My name is Lisa and I'm a crafty girl with wanderlust working as an engineer by day. My blog chronicles projects in my home as well as pictures and stories from my travels.




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Entries in Renovations (52)


A New Light for My Studio

The overhead light that I had in my studio wasn't really working for me anymore (it wasn't enough light to effectively work in there at night) so I had been looking for something that I could replace it with. When I was at the ReStore in Ann Arbor I stumbled upon a pendant light for five dollars that I picked up.

I brought it home, taped off the electrical wires and socket and then gave the fixture three light coats of oil rubbed bronze spray paint.

I paired the fixture with a vintage glass shade that I bought on eBay and hung it in the room.

I really love the glass shade and I think that the simple pendant fixture works well with it.

Unfortunately, my new light was in a very messy studio. This past weekend I spent a lot of time cleaning and organizing it with some new storage solutions. I hope to have it finished up later this week to share it.


Still Tiling...

When I last left off with sharing my bathroom tiling exploits I had finished the back wall of the shower enclosure along with the shampoo/soap nook. From there I proceeded to start working along one of the walls. I lined up my ledger board snugly under the bottom tile on the back wall, placed a level on top, adjusted the ledger board until it was level and then screwed it into the wall.

From there I set about tiling up the side wall just as I had the back wall. Once I got to the chair rail I used my 45 degree miter attachment (which came with my saw when I bought it used) on my tile saw to cut the miter for the corner on both pieces and set them in place.

Tiling the field tile with no special cuts actually proceeded fairly quickly.

My intention was to tile the shower enclosure up to the ceiling and stop the tile around the rest of the room at the chair rail. To make sure that my line was straight at the end of the shower enclosure I used a level to align a piece of painters tape plumb along the wall. I then used this as my guideline for the tiling.

With the slanted ceiling I had to make some tricky cuts so I bought a new attachment for my wet saw, a 90 degree protractor. I am sure that a professional might have a better way of setting it but I simple held it face back to the wall snugly up to the ceiling and the adjusted the arm until it was parallel with the top row of the tile I had laid. This seemed to do the trick and I was able to use the protractor to cut the correct angle on the top of the tiles.

On the second row of tiles that needed to have the angle cut I had a slice of a tile that was smaller than a full tile. In order to cut that tile I used a scrap tile against the protractor followed by the tile I was intending to cut. By doing this I was able to get a clean cut on the small tile slice. If I had just lined it up against the protractor the blade of the saw would have hit the metal of the protractor instead of continuing through the scrap tile.

Next, I needed to provide a finished edge to the shower surround. Since the regular bullnose tile was a little too wide for my tastes, I used bullnose tile that I trimmed down to the width of the liner bar (the same way that I did for the border of the nook) to create a clean edge. In order to keep the slender pieces in place I used painters tape to hold them in place until the thinset cured.

With one side wall completed I can start to see how the bathroom is going to shape up. It is a very laborious process with about 500 tiles laid on the walls so far, but I think it is going to look fantastic when it is done. I just need some more free time to devote to it!

For other related posts about this bathroom renovation check out the history of my downstairs bathroomfixtures for my bathroom renovationplumbing in the downstairs bathroominstalling the floor tile underlaymentinsulating the ceiling, installing the vapor barrier for the shower, installing drywall and cement board, tiling a vintage mosaic border, mudding, taping, sanding and painting, taping the cement board joints and tiling part 1. If you are interested in my completed master bathroom renovation check out master bathroom renovation recap. 


A Few Kitchen Updates

It has been a long time since I posted anything about my kitchen and since over the past few months I've made several changes I thought I would share.

First up was swapping out the vintage red and white enamel topped table that I had been using as a kitchen island. Let me just say that I love that table. I think it is fantastic. Since I stand at a towering 5'2" it is perfect for me as a work space plus it is super cute. My husband, however, had some differing opinions. He's a foot taller than me and it was way too low for him to comfortably use as a prep area in the kitchen, or as he would say the table was designed for munchkins.

Marriage is all about compromise (plus for selfish reasons I love having him make me dinner and thought removing any impediments to that would be in my best interest) so I had planned on building an island after we got married. Unfortunately, I have way more plans than time, so although I still intend to build a fantastic island that Frank will love the reality is that is likely a few years down the road. With that in mind I set about searching for something that would work better for us, but not break the bank.

I had no idea that kitchen islands were so dang expensive. Everything I seemed to like was about $1500 which was way more than I wanted to pay. Eventually I found a black kitchen cart with a stainless steel top on Overstock. At $368.99, it was still more than I would have liked to spend but it was the best option and by far the least expensive of anything I had found and I ended up ordering it in March.

When it arrived while Frank was out of town on a business trip I was excited to put it together and surprise him when he came home. Of course as I started putting it together I discovered that the two locking casters were missing and both side panels were broken. After some frustration I was able to get the replacement parts for the island a week later.  At this point I had become pretty annoyed with the kitchen cart so Frank, who had since returned home, kindly assembled it. 

In the end it has been pretty awesome. It is a great height for Frank to use as a prep space and I still have my lowered baking center to use when I am working on making something. I also like that the black color ties in with the black granite and the stainless top matches the appliances. The only thing I am not a fan of is the weird handles on the drawers. They have a strange cross hatch pattern on them, which is hard to see in the picture. Someday I will swap them out, but that is a minor thing to do down the road.

After we got back from our Scandinavia trip in May, Frank was off to Japan for work. I decided while he was gone that I should paint the kitchen. This is what happens when I am left to my own devices. The color has been a pretty green since I remodeled it when I first bought the house, but I was growing a little tired of the color. Additionally, the green was a little jarring with the macchiato color of the living/dining room that you could see through the pass through.

I wanted something lighter as well as a neutral and settled on Benjamin Moore's Pale Oak. Two coats of paint later and my kitchen was transformed.

With the fresh paint color on the walls there were a few more changes as well. While Frank and I were on our Scandinavian vacation most of the hotels we stayed at had a muesli bar as part of the buffet breakfast. We loved it and decided that we should make our own small version at home. Frank found the jars and filled them up with goodies and I found the wood tray at HomeGoods to stack them on.

The old red, white and green rug that I had been using in front of the sink had seen better days, plus with the new wall color I wanted something different so I replaced it with a hounds tooth check runner that I found at Target.

On the wall next to the window above the baking center I hung another HomeGoods find. I loved the mix of the white wire with the wood slats and rope hanger. On the top shelf I have a little bowl that I picked up at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul paired with some sake I bought in Japan. The second row has two pestles that I bought at the Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala, my great-grandmother's coffee can, an antique milk bottle that I bought at the Osu Kannon Flea Market my last day living in Japan and a tiny brass spice mill I bought in Turkey. On the bottom sits a hand painted bowl that I bought with Frank when we were in Positano, Italy two years ago. 

Overall I am really happy with the kitchen updates. They aren't the biggest changes but to me it really freshens up the space and makes everything seem so much brighter.

Still on my to do list in here is to sew some cafe curtains for the windows and add a subway tile backsplash, but I really need to finish tiling the downstairs bathroom before I even begin to think about that...


Vintage Mosaic Tile Border For the Downstairs Bathroom 

One of the things that I have been really excited about doing in the downstairs bathroom was the floor tile. Since my house is over 130 years old I wanted to use mosaic tiles to create a vintage look with a border around the perimeter of the room. I looked at bunch of images for inspiration and found that American Restoration Tile was a particularly great resource. I love the look of the Greek key border, but since the area I have to tile is small I needed a smaller border and settled on creating a square jogging border design.

I bought one sheet each of 1"x1" black mosaic tile and 1"x1" white mosaic tile and tested the pattern to be sure that I liked it. I was sold so I went back to the store and bought enough sheets for the project.

To get started I used a pair of scissors to cut through the mesh backing of the mosaic sheets to create some strips of the black that were two tiles wide and one tile wide and then some strips of the white tile that were one tile wide. I also peeled a bunch of the tiles off from the mesh backing to use to piece together the jogging square.

After I did a dry fit to confirm everything I used a 3/16" X 5/32" V-notch trowel to spread thinset in sections along the perimeter of the floor. This was my first time tiling with mosaics and I really had to be careful with the amount of thinset I was using to make sure that it wouldn't squeeze up between the tiles.

I laid a strip two wide strip of black tiles against the wall followed by a strip of white. I then used the individual tiles to create the jogging square and then added another strip of white and black. I thought a while about how to handle the corners and decided that I liked a simple square the best. There weren't any spacers that I could find that matched up with the spacing on from the mesh very well so I used a combination of eyeballing and a straight edge to keep my spacing even as I went along.

After I finished the border I went back with my 5-in-1 Painter's Multi Tool to scrape up the extra thinset so that I would have a flat, even surface for when I go back to add my field tile.

I had two extra columns in the width of the room and one extra in the length of the room so I had to adjust the pattern a bit in the corners. The most visible corner is the one in front of the tub across from the toilet (in the bottom right corner of the below picture) so I kept that one with the proper spacing. On the corners that are on the wall with the door I added an extra white column on either side of the corner square. For the remaining corner I added an extra white column next to the square and in the first pattern but it will be behind the toilet so it will be hidden. I wish that it worked out to have the exact number of tiles I needed for an even pattern but overall I think it looks balanced.

I'm really excited with how the border has come together and I am excited to bust out my tile saw and add the hex field tile to the floor.

For other related posts about this bathroom renovation check out the history of my downstairs bathroomfixtures for my bathroom renovationplumbing in the downstairs bathroominstalling the floor tile underlaymentinsulating the ceiling, installing the vapor barrier for the shower and installing drywall and cement board. If you are interested in my completed master bathroom renovation check out master bathroom renovation recap.


Drywall and Cement Board for the Downstairs Bathroom

After a hiatus from working on the downstairs bathroom for a few months I finally got back at it. In the fall I had closed up the floor and installed the underlayment, insulated the ceiling and installed the vapor barrier for the shower but then things got stalled with a busy work schedule and travel.

About a month ago Frank and I drywalled the ceiling with him holding the sheets in place while I screwed them in. It was a bit of a challenge in the tight space but we got it up together.

This past weekend I started closing up the walls in the bathroom, starting with the 1/2" thick cement board on Saturday. Cement board is waterproof making it an ideal substrate for tiling the shower surround.

Cutting cement board is the same as the score and snap method for drywall. Using a carbide cutter and a T-square score the cement board panel a few times making a groove in the cement and cutting through the glass fiber mesh.

Next bend the panel so it snaps along the groove.

Finish by using a utility cutter to cut the glass fiber mesh on the back side.

To install the cement board in the shower surround it is important to use screws that are designed for cement board and are rust and corrosion resistant since it is a wet area. The cement board needs to be installed 1/4" above the tub flange and due to its heaviness I had Frank hold it up for me while I screwed it in to guarantee the gap. It sure is handy to have a husband around...

To make the cutouts for the plumbing I used a carbide tip meant for cement board with my handy dandy cut-out tool. Sometimes Frank jokes that he married me for my power tool collection. I don't blame him.

I wrapped up the shower surround on Saturday and moved on to the rest of the room on Sunday. I'm planning on tiling part way up the wall in the main area of the bathroom. Because that area is outside of the wet zone of the shower I could use drywall under that tile but since I had extra panels of cement board on hand I decided to use cement board.

With the cement board all installed I was ready to finish closing up the walls with drywall. I had only one problem: no 1/2" drywall at home. Normally I would sweet talk Frank into going with me to Lowe's with his truck but he had left for a work trip at noon so I was left to my own devices on this one. 

I took measurements of the cuts I would need, packed my T-square, measuring tape and utility knife in my car and headed off to Lowe's. I bought the two sheets of drywall I needed, rolled it out to the parking lot and then just cut the sheets down to what I needed in the parking lot. With my back seats folded down it barely fit but I got it all in.

I could have waited until Frank came home but he won't be back until Friday night and I didn't want to wait. Plus, being stubborn and independent is part of my charm, right?

By Sunday evening I had all of the drywall on the walls and everything closed up. I was pretty exhausted from the weekend (cement board is heavy!) but so glad that the bathroom is starting to look like a room. Next up is mudding and taping the drywall!

For other related posts about this bathroom renovation check out the history of my downstairs bathroomfixtures for my bathroom renovationplumbing in the downstairs bathroom, installing the floor tile underlaymentinsulating the ceiling and installing the vapor barrier for the shower. If you are interested in my completed master bathroom renovation check out master bathroom renovation recap.


Beginning the Master Bedroom Closet Makeover

Since we got married and Frank moved in with me this summer he has been hanging up his clothes on a standing clothes rack in the bedroom. Originally our plan was to use a beautiful antique armoire to convert into a closet for him. It is enormous so we checked the measurements for everything to make sure it could get through our front door, the bedroom door and fit in the bedroom itself. What we didn't account for was the headroom in the stairway which is just a smudge too short.

So apart from figuring out a long term solution for the armoire on the first floor Frank needs some place to hang his clothes which is bringing about this closet makeover.

The old closet system doesn't work for a few reasons. Originally it had only one bar on each side with the shelves above. The shelves are largely useless and just gather my junk so I want to hang the rods higher. I hung a second rod on one side of the closet but because the top rod wasn't very high it works for my clothes but not for Frank who is a foot taller than me. All in all if this closet was going to work for us I needed to completely rework the organization to maximize the space for both of us.

To start I set about cleaning out the closet (no easy feat with my pack rat ways!) and then demoing the existing organizers last weekend. I was as careful as I could be but the walls were pretty scuffed up and had a number of holes in the walls from where the old shelf supports were attached.

Using a putty knife, I filled all of the holes plus a few small dents the closet had acquired with some joint compound. After it had dried I applied another thin layer and then sanded everything smooth once it was dry.

While I was at it I wanted to paint the trim white so a little prep work was required there as well. I applied a bead of paintable, sandable caulk in all of the gaps and then smoothed it with my finger.

If you don't use a caulk gun very often one thing I'll mention is that right after you are done applying caulk hit the release on the back otherwise when you set it down it will slowly keep oozing out. I learned my lesson about this several years ago with a construction adhesive mishap. In case you are wondering construction adhesive is very tough to get off your hands and will turn them black. It made for a slightly awkward few days at work.

Anyway, back to the closet! With a coat of primer and two coats of Benjamin Moore's Simply White on the trim followed by two coats of Valspar's Oxygen White on the walls my closet was a fresh blank slate.

Next up I have some fun plans for the ceiling and closet light plus I'm going to build organizers that maximize the space for our needs. I can't wait to get the clothes back in the closet!


Behind the Walls: Insulation, Fireblocking and More

Before I was able to pass my building rough inspection for my laundry room and bathroom renovation I had to have everything up to code inside the walls. I hired out the plumbing, electrical and HVAC duct work to contractors but I pulled the building permit myself so that was all on me. 

I started with the insulation in the bathroom ceiling. When dealing with insulation I always wear work gloves to protect my hands from irritation. To cut an insulation batt place it vapor barrier side down on some scrap plywood or other surface you don't care about and cut with a utility knife against a straight edge.

My local box store only stocks 15" wide insulation batts but my ceiling joists were 24" on center. To solve the issue I cut the insulation into 26" strips and removed about 2" of insulation on each end to create tabs that I could staple to the ceiling joists. This was a bit tedious but it did the job for the small area I needed to insulate and beat trying to search around to find wider batts or tacking up furring strips until I put up the ceiling drywall.

The paper backing that acts as a vapor barrier on the batt is flammable so in any areas where it will not be directly touching drywall you need to remove the paper. Since I wasn't positive it would fully contact where it went over the walls into the adjacent rooms I pulled off the paper on those pieces just to be on the safe side. All in all it took me a little over a half hour to get the insulation up.

Next I had to make sure I had proper fireblocking in place which prevents movement of flame, smoke, gases through concealed spaces. When I remodeled the the main part of my house the way those walls had been originally framed meant that I had to add 2x4 lumber between all of the studs to isolate the first floor from the second.  Here I didn't need to deal with that which was nice. 

All of the openings through the floor around the wiring, pipes and ducts had to be sealed with an appoved fireblock material like a fire rated caulk or foam. This was done by my contractors as part of getting their rough approval, but I always like to check things over myself as well.

The caulks and foam are typically red or orange in color so that they are easily identifiable.  My electrician used caulk around all of the wires and the opening around the duct into the bathroom was sealed with foam by my HVAC contractor.

Next up was the dryer vent chase. The original plan had been to have the dryer vent go under the crawl space and out to the back of the house but it turned out that the foundation was so thick that it wasn't practical. The only solution was to go up and out the roof which meant that I then needed to frame out a chase around it.

I didn't take any pictures building the chase because it was the night before my building inspection and it didn't go quite as planned making me super frustrated. Long story short I built the front on the ground to make sure it was square. I then raised it in place adjusting the bottom plate until it was square to the adjacent wall and then secured it to the subflooring. I then had Frank help me to adjust it to be plumb using my four foot level and then screw it into the studs of the adjacent wall. This was easiest as a two person job with one person holding everything in place and keeping and eye on the level and the other person doing the attaching. Once the front was installed I built the side in place and added some cross pieces so that I could secure it to the back wall. 

Typical materials for fireblocking are 2-by lumber, 3/4-inch structural panels and 1/2-inch drywall but with the awkward cutouts needed to go around the dryer vent and plumbing vent stack those options didn't seem the best for the chase. Instead I used unfaced (vapor barrier removed) insulation which was easier to install. Building code specifies that 16" of secured unfaced insulation can serve as a fireblock but to be on the safe side I was closer to 20". 

On a side note, on the picture above on the left you can see an electrical outlet that I found buried in the wall. Later my electrician found a two way switch that turned off the existing lights in the room buried behind one of the cabinets. Electrical code specifies that all junction boxes must be accessible so this was a big problem. If that buried switch had failed I would have had no lights in the room and would have had a hard time figuring out why. Thankfully all of that bad wiring has now been fixed and is up to code.

While I am at it I thought I would point out a few other key items lurking behind the walls that my contractors have done. At every location where wiring or plumbing runs through a stud a steel stud guard plate was hammered into the stud. This is done to protect screws and nails from piercing the wiring and plumbing saving me from a potential electrical problem or leak.

It is also very important that all of the plumbing, wiring and ductwork is well secured. Below are examples of a strap anchoring wiring in my bathroom to a stud and the PEX supply lines for my sink being secured with clamps. 

After inspectors for each of the trades had come out and gave their rough approval I had the building inspector come to the house. He said that everything looked great and okayed me to close up the walls. It was such a good feeling to get the green tag with his signature for the building rough approval. Now that I am done with traveling for a little bit I am hoping I can get some traction to start knocking things out again. 

Disclaimer: I am not a licenced contractor. What I have done in my home meets the building code used by my city but building codes can vary by state and municipality so please do your own research to confirm the building code that would apply to you.


Installing the Vapor Barrier for the Bathroom Shower

With all of the plumbing in and the rough approval complete I set about installing a vapor barrier for the bathroom shower surround. I actually did this back in September before my crazy period of travel this fall, but I didn't have time to organize the photos and write about it until now.

Although the porcelain subway tiles that I will tiling the shower surround with are waterproof the grout and the cement backer board is not so it is important to protect the wood studs with a vapor barrier. I choose to use clear 6 mil polyethylene behind my cement backer board for my vapor barrier.

There are other ways to waterproof the shower, like using RedGard or Kerdi waterproofing membrane, but the important thing is that you should only install one vapor barrier (i.e. do not install sheeting behind the cement backer board and then RedGard over the cement backer board) so that moisture won't get trapped between the barriers.

Because this is a barrier against moisture throughout the installation process I used the least amount of staples needed to keep the sheeting in place in order to minimize staple holes in the sheeting.

I started by lining the soap/shampoo nook in the shower. I cut a piece that was larger than the nook and used my stapler to tack it to the back of the nook.  I folded the corners to lie flat and then trimmed off the excess sheeting around the nook.

Next I cut a single continuous piece of sheeting that would wrap around my whole shower with some excess at the top and bottom. I cut tight holes around the plumbing and secured it to the walls with a few more staples.

To finish the nook area I trimmed out a rectangle a few inches smaller than the nook out of the sheeting. I cut a diagonal slit at each corner and the folded the excess into the nook and stapled it down.

As a last step I trimmed the excess sheeting off of the top and bottom of the shower surround. To make sure that any water trapped by the vapor barrier would drain into the tub I lifted up the bottom of the sheeting, applied clear waterproof silicone caulk to the lip of the tub and then pressed the sheeting into the caulk making a nice water tight seal. I also added a dab of the silicone caulk over each of my staple holes and to seal where the two sheets met in the nook for good measure.

When I finished installing the sheeting Frank peeked into the bathroom to see what I had been up to and said it looked like something from the set of the TV show Dexter. Yes, it does look a little scary right now but I can already imagine it covered with beautiful subway tile. Next up is installing the cement backer board (the photo below aready has the first piece installed in the nook with one of my subway tiles propped up) and then the tiling fun will begin!


Preparing the Bathroom Floor for Tiling

After the building inspector approved me to close up the floor I was excited to do just that. I cut some pieces of 3/4" subflooring to size and patched the areas of the floor that I had previously left open for the plumbing.

With the subfloor complete I moved on to preparing the floor for tiling. Having a properly prepared underlayment will make sure that you don't have issues with cracking down the line.

I chose to use 1/4" HardieBacker for my floor. The sheets are 3' x 5' so I needed two for my floor. You need to have a small gap from the edge of the HardieBacker to the walls and since my framing was just a smidge over 5' it was perfect for me to lay one full sheet in the front of the room.

The first step was to spread a layer of thinset over the floor with a 1/4" square notch trowel. Since I was laying a full sheet I marked on the subfloor where 3' was so I knew how far I needed to spread thinset.

I then carefully laid the HardieBacker into position making sure I had a small gap to all of the walls. I then scraped up the extra thinset that extended past the HardieBacker since I didn't want it to dry while I was screwing in the board.

To firmly anchor the HardieBacker to to subfloor I used 1-1/4" screws designed specifically for cement board. HardieBacker has handy little circles on the boards to indicate the spacing you need for your screws. After about a million screws I had the first board in place.

Next I moved on to the second piece which had to be cut down. For the straight edge I simply scored the board a few times and snapped it like drywall. For the toilet drain hole I used my jigsaw. Because of the particulate from cutting cement board with power tools you need to be very careful to use a face mask.

I did a dry fit of my second piece to make sure it was the right size and then spread down more thinset. I put the board in place, again making sure of the small gaps to the wall, tub and first piece of HardieBacker and then screwed it down again. I still need to tape the seam between the boards before I tile, but that is for another day.

Here is a sneak peek at what I am thinking of for the tile floor. I am planning to make a border around the room with black and white square tiles and then have 1" white hex for the field tile. I think it will add some fun to this small bathroom. I can't wait to start tiling!

For other related posts about this bathroom renovation check out the history of my downstairs bathroom, fixtures for my bathroom renovation and plumbing in the downstairs bathroom. If you are interested in my completed master bathroom renovation check out master bathroom renovation recap.


Plumbing in the Downstairs Bathroom

Progress is being made on the downstairs bathroom! The plumbing is in and has passed rough inspection. After the plumber passed his rough I had the building inspector take a look at things (a partial rough inspection) and he said that I can close up the floor and walls where there is no electric since the electrician hasn't been able to get in yet.

While this doesn't look like much, it has been a long time coming. As I mentioned before, I had done a little sprucing up of this bathroom before, but it wasn't until the pipes burst and opened up the walls that I discovered that it wasn't up to code in many ways.

The primary thing was that the bathroom was built on a platform to bring it up to the level of the hallway (the bathroom was in a part of the house that was a porch that was later enclosed). The joists of the platform were built parallel to the floor joists underneath and was resting on sheets of particle board. It was dangerous and I'm not sure how there wasn't a problem before.

This meant that I had to take down two walls of the bathroom as well as the platform and rebuild it all. I built a platform using 2x10 lumber with the joists on 16" centers. This lowered the floor a bit and helped with the ceiling height problem I had. Bathroom ceilings are supposed to be 6'8" throughout, but due to the slope of the ceiling I was a little short in the back. I spoke with the development official who approves all the construction permits and he said that as long as I maintained the clearance over the fixtures he could approve my plans. The slightly lower platform and moving the back wall in just a bit allowed me to do that.

For the two walls that needed to be reframed I sketched out what I wanted (exact spots for the shampoo and soap nook in the shower as well as the medicine cabinets over the sink and toilet) and hired someone else to frame it and hang the drywall on the outside to save some time.

With the plumbing and bathtub in place it is starting to look like a bathroom. The room is small so it is hard to get a full shot but here is one with my new wide angle lens.

I can't wait!