How To Build A Simple Floating Desktop + Shelves!

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

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

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

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

STEPS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Wrote a Thing!

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Writing is more or less what I studied in college——mainly non-fiction——and what I really love to do. But actually writing? There’s a lot of fear that comes along with that. There’s the invitation for constant rejection and judgment, the small or nonexistent paychecks, the uncertain future, the inherent narcissism of feeling that anybody should care at all about the words you manage to string together. I’ve become far less shy (thanks, in large part, to this blog) about letting people read things that I write, but despite the encouragement of many professors, friends, family, and readers here on this site over the years, I’ve been a real shithead about actively trying to do anything with my writing. I seem to operate on the idea that someday I’ll get around to it, but not today. I feel like I spend a lot of my life these days hustling from one thing to the next and just trying to stay afloat and make it all work, and as a consequence I tend to worry a lot about whether I’m losing sight of my actual goals. I worry that I have no real idea about how one goes from Point A to Point B, and that my life doesn’t reasonably allow for the possibility of figuring it out. I suppose these are pretty common feelings for 20-somethings (or everybody, really) to feel, but still. I can’t escape the constant nagging that I’m doing everything wrong and backwards.

I want to change that. I want to write stuff. So I wrote a thing: the “personal history” essay segment for Anthology Magazine‘s Winter issue. And it felt really good. Working with Anh-Minh Le, the editor, was so great—she gave me loads of creative freedom and feedback and then patiently allowed me to be annoying and picky about details and editing as I reworked and tried to whittle it down to an acceptable length. It was stressful and hard and scary, but I’m happy with my work. It’s just 3 little pages——nothing crazy——but I learned so much in the process.

And now, here it is! Something I wrote, printed in a really pretty magazine, on really nice paper, with illustrations! Anthology is a really beautifully produced publication, and this issue——also featuring my cyber-friends Lisa and Clay, the multi-talented Fabulous Beekman Boys, and lots of other great folks——is no exception. It’s packed full of inspiration and beautiful pictures and good writing and interesting stories, and there I am, wedged into pages 43-45. It’s so cool to be a part of it.

So if you ever wondered what happened to the previous owner of our house or whether our house is haunted or why the Internet is a crazy place or how I feel about it all, I’d appreciate if you’d pick up a copy! Here is a list of stockists who might have the current issue if you’d like to buy it in person, and it’s also carried at Anthropologie stores nationwide and online.

Huge thanks to the team at Anthology for taking the leap on me and to the very talented Christine Rösch for the fabulous illustrations of my piece! I’d be hugely pleased if you read it.

P.S.—the Hygge & West giveaway is still open and accepting entries, so if you haven’t thrown your name in the hat for some beautiful wallpaper, get to it!

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GIVEAWAY: Wallpaper from Hygge & West!

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If you read my post on Monday, you know already that I’m super stoked with how my little office came together, and I think the best part has to be that killer wallpaper you see up above! The whole idea of making an office out of this itty bitty room was to create a space that was simple enough to keep me focused but also bright and happy and fun enough that it would feel really nice to spend time in. So it’s only appropriate that the wallpaper that completely makes the room is from one of my very favorite sources, Hygge & West!

Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is a Danish word with no direct English translation, but essentially encompasses a feeling of coziness and contentment while enjoying the company of others. Side note: don’t you love how Scandinavians come up with perfect words like that? It reminds me of the Swedish “fika,” which is basically taking a coffee break with friends, family, or colleagues while also sharing sweet snacks. There are words for this stuff! Being Scandinavian sounds like the best thing ever is what I’m saying.

I feel like this office is all about the concept of hygge, even if the social aspect of it is just with my dogs (who for some reason seem to really like laying on that white floor). It’s a place to feel totally cozy and totally content, which is a pretty good frame of mind to be in when I have to get stuff done.

The point is this: I bet you want to get in on all that goodness, too. Well, Hygge & West wants to hook you up! Aside from being a stellar company with some of the most beautiful wallpapers around, the women who run it——Christiana and Aimee——are such super awesome and nice people. You ready for this?

This giveaway will have THREE winners. And each winner? THREE rolls of wallpaper of their choosing. This is a good one, y’all.

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TO ENTER: 

1. Hop on over to Hygge & West and pick your favorite wallpaper! Then come back here and leave a comment telling us which one and where you’d use it. Remember——three rolls!

2. For an extra entry, go follow Hygge & West on Pinterest! Pin your favorite wallpaper with the hashtag #gethygge, and then come back and leave an additional comment here telling me you did so!

3. For another extra entry, follow Hygge & West on Instagram (@hyggeandwest) and take a picture of something in your home that encompasses the concept of hygge for you with the hashtag #gethygge.

Please note: International entries are welcome and Hygge & West will pay the shipping, however the winner may be responsible for international duties & taxes. 

UPDATE: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. Three winners will be chosen at random and notified via email!

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This post was in partnership with Hygge & West.

The Little Office: It’s Done!

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Guess where I’m writing this post from. Guess guess guess.

That chair right there. With my laptop on that desk. In front of that glorious wall. In my office. Which is finished, FYI.

How did you spend your Saturday night? I spent mine pouring myself a glass of bourbon and polyurethaning a desktop and some shelves. Then I poured myself some more bourbon and cut and installed a roller shade and made some paint touch-ups to the walls and baseboards. Then I poured myself some more bourbon and painted the third and last coat of paint on the floor, and then I sat in the doorway and basked. I was drunk at this point, true, but I would have basked regardless. Because this room? It makes me really happy.

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When we bought the house, this is how things were looking. I really wish I had taken better photos than the ones that my old iPhone could capture because you totally can’t see how jacked up everything is. The walls were full of all sorts of problems, including old painted-over wallpaper that was peeling away from the plaster, enormous cracks, water damage from a leaky roof, and the floor had a few different types of linoleum laying on top of the original brown-painted tongue-and-groove subfloor. I think because this room is sort of out of the way and looked like such a wreck, Linus decided early on that it was an acceptable bathroom.

Rude.

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Things quickly went from bad to worse as I started to chip off all the old wallpaper to reveal the bare plaster. Large sections immediately fell apart and crumbled and later had to be patched in with drywall, but I was able to salvage and repair the vast majority of the plaster with plaster buttons, joint compound, various fiberglass mesh products, a lot of time and a huge learning curve. Repairing and restoring these walls myself felt completely overwhelming and impossible at first, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. The walls look so beautiful and authentic now, imperfections and all.

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BLAM. Office magic.

Take it in. I’m usually pretty humble and not totally satisfied with everything and annoying about dumb stuff, but I have to say that I’m so thrilled with how this room turned out. Apologies in advance for the overly self-congratulatory tone of this post! Maybe it’s hideous! But I love it. It feels so clean and crisp and fresh (which are very weird adjectives to be using about my house, the majority of which pretty much looks like the “before” photos of this room, with fewer ceilings…), and to me it’s just the right mix of modern and old. It feels amazing to have brought this room from a really forgotten, awkward little space (it’s only about 7’x8’!) to a beautiful, functional room with a real purpose. Considering the mountains of work we have ahead of us with this house, getting this little room done feels hugely motivational and really makes everything feel so worth it.

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The window wall had some water damage (luckily, plaster holds up pretty well to water, even when there’s a lot of it over many years). That corner was all buckled and cracked and falling apart, so it all had to be dug out and rebuilt. I’m saving the window sashes themselves for another time—they’re in OK shape but do need to be removed and fully restored, and that’s just not happening in February!

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So fresh and so clean! I hung an ENJE roller shade from IKEA to give a little privacy, filter the light a bit, and cover up the current state of the window. I really hate the ways that IKEA has changed the design of the ENJE shade (they’re on a spring mechanism instead of a pull-chain now, for starters, and it’s a piece of crap), but the fabric remains the same and they’re easy to cut down, so I keep coming back to it. I’d love to use something nicer from an operational standpoint, but custom roller shades are SO incredibly expensive and I’ve yet to find a halfway decent alternative. So ENJE wins again!

The trash-basket is from Home Goods (they always seem to have an ample supply of nice, inexpensive baskets), and the desk lamp is a FADO lamp from IKEA that I’ve owned for years. The mug is from CB2 (with graphics on the other side designed my my internet-friend, Ben Wagner!). The sheepskin is IKEA. Max and I found the chair at the DWR Annex in Secaucus, marked down to something like $75 because there were a few scuffs on the arms! Most of it washed right off with a Magic Eraser, leaving only a tiny area of chipped paint smaller than a pencil eraser. Madness! It’s totally comfortable and totally classic and I like that it’s really visually light, which helps the room feel more spacious and really lets the best part of the room shine. I bet you can guess where I’m headed with this…

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THIS. WALLPAPER.

Y’all. I’m obsessed with this wallpaper. It’s the Diamanté pattern in black/gold from Hygge & West, produced in collaboration with Portland-based design studio Laundry. It’s incredible. I used less than a single roll for this little wall, but it completely makes the space and guided the direction of literally every other design decision in the room. I’ve said this before, but I love that the pattern manages to be really stylistically ambiguous but still really bold and dramatic—it’s well-suited to the age of the house but definitely not striving to be necessarily accurate to the period. I can see this wallpaper working in so many different types of spaces and looking amazing in all of them. It’s hard for pictures to really do it justice, but the gold is perfection in real life—it’s shimmery and metallic without looking either too flat or too overdone.

I love it. I want to wallpaper everything.

Maybe you want to get in on that wallpaper action in your own digs. Maybe you should stay tuned for the next post, because maybe the fine folks at Hygge & West also want that for you. Wink. Wink.

Wink.

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I’m posting a bunch of before/process pictures alongside the afters because I don’t want anyone thinking this was just a fresh coat of paint! And also I’m vain. This was blood, sweat, and tears, people. OK, it wasn’t that either, but it was really fucking hard.

The space to the right of the chimney was a total mess—the top half of the wall had to be repaired with big drywall patches, while the lower half had to be stabilized with plaster buttons, fiberglass mesh screens, and several skim-coats of joint compound. Same story for other parts of the room. It was bananas! It’s safe to say that I had no idea what I was getting into with this room (the whole house, really!), but that’s OK. The good thing about DIY is that none of this stuff was very expensive—just very time and labor intensive. I can do that.

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But now? Ahhhhhhhhh. The only really logical use for this funny little corner were some shelves, and I think they’re so cute! Since I wanted to keep the desktop clear of clutter and distractions, these shelves are a great place to organize all the office-y stuff (and a few books) that I wanted in the space. I built both the shelves and the desktop out of inexpensive pine lumber, and I really like the natural tone of the wood next to the white walls and the black and gold wallpaper. I’ll post a whole DIY step-by-step for how I built them all super soon! The construction was really simple and I’m so glad I put in a little extra time and effort on something that looks really built-in and custom instead of using pre-fabricated or modular components. It makes the room feel special.

I picked up the big snake plant at Home Depot the other day for $15! I feel like these plants get a bad rap, but they’re super low-maintenance and one of the few houseplants that Max and I can agree on. The big crock that it’s in was a lucky yard sale find over the summer. Even though these are fairly common antiques-fare in the Hudson Valley, prices can get a little out of hand. This one isn’t super valuable or super old or super unique, but it is really big and I think we paid $30 for it which still felt like a deal. I stuck some small felt pads to the bottom to keep it from scratching the floor.

(I don’t know what that yellow glass thing on the top shelf is. I bought it at another yard sale over the summer for a few dollars along with some iittala stuff—the seller had no idea what he had!—but I’ve yet to figure out what it’s really for! The top separates from the bottom, so I guess the bottom part could be a vase, but maybe it has some other weird purpose. Maybe it’s for drugs. I think it’s pretty, though!)

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The shelves also hold some things that are pretty special to me, including the stapler that belonged to my grandparents and this little antique box that I bought when I was little. I went through a big antique-box-collecting phase as a kid (yes, really) and have since gotten rid of most of them (how many little boxes can one person really use, honestly?), but I’m glad this one’s stuck around. The black and white striped box below it was on clearance at Target and fits 8.5×11″ paper perfectly.

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This area to the right of the door was actually in the best shape, and all it really needed was three layers of skim coat and paint. The little door to the little closet under the attic stairs had lots of gloopy paint on it and I got a little carried away with the heat gun trying to even it out, so I ended up having to strip the whole thing. It’s less than 5 feet high, though, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s probably not something I have it in me to do for every door in the house, though. But it was nice to give this one a little extra love.

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Yep, yep, yep. I’m pretty happy with how this all panned out! I stripped the paint off the door hinges in a pot of water on the stove (low heat for a few hours with a little dish soap!) and spray-painted them with Rustoleum’s matte black spray paint. I love the contrast of the black hardware with the white door and moldings.

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The door also has the cutest little glass knob! I doubt it’s original, but it’s definitely old. It had some paint on it, but it easily came off using the same method I used on the hinges (again—LOW HEAT…don’t want to crack the glass!) and shined up beautifully. It has lots of little air bubbles in the glass.

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I was planning to hang something else on that wall, but as things started to come together, I felt like the room needed some more old stuff to balance out the crispness of everything else. I picked up the mirror at a weird vintage shop somewhere around here for $45 a while ago, and I think it’s kind of perfect. There’s some damage to the frame and the glass is all speckled with age, which just makes it better. I love old mirrors.

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Speaking of old stuff, I’m in love with the light fixture. I bought it a while ago at this crazy junk shop for $5 (!)—it had probably been sitting outside for a few decades, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it at the time, but the art deco details on the metal and that ball of amber glass near the top made me need it. I thought at the time that maybe I’d spray paint the whole thing, so I stashed it in the basement for a rainy day and forgot about it. But when I remembered that it was sitting in my basement, the beat-up finish and rust and crap seemed to make it perfect for this room. I took it apart and cleaned all of the components with Barkeeper’s Friend, which helped eliminate the excess rust without stripping its age and wear. Max thought I was a complete lunatic throughout this whole sequence of events, but I had a VISION. I rewired the whole thing (which is really very simple, I promise!) and with a few new pieces of hardware and bulbs, it was super easy to hang up!

The ceiling medallion is nothing special—just a stock urethane foam medallion from Home Depot that was about $30 (they usually only have a few in the store, but the selection online is huge!). These tend to look really cheap and shitty in their packaging, but once they’re caulked and painted, they look like the real deal. I attached it to the ceiling with construction adhesive and drove a couple of screws through it while the glue cured for a few hours and caulked it around the edge. Later on, I took the screws out, patched the holes with ReadyPatch, and painted it the same color as the ceiling. It’s not really everything I ever wanted (I think it’s a little too fancy-looking for this decidedly un-fancy room), but I do really like the way it looks with the light fixture and the wallpaper. For other rooms I’ll order medallions that are more appropriate to the house and the original functions of the rooms, but I’m letting it go for in here. Good enough!

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floor

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the floor! I’ve wanted to paint this floor white since the first time we saw the house and I didn’t even know what this room would be! It did not disappoint. I love it. It ended up taking a lot of prep work (sinking face-nails, sanding, retrofitting an underlayment, caulking between the boards, shellac-based primer…), but the end result is so beautiful and fresh. I used Benjamin Moore’s low-sheen white Floor and Patio paint (three coats), and the finish seems really durable. I’m not sure I could deal with white floors in large areas of my living space (I don’t like to clean that much…), but this room is so tiny and out of the way that I don’t think it’ll be hard to keep clean. It’s small enough that I can scrub the whole thing with a Magic Eraser every now and then, and enforcing a no-shoe policy in this room shouldn’t be too difficult. I love how the white paint actually brings out the age and imperfections of this old floor—all of the scars of years of use add a texture that keeps it from feeling sterile or cold.

Also, I think Linus likes it for camouflaging purposes. He no longer seems interested in shitting on it, either. Success!

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I love this room. Thank you, sincerely, for all of the kind words of encouragement as I’ve been learning how to do (and sometimes, redo) a lot of this stuff for the first time—it really does help, and it really makes me happy that I have this blog. It never seems like there’s a totally opportune, not-weird time to say this, so I’ll just put it here: I’m so lucky to have such kind, phenomenal readers. I hope you like the room, too!

Now let’s tackle the rest of this madhouse!

Big Changes in the Little Office!

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When we left off with the little office, I needed to do one more coat of joint compound in the upper corners where the plaster walls met the drywall ceiling (and then wait for it to dry and then sand it) before I could finally, finally slap some paint on the walls and start finishing this tiny room! When people (internet-folk, friend-folk, insurance-folk) ask me what my “timeline” is for finishing the house, this is pretty much why I just respond with mad side-eye and a condescending laugh. I started work on these walls at the beginning of November. Aside from bathrooms and closets, it’s the smallest room in the house. And even though we got side-tracked with all sorts of things and we aren’t here all the time and I had to completely teach myself how to do some pretty intense plaster repair and skim-coating by myself (with a little help from my internet-friends, of course), STILL. We’re talking three and a half months to even get to the point where I could paint the walls.

BUT. Those walls look good. Like really good. Like, despite my slow speed and rough beginnings, maybe I am a plaster repair prodigy after all. They’re by no means perfect, but that’s a huge part of the appeal of plaster walls. And with the crappy crown molding gone, everything looks really right for this old house, wonky lines and all. I’m really very proud of the whole thing, FYI.

Since the walls became officially prepped and paintable about ten days ago, it’s basically been non-stop action and excitement to get this room looking pretty! From the walls to wallpaper to the door and moldings to stripping hardware to starting work on the floor, I’ve hit that stage where the end product feels very attainable and I really want this room to be finished and I’ll totally give up basic human activity to make it all happen. It all feels very warp-speed after the whole skim-coating ordeal.

One consequence of getting all fast-paced and obsessive is that apparently I forgot I had a blog or that the internet exists or that there is a world outside of this room, so I was really lousy about taking photos of it all as it was happening! So rather than try to cobble together a few posts with one bad iPhone picture each, I figured I’d cobble together a long crazy post with lots of bad iPhone pictures! I’m so pro.

OK, WALLS:

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Since you’d want to prime new drywall before painting it, I decided that the same was probably true for freshly skim-coated walls. The joint compound on the surface will suck up an inordinate amount of paint just in the process of sealing everything in, so even if you buy a nicer paint + primer, you really don’t want to be wasting it on this first coat. I used up an entire gallon of Valspar brand drywall primer and then had to switch to a different primer that I had around (just for one coat, and this room is tiny!), but primer is cheap so it wasn’t a big deal.

Even just getting the primer on the walls was cause for mega-excitement and celebration. With skim-coating, you can skim and sand as much as you want, but it can still be hard to tell if the walls are really smooth and good-looking until a coat of paint evens everything out. Seeing everything primed and looking good put months of anxious anticipation to rest. I DID IT. I MADE THE WALLS. THEY LOOK LIKE LEGIT WALLS.

As soon as the primer was dry, I painted my first coat of paint, and as soon as that was dry, I painted my second. I know you’re supposed to wait a certain amount of time between coats and all that, but it was late and I was high on adrenaline and not caring about silly details like that.

The next day, I woke up early and painted a coat of clear wallpaper primer on the wall that I planned to wallpaper. I have zero intentions of ever removing the wallpaper, but just in case I ever do or somebody else does, the wallpaper primer will theoretically aid in the process while also keeping the walls underneath from being destroyed.

THE WALLPAPER:

Admittedly, all of this priming-painting-priming-some-more activity was based upon two simple facts:

1. I was SO EXCITED to put up the wallpaper. I’ve been looking forward to hanging the Diamante pattern in black/gold literally since the day Hygge & West announced their collaboration with Laundry back in November, and I’ve had a roll of it waiting around for this very moment.

2. My friend Emily was visiting, and her mother put up wallpaper professionally for years. Despite that Emily herself wasn’t really involved, at least she’d seen the process taking place. This was more experience than Max or I could boast, so I really wanted to take advantage of her semi-experience before she had to hit the road back to Brooklyn.

wallpaper1

First of all, this wallpaper? Can we just talk about this wallpaper for a minute?

It is beautiful. I swear when the room is done, I’ll take really nice photos of it because it’s hard to really convey how beautiful it is. The gold metallic is the perfect amount of shimmery deliciousness (technical design term), and the pattern is just so good. The scale is just right for the space and I love that it doesn’t really scream any particular style. It’s inspired by a mural in Mexico, but it feels a little bit Art Deco and a little bit Victorian and a little bit psychedelic and a little bit modern and…I just love it.

Overall, hanging the wallpaper wasn’t very difficult, although it was kind of stressful and hectic and fast-paced and I did not have a free hand to take the step-by-step photos I intended to. Since it was only one small wall needing only three pieces of wallpaper, I opted to start by hanging my first section in the middle of the wall so that I wouldn’t end up with a seam in the middle or a small sliver on one side. The basic steps were:

1. Mark the center point of the wall, which will also be the center point of the first piece of wallpaper.

2. Roll wallpaper adhesive paste onto the back of the paper with a paint roller. “Book” the paper by gently folding both ends toward the center. This allows the paper to relax and also lets the paste tack up a bit. I believe the paste instructions said to wait 5-7 minutes, but after finding the first piece a bit dry, we opted to go for a 3-4 minute range.

3. While I stood on a ladder and held the paper from the top, Emily and Max held the level against the wall and the edge of the paper and we all shouted at each other until it was straight. This is probably not the way to do things. We probably should have considered nifty modern inventions like chalk-lines or even just drawing a perfectly vertical pencil line down the wall to align with the edge of the paper, but we didn’t think that far ahead. After the wallpaper was more or less in place, I used a smoothing tool to work the paper flat against the wall, working from the top down and the middle outwards. Then I used a damp wallpaper sponge to remove any excess glue that had seeped out around the edges or made it onto the surface of the paper from the smoothing action.

4. Then I held up the remaining roll of wallpaper from the top to get an idea of where the pattern matched up with the first piece, and then we cut the appropriate length. We weren’t too exacting here since we planned to cut off the excess on the edges anyway. Then we measured the width of the space between the edge of the wallpaper and the corner of the wall, added about an inch (again, so we’d be able to remove the excess, but leaving enough extra to account for irregularities in the wall), and cut off the excess from the piece of wallpaper. Basically you want to get close-ish to the size piece that you’ll need while leaving enough extra to allow for the walls to be weird and not square and all of that.

5. Then we rolled paste onto this second piece, waited, and then I held it again from the top while Max and Emily helped align the pattern at EYE level. Wallpapering is a weird science/art, and for reasons I can’t really grasp, the pattern won’t align perfectly for the entire length of the seam. So it’s important to match it at eye level instead of at the top. Trust. Then we did the same thing with the third piece on the other side.

6. Then we removed the excess wallpaper from around the edges with a snap-off blade utility knife. I used my smoothing tool as an edge to keep my knife straight, and it’s important to work slowly with good pressure to make sure you’re getting a clean cut. You definitely want the blade as sharp as possible, so I snapped the blade to a fresh section between every cut to avoid snagging or tearing the paper (it’s still kind of soft and malleable at this point, since the adhesive is still drying). Sponge off any remaining adhesive on moldings/adjacent walls, and that’s pretty much it!

I bet you want to see how it looks. I bet you’d just love that.

TOO BAD. My pictures are too terrible and I can’t bring myself to post super terrible pictures of this super beautiful wallpaper. It just isn’t fair. (Don’t worry, though. I WILL. And SOON. And there are sneaks of it in the photos below…)

THE MOLDINGS AND THE FLOOR:

floor1

After the wallpaper was up, I turned my attention to the moldings and the floor. I’d already given the floor a thorough cleaning and scraping prior to the wallpaper, and sanded down the rough splintery spots (of which there were many). This floor is kind of a total disaster, but I love it so much nonetheless. In houses as old as ours, the original subfloor would have served as the main flooring material with wall-to-wall rugs on top of it. At some point (or various points—who knows!), all of our flooring was covered with new hardwood flooring (which is really very nice, so no complaints there!), but the floor of this little room wasn’t! It had a few broken down sheets of linoleum when we moved in, but they were never glued down and easily removed, and the only existing coating was a single layer of brown paint.

Still, due to 150-ish years of expansion and contraction and use and abuse, this floor has seen better days. The wood is in pretty rough shape and full of holes and gouges. The gaps between the boards are enormous, and in order to clean the floor, I had to scrape out each gap with a series of pointy tools before vacuuming up clumps of ancient dust and debris that had settled there. And since there is no subfloor under this floor, that means that the gaps are open to the dining room beneath it. So every time I was working in this room, there was a dust storm in the dining room. Once I spilled a glass of water and it made a big puddle on the dining room floor. It made me sort of perversely glad that we currently don’t have a ceiling in there to get water damaged! And also scared me that someday we will have a ceiling, and this floor is basically an open invitation to water damage it.

baseboard1

The gaps between the baseboard moldings and the floor were similarly large! I don’t really like shoe molding around baseboards in old houses (ours has it almost everywhere due to the newer flooring, and it looks fine, but I wish it wasn’t necessary), but unfortunately because of the way the house has settled and stuff over the years, some of the gaps between the baseboards and the floor were like 3/4″! That’s definitely too big of a space to caulk, so base shoe it is!

baseshoe

With my miter saw and nail gun (a housewarming present from my awesome brother!), cutting and installing the base shoe took no time at all. I used a bit of ReadyPatch on the nail holes and corners, which I sanded smooth when it was dry. I don’t like using caulk for nail holes as I find that it sinks down into the hole, but using some type of spackle compound leaves a nice smooth surface after sanding.

floor2

After vacuuming a million times, it was caulking time! I caulked both above and below the base shoe so that it would appear seamless with the baseboard molding and sealed to the floor (which will help keep everything clean and prevent drafts from the exterior wall). I applied the caulk, smoothed it with my finger, and then smoothed it again with a damp cloth to remove any remaining excess caulk. Applying caulk is such a satisfying activity.

(yes, I wrote that last sentence and fully meant all of the words in it and now I’m worried about myself.)

Before I caulked the gaps in the floor, I actually dug around in our pile of construction debris in the garage and pulled some pieces of the super lightweight faux wood paneling from the 70s that we took down from various places in the house. Then I cut them to the width if the spaces between the beams in the dining room ceiling, smeared on some construction adhesive, and nailed them up to the bottom of the subfloor just under this room. This very unglamorous (but free and effective!) solution provided a base for the caulk and paint to adhere to so that I wouldn’t just be shooting caulk into the dining room below.

I know caulking the gaps between the boards might seem like a bad idea, but the gaps are just SO big and deep and impossible to keep clean, and I also really wanted to prevent any future water damage to the future-ceiling below without having to make this room a place where nobody is allowed to bring a water-containing vessel ever. Sealing up the floor will certainly help with that. The caulk really sinks down between the boards, so even after it’s painted it’ll DEFINITELY still look like an old painted tongue-and-groove floor. Just, like, clean and stuff.

primer1

After vacuuming a million more times, it was time for primer! I opted to paint the entire floor and all of the moldings with B-I-N Shellac Base Primer, which is very stinky stuff that really seals everything in and provides a great foundation for finishing coats of paint to adhere to. Especially where good adhesion might be tricky (like painting over moldings with old glossy paint on them already), I think using primer is a good idea. I definitely don’t want this floor chipping, nor do I want any oils from the wood to be seeping through the paint, so I’m glad I used this stuff even if I’m down a few brain cells as a result.

window

Ahhh. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Isn’t it starting to look so crisp and real and amazing? I know. I know!

For the walls and moldings, I used paint leftover from the kitchen overhaul. The walls and ceiling are Clark + Kensington brand (from Ace Hardware) Casablanca in flat enamel and the moldings are Designer White in satin enamel. I just want to point out that Casablanca is SUCH a good white. It’s very, very slightly grey but still warm even in natural light, and in artificial light at night it doesn’t go yellow. I love it. It’s crisp enough to satisfy my love of white walls but not at all stark, and feels sympathetic to the age of our house (where super stark white walls could look great, but they’d definitely be more of a look than I really want for myself). I actually think I might use it pretty much everywhere else that we’re planning to paint white, too. I’m still very all-around impressed with the Clark + Kensington paint—it’s great stuff to work with and so reasonably priced at about $30 per gallon. When you’re looking at painting a whole house, the cost savings between a $30 gallon of paint and a $50 or $60 one starts to seem pretty enormous.

I decided to paint the window moldings, but basically leave the window itself alone until I can really restore it. It really needs to be taken out of the frame, stripped, new glazing, primer, paint—it should all happen in warmer months and when more pressing projects are checked off the list. For now I’ll probably hang a roller shade in front of it and you can all take bets on how many years it takes me to get to it.

floorpaint1

Yes. This. We’re getting there. So close I can taste it. First coat of paint on the floor and looking so damn fly.

STILL TO DO:

1. Third coat of paint in a couple of places on the moldings.
2. Two more coats of paint on the floor. (I’m using Benjamin Moore low-sheen Porch and Floor paint in off-the-shelf white).
3. Find/order, hang, caulk, and paint a ceiling medallion and replace the light fixture.
4. Build a floating desktop.
5. Build shelves for space to the left of the chimney.
6. Paint tiny closet door, strip and spray paint hardware, and re-hang door.
7. Reupholster faux-Wegner chair for corner.
8. Buy, cut, and install roller shade for window.
9. Make everything all pretty and stuff.
10. Nap.

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