Replicating Millwork and Stuff in the Laundry Room

Things have been moving right along in the laundry room! So far, smooth sailing. Zero complaints. Looking good. PLUS I got to buy some new tools and try some new stuff and it was fun, which is mainly the subject of this post.

SO. MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RECAP:

recap

1. The washer and dryer were delivered and they are WONDERFUL. Backing up a bit: we picked out our machines online and ordered them from a sales associate (Frank) at our local Lowe’s store. Frank was truly a delight. Since we’ve never bought a washer and dryer before, Frank really took us through everything we’d need to know about installing and using our new machines, anything additional we needed to buy (dryer vent parts, which dryer plug to use, stainless steel supply lines, that kind of thing), what kind of detergents to use, etc. Since we wanted our dryer to vent out the side instead of the back (so that the machines could sit as close to the wall as possible), Frank also helped us locate the exact part number we needed to order from Lowe’s separately (which, incredibly, was delivered the day after I ordered it over the phone). We scheduled our free home delivery in the store, which was also great. The guys who came to deliver the machines were super nice and very knowledgable. Since we weren’t ready to put the machines in place yet, we opted to leave the shipping bolts in, and the delivery dude showed me where they were and how to remove them and all that. He also advised us to run the dryer empty for an hour to burn off any lingering shipping oils. These guys were excellent is what I’m saying—the whole experience, really. FYI—Lowe’s has not asked me to talk at all about any part of the buying experience or anything like that—I was just legitimately very impressed. Customer service! AND the machines themselves? They work SO WELL. I’m thrilled with them in every way. In case you’re curious, this is the washer and this is the dryer.

2. Both plumbing and electric have been installed. SO EXCITING. This is another one of those things that feels like a really big improvement to our house, and that makes me happy. This house has NEVER had a dryer, and the old plumbing for the washer was tooootttalllly not to code and really old and just no good at all. This also means that the second half of demo-ing the downstairs bathroom went well. Post coming up soon.

3. I started tiling. Then I almost finished tiling. Spoiler: looks great; I’m very good at subway tiling now.

4. I installed the dryer vent. This involved cutting a 4-inch circular hole through the house, which was moderately stressful because I had to go through drywall, plaster, lath, brick, clapboard, styrofoam insulation stuff, and vinyl siding to reach the outdoors. But I did it and then I used some spray-foam insulation around it before closing it back up on the inside with a piece of drywall. Success!

SO. ALL THAT HAPPENED. And that’s not even what I want to talk about.

windowbefore

Remember that little window in the laundry room I talked about in my last post? Basically the deal is that the whole thing—window and surrounding casing—were installed very crooked and it drove me crazy. The rest of the room is surprisingly level, but this window sort of made everything look fun-house-y and sad and strange. The window is fairly small and doesn’t open, which is kind of a drag, but replacing it is just not at all in the budget, and trying to level the window itself seemed like potentially a HUGE project that would involve a lot of opening walls and causing general disaster and despair, and it really just didn’t seem worth it at all.

Back when we painted the room we also patched up and painted the casing, but now that we’re really renovating the room I started to have more ambitious ideas. The casing was obviously nothing special, so what about prying it off and trying to replicate the type of millwork that is original to this part of the house? And if I installed all of that level, maybe it would give the illusion of the window also being level.

Cool. Good Plan.

moldinginspiration

Here is the molding situation I wanted to try to copy. Fancy. From what I can tell, our house has three original different molding profiles, which are basically related to the fanciness of the room. This is the least fancy molding, used in the kitchen, the upstairs office, and adjacent original servant’s quarters which became the upstairs kitchen. It’s still pretty bulky and awesome, but the windows just have simple sills (instead of paneling detail to the floor) and the baseboards are this super simple shape.

Anyway. This door/window molding is basically 3 separate pieces: on the bottom there’s a 1×4 with that innermost detail routed out, then a fancy piece of trim molding, and the whole thing is encased in 1x2s. Seems simple enough.

The one complicating factor is that these moldings were made when lumber was still the actual listed dimensions (so a 1×2 is actually 1″ x 2″, not 3/4″ x 1.5″), so I had to get a little creative with my lumber selections. If I used the modern equivalents of the old lumber dimensions, things would looks sort of wimpy and wrong. Soooo…

1x2cutting

Luckily, Lowe’s sells a 5/4″ x 6″ board (actual dimensions = 1″ x 5.5″), which I could rip down to 2″ strips to make my dimensional 1 x 2. So that’s what I did.

stairtread

Luckily, Lowe’s also sells these long pine stair treads for about $10, which are the perfect thickness for old school window sills, AND have the necessary bullnose edge to match the original one upstairs. Dope. So far so good.

For the innermost piece, it wasn’t so hard to cut one of the 5/4″x6″ pieces of lumber down to an actual 1″ x 4″, but then there was the matter of the fancy routered detail on the inside edge.

I NEEDED NEW TOOLS. NEW TOOOOOLSSSSS!!!

router

BOOM hello router! You are lots and lots of fun and can do so many exciting things, like help me convincingly replicate old molding.

I’ve used a router maybe once or twice in my life, but its really a very easy tool to get the hang of. Along with my router (this one!), I also picked up a plethora of bits (these ones!). I basically just combined two bits to get the shape I needed. The first made the rounded edge, and the second cut a groove. Once it was all done and sanded, it looked pretty legit.

molding2

That little trim piece in the middle was just a stock piece I found at Lowe’s. I wish it was just a little more substantial and interesting, but it’s good enough. I can’t have EVERYTHING.

sillinstal

I’ll spare you all of the nitty gritty, but basically I wanted to install the sill first. This involved cutting down the stair tread, routing out part of the bottom, cutting away the sides, and using my router to chamfer the outer edges. Pretty fancy stuff. Then I installed it very level, using my handy level and lots of shimming magic. Then I installed everything else. It was relatively fun and relatively fast.

windowmolding

And there it is! I know it doesn’t look like much right now, but once it’s caulked up and painted, I think it’s going to be gooooood. I’m so happy with how it came out, and while the window itself is still crooked, the level casing really does completely distract from it in real life.

glamorshot

Glamor shot of the corner, just because it looks so damn profesh.

apron

If you’re very observant, you might note that the apron on this window is quite a bit longer than the one on the original window upstairs. I originally made an apron that small but it looked silly, so I pried it off and just eyeballed the proportions. I chamfered the outer edges with my router, like the original apron, and it looks…really good. It’s the little things!

So woodworking is fun and exciting and the window victory made me feel like I wanted to work more wood. I started to get all ambitious and stuff.

doormoldinginside

Part of the fun of this room is that at some point, the previous owner drywalled right over the original plaster and didn’t remove the door casing—meaning that the edge of this casing was basically flush with the drywall. It wasn’t a great look, but it would be an especially BAD look once I started tiling the walls. Additionally, I had ideas about the doorway. What if we added a door?

door

This door. I found it in the basement. It was covered in spiders. I braved spiders for this door.

I like this door because aside from being free, it has a big glass panel cut-out (no glass, though…so we’ll have to get something cut), which will still allow plenty of light to get through from the laundry room window into the kitchen but will still help the rooms feel like two separate places. The plan is to hang this door to swing in both directions (using this business from House of Antique Hardware).

This door is smaller than the opening between the kitchen and the laundry room. Rather than try to enlarge the door, I decided that the doorway between the two rooms was sort of big anyway and it made more sense to enclose it a little bit, thereby increasing the space for the machines.

Yeah. I made a doorway smaller. I’m so counterculture.

kitchenprogress

To do this, I had to pry off the molding on the inside of the laundry room (salvaged) and on the outside in the kitchen (plain new 1×6, not cute, not old). This was fun and exciting because the kitchen is basically renovated and nice and here I am destroying it again. WHY NOT, RIGHT?

doorwayshrinkage

Then I added some pieces of wood to the inside of the jamb to make it smaller, like so. The right side lost .75″, the top lost 1.5″, and the left side lost 1.75″. Nothing too drastic, but now the door should fit AND the slightly smaller proportions of the doorway fit the kitchen better. I’m happy with it.

Then I just milled myself a TON more wood, just like for the window but on a larger scale. I made door frames. I made baseboards. I made a LOT of sawdust.

doorframe

Here’s basically what the door frame looks like, but I still have to attach that middle piece of fancy trim molding to make it complete. Then patch, caulk, prime, and paint!

baseboards

Here’s the deal with the baseboards. It’s a subtle difference from plain 1×6 boards, but I really think it makes a big difference in this case. The gap between the tile and the baseboard will get caulked and everything will get patched and painted.

Here’s an idea of how it all kind of looks together! I think it was SO SO WORTH IT to take the extra time to really sort out the millwork situation in here before just slapping up the tile. Adding back some architectural detail to this space with moldings that look like part of the house is what’s going to really make it feel special and nice when it’s all done, and it makes me happy to make this room feel like it belongs.

Patching up the kitchen side of the doorway is a little more involved since I’m working around existing cabinets and tile and it entails some creative patchwork, but it’s going to look way better than it did before when it’s all finished.

It’s getting close! Next up is grout, caulk, paint, and some finishing details I’m pretty excited about, but right now we’re just THRILLED to have a working laundry set-up, even in a half-finished room. We’ve basically been washing things non-stop for days and it’s bliss.

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

I Dream of Laundry

Coming from years of renting in New York, we’re pretty used to living without incredibly easy access to laundry machines. Almost nobody I know has a washer and dryer in their apartment—you’re lucky to have a set in the building, but most people live a laundromat existence. We go back and forth. Our building actually does have a washer and dryer in the basement, but one or both of them are usually broken, so we end up at the laundromat a few blocks away. Fun fact: this one time, there was an enormous dead rat right in front of our building’s washing machine for like a week. Nobody picked it up but people did continue washing their clothes.

All of this (except the dead rat part) is fine, and totally normal. It’s New York. I’m not complaining.

But at the house, it’s kind of a different story. We are renovating all the time and we’re making a big mess all the time. This mess gets EVERYWHERE—the clothes we’re working in, obviously, but also bathmats, towels, bed linens, clothes you’re just wearing while not renovating…we are filth, basically. We’re pretty much constantly trying to evaluate which of our clothes look the least soiled, and therefore the most acceptable to wear in public. Our laundry situation quickly gets out of control. We stockpile it for a week or two and then have to take several hours out of the day to get to the laundromat with our four packed IKEA bags and pay too much money to use the machines there. The whole affair slows everything down since Max doesn’t have a driver’s license, so it’s not like he can just go do the laundry while I continue working on renovating something. Everything must halt. It makes me bitter and cranky, like most everyday human tasks do.

I know. Cry me a river. Writing this out, it occurs to me that this probably sounds like senseless spoiled whining, and maybe it is, but the fact remains that I would basically give my left arm to have a functioning laundry room at this point. So we are MAKING. IT. HAPPEN.

More accurately, the kind blog-loving folks at Lowe’s have generously offered to help make our laundry dreams a reality, and I’m so excited to be working with them on this room! Just FYI—Lowe’s has given me total creative freedom both with the room and how I write about it, so as always all opinions and commentary are 100% my own here. And, as always, I have lots of opinions and commentary to share.

laundrybefore

Anyway—let’s get to know the space, shall we? As you can see, it’s on the very petite side—about 5.5′ x 7′. This is, apparently, the only photo I have of the laundry room in its true “before” state. Yikes! The room is continuous with the kitchen, so this was before I even removed the old vinyl tiles or anything. There was this retro metal cabinet in the room (which I had dreams about salvaging, but honestly…I don’t think it’s even worth it), and an old washing machine that was being held together with lots of different types of tape. It turned out that the washing machine did kind of work, except that we had no hot water on the main floor of the house until we got the boiler put in in November. As soon as we did get hot water, the washing machine broke entirely, and we were back to square one. So it goes.

I know people like to inspect my floor plan and tell me to move the laundry elsewhere, but I promise this is kind of the only spot for it! While having laundry on the second floor would be kind of a luxury, I guess, there’s just no good place for it—even leaving aside the hassle and expense of running all the plumbing and electric up to the second floor. The existing mudroom is basically a glorified shed attached to the back to the house, so that’s not going to work, and I’d rather keep it here than move it to the basement. It’s a good laundry room! It will be, anyway.

laundrybefore2

Since the laundry room is continuous with the kitchen and it’s so small, it wasn’t a big deal to just redo the floor and paint the walls back when we were renovating the kitchen over the summer. I removed the baseboards since they were super gross and not original anyway, and replacing them would allow me to install the VCT first and then the baseboard to cover the edges, so that base shoe wouldn’t be necessary.

laundrybefore3

The new floor immediately made the space feel a little less like a biohazard, which is nice. The black VCT isn’t exactly my dream flooring material for this house, but I have to say that it’s been GREAT for right now. I think it looks good in the kitchen, it was easy and very inexpensive to install, easy to clean, and it’s extremely durable. Since we frequently find ourselves carting wheelbarrows full of plaster and brick and stuff through the kitchen to the backyard, the floor has been terrific.

I bring this up because even though we do plan to re-renovate the kitchen someday, I don’t really want to think about the laundry room in those terms. With the exception of replacing the floor (probably with whatever we do in the kitchen), I’m thinking about this much more as a pretty permanent renovation job. We could stick a couple machines in there and call it a day, sure, but that wouldn’t be any fun. I want the laundry room to be pretty and nice…so basically the opposite of how it looks in these pictures.

window

Can we just talk about this window for a second? Yeah, that is one incredibly sad-looking window. I know you might be thinking that this picture is crooked, but the window is actually incredibly crooked, along with the casing around it. As far as I can tell, that’s just how it was installed originally—badly, and without the aid of a level.

garagewindow

It took me a while to figure it out, but I’m fairly certain that the window was actually stolen from the garage whenever the laundry room was built! The photo above is of the garage from last summer (YES, the yard is/was VERY overgrown…), and you can kind of see (if that enormous weed/plant wasn’t in the way) where the window was removed from the left side of the existing one, and the clapboard patched in. House history!

ANYWAY, the window in the laundry room…not cute. I think this is pretty much the only window in the house that I’d actually like to replace (and maybe put back on the garage!), but it’s just not in the cards. New windows are crazzzzzyyyyy expensive, and dealing with trying to salvage something and install it is just a much bigger project than we need to be dealing with for this little space. Could the room handle a bigger, better-looking window? Yes. But! I have a couple ideas about dressing up the existing one, which I’m pretty excited about! I like a challenge.

maxpainting

As the kitchen renovation was coming to a close, Max put on his work clothes (pajamas) and painted the laundry room!! Max doesn’t tend to do very much stuff like this—at least not by himself, anyway—so it was exciting to see him take on a project that felt manageable for him and see it through. He did such a nice job! Go, Max! We painted the walls and ceiling with the same white paint we used in the kitchen—Casa Blanca by Clark + Kensington in Flat Enamel.

baseboards

Once the walls and ceiling were painted, I cut and installed some plain 1 x 6 baseboards. Patched, sanded, caulked, and painted, I tend to think plain 1 x 6 (or 8″, or 10″) pine boards work nicely as baseboards for old house/apartment renovations, generally…they’re inexpensive, and the size is much better suited than dinky new baseboard moldings. Of course, now that it’s months later and I have an actual plan for the room, I naturally want to tear out these baseboards and replace them with something a little more substantial and interesting and suited to the house. Oops! I don’t really like redoing stuff that I just did, but I kind of think I’ll regret it if I don’t.

laundryroomplab

SO. PLAN.

1. I want to remove the existing window casing and replace it with molding similar to what’s on the doorframes in the kitchen. This molding profile is basically what was used in the “un-fancy” spaces in the house—the kitchen and the upstairs office, for instance. Other moldings throughout the house are beefier and more complex, but I think with some basic lumber and moderate woodworking skill, I can create a pretty convincing replica. This not only gives me the opportunity to make the window look a bit bigger and more substantial, but I also want to install it all completely level. The mullions and the window itself will still be off-kilter, of course, but I think installing the moldings level will make the window appear level. Depending on how that goes, I might do the same for the moldings around the doorway (the molding on the kitchen side is just 1×6 boards, and the inside is remnants of older molding, partially covered over by sheetrock…), and make new baseboards matching those in the upstairs office. I never really thought this room would require so much new millwork, but the more I think about it the more it seems worth it! And kind of fun, to be honest.

2. Since this room is right off the kitchen, I do really want to tie it in visually with the kitchen. So…MORE SUBWAY TILE! I know people have mixed feelings about subway tile (and there are plenty of black grout haterz out there), but it’s really inexpensive and pretty appropriate to old houses. I like black grout from a graphic visual standpoint, but I also like that it mimics the look of older tiles: really fancy old subway tiles had no spacers and no easement, so the dark lines between the tiles are just the cement peaking through. I’m planning to tile all four walls up to the height of the tile behind the stove and surrounding the sink in the kitchen (about 5.5 feet from the floor). They’ll be easy to keep clean, they can get wet, and the reflective surface of the tiles should bring a little more light into the room.

3. I know lots of people have lots (and lots…and lots…) of opinions about washers and dryers (European readers seem particularly horrified that dryers are commonplace and considered necessary at all in the US!), BUT. We put a lot of work and thought into what would work best for us an in this space, and decided on a side-by-side front-loading arrangement. I like this arrangement because then the top can become a big folding/ironing surface. I like the idea of getting a big piece of plywood cut to fit and upholstering the whole thing like a big ironing board. Maybe with a classic ticking stripe? Something else? Hmmm…

4. Above the tile, I want to line much of the room with antique hooks! We’re lucky to be able to source these from existing hooks in our upstairs closets. I think they’ll be very handy for hanging hamper bags, clothes that need to air dry, that kind of thing.

5. I’m undecided about the light for the room, but I keep thinking about a classic globe. I don’t want anything too crazy or too faux-vintage, and it has to play well with the faux-PH lamp in the kitchen, and I don’t want exposed bulbs because I want to be able to use my favorite super-energy-efficient Cree bulbs I like so much. The Luna Cord pendant from Schoolhouse Electric might be a winner!

6. Obviously Max and I have spent significant portions of our lives ogling Martha Stewart’s beautiful laundry rooms, and I always love that she decants her products into much better-looking containers. I’m thinking a mix of enamelware, glass canisters, and plain spray bottles will hold all of our laundry potions, corralled onto a shelf above the machines. I like this Enameled Bread Bin from West Elm for holding powdered detergent.

7. Shout-out to my iron! I love the classic Black & Decker iron. It’s built so well and it’s even sort of cute in its own way, and it works REALLY well. I feel like I’ll have it forever.

8. THE MACHINES!!! OK, like I said, lots of thought and consideration went into buying these machines. We ended up going with the LG 4-cu ft High-Efficiency Front-Load Washer with Steam Cycle and the LG 7.3-cu ft Electric Dryer with Steam Cycles, both in white. Aside from the pretty much unanimously glowing reviews they receive on Lowe’s website, we also liked that they’re a tad more petite than machines with the same capacity from other brands (we really wanted large capacity machines so we could do tons of laundry and wash big things like drop cloths, etc.). We need these machines to sit as far back toward the back wall as they can to not partially block the doorway, so it was exciting to find that LG machines aren’t as deep and that the dryer offers a side-venting option, eliminating the number of inches the machine has to sit away from the wall at the back to accommodate a dryer vent house. ANYWAY. I don’t consider myself particularly tech-nerdy, but HOLY MOLY these machines have, like, a bazillion features and I’m legitimately excited to use them. I’ve never had something so high-tech washing my clothes!

Anyway, I know it might seem weird to be tackling another little room when, say, our dining room still doesn’t have a ceiling, but I’m so happy we’re setting aside some time to prioritize this! I’ve already been logging tons of hours in here, and naturally it’s already more complex than it seems like it should be, but I’m so excited to share the progress! It’s starting to look good!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s!

Sometimes I Wear Clothes, Too.

That’s right, folks. It’s time for Manhattan Nest: FASHION EDITION.

I always feel more than a little ridiculous talking with any level of authority about the stuff I drape over my body to cover my flesh, but in fact I do wear clothes (everyday, even!) and sometimes I even get a little bit excited about them. It’s taken me some time to feel this way, since I’m pretty short and slim and have a difficult time finding clothes that really fit me and I feel OK in, but I’m learning. I basically approach my wardrobe kind of like I approach my house…I guess I just want it to be clean, comfortable, simple, a little fun, with some decent items that will last for a long time.

Anyway, before get self-conscious and talk myself out of it…here are some of the things I’m wearing these days or thinking about wearing these days.

clothing

1. Slim Fit Smog Print Shirt, Club Monaco: You know when you were a little kid and you got a new piece of clothing and you wanted to wear it every single day? That’s exactly how I feel about this shirt. It’s a lightweight cotton, so it can kind of be dressed up or down, the fit is superb, and the pattern is perfection. I’m loving seeing so many small-scale patterns pop up in menswear these days, but I especially like this one because it’s more irregular and abstract than a traditional floral print or something. Club Monaco is my favorite source for shirts—the slimmer options fit super well and the quality is great (the oxfords, especially!), and you usually don’t get both at that price point. ANYWAY. I love this shirt a whole lot.

2. Men Sweat Long Sleeve Shirt, UNIQLO: Can I just say how much it pleases me that sweatshirts and sweatpants are acceptable articles of clothing to wear in public now? Greatly. I don’t think I can pull off a pair of fashion sweatpants, but I’m all about a well-fitting sweatshirt in lieu of a sweater or cardigan. This one from Uniqlo is everything I’ve ever wanted, basically—it fits so well, although be warned it does run on the small side. I’m usually an XS but the S is perfect for me. I might get a medium just to give myself a slouchier option…

3. ASOS Bomber Jacket with Contrast Leather Look Sleeves: OK, I don’t own this, but for YEARS I have been trying to find a decent spring/fall jacket (and a winter coat, for that matter…I’m bad at outerwear). I’ve been seeing new takes on classic bomber jackets popping up all over the place this spring, and I think I want in on that action. I also like this one from J. Crew and a few others from ASOS…which means I’ll probably just be indecisive until they’re all sold out. No. I am going to order something. I am going to find joy in clothing, goddamnit.

4. 510 Skinny Fit Jeans, Levi’s: I wholeheartedly recommend the 510 Skinny Jean. It’s hard to be a boy and find just the right amount of skinny…you don’t want a legging, you don’t want too baggy, you don’t want it to be too tight in the thigh and too loose in the ankle. ET CETERA. These (which are super cheap right now…) have been my standby for couple of years now. I like the way they contain my legs and buttocks.

5. Eastland Seneca Camp Moc Chukka Boot: I found these shoes a couple weeks ago marked down to $50 at a store in Brooklyn, and I’ve pretty much been wearing them non-stop since. I also have really small feet, so I actually bought the women’s version in a size 9, but the men’s version is exactly the same. The reviews on Zappos sort of make me worry about the quality, but we’ll see. It’s always been hard for me to find a casual everyday shoe that isn’t a unisex sneaker (although I’ll probably also make my yearly white Jack Purcell purchase this summer for good measure, too…), so I’m glad to have found something a little more grown-up.

Revisiting the Big Kitchen Overhaul: Phase 1.5

newcountertops

As we get deeper and deeper into this whole home renovation/restoration exciting adventure thing, we’ve started to come around to a few basic truths. They aren’t really anything new—a collection of clichés about renovating, honestly—but somehow they never really registered before we were actually living it. Is everything dirty and filthy and dusty all the time, despite our valiant cleaning efforts? Yes. Is the renovation taxing on our relationship and friendships? You betcha. Is it more expensive than we anticipated and more time/energy-draining than we could have dreamed? Yup. It’s all true!

Learning this has prompted me to reevaluate some of the ideas I had at the beginning of all of this, especially those pertaining to the kitchen. The original concept was this:

1. The kitchen is unusable, unsafe, and super ugly.

2. Rather than tearing it all out, since we have neither the money nor a plan for how to replace it, let’s drop about $1,000 in the space on quick-n-dirty DIY repairs and cosmetic upgrades to make it cute and workable for something like the next 5 years.

3. Once this is done, renovate the rest of the house! NBD.

4. Once the rest of the house is looking and feeling fresh and fabulous, we’ll circle back to the kitchen, gut the whole thing, and redo it for real. No more crappy 50s cabinets and crappy 50s soffits. New layout with lots of prep space. Maybe an island. Maybe a couple  new windows. Lighting. New floor. Fancy pretty kitchen to go with our fancy pretty rehabbed house.

The first two items on the list seem more or less realistic, and it’s pretty much exactly what we did. The second two? Maybe a little overly-optimistic.

I think we’re going to be working on the rest of the house for a long time. And when it’s feeling done, or done-ish, or whatever, I’m going to go ahead and guess that we might want to take a little breather from things being so chaotic. Maybe we’ll move on to smaller things like restoring our windows. Maybe we’ll take a vacation. A lot of things could happen, but tearing apart a fairly functional and fairly good-looking room might not be high on the priorities list for a longgggggg time, no matter how tempting the potential for the space is. There’s also the whole matter of kitchen renovations being very expensive and money not growing on trees.

Accepting that this might be the only kitchen we have for QUITE a long time, and maybe as long as we own the house (who knows what could happen…), I’ve warmed up to the idea of throwing a little more money down to make some improvements to this kitchen. Kitchen Overhaul Phase 1 ended up leaving some things to be desired, which at first I was very hesitant to do anything about, but now that I feel like we’re in it for the longer haul…

oldcountertops

Remember when I made my own countertops last summer? Well. I used 2×12 Fir framing lumber (which had the right thickness but was soft and full of knots and SUPER labor intensive to sand down, since it’s framing lumber after all), which I joined with pocket holes and screws (using my Kreg jig). To achieve the right depth, each countertop had to be composed of 3 different pieces of lumber (2 full-sized pieces and one narrow strip in the back). They looked pretty good at first, and I was happy with them, despite wishing that I had better equipment and know-how to really join and plane the pieces and making them look and function as one continuous piece of wood.

First I sealed them with plain Mineral Oil and later on I coated them with some Danish Oil (note: not food-safe, but we didn’t use the countertops for cutting on…), but over time we found that the wood was really prone to staining, and quickly began to look dingy even after a thorough scrubbing, just as a result of all the debris being kicked up elsewhere (and carted through the kitchen to a Bagster in the backyard). Not cool.

countertopsbefore

On top of that, the wood warped, the gaps between the boards widened (meaning crumbs and rice and crap would have to be vacuumed out, and even then it just looked crappy and unclean), and one of the countertops sustained a large bleach stain, making the whole countertop situation basically no fun at all.

Nope. Nope Nope Nope. These countertops were not cutting it. It was a good and inexpensive experiment—I’m glad I tried it!—but it wasn’t faring well.

We thought about replacing the countertops in three ways:

1. Investing in actual butcherblock. While this would have been nice, unfortunately it looks like IKEA has discontinued the oak butcher block I used in the apartment, and the birch is out of stock, and I really dislike the faux-butcherblock replacement they’ve started selling. Sources like Lumber Liquidators also make butcher block, but it’s significantly more expensive than IKEA’s was. Both of these options also involve lots of additional costs like shipping or renting a vehicle to transport them, and it just wasn’t an option money-wise. Even if it were, I’d still be hesitant to install something so expensive and specific to this kitchen, and probably not reusable if/when we do tear it out down the line.

2. Revisit the original laminate countertops, which we still have. One of the ideas I had longggg ago was covering the original counters in a concrete finish I’d read about online. It appears all the bloggers are doing this now! It’s supposed to be relatively quick and easy and good-looking and durable. This was probably the cheapest option. BUT when concrete was on the table, that was also when I was considering a plywood plank wood floor, and I felt like replacing our countertops with concrete would make the room feel too cold and sterile and sad. It needs the warmth of the wood countertops, I think, to feel balanced and right.

3. Try another DIY option for cheap wood countertops. I’d just used these wonderful cheap pine panels for the desktop in my office, and to my great excitement they were available in a 24″ depth! So that’s what I did:

countertopwood

I went to Lowe’s and bought two of these! Then I went home, chopped them to size with my circular saw, screwed them in from underneath, face-nailed a 1×2 to the front and side, filled the holes, sanded, and applied three coats of water-based polyurethane. EASY-PEESY. And sooooooooo much better.

newcountertops2

Aside from being much better looking (I prefer the blonder tone of the pine, and they now match the little pine dowel knobs!), the poly resists water and staining like a champ. We still don’t cut on them (we have cutting boards and a small area of butcher block by the stove for that), so I think they’re kind of perfect! They also lowered the countertops about 3/4″, which in turn makes the tiling job look better since I had to start the tile at cabinet height instead of above the countertops because of the height of the upper cabinets. Win-win! I’m super happy with this solution, and only spending about $80 on new countertops felt reasonable. We might reuse the old ones as shelving in the pantry or something…I’m not sure yet.

fridge2

This is sort of old news, but we were also lucky enough to get a new fridge!! After about 7 years of use over at Door Sixteen, Anna decided to replace this large stainless steel LG fridge with an adorable little Smeg (which is perrrrrfection in her kitchen!), and the logistics of getting the old one out of her house were sort of complicated. As it happened, my parents had just sold my childhood home and were sending a moving truck of crap up to Kingston (some furniture, lots of boxes of my stuff, etc…) on the same day that Anna’s new fridge was arriving, so we asked the movers to make a quick pitstop in Newburgh to pick up the old fridge on the way! Anna very kindly refused to let me pay her for it, which is ridiculous, but I’ll take it!

(I forgot to retake the photos post-countertop-replacement, so you’ll have to use your imagination!)

oldfridge

There wasn’t really anything wrong with our old fridge, admittedly. It was about 10 years old and a totally fine, standard Frigidaire model, but we had space for a larger one and I wasn’t about to turn down a free upgrade.

fridge

This one is a bit newer, works beautifully, looks nice, has a few features that higher-end fridges tend to have, and sucks less power. I’ve never had a fridge with a bottom pull-out freezer, and I have to say I’m a total convert! It’s really nice to have the refrigerated section at eye level. I love it. (thank you, Anna!!)

We still have the old fridge (our friends encouraged us to put it in the basement and keep it for big parties and stuff, but as far as we got was moving it out to the mudroom), but I think we’re just going to try to sell it for a couple hundred bucks and see what happens.  I can’t imagine really needing it, and even a little bit of cash for it would be nice.

revashelf

Since we were on a kitchen improvement kick, we also made some upgrades to the base cabinets. The base cabinets in our kitchen had one half-depth stationary shelf, and organizing pots and pans and bakeware and appliances and whatever kind of immediately turned into a huge jumbled mess. It wasn’t a huge problem, but more like a day-to-day annoyance that made me feel shitty about the state of things. It was hard to find anything and hard to develop a good organizational system.

WELL. Lowe’s also sells these fabulous Rev-A-Shelf cabinet organizer things, which are terrific. It was easy to remove the half-depth shelf with a hammer (they were just nailed in with some side supports), assemble these drawers, and screw them into place. The whole thing took maybe an hour from start to finish. The Rev-A-Shelf components come in all different sizes to fit standard cabinet openings, and the quality is excellent and have completely made the kitchen feel a million times more organized and functional and easy to use. Outfitting 6 base cabinets with them (5 sets of drawers and one for pull-out trash and recycling) was definitely a splurge that I still feel a little funny about, but honestly? No regrets. They increase our storage space, and they really took the kitchen from feeling like “eh, good enough” to “wow, I could see myself cooking in here for as long as my heart/bank account desires.” They’re still cheaper and farrrrr less invasive than buying and installing new cabinets, but functionally do the same thing. I’m so happy with them, I can’t even stand it! Total organizational high.

hooks

After a lot of pestering from Max, I installed a few hooks to the right of the door to the mudroom for coats and dog leashes and whatnot. I took them from our closet upstairs, so they were free, and attached to the walls with some plastic anchors and black screws. They’re nice! They’re handy! They’re old!

I am getting reallllllly tired of looking at that faux-wood paneling and general despair through the door to the mudroom. I know it seems like we have a thousand projects on the go, but I’m so fed up with the mudroom that I might be bumping it up the priority list. It’s a big space (about 9’x10’!), and with a little TLC I think it would be perfect for tool storage and project building. The tool situation has kind of ballooned out of control and I’d really love to have one space to keep all of it—right now it’s scattered around the house, which is mega-impractical and inefficient and makes it impossible to keep organized. I keep setting up shop in other rooms in the house, which in turn gets sawdust and mess EVERYWHERE, and I want that to stop…particularly since we’re hoping to be renovating those other rooms soon. I don’t want to do this in the basement because it’s creepy, there aren’t any outlets, and I don’t want to impede access for plumbers/electricians, and I don’t want to do it in the garage because right now it’s literally FULL of construction debris and garbage (shammeeeeee) and it also would require a trip outdoors to get whatever I needed, and in the winter that’s going to be hugely annoying and uncool and hard to maintain. A garage workshop sounds nice someday, but not while we’re in full-on renovation mode, where we constantly need tons of tools on hand and ready for service. The mudroom definitely deserves its own horrifying post, but I’m starting to formulate a plan…which may or may not be realistic and may or may not be cute. We’ll see! It’s kind of a complete and total wreck and honestly might get torn down completely someday, but until that time I guess it makes sense to spend a weekend sprucing it up and making it a usable space.

ANYWAY.

Now that Kitchen Overhaul Phase 1.5 has seen us replace the faucet, the countertops, the fridge, add some much-needed organizational things, and a few hooks, I really feel settled in this kitchen for a much longer haul. Moving forward, I’d love to add a little sconce over the stove (I’m in love with the Radar Sconce from Schoolhouse Electric, and I think it would look great there…), and…get a new stove. I actually don’t mind the way this one looks AT ALL and it functions admirably well for a cheap appliance probably pushing at least 40 years old, but it seems like anything we put in the oven comes out charred and unevenly cooked, which kind of sucks. Now that we have a functioning gas line (we didn’t when we put this stove in, which we took from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen in the house), I’d really like to switch to a gas stove/oven. That’s definitely not happening now, but just maybe if I found something really discounted on Craigslist or something, it would be worth it.  I guess I’ll start looking, just in case…

I’m really glad we did all this stuff, especially since small-scale improvements like this can really increase the longevity of a space. I can stop obsessing about all the things I’d do if I had 20K to blow on a kitchen renovation, and move on to the stuff that really needs attention! Those ceilings aren’t about to drywall themselves!

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The Apartment Bedroom Shelves are Gone!

I will admit that sometimes I make major errors in judgment and experience lapses in taste. Sometimes the vision in my head does not exactly gel with the realities of how something looks in real life. The bookshelves in our apartment bedroom? One of these times.

shelves

These shelves went up almost three years ago in a fit of panic, when my modest book collection collided with Max’s enormous book collection and and we found our new, co-habited lives together overrun with books. People can wax poetic all day about how the presence of books makes a house into a home and whatever, but in a small New York City apartment, this many books can be hugely challenging. At the time I tried to think of as many places as I could to stash the books, but all of the solutions either meant kissing goodbye to a few prime art walls, or another necessary piece of furniture, or a window, or my sanity. My friend Maya had constructed these super amazing wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves (pic here) with nothing but 2 x 12 pine lumber and steel L-brackets, and some part of my brain decided I could replicate the look with 1 x 12 pine (first mistake), not wall-to-wall (second mistake), and not floor-to-ceiling (third mistake).

It did not pan out well. What I ended up with was a mess of shelves hanging too high with ugly hardware above my desk, back when I still entertained the notion that I’d ever use a desk facing a wall in my bedroom (fourth mistake).

Because I put a fairly significant amount of effort into building them and really did a number on the plaster underneath in the process and they served their function reasonably well and there weren’t loads of other options, I went through all the stages of regret and remorse that one does with these kinds of things. At first I tried to like them. They weren’t overbearing; they were bold. The hardware wasn’t ugly; it was utilitarian. The books weren’t overcrowded or cluttered; they were cozy. And so on.

Eventually, the desk went away and a much more practical dresser took its place. The dresser is really pretty and, like, a real piece of furniture instead of something I cobbled together, and I think the shelves started to look extra bad as a result of the pairing.

At some point, I went from pretending I sort of liked the shelves to despising them with every fiber of my being. I don’t know when it happened—I don’t recall any defining moment—but the transition was swift and aggressive. Every morning I woke up resenting the shelves, the books on them, the fact that they hadn’t collapsed during the night and crushed me in my sleep…my hatred knew no bounds. I try not to apologize for things in my home when people come over, but I got in the habit of always apologizing for those shelves. In retrospect, maybe the shelves weren’t even that bad, but I wasn’t really seeing things rationally anymore.

Admittedly, I feel a lot of disappointment in myself that I never really solved the shelf issue in any commendable or creative way. I had a couple half-baked ideas, but by the time I had kind of stopped improving the other spaces in our apartment and would have maybe circled back to reevaluate the shelf situation, we decided to buy a house and relocate the vast majority of the library there. The rest went on these little shelves in the corner of our bedroom, re-purposed from old Elfa components from my childhood bedroom. Hooray for me. I’m so clever.

Not.

Bedroomshelves

But! With the books either gone or relocated to these little shelves, I could finally just take down the original offenders. I don’t even think I have a single picture of it happening, or the wall repair that ensued afterward. Since I hung the brackets with big toggle anchors, and there were four holes in each bracket, and there were 16 brackets, there were 64 large 1″ holes to repair (fifth mistake—wtf was wrong with me?). I ended up having to repair the holes with fiberglass mesh tape and skim-coat the wall before re-painting it. I never stopped kicking myself until it was over.

bed2

But now? BLANK WALL. LIKE THEY WERE NEVER THERE. I know this picture is kind of super lousy, but the lighting in this room is tough. I TRIED.

I don’t know. I kind of got so used to seeing/hating those shelves that I’m really enjoying having this wall completely empty right now. I thought I’d hang a reasonable painting or something on it once the shelves were down, but I don’t think we really have anything that I like that’s the right size and would play well with the enormous pieces over the bed. I know. Cry me a river.

But seriously, at night when the thrifted block lamp is on and brassy candlesticks are lit in front of that big blank white wall, it kind of looks like some kind of Scandinavian villain lives here. I dig it.

Maybe I’ll hang a mirror there or something. Maybe I won’t. I can’t predict what I’ll do. It doesn’t really matter, in the scheme of things. Someday we’ll all be dead.

bed1

ANYWAY. That’s basically the deal with the bedroom. Aside from obsessing over the idea of painting the whole room black and reupholstering the bed in canvas drop-cloths and finding new side tables and maybe new bedside lights, I finally feel generally happy with the bedroom. So that’s nice and stuff.

Ignore those slabs of burl under the bed. I HAVE AN IDEA FOR THOSE, OK?

If you want to see more pictures of the apartment bedroom, here you go!

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