The Kitchen: The big reveal!

kitchen1

BOOM. Bet you were expecting a big block of text at the beginning of this post? Like about how this “little stop-gap quick n’ dirty” kitchen renovation spiraled completely out of control and took way more time and a little bit more money than expected? Or how maybe over the course of the project I got a little more ambitious and a little more crazy and a little more perfectionist than when I started out? Or about the time when we thought the kitchen was basically done and then decided to up and add about 40 more square feet of subway tile that you see above? Or like how it robbed me of so many irretrievable hours of my life and maybe some of my sanity and also sent me to the hospital that one crazy time?

Nope. Not gonna do that. So let’s dive right into this business right here, because the water’s warm and time’s a-wastin’.

fridgewallbefore

Here was my kitchen before I embarked on this whole crazy non-stop-fun-and-excitement renovation adventure roughly 10 weeks ago. Aside from the downstairs bathroom (and maybe the side porch), this kitchen held the distinction of being pretty much the worst room in the house. I think it scared more than a few buyers away, who saw it as a total gut-job nightmare that they weren’t trying to get down with. Nobody likes to buy a house and immediately get pushed into a full-on kitchen overhaul (especially when everything else needs so much work), making rash decisions about layout and materials and redoing the plumbing and spending a bajillion dollars, so in a way, this kitchen was probably a huge blessing that got us a great house for way below market value. Thanks, janky kitchen. I owe you one.

The picture above was taken after I removed all the old linoleum floor tiles, but you get the idea. It had a drop ceiling. It had old wood cabinets with lots of wear and tear and corroding hardware and drippy polyurethane. It had leaky pipes running through it that serve the upstairs bathroom. It had weird wires and scary outlets and old grease-stained paint, and vinyl brick-patterned wallpaper, and contact paper backsplashes, and so many other terrible, unspeakable things.

fridgewallafter

But looky there! We changed all that mess and made it an awesome space that I totally love and am so happy about I could scream. And also take a long nap.

We were able to keep all the big important things——including the sink, the cabinetry, and appliances——so the goal here was to knock out all the the cosmetic changes humanly possible while keeping costs super low. I know I keep repeating that this likely won’t be the kitchen we have forever (those cabinets are already 60 years old or so, and they won’t last forever!), but now I can confidently say that redoing this kitchen “for real” can probably wait until all the other house projects are crossed off the list. We have an absurd amount of work ahead of us with this house, so having the weight of a full-on kitchen renovation off our shoulders for the foreseeable future feels like a great place to be.

As I’ve discussed in past posts, we took down the drop ceiling, patched and prepped all the things, painted the walls, ceiling, moldings, doors, radiator, and all the original cabinetry, crafted up some new DIY wood plank countertops, added a boatload of subway tile, new cabinet hardware, changed all the lighting, and generally worked our adorable little butts off making this space into exactly what I wanted out of a kitchen. It’s clean and fresh, unfussy, utilitarian, cheap, and a great space to cook a meal and have guests over. I love it.

longwallbefore

Oof. Just get a load of that mess. Trust me when I say that these pictures make things look WAY better than they actually were.

longwallafter2

Forgive the in-progress glimpse of the laundry room! We’re still working out a few things in there (you know, like having working laundry machines and little details like that?), but…KITCHEN.

The whole idea behind the design was to try to minimize the bad, highlight the good, and add some inexpensive features that would up the quality of the whole space. To that end, we decided to paint the ceiling and the walls similar shades of matte white, which minimizes the awkwardness of our semi-awful soffits while still giving the room some dimension and depth. Painting the cabinets covered up the wear and tear and ugly tone of the wood, which allowed the super-simple shape of the doors and drawer fronts to shine. The cabinetry isn’t ideal (it’s very low-quality and strangely proportioned for the space), but we got really lucky that it was so plain and easily salvaged with some paint and elbow grease. 

I’ll do a tiny post on the cabinet hardware soon, but they’re just made of simple wood dowels! They were crazy cheap (it would have been so expensive to outfit 33 doors/drawers with traditional hardware, which even at the low end is normally in the $3-$10 per piece range), and I love how they offset with both the white and inky-blue-black cabinets.

fromdoorbefore

fromdoorafter

Having no prep space next to the stove made the layout of this kitchen really awkward, so we got super lucky that my dear friend Anna just happened to have a (discontinued, sorry) IKEA kitchen cart that fits perfectly on this relatively short wall. Having just this small section of real butcherblock (which we can chop directly on, as opposed to our wood countertops) makes this area super functional, and makes me feel better about skimping on the cost of outfitting the rest of the countertops with real butcherblock.

We were able to salvage the stove from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen, and while it’s just a cheap Sears Kenmore electric model that’s probably something like 40 years old, it actually works great! The gas line is still here, too, so we have the option to easily swap-out with a nicer gas stove down the line. For now, though, this is perfect.

If you’ve been following along closely, you might remember that originally I only planned to tile the backsplashes of the cabinets and the little area surrounding the sink, but once things really started to come together, Max and I both felt like the stove area looked a little unfinished and kind of…busy. Aside from the obvious functional benefits of having a wipeable surface behind a stovetop, the subway tile also really helped unify this wall with the rest of the space, and overall just makes the whole room feel so much more warm and complete. The decision to add the extra tile did mean we had to buy more tile, obviously, and also thinset and grout (for the rest of the tile, I used leftover thinset and grout from my apartment), but it still only tacked on about $100 to the project and was totally worth it.

Even after the subway tile was all up and completed, though, we still weren’t sure about what to do with the area above it. The image above is the view walking into the room, so this wall is kind of a focal point, and having nothing there looked pretty flat and weird. I got really lucky finding the big mirror in a junk shop just a couple days before the kitchen was complete, though, and realized after buying it (I couldn’t just pass on that fine thing!) that it would be perfect above the stove. I love how perfectly weathered the frame is, and I think it adds just the right amount of vintage patina to a space that was otherwise feeling a little bit too sterile for my taste.

stovesclose-up

Anyway. Yeah. Subway tile. It’s the wind beneath my wings. The other thing I like about this stove is that the top is flat and pretty beefy, so it’s a perfect spot for the Muuto pepper mill that I picked up for half-price at the DWR Annex ages ago. The pig is a vintage cast-iron piggy bank from a yard sale, which serves no purpose beyond being cute.

I also took the time to remove and strip all of the old hardware from the doors and window——knobs, hinges, backplates, etc, using the tried-and-true crockpot method. When everything was stripped, cleaned, and dried, I covered it all with Rustoleum matte black spray paint and reattached it to the freshly painted doors and frames. It’s one of those little details that just makes everything look a little more finished and fancy.

kitchencart

I kind of couldn’t handle the idea of screwing into my new subway tile, so the magnetic knife strip (the FINTORP from IKEA) is held on with industrial-stength velcro! It works great for now, but I’ll probably end up attaching it for real soon. I wanted to make sure the placement was exactly what I wanted before rushing into anything, though.

When the very friendly people of West Elm Market caught wind of my kitchen renovation, they sent me an email and were all “hey, need some things to finish it off?” and I was all “UM YES GIVE ME ALL OF THE THINGS PLEASE.” I’ve been a huge fan of West Elm Market since it began, and I think the whole aesthetic is pretty in-line with this kitchen, so it was awesome working with them. The Schmidt Brothers Basic Knife Set  is the fanciest thing we got, and I just need to take a moment to say that these knives are SO NICE (and really reasonably priced, too). I’ve never really owned nice knives before, and these are so nice to look at and nice to hold and super sharp and I’m just all-around very thrilled that I get to use them.

The enamel measuring cups are also from West Elm Market, and they’re obviously classic and very adorable and way better than the plastic ones I bought at the grocery store. The pink depression-era glass bowls were a yard sale find, the tea towel is IKEA, and the strawberries are fake. Just kidding, they’re real and I made them into a dessert and it was delicious. Maybe this is a great kitchen for me to start posting recipes from? So you can also explore my culinary delights? Full disclosure: my diet is 47% Top Ramen.

fromsideporchbefore

fromsideporchafter

I opted to tile all the way around the wall, which I think finishes things off nicely. Better than having a weird naked little sliver of wall on the right side there.

OK, I’m done talking about the tile. I’m really proud of my tile.

Other improvements to this area included taking down that little piece of weird molding over the sink, changing the light fixture above the sink (sorry it’s blown out in the picture above, but you can see it in the picture at the top of the post. It was salvaged from the upstairs kitchen!) and putting a clock where it’s supposed to be! The clock is actually hanging on an outlet specifically installed for a clock (so cute and quaint and 50s, yes?), but the Newgate Bubble Clock is actually battery-powered anyway. It’s also available at West Elm Market, but Max bought it for me a while ago at Lancelotti in the East Village.

The main light fixture in the room was a thrift find ($7!) in Sweden last summer. I carried it around disassembled in my suitcase for the entire trip and then hoarded it for a year when we got home, so it’s so exciting to see it hung up! It’s cute.

Lesson: always hoard light fixtures. You might buy a house and need them. It happened to me, people.

oliveoil

Obviously marble countertops were not an option (this time around!), but I love how marble mixes with the black/white/wood thing we have going on, so I wanted to incorporate affordable marble pieces in the kitchen with smaller things like cutting boards, coasters, and our paper towel holder. This is the French Kitchen Pastry Slab from Crate & Barrel, which is huge and heavy and totally classes things up ’round these parts.

Also, because Max took and styled some of these pictures (and maybe doesn’t cook so much), I want to point out that we do NOT use our fancy new knives on our fancy marble pastry board. But it looks nice for a picture. The green bowl and measuring cup are vintage junk shop/yard sale finds, respectively.

The olive oil is in the Copper/Glass Pour-Top Soap Dispenser from West Elm Market, by the way. We didn’t like it for dish soap, so we cleaned it really well and filled it with olive oil, and it’s perfect for fancy drizzly oily times.

chasedoorstools2

This kitchen really isn’t supposed to be an eat-in, but we kind of couldn’t say no to a couple of bright yellow faux-Tolix stools for $99 (for both! And now I see they’re on sale for $75, which is bananas.), courtesy of Target. I wasn’t sure how much we’d use them, but we sit on them ALL THE TIME while we work or eat at the counter or just hang out in the kitchen while one of us or a friend is cooking or whatever. They stack and they’re really good quality and they’re yellow. So. That’s that.

This is the part where I draw your attention to that glorious monolithic structure between the cabinets and the door. THAT, my friends, is the fancy chase I built to hide the unsightly plumbing that runs from the basement through the kitchen to feed the toilet, sink, and shower in the upstairs bathroom. BEHOLD:

chasebeforeafter

Yeah, I kind of outdid myself? I’m super proud of this thing. Maybe it doesn’t look like much, but there’s a whole lot of complicated framing under those luscious tongue-and-groove boards that required many hours of confusion and terror (also, yes, it has to be that wide for reasons I won’t bore you with in this joyous moment of kitchen revealing and general excitement). I think I have to do a whole post about it. It’s probably a two-way tie between this and the tile for what I’m most proud of in here.

doorbeforeafter

This is the main door into the room from the dining room, in case you weren’t turned around enough? Sorry for all the redundant photos…I’m just very excited about this kitchen.

apron

I love how the pantry door looks with the white paint and the black hardware and the pretty knob and the apron! The hook was salvaged from another area of the room (where it had been coated with a million layers of paint and left to die). I love that I get to reuse things like this——every time I hang that apron up, I think about where that hook was hanging before and what it looked like and how happy I am to give it a second life. I’m a sap.

towelnexttosink

Also, this hook next to the sink! It was lurking around the gross plumbing pipes before (there’s a picture of it in this post!), but now it’s all stripped and pretty and hanging by the sink with a cute tea towel from Dry Goods. Yes, I need to dab a little black paint on the screw heads, but whatever. I like it!

sinkenamelpans

Speaking of the sink, it cleaned up SUPER WELL. We still need to get a new faucet (this one is old and crappy and leaks), but the sink! I scrubbed it with lots of Barkeeper’s Friend, and it looks great. The enamel pans are also from West Elm Market (the Jelly Roll and the Roasting Pan), and we use them all the time for roasting and baking stuff. I like that they’re pretty enough to go right from the oven to the table.

windowhardware

I love how the hardware on the window above the sink came out. It was covered in tons of paint and didn’t really move before, and now it glides in and out like it’s supposed to. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen hardware like this, but I love it!

shelves

I’m still SO HAPPY with how the black radiator looks! I’m also really happy with the little shelving unit over it. I’d love to have more open shelving in the kitchen, but this little wall over the radiator was our only option, so I wanted to take advantage of it. I’ve been wanting to use these IKEA shelving brackets for FOREVER, and this was the perfect spot. I bought my own wood from Lowes for the actual shelves and cut them to size and sanded and sealed them with satin water-based polyurethane. The top shelf is all thrifted, the middle shelf holds the Marimekko tea pot that Max got me (that guy…he’s pretty great.) and the ÄDELSTON mortar and pestle from IKEA (everything from that line is so pretty and such great quality). The glass jars are also IKEA, and the enamel canisters are from West Elm Market and hold flour and sugar. The enamel canisters have a rubber seal to keep everything fresh and are overall super nice, gotta say.

SO. Budget? Budget.

PAINT AND STUFF:
Caulk (4 tubes white, 1 tube black): $18.27
Ready Patch (1 quart): $8.99
Paint Rollers (4-pack. I never reuse paint rollers. Sue me.): $11.98
Clark + Kensington Paint:  $138*
+ Walls: 2 gallons Casablanca, flat enamel
+ Ceiling: 1 gallon Designer White, flat enamel
+ Moldings/Upper Cabinets: 1 gallon Designer White, satin enamel
+ Base Cabinets: 1 quart Arabian Nights, satin enamel
Rustoleum Matte Black spray paint: $5.49
High-Heat Gloss Black Spray Paint, Ace Hardware Brand, 2 cans for Radiator: $12.98
Spray-on clear matte varnish for knobs: $3.87
1 gallon B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer: $41.98
Screws and nails: $20.22

TOTAL:$261.78

LUMBER:
Dowels for cabinet knobs: $7.92
Countertops: $46.07
Baseboard/Quarterround/trim pieces: $74.12
Tongue-and-groove for plumbing chase: $44.58
Framing for chase—7 pieces of 2″x3″x8″ framing: $15.12
Sandpaper: $20

TOTAL: $207.81

FLOOR/TILE: 
VCT tiles: $142.56
Adhesive: $28.97
Tile: $176.07
Thinset: $12
Grout: $11.78

TOTAL: $371.38

ELECTRICAL:
Swtichplate covers: $5.53
GFCI outlets: $49.96
Lightswitches: $8.04

TOTAL: $63.53

DECOR:
Fiddle Leaf Fig tree, IKEA: $12.99
Marble Pastry board, Crate and Barrel: $49.95
Jute Rug, clearance outlet: $40
Paper towel holder, Crate and Barrel: $19.95
Mirror, junk shop: $42
Knife Rack, IKEA: $12.99
Stools, Target: $99
Crock, Good Will: $4
Shelving Brackets + Wood, IKEA/Lowes: $45.36

TOTAL: $326.24

GRAND TOTAL: $1,230.74

*paint was generously sponsored by Ace Hardware, so I didn’t actually pay for it.

Sinkwallbefore

sinkwallafter

I think that’s it! I’m so happy with how the kitchen turned out. I think this is probably the most dramatic and ambitious project I’ve ever taken on, and I feel really proud for pulling it off, even if it was a bit of a bumpy ride. Also, hugely thankful to Max and friends who were so generous with their time and helped us out!

Yay, kitchen!

This post was in collaboration with West Elm Market.

Dog Food! Dwell!

So that thing I said on Friday about a kitchen reveal today?

Um. Not happening. Sorry. Even though we could probably artfully photograph it to not include the bits that aren’t quite done, I don’t want to do that! The reality is, reaching the end of a renovation project means tying up a bunch of little tiny loose-end types of projects (this thing needs one more coat of paint, I should really polish the floor, etc. etc.), and it’s SUPER EASY to loose motivation and just move on to the next thing. The kitchen is totally functional and I’m super happy with it, but I know I’ll definitely be happier when there aren’t little details like that looming over my head. I want to shut the door on that space and move on to the next one with a clean conscience!

linusatfence

SO. ANYWAY. Linus got groomed over the weekend, and he looks so cute. We usually take him to get groomed about every 2 months (sometimes a little bit longer), and it’s always totally amazing and shocking to see him come out afterward looking like a different dog. Linus fully believes that to feel fresh, you have to look fresh, and he never looks fresher than walking out of the salon with his hair all back-combed and his nails freshly ground down.

instinct

Linus’s hair isn’t the only thing that’s changed in his life recently, though! My new friend Carla (the co-owner of one of my favorite stores, Dry Goods) and I were talking about our dogs a few weeks ago, and I mentioned that neither of my dogs have ever been particularly voracious eaters. Mekko has always been really so-so about her food, and Linus would only really eat Mekko’s food. Since he is dentally challenged, he was basically dry-swallowing big hard kibbles formulated for large-breed adult dogs…for about a year. We tried to switch him to a few different types of food made for a dog his size/age, but he’d always ignore it and just eat out of Mekko’s bowl. And since Mekko didn’t particularly care about her food, she was OK with that. Our vet told us that at his age, as long as he was eating and seemed happy doing it, we should just let him eat pretty much whatever kind of dog food he seemed to want, so we gave up and let him do what he wanted.

Carla had only amazing things to say, though, about her dog’s raw diet from Nature’s Variety——she’d noticed that he was much more energetic and alert and seemed happier eating. We tried to put Linus on a dehydrated raw diet way back when we first got him (Honest Kitchen——which is fabulous food, by the way), but he refused to eat it after a while, so I was skeptical of how another brand would appeal to him. Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw is frozen, not dehydrated, though, so I figured we’d give it a shot.

WELL. Not only does he completely love this food (he dances before I give it to him, scarfs is entire meal in about 30 seconds flat, then licks the bowl for a few minutes for good measure), I’ve noticed a huge change in him. He’s been eating it for about 2-3 weeks, and he has so much more energy, he’s more alert, and just seems happier. Linus is about 11 years old, so seeing him do a little reverse-aging is so exciting. He’s still my little old man, but he’s an old man who runs up stairs, and explores the yard, and sometimes drags his bed around with his mouth and tries to hump it. It’s really spectacular.

I worried that the food would be a huge hassle, but it’s really simple. For small dogs, it’s portioned in “medallions,” which are 1-oz little patties. Linus eats two at every meal, so after each meal, we just take the next two out of the freezer and put them in the fridge to defrost. At meal time, we mash them up a little with a fork and serve. That’s it! Each bag costs somewhere around $20 (it goes up or down a little depending on the type of protein——there’s beef, chicken, rabbit, venison, duck, and lamb) and lasts about 12 days, so while it’s a little spendy, I feel OK about paying less than $2 a day to keep Linus happy and healthy and eating food that he loves and is so good for him.

Of course, Mekko quickly noticed that Linus was eating better food than she was, so she went on a hunger strike and refused to eat her old kibble. It would be really expensive to switch her to the same frozen raw diet, but I bought a bag of the Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Kibble. I was surprised that the 25-pound bag was about $10 cheaper than her old kibble, and even more surprised to find out that because Nature’s Variety has such high nutritional density, she has to eat half as much as her old kibble (2 cups a day instead of 4!), so the bag lasts twice as long! And she LOVES it. It’s so weird seeing both of the dogs gobble up all of their food so quickly as soon as we set it down. It feels really good.

I’m not affiliated with Nature’s Variety in any way, by the way. I’m just so happy to have found such a great food, finally!

linus

Good boy, Linus.

dwell

Also, I keep forgetting to mention, but me and 17 other bloggers from around the world are included in the September issue of Dwell! Subscribers should have gotten it by now, but it should also be on newsstands! As a long-time reader of Dwell, it was so exciting being asked to participate in the piece, and really fun to see how everything turned out. The whole issue is really great, by the way (Orla Keily’s house! Morten Bo Jensen and Kristina May Olsen’s Copenhagen apartment!), and it’s so crazy to be included in it in any small way. Big thanks so Jaime Gillin, Kelsey Keith, and the rest of the Dwell crew for making it happen, and to Agata Marszalek for the portrait!

Life
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The Kitchen Floor.

With my vision obscured by the rose-colored glasses that I evidently donned before every viewing of our house, I’d failed to properly take note of the condition of the kitchen floor. I knew something had to be done about it, but I wasn’t too concerned about exactly what. I figured I had a few options that involved either painting or covering up the existing vinyl tiles, but figured I’d just evaluate the situation properly once we got there.

floorbefore

But then we got to the house. And the floor was like this. Yeah, parts of it were missing. Parts of it were crumbling. The rest of it was horrifically filthy. It was really, really bad.

In the process of cleaning up the crumbly bits and disposing of the tiles that had already completely separated from the subfloor, I realized that none of the tiles were really stuck down. Over the course of 50-60 years and the past two winters of the house freezing, all of the old adhesive holding the floor down had failed. So up came the tiles, one by one, with relative ease on our second night in the house.

floorduringpaint

And then we were left with the old plywood underlayment. I thought briefly about removing the underlayment to expose the original pine-plank subfloor, but then I realized that there was actually a whole second layer of linoleum under the plywood underlayment, with an attending second layer of plywood underlayment over the original pine planks. There’s really no telling what kind of condition the pine subfloor will be in, but at BEST I would have had to sand and refinish or paint it (a decision I’m not really ready to make), and at worst I would have had to cover it all back up with something else. And because these layers of flooring run underneath the base cabinets and the radiator, we would have had to remove the base cabinets, the sink, and the radiator, then figure out the floor situation, then reinstall everything, and have the plumbing for the radiator altered to make up for the height difference between the old floor and the new floor, and…well, you see how complicated things get.

So, paint to the rescue! Paint fixes everything! Always! Right? This was my big plan:

1. Clean the underlayment.

2. Prime the underlayment.

3. Paint the underlayment.

4. Hooray new floor! Maybe throw a cute rug on top, and it would look great. (and by “great,” I mean good enough to see us through until we gut this whole crazy room someday.)

So I cleaned. And I primed. So far so good. Then I painted. Admittedly, we were doomed from the start because I did not buy the right type of paint. I should have bought a paint formulated especially for floors (usually called Porch & Floor Paint), which is much thinner and more durable than regular old paint. It should have been something like a satin finish. Instead, they didn’t seem to have that at Lowes (the paint person looked at me like I had three heads), and instead of figuring out where to buy the right thing, I just panicked and bought a can of Rustoleum Oil-Based Black Gloss paint.

When I decided to start painting (in the middle of the night, like you do), I thought maybe it looked kind of awesome and amazing. It was fun seeing the floor black instead of disgusting or white, so I felt like I did a good thing.

Then the next day rolled around. I went to inspect my handiwork.

In a matter of minutes, I worked myself up from “OK, so it’s not what I had in mind,” to “it definitely makes the seams and imperfections more noticeable…” to “Oh man, I walked on it and it immediately looks like a filthy garbage monster,” to “OH GOD MAKE IT GO AWAY MAKE IT GO AWAY PLEASE.”

floorafterpaint

I had not done a good thing.

Now, I’m not the type to cry over shit like this. But if I were, I would have been sobbing. I hated my floor. Max hated my floor. My dogs looked at me like WTF is this, I hate you and your dumb floor. I could see it in their little judgmental dog-eyes. This was probably the lowest point in the whole kitchen renovation. On top of confronting my own failure as somebody who is generally OK at making ugly things look not-ugly, we also had Max’s whole family in town during this ordeal who witnessed how bad my floor looked. Everyone could see that it was bad. There was no hiding how bad it was. So there was personal failure, there was shame, and there was also a heat wave.

Oh yeah, the heat wave. When the weather first started hinting at getting hot, Max and I bought a window A/C unit for our bedroom, and figured that’s all we really needed to survive the summer. I can deal with a little heat during the day, so I wasn’t too concerned about the rest of the house heating up like a sweat lodge. But then it got hotter. And hotter. And hotter. And I was putting in very long days in the kitchen. And it was so hot. And I got SO. CRAZY.

After living with the newly painted floor for about 24 hours, something had to be done. I begged Max to let me rip it all up and expose the subfloor. I pleaded. The conversation was kind of like this:

Me: I HATE THIS FLOOR.

Max: Yeah, it’s not good. Sorry.

Me: PLEASE LET ME RIP IT UP.

Max: But you said that was a bad idea?

Me: FORGET WHAT I SAID LET ME RIP IT ALL UP I HATE IT.

Max: How are you going to get the cabinets out? How are you going to get the sink out? How are you going to get the radiator out? Maybe you should sit down.

Me: I’LL WORRY ABOUT ALL THAT TINA BRING ME THE AXE.

Max: I think it’s time to take my family out to brunch? We should go?

The next morning, I awoke early with a hankering for some soul-searching. I got in my car. I stopped to get iced coffee. I drove. I drove really far. I wanted to put as much distance between myself and my failed kitchen floor as I could. In a dramatic movie version of my life, this would have happened at night and it would have been storming and the water rushing over my windshield would have mirrored the tears flowing from my eyes. Also, I would have had a real problem like a break-up or a dead child or bunions, instead of a crappy paint job, but we do the best we can with what we have, am I right?

Heat wave. I was so tired and so fragile.

water

In the real version of my life, though, the weather was beautiful the Hudson River Valley is a gorgeous place with mountains and trees and blue skies and water, and none of this helped me nurse my bitterness. I also forgot that at some point I deleted the playlist off my iPod I filled with depressing songs I have to aid me in my periodic bouts of shame and failure, so I didn’t even have the right soundtrack. All of this nice stuff was super frustrating, since I really just wanted to feel awful by myself for a while. Stupid iPod. Stupid sunshine. Stupid mountains and beautiful lakes.

In the midst of all of this, I had a moment of clarity and I knew what needed to be done. Kind of. I knew enough. So I went to Lowes, and loaded up on black VCT (Vinyl Composition Tile) flooring, adhesive, and trowel. Then I got home.

Max: Where were you?? I got worried.

Me: I don’t know. I went for a drive. I got us a floor.

Max: OH THANK GOD CAN YOU INSTALL IT RIGHT NOW.

Since questionable decisions often beget more questionable decisions, I decided that I really didn’t need to worry about installing my floor 100% by the book, which is why I will not be posting instructions for this particular project. The deal with VCT is that it really should have a very even surface to adhere to, so you’re supposed to fill any seams in the underlayment or nail holes or anything like that with a special patching compound, wait for it to dry, and sand it all smooth. Any raised bumps in the flooring need to go, since they’ll end up looking about a thousand times worse through the tile, approximately. Then you’re supposed to figure out the center of the room and snap a series of semi-complicated math-y chalk-lines to show how your tiles should be aligned, since you shouldn’t really use a wall as a guide since walls are notoriously not-square, particularly in old houses. It’s all a little intimidating, but manageable, and in retrospect, I probably should have done everything right instead of cutting corners.

But…heat wave. Desperation. Failure. Shame. Here was my logic:

1. Well, I’ve already messed it up by painting the floor. This adhesive specifically says it isn’t supposed to go on top of paint. But some dude I found on some random message board on the Internet said it was probably OK, so I guess it’s definitely OK.

2. Whatever, so the floor will have imperfections. You know what else has imperfections? Oh, I don’t know, how about EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD (except Martha Stewart)?? I mean, seriously, what makes this floor so goddamned special?

3. Notwithstanding the incident when all of the tiles decided to crumble and pop up all at once, this subfloor was perfectly fine for the vinyl tiles that were here before. It did it once, it can do it again.

4. Realistically, this floor just has to look passably good and last somewhere between 5-10 years until we install the Dream Kitchen (hopefully?), so I guess I’ll just start spreading adhesive and making this thingy happen!

So that’s what I did. Adhesive. Let it tack up. Lay tile. Roll out the seams. Lather, rinse, repeat, for many hours.

About an hour into this process, my friends Anna, Evan, and Ilenia decided to drop by the house to see it for the first time and have a nice little visit. Because Anna is a VCT-laying veteran herself and master of doing things VERY WELL, I was anxious about her seeing the beginning stages of my handiwork, but hoped she would just tell me it would all be OK. She did not.

Anna: Oh! Ohhhh. Hmmmm. Yeah. Um. You know you’re supposed to start at the center, so the whole floor isn’t crooked? Like you really can’t rely on that wall.

Me: I know.

Anna: And, um, can you even use this adhesive over paint?

Me: I don’t know. KartRacer23 said probably, so I’m hoping it works.

Anna: You don’t think you should at least prime it again first?

Me: I don’t know. No. I don’t want to.

Evan: It’s, like, REALLY hot in here.

Max: RIGHT? THANK YOU. I’ve been telling Daniel that we need an A/C unit.

Anna: You don’t have an A/C unit??

Me: We have one in the bedroom.

Anna: But nothing down here?? Oh, that’s…bad. It’s probably too hot for this adhesive to ever dry.

Me: It’s fine.

Evan: Dude, you really need an A/C unit.

Me: I DON’T NEED ANYTHING I’M FINE JUST LIKE I AM EVERYONE LEAVE ME ALONE.

[Anna picks up one of my VCT tiles; it bends and breaks in her hand.]

Anna: Daniel, it’s so hot that the tiles are melting.

Me: THAT’S JUST HOW THEY ARE.

Anna: Are you OK? Do you need a little break?

Me: WHY IS EVERYONE LOOKING AT ME LIKE THIS I’M TOTALLY FINE I’M JUST GOING TO LAY THIS TILE NOW.

Anna: Evan, will you drive Max to Best Buy to get an A/C unit? Get the big portable kind.

Listen to your friends, folks. Max and Evan returned with the biggest, baddest A/C unit around. And iced coffees for all.

floorduringinstall

Things improved from there. I got the floor down. It looks terrific. Everyone was happy. Linus approves.

The floor is slightly crooked, and there are a couple little bumps here and there, but overall, I’m really happy with it. The adhesive seems to be holding on just fine, and I feel overall very optimistic about this floor surviving as long as it needs to and looking pretty great doing it.

I added new quarter-round around the baseboards and lower cabinets to finish everything off. It looks awesome.

after2

Here you can kind of see how the black of the VCT relates to the grey-black-blue cabinets. I dig it. I still have to polish the floor with a special VCT finishing treatment——it comes with a slight waxy factory-finish, but it’ll be much shinier and a bit darker and better-looking after the polish. I wanted to wait until we were done creating crazy amounts of dust and debris in the kitchen before getting to that step, though (which I just finished doing yesterday. Hopefully. I think.). Aside from looking good, all of the VCT and supplies only cost about $200 (I used Tarkett brand, which is $.66 per square foot), so I feel good about going for a brand new floor and avoiding spending heaps of money. It’s also super easy to clean, and the pattern adds a nice little somethin’-somethin’ to the kitchen, I think. Much better if it was just painted, which would look really flat and unfinished, even if I had bought the right paint.

after1

I’m intentionally being very vague about these after pictures because…the kitchen is almost done! I have to save a FEW little surprises for the reveal, right? Speaking of…I still need to do some final painting and beautifying and reattaching hardware and stuff, but I really want to have a reveal post up on Monday! Can I do it? I don’t know!

No, seriously, I don’t know.

Want to read about the kitchen renovation from start to finish? Pregame the reveal post like so:

1. Inspiration and a Plan!
2. The Kitchen Begins!
3. Endless Prep Work
4. Paint and Tile!
5. Cabinets and Grout!
6. DIY Wood Plank Countertops!

Safe Haven: The Bedroom!

window

One of the weirder things about our home renovation is that we came here with very little stuff. There was some spill-over from the apartment——a few little things I’d been saving——but by and large, we’re starting fresh. We’re furnishing very slowly, as we find pieces that we both like and fit our budget of wildly cheap/free, and we’re also going to be getting a few pieces of furniture from my parents, who are downsizing from my childhood home to a new condo in a few months. We have to wait on that stuff, but I’m really excited to have it. My family has always been weirdos about passing hand-me-down furniture around  across impractical distances, so I’m glad that tradition is continuing in my generation.

Prior to moving in, I had certain ideas about what the first few months in the house would be like. I reasoned that it would be a luxury to have no furniture while we were busy painting and stripping wallpaper and all that, since there would be less stuff to work around.  We’d work until our whole bodies ached, and then we’d collapse onto an air-mattress made for camping, which would be serving triple-duty as a bed, a sofa, and a dining table, since we’d have none of these things. It would be like an extended camping trip, and everyone says camping is fun!

We bought the air mattress on our first night, but soon realized that my plan had several flaws. The first was that camping is not fun, and camping in a house is probably less fun than real camping because you aren’t supposed to be filthy and uncomfortable in a house. The bigger issue was that renovating——while gratifying——is also hard. It’s physically demanding and draining work, and by the end of the day (or, more accurately, the middle of the night), you really just want to escape a little bit and go somewhere that isn’t in chaos. Somewhere that’s actually pretty clean and comfortable and looks kind of OK? It took about one night on the air mattress for me to go from trying to be really hardcore about this whole thing to just wanting a few small luxuries to counterbalance the world of crazy we’d just opened for ourselves. So, aside from the kitchen, we decided that the bedroom really needed to be a priority. Not getting it done and fully decorated and looking perfect, of course, but enough that we could close it off at the end of the day and feel good about things.

bedroomwide

So here we go! Sorry the picture is terrible. Very much a work in progress, but there’s a bed and side tables and lamps and even a rug! I’m sure this room will change a lot over time (as in, the only thing I really want in here in the longterm is the bed!), but it feels good right now.

beddetail

We found the bed in an antiques store in Saugerties (which is a town a little bit north of us) called Newberry Antiques. I have a serious soft spot for an Art Deco piece of furniture here and there, and I was blown away by the condition of this bed as soon as I saw it, since these pieces often have tons of chipped or missing veneer. I figured it would be a bajillion dollars, but it was priced at $250, which I got dropped to $200 (never hurts to ask!), and I was sold!

When buying vintage beds, it’s important to MEASURE. I’m not sure exactly when mattress sizes were standardized, but often vintage/antique beds are weird sizes and need to be altered to fit modern mattresses, but luckily this one was a standard full size! Bed frames always look weirdly tiny without an actual mattress in them, so don’t just eyeball it. If you don’t have a measuring tape, antique stores always have one on hand for you, and often even thrift stores do, too! Often the matching side rails are hiding somewhere else in the store, and it’s easy to cut slats to hold the mattress up——we just used about a dozen 1 x 4 pieces of cheap pine, and the whole thing is very solid.

The other thing to remember is that vintage beds were made before the time of these crazy 22″-thick pillow-top enormous mattresses you can buy these days, so don’t go trying to put something like that on an old bed. It will look ridiculous. I don’t like mattresses like that, anyway (my back seems to prefer very cheap, firm mattresses), but with vintage beds, you want a mattress that’s about 10″ thick, give or take a couple inches. PSA, over.

bed1

The duvet cover is from IKEA. I like it! The side table came with us from the apartment (I’d still love to find a better top for it), and the lamp is vintage from a junk shop. The cord situation is a little annoying, but the outlet placement in this room is strange. Hopefully we can have a couple more receptacles installed down the line.

mekko

The rug is from the Nate Berkus collection at Target, and it comes Mekko-approved. It’s not really the right rug for this space, but that’s OK. It makes it feel like a real room, and that’s the goal!

When the kitchen is done (so close!), we’ll probably turn our attention to this room, but for real this time. We have a thrifted dresser sitting in the garage waiting for me to repair and refinish it, and all the walls need to be stripped and painted. As you can see in the pictures, there’s some serious flaking/peeling going on (that’s what happens with there’s like 3 layers of wallpaper and a million layers of paint separating from old plaster walls that weren’t heated for two winters!), but we’ll get to it! One thing at a time.

DIY Wood Plank Countertops

oldcounter

UPDATE: If you want to see how these countertops fared and were eventually upgraded with another cheap DIY solution, head on over here…)

As we have established many times over by now, my kitchen was full of a lot of nightmarish problems that added up to everything being pretty much terrible and disgusting. One of the things that was actually OK, though, were the old countertops. I’m sure they were original to the rest of our 1950s kitchen, and they’d actually held up pretty well over time——fairly scratched up and pitted in a few places, but overall there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with them. I even kind of like the off-white/gold-flecked formica thing in the right space, but they just really didn’t fit with the overall design plan of the room. Even though it goes against most of my instincts to start getting rid of things that are more or less functional, this was just one of those situations where it made sense.

I thought briefly of doing this super cool faux-concrete treatment to the existing counters, which seems relatively easy and looks great, but I felt really strongly that the countertops should be wood. I love the section of butcher block I have in my apartment kitchen, and given that the rest of the room is mainly black and white, I worried that the concrete would end up making things feel too cold and flat——the kitchen really needs some wood color and texture to bring it to life and inject some warmth.

I really wanted butcher block counters, but even at IKEA (which seems to be the cheapest option around, after much researching), the countertops alone would have run me about $320, not to mention the cost of transporting them here. The closest IKEA is a little over an hour away, and I have a tiny car, so it would have required a car rental…and a headache…and tears…and all of a sudden butcher block felt a little out of range. I know I keep repeating this, but we hope to totally redo this kitchen *for real* sometime down the line, so I didn’t really want to invest that much time and money in fancy countertops that——more likely than not——won’t get reused in a future renovation. So I wanted cheap, fast wood counters that wouldn’t be too precious but would get the job done.

countertopwood

I decided to check out the offerings at the local lumber yard, and found 2″ x 12″ x 12′ and 2″ x 6″ x 12′ fir framing lumber, priced at $19.01 and $8.05 per piece, respectively. Since I needed two pieces of 2″ x 12″ x 12′ and one piece of 2″ x 6″ x 12″, that’s $46.07 for new countertops! I decided to buy an extra piece of each, just in case I messed something up, and have it all delivered for an extra 20 clams.

Because lumber is weird, 2″ thick lumber is actually 1.5″ thick (which is standard for countertops), 12″ is a little less than 12″, and I needed my counters to be 25″ deep, so I needed to bond three boards together to achieve the right dimensions.

Now. Admittedly, these countertops are not fancy. They look very homespun and a little…rustic, which I actually kind of like. If I really knew what I was doing and had the right tools and supplies, I would have ripped the edges of the boards on my table saw (which I don’t have) and joined my pieces of lumber with a biscuit joiner (which I don’t have) and planed down my boards with a planer (which I don’t have) and I would have had nicer countertops. At least I think that’s what I would have done? Like I said. Not fancy.

Instead, what I did have is my handy little Kreg Jig! I bought this thing for a freelance project a while back, and it does a fabulous job of joining pieces of wood easily by helping you drill nice little pocket holes. The joint ends up being really strong and pretty hassle-free and easy to do. I bought a cheaper pocket hole drilling guide thing before I got the Kreg, and I have to say that the Kreg is really worth the extra cost at about $100, if you’re going to use it.

drilling

Here’s how it works! Basically you put the wood in, set the height adjustment, and drill your holes. I forgot that the bond is much stronger if you drill two holes instead of one at each screw placement, so I did that for the second countertop (which I stupidly did not photograph). I eyeballed where the screws should be, placing one about every 8 inches.

holes

They sell special clamps for keeping the wood level with itself (if you just try to screw it, the piece you’re screwing into tends to lift up about an 1/8″) but I just used the very pro method of having my friend Nora stand on the joint to keep it level while I screwed. I like to pre-place all my screws in the holes beforehand, since it’s easy to lose track of which holes have screws in them, and they’re almost impossible to see after they’re sunk in the pocket holes.

nora-sanding

I used my circular saw to cut the depth down after everything was joined together, and then we started in on the sanding! Framing lumber tends to be VERY rough, so the sanding was definitely the worst part of this whole thing. Nora and I just switched on and off when our arms began to feel like Jell-O, and it probably took about an hour (maybe more) for each countertop. We started with 60 grit sandpaper and just worked our way up the ranks, finishing with 220 grit. The lumber went from being super rough and a little ugly to suuuuuupppper smooth and soft and gorgeous.

sanded

After the sanding, this is about what we were left with. The bigger knots aren’t going anywhere, but the other parts felt like silk. So lux.

If I were going to do this all over again, I probably would have tried to have the adjoining edges at least ripped on a table saw about 1/4″, since the edges of the framing lumber aren’t very crisp. With perfect flat edges, the joints probably could have been tighter and more seamless, but I don’t really mind. I actually made a smaller section of countertop for my friend Anna after I made my own and attempted to do this with a circular saw and a rigid metal cutting guide, and that worked pretty well. Not perfect, but perfection is overrated!

countertop

I’m not entirely sure what to seal the countertops with in the long-term, but for now I put a generous coating of mineral oil on them to give them some water resistance and bring out the natural color of the fir. I love the way the wood looks with all of the knots and imperfections, and the tone of the wood is so pretty. I think they’ll look nice over time as they get dings and scratches, too——I like when things like this look well-used and have some character. The wood is too soft to double as a cutting board, but we’ll have a section of butcher block directly next to the stove and normal cutting boards available for all of our chopping desires, so I’m not worried about it.

If we had a bigger budget, we probably would have just sprung for actual butcher block, but for about $80 for all the materials and delivery (since I also had to buy the proper screws and a buttload of sandpaper), I feel pretty good about these counters! We’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now, and they’re doing exactly what they need to do, and that’s good enough for me!

beforeandprogress

Imagine with me for a moment that there are cabinet doors and drawers and new hardware and a different floor and pretty things on the counters and no hanging wires or weird exposed plumbing in that second picture. Also that I hadn’t left that little yellow sponge on the floor.

Can you see it? I can see it.

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