All posts tagged: Clark + Kensington

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!

Big Changes in the Little Office!

office1

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

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

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

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

OK, WALLS:

wallprimer

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

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

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

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

THE WALLPAPER:

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

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

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

wallpaper1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MOLDINGS AND THE FLOOR:

floor1

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

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

baseboard1

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

baseshoe

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

floor2

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

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

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

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

primer1

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

window

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

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

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

floorpaint1

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

STILL TO DO:

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

The Kitchen: The big reveal!

kitchen1

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

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

fridgewallbefore

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

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

fridgewallafter

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

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

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

longwallbefore

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

longwallafter2

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

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

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

fromdoorbefore

fromdoorafter

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

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

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

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

stovesclose-up

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

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

kitchencart

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

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

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

fromsideporchbefore

fromsideporchafter

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

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

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

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

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

oliveoil

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

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

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

chasedoorstools2

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

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

chasebeforeafter

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

doorbeforeafter

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

apron

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

towelnexttosink

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

sinkenamelpans

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

windowhardware

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

shelves

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

SO. Budget? Budget.

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

TOTAL:$261.78

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

TOTAL: $207.81

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

TOTAL: $371.38

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

TOTAL: $63.53

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

TOTAL: $326.24

GRAND TOTAL: $1,230.74

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

Sinkwallbefore

sinkwallafter

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

Yay, kitchen!

This post was in collaboration with West Elm Market.

Paint and Tile!

painting

I used to think painting was the worst thing in the world. I was OK with the part that came before——spackling a few holes, a little sanding, maybe cleaning the walls a little——and I liked the part that came after, when the room was painted. But the actual process of painting——the endless cutting-in, the rolling, the paint drips and splatters and going to sleep with dried paint in my hair and under my finger nails——those were all things I dreaded.

But by the time I finally filled all the holes with patching compound and filled the gaps with caulk and de-greased and de-caulked and got through all the prep work in my kitchen, painting kind of felt like fun arts-n-crafts time? Like a nice way to kick back and relax? Maybe I actually like painting? Maybe I’m going through a very confusing identity crisis? Maybe my whole perception of reality has been irrevocably altered?

paintcans

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I’m a very firm believer in buying good paint, which for me has always meant Benjamin Moore. It’s what my mom always used in our house growing up, and it’s what I’ve always used by myself, save for once making the enormous mistake of using really cheap paint at a friend’s house and discovering sometime around my 4th or 5th coat that quality really does make a huge difference when it comes to coverage, adhesion, durability, and the final result looking good. From then on, I just accepted that my future would be composed of $40-$50 gallons of paint, and that was that. That’s more or less OK when you’re looking at a small apartment with a landlord willing to cover $20/gallon, but it sort of blows when you’re looking at a whole house of walls, doors, and moldings literally begging and pleading to be repaired and freshly painted.

So, when Ace Hardware offered to let me try out their new-ish brand of paint and primer in one, Clark + Kensington, I decided to take the chance. I warned them that my allegiance was elsewhere, and that it’s my policy to always give honest reviews and they’d have to be as OK with me not liking the paint as they were sure that I would, and they agreed. So confident. So sure of themselves.

Real talk: this paint is dope. I was really expecting it to be pretty mediocre, but I found it to be pretty much on-par with the Aura line of Benjamin Moore paints——which is quite an endorsement, because that’s some fancy paint—— except about $30 per gallon instead of over $60. This is hard for me to say, but…I think I’m converted!

The paint can also be color-matched to several different brands (including Benjamin Moore and Farrow & Ball), but I wanted to check out the Clark + Kensington colors for myself! And by colors, I mean various shades of black and white. You know how I do.

ceiling

As usual, I started by cutting in the ceiling. This was a massive pain in the tuchus because the seams in the sheetrock on the ceiling are covered in those thin wooden strips rather than taped and mudded, so all of that needed to be painted by hand. I used a regular roller for the panels in between.

Check out how gross that ceiling is. It is the most gross.

disaster

With the ceiling all painted with two coats of Designer White in Flat Enamel (which is a pre-mixed off-the-shelf white, which I’m using on the moldings and upper cabinets, too), we started in on the walls and cabinets! I’ll save the cabinet painting for another post, but this was about the stage when I started to get really excited about the kitchen. It was also a period of sort of non-stop marathon crazy work in here, which is why this photo was taken at like 2 in the morning and everything is a total disaster.

I stayed up super late painting, and in the morning….

disasterafter

ANGELS SANG.

There really is nothing better than fresh paint.

I know this picture might not look like much since obviously the doors and moldings still need to be painted, and I didn’t paint the backsplashes, but getting the walls over with was an incredible feeling. I used a color called Casablanca on the walls, which is an extremely pale grey. Obviously it reads as very white, but it’s different enough from the ceiling and molding to give the room a little more dimension than if everything was the same shade.

beforeprogress

Words can’t even describe, y’all.

tilefirstrow2

That night, my friend Nora and I also put in the first row of tiles! Sorry about the horrendous nighttime iPhone shots. These are just plain old American Olean white 3×6 subway tiles from Lowes, which are super cheap at about $.22/tile. I know it might seem silly to install tile backsplashes in a kitchen that we aren’t planning to keep forever, but I already had the thinset and black grout from tiling my kitchen in the apartment, so for about $100 for all of the tile, it seemed like a really worthwhile aesthetic and functional upgrade to just go for it. Also, Nora wanted to learn to tile, and I believe in being a gracious host by making my friends work super hard until the wee hours of the morning in July with no A/C in exchange for letting them sleep on a shitty air mattress and cook for me. That’s just manners.

Since I just did a whole tutorial on tiling backsplashes (here and here), it didn’t seem necessary to rehash the whole process again, especially since I would have done a few things differently if it needed to last forever. Obviously, I didn’t paint the backsplashes or really prep them at all first (in a perfect world, I wouldn’t be using drywall as backing at all!), and I barely planned out how the tile would run before just slapping them on the walls. And yes, I used cardboard and stir sticks to hold up my first row instead of something more rigid and precise. And yes, I started the tiles at the top edge of the base cabinets, not the countertops, because with the height of the upper cabinets, this was the best way to cover the most surface area of the backsplashes with tile without having a huge weird gap at the top, if that makes sense. So yeah. It’s not perfect, but it’s still going to look totally fine when everything is done. “Totally fine” is kind of this room’s guiding principle, lest you haven’t noticed.

thinset

I’m just including this picture because I got smart and bought myself a stirring attachment for my drill to mix the thinset and grout. CHANGED. MY. LIFE. Stirring thinset with a paint stick or a spoon or whatever is really difficult and tiring (you’re supposed to mix for 5 minutes, let it sit, then mix it again for 5 more minutes), and this handy attachment just takes all of that work away. FYI.

tile

The next day, after the bottom row had time to harden up, we mixed up more thinset and got back to work! I really should have planned this so that the end of the run (where it meets the vertical trim pieces, not the corner) would be composed of full and half-tiles instead of these weird in-between fraction tiles, but I didn’t do that. Oh well. Again, with everything done and grouted and the room complete, it’ll be fine. I’m just pointing it out because I’m human and I make mistakes and mistakes are bound to happen, and now I know better! (and my bathroom/future kitchen tiling will be PERFECTION. Mark my words. I know things now.)

tileprogress

tilesink

First I thought I’d do the subway tile level all the way around the room (so the backsplashes and this sink area would all have the same number of rows of tile), but then that seemed a little too dinky for here. Then I thought maybe I’d take the tile all the way to the ceiling (well, to the bottom of the big hollow soffit over the sink, anyway) in this sink area, but that had a whole mess of complications I won’t bore you with, including maybe just looking weird. Then I used the super-professional method of eyeballing it until the proportions seemed right, which is why there are more tiles here than the other areas of the kitchen. Science!

Overall, there was just a ton of fudging and making it work and eventually throwing my arms up with a hearty GOOD ENOUGH! in this area around the sink. Trying to get tiles to line up on three wonky walls with the sink and the window molding was just…not going to happen. With everything painted, caulked, and grouted, though…well, you know what I’m going to say already. It’s going to be totally fine. Nice, even. I promise!

This post is in partnership with Ace Hardware.

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