Things That Are Awesome: Manhattan Nest

There are plenty of home improvement-focused blogs out there, but so many of them are just product/brand-placement in disguise and/or feature such pricey projects and objects that they are completely out of my world. Not so with Manhattan Nest!

Manhattan Nest

This home blog has it all. Manhattan Nest is the story of a DIYer, Daniel, working on his home (and other projects), learning by doing, and putting it all out there – successes AND projects that didn’t go quite as planned. Throughout everything, he provides a hilarious narrative and manages to maintain a positive attitude regardless of what happens.

It’s so refreshing to see a blogger post pictures of their yard when it’s a complete mess, full of weeds and all uneven – EXACTLY like every yard I’ve ever had has started out! Maybe because so many other blogs are heavily sponsored, they’re afraid to post the ugly before pictures? Or the bloggers start out with something professionally landscaped and then just change it up? Well, in the world I live in, we start out with a neglected or at the least imperfect mess – and so does Daniel. And he manages to incorporate sponsors with ease, so it’s not obtrusive at all.

He’s got an immense appreciation for restoring and salvaging historical details BUT he also balances this with a realistic approach. Not every awesome detail can be saved, no matter how much ones loves it, and he provides a ton of examples of situations where he figured something out to preserve the character if not the original materials. He’s also not afraid to do things the way he wants them. Not sure the neighbors will love your black-stained fence, but truly believe it’s the best choice? DO IT.

Most of all, his candor about that feeling one gets partway into a big project – you know the one, where you feel like you have taken on far too much and the idea of it ever being completed or even just salvaged back to a usable state seems impossible? He gets that feeling! And he admits it! And he sees the humor in it, which helps me, as the reader, to feel a bit better when I have that feeling myself.

If all this isn’t enough, he also has adorable dogs. Just go look at any post – you won’t regret it!

Share

kitchen countertop transformed

We devoted last weekend to redoing our kitchen countertops using the Rustoleum Countertop Transformations kit. We started out with the white-ish laminate counters that were here when we moved in.

kitchen

They were in pretty decent shape, but had some areas where someone seemed to have repeatedly dropped a knife point-down, or something like that, and some aged coffee? stains (or maybe burns?) that no amount of bleach would get rid of. And since I repainted the cabinets, the counters looked even worse in comparison.

kitchen

We started the “move out cleaning” by cleaning the countertops as much as possible. I bought some Mr. Clean Magic Erasers in preparation for this step, but then forgot to use them. I feel like it was probably the cleanest it ever has been anyway. You can also see here that we have replaced the hardware in the kitchen and that it really brings out the metal tile backsplash. We didn’t plan it that way, but it worked out nicely.

kitchen

K removed the top piece of the cooktop so we could get right up to the edge of the part that is set into the counter. We also turned off the gas so the pilot lights wouldn’t be lit.

kitchen

The first step in the kit is to sand the existing countertop using a diamond sanding tool. As you can see, we dutifully wore our dust masks and nitrile gloves.

kitchen

Then after the sanding, we cleaned all the dust and then taped off the areas that we didn’t want to be countertop. We opted to include the backsplash piece behind the cooktop area, even though it was made of a different material than the countertop. It had some scars, but after reading loads of orbital sander reviews, we got properly equipped and it sanded down just fine. I also covered the cooktop in paper as well as taping it off. The last thing I wanted was little chips melting inside the stove later on.

kitchen

I also taped off the sink drains so that no pieces would get in there, either. I doubt they’d do a lot of harm, but they probably wouldn’t be good for the garbage disposal.

kitchen

Then to the part where there’s no turning back: the base coat. This stuff is super thick, though not quite as thick as tar. It went on smoothly and didn’t stink like I feared it would.

kitchen

It was gross enough that we just scrapped all the tools we used with it, though – this whole thing went in the trash as you see it here, since I didn’t feel like it would be worth the water and time it would take to try to clean it. I also wasn’t hot about the idea of this stuff going down the drain.

kitchen

Then we sprayed with wetting solution and put the chips on. The kit comes with a device that looks and acts like a handheld seed spreader, with which you apply the chips. It sprays them out pretty aggressively, which made it pretty easy to get a thick, thick coat of them all over. The kit came with way more chips than we needed, but it covers a larger area of counter than we have. You can see here how many chips go on the floor. We ran out of paper so we didn’t get to cover the entire floor area surrounding the cupboards, and though it worked out fine, I would have been more worried had we already put down the new kitchen floor.

kitchen

This pic is sort of an inside joke for those who’ve watched the instructional DVD that comes with the kit – the kit informs you that if you have any areas on the edge that need more chips, to use a jazz-hands-y flicking motion to apply them. We didn’t really have any of those spots, but K reenacted that part of the steps just for good measure. Also in this pic you can see the new blue clock I got for above the oven. It coordinates with the blue rug in the Pergo room, and I think it looks good. K has reserved judgment (his comment: “it’s blue.”).

kitchen

So we had a thick coating of chips all over the counters, and then we waited overnight (12-24 hours). This color is called Charcoal, btw, and the chips are several different colors: black, white, and a couple shades of grey.

kitchen

The following morning, we ate breks and then got right back into it.

kitchen

You can see that there was indeed a thick layer of chips all over everything. Thank goodness we wisely anticipated this and closed the vent in the kitchen before starting. I can’t imagine if it had blown chips all over the place.

kitchen

Then we vacuumed! There were drifts of chips all over since we applied the requisite very thick coating, so I used the shop vac to get as many off as possible before we sanded. It filled our small shop vac a few times over. The instructions say that if you don’t have a shop vac, that you can use a brush and dustpan instead. That would certainly work, but it would take FOREVER. Seriously, if you want to do this and don’t own a shop vac, go buy a cheapie just for this. You won’t regret it. And take some tips from these home cleaning experts.

kitchen

More sanding means more dust mask!

kitchen

The instructions warn you that the sanding will make the countertop appear to be a lighter color than it will end up. True fact.

kitchen

For the edges, you use a regular sanding block. You don’t have to sand very hard at all to get a smooth surface on the edges, so I did that part, while K used the diamond sanding tool for the main surface areas.

kitchen

The diamond sanding tool did get some bits of chip-stuff stuck to it during the process, which the instructions warned could happen. The instructions say to just wipe it off, but it took a bit more effort than that to pry this stuff off. It would be nice if this kit came with two diamond sanding tools.

kitchen

Then we wiped the dust off with damp cloths, revealing the smooth surface. There was a LOT of dust and this took quite a few passes before the counters were free of dust. Luckily we have a bunch of those white rags you can buy at the Despot. I would recommend having some of those highly, because even after repeated washings, some of the rags were still full of little particles of dust. After two rounds through the washing machine, I decided that it was okay to pitch those rags.

kitchen

The instructions are clear that this level of smoothness is the same as it will be when it’s finished, and they give you a sample bit so you can feel to make sure your surface feels the same as the sample. The top coat is not a filler coat, so it’s important to get this part right.

kitchen

Then we rolled on the final top coat. It went on pretty easily, too, and despite being a two-parter (like epoxy), it didn’t stink either! It actually smelled very mildly of bubble gum. Then we waited about 6 hours for it to mostly dry.

kitchen

At this point you want it to be dry to the touch (not tacky) but you shouldn’t wait too long after it is dry to remove the tape. We also removed the plastic at this point – VERY CAREFULLY so none of the chips that were clinging to the plastic would jump up and stick to the counters.

kitchen

As recommended, we used a putty knife to score the edge, and then carefully peeled the tape. Before this, we cleaned up as much of the residual chips as we could. I spent more time on my hands and knees shop vac-ing up chips than I anticipated. Some of that is likely due to my type A personality, but really, I didn’t want us tracking chips all over the house so I think it was worth it.

kitchen

This pic isn’t really in focus, but you can see that we got a very neat edge next to the sink. We do need to caulk around the sink to be on the thorough side, but otherwise I think it looks great.

kitchen

And that’s it! After 48 hours, we started using it for light use, meaning that we are only putting lightweight things down on it and haven’t yet re-installed the cooktop (which is heavier than 5 pounds, the threshold listed in the instructions). The kit recommends waiting 7 days before full use, so we’re waiting until then for heavy-duty stuff.

kitchen

Still on the to-do list in here: finish painting the molding above the cabinets, lay the floor tile, put the drawers back in, and install the tip-out hinges and tray on the below-the-sink panel.

I’m very pleased with how this project turned out! I was skeptical at first, and after reading a lot of other bloggers’ accounts of how theirs went, I felt a little more confident, but it wasn’t until I saw ours done that I really felt like it was truly okay. It’s a little glossier than I’d probably choose, but the kit only comes in one level of sheen, so I decided to go with it. I think it looks way better than the white counters did, and it feels like a real upgrade. As a bonus, this counter now looks quite similar to the IKEA countertop we put on the new cabinets in the dining room, so it ties things together nicely.

Share

dining room day five and six

Last you might remember, we had installed the new tile in the dining room. Next we did some finishing touches (copious amounts of pics on my flickr) and got some base cabinets to install in the corner. We chose to buy unfinished cabinets since we were planning to paint them white anyway (to go with the kitchen cabinets) and getting the unfinished ones saved us some bucks. We managed, somehow, to make the final decision about which cabinets to get the same day that the Despot was finishing their 20% off in-stock cabinets sale. And we decided this at about 5pm. So we grabbed a quick dinner, looked online to see that our closest Despot had two cabinets in stock as well as a truck available for rental so we could haul them home, bought the cabinets, loaded the truck, brought them home, and returned the truck within an hour. It was like we had some Felix Felicis for supper! Then we spent the better part of a couple weeks sanding, priming, and painting the cabinets, doors, and drawer fronts. We have a really small set-up for painting the doors and such (just a couple sawhorses in the basement) so it took awhile to get everything done.

dining room day five

This weekend K had the whole weekend off, so Saturday morning we woke up early and got right to work. Here you can see the before shot of this area.

dining room day five

We did some careful measuring to figure out what we needed to cut out to accommodate the awkward little vent box in the corner. Luckily K measures things precisely for a living, so he’s really good at this. It was in the upper 40s, so we set up in the driveway so all the sawdust could stay outside. As you can see, these cabinets are definitely the basic, no-frills edition. They’re solid wood on the front, sides, and where needed for structural integrity, but the back of the cabinet is just laminated particle board. So chopping off part of it made me wary – I thought for sure we’d end up with a wibbly-wobbly off-kilter thing that we could never get to be quite square again.

dining room day five

But, lo and behold, it worked! We had to do a little trimming here and there to get it to fit exactly, since the vent cover box isn’t exactly square and the corner walls aren’t either. We were very pleased that we had all the tools on hand (jigsaw and keyhole saw being most important to this task).

dining room day five

Here you can see that the vent cover box comes out just a teensy bit farther on the side than this 24″ cabinet. This worked to our advantage, since the cabinet could rest on the box, but the sticky-outy bit of the box fit in between the two cabinets – no need to cut anything out of the right-hand cabinet.

dining room day five

Next we made the two cabinets into one unit. We used a piece of square trim to fill the space between the two, and then used bolts, washers, and nuts near top and bottom, back and front, to keep things secure.

dining room day five

There were actually some pre-drilled holes in the cabinets that we didn’t need to use for anything else, so we used them for the bolts. Hooray!

dining room day five

We put the unit into the corner and then worked to shim it up to level. No one wants a countertop that things roll off of! The floor here is definitely not level, so thank goodness we bought a whole packet of shims. We needed them! Once it was level, we used screws to fasten it to the wall. Not that it would probably be going anywhere, but we thought it wouldn’t hurt.

dining room

And there is it level! Just waiting for us to sleep on the decision of what to do for a countertop. (Also still waiting for the toe kick, which was drying from being painted, and for trim as is the rest of the room.)

dining room day six

So the next morning, despite it being the spring forward DST shift, we woke up nice and early and decided that the IKEA PRAGEL countertop was the right choice. Its finish is very close to what we will be doing in the kitchen, and the price was right. I posted in our neighborhood facebook group that we were looking for someone with a pick-up truck who might be willing to help us haul it home, and within 20 minutes had a volunteer. So we were able to pick it up that afternoon! Three cheers for nice neighbors! Here you can see K fitting it in to see how it looks. He had a few ideas for keeping the long end as a breakfast bar.

dining room day six

I was a little concerned about trimming the piece and having the laminate split or crack. Luckily the intarwebs was there to help! I found that a few people recommended using a 60-Tooth Carbide blade for the circular saw and claimed that it would cut through the countertop “like butter” and leave no burns or other marks. They weren’t lying! We took our daily second trip to the Despot and picked up a Diablo (!) blade for the saw. It worked really well and I definitely recommend it.

dining room day six

Then came the oh-so fun task of attaching the countertop to the cabinets. The cabinets came fitted with little plastic thingies in the corners so it was easy to mark and pre-drill the holes, but squeezing into the corners and retaining enough torque to get the screws to move was a real trick. K came up with the ingenious solution of using a ratchet, which worked well in a couple of the corners. All of the corners were too tight to use a drill. Also, we were able to use the same screws that we used to attach the cabinets to the wall, which was nice since we had to buy a box of a few hundred.

 

dining room day six

Hooray! K is so excited to not be cramped up inside the cabinet anymore! Also to have me pestering him to pose for photos! No really!

dining room day six

I think it looks really nice! I’m seriously pretty impressed with us for doing this project. We had gotten a couple of quotes to have a contractor do this, and it would have been at least $2000 for this project. I’m sure the quality of the materials would have been slightly or significantly superior, but it still would have been wooden cabinets, painted, with a laminate countertop. We did this ourselves for (including renting the truck and shelling out $20 for the special saw blade) less than $250. Aw yeah.

dining room day six

I’m excited to get the toe kick and trim installed. We’re still debating on whether or not to do any kind of backsplash over here. There’s only a tiny section of backsplash in the kitchen and it’s a metal tile thing that I’m not a huge fan of, so I don’t think I’d want to replicate it here.

dining room day six

We couldn’t wait to load it up! Now our countertop convection oven and microwave can live happily together here, and the cabinets will hold a variety of other small appliances that don’t need to be out all the time (slow cooker, mixer, etc). Please don’t be alarmed at the weird blueness of the world outside the window – I took this photo at night and had to amp up the exposure to get it to be less shadowy. So! This project gets a big thumbs up for success!

Share

Project Bathroom: De-80s-ification

I have finally given in and am going to do some cosmetic updates to the bathroom. I kept saying that we’d wait to do anything to it until something broke and/or we had the money saved up to redo it completely, but I’m just so sick of looking at it in its current 1980s glory. Peach and forest green, who would’ve thought that color combo wouldn’t age well?

Of course I can’t quite decide what’s the best way to kick these 80s to the curb, so I am asking for your input! Here, so you can get the idea, are some pictures of the room in its current state.

bathroom: before

As you can see, it’s not a large room. It’s 60″ wide from wall to wall, and about 80″ from the door to the tub. This is going to be a purely cosmetic redo – we’re not moving pipes, we’re not ripping out the shower insert (even though it hides a window. Thanks, stupid former owners!), and we’re not planning to do anything that could appear to be a quick fix but then turns into a major freaking deal. Which happens 150% of the time in bathroom and kitchen redos, right?

Also, I’m thinking that since this floor is peel-and-stick vinyl tile, we can just stick a new layer of peel-and-stick vinyl tile on top, right? Maybe sand it first? It doesn’t have a texture, really, so it should just stick on, right? (Someone please tell me this is as easy as it looks.)

To the left:

bathroom: before

You can’t really see it behind the towel, but there’s a Totally Awesome old laundry chute on this wall.And ofcourse the best shower head! I made fun of it when we first looked at the house but I have come to completely adore it. Everything falls into a laundry basket right near the washing machine. It’s perfect!

To the right:

bathroom: before

You can see the “vanity” here. I put that in quotes because in reality it is just a bunch of plywood assembled into a vanity-shaped object. But I fear that removing it will make chaos ensue, so we’re going to repaint it and call that good enough.

And here is Hideous Light Fixture #1. The 80s loved their theatre dressing room lights, didn’t they? We also have the “medicine cabinet”, which is really just a void in the wall and these two framed mirrors attached as doors. Removing the doors to paint and then putting them back up doesn’t seem like it would be too dangerous. Also it’s HUGE compared to most medicine cabinets and I really don’t want to decrease the amount of stuff we store there.

bathroom: before

From the back (in the shower):

bathroom: before

Bonus dog appearance!

And up above:

bathroom: before

And that is Hideous Light Fixture #2. Which, like a lot of things here, should probably be in quotes. It is a recessed area in the ceiling, framed with the plainest base trim molding available at Home Despot, with a basic fluorescent tube fixture mounted right in the middle. Yep, right where that aluminum slat rests to hold up the two pieces of plexi or whatever the hell that stuff is. I struggle to imagine what the person who installed this was thinking.

I put out a quick paint color poll on twitter/fb earlier this week and a lot of people recommended going with other shades of grey, since the fixtures are grey. I picked up a couple of paint chips at Home Despot and set them on the oh-so-lovely green faux marble countertop to see how they look.

bathroom: before

What do you think? Is there some other color that would tie together the green of the countertop and the grey of the fixtures? Or is introducing another color just pushing it? There do seem to be a fair number of greeny grey paints out there. As you can see above, the towels we have right now are either purple or a wheat sort of color (same as the bathmats.) (They went with the decor in the bathroom at our previous house.) And what can we do about these light fixtures? I’m ALL EARS, people!

Share

caulk of the walk

We’ve been having pretty warm weather this week so I decided to finally replace the caulk around the back patio. It has been degrading steadily over the years (I’m sure it was last replaced at least a decade before we moved in) and there were some areas that were more gap than not.

patio caulk before replacement

You can see that there have been many reapplications over the years, and the prior handyfolks did not do a very good job with scraping out the old caulk prior to reapplying. Bad job, prior people! I expected better. (Well not really. We’ve lived in this house long enough to have discovered that you did not take a lot of pride in your DIY projects. Still. Annoying.)

patio caulk before replacement

I cannot imagine and don’t even want to think about how many roly-poly bugs have been crawling in and out of these gaps. *shudder*

I looked around online, took the advice of This Old House and other handy sites, and grabbed a putty knife for some serious scraping. Most of the caulk came up pretty well, without a ton of effort. Some of the older remnants of past applications, though, were impossible to even budge, so I decided that they could stay. I cleaned it all to the best of my ability and figured – if I can’t budge it with a putty knife, then it’s probably not going anywhere due to weather.

scraping out old caulk

In some of the areas, I was able to pull out large pieces in a very satisfying way. For people like me, this is like sanctioned scab-picking with no ill after effects!

pulled out old caulk

Just look at that yucky debris on the back of the caulk! And again, note the crummy installation job the last person did. It’s like they WANTED it to look gross. Sheesh.

At this point I got really into the task and neglected to take many pics – imagine me scootching around the perimeter of the patio with the putty knife, a dry paint brush, and a shop vac. It took a few hours, during which I listened to the dulcet tones of Mr. Stephen Fry (how is he not a SIR already?) narrating Harry Potter. (Yes, I have listened to these books so many times I know them practically by heart. So what.)

Then once the alarmingly-large-in-some-places gap was cleared of all debris and dirt, I inserted backing rod. Which, contrary to its name is not a rod at all but is just a tube of foam. I got the largest diameter available at our local Home Despot, 5/8″, and I still had to double and even triple up in some areas.

inserting backing rod

Here you can see the backing rod inserted and waiting for fresh caulk. The black layer is the Caulk That Shall Never Be Moved, at least by me.

inserting backing rod

And here we have new caulk atop the backing rod. Hooray! This stuff is a lot gloopier than I expected – it’s more liquidy than the caulk I’ve used in other applications, I assume because it’s specifically made for concrete and masonry and self-levels. Still, I managed not to make a big mess out of it. Mostly.

filled in with new caulk

It’s not as 100% neat and tidy as I’d like, but I think it came out decently. And should, at the very least, keep the roly-polys on their own turf.

Share

Handmade Garden Projects

Handmade Garden Projects I love the concept of reusing old stuff to create garden art, but I hardly ever happen upon the materials to do so. Perhaps I ought to indulge my yen for garage sales? I do like many of the projects in this book, though, especially those that don’t require a perfectly patinaed hunk of metal. My favorite may be the Homemade Fireflies, which are made from LED bulbs, magnets, and shepherd’s crooks. My post at CPL has a bit more about this book.

Share

Same Place, More Space

Same Place, More Space I’ve been known to watch a few episodes of Wasted Spaces on a lazy weekend. The concept of creating out-of-the-way storage space is quite appealing, especially if it can replace something that previously just gathered dust or wasn’t accessible. Lots of projects similar to those seen on that show are included here, with instructions and tips. Just like on the show, though, most of them would be easy if you had an expert and all his tools to get them done – I suspect that for me, these would be much more significant undertakings, most of which would require me to purchase or rent some big tools. Still, this was good inspiration and maybe someday I’ll feel appropriately ambitious. For more on this book, see my post at CPL.

Share

The BUST DIY Guide to Life

The BUST DIY Guide to LifeYou really can’t go wrong with Bust – they always know how to make things awesome! This book has a gazillion projects and information on how to do a really wide range of things you might want to do, like buy an old house and be a landlady (not for me, but probably appealing to a lot of other folks) or know how to go camping. I’ll be more likely to try the crafty projects and maybe even some of the recipes. There’s more on this book over at CPL.

Share