Monthly Archives: February 2012

I Shutter to Think….

… of climbing up a ladder more than 6 feet. I’m terrified of heights, and it’s kept me from accomplishing a few things on my outdoor to-do list. The first is installing a roof vent to our bathroom ventilation. For now it sits unused with the line leading into the attic. The other project I have wanted to do for years now is to add shutters to the house. In Maine they serve no other purpose other than to look pretty, but I think it makes a huge difference. I did a mockup in Photoshop with an old picture of the house from several years ago to see what the difference would look like. Here is the before…


And here is the potential after…


I’ve looked around for pricing and it would be about $400 to do the house with vinyl shutters. Worth the price?




Filed under Renovation

It’s Where We Hide the Bodies…

Not really…don’t call the cops. All you’ll find is the furnace and half a dozen garbage bags filled with returnables. I PROMISE!

This project, the hidden door, is one that I have wanted to do for a number of years but never had the house to do it. I had done a bunch of research on how to build one, and where you could buy one complete if you wanted to. Those, by the way, are expensive. My door would also need to fit into a fairly tight space, swing in, instead of out and be made on a budget. I eliminated the use of SOSS hinges from my design. They are expensive, and I’m not sure they would have worked well with this door. First step was to remove the old wooden door. It had a few layers of drywall screwed to the back of it for insulation (I assume). It was heavy, and it didn’t shut well.

Once the door was removed, I measured the rough space to get an idea of how much room I would have for the frame of the door. I didn’t want it to be any less of an opening from what I had before, and I wanted to have the ability to remove the door if needed. If I were to do this project again I would use plywood where I could. I think it would hold up better over the long run. The picture below is of the outside shell, where the door will eventually be mounted. On the workbench are the sides of the door (bookcase).

I did a rough assembly of the door before fitting it in place to be sure everything moved the way it should. At that point it was just a bookcase, with a frame around it. The plywood back is thick enough to offer a bit of insulation from the cold basement, but I may add some foam to it as some point.  It took some adjustments to get everything working fine once it was in place. It really didn’t start to look like a success until the trim was on.

The installation was the most difficult part. The door didn’t completely clear the inside ceiling to the basement… it was off by about a half an inch. I was able to shave that off. Notice the project manager in the picture above. No not me…. it’s the one with the ears!

You can see with the picture above where I had to shave some plaster off of the ceiling inside the stairwell to the basement. Here you also get an idea of how the hinges and frame work. There are some pretty big bolts securing the frame of the door to the right. We knew we would want to put cookbooks on the shelves since this was in the kitchen. The door is kept closed by a few double roller cabinet catches. The weight of the door is enough is enough to keep it from being knocked open. I also routed a groove on the underside of one of the shelves for an easier grip to pull it closed. You can’t see it unless you are looking for it.

The picture above shows the beginning of the trim. The piece of pine at the top is just hiding the hole that was left by the old door. I added some crown molding to the top to make it blend in with the wall, and gave it a few coats of paint.

And the final project…

Shortly after I finished this project we had to replace our forced hot air furnace. I was showing the furnace guy into the basement one day and noticed that he hadn’t made it past the hidden door. He hadn’t seen anything like it before. I still get a kick out of it every time I have to add to my collection of returnables.

Total project time: 2-3 weekends.



Filed under Renovation

Getting to Know You…

The first bedroom to get a major overhaul was our spare bedroom. This would give me the chance to practice my drywall skills, and lay down hardwood floors. I hadn’t done that since I helped my Dad with the floors in my parents house many (many many) years ago. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was more than overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done to the house. Part of that feeling was because I had little to no knowledge of some of the more important tasks that needed to be done, ie. electrical. Knowing that the entire house need to be rewired i found that it was best to take an electrical course at the local technology center to sharpen my skills. It was money well spent. While I can’t recommend that everyone should dig into their master breaker box (don’t do it), I have found those skills to be more than useful over the years. Each room in the house needed to be rewired. This bedroom was no different. On the project list was new outlets all around, a ceiling light, new drywall on the ceiling and walls, new flooring, new doors and a reno’d closet. There really is no better way to get to know your house, then by ripping it apart.

My first step in any project this size is to lay out where the electrical is going to go. Figure out how many circuits you need, where the outlets will go, light switch, etc. Most of the house was plaster and lathes with blown in insulation, so this step always leads to a mess, especially when dealing with a ceiling. You can see with the picture below where my wiring came up from the basement, and you also get a glance at what the old doors looked like in the house.


Once the wiring was done for the room, it was time to start installing drywall. If you have ever hung drywall, you know why the pros are expensive. This really is an art. hanging isn’t so much the difficult part, it’s the mudding that takes practice.


And the best bit of advice I can give anyone who wants to drywall a ceiling is rent one of these badboys seen above. A drywall lift is worth the money and time, and your back. It makes a two person job a one person job.

We found a great deal on prehung 6 panel pine doors that are made not too far from where we live. And it gave us the ability to pick them up when we needed them. here are the two doors installed…

Once the doors were installed, that left installing the floors. We wanted something cheap and prefinished so we went with bamboo. Looking back on it,, I don’t think I would do it again. The salesmen at Lumber Liquidators told me they were stronger than any other hardwood floor, but they have dented really easily. They look good, but be careful of high traffic areas.

This is a good time to introduce Charlotte, our doggie.


For the record, laying flooring in any room that isn’t square is a pain in the ass. Especially for someone who doesn’t do well with math.


Window and door trim done. Time to move in!


This room will eventually become Sara’s office, which she’ll show off in a later post. I’ll also post the new closet at a later date.

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Cedar Chest Make Over

When you have animals you find that everything you have gets ruined.  Maybe we’re not disciplinarian pet parents, but it seems as though our pets rule the roost.  Our last coffee table was a faux leather ottoman that one of our cats had shredded the top of.  This went on far too long!

cedar chest beforeSo, as part of our effort to begin decorating our house, and to stay true to our diy style, we went looking for second-hand furniture we could repurpose. We weren’t completely sure what we wanted, all we knew was that we desperately needed the storage the old ottoman provided, and that it didn’t need to be in great shape.  We were likely going to redo it after all.  Luckily at our last stop we found a cedar chest.  It was the perfect size and solid wood,  pretty helpful if you’re planning on painting.  Plus it was half off,  and anytime less money can come out of our pockets we’re pretty psyched.

Don’t be fooled though,  it needed some tender loving care.  We already had enough brown furniture in the living room and knew we needed a burst of color, so we decided give our new piece a paint job. We decided on turquoise.  It’s not your typical color choice for a living room,  but it does the job of brightening up the room.

After a quick stop at our local hardware store for some paint, we started sanding.  And then the paint went on.  I think it came out really well!  It’s a great addition to our living room,  it has plenty of storage for blankets and really brightens up room.

cedar chest after closed


Filed under Furniture

Hallway Gallery Wall

I heard somewhere that your hallway is always the last place you renovate, and whoever that was is right. The first thing you see when you enter our house is the hallway and stairway to the second floor. Last summer we ripped out the old handrail and parts of the stairway to give us a bright shiny new space. Unfortunately that space was finished, but never decorated.

As avid travelers we have more pictures on flickr than we have places to places to put them. So, we decided to highlight some of our travel pictures and memorabilia on our hallway, now called gallery,  wHallway with picture framesall.  It may look easy to put a bunch of pictures up on a wall at different heights, but let me tell you, it harder than it looks!  We started in the hallway with three pictures, and therefore three sizable holes, already there.  We knew these pictures would stay since they were memento’s of a trip I took with my Grandmother to Kenya and Egypt in high school.  There was no way the banana paper animal prints or the papyrus map of Egypt were not going to be in the hallway.

We may have started our process backwards, but our first stop was to find frames.  We knew we wanted to have a mix of large and small and different colored frames.  We were lucky enough to find a number of frames that suited our needs on clearance so in total the whole project probably only cost us $50.  The three pictures previously in the hallway had already been framed professionally, so we didn’t need to worry about those.

The next step was finding pictures, and this was more difficult than anticipated,  especially when you have upwards of 20,000 pictures on flickr to go through.  We narrowed it down to a few trips that we wanted to highlight and started in going through the sets.  We decided on the giraffe from South Africa, winter snorkeling in Iceland and people we saw in Morocco.  Then we grabbed a pillow we’d framed and had hanging in the kitchen from our honeymoon to Thailand and gave it a new home in the hallway.

Once we decided exactly what pictures we wanted to put up, we tried to lay all the frames out on the dining room table to figure out the best placement.  We didn’t want a wall full of holes as we moved things around.  After several attempts to find the perfect location for each picture,  the planning stopped and we just decided to put them up on the wall.  It’s hard for those of us who are spatially challenged to be able to visualize how everything will look without actually seeing it.  It turns out that holding the pictures up on the wall works pretty well.

Luckily, we’re both pretty happy about how the gallery wall came out. We have however left enough space at the top to add other photo’s as they come up.  There are plenty of other vacations we’d like to highlight, it’s just finding the exact pictures to display.  But, when we find them, we’ll be ready!  What do you think?  Are you planning a gallery wall or other hallway renovations?

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Filed under Decorating

And It Begins…

Well, here it is. This is where it all began. As a young (unmarried at the time) couple, we were in the market for a house. Our requirements were few, as was our budget. We were renting for a number of years right around the corner from what would become our new home, so when we searched with a real estate agent for a while and came up with nothing, we thought we were out of luck. Our future home had to have room, it didn’t need to be pretty, but it had to be cheap. We were on a pretty tight budget.

One winter day, Sara came home from work and mentioned a house around the corner with a for sale sigh in the window of the door. The house didn’t look lived in. The driveway hadn’t been cleared of snow all winter, so we called the number on the sign and got our first look. Here is what we saw on the initial walk through in late March of 2003, and there is the sign in the window!

Front of house angle2

At this point I affectionately starting calling this house “The crack house”. It had some perks, though. With our first walk through we noticed that the house had new vinyl siding, the kitchen cabinets had recently been replaced, and the bathroom had a new shower.  Was that ALL of the perks? My first impression was…. yes. I had some wood working experience working with my dad at an architectural woodworking shop, but that was about it. I had never hung drywall, had to deal with electrical or plumbing problems, or anything related to old houses. It looked like a challenge, and to be completely honest, it was overwhelming. I wondered if maybe it was worth it to spend a little more for a house that didn’t need so much work. There was wood paneling and nasty wallpaper everywhere. The carpet was old and smelled of mildew. What was painted, needed repainting. But the house had good bones. It was sinking in one corner, but it felt like a home, and we (or Sara) could see the potential.

Living room from doorway
Dining room

More of the old pictures will come in later posts, but you get the idea. The 3 story house had 3 bedrooms, 1 bath and a room to grow. We saw some bigger projects that we would need to do: windows, house needed leveling, roof, furnace, electrical, plumbing. And then every room needed new floors, walls, ceiling, lights, doors. Everything that you could see needed to be replaced. But it wasn’t impossible. It would just take time (and money). We knew we wanted the house after the first visit, and soon after it was ours. We moved in in May of 2003, a few days before Sara graduated from UMaine with her undergraduate degree.

This blog chronicles our journey to make this house our home.  We’re DIYers to the core, and we hope to share our successes and failures in our home renovation journey.

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