Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Great Trim War of 2012

The previous owners of our house clearly did some specific things to ready the house to sell. With the best of intentions, I'm sure, they did things like paint every dang wall of the house a bizarre pinky-peachy-off-white color (I can just hear a realtor saying "buyers like to see neutral colors blahblahblah").  But one of these things has driven us absolutely bonkers and we wish we could go back in time and somehow psychically know that we would one day buy their house and ask that they not do what they were about to do.... this thing would be coating the wood trim, which is found in EVERY ROOM OF THE HOUSE (except the basement) with some sort of heavy duty, glossy lacquer.

Not only is it an eyesore (I hate the color, and the fact that it's so dang shiny just rubs me in all the wrong ways), but that lacquer was meant to survive the apocalypse, I swear.  At the end of the world, it's going to be cockroaches, twinkies and the trim in our house left to repopulate. And we know this was an after-thought and a special add-on, because they told us at closing that they literally SPRAYED all the trim down with this stuff - we found this out after asking about strange yellow coloration on the ceilings in some rooms, and they shared that this lacquer, over time, yellows and clearly some had gone astray and missed the doors and trim. Grrreeeaaaat.

As I mentioned in this post about our stairway (which matched the lacquered wood trim), we had a heck of a time battling with the trim when we painted the main floor of the house.  In round 1 of the epic battle of Us vs. The Trim-From-Hell, our weapon of choice was a liquid de-glosser, because A) we had a bunch leftover from stripping and refinishing our kitchen cabinets (and we are of the thrifty, use-what-ya-got variety), and B) we thought it would be easier and less messy than sanding. Well we learned our lesson big time, and made the mistake of allowing the main floor of the house (which accounts for at least 60% of the total square footage in the house) to be our guinea pig. I'll try to summarize why this was such an epic fail as succintly as possible....

For starters, using the liquid de-glosser is not exactly "easy" or "simple." It involves scrubbing the trim with the de-glosser, [with just as much elbow grease (if not more) than sanding requires] and following with a damp cloth to remove excess lacquer and de-glosser (again, also required by sanding).  Really no fewer steps or less physical labor than sanding would have been. While not as messy in the sense that there was no sawdust flying everywhere, I did have to deal with the multiple heart attacks that came with accidentally dripping the de-glosser onto the hardwood floors. Oh, and because the trim in our house is so old (and not in great shape - if we were loaded I would have sprung to just replace all the trim), there were areas where the wood had splintered, and I ended up with one heck of an epic wood splinter that shot straight through my scrub pad, through my rubber glove and into my flesh while I was scrubbing. Like, all the way. And it was so big, I kid you not, I used PLIERS to remove it from my finger.

So, the process was not so easy or simple.  Blood and tears were both shed.  And the results?! Oy. Makes me cringe. So, the de-glosser did not sufficiently strip the lacquer.  It might have after a few more go arounds with the de-glosser, but we didn't know any better and were into the idea of moving forward with the project, so we ignored the fact that the trim was still quite shiny and smooth (less so than before, but looking back, clearly not ready for paint). When it came time to paint, we quickly realized it was NOT good enough, and the de-glosser had NOT done it's job.  The paint went on super streaky, and required 3-4 coats of paint with built-in primer before it was covered, and it STILL leaves a lot to be desired. If you look closely, visible streaks where the paint has not fully covered the trim are in abundance.


And.... (hold on a sec, talking about this part gets my blood boiling... deeeeeep breeeeaaaaths)... when all was said and done and we started removing the tape around the trim.... the paint PEELED off the trim in MULTIPLE spots.  Like, almost everywhere you look, you can see little spots where the paint peeled off. Now, it's just at the edges, where the tape met the trim, so it's not massively noticeable unless you are looking for them, but I know they are there and they drive me insane.  In addition, the paint chips and peels from normal wear-and-tear crazy easily... just a little ding or scratch makes the paint come off.

UGH. Talk about heartbreak hotel when we realized how shoddy of a job we had done in the biggest, most seen and most used parts of the house (and again, most guests don't notice because it IS just trim, after all, but WE notice and that's all that matters).  SOMEDAY when we recover from this devastation, we will either A) touch up the trim where it has peeled/scratched off B) do another coat on all the trim just for good measure and to get rid of the streaky effect and/or C) just plain replace all the trim with something that's higher quality and that we can paint pre-installation.  But moving forward, we are remembering what we have learned and being sure to conquer new spaces with a whole new strategy.

Us vs. The Trim-From-Hell, Round 2! We have a new weapon in our arsenal this time.... SANDPAPER. 80 grit sandpaper, to be exact.

That's right, after our massive failure with the de-glosser we decided to bite the bullet and try sanding the trim in our bedroom instead.  While the bedroom is a smaller space, so it is inherently a smaller and less aggravating project, the consensus so far is that sanding is the way to go! It's actually no more work than using the de-glosser, and you get MUCH better results, almost immediately.  Just a couple rounds of sanding got the lacquer good and gone.  As for the mess, yes, we ended up with sawdust everywhere but a quick round with the vacuum took care of that.  We haven't started painting the trim yet (we are working on the second coat of the walls right now), but when we do we are 99% certain it will go off without a hitch.  Just the difference in what the trim looks and feels like after sanding, compared to using the de-glosser, tells us that we did it right this time (after using the de-glosser, the trim was the same color and only slightly less glossy and smooth, whereas after sanding, the trim is noticeably lacking a significant amount of lacquer, as evidenced by the significant change in color and texture of the trim). 

Lesson Learned: When dealing with heavy-duty, stubborn stain, gloss or lacquer, SANDING is the only way to go.  De-glosser may have it's place, but this is not it.  We are official converts. We will never doubt the power of sandpaper ever again.

Anyone else have similar struggles with stripping (trim or furniture, etc.)? Has anyone else struggled with de-glosser, or conversely, has anyone had major success with using de-glosser (if so, what is your secret)?

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

No thanks to Mother Nature, of course.  Still waiting on some SNOW to help fuel the festivity of the season. But in the meantime, our house is looking quite in the holiday spirit! (Bad photography warning...)
There's the streeview at night. Given that I'm still only working with my phone camera at the moment, night photography is inherently going to suck. But you get the idea! You can barely make out the colored lights on the pine tree to the right of the house, but they're there! We would love to do more over time, but we've realized that in order to avoid spending hundreds of dollars this year, it makes sense to add elements year to year, instead of trying to go all out right off the bat.  Even the "little" that we did do this year took 3-4 spools of white lights plus 4 strings of colored lights for the tree. 

Word to the wise, LED lights are crazy BRIGHT! Be forewarned that you may light up the entire neighborhood if you rock the LED en masse.  

Here's what our front door is sporting as of right now.  I like that it kind of jives with the snowy white on white theme we seem to have inadvertently fell into, but it does kind of bother me how un-Christmas-y it feels. It would also bother me to have crazy red and green everywhere, because it would SO not match with the blue of the house, so I'm kind of in a lose-lose situation here. I really need to let go of some of my color coordination OCD issues, so I can find a more festive way to dress up our front door for future years. In the meantime, though, it does say WINTER and it goes great with our cool-white lights, so it's fine for now. :)

As for the whole LED vs non-LED, cool-white vs. warm-white debate....  obviously we landed on LED cool-white lights, and for a variety of reasons.  1) LED lights save on the energy bill, so we loved that idea. 2) The cool-white LED lights came in giant spools for a good price.  You can get warm-white LED lights these days, but not in bulk, and they are more expensive so it would have been much pricier to go that route. Also, I do love how the cool-white matches the cool blue of the house. I never thought twice about matching your Christmas lights to the color of your house before, but this is yet again another sign of how OCD I am about colors matching. Plus, the lights are so bright that you really can see the color of the house at night, so it does make me happy that it doesn't clash.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:  Do not EVER mix cool-white and warm-white lights.  It's a huge pet peeve of mine when people do that -- just because they are both "WHITE" doesn't mean they are actually the same color, or that they look good together!!! See Exhibit A:

See? NOT the same color, and they clash crazy bad. I don't understand how people can mix and match and not see how bad it looks. And it happens a lot. So please, please. Don't do that.  (And no offense to anyone out there reading this who may have done this... I respect that some people dig it, we'll just have to agree to disagree!)

As for the process of getting those bad boys on the house, this was the first time that Phil or I had ever put Christmas lights on a house before (wrapping a strand or two around our apartment's patio railing was about as far as we'd ever gotten), so it was a new learning experience for us.  I had imagined just gaily sticking up lights while singing Christmas carols and drinking hot cocoa without a care in the world. But, turns out, hanging Christmas lights (at least as a first-timer) is a hard, painstaking, frustrating, bickering-inducing process.  We started with a general plan and idea for what we wanted to do, but quickly found out that there are a lot of details to hammer out before you can actually start... 

Where will they be plugged into? Where do we need  extension cords? Where should the lights start? End? Where exactly on the house should they hang from? How many strings of lights do we need? How can we get them to all connect to each other without shorting out fuses? Why are ladders so scary? Why isn't this enjoyable?

The questions that were unanswered when we first stepped onto the roof seemed to be endless.  But we finally got it figured out.  We started with the plan to staple the lights onto the siding/trim of the house (this was just always how I knew my dad used to do it so I figured it must work).  Well, whether it was our lack of staple gun skills, or our weak staples, it didn't exactly work out. So after one of our many short bicker-sessions of that day I finally conceded that those plastic roof clippy things were the way to go:

I was against them at first because a) I was trying to be thrifty and not spend any more money than we had to (we already had staples on hand, but luckily you get a box of about 75 of these for less than $5 so it actually wasn't so bad) and b) I had a preconceived notion that they are tacky and make the lights hang weird and are too highly visible as big plastic things hanging off your roof. I admit, I was wrong. They're only noticeable if you are looking for them, and certainly only noticeable in the daylight. I started paying attention to how other people hung their lights, and realized most of them use these clippies and I never noticed them until I started looking for them. They made hanging the lights a breeze, and kept us from poking tons of holes in the siding of our house.

Another problem-solving opportunity we got was when we realized we needed to connect the snowflakes hanging from the garage to a power source.  The cord couldn't reach to the nearest connection point of the other lights, and all of our outdoor extension cords had 3-pronged ... plug-in-thingies (what the heck are those called?!), so we couldn't plug them back into the rest of the lights that were nearby.  We also didn't want to run a long extension cord all the way from the roof across the front porch or into the garage to plug them directly into an outlet, nor did we want to risk throwing an indoor power cord on the roof, exposed to the elements.  You see the conundrum here, I hope. But luckily Phil had a stroke (of brilliance), and we came up with this:

That's right, that is a string of random blue lights we've had on hand, that we popped a bulb out of (thereby rendering it dead), and used as a makeshift extension cord. We were pretty proud of this solution, seeing as how it saved us from having to risk major electrical hazard and/or spend more money to buy the appropriate extension cords.

So there is an overly detailed explanation of our outdoor Christmas decorations.  I'll post soon about what we've done inside, including our tree and the whole debate surrounding that (chop our own tree versus pre-cut tree versus live tree).

Lesson(s) Learned: There are a lot, where do I start? 1) Hanging Christmas lights is HARD and only the most solid of relationships can survive it.  2) Unless you are rolling in dough, patience is a virtue when it comes to building up your lights display over time. Start small! 3) The plastic clippy things are a worthwhile expense. 4) Unused strings of lights make great makeshift extension cords. 5) I really don't like climbing ladders.

Phew that was a lot of learning. Anyone else learning valuable lessons about hanging Christmas lights? Any tips from seasoned homeowners on how to make hanging lights as stress-free and easy as possible? We're hoping that next year will be easier simply due to getting this first go under our belts. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Stairway To Heaven

The stairway leading up to the 2nd floor in our house is a prominent feature, considering it is open to the main floor (so you see the entire stairway and the upstairs hall due to two-story-high ceilings), and it is directly inside the front door.  So it's transformation is pretty important, especially considering it started like this:

Ignore the painters tape (I remembered to get a before shot, but not before we started taping everything, obviously. Progress.) The entire house was the color you see there - which is an off-white-pinkish-peachy color.  And all of the trim is that shiny golden oak color.  Never for a second did we consider leaving it like this (well, Phil grappled with the concept of leaving the trim as is, but there was no way I was having that).  I knew right away I wanted that trim WHITE. I love the crisp look of white trim with dark walls. The main floor got a warm, chocolate-milk color, and the stairway was slated to get that same color. But Phil and I together came up with the idea to have a fun accent color on the stairway.  So a couple weeks later we had this:

 The lighting in that room is tough, so this picture doesn't quite do it justice, but you get the idea.  You can see the chocolate-milk color on the wall to the right and in the upstairs hallway. And then as you can see we went with an eggplanty purple for the accent wall. And I pretty much am in love with it. I just adore the deep, warm colors with the bright white stair railing.

However, if I think back to the process of getting it like this, I want to punch things.  That shiny golden oak trim? Covered in some sort of heavy duty shellac. We used a liquid de-glosser on all the trim in the house, and it was just not enough to get through whatever industrial grade shellac they used. We really should have sanded the trim.  The trim ended up taking 3-4 coats total, and has already peeled/chipped off in places... so it clearly just did not adhere to the trim well enough. Oh well, ya live, ya learn!

Lesson(s) Learned: When it comes to heavy-duty stripping, liquid deglosser is a no-no! It might be more laborious and messier, but SANDING is the only way to get things fully prepped for painting, assuming you want it to really last.

Has anyone else learned a similar lesson, or had more success with liquid de-glosser than I have? Any tricks of the trade to make de-glosser work better?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Pre-owned Art

There is a project in our house that I am particularly proud of, simply because of it's organic origins. It started out using 100% products we already had on hand, and was a completely free decorative art project that I love! (Once you find out what it is, you may wonder why the sense of pride [because it's really quite simple], but you must know about me that I do not have a creative bone in my body. So coming up with ideas for the house is not exactly something that comes naturally, so when I do end up creating something or having a brilliant idea on my own, no matter how small, it's a big deal.) Phil has always been a fan of what I lovingly call "stick art." You know, those vases at Target and Pier 1 you see that are just chock full of... well, sticks. I never understood it. Here's an example of what I'm talking about (thanks Pinterest!):
This actually is one of the better versions of this concept I've seen. There are much uglier ones in the world, I promise you. And I had never thought of it as something I'd want in my house.


Yup, I was converted! Something about being FREE just makes a concept automatically more my bag. (I also apologize for the crappy photography.  It's something I'm working on, and once a project has been altered [which this one has], I can't exactly go back and get a better shot. Also, Phil broke my camera so I've only got my phone camera to work with right now).  The vase was already on hand, and the sticks are actually dead branches from our elderberry bushes in the backyard.  The idea hit me when trimming back some dead branches this summer.. after dumping a bunch in the trash bin I realized they might look better in a vase. I was right.

After sitting with that gnarly purple vase for a while, though, I found the color and shininess of the vase to be not so easy on the eyes.  The shade of purple just did not jive with the other colors in the room.  So I remedied this with a $5 spool of burlap ribbon from Hobby Lobby and...

Instantly better! Magically, the project not only had a much more palatable color, but also got some sweet texture and a funky new vibe.  While this regrettably made the project no longer free, the ribbon will last beyond this project and was a worthwhile expense in my mind.

So to take you back in time for a moment, and explain why such a stick art project was so exciting, this project started as a way to fill this random ledge/mantel that is adjacent to the fireplace mantel.

It feels like such a tall space, and without anything with some height it just looked perpetually empty and cold.  Smaller-scale items just didn't fill the space and it felt unfinished and half-assed.

See how those small trinkets just don't quite do it in that tall space. It just looks... bad.  So I knew we needed something with some height, and had visions of having to shell out serious $$ to get some sort of tall statue or something.   Until my genius kicked in, that is.

See how it fills that space so well, and no longer makes that corner feel so awkward. Even tucked behind seasonal trinkets, it's nice to have that space filled.

And it works from various angles.  Since this area is on a corner, you see it in many different perspectives depending on where you are in the house.  Works from the front, as you see above.

Works from the side, too.  This is the view walking into the living area from the entryway area.

Considering a vase full of sticks can run you $20 or upwards, I'm pleased to have spent just a few buckaroos on this puppy. Plus, the pride that comes from having come up with this solution to this random, empty corner of mantel is priceless.  I've also been trying to customize it for the seasons/holidays by sticking branches full of colorful fall leaves in there, or branches full of mini-crabapples that I find in the yard.  The problem with that is it looks great for a day or two, but then the leaves/berries start to die and look trashy, and that makes it pretty high-maintenance (yes, swapping out a couple branches every couple days makes a project high maintenance in my book). High maintenance is not so much my bag, so for the most part this sucker stays as is in the pic above. But it's fun to know I can doll it up if I wanted to for a party or what have you. (And please ignore the random selection of knick knacks that surround the vase. I can't quite get the adjacent trinkets to look right and it's constantly changing). 

Lesson Learned: Before you go spending your hard earned cash on art or decor, take a look around and see what you've already got.  And never rule out what you might find outside! 

Wow thanks for sticking with me through that.  I didn't know I had that much to say about such a simple project. Whew. Has anyone else magically found a great project hiding in a closet, or in their backyard? Do you have any other ideas for how to turn already owned items into art or house decor?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bedroom Peep Show

Get your mind out of the gutter, people, this blog is about houses! Anyway, this post serves to simply share in the excitement that Phil and I finally, after 6 months, have found some direction for our master bedroom, and want to share a little preview (or PEEP, if you will) of what we have in mind. The room has gone completely untouched so far, and the disaster area finally got to us enough to light a fire under our bums. So we decided that our Christmas present to each other would be to finally furnish and decorate our bedroom. Oh joy! Then it only took a few hours of deliberation before we landed on a direction as far as paint colors, etc., and here's a sneak peek at what we ended up with....

Oh yeah. We are not messing around with this room. Those of you who know Phil well may be shocked that he would go for something like this (I'm the more bright, funky color one of the family - he's more into neutral [aka boring] stuff).  But I pitched my idea with such cunning skill that he went for it.  The plan is for the walls to be some sort of dark grey/slate color, and because we are planning to build or thrift all of our furniture in there, we solved the problem of making furniture that doesn't match match - by making it so far from matching it seems purposeful. Each piece of furniture will be one of those bright colors, which against the gray walls, gets me excited. The hope is it will be super funky, fun and unique with the bright colors on the furniture, but still cozy and neutral with the grey walls. The dresser we pulled off the curb in my parent's neighborhood is already on it's way to embracing that funky green in the pic above (stay tuned for more info on that!).

Our plan for the master bath (which is directly connected to the bedroom, with no door or anything so you see into it from the bedroom), is to either continue the grey onto the bathroom walls and paint the vanity cabinets a funky color OR paint the walls in the bathroom a funky color (since there really isn't a ton of wall space in there) and paint/stain the cabinets a more neutral color. Still have some decisions to make.

Lesson Learned: Go big or go home! We aren't 100% sure that this idea will look as good as it does in our heads, but in the name of not having a super bland, could-see-it-in-the-pages-of-a-JCPenny-catalog house, we are going for it!

Has anyone else attempted a similar design concept/color scheme in their house? How did it turn out? Ever start moving forward on a risky design without being sure it would turn out?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Be Our Guest

I thought long and hard (like, a full 3 minutes) about what to do my first real post about... seeing as how we've been at this house thing for 6 months already we've got quite a backlog of projects I could write about. I finally landed on our basement guest bedroom, because it was one of the first projects we got 100% complete (it might actually still be one of our only projects that is 100% complete), and that we have the most pictures of.  So guest bedroom it is!

Something I am still learning is the value of BEFORE pictures. Many of these first posts will require imagination to picture what things looked like before we got our hands on them, because I just plain didn't think to take pictures before we got started. So I apologize for that. Lesson learned.  This is one of those times, so get your imagining caps on.

Picture a basement bedroom, white walls, blue carpet, empty. Pretty much a blank slate.

And here is the after...

 Ta da! The furniture is all our old bedroom furniture (that I've had for 5 years now), that we decided to put in the guest room in hopes of eventually upgrading to some better furniture in the master bedroom (which has yet to happen, except for some thrifted furniture that is still taking up residence in the garage).  The sheets came from Target and the art above the bed came from HomeGoods.  The lamps were Phil's from a long time ago, that actually had been moved around from apartment to apartment and never really used.  They were originally silver with wood accents, but I spray painted the wooden parts white so they would match better (and just be less fugly in general).
 See those grey/silver mini blinds? They came with the house (score!), and in any other context they'd be awful. But they actually ended up working serendipitously with the yellow and gray color scheme I had in mind.  As for how I came up with the color scheme, I think I just saw the colors together in a picture somewhere or something, and loved it. I thought yellow was a great color for the basement (it makes it so bright!), and pairing it with the dark wood furniture and gray accents made it feel less grandma-y.
All of those accessories are also from HomeGoods, and cost us a whopping $0 thanks to a collection of gift cards we accumulated (my birthday + closing on our first house = an influx of generous house related gifts from family and friends).

So there you have it! It might seem random to have our guest bedroom be one of the first projects tackled, but we had a slew of house guests over the summer, so we wanted to be able to provide them with a finished space to stay in. The guest bathroom in the basement is also 100% complete (well, aside from some upgrades we'd like to tackle way down the line), but I have yet to take a single picture of that room, so you will have to wait (with bated breath, I'm sure) to see that one.

LESSON(S) LEARNED: Take before pictures! Oh, and enlisting your rock star friends is a great way to get projects banged out in no time (props to MEGAN for helping me paint this room AND the guest bathroom all in one day!!).

So who's coming for a visit next?! As you can see, we are perpetually ready for guests! Come on over! ;)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Well Hello There

So I randomly decided to start a blog as a place to document our progress on our first house.  Partially for those friends/family members who aren't local and who can't just pop over and see our progress (or those who are too lazy to), and partially just for us to be able to process and reflect on all our hard work, and to be able to go back in time to see where we started and revel in our epic home improvement abilities (right). So read it, don't read it, love it, hate it, I don't really care. It's mostly just for us, but if someone else gets their jollies off reading about our house, or is in a similar place in life and wants to get ideas and learn from our successes and failures, then I'm on board with that and welcome. :)

We've been in our house for about 6 months now, and have already tackled a fair amount. I'll try to document some of the things we've already done, and catch everyone up, and then move forward documenting projects yet to be tackled.

Oh and in case you were curious about the title of this blog, it's pretty simple - I'm an idiot when it comes to home improvement and DIY.  I am learning along the way and making lots of mistakes along the way, as well. So just be forewarned, Martha Stewart I am not. I rarely complete a project in one shot. For example, a couple weeks ago I tried to install a simple door stop and totally messed it up, drilling holes in the wrong place and ending up with 2 extra holes in the door. Luckily they are at about toe-height so only our eight legged friends will notice (and they're pretty nonjudgmental so I feel okay about that).

To start us off, here's a simple snapshot of Phil (Mr. Idiot) and I posing in front of our new home on our closing day this past May.
Thanks for stopping by, see you soon!