Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Having a fireplace in your bedroom sounds really swanky. When we bought this house, I pictured myself reading in bed with a fire glowing nearby, a dog curled up in front of it, and I think I was wearing a silky robe. In reality, it's looked like this for a long time (and I'm wearing clothes covered in paint).  


We've had this neglected fireplace insert "inserted" in our fireplace for over a year. Purchased in April 2012 - hauled it upstairs, set it in there, and never touched it again. We knew what we had to do - grind the rust off, polish it up, attach it to the wall - it just seemed SO daunting. I've never ground rust off of anything! It sounded like something I'd want to do outside, and it sounded sweaty.

Then, we rearranged our bedroom furniture about a month ago - just flipped everything to the other side of the room. This means that now, when I'm in bed, the fireplace is in my direct line of site. It made me insane to look at this fireplace every night. It was so easy to ignore before, but then it was just right next to me and looked terrible and would keep me awake at night.

I dragged it outside a few weeks ago and decided I wasn't going to come back inside until it was rust-free. We had two different shapes/sizes of these things that you just attach to your drill, and those worked pretty well. Our insert has a sort of intricate basketweave pattern at the bottom, and it was helpful to get in there on an angle. I don't think I could have done this by hand. It was hard enough holding the drill steady.


It only took about two hours to get it looking great, though my hands were vibrating for days. We rubbed some stove polish on it to get it nice and black (Steven did this - I was inexplicably terrible at it).

While I was grinding the rust away, Steven had also repaired the tiles that had fallen from our surround area. We still had them all, but one was broken.

He rigged it up in some way so that it's attached with wire to the back wall, and he put silicone caulk around the edges. We don't plan to ever use this as a fireplace, though if someone wanted to down the road, they could. We just don't want to spend money on having the chimney cleaned, etc. We're only in it for the charm.


We also felt the mantel and wood surround looked sort of dinky. After finding this great insert with lots of detail, it just seemed cheesy to have this boring chunk of wood around it. We decided to add some trim pieces to beef it up. Nothing too fancy, just something with more personality. We added corner moulding, cove moulding, and some lattice pieces. I nearly lost my mind trying to miter the cove moulding. I ended up just making Steven do it when he got home from work. This also concealed the gap between the bottom of the surround and the floor / tile.


We also added that moulding at the floor where the tile meets the hardwood. They are about the same height, but the hardwoods have settled slightly lower and the tile has gotten chipped at the edges. We still may caulk it with some sanded tile caulk, but I'm worried about the color not matching. When we eventually have our upstairs floors refinished, this piece will be stained the same as the floors.


We also were back and forth on what color to paint the mantel. The white made the antique tile look dirty (it's not). We were thinking of a green (to match the green tile) for a while, but that's a little nervey, even for us. We settled on satin black oil paint, which I did over the weekend after adding the trim pieces. I love painting with oil paint. After taking the first brush stroke, I realized I'd never painted anything black before (except with spray paint). How bold it feels!



It really makes our fireplace look fancy. The tile looks nice and clean, and the black + green + white make a nice statement in our bedroom without being overbearing.

If nothing else, it's an improvement over the way it looked when we bought the house.


Sunday, April 7, 2013


In the midst of Grace's bedroom renovation, I neglected to mention the other thing we were working on at the time, which was the hall utility closet. We segmented that big stupid closet into two smaller closets, so we were able to keep the door frame where it was. There isn't much to say about this. We put plywood down on the floor because there was a huge hole there, and then we painted it with oil-based paint so it would be super durable. Steven built some simple shelves with cleats at various heights. We put the outlet there for our vacuum to charge.

photo 1

Since we eventually plan to build a built-in sideboard or something where the bi-fold door closet was, we will probably keep linens in that and use this for extra hall storage. I would love a super-organized closet with labeled bins for everything and overflow storage for the girls'. I'm envisioning craft supplies, some small tools, puzzles, and games in here.

In an old house like this without a lot of closets, where are you supposed to keep a vacuum? The woman who lived here before us kept hers in the living room, with a maid vacuum cozy over it. This is a better solution.

Another thing we were working on was patching the wall where our old linen closet was. Again, I was sad to see this one go since it was original to the house, but it wasn't functional and I'd rather have our closet be larger. Steven is kind of a clothes horse and we share a 2 x 4 closet.

photo 2

Steven patched this wall while I was out of town with the girls, and it was a great surprise to come back to. I painted it when I got back, and he fit a baseboard and door trim out of pieces we've saved. I still need to paint the white, but I want to wait and do everything upstairs at once.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


So we decided to hang crown molding in Grace's room. The other rooms bedrooms have molding and though it isn't that nice looking, it was installed correctly and matches the rest of our trim pieces. Since the molding in here was so bad looking, and not installed correctly, we took it down. Part of the problem was that the ceiling isn't square with the walls. That's fine - the house is 112 years old. But seeing how badly the other stuff was installed made us think we should probably use that lightweight foam stuff. It would be flexible enough to bend with the walls.


Steven started in the cubby, which makes a ladder unavoidable. You have to crawl into that thing entirely and lay on your back to get anything done. We also put a tiny wood corner trim piece over that edge to finish it nicely. As he hung the moulding, I went around behind him filling holes and caulking. It went up quickly, and I felt like we were on a roll. Grace got invited to another sleepover, so naturally I decided to start painting her room at 8pm on a Friday night. Steven had to go to work the next morning, and he was packing his suitcase and winding down while I was cutting in.


It isn't that huge of an area, so it didn't take that long. I also primed the moulding, which only had to be done in the spots with wood filler since it was pre-primed. 

The next day, I was able to paint the moulding AND finish the walls. 


Grace picked this yellow based on the background color of her Beatles posters, which I also color-matched her nightstand to. It's a great shade of yellow - nice and clean. It's Citrus by Behr. 

Obviously, I still need to finish the ceiling (which required several more coats of mud to level out), but most of the room is done! We hung a bar and shelf in her closet and she enjoyed putting her things in there, though I don't think that will last very long. It's much easier to keep your clothes on the floor, even though I did give her a sparkly crystal doorknob as incentive. 

Friday, March 22, 2013


We love our little car, but there are times when we can't make it work. We needed about 10 sheets of drywall to finish out Grace's room, and you just can't wedge that in the back of a Yaris. We were able to borrow our friend Jason's Honda Element, which was super easy to get drywall into.


This is after the first layer of mud and tape. I expected it to be more difficult to seam between new drywall and old plaster, but it was a piece of cake. One of the reasons we removed the pink wall completely instead of leaving the two feet of it (where the outlet is on the left) was so that we could have a neat seam at the corner, instead of finishing a rough plaster edge. 


Here you can see the ceiling, which was the worst part. Is anything about ceilings fun or easy? Patching the ceiling to fit with the existing (plaster) ceiling, which wasn't level to begin with, was a total nightmare.

Overall, the drywall wasn't that bad because the framing was all new and much more square than the original framing. We have nine foot ceilings, so an eight foot sheet still needed a bit extra at the top. My dad taught me the trick of hanging drywall horizontally so that you dont need to get up and down a ladder a million times to finish your seams, so that's what we did on the larger wall. That dad of mine is so smart.

After we primed, Steven had the dreaded task of hanging & trimming out the closet door. I'd found this one at ReStore and while it doesn't match out house perfectly, it's solid wood and from a similar era. I actually just checked the date on this picture to see how long this door has been sitting in our basement: January 12, 2012!


Not only did we wedge this one into the Yaris, but I had to sit in the back with it on a snowy, nasty day and hold onto it. I don't have a picture of it, but this door had a huge full-length mirror on the other side and it was so heavy. We carefully removed the trim holding the mirror on, and the door was perfect bare wood underneath. The mirror had been put on before anyone ever stained or finished it! I stripped the finish off both sides (it was a cracked clear coat), and sanded it well. The bare side obviously didn't need much of anything.


I primed it and painted it while it was hung. This is easier for me, because as long as everyone in the house knows not to shut it, you can do both sides and let it dry without anything touching anything. I used oil-based Kilz primer on this because it was stained/bare wood. 

Friday, March 8, 2013


Steven did all the framing. I didn't help much, so I don't have much to say about it.


That little dead spot up top is going to become a storage cubby in Grace's room. The room created with the window is her closet, and the room behind Frankie will be a closet with access from the hall. The light dangling down was in the closet, but we're going to remove it and use the wiring to make a new outlet in Grace's room, and a new outlet in the closet (for the vacuum, etc.).



This part of the floor is obviously going to have to be sanded a bit (and given some Restor-A-Finish) to blend in. Frankie is enjoying a view he's never seen before.


While Steven was working on the framing, I had my own project going. I wasn't helping with framing because it involves math and measuring, and I'm not good at those. I was removing the linen closet. 

Initially, we were going to remove this closet and put it where the other hall closet it going. We figured we could pop it out, repair this wall, and pop this back in across the hall. Well, I am skilled at taking things apart, but I couldn't get this at all. It was built in place, and obviously wasn't meant to come apart. I spent hours trying to figure out how to get it out, but without smashing it apart, it wasn't working.


There's a bit of sadness, but the new closet will be much more functional. These drawers were hard to open. Also, we can remove the back wall of this linen closet and expand our closet by about 18 inches. Or keep this as a phone booth.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013


We try really hard not to make extra work for ourselves, but sometimes we just don't see it coming. Steven ended up with some unexpected vacation time this week, and instead of actually going on a vacation (because who does that?), we decided to knock out a big project. So we are back in Grace's room, giving her a closet.

I know, I JUST finished painting her room and getting it all clean and tidy. But now it's looking more like this:




We had been stewing over what our eventual plan for the closet would be for quite some time, so we were able to jump into this pretty quickly. Here is her old closet, where the access was not in her bedroom, but next to it. 


It's pretty clear where it used to be, but we are puzzled about what the original floor plan of this house might have been. We didn't want to put it back the way it was for a few reasons:

1. The window would either be in her bedroom or in the hall, and it's the only window in the house that wasn't replaced. It's also a completely different size than the replacement windows (much larger), so it would look really strange to have it mingling with her bedroom window, or our other hall windows. 

2. The door would be right next to the entrance for her bedroom, which would mean two doors opening into each other. 

3. We didn't know what we would do with the rest of the space gained from this large closet. It would become part of our landing, and it would turn it into a weird L / backwards E shape. 

We figured we could section off the closet into two closets, and have a smaller functional hall closet, and give her a slightly larger closet than the room originally had. This meant the window would be IN her closet, which is fine, because it would be hidden and we could just seal it shut. It also meant the door to her closet would be further away from the main bedroom door, and would give her a few more square feet in her usable bedroom space. 

So we cleared out the closet and started removing the baseboards, which we were definitely going to save since we'd be adding a wall in her bedroom. 


Here you can see a pretty clear outline of where the closet for this room originally was, but 
we don't know where the entrance was. 


This is wallpaper / contact paper that looks like locker room tile. So gross. 


The chimney coming from the old coal room in the basement runs through the closet. This is directly 
above our kitchen, where we covered it in drywall. 

After we made sure we had the baseboards saved, we started the demo. We tried to do it neatly, but that just doesn't work, and once again, Grace's room got covered in dust.


By the end of the day, we were left with some old studs. We cleaned up all the rubble and took it to the dump, but we saved the lathe pieces for some nice summer campfires. They're dry as a bone. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I long to have an organized home - the sort of place where everything has a place, and I always know where to find it.

This is hard to achieve with kids, an old house you're constantly working on, and a basement full of all my family's worldly belongings. I recently obtained the contents of my siblings' storage unit in Chicago, filled with all that childhood stuff that your parents are supposed to keep for you until you're an adult and have your own kids. I don't know why we have so much stuff, but my mom saved everything she thought we'd ever want. Not in a hoarder way, but in a loving nostalgic way. I think she envisioned us sharing the mementos with our children; letting them play with our old toys, wear our old clothes, read our old books. It's a nice thought.

I'm the only sibling with any space for this stuff. It's about 30 large plastic tubs + a few pieces of small furniture. We plan to get some industrial shelving and make it all easier to keep organized, so I figured I would at least consolidate what I could. I took a tub full of Barbie clothes and put them in a Ziploc bag and squished the air out. I reorganized papers and photos. I was able to eliminate about 4 tubs total without even throwing anything away.

grandpa's stuff
Grandpa's stuff

brave boy.
This poodle was always in my Grandma's guest room. 

mom's beatles wallpaper
Mom's Beatles wallpaper - only a small piece.

bed of barbie clothes
Bed of Barbie clothes

true story
Still true.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


One reason that I waited until Grace was back home to start painting was that we hadn't fully discussed what she wanted. We'd touched on white walls, but I'd promised her something fun on top of that. I showed her several images on Pinterest of stripes, chevrons, accent walls, circles, etc. She kept gravitating towards cool colors, like blue or purple, and I'd have to remind her that was why we were in this situation in the first place.

The weekend after she was back home, she was conveniently invited to a sleepover. We briefly discussed some color options and after she left, I immediately moved all her furniture to the center of her room and got to work with primer.

See the orange swatch in the bottom right? That's what I'm pulling for.

Since I was painting white over blue, I knew the primer coverage needed to be good. I ended up doing two coats of primer because I was so paranoid about the finished white having a blue tint, and I'm so glad I did. I never had done two coats of primer before and thought I was being ridiculous, but it definitely made a difference. 


Even with two coats, I was able to make it to bed at a reasonable time. This photo is amazing to me because it's obviously night time, and it's brighter in her room than it ever was when it was blue in the daytime. See how awful her faux crown molding is? It's not even attached in most places. I have plans for that. 

In the morning, I went to Home Depot first thing to get some colors. Grace had mentioned wanting orange, and we were looking around the house for an example of a good not-too-bright orange. I had on some pajama shorts that I've owned for about eight years, and she looked down and said, "Like that! I love those colors!" 


They're kind of a 60's pattern with some very 60's subdued shades. I took them to Home Depot with me and used my expensive art school education to match some colors. I know they offer this service, but I get a kick out of doing it myself. I'm pretty good at it - I can usually stand at the wall of paint chips for a moment and pick the right one on the first try. 


I decided to go with the pink and orange, because that's one of the best color combinations in history. Grace isn't usually a pink person, but we both agreed that pink with orange was good and looked like ice cream. The colors ended up being Pink Eraser and Orange Spice. With a name like Pink Eraser, how could I resist?

The white I chose was Swan Wing. I'll skip that part of painting because white over primer just doesn't look like much.

By the time Grace got home from her sleepover, I had the white all done and we were ready for color. She and I spent some time making the final decision, and we settled on an orange stripe + a pink accent wall behind her desk. She threw out some really wacky ideas, like plaid (??!?), but I had to remind her that I don't want to be repainting her room again every six months.

I did the pink wall first. This was thrilling.


At this point, Grace was really itching to help. Neither of the girls has painted before, and I'm embarassed to admit that I usually tell them no when they ask to help with these things. At 10 & 12, I was certainly helping my parents out with these sorts of tasks, but Grace and Ella aren't very careful or detail-oriented and I haven't been able to figure out how to teach them this. They often want to help in the kitchen, but they mix up teaspoons and tablespoons, or they forget how many cups they've already added to the bowl. I know they will only learn these things from experience, but the didn't get started at an early enough age and now it is just harder to teach them things. 

All of that aside, after I measured and marked everything (and sealed the tape seams with Swan Wing), I figured she couldn't really mess up much. I made her put on old clothes and showed her how to use a paint roller.


She did okay. I told her not to roll too close to the seams, and she was pretty good at staying in the lines. I went around and did all the brushwork (and touched up her rolling when she wasn't looking). 


The thing about painting stripes and accent walls is that it's FAST. We had this done in a day! We were even able to spend some time in there before the sun went down, and it's BRIGHT. She doesn't really even need to use her lamp anymore.

The next day while she was at school, I hung these cork squares. She is always wanting to use duct tape to put random things on the walls, and it makes a mess and sometimes rips a chunk of paint off. I put the kibosh on that and offered her this alternative. She used washi tape to make the arrows, though I'm not sure what they're pointing to.