Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The last week of summer

I have a few more kitchen projects to post about (and get done before I start school again next week and life gets crazy), but this week the only DIY I’m doing is this:

Beautiful, right? It’s the anchor chain for my mom's and stepdad’s boat, Aviva, which I’m sailing on with them this week. They’ve both retired, rented out their home, and as of this week are living aboard Aviva full time in a new phase of their lives. I’m spending the week with them sailing in Rhode Island, and the above photo is just a little project I helped them with as they were getting a few to-dos taken care of before we launched. The chain needs to be marked distinctively every 30 feet so when they lower it they know how much chain they’ve let out, so fortunately they had my master painting skills available. Not my best work, but also not my worst….

Here are a few other photos from the trip so far.

This is Aviva:

 My mom and stepdad, Fred, at the wheel (my mom was captain that day, but they stood together for the photo):

On our third day, we traveled from our anchorage in the Sakonnet River to Newport Harbor through very heavy fog. At times we couldn’t see more than 100 yards, which was pretty eery. We couldn’t see land for a couple of hours, and my job was to sit at the very front (Titanic-style) and scan back and forth looking for anything in our path. I swear after like 15 minutes I started to hallucinate shapes in the fog, but occasionally I did catch sight of other boats coming toward us and the buoys we were using to mark our course, each one sounding a bell or horn out into the fog. Mom and Fred used the radar and charts to determine our course and bearing (ie which direction we should head on the compass) and estimate the time between buoys. At one point we came upon some markers in the water that we didn’t recognize, and suddenly realized we were about to go right over a huge fishing net that had materialized out of the fog right in front of us. Fortunately we were able to reverse before we got tangled up in it (though we did catch it under the boat briefly), and rechart our course around it.

Here's my mom on the bow scanning the fog, shortly before I took over her post so she could work with Fred on charting our course:

 A buoy appearing out of the fog a hundred yards from us:

Looking back into the fog, a buoy barely visible:

And then suddenly, we were in the channel right outside Newport Harbor, the fog growing lighter and boats appearing all around us. It was a relief to find ourselves where we intended to arrive and back in the sunshine.

Entering into Newport in the lifting fog:

Hard to believe this is just a few hours and miles from the photo in the dense fog:

A race up ahead:

My brother will join us tomorrow for a few days, and I'll return home to Boston Friday night to start getting ready for the return to school next week. Savoring the last few days of summer before the semester begins!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kitchen chalkboard

I fear that everything from here on out will feel underwhelming compared to the glory of my newly tiled backsplash (can you tell how pleased with myself I am? just imagine how insufferable I am to the person who has to live with you babe). But, soldier on we must. So here is another little project I did in the kitchen while painting and tiling:

In case you're confused, I didn't just paint the wall black and then color on's now a chalkboard, which I thought could be kind of handy and fun in the kitchen. A place to write sweet quotes. But also to indicate that we really need toilet paper. Also I was trying to figure out what to do with this weird strip of wall that confronts you when you first walk into the kitchen:

The bottom part has brown laminate, maybe to make it look like it's an extension of the cabinets? But it's not. And why would the bottom cabinet extend but not the top cabinet? So many questions. Rather than trying to rip things apart and risk some sort of horror under that laminate, I just decided to slap two coats of chalkboard paint on (already on hand from the faux fireplace I painted a few years ago).

Also you may notice a difference in the before and after photos is that I added a strip of white corner trim running up the side of the wall along the upper cabinets. This was to cover the end of the backsplash, which was a little rough (it's hard to cut tiles to end perfectly smoothly, and I didn't have the forethought to save room for special trim pieces). So I just picked up a piece of corner trim at Home Depot. The only tricky part is that the trim wouldn't have been flush with the wall above the backsplash because the backsplash juts out from the wall (so if the trim was flush with the backsplash, it would then be separated from the backsplash-less wall by the depth of the backsplash). So I also bought a thin, flat piece of trim that I estimated to be the same depth as the backsplash, which I nailed along the edge of the wall above the backsplash like so:

(Ignore the paint on the can see that it's minty green, right? That means it's not my fault! I have since covered it up with some flat white paint.)

Then when I attached the corner trim on top (using a combo of liquid nails and a few actual nails), it fit snugly.

(The lower part, over the end of the backsplash)

(The upper part, along the wall)

I'm not saying I'm a genius (because a genius would have left room for tile trim pieces to make a smooth end...), but at least I know how to adequately cover up my mistakes? My DIY process is basically me stumbling from one issue I create to another, trying ridiculous solutions that then beget their own issues. Just don't look too closely at anything, let's all stand a slight distance away to admire my handiwork.... To be fair I blame a heavy dose of it on the structure I'm working with -- I realized throughout the course of this project that the cabinets are in no way straight, even, parallel to the counters, the same height as one another...really any of the things that you would hope for when doing something precise like tiling. There was a lot of getting creative with caulk, nails, etc to compensate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kitchen: Painting and tiling!

So as you know by now, I finally worked up the determination to paint the kitchen. It has always driven me a bit crazy, but I never felt like it was worth the money and effort to fix. I'm not sure why, since painting is really one of the easiest and most dramatic ways to improve a space. In any case, we decided to renew our lease for a fourth year, and I realized that it's totally possible we'll be in this apartment until we either leave Boston or buy a house (which is a ways off). We love the location, space, and price, and I had an aha moment when I was actually looking on craigslist for new apartments simply to see their kitchens...I finally realized I just needed to suck it up and paint the kitchen. We have a large space (even a walk-in pantry) with good appliances, and even though the layout is a little weird it's really the paint color that drives me craziest. It's mint green on top with forest green on bottom, and there are all sorts of weird things going on, like this:

Yeah, that's a pipe running down the wall that's painted three different colors to "blend in" with the walls. And yeah, whoever painted the white trim does not know how to color inside the lines (I know it's tiring to paint endless trim with a clean edge, believe me I've been there, but try a little harder).

When we renewed our lease, I asked our landlord to pay for the paint and supplies for painting the kitchen, thus somewhat committing myself to doing it. He was amenable since it clearly had been at least three years since it was last painted, and frankly we probably would have been within our rights to ask him to repaint but where's the fun in that? Plus based on the other stuff I've done in the apartment, I think he somewhat trusts me by now not to totally destroy things.

I procrastinated and procrastinated, and then finally I picked a weekend at the beginning of August. Must have been just a coincidence that shortly after I decided this, Sam found out he needed to attend a conference in Canada for work that fell during that weekend. Convenient....

I also decided that like with my board-and-batten project last year in the front hall, I wanted to learn something new...not that I'm a master painter or anything, but I definitely have the basics down. I dream someday of buying a home where things are in decent shape but there's still plenty for me to do, and I figure I may as well experiment with various things while I'm still in a rental (to all your landlords out there, I promise I'm only making it look nicer). So...I decided I wanted to try tiling.

I did lots of research about how to tile, and fortunately was able to rely on some of my favorite bloggers who I trust not to lead me totally astray (Young House Love embarks on a tiling project here, Manhattan Nest here, and Remodelaholic here). Then I committed and ordered the tiles from Home Depot and picked up the rest of the supplies from my local hardware store (I didn't ask my landlord to cover the costs of tiling). Here's what I used:

*Tile (I chose white subway tile that comes in sheets of 12" x 12" -- I needed 14 of them to cover the space I wanted to tile):

*Thinset for laying the tile (my local hardware store only had premixed, which seems to have worked fine and saved me the step of mixing)
*White grout (also premixed) -- I originally thought I'd go with black grout after seeing some inspiring images of white subway tile with black grout (like here and here), but decided to go with white because I thought black might make things too busy with my brown cabinets and everything else going on in the kitchen
*Score and snap tile cutter (I got this one from Home Depot, but honestly wouldn't recommend it because it cut pretty jagged edges...that's what I get for being a cheapskate)
*Tile nippers, for smaller cuts
*Trowel, for scoring the thinset
*Grout sponge

So with materials successfully procured and Sam headed out of the country for five days, I got to work. First I painted the kitchen. That was pretty straightforward. My landlord got paint-and-primer in one, which meant I didn't have to prime first (I would have needed to prime over the dark green portion of the walls). The one downside was that he wanted to pick out the paint (really he was just trying to be helpful), so I was sort of at his mercy when it came to paint color. In fact, I didn't know what color I would be painting my kitchen until I came home from work Friday afternoon to begin painting (he picked it up at 4:30pm that day). Fortunately he chose a great robin's egg blue color, with a bit more green in it than the shade in the front's blue in some light and green in others, and I really like it. It's semi-gloss, which has the downside of showing imperfections in the wall much more (of which there are a lot), but the upside of being much more wipeable which is ideal for kitchens.

So here's the new paint, side-by-side with the old paint just to compare:

New                                                                Old

New                                                                   Old
Then I embarked on tiling. I won't go into all the details, but the basic technique was working my way across the wall laying thinset and tiling one sheet at a time (the photo series below shows the basic progression). It went pretty fast except where I had to cut tiles at the end of the walls and around the cupboards and outlet, which frankly was a huge pain and I would recommend paying a bit more for a better tile cutter.

Before I show the whole wall tiled, here's the "before":

To be fair, that's a horrible nighttime iPhone photo and the clutter is at least half the problem (I'm also planning to lay things out differently), so below is another "before" photo snapped once I'd gotten the space clear and ready for tiling:

And the after, with all the tile down, but before grouting (nighttime makes the cabinets appear much yellower):

After letting the thinset dry for 24 hours, I grouted. Everything I read online warned that grouting would be somewhat terrifying because it would seem like I was destroying my lovely tile but that it would make everything look so much more finished. Correct! I smeared the grout into the seams between tiles, working my way across. In this photo, you can see the backsplash half grouted and half ungrouted (with the grouted half having grout smeared all over the tiles, which happens during the process).

(It's a messy process, even more than this photo conveys...first the wet grout is everywhere, then the dry grout is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.)

Then I used the sponge to clean the tiles of excess grout, and allowed it to dry. Another pass with the sponge removed the rest of the grout. Here's a close up on the tile before and after grouting -- definitely a more finished look:

(Note: the little circles you can see in between the tiles is just the pattern that the mesh holding the tiles onto 12" x 12" sheets makes when pressed into the thinset.)

(There's still a little grout haze on the tiles, I still need to do one last cleaning.)

The outlet was a huge pain, I had to use the tile nippers to cut some weird shapes for some of the pieces and I broke a bunch of tiles before getting it to work. Fortunately the grout and switchplate make a BIG difference -- here's the in-process shot, and then after grouting and putting the switchplate back on:

And of course, here's a shot of the finished result!

I had a piece of oak board cut to size at Home Depot to put over the sink as a shelf (there was a smaller glass shelf there before, but it would have required screwing into the tiles to reinstall it), and on it are a few odds and ends and some artwork I threw together. Here's a closer look:

The art is just some craft paper from Michael's that I found months ago and have been saving to use in the kitchen, and the frame is a floating frame I found for free on the sidewalk a few years ago.

And just so you don't have to scroll back up, here's a side-by-side before and after:

Before (admittedly a crappy nighttime iphone pic)               After (admittedly totally awesome)         

So there you have it, that's how I painted and tiled the kitchen! I have to say, I'm pretty darn proud of myself. I'm working on a few smaller updates to the room over the next week, so I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Eat, Drink, Make Word Art

We spent the last week in Upstate New York with Sam’s mom, stepdad, and brother. The family has a lovely lakeside house up there far from civilization. It’s where we got engaged last summer, and is wonderful retreat from the world where we canoe, cook, go running, eat soft serve ice cream (my obsession), and relax. But though it was nice to take a break from the kitchen overhaul (a bigger update to come within the next week, I promise!), no vacation is complete without a little DIY of course.

Sam’s mom had brought some art supplies, and so one evening I decided to tackle a simple project for the kitchen at home (I’m very single-mindedly focused on getting that done!). I knew I needed a few pieces of art for some empty wall space in there, and want to DIY it to the extent possible. I normally struggle with “word art” because I find much of it very cheesy and/or totally overdone (I’m sorry, but I just can’t hang a “keep calm” poster in my home at this point, that ship has sailed). However, I thought I might be able to tolerate and even perhaps enjoy some in the kitchen, and this seemed a low stakes way to test it.

I started with a blank canvas, and used frog tape to tape down the words “EAT, DRINK, BE MERRY,” like so:

The canvas was white, so the plan was to paint over the letters and then peel them away leaving a white silhouette of them behind. Because I find that there’s always bleed-through, after taping I went over all the edges of the tape with white paint to seal them down – that way the only bleed-through would be the white paint, which wouldn’t be visible against the white canvas (I could have painted the whole canvas while first, but I was lazy and frankly I think it looks just fine).

Then it was time to paint the canvas. I thought something yellow would work well in the kitchen (which is now robin’s egg blue), so I used a few shades of yellow and some white paint to create a bunch of different variations that I just brushed on in an abstract line pattern.

Then while it was still slightly wet, I peeled off the tape, and was left with this:

So there it is, some simple new art for the kitchen, to continue my summer of DIY art projects.

A photo of it in the kitchen plus more photos of the kitchen to come soon, along with all the details of painting, tiling, and new d├ęcor!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Some happenings in the kitchen....

If you've followed my blog since last summer (the few. the dedicated. the people related to me.), you may remember me whining constantly about my kitchen and yet never actually spending the time to really improve it, despite having a huge amount of free time on my hands in between leaving my job and starting business school. (Here and here are some refreshers if you're curious). Well I finally got my act together, and while Sam was traveling for work this weekend I went on a 48-hour DIY spree focused on the kitchen. I'm not ready to share full "after" photos (and to be honest it may be another few weeks, because we are going on vacation next week and I plan to finish everything the following week), but in the meantime I wanted to show you some sneak peeks.

Mmmm, so nice and minty + forest green in there...not for long!

New paint going on. Color isn't totally accurate, since I snapped this in bad light (I was painting on Friday night).

Nothing like a bubble tea at 10:30pm to revive me/serve as dinner (when Sam is away, I am incapable of caring for myself for the first 24 hours, and then I figure it out)

Painting the trim, which took longest of all. Look at that pretty new wall color! It's actually a Robin's Egg Blue that my landlord picked out (is it possible he reads my blog and knows about my Robin's Egg Blue obsession?), and it looks green in some lights and blue in others. More about the painting in a future post once I put the finishing touches on everything.

Yep, that's tile. That installed myself. In my rental. I still have to clean off some of the grout haze, but suffice it to say I'm in love with it.

Okay, that's all for now! Sorry to leave you in suspense...the big things are done but there are a lot of smaller things I want to do and be thoughtful about. I can't wait to share a fuller update, I'm so excited about how it's looking!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Before and After: Study

Continuing my "before and after" tour of the apartment (in the last few weeks I covered the bedroom, front hall, and living room), this week I give you: the study.

The "study" is the room that sits in the center of the apartment, connected to our bedroom, living room, and kitchen. Along one wall is our bookshelf and Sam's desk, which hasn't changed too much since we moved in. However, we did have a horrible laminate set of drawers next to the bookshelf (which I never even took a photo of), and the trim used to be a cream color. Here's what things look like now:

Projects included:
Replacing the laminate drawers with a dresser I found on craisglist and painted turquoise and added pulls to
Organizing our books by color (I know this is a controversial practice, but I've intentionally designed it to be a very colorful room so I think this helps contribute)
Painting the trim a crisp white (I did this recently, but didn't post about it because let's face it, it's not very exciting. But it definitely makes a big difference)
DIYing a hanging planter for above the bookshelf
Buying some boxes at Michael's and adding yellow labels to the front to store special mementos (those are the boxes underneath the desk)
Buying a filing cabinet and painting it robin's egg blue
Making some faux craspedia out of orange felt (those are the orange things in the vase on the dresser)
Using leftover pasta sauce jars to display some photos along the back of the dresser

The vintage sewing box we found in the trash area of our old apartment (it's in great shape), and I use it for all my sewing supplies. The paintings we found at Goodwill and couldn't resist (we call them "the ladies").

Along the outer wall of the study is two windows. This isn't a complete "before" shot since I'd made the paint chip art already and only one corner of the room is visible, but it's from awhile ago:

And now (the photo is very grainy, it was hard to get a good shot because shooting toward the windows is tough):

Projects included:
Upholstering the dining room chairs handed down to me from my mom and generations prior (when I asked Sam recently what his favorite apartment project was, he said those chairs)
Making colorful art out of four canvases I found on the sidewalk and a whole lotta free paint chips

The bookshelf my dad made for us -- it's a very nice design with interlocking pieces that come apart to move easily, which is awesome (but it's also very sturdy).

Then in the opposite corner is a set of built-in shelves. They started as a place to store books and display photos etc from races:

And now it's a built-in bar:

Projects included:
Painting and stenciling the built-in shelves
Making a frame out of wine corks to display a print from Etsy
Painting some DIY art with my mother- and sister-in-law

The race photos got relocated to a new gallery wall along the walls leading to the kitchen, barely visible along the left edge of this photo (now known in our house as "Triumph Alley).

I may paint the walls at some point and there's always more to do (I plan to do something with the pie safe, which is the piece of furniture sitting between the two windows in the photo of the pedestal table etc), but it's definitely more functional and prettier than it used to be!