Super-Sized Succulents

I’ve been on the lookout for some decor to add to our newly finished bookcases. I knew I really wanted to add plants to the family room, and truly, the whole house, so I started there.

Besides me, Dan, and Phoebe, we don’t have any living items in our home. Honestly, I’m a serial plant killer. I couldn’t seem to keep any plant/herb/flower I was given alive for more than a month or two. I couldn’t figure out the reason. Yes, I watered them. No, I don’t think I watered them too much. Yes, they got sunlight. No, they didn’t get too much sunlight. We’ve had daisies, succulents, and basil, and all have died on my watch. This time, I was determined to succeed.

I ended up going with three different kinds of succulents, which I planted in these cute vases from Target.

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I wish I had taken a better picture, to show you scale. The vases are not small, like you would use for the typical size succulents you think of. The vases themselves are over 5 inches tall, and the succulents were the largest ones I found at Home Depot. I picked three different kinds with different shaped leaves and colors.

The clean lines and modern feel of the planters mixed with the fun succulents look great. I’ve added all three plants to the bookcases, and I really think they look great there. They match, but aren’t too matchy-matchy.

I’ll admit – I’ve caught a bit of the plant bug now. I definitely want to add more greenery around the house, so it’s back to the drawing board to research plants that are easy to keep alive…I mean easy to care for and are good for a beginner.

The Carpet and The Reveal

I originally intended for this to be two separate posts, but after my long break from blogging, I decided you have been in suspense long enough. I give you our (mostly) finished family room.

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We’re so happy with the way it turned out. I’m behind real time in blogging, but much to my surprise (and happiness), from demo to putting furniture back in, the room took a little over 3 weeks. We weren’t quite at the same reno pace when it comes to hanging pictures,styling the bookcases, and adding cabinet hardware. I think we were just so glad to be able to use the room again that we wanted to enjoy it, so the finishing touches waited a bit.

Let’s go backwards a bit in the renovation and start where I left off in my last post – with the carpet. We knew we wanted carpet with a pattern (I thought it would make the room look more like it had a big rug in it than just plain old carpet), but patterned carpet for a reasonable price was hard to find. We found patterns we liked made by Shaw, but that carpet was only sold by small, upscale sellers, which made us concerned it would be out of our price range. While at Costco one day, Dan saw a flyer that Costco sold Shaw carpet through a network of distributors at a discount. We easily found the webpage when we got home, and emailed to find out more information A local seller contacted us immediately.

They brought us a bunch of samples to view at the house, so we’d get a good idea as to how it would look in the space. We found a diamond shaped pattern we liked, and thought would go well with the herringbone tile we had already picked out for the fireplace, so we ordered it on the spot.

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We got a great deal, and in addition, we got 10% of our purchase back via a Costco gift card.

I was nervous that we picked a lighter colored carpet, but felt we couldn’t go with a dark color because of the deep gray colored couch we already had and wanted to keep. I’m happy to report that the carpet was a good choice, and looks great in the room. As for stains, we’ve already spilled a number of things on it, and have no stains! As a bonus, Phoebe’s hair doesn’t seem to be too noticeable on the carpet, which really makes it nice during her shedding season, which is now.

Lately though, I’ve turned my attention toward the bookcases.

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I couldn’t believe that we didn’t have enough decorative items to style the shelves. I started with the golden rule of decorating – trying to use what we had. I pulled a bunch of smaller objects together from throughout the house that I thought might work. That filled about, oh, 3 of the compartments. For the rest, I’ve just kept my eyes open when I’ve been shopping and slowly, I’ve been adding things, taking items out, and re-arranging. To keep things looking cohesive, I’ve been trying to stick to a few main colors, which also appear in the prints we’ve put up on the wall – bright yellow (which is also the color of our curtains), deep blue, and sky blue. I’ve also kept it to dark metallic and wood tones, which are reflected in the butcher block and hardware of the built ins.

We’re not finished yet. We still have more frames and a mirror to hang, I’m on a hunt for new throw pillows, we need a plant or two in the room, and I’m constantly swapping out bookcase items. Even so, I’m really satisfied to see all our hard work pay off. Unlike before, I enjoy being in the room and spending time there. It feels like our space now.

With that, I’ll declare our family room renovation complete!



The Paint

We had only a couple days to paint before the carpet guy came for installation. Obviously, we wanted to get the job done before then, so spills wouldn’t ruin our new carpet. We painted at warp speed to keep the renovation going at a quick pace.

Our big decision was to decide on a color. I had taped up greys, blues, whites, and even a minty color during the planning stage, before any demolition took place. Nothing was decided.

Now, as we find ourselves needing to buy paint, I was super hesitant on selecting a color. I wanted the ability to tape up more paint chips and see what I liked, but I did not have that luxury. For starters, we were only in the room to do work, so I wasn’t spending much time looking at the colors on the wall. Plus, without the new bookcases painted, our carpet, or our furniture in the room, I wouldn’t get a true sense of how the color would look. We ended up holding paint chips up to our couch (which was in another room), our teeny carpet sample, and some spare herringbone tiles to settle on a color.

We got down to two colors – Manhattan Mist, which is the color we have in the rest of our house, and Lunar Surface, which is a shade or two darker than Manhattan Mist. (Both are Behr paints). We still hadn’t made our decision when we got to Home Depot, so I pretty much told Dan to pick and walked away from the paint counter. Dan went with Lunar Surface. I couldn’t wait to see the color up on our walls, so the moment we got home, I painted a large swatch.


With it being late, I didn’t have the best light to decide if I liked it, so after Dan finished painting the first coat of white on the bookcases and mantle, we went to bed and would have a fresh look at the paint in the morning.

I ended up really liking the color, and Dan and I spent the next day painting, painting, and painting – the walls, the bookcases, the mantle, and the ceiling. It took all day, but we got it done.


I really like how the colors turned out. I think Lunar Surface was definitely the right color to go with after all. I was worried it would be too dark, but I think it works well in the space and plays off of the marble herringbone tiles and grey grout, as well as being a contrast to the bright white built ins.

Only one thing stands in the way of being able to move furniture back into the room – the carpet. Next time.

The Tiles

Once the mantle was built out, next came the tiling. Dan and I contemplated a few choices, which I shared with you previously. We ended up going with choice #1 – the marble herringbone tile.  It looks great with the darker grey grout we picked, and the black fireplace doors. The herringbone really pops.


To get some contrast, and save a bit of money, we ended up doing plain subway style marble tiles for the wood nook. We actually found both kinds of tile cheaper at Floor & Decor, so that’s where we bought all the tiles and the grout.

Our contractor spent the next day or so finishing up the mantle, including building the step in front of the fireplace, doing the tile work, trimming out the entire bookcase wall, adding the butcher block to the top of the mantle, and installing the fireplace doors.

Yes, we decided to install doors to our fireplace. It turns out, it is a much cheaper option than the alternative of buying and installing an insert, which we had looked into for fuel efficiency purposes. The doors will help prevent air loss up the chimney by up to 90%, so that should mostly solve the problem of the room becoming so cold when we have to leave the flue open overnight. Hopefully. Plus, I think the fireplace looks more finished with doors on it, rather than it being just a big opening in the wall. I shopped around to find the best price for the doors, and surprisingly, I found the best deal at Walmart. It looks like the price is back up to its normal cost, but when I bought the doors, they were on sale for $210, down from $268, with free standard shipping (I paid $5 for the rush shipping, which was still cheaper than the next best price at any other retailer).

After all that work was finished, our contractor’s role was complete, and here’s what we have to show for it:


Doesn’t it look great?

Next up is where we step in again – the painting.



The Fireplace

Once the bookcases and cabinets went in, it felt like the room was (finally) starting to take shape, and we were making progress with the renovation. Instead of ripping rocks down, shelves were being built – things were going well!

On Day 2, our contractor spent the day building again – this time, the fireplace, including the mantle, surround, and step.


We had pretty specific plans to be sure we could add the wood nook, which would visually center the fireplace. Unfortunately, we hit a snag. The blueprint called for the wood nook to be just 6.5 inches to the right of the fireplace. Well, Dan drew up the plans before we took down all the rocks, so we didn’t know there would be fireplace bricks where we wanted the wood nook to be. Ugh.

To fix this, we moved the wood nook over a few inches to accommodate the extra bricks. It pushed the center of the entire mantle to the right a bit, but we didn’t really have another choice.


Given how much woodwork it was to build everything, this day’s progress was visually the least when I got home. But, I knew we would need the building structure in place before the other things like installing tile and adding the mantle could be done.

Slow and steady progress.

The Bookcases and Cabinets

Now that the rock demolition took place and we had a plan to build, the next steps were to put up drywall, build the bookcases, and install the cabinets.

Dan and his dad spent a whole day and then Dan spent hours each night after work getting drywall up on the walls.


It takes so much time because you have to measure, re-measure, make any needed cuts, and get the drywall hung on the wall. We used a professional to do the tape and mudding, but were able to save some money by getting the drywall up ourselves. Because the bookcases, cabinet, and mantle would be going up on the fireplace wall, we didn’t need our drywall contractor to come before working on this wall. But, if we weren’t adding built ins, we would have needed the contractor to tape and mud that wall too.

Now, as I mentioned in a previous post, the cabinets we bought were standard, unfinished cabinets from Home Depot, which we sanded and painted ourselves. One thing I didn’t mention was the the cabinets are uppers, not bottoms. Why did we do that? We didn’t want drawers in the cabinets. You ever notice that most bottoms have drawers? Plus, we wanted a slimmer profile, which are how uppers are built. Bottoms typically are larger in depth so you have a good space for your counters.

The cabinets went in first, so our contractor could build on top of them. After the cabinets were attached to the wall, the butcher block we had already stained and sealed was cut and placed on top. Finally, each bookcase was built and secured to the cabinets and the wall.


You’ll notice the built ins hug the sides of the room, bordering each adjoining wall. Remember, we’re trying to camouflage the fact that the bookcase is so far to the left, so that little wood nook will be built in just to the right of the fireplace.

To save a bit of cash, we told our contractor to leave the bookcases unpainted. You guessed it – we’ll be painting those ourselves.

So ended Day 1 with our contractors. Next up: building out the fireplace mantle and wood nook.


Our Master (Not Evil) Plan

With all the demo complete, I thought now would be a good time to share our master plan for the room, in blueprint style.

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Big thanks to Dan for putting that together, both as a visual aid for me, and for a guide for the contractor. He even made the blueprint to scale – one inch to every foot!

As you can see, symmetry is key in this design. We had to come up with a way to camouflage the fact that the fireplace was built left of center…by about 18 inches. It was only sort of noticeable when the rocks were up.


But when the wall was down to just boards and the raw fireplace, it was really, really obvious.


Dan and I both agreed this was a big problem, but we had difficulty trying to come up with a solution that didn’t involve knocking out some masonry and physically either moving or enlarging the fireplace itself. I wish I could take the credit, but Dan came up with the plan you see – creating a little nook and building a mantle over both the fireplace and the nook. So, that’s what that rectangular hole is in the blueprint, just to the left of the fireplace. Problem solved.

The rest of the design focuses on clean lines and storage. Cabinets will give us some hidden storage on the bottom (I’m thinking for things like DVDs, games, and extra blankets/pillows), and they will be topped by stained butcher block and custom built in bookcases. The mantle itself will be minimalist and simple – framed out and topped with more butcher block. The face of the hearth will be covered by tile (I showed you a few of our options in an earlier post).

Dan and I bought the cabinets and butcher block ourselves, to have the time to prep them before the contractor needed them. Home Depot had a cabinet sale back in January, so we took advantage and bought the cabinets then. They’re just stock, unfinished cabinets, which was the cheapest option we found. We briefly considered ordering pre-painted, but still stock cabinets, but decided against it when we realized that the white of the pre-painted cabinet would not perfectly match the white we planned ot paint the bookcases, so we thought we’d just save the money on the cheaper cabinets since we would have to paint anyways, not matter the option. We sanded and painted the cabinets, using  the Behr paint color Snowfall, which we have used for all of out painted trim throughout the house, and they were ready for installation.

The butcher block is from Ikea. We got it home ourselves (which I would not recommend!) then stained and sealed it a few days before our contractor started his work. We keep a can of Minwax stain around in the same color our floor is stained, Jacobean, and used that same color for the butcher block, which will tie the same wood tone into the room, even though there won’t be any hardwood.

The next step is to get our contractors into the room so they can install the cabinets and create the built ins and mantle. I’m hoping this next phase will go quickly – letting the professionals do their thing.


Down Comes the Paneling

I’ve found myself way behind on my renovation blog posts. Sorry about that. I had every intention of trying to blog in real time, showing the slow, but steady progress that comes along with a project of this kind. But, when it came time to sit down and write, I thought a better use of my time, at that moment, was to do something reno-related. I think it was the right decision because now, a little over 3 weeks after the rocks came a-tumblin’ down, the room is close to complete.

I’ll start back at the time of my last post. The next step following the demolition was ripping down all the paneling, which was on every remaining wall.

Dan started by removing the door trim and trying to remove the floor trim as well. While he was able to get the door trim off in great shape, so we could reuse it, the floor trim was really difficult to get away from the wall cleanly. He spent a lot of time being really careful, and yet, eventually every floor trim board broke. We’ll just have to replace them at the end of all the renovations.

I think this is the worst the room looked during the entire process – stripped down to a little more than studs.


The dust situation was bad. Really, really bad. It seemed like a futile effort to keep the floors, shelves, etc. free from the fine dust that was everywhere. I think that was the hardest part of this entire renovation to me – feeling like I just couldn’t keep the house clean. We taped plastic up over both entrances to the room, but still, dust found it’s way through it to other parts of the house, even upstairs. And yes, we taped off the air vents and returns.

Unfortunately, the dust lingered throughout the renovation. But, the carpenter and drywall guy started work soon after I snapped this photo, and the room began taping shape rather quickly. Maybe it’s because there was nowhere to go at this point but up?


Renovation Plans in Warp Speed

Our slow and steady renovation plans got a big jolt last week. Our contractor’s availability changed, and he asked if we could move up our plans. You know, from late April/May to next week. No biggie.

We were always planning to do the demolition part of the job ourselves, to keep from having to pay for a contractor’s time for work we knew we could do. We asked ourselves if we thought we could get all the stones form the wall down, remove all the paneling, get all the materials together, in a week. Challenge (very hesitantly) accepted.

We tried to set daily renovation goals for ourselves, starting this past Saturday. First task at hand was buying some of the materials we needed, which mainly was the tiles and grout. We decided to go with the herringbone pattern, which was #1 in my previous tile post, and as a bonus, we found it for cheaper at another store. Task number 1, complete!

While buying tile was pretty easy, task number 2 was not. We removed all the stones from what I have not-so-affectionately been calling the rock wall. We started prepping by taping plastic at the doorways of the room, to help keep the dust from heading all over the house. Here’s a before photo as I’m getting the plastic in place.


Then, we put on ear, eye, and respiratory protection and went to work. Dan used a kind of jackhammer tool to chip away at the mortar holding the rocks together. It was a slow start, but we eventually moved into a good groove of getting the rocks out of the wall and carrying them out of the room for disposal. We were lucky enough to have two extra sets of hands helping us – Dan’s mom and dad – which really helped speed up the process. Without them, it would have easily taken us another day of hard work.


Even with help, it took a full day of backbreaking work to get those rocks down. And we did it!


Just as I was about to head upstairs to get in the shower, I noticed the plastic barriers didn’t do much to stop the spread of dust around the house. In fact, my kitchen floor looked like no one had cleaned it (because no one had lived in the home) for many years. I guess we didn’t do that great of a job keeping the plastic in place. Don’t make that mistake – it took forever to get the house even somewhat clean again.

We still have lots to do this week, so we’ll get a bit ahead in real time than I can keep up with blogging. I’ll do my best to share updates as quickly as I can – once I wash all the dust out of my hair.

When (Fireplace) Plans Change

It’s been over a month since any family room renovation updates. I wish I could tell you that in that time, we completed the entire project and are ready for the big reveal. But, I can’t. This past month has consisted of drawing up specific blueprints for the fireplace and bookcase wall, making some tile decisions, trying to decide on flooring, and figuring out what to do with our fireplace. Lots of smaller decisions, but no real changes to document here.

I promise – I’ll get to telling you all about those items, but today, I wanted to share our fireplace saga.

Our fireplace is a standard masonry fireplace. It’s basically a hole in the wall that connects to the chimney. There’s no gas hook up, fireplace doors, or anything fancy.

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With that basic fireplace came some issues:

  1. Starting fires is quite a process. With gas fireplaces, you can literally flip a switch and have your fireplace running. With ours, you have to get kindling going, then constantly feed the fire or it will go out.
  2. You have to leave the flue open until the fire is completely out, or you’ll have a room full of smoke. The biggest issue this creates is that we have to leave the flue open overnight, to ensure all the embers have burned out. When we do that, it allows the cold winter air to come down the flue and reside in our family room. As you can imagine, it is pretty chilly the next morning.
  3. The fire provides some heat, but only if you’re sitting in the family room with it. The rest of the house doesn’t really benefit from having the fireplace going.

Dan proposed that a fireplace insert would solve most of our problems. An insert is basically a big metal box that you put inside the existing fireplace. Basically, the fire would be in the insert and fans in the box efficiently push heat out into the room. The insert would allow the fireplace to be a main source of heat not just for the family room, but for the whole first floor of the house. Pretty crazy, right? An insert would also allow us to prevent having a crazy cold room the next morning, because the cold air would be trapped in the insert itself.

Sounds good right? It did to us. So, we visited a fireplace store. We met with a super helpful employee there, and she priced everything out for us. Any guesses as to what our estimate came to, including the price of the insert itself and installation? Friends, when a price tag of over $6,000 came out of her mouth, I didn’t believe it. How could it be so expensive? We thanked her and left to talk through our options.

After the sticker shock we experienced, Dan and I talked about our options. We both agreed the benefits of the insert were great, but they didn’t solve one of the three main issues we had – the work required to start up a fire. The insert would be wonderful for out heating bill and the coziness of the room, assuming we built a fire regularly. Since we’ve lived in our home, we’ve had exactly two fires going. As the first one home most nights, if we did try to have nightly fires, I knew I would be the one to get it started. I also knew this wasn’t super likely to happen in the rush of getting home, letting the dog out, and getting dinner started. Plus, I didn’t love the look of inserts, as they do affect the overall look of the fireplace due to their large metal fronts. After weighing all of this, we decided against the insert.

We still agreed that of all the issues, the biggest one was the cold room in the morning. We refocused on trying to solve that problem, and came to the idea of installing doors on the fireplace. With some research, we discovered that having doors will lower the cold air coming into the house by around 90%, which surprised us in a good way. It seemed like that would make the difference we were looking for, so we started pricing out doors. Our favorite, which coincidentally was the least expensive, are these simple nickel doors from Menards. And at around $270, this door option is definitely more budget friendly than an insert, and will give us the solution to our biggest gripe about our current fireplace. We will being installing the doors ourselves with the materials that come with them, so here’s to hoping it’s as easy as the product description says it is.

We’re on to step 5 of 1,038,206 in planning and executing this renovation. Yay!