All posts tagged: Before and After

The Den: The Big Reveal!

Exactly four years ago today, I became a homeowner. That decision could be characterized in a lot of ways: crazy, stupid, optimistic, deluded, exciting, terrifying, and maybe a bit ambitious. I loved this house from the second I saw it, and if I was going to buy a house (something I was not particularly equipped or intending to do), it was going to be this house. There were no other contenders.

That part—the period of falling for a property and feeling committed to its acquisition—felt easy (the actual purchase part was not, but that’s another story). The stuff that came after it wasn’t quite as easy. I’m not sure I have much in the way of original thoughts on this topic: yes, it really does take twice as long. Yes, it really does cost twice as much. Yes, at times it’s satisfying, frustrating, overwhelming, thrilling, and challenging. It’s a process that can variably bring out both the best and the worst, exposing your weaknesses and fears as much as it reveals the heights of your capacity for joy and contentment. It’s a long, strange, intensely humbling trip.

None of this is immediately pertinent to this post, I guess, but it felt weird to not acknowledge the milestone of four years! Some days it feels like the house has come such a long way, and other days it feels like the amount of remaining work is insurmountable. So with regards to the den, this is a space that—until very recently—contributed to that whole insurmountable feeling. This room has never really been anything. For a while it had a bed in it for guests (who got to wake up looking at a half-demoed water-damaged acoustic tile ceiling…how charming!), but mainly it’s just been a place for stuff to spill into as other spaces got worked on. Which feels…weird! There’s this whole space in my house that, functionally, might as well have been some off-site storage facility (which certainly would have felt cleaner and more manageable!), and now it’s an actual room that I’m actually sitting in and actually writing this blog post and actually not seeing anything crumbling around me or making me feel crappy because “oh-my-god-I’ve-lived-here-for-this-long-and-this-room-is-still-a-total-dump.” Particularly on a DIY pace and budget, stuff just takes a long time, and it’s not always easy (or, necessarily, especially productive) to pinpoint exactly why. It just does.

SO! Shall we take a looksie around the new room? Let’s do it.

Ba-boom! If it looks like a different room, that’s almost because it is. That bay window situation in the “before” shot was not original to the house and I removed it last summer as part of a larger exterior renovation, and I believe this is actually much as the room would have looked when it was built! Time saw the addition of electricity, hardwood flooring laid over the original subfloor, and hot water radiator heating, but ya know—that stuff’s not going anywhere. The rest of it is just cosmetic—one of the ways I try to approach renovating vs. decorating is by renovating with more of a restoration mindset, and decorating however the hell I want. Somebody could move in here and swap out light fixtures and repaint (or wallpaper), furnish, and have themselves much more of a time capsule vibe, but I guess I’d rather just have a…me vibe? This room feels very me, to me. ME ME ME.

Here’s where we were at the beginning of March!

And today! Much improved, yes?

Sorry, I’m a sucker for a before-and-after comparison. Did we get it out of our systems? I really wish I had taken more pictures of the room before it started getting torn apart! It’s like I had learned nothing four years ago when I had the opportunity to take true “before” photos. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I saw much more of the house as a straightforward renovation/redecorating project than what it’s become.

So, maybe this room looks crazy and maybe it is crazy and maybe I have no ability to form an objective opinion on it, but I DO know that it’s filled with so many things I love and is so comfortable and cozy that I literally do not care at all if it could also be considered stylish. I think it’s pretty. I don’t know.

I’ve mentioned lots of these things before, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself, but…

This sofa!! I bought it from Susan and Will Brinson (of the obscenely inspiring blog, House of Brinson). 400 bucks! For a secondhand, high-quality, all leather sofa that is the most comfortable thing in the world, I think that’s a great deal. Even though this room isn’t really a guest room (it was supposed to be when I started working on it!), the cushion section of the sofa is roughly the size of a twin sized bed, and I can tell you from firsthand experience (of Netflix and chilling so hard that I fall asleep) that it’s SO comfortable. I wouldn’t feel bad asking a guest to sleep here because it really does sleep like a bed, not a couch. I love the wear on the leather, and I love that I don’t have to be insane about it because it’s already been lovingly broken in by two large dogs before my own dogs, so they just add to the patina.

Womb chair, womb chair! I love this chair but Mekko REALLY loves this chair. When I was a kid, my mom looked for a lounge chair for her bedroom for literally a decade, and as a teenager I recommended this one…which she purchased…and then hated…which I was secretly kind of excited about because it meant that if she didn’t get around to reselling it as she said she would, I could ask for it when I eventually had the space to accommodate. MY SCHEME WORKED and now it is mine and it’s the most expensive dog bed in the world.

The original (well, original to the house being heated by radiators—before that it was wood stoves!) radiator got a few coats of glossy black spray paint, and I love the pairing of the black-black with the blue-black walls! I don’t know why! Particularly with more ornate radiators like this one, I think black paint is a great way to really highlight the fancy Victorian scrollwork on each fin.

Above the radiator is a collection of frameless antique mirrors, which I hoard just because. When the foil backing starts to disintegrate on an old mirror, I think the effect is so beautiful and interesting and I just buy them whenever I see them, assuming the price is good and they meet my rigorous quality standards of being in one piece.

I always thought it would be cool to display them in some kind of grouping, and this steel ledge isn’t quite what I had in mind, but I bought the ledge almost four years ago (it was supposed to go in my first kitchen renovation, but I changed my mind!), so it was nice to finally put it to use since I didn’t get my act together and send it back to CB2 at the time.

The tea light candlesticks are originally from Dwell Studio, but I picked them up a few years ago secondhand. I love them so much! The wooden tray that they’re sitting on I bought in the fall when I was in Austria. So simple and pretty.

On the wall to the right of the window, the top little piece of art was made by my mommy as a kid! I stole it out of a box of old stuff in our basement years ago, and I’ve had it hanging somewhere since. I love it—someday I’ll upgrade the frame, but an IKEA RIBBA never hurt anyone. The muscleman below it came out of my grandparents’ house after they had both passed away, and nobody knows where it came from or who the artist is.

The light is from my internet pal and long-time design crush, Logan at One Forty Three. I’m so proud of that dude! Watching his business expand and grow, and all the things he’s created since I first became aware of his work, has been so exciting. I’ve had the lamp for…probably 5 years at this point, and it still looks and works like the day it was packaged up and sent to my then-home in Brooklyn. I’m so happy to have it hanging up again.

The dark walls do swallow up a lot of natural daylight (perfect for a chill zone room like this, I think!), but that can make houseplants difficult. I’ve never had a problem keeping one of these ZZ plants alive though—perfect for low light and thrive on neglect. The pot is vintage, found somewhere around Kingston. The candlestick is also vintage and used to be half of a set of two, but I MAY have not realized that absent a metal liner in the part where the candle goes, a candle will burn down and then light the candlestick on fire, and then that will burn until somebody notices.

I’m a hazard.

I bought the dog on a trip to China in 2005. I bought the side table a few years ago from JC Penney, when Terence Conran did a really nice collection for them, and then it all went on clearance, and then I panic-bought some of my favorite pieces from the collection just BECAUSE I HAD TO and I don’t regret it because I think it was like $30 for this cast iron and white oak side table that is just so cute and very well-made.

Also you can kind of get a sense of how the Diamante wallpaper from Hygge & West in the adjoining little office looks with this room. I feel like the two play well together!

You might recognize the two pieces above the sofa from my Brooklyn bedroom and then again from my current bedroom that I showed you just a few weeks ago, but naturally I’ve already moved them and I think THIS is where they belong! These hung in my grandparents’ bedroom at least throughout my lifetime, and it’s an honor to have them here.

Also, ORANGE NAKED LADY!!! Evidently, I wrote a blog post about her back in 2013 after I bought her at an auction, but she’s never really had a permanent home until now. I’m still exactly as tickled by her as I was when I spent $60 real-life dollars on her and got made fun of by other auction attendees for it.

SPEAKING of auctions…now is the part where if you didn’t hate me already, I give you license to hate me now.

I went to an auction shortly after I started working on this room.

I saw this rug.

I wanted this rug. Immediately. Intensely.

I prepared myself to spend $400-$500 for this rug, which is a chunk of change but actually a good deal for a rug of this age and size (and, I’d argue, uniqueness), and I’d been looking for one for this room, and here it was.

The bidding started.

Nobody bid.

I bid. $45. And won.

FORTY. FIVE. DOLLARS. That’s, like, a fancy tea towel. That’s, like, five burritos.

The guy next to me literally turned to me and asked what possessed me to buy that rug. ARE YOU BLIND, SIR?

OK I’m done gloating. I love that rug so hard. The colors are so weird and good. The wear is everything I want.

I haven’t painted the door yet (since it swings into the hallway, I can convince myself it’s part of the hallway restoration, which I’ve been great at putting off indefinitely), but you get the idea.

This space is pretty narrow, and that couch is ENORMOUS, and the space between the righthand corner and the door trim is about a foot, so I needed something very slim for under the TV.

I searched and searched and racked my brain for something I could just buy and be done with. I didn’t want to build a thing. It felt like…I just built a ROOM, do I really need to make myself crazy over building something big FOR the room?

Then I built a thing and I’m so glad I did because I actually really like the thing I built! It’s essentially just a plywood box that’s covered in lath from my very own walls and ceilings. I think I started it on a Sunday morning and had it hanging on the wall by Monday afternoon, and it holds a bunch and looks cute and cost me all of about $10 for the piano hinge. Also, it was really fun! Since buying the house, it’s actually very rare that I just kind of make something that isn’t part of a much larger renovation project, and I forget how fun it is to just play around with some tools and some wood and see what happens.

By the way, on top of the cabinet thing on the far left sits a Sonos speaker, and my Apple TV is turned sideways between the speaker and the stack of books. That’s all the technology! I’ve tried to make it a tradition to buy a Sonos speaker upon the completion of each room to spread the cost out—it’s kind of spendy for me, but I do really like the system and I love that the speakers come in white or black so it’s usually possible to keep it very inconspicuous.  The speakers all tie back to the Sonos app on my phone, and can be controlled independently or in unison to play music, adjust the volume, play/pause, etc. I recommend it!

I didn’t do anything particularly nice about finishing the inside (I made it! for me! and I don’t care!), but it holds a ton! I decided to put all of my weird pottery and figurines and candlesticks and stuff in there, along with extra tea lights and candles for the room. It’s so nice to have all this kind of stuff in one place! I find that I love too many things and can’t display them all at once without my house looking like a thrift store that somebody lives in, but if I rotate stuff in and out of display it keeps things looking more sane and ALSO makes me appreciate stuff more when I don’t see it all the time. Kind of like shopping in my own house when I get the itch to move stuff around, which is an extremely frequent event because I love to futz.

LEST you had not hit your limit with me over RugGate 2017 (scroll up a few photos; it literally just happened), a few weeks ago I was tromping through some funny antique mall kind of place in New Jersey and spotted this little fella for a dollar. So tiny! Those delicate little brass feet! Immediately I was charmed. I picked him up and then couldn’t put him back down, so I shelled out my George Washington to take him home.

Fast forward a couple of weeks into our new blissful life together, during which I had unofficially named him Herman, and I posted an Instagram of him, and was immediately informed from multiple sources that little Herman is…kind of valuable. Oddly enough, Herman was designed by Jacob Hermann (how weird is that!) in Denmark in the 1950s, and is highly collectable, and seems to sell for a few hundred dollars up to several thousand for a grouping.

Lesson: never pass up a good tchotchke. Just build a cabinet to store all the tchotchkes.

Finally, the light! THE PINK LIGHT! PINKKKKK LIGHTTTTTT!

Here’s what had happened. I went to Germany in the fall. Essentially I landed from my red-eye flight, dropped my bag at the hotel in Berlin, and immediately went to a flea market. I was so tired and so not thinking clearly and before I knew it, I had blown my entire souvenir budget on three vintage rugs and this 1950s chandelier. This is what it means to travel with me, and I am considering the first clause of this sentence as fair warning to anybody who might someday travel with me.

I carried the light through Germany and into Austria, where I disassembled it and shipped it home via DHL, which was FREAKISHLY fast. It arrived before I even got home! Between the purchase and the shipping I ended up spending about $250 on this thing, which is typically more than I’d spend on…most things, but I REALLY WANTED IT for no reason in particular. A month ago I worked up the nerve to unpack the box—knowing that one broken shade would pretty much render the entire thing worthless—but luckily it had arrived intact so then it was just a matter of rewiring the whole thing, remembering how everything fit together, and hanging it up.

I love you, pink light. Never leave me.

Annnnnnnnnd, here is my attempt to keep up with the bloggers and make this post “shoppable”: A THING IN THIS ROOM THAT I THINK YOU CAN ACTUALLY BUY! I love this little candleholder from the Modern by Dwell Magazine collection for Target. Mine was on a clearance rack at a store in Virginia that I visited to buy clean underwear after the Baltimore kitchen renovation, but it’s still for sale online. So cute!

Is that it? I think that might be it. Opium den—check!

The Bedroom is…a Bedroom!

For the past couple of months, my bedroom has been in that “almost done” state, which is where that last 5-10% of finishing work often goes to die. Once the walls were painted and a bed was assembled, I was honestly kind of sick of working on it…and so…I didn’t. I got distracted with something else. Sometimes you gotta move on to something that feels exciting, and then circle back when the spirit moves you.

I’ve also been traveling a bit so time at my house has been stretched thin, but last week I finally circled back around to the bedroom! Over the course of a few hours, I used Rejuvenate on the beat-up and heavily scratched floors (I don’t know what to expect in terms of longevity, but at least for now it’s made a HUGE difference! It’s also extremely easy to use and dries quickly! I’ll refinish the floors for real someday, but not today), sanded a couple little patch jobs, touched up paint, hung stuff on the walls, and…now it actually feels like a room! There’s still work to do on a few important things, and lots I’d like to change, but that’s how I roll. When it comes to my own spaces, it usually takes me a year or two after the renovation part is done to feel good about the decorating part. I’ll keep ya posted.

For some reason I seem to have neglected to take much in the way of real “before” photos of this room, which makes me want to go back in time and kick myself! Obviously this is poor blogger form, but I think at the time it felt like the room wasn’t likely to look very different after renovation than it did before renovation.

Then shit got real.

We’ve been through this, but all the walls got stripped down to bare plaster, then that wall to the right in the photo above got demo’d out entirely, then a new window got installed as part of restoring the side of the house (a project that I can finally finish now that the weather is getting nice!), plumbing and electric and insulation got upgraded, and then it was a matter of drywalling, skim-coating the plaster, and trying to replicate the original moldings for the new window!

Of course then there was a ton of scraping and prepping and patching and caulking and priming and finally painting and cleaning (what a concept!) and then I was pooped.

SEE?! It’s a room! A real room!

I love this picture because if you had shown me this four years ago when I was in the process of buying this house…I don’t even know. I would have cried? I would have run? This room seemed like such a straightforward renovation, but the decision to add a fourth window made it a significantly larger undertaking.

But a few months later and it’s hard to even remember that crazy day when you could walk through my wall and plummet to the ground outside. YAY!

The new window sashes still need the interiors painted (and the exteriors cleaned up—I painted them but didn’t scrape the paint off the top sash before it got too cold to remove the sashes and deal with it!), but this fourth window! It changes the room SO MUCH and I’m so glad I did it. It might be hard to appreciate in photos, but it just adds so much balance to a room that felt nice before, but awkward to arrange furniture in. When I’ve had the bed on this wall before, it looked so strange because you wouldn’t really want it overlapping the window on one side to get it more centered in the room, but shoving it over looked weird too and left this space on the side of the bed really narrow. And that was a full bed, which as a grown-ass man I’m happy to leave behind for a larger queen size. Since this is the nicest bedroom in the house, the fact that it can now even gracefully accept a king-sized bed feels like a huge deal. Now, it’s a master.

Speaking of beds, I got the alchemy bronze queen bed from CB2! I loved this glamfabulous thing as soon as it was introduced, and now it’s mine. My thinking was that it would work well with this situation, where the best placement for a bed overlaps the windows a bit—it’s there, but light and transparent enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s dominating or covering up all my hard work. I…think? It’s tricky and I’m not sure I made the right call, but I do really love the bed and I’ll figure it out! I will say that the quality of the bed is really great—I was worried that it might be a little flimsy, but the metal is thick and weighty and the construction is super sturdy. Assembly was really easy—two people are suggested but I got by on my own no problem.

I’m NOT showing off the bed very well because…I don’t have a mattress yet! This is my old full-size mattress which I plopped on there in the meantime. LIKE I SAID, GLAMFABULOUS. I’ll very likely go with one of those newfangled mattress-in-a-box-Internet-miracle companies. I know I love a Leesa, but I’ve never tried any of the others and now there are so many options that it almost defeats the purpose of making mattress shopping simple! Traditional mattress shopping is the actual worst thing in the world, though, so…not complaining.

As for what I don’t love…

  1. I’ve tried to love this rug for years after I bought it off Craigslist back when I lived in Brooklyn, and I just…don’t. I love old oriental rugs, but this particular style has never been my favorite. So I’ll be keeping my eye out for a good 8×10-ish perfectly old rug for the foreseeable future!
  2. I love Bubble lamps but the right light fixture could easy persuade me to swap this out and move it elsewhere. That’s always a fun game.
  3. I like that IKEA floor lamp (discontinued now, sorry!) but not here. Also once I figure out my bedside lighting situation, I won’t need a lamp there. But I will need a plant. I killed mine.
  4. Speaking of bedside lighting, I’d like some.
  5. And they need something to sit on top of, so I need bedside tables. I bought these little Scandinavian numbers a few years ago from a lady on Craigslist and threw them in here for now, but I’m a person who likes to have a drawer or two next to the bed. And also a person who’s never felt good about a mismatched set of end tables—I like a pair. Incidentally good nightstands, at the right size, with storage, and within my price range is potentially impossible? We shall see.
  6. Shades! This one I actually already figured out—I hope! I ended up ordering simple solar shades (I’m predictable!) from Blindsmax.com in a color called “bone,” which is sort of a warm off-white, a bit darker than the trim. Blindsmax seems to be the least expensive option around for simple, customizable solar shades (along with a ton of other window treatment options!). At about $120 per window (for my sizes + custom options—it varies a lot depending!) they certainly add up, but considering most everywhere else seems to be about double that, it’s OK. I currently have some very busted IKEA shades (the predecessors to these, I believe, but mine appear to be discontinued to which I say GOOD RIDDANCE) on two of the four windows, so I’m excited for those leave the premises. I love IKEA but those shades are such garbage.

Back to what I do love…my dresser with its new set of matching repro glass knobs! Also the little concrete and brass table lamp by Menu, which I also loved at first sight and then received from my mommy for my birthday. Thank you, Mommy! The brass knob dims the light up and down, and it lets off such a nice warm glow. I live in terror of breaking it.  It might end up living somewhere else in the house, but ya know. Having something there is nice.

I still have to paint all three of the doors in this room, which I’ll get around to…at some point. It’s not like it’s a huge deal to paint a door, but I like to take them down and strip down the hinges and knobs and stuff, and these all hang a little funny so getting them to open all the way and actually close ends up making it kind of an ordeal.

Also, my mirror! You might recognize this mirror from my old kitchen—I bought it at a junk shop shortly after buying the house, and it’s still one of my favorite things. I have such a problem with old mirrors. It goes without saying, but AS IF this room needed more natural light (it can get VERY bright in here!), it bounces light around nicely. And now it’s hung at a normal height, so it also reflects my face back to me when I look at it! Isn’t that something.

Over the newly-painted radiator (which is holding up perfectly!), I hung a print from my friend Anna‘s Society 6 shop, K is for Black! This is the “Watermelon” print which I just love, in a simple RIBBA frame from IKEA. The print itself has that white border, so you don’t even need to mat it. The paper/print quality of Society 6 stuff is really excellent and I’m so pleased to FINALLY have one of Anna’s pieces hanging up in my house!

That’s kinda it! Even though this room underwent a big renovation, doing the vast majority of the work myself and using stuff I already had kept costs really low. If you discount the cost of the new window ($350) and the installation (maybe another $300, since Edwin helped me with that part—but I’d factor those costs into the exterior renovation), there’s basically no money in here! The insulation and drywall was leftover from other projects, all of the wood used for the window casing was salvage, I bought exactly one gallon of paint for the walls (Benjamin Moore Oil Cloth—matte!) but already had ceiling and trim paint…there’s maybe $100 dollars or so of materials here, purchased specifically of this room? Something like that! Like I always say, hoard with purpose and it pays off. I find that I need to break up bigger and more expensive projects (like the exterior restoration, or the upcoming kitchen) with getting rooms like this out of the way…and I’m so glad the bedroom is finally out of the way!

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

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

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

I’ll tell you why not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The options were:

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

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

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

Let. The. Games. Begin.

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

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

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

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

I’ll stop objectifying Kim now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From this…

To this!

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

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

Let’s take a walk around!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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