...because home doesn't happen overnight.

bday 2

On Saturday, we celebrated Mabrey’s and Everett’s birthdays with extended family. (Mabrey turned two on Sunday and Everett will turn six on Monday.) Their birthdays are close enough to warrant a joint celebration – at least with extended family. Mabrey and Everett have such a close, unique relationship. They don’t mind sharing the spotlight with the other. At least for now.

On my kids’ actual birth days, the goal is to make them feel as special as they are. For us, that doesn’t mean oodles of gifts or an expensive party for all their classmates or even matching decorations. Extra cuddles, some balloons, a special gift, favorite foods, revisiting their birth story, maybe a visit to their favorite park and saying “I can’t believe you’re X years old already!” is all it takes. And we always read Dr. Seuss’s Happy Birthday to You!

bday 3

It got me thinking about how other families celebrate birthdays. Back when I working as a pharmacist, one of my co-worker’s had a Birthday Hat. It was a big, obnoxious (in a good way) hat that each person wore on their special day. They have pictures of each family member wearing the hat each year on their birthday. Such a fun tradition!

Growing up, my family took pride in singing the most horrible, drawn-out version of “Happy Birthday” you’ve ever heard. Loud, off-key, out of sync – that’s the stuff! The worse, the better. It’s always funny to see how non-family members not accustomed to our tradition react to the rendition. Usually, they look on in horror!

bday 1

How do you celebrate birthdays in your family? Any unique traditions? I’d love to hear ‘em.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

noir hex 4

We have floor tile in the kid / guest bathroom! It took two tries along with the help of a friend with more tiling experience than us to knock it out. We need to address a few wall and corner tiles in the far right corner and we haven’t grouted yet but I couldn’t wait any longer to share our progress – especially since this project proved to be more difficult than we had anticipated. The floor tile was in as of Sunday and I would have shared images sooner but The 2014 Plague had me down and out the last two days. The last few days have felt like weeks but things are finally returning to normal around here.

noir hex 3

We had family in from out of town so I took the kids to visit them while Steve and our contractor friend, James, tackled the bathroom flooring. As much as I want to be an active, hands-on participant in this bathroom project, often it’s more helpful if I’m the one keeping the kids occupied and out of the way.

I thought I would share the tiling tidbits that Steve found most helpful when laying the hexagon tile. Some of the tips are basic ones you’ve heard before but were easily forgotten in the heat of the #epicfail. Others come from the experience of our friend, James. Maybe you will find them useful.

*First, don’t rush! Steve was in a hurry to get going the first time around because the project had been postponed from the day before and he had to be at work the next day. It’s imperative to have a good game plan and be patient. You’re better off with a really nice half-tiled floor or wall than a shoddy “finished” job.

*Work from the center out. Define your reference line based on where / how you want your tile to hit in the most critical areas. Mark off a second line perpendicular to the first. Essentially, this breaks the room up into four quadrants. Start where the two lines intersect and work your way out, constantly checking your reference lines and adjusting as needed. For this project, Steve focused on perfecting the entrance and visible floor-wall seams. He wasn’t as concerned with tile that will eventually be hidden by the tub or vanity.

*Inspect and dry fit everything. Steve did dry fit the first time he attempted to lay the hexagon tile – but only partially. When he discovered there was an issue with the tile sheets matching up correctly, he assumed he would be able to “make it work” as he went along. James suggested inspecting each box of tile before dry fitting. Upon inspection, one box contained tile that was 1/8″ smaller than the rest of the tile with tighter gaps between the individual tiles. And wouldn’t you know, that was one of the two boxes Steve started with the first time around?!

*Mix up small batches of thin-set. Mixing up a large bucket of thin-set might seem like a time-saving step but, actually, it could be detrimental to the whole “don’t rush!” mindset. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t take that much time or effort to mix up smaller batches of thin-set as opposed to one big batch.

*Be clean with your trowel. This takes time and experience. Steve admits to slathering on a bunch of thin-set then forging ahead. But you really only need to trowel on a little more thin-set than what’s required for the current tile sheet you’re working with at the moment. Also, be aware of your reference lines when troweling and don’t wipe them out completely.

*If an individual tile needs adjusted, it’s easier to make the adjustment after the sheet has been laid. Just trace the outline of the tile with a utility knife, cutting the backing in the process. Shift the tile into the proper position. Use spacers or even small pieces of cardboard to hold adjusted tiles in place. This works for tiles that are thinner as well. Cut the tile out, pull it up, back-butter it and then place it back at the same height as the rest of the tile. Steve guesses he had to adjust ~1 tile per sheet due to spacing and height issues.

*If you have help, let someone else cut the tile. This saves time running back and forth between the wet saw. If your tile and layout allow, hand-held tile nippers or scorers can save time and energy, too.

noir hex 2

I called Steve a few hours into the job to see how things were going. Just from his tone of voice, I knew it was going well and I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. When a DIY project isn’t going as planned, it helps us to take a break, take a step back, start over, get back to basics and enlist experienced help if possible. We’re so thankful James was willing to help us out. (FYI – We’re compensating him for his time with dinner and concert tickets.)

I hope you learned something from our tiling snafu. We sure did. Next up? Grout!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

When we were renovating our kitchen, I searched high and low for any information I could find on Ikea kitchens. The results were few and far between. We did end up with an Ikea kitchen (which we love) but I’d like to shed more light on Ikea kitchen renovations from the perspective of other real life homeowners. It’s something I wish we would have had access to when we were considering Ikea for our own kitchen remodel. Plus, it’s fun to see how others use Ikea to suit their personal style and needs in the kitchen. I hope you find these posts helpful and inspiring – whether you ultimately end up with an Ikea kitchen or not. Enjoy!

chesapeake ikea kitchen before

This story hails from Chesapeake, Virginia. Kristen and her husband bought an outdated 1960′s brick rancher three years ago and have been slowly bringing it to life on a budget. The original kitchen was cramped and featured an awkward layout. (Hello dishwasher on the non-kitchen side of the peninsula!) Together, the young couple has created a bright, open kitchen with a more functional layout while working within the confines of the original space. I asked Kristen several questions about her kitchen remodeling experience. You can read her answers and find “after” shots below.

chesapeake ikea kitchen after 2

Which items in your kitchen hail from Ikea?

Almost everything. Our cabinets, countertop, cabinet doors, drawer fronts, hardware, sink, faucet, garbage disposal, free-standing island, pendant light over the sink and brackets for our open shelves.

What made you decide to source these items from Ikea?

We were impressed with the quality of the Ikea cabinets over all the places we looked – not to mention their quote came in well below the competition. Ikea also offered fun little extras such as multiple options for interior organizers, soft-close hardware and easy-to-remove snap-on door hinges. (That last feature saved us so much time during the renovation process!) The apron front sink, free-standing island, and the butcher block countertop were very inexpensive compared to other stores.

chesapeake ikea kitchen design

Who designed your kitchen? What aesthetic were you aiming for?

My husband and I designed the kitchen over a period of a few months using the Ikea kitchen planner tool. We experimented with countless designs and tried desperately to reuse our old cabinets but in the end we had to start afresh. Our kitchen was tricky. The old layout was too small and very awkward. It had narrow passage ways, limited counter space and the dishwasher actually opened up into the den instead of the kitchen. A low hanging window kept us from expanding into the adjoining den as well. Thankfully, we got some extremely helpful tips from one kitchen designer at Ikea who had lots of experience with installing Ikea kitchens.

As far as the aesthetic, we wanted something more functional and open. We didn’t need our kitchen to be huge or grand but we did want space to grow into since we’re planning on living in this house for many years. It needed to be bright because the kitchen / den area gets little natural light. Also, since our house was built in the 1960′s, we didn’t want to go too modern with the style and materials.

chesapeake ikea kitchen in progress

chesapeake ikea kitchen floors in progress

chesapeake ikea kitchen cabinet frames

chesapeake ikea kitchen cutting countertops

Did you assemble and install all Ikea kitchen components yourself? If not, what did you seek help with?

My husband and my dad installed every last piece from the cabinets and trim to the counters, appliances and backsplash. It was slow going at times because they had to work out all the little details and unanticipated obstacles that popped up.

chesapeake ikea kitchen trim

chesapeake ikea kitchen pantry

How did you customize your Ikea kitchen to suit your needs and preferred aesthetic?

Working within the confines of the older kitchen required us to be creative at times. I really like the look of built-in cabinetry so we added trim to the upper cabinets which is quite tricky in an older unlevel home!

chesapeake ikea kitchen sink

I also insisted that the sink be centered under the window which left a space to the right of the sink that was too small for a standard sized cabinet. We created one using the smallest frame cut to size and a drawer front as a door. Surprisingly, Ikea doesn’t offer an upper blind corner cabinet so we created that with two overlapping upper cabinets and some leftover cover panel. We used extra cover panels and toe kicks to frame out the appliances.

chesapeake ikea kitchen dining work island

The kitchen island is from Ikea but we customized it by adding wheels so we can move it around if we need to. We mostly keep it in front of that pesky low hanging window. We also added open shelves to one wall for our frequently used dishes which contributes to the open feel.

How long was it from design to the final product?

This answer is kind of embarrassing – we take forever with projects. We took our time with the design phase, mulling it over and tweaking it over several months until we were ready and Ikea was running one of their kitchen specials. Next came the demo phase. We had to rip out the old cabinets, counter, appliances and floor. We ended up having a gap of a couple of weeks between the demo phase and installation phase (working around our schedule and that of our families) so we were without a kitchen for about a month and a half, I think. When it came time for installation my husband and I took a week off from work to get the majority of the kitchen installed so it would be at least functional. My dad ended up coming all day every day during that week to help us. The more functional our kitchen became the less momentum we had to finish the kitchen. The painting and trim we worked on slowly over the course of several months, just working on a part here and there when we felt like it. We only recently completed the ceiling and changed out the old lighting. There are still some final touches left to do!

chesapeake ikea kitchen organization

How long have you lived with your Ikea kitchen? Have you encountered any problems?

We’ve lived with our kitchen for a little over a year now. So far everything is holding up wonderfully. We’ve had no problems with the cabinets or hardware. The interior shelves and organizers still look great despite putting wet dishes straight from the dishwasher on them.

chesapeake ikea kitchen after 1

What is your favorite thing about your kitchen? Least favorite?

My favorite thing is how open and bright the kitchen is now. It feels so different from the old kitchen. I’m very happy with the layout. It’s not too small where you can’t have multiple people and a dog walking around yet it’s not too big to make it harder to keep clean. It is also a space into which we can grow. We actually have a couple of empty cabinets! My least favorite thing is the lack of natural light coming in. We’ve compensated by adding under cabinet task lighting that we purchased from Home Depot.

Would you recommend Ikea as a source for a kitchen remodel? If so, which items?

I would definitely recommend Ikea. We haven’t been disappointed with any of the Ikea components. The kitchen extras like the soft-close hardware come standard and all the doors and drawer fronts can be adjusted to make things look even and level.

Would you consider Ikea for a future kitchen remodel?

Hands down, yes – especially if we lived closer. The closest Ikea is a little over three hours away so it was a little annoying if we forgot something. We had to go up there three times for returns / purchases on top of two visits during the design phase. Ikea also has limited selection for white cabinet doors that aren’t fiberboard. My husband wanted the door frames to be made of joined wood so Ramsjo in white was really our only option. But overall we had a very good experience and would definitely use Ikea again.

Resources of note:

cabinets / doors / drawer fronts – Ikea (Ramsjo in white)
paint – Sherwin Williams mint condition (for the walls); Sherwin Williams custom color match to Ramsjo white doors (for the cabinet trim)
flooring – Lumbar Liquidators (Mayflower prefinished red oak)
backsplash – Lowe’s for white subway tile, mortar and grout
appliances – Lowe’s…including refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, stove
lighting – Ikea pendant over the sink; Home Depot for the semi-flush-mounted ceiling fixture and under-cabinet lighting
butcher block countertop – Ikea
cabinet trim – 84 Lumber for trim above the upper cabinets and pantry; Ikea for trim below upper cabinets
sink – Ikea’s Domsjo
faucet – Ikea’s Elverdam
shelving brackets – Ikea
free-standing island: Ikea’s Stenstorp customized with casters from Ikea
counter stools – West Elm

chesapeake ikea kitchen design vs final product

Thank you so much Kristen for sharing your kitchen remodel! It feels like a completely different space. I’m amazed by how much the real life final product looks like the design created with the planner tool. And the island on casters is brilliant! I love that it can be moved around to serve as either a dining or prep surface. Sometimes little hiccups (like low slung windows) produce clever solutions, no? Be sure to check out more of Kristen’s home here.

Do you have an Ikea kitchen (it need not be 100% Ikea) that you would be willing to share on House*Tweaking? If so, please contact me at housetweaking@gmail.com for consideration. Thank you in advance!

images: Kristen @ A Manor of Mischief

How ironic is it that my last post was entitled “Sometimes DIY Sucks” and this one contains “DIY” as a descriptive? You win some. You lose some. Thank you all so much for your words of encouragement! We’re feeling more hopeful about tackling the bathroom tile this weekend and will be sure to share what goes down. xo

subwoofer cover DIY 5

I’ve already discussed my thoughts on surround sound here. In short, I don’t care for it. BUT my husband enjoys it and I do care for him so I’m dealing with it – boob speakers and all – the best way I know how. And that involves creative disguises…or squinting.

subwoofer cover b&a

Take the subwoofer for instance. It’s basically this big black box that is responsible for low bass frequencies. (i.e., it’s the speaker that makes the floor shake when we watch movies…and we’re on a slab, soooooo yeah, I don’t get it.) We’ve had the thing for 10+ years. There’s probably some new sound technology that doesn’t require such an eyesore but we aren’t willing to invest any money into something like that when what we have works just fine. (i.e., it creates small earthquakes.)

In our first house, the subwoofer was in plain sight next to our media console. In our previous house, it sat behind an accent chair in the family room. I draped a floor-length curtain around it to disguise it even more.

In our current home, due to the placement of media components and audio wiring, the subwoofer sits between our sofa and media cabinet. The blue power light drives me bonkers. I tried concealing it behind the curtain but, at best, it looked like a small child hiding. I decided enough was enough and Steve and I came up with a plan for a DIY subwoofer cover. The cover doesn’t interfere with Steve’s audio experience and it keeps me from giving the subwoofer the stink eye so Steve and I are still married. Best of all, we made it from leftover supplies so it was “free.”

Steve created the basic box from premium grade plywood leftover from topping off the fauxdenza and building the living room shelves. It’s just four sides with a top and no bottom. The inside measures ¼” larger than the subwoofer on all sides to allow the box to slip over the speaker. There is a 2″ gap between the bottom of the box and the floor to let sound waves flow freely. (Apparently, sound waves come from the bottom of this subwoofer. I learned something new.) Wood glue and finish nails hold it together. Veneer edge banding was added to all visible cut edges except for the one on the back. #cheap #lazy

subwoofer cover DIY

The back is cut out for wire access. (Can you see where I inconspicuously tested out some stain on the back?) We added felt pads inside to protect the subwoofer and achieve a snug fit.

subwoofer cover collage

I applied Minwax wood conditioner and Minwax natural stain to the external surfaces. Then I set to work creating a design for the front panel. Basically, I drew up a bunch of ideas on paper and when I had a winner I transferred the design to the cover with a pencil.

1 // I wanted at least one section of the design to be a darker stain but I predicted the edges would bleed so I decided to tackle that triangle first. My thought was at least I could clean up one edge with a neighboring painted triangle. I taped off one section using Frog Tape and applied two coats of Minwax special walnut stain. I left the tape on until the stain was completely dry to avoid as much bleeding as possible. The stain did bleed a little but it wasn’t too bad.

2 // I taped off the second section and took the cover outside to apply two coats of Design Master Gold Medal spray paint. For crisp lines, I carefully removed the tape before the paint dried.

3 // I brought the cover back inside (looking good!) to hand paint the final two sections.

4 // One at a time, I taped off the sections and brushed on two coats of Benjamin Moore white dove primer + paint in satin. Again, I carefully removed the tape before the paint dried.

subwoofer cover design

The Frog Tape marked up the gold section when I was taping and painting the last white triangle but it’s only noticeable when light shines on it in a certain way. For the most part, the edges are crisp (save for the one stained edge that has no neighboring paint) and the points meet up like I had envisioned. I especially like the texture of the wood grain in the gold section.

subwoofer cover DIY 8

Subwoofer-turned-table, voilà!

I opted out of a topcoat because I like the unsealed look so a cloth napkin or coaster under sweaty glasses is a must. In real life, Mabrey likes to climb on top of the subwoofer to catapult herself onto the sofa (!) so there’s usually just a magazine or book resting here. I shot this during nap time so I had fun styling without kids in mind.

subwoofer cover DIY 4

subwoofer DIY 1

I’m happy I went with a natural stain on the majority of the cover. Anything darker would have been too brown next to the sofa. The natural stain picks up on lighter wood tones in the room: coffee table, woven shades, decorative bowl (on the media cabinet) and scalloped side table (not shown).

In case you’re wondering, I moved the lil’ red table to the boys’ room. Some changes are happening in there but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

subwoofer cover DIY 6

Steve didn’t see the painted / stained front panel until after it was finished. He loves it! That makes me happy. Know what else makes me happy? No more big black box.

Good design can save marriages. It’s a fact.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking