Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How to Finish Butcher Block Countertops (with gel stain)

I've been planning to do this post for the longest time, but then I got busy with work and it never happened. So now that things have slowed down (a little), I'm finally getting around to doing it. So I've been wanting to show you how I finished my butcher block countertops. If you haven't seen it already, you might want to take a peak at the whole kitchen makeover which you can find here.

So first a little background. As I mentioned in the earlier post, everything in the kitchen is from Ikea. I had been planning to get oak butcher block, but when it came time to do the kitchen, the oak was out of stock. I didn't have time to wait for them to restock, because the contractor was ready to go and it was now or never. So I ended up with the beech countertops. Here's what they looked like.

I was really hoping for something darker that would be a nice contrast with the white cabinets and backsplash. I knew I'd have to finish them off in some way, but I wasn't sure how to go about it. I did a lot of research online. Many people recommended Waterlox, but here's the deal. The counters were already installed. I would have had to finish them in place and everything I read about Waterlox suggested that this was a project to do in the garage, not the kitchen. So I started looking into alternatives. Hey, how about stain and poly? But, one of the things that stumped me was the whole food-safe-finish issue. Then I started thinking it through. I don't prepare or eat food directly on the counters. Your average dining table is finished with stain and poly. How is this any different?

So then I started researching the stain and poly angle. The problem with beech is that is a soft and porous. I was worried about the stain looking blotchy. I finally decided to use a pre-stain conditioner, followed by gel stain, and finishing off with a wipe on poly.

The process was relatively simple.
  1. I sanded the countertops using a palm sander. Then I wiped everything down with a slightly damp rag to get rid of any dust or debris. 
  2. I applied the pre-stain conditioner with a foam brush and let it dry according to the directions.
  3. Then I brushed on a coat of  gel stain in Walnut. Now if you've never used gel stain, you should know it's different than other kinds of wood stain in that it doesn't soak into the wood as much as other stains. It's more like a translucent paint than a true stain. Do one section at a time and wipe off the excess before it dries.
  4. After letting the stain dry for 24 hours, I put on 3 coats of clear gloss wipe-on poly, letting each coat dry 12 hours.

The finish has held up beautifully. I highly recommend this method.



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Quick Furniture Makeover

I was looking for a new side table for the living room and was just about to head over to my favorite consignment store to see what I could find when I remembered I had an old table stashed in the basement. It was...humble to say the least and it's had a rather tough life.


We got the table because a previous owner had left it behind in our old house. No idea how old it is, but based on the rest of the furnishings that were left behind, I'd say it's from the 1940's or 1950's. We used it for the next 14 years and then it went through two hurricanes (Irene & Sandy), which flooded the whole house (2 inches from Irene and 2 feet from Sandy). Anyway, when we moved to the new house, it came with us, but it just ended up in a corner of the basement with the rest of the odds and ends. I thought it could use some TLC.

First, I sanded off the old finish on the tabletop. This took a while because the surface was so damaged. I mean I'm all for the distressed look, but this was BAD. There were rings from people putting down glasses without coasters, so I had to sand way down until I ended up with a fresh surface.

Looking better already! Then I stained the top a medium brown stain. I couldn't believe how good the wood looked once it was stained. When the stain was dry, I added two coats of Wipe On Poly in a satin finish.

I finished the legs with Annie Sloan Old White and then a wash of Paris Gray to tone it down a bit. A little light distressing and a coat of wax and I was done.

So this old table has a completely new look. And it works just fine in the living room!


Monday, September 5, 2016

Kitchen Reveal--Before & After

Well I finally got around to taking photos to show you how the kitchen remodel came together. To say that the original kitchen was awful, does not fully do it justice. My husband audibly groaned when he first saw it. I hated everything about it. It was dark, grimy, and inefficient. The cabinets were falling apart, the appliances didn't work, and the decor was not exactly my taste.

And here's how it looks now!

Here's another before shot:
And the after:

The total cost for labor and materials was around $11,000. The cabinets, counters, appliances, sink, faucet, island, and bar stools are from Ikea. I waited for one of their twice a year kitchen sales, so it was all 20% off. Huge savings! The counters are birch butcher block. I finished them myself after they were installed. I'll post that tutorial soon. I had the grimy tile backsplash replaced with beadboard panels. So perfect for a beach house and so easy to keep clean! The flooring is Reclaimed Chestnut laminate by Bruce Flooring. The walls are painted Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore. The trim is Super White also by BM. The pendant over the sink is from Pottery Barn Kids. The ceiling fan, which reminds me of a boat propeller, is from Home Depot. The roman shades are from Overstock.com. The yellow ware bowls are vintage and I've had them forever. The green vase with the cooking utensils and the green container by the sink are from the Brimfield flea market.The locker basket holding my cookbooks is from Old Lucketts Store in Leesburg, VA. The stand mixer is Kitchen Aid purchased on Amazon. The beach glass vase on the island is a DIY project. You can find the tutorial here.

There was almost no structural work done because I kept the original layout. This helped keep the costs down, too. The only change that was made was to replace the window to the right of the dishwasher with a smaller one so that the cabinets could extend all the way to the wall (they originally ended about a foot away). The window over the sink looks bigger, but it's not. I just hung the shade up near the ceiling to disguise the fact that the window is only about 15" high. I used 40" tall wall cabinets to bring them up to the ceiling, eliminating the soffit and giving me lots more storage space.

I'm so happy with my new kitchen! What a change! Here's one more look of the before & after.

TDC Before and After

Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to Hide an Ugly A/C Unit

 Air conditioning! In my opinion, it's one of the greatest inventions of the modern world. Except for the way those gigantic outdoor units look. Now if you're lucky, your A/C unit is located in some obscure part of your yard where no one sees it. Me? Not so lucky. Ours ended up on our front porch.

I honestly couldn't stand looking at it. I wanted to hide it, but I could figure out a way to screen it that didn't look worse than the unit itself. So I decided to build something to go around it that could be easily removed if the unit needed to be serviced, but would integrate well with the rest of the porch. So here's what I came up with.

You can hardly notice it now.

I used cedar lumber and pressure treated lattice. I found some of the lumber at Home Depot, but I had to go to a lumber yard for the rest. The materials cost around $200. You could also build this from all pressure treated lumber which would cost substantially less. It took me several hours to build. I had the lumber cut when I purchased it, so that saved some time. I just needed help when I was attaching the side sections to the front (it's hard to hold and attach at the same time). Otherwise I built the whole thing on my own. I built this 2 years ago and have just let it weather. I think it's held up quite well. It makes a great plant stand as well as a spot to put things down as you unlock the door.

I've included a complete tutorial, but please note if you want to build something like this, don't use my measurements. Measure your own unit first and adjust accordingly. It's also important not to build it too tight around the unit. You need to ensure there's plenty of airflow.  So here goes!


(2) 8’ long cedar 2x4’s (each cut into two 40” pieces)
(3) 8’ long cedar 1x4’s (each cut into two 38.5” pieces)
(2) 6’ long cedar 1x4’s (each cut into one 40” piece & one 21.5” piece)
(3) 8’ long cedar 1x2’s (each cut into two 38.5” pieces)
(1) 6’ long cedar 1x2 (cut into one 31.5” piece & two 18.5” pieces)
1 sheet of square pressure-treated lattice (cut into one 40” x 31.5” piece & two 40” x 18.5” pieces)

Additional supplies:
Self-tapping exterior deck screws
Drill or electric screw driver
Sander or sand paper
Measuring tape
Carpenter’s square

Important! Before beginning, measure your own unit. It may not be the same size as mine, so adjust the size accordingly. This is built like a table that will slide over the A/C unit. It should not be permanently attached because the unit may need to be serviced and it’s important that there is access.  

 Step 1: Make the front section (see diagram below). 
1.     Lay down 2 of the 2x4 pieces approximately 40” apart (with the 4” side down). Place one of the 40” 1 x 4 pieces across the 2x4’s so that the top of the 2x4’s are ¾” below the top edge of the 1x4 and the ends of the 1x4 extend ¾” beyond the sides of the 2x4’s. Attach the 1x4 to the 2x4’s making sure to keep everything square and the angles at 90°.
2.       Flip this over so the 1x4 is on the bottom. Attach a 38.5” 1x2 to each 2x4, making the top of the 1x2 flush with the top of the 2x4’s.
3.       Attach the 31.5” piece of 1x2 to the bottoms of the 38.5” 1x2’s. It should be flush with the bottom of the 2x4’s. You’ve now made a square.
4.       Attach the larger piece of lattice to the 1x2’s.

Step 2: Make the side sections (see diagram below).
1.       Lay down a 2x4 piece so that the 2” side is down. Place a 21.5” piece of 1x4 perpendicular to the 2x4 (i.e. forming an “L”) with the top edge of the 1x4 ¾” above the end of the 2x4 and attach.
2.       Flip this over so the 1x4 is on the bottom. Attach a 38.5” 1x2 to the 2x4, making the top of the 1x2 flush with the top of the 2x4.
3.       Attach another 38.5” 1x2 to the other end of the 1x4 so that it’s 1.5” in from the end of the 1x4 and ¾” below the top edge of the 1x4.
4.       Attach one of the 18.5” pieces of 1x2 to the bottoms of the 38.5” 1x2’s. It should be flush with the bottom of the 2x4. You’ve now made a square.
5.       Attach one of the smaller pieces of lattice to the 1x2’s.
6.       Now repeat these steps to make the other side, but remember, it should be a MIRROR IMAGE of the first side since one side will be the left side and the other will be the right side.

Step 3: Attach the sides to the front.
1.       With the front section face down, align one side section with the front section so that the 2x4 of the side section is on the opposite side from the 2x4 of the front section. You may need a helper for this part. Attach the 1x4 and 1x2 of the side section to the 2x4 and 1x4 of the front section.
2.       Repeat this for the other side section. You should now have a table (without a table top). Stand it up so the 1x4’s are on top.
3.       Take the remaining 40” piece of 1x4 and use it to connect the back of the side sections so that the top edge of the 1x4 is flush with the top edges of the 1x4’s of the side sections.

Step 4: Make the table top & finish up.
1.       Place the 38.5” pieces of 1x4 onto the lip formed by the tops of the 2x4’s and the top of the lattice. They should be even with the top edges of the 1x4’s on the front and side sections. There is no need to secure these and this will make it easier to access the top of the A/C unit if needed.
2.       Now place the whole thing over your A/C unit. Done!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Warmer Welcome: Front Entrance Makeover

This year, we've started to focus more attention on the exterior of our house. We spent the past two years working on a major overhaul of the interior and ended up neglecting the outside. We're making up for lost time now. We redid one of the decks, had the whole house repainted, and built a firepit. More on those projects coming up. But today I want to focus on the front door. When we moved in, there wasn't much going on with the front entrance. It was actually hard for people to notice it. We had a lot of people knocking on our slider because they didn't see the front door. I wanted to create a more attractive front entrance that would not be overlooked.

This is what it looked like when we moved in. Not bad, but pretty blah. Easy to miss.

Here's how the front entrance looks like now:

We still have more to do. The deck and steps will need to be replaced, but this is such a big improvement. First, we replaced the glass door with something that had more presence. We chose a fiberglass door with a divided light at the top. This provided more privacy, but still let in some light.

We had the house repainted in BM Stonington Gray with white trim. Just painting the trim around the door did wonders. The door itself is BM Patriot Blue. I think it makes a nice contrast with the gray siding, but also looks bright and fun. Then I added some details.
A new door mat from (Ikea $7.99):

A scallop shell door knocker (amazon.com $45):

 A woven twig basket for seasonal decor (amazon.com $15):

Then I replaced the existing light fixtures with these traditional onion globe lights. They really say coastal New England to me!

I also worked on adding some more landscaping including ornamental grasses, hydrangeas, roses, and lavender.

Finally, I built a surround for the air conditioner which unfortunately ended up on our front porch.The surround is not anchored to the porch so it can be easily removed if the unit needs servicing.

I think these changes made a big impact. And people don't come knocking on our slider anymore!