Category Archives: Decor

A New (Old) Light Fixture

We got a lot done this weekend…not particularly things on my list, but progress nonetheless. The garage side deck is officially finished, with new handrails. I got a coat of primer on our friend’s furniture piece that we’re refinishing, we stained the top of the weird dining table project we’ve had stashed in the garage for ages, and we refinished a light fixture for our dining room.

When we moved, my parents gave me an old chandelier from the foyer of our house in NJ – it had sconces, and was kind of a brushed nickel finish. Originally, the pointy flame-shaped light bulbs were in it, with glass sconces around each light.


It was very traditional looking, so we were having a hard time deciding where it would fit in our house. Originally we were thinking kitchen, but the light location over the kitchen table is not quite centered on the table and a dangling chandelier would emphasize this even more than a flush mount light. So then we thought dining room…but that room is decidedly mid-century themed, and the silver seemed out of place. But, the table is centered on the light:


I’ve hated that light since the day we moved in. It’s too small, and too close to the ceiling, and too bright. It has made us not want to have meals in this room, so we knew it had to change. Nik had the idea of using the chandelier from my parents, but using Edison light bulbs to give it some vintage character, and spray painting it a new color, since the nickel finish was dingy and dirty and didn’t fit with the room.

We choose oil-rubbed bronze, and hung the light on the bird feeder hook to do the spray painting, which went pretty well.


Then Nik removed the old light and mounted the new one, which did require a trip to Lowes for a mounting kit since it was incompatible with what was there.


The wires were all hooked up, and then we started thinking about the bulbs. I kind of liked them by themselves, but we put one sconce on just to see. It’s ok, but in person it looks like too much glass since the bulbs are glassy, and almost touch the sconce edges. Also, the sconces will show dust over time , so we’re thinking of just doing the bulbs:


Here’s another closeup, and a picture from the living room for perspective. I love how it looks – a huge upgrade from what was there previously (please don’t mind our mess, this is the reality of DIY work. Also, the light is still hanging a little crooked since that one heavier sconce is still on one side of it, which we’re still debating).



The light that comes from the squirrel cage Edison bulbs is also so pretty, and looks like delicate bursts on the ceiling (camera didn’t do it justice). We got them on Amazon,  $20 for 6.

So that chandelier was  big accomplishment, this little project that has been on the list for a while. I’m going to save pics of the other furniture projects until they’re done, but I did promise to show some pictures of the little guest bedroom side tables so here they are. To sum up this project, these tables were $30 for both on Craigslist, and we stripped the top, added little back boards with pieces of red oak that we rounded by sanding, stained/sealed the tops, then gave the sides a good sanding followed by primer and a warm light gray paint (we reused the extra sample paint from an ex-kitchen cabinet color).



And after:





Cheers to a productive weekend!


Guest Bedroom Makeover

I finally got around to taking some pictures of the guest bedroom we’ve been working on. We love the way it turned out – it looks so bright and inviting now and I think our guests will appreciate it. We just need to recruit some visitors to stay with us!

For the past year this room has been a storage area for extra flooring scraps and random boxes, and in anticipation of painting, the electrical plates were all removed and there were some smears of potential paint colors up on one wall. There was also an old dingy comforter and some mismatched blankets, which looked even more dingy in the awful CFL light from the old ceiling fan.

I never took a great before picture, but here’s a super-before picture, from our first night in the house:

New house Aug 2015 049

And here’s the old ceiling fan – which we managed to sell for $20 to a weirdly-eager buyer on craigslist:


So for this makeover, we painted the walls a light blue-purple color (Cool Mist by Valspar – leftover paint from our office room), gave the floor and door trim and window sill a fresh coat of white, got a new bed spread and pillows, and updated the ceiling fan. I don’t consider clearing out clutter to really be part of a ‘makeover’, but we did that as well and after all our hard work this was probably what made the biggest difference in this room. We also moved a desk in here for sitting at or putting a suitcase on. Here’s the finished room:




And a closeup of the new fan ($69 at Home Depot). This fan was a smaller width than the old fan (42″ vs 52″) and it fits this tiny room much better:


We’re still waiting to get our final shipment of blinds to update the window blind, and I’ve been stalking craigslist for a pair of little side tables that need redoing for either side of the bed.

This past weekend we installed 5 other blinds that the store had sizes for in stock and laid out a design for our backyard flower garden and started trenching the ground to put a wood border in. We also put new toilet seats on our upstairs toilets (I don’t ever want to see/smell 18 years of crusted pee from removing an old toilet seat again!). You know what happened the last time we replaced a toilet seat for the downstairs bathroom – the entire room was demo-ed down to the subfloor that very afternoon. We restrained ourselves this time, but I’m itching to start our master bathroom renovation this summer!

Kitchen Shelves and 100 Posts

Apparently this is my 100th post on the blog, which nicely coincides with us finally finishing the kitchen shelving. For all intents and purposes, I think this is good enough to call the kitchen DONE. DIY people seem to never quite “finish” a project because when you can do things yourself, there’s always something else you can add, or redo so it seems never ending at times.

We replaced the cabinet to the left of the sink with shelving, because when we were demo-ing the kitchen, and that cabinet came down, the room just opened up and seemed so light and airy.





Nik immediately suggested putting shelves there, and I kind of agreed we could “try it,” fully thinking it wouldn’t happen. This is what happens when men are put in charge of renovations – they don’t think about the messy cups and plates that a solid cabinet door hides, but these are the thoughts women are plagued with. Fortunately, we received all new dinnerware and wine glasses and water glasses for our wedding, which can now be neatly displayed on our new shelves.

We wanted “bulkier” looking wood shelves, and unfortunately the hardware store only carries nicer wood planks up to 3/4″ thick. They looked a little underwhelming to us, so we wandered and came across stair treads, which are red oak, 1″ thick, and more than the 10″ deep that we wanted the shelves. They were a little pricey, at $27 a step, but the alternative was going to look for reclaimed wood at the Reuse Warehouse in Durham, which probably would’ve been comparable and would’ve taken up precious Saturday time.

We bought brackets off Etsy from Lithuania of all places, which were also pricey and came out to $155 with shipping for 9 brackets. But, they looked great and seemed strong enough to hold the shelves.

To get close to our floor stain color, we did a coat of special walnut and a coat of red chestnut Minwax stain. Then the shelves were sealed with 2 coats of water-based poly. Mounting the brackets into studs proved to be a bit challenging – especially the long shelf on the far wall, since there were no conveniently located studs for two of the brackets so we had to use drywall anchors. It took 2+ tries to find an anchor with appropriately sized screws for the brackets. But the shelves are up now, and here’s the finished product!

Far shelf (garage wall – we haven’t quite figured out what to put on this shelf yet, so as of now it’s extra bakeware and glasses and a decorative sign we got from Nik’s brother’s girlfriend for Christmas last year):


And our left-of-sink cabinet (I think there’s too much stuff on this currently…but it doesn’t look as full in person. We might clear off some of the stuff if we can find space elsewhere).


And to see how the shelves tie into the whole room, here are some further-away shots.


We like how they turned out – and its exciting to have all those cups and plates up off the kitchen counter now!

In other news, we got our little tree up this weekend. There was some bickering about the slightly ridiculous star placement, and it seems as though my argument to leave it as is will win!


A DIY Wedding

This blog is more focused on fixing up furniture and our house, but since the principle behind that is DIY, I thought I’d write a post about some of the crafty DIY things we did for our wedding to personalize it and cut costs (read: we’ve barely lifted a finger to work on anything in our house in the last 2 months, so to keep this blog going I’m desperate to write about something DIY related). This will probably be long…but I haven’t written in a while so hopefully it keeps you entertained!

To start off with, here’s a wedding picture so you aren’t seeing all the other pictures of decorations and wondering what we looked like!

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Some of my favorite wedding projects that we did all ourselves (or that our wonderful friends/family helped with!) were our tall wooden vase boxes, our flower arrangements in lab glassware and all the girls’ bouquets and guys’ boutonnieres, our seating cards/favors, the bar menu, our cake and picture table, my printed food label cards, our programs, coffee cups, my  bridesmaid favors, and my veil. So today I’ll go through one by one and show pictures of each thing and say how we made it and the costs.

So first thing is our vase boxes. The reception hall had plain walls, so we wanted a few things along the walls to dress it up a bit. We ended up building 7 tall wooden boxes out of 1″x6″ boards.And by we, I mean Nik…


When my parents visited a few weeks before the wedding, we stained them with classic gray Minwax stain and put a sprig of twirly twigs from Michael’s in each one. The wood cost for all of these was about $60 and the twigs were about $60.


Our photographer didn’t seem to get a good picture of them, but we had them in various places around the room with an uplight behind each one (there’s one against the wall to the right of us):

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

After the wedding, we gave a couple to each of our parents to use in their house and we still have 3 in the garage that need a home! That picture also shows off our market lights, which we purchased 200′ of ( for about $80 with a coupon, and hung them ourselves the day before (by we, I mean mostly our parents!). Actually, we got about 90% of the room set up with family and friends’ help the day before the wedding, which saved us cost of needing a day-of planner or a lot of hired set-up help. We had a few good friends supervise the final touches Saturday afternoon before the reception, and oversee 3 college kids that we hired to help finish set up.

Next is our flower arrangements. I know people can spend $5000 on their wedding flowers, but I wasn’t going to let that happen. Our flowers were from a local flower farm in Hillsborough, NC called Fernrock Farms. We ordered 3 large DIY buckets, $195 for everything! I was nervous when I talked with the flower lady there a week before the wedding and she said the “warm September with no rain had been detrimental to the flowers,” so I was planning back up trips to Whole Foods to pick up extra flowers if needed. When my mom showed up with the flowers Friday morning, we were blown away by how beautiful they were! This is how they arrived:



My dad kindly put up with me when I asked him to drive to several different stores Friday morning in search of some white daisies to put in my bouquet – I think he was happy to do it, because they were in memory of my grandma (my dad’s mom) who had a bouquet of her favorite flowers – daisies – on her wedding day.

img_2848My two wonderful aunts and cousin worked for many hours the Friday before the wedding creating the girls’ bouquets, the guys’ boutonnieres, and all of our our table vases. None of them had done flower arranging like this before and everything came out beautifully – so it goes to show you don’t need to pay a florist $5000 to arrange your flowers if you have a few artistic and willing family members to help out!

Here are the bouquets and boutonnieres (for these, they used green floral tape to hold things together and the bouquets got a strip of burlap ribbon on the outside, and the boutonnieres got a pin in each one to attach):

My bouquet:

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Nik’s boutonniere:

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

So handsome =)

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

And here are some of the centerpiece vases and these little mini vases I found – our centerpieces were actual erlenmeyer flasks (borrowed for free, courtesy of my cancer research lab!), and the mini vases were used on other tables around the room and were about $20 for 12 of them.

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Next item on the list is our seating cards which doubled as favors. I found these cute little kraft-paper bags that have floral patterns in them on Etsy. They were the perfect size for a name, and on the inside we had a little scoop of native North Carolina wildflower seeds and a small thank you card. The bags were about $25 for 75 of them, and the seeds for $20.

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC


I loved how our bar menu came out – I found this rustic frame at Home Goods for $12.99, and I printed this menu on some textured cardstock on my work printer. Our caterer let us bring our own wine, and we had fun picking out the wines at Total Wine and More. I love coupons, and I actually bought the 7 cases of wine and champagne with a 15% off coupon, which allowed us to get much better wines than we would’ve gotten with any caterer in that price range. We then kept it all local for our beer options, and went with a great brewery from Hillsborough, NC called Mystery Brewing Company. And we also threw a cider on our bar list that’s originally from Virginia, but now is also brewed in NC called Bold Rock Cider.

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Our cake table was kind of an afterthought but I love how fun and special it turned out. We got our cake from a local baker who is the wife of one of Nik’s friends (Yellowbird Baking – she cooks unbelievable cakes in her tiny kitchen, which is inspiring to me as a fellow baker!), and she made us 2 single layer cakes for easier serving and then a small 2 tiered cake for looking pretty. I went on a mission to find wedding pictures of both of our parents and grandparents – which proved a little tricky, but we ended up with a beautiful collection of old photos. Nik is fortunate to have 3 grandparents around still (all of whom made it to our wedding from PA!), but all of mine have passed on, and it was really special to have photos of them on their wedding day at our reception. Getting prints made and buying a few extra frames at Home Goods probably put the price of these decorations around $30. And our cake was just decorated with a few extra flowers from the farm and some eucalyptus boughs my mom brought with her from her yard.

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Something small and cheap I made that I ended up really liking were our label cards that I made for items like the guest book, non-alcoholic drinks, and food choices. They were just printed on cardstock and cut out – about $2 cost total. Our table number cards were purchased from Etsy, and were kind of pricey at $37 but we thought they were perfect for our garden setting with different fern pictures on each card.

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC



Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

I also designed and printed our programs for the church. The printing was about $3 at Office Depot using my work’s printing discount, and 100 sheets of kraft-colored heavyweight paper was about $11.


We wanted to serve coffee after dinner but didn’t want to use more rentals (our caterer tried to limit the amount of heavy rentals we used to keep the number of servers required lower) so we found some compostable cardboard coffee cups that we dressed up with some ribbon and a printed sticker. We had a ton of cups left over, which we’re awkwardly trying to use now, but the cost for 50 cups was around $15 and the ribbon and stickers added about $5 to that.


Next thing that came out very nicely was one of my bridesmaid favors. I knew we’d be sipping champagne while getting ready, so I painted some replicas of our dresses on champagne glasses with glass paint and baked them so they’d be dishwasher safe.


I think they came out pretty accurately!

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

The final DIY project I’ll write about is my veil, which I sewed myself. I wanted a very unobtrusive veil since my dress had a lot of pretty lace on the back and I didn’t want the veil to also have lace that would compete with it.

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

So, I bought some ivory tulle with a slight sheen to it (not the matte tulle), ironed it with steam to get wrinkles out and soften it, cut it to shape with raw edges – a rectangle the length I wanted with a slight curve to the bottom edges, and got ready to sew. After watching a tutorial, I set up my machine and did a single line of stitches about 1/2″ from the top edge. Then I did a second line of stitches about 1/4″ away from the first line. I grabbed the bobbin thread at each end from each line of stitches and gently pulled, and the tulle just gathered in the middle. Magic!


Once I got it gathered to approximately the length of the comb, I tied the threads to keep the tulle gathered. Then I stitched it on to the comb. I think I did this the Thursday before the wedding…talk about last minute! Tulle is super-cheap so my veil probably cost about $4 total.

Here’s some pictures of the veil in action:

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Amelya Jayne Photography LLC

Alright, hopefully that’s enough DIY wedding crafts to satisfy you for life, because a) hopefully I’m never getting married again and b) I’m never doing that much work for 1 day again! But in the end, I think it was worth all the effort because the day came together flawlessly and looked more beautiful and unique than I had imagined it would. Some family friends from NJ who have known me since I was a little kid came to the wedding, and all of them said it was very different but they had so much fun and it had Louise written all over it. Our goal with this wedding was to have it be our own style, not cookie-cutter, not just doing something because ‘everyone’ does it at weddings, and most importantly, to have it be nice, but affordable. Nik and I know what the most important part of our wedding was, and we didn’t want that to be influenced by the pressure of spending so much on a single day.

It’s been about two months of lazy work around the house, but we’re starting to buckle down on projects again. We’re almost done creating and installing the kitchen shelves and we bought some kitchen cabinet crown molding to play around with and see if we want to add that to the cabinets. We’re making some wood-worky Christmas presents so that’s kept us busy as well. We need to install our stair banister still, and I think we have the style we want narrowed down. And once we’re in the new year, we are anxious to get started on our master bath renovation. As usual, lots to do!

Counters at Last

Our kitchen feels like it’s coming together at last this week, with the installation of our counters, sink, and new faucet. But then we remember there’s still lots to do: finish the cabinet painting and sealing, figuring out the open shelves we want to install, mounting the microwave, backsplash, wood floors and trim, painting and adding cabinet top molding. It’s still exciting to see colors coming together though.

The extra cabinet we wanted to install on the far wall actually came in last week, so we were able to get that base cabinet installed in time for the granite guys to put the top on. We obviously still haven’t built the island, so that piece of granite is sitting in the garage. Granite is simply laid on top of a cabinet with a thin bead of clear silicone caulk, so we can do that ourselves when we’re ready, and they said the island slab only weighs about 80 lbs. Here’s the rest of the pieces installed:





I like the green with the counters overall, and I think once the doors are on with new hardware will complete the look. It’s a little…country looking, but I think using hardware with sharper angular lines will help shift that towards a more modern look. This is what helped direct us when we picked a sink faucet, so this is the one we decided on. It got installed by the plumber on Wednesday.


I like the angular look, but I have one major complaint about this sink that Nik was supposed to address with the plumber since he was the one at home when the guy came. The on/off knob you can see points straight up when it’s off, and it pulls out to the right to turn on the flow, and then you can adjust it towards or straight up to vertical to change the temperature. But if you just pull it out from the vertical off position, it’s HOT water. So to get cold, you have to first pull it towards you, then out. This seems really backwards right? I checked Delta faucets, and they do their temperature control the way I think it should be…but this faucet is a Moen and apparently they do it opposite. I asked Nik to have the plumber switch the hoses so up would be cold…but we all know how that goes when we put men in charge of details such as this! So now I’ve tasked Nik with switching the hoses at some point.

Nik also had him switch the disposal to the left side to be closer to the dishwasher. We thought we’d be able to salvage our old functional one, but apparently when we removed it from the old sink when we were doing the demo ourselves, we removed it incorrectly (no thanks to the youtube video we watched which told us “exactly” how to remove it!) and whatever we did to the edge of it, it couldn’t be reused. That’s ok though – the new one was only $80 and didn’t have years worth of nasty grime and rust all over it.

We have one more decision to make about decor in the kitchen – the backsplash. I’ve been thinking something along the lines of white subway tile would be simple and cheap, and white will further brighten and hopefully open the space, which I’m still wary of because of the dark cabinets and soon-to-be dark wood floor. We also have quite a bit of backsplash to lay (probably 35-40 square feet when you add it all up), since we opted to have counters with no granite backsplash, so anything too fancy would get pricey.  Last night we wandered to Lowe’s and took a look at their options. After our trip, clean white subway tile is definitely the direction we’re going – you can see the counters are pretty busy, so we think any accent tiles, even just a row, will just exaggerate that. I liked the white glass subway tile, but at almost $3 a tile that isn’t going to happen!

We picked out 3 styles of subway tile – a more decorative one on the left (about 3″x6″ and 49 cents a tile), which I love, but it has more going on and could look too busy. Then a larger subway tile (4″x8″, 69 cents a tile) and standard subway tile (approximately 3″x6″, and 22 cents each).


I kind of like how clean the big tiles look…but the small ones are nice too. We’ll probably do a pretty thin grout line with some contrast (maybe a light gray), since we want to see some definition of the tiles but not make them look too busy with high-contrast dark grout. I think with white grout you lose the tiles:

subway whiter grout

Dark grout is a little dizzying to me, unless the rest of the kitchen is very plain. But even this kitchen with very plain counters, I think the grout is a bit much to take in:

subway dark grout

Light gray grout gives soft definition but isn’t too bold/busy, and you can see it even looks nice with a more patterned counter top like ours (second picture). The one on the left also has slightly larger/longer tiles…which I kind of like better. The store did carry one other subway tile size that was more that shape (larger/longer) so that’s an option too.

And we’ll probably do a standard subway tile pattern (staggered, like the ones above). The guy at the store suggested herringbone, which I love, but with Nik’s constant battle with perfection I think this is probably a bad idea. Plus herringbone is a pretty busy pattern, so it might compete with the counters. This kitchen did a beautiful herringbone pattern, but they have very simple white counters unlike ours, so it works:

subway herringbone

In conclusion…we haven’t made any decisions, but we’re getting there! This weekend we should be able to get the microwave mounted and get some more doors painted, and maybe even start on ripping up the floors.


Back to the Grind

If you hadn’t noticed, the past couple weeks we’ve taken a break from house work so I haven’t had anything to write about. Nik was in Nashville for a week getting training in imaging mass spectrometry, then I spent a weekend in DC visiting friends, and then I spent a week in New Orleans at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting which was a great trip. There were over 19,000 people at the AACR meeting and I learned a bunch of stuff, and Joe Biden spoke about the state of cancer research funding at the closing ceremony which was interesting and inspiring. We also did some touristy things with the lab crew I went with, including an air boat tour in which I got to hold a baby alligator:


And we rode the St. Charles trolley and toured the beautiful garden district:

And we also checked out some of the iconic New Orleans cemeteries, which are all built above ground since the city is under sea level, so if you bury the caskets they come floating on up out of the soil over time.


On my last day there, I had a later flight getting home so I spent some time at the Audobon Insectarium and got to see some cool bugs and butterflies. I think I was the only adult there without a child, but I enjoyed myself!

So, we were both back in town this weekend. I had a race that our friend came down from DC to run with me, but on Sunday we had some free time to get back to things. It didn’t seem like enough time to get started on our kitchen cabinets, so Nik got to work on a project he’s been wanting to do for a while, which is a front porch bench. I had seen a pic of a mid-century themed slatted bench, and I wanted one, but not for $300+:

So Nik pulled out some of the old playset wood that has been sitting under our back deck and started making some measurements and cuts.


At the end of the day we ended up with this:

We’re still figuring out how to do the legs and how to attach it all together, but I like how it looks so far! While Nik was messing with this, I went to work stripping/sanding some other old furniture pieces that have been sitting in the garage for a while that will go in our bathroom and dining room. I’ll give an update on those once they’re further along.

I also bought a rug for the living room a few weeks ago…it’s a very nice rug, and was a good price at Home Goods. We’re debating if we like the light color, and it’s a little bigger than we wanted, but I still like it and the effort to return it to the store may be swaying our opinion to keep it. The back of this room doesn’t get a lot of sun, so we thought a nice bright rug would keep the space looking light and airy. Plus, I think the wood floors are a nice contrast.


I had to try it out for plushness as well, and even though it’s wool and I’m kind of sensitive to that, it passed:


So, we have a few more days to decide about that…any thoughts?

And finally, we have a new nature update from our yard. We’ve noticed we have a red shouldered hawk (or two?) that seems to be living in our back woods somewhere. He’s made an appearance a bunch of times, and we always know when he’s coming because the squirrels go insane calling out to each other to warn of the danger. He’s maybe a foot or a foot and a half tall, and we got some good pictures of him with my camera. I like his little feet.


And I like this one, where he’s looking right at the camera with a foot in the air!IMG_0781

Our new bird feeder is also getting lots of attention from cardinals and chickadees, and of course the ninja squirrels who manage to get onto the feeder despite my attempts at making it squirrel proof.


This coming weekend will hopefully be productive, and if the weather’s nice maybe we’ll finally get the cabinets underway.

On to the Next Project

Now that the bathroom is wrapped up, we’re moving on to our next big project: the kitchen. Literally anything we do in this room will be an improvement, not that I want to set the bar low, or anything. But, we will be on a tight budget – probably even tighter than before, because we had a major blow to our “house budget” this past week with an epic fail of our 17 year old HVAC system. Our lovely gas pack (contains a gas furnace and AC all in one unit) was spewing gas and high carbon monoxide into our yard due to a very perforated heat exchanger, and based on the age, we’re deciding to replace. It’ll be about $5000, and with our plans to not sink more than $15,000 into fixing up this house based on what we believe we can sell it for in our neighborhood, that’s a big chunk of the budget.

But, it makes it kind of fun to have to cut our budget and see what an amazing transformation we know we can make with even LESS money. So, kitchen. This is what it looked like when we moved in:


Obviously, since then we’ve sunk $2000 into upgrading the appliances and we’ve painted the ceiling, but that’s about all we’ve done in here. We’ve also stuck makeshift metal shelving into the middle of the room to serve as an island to increase the almost-non-existant counter space. As ugly as this shelving is, it’s proved to us that an island is critical to make this kitchen functional.

Our plan for the rest of the improvements will be adding cabinets or storage shelving above the fridge, adding a base cabinet and wall cabinets on the far wall (to the left of the garage door which is seen in the above picture), adding a small banquette seating area with bench storage to the rest of that wall, painting all the existing cabinets and moving them ~1-2″ up on the wall and adding top molding, adding a mounted microwave, upgrading to granite counters and a new undermount sink and faucet, adding a backsplash, adding an island, painting the whole room, and adding our hardwood floors (same floors, already purchased) to this room.

What’s a reasonable budget for this project? We’ve priced out some of the additional cabinets we’ll need and estimate this will be ~$300, plus another $100 for cabinet top molding and new floor shoe trim. Paint for cabinets and walls and trim ~$100. Microwave $250 and electrician to move outlet $200. Granite and sink priced out around $1900. Backsplash ~$100. Floors (~$400) and appliances ($2000) are already purchased. Wood/hardware for banquette and island $100. Faucet/drain system $150. Cabinet hardware $100?

That brings us to about $5600, minus the $2400 we’ve already purchased in appliances and flooring means we have about another $3200 we need to spend on this room. I’d be happy if we keep it under $3000 so we’ll see what money-saving ideas we come up with as we go along.

So for some fun pictures to show you, we spent this rainy weekend looking at paint and granite options. We decided to go with a light light gray cabinet paint, and when Lowes was having a 1 day 30% off sale on Valspar Reserve paint on Saturday, we made a snap decision and got one called Polar Star (I say “snap decision” even though I’ve been stressing about minutely-different shades of light gray for over a week now, including multiple trips to Lowes and a trip to Ace Hardware with some sample colors I brought home, but when we showed up at Lowes on Saturday, we hadn’t known about the paint sale until we walked in the store, and we couldn’t pass it up so I had to finally make a decision under pressure!).


We ordered a cool air compressor paint sprayer which came in the mail last week, so I quickly sanded a door from our old bathroom vanity in the garage (same cabinets as the kitchen), and Nik gave the sprayer a test drive. We primed first, then got a single coat of gray paint on before the rain started. The gun worked nicely. We had to strain the paint first, then thin it with some water and Floetrol (latex paint additive for smoother paint). I’m definitely still seeing some oak grain on the cabinets, so we might also experiment with priming with a hand brush to put it on thick, then spraying just the color paint on. The cabinet frames may all have to be done by hand inside, especially the base cabinets which aren’t moving, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.

And here’s one of the granite options we like (our final paint ended up being right in-between those two options on the board, so I think it will match! The white is our trim color).


I’m excited to see how this project evolves over the next couple months. This is the last major upgrade downstairs, so once it’s done we can really start enjoying our living space.

In the rain on Sunday, we also installed a new ceiling fan in the living room. Nik discovered that we had some very questionable and unsafe wiring going to the old fan- basically whoever installed it (cough*awful previous landlord*cough) wanted a separate switch for the fan and the light, and didn’t have enough proper wires to do this, and decided to use the uninsulated grounding wire as the hot wire, which could definitely cause a fire. Luckily, Nik picked up on this problem after we tried to install the new fan with the properly colored wires and it didn’t work, and he then consulted with his dad and they figured out what was going on. To make it safe we’ll have to put the fan and light on one switch, and use the pull cords to operate the fan, which is less convenient but if it’s safe I’ll take it. Thankfully Nik knows things about electricity to keep our house from being on fire =)

Here’s Nik dismantling the old fan:

And here’s the new one – best $69 I’ve spent in a while! Also, please don’t judge the general state of chaos in our living room. I wish I could say it doesn’t normally look like that, but Nik and I have determined, with application of our geeky science minds, that this room has abnormally high levels of entropy. For non-scientists, entropy is a measurement of the level of disorder in an isolated system, and in our living room’s defense, nature tends towards maximum entropy. So there you have it!



Bathroom Reveal

This title may be a little misleading, suggesting we’re TOTALLY done with the bathroom. There’s still a few tiny things to do…finishing the caulking around the toilet (once we’re sure its still got a good seal), caulking around the vanity, and adding the wood threshold piece to the floor. And we’re still deciding on a mirror (I have one option to show you). But for all other cosmetic purposes, it’s all done so I can show pictures!

To remind you, here’s what we started with:

New house Aug 2015 069     New house Aug 2015 072IMG_0507

And here’s the final product:




Here’s some close up on the vanity backsplash – tile trim edge pieces are insanely expensive (would’ve cost more than $40!) so I found some decorative wood trim to use instead:


I also spent $20 on a new toilet paper and towel holder:

Figuring out where to put these was trickier than I imagined. Nik performed some highly technical positional testing, and we referred to internet sites that recommended TP holder placement:


So there you have it!

We’re very happy with how it turned out – admittedly better than expected. I’ll give you a rough breakdown for the cost of this project, from start to finish. We had leftovers for a lot of things that will definitely get used on more projects, so I’ll count only what we used. We also had to buy a tile saw ($80), mortar spreaders ($10) and mixer ($6) and grout floats ($6), but these tools will last a while.

Demo and rebuild ~ 5 weekends of time

50 lb Mortar (used about 1/2 bag) $25/2  = $12.50

10 lb grout (used about 1/4 bag) $30/4 = $7.50

Cement backer board for floor (3’x5′) $10

Screws for cement board (2 packs) $10

Vanity and sink (on sale) $180

Faucet $70

Faucet water lines $ 15

Toilet paper holder/towel rack $20

Extra drain pipe length $6

Toilet seat $25

Toilet foam/wax ring $12

Plumbers Putty/caulk/adhesive $10

Wood Trim piece $5

Floor tile $42

Wall tile $60

Wall paint (clearance mismatch gallon) $9

Threshold wood (half a piece) $15/2 = $7.50

Extra quarter round trim $4

Total: Around $507

People care about bathrooms a lot, especially ones guests will use. For a little over $500, and all the DIY expertise we gained with tiling that we can now use in our kitchen and eventually upstairs bathrooms, I think this was a great investment. Now, on to the kitchen!

You Gotta Spend Some…

This week we’ve made a lot of progress with our trim. I’m happy to say everything is filled and sanded (except one side of the column that needs a bit more filler). Now it’s just doing the painting and it’ll be done! The china cabinet is also finished, with the last coat of water-based poly I put on the stained parts last night. It just needs to be put together after we give it a good 24 hours of drying time.

That doesn’t sound like too much progress for a whole weekend, but with a few huge purchases we made this week that I’ll tell you about, I’m feeling like our house is SO much closer to being put together!

Last Saturday we dragged ourselves out to Raleigh again and went to 4 furniture stores (well, more like 3 stores I guess. One of them we walked in, looked at a few sofa price tags and immediately realized we were poor, so I won’t count those 10 seconds as a full store!). We really wanted a sofa-chaise sectional since we felt like that would give us a little extra seating space in our awkwardly-shaped living room. The tiny wall we want to put the sofa on is exactly 84.5″, and we found that most couches or sofa-chaise sectionals we liked were around 90″. And many of the smaller ones that would have fit just looked like cheap dorm room furniture to me. But we finally found one that had a little style, had a sofa-chaise, fit our wall, and was in our budget at Ashley Furniture. Here’s the stock photo of it:

We liked the little buttons on the cushions, the fact that it was raised off the ground on some feet, and the curved arms, and the color was nice too – a darkish gray. With delivery and taxes and everything it came to around $900, which was under my goal of $1000.

Next, we went to this crazy home store in Durham called At Home – it’s a combination of Michael’s craft store, Ikea, and the biggest warehouse of home decor things you’ve ever seen. It’s probably bigger than Home Depot, just to give some perspective. A lot of the stuff in there isn’t the best quality, but we were able to find a nice wool rug for the dining room for $150, and some ideas for arm chairs for more seating in the living room. Here’s the rug we picked out:

rug 1

And finally, if you thought that was all the money we spent this week, I hate to disappoint you (well, you’re probably not disappointed, but my bank account might be). We also bought a kitchen suite! We’re not quite ready to redo our kitchen yet, but why wait to start enjoying new appliances? We figured out we can easily move them ourselves when it comes time to do the floor under the fridge and stove, and I don’t think we’re installing wood floor under the dishwasher, so it can stay where it is once it’s installed. We got a Kenmore suite from Sears since a lot of the Kenmore stuff was on super sale right now, then we got a 5% discount for buying 3 things over $400, AND we had a 10% coupon for Sears from when we moved that was only good till the end of January. You won’t believe how cheap we got these things…we saved over 50% off the original price for some of the items!

Here’s our fridge:

Kenmore 51123 25 cu. ft. Side-by-Side Refrigerator - Stainless Steel

We splurged an extra $50 for the one that had LED lights inside and clear door shelves. Originally $1410, and we paid $812.

Here’s the oven:

Kenmore 94193 5.4 cu. ft. Electric Range w/ Convection Oven - Stainless Steel

And it’s a convection oven (since the convection one was on super sale, and was the same price as the non-convection one)! My baking will be getting even better soon! We had a PSNC guy come out a few months ago and give us a quote for giving our stove a gas line, and it was about $900 extra…which is why we decided to stay with electric. So the original price on this was $999 and we paid $469.

And finally, our dishwasher:

Kenmore 13543 24" Built-In Dishwasher w/ PowerWave™ Spray Arm - Stainless Steel

We were deciding between this one and one that didn’t have a handle that stuck out a couple inches and instead had the control panel visible on the front. The other one wasn’t as sleek looking and was a slightly lower-quality model, so we decided to get this one. And it is all stainless steel inside so it looks fancy in there too! This one was $879 originally and we paid $494. But honestly, I probably would’ve paid the full $879 to get rid of the one we have that actually sounds like the Titanic sinking into the ocean when it runs. We should record it next time we run it, just for memories. We didn’t pay for installation of the dishwasher…the nice sales guy seemed to have enough faith that we could figure it out ourselves, but he said if we have issues they can send a guy to finish the job.

So, you really can’t blame us for biting the bullet and getting this purchase out of the way with the crazy low prices we got! It’s all getting delivered next Friday AND they’ll haul away our old appliances for an extra $10. Done and done.

I feel like it’s all coming together now. There probably aren’t too many more substantial purchases we’ll have to make in the immediate future to get our house looking nice, so I’m glad to have this behind us!

Fun With Trim

This past weekend we made a good dent in our to-do list. First, we gave our china cabinet 3 coats of paint (I’ll save pics of this until it’s done), and I built the composter my parents gave us:


But more importantly, we got a good ways into the installation of trim wood to finish our stair column and our dining room chair rail. First, I’ll write about the column. After we ripped out the stair wall, we had to put in a column since it was load bearing (here’s a picture from way back):

September 2015 016

We then needed to make it look presentable. We started this project by building the “box” that would encase the column, made out of primed/painted pine board. We glued the boards at 90 degrees, then reinforced with the nail gun:


Then we adhered the two halves around the column, assuming they’d fit like a glove. They did not. We used nails to reinforce the glue, and just accepted that there would be gaps we’d have to fill. Nik had to do some fancy miter angles to fit the board against the slanted stair wall:


It’s stupid that we pre-painted these boards because they’re a mess now and obviously need a repainting with all the filling and caulking we’ll have to do. So we learned our lesson about pre-painting trim. Then Nik built a base cap with wider pine board and some cove trim to finish it off:


And he did the same at the top too, first the cove trim then the cap pieces:



And there you have it, sorta finished! The top edge against the ceiling obviously looks raw, but we’ll be installing crown molding eventually that will cover that edge.

Next, I primed that raw drywall around the stairs so it’s ready for paint, and Nik still needs to cut that one last piece that will cover the angled wall:


Then our final big accomplishment for this weekend was getting ALL our chair rail trim installed in the dining room! Installed doesn’t mean done –  we still need to fill, caulk, sand, and paint it, but having it up on the wall feels good. When we painted our dining room, we just left a rough line dividing the white bottom half and the blue top half, and finally having that edge covered up makes me happy!

As I mentioned in a previous post, we used a DIY way of making our chair rail (using 3 cheap pieces) instead of the standard chair rail in the store (made of 2 pieces that cost a ton).

Dec 2015 023

We started by measuring up from the baseboards 30.5″ and nailing in the bottom of the 3 pieces:


Then we cut 1/2″ spacers and put the upper board over those:


We left the very end spacers in so once the chair rail was put over this, you wouldn’t be able to tell there’s a space. We had big plans to measure everything perfectly and get the chair rail just right, but you know what ended up being the best way to get the chair rail centered on the back boards and looking good in waaay less time? Eyeballing it!


Here’s a close up of what the ends looks like. After much discussion, we decided not to miter the corners of the back boards when we came to a wall end, and to do a 32.5 degree angle on the outer chair rail board.  And you can see where the spacers fill in that gap. Once things are caulked/filled/sanded/painted, hopefully you won’t be able to tell that we used multiple pieces of wood!



Here’s some shots of the dining room with the chair rail. I think it looks great…great enough that we might hold off on doing the picture frame wainscoting below the chair rail for a day far off in the future where we don’t have more pressing projects to tackle!



Next weekend we really have to stop putting off doing the finishing touches for all our trim (floor baseboards, stair column, and now the chair rail). Filling, caulking, sanding, and painting all this trim will be tedious but that’s the to-do list for next weekend!

To leave you with some fun pictures, here’s  a few gifts I crafted for Christmas this year that I never wrote about. We made Nik’s family home made apple butter that we canned (recipe here), and I added some decorative ribbon to be festive (idea courtesy of The Kitchen show).

butter 1

And I also painted a little bamboo serving tray for Nik (another idea stolen from one of my favorite blogs, Domestic Imperfection) – we just finished binge watching all seasons of Parks and Rec, so for those of you that are fans of this show, you’ll understand. For those of you who don’t get it, you should watch the show.


That’s it for this week. After this weekend, I’ll show you our to-be-finished china cabinet and whatever else we get done.