...because home doesn't happen overnight.
06.30.11 / Feeling the Ceiling

I left you hanging a few weeks ago after I shared the ceiling tear-out progress at the Underdog.  At that time, Handy Hubby had ripped out the ceiling over the kitchen half of the great room that will eventually be vaulted.  Here’s the living room/kitchen now after removing the rest of the ceiling.

I know.  It still doesn’t look like much but I have a good feeling about what the future vaulted ceiling is going to do for the space.  Can you see it?  Imagine the ceiling joists gone.  Yeah, those wide, flat boards at the original ceiling height that are running parallel to the floor…those, gone.  {Along with the vertical supports in the middle of the room.}  Look beyond them to the rafters…the skinnier boards running along the roof structure.  The future ceiling will live just below those rafters.  Now, can you see it?  Raising the ceiling is going to give this modest, multifunctional space more breathing room and an airier feel.

But the big question is, how exactly do we plan to vault the ceiling?  Handy Hubby spoke with several contractors and even a lumber yard discussing the dimensions of the room and roof and our desire to open up the ceiling.  Originally, the thought was that we could just add some collar ties one-third of the way down the rafters – which HH started to DIY himself.

But after more extensive research {because HH is a mechanical engineer after all}, it looks like we’ll need to have a steel support beam put in place that runs along the peak of the vaulted ceiling. We’ll still frame in the beam with some collar ties to disguise it and also to run duct work and electrical through the peak.  So the vaulted ceiling will look more like this…

{notice the flat peak…not the aesthetics}

…and less like this…

{once again this picture is for demonstrating a vaulted peak…not aesthetics}

Of course, we’d prefer to have a ‘sharp’ peak versus a flat one but we really need space to hide duct work and to place recessed lighting {since we’re having a hard time finding can lights for slanted ceilings that don’t have a lot of wiggle room between them and the rafters}.  Even though we were assured by multiple contractors that collar ties alone would be structurally sound, we’re going the better-safe-than-sorry route and adding in a steel beam for extra support.  We will be hiring out for the beam since it’s beyond the scope and manpower of our DIY skills.  Once the beam is in place, we can start installing the new ceiling.  The jury is still out on what the ceiling material will be.  We love the look of a painted plank ceiling but due to cost we may end up with budget-friendly drywall instead.  I’ll let you know what happens!

images:  1-4) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking  5) InterNACHI 6) Custom MMIC Design Services, Inc. 7) Benjamin Benschneider for The Seattle Times

I was sitting in the sunroom with Layne this morning enjoying a cup of coffee, looking out at the peaceful backyard and conjuring up ideas for today’s blog post when I realized that I should share how we keep our lawn green.  Last year, we made the decision to go the organic route after visiting a local organic garden and learning more about organic landscaping.  We’re lucky enough to live just 10 minutes from  Marvin’s Organic Gardens, voted Cincinnati’s Best 2011 Green-Oriented Business.  {You may recall this is where we dropped off our live Christmas tree back in the winter to be ground into mulch.}  After learning that fertilizer is good for your lawn but potentially bad for your water supply, we bought our first bag of organic fertilizer and haven’t looked back.

Marvin’s supplied us with a little cheat sheet that tells us which fertilizer to apply when.  In the summer we apply the 8-3-3 fertilizer once or twice.  One bag costs $35 and provides 2 applications.  True to organic form, the fertilizer contains soluble {quicker releasing} and insoluble {slower releasing} nitrogen to help avoid over-fertilization which can lead to harmful run off.

The slower releasing nitrogen also helps our yard to remain healthy during drought periods.  In general, this fertilizer helps our yard grow green and strong, independent of weekly treatments and watering…meaning less money and less waste.  Good for us and good for the environment.  As you can imagine, the manure, blood meal and kelp ingredients lend a certain natural odor to the fertilizer.  Let’s just say it doesn’t smell like roses.  Once applied, the fertilizer is so dispersed that it’s not like our yard stinks…it’s just when you open up and pour that bag into the spreader that you have to hold your breath.

I happened to snap a shot of the fertilizer just before the spreader was empty the other day while I was fertilizing the yard.

It looks like fish food to me.  We haven’t had our soil tested or anything since we started using the organic fertilizer about a year ago, but I do think it’s helping our yard to become more resilient, healthier and less reliant on treatments.  While many of our neighbors’ yards were struck by a widespread fungal disease {causing large bare, brown spots} last year during late summer/early fall, our yard continued to remain green and vibrant.  No diseased areas – even with fungal diseases in both neighbors’ yards immediately adjacent to our yard on either side.  Our one neighbor told us, “I don’t know what you’re doing to your yard, but keep doing it.  It looks great.” Both neighbors are relying on twice weekly professional chemical treatments to try and rid their yards of disease this summer.  I don’t know what it’s costing them but I’m pretty sure it’s more expensive than $35.  Plus, the guy that comes out to spray their lawns always wears long pants, boots and full-arm rubber gloves so the stuff he’s spraying can’t be good.  I’d love to tell them about Marvin’s without seeming too pushy but I haven’t found a way to do it yet.

So, that’s how we keep our grass green in a green way.  I’ve also used Marvin’s fertilizer to fertilize the plants in our mulch beds too.  I just sprinkle a little fertilizer on the mulch around the base of each plant annually to help them grow oh-so-lush.

Have you ever used organic treatments for your yard or plants?  I’d love to start my own compost and use it to fertilize.  Any tips?

images:  Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

You may remember that I enrolled in the Sheffield Interior Design School months ago.  The program is targeted towards people who want to learn about interior design but have other obligations {work, family, finances, etc} that keep them from enrolling full-time at a typical college or university.  Students are given 3 years to complete the course at their own pace.  Good thing. Because so far, my pace has been similar to that of a turtle.  Slow and steady wins the race, right? Well, I intentionally took a few months off because I learned that part of my work as a Sheffield student is to design a room using the concepts learned through my studies. While the school intends for students to do this on paper, I thought it would be fun to try it in real life as well. And now that I have plenty of rooms to make over {thank you old, decrepit Underdog}, it’s back to the books for me!

I plan on giving each room of the Underdog a makeover, but I’d like to share the long, drawn-out, in depth process of transforming one particular room from start to finish here on House*Tweaking. Even better, I’d like you to tell me which room you want to see receive the design student makeover.  This will be the room that I work on {on paper and in real life although maybe not simultaneously} for my design student project.  I’ll share all my thoughts, plans, designs and rookie drawings throughout the process.  I’ll probably even change my mind a few times. Maybe seeing a room come to life from the first to final steps will inspire you, take the intimidation sting out of decorating, or just show you how bat @#$! crazy my mind can be at times.  Sound good?  Okay, let’s put it to a vote.

I’ve narrowed down the playing field to three Underdog rooms that meet the requirements for my school project.

LIVING ROOM – You immediately enter into the living room upon entrance from the front door. The room will be open to the kitchen.  Activities that will take place in this room are:  watching TV, relaxing, playing, casual entertaining and reading.  Pros:  the room has an original fireplace as its focal point and a large picture window that provides tons of natural light.  Cons: the room is small-ish for all the activities that will take place in it and needs new flooring.  I’ll need to figure out ways to add disguised toy/game storage, seat an optimal number of people comfortably, stylishly add in a TV and all its components, carve out a spot for guests to hang coats and bags, and arrange furniture to highlight the fireplace without impeding traffic flow.

DINING ROOM/MUDROOM/LAUNDRY ROOM – You immediately enter into this space upon entrance from the garage.  The room is just off the kitchen/living room and has sliders that open up to the backyard.  It also contains a closet will house the washer, dryer and radon mitigation system.  Activities that will take place in this room are:  dining {although everyday dining will most likely take place at the kitchen island}, taking off shoes/coats, hanging up everyday bags, emptying pockets, laundering, coloring and crafting with the kids, sewing, and passing through to the backyard.  Pros:  the room receives natural light from the patio sliders and is connected to the outdoors.  Cons:  once again, the room is small-ish for all duties that will be required of it, it needs new flooring and it has no existing focal point.  I’ll need to add dining furniture that will double as a sewing/crafting table.  Somehow, I’ve got to incorporate the laundry closet into the rest of the room without hiding it behind cumbersome doors.  A part of the room will be designated to mudroom duties:  shoe putting on/taking off, hanging up backpacks/purses, storing outerwear and dropping keys.  This room needs to provide storage for my sewing supplies {including a sewing machine}, kids craft materials and, ideally, even household staples {like toilet paper}.  And it needs to hold all of that stuff out of plain sight so that when the room is being used as extra dining space, it doesn’t feel like you’re dining in the laundry room/mudroom/craft room.  Whew.  That’s a lot to ask of one room.  Aesthetically, the room needs a focal point…other than the window A/C unit…and a new ceiling fixture.

MASTER BEDROOM – This room is at the end of a long, narrow hallway.  Activities that will take place in this room are:  sleeping, reading and dressing. Pros:  the room has two nice-sized windows in it {although one has a cracked pane}, is a decent size itself and has an adequate en suite bathroom.  Cons:  closet space is limited, the room has no architectural focal point or overhead fixtures, and the room needs new flooring.  In addition to a bed, we’ll need furniture to make up for a teeny closet.  I’d like to sneak in a dressing area if possible.  We’ll also need bedside lighting for nighttime reading.  More than anything, this room needs to feel like a safe haven at the end of every busy day.

Now that you know a little bit more about each room, tell me which one you’d like to watch get tweaked to life, in detail.

[polldaddy poll=”5188232″]

Vote until July 1st at midnight EST.

images:  Dana Miller for House*Tweaking



I showed you how I sealed my granite countertops recently.  Surprisingly, many people commented asking about the care of the kitchen island’s butcher block countertop.  So, today while I was giving the island its routine rub down, I documented it all for you to see.  Before we get started, please know that there are many different recommendations on the care of wood countertops.  This is just how I take care of mine if you’re curious.  It works well for me.  You should do whatever is most comfortable for you.

Okay, so our kitchen island is topped with IKEA’s NUMERÄR oak countertop.  It is not sealed with polyurethane or any other permanent sealer.  I simply used the method I’m about to show you 2-3 times per week for the first month after installation to get a good moisture/stain barrier in place. Since then, I just re-oil the butcher block when needed.  Which is usually every 1-3 months depending on its usage and the humidity in the house.  Typically, I can go longer between oilings in the summer when the wood doesn’t dry out as easily.  Here are the only products I use:

A – A clean, damp rag.

B – A fine sanding block.  Fine as in not so coarse.  Not as in NKOTB fine.  You could easily substitute the block with fine sandpaper.

C – Mineral oil.  Home improvement stores sell versions specifically marketed towards wood countertops but I buy my mineral oil in the laxative aisle of the grocery store.  It’s a lot cheaper, works great and is safe.  Plus, we eat directly off the countertop to keep our family regular, if you know what I mean.  Just kidding.  Not really.

D – Oiling rags.  These are just old rags that I’ve dedicated to the sole purpose of oiling the butcher block.  I don’t wash them for fear of messing up my washer {they get very saturated!} but instead keep them in a plastic Ziploc bag under the sink just for this purpose.  No, they don’t stink. Mineral oil has no odor.

To routinely oil the countertops I…

1 – Wipe all dirt, dust, crumbs and stickiness from the butcher block with my damp rag.  I let it air dry for a few minutes.

2  – Drizzle some mineral oil on the butcher block.  I don’t measure it but if I had to guess I’d say I use about 1/3 cup.

3 – Rub oil into the countertop with my oiling rag, following the wood grain.  Don’t forget the vertical edges!

4 – Let the oil penetrate and soak in for 24-48 hours.  I try to remind my kids that the island is greasy to keep them from getting into it, but they sometimes forget.  No biggie.  The oil won’t hurt them.  If I’m impatient, I’ll wipe away excess oil with a dry cloth but I really like to let it sit for a day or two to really soak in.  The wood drinks it up and loves it.  I’m always amazed by how revitalized it looks after each oiling.  Like new!

With two little kids in the house, the wood countertop frequently gets stained.  I’ve had juice, markers, crayons and wet colored tissue paper stains so far but they are easily removed.  Let me demonstrate.  A la Billy Mays style.  Minus the alleged cocaine use.

Say I find a Sharpie mark.  {For demonstrative purposes, yes, I made a mark with a Sharpie onto the countertop.  That’s how much I love you guys.}

I take my handy dandy, fine sanding block and sand away the mark.

I’m left with a slightly lighter area where the mark once was.

Nothing my trusty mineral oil can’t handle.

Cue the ‘APPLAUSE’, ‘CHEESY SMILING’ and ‘DISBELIEF HEAD SHAKING’ cards.  The once marked, now slightly lighter area will continue to fade away as time and more routine oiling go on.

Sound like too much maintenance for you?  Then don’t get butcher block countertops.  Like the idea of saving money with inexpensive butcher block even if it means a little more elbow grease? Then I’ll see you in the laxative aisle.  Happy weekend!

images:  all Dana Miller for House*Tweaking