Preservation vs. Rejuvenation: Questions about updating older homes

Over the weekend, I was *THRILLED* to find that Apartment Therapy featured our DIY kitchen renovation on their blog.

I have never hidden the fact that AT is a huge inspirational blog for me, so it was really humbling to see our kitchen featured on their site. One thing that surprised me, however, was many of the comments. Namely, many people were surprised (some pleasantly, some not so) to see I kept the knotty pine cabinets rather than paint over them.

I can’t say I blame those curious commentors. In fact, when we first purchased our new house, I even wrote a blog entitled “Naughty Pine” all about how much I hate how knotty pine cabinets look. They were, I reckoned, dated and dark and dirty. The fact that I decided to keep them surprised me as much as anyone else. So, why did I do it?

For one, we didn’t have it in our budget to rebuild the cabinets or change the general layout of the kitchen. That certainly plays a significant role.

But why not paint?

It’s generally acknowledged that kitchens and bathrooms are the spaces in homes that age most poorly. Today, it’s all about granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. But in the ’90s it was mostly country chic that dominated the Better Homes and Gardens catalogs. The ’80s, dark wood trim surrounding stark white cabinets seemed to be all the rage. And in the ’70s, avocado green appliances were the standard. What I’m getting at is this: every era has had it’s signature look that ultimately becomes dated and disliked. Trends and fashions are cyclical and even if you renovate to achieve the most modern look possible, history says it will one day be out of style, old fashioned and in need of a yet another “upgrade.”

A traditional ’90s kitchen from gardenweb.com

An '80s kitchen with lattice wallpaper

An ’80s kitchen courtesy Mirror80

So rather than try and completely modernize the kitchen, I decided to embrace the era in which the house was built–1957–but still give the kitchen some life and updated style. It’s why we bought a Big Chill fridge (my most prized possession) and opted to keep the classic, mid-century cabinets in their knotty pine glory while still bringing in a shiny and new countertop and back splash.  At the end of the day, a 2012 kitchen in a 1957 home didn’t seem like the best fit.

There are a handful of other blogs that reinforce this ideology. Retro Renovation, is one that very intentionally focuses on preserving the original integrity of older homes, and which has been a valuable resource for me. Check out some of their time capsule homes.

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Courtesy: Retro Renovation

Another local blogger (and amazing photographer) that understands the importance of balancing history with modernity is Heather Banks of  Brady Bunch Remodel fame.

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Courtesy: Brady Bunch Remodel

At the heart of it, what I’m trying to say is this: old homes have their charms and their flaws. And while it’s certainly tempting to demolish and reconstruct your home (if you have the means) to a more modern and magnificent space, there’s also something to be said for preservation. And I hope other caretakers of homes of other eras will find ways to enhance AND embrace the features that make those spaces a part of their city’s history.


REDEMPTION! A dresser “recovers” from a botched paint job.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the tragic saga of the dresser that turned into a chicken. Today, I’m happy to report that the dresser makeover that went horribly wrong has been corrected! Or, at least it’s slightly less repulsive?

To jog your memory, our story began with a completely adequate dresser that I destroyed when I forgot what the color “gold” looks like.

The original

Dresser before

The Inspiration

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The Resultunnamed

The result was more eeek than chic and whatever my next move was, I knew I wanted to retain a geometric pattern because, well, it’s simply the best.

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But I also knew I couldn’t be trusted with paint again. Nor was I especially eager to repaint what took several painstaking hours to achieve. My solution? Cover the drawers in a large-scale geometric fabric print. Much like these crafty Design Sponge artisans did.

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An afternoon trip to local upholstery shop Spruce got me just what I needed. After looking at a handful of fabric samples and even wallpaper swatches, I ended up walking out some clearance fabric for $20 that was just barely perfect amount to cover the front of the drawers. No paint or sander was needed. Armed with just a staple gun and a pair of scissors, in 30 minutes I was able to save the dresser from the DIY disaster hall of fame.

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I’m not sure this is going to be my permanent solution for glamifying the dresser, but at least the fabric do-over is a vast improvement from where we started, and it didn’t require an obscene amount of effort or money to achieve. Let’s upgrade this project from a D-I-Why did I do this? to a D-I-Why, it could have been worse.


D-I-(wh)Y did I do that? or How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Dresser

About a year ago I picked up a free chest of drawers that were in good shape, of a nice size and functional but not exactly the sweetest piece of eye candy. Naturally, I took it upon myself to correct this problem.

Dresser before

You see, for quite some time now, I’ve been operating under the assumption that I am, relatively speaking, crafty and capable. I’ve taken old upholstery off chairs and put new covers on. I’ve constructed floating office shelves and painted an only partially crooked stencil pattern on an accent wall among other things. Maybe I’m no Martha Stewart but I’m no rube either. This, it turns out, is a very dangerous perception under which to operate. Oh self-esteem…how terribly you have betrayed me.

Armed with just the right amount of misguided confidence, I set about to turn this humble clothing receptacle into a work of art so grand, and creative and magnetic that furniture designers the world over would gaze upon it and come to me, weeping, begging for me to share my gift with them. A reasonable expectation. My ingenious scheme, you ask? Simple chevron stripes painted across the drawers. Something a la this:

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Perhaps my idea wasn’t all that daring, but all the more reason to believe I could successfully pull this off.

Nope.

The plan revolved around retaining the essence of the existing cloudy gold color, but to bring it some bold contrast with rich, blue stripes. Somehow, that seemed like a wise decision. Gold gives it some spunk. Deep blue makes it a little more grown up and not quite so “glam girl.” It can be a pretty dope look.

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Of course, that’s only in the instance that god forsaken cans of gold spray paint don’t suck the soul out of your body in the process of achieving it. I don’t want to entirely blame my tools as there was most definitely some user error in the process of destroying the integrity of this once fine dresser, but the project first started to go off the rails with the damned spray paint. After I had puttied and sanded the dresser with all the meticulousness I could muster,  I applied the spray paint, only to find that it bubbled and conformed to itself in little bumpy clusters that gave the drawers the texture of lizard skin. I rightfully abandoned the spray paint idea and instead selected a traditional interior paint in the shade of “turmeric” to replace it. You may be surprised to hear this, but “turmeric” and “gold” are not the same color. It actually probably doesn’t surprise anyone but somehow it took me until I was staring at the finished product to truly come to grips with the fact that instead of a sleek blue dresser with some punchy golden flair, I had instead applied the same royal blue and orangey-yellow color scheme used by the University of Delaware’s mascot.

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Oh the humanity!

To really add insult to injury, the knobs I had selected for the new (but not improved) dresser were duds. And expensive duds at that: $14-a-piece from Anthropologie but the knobs pulled right off the screws when you opened the drawers.This made the finished dresser both comically ugly and non functional. I’d give myself a hand for so artfully destroying a needed piece of furniture, but I’d probably screw that up too.

More on the fugly dresser saga to come….


Carpet Diem

I’m going to interrupt your regularly scheduled international blog series to focus on some domestic affairs: my living room.

A few weeks ago Apartment Therapy posted this little gem to Instagram…

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…and it really got me thinking about how much I love the contrast of an oriental rug paired with sleek modern design.  It’s totally in step with the whole “modern eclectic” vibe I’m going for. So, immediately I went in search of more inspiration to satiate my appetite. The internets did not disappoint. Designers seem to be loving the whole modern-meets-traditional vibe that this pairing provides.

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Home Edit

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Lou Lou & Oscar

oriental rug blue frames

Apartment Therapy

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Gattox

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Patric Johansson

Petra Bindel

Petra Bindel

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Apartment Therapy

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Caitlin Wilson

thedecorista

The Marion House Book

styleathomemagazine

Style At Home Magazine

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Design Lovers

Clearly its not a new concept, but nevertheless, it struck a chord with me. And, as his holiness The Dude professed unto his disciples, the power to tie a room together belongs to that of the truly great rug.

Naturally, I went out in search of one of my own. A couple of tryout rugs later (thanks to Kaskas very convenient try-before-you-buy policy) I ended up with a winner, and it led to a complete transformation of our living room.

before and after turkish rug

doodlehouselivingroom eclectic oriental rug labradoodlepanch modern ecelectic living room modern eclectic oriental rug
I can’t side step that one big reason for the living room transformation lies not only with the rug but also with the change in wall color. The new rug is definitely an accent piece and as such, demands a lot of attention. Attention that my beloved stencil wall could not compete with.

beforeafterstencil

While it was with a bit of a heavy heart that I painted over the old Stecie,  I remain convinced it was the right call.  One can only take so much attention-seeking behavior in one room. (Though I will say, the wall does demand some kind of artistic treatment beyond plane white. I’ve just yet to determine what will be the best fit for this new style.) Along with the stencil wall, I also big adieu to the green accent wall.  That wall too felt a little funny painting over. I remember coming in the night we closed on the house to get it painted up before we moved in. How interesting to discover how my styles and preferences have shifted over these 3 years.

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But I’ve not regretted making the change away from our vibrant walls. I loved our little green room while we had it, and as I loved that, I’m also loving this next design progression.

doodlehouselivingroom

 


The bathroom reveal

Our unplanned bathroom renovation has come to a close and I’m thrilled with how it turned out–not only from a design perspective but by how quickly the whole thing came together (despite my month lag in posting). We had always figured we’d get around to doing a reno ourselves at some point, but truth be told I’m grateful for our little pipe bursting fiasco because the pros got it done faster, cheaper and better than we ever could have. It’s just like the bible says: there’s a time for everything– a time for DIY and a time for LOPDIFY–Letting Other People Do It For You.

Previously, on the doodle house…

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The contractors got in and out in just over a week (though the week living in our house without a working toilet was not one of my favorites) and did a masterful job. The final product is not too far off from the first-and-only mood board I created a few months back when I first started day dreaming about a restroom redux, though their are some key differences between the vision and the reality.

bathroommoodboard

What stayed from the original plan?

Hexagonal tiles: I clung tight to my original plan to use hexagonal tiles on the floor. I’ve always thought it was a classic and clean look but still had plenty of character and dimension.  I also like how they fit in with the era of the house and appeal to my tendency to gravitate toward anything with an entrancing repetitive pattern (see stencil wall). No, I never deviated from wanting those in any bathroom renovation we would undergo. There’s no denying, that look is pretty dope.

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white hexagonal tiles

Blue and white color scheme: I love all shades of blue (especially anything in the teal/turquoise family, as is evident by the nagging urge I experience to paint everything from tables, to dressers, to walls in one shade or the other) and I wanted to bring it into the bathroom as well, though initially, my vision was for it to come through mostly via accessories–a variation, I’ll note, I had no qualms with. The wall color we chose? Ash blue by Valspar.

bluepaintswatches

Round mirror: Most everything else in the bathroom is angular, so I wanted to  invite some playful curvature to provide contrast to an otherwise predictable space. We got ours for $40 at Target.

bathroombeforeafter
Wooden accents: In our kitchen, we try to blend modern design elements (counters, light fixtures, cabinet hardware) with things that are a little more true the home’s original design (knotty pine cabinets). I wanted to do the same in the bathroom–update the space, but without losing some of the warmth and richness that can come when you modernize. I figured incorporating some soft wood accents would help accomplish that. Our towel cabinet (Home Depot) gives a nod to our knotty pine kitchen but still has some of that sleekness that ties it into the rest of the bathroom and house. Though, to be honest, I’m still weighting whether or not it’s dimensions are right for our very small space. Though, I dare not try to make my own after our last DIY kerfuffle.

small white bathroom

Water/animal-themed art: I knew whatever art ended up in the bathroom I wanted to be water themed because, get it? Initially I thought about something with dogs, and then briefly considered this goofy otter pic from Etsy, but when we spotted this Grace Potter and the Nocturnals poster by LandLand at a renegade craft fair, it seemed like a winner. It had all the shades of blue I was after, featured water creatures (crawfish) and, you get cool points cuz it’s a band poster–a band we’ve seen before. High fives all around.

bathroom art

What changed?

Wall tile: it was old, and the grout desperately needed to be redone, but  I was fond of the bathroom’s original celadon green tiles. Like blue, I’ve always also always been drawn to green, and since I’m a gal on a budget and not tremendously opposed to letting my retro hang out, I assumed if we updated the bathroom, the green tile would probably hold steady. Of course, once the experts came in and said the whole thing would have to be demolished, I started singing another tune. Because the space is so small, I opted not to replace the tile with something similar, but to go bright and understated. White subway tiles fit the mold and go oh-so-well with the white hexagonal flooring.

Shower curtain: I originally planned for white to try to keep the already small space from feeling too busy. But in the context of our white walls and floors, a white shower curtain made the space a bit boring, and that’s not in compliance with doodle house code. I briefly considered spending way too much on some of the perfectly marketed curtains on Anthropologie, but wound up spending only $10 at Marshall’s for a print that I think turned out to be perfect for the color, size and tone of the space.

modern light blue bathroom

What makes me happy?

All of it!

doodle house bathroom


Let’s swatch–calming paint colors for a tiny bathroom

light blue paint colorsConfession: despite being a color enthusiast, I’m new to the paint swatch business. I have never tested a color on the wall against others before because, frankly, I’m impatient. Once I start flirting with a color, I want to seal the deal and make it mine as quickly as possible. This approach is not fail safe, and while I’ve had my fair share of victories, I’ve also ended up repainting both the living room and the office after feeling like I was being punched in the face by repugnant pigments. With our bathroom renovation I wanted to exhibit a little class, a little reserve, and really take my time choosing the best color for the small, poorly lit space. Not a novel concept, but the experience has been a revelation.

Since the rest of the house looks like what you would get if you crossed a peacock with a rainbow, I decided to do something muted, cool and calming for the bathroom. After picking out four appealing bluishgreyish colors, I hesitantly went where all sensible renovators have gone before, straight to the heart of Swatchington, USA.

In their containers the colors seemed nearly identical, but once they were on the wall, I realized how truly crucial the old paint-and-wait method is to seeing a design notion through to reality. On a broader canvas, struck by different angles of light, the colors took on their own personalities, with some rising to the top of my must-have list while others were knocked out of the running completely.

bluebathroompaintswatchbluepaintswatches

The merit of this well-known and widely practiced technique is not rocket science, hell it’s not even 6th grade science, but this practice is something I will never skip over again.

And because I’ve spent my evenings collecting inspiring images to drive the direction of our bathroom, reno, I’ll subject you to the same. My pics for the best of blue/grey bathrooms below…

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When DIY means: Dang it, You!

Lots of design-oriented DIY blogs (this one included) will have you believe that choosing to makeover/renovate/repair/assemble/disassemble a home improvement project yourself rather than enlist the help of the pros is the usually the only acceptable way to function. Successfully do/make something on your own and you will have a free pass to walk around with an entitled sense of superiority, like ordering a salad at a restaurant when everyone else gets the steak. Yes, do it yourself and you shall be handsomely rewarded. Not so, says I.

The pride I feel about my recent bathroom cabinet makeover is about on par with what I imagine it feels like to discover you’ve made the 7th grade C team in volleyball. (I say “imagine” because I definitely don’t know what it feels like to practice so hard to prove yourself to the volleyball coach at Calhoun Middle School that you throw up in the locker room trash can, subsequently “earn” a spot on the bench with the other athletically challenged girls and then, humiliated, quit and pretend like you never cared about volleyball in the first place and would rather, of course, focus on your dancing. No, I don’t know what that is like.) What I’m trying to say is, I wish I had just dropped the dollars to buy a cabinet with some actual gusto than try to refurbish a cabinet that would end up only being slightly better in quality than child’s macaroni art.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version.  I don’t really like our bathroom layout, as it is very small and boring. But then I saw a photo of similarly designed room and thought, Hey, I can do that.

small bathroom inspiration

I liked how it felt modern but also cozy with the wooden accent on the shelves. I knew, however, that I needed more storage than what shelves as dinky as those would provide. I wanted something with some girth, like the Akurum wall cabinet from IKEA.

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I liked that it kept the wood accents, but didn’t shriek of woodsy charm. Because our bathroom is small I liked the idea of being able to see inside the cabinet, which may keep that omg-the-walls-are-closing-in-on-me feeling at bay. Yes Kelsey, this will do nicely. Flash to price tag: $207. Pfffftttt. Come on Ikea, be real. I can make a badass cabinet myself for half that. Well, yes and no. I didn’t think I would actually be making any cabinet, per se, but I know my way around the Restore and was sure I could modify something to resemble as much. That, I did do, and $15 got us a cream colored cabinet in decent shape that would fit the space over the toilet poifectly.

old cabinet

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Alright, OK, good. I could do this. But what first?  After removing the hardware I figured I should start this weekend renovation by removing the panels in the doors. I still wanted a cabinet with translucent doors, so that interior panel would have to go. I watched more Youtube videos than I would have ever hoped to on the subject of removing interior cabinet paneling. I’ll tell you, there are a lot of schools of thought on the best way to do this. Some people say you need a jigsaw, others say not. Honestly I can’t even remember what all of the methods were but they were all time intensive and required tools that we didn’t have, so I got creative. This is code for abandoning all reason and just going for it. I used Heath’s whatchawhosit tool (he says its a dremel but I am not fooled) to try and trace the paneling and create a perforated edge around the interior of the cabinet that I could then gently push outward.

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This maybe would have worked if it weren’t for two things: one, this was also a timely process and the vibration of the whatchawhosit was making my hand feel very funny; I did not like this, and secondly, the heat generated from trying to cut through wood was creating a burning smell which I also did not like. So I decided to abandon all reason a second time and just go to town on the panel with a hammer. Believe it or not, this is not where my refurbishment experiment went astray. In fact, forget what everyone else tells you about removing panels from cabinet doors and just beat the crap out of it with a hammer. THIS ACTUALLY WORKS. And, bonus points, it’s also kind of cathartic.

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Then I  spent a a good 3-4 hours stripping, sanding and staining/painting the doors and cabinet base and then letting it all dry. So far, still on course.

When I woke up the next morning to check everything out, I was really disappointed to find that I hated how the stain looked with the wood grain of the cabinet doors. It was not modern and glamorous but instead the grain was very 1990s country kitchen. Nothing against a good country kitchen, (my teenage gal pals who remember the critical role Linda Tonn’s kitchen played during our formative years will vouch for it) but it’s not the look I was after. Expletive. I thought on it for a minute and then, in the interest of my impatience, decided to just paint the doors white to match the rest of the cabinet. I would find another way to bring in my beloved wood accents. This could have been a successful recovery tactic except that the paint didn’t take to the stain, and I had to strip, sand and paint the cabinets all over again. This is a bigger downer than pouring a bowl of cereal only to find you are out of milk. The worst. Not only was this taking FOREVER but my hands were sore from contact with the chemical in the stripping agent (I know, I know mom, I should wear gloves) and I was also all shaky from hours spent holding an electric sander. I was beginning to hate my bathroom, the Restore, IKEA, paint, stain, design blogs and DIY books, everything. How dare you give me confidence, world?

Once the paint dried, on DAY 3 (ideally, the cabinet would have been hanging from my wall like a prized elk’s head by the end of Day 2) we started the process of inserting the glass panels. We bought a large piece of glass ($20) from Home Depot and this glass cutting kit because, hell yeah, we are DIYers and no project is too difficult for us to master. Let me say, this glass cutting kit was a piece of shite. We followed directions to a T and it flat out didn’t work. The glass broke, the kit was crummy, we were out $32 and had bloody fingers. On trip two to Home Depot we got plastic instead (~$15), which was easier to cut than the glass and didn’t result in blood droplets on our driveway.

Switching to plastic after a debacle with our glass-cutting kit.

Switching to plastic after a debacle with our glass-cutting kit.

We successfully glued the plastic panels into the cabinets, but it just looked bad because, when you get down to the science of it all, cheap plastic does not equal glass in quality or shine. I decided to frost the clear inserts ($3) because I thought it would be a classy move and perhaps make up for the downgraded quality of the plastic, but in the end the doors didn’t  beam of frosty elegance. Instead it was like someone sprayed cheap frost-in-a-can unevenly over a scratchy surface, because that is precisely what we did. Once we screwed in some modern handles ($6) and hung it up on the wall, I officially knew then what I suspected all along. This project was more disappointing than Star Wars Episode I, though admittedly a cheaper mistake to make

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beforeaftercabinet

It might be the most unimpressive, least dramatic transformation in Doodle House history. Not only did the cabinet makeover itself turn out pretty sub standard and arguably worse off than the original cabinet was, but it makes such an uninspired difference in the room it may as well be invisible.

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At the end of the day, we *do* have a functioning cabinet in which to store towels and toilet paper, so, point Kelsey. Obviously no experience is ever wasted and I learned a lot from this and blah blah blah. But every time I go to the bathroom, and see that cabinet’s ugly mug staring back at me, I wonder if I should have just spent the money and saved the time. Humbug, I’m going to concentrate on my dancing now.

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