Before and After

A Little Auto Body Work

Add “spray paint the car” to the list of things I never thought I’d do, but have now done. The factory clear coat on my 7-year-old Honda has held up very well. Unfortunately, I was rear-ended a few years ago, and the aftermarket clear coat the body shop used is definitely worse for the wear – it’s peeled off completely in some areas.


I don’t care what my car looks like, and I definitely didn’t want to pay for these areas to be repainted. Nevertheless, I was starting to get a little worried that, without the protection from the clear coat, the paint would deteriorate and the metal would eventually be exposed, making it vulnerable to rust. I plan on keeping this car as long as possible, and rusted panels are not part of that plan. I decided that it was worth trying some DIY body work to make sure things don’t get worse. I’ve never tackled a project like this before, and I was a little embarrassed when I went to the local O’Reilly Auto Parts and asked about clear coat spray paint! I knew that there was no way I would get great results by spray-painting my car, but that wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to make sure the metal body panels were protected. If it was a total failure, I’d pretty much be back where I started – needing to get those areas repainted. I came home with Dupli-Color Protective Clear Coat Finish and some 2000-grit wet/dry sandpaper.

I used the sandpaper with water to remove as much of the chipped areas of the factor clear coat as possible, and to smooth the rough edge where the clear coat had flaked off. The sanding also helped rough up the existing paint and clear coat so the new spray-on clear coat would adhere better. The transition was quite a bit smoother when I was done sanding. On the right side of this photo you can see that the paint has deteriorated some and exposed the primer underneath.

I thoroughly rinsed everything with water to remove any sanding residue, then let the car air dry. Then I masked off the areas that I was going to spray with the clear coat. I decided to spray the entire section above the rear window, but only parts of the panel below it. Most of the clear coat on that panel was in good shape, and I didn’t want to spray the undamaged sections. I masked off these areas with about 1 to 1.5 inches of undamaged clear coating around them, so the new clear coat would totally cover the flaking edge area.

Before I started spraying, I wiped down the areas to be painted with mineral spirits to remove any residue, then with water, then let it dry again. Then I got to spraying. The Dupli-Color paint sprayed really evenly until it was nearly empty. I made sure to start spraying off to the side, then used a slow, even motion to apply thin coats. I sprayed my first coat on one of the sections too heavily and it started to slump. Fortunately, I was able to quickly wipe it off with mineral spirits and start over, but I learned my lesson – use thin coats to start!


I ended up spraying four thin coats and two moderately thick coats. I found that as the coating built up, I could apply a thicker layer without getting any slumping. I was very careful to try to keep the can moving constantly and steadily while I was spraying, so the coating would be as even as possible. I think that applying multiple thin coats to start helped create an even base. Once everything was dry, I removed the masking.

There was a clear line where I had masked off the sections on the panel below the rear window. Not too surprising. The paint can said that any transition lines could be softened by using polishing compound after letting the clear coat cure for 48 hours. I waited the recommended time, then wet-sanded again, then used the polishing compound. I finished by applying a couple of coats of carnauba wax to protect the new clear coat. Here’s the before and after of the panel above the window:


And the panel below the window:


You can still see the line from the new clear coat, but it doesn’t bother me. Even though aesthetic improvement wasn’t one of my goals for this project, I do think the “after” looks a lot better! The total cost of this project, including 2 cans of spray-on clear coat, one package of 2000-grit wet/dry sandpaper, polishing compound and carnauba wax, was $32.

This project wasn’t quick, but it was easy. The prep work was time-consuming (but not difficult), and I think it was essential to achieving good results. I also think it’s important to let everything dry thoroughly and not rush into re-sanding and polishing. All-in-all, I think this was $32 well-spent to keep my car protected so it will continue to serve me well for years to come!

DIY Rope Umbrella Stand

Ever since we’ve had our patio table, we’ve been using this DIY umbrella stand to hold our patio umbrella. I thought I would share how we made it so you could DIY it too!

Kidding! That’s the original DIY umbrella stand that John made with a leftover plant container and a sack of post concrete. He put the bottom of our umbrella pole into a 3-mil contractor’s trash bag, wrapped the excess with tape, stuck it in the center of the plant container, and filled it with cement. Once it cured, the umbrella pole and bag came out easily. This thing was cheap and very sturdy, but I wanted something nicer for our deck seating area. After considering different paint options, I finally decided to try covering the umbrella stand in rope, like an old buoy. Here’s the finished product:

I wouldn’t say that this process was exactly “quick and easy” (it took several hours over a few days and was a little fiddly), but it only cost about $35 total and I am super happy with the way it turned out! I bought 100 feet of manilla rope (two 50-foot packages), a big tube of Liquid Nails, and a can of spray paint that matched the rope. I also ended up using some cork, wood glue, and spar urethane that we already had on hand. The estimated cost of $35 is for all the materials, including the concrete and the stuff we had on hand.

I cut off the plant container with a utility knife and spray-painted the concrete to match the rope. I figured that was a good precaution to make it less noticeable if my rope-wrapping wasn’t perfect. Then I started gluing the rope in place. I decided to start at the narrowest end (the bottom of the plant container), which would become the top of the finished umbrella stand. I wiped off as much of the excess glue as I could after snapping this photo.

After gluing the top down, I weighted it with a 4×4 and let it dry so it wouldn’t uncoil (even though Liquid Nails is pretty sticky, I still had to sort of hold the rope in place while I glued it to the top). Once the glue holding the top coil of rope down was dry, I continued wrapping and gluing the rope down the stand. Once I got near the end of the first 50-foot length of rope, I taped everything in place with masking tape and let it dry. I left about the last 8 inches unglued so I could move it around when I glued the next section of rope in place.

Once the glue was dry on the first rope section, I flipped the umbrella stand over so the bottom was facing up, then I continued gluing and wrapping the rope around the rest of the stand, taped it again, and let it dry fully. I should probably mention that I did the second half of this on John’s pottery wheel, which made it waaaaaay easier, since I could rotate it while I glued, instead of having to walk around in circles!

I glued some cork to the bottom of the stand so it wouldn’t scratch our deck, then let that dry.

Once everything was dry, I flipped it over and checked my work. It looked pretty good!

Unfortunately, after I finished high-fiving John, I took a closer look and saw that some of the Liquid Nails had oozed out between the ropes and left unsightly white marks.

I tried touching it up with spray paint. I just sprayed the paint into a puddle on a scrap of cardboard, then used a foam brush to carefully dab paint over the dried Liquid Nails. Since the paint was a good match for the manilla rope, it worked great! I seriously can hardly tell where I did the touch-up painting!

After the paint was dry, John and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to give the finished umbrella stand a good coat of spar urethane to protect it from the elements. I applied the spar urethane liberally with a brush. I didn’t photograph this step because it made absolutely no difference in how the stand looked. In fact, the only way I could tell where I had applied it was to tap with my fingers to see which areas were tacky (from the spar urethane)! Once I let the stand dry a final time, we put our new DIY rope umbrella stand in place under our patio table.

Big upgrade! I love how the natural color and texture of the manilla rope blends in with the wooden deck table and chairs, and with our Trex deck. I totally recommend this as a DIY project that is affordable, pretty easily accomplished, and looks way fancier and more expensive than it is. Now I want to make more improvements to our deck seating area! I’m thinking that a nice candle and some colorful pillows would look good. I’m also trying to decide what to do with the laminate table top, which looks okay in photos but isn’t great in real life (although John thinks it’s fine). Please let me know if you have any suggestions or other good DIY ideas!

What Were We Thinking? (Before Photos)

Looking through the photos we took five years ago when we were buying our house, all I can think is, “what were we thinking?” If someone else showed me these photos and said they were thinking of buying this house, I would tell them, “don’t walk away, run.” Then John and I would privately discuss how crazy they were to even consider it. It looks like so much work…and it was. Today, I love our house and think we made the right choice to buy it – it’s perfect for us, and we definitely saw its potential (we were so young, naive, and optimistic 🙂 ). But it was UGLY. UG-LY. Hideous. Filthy. Dark, dingy, disgusting. I could go on. Let’s take a look.

Here’s the entry.

Here’s a view from the entry looking the other direction. You can see the dining area to the left and the entry to the living room.

Here’s another view looking straight into the living room. This room is really hard to photograph (and the previous owner kept all the shades drawn and lights off).

The dining area.

The kitchen. Here’s how it looks now.

Upstairs bathroom.

“Built-In” in the den. I feel that needs to be in quotes.

Top of the stairs going down to the bedrooms (our living areas are all on the second floor, as is the entry).

Bottom of the same stairs. Yes, those are (filthy, disgusting, who lives like this??) stains on the stairs.

Downstairs hallway. Here’s the “after”.

Downstairs guest bathroom.

Another “built-in” in the master bath (and John, the most attractive thing in this photo…in any of these photos).

Just so you don’t think we’re completely nuts, here’s one of the main reasons we bought this house…the location.

Redbud in bloom.

Amazing sunset, with Mount Diablo in the distance, barely poking through the haze. See more of our sunset photos here.

Before and After: Kitchen

We’ve made a lot of improvements since we bought our house in 2006. One of the biggest changes has been in the kitchen, which was dark, dated, and just plain sad. We changed the counter tops, sinks, and fixtures; added a back splash; redid the walls with venetian plaster; renovated the island; replaced the microwave; replaced the cabinet doors; and redid the ceiling and lighting (which I wrote about here and here). I’m going to write about these changes in detail in the coming weeks, but I wanted to start with a straight-up before and after. Here’s what the kitchen looked like before we moved in:

And here’s how it looks today:

It’s a small kitchen, so we have to be creative with storage (more about that later). But we have a lot of counter space, and it’s really efficient to cook in. It’s also open to the dining area and living room, so it’s nice for our informal style of entertaining. With the changes we’ve made, I really love it! I’m looking forward to sharing the details of our kitchen transformation!

P.S. This was my third round of “after” photo attempts, and the first time I got results that really did it justice. I’m experimenting with the manual setting on my camera, and am using the auto-timer to get more stable shots. Hopefully, my photos will be improving as I learn more!

Before and After: Hallway

When we bought our house in 2006, little had changed since it was built in 1979.  There were dated lighting fixtures, worn flooring, dingy paint, and lots and lots of dark wood trim.  Now, I love natural wood, and in upcoming posts I’ll show how we’ve kept it as a feature in some parts of our house, where it adds a lot of character.  In our downstairs hallway, however, I think you’ll agree that the trim had to go!

Original Downstairs Hall

This photo brings back a lot of memories.  I can remember looking at this hallway and thinking: What have we gotten ourselves into?!?  With five wood-trimmed doorways, this space was so visually crowded and claustrophobic that I didn’t see how I would ever like it.  But, we decided to make the best out of it!  Armed with a little (okay, a lot) of paint, and a little (okay, a lot) of elbow grease, we set to work, and it turned out better than I ever would have imagined.  We painted the walls a soft, warm yellow, and painted the trim, doors, and baseboard a nice crisp white.  The old doors were very worn and had actually been punched in in several places, so we replaced them with new paneled doors.  While we were at it, we replaced the outdated brass-colored door hinges and knobs with more modern brushed nickel.  We also installed an inexpensive pressed-glass light fixture that makes the hallway sparkle – and a new smoke alarm to keep things safe.

Downstairs Hall

Although we eventually replaced the flooring with new wood, I really think that it’s the paint that makes the biggest difference here.  And looking at the recent photo, I think we could improve the space even more with some lighter frames on the walls and a few tweaks to the vase and mirror at the end of the hall.  Add it to the list… 🙂

So, tell me, are you fearless with the paint or do you prefer to keep your natural wood?