Our Current House

Weekly Crafty: Taking Ceramic Paint For A Spin

Sorry to anyone looking for Weekly Crafty posts on Tuesdays, it seems that they’ve shifted to Thursdays for the past two weeks! Since my hands are still recovering from staple pulling, more wallpaper peeling, and more painting (we’re doing our stair risers today so we can hopefully install the runner this weekend and have that post for you on Monday), I wanted to pick something fun & easy for this week’s crafty little endeavor. And here’s where I ended up: with a big ol’ hand-painted planter full of succulents and colorful cacti.

You know I like sharing house plants that we’re adding/loving/killing every once in a while (like this and this), and this project all started when I found some glass/ceramic paint on clearance at JoAnn for $1.97…

I don’t think I’ve ever used specifically formulated glass or ceramic paint, so a maiden voyage like this is thrilling for a gal like me (seriously, it falls somewhere between finding a five dollar bill in my coat pocket and a new episode of The Walking Dead on my DVR). At first I gave a few other project ideas some consideration – like painting mugs, a vase, or some ceramic candlesticks – and then I saw this amazing planter and said “boom, I’m going planter.” Just like that. Out loud and everything.

The reason for a planter was two-fold. Clara had showed some interest in the colorful cacti at Home Depot the last time we walked by, and I’d been meaning to grab her one or two so we could care for them together. The second reason was that about a week ago I was going through our serving bowls and noticed there were some big winners we use all the time, and one shallow bowl that we hardly touched. But when I saw that inspiration planter, I realized the shape of my poor abandoned bowl was similar. And it was nice and big (around 17″ wide) so I thought it would make for a sweet centerpiece at the kitchen table when it was all said and done.

So Clara and I took a trip to Home Depot, where we got a little carried away. We stared at everything, discussed their merits and shortcomings (“I like this one because it’s extra pokey!” “I like this one because it’s yellow like a lemon!”) and ended up grabbing 10 plants. Five of them were colorful cacti and the other five were smaller/cheaper succulents to fill things in. All told, it was around $30 in plants (I told you we got carried away) so I’m pretty dang invested in this project now – but Clara is so excited. Begging: please share your cactus care tips if you have any! I don’t want to kill these guys.

As we were checking out the cashier sweetly told me to mix some sand into the soil when I potted them because they like that and dropped the fact that they actually sell Cactus Sand for a few bucks if I don’t have sand on hand to mix. After embracing her with tears in my eyes thanking her profusely, Clara and I grabbed a bag (when you put $30 into plants, $3 for the dirt they like best felt like a nice insurance policy for a black thumb like me).

Once home with our haul, the first step was ceramic painting, which had me torn. If I wanted to be literal about it, I could paint the entire outside of the bowl like the one that inspired me, but I liked the idea of some white with a fun slice of blue around those colorful cacti, so I decided to paint the inner lip of the planter with my teal ceramic paint. The best of both worlds. Kinda like Two Face. Except less gruesome and eye-ball-y.

Applying the paint inside the lip was easy enough…

I just followed the instructions: wiping down the part I was going to paint with alcohol, letting it dry, and painting a nice even coat with a small craft brush. I did my best to keep the line around the lip of the bowl even, and since the paint was really slow to dry, if I messed up and got a blob up on the lip, just wiping it with a paper towel left me with a nice clean edge once again. The paint was non-toxic so I could have done it with Clara (I did it right in front of her) but she said “call me when it’s time to touch the dirt!” Funny kid.

Oh and the reason I didn’t bother painting the entire inside of the bowl was because I figured I’d rather conserve my paint for another project instead of using it on a large part of the planter that wouldn’t be seen once the dirt was added.

To cure the paint on ceramic and glass surfaces, you can either let it air dry for a while, or you can speed things up by baking it in the oven. Although this was a serving dish, it was only microwave and dishwasher safe – not oven safe – so I skipped that step and just opted for the air drying approach. After a few days it was no longer tacky, so I decided the lip could continue to cure even after the pot was in use and Clara and I could commence the much anticipated Adding Of The Dirt.

The plants were spikey so we had to be careful, but she had a lot of fun dumping cups of dirt into the bowl and digging little holes for me to drop the plants into.

Now every night at dinner Clara and I talk about our favorite plants (they all have names) and check to make sure nothing’s giving up on us. So far, so good! Maybe the bean will grow up to be a botanist. Or a paleontologist. The dirt was definitely her favorite part…

In the end, this project only took about thirty minutes to gather my supplies, and another twenty spent painting that lip, followed by around 15 minutes to pot things with Clara in our special cactus sand, but I hope it’s a kitchen centerpiece that lasts for years and makes us smile. I actually really like the bright pot + succulents thing, so I’m thinking I might make a bunch more as holiday gifts and even some little ones for the neighbors (one small cactus and a little brightly painted pot should only be around $7 total – and I can try stripes and dots and a dipped bottom, etc).

Is anyone else out there painting ceramic or glass items? Or planting something inside to add a little life to the house as we head into the colder months? How about homemade holiday gift ideas? I’m flirting with the concept of trying to DIY all of them this year, but it might lead to final-hour hyperventilation, so I’m not sure yet.

Psst – Can’t shake the crafty? Check out nearly 50 other craft projects here.



Removing Some Kitchen Cabinets & Rehanging One

Well, that can of worms is officially open. We’ve started making some changes in the kitchen. I realize this isn’t totally new news, since we removed the wallpaper in there a few weeks ago, but towards the end of last week we used that little jolt of momentum to start down the path of some more serious changes.

We still want to live in this house for a nice long time (and save up some money) before we take on our full kitchen reno – we’re still changing our minds daily about what configurations and countertop materials we’d like for the long haul – but this is officially the beginning of a series of what we hope to be pretty transformative “Phase 1″ improvements so that we can enjoy this room and make the best of it in the meantime (you can read more about those Phase 1 updates and why we like them here).

We had hoped getting the wallpaper out would make a greater aesthetic improvement on the space. But instead it just kinda underscored how brown, beige and blah everything is in there. The appliances, counters, and walls kinda wash together in color that certainly isn’t improved by the fluorescent light – while the dark cabinets, trim, and doors just feel looming and heavy in person. Our first course of action was something Sherry’s been ready to do since day one: remove some upper cabinets. Both of us miss the look and the functionality of the open shelves that we had in our last kitchen, so pretty much since move in day, Sherry has dreamed of swapping this long upper to the right of the window for some open shelves to lighten things up.

So Sherry unloaded everything that was in them (fortunately we’ve barely used the uppers flanking the microwave, so there was plenty of room for all of this displaced stuff), and then I could start demoing away. First I carefully pried off the crown molding with a crowbar (since I planned to reuse it) and then pounded at this header piece across the window with a rubber mallet.

That was the easy part.

Taking the cabinet down was tougher than we anticipated. We figured it’d just call for removing a few screws like the last kitchen, but it turns out these cabinets were nailed in. So instead it took lots of prying and good ol’ fashioned jostling to free it from the wall. Since it was pretty heavy I took the doors off (so they weren’t flapping in my face the whole time) and I put a can of paint on the countertop to prevent it from crashing down directly on the counter when it eventually came loose. It also saved my foot from getting smashed.

Despite some lack of paint behind it, we consider it an instant improvement. Especially when you’re sitting at the table on the other side of the kitchen. To have a clear shot of the window (which we’ll maintain with some open shelving) is really nice.

So much so, actually, that we decided to take down the small upper on the other side of the window too. We realized that would keep that wall looking more balanced and would let the window breathe visually.

The plan will be to put a pair of floating shelves on either side of the window. We actually already own a set of long white Ikea Lack shelves for the right side (we purchased them about two years ago with plans to put them in our last home’s sunroom, but that idea fell by the wayside and we never even took the shrinkwrap off). And they sell a shorter version that will be perfect for the left side. So even though we’ve removed some cabinetry (which we plan to reuse in the garage) we won’t be losing lots of kitchen storage.

Before we hang those open shelves, we’ve got some painting (and priming) to do to those walls first. But with our cabinet mojo firing at full steam, we turned our attention 180 degrees to another cabinet issue. This utterly useless upper cabinet that was tucked waaaaay back behind the fridge.

It was so far back that neither of us could reach it without a stool (and I’m a pretty tall guy, so that’s saying something), which is why we threw the basket up there as a lose attempt at disguising it. We wanted to move it forward to be flush with the wall so that it’d be reachable and make it look a bit more like the built-in fridges you see in modern kitchens. Like the other cabinets, I pried off the trim and shimmied its nails loose from the wall. Aaaaaaand then it got stuck.

Turns out the wall narrows slightly as you come out and the cabinet was built-in quite snugly. But with a few more pulls (and a couple of drywall dents) it eventually came out. And happily, the dents were covered when we rehung the cabinet.

The snug fit alerted me to another problem though. Since the nook narrowed towards the front, I’d have to trim it before putting it back up to get a nice seamless fit. Fortunately the overlapping part is just the face of the cabinet, so it was easy enough to shave off a quarter of an inch on each side with my circular saw. I put tape down on the edges before cutting to help discourage the wood from chipping or scratching during sawing, which worked (the tape sort of shreds itself but protects the wood).

The other problem to solve was how to hang it. It previously had been nailed to the back wall, but now that we were looking to float it about 14″ away from the back, I decided to construct two simple braces out of 2 x 4″s. They were sort of U-shaped, with the short side pieces that would be screwed into studs on both side walls for stability. That gave me a nice, long, sturdy front board into which I could secure the cabinet with screws.

I made two braces – one for the top and one for the bottom of the cabinet – so you can see the bottom one wasn’t installed yet in the photo above. I was very very careful with my measurements during this step, because if I attached the braces too far forward or back, the cabinet wouldn’t sit flush to the wall. There was a lot of measuring three times before cutting once.

Thankfully my triple-checked measurements worked out great and the cabinet sat perfectly where we wanted it. I propped it up in place with some wood, checked that it was level, and then screwed through the back of it into the braces (being sure that my screws went through the thick framing of the cabinet, not just the thin, flimsy back panel).

Not only did it look much nicer, but now we could actually put stuff in it. Functionality for the win! The last step in this project was reinstalling the crown molding – a careful process since I was matching existing cuts (of the pieces I didn’t take down) and because I didn’t have any spare pieces on hand- just the ones I had removed at the start of this project. So all it would take is one bad cut and I’d be, well, very angry at myself.

But it worked out well and I got those gaps filled. We’ll eventually be painting these, so I can do some caulk touch-ups then so they’re even more seamless in the long run. And man, it looks a whole lot better than the strange empty wall-hole-looking thing above the fridge that we started with:

I also hung the crown molding on the other side of the room so it goes all the way around again. This wall looks especially crazy right now, but with some paint and shelves and a pendant over the sink, we think it’ll be a huge improvement.

While I wouldn’t consider the space amazingly transformed yet (it’s far from that!) we think these first couple of changes are steps in the right direction. It’s hard to tell in the photos, but in person it already feels noticeably more open and less heavy.

I felt kinda silly putting “After” on that photo above because it doesn’t really deserve that title yet. And actually, there are quite a few steps in this “Phase 1″ kitchen makeover before we’re ready to call it done. So here’s our Phase 1 To-Do List as we’re currently envisioning it:

Lots of bullets, huh? But thankfully almost every one of these steps will also be “paid forward” to Phase 2 (for example, painting the trim and walls and ceilings and doors and replacing lights will all be things we can carry into Phase 2 of the renovation down the road as well). So there aren’t very many things we’re doing just for Phase 1 that won’t come in handy for Phase 2 later. It’s sort of like the before is the first step on a staircase, and the major reno is the third step, and Phase 1 will just act as that second step to bridge the gap and bring us closer to a bigger transformation down the line (and make us smile in the meantime).

You can also see that there are a whole lot of question marks going on, but we have faith that if we just focus on the one-step-at-a-time approach we can figure things out as we go. Oh and one thing missing from that list is new appliances (except for possibly a tabletop microwave/inexpensive craigslist range hood) which is because as much as we don’t adore the creamy oven and fridge (and as much as we know they might interfere with the final look of Phase 1) we’re trying to be smart and hold off on getting new stuff ’til we’re ready to do a full reno because that way we can stay open to future options like a wall oven, or a gas range, or who knows what else.

In addition to working around those appliances, we’re going to try to work with the off-white counters for this phase since we’ll likely reconfigure things in here down the line (so our final countertops will likely have different dimensions). Sherry has already brainstormed some colors that she thinks will lighten up the space while working with the existing counters and the cream appliances, and this time we’re not going to our default “paint the cabinets white” instinct!

Speaking of replacing the cabinets – I know a few folks have wondered why we’re not going to permanently work with these guys. We’ve talked before about how not getting new cabinets was one in-hindsight regret of our last kitchen reno. But also, these cabinets aren’t in great shape when you get closer. There are so many chips and dents and scratches and gnaw marks (??) in both the doors/drawers and the cabinet frames themselves, that despite any amount of attempting to putty and sand them before painting, we don’t think they’ll ever look flawless (and even if we got new doors, the frames are still gnawed). But the good news is that I plan to repurpose them for a garage workshop, so they won’t go to waste – and painting them will not only allow us to enjoy them more in here before our bigger reno later, but it’ll also accomplish a nice clean look for the garage when we eventually use them out there.

The other question that comes up a lot is why we don’t try doing something with our fake brick floors, like painting them like Jenny did with hers. We would LOVE to be able to do that, but our floors are faux brick vinyl, not brick pavers – so they’re one solid vinyl sheet as opposed to a grouted stone-like material. And while we’ve seen some great tutorials from folks who have painted theirs, ours already scratch so easily that we’re pretty sure it’d be a lost cause. The top layer of vinyl is so old and crusty that it flakes off when we do things like roll the fridge out or move a chair too suddenly. Boo. Update: the plus side of this situation is that our house was built after asbestos was phased out, so we don’t believe there’s a risk for that with the flaking floor – just extreme ugliness.

So if we really can’t take them any longer, we’ll probably do some cheap peel-and-stick tiles over them like we did for Phase 1 in our first kitchen (it took us about a day and ran us $100 but we were so happy about the difference they made for the year or so before we could afford our major kitchen reno in there).

Has anyone else opened up a can of project worms lately? Sherry’s crazy excited about it, but I’ll admit that I didn’t quite realize that taking down a few cabinets would result in a page long to-do list (silly me, after seven years of this I should know that by now). But as much as I’m bracing myself for all of the work that we’re about to dive into (priming and painting all of that trim, woodwork, and cabinetry is going to take a while), I’m kinda relieved just to be doing something instead of groaning every time that we walk into the room. Bring it on kitchen!