Pantry

Our house is a standard subdivision house with standard subdivision house problems. For example, the pantry was pretty small, though compared to our last standard subdivision house, which had no pantry at all, it was a big improvement. Storage in general isn’t great in the houses in our tax bracket. A few months ago, we added a bunch of shelves to our bonus room. This week, we finished some remodeling of our kitchen. There used to be a useless desk and cabinets tucked over in the corner beside our pantry, and since all we used it for was a dumping ground for papers and craft stuff, we decided to make a bigger pantry of it instead. Now we don’t have to keep our wok in the garage anymore!

I forgot to take a “before” picture, but here’s the first stage of renovation. We had the desk and cabinets ripped out and built a wall up around the space. Partway through the demolition, we learned that there’s actually a pipe going through that dividing wall, so we trimmed it back a few inches but left it there. We were worried it would wind up looking dumb, but it actually divides the space nicely and lines up with the edge of one of the doors, so it’s not so bad.

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We had some lights wired in too and moved a light switch and a couple of outlets around. My wife poured a couple of old buckets of paint together to make a color that matches pretty closely the color of some of the old mason jars that decorate our mantel (we’re southern, not hipsters).

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Here the shelves are built in and the doors added. The doors were beige for some reason rather than white, so we’ll have to get those painted. You can see here that some of the tile we laid a few years ago had to be ripped up, so replacing that was part of the job too. Luckily, we had some tiles left over from the original job.

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With doors and shelves hung, I got excited over the weekend and put a couple of things in the pantry even though I knew we couldn’t fully move in yet since there was still tile work to be done and baseboards to reinstall.

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The doors are a good bit wider than standard doors. This is a really big pantry, and here’s what it looks like closed, minus door knobs.

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And finally here it is with knobs, baseboards, repaired tile, and food. We’re really happy with the project. Our carpenter was installing doors on the room I moved my office into and alternating work between the two projects. It took him about 6.5 calendar days to finish up. We still have a little painting to do around both parts of this remodel, but hopefully this wraps up our home fixes for the next couple of years.

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A Bulb in Time Apparently Does Not Save Nine

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A few months ago when we put our house up for sale, I climbed a big ladder to paint our entryway and clean this light fixture. We had also recently had our first bulb go out after seven years of good luck with the bulbs. Since I was up there anyway, I went ahead and swapped out all the old bulbs for new ones, hoping to leave a nice seven-year bulb legacy for the next home owner. A month or so later, the first of the brand new bulbs went out. Now about three months later, six of the nine are out. Ah, the joys of owning a home.

Painting Tips

I’ve painted a lot of rooms in my years as a homeowner (and as a friend to other homeowners), but I do so at infrequent enough intervals, that I often forget what wisdom I’ve accumulated over time. This led recently to mistakes requiring repainting, which sucked. So I here memorialize some techniques I used to great success with some fairly tricky paint jobs over the last week.

My house has a tall entryway with walls that I guess must be 17 or 18 feet from floor to ceiling and a stairway that makes three turns up to the second floor. Painting this area was a bit of a different beast than just rolling a standard room with four walls and 8-foot ceilings, and the first time I did it, I did it wrong.

I borrowed a couple of ladders so that I could reach the high spots. I also got a long pole that my painting tools screw into. I never extended the thing all the way, but I think it goes to something like 15 feet long. Of course, it’s pretty unwieldy at that length. For my first try at painting the entry, I used a paint pad instead of a roller, as it supposedly made for a smooth application, and I thought it would do well for edging without having to climb all the way to the top of the ladder, which is no fun if you’re not too keen on heights, and all the less fun if you’re working over a hardwood floor. The pad did seem like a good idea while I was painting. The paint went on smoothly, and I felt like I was doing a pretty good job of edging, but later it was apparent that I hadn’t done so well after all. The top of the pad had been even with the ceiling, but it wasn’t actually applying paint, a fact that wasn’t apparent at the time because the paint colors were very similar but that was glaringly obvious later once the slightly darker paint had dried. I had also gone back over a few spots on the wall where I thought my application hadn’t been good enough, and these dried as streaky patches that just would not do.

I made some mistakes with my tools. First there was the pad. But also my method of using the pole just wasn’t good. Often I found myself painting (thanks in part to the way the pad brush’s handle was angled) with the pole at a more horizontal angle than was optimal, resulting in uneven pressure and a bad paint job. The edges looked horrible and the walls looked very amateurish in places, though not quite horrible. I was going to have to sort out a way of salvaging the walls.

The next day, I had the standard height upstairs walls to paint, and I decided to try rolling those instead of using the pad. I’ve rolled walls a million times, but, again, it had been a while, and I made some mistakes here as well. A few times, I saw spots that I felt like I hadn’t rolled well enough, so I went back and took another swipe or two with the roller. The problem was that they had already partially dried, so I now had a very uneven application that looked really bad. So I went and read a few things and figured out how to improve my technique.

The terminology you hear is to paint with a leading wet edge. This means basically that you start in a corner and roll from top to bottom if possible (no W rolling), then move over and roll the next column. This lets the roller blend the edge smoothly, so that the only seam that’s ever apparent is the one at the leading, wet edge of your paint job. Although we’ve long done the cut-in-first approach, some suggest cutting in as you go so that you’re always blending wet paint with wet and minimizing ugly overlap thanks to paint at significantly different stages of dryness.

When I went back to repair the entryway, I had lost access to the tall ladders, so I had to telescope my paint pole and use my 7-foot ladder. I started at an edge and used the leading wet edge approach, rolling with generous paint thickness and little pressure. I would roll from the top to as far down as the extended pole would allow, then roll the next vertical strip, blending nicely as I went. I’d do as many of these as I could without moving the ladder, and then I’d roll the next tier down, along the same width. I worked directly underneath the surface I was painting, vs. being farther out from the wall and having to fight gravity as I tried to extend the pole to reach areas with the badly angled pad. I worked in this fashion from one edge of the wall to the other, and I have a nearly perfect paint job. It also went a lot faster. Later in the process, I tended more toward rolling the full vertical length before doing the next column in hopes of avoiding horizontal seams thanks to different dry rates.

I went back and rolled the botched upstairs in the same way, with the same great result.

Having now given a surprisingly and boringly detailed account of how I messed up and then fixed my walls, I’ll part with a few quick tips I’ve picked up.

  • Don’t bother with tape. Wall paint wipes off molding and even hardwood floors pretty easily if you get it right away with a damp cloth. Tape is a big waste of time and can peel your paint if you remove it too early and have applied the paint too thickly.
  • I like to use a pad to cut in the ceiling, as I have a pretty shaky hand with a brush. In the future, I think I’ll try cutting in as I go, vs. cutting a room completely in before rolling.
  • I learned this time that rollers are better than pads for big wall surfaces.
  • Don’t press hard with the roller. You’ll get streaks. Just use enough paint in the first place, apply smoothly, and roll gently to spread it around. Do as many vertical stripes as you can with the wet brush to get a reasonable first covering with paint, then do more vertical blending swipes.
  • Don’t overwork the roller (or your arm). In the past, I think I’ve done a lot more rolling than was really necessary to get a smooth application. Again, use enough paint to begin with, so that you don’t spend so much time spreading too-thin paint around.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of a wall if you can help it.
  • If you see that you missed a spot, don’t go back and dab at it unless it’s still good and freshly wet. It’ll leave a mark or a streak otherwise.
  • Work quickly so that you’re always working with freshly wet edges that blend smoothly.

Hopefully I’ll remember all of this for the next time I paint. If not, at least it’s written down now. If you made it this far, you’re an indulgent friend (and you have my apologies), a desperate amateur home painter, or a future me.

Grout

This week, we had new flooring put in our bathrooms and kitchen. For the kitchen, we chose a gray tile that turns out to have a lot of sandy highlights. While the sandy color wasn’t exactly what we had bargained for, it actually turns out to complement very well our light-colored cabinets and some of the highlights in our mottled, dark countertops.

What color grout should we use?

Here we're debating what color grout to use. We settled on the dark one -- called charcoal -- which in person is actually somewhere between the dark color pictured here and the next darkest.

Kitchen floor grouted

Here's the kitchen floor with grout freshly applied. You can still see the swirly marks from where they smeared the grout in and sponged the excess off.

Kids' bathroom

Here's the kids' bathroom freshly grouted. The stuff is drying much lighter than it looked in the sample and is pictured here. It's very nearly an off-white, in fact, which is fine aesthetically, until it starts to be caked in grime.

Bath tub

Here's a dark shot of the bath tub, which really does look quite nice in person. Too bad we never use the tub.