Furniture Upgrades & Building Stuff

Call It Vanity, Call It Shelf-ishness

It has been nearly a month since we talked about stenciling the floor in our sink nook (we’re all over the place lately – Clara’s room, outdoor tiling, installing our stair runner, landscaping adventures, starting in on the kitchen, etc) but that doesn’t mean we were done in there. We had a few more bullets to check off:

So to knock that first bullet off the list, Sherry used a small foam roller to apply two thin and even coats of SafeCoat Acrylaq to the floor (that’s our favorite non-toxic eco poly). She rolled those on about 24 hours apart, and wore a respirator just because it wasn’t fully odorless. It went on pretty fast, and she started in the furthest corner of the closet and just rolled her way out of the room. Then we blocked it off while it dried so we didn’t end up with puppy paw prints in it.

It has been a nice protective final step that has made us less worried about any chips or drips (heck, I was even able to scrape off a dried staining splatter later without damaging the stencil).

Once the floor sealer was fully cured (we waited around 72 hours) we could load in the closet, and this time we tried to be more thoughtful about what went where, and what would be the most functional. Bringing in a dresser and a mirror as well as a laundry room basket to use as a hamper really helped to make it a lot more storage-friendly than a bunch of random bins and piles. Although this dresser will probably end up in the nursery and our new West Elm dresser will most likely make its way in here after we add that wall of built-ins around our bed down the line.

Here’s a shot of Sherry’s side:

And my side (note the difference in shoe quantities):

Just as a refresher, here’s what the closet looked like when we moved in and threw everything down. It’s amazing what some fresh paint on the walls, trim, floor, and ceiling along with some much needed organization and some old furniture (the dresser’s a hand-me-down and the mirror was a $5 yard sale find) can do.

So with those first two bullets checked off, it was shelf o’ clock. They were actually a pretty easy build. We just had to keep two things in mind as we planned them out on paper:

  1. how to build supports for two shelves (function!)
  2. where to create places to attach the front-facing boards to make it look pretty (form!)

So here’s what we came up with (we like to map things out on paper together, and then we usually divide and conquer, so in this case Sherry did the polying and most of the closet organization, and I was happy to do the shelf building and staining, especially since the stain isn’t without VOCs). Then Sherry swooped back in and tackled the hinges and reattached the doors while I switched out the drawer and door hardware.

As for the building step, I started from the floor and worked my way up.

Step 1: I nailed a small piece of scrap wood into the side of the vanity (and another just like it into the baseboard on the opposite side) with one side resting on the floor and the other set back 3/4″ from the front of the vanity’s toe kick.

Step 2: This created a spot for me to attach a strip of plywood that would effectively extended the toe kick all the way across.

Step 3: Right above this, I nailed in matching strips of 1 x 2″ board (that I ripped in half on my table saw) that the bottom shelf could rest on. You’ll see in Step #10 why I didn’t line it up with the bottom of the vanity.

Step 4: I placed my first shelf, which I cut out of a piece of plywood I had leftover from the sunroom ceiling. It was such a tight fit I didn’t bother nailing it into place.

Step 5: After carefully measuring for the middle of the space, I nail-gunned another set of small strips on all 3 sides. I hadn’t done a back strip on the last shelf because it (coincidentally) rested perfectly on the top of the baseboard. Note: in this photo you can see how the vanity is a little dinged up in a few places, hence our desire to refinish it, which would also help us match the new wood with the old wood.

Step 6: I added my second shelf, cut from the same piece of plywood scrap.

Step 7: We wanted to add a face board at the top of the opening too, since we were trying to mimic the spacing and the look of the existing vanity. So by putting a face board here, it’d continue the strip of wood between the drawer face and cabinet doors that’s already on the left side. So, just like I did for the toe kick, I nailed small pieces of scrap wood here, set slightly back from the front of the cabinet.

Step 8: Time to start adding face boards. I started with a vertical one against the wall, which was a 1 x 3″ board (which really measured 1 x 2.5″) that I ripped on the table saw to be 1 x 2″ to match the width of the existing face boards. I glued and nailed it into place against the supports and shelves.

Step 9: Since that vertical face board got nailed into the small piece of scrap that I had placed at the top, I no longer had a place for the horizontal face board to attach. So I screwed another piece of scrap into the back of the vertical board to create one again.

Step 10: Now to put in all of the horizontal face boards, which were from the same 1 x 3″ board that I ripped to be 2″ wide. I was able to glue and nail these into the supports and the front edge of the shelves too. I wanted the bottom edge to match up with the existing vanity, which is why in Step 3 I had to account for the 2″ face board when placing my shelf support strips.

Here’s a pulled back shot of the whole thing once it was constructed. Putting it together was pretty fast (maybe an hour?). It was triple-checking all of my measurements and cutting my pieces that took the longest. I was certain I was going to mess something up along the way – like forgetting to account for the thickness of the plywood shelf when placing my support strips – so I tried to do the whole measure twice (and think twice) before cutting once thing.

Obviously the next challenge was getting the new shelves and the old vanity to be the same color. We wanted to maintain some semblance of wood grain texture, but also had some darker toned wood items in our bedroom (like a big leaning wall mirror near the doorway to this sink nook) that inspired us to go a little richer/darker with our new stain choice. We also learned from painting the vanity in our half bathroom that a deeper, less-orange shade can tone down the yellow in the sink top. So after having such a good experience with PolyShades on our stair railing (and having half a can leftover) we decided to go that route with the vanity.

The other can pictured above is some stain that we had leftover from Clara’s dresser makeover, which we first brushed onto the new shelves (to get them closer to the existing color on the left side of the vanity before PolyShading the whole thing to be uniform). I stupidly forgot to take a picture of that step, so unfortunately we’ll just have to skip ahead, but the color wasn’t a perfect match at all – just sort of within a tone or two instead of one side being bleach blonde. Apparently it was enough of a similarity that one coat of Espresso PolyShades (applied with a brush) did the trick in fully bridging the gap. Oh and before I brushed on the PolyShades, Sherry lightly sanded the existing vanity side so it was stain-ready just like the fresh wood was.

Before Sherry reattached the doors and put the drawer back in (all of which I had removed to make staining easier) we updated the knobs with some cheap ones (under $2 each!) that we found at Target. We thought that the octagon shape was a nice step-up from completely basic but the color would blend in nicely with our dark stain, so the knobs won’t compete with the patterned floor. In addition to using four of them to replace the existing knobs, I also drilled holes to add two more in the dummy drawer face that sits under the sink for a more balanced look.

And with that folks, we have a completed vanity. Wait, but let’s reminisce about what we started with:

And where we ended up:

I realize the dark stain color makes it a bit hard to see some of the detail in photos (in person it’s more wood-grain-ish without looking quite as goth-dark), but I’m happy to report that the new shelves look like they’ve always been there. We only did one coat of the PolyShades because we didn’t want it getting any darker, so there’s a little variation in the wood tone throughout the vanity. A second coat might’ve evened that out, but we both decided we like how the variation maintains the wood grain (although if you’re going for consistent overall coverage, we’d probably recommend two coats).

The best part is that the project was super cheap for us. Thanks to having the plywood and both types of stain on hand, our only costs were a 1 x 2″ board and a 1 x 3″ board ($12 total), along with the knobs ($12) and two pairs of new ORB hinges for the cabinet doors ($6). So this entire vanity update came to a grand total of $30. Note: if you don’t have plywood and stain on hand, you might want to add $30 to the budget.

Between this, our half bathroom, and our stair makeover, we’re starting to notice that we’re really gravitating towards high-contrast, almost monochromatic color schemes in the smaller nooks and crannies of this house. I don’t think it’s an indication that we’re ditching color (our adjoining bedroom has blue walls, a green rug, bright yellow pillows, and a patterned headboard – and we can’t forget Clara’s recent wall & door makeover) but I do think we’re appreciating the impact of some dark accents in the mix.

And just for fun, here’s a before shot from that angle from before we moved in:

So I’d say we’re getting pretty darn close to calling Phase 1 of the sink nook complete. Which is probably a good thing since we’re halfway through stripping wallpaper in the dining room and ready to start rolling on some kitchen updates before the chaos of the holidays (along with the showhouse kicking into high gear). What did you guys do this weekend? Any building? Sealing? Staining? New hardware? Closet organization? As boring as the closet organization part sounds, it’s pretty nice to finally have a real spot for all of our stuff after feeling like we were living out of bins and sorting through random piles since June.



Building A Garage Or Carport Pergola

Parking our car got a little more scenic this weekend with the completion of our carport pergola. Or, cargola (pergolaport?) if you will.

Last week we talked about dressing up our carport with the help of some pergola plans from Workbench Magazine. The plans took a lot of the guesswork out of it, but there was still plenty of actual work. All-in-all it took about 4.5 days of work (the half day was spent picking up the materials, which we talked about here) but I’m gonna boil it down to one simple post. So here we go. What you need to know is that there were four main parts to this building project: 1) the column, 2) the braces, 3) the joists, and 4) the lath.

Most attached pergolas don’t have the column in the equation (they just attach to the walls beside or above a garage door or a french door), but because our carport only had posts on the left side (see below) our first assignment was to add one on the right to add symmetry and create a place for the pergola to attach.

To attach a post to our concrete floor, we used this post base which is built for situations like this. And I got to break out my hammer drill to make a pilot hole for the concrete anchor, which was a good time. I bought the hammer drill back when I was starting the deck, but never ended up using it, so I’m glad I had it around because I needed it’s drill-plus-hammer motion to get through the concrete. Then I hammered in a wedge anchor and tightened the nut to keep it in place.

I attached another metal post base on the ceiling (this time just using heavy-duty screws) so that we could slide a 4 x 4″ post right in there and nail it into place.

Since that post is neither very attractive or big enough, we used the same method as we did when we beefed up our porch columns. They didn’t sell any pre-primed pine in long enough boards, so we primed and painted the two 1 x 6″ and one 1 x 4″ boards before hanging them. Here I am using our nail gun to attach the boards in place and give the column a chunkier look.

After we caulked the seams and added some touch-up paint, our first of four steps was officially checked off the list. And I should add that this took me the better part of my first day (with occasional “hold this with me” and “take a picture of this step” and “help me paint while Clara naps” assistance from Sherry).

The other part of day one was spent getting started on my braces (or “knee braces” if I’m feeling formal). These were by far the most complicated of all four steps, since there were four sub-step when it came to building each one.  We originally hoped to purchase these pre-made, but we couldn’t find any in the size that we needed. In the end, I’m glad I made them because it was much cheaper.

Some of the braces that I saw online were going for $50 – $100 a piece, depending on the size. Each of mine were made from one single 12 ft piece of 2 x 6″ and a few bolts, making mine about $22 each. So the first step was to cut my 2 x 6″ into the lengths that my plans called for. Burger double-checked my work.

First up was what I’m calling the “base” (the part that rests against the column). They were pretty straightforward. I cut some decorative notches on the bottom with my miter saw and then used some hole-boring bits to make a few places on each side to countersink my bolts. Again, my plan took a lot of the mystery out of what to do, but it was still a bit tedious.

The next pieces I tackled were the “beams” – the parts that would stick out from the base at a 90° angle. They were really easy, which was lucky because I had to make four of them. I actually clamped two together when I made the cut so that I’d be sure the beams that got paired together on the same brace were absolutely identical.

With the easy stuff out of the way, I turned my attention to the “arch.” Yes, a dreaded curved cut. Cue the dramatic music. To mark my curved line, I tapped some temporary nails into the wood at both ends and at the middle/top of my curve. Then I used a thin piece of scrap wood (a small piece of PVC works too) and bent it over my nails to create an arched shape. That held long enough for me to mark the curved line between my two nail-points.

Next was the challenge of actually cutting that line. Since I don’t own a scroll saw, I had to rely on my jigsaw. It did the job okay, but since it’s sometimes hard to keep the blade perfectly vertical, my arch had a couple of wonky spots (not majorly wonky, but wonky enough that I noticed them) so we sanded the heck out of it to try to smooth things out.

After some vigorous sanding they were a lot better looking, and some primer further cleaned things up (we primed all of our brace pieces together once they were all cut out).

Then we had to assemble them. It was a tricky system of clamps, temporary nail gun nails, and balancing on scrap wood pieces to get it done, so don’t even try to make sense of this picture (it’s upside down, if that helps).

Basically we had to get both of the beams and the single arch piece aligned (and centered and level) and then screw them to the base using some 3″ lag bolts. It took a bit of finesse to get it all done without attaching something slightly crooked, but eventually we got the job done.

Then we had to drive some bolts through two beams (and the portion of the arch that sat between them). It sounds very straightforward, but the process took me a while and the rest of the day was spent rerouting a gutter and outdoor light fixture. So by the end of day two we had built two braces, but I couldn’t call this step complete since they were neither painted (that happened the next morning) nor hung (which also got done the next day).

Hanging them took some finesse too, mostly because one of us had to hold the weight of it while the other checked that it was level and temporarily nailed it into place. There’s no way brad nails would support the weight of it over time, but they kept each brace in place long enough for us to drive a lag bolt into the top and bottom of each one, which secured it for the long haul.

By noon on day three we were finally ready to move on to step 3.

Step 3 was the joists. You know, those two long pieces that would rest on each of the braces. These were again made from 2 x 6″ board and again they required a decorative curved cut (marked below). We did the curve on just the left side since on the right side they’d butt up against the side of the house.

Once they were cut, we hoisted them into place and marked the exact spot where they rested on the braces.

These marks showed me where we needed to cut notches in the joists so they’d sit tight on the braces. And while we had them down, we also primed and painted them.

While the paint dried I got started on step 4, so it wasn’t until the next morning that we could actually hoist them into place. As for how we screwed them into place, we basically drilled a long pilot hole through the top of each joist and used a long drill bit to screw right through the top of the joist and into the brace’s beam below.

The last step was the lath, or the small strips that create the rail across the top. Since we were going to paint ours I couldn’t use the pre-cut pressure treated 2 x 2″ pieces that they sell pre-cut for deck railings (they say pressure treated lumber should be allowed to “dry out” for a number of weeks before paint or stain traps the treatment’s moisture in – and we wanted to paint things right away). So we bought regular 2 x 2″ boards that were 8 feet long and cut them down at home. This ended up being substantially cheaper, but we needed 50 of them (including a few just-in-case extras) so cutting and sanding them took me a good two hours. It was not exactly fun, but it was nice and mindless. Then came priming and painting all. those. pieces.

We had to cover all four sides of them since they’d all be seen, so thank goodness the paint had good coverage and it only took one coat (it’s Benjamin Moore Exterior paint leftover from the previous owners). Once everything was dry, we could start putting the lath into place on top of the joists.

This was the point that we both started to get giddy because the pergola was actually starting to look like a pergola. Oh and we cut a few 3-inch wide “spacers”out of scrap wood to help us keep our gaps even so we could screw them into place as quickly as possible (see the two longer unpainted boards in the picture below?).

By the end of day four, step four was 100% done.

And with that, we could step back and enjoy our gussied-up carport. How YOU doin?

We’re both crazy happy with how it turned out. We were nervous (well, I was nervous) because it wasn’t the most conventional spot for a pergola – but it really is a huge upgrade. Suddenly that parking space tacked on the end of our house has some character. It has actually turned two anti-carport people (remember we almost didn’t look at this house just because it had one) into carport lovers. Well, cargola lovers.

Despite being a bit tedious, none of the labor was really that back-breaking. And the DIY price can’t be beat – especially when we heard that custom attached pergola kits are being sold for over 2K! Here’s where ours wound up:

Oh and if you have a carport that already has two columns (or a garage with outside walls to rest the braces on) and you buy the braces instead of building them it would be about 50% easier (and should cut out around 2 days of work). So that’s an awesome option for anyone who wants to instantly cut four steps down to two.

I feel like the new pergola gives our house a bit of “quaintness” (if that’s a word). We especially like how it frames the view of our street, which is currently blooming like crazy. Either way, it definitely adds some nice dimension to our flat ranch.

So yeah, between this and our beefed up porch columns, we’re falling in love with the front of our house all over again. And can you just imagine some flowering vines growing up those posts and across the top of the pergola? Holy charming, batman.

What’s on your outdoor agenda these days?

Psst- We’re so excited by all of the activity, sharing, and advice-giving that’s been going on over on Young House Love Forums, so here’s a quick summary of a few updates we made for you guys.