Well that escalated quickly

Before I start cooking a meal, I like to have the kitchen cleaned – at a minimum to have the counters around the stove cleared off and dishes either washed or soaking.  It’s nice to have the space to make a mess when needed, but also makes it easier to wash dishes as you go if you are only washing things you just used.  I’ll admit, clean-kitchen-Emily is the utopian version of myself, but it does happen occasionally and is a nice thing to strive for.  That same Emily decided that before building furniture for the patio and starting on it’s redesign, it would also be nice to clean the garage first.

Before Brien starts cooking a meal, he likes to start two more projects – the knives must be sharpened, let’s feed the bread starter, ooh the herbs need to be dried, but no need to wash the bowls – this is why we have 100 mixing bowls! (I may exaggerate).  Following that methodology in our attempt to clean the garage, we started two more projects.  Admittedly, they are things that will help with long term garage storage, especially for scrap wood, but we aren’t good at one thing at a time.  So after we had purchased plywood for a rolling cart, and while the under-bench crate storage was waiting to be glued together, we started on my number one priority project- removing the existing, not very functional cabinets above the washer and dryer to put in rubbermaid shelving.

While I know it doesn’t seem like it should be an important project (we already had storage up there), it just wasn’t working for us.  A: we didn’t like the looks of it.  Petty, I know, but it had these flimsy yellow doors were that never my thing.  B: we never knew what we had in there, because in a quick sweep of the garage we wouldn’t see the container of weed-b-gone and would buy another on our next home improvement run.  C: the shelves weren’t tall enough to fit things easily and the paint, household cleaners, bug spray, and gardening supplies just got scattered about the garage.  Open shelving would fix problem B, getting adjustable shelves (as opposed to building them ourselves) would fix problem C even as we changed what was stored there, and they don’t sell rubbermaid shelves in yellow.

First things first though, we had to take down the existing cabinet.  This is where things escalated…

The whole unit was built in place and nailed to itself and the studs behind it.  So instead of just unscrewing some supports and lifting it down, we had to take a mallet to it and get things down piece by piece.  During that process, we discovered that the cabinet was covering some holes in the drywall.  We also got a lesson in Newtonian physics: when you hit one part of a cabinet with a mallet, it exerts a force on the wall it is supported by (equal and opposite,don’t ya know).  When there aren’t any studs in that section of wall, you end up cracking your drywall…

And then we opened up the junction box behind the cabinet (since the cover was coming down with the drywall) and found a complete rats nest of wires.  They were capped, true, but it just did not look like it was up to code.

So this is where we quit with the project.  The demolition debris at least got taken to the city drop-off center, but those wires are both beyond our ability and make us a little nervous.  The electrician is coming for an estimate this week, and as a silver lining for Brien, while he is here we may put in more dedicated circuits in the garage to power the equipment we have.  As a silver lining for me, at least we hadn’t started on the patio yet 😛


6 months ago…

Six months ago I was convinced that a blog would be a fun idea and something that I would keep up with.  Six months ago I was also saving up money and planning out when we could build a deck.  It was the dream project- something we would enjoy, would have fun building and be proud of in the end, and would add value to our house.  The blog dropped off quickly, and while I am hoping for a comeback (although I make no promises) it looks like the deck project is on it’s way out.

It turns out that building a deck, and making it to code by pulling the permits for the project, is a lot harder than we thought it would be.  Add in some expected travel and house-guests (both types- the helpful ones and the touristy ones) along with some unexpectedly time intensive work, and it wasn’t looking like it would be done before the summer hit and temperatures rose.  With all the stress in figuring it out, the deck planning wasn’t even fun anymore.  So that is when I had my epiphany:

  • We would really enjoy just having outdoor furniture on our current patio!
  • We would have fun building furniture! And improving the pergola above said patio with nicer wood in better condition while cladding the existing support posts! We could show it off to friends and coworkers and be proud of the work we did!
  • It will be hard to add value to our house until we fix those stupid cracks!

And with that thought, we decided not to build a deck right now.  None of our plans will preclude us from building a deck in the future (except for the cycle of saving up money, then spending it on the next project), and in less time and while having more fun, we will end up with a pretty nice (albeit small) outdoor space.  We hope to build a trestle table, benches, and some Adirondack chairs.  We want to replace the almost-rotting wood of the existing pergola with cedar. We might expand the patio and create a fire zone with crushed granite, flagstone pavers, or (gasp) more concrete.  We will probably either paint, stain, or tile over the concrete we have.  On a rainy day, we may even fix the cracks inside the house.  With no deadlines, no permits, and the dreaming/scheming phase ahead, it’s starting to feel fun again.

I plan to keep posting about our aspirations, designs, progress, and (hopefully) relaxing and complete patio.  Although honestly, we all know how planning can go.

More Cures?

Yup, it is another month, and time for another cure.  This time: the kitchen courtesy of The Kitchn.

Our kitchen is the reason we bought our house in the first place.  Fun fact: it was the first house we looked at, not in the neighborhood we wanted, but we fell hard for the kitchen.  So much counterspace! So many cabinets! By the third house during our hunt, our realtor declared “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are just looking for a kitchen with a house attached to it.”  He was so right, and when we went back to look at the first house one-more-time, we took pictures to share with the families.  Because we knew that was our future kitchen.

Brien and I love to cook, bake, brew, eat, and entertain, and the kitchen always at its cleanest just before a new food-project is about to begin. Then with a whirlwind of flour, the counters are suddenly full of pots, pans, bottles, and mess which continues to shift until “hmm, let’s make bread and chicken stock from scratch and brew beer this weekend!” We (okay, maybe just me) also like to shift the kitchen utensils around periodically as we find the perfect spot for everything, and the spice cabinet is in constant disarray.

Some blog-guided-and-motivated kitchen cleaning will certainly do our kitchen good, and as with the bedroom, will hopefully help keep it clean.  Style wise, there are improvements that we would maybe like to make to the kitchen down the road, but those are mostly a matter of like-it-but-don’t-love-it.  A few cracks to patch (because of course), some fresh caulk, and a whole lot of scrubbing seems to be what we are in for over the next 10 days.  And at the end, I’m predicting (hoping) we can have both the fresh baked bread and a clean space on the counter to put it.

The Bad Luck Project

When we bought our house, we were bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to tackle everything – all at once.  About two weeks later, we realized that we both were working overtime at work, Brien was still in school, and the very-generously-given wedding gift cards were only going to get us so far.  In an attempt to have fun with a project and save some cash, we decided to buy plain mirrors and frame them out for the bathroom.  A wood frame base with tumbled marble applied to it- sounds great, right?  At the first of many 9 pm trips to Lowe’s/Home Depot, we picked up the supplies (wood, tiles, mirrors, liquid nails, brackets), wheeled them out to the car, and proceeded to break one of the mirrors.  And thus began the bad luck project.

We built the frame, then ran out of materials.  Plus it wasn’t even that square, since it was all bracketed together.  The plan was to glue some thin strips of wood to the frame to act as spacers, and then glue the tiles on top of those frames.  Another trip to Lowe’s got us a new mirror, but by this point in the project we were feeling a little burnt out on home improvement (courtesy of the foundation) and when Brien left on a long-term business trip for 2.5 months, the mirrors got shoved into the back corner of the garage permanently.

Fast forward about a year, and we acquired a table saw that had belonged to both of my grandfathers before being passed down (and driven cross-country) to us.  The garage shop was born, and our woodworking ability increased tremendously! New and improved projects could be done!

These projects did not include finishing the mirrors.

We then began to doubt our original mirror design, and the frames currently bracketed together in the garage.  Would two layers of glue around a strip of wood really hold up the tiles?  Wouldn’t that new dado blade purchased for something-or-another be perfect for making grooves in that the mirror could rest in?  We’ve put it off for so long, wouldn’t now be a great time to start over?

So we did.  Pulled apart the half-built frames and went back to Lowe’s for more lumber, with our new plans (very well measured) drawn up on the back of the receipt. The gist would be that most of the mirror would be held together with glued lap joints, and we would notch out a dado channel 1/4″ wide for our 1/8″ thick mirror to sit in, with a cushion of weatherstripping on the back.   This is where things really started going wrong:

  • Brien got carried away with his notching, and accidentally cut four identical side pieces instead of the two matched sets.  Oh well, just more patching to do, we are good at that.
  • While the nominal wood size was the same width as the tiles, the actual width was thin.  Thus we would have a bit of an overhang with the tiles.  My OCD is not pleased.
  • Oh, and we had calculated all of the tile amounts and spacing for a frame that would sit completely outside the mirror.  Take off 1/4 inch around for the mirror, and now we had a lot of tile trimming to do.  And mitering the edges of the tiles.  Good thing we bought that dremel tool.
  • Cutting marble tile with a dremel tool is a huge pain in the butt.  Good thing all of the tile is rough edged anyhow.  My OCD is relieved.
  • Liquid nails is not meant for marble.  We know this because after we finally glued down all the tiles, we picked up the mirror frame only to have one come crashing down onto the garage floor and shattering.  The mirror was then set down very carefully and the rest of the tile just popped off by hand.  Eek.  Luckily we had spare tiles  (thanks to the previous measuring mistake, I guess it was useful for something).
  • Glue round two worked much better, but had to be done inside for temperature reasons, and dang it stank.  In our hurry, we made a small mistake in gluing tiles down.  But the marble glue really stuck, so the mistake has been covered from my OCD with a houseplant.
  • About now is when we realized that we had bought two different types of mirrors.  The originals were both beveled edges, but we picked up a polished edge mirror as the replacement.  Beveled edges are 1/8″ thick.  Polished edges are 1/4″ thick…
  • We decided to go buy another polished edge mirror (having forgotten the previous design thought that the channels were sized for 1/8″ thick mirror).  This worked out just as poorly as you might think.

And so in the end, the mirror frames were practically broken open to be able to “persuasion fit” (a la this comic) the mirrors into place.  We stupidly decided to finish the mirrors the night before traveling when we should have been packing, but I’m pretty sure Brien made the right call there.  Because instead of getting home to a pile in the garage waiting to be finished in a month or so, we were greeted with this:

They are giant.  They are beautiful.  And most importantly, they are done.

Patching Up: how we fixed our settling cracks

As I alluded to in my last post, we have a lot of settling cracks in our house. They can be attributed to the age of the house/foundation (built in 1949), life with pier-and-beam foundations in general, a record drought the summer after the new drywall was installed, some skimping on the part of the sellers, and not fixing them the best way when we first tried.

After getting the foundation re-shimmed, I took it upon myself to over-research (OCD engineer style) the absolute best way to get rid of the ridiculous cracks in our walls. The two best resources I found via the internet was this website, which describes how drywall should be taped and mudded when you are installing it new, and this series from DIY network describing different types of cracks. And in case you wanted to know (and even if you don’t), here’s what we did to fix the cracks in the closet.

Know your problems
From lots of photo comparisons, I broke our house down to three types of cracks: corner cracks, wall cracks, and way too much plaster cracks. The corner cracks were most likely caused from the drywall being improperly installed and mudded, since the paper tape they used de-laminated from half of the corner, and I chose to just scrape everything down in the vicinity of the corner to start from scratch as if the drywall was just installed (a la tutorial 1). The wall cracks were likely from settling cracks in the drywall, and should be solved a la tutorial 2. The way too much plaster cracks look terrifying, but I think are just improperly installed cracks with way too much mud covering the rest of the wall and will just require a larger area of demo as the corner cracks, but with the same fixing technique. Luckily there aren’t any of these in the closet, so we can ignore them for now. Apologies to our future guests, who have to stare at the giant one in the back bedroom.

Gather your supplies
For Demo: little putty knife, utility knife, broom and dustpan, drywall sanding blocks

Honestly, it is amazing that I have yet to break any of those tools

For Taping: At least a 6″ and 12″ putty knife (a 10″ knife would be helpful too), setting joint compound (hot mud), pre-mixed all purpose joint compound, drywall tray, mesh tape.

Joint compound not shown because that bag is heavy and I didn’t want to drag it into the bedroom

The info we read up on says that the mesh tape is better than the paper tape because it has a little more strength too it, a little more give, and acts more like a matrix holding the joint compound to the wall instead of the joint compound sitting on either side of the layer.  Think of it like rebar, and the joint compound is like the cement mix being poured around it, or for the dorky engineers out there, like a fiberglass composite.  The other thing which pushed us to use mesh tape is that the guys before us had used paper tape, and it was practically peeling off the walls.

The biggest difference between the hot mud and the joint compound is the hot mud sets, or cures and hardens through a chemical process, and the all-purpose joint compound dries, or cures and hardens through evaporation.  The hot mud can be sanded and have a second layer applied much sooner (ours is a 15 minute cure time vs 24 hours with the premixed stuff), but most places said the joint compound has a better finish and is easier to sand.  We have not had good luck working with the joint compound, since it seems to dry into un-workability much faster than Brien could smooth it out, and we were in a bit of a time crunch to get the closet painted before the start of the work week.  SO we just went with the setting type for everything in the closet.  And if it looks bad once painted: we won’t do it again on the walls that anyone else will see.

Prep the Area
This is the really hard work that got me down last weekend.  If you wish you had traded your task with your husband, who is out in the Texas summer mowing the yard, it’s not a good sign.  The first step is to cut into the wall around the crack with a utility knife, to see what type of damage is there. Then, scrape back all the previous layers of joint compound and paper tape down to the drywall (more or less) in an area large enough to lay a new layer of tape down.  I used the utility knife to mark out the boundaries of the destruction zone, and then chipped, scraped, and peeled away at everything, slowly and frustratingly.  There were areas where I accidentally dinged the drywall paper in this, but since we would be taping over it I didn’t stress about that.  Also because the process was painfully slow: imagine all of the horror stories you have ever heard about taking of wallpaper, and then make the wallpaper hard and dusty.  That was what I spent my afternoon doing.  Finally, sand down the wall so it is nice and smooth, then vacuum things up. And after all that hard work, here’s what the cracks should look like (pardon the poor white balance).


      Fix The Walls
It is really hard to take pictures in a closet that gets zero natural light while trying not to bump into the person with the tray of hot mud, so we don’t have a lot of process shots here.  Also, I don’t know if we did things the best way – we just worked and did what seemed best at the time. Like using our fingers to smooth things in at one point in time, and constantly switching between different knives.  Essentially, the process to fixing the walls was as follows:

  1. Mix up the hot mud.  The box said the consistency should be like cake batter, but we made ours a little runnier to give us a little more working time and allow it to spread more thinly.  Somewhere in between cake batter and pancake batter.
  2. Put a layer of hot mud on the wall over the cracked area, smooth it out.
  3. Place the mesh tape over the crack and seat it in the hot mud.  This is difficult, and where we used a combination of tools to get things to work.  Mostly, it came down to using our fingers to get the tape stuck to the wall, the 6″ putty knife to make sure it was seated in there and pushed into the corner, and the corner knife to smooth things out, followed by another smoothing coat of the 6″ putty knife.
    For us, working in 8 ft. sections of wall was the best balance between mixing up larger batches without running out of time before it began to set.
  4. Wait for the compound to set.  The best way to tell if it’s ready is it will turn from grey to white.  We waited extra long (4 hours) since we were running other errands, but it looked mostly white after 1 hour.
  5. Place another layer of joint compound (or hot mud like us) on top of the first.  Start using the larger putty knives to feather it out as you are smoothing.  Wait to set again.
  6. Sand the wall down so there isn’t any visible pitting or ridges in the plaster, but don’t sand so far that you can clearly see the texture of the mesh tape.  Protip: using a wet sanding block with knock down the amount of dust in the air.  This is helpful if you want to be able to breathe.
  7. Repeat step 5, and then step 6 again.  Maybe an extra time if you think it could be smoother and look better with the rest of the wall.  You want everything to be as even with the surrounding drywall as possible, so it won’t show the seam.
  8. Prime those spots, and you are ready to paint the whole wall!

Although originally I wanted to do all of the wall mending here, Brien took over since he has the experience and it worked out well for us. I would hand him whatever tape or tool he needed next, and he was much better at smoothing the joint compound out.  While I warned him that this meant I would not be working on the other parts of the house since he was taking my practice cracks, the current system of me demoing and him fixing is going well enough that I think we can make it through the whole house this way.

Working in the cramped closet is not without its frustrations, but after doing a section of wall we talk through what we think would work better the next time, what worked best in that section, and what area we want to hit next.  Then I do a final prep (no loose dust, taping off the molding, gathering supplies again) while Brien mixes the next batch of compound.

But in the end, we haven’t killed each other, we have learned a lot about the process, and (most importantly) there is one room in our house that is crack-free! And that is a huge relief.

Lots of Work, Little Progress

As a little background story, when we fell in love with our house, we knew we were buying a house with settling cracks. You could see them, but we didn’t think they would be that hard to patch. What we didn’t know was that we were buying a house with some real foundation problems that needed more than the band-aid the house flippers had given it…

Two re-shims, four new piers, and probably 200 ft. of soaker hose later, we have a house that is mostly level with doors that can consistently be opened and closed, although they still stick a bit. We also have tons of cracks in the walls from the process, and our motivation to fix them had nearly petered out until I took up the style cure, the blog, and a “no time like the present, even in little pieces” attitude.

So far, the style cure has been moving along well, and I even felt a little bit ahead of the game. However, this weekend was one of those weekends, where I put a lot of hard work into the closet but have very little to show for it, and it kind of got me down on the whole thing. I didn’t get ahead painting like my sister, didn’t make it to the container store, and didn’t fix any of the many settling cracks in the closet. But a lot of hard work went into the prep work, so I’m going to focus on what did get accomplished.

1 – I have two sections of cracks ready to get plaster applied to them! The short stretch on a flat wall and small corner section under the closet shelf will make great trial areas for the floor to ceiling cracks I have coming up.

2 – It could have been worse! The prep work consisted of scraping every last bit of paper tape off the wall, and sanding off the previous joint compound until it was all smooth. While half of the crack was like getting all the paper wrapper off warm caramel candies (you know, where you end up eating paper because you can’t taste it anyways and it’s just not worth it), at least the other side had totally delaminated from the wall and came off in a couple of tugs!

3 – My wrists don’t hurt today, even after all that hard work scraping and sanding! This is a big deal for me – Mum can tell you roughly why here.

4 – There hasn’t been any clothing or jewelry left scattered about the room this past week! Yup, my confession and cleaning out my closet shelves have really helped motivate me to keep the clutter down.

5 – Trying to document things for the blog has meant having my camera out and about the house, which leads to cute pictures of my dog! And on that note, I will leave you with this.


Style Cure: Planning and Cleaning

Most of this past week in the Style Cure has been pretty boring, involving cleaning, planning, and more cleaning.  It really does no good to have a stylish room if it isn’t clean, so I spent a better portion of the weekend dusting, sorting, and vacuuming.  Part of cleaning is also getting rid of stuff, so I said goodbye to quite a bit of old costume jewelry from the high school dance era.  It was (weirdly) fun going through all of those things, although the highlight of it was finding an earring which had been lost for the past 2.5 years.  Makes me glad I hoarded the other one!

I also made this lovely floorplan to show roughly the layout of our room, and our color choices! The bedroom is already painted Frosty by Valspar, and for the closet we decided to go one shade darker/more saturated and paint it Valspar’s Sea Wave.  So although it seems subtle in the pic below, since the closet gets no natural light I’m hoping it will come across as maybe a little darker.


Side Note: Ellen helped us in picking out paint colors and painting when we first moved in, and she was constantly telling me I picked the wrong color for the bedroom. Worst paint-color-picker-helper ever.


As far as planning goes, a trip to the container store is definitely in our future.  I’d like to tackle my closet shelves once and for all, which means better box systems to put everything in.  I love the look of these pretty grey boxes, but the linen drop-front boxes may be more practical and are definitely more Brien’s style.  I’d also like to create a jewelry holder like some of the ones I have obsessively pinned on pinterest – I’m leaning between a combo of this one for dangly earrings, this guy for necklaces, and maybe a small bowl to catch my stud earrings.  I don’t need a lot of storage because I am happy with my jewelry box for the rarely worn pieces, but I want a better way to not tangle the 5-10 pieces I wear most often.

So with the closet cleaned out, I’ll be spending the rest of my week prepping the walls for painting, including fixing some cracks in there.  I’m also gonna spend more time deep-cleaning the bedroom itself by trying to get a stain out of a rug and repairing our duvet/cover.  Yes, both problems can be attributed to a certain guilty party…


(This is the only time I have been able to catch the guilty dog look on camera)

But with that cute face, I think I may have to forgive him.

I lost the first draft of this. It was much better.

So I have some before and almost immediately after photos of my bedroom. The purchase of new furniture as mentioned previously was the reason I chose to update my bedroom. It’s also smaller and more manageable compared to the combo living/dining/study room.

I had much more to say earlier but my draft vanished as I was using an old out of date version of chrome. Anyway here are the pictures.

Before: Notice the tons of closet space (be jealous Em), natural light from a south facing window, and the curtains it took me a year to purchase and install. The dresser and bed are left over from college. Everything else from before that.

closets and junk

closets and junk and space

old dresser and closet

old dresser and closet sorted by color




pile of junk

ye old pile of junk

So last weekend I purchased a headboard and two dressers so now my bedroom looks more like this:

dressing area

new stuff yay!

new dressers

yes i need to fix that bottom drawer

i've been searching for one for forever

the headboard is the biggest accomplishment. I’ve been looking for one for ages.

So this weekends projects include picking up a quart of paint for an accent wall, cleaning all the things, fixing the dresser, and eating tons of fruits and vegetables (more on that later)

Any suggestions on bedding or accent colors is much appreciated. Cheers!