Thursday, May 31, 2018

Living Room Bookshelf and Entertainment Center

My wife collects cookbooks and until now, we didn't have a place to put them where they could be accessed quickly. One of the living rooms walls adjacent to the kitchen wasn't doing too much so we decided to put up some shelves to accommodate said books. This is what we built.

There are about a billion different ways you can install shelves so we sat down and put together a list of must haves. In addition to book storage, we wanted a wine rack, decorative lighting, space for a monitor, cabinets for kitchen overflow, and a coffee bar. Oh, and it has to look built in. I think we checked all those boxes.

I was really happy that I got to re-purposed some old kitchen cabinets. A couple of the doors were missing but I wanted to follow the kitchen aesthetic and go with Shaker style doors anyway so no big loss there. Screwing, Sanding, spackling, sanding, priming, sanding, painting...ugh!

The shelves had to be custom built since I couldn't find something off the shelf to suit my needs. This is about the extent of my finish carpentry skills. Measure two times, think about cutting the wood, then measure one more time.

The built in look was accomplished by propping up the base cabinets on a frame of 2x4's so the baseboards could run around the unit. I also tied the shelves into the ceiling with crown molding. I stained a piece of furniture grade plywood for the countertop and added new hardware to the doors to finish things off.

We love our mini cookbook library.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

DIY Kitchen Overhaul

Kitchen Renovation Before and After

Technically I rehabbed the oak flooring before I tackled the kitchen but this post is coming first because ya gotta start with the good stuff. Yikes, thinking about what to write and staring at the picture above is starting to make my back ache.  I'm going to take a quick break and eat some ice cream.

This is the original kitchen. I considered rehabbing the cabinets with new doors and a fresh coat of paint but structurally most of them were too far gone to save. I was able to recycle a few of the uppers in another project though. That was mostly enough to satisfy my desire for reuse. I quickly discovered, and would have to accept, that many of the features in this house did not stand up successfully against the rigor of time and the elements. Want another "after" picture?

This is the view from the dining area. knocking down most of the longer wall and widening the main entry way really opened up the space. And now you can see out the front window from the kitchen.  I kept the walls to delineate the kitchen area but added arches to soften the transitions. They were a bear to construct but by far my favorite part of the kitchen.

After relieving the exterior walls of their tile, it was apparent that they were in really bad shape. I came to the painful realization that I needed to tear this thing down to studs to learn what I was really working with. Everything needed to be fixed... electrical, plumbing, HVAC, insulation, and a little framing.

I really hate drywall. I know hate is a strong word and I try to avoid using it but I really hate drywall. Sheetrock, drywall, Satan's wall board... it doesn't matter what you call it, I hate working with it. Cutting, mudding, sanding, priming, just not something I enjoy. However, I can do it and DIYing it saves a bunch of money so I reluctantly dive in every time. 

RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets have been on my radar for a while. They are all over the renovation tv shows I frequent. We went with the Cognac Shaker style from Whomever came up with the term "sweat equity" was probably putting together their cabinets at the time. There was definitely a learning curve but by the time I got to the last cabinet, I was almost good at it. It was hard work but worth it, we saved a thousands over going with a contractor and buying prefab cabinets of similar quality. I'd do it again.

We splurged a little on the appliances. The GE Cafe slide-in double gas oven really drove the selections here. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.  We got the matching fridge but deviated with a Kitchenaid dishwasher. Reviews...yaknow. I wasn't going to fool around with counter tops. The professionals came in to handle this job. We happened upon a sale and got a high grade slab of granite for about half the cost of our original choice of engineered quartz. We liked the idea of quartz but loved the look of our granite and the thousands we saved.

We installed an Armstrong Alterna product called Light Gray Mesa Stone for our flooring. This provided an interesting alternative over stone, ceramic, or porcelain. Forget what you know about vinyl tiles. This stuff is legit. It costs a little more than the typical stuff but well worth it for the ease of installation and durability. I've seen too many cracked tiles in these older houses with insufficient subfloors. Not a problem with Alterna. And given the applied height is only about 3/8", it sat flush with the hardwood which still makes me happy.

We put in a lot of fun little touches along the way. Wainscoting under the breakfast bar, pendant lighting, under-cabinet lighting, over-cabinet lighting, under-counter microwave, slide out refuse bins, oversized sink, range hood... I'm probably missing something. Point is, this kitchen renovation was a ton of work but we made it ours. There were some misshaps along the way and some some wounds, both physical and emotional, that will need healing but the effort was well worth it in our opinion.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Complete Home Rehab

So I haven't posted on this blog for four years... I've been busy. My wife and I had a little boy, then we bought a house, then we renovated the house ourselves, then we had another little boy. I'm going to clarify that part in the middle. Did I mention that we fixed up the house? We fixed the whole house. That wasn't all together unexpected since we did buy a project house but the full scale didn't reveal itself until we started to dig in a little. This is going to be a long story, a very long story that will likely take many blogs posts to tell. Let's begin.

I love doing home renovation projects so when it came time to buy a home, purchasing a house in need of some work was definitely an option in my mind. Convincing my wife was easier than expected. Bless her heart. One of my wife's best and worst traits is her willingness to participant in some of my "brilliant" ideas. I love her for it, but she really needs to rein me in more often. In hindsight, this was one of those times ;) Here's a secret. Most "affordable" homes need some work. The more affordable, the more work. We chose to live in Northern Virginia which means the housing prices are pretty high. I've had many a conversation that included the phrase "man, housing prices are getting crazy". Yeah, they're high.

We purchased the house for quite the discount below what comparable houses in the neighborhood were going for. The budget was pretty simple. Spend less than the difference. The goal was to not be under water when this whole thing was done. I think we did a pretty good job keeping costs reasonable when we could, however there's no getting around material expenses. We splurged on professional help a few times but we made sure it was all carefully planned out.

This house took well be being fixed and renovated. Each living space can be accessed from below and above. This made plumbing, HVAC, and electrical a relative breeze. There are also no load bearing walls within the structure. It's beam and joist on the lower levels and trusses support the roof. I knew I wanted to knock out a few walls right away and it was nice to know our design vision wouldn't be constrained.  Not everything went smoothly though. In fact, most things didn't. Every wall hides a secret and every job has a little demon waiting to escape. I found them all!

Our house has red oak floors in all of the above grade living areas. They would all need to be refinished. This is where we started. Buckle up.

NOTE: There will be plenty of before and after picture in subsequent posts.