All posts tagged: Burgevin Gardens

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!

Quick and Easy(ish) Laundry Room Makeover!

Here’s a thing about me, because the real problem with this blog is that there just isn’t enough about me: I sometimes have a difficult time differentiating between all the things that should, in a perfect world, be done to a given space and what’s practical and reasonable to do to a given space. If I can’t do it all, I often don’t want to do anything at all. This is why my bathroom still looks exactly as horrible—nay, worse—than the day I moved in. I could scrape the peeling walls and throw up a coat of paint. I could patch the big hole I made when trying to install an electrical outlet but kept finding studs and then the cast iron vent pipe. I could do something—anything—to the vinyl tile floor, much of which has lifted from the subfloor and some of which has broken away. Hey, I could even get really crazy and spend an hour or two re-caulking the bathtub. But I’d rather live in squalor than do any of these things, because I’m disgusting and I know the majority of it will all get ripped out eventually. Someday.

I think part of it is that I don’t want to get complacent with an improved-but-still-kinda-bad space, which is stupid because I’m not like that. I WISH I was like that. It’d free up a ton of time. Another part of it is that sometimes half-assed renovation efforts can actually make the restoration effort down the line more challenging, and I don’t want that. More than anything, though? I LIKE THE DRAMA. I like going from “yuck!” to “beautiful!” not “yuck!” to “acceptable!” and I will put up with all sorts of bullshit in the interim as a result.

I think because of this personal shortcoming, sometimes the makeovers that I’m most attracted to are the ones that effectively make use of simple, low-impact solutions. The ones that actually favor the coat of paint over the huge demolition and replacement. When I was confronted with a non-original, unwanted doorway, I removed the whole thing, framed in the opening, patched it with drywall, skim-coated the whole wall, and still have to get my molding replicated to finish the baseboard. My friend, in a similar situation, put a large armoire in front of the offending doorway and called it a day. Is my solution actually better? Maybe, maybe not, but I do know his was much faster and easier and had the same effect.

I think I was slightly better at executing stuff like this as a renter—although I was still kinda nuts, let’s be honest—but being a homeowner has made me feel like every project has to address all the problems at once or it’s not even worth undertaking. I’m working on it.

All of this to say, I’m actually proud of this laundry room makeover I did recently. I started it on a Saturday night (hell yeah, my life is wild AF) and was completely finished with it by Sunday night, with a good night’s sleep in between!

This was the laundry space at my boo thang’s house, and you can see there’s not a lot of pretty (or function) going on here. I hesitate to call it a laundry room, because it’s also a guest bedroom, storage space, and general pit of despair. The whole house is a huge renovation project, which will hopefully one day see this room almost completely demo’d, the laundry relocated to a dedicated space on the second floor with the bedrooms, and this room and the adjacent bathroom turning into a big kitchen. All of that is a long ways away and a huge undertaking, though, and this situation was so sad. Enter Angie’s List, who offered 500 bucks to refresh and reorganize the space. I couldn’t really make it worse, so I figured I’d gladly take their money and give it my best shot.

What you can’t see in these pictures is that there’s actually a small built-in closet to the right of the dryer, but at some point somebody decided to build a whole additional closet in front of the original closet, meaning there’s a an opening (though, strangely, not a doorway) into the new closet, at the back of which is a doorway for the original closet. It’s so stupid. And THEN, they extended the wall that separates the original/new closet from the laundry space out into the room another foot or so, and then built another wall in front of the machines with those faux-wood accordion doors. Talk about chopped up!

There’s some electrical cable running through those dumb newer walls, though, and having it re-routed would have been too large of an expense and taken too much time. I was able to easily just tear out the wall with the dumb accordion doors, though, and that made a bigger difference than I expected!

But back to being chill and smart instead of crazy and over-ambitious! The wall-to-wall carpeting in this room is lousy but not in bad condition, and the hardwood underneath is pretty severely damaged. In a perfect world the hardwood would have been treated better and the room never would have been carpeted, and in a less-perfect-but-still-preferable world I would have been able to rip up the carpeting and found easily rejuvenated hardwood underneath. Absent those options, though, I made the courageous and somewhat out-of-character decision to just leave it alone.

Same goes for the ceiling. It’s a drop ceiling with acoustic tiles, like you might find in a corporate office, which obviously would not be my preference. Sometimes drop ceilings can be removed with relative ease, but in this case it’s masking a profusion of electrical wiring and plumbing for the bathroom upstairs. Instead of burying this stuff in the actual ceiling, it was much easier for the previous owners to do it all below the ceiling and then install the drop ceiling two feet to conceal it. BOO. Don’t do that. Luckily the real ceilings are 10′, so even with the ceilings dropped to 8′ the room feels OK.

Oh yeah, and the wood paneling! The plaster wall behind it appears to be in pretty solid condition, but the paneling is held up with both panel nails and adhesive so any way I cut it, removing the paneling would necessitate some potentially serious plaster repair. Even the little pieces of trim used to cover corners and seams were so bad that I wanted to pry it all off and try again, but I totally held myself back, made liberal use of caulk, and you know what? It looks fine. 

And look! Not half bad for some minimal demo, a little paint, a good storage cabinet above the machines, a few accessories and little functional things (like that cheap little drying rack from Target, which I love!), and a semi-relaxing weekend of DIY, amiright? I can tell you it’s made both of our lives immediately better, and has me giving my own horrendous bathroom some serious side-eye.

You can read more detail and see more pictures over at Angie’s List! 9 other blog people took on this laundry room challenge too, and there’s a contest with a $2,000(!) prize if you want to vote. The contest ends on Friday! Currently it looks like I’m in 4th place. I’d appreciate a vote for me, but, ya know, vote your conscience.

Also vote for me.

Byeeeee!

A Mantel Makeover for Angie’s List

I love a good mantel. I love a good challenge. I love crazy old tiles. What do all of these things have in common? It’s this fireplace! Boom:

before_straightonview

Sometimes I get asked to do bloggy things that aren’t for my own site, which is typically not my jam because I’m usually stupid busy and not paying enough attention to my own site to worry about someone else’s, but I made an exception when Angie’s List came at me with a mantel makeover challenge. I didn’t have a mantel that was a good candidate for the project, but I knew somebody who did, and this seemed like the perfect excuse to get my grubby hands on it.

beforeangled

This mantel belongs to John, who just bought this incredible circa-1900 house in Kingston. I helped him find the house! I told him to buy it! He bought it! He moved from New Jersey! This poor house has undergone some serious wreck-ovation over the years, but it has amazing potential and John is totally committed to restoring it, so of course I am all over this. He doesn’t really need a full-on designer and he doesn’t really need a turnkey project manager, so I’m stepping into sort of a consultant role as he moves through this renovation…helping him design and plan and coordinate and execute and make this house the showpiece it’s supposed to be.

ANYWAY. This was exciting because there wasn’t anything technically wrong with this mantel or this room…ya know, it could have been fine but ugly for a few years and everyone would have lived. Often with old houses there’s a pretty big gap between the fun and pretty and the finance-draining and decidedly unsexy, and the latter is what has to take precedence. So it was nice to have a great excuse to bump this wayyyyy up the list (like, literally before “unpack your boxes”) because the “before” made me so sad. Somebody painted the original tiles with either a textured paint or some kind of plaster overlay stuff, and those 1973 built-ins—replete with fluorescent lighting, crappy wood, gold-crackled mirrored tiles, and an enormous soffit overhead connecting the two sides—had no business in this magnificent living room.

stripping-process

First order of business was demo-ing the built-in stuff and starting the longggg and arduous stripping process. Between John and I, it probably took about 30 hours of scraping and scrubbing and picking and cursing and beer-drinking to get down to the bare tile. We stripped the fireplace in two parts because I actually lacked confidence that the paint stripper would be able to penetrate whatever was causing the texture, so I didn’t want to waste and make a huge mess only to figure out that we had to come up with a plan B.

wall-stripping

We did not have to come up with a plan B, though, because the paint stripper worked SO well. When the room was almost done, I had John go back to the little nooks and crannies with one of those 15 minute jelly-like strippers and a bunch of tiny tools like dental picks to really get everything off.

Now, I love that tile. I’m guessing a lot of people won’t love that tile, but I don’t care! John had a mini freak-out when we first started really exposing it, but I didn’t care then either. I think it’s glazed terra cotta, with a burnt-orangey-red and green color combo that is admittedly extremely hard to work with. I kind of can’t blame whoever painted it because with the wrong wall color and stuff in the room, I can see it looking pretty awful. John even asked whether we’d be better off painting it again, but I veto’d that plan because I’m super bossy and unpleasant generally, and you just don’t paint old tile. You just don’t. Don’t do it. But really, this is a pretty awesome original detail in a house that is missing a fair amount of original detail, so in my mind it wasn’t even a choice.

By the way, that pile of wood in the foreground is all the lumber that comprised the old built-ins. I’m a crazy person, but hear me out. My basic rule with lumber is that if it’s over about 6″ long, it gets kept. This is why my garage looks like a disorderly lumber yard, but it’s also why I barely ever have to buy wood anymore! It’s environmentally responsible and economical—you don’t necessarily think of 1x6s or something being a large expense in a project, but wood is pricey! And it’s not as nice as it used to be, anyway! Even though these built-ins were only from the 1970s, it was pretty interesting to compare the totally standard 1-by lumber to what’s commonly available today—the not-even-that-old stuff we tore out is so much denser and heavier and contains fewer knots. Even the furring strips were pretty nice! All of it got de-nailed and set aside and treated like gold.

wall-stripping

After the major mantel-stripping was over, I applied the Peel Away to the surrounding wall, too. The texture was carried up this part of the wall, and it seemed potentially easier and better to try to get down to the bare plaster before repairing and skim-coating the wall than just covering it with a skim-coat. The Peel Away worked really well for this, too, and didn’t damage the plaster at all (it’s commonly used for this, but I’m not sure how other types of strippers would react). Then it was just a matter of doing a nice skim-coating job and light sanding and we were good to go!

salvage-wood

Dudes, I’m a woodworker now. Basically. Or something. If you want to become a crazy salvage wood person like myself, invest in a decent table saw—I have no idea what I’d do without mine! This way you can rip your recycled boards into your own dimensions precisely and easily, and for some reason I find that VERY fun. I have a Porter Cable table saw which has been going strong for a few years and works great.

during_cabinetboxes

I used a combination of salvaged and some new wood to make some new built-ins, the basis of which is basically a plywood box on a 2×6 base. Someday I’ll learn some fancy joining techniques, but on this day I went with what I read on some weird message board a long time ago about building cabinet boxes—that a combo of plywood, wood glue, drywall screws, and finish nails is actually pretty comparable to nice rabbeted joint, except significantly simpler and faster. Then it was just a matter of putting them in place, furring out the sides and top to make them appear super beefy, and throwing a lot of salvaged (and some new) trim and stuff to make it look all classy and finished.

after_logs

Not too shabby, right? I feel pretty proud of how these wood storage cubbies turned out, especially because of how little new material went into them. It was a lot of fun! We plan to add shallower bookshelves going up to the ceiling on top, but there wasn’t enough time to do that and get the post to Angie’s List in time, so I’ll post an update when that happens.

Let’s see that before photo again, just for funsies:

before_straightonview

Annnndddd:

afterstraightonview

I love that wall color for the tile! It’s kind of a charcoal-y navy with some green undertone, and I think it works super well. John originally wanted light grey walls in here, but I’m glad he let me talk him into going super dark after we both saw the fireplace tile and felt like our light grey samples weren’t doing it any favors.

after_smooth-wall

That egg-and-dart detail is just so amazing. I love that every one of these tiles is completely unique, a little irregular, and just so perfectly-imperfect. So worth the ridiculous time commitment and blisters.

after_angled2

SO! Turns out I was not the only blogger that signed up for this, and Angie’s List made it a CONTEST. WITH A CASH PRIZE. WHICH I WOULD VERY MUCH ENJOY HAVING.

I wrote a whole other blog post for Angie’s List with different pictures and text and more detail about the process and products, which you should go check out here! And then you should go vote for my project here! I guess you can vote once every 24 hours, and voting is open for a few more weeks, so go to town! BRING HOME THE BACON, FOLKS!

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