January 28, 2014

exterior door nightmare

Our screen doors have seen better days, and we knew that we'd eventually have to replace them, but the back door was actually in decent shape and seemed to be recently replaced. The problem was the style and lock set, it was a commercial door rather than a residential one, didn't let in a lot of light, and had an elaborate internal locking system, which meant we couldn't change the handle. We got three quotes, two extremely high ones, and a fairly low one from Lowe's. It was a tough decision since I don't really trust a big box store with major projects, but they have an install guarantee so I knew they would fix anything that was done improperly. We ended up going with Lowe's in order to save some money, and by some I mean thousands of dollars.

Here's the back door we decided to change:

From the get-go, I was disappointed and annoyed with Lowe's. Here's a condensed version of what happened:

They tried to charge $30 for a simple lead test, but I said I could buy the same lead test for a dollar from the store. $30 saved. They charged for measuring the door openings and a quote, but luckily that money went towards the installation cost. The contractor that first showed up to take measurements was stumped because our rough openings are not standard, so we had to meet another day with his boss who knew more about the installation process. Why send out someone who doesn't know what they're doing in the first place?

We received the quote, but it was for a steel replacement door rather than a fiberglass one that we wanted. That's when I found out that Lowe's doesn't carry fiberglass replacement doors, only pre-hung ones (which include the jamb, meaning more installation costs). Our quote had to be redone and at this point had expired and was not in the store system anymore. They had to manually re-enter everything ... this was my fifth door related trip to Lowe's. We finally paid for the doors, waited a few weeks for them to come in, and got a call from the contractor to schedule the install.

On the day of the install, the contractor called and had to reschedule for the following week because he hurt his hand the previous day. Next week, on the new day of install, the husband let me know the doors came and everything was going as planned. He texted me a picture of the back door ... the wrong back door.

The door we ordered didn't have blinds, it was supposed to have an internal grid. This was clearly the wrong door. The contractor installed it and notified Lowe's that they need to order the correct window. When I got home, I noticed our front storm door wasn't replaced, and the husband let me know that Lowe's ordered the wrong size storm door. I couldn't believe it, after all my trips there to triple and quadruple check that the order is correct, they got the wrong doors! I was furious

The blinds were hard to photograph, so you'll just have to trust me that they looked ... tacky.

On the bright side, they finally ordered the correct size storm door and new window and were really quick to correct the issues. I just wish they were correct from the start. A few weeks later, we got a phone call to schedule the final install of our storm door and the install of the new door window. I'm super happy with the storm doors which finally close and our back door lets in a lot of light. I'm not too excited that the hinges are so obviously brass, but I can make it work. Side note: I took the pictures when it was dark so it's easier to see the internal grids, but I'm happy to say that during the day it's 100 times brighter in our kitchen!

Once it gets a little warmer out, we'll paint the kitchen and doors. We need to leave the doors open all day after painting them, so that's something we'll do on a sunny spring weekend ... can't wait (for the warm weather, not the painting)! 

January 22, 2014

kitchen renovation lessons

It has been over 6 months since we did our kitchen, so I thought an update on the renovation would useful. Now that we've lived with our kitchen for a little bit, I notice things we did right and things we could've done differently. There's some quirks and small details my perfectionist self would touch up, but looking at the big picture, I'm very happy. Here's a reminder of the old kitchen, the renovation, and the final product:

old kitchen and renovation
new kitchen

I also wanted to do an update because there are a lot of things we learned during this project, and I didn't really go into the whole process earlier. The decisions we made were largely based on our experience with the old kitchen, and we were able to make improvements to make it more functional for us. Living with the old kitchen for around 5 months helped us realize what we needed to change. Although I had some non-negotiables, we made all the design decisions together, seriously! Our kitchen may not be everyone's style but it works for us, and we're thankful for it everyday. What we're not thankful for is having to paint it ... which we still haven't done!

I'm sure I missed a lot of details but I managed to make a list of the bigger decisions. I broke it up into two posts, in no particular order:

1. The Size

Lesson: Work with what you got (if you can't expand).

Our home is old, there's only so much you can do with the layout. I drew up countless plans to figure out the best option, but in the end the size would be the same. A high kitchen counter/bar would be nice, but that would drastically decrease our dining room. So we chose a little less cabinet space in order to get a more open concept. Speaking of the ever so popular 'open concept', it doesn't have to mean 'knock all those walls down'. We chose to keep the wall and create a similar arch that leads into the dining room, and it still feels pretty airy.

2. Microwave vs. Hood
Lesson: Choose your battles, but counter space usually wins.

I love hoods over the range, they look so pretty and they're really effective. Unfortunately, it came down to a range hood and microwave on our counter or an over the range microwave. Although it took some convincing, I agreed that I'd rather have counter space than a hood over the stove. The one thing I wouldn't back down on is an exterior vent for the kitchen fan. After we checked that the duct would fit behind our wall, we were able to get a microwave with an exterior venting exhaust fan.

3. A Real Faucet

Lesson: Don't get a kitchen faucet from a big-box store.

We got three official quotes and one unofficial 'there's no way you can afford me' quote. Even though they were all drastically different, all the contractors agreed that we needed to get a real faucet. What I mean is a faucet directly from brands like Kohler or Delta, not from Home Depot or Lowe's. In fact, they would not guarantee its installation unless we purchased it directly from the brand or a specialty store. The reason is simple, stores like Home Depot and Lowe's make deals with manufacturers to create minimally altered versions of the same product for a cheaper price. The products may look the same, but they are not the same quality. Some things are better than others, but as far as faucets go, there's a huge difference in craftsmanship. Get a real faucet, it'll last years beyond a big-box one.

4. Cabinet Construction

Lesson: Do research, sometimes higher quality is worth it and other times it's not.

We could have kept our cabinets and re-faced them to keep our costs down, but that wasn't really an option for us. Not only were we looking at some minor layout changes, but the filthy, caked, just plain gross cabinets needed to go. We wanted to start fresh and needed to learn a little more about cabinets, there was no way around it. Luckily, our contractor explained everything, but we still made our own decisions. We chose maple for its subtle grain, solid wood drawers and doors, particle board box construction, dovetailed drawers, frameless cabinet doors ... basically, do your research.

5. Cabinet Styles, Colors, and Finishes
Lesson: Pick what you like, realize it'll eventually look dated.

It's inevitable, everything eventually looks 'so 70s' or 'so 80s' or 'so 90's' ... our kitchen is no exception. However, we kept it simple and hope that it will look pretty and clean for a few decades. The cabinet style is classic and the off-white color isn't too stark compared to our predominately beige home. There's a few trends that I'd like to point out:

all-white trend


glaze trend


two-tone trend


I actually like all three of these looks and would love to have a magazine worthy kitchen, but I'm also realistic and knew we'd be staying in our house for some time. This means that our kitchen would have to 'age well' so anything too trendy was not an option. I would definitely consider a more trendy kitchen if we were flipping a house, since buyers would love a nice update, but for us it made more sense to stick with something neutral that hopefully doesn't show its decade too quickly.

6. The Counters

Lesson: Do your research and pick what fits your lifestyle.

There are many choices when it comes to counter tops: marble, granite, quartz, butcher-block, tile, corian, laminate, soapstone, stainless steel, etc. We were considering granite and quartz since our contractor gave us the same price for both, and we ultimately decided on quartz. Quartz does not need to be sealed like granite does, it is more resistant to scratches and heat, and it's also more uniform in look since it's engineered. Although it is a natural stone, it's actually crushed up and engineered, rather than taken in slabs from a quarry like granite, which also makes it a little more environmentally friendly. In the end, we chose quartz because we wouldn't have to think or worry about it, but that doesn't mean it's the best choice. Some people love the natural and less uniform look of granite, some people love marble and are willing to be more gentle on their counter tops, but we knew we wanted something carefree and long lasting.

7. The Appliances
 Lesson: The best time to buy appliances is September, except refrigerators which is May, and except if you can get everything on a Family and Friends discount.

Notice I said nothing about colors or styles, only prices, because lets face it, appliances these days are pretty much all the same and everyone has their favorite brand. They'll all eventually need to be fixed or replaced, because that's how they're built ... all these companies would go out of business if we never needed to replace a dishwasher, or whatever. We ended up getting our appliances in May, which happened to be the perfect time for refrigerators (new models come out and old ones go on sale). We knew the prices of everything we needed at every store imaginable and ended up making the purchase at Sears with a Family and Friends discount. Stainless steel was an easy choice since white and black appliances don't go with cream cabinets, and we went with Whirlpool all around. Whirlpool is a mid-range brand, better than the cheap but not the best, and it's generally reliable. Our refrigerator is actually Kenmore, but like with anything by Kenmore (fun fact!), it's made by a different brand ... in this case, our refrigerator is made by Whirlpool.

Yes, you need to wipe down stainless steel appliances occasionally. Here's a tip, stainless steel cleaner exists, and it's super easy to wipe everything clean in seconds. Stainless steel is really not as 'difficult' as people lead you to believe ...

8. Those Unused Corners
Lesson: There's going to be funny corners, but don't worry, they'll get a purpose.

I like clean, totally empty counters, but the truth is there's tons of little things that end up all over the place. That's okay because every kitchen has those awkward corners that aren't used when cooking. I've heard of special hiding places for these kind of things, even entire kitchen 'service rooms', but we don't live in a mansion and don't have servants and we make our own coffee. So I learned to make use of all the awkward corners, it's nice to have things handy.

9. Back Splash
Lesson: Pick what you like at the moment, it's one of the easier things to change down the road.

This was a tough one. We were originally going to pick the mosaic version of our floor tiles for the back splash, but it was too expensive. I went to the Daltile showroom and ended up liking this really neutral mosaic tile because it had the beige, brown, and grey to pull everything together. Maybe we could do a subway tile for a quick update in a few years? Maybe a stamped stainless steel one eventually? The possibilities are truly endless, so we picked what we liked in our price range at the moment. Side note: I chose this picture to show the back splash and the under-cabinet lighting. In my opinion, the under-cabinet lighting is a must if you actually cook. It doesn't matter if it's battery lighting or hardwired, it's really a great investment.

So that's it for now, a few more kitchen things we considered later!
To be continued ...

January 16, 2014

reclaimed media cabinet

We've been using an Ikea Expedit series bookshelf as a TV stand and media cabinet since we moved in together over three years ago. Three years?!?! Anyway, I got it for my studio apartment years ago and I plan on keeping it for a while. It's one Ikea piece that never ages, mainly because it doesn't have moving parts, and it's a really useful and versatile piece of furniture. That said, I wanted something that worked well with the existing furniture.

After finding the reclaimed wood console on Etsy, I checked out the seller's other furniture. He made some really nice things, and among them was a 65" media cabinet. It had clean lines, a similar look to the console I was getting, and it was huge. After doing some measuring to make sure our cable boxes fit, I ordered it without hesitation. As far as media cabinets go, this one was fairly inexpensive considering its size and material, but it was risky spending that much money on something I didn't see in person. To top it off, it was not refundable unless it arrived damaged ... risky, risky, risky. The husband was a bit skeptical since he likes see things in person and when shipping was delayed for the third time, he began to question the Etsy shop's integrity. I started to get pretty nervous myself, but we received everything by Christmas Eve. The husband and I attached the legs, moved the Ikea bookshelf upstairs, rearranged the shelf contents, and we plan on getting someone to eventually mount the TV so that we have a guaranteed installation. I imagine it'll look a lot different once the TV is hanging on the wall, but this is what our Etsy media cabinet looks like now:

The before and after pictures are from different angles, but you get the idea. The bigger cabinet really makes a difference in how the TV is perceived, it looked so enormous before and now it seems to be in proportion with the rest of the room. The next step is to research hanging the huge TV and hiding the wires in the wall, it'll be a huge change for this corner!

January 14, 2014

new bathroom floor

I did a post back in October describing our hallway bathroom plans to upgrade. We thought the changes we wanted to make would be quick and easy ... we were so wrong. The bathroom isn't being gutted, but the changes we want to make take more effort than we thought. As a reminder, we plan on changing the sink and tub faucets, light fixture, and floor, we're doing something about the storage near our tub, and of course, painting. It seemed the floor was the hardest and most time consuming thing to do, yet somehow it was the first thing 'we' tackled. I say 'we' but it was really my amazing brother-in-law Pat who took this project on. The husband helped where he could and I just admired their work and gave my opinion where needed (and probably where it wasn't needed). Pat re-tiled some floors for family friends and had experience removing the vanity, toilet, and old tile, tiling, and reattaching all the plumbing fixtures. I asked if he could help the husband tile our bathroom and he agreed. He completed the whole project the weekend before Christmas, how awesome is that!? We are so lucky to have such driven, talented, and generous family!

The floor we had was probably original to the house, and it kind of fit the vanity and vintage feel of the subway tiles around the tub. That said, the edges adjacent to the walls were really sloppy and the grout was not getting any cleaner. I wanted something a little more updated, easier to clean, and maybe create some contrast.

The first thing Pat did was remove the door, vanity, and toilet, and then he chiseled the tiles. He had all this done in a few hours. There's a few quirks about this bathroom that came up during this project. The first is the vent, which happens to be under the vanity ... I'm not sure why it would be designed this way, but here it is. We went with molding instead of a tile baseboard, so Pat made a cutout for the vent.

The other quirk that came up was the threshold. The marble one we had has seen better days, it was chipped and would no longer be a good transition between the new tiles and carpet. We also wanted the ability to easily change the threshold in the future if we ended up removing the carpet and refinishing the floor underneath.

The next step was laying out the tiles and waiting for everything to set and dry.

The grout went in, Pat cut the molding to size, installed it, reattached the toilet and vanity, and installed a wooden threshold. Whew! That didn't all happen at once, like with any old home, there were a few hiccups. First, the valve under the sink kept leaking, but after some YouTube research we were able to readjust it. Then the threshold turned out to be a royal pain. The floor is uneven and the threshold wouldn't sit on the carpet evenly, after tons of tweaking, sanding, and my discovery of shims, the threshold sat where it needed to. But wait, there's more! The tiles and new threshold were a tad higher than the previous ones, so the door needed to be cut and sanded to close. Ah the beauty of old homes ... 

The edges, baseboard, and tiles were all done so neatly, I could't be more excited! We now have a beautiful and unique floor that adds contrast. Enjoy!

On a side note, I have to credit Pat for taking all these pictures, I wouldn't have all the progress pictures otherwise! Thank you Pat for the amazing tile work, teaching the husband a few things, taking the fabulous pictures, and of course for taking your entire weekend to do this for us! Seriously, how lucky are we?!

January 9, 2014

creating an entry

The foyer ... some houses are blessed with a space to take off a coat, leave your shoes, or drop an umbrella, but unfortunately our home didn't come with this in-between space, which became a lot more obvious when winter arrived. We had nowhere to put our dirty shoes and nowhere to throw our soaking jackets. I was also finding mail, keys, sunglasses, etc. all over the place, and realized we needed a spot to drop things as we walked into the house. Luckily, our living room is a decent size, so I knew we could somehow make it work. It didn't take much of an imagination to figure out we needed some hooks for coats and a console for our junk, but I also thought we could use more light, a mirror, and something to hold our shoes. Here's what I came up with:

The Console
I looked for small consoles everywhere and found a reclaimed furniture maker on Etsy who was able to create custom pieces. It may sound expensive, but it actually turned out to be really well priced and well below anything I could buy at West Elm, Pottery Barn, or Crate & Barrel. The only thing I could complain about is the amount of time we had to wait since it's handmade, but other than that I'm in love. It's simple, a little modern, a little rustic, a little industrial, and a perfect fit next to our front door.

The Mirror
I was convinced I would find a mirror at HomeGoods but that just didn't happen. It was especially hard to find anything close to the holidays, because everything seemed to be sold out and 'picked through'. When I was getting our bar cart on the World Market site, I checked their mirrors and found this carved wooden one. It looked nice and was the right size, but it's so much prettier in real life than in the website pictures.

Everything Else
The Target lamp was an easy choice, but I was really torn on the lamp shade. I ended up going with the chevron because it seemed neutral and went well with our zigzag patterned rug. I got the shoe basket from HomeGoods and had the small basket for some time now. The hooks behind the door are from Ikea, cheap, sturdy, and easy to attach to the wall. The only thing I have to really think about is the entry rug, because the one we have is too small and not waterproof.

This is such a better use of our space and my mind is at peace knowing all our mail and keys are in one place. Having a mirror near the door has been useful for both me and the husband, and we use those hooks every single day ... I'd say this was a success.

January 7, 2014

above sofa update

I have a few pretty exciting updates for those who haven't been over our house during the holidays! We got some things done and delivered just in time for Christmas, so there's a bunch of posts coming up this month. Here's an update on what we decided to hang above the sofa: frames!

The empty wall:

The inspiration:

Once again, I bought a bunch of Ikea frames, dark brown this time, and hung them just like I hung the stairway frames. The one thing I did differently this time was measure between the frames so that there was a little more order, I left about two inches between them for balance. Another thing that helped the wall look less random was creating a straight line at the sofa. If you look at the frames lining the sofa, they are all aligned and give the gallery wall some organization. I was able to order all the photos for the frames with free overnight shipping as a Christmas promotion, not a bad deal. Oh, and the thermostat is not as obvious now, it's kind of hidden in frames so I can't complain.

The husband and I decided to go with a travelling theme, so all the pictures are ones we took when we visited different places. I originally wanted to hang a large map, but the travelling theme serves as our 'map' of places we've been in a more personal way. The one in the center is the Philadelphia Waterworks, and although it's not really a far away place, it's a picture I took right before the husband proposed, so I think it deserves to be in the center! The other photos are from Poland, Florida, Southern California, New Orleans, and of course our honeymoon spot, Antigua. As we take trips we'll update the wall so we can reminisce and never forget to keep travelling.

I can't say we got everything on our list done, but we did get a lot accomplished. I can't wait to share all the progress!