Pesky Projects? Steal this idea.

You know how annoying all those pesky little projects are that remain on your “To-Do” list forever ’cause you really don’t want to do them anyway? Yes, they drive you crazy.

Here’s the solution. You and each of your friends (I have two) make a list of little things you’ve been wanting to get done. Then you help each other get them done in a swift and fun manner. POOF! Your To-Do list shrinks to near nothing in a day (or two).

Below is my CHECKED OFF, completed and mostly done pesky list.

1. Base Shoe:  Size, Cut and Install. I tore out all my base shoe moulding before I got my new kitchen floor installed. I got some new moulding and already had it painted and ready. I just didn’t install it….for 4 months. Once we sized and cut it the install took only about 1 hour. Heidi’s husband dared to lend us his nail gun and compressor. It worked great and wasn’t that scary to use. Really gratifying. After that came the thankless, but meditative job of caulking the edges, spackling the nail holes and paint touch up. CHECK!

Nail gun to attach base shoe to moulding

Base shoe - Before & After

New toe kick with base shoe attached.

2. Toe Kick:  Prime, Paint and Install Toe Kick, then Install Base Shoe. I had torn out the toe kicks below my existing cabinets when I got my Marmoleum floor installed, but hadn’t painted them yet to match the cabinets. CHECK!

3. Door Air Seal:  A cold draft came whistling up from my basement. The floor near the door was perpetually freezing cold. We installed a simple little hardware strip to reduce basement cold air draft. I had the strip for about 3 months, but hadn’t installed it. CHECK!

Door Air Seal – Blocks air when it is down, lifts to allow door to freely open.

4. Marmoleum Care:  I had the Marmoleum flooring installed almost 6 months ago. I purchased the flooring from Greenhome Solutions in the Freemont neighborhood. Cameron and Tess were great! I promised them I would clean the floor followed by the finish/seal right after install. I even purchased the special Forbo Marmoleum cleaning  products for the task before the install. I had the product. I just wasn’t excited about cleaning and sealing it – yuck. (Monica wasn’t too excited about reading the 3pt type directions on the back of the bottle.)  CHECK!

5. Chair Slides:  I got a new kitchen floor installed and I certainly didn’t want it getting all scratched up. I’d been gingerly moving my chairs by lifting and shifting them. No, no, no sliding. We finally searched out some test slide protector options. STILL ON THE LIST. RRrrrrrrr….nothing has worked, yet. I’ll find something. AND if you’ve had success with a particular product, please do not hesitate to pass it on.

You'd think one of these chair slides gizmos would work, but no.

6. Finish Trim:  I had a flip-up counter top installed by 4 Evergreen Fabricators. Travis ( did a fabulous job and had to do some tricky figuring-out with the install. He stuck with it and got it right. My counter top can fold down and away when not in use.

Perfect for my limited counter top kitchen. Can’t claim the idea, though. Our friend, Anita, had something similar installed in her kitchen. She tipped us off on the correct brackets to use. The counter top material, install and special flip-up was more expensive than I anticipated so to save some money I decided to finish the edges off myself. That was almost 4 months ago, now. This annoying little project consisted of miter cutting screen molding to wrap and hide the exposed edge of the plywood mount, sanding and painting it all to match the cabinet. CHECK!

Installing the last little trim piece on the exposed edge of the plywood mount.

Trim, completed!

Thanks Heidi and Monica. My list would still be pesky without you! Now on to your houses. Let’s get it done!

Kitchen Chairs Update

My kitchen table and chairs were a thing of the past. I purchased them long ago and remember thinking they were fine for the time being. I certainly didn’t realize I’d still have the same table and chairs 20 years later. Durable, yes! Lovely? Not so much and never were.

To be fair, both were functionally adequate. The main features I didn’t like were the color, shape, style and finish. Those are pretty tough features to overcome…essentially everything. But, why not give it a try? It really couldn’t get much worse.

We brainstormed an approach knowing that the goal was to reduce the cringe factor as I entered my kitchen. We broke it down and made a plan to tackle the elements that we could influence starting with the easiest – painting the chairs and the table legs.

AFTER and BEFORE. Painted table leg in the middle.

Below is how we got it done.

Step 1.  We lightly sanded all the surfaces of the chairs and legs with 150 grit sandpaper. Then used tacky cloth to remove all sanding dust before priming.

Step 2.  I used a quality latex primer that I had on hand from another painting project. I somehow deleted the photos of this so use your imagination – white flat finish chairs and legs drying in my basement. The chairs already looked better with just the primer.

Step 3.  Next I applied two coats of Benjamin Moore (Aura) “Split Pea” (2146-30) semi-gloss paint to the chairs. Heidi had some left over Pratt and Lambert “Field Gray”, matte finish paint for the table legs. I didn’t need much so I decided to use that.

I’m feeling pretty good about the chairs. We’ll let you know how the table goes! Stay tuned!

What can go wrong? Catching the running drips was a constant challenge. I did the best I could and decided to be ok with a few minor drips here and there. I knew I could touch up sand, prime, and spot paint if the drips really bothered me.

Tiling a Backsplash – Part 2

The last time Monica, Heidi, and I worked at my house, we planned out and prepared all the tile. (see Ready to Tile – Part 1) Now on to Part 2 – Installing the tile backsplash:

We had all our supplies out and ready. I was referencing the notes from my Art Tile adviser and the iPad…again. All of a sudden Heidi (having a tiny bit of tiling experience under her belt) said, “Ah, let’s just do it.”  So we did.

Step 1– Mixing the Thinset   Thinset is a powder that you mix with water. It works like glue to adhere the tile to the wall. The mixing ratio directions on the thinset bag are clearly intended for big projects. This project is not huge so we slowly added water to the thinset powder and mostly aimed toward achieving a peanut butter-like consistency.

Step 2 – Spreading it on the Wall

Previously we had marked out pencil guidelines on the wall. We used a ¼ inch notched trowel. Art Tile suggested that I keep the trowel moving vertical and horizontal (rather than the curved sweeping pattern that you see in pictures) when applying the thinset. Keeping the trowel grooves vertical and horizontal will ensure the thinset moves into the spaces between the 1” tiles.  You don’t want to press too hard when placing the tile sheets up on the wall. Thinset shouldn’t squirt through the spaces between tiles. The goal is to apply just enough pressure to get a good hold. We applied a depth layer of thinset equal to that of the notches in the trowel. We also applied the thinset in sections as large as the tile sheets instead of spreading it over the entire area. Doing it that way made it more manageable since we didn’t have to rush getting the tile sheets positioned and up there before the thinset dried too much.

Step 3 – Getting the Tile on the Wall   The layout required one full sheet on the lowest part of the wall and only another ½ sheet above that. Pretty simple, huh? We installed the lower row first. Applying the thinset to a single sheet area at a time and so forth. After getting that handled we started installing the top row. Again, applying thinset to a single sheet area. We slid tile spacers in between the first and second rows, but the two sheets started to buckle where they met. After panicking a little, (there could have been a tiny bit of screaming), and using all 6 hands to press/hold the tile in place, we used some cloth-covered books as weights to prop up the buckling areas.

We think this slight setback was because the thinset was a little too thin of a mix and the glass tile was very heavy. I don’t have many pictures of us placing the tile sheets or what the slumping looked like because we were using all of our hands to hold the slumpers on the wall. The good news is that we adjusted our plan and it all worked out.

Step 4 – Selecting a Grout Color   Grout is the stuff that you’ll see between most installed tile. There is a wide range of colors available. The grout color really does influence the overall appearance of the tile. Be patient, look at several samples near the tile with the actual light. The first thing we did was to cut some paper strips from a magazine page and taped the strips in place on the tile just to get a general idea. Below is a dark version that we looked at.

Then I selected about 5 color options from Art Tile’s plastic grout color samples, took them home to see them in the actual light and narrowed it to two colors. I got actual grout color samples of those two (one happened to be sanded and one unsanded) from Art Tile to test out on some left over tile I had.

It was worth it for color testing, but also to practice applying it. I also learned that sanded grout is easier to handle and use. Even though the directions for the glass tile said to use unsanded grout, I got assurances from the Art Tile Installer that he always uses sanded grout because it is easier to work with. The risk is scratching the glass tile, but as long as you don’t press really hard when dragging the grout across the tile it shouldn’t be a problem.  And it wasn’t.

Step 5 – Applying the Grout   Before applying the grout we waited a couple of days for the thinset to dry hard and then carefully chipped off any thinset that had gotten too far into the spaces between tiles. Since the tile is glass/transparent you’d be able to see the thinset color through the edge of the tile so we wanted it out of there. We mixed the sanded grout according to the directions and again until we had a peanut butter-like consistency.

Then we scooped some out of the mixing bin with a grout float and began dragging it over the tile surface. We kept the float at a 70-80 degree angle and moved it over the surface in multiple directions, making sure to gently coax grout into all the spaces. Right after one of us applied the grout, another worked right behind with a large tiling sponge, wiping the excess grout off the tile. The sponge was wrung out thoroughly and we always kept a clean side of the sponge while wiping the grout. It is important that the sponge not be too wet. Use your muscle and wring that baby out!

There was a gray looking film over the entire surface of the tile that was a bit unsettling. 30 minutes after applying the grout we got to wipe it off with some clean cheesecloth. It was fun because we could really see the full effect as we wiped away the filmy residue.

Step 6 – Caulking    Caulk is available in many colors and is intended to protect against water and moisture around the edges and to provide a flexible transition between the tile and another surface (trim, countertop). Typically it is difficult to tell the difference between the caulk and grout. That is intended. I painted my wall first so the caulk would be placed over the paint rather than me trying to paint perfectly up to the caulk afterwards.

We taped the surfaces on the sides of where the caulk was to be laid down to keep off excess. We had one person laying down a bead of caulk and two people smoothing it out by dipping an index finger into a bowl of soapy water and running it along the surface. I’m sure that experts would laugh at the fact it took 3 of us to caulk, but may I just say that caulking is somewhat of an art. It takes patience and a steady hand, but is definitely do-able. A gap that was about 3/8” between the tile and the trim cracked a little, but I just applied some more caulk over the top after it set up a little, and it seemed to work fine.

Step 7 – Sealing   The final step after grouting is sealing it to protect against staining and mold due to moisture. This is the easiest step of all. 7-10 days after grouting, just apply with a sponge brush, let set for a bit (read the instructions) and then wipe it off with clean rags or sponges. It can be a little fussy or was that me?

Our supply list included:

  • ¼” spacers
  • ¼” Notched tiling trowel
  • Thinset & mixing bin big enough to fit the trowel
  • Lots of clean white rags
  • Disposable gloves
  • 2-3 large tiling sponges
  • Grout float
  • Grout & mixing bin big enough to fit the float
  • Cheesecloth
  • Grout Sealer
  • Caulk color to match grout color
  • 511 Impregnator Sealer
  • Sense of humor

What could go wrong? 

1. Uneven spacing between tiles. It’s critical to get this right. Bigger and smaller gaps will show up. Draw directly on the wall where each tile or tile sheet will go, including the spaces between them. Plastic spacers are really simple to use, available in different sizes and inexpensive.

2. Thinset too thinly mixed.  The tile can start to slide off the wall.  Our story with this is above. The simple solution is to take a breath and add a bit more thinset powder to the mix before moving on.

3. Breaking the curing bond. This didn’t happen to us, but apparently it is a big no-no to try to reposition the tiles after 15-25 minutes. Depending on how dry the thinset is it can break the curing bond and no longer be securely adhered to the wall. Bummer!

4. Having to stop and mix more thinset or grout. To avoid stopping at a critical time to mix more and risk uneven drying or different consistencies mix more than enough thinset or grout prior to starting each phase. My project was small so it was easy to mix more than enough for the whole project. If you had a big project that would be tough. I think then you would assign a designated “mixer”. I’m guessing experts have a system. Ours is to grab a friend to help out.

5. Cracking caulk. This sometimes happens if you are trying to caulk a wide gap. By that I mean 3/8″ or 1/4”. Don’t freak out. Just wait for it to dry and reapply. It’ll be fine.There are some other general overall caulking tips that we’ve learned through trial and error. But that is for another post. “Caulking tips for the DIYers” is coming soon ; )

What can go right!

1. Everything.  It’s worth it. We know you can do it! It’s rewarding.

2. Save some money. Really!

3. Teamwork. Grab a couple of friends and go for it. We know you can do it, too. I already said that, didn’t I?

Let us know how your project goes. We’d love to see what you’ve done!


Tiling a Backsplash – Part 1

Scary, exciting and well worth the adventure with Monica and Heidi.

I have a galley kitchen with a little eating nook at one end. There is an earlier post describing how we economically transformed my existing kitchen cabinets with a little paint. However, I wanted this area (on the other side of my galley kitchen) to be an accent and have some punch. I wanted a happy place.

Step 1: Sketch it out.

We sketched it out in the computer using a design program (InDesign), but you could easily go old school – take a photograph and trace it. Or just draw freehand – accuracy isn’t important at this stage. After you trace or draw it, make several copies. Then use colored pencils to color different options until you get something you are happy with.

The point is to have an overall idea first. Use it as a reference guide throughout. Keep it handy as you go along.

Step 2: Selecting the tile and design.  It was so much fun going to the tile store and looking at all the possibilities. And then again, it quickly got overwhelming. My tip for you is to stay focused. Keep that sketch at hand. I found something I liked on my first trip to Art Tile, but because I am who I am, I had to make sure there wasn’t anything better out there. So we scouted around online and at one other tile store in town. Both had great choices and selections, but I kept coming back to my first choice – 1×1 glass mosaic tiles by Moda Vetro. They come in 12″ x 12″ sheets with a mesh backing that holds the tiles together. There are standard color blends, I chose “forest blend”, made up of greens and grays. But I really wanted some blue and white tiles in there too, to tie into the rest of my kitchen.

So before I bought the tile I took my sketch with me to Art Tile to ask about integrating other colors into the stock color blend that I had chosen. They were great advisers and assured me that not only was it easy to integrate other colors, but it was fun and that I should install it on the wall myself, too. With fear in my eyes I asked the women at Art Tile to repeat a few “how to” instructions regarding installation. There was humor, encouragement and some sarcasm in her voice as she said,  “Listen, you are making this way more difficult than it needs to be. It’s easy and you can do it.”  I walked out emboldened and scared to death with excitement! So again, I called in the Hammer Girls to help work up some courage and a plan.

Step 3: Ordering the tile:  The first thing we did was to loosely measure the area so I could get the tile ordered.  Art Tile suggested I order 10% extra and helped me figure out how many sheets of blue and white I’d need to make my custom blend.

Step 4: Final measuring and marking the wall.  Because my door trim on one side of the tile wasn’t yet installed, I had control over the width of where the tile was going to be. I planned the trim measurement and placement so we would not need to cut any tiles where it would meet the trim.

Using a level, we drew on the wall exactly where we would be placing each sheet of tile once we began the install. The install is for another day. We needed some lunch!

Step 5: Have some lunch.

Step 6: Lay it all out. Using blue tape for the border guide, we laid the tile sheets out flat on plywood and saw horses. Now it was time to incorporate the blue and white tiles. The design tip that Art Tile gave me was to lay out the tile and to “Make sure that the integrated tiles look truly random. It’s not about perfect, but random. Make sure there are same colors side by side as well as singles. And don’t make it harder than it needs to be.” With that in mind, we placed white and blue tiles on top of the existing tiles until we were happy with the blend. After that, we used ½ of a clothes pin to carefully pry off the tiles we were replacing from the mesh backing. There probably is an official tool, but the clothes pin worked just great. We plucked and replaced existing tiles colors with the blue and white tiles – working left to right. It was a little bit like factory work or some might say meditation. Because I’m picky, I just let it sit in my kitchen area like this for a few days. So, once I was sure I liked it (I fussed a bit, but not too much) I began securing the blue and white tiles in place with Elmer’s Glue, keeping equal spaces between tiles.

Step 7: Breathe and wait for the girls to return for Part 2! ; )

Remodeling a Small Kitchen

I had a weird hood thingy that didn’t function and a narrow full height cabinet that wasn’t full height on the inside.  I also had no counter space around my stove for prep.  It was an awkward space.

I gathered many kitchen images from various magazines. Then looked around town and gathered samples of different material & colors – paint, tile, countertop, cabinet styles, flooring, appliances. It was kind of fun, but also bit overwhelming.

I had no plan for major changes in my full kitchen, but I did want to do something about this particular area.  So, I called in the girls for “My Kitchen needs Help – Part II”.

We brainstormed, sketched, played around with the colors, materials and dimensions. Piddled in the computer some, measured twice and measured again.  We ended up with something that I liked and would become an accent to the rest of my kitchen.  And of course, there had to be lunch.

I still couldn’t imagine how the space would look or feel with a full width cabinet.  So, I made a full size mock up of the cabinet we had sketched to make sure it wasn’t too big and felt proportionally correct in the space.  Just cardboard, tape measure, utility knife and some duct tape did the trick.

Once I knew that it would work in the space, I hired Raincap Construction to help with the demo, cabinet build and appliance install.

I still plan to paint the cabinet and wall. Next on the agenda, however; will be the tile installation. We’ll get to that the next time we gather at my house.  Scarey and fun.

~ MJ

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Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Repainting Kitchen Cabinets

I’ve wanted to do something with my cabinets since I moved in. That was 15 years ago. I’m a slow mover on my own. I called in “the girls” to brainstorm and make a plan. ~MJ


  • Can’t afford to replace the cabinets. Is there anything we can do?
  • They are in good shape and function fine. How do I justify a change?
  • Could those darn things even be painted?

Action Plan:

  • Paint ‘em and change the knobs and pulls.
  • Poke around online initially. We searched for “painting kitchen cabinets”.
  • Talk with quality paint suppliers about cabinet paints. We took a door in to them so they knew what we were working with.
  • Just try it, what the heck.

How we did it:

Step 1: Select a color. We got several sample pints (any brand will do) and test painted 1’x2’ or larger boards. It was worth it to see the colors options large, with my lighting, in my kitchen.

Step 2: Remove the cabinet doors from the boxes. “Boxes” are things you put your dishes in. They are fixed to the wall. You could think of them as the frame. We marked each box and corresponding door so we’d know where to return them.

Step 3: Fill the existing handle holes with spackling paste (since I wanted to replace/reposition the hardware).

Step 4: Sand the surfaces just enough to rough it up. Safety first! We used dust masks.

How to repaint Kitchen Cabinets

Step 5: Remove sanding dust with Tack Cloth.

Step 6: Set-up a factory style painting area. We used my basement table and a sawhorse set-up. Laid the doors horizontally to reduce the possibility of paint drips.

Step 7: Lunch

Step 8: Prime (with tinted primer) the surfaces being careful not to leave drips. Quick even strokes, but don’t overwork it. Paint like you know what you are doing. We had one person priming the boxes up in my kitchen and other 2 of us priming the doors and drawers in the basement.

Step 9: Paint ‘em. Mine needed 2 coats, even with the tinted primer.

Step 10: Install new hardware and put the doors back on the painted boxes.

Kitchen Cabinet makeover paint samples

Before: MJ’s Cabinets

Kitchen Cabinets repainted

I ended up painting the walls as well. Oh, and that is a new dishwasher – mine had been broken for years and I found one on sale.

Someday I’ll replace my fridge. Could be another 15 years.

Our supplies:

  • 150 grade sandpaper
  • Benjamin Moore Kitchen & Bath satin-finish paint
  • Benjamin Moore Superior Primer
  • Tack Cloth
  • Spackle paste (non-shrinking)
  • 2” and 3” quality paint brushes
  • Satin Nickle finish pulls and knobs. I bought mine with credit card bonus points. Score!
  • Dust  masks
  • Sawhorses
  • Lunch

What can go wrong:

Drips. If that happens:

  • After the paint is dry, use 220 grit sand paper to lightly sand the drip and the surrounding area.
  • Run your finger across the area to make sure it is smooth. Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  • You’ll need to prime again if you sanded down to the original surface.
  • Lightly paint sanded area.

Lead is deadly.

  • It’s a good idea to get your paint tested for lead if you are not sure it is lead free.
  • We’ve used NVL Laboratories in Seattle, but there are others. It’s worth it and is cheap insurance ($30-$40) against brain damage.

Counter depth caution:

  • If you are replacing appliances make sure your countertop depth is deep enough. Countertops in older homes are sometimes not standard depth.

Last thoughts:

It was daunting to start. But the girls showed up and we immediately started removing doors and drawers. Before I knew it, we were on our way.

After the initial work party everything seemed to fall into place. I worked in the multiple coats of paint over that week and rehung the doors/drawers the following week. Ta da! After 2 weeks and about $200 in paint and supplies my 15-year old procrastination was over. Over, I say!

I’m not certain about the long-term durability.  I’ll let you know how it all holds up over time.  Stay tuned.