Thursday, December 22, 2011

From Contractor Grade to Custom Made

When searching for our new house in 2010, I knew I wanted a great kitchen.  

Layout, lighting, storage and counter space were very important, but most of all, I wanted my new kitchen to be pretty! 

After touring dozens of homes, it became clear the kitchen in my head was not in a house my wallet could afford.  

The house we chose was perfect for us, and our budget, but the kitchen was straight off a spec sheet.  With that said, the bones were there, and I knew I could make it something special.  

Here's what we had to work with:

The countertops were a black granite formica and the backsplash a neutral ceramic tile. In my Dad's opinion, it was a fine kitchen.  However, I had watched too much HGTV to be satisfied.  

So about a year later, we jumped in.  We got three quotes from natural stone installers, even though my Dad thought we should have done the work ourselves.  

After two hours in the granite warehouse, we selected a New Venetian Gold slab and started the demo.  We removed the existing formica countertops, sink and faucet and sold them on Craig's List for $200 to newlyweds with their own remodel.  

We also decided to remove the existing backsplash and pick tile that better complemented the new granite.  

Let me just add that tile does not come off easily!  We ended up cutting the sheetrock out as you can see below.  While I was hesitant to go this route, it allowed us to wire for under-cabinet lighting.  I should clarify that we brought in a professional electrician for the job, who happens to be a good friend with a great rate!     

The countertops went in quickly, and we were thrilled with our choice.  {I'll get to the amazing sink in a second.} 


After the wiring for the lights was complete, my helper got to work replacing the sheetrock:    

It took us months to find the perfect tile for the new backsplash, but we finally decided on three types of polished marble and travertine for the following design:

{Jeffrey Court 3x6 Durango, Jeffrey Court 12x3/4 Walnut Travertine Dome, Jeffrey Court Latte Sticks}

When ordering tile, measure the length and width of your space and multiply the two to get the square footage.  I had about 28 square feet but ordered a little extra to allow for errors.  

The thin strips of tile above came in 12x12 sheets, but I cut the backing to allow for two, six-inch sections.   

My supply list included:
  • Wet saw (Available for rent from Lowe's and Home Depot for about $40 a day)
  • Dremel tool with diamond blade for small cuts
  • 1 tub thinset (I used MAPEI Type 1 Tile Adhesive from Home Depot)
  • Notched trowel for applying thinset
  • Level and tape measure 
  • Rubber tile spacers
  • 1 small bag non-sanded grout
  • Large sponge
  • Tile float
  • Bucket
I started tiling in the most visible section and worked my way to the corner.  I also gave some thought to whether my tile should be flush with the cabinets or the countertop and decided on the cabinets.  

I learned from reading other blogs and online resources that the tile should not rest on the countertop or butt against the cabinets.  Using silicon caulk as a barrier avoids crakes caused by normal settling.

So after making decisions about placement, I got started with the thinset.  As you can see below, I applied a section with the flat side of the trowel and went back over with the notched side.  It's important to not apply too much thinset.  If you do, it will ooze out as you press the tiles in place, and you'll just have to scrape it up.     

{My notched trowel is visible here.}

You can see in the photo above how I used spacers to keep the first row of tiles off the countertop and to leave space in between the tiles for grout.  It's also very important to use the level across the tops of the tiles and on the face.  You want them flush in both places.  Using uneven amounts of thinset will make it difficult to keep them flush on the face.  

I also used a strip of wood to create a level line on the sheetrock behind the stove.  Had I not done this, the tiles would have shifted slightly with gravity before drying.    

{Note the under-cabinet light hanging in the top-left corner of the photo.  We ordered the LED Thirty Puck Light from American Lighting.  They last forever, provide plenty of light and stay cool to the touch.}

I want to share a handy trick from our electrician friend concerning tiling around the outlets.  Instead of cutting the tiles beforehand, we removed the plugs and tiled over the boxes.  The Dremel tool with the diamond blade made it easy to cut them back in and reinstall after the thinset was dry.  Just remember to mark the exact locations with tape!

{Note the tape marking the outlets here.}

Once all the tiles were in place and dried overnight, it was time to grout.  For some reason I didn't take any pictures of this step, but it's not difficult.  It is important to follow the instructions on the bag for mixing to ensure the consistency is right.  Once mixed properly, apply the grout to the tiles, scrape off the excess and use the tile float for even application.  We learned the hard way that un-sanded grout, when left to dry too long, does not come off easily!  Ours dried quickly and was ready to be sponged within about two hours.  Just follow the instructions and use your best judgement.  You'll need to sponge the tiles several times to remove all the residue.

Now, time for the unveil!

After two long days of measuring, cutting and gluing, our new kitchen was complete!  See what you think:

Every Southern Living reader knows the hot ticket right now is a farmhouse sink.  While we didn't go with a traditional ceramic farmhouse with an apron, we opted for the AMAZING stainless steel version!  It was only a slight upgrade from the standard double basin option and is my favorite part of the project.  Children, small dogs and crock pots welcome!   

Another consideration I'll point out is about the faucet.  I hate that gross lime buildup that collects around the base of the faucet and opted for as little opportunity for that as possible with our new faucet.  With only one interruption in the granite, it's easy to keep the area clean.

{Price Pfister Hanover faucet purchased on eBay.  I'll do a separate post on installing a new faucet.}

Well, what do you think?  Did we make good selections?

We LOVE our new kitchen and are so glad we decided to tackle the project.  The neutral colors complement the granite and flow well with the rest of the house.  The under-cabinet lights are handy for prep work and show off the tiles at the same time.  

I can't stress enough how doable this project is for even someone with little do-it-yourself experience. The hardest part was picking the materials!  

Please let me know if you're embarking on a similar project and have any questions about the steps I've discussed.  

Good luck!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's the Mood that Makes the Meal

Any hostess will tell you there's more to the perfect meal than the food.  It's the mood that makes a night memorable.  

I recently hosted Thanksgiving dinner and really enjoyed setting the table with some of my favorite pieces. What do you think:

(West Elm votive with dry oats; Bed Bath & Beyond tablecloth)

(Pier 1 ceramic pumpkin)

(Festive birdie on faux moss from Michael's)

(Four hydrangeas, three large and three small lilies, three evergreen branches and faux curly sticks; Ballard Designs chandelier)

Ok, well homemade pumpkin cheesecake and tiramisu can add a lot to a meal! 

(Southern Living)

(Southern Living)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye to More Than Stains

Hard-working spaces like laundry rooms can quickly become eyesores best solved with closed doors.

That certainly was the case in my house.  

With the laundry room located at the top of the stairs, detergent bottles and towels were visible every time I passed by.

After 12 months of closing the door, I finally decided to tackle the problem. 

I started by removing the existing wire shelving.  Rather than throwing it away, we repurposed the shelving by hanging it in the garage.  

The next step was to purchase new wood cabinets with doors.  I priced several options at home improvement and salvage stores.  I ended up selecting an unfinished, solid wood set at Knox Rail Salvage for a total cost of about $150.

I removed the hardware, lightly sanded the exterior and painted the new cabinets with high-gloss white paint.  It took several coats to cover the wood, and in hindsight, I would suggest buying pre-finished cabinets at Lowe's, even though you'll end up paying a little more.  The process took several hours.

Once the paint was dry and I remounted the doors, it was time to hang the new cabinets.  In true do-it-yourself fashion, we came up with our own way of getting them set in place and level.

Sometimes the best lesson in home improvement is to improvise! It's a miracle, but they actually hang straight!

While it's still a small space with little room to iron, it's no longer an eyesore.  Even laundry rooms can be transformed with a little organization.

I hope you are inspired to tackle a similar situation at your house!   

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Carriage Doors on a Cottage Budget

Everyone knows carriage doors are a hot trend with high-end homes.  But what most people don't realize is standard doors can be upgraded to stable doors in a day, and for less than the cost of a riding lesson.

Carriage doors typically have windows, hinges and handles that resemble stable doors on southern horse plantations.  

The character and curb appeal of carriage doors will set your house apart from others on the street.  And can be achieved for less than $50.  

Home improvement stores, online retailers and eBay all sell lightweight metal handles and hinges, and a quart of black paint can mimic windows.  I ordered mine on eBay and paid about $30 for two sets.  

I have used this trick on two houses now, and neighbors always beg me to convert their doors, too.

Here's what you need to do:
  • Clean your door/s and consider a fresh coat of paint.  
  • Order your carriage door kit and buy a quart of high-gloss, exterior paint in midnight black.
  • Purchase a tube of Liquid Nails and a caulk gun. 
  • You'll also need masking tape, a measuring tape and a small, foam roller with a tray.  
  • Tape the top section of squares across your door/s in a window pane pattern.  See below:

    • If you repainted your entire door before starting, paint overtop of the tape to create a seal.  If not, you'll need to use a clear paint to form the barrier.  This step is necessary to avoid bleeding under the tape.  You'll be disappointed with the final result if you skip this step!
    • Use a small, foam roller to apply the black paint to the top squares.  Paint one coat, let it dry and reapply for best results.   

    Now move on to the hinges and handles and follow these steps:
    • Use your tape to place the hinges and handles.  Make sure you measure and mark the placement.  Once glued, they won't come off!  
    • When you're certain you've got them in the right place, use Liquid Nails to create a permanent bond.  
    • Use more tape to hold them in place until the glue is dry.  

    Want to see the final product?

    Ready to run to the store?  

    I really love the way the addition enhances our house.  I think it actually balances the facade and tones down the bright white door.  

    This trick is so easy and inexpensive and can have a big impact on your home. 

    I hope you're inspired!

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Painting with a Plan

    I have painted my fair share of rooms over the years - some two and three times each.  Paint is one of the best ways to make a change when you are short on change.

    The very first thing we did after closing on our new house last spring was to paint.  But for the first time, I painted with a plan.

    We frequent Charleston, South Carolina, and I bought a colorful print from a local artist on one of our last visits.  I loved the colors so much that I decided to decorate our new house using the print as my inspiration, a little tip I learned from Candice Olson of Divine Design.  Here's my inspiration:

    Jen Bennett,
    I started with a paint color, Wythe Blue from Benjamin Moore.  While my sample was Benjamin Moore, I took the color code to Lowes and was able to have the color duplicated for a lower price.  Little known tip.

    We painted for three days straight with the help of both our dads.

    We have two-story ceilings in both our entry and family room spaces.  Local painters quoted us upwards of $1,000 in labor alone!  Needless to say, they did not get our business.  My one recommendation to anyone undertaking 18 foot ceilings is to rent scaffolding.  We used a series of ladders rigged together, and it was not a good, or safe, route.  Spend the money on sturdy scaffolding!  We did use the brown painter's paper from Lowes to cover our hardwood floors.  I also recommend that safeguard.  

    As for furniture, fabric and wall-coverings, I worked with a designer at O.P. Jenkins, to select a scheme based on my inspiration print and wall color.  This is when things really started to come together:

    We picked a beautiful couch and two chairs to go with the plaid pillow fabric and silk drapes:

    Same Moore "Tyler" chair ordered in pure cream
    After waiting the standard four to six weeks for the pieces to arrive, we were beyond thrilled with our selections once they were delivered.  I cannot express enough how beneficial the planning process of starting with an inspirational piece was for me.  I often get overwhelmed when shopping and end up buying based on price, pattern or color alone rather than keeping the big picture in mind.

    So for the before and after unveil, here you go:

     (With the previous owners' furniture)


    I hope you like it!  We're pretty pleased and really enjoy the new color palette.  Now get to painting!