Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stone floors!

The downstairs floors have been re-done and they are looking very lovely.  Under the linoleum we had an uneven concrete slab and quarry tiles, all of which was sitting on dirt and rubble.
Matt had to do a lot of digging out to safely remove all the bad old stuff and prepare for laying in the new sub-floor.  
They dug down to dirt, literally, that is a dirt floor in the kitchen, and living room.. and dining room... But soon enough things started going back in to construct the new sub-floor.
The new sub-floor consists of layers of foam glass insulation with limecrete on top meant to be vapor permeable.  It was fun for me to see these progress shots each evening.. especially because I wasn't living in it.
The whole process took them several days, but resulted in a gorgeously level new floor which should also help stop the rising damp from destroying our plaster walls, because at the same time as all this flooring fun...
...Most of the downstairs plaster was being redone.  To deal with that same rising damp issue, the bottom half of the walls had to be demo'd and re-plastered. I was very glad to not be around for all this, I know the disorder would have made me go a little mad.
The stone for the new floors is an Aged-Heritage-Limestone and before deciding we looked at several other samples.  Naturally I spent an entire afternoon moving the samples around to different rooms to see how they would look.  Below you can see my three samples, the linoleum we started with, as well as the ugly hearth stone, and the partially hidden mess that is the old cracked tile under the old wood burner.
I had this vision of bright whites/ivories everywhere in the house, but in the end I was won over by the ripples and texture of the gray limestone.  They look something like river stones and what I really like is the fact that they are common around Tewksbury.  Once I started looking I saw the texture and color used in several other old buildings and on some of the sidewalks!  
We are still trying to decide how to seal it though, the options are a 'wet-look' or a 'dry-look'.  Above it is dry (very natural, maybe a dusted look to it) and below is right after mopping (slightly glossy, shiny).  Which would you choose?
If you compare this photo of the finished stone floor in the kitchen to the earlier process photos of the same space you can really see how far we've come!
Now the downstairs is nearly finished structurally and a post on the kitchen is coming soon.  Walls have been whitewashed, the furniture moved back into the space, and I've been obsessing over rugs.  Now, final flooring thought this week, check out my new Kilim area rug!
Thank you Ebay for existing!  This is a colorful over-sized beauty from the 1940's all the way from Istanbul and I am so in love.  It currently is living with me in Maryland, but I can't wait to see it against those stones in the cottage! One side is very faded for a more muted look and the other is still incredibly vibrant.

- Nicole

Sunday, January 15, 2017

DIY Outlet Upgrades!

As promised I have an overview of our process installing new outlets into what we think will be the master bedroom, we are not electricians and this is not a how to guide, always consult a professional.  (We did end up having a proper electrician do the rest of the house and he checked out our work.)
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way... we needed more outlets in the bedroom, and Matt had the brilliant idea to upgrade to a set with USB ports, so we were pretty excited and motivated.  
The upgraded receptacles only cost a few dollars more than the standard and came with installation instructions.
We measured out the size of the bed so that the outlets would go outside of it and got about securing the casing to the brick.  Drilling into the brick was tricky because, in an old house like ours, the bricks are not uniform, some were way to soft and crumbly, others were very very hard, the mortar was to soft as well, so there was some trial and error here.  The first of the two outlets we installed went back in the original space, IE: where the wires were coming up from the floor. 
I threaded the wires (electricity was shut off at this point) into the case and Matt took over attaching the correct wires to our new outlet face as well as separating out the ones which were to go off to the second new outlet.  (See the gray cord going off to the left.)
The second case and cover went faster than the first, though there was some hanky panky using the electric drill to install because to use the drill the power had to be turned on... Do Not Do This! But glossing right over that...
Look how pretty!  And it works!  Our next move was to use this metal strip to secure and cover the wire to the brick, protecting it and us from any reno in the future.  This took forever to get right, but with some good brick anchors for the screws, careful measuring, and pilot holes we got it done.  
Very proud!  This was one of the bigger projects that we've taken on and successfully finished all in one day with no outside help.  When we plastered this room the wire housing was secured further and covered over, the outlets are now nearly flush with the surface of the wall and rock solid.  I'm so glad we made the effort here, we really needed the extra outlets in there and now with the built-in UBS ports we have a plethora of options. 
I should probably pick out some cool bedside lights..
- Nicole

Plastering at the Cottage. Fall 2016.

Last time I brought you up to date on my holiday and new job, but naturally, I spent most of my August holiday 'helping' at The Cottage, that is part of why it took so long for me to publish this, I didn't want to come off to whiny... Plastering is hard work.  
So, as of August 2016, Matt had spent a lot of time before my visit pulling down the ruined and damp lime plaster, exposing the brick in what will eventually be our bedroom. This allowed for the brick to dry out and for us to update some electrical work (post on how we totally didn't do anything dangerous with electricity coming soon!)
Now I know this goes against the grain and probably ruins any Hipster cred I may have earned when diving in to a Victorian Renovation, but I don't love exposed brick.  It's cool for a bar or a loft apartment, but it wouldn't be right for this house.  The exterior is already red brick and the interior would have originally been plastered anyway, so this is in part wanting to stay true to the character of The Cottage. 
Matt likes the exposed brick, so we compromised and ultimately decided that the fireplace in the bedroom could remain exposed, but that I can do a thin lime wash over it to tone down the red.  Additionally, Matt finished the raking out and re-pointing of the fireplace front, so it looks very sturdy now.  
A big part of what we did this August involved plastering.  There was also a lot of driving to get more plaster, and then some more, and several meals, and then plaster.   Plastering the rest of the room was  a major undertaking, there is definitely something to be said for using Sheetrock... 
Lime Plastering 101.
Step one: Be great at plastering as you assumed you would be.
Step two: Arms aching, cry tears into your pizza at dinner because you are actually terrible at plastering.
Step three: Play assistant and try to be somewhat helpful.
Anyway we got the bedroom re-plastered and no one died. Did I mention that new ceilings were put up for us? They look great and have been painted white. 
The attic has been fully insulated, which has already made a difference in heating the home, and we made major steps towards picking out the kitchen and flooring!  The next post will be much more fun, I promise, with some pretty pictures!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Plumbing and camping.

So let me take you back to August, I have just flown in and was faced with a house that still needed huge amounts of work and was in part a construction zone.  However we had to be able to live there (at least for the month that I was in town!)  So on my first afternoon home alone (the babe was at work) I tackled the sink problem.  
This was my first ever plumbing adventure, coming hot on the heels of my father attempting to plumb, and requiring six stitches in his right hand.
Sorry about the photos... my camera seems to have had an identity crisis...with a smoke machine?
After much cursing, cutting, twisting, and luck I was able to McGyver a connection for the little sink, using the random pipe fittings that for some reason were already scattered about in buckets and on shelves.  Originally it was not plumbed in so we couldn't use it for fear of filling the cabinet below with water! 
Honestly plumbing is gross, the pipes were mucky and slimy and had a.... smell, but the supreme sense of satisfaction I felt when it finally worked!  Like a high with no negative effects and a long lasting shine.  When we gut the kitchen I want a new, deep, single bowl sink. Matt wants a Belfast sink, it meets the requirements, so I'm good with that. 
Disclaimer: This sink (and kitchen) have since been gutted!
During the second week of August we escaped to the south for some much needed camping and sunshine in Cornwall.

Pictured: Him (he who hates to be photographed...) and Me (she who loves to be photographed, with the obvious basic disclaimer that I get to see and delete as desired.)  

Cornwall was seriously beautiful, full of hidden coves and beaches, with spectacular views around every corner...is it weird to think about retirement already?  I mean I literally just this week started my first proper, adult, full-time, job.
Yes. I'm dropping that in here like its no-big-deal, but its a huge deal, and a big relief to be honest.  So bear with me as I play catch up with my project posts because I'm finally working full time, still teaching two courses at the local community college, and of course attempting to coordinate renovation efforts from across the pond.   
I mean you didn't really expect me to slow down and enjoy the moment did you?  Nope. I need to be making messes and terrorizing nice English tradesmen with midnight e-mails about washing machine specs, apparently its how I relax.

- Nicole

Monday, October 3, 2016

DIY Padded Headboard. -Very simple!

I know I haven't posted in a while, life has been very busy with job changes and traveling, so here is a short one to get back in the groove.  
A room decor project, for the beach condo, completed this summer with some help from my sister, who I might add has been even more busy than I, starting her Ph.d program.  I'd always wanted to try diy padded headboards and used the mismatched existing headboards as an excuse.  The goal was to update them and make them match along with the other decor. 
Finished product first! Bananas for scale!
These are the headboards I started with.
I attacked this project just like I was recovering a set of chairs, using some egg-crate mattress pads and left over fabric from the sofa makeover.
We measured and cut the materials to size then stapled on.  This is where my sister Cat was a huge help, taking turns to hold the layers of padding or fabric in place and stapling (and taking photos!). We wanted a smooth front so all the material was cut large enough to reach around to the back of the headboards and was secured there out of sight.  To secure the fabric and padding we used a staple gun (pictured) and a hammer to drive them in properly.

The corners were the only tricky part, but we tried a few folding combos until we achieved a neat look.  
A few hours, and a pizza, later we were finished!
Thats it, now the headboards match and are very comfy to sit up and read against. Next time I would try tufting them by pre-drilling holes in the headboards to string covered buttons to for a more upscale look. 
- Nicole

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sofa rehab - DIY

My parent's beach condo came with a plethora of white wicker furniture and pastel floral cushions.  We are in the process of redecorating, in a neutral modern theme, so mom gave me the go ahead to try and tone down the sofa.  I couldn't make things much worse and I know they plan to replace the old couches eventually so I channeled our gray theme and experimented a bit.
I decided I would dye the cushions, since the covers are removable, and cover the rest of the fabric with something neutral from the fabric store. The first step was to remove all the cushion covers and put them through a hot wash.
I then used a handy tip from Threads Magazine ID fabrics with a burn test for determining the type of material, since the tags were long gone, I pulled some loose threads from an inside seam and held them to a lit match.  Using the handy chart which describes how different materials will react to the flame I was able to determine that the fabric was most likely cotton, rather than a synthetic.  This is important because the dye bath requires differing additives depending on the fabric type to help the dye set, in this case, salt. 
I've dyed clothing before so I felt pretty comfortable choosing black dye with the aim of reaching a dark gray.  I had over 16 lbs of fabric to dye in a stock pot on the stove (I didn't want to risk ruining the washing machine) so it took all afternoon.  
After soaking in the dye bath the covers got another wash to remove any traces of loose dye, don't want that rubbing off when we nap on it, and then I spent about an hour repairing some split seams and little holes.  They actually weren't in bad shape for their age, and we suspect they are from the 80's when the condo was built. 
The dye worked out as a dark gray, mottled over the pattern, so the pastels were toned down a bit and I'm trying to spin it as a positive... the pattern showing through means any stains will be easily disguised. 
For the parts of the sofa I couldn't remove and dye I decided to recover them, I headed to Jo-Ann fabrics with a few of the dyed covers to find a simple fabric to match.  I ended up buying 15 yards of a very plain neutral gray cotton, it was on sale too!  I rounded up on all my measurements and purchased a bit extra too, figuring that what I didn't use would go to other projects around the condo, working towards some continuity in the space.  
The back, sides, and footer portions of the sofa all had that same tropical pastel fabric which had been stapled on, I decided to run with that and just stapled my gray fabric over the original.  The large backrest section was simple, just cutting to size, pulling strait and staple to the frame underneath and out of sight.  for the sides and footer there was a bit more finagling because the fabric was originally attached before the sofas were assembled and I wasn't able to take them a part in this case.  In order to get a clean look I used a flat Spackle edge tool to wedge the edge of the fabric in to the gap very tight, and stapled where I could, I wanted to avoid visible staples as much as possible, to mimic a professional look. 
The fabric seems to be wedged tightly enough that it will stay in place, but if it does come loose I'll just wedge it back in and secure it with a line of glue.  
This project was bigger than I had expected it to be, but the result is an improvement in my opinion, not great... but better and I learned some lessons.  In the future If I am thinking about reupholstering something I'll see if the arms are removable or something, that would have gone a ways towards speeding up this project, rather than trying to slide and thread pieces of fabric through the wicker.
Against the new light gray walls I think this is a definite improvement over the pastels.  The whole project cost about $70, including all the dye and fabric and took about 10 hours (and I have lots of extra cloth!)  I would definitely attempt this sort of thing again.  Depending on the piece I'd be willing to shell out for a higher quality fabric as well, proper upholstery, something more durable and dynamic.  
Plus I got a free trip to the beach out of it!
- Nicole

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Building a Terrarium - DIY

I love plants, I think every room can be improved by some living color, but I killed the first few plants I ever had.  Basically I over-loved them with too much water, bad planting, and not looking into the basic requirements for their survival.   
One of my worst plant murders was the planting of succulents in a "cutesy" terrarium, this is a popular look right now, but it goes against the natural environment these plants thrive in.  Succulents and cacti prefer low-humidity, more arid conditions, to be deeply watered in the growing season, but left alone when dormant, the opposite of a terrarium.
So after finding a large glass jar with cork lid I started looking for moisture loving, medium light plants.
I used white stones on the bottom and then a clean dust sheet to keep the soil from falling through.

I added a layer of perlite, and a little soil, then pulled out all the tiny plants I'd picked out.  This is the moment I realized that the mini orchid was still way to big, I returned it.  I added soil and figured out the plant arrangement. 
Once the plants are arranged give it a good watering, this will also help clean the dirt from the sides and leaves.  I let mine sit for a day then popped the cork in.  Ideally these plants will thrive and the only time I'll need to open the jar would be to prune if things get too big.
I love terrariums for the rare occasions when I can cheat and open the lid,  the smell inside takes me strait to a lush rain-forest.  Since this was a thrifted jar and tiny plants the whole project cost less than $15.
- Nicole