making over the basement bathroom

We are lucky to have 2 1/2 baths in this house.  And thankful to have them when we're expecting nine people for Thanksgiving.  In addition to finishing the upstairs bathroom in time for our guests, and of course for our own daily gratification, I got the bug to fix up the basement bathroom.

Now, the basement is a pretty decent space.  We've made it a combination project room / dog training area (complete with doggie treadmill)/ bike workshop / laundry room / auxiliary guest room.  Conveniently for those auxiliary guests, there's a full bath down there, but it was looking a little too basement-y for my taste.

Bright sky blue accented on all white?  Why?

Unscenic fiberglass shower surround (but cute cat).

I had plenty of left over paint from the upstairs bath and so I painted the same color, Sherwin Williams Krypton SW6247, down here.  I hung some artwork created by my nephews in their younger years.

And painted over the blue cabinetry to white using the same primer and paint we used on the kitchen cabinets.

And then reused a shower curtain I had made for one our Chicago apartments.

Really, I didn't spend any extra money sprucing this bathroom up, which is good since it won't really get that much use, save the occasional extra guest.  But I'll sure feel a lot better going in this space to refill the cat's water bowl from now on.  

making over the upstairs bathroom, part 2

When we first came upon this house, the upstairs bathroom left MUCH to be desired.

 I tiled the floor and last we left it, the upstairs bathroom was looking like this:

Um, yeah.  Not so hot.

I've been meaning to attend to this half-done mess for quite a while.  The motivator to actually finish the work is the impending arrival of my family for Thanksgiving. 

First and foremost, we had the toilet reinstalled by a professional after I completed the tile work so we had a functional bathroom for the first few months that we've lived here. 

I always paint and this time, I chose the same color that we used in our Oak Park bathroom, Sherwin Williams Krypton SW6247.  On the swatch, the color looks like a sort of generic gray, but up, it's much bluer and richer.  It plays nicely with the shower curtain color.

We got a little shelf from Ikea that fits perfectly in the corner for towels and toiletries.

Then I painted the vanity cabinet a vibrant Chinese red.  I used Benjamin Moore Shy Cherry 2007-20.  This closeup photo reads more orange than it is in real life.  I added folded brass pulls from Anthropologie to jazz the cabinet up a bit.

 I also had to reinstall the window trim.  A previous tenant had taken the trim off for some unknown reason, so I had to put it back and paint it white and I made a little cafe curtain from some leftover fabric.

We have leftover black countertop from the kitchen makeover and eventually we hope to use it in here.  The almond color seems less dated for the time being with this new color scheme.  Ah, yes, much improved.


making over the kitchen, part 3

Once upon a time our kitchen looked like this:

suffering from a bad case of the blahs

And now it looks like this:

punched right up!


As I described previously, two major aspects of the kitchen makeover were painting all the cabinets white and installing porcelain tile on the floor. We also replaced all the countertops.  We ripped out the old almond laminate and installed pre-made black laminate ones from Ikea (the Numerar series).  All we had to do was cut the 8' pieces to length and glue the edging strips on the cut edges (not to mention that we also had to borrow our friend's mom's truck and drive 2 1/2 hours each way to Ikea in Charlotte to get the suckers).

the yellow tape helps prevent the laminate from splintering when being cut with the circular saw.

Additionally, we fabricated a bar top out of a 3/4" thick pine board (bought at Lowe's) cut to length and  trimmed with pine 1x2s to give it a more substantial appearance.

the pine top is coated with mineral oil at the moment

In the course of the cabinet painting, we removed the one large upper cabinet to the right of the stove, with the plan of putting in a few open shelves in the same spot.  I am not a fan of lots of wall cabinets because, to me, it makes the room feel boxed in and visually dull and too much like cabinet-world.  To make the open shelves, I stained three pine boards black and sealed them with with water-based polyurethane.

staining in progress

Then I mounted the boards to black Ekby Valter wooden brackets from Ikea.  I made sure to use extra-heavy-duty dry wall anchors to secure the brackets since all our breakables are sitting on them.  These open shelves are my favorite part of the new kitchen.  I love how the black contrasts with the green walls and the white cabinets and having all the plates, bowls and glasses within arms reach is so convenient.

easy reach everything
I hung the magnetic knife rack below the shelves and keep the cutting boards out to the side for easy access.

Another Ikea item in the kitchen are the red and white enamel metal Snodd knobs, which seem to be discontinued already.  Looks like we got them just in time!

you can also see the stainless steel edge detail on the countertops

We are so happy with how the newly made-over kitchen looks and functions.  It's so refreshing to walk in the front door and see this:

such a satisfying after!

Instead of this:
waaaaaaaay before.

We even got a new fridge and a new range hood in the course of all this, which are both huge improvements over the still-functioning but had-seen-better-days 1970s ones that were there before.

This kitchen makeover is the most extensive project we've ever undertaken and I learned a bunch of new skills and feel so proud of the outcome.  What can I say, I love projects!

(And while I'd say the  kitchen is now fully functional and aesthetically pleasing, there are still several tasks I'd like to accomplish before calling it officially complete:
- Touch up the window and base trim (really needs to be done throughout entire first floor).
- Reinstall the base shoe molding.
- Sand and polyurethane the bar top.  We attempted using just mineral oil to seal it on it the way you do for cutting boards, but the proximity to sink makes it just too wet and the grain is raising too much on the wood to leave it.
- Pick and install a tile backsplash.  Originally I had wanted to put in white subway tile all over the entire wall where the open shelves and stove are, along with tile around the sink, but now I think I just want a modest little 4"-6" row of something cool along the countertops.
- Buy and install lighting under the bottom open shelf (electrical is pre-existing).
- Find a non-hideous floor grate for the HVAC vent in the kitchen floor.  Current grate is chipped and peeling mud brown color.)


a reading nook

A neat feature of this house is the space at the top of the stairs.  It's a room of sorts, though small, with windows that look out to the leafy treetops.  The previous tenants had painted this area and the adjoining staircase a sort of ill shade of green.  I do understand the motivation to want to paint rooms of this house in verdant tones-- we just painted the entire downstairs Benjamin Moore Agave -- but getting the shade of green right is tricky.  The green that was here was an unnatural shade, sort of a grey green, but muddy.  It had to go.

the top of the stairs, before
I picked a shade of ever-so-pale blue: Benjamin Moore Iceberg.  Stephen Gambrel, one of America's top interior designers, described this color in House Beautiful's 500+ Beautiful Paint Colors as "so faint that it brings the sky into the room.  It's neither cold nor too blue."  He is exactly right.  I've never been much a blue person, but this shade is just right for this space.
the top of the stairs painted benjamin moore iceberg
What a dramatic difference a coat of paint makes!  What was once an undefined unappealing hallway is now a welcoming and peaceful space.

and how prettily the light dapples in the afternoon
I decided that this little room, small as it may be, should serve as a little reading corner.  I hung raw pine shelves, added a small graphic rug, one of our two red velvet chairs and a good lamp and some photographs.

(The crystal chandelier belongs to this house's owners and so we'll need to come up with some kind of replacement.  Maybe I'll diy another drum shade a little smaller than this one I made for our Oak Park dining room.)

Lovely little mini-library to call our own!


making over the kitchen, part 2

So, back to the kitchen!  Look at this gorgeous floor!

This floor has lived a full life.
Just kidding.  It was hideous peel and stick vinyl and in terrible shape.  We decided to lay the same porcelain tile here in the kitchen as we did in the upstairs bath -- Daltile Concerete Connection in Downtown Black.  But first, we had to tear out the old floor.

This is before I realized how long this was going to take me.
Let me tell you, scraping up old vinyl tiles that are stuck on to old sheet vinyl is THE most exhausting thing a person could ever do in their house.  Please may I never have to do that again.

Check out that awesome faux brick vinyl!
 I could only handle about an hour of it at a time.

Scraped up floor.

But in the end, I got it mostly up.  There was still some of the old sheet vinyl backing left stuck to the floor, but it wasn't necessary to get every little inch up as long as it was firmly fixed to the floor.  Then it was time to start laying the tile.

Just like I did in the bathroom, I spent a good amount of time dry laying the tile to figure out the best fit in the space.

Dry fitting the tile in the pantry.
Actually setting the tile went much more smoothly this time than it did in the bathroom.  I really had much more a of a feel of what the thinset consistency should be and I had a lot easier time making consistent trowel marks.  I spend all day Saturday and Sunday laying the kitchen.  By the end of Sunday, I worked my way out of the door.

The last few tiles ready to be set.

A couple days later, I grouted the floor. 

The gaping hole is where the fridge goes.

Looking out from the pantry.

Looking toward the pantry.

Sneak peak of the new countertops!

And done!  Woo hoo!

We move in this coming weekend and there is much left to be done.  We certainly won't finish everything prior to moving, but the priorities are:

- reinstall the kitchen sink & faucet
- trim the edges of the countertops
- afix the countertops to the cabinets
- move the stove back in place
- hopefully not move the old fridge back in place, but instead have a new one delivered!


making over the upstairs bathroom, part 1

In addition to the kitchen, the upstairs bath needs major help in terms of improving its style and function.  It's pretty bare bones here as you can see.  The one good thing going for the floor was the fact that the old vinyl was already torn up.

Upstairs bath, before.
The 1/4" luan board (the plywood type subfloor you see) was sound and very level, making it okay to leave as is.

You can see where there's been moisture hitting the plywood next to the tub over time.
The eyesore of the bathroom is that ugly old vanity.


Before we can address that vanity, we needed to put in a new floor.  Conveniently I have easy access to all types tiles and after lots of deliberation, I picked a nearly black porcelain.  So, I figured, let's tile the bathroom ourselves!  Easier said than done.

Inititally, I got myself all psyched up for attempting this project.  Then I got totally scared that I'd completely botch the whole thing.  But then, after reading up, watching you tube videos and talking to experienced tile setters, I regained my confidence that we could really try installing it ourselves.

The first step was laying 1/4" cement board over the existing subfloor to provide a sound water resistant base for the tile.
We dry fit the pieces in place first.
Then, once all the pieces were cut to size, with a utility blade for straight cuts and a diamond blade grinder tool to cut the curve around the toilet flange, we set the board with a thin layer of thinset and then mesh-taped and mudded the joints to unify the pieces.  We borrowed an auto-feed screw driver to secure the board firmly to the subfloor.

We realized after the fact that we could have made our thinset a little thinner, but oh well.
Once the board thinset cured overnight, it was time to do a dry fit of the tile - which means I spent several hours figuring out where to lay the tile in relation to the room, including making all my cuts with a wet saw.  The tile I selected is Daltile's Concrete Connection in Downtown Black.  It is mostly black but has subtle brown swirls through it.  It has pretty variation and isn't trying to look like fake stone or something cheesy, characteristics surprisingly hard to come by!

A tile installer I work with recommended using full tiles at the door if possible, and except for the notch around the jamb, I did so.

Dry fit in progress.
I worked myself out of the door....
The little strips on the right will mostly be hidden by the door.
A few nights later, it was time to actually set the tile with thinset.  I mixed it a little thinner compared to how I had done with the cement board, and it made troweling much easier.  I laid the first full row you see below and worked to the left towards the toilet.

Tile setting in progress.
I had a bit of a hard time.  I felt like I couldn't keep a consistent thickness of thinset under the tiles.  As a result, there are very slight height differences between some of the tiles.  A few tiles that seemed way off, I pryed up and re-mudded.  Attemping tile setting myself definitely increases my respect for the tile guys who have such finesse with the trowel.  But in the end, after several hours and some moments of frustration, I was done!

Everything in place! (Now the vanity looks extra hideous.)


So exhausted!

(The "haze" on the tile is just dust from the wet saw cuts.)

Even though the floor is far from perfect, I still feel pretty proud of myself.  It came out pretty well for an amateur, I think!

Next on the agenda for this bath:
-grout the tile! (This should also help mask some of the irregularities.)
-find or make a threshold that will cover the 1" height difference between the hall floor and the tile
-paint the vanity cabinet a shade of red
-possibly replace the countertop if there is leftover material from the kitchen
-paint the walls
-reinstall baseboard behind toilet
-reinstall trim around window
-replace light fixture
-reinstall toilet


making over the kitchen, part 1

here's an interior shot of the new place taken after the old renters had moved out.  you can see a few things: the dark brown parquet floors, the sizable deck off the dining area, the kitchen in the back, the seemingly random but structurally necessary post, and a particularly unique feature: exposed joist ceilings.  the ceiling of the main floor is the floor of the upstairs, comprised of tongue-and-groove pine boards laid diagonally.

chair party.
because the ceiling is wood and the floor is wood, the wood and almond laminate kitchen cabinetry and countertops blended right into the 1980s.

the kitchen in all its untouched and unlevel glory (see how the cabinet to the far right visibly sags?)

i can't leave anything alone if it's calling out for design help and i like projects (even if/especially if they're labor-intensive) so it was a joy to come up with a plan to bring this kitchen stylistically up to date.

step 1: paint the cabinetry white.

it took a couple hours just to remove all the doors and their hinges.

to undertake the painting process, i borrowed a random orbit sander from an retired gentleman who frequents my workplace and we spent a day sanding down all of the cabinet face frames (the wooden parts behind the doors) and the doors themselves, fronts and backs.  

the backs of the almond laminate cabinets were painted brown.

in addition to painting the cabinets, i decide to lighten up the space by removing the upper cabinet to the right of the stove, to be replaced with open shelving.

ahhhhh, no longer cabinet world in there.

after sanding, we used a powerful adhesion primer to further ensure that the new paint would stick to both the laminate faces and the wooden frames.

one coat of adhesion primer on all surfaces to be painted.

the drywall behind the cabinet i removed had never been painted, so i added a coat of the primer over that section, too.

this process apparently required a lot of paper towels.

after the primer had dried, we spent several nights applying the white paint, allowing plenty of drying time between coats.  we used a satin finish latex enamel (sherwin williams proclassic) in SW7005 "Pure White."  we applied it to all the doors and face frames, as well as the interiors of the upper cabinets that would be visible from the living room when the doors were open.  while we had done the primer coat outdoors, we did the finish coats inside the house so that debris from the surrounding trees wouldn't get stuck in the paint.

a coat or two on the doors and frames.

three coats later, the doors went back in place, with new black hinges.

improved but still a long way to go.

our next steps for the kitchen:
- install cute knobs on the doors and drawers 
- tear out the vinyl tile and sheet vinyl  (we've already started this process and it sucks)
- lay new porcelain tile (yikes!  i've never done it before, but i'm going to attempt it)
- hang open shelves in the space to the right of the stove
- replace the almond countertops with pre-made black ones from ikea
- paint the entire main floor, including the kitchen, benjamin moore's AF-420 "Agave"
- possibly install white subway tile for a backsplash

we've got a month to accomplish all this (and a few other necessary projects) before we move in!  i'd be over there today if the high weren't 104.


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