Thursday, February 2, 2017

Little things

There are constantly little updates I make around the my home, that just don't seem significant enough for a post of their own. Poor little projects, that don't get the attention they deserve.

Now I am feeling sad on behalf of those projects. Do you guys do that? I have always had a large capacity for sympathy when it comes to inanimate objects. As a kid I always tried to play to equally with my less cute stuffed animals, like this one hedgehog that had one of its eyes miss-sewn and was as an outcome just not cute...I would start to worry that he might feel I played with him less because he wasn't as pleasant to look at, and that he would think I was playing favorites based on looks, and that he probably was sad already because maybe the other toys didn't like him much because of that weird eye and - okay this paragraph is getting away from me.

But anyways,  lest they feel left out, here are a couple little updates I never posted about.

1. I replaced the ceiling light in the hall! This is actually such a big impact because you can see it straight ahead when you walk into my home. I posted about updating the hallway here, and even talked about how hard it was to find a glass globe to fit the existing ceiling fixture for cheap, since I did not have any budget for new lighting (lights are expensive!). And then, when I was out cruising goodwill with Ashley, I came upon two matching glass pendant lights for $14.99 each. I nearly talked myself into buying both, but then I came to my senses and remembered how small my house is. I don't need two identical glass pendant lamps. Sigh. So I put one in my basket.

When I reached the check out line, a man behind me said "Oh I saw that lamp, so great, I almost grabbed it." And I excitedly got to say "Hey! There were two, go get the other one!" and we didn't high five, but we totally could have.

I took my light home, it took up space on my kitchen counter for a solid two weeks as these things do, and now it is in the ceiling in the hallway. My relatively low ceilings mean it had to be hung with a pretty short cord, not as much pendant action, but at least my tall friends will be able to walk down my hall without ducking.

The hallway before:

The hallway now:

2. I added a hinge to fix a broken drawer in my chippy dresser.

I am pretty much in love with this little dresser. It is chippy and perfect, and the stamp on the back says it was made right here in Portland. I got this dresser a few years ago, when I was living in my first portland home, a room in a shared house in the NE Alberta neighborhood. Here it is in my old bedroom in that house:

Also, here it is holding down the fort in my living room in my SE Portland apartment:

Anyways, my sweet little vintage dresser survived two moves (and countless others in it's past, I'm sure) but on my move from my SE Portland apartment to the new house, the bottom drawer fell to pieces. I was devastated.

The drawer fell into so many pieces I knew it would not likely work to try and reassemble it, but I held on to the face piece and plannned to try and build a new drawer box in the future.

I actually use a separate dresser for most of my clothes at this point, when I moved into my SE Portland apartment I bought a second cute vintage dresser (also off of craigslist like this one) as I finally had room - not sure if you can tell from the photos, but the bedroom in my Alberta house was teeny teeny tiny (If you are like me you hear that phrase in Rachel Maddow's voice every time. Are you like me? An example of what I mean right here).

So now this little dresser lives in my living room, with the middle drawer holding AV type equipment like my projector for movie nights, and the bottom looking a little...sad.

After chatting with Evan about either rebuilding the drawer, or finding a way to attach the front piece with a hinge, we decided to go with the latter. I've been using the space where the drawer once was to store firewood since since the little dresser is right next to the fireplace, so I really just needed a way for the drawer face to stay in place, but still be able to open to access the space.

We went to the Rebuilding center to look for hinges that might work.

They had lots.

I found what I needed in the bin of "Specialty Hinges", and the total came to a whopping $1.

These spring hinges would make it so that the door could move without any piece of hardware being visable from the front of the dresser.


You can see how the hinge mounts completely hidden inside the dresser, and allows the drawer face to swing out and down. 

So those are two little projects as of late!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Tackling the dining room

The last time I showed any of the progress in our dining room, things were looking (and smelling) pretty grim.

You may recall this was the area I referred to as the cat pee corner. A charming name for a space to eat, right?

Here is the dining room when I first bought the house. As you can see, it isn't really a separate room, just a space between the living room and kitchen. the different flooring material makes it feel less like a part of the kitchen, but it is kind of just a continuation of that room. (Apologies for the very blurry before picture.)

 When I posted about removing the carpet, I also showed the hidden truth about this corner...It was cat pee central! The wood floors were damaged pretty significantly beneath the carpets.


I tried my best to get the area clean. The powdery substance you can see in that picture is actually dried solids from the cat pee- eek! I tried everything from white vinegar, rubbing alcohol, Murphy's oil soap, baking soda, diluted ammonia (each of these products used individually, never combined) and plain old hands and knees scrubbing and scraping. In general, most of these products (besides Murphy's, that is) are far too harsh to use on a wood floor without risking damage. We were so beyond that worry.

The dark areas you can see in the picture above are permanent, those areas are where cat pee has sunk into the wood over time, and no amount of cleaning will change that discoloration. Also, as cat urine contains natural ammonia, the finish on the floor had been eaten away in the worst places over time.

After working so hard on the wood, and seeing that it would just never really look clean (or feel clean thanks to areas where the finish is disintegrated) I started looking into refinishing the wood floor. before deciding if we wanted to DIY it or hire a professional, I wanted to know the likely cost of each option, and how they would impact our ability to live in the home during the process.

I had quotes from three wood floor refinishing specialists. I did discover that hiring for the work would be more expensive than I could budget at the time, and each of the specialists made a point to note to me that even once refinished, the dark areas would remain very obvious. The ways around this were 1. to sand down the entire wood floor including the living room and hall areas that are not damaged, and stain the entire space very dark to camouflage the damage, or 2. To replace the wood in the areas that are most damaged before refinishing, which could be pretty expensive and add to the amount of time we would not be able to be in the house.

We ended up deciding to table our options, hoping that there may be a week in the future where we want to take on the repair/refinish ourselves. So as much as I hate to admit it, all I did was mop one more time (futile, it still looked dirty) and then place and area rug over it.

The other issue that has been tabled for the time being is the wood trim. The baseboard trim was so saturated, that even after cleaning with TSP, painting with two coats of lacquer based primer, and 3 coats of high gloss paint, after a few days the dark staining started to show through again. Within a month, the fresh white trim instead looked like trim that was painted white long before it was exposed to decades of cat pee. It was clear it was not savable.

We have yet to find an exact match for our trim for this space. I keep crossing my fingers when I visit the Rebuilding Center or the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, both of which sell used building supplies and often can be the perfect answer to finding a piece of wood that is just right for this or that project. I'm still just hoping to find enough trim in the same size and shape to finish out our dining space baseboard. Someday. For now, it's not that noticeable with the furniture in place (though of course it really bugs me anyway, ha).

See what I mean? You eyes really focus more on the formica table and plants than on the lack of baseboards, and the rug that had been in my living room in my last apartment manages to cover most of the floor damage while also looking decorative.

In another update in that area, I switched out my chairs recently. I loved my old chairs, but they were pretty uncomfortable to sit in for a length of time- due to the angle of the seat, and that the seats were intended to be padded. When I first bought them, (off craigslist, from the same seller who sold me the table) they were upholstered with orange vinyl. I took off the vinyl to reupholster them, and when I saw the pretty wood I couldn't help but keep them naked.

I also spray painted the metal frames (which used to be almond) a light mint shade, and honestly, I loved the way those chairs looked.

While my proper before photos are gone thanks to a missing memory card, you can see the original orange vinyl going on here on one chair I had yet to uncover:

Oh, and you can also see a kind of funny early set up of my SE apartment, complete with pukey-beige walls I wrote about how much I hated here. 

But really, look how pretty the wood turned out to be under all that orange:

So yes, I was sad to see them go. I sent them off to a new home (via craigslist) with someone who hopefully will love them as much as I did, and maybe will reupholster the seat with some padding. 

In their place, I bought some pink metal chairs. They are the same as the chairs we have out front of the house, and so I already know that they are surprisingly comfortable and sturdy. Also, they're pink!

So that's what happened with the cat-pee corner. I actually have another project in this area in the works right now, so keep your eyes peeled for another update soon. It's a change I am really stoked on!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kitchen Update Part II- Appliances! Paint!

I recently wrote about the updates in the kitchen that I consider my better-for-now upgrade. I showed you the new floor, and some before and afters, and mentioned that my big priorities for the updates were 1. replacing the peeling linoleum 2. lightening up the space 3. buying appliances and a kitchen sink, as there was nothing of the sort in the house upon sale.

As you may remember from the last post, this is how the kitchen started out:

The kitchen came with not a single appliance, and not even a kitchen sink. And it was DARK. Appliances were the first thing I needed once the floors were complete, but I was far more excited to think about painting and making the space look nicer than I was to shop for appliances. Something about kitchen appliances, at least when my budget is so shoestring I know I won't be even considering a Smeg fridge or Viking range, just does not illicit much excitement for me.

So let me first show off some of the things that I am excited about- like how I stripped the wallpaper- with help from my Mom, thanks Mom!- removed all the cabinet doors and hardware, and ultimately painted EVERYTHING.

Here is a video of Evan removing poly from a hinge after it had soaked in paint thinner, which I find oddly calming to watch. We did this for each piece of hardware, as everything was coated in aged, yellowed polyurethane.

See how yellowed the hinges looked originally:

They took a bath in paint thinner, got a good scrubbing, and were all kinds of shiny after:

I also decided to remove a couple of strategic cabinets to let more light into the kitchen. See how much more open things were looking already in this progress shot after removing the uppers on either side of the window, as well as the large upper cabinet that formed a partition between the dining area and kitchen spaces?

First the large cabinet in the front was taken down:

Then the cabinets flanking the window.

The removal of the cabinets left a section of the soffit looking rather out of place, which I intend to remove and patch up, but has been relegated to the later, more thorough kitchen renovation phase. Those things were built sturdy!

As soon as these three strategic cabinets came down, the space instantly felt so much lighter! I was elated.

I considered painting the walls white to just make things as bright and clean feeling as possible, but ended up deciding to use a blue similar to the one I painted in my last kitchen. Which by the way is also similar to the tone I painted in my Boston apartment 7 years ago. When you find something that works...

The kitchen in my apartment on Hawthorne

I decided with the appliances that I just wanted to get cheap ones, and get them in place to make the kitchen functional, and perhaps I would update them down the line.  My only requirements were that they be white and not almond, that the fridge be new-ish to be at least somewhat energy efficient (ie, not a 40 year old beast), and that the stove be gas.

After searching craigslist and box stores,I ended up getting my appliances at a local used appliance store called Appliance City. Their warehouse takes up an entire block, and as you wander inside there are fridges, stoves, dishwashers, and other large appliances stacked in rows upon rows, often with no seeming organization. Luckily the staff was very helpful, and made me what felt like a good deal on a gas stove, fridge, washer and dryer.

The four (including delivery) came out to $1,200, the bulk of which was because I chose to buy newer more efficient washer dryer set (with a gas washer). All four were delivered a few days later, and the delivery team even hooked everything up for me. So easy.

In a strangely lucky coincidence, I came to own a dishwasher before I even closed on the house. Shortly after getting my offer accepted, and knowing I would soon be on the hunt for appliances, I came upon a dishwasher on the street with a sign that said "Free! Works great!" I was walking home from work at the time, and while I did not usually have access to a vehicle that could have transported this sidewalk find (both Evan and I just got around on bikes or on foot, neither owning a car), it just so happened that my friend Molly had left me the keys to her truck while she was out of town that week so Evan and I could use it for errands (she's the best, right? having access to wheels for a while when you can't usually is huge). I ran home, got Evan, we hopped in the truck, and luckily the dishwasher was still there when we got to the corner where I'd seen it.

And how I came to have a dishwasher in the hallway of my tiny apartment...for a whole month.

I never realized I could write so many words just about buying used appliances. And I didn't even get to the kitchen sink. Which was a cast iron double sink I found on craigslist for $25.

So if you tally it all up, for $1,225, I got a fridge, gas stove, washer, gas dryer, dishwasher, and cast iron sink.  Not too bad, huh? Nearly 10 months later all of the appliances still work just fine (whoever wrote the note for my dishwasher was right, it does work great), and I really can't complain. Yes, I'd love to get a fancier stove someday (maybe one with a digital control of the oven? That would be fancy) but my kitchen is a whole lot more functional than it was before.

I mean, will you just look at those handsome appliances?

Oh, and the bright white freshly painted cabinets, far improved floors, and general happiness of my little retro kitchen NOW?

I still have a lot of thoughts and plans for little and big updates I can continue to make in here, but I am much happier cooking, eating and living in this space now that it is a little lighter. Oh yeah, and the fact that it contains a stove, sink and fridge now helps, too.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Making the kitchen better

The kitchen in my home is still not my dream kitchen. Oh don't worry, I have plans. But I also have a lack of funds, so the motivation of my initial kitchen clean up was to make the kitchen a space I didn't totally hate to cook in (because I love to cook, so that would make me crazy) without spending too much money so that I can save up for a few years and eventually do it for real.

So the idea was "better for now." I'm already pretty glad I took this tact because A. I could be in more debt right now, and that would be...not fun.  and B. As I live with the kitchen laid out as it is, I start to notice what does not work for me- If I had gone right in to replacing the counter tops and back splashes, and replaced the floors with higher end tile, I probably would have put them in the exact layout they were in previously. And then when I came to hate how you can't even access the stuff in that one cabinet, etc, I would feel stuck with it all, since I already put the big bucks into the fix-up. Does that make sense?

It's actually the same type of thing I didn't have the luxury of with the electrical and heatingupdates- If I had already lived in the house a while. I would know not to put that new outlet right where that one piece of furniture wants to go- or I may have decided while the vent work was all being replaced to add a heat vent into our turns-out-to-be totally freezing kitchen, or to move that one vent in the livingroom right that is right near the front door where the heat just escapes instantly. But we had NO heat and NO electricity. I couldn't live with the first set up and then pay to have someone make the updates work better for me, I had to get someone in asap, so that I could turn on a light in my home.  I never got a chance to be in the house with heat or lights on to realize that those would be issues. I just had to act fast. So I guess little things like that have me feeling grateful for the projects I can do in stages.

So back to the kitchen... My kitchen when I moved in looked like this:

All original cabinetry, in a pretty wood tone, some parts in pretty good shape, some not. Peeling wallpaper, generally dark and closed off feeling, not a single appliance (not even a kitchen sink), ugly overhead florescent, peeling original linoleum floors with extensive damage and wear in many areas.

I outlined my initial priorities:

1. Get rid of or cover the linoleum-  It was damaged enough that it could not get clean, and walking on it in socks was no-go. Your socks would probably get caught on the sharp pieces that had peeled upwards from damage!

2. Buy some appliances- you know, a fridge and an oven may be nice? Maybe a sink? These items came with additional steps of course, including plumb the sink, and get code appropriate power sources for the fridge and stove installed.

3. Lighten up- which really came down to cleaning the walls (and removing that pesky paper) painting the walls and ceiling and maybe painting the cabinets. I toyed with leaving the cabinets their wood tone, but overall the room just felt so dark. After about a month of living with it, I knew they needed to be painted in order for the room to feel airy instead of just cramped and dark.

Okay, so first up: The flooring. I was really lucky to have my Dad in town the week I got started on this kitchen update, he has laid many a linoleum tile floor. My parents own a multi-family home, and over the course of my lifetime, my dad has made updates and improvements to each of the units they rent out (the improvements to their own apartment always come last, sadly). I have many fond memories of laying linoleum tile floors with my dad- and when I talked to him about what we should do as a "good for a couple of years, won't hate to have to remove it down the line" type of inexpensive floor update, laminate tiles seemed like the most obvious answer.

I knew what I wanted: in my little 1950s kitchen, why not a classic black and white checkerboard floor? I imaged the solid color 9" black and white tiles I have seen in charming older homes. I searched the whole internet. And...nada.

It turns out that those 9 inch tiles were made of asbestos, and you can't buy them anymore. They make 12 inch laminate tiles, but after hitting all the usual places (home depot, lowes, assorted online stores) I couldn't find any solid black and white tiles in my price range. The only ones I seemed to find readily had a faux-stone look that was not what I was hunting for.

Remember that a big part of my reasoning for this floor choice is to pick something inexpensive, so I was really hoping to find something that cost no more than $1-2/sq ft. I went into two local flooring stores, and after striking out, was finally able to special order a tile style that would work.

They were 12"squares, and instead of linoleum, they were hard vinyl.This detail turned out to be a bit more important than I realized, but I will get to that. They came in black and white solid tones for far more expensive, but if I didn't mind black tiles with white flecks, and white tiles with black flecks, I could get some for just over a dollar per square foot. I had to special order them, and couldn't even see the colors in person before making my order. The whole prospect stressed me out, but they were cheap enough I went for it.

Here are some progress photos. My dad and I got a pretty good rhythm down, where he cut the tiles where needed (many of those that sat against the counters needed a trim to fit the space perfectly), and I spread the tile adhesive (which is the stickiest grossest stuff to work with!) and secured the tiles as carefully as possible to eliminate any cracks or mistakes in the pattern.

Ok, so my impressions of working with vinyl tile- in case you were wondering:

Unlike newer laminate tiles, these tiles were thick and brittle, they broke easily while working with them, which was definitely a pain. Their brittleness meant that we had to more thoroughly resurface the floor underneath to lay them down- any unevenness would cause them to break. Definitely not as easy to work with as flexible tiles like the peel and stick ones. That was pretty annoying considering this floor is really only intended to be in place for 3 years or so. Ultimately we probably should have ripped out the old flooring down to the subfloor, and attached a backer board just like you do with porcelain tile. But the whole point...was to be something easier and less permanent. Ugh. My dad put in a lot of prep time before we put in the tile sanding the rough areas and laying down self-leveling compound to create flat surfaces wherever there was damage. The dark gray areas in the pictures above is the leveling compound, by the way.

Another tricky thing about the tiles is that they are porous and can stain and scratch easily if you don't seal them with wax or a similar product, while most newer laminate tiles come already coated with a protective layer that makes them easy to clean. I held off on sealing them right away, as when you seal them, any dirt or dust can get locked in forever - ie, if they aren't in a perfectly clean environment at the time of sealing- they will never look clean again. We were working on multiple renovations at the time, and the house was dust city. So I decided to wait on that part. In the short amount of time we used the kitchen without the floors being sealed, they got dirty more easily than any floor I have seen, and any stain or scratch was hard to get up.

I did, however, finally get around to sealing them recently. First I scrubbed every square inch of floor with bleach, and wiped everything down with rubbing alcohol to get it perfectly clean. The process took all day. Oh and I got a chemical burn on my hand from exposing it to bleach for too long. Don't be like me: wear rubber gloves. Once it was clean, I applied Zep brand hardwood and laminate floor refinisher, which was marketed as a restoring product more than an initial sealing product, but after reading the reviews online I decided to try it. I used a washcloth attached to my swiffer broom to just spread the liquid out on my fresh and clean floor, let dry for an hour, and then went in for another coat. I ended up using 3 thick coats to get to the level of shine and protection I was hoping for.  

You guys. My kitchen floor is so easy to clean now! for several days after I would just go look at the kitchen floor excitedly. Or sweep again and see how nicely everything came up instead of getting lodged in the cracks and dings in the tile. So, so nice. Let's look at it again, huh?

This seems like enough of an information dump for today, huh? I'll be back soon to talk about the other steps of my just for now kitchen update, and to share some more pretty sort-of-after photos. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Moving in- the livingroom

As I have been hearing from some friends that they'd love to read more blog posts about the process in the house so far (thanks guys, you're the best! Gives me the warm fuzzies to know that someone is reading what I write here!) I thought I'd start from way back in the beginning, the first steps I made to try and make my little 5-years vacant, cat-pee ranch feel like home.

There are still a ton of projects that are underway currently, but I'm going to start in more or less where I left off after this post about removing our cat-pee carpets. So here goes.

When we moved in I needed at least one space to feel done. I prioritized the living room to feel like an actual living space and not a construction zone.

For the most part, getting there included cleaning the wood floors as well as possible, removing all the nails and staples, and painting all the woodwork and walls. I went with bright white for the woodwork, and the same medium gray I had in the living room of my last apartment. I had really liked the color in my last place, and thought it looked nice with my furniture, so it was an obvious choice.

The living room in my new house has great natural light (hello giant south-facing windows!) so the gray tone appears softer in this space (of course the only time of day I used to take pictures of my old livingroom was in the late morning when there was actually good light through my northeastern facing living room window)

See how I stuck to what worked in my last home and even arranged the pictures on the wall almost the same?

 An old picture of the living room in my SE Hawthorne apartment-
 (taken before I replaced my harvest gold couch with a...harvest gold couch)

The living room in my new house in Montavilla-

Of course, this living room is much larger than the last one, so I realized I was going to have room for more furniture. Specifically, I had the whole other side of the room along the window to decide what to do with. As a reminder, here is the side of the room I am talking about, as it looked when I first got the keys. Ugh.

And here it is with fresh primed white walls, ceilings and woodwork, and all of the signs of living in a construction zone:

I already had a pretty strong feeling of what I wanted. I was hoping to find a nice long credenza to sit in front of that window, in which I could store my records, and on top of which I would probably arrange plants, stacks of books, etc, as I just can't help myself.

I hunted the internet for a picture of the type of furniture piece I'd ideally like to find for that spot. I texted Evan this inspiration photo from Design Sponge:

It's just a screenshot from my phone, from the website, whose blog I've been reading for 7 years now. But I liked stumbling upon it because the walls, trim and floors are very similar in tone and finish to mine, and I loved the plant stand and that midcentury modern credenza/dresser was just the kind of thing I had in mind. I actually sent this picture to Evan specifically to see if he could weld me a plant stand like that someday. He says he can, so I guess now we wait and see.

But anyways. 

I was looking for a long, low dresser or cabinet for that wall. I checked goodwill daily, and walked into the vintage stores on Hawthorne regularly to check, I looked online at target, overstock, world market and a lot of other sources. But my budget just couldn't take the hit of buying a big piece of furniture, even if it was relatively inexpensive comparatively. All of the home improvements we bought materials for, never mind the work I had to have contractors do- replacing the roof, updating the electrical panel, buying and installing a hot water tank and furnace- meant that spending around two hundred dollars (a likely minimum estimate if I could find a piece of furniture like that either in a vintage store or a knock off from somewhere like target) on something that wasn't entirely necessary was out of the question.

Luckily, wandering on my lunch break one day, I found a great piece for only $25. It was at City Liquidators, an office liquidation warehouse near my work, where I occasionally visit just to see if there are any really amazing pieces. 

The place is like a maze, and the open warehouse feel and winding layout always makes me feel a bit anxious and lost as I explore the 5 floors of randomly scattered office furniture, much of which are in varying states of broken-ness. But there is also something strangely wonderful about wandering each floor alone, seeing not even a single other shopper (maybe because it is a weekday lunch hour, or maybe that is just always how it is there) as I try to find my way back to the main stairwell that seemingly keeps disappearing right when I think I'm getting near where an exit door should be.

Scenes from City Liquidators, Building 2:

In a corner on the second floor, on its side, and jammed between other furniture, I spotted this guy:

The condition this was in was pretty rough, but the quality was good. In fact, from looking inside, it seems to have been built by hand, with pencil markings and measurements sketched out softly on the insides of the cabinets and drawers. 

I got a little hint to how long ago it was in use when I found this piece of paper inside one of the drawers:

The date on that planner page is December 27th, 1976. I can't for the life of me read the handwriting.

The credenza was sold with its top unattached, so I knew before I could use it I would have to find a way to secure the top.

There was also a lot of discoloration and some veneer chipping on the drawer fronts.

I put Evan to work figuring out a good way to re-secure the top. Thanks, Babe!

I also took the time, while Evan worked on fastening the top, to wipe the front down with two coats of Walnut Restore-a-finish, my magic bullet product for disguising the kind of discoloration this piece had. There was nothing to be done for the veneer chips, but overall I think it turned out to still look pretty handsome.

See how well the size works to anchor that whole wall and make it look like part of the space? Obviously this piece of furniture is not as charming as my screenshotted example, but I liked its warm-wood-meets-industrial and the center cabinet is big enough to hold all 200-something of my vinyl records, so there you go.

At the very least that corner is looking cuter than it was when I first moved in ;-)

If you've been viewing my pictures on Instagram, you  may have noticed that there are other improvements in this space that have happened since this picture- like the new front door, updates to the fireplace etc. I guess the good news is, I have a lot more to write about!