thing!

TDBankDKBoard

Remember about a month ago when I did a Thing and that Thing was presenting on the topic of DIY at the New England Home Show? Well I did it again, this time down on Long Island, and this time outdoors, and this time they had me cut my presentation down a little and answer more questions about renovation stuff.

TDBankVan

Here’s what the Thing is: TD Bank has teamed up with HGTV Magazine to go around the country on what they call the TD Bank Rolling Renovation. This flashy car photographed above is driven by a couple of very nice men who evidently never sleep, because essentially everyday they have to set this whole thing up, work an event, pack it all up, and drive to some other faraway place to do it all over again. I’m very fascinated by these very nice men, because I have to imagine that they’re surviving on a diet of Red Bull and more Red Bull but they still manage to be so nice.

At a lot of the stops, HGTV and TD Bank have lined up people to give presentations and Q&A sessions. Sometimes it’s a blogger. Sometimes it’s that hunky blonde guy from DIY Network. Sometimes it’s a hunky blogger, who is me.

TDBankiPads

The point of the Thing is to help spread the good word about TD Bank’s Home Equity Lines of Credit. It’s all very civil and not-gross—there are people there to give information and answer questions, a sweepstakes you can enter, small prizes to win, and games to play on those iPads. They don’t take personal information so they can’t bombard you with junk mail later and the point is not to get anyone to sign up for anything right then and there, even if they want to—nary an application or anything like that in sight. It’s more like, “here’s this interesting way that you can finance stuff, and we offer a pretty sweet deal, and also here’s an iPad with games and a blogger to talk to!” Nothing wrong with getting some information and a free tape measure, am I right? I like information. The Thing is not a bad way to spend a little time on a sunny Sunday afternoon on Long Island. Especially when you arrive an hour early and have unexpected time to go to the adjacent mall to buy pants.

Not that I know anything about that, because I am a professional who brings my own pants.

Even though all I was hired to do was give a couple of presentations and answer questions about renovating—how to choose a contractor, what to tackle yourself, what to do first, how to avoid buying a money-draining nightmare of a property (thank you for teaching me so much, Olivebridge Cottage), that kind of thing—hanging around the TD Bank Rolling Renovation set-up was actually pretty informative for me in terms of thinking about how to finance all this stuff. If you need a wall covered in subway tile, I’m pretty good for that kind of thing, but I’m basically a toddler when it comes to understanding semi-complicated things with money. In general, it’s like this:

  1. I get paid.
  2. I pay for stuff.
  3. I put some money away for later to pay for other stuff.
  4. I charge stuff for which I don’t have enough money to pay but still need.

That is my financial planning. It is not the most advanced.

But what I do have is a house, and because the initial purchase price was very low and I took out a proportionately small loan to pay for it, I actually don’t owe that much money on my house. But I have poured a lot of cash money and time and hard work into my house, and it’s worth a lot more than I bought it for, which I guess means I have a lot of this thing they call equity, which I literally had to google a few years ago because I had no idea what it actually meant. Thing is, it’s been almost three years and I still have a lot of work to do on this sucker, and honestly? Some of it I just want to be DONE. You know I’m all about that crazy renovation lifestyle, but what I might be more about is having a renovated bathroom or a bedroom without crumbling walls or even something crazy like a guest bedroom I don’t have to apologize for. I’m not saying, like, finish the whole house in four weeks, but having someone hand me a big ole’ check that I get to repay over time, in exchange for some of this invisible equity thing I have, at a pretty low interest rate, to knock a few major things off the list that will drastically improve my quality of life? It kinda sounds good?

People ask me a lot of questions about renovating old houses, many of which I now feel equipped to answer, but I’m pretty much useless when it comes to ones pertaining to financing and I’m probably doing all sorts of things wrong. Maybe this is not the kind of thing to be discussing on my blog, but I’m genuinely curious: is a home equity line of credit something you’ve done? How’d that go? Any other financing tips you care to share, for those of us that are not so financially savvy? Since I’m worthless as a resource on this topic, I’d love if the comments section on this post could be a better one!

This post is in partnership with TD Bank and HGTV Magazine! All text, photos, opinions, and confusion about grown-up things are my own. 

 

Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s: Who Wants a Makeover?!

Have you ever thought to yourself “hey, I wish Daniel (that’s me, FYI) would show up at my door and do a whirlwind makeover of a space in my house“? You probably have not had that thought. But start thinking it? Because it could totally happen!

When my friendly sponsors at Lowe’s reached out and asked if I’d like to pass some Lowe’s love along to a Manhattan Nest reader this spring, I hopped on it! Because I like you guys! Sounds fun! Sign me up!

LowesSpringMakeover

If you read my blog, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lowe’s is pretty much my home away from home. I tend to be at my local Lowe’s several times a week, and they always impress me with their knowledgeable and friendly staff, and quality products to match.  It seems a little silly to feel that way about a big box store, but when you’re in and out of hardware stores as much as I am, you come to appreciate the small stuff. Going to pick up that extra tube of caulk or box of finish nails can be a drag, but those trips aren’t so bad when I get to catch up with Deb in the garden center, or Keith in doors and windows, or Sue at check-out, or Frank in appliances, or Sexy Ron who sometimes helps me with lumber. On top of that, Lowe’s carries a lot of seriously cute and nice stuff! I think a lot of people tend to think of Lowe’s as a place to by 2x4s and drywall screws, but I’m always super impressed by their collection of all sorts of home goods, lighting, outdoor stuff—it’s become a pretty indispensable resource in my life and one of the first places I look for…well, kind of anything!

SO! Lowe’s is teaming up with me (and seven other great bloggers!) to do a spring makeover for one of you! Do you have a back deck in need of some TLC? A boring bathroom that needs a pick-me-up? Maybe you just moved into your house and really want something checked off the list? Maybe you’ve been there a while and are stuck on what to do with that pesky guest bedroom? Let’s fix it!

Here’s how it works: I get to choose one applicant for a makeover! Sorry, international readers—you gotta be within the US and within reasonable proximity to a Lowe’s store. The makeover can be interior or exterior, but should be contained to one space—like a room, a backyard, a front yard, you get the idea. After choosing an applicant, I’ll work with you to design up the space and then Lowe’s will bring me right to your door to make it happen. I’ll have a robust team of Lowe’s helpers at my disposal, and all of us will have a day or two to make your space totally awesome with the healthy product budget they’ve provided to get her done. Sound like a plan? Great!

Ground Rules:

  1. You should be looking to fix up a space within your residence!
  2. The makeover project should be able to be completed within 24 hours.
  3. You must be the owner of your own home (sorry, renters! it’s a legal thing).
  4. You have to be outgoing, energetic, and fun with unique stories to tell!
  5. You have to be comfortable been on camera and/or interviewed by media.
  6. You have to be in need of expert design help from one of the participating bloggers (pick me!).
  7. You have to be able to make quick decisions in order to keep within the tight time constraints.
  8. You have to be available for a 2-day period to complete the makeover, which will take place between February 9th and May 1.
  9. You have to allow photos of your home to be shared online.
  10. You must be 21 years of age or older to apply.
  11. You have to complete the online application form and agree to the Terms below.
  12. To apply, visit: lowesspringmakeover2016.castingcrane.com
  13. Only eligible participants will be contacted.

ApplyHere

To apply for your Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s Spring Makeover, click here! Applications will only be accepted from now until THIS WEDNESDAY at 11:59 p.m. EST, so hurry your cutie booty along and get to applying!

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

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Fixing the Back of the House: Part 1!

 

insulation4

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

step1

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.

Peelaway

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.

peelaway2

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.

peelaway3

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.

windowpainting2

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.

windowpainting3

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.

newwindow

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.

tar

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.

clapboardremoval1

So one thing led to another.

clapboardremoval2

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!

insulation1

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.

insulation2

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.

insulation3

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.

boardsbefore

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.

planersetup1

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.

planersetup2

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.

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So the boards go in one side looking like this.

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And out the other looking like this. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

shavingsfromplaning

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.

sawrip

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.

newboard1

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.

boardsprocess2

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!

endcut

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.

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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.

newboard2

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.

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

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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.

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