Tag Archives: DIY

Flushed

The bathroom is finally [almost but basically] done.

I was going to wait until the last of the touch-up paint was dry, the rest of the pictures re-hung, the little vintage medical cabinet back in its spot, and new rug and towels procured, but then I saw the missing threshold and knew how long I can take with those, and I don’t have immediate plans for the new built-in cabinet, so enough already.

This is what we started with:

What you don’t see is the three broken light fixtures, a broken fan, a broken window, some broken plumbing, the big stain in the floor by the toilet, and the well-worn acrylic tub and surround.

What we did for the meantime (that was supposed to last 3-5 years) was to fix the window, the electrical (including the light above the sink), replace the rusty triptych medicine cabinet that bisected your face, and paint everything – especially the floor. And we thought we fixed the leaking toilet.

But the toilet was still very sloooowly leaking, and eventually we couldn’t ignore that we were finally stepping on a spongy oogy spot – the leak had spread in the subfloor a couple of feet.

So we committed to fix the whole damn thing ahead of schedule.

And I went a little nuts over the whole thing – not good nuts – just frustrated and confused and decisive and indecisive and then frustrated again and again. I don’t know what went wrong – I can usually bang this shit out – there were too many options but not the options I wanted. And then everything was more expensive than I wanted to pay, everything I’d picked out went discontinued or out of stock in a matter of days, I couldn’t find professional help where I needed it, and then the sewer pipe went bad too, and then I (we) changed my mind over and over again…

This shit woke me up in the middle of the night and it is absolutely something that shouldn’t do that.

But then I got what we needed and the plumber was able to book us for 5, yes 5 weeks in a row….

His first visit for the bath was the longest, and I was whirling in the throes of reno anxiety- we’d removed all of the fixtures and demoed the floor which is fun and rewarding (thank you for dealing with the toilet N since that isn’t fun) but then all of the worst is yet to come so it is a false reward, it’s the ribbon for participation without achievement. The first day of the plumber was also the first spring-feeling days and the leaves had yet to come out. Our new tub sat in the yard for hours (as did some copper pipes) and I equally fantasized about the bodies that could fit in its box and was amused that we live someplace “safe” enough that copper can lie about unsupervised…

But afterwards the real work began.

I’d researched some of the new waterproof wall systems and was planning to use one of them, but to save money in the end, we used backerboard and a paint-on membrane. By then the membrane fumes and the project crazy converged and I think I vocalized a few of the redrums shouting on repeat in my brain.

But once the bath tiles were up, I cooled down to a workable, only slightly unhinged, state.

The wall color choice was a bit of an issue – I wanted to repeat one we already had in the house, and we loved the kitchen’s mint, and online polling voted overwhelmingly for the mint, but it was just too intense (as was the yellow).

(I don’t wear make-up and the two of us have yellows and greens in our skintones, so I wasn’t worried about looking in the mirror in a green room.)

But we fairly easily agreed the dusty/dirty “champagne glee” pink would be the best – and we’re happy with it.

And then it was time for floor tile – I’ve used a similar one to this before, and our half bath has a mosaic pattern too.

I knew I needed to spend the time to dry fit it to make sure that the pattern was right and to make some of the cuts beforehand.

N numbered the tiles and made a handy chart for me to use – it was foolproof.

I thought the layout was perfect – N found a flipped tile, and we didn’t see any manufacturing flaws.

But there was one.

And we didn’t spot it until it was grouted.

But it was barely an issue and now I can’t believe we were willing to put up with the almond plastic bathroom for another couple of years – that old bath had some sort of stockholm hold over me…

The elements are both a bit more vintage than the ’50s, and contemporary – but it isn’t out of place with the rest of the little house.

And the tile feels so nice on my feet…

And the shower is roomier and brighter, and the tub worth taking a lingering bath – thankfully we got it in springtime when the well is full.

(And yes, we really need that threshold).

 

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Still in the bathroom

Another day, another day without plumbing…

(And of course I’ve got to pee – I thought this plumbing visit was going to be just a couple of hours, but it’s another all-day affair).

The bathroom saga is finally well underway, and long, and tiresome, and not yet done…

Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind having a cabin way off the grid and without most plumbing. You’d be prepared for it, and most of the time the weather would be warm enough for an alfresco splash down, and composting toilets aren’t that bad if not shared by too many. But not having a fully functional bath/shower in your everyday home sets my nose out of joint. I’m one who must shower every morning to wake up, open my sinuses, de-creak my body and to get clean at an even rate. For most of the four years I worked from home, I tried every variation of less-often hair-washing, no-‘poo, some ‘poo, conditioner without ‘poo, cooler water, etc., etc., but in the end, I could never get used to feeling unevenly clean.

So today I’ve had the last shower I’ll get for the next week (hopefully), or two (likely).

We de-almonded the room first with joy and abandon I later regretted (from pain, not fondness), repaired the rotten subfloor – opening it up brought forth such an intense stench – thankfully like a rich, deeply composted forest floor rather than an excrement-soaked one, but mildly gag-inducing just the same, and after the plumber puts in the new tub, we’ll be tits deep in the most difficult tiling job I’ve done. I’m sorta kinda looking forward to doing the floor – hex tile is easy to work with – but the shower walls have got to line up, and straight lines aren’t in my playbook.

The paint ended up being the dull pink “champagne glee” to be exact, and yes, the name partially sold me on the color the first time around. We loved the mint, it is perfect in the kitchen, but it was too intense (as was the yellow) in this small dark room.

*****

It is now a week later and I’ve got the sink bath down to an art as well as a science, and neither of us smells too much, though maybe we’re nose blind.

And yes, the plumber is here again!

But I won’t blather on about my bladder again.

The tub/shower is tiled and grouted and has fixtures – the grout is still curing though, so no shower for a few more days…

There is wonkiness of lines, of course, but less than I’d feared – the ceiling is nearly 2 inches higher on the one side than the other, so it is what it is.

Next up more wall repair and painting – not in love with the color yet – it’s leaning a bit beige (NO NO NO!!!!) but not enough is on yet to tell.

This weekend will be for tiling the floor.

Hopefully my fingers will be healed in time…

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End of March

Things are still busy and will be for the next few weeks, month, some period of time that will perhaps never let up.

The premature spring followed by the belated winter has messed with my head, but the extended daylight makes things a bit more correct again.

A small herd of deer has taken a fancy to the yard.

The dog absolutely does not fancy them.

He starts a new class for complicated dogs next week – fingers crossed he’ll soon learn to cope with other four-legged, or rather, all, creatures soon.

Fiber-wise, I’m still finishing up several things and resisting the temptation to start anything new.

I’ve started the garden seeds, and N has started to break up the concrete walks to nowhere in the yard.

It’s sucky work, but he’s an ace with a sledgehammer and we’re saving a good chunk of money on the deconstruction.

We need a helluva lot of plants – ones not delectable to deer – but I’m happy to reduce the lawn as much as possible.

The bathroom reno is finally starting, well, scheduled.

After looking at hundreds of tiles, various solid shower wall options, and green resilient flooring, we settled in our comfort zone – all tile, tiles we’ve used before, ones that are very affordable, and fit into the vintage cottage vibe going on in the house already.

First we have a bit of an emergency with  having to replace the basement sewer line though… a rather shitty situation.

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Lost on the stairs

I’m quite proud of all of my hand-refinished oak floors in the house.

And I like our cheap-fix painted basement floor – so much so, I’m not even thinking of what we’ll do to improve it in the long run.

But the basement stairs – those still really sucked.

stairs-way before

This was the state of things when we first bought the house – a toxic green tunnel leading roughly down into a cheap-paneled hellhole.

The unpainted/unsealed stairs and balusters were likely put in about a decade and a half ago when the original owners received a grant from the town to improve safety in the home. (At the time they also had a one-story drop off from the back door as well…) The wood used on the treads is a soft pine and is well-dented, gashed, and full of too-wide nail heads.

I thought about re-finishing (or finishing for the first time) the treads anyway, but the wood really sucked. I thought about painting them, and prepped and primed them to do so, but the color I picked out was too dark, and a lighter color was going to be too light, and the wood was still shit, so painting it would just be painting over shit, which would make it look like painted shit, which is only marginally better… And then I wanted to carpet them. I hate carpeting except on basement stairs. It’s a practical thing because I’m a klutz and most likely to fall on basement stairs and I don’t clean the basement often enough so carpet helps to trap dust and sawdust and whatnot from being tracked up into the house. So I went shopping for the cheapest, not too light, not too dark, low-pile grey carpet and didn’t find anything that would cost less than $100 which was my top limit on the project. (I wasn’t able to find a cheap remnant place around here either…) My next option was to find cheap jute or rag rugs to “carpet” the stairs, or else a fairly wide runner to cover up most of the painted shit – and though I came close, most options still topped off at or over $100, though those would have been nicer than cheap grey carpet. For half a minute, I considered weaving something myself, but since I don’t own much of a loom, that put me way over my budget, and then I considered knitting, sewing, or felting something, but that would mean I still wouldn’t have something covering up the stairs for at least another 7 to 10 years…

So clearly, I was craving a challenge for something super cheap and somewhat interesting, and with color but not too colorful, and light but not so light that every dirt clod would show, and somewhat fast.

Decoupage was my answer, my cheap savior.

63050463502674595_HcReHRQr_c

For a moment, I wanted to use fabric, but as much as I love the above, my fabric stash isn’t so vast and a little too precious for the floor.

Then I looked hard at the paper bag floor. There are many, many tales of successes and surprises (hi Grackle & Sun, I bumped into yours!) and techniques and alternates with colored kraft paper and red rosin and the like… But I didn’t want brown – I love brown, but there is enough of it in the house already, and I didn’t want just one color, or one stair in one color and another in another, in a motley sort of way…

So how about paper maps?

stair papering-test

I had a few too many in my car, so I made a test step.

stairs-with shoes

(The obligatory shoes with something on a floor pic I would have posted on my instagram if I had a smartphone of my own and posted regularly and ironically.)

I let it dry, gave it a coat of poly, let that dry, and in a few days deemed it successful.

stairs-edge

I started decoupaging all of the edges first – I used the map’s edge against the riser and tread’s edge to mimic the look of a runner and reign in the scrappy visual chaos a bit.

stairs-during

After the edges were all framed out, I tried to do a couple of treads and risers every evening, and in the morning, I’d give them one coat of poly. This made the stairs still functional for a few hours a day…

stairs-up left

And after a week, I was done, and gave the whole thing another coat of poly.

stairs-up right

Though I still need to do another coat… and perhaps one more on the treads only after that, but maybe not…

stairs-top

I’m quite pleased – the transition from our lovely upstairs oak to the painted cement works – casual but not too crude – and the subject is appropriate for our basement library too…

stairs-down down

The functionality is good – not too slick in sock feet, but it might be a bit slick for dog paws, so we still might need a runner at some point.

stairs-texture

Since the map paper is thin, and I used a self-leveling poly, the texture of the wood still shows through – I like that it does.

stairs-equipment

And the final cost?

About $13.00!

(Because we only needed more poly)

The nitty gritty: I used plain paper maps – the kind you get from AAA – I could brag about recycling and whatnot, but I’ll spare you. The glue for the decoupage was some fancier acid-neutral PVA leftover from my book repair and binding years (roughly 15) ago. It was fairly lumpy, but still usable, and I cut it with water maybe at a 1:3 ratio – but mostly it was globbing some in a yogurt cup, filling it with water halfwayish, and stirring it somewhat until it looked milky. I brushed it on the back of a torn piece of map with one of my old fancy oil painting brushes, positioned it on the stair, and brushed over it again. I couldn’t brush it or re-position it too much or it would tear. I tried to distribute colors and leave meaningful places in visible spots, but after the first step or two, it was a  geographic free-for-all except for color distribution. It was also very uncomfortable for me to be sitting on a step in a spinal twist, so even if I wanted to work on bigger chunks at a time, it was painful, so spreading it out over a week worked for me. I used a triple-thick, self-leveling, satin finish polyurethane and I’d brush on the first coat about 24 hours after the decoupage to insure it was well-dried (our basement currently has about 50% RH).  After the whole thing was decoupaged and had its first coat of poly, I coated the whole shebang again. I am about to put on a third coat. And I might put on a fourth just on the treads. We already had about a half of a quart on hand, so when it’s all said and done, it probably took about a quart and a half.

Some things to consider: the acid-neutral glue I used will not yellow (I can’t say the same for standard white school glue – I think that stuff might yellow) and the water-based poly should not yellow either (oil-based most certainly will). I don’t know if the map paper is acid-free or not, so that could yellow though it is no longer exposed to air, and the stairs were sealed with primer, so they shouldn’t leach too much yellow-inducing acid either. I like the triple-thick poly because you don’t have to use as much and the coats go on thick enough that you can safely sand between them if so desired – but it goes on translucent and if left too thick, could dry with a bit of a milky haze – again, not a problem since the maps had a white base, but if it was dark surface, I’d be more careful about thinner coats. (But generally for wood that stays wood, I only use oil-based products – yellowing only adds depth and richness over time.)

And how will it wear?

It should be fine – the same as poly over finished wood – it will scratch and gouge under extreme circumstances, and will eventually need to be re-coated. If there’s a particularly bad spot, I can patch it with more map. Dirt can be swept/vacuumed up and ick can be wiped up with a damp cloth. You could probably even decoupage the whole thing just with poly instead of glue, but it would be messier, dry more quickly making re-positioning harder, and perhaps the paper might dry more translucent instead, but I’ve no idea.

I’m eyeing a few other things in the basement that could benefit from some decoupage now too…

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Winter blahs…

It’s finally gotten cold, well sometimes cold, and sometimes just warm enough to turn the backyard to mud again and then refreeze overnight.

january-pecker

It’s been a pecker party outside the kitchen window – red bellies, downies, nuthatches- mostly policed by a downy pair.

Our house has been troublesome – hot water heater, newish refrigerator, and well parts giving up varying degrees of the ghost within a couple weeks of each other – as well as our bodies with a mild but lingering cold since just before the new year, and routine and not so routine medical tests which required healing downtime and acceptance scenarios involving amputations, but turn out normally abnormal in the end.

We’ve been thrifting and antiquing a bit more, though on weekends when crowds make it a bit more unpleasant, but perhaps improve focus and curb impulse.

We said we had enough Heywood Wakefield * in our lives, but then a decent china cabinet opportunity came up and we took it – the scale is perfect for our small but not too small dining room and overflow Fiestaware.

furniture - heywood wakefield china cabinet

We’ve also had good luck finding more cheap and fun mid-century lamps.

january-lamp

And I still haven’t culled my vintage china herd, but I’m rotating through it with a use it or lose it tactic.

january-cakes

These meat on a spit plates have been a favorite for years but I rarely use them because they are large – perfect for part of a roasted ribcage – and we tend to eat on a smaller scale. I only have three plates and two cups and saucers that don’t officially match but do, so a meal that requires a large plate and coffee cup is rare, and all I can come up with is pancakes, which we make only maybe twice a year and usually with a souvenir bag of Polly’s pancake mix from the summer before.

N has been building some built-in bookcases and doors to previously un-doored closets, so the house is becoming more our own and finally has spaces for things, but I’d gotten used to our still semi-packed minimalism, so striking the balance between delightfully interesting and my previous states of delightfully cluttered is a bit tricky. As much as I loved my previous live-in cabinet of curiosity life, it was awfully dusty and too delicate (and a grand bitch to move).

january-door

I’m still unpacking hastily thrown-together boxes of supplies and organizing my work space.

january-studio

And doing a bit of use it or lose it on some old WIPs – nothing much to show, just a bit of slogging through to see if I want to keep slogging through…

* When editing this post, I clicked on the link to make sure it was the right one – and good god, is my life so routine that every January has me shopping for vintage lamps, watching woodpeckers, and obtaining more Hey-Wake furniture?!?

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Finished objects, household edition

I wish I could live in a house that I knew would be the only one for the rest of my life. I’d immediately fix it up enough so that it would be safe, not too smelly, not extremely drafty, and visually appealing enough for the time being. Then I’d wait to come across the perfect things and work around them – a mint green double sink with double drainboards? I’d design the whole kitchen around it. Ditto with the same in the bathroom  with a green pedestal sink (which is fairly easily obtainable). And bonus points for having a house the right age for a separate clawfoot tub and shower stall… I’d wait for the perfect sized vintage/antique built-ins to show up in the salvage yard until we had a house full of nooks and crannies and only needed a few pieces of upholstered furniture for the center of the room. And I’d consider the thing a lifetime project that gets better and better with time and age as most things I love do.

(Of course my real dream would be to find an old house entirely untouched by decades of other’s “improvements,”except for newer wiring…)

But I’ve felt a sense of urgency in our last two home projects – we’re both in somewhat precarious fields full of fluctuating budgets, management whims, and soft money. My personal mantra is along scout lines in that a house should always be prepared for immediate sale if a sudden onslaught of financial ruin should befall us. I am overly skittish about such things, but I identify far closer to a depression-era mindset rather than our current one of debt and giant crap houses full of expensive soulless crap.

But it’s also because we’ve seen so many houses during our last house hunt and watched too many trashy home shows that set my teeth to grind because of other’s overall lack of what – planning? Aesthetic sense? Care? People spend so much money to have a “showcase” kitchen and then have bedrooms with missing radiators and broken windows or serious foundation issues that should have taken up most of that ugly new kitchen budget. Or a room that is nearly finished but for some missing trim pieces, or fresh paint on the walls, but a stained ceiling and the whole thing looks worse than it is for it.

In my making stuff life, I leave far more unfinished, or in a state of I-haven’t-finished-it-yet-but-will-someday. But in our last two houses, I like to wrap up the details on a project before changing focus. But this last time around, I’m not sure what happened. We let a few easy finishing touches languish – partly from indecision, partly from other things demanding attention, and partly from forces unknown.

delay-threshold

This threshold on the half bath took over a year and a half to be laid. We bought it after doing the tiling, so I was waiting to put it in until we were doing another tiling project, which also took over a year and a half.

delay-backsplash before

We wanted the kitchen to have mostly tiled walls. But then we wanted a functional kitchen faster. I knew I was going to put in a tile back splash, but we didn’t immediately know what height or which particular tile it would be. I bought some samples and enough of the smaller subway mosaic sheets to do a low band  along the counter or a section just around the window, so we painted the walls except in the one place where we knew with certainty that there would be tile. And then I stared at the ugly naked spot every day for over a year and a half. But then, I really didn’t – I looked out the window and truly didn’t see the ugly naked spot anymore.

delay-backsplash-layout

But I was done chasing splashes threatening to flow behind the sink and leaving out ratty old rolled towels to absorb their path, so I declared it would end before the year was out. We decided on the easiest layout, N went out for more tile (and yes, they changed since I originally bought them – about 1/8″ thicker) and more mastic for the last foot at the last minute.

I think I’ll always choose white subway tile in the kitchen – I like that several versions are available and cheap these days but will cringe when the masses of trend zombies declare it dated. And I’ll beat that dead horse again of my belief in only putting in semi-permanent stuff in a house that is appropriate to its age. Yes, the white subway tile is a little outdated for a house from the early 1950s, but I can’t stomach powder blue and pink dammit.

delay-backsplash-spacers

We lost our tile spacers in the move I guess – oddly, we still have the can that they were stored in, but they aren’t in it now – but some cut-up pieces of resilient floor samples worked perfectly.

delay-backsplash-during

We wanted a thin black line at the top, but thin black tiles that are glazed on the top edge, or are a narrow bullnose are not to be had unless specially ordered and bought with lots of money – I could somewhat justify spending it because the whole project was very affordable, but I was also fine with the wider black bullnose, so that’s what we went with in the end.

delay-backsplash done

And the whole thing – tiled, grouted, sealed, and caulked took less than a week – and it’s made such a huge difference. I didn’t realize how much the un-doneness of the kitchen actually bothered me after all.

(And yes, I’ve screwed the switchplate back on, as well as junked it back up with the dish drainer and canisters and radio and…)

For more on the kitchen, see what I did with the floor, sink, and curtains (that need to be ironed)…

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Cellar dweller…

Our “finished” basement needed to be finished some more.

The only redeeming quality was that half of its lights are groovy. But the ceiling was styrofoam, the floor is skim coated with cement covering up god knows what, and I have no tolerance for thin, cheap, and dark paneling.

basement light

Painting the paneling was a no-brainer. I made a brief attempt at whitewash, but it looked terrible. And I wasn’t about to take the time and energy again to fill in the groves to mimic drywall, and doing new drywall would have been more effort, expense, and bad for the environment since the only place for paneling is a landfill, or a fire.

basement-good light

So a thick coat of primer and a couple of coats of pale green-grey paint later, it is fine – for a basement. I went with the same color scheme as my tiny studio (and it’s also the same green-grey as the temporary bathroom fix) because I like it and there was leftover paint. One wall only has half paneling/wainscot and another has built-ins, so those started to become yellow along with a couple of doors.

But it didn’t work for me, despite the fact that one wall was perfectly painted – the yellow was oddly too cool.

basement-yellow&orange

So I went out and bought more of the same orange that we’ve been using on all of the outside doors  and painted some sample strokes over the yellow.

But apparently, I forgot that I had added white or some other lighter colors to the original inferno orange…

So  a mixin’ I went…

In went a pint of a bad yellow, a near-full pint of a pale lavender, a spoonful of the green-grey, and the dregs of some bright white used on the trim in the kitchen….

basement-orange

And thankfully, it worked – at least in the way I wanted it to – a warm, bold color familiar with copper.

But the color scheme is a bit on the odd side – the green-grey looks white, so it’s a bit like a fuzzy freezer burned creamsicle, but it’s the basement, right?

I’m not crazy about the other half of our light fixtures – not sure what the original owners were thinking mixing mod with colonial revival, but at least both are copper.

And don’t get me started on the agony of figuring out what to do with the drop ceiling and the defeat of just buying new panels, albeit, smooth ones… and ones, I might add that were woefully damaged and without any attempt at quality control. I’m looking at you, Armstrong. But thank you N, for dealing with making all of the cuts thanks to the dumbass original owners who didn’t lay it out in the direction that would have minimized cuts…

The floor will soon be painted a dark tealy-green and then we’ll finally set up N’s library, my favorite old oak library table, some of my found objects on the built-in shelves, all of the artwork that didn’t make the cut for the walls seen daily upstairs, a lounge area for hot summer evenings, a corner for my stationary bike, and then there’s still plenty of room for a floor loom…

(I don’t have a floor loom.)

(And maybe a pinball machine for N.)

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