If you’ve been a regular reader for the past couple of years you know we’ve worked on some pretty sizable home improvement projects since our beginning in 2011. We completely renovated our home office from the ground up this past fall. We spent a few months and upgraded our dining room with raised panel wainscoting a couple of years ago. There were garage projects and major furniture builds along the way too. I even built my shed from scratch. However, I’ve barely mentioned or blogged about my biggest home improvement project to date since I started blogging nearly four years ago.
What was my biggest DIY project ever? For me, it’s an easy question to answer: the kitchen in my first home.
When I bought my first home back in 2003 it needed a lot of work. What was wrong with it? Yes. Plumbing, electrical, drywall, flooring, the windows, the ceiling, the door, the cabinets, the countertops… all of it was wrong.
The house was built back at the turn of the previous century and the kitchen was an addition from the 50s or 60s. I don’t think it was ever updated from it’s original construction. Amazing it lasted as long as it did.
I was so overwhelmed with all of the work I had to do to the house that I punted on the kitchen remodel until years later. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with the kitchen, so I didn’t do anything until 2007. It took me four years to finally get around to gutting it and then building it back from scratch. There are a lot of things I would’ve done differently with that house, but the kitchen isn’t one of them.
From 2003 until 2007, I upgraded the rest of the home with new drywall, all new trim, a new furnace, new electrical and refinished the floors. Most of the work I did myself. Of course, I hired out some of the more critical items to move things along. During those four years I was able to build up a level of home improvement competence that I didn’t have when I first bought the house. I learned what work is best for me to do and which work I can outsource.
The kitchen renovation started with a demolition party in the spring of 2007 and wasn’t finished until the homemade kitchen cabinets were painted after they were installed well over a year later. The results of that years worth of work was worth the effort. We eventually sold the home in two days and the remodeled kitchen was a big reason for that quick sale.
Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to be releasing my first product for purchase: a book on how to renovate your kitchen. Instead of focusing on specific DIY techniques like a lot of our blog posts, I’m concentrating mainly on the planning and exectution of your next kitchen remodel. For me, the planning was the hardest part of that kitchen remodel. It took me a few years to get started and I couldn’t do a thing to the space until the planning was done. If you plan your kitchen renovation well, you’re much more likely to have a successful project.
The book will focus on the steps you need to take before you start the project and will help guide you through making all of the big decisions that you are bound to run into along the way. I want to prepare you as best I can for those challenges.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking some time to to talk about kitchen renovations prior to the book launch. If you have any questions about your upcoming kitchen project, now is the perfect time to ask.
I’m also hoping to get my next set of woodworking plans completed soon. The table saw station plans are taking slightly longer than I’d like.
Have a great week!
The last couple months have been super busy. In case you couldn’t tell by my complete lack of posting, I haven’t done a whole lot of home improvement work lately. Life with three little kids is much more time consuming than it was with two and my free time is just about gone nowadays. I have maybe two hours every evening after work to either blog, do house projects or other online projects that I’ve started. It’s a challenge to say the least.
I’m expecting to get back in the swing of things this week with our latest home improvement adventure: shadow boxes.
We’re going to dress up our vestibule with some simple trim work to give the home some more character. Over the years, I’ve installed a lot of trim, but this will be my first crack at shadow boxes and I’m looking forward to the challenge. We’ll also be taking the opportunity to upgrade the baseboard trim.
Here’s a shot from our vestibule now.
You can see in the photo that we have chair rail molding already in place. We installed that back in 2011. Here’s a link to that tutorial. The baseboard molding looks pretty puny, so we’re going to pop that off and install the taller stuff. When we built the house, we were under the impression that the baseboards would be the taller variety. It was one of the few minor disappointments we had during our walk-thru.
When we renovated our home office, we took advantage of the opportunity and installed the bigger baseboards in there first. The goal is to have the bigger molding throughout the first floor. We’ll continue that work with the vestibule and then maybe the living room at a later point. It’s unlikely that we’ll change the baseboards upstairs.
Here’s a reminder of what those taller baseboards look like.
Pretty nice if you ask me. Definitely worth the effort to rip out the short stuff.
Now that you know what we’re up to, here’s what you can expect to see and learn during this small project. I’ll film and explain the essential parts of the work like the sizing, cutting and installation of both the shadow boxes and the baseboard molding. Even if you aren’t planning on performing this same kind of project in your home, understanding the process should be helpful.
Make sure you stop by later this week. I’ll be releasing my next set of free woodworking plans. This time it will be the table saw station.
Have a great week!
Most of the home improvement projects I’ve done around our home are one-time savings events. I’m doing the work once and saving money over hiring a contractor one time. There are a few projects, however, that continue to save me money even though I finished them years ago. In this post, I’ll share with you three DIY projects that still save me money well after the work has been finished.
1. Reverse Osmosis System. Lisa and I installed a reverse osmosis system under our kitchen sink back in 2012 and since then it’s saved us hundreds of dollars. Instead of purchasing bottled water or using a Brita, the reverse osmosis system has a dedicated tap that we use for drinking water, coffee, tea and even cooking pasta. How much money it saves depends on how much bottled water you’d normally go through, but here’s an example. If the average adult drinks 8 servings of 8 oz. of water per day and you have two adults in the house, that’s something like 120+ cases of bottled water in a year. If a case of Dasani costs $4, then that’s $485 per year in bottled water. The Whirlpool reverse osmosis system we installed cost $146 and will cost anywhere from roughly $99 to $133 per year to maintain (replacement filter costs). That represents a savings of approximately $339 the first year and $350 to $385 each additional year. Those numbers don’t even include water used for tea, coffee or cooking. That’s just drinking water.
2. A Whole House Surge Protector. How does a surge protector save you money? If you ever get a power surge or a power outage, your electronics can be damaged if they are not properly protected. The year we moved into our current home, we had three or four power outages. Before the power went out, the lights would flicker on and off for a few seconds. When that power is flickering, it could be going above and below the amount your electronics can safely handle and cause it to fail. One option to protect your equipment is to connect your computer to an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which can usually filter out those power spikes as well as provide a backup power source to give you time to safety turn off your computer. An UPS is a smart idea for computers, but for the rest of your home a whole house surge protector can be a smart idea to help prevent damage to flat screen televisions and other electronics and appliances. It gets installed directly to your circuit breaker box and will filter out those power surges from affecting your home. It’s much cheaper to purchase and install a surge protector then to replace all of your electronics.
3. Outdoor Lighting Timer and LED Bulbs. By now, if you aren’t using LED or compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs then you know that you are spending more for your lighting costs than you should. Despite the fact that we were using LED bulbs for our exterior garage lights, we were still wasting energy by having them on all day. We would try to turn them off in the morning and off again in the evening, but it’s an easy chore to forget. The longer the lights are on, the quicker they’ll burn out and there’s no reason for them to be on during the day. To correct this issue, we installed a lighting timer to automatically turn the lights on and off for us. It was fairly simple to wire up and now we don’t have to worry about it. The lights will last longer and we get the added security of a well lit house at night. Boom. Time and money saved.
How are your home improvement projects saving you money?
In this post, you’ll learn:
– How to build a medicine cabinet
Well I wanted to show you this medicine cabinet completely finished and painted, but I think it may be a little while longer before it gets warm enough to spray paint it. Maybe I’ll just brush paint it with a few coats instead. We’ll see. In any case, I was able to capture the build process for an instructional video.
This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.
In this post you’ll learn:
- How to keep your furniture from tipping
– About other child safety devices for your home
As a Philadelphia Eagles fan (womp womp), I’m usually not rooting for a team actually playing in the Super Bowl. I’m more a fan of the spectacle and of course the commercials. This year was sort of a downer in terms of the tone of the commercials, especially the Nationwide Insurance spot with the dead kid. Yikes. Where’s Paul Harvey when you need him?
Years ago, before I had kids, those sorts of messages never resonated with me. I never thought they were depressing. At. All. Wouldn’t of bothered me one bit. After I had my first daughter (I now have three), something inside me flipped like a switch and now that stuff will stick with me for days on end. My wife and I are pretty careful parents, so we take extra measures to make sure our kids are safe in our house. However, no matter how safe I think our home is, seeing images of overturned clothes dressers or flat screen televisions on the floor is pretty disturbing.
The next day or so, I added some more safety devices around our place and I want to show you what we did in hopes of gently reminding you to add your own gear if you have little kids in your house.
The first is the flat screen TV in our family room. It’s not mounted to the wall and even though it’s got a pretty wide base making it hard to tip over, we figured better safe than sorry. We installed these two anti-tipping straps to the back. The get secured to the top of the TV stand. Here’s an Amazon link to the straps if you need them. (affiliate)
If you look closely, you’ll also notice a bracket on the wall. There’s a matching bracket on the stand and between them is a plastic zip tie that keeps the base from tipping over as well. If I ever need to move the stand away from the wall, I just need to take a pair of scissors and cut the zip tie. No big deal. We also used the same bracket setup for all of our girls’ dressers.
Here’s a picture of one installed on the back of a Hemnes:
You need to make sure it gets screwed into the thick part of dresser structure and not just the thin back plane. From the front you can see the thicker wooden strip.
Other than those pieces, we have the standard compliment of baby/toddler proofing devices throughout the home. You can read about that stuff in an earlier post here.
Here’s the basic rundown of the rest of our kid-proofing gear:
1. Cabinet Locks (multiple kinds)
2. Door Knob Covers (great for bathrooms, bedrooms and pantry doors)
3. Gate at the top of the stairs. Gates near the bottom
Our setup has evolved somewhat as they’ve gotten older and it’s still a challenge. It’s just something we need to stay on top of.
If you have any small children in your home, I hope you’re using the necessary safety hardware.
That’s all I have for this week. This weekend I’m going to get started on the medicine cabinet! Thanks!
In this post you’ll learn:
- The first steps to build a medicine cabinet
For a few years now I’ve been itching to build a medicine cabinet. I’m not really sure why. I guess I never liked the idea of paying a couple hundred bucks for a small painted box. They’re pretty simple after all. I had thought about building one for my first house, but I never got around to it. So when I noticed my sister and her husband were making some upgrades around their house I offered to build them one, especially since they had already ripped their old one out. They have a 1950’s bathroom with most of the original features and it’s in pretty good condition. When I was over for the holidays they were using the space where the old medicine cabinet had been.
For this project, I pitched a few different designs to them. They settled on a variation of a Restoration Hardware cabinet, more specifically, the Cartwright model. We’re going to keep the overall scale and hardware, but skip the crown molding. It’ll be a little more plain, but should blend in better with the existing decor.
(via Restoration Hardware)
This is how this project is going to work. In this post we’re going to discuss the design, dimensioning, material and some of the other critical elements. Then in our next medicine cabinet post, we’ll show a video on how to actually build the cabinet. I would like to keep this series down to two or three posts at most. If you’d like to read a more in-depth cabinet building series, you can check out our work on the TV stand we did a while ago.
Allright? Ready to get started? Let’s build a medicine cabinet!
Let’s start with the existing space. There’s obviously a hole in the wall. The medicine cabinet we’re going to build will recess into that hole. A recessed cabinet will be a big space saver and they won’t need to patch the walls. All I need to get started dimensioning the cabinet now are the dimensions of the hole in the wall. I marked up the photo of the room and emailed it to my sister for her to take some measurements.
Here’s what I emailed her:
I asked her to provide me a dimension for each one of those letters. For the opening width and height, which are letters A and B, I asked her to take measurements at three locations: the left, right and middle (or top, middle and bottom). I want the smallest of those three dimensions. If I asked her for just the width and it turns out that the hole is slightly wider at the top than the bottom, then I could end up building the cabinet too large. I want to make sure it will fit so we’ll build to the smallest width and the smallest height.
Since the wall is plaster and has some left over markings from the previous cabinet, I’d like the new cabinet to hide those markings. So by asking for dimensions E and F, I can figure out how big the frame needs to be to cover that stuff. The measurement at point D is the distance to the top of the wall tile. I want to make sure the cabinet doesn’t touch it.
My sister took all those measurements and emailed them back to me.
At this point, I can start figuring out what the design will look like, how it will be built and how big each piece should be. If you’re comfortable drawing this out on paper, you could use that approach. Personally, I’m a big fan of SketchUp, so I prefer to draw my cabinets in that program. While it’s fairly easy to use, it also has the added advantage of allowing me to show you nice rendered images of the design.
I started the drawing by sketching out a plain wall with a hole in it. Then I gave the wall some thickness. With that part out of the way, I drew a basic four sided box, which will be the insides of the medicine cabinet.
You can see I left some space around all four sides of the box; about a 1/4″. The depth of the box is also 1/4″ shorter than the depth of the hole. Too small is probably OK. Too big is going to be a problem. You can see from the illustration that the box bottom and top will be assembled together using grooves in the box sides. I didn’t draw a back piece, but you can just figure out its dimensions from these four pieces. SketchUp has a tape measure tool, so after I had all four pieces drawn I could measure the dimensions of each one and write them down.
After the box parts were drawn and dimensioned, I turned my attention to the face frame. The face frame will be attached to the box and will cover the open area around the box and also part of the wall. Here’s what that frame looks like attached to the box.
The frame consists of a top and bottom rail board and two stile (aka side) boards. The face frame will be assembled using pocket screws and it’ll be probably be attached to the box using pocket screws as well. Pretty straight forward construction.
Now onto the door. The door will be inset into the frame of the door, just like in the Restoration Hardware design. Inset screams custom and it’s pretty much the only doors I like to build!! They’re also pretty easy to make. I’m going to draw the doors with a 1/8″ gap all the way around, just for the sake of the image, but in reality, I’ll make them the same size as the opening and then gently trim them down to their final size.
For the sake of clarity, I’ve dressed up the SketchUp drawing with a tile lip and some pink walls to match the photo. I didn’t draw any hardware or a beveled mirror, although I’m sure you could do that if you wanted to.
With the door drawn, I’ll write down the dimensions. I’ll need to order a mirror and glass shelves as well, but I’ll get more into that in the next video post. It’s also important to think about what sort of hinges or latch hardware will be required and to order it all in advance. The box material will be birch plywood and the frame and door will be made from poplar. While there are a lot of material options to choose from, I happen to have a lot of poplar and birch plywood laying around my shop. Should be able to build most of it with scrap wood!
That’s it for this post. Hopefully you have a solid understanding of how I sized the cabinet and where we’re going from here.
Thanks and stay tuned.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments and please share this post if you enjoyed it.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- How to organize your office cables with inexpensive hardware
– Tips for using a hole saw for large diameter holes
Now that we’ve actually been using our new home office for a few weeks, we’re starting to really enjoy the space. On top of that, we’ve noticed a few areas that aren’t quite as functional as we’d like them and in this post, you’ll see how we fixed those issues.
Office Cable Management
Let’s start with the biggest issue so far: cable clutter.
There’s a simple reason for this mess: the closest outlet for the computer, printer and paper shredder is inside the cabinets. There’s an outlet in each one, so we have to run the cables into the cabinets from the front.
The outlet locations were intentional. I wanted to make sure they were inside the cabinet and not under the desk. If they were under the desk, then I’d have cables more visible from the room entrance and I didn’t think that would be very attractive. I also didn’t want to loop the cables from under the desk onto the top of it.
So here’s what we did.
I pulled out my 2-1/8″ hole saw and drilled some holes.
If you’ve never used a hole saw, I recommend the ones where there’s a longer center drill bit in the middle. It allows you to locate your hole more accurately without the bit wandering around as these bits tend to do.
When you use a hole saw bit, it helps if you try to wobble the drill a little as you push down.
Once the hole is drilled, I’ll pop in one of these desktop cable organizers (affiliate link). Actually called a grommet.
The grommet gets held in place with a little adhesive caulk, but if I used a 2″ sized hole saw like I should have, it wouldn’t need the glue. It would fit snuggly without it.
After the hole is drilled, the hole saw will look like this:
You’ll have a wood plug in the drill that you’ll need to remove. The hole saw actually has these small slits in the side where you can stick a flat head screw driver and pop the plug out from behind. You can also run the drill in reverse and tap on the side of the bit. Either works.
In addition to the grommet in the desktop, I added one to the side of each built-in cabinet.
These side grommets will allow me to run my desktop cable into the cabinet. It’s also perfect for our paper shredder.
Inside the cabinet, I mounted a power strip with a built-in surge protector.
So now our office cable situation is under control.
Much, much better.
Thanks for reading. If you like our office remodel series, including this post, please share on social media. Later this week I’m going to give you the details for what we have in store for 2015.
Well it’s been a while, but our latest set of woodworking are now available. If you are a newsletter subscriber, you can download this tutorial from our plans page.
The media center plans includes:
- A complete shopping list
– Cut sheets for all the plywood components
– Cut list for all the hardwood parts
– Illustrated instructions
The plans are based on our Custom Media Cabinet series.
With the year-long office remodel project behind us, I decided to take last week off from house stuff. As much as I enjoy working on adding value to my home, it’s important to have some meaningful down time, especially when the project is fairly large. You don’t want to get burned out with home projects or it sucks all the fun out of it.
Over this past weekend we welcomed a new addition to our family. My wife, Lisa, gave birth to our third child. We are blessed to now have three little girls. Life is great.
Now that I’ll be busy with a newborn and the other two little ones for the time being, this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on some of our past projects, think about the road ahead and most importantly, help you with YOUR home projects.
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In today’s post, I want to take a quick look back on the home office project and discuss some things I would’ve done differently. If you are considering some of the elements of our office in your home, then this post will shed some light on the tougher elements of the room.
Reflections on the Home Office Remodel
The Coffered Ceiling
This is my favorite feature of our new office. It was also a giant PIA. In our coffered ceiling design post, we discussed a couple different approaches to getting this look. The first is constructed from 1x (pronounced “one by”) the other is from framing lumber wrapped in drywall. Since I preferred the look of the drywall, that’s the approach we chose. It looks great, but it ended up being a lot of weight and a ton more finishing work. The drywall needed to be cut, installed, corner bead added and then three or four coats of joint compound were applied. Then it got primed. THEN I had to install the crown molding and paint it again.
If I had to do it all over, I would just use the 1x approach. The wood can be pre-assembled into box channels, pre-primed and pre-painted before installation. Once it’s up, the crown still needs to be added, but since it’s getting fastened to a wood box, installation should actually be easier.
In a few years, I’m planning on adding a coffered ceiling to our family room and kitchen. If I did it with drywall like our office it would take WAY WAY too long. The 1x method seems to be the way to go if you have a time crunch. On the other hand, if you’re building a home and the house isn’t drywalled yet or a whole room is being re-drywalled, then a coffered ceiling from drywall is probably much more manageable.
The Built-In Cabinets
If I had to do the cabinet over again, I wouldn’t change too much. I love the beaded face frames and the shaker doors. These aren’t the first cabinets I’ve built before, so I’ve been able to incorporate some previous lessons learned from those earlier projects. I skipped a full sized back piece and instead left the back of the cabinet open to the wall. The cabinet was significantly lighter because of that change. Since I ended up scribing the right side cabinets, I probably should’ve added a wider stile to account for that scribe. I ended up adding it after the fact.
My biggest regret is not building these ahead of time. I think it may have been easier to make these before the coffered ceiling. I also took a few weeks to make my larger table saw station, which slowed the office progress down, but it made the cabinet build loads easier. Oh and those darn screw heads on the upper cabinet are too noticeable.
The counters look great and are smooth to the touch. To hide the plywood edge, I nailed on a piece of red oak hardwood. Pretty standard practice, but the seam is noticeable. For this project I wanted to try something different and it just didn’t work. I wanted to cut the plywood edge and the hardwood at a 45 degree angle so when put together the seam would be on the corner and therefore nearly invisible. Unfortunately, my table saw would only go as far as 42 or 43 degrees. It’s supposed to goto 45, but it would bind up before it got there. I actually found that out when was trying to cut my notches for the beaded face frame. Before I used the notching router bit, my intention was to make the cut on the table saw. Should I get a new saw? Yes, but that’s not a good enough reason right now.
There are four overhead lights: one over the workstation and three evenly spaced throughout the room. We really could’ve used one more. The room is perfectly lit in the functional sections of the room, but it’s a bit darker near the door. Not really a regret, just an observation.
That’s probably the only real feedback I’d give myself on this project. I don’t want to sound like a whiny perfectionist since the room REALLY pictures well and looks damn near perfect. I think it’s helpful to do a look back because there’s always some room for improvement and you may find it useful on your next project.
Later this week I’m run in a discount giveaway with our favorite hardwood flooring cleaner, Bona. Stay tuned for details. Next week I have a power tool giveaway. Good times.
What home improvement stage are YOU in? Did you just finish a major project, are you in the middle of one or are you planning your next big effort?
Anyone buying tools on Black Friday?
Well, the time has finally arrived. We’ve crossed the finish line and are now ready to give you a tour of our home office. It’s been nearly a year since we first started and boy has this room changed. Even though we’re saying it’s done, the room still needs to be dressed up with some decor, but we’ll get to that later. For now, here’s our home office remodeled.
We’ll start our tour with a quick flashback to what the room looked like LAST November.
After ripping out the carpet, we installed some new hardwood flooring and tied it into the hardwood in the foyer without a transition. It looks like it was installed when the house was built.
With the new floor down, I shifted gears and started on the coffered ceiling. The ceiling ended up being the most time consuming part of the job, but it was totally worth it.
After the ceiling was done and the crown molding installed, I started building the cabinets. There are three cabinets in total: two built-ins and a single filing cabinet. The center desk section is just a large piece of stained oak plywood. It’s large enough for two people to work side by side, but for now we only have the one chair.
Let’s get to the finished photos…
Here’s a picture of the room from the very same angle as the Before photo.
The filing cabinet:
The left built-in:
The center desk:
The right side built-in:
Here’s a closer look at the molding on the wall and ceiling…
We also added some recessed lights. There are three overhead and a single light over the work desk.
I’ll be sharing some of the more minor upgrades we still have planned for this room. I think you’ll like our ideas.
Since no room overhaul would be complete without a project list, here’s the complete run down of all the steps/posts we shared in completion this project from start to finish. If you’re interested in renovating a room in your own home and would like results similar to what you are seeing here, then this list of posts will walk you through exactly how I remodeled this room. You may also find my Custom TV Stand Recap post helpful if you are interested in designing cabinets for yourself.
1. The Before
2. Brainstorming Home Office Ideas
3. Hardwood Floor Installation
4. The Home Remodeling Process
5. Layout Options
6. Coffered Ceiling Concept Design
7. Home Office Detail Design
8. Coffered Ceiling Framing
9. Wiring for the Office Lights
10. Tips for Hanging Drywall
11. How to Finish Drywall (Video)
12. How to Install Recessed Lights
13. 5 Tips for Better Crown Molding Installation
14. 6 Cabinet Building Challenges
15. Cabinet Painting 101
16. How to Scribe a Cabinet
17. My Countertop Approach
18. How to Build Your Own Shaker Doors (Video)
19. Making Built-in Cabinets (Video)
20. How to Install Cabinet Hardware without a Jig
21. Hinges and Drawer Slides (Video)
Thanks for reading and if you think this office came out awesome, please share it on Facebook, Twitter and pin the living crap out of it for me. That would really help! Thanks!
Hey! Thanks for stopping by. We're Lisa and John and this is our DIY and Home Improvement blog. Feel free to browse our DIY project gallery or our latest posts. You can read more here.
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