Our Current House

Chasing Waterfalls (Homemade Laundry Room Counter)

That’s right. You can call me T-Boz. Let’s talk about our new shelf in the laundry room, which is sporting a sweet arm band waterfall edge and some light natural stain. It was a simple DIY project involving some wood and some stain/sealer for a butcher block like effect.

We deviated from our usual mocha stain choice because we were inspired by a few rooms we’ve seen with light cabinets and tile mixed with with natural wood to add some texture and warmth. Here’s a wider shot for you. Ignore the missing filler/crown/toe kick/baseboard/hardware situation. We’re also chasing that stuff (you know, along with the waterfalls).

But first we have to talk about installing our appliances since I meant to cover that a while ago. It wasn’t all that big of deal since it was just re-attaching what I had unattached during the demo process. But one challenge was setting the washer pan under the washer and attaching it to our new overflow drain, so I thought I’d talk through how we did it (we couldn’t find many detailed tutorials about that step). The washer pan is the thing that usually sits under a washing machine when it’s on the second floor – that way if it springs a leak, the water hopefully won’t flood your upstairs, rot the floor, and send the washer plunging through the joists onto something valuable below. A nightmare scenario, no doubt, but in my head it always plays out like some Wiley Coyote cartoon. Either way, it’s not something I want to experience.

All of the contractors & plumbers we talked to actually said it was an optional thing to have a pan and an overflow drain (there’s no code dictating it in our area). One even told us that he wasn’t sure it made much of a difference (his opinion was that if your washer’s gushing water, a pan and a drain aren’t going to do much). We heard from others that it can save you a ton of trouble for those slow leaks you might otherwise miss, so we decided to be better safe than sorry, and had the plumbers put one in when they were here moving all of the other hook-ups (it was included in the $375 plumbing fee). Note: a few folks have asked about the outlet situation in the room, so you can see the extra pair we added in this shot too.

Some of you noticed that we cut around that overflow drain as we laid various levels of flooring (for example, you can see it poking up in this thinset shot from this floor tiling post). The drain was set in a way where we could gently raise or lower the pipe in the garage ceiling below, which came in handy so we weren’t constantly tripping over it.

When the plumber left us the washer pan, he shared instructions for attaching it ourselves. But first we had to figure out the exact placement of the appliances so we could precisely set the pan.

The washer would’ve happily sat nearly flush to the back wall, but the dryer’s a different story. During an installation, leaving some excess semi-rigid ducting behind the dryer is recommended so you can easily pull the dryer away from the wall without violently yanking the duct out of the wall every time it comes forward. That ducting takes up some space obviously (it’s pulled out below to show you it a bit more clearly, but even when it’s nested more closely, the dryer sits out about 8″ from that back wall). Note: they sell systems for sinking the ducting into your wall (between your studs) so it doesn’t protrude, but all the systems we found called for a vent that went up to the ceiling and ours goes straight out under the attic stairs (more on that here) so they weren’t compatible.

Thankfully that vent-space behind the dryer wasn’t a big deal to us since we expected it and had already planned the shelf. And after finalizing the dryer placement, we could finally determine where the washer should sit so it matched that depth exactly (didn’t want the washer pan sitting too far in or out). We marked the line on the floor with tape so that when we pulled the washer out again, we knew exactly where to place the pan.

To cut a hole in the pan for the drain, the plumber recommend this suuuuuuper scientific method that involved mustard. Squirt some on the drain pipe, press the pan into it (while using the tape in front as a guide for where to place the pan), and then drill where the mustard left its mark. I marked over our mustard circle with Sharpie, since the “real honey goodness” was a bit overpowering odor-wise (at least when it wasn’t accompanied by a hot dog or something).

Once the pipe was in the pan, we had been instructed to “silicone caulk the heck out of it.” I didn’t feel totally comfortable relying on caulk as our only adhesive (silicone caulk has some flex to it and we worried the weight of setting the washer down in the pan could flex it loose right off the bat) so I talked it over with another plumbing guy and an employee at Home Depot and they both suggested an expoxy, like this Marine Loctite (marine = crazy waterproof). So I glued the pipe and pan together, let it dry overnight, cut off the excess pipe with my dremel (you need the pipe to be as flush to the pan as possible so the water can drain down it) AND THEN silicone caulked the heck out of it – just to be safe.

Then it got interesting. I don’t have any pictures of Sherry and I hoisting the washer over the lip of the pan into place, but I’m sure our faces were super attractive. Somewhere in the vicinity of strained and extra veiny.

There was also some adjusting of the dryer feet to get it level with the washer  – not only did we want the front of both appliances to line up, we wanted the tops to be the same height as well (hence the level and those wrenches you see one the floor in the picture above). And when it did it was sort of like we hit the jackpot. There was celebrating. We finally had a washer & dryer again.

Speaking of other small adjustments – in our post about the Ikea cabinets a few of you recommended getting the soft-close drawer and door add-ons, so we planned to grab those the next time we were near Ikea. Then, in an exciting hinge-related turn of events, about 12 hours later we happily realized the Ikea lady must have added them to our order, because they were in the bottom of our bag with all the under cabinet lighting stuff. I’d estimate the drawers and doors are now approximately 35 times less slammy. Well worth the upgrade.

But back to the shelf. You may recall that we built it before tiling so that we knew exactly where our tile needed to go.

We constructed the shelf and counter out of two of these solid 2 x 4′ panels from Lowe’s. We liked ‘em because they were chunky (1.5″ thick) and had that nice butcher-block look to them.

We used one panel for the shelf and one for the counter. For the shelf I cut one panel into two 9″ wide boards and then we Kreg jigged them together into one long shelf. The counter involved cutting the other panel into two 18″ wide pieces and jigging them together. I didn’t cut off the excess counter until after the tile was installed since I wanted to be sure to get the overhang right (so you can see it hanging over too far in this picture).

The waterfall edge came from cutting the end of the shelf off at a 45-degree angle and then gluing & nail gunning it together again at a right angle. Since it’s attached to the shelf (which we made removable so we have easy access to the appliance hookups when we need them), I just measured carefully so that it would rest on the counter and line up nicely on the left edge, to make it look like one piece. The top of the shelf doesn’t rest on the appliances, it rests above them on four heavy duty brackets, which you can see better in this post (three of them were screwed into studs to make them extra strong). We didn’t want the washer to shake the shelf and knock things off as it ran. We’ve done three pretty big loads of laundry and so far, so good.

Since we don’t have a go-to lighter stain preference, we tested out a bunch of options on some scrap pieces from the shelf/counter build. Sherry pre-stained/conditioned half of each, then stained the whole block with one of four colors (two by Minwax, two by Rustoleum). Once dried, we pained some varnish on the top half of each – but it made them more yellow than we wanted, so it quickly got nixed. Of course the nuances are easier to see in real life, but we thought Ipswich Pine and Summer Oak looked a little too light and Wheat was a bit too dark/red for us. So Golden Oak was a pretty easy choice.

We applied one coat of stain, followed by three coats of Safecoat Acrylaq, which is what we used to seal the wood vanity top in our first house’s bathroom (it held up so well to water in there that we knew it would be great in a laundry room).

I’m stoked with how it turned out. I think it’s exactly what the room needed, and it’s exciting to start layering things in over the light & bright foundation of the cabinets and the tile. Admittedly our shelf looks a little lonely right now, but we’re just getting started…

So we still have some loose ends to tie up on this wall (here’s my visual checklist of sorts), but on the bright side – we got the door hung!

And the fancy glass one that leads to the future bunk-room is in the works, so we’ll hopefully finish that up and have the details for you next week. It bears mentioning that we’ll also be adding things like a laundry sorter, a pull-out drying rack, and a wall-mounted ironing board on some other walls of the room, so those details should be coming soon too.

This feels like a good moment to do a budget update, so here you go:

The two contractor estimates that we got for just the framing, electrical, plumbing, and drywall stuff came in at $3,250 and $5,000, so it’s incredibly comforting that we’re still on the low end of that range after adding a marble backsplash, tiled floors, cabinetry, and a shelf/counter (including some upgrades like soft close doors and under-cabinet lights). That being said, we’re almost exactly double where we were at our last check-in because we hit our big ticket items like tile & cabinets. But hopefully once we’re past the door and trim/crown installation we’ll be at the end of our major expenses. Dare I say this new room of ours (and reconfigured bunk-room entry) might clock in under the $4,000 mark?

That sounds like a jinxy thing to say. Maybe I should play it safer? I’m certain we’ll come under the $100,000 mark (now I really hope I didn’t jinx myself).



Installing A Herringbone Tile Backsplash: Like A Cable Knit Sweater On Our Wall

That was my description after we installed the marble backsplash tile on the back wall of the laundry room. And under-cabinet sweaters are something I can get behind. It seems like just last week we were installing laundry room floor tile (oh yeah, because we were), but this time around we got to break out the tile we bought a while back for the wall behind our washer and dryer. Suddenly the room feels a lot more upgraded than the blank box that we started with, and it only took 13 sheets of tile to do it.

Try to ignore the unfinished shelf /counter since it’s half done (still needs to be stained/sealed/installed, so we’ll tackle that later this week). The important things to note about the shelf is that it will rest on some L-brackets and be completely removable, so we will still have easy access behind the appliances (we can even reach into that triangle between them while the shelf’s in place to shut off the water in an emergency). But thanks to that new shelf, no random socks will fall back behind the washer & dryer anymore – plus it’ll add some nice warmth & texture to the room.

The only reason we constructed the shelf/counter before tiling that area is so we could mark a line to indicate how far down we needed to tile (and make sure we didn’t tile where those brackets would go, since hanging them first and tiling around them would be a lot easier).

We’ll be staining the wood slightly darker, maybe somewhere in the vicinity of #1 in the mood board below (you can also see the wall tile down there as #9, which is the Hampton Carrera marble from The Tile Shop, in the small herringbone pattern). We hear it’s back-ordered now, so we wanted to be sure not to make any bad cuts that would result in us running out of tile and needing to wait months to finish this job (hence drawing that line above and taking things nice and slow). Note: all sources from this mood board are in this post.

Two things were new about this tile job for us. We were taking a new type of tile for a spin (we made our own larger herringbone pattern out of marble subway tile from Home Depot on our old fireplace, but this tinier marble herringbone came in mosaic sheets, which we’d never used in combination with marble before – just on our ceramic penny tile). We were also using mastic for the first time, which would allow us to tile right over the painted drywall (we did sand it to get it a bit grittier first, though).

The mastic (from The Tile Shop) comes premixed and is sort of the consistency of spackle or drywall mud, but the process ended up being pretty similar to applying thinset, like we used on the floor. Although for the combination of mastic + this smaller mosaic tile, we used a smaller 3/16″ v-notch trowel to apply it.

One thing that had us a little nervous about this project was cutting the tile without ruining too many pieces since it’s on back-order. Last time we used a mosaic sheet was the ceramic penny tile in our kitchen, and it took some trial and error to figure out how to make clean cuts (spoiler: the wet saw made a mess of the mesh, so tile nippers ended up doing the trick).

But some tips that we read online about marble mosaics had us convinced that the wet saw was the way to go this time. And it actually worked WONDERFULLY (did you hear our sighs of relief through the computer?). One big help was putting two scrap tiles (we hear you can use wood too) on either side of the blade so the mosaic sheet has a flat place to rest as it goes through and is cut.

We were mostly just cutting the top off of a few tiles (so they’d sit flush against side walls or the underside of the cabinets), so we worried the blade would just push the little corners out of the way. But as long as we didn’t push too fast (and made sure there was sufficient water on the blade) it cut everything really well. Also, Sherry now wants to take the tile saw out to dinner. We have ourselves a love triangle.

I’m pretty certain we wouldn’t have had the same luck with my old wet saw, since the rolling tray on our new saw helped to make this process really smooth (the laser line really helped us keep our cuts straight along the angled tiles too).

This is the only shot I got of applying the mastic, so don’t mind the skip ahead to being halfway done. Mastic does set faster than thinset (in our experience) so we only spread enough for two sheets at a time.

Once I got the mastic spread with the flat side of the trowel and then scraped with the v-notched side, Sherry took on the task of applying each sheet of tile and positioning it so it nested in without a seam. The instructions said to “twist” the tile slightly to make a good bond. Making crazy gnarled looking fingers is completely optional.

Much like laying sheets of penny tile, there was a careful eye needed (thank goodness I have Sherry) to make sure the pattern lined up between sheets. Some of the spacing on the sheets themselves wasn’t flawless, and sometimes if you stepped back you could see an obvious seam, so you had to sort of maneuver things to get them to fit better. Below is an example of an obvious vertical seam forming (see how that vertical zig-zag seems a little further apart than the rest?). To eliminate those, Sherry slowly smooshed the sheets together, or pushed them slightly higher or lower to bridge those gaps so they matched the rest.

One thing that helped was to snip out some of the mesh backing that hung over the side that would nest better with the already set tile (we found that sometimes it got in the way of positioning the edge tiles close enough, so cutting it out made everything go more smoothly).

The other thing we did was that we staggered our sheets to further disguise any horizontal seams. Since we only needed 1.5 sheets (vertically) for the areas above the appliances (and 2.5 for the two vertical rows above the counter) it made it easy to start one vertical row with a full sheet at the top and a half-sheet on the bottom, and then start the next vertical row with the leftover half sheet at the top and a full sheet on the bottom.

If all of the horizontal seams lined up across the entire back of the splash (for example, if all the top pieces were full tile sheets), it could create an obvious seam across the entire back wall, and we wanted to avoid that.

We managed to get it hung in about two hours on Saturday afternoon while Clara napped and Teddy kept himself mostly occupied thanks to a playmat-bumbo rotation (there may have been a nursing break in there). The mastic – which dries a lot faster than Thinset – was probably dry enough to grout on Saturday night, but we waited until yesterday morning just to be safe. Since the spaces between the tiles are larger than an eight of an inch, we used sanded grout (in the Standard White color from The Tile Shop).

Even though this was a smaller area than the floor, it would require much more grout because of all of the gaps between the tiles. I mixed up enough to do about half of the wall, since I knew it would take more effort than the floor (so many cracks to smoosh it into!) and I didn’t want it drying out on me.

I also laid a scrap piece of wood where the shelf would sit to help catch drips, that way I didn’t grout half of the floor behind the washer and dryer while I was at it.

Once I had fully applied the whole bucket of grout (which covered about half of the wall) I wiped it down with a lightly damp sponge to smooth it out and remove some of the excess.

By now we know to expect some haze to appear as the grout start to dry. It used to freak us out (oh no, we didn’t sponge well enough!) but now we know it’s just an inevitable part of tiling (as least for us) and there are a few different ways to get it off.

In the case of polished marble, a chemical (like a haze remover) isn’t recommended. So it was up to another weapon I like to call elbow grease. I used a microfiber cloth to buff some of the drying haze off the tile. It wasn’t a fast process, but it made a big difference.

Here it is after two buffing passes, although Sherry wants to do one more, just to get it as gleamy as possible (polished marble can look dull unless you get every trace of haze off of it). I realize the edges looked a little ragged on the bottom, but…

… that’s the beauty of the shelf and counter that will be going over it, once they’re all stained and sealed.

Update: Some questions came in about what happens if we get a new washer/dryer someday and need a new shelf placement and more tile. Width-wise, a new washer/dryer could slip right in since the spacing is standard (that side cabinet & counter could stay) but the height may vary slightly, so we might have to remake the little shelf on top (it’s removable so it wouldn’t be too hard). We couldn’t tile much lower since the brackets were there, but we did save extra tile & grout, so we can add that later if needed.

Speaking of staining the shelf & counter, we’ve started doing some tests on some scrap pieces to see what stain/sealer combo we want to use.

We hope to be back with the finished shelf & counter in a few days (just realized we owe you details on installing the washer/dryer and hooking up the overflow drain, so that’ll be in the next post too). Until then, here’s an updated to-do list:

We still have seven bullets to check off, but having a working washer & dryer again definitely feels like we’re in the home stretch. Also, there’s a fair chance that Sherry is petting the tile as I type this. An intervention might be necessary.