Pantry Progress 

When we bought our house, the sizeable pantry was a total selling point. Directly across the hall from this pantry was the door for the guest room. It was always an awkward entrance, making its own little hallway, and the light switch was behind the door when it opened.

As we started rethinking our new floorplan, and the guest room was being turned into a dining room, we knew this little extra empty space was a diamond in the rough. After nixing the idea of a walk through butler’s pantry (swoon…but it was just not enough space) we came up with a double sided pantry/china closet that stole our hearts.

It used every square inch of the awkward space, added TONS of storage, and will add a critical detail for any craftsman: the built ins. Matt designed the pantry to coordinate with the living room bookcase builtins to make the whole space flow together. It is still too cold to open all the windows, so priming and painting all these cabinets is on hold until Spring really rolls around. But the structure is built and they look fantastic. Not to mention sturdy and will hold all the canned goods we can stuff into it. The china closet side will have glass doors and will feature our extra serving dishes etc, while the pantry side will contain removable shelves and be covered with solid doors. He also added a double deep cabinet with hooks on the far right side to hold 4 folding chairs!

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Wood Floor Inlay & Garden Planning

While the rest of the country is running straight to summer, our little corner of the PNW is having a much colder winter than usual. Cold and wet to be more specific. Even this morning I saw snowflakes as I was waiting for the bus. I want to get out in the garden but it is just not quite the season here yet.

This weekend Matt finished laying the wood floor inlay around the fireplace and built ins…such an accomplishment and it looks A-MAY-ZING! We can now move on to the next area of the house, and will come back for final painting of the mantle and trim when it is warm enough to open windows. And for good measure, a cute photo of me and the baby bump checking on daddy’s progress.

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I spent my weekend dreaming of the garden and working on a crop rotation plan. We are starting to hone in on the crops we like to grow that we actually use…which is not always obvious when you start. Spinach for example? We did not reach for it. Bush beans were prolific but we preferred the climbing romano beans so bush beans are out. Matt does not like beets. All the learning that goes into a maturing garden! This year we are focusing more on sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, kale and beans. Those are our staples and I want to optimize our soil and production with lessons from crop rotation.

I am still refining this model in Excel, but here is the basic idea that I am working from. First box is last year’s garden, with the second box one option for this year. For some scale, our garden is 45×60 feet and has been divided roughly into quadrants.

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DIY Project Profile: Brick Hearth and Built-In Cabinets

When we bought our house nearly 4 years ago, there was a small free-standing natural gas stove in the northwest corner of the living room. It was nice, and produced good heat, and gave us the ambiance of having a fireplace. But it was never quite right. It sat directly on the hardwood floor, and was tucked off in an awkward corner right next to an exterior door. As Matt would say, you could not really curl up around it.

Upon embarking on our massive remodel, the fireplace was never really in the scope. However, after taking down some walls, and deciding that we would refinish all the hardwood floors, we knew we needed to address the fireplace. It was a now or never kind of project.

The south wall of our living room actually used to have a large fireplace. Probably brick, but we will never know. The house was built in 1925, then barged to the island and re-erected in 1978. Our best guess is that this heavy, crubly fireplace did not make the move, and was just wiped from the house. The siding is cut in a way that showed us where this historical fireplace footprint was, and the flooring did not match the rest of the room. Opportunity to restore some old vintage charm!

It was last July (agh!) when we starting blocking out a vision for a new hearth and mantle to surround our little gas stove. We started with blue painters tape to determine scale and size, which was a great way to tweak little measurements until it “fit” correctly in the room. There are some odd considerations to take into account (as typically comes with remodeling an old house) like the unevenly spaced windows and the fact that the old fireplace was not actually centered in the room. We would later realize that the windows are not even the same HEIGHT from the floor (agh!) but that was a recent development.

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Matt built a frame for the new hearth and mantle, and then the project sat idle for a while when we were traveling and focused on exterior projects.

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Finally, in December he was back to some nitty gritty details like running the new gas line and chimney. Thankfully our stove was compatible with a direct vent system so we could go straight out the back rather than have a big pipe in the living room. Win! I found some very helpful chimney supply places online that allowed us to cobble together all the right pieces that are no longer made. Hooray for not having to buy a whole new stove.

Once the gas and chimney were in, we stated on the hearth again. We had considered reclaimed sliced brick, but in the end went with a thin brick veneer (real brick, just thin and can be worked with similar to tile) that we found at Home Depot. We over ordered and mixed the boxes together (very important to mix color batches!!!) and Matt started designing. We got a mix of flat and corner pieces to mirror a true full-size brick look as much as possible. We also planned ahead and added custom forged cast iron hooks anchored behind the backerboard so they would be secure and poke through the finished brick. The brick was attached with the Old Mill Brick adhesive.

The end result is stunning. We choose to grout with a sanded grout in a medium grey shade (Dolorean Gray) and it looks great paired with the slightly grayish hued brick we selected (Castle Gate mix). Since we over ordered we were able to return a full box of each flat bricks and corners, allowing us to pick the ones that we really wanted. I was very impressed that only 1-2 bricks of the whole order were broken upon arrival!

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While the brick cures in prep for sealing, Matt has stared on building our built in bookcases. Old houses have built ins and we desperately wanted to add them back to ours. There was never a clear place until this fireplace remodel came about! Win win!

We are building these bookcases using another new tool and technique, a pocket hole jig! With so many cabinet building projects on the horizon it was worth it to learn the stronger holding cabinet technique. And it looks great! Paired with the new compound miter saw Matt is far more efficient in assembling these designs. The bookcases will have beadboard backs and more trim on the front to build up their profiles.

Once the bookcases are built we will move them out of the way and finish laying the hardwood floors, paint the cabinets and install them. The fireplace is coming together!

 

Prepping for Baby

January came and went, and we made a whole lot of progress! Matt has nearly finished the brick fireplace and hearth…and it looks AMAZING! It has added an incredible amount of detail back into our little home, and looks like it was meant to be. Now we can start tackling the next step of project: built in book shelves!

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We are adding built ins next to our fireplace under two very plain windows. Book shelves will be solid wood lined with beadboard, all painted white. This will be Matt’s first real cabinet making and he is excited to try out some new tools and skills. If his track record with our prior projects are any indication this will look really awesome in the end. Working on the book shelves is the perfect lead in to the next major project: finishing the pantry and building new lower kitchen cabinets!

I am interested in taking on a little side project of my own to tackle those boring windows. (Isn’t this cool!??)

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There are still quite a few things on the to-do list (and some are pretty major…like demoing the kitchen counters and backsplash and refinishing the hardwood floors!) before baby comes in July. We are focused though and chipping away at it one day at a time.

While Matt is focused on these projects I have spent my energy researching and doing the “paperwork” side of the house. Business taxes were wrapped up by the end of January, and I am (im)patiently waiting for our personal documents to arrive so we can file ours. I have been working on buying life insurance and air lift insurance (hello living on an island!). And then there is all the research on baby registry (nearly done!) and the world of cloth diapering and babywearing. I enjoy geeking out on those last two.

February is a short month so we are buckling down and getting stuff done. Wish us luck! Baby deadline is quickly approaching!

Not So Stellar Weekend

Well, it was not terrible…but not great either.

Friday afternoon I went to the pool, only to find out there was a swim meet, so no workout for me. I caught a ferry home, took one look at Matt who had been texting me about itching all day, and turned back into the ferry line to take him to urgent care. Lack of medical care on Vashon is probably one of the more serious downsides to island life. We lucked out and only waited 20 minutes before he could be seen…verdict: allergic reaction to something, and the poor guy was covered head to toe in hives. Medicine has helped but he is still fighting the itching. Dinner was take and bake pizza after 9PM, which felt super late for me. I have been going to bed before 8 most nights these days!

Itchy guy meant the fireplace brick was on pause. It sat all weekend untouched. We really just milled around, cleaned, took care of house stuff, and went to bed early. A dear friend visited the island on Saturday afternoon so we did a beach walk for sea glass and catching up. Hot chocolate on the beach: awesome idea.

All in all it was a restful weekend, but not what we had intended. The fireplace brick will need to be revisited this week, and we have grout ready to go. We also have a table saw checked out from the tool library just waiting for book cases to be cut. I am all geared up to do our taxes, but the forms have not arrived yet. I did have a win in submitting my business taxes for the first time! And we made some killer eggplant parmesan. So at least that was progress.

That is how it goes though, some things are just out of your control.

Bricks and Cinnamon Rolls

Matt and I spent a weekend at home. I literally left the house once, and that was to walk around the frosty garden.

He worked on laying brick on our new hearth while I cooked. We listened to our weekend radio shows, ate good food, and made good progress on the house. I’d say it was exactly what we needed.

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As part of our weekend food fest, I whipped up a batch of cinnamon rolls with a new recipe I wanted to try. Simply Recipes is my go to source for inspiration, and this one was a winner. I tweaked a few things and added a cream cheese frosting (we wanted something between a sticky bun and a frosted cinnamon roll) and they were epic.

Carmel Cinnamon Rolls with cream cheese frosting

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Dough:

  • 1/4 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast or 2 ¼ teaspoons
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk, warmed
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon. salt
  • 4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Pan base:

  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Method

1 Make the dough. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine warm water, yeast and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir to dissolve and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add milk, butter, remaining sugar, egg yolks, salt and 3 cups flour. Mix on low speed until blended. Switch to a dough hook and then, again on low speed, slowly incorporate the remaining 1 cup of flour. Increase speed to medium, kneading dough until smooth and slightly sticky (adding a little more flour if too wet), 3 to 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, buttered bowl. Turn dough over in bowl to coat with the butter from the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour (or 2 hours if not in an entirely warm place). After the dough has risen, punch down. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and let sit 20 minutes.

2 Make the filling. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt butter; keep separate.

3 Roll dough out into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle (or wider…wider = more swirls!). Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Starting with the long side, roll dough into a cylinder. Place seam side down on a flat surface and cut crosswise into 12 slices.

4 For the pan prep, grease sides with butter. Pour 4 oz melted butter into bottom and evenly spread. Sprinkle brown sugar on butter.

5 Evenly place dough slices, flat side down, on top of prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving room for the buns to rise, and refrigerate overnight.

6 Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature while the oven pre-heats. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake buns until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove pan from oven and immediately (and carefully as not to spill hot topping on your toes!) invert onto a serving tray or baking dish. Let buns cool slightly and serve warm as is or with frosting if desired.
Cream Cheese Frosting (totally unnecessary but totally delicious)

Cream together 1 package cream cheese, 4tbs softened butter, a pinch of salt, vanilla and powdered sugar to taste (1/3-1/2 cup). Frosting will be thick. If you would rather have icing, thin with milk and drizzle.

 

 

House Renovation Updates

What makes it a remodel vs a renovation? I was thinking of that in the middle of drafting this post.

Well, whatever it is, we are in the middle of it! This weekend we really hit some major strides and milestones. I unpacked all the plastic sheeting in the kitchen…that has been up since we took the wall down in February! We decided that there were enough steps between now and actually demoing the backsplash and counters that we could use our stove and hood for a while. Major horray for not cooking on a hot plate for awhile!

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We are also making huge changes in the living room. Matt has the fireplace (new hearth, mantle) framed out and covered in plywood. Brick veneer has been selected and is on order. We ordered sample tile for the kitchen and are narrowing it down. The table saw from the Tool Library has been working hard in the driveway and Matt is getting lots of practice. Next up: cabinets and cubbies for the kitchen! And a new light, and, and and…the list goes on!

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Two thirds of our potatoes are harvested, garlic is curing in the laundry room, bush beans are coming in by the handful and the Spanish beans are less than a week away from first harvest. Kale is going bonkers but areas are plagued by powdery mildew (boo!), and zucchini has been rolling in for breakfast, dinner and chocolate chip zucchini bread. Raspberries are a daily treat. And we have so many sweet peas for bouquets everywhere. We are in harvest time and it feels amazing.

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While the rest of the country is facing a massive heat wave, the temps this year have been much lower and wetter. It is a welcome break from last summer. The grass is even still green!

And we are working on a name for our little farm. A few names have come up, but we are trying really hard to make it just right.

Happy July…we are already counting down the days till fall vacations arrive! Better get moving on these house projects…or renovations whatever they are called.