All posts in: Bluestone Cottage

Bluestone Backyard: The Big Reveal!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

GUYS, I MADE BACKYARD! AT BLUESTONE COTTAGE!

If you missed my earlier posts where I showed you the “before” space, or how I laid concrete and built my super nice fence, or how I cobbled together a little storage shed, go check those out first! A lot of work has gone into this 500-ish square foot outdoor space and I gotta say, I’m pretty proud of the results.

WANT A TOUR?! OK. Let’s go back to a couple of months ago…remember this view?

Once in a while, I actually get a little frustrated that I can’t invite all my blog people over to see something in person, and this is one of those times. I hope it looks good in pictures because this space is SO CUTE in real life. Not even my own house has a backyard that feels like a private sanctuary, but this one totally does. It’s so peaceful! I see the appeal!

Man. It was so bleak.

New fence! Shed! Plants! Pea gravel! String lights! I ended up really liking my funny shed more than I realized I would, and it’s so functional. Just having a place outdoors to put outdoor-related items is so nice, and really makes the whole renovation feel a little more manageable to have that stuff out of the way, particularly as cold weather approaches. I don’t need all that stuff in the way and floating around the house while I’m trying to renovate it! I love you, scrappy shed thing.

REMEMBER THE HUGE (defunct) OIL TANK?! The falling-down fence on the north side? That unruly Mulberry tree?!

I felt a little immediate tinge of OH NO WHAT DID I DO when Edwin and I took down the Mulberry tree, but I’m so glad I did. Sometimes a blank slate (except for the Maple tree, which stayed!) is really the best strategy, and now that there are new plants I don’t miss it AT ALL. Speaking of plants…

I promise, that IS the same view! Just everything about it is different!

Not really knowing if this house is going to be sold or rented, I wanted to keep the backyard simple, low-maintenance, flexible, and functional, and I think this accomplishes that! Let’s talk about it!

Allow me to first address my favorite recurring controversy: PEA GRAVEL. You guys have strong feelings about pea gravel and I respect strong feelings. Many of you like pea gravel. Many of you REALLY do not like pea gravel. So let me tell you about pea gravel and why I chose it for here.

  1. I really just love it. To me it’s classic, pretty, and has that nice crunchy sound underfoot.
  2. It’s cheap! And fast! I know there are inexpensive paver solutions available (I’ve always loved these from Lowe’s!), but my budget was maxed out and pea gravel is a really inexpensive way to cover a big area—cheaper than anything else I could find, really. How inexpensive depends: if you need to cover a HUGE space, you’ll likely spend less money getting a bulk delivery of pea gravel from a stone yard than using the individual bags that you can get from Lowe’s. But for a space this size, and the sake of convenience, the bags worked out PERFECTLY. To calculate how much you’d need for a given project, just use a cubic yards calculator!
  3. Not all pea gravel installations are the same! If you do a search for how exactly to install a pea gravel path or patio, you will be met with an astonishing variety of different installation instructions. Some people put down landscape cloth and a few inches of pea gravel and call it done. Some people do landscape cloth, a layer of crushed stone, and then a thinner layer of pea gravel. Some people put the pea gravel right on the dirt! The point is that everyone thinks their method is best and will tell you as much, but a better installation should lead to a better result that maybe avoids some of the issues people talk about with pea gravel.
  4. It’s no big deal if it doesn’t work out. If weeds or something else become a major issue, OK! I have myself a nice level stone base for pavers, and it didn’t cost me so much time or money that this would cause major personal upset.

So anyway. Here’s what I took away from my mess of gravel-related confusion.

Hot take #1: Less is more. One of the major complaints I hear about pea gravel is that it feels unstable, like your foot digs down a few inches into it with every step. This happens when the pea gravel is too deep (3-4 inches maybe) and not supported by a more stable base. It’s hard to keep the pea gravel looking nice and even, so it can make things look sort of sloppy. Over time, the edges of the landscape fabric gets kicked up and exposed, and the whole thing looks a mess. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Hot take #2: Hello my name is Daniel Kanter, and I do not like landscaping cloth. I get what it’s for. I get how to install it. I get that it’s not a material you want to penny-pinch on because you get what you pay for quality-wise. But in my (admittedly somewhat limited, because I do not like it) experience, it inevitably ends up getting exposed, looking ratty, and actually growing the weeds it’s meant to prevent? And then it has to be redone until it happens again? I think it’s just not for me. I do not want to be told otherwise. I would rather pick weeds and treat areas with vinegar than battle landscape fabric.

So anyway. I phoned a friend! Named Lori! Who I don’t actually know, but she’s a gardening guru who reads this blog and had shared her perspective on pea gravel best practices before, so this felt like a trusted source. Then I only kind of did what she told me, because I’m not a good student and there is something wrong with my brain.

It was basically a 7 step process:

  1. Mark out the area! There are so many right angles in this yard that I thought a kinda curvy border would look best. I used a garden hose to get the general shape.
  2. Edge! Pea gravel likes to travel so needs to be contained with an edging material. This could be pressure-treated lumber, brick, stone, plastic, steel, or something else! I had planned to use recycled chimney bricks, but it felt like…too much? Instead I used a black aluminum edging from Lowe’s that I actually bought for the front yard HALF A DECADE AGO and have been storing in my garage since. At least I’m prepared?
  3. Base rock: With the edging in place, I saturated the ground with water and spread about 2 inches of this drainage rock from Lowe’s, which is a lot like what we call Item #4 regionally. It’s a larger angular rock that makes a stable base for paving, footings, frost walls, that kind of thing. The major difference I would say is that Item #4 generally comes with a lot of stone dust, whereas this bagged drainage rock is very clean and uniform in size.
  4. Tamp! I used this hand tamper from Lowe’s, but for a large area it might be worth renting a gas-powered compactor. The goal is to sink the angular stone into the wet soil and compact to create a solid, stable base that doesn’t move when you walk around on it.

5. If I were doing it over again, I think at this stage I would have added some stone dust to really “glue” this base layer together. Where you live, stone dust might be decomposed granite—we don’t seem to have that here.

6. With the base prepped and compacted, spread about 1/2″-1″ of pea gravel. Spread it and tamp it again to really work the pea gravel into the base layer—the small round pea stones will kind of lock into the angular stone base and keep things nice and solid.

7. Finally, water it all! There’s a fair amount of sand in the bag with the pea stone, but a quick watering washes all of that down into the gravel and the base and reveals the real color variation in the stone, which is so pretty!! This is another reason I love this bagged gravel from Lowe’s—I love the beige-y tone of the pea stone as opposed to the more flat grey pea gravel that’s available locally in my land of bluestone.

And there ya go! It will be better to treat weeds than try to pull them, because you don’t want to disturb that layer of base rock and let it come to the surface. Obviously I can’t tell you how this will hold up over time, but I have high hopes! It looks great and feels amazing underfoot—no sinking or sliding around, which also helps keep the stone contained to where it’s supposed to be. I also tested it out barefoot and it’s totally comfy to walk on! And I have not had a single stone embed itself in the sole of my shoes. I AM CALLING IT A PEA GRAVEL SUCCESS!

Let’s talk plants! While I think it’s safe to say the renovation of this house has had its share of difficulties and failures, one thing seemingly immune to this trend has been the stuff I planted in the front yard shortly after I bought it! This is hardly a brag because I can’t take much credit—five years ago I got a bunch of plants from Lowe’s, stuck ’em in the ground, and pretty much let nature take its course between infrequent efforts at maintenance. Amazingly, almost everything I planted has not only survived but THRIVED, meaning I had an actual excess of fairly mature plants at my disposal to transplant back here! And as a bonus, I already know they’re hardy and don’t need much in the way of maintenance or care. So I dug up plants from the front that had gotten overcrowded and then spent a while just moving them around until I settled on placements that felt nice. This way, I could identify what I’d need to really fill out the space and keep my new purchases minimal and strategic. I get overwhelmed at garden centers, so I like to have a general idea of what I’m looking for before I venture out.

BTW, I would just like to note that ornamental grass (pretty sure it’s Maiden Grass) back there—it crisped up and died within a couple days after I transplanted it, but it SHOULD BE green and lush and pretty, kinda like how it looks in the photo above. Hopefully it survives and comes back next year! We’ll all find out together! For now I’lll cut it back to about 6″ from the ground and wait. I’m not entirely confident this corner is sunny enough for it.

My Lowe’s garden center was admittedly a little sparse the day I went plant shopping, so I went over to a local nursery and kinda fell in love with this enormous Dr. Seuss-y tree for the back corner, which is a Purple Fountain Beech! Of course with my new pick-up truck lifestyle, getting it home was no biggie. I’m telling ya…I love having a truck.

It should eventually grow to about 25 feet tall but maintain a kind of compact columnar shape so it won’t take up too much space. I love purple foliage! And the tree is so sculptural and cool.

In front of the tree are 3 small Olga Mezitt Rhododendrons from Lowe’s, which might get a bit bigger but are pretty matured at this point. They have pretty pink flowers in the spring, and should tolerate the part sun conditions in this corner of the yard!

Toward the center of the garden bed, I put a Holly shrub! It should fill out and grow a little higher the the fence, and keep some nice evergreen interest in the winter (it’s planted further from the fence than it looks in this photo). I grew up with Holly trees in the backyard and have always had a soft spot for them.

I also got real into randomly placing stones?? I like them?? The house is named Bluestone Cottage after all, and these (blue)stones were just hanging around the property waiting for a use. I love this little monolith situation, which is buried a down a few inches below the mulch to stay upright. I dunno!

Toward the front of the planting bed, I transplanted a dwarf Japanese Juniper from the front and put a big rock underneath part of it to creep over. Why not!

That variegated plant on the right is an Emerald Gaiety Euonymus from Lowe’s, but transplanted from the front yard. I planted a couple of these and they’ve really spread out quickly into this nice dense plant that’s somewhere between a ground cover and a shrub. I may move another one to my house.

By the way! I used my old faithful black mulch in the planting bed, which always makes things look sharp immediately! Keep an eye out for sales on this stuff—this mulch was $2/bag when I got it!! As things fill in, hopefully the garden will require less mulch and I’ll probably switch to something more natural since it won’t be so visible.

Toward the base of the maple tree, it’s Hosta City! The variegated ones (Minuteman Plantain Lily) were from Lowe’s and transplanted from the front yard, and the solid green ones are from MY house, where there is a never-ending supply of hosta to split and move. Hosta just needs to be cut back once in the fall and split every few years, but otherwise is no maintenance and does well in low light.

Over by the shed, I stuck a Green Velvet Boxwood! Boxwoods are such troopers—this one has now been transplanted from the front yard of Olivebridge Cottage (where it spent almost a year out of the ground on the edge of a construction site!), to the front yard of Bluestone, and now to the back. It’s been through a lot but seems healthy! I hope it grows and fills out.

Finally, I wanted to put SOMETHING between the two kitchen windows on the back of the house, so I picked up a climbing hydrangea! I really hope it does well—this area appears to never really get direct sun, so selecting a plant that would survive was tricky. Climbing hydrangeas are so beautiful though, and should do well in low light! We shall see!

Real quick shout-out to that amazing trough-style planter! I found it at Lowe’s and thought it would be perfect here, and then I tried to put it in my cart. HOLY COW. The thing is solid concrete and weighs 160 pounds!!! Especially for $80, I honestly think it’s a beautiful piece and super versatile for all sorts of situations and styles. This is the “espresso” color, but it also comes in this really beautiful soft white/beige tone that I considered as well.

The rust-resistant metal trellis is also from Lowe’s, and I love how simple and clean it is. And the price was great too—under $40!

Pls pray for my climbing hydrangea. I love this whole set-up and do not want it to fail.

In terms of space planning, I tried to keep things flexible and multi-functional, while also taking light conditions for the plants into consideration. Strangely difficult! Which is to say that I intentionally didn’t go all-out with built-in seating or dining or raised beds. I wanted to maintain some flexibility in the plan for a future owner/renter to use the space how they want to!

When you’re looking at the front of the house, access to the backyard is via a 4-ft walkway on the left side. This path was a big mess—lots of nice bluestone slabs in need of leveling and re-setting, with invasive weeds growing up through all the cracks and over the old fence. I think the original bluestone can be put to much better use in the front of the house, so we pulled it up and laid a concrete path in that space instead, which so far is working out GREAT. It’s not especially charming or beautiful but it is very practical and easy to maintain, which is nice in an area that’s really just a passage from one area to another rather than a space you hang out in. I decided to extend the path about 12′ past the back wall of the house, which creates a small “zone” where there could easily be benches, a couple lounge chairs, potted plants, additional enclosed storage, a couple deck boxes, bar seating…lots of options! If I were living here, I think I’d want a small grill and some kind of outdoor kitchen cart next to it with some countertop and storage space for the grilling utensils and whatnot.

Speaking of, HOW CUTE is that hunter green Weber grill? I recently watched a movie where they had one in this fabulous hot orange-red, and I would like to submit a request for a re-issue of that color too. I love a classic Weber grill. Of course, pretty much any grill would be fine here as long as it’s a safe distance from the fence. Even a propane or gas one, although I’m team charcoal all the way.

COME AT ME.

(But please don’t; I don’t like violence.)

Of course, the REAL star of the show here is STRING LIGHTS. God, I love a string light. Like more than most things on this earth.

Specifically, these are the commercial-grade Portfolio LED string lights from Lowe’s, and they are NICE. You pay a premium for LED bulbs instead of traditional incandescents, but the LED bulbs are super efficient and should last BASICALLY forever which is perfect for a property I’m not living in. I can happily report that the bulbs themselves are cute (no weird white band around the base, perfect shape and size) and the light they put off is perfectly warm. I love them. I’m mad that they’re here instead of my house, haha. I used four strands of lights in all!

Other little details! I was going to build a little birdhouse out of scrap, but then I saw this one at Lowe’s and it was cute and affordable and took a project off my list, so therefore it had to be mine.

I stained it black with the same Cabot opaque stain I used on the shed, and it’s so cute. You don’t necessarily see it immediately so it’s like a nice little surprise! I hope a birdy moves in and raises a family of goth baby birds in there.

Oh by the way: yes, the windows are new. They are replacement windows. As you can imagine, I am full of FEELINGS and we will need to talk about this another time when I am emotionally prepared to take you through my window journey. They are by Pella and admittedly are extremely nice.

So. If were living in this house, I think I’d nix the dining table altogether and get an outdoor sofa, two chairs, and a propane fire pit kinda thing because I LOVE FIRE and also lounging. That would have been a big budget-buster, though, so I’ll leave that to future occupants to figure out.

Because I’m not living in this house and I’m a cheap lil’ bastard, I liberated this cute vintage outdoor set from the scrap metal pile of a local hotel, ha! It’s not in the greatest shape, but still serviceable, so I cleaned it up, sanded down the tabletop a bit, and hit it with a couple coats of this amazing Rust-Oleum gloss white spray paint. So fresh and so clean!

Now it’s a perfect place to enjoy an empty mug and a casually-yet-strategically-placed tea towel!!! Two of my favorite Sunday morning rituals. :) <3

WHAT. ELSE. I *may* have taken more photos of this space than I really have words to say about it.

You know what I love even more than this backyard? This backyard…AT NIGHT.

Here I have traded the empty coffee mug for a very real cocktail and tried to capture the night vibe. I really should own a better camera than my iPhone for situations such as this. IT. IS. LUXURY.

SO COZY. I’ve been going over there just to hang out at night because it’s just so lovely during these crisp fall evenings.

Does that about wrap it up?! I couldn’t be happier to have this part of this house’s renovation off my plate, and I can’t wait to see how it all comes back in the spring! Who else is trying to wrap up exterior work before the winter? I can’t be the only one that always gets a little crazed around this time of year trying to beat the cold!

Bluestone Backyard: Build Yourself a Little Storage Shed!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Remember how I said there were two major priorities with the Bluestone Cottage backyard? One was privacy—which has now been addressed with the addition of my big fancy fence.

The other was storage! Nothing will ruin outdoor tools and supplies faster than leaving them outdoors over a Hudson Valley winter, and they don’t belong in this little house without room to spare. So let’s tackle it!

I feel like a broken record here, but let’s remember this is a SMALL SPACE. A garden shed is a wonderful, functional luxury to have, but any kind of freestanding structure would have just felt huge and out of place here, I think. There are more compact against-the-wall-or-fence options available out there (like this kind of thing), but I couldn’t find anything that felt right—even something small is going to be a relatively big feature of this yard just due to the size.

So I built one myself! And you can too! Before we really dive in: I’m showing you what I did, but if you’re thinking of taking on a similar project, play around with it! You can adapt the basic concept with your own materials choices and dimensions. I really tried to distill the structure, materials, and tools down to the very basics—not even a nail gun in sight!

Indulge me for a second, because the story of this shed actually starts way back when I bought the house. It had this shoddy fence in the front with 5/4 x 6 decking boards spanning between posts, which I unceremoniously took down.

As one does, I figured the pressure-treated fencing boards could be reused, so I went and build myself a little floating deck in front of the house. Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! It provided the step up to the front door, and seemed like a clever and cute idea at the time. A place to plop a couple chairs and watch the world go by, in lieu of a front porch. I painted it black and that was that.

And then I ended up hating this little deck. Whoopsie! It was a weird size and shape and, let’s be honest, it just feels severely unlikely that anyone would choose to sit here of all places. I accepted that the deck was a mistake and resolved to get rid of it. SOMETIMES I NEED A COUPLE TRIES TO GET IT RIGHT, OK?! So I dismantled it last week.

Looking at this pile of wood, and the amount of money I just spent on the new fence (worth it, I think, but not cheap), it dawned on me: there is my shed. I am rich in garbage wood. I bet I can build a shed without buying a single new piece of wood. Let’s find out. 

If you, unlike me, are not rich in garbage wood, new versions of everything I used are of course available at Lowe’s!

I like to work with salvaged wood in a particular way, and it starts with cleaning it up. Old screws and nails sticking out can be hazardous and don’t allow you to stack the wood neatly, so before I do anything I grab the drill and hammer and nail pullers (I like these pliers for that—a pair is ALWAYS in my toolkit) and take all that stuff out. Then I stack my wood neatly in size order, which helps me use the material as efficiently and with as little waste as possible—for instance if I need a 4′ length, I’ll grab the board that’s 50″ instead of the board that’s 90″.

The next step is to build the base, which I did with the help of some deck blocks repurposed from the deck. I love deck blocks! I put them directly onto compacted soil, but a more functional person may have laid out some 6 mil plastic and a few inches of gravel, leveled and tamped, and had an easier job placing their deck blocks and a more stable base for them to sit on and a vapor barrier to extend the life of the wood. POSSIBLY.

I placed my deck blocks 24″ on center, and you can see how nicely framing lumber (I used 2x4s) fits into the top of the block. You definitely want pressure-treated wood for the floor framing, both because it’s close to the ground and because it’s in direct contact with the concrete deck blocks. The joists need to protrude at least a few inches beyond the deck block so that trim can cover it later.

Once I was comfortable that everything was positioned correctly, I dumped a couple inches of drainage rock around the deck blocks, which should help prevent weeds.

On the sides, I screwed in a couple of 6″ sections of 2×4 perpendicular to the joist. This gives you something to secure your trim to.

For fasteners, I used these Grip-Rite Primeguard Plus Polymer deck screws in the 2″, 2.5″, 3″, and 3.5″ sizes almost exclusively throughout the project. I know this sounds weird, but they are GREAT screws. I also used them for the fence—they drive in easily, rarely need pre-drilling, are suitable for soft and hardwood, and the star head keeps your bit from skipping and stripping the screw. For the drill and driver, I love my Porter Cable set I’ve had for the past few years. My exact models aren’t made anymore, but it looks like this is the newer version sold now. I can’t stress the importance of having a good drill and driver set enough!

Next, I used pressure-treated 1×6 to wrap the base. You could go with 1×8 if you wanted the skirting to hit closer to the ground. It’s screwed in through the face of the trim board and into the ends of the joists.

Then I reused the old decking boards as the floor of my platform! Just lay it down and screw it in. I left about 3/4″ of overhang on the front and both sides.

Congrats, you have just built a very tiny floating deck!

Let’s! Build! Some! Walls! Easy walls. Not really even walls. More like…sides. I had some 4×4 pressure-treated posts from the fence that I took down a few weeks ago (the fence panels weren’t salvageable, but the posts were fine!), so I cut those down to size and toe-nailed them into the base. Except with 3.5″ screws, not nails. Like so: (It’s helpful to pre-drill this.)

One screw to keep it upright and in place is all you need at this stage, because you need to be able to level and square the posts. Measure the outer dimensions post to post at the base and build a header.

For the top plate/header, I sandwiched two 2x4s together with 2.5″ screws, drilled in every foot or so on both sides. Then it sits on top of the posts—a little tricky to maneuver by yourself, but I managed OK!

Level up your posts and secure the header to the posts.

On the back side of the posts, I ripped a 2×4 in half and secured it flush with the inner face of the post to act as a nailer for my sidewall cladding. This left about 1 3/4″ between the outer face of the post and the outer face of the nailer, although this placement depends on the thickness of your cladding. With normal wood siding, you’d want about 1″.

Opposite the nailer attached to the post, I attached nailers to the fence! I did this by screwing them in from the backside of the fence, one 2.5″ screw through each board. This had the added benefit of fixing any waviness in the fence—as some boards will naturally want to bow out and some will want to bow in—creating an even, solid wall. Above the nailers, I mounted a 2×4 which is the same length as the header beam, also secured from the backside of the fence. This is the ledger board for the rafters, and the height depends on the desired pitch of your roof—I went low-slope because I wanted to keep the doors as high as possible but still keep my shed below the fence line.

*Note: I’m relying a lot on the structure of my fence to make this work, but your circumstances may vary. That doesn’t mean this project can’t be done, but you may have to add some additional support to the backside to add strength and stability, or just build it as a freestanding structure.

Now that you have a basic structure, you want to make certain your posts are nice and level, which you can do by securing temporary braces between the nailers. Add additional 3 1/2 screws to the base of the posts to lock in their positioning—I like two screws on each of the four sides, pre-drilled with a 1/8″ bit.

CAN I UNBURDEN MYSELF AND TELL YOU A SECRET? I don’t *really* know how to cut roof rafters. I have seen it done. I have helped do it. I have designed several roofs and overseen their construction. But I’ve yet to take the time to reallllllly learn how to mark and cut a rafter, which I didn’t fully appreciate until I set to work and realized I only kind of knew what I was doing. WikiHow has supplied a very nice step-by-step that walks you through it much better than I can.

I pretty much ended up making a series of test-cuts to find my angles, successfully made one rafter, and then used it as a template for the rest of my rafters. OBVIOUSLY do not just wing it if you’re building a large structure or something that will take on a significant load. I used my jigsaw to cut out the bird’s mouths.

Secure the rafters to the top plate in a few places. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add hurricane ties for added security!

Yay, framing is done! We’ll return to the roof in a moment. Standby.

Let’s put up walls. This can be done in a variety of ways and a variety of materials, but I still had all these salvaged pressure-treated decking boards I was excited to get rid of. I thought maybe it would be fun to install them like wood siding? WHY NOT. You could use regular wood siding, plywood siding panels, kinda whatever you want within reason. I fastened them with 2″ screws rather than nails for added strength.

Like siding a house, you need a little starter strip to kick your first board out to the correct angle, and then the rest of the boards follow suit. I think this one is about 3/8″ thick, and it’s just an off-cut of a pressure-treated 2×4.

I found this part very exciting. WILL I HAVE ENOUGH WOOD?! WILL THIS LOOK HORRIBLE? LET’S FIND OUT!

OK SO YES IT DOES LOOK HORRIBLE but most things do at this stage so please HOLD YOUR HORSES.

We have a platform. We have sidewalls. We have rafters. Let’s do this roof thing. How’s a cedar shingle sound?

First step: decking! With asphalt shingles you’d want a solid piece of plywood or OSB, but for cedar shake you want skip sheathing, where there are gaps between the boards to promote airflow around the shingles and extend their lives. For this I used 1×3 pressure-treated lumber (fun fact, I think Anna gave me this lumber out of her basement when she moved to New Mexico…4 years ago), fastened to the rafters with 2″ screws. I cut myself a 4″ block to use as a spacer between decking boards.

It’s all happening! I installed one more decking board down at the end of the rafter tails after this photo was taken.

Before installing the shingles, I added a 1×6 fascia (secured to the end of the rafter tails and flush with the top of the skip sheathing). I also used 1×6 to wrap the sides (the rake fascia) at this stage.

I picked up this pack of cedar shingles from Lowe’s and a box of 4D galvanized nails and went to work!

NOTE that these shingles are relatively inexpensive because they are Grade C—meaning they have knots and imperfections and are really recommended for siding, not roofing. You would NOT want to roof a house with these, but they’re fine for a little outbuilding thing like this.

Please also note that it is best to have a very enthusiastic assistant on the ground overseeing your work.

At this stage, you’ll want to install drip edge and flashing. I…uh…skipped the drip edge because…uh…I just did. You could adapt this shed to attach to the sidewall of a house or other structure, but you want to properly flash under the sidewall siding.

The first course of shingles is important to get right! You want to overhang the front fascia about 1.5″ and the rake fascias about 3/4″. You also want to space the shingles about 1/8-1/4″ from each other to allow for expansion. I used a paint stir stick as my spacer to get the hang of it, and then I eyeballed it.

The first course gets TWO layers, or sometimes three. The name of the game is to offset your seams by at least 1.5″, and place your nails about 3/4″ from the edge of the shingle and at least 1.5″ from the bottom of the next course. That sounds hard because numbers, but it’s not that hard. It’s kind of fun! All the shingles are different sizes, so you have to focus on what you’re doing.

Before beginning a new course, snap a chalkline to demarcate where the bottom of your next course should fall. I chose a pretty standard 5″ exposure—meaning the part of the shingle you still see once successive courses go up.

I’m not really sure about the best way to treat the joint where the roof meets the fence in this situation…you can’t really flash it nor can you just leave it alone. I ripped a cedar 2×4 to 1″ thickness on a table saw, and then ripped the sides to the same angle as my rafters. This will cover the top nailed edges of the shingles, like half of a ridge cap.

Where the fence meets this ridge cap piece, I used a little adhesive-backed foam weatherstripping to help really seal the gap.

Then I secured it through the backside of the fence. As you screw it in, you should see the foam joint shrink away as the wood is pulled together. Then I ran a bead of silicone caulk over the joint and called it a day. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

FINALLY, time to build those doors! At this point, I was really running out of wood. But also steadfast in my mission to not buy wood. So far, I have only bought the cedar shakes.

My rough opening was about 80″, meaning two ~40″ wide doors. But stashed in my garage was a decent supply of 36″ pieces of pressure-treated 1×6, so BY GOLLY I made one door wider than the other so I could use those boards. The frame is scrap 2×6 lumber that I ripped to 2.25″ on the table saw. It’s just a box with wood planks screwed to the front. Because I was just using up everything I had left, I decided to do a random varying width, figuring it would look fine and maybe a little interesting?

Before hanging the doors and wrapping this party up, I power washed the old wood, let it dry, and broke out the stain! I used my old faithful—black Cabot Solid-Color Acrylic Deck Stain—which goes on just like paint but acts more like a stain and shouldn’t peel. I’ve had great results with it over the years. The old deck boards were painted with a porch paint, and obviously there’s still a fair amount of paint on there, so I’m curious how that will hold up. It didn’t have any issues with drying or adhesion, and I really think it’s gonna be fine. It’s pretty forgiving stuff.

*with new pressure-treated wood, it should be allowed to dry out for a season before painting or staining, but all this wood has had plenty of time. 

Painting things black is so satisfying. Try it sometime!

I added additional framing about 8″ from the top and bottom on the inside of each door for my hinges to screw into, and then mounted them with these heavy-duty gate hinges from Lowe’s. Then I made an astragal on the table saw and added it onto the door on the left, which covers the small gap between the doors.

Time to finish this thing off! I added these pretty gate handles and this pretty hook latch! You could swap the latch for something that could really be locked, of course.

To the inside of the doors, I added these Kobalt Storage Rails, which I love. There are a bunch of coordinating hooks available that snap onto the rail and can be moved around and rearranged, and I think they’re great for landscaping tools and other garage/shed/basement type things. The rails are a really hard plastic, but they cut down easily on a chop saw.

Throw in some shelving, some assorted stuff, and…we have ourselves a scrappy lil’ shed! I think it’s kinda cute!

Not too shabby, right? Bridget pointed out in the comments on another post that a shed should be able to store a bike, which I had admittedly not considered before—so thank you Bridget! As such, I have installed a bike for the purposes of demonstration, and honestly because it’s a cute-ass bike. You could definitely fit a lot more stuff in here than I’ve shown, and I can imagine adding a lot more hooks and stuff on the inside to keep everything organized. Grandpa style!

(BTW, don’t freak—that gravel is a base layer, not the final look!)

Obviously between the gappy fence and doors, the shed isn’t completely weather-tight but I feel like it’s close enough for the things you’d want out here? We’ve had a couple big rainstorms since I put things in here, and everything has stayed dry.

Here’s the Kobalt storage rail in action! I’ve been disappointed by stuff falling off of so many overcomplicated tension-based organizational rail things over the years, and I’m so glad I found this well-designed one that’s affordable and takes about 30 seconds to install. I have some at my own house, too!

I mounted these stainless steel shelves to the fence (also a hand-me-down from Anna, the gift that keeps on giving!), figuring that if water ever did get in, it wouldn’t accumulate on the shelves. Then I put some assorted backyard-y things on them!

I like how my funny fence-turned-decking-turned-siding worked out. I think it has nice texture.

I can only take so many pictures of the same little backyard shed, so I think that about wraps it up! It’s already so nice to have a place to put things as I work on the rest of the yard, and I’m happy to have a place to stash outdoor items over the winter!

Speaking of! I think we have crossed a threshold in the Hudson Valley. It’s still August but the past few days have felt suspiciously fall-like, and the forecast seems to suggest that it’s staying that way—which I’m not mad about! I think this means I can start planting earlier than I thought I’d be able to, and then this yard isn’t too far off from being done!

Bluestone Backyard: Concrete, Fencing, and Covering Chain Link with Wood!

This project is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

I’ve been putting in long hours over at Bluestone Cottage’s backyard, and I have the insane farmer’s tan to prove it! It’s really starting to look like something, and I’m so excited for the direction it’s going. Here we were a couple weeks ago:

When considering what to do with this backyard, it quickly became apparent to me that a new privacy fence would be the single most important investment I could make back here. There was existing fencing on all three sides of the yard, but each side was a different style: a falling-down stockade-style picket fence, newer but unsightly (and very see-through!) chainlink fencing, and a dog-ear style picket fence. In a larger space, I feel like this kind of thing isn’t as big of a deal—like there can be enough going on that the fence isn’t necessarily a major focus. But in a space this size, the different materials combined with the lack of privacy made it feel visually cluttered and too exposed to use comfortably.

First order of business was to demo the old fence. I used my Sawzall to cut through the rails and then yanked out the posts. The posts are pressure-treated 4x4s in decent condition (and, mercifully, not set in concrete), but the fencing was not pressure-treated and had a lot of damage and rot. A few days before, I discovered that not only does our municipal trash transfer station compost yard waste, but they also compost “clean” lumber—i.e. not pressure-treated or painted or stained! So it’s not in a landfill, and one day I’ll probably buy it back in the form of compost, basically.

Before installing the new fence, I took this as my only easy-ish opportunity to really deal with this pathway that connects the front and back yards. It was paved with a cobbled-together bluestone pathway, but with dirt on either side and impossible to maintain without a ton of weeding or spraying stuff that kills weeds. I think the bluestone (from which the cottage derives its name!) will be so much nicer to use in the front of the house than along this pathway, and a clean and simple concrete path will be practical and super low maintenance and keep water off the foundation.

SO. We removed the bluestone slabs for reuse elsewhere, excavated a couple inches and leveled, then laid about 4″ of item #4 gravel. Around that, I built a simple form out of 2x4s, driving stakes into the ground every 4′ or so.  You don’t typically need the steel remesh for a sidewalk application, but Edwin likes it and hey—can’t hurt.

For the pour, there are a lot of concrete options—including just scheduling a pour with a local concrete company. I was concerned that access/traffic flow would be real issues, and it wasn’t THAT much concrete, so mixing and pouring on-site seemed like the best option.

I found this Sakrete Maximizer concrete at Lowe’s, which made things easier! Like other bags of concrete, they weigh 80 pounds each. BUT! Every bag makes almost twice as much concrete as a typical 80-lb bag, which is a big deal when you have to mix a bunch of concrete—we would have needed about FIFTY MORE bags to do the same thing with regular concrete. That’s a lot of work to cut out of the process!

Don’t worry, that’s just a little over 6,000 pounds of dry concrete. Everyone’s favorite summer activity, am I right?!

After tamping down the gravel and affixing Sakrete’s Expansion Joints to the abutting side of the foundation, it was pour time.

No WAY were we mixing 80 bags of concrete on our own. And at this point, I’ve paid enough to rent concrete mixers that I could have bought two. So Edwin and I went halfsies on this Kobalt concrete mixer, and now we have a concrete mixer.

I know, it’s all very impressive. A pick-up truck, chainsaw, and concrete mixer in the space of one summer. This is not how I pictured things turning out for myself.

We built the forms and screed the concrete at a slight angle away from the house. After it had set up a bit, we smoothed the edges with a concrete edger and placed our expansion joints every 4′ with this concrete groover. Once it was pretty set, I misted it with water and covered it in 6 mil plastic, which helps it from drying out too quickly and developing cracks.

Hooray! I’ll be honest that it’s not the most exciting improvement but it feels super clean and practical and easy to live with. I’ve really grown to appreciate a simple concrete slab in my old age.

After the new path had dried out for a few days, the fence was delivered! HEYYYY.

(BTW—I opened myself up a Lowe’s ProServices Business credit card, which gives you 5% off everyday AND $20 flat-rate delivery from your local store. Consequently, getting big things delivered—like 80+ bags of concrete or 100+ 16′ cedar boards or like 120 bags of gravel—is my new favorite thing. So much time and energy saved on loading and unloading, which makes the project itself feel so much more manageable and leaves me more time to actually enjoy my summer! I wish I knew about this sooner—for real, talking about this is not part of my blog partnership with Lowe’s, but it’s a good deal if you do this work professionally, so I wanted to mention it. They were also running a limited-time 10% off promotion for opening the card, so that was a nice savings for these few large orders.)

So, about this fence. I thought horizontal fencing would visually elongate the space and it just felt like the way to go here. I also really wanted to use cedar, since it’s what I used on the front planters and I know it holds up well. Pressure-treated wood just always disappoints me in a few years and I try to avoid it. Also—hear me out! It’s a small house, so treating this like another living space feels important. All of this to say: I designed an expensive fence, and the small size of the yard made me feel justified in this decision. Let us pray it was worth it.

After weighing my options, 1 x 6 cedar decking boards in the 16′ length were the best solution in terms of size, price, and quality. 16 feet is a long board, but it’s actually slightly less expensive to buy the 16-ft length than two 8′ pieces. By the way, the boards really are 1″ thick (rather than your typical 1x, which is 3/4″ thick), but are 5.5″ wide rather than 6″.

Is this overkill? Kinda, maybe, sorta, depends. Let’s put it this way: your typical 5’x8′ pressure-treated fence panel will run about $7.50 per linear foot of fencing. By comparison, 1×6 cedar decking boards will run about $17 per linear foot to achieve the same height (I went higher to match the height of the chainlink, bringing my linear foot cost to about $25). So it’s not a small difference—it’s definitely the big ticket item back here. In fairness, I expect this fence to last MUCH longer than typical 5/8″ thick pickets, so there’s that to consider too. But anyway—it’s so foundational to the space and not easily changed that I stand by it. I’ll just have to be crafty in other ways so this whole thing doesn’t cost a small fortune.

At this point, I’d exhausted the labor budget I gave myself on the backyard and was working solo. I removed the wood forms for the concrete path and used a post hole-digger to dig down about 2.5′, spacing my posts at 8′ intervals. I used 10′ cedar 4x4s, which I’ll cut the tops off of toward the end—it’s easier to cut down the posts after they’re set than try to get the tops all level as you install them.

To make my life SO MUCH EASIER (and more exciting), I treated myself to this Sika Polyurethane Fence Post Mix to set the posts. It’s kind of the coolest. Rather than schlepping an 80-pound bag of concrete for each post, you just need this little lightweight pouch of chemical potion that turns into this rapidly expanding foam. Because it expands and cures so quickly, you don’t need to brace your posts like you do while concrete sets—just hold it in place for a few minutes and you’re good. I LOVE it. I didn’t know what to expect, but the posts feel extremely sturdy and stable, and it made the hardest part of fencing feel…not very hard! Easy as a one-person job, and I had all my posts set in like an hour. Boom!

Maybe my holes weren’t quite deep enough, but the foam expanded above the ground, each one looking like a small mushroom cloud. This happens in a matter of seconds! I’ll post a video to Instagram—it’s weird ASMR to watch it grow. Science, man. It’ll mess you up.

The next day, I used my Dremel Multi-Max 50 to cut away the excess foam. Easy and done. Love that thing.

Time to start putting boards up! Hooray! This is a difficult one-person job and a somewhat easy and relaxing 2-person job.

Horizontal fencing is kind of like tiling—if your first board is right, it goes pretty fast from there. I left a 1″ gap or so between the concrete and the bottom board and used a level when attaching it. I used 2″ Grip-Rite deck screws to attach the boards to the posts.

With the first board secured and level, I used a paint stir-stick as a spacer between boards. This also allowed for a little bit of play to keep the boards level—you want to recheck your level periodically and make small adjustments as needed.

Because the boards are so long, I can span two posts with one board—which means a nice staggered joint! I think this looks really nice (more continuous, I guess), and also helps the fence stay rigid and super solid because there isn’t a big vertical seam on each post.

Before installing the last board, I marked and cut the top of each post at a 45-degree angle, which will prevent water from sitting on the top of the post without needing decorative post caps. I just thought this would look nice! It also saved a few bucks.

With the north side done, I pulled out the dog-ear picket fence on the south side, re-set the posts, and began hanging my fencing—making sure my south-side boards and north-side boards were level with each other.

Oh hi, fence! Looking fancy.

Now it’s time to cover the chain link!! I ripped a cedar 2×4 in half and mounted it to end of the new fence, where it meets the chain link. This is what the boards will attach to in this corner.

I’ve seen similar stuff done with conduit straps, but did you know there’s an actual adaptor part made just for this? I ordered mine online from Lowe’s and they were here a few days later.

So typically, these would install onto the vertical chain link metal poles, like so. From there, you’d treat them just like a 4 x 4 post, installing your 2 x 4 fence rails to the adapters and hanging your pickets as usual. In some cases it’s appropriate to remove the chainlink itself, but since this is part of a much larger fence that’s not mine, it stays.

In this case, I used the horizontal rails of the chainlink to attach my adaptors.

Then I just screwed in cedar 2x4s as my verticals. Like fence posts! Obviously there’s a small gap between the adaptor and the 2×4, but that’s as close as it goes with the chainlink still in place. The screws are long enough to keep it very secure.

Like so! There’s an adaptor on the top rail and the middle, but the bottom was buried so far down that I just kinda buried the bottom of the 2×4 “posts” and called it a day. Note also that attaching the adaptors to the rails rather than the poles allowed me to control the spacing—the span is too long for a single 16′ board, so I needed two “posts” in the middle to keep my staggered seam. If that makes sense? It took some head-scratching once I actually started. You, too, can figure it out.

Here! We! Go! From here, the fence went up much like the other sides. Glorious! Because the side walls are attached to each other by the center section over the chainlink, the whole thing is square and level and impressively sturdy.

In case you’re wondering how this looks from the back—I think it’s pretty clean and nice! The gardeners seem stoked, too. I hope they find that it makes a nice backdrop for whatever they want to hang on it. I didn’t treat it with anything, but cedar should weather to a nice silvery grey in a few years. I think that’ll be swell.

Remember this, a couple weeks ago?!

SO MUCH BETTER. I decided to extend the concrete pathway straight into the yard, leaving about 7′ of unpaved space in the corner for a tree. I feel like this paved area could be used in a variety of ways, like a grill and some outdoor chairs, or a small bistro table, or a swanky bar or buffet surface.

While the community garden was nice to look at, having all the sides fenced in a solid material really makes the space… feel like a space? It feels like a (currently comically barren) private little courtyard, where you could totally kick back and read a book and drink rosé or whatever. It’s so small and cute!

So happy to have this fence done! This feels kind of like an interior renovation—and now that we have walls, it’s just floors, furniture, and decor to go! I can’t wait to get some plants back here and really see it come to life.

By the way! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the awesome ideas y’all had for this space—I seriously considered ALL of them, and I’m so grateful for the feedback. This feedback included a lot of suggestions about the chain link conundrum in particular, so if covering your chain link with wood fencing isn’t your speed, here are some great options offered by your fellow readers!

  1. Climbing plants! Easy, cheap, and effective! Climbers LOVE to grow on chainlink (honeysuckle, hops, ivy, Virginia creeper all come to mind). They’d take a few years to take over, and in this climate would still die back in the winter but provide privacy all summer long. I didn’t go with this option in large part because the community garden actually owns the fence, and climbers can become quite invasive and even damage the fence long-term, and they expressly did NOT want it.
  2. Hedges! Also effective, but slower, and more expensive. Lots of options: Arborvitae, Holly, Privet, Laurel, and Forsythia are a few I can rattle off.  Of course something like that takes up more space than fencing or climbers, but not a ton.
  3. Privacy Slats and Screens! There are various products designed for this very purpose that are affordable and practical, like privacy slats you can kinda weave into the chain link, or privacy screening meant to hang in front of it. Within the privacy screening category, there is black (which can be a good neutral backdrop for plants) or more decorative options which I’d assume look good from afar and a little cheesy up close. My favorite option here is probably a natural reed or bamboo screen—natural reed in particular I think is versatile and can work in a lot of different styles. You can also get creative! Recycled billboard vinyl is well-suited for outdoor use, or waterproof canvas, or sail cloth, or…IDK THIS IS YOUR PROJECT, YOU FIGURE IT OUT.

Onwards! I’m so glad to be getting this done now, while the next steps on the interior work are still being debated between the pros and the building department (I’ll tell you all about it—it’s nuts but informative, I guess), and fall/winter are just around the corner! I’m glad this is going pretty quickly because I’m still hoping to circle back to a few improvements to my OWN backyard/exterior before it’s too cold and I shift back indoors. Anyone else starting to feel that crunch? Just me?

Bluestone Backyard Makeover: Welcome to the Jungle!

This project is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Since the basement laundry room renovation a few months ago, progress has been a little slow over at ole’ Bluestone Cottage. I’m itching to get going on the finish work (the fun stuff!), but there are some hurdles to overcome first. Right now getting the insulation sorted out is the main priority—something that sounds simple but has required all this back-and-forth hassle between professional installers and the building department and inconsistent information and CAN ANYTHING JUST BE EASY?!

No it cannot. We’ve discussed this at length for roughly nine years. Get with the program.

So here we are in the middle of summer. My strategy is to get the house to the point this fall that the exterior’s in good shape and the interior is insulated and heated and ready for all the fixin’s. I’d really like to have this house occupied next spring, and I really don’t want to have a major exterior project hanging over me when that time comes! SO, while I’m waiting on these few interior things to materialize, and the weather’s good, and fall is just around the corner, I’m finally tackling…THE BACKYARD.

I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about the backyard? I don’t think I ever really showed it? Much like the front of the house, it was a complete jungle of overgrowth and trash when I bought this house, so it wasn’t really possible to take photos that show the whole space. It’s very small—less than 500 square feet!—which I find kind of exciting. It feels manageable in a way that my own much larger backyard doesn’t, and the volume of materials needed for any given improvement isn’t so huge. At the same time, it’s a real design challenge because you still want to include everything you’d want in a larger space, but don’t want it to feel crowded or busy or stupid. Challenge accepted? Great; you don’t have a choice.

By the way, should I be referring to it as the…rear garden? That sounds so much more sophisticated than “backyard.” I feel like that’s what Monty Don would call it.

This is one of the only photos of the rear garden I have from when I bought the house. Cute, right? There was this big storage shed back there, which I think partially collapsed after a tree fell on it. At the time I remember thinking it took up so much space and that the backyard would be so much nicer without trying to also use it as a storage facility, but I now understand why the shed was necessary. Because the house is small, too! The old shed held a wild assortment of toys and figurines and picture frames and stuff, but I’ve really tried to design ample interior storage space for that kind of thing. That said, with only a little tiny basement, there really isn’t anywhere inside the house for gardening tools or outdoor power equipment or snow shovels, fertilizers, seed, etc. This is fine for now since I just bring all that stuff over from my house when I need it, but eventually this house needs to grow its own wings and fly. So keep that in the back of your brain: STORAGE!

Anyway. The shed and its contents were disposed of years ago. And that’s pretty much where the progress in the back stalled until about a week ago.

DO YOU FEEL INSPIRED OR WHAT?! Yikes. What you’re looking at is the north side of the spaceThe back of the house is on the left, and a 4-ft walkway between that and the rickety wood fence provides access to the space.

So. Lots of old trash—the overgrowth conceals some of it but trust me it’s there. I swear this was just used as an unofficial dumping ground for a while. There’s an oil tank leftover from the house’s old heat system (which had been stripped out, presumably for scrap, when I bought it) a mysterious pile of sand, and just general mayhem.

(Related: if you’re local and need a perfectly good oil tank, hit me up.)

Moving ’round clockwise, the back corner is mostly obstructed by this big tree, which is growing RIGHT on the fence line. This tree was actually supposed to be removed back when I had some other tree work done, but I think a miscommunication resulted in it just getting some pruning. It’s a mulberry tree, which is both yummy and a total mess because those berries drop everywhere.

This is the entire view of the back of the property (it fits in one photo! the whole thing!), which is comprised of a tall chain link fence owned by the community garden behind it. I love having the community garden as neighbors but I always hate chainlink fencing, and since people come in and out of it all day, it makes the backyard feel very exposed. So keep that in the back of your brain: PRIVACY!

Moving clockwise, we have the other side. Here, we threw up a quick fence when I bought the house with some pre-assembled panels mostly to keep the neighbors from disposing of things by just moving them over the property line. Now they just throw things over it, I guess? In fairness I accept responsibility for this—I don’t think people are nearly so inclined to act this way when it’s apparent that a space is being cared for and this one hasn’t really been. So hopefully that won’t be an ongoing issue.

There’s also a nice maple tree! I like the maple tree. I’m guessing it wasn’t planted intentionally but it’s big and appears healthy and provides some shade, so I think keeping it is the right move.

Continuing clockwise around the yard…these “before” photos are gonna be a lot more fun with some “afters” to throw up next to them. I’m working on it!!

Annnnd, we’re back to the rear of the house. Do you have your bearings? So compact!

OK, SO LET’S DIVE IN. The first phase of any landscaping work is to clear, clear, clear. Clear anything and everything out that you don’t need or want. I’m so glad this space is small because this was a big job.

On the first day, I did a bunch of smaller brush removal and filled about 15 paper yard bags with debris. It took a while because I try REALLY hard to keep any bits of trash out of the yard bags, since the county composts and resells it to people (like me!) in the community. Nobody wants plastic in their compost!

For the Mulberry tree, I called my normal tree guy (whose prices seem high to me, but he’s in the neighborhood and a good dude), but couldn’t get a call back! I asked Edwin to help me with some other odd jobs for a few days, and we figured we could tackle it together.  

Except neither of us have a chainsaw.

SO I BOUGHT A CHAINSAW. I figured the professional tree removal would cost 3x as much as the chainsaw anyway, and I still wouldn’t have a chainsaw. Feel free to borrow this logic when you want to justify power tool purchases. It works for me all the time.

Small note: if there are structures nearby or the tree is big or there are any doubts or hesitations, hire the trained and properly insured professional.

I picked up the Greenworks Pro 60-Volt battery-powered chainsaw, and it is GREAT. Edwin, a straight man, likes to destroy things possibly more than he likes building them, so he tore it out of my hands and climbed the tree before I could take the tag off or fight him for it. He had the time of his life, I think?

So the chainsaw. I am genuinely impressed. We took down the whole tree on one battery and it had no problem getting through big limbs or even the base of the trunk.  It uses the same battery as my leaf blower and lawnmower and hedge trimmer, and I feel really good and grown-up about assembling this arsenal of high-quality battery-powered tools. I’m consistently impressed by their performance and expect to use them for a very long time!

And then I took this photo of ol’ Boondock, which is carrying most of a Mulberry tree in its bed. It took two trips to the compost pile at the dump and about $15 and the deed was done.

Many more yard bags and contractor bags later…

HELLO (almost) blank slate! I feel like now we can get a better sense of what we’re working with here. Don’t worry, I’m sure I will find a way to overcomplicate this whole endeavor.

Of course without the tree, it feels a little like a fish bowl because of the chain link fence. I think I have a plan. The community garden folks are thrilled to see the Mulberry tree gone, by the way.

In the foreground, there is an odd pile of large rocks and broken bricks and pieces of concrete. I didn’t have the strength to start dealing with that. Pls ignore.

Sadly the kitchen windows are currently boarded, but I’m working on that too. I’m working on, uh, a lot of things.

Here’s a rough sketch with dimensions so you can see where we’re starting. So! WHAT DO WE DO. THAT IS THE NEXT QUESTION. Remember, this house is not for me to live in, so this is a real question. What do people like to do in backyards? Obviously we are dealing with major size limitations.

Here are some things I’m thinking about as I lay awake every night (it’s getting annoying):

  1. New fence. Private, and uniform all the way around. I think this will make a huge, huge difference. I think horizontal cedar boards will make the space feel a little bit larger. I spoke with the landlord who owns the existing picket fence on the north side and he’s totally on board with letting me replace it with whatever I want.
  2. Storage. Not a TON, but enough for outdoor/gardening-related stuff. This isn’t on the mood board because I think I’m going to try building something custom.
  3. Place(s) to hang out. I’m torn here. Chairs? An outdoor sofa? A dining table? A bistro table? Some combination? It’s tricky. I want it to be cozy and a place that will actually get used. I like a classic Adirondack chair…and a small table and chairs to sip morning coffee or evening cocktails (or morning cocktails and evening coffee; you do you). Pretend you’re renting this house: what would you want? Lowe’s has a whole lot of options!
  4. Low-maintenance. This kind of goes along with storage and places to hang out, but I really don’t want to deal with trying to grow/maintain/mow grass back here. I have a low-key pea gravel fetish, so I’m thinking a combination of concrete paving, classic pea gravel, and mulched beds—things that theoretically have to be dealt with only about once or twice a year.
  5. Outdoor cooking. Nothing crazy but it should have a grill, right? Sadly fire pits are a no-no in Kingston, but grills are OK. I love a classic little Weber charcoal grill, and I’m intrigued by this newer design that makes the charcoal/ash clean-up easier. And it comes in cool finishes like copper and this dark green!
  6. Plants. You could totally go all Secret Garden vibe back here, but I feel like that would not work with the aforementioned practical priorities, so I’m thinking more along the lines of some nice mulched beds along the fence. Maybe some climbers on a trellis, like this one? Maybe some container gardening in some classic terra cotta pots? Maybe another tree? Also, those kitchen windows are gonna need window boxes, right? These window boxes seem promising, and I wouldn’t mind buying something prefab rather than turning that into another project.
  7. String lights, because what kind of monster doesn’t love a string light?

OK! Past experience has taught me that there are some very good brains out there reading this, so I’m curious what your priorities would be! Tell me what you think at once! I insist.

Bluestone Basement Laundry: The Big Reveal!

This post is a paid partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

WELL BOY OH BOY, it’s been a busy month of work on the Bluestone Cottage basement renovation, and now I have stuff to show you! The very first finished space in this house! Which may have been the most challenging one, although I may eat those words later, and certainly the most grim “before” I’ve ever encountered. If you haven’t checked out the earlier posts about resurfacing the concrete floor and adding insulation and finishes, go read those! We’ve got a lot of ground to get through in this one!

SHALL WE?! Let’s go.

Even though this old basement access is now covered over in favor of new wooden steps stacked under the main staircase, let’s just think wayyyyyyy back for a moment to when I first walked through this house and located the basement access. I walked down with just my iPhone flashlight, and then NOPE’D my butt right out of there. It was dark, dank, smelly, cramped, and littered with trash. And carpeting!! The kind of space where you might come upon a corpse and kinda feel like you asked for it.

Later on, once I got some lights set up down there, I took a total of two photos. They are above. I do this to myself sometimes: if I don’t really foresee something undergoing a big transformation, I neglect to take nearly enough “before” pictures and then I’m grumpy about it later. But anyway: can’t you just see a washer and dryer tucked into that little nook? No?

How about now?

NOT TOO SHABBY, AM I RIGHT?! I kind of surprised myself in here: I started work on this a month ago without any real design plan, and then inspiration struck hard in the form of Port Lockroy, a 1940s British research station on Antarctica. I tried to really let that space guide me with more than just a color scheme—the modesty, the simplicity and handmade quality of it were just as informative! I tend to overcomplicate things for myself sometimes, so I found myself mulling a lot over how to deal with certain things efficiently and frugally and without a lot of fuss. Some of those solutions ended up being my favorite things in the room!

This is shortly after I started work about a month ago, after I spent a few days cleaning up! Edwin and I had previously framed the walls, and electric and plumbing rough-ins had to be completed before any of this finish work could take place. The propane tank, by the way, is connected to this Craftsman portable propane heater—I have no idea how I lived for so long without one of these for winter projects.

S’cute right? I really wanted the space to feel super casual and practical because it’s a basement! In an old house! Practical is its entire job! So it’s not precious—throw up a hook wherever you need it, add a shelf, staple a cable, cut a hole and patch it with something else, provided you paint it—it’s all good.

Bear in mind that almost every single thing in this space is brand new and from Lowe’s!, but I still wanted it to feel like a vintage space. Finishing it like the rest of the house would have felt too formal and unnatural, though, so I tried to do things throughout to get that nice fresh WWII vibe all the kids are talking about (if I say it, does that make it true?). I basically asked myself “what would grandpa do?” a lot. Not either of my actual grandpas—to be honest, I have no idea how they would have finished a basement in 1945—more like some generic old guy in my brain who putters around. He’s always been old and he doesn’t have time for your shenanigans. Grandpa paints right over the outlets and switches and utilities, so I DID TOO. Grandpa ain’t about that painter’s tape life either. It felt so naughty and liberating. But like, I think it works.

Behind that door is the old basement access. Aside from the floor, I haven’t really dealt with that space yet, but it’ll house the boiler and some additional storage. I love that there’s a separate space for that! Because the ceiling height is so low (about 6-6’4″ depending on where you’re standing), it’s also really nice to have all the plumbing tucked into the ceiling so it could be finished without exposed Pex. Copper pipe can look great but Pex isn’t as nice to look at.

Putting all the hooks and hangers and tools on the pegboard was so much funnnnnn. I’ve never actually had a pegboard, and now I want one for myself! I kind of want this whole room for myself, but that’s a different story.

OK, now that we’ve kind of given it the once-over, let’s break it down!

Last time, we discussed the Azek composite baseboards, Dow Froth-Pak spray foam insulation, and 1/4″ thick beadboard plywood that I used for the walls. As a precaution, I painted the backside of the plywood with Rust-Oleum’s Mold Killing Primer. I attached the panels to the studs with 1 1/4″ exterior screws, and strips of scrap wood cover all the seams! The intention here is that should parts of a wall/ceiling ever need to be removed for any reason (like to access a pipe or a cable or something), one could do so fairly easily by just prying off the seam trim and locating the screw heads, and everything could likely be reused for the repair.

Since I ripped the panel widths down for the walls, I had some large off-cuts to use on the ceiling! The joists are all over the place and the thin plywood is definitely wavy as a result, but it’s ok! It looked so bad before I put up the seams to cover the strips and painted it, but now it’s great. The strips on the seams, by the way, are just the same plywood ripped to 2″ and flipped over to the smooth side. The “chair rail” piece is scraps of that same Azek composite board I used for the baseboard, ripped down to 2″ and only 1/2″ thick. I made a LOT of sawdust during this project, but didn’t buy any lumber (composite or real!) aside from 15 sheets of the plywood.

Itty bitty window! I’m pretty sure it had only been painted when it was new and had never been reglazed—which left it in probably the most restorable condition of any window in the house!

The old hardware didn’t work anymore with the new framing/trim, so I had to improvise a little but it works!

I couldn’t dress up this room without a few little nods to my Antarctic inspiration. That little print is by Charley Harper—I’ve been carrying around a stack of prints like this that I ripped out of a day planner like a decade ago.

This vintage print is one of the only things left in my own house from a previous owner, and I thought it’d be cute just hanging there tacked to the wall all casual. I used my super special supply of vintage carpet tacks for the occasion.

The door to the boiler room actually came out of my own house, too! It was a 1930s closet addition and the style isn’t appropriate for my house, but it’s perfect for this space! And it was already so small that I only had to cut about an inch off the bottom to make it work. Like it was meant to be!

So the grandpa part of me wanted to paint the door hardware right along with the door, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Ha! So I restored it instead. The backplate was original to this door, but the knob itself came from this house (the original knob is glass—I may use it upstairs?). I like when I can use excess from my house in other projects—it makes them all feel linked in a weird way.

Can we just take a hard right for a second and talk about HOW GLORIOUS IS THIS PAINT?! Now, you guys know me by now, right? I tend to be a black-white-neutral kinda guy when it comes to paint. I’m not typically using two really strong greens in combination, plus a color that resembles warm mayonnaise. BUT I LOVE IT. I love it so much that I wish we could all hang out down here in person, because the colors don’t translate precisely into photos shot in artificial light on an iPhone, but I did my best. It feels cheery and clean and vintage and modern and British and nautical and like a morgue all at the same time. The morgue part, especially, pleases me greatly.

Over time I’ve learned to appreciate sheens as much as colors—how glossy or matte a paint is can be a total game-changer! The Valspar High Gloss Enamel paint is fantastic to work with—thick, great coverage, and excellent self-leveling ability. The high gloss feels SO nice down here—it really gives off a vintage oil-based paint vibe, but with all the convenience and relative environmental friendliness and accelerated dry time of modern latex paint. Every surface feels scrubbable and smooth, and the sheen reflects a lot of light and makes the whole space just feel fresh. Love.

The actual painting was a bit labor-intensive, but totally worth it. I ended up finding that rolling with a regular nap 9″ roller and back-brushing everything with a 3″ angled brush was a good method for getting thorough coverage—all those grooves in the beaded ply suck up a lot of paint! You want to use kind of a heavy hand to get that thick oil-based paint look, you know? I did a minimum of two coats and three in some areas, and it would just look better and better with more coats. That plywood goes from looking a little hokey and cheap to downright luxurious with the right paint and caulk.

By the way, I’m a huge fan of these Whizz Microlon roller covers. They don’t shed like other roller covers do, and they wash really well—I threw some in my washing machine after giving them a good rinse, and they came out looking and feeling brand new! They’re awesome.

The upper walls and ceiling are Valspar’s “Ginger Sugar,” the minty color is called “Kelp,” and the dark green accent is “Palace Green.” For maybe the first time ever, I got three sample colors and ended up using exactly those three sample colors!

By the way—it took me a while to figure out how exactly to deal with these stairs. They were built speedily but not well, which ended up making a bunch of extra work for me later to reinforce all the treads and figure out how to finish them in a way that felt decent-looking and easy to clean. On the upside, I’m pretty sure I’ve figured it out. On the downside, I haven’t actually done it yet. But the stringer looks not bad for nailing some literal trash to it and painting it green! Let’s also not forget that I still have to renovate the entire house, so those basement stairs might take a beating before all is said and done—it might be better to just wait.

ANYWAY. Let’s discuss this region of the room. Pegboard? Love it. I just used a regular roller to paint it (be careful with brushing—paint can pool in the holes and drip out as it dries). It’s furred out 1″ from the studs behind, which creates the space for the pegs to be inserted into place. I started with this large assortment of pegboard accessories by Blue Hawkand then purchased a few extra bits like those little black mesh baskets and little yellow containers. I think organizing the pegboard is my new favorite game.

The big wooden trunk is an antique I picked up a while ago that I never especially had a space for in my house, but it adds a lot of charm here! It’s currently empty, but it could store a million different things. At my house it held a sewing machine and a bunch of fabric and associated supplies, but I decided those things would feel more at home spread across my dining room table because I needed to poach that trunk for my big boy art project.

The hanging clothes dryer is from one of my favorite stores in Brooklyn (now closed, like everything else I used to like in Brooklyn), and is no longer in production, so I cannot help you there. It hung in my first laundry room in my own house, and I would have reused it in my second one but there just wasn’t a good spot for it. I know this arrangement looks a little funny, but it’s hung far enough from the pegboard that I don’t think it’s an issue.

Speaking of drying! I’m not yet in a position to report back on the performance of the Bosch 500-series washer and matching electric ventless dryer I got for this space (read more about that decision-making here!) because they aren’t tottttalllllly hooked up yet, but I still feel good about them! You guys gave me a lot of good feedback on ventless dryers—which are definitely not all created equal—including how to optimize performance and what to reasonably expect. Some of you even have experience with these very models, which was encouraging! So anyway, I’m hoping that between the actual dryer, the hanging dryer, and the clothesline, there are enough ways to dry stuff down here.

OH YEAH GIRL, THERE’S A RETRACTABLE CLOTHESLINE. Did you think this was a JOKE? It stretches from one side of the room to the other and it took about 5 minutes to put up but somehow feels like huge fancy luxury and height of modern convenience.

My machine nook ended up being weirdly challenging! The hookups are way up by the ceiling (remember, really low ceilings), and I hate looking at that stuff but it needs to be easily accessible. I also wanted a big surface on top to fold or sort or put down a towel and iron or whatever, and a place to throw stuff away, while still leaving space around the machines (evidently crowding the dryer can really affect its performance), and then there’s that big 3″ waste line above and other plumbing just cutting across all ugly like that.

For the work surface, I mounted old 2×4 scraps as cleats to the side walls and back (I ended up cutting off the ends of that back piece later for the hoses and cords to fit up through), being sure to hit the studs. Then I used this Baltic Birch butcherblock counter, which was almost the perfect size! A few measurements and a pass with the circular saw later, I had a SUPER nice, solid worktop! To finish it, I used this Watco butcher block oil and finish, which is excellent stuff—it doesn’t need to be refreshed nearly as often as mineral oil does.

The overhead waste line situation was a little more iffy. I thought originally that I’d just build out a little soffit and box it in like a regular person, but after putting up a small section just to get a sense of how it would look and feel, I couldn’t! It looked AWFUL and it was a real head-banger—worse than the pipe alone since it protruded out further and lower. Just so awkward and terrible. I moved on to other stuff until I could think of a better solution. What would grandpa do?

Well, I’m not sure what grandpa would do but I know what I did which was so easy and I’m a little too smug about. I attached the framing lumber—one nailer up on the ceiling and one below on the wall. Obviously the framing is level and the pipe is pitched down, so I wanted to keep my “soffit” as high as possible while still maintaining a level line.


One occasionally advantageous quality of the Azek composite boards is that they’re SUPER bendy. After ripping 3/4″ thick boards down to 1/2″ thick for the chair rail, I had a lot of 1/8″ thick off-cuts that can bend almost in half before breaking. A-ha! I attached strips like this in several places along the length of the soffit to create a super-simple frame/shape.

Then, I attached 14″ flashing to the framing along the ceiling, and pulled it over my rounded composite board skeleton so it’d maintain a nice curve! I went into Lowe’s for aluminum flashing but opted for this vinyl flashing instead, since I thought it would be more forgiving as I inevitably bent and creased it by accident during install. This definitely would have been better as a two person job but I managed.

Anyway—a little caulk and paint and now it’s one of my favorite things in the room! It definitely looks like painted sheet metal, not vinyl flashing, and I feel like it’s one of those things your brain just kind of accepts as serving some function and moves on without thinking about more. I felt really crafty with that one, you guys.

For the whole hook-up situation, I tried not to overthink it (there were whole schemes with shelves and cabinets with false backs and other nonsense) and just made myself a little modesty skirt! And I really like it! I used a regular canvas drop cloth from Lowe’s, sewed a couple straight lines and boom, curtain! I hung it off of a metal clothing rod cut to size, which is easy to remove when the curtain needs to be washed. I like that there’s a lot of space to stash stuff behind it, too! There are a couple enamel trays back there to corral bottles of cleaners and stuff.

There’s about a foot and a half of dead space behind the machines, plus about 14″ to the side. I’m hoping that air circulation helps the dryer do its thing! I picked up this nice and affordable Style Selections trash can to sit in that space.

OK, should we talk about that huge work bench?! I love it and I’m jealous of it! It’s a full 8′ long by 2′ deep, which is such a wonderful and huge work surface to have anywhere in this little house! If I were doing this room for myself I’d probably want more of a proper tool bench with lots of drawers, but this feels more versatile if you just wanted it for general storage.

I started with a classic Edsal shelving unit, but modified it a little. I cut about 2″ off the vertical supports to lower the whole thing—especially with adding the butcherblock top, it was just too high for the space. Before assembly, I laid out all the pieces and coated them with this Krylon bonding primer spray paint, which dries quickly and leaves a nice matte finish to accept the topcoat!

Then I broke out my little Wagner spray gun (I love that thing for little projects like this!) and painted the parts to match the walls, of course!

I really like how it turned out! I’m sure the paint will chip here and there over time with use, but I feel like that’ll make it better in this case. I had to do a little…engineering to get the really nice baltic butcherblock top to work (not as easy as my plan of just plopping it on there), so there’s some added wood support at the ends to hold the top up and L-brackets to keep it in place. I also cut 1/2″ birch plywood for the shelves and layered it on top of the particleboard shelves that come with these units, which will hopefully keep the shelves from bowing and warping over time. I have these set up as shelving in my basement, and the particleboard is, unfortunately, a bendy mess after a few years.

By the way, I picked up an assortment of these Hefty storage containers to keep things more organized (the cottage has its own painting bin! how quaint!), and they’re great for this kind of thing! Most of the storage containers in my own basement are flimsy and tend to break a lot, but these seem really sturdy and up to the task of dealing with tools and heavy odd-shaped stuff. It’s nice to be able to just pull out a bin of everything you need (or at least everything you have, so you know what you need!) for a specific task.

Oh right—finally, the floor! It’s been a journey with this floor, which started with a cleaning marathon, followed by patching, priming, pouring Sakrete Self-Leveling Resurfacer, having to stop, priming again, and pouring more self-leveling resurfacer, tinted this time. Read that whole process here! I neither loved nor hated the final color of the concrete (I should have made myself some samples before mixing and pouring 700 pounds of concrete—my bad), but knew it would darken with a sealer and I wasn’t sure how it would play once the rest of the space was coming together.

Turns out—not into it! It wasn’t horrible but not really what I wanted. I spent about an hour sanding it with an orbital sander connected to my shopvac with 40 grit paper, which took off any paint drips, smoothed and buffed it out a little, and kind of softened the splatter-y stuff I did at the end of my concrete pour.

OK, so: people paint concrete. People stain concrete. People seal concrete. People epoxy concrete, and resurface concrete, and lay other flooring on top of concrete, and stencil it, and pour acid all over it. Within all of these categories of Things People Do to Concrete, we have subcategories. Finally we have products, and reviews for those products, and limitations of those products like the surface temperature and how long the concrete has cured, and these things are complicated by the fact that this has all been done in sub-optimal too-cold conditions in spite of my best efforts and I don’t know if any of it is a good idea. I tossed around my options for…weeks. My primary concern was that I’d do something that would wind up peeling, and then I’d hate myself forever? I’m not sure why this floor felt so high stakes.

While sanding the floor, I realized that my light, quick sanding wasn’t all that quick! The paint drips proved a lot harder to get out than I thought they’d be when I was cavalierly just painting without drop cloths, which I did because I knew I wanted to sand the floor down a little anyway, and I wanted to see the colors together.

Sometimes in situations like this, I’ll come up with a solution and somehow convince myself it’s the best one and I can’t really justify it later but it worked out so who cares? This is that. I bought a quart of dark brown latex paint. I thinned it to a ratio of about 4 parts water to 1 part paint. Then, because it was sitting there, I grabbed some of the powdered orange concrete tint and threw that in there too, because why not. Then I mixed it all up in a 5 gallon bucket.

I cut in around the room with a brush and then wiped up any excess, which was very little. That was the point! If it really soaks into the concrete instead of sitting on top of it…I mean, that’s logically what you want, right?

Anyway. I rolled out about 4’x4′ sections, and then buffed out the excess with a towel. I kept working that way across the floor, blending edges. What was kind of cool was that the powdered concrete tint didn’t really incorporate into the paint-water mix, so some spots got more pigment than others and I could blend those areas out to create some nice variation.

I don’t know, I’m into it.

The next day when the “stain” was totally dry, I added one coat of this Valspar Protective Sealer in the “wet look” (there’s also a “natural look,” which really is invisible when it’s dry). This deepens the color and dries with a glossy sheen—which I like in an instance like this, where it’s still a concrete floor but you want to be able to mop it, ya know? It soaks in really nicely—the reviews for this stuff are a mixed bag, but I’ve used it several times now for different things (brick, natural stone, now concrete) and it’s been great every time and very forgiving. Ideally I would have done at least one additional coat, but I was antsy to put this floor project to bed and it looked good with one, so I figured I could always add another later on down the line.

SO. ANYWAY. WHAT ELSE. I’ve reached a point where I think I have a mirror for any occasion? This one isn’t as old as I usually like ’em, but it’s so sweet for this house. Evidently I bought it at an auction, and since I don’t remember doing so, that means it was very very cheap. Unless I bought it at a yard sale from somebody who bought it at an auction and just left the lot sticker on. This is not important. I’m not worried about it, you’re worried about it!

That vintage ball lamp has been with me for years! I threw a bunch of these little brass Gatehouse coat hooks around the room, just because. Hooks are so handy. Never enough hooks. And I feel like these $3 basic hooks are perfect for this kind of space. I wish a little bit I’d hung them earlier so I could have painted over them—you know that’s what grandpa would have done!

That plaid throw laid SO VERY CASUALLY across the worktop is the official tartan of Antarctica, purchased at the continent’s only gift shop at Port Lockroy—the historic site that inspired this room for me. And I feel sort of stupid saying it, but creating this space felt on some level like being able to go back there, just a little bit. Or maybe access the feelings, somehow, of being there. Because “there” was a physical space, of course, but it was also a headspace that was more impactful than I think I realized at the time. It was a time of shifting perspective; of evaluating my life and thinking critically about such topics as priorities and goals and what are you doing?—a question often quickly followed by with that poor house down the street? 

Welp. I did this with that poor house down the street. From the design to the sponsorship to the basement-ness of it, it’s all been outside of my comfort zone in a way that’s been challenging and stimulating and hard and highly productive. I’m not going to pretend every day down in that room was fun and exciting, but it also felt like exactly where I needed to be. Like I was keeping some important promises I’d made to myself down at the bottom of the globe. Following through. Getting it done. Doing the work. Sucking it up. Getting back on track—maybe not the same track, but a track. Tracks are nice.

So anyway. I love this room, and I love you guys for being on this weird funny ride with me—even when the waters get a little choppy. And a huge thank you to Lowe’s for allowing me to take this on! I know for certain that this room is vastly better for the opportunity to do this with them.

Tired but happy human, for scale.

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