Tag Archives: kitchen

2016 Year In Review

2016 has come to a close, so I wanted to look back at the progress we made. This was a busy year, with both of us still adjusting to our new careers and planning our October wedding. But I think we made enormous progress on the house, and reflecting on all that we accomplished will hopefully be motivation to keep up the hard work this year.

In early 2016, we finally wrapped up the trim and painting on the stair column – at this point, we still need to add some base and top trim, but we’re planning to install the crown molding downstairs sometime this spring, so that will be the final step of this job. Apparently I haven’t taken a picture of the column after it was painted, so this is the best one I’ve got:


The next big project of 2016 was our downstairs powder room. What began with a new toilet seat resulted in a gutted room and complete renovation. We painted, tiled and grouted the floor and backsplash, installed a new vanity with a new faucet, new mirror, new towel/toilet paper holder fixtures, and a new threshold.

We installed all the chair molding trim in the dining room, completed refinishing the china cabinet, and got our dining room furniture all set up to finish this room.


We built 2 raised bed gardens which did pretty well last year. I just bought seeds for 2017, which I’ll start inside next month. I’ll be planting cucumbers (pickling size and regular), bush string beans, snow peas, eggplant, jalapeno pepper, bush zucchini, roma and grape-sized tomatoes, spaghetti squash, mescalin, leeks, garlic, and various herbs. If anyone wants extra seedlings, let me know!

Our furniture work this year was pretty pitiful, and I hope we have more time to do furniture projects in 2017. The two big pieces we did this year were building a front porch bench, and redoing  a small set of shelves for our master bathroom:

Our biggest renovation of the year was the kitchen. In this room we replaced the flooring with our engineered hardwood, sanded, primed, and painted all of our cabinets and installed one more new cabinet on the far wall, added new cabinet hardware, got granite countertops and a new sink and faucet installed, tiled/grouted/applied sealant to the backsplash, got all new appliances and mounted the microwave over the stove, created open shelving on 2 walls, and painted the walls.

In this room the final projects for this spring are installing cabinet crown molding at the tops of the cabinets, finding and installing new light fixtures, and building our island, which will have matching granite.

We also bought a new HVAC system (gas package with AC and furnace) and just updated our laundry room with a new washer and dryer last month, but these don’t make for fun pictures, just not-so-fun expenses. But they are upgrades nonetheless.

So what’s on the list for 2017? First we want to finish up the final tasks downstairs: cabinet crown molding in the kitchen, ceiling crown molding in the entryway, living room, dining room, and possibly powder room, building a functional kitchen island, getting a stupid banister installed on our stairs (still hasn’t been done!), and adding new light fixtures for the kitchen and dining room. I also want to get my gardens going in March, and finish creating a bordered backyard flower garden out of the extra jungle gym wood. We also are ordering new blinds for almost all the windows on the house that will be the thicker wood-look blinds, so we’ll have to install those when they come in. We also need to have the house washed and gutters cleaned (which we’ll hire out for lack of good ladders) as well as have the lawn aerated before we seed it.

The big project of 2017 will take place in the summer months when Nik doesn’t have a 2 hour commute twice a week for his teaching responsibility at UNC Pembroke: our master bath renovation. For this, we’re planning to tile the floor, refinish and raise up our vanity and add undermount sinks with a nicer (possibly granite) countertop, paint the walls, rip out the old shower, replace the shower pan and tile the walls, add a new glass shower door, and add new faucet hardware for the sinks, shower, and tub. After vaguely tallying up what we’ve spent on this house so far, we’re around the $15K mark, so we’re going to attempt to keep the budget pretty tight for the bathroom – ideally in the $2000 range. Cheers to 2017!

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!


As Finished as Can Be

My parents came into town from Friday to Monday to help us wrap up projects, and based on the amount of wine, beer, and martinis that were consumed over those three days you’d never think we could’ve gotten as much work done on the house as we did! That’s just how the Giffins roll!

I scrawled out a “to do” list to keep us on track, and every single item on it got checked off. For the yard, we had to hedge bushes, edge the driveway and sidewalk, plant some mums, mulch 5 garden beds, transplant 2 large tomato plants into the garden, and trim off some dead branches from a maple tree out back. Inside, we had to finish adding hardware to all the cabinet doors and mount them, nail the floor trim behind the fridge, finish the last row of tile under where our open shelves will be, grout those last tiles, cut, stain and seal the floor transition pieces for the living room and dining room, caulk all the cabinets and the seam between the backsplash and counters, put door bumpers on all the cabinet doors, add shelf liner to a few more cabinets, finish all the wooden box/vases we’re using for wedding decor, iron some wedding linens, and clean all the windows. The list makes me tired just thinking about it. But it’s done!

The only thing we’re waiting on for the kitchen is the open shelf brackets, which haven’t all come in yet. And eventually adding crown molding to the tops of the cabinets, but not before October. So here are the obligatory “before pictures”:


New house Aug 2015 037

New house Aug 2015 033

Then we lived in this mess for a few months:

And here are our “after” shots!






I liked the cabinet color before, but after getting the doors all on to really see the color, it’s even better than I had imagined. It’s a little less teal-ish and more green in person than these pictures show it. It looks so rich with the counters, and the subway tile is the perfect shiny touch that doesn’t make the room look too busy. And I love the hardware we picked – a little angular to keep it from looking “country,” but not too harsh. And the floor doesn’t make the room look as dark as I thought it would, it just adds to the richness of the cabinets.

Although, honestly, at this point it could look like total crap and I’d still be happy it was done so I could have my kitchen and living room floor back! So the fact that it’s done AND looks great is the cherry on top.

The cost of all of this was $2200 for the appliances (stove, microwave, dishwasher, and fridge) and about $3700 for everything else, bringing us in just below $6000. I think my budget for everything else was about $3000 or $3500, so we’re not too far off. We splurged on getting the sink/plumbing installed ($325 and $80 for an unexpected new disposal), and the shelves ($155 for the brackets, and if we use the stair treads we bought for shelves, they were about $105, but we might upgrade depending on what that wood looks like on the brackets). I have no idea if we’ll get all this money back when we go to sell the house, but I’m certainly happier cooking in a kitchen that doesn’t look like 1995, and I like to think that counts for something =)


3 Weeks to Go!

Well we have about 3 weeks to go till our wedding, and I’m pretty sure we have more than 3 weekends of work to do on the kitchen before then…so we’ll see how far we get, and our guests will just have to accept the slow reality of DIY renovation!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and since then I’m happy to say our backsplash is installed and about 2/3 of the way done with being grouted. Here’s some pictures of the backsplash pre-grout:


And the cutouts Nik made around the window frame:IMG_1048


And also the new cabinet in the corner:


We had a minor set back Saturday, when we turned on the tile saw and smoke erupted out of it. We figured out it was the capacitor which had fried…and of course Skil is not opened on the weekend to help us deal with it being covered under the 1 year warranty. So we went to Lowe’s and just bought a new one for $90 so we wouldn’t be slowed down. Once we get the part to fix the old one…is there anyone who wants a tile saw?

After giving all the tiles time to dry out, we applied grout yesterday. We wanted a light gray, and tested out a few ratios of dark gray grout with white grout. We settled on mixing 1 part gray grout with 2 parts white grout:


And then the fun (read: stress) began:




Even though I’ve grouted twice before, and should know by now that IT’S GOING TO LOOK LIKE CRAP WHEN YOU DO THE INITIAL APPLICATION BUT IT’S GOING TO BE OK IN THE END, I still freak out when applying it. Grout is stressful because you have to apply it heavily to make sure you get it in all the cracks adequately which takes a while, then 20 minutes after application you wipe it down with a slightly wet sponge, then wait anther 30 minutes to buff it. But it takes longer than 20 minutes to do a few feet of wall, and then you want to keep going with the grout in the bowl to not waste it before it hardens…but it’s time to start sponging, and two people can’t be in the same place at the same time…and you see where this is going.

But after several near-nervous-breakdowns and several hours of time we managed to finish about 2/3 of the kitchen, and sure enough it looks wonderful:



In retrospect, subway tile was a challenge – not because of the tiling part, which went very well, but because of how time consuming the grouting was. With larger tiles, it’s less work, but with these small tiles there are so many edges and you really have to ensure every edge of every tile gets good grout coverage. But I love the look, and I love the subtle gray grout color we made.

Our cabinets have made substantial progress (although not yet done). The doors all have 2 coats on the front, so just a coat of sealer and the fronts will be done. Then the backs need another coat or 2, and a coat of sealer. And the cabinet frames (in the kitchen) need their sealer.


So what’s the plan for the next 3.5 weeks? Our goals are to finish the grout and caulk around the tiles, hopefully finish painting/sealing cabinets, drilling and adding hardware and re-mounting the doors, cleaning up the quarter round floor trim with some paint-touchups, putting our pantry door back on, and hopefully making and mounting the shelves for next to our sink. We bought these cool rustic brackets off of Etsy¬† for the shelves:

DIY Rustic Shelf Bracket Hangers Lip Metal Shelve Mounting Angle Industrial HANDMADE 2

And we’re actually planning to use 1″ thick oak stair treads for the shelf – which will be stained and sealed. But we’ll see how far we get – there’s lots of wedding-to-do-list items for the next few weeks too, and getting successfully married might have to take priority over the kitchen!


Making a ‘Splash

We’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics this past week, so I thought my title would be appropriate with all the water sports going on. As we were sitting in the living room painting cabinet doors and watching, we remembered the London games were on during our first summer of refinishing furniture. Hard to believe we’ve been at this DIY stuff for over 4 years!

The ‘splash I’m actually referring to is of course our backsplash, which we finally got started on this past Sunday. Saturday was semi-productive, with a much needed trip to the Durham dump thanks to our friends and their pickup truck (now we can now easily walk through our garage!), however Saturday’s productivity digressed into an early afternoon tour at the Mystery brewing company in nearby Hillsborough, NC followed by a rescheduled babysitting adventure with my friend’s toddler (very fun, but toddlers are exhausting!).

So Sunday we got started bright and early and Nik measured and cut all the quarter round for the kitchen floor trim while I made some progress with cabinet painting. Then we made a big trip to Lowes to buy tile supplies. We ended up going with the smaller subway tile (3×6″ tiles) even though we went in thinking we liked the 4×8″ tiles – the reasoning is all the bullnose edge pieces of tile matched the 3×6″ size and using these edge pieces on the larger tiles just didn’t look right. We spent about an hour sitting on the floor of the tile aisle at Lowes lining up tiles and assessing the look, and finally made our purchase of 320 tiles plus 32 bullnose edge pieces! That’s a lot of tile – but it only came to about $30 for the edge and corner pieces and about $70 for the full pieces. (The 4×8 tiles would’ve been about $110 so we saved a little going with the smaller, more-standard tiles).

Then we ended up getting pre-mixed mastic, which is basically thin-set mortar, easy to use and you only spread a thin (3/16″) layer of it with a v-shaped comb trowel. Then comes the grout…I want a very light gray grout, to show the definition of the subway tile, but not look busy since our counters have quite a bit going on with them. Unfortunately, the grout we want that has sealer built into it only came in white and a medium gray as the next darkest color. Conundrum. I stared at it for a good 15 minutes, upset that I wouldn’t be getting my nice light gray I wanted, when Nik finally had a stroke of genius and pointed out that we have dark gray grout at home in the same brand, so if we bought the bright white color we could mix in as much dark as we want to get the perfect shade of gray! Apparently my PhD training was not enough to instill this type of intelligence in me, but I’m sure glad Nik’s was.

So on to some pictures…we figured we had enough time Sunday night to get one wall started, just to see how easy the process would be with lining up the tiles, cutting them neatly on the tile saw, and using the mastic. I wanted to do this first wall without error, so I insisted on making a wall template on the floor and pre-cutting all the tiles to fit that, then just popping them onto the wall.


After lining them up staggered, we could measure what needed to be cut and piece it all together before moving to the wall. This worked perfectly, but it was quite time consuming to do it this way, so I’m not sure we’ll replicate this process for all the walls. I think we determined cutting the tile with our saw was a breeze, and the mastic has a decent amount of workable time before it hardens, so we may just cut-as-we-go for the rest of the walls.

Here’s the precut design:


And then Nik started spreading the mastic:


We used pennies to space the tile off the granite, and we didn’t have to use spacers between the tiles because the tiles have built in spacers all around each edge that give you that perfect subway tile spacing.


And here’s the first wall all done, with the edge pieces and corner in place:


I think it looks pretty darn good…and I can’t believe how easy it was! This week we’re working on making more progress with the cabinet doors, and on Saturday Nik is on his own since I’m making a quick trip to my parents to get my wedding dress fitted, so I’ve tasked him with nailing in all the floor trim that day. I’ll be back on Sunday so we’re hoping to get the remainder of the backsplash up that day. The grout will have to wait a few days for all the mastic to cure, and then we’ll be spreading that on, with a final step being to caulk all the tile edges.

I haven’t mentioned our gardens in a while, and while we’re still getting cucumbers practically by the bushel, our tomatoes are about at the end of their season. We’ve found a few hornworms on them which are huge and squishy and amazing to look at up close (this healthy one was a good 4″ long!)


I just bought a bunch of seeds to sow a fall crop, including beets, 2 types of pickling cucumbers, buttercrunch lettuce, kale, collards, and brussels sprouts. We should get these fall crops going soon as well, so this might be another task for this weekend.

We also have a pretty plum gold variety foxglove that started blooming, so I have a picture of that to leave you with.


The Floors Are Done!

That title felt good to type – we got all the flooring in this weekend, and the quarter round painted (just not installed yet), despite Nik coming down with a nasty cold on Sunday. This will be a short post, since I just have pictures of the floor to show.

Last week, I left you off with our progress about a third of the way across the room:


On Saturday, we got to work continuing across the room, with more foam, some moving of appliances, and finally past the far cabinets:




And here’s a picture of Nik putting in the last piece – I think this single piece alone took us about an hour, since there were two door frame pieces to jigsaw around, and it had to be cut thinner with the table saw to fit against the wall, and it had to be jigsawed out for the vent.


So here’s the finished product, from both sides:



It does make the kitchen look a little dark, but without the doors on the cabinets yet it’s hard to tell. Our lighting is also pretty abysmal, so getting a new light fixture at some point that has less-yellow light will help with the brightness of the floor. The quarter round trim is almost done being painted, so once that’s installed with the nail gun, it’s on to the backsplash!


I also need to give an apology/’thank you for putting up with me’ comment to my friend Sarah, who I was SUPPOSED to be babysitting for last night, and with all the progress of the floor, I totally forgot (which, if you know me and my organized scheduling, this is very uncharacteristic of me)! Apparently renovations make you crazy and forgetful…I hope these new floor pictures will get her to forgive me and reschedule!

Floors Underway

As proposed, we did start working on our floors last weekend – mainly ripping out the old floors. Over the week we did a few rows at a time, which is still where we are now. This past weekend we were up in Connecticut celebrating my cousin Emily’s engagement, and most of my mom’s side of the family was there. It was a lovely luncheon reception which was so much fun! We got a great picture of all the cousins and significant others that were there, including the beautiful bride (front center) and her husband-to-be Keith (front left). I haven’t gotten the chance to see my mom’s family much since college since I’ve been all the way down in NC, so it is always such a treat to be with them!


I never posted about the demo of the old floor, but I have some pictures of the process. Like the bathroom, it was linoleum with an underlayment (thin piece of wood), and then the plywood subfloor underneath. The underlayment was staple-nailed into the subfloor every 3-4 inches which made it super fun to remove.


After wrenching off the underlayment with the prybar, we had to go back and painstakingly pull the hundreds and hundreds of nail staples out of the subfloor. We filled at least 3 of these containers!


Next, we went around the whole room with the level and identified any high spots and sanded them down with the belt sander. I think if we’d done this step more thoroughly with the floors in the other rooms, we’d have ended up with fewer spots that seem to bounce a little when walked on, but you learn from your mistakes and I think the kitchen will turn out great. Next we started cutting the foam that we used to cushion the floor everywhere else on our first floor, and then it was time to start laying the pieces:

We started in the pantry, and will move our way across the room to the deck door. So far we’re only about a third of the way across the room, but we’ve gotten the pantry nook and the refrigerator nooks done, which were (hopefully) the trickiest nooks to do. If we do a few rows each night, we should have no problem getting this done by the end of the weekend, and maybe even get some quarter round trim installed by then.



Once the floors and quarter round trim are done, the next project will be installing the backsplash. And then finishing up painting all the cabinet doors (we’re clearly avoiding this part of the project, as most of them still only have primer on them!), sealing all the cabinets with water-based poly, and putting them all back together. We’ll be adding cabinet hardware as well as top cabinet molding…but with the number of available weekends until our wedding dwindling very fast we’ll see how many of these final “cosmetic” touches we get around to before then!