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.

IMG_6029 (640x439)

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.

fireplace tile

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.

0102161620 (640x360)

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).

IMG_6181 (640x427)

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.

IMG_7118 (640x427)

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.


The Dining Room – Revealed!

Well, folks, I took some photos of the dining room over the weekend. I’ll waste no time – here’s the reveal.

IMG_9476 (640x427)

No big surprise really, I suppose. I showed you our in-between stage, where the room stalled for about two years, shared my dilemma in trying to choose a fabric, and then walked through the reupholstering process and how the chairs look today. The only new item you haven’t seen before is the new lighting, which is the Mobile Pendant from West Elm, in chrome.

I really do love the way the blue and orange look together. I had my doubts on whether we chose the right fabric as we were reupholstering the cushions. The rug is so bold that I thought we would be better off with a subdued, plain fabric for the chairs. But, I realized that instead of trying to keep the chairs neutral to off-set the rug, why not lean into having patterns in the room? The white curtains and light wall color lay a neutral pattern for the room, and the rug and chairs kick up the color a notch.

IMG_9477 (640x427)

Seeing all the parts of the room come together has been really satisfying. I especially love all the new life we breathed into such an old dining room set. I always knew we would replace the small table we had in the apartment, and I’m so glad we now have a table and chairs with family history.

Mod-Inspired Chairs

The chairs are done!

Cut straight to the before photo – nice photobomb, Pheebs.

IMG_2051 (640x480)

And now the after. After much back and forth, we decided on this retro-looking orange and white print.

IMG_9375 (640x427)

(Sorry for the dark-ish photo. The light was not cooperating.)

The fabric came from these curtains from Kohl’s. I ended up scoring them for about $28 and free shipping! They’re thick and were perfect for the job. I know, after looking through all those fabric choices, I ended up choosing patterned curtains.

I considered doing a step by step tutorial to show you how to reupholster a chair cushion, but with so many awesome tutorials out there already, some of which I consulted for this project (thanks Pinterest!), I decided it would be better to link to the tutorial I found the most helpful, which is from DesignSponge. My only changes were that I didn’t add cotton batting between the foam and bunting, and I didn’t add fabric to the bottom of the seat either.

As for materials, we were able to recover the wood from each seat, so no extra expense there. Some of the wood was coming apart a bit, so we used wood glue and a vice to push the wood back together. We let the glue dry overnight with the vice attached.

Once we took the cushions apart, it became clear we would need to replace the foam padding. Thirty years of sitting in these chairs made the foam thin and turned some of it into a fine dust. I knew foam was expensive, and my fears were confirmed when I saw each yard of foam was $34.99 at JoAnn’s. You can find somewhat cheaper options online, but we wanted the foam quickly, and not have to wait for shipping. We took a ride to JoAnn’s to see if there were other options, and we found these NuFoam pads. They were a little bigger than we needed, but thought there would be less waste in purchasing the individual foam pads (so we wouldn’t be paying for excess foam we wouldn’t be using). Plus, we had a coupon for 25% off our purchase.

We did run into an issue – there were only four of those foam pads at the store. Not wanting to go to another Joann’s at 8pm, and, not wanting to pay for a half yard of foam, we got creative and bought two foam seat pads that were a bit smaller than we needed. We used extra foam from the bigger pieces to cover the whole seat. Hey – you do what you have to do!

For the batting, since it was 90 inches across, we were able to get by with only 1.5 yards. Batting isn’t super expensive, so if we messed up, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to buy more.

Following the tutorial, and having done a similar upholstering job on the built in seating for the kitchen, we started by gluing the foam to the seats, using Liquid Nails. Once dry, we covered the seats in batting, using a staple gun to secure it. I ironed the curtains to get out all the wrinkles, and we laid it out on the ground flat. Because our fabric had a pattern, we did our best to make sure it matched up the same on each chair. Then, just cut the fabric into squares (leaving a few inches on each side to attach the fabric to the cushion underneath with staples.

Once all the cushions were done, Dan went and sprayed scotch guard on all the seats, just to give the fabric some extra protection against spills and stains. We let them dry in the garage overnight.

Cost wise, this reupholster project wasn’t as cheap as I had hoped it would be. Here’s a rough breakdown:

Fabric: $28

Batting: $6 (1.5 yards X $7, then 40% off)

Foam: $53 (the bigger pieces cost a few dollars more than the smaller ones, then 25% off)

Staples, wood glue, Liquid Nails, staple gun, scotch guard spray: free (had it all in our stash)

So, the total cost was around $87, or about $14.50 per chair. If we hadn’t had to replace the foam, this project would have been much cheaper, to the tune of less than $6 per chair. We did save a bit on the fabric though. The thick upholstery fabric was at least $20/yard, and I think we would have needed at least 3 yards. Still, the cost was worth it. The dining set has sentimental value to me, it matches the house well, the lines on it are gorgeous, and I loved bringing new lift to 30+ year old furniture.

I had planned to show you the mostly finished dining room now, but unfortunately, Daylight Savings Time has been foiling my plan to photograph the room in natural light (the best light to capture room shots). It’s been too dark each night I’ve gotten home from work this week to get good lighting. Frustrating. So, over the weekend, I’ll be sure to take some good photos to show you how the room has come together including big updates, like the reupholstered chairs, and smaller ones, like how I styled the freshly painted credenza.