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Tackling The Basement: Done.

We’re back with the full rundown of basement projects that we took on to totally transform our spooky bug graveyard into clean and functional storage space. First let’s take a walk down memory lane to reminisce about the creepy jail-cell-looking room that we started with:

Gross eh? The worst was that although the exterior of the basement’s foundation was equipped with drains and graded to reduce water flow, we still had a bit of moisture seepage through those porous unsealed cinder block walls every time we got a good amount of rain. It wasn’t as if the room flooded by any means, but it was damp and nasty because water slowly oozed through the walls and pooled on the floors (so we couldn’t store a thing in there for fear of moisture damage and even worse… mildew). Yup, we had some of that too. So the first step was to effectively kill the mildew with a part-water-part-bleach solution and then Drylok the cinder block walls and concrete floors (with two thick coats of the tan-tinted oil-based formula) to cure the basement of all its moisture-related shortcomings. And since Drylok is seriously nasty stuff, don’t forget to break out the gas mask! Click here for more detials about this stage of the project.

Then we opted to coat the concrete floor with the same chocolate paint that we used in the sunroom for a rich and durable finish. Click here for more detials about this stage of the project.

The difference that just the tan Drylok and the chocolate floor paint made in the room was pretty unbelievable- and our moisture issues were a thing of the past. As if to test our handiwork, Mother Nature dumped a monsoon of rain (weeks of storming and even a Nor’easter!) and our basement remained bone dry. Which was pretty amazing since many of our neighbors had basements full of water. Thank goodness for good timing! But those changes were just the beginning…

Then it was on to brainstorming the most functional (and budget-friendly) floor plan we could think up. We knew that because we wanted to use the basement primarily as a storage room, we needed to bring in lots of pieces that could house things like sporting equipment, seasonal decor, and even our artificial Christmas tree. So we thought hard about which furnishings would give us the most bang for our buck and landed on the idea of bringing in two armoires for concealed storage along with a book case for more boxes and bins plus a worktable (so we can sort through all those boxes without having to crouch down on the floor). For the full floor planing monty, check out John’s hands in the starring role of “graph paper method explainer” (watch it below on Vimeo or check it out on YouTube):

Click here for more detials about the floor planning and furniture brainstorming stage of the project.

Afterwards our shopping list was pretty straightforward (although we didn’t end up grabbing any woven baskets in the end):

  1. Expedit shelf (included in the total Expedit Workstation) -$120
  2. Torsby table (already owned, so it’s free!)
  3. A woven basket or two – $17 each
  4. Two Aneboda wardrobes – $100 a pop
  5. A few white storage boxes – $12 for two
  6. And a few green storage boxes to keep things interesting – $12 for two
  7. Expedit desk (included in the Expedit Workstation) accounted for above

Grand total: We actually came in at $344. Not bad for a large 19′ x 13′ room full of storage (that was previously a bug graveyard). Especially when you consider that one armoire is usually around $500-$1000. Here’s the basement with all of our new Ikea purchases in their places. Click here for more detials about the furniture purchasing and assembling stage of the project.

Then came the introduction of the awesome floor tiled area rug that one of our Fab Freebie sponsors (Flor) generously donated (along with gifting one to a lucky blog reader in this giveaway of yore). Thanks so much Flor! We love our playfully patterned squares, and the low pile and durable fibers make it the perfect choice for our highly-trafficked-with-wet-and-leafy-feet basement. You’ll also notice that we added the bike rack we found at Target (on sale) which we especially love since it maximizes the room’s vertical space and gets our bikes off the floor. It’s like totally functional art in the room (plus it’s freestanding so we didn’t have to wrestle with our insanely difficult cinder block walls).

We also grabbed a $25 lamp shade from Target (which was meant for a basic table lamp) and inverted it to create a super affordable and polished looking linen shade that’s a whole lot prettier than the cold and industrial bare bulb that used to reside on the ceiling.

It was a simple as unscrewing the ceiling bulb, passing the base of the bulb through the loop of the lamp, and rescrewing the bulb into the ceiling fixture (so it effortlessly holds the lamp shade in place). Click here for more details on our carpet square rug, the bike rack, and our DIY lamp shade project.

Then it was time to bring in an almost absurd amount of large plastic containers for organization and storage space to spare. You can see the two oversized green bins we snagged (that perfectly slide under the Ikea table). Even though they’re cheap-o storage containers we love the pop of color they add (and of course the function- they house all of our Christmas bulbs, ornaments, and feather trees).

And there are a whole bunch more where those came from in our storage armoires (many of which are still empty, so that’s handy for the future when our stuff expands with every year that we live here). Click here for more details about all the storage bins we brought down for instant organization.

Then we spent less than $6 and used wrapping paper from Target to obscure our otherwise semi-sheer armoire doors (who needs to see all those plastic bins anyway?). Adhering it with double sided tape was quick and easy and the payoff was pretty amazing.

We especially loved pairing the swirly green pattern (which was muted by the doors) with the super linear striped rug. The effect was sort of boy-meets-girl, which we thought worked really well down here. Click here for more details about our wrapping-paper-lined armoire doors.

But even though we had plenty of storage space in those armoires and plastic bins, we still needed a spot to keep all of our paint on hand and in good shape (the basement is the perfect spot for a little “paint center” because it’s a lot more temperature controlled than the garage and we like to keep cans out of the house due to the off-gassing and the air pollution factor). A lot of our old cans were gooped up and past their prime (hardly sealing anymore, which means much of our paint was just months away from drying up and rendering itself utterly useless). And because nothing is more annoying than needing a drop of paint for a touch-up and opening the can to find a spoiled and sticky mess, we decided that investing a few dollars to upgrade each can to a new metal container that seals securely was definitely worth the time and effort since it would save all of our paint for years to come.

Plus we jumped a the chance to organize and identify our new paint cans (yeah, we’re nerds and we actually went to Office Max and got printed labels). But in our defense, they’ll really come in handy since we’ll never lose the name or the formula of any of our house’s hues again.

In the end our little matching paint can collection looked so good that it was actually worthy of being displayed out in the open (and we picked up a cheap-o paint pouring spout that will keep these cans pristine and easy to seal for the long haul). Click here for more details about our paint station project.

Then it was time to obscure our water heater, but we didn’t want to build anything around it that would be too permanent or difficult to move in the event that we need quick access. After filtering through ideas like a hanging an all weather curtain suspended from the ceiling or building a bookcase on wheels that can be pulled away in a snap, we decided that a simple folding screen made from secondhand bi-fold doors (picked up for just $18 at our local Habitat For Humanity ReStore) was the way to go.

All we had to do was hinge them together (with the free hinges that came with the doors) and paint them a fun punchy color (that we plucked directly from the bins in our Expedit workstation and the plastic storage containers that we stacked under that table by the window). After a few coats of Benjamin Moore’s Bunker Hill Green 566 (which we had color matched to a quart of Behr paint so it only ran us $14) it was the perfect way to obscure that eyesore of a water heater without blocking access to the other side of the basement. Happily, we still have over 35″ to walk around, roll out bikes out, etc. Click here for more details about our DIY bi-fold door screen.

Then all that was left to do was apply a bit of window frosting film, which we accomplished in less than 40 minutes (and for under $27). We love how the light still floods the room (anything to keep it from looking as dark and prison-esque as it did before the makeover!) but it provides 100% privacy from the exterior, so no one can peer into our little storage mecca uninvited.

Oh and not only did we apply frosting film to the both of the basement windows, we also opted to cover the large pane of glass in the door for even more privacy and that posh and polished look. Click here for more details about our window-film application process.

Long story post short, we can certainly appreciate all that we gained from solving the moisture problem, painting the floor, selecting a workable floor plan, bringing in affordable furnishings, updating the lighting, adding a low-maintenance area rug, hanging bikes as art, papering the armoires, building a punchy green privacy screen, and frosting the windows. So there it is. The Cinderella story of a room that looked so sad-slash-terrifying and served absolutely no purpose other than to provide housing for neighborhood spiders. Heck, for old time’s sake let’s take one last look at the nastified room that we started with just a little over a month ago (afterwards scroll up to the last four photos to compare ‘em to the “afters”):

And now for the much awaited budget breakdown. Here’s what we spent for the entire project:

Isn’t that surprising? We were totally shocked because we actually budgeted a few thousand dollars to turn that damp and freakishly infested dungeon into a clean and totally functional storage room. And when you think about how an armoire or a bookcase/desk combo can run you close to $1000 on its own, it’s pretty insane to think that we got all the furniture in the room and all the supplies to make the room waterproof & furniture ready plus all the extras like the bike rack, the lamp shade, the paint cans, the water heater screen and the window frosting film. I know, I know, we’re babbling. But we had to do the math like twenty times before we believed our eyes. Yeah, we’re officially flashing some jazz hands over here.

And because a few people actually requested a time breakdown as well, here’s a rundown of approximately how long each project took:

We actually took our time and tackled all of these projects over the course of a few weekends and a few week nights (spread out over a month and a half). But if anyone’s in a time crunch and wants to devote more hardcore work days to the project, they could probably get ‘er done in less than four ten hour days (or two consecutive weekends, so there’s some drying time worked in after Dryloking and painting).

So that about does it for the basement wrap up. We hope you guys enjoyed this little step-by-step journey through our big makeover from start to finish. We’re definitely planning to use the “new” basement to store lots of stuff for years to come (we can only imagine how handy it’ll be when we amass all the extra equipment that goes hand in hand with having kiddos). But enough about us. We’d love to know how you use your basements (or attics or garages or any other bonus space). Is it strictly for storage or used to sleep extra guests or even converted into a cozy man cave or den for the whole family? Do tell.

Psst- Want to look back on our big basement makeover from start to almost-finished? Here’s the first post, the second post, the third post, the forth post, the fifth post, the sixth post, the seventh post, the eigth post, and the ninth post. Good times.



Email Answer: DIY Damage?

Q: I have a HUGE question for you! My husband and I have now lived in our first house for close to a year. We share your motivation, but are very intimidated by the projects that we’d like to tackle. Neither one of us is super handy, and I guess we’re afraid of “breaking” our little nest. What did you two do to get past the hump of “how on earth do we do this and not cause an even bigger problem in the end?” Thanks! -Amy

A: This is a great question! Especially because when we moved into our house just three short years ago we knew nothing. We were beyond beginners. We literally had zero fix-’em-up experience (I hadn’t even painted trim and John hadn’t so much as picked up a sledgehammer). So it’s not like we’ve always been extremely handy human beings who helped our parents flip houses from an early age. Seriously, we didn’t even own a wrench and we definitely had our fair share of false starts when we began lovingly (and fearfully) fixing up our fifty year old house.

(Check out more details on the project above right here).

As you can imagine, we definitely made a few rookie mistakes (I painted all the trim in the entire house with white flat paint instead of a more wipeable semi-gloss option… talk about an error that had to be completely redone!). But that’s sort of the beauty of home improvement. Almost everything can be redone, so if at first you don’t succeed, repaint all the trim with semi-gloss paint and do a little more research before starting the next project. Lesson learned.

And as we went we noticed that we got a lot more confident and quickly expanded our skill set with each project that we took on. The learning curve was actually pretty amazing. In fact, one of the reasons we started our blog was to pass along the tips and tricks that we were picking up to friends and family members who we also assumed were equally clueless. To this day, our hope is that by sharing step-by-step tutorials and DIY projects as we go, lots of newbies out there will learn right along with us and gain the confidence to semi-fearlessly tackle their own home just like we did- and still do! I mean if we can do it anyone can, and we like to think that we made all the mistakes so you guys don’t have to (we remind everyone who comes to us for trim-painting tips to use semi-gloss paint to save them the extra work and frustration we experienced early on).

(Check out more details on the project above right here).

The good news is that unlike brain surgery, most home-based projects can be done, undone, revisited, updated, etc. So it’s not like you get one half-hour shot to correctly install your vanity or it dies. Thank goodness. And it really takes a lot to “break” your house (think a wrecking ball or an intense natural disaster) so you might be flattering yourself if you think you and your hubby are strong enough to take on that challenge. In the end it just comes down to tackling smaller projects first (try painting walls and then moving on to painting brick and paneling or switching out light fixtures and then moving on to more detailed electrical work). And even before you tackle those projects, it always helps to do some simple research (you can visit our How To page for tutorials, google around for videos, read up at the library, etc). That way you’ll gain your “sea legs” so to speak, and can grow your confidence and skill level to eventually take on bigger and better projects as you go.

And although some people think of us as experts at all things home, we’re happy to openly admit that we’re definitely still learning to this day. Heck, we find out about some obscure tool or a new technique every week. We also rely heavily on tutorials and videos that we dig up on google and how-to books that we check out of the library so there’s really no limit to what you can learn by researching and then by physically doing it (that’s really when things “click” for us and we can finally add that skill to our roster). Then we like to pay it forward by sharing what we learned (and of course sharing the results in the form of some fun before & after pics). But really, there’s no such thing as being too prepared beforehand… it just seems easier to take a sledgehammer to a wall if you already have a game plan when it comes to putting things back together afterwards.

(Check out more details on the project above right here).

Oh and here’s another tip that we definitely use ourselves. It’s always comforting to think of the worst case scenario (ex: “if we try to repaint this dresser and it peels we can always sand it down and start over” or “if we can’t demo out this bathroom ourselves, we can always hire a handyman to finish what we started”). For instance, once we were trying to switch out some simple bathroom fixtures and the old brittle plumbing sprung a leak. Yikes! In a panic we gave in and called a plumber (since we certainly weren’t armed with the know-how to fix it ourselves at the time). And you know what? There’s no shame in calling in for reinforcements when it comes to projects that just turn out to be too much for you to take on yourself.

In fact one of our best money-saving tips is to know your limits and hire things out that might be above your skill level so you don’t end up making mistakes that actually cost you more to bring someone in to correct. When it came to our leaky pipes, it turned out that they were 50+ years old (original to our house!) and it was just time to get them replaced. So while the plumber was here we opted to have him switch everything out behind the walls for a few hundred bucks just for the peace of mind to know that everything would now be up to date and ready to go for another half a century. Plus calling in an expert when you’re definitely in over your head also helps you maintain your momentum and your confidence. If we tried to fix those 50 year old pipes ourselves we surely would have failed and probably never touched plumbing again. But by calling for backup we kept the renovation ball rolling and happily moved on to tackling bigger and better projects in the future since our plumbing debacle wasn’t all that bad in the end.

And the good news is that for every project that has you calling in the pros, there are usually about twenty five blissfully uneventful ones that you can do yourself. Sure there might be extra mortar to scrape under those tiles that you didn’t expect or using that tile clipper might take three times longer than you expected, but they’re still straight-forward processes that you can easily adapt to (adding a few days to your timeline or a bit more labor than you expected to your to-do list is pretty much what home improvement is all about).

Things might call for a few extra days of work (in our experience, most project take longer than you think they will) but in the end it’s all worth it and you probably saved a bundle by doing it yourself. Even skilled contractors and handymen are no strangers to pushing back timelines, so that’s not even something that can be avoided when you hire a project out. It just sort of comes with the territory of fixing up your home. And there’s nothing quite like the chest-swelling pride that you get when you realize that you did some with your own two (or four in our case) hands. There’s that confidence that we mentioned. It’ll just grow with each awesome overhaul that you accomplish… and before you know it you’ll look around and you won’t even recognize the place that you call home (in an oh-so-good way).

(Check out more details on the project above right here).

So in short here’s our formula for shaking off that intimidation and gaining the know-how it takes to whip your house into shape:

  1. Start slow and grow your confidence by doing smaller projects before moving on to tackle the more major overhauls
  2. Research the heck out of things before you pick up a paint brush or a hammer
  3. Never be afraid to call in an expert if you get in over your head (that way you don’t burn out after one never-ending project)

The good news is that for every project that we imagined the worst case scenario (which always involves redoing something for days or calling in someone to “fix” our poor wounded house) we have only had a few experiences when we actually had to start back at square one or call for reinforcements. And we’ve taken on over 300 projects so those are pretty good odds. To date no vanities have died on our watch, and we haven’t “broken” our house yet, knock on wood.

One of the greatest things about home improvement is that a lot of it is common sense and many projects are “what you see is what you get”- meaning that if you want to redo a floor and find out it’s completely not level, there are a number of ways to remedy the situation (relaying the subfloor, using self-leveling concrete, etc). So know that there’s usually more than one way to skin a cat (gross expression, sorry) and a little research will often reveal a number of viable and doable options when it comes to taking on a new challenge. And remember that you can always call a few handymen for estimates if you’re at the end of your rope, but trust us when we say that a high percentage of the time you can usually solve things yourself with a bit of thoughtfulness, research and determination. That’s pretty much how we got our house to where it is today. Beyond-stubborn determination paired with plenty of time spent researching beforehand and learning on the job. Good luck and happy reno-ing!

*Now for a little safety suggestion: wear proper closed toe shoes when taking on projects! We don’t know what the heck we were thinking in the first two photos, but we definitely recommend keeping your feet protected, especially for those heavy duty tasks. Toes matter.

Psssst- Wanna know more about how we got our house to where it is today? Check out this post about decorating in stages and this one about how to keep from pricing your house out of the neighborhood.