Archive for March, 2013

Photo Booths And Boards & Battens

So March is kinda on the way out already, but before we get too giddy for spring (who am I kidding, we’re all hyper for nicer weather) we’re taking uno momento to look back at February. We’ve learned that stopping to appreciate our accomplishments is key when it comes to keeping our momentum up, and February was a month full of travel-detox, hallway-upgrades, and big-girl-room-projects. So here’s a recap of the shortest month o’ the year (plus a peek at something new at the end) in our usual yearbook superlative style. And if you want to look even further back, we’ve got each month of the last two years summarized right here (in 25 posts instead of 840).

Thriftiest: I’d say this goes to all of you – well, at least to the 200+ of you who participated in our random little Macklemore Thrift Shop Challenge. It was quite entertaining to see all of the hilarious things you guys found with only twenty dollars in your pocket.

Most Well-Trained: We’ve gotta hand it to Clara, who seems to be picking up some of her mother’s instincts when it comes to fabric. She actually helped choose this fabric, so we brought it home and made it into curtains for her big girl room.

Most Inspiring: Our trip to the Jonathan Adler store in Georgetown, which was a feast for our color-loving eyes. And while we didn’t buy anything on that trip, we came home with lots of ideas – including a few thoughts for how we might makeover some secondhand finds in the future.

Favorite Trick: We tried out an old Candice Olson trick for hanging frame collages for the first time – drawing the layout on a big sheet of paper and using that to mark our nail holes. It was really fast and easy, so we’re glad we finally had a chance to take it for a spin.

Most Confusing: Our post on using chalk paint for the first time (to paint the backs of Clara’s chairs) created a little confusion in the comment section since we hadn’t been clearer that chalk paint is different than chalkboard paint. Thank goodness we could jam a quick update into the post to explain that chalk paint is just a different type of paint formula (like oil-based paint or milk paint) but it isn’t meant to be written on with actual chalk (although we hear you can do that if you don’t wax it).

The Worst: Nope, there’s no word missing on the end of that title. The simple description of “The Worst” goes to me, for accidentally locking our rental car keys in the trunk when we were on our west coast book tour stop in Portland. Fortunately, as you can read in this recap, the rest of the trip was thankfully lots of fun.

Biggest Help: Clara, who once again broke out her drill skills when it came to installing our post card ledges on the wall in her big girl room. Feels like it won’t be too long ’til I’m the one lending a hand for her DIY projects.

Least Remorseful: This post about buyer’s remorse explained how we make all kinds of mistakes in the decorating process (um, our dining room chairs?) but we try not to let them hold us back from moving forward. You know what they say about “if at first you don’t succeed…”

Most Thrilling: As you can tell from my expression, this label most certainly applies to when we tried out various shades in Clara’s big girl room. We took four of them for a spin (in a The Voice-ish parody that we called The Shade) and finally settled on our one true shade-love. Clearly, a good time was had by all.

Most Last Minute: The Valentines that we whipped together for Clara’s preschool V-day exchange. Fortunately, Target had the hook-up and (with the addition of a little homemade poem) we were able to send Clara off with something cute for 16 kids in under $7.

Most Transparent: This floating frame, which Sherry created by adapting a regular frame with just a few supplies that we had on hand.

Most Delayed Satisfaction: Hanging these bird cages in Clara’s big girl room as a playful art installation of sorts. Why delayed? We bought that big birdcage at a thrift store in the end of 2011, just knowing we’d find a spot for it someday.

Most Influential: Sherry, who is clearly trying to get our daughter hooked on ceramic animals as soon as possible. And in this case it’s literally hooks (from Anthropologie) that hold some of her hair accessories.

Most Quotable: I could give this award to Clara most months (like this and this) – and for this particular round I’m giving it to her for the moment in this season’s Pinterest Challenge video where she just couldn’t hold in her craving for a marshmallow any longer.

Most Awesomely Awkward: The bathroom at this restaurant in New York, which we shared as part of our final book tour recap that covers NYC, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Why is it so awesome? Because it’s a unisex bathroom with a photobooth in it. Why is it so awkward? Because five minutes of picture-processing turned us into weird bathroom loiterers.

Most Playful: This goes to the closet in Clara’s big girl room which – since she still has most of her clothes in her nursery – can act as a secret little toy & game zone for the time being. Of course that was after we cleared out all of the clutter that was in there and brought in a few new goodies.

Cutest Couple: This is a tie between me + Jeremy Bower and Sherry + Katie Bower. During our trip to visit them in Atlanta last month, Jer and I took the kids to the playground while the girls grabbed some sweet antique store scores. And while our bromance bloomed during a guys movie night, the ladies stayed up late doing some spontaneous crafting.

Cutest Couple (Toddler Edition): I can’t mention the words “cutest couple” without handing out some recognition to these two. Seriously, they had us at holding-a-balloon-while-smooching.

Biggest Basketcase: Sherry, who got her maniacal laugh on at the start of this post, after adding a dipped detail to the toy baskets in Clara’s big girl room (and knocking off a few other things on the ol’ to-do list in there).

Longest List: Our updated tally of what’s been done and what still has to be done around our house. It’s refreshing to see lots of rooms coming together, but just as exciting to think about the spaces – like our carport and our front porch – that have lots of potential for further improvement (can’t wait to box out those porch columns and add a pergola to the carport). This post also has links to just about every project that we’ve done in every room, so if you want to catch up on the history of any part of our house this is the post for you.

Longest List (Runner Up): The just-shy-of-650 projects linked up at the bottom of the Pinterest Challenge post. That’s a lot of pinspired projects to peruse, people. Well done.

Cheapest-Slash-Biggest Upgrade: The board & batten that we added to our hallway as part of this season’s Pinterest Challenge which majorly transformed the narrow space, for just $57 bucks. Why did we wait so long to do this?

Most Likely To Give Burt Wonderstone A Run For His Money: These paper tulips from West Elm that Clara gave Sherry for her birthday which magically turned into real tulips overnight, courtesy of moi. Alakazam! Double flower power for the lady-wife.

So, what did you guys pack into those 28 days of February? Were you on planes and in cars for a while and then freakishly happy to be home? That’s probably a good description of our month. Did you guys do anything especially fun? Exciting? Dramatic? Marshmallow related?

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Fireplace Makeover: Sublime Subway

With our fireplace refacing plan all worked out, and our supplies waiting at the ready, it was time to dive into step 1: TILE! Oh but first we had a lot of questions about our potential future plans to double side the fireplace, but that’s just not in the budget right now. It’s a load bearing wall so we’d need an engineer and a mason, so maybe down the line we can tackle that. But it won’t hurt this project since we can go in from the back when we do. So there will be no marble tile harmed in the making of a double sided fireplace if we get there someday. And then we’d love to add a double sided gas insert. Hotness, amIright?

But back to TILE!

In case my sketch above is still indecipherable to everyone but me, I highlighted the areas of the photo below that are going to get the tile treatment. The tile border is only about 7 inches wide because the rest of the brick is going to get framed out with wood and MDF (which will layer on top of the tile, hence doing tile first). Oh but it’s smart to check the code in your area to make sure your wood surround isn’t too close to your firebox (ours calls for at least 6″ of tile and then the wood surround can start). And no, the tile is not going to be grellow. Ha!

If you recall, the tile we picked out was this marble subway found at Home Depot for a little over $5 per square foot.

But before we could start slapping tile everywhere (that’s a technical description, btw) we had to create a smooth surface on which to attach them. So we bought some 1/4″ cement board and we used the old bend score and snap method to cut it into strips. Then, thanks to some heavy duty masonry screws and a cheap masonry bit for our drill, we attached them to the fireplace. It was quite a dusty process, and it helped to have four hands around for it (Sherry would hold while I drilled and vice versa).

Oh yeah, and it was around this point that we realized we probably should clear off everything sitting on the fireplace mantel so that all of our drilling didn’t send anything down on our heads. Plus I’m not going to lie, if I directly (or even indirectly) sent one of those ceramic houses on the mantel crashing to the floor, the lady wife would not be pleased (I have sort of a bad track record when it comes to things like that).

So after we cleared things off the mantel and ripped off the old wood top while we were at it (demo-ing things fully before tiling is always smart) it was back to tile prep. For the bottom hearth portion, I actually just squeezed out a whole bunch of heavy duty construction adhesive, laid down my pieces of cement board and then stacked some heavy storage ottomans (of which we have plenty around here) to hold them securely in place overnight (I later added a few screws at the corners just to reinforce them).

The nice thing about adhering the cement board right over the old hearth instead of demoing it out first was that because we added the cork floor right over our previous linoleum one (due to not wanting to disturb an asbestos liner underneath) we still had room to add cement board and tile without it bumping up and being oddly raised (in fact it brought it back to being aligned).

So here’s the fireplace all set and ready for actual tile.

Well, not totally all set and ready. We wanted to protect our cork floors before getting into the thinset-and-grout-y mess of a tiling project, so we quickly taped down some protective rosin paper leftover from our last kitchen tile project.

We also took the time to lay out our tile beforehand. At Bryn’s suggestion, we bought a few extra boxes than we needed, just to account for overage and so we could pick out any weirdly chipped or discolored ones. Thankfully there weren’t many broken or otherwise wonky tiles, so I’d say that we used 90% of the tile we bought, and only returned 10% as overage tile (which is a pretty normal percentage – and Home Depot is happy to take it back).

It was a smidge tedious to lay it all out, but it was great because we could begin to see how they’d come together and even do things like space out the veining (so there was a nice mix of both instead of all of the dark veining ending up on one side of the hearth and all the lighter tiles on the other side). And in the interest of using as many tiles as we could without being super picky, we also made a pile of “why-is-this-one-weird-or-chipped-on-one-side?” tiles to use for the smaller cut pieces that we’d need (we could slice off the weird/bad parts for many of the edge tiles anyway).

And as you can see from the angled cut that I’m marking below – we decided to go for a herringbone pattern on the hearth mixed with a traditional brick-layers pattern on the fireplace surround (we held them up a few ways and liked that configuration best). Update: we’re getting requests for more info on why we chose that combo, so here ya go… with so little surface area (just 7″ showing around the firebox) it wouldn’t really establish the pattern enough (we thought it would look like random and busy half-zigs and half-zags without enough of the tile showing to look like chevron). So we held it up both ways and liked the simpler pattern for the smaller area, just because we didn’t think it would look as chaotic.

And thank goodness we own this triangle square

It was a lifesaver since basically every single cut for the hearth was on a 45-degree angle. And after cutting tons of crown molding on all sorts of angles, I gotta say that this was much simpler. Anyone can do this. Yes, even you scared-of-tiling folks out there. It’s really not that bad. I promise.

We made all of our cuts with our wet saw (one of my favorite tools) and it was fairly easy. The only challenge was that the marble was a bit brittle so sometimes the corners broke off as I got to the end of a cut. But I didn’t lose too many tiles in the process, so it was actually a lot easier to work with than penny tile (we had a much higher learning curve when it came to cutting that).

Once we had a few of our initial pieces cut, we mixed up some thinset (still leftover from penny tiling – woot!) and started slapping down some tile. Again, that’s a technical term.

I realize I’m glossing over some of the details of the actual tiling process. But we’ve covered it so extensively in the posts below (including video) that I thought sharing those links made the most sense. So for this project just trust us that it went along pretty much the same way unless otherwise noted in this post.

Once we had the pattern started it was a pretty mindless process, it just took a long time because there were so many cuts involved in such a small space. But it was pretty straightforward (it was one of those just-keep-going tasks that didn’t involve much problem solving once we got the hang of it). I’d guess that it took us a good four hours to get the bottom portion done (although it was broken up by lunch plans with an old coworker, so it still ate up a good portion of day 1).

The next day during Clara’s nap we attacked the top portion, which went significantly faster because the straight cuts were easier to do.

And since the outer edge was going to get covered by the MDF frame of our wood surround eventually, we didn’t have to be sticklers for a clean edge. In fact, Sherry and I figured out a way to stagger the tiles so that we were able to reuse both sides of a cut, which made life much easier. See how the bottom row has a cut tile on the left? The other half of that tile is in the row above it (on the right). So they sort of staggered themselves up the wall, and we weren’t creating tons of tile fragments that we couldn’t use.

So by the end of day 2, we had all of our tile done. Yeehaw. (Oh, and that white strip of brick inside the fireplace is eventually going to get painted the same dark charcoal color as the rest of the firebox, so just ignore it for now – and of course we have trim pieces for the floor around the hearth so it’ll be seamless and smooth in the end).

The next evening we got our grout on using some non-sanded grout from Home Depot in their Snow White color (it’s not super white, sort of a very soft gray).

I don’t know about you guys, but for some reason the transformation from un-grouted tile to grouted tile is super satisfying to me. Seriously. I could grout all day… well, if I had a bionic wrist.

As I shoved grout into joints, Sherry stepped in periodically with a slightly damp sponge to smooth everything and wipe off the excess. I’m still jealous of how clean she stayed.

Grouting took all of 45 minutes, maybe. And it left us with this beaut. Admittedly it still looks crazy without a built out mantel around it, but that’s next on the agenda.

So we’re excited to start building the surround, reconstructing the mantle, adding trim and molding, priming and painting, and eating a celebratory cookie (or twenty) when we’re finally done.

Oh and we sealed all of the tile/grout after the grout-drying waiting period on the bottle (we had some leftover from the backsplash). Took ten minutes tops. Ending up with a completely re-tiled hearth and fireplace surround (in white marble, no less) feels like such an upgrade for only around seven hours of work (total), and the budget wasn’t nearly as scary as “marble tile” sounds. Ha!

I think we’re riding a herringbone high right now. Seriously. I’m so glad we decided to do that pattern. For some reason it makes me feel super fancy. Maybe we need to rename our house Downton Ranchy.

And maybe we should record a sequel to this SNL skit called “Marble Subway Tile.”

Does anyone else have some good experiences with subway tile, a herringbone pattern, or tiling a fireplace in general to share? Have you purchased a marble column recently? Are you like “What is this, The White House??”

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