It’s lookin’ like a house!

So I have three things that can be classified as Big Projects left to do in the houselet [1. waiting for my fridge and heater and then installing them; 2. finishing painting the trim, which is only classifiable as a Big Project because I haaaaaate it; 3. building in some closets upstairs, probably with a combination of wire shelving and artfully arranged curtains]. Once those are done, it is pretty much a done deal, which is kind of mindblowing to think about!

1) Final countertop; or, my mom is a genius.

So when we last discussed the riveting subject of countertops, I had a. abandoned my dreams of Paperstone, b. gotten a cheap piece of butcher block from the as-is section at Ikea, c. got Jeff to fabricate a complete countertop for the sink side and half of the counter for the stove side from said cheap piece of butcher block and d. had a big uncovered space remaining and no countertop to put on it. I did a little poking around looking for more butcher block and found out that my options were all pretty grim (too big, too expensive, too heavy to ship and often a combination of all three.) I wasn’t devoted to making the last section match the others: it’s on the section nearest to the living room, right under my Bar Cabinet, so I assumed it could be a little different without feeling totally bizarre.

And then–and let me say that I am not proud of this–I was looking at pictures of kitchens online at 2 AM and came across a photo spread of Martha Stewart’s kitchen. Mostly, I was just kind of gobsmacked at how many whisks she had, but one thing that caught my eye was a section of marble countertop that she had by her ‘pastry station’ (which, PS, is approximately the size of my whole house). I am not really a stone countertop kind of lady–a thing that irrationally annoys me on HGTV is people screaming about how they Must! Have! Granite! in their kitchen–but then Martha reminded me that actually, one of the nice things about stone is that the surface temp is cooler than other materials, which makes it nice for, say, rolling out pie crusts. I care not at all about having an HGTVish kitchen, but I care a hell of a lot about baked goods, so all of the sudden, throwing a little stone in the mix started to seem kind of cool. I called up the hippie store where I got my tung oil to see if I could score a nice remnant of something moderately eco-friendly, maybe some nice recycled glass or something, and I sure could….for the low, low price of $450. Nope! Then, one day when I was driving to Gersons, I happened by this weird store that didn’t actually have a name but DID have a bunch of rock slabs in their yard and a sign that just said GRANITE QUARTZ MARBLE CORIAN OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. I went in, and lo, it turned out to be a place that fabricated counters (and other stone things), and they DID have remnants, and the guy told me he’d cut something to size for me and could do the whole thing for $150 (which is what I’d told him my max budget was.) I was pretty stoked about the awesomeness of that deal (their posted price list made it sound like basically everything was out of range), so the next day, I brought Mom there to help me pick one out.

Now, I may have mentioned this about my mom before, but a) she thinks there is no problem that can’t be solved by either her chiropractor, Jeff or her old stand partner in the Symphony, Pat, and b) she thinks that everything on earth needs to cost less than $50. So on the way there, I was explaining the $150 thing to her, and she was saying confidently, “Oh, we’ll just go in there and find some little scrap that they don’t want and it’ll cost $20” and internally, I was rolling my eyes, but to keep the peace, I was just like, “Hey, you never know, we’ll just see what we see, etcetera!”, all the while being certain that this was just classic Moms Being Ridiculous. So….you probably can see where this story’s going, right? We get there, I go over to the actual remnants and start to poke through them; my mom, meanwhile, disappears behind the facility, where her spider sense has led her to a pile of actual scraps, not just the off-cuts I was looking at. She calls me over, and I very quickly find a cool rectangular piece of quartz, just about the right size for the counter: we take it in, ask the only guy left in the store what it would cost, and after ascertaining that he didn’t have to cut it or do anything else to it, he was like, “I dunno, twenty bucks?”

SCORE ONE FOR MOM! This happened several days ago, and I am still a little gobsmacked. We brought it home, and it turned out that Jeff had some spare maple in his garage, so he made a little surround for it, and now, $45 later (stone plus an hour of Jefflabor), I have a quartz countertop.


In context:

This joins the ranks of great houselet steals, which include my $248 floors: all of the countertops ended up costing $166, including labor, and they are solid 1.5 inch maple butcher block and quartz. WOO!

2) Book & cat shelves: I did some measuring at the house and bought some wood at Home Depot (which the people there cut for me) last week. It sat around in the garage for a week, and then yesterday, I decided the time had come and put together my catwalk-slash-horizontal bookshelves (they’re primarily for books, but I’m going to set them up so the cats can hang out and walk along on the top: I think I’m also going to build in some cubbies in them for up-high cat beds. They don’t have the actual shelf dividers in yet (this entails renting/learning how to use a router), but I put the boxes together, anyway! Right now, I am writing this entry instead of priming them, because I am SO TIRED of painting.

These are as simple as can be: I just screwed some poplar ply to some 1x12s and built little frames, like so:

This is what they looked like when they were done (ish). Just imagine them the same white as the walls with some dividers in them.

When I paint them and get the dividers in, I’ll mount them to the studs in the walls about six feet up pretty much all the way around the house.

3) Stair cubby update

So you guys appeared to be evenly split on whether to just tung oil these or stain them gray, and what I ended up doing was just splitting the difference: I did the sides in gray and kept the doors natural. I was convinced that I had taken a picture of this, but apparently I didn’t, so TBA there. Anyway, I am liking it pretty well: I may just have to live with it for a while and see how I feel about things.

4) Magnetic knife holder is up. No big deal: I just wanted to put it on my list of Done! Things!


5) More trim was painted (aided in part by Mom, who came down one day and helped). Boy, this is a tedious project. Progress is being made, though!

See? Everywhere there is painter’s tape, there is progress.

6) I set up my awesome couch today! It is great! Even though I cannot figure out how to get the slipcover less lumpy! Nellie insists on posing with it in all shots.



In chaise mode (one arm down). Even when both arms are down (bed mode), it fits in the little space next to the door just fine: this is a great tiny house couch!

Nellie is stoked to have something other than the floor to lay on

7) More on How My Mom Is Awesome

So I am hoping to do this stencil-with-wood-glue thing on the front of my cabinets, right? Except because I am fundamentally a cheapo, I just could not to bring myself to pay twenty bucks for a stencil, so OBVIOUSLY it was better to spend a full day trying fruitlessly to cut a stencil out of a cardboard box with a paring knife.

[spoiler: it was not better]
[this picture was taken after I finally sucked it up and bought a craft knife. Paring knife? Doesn’t work]


So after watching me futz around all day, my mom (who, among her many talents, is also a talented–and published!–illustrator), offered to freehand something. Obviously I took her up on it! We’re going to need a few more coats before we stain, but here’s Mom doing the first step:


That’s it for now! It’s coming along, no?

Interior mega-update: Part Two

Mega-post, continued!

1) Counters

So Jeff cut my new Ikea countertop for me, which I appreciated: my skills with the band saw are still a little rudimentary. When I got it down to the house, it looked like this:

While it was outside, I tried out the two colors of tung oil on it to see what looked better. I was Team Dark before I started, but once I put the dark oil on, I realized it was absorbing differently into the different woods used in the butcher block and coming out all splotchy.

A similar thing happened on the loft in the upstairs window frame: I did the trim in dark tung and the oil absorbed differently all over the wood (I think because the trim wood is compressed): it still looks kind of splotchy, even after a bunch of coats. So, lesson learned: I think the dark tung works better when you’ve got a single piece of wood, like my beams and stair treads. I am going to use it on the window seat today though, so more dark tung is happening, I promise.

So I ran a line of silicone over the top of the cabinets (to help adhere the countertop), hoisted the countertop up on top of the cabinets, and…



It turned out that there was a little tiny bit of stair runner wood that wasn’t perfectly flush with the rest of the runner, and that 1/8″ was enough to keep the counter from going in smoothly.

I tried my tried-and-true trick of “when in doubt, put a towel on it and bash it with a hammer”, which mostly works, but in this case just left me with a hole in the wall.

Double oops. And I cannot lie: there were definitely a few minutes where I was jabbing at the hole with a screwdriver hoping that if I made it bigger, the counter would slide down. Nope! So instead, I pulled the countertop off, put some wood filler in the hole in the wall and gave the countertop its first coat of tung oil.

Pretty! I have noticed that the lighter tung needs a bunch of coats to really sink in: you’ll see in the Day Two pictures that it looks lighter (because the first layer has soaked in). But ultimately, when it’s all saturated, it’ll look like it does here.

2) Fan, redux

Fan blades are up!

[Don’t tell anyone, but I am starting to dig this fan. It is so squatty and adorable!]

Also, I got some Howard’s Feed & Wax and went over the stair runners and beams, since I wanted a slightly shinier finish on them and they were getting pretty matte as they dried. I loooooove that Howard’s: I use it on furniture all the time, and I’m going to use it on the counters once they are all oiled up.

[ignore That Light]

Day Two! Jeff came down and helped me with Countergate. He ended up just cutting into the corner of the countertop, and once he did that, it fit perfectly. I sanded and painted the hole in the wall, we got the countertop on, and then, since he was there, we hooked up the sink and the faucet and got the plumbing all set. Hurrah! Here’s the finished product:

Gratuitous picture of my new on-demand hot water heater, which Jeff installed while I was gone. So tiny! So not an enormous tank!

Jeff also had a surprise for me: the countertop I bought was too wide for the cabinets (which I knew: it was in the Ikea as-is for half price, so I bought it), so Jeff cut it down, but then he used the scraps to make a little countertop for the other side (he just cut them down and glued/clamped them together). And it is gorgeous and perfect, and now I only have to buy one more 31″x25″ piece of countertop, so that saved me a hundred bucks. Doesn’t this look good? You would have no idea that it was made from scraps.

4) Then, we talked through the stair cubbies and horizontal bookshelves. Jeff took some measurements and is going to build the boxes for the cubbies while he’s recuperating: we’re making with doors on both sides so they’re accessible from under the stairs and also from the uprights of the stairs themselves (this will let me enclose that area if I want). I am going to build the bookshelves all by my lonesome, but I feel better about doing that now than I did before (today I have to measure and buy LOTS of lumber).

When Jeff left, I primed the uprights then painted them with a really heavy duty enamel paint (for ease of cleanup): it’s Benjamin Moore Advance, in the same color as the walls. It was super thick, almost ganache-like in texture, and it promises a very hard, durable surface, so I will let you know how it wears.

Primer: When You Want Things to Look Just a Little Bit Horrible


These guys will eventually be front doors for the stair cubbies. One of my projects for today is to measure and cut some of the leftover bamboo for the floor: that’s going to be the stair treads.

5) Upper cabinets!
OK, so here’s the thing: because the upper cabinets (which, if you recall, I felt pretty ‘meh’ about) are some kind of melamine/MDF inside,the holes from when they got screwed to the wall are pretty big and obvious (if you’ve ever tried to nail or screw a piece of Ikea furniture, you know what I mean.) This makes the cabinets functionally unreturnable, so now my options are a) move them to a different part of the house or b) work with them where they are. Right now I am going to give b) a shot, since no matter where I put them, I think I’ll want to paint them. So my plan now is to take the doors off, prime and paint them (I’m going to use the same white enamel I used for the stair uprights) and use them as open shelving: I think I am going to turn the one closest to the living room into a little bar shelf, which might actually be cool (I hope?) So I started by priming them. The primer is having a hard time adhering to the weird melamine, even though it’s all-surface primer, so I put one coat on and today I’m going to try another coat and see if that first coat helps the adhesion. They look bad now! Hopefully they will look better? We will see.



6) Backsplash!

So a few weeks ago when I was at Gersons, I saw a couple of packs of mosaic tiles (pretty cool ones: they’re natural stone and glass) for two bucks apiece. I didn’t know if I’d be able to use them or not, but I picked up six packs anyway since they were so cheap.

Cheap! Proof!

Once I got the counter on, I realized they’d fit almost perfectly between the countertop and the window frame. Yay! So I got some ceramic tile adhesive and glopped it on the back:

And started sticking them up! You’ll notice a little gap between the top of the tile and the window frame: that’s the almost perfect part. I might get some horizontal stone tiles to fill it in: I might also just decide not to worry about it, which seems easier 🙂

You will also notice that that gap seems to disappear as I put more tiles on. That….is true! And I don’t know why, except maybe something somewhere is crooked? Regardless, not worrying about it (maybe I will just fill that in with grout.)

When I got to the end part under the stairs, I had a little bit of room to fill in, but the tiles themselves were too big. However, I did have those little rows of glass tiles, and upon closer examination, they were all separate from each other and just held together with a little cloth backing. So I just got some scissors and cut them apart from the other stones:

And made a little triangle at the end! I AM BASICALLY EXACTLY LIKE MCGYVER, YOU GUYS.

I have to grout them still (I have never grouted anything before: it sounds…exciting?) and seal them, because they’re natural stone, but I am pretty pleased with it, and the whole thing, including the glue, cost $16.
And now I am heading back to do more projects. Think good thoughts in the direction of those cabinets!