Enter the cabinets

When we left off, our kitchen looked like this:

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It’s painted in the areas that actually had textured drywall, but it was still looking a little naked.  We are pleased that we took the time to paint before the cabinets though because we did not want to spill paint on our lovely new cabinets.  After two days, our cabinets are installed and now the kitchen is really looking like a kitchen:

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Here’s the side with the pass through.  We sprung for some glass cabinet doors.  We had a crummier version of these in our last house and I really liked them.  We can show off our Fiestaware while still having the dishes contained in a cabinet this way.

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And here is where the stove and refrigerator will go.  The door is just to the right.

We are now waiting for our granite countertops to show up.  After cabinet installation, the cabinet fellow measured out plywood in the shape of our counter.  This is where you get to think about how the edges will look.

When we (ok, let’s be honest: when I picked the cabinets), I found that I had to consider a number of factors I’d never though of in rentals before.

First lesson: Think about your storage style and what cabinet layout best suits it.  I knew I wanted:

  • Pot/pan storage easily accessible near the stove
  • Pull-out trash (our Aussie can defeat any trashcan that an be knocked over.  Honestly, I’m kind of expecting her to be able to pull this out with her paws eventually)
  • A tall cabinet for food (that’s on the far end near the window)
  • Pan storage
  • Glass fronts on some cabinets (for colorful dish display and variety)
  • Spice drawer near the stove

Second lesson (timing): Even though the cabinets will have the longest lead time of any part of a kitchen remodel (8 weeks for us, which is not long actually), you actually do not want to order them until you have picked all of the appliances.  Obviously, the cabinets need to fit around the appliances and neither the cabinets nor the appliances can be adjusted after the fact (unless you want a hole in your kitchen somewhere – there is a saw for every purpose under heaven).  This is one reason kitchen remodels are cited to take a long time from the onset of the process to the point when you’re eating in your new kitchen again.  There are a number of intertwined decisions that one should not pull triggers on entirely serially…although measuring once and cutting twice is ALWAYS tempting to me.

Third lesson (picking a brand): There are several different ‘levels’ of cabinets one can buy and there is some overlap between levels.  It is difficult to truly compare prices within levels because the cost depends highly on the style, number and design of the cabinets that you select.  For example, semi-custom (or custom) cabinets are laid out for each space.  Since a lot of cabinet shopping includes a design fee (since it is actual work for someone to undertake the design), there is often a non-zero fee for shopping around.  This is a similar problem when choosing a contractor – different contractors may report slightly different scopes of work.  A cursory glance at the cliqstudios link above and chatting with my cousins (who went the Home Depot route) suggests that the prices for similar criteria aren’t all that different for smallish kitchens, probably within $1-2K for what is usually a $10K project.  I don’t know for sure that this is a fact, mind you, but it is what I have seen in my first hand experiences.  Furthermore, even within semi-custom brands there are tiers of prices depending on the final look (finish, carving, glass, wood type etc) that you choose.

OK, so, the least expensive level of cabinets (1) are probably those pre-made at a big box store.  There’s no reason why these should or shouldn’t fit your space – think typical prom dress from Marshall Fields.  Cabinet installers can and do use spacers to make the space look filled but these are difficult to customize. Honestly, I didn’t shop them so I can’t comment on pricing, but there doesn’t seem to be as many features available.

The next level up (2) is something called “semi-custom”, which seems to be a common choice for many folks.  As far as I can tell, this is sort of a wedding dress of cabinets.  In both cases, the cabinet (or dress) comes in pre-fixed sizes, but you order the ones that fit and then the cabinet tailor makes the exact set you need.  In some sense, this is custom for your needs.  Generally, it seems to be assumed that if you buy these cabinets you won’t be installing them yourselves.

Within this level, there are different brands and places/ways to buy them.  Home Depot sells a variety of semi-custom cabinets.  In that case, you walk into Home Depot and shop cabinets, then Home Depot measures and installs them.  There are also many, many kitchen design companies that work with various cabinet makers to produce semi-custom cabinets.  Ours are from the Brookhaven line which is made by a larger company, Woodmode.  We choose this brand because our contractor often works with a kitchen designer who is a dealer of this brand.  Because we were actually removing part of a wall, we wanted to make sure that the wall measurements and the cabinet measurements were done by effectively the same entity.  This way, I figured it wasn’t our problem if someone measured wrong.  Julie took care of laying out cabinets and we simply gave inputs as to what we wanted.  We had several iterations of designs that she laid out using the cabinet software, although know there are places you can do this online yourself and still have some interaction with real people.  She actually didn’t take a fee, just the commission of the cabinet sale but was super helpful and friendly.  She also made sure we didn’t do something that was stupid for our space, which is important if one is justifying their kitchen remodel as adding resale value to the house.  The downside is that, well, it may (or may not) have been a little cheaper if we had invested our own time to design rather than a professional’s time.

The third level of cabinet pricing is truly custom cabinets.  This is like a one-of-a-kind wedding dress designed especially for you.  I did not shop this end of the spectrum either, but the idea is not unlike the semi-custom idea.  The only difference is that instead of mixing and matching a huge variety of predefined cabinet sizes, each and every cabinet is laid out exactly for your space.  I think these would be a bigger benefit for a house with a larger, custom-laid-out kitchen than for a small galley kitchen like ours.  Plus, the kitchen project with the semi-custom cabinets brought so many decisions that I can’t imagine wanting any more!  I had never considered what type of design on like on the front of cabinet doors until I was forced to pick one (and I picked the cheapest one 🙂  ).

Fourth lesson (materials): Another interesting consideration is that the cabinets are made differently from different materials.  Cabinetry is an interesting business because it can range from truly an art to something that can be entirely at home to anywhere in between.  It is important to me that our large purchases are made in the USA (and preferably locally) and are sustainable when possible.  Many cabinet companies (and big box store brands) are able to lower their prices by having the cabinets made in China, which did not fit well with my criteria.  Brookhaven cabinets are made in Pennsylvania, but the sustainability question came into play –  I have no idea what they used on the finish of our lovely white cabinets.

During this process, I learned that many (although definitely not all) cabinet makers actually do not make cabinets in California, even if they deal primarily in California.  Why you ask, is California experiencing a cabinet drought?  It turns out that the finishes on cabinets are very specialized and chemicals in the paint/stains/varnishes, perhaps combined with the desired application methods are not legal in California, which is has higher restrictions on VOCs and general toxicity than most states.  Going into this process again, I would’ve taken the time to investigate this and decide if the inconvenience of choosing our own cabinet company that used known low-VOC finishes was low enough to veer away from the kitchen designer who had a portfolio with our contractor.  I’ll be posting more on this topic later…

Finally, cabinets are made out of a variety of wood types.  Our cabinets are painted white but are actually made of maple not MDF.  Maple is pretty typical, but one can always spend more to get a variety of woods.  One advantage of hardwood over MDF is that hard wood can refinished by sanding and staining down the line.  MDF, aka, medium density fiberboard, is wood fiber mixed with resin, wax and who knows what.  Although sturdy, it looks ridiculous without paint.  Also, cabinets will come with different hardware styles – ours came with luxurious soft-close drawers and cabinets (although, as a friend pointed out, there’s no fun in slamming any doors shut if you’re angry).  Even the door knob hardware can be purchase separately from a huge variety of stores and ranges dramatically in price!

One more look at the old cabinets vs the new.


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Although these photos were taken 2 months apart and at different times of day, they are both during the day AND the before photo has the kitchen light on.  Despite this, even in crummy photos taken with my phone, there is a definite brightness/cheeriness in the after photo.  This will likely be somewhat reduced once our (black) countertop, dark walnut stained floors and stainless steel appliances show up, but it is definitely looking a lot lighter in there!


Concrete bathroom countertop FAIL

Update:  I think that the Feather Finish is softer than it needs to be in order to withstand daily wear and tear.  The Feather Finish was SUPER sandable.  Cement used for floors (like a garage at least) is NOT sandable with a little hand sander.  I proved this when we were trying to clean gross carpet glue off our garage floor (the previous owners had glued carpet squares to the whole garage to use it as a lounge…ah, California).  To sand that cement (and the glue with it), we had to use a diamond-tipped grinder and it just barely touched the cement.  While the feather finish was easy to use and looked good, I’m really skeptical that it is durable enough for counter tops – at least how I use them

Update #2: see Sarah’s outcome on her Ardex countertops.  While they look great in her house, she also notes that they get dinged up.

Update #3: Charlie the contractor kindly wrote in below and mentioned that too much water can make concrete softer when it cures, although easier to spread.  So, if using feather finish, try to stick closer to the ratio described on your bag rather than in tutorials.  Thanks, Charlie!

Remember that this blog is about the good, the bad and the ugly?  Yeah, this is the ugly – fortunately we’re just talking about the countertop.  If you read nothing else: not all concrete is created equal.  This particular concrete may have coated my plywood countertop nicely, but dented and chipped easily.  It also just flat out did not look good.  So, if you do this, don’t do it my way….

Our house has two bathrooms, one closet-sized bathroom off of our bedroom and one that is much more comfortable off of the hallway which is the subject of this post.  Here is what it looks like today:

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The tile is actually a yellowish brown, despite my phone’s rather sad attempt at a photo.  Aesthetics aside, this bathtub is a waste of space to us because it 1) does not have a shower and 2) the water handles do not work properly.  Furthermore, the sink faucet doesn’t turn off properly, the pipes and sink are suspicious-looking, the window ledge is wrong for a shower and the tile does not go high enough up the tub wall to support a shower.

Since our house is full of contractors already, we decided that this would be a good time to have them tap into the water and install a shower, as well as fix up that window frame so that we don’t end up with a mold problem.  Having been a student and living in rentals for 9 years, I have met my fair share of bathroom mold and I don’t want to run any risks of this in our own house (although mold is by far not my best bathroom story, but that is a whole entry in itself).  We have signed up to try tiling it ourselves to save a bit of money.

Tthe countertop is also going to go because 1) it houses the sketchy undermount sink and 2) general de-beige-ing of the bathroom.  We simply refused to spend more money on another cabinet after buying all new kitchen cabinets, so we are going to try and salvage the vanity cabinet itself with some paint and hardware.  In fact, I should really get on painting that!  So, our choices are:

  1. Buy new vanity top from Home Depot or Lowes or similar ($150-350)
  2. Get a chunk of our kitchen granite cut for $900 and installed at additional cost
  3. Buy granite or marble remnant for $70 and have it cut for $900
  4. Make our own

Salvaging a crummy 60 year old cabinet is hardly worth it if we spent $1000 on just the countertop, so we ruled this out pretty quick.  There’s also a chance that I will botch the paint job on the cabinet and have to start all over anyway, so didn’t want to pay a lot for a countertop.  After shopping around for vanity tops, I realized I would have to hunt one down in exactly the size I wanted and I would have to like it.  I didn’t find that the readily available off-the-shelf countertops appealed to me, so that left my rather fussy self with option 4.  I thought concrete would be a good option since it’s durable, easy to seal (and reseal) and would be low up-front cost for supplies.

Plus, I found this great tutorial on how to make a concrete countertop by Kara and Tim Paslay.  Concrete countertops look awesome in all of their posts, and it didn’t look very difficult to execute.  I will certainly say that their blog is one of my favorites – very inspirational in life and in design.  This being said, I’m sorry to say that the tutorial didn’t work out so well for me…

First lesson: if you are going to change a recipe, try it out first.  Thankfully, all I botched was a piece of plywood.

Since the old countertop is tiled and for an undermount sink, it will just be outright demoed.  Therefore, I had Home Depot cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood to size, 32″x22″.  I sprayed the bottom with Kilz wood sealer that I had from an outside project, then flipped it over.  I wood glued and screwed two pieces of 2×1 pine board to hide the edges of the plywood on the two exposure sides of the countertop and used wood filler to make everything nice and flat.  My patient husband used our neighbor’s jigsaw to cut a hole in the middle after I measured it out using the template that came with the sink.


Look how clever – I took that picture so that you can barely see the edge!

Second lesson:  A reciprocating saw may look like the right-sized blade, but it was totally inferior to the jigsaw.  Next Christmas, when you are buying a drill, do not be tempted by the free reciprocating saw.  I cannot imagine what we will use this thing for…

This is what Tilley thought of all of this from inside the house:

tilley napping

Turns out she had the right idea.

Anyway, I figured once I had the plywood template I would be back in the Paslay tutorial – I now had a countertop that I could coat with ARDEX Feather Finish.  I couldn’t find a place that sold this in our area (although ARDEX themselves did email me back the name of a distributor later), so I bought a bag of it on Amazon.  I also wanted a lighter countertop since I’m dreaming of a dark bathroom wall (I just didn’t learn, did I?) to go with the yet-to-be-revealed theme (hint: check out the one piece of decor in the bathroom).  To accomplish this, I bought TiO2 pigment from here.  Using a drill attachment and a bucket (gifted to Tilley full of dog toys), I mixed up my first batch of concrete:


I used roughly 5:1 parts Feather Finish to pigment.  This powder was super fine and flies all over so I definitely recommend a mask throughout this whole project.  So far so good.  I then spread it all over the plywood with a nice, flat trowel.  It is possible that the pigment messed up this project, but I used dramatically less in the last coat and still had chipping problems.

Third lesson: When Kara says to let it flash set, she means it.  Coat number three I mixed up and waited 5 minutes but then added water.  Oh man, that hardened in like 5 minutes.  In the bucket even.  Disaster.

Fourth: You really have to commit to the pigment first and mix it completely with the water.  Adding ‘just a little more’ after the Feather Finish itself resulted in clumps of white, sort of like if you add corn starch to hot liquid without mixing it into cold water first.

Fifth lesson: I used far more water, at least 2x, than the ARDEX bag recommended.  Either this was very bad or very good.  I was trying to get something nice and spreadable (“thin pancake batter”) per Kara’s instructions.  My mix looked roughly like theirs, just lighter.

Sixth lesson: Not all trowelers are created equal.  My heavily-dyed concrete didn’t have the same sweeping trowel marks, but I was also trying (probably way too hard) to get it even.  I think I over-troweled the cement.

Ok, so here’s what I found the next day:


Now it was time to sand.  THIS WAS HORRIBLY MESSY.  If your surface can be moved, DO THIS OUTSIDE!  And look like this:


You can apparently also go rob a bank if you want to just finance a good counter.  This was way messier and nastier than any wood I have sanded.  I used pathetic little electric sander to speed things up, and it did smooth stuff out, but EW.  The dust was also basically feather finish+pigment dust, so when I would wipe it up with a wet sponge it turned back into gray liquid that would require additional cleanup.  Beware.

Seventh lesson: I had a hard time deciding when I had sanded enough.  I found that I sanded through the edges of the concrete before I was satisfied with the overall flatness.

I repeated this twice and still wasn’t satisfied.  I figured it was my fault for over-sanding so I said, ok just one more coat.  Then I accidentally dropped the putty knife on the countertop.  And it dented.  And I said “WHA?  Concrete shouldn’t dent!”  It’s concrete.  Maybe chip, or stain but dent?  I mean, we park cars on it.

Eighth lesson: Not all concrete is created equal.  This is probably why people who have lots of degrees but actually do practical things do a lot of research on it.

So for the last coat, I heavily reduced the amount of white pigment in case that was softening the concrete.  I also failed to let it flash set, which meant I got a nice, thick ugly rough coat.  Which I tried to sand anyway.  Here’s what we had:

end disaster

Note the giant gash in the upper left.  That was bad spreading on my part.  The hole at about 2 o’clock maybe 4″ off of the circle though?  That’s a dent!  I could even dent it with my fingernail.

So, my concrete countertop wasn’t sleek.  It was ugly.  That last uneven coat didn’t help it.  But most importantly, it wasn’t durable, which isn’t acceptable for something to install in my house.  And this particular dented concrete project didn’t have character, unless you’re looking for something that inspires old garage floor.  And finally, I have to admit that regardless of poor execution, this countertop was going to look silly in our rather cottage-styled, definitely-not-industrial, home.

Ninth lesson: if you’ve lost the game, just lose the game and leave it behind.  You can still go on to win the set and the match.  For ~$50 in supplies, I have to admit I have created a monster that I don’t want in the house.  Rather than wasting more time and money on this one, I will put it behind me and try again. I have some new supplies and a new plan, and I firmly believe that we shall still have a bathroom countertop before long.  And, I think I will still beat the price point of the crummiest countertops at Home Depot.

I know it must be possible to make this well, since Kara and Tim can do it.  But, if you try, don’t do it my way.  And please, do let me know if you have better luck with Feather Finish durability.  It was a nice product to work with, considering I hadn’t ever used concrete before.  I am curious if the pigment made the concrete softer, although the directcolors.com sales rep didn’t think the pigment would have any issues with the feather finish.  In the meantime, I will still be reading the Paslay’s website to learn more about decorating!

Catch up on the bathroom saga:

Tiling: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Why don’t we paint the town (and all that jazz)…

Since purchasing our house last November, we have primed and painted every ceiling and wall except the two bathrooms (which are just waiting their turn).  When we bought the house, both the inside and the outside of the house were painted an off white color that can be seen on the walls here:

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The first round of painting was the whole house sans kitchen and bathrooms.  It took the week in between closing and ripping out carpet to refinish the hardwood.  Thanks to a Saturday painting party, we finished!  Round two was this weekend when we repainted our main living room/kitchen area as part of the renovation.

It’s not news to say that a coat of paint can is one of the cheapest ways to dramatically alter the appearance of a room and two coats of paint can even make that room look good, as opposed to just painted by an amateur 😉 .  I’m also convinced that it is really hard to screw up painting, although I’ve proven (among others) that it’s not trivial to pick the color or the finish or the brand of paint.  This post is not about how to paint necessarily or what to buy (I liked Makely Home, Young House Love, Pretty Handy Girl for getting started), but rather what we tried and what worked and what didn’t.  There is no right answer to ‘how to paint’, perhaps my favorite part of projects around the home.

Zeroith lesson: Painting is a unique DIY task in that there is a significant upfront cost the first time you do it, but the tools you purchase the first time continue to pay for themselves as you may likely repaint again.  It’s also something that you can become increasingly more skilled at.  Neither of these two facts apply to tasks such as replacing your kitchen faucet which I hope is a one time event!  Around us, the upfront cost was on the order of $500-700 for the whole house with Home Depot Behr paint and enough supplies for several rooms being painted simultaneously in different colors (including our inability to even buy the right paint on the first try…).  The cost of a pro would’ve been over $2000 for one single color.  This weekend we spent only $140 on paint and disposables to repaint the largest area of our house buying Benjamin Moore paint at Orchard Supply Hardware, which would’ve been at least 10x that with a painter.

First lesson: Pick the color of some THING to be the paint color, like a pillow or object.  Or pick the paint color based on its compliment to some THING.  Or gather some THINGS in a pile and decide what color would go nicely with them.  Then think about how the other THINGS/furniture in the room would feel with that color.  This is even more important if you already own the things.  I learned that it is really much easier to find a paint color that you like than to find a bunch of new things to match the paint color you have isolated amongst all other equally weighted paint color.  You already need to buy the paint anyway, while chances are, you don’t want to replace all of your stuff.

I did not follow this advice the first time.  In the screw up of picking the paint for our main room, we knew we were keeping our couches, but that was about it.  The Ikea coffee table fell apart, the TV stand was in danger of being broken down by our enthusiastic puppy and we needed a chair and lamps since it was a big, dark room.  Sooo, I picked a color scheme for the living room and kitchen (brown and turquoise) based on nothing less than a dish for the turquoise.  I didn’t really want brown walls so I went with a color called hazelnut cream, expecting it to be a shade of greige although I certainly had never heard this word before.  I taped up paint chips, looked in different lights and eliminated them until we decided this one would look good.  It turns out that I had picked essentially the same color as the previous owners:

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If I had used a thing to choose, I would’ve realized that I have no THINGS in this creamy color because I hate this color!  The one exception is the couches of which I dislike the color but are so comfy and can be covered if I wasn’t too lazy.  This time around, for the blue wall, we picked Benjamin Moore’s Deep Ocean  to match some AlysEdwards tile that will accent our kitchen backsplash, neither of which shows up close to reality on the monitor.  We liked the tile, so we also like the paint.  We chose Stonington Grey by Ben Moore after comparing to Conventry Gray and Fieldstone Grey, but we wanted something neutral so we can accent with our rug and furniture and deep blue accent wall.  This color is dark enough to be obviously grey in any light, but light enough where it’s still bright and light.

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Second lesson: Buy a small sample of paint.  Paint it on your walls, checking a couple for light angles.  Wait a couple days.  This way you will realize if the paint you are buying is actually the same color as your wall!  The two trips to the paint store are well worth it.  Also, different brands of paint seem to have samples that are truer to color than other brands.  The Glidden paint chip was close to the real color in ripe apricot, but I didn’t test other shades.

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Overall, Behr (Home Depot) paint seems lighter than their samples.  But, Benjamin Moore paint chip in both grey and deep blue were very true to the paper paint sample and to the final paint color.

Third lesson: Picking a finish the first time is not a decision that should be saved until the end of an exhausting paint shopping experience.  Flat, eggshell, semi-gloss are all very different beasts and when we chose, we only had the little sample at the store to choose between and were already exhausted.  If you’ve never painted before, ask someone what is in their house to see the difference.  Here’s my handy guide:

  • Ceilings are always flat.
  • Flat paint (or Matte if the line you’re using has a Matte) is the only finish that does not have glare when light is shined on it.  It tends to hide defects or texture.  These were both proven true in our home.  Supposedly it does not clean well, but this is likely brand dependent and I cannot say I have explored them all.  There is always touch up paint stored in canning jars…
  • Eggshell is one step up.  There is definitely glare, especially in darker colors.  We bought some of this before we knew about the difference and decided to use it anyway.  It is also shiny enough to highlight texture.  Easy to clean or not, I will stay away from it for dark colors outside of bathrooms: there is annoying glare in the guest room purple (Behr in Interlude), even in daylight: 

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(we were tearing out this lovely dropcloth carpet immediately after painting)

  • Satin is one step up from eggshell.  After learning about the above effect, we abandoned all of our “easy-to-clean” satin paint intended for the living room and bought fresh.  This increased the cost of the first project somewhat.  I MIGHT be persuaded to use this on trim sometime.
  • Semigloss is what I used for that orange end table (I, II, III, IV).  It is shiny.  Definitely not going on any of our walls.
  • I used black gloss on a bathroom cabinet in our 1950s pink bathroom.  I would do it again for effect…and, frankly, I did such a bad job that it is likely that I will do it again.  Another post for another day.

Fourth lesson: Not all rollers and brushes are created equal.  The internet (see links above) pretty universally recommended Purdy-brand rollers, so we took that advice and didn’t look back.  If your walls have texture like ours, the 1/2″ nap on rollers is a good idea.  We did rinse out the rollers and reuse them to prime again after they were dry with success, but rinsing paint out is not a quick task.

Paint brushes are also quite varied.  My hand hurt less edging with Purdy brushes than Premium XL brushes, despite the supposed comfort grip.  I’m also convinced the Premium XL brush left more brush lines behind and it seems a little stiffer.  It did help me get cleaner lines cutting in, but I’m still terrible at doing this by hand.  Fortunately, my husband likes to play it safe and taped off most everything except the (not yet painted) baseboards anyway so there was room for error.  It is painless to wash out brushes and reuse them, but I find there is always a tiny bit of paint left on anyway.  In any case, I will stick with Purdy next time.

Fifth lesson: There are two classes of paint: the kind you buy at special stores and the kind you buy at Home Depot.  I already mentioned color choices above.  The Benjamin Moore paint was quite a bit thicker than Behr paint.  We used Behr Ultra Flat (plus 1 oz white/gallon) for our ceiling.  We really like how bright the white is to brighten up the room but… When we painted (and re-painted the same ceiling), we primed with Zinsser 1-2-3 primer, then had to do two coats of ceiling paint.  Even with this, we can still see some roller lines.  The paint also dripped all over us and the room, which we had tarped fortunately.

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(can you see the myriad of white ceiling paint spots??  By the way, painter’s tarp from Home Depot is NOT totally paint-proof)

The Ben Moore Regal Flat paint that we used in this recent excursion of wall painting did not drip off of the roller at all, suggesting that it is a better choice for ceilings.  Ben Moore also has Regal Matte line, but Orchard Supply didn’t carry that so we went with flat.  Behr paint sans primer is ~$22/gallon at HD, while we got the Ben Moor paint for $38/can at Orchard Supply Hardware because we had a pile of 15% off coupons for this weekend.  Neither brand seemed to have better coverage, but I’m pretty sure Ben Moore’s Aura paint does.

The strength of the smell was dependent on the paint pigment, but the worst smelling paint of all paints was actually an awesome light blue (not the dramatic colors!), Lively Tune by Behr, that we used in our bedroom:

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The Ben Moore paint didn’t smell any stronger.  All in all, we liked putting the Ben Moore paint on the walls better since it went on smoother with less dripping and like knowing the color ahead of time so we would buy again.   Hopefully it will also be more durable and washable, which is what we had in mind.  We also like that Orchard Supply is open on Sundays since we had to go back for another can!  For rooms where the color is likely to change sooner or low cost projects, I would still go for a cheaper brand.

Sixth lesson: You can use a plastic cup (flippy cup cup) to hold paint while edging.  They are easily disposed of once you are done and the leftover paint has dried.

Seventh lesson: It took us ~2 hours to put a coat of paint on the walls of these two rooms, which aren’t very big.  This was with one of us edging and one of us rolling.  It also took more time than that to tape the edges and then put paper down over our floors.  If you are good at edging you do not need to tape…but since we don’t have crown molding we will still tape the ceiling.  I haven’t been motivated enough to caulk that ceiling corner yet.

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Eighth lesson: If painting a whole house, have a paint party!  Invite people over, provide refreshments and dinner.

Ninth lesson: Even if crated during the actual painting, dogs can find wet paint.  Check the very tip of Tilley’s wiggly nose for some white paint:

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Tear down this wall!

This post is about moving walls and re-framing.  When we last left off, the kitchen looked like this:

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To understand where we went from here, recall that two major purposes of our remodel were connect the kitchen and the living room and introduce more natural light into the house.  Both of these ideas required removing walls or punching holes, so we did a little of both.

Typical Nor. Cal single floor houses consist of an eat-in kitchen adjacent to a living room, usually in the front of the house.  The only other rooms in the house are bedrooms.  Because we have no dining room, we couldn’t lose our eat in area, and because we have no other living space, we couldn’t add a dining area to the living room.  We also still needed enough space to store our dishes, food and kitchenware, so we were loathe to lose the wall and all of the upper cabinets along the top half of the wall connecting our living room and kitchen.

Our solution was to punch a hole to make a passthough between the kitchen and the living room as well as remove about 18″ of wall that overlapped between the living room and the kitchen.  We did not actually do this work ourselves; we used the contractor we hired earlier in the process.  This is what is considered “minor construction”, but if you’re reading this blog for advice and not laughter, you probably should check with a professional before you undertake it on your own!  …read on for why…

Here is what that wall looked like after framing the pass through:

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and from the opposite side looking back after removing the edge of the wall:

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You can see where the old wall jogged and jutted out by looking at the edge of the plastic wrap about and the pinkish line along the floor.  We’re seriously considering installing some long shelves along the back wall, not unlike these but without the stove in the middle.  One concern is what we can put on them though since an earthquake could un-style an open shelf quickly and dramatically – plus these would be directly above the dinner table.  Anyone have any thoughts about this??

Anyway, onward…  Here are both after cutting out the pass through and screwing in new dry wall:

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Now you can actually see both rooms in one photo!  First lesson: In CA houses, most walls are supporting walls which means that they cannot be removed trivially.  Even for this slight wall movement, there was a tiny amount of reframing in the attic because of where the joists ended.  If we had removed the entire wall, we would have needed to have a beam installed in the attic.  While this is often worth it, it can turn what may be a minor project into a major project.  It’s important to know what to expect before you order cabinets that need to fit the space or otherwise begin the project.

You also may notice the giant plywood art in the living room.  That actually used to be our front window, which brings us to the question of how to get more natural light.

Previously the front window did not open (and we have no air conditioning).  We wanted the pass through help share the light from our huge front window with the kitchen…but we also figured out that changing it to a bay window would increase the light.  We opted for a framed bay 1) to save money on the window and 2) so we can hang standard window shades (that open down so that Tilley doesn’t get to bark at every passing car).  Here’s the window from outside as they started framing:

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(that’s my shadow, not Darth Vader on our front lawn) and after it was framed:

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We’re still waiting on siding.

And here it is with the window installed from the inside as we watch the Olympics (how do you learn to luge anyway?  If you’re a kid who’s really fast on water slides?):


It was of course installed the day after our one heavy rain all winter! You can also observe the second lesson: construction is dirty!  We’re starting to feel like we are camping with all of the filth on the floor, but it seems pointless to chase after them with a broom every night.  Plus, the rain and Tilley’s paws didn’t help. We’ve taken to walking around in shoes.  Things should get a lot cleaner after our hardwood floor is installed in the kitchen and we clean up on Thursday!  Clear out any rugs or make sure they cover them if you aren’t planning on replacing them.  We actually have a new rug in the garage.  It’s also from Flor – Flor rugs are great, especially if you have pets.  For 8-12 bucks, you just pop out and replace the ruined square.  Although I was silly and bought a rug cleaner, my understanding is that you can actually hose the squares down.  Finally, the area rug comes in any size you want and they are the same price (or cheaper) than a low end, crummy area rug of similar size.

Third lesson: never have I given any care as to what kind of window is in my home.  What brand?  Grid (aka panes*) or no grid?  Pattern?  We went with a grid-free, double paned window that we can open the sides of…but I have to be honest, we didn’t even go to the window store.  This is one place where we copped out and took the contractors recommendation on a standard Milgard window.  We also swapped the window in the kitchen to keep them looking the same.  Our contractor also waited for the initial framing before ordering the window to guarantee that it fit.  This is one way to avoid having to caulk leaks around the edges later.  This probably was unnecessary, but looks more consistent from the outside.

*In common vernacular, panes can either be sheets of glass or the little squares that traditionally divide up a window.