Home Improvement

They’re Baaaaack!

This post was shaping up to be a weird one (well, weirder than our baseline weird). We were simultaneously trying to get cabinets in the laundry and re-hook up the washer & dryer, but as of yesterday morning we were sort of stuck half-way through both projects and this was the best progress shot we thought we’d have for you today:

But thanks to some last minute pieces falling into place over the last 24 hours, we have working appliances that have been completely re-installed (picture Sherry dancing for no less than twenty minutes with an elated baby in her arms laughing at her) and doors on our all of our cabinets (more dancing – also singing). I’ll get into appliance installation details next week (getting the overflow drain and washer pan connected took some effort) but today is all about cabinets.

We’ve been wanting to take Ikea cabinets for a spin since we’re heavily considering them for our eventual kitchen remodel. We hear great things about them and pretty consistently see them popping up in high end homes thanks to magazines like Dwell, Domino, and House Beautiful, yet we’ve gone a bunch of other routes in the past. We’ve done the custom cabinet thing in our first house, and the second-hand / work-with-what-you’ve-got thing in our second house (we refinished our existing cabinets and added used ones from the Habitat ReStore). It’s funny that despite all of the Ikea in our life, we’ve never actually dabbled in their cabinetry. So the laundry room felt like a perfect lower-risk test space to learn the process and to help us determine if we want to go this route in the kitchen down the line.

We started by using their online Kitchen Planner to map out the space. We actually used it before to help envision our last kitchen, even though we weren’t purchasing their cabinets. In general it’s a pretty easy (and free!) online tool to play around with – although I did have to insert a dishwasher into my plan, since they don’t have a dryer option. Before long we had a plan and a shopping list that we could print out and bring to the store.

The above shot is the plan after the kitchen expert at Ikea helped us fine-tune things. I’m glad we arrived with an idea of what we wanted (it saved a ton of time!) but I’m also glad we consulted with one of their employees before our purchase (it saved some unnecessary purchases when she went through the list and explained that some things weren’t necessary for this type of installation). She also helped to point out some trim that we might want to add to hide our under cabinet lighting (last minute decision = under cabinet lighting, just to help us see & treat stains more easily).

While we were there, we also made a change in our cabinet door decision. Online the Ramsjo looked closest to what we wanted, but in person it had more of a whitewashed wood look (with some pink undertones). The Adel, even though it was labeled “off-white” appeared to be a lot closer to the solid white look we wanted. It wasn’t perfectly white, but we’re used to Ikea stuff being ever so slightly creamy.

Everything was in stock, so about an hour (and 800-some-dollars) later we were packed up and back on the road. Which was a good thing since we were doing this on a Friday afternoon, which is pretty much the last time you should attempt traveling I-95 South near Ikea (we were doing a few other things in the area, so it definitely wouldn’t have been the time we’d pick if we were just hitting Ikea and returning home).

We gritted our teeth through the normal rush hour / summer Friday traffic. And just as we got through it… they closed the highway entirely because a truck spilled acid all over the road. Sooooo yeah. I trip that’s normally two hours took about three times that long.

Once we had them home, it was time to put them together, which we hear is the most dreaded part of an Ikea kitchen. It wasn’t so bad for us since we were only assembling three upper cabinets and one lower one. Plus, we did the three uppers assembly-line-style (not to be confused with Gangnam Style) so it went faster.

Actually, the most annoying part was nailing the panels on the back of each one, and that wasn’t even that bad (it just took a while since there were around 24 nails for each cabinet).

I have to say, we were both pretty impressed with the hanging system Ikea uses. In all of the Ikea kitchens we’ve seen online and in magazines, we never realized that the uppers aren’t screwed to the wall like traditional cabinets. Instead, they all hang from a metal rail that you install directly into the wall studs, which made hanging them ourselves (and keeping them aligned) a lot easier than other methods we’ve tried in the past.

The metal hanging rail comes as one 80″ long piece, but we only needed ours wide enough for the three 24″ cabinets. The instructions suggested a hacksaw, but our Dremel made the job much faster.

Determining how high to hang the rail took some planning. We’re going to finish off our cabinets with the same crown molding that matches the rest of the house, so we had to account for the height that would add, as well as the fact that the cabinets attach to the rail a few inches down from the top of the cabinet.

Once I had my mark (which I made in the center of that back wall) I drew a line across the rest of the wall with my level.

But I soon realized that the line I marked wasn’t very helpful since it would be impossible to see behind the solid metal strip that the cabinets hang from. So I noted how much higher I needed to mark the wall to give myself a more visible reference point.

And so went the second line on my wall.

 We also marked the studs so we were sure our screws would be going into something solid.

The wall is pretty flat (i.e. it doesn’t bow or dip anywhere) so we could just directly screw the metal rail into each of the studs. But according to the instructions, you might have to shim it if your wall is a little wavy.

With the rail securely hung on the wall, we slid in the bolts that each cabinet frame would hang from.

The cabinet frames aren’t very heavy (at least without shelves or doors yet) so it was easy enough for one person to hoist them up and place them on the bolts (Sherry did one herself without any sweating or cursing). We secured them one at a time, so the first one to go up was that middle one, then I did the right one and Sherry did the left one.

Once they’re resting on those two bolts, you add a metal clip and a nut – then tighten everything with a wrench. The clip allows you to adjust the placement slightly in case you need to level things a little. As you can see above, we rested a level on top to make sure each cabinet was straight as we went.

Once all three were up, we clamped them together at the edges so we could bolt all of them together to make one solid unit (this also eliminated any gaps between them). Once clamped, I drilled through one of the peg holes using a 3/16″ bit. NOTE: I realized afterwards that you should do the very bottom and very top hole, not the second one in – since those are used for the door hardware, but it was easy to correct – it just meant doing it twice.

With a hole drilled through both cabinets, I used the supplied screws to make the connection tight.

The final step was snapping on the white plastic caps to cover the hanging hardware on the back of the cabinet.

So here are our three uppers sitting pretty on the wall. Definitely an improvement when it comes to storage & function, but not super impressive looking since they still need some wood filler pieces on the sides and some crown on the top. Oh yeah and shelves and doors.

The doors were pretty easy to add, since the hardware that Ikea sells uses pressure to attach everything (there’s no drilling holes or anything). The various screws can help you adjust the placement, but our first one seemed to sit nicely against the frame without touching them at all.

What wasn’t so nice? The color. It’s harder to detect in photos than real life, but the Adel door front was looking a lot more cream than we hoped it would look (it’s a few shades darker than the other slightly cream Ikea furniture we have). It looked especially yellow next to a Simply White scrap piece of baseboard – which is what all of our home’s trim/baseboards/doors are painted.

We didn’t expect it to match perfectly, but after some Googling (which we wish we’d done before our Ikea trip) we realized that Ikea sells a door style that people say matches Simply White almost perfectly (what are the odds, they actually shouted out our house’s exact trim/door color?!). Meanwhile the style we bought is said to match Benjamin Moore’s Paper Mache (which is notably less white). Oops. We sadly overlooked the Lidingo door style since the picture on Ikea’s website makes it look a lot darker/yellower, but here’s an example of how the matching paint swatches look SO DIFFERENT than the photos of the doors online:

And while the Lidingo door style isn’t as clean-lined as the shaker style that we’re usually most attracted to, it definitely fits the style of our house and looks pretty great in other Ikea kitchens we’ve scoped online (we’ve always liked Dana’s over at HouseTweaking, so learning that she used them was definitely a selling point). But most selling of all was the fact that there was actually a door style that is said to match all of our house’s doors and trim. I know I’ve said what are the odds already, but really, what are the odds?!

So… we halted door installation and started planning a return trip to Ikea. Cue the eye twitch and flashbacks to highway closure traffic. But by some MIRACLE, it turns out my parents were visiting my sister and cousins in Northern Virginia on Tuesday and could swing by Ikea on their way home and get the new Lidingo doors for us. They are such an improvement over the Adels that we couldn’t wait to hang them last night after we got the kids to bed. We even tucked the base cabinet in there for kicks, although it still needs to be secured to the wall to be officially installed (along with needing trim pieces on the sides, hardware, a counter, and a toe kick).

Actually, our to-do list is still pretty long in the cabinet department. But those little details are what makes it all come together, so we’re psyched to dive into them.

It’s definitely still more of a blank slate in here, so we’re especially excited to bring in some wood tones to break up all the white – in the form of a butcher block counter among a few other items (you can read about those plans here).

We still need to return the doors and drawer fronts in that first color (we only unboxed one), but we’ll be driving through that area again in a few weeks so it’s not too much of a pain to stop in and drop those off (he says while crossing all appendages that no unforeseen traffic issues arise). Also, here’s how I feel about being able to do laundry at home again:



Drywall Taping, Mudding, & Sanding – Oh My!

Over the weekend we wrapped up our adventure in finishing the drywall in the laundry room. It was a humbling experience, but we’re feeling nothing short of glorious about how it turned out. In fact Sherry and I spent a few minutes doing this in there on Sunday.

Project Completion Euphoria. It’s a real thing. And it can make a grown man twirl.

We’re not ready to put “pro drywaller” on the ol’ resume quite yet, but I do think we’ll go into our next drywallstravaganza with a lot more confidence. We devoured YouTube videos and online tutorials for about an hour one morning, and quickly learned that there seem to be just as many variations on proper technique as there are opinions (reminder to self: never read YouTube comments). We finally decided to generally follow this video, since it was clear and seemed consistent with the most common advice. So this post will show you the process we went with, and what techniques seemed to be the most effective for us. We even threw in a couple of videos for you (although none of them have our Sound of Music reenactment).

Before we started this reno, I was quick to tell Sherry that my vote was to heavily consider hiring out the mudding/taping of the drywall. It’s just a skill we have limited practice with (patching a hole here and there mostly) and it really is an art when you watch the pros. My biggest encounter to date was 5 years ago during our first bathroom gut job, but it was just doing a handful of seams. Somewhere along the line I felt my opinion starting to shift, and as we decided to take on more of this renovation ourselves, I realized this would be a good room for us to build our drywall finishing skills. There would be lots of seams to practice on and if they didn’t turn out so hot, we would have various items like baseboard, crown molding, cabinets, appliances, and backsplash tile blocking some of them – and it’s not like it’s a major gathering spot (like a kitchen or living room for example).

So let’s start with our materials, most of which should be available right in the drywall section of any home improvement store:

The mud pan is not only a handy way to not have to lug the whole bucket around with you, but it also has some metal edges so you can keep your knives clean and scraped off throughout the process.

We started with the easy step: covering the screw holes. Having used a drywall counter-sink bit during installation, our screws were already set into the drywall slightly (kinda dimpled in there) making it quick and easy to slop on a bit of mud and scrape it flat.

There were lots of screws to cover, but Sherry took two sides along with the hallway and I got the other two and the laundry room ceiling so it went pretty fast that way.

Next up was taping the joints or seams between sheets of drywall. There’s mesh tape that has an adhesive built in, which we’ve used before and found tough (if you sand too much, the mesh texture comes through easily), so we chose to use paper tape this time, which requires a bed of mud to stick to the wall. That application method was an extra step, but almost all of the pro tutorials that we watched used it, and it ended up being a lot easier to work with in our opinion (we didn’t have that mesh-showing-through issue – so it made for a smoother result).

First I applied my “bedding layer” on the horizontal seams. The drywall boards taper slightly on the edges, so this whole process is meant to bridge the gap between boards and flatten the taper. Once I got a decent layer of mud applied, I dragged my 6″ blade across it to smooth it out.

Once it was smooth, I took my piece of tape (already ripped to the length of the seam) and lightly pressed it into the layer of mud. It takes just a soft tap for it to stick to the mud. Note: I saw some tutorials suggest wetting the tape first. I tried this once and didn’t find it any easier, just messier, so I worked with mine dry.

Once lightly adhered across the seam, I dragged my 6″ knife across the seam with a little bit of pressure to smoosh it down into the mud. It helped to start in the middle of the wall and work out to one corner and then repeat that on the other side. Since the tape may drag when you first start, it helps to put a finger on it to keep it in place when you first pull your knife across it.

With the tape embedded, I then used a slightly larger knife (an eight incher) to put and smooth another layer on top. By using a larger knife it helps feather out the edges so they blend more seamlessly with the wall, all while disguising the taper of the boards.

Here’s my horizontal seam after my first round. It actually wasn’t that hard at all, so it had me thinking I could do this all day…

… and then came the corners. The added corner element definitely made them more of a challenge. I wouldn’t rate this step as a “panic and throw things and curse the DIY Gods” undertaking, but I think a “you have to concentrate more and it takes more time” descriptor is fitting for this part (I’d call it a 6 on the DIY difficulty scale, while the flat seams are a 2). The process started off pretty much the same as the flat seams. I could even use the same tape, since it comes pre-creased for corner applications.

Just like before, I applied a bedding layer first – which involved running my mud-filled knife down each side of the corner.

Once both sides of each corner were covered with a fair amount of mud, I broke out my corner trowel to smooth it out. The corner trowel is a lifesaver when it comes to getting a sharp angle in the corner and smoothing both walls simultaneously.

Then on went the tape with a light tap, just to keep it in place.

Next I pressed the tape into the mud with another swipe of the corner trowel. Since it was hard to get my finger and the trowel in the top corner (to keep the paper from dragging), I found it sometimes helped to dip my trowel in water first to glide along the tape more smoothly.

The corners ate up a lot more time than the flat seams since we had four vertical corners in the room, four horizontal corners around the ceiling, plus nine more around the doorways in the hall. But hey, at least we had 17 corner seams to practice on! Note: I’ll explain in a little more detail what else was challenging about the corners in a second, complete with a video to show you what ended up working nicely, so stay with me.

Oh and I thought it would be helpful to mention that my first round of mudding took longer than the 12-24 hours to dry that most tutorials suggested (Sherry started a second round after 24, but noticed it was pulling some damp mud up in a few areas so we decided to wait one more day).

Once everything was dry (you can tell because the mud will be one consistent color) we put another coat on our seams, this time using a slightly larger 10″ knife to further spread the edges out a bit.

We also tackled another layer of mud on our screw holes together, since you could tell our first pass had shrunk a little bit when drying.

With that done, it was time to face the corners again. I actually watched a few more videos with tips before beginning, which seemed to help – and I even made a video to show the technique that ended up working for me in the hopes of passing it along to you guys. I didn’t let Sherry record me until my third (and final) round of mudding, just to be sure I had a good handle on it – so forgive the time jump. It’s also on a ceiling crease, but it works the same way on vertical wall corners.

For those who can’t watch the video, I’ll do my best to explain it with photos. It started like I did the first time – slopping some mud on both sides of the corner with my 6″ trowel, followed by a pass with the corner trowel to smooth it out and wipe off excess.

The issue is that the trowel edge tends to leave ridges where the excess is pushed out, but not smoothed down.

So to take care of those, I used my 6″ trowel to flatten them and feather the edge better. The challenge here is that you risk creating another ridge with the trowel (in the case of the photo below it would be the left corner), basically creating a vicious cycle of ridges that are left behind. But if you hold your 6″ trowel at a slight angle, that can help you apply pressure on the outside edge so you can eliminate the first ridge without making a new one (or at least a very big one). This takes some finesse, so forgive yourself if you don’t get it right away, but once it “clicked” for me it was a lot easier.

After eliminating (or greatly reducing) the ridge, then I went back and did one more pass with my corner trowel, just to be safe.

Here’s the room after two rounds of mudding. Fortunately the second round was much faster since (a) we weren’t taping and (b) I was getting better at those corners (cue the Rocky music, guys).

After 24 hours, it was sanding time. You can see in the photo below that my best efforts to smooth everything out with those trowels weren’t perfect and I still had some defined edges that needed to be smoothed out and blended into the wall better.

I was actually excited to try out the idea of “wet sanding” to help eliminate some of the dust that threatens to coat everything in a normal “dry sanding.” I’d heard people use everything from a sponge to a t-shirt for wet sanding, but I went with this sanding sponge that was sold alongside all of the other drywall sanding materials (since it has a coarser side for scrubbing). I also kept an 120 grit sanding block nearby for any tough spots.

Well, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with the damp sponge. It did the job, but it took a lot more effort that I had expected.

So I decided to try something different – which I explain in the video below – that ended up working really well.

Again, if the video is a no-go for you. Here’s the gist – I used the 120 grit sanding block as a sponge, since it retained water AND had a little more scrubbing power than the plain sponge did.

I didn’t want it very wet at all (that could rub off the drywall paper) but just damp enough to moisten the dried mud (and so that that the dust from sanding stuck to the surface of the block, which didn’t happen when it was bone dry).

I wouldn’t call this method “100% dust free” by any means, since once the block got coated with a layer of dust it started to toss it around a bit. The difference was that the dampness caused the dust to just fall to the ground right below whatever I was sanding, rather than becoming a cloud in the room. Once one side of the block got covered, I turned it over to get a more time out of it before having to rinse it in my bucket (it took a bit of massaging to get the dust coat off).

This step was a HUGE relief, because I was worried about a few corners where my application wasn’t as smooth as the others. Here’s one particularly rough spot and how well the wet-sanding step corrected my mistake.

Once the sanding was done, we could put our third and final finish coat on the walls. A bunch of tutorials suggested thinning out the mud a bit so that it goes on even smoother, so I dumped a little water in…

…and blended it with a paddle mixer. You can see I did this in an empty bucket, so we weren’t diluting our whole stash. It didn’t make it too much thinner, just about the consistency of mayonnaise.

I’ll spare you pictures the photos of our third round of application and our second round of sanding (they were identical to the process I’ve already shown, and this post is already overloaded with pictures) – so let’s just jump to the after.


Since that’s not the most exciting picture ever, let’s jump one step further to the primed room. We were so eager to see how our taping, mudding, and sanding held up to the test of being coated with primer that we jumped right on it yesterday. And it looks like a real room, guys! A space that didn’t exist a few weeks ago is there now – and everything is smooth! We feel like having people over to stand around and look at the walls with us. Is that a thing? No? Ok, we won’t.

Here are a couple more before/afters for you. We’re really happy with how smooth the transition is in the hall too.

Here’s one last (waaay) before & after to show how this formerly dead end of the hallway has changed. It’s going to be funny to look back on old house tour videos and see a laundry closet there instead of a doorway.

Next up is painting and then installing the floor (we picked tile! more on that soon!). After that we’re debating whether we should roll the washer and dryer back in (at least temporarily) just to have them hooked up again, or if we should hold out to get a few more things done without them in the room, like hanging the doors and adding the molding. Decisions, decisions…