Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Painted Interior Doors

I have been toying with the idea of painting the interior doors a color instead of white to match the trim.  The interior doors on the main floor are fir with a red/orange finish.  Initially, I planned on painting them white.  However, after looking at the build up of grime on the doors, I am starting to reconsider that idea.  I am worried that white doors might be super high maintenance and require constant cleaning and touch up.  I was then leaning towards staining them a darker color, which I think would provide some nice contrast.  However, the doors are fir (a type of pine) and they typically don't take dark stain well.  Then, I had a light bulb moment - I could paint the doors a color other than white.  Hmmm... so I took to Pinterest and found some inspiration.

I am unsure on what color I would go with.  Something midtone and in the green-grey family I am thinking.  Here are a few options (all by Benjamin Moore):

Healing Aloe
Gray Horse
Sea Haze
Carolina Gull

I am still on the fence, but I think that it could be really interesting...  I feel like it I paint the doors, I have to paint all of them (at least all of the doors on each floor) but maybe that's my OCD tendencies talking.


Monday, March 30, 2015

I Stripped Painted Over Wallpaper and Lived to Tell About It

Okay, that post title may be a bit dramatic - but seriously, that's how it feels.  It took ALL weekend, but the hallway is wallpaper freeeeeeeeee!  I would share a picture, but it honestly doesn't look that different because the wallpaper was painted yellow and the wall beneath was also painted yellow.  Anyway, I thought I would share what worked and didn't work for me while tackling this project for the benefit of anyone else who has to deal with painted over wallpaper.

Tip #1

Use a wallpaper stripper.  Specifically this one, the WP Chomp Stripper.  It's says it's the Best Wallpaper Stripper in the World it really, truly is.  It works quickly and effectively, it's non-toxic, and smells nice.  I used the DIF concentrate and spray gel strippers also (I went through 5 bottles of wallpaper stripper total) and not only did they smell bad and chemically, but they took 15-20 minutes to start working and weren't as effective.  The WP Chomp stripper starts working in 1-5 minutes and it takes the glue residue right away from the wall with the paper also.  Some people swear by home methods, including diluted fabric softener.  Just buy actual wallpaper stripper.  It's not expensive and it's much more effective.  Trust.

Tip #2

Use a wallpaper scorer.  I used this one here.  This step is especially important for painted over wall paper.  If you don't score the paper, there is no way for the stripper to penetrate through to soften the glue.  Score the proverbial crap out of the wallpaper if you want to have any chance for it to come free from the wall.

Tip #3

Use a sharp and sturdy scraping tool.  The sharper, the better, as it will get right under the edge of the paper.

Tip #4

Sometimes the decorative top portion of the wallpaper will peel away from the paper/glue backing.  Before you start spraying down the wall and scraping, see what portions - if any - will peel away.  The paper/glue backing will melt away from the wall with the stripper, so you will be doing yourself a huge favor by stripping the tougher top coat first.

Tip #5

Have patience and some good music to listen to while you work.  This will take you 3x as long as you plan it to and suck twice as much.  Expect it, plan for it, and deal with it...  It's worth it all in the end.

So what are our plans for this hallway now?  This is what we are working with now:

 Here are my thoughts...

Hallway Plan

I've purchased the light fixture and the runner I already own.  The light fixture is more modern that i would normally go, but I really, really like it.  While I am aiming to "restore" this home vs. "remodel" it, a light fixture isn't a big commitment and since I'm paying the mortgage, I will buy the light fixture that I want, darn it! I am planning on planking the ceiling and then painting the walls a light, green gray tone.  The specific shade I have in mind is Benjamin Moore "Gray Lake".  The trim will be painted white.  I am still on the fence about the doors.  I am liking the idea of staining them dark, but they are fir, so that usually doesn't take the stain well.  However, this hallway has 5 doors in total, so painting them white might be a bit boring.  I suppose I could always paint the doors a contrasting color....hmmm.  Thoughts?


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wallpaper Purgatory...

Oh, where to even start.  I was planning on tackling our 3'x11' hallway on the main level this weekend.  It's mustard yellow and ugly and I see if from my bedroom.  Every morning I wake up, get out of bed, and think about how not ugly it could be with a little paint and a new light fixture.  I even got a jump start on the project by picking up the light fixture on Tuesday and other supplies on my way home from work on Friday (cause it's totally normal for a 26 year old to spend their Saturday evening at Home Depot...lol).  A 33 sq. ft. room in a weekend - totally doable right?  Well, there's a curve ball.  Someone, somewhere (I'm looking at you, short cut-taking previous owners!) decided it was a fabulous idea to not only wallpaper the hallway, but to then PAINT over said wallpaper.  WWWWHHHYYYYY!!!!????

Feeling ambitious on Friday night, I grab my wallpaper scorer, scraper and wallpaper stripping spray and get to work.  Much to my delight, the top portion of the paint covered wallpaper is coming away in large chunks, just leaving the glue and paper backing.  The wallpaper stripper is also making quick work of the paper and backing. Sweet!

By late Saturday morning, I have nearly the whole hallway stripped (the walls beneath were also painted yellow, go figure).

Except for this one, ridiculously stubborn section.  It's just STUCK to the walls!  After working 6 hours on it, this is the most I've been able to remove...

The paint is preventing the wallpaper stripper from penetrating through to loosen the glue, but the painted wall paper is stuck to securely to the wall, I can't get under it to lift it off.  Honestly, at this point in time, I am at a lost of what to do.  I am thinking of renting a steamer, but if the stripping solution isn't penetrating the paper, I doubt the steam will because of the stupid paint!  I am SO close to being done with removing the wallpaper in this hallway, but this last 3 sq ft section is killing me!

Moral of the story... If you have wallpaper on your walls and you decide that you don't like it anymore, DO NOT paint over said wallpaper.  Just. Don't. Do. It.  I know it's tempting and oh, the seams won't be that noticable once it's painted and wallpaper is just so darn difficult to remove.  NO!  The seams will look like crap, and the more layers of paint you add, the higher the chances the paint coated paper will start falling off the walls.  But not cleanly or nicely and some of it will cling to the wall forever and ever and ever (like the wallpaper I'm battling now).

Well, I'm of to pluck off tiny pieces of paper that are stuck to my walls...  Wish me luck!


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Patio Furniture Picks

It's snowing in Chicago right now, and I'm not gonna lie - it's crushing my soul a bit...  To take my mind off it, I am perusing some patio furniture and dreaming of sunshine and warm weather and looking forward to getting some use out of our back yard and patio.  We are in the market for a patio set and I thought I would share my top patio furniture picks:

Burbank Collection from Joss & Main $432.00
Giles Eucalyptus Set from Home Depot $979.00
Brown Wood Patio Set from Lowes $949.00
Jardine Sectional from West Elm $1,199.00

Catalina Collection from World Market $630.00

The Joss & Main set is definately a great value, but I am really loving the World Market set.  Who else is looking forward to spending time outside this summer!?


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Marble Alternatives

We are about a year out on our kitchen renovation, but  that certainly hasn't stopped me from dreaming and planning our future kitchen.  I'm a white kitchen person and one of the looks I am particularly drawn to is the white shaker cabinets with the beautiful white carrera marble countertops.  Like this...

Courtesy of Bryn Alexandra

Beautiful stuff, right?  I love everything about carrera marble and I think that it's aesthetically just perfect.  Perfect except for the sad, bitter, horrible and altogether unfair truth that marble is high maintenance.  It scratches, it etches and it stains.  In my future forever home, I will most definitely have marble and I will embrace the character and charm of every etch, scratch and stain. As I've mentioned before, we are restoring our current home with an eye for resale, so as beautiful as marble is, I don't trust it to stay "resale ready".  I am looking for something more durable and something that is not granite (I am so, so, so over granite). The other sad, bitter, horrible and altogether unfair truth of the matter is that nothing else quite matches the look and feel of marble.  However, through my quest for a convincing marble alternative, I have rounded up what I feel are the closest alternatives.

While none of these completely fool you (although the Dekton options certainly come close!) they do give a similar look and feel to marble, but with superior stain resistance and durability.  I should also note that these are not necessarily budget alternatives to marble; in fact, many of these options cost as much, if not more, per square foot.  

Here is some more info on each of the countertop types:


Caesarstone has been in business since 1987 and was one of the first pioneers in marketing quartz countertops. They have evolved the process and have become a trendsetter in the field. Their countertops are heat and scratch resistant and carry a lifetime warranty for residential use. Styles run from classic up to contemporary and everything in between. The Caesarstone line of countertops can resist stains, scratches and cracks. Most fluids like wine, coffee, soft drinks and even food coloring in liquid form will not stain the surface and can easily be wiped up using a mild detergent and water. Although they are scratch resistant, it is always best to use a cutting board to avoid direct cutting on the surface. Unlike granite countertops, Caesarstone quartz countertops do not require any type of sealing ever. They are made of a non-porous material, which makes for easy maintenance. Since it’s a high density material, its luster will remain and it will never have to be polished or oiled in any way. The countertop will continue to look as good as it first did when it was initially installed.


Cambria is the sole producer of engineered quartz surfaces in the United States. They are located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, with additional facilities in Le Sueur, Minnesota; Charlotte, North Carolina; Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada. They are a subsidiary of Davisco Foods International, which is privately held and owned by the Davis family.  Cambria produces quartz surfaces, primarily for use as kitchen countertops. It is used in a similar manner as granite, except that it is not porous, and thus requires no periodic sealing. The look of any quartz countertop compares to granite in that the colors are deep and consistent. The process of creating the countertops is different than granite, in that it is an engineered product, consisting of about 90% quartz and 10% epoxy binder. An engineered product that requires no sealer has the advantage in that it requires no harsh chemicals to seal, nor does it emit harmful chemicals into the air, making it potentially more environmentally friendly.


Dekton is a subsidiary of Cosetino, the maker of Silestone.  Dekton employs exclusive Sinterized Particle Technology, a high tech process which represents an accelerated version of the metamorphic change that natural stone undergoes when subjected to high temperatures and pressure over thousands of years.  Sinterized particle technology synthesizes truly innovative procedures from the most advanced technology industries. This evolution represents a technological and industrial leap capable of generating a new process, a revolutionary material and a leading product.  Electronic microscopy allows us to fully appreciate the material’s zero porosity, a consequence of the sinterization and ultra-compaction process exclusive to Dekton. This zero porosity and lack of the micro-defects that cause tension or weak spots mark the difference. The material is super resistant to extreme changes of temperature; it resists, ice, thawing, fire and heat and will not crack due to thermal shock.  It has zero water absorption and will not stain.  Dekton is super strong and extremely impact resistant. even more than quartz and granite, so it is very difficult to scratch and chip.  It will not fade due to Ultra Violet UV sunlight, so it can be installed indoors or outdoors.  Dekton can be cleaned and scrubbed easily without damage


Silestone is an engineered quartz surface that looks, feels and weighs like natural granite and marble. Yet its strength, hardness and competitive price make it the superior choice over natural stone or plastic solid surfaces. Silestone is composed of 93% quartz aggregates. The finest selection of quartz particles are mixed with binders through a high-tech compression and heating process. The result is a dimensionally consistent material with an attractive appearance that is stronger and more durable than natural stone. Silestone is a non-porous material and does not require the use of sealants and impregnators to maintain its attractive finish. With only a small fraction of the liquid absorption rate of granite or acrylic, it is ideal for use in areas prone to spills and stains. In fact, any detergent will clean Silestone's polished surface. And with hardness and thermal ratings many times that of marble and plastic laminates, Silestone withstands typical wear and tear beautifully. Silestone is a non-porous material; therefore it is virtually stain resistant. Stains that are normally permanent such as wine, juice, markers or ink are easily wiped clean with soap and water or an over-the-counter liquid cleaner.  Silestone is highly scratch resistant. Under normal household use, knives, keys, toys or any item that would normally cause damage to regular counter tops will have no effect on Silestone.  Without the worry of warping, Silestone tolerates temperature for brief periods of time. The perfect material for anyone who has experienced the occasional mishap of placing a hot pan on a kitchen counter top.  

Viatera, categorized as quartz surfacing, is the newest addition to the LG family of countertop surfacing products. Viatera is composed of quartz blended with advanced polymer resins and colorfast pigments. The manufacturing process takes place under intense heat and pressure is availabile in a wide variety of colors. Viatera is 93% natural quartz providing an extremely durable living environment for the most demanding of consumers.  Unlike Granite or Marble, Viatera does not need topical sealing, allowing lasting beauty with very little maintenance. Viatera appeals to those who prefer the elegant look of stone, but desire a product that is easy to maintain.  


Zodiaq is an engineered stone made by DuPont composed of 93% quartz crystal and 7% acrylic resin, colors and binders. The product is manufactured in DuPont's Granirex plant in Thetford Mines, Canada. It is used most often as kitchen countertops but also as walls. Its primary advantage is that unlike natural stone products (marble, granite, limestone, wood), Zodiaq is non-porous and does not require a sealant that must be periodically reapplied. Porous products, like granite, are prone to growing molds and staining. The color of Zodiaq is consistent throughout. 


Friday, March 13, 2015

We Are Redoing The Staircase!!!

One of the thing that drew us to our home initially was that it had a great floor plan and "flow".  While certainly not open concept, the house has good sight lines and an openness to it.   Everything except the staircase...

When we purchased the house, we knew that reconfiguration of the stairs was going to be a priority project, especially if we wanted to get full use of the upstairs.  Anyone who is familiar with bungalows, especially Chicago style bungalows, can commiserate with what we are dealing with.  The staircase is what you would call a "winder" staircase and it is enclosed in a what I consider a glorified closet.  Not only are the stairs narrow - only 31" wide - but the spiral to them makes it difficult to maintain your footing.  Fortunately, if you slip, there are walls all around to catch you.  So, I guess that's comforting? In a very claustrophobic way at least...

And now for a little back-story that probably no one cares about at all. :)  In most of these bungalows, the upstairs was an unfinished attic.  Over the years, almost all of the bungalows in our area have additional living space built out in the upstairs under the eaves.  We lucked out majorly because our roof line is abnormally tall.  The ceilings are nearly 9' high in the center, providing quite a bit of usable living space.  The upstairs was finished long, long ago (we think it was done in the 30's during the depression to fit more people under the same roof) so it has lovely plaster walls with trim and doors that match the main level - another rarity in the local housing stock.  I believe that it was originally built as an in-law apartment of sorts, with a wide center hallway used as a kitchen/dining room/living space, flanked by 2 bedrooms, with a bathroom in a dormer jutting off the main hallway.  This makes sense based on my research of the original owners.  According to the 1940 census records, the original owners lived there with their three children.  The eldest son was single, their daughter was a widower with a child of her own, and their youngest son was married and had three children.  That makes ten people living in this house!  Mind boggling... Then, it appears that in the 60's (again, just guess based on the finishes that were used) a separate staircase and entrance was added on the rear enclosed porch of the house, complete with it's own doorbell.  I believe that the upstairs (though really in fantastic shape) was used as a rental apartment on an off since that point.

ANYWAY... We will be using this house as a single family home, so what we need is a central, serviceable staircase that we can fit furniture through and won't break our necks using.  It wouldn't hurt if it looked good also.  Here is a rudimentary sketch of what we are working with...

It's kind of hard to demonstrate, but the stairs up and down are u-shaped and stacked on top of each other.  So the stairs from the main floor leading up start next to the dining room and then wind around 180 degrees to end upstairs directly above where the basement stair entrance is on the first floor.  Get it?  Probably not because I am doing a terrible job of explaining it!  Anyway, just pretend that you do get it and we will move along.  As you can see, there is a closet behind the stair enclosure.  This used to open on the kitchen side and was the butler's pantry.  When they redid the kitchen in the 60's, it got closed off and this lovely door popped into the dining room.

My plan is to use this closet space to add a landing area and create a new, wider and more open switch back stair case.  So it would now look like this...

We would extend into the dining room 20" so that we could widen the stairs to 42" and use the closet space as a landing.  The dining room is 12' x 16', so I am not going miss those 20" inches of width.  We decided to leave the basement stairs as is because we have a separate entrance to the basement that is large enough to bring furniture through.  The wall in the dining room will be gone, so all you would see is the pretty stair case and landing.  It will (hopefully) look a lot like this...

I am planning on doing mission style newel posts, with oak handrails and treads.  I would love to do square spindles with three of them per step like in the photo above, but I am not sure if it will fit because on the run of the stairs.  That is to be determined.

So this is just the impact the stairs will have on the main floor.  More to come on our plans for the upstairs!


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Feeling Like Spring

We've been in the 50's during the day with sunshine this week, and that is about as good as it gets for Chicago in March! Nothing like fresh flowers to make it feel like spring is almost here.  Here are a few shots from around the house.

I'm already dreaming about the landscape and exterior upgrades we will be making this summer!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Power of Caulk

Want to know the secret to making your trim and woodwork look like a million bucks?  Caulk! Words simply cannot express the difference a bead of caulk makes.  Therefore, I will stop talking and show pictures! :)

No Caulk... 


No Caulk...

No caulk...
As you can see, caulk fills in the little gaps and spaces between the woodwork and the wall, creating a seamless appearance.  When repainting a room, be sure to caulk around all window and door casings, baseboards (including the shoe moulding!) and crown moulding.  Be sure to use a caulk specifically designed for interior trim that is paintable.  I prefer acrylic to silicone caulks for this application, but either will get the job done.  As far as when to apply the caulk, I usually do it after the primer coat and before painting.  At a minimum, I always cover caulk with a layer of paint to ensure a perfect color match.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Adios Pistachio!

During our recent time off we did not tackling the dining room after all. However, that was with good reason as we are likely going to be pulling the trigger on a very exciting staircase renovation - more news on that soon! Instead, we decided to give one of the bedrooms some much needed attention.

With it's lovely green walls and dark brown trim, we nicknamed this room "The Pistachio Nut".  Here are some of the glamorous before shots:

The punch list for this room was the usual - plaster and wood repair, followed by primer and paint on literally every surface. The plaster was actually in pretty good shape.  To be honest, the biggest issues were simply redoing the sloppy plaster repair attempts from the previous owners.

The woodwork was also in pretty good shape.  Unlike the living room, the finish on the trim was relatively smooth, so we didn't have to strip everything before painting.  A simple sanding to scuff the surface and even out some areas was sufficient.  

We also gave the ceiling a good coat of paint.  Funny story - we totally thought it was white before.  Nothing like fresh paint to emphasize how gross and dingy things were before...

After some wood filler and caulk, we applied two coats of Behr Marquee Satin paint in Ultra Pure White.  We used Behr Ultra in the living room and I have to say, I much prefer the Marquee formula.  The superior coverage is definitely worth the extra $12 per gallon.  I just want to state again for the record before anyone accuses us for painting over beautiful quarter-sawn oak or walnut or any other similar atrocity, our woodwork was already painted.  We have a combination of many wood types - a little bit of ash, a lot of fir, and a sprinkling of maple.  All of it is covered with a faux graining finish to make it look the same and like a more expensive wood.    Almost every inch of the trim needs some kind of filling or repair, and because I am not a master craftsman from 1925, I cannot replicate the faux finish to make the repairs seamless.  So, the wood gets painted.

Next, the walls were primed.  I always prime before painting anyway (and no, I don't trust the "paint and primer in one" formulas) but we really didn't have a choice in here with this intense pistachio hue!

Finally it was time for paint!  We went with Benjamin Moore "Moonshine" in an eggshell finish.  I had the paint tinted a 50% strength (per my usual trick) to make sure the room stayed nice and light and the color wasn't overpowering.  I always suggest using an eggshell finish and a semi-smooth nap roller in old houses.  The combination of low sheen a tiny bit of text is a little kinder to the plaster walls and leaves you with a better end product in my opinion.  

 I am so happy the finish on the doors was in good enough shape to leave as is.  I love the contrast of the dark, rich looking doors against the white trim (can you believe that grain is a faux finish!?).  I'll post pictures of the totally finished room soon, but here is a sneak peak for now. 

Thanks for reading!