Kitchen Remodel: Cabinet Makeover

When we embarked on our kitchen remodel, one of our primary goals was to complete the project with a low environmental impact. So much material is ripped out of homes, sent to the landfill (though sometimes upcycled) and replaced with new products. Since our cabinets were in decent shape, we decided to reuse them in the space, and just add to them to boost up the custom layout.

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Just the shell of the old kitchen. Hard to imagine it with a wall cutting through it.

Most of our cabinets were left in place, just removing doors for painting and repair. Matt built new cabinet sections to match the existing boxes for the new 4ish feet we added to the east end where the wall came down. That 4 feet make SO much difference! We brainstormed options and settled on only adding lower cabinets, resulting in more storage and counter space while keeping all the vertical wall space free and open. The lower boxes he built feature open bookshelves…though our cats think they are custom hangouts just for them.

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We also amped up the existing cabinets with open boxes to fill the space between the cabinets and ceiling, all framed out in wide crown molding. With a fresh coat of paint you can hardly recognize that this is the same space!

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So much more open, lighter and brighter…and the ceilings even feel taller!

Painting cabinets is a project, and one that is usually recommended to be completed in a totally dust free environment. Well, we did the best we could with the limited workspace we have in this house, opting for the “vintage, lived in” look of brushed paint vs spray. I tackled the boxes while Matt prepped the doors. We have a mix of doors from the existing cabinets and four salvaged doors that so nearly match. All white, you would barely notice the eclectic mix. In fact, through this project we realized that the cabinets that we were saving were already “seconds” stock, and had extra quirks and two doors that matched even less than the salvage ones we found!

Sand – repair – prime – sand – prime – sand – paint – sand – paint, then cure. That was the routine for this transformation. We used Benjamin Moore Advance in beautiful Swiss Coffee. This paint looks and performs great once up. It is self leveling and has a beautiful finish, but it is a little finicky to get on. I found that rolling cabinet doors with a small roller, then back brushing the paint left the cleanest result.

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I am pleased to report that half the cabinet doors are reinstalled, waiting for hardware and looking fabulous! The remaining doors are getting extra special treatment with adding salvaged wavy glass panes!

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Slate Blackboard Countertops – How Do we Like them?

I have written about our DIY salvaged slate blackboard countertops a few times now. I am thrilled to report that we still love them, even more than I could have hoped.

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They are sturdy and beautiful and super easy to maintain. We actually never even got around to coating them with mineral oil but it does not seem necessary. Pie crust rolls like a dream on the cool surface, and the texture of the subtle grain feels so nice to the touch. Not to mention, they are stunning and unique.

Of all the salvage components of our remodel, this is by far my favorite story. Not only did it save us thousands of dollars (compared to honed, black granite which was our runner up choice), but it is more beautiful, 100% DIY, and kept so much waste out of the landfill. These blackboards will live on for years to come.

Adventures in Free – as in dairy, gluten, soy, chocolate, coconut (sigh)

Breastfeeding has made my daily diet a bit wonky…I am currently doing an elimination diet to see what is making poor Oakleigh have tummy troubles. Without our go-to no knead bread (oh how I miss it!) I wanted a cornbread that I could eat with soup. So many recipes are gluten free, some are dairy free but use a dairy substitute. So I decided to give it a go with just water and see what happened.

AMAZING cornbread!!! We may not even go back…

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Perfect Cornbread

  • 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ¾ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 Tbs molasses or honey
  • 4 Tbs bacon fat, coconut oil or butter

+

Fat for greasing pan

  1. In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. Add the water, molasses and eggs to the dry ingredients, and mix until blended.
  3. Let corn mixture sit for a half hour, stirring occasionally if you remember.
  4. Place a cast iron skillet or cast iron muffin pan in oven, and preheat to 400 (for about 30 minutes while the cornmeal continues to soak, 1 hour total)
  5. When oven is hot, mix in vinegar to the corn mix.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, and melt 2-3 Tbs butter/oil/fat to coat the pan. (or drop a large pea size chunk of butter or fat/oil in each muffin hole) and immediately pour in the batter. Return the skillet to the oven, and bake at 375 for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden and the center is just cooked through. Check a few minutes early as all ovens vary and add a few extra minutes if needed. Taking care not to over-bake will ensure moist cornbread.

DIY Slate Blackboard Countertops – Install

When we embarked on the DIY blackboard slate countertop project we had a general idea of how to do it, but in the end had to make a bunch of decisions, trial and error, research and pure guts.

Step 1: Cleaning the slate

These blackboards were from the 1940s, and had been glued to the wall with who-knows-what adhesive back in the day. Then at some point they had white boards glued on top of them! In other words, a TON of stuff to remove. You can read more about that process here

Step 2: Building the understructure

Just like a tile countertop, we needed to build up a structure for the slate to attach to. This was pretty straightforward (especially after doing the brick fireplace the same way). A sandwich of ¾” plywood, backerboard attached with thinset and screws, and then taping any seams. This flat, level surface then gave us the template for the slate. We took the opportunity to make the new surfaces a half inch further offset from the cabinets below giving the counters a bit more surface area and a more attractive overhang.

The best part of making our our counters is we could experiment as we went, and truly get it exactly how we wanted. If we had ordered them, we may not have been able to look ahead as far to see how we wanted it.

Step 3: Cutting and Installation

We used a borrowed diamond stone cutting saw (like a mini circular saw with a water attachment) to cut the slate. Matt would measure out the pieces we needed, set them up on sawhorses in the driveway and cut away. He scored guide lines with a metal scraper since drawing them on would wash off with the hose water from the saw. He also learned that using a guide was critical. We used a combination of a standard clamp guide from Harbor Freight, and some old trim clamped on with c-clamps to ensure a straight cut. This step required LOTS of patience and attention to detail. There were certain pieces we had picked out for particular areas due to the grain in the stone, so we only had one shot.

Installing the slate was just like large format tile. We used large format thinset and a wide notched trowel. There were some great resources online demonstrating the importance of how you  lay down the thinset and how it impacts the strength of your floor/counters etc.

We set the slate with as minimal of grout lines as possible, starting with the edge pieces. This would ensure that the top pieces would overlap perfectly to create the counter edge. Clamping them in place was critical to ensure they would not slide as the thinset set up.

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Look of pure relief when the island piece was finally  installed. This one had a super unique grain patter  and was a complex series of angles to get it cut just right.

 

Once the sides were installed and cured, we could move on to the top pieces.

Step 4: Finishing

After experimenting with some trial pieces, we decided to slightly sand a bevel into the leading edge of the counters. This smoothed out the look of the stone and also should reduce chipping in the future. To achieve this, we used a belt sander to take off a fine bit of slate. It made all the difference in taking this project to a pro level. Some we sanded once they were set, some we did before.

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Step 5: Sealing

After reading up on options, we decided to just finish our counters with mineral oil. And well, honestly have not done that yet. We still plan to, but they are performing so well just as they are.

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By doing this project ourselves we save a TON of money, got the material we wanted (dark, solid, natural stone), saved materials from the landfill and truly achieved a unique one of a kind feature for our home. We still have a pile of leftover slate so we may do this again for an outdoor kitchen…

Questions? We would be happy to answer them!

Week 13: Transition Back to Work

Holy cow…our little Oak is already 13 weeks old! We have had some great adventures (first trip to grandparents, week at the WA coast), survived the first 8 weeks of her life without a functional kitchen (!), harvested nearly 100 pounds of tomatoes from the garden, attended two weddings, cleaned up the remodel multiple times, and had countless afternoons filled with tears, smiles, and everything in between. So where are we now?

This is a big transition period for our little family. I am back at work and Matt is home full time juggling baby and remodel. We have tweaked our routine daily and are still settling on what works the best. So far nothing has been missed, everyone is getting a decent amount of sleep, and we are generally pretty happy. The 5:30 alarm clock has been a shock to my system after three months of sleeping as long as Oakleigh and I wanted to, but we have developed a good bedtime routine where we are all (usually) in bed by 9:00. We set up our guest room and cleaned the main floor bathroom so I have space to get ready in and let the rest of the house sleep. I get up, shower, dress, pump and then get out the door.

We also have been focusing our energy on SPECIFIC projects and steps for getting the house wrapped up. Generally speaking, we are at finishes: trim, paint and tile. Huge right? Countertops are on, demo is done, the heavy “construction” is behind us. We did a massive dump run a few weeks back that gave us a TON of floorspace back, as well as a sense of normalcy that things are getting done. On Saturday morning, Matt and I sat down to talk through each remaining step to totally get the kitchen done. We don’t have time to waste repeating steps or doing the same thing multiple times, so this plan helps us focus. We are also calling in some backup from grandmas to watch Oakleigh so we can tag team the house.

Speaking of our little love, she is AMAZING. We are totally smitten with her, and love watching her grow and change everyday. Her main tricks these days are looking at her right hand/arm (she has not figured out she has a left one yet…), ahh—goo coos, big gummy grins and lots of feet kicking. She loves to look at trees and the cats, and standing is WAY cooler than sitting or laying down. This lady has places to go! (ahem…remodel needs to get done before the moving is actually happening!!!)

Going back to work has been hard…and good…and a lot of logistics. I am beyond grateful that Matt can be home to take care of Oakleigh. He has the best time just being daddy. And I enjoy my job and feel very supported and appreciated with my returning role. Early mornings, pumping, milk management, more pumping, not forgetting stuff, reengaging my work brain, pumping, catching the ferry on time, and still more pumping are just the pieces that will take some time to adjust to. And I miss my baby! It feels pretty unnatural to be away from her, and I try not to dwell on it or I will end up in tears. Again…so grateful she is home with Matt! I am also only commuting 3 days per week so I still get far more time with her than many working moms do!

Every day is just so different. But those gummy grins make every single hard moment worth it.

A Sewing Project: Maternity Caftan

A few months ago now I ordered a maternity caftan dress. I really liked it, but there was something just “off” about the fabric, and the neckline…concept  was great, but it was not right for me. So I decided to dust off  the sewing machine I have received last Christmas (still in the box) and make my own.

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My friend Jenny was visiting and we scouted the perfect linen/rayon fabric, adorable buttons and I was inspired to start.

Then came the actual starting. I did not have a real pattern, just one I had made (and I have never made a pattern before) and so was a bit lost in what parts to do first. I was thrilled  with my success with threading the machine on my first try, and remembering how to wind a bobbin. YouTube later came in very very handy  as I started putting things together and came across questions. You see, I have sewn in the past, but never on my own. It was always a project with my mom at the ready to step in and help. This was my first true solo project, on a new machine all by myself.

Two weeks ago I finally did make some progress. I had the major parts cut out and pinned…and then I was stuck. Interfacing the neckline was a new concept, and I was not making heads or tails out of the tutorials online. So the project sat.

And sat.

And I kept getting closer to my due date. If this was supposed to be a maternity (and nursing) dress, I had better get it done if I wanted to wear it!!!So this weekend I unpacked all my supplies and really gave it a go.

I conquered the neckline, and pockets, and button loops. I even gave the hemming foot a shot…and ended up making a turned hemline the old fashioned way (or sloppy way?) with my hands, an iron and lots of patience, finished with two rows of top stitching.

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Result? I am beyond pleased! The caftan dress looks great! My nearly 37 week belly JUST fits, but it will be wonderful for nursing. The neckline is exactly what I wanted. It was a learning project, so there are things I would FOR SURE do differently next time, but I am excited to wear this in the coming weeks and years.

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Planting Tomatoes

Saturday was another garden day.

I cut down more cover crop (we really need a scythe next year!), weeded, and then was finally able to get some of our tomato starts in the ground. We have roughly 70 plants that have been hanging out on our deck just waiting for a place in the ground.

I also tackled trimming brambles and weeds on the far back side of the garden fence. There were blackberries coming through the wire and I knew it was now or next year that I would be able to address them. This pregnant body does not work too fast anymore, and I hit a wall before I got as far as I wanted, but listened to baby and called it a day with about 1/3 of the tomatoes in the ground.  Things are looking good!

Beans and corn are up, garlic is starting to turn yellow, peach tree has fruit and has been thinned. Very few apples are out this year. Some of the tomatoes are in. I could call that more of a garden success than I was anticipating the summer our first baby arrives! 4 weeks to go!

Update from Sunday: Matt spent the day in the garden and prepped and planted over 40 more plants! We are set for the year with about 75 in the ground and it looks great!