2019 Project Roundup & M.V.P.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

I cannot believe 2019 is already coming to a close. This year has been a whirlwind for our little family. Much of this year was focusing on healing after the loss of our baby in April, and pouring our energy into working on our home with our unexpected free time.

We accomplished twice as much in our home as we expected to, so I thought it'd be fun to round up everything we did this year and share our MVP for 2019 -- Most Valuable Project!

1) We painted our house! Thanks to an unexpected windfall last spring, we were able to fast track having the exterior of our home painted. This was something we wanted to do as soon as we saw the home, but thought it may be a few more years before we could afford to it. We were so thrilled when we learned we could afford it, and decided to go ahead and do it. I don't think any project we've done in this home so far has made it feel more OURS than this one!

2) We finished off our master bedroom. This was a slow project -- we started in 2018 with scraping the popcorn ceilings, removing the 35 year old carpet and installing something new, but we never painted or decorated. We had water stains, dirt, paint, and holes in all the walls and it looked like a hot mess. We upgraded to a king size bed (hallelujah!), painted the walls, added decor, and really made this space a retreat for us. I don't think we realized how much we both needed that until it was done!

3) We did the same for our guest bedroom. Nothing like having guests come to visit to get your ass in gear! We had the same situation in our guest room as our master. We had previously scraped the popcorn, added a ceiling fan, and installed new carpet, but the walls were covered in water stains and paint. It needed to be finished off. We sold the furniture we had in here, moved our old queen bed into this room, and brought in new decor to complement the fresh paint. It feels so cozy and welcoming now.

4) We re-made our powder room downstairs. This all started with a toilet that wouldn't flush, and things escalated (as I've been known to do!) This was one of my most risky projects to date, but it really paid off and I learned so much. It's one of my favorite spaces now.

5) We removed & reinstalled a slate patio. Oh boy, if we had an award for absolute least favorite project ever, it would be this one. This took months to finish, in the hot NC summer (bad call on our part), and was backbreaking work. We saved about $6000 by doing the work ourselves, but damn was it tiring! The before and afters are incredibly gratifying, but I can't help but curse a little under my breath every time I look at it :)

6) We did a ton of landscaping. Well, Spenser did. He removed 6 car sized hedges from our front entry, and planted a beautiful Japanese Maple tree in it's place, making the front of our home look SO much more inviting. He re-seeded and re-leveled our front yard to improve drainage, installed a beautiful border around our mailbox, and went to T O W N on some really hard to remove Nandina. We have a ton more work to do with landscaping here, but this was a great start that really boosted our curb appeal.

7) We renovated our master bathroom! This was another unexpected update we had not planned to do in 2019, but we are soooooo glad we did. This project has improved the daily function of our lives x1000. Having two sinks to get ready in, plenty of off the counter storage, and a clean, bright space seriously makes our mornings and evenings so much more peaceful. I really can't explain why it affected us so much, but it truly does. It feels like going into a peaceful spa every time we use it.

So out of these projects, which one is our MVP for 2019? 

Without question, the winner is...

Our master bathroom! 

The makeover in this room has been so valuable to us for a few reasons:

We each have so much more space to get ready and can actually share the bathroom and use it at the same time, we doubled our storage space by adding the recessed medicine cabinets, the overall look is so much more "us" than the red and beige look before, and more importantly, it's genuinely cleaner. The previous owners were so sloppy with painting that there was hair in all of the walls, and it just looked dirty and gross all. the. time. We are so happy we took this budget friendly project on and are excited to finish the LAST bathroom in the house in early 2020!

Happy New Year everyone! We will be sharing our 2020 goal list soon!

Our Master Bathroom Renovation

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

It started with a paint swatch. I was just going to paint the walls. And then I found a leaking toilet and I blacked out and woke up holding tile samples at Lowes. Things escalated quickly.

Our master bathroom was not a project we were planning to do in 2019. Or in 2020, actually. In fact, we had been budgeting and saving and planning to renovate our guest bathroom. We even had the contractors out to measure for a bathtub, give us an estimate for a new counter, etc.

But after thinking about it, we just felt like, "Why would we prioritize renovating a bathroom that we don't typically use? Why wouldn't we just spend that money to renovate the bathroom both of use every single day?" They are identical floor plans, so the budget would have been exactly the same. Uh-doy!

So, we decided to switch gears and remodel the master bath instead. We had some inspiration, and decided to dive in with our DIY.

We started with new counter tops. The previous owners had apparently capped off plumbing to a second sink and put in extra long counters instead. For the way we live, we would find way more use out of having 2 sinks so we decided to replace it with something more our style AND improved our quality of life. If you're local to the Triangle and thinking of replacing your countertops, you need to get in touch with me. We have the most amazing counter top guy that can source *anything* you want for a fraction of what most stores cost. They did such a great job in our powder room reno, we plan to use them again for our kitchen and guest bath when we get to it.

Once the counters were installed, we had our very first experience with tiling! I did this project alone, so I didn't have the chance to snag many photos. Installing thin set and grout was really time sensitive, so I couldn't take any breaks to grab photos of the process. But, overall, I will say that YouTube was a GREAT teacher, tiling was wayyyy easier than I expected it to be, and we will definitely be taking this project on again! I was so nervous but it really was not complicated. Now I'm wondering why I never tiled before!

To keep things in budget, we decided to go ahead and paint the tile floors again, instead of replacing them. We did this in our powder room, and it has held up so, so well, so I had no fears about doing it again. This was also a zero dollar improvement since I already had all of the supplies. You can read more about how I did this in our powder room, here. Someday, we may decide to replace the floors, but the painted tile makes such a big difference it's a great start.

As with any renovation, there are always things you don't plan for. For me, there were two this project:

1) I didn't give much thought to how I was going to patch the hole in the wall when I removed the medicine cabinet. Thankfully, we found a very quick and inexpensive solution to the drywall hole left from removing the saloon-style medicine cabinet. Beadboard! This was a $14 fix (patching the drywall would have cost hundreds), and it was super stylish and easy to do DIY!

We had the board measured and cut at Lowes, and then installed Liquid Nails to the back of it, nailing in the corners and a few support spots as we went to keep it steady. I already had all the caulk and paint, so this was also an inexpensive repair. I absolutely LOVE how it turned out! One of the headaches of the bathroom before was that we didn't have any spot to hang wet towels other than the back of the door. Now, we have a designated towel spot that's stylish and convenient!

2) I never measured the depth of the medicine cabinets I purchased and didn't realize how deep they were. The medicine cabinets did unfortunately add to our budget, because there was no way to make them work as a surface mounted cabinet. They were too deep and stuck out over the faucets. So, I called my favorite contractor and he helped cut into the drywall and provide 2x4 support to mount them. This only added a few hundred dollars overall, and I love how it came out. It was worth every penny!

One of the last steps we did was paint the cabinets. For some reason, I was having the hardest time deciding what color I wanted these cabinets to me. I normally source a lot of inspiration photos before I do a project, and then review them frequently before I make decisions. That way, I  can see patterns in what I'm gravitating to, visually. For instance, I love matte black hardware, but for this project, I was really drawn to chrome fixtures in the bathrooms. I wanted everything to blend nicely and sometimes black hardware can stick out. I was drawn to those inspiration photos, so I trusted my eye and chose to do all chrome, knowing my eye would be happy with it for a long time to come!

The one thing I was all over the place on in terms of inspiration was cabinet color! I knew we wanted to paint it - that was obvious. But I couldn't decide between a dark base, a light base, or a white base. Ultimately, I did the same process I normally do, sourced tons of inspiration, thought about how it would play being right off our master bedroom, and ultimately decided I wanted the bathroom to fade away when the door was open. We ultimately chose a beautiful grey from the same swatch family as our wall paint, and I'm really happy with the results. The last time we painted cabinets, I chose to use chalk paint, but to be honest, I don't love the texture. For this one, I decided to buy some really nice cabinet paint from Ben Moore. The Advance line is known to be extra durable, self smoothing, and great for cabinets. I'm really happy I made this choice because I think it feels better, looks more professional, and will hold up better to daily use.

Overall, I could not be happier with the new space. It is SO peaceful, so updated, and the increased functionality we have between the two sinks and the off-counter medicine cabinets has been such a game changer! We both love this space, and find it so relaxing now. Overall, we did this renovation for about $1500 all in. It took 3 weeks of daily work on my part, but it was worth every penny of savings and payoff!

Some more before and afters to enjoy:

Wall Paint in Gray Owl eggshell finish
Cabinet Paint in Sea Haze satin finish
Cabinet Hardware
Floor Paint (and how I did it here!)
My favorite heavy duty primer for floors and cabinets
Towel Hooks
Medicine Cabinets
Tile backsplash
Soap dispenser/Cups
Counter Tops were locally sourced white quartz from Wake Granite... the best prices in town!)

Our DIY Slate Patio (and why we'd never do this again!)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Do you like back-breaking manual labor that makes you curse the day you started a project?

Then, BOY, do I have the renovation for you!

Enter, our back patio project.

We knew we would eventually need to do a complete removal and re-installation of our back patio and walk way when we moved here. The previous owners had taken a curious "artistic direction" that truly made no sense. They appeared to have DIY installed it using discarded interior bricks, random bits of poured cement, and what appears to be the "lost and found" of cement pavers. It wasn't graded, flooded every time it rained,  and to be totally frank, it looked like sh*t!

Earlier this spring some of our wonderful friends got engaged and we wanted to host their engagement party in July. Spenser said "that's plenty of time to finish this project and DIY!" We were so optimistic back then haha!

We got started demo'ing the existing patio Memorial Day Weekend. Conveniently, none of the bricks were even cemented together... they were just loosely placed in sand. Removing them wasn't much work, but there were a LOT of them, and it was heavy as hell wheelbarrowing 40-50 loads of bricks 10-15 times. God Bless Burn Bootcamp for keeping me strong!  We made a huge pile of them in our front yard (which I'm sure our neighbors loved) so that our junk hauling crew would be able to easily remove them.

The walkway demo'd pretty easily (aside from the wheelbarrowing) but the patio portion was, in fact, poured in concrete. We spent hours sledge hammering, digging, and hauling off bits of mortar, cement, and stone to our junk pile. Meanwhile, the temperatures were starting to rise. It was getting HOT.

By June, it was averaging 90 degrees during the day, so we had to wait until it was late evening to do any work. It was was sweaty, dirty, and exhausting. We'd manage 1-2 hours of work per night, and feel like we were getting nowhere. It definitely wasn't going as fast as we planned.

Once we finally got all the bricks up, we needed to dig down the pathway a few inches so we had room for gravel and sand for drainage. Spenser did this part by hand ((Bless him)) and gave us another few inches. In our crunch to finish this by the party in July, we had some friends come over and help us tamp everything down so it was nice and level. Thank you again, Sarah and Daniel! We appreciate you! We also decided to expand the foot print of the patio a bit, too, so we had more room for some chairs and a fire pit down the line.

While all this was going on, I was working on the design. Did we want to do cement pavers? Natural stone? I wanted to know what would be the most cost-effective while still giving us the aesthetics we wanted AND allow us to DIY (there was no turning back now).

A few looks we were inspired by:

Once again, Lowes was disappointing. When we added up the total for the cement pavers, gravel, and sand we would need to complete our patio, the total cost was over $3500. To get real slate stone, bulk sand and bulk gravel (WITH delivery!) from our local stone center, the total came out to just under $700. We were thrilled! We had really wanted slate stone, but had assumed that would be the most expensive route. I was so happy we were wrong!

We placed our order and about a week later,  2 pallets of slate, a dump truck of gravel, and a dump truck of sand showed up in our driveway. I'm sure our neighbors loved us.

Our old friend, the wheelbarrow, came back and we hauled load after load, after load, after load of stone, sand, and gravel back. Honestly this was the most exhausting part of the entire project. Shoveling things into the wheelbarrow, carrying each load back, unloading it, and starting over was so exhausting. We definitely had some choice words throughout this process for each other 🙊

For installing it, the process was fairly straight forward. We had tilled and tamped down the dirt, so then we laid the gravel (for drainage). We put a layer of gravel down over the whole area, and made sure we had even coverage.

Then, we installed sand, so our stones would be able to be level once they were installed. Spenser did a method called "Scree-ing" to level out all the sand and make sure we would have proper grading for drainage. This was also backbreaking (you're literally bent over for hours) and also, sand hurts knees, FYI. This was the part where we were busting our butts every day to get it done... the party was in less than a week and we hadn't installed stones yet!

Once the sand was level, we laid out all the stones. We carried each one by hand, placing them in a pattern to have even distribution, leveled them, and made sure they were where we wanted them.

The end was in sight! We were so close!

The next step was to install an edge so that the Polymeric Stone Dust we were going to put between the stones had a clean edge to bond to. We had debated using a natural border, but with weed maintenance, we decided the stone dust would be the easiest option. Installing the edge was fairly simple -- they bend easily, so we just created the lines we wanted and hammered them into the dirt.

Now, it was time to install the Polymeric Stone Dust! We used this product, which was recommended to bond to large stones with gaps of 4-6inches between. Polymeric Sand is what you would more commonly see at your home improvement store, but it wasn't recommended for projects like ours.

The stone dust needed to be evenly placed between the stones (we used a broom), and then dusted off the surface of each stone. Once it's in place, you wet it and it turns (essentially) into cement. We had to make sure it wasn't on top of our pretty stones or it would ruin them! It needs to stay dry for 2 days, and we had just enough time before our party to get it done.

But then, the weather changed. We had rain for a week straight. We missed our window. Thankfully, the party went off without a hitch and we had a great time anyway, but both of us were hot-pissed that we missed our deadline because of weather. Especially after hustling as hard as we did in the July heat!

So then.... we sulked. We decided to take a week break. And then it was August. And it was so hot. And then it kept raining. And then, it was September and we had no motivation, and then, and then... we were just making excuses. Before we knew it it was the end of September and we still hadn't touched it since laying the stones in sand.

In early October, we had a break in the heat, and we bit the bullet and decided to just get it done. I think we both just wanted to stop thinking about it and move on to something else!

We got several bags of the Polymeric Stone Dust from our local stone center ($20/bag vs. $80/bag at Lowes!) and swept them in between each stone and the edge, making sure the surfaces of our stones were clear. Then, we hosed it down! The light parts are where we hadn't yet watered the stone dust down.

When it comes in contact with water, it turns to concrete! Now, our stones are solidly installed, they're well graded, it looks SO MUCH BETTER than it did before, and we have a beautiful, back patio that we plan to landscape over the next year to really make it a space we'll use.

As a reminder, this is what it looked like when we bought it:

And what it looks like now: 

And one throwback before we painted the house: 

As for our parting thoughts? I don't think either of us would recommend trying to DIY this project if you have any issues with patience, back pain, or time management. This truly was an exhausting project that neither of us enjoyed. We're so, so happy it's done but if we had to do it again we 100% would hire it out. And you know, that's the honest truth sometimes about renovating! Sometimes you get into a project that's more than you can chew, but I'm so proud that we stuck with it, figured it out, took our time, and finally got it done in time to enjoy a nice fire pit night outside now that the weather is cool!

And, I would be remiss without giving my strong and diligent hubby a huge thank you! This was a project he started and managed on his own. It was a lot harder than we anticipated, but he poured all his energy (and so much sweat) into getting it done, and it looks amazing. Thank you for all you do, Spenser! I love you!

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