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Returning the Nutrients

Photo of a lavender plant with leaves around the base

Part II: Putting the Garden to Bed

There is no better garden than next year’s garden.

Unknown quote, but it’s my favorite saying

But First, a Snack

Before putting the garden to bed, it’s always a good idea to give the soil and any perennial plants a snack before bed. They might not “eat” during the winter, but they will be awfully hungry upon waking and it saves you time and effort when you do it now.

Photo of the garden bed and my rake

For the garden beds, I give everything a good rake and add some all-purpose fertilizer. The soil put in a lot of hard work this summer, giving everything it had to my plants, so I make sure to mix in some fertilizer and compost at this stage. This gives ample time for the fertilizer to absorb and compost to decompose. I’ll do this part again in the spring, too.

The Perfect Comforter

After putting down some fertilizer and compost (don’t forget the compost around the base of your perennial plants like the lavender and hydrangeas!), I get ready to put down a thick layer of leaves. We have a ridiculous number of trees on our property and they don’t all lose their leaves at the same time. This means I am moving leaves for the better part of a month. When I get tired of blowing the leaves and bagging I take the opportunity to create the most perfect comforter for my garden. I like to use put the bag attachment on my push-mower and chop up the leaves before dumping them on the beds – but you don’t have to do that if you can’t.

Why Leaves?

First of all, they are bountiful – at least in the part of the country where I live. I find there is no point in buying anything expensive or fancy when Mother Nature is providing me with the best all-natural and organic mulch.

Second, as these leaves decompose over time, they prevent weeds from sprouting up and unwanted seeds from landing on the soil to sprout down.

Third, like any store-bought mulch, they do a great job of maintaining soil moisture and temperature.

Fourth, the leaves ultimately breakdown and add to the nutrients in the soil as another form of compost.

And just like that, you’ve put the garden to bed for the winter. Remember to turn off and unhook any hoses you have out and tidy up any trash. I’ll see you in the spring when we help the garden to wake up!

<<Part I: Planting the Garlic

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Say Goodnight and Sleep Tight

garlic and cloves on white surface

Part I: Garlic Planting

It’s November and getting quite cold in upstate New York, so it’s time to put the garden to bed. It was plentiful this past summer and the best gift I can give it is to give it a good rest and a treat.

But First, the Garlic

I’m still learning to be a better gardener every year. I make sure to jot down my notes in my garden notebook so I can implement changes in next year’s garden. Some veggies always do well and others, never. Some, like carrots, I am convinced can do well, I just haven’t found the right method or technique. Garlic is one of those plants for me.

Fresh garlic scapes from the summer

I am obsessed with garlic. I put it in everything, I make garlic confit and garlic olive oil. Next to salt and pepper, garlic is a guarantee in every dish I make. It was a logical next step when it came to expanding my garden. The summer of 2022 was my third season growing garlic. To date, the only thing I have successfully harvested and used has been the scapes. But I know I can figure this one out. I feel confident that this year would have been a success, if it were not for the extreme heat and drought of July and the fact that we were away on vacation during one of the hottest weeks, thus cooking my garlic to a crisp.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic is a bulb, obviously, and like any flower bulb, they are planted in the fall. This is because bulbs need vernalization in order to root properly and develop bulbs come spring. Basically they need the cool temps to start growing roots before going dormant in the winter. This gives them the best chance to grow and be ready in late summer. Garlic takes a long time to grow.

Map of USA Hardiness Zones.

I live in Zone 5b, but you should take a look at your zone and decide the best time to plant. According to the USDA Hardiness Zone map, I should be planting garlic around mid- to late-October. However, I’ve noticed in the last couple of years I’ve had to push that back into November because of warm falls. I don’t want my garlic to prematurely sprout and, ultimately, rot or not develop properly. It’s become harder to guess when the ground will freeze, but my goal is to get the garlic in the ground 4-6 weeks before then. Typically this means the daytime temperatures are now in the 40s or 50s and the nighttime temps get close to or just barely dip below freezing.

What Kind of Bulbs Should I Use?

There is no law against using garlic from the grocery store, but you will probably be disappointed. I did that my first time growing garlic and, while the garlic did sprout, I didn’t get much in the way of scapes and the bulbs were microscopic. These garlic bulbs tend to be of poorer quality for growing and may be designed to stay small or not grow much at all. Think about it – the last thing you want to buy in the grocery store is garlic with green shoots coming out.

garlic and cloves on white surface
Choosing the right garlic can sometimes come down to trial and error

I’ve taken a couple of approaches. In the fall of 2021, I planted some garlic that had been gifted to me from friends who grew their own garlic. This was the garlic I was most excited about but then died in the drought. I did get some fantastic garlic scapes, however, so it wasn’t a bust.

This year I am trying out two types of garlic bulbs: one from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds collection (German Extra-Hardy) and one from my local farm store, which specifically sells seed garlic. Both types are hardneck varieties.

When planting garlic, or anything in my garden for that matter, I don’t follow the rules of keeping everything far apart. Sometimes it works (like with potatoes or carrots) and sometimes it doesn’t (like zucchini). I absolutely take the approach of “well plants in nature don’t follow this rule and they turn out alright.”

Photo of a garden bed with leaves as a preparation for winter.

In this case I buried the garlic bulbs, points up, about 2 inches into the ground and a few inches apart, mostly in rows. This bed is entirely dedicated to the garlic, so I didn’t feel that organizing them was necessary. What’s awesome about garlic is that you don’t need a bed or formal garden to grow it – just a big pot, soil, and sun. You will want well draining soil to keep the bulbs from rotting. My natural soil in the ground is sand, but over the years I have added some garden soil and compost, so it’s a good mix.

Missed the timing for this year?

Don’t sweat it! Get ahold of some garlic bulbs ASAP and get a big pot. You can plant some garlic in the pot and keep it in the house or in your garage for a couple of weeks so it can get established, then put it outside to freeze.

Part II: Returning the Nutrients >>

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Mid-Summer Gardening: A Check In

mid-summer gardening

As promised, I am updating you all on the traveling home adventure of restoring my mother-in-law’s flower garden. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical that it would be successful. Lavender is very fussy and it was absurdly hot the day I did my heavy pruning. Both activities cause a LOT of stress on plants and they might just give up the ghost right then and there. If you haven’t seen the state of the garden before I got started, check out my first post here. Mid-summer gardening can be full of weed-pulling, so I braced myself for a boring visit.

garden rehab - wrong shoes
Once again, I forgot my sneakers.

At First Glance

I was so nervous when I pulled in. My spouse had been by the house a week or two earlier to mow and he said things “didn’t look dead” but that wasn’t a very helpful description.

The Bloody Cranes-bill (a type of geranium) was in full bloom and had already spread quite a lot since I was last in the garden. I hate to pull healthy plants, but I absolutely needed to in this case. I did grab some for myself to transport back home. You can see the before and after below of how much the geraniums had grown and spread. I took the right-hand photo from behind the retaining wall you see in the left-hand photo.

I was pleasantly surprised by the progress of the lavender. So much so, I did a little dance and cheer! Not only had they not died, I saw evidence of new growth and flowers starting to grow up from the shrub.

The shrubs were still wonky-shaped from years of competing for sunlight. My goal is to give them another haircut after all the new growth has been established and eventually remove all of the crooked part s of the plant. Eventually, these beauties will be back to fighting shape

Where I left Things

I didn’t have as much time to work in the garden this time around. I went through and did a quick weeding and clean-up. I snagged some peonies or my garden as well. I’m going to take a look in again sometime in early fall and get things ready for the winter.

It’s looking well, all things considered.

To be continued…

As I mentioned, I plan to give it another clean up before winter. My hope is that it will be ready to be put to bed with minimal effort, since I can’t be sure when I will be back in later fall. Stay tuned!

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Garden Rehab

crop farmer carrying seedling tray in field

Welcome to my traveling home adventure! Last weekend was my mother-in-law’s birthday. We spent the weekend with her in Vermont and it was incredibly hot – and it was only May! She’s been in down-sizing mode, so I knew I had to be practical with her gift this year. I decided to tackle the very over-grown garden at her rental property. This is definitely going to be a long term garden rehab project. I was also completely unprepared to garden this particular weekend; I thought of the idea to do this on the drive up.

garden rehab - wrong shoes
Sandals were all I had – whoops!

How it started

The people who used to live in this house loved their outdoor plants. I think when the woman was younger and more mobile, this garden bed area was probably really amazing. Everyone I’ve ever heard speak of this lady (who is still with us, just in an apartment these days!) always talks about her garden.

When I saw the garden for the first time last summer, it was already over-grown so I’ve probably been thinking about how to go about it since 2021.

As you can see, the lavender (right photo, lower right corner) was taking over an enormous portion of the garden. Last year I took a few plants home and I harvested an insane amount of flowers. While completely unruly last year, the plants did look generally healthy, at least on the outside. This year, however, I could see that they were not looking as great. I expect it was the combination of lack of regular care and that the plants had finally had enough trying to fight for light.

The weeds weren’t too bad, actually. A few of the spreading plants, like this Lamb’s Ear, were growing into the garden path. I got to the house at 9:00 am in the hopes of not sweating to death, but I was filthy and soaked by the time lunch rolled around.

How it’s going

This isn’t really the time to prune lavender plants, but I wasn’t sure if I would be around at the right time to wait. Plus, the plants were on their way out if I didn’t try to do something now. There was definitely new growth coming up on the old wood, so that was promising. Lavender, like with other old-wood growth plants (think: hydrangea, lilacs, and forsythia), needs those dead-looking branches to develop new shoots. Pruning is very tricky and aggressive pruning to rejuvenate has a high failure rate with lavender. If this plan doesn’t pan out, I am fully prepared to start all over again and buy my mother-in-law some new lavender plants from the garden center.

Here’s hoping that sunlight on the lower branches help fill them out a bit.

I pulled up nearly every bush, closely inspected them for truly dead branches, pruned them, and re-planted them with plenty of air and light in between. After closer inspection, I think this mass of lavender started out as only 3 or 4 small bushes.

To be continued…

I kept a few plants for myself to add to my new terraced garden and left this garden covered in dirt, dripping sweat, and happy with my progress. It took a grand total of 4 hours just to complete the middle section of this relatively small garden. I’ll be back in 2 weeks to see if anything survived and to work on it some more – this time with my proper tools and clothes. Fingers crossed!

Part 2: Mid-Summer Gardening

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The Main Bathroom Remodel – Part 2

main bath remodel

Who Doesn’t Love Avocado?

If you recall, a couple of weeks ago I shared the story of our avocado green bathroom remodel and the demolition process. Let’s get back to where we were!

As a delightful reminder, the before photos:

The new plan

Since our options for real change were limited to the footprint and layout of the bathroom, I had to come up with a vision for a modern galley bathroom. I knew that I also had to think of some solutions for storage, since we were removing the closet by the entryway. We also kept a short column of drawers by the toilet and we liked the storage it provided, but that had to go. Pricing out a mini counter turned out to be much more than anticipated, so we went with an over-the-toilet hanging cabinet that more than gets the job done.

main bath remodel
New storage by the toilet

After the new insulation and dry wall were installed, I had to make a quick decision on paint colors. I swear by my technique with paint chips: hand them up in different parts of the room and visit the spot throughout the day and with different lights on to make sure that the colors are right. I definitely nailed the neutral color I wanted, but I really, really struggled with the green. In the end, I still am not 100% happy, but it will do. And who knows, maybe someday I will fine the color I had in my head.

Hooray for Jack and Jill

Priority number one was getting a counter top that have us two sinks. As I mentioned before, it was getting to be a challenge to share the space with two other people. I also hated the top/over mount sink from before and, fortunately, Central Heating also sold the single piece countertops by Bertch in the exact same style as the downstairs. While I was looking to tie the two bathrooms together, I didn’t want an exact replica, so we went with the same finish (matte) but a different pattern (Vanilla Bean).

We like to shop and support local businesses and our carpenter gave us the name of a new place that we didn’t know of when we remodeled the downstairs bathroom. In fact, it was a new place to him, too and he was impressed when he went there once day to pick up a fixture for another client of his.

We decided to go for a visit to check out their showroom and (hopefully) get a little inspiration. After meeting with the consultant and walking around, I knew that we’d be working with Central Plumbing and Heating out in Glenville, NY. The name does not do it justice – it’s not only a place to buy boilers and fixtures – it was a full design company! In an effort to keep some continuity between the two bathrooms, this business also carried some of the same brands as the other company and we were sold.

main bath remodel
The New Countertop and Vanity

Linen storage

I gambled on a linen cabinet with drawers and I won big. It turned out to be even better than expected. It even provided more storage than the sizeable closet that we used to have. Plus, with the drawers underneath, I now had my own drawer storage, which I previously did not have in the old vanity. I was using plastic drawers from the early days of our marriage back in the stone age. The mini drawer on top was absolutely perfect as a make-up drawer, too!

The tub

The shower/tub was something we did end up buying from a big box store (Home Depot). It was a bit surprising how much more expensive these tubs are at local companies, even when they are nearly the exact same product. Normally we don’t have a problem paying a little more for something unique, but in the case of a plain white tub that was going to be hidden behind a curtain, we just couldn’t justify the expense. And since we bought our downstairs shower from Home Depot, too, we were able to find a matching shower/tub combo for the upstairs – a Delta Classic 400 style.

main bath remodel
The New Tub going in!

The floor

We had some tiles leftover from the the downstairs job and, again, in an effort to tie the two rooms together we decided to buy some more. These also came from a great place that is a smaller chain – Pro Source. We’ve purchased pretty much every new floor from this place.

The final result

I was literally blown away by the final result. I was going for a modern and clean bathroom and I got a beautiful hotel spa as well! We saved up for this room for an incredibly long time and we made an effort to do as much as we could on our own to save money there, too. But we also recognize that an updated main bath is a huge investment that can only increase the value of our home. While this house is intended to be our forever home, you never know what life will throw at you – so you might as well enjoy every part of your home, too!

<<The Main Bathroom Remodel: Part I

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The Main Bath Remodel – Part 1

Main Bath Remodel

Who Doesn’t Love Avocado?

I do, but this was a bit much. Welcome to my Avocado Bathroom. Sister to the Harvest Gold bathroom. This main bath remodel wasn’t our physically largest project, but was the most anticipated and *cringe* most expensive one to date. There is a reason why they say bathrooms and kitchens sell houses – and our main bathroom felt like a spa when we were done!

This glorious almost original bathroom featured floor, wall, and ceiling tiles. They were identical to the 4″ tiles downstairs…but in more abundance. We were also aware of the fact that the ceiling was being pulled away from the joists in the attic. We made this fun discovery while up int he attic one day. The weight of those tiles over the course of 40+ years was literally going to collapse into the bathroom. This job was not only a “want to do” it was a “must do” job.

The Plan for our Main Bath Remodel

We lived with this galley-style bathroom for about 5 years before we finally could make changes. It’s our largest bathroom and the most used, as it’s on the main living floor. Changing the footprint wasn’t really an option, since our bedroom was on one side and the kitchen on the other. The challenge was how to make this long and narrow space into a more efficient and roomy space. There were some things on the list to go right from the get go:

The single sink situation

Woof, this was a challenge to live with, especially after our daughter became big enough to stand at and use the sink. My husband didn’t think a Jack and Jill sink was particularly necessary (but he has since re-canted his statement!). I appreciated the long counter space to the right of the sink, but the rest of the counter didn’t make much sense. There were no drawers under the right side (possibly because of the baseboard heater likely would have overlapped) and the mirror was clearly not original to the bathroom, because it didn’t take up the whole space. You could also see where the original mirror was installed.

Old Counter
The Old Countertop

The linen closet

While the closet storage was useful, the location of said closet was terrible. It made the entryway into the bathroom much narrower. The door to the closet and the door to the bathroom constantly would tangle. If someone was in the closet it was inevitable that someone entering the bathroom would bang that door into the closet door. We’ve literally bounced off of each other trying to pass by each other. The storage options in this bathroom were just impractical.

The Linen Closet
The Linen Closet

The tub

I did like the size of this shower-tub. The walls were a bit curved to give the illusion of space. But that’s all that was going for this shower-tub. There was barely any shelving or storage to hold soaps, shampoos, etc. I couldn’t even hang an under shower caddy because of how the tub came out from the wall. A caddy just wouldn’t stay hanging. Plus it was avocado and very much so an original to the house. Amazingly, the toilet had been updated right before we moved in, so that was not avocado.

Green Tub
The Green Tub

The floor

In addition to feeling “squishy” in parts, the itty bitty mosaic tiles were starting to pop up off the floor. We had to glue quite a few down over the first 5 years int he house. Honestly, we were terrified of what we would find under the tile.

It was oh so satisfying to bring up when it was cooperating


As per usual, we took care of the demolition ourselves. While this particular home reno job needed the skilled hands of a professional, we aimed to save money where we could. That meant doing demolition and painting on our own. The wall tiles were a bear to bring down. I had to channel all of my stress into swinging my hammer to break into the wall. The mosaic tiles came up incredibly easy in some places and were also a challenge in other areas. The sub-floor was (miraculously) not in terrible shape. We never did figure out why the floor was squishy, but it probably had something to do with the tile.

The ceiling tile. Oh that ceiling tile. We made sure to put on hard hats for this part. As soon as my husband took down the single over-head light fixture, the ceiling visibly sagged. He swung the hammer twice and the whole thing came down like a cartoon. The tub also came into the house during the build phase, so the only way to get it out was with our trusty reciprocating saw in pieces. The whole demolition took about 3 days to take down and clean up.

Just a few more taps and it was down

The Main Bathroom Remodel: Part II>>

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It’s the Harvest Gold for Me

We were very lucky to find a house with 2 full baths in our price range back in 2015. That being said, we knew that both bathrooms would need to be gutted. Like every mid-century modern home, ours came with colorful bathrooms. At least the toilets weren’t colored. That saved some money! Let’s get started with this bathroom remodel.

Let’s Get Started

We decided to start with the downstairs bathroom for a couple of reasons. First, it’s smaller, so it would be a faster and less expensive job (which, yes, that was accurate – at least the price tag). Secondly, we knew that when we were ready to do the main bathroom, we’d be forced to use the one downstairs for as long as the upstairs job took. So we might as well make it as comfortable an inconvenience as possible!

Just like with all of our home improvement projects, we did the demo ourselves. We may have budgeted for 1 big house project per year, but it doesn’t mean we don’t try to save were we can. A good carpenter or contractor can be expensive, and if we can avoid having them do the jobs we are fully capable of doing, we take advantage of that.

As if it were a future prediction, this was an adventure in bringing a tiled wall down. This room, however, had a drop ceiling, so we didn’t have to contend with tiles on the ceiling (like upstairs!). This bizarre drop ceiling (not normal tiles, but definitely rigged up by the owner) also made the ceiling very low. The bathroom was also dark and the very dark hallway just outside of the bathroom had an “office” drop ceiling.

Paint choices
Goodbye drop ceiling. Hello new framing!

Design Decisions

This was our first remodel that would set the color scheme for the whole downstairs. While we did the big utility room ourselves, we painted it white and like to consider it our “basement”; thus making it a bit separate in my mind, to the rest of the downstairs. Let’s go gray!

I don’t mind painting, but I hate painting around things, so once the drywall was up, I did my painting. Behr came in clutch again with seagull gray and pencil sketch. I did have a spell of bad luck when I had to buy more seagull and the paint mixing person actually messed up the order – all of a sudden I had painted with a different shade of gray. I thought the painting would never end.

We also opted for a standing shower instead of the shower/tub combo. This allowed us to create some shelving or storage in this room.

Since it was a tight squeeze, we also opted for a pocket door. It’s about as small as you can get, but it made such a huge difference in that room. It was probably my favorite feature.


That’s the last thing you want when it comes to remodeling a home. But we’ve had one with every single project. After a very successful and basically stress-free bathroom remodel, we discovered some pretty serious mold when we took down the drywall in the utility closet. The drywall came down when work on the shower connections took place.We knew there had been some kind of flooding from a burst pipe a long time ago, and we’ve seen some evidence when we took down the drywall in the laundry room and a little bit of the bathroom. But this was something else.

We ended up taking down drywall all down the hall and then into the den. The den was NOT our planned next project. But we discovered mold four feet up the wall. We properly treated the wall sections and had them taken down.

The back corner of the bathroom. From ugly yellow shower tub to elegant shelves.
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Strip that down for me

Stairs Update

I hate the stairs in my house. Like nearly every bit of wood trim in the house, they were stained a very dark, very dated brown. It’s hard enough to bring natural light into our home, living at the bottom of a hill in the woods. When we first moved in, I attacked nearly every bit of dark brown trim with off white paint (Swiss coffee). As we’ve remodeled, all of the new trim starts out as this color. Doors are painted (campfire ash) before they are even hung. But now I am ready for a DIY stair remodel.

The way before

I wasted no time painting the side trim of the stairs, but everything looked dark and dingy. While the sellers were aiming to do some quick and cheap improvements, most of them were superficial and just looked awful. I figured a little paint certainly wouldn’t make it look worse.

For some strange reason, the upper half of the stairs had been poly’ed. I have no idea if that was new or old, but in addition to being ridiculously unsafe (duh) it made the lower stairs look particularly like garbage.

The semi improvement

Painting the risers and the handrail spindles certainly improved matters. Whenever anyone is looking for a nice, dramatic improvement, painting the risers and spindles always looks great. This served us well for 6 years.

My current mess

The cheap carpet that was put down right before we moved in. In the past 6 years it has quickly become matted, stained, and no longer truly cleanable. I am counting down the days to a new floor. Before we did that, I decided it was time to attack the treads on the stairs. If I couldn’t rip them out and replace them, I was going to do my best to make them look completely different.

The lower stairs were fairly easily stripped. I bought this varnish remover from Home Depot. This stuff is no joke, so be sure to wear gloves, glasses, and ventilate your space. It probably helped that there was no finish on top of the stain. The second set of stairs proved to be much more difficult and it is an on-going saga. I was able to successfully remove the poly, but not much of the stain. That will be the next “step” (haha) in the project. So stay tuned!

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A Kitchen Spruce Up

The Backstory

The kitchen hasn’t been touched yet – but it was time for a kitchen spruce up. When we moved into our home in 2015, it was from a very tiny apartment and so the kitchen felt enormous to me. The new kitchen had about 5 times the counter space (I may have about 6 usable feet right now, so don’t be too impressed). We bought an island from Bed Bath & Beyond and we had a bookshelf that had been used as a pantry from two apartments ago.

The bookshelf was helpful; it housed some pantry items, but also cookbooks and other non-food items. When our daughter was born, we had to stop using the bottom shelf for storage for obvious reasons.

I thought it was finally tie to up the ante and make some floating shelves for the kitchen for storage.

DIY Kitchen Shelves

I ordered brackets on Amazon that look like pipes – I thought it would be an interesting aesthetic to bring into the kitchen. Plus all of the fixtures in the kitchen are a dark, bronze-y color. I purchased these.

I then went down to my favorite lumber yard, Hankle’s, out in East Nassau, NY. Last time I was there I saw these maple boards and I knew I wanted them for something. 2 x 12’s were ideal for my needs and they were kind enough to cut them down to size for me.

After bringing them home I sanded the heck out of them; I purposely chose rough cut because, well, I didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg while lumber prices were soaring. If you decide to save yourself the effort, definitely go for a more finished board.

Making sure everything is square and fitting properly.

Because of the width of board that I chose and the brackets I picked out, I did have to run it on the table saw to make sure it fit properly in the bracket.

After sanding, I conditioned the wood and then went with my favorite Danish Oil as a stain. I took extra care on these and let them dry out for a few days before applying my clear wax. I’ve become a huge fan of the clear wax finish this past summer. As time goes on, it hardens and protects.

Install time

When it was time to install everything, I had to double and triple check every measurement. I did NOT want my shelves to be crooked or out of level. I drew all over the walls. This was an instance where my 4 foot level really came in handy. I also made sure to drill right into the studs. This was going to hold quite a but of weight and I wasn’t going to mess around. As a result, it is a touch off center, but as time has gone on, it’s not even noticeable now.

I started out by finding my studs and marking the center of the first two. Then I repeated the process down the stud at each desired shelf location.

Moment of truth

I confirmed each pair of markings was level by using the 4 foot level and drawing right on the wall. Then, I grabbed the flange piece of the bracket and lined up the holes onto the stud and marked those. Some of the holes did go beyond the stud, so I drilled those out and installed anchors; but I made sure that as many holes as possible were lined up on the stud. I checked for level one more time!

Then the fun part – I screwed on the “pipes” and plopped the board on top, making sure everything fit properly. I checked for level again. Once all of my boards were loosely on the brackets, I took my 4 foot level and made sure they all lined up together. They may not be centered on my small stretch of wall as a whole, but I was absolutely going to make sure they were off-center together!

The final product!

After securing the boards to the pipes with the included under-mount hardware, I took a step back and admired my hard work. Good luck and have fun!

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DIY Room Renovation

Utility Room Makeover Edition

How it Began

We bought our 1977 raised ranch back in 2015. At the time of purchase, some of the rooms had been spruced up, but others not so much. Being a raised ranch, there is no dedicated basement space (the whole lower level is considered a “basement”). Thus began our DIY room renovation experience!

Now, when we moved in, we were just barely 30 and had spent the previous 5 years moving on an almost annual basis. We owned the bare minimum of stuff. But we also made the assumption that this would be our forever home and if our parents were any indication, we’d begin amassing “stuff” sooner rather than later. Thus, the need for a dedicated utility space. The junk drawer of the house, if you will.

This was our very first reno job. B had worked in home construction for a small contracting company in the summers from late high school through college, so he had some basic knowledge of putting together a room. My experience involved watching episodes of Ask this Old House and other home improvement tv shows.

The Before

This room had the least updating to it. Just a little bit of new carpet. That’s it.

I get the cheap white carpet and the disgusting brown trim – the owners were looking to sell the house quickly with a minimum of $$$ spent on a little facelift.

The photo above may look like a nice little room with some wood paneling, but you would be wrong. That “paneling” was glorified cardboard on the wall. And it was glued, stapled, and nailed to the drywall. Effectively destroying the drywall behind it.

The During

I really had no idea what I was getting into here.

Safety first! With hardly the right tools, we took to demolishing the room in mid-January 2016. I foolishly thought this might only take a few weeks. It was just us back in those days, so I also didn’t feel like I had to get it done quickly either.

The aftermath of the wood paneling take down
A complete gut
Replacing hoses and such

We took this bad boy right down to the studs. Good thing, too, as we found evidence of mold (which would continue to haunt us for the next few years as we renovated more and more of the downstairs).

Pro tip: when taking apart the baseboard heater, or anything that you may have to put back together, take photos of the process. You’ll thank me (and yourself!) later.

These heaters are tricky to take apart and those fins are very touchy

Our raised ranch has an exposed foundation half wall all throughout the downstairs. I think keeping it exposed was a stylistic preference of the 1970s and 1980s because I see it in other homes like this. At the time of this project, we decided to keep the wall exposed, as it does indeed make a good shelf. In our den, however, we covered over it.

Drylock for the win!

With every renovation downstairs, though, we’ve make sure to pay special attention to this feature. Each time we took the time to paint over the cinder blocks with Drylock. This helps prevent moisture and seals everything up. Vapor barrier and insulation was also added.

In fact, we insulated the heck out of this room. Both on the outside walls upping the R-value and also on internal walls. Eventually we started using the green, sound-deadening insulation in future renovations. Highly recommend!

The regular pink stuff. Works fine for sound-proofing, but the green stuff is better!

When it came to choosing paint, I knew I wanted a bright utility room. It was so dark in there; back of the house, one window looking out under the deck, on a piece of property without much light to begin with. I went with Behr “Bit of Sugar” and “Hidden Sea Glass”

I also recommend always taking a picture of the can top for reference

Pro Tip: When choosing paint colors, grab a lot of the paint chips and take them home. Hang them up in the room in different places and check the paint color over a period of a few days. Lighting will change in your room throughout the day and it’s a great way to see how the light in your space interacts with the paint chip. This method has never steered me wrong! It takes some extra time, but you won’t regret it.

The After

Eventually, time caught up with us and I was expecting; All the stuff that had been in the utility room originally had been moved into the downstairs spare bedroom. The upstairs room was the office/spare bedroom and everhting in there needed to go downstairs. I was due in December and by October I called in for reinforcements.

Vapor barrier and insulation. We were able to save a lot of the framing on this side of the wall, but we had to build all new framing on the other side.

My parents came and helped moved the furniture downstairs and helped to paint the utility room.

We turned the far wall into a workbench space

One of te very final steps was painting the floor. We didn’t see any point in replacing the carpet, especially if the room was going to be our basement room. We picked up some garage floor paint and it turned out great! Pretty stinky, though, so make sure to open up all the windows and wear safety gear.

It’s also easy to clean, too!

We finished with a month to spare. Whew! I’d say it was a successful first attempt at a DIY room renovation.


Check out my other home improvement projects here!