Gray Skies Outside, Gray Walls Inside

Last weekend, outdoor progress was put on hold, thanks to the on/off rain on Saturday and being gone until late Sunday.  Dreary weather didn’t stop us from making tracks on some indoor projects, though!  #operationpaintbrush is back!

The last time you saw our living room, it looked meh:

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In January, we did a test paint of an accent wall in the living room.  We painted it Sherwin Williams Retreat and loved it…IMG_4579until we painted the accent wall in the kitchen/dining area Drizzle. We also played with swapping some furniture around in the living room, foyer, and master bedroom, resulting in the antique buffet landing here for awhile.  It looked great on this wall and especially nice with the Retreat color. Originally, the kitchen/dining accent wall was going to be a color from the same swatch as Retreat, Comfort Gray, and Sea Salt (all colors in the main living space) so that everything would coordinate nicely.  Except it didn’t.  Oyster Bay, the color that henceforth shall be The-Color-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, was a no go for us.  As we said here, we could see it being pretty in someone’s home–just not ours [It also clashed horribly with Retreat, in case you were wondering]. We loved both the Drizzle and Retreat walls, just not in the same visual area.

This led to the decision that the moody green-blueness of the Retreat was going to be a keeper in our house but not in the living room.  We ultimately decided to paint our master bedroom Retreat and move the buffet to the bedroom with it (haven’t painted the master yet, so we’ll see how this goes!) and to choose a different paint color for the living room.  We love gray and intended for the main living spaces of our home to be gray, but the pale blue-green grays we selected (Sea Salt and Comfort Gray) look like blue-green with a gray undertone, rather than gray with a blue-green undertone that you see elsewhere on the Interwebs.  We like it, but it definitely took our house in a decidedly more coastal direction, which we are trying not to overdo.

This time we decided to get as close to a true gray as we could.  Enter Attitude Gray. A dark, modern gray with undertones that are truly undertones.  In the day it looks like a green undertone, at night a blue undertone. Sherwin Williams recent had a 40% off sale, so we grabbed up one of those $ off paint coupons that comes in the Pottery Barn catalog and headed to the sale for more paint.  For most of our house, we have bought the Harmony line to help get rid of the funky smell we mentioned here, but this time we chose the Emerald line for the paint-and-primer combo that would hopefully cover the Retreat (a dark base) more readily than just another regular coat of paint.IMG_4587

When we started painting, we were a tad concerned about the coverage.  I was using the brush and Chris the roller, and both of us could see streaks where we were cutting in or blending roller passes and it was actually taking paint off where we had just put paint down.  Talk about frustration.  We did not have this issue with the Harmony line and have never had this issue with any Sherwin Williams product before.  It also went on very light green-looking, and the Retreat was showing through, making it look like a camouflage wall. Chris was quite dubious at this point, but we pressed forward.  I had painted my mom’s kitchen and den with the Emerald paint line (a different color, though) and although it looked like a very thin coat going on, the coverage was great, even with just a single coat…so I remained cautiously hopeful that the same phenomenon would magically happen for us.

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As it turned out, the Retreat wall only needed one coat, but the remaining walls that were sprayed renter-white at some point prior to our purchase of the ‘Zoo, needed a second coat.  We did a second coat on the Retreat wall just for good measure. Chris thinks that the quality of the Sherwin Williams paint on the Retreat wall made it easier to paint, compared to the cheapo stuff on the other walls from who knows where.IMG_4583

The Attitude Gray looks much better with the Drizzle wall–you can see a bit of the Drizzle in the background in the above picture.

We also did some furniture rearrangement, resulting in a new TV placement on an espresso stained media stand my parents gave us, flanked by the two legs of the Pottery Barn project desk that function like regular bookcases when not holding the removable desk top (currently stored under our master bed).  We’ve struggled to find space for this desk monster in this house that doesn’t break up sight lines/walkways and finally gave up hope (until we add square footage down the road). If you are doubting the smallness of our living room, it’s a 12′ x 14′ space with a fireplace on the angle that juts out into the room, making it more of a 10′ x 10′ space, which is quite small, compared to the living rooms of most 3 BR/2BA homes with only one main living space.IMG_4589

We are in the process of Craigslisting most, if not all, of the upholstered furniture in here, as we really need smaller pieces to fit the room, but right now, we have surprisingly plenty of seating yet room enough for Kinect gaming and workouts. Not bad. The ‘comfy chair’ on the smallest wall has already sold since I took this picture yesterday, and we have someone coming to see our sofa Saturday {fingers crossed}!

IMG_4592If you’ve seen some of our previous whole-house posts in the past, you may have noticed that our area rug has been taken up; it is headed to the master bedroom, as it barely fit this space anyway. Of course, now this means you can see the dingy carpet, but not for long!  Part of the rush to get the rest of the house painted is because we are going to be doing an entire-house flooring project in June that we talked about here.

Now, all that’s left to be painted is the guest hallway, the laundry room, and the master bedroom.  #operationpaintbrush soon to be complete!

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And the {Floor} Winner Is….

Recently we shared about our plans to lay wood look tile throughout our home (here), and we had these contestants in the Final Four for the Floor: IMG_4472Can you guess which one we chose?

If you guessed #3, you nailed it! #3 is called American Heritage (color Spice) by Marazzi.  We were really torn between it and the Storka Barnwood in Pecan (#1), but we ultimately decided that the Spice had the warmth we really wanted most, while the Barnwood was a little too rustic for this particular house if we ever need to resell.  Also, after ‘touching up’ the chips with Sharpies and being disappointed at first, they are now virtually unnoticeable. American Heritage for the win!

We are now looking at grout options and are leaning towards the bottom color, which is called French Gray by Bostik:

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We can’t wait to see those floors seamlessly flowing from room to room, but next up is some seriously whole-house floor demo as well as ripping out a linen closet and pantry.  Grab your crowbars, folks, and let the countdown to #demolition2015 begin!

Getting the Backyard Party Started

Nothing says spring like outdoor fun in the backyard, so this year we are getting the backyard party started. BackYard1Last year, we focused our landscaping efforts on the front and west side yards, filling the overgrown beds in the backyard with leftover plants from these projects and plant-gifts from my mom’s yard (mainly canna lilies).   My parents also gave us a cantilevered umbrella they were no longer using for our patio, but it didn’t see a lot of action.  Neither did the rest of our meager collection of patio furniture, despite the relatively nice weather year round. In fact, I have ZERO pictures of our backyard with the patio furniture in it, which is consistent with how much time we spent out there.

Why, you might ask, when the backyard was a major selling feature of the ‘Zoo? Well, after spending more time in the backyard, we realized that our ‘privacy fence’ wasn’t very private because whoever installed it left three inch gaps between each board. We have nice neighbors, but we still felt awkward about eating a meal on our porch and being stared down (and howled at) by the neighbors’ dogs or catching some rays in our swimsuits on days the beach was too crowded, only to realize that your neighbors could watch you snoozing in the sun, a scenario with all the makings of a creepy stalker, made-for-TV movie.  We also didn’t have enough room for entertaining with only 4 chairs and a tiny, overcrowded patio.

We’ve got big party plans for the backyard this year, though, so this spring we are hitting the ground running with a host of improvements. Here’s the plan:

  • Replace old, rotting, peeping-Tom wood fence with new vinyl (actual) privacy fence
  • New storage solution for our dilapidated deck box that takes up way too much prime real estate on the patio
  • Spruce up the patio with a new area rug to make it feel like an outdoor living space and less of a here’s-where-the-outdoor-things-sit-unused-and-collect-pollen space
  • Start a manageable (hopefully!) mini-garden with fruits and veggies for home-picked produce (not that we don’t love our farmer’s markets, but nothing tastes better than homegrown, right?)
  • More seating so we can actually have people over and not ask them to sit in the grass
  • Get creative with space to have room for more seating yet not have to spend $$$ to expand our patio
  • Make a fire pit because they are awesome for evening gatherings (and our shredder died, so there’s that)
  • Bring in more colorful flowers to brighten things up because color makes things happier
  • Up the mosquito-fighting power because two citronella candles aren’t doing the trick

First up: the peeping Tom fence.  We originally looked at the cost of shadowboxing our existing fence, coupled with replacing some of the rotted boards, but we couldn’t justify it when the cost of a nicer fence was only a little bit more.  Then my parents threw us a bone in the form of leftover posts and post caps from the white vinyl fence they had installed around their pool, and because we already have a white vinyl fence on the west side yard, we thought, What if we just do the fence replacement right now?! This led to the application for a building permit for replacing our fence (this is a  building code requirement for our city, though not many people observe it…but we are rule followers and, as HOA president and treasurer, are trying to set a good precedent for the neighborhood), and the great backyard makeover officially got started.  Nothing says party like fence demolition, right?  Oh wait, that’s just my crazy family.

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My dad and I made quick work of the old panels with a few simple tools while Chris was at work, and then the east side yard looked like this:

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Crazy, right?  I don’t think I realized how much higher our yard was than our neighbor’s.  Then we began to set posts for the new panels (different panel length of new fence meant setting new posts) and put the new panels up.

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Then the rain started.  We worked in the rain to get this side done because our neighbor on the east has a dog, and we wanted to make sure that Amelia {the dog} would be able to come out to play safely.  Chris joined us for the latter half of the fence work and for the next day of party fun  hard labor.

We managed to get the east side yard fence complete, but we’ve had some seriously bad weather the past couple of weeks that have hampered efforts to get the rest of it done.  We anticipate putting in the gates on each side next, followed by the back/south fence.  We currently only have a gate on the northeast side, which is ridiculously annoying because our garage, where all the materials and tools are stored, is on the northwest side.  Consequently, we are adding a gate on the northwest side to make things easier. Stay tuned!

Organization Station: Managing Sewing Stashes

If you are a hobbyist or DIYer, you well understand the need to have a collection of materials waiting to be put to good use–and the need to get a handle on storage of said materials before your garage/attic/basement/guest bedroom/linen closet becomes the Monica closet, or perhaps a cemetery for best laid plans and good intentions. Here lies industrial shelving attempt #1,  behind all the tile samples underneath all the wood for the Ana White farmhouse table covered in two inches of dust and sand from the beach toys used three vacations ago..or was it four?   You get the picture.

People of the cloth, and I’m not talking clergy here, have a compulsive need for All of the Things! a fabric stash. These stashes vary in size based on a number of factors, but most crafters agree that you can never have too much fabric. Of course, when trying to store said fabric, those of us lesser mortals with limited storage must be more circumspect with our fabric purchases. I learned this lesson after being overly ambitious when I started quilting and couldn’t choose between fabrics, which resulted in buying All of the Things! enough fabric  for two and a half quilts when I had set out only to buy fabric for one. This resulted in a modest stash that I hauled with me from the city to the beach. It has been languishing in one of the guest bedrooms while I have been working on school things, and by languishing I mean that it has been piled on the bed and various shelves and shoved in random baskets. My quilt is not quite finished.  And by that I mean I have 1/4 of the quilt top sewn. It’s a king size quilt, so cut me some slack. 😉

Since last May, I have been struggling to find a place where all of my art and craft supplies could be kept and to find a prime place for working on my school stuff. The desk I use for schoolwork right now is also the desk I normally use for my sewing machine and supplies, but both cannot occupy the same space at the same time. #physics Enter the mail center.

IMG_4505    This mail center was a housewarming present to us from Chris’s paternal grandmother eight years ago when we bought our first house. It came from Pier 1, and it served us well in our first house and later in the townhome in the city. For some reason, it has not been functional here at the beach, most likely because it is not conveniently located to the entryway of our home. Rather than serving as a mail/paper processing station as usual, it is a clutter catcher, with piles of mail and other random things. In fact, the mail center had become the junk (drawer) center of late, which was unacceptable.

Inspiration hit when I realized that the cubbies in the mail center would be perfect for storing yards of fabric–and for controlling the quantities that could be stored, resulting in a more manageable stash. Better use of mail center? Check.  Better storage for fabric? Check.  Less compulsive spending and buyer’s remorse? Check. Check.IMG_4499

This solution would probably not work for people who sew regularly and need to store vast swaths of fabric, but for an on-again, off-again project crafter like me, this was an ideal match.

My sewing machine fits snugly in the bottom cabinet as if it were made for it. Very snugly. I think I can fit my pinky finger in the space between the sewing machine and the shelf bottom.IMG_4501All my fabric has a tidy, colorful home…note the quilt squares cut and ready to be sewn together…

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and there is even room for the jewelry box one of my great-grandmothers gave me, which I am currently using to store binding I have already cut for the quilts I have yet to make. #gettingthere

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My sewing supplies and scraps fit in the drawer or on the top shelf of the bottom cabinet in glass storage containers we got as a wedding gift almost nine years ago that used to be in our kitchen.  We don’t have room for them on our counters now, but this is turning out to be a great way to repurpose them.

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The mail center is not intended for a heavy machine to perch precariously on the end of the pull-down desktop, so I do not plan to sew here.  However, on the other side of this rather useless pass through area in the center of our house is a hand-me-down sofa table that I had been temporarily using for sewing anyway when I had the time. Nearby is our dining table, so I can just pull a chair up to the sofa table, set up the machine, and sew to my heart’s content while watching, er, listening to reruns of Fixer Upper. Watching might result in bleeding fingers. Not recommended.

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Best part? When I’m not sewing, it all closes up, and no one will ever know that this is a mail center fabric hoard sewing station.

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Except for all of you. Oops. 😉

Final Four for the Floor

Wood look tile seems to be the top flooring trend of late, but we’ve been thinking about it ever since we bought the ‘Zoo and felt eww on our feet.  The peeling vinyl tiles, complete with faux grout lines filled with 20 years of gunk, the ‘newer’ but threadbare shag carpet with cheap pad, and the exposed metal teeth on the thresholds that shred our soles, the smell emanating from the guest rooms, plus my allergies, had us shopping for flooring from day one.  Last spring, we excitedly began tearing out flooring, but the need for less disgusting flooring was soon superseded by the practical desire to protect our home investments and improvements by doing a re-roof for our big project of 2014. Now, 2015 is the year of the floor.

A couple of months ago, we started seriously looking at flooring options in our area and options from online tile suppliers that ship to our area.  We got some {free!} samples from various places and started narrowing our preferences to particular colors, lengths, and styles.  We love wood tones of all kinds, and while they have really improved how imitation wood products look, we have noticed that tiles with red/pink or yellow undertones seems to look less realistic, as do tiles that don’t have enough pattern and color variation.  Consequently, we were both drawn to the darker samples in the first round of sampling {as was Hermes, apparently}.  Our first round pick was this guy from South Cypress, an online tile shop with regional roots:

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Note the stain on the far right side.  This carpet is seriously gross people.  

This is a color body tile called Barnwood in color Pecan by Storka.  We definitely wanted a color body tile where the color goes through the body of the tile so that chips and scratches are less noticeable if they happen.  The second tile beside it was our second favorite, another Storka product called Saison in color Angers.  It was also nice but was more uniformly dark.   The third tile, the gray, was something some neighbors of ours got from Home Depot and had installed in their home over the winter.  It looks great in their house, but we just didn’t want to go so gray and so weathered for our floors. We thought Barnwood combined the more traditional deep brown with just enough weathered gray visually and, on a practical note, would provide better camouflage for dirt/sand/pet-ness and be less slippery for wet feet.

We decided to do another round of sampling, focusing on tiles with similar looks and features to our first choice.  We conveniently happened to be in the Birmingham, AL area on Friday, so we stopped by the South Cypress showroom, where Courtney from Sales helped us find additional tiles in which we might be interested.  After examining a number of options, we came home with three more samples, resulting in these four final contenders:

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#1 is Storka’s Barnwood in Pecan (our original favorite).  #2 is Storka’s Saison in Angers (our original second favorite).  #3 is Marazzi’s American Heritage in Spice (a new interest).  #4 is a new Storka product called Lodge in color Forest.  All of these products are color-body porcelain tile, though we observed that the Marazzi tile appeared to have a grayer body than its reddish-brown top.  Courtney pointed this out to us but also reminded us of the hardness of porcelain with respect to potential for chips and scratches. We like that #2, 3, and 4 all come in longer lengths, making them more like wood floors.

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We placed them in different areas of our home with more and less natural and artificial lighting to see how they looked and watched them throughout the day as the position of the sun changed. We also walked on them to get a feel for the texture.  When we laid out all the samples, #3, American Heritage Spice, became our new frontrunner.  It had all the rich, warm tones and hand scraped look we love about wood but didn’t necessarily expect to be able to achieve with wood look tile.  It was the most realistic looking of all the tiles that made the Final Four and also felt the most like wood to our feet.   Compared to #3, the others looked decidedly more muted.  Though less apparent in the picture, #2 had a rougher, oddly synthetic-feeling texture to the feet, and once we felt the difference in texture, we could also see that difference.  #4 was the least wood-like of all of them and the most gray but still had an appealing feel and pattern.

IMG_4464We also noticed a lot of color variation in our original favorite, #1, as you can see in the picture above.  In person, the piece on the right side looks very red, the left looks very brown, and the middle piece looks very gray.  We like some variation and understand that real barnwood would also have considerable variation but are somewhat undecided about whether the variation will draw attention to the shorter ‘board’ length, making it more apparent that these are tiles and not wood planks.

We also experimented with durability and ease of cleanup.  I might have squirted mustard on the samples. And etched them with a screwdriver.  And dropped things on them on purpose.  All of the samples fared relatively well at the cleanup and destructibility tests, though #3 suffered a couple of chips (not from our tests but possibly from transit?) that revealed that the Marazzi definition of color body was indeed suspect.  The  top has a reddish brown, but the color underneath is decidedly gray, which was very obvious when chipped.  Not exactly our definition of color body.  This was sad news for #3, as we were leaning towards this until the chipping gave us cause for pause.

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Right now, we are undecided.  What do you think? We’ve tried to tell Hermes we have to choose just one.  He doesn’t seem to agree.

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Update on the Tile Trial: We’ve been keeping an eye on our tile samples throughout the week.  Spice, which was starting to become our favorite, has started to show signs of damage that furniture markers/Sharpies cannot hide…and the brown/black markers actually don’t match, so it now looks like we’ve drawn on the floor.  Womp, womp. Stay tuned for the final decision!

Chalk Paint Possibilities and Questions

We have quite a few paint projects planned for the next few months so that we can finally kiss our brushes goodbye.  Of course, as DIYers know, painting is a never ending activity. Just as you ‘finish’ painting, inspiration strikes somewhere else, and you find yourself standing in the checkout line for paint and rollers again. One of the projects that we need to tackle in the very near future before work travel and summer fun take precedence is this bookcase:

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My parents gave us this bookcase because we are book hoarders avid readers and they no longer had need/room for it.  We read widely, so the set of books in this bookcase is not representative of our taste.   The children’s and adolescent literature collections fill the guest bedrooms on Target bookcases (not our best investment) and Cubeicals (surprising longevity), my professional literature sits on other shelves in the living room,and our classics collection is our bedroom. This bookcase is actually more representative of the need to part with some books, like outdated college texts.  Getting there. Slowly.

This bookcase has a history.  My dad used to work as the managing engineer for a plant owned by a company headquartered in Austria, and he acquired this bookcase when the plant closed its doors and liquidated its assets.  It used to sit in his office, so I suppose he was a bit attached to it.  The bookcase is solid mahogany, but you wouldn’t know because it was lacquered black to hide its beauty from the pilfering Nazis during the war, according to the story passed down through the company.  The bookcase was later brought to the states from the original factory in Austria.

Regardless of whether or not the story is true, it has character. And it is indeed solid. And industrial, but not in the expected way.  As shown above, the glass panels slide to allow access to the shelves and also reveal drawers at the bottom.  The glass panels are fitted so precisely that they only fit in one order of installation, and no hardware was used to hang them.  This is the same way with the drawers–these drawers use ZERO hardware for mounting/sliding; instead they have an interesting wood sliding puzzle configuration allowing you to open them and take them out. We aren’t jumping on the brass bandwagon throughout our house like some people are, but the brass hardware on this bookcase looks so perfect with the glossy black coat. The brass plates on the sliding doors (differentiate left and right from center panels) have a bit of a patina, whereas the brass hardware on the drawers has been relatively well protected despite having lived in factories for generations.  #brassisback

We aren’t sure if the paint contains lead or not. I read somewhere that furniture painted in the early 1900s to 1950 is at risk for lead despite evidence that lead paint risks were known by this time, but the only way to know for sure is a test (you can buy lead paint test kits from your local hardware store supposedly).  If we find that the furniture was painting with lead paint, we would need to encapsulate it with a paint product designed to bond to the lead paint, which is likely the most viable abatement method for us. We always err on the side of caution when it comes to health hazards since we have furry family members, hopes for wee children, and allergies. #operationrespirationpurification

On a more fun note, we thought we would like to try using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for the first time to paint the bookcase (either as the top coat(s) over the encapsulating product or, if no lead hazard exists, just as the paint of choice).  We are debating different color choices, and having never used ASCP before, we are having a tough time deciding what to do.  A conservative Graphite or Old White? A bold Antibes Green or Emperor’s Silk with clear and dark wax? Or a layering of different colors…or a custom mix of different colors? Oh, the possibilities.  The bookcase sits along the long wall we recently painted in our living room between our baby grand piano (also a high gloss black lacquer) and our new dining table.

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We like having neutral pieces along with fun, bright colors (note the bright paint above!), so we aren’t sure which direction to go.  Normally we would use bright colors on smaller pieces and neutrals on larger pieces, but we don’t want all of our larger painted furniture to end up white (and the lack of a true black in the ASCP collection has given us pause for this guy).  Then there’s the possibility of foregoing ASCP and just refreshing its black lacquer to maintain the look it has had for 65+ years (at least).  If it isn’t painted with lead paint, we might even consider the tedious process of stripping it down to the wood and restoring its original beauty.   If you have any experience with painting furniture, especially with chalk paint, what would you try? What about stripping and restoring pieces? De-lacquering? Lead paint nightmares? Any ideas or tips would be appreciated!