Archives for posts with tag: DIY

One of the things that sold us on our current home when we took our first tour of it almost six years ago was the downstairs full bath and guest bedroom. My mother doesn’t navigate stairs well, and we knew that, as she was rapidly approaching retirement, long grandparent visits would be in our very near future. A downstairs suite was ideal for us and our extended family. But the “full bath” that excited us so much in theory was small, dark, tight, and depressingly pink and flowered in reality. Even a petite woman like me couldn’t wash my hair in the afterthought of a shower stall without smacking my elbows against the walls every time I raised my arms. After finishing our kitchen remodel three and a half years ago, we knew that our next big project would have to be the bathroom. Starting on Labor Day Weekend this year, and finishing on my birthday, November 17th, here is our entire renovation, from beginning to end. In pictures. (Because that’s what everyone wants to see anyway, right?)

BEFORE: A pink, brown, and gold disaster







Our budget: Two years’ worth of garage sales, plus birthday and Christmas money. My underwear drawer was RICH for, like, 6 months!

THE BEGINNING: Demolition, Labor Day Weekend 2018










Note to Self: Don’t turn the water back on until you are CERTAIN that all of your pipes have caps! (Just a mini-flood.)





Our very first tile-shopping trip, and we fell in love with geometrics.



Stuck in the Longest. Ikea line. Ever.








Recessed lighting! New fan! Drywall!

PAUSE: My husband had to have kidney stone surgery on September 18th. He had to have multiple procedures, and the bathroom was on hold until October 14th.


BACK AT IT! Tile for DAYZ.














FINISHING: After all of that work, installing the glass shower walls, the vanity, light, and toilet took only a long afternoon. Suddenly, the bathroom was done. We have just a few more days to wait for the grout to cure, then we get to shower in the new, gorgeous, downstairs bathroom! I need to buy new towels, because, frankly, my old towels are just too unimpressive to place in here!


Today, Thursday, December 31st, in the last few hours of 2015, I paid off my new kitchen. 19 months after we started work on it, the final payment was just submitted.

Now we just have to finish the damn thing.

I realize that I have been a very bad DIY blogger. My last kitchen remodel post was about taking down the soffit, and how we accommodated for what we found underneath it. Hopefully, some of you are still interested in the process we went through, doing a complete from-the-studs kitchen remodel (and, as it turned out, playroom and laundry room remodel at the same time) entirely ourselves, for just around $8,000.

So, here’s what happened next: electrical.

Once the soffit was removed, Honest Husband got to work on the electrical and lighting. When we moved into the house in spring of 2013, the kitchen had one light: a buzzing fluorescent job that stretched across the island. We replaced that light almost immediately, with a cheap, domed ceiling light that was easier on the corneas, but still didn’t provide much light, even with 2 100-watt equivalent bulbs buzzing inside. The kitchen does have several, beautiful, large windows. But they face North, so they weren’t exactly flooding the room with sunlight. Combine all this with the original dark oak cabinets, and the kitchen was dark. Really dark.

Move-in day. April 2013.

Move-in day. April 2013.

Personally, I feel as though the kitchen is the one room in the house where you just can’t go wrong with light. There’s no such thing as an overly lit kitchen. The brighter the better.

Finalizing design plans, my lighting wish list went as follows:

  1. A light directly above the sink.
  2. Pendant lighting centered above the island (the electrical box for the ceiling light we had wasn’t centered above the island in the original kitchen, and it made my OCD twitch every day!).
  3. Recessed lighting throughout, following the countertops.
  4. Lighting above the stove.
  5. Under-cabinet lighting
  6. And the biggest, most luxurious wish list item of all? Have it all be adjustable. Dimmable. Since the kitchen is open to the playroom, where we all gather to watch TV and movies, I wanted to make sure that we could keep lights on in the kitchen (in case anyone needed to make some more popcorn during a show), but not have such bright lights blaring that they distracted or glared off the TV. A true “home theatre” experience.

True to form, Honest Husband spent weeks researching lighting options. We quickly determined that LEDs were the obvious choice. They provided the warmth and immediate light of an incandescent bulb, but were brighter and had a lifespan similar to a CFL (without the horrible fluorescence that I think makes light quality a real problem with CFLs). The local big box hardware store had a few options for retrofitted LED recessed lighting that seemed to fit what we needed, then Honest Husband found the absolute coolest thing: flexible under cabinet ribbon lights. So small, they’d be invisible once the cabinets were installed, but powerful enough to illuminate both of our glass-fronted cabinets as well as the whole countertop underneath the cabinets.

These are the lights!

These are the lights!

They're like something out of Star Wars.

They’re like something out of Star Wars.

Many products that retrofit premade cabinets to add under cabinet lighting include a light strip, a cord, a transformer, and usually a switch of some kind. The end result gives under cabinet lighting, it is true, but each bank of cabinet lights can only be turned on by reaching underneath your top cabinets to flip a switch. And there is still the aesthetic question of how to successfully hide the cords and boxes that come with the light strip. The flexible lights (as well as Honest Husband’s extensive electrical knowledge) solved these issues.

These small, compact lights would give us the slick appearance of custom built cabinetry. There would be no under-cabinet switch. No cords to plug in. But we also wouldn’t have to resort to the physical modifications that are required with many custom-built cabinets (most custom cabinets have a light box built underneath the cabinet, so small recessed lights can be installed seamlessly in what is essentially a fat piece of trim). With the soffit down and the studs exposed, Honest Husband was able to run electrical wires from the uppers to the switch next to the sink, adding a light switch for the under cabinet lighting next to the garbage disposal switch.

We didn't actually get the under cabinet lights hooked up until almost Thanksgiving, but you can see that the light source becomes almost invisible with the trim and door panels on.

We didn’t actually get the under cabinet lights hooked up until almost Thanksgiving, but you can see that the light source becomes almost invisible with the trim and door panels on.

The one “compromise” I had to make with this arrangement was that I wouldn’t be able to turn on the “sink light” independently from the rest of the ceiling lights. This has never been a problem.

For the recessed lights in the ceiling, Honest Husband and I initially purchased the Sylvania retrofit down lights for our new ceiling lights. They had good reviews. They were a nice, name brand. They were in the lighting and wattage range we were looking for.

They didn’t fit.

We ended up using the Ultilitech brand retrofit lights. They were Lowe’s in-house brand, so they were cheaper than the Sylvanias, and—BONUS—they fit between our ceiling and the second floor above.

When it came time to prep the ceiling for lights, Honest Husband carefully measured where the new island would be, and cut holes for two pendant lights centered over it. Then, he cut for three recessed lights going along the long side of the “L,” one light centered over the sink, and two more on either side of the island. 8 ceiling lights in total for our 11×22’ kitchen. Awesome.


With the holes cut, the drywall torn down, and the new house wires being fed through, the kitchen looked like it was being attacked by giant space spiders.

I won’t bore you with the details of patching the ceiling, matching the knock-down pattern (we dabbed the patches with a dry kitchen sponge that had been randomly gouged then dipped in mud), and performing the horrible, horrible job of horribleness, painting the ceiling. Just know that Honest Husband did it all so well that I had trouble finding one of the patched spots on the ceiling this morning in order to take a picture of it (Which is next to impossible, by the way. I’m trying to take a picture of white texture next to a slightly different white texture. My cell phone camera skills are just not that developed).

Patching before painting.

Patching before painting.

What it looks like today. The patch is to the right of the light. Squint.

What it looks like today. The patch is to the right of the light. Squint.

So, there you have it. One more post about our kitchen remodel. One more step closer to reveal. The plan is to write future posts about how we scheduled each step, design details, and also talk about how we expanded the remodel to include the playroom and laundry room. Hopefully, once all of that is finished, we’ll be finished. Those final trim pieces will be installed, the caulking will be done, I’ll be able to clean everything, and take the final “reveal” pictures.

With some luck, the kitchen won’t be entirely out of date by then.

Over a year ago, I wandered into my local Goodwill and fell in love. It was a small typewriter desk from the 1940s. Somebody had replaced the original hardware with hammer-beaten brass pulls, and then painted it a horrendous shade of institutional green with a faux paint finish over the top to make it look like black brush strokes. (Someone had taken some time to make this poor desk look really, really ugly.)

Faux finish hell

Faux finish hell

But, when you opened the top, slid the inner panel out and locked it up into position, suddenly, you saw the original, rich brown wood. The machinations for moving the typewriters up and down: gorgeous in their simple complexity. The small scuffs and gouges that marked its use and love and age—dents in the stiles where a desk chair had rubbed against it for years, a sweat ring on the top from a spilled cup of coffee, places where the paint had rubbed off from years of fingernails scratching behind the handles while searching for a pen. Best of all, I found inside that desk the original instruction label: “Please Note Typewriter Positions.” It was selling for $25.


I think I walked into that Goodwill looking for lampshades. I came out with two store clerks, carrying a seventy-year-old desk into my minivan. I had to have it. It was a piece of furniture made exclusively for writing. For creating. It wasn’t the greatest piece of furniture ever constructed (there was some veneer peeling off on the back, and I was convinced it was probably a cheap desk even when it was new). But there was something about it that called me. I couldn’t walk away. The Goodwill worker smiled when I asked her to put a “sold” sticker on it.

“Oh, I was hoping someone would take that desk. I remember my grandmother having one of those. It’s so cool!”

I put it first in my guest room (my parents smiled when they saw it. They still remember using typewriter desks. Everyone else cringed at the ugliness), then up in my master bedroom. My plan was to repaint it. Maybe something fun. I toyed with the idea of a cream base and orange top. Or a stately, dark brown. I wanted to turn it into my vanity table. I’d remove the horribly warped top, and instead place a mirror on it, tucking all of my makeup into the hidden lower panel. My style tends to lean towards mid-century modern. Clean lines. Bright colors. Either very dark or very white woodwork. Square corners. This desk had curves, routes, panels. It didn’t quite fit, but I still just loved it. I couldn’t really explain why.

Last Saturday, while my children napped, I decided to finally start working on my desk project. My husband has been working about 80 hours a week recently (we just broke ground on a new building for our family business, and he’s overseeing the entire, massive project), so I had been looking for something to fill up the lonely hours without him. I grabbed a screwdriver, took off all of the hardware, pulled out the drawers, cleaned it all with some Windex (I would never use that on a wooden surface, but it wouldn’t hurt the paint, and I needed to get the years of grime and dust off!), and carried all of the drawers down to the garage, where I knew we had some leftover paint stripper and mineral spirits. It was while carrying all of this downstairs that I noticed it. Underneath the largest drawer was an original factory stamp: “F.1117-846.” On the underside of both of the slide out writing panels, handwritten in orange, was “No. 846.” I chuckled, and texted my husband, “This thing is numbers matching!” I instantly started calling the project “The 846” in my mind.

20150723_152759[1] 20150723_152746[1]

I decided to strip the center drawer first. I poured on the stripper, following the instructions I had read on an online forum, and got increasingly excited as I watched the green paint bubble across the surface. After a half hour, it looked ready to test, so I grabbed a putty knife, and dragged it across the paint surface. (I have since switched to plastic stripping tools. This just shows what a big learning curve I had in front of me!) I actually gasped out loud. The wood. It was gorgeous. Dark, rich, reddish brown. Book-matched. With flame figuring. I texted my husband a picture, “Holy SHIT!!”


When he got home that night, my husband asked to see the center panel again, up close. The top three center drawers were all made of the same kind of wood. The bottom ones were something different. A straight, whitish wood that was occasionally speckled.


“I was expecting pine. Or oak. Honestly, I never see wood anymore. Furniture is almost all made with veneers and particle board now. What the hell kind of wood is this??”

My husband, who builds guitars (and therefore knows a lot about various “tone woods”) started getting excited. He was almost antsy, turning on the lights, inspecting the grain, talking about the pores, gently wetting it to bring out the figuring. He checked his phone, looking up various wood species, murmuring, “It couldn’t be . . .” Finally, he looked up.

“This is mahogany. This is what raw mahogany looks like. I thought from your picture that it still had a stain or a lacquer on it, but this is just the wood. This is just what the wood looks like.”

“My $25 desk is mahogany??”

“It’s not just that,” he was shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure—especially given the age and, really, the coloring—that this is Honduran mahogany.”

I started laughing. And shaking a little. You see, Honduran mahogany is an endangered species. It has been farmed almost out of existence. Prized for its coloring, its smoothness, its beauty, and only found in a specific climate region, Honduran mahogany (as opposed to the more plentiful African mahogany) is considered “genuine” mahogany. It is also almost impossible to get in the United States right now. Though there are mahogany plantations in Honduras that grow, sell, and export the wood, “genuine” Honduran mahogany is from the old growth forests. Massive trees that can reach up to 100 feet tall, and that, because of some genetic fluke found in many trees from that region, demonstrate the most amazing flame and quilted figuring. Those trees can no longer be cut. Their wood can only be used if and when a tree falls from natural causes. And there are now laws in place, strictly limiting the amounts of Honduran mahogany that can be exported. Mostly, instrument makers get small pieces of the wood, to use as guitar backs or necks (my husband’s custom-built Taylor acoustic has a mahogany back and neck, though there is no figuring on it).

And I had it across the front of my little desk. In fact, it turns out that the entire back, both sides, and even inside panels are genuine mahogany. That piece of veneer that was popping off the back corner? Yup. Mahogany.

The sides are mahogany veneer framed with cherry.

The sides are mahogany veneer

We determined that the other wood was cherry. I was expecting it to appear reddish, but the paint stripper had removed the original lacquer and revealed wood that had never been exposed to air and sunlight before, so the wood was still a fresh white. The entire desk was cherry wood and mahogany. Nothing else.

We sat and looked at the drawer fronts for awhile.

“Is it strange that I really want to honor these materials? I mean, I want to honor them. I want to show them off, treat them right. I want them to shine.”

“That doesn’t sound strange to me at all.”

I paused, thinking. “I want this to be my desk. My writing desk. I want to write my first book on this desk.”

My husband nodded. “I think that it should be.”


I have just now finished stripping all of the paint and original lacquer off of the desk. I also straightened the warped top piece. I’m waiting for the wood to dry before I start hand-sanding it all. Then, I’ll look into filling a few dings on the top with wood filler (though I don’t mind them. Dents in wood are like wrinkles in a beloved face: evidence of their years and wisdom). My plan is to protect the mahogany. Seal it, coat it, and polish it until it shines. Then, I’ll mix a custom stain to make the cherry wood match the mahogany. The final touch will be these handles. They’re reproduction, but the style is period-correct (though the material isn’t. This desk likely would have had brass pulls). I’m hoping that by the end, this desk will look like it still has its flawless, factory finish. (I found another person who restored one of these desks, but I feel as though his final product doesn’t look cohesive. He stained both the mahogany and cherry the same color, so they don’t quite look like a family in my opinion. I also think that the finished product makes the cherry look almost grey.)

It will be quite a bit of work, but I’m willing to expend the energy, give the hours. I think about the beautiful, long-dead trees that were used to make this desk special, and I feel a responsibility to their legacy. This wood was once a living thing. Perhaps, with the right amount of care, it can feel that way again.

Yes, I know that Christmas has come and gone. All but a few stubbornly jolly—or just downright lazy—individuals have taken down the decorations, put the furniture back in the living room, and reclaimed their homes from the seemingly endless Christmas season. It seems unfair of me to rifle through my pictures, unpacking all of the merriment again, just as everyone was feeling a return to routine and normalcy.

But, hey, it’s my blog.

So here are some of the handmade Christmas presents I created this holiday season. If you like what you see here, don’t be afraid to place an order now for next Christmas! (Because that’s probably how long it will take me to fill it…)

Weaving, Weaving, Weaving

One of my goals this winter has been to return to my weaving with gusto. I’ve missed the beautiful simplicity of my rigid heddle loom. The regular and predictable over-under of a plain weave. The way that white-on-white weaving never seems to disappoint. It’s a very fulfilling pastime, and because it’s a little bit of a strange hobby (how many people in their early 30s do you know who own and operate their own looms?), people really seem to appreciate woven gifts.

I started this past fall with a purple blanket.

100% Acrylic, 30"x48" finished.

100% Acrylic, 30″x 48″ finished.

I have to admit, I began with the full intention of donating this blanket to my daughters’ new preschool for their annual fundraiser. However, as I was hemming it, Honest Baby toddled in, felt the soft fabric, and immediately fell in love.

Sorry, St. Marks. This blanket belongs to my girl now. I promise I’ll make something for next year!

Sorry, St. Marks. This blanket belongs to my girl now. I promise I’ll make something for next year!

So the purple blanket immediately became a Christmas gift for my baby girl. Oops. Philanthropy was run over by maternity.

Right around Thanksgiving, I started on a project to make a couple of simple table runners for girlfriends of mine who had been helping me out with babysitting while I was finishing my dissertation.


This was a truly fun project, as I got to weave with 100% cotton in a really tight weave (I’m an aggressive weaver, so I like projects that require high warp tension and hard beating—that’s what it’s called when you squish the horizontal strings down together).

This was also the first time that I took the plunge and cut my fabric in half to make two equal sized table runners.


The first cut is the freakiest!




You don’t know terror until you take scissors to the thing you had just created! It worked perfectly, however (not entirely square, but I’ll do better next time!). I have to keep reminding myself that weaving doesn’t make strategically webbed yarn. It makes cloth. Cloth that can be cut, sewn, shaped, and turned into anything at all, just like every other fabric I’ve ever used.

The result was two table runners, each 3' long.

The result was two table runners, each 3′ long.

Finally, I wove a turquoise blue wall hanging for my mother-in-law. She loves the beach, and has been looking for something to put in her hallway that reminded her of the ocean. This is 50% cotton, 50% acrylic.


You can see in the side-by-side shot that, though it was woven to the same measurements as Honest Baby’s purple blanket (30”x 48”), after being washed (or what weavers call “wet finishing”—just a fancy name for throwing it in the washing machine to make the fibers tighten up and bind together) it lost about 10% in both length and width.

I am in love with the turquoise cotton on the warp (vertical strands). It turned out bright and beautiful.

I am in love with the turquoise cotton on the warp (vertical strands). It turned out bright and beautiful.

Also, because it was intended as a wall hanging, I made the hems a little thicker, so that her wall clamps had a good, heavy hem to hold on to. I was terrified that she wouldn’t like it (if Honest Husband is a Crafting Fascist, my mother-in-law is Mussolini!), but when I showed it to her this last week she couldn’t stop gushing about it (I had to specially order the warp yarn, so it didn’t even arrive at my house until after Christmas Day). Maybe it was all just a show for my sake, but I’ll take what I can get!

Glass Seahorse

Over Labor Day weekend, I was walking through an art fair held every year in my childhood home, Harrisville, Michigan. There, I saw a booth filled with canvases of pictures made from sea glass.

I stole the idea. Shamelessly.

Like I said, my mother-in-law loves the sea. I decided to make something beachy for her out of sea glass. I started by buying a pound of mosaic “sea glass” from a local crafting supply store (everyone asked me where I found the sea glass, but it’s really just etched mosaic glass in pale blues and greens. I found it pretty easily once I started looking for it, honestly, and those one-pound variety packs have enough shapes and variations that you can make just about anything). After fooling around for a bit (and having to Google what seahorses look like), I came up with a pattern.


Then, I went back to the same crafting supply store, and bought a small shadowbox.


Only problem was, the fabric backing was black. So I used a little iron on Stitch Witch (LOVE that stuff!), and made it a lovely grey instead.


After that, it was just a matter of hot gluing and mounting it.



My seahorse got a little chubby in the process, and I don’t like that you can see the shadow of the glue underneath the glass, but I think that this was a very successful project, especially in terms of cost and time. It was pretty easy and fast. About two hours total, and most of that was because I realized halfway through the design stage that I didn’t know what seahorses looked like!

Name Magnets

These were the last-minutest of the last minute gifts.

December 23rd, 6:30pm. My husband comes home from work, and we start talking about the plans for Christmas Day.

“So, you’re getting Josie a gift certificate?”

“Uh huh. Just have to get it printed off!”

“And what for Carlee and Nate?”

“—Carlee and Nate?”

“Yeah. We have to get them something.”


“You didn’t know they were coming?”

“Oh, sweet baby Jesus.”


I had no time. But I had a whole bunch of felt. And some vinyl letter stickers. And poly-fill. And a pack of magnets. And a hot glue gun.

I could totally figure this out.

This has not been staged. This is just what my work table looks like right now at this very moment.

This has not been staged. This is just what my work table looks like right now at this very moment.

First, I placed a vinyl sticker on a paper index card and cut it out to give it some stiffness. That was my letter pattern.

Next, I traced each letter onto a piece of felt with disappearing fabric pen.

Then, I cut out two of each letter, selected which one would be the “back” and which the “front,” and glued a bunch of magnets to the back of the “back” side.

Then, I took about 3 strands of embroidery floss in a contrasting color (I just have a large multi-pack that I keep around for doing hems, little personalizations, embroidery on crocheted pieces, things like that. It’s pretty cheap, and it has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion!), and did a box stitch around the outside of each letter, carefully stuffing them with a little bit of poly-fill along the way to give each letter a pillow effect.


And voila! Over the course of a few hours, I had personalized Christmas gifts that were bright, fun, a little bit educational, and that I could make while also watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with my girls.




Please know, I did not come up with the felt magnet letters all by myself. I stole this idea as well, dear reader. For more detailed instructions and ideas, check out Hello Bee’s DIY Magnetic Felt ABCs. They also have much prettier pictures than I do.

All told, I’m pleased with the amount of Christmas crafting I was able to do this season while also finishing up my PhD and dissertation. Who knows? Maybe next year, I’ll be able to do even more! (But don’t count on it.)

Hope that you and yours had the happiest of holidays!

The biggest question mark that remained, literally, hanging over our heads after we finally purchased our new Ikea kitchen cabinets was, What is behind the soffit? We bought 39” tall upper cabinets, and the crown molding that would bring them visually all the way up the ceiling. We had the doors, the frames, the plans for the under cabinet lighting. We were in it. That soffit had to come down.


But what was inside it?

For months, I had been doing research online, asking the Gods of Google to show me what was tucked inside that 12×12 box above my cabinets. It proved surprisingly unhelpful. I read stories that detailed everything from the comforting—“There was nothing but insulation in ours!”—to the terrifying—“We opened them up and realized that we would have to replumb the entire bathroom and kitchen, as well as change all HVAC in the downstairs. Our contractor took the ceiling down in three rooms.”—to the underwhelming—“We opened it up, saw that it was full of stuff, and just shrugged and closed it all back up again. It wasn’t worth it.”  We knew that the master bathroom was directly above the kitchen, and I had nightmares about opening up the soffit, only to discover the down pipe for the toilet (what my uncle affectionately calls the “shitter stack”), winding its way through my kitchen, the horrors of its raw sewage mere inches and a thin PVC pipe away from my daughter’s fajitas.

It gave me more anxiety than anything else in the kitchen. I thought about it constantly. What is in the soffit?  I begged Honest Husband to let me just drill a small hole in it, from the inside of one of the upper cabinets.  Just a little exploratory hole, into which I could shine a flashlight. Just to see. Just to know what was in there. Just to prepare myself a little bit for whatever it was that we needed to do.

“What if we open it up, and there’s plumbing in there? Then, when we try to move the plumbing, rivers of poop spray all over my kitchen? That’ll never get clean! I’ll never feel clean again! Rivers of poop!”

Honest Husband, whose blood pressure is usually much more prone to dramatic spikes over home renovations, was surprisingly calm about the whole soffit situation. He shrugged, “Whatever is in there, whatever we find, we’ll move.”

“Rivers of poop!”

“Seriously, do you really think that we’re going to find something that is just impossible to move? Do you really think that wires, ductwork, and pipes can’t be moved? They’re not concrete. They were put in there. They can be put elsewhere.”

“Rivers of poop!”

“There will not be rivers of poop in your kitchen. I promise.”


No matter what I did, I could not excite his agitation. He made me wait, until Sunday, May 18th. The day before Memorial Day. My mother-in-law watched the girls for the night, and Honest Husband and I woke up revived, both having gotten a full eight hours’ sleep for the first time in months. We woke up, and he looked over at me.

“Wanna see what’s in that soffit?”

You give the guy one solid night's sleep...

You give the guy one solid night’s sleep…

By noon, the upper cabinets and the soffit were almost entirely taken down, the girls were loving the noise and excitement, and I was breathing easier.

Not because the soffit was empty (because it wasn’t), but because I now knew what it was hiding all this time. I had a clear adversary:

From left to right: 1. House wires, 2. Ducting for Vent Hood, 3.  4” insulated duct for master bathroom vent, 4. House wire, 5. Overflow pipe for master bathroom, 6. Phone line.

From left to right: 1. House Wires, 2. Ducting for Vent Hood, 3.  4” Insulated Duct for Master Bathroom vent, 4. House Wire, 5. Overflow Pipe for Master Bathroom, 6. Phone Line.

And this is how we defeated the adversary.

1.  House Wires, Stove Side: The stove side of the kitchen was a pretty easy fix. The wires were fit inside pre-existing slots along the headers, and a small notch in the drywall was made to accommodate them. Honest Husband was determined to fix everything according to code, so that our “DIY” project wouldn’t reek of amateurism. So no floor joists or headers were cut or moved in any way. The structure of the house was in no way compromised by any of his work. Mud and drywall tape covered up where the wires went seamlessly (we just had to make sure we marked where they were so that we didn’t accidentally run a screw into them while installing the upper cabinet to the left of the stove).

2.  Ducting for Vent Hood: The vent hood didn’t require a fix at all. We were pleased to discover that it was already fitted between the upstairs floor joists and vented outside of the house on the second floor. Based on manufacturer’s recommendations, we did replace the flexible vent ductwork with solid ducting, but no structural changes had to take place. Easy peasy!

3.  4″ Insulated Duct: The ductwork for the upstairs bathroom appeared to be our biggest issue (it was a giant black snake, after all!), but even that ended up being fairly simple. The duct went all the way across the kitchen, laying on the ceiling drywall, before making a left turn in what was once the soffit and going up into the floor of the master bathroom, underneath the double vanity.  It’s kind of hard to imagine, so I made a crappy illustration in PowerPoint to show you all what I mean:

The duct went across the ceiling, behind the drywall, then swept over and up into the master bathroom above.

The duct went across the ceiling, behind the drywall, then swept over and up into the master bathroom above.

To fix this, we simply cut the duct shorter, and routed it up through the floor of the master bath. The vent moved from being underneath our vanity to being behind the closet door.

Before. The vent came out underneath our double vanity in the bathroom.

Before. The vent came out underneath our double vanity in the bathroom.

After. The duct was already located between the floor joists just behind the bathroom closet. It was a pretty easy fix.

After. The duct already ran between the floor joists just behind the bathroom closet. It was a pretty easy fix.

I’m actually very pleased with this change. The old vent blew hot and cold air on our feet, and spilled haphazardly into the bottom of the cabinet. This new one looks nicer, is easier to control, and doesn’t make my toes chilly after a shower! The new white vent looks nice, and I don’t mind seeing it in the bathroom. (It’s a bathroom, after all)

4. House Wires, Sink Side: The second wire actually went from the light switch next to the sink, to the single floodlight above the sink. We rerouted it, and will use it to control the under cabinet lighting. It now goes from the switch next to the sink to a junction box that is hidden behind the large upper cabinet.

6. Phone Line: The phone line was disconnected and placed in the ceiling. If someone in the future really has a craving for a landline, they can access it through there. (I have to admit, it was a little thrilling/nerve wracking seeing our one phone line cut and removed. It felt taboo. Almost wrong. It always seemed like a necessity growing up, such a sign of home. And we cut it out, making jokes that a future homeowner is going to find it and have no idea what the hell it is!)

5. Overflow Pipe for Master Bathroom: Ahhh, the pipe. It was my worst fear: the gateway to the River of Poop. It came down from the master bathroom, twisted out around the headers holding up the second floor, and went down into the crawl space. It was definitely not what I wanted to see.

The "Shitter Stack."

The “Shitter Stack.”

It came from the bathroom. The toilet, no less.  It jutted out into what was going to be my new upper cabinets. If we wanted to move it completely out of the way, we’d have to replumb the whole bathroom, rip out a bunch more of the ceiling, or even try to adjust the second floor header, which would be major money, and would probably require an engineer, architect, and permits.

Luckily, though, Honest Husband is a bit of a Houdini. But, like Houdini, he wasn’t going to need real magic. Just cleverness. Instead of making the pipe disappear, he was going to create the illusion that it was, in fact, gone. Trick the eye. Employ some sleight of hand. He decided to slightly adjust the pipe so that it pressed against the header, keeping it as close to the wall as possible.

Instead of a hard 90* turn, Honest Husband made the pipe follow the curve of the structure beneath it.

Instead of a hard 90* turn, Honest Husband made the pipe follow the curve of the structure beneath it.

Then, he cut out a hole in the back of the cabinet to accommodate the plumbing as well as the electrical boxes needed for the under cabinet lighting.

He notched out the back to make room for the pipe.

He notched out the back to make room for the pipe.

And cut a wide hole to have access to the electrical.

And cut a wide hole to have access to the electrical.

This is a 36" wide cabinet. The hole is about two feet.

This is a 36″ wide cabinet. The hole is about two feet.

Finally, he installed the junction boxes and transformer for the under cabinet lighting next to the pipe, and patched up the drywall around it.

After drywall.

After drywall.

After that was all done, he took a scrap piece of melamine shelf, cut it down, and made a false back on the upper cabinet that was screwed into place and could be removed after the cabinet was installed.

The false-back shelf.

The false-back shelf.

This false back could be removed to have access to the electrical components in the kitchen, is virtually invisible once the cabinets were installed, and only eats up about 1 inch of shelf depth on the upper cabinet.

The pipe, junction boxes, wiring, and transformer for the LED under cabinet lighting inside the cabinet.

The pipe, junction boxes, wiring, and transformer for the LED under cabinet lighting inside the cabinet.

The view from below.

The view from below.

Oh, and the Rivers of Poop? Turns out I didn’t have to worry about it at all. We cut into the pipe, and found that it was perfectly clean inside. It was just a vent pipe. Insurance for any flooding or backups we may experience. It had never been used, so far as we could tell.


So, there you have it. Everything that was in our soffit, and how we dealt with it. I’m not saying that the rest of the kitchen has been easy to deal with, or that it hasn’t been stressful (YOU try having no appliances or floor for ten whole days and see how well-adjusted you are by the end!), but if there’s one thing that taking the soffit down has taught me is that Honest Husband and I can tackle anything together. Nothing is impossible. And, even if we have to make some adjustments along the way, odds are good that we can make some magic happen.

Or at least chuckle at the illusion.

Are we over budget?

Oh, hell yes.

Do I really mind?

Well, it depends, honestly.

We have spent quite a bit more on this kitchen remodel than we were intending. Our initial budget was $6,000: $5,000 allocated for the kitchen cabinets and lighting, and another $1,000 for the floors. My parents gave us a very generous gift card to Lowe’s for Christmas, and we received a few smaller gift cards from other relatives who heard about the upcoming project, bringing us up to right around $6,750.  The initial budget that we had created was a very rough estimate for what it would cost to purchase all of the big ticket items only, not counting incidentals. The five grand we had set aside was for cabinetry, our new farmhouse sink (a real steal at $312. A comparable porcelain, 36” wide double sink with attached drip rail was literally in the thousands. Believe me. I looked.), the new range hood (another incredible Ikea deal. $429 for a stainless and curved glass hood. We were debating between the one with the glass detail, and the all-stainless one, but decided to spend the extra $50 to get the one with the glass detail that matched the curves on all of our appliances), and all of the hardware (We had purchased new hardware for our existing kitchen already, but soon discovered that our modern style pulls with the old-fashioned cabinet doors just looked wrong. Besides, the number of cabinet pulls we needed to complete the new kitchen was different than what we had originally tallied. So now we can use the pulls we already purchased for the bathrooms and closets in the rest of the house. It was another expense we weren’t really anticipating, but I think it will be worth it in the end. And now we have a few extra pulls for some other projects around the house. Like a desk I want to repaint and update.).  With the wonderful Ikea kitchen sale (it happens annually, right around March and April in the States), we managed to score a 20% discount, bringing the total for our entire kitchen down to $4,200. $4,214.06 to be exact.

NOTE: You can ONLY get the discount if you spend over $5,000 at once in the kitchen section. I bought a corkscrew as well, and that $1.99 was considered part of “Food and Dining” and did not count towards our discount. It wasn’t a big deal because we had plenty of other stuff that did count, but if you plan on doing this at some point, keep those distinctions in mind. It caused a chuckle at check-out, because the girl ringing up our order had to ring up all of the kitchen stuff separately from the rest, and the thing that got flagged in this ENORMOUS shopping list was a two-dollar corkscrew. God forbid we get forty cents off of that!

Being a scant $785.94 away from our “max” just after buying the barebones needed to make a kitchen, Honest Husband and I knew that things were going to get much pricier than what we had initially believed. And that’s a painful truth to come to.

But, like any pain, we winced, got up, stretched, and moved on. We are still very aware of our budget (exactly how much did we go over? That’s for another post!), but I think that we’re wiser now because of it. So, here I’d like to dispel a few Myths and discuss a few lessons that we learned with budgeting our DIY kitchen remodel.

Myth #1: Going Over Budget Means You are Terrible with Money and/or Horrible Irresponsible as a Person in General

You may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you.

Honest Husband is an engineer.

I’m (almost) a PhD in Literature.

We’re smart.

Like, for real.

I have a spreadsheet that has all of our expenses for this kitchen listed on it.

We don’t pay our bills late.

We save for retirement and our girls’ colleges.

We have investments.

We pay down debt.

We’re good with money.

But it’s still really, really, really, really embarrassing to admit that we’re over budget. Because we thought we wouldn’t be the ones over budget. Oops.

Everybody thinks that they’ll stick to the budget. That they’ll be the ones who figure it all out ahead of time. That they’re smarter than everybody else. At least, that’s what we thought.

But we’re not smarter than everyone else.

We’re not special, unique little snowflakes.

We’re just clunky ole ice cubes.

Myth #2: “Plan” for “Surprises”

This myth always drives me nuts on a semantic level. Because, seriously. The nature of a surprise is that it is unexpected. It is therefore impossible to “plan” for. Now, having a contingency in place is not a bad idea.  Understanding that your initial estimates will almost always and completely be blown to smithereens at some point?  That’s pretty useful. But it’s a myth that you can “plan” for “surprises.” Because they’re (spoiler alert!) surprising.

Of course, what this common myth is saying is to expect the unexpected. Be on alert. Have some extra money stashed under your mattress in case, say, you discover black mould behind your sink cabinet (we did, by the way. Not enough to panic over, but enough to make us say, “Ewwww!”). But what this kind of thinking conveys to homeowners and DIYers is that we needed to be emotionally “prepared” when bombs that we thought had been diffused end up blowing up all over the place.  It places the emotional burden on us. We needed to have “planned” for the unexpected costs. We should have “expected” these things. Which implies that we have no right to feel mad, or frustrated, or embarrassed, or fed up. Because we should have been prepared.

Take our example.  Though we weren’t planning on putting down flooring just yet, I found some wonderful, beautiful groutable vinyl tile at Home Depot for $1.79 a square foot. It was only available for a limited time, so we decided to pull the trigger. The entire kitchen and laundry room retiled for only $500?? Score! We were such budget masters.

When we finally decided to pull up the old Formica tiles and the vinyl sheet flooring underneath it, we were pleased and relieved to find a solid, dry, somewhat-outdated-but-still-very-useable luan. Huge sigh of relief. All that needed to be done was to scrape off the old adhesive from the original vinyl flooring, pour some leveling compound on it, and place our new vinyl stick flooring down. A few hours of gruesome, hard work, and we’d be set! Cheap floors that looked like ceramic, but without the coldness of real tile, and with a more forgiving bounce and flex.

Two hours into scraping off the old glue (a horrible job. My hands were sore for days after!), I decided that I needed some “inspiration.” I went into the garage, grabbed a few of the new tiles, and set them on the underlayment to see what the results of all of this hard work would look like. Ahh, new floor!

Wait. What?

Why is there that huge lip between the oak hallway and the kitchen? A full half inch. Doesn’t sound like much in theory, but it’s a mountain in flooring terms. (As little as a quarter inch of difference from one section to the next is enough to make people trip regularly, especially in houses where we all naturally anticipate even, level flooring)

Honest Husband stood in disbelief, the putty knife still in his hand, “We pulled up two layers of flooring. The entire kitchen is a quarter inch too low. The entire kitchen is sunk down now.”

In situations like this, I turn into a character that I like to call The Constant Questioner: “What? No way. Do you think it’s noticeable? Can we just put a transition strip across? Do you think we’d get used to it? Maybe we’d get used to it?  Would people trip on it? I don’t want people to trip on it.”

The elation of the morning. The jokes we had told while getting covered in 25-year-old adhesive dust. The feeling of accomplishment as we scraped and cleaned off entire plywood sheets. It all came crashing down. There was no way to get around it. In order to make it right, in order to make it complete, we needed to add a layer of underlayment.

Luckily, we have access to things like pneumatic tools, so we didn’t have to spend money renting or even buying an air compressor, but at the end of the day, we spent a good $300 that we hadn’t expected just on birch plywood underlayment, 5,000 inch-long staples, and a giant bucket of wood filler.

It ended up being the best decision. Whereas the old underlayment appeared to be in good shape, and was useable, the new underlayment is truly great product. We spent the extra money to get a high end, solid plywood to completely cover the old luan. Because of its stability, even our not-entirely-level kitchen floor (there’s a dip in one corner of the room. You mostly only notice it in the dining room, or, say, when you’re on all fours, trying to chip away old adhesive with a 3” putty knife) now feels solid, doesn’t squeak or bounce, and having this good product underneath our groutable vinyl tiles ensures that the grout will remain solid and won’t crack with age and use. And it brought the kitchen floor up level with the rest of the flooring in the house.

But even with the clarity and calmness of hindsight, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a terrible afternoon in the Honest house. It sounds weird to say this, but we needed to progress through the stages of grief when we encountered this surprise. Denial, anger, depression, bargaining. We went through it all. Fully and completely. We were caught off guard and felt helpless. Our great, money-saving ideas were destroyed. Again. It was terrible.

But, we kept working, and we reached Acceptance. Even, dare I say, Joy.  It cost more money, but it was done correctly. It was going to be all the better for the bomb.

Though we knew that things were going to cost more than we had initially believed, once the surprise hits you, there’s no “planning” for it. So instead of trying to “plan” (and drive yourself crazy thinking of every possible worst case scenario), try to allow yourself to feel that disappointment. Go through your grief. This is your home. Your work. Your sweat. The thing that you do to make your family smile. You’re emotionally invested, and you deserve to take the time to have a meltdown, or freak out. Walk away for awhile (Honest Husband and I took a long lunch break and watched old sitcoms on Netflix for an hour or two). But, once that’s done, keep working and move on. It’s only money.

Myth #3: It’s Only Money

Money’s important. Money’s life-changing. Money’s not everything, but it’s a lot of things. Again, don’t feel shallow if you happen to have a healthy dose of anger, fear, or sadness as you see your budget fly out the window. When people shrug, “Hey, it’s only money,” they are speaking from a place of privilege that not everyone enjoys.

(And, remember, what they’re really saying is, “Hey, it’s only your money.”)

Myth #4: Look for Deals!

Yes, look for deals on some things.  But think very carefully about what can and cannot be made more cheaply.

For us, we decided to save money on the cabinet boxes, choosing less visually appealing and cheaper melamine boxes, as well as cabinet doors and cover panels made with a combination of solid woods and veneers.  We could have spent money on solid wood cabinet boxes, but it seemed like an unnecessary expense for us. You really only see the interior of the cabinets when you open it up, and how often are you standing there, examining the cabinet box as opposed to what’s inside of it? We also saved on the countertop and the flooring. The countertop is going to be laminate, and the floors vinyl. We decided to use these less expensive options for several reasons. Firstly, if you have attitude about these products, you really need to check out what’s available right now. Advancements in the technology to make and design these products have been taking off. It’s not your grandmother’s vinyl kitchen floor! Our goal is that both the countertop and the flooring will be virtually indistinguishable from solid-surface products until people actually walk up and touch them. My cousin recently remodeled her kitchen, and she put in groutable vinyl tiles throughout her kitchen, breakfast nook, and entryway. It wasn’t until the third day staying at her house that I realized the floor wasn’t travertine. And I had to be told.  These things look amazing now.

Secondly, the budget was a major consideration. Do I want a lovely, interesting granite with heavy figuring and bold colors? Of course! Do I want to spent $100 a square foot to get it? Not unless it comes with a happy ending! We’ll have about $500 in countertops, and around $1,000 in floors all told.

Thirdly, durability. I drop stuff. All the time. And I spill red wine. Basically any time I open a bottle (and I like to open bottles). And my daughters like to bang pots on the floor. And I let them. And life’s too short to spend it worrying about scratching my four thousand dollar counters.

One place where we didn’t try to be frugal? The kitchen faucet. In our last house, we bought a cheaper faucet (right around $100—you can barely find a kitchen faucet for less anymore), and I hated it. This is a piece of equipment that I use constantly. I needed consistency in flow. I wanted metal valves, not plastic. I wanted solid feeling buttons when I changed the spray settings. I wanted it to look nice. I wanted it to operate organically (those faucets with the on-off pulls on the side instead of the top? They never feel natural to me. Pull down for on? Forward for hot? Or cold? Or which? They’re also just another example of the tyranny of right-handedness in America today. Almost all of them are designed to be installed so the handle is on the right side of the faucet. Fascist. I was determined to find a faucet that turned on from a lever on the top. No exceptions). Just today I ordered a new kitchen faucet. I spent almost $300, but I’m confident in the brand. It’s made in America. It has a lifetime warranty. I love it. I loved it the second I saw it. I wanted something nice, and, dag-nabbit, I went for it!

Figuring out where you need and want to spend some extra money is just as important to budgeting as figuring out where and how to save.

Myth #5: Go for Classics

Honest Husband is like a fine hardwood floor: he needs a little time to adapt (which is why I needed to spend so long convincing him that Ikea was the way to go).  I’m like a giant block of granite: hard, decisive, and not necessarily for everyone. We’re a really good design combo.

He’s the rock, and I’m the kite. He keeps me from disappearing into dark sky, and I yank him up from the ground.

So he reels me back in when I get too extreme with my design ideas. And I get him to take chances.

And we both have concluded that the ultimate test of whether or not something is going to be permitted to bust our budget is love. Do we love it? Does it make us smile? Does it make us happy? Do we think about it, even after we walk away? Then we’re doing it.

Who cares if, in twenty years, our kitchen is going to look “so 2014”?

We are designing for nobody’s happiness but our own. For nobody’s aesthetic but our own.

Do people question our choices? Constantly. <<Check out this link. It’s a GIF of the light that we bought for our breakfast nook. We LOVE this light! Is it “timeless”? Hells no! Is it all kinds of awesome? Hell yeah!

Do people warn us about “getting tired” of things? Sometimes.

But do we love it? Oh yeah.

Budget. Busted.