If you’re new around here, three years ago my husband and I purchased our first house: a 1940’s Colonial located in a very cute coastal Connecticut town. We’ve been tackling remodeling the house room by room, where we’re always looking for ways to add equal parts function and character into our house.
I can’t believe how fast time has been going by, nor that we’re already at Week Four. This is the week where we always start to panic, and this season is no exception.
We made a ton of progress this week, but we’re still trying to get a few big items scheduled, delivered, and installed. Our biggest hold-ups right now include waiting for our countertops to be installed, waiting for our tile to be delivered, and waiting on a missing custom cabinet unit to arrive. All these items mean we can’t install our crown moulding, our upper cabinets (including the vent hood), lighting, or plumbing. I have a feeling I’m going to be begging all my friends to help us out next weekend with getting through this outstanding list of items in order to hit the Week Six reveal deadline.
A year and a half ago, when we set off to remodel our bathroom, I shared we were going to use marble tile throughout our shower. On the walls, on the floors, and on the bench. And immediately I started hearing from people that I shouldn’t use marble because it’s too high maintenance. It stains! It etches! It needs to be babied!
Everyone shared their horror stories with me and it didn’t deter me from wanting to install the luxe marble shower of my dreams. I mean, I challenge you to find me a material that’s more beautiful than marble.
My internal argument was that marble has been used for centuries for this purpose throughout Europe and still looks fantastic. Sure, it looks well loved, but it stands the test of time and ages beautifully over time, unlike some other man-made materials that need to be replaced more frequently because they fall out of fashion, look dated quickly, and sometimes wear unevenly. Marble does not.
So, fast forward eighteen months of daily use, how do we feel about our marble shower today?
Our vintage Colonial home features a lot of radiators… and not the beautiful Victorian kind. These radiators require covers to look even halfway decent, so my go-to move has been to turn an awkwardly placed radiator into a window bench at every chance.
The first time we did this, we created a massive window bench in our sunroom that is the perfect napping spot.
The next time, we opted to add a window bench to our walk in closet, that is the perfect spot for reading, folded laundry, and seating for seasonal closet purges. Today, I’m going to walk you through how we built this bench.
A few weeks ago, I revealed the transformation of my home office, which featured a Chinoiserie-style wallpaper mural from Tempaper Designs. Since then, I’ve received two questions countless times: (1) wait, that’s removable wallpaper?? and (2) how did you install it without hiring a professional?
Yes, the wallpaper is removable and it also looks incredible. Today I’m going to detail how we hung the temporary Tempaper wallpaper. I was anxious leading up to installing the paper, where I was convinced that we would somehow ruin this gorgeous wallpaper mural, but I had absolutely nothing to worry about. We remarked after the hour and half we spent installing the paper that we wished every DIY project we tackled was this straightforward, simple, and high-impact.
This is a question I receive a lot. I’m going to preface this by saying: budgeting is hard, and it’s an imprecise science, but after some experience you start to get closer to the mark on what a project costs.
I’m a big spreadsheet geek. Like for instance, for my very first Manhattan apartment I input all the IKEA products I needed for my bedroom into a spreadsheet and then cross-referenced the tax rates at each of the closest IKEAs to NYC – Long Island, New Jersey, and Brooklyn – to determine the lowest price factoring in the cost to distance and product availability at each location. Yeah, so, now that we’ve all come to the same conclusion that I’m a huge dork, let’s dig in.
Step 1: Break down a project into its components
I start by listing off all the items that go into the to-be-renovated space in separate lines in a Google sheet and classify them by category. So, for instance, I’d say in the fixture category we need a faucet, a shower head, a tub-fill, a toilet, sink, tub, and a tub drain. And then I’d go down the room by category listing off everything I need to complete the space, for instance, all the flooring materials (including grout, thinset, Hardiboard).
Step 2: Assign everything a ball-park price
At this stage, I’m doing a quick Google search for roughly how much each component costs at the size I need and then I input it into the spreadsheet. I’m also ensuring I know approximately how much square footage I need of every material, and I’m throwing in ballpark placeholder numbers for any labour that I need to hire out. If there is something specific that I already know needs to be in the space, then I include that exact item (e.g. a specific brand and style of tub).
Step 3: Add it all up
This point is where you sum up all the approximations in your spreadsheet, and if the number plus 20% feels doable, it’s time to move forward and start sourcing the actual items for the space. If the number is terrifying and way exceeds your expectations, then I go back over the figures and see if there are any big unknowns that need to be defined better (e.g. plumbing costs), if not, I think about areas I can cut back. If no such areas exist, then I put the project on hold and start saving pennies.
A lot of the projects that are more intensive (e.g. a bathroom or kitchen), can’t be done piecemeal, so you really need to have all the funds up front for the project. But, if you’re dealing with a living room or more furnished space, you have some leeway to set a plan upfront and buy as your budget permits.
Step 4: Evaluate the budget at a high level
Once I’ve narrowed down the budget to a target, then I’m taking that amount and evaluating it in the context of our house. If I spend that much, do I expect to at least break even on it when we sell it? Is the level of finishes that I want to use consistent with what houses in my area, when renovated, include? If you don’t care about overinvesting in your home, or the renovation serves to improve the quality of your life and you’re committing to the house long-term, then don’t worry about this. But, I always like to do a gut check to ensure I’m not putting too much (or too little!) into the project financially.
If I feel like I might be overspending for the return, I might take one more look at the budget and see if anything could be cut back. Personally, I love financial restraints because I think they yield a more interesting and creative finished product, but I know you can only do so much cutting down of the budget before the finished product is sacrificed. For instance, to offset the cost of the marble in our master bathroom, we bought our vanity used off Craigslist and with some wood-fill, primer, a gallon of high-quality paint and a spray gun it was completely reinvented for about half the price we were quoted for a custom vanity. However, if it got to the point where we were using lower grade finishes across the board because that’s all we could afford at the time, I would have paused on starting the project and waited until I could afford the items that I thought were important in my master bathroom and in-line with what future buyers might expect.
When I first started imagining how I wanted my closet to look, I became stuck on this image of Jenny Wolf’s closet. I absolutely adored the blue, custom cabinetry and decided I was going to figure out a way to get a similar look in my own house with a non-custom budget.
I initially assumed that we would make all the cabinetry from scratch, but Cory brought me back to reality with the truths that 1) we’d never built a cabinet in our lives, let alone lots of drawers, shelves and boxes, and 2) the cabinetry would take forever, and would make this room impossible to accomplish for the One Room Challenge.
So, I sought out a closet system that I could customize and paint to match my vision. And in this search, the IKEA Pax kept coming up as the most common, highest-rated, and budget-friendly closet system. I’m no stranger to the concept of hacking IKEA products, though we actually had never done it ourselves. In my research, I discovered that lots of people have hacked the IKEA Pax or IKEA Billy systems to create a built-in look. But there were some upgrades that I wasn’t able to find any examples of in the wild, including recessing in-cabinet lighting and adding drawer fronts for an inset, full custom cabinetry look. The drawer fronts were critical to my vision: the IKEA Pax drawers look very modular and modern to me, making them stick out like a sore thumb in our 1940’s home. Most people hid the drawers by adding doors on the wardrobe units, but we didn’t have the space, or the desire to add so many unnecessary cabinet doors to our space.
So, let’s get started on how we transformed our closet from this:
After years of dreaming about having beautiful hardwood floors, we’ve finally made it happen and I’m so thrilled with how they turned out. But seriously, ever since the floors have been refinished in our Master Bedroom, I’ve made a habit of walking past the room just to ogle them every morning (and evening, if I’m being honest). Let’s dive into the details.
We opted to use Rubio Monocoat, a natural penetrating hardwax oil for a lot of reasons, which I laid out in detail here. But in a nutshell: it’s VOC-free, all-natural, and is applied in a single coat. Oh, and the finish is absolutely gorgeous.
Depending on your square footage, this is at least a two day process. I’m going to break what you need by day one (prep and sanding) and day two (stain application), but recognize that you may need more days to complete your own space.
As soon as I realized we’d have the space for a window bench in our sunroom, I immediately envisioned a tufted French mattress as a cushion. But, upon doing some research, I realized that having them made professionally can be very, very expensive (think $1K+ for a long one), since it’s such a labour intensive process. I’m not one to be deterred by a high price tag and realized that while there aren’t too many tutorials out there for how to sew one yourself, it’s actually a fairly manageable project.
It took us around two weeks from start to finish, working a few hours some weeknights and then a solid weekend morning to knock out the tufting.
To get you motivated, let’s share some after photos and then check out the tutorial on Domino here!
And how this cushion looked pre-tufting
I think the charm the tufting brings to the space is undeniable. Check it out!
Well, this is turning into a very drawn out makeover, but when the weather turned warm, we shifted our focus to our outdoor spaces. Since I last checked in on this room, we’ve made a lot of progress with building out the window bench, installing electrical and replacing the flushmount lights.
Starting with the bench, Cory built out a base and covered the front with drywall, which we then cut out holes for radiator screens. We painted the radiator screens Decorator’s White to match the rest of the room and used basecap trim to create picture boxes that match our hallways and guest room. Cory brought electrical up from the garage below and installed outlets on top of the window bench to power library sconces. Once we have the cushion in place, you’ll barely know they’re there.
Inside the bench will be plenty of off-season storage, though since this covers a functioning radiator, it will only be storage space for the spring through fall months. We made the bench nice and deep, so it’s a super cozy place to hang out. Next up is sewing the bench cushion and LOTS of pillows. I ran into a small snag with the fabric, where I wanted a soft grey linen from Loom Decor, but it’s 6 weeks back ordered. So, I’m working to source an alternative. We debated a pattern vs. a solid and at the end of the day, a solid felt nicer in the context of the bold flooring and will be a great base for lots of patterned pillows.
And because there isn’t a whole lot of pretty in this post, I pulled together a little inspiration board for this side of the room. The hanging chair is still a heavily debated topic, please take my side on this one!
On this board, I worked hard to focus on texture, with a mix of linen, velvet, needlepoint, sheepskin, rattan and brass. Combined with a mix of neutrals, pattern and a bold splash of color, I’m pretty thrilled with the direction this room is headed in.
One of the appeals when buying our house was the ample outdoor space. But when it came time to furnishing both spaces, our little folding teak two seater table and chairs that fit great on our small patio weren’t going to cut it.
Given that we have a lot of space on our stone patio, we wanted a big table for entertaining and to visually fill up the space. I did a lot of searching and quickly came to the conclusion that:
Outdoor furniture is very expensive
Most outdoor furniture at the mid- and low-end looks super generic and boring
And since we were furnishing the patio on a ‘new-homeowners-with-a-lot-of-projects-to-tackle’ budget, I didn’t want to pay a lot for something that I wasn’t obsessed with. Our starting point was a set of modern, clean-lined washed wood chairs that we found at Homegoods. They weren’t super cheap once you added up the six, so we quickly narrowed the scope of our budget for the table.
After a lot of searching, I remembered that the ultimate diy-ers Yellow Brick Home had built a beautiful table from scratch last summer. So, I presented the plan to my husband who said it was doable and before I knew it, he had already picked up all the wood from Home Depot and had gotten started on making the cuts. We spent a few weekday evenings assembling the base, an afternoon putting the rest of it together and then knocked out painting the table on a Saturday. And because it surprised us, I will warn you that the lug nuts required a ton of manual effort to get in place (thanks Cory!).
All in all, this 10 foot table cost us about $200, including paint and offers us more than enough space to seat eight and even ten, in a pinch.
We followed this plan from Design Confidential to pretty much a T, with the exception of raising the height of the base by about an inch to ensure enough clearance for the arms of our chairs. The table is a replica of a Restoration Hardware table and is simple enough in design to go with a lot of different vibes.
(Don’t worry we shimmed up those two middle planks so they were even before painting)
For paint, we debated at length what color to paint the table, knowing that we already had wood chairs that would be very hard to compliment. We also used pressure treated lumber, which isn’t great for staining, so paint was a must. Though, I do think this table would look awesome in a natural wood finish.
White won out for a few reasons: there’s a white sort of wash on the chairs so white seemed the most complimentary and it would stay the coolest in the hot sun. Grey and black were close contenders but they would have become much hotter to the touch. We also know that we’re going to have to repaint the table every few seasons, so we can always mix it up in the future. And let’s be real, while I wanted to do gray, I knew it would take me ages to decide on the right shade and summer is practically already here, so we were in a hurry to enjoy it.
For paint, we used Superpaint (an exterior grade primer + paint) from Sherwin Williams in Extra White. We’ve had a small amount of bleedthrough on the spots we filled in with wood filler, but otherwise it went on great.
We still have a lot that planned for this space, including adding vines to the fence behind to table to break up the expanse of white, and lots of twinkle lights. Regardless, we’ve been taking advantage of this table for every meal at home, or at least we were until it started raining for a week straight.
We can’t wait for all our summer bbqs and to host friends and family around the biggest piece of furniture we’ve ever built.
Update: We’re on our third season with this table and we haven’t had to give it a fresh coat of paint and it still looks fabulous. This table is one of the best projects we’ve tackled to date, and has hosted a lot of dinner parties, bbq’s and brunches.