I Like White Kitchens and I Cannot Lie

I like white kitchens and I cannot lie.

Although I did give a good deal of thought to all the kitchen details, I really never much waivered on the idea of white cabinets. I prefer painted cabinets to any of the natural wood looks, so I didn’t consider any of those. There are some beautiful grey, grieges, and tuxedo kitchens out there, but I didn’t think the space was large enough to do different color uppers and lowers and I liked white enough that I didn’t think spending the extra coin for a custom color was necessary.

In keeping with the period of the house and their overall popularity, I chose a traditional shaker door profile for the cabinets. The cabinet company we choose was Merillat. Our kitchen designer recommended it based on our style preferences and budget. They have three different product lines and we ended up going with their Masterpiece line as this line had the pieces that best fit our space such as the 16″ deep cabinet for the sun room wall and the 18″ tall pantry for next to the refrigerator. The door style we chose is Martel in maple with a Dove White paint and no glaze.

Merillat Martel Door

The image above shows both a shaker profile for both cabinet and the drawer door.  We actually chose chose to do a “slab,” i.e. non-shaker profile, for the drawers. My kitchen designer told me that going with the slab profile would give the space a more traditional look, and I liked that it felt cleaner and not as busy.

For the hardware, I chose chrome cup pulls for the drawers and a fairly simple knob for the cabinets. The cup pulls are Schaub & Company Traditional Collection 3″ Cup Pull in Polished Chrome and the knobs are Schaub & Company Select 1 1/4″ Knob in Polished Chrome. I ordered them online from Knobs4Less.com.

Schaub Cup PullSchaub Knob

Both the cabinets and the hardware were fairly easy choices for me.  Where I started over-thinking was the countertop. Basing my choice purely on looks alone, I would choose marble. But budget and maintenance made this option not as attractive. Granite tends to be too “busy” for my taste and the only real granite option I liked was honed solid black. However, I decided that I didn’t want a dark counter surface so I searched for other, lighter options. I looked at several quartz options such as Silestone and Cambria as well as Corian, another man-made product. Then my mom told me about another stone option, Quartzite. Quartzite is not the same as quartz. Quartzite is a natural stone like granite or marble. It is an extremely hard rock that is not water or acid-soluble. On the Mohs test that measures how hard a material is, it has been given a hardness reading of 8/10.  No two slabs of quartzite are exactly alike but the color tones and wavy patterns look similar to marble.  The slab I chose is called Brazilian Calcutta and it looks like this.


Last but not least we have the appliances, sink, and faucet. We are keeping our existing white GE counter-depth french door refrigerator and white LG dishwasher because they are both fairly new, work relatively well, and fit the space. What we will be saying goodbye to is our almost 20-year old range/oven and the essentially non-functioning range hood that are pictured here.


We will be replacing these with new GE appliances.  We chose this microwave and this range.

Microwave Range

I am very excited about having double ovens again. I had a range with double ovens when we lived in Hawaii and I used the smaller one all the time. However, as I mentioned before, what I am most excited about is that the range will vent outside and not just circulate the air back into the room. My current recirculating hood does a terrible job and it makes both Mark and I crazy. Although combination microwave/vent hoods aren’t as powerful as other free-standing vent hoods, this one has 300 cfm, which should be enough for my small kitchen and gets good reviews for venting on Consumer Reports.  Anything will be better than our current situation, that’s for sure!

As is somewhat typical, we were able to get a “free” sink with our countertops.  The sink they offered us is a stainless steel, undermount variety and seemed to suit our needs just fine, so we went with that.  I actually like a stainless steel sink and my only other requirement, other than it being wide enough on the diagonal to fit my largest pan,  was that it be an undermount, so it seemed like a no brainer.

Sink selection for Bilger

The last thing that was left to decide at this point was the sink faucet.  I decided that I wanted a design that only had one hole, and I wanted the faucet itself to pull down, rather than having a separate sprayer.  It terms of looks, I didn’t want it to look too modern since the rest of the finishes were more traditional, but I also wanted something clean and sleek. Enter the Cassidy Single Handle Pull Down Faucet from Delta.  Isnt’ she pretty?


So those are the choices we have made at this point.  We are going to paint and install a backsplash ourselves so we haven’t finalized those details yet, but we are thinking a dark, navy/sea blue on the small part of the walls that won’t be covered with cabinets or backsplash and likely a simple, white subway tile with a medium toned grey grout for said backsplash.  But those choices are still some time away, so maybe we’ll change our mind once the rest of the pieces are in place!

Our cabinets will be arriving Friday, May 1 and we are set to have them installed the following Monday.  The week before that we will have folks here doing the necessary electrical and HVAC work which means that we’ll need to demo the current kitchen the weekend of April 25-26.  I will be back then to share the details of that process.

Kitchen Layout Breakdown

I am excited to share with you how we are going to reconfigure the kitchen layout to better maximize space, storage, and efficiency. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but we are making some small changes that I hope will create some more storage and counter space and add up to a more organized kitchen.

To orient you, here’s a bird’s eye view of the first floor of the house so you can see where the kitchen is in relation to the rest of the floor.

First Floor Layout

Each of the appliances shown above are generally going to stay in the same place. We are moving the dishwasher over so that it’s right next to the sink and the sink is shifting just a bit so that the faucet will be centered on the window above it, but those are the only changes to the appliance layout.

The new layout adds some additional cabinets and counter space.  As you can see from this picture there is a tall pantry cabinet to the left of the range.


In the new layout, the tall pantry cabinet will be replaced with a slanted upper and lower cabinet with a small triangle-shaped countertop. We are also adding an over-the-range microwave which will actually vent outside instead of simply recirculating, which is what our current hood does. I am so excited about this! The upper cabinets to the right of the range are just a standard 33″ cabinet. Here is a rendering of what that wall will look like.

Range View

Here is a what the sink wall currently looks like. Sorry the photo is so dark, the lighting in this room is tough to wrangle! We are going to try to salvage the gingerbread detail around the window and re-install it once the new cabinets are in. I have no idea if we will be able to do that or not, so stay tuned for that drama!


As I mentioned above, the dishwasher will slide over and sit right next to the sink and the sink will slide to the right a little bit so that we can center the faucet on the window. This will also allow us to add a 18″ wastebasket pullout cabinet to the left of the sink. Yay, no more visible trash can! The upper cabinets on both sides of the sink are blind corner cabinets, which means that they don’t have angled shelves or a lazy susan layout, they simply go straight back towards the other wall. This is the same layout that my left upper cabinet on this wall has now, it’s not the most ideal cabinet configuration in my opinion, but the length of this wall combined with the size and placement of the window didn’t lend themselves well to the other upper cabinet options that this cabinet company offered, so we are going with blind corner uppers on both corners of the sink wall.

Sink View

And instead of a large, two-bowl sink, I am going to go with one smaller bowl. Currently the width of both bowls is a combined 29″ and the new sink will be 21″ but I think it will be more functional for me as the width of the individual bowls on my current sink are only 14″ so many of my pots and pans can’t be set easily in the sink, which is a major pet peeve of mine. Since I have such limited cabinet and counter space in a 10 x 10′ kitchen, I think a medium size single bowl sink that will fit with in a 30″ sink cabinet is the best choice.

Sink selection for Bilger

Swinging around to the sun room wall, here’s where things start to get exciting. As you can see in the photo below, and as you may remember from the mini-kitchen makeover of April 2013, there are a couple of narrow shelves that Mark and I installed for extra storage. These are going to be removed and we plan to eventually replace them, but we are going to tackle that part ourselves after the main job is done.


What we are going to add to this wall is a 16″ deep lower cabinet and countertop.  We couldn’t add a full depth (24″) lower cabinet because it wouldn’t fit with the dishwasher, which we obviously didn’t want to give up, but we liked the idea of having the additional countertop space. This does mean we are losing a little bit of storage space in the corner of the sink wall, but I think we are gaining that back with the storage we will now have on this wall.

Sun Room View

And last but not least we have the fridge wall. This wall currently has no original cabinets or countertops. I don’t know what was originally on this wall, but it wasn’t the fridge. Originally, the refrigerator was were the range is now, which is explains why the outlet is so high on that wall. The original range/cooktop was on the sun room (formerly the back yard) wall.  You can tell because there is a patch in the brick where it used to vent outside. This wall may never have had cabinets and might have housed a small table or a desk. Either way, this wall currently houses some cheap IKEA upper cabinets, a shelve for the microwave that Mark and I made, and a portable IKEA kitchen cart.


Obviously this wall is going to receive the biggest transformation because the cabinets are finally going to match the rest of the kitchen and will properly frame out the fridge. To accomplish this, we’re moving the fridge over about 5″ and adding full depth cabinets above. To the right of the fridge we’re including a 24″ wide tall pantry cabinet with both shelves and drawers. In order to not overly close off the entrance to the kitchen from the living/dining room, the depth of this cabinet will only 18″ deep, but I think it will provide a wealth of really usable storage for pantry items, linens, etc.

Fridge View

So that’s the wall-by-wall layout of the new kitchen. Here’s the bird’s eye rendering with dimensions in case that’s helpful to see as well.

Bird's Eye

Before I end this post, I would like to share a few last thoughts about the layout and the idea that renovating a space means you can get exactly what you want. First, although our options were limited given space restrictions, we did consider a couple of other layout options and ultimately decided that this one met our goals the best. It provides alot more counter space and a little bit more storage. However, we did not get everything we wanted. We had to go with those blind corner cabinets which are not as user-friendly as the lazy susan options, but work better for our space. Over-the-range microwaves aren’t my cup of tea, but it made the most sense for this kitchen both visually and function-wise, so we went with one. There’s also a little bit of “dead space” next to both the fridge and dishwasher, which were trade-offs for other features.

So in the end I am very happy with the new layout, but it didn’t come without some compromise. I wouldn’t say that I am getting my dream kitchen, but as I mentioned here, that’s not really the point. What I do think is dreamy is that this kitchen should add value to the house as a whole, as well as be more functional and better looking.

In my next post, which I hope to have up next weekend, I will share with you what cabinets, countertops, appliances, fixtures, etc. we chose along with more information on the storage solutions we are incorporating. We are ordering the cabinets first thing tomorrow morning and should have a delivery date by the end of the week, so I hope to also be able to also share the timeline for this project as well. We’ll see!

Something’s Cooking

One of my favorite things to hatewatch are episodes of House Hunters that feature a young couple who are buying in a reasonably-priced area (read: they can afford to have “must haves” that go beyond a roof, a semi-solid foundation, and running water) and who go into homes and complain about the kitchen because it’s not “updated.” They always say things like “this has got to go”; “a total cut job”‘ or my personal favorite, “I could never cook in here.”  Every time I hear someone say that, I always want to yell back, “yes you can!”

Because the truth is you can cook almost anywhere.  Contrary to what HGTV will try and tell you, food can still be cooked on non-commercial grade ranges, non-stainless steel refrigerators still keep food cold, and non-granite counters are still counters. Now don’t get me wrong, if you’ve seen my Pinterest page, you know I love me some kitchen porn, but I will be the first to tell you that no one needs to have a gourmet kitchen to cook good food.  I really love the food blog Smitten Kitchen, because Deb always reminds me that space is not a limiting factor in what you can cook.


We’re renovating the kitchen. Not because we have to, but because we think it will add value to our house.  Home values in our neighborhood and area are going up and we now have enough equity in our house to safely make a large investment in an area of the house that usually sees the highest return for your money.

I am not saying my kitchen doesn’t have some issues.  The semi-broken and super leaky faucet, non-venting range hood, and a layout that doesn’t maximize space are not ideal so I am certainly more than excited to be upgrading.  But I am glad that we waited and lived in our house for 4 years first, and I am glad that we waited until both our finances and the value of the house were in a strong place so that we have the piece of mind that we are making a good financial decision.

What we will not be getting, however, is a bigger kitchen.  While we are making tweaks to the current layout, there’s no real feasible way to increase the size to anything beyond the current 10 x 10′ footprint.  Here’s a floor plan of the lower level of the house so that you can see what I mean.

First Floor Layout

Before we embarked on the sun room project, we talked about our long-term goals for the kitchen and the house in general and decided that we likely wouldn’t be living in the house long enough (read: forever) to justify the type of full-scale renovation/add-on that would be required to increase the size of the kitchen by extending it out towards the backyard. And we didn’t want to lose the main floor bathroom, especially since it wouldn’t yield very much more square footage, so we decided to live with the kitchen’s current size and went ahead with the sun room since it was in such bad shape.

Last fall, as we put the finishing touches on the sun room, I began to think seriously about our options for the kitchen.  We met with a couple of kitchen designers, consulted friends and family, and spent countless hours playing around on Ikea and Lowe’s free kitchen design software.  Working with a kitchen designer from a local kitchen and bath renovation company, we finally came up with a layout that we think will give us the best functionality within the constraints of our current size and layout.

This was both a fun and frustrating process.  Fun because you can start to see what the options are and frustrating because you realize that you can’t get everything that you really want.  It took about 3 months of serious back and forth with the kitchen designer before we settled on a final layout.  Then it took another 2 months to get the installer out to our house to discuss the few structural changes we wanted to make including the addition of an outside-venting range hood, some better task lighting, and a little bit of HVAC shuffling. That finally happened this week and we are ready to move forward with the ordering of the cabinets and generally making this renovation happen.

I have lots more details for you about the final layout we decided on, what materials we are going to use, costs, timeline, etc. but I will save those details for the next post. See you soon!

Be Our Guest

A good portion of our house is painted beige.  The color is Benjamin Moore’s Berber White in half tint and I am sure that the sellers thought that it was a “good neutral” that would “appeal to many buyers,” but I just don’t think it does anything to help the house feel inviting.

I painted over the beige in the entry and stairway so it’s now only hanging out upstairs in the two bedrooms and in the basement.  I decided to tackle the guest room next because I have the furnishings for this room and I know where I want to go with it, unlike our bedroom, so  I knew that after painting it I could pretty much “finish” it off.  (So many air quotes today, people.  I don’t know.)

Here’s what the room looked like about a year and half ago, before I started making improvements. The duvet is from Pottery Barn, was a wedding gift, and is totally the jumping off point for the rest of this room.  Since this room houses about couple of antique pieces, the feel in here is very traditional.



So beige.  So boring.  So the first thing I did was remove that ceiling fan and replace it with an affordable flush mount.  I know ceiling fans are controversial, so here’s my reasoning for removing this one. Our ceilings upstairs aren’t quite 8′ (yay old houses) and with the lights hanging down, it was dangerously low, especially for one of my favorite guests, my 6’5″ dad.  So we bought a standing fan that lives in the closest when it’s not needed and since this room is above the garage and has three windows, it stays pretty cool and gets good air flow.  Judge me if you must.

After we had the floors redone, I got rid of the cheap, old rug and replaced the brown dust ruffle with a cream one.  The cream dust ruffle had actually been on our king bed but I was able to “hack” it to fit a queen.


The bedroom stayed with just these small updates for maybe another year while we finished the sun room.  I was super anxious to get back to it though because I knew a couple hundred dollars and we would be in business.

You may remember that I wanted to go with a soft green in here.  Here is my inspiration photo that I mocked up in 2013.  Note that this was actually before we had the floors redone, but I think I got pretty close to what we ended up with in the mock up below!

IMG_0258 W Russell Green

Ultimately, I settled on Behr’s “Simply Sage” in a half tint.  The full color was just the right ratio of green to grey to brown, but it was too dark.  So once again, it was half tint for the win!

To paint the room, Mark and I moved the smaller furniture pieces out of the room and pushed the larger pieces to the center.  Then we removed all of the old vinyl blinds and their hardware from the window since we would be replacing those as well with faux wood blinds from The Home Depah.  We also removed all the outlet panels.

We used Behr Marquis interior paint since it’s the best paint that Home Depot sells. It’s a paint and primer in one so we just went right over top of the existing color.  We did two light coats.

While the paint was drying we headed to Home Depot to purchase the blinds.  We measured the windows before we left and were able to find the sizes we needed without having to have them custom cut, which was nice.  You should know, however, that they can do that for you in the store.  Total cost for three windows = $95.00.

Ideally I had hoped to mount these blinds on the interior of the window well as we had done downstairs, but for whatever reason the window wells upstairs are not nearly as deep and mounting anything, even a roller shade, on the inside of the well was just not an option. This bummed me out because I don’t think they look as nice mounted on the outside and I haven’t been able to figure out any way to cover the cheap plastic valance thing.  But they do look better that the tired vinyl blinds that were in there previously so we’ll move on for now. Please note all.the.snow.


After the blinds were installed and the outlet panels replaced, we moved the furniture back and then added a rod and curtain to the one non-dormer window in the room. The rod is from Target and the curtains are from Urban Outfitters.  I found them a long time ago, waited until they went on sale (because they are a little pricey, no?) and then scooped them up.  They’ve been hanging out in the guest room closet since summer.  This room gets the slow mover award for sure.

I swear that I bought the 96″ length curtains and even had Mark hang the curtain rod at the top of the ceiling before I actually got the curtains out of the closet and realized that regardless of what I may have ordered, what I had was only 84″. So I had to bat my eyes and politely ask Mark to lower the rod.  He mocked me (which I deserved) and then graciously did as I asked.  Good man.

So here’s where we are now.




I love the soft green color on the walls and the classic and feminine look of the floral duvet coupled with the ruffled curtains and the antique furniture pieces.  The last thing we would like to do in here is add a headboard, maybe out of the left over barn board from the sun room so that’s on our agenda once the weather decides to come above freezing.  It’s going to do that soon right?

One last thing I will walk you through is the floor covering situation.  After we got rid of the ugly, cheap brown rug, we were using an equally cheap but not as ugly sisal in there as yet another place holder until we got around to painting, etc.  I fully expected to buy another rug once I finished painting and adding the new window treatments, but as I started to put all the furniture back I started to think that maybe the room didn’t “need” a rug.  Don’t get me a wrong it could “use” a rug, but good rugs are expensive and I sorta got to thinking that a cheapish rug (which is all I have the budget for right now) wouldn’t really add anything, so I decided to forgo the rug for now and just added the little IKEA sheepskin at the side of the bed so that guests have something soft underfoot.

What do you guys think of that choice?  Do you think I should consider adding a rug down the road?

So that’s the story of the guest room.  I hope, if nothing else, it inspires a few more visits from friends and family.  Lord knows this weather isn’t very inviting but hopefully our guest room is!


New Year, New Look

Okay, so since it’s still technically January, I am sliding this New Year’s post in before it’s officially stale.  Here we go…

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone had a great holiday season.  I took all my decorations down over MLK weekend and it was so sad!  Generally, I prefer not to have my nooks and crannies jammed full of decor items.  When it’s not December, I typically prefer just a few pieces and mostly open space.  Mark likes even less “clutter” (as he calls it) than I do, so it’s only once a year that our house is really “full” of decor items.  However, there’s something about having your house brimming with holiday decorations as the days turn cold and you spend more time inside that feels really cozy to me.

To make myself feel better about putting all the holiday decorations away, I decided to give then sun room sitting space a bit of a new look.





The throw pillows on the sun room chairs were $20 each at Target, and the throw blanket (also from Target) was on sale for $15.  It’s very soft and a nice size for one person.   The other pillows on that bench I already owned but were hiding in the basement.  The date is our wedding anniversary and was a gift, so it made me happy to put it to use. Sometimes simply “shopping your house” is all you need to do.

Last weekend I finally painted the guest room.  You may remember that waaay back in September of 2013, I posted about my plans for this room.  At the time my hope was to tackle this project last winter.  This winter, last winter, what’s the difference?  The good news is that I love the color and can’t wait to put the room back together and share the new look!

Decking the Halls

Have I told you guys how much I love Christmas?  I seriously love.it.alot.  ALOT.  I try to keep the right perspective and do good things like give to charity and be extra kind and friendly, but I really love the whole consumer spectacle as well.  While I would be perfectly happy if the stores didn’t start putting their Christmas stuff out in October, I do love seeing all the lines of decor, ornaments, wrapping paper, etc. that the various stores put out every year.  I frequent all the regulars, Michaels, Target, World Market, and Home Goods to name a few.  I also really like to hit up Kmart.  For whatever reason their Christmas decorations are always outstanding.   Check out these mercury glass balls, beautiful!  Last year I got these amazing snow fake ornaments, which you’ll see on my mantel and this year, they had some really great red green and white balls which are in my lanterns next to the fireplace.  If you haven’t checked out Kmart for affordable ornaments, you’re missing out!

OK enough about me.  Let’s talk about my decorations.  I have had my grandmother’s Dickens Village for several years now and I love it.  This year my mom sent me most of our Dept. 56 collection Snow Village and I had such a good time arranging the pieces in my home.  It’s so much fun for me to come up with the little vignettes.  Since the Dickens Village fits so perfectly where our “aloha” sign usually resides, I decided to see if I could make the Snow Village pieces work in the bookcase.  At my mom’s old house, we had them on top on our built-ins kind of how the Dicken’s Village is, so this would be a new challenge.  I went with “mini-street-scapes” and let the main structure on each shelf dictate the scene.  For example, I set out carolers outside the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Old Oprey, and skiers and skaters outside the skate shop.  Take a look!


Christmas Village



Another new fun thing this year was getting to decorate the sun room. Last year we put our tree out there but it wasn’t really a space that you could decorate.  This year, viola!


Since we are going to North Carolina for Christmas this year, Mark and I agreed to forgo the big tree and just put up this little fake one.  The wreath over the mirror is a live wreath and makes the whole room smell great!

Outside, we kept it simple again and just hung garland from the light post and the porch post.  This is the photo from last year with snow on the ground and Bruddah doing his best gazelle impression.

Front Yard

On the front door, I brought out a “Joy” sign that I made two years ago by painting a wooden “J” and “Y” with red craft paint and then finding a styrofoam wreath mold in a corresponding size and wrapping it with cheap tinsel.  They letters are connected together by fishing line and I used a piece of ribbon to staple it to the top of the door.  I used painter’s tape to stick the backs of the J and Y to the door so they don’t bang around.  I don’t have my receipts from the project, but I would guess that it cost me around $30 since I didn’t have any of the supplies like the craft paint or the tinsel.


And last but not least, here’s the mantel.  How come no matter how many cheap ornament balls you have, it’s never enough?  Each year, I end up buying more.


As I mentioned above, those amazing spikey snowflakes were from the Jaclyn Smith Holiday collection at Kmart last year.  The stocking hangers are from Target, the balls are a mis-mash of Target, Kmart, Home Depot and IKEA, and the trees I made using glitter and yarn and this tutorial.



I am really happy with how the “villages,” sun room, and mantel all turned out and of course I love seeing the lighted garland on my light post when I come home at night.  The photo quality isn’t the best and I apologize for that.  The light this time of year makes photographing the house a challenge.

I hope everyone has a safe and special holiday season and that in addition to all the shopping, decorating, and partying, you take the time to help better the people and the world around you.  If nothing else, remember to smile!


Sun Room Big Reveal

The big day is finally here.  The day where in photos I can take you from this:

Sun Room Before

To this:

IMG_1342 (1024x768)

Amazeballs, no?  The biggest difference is the ceiling height.  Pitching the roof to go from a 7.5′ flat ceiling to an angled ceiling with a height of just over 9′ on the high side made the room feel not only bigger, but less like porch and more like a room. Once the initial demo of the room was done, this was the first project we tackled. Here’s the post with all the details about how we pitched the roof and installed the beams.  This is what the ceiling looked like after we took down the original drop ceiling and installed the new beams but before we put the ceiling back.


And here is the ceiling once it we insulated and put the boards back up, painted, and finished out the beams.


You’ll notice that the floor in this photo also looks different.  We started with carpet that had been laid (but not nailed or glued) over old tiles.


We removed the carpet and tile (that was a crappy job!) and then installed wooden subfloor which we lived with for 6 months or so until we installed laminate flooring.


Final Floor

To get to where we were in this photo, we had to replace the old windows with shiny, fancy new ones and trim them all out.  We also had to demolish the old outdoor kitchen (another craptastic job) and then install the barn board accent wall.  Now things were starting to come together.

IMG_1136 (640x480)

This photo is taken just shy of a year into the whole project.  After we got the floor down, we added curtains and then had the chairs recovered so they matched. Add in some other furniture and a new rug and one side of the room is in business.

IMG_1181 (872x1024)

So much better than where we started!


But what about the other side?  After creating the barn board accent wall, we installed a row of cabinets and then made our own concrete counter tops to create a bar area and extra kitchen storage.


Again so much better than this.

photo (8)

The last thing we did was buy this pendant from Shades of Light to replace the temporary bulb we had over the bar.

IMG_1350 (1024x1006)

The only finish option was chrome so we spray painted the chrome parts with Oil Rubbed Bronze spray paint, put the sucker back together, and hung ‘er up.  Then we high-fived each other on a job well done.  Now all that’s left to do is enjoy this room!

IMG_1355 (1024x768)


To those of you (hi mom!) who have followed along the past 17 months, thanks for sticking with us.  We’re very proud of where we ended up, even if it did take awhile to get here.

So what’s next, you ask?  Well that’s an excellent question.  We have some smaller projects in the queue for the next month or two.  Some rooms are getting painted and of course, I will share my holiday decorations.  After the first of the year, we are going to start thinking about the big kitchen reno and possibly also widening our driveway.  Both of these jobs will be decidedly less DIY than this sun room, but hopefully that means things will move a little faster.  I can’t imagine not having a kitchen for 17 months!

So what I am saying is, fear not.  There’s more home updates on the horizon!  Yay, old houses!

Concrete Counter Tops – Part Two

If you missed part one, click here to read about measuring and creating the molds for the counters.

Now that your molds are made, you are ready to prep for concrete.  You’ll need:

  • Concrete Mixer (we rented ours from the local equipment rental.)
  • Concrete (We used Sakrete 500 Plus.)
  • Counter Top Additive (We bought this stuff in the base color from Cheng’s website.  Depending on what concrete is available in your area, this may not be necessary.  More details on that below.)
  • Buckets
  • Water

Before we started mixing the concrete, we attached 2x4s to the sides of the molds to prevent the melamine boards from bowing to the weight of the wet concrete.


Then we wiped down the molds with a lint-free cloth to remove any dust.  Jessi and Mike at Imperfectly Polished ordered and used a release agent on their molds to help ensure that the counters slide right out once they are dry.  We decided to use cooking spray rather than order, pay, and then wait for a specialty product.

Once the molds were completely prepped, we began to mix the concrete. Some home improvement stores either carry or will special order Quikrete Countertop Concrete Mix, which is specifically made for thin applications like counter tops, but our local stores would not.  We literally checked not only our local stores but also ones in Maryland and North Carolina as well.  So we used the Sakrete 5000 Plus, which Cheng recommends, along with this additive that provides additional strength to the concrete.


This is the additive from Cheng.


As you can see, we needed to mix one bag of additive per 120 lbs of concrete.  However, the concrete bags are 80 lbs so that meant it was time to do some math.  The mixer will hold two bags of concrete (or 160 lbs) so we determined that for every batch of concrete we mixed, we needed 1 1/3 bags of additive.  So I measured out two bags of additives into thirds.   The photo below shows four of these because that’s how many batches of concrete we planned for.  The additional 2/3 of a bag was extra in case we needed it.

IMG_1277Cheng says to use 1-1.5 gallons of water per 120 lbs of concreteand then add a cup of water at a time of the mixture is still too dry.  This meant more math.  We poured a 1.25 gallons of water into a clean bucket and used a sharpie to mark a line where the water was so that we would know how much to fill for each batch.

So we started our first batch in the mixer with 160 lbs of concrete, 1 1/3 package of Cheng additive, 1.25 gallons of water and got to mixing.  Once the concrete was mixed, we thought that it still looked a little dry so we added one more cup of water, per Cheng’s instructions. Big Mistake.

Here’s the biggest lesson we learned: a little water goes a looong way!

The extra cup of water made the cement too wet.  We tried to fix it by adding more dry concrete, but that did not work.  We ended up scrapping our first batch and starting over. For the second batch we were much more conservative with our water.  We started by only putting in about 3/4 of our 1.25 bucket.  We slowly added a drip of water here and there, it was amazing how as little as one tablespoon of water could change the consistency of an 160 lbs of concrete!  Being an avid cooker and baker, I had never seen such a relatively small amount of liquid change the consistency of something so much.  In the second batch, it seemed like exactly 1.25 gallons was the right amount of water.  (I guess Cheng really DOES know what he is talking about!)

To test to consistency, we used the “slump test.”  You cut a hole in the bottom of a plastic cup and then fill it with the concrete mixture.  Then you place the cup upside down on a flat surface and life the cup up.  The concrete shouldn’t settle to more than half the height of the cup.  This photo is from our first batch when it was too wet.  Unfortunately, things moved too fast for me to get a picture of the right consistency, but you’ll get the idea if you do your research ahead of time.


Once we had to consistency right with batch two, it was time to transfer it to the buckets and get it into the molds.  We decided to mix the concrete on our back porch because it is raised and the step would make it easier to fill a bucket from the mixer.  We set up the molds on saw horses in the garage, however, #1 because the garage is covered and #2 because it’s important that the molds are level.  By using the saw horses, we could apply shims under the legs where necessary in order to ensure the molds were level.


We set 2×8 pine boards on top of the saw horses to create a firm surface for the molds and then covered them in plastic so they wouldn’t be ruined.


Once we got the mixed concrete into the buckets, we carried them into the garage and dumped them in to the molds.  Okay, strong Mark did all of that.  I opened the gate.  Once the concrete was in the molds, we used our hands (which were covered in heavy duty plastic gloves) to spread the concrete around and get it even and into the corners, like you would do with brownie mix after you pour it into a pan.


One batch of concrete filled about half of one mold.  Once we had it spread out, we used a rubber mallet and an oribital sander to try and pound/vibrate out all the air bubbles in an effort to reduce the amount of holes we would have to patch once they dried.


Then we added some wire mesh (which you can find in the concrete section of your home improvement store) for strength before mixing and pouring a second batch to fill mold one.


Look at the consistency of the concrete in this photo as it’s being poured into the mold…


…Versus this picture taken just moments later…


See how much wetter the concrete looks?  This stuff is strange to work with, for sure!

With the second batch, you need to do more that just even the concrete out with your hands. You use a board to screed the concrete to ensure that’s it’s level.  Like in the photo above.

We repeated these steps with mold two and were delighted that we were able to fill both molds with exactly 4 batches of concrete, one less that we had anticipated.  We covered the molds in plastic, said our prayers and left the molds to dry.  Apparently I was too exhausted at this point to take any “finished” pictures.

We dried the molds for one week.   Apparently you can remove the molds after 24 hours, but we decided just to wait a week as it really takes about a month for them to gain their full strength and we weren’t going to be able to install them until the following weekend anyway. That week was very wet and damp so we started running a fan out in the garage about halfway through to help with the moisture.

With the help of some friends we removed the molds and turned the counters right side up.  we were pleasantly surprised that there were no air bubbles to fill and a little shocked at how different they looked than the ones Jessi and Mike made.  Theirs seems to have more speckles and ours had veining.  Ours also seems much darker.  At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but as I looked at them longer, I started to like what I was seeing.


Because ours ended up being so smooth with no air bubbles, we skipped the sanding (we were not sad about that) and just went straight for the sealer.  We used Cheng’s sealer and applied two heavy coats.


Installing them took the work of two strong men and several tools.  Mark and a friend were able to carry them from the garage into the sun room and slide the first one into place no problem.  The second one, as we expected, was a bit more of a challenge. Brick had to be shaved and there was a crow bar involved but they eventually got them into place.

We sealed the seam with concrete adhesive and gave it a coat of carnuba wax (which is food safe) to lock in the sealer.


And that’s it!  Total cost was $362.00 (see breakdown below).  That ends up being just about $18.00 /sq ft.  Considering that granite starts at about $50.00 / sq. ft., I would say that’s a good deal!

Cost Breakdown:

  • Molds = $72.00
  • Concrete = $50.00
  • Additive = $130.00
  • Metal Reinforcement = $20.00
  • Sealer = $30.00
  • Mixer = $35.00
  • MISC = $25.00

Since it took me a few weeks to finalize this post, I can report that we have had some issued with water rings leaving stains.  Apparently, this is a somewhat common problem without great solutions.  But since this is in our sun room and not our kitchen, we are ok with them having a “patina” look.

And with the completion of this project, we have officially finished our sun room renovation. I can’t wait for the big reveal post with all the amazing before-and-after photos.  I will have the for you soon I promise!

Concrete Counter Tops – Part One

I really can’t remember when we decided that we wanted to go with concrete counter tops in the sun room.  Obviously its an option alot of folks are considering these days for many reasons.  For us we thought that the look would compliment the barn board and the overall indoor/outdoor feel of the sun room.  We also liked that the cost would be reasonable since we’ve tried not to splurge too much on materials and we already went kinda big on the flooring and the club chairs.

A while back Mark started researching how-to articles and videos online and came across the series of posts on Imperfectly Polished.  They referenced the apparent Godfather of domestic concrete applications Fu-Tung Cheng.  His website offers so much information on the process and possibilities for concrete items in your home, whether you are looking to do it yourself or hire a professional.  For the DIY-er, he has several fantastic how-to videos that we, and many others, watched again and again to get a good idea of how the process works.

The first step of the process was to make a template of the area where we wanted the counter tops to sit.  This is important because it allows you to create a exact replica of the space, rather than just relying on measurements.  To make the templates Mark used 1×4 pieces of pine wood (because they are “straight and cheap” he says).

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We knew that we would have to have two pieces of counter top because we would never be able to install one long piece as it would be way too heavy.  So the first step to creating the templates was determining where we wanted the seam to be.  We decided that it would look best to put the seam in the middle of the two middle cabinets.  This would also distribute the weight of the counters most evenly.

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Visually the seam may appear to be exactly half of the length of the cabinets but if you look closely you’ll see that the cabinet on the far right in the picture above is wider than the cabinet on the far left, so one side of the counter top will be slightly longer than the other.

Once the templates are made, Mark traced the shape onto the melamine board, which is basically plastic coated particle board.  This is ideal for the molds because the plastic coat helps prohibit the concrete from sticking to the mold as well as preventing wood grain from stenciling the hardened concrete.  When tracing the template onto the melamine it’s important to remember to turn the template upside down because the bottom of the mold is actually the top of the counter, like when you make a cake in cake pan.  *Warning – this will be the first of several baking analogies I will use to describe this process.*

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Once the templates have been traced upside down onto the melamine board, it’s time to cut the board and then create the sides.  Because A: the template is not a perfect retangle and B: we don’t own a table saw, Mark used his circular saw for this process.  To make sure he stayed on his line, he clamped a straight edge to the board to keep the saw from deviating from his trace line.

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To create the sides, Mark cut 2 3/4″ strips of the melamine board and screwed them to the bottom/top with decking screws.  In order to keep the melamine board from splitting when he screwed the sides in, he pre-drilled holes every six inches and then went back with the screws.  The height of the sides is important because it dictates the thickness of your counters.  We wanted 2″ thick slabs, which is about as thick as our IKEA cabinets can safely hold, so we add 2″ + 3/4″ (the thickness of the melamine board) to give us molds that were 2″ deep.  (By the way, not all cabinets can support the weight of concrete counter tops so it’s important to determine that ahead of time.  Luckily, the Internet was able to confirm that IKEA’s cabinets are strong enough to hold them.)

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Once the molds are made, the next step is to tape the top edge where the particle board is exposed so that moisture cannot seep in and cause the boards to swell.  Then we ran a line of tape about 1/8″ from the seam where each board comes together.  This was so that we could then run a fairly straight line of caulk on each of the seams.

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Once the caulk was in place, we removed the tape right away.  Another pro tip we learned in our research is that using black caulk (instead of white or clear, which is what most people have laying around) will ensure that you don’t miss any spaces and create a airtight mold.

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All of the steps above were completed about a week before we actually poured the concrete.  In the next post we will cover how that process went.  It was not without its ups and downs, and I promise there will be more baking analogies as well!

Bar Cabinet Details

We poured the concrete countertops this weekend you guys.  But before we jump into a “how-to” series regarding our process, I have a little bit more info to share with you about our cabinets.

I mentioned in our last post how we decided what size and configuration of cabinets we wanted, but I didn’t cover our door choice, hardware, etc. So here are those details.

Choosing a cabinet door style was a one of the decisions that held this project back for awhile.  Are you surprised that I had a hard time making a decision?  I am such a commitment-phob!  Ikea has lots of great door styles in their collection and companies like Semi-Handmade provide even more options.  At first  I was drawn these this grey option.

Lidingo Grey

This the IKEA Lidingo door in grey.  I thought it would help bring out the grey tones in the barn board.  Here’s a photoshopped idea of what that would look like.

Grey cabinets

But since I have matching issues, I was concerned that I wouldn’t like the look of the grey concrete countertops with the grey cabinets.  (Full disclosure: as I am typing this and looking at the photo above, I am completely questioning that logic and wishing I had thought it through more because maybe that would have looked amazing.  Sigh!)

Anyway, we nixed the grey cabinets and next considered the Ramsjo, which is a shaker style door in a semi-white-wash finish.


We liked the shaker style since that’s what we think we would like in the kitchen eventually and the white wash finish tied nicely with both the floors and the barn board.  Se we went for it.  Here is what they look like all installed.

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Don’t worry about the red stripes on the sides, that’s just the flooring underlayment that is exposed temporarily while the base boards are removed so we could install the cabinets.

For hardware, we knew we wanted oil rubbed bronze since that’s what the rest of the fixtures in the room are.  Some oil rubbed bronze hardware, such as this example below, have a brushed look to them.  I didn’t want that.


I wanted something that was almost black and I didn’t want to have to buy a hundred of them.  Many of the cheaper options I found were only sold in sets of 10 or 20.  So I ultimately decided check out Restoration Hardware since I knew they you could order custom amounts.  We ultimately decided on these 4″ cup pulls and these 1 1/4″ knobs (total cost about $100).

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Sorry this is such a crappy, low light photo, but you get it idea with the hardware.

We have moved some stuff into the cabinets and I am love with all the space.  We had to get some smaller containers but the dog’s food fits nicely into the cabinet on the left.  In the drawer above we are going to get a container that will house their supplement powder that is currently sitting on top of the cabinets so that will be tucked away eventually as well.  I will share a photo of them all open once I get a few more organizers in place.

To share a little bit about the countertop process, I will tell you this, it was exciting and not without itss ups and downs.  I promise to fill you in next week!