Saturday, April 23, 2016

News and Reviews

We've had crazy hot weather here in Seattle this last week. The kids have been swimming in Lake Washington twice, which is an activity that we typically only do in the hot summer months. 

We've also had a chance to get our walking legs under us again. Unless you're Emma. She dawdled for about 100 feet and then decided she'd much rather ride. You've got those long legs, girlie, use 'em!

The group admires a slug. It was a minor miracle that this thing escaped alive. I can see two sets of shoes that were itching to stomp. 

Here are a few links (new and old) that caught my fancy:

Midwife rides inflatable swan through floodwaters to deliver baby

Feminist Cupcake Sale

How to go on a group vacation

Airbnb is changing the way tourists travel to Africa

Sexual hostility in America's National Parks

Killing to conserve: is it ethical to kill ones species to protect another?

Family technology rules: what kids expect of parents

Whole fat vs. non-fat milk

Emma=Easy Baby. Ben? Not so much. Some babies are just easier than others. 

31 things to do after you have a baby that no one will tell you

Vaccine aversion has fueled outbreaks [no big surprise here]

Too much, too young. Should schooling start at age 7?

The hell after ISIS


Tuesday, April 05, 2016

More Fireplace Work

So, it's time we gave our fireplace tile a bit of a facelift. It's looking a bit chipped and grubby. And, I'll be honest, I don't love the mottled brown.

Before we talk facelift specifics, however, you should have a good idea of the house floor plan as the living room is intricately tied to our dining room (and, by extension, our kitchen).

In case the words of the plot plan are too tiny, here is a visual representation:

The walls of the living room (and fireplace) are currently painted a very light lavender. It's almost white, but not quite.

Eventually, they'll be painted the same color as the kitchen and dining room, which is Light Pewter by Benjamin Moore. It's a very light grey with a hint of beige.

It can be seen here:

And here:

Our kitchen cabinets are an unfortunately-named "Greige" color, and we have a white trim (Behr's Polar Bear).

Which leads us back to the fireplace. I don't have it in me to removed the tiles completely as they're solidly cemented to both the wall and floor. I like the design but not the color, which makes me think that I should just paint the whole thing.

I'm having a hard time coming to grips with the different colors on my monitor since the Light Pewter looks much greyer in person, but here it is in our mockup.

Option #1
Walls: Light Pewter
Tile: Greige

Option #2
Walls: Light Pewter
Tile: Polar Bear White

I like Option #2 much better, but frankly I'm still torn. I'm hesitant to paint the tiles white, especially since many of them are floor tiles, meaning that every piece of dog hair and dirt is going to make a beeline for them. 

I might paint a few pieces of paper and hang them on the fireplace to see how the colors do in our light conditions. 

We'll keep you posted. 


Saturday, April 02, 2016

Fireplace Refresh (aka Faux Fireplace Wood Pile)

Last year we had to cut down a beloved crab apple tree in our yard. We salvaged a few of the bigger stumps for side tables and then filled our fireplace with smaller cut branches. You can see a picture of it here at the end of this post.  We don't use our fireplace and it was a nice way to keep the toddler from investigating all the sooty nooks and crannies. 

But there were a few disadvantages:
1) there were so many piled logs that it was a tremendous weight on our sagging cross beams
2) the logs were piled, not attached, and Emma was fond of pulling them out
3) as they dried, the entire display shrunk significantly, leaving a 6" gap at the top. 

What they looked like after six months of drying (and tinkering by Emma):

We decided to remove the pieces, cut them down, and attach them for permanent display. 

Project: Faux Fireplace Wood Pile

Take a large piece of tracing paper (or several small ones taped together) and trace the fireplace opening. 

At this point I also removed the logs from the fireplace. Spider heaven in there.

After we cut out our paper template, I transferred it to a piece of 1/2" plywood and then cut it out with a jigsaw. 

At this point it was important to make sure it fit in the fireplace. Mine was slightly smaller so it could be shoved 4" back into the space. This was tricky as our opening was tapered inward. 

Then I painted the plywood facing using black exterior paint. I think anything would work as this is an indoor application that won't really be visible. 

At this point I took several pieces and cut them to varying lengths, ranging in height from 2" to 6". In the end, I decided that 4" pieces were ideal for my project. You could still see the black board between rounds if you looked really closely but any longer would have added considerable weight to the finished product. 

I used a chop saw to cut all the rounds and then blasted a few of them with a belt sander to smooth out some of the rough edges. 

Next I began laying out the rounds, starting at the bottom edge. 

Once complete, I lifted up each piece and added a glob of wood glue to the bottom. 

The next morning I came back and shot a few nails (from the backside) into each piece so they were securely attached to the backer board. If you didn't have a nail gun, you could do this with screws or a hammer. But it would be a very, very long painful process. I'd do your best to beg or borrow a nailer from a local tool share co-op or rent one from a hardware store. It would make this step only take an hour, instead of 4 or 5. 

I miss judged a few and spent way too long trying to get them back out. It was a pain. 

The finished product, once tilted up, rests securely on the ground. Just make sure that your bottom wood pieces will lay on the ground to provide additional structural support. 

I also added a clear coat of varnish to keep the ends from browning over time. We hauled it upstairs and slid it into the opening. 

All done. Nice and tidy. And protected from prying toddlers. 

-Plywood backer board: 1/2" (Big enough to fill your fireplace opening)
-Tracing paper
-Wood tree rounds: 4"
-Wood glue
-Clear matte varnish
-Black paint

-Chop saw
-Belt sander/sand paper/rasp
-Optional (but very handy): Nail gun

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Benisms vol 386

The kids were playing at the beach yesterday, building something that involved sand, water, and sticks.

Ben (to the other kids): "SUCK IT!!!"

Me: "Wait, WHAT did you say?!"

Ben: "SUCK IT!!"

Me: "Whoa, buddy, those are not words we say to other people. Ever." [Thinking: what the heck is he going to pick up from preschool next?!]

Ben: "What's wrong with 'sunken'? The stick has sunken into the sand."


Sorry buddy. I owe you an apology.

Monday, March 28, 2016

House: Finished Kitchen

Sorry for the long radio silence, it's been a busy few months. Such is life, right? We're all busy, all the time.

But, the grand news is that our kitchen is finished. I just completed the final paint job on Saturday.

As you can see, it's a pretty muted palate of greys and whites, with some wood tones to warm things up a bit. We'll also eventually add some colorful artwork but in the meantime we're still getting used to our bright and shiny new space.

Remember what we started with?

Demo begins:

You can see we decided to punch a door into my office (far left) and remove the wall between the kitchen and the dining room (far right).

Dining Room Before:

Dining Room After:

Stove Before:

And After:

We splurged on an induction cooktop and so far I love it. That thing boils a pot of water in about 30 seconds and it's very, very easy to clean as food doesn't get cooked onto the surface. I've had both electrical and gas in my kitchens and I won't lie: induction is my favorite by FAR. The temperature range is huge: you can melt chocolate on the cooktop without a double broiler. 

This was a tricky remodel for us because there 1) wasn't much flexibility in layout or 2) the ability to open up the space and join it completely with the other living areas. This is due to a narrow existing room floorplan and a wall that was necessary to the house's structural integrity.

Here was our layout when we purchased the house:

And after:

The other thing I really, really adore about this kitchen is the quartz countertop. Again, our previous kitchens have had laminate, granite, and small ceramic tile with grout (the worst!), and so far we've been really happy with the quartz. It's amazingly easy to clean and doesn't stain. Here are the guys cutting the counters on site:

It took us six years to finally begin work on this kitchen project so that gave us plenty of time to quiz our various family members about their own renovations and to dream about our own design. I had a list with essential kitchen elements (garbage disposal, undermount sink, proper lighting, etc) that I brought with me to every meeting and planning session. We compromised on some things (no double oven) but not on others (induction cooktop). I also spent a lot of time thinking about my kitchen cooking styles and habits. For example, I wanted a prep area that was accessible from multiple sides: kids on one side, adults on the other. That allows us to jointly work on baking projects, but also allows me to keep them out from underfoot.

We took a risk on the grey cabinets. They're very fadish, it's true. But I also love them. I like the look of white kitchens but I'm not the best cleaner/scrubber (life with kids is messy) and I was worried that we'd ding them up pretty quickly. So we're hoping the grey won't show stains and scuffs quite so easily.

Another item on the wish list: open shelving. Our house is pretty dusty (thanks to a dog and a forced air heater) so we nixed the open shelving in favor of the glass cabinets. These (unlike the previous ones) go all the way to the ceiling so there is lots of additional room.

By adding the door into my office, we had to eliminate a small pantry next to the laundry chute. We compensated by adding floor to ceiling shelving next to the stove. 

I also like the pull-out trash drawers, although the recycle bin is a bit too small. It's easy to sweep stuff off the counter and directly into the bin. We keep our compost bin directly on the counter but that (along with knives and a toaster) is the only thing allowed to take up permanent counter space.

One thing I don't like about the kitchen: I thought the floor would hid more, especially since it has nice striations. Nope. Every crumb, spill, and dog hair clump is outlined in exact detail. The floor is also fairly slick. Our poor mutt Bailey took one look at the new floor and decided his hips weren't up for crossing that ice rink. He sticks to rugs and hardwoods.

Another aspect I really, really like: The solid backsplash. It's so easy to clean, especially behind the stove where spills are common.

Our kitchen was previously quite isolated from the rest of the house. Now we can cook in the kitchen and keep an eye on the kids in the living room. It's also nice to have a seating area so that the cook can have company during food prep. That is a slab of reclaimed wood planks with modified iron legs that we purchased off Etsy. It's been lovely having a finished kitchen.

Vendors and Craftsmen
Cabinets: Grand JK Cabinetry. Color: Greige
Counters: Quartz. Crystal White (Purchased through Hy)
Sink: Single bowl, undermount (Purchased through Hy)
Cabinet & Countertop Installers: Hy Kitchen Cabinet & Stone (Recommended, with reservations.)
Electrician: Steve Jenkins @ Spire Electrical* (Highly Recommended)
Plumber: Bill Arnold*
Drywall: Manuel Herrera* @ TLC Drywall
Windows: Not recommended so I won't mention them
Paint: Sonja. Color: Benjamin Moore Light Pewter. Trim: Behr Polar Bear
Subfloor: Chris and Sonja
Insulation: Chris
Flooring: Marmoleum Striato Welsh Moor
Flooring Installer: Jason Dennison (very detail-oriented)
Bench: Etsy Seller Dendro Co (recommend, with reservations. Email me for details)
Pendant Light above Peninsula: Etsy Seller Olde Brick Lighting (Highly Recommended)
Light above Sink: Burnished Bronze Semi-Flush Fixture
Trim: Chris & Sonja

If you want specific phone numbers for installers, shoot me an email via the contact page of our blog.

*These are all guys that we've worked with on multiple occasions. We're happy to speak to the quality of their work.

We spent a lot of time looking at kitchen cabinets. In the end we chose a mid-range product that is of plywood construction. Probably similar to a Home Depot line, although ours came with soft close doors included in the price. My sense is that they're better than Ikea (not partical board) but cheaper than a custom wood cabinet. These are made (not surprisingly) in China and shipped to a warehouse in Kent, WA.  So far I like their appearance and quality, although I find the drawers to be a bit shallow. We'll see how they hold up over time. I definitely like that they have an easy clean finish. Not glossy, but more shiny than a matte finish.

Another thing about the cabinets: They are not custom, meaning that they only come in a set range of sizes and styles (like Ikea). Some customization is possible; Hy was able to cut down a few cabinets to fit our particular space and we're quite happy with the overall look.

We were fairly satisfied with the work done by Hy (in Kirkland, WA). I found them because they are a dealer of Grand JK Cabinetry. I already had a layout but I worked with Michael to finalize our design and take measurements. He was able to troubleshoot a few tricky design areas for us. The on-site team, lead by Wing, was excellent, and overall we were quite happy with his installation of both countertops and cabinets. We had a few hiccups along the way (typical of large, complex renovations) and I thought we were able to settle them fairly and to the satisfaction of all parties. We'd hire them again.

Our 'Must-Have' List
Garbage Disposal
Single Undermount Sink
Soft Close Cabinet Doors
Excellent Lighting
More Counter Space with Bar/Peninsula
Fan That Vents to Outside

Our 'Nice-to-Have' List
Upright Storage for Cutting Boards/Cookie Sheets
Separate Oven(s)
Microwave Off The Counter
Seating For 2+ People