Recap: Kitchen Remodel

During my three month sabbatical from Automattic I started remodeling the kitchen. The first work I did was on October 28th, I didn’t touch the kitchen for over a week when I went back to work on January 4th, and we finished the project on March 23rd. It was a long process and I’m glad it’s over, but it was well worth it. I put together a short video to show the before and after.

Here are the individual pictures.

The area is so much brighter and inviting. The most impactful change was when we moved the fridge and put a new counter there. It made an incredible difference in how we’re able to do our cooking, with Brandi and I both being able to work at the stove together now.

My favorite step was refinishing the counters with epoxy. That was really cool and I could see doing it again for a bathroom. We would definitely do some testing on a small sample first though.

The worst task was sitting on the floor to remove hundreds of staples from old flooring. My back was not happy with me that week. The phase of the project I enjoyed the least was painting the cabinets because there were so many steps to the process. If I was doing it again I wouldn’t waste the 30 hours it took to apply grain filler and sand it down.

If you’re interested in more detail about any parts of the project I wrote about it every step of the way:

I didn’t research what it would run to contract all of the work out and I didn’t keep track of total expenses or hours of work. It’s something I wanted to do myself and it wasn’t about money or time. I made a lot of mistakes, but nothing that couldn’t be corrected, and I learned a lot of new skills and techniques. One of the most enjoyable things about a large project like this is all of the problem solving I have to do.

My dad is a real estate agent, so he’s seen a lot of houses. It felt pretty awesome when he was impressed with my work. He said he knows professionals who wouldn’t do this nice of a job and I should be very proud.

Each morning when I walk in to make a cup of coffee I look around and I do feel an immense sense of pride. We did this!

Kitchen Remodel: DIY Pallet Wood Backsplash

The last big stage of remodeling the kitchen was a new backsplash. Last year we watched John Heisz’s End Grain Backsplash video, since I’m a subscriber, and I think it got the wheels turning in the back of our minds. Sometime after doing a couple of walls in the living room and making a shelf/light out of pallet wood, Brandi suggested we do a wood backsplash. We looked up some examples, I thought about the process, and we decided that would be the plan.

Several months ago my dad brought me another load of pallet wood and it took up space in my shop, waiting for us to get started. In late February I finally started milling the wood. This load was in much worse condition than the larger load I used for the living room walls, though I was able to use some leftovers from the earlier projects. First step was trying to get a flat face and a flat edge on every board, while discarding any pieces that were too twisted. I took a lot of passes at the jointer, cut some boards in two, and trimmed off bad sections.

While working on the rest of the kitchen we kept discussing ideas for the backsplash. Something we kept coming back to was using a shou sugi ban technique to burn the face of the wood and then potentially staining the wood. I cut up some scraps to do some samples. We bought a couple of new gray stains at Menards and tried various combinations.

We didn’t like how dark the burnt wood was turning out and it would have taken so much time to do on all of the pieces. We decided on this gray gel stain.

B offered to help with the rest of the wood processing, which saved a lot of time with so many pieces of wood. I cut everything to a width at the table saw, while she grabbed the pieces coming out of the saw and stacked them up. With so much hard wood in the mix, I ended up overheating another general purpose blade, which I had done while processing everything for the walls. This time I learned though and picked up a cheap ripping blade from Menards, since it was the only one they had in the size I needed. This blade made an incredible difference, allowing me to finish cutting to width. Then I stood each board on it’s flat edge to run through the saw, so I’d get two boards out of each and have much thinner material. This process is even harder on a blade but it went smooth. Here you can see how burnt some of the edges were before I switched blades.

After lining everything up on edge like this I noticed the widths had too much variance, so I ran everything through the table saw again to get more consistency and cut away those burn marks. I also trimmed/squared the ends on the miter saw at some point. I set up the planer and we ran each piece through twice on each side. With Brandi grabbing boards on the exit side I was able to keep feeding the input side, which cut the work time in half. We ended up with 83 pieces, which would be more than enough, according to my math.

Next up was everyone’s favorite step, sanding. We did it assembly line style with me using 120 grit and B doing using 180. It took us 1-2 hours.

Since the gel stain needs to be wiped off pretty quickly, we used an assembly line for that as well. I applied the stain with a staining pad, B wiped it off and transferred the piece over to the drying rack, which I’m so glad I didn’t break down after painting the cabinets. I had only found out about staining pads while researching gel stains that morning and it worked really well. We knocked out this step in two hours.

Something that stuck with me from Heisz’s project was how he said he’d create panels if he ever did it again. I definitely didn’t want to have to apply poly by hand after putting up the backsplash so panels would allow me to use a sprayer outside and put on a lot of coats to seal things up. I used 1/4″ plywood to cut all of my panel backs.

Then we glued individual boards to the panels row by row, using clamps along the edge and a lot of weights from our garage gym. There was a lot of trial and error through this process.

I had to cut the outlets and a couple of notches for some window trim. Then we did a final fit in the kitchen and trimmed to final lengths. This was really the first time our entire vision of the kitchen came to life. With something as unique as the backsplash, we had no idea if we could pull it off. It turned out better than we visioned and we couldn’t be happier with our color choices! While everything was in place for the test fit, I cut trim from extra boards.

Some of that needed a little edge sanding and stain. We let that dry for a day and then sprayed five coats of water-based polyurethane.

In between coats we fit some of the extra boards inside the open-shelf cupboard I’d made and sprayed those with three coats of poly. It was a beautiful day in the 50s with a slight breeze and clear sky, so the coats were dry within minutes. After the final coat on everything, we went for a walk and then started installing pieces. First up was the cupboard. I had not made a panel here so it was easy to just tack the boards up with a brad nailer.

Since I used hardboard to cover the beat up (due to removing tile) drywall and these panels were about a half inch thick, I used outlet extenders everywhere. I also installed GFCI outlets everywhere within six feet of the sink.

I brad nailed all of the panels up and used pin nails for the trim. I finished other odds and ends like making a new ledge for the big window and adding the white trim around the cupboards and big window.

We are thrilled with how well the backsplash turned out!

That’s a wrap on the kitchen and I’m so glad it’s done. In a couple of days I’ll post a full recap.

Kitchen Remodel: Paint and Floor

It’s been a few weeks since my last update on the kitchen and it’s because I’ve been putting in a lot of hours.

One of the first things we talked about before starting the remodel was colors. We wanted to go for an old farmhouse look. This photo we found on Google was a look we liked.

We browsed some color palettes and really liked this one.

After some trips to the hardware stores we had a pile of paint samples.

We decided to go with more of a green and collected even more samples. Here’s where we ended up, from left to right the colors would be used for trim, walls, and cabinets.

Some of the wall color has been shown in previous posts because we actually painted them before Thanksgiving, when Mom visited for a couple of days to help. We were worried about covering the red-ish walls, but after a coat of  Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer we were confident two coats of paint would do the job and it did. Mom was really impressed with the Dutch Boy® Dura Clean® Kitchen & Bath paint I bought from Menards. The room was much brighter and looked bigger already.

Fast-forward several weeks, after doing the counters and the table, it was time to tackle the cabinets. I made a small piece to fill a gap between the lazy Susan and the range.

We removed all of the cabinet doors and drawer faces, numbering everything (including each hinge) with a sharpie and blue painter’s tape I numbered everything, so it could go back exactly where it came from. Then with TSP and help from chisels we cleaned everything real good. In order to paint them all I needed a storage solution. So I grabbed a bunch of scraps from my lumber racks and about 90 minutes later I had a simple drying rack. It turned out to be the exact size I needed.

Then I used Klean-Strip Liquid Sander Deglosser on all of the pieces as well as the cabinet frames. Since my cabinets were oak, which has a deep grain, I applied two coats of Aqua Coat White Cabinet Wood Grain Filler. You really want to use white instead of clear for something like this so you can see where you’ve applied it. I didn’t bother with grain filler on the backs or on the frames. The next step was sanding off the excess grain filler, which took me almost nine hours and brought the total time for the grain filling process to almost 20 hours! It did make a big difference, but you can still see quite a bit of the grain after painting. I’m not sure it was worth it.

It was finally time for primer and paint! I hung plastic sheeting from the ceiling to make an L and covered my work table. Then I built up a base with some scraps and put a swivel stand on top of that. Overspray got everywhere in the shop, but at least it was basically paint dust because the small particles were dry by the time they landed.

I sprayed primer on both sides of the doors and drawer faces and then 2 coats of paint on the backs and 3 coats on the fronts, using the green tips in my HomeRight Super Finish Max HVLP Paint Sprayer. I did thin out the primer and paint a little bit with some water. I did primer and 3 coats on the cabinet frames by hand with a 1.5″ brush and a 4″ foam roller.

The original plan was to spray paint the cabinet hinges black, but after cleaning them we decided to keep them as they were. It would add a bit to our rustic farmhouse style. Before we put the doors and faces back on, I let them sit on the rack for about four days to give the paint time to cure more. I did spray paint the two shelves in the lazy Susan (aka “snack Susan”) cabinet black. By the way, reinstalling that think was a huge pain in the ass.

Next up was flooring. The first layer to deal with was a floating floor Dad helped me install in May of 2013. I cut out a large section to reuse at the bottom of our basement steps, where Ninja has his litter box, food, and water. Then it was quick work to pull up the rest and haul it away; it was barely an hour of work to get rid of that entire layer. Under that floor was old linoleum that peeled up pretty well. The third layer of floor was luan, which was held down by 10 times more staples than necessary. Then a 4th layer to come up was even older linoleum. I filled up an entire Powerade bottle with staples and about 20 large nails. Those bottom 3 layers of flooring took two days!

Dad called and asked if I wanted some help, so he came down on Saturday morning and we installed the same Select Surfaces Barnwood Spill Defense Laminate Flooring from Sam’s Club I had put in the living room. After helping my brother install some in his house, this was my third time working with the product, so it only took us about 6 hours to do the entire room. We were able to continue it from the living room because I made sure to stop with full width pieces there. He ran up and down the stairs all day making cuts while I measured everything and installed each piece. It was a huge help to have him here.

On Sunday Brandi and I reinstalled all of the cabinet pieces after putting on new felt pads. Then I hung a new paper towel holder and installed a couple of LED under cabinet lights where old ones had been.

The weekend of work completely transformed the look of the kitchen. Our vision has finally become a reality and I feel extremely proud of everything we’ve done. Check out these before and after looks!

We’ll attach the island counter next weekend after the epoxy has fully cured, since we use it so much. I still need to do a backsplash, paint three sides of the island and the door to the basement, and do all of the trim work. Today is my first day back to work after a three month sabbatical, so progress on the remaining items will be slower.

Cabinet and Counter Changes

After moving the fridge, the corner space was ready for a makeover

I removed the rest of the backsplash tiles around the room. Luckily I didn’t have to be too careful with that process because the walls will all be covered up there.

Then I built an open shelf cabinet.

I’m repurposing the counter and drawer cabinet from the desk, so I put them out to get a feel for the spacing.

I made a bunch of measurements and got to chopping up the countertops. Then I removed several layers of old flooring across the area. I placed some new counter supports along the wall where the fridge had been, and adjusted the one on the right wall, which was pretty far out of level.

Next I worked on modifying the cabinet. I added extra support under the cabinet, removed three of the drawer slides, cut out the cross members, and added pieces to hold up a cover that’ll go over the remaining drawer. I also cut new pieces to extend the face frame higher since this cabinet is too short.

I measured a wine bottle and cut hardboard to box in an area that’ll be a wine rack.

Then I cut a bunch of 1/4″ thick by 3/4″ wide strips. It took some thinking to figure out how to get going, but making a 3-1/2″ square block to act as my spacer was the key, because that’s how large I wanted the lattice openings. I used glue and pin nails for assembly and then made a second lattice.

I cut strips for face frames and used a 45° to help with placement, making sure to maximize the number of full diamonds available while keeping things centered. This will give us space for nine bottles, which is more than sufficient. I made sure it would work with both lattices since they needed to match.

Then I was able to trim the lattice and attach the frame with glue and pin nails again. I used some of the off cuts around the edges so I could attach the frame to the back strips of the lattice as well.

At this point I had to make sure it was going to work. The width was a great fit!

I spray painted these pieces since it would be much harder to paint them when everything was put together. Everything needed several coats.

The cupboard is going right in front of the new outlet I installed, so I cut access holes.

I cut pieces to extend the face frame higher and made a new left side, since it’ll be somewhat visible next to the beverage fridge. I started securing all the different pieces in place. Then I used wood filler on gaps and nail heads.

After sanding I hauled the unit upstairs and had make a few minor mods to get it to fit. Then I installed the two cabinets and the two counter pieces. I guess I didn’t have the drawer in when I took this picture.

I’m so glad I was able to use the counter and cabinet from the desk. This was a lot of work, but it’s a huge improvement to the usability of our kitchen.

Kitchen Appliance Upgrades

Remodeling a kitchen almost always means new appliances and it was no different for us. I still had the original range from when I bought the house and had replaced the dishwasher once before. Both appliances were white and needed to be replaced with stainless steel.

The dishwasher was fine and so was the oven, but the stove top on this Jenn-Air was terrible. The entire middle was taken up by the vent for the downdraft and the burner inserts (you could swap different attachments in and out) had lips around the edges, so large pans wouldn’t sit flush on the actual burner.

We ordered a new dishwasher and range from Home Depot, waited a little over a month due to a backorder, and I installed them over the course of two days.

They’re awesome and already transformed the look of the kitchen. Look how close the refrigerator and range were there, creating a traffic jam area; this has been a problem for forever. The oven door (old one pictured below) barely cleared the fridge.

The fridge door smacked in to the oven, so it wouldn’t open all the way.

You had to squeeze in between the two appliances to grab something from the cupboard next to the fridge, it was awkward accessing the lazy Susan in the lower cabinet, and it felt crammed while cooking. So I got the idea to move the fridge to the left side of the pantry cabinet, where they was a small unused desk. We’d have to deal with losing our “junk drawers,” but I remedied that by freeing up two drawers in the island.

I emptied the desk and removed it.

Then I cut away some flooring, since it’ll all be removed eventually. I also had to take down the cabinet and trim some of it’s height for the fridge to squeeze in. There was an old under cabinet light which I removed, so I installed a new circuit box in the wall for the wiring and will use a blank cover on it.

Moving the fridge gave us a new space to be creative with. We bought a beverage center from Costco a couple of months ago because our fridge was being overrun with pop, beer, sports drinks, and energy drinks. It had been sitting on the desk, but this will be it’s home. I ran a new outlet for it.

I had already removed the lazy Susan and counter that was to the right since it made it easier to install the range and I need to make some modifications for the makeover coming to this area. Stay tuned!

Simple Kitchen Storage Improvements

I needed a few easy things to tackle over the weekend and since we’ll be losing a little bit of storage space (though gaining some new space) as part of the kitchen remodel, I wanted to make better use of wasted space in some areas.

First up was a small cabinet between the range and dishwasher where we store our baking sheets, cutting boards, and other similar size items. The top 1/3 or so of it was dead space, so I added a couple of shelves made from scrap wood.

Now we have a spot for aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, parchment paper, and ziplock bags. This freed up two entire drawers in the island.

The second task has been on my ideas list for at least six months. The pantry cabinet in our kitchen had three large drawers, spaced way too far apart. There simply are not that many tall food items, at least not the stuff we buy.

With the cabinet being so tall it’s hard to get a feel for the space in this picture, but you can see the top drawer, with our tallest items, had quite a bit of wasted space above it. I decided to leave it where it was for flexibility and because it’s already hard to see what’s in there. I moved the second drawer up 2-1/4 inches and the third drawer up 7-1/8 inches.

This gave me plenty of space to add a fourth drawer. I still had this one with slides sitting in the basement after taking apart a tower of drawers four years ago.

Unfortunately it was too wide, so I had to take it apart and make it narrower. I decided to make it shorter as well to match the others. By chance it was already the same depth.

Something I wasn’t thinking about when I moved the drawers was the areas meant to be handles were now really close to the bottom of the drawer above, begging for smashed fingers and an F-bomb.

I always thought it was an odd design for a drawer pull to be honest. I made a template for the drawer fronts and cut the other drawers to match. I also used a roundover bit on those front edges.

I measured out the placement, installed the drawer slides, and slid in the “new” drawer. Who doesn’t love more storage space? Especially for food!

I’ll paint the drawer fronts when all of the cupboards get painted. A third bonus improvement was a quick fix for this utensils drawer, which has been busted for years. I’m surprised it hadn’t fallen apart completely.

I cut a piece of wood for the corner, added glue and brad nails, and called it good.

All fairly quick and easy projects that improved our kitchen organization.

DIY Square Ceiling Medallion

After making a custom wall sconce for the kitchen, it was time to tackle the ceiling. When I removed the light above the island I learned the hole and circuit box wasn’t centered and there were a lot of screw holes to patch. Nothing is ever easy is it?

I thought I’d build some type of box attached to the stud to cover everything up. Then the light fixture’s mount would attach to the box. It turns out this is actually a thing, called a ceiling medallion.

At its most basic, a ceiling medallion is a decorative element that dresses-up and enhances the area around the ceiling canopy, where the wiring for a chandelier or other fixture enters the ceiling junction box.

Lamps Plus

A quick Google image search shows some examples.

I didn’t have time to wait for an online order to arrive, so I came up with a plan to make my own. It’s purpose would be functional, but I’d add a bit of design. It would be square to cover the holes in my ceiling and match the shape of my light fixture’s mount.

I cut two pieces of plywood. Then I made a bunch of layout marks for the stud, center of the light, section overlaps, etc. I also cut out areas for wiring. Next I drilled holes for lag screws to mount to the ceiling (and recesses in the back of the smaller piece for the heads of those lag screws and washers) and for screws to attach the two pieces together. I also determined where the mounting bracket would go.

After that I cut a bunch of strips of scrap wood for the outside trim with mitred corners and then glued and pin nailed the pieces to the plywood layers. I used wood filler on any holes and caulked the seams.

Then I did a rough sanding, applied a coat of primer, and attached to the ceiling. With four lag screws and washers holding it to the ceiling and 8 screws attaching the two layers, this thing won’t be coming down!

I caulked the seams at the ceiling and between the two layers. I also used wood filler on the four screw holes that would be seen. Some light sanding, another coat of primer, and then I painted when I did the ceiling. The final step was installing the new light.

We also replaced the dining table light and have a replacement of the same style for above the sink, but I need to fix the lower ceiling area there and paint first. The 60 watt bulbs that came with these lights were not bright enough and had too much of an amber tint (original bulbs in the picture above). I bought 100W equivalent LED bulbs, which are much better. Note that the walls will be getting painted.

For comparison here are the old lights.

Living Room Updates

Last week I was finally able to finish the living room project, before going to Puerto Rico last week. My three month sabbatical started, which gave me a lot of time to work on it. This was the final big phase of a living room remodel. Here are the before and after pictures.

Before
After

Actually that’s not a true before picture because there used to be an old A/C unit built in to the wall. Below is the only picture I could find, which shows the cover that was over it.

Last July or August my Dad and I removed the unit and patched up the wall. Then I had three Mitsubishi mini-splits installed around the house. In April, my Dad and brother came down for a weekend. We took out the sliding glass doors, removed the sunroom, and installed a 5×6’ window.

I had a gas fireplace insert installed a month earlier actually. I put black painted plywood up on two walls, and I installed Select Surfaces Barnwood Spill Defense Laminate Flooring from Sam’s Club. It’s really nice flooring and easy to install.

Bought a new loveseat, the Sonos Arc soundbar and Sonos Sub, and two IKEA bookshelf speakers (Sonos compatible). I’ve put several other speakers throughout the house as well and am really enjoying the Sonos system.

I found an awesome mirror on Facebook Marketplace, which had been in an old farmhouse for over 40 years. It’s in really good condition. The room was really starting to come together.

It was several months before I could spend more time finishing the room though, because I had to fix up the outside wall of the house and build the outdoor gym area. During the peaks of the pandemic last year, my Dad collected and processed a lot of awesome pallet wood, which he gave to me.

I sorted through it all to take out the really twisty stuff and to organize it in to wide and narrow boards. Then I jointed an edge of everything, cut the ends square, ripped to two common widths, and did a rough surface sanding. I wanted to bring out more of the wood’s character, while keeping it rough.

Brandi helped me pick out some stains and we stained about a third to a half of the wood.

After seeing how long it took to stain this stuff I bought the HomeRight Super Finish Max HVLP Paint Sprayer. I laid plastic out on the driveway and gave all of the wood three coats of water-based polyurethane on the face. It only took about 10 minutes per coat, which saved hours of time.

The next day I started at the top of a wall and tried to create a random-ish pattern as I used an 18 gauge nail gun to tack boards to the plywood walls.

I continued the process for the second wall. Then I was able to finish the light switch and outlets. I bought a 65″ Sony A80CJ Series 4K OLED TV from Costco and hung it on the wall with a full-motion mount from Harbor Freight. The mount was easy to use and will allow us to keep the TV pointed directly at the loveseat, where we normally watch TV, or rotate it towards the couch when we have company over. The soundbar hangs under the TV with the Sanus WSSATM1-B2 extendable soundbar TV mount, which was also easy to use.

Now I was able to finish off the floor trim behind the loveseat. I also picked up some rustic looking quarter round for the pallet walls, which blends in well.

To frame in the window, I processed some old 5″ wide oak flooring and gave it three coats of the same water-based poly. For the trim, I used some of the leftover narrow pallet wood.

I really love how the room turned out!

One other little touch was building a shelf/cubby/table next to the loveseat. I wanted a place to put the left channel speaker, store laptops, and set drinks or snacks. My original idea was to have a couple of horizontal slots for the laptops. I was discussing the space limitations of the area with Brandi and she had the idea to make vertical slots instead, which worked out really well. Here’s the SketchUp model.

For the top I processed more pallet wood, glued it together, sanded smooth, applied stain, and did three coats of wipe-on poly. For the cubby unit I used whatever scrap plywood I could make work and painted it black. I didn’t care much about the base since nobody will ever see it unless they’re really going up to inspect it.

I’m so glad to have this project finished and we’re loving the way it turned out. I do have one more thing I’m working on for the wall above the loveseat (done now!) and hope to finish this week or next. Then I’ll be spending the rest of my sabbatical to remodel the kitchen and dining room area.

Converting a Sunroom into an Outdoor Gym Area

I had a sunroom that was over 20 years old, leaked, and it’s foundation had been shifting for several years. I never used it, so it was time to go. This project started in April and though we’ve been using the area for weeks, we finished up last night by moving rocks back in place.

The first step was removing the sliding glass door and putting in a big window.

I hired a company to come in with a Bobcat and hydraulic breaker to remove the 7+ inch concrete slab and posts.

After that was out, I was able to fix up the roof line and put siding on the house.

They did do some damage to my gutter drains, so I made a repair there.

Still had to remove a bunch of sand from the area, so I rented a small dumpster and we hauled a lot of buckets.

My inspiration for the project was this setup I saw online. I mapped out my own layout.

I did a rough sloping job and then we dug three holes four feet deep.

Ordered some materials from Menards, and ended up having to get another 10 bags of cement.

My buddy Kevin was a huge help, getting the two 16 foot 6×6 posts installed. Each one weighed about 190 pounds!

Then Brandi and I were able to install the 12 footer on our own. Between the 3 posts we used 1,500 pounds of concrete!

I painted the posts and leveled the ground as best I could.

Put up the bars, top caps, and painted wall ball targets.

Some of the early plans were to get thick rubber playground flooring tiles, but we eventually decided it wasn’t worth the cost. Used pavers instead.

Turned out great and we’ve been using the outdoor space for one or two workouts a week. It looks good and is a much better use of the space, which wasn’t getting used at all before and had become an eyesore. Now I can finish the inside wall of the house!

A Fireplace Insert

I hadn’t started a fire in my living room in over a decade.

It wasn’t an ordinary wood burning fireplace though. My house has a boiler and the previous homeowners had installed a heat recovery system, called Hydro Fyre, which fed the heat from the fireplace back through the boiler and out to the rest of the house. It sounds good in theory, but with the number of pipes running over the top of the fire, it seems like it was a chimney fire waiting to happen. Look at how loaded with soot everything was!

After they removed the old system and cleaned things out, a direct vent gas fireplace insert was installed. I got the Escape model with the black Firescreen front, made by Heat & Glo. The interior panels are a patented FireBrick technology, which produce up to 25% more radiant heat than a metal interior. Even on the lowest fan speed it really throws out the heat! A remote control makes it easy to change five flame heights, four fan speeds, and three levels of ember illumination. It’s a slick unit.

I love how it transformed the look of the entire room. Why did I wait so long to get this?

I’ll call this phase two of a living room remodel after getting Mitsubishi mini-splits last summer. Several more projects are planned whenever an item arrives, which is supposed to ship near the end of April.

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