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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!

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Building the Fire Pit, the Fire Pit Adventure Part 5

We are finally at the pièce de résistance, time to build the DIY fire pit. While the patio might require more skill and patience than the average homeowner may posses (although everyone is capable!) the fire pit itself is easily achievable by anyone.

The Stones

I chose these stones from Home Depot. I am a fan of the tumbled look and because of the shape, they easily form a circle. These were also an affordable option; if you are looking to just make a pit, these stones are a good option to make a professional-looking fire pit for under $100.

If you recall, early on in the project I dug down about a shovel’s depth into the ground. I added gravel to help with drainage. If you find that you have a more dense soil, such as clay, I recommend a few inches of gravel to help with drainage.

Fill the pit with gravel for drainage

In addition to your choice of stone for the pit, you’ll need to grab some construction adhesive. I bought this Loctite brand, but after I ran out I found some more in the house, but actually in the right color this time. Make sure you pay attention to the color listed on the bottle; I didn’t and I bought white – and the stones are gray.

The Build

Start out by laying out your first row; take the time to level the stones out as best you can. If you are using even bricks, this will help keep everything level as you work up. Tumbled bricks will make it a little more of a challenge to be perfectly level, but it works well enough.

Level out the bottom row

After laying out your first row, dry fit your next row. Lay each brick on the joint between two bricks of the row below. This helps to keep the wall of bricks strong. Dry fitting the bricks is a good way to be sure that you have enough bricks (hint: I didn’t do this on my last row and I was short 4 bricks).

This is the color I should have gotten the first time around.

Use a healthy amount of the construction adhesive and let the bricks sit for a bit before poking at the bricks. Once everything has set, you will find that the bricks are pretty immovable.

Dry fitting the next row

The Liner

I decided to line the inside of my fire pit with a galvanized fire pit ring. For some reason these are ridiculously expensive at most home improvement stores. I did a quick Google search and I found this one at Ocean State Job Lot for about a third of the price.

My DIY fire pit is a bit of an odd size and not a perfect circle, either. A second lesson I learned in this part of the process: perhaps use the liner as a template for your circle. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to use a liner, so it was a last minute decision. To make the liner fit, I assembled the four pieces together, but I overlapped the final joint.

Happy campfire season!

I decided to fancy it up a bit with 6 bags of black river rocks and boom, hot dogs for dinner tonight!

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Set in Stone – the Fire Pit Adventure, Part 4

Creating a diy paver patio is the newest learning experience for me as a Weekend Warrior. I’ve seen it enough times on Ask This Old House and YouTube, but this was the final exam. And let me share with you what I did right and what I did wrong.

Close up view of the paver joints in a diy paver patio.
The concrete sand base came up too high in some sections. Lesson number one.Close

Lesson One

Choosing the stones and laying them out was the easy part. But there is one thing I wish I paid a little more attention to during this stage – keep the joints free and clear and at least half an inch to an inch deep. This would be important to the success of my paver set. More on that in a minute.

After making sure everything is nice and level, I brought out my polymeric sand. This is key in a diy paver patio. I was pretty intimidated by this product at first. It’s basically designed to act like a grout, joining the pavers together and binding them in place. Short of masonry mud, this is going to keep everything together – so no pressure.

I went with the gray to blend in, but it comes in other colors.

Lesson Two

I initially started out with just two 40-pound boxes, but four were ultimately necessary. And in all honesty, here is the second lesson: don’t skimp on the polymeric sand. Having some depth in the joints is key to a good, solid set.

The instructions are simple enough, clean the work space, dump the sand, push broom it into place, tidy it up, and water it like your lawn. The water is what jump starts the binding agent. It takes about a day or two to set. It’s important to follow the instructions specific to the brand you buy.

Using a push broom to get the paver set into the joints between the stones.
Pushing the sand into the joints.
Applying water to set the polymeric sand
Growing a patio this spring.

Lesson Three

And here is lesson number three; the instructions on my brand specified using a leaf blower to clear out dust and debris in the work space. I wish I had been a little more aggressive with the leaf blower to help clear out those joints.

Up close of the broken sand joint. The lessons of a diy patio.
In the places where the sand was too thin, it flaked right up.

I ultimately had to go through some spots, dig out the paver set that was too thin and re-do some sections. I made sure to have at least an inch of depth between those joints and I filled them generously. To be as efficient as possible, I recommend using a funnel to get the sand right into the joints, where needed.

If you have the ability to rent or buy a compactor to vibrate the sand into the crevices, definitely use that. Otherwise, plan to tap on every paver to make sure that the sand gets into every area around the stone.

It was really exciting to water the stones and check the progress the next day. Even with a few mistakes, it’s coming together really well! I’m thrilled that I am done with the diy paver patio portion. Come back next week for the final part of my adventure with the fire pit. See you soon!

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Bringing in the Flagstones – The Fire Pit Adventure, Part 3

This was the exciting week – the patio pavers arrive! There was a lot of hand-wringing on my part when it came to picking the patio materials. I am the type of person that must love an item before purchasing, no matter what.

As you recall, last week I wrote about making an un-level patch of land level-ish. It was exhausting. But figuring out exactly what I could buy that met my expectations was a bit of a challenge.

I went back and forth in my mind between going for a rustic, natural look or a crisp, polished look. In the end, I knew that the outdoorsy, natural look was the way to go. And that meant flagstones over brick.

I was quite sore after this particular day.

If money were no object, I would have gladly purchased a few pallets of the gigantic flagstones at my local Ace Hardware. But I didn’t think spending $2,100 on a patio was a good idea. So, plan B.

The first batch of flagstones were decent-sized, about 2 feet at max length. Some were pretty heavy. The ultimate challenge with flagstones is making the space level. While I did a fairly decent job of leveling out my surface beforehand, it basically meant nothing because each and every flagstone is of varying thickness and texture. As a result, one corner of the area (near the hole, of course) required quite a LOT of pavers base (upwards of 6″), while the opposite corner required the bare minimum of 1″.

My three tools were a one-foot level, a four-foot level, and a rubber mallet. Each tool had a specific use; when installing the pavers, not long did I have to make sure that the entire surface area was level, but each stone was level in multiple directions.

Levels come in a lot of sizes, the most important is to have a fairly long and short level for this project.

To make things a little easier, I started with the largest stones around the circle where the fire pit will be. Making these all level to one stone set me up for the rest of the pavers.

This was the last easy part.

Definitely a painstaking process; picking a stone, leveling the stone to the nearest level stone, and then confirming that the whole piece was level.

Rain put me off for a few days, and either because of the rain or because I just didn’t notice before, but one whole section was completely sloping and I had to pull out great pieces of the patio to repair it. The sooner I can get the paver set in, the better!

You can see the larger pavers in their places in the background.

After setting the largest stones, I had another batch of pavers brought in by a friend and started filling in the gaps to try and bring the spaces down to no more than 1.25″.

Up close view of the paver design
My daughter was able to contribute to this part, looking for smaller stones.

Hopefully the ground will be dry-ish by Sunday so I can begin the paver set process. Stay tuned!

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Un-making Waves – The Fire Pit Adventure, Part 2

Wow, I can’t even begin to describe to you the geography of the far part of our backyard. Wavy. Really, really wavy.

If you caught my Instagram story from a little while ago, I took folks on a tour of our undulating backyard. The fact of the matter is, the entire far part of the property was filled in with wood chips. And those wood chips are decomposing. Fairly rapidly, I’d guess.

a view of the yard where the fire pit will be re-built
It’s hard to tell in the photo, but if you follow across the photo from the base of the tree, that’s the ridge of a hill and a fairly deep hole on the other side.

The original owner of all of the neighborhood land was in the tree business and later in his life he decided to upgrade and build a larger, more modern house on his land. That’s our house today. And when he was selling off pieces of his property, he had to raise up some of the land. And what did he have a lot of? Wood chips.

Needless to say, it’s been a challenge to level out the ground. It took me a week to fill this hole!

filling in a hole with topsoil
I thought the hole was 6″ deep, but it was also pretty long. Very deceptive.

With any patio, you’ll need a good base. I used this screened topsoil that we had hauled in from a favorite local vendor. Under normal circumstances where the ground is already made of topsoil or even clay, your base layer would be made of gravel. Already being behind the 8 ball here, I used a lot of topsoil to firm things up instead.

using a tamper to push down the topsoil
So. Much. Tamping.
Using a level to make the ground level
Attempting to level it off.

We’ve got a terrible bittersweet problem in the area, so a weed barrier is a must. Plus I don’t want to have to be pulling up those tiny weeds on my nice, new patio. I am no stranger to weed barrier and I never pay attention to the brand I buy, but this time around I found this one at my local Ace Hardware. It was nifty in that it lightly stuck together to help with the overlap.

spreading out the weed barrier
It looks a mess, but I will be happy I did this later!

Once I had my immediate patio area filled in and covered with weed barrier, I had 2 cubic yards of concrete sand brought in. This is just another layer to help keep things stable, but also to give the pavers something to sit in.

A view of the tamped sand
My triceps are going to be ripped after all this!
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Getting Rid of a Sidewalk – The Fire Pit Adventure, Part 1

the old fire pit

Home Improvement: 1977

Outdoor home improvement can be easy weekend projects or multi-year commitments. One of the things I love the most about our home is the property. Living among the trees is something that B and I grew up with. Neither of us expected a mid-century staple to be our forever home. I didn’t grow up in a raised ranch and neither did my friends, so when we bought our house back in 2015, I was confused as to why there was a concrete sidewalk all the way around our house.

sidewalk around the house
Sidewalk alllllll the way around
sidewalk around the house

This was back in June 2015 and we thought, we’re young, let’s get this out ourselves. How hard can it be? We headed down to our local Home Depot and rented a mid-sized jackhammer.

Using the jackhammer to break the concrete.
If I recall correctly, we also ran a 5k that morning.
Using the jackhammer to break the concrete.
Oh to be 30 again… We also inadvertently dressed alike that day.

Let’s Go!

Well we started chipping away at it and nothing happened. And when I say nothing, I mean literally nothing. The photo of B on the right was after 20 minutes. The photo of me on the left was over an hour in. What was going on? Oh, that’s right, instead of installing decorative cement around the house the original owners installed 6″+ THICK SIDEWALK GRADE CEMENT around the house.

Our busted up sidewalk
This took all day.

The busted up cement sat there for a while. Like a long while. It was exhausting even to look at. I did decide to pull some up and make our very first fire pit. I hate waste and I like to re-purpose as much as I can (you know, reduce, reuse, recycle).

the original ring of busted up concrete that formed the fire pit back in 2015
Aw, how cute.
the last fire in the pit before the demolition
Our last fire before demo.

And this is where my journey begins to spruce up our “outdoor living room”.

Part II: Unmaking Waves>>

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Closing Day, 2015

Welcome to AllieCat Quilts & Crafts, a passion project that has turned into a business.

My name is Karoline and I live in Albany, NY with my husband, daughter, and our two cats, Odin and Freya. I’ve always been passionate about building and creating things, whether they are tangible or not.

I spend my days working my day job for the state where I expend my creative energy into the creation and development of our office-wide database (among other things, but that is my favorite). At home I let loose and create anything and everything for the home. It might be building an organizer to deal with a mess or some fun decor to liven up our living space.

People have asked me, “how did you learn how to do that?” Honestly, a lot of trial and error and being OK with an end product that might be a little messy or a little bit crooked.

When we were looking to buy our forever home, I desperately wanted something old or at least colonial-looking. We ended up in a 1977 raised ranch on an amazing piece of property. Not too much had been updated in the house, especially our bathrooms. In an attempt to bring a little bit of my farmhouse chic style without completely missing the mark with a raised ranch home, I’ve been able to find a way to strike a balance that I think does the trick.

So join me as I experiment in my own home, build things, and share what I’ve learned over the years to help you bring a little farmhouse chic into your life.