2.5 Years Coming

With the master bath just about wrapped up, we finally got buckled down to work more on the banister install last weekend. I mentioned that I made progress giving our balusters 2 coats of white paint, so that’s done:


And yes, that is Gunnar’s huge crate in our living room. Funny thing is, he hasn’t used it in months, but we haven’t moved it because it’s been great for holding painting projects! Perhaps once the stairs are done, the crate will finally be retired to the garage and we can get our full living room back.

We bought the railings a while back, two that have plowed bottoms for the sections that will have balusters (the spindles), and one that has a flat, unplowed bottom that will extend up the stairs over the walled area, and will be attached with metal brackets.

For those of you who don’t know much about installing stairs (hopefully all of you, because who the heck knows this stuff???), when you have a railing with balusters, the balusters generally attach to the bottom (which is typically either a stair tread or a knee wall like we have) with some sort of screw or peg. Since we made our balusters ourselves, we’ll be using a dowel peg. Nik wanted to just tack them into the knee wall with air nails, and I stubbornly talked him into using dowels to give the balusters more support.

The top of the balusters fit into the plow of the railing. Plowed railings have a side profile that looks like this, with a thin piece of wood called a filet inserted in the groove:

Image result for plowed railing

The filet comes out, and you are supposed to cut it into pieces that fit snugly in between each baluster to hold them in place. So, we’ll use the filet pieces combined with an air nail at the top to hold the balusters in. For the one railing that is just against the wall with no balusters, it is simply a flat bottom (unplowed).

First, Nik used the angles and measurements he figured out to cut the angled railing for the bottom section of stairs. To get the measurement, he just rested it over the knee wall, since in theory it should be about the same length when we raise it to the final location:


We’ll set this railing so it falls about 34-38″ above the stair height, as per code. Gunnar is very patient, if not bored, while we do all our weekend projects. This is his standard position, where he probably wonders A) why we’re so industrious all the time and B) why we don’t feed him more often. Also, he loves having his water bowl a little elevated and a paint can seems to work perfectly!


After cutting the other two railings to size I tested some different stain options on an extra chunk of railing to get a close match to our floor color.


Then I sanded and sanded and sanded since these were unfinished red oak, and weren’t exactly smooth to start with. They did sand pretty nicely, and then I got to staining. It ended up being a coat of red chestnut and then a coat of dark walnut stain. They look a little red in the garage, but they match the floors pretty well (which are always redder than I think they are).

This weekend we’re aiming high and planning to get all the railings and banisters installed. We started this project in August of 2015 (2.5 years ago), so I think it’s about time it got finished up! We made a Lowe’s run this week to buy the remaining things we need for this project and installing our little bathroom shelves, with our favorite helper in tow. We now have no excuse to not get it finished!




The Planked Wall

For all intents and purposes, our bathroom renovation is complete! But I think there are a few more decorating details that we need to do to really call it done.

A couple weekends ago, we got the plank wall cut and mounted. My concern with this wall was that it wouldn’t match the grey tile that we used on the tub surround, but I wanted a warmer element that would make the room feel less cool and grey. We stained the planks with a mixture of classic grey and special walnut Minwax stains, which made it look like weathered wood.



We installed the pieces with a few dots of construction adhesive on the back of each, plus a few nails with the air gun. We left a gap between all of them using pennies to space the planks, and worked our way up from the bottom. The last plank at the ceiling required some tricky trimming lengthwise, because of course our ceiling isn’t level, and while it isn’t perfect I don’t think the slightly not-straight edge is very noticeable.

Here’s pictures of the progress:



And the finished product:


And the tub hardware that we finally got installed:


So, its obviously brown and the tile is obviously grey, but I don’t dislike it – I think it just needs to be integrated better with the rest of the room. So our idea to do this is to make some small wooden shelves over the toilet, using wood with stain to match the planks and with industrial style brackets similar to the ones in the kitchen:


We’ll probably do 2 shelves, and Home Depot actually sells these brackets online now (of course, after we searched forever and spent a ton of money to get the brackets for our kitchen!). I think adding these shelves will bring the wood tone forward in the room, and not make the plank wall look so isolated.

Also, after our little bookshelf in the bathroom is no longer covered in my garden seedlings, the wood on that piece will also tie into the room:


I also have pictures of our threshold to show. We ‘stained’ this with opaque grey deck stain – not an ideal color, but we couldn’t come up with any options that we thought would match better that weren’t expensive (such as a marble slab). And, before it was nailed down I got a picture of the routing and trimming work Nik did on this to make it fit perfectly around the cement board and carpet that this was sitting between:

There is one more task I’d like to do – both in this bathroom and our guest bathroom. All our fixtures are now brushed nickel, except the tub drain and overflow:


That rusty, old tub drain was supposed to be fixed (as per our contract) by the seller when we bought our home, and somehow he worked his way out of that agreement and just bought a cheap new stopper which probably cost him $3.99. The drain plate above is an easy swap, as is the drain stopper, but the drain itself is a more difficult story. Depending on the competency of the person who installed it and how well they adhered it to the piping under the tub, sometimes the only way to remove these is to remove the tub since they’re usually threaded into the pipes with plumbers putty. We’re going to attempt to use either a short-cut method (needle nosed pliers and a wrench), or purchase a drain extractor tool to remove the drain. If we can get it to budge, we’ll put in a brushed nickel set. And if not, it will stay as is!

In other news, work on the banisters and balusters is underway. I have one more coat of white paint for the balusters to go, and after much trial and error, Nik finally got the measurements and angles figured out to move forward with installing the banister on the bottom part of the steps that will span the column to the wall. Once we have the banisters cut to size, we’ll give them a good sanding followed by stain and sealing, which is on the agenda for next weekend.

Tub Time

I think we spent more time in our tub last weekend that we ever have in the past (read: we’ve never used our master tub since we moved in), but this is good because it means progress is being made! The tub was actually quite comfy, and we decided a real bath was in order once this renovation is complete.

Two weekends ago we got all our tile cut and installed for the tub back splash and it looks nice. It’s weird that the shower looks much brighter and airier than the tub despite having the same tile, but I think this could be because the tub was not grouted yet so the tiles look more somber and grey. Also, the shower is next to the window so there’s more light over there.

Here’s some picture tiling…first, I’ll show pictures from our epic snow storm two Wednesdays ago, in which it snowed 9″. It was a winter wonderland the next morning, with beautiful blue skies and so much fluffy white snow. We would’ve gotten stuff done on the bathroom, but with 9″ there’s not much we could do since cutting tile requires access to an outdoor space and a garden hose for water.




Thankfully, in true North Carolina fashion, it was in the 60’s by that weekend so most of the snow melted away and we were able to drag out the tile saw and get the tiles cut:


We planned for a short back splash, just 1 row of 12×24 tiles and 1 row of bullnose. This was about the same height as the previous little white tiles that were there.

We got the big tiles in on Saturday as well as the bullnose pieces that didn’t require cutting/measuring, and then cut and installed the remaining bullnose on Sunday. Overall, this job was much easier than the shower because we didn’t use cement board backing or do any excessive water proofing because unlike showers, where water is supposed to hit and flow down the walls every day, tub walls (in theory, although I suppose people with young children may beg to differ) only get an occasional splash, and mortar and grout are more than enough to waterproof this.




This past weekend I grouted and worked on smoothing the drywall patching around the tile.



Nik also made wonderful progress with the threshold into the bathroom. He impressed me, as per usual, by crafting a threshold out of a 1×4″ piece of red oak. He routed out the bottom to allow space for the carpet to be pinned under the threshold, and another part to go around the slightly uneven cement board under the tile at the other end. Then he used the circular saw on a tilt to make the top a gradual slope from the height of the tile to the height of the carpet. He used the jig saw to have it cut perfectly at the sides to fit flush against the door frame.  In the end, this custom threshold fits like a glove. Oh, and it was only $9 of wood! DIY win. Last weekend I stained the threshold with an opaque gray deck stain – it’s a little weird looking, but we couldn’t think of any other color/stain that would’ve matched more so it is what it is. I forgot to take a picture, so I’ll include one next time.

The planks also got an extra coat of sealer but we didn’t have enough energy to start hanging them this weekend. I’m excited about the planks, but honestly have no idea how it will look with the tile. I’m hoping it matches and looks cool but there’s a part of me that is nervous I won’t like the wood stain at all…in which case the panels will most likely be painted white.

We’ve gotten several questions about putting wood in a humid bathroom. I’m not worried because the wood is sealed, and will be in an area that will get no direct water splashes. The moisture level in our bathroom is never excessive, as we have a vent fan that keeps it reasonable during showers, plus the tub is on the other side of a wall from the shower, so moisture that directly rises from the shower won’t immediately be hitting these planks. But, as is a good idea any time humidity fluctuations are possible, we’ll leave small gaps between the planks for expansion and contraction of the wood.

I’m thinking another weekend or two of work with the planks and painting and caulking around the tub the this renovation will be done! Can’t wait!


2018 Goals

Now that 2018 is upon us, it’s time to lay out some goals. Since we don’t stick to timelines too well, I’ll start out by listing some projects we’d like to get completed this spring.

Obviously, bathroom is top of this list. We’re 100% done with the vanity, floor, toilet, and shower so the bathroom is functional as is, but we’re still working on updating the garden tub. The tub was fine, but had the 90’s square white tiles on the tub surround, and with some of our shower tile left over it was hard to turn down the option of tiling the tub to match. In my mind this was simple: chip off the old tile, mortar, and new tile, done. But, as is typical of DIY projects, it turned out to be a bit more complicated.

The little square tiles didn’t chip off nicely at all, so we had to just cut out the drywall they were attached to.


I then made an arrogant post discussing our purchase of a new sheet of drywall, how we cut it to size in the Lowe’s parking lot so it would fit in the car, and gosh we’re so good at this all we have to do is screw it into the wall! You would think I would have learned at this point in time to never sound so full of myself, and indeed, we screwed this up.

We did do a good job measuring the size of the drywall pieces and getting it all cut…the only issue is we bought the wrong thickness drywall! In our defense, drywall is tricky – the edges of a sheet are apparently tapered to allow some thickness for mudding seams, so I measured the drywall we cut out of the wall (in the middle of the sheet) at what seemed to be a little more than 1/2″, so I assumed this was 5/8″ drywall. Then at the store, the 5/8″ drywall is actually about 1/2″ at the edges to allow for mudding so we assumed this must be the right size. And it wasn’t. Luckily, the sheet was only about $11 but the blow to our esteem felt more damaging. So, this past weekend we were back at Lowe’s purchasing another sheet of 1/2″ thick drywall, and we finally got it cut, mounted, and taped, and thus far have gone through two rounds of mudding:




The plans for the tub are now to tile and grout – 1 row of the large 12×24″ tiles, and 1 row of bullnose surrounding it all. We would’ve tackled this over the past couple weekends, but the cold temperatures are still hanging around and with our tile saw already having some issues starting up we didn’t want to push it. Perhaps next weekend some warmer weather will give us a chance to cut the tiles.

After the tiles are in, we’re planning to plank the back wall to give the room a warm, cozy feel. The grey tile everywhere has made the room look nice, but cold, so I think a little bit of wood grain in there will be just what the room needs to make it look more like a bathroom retreat. This was the original picture that inspired this idea:


We don’t have a budget for real planks, but other DIY people have taught us that thin underlayment cut into planks can look great as well. We bought a 4×8′ sheet of thin maple underlayment that was stain grade wood ($24) and cut it into shiplap-sized planks on the table saw:



And then I played around with about 20 different stain combinations. I was originally thinking of just going with minwax classic grey, but the pinkness of the wood made it sort of clash with the grey tile, so we ended up doing one coat of special walnut followed by a coat of classic grey, which made it look like the color of weathered fence wood.


Here’s a picture of me bundled up in the freezing weather Sunday, applying the first coat of walnut, and the comparison of the walnut alone and with the layer of gray over it:

Now the planks are drying in the guest bathroom with the fan on (they’re stinky, but it’s too cold to let the stain dry outside):


I think we’ll probably tile before installing these so we get the height right but we could start with a few rows at the ceiling and work our way down. This will only be on the back wall of the tub. And, if we end up not liking the stain, we can always paint over the planks for a lighter look.

Our tub valve is also one more issue we’re struggling with. Apparently Moen doesn’t even manufacture temperature dials to fit the valve we have on our tub anymore, so we’re thinking we’ll have to use the universal trim kit that we bought a while back, which seems to be compatible. We contemplated changing the plumbing when the wall was open since the universal kit was pricey…but we decided an extra $50 to use that kit was well worth what certainly would’ve been a whole weekend of effort to switch the valve out.

One more bathroom project is the threshold for the door. I wasn’t satisfied with any of the existing threshold options at Lowe’s, so Nik ended up convincing me he could turn a 1×4″ oak board into a threshold using his router and the sander. This is still in progress but I’m curious to see how this will turn out.

And THEN we should be done with the bathroom!

So what’s next? The other main projects that need to happen this spring are caulking/patching the crown molding on the first floor (ugh), and getting our new balusters installed. The balusters need a coat of paint, the railing needs to be stained and sealed, and we need to figure out how the heck to install them. We have some ideas…but I’m not confident this will be an easy task (probably why it’s been put off 2.5 years at this point).

The last project I’d like to see completed in the somewhat near future is a kitchen island. We have a slab of granite cut for it, so it’s a shame that it’s sitting in the garage while we’ve been using a rusty wire shelving rack with cutting boards thrown on top for over 2 years now. In an ideal world, I’ve love an island with some closed cabinetry and some open shelves to have a little more storage for large unsightly things. The dimensions we need (20″x39″) aren’t quite as wide as this disproportionate sketch, but you get the idea:


At this point, I’ll take anything that is done quickly, has some shelves, and doesn’t break the bank since if we move, this would probably be left behind since it will match the kitchen granite. I’d also like something on wheels since the kitchen is small and it would be nice to have the ability to slide it out of the way at times. Maybe a design like these would be feasible:

Related image

Image result for diy kitchen island

I  think Nik will have fun with this. He likes building furniture, and with the biscuit joiner and kreg jig furniture joinery tools he’s acquired, the things he’s crafted always look professionally built. We’ll see what he comes up with!

These plans should get us at least halfway into 2018 without killing us. Our weekends have been filled with a lot of doggie activities for Gunnar recently, and it is really nice to have days where we’re not DIYing all day, every day we have off. The cold weather hasn’t made working in the garage pleasant, so I think once the spring weather hits we’ll actually be antsy to get back to working more diligently on our projects. Cheers to 2018!




2017 Year In Review

Every new year, I panic when I think back over the past year and I feel like we didn’t accomplish as much as we wanted to. Maybe this year was a particularly slow struggle for our bathroom project, since our original timeline had our master bathroom finished in August. While we’ve moved back into the bathroom and are using all the necessary components, it still feels far from finished – stepping around tools and shop vacs to take a shower every morning is disheartening.

But then I started scrolling through all my blog posts from 2017, and it became apparent that we DID do a lot this year. I’ll go project by project to sum up the year.

In early spring 2017, we got our kitchen cabinet crown molding painted and installed – our first attempt at mitering corners of crown molding. A few months later we also added ceiling crown molding to our downstairs bathroom, dining room, entry way, and living room (although painted, it has yet to be caulked and filled….)





We also finished up our guest bedroom improvements, including a new ceiling fan, wall paint, and bedding – and eventually two refinished side tables.



The project that has dragged on the longest for our home renovations is hands down our stairway balusters. Early last year, I was inspired by Fixer Upper to make our own balusters that are square and simple, which we did last spring…and are still sitting in our living room, primed, waiting for a coat of paint, and waiting for installation. This installation absolutely has to happen this spring to bring our house up to code!

Nik also used some old jungle gym wood to replace the decking on our little side deck, and we refinished an old chandelier for our dining room:





Outside, we extended our garden bed also using up some of the lumber from the jungle gym:



We finished installing new wide blinds on all of our windows:

And we finished up refinishing a furniture piece for our friends, and built a little stool for another friends’ baby:


And now for the the bathroom!

For the bathroom, the major projects were demo, refinishing and raising the vanity, installing the vanity top and plumbing fixtures, tiling the floor, installing the shower pan, tiling the shower, and adding shower doors, adding floor trim, figuring out the most convoluted shower/tub valve plumbing in the world, and finally (still in progress), tiling around the tub.

Oh, and in the middle of all that we had our epic two-week trip to Colorado and Utah:


…and we adopted our wonderful greyhound, Gunnar, in October:


Well, 2017 seemed pretty productive after all. I think I’ll allow myself to bask in our 2017 DIY progress for a few more days before I make a list of 2018 projects!

The Tub Demo

I mentioned last week we had to do a mild demolition of our tub to get the old tiles down – we were hoping we could just chip them off, but it turns out the people who built our house decided, for once, to not do things half-assed and to actually adhere these small tiles quite well to the drywall underneath. Nik was finding he was just denting the drywall in when he tried to chip them off with a pry bar. So he got the Dremel out and cut just outside the tile on each wall. Here’s the tub, (old pic, but you can see the square white tile surround), and after:




There weren’t any huge issues, other than the studs on the left wall were built up an extra 1/2″ with some plywood so the drywall would reach the tub on one side, but that will be easy to replace when we put the new drywall in.

So, new drywall. We went to Lowe’s last night to buy a sheet of 5/8″ thick drywall, but of course a 4’x8′ board didn’t fit in the car, so here we are cutting it down to size in the Lowe’s parking lot:


I was envisioning this ending poorly, perhaps because my most recent experience cutting large sheets of things was with the Hardibacker cement board for the shower, which was so difficult to cut. For once, this actually went very smoothly and we had the drywall sheet cut down to fit in the car within about 10 minutes. A simple cut with the razor, breaking the board along the line, and then a razor cut through the paper backing. It’s almost like we’re pros at this! We got home and finished the last few cuts to make the pieces the right size – all that’s left is cutting out a small circle for the faucet, then screwing them into the walls.


After we get drywall up, we’ll be able to slather on a layer of mortar (we have some left over from the shower), and then lay the tub tile – one row of the 12×24″ tiles, and bullnose to surround it. And then grout. And then patching any exposed drywall seams between the new and old drywall – which will exist, because of course the old tiles went about 1″ further up the wall than one row of our new tile + 1 row of bullnose will go. Speaking of bullnose, I just remembered we forgot to buy those on our Lowe’s run last night…we got excited about the drywall, and apparently that was enough to distract us from our extensive two-item shopping list. All in all, replacing drywall and giving new tile to this tub will probably cost ~$60 at the end of it, which I think is well worth it to not leave behind one part of this renovated bathroom in the 1990s.

In other news, our shower is up and running! We got the faucet in yesterday, and we used it this morning! My only complaint is we had to buy the eco-sense shower head, only because the regular one was out of stock until the end of this week and I didn’t want to wait. And sure enough, it has a pretty weak flow. There might be a way to take out the water restricting device in the shower head, which would work; if not we may switch it out with our old one, or see if we can return it to get the other one when it’s back in stock.


Also, since we had part of the drywall down around the tub, we toyed with the idea of trying to reach up into the wall to move the valve back from below so the shower handle wouldn’t stick out as far. But, for once, we decided to leave it as it, for fear that we would make a small cosmetic problem into something bigger if we screwed it up.

Gunnar didn’t know quite what to think of the new shower, he just stood awkwardly in the bathroom and watched me while I was using it this morning! I’m pretty sure he was wondering whether there was also peanut butter in this shower, just like there was on the wall of our other shower when we gave him a bath last weekend. Or he was wondering why I hadn’t fed him breakfast yet…we’re pretty confident his thoughts revolve around food approximately 97% of the time.


Shower Doors…and More Demo

The last few weeks Nik and I (well, mostly me) have hemmed and hawed about what faucet set will be most compatible with our shower, and we’ve made some new discoveries, and had some set backs. We did determine that we have a Moen posi-temp valve that is already there, and we also determined we’re not willing to cut through the wall to replace it! So we have several options at this point: we can use a universal kit we got that is made by Pfister and that should work, but it protrudes pretty far from the wall because of our valve placement and it isn’t as nice looking as some of the other sets. This isn’t completely installed, but this is what the ‘protrusion’ would look like with the universal set…not impossible, but not ideal:

Now that we know we have a Moen valve, we started looking more closely at Moen products, and found a line that we like (Brantford) that also sells individual components which we thought would be useful for replacing the tub hardware without having to buy another complete set (spout, shower head, and dial) as well.

Image result for moen brantford

Our tub spout turns out to be somewhat not standard (surprise!), so we did have to order a couple other tub spouts to try (Delta and Kohler make one that should work in theory…whether the metal finishes match the Moen ones perfectly is unlikely but Moen doesn’t make a compatible spout that isn’t chrome). So we ordered all the parts (shower head and temperature dial for the shower, temperature dial and tub spout for the tub) and then started pulling the tub apart yesterday (1 hour after ordering) and realized that the tub  temperature control dial HAS A DIFFERENT STUPID VALVE THAN THE SHOWER!

Soooo…we should be set on the shower when those kits come in this week, but the tub will still take some troubleshooting to find a valve dial that works with it. This part of the project has honestly taken longer to figure out than tiling our floor and shower. If only the contractors that built our house used standard, matching plumbing and fixtures, we could’ve been done with this 2 months ago!

In other news, while we were disassembling the old tub faucet parts, we also started removing some of the square white tiles around the tub – we’re planning to do a quick cosmetic tile update around the tub to match the shower tile. Well, the little white tile squares didn’t come off neatly so we ended up just cutting out all the drywall attached to the tile around the tub so we’ll need to replace that drywall, then tile over it. We thought the demolition for this bathroom was done, but we were wrong.

All that aside, we do have some fun progress to show you! We got the remainder of our walls painted this weekend, and got the shower doors installed! Despite the doors being super heavy (about 75lbs each), we got them in with relatively little hassle and I think they look amazing. We selected Dreamline Encore 48″ frameless sliding door in brushed nickel, which set us back about $450. Here’s the Home Depot stock photo:

DreamLine Encore 44 in. to 48 in. x 76 in. Framed Bypass Shower Door in Brushed Nickel

We thought about using a hinged door for a hot second…but the reviews were much worse for those types of doors, the installation seemed a lot trickier, and they were a couple hundred dollars more expensive. I read a few reviews for these sliding doors and everyone loved them and had an easy time installing them, so that made our decision easy. The hardest part about installing these was drilling 4 screws into the tile to secure the top bar. Nik did a great job with this, but it took him about 2 hours to get those 4 screws through a layer of porcelain tile, mortar, and cement board.

Here’s the finished product:




In other news, we got a mini-Christmas tree this year to avoid any potential dog destruction:


Luckily, Gunnar has shown very little interest in the tree. We’ve started leaving him loose out of the crate for about a week now while we’ve been at work, which has gone splendidly for the most part. His one goofy transgression was consuming an ENTIRE banana, peel and all, that Nik mistakenly left on the coffee table. We only figured this out because Nik found a small portion of the stem left behind on Gunnar’s bed, then we realized what had happened. Lesson learned. But really, who couldn’t forgive that sweet face? Gunnar has managed to carve himself a perfect little niche in our family, and I have to say that snuggling with him is just the best thing ever!