Field Trip – Ideas are flowing

Old Seattle street lamp. Kitchen pendant light?

We are down one girl this week. Monica is out-of-town with her family. Heidi and I decided to go on a field trip to one of our favorite places. We needed some inspiration and just felt like roaming the aisles of ReStore. Continue reading

Hallway Makeover

The hallway, right off my kitchen, leads both to my back door/porch and down to my unfinished but functional basement. It has been creepy and ugly in that hallway forever.

I used to just shut that door and pretend the hallway didn’t exist. But, my washer and dryer are downstairs! I had to open that door. Heidi and I have referred to it as “the murder’s hallway” since I moved into my house many years ago.

I also realized I was missing out on the beautiful natural light that streams into my kitchen when I leave that door open. So, I called in the girls and we made a plan!

The challenge: Improve it easily and inexpensively and use only what I already had on hand? Steep requirements, but we were up for the challenge. Continue reading

Kitchen Table Update

You may remember the updated chairs & legs post from a couple of weeks ago? Since those were ready and painted we were off to tackle the tabletop.

The edges of my table were slightly curved and had a multilevel edge detail. I had forever used a tablecloth to cover that up. We decided to just cut the edges off and make the table a simple and smaller rectilinear surface. This was definitely a task that required a little courage and the help of Heidi and Monica. Power tools anyone?

It was a little trickier than any of us could have imagined since there was not a squared edge on any of the 4 sides. We decided to use a metal square to draw what would be the final tabletop shape/size. Then we clamped the same metal squares to the table so we could run our circular saw alongside them as a guide. There was some serious finger-crossing and guessing going on. We knew it wasn’t going to be a big loss if we failed. After all it was only a 20-year-old cheap pine table. And there is always the table-cloth ; )

We figured we could sand off that nasty yellowish surface and stain it a neutral color. Too yellow for me.

Next came the sanding and staining.

The sanding was challenging. No wonder my table had lasted 20 years – it had a hard finish that would not sand off easily.

We started by trying an orbital sander. That didn’t work.

We moved on to non-toxic stripper (Citrus Strip). That didn’t work either.

OK then, confession, we tried a test patch of the highly toxic stripper that was sitting in the basement. No luck! We were kind of happy about that.

Finally, we found that the palm sander, 60 grit sandpaper, and a lot of elbow grease were the trick to cutting through that tough surface. (Heidi’s pretty proud of herself that she cracked the code of the polyurethane finish removal).

After sanding off the polyurethane, we moved into the fine-tune sanding of the wood. We used the orbital sander without the dust bag attached – that wasn’t on purpose, it was a used sander and we couldn’t find the bag…What are ya gonna do?

We made sure we had dust mask, protective glasses and noise reduction head-gear all to protect the obvious. We did the sanding in a garage/shop so it wasn’t a big deal to have a little dust flying around. It wasn’t hard to do but it did take some time and patience.

We began with a coarse 60 grit sandpaper and gradually moved through finer and finer grits until we ended up at 240. It was super fine and the table surface felt so smooth and soft by the time we got there (4 hours later). For the last sanding step, we eased (rounded) the edges very slightly.

We used one of the edge pieces that we cut off the table top to test the stain color options.  Again, we just used the stain we had left over from other projects as a first step. We settled on Walnut. The actual table surface is Pine, but the color of the Walnut stain seemed to work well with the other colors in my kitchen. I ended up applying two layers of stain to get the color right.

The final step was to apply the sealer. We used Daly’s Profin. The directions on the can said to apply 3-4 coats. I applied 3 coats with a sponge brush and made sure had good ventilation. Luckily we had some warm days. I could leave the doors and windows open. I did turn on my kitchen hood when the weather wouldn’t allow the doors and windows to be open.

Finally, we put the legs on and there ya have it. There are some finishing details I might get to, but for the most part this project is done for now. On to others!

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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