Building the Pantry Cabinet!

primer

Remember a couple of posts ago when I explained the stupid horrible plumbing chase that had to be built in the back corner of the pantry? To refresh your memory, it holds the supply and return lines for a radiator above the dining room, and had to be built after we removed the old exposed pipes on the dining room side of the wall, only to realize that burying the pipes neatly inside the wall wasn’t technically an option in this case, as we had planned.

Stupid. So, so stupid. I have a couple of regrets about things I’ve done throughout this renovation, and this is a big one, not because I care so much about the pantry but because I envision this as part of the kitchen someday and I’m going to have to find a way to work around it then, too. In any case, instead of the nice simple awkwardly long rectangle I thought the pantry would be, it became an awkwardly long rectangle with an awkward plumbing chase and I became even less inspired to work on it. I do give my main man Edwin props for drywalling it so nicely and finishing all those outside corners so well, but that did not make me like it.

ANYWAY, it took me a long time to figure out quite how to effectively use the space in the pantry. I was inclined to just do open shelving all around and try to ignore the awkwardness of the chase completely, but that seemed sad and lame. I didn’t care all that much about the pantry being particularly nice, but after putting off working on it for so long and knowing how excited Max was about it, I decided to try to up my game and figure out a way to camouflage the stupid chase and eliminate its awkwardness from my life. The little skinny top section doesn’t really bother me, but that big stupid part at the bottom is what I wanted to never see. It sticks out over 2 feet into the room and just fills me with rage when I look at it.

Have I mentioned how I feel about the plumbing chase? No bueno.

pantrycabinetdesign

So I had this concept. WHAT IF: I just custom-built a little cabinet to fit between the wall on the left and the side of the chase on the right? What if I took it a step further and additionally built a drawer to go inside of the cabinet. And then what if I made the face of the drawer extra-wide so that it would cover the front of the chase, giving the illusion of a cabinet that spans the full width of the space? And then what if I achieved total world domination because my cabinet would be so boss that all who entered my pantry would pledge their allegiance to me as their sovereign overlord?

I found the cabinet idea appealing also because as much as I like open storage for lots of things, I don’t want it for all things. Since the rest of the plan for the space was open shelves, being able to stash ugly stuff away in an enormous, deep drawer sounded fancy and fun.

Problem was, I’ve never built a cabinet and didn’t really have much of an idea how, but I figured I could probably figure it out. I had the tools and I had the idea and I had a lot of the wood already from my scrap pile so it seemed like an interesting and possibly fun challenge that I would definitely not regret at all.

I don’t even recall making that SketchUp rendering, but I’m pretty sure it happened after I built the thing and knew I didn’t take enough pictures of the process to really explain the construction and stuff because I was figuring a lot out on the fly. My big disclaimer here is that I know this isn’t the most amazing way to build a cabinet (nothing is joined in any kind of advanced technical way) but it worked and seems very sturdy, so I guess I did OK.

So. I pretty much designed the frame to be similar in construction to what I can remember of putting together IKEA base cabinets. They’re built kind of like this, I think. I used a scrap piece of 1/4″ ply for the backing instead of the thinner masonite-y stuff you get with an IKEA cabinet. I also added that middle piece on the top because my cabinet was a little deeper and I wanted more support to affix the top to at the end.

The drawer is an inch narrower than the frame to accommodate some stock drawer glides I found at Lowe’s. I think I bought the nicest option, which extends fully and I think held more weight than the other options. They take up a 1/2″ on each side.

precutwood

If you only look at the pile of pre-cut lumber, it would appear that I am very super organized in my approach to things. In fact I did this because I didn’t realize I was out of wood glue on the night I started with these shenanigans, so I decided to spend my time pre-cutting all my lumber without the satisfaction of assembling anything. This turned out to be kind of nice in the end because assembly went really quickly and I felt like a real badass in my filthy basement.

I cut all of this on my table saw, by the way, which is possibly my favorite tool investment ever. The table saw is really the star of this whole pantry showdown because I used it so much to cut down pieces of scrap wood into smaller dimensions. This would all be possible with a circular saw and a cutting guide, too, but it would take a lot longer and it would probably be harder to get things as precise as you want them with something like this.

cabinetbuilding1

Anyway, onto assembly! The quick and easy way of assembling cabinets, I gleaned from flipping through a cabinet-making book in the checkout line at the hardware store, is a combination of wood glue, finish nails, and drywall screws. After applying a line of wood glue, position the other piece of wood, and use a liberal amount of 2″ finish nails to attach them together. Having an automatic nail gun is important for this part—I think it would be almost impossible to do with a hammer and nails just because things would get too out of whack.

Nail guns, by the way? WORTH IT EVERY TIME. It took me way too long to spring for a finish nailer, and I use it constantly. Aside from making you feel like way cool, it’s just so handy for all sorts of things, from trim-work to simple building projects. I have this Porter Cable air compressor  and the older version of this finish nailer, both highly recommended. If you’re doing a big-ish renovation project, I’d recommend going straight for the pneumatic options and ignoring the corded or cordless electronic stuff. I made that mistake and in my experience they don’t work nearly as well and are more prone to breaking/jamming, and the price difference really isn’t that big.

After everything was all nailed up, I drove a drywall screw in about every 6 inches at all the joints. I think I used 1.25″ coarse-threaded screws. Even though they’re called drywall screws, they work well at joining wood together and I prefer using them over wood screws. They’re cheaper, and I find that I tend to end up stripping wood screws but not drywall screws. The metal is harder? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. I don’t have all the answers.

cabinetanddrawerinstalled

Anyway, fast-forward a bit and the cabinet and drawer is installed! Like magic. This space is only 32″ wide and the floor slants a little over an inch. It’s weird. There aren’t any real signs of settling and if you look at the joists in the basement, I think it’s actually been like this since it was built. I think the whole kitchen was an early addition and they just made an error in keeping the floor level with the original section of the house when they were building it, which is kind of cute. This was the mid-1800s or so, so I’m going to go ahead and say they had several valid excuses like having lots of dysentery but not lots of advanced modern tools.

Because of this, I opted to mount the cabinet by screwing the sides into the walls, rather than try to rely on the floor and bunch of shims and stuff. I used 3″ screws and went into studs on both sides, and the whole thing is super solid. Then I installed my tracks on the drawer and on the insides of the frame, slid the drawer into place, and that was about it. The glides came with some simple instructions that were helpful—it was all pretty straightforward.

doorfrontinstalled

Next, the drawer face! I cut a piece of plywood to the width of the room, leaving about a 1/4″-1/2″ on each side so that the drawer could fully extend without scraping the wavy, imperfect walls on the sides. Because I was working alone, I recall face-nailing it into place in a couple of places (watching my level throughout), then driving several screws through the back of the drawer into the new face to really affix it properly.

The only big thing left to do was trim it out! I opted for 1×3 for the border (scrap pieces ripped down on the ol’ table saw), and simple base cap molding to finish off the inset panel.

This is NOT how you construct standard door/drawer fronts, by the way. Doing it correctly involves more advanced (but, apparently, achievable by DIY-ers) joinery techniques and all manner of wizardry that someday I will definitely teach myself but that day was not this day. I did the same thing for that rolling cart in our laundry room so I figured that if it was good enough for there, it was good enough for here.

moldingsondoor

Yep, I’m well aware that this looks kind of shitty, but after caulking, patching, sanding, and painting, it really turned out swell. I cannot stress the importance in my life of caulk and Ready Patch enough. I first gave the whole thing a pass with my mouse sander, just to bump down transitions and rough up the previously-painted surfaces. Then, I gave the whole thing a first coat of paint. You could use primer, too, but the idea is to seal the wood and then apply caulk/patching. I’ve done this wrong in the past, but the idea is that you want to seal in the wood before you apply caulk. If you don’t, over time the wood will continue to draw moisture from the caulk and dry it out prematurely, meaning it will have to be scraped out and replaced sooner.

I really like Ready Patch for small wood patching, by the way. It dries harder than other spackles or joint compound, and sands a lot smoother than any wood filler I’ve ever used. It’s still a gypsum-based product, so I wouldn’t use it for large applications or high-traffic areas, but to patch over seams or old nail or screw holes or whatever, it’s perfect.

drawerpainted

As on the transom window, I used the same semi-gloss Bedford Grey color for the cabinet face and the inside of the drawer. This is a terrible representation of the color, but this is what you get with iPhone photos taken at night. I think this photo was taken after the first coat of paint but before the patching/caulking, so it all looks a bit more seamless in the finished product. This is also a preview of the top and the shelving that came next, which is pieces of our old countertops! I just ripped the 2×12 boards to the dimensions I needed, sanded, and stained them a bit darker. Then I face-nailed the pieces into place with 2″ finishing nails.

cabinet1

The last piece of the puzzle was installing the baseboard and toe-kick below the cabinet. The baseboard on the right is just standard 1×2 lumber, and the toe-kick had to be cut with my circular saw in order to account for the significant slope in the floor. Later on I finished off the baseboard on the lefthand wall with 1×3, but it isn’t in place yet because I had to do some more repair to the wall before I could install it. In a perfect world I would have taller baseboards in here (anything under a 1×6 tends to look too dinky in an old house), but then the baseboards would block the drawer from moving out, and I wasn’t willing to rebuild the entire cabinet just for the sake of taller baseboards in this glorified closet.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of the the big reveal by showing the totally finished result, so that’s about it! I’m totally happy with how the drawer turned out, and it packs a real punch storage-wise! Even though it’s not nearly as tall as a traditional base cabinet (it’s only about 18″ high), the drawer is deep enough to hold tons of cleaning supplies (Swiffer pads, gallon jugs of white vinegar, etc. etc.) that we needed a place for, but didn’t necessarily want out in the open. And because it sticks out about 27″ into the room, it helps eliminate some of the awkwardness of the overall length of the space, too. So that’s cool.

Transom Window in the Pantry

transomoutsidebefore

I don’t know what the deal is with whatever’s going on above the pantry door. I’m guessing at some point, there was a slightly wider and much taller door here, and then it got removed for whatever reason, and this weird box got built above the new door to hide the gap. Then there’s the transom window hanging out up there, except the glass (I’m assuming there was once glass to let light into the now-defunct stairwell) is gone and replaced with some very old beadboard. Then later on, a new ceiling went up in the kitchen right over the old ceiling and covered the top of the transom frame behind new sheetrock and that weird trim piece. It’s all really…special.

transomfrominsidebefore

See this weirdness? Here’s how it looked from the inside. I love how totally cobbled together and silly it is. There’s something very comforting with this kind of thing in old houses. So often I’m shaking my head over what somebody else did 30 or 80 or 100 years ago, and then start re-doing it only to realize that in 30 or 80 or 100 years, somebody will be taking it apart again and wondering what the fuck I was smoking.

transomduring

One of the first things I did with the pantry renovation was open that baby up. I didn’t want to try to do anything about the weirdness over the door itself, but I did want to restore the transom and make it fit under the ceiling, so the whole frame would be visible and it would look less sad and strange. I actually liked the bizarre character of that beadboard panel (I salvaged all the beadboard), but I liked the idea of getting a little natural light into the pantry more. It’s also kind of nice as an ambient light source if the kitchen lights are off. Who doesn’t love a transom window? Nobody in their right mind.

Anyway, I carefully removed the beadboard from the back, and gentttllllyyy pried the transom frame out, pulled the nails, and set the pieces aside to reuse later on.

(“aside” is where they remained for several months).

transomprocess

This is the kind of thing I’m talking about, folks. I had two objectives in this pantry:

1. Spend as absolutely little money as possible. This means that nearly every bit of lumber (baseboards, shelving, this whole set-up) came out of the scrap pile. Some of this stuff lived previously as the old moldings around the laundry room door, or the laundry room baseboards, or just whatever pieces of 1-by lumber I had sitting around. I’m nutty about lumber (I won’t toss it unless it’s under about 6″ in length…and even then I feel like I’m doing something wrong) and it was sort of a fun challenge to lighten the load of the scrap pile by throwing a lot of it in here!

2. It doesn’t need to be perfect. This is a tough one for me, not because I’m used to achieving perfection, but more because I typically at least try. But in this space, I kind of wanted it to have that homespun, cobbled-together kind of thing going on, sort of as an homage to the character of the space when I found it. Oh my god, I just used the word “homage” in reference to my pantry…just end my life; I deserve it.

ANYWAY. The way this doorway/pantry are framed in is very strange and impossible to make symmetrical, and so I just went with it. I really don’t have any process pictures because there was no method—only madness. The basic strategy was to just keep nailing pieces of wood to other pieces of wood until it looked OK, would hold glass, and allow the entire frame to be visible from the outside. Sometimes you just have to do things that way. It was actually really fun. Pneumatic nail guns make everything better.

GILA

By the way, that textured glass I put up here? Fake. I was convinced that we’d want some kind of textured glass in the transom, but Max was adamant that we use clear, regular glass. I was semi-on-board with this plan just because regular old window glass is cheap and easy to get. We got our piece cut at Lowe’s and I think it was around $10. Textured glass typically comes from specialty glass places, is much more expensive, and sometimes has to be ordered…not a big deal if that’s what you need, but it seemed like maybe we didn’t need it and I didn’t want to spend the money.

Then I put the glass in the frame, climbed down from the ladder, looked up…and wondered where it was! It literally looked exactly the same as it did without any glass at all. The thing about new glass is that it’s just too perfect—which is nice for certain things, but definitely not for this. So I marched back to Lowe’s and picked up a roll of this “crackled glass” decorative window film, which I actually quite like because it matches the actual textured glass on our upstairs bathroom door. The film comes with application instructions, which are really easy. I put it the film on the side of the glass that faces out to the kitchen.

Then, when I was installing the glass and some moldings, I accidentally broke the glass! Not once, but twice! I felt very dumb and like a huge failure. Then I convinced myself that as long as the glass was stable (yes, it’s fractured, but not shattered), maybe the cracks didn’t matter! Maybe they made it better! So I went with that.

insideafter

I’ll share a wider angle of how this looks when I show the rest of the pantry (aiming to have a few touch-up things done today and then I’m calling this project finished!), but this is how it looks from the inside of the pantry. There are approximately 8,000 different little pieces of wood nailed together to create all this, and I kind of love it! It’s all just very scrappy, but it totally works and looks fine and oddly appropriate for this space by virtue of its oddness. After some generous caulking, I painted all the trim in Bedford Grey (a Martha Stewart color I love), which will also make more sense later on, as it’s used elsewhere in the room. We had the can leftover from something else so this was a good place to put it to work. I used this color on a couple things in the laundry room, too, so it’s nice to kind of tie those spaces together a bit.

transomafterlit

From the outside, it looks about like this! The camera wasn’t able to capture this super well, but you get the idea. The light that comes out of the new transom is really nice! I’m happy with it, and sooooo glad we went the textured glass route. And check it out! The trim pieces that create the frame are all visible and stuff! Fancy.

OK, enough of this. Want to see something really satisfying?

outsidebefore

This lousy picture was from our first walk-through. Poor house. You can see that the transom-window-turned-weird-beadboard-panel was actually situated above an acoustic tile ceiling (the tiles are removed here, but the frame is still in place). I’m still really proud of the fact that we didn’t completely gut this kitchen…just looking at before pictures of it and remembering how bad it was in real life gives me the willies.

outsideafter

Here we are today! I didn’t realize quite how dramatic I’d feel about this before-and-after pairing, but jeez…this place has come a long way. I give myself a hard time a lot about how slow things seem to move around here, but we’re getting there. We really are. Being able to look from one renovated room into two more renovated rooms is so exciting and still such a novelty. There’s so much left to do, but if we just stay right here for a second…it’s a good feeling.

Prepping the Pantry!

When you’re living in your own DIY renovation for any extended period of time, your brain does some interesting maneuvering when it comes to your perception of reality. There’s a lot to grapple with, so in the interest of staying sane, mildly productive, and occasionally happy, it’s more or less essential to erect a mental scaffolding of lies around the truth of both where and how you’re actually spending your days and nights. There’s a certain amount of necessary delusion involved in living in a place where conditions often teeter somewhere between a city dump and the inside parts of a vacuum cleaner, so all sorts of things must be accepted as OK that are, in fact, not generally OK. For instance, we’ve had a bathtub in which a man died and partially decomposed sitting casually on the floor of our living room for roughly a year now. The body is gone, of course, but the stains left behind are still plainly visible, and then there’s just the idea of a bathtub sitting well outside the actual bathroom to which it belongs for such an extended period, which should probably elicit some feelings of shame or sadness but, actually, really doesn’t make me feel anything anymore. Will it sit there forever? No, of course not. Will it sit there until we have the money and the time to renovate the downstairs bathroom? Yes, absolutely. When is that going to happen? Could be months, could be years. Isn’t that a problem, though? Nah.

Thus is the power of the human mind. Of course, closely related is the whole time thing: how long everything has already taken, how long it might be before more stuff is done, and—somewhere in the ether—how long it might realistically be until things are looking and feeling complete. Whenever I’m tempted to entertain the last question, I don’t dwell on it very long because I feel that the honest answer is never, and if I think about that too much, then I have to honestly evaluate my priorities in life and that is just not something I’m willing to do more than a couple times a decade. The previous two topics, however, are easier to contend with. Once something is done, the feeling is satisfying enough that it’s easier to just forget completely how long it took. Trying to figure it out is maladaptive because it would only lead to discouragement, which leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to continuing to live in filthy squalor indefinitely. As for figuring out how long a current or imminently approaching project might take, evidently my approach is to just put the intention to do it into the universe and then wait around until it actually happens. I spend the intervening time convincing myself daily that progress is being made and that I’m inching ever-closer to completion—particularly when I am factually not—and then, when I actually do manage to complete something, it is confirmed that this potent cocktail of delusion, denial, and outright self-deception is as effective a strategy as any. Thumbs up.

One of the major things I’ve been lying to myself about for a while now is our “pantry.” I put it in quotation marks because, much like our “downstairs bathroom,” it has yet to actually fulfill the function that the space is ostensibly being reserved for. Nevertheless, when new people come to the house and I give them the grand tour, I usually open the door to this space and say something like “and soon, this is going to be the pantry!”

pantrycorner

It wasn’t really until I sat down to write this post that I realized how loosely I throw around the word “soon,” as evidently I’ve been saying some version of this for over a year now. I mean, the last time I posted an update about the pantry was back in May, and I was already a few months deep even then. At the time, I had the gall to use the words “quick” and “simple” in reference to renovating the space. These ideas weren’t presented as hopeful or optimistic, but rather as statements of fact. I will have a pantry and it will be done soon and it will be quick and simple. 

Because our pantry is essentially just an oddly-shaped closet, it’s an easy thing to forget about. Above is an old picture of the pantry door in the kitchen. With so many actual rooms in our house in total shambles and various stages of horror, I’ll admit that the pantry just didn’t seem like a big enough deal for me to care about. Max prodded me about it basically non-stop—proposing that it would make our lives better and our kitchen more manageable—but I was way more concerned with having a dining room and a living room than I was with having a place to put our microwave and some cans of beans. We had two upper cabinets in the kitchen dedicated to food stuff, and that seemed like enough. I mean, my last two kitchens in New York have been way smaller and had way less storage than this one, so adding more storage in the form of a pantry just seemed like a fancy luxury that I wasn’t all that inclined to care about.

Anyway. The dining room is pretty much renovated and the living room is pretty much renovated, and now, just fourteen short months after I started working on this tiny space, it’s happening! The pantry is real! It’s still not quite done, but it’s getting very close.

Of course everything ended up being more complicated than I thought it would be, in large part due to me actively making everything more complicated than I thought it would be. The original plan was to add some electrical (two lights and three outlets), throw up some walls, refinish the floor, hang some simple track shelving, and BOOM: pantry. But then as the project stretched out, I got increasingly more ambitious and my plans became increasingly elaborate, and before long I didn’t just want pantry, but something more like the best pantry. 

before

Just to jog your memory (and mine at this point), the space that I’m calling the pantry was actually two smaller closets when we bought the house. The picture on the left is what was behind the door in the kitchen, and the picture on the right is what was behind the closet door in the dining room. Originally, this space was actually used for a small secondary staircase. The stairs ran from the basement under the kitchen, and you’d exit out a doorway in the kitchen that’s been sealed probably since the removal of the stairs, which I’m guessing took place in the 1930s. In the kitchen, what is now the pantry door opened into a staircase that led up to the room above the kitchen on the second floor. Since the closet in the dining room was not original to the house, I opted to remove and seal up that doorway and knock down the wall dividing the closets, creating one long space only accessible from the kitchen that takes up the entire footprint of the original staircase.

before2

This is the view from the doorway in the kitchen into the pantry after the partition wall came down and before the old doorway in the dining room was framed in. One thing I think about a lot with regards to this space is how, someday, I’d like to really give the kitchen a total overhaul, knock down this whole thing, and give the kitchen about 3 more feet. This opens up a whole world of possibilities I don’t need to get into now because it’s such a pipe dream, but we could have an island and more usable counter space and a totally different layout…I have a vision. There’s really only so much you can do storage-wise with a space that’s this long and narrow, so even though the pantry concept is exciting, it also doesn’t feel like the most efficient use of space no matter how you lay it out. But in the spirit of working what we’re working with right now, I feel good about it. Whatever.

electric

We ended up demo-ing the entire righthand wall, just because the plaster was in terrible shape, we were going to drywall a part of the wall anyway where the old doorway used to be, and it made running the new electric much simpler. Our electrician added two lights on the ceiling and three 20-amp outlets, which is what’s recommended for powering a microwave.

drywall

I’m not really sure how I neglected to take any photos in between the last photo and this one above, but the pantry took a small hit in the form of a new plumbing chase that I had to build. This still makes me grumpy. See, there used to be a couple exposed heating pipes on the other side of this wall in the dining room (you can see them here), and when the pantry wall was opened up, I asked our plumber if it would be possible to bury the pipes inside the wall. He said yes, so the old pipes were removed and then when we went to run the new ones…OOPS. Because this is an original exterior wall, there are some pretty enormous wooden framing members above and below that were impossible to run plumbing through, so essentially the choice was between building out a small chase in the corner of the dining room or doing it in the pantry. It’s still sort of frustrating because, had I known, I would have just left the original pipes in the dining room alone, but that wasn’t an option anymore at this point. So ANYWAY, we tucked the new plumbing as far into that corner as we could (it comes out so far into the room at the bottom because there’s a stone foundation below, so this is as close to the exterior wall as it could be…). I built a wood frame around it, stuffed some insulation inside for good measure, and then the whole thing got drywalled when the rest of the room did. Even though I was planning to do the drywalling myself, Edwin barely wanted anything extra to just throw it in as part of the job when he did the ceilings in the dining room, living room, and hallway, so I decided to save myself that little added bit of fun and excitement and let him do it.

maxpainting

After the drywall went up, the pantry more or less sat this way for months. Max continued to pester me about working on it, I continued to basically ignore him and do other stuff instead, and eventually I got fed up and told him that if he wanted the pantry that badly, he should just go ahead and do the whole thing himself. The whole renovation aspect of living in our house is about 98% on me—Max does all sorts of other things to keep our lives on track (laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, cleaning, being casually gorgeous, that kind of stuff), but he’s about as inclined to attempt something renovation-related as he is to light himself on fire. When we met, I recall having a very long debate about whether it was OK to paint entire rooms with an edge trimmer—his preferred method over the objectively correct one that involves brushes and rollers.

Anyway, the point is that I was able to wield his desire for a pantry against him, at least at this stage. Before I knew it, I was demonstrating how to patch and repair the remaining plaster work, showing him how to sand drywall seams, and even handing over a gallon of drywall primer with the simple instruction “go to town.” And what did that boy do? He threw on pajamas, a pair of earphones, some Nora Jones, and totally painted the room like a pro! So proud. Go Max. Then I took over again because I have major control issues.

primer

This picture was taken just after the primer went up, but this is a case where a coat of paint really went a LONG way. Seeing the space all light and bright made me feel like it had more potential than I’d given it credit for, and I felt semi-inspired to put some real effort into it as opposed to my former strategy of pretending it didn’t exist.

floorbefore

One thing I knew I wanted to do in here was refinish the floor. I opted to do this after the walls were painted, but before I started putting any shelving up or anything. Because the space is so small, the wood is just pine, and it wasn’t covered with too much crap, it was easy enough to just tackle the whole job with my regular orbital sander. I just used 60-grit pads…the whole thing took maybe an hour? Of course, with all the dust, clean-up took at least as long.

floorrefinishingprocess

I know this picture is garbage, but I’m such a sucker for that moment when you can see how pretty wood is going to be after it’s refinished!

floorprocess2

I tried to keep the sanding pretty minimal in order to maintain some of the patina of the old wood. This wood floor isn’t original to the house (remember, there were stairs here), but it’s definitely old enough to have some great age and character. This is more or less what’s lurking under the rest of the kitchen floor, under two layers of subfloor and vinyl tile…can you blame me for wanting to rip up all that stuff when we were renovating the kitchen? I guess I’m glad we didn’t because it would have been a HUGE can of worms for a number of reasons, and the whole goal of that renovation was just to make things clean and functional and OK-looking, but still…maybe someday.

poly

After all the sanding and cleaning, I felt like the floor was looking a little too fresh, but I didn’t want to stain it…so I did an uncharacteristic thing and opted for oil-based polyurethane. Oil-based poly is sort of considered a bad thing nowadays because there are so many other options that are better for the wood, much more environmentally friendly, easier to touch-up, and leave the wood looking more natural, but in this specific instance I actually wanted the wood to have more of that amber tone that oil-based poly gives it. It felt very conservative and old-school.

poly1

I just did two coats (I was planning on 3, but the floor didn’t seem like it needed it), and I have to say I’m pretty happy with how it turned out! The satin finish is nice (I really despise glossy finishes on floors, but it’s nice to have a little sheen) and the poly brought out more of the character that I was hoping for.

finishedfloor

It’s really hard to take decent pictures of a space that gets basically no natural light, but here’s about what the finished floor looks like! I know it might seem kind of orange, but I think in the context of the finished space, it looks right.

I have lots more to share about this space, but this post got so long that I realized I needed to break it up into a few posts! So I’m awkwardly cutting myself off here. Now that the foundation is all ready to go, we can really get into the fun stuff. I’ll be back ASAP with more!

Solar Shade Success!

shade2

One of the major tragedies of the past few years was IKEA’s decision to change the design of the ENJE roller blind. I’ve probably mentioned this like 30 times on this blog, but only because it was so crushing and significant.

See, back in the good old days, this shade was one of my favorite IKEA products. It’s not a blackout shade or really even much of a privacy shade, but it did a great job of filtering light, softening a view, and providing enough privacy for me to feel comfy with. It came with pretty nice, durable hardware, it was super long (perfect for big old windows!), it was fairly easy to cut down to a custom size, and it was cheap.

Then somebody decided that the pull-chain mechanism that made the shade go up and down was a choking hazard for kids, and all the ENJE shades disappeared from IKEA showrooms across the country, only to be re-introduced under the same name several months later.

New ENJE? Total bastardization of the old ENJE. Gone was the pull-chain mechanism, replaced by a spring inside the roll. The little end-caps on the bottom rail got switched from a faux-chrome finish to a sad, grey plastic. The bottom rail also got this new handle thing…easy enough to just break off and toss, but still totally stupid. At the time I needed a couple of shades for my apartment, so I bought the new ENJE shades, cautiously optimistic.

GARBAGE, I tell you. I mean, I still put them up and they look fine and whatever, but I only realized once I got them home that also gone was the generous length of the old shades, rendering them about 6″ too short for our long-ish windows at the apartment. So dumb. And that spring mechanism? Also garbage. It barely works. If you never want to raise and lower your shades, I guess it’s fine, but otherwise it just sucks.

At the time, I vowed that I wouldn’t buy any more of these shitty Americanized ENJE shades for the rest of my life. I would go to Canada next time I needed shades. I would swim the Atlantic. I would…find a new source for window treatments?

That last option sounds like the easiest, right? WRONG. SO WRONG.

You would think that a basic thing like a super-simple solar shade would be easy to find, right? And how expensive could they possibly be? I mean, I don’t expect everything to be IKEA prices—I knew I’d have to deepen my pockets a little bit. Like maybe 60 or 70 bucks instead of 30?

WRONG AGAIN. I searched high and I searched low. I went to multiple popular blinds manufacturer’s showrooms. I searched a lot of the internet. I even ordered a sample shade that looked promising online a while ago that cost me $75 and it was literally just a sheet of dumb white vinyl around a cardboard tube. This is the appalling world we live in, folks.

I’ve ordered solar shades from The Shade Store for a client and they’re super duper nice, but I think a single shade for one of the windows on the first floor of my house came out to about $250. That’s just not happening. A couple of very kind European readers even offered to go to IKEA, buy the European versions of the ENJE, and ship them to me, but with taxes and shipping it ended up being really expensive and the whole thing just seemed like kind of an absurd premise to begin with, even for me. A few people have suggested JC Penney’s version of the roller shade, which admittedly seems to be very well-priced, but the reviews were kind of questionable and I couldn’t really tell what they looked like from the pictures, and I think they’re all cordless, which I just feel too scarred to gamble on again.

SO ANYWAY. In the meantime, I did the thing I swore I wouldn’t and bought a few of the new ENJE shades for a couple rooms in the upstairs of our house. They’re a little too short for the windows and still crappy, but we needed something so I just did it. I’ll probably replace them someday but right now it’s not a priority.

process

Then for downstairs, I went to Home Depot and got these super cheap spring-powered vinyl shades for like $8 a pop, just to put up temporarily. We needed the privacy and honestly it’s better to put something up that’s disposable-ish while you’re renovating, since you’re likely to get paint and joint compound and dust all over it anyway. Above is a really horrendous process photo (is there anything uglier than that moment when the walls are painted but the trim isn’t?) showing how charming those looked. They were much better during the day but at night…oof.

Now that we have a couple rooms renovated, though, the “temporary” $8 vinyl sheets in front of my windows were an enormous bummer. They tend to get kind of blown out in photos so maybe you don’t notice them as much, but in real life they looked very crappy. It felt sad to put all this work into these rooms, get them looking good, only to have this big glaring horrible thing remaining in the space because the world of window treatments is so cruel.

Before I forget…yes. I know. I know there are many, many other solutions. Curtains, roman blinds, venetian blinds, cellular shades, shutters—there are lots of things out there to cover windows. I know I’m being more than a little ridiculous and dramatic here. I can’t be the only one who sort of hates 99% of window treatments, though, right? Even the term “window treatment” makes me nauseous. For some reason I actually tend to like curtains for other people but I don’t really want them in my own house? Maybe I’ll want them someday? I don’t know. One of my favorite things about my house are the big, beautiful old moldings, and I guess I worry about curtains sort of hiding/distracting from the architecture of the space. Another thing I like about my house is the natural light, so I like solar shades because they’re super minimal, they give some privacy, and you don’t have to sacrifice your natural light to get it.

I think I just want to be as picky and annoying as possible about everything that I possibly can. I’m so much fun to live with.

book

At long last, I finally found something I like, and of course it was right under my nose the whole time…at Lowe’s! I don’t know how it took me so long. I’m at Lowe’s several times a week. I’m dumb.

Anyway, Lowe’s carries a few different brands of custom blinds and shades and stuff, including their own Allen + Roth brand stuff. Allen + Roth things tend to be great, by the way. I’ve used some of these little lights around the house (nice-looking and inconspicuous for old houses, right?), I’ve been impressed with the tile options, some of the home goods are cute…they’re doing a good job.

I guess the thing I didn’t realize was just how customizable the shades are! I think they have all the same options that you get when ordering at the Shade Store—different levels of opacity, different fabric weaves, lots of colors, inside vs. outside mount, reverse-roll or regular, finish options for the bottom bar, corded vs. cordless, and on and on! AND they’re about half the price. So. They’re not exactly inexpensive, but after a truly exhaustive search and knowing what else is out there and how much it costs, I think they’re a great value. Our shades came out to about $130 a pop including tax, but the price varies depending on the custom options and the size of the window. I think there was also a 10% off promotion going on when I ordered them, so that’s something to look out for, too. So anyway…not cheap, but not horrible, and feels decently manageable when you’re just buying a couple at a time.

3percent

I snapped some photos of the different fabric options, just in case you are as insane as I am and need to know everything? Custom solar shades are typically available in different levels of opacity—that’s what the 3% openness thing means. The lower the percentage, the more opaque the shades are.

4and5

One of the things I ran into a lot with other sources was that even if the shades had all the options I wanted, I didn’t like the fabrics. I feel like most of these are really nice, though? It’s hard to judge from these pictures, I know.

10percent

ANYWAY, because I am wildly boring and predictable, I went with the Equinox 10% openness in white. I tend to think 10% is the best for getting the most light and an acceptable level of privacy. They’re probably a little more opaque than the ENJE shades. There are 12% and 14% options, too, but that seems too transparent, unless I guess you’re just layering them under something else.

I don’t think there’s a way to order the custom stuff online, but doing it in the store is very easy. An employee enters all your custom options into the system, it spits out a price, and about a week or so later, it shows up at your house! I just ordered one shade to begin with as a sample, loved it, and went back to order two more to round out the living room. All three windows were the same size and they had all my info saved, so I didn’t have to go through the whole process again. Nice, right? I’m saving up to do the three dining room windows next, and then I guess I’ll just try to buy them for each room as we renovate, although I’m paranoid that they’ll discontinue them or the design will change or something and then I’ll just have to give up on life completely.

packaging

They come wrapped up all nice in brown craft paper. The ONE THING I wasn’t impressed by is that mine didn’t come with directions for mounting them! But after looking at the shades and at the brackets for about 30 seconds, it wasn’t hard to figure out. The brackets are pretty petite, too, which is good because our window casings don’t have a lot of depth.

It took all of about 5 minutes to get the shades up, and it IMMEDIATELY made the room feel so, so much more finished. There was much rejoicing.

shade3

It’s hard to capture with a camera how these things look in real life, but I did my best! I don’t have any reason to block light in this room, so I’m thrilled with how bright they keep things. It’s also nice to kind of soften the views without blocking them. I like being able to see out a little.

shadechain

The pull-chain is SUCH a relief, too! It came with this little plastic piece to screw into the casing to keep the chain taut, but I broke it off and tossed it. All the hardware really seems very nice and built to last. It seems like these get bad reviews online because the cordless shades have the same operability issues that all cordless shades seem to have, but the corded option is great.

The window sashes themselves need some work, by the way. I’m sort of thinking of the window restoration as its own renovation project, so consequently I really haven’t touched them aside from replacing a couple of broken panes. I’ll get to it!

I chose a white powder-coated metal bottom bar, which I like. There were a few options including different metal finishes and having the fabric wrap around. I’m happy with it! Totally boring, like I wanted.

outside

Privacy-wise, they’re enough for me. I took this lousy picture from the sidewalk at night with the lights inside turned all the way up. You can definitely see shapes and movement but not a lot of detail. Realistically, we pretty much always have the lights dimmed down at night, so you’d be able to see a lot less…I just figured it was worth showing. Privacy is one of those very personal things, though. As someone who has made a habit for half a decade now of constantly putting photos of the inside of my home on the internet, my standards may be a little atypical. Different strokes!

shade1

I have no idea how I managed to write this much about white solar shades. This was supposed to be a short and sweet post. Just slapped myself. Bye!

Thinking About Flooring in the Cottage

One of the things I find myself thinking about a lot is flooring. I endlessly, relentlessly agonize over what to do with the wood floors in my own house when I eventually refinish them, which is the subject of a whole different post. It’s best to not even get me started on the two bathrooms, either. I mean, the options just seem boundless! I’ve never felt particularly compelled to add another bathroom to my house, but I’ll admit that the idea of just getting to pick out another floor almost makes me want one. Also, sinks. And tubs. And mirrors. Maybe I just want to renovate more bathrooms?

The cottage renovation has sort of sent my obsessive flooring thoughts into overdrive. I have a surplus of floors in my life to worry about. Consequently, I’m losing my mind. Or I’ve lost it already. So let’s think this through together, yeah?

fronttoback

This is that familiar new view into the cottage when you’re standing at the front door. I’m still really pleased with this new floor plan—I think once the walls go up, it will feel just open enough but still efficient and cozy, like this place needs to be.

The floor has me a little worried, though. In the living room at the front of the house, there’s flooring that appears to be yellow pine. It’s in really, really rough shape, but I actually think it would refinish OK. There’s some significant patch work to do on areas where boards are missing or too damaged, but it would be doable. Another thing to keep in the back of your mind is that these floors run side to side.

Aside from that, the other notable thing about this floor is that it’s laid directly on top of the joists, underneath which is an uninsulated crawlspace. I know using an original subfloor as flooring isn’t all that abnormal in old house renovations, but I also worry about having just 3/4″ of wood between feet and a cold crawlspace in the winter. It seems potentially uncomfortable and potentially inefficient from a heating standpoint.

dininglivingtransition

The real problems start in the dining room, which is the original part of the structure. This flooring also appears to be yellow pine, but the boards are a bit thinner than in the living room. They’re laid on top of an original pine subfloor—I think it’s hard to tell from the picture, but this means that they sit about 3/4″ higher than the flooring in the living room, which isn’t so ideal. It also means that the boards run the same way that the joists do—back to front—meaning that the flooring runs perpendicular to the living room planks. So that’s kind of Issue #1 and Issue #2: the height differential between the floors is less than ideal, and the opposing directions just makes things feel sort of choppy and awkward.

Then there’s the fact that during the framing extravaganza, the dining room wall actually moved over a few inches in order to effectively support the joists on either side of the beam in the ceiling. So all of the dining room flooring actually ends a few inches before the wall, which would be a very tricky thing to patch in and repair without it looking strange. I’d probably just end up running a couple of boards perpendicular to fill the gap, but it’s not the most glamorous solution. I’m worried about it all ending up looking a little patchwork-y.

diningroomfloor

diningroomrot

The other thing about the dining room floor is that it’s in bad shape. I think most of it would still refinish OK, but there’s definitely some advanced water damage in certain areas, and those boards would need to be replaced and new boards feathered in. Not a huge deal cost-wise, but it is just a lot of labor to put into this floor that I have other issues with already.

kitchenfloor

Then we have the kitchen. Now, it used to be that the flooring in the dining room ran continuously into the kitchen (which was covered in layers and layers of glued down linoleum, but still…), but unfortunately about 25% of it was way too rotted to save due to water damage, and the rest had to come up to address the structural issues, also due to the water damage…and then whatever was potentially salvageable got accidentally thrown away during a particularly insane day of demo. Anyway, the point is that there’s no floor at all in here anymore.

So where does that leave us? By my calculations, it looks like this: even if I did a good patch job on all the existing hardwoods, then put down something new in the kitchen, we’re still left with three different types of flooring, at two different levels, running through 3 rooms on this main floor, which bear in mind is only 600 square feet. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds…crappy.

I think there’s a solution. If I take up the top layer of the dining room floor, the original subfloor should be the same height as the existing flooring in the living room. After I put a new 3/4″ plywood subfloor down in the kitchen, everything is on the same level…and then a new, continuous floor could be laid over everything. I like this solution for a few reasons. Firstly, it would mean running all the boards from back to front, which I think would visually make the first floor appear a bit more expansive than it is. Secondly, the main floor doesn’t get a ton of natural light. Coupled with the low ceilings, I’ll admit I’m a little anxious about it feeling too dark. The condition of the existing floors and the fact that there’d have to be a lot of patch work to salvage them pretty much guarantees that I’d have to stain them fairly dark, which I’m not super inclined to do in a space that’s already kind of dark. New flooring could be left natural and sealed, which would just keep things lighter. Third, I think new flooring throughout would go a long way toward unifying the spaces. I don’t want the house to feel choppy, and I don’t want all the work that is going into it to feel too apparent. Patchy floors make it pretty clear that a wall used to be here, and a doorway used to be there—that kind of thing—and I’d rather avoid that feeling here.

lumberliquidators

One of the things I love about the cottage and I’m trying to respect in the renovation is the modesty of the house—the size, the style, the scale of the rooms, etc. I definitely want to carry that idea through to the materials, which is convenient because it saves me money and will look appropriate. In that vein, I love the idea of doing a simple wide-plank pine floor in here! The size of the boards would actually approximate the original 19th-century subfloor in the dining room, which I feel is a nice nod to the history of the house, and the knots and “imperfections” in the boards would lend some nice character for the more informal, cozy cabin vibe that I think this house wants to have.

Luckily, this stuff is cheap! Admittedly I haven’t done really any hunting around, so maybe there’s an even better price out there, but a quick look at Lumber Liquidators has this flooring coming in at $1.39/square foot! That’s pretty damn good for real hardwood. Even factoring in the extra 20% that I guess you’re supposed to order when you install hardwood, the floor would clock in at right around $1,000. I’m pretty confident that installing it myself wouldn’t be a big deal, so then I’d just be paying a bit more for tool rentals and polyurethane and stuff (some of which I’d need with the refinishing option anyway). Seems very worth it, right?

upstairsflooring

SO. I think my mind is pretty made up about the first floor. Which still leaves the second floor. Specifically, the bathroom.

The floors up here are the same yellow pine as on the first floor, and they’re in good shape. There’s definitely some patching to do to seal up some big holes and stuff, and they really need to be refinished, obviously, but I think they’ll clean up just fine. The second floor gets more natural light than the first, so I’m not even that concerned about staining them dark if necessary.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of hesitation about putting a wood floor in the kitchen or even the powder room on the first floor—I know people tend to be really anxious about using wood in spaces like that, but I’m not really one of them—but I keep going back and forth on whether I should replace the floor in the bathroom. I’ve never lived with a wood floor in a bathroom, so I can’t personally speak to the practicality of living with one, but I know some people are fine with it and some people wouldn’t dream of it. Honestly, I don’t really know where I stand! I guess if this room didn’t already have a wood floor, I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t put one in…but since it does…

Part of me feels like the floor is in good shape, and there isn’t really a reason to incur the expense/hassle of ripping it up and replacing it with tile. The other part of me feels like a potential buyer might not really want their only full bathroom to have a wood floor…and maybe this imaginary person has a point? Then I remember that radiant floor heating exists, and think about how fancy and luxurious it would be to put that under a new tile floor in the bathroom. Then I think about the previously unforeseen expense of replacing the floors on the first floor, and that the easy and responsible thing to do would be to make up for it by cutting a tiled floor for this bathroom from the renovation plan. Then I worry that I’m being penny-wise but pound-foolish because maybe somebody will really like this house but feel like a major corner was cut by not tiling the bathroom, or maybe a radiant-heated floor in the bathroom would put some other person just totally over the edge of wanting this place. Then I remind myself that if it’s that big of a deal to somebody, they could always tile the floor at some point in the future.

This is what I think about. A lot. Round and round I go.

So here’s a hypothetical. Would the only full bathroom in a house having a wood floor be a deal breaker for you? Would you prefer it? And hey—if you have a wood floor in your bathroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

Back to Top