Tag Archives: Home improvement

Make-It Monday: I paint because I’m lazy

Longtime readers will recall my adventures in drywall repair last winter, necessitated by the slipshod home-improvement work done by the previous owner of this house.

The drywall in our bathroom was installed as poorly as the drywall in the rest of the house, and the paint job was even worse — drips and cracks and alligatored spots everywhere.

I could retape the joints, sand everything down, and repaint the walls in there with some textured finish that would conceal any flaws, but I’m not going to, for two reasons:

1. My projects earlier this year in the bedroom and office taught me that I haaaaaaaate working with drywall in tight spaces and rag-painting around obstacles.

2. I need a sample of trompe l’oeil mural work to show prospective clients, as most of my murals — with the exception of my faux-neon pieces — are done in a more cartoonish style.

With all that in mind, I decided to make the cracks in the bathroom wall look purposeful.

This is a work in progress, obviously, but here’s what I’m up to:

Preliminary sketch.
Preliminary sketch.
Closeup of a section that's about 95 percent finished. I need to come back and soften up some of the mossy patches on the stucco, but this is the upshot.
Closeup of a section that’s about 95 percent finished. I need to come back and soften up some of the mossy patches on the stucco, but this is the upshot.

It’s not perfect, but neither is the wall. Intentional imperfections, rendered in careful detail, seem infinitely preferable to imperfections created as a result of someone’s sloppy attempts at home improvement, and hopefully the end result will be realistic enough to earn me another paying mural gig or two somewhere along the line.

I’ll post an update when I finish the project.


Make-It Monday: Floorboard repair

As promised yesterday, here are the details on my weekend home-improvement project.

As it turns out, dismantling a cold-air return and repairing a hardwood floor are much easier than they sound. Hard work, to be sure, but not particularly difficult or scary once you get into it.

(Details of the project are after the jump.) Continue reading Make-It Monday: Floorboard repair

Sunday Self-Care: Overcoming intimidation

We live in a house that was built sometime during the 1920s. It has hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms — not laminate you put down over Masonite, but actual bare floorboards. They creak when you walk over them, which I’ve always regarded as a sort of safety feature: If anyone were fool enough to break in, the floorboards would telegraph his movements, making it impossible for him to sneak up on me.

Unfortunately, some of those floorboards got a little too creaky for their own good, and a couple of them developed splits that made them feel spongy underfoot. They were starting to worry me: What if somebody stepped on them wrong and went all the way through?

Predictably, the culprits were located directly over an area in the basement where somebody had nailed a big piece of sheet metal to the joists. I had no idea what was under that metal, why it was there, or what dire fate would ensue if I removed it to get to the spongy boards. And even if I could get to them, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with them.

I ignored the problem for weeks. It got worse and worse, until I finally gave up and asked Dad to come look at it and tell me what it needed. I was afraid I’d have to hire somebody to fix it, but Dad told me the mysterious metal was just the bottom of the cold-air return for my HVAC system, and I should simply pry it off, repair the floor from the underside, and put it back on when I was finished.

I was fine with that until I realized I’d have to work around water lines, cables, and conduits full of Romex to get the metal off. I worried about that all week, but there was no choice; if I didn’t fix the floor, we were liable to crash through it, which I really didn’t need.

I looked at it again Friday, came up with a workaround Ron agreed was a good one, and spent the balance of the weekend playing with power tools.

I’m sore, scratched, bruised, and tired, but I’m also relieved, happy, and kind of proud of myself. DIY projects make me feel grown-up. I’ll try to share the details of this one tomorrow.


Make-It Monday: Cheap cabinet storage

I couldn’t decide whether this was a Make-It Monday entry or a Tiny Tuesday entry. The two often overlap, as many of the things I make around here are meant to increase my storage or organize my stuff. This one is kind of a combination.

First, the “make it” part, which is pictured above: I got sick of looking for the lid to my big saucepan — which has a bad habit of hiding in the back of the cabinet when I need it — so I got online and found some storage ideas. This one wasn’t the prettiest, but it was cheap and practical, and I knew I had a package of tiny screw eyes in the junk drawer and a roll of wire in my craft closet, so I grabbed the drill and rigged up an easy way to keep track of that lid.

While I was thinking about the unused space on the back of the cabinet, my eye fell on the small graniteware stockpot I’ve been using to store cooking utensils since we moved to Cape almost four years ago.

I really could have used that stockpot a few times last winter, but it was busy storing utensils on the countertop — handy but not really the highest and best use for the space or the stockpot.

I went back to the junk drawer and rustled up a handful of Command hooks, which I pressed into service holding measuring spoons and cups, kitchen shears, quail-egg scissors and any other odds and ends I could hang back there without hitting the shelf every time I closed the door.

Stick-on hooks aren't exactly a new concept, but I reclaimed some unused space by putting them inside a cabinet door above my jury-rigged pot-lid holder.
Stick-on hooks aren’t exactly a new concept, but I reclaimed some unused space by putting them inside a cabinet door above my jury-rigged pot-lid holder.

I stuck a couple more on the back of the door to the cabinet where I keep mugs and drinking glasses and hung up my tea infuser and bottle opener.

IKEA came through the other day with an elegant solution to the problem of oversized utensils that wouldn’t hang well on the cabinet door, but I’ll save that post for another day.


Sunday Self-Care: On procrastination

I will never understand why I procrastinate. Putting off a difficult task makes sense. Dreading a challenge makes sense. But altogether too often, I put off projects I really want to do, jobs that will make a big impact when they’re completed, or simple tasks that are likely to take half an hour or less.

Sometimes it’s inadvertent: I make a to-do list for my day off, prioritize it, and then get tired or run out of time and carry the lower-priority jobs over to the next week. If they don’t have deadlines, they end up at the bottom of the next week’s list, too, and the cycle starts all over.

After a few weeks of seeing the same unfinished job on my to-do list, I start to feel overwhelmed. The longer it’s on the list, the more Herculean it starts to look.

If there is an up side to this phenomenon, it’s the exquisite sense of relief I feel when I finally finish the project I’ve been delaying.

I had that feeling this weekend.

About 15 years ago, Ron commissioned a replica of one of the neon swallows that hang above the garages at the Blue Swallow Motel. When we moved here, I had to keep it in storage, because I didn’t have a good way to keep Walter from knocking it down.

Several months ago, I found a vinyl channel that would mount to the wall and keep the cord from dangling and turning my beautiful swallow into a cat toy. All I needed to do was paint it, install it, and hang up the sign.

As usual, one thing led to another, and the neon installation drifted to the bottom of the to-do list until Friday, when I finally got a hand free and forced myself to do the job.

Hello, old friend. I've missed you terribly.
Hello, old friend. I’ve missed you terribly.

It took longer to unpack the swallow than it did to install it.

This piece was the literal light of my life in Belleville, where I’d turn it on and look at its soft argon glow whenever I was depressed and needed a break but couldn’t quite manage a 14-hour road trip to Tucumcari. I denied myself access to that soothing blue light for three months longer than necessary, and I have no idea why.

Lighting the darkness.
Lighting the darkness.

If you’re feeling out of sorts, try turning your to-do list upside-down just long enough to complete that task you’ve been deferring for weeks. I suspect you’ll find the sense of relief and accomplishment that follows will lighten your mood as surely as a neon sign lights up a dark wall.


Make-It Monday: Free cord concealer

As part of my redecorating project this summer, I got rid of the rickety, cheap-looking vertical shelf that had been supporting my turntable and DVD player and replaced it with an open-front credenza fashioned from a storage-cube unit and a set of mid-century-style legs. I love the credenza — which looks sleek, provides a lot of storage, and goes well with the rest of the furniture — but because it’s much shorter than the shelf it replaced, the cords for the television and peripherals were visible, and they looked anything but sleek.

See that f'ugly mess?
See that f’ugly mess?

You can get fabric cases for cords, but they don’t always match the walls. I wanted something I could paint the exact same color as the wall. I looked at some of the rigid PVC cord hiders at the hardware store, but they seemed unduly expensive, and they were all designed to mount flat against the wall, which wouldn’t work well with our swivel-mounted TV. I needed something lighter and more flexible but still paintable.

Enter the humble wrapping-paper tube.

Cardboard tubes are big enough to hold several fairly thick cords, and they’re lightweight enough that you can cut them with scissors and fold or twist them as the situation warrants. Perhaps best of all, they’re free. Here’s how to turn one into a cord concealer in about 10 minutes.

Slit the tube.
Slit the tube.

1. Use scissors or a sharp knife to slit it all the way up one side and trim it to the length you need.

It's OK if it tears a little bit. That's why God made Scotch tape.
It’s OK if it tears a little bit. That’s why God made Scotch tape.

2. Use leftover wall paint to cover the entire outside of the tube, the ends, the edges of the slit, and a few inches up the inside. (Note: You do NOT need to be very neat about that inside part.)

That's a tomato-stake tie. Handiest stuff this side of duct tape.
That’s a tomato-stake tie. Handiest stuff this side of duct tape.

4. Bundle the cords together and use twist ties, Velcro strips, tape, or string to secure them in a couple of places.

Much neater.
Much neater.

5. Once the paint dries, slip the tube over the cords with the slit pointed toward the back. If necessary, secure it with a little transparent tape.

Free, easy, and it took me less than 15 minutes of actual work to create and install mine.


Make-it Monday: Safety feature

This isn’t so much a “make-it” project as a “buy-it-and-install-it” project, but it was cheap, quick and might save us a few bucks on vet bills and insurance deductibles, so I thought I’d post it anyway.

Several months ago, Ron hit a slippery spot after a rainstorm and fell on the steps leading from our deck to the backyard, earning himself a nasty bruise in the process.

He wasn’t the only one who found treated lumber just a little too slick to negotiate safely after a rain; during a particularly wet period this summer, we noticed our aging collie mix, Songdog, stepping gingerly and occasionally slipping, so the next time I was at the hardware store, I picked up some tread tape and a package of tacks and set about making the steps a little safer for my boys.

The finished project would have looked a little neater if I’d cut the strips to length instead of tearing them, but I didn’t want to dull my scissors cutting tape with the texture of sandpaper. If you’re particular about such things, you could probably use a utility knife with a disposable blade to make a neater edge.

Riggy wasn’t impressed (lacking eyes, he navigates the world with his nose, ears and paws, and he doesn’t like it when familiar paths suddenly feel unfamiliar under his feet), but I’m sure we’re all safer, and even if he refuses to set a paw on the strips, they slow him down and force him to think about what he’s doing, so he’ll be less likely to slip when he comes charging in for dinner or cookie time.

You can buy narrow tread tape for about $1 a foot at most hardware stores; wider tape will run you a little more. I think the stuff I used was about two inches wide and came with a self-adhesive backing that I spent about 15 minutes reinforcing with tacks just to be sure it stayed put. Cheap, easy project, and one I highly recommend if you’ve got outdoor steps that are prone to get a little slippery in wet weather.