Home Improvement

Lights, Ceiling, Action

This past week has been full of showhouse meetings and Children’s Hospital projects, but we also managed to knock three more bullets off our kitchen to-do list. We (1) patched, primed, and painted the old yellowed ceiling, (2) replaced the two fluorescent lights in the kitchen area, and (3) replaced the light over the breakfast table. So let’s kick things off with our favorite new view:

Each light installation had its own little peculiarities, so I’ll dive into those before detailing the work that went into the ceiling. When it came to replacing the big fluorescent light, many of you asked for a step-by-step rundown (so you can tackle one of these beasts at home) and the good news is that it was actually pretty simple. First, I snapped off the plastic cover and twisted out the two tube bulbs.

You can see these two steps were actually done before we painted the walls because we wanted to be sure that the fixture box was centered. In our last kitchen, the wires came through the ceiling at one end of the fluorescent light, which could’ve meant problems here (moving the box to be centered). But after snapping out the metal cover (that ran between the two bulbs) we could see that we were in luck this time around.

Then, with the power turned off (at the breaker, not at the switch), I unscrewed the wire caps so that we could detach the wiring.

Now the only thing holding up the fluorescent fixture were two big screws on either end. Once I unscrewed those…

…I could finally remove it entirely. Apparently I was so excited to have it gone, I blurred my face.

The fixture that was going in its place (the burlap quatrefoil shade from our local Decorating Outlet that we mentioned here) hung from a dual-bulb pendant. We wanted it to sit nearly flush to the ceiling so we had to cut off a lot of excess wire before hanging it. This can be done to shorten any pendant fixture, or even to convert a plug-in light to a hard-wired one.

Then I just had to re-strip the cord (to expose the three wires) and strip off the tip of each individual wire to create a place for them to connect to the wires in the ceiling. PS: this wire stripper I bought a while back (similar to this $17 one) has been a great purchase, in case you’re planning to hang any light fixtures soon. That’s not an affiliate link or anything, it’s just a helpful tool that I took years too long to buy, and now that I have one I’m kind of a nerd for it.

With my cord shortened and my wires ready, I could complete the installation per usual, by attaching the mounting bracket to the ceiling, connecting the matching wires together with wire caps, and then tightening on the ceiling cover with the two small screws that came with it.

Here it is once the shade was installed – and after we’d painted and patched the ceiling too (notice how the holes and discoloration are gone from the photo above?). The light doesn’t have a diffuser, but we could have one cut from acrylic by a local glass company if it bothers us. I think we’re used to pendants without them (we had a basket pendant in our last kitchen without one) and we have soft white frosted bulb LEDs in the shade, which don’t feel too blinding (clear bulbs are typically brighter that the frosted types).


Now onto the light switch over the kitchen table. We originally talked about having to move it about a foot to be more centered in the room, but we realized for the short term we could just shift our table over a little bit and it’d be just fine for now. We’ll probably have to shimmy both the table and the light around 10″ once we convert the triple windows to doors, but that’s down the line quite a bit, so we’re happy to live with this for now and save the major ceiling work for the real kitchen reno down the line.

We hung the shade directly from the pendant as it’s meant to be installed. It did come with some extra chain up top (which you can see pictured here) but that would’ve made ours hang way too low (practically touching the tabletop), so we cut it off with some metal snips. As for how we knew what height to hang it, we just googled and read that around 30-32″ is standard for a large pendant over a table, so we went with 31″.


Oh and a few people asked why we didn’t try making a DIY version of this woven chandelier when we shared it last week (since it just looks like a few hoops and some twine) but the whole thing is actually metal (to give it structure) wrapped in natural fibers that’s then fused together with chain and a bunch of vertical spines to hold its shape. Sherry actually did try to “skin” an old shade to see if she could make something similar before we ordered this one, but without tons of metal hoops (around 20 per shade) and then soldering on a bunch of vertical spines to hold it all together, it would just be floppy and the twine wouldn’t hold that round shape (more on that here). So that’s why we were happy to spring for the real deal this time.


Last but not least was the little baby fluorescent over the sink. It had been hidden behind the cabinetry on that side, but now that we removed it (in favor of some open shelving that we can’t wait to add) – well, it’s super obvious.


While it was a relief that the wires were centered over the window (again, this wasn’t the case in our last kitchen) it was kind of a bummer to take down the old light and discover that there was no fixture box in the ceiling. Just a big hole where the wires poked out.


We’d need a fixture box to install the new glass funnel pendant that we’d planned for the space. I felt around near the wires to see if there was a beam that I could attach a fixture box to, but came up with nothing. So it meant installing one of these “old work” ceiling boxes. They’re designed to slide into existing spaces (not “new work”, aka new construction) and they’re held in place by three little wings on the side. Once you’ve placed the box in your drywall, you tighten the screws on the face which swing the wings out and pull them forward – eventually hitting the back of the drywall and pinching the box in place.


My research revealed that these aren’t technically meant to support light fixtures (something that nails or screws into the frame of the house is recommended), but plenty of reviewers on the Home Depot site reported using them to hang lightweight fixtures like ours, so we felt comfortable giving it a try. It turned out to be really secure (we got it up at the end of last week and it has held strong without even a slight loosening) but we definitely wouldn’t rely on a fix like this for a heavier chandelier and certainly not a ceiling fan.

To install the box I first had to cut a hole for it in the ceiling. It had come with a template, but somewhere between checkout and home we lost the sheet. So Sherry made me one of my own – making sure it was a little bit smaller than the largest part of the box (since that’s a lip that needs to rest on the drywall)


Then I just needed to trace that onto the ceiling and cut the hole out using a jab saw. I kinda felt like I was in the middle of an old school cartoon where one character cuts the floor out from underneath another.


With my hole cut, I could feed my wires through the back of the box and trim them to size (they had been surprisingly long!)


Then I tightened the screws on the face of the box to secure it in place with those wings.


From there, the actual fixture install itself was straightforward (connect the right wires, secure the canopy, turn on the power, and watch it glow). We like that it’s simple and doesn’t command too much attention visually (since the other two lights in the room do) and that the view out the window isn’t obscured by a big heavy shade.


In addition to all of this lighting work, we also had to patch a bunch of holes – some where the fluorescent lights were attached and some where collateral damage from cabinet removal had occurred. In some places it took us three rounds of spackling, letting it dry, and sanding it to get a smooth finish, so it was a more drawn out (and messy) process than we would’ve liked – but the results are totally worth it. You’d never know there were fist-sized holes in a few places.


By Friday night we could finally break out the primer and paint. We just primed the areas that were raw drywall, then we painted the whole thing in Simply White (same color as the trim) in a flat finish. As is our usual MO, Sherry did all the cutting in around the crown molding, and I was the resident roller man.


The difference of the painted ceiling is somewhat subtle in pictures, but in real life it makes the whole room look a lot fresher (the glossy white painted crown next to the old yellowed ceiling was no bueno in person, so we’re glad that’s gone for good). Oh and the two larger fixtures are sporting different colored cords at the moment, but we might spray the white one ORB like we did with this pendant in our previous kitchen if it bothers us after we paint the cabinets. We generally like an oil-rubbed-bronze cord for some visual contrast, but in this case we appreciate how the white one becomes kind of invisible over the dining area, so we’ll have to keep you posted if we alter anything as the room comes together more.


It’s nice to have three more items checked off the list, but it means we’re dangerously close to the task that we’re simultaneously psyched about and dreading: painting the cabinets. But man oh man, what a difference that will make (especially when they look like this up close).

Has anyone else checked off a few things on their to-do list? We know it was an interesting weather week for lots of you, so maybe you were able to accomplish your “drink hot cocoa” and “go sledding” to-dos? We’d be a bit jealous of that, considering that all that we got was ice and freezing rain.


Who’s More Sick Of Wallpaper Than I Am?

A: Nobody
B: You guys, since this is my fourth time waging war on it
C: I’m Ron Burgundy?
D: All of the above

The answer, my friends, has to be D. Ah, how naive and thrilled I was when this whole wallpaper expedition began. Remember these famous last words? “I was actually really excited to tackle the half bathroom’s wallpaper removal project” Well, that tiny half bathroom was just the tip of the wallpaper iceberg, and then we moved onto stripping it in the foyer (which was doubled up in a few places) and the kitchen (my biggest room yet) and there were still two more rooms full o’ wallpaper just taunting me with their peeling seams and papered switch plates: the dining room and the master bathroom. So I started chipping away at the dining room about two weeks ago, just tackling it a few hours at a time after dinner every few nights. Twelve hours later… victory is mine!

Ahh, fresh ready-to-paint walls, you make my heart sing. (And seemingly endless blue trim, you make my eyes twitch).

You might remember that each time I tackle wallpaper removal I’ve tried out a different method so I can report back to you guys on who’s the fairest of them all what’s the most effective of them all. Yes, I’m the Anderson Cooper of wallpaper. Except less handsome and more pregnant. Up until this point, I had tried boiling water sprayed on with a spray bottle for method #1, a steamer for method #2 (the one that’s in the lead so far for the easiest), and warm water mixed with Dr. Bronner’s soap along with a wet rag to get the underlayer as method #3.

This time’s method was recommended by a former professional painter named Sarah (who did her fair share of wallpaper removal before many a paint job) and her suggestion was “the dry stripping approach” which was followed by a round of “wet stripping.” Sounds saucy, eh? Don’t worry, it’s rated G. Essentially she said she just peeled the paper by hand without spraying it or scoring it with anything, and then used a large damp sponge to saturate the underlayer and peel that off as a second round. So I gave that the old college try…

A lot of it actually came off in big sheets like the swatch above. Although you can see from this pile that there were a fair amount of thinner strips and leftover corners that I went back in for. It was by no means fast, but not super slow either. Surprisingly, I’d rank this dry stripping method as taking the same amount of time as spraying it all down, waiting for it to soak in, and then peeling it. Maybe even slightly faster because there’s not that spraying and waiting step. Obviously this won’t work for all situations, but if you have drywall that seems to have been properly prepped for wallpaper (as ours was) then you’ll hopefully have the same luck (especially if it’s old – this stuff was 30 years old and at some of the seams it was already loose and ready to be yanked).

This “dry” approach only took off the top layer of wallpaper for the most part (some other methods, like steaming especially, took care of both of them in one fell swoop if I was lucky) so I just ignored the white papered/glued underlayer and just pulled off the glossy top patterned part of the wallpaper, slowly making my way around the room over the course of a few days.

This is that underlayer I was talking about. As for how I loosened that up and peeled it off…

… I just dunked a large sponge in warm water…

… and wiped down the walls with it. That seemed to deposit enough water to soak through that underlayer so it started to loosen (see how it’s bubbling away from the wall on either side of the sponge in this picture?).

Then I could just peel it off. This was the slow-going part. You can see from the pile below that it came off in tiny slivers for the most part, so each wall took about an hour and a half just to free it from this clingy glue-riddled film.

One challenging area that this room had were the seams next to those corner built-ins, which appeared to be installed after the wallpaper was in place (meaning the wallpaper was pinned down behind the sides of each one). My solution was to use an exacto knife to slice the edge of it. I scored it a few times to be sure I got all the way through, running the blade right against the trim so I could get the closest cut possible.

Then I used a tweezers to grab each of those strips, and slowly I could work my way down each side of each built-in to get a nice clean look.

And now for my nemesis. The wallpaper inside of those two built-in bookcases. It was wasn’t properly prepped like it was on our primed walls – instead it was glued with some sort of permanent adhesive to the unprimed and unsealed plywood backing of those built-ins, which pretty much made it a permanent application. Which I discovered after spending about two hours on just one of those cubbies (with seven more to go) and getting a lumpy and rough looking result in the one that I was able to sloooowwwly strip. So at that point, I called John in and we made the executive decision to OBI (officially bag it).

We figure we can either paint, re-wallpaper, or even add some starched fabric right over those stubborn wallpapered areas since getting them down to the bare wood is next to impossible (and they’re actually a lot smoother and better as a foundation for any of those options with the existing wallpaper in place since that one cubby got a lot rougher and bumpier when I tried to remove the paper).

So that’s sort of a bummer, since there’s technically still a little bit of wallpaper in there mocking me from inside those built-ins, but I’m so relieved to finally have the actual walls of the room completely free of paper, and ready for some paint – along with that blue trim!

Oh and to prep the walls before paint after removing wallpaper, I’ve had luck in all of the other rooms just by spraying them down with a vinegar and warm water mixture and scrubbing them with the nubby side of a sponge to make sure any residual glue is gone before painting. I’ve heard that there are some primers that are great after removing wallpaper to block leftover glue, but so far we haven’t had any issues with glue surviving after my vinegar rub-down, and it’s nice to save that priming step (and that money on specialized primer) and just use the vinegar that we have in the pantry.

Aaaand, just because I like to cross things off, here’s how my before-the-baby-comes goal of no more old carpeting/no more blue trim/no more old wallpaper is coming along:

Slowly but surely! Can you believe we still have another whole room full of wallpaper laughing at us from upstairs? What do you think our final method should be? Maybe fabric softener? We keep hearing good things about that…

So far the steamer has been the fastest and easiest, although every other approach that we’ve tried has been 100% free using stuff we have around (we borrowed the steamer from John’s sister so that was free too – but it does involve renting or borrowing or buying something if you don’t have access to one in your house). Have you ever tried to remove wallpaper that was seemingly super glued to plywood? It’s enough to make you shake your fist at nobody and mutter “this is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life” while rolling your eyes so far back into your head that they make actual sound affects as you roll them. Not that I’d know…

Psst- John’s over on Young House Life chatting about the half marathon he ran this weekend for the folks who requested a post about that.