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Burgevin Gardens Kitchen Makeover: A Few Updates and a Lighting Round-Up!

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

This kitchen redo at Burgevin Gardens has been moving forward full steam ahead, and it’s really starting to look like a room! A nice room!

Here’s where we left off! A hot mess! Originally I did NOT envision doing so much deconstruction in here (this is supposed to be fast n’ cheap, remember!), but once we got into it…well. I just didn’t see a very exciting path forward with just cosmetic changes, and the “why don’t we just…” creep took hold. So we just went for it. Ultimately I’ll be glad we did, but right now it feels a littttttttle nutso because there’s still a LOT to do and not very much time to do it in or money to do it with. My favorite combo! The trade-off of a low budget is basically that everything becomes a project unto itself—instead of installing countertops, we’re making them. Instead of buying and hanging cabinets, we have to build some of them and hack the old ones. Et cetera. All individually manageable tasks, but combined it’s…no joke.

Naturally, things always have to get just a litttttttle worse before they get better. Ha! You may notice a couple of things:

  1. I had my plumber come out to re-route those exposed radiator lines into that corner chase with the rest of the plumbing! They’ll still be exposed over the window (I ain’t mad at it!), but that freed up the space I needed to move the dishwasher to the left side and center the sink under the window. That off-center sink always drove me nuts so I’m excited it wasn’t too big of a deal to make this happen! Since the sink is only moving a little, it should be easy to tie back into the existing waste/supply plumbing when the new sink goes in. (That’s right! NEW SINK! Which also means new cabinet! Which means I get to build a cabinet! More projects!)
  2. We took up the sheet vinyl floor and found the hardwoods! I knew they had to be under there. It’s not as though refinishing a floor is free, but still cheaper than buying all new flooring. And you can’t do much better than 100 year old fir!
  3. We have lights! We have outlets cut in! This was not especially challenging with an unfinished basement below and big existing holes in the ceiling to run new cable through.
  4. There’s a big long hole on the right side of the ceiling, which is for the vent! This hood vent insert can be vented to the outdoors or installed as a recirculating vent, but outdoors is generally preferable and it wasn’t too difficult here so, again, we went for it.

To move things along more quickly, I asked Edwin to drop in for a few whirlwind days to tackle some things that would have taken me much longer to do on my own. We got the duct installed, the hood surround build, the vent installed, the chase in the corner built, and plaster patched and skimmed, which was a huge help. Even though Edwin thought I was nuts for refusing to just gut out all the walls (when doesn’t he?), we saved nearly all the original plaster which always makes me happy, and just patched where necessary with drywall leftover from other projects!

AND OH HELLO, HARDWOODS! We removed as much of the old adhesive as possible using a scraper and this mastic remover from Lowe’s, which made a terrible and slow job less terrible and slow. This was mostly to avoid having to sand through it—since potentially it could contain asbestos, and because the sanding pads get gummed up really fast with tar-like adhesive, and those pads get expensive if you have to use a ton of them.

(Yes. Correct. We should have had the mastic tested for asbestos. It is not expensive and is good for peace of mind. This is a “do as I say, not as we did” kind of situation.)

So that’s basically where we are, which I don’t think is such a bad place to be! I’ve now poly’d the floors and am moving on into hacking old cabinets, building new ones, and hoping these concrete counters weren’t the worst decision I’ve ever made.

Now that we’ve stripped it all down and started putting it back together, I’ve been trying to make final decisions on the finishing touches like lighting, hardware, paint colors, and how exactly I’m going to make these cabinets work! I usually try to make a safe area on site for all the things that need to be installed, and I loveeeeeee the feeling of watching that pile shrink away as projects wind down. Three things currently residing in that pile are our light fixtures, which I’m so excited to see installed!

We have this small Progress Lighting pendant planned for over the sink ($70!), and two larger more impactful Kichler pendants to light the rest of the room ($135 a pop!). It can be a little risky sourcing from two different manufacturers if you’re trying to match finishes, but I took a look at both and the brass finish isn’t exactly the same but close enough! Both fixtures are really nice—including the fact that the small globe pendant’s cord is about a mile long and it comes with a bunch of brass extension downrods so you can hang it as high or low as you want.

ANYWAY. I think the key with mixing lighting (especially pendants) is to play with scale and the level of detail. A very simple and small fixture like the small globe will complement rather than compete with the large, more intricate design of the urn pendants. It can be a tricky balance, and generally it’s easier to pair a pendant with flushmounts or semi-flushmounts, but with a narrow room and 10′ ceilings I think keeping the lights off the ceiling will feel better.

The other thing I always like to consider is how the light will or won’t diffuse. I see people screw this up all the time, like when they want a cool industrial barn light but don’t think about how the shade will direct all of that light downward rather than diffusing it throughout the space. If you have other lighting (like recessed, sconces, or lamps) to pick up the slack that can help, but I don’t like recessed lights in old houses so I tend toward fixtures that will diffuse light rather than direct it toward a particular area. So for instance, a solid shade casting downlight would work well over the sink, but for the main space it might feel like an interrogation cell. Ya dig?

Actually landing on those specific fixtures was—I won’t lie—kind of challenging! Ultimately I pulled a bunch of options and then the homeowner and I chose together. The challenge wasn’t a lack of good options but rather A LOT of really great options—all from, you guessed it, Lowe’s! I’ve long thought that Lowe’s does a great job with lighting, but it’s been a while since I really dove into the selection and it’s only gotten better in the meantime. There are literally THOUSANDS of fixtures online to fit any style and any budget, including some really high-end looking modern pieces (ya know I like a mix!) that I totally didn’t realize they carried. But as someone who works a lot on old houses, I really appreciate that Lowe’s has a great selection of lighting that looks right at home in vintage or antique homes, but at prices that keep them attainable for projects where budget is a consideration…which is to say, all of them? I’ve really never done a project where budget limitations weren’t a main driving force in selecting finishes, and Lowe’s lighting has bailed me out more times than I can count!

SO with that in mind, I figured I’d have some fun showing you other budget-friendly fixtures we considered, and ones that I think are pretty great but didn’t really fit the bill for this particular room. I think the best ways to easily and relatively painlessly upgrade a space—especially a kitchen—is paint (of course), lighting, and hardware. So if you’re jonesin’ to refresh that kitchen or dining room before the holidays hit, maybe this’ll help you out! Or not! It’s your life!

(Of course, if you have a little more money to play with, check out what you can get for just a little more because there is some seriously great stuff! Note, also, that a lot of these lights come in different sizes and finishes—think of this like a light smattering of options!)

First the chandeliers! If this room were a little bigger it totally could have pulled off two chandeliers.

1. Cascadia Huntley 3-Light White Milk Glass Schoolhouse Chandelier // $220

2. Designers Foundation Ravella 5-Light Black Industrial Chandelier // $258

3. Allen + Roth Dystra 18-Light Soft Gold Chandelier // $189

4. Progress Lighting Archie 2-Light Shaded Chandelier // $170

5. LNC 8-Light Champagne Chandelier // $130

6. Progress Lighting Carisa 5-Light Vintage Gold Chandelier // $265

7. Progress Lighting Revive 4-Light Antique Bronze Shaded Chandelier // $68

8. Allen + Roth Webner 13-Light Bronze Chandelier // $199

9. Designers Fountain Emmet 6-Light Chandelier // $240

10. Litex Scott Living Fillmore Chandelier // $190

11. Globe Electric Aldred 12-Light Brass Chandelier // $242

12. Decor Therapy Sumter 8-Light Trestle Chandelier // $117

13. Designers Fountain Knoll 5-Light Oil-Rubbed Bronze Chandelier // $186

Next, pendants under 200 smackers! These should all diffuse light nicely around a space.

1. Cascadia Huntley Schoolhouse Pendant // $102

2. Westmore Lighting Georgetown Transitional Schoolhouse Pendant // $176

3. Westmore Lighting Georgetown Art Glass Schoolhouse Pendant // $196

4. Westmore Lighting Stratford Pendant // $196

5. Livex Lighting Oldwick Pendant // $95

6. Golden Lighting Dixon Aged Brass Globe Pendant // $104

7. Golden Lighting Hines Pendant // $159

8. Sea Gull Lighting Academy Schoolhouse Pendant // $189

9. Progress Lighting Embellish Galvanized/Glass Pendant // $100

10. Kichler Jar Pendant // $70

11. Allen + Roth Muncie Corsican Clear Glass Schoolhouse Pendant // $86

12. Globe Electric Latiya Pendant // $43

13. Progress Lighting Schoolhouse Pendant // $153

14. Sea Gull Lighting Pratt Street Bronze Ribbed Glass Warehouse Pendant // $199

15. Quoizel Soho Pendant // $40

16. Allen + Roth Aged Bronze Vintage Bell Pendant // $99

17. Decor Therapy Minetta 3-Light Convertible Semi-Flush/Pendant // $95

18. Craftmade Legacy Brass Pendant // $134

More pendants under $200! These will direct light a bit more than the ones above to varying degrees.

1. Boston Loft Furnishings Bell Pendant Light // $70

2. Progress Lighting McPherson Black Pendant Light // $135

3. Allen + Roth Bristow Bronze & Glass Pendant Light // $100

4. LNC Delphinus Rust Rustic Bell Pendant // $50

5. Westmore Lighting Hastings Pendant Light // $189

6. Golden Lighting Bartlett Copper Patina Pendant // $199

7. Westmore Lighting Crossens Park Oxford Pendant // $178

8. Globe Electric Liam Bronze & Frosted Glass Pendant // $30

9. Maxim Lighting Hi-Bay Bronze Pendant // $138

10. Craftmade Fredericksburg Oiled Bronze Pendant // $160

11. Westmore Lighting Farington Pendant Light // $90

12. Kichler Covington Olde Bronze Pendant // $119

13. Kichler Bronze Pendant Light // $100

14. Cascadia Harwich Burnished Bronze & Seeded Glass Pendant // $108

15. Quoizel Lockesburg Gloss White Farmhouse Pendant // $75

16. Golden Lighting Duncan Aged Brass Pendant // $179

17. Progress Lighting Fresnel Dome Pendant Light // $169

Finally, little guys under $100! Great for over sinks, doubling up over islands, or anywhere you just want a lil somethin’ special.

1. Allen + Roth Webner Bronze Globe Pendant // $41

2. Allen + Roth Mini Vintage Clear Glass Dome Pendant // $48

3. Progress Lighting Archie Mini Pendant // $50

4. Craftmade Orion Patina Aged Brass Globe Pendant // $82

5. Canarm Rowan Frost Glass Dome Pendant // $62

6. Allen + Roth Polished Nickel Dome Pendant // $55

7. Maxim Lighting New School Schoolhouse Pendant // $98

8. Progress Lighting Mini Traditional Pendant // $99

9. Allen + Roth Bronze Mini Industrial Bell Pendant // $45

10. Globe Electric Liam Matte Black Industrial Pendant // $32

11. Quoizel Belmont Century Mini Cage Pendant // $90

12. Cascadia Concrete Industrial Cage Mini Pendant // $51

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!

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?

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