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!

Black Walnut Live Edge Farmhouse Trestle Dining Table

When I bought my house I eventually got a tall dining table and I’ve hated it for years. It was a bitch to get in and out of the chairs and my legs bumped up against the apron when I sat down. It was definitely getting replaced during the kitchen remodel. After selling the table, we used a card table for a few weeks.

I don’t remember the first time I saw a live edge table, but I’ve wanted one for a long time. I would have loved to build one but as I started working on the kitchen, it was clear time wasn’t going to be on my side. Since the table would be the showcase of the space, I decided to have the top built for me. I found Ron’s Rustic Tables (no web site) on Facebook Marketplace, which showed some awesome work. I give him a call, visited his shop near Wixom Lake, and gave him the job. I love black walnut, especially with some of the sapwood, so that’s what I went with. A few weeks later he delivered this beauty!

It’s 2.5 inches thick, 73 inches long, and averages about 45 inches wide. It’s fucking heavy!

I thought about buying a table base kit online or having one made. We should have this table for a very long time and I wanted some part in it, so I decided to make the base. We’re going for a bit of a farmhouse kitchen vibe, so I went with a trestle base. I took ideas from these free plans as well as some custom tables I found on Etsy and Marketplace and I put my own twist on everything. For chairs we picked up four INGOLF from IKEA.

I still had a stack of the free reclaimed wood I picked up over three years ago and used up most of it for this project. Since there are so many different ways to do a build like this I’m not going to explain everything I did. Here’s a timeline of photos instead.

I bought a biscuit joiner, which I’d been thinking about getting for a couple of years anyway. It was my first time using one and it definitely got broken in. This was a fun project with a lot of challenges, so there were plenty of mistakes, solutions, and learnings. I’m glad I decided to do it myself.

What do you think of the result?

Homemade Christmas Ornament – 2021

Brandi and I are starting a yearly tradition to make an ornament based on something from our year. 2021 was filled with a lot of home remodeling (to her house which is up for sale and our house still being worked on), so I thought it would be neat to make a mini pallet wood wall. It was a team effort and turned out pretty cool.

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.

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.

DIY Wall Sconce/Light

I’ve started to remodel the kitchen and we’re getting all new lights. This one almost never gets used and is in a weird spot, but it had to go.

We determined something like this is generally called a sconce, so naturally went searching for a replacement on Amazon. We found this farmhouse steampunk light we really liked.

I knew I could very easily make something similar. I picked up 3/4″ pipe pieces and a lamp socket from Menards, along with some metallic hammered spray paint.

I used some sandpaper on the end of the light socket (bite for the bonding), wired it up, screwed the pipe pieces together, and attached the light socket to the pipe with epoxy. Then I did several coats of spray paint. I also did some matte clear coat, which I think was after this picture was taken; I wanted to knock down the shine.

We picked out a piece of pallet wood, of course.

After we picked out our new kitchen faucet, which has some bronzed edges, I ended up grabbing some bronze metal paint, which I used on some of the edges, though it’s subtle and hard to see here.

I reused the bolt from the previous light, and put it all in place to figure out where to cut the board.

Then I drilled holes for screws and the mounting bolt. I had to route out some of the back side to make room for the circuit box and brackets sticking out of the wall. I guess I forgot to take a picture. I painted the screw heads and bolt and touched the edges with bronze.

I love how it turned out and can’t wait to see what it looks like after the walls get painted though.

Pallet Wood Art/Shelf With a Hidden Dimmable LED Light

When I first had the idea to do pallet wood walls in the living room, I wanted to create some type of art piece for the wall opposite the TV. I stumbled across this shelf on Etsy when searching for pallet wood art.

After getting rid of my old recliner and lamp (as part of the living room updates) I quickly realized a light was needed for the new loveseat. I thought it would be cool to integrate a light in to my shelf and as a bonus it would be hidden. It would be a fun challenge to work on. Here are the last models I had mocked up in SketchUp before starting on the build.

Some of the inspiration for the light came after watching someone create a reading lamp by using quad row LED strips. I ordered a roll of the LEDs (quite expensive), a power supply, and a board to use as a dimmer. After doing some testing and reading more of the specs, I ended up getting a much beefier board to handle 10 Amps. I was also melting some of the insulation on cheap electronics wires, so I also grabbed a spool of 18 gauge wire.

This initial testing was done using a very simple limit switch, but those are only rated for very low currents and would quickly burn up with the requirements of the LEDs. It took some searching, but I finally found a limit switch that said it could handle 10 Amps of DC. The big controller board for the dimmer and this much bigger limit switch introduced some new challenges to my build.

We picked through the wood leftover from the walls to find an assortment of pieces to use for the backer.

I played around with the arrangement, shortened the length of some boards, and ran everything through the planer to get an even thickness. Then I stained five of the boards and glued the pieces together in several steps.

To make the pull-out part of the shelf I started with a piece of plywood. I cut up scrap sheet metal I’d saved from the drop ceiling light fixtures I removed from my shop several years ago. This would be used behind the LEDs so any excessive heat they produced wouldn’t burn in to the plywood or create a fire hazard. I screwed the metal to the plywood and used some white spray paint on it.

I cut scraps of wood for sides and a divider. Then I cut some slots through them, using the table saw, where the light covers would slide in. I also made a face for this piece, leaving it oversized for now. I attached the sides and front face with glue and pocket hole screws from what will be the top side.

I bought two 10-inch full extension drawer slides and attached them to the top. I filled the pocket holes with plugs and wood filler. Sanding would be done later.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking step of the project was cutting and positioning a scrap piece of 2×4 to the backer boards. This will hold everything together and allow me to attach the surrounding pieces of the shelf. Thankfully I remembered to cut one end short before glueing and screwing (from both sides) it in place. This is where the dimmer knob and board went. I cut a scrap piece of wood (later replaced with thinner plywood) to prop it up a bit so the knob would be easier to handle.

I put a straight bit in my trim router and cut a channel down the back of the longest backer board. This will be where the power cable runs down and behind the loveseat. It’ll never be seen, so I wasn’t concerned with how it looks.

Next I milled up some boards and glued them to make the top and bottom of the shelf. I tinted clear epoxy with black paint and filled in some holes. I also milled and cut a couple of pieces for the sides of the shelf.

I trimmed all of those to the sizes I’d need. Then I cut rabbets in the sides so the edges of the top and bottom wouldn’t be seen and there would be more support. To fit properly around the dimmer switch I had to notch out some areas and drill a hole for the knob shaft.

I was able to do a dry fit and then had to make a bunch of adjustments to make everything fit better. After a shitload of sanding I stained one coat of Red Mahogany.

The next morning I was able to glue and pin nail the bottom and left side to the backer. The top and right will be screwed in place in case I need to take things apart to troubleshoot or replace the electronics.

After giving the stain several days I masked off the dimmer board and used my paint sprayer to apply four coats of water-based poly.

The next day I put in the LEDs and switch, wiring everything up. I had to make one more piece of wood that would trigger the switch when the “drawer” was pulled out.

I painted the wires white. A bit of hot glue was used to keep them in place and provide strain relief. I also used hot glue down the back side to hold the wire in the groove.

The final step was to figure out where to cut in keyhole slots.

This turned out to be a bad idea. The shelf was just too heavy. So I drilled all the way through the cross beam and drove two long lag screws through and in to the studs.

We picked up some cool pieces at the Freeland Antique Mall for decor.

Here’s a night comparison which shows how bright the LEDs can be.

This video shows everything in action.

This project ended up being a lot more work than I expected. I’m really happy with the results though and we now have a one-of-a-kind piece in our living room.

We got a blackout top down bottom up shade made from SelectBlinds for the window, which came in over the weekend. They’re really easy to install. Now the living room is complete and I can focus on the kitchen remodel.

We bought an old milk can at an antique mall for the corner of the room too.

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.

DIY PVC Cap

After taking down the sunroom (still a work in progress, which I’ll eventually post about), this pipe for a downspout was no longer needed. I temporarily covered it with a bucket to keep the critters out.

I needed a PVC cap to fit either the inside diameter of 4.5″ or the outside 5″. None of the local hardware stores carried the right size though; their inventory jumped from 4″ to 6″. I took a scrap piece of treated lumber and made my own cap.

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