Renovation

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.

Dining Table –> Patio Table

The other day, I was complaining to my Uncle M that I could not find a solidly-constructed patio table – all the ones I come across seem rickety and expensive. He suggested that I just buy a round dining table and use that as a patio table. I’d never considered using “inside furniture” outdoors, because I figured it would get ruined in the elements. But the reality is that most of the official “outdoor furniture” I’ve had over the years has gotten pretty battered by the elements. I decided that as long as I could find something cheap that wasn’t anything special or heirloom-quality, I would go for it. So John and I popped into the local thrift store today. We found this table for $18 and brought it right home.

It’s nothing special – the top is just veneered plywood – but it’s the perfect size and it’s very sturdy. In its current form, it doesn’t exactly make my heart flutter. I think a little paint will improve things considerably. Still, I decided I’d rather have a functional seating area on my deck now than wait until I had the time to spiff it up. I busted out the drill and drilled a hole for an umbrella right in the middle.

Fifteen minutes later, I had my legs propped up on our DIY patio table and was very happily reading my new-to-me gardening book. By the way, I paid $2.50 for the 1961 edition of this book, but it sells used on Amazon for about the same price as our table! You can borrow it for free at Open Library.

Speaking of DIY, I guess at some point I could repair or replace our broken sun umbrella, but a quick fix with a spring clamp we had lying around is working so well that I don’t think I’ll even bother. 🙂

Cork Shelf Liner Tutorial (IKEA PS Cabinet)

A few months back, we bought the IKEA PS Cabinet in white. I like the all-metal construction of the IKEA PS Cabinet, but the metal shelves are kind of impractical. They get scratched up when you pull things in and out of the cabinet, and it’s also really loud. I decided right away that I wanted to install cork shelf liner to dampen the noise and prevent scratches. Here’s the cabinet before I installed the cork shelf liner:

I chose the Con-Tact Self Adhesive Natural Cork because it was readily available, not too expensive, and I’d had good luck with the Con-Tact brand in the past. The cork sat right next to the PS Cabinet for a few months, because I was a little nervous to tackle the project. I was worried that I wouldn’t get it straight, and that it would look wonky and amateur-ish. I finally tackled the project today, and although it took a little while to get the hang of applying the self-adhesive cork, I figured out a great way to get it to adhere evenly and I’m really pleased with the end results!

I wanted to share my method, but I found it impossible to describe in text and photos, so I decided to make a little video tutorial showing how to install the cork shelf liner. Honestly, I’m just so happy that it turned out the way I wanted! Hope you enjoy the tutorial!

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!

Kitchen Ceiling Redo: Before and After

A couple of days ago, I talked about the process of redoing our kitchen ceiling. I finally got some decent lighting to take “after” photos. Here’s how the ceiling looked before, and how it looks today.

John and I love the wood beams and never seriously considered painting them. Our house is in the foothills and has a bit of a rustic, cabin-y feel, so the wood beams fit in really well with the house. We also think they add a lot of character, which we didn’t want to (literally) white-wash away. You can see from the before and after photos that we did remove and/or paint a lot of dark wood trim, though!

Here was the process for the ceiling redo: we removed the fluorescent light fixtures, removed all the trim and wood paneling, painted the panels white, removed the framing for the drop ceiling over the old fluorescent fixtures, reinstalled the paneling and trim, put in conduit to conceal the wiring, and installed new track lights. Phew, it makes me tired just thinking about all that work! The good news is that our only costs were paint, conduit, and the new lighting. Here are some closer views of the way we ran the conduit:

What do you think? Big improvement, right? Would you have painted the beams? Is the exposed conduit too industrial, or does it add a touch of what I like to call “miner cabin chic?”

Redoing Our Kitchen Ceiling and Lighting

I’d like to present this “before” picture of our kitchen without comment.

Yeah. There was a lot to tackle. I’d love to say that this was the original 1979 kitchen, but the previous owner had actually attempted some upgrades. Faux granite sink, check. Improperly installed microwave, check. But the worst part was original: the ceiling and light fixtures. The ceiling was all dark wood paneling, with horrible fluorescent lighting that made a headache-inducing buzzing sound.

The fluorescent fixtures were mounted on a drop panel that looked like the other wood panels, but was about four inches lower, forming a soffit of sorts to conceal the wiring. This panel (and the wiring) presented a lot of problems. We wanted to raise the panel to the height of the others for aesthetic reasons, but we weren’t sure how to tackle the wiring. Here’s an embarrassingly staged photo of me, showing the framing above the drop panel along with the wiring. The wiring is routed through the beam in the upper right corner of the photo, so there’s no easy way to move it.

We had an electrician come out and look at it; his quote was over $500 and would have left us with open walls needing repair. We decided we would definitely tackle the project ourselves, but we’re no electrical experts. We needed a solution that would look good, but was easy enough that we could do it ourselves and be confident it was done right. Well, right enough that our house wouldn’t burn down from faulty wiring. Since I love industrial design, I came up with the idea of leaving the wiring exposed, but putting it in conduit. It ended up working fabulously well, if I do say so myself. First, we removed the framing behind the drop panel. John had the brilliant idea to reuse all the panels, and just paint them white. We even saved and reused all the trim! It saved us a ton of money and effort over trying to replace them with something else.

Painting the panels white had the added effect of highlighting the dark wood beams, making them look like more of an architectural feature. You can see the holes from the previous light fixtures, but those will be covered by the new track lights. We decided that one row of track lights wasn’t going to be enough to make our kitchen nice and bright, so we installed two. We had to drill perpendicularly through another beam so we could run new wiring to a second section of our ceiling. Here’s how the conduit looks:

We painted the conduit and boxes to match the ceiling and beam, so they blend in pretty well. And they have the nice, clean, utilitarian look that I love. I couldn’t take any “after” photos tonight because I can’t photograph the track light when it’s on, and it’s too dark to get a good photo, so that will have to wait for tomorrow. Of all the projects we’ve done, I feel especially proud of this one. Once we came up with the idea, it was cheap, it was pretty easy, and I think it makes a huge improvement!

Photo Tour of House Oddities: Non-Supportive, Non-Symmetric Post

Our house was built in 1979, and a garage and living room were added the next year. The home was built by the owner. Everything we’ve found suggests that it’s very solidly constructed, but there is some serious funkiness. I mean, we live in a geodesic dome, so you would expect it to be a little strange, but some things go above and beyond. I’d like to present a little photo tour of our house’s oddities. This will be done in installments, and I think you’ll soon understand why. Introducing the first oddity: The Non-Supportive, Non-Symmetric Post, located in our den.

This oddity is really a head-scratcher for me. There is a section of loft that juts out into our den. It’s cantilevered, with at least 80% of of it directly supported and probably 20% or less overhanging into the den. And yet, I naively assumed that the post below the cantilevered section served some utilitarian purpose. Part of the reason I thought this was because the post wasn’t at the corner of the cantilevered section; it was offset about a foot, making it look more than a little awkward. If you were going to put in an unnecessary post, wouldn’t you put it in the corner, where it’s nice and symmetric?

In the second photo you can see a corrollary oddity: Why on Earth Did They Use Dark Wood Trim There? (Also: Why Was the House so Dark Before We Moved In?) Anyhow, you can see how that post is clearly not at the corner of the overhang. It must be over a joist, right? Before we tackled the post, John decided to fix the funky trim, which required a surprising amount of work. He had to shim under the existing ceiling, and install new drywall and texture.

So, was that post over a joist? Of course not! It was just resting on sub-floor, totally unsupported from below. Because of the cantilevering, it’s not a structural necessity (which is confirmed by its original unsupported location). Nevertheless, we decided it would look strange to get rid of it entirely, so we moved it to the corner of the overhang. Where it is directly over a joist. 😮 I love our house, but there’s only so much of this that my brain can process at once (hence the installments)!

Here’s how it looks after all the work. John did such a nice job trimming it. It’s totally plumb, the second photo’s just a little off. You can see the new floors, and we also painted all the window and door trim white.

Well, having shared that, you know I would love to hear about any of your house oddities! Do you live with them or fix them? Are you fond of your oddities, or do you wish a pox on the responsible party? I have grown to love our strange house, oddities included!

What is Dry Rot and How Do You Fix It?

“What the heck is dry rot and how do I fix it?” That was the question I found myself asking several months into home ownership. Overall, owning a home has been a great experience, and in most cases we got what we expected. We paid for a home inspection during escrow, and also had access to a recent prior home inspection report (our house had been in escrow before but that sale never closed, thank goodness). We knew there had been some issues with dry rot in the siding. But the siding had been replaced. According to the previous owner’s disclosure forms, all the damage had all been repaired. Our home inspection didn’t turn up anything new. It wasn’t until we started to pull up the nasty old carpet in our den that we realized that we had a problem.

Uh oh. The subfloor had white stains on it and the wood crumbled easily when poked with a screwdriver, or even just a fingernail. The problem was worse than that – it had extended into the header below the floor, which crumbled completely apart when we scraped the wood.

Of course I had heard the term “dry rot,” but I didn’t really know anything about it. What is dry rot? How do you fix it? As strange as it seems, dry rot is actually a type of fungus that can get established in wet wood. Weirdly, “dry” rot doesn’t happen in really dry wood – the wood has to be moist. In our house, dry rot occurred where there were leaks. Even where the leaks had been fixed, the dry rot remained. Apparently, once the fungus takes up residence, it can survive a wide range of conditions by staying dormant when it’s too wet or dry. Once the dampness of the wood returns to the ideal range, the dry rot starts to grow again. Creepy!

Since our problem was structural, we hired a licensed, qualified contractor to make the repairs, and I recommend that you do the same.

I’ve never done this type of repair, and even though I’m pretty handy, I would NEVER tackle a structural problem on my own – I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for fear our house would fall down! Our contractor did a lot of work to provide another means of structural support when he was replacing our dry rotted header. Here’s an example from a different part of the house, where he used a beam to support our deck while he replaced the ledger.

Here are the basic steps our contractor used to fix the dry rot:
1. Expose all the dry rot by taking off the siding, insulation, dry wall, whatever. All the damaged wood needs to be replaced.
2. Cut out all wood that’s been damaged. (Hire a contractor, especially with anything structural! Don’t cut anything structural!)
3. Treat any wood that looks like it’s been exposed to the dry rot fungus but isn’t otherwise damaged (i.e. it is still strong), to impede the spread of the fungus.
4. Replace the wood that was removed. This can be tricky, especially with structural stuff.
5. Get rid of all the dry-rotted wood and dispose of it away from any other good wood! We burned ours. It was cathartic.
6. Put everything back together.

Yeah, fixing dry rot is a major pain. And it costs a lot of money. At least, that’s been my experience. Here are some more of our dry rot photos for your viewing pleasure.



All of the dry rot we’ve found in our house has been repaired by a licensed, qualified contractor. (Doesn’t that just sound reassuring? Licensed. Qualified.) We’re trying to prevent future problems by keeping our house weatherproofed with good caulk, paint, and roofing. We’ll probably always have little problems that come up here and there. One thing we learned along the way: dry rot spreads slowly; fix it when it’s still a small problem. Isn’t that true of so many things?

Dry rot is a very common problem. See how others have tackled the problem here, here, and here.

Make me feel better and tell me you’ve had dry rot problems too! Have you fixed them on your own? Or did you hire a professional?

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?