All posts in: Freelance Projects

Back to Burgevin Gardens: Kitchen Edition!

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

As we well know by now, I love a makeover. Always have; always will. I expect this information to shock exactly nobody. But even if all my past and present projects hold special places in my heart (and, maybe, ulcers in my stomach), frankly some makeovers are less exciting than others. Some projects involve more grunt work than creativity, or the balance is tipped more heavily toward practicality and function than aesthetics, or the space just isn’t especially inspiring and you kinda have to force it. Ya know?

This? IS BASICALLY EVERYTHING I LOVE IN A PROJECT. I MEAN LOOK AT ALL THAT HIDEOUSNESS.

HOW.

MUCH.

FUN.

Allow me to elaborate.

Over time, I’ve worked on a few projects over at my friend John’s house in Kingston, which I have named Burgevin Gardens—not because John is a Burgevin, but the original owners were. The Burgevins were a fascinating family—florists by trade—who appear to have built the original house in the 1880s and then did a major renovation around 1920 that doubled the size of the house and reworked the original 1880s structure. They built the house in an area of Kingston that wasn’t really developed at the time, and owned and operated the Burgevin Florist Shop in Uptown Kingston for close to 100 years—it was actually still open when I moved here (it’s currently being beaaautttiffullly renovated and restored as part of a new hotel project)! When the Burgevins built the house, they also had something like 50,000 square feet of greenhouse space erected on adjacent land, which kept the florist in operation year-round in the days long before fresh flowers could be easily shipped across the world.

Based on all this, I’m gonna go ahead and say they were a family of means, and they built one helluva house to show for it! Here it is around 1950, still largely intact (although already missing its shutters, and after rectangular storm windows obscured the arched tops on the upper sashes!):

It is fabulous, and huge, and full of huge projects. It’s been updated and messed with over the years in generally extremely bummer ways, and John has spent the last few years slowly chipping away at restoring it to some version of its original glory as time and money allow. It’s a truly massive undertaking and he’s doing a great job of it.

Last year, he enlisted me to design and rebuild the original 800 square foot wraparound front porch (indeed, that is bigger than my entire Brooklyn apartment!)—I shared a lot of that process over on Instagram stories as it was unfolding (the good bits are saved to highlights!).

Before that we restored the fireplace mantel in the sprawling living room (I think it’s 32 feet long??), and a little later I did a quick n’ dirty laundry room makeover because friends don’t let friends have terrible laundry spaces, right?

(For those curious about the porch project, you didn’t miss anything! Unfortunately it’s still not quite complete, and I’m hesitant to share it until it is…but I’m really hoping that can happen this fall because I’m so excited to show you!! Also, even though it’s not mine, I’d really love to close the book on that particular project because I’m really very proud of it. So standby on that.)

SO ANYWAY. The house is a center hall layout, meaning the entryway and staircase are in the center with rooms on either side. Turn right and you enter the ENORMOUS living room. Turn left and there’s a small foyer sort of space, followed by a massive dining room with beautiful oak panel details on the walls and a beamed ceiling. I somehow managed to never take a good picture of this room, so I made John dig one up…shockingly most normal people don’t obsessively take naturally-lit photos of rooms in their house all the time, so give the guy a break:

And then there’s a doorway from the dining room into the kitchen (out of frame, far right—see the edge of the door casing?), and it’s kind of like entering a different world? Based on the grand scale and relative intactness of these other spaces, the kitchen reads almost like a bad joke. BEHOLD:

I think part of me was excited when John bought this house just so I could have the honor of tearing out this mess. It’s so ugly, you guys. Should we count the ways?

From what I’ve been able to deduce, here we have an early-80s special of basically all the things people hate nowadays in a kitchen. Outdated dark oak cabinetry. Sheet linoleum covering the hardwoods. Laminate faux-granite (I guess? that seems generous.) countertops. Matching laminate backsplashes, which mysteriously stop short of the stove (you know, where one might functionally want a backsplash??). Granny wallpaper. Small upper cabinets with big huge soffits, which look not-so-big only because the top TWO FEET of them are obscured by the dropped ceiling. Bizarrely placed recessed can lights. Florescent box over the sink. A cheap metal venetian blind obscuring a beautiful arched original window. Have I missed anything? It’s truly a brown-town masterpiece of bad decisions.

I guess the faux-granite laminate was supposed to be an improvement over the faux-butcherblock laminate?! The mind boggles.

AND THEN IT GETS WORSE! Because the whole room is only about 9’x16′, but only about half of it is currently being used for the kitchen! Presumably because a prior owner wanted an eat-in kitchen, so left half the room empty—leaving a crowded U-shaped kitchen on one side and a bunch of wasted space on the other. Obviously it’s not being used as an eat-in kitchen now, and neither John nor I understand why anyone would waste their time eating in here with that GLORIOUS dining room just steps away. (I know actual dining rooms are out of fashion for many people. Those people are wrong. End of story; don’t @ me.)

The problem is, John doesn’t have the cash to renovate this kitchen (did I mention the enormous old house with endless projects that still has to be maintained and heated in the winter?), and that’s unlikely to really change any time soon. There are bigger priorities and even though it’s ugly as hell and no fun to cook in, it does function, more or less. So he bravely perseveres.

But with holidays around the corner (I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M WRITING THOSE WORDS) and plans to host family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, he asked me if I thought there was something that could be done to makeover this space on a budget. Don’t tempt me with a good time!

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Gimme it.

So, in turn, I approached my friends at Lowe’s to see if they would be interested in partnering up on this project, and they generously agreed! But there’s a catch. I have like…$2,500 to turn this thing around. That number is not missing a zero. That’s basically pocket change in the world of kitchen renovations that involve more than a little paint and maybe some tile. For some reason I am still convinced a total overhaul is possible.

How, you may be asking? Because we have three things going for us:

  1. Unfounded optimism and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned delusion. This is my main fuel source and I’ve learned to embrace it up until the point that I start hating myself.
  2. Underneath all this disaster, there are good bones. There’s gotta be, because this is a good old house! There have got to be hardwoods under that linoleum, right? We know there’s a beautiful original window, half-covered by nonsense. A peek above the drop ceiling confirms a TEN FOOT actual ceiling height. And there’s more space to work with than is currently being utilized, so we can play a little with the existing layout. We can and we WILL!
  3. We have a wonderful and free renewable resource: ELBOW GREASE. Rather than rip it all out, send it to a landfill, and throw money at the problem, we’re going to approach this very carefully, working what we’re working with and making some strategic decisions to maximize the impact of our budget. Luckily, Lowe’s has allllll the products we could possibly need to do just that, which is why I love working with them so much. High-end looks for budget-friendly prices! (they don’t tell me to say these things; I just have a lot of enthusiasm.)

Current financial constraints and impending family arrivals aside, why do a more budget-friendly renovation of this space? Because a) nothing will happen otherwise and b) I’d wager this is the last renovation this kitchen will ever see. Ideally, I’d love to see this house returned to a single-family someday (currently there’s a whole apartment upstairs, but it would be easily converted back), and the wall behind the refrigerator is just a non-load-bearing wall into a room 2-3x the size of this one. Which is to say, in another reality, I can totally see somebody ripping this whole thing out, knocking down the wall between this room and the next one, and putting in a big big kitchen to match the big big house. Old houses generally don’t have big kitchens like that, and while I’m usually not one to tear out walls in old houses, I actually think it would be a good approach for this particular house. The existing layout isn’t all that nice and it would be more suited to modern living. It wouldn’t be a crime here, and this is coming from someone who considers most decisions about old houses to be crimes against them. Ha!

But the reality is, that could easily be a $100,000+ project and, short of a new owner moving in or John winning the lottery, there’s just no way. So let’s make this kitchen as nice as we can without going insane so John can enjoy his big Jersey family and, maybe, someday sell the house to someone who will see this space as totally workable at least for however long they want/need it to be.

NOW. THE HOW. HOW WILL WE DO THIS. Here are a few strategies that I think are helpful to think about if you, too, are considering upgrades but not equipped for the type of FULL, EVERYTHING MUST GO remodels we tend to mostly see on TV and online and stuff.

  1. Have appliances? KEEP THEM. Even if they don’t match. Even if you don’t love them. If they work, save your money and upgrade down the line if you want, and throw those not-ideal but still-functioning appliances back in there. Your dishwasher will still be 24″ when you go to replace it. This kitchen is going to have a KitchenAid stainless dishwasher, a stainless Kenmore stove, and a white Whirlpool fridge and I truly do not care. If you want a bigger fridge or something down the line, just leave enough space for it and use your smaller one in the meantime. You aren’t the queen of England. (Unless you are! In which case, a warm welcome, Your Majesty. Thank you for dropping by.)
  2. Have cabinets? CONSIDER KEEPING THEM TOO. You can often change a layout without scrapping all the cabinets, and I’ll be showing you some strategies to upgrade their looks and their function. These are NOT NICE cabinets by any means, but even your most basic cabinets can still often benefit from a few upgrades and strategic hackery.
  3. Embrace negative thinking. What I mean by this is: identify what you DON’T need or want, and strip that stuff out. In this case, that includes wallpaper, the drop ceiling, the recessed lighting, the linoleum floor…there’s a lot we can accomplish just by simply stripping out the bad and giving some TLC to what’s left behind. That’s basically free!
  4. Fill in the gaps with budget-friendly new and vintage. This is another not-so-subtle plug for Lowe’s because S E R I O U S L Y even if you feel kind of “meh” about your in-store displays, they have THOUSANDS of products online that might be more your speed. I’ve noticed they’ve also been making incremental improvements to their website which makes online shopping and sorting through products a lot easier, and so far I haven’t felt limited by options and this is coming from someone who literally hates everything.
  5. Consider less fitted. As Americans we are conditioned to think of kitchens as long continuous runs of matching cabinets punctuated by appliances, but there are so many more ways to kitchen! Consider freestanding vintage or antique furniture pieces like armoires, dressers, dry sinks, side tables…these things can often be bought CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP and provide TONS of storage and a totally unique look.

OHHHHHHH BOY HERE WE GO! John and I did a couple days of initial/exploratory demo just to really figure out what we were working with and so I could get to designing and figuring out how to make this budget work, and CAN YOU SEE IT ALREADY?! Am I the only one that would run screaming from the kitchen in the first picture but be completely thrilled about the kitchen in the second one? This is a fun one. I think it’s going to be really cool.

Here’s the basic layout plan! My goal is to really use the whole space, go from two awkward corners to just one, and allow for two people to comfortably prep and cook in here since currently I’d call it a one-butt kitchen. I think prep space on both sides of the stove will be a game-changer, and increased floor space and ceiling height will give the illusion of more space. Plus centering the sink under the window will just bring everyone joy and I aim to please.

OK so this is a pretty basic mood board but check it out. These are my thoughts.

  1. LIGHTING! I want two big-ish pendants for the main lighting and one small one over the sink. No recessed. John doesn’t like under cabinet lighting so we’re not doing that. I found this little pendant and these larger more impactful ones that both have a turn-of-the-century vibe I can get down with. The prices and reviews are GREAT so I’m waiting with anxious anticipation to see them in real life!
  2. WALLS! I think a nice warm white on the walls and ceiling will look best. I have my eye on Valspar’s “Hint of Cream” but have to grab a sample.
  3. BACKSPLASH! It’s the tile du jour for bloggers everywhere, except green! And square! This Cloe Bedrosians tile is really beautiful in real life, with a lot of variation in the glaze and a handmade look. At $7.85/square foot, the price point is great considering that it looks like a much more expensive handmade tile from a more boutique source. Anyway John LOVED it so I made it my business to include it in the budget and design a kitchen that’ll pull it off. I think I can, I think I can! (It also comes in white, gray, black, blue, and this SO SO CUTE pink that I am dying to use somewhere, sometime. All in both square and subway formats!)
  4. COUNTERS! My initial instinct/plan was butcherblock, which John was OK with but not thrilled. Unlike me, he will not cut directly on a counter which kind of defeats the purpose of butcherblock in my opinion. This left laminate (nope) or stone (no $) or composite (also no $) but guess what’s cheap? CONCRETE. So we’re going to try to make our own. May or may not pigment them darker. I think they’ll read much like a natural stone, but it should cost about $350 to countertop the whole kitchen. Not bad! I have 15 bags of this concrete countertop mix waiting and ready to go because I’m ON IT.
  5. FLOORS! Y’all know I’m refinishing that wood come hell or high water; don’t play. They’re douglas fir.
  6. CABINETRY! I want to rework the existing cabinets with a little strategic carpentry and, of course, paint. I’m thinking beige-y. I’ve been real into a beige-y cabinet for a few years. I can’t help it! I’ll probably end up building some cabinets from scratch but I really want to reuse what we have already because $ and time.
  7. HARDWARE! I’m thinking simple and traditional? Simple black knobs on the cabinet doors and traditional bin pulls on the drawers. I really like the shape of these bin pulls—a little different than the norm but still totally classic. Oh also! I’m going to attempt to make these partial-overlay cabinets into inset cabinets, so I will need new hinges and I *think* these ones are just the ticket. I’ve ordered a couple as a test.
  8. SINK! FAUCET! We are debating a new sink. Which is my way of saying we’re getting a new sink (maybe this guy??! although that will blow the budget, pretty sure). Or maybe a vintage sink, if the price is right and the condition is good and the size works? Either way, I’d like it to be charming, and white, with a new faucet. To be honest, I like having a simple practical single-lever pull-down-hose modern faucet and don’t think that we need to perform plumbing cosplay to make this kitchen feel appropriate for this house. My approach to that is to go fully the other direction, totally mod, and keep it inconspicuous which I think black does. Brass would be too matchy in a bad way, I think.
  9. HOOD VENT! I generally do not like hood vents. But I think I will like this hood vent! It’s an insert, so we can build whatever we want around it, and I’m thinking just keep it VERY VERY VERY simple and try to avoid being able to see the actual device inside the enclosure. I’m weirdly excited, John is weirdly excited, and this is a real functional improvement since this space hasn’t had a vent as long as John’s been here.

Golly that post took a long time to write. But this’ll be fun! I’m trying to update Instagram stories (@DanielKanter) on the daily as we move through this renovation EVENT, so check that out! You can listen to my terrible vocal fry and watch my chaotic job site filming for entire minutes as this all unfolds! Yay!

Giveaway! Before and After! Hygge & West Home!!

So something cool happened. Gather ’round.

Several years ago now, when I still lived in Brooklyn, I got to do a really fun job for a really cool client—multi-talented woman of the stage, screen, and audio recording, Ana Gasteyer! You might remember her glamfabulous master bathroom makeover I posted about with the incredible metallic pineapple wallpaper, and thennnnnnnnn…we never spoke of it again?

Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover Manhattan Nest | Ana Gasteyer's Bathroom Makeover

That’s my fault. Blogger fail. In reality I was lucky enough to work with Ana on a few major spaces in her home, but I never circled back to it on the blog. Evidently I didn’t even really shoot the spaces when I was done, unless those photos are hiding in a file somewhere deep in my hard drive, which is effectively the same thing. So stupid! Ana and I are still in touch—she’s good people!—but I’m rarely in Brooklyn, and asking to come photograph someone’s house like 5 years after the fact feels…I don’t know, not how it’s done. There’s an illusion of professionalism I have to maintain here, people!

Cut to: earlier this year. I received a book in the mail I’d been looking forward to: Hygge & West’s first book, Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life! I swear these things are related. Hygge & West has been my favorite wallpaper company for years (in fact…I don’t think I’ve ever used wallpaper on a project from anywhere else? nothing comes to mind? that’s kinda crazy.), and here they went and put together this beautiful book that brilliantly combines gorgeous interiors with profiles of the people who inhabit them and the things big and small that lend uniqueness and personality and coziness to these homes. The book is truly beautiful and such an achievement—I’m so proud to kinda-sorta know the amazing women who have built this company over the past decade, Aimee and Christiana. I want to be like them when I grow up.

ANYWAY. I’m looking through this book and all of a sudden—that’s Ana’s house!! I did that!! And then I started reading and I’m mentioned by name and everything, and…well. Surreal! My work, photographed by a professional and published in this glorious book! So, yes. I am taking a moment to brag because that was really fucking cool and a first for me. It looks very much as it did the day I left, which warms my heart.

Ana was such a great client—YES she’s a successful actress and overall class act, but she totally spoke my language of thriftiness, vintage, IKEA (I knew when she started spitting product names like a true aficionado that we’d get along), antique rugs, weird art…basically all the things I like. She and her family are all genuinely kind, smart, wonderful people, who were exceedingly gracious with this little 23 year old blogger guy who didn’t totally know what he was doing, flitting around their house rearranging all the things. With two young kids (not so young anymore!), she wasn’t looking to spend crazy money on fussy, fancy stuff and didn’t want a space that felt overdone—she wanted clean and practical and functional and calm. A place for everything, including so many cool and unique treasures accumulated over she and her husband Charlie’s rich and interesting lives thus far. I’m kind of freaked out by the interior decorate-y concept of buying decor items to fill out a shelf vignette or whatever that don’t actually mean a thing to the client, except that they paid for them, but Ana had so much great stuff to work with. So it was really a matter of trying to honor her existing things by pulling it all together in a way that felt cohesive and fun and stylish and livable.

Same area of the living room, before and after style! The building is an old factory/warehouse kinda deal, converted into living units, which is pretty common in Brooklyn. A lot of the work was adding little things to update and upgrade from the builder-basic finishes, and trying to make kinda weird areas and soffits and stuff like this look special and intentional rather than awkward. We removed track lighting in favor of more impactful pendants (this one from Flos was so so pretty), and added those little Alabax fixtures from Schoolhouse Electric to the soffit which evidently housed a duct, the vent for which I believe was photoshopped out of the “after” image—ha!

We papered the wall in Hygge & West’s Andanza and that shimmery copper backdrop was just…GAH! Gorgeous, gorgeous. The sofa was IKEA and I built a realllllllly long and narrow plant table for behind it (Ana loves a house plant, especially geraniums!). The rug was from Rugs USA (holy shit, it’s so cheap right now), the coffee table was from Organic Modernism (god I love that table), and the lounge chair was our big ticket item from Anthropologie. The guitar hook is from OneFortyThree! On either side of the piano we did two little “fauxdenzas,” the IKEA hack gift that just keeps on giving that Anna from Door Sixteen gave to the world many moons ago. I think I installed…5 different fauxdenzas in Ana’s place? Just so damn practical!

Don’t worry—we just moved that pretty antique china cabinet to a better wall! Aside from the beautiful vintage credenza, there isn’t a single thing in this photo that I purchased. I think Ana grew up with that incredible mirror, and the lamp (we called it the jellyfish lamp) was a gift from a cast mate, if memory serves. I spent the entire job terrified I’d break it somehow—that’s a helluva lot of crystal to be responsible for.

Not to get all weird and dark on you, but seeing these rooms presented in this way was really the first time I ever gave myself credit for doing a good job here. I think that happens a lot with creative work—by the time a project is nearing completion, you’ve poured a lot of time and emotional and physical energy into it, and you lose objectivity. Combine that with major insecurity (oh hiiiiiii) and it’s really hard to gauge whether something is good or not because to you it’s become a collection of projects that may not have turned out as perfectly as expected, or purchases that pushed you over budget, or back-and-forths with the client where you wish you had pushed harder for some option you liked better, or some flaw you hope nobody else notices, and so on. And yet: DAMNIT, DANIEL. It’s in a fucking book. A beautiful book. It looks great. And most importantly, it fits the people it was designed for, who have loved and lived and partied and chilled and, now, grown up in it. In what universe is that not a success? So this book, to me, feels like a real gift—a good reminder to not do that stupid thing anymore. It’s OK to want to do better and celebrate where you’re at. We’re often doing better than we think we are.

SO. I asked Christiana and Aimee if I could extend that gift to you, too, in the form of a good old fashioned Manhattan Nest giveaway, and they did us one better! Because it’s almost Christmas and we should have a little fun!

Up for grabs is not only a copy of Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life, where you can see the rest of Ana’s house as well as a ton of other spectacular homes, but also…TWO rolls of one of their newest papers, Piedmont! Any color! That’s 60 feet of wallpaper THAT IS SO CUTE AND PRETTY I JUST DIE. And knowing what I know of Hygge & West’s paper, it’s roughly 14,000 times more beautiful, somehow, in real life.

TO ENTER: Let’s run this old school. Leave a comment telling us where you’d use the wallpaper and/or who you’d give the gift of Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life to—which can totally be yourself! No judgment.

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed! Thank you, everyone! The winner will be notified by email! :). A winner will be selected at random and notified via email! Please note that international entries are welcome and Hygge & West will pay the shipping, however the winner may be responsible for international duties & taxes.

Good luck!

I was generously supplied a copy of Hygge & West Home: Design for a Cozy Life. All opinions and nonsense are my own. Photos from the book used in this post are by James Carriére and used with permission from the authors. 

Here! There! Everywhere!

OH HELLO! It’s June! How did that happen?! There’s so much going on. Let’s run it down in no particular order because my brain’s all over the place.

The gang is back together! Edwin, Edgar and I are in the midst of building a large-and-in-charge wraparound front porch on a circa-1900 house in Kingston! Perhaps I should say rebuilding, since the porch was demolished long ago. So we’re constructing a close resemblance of the original porch, based on the bits of information we have—a few photos, dimensions from old tax assessment records, and the few pieces of the original porch that remained. It’s a big huge project that’s been in the works for a couple of YEARS now, so it’s super exciting that it’s finally happening. It’s also daunting! Partially because it’s HUGE at almost 800 square feet, and partially because it’s a significant addition that will completely change the appearance of this old house and I have to make it look right and like it’s always been there! Part of my job is keeping everyone occupied and PAID, so aside from this big project I’ve also been hustling my ass around town on a bunch of smaller projects that the guys can hit when it rains, or a product order is late, or whatever. It’s kinda a lot to manage.

Let me tell you a story! Last summer, I reluctantly dove into the waters of Instagram Stories while we were working on a different house just outside of Kingston. Admittedly, I’m an extremely rare story-watcher, but evidently I’m a semi-prolific story-maker. It’s fun! It’s easy! As we know by now, as much as I like to write, I frequently struggle with actually having the time to dedicate entire blog posts to stuff that I plan to dedicate entire blog posts to while they’re happening, so Instagram Stories have been a nice alternate way to document things in real time. If you’re not following me already, first of all get your life together, and second of all go find me @DanielKanter. Then just keep an eye out for new posts, I guess! I try to archive the more relevant bits into the Highlights feature at the top of my profile, if you need to catch up a little on the aforementioned porch project.

What’s that you say? A different house outside of Kingston? Yeah! I guess if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about the cool quirky old farmhouse the guys and I renovated last summer/fall/winter! Honestly it was another doozy—not quite Olivebridge proportions, but still managed to go from a couple changes and a bunch of sprucing up to a top-to-bottom overhaul of…everything? 2 bathrooms! Kitchen! Laundry! All the rooms! The whole outside! Mechanicals! The bulk of the work ended in February but I just did a final install last week. I have to go back and photograph it but it’s nice to have this 8-week-turned-8-month project off my plate a bit.

Speaking of Olivebridge. If you read even one of those tumultuous posts about the Olivebridge house, I owe you some resolution. We don’t have to get into all the mostly-stupid reasons that hasn’t yet come to pass, but I haven’t forgotten. Honestly the fact that I haven’t blogged about it makes me feel like the book is still open on that project—in spite of the house’s successful completion!—and that feeling sucks so it’s high time to get my shit together on that front. MAYBE IT COULD ACTUALLY BE FUN! At the very least I think it will really and truly feel finished in terms of big life events I’d never want to repeat. Ha!

5 years! So I didn’t even think about it until the day after, but Friday marked the five year anniversary of owning my house! What a journey we’ve been on, this house and I. I still love it. I’m still overwhelmed by it. There are still parts of it I haven’t tackled and a lot of other parts in some stage of progress, but (knock on ALL the wood) I think the worst of the renovation is pretty much over and that feels GOOD. The past 2 years or so were particularly rocky, but it’s finally started to feel like a real home again—my home—and I’m more grateful than ever that I get to call this special house mine.

Laundry! Kitchen! Anticipating that this summer would be exactly as crazy as it’s shaping up to be, I set some concrete goals for myself and my renovation for the first four months of the year. We can talk about this more later, but experience is a valuable thing—and it’s taught me that working on multiple major renovation projects at different properties at the same time is a recipe for inefficiency and frazzled-ness and general misery, but I also obviously can’t just work on my own house all the time. So, I try to give myself a little time between client projects to re-focus on my own stuff and get as much done as I can. May 1st became the goal for having a functioning laundry room, a functioning kitchen, and doing some MAJOR clean-up and space-reclamation everywhere else once the first two items were accomplished and there’d be a bit more room to spread out. I DID IT! Having laundry again is amazing and having it on the second floor lights up my life. The kitchen is FAR from complete, but IT HAS WALLS and electric and plumbing—enough to hook up a sink, move in a few of my old cabinets, and start using the space again AS A KITCHEN for the first time in almost 2 years. And now that my dining room isn’t also a kitchen, and my living room isn’t also an enormous glorified dog kennel, I spent a weekend just rearranging my own shit for hours and now those two rooms look and feel so much better than they have in a LONG TIME. I even had two friends over for dinner! Like I said—still a ton to do, but getting to this point of basic usability feels huge.

So interior progress at my house will slow, but hopefully exterior work will continue. There’s a lot to do on the outside of my house—between gardening on the street-facing sides (and just maintaining what I have!), finally putting the finishing touches on the major exterior work that started last summer and the one before, and trying to get SOMETHING good going on in the backyard, I hope I can bang it out in my “free time” before fall/winter hits again. I’ve already decided that this summer I’m going to skip tearing off more vinyl siding in favor of just polishing off what’s already started—I can’t stand all the loose ends out there right now.

I have a major itch to landscape. Or hardscape maybe, more specifically? Getting the backyard just to square one was so labor-intensive and expensive that gathering the motivation (or setting aside the time, with the house itself needing so much attention!) to do much else with it has been tough. I’ve done two things that helped get my ass in gear, though: first, I asked a friend with a great garden to help me prioritize and plan and make a few decisions. FRIENDS! THEY’RE SO HELPFUL! Second, the Brinson’s invited me last minute to the Trade Secrets garden show in Connecticut, where we toured 3 amazing gardens including living legend Bunny Williams’ property, which I really just need to do a photo-dump kind of blog post about because it was so insanely good. Going to see this stuff IN MY CLIMATE (“omg, I can actually grow that too!!!”) was really valuable and the whole thing was for-real inspiring. Like I literally got home and began construction on a dry-stacked bluestone wall because I just had to get my inspo-overload ya-yas out somehow.

But don’t get carried away about my house, because there’s still Bluestone CottageI feel I owe a longer explanation about this than I want to get into right this instant, but long and short of it is—I MUST finish that house. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, financially—it needs to happen. I think I successfully enlisted an electrician last week, and the plumber has finally (sort of) reemerged after beginning the rough-in a YEAR ago, and my own living situation is finally back out of complete shambles, and life will go on and the house will get done and then I can stop feeling shitty about bad decisions I made when I was younger and dumber. Well, at least one of them.

Mekko is the best dog. We’ve also been dealing with some health stuff over the past few months, requiring visits to vet offices in 3 different states and a whole lotta money. It’s certainly not good but seems to be surmountable (yay!), and it’s been stressful and expensive and basically I’m trying to not freak out. I lost one dog 7 months ago. I refuse to entertain that this could resolve any way other than completely fine and she’ll go on to be the longest-living dog on record and then I’ll clone her. So anyway. That’s been awful, no lie, but could be way worse. Surgery, again, this Friday. Sigh.

I’ve bought some stuff. You know, since the last time I showed you some stuff I bought. I like pretty old stuff.

So that’s basically what’s up in my little corner of the world. What’s up in your little corner of the world? Do we want to hear about any of the above items in particular more than others? Watched any good TV lately?

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

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

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

I’ll tell you why not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The options were:

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

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

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

Let. The. Games. Begin.

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

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

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

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

I’ll stop objectifying Kim now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From this…

To this!

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

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

Let’s take a walk around!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Things

THING 1:

Here’s some high-level Blog Trivia for you: what do the following three pictures have in common?

They’re all the products of last year’s rounds of Lowe’s Spring Makeovers! The first one is Chris Loves Julia’s project, the second is Yellow Brick Home’s, and the third is mine. To jog your memory, the three of us plus a few other bloggers teamed up with Lowe’s and each took on a big makeover project in the home (or outside it, as the case may be) of a reader in a fast-paced whirlwind of DIY madness. It was one of those things where we were all independently freaking out during our respective makeovers, and then after it was over couldn’t stop talking about how much fun we had and how we’d totally do it again.

WELL WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN! BUT THIS TIME WITH A MAJOR TWIST! LIFE IS SO CRAZY I CAN’T HANDLE IT OMG.

This year, we’re a TEAM. Julia. Chris. Kim. Scott. Me. Joining forces for one epic super fast makeover. AND to make things extra high-stakes and insane, we’re looking for a specific kind of makeover: a kitchen or a bathroom! We all got a fair number of kitchen/bath applications last year that were a little beyond the scope of what we could do given the time constraints, but this year? We’re coming for ya. Chris and Julia are taking the lead on this one, but we’ll all be working together on one project which of course includes all five of us showing up on YOUR doorstep. Afterwards we’ll be launching our very own cult! Stay tuned for deets on that.

Applications are still being accepted through midnight tonight, so hop on it! We’re gonna have so much fun.

THING 2:

There’s still time to vote for this little laundry makeover that I told you about earlier this week! The part of me with some shame wouldn’t be bugging you about it again, but the part of me that would be so hella super stoked to win $2,000 will totally bug you about it again.

This is the last day to vote, and it’s dramatic! Yesterday I pulled into first place (whaaatttttttt you guys are amazing and I love it so much) but today I’m back in second and it’s SO SUPER CLOSE! A real blog nail-biter if I’ve ever seen one. So if you appreciate this project and this blog gives you some pleasure and, I don’t know, you want me to get so rich, feel free to VOTE! You can vote once a day on each device (so if you’ve already voted, you can vote again! don’t hate the player hate the game), so whip out those phones and iPads and that first generation iMac in your attic and do it!

Or don’t do it. You do you. You’re your own person and we love you just the way you are.

Unless you’re a jerk.

Have the BEST weekend, everyone.

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