Tuesday, February 9, 2016

One Step at a Time: The Kitchen Renovation Edition, Taking It From The Top

It's been about a week since I posted about starting our kitchen redecoration/remodel. This week was a slow start, but still some progress has been made! I think I will try to post weekly update s on Tuesday covering progress from Saturday to Saturday. If no progress, no post; if I am too busy or not in the mood, no post.

I'm challenged to include the relevant details, explanations, etc. in my usual sort of rambling style. So, I think I want to try a slightly more outline-esque or bullet-pointy style for talking about our kitchen project. Here goes!

This week we made progress on a couple of aspects of the redecoration/remodel of the kitchen.

1. Removing the corner cabinet from behind the stove.

BEFORE: Corner shelf and upper cabinet

The corner cabinet sagged towards the back corner, because it was only attached to anything at the end. At some point someone had thrown a pre-made furniture leg under that corner, but it was not the right height to keep the shelves level. It turns out that the leg was probably doing a lot to hold up the whole section, because of the total of twelve screws attaching the shelves to the upper cabinets, only 3 were long enough to adequately anchor it to them. Yup.

The cabinet was also just a good place for cooking oils to land and not a good place to store anything for convenience's sake.

The cord for the non-hardwired track lighting ran thru holes drilled thru the shelves, holes too small to get the plug through. So this meant the lighting had to be taken down first, because the other end of the cord would need to be disconnected to feed through the holes. See number 2, below.

One of the upper cabinets on the end of the shelves would have to come down to get it out of there.

Looks like they had to try a few times to find the stud... with their too-short screw.

This house is no stranger to stripped out screw heads and those holding up the smaller of the two cabinets is now exception. I received advice from some knowledgeable friends, bought a screw extractor set and was unable to get it to work. It was time to call in Renaissance Handyman, Nick. He got it taken down in short order and found... guess what... that those stripped screws were also barely holding that cabinet to the wall! Maybe that little furniture leg was holding up that, too! [giant sigh] Renaissance Handyman Nick also listened to some ideas I have for modifying the cabinets in a few places and thought that these ideas were sound and that he can lend a professional and skilled hand where needed.

While that cabinet is down and it's easier to get into the corner behind the stove, I decided to get the 2-layers of wallpaper down, do drywall repairs, and prime the walls. So far I have just picked the top layer off - it turns out it's not even vinyl (i.e. water-resistant, easy to wipe). Still left on the wall is that layer's backing paper and what I hope is the original wallpaper. I also hope that it is not attached directly to the drywall paper like the original wallpaper the downstairs bathroom.

The coffee mugs, travel mugs, and associated accessories are sitting on the other end of the counter, the outlet and switch plates are removed and the walls in that corner have an in-progress/dodgy rental look. Oh, and the upper cabinet is sitting on the floor waiting to be cleaned up a bit and reinstalled.

2. Using flex-track light fixtures to replace the non-hardwired track lights, and the two hardwired fixtures, using just the two, existing electrical boxes in the ceiling. One is over the sink and one is allllllllmost centered in the room.

The fixtures seemed permanently dirty and difficult to clean off what wasn't permanently attached. One was broken at the base and no longer adjustable and another was missing the black ring around the opening. The wheel switches for turning them on and off were also really hard to get and keep clean and were inconvenient to use, especially with full or wet hands.

BEFORE: light fixtures

The center ceiling fixture provides inadequate light, is splashed with paint, and a very basic utility fixture. Maybe it'll find a home in the shop later.

The fixture over the sink had it's charms as a hand punched metal drum shade, but wasn't at all functional for providing task lighting and we almost never turned it on.

The old track lighting did a pretty good job of lighting the counter tops and we definitely wanted/needed to keep that functionality, but we really didn't want to add complexity and expense to the project by having to hire an electrician to run wires, etc. In addition, the "center" fixture is not even over the island a little bit, it just missed it on the refrigerator end.

Like all the holes cut in the drywall for electrical boxes in the house, the ceiling holes are too big. That didn't matter with the previous fixtures, but it matters with these. The canopies on these fixtures won't set flat against the ceiling*, not even close. We'll do what we did for the chandelier over the dining table: paint small, simple medallions to match the fixtures and install them under the canopies.

Removing the track lights exposed unpainted areas, 4 large toggle anchor holes, and at least a dozen plastic anchors.

I guess we waited too long to get "silver"/nickel/steel finished fixtures for our chosen (inexpensive) fixtures. While oil-rubbed bronze would suit our style, the house, and the setting, we're not huge fans of the look of flex track lights. They're just the lights that will give us light where we need it using only our existing electrical boxes. Since we don't plan to paint the ceiling a dark color and the cabinets are going to be painted a lighter color, oil-rubbed bronze lights would just draw the eye to what is not an aesthetic design feature for us. But they are better looking than was there!

One kit is up and in use! The stove, sink and most of the counter tops are well lit! And we like how these four, LED, 60-watt-equivalent bulbs light the task area without making the whole room bright. I know that "light and bright" is very popular, but we both lean towards darker interiors. Also, nice is that those bulbs should last years and are each pulling less than seven watts while not flickering or causing headaches like florescent bulbs can.

We're having trouble finding a couple of pendants for over the island which had stalled installing the other set until we decided to move forward using more spot lights until we can find something that looks a little nicer... the choice to use pendants was mostly aesthetic, anyway.

The original list, of the order I think the projects will happen. Line through for complete items, italics for additions.

1. Light fixtures
2. Remove corner shelf in order to...
3. Remove wallpaper and repair walls (& ceiling) as necessary, get temp solution for backsplash
4. Paint walls above cabinets, around wood stove
5. Cabinet repair, move, modify
6. Refinish cabinets
7. Maybe try to do something with that terrible brick veneer wood stove surround?
8. Refinish counter tops
9. Install backsplash, probably tile
10. Replace outlets, switches, plates.

*I painted the ceiling within a few months of us moving in. It and all the downstairs walls in the living room, dining room, and kitchen were pink which is not to our tastes. We both kind of hate the ceiling texture, but just the thought of skimming it all out exhausts me... that's a lot of overhead square footage and some thick and inconsistent texture to cover.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

One Step at a Time: The Kitchen Renovation Edition, The Starting Point


I am not sure I am going to even try to fix it. :(

So maybe adding the island should've been The Starting Point, but it wasn't so this is. My blog, my changing the rules to suit my own selfish needs. [wink]

You can click to enlarge if you are so inclined. In this case, bigger is worse(r).

Like any renovation/remodel/redecoration of a room, our kitchen came with a list of specific challenges, some aesthetic, some functional, some both.

I think that nearly every single light fixture that came with the house is on a the Aesthetically Challenging List (ACL). The kitchen is right up there with the worst and also on the Functionally Challenging List (FCL). As is often the case in houses this size built in the 1970s or earlier, there was but a single light in the kitchen, overhead and, in our case, not even centered in the ceiling. So somewhere along the way someone added those track lights for task lighting on the counters. They do the job, but they aren't hardwired... so they take up outlet space AND the thumb wheel inline switch is impossible to keep clean. BLECH. Not to mention one of the lights' adjustable joint was broken and one was missing the lens thingie. Because of how the wire for these runs through the cabinetry, updating the lights is at the top of the list.

We hate the ceiling texture, but it's just such a HUGE project...

Another challenge that lands on both lists is the existing cabinetry. First, I want to say that it's well-made enough, has it's rustic charm, and we don't hate it. The counter height is good, too. As far as the ACL, the color is nice, but just too much of that tone in that room and it doesn't work with the new island which we knew when we chose the island's finish. And because they are made from fir which is quite soft, they're kind of beat to heck. Then there is the open shelving and glass-fronted upper cabinets. These are nice features for people with fewer spices in matching jars and fewer or prettier utensils and such. We've been living with a temporary fix for the glass, but want to upgrade that to something more durable and opaque. I'd also like to add a crown moulding type detail to the top just to give them a more finished look. As for the FCL, the uppers are mounted slightly below standard which means some small appliances don't work well, especially where someone added under cabinets lights (also not hardwired and not something we ever use). That corner shelf behind the stove is sagging, because it is NOT ATTACHED ANYWHERE BUT TO THE CABINETS ON EACH END! I guess whoever added that didn't know how gravity works... AT ALL. So they popped a pre-made furniture leg in there... but one that wasn't quite tall enough. I have to assume that this is what has pulled the two cabinets on either end out of level. Another thing is that one of the drawers will not stay closed because there is a bit missing from the carcass below it.

A chunk missing, holes from something someone else had mounted and removed. Luckily, I like a distressed finish, but still I'll be doing quite a few repairs before painting.

The cabinets are overdue for an oiling, but I have been putting that off, because I didn't want to add any extra work to preparing them for painting. The look nice when oiled, but I also don't want to continue to have a finish that I have to refresh every few months. Or even every few years.

We really like the wood counters. BUT once we refinish the cabinets, they'll need to be refinished in a different color for the ACL. For the FCL, we'll be applying a WAY more durable finish and lots of it. The former homeowners were using tung oil twice a year. That's not such a big deal, except that it is a windows-open finish and we live in Montana where having the windows open enough for really good ventilation is not feasible from October thru May.

We think it's neat that even though the counters are wood, they are not butcher block.

The wallpaper. It's just an inevitability that unless you spend money for the really good stuff, all wallpaper will eventually be outdated and of course, tastes vary widely. So removing this wallpaper is definitely an ACL line item. Now, I have never in my life seen vinyl wallpaper as a kitchen backsplash until we moved here. Maybe it was just that I never noticed, because now I have seen it in other, newer homes, as well as in pictures online. I have no idea how well it functions and hope that I am not horrified at the condition of the drywall behind it where it meets the counter. Hopefully, in retrospect this will NOT also be a FCL line item.

As part of the backsplash redo, we'll replace the switches, outlets and plates. The existing outlets are "upside down," loose, and some even stained with wood finish. The covers, where they exist, are wallpapered. We'll add a CGFI outlet where required by code dnd good sense as well as change the color to blend with whatever the backsplash color ends up being - I have a good idea what that will be, but YOU will have to wait.

No cover plate and no real way to put one on w/o some serious jury rigging. Plus wood stain or something all over it. Stay classy, VME (Vast Mountain Estate).

At some point they must have encountered an issue with the wallpaper-as-backsplash, because they made this for behind the sink. The tiles look collected, which I think is neat, but they are not our collection nor in our color scheme. Plus they have that wood frame and the cut-off tile on the right. Mostly this is a ACL situation, but there's some functionality to gain from getting rid of the wood frame both from a wood+moisture standpoint and the room the wood takes up back there making it hard to clean and dry that area.

At this point, I am hoping to accomplish these projects over the next couple-few months, ending with refinishing the counters during open-window season and adding a "proper" backsplash. Right now, I think the order is as follows:

. Light Fixtures
. Remove the corner shelf in order to
. Remove the wallpaper (repair walls as necessary, get a temp solution for backsplash)
. Paint walls above cabinets, around wood stove
. Cabinet repair, move, and modify.
. Refinish cabinets
. Maybe try to do something with that terrible brick veneer wood stove surround?
. Refinish counter tops
. Install backsplash, probably tile
. Replace outlets, switches and plates.


Eventually, we want to replace the sink with a deeper one that is divided in more of a two-thirds/one-third way rather than half-and-half. At that time we'd like a new faucet that is taller and probably with the integrated sprayer an a single control - fewer surfaces to clean! Eric really wants a gas cook top, so somewhere done the line we'll replace the stove. I want the oven to stay electric, so that means dual-fuel which means extra costly. And of course adding a propane tank and the plumbing for it is a big expense. Maybe even before then we can add a ventilation hood over the stove. Someday a new refrigerator, too. But they work and are fine for now, even though I think these are more on the FCL.

Someday we'd also like to replace our GIGANTIC wood stove with something slightly smaller, probably enameled, and with a window in the door. We'll get rid of the poorly installed brick veneer surround and base; hopefully replacing it with some kind of slab, solid surface where ash, dust and dog hair won't collect quite so easily.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Island Time in the Mountain Time Zone

"Island time" is especially apropos: We installed a kitchen island, but I took my sweet time posting about it... it was done in September during the building of the woodshed and boy, oh boy, has it made a difference in the functionality of our kitchen. Yowza!

(photo taken when we viewed the house)

The former owners had a big round dinette table in the kitchen where I think they ate most of their meals. We never considered putting another dining table in the house and we really wanted (needed?) more storage- and especially more counter space. Originally, I was hoping to find suitable cabinets at one of the used construction materials places that I could refinish, but anything smaller than a full kitchen's worth of cabinets that I found available was real crap. Then, I found this pre-owned butcher block top at the Home ReSource in Missoula! It was the perfect size for an island in our space and a good 3-inches think!  I picked it up and it sat in our shop for months while I kept looking for cabinets. Eric was getting very frustrated when cooking on weekend, so we started shopping for new cabinets.

The 3" thickness on top of standard-height, kitchen base cabinets put this a 1.5 inches over standard height and WE LOVE IT. It wouldn't work for everyone, but it is really comfortable for us slightly-taller-than-average folks.

We ended up ordering unfinished, maple, Kraftmaid cabinets through Lowe's when they were having a sale. The lead time was about six weeks, later extended to a little over seven. I finished them myself, then we hired Handyman Nick to install them - I just didn't feel confident to get them level and even and all that. I did cut and install the base shoe, though! I also sanded down all six sides of the butcher block starting with 80gr, moving through 120gr, and finishing with 220gr. Then I finished all surfaces with food grade mineral oil, letting it soak in between a couple coats.

You can see the very first or very second kitchen project in the background. I am not sure how the look of the fridge might change as we move forward with our redecorating/remodeling of this room.

While we were at it, we had Nick bring power to the island, too. I picked up one of those nifty outlets with USB ports for charging devices at the home center and chose a color that would blend pretty well with the cabinet stain - there's no reason to ruin the look of the cabinets with a white rectangle, right? You can see where it is on one end of the island in the top photo, but here it is all up close and personal.

The other end of the island is home to a new towel bar. You know you're a grown up when you are so eager for your towel bar to arrive that you compulsively check the FedEx tracking site multiple times a day, day after day. It's solid bronze with an "antique pewter" finish to coordinate with the drawer and door hardware. The towel bar came from Signature Hardware and the pulls and knobs from Hardware Hut. I did try to find this things locally, hitting the home centers and hardware stores, even places like World Market, etc., but had no luck finding what I wanted: simple, but not plain; a rustic-ish type finish.

As you can see in the photo take when the former owners' still lived her (2nd from top), the old towel ring mounted by the sink was both cheap-looking and not very functional. Sure it was convenient to the sink, but it also would get caught in both the under sink cabinet and the dishwasher. When it wasn't doing those things, it was shutting the door to the trash can when we wanted it kept open to put things in over the course of cleaning and such.

Speaking of the trash can, this might be Eric's favorite part of the new set up: trash can located right below the cutting station! It's a little bigger than our old can and easier to access because it slides out. The can and hardware are not as deep as the cabinet, which allows room for the electrical outlet and wiring, too. After I removed the shelf paper, scrubbed, I replaced the shelf paper under the sink. Now the cutting boards are off the counter and stored under there. While we generally cut directly on the new butcher block, we do use cutting boards for things that are extra stinky (onions, garlic, etc.), extra stain-y (beets, tomatoes, etc.), and extra bacterial (raw meat).

And now the dirty details:

The drawer pulls pretty much inspired the pewter-like finishes for the hardware. These are low profile so that the drawer hardware over the trash bin wouldn't catch a lot of detritus from falling trimmings and cuttings*.

These knobs are from the same line. They're a cast composite aluminum from Italy, but they weren't expensive and I just love them. We replaced all the door knobs on the existing cabinetry with them, too. And then chose a different drawer pull from the line for the existing drawers which I shared back in September.

Originally, we thought we would put stools on the overhang side, but it doesn't overhang  the standard depth, so we'll see. Besides, we ended up setting up a little bar there.

I was given this sweet bar set for my birthday last year, so it's nice to be able to put it where we can see it and use it easily!

And I picked up this vintage, hammered-aluminum tray for our bar basics. The handles are faux bois and there is a pine bough/cone pattern on the tray itself.

I am now all excited to start redecorating/remodeling the rest of the kitchen and have mostly-finalized our choices for finishes, etc. Hopefully, I won't wait months before posting and will share the projects in-progress, as well as finished.

Our starting points from when we first moved in:

* We would like to compost, but we haven't yet found a bear-proof method that would also work during the winter months. If we ever get chickens, I am sure they will help us out with this.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Death Luge Cometh

As expected, warmer temperatures brought a big ol' ice slick out there on our driveway and the road. It's not quite to the Death Luge Ice Driveway, but it's definitely to the Maim Luge Ice Driveway stage as of Friday afternoon. And it's snowing right now, so who knows what kind of mayhem awaits?

The ice marbles are so small now, so faded. Don't let that dark business on road lead you to believe that there is dirt on the surface, because it's not.

Sad, fallen ice marble. It has been purple, but now the marble is barely red and the snow around it glacier blue.

It's been fun to guess how the woodshed would shed snow.

I think that the big "one" is just as long, but thinner and now melded with more of it's neighbors.

Back down to around 9" now as of Saturday midday. 

The further into winter we get, and I know we're not even a month in yet, the more I appreciate my tire chains. Why did I wait until this winter to get to know them?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter Continues

It's been a really beautiful winter so far.

We were holding strong at around 9" on the ground despite continued snow fall, until last week when the snow got a bit crazy at our place. Other than our actual neighbors, no one else who lives in our area got more than an inch, but we got about about 6" over two days. We hit the 1' mark on the first day and then almost 1'3" the next. WOO!

We've had snow on the ground and it's been frozen long enough that we've started to get some decent icicles. I just love icicles!

The NE side of the house gets some big ones.

I couldn't figure out how to show both scale and details so it's hard to tell, but the longest one is probably at least 5' long!

This is a great illustration of why I want to change the orientation of our front deck stairs to get it out from under the roof's drip line.

Here's how the two surprise snow days covered the ice marbles.

Day One around 2:30 p.m.

Day two around 3:00 p.m.

As I started this post earlier today, it was 42F on our thermometer and as I am finishing it this evening, it is raining. The icicles under the deck stairs are gone, last I saw the roof line icicles were shrinking, and when I tromped out into the yard there was dirt showing in parts of the driveway and the deep snow is about half it's volume and slushy. It's supposed to get colder again for a few days... and I am just hoping that the road isn't a long sloped ice rink and our driveway doesn't enter the Death Luge Ice Driveway (DLID) stage. I feel like as we're getting the hang of how frequently we should plow, we're diminishing the frequency and treachery of the DLID. I have a feeling that the ice marbles are now just some colored smudges on the ground under their posts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fun With Below Freezing Temperatures

I never got around to making ice marbles in 2015, but with temperatures at or below freezing for the next while, I decided to get off my duff and make them this year.

The only balloons I had around were water balloons which are too small for really satisfying ice marbles as far as I am concerned. They were also a huge pain in the neck to fill, as well as fragile enough that one broke while freezing.

The white snow views are always beautiful to me, but it's also nice to have some pops of color in there, too.

The old, rotty fence on the lower pasture is better for displaying for two reasons. 1) The post have exposed tops whereas the pretty, new fence does not and 2) it's closer to the road than the new fence so easier to see as we drive up or as the occasional neighbor drives through.

BEHIND THE SCENES: So, I says to myself, I says, "I'll just be extra careful when filling the balloons." Oopsie!

Some photos from years past and the tutorial on how it's done. And another photo of dye-stained fingers. Go figure.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Whose Poop Is This, Anyway?

With great snow comes great track-ability. Or something like that.

The other day when Delia and I were fetching she decided to leave the fetch pitch and do a wandering tour of the "garden" area, sniffing and snuffling all the way. I followed her so I could see where she would drop her ball. Then I noticed these tracks in the National Forest that came right up to, or started right from, our fence. They were too old to tell exactly what they were and Delia's tracking obscured all the prints inside the fence so there was no hope of finding a better set. I could tell that they weren't deer and probably weren't dog unless someone in the area lets their teeny, tiny dog wander the forest alone. They didn't seem like rabbit and they were too big for squirrel.  Our neighbors have an ermine living in a brush pile, so maybe we have one around, too?

Truth be told, I know whose poop that is; it is Delia's. But what I do not know is why her little dog brain thought pooping at the terminus of the mystery tracks on her second pass through the garden was a thing to doo*.

*See what I did there?