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!

Let’s Talk Tile

What really solidifies a home renovation for you? For me, it’s a trip to Tile Outlet, naturally.

We wanted to get an up close look at the kinds of tiles we could get for the fireplace. I know, the tile isn’t the first thing we’ll need a decision on to move the renovation ahead. But, the tile store visit is the next thing we did. Renovations aren’t completely linear, and my goal is to share our real world renovation activities with you as they happen. Hold on for a long and winding renovation ride.

As we walked in to the store, we were pretty set on using marble. We were just trying to scope out all the shapes we could choose.

We looked at many options, which I’ve made into this handy pic, to refer to easily as we continue through the planning process.

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I walked in the most interested in the herringbone pattern (#1) from my “Stay Golden” mood board, so I made a beeline for it in the store. You can see it on the top left. I was surprised that I was underwhelmed by the tile. It was OK, but it didn’t knock my socks off. And at $17/sq foot, it was a bit more expensive than I anticipated.

Dismayed, Dan and I began walking the aisles. We were both drawn to marble hexagon tile (#2), which we did not expect. The shape could work well, especially for our “Shapely” room. At $10/sq foot, it was more budget friendly.

Nearby, we saw the subway style marble tiles (#3), and liked them. They’re simple, and we both liked the clean, even lines, which would echo the clean lines of the whole bookcase. This one was $10/ sq foot too.

We paused at this sort of geometric marble tile pattern (#4), that reminds me of a kind of Greek key style but pretty quickly discarded it from contention. We thought it would be too busy in the space. At $10/sq ft, it would make a cool kitchen backsplash.

We kept on walking and saw the lantern style tile (#5). We have a similar shape in our upstairs bathrooms, which we like, but I feel like this tile might feel dated quickly. The master bathroom’s lantern tiles were a harvest gold before we completed our $125 bathroom makeover, and they felt super ’60s. The tile was $12/sq ft, and we didn’t like it better than some of the simpler patterns, so this tile might be out of contention.

Our final stop was one we didn’t expect – grey penny tile (#6). It’s not marble, which is what we set out to look at, but I think we both liked the light grey color. It would be a way to add a bit of soft color, which would contrast an all white fireplace and bookcases, should we decide to go that route. At $6.50 sq/ft, it is the least expensive we’ve encountered this far.

So, after our visit, we’re left with some great choices to consider, but we’re going to hold to make a final decision on tile for now. We’re still tinkering with the blueprints, including the dimensions, of the new fireplace/bookshelves wall, so we’ll need to take the amount of tile we need into account before settling on a specific tile, keeping the amount of tile needed (for both budget reasons and aesthetic reasons) in mind.


In the Mood to Talk About the Family Room?

Step 1 when Dan and I renovate? Pin. A lot.

I’m a visual person in that I need to see something before I can fully understand how something will look. I’m just not great at imagining how a certain tile will look on the floor or a paint color will look in the room without seeing a sample.

That’s why mood boards are such an important step to me in renovation planning. Even if you are able to visualize a finished room before any work begins, I would still highly recommend creating a mood board. They allow you to get the whole picture in one graphic. You don’t need to know the specific lamp or rug you want when making a mood board, but it’s easy to swap those things in and out of the board, to give you a good idea of how it will look in the room without trekking to the store and back.

I typically start my mood boards by finding images of the items in the room that I know will be staying. For example, we have a fairly new couch in the family room, and we just received those awesome prints, so I was sure to include them in every mood board.

I played around with three different looks – all similar, but with some key differences.

I started with this look, which we call “Modern Mint”, as Choice #1 (Note: I am presenting these in no particular order).


The paint color is the brightest we’ve looked at. Given the room is pretty dark, with only a glass sliding door letting light in, I thought the cheery, minty color would really brighten things up. Because of such a bold color on the walls, the rest of the pieces in the room are pretty neutral, though not boring. The fireplace and built ins are a pure white (to offset the walls), and the fireplace tile is a white and grey marble, which are tones we have throughout the house, to tie it all in together. The smaller color pops in yellows and blues would come from pillows,  a throw, and the posters. The silver accents, like the table, chair legs, and mirror, add more brightness and the glass lamp keeps the room feeling airy. One of the decisions we still have to make is the flooring. In this option, I chose hardwood and would cover it up with a mostly white and grey rug.

We’re calling Choice #2 “Shapely”.


Right away, the geometric shapes in this room grab you – the chair, the end table, the ikat pillows, geometric throw, candle holders, and carpet are all very much of that MCM era. The walls are a very light and neutral grey to allow for the color in the bookcases, which will really draw your eye to the bookshelves/fireplace focus of the room. The fireplace is simple, with clean lines and an unfussy, single piece of stained wood mantle. The simplicity shows in the fireplace tile as well, with small, rectangular marble tiles mirroring the clean lines of the fireplace itself. The flooring in this option is carpet, in a pretty, subtle geometric pattern in a light aqua tone.

Last, but certainly not least, Choice #3 is called “Stay Golden”.


This is the board that I think is most outside my typical decorating style. I’m not usually one to choose gold tones over silver, but I’m drawn to the contrast between the dark grey fireplace and shiplap wall behind the TV, and the sophisticated glamour  contained in the gold pillows, votives, mirrors, and side table. In some ways, this option is the most classic, with white walls, and mostly neutral tones, but it also has the most varied patterns/textures – clean book shelf lines, triangles in the pillows, curved lines in the mirrors, side table, and carpet (admittedly, you can’t see the carpet well), and of course, the fluffy blanket. The color in the room mostly comes from the lamp and prints, which balances out the neutral white walls and grey fireplace and couch. The flooring in this option is carpet, in a bolder shade of grey, with a curvy pattern to match the mirrors.

I’m confident things will change as we progress in the remodel, and more than likely, elements of each option will make it into our final choices. But for now, this is where we are.

I really like them all, so one doesn’t stand out at the absolute winner to me. If you have any thoughts, I’m all ears!

New Year’s Renovation Plan

Happy New Year’s! I hope you had a lovely New Year’s Eve and a great start to 2016.

My 2016 began with this.

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Yes, after some much needed time off from home renovations, Dan and I are continuing on with remodeling the house. I’ve already shared our kitchen, dining room, master bath, guest room, and hallway updates, and now we’re moving on to the room where we spend most of our time – the back family room.

When we moved in, here’s what the room looked like (please excuse the mess from moving).

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There was wood paneling on 3 of the walls, beige carpet, and a “feature” rock fireplace wall. I use the term “feature” quite loosely.

We didn’t like the way the room looked, but we knew that we would be able to transform it into a space we love…once we had some time.With the kitchen remodel, as well as removing all the wallpaper, staining the floors, and painting, we only had a little bit of time to give to the family room before moving in. We decided to paint the paneling, and leave the rest as it was for the time being. Since we’ve given the room a coat of paint and put actual furniture in the room, it’s looked a lot better while we focused on other projects.

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In my eyes, definitely an improvement, but we weren’t quite to “love it” status just yet. We’re back to working on getting there.

I debated whether to wait to blog about the renovation until we made significant progress (or at least demo’d the rock wall), but decided it was better to blog updates as they happen. Rooms aren’t overhauled in a day, and to show you just a before and after felt like it would make the process seem short and painless. Anyone who has renovated their house knows that is absolutely not the case. I wasn’t able to show the slow process of most of our previous renovations (the kitchen especially) because we were in emergency mode, and I used every free moment to work and not to write. This time, I’m going to share our progress as it happens, so expect some family room updates along with some of the crafts, baked treats, and dinners I regularly post.

Don’t be surprised if my “here’s the finished look” post doesn’t come about until March. Hopefully.