Category Archives: Projects

Saved by my Own Hoarding: A Vanity Story

I love furniture with history, and we have been fortunate to inherit a house full of it. On the flip side, I have a very hard time parting with any of these sentimental pieces – even when they may be damaged beyond repair.

Take my great-grandmother’s buffet, for example. I acquired it around 2004, after the death of my mom’s first cousin Tommy. He had a storage unit filled with furniture from my great-grandmother Hazel’s house, and this buffet was one of the pieces I claimed. (I was pretty low on the totem pole when it came to choosing items. Obviously.) It was filled with mildewed linens, and only had 3.75 legs – and only two of those were attached.

I put it in my garage in Alabama, vowing to do “something” with it.

Fast forward 14 years and four moves.

Our master bathroom is a decent size but featured a small pedestal sink and almost no built-in storage. When we moved in, it looked like this:

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Over the last year, we painted, removed the large wall mirror, and replaced the light fixture. We planned to replace the pedestal sink with a vanity, add shelving, and replace the tumbled tiles with something more historic-looking.

Then the pedestal sink top came dangerously loose from the base. That moved the pedestal replacement to the top of the priority list. And I thought about OG Hazel’s buffet, which was resting upside-down in the guest house closet.

When we pulled it out, it looked even more rickety than I remembered. But it was constructed of solid pieces of wood, and Jason stabilized it with some small angle brackets.

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We decided to salvage the front legs and use wood blocks to mount the buffet to the wall.

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We bought a basic vessel sink at Home Depot, a drain on Amazon, and splurged on a cool faucet from Wayfair. Including miscellaneous plumbing equipment, we probably spent $400, which seems like a lot until you look at the price for a new 48″ bathroom vanity. We would have spent at least twice that – maybe three times – for a similar piece.

Jason had to modify the drawers on the left side to make room for the plumbing, but that ended up being a lot simpler than I thought. We decreased the depth of the top drawer to about five inches, and cut a wedge out of the big bottom drawer. I used this article from This Old House as a guide.

After some trial and error in the plumbing department (and only a moderate amount of cursing), we were done.

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(This bathroom is particularly difficult to photograph, because the window and light fixture keep all the light at the top of the room. I apologize.)

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And just as a reminder…..

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Our next bathroom project will be installing some chunky shelves in that recess to the right of the vanity. We’ll get to it. Eventually.

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Frugal Frannie Rides Again

Today’s the first day of school for the older kids, so let’s celebrate with a good old-fashioned DIY. Last week I updated a dresser that’s almost as old as I am. I wish it were that easy to update myself!

This dresser started life in my brother’s bedroom, at least 35 years ago. It’s held everything from boy clothes to bank statements, and currently sits in Hollyn’s room, where it is stuffed to bursting.

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It’s….fine. A basic, simple, vanilla dresser. I wanted to make it stand out a little more, since it’s the same color as the walls, and give it a bit more personality. I emptied the drawers, removed the knobs, and gave the whole thing a good cleaning. As you can imagine, thirty-odd years of use leaves its mark. In the photo below, the top drawer has been cleaned, and the bottom one has not. Yeesh.

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After cleaning, I lightly sanded the whole thing and prepared to paint it using leftovers from Jensen’s bedroom – City Storm by Valspar.

During the kitchen renovation, the cabinet configuration changed after we’d already ordered hardware, so we were left with ten extra knobs. Guess what I used on Hollyn’s dresser? Go on, guess.

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The dresser looks brand new!

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It wasn’t free, because we had already purchased the paint and knobs for other projects, but it didn’t involve any new spending.

Now, instead of blending into the wall, the dresser has a personality of its own. I love the way it looks with the floor – if you look at the black tiles, you can see it’s almost the same color as the grout. This was a happy accident.

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This dresser is ready for several more decades of loyal service.

 

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A perfectly ordinary summer. What a miracle.

The older kids return to school in just under two weeks, and I think everyone is ready for the big day. For the first (and only!) time in the history of our eleven-year-old family unit, the three big kids will be attending the same school. PONDER THE MAGNIFICENCE.

This summer feels like the first normal summer we’ve had since 2013….because it is, in fact, the first normal summer we’ve had since 2013. Hazel was born in May of 2014, mom’s brain tumor was diagnosed in May of 2015, and those two events simply consumed the summers that followed them. The summer of 2016 was spent preparing to move, moving, and unpacking, and last summer was devoted to spending quality time with mom as she lived the last months of her life.

So what did we do this summer?

Jason changed jobs at the end of May, leaving his large-firm lawyer job for a small employment boutique. His main office is in the guest house, and I help him out with administrative and paralegal tasks as time permits.

We took everyone to Chicago in June, which was tremendous. We went to a Cubs game, visited museums, rented bikes along the lakefront, and ate our weight in tasty food. Chicago is very much my kind of town.

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Hazel went to Farm Camp, two different VBSes, and Ballet Camp. She also got her first haircut ever.

Our neighbor got goats. I love them.

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Our unexpected goldfish, Kitty the Fish, passed away at the end of June.

For someone who has lived in Florida most of my life, I visited a lot of Florida sites for the first time. We took the kids to Wakulla Springs. Hazel and I accompanied Jason to a work event in Palatka and visited Ravine Gardens State Park. And on another work trip, we stayed at the Don CeSar, which is (apparently) kind of a big deal hotel.

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I managed to get my patriotic bunting up over a week before July Fourth – a new record.

I painted Hazel’s toes and Tyler’s hair, both for the first time.

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I slipped off to Orlando to spend a couple of days with a friend from college. I listened to podcasts, ate half a cheese board, and watched TV in bed.

In house news, we re-arranged some rugs and did some frugal improvement by sanding and spray-painting the dirty (but functional) floor vents and ceiling diffusers throughout the house. They look good as new, at a fraction of the price.

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My outdoor plants have not died, although my jalapeno and heirloom tomato have steadfastly refused to produce anything. My Sweet 100 tomato plant has made dozens of tiny tomatoes, all of which have gone straight into Hazel’s mouth. She refers to this plant as her “snack bush.” I snort every time. I have ventured into the scary universe of houseplants, after being impressed that our Chicago AirBnB was full of them. I have a fern for the dining room, succulents for the kitchen window, and two new plants I just picked up on Saturday.

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It has been a normal summer. A beautiful, ordinary, normal summer. I never thought I’d be so grateful for one.

 

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And it only took two years…….

Over Memorial Day weekend we painted Hazel’s room. We have now painted every. single. room. in. the. house. That includes hallways, bathrooms, stairwells, and weird pass-through areas between the main rooms.

As you may recall, when the house was re-wired, the electricians had to punch holes in every wall to access the old wiring and install the new. So we were left with large unsightly drywall patches all over the house.

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We painted our bedroom first, then all the downstairs rooms, and ended with the kids’ rooms (hey, they don’t pay the mortgage). Hazel, by virtue of being the youngest, went last.

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Her bedroom is my favorite, and I knew from the first time we toured the house it was meant to be hers. It is on the northwest corner of the house, and gets pretty light all day long. Both sets of windows look out over metal roofs, making the rain sound awesome. It was painted a soft buttery yellow, which was perfect for Hazel’s sunny disposition.

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While we were at it, I decided to edit Hazel’s furniture and furnishings. Like most kids, she is a magnet for castoff items – mostly hand-me-downs from the older kids, but also free coozies and sunglasses and keychains and whatnots.

One of the biggest challenges in her room is that the big, beautiful windows are….big. I’d put a low chest underneath one set of windows, and put Hazel’s books in it. But the books often ended up in other places, and the top of the chest was a tempting spot for clutter. I decided to get it out of Hazel’s room to see if that made a positive difference. We also discarded anything that was broken or missing pieces, and re-organized her toys.

I don’t believe in letting children have total control over the color of their bedrooms, but I do get their input. Hazel vacillated between yellow (essentially the same color already on the walls) and pink. As much as I love the yellow, I was interested to try something different.¬†The winner was “Quaint Peche” by Sherwin Williams.

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If you’d told me I’d ever paint a room pink, I would have called you a liar. But it turned out beautifully, and Hazel loves it.

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Most of her things still “go” with the new color, but I did have to remove some artwork. I was able to hang up the buntings I made for her third birthday party, and they make the windows look quite festive.

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And there you have it – a sweet space for a sweet girl. And now we can hang up our brushes for a while!

 

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Hi, my name is Windy, and I have black thumbs

I have always said that I am terrible at plants. I don’t have houseplants, I don’t know much about the things growing in my yard, and every time I’ve tried to have an herb garden it ends in shriveled brown disaster. All these plants? Dead by the time we sold our house (two months later).

I didn’t think it mattered much, until this spring. During Lent, I took a photograph of one thing every day that brought me joy. Looking back, I was surprised to see how many photos were of the outdoors – flowers and plants and sky and trees.

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It turned out that nature brought me a lot of joy, and since I wanted to carry that joy with me throughout the year, I resolved to spend more time outside – and to give plants another go.

Spending time outside is easy and pleasant. Our porch is my favorite place on earth, and I could sit there and watch Bebe and Hazel chase each other around the yard all day.

Incorporating more plants into my life felt like a challenge.

I have killed plants from Florida to Massachusetts and points in between. I have watched tomatoes flower, grow…and then wither from blossom end rot. I have neglected herbs and slaughtered orchids. I am unpersuaded by the Joanna Gaineses of the world, who stick plants everywhere and hashtag photos with #crazyplantlady.

I’m just crazy. No plants required.

However, I sucked it up and bought some baby plants. I went to an actual plant nursery and grilled some unfortunate employee for 30 minutes about the care and maintenance of the plants I was getting. I ended up with two different tomatoes, one jalapeno pepper, one pimiento pepper, and a variety of easygoing herbs.

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Almost two months later, everything is still alive! Holy smokes!

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My cherry tomato plant is making tomatoes. LIKE A BOSS.

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(Sorry it’s blurry, I got excited.)

Yes, I have to set reminders on my phone so that I water these guys. But they are bringing me unexpected amounts of gratification, as well. Now when we sit on the glorious porch, I am surrounded by my plants. I use my basil, parsley, and rosemary all the time, and even the mint has made several appearances this spring (especially around Derby day). I even brought home an orchid to keep inside. It’s…..um…. not doing great, honestly, but I’m trying to find a spot it likes.

This is the most success I’ve had with plants to date. I don’t think I’ll become a #crazyplantlady any time soon, but developing new skills and challenging myself to keep something alive has been pretty rewarding.

 

 

 

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Done and Done.

The kitchen is done! Like, done done. The last check has been written, the paint is dry, and I’m ready for some serious before-and-afters.

Set the way-back machine to way back, aka January 2018.

Before:

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After:

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I wanted a kitchen that felt at home in our house, but which also worked hard to feed six people day in and day out. I wanted a space that was pleasant to work in, but not “decorated” or accessorized. I wanted clean lines but rich texture.

I got all that. And more!

The kitchen has always been my favorite room in the house, even when it was more boring. It has windows on three sides, so it gets beautiful natural light all day long.

Before:

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After:

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I cannot believe I get to work here every day. Even if I’m just toasting an English muffin, it’s so¬†pleasant.

Before:

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After:

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Elements in the kitchen echo other parts of the house. For example, the entry area is now painted the same color as our living room. The floating shelves by the sink are stained to match the floors in the rest of the house. The upper cabinet knobs look like the doorknobs everywhere else. I wanted to be sure that the kitchen fit seamlessly into the house, and it does.

 

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I could compose odes on the brick floor. It looks incredible, like it’s been there forever. It’s my favorite part of the kitchen.

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Happy 90th birthday, house!

 

 

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How We Saved Money on our Giant Kitchen Renovation

A complete kitchen renovation is expensive. There’s no way around it. However, we worked hard to manage the cost of the project, and saved money in big and small ways. Every little bit helps!

There were some areas we actually put cash dollars back into our own pockets:

1. We paid cash. We’ve been saving for this renovation since we moved into the house, because we knew it was something we wanted to do. And some of the money came from my mom’s estate (thanks, mom!). By paying cash, we avoided the costs of taking out a renovation loan or other financing arrangement. Savings: Unknown, probably several thousand dollars.

2. We sold the old appliances. On Craigslist, I sold the wall oven ($100), the dishwasher ($75), the range hood ($50) and the fridge ($75). That’s $300.

3. We got a deal on the new appliances. We are getting a $700 rebate from Kitchenaid because we purchased three new appliances from them. Additionally, we got $150 discount from the appliance store because we paid cash for the appliances.

4. We got rebates from the city. We got $115 electric rebate and $240 natural gas rebate, for a total of $355 in rebates.

That’s $1500 in hard savings, as well as an unknown-but-large amount saved by not financing the entire renovation. This is definitely not a project we could have done ourselves, especially the multiple floor/subfloor issues we encountered.

In other areas, we made choices that lowered the cost of materials or labor:

5. We tolerated eccentricity. Our cabinet makers are two grumpy brothers from Havana. They have a pre-paid phone, and when that runs out of minutes, you have to get creative to contact them. Our contractor had to resort to leaving notes on their windshield at one point. But their bid was several thousand dollars less than the competing bid, and their work was excellent.

6. We prioritized. The floor repairs were important, so we were willing to spend more money on them. Likewise, it was important to me to have the hardest-working countertops I could find, which was expensive. To offset those spendy items, we chose plain white subway tiles for the backsplash – it’s inexpensive and classic. We went middle-of-the road for appliances, sink, faucet, and hardware.

7. We were patient and flexible. Several times, it paid to wait. When the first flooring company said they couldn’t install the brick, we waited until we found a company that would do it, rather than choosing a different, more expensive, material. We got several quotes for the countertops, and took some time negotiating. In the end, we saved $1,600 by patiently going from vendor to vendor to work out the best deal. We ended up with a piece of quartz that the vendor had on-hand – it wasn’t exactly what I’d envisioned, but it was close enough (and now I love it).

Whether you’re gutting your kitchen or getting ready to DIY a bathroom, these are good tips to keep in mind.

And since you’ve made it this far, I’ll share the last two details that finished the kitchen remodel.

First, the cabinetmakers created some floating shelves for the wall beside the sink. They stained the shelves to match the wood floors in the rest of the house, and I bought the shelf brackets on Etsy.

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Second, we left the original butler’s pantry area untouched, but wanted something to break up the whiteness of it all. I decided to wrap the countertop in a sheet of copper, to match the large light fixture (and our gas lamps, etc.).

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The kitchen continues to be a joy and a delight, and I spend most of my day in it. It’s even fun to clean.

 

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