Category Archives: Uncategorized

Getting in the mood

Our bathroom remodel has incrementally gone from a minor makeover, to a major job, and I haven’t even started it yet. It’s almost like our bathroom heard about all the work I did in the upstairs bathroom, and wanted to get in on the action.

At least the upstairs bathroom had the decency to wait until I was underway before it started throwing curved balls at me. Like a sibling who feels s/he has been shortchanged, the downstairs bathroom is being downright pushy and demanding in comparison.

The first step beyond the quick fix I planned was when we discovered the leaking tile problem in the shower.

Then we decided to replace the stupid tiny shallow bath with a shower enclosure.

And then this week, the beloved managed to drop the tank lid of the toilet and break it. Oops.

How did he manage to do that? Well the filler part of the toilet sometimes sticks, and you have to take the tank lid off and give it a bit of a tug to get it filling again. And …

So now, instead of replacing the guts of the toilet tank, we are in the market for a new toilet as well.

And what did I do when the beloved rather sheepishly confessed he had broken the toilet? I kissed him. Then danced a little happy dance. New toilet! YAY!!!

I had been planning to put down some laminate click lock flooring over the blah vinyl we have in there as a quick and temporary cover-over, but now the bath is coming out, and the toilet is coming out, it is the perfect opportunity to tile the floor at the same time.

Existing vinyl floor. Could be worse, I suppose …

So, we seem to have added floor tile to the list of things happening in our bathroom. Replace toilet, replace bath, new backerboard and tile on the walls, new tile on the floor. Seems like our bathroom is up for a major renovation.

I have been collecting things for our bathroom makeover for a while now. A few months ago I came across a beautiful black marble vessel sink on Craigslist for $50. Bargain. The same place also had faucets/taps incredibly cheap, so I got one of those, too.

Then I found a place that sold off-cuts of marble, quartz etc for countertops at bargain prices, and had a piece of white quartz cut down and edged to fit the top of our existing vanity cabinet. Suddenly we had a modern black and white vibe going on, which immediately suggested an art deco-style bathroom.

My challenge is how to use the tile to bring it all together. There are so many options, and so many possibilities. As we are trying to do this on the lowest budget possible, I am now scouring Craiglist, the salvage yards and any tile sales I come across in an attempt to find the cheapest, and best, tile possible.

It’s great to find something cheap, but it also has to fit with what I have already collected. So, every time come across something that might work, I set up a mood board to see how it might work.

Here are some that I have already put together:

The first one was inspired by some ‘salt and pepper’ granite tiles that I found at the salvage yard. They have a lot of them, so there would be enough to do the shower surround and the floor.

Option 1

The problem with this is that I think the speckle of the granite and the speckle of the quatz countertop will compete with each other and seem busy. I would prefer a more tranquil feel in our bathroom.

Plus they are salvaged tile, which will need the grout scraping off, and not all of them are in great condition. They clearly weren’t removed as gently as the white carerra marble tile I used in our upstairs bathroom.

My second option was to use some white subway tile from a large hardware chain store, then liven them up a little with mosaic accents on the wall and floor.

Option 2

Then I found some glass mosaic tiles that were on sale. I quite like these small tiles, and would pair them with grey marble tile on the floor (also on sale). I tried two options with this. The first has a plain feature wall.

Option 3

And a striped wall. Which I love the idea of, but might be too busy with this tile.

Hmmm … I like all of these options, and they are all perfectly do-able. None of them are really getting me excited enough to get going with them. What do you think?

In the meantime, my latest craigslist crawl has turned up some white glass subway tile on close-out special. Looks like another mood board might be in order.


Kidding around

Ah, summer vacation time in the States. It goes on and on. And on. And. On.

What to do with your pre-teen girl (PTG) and teen boy (TB) for those 11 l-o-n-g weeks? Park them in front of the computer/wii/tv? Listen to them whine about how bored they are? Send them to camp? NO!!!

Why not get them into some demolition at home? Oooohhh YEAH!

Exercise, entertainment, team bonding and DIY all rolled into one. P-e-r-f-e-c-t.

It all started a couple of months ago when I began to suspect that the oak floors in our living room and hallway continued underneath the particle board and vinyl tile in the space between the kitchen and the dining area.

I’ve never been really sure what to call that space, it is a dead in-between zone, hovering pointlessly between the hall, kitchen and living area. It’s like a kind of entry area, except that it is in the middle of the house. Weird.

When we bought the house this space was covered with same brick patterned stick on vinyl tile that was in the kitchen.

fake brick … well it could have been worse

The previous owner’s solution to every flooring dilemma: cover it with stick on vinyl tile (SOVT). In an attempt to make it look a bit better, as a temporary solution, I painted over these tiles with epoxy floor paint before we moved in, with some success.

post painting

But my curiosity about the height difference between the tiled area and the hardwood was piqued at about the same time as I investigated underneath the SOVT in the bathroom. The height difference there was not caused by covered over 1950s mosaics like I hoped, but rather by no less than 3 successive layers of SOVT.

My experience in the bathroom discouraged me somewhat: removing the SOVT there led to a epic saga of rotting floors, removing and replacing toilets, tiling and various other bathroomly adventures.

Suffice to say I was a little floor-shy after that. For a while.

But DIY is kind of like childbirth. You either do it once and never ever do it again, or you simply forget how bad it is until you are in the middle of the next herculean battle.

The way the boards seemed to continue straight under the raised floor called to me like a siren song, and soon enough I succumbed and pulled away the trim around the edge. Which confirmed my suspicions: the previous owners had, in fact, laid particle board and SOVT over the top of their beautiful hardwood floors. Really.

I was all for pulling the whole lot out then and there, but the beloved balked. The hall painting had been put off for too long, and I had a paying furniture-stripping job that I needed to get started on.

So I put it on the ‘to do one day’ list and tried to forget about it.

Which I successfully did until I was pondering things I could do with the kids during the vacation. We’ve been to The Exploratorium, and hiked at Montara Beach with the dog. We’ve done jigsaws, and they’ve read a ton of books. We’ve had friends for sleepovers and been on karate camp.

And now here we are in the hump weeks of the vacation. The excitement of no school has long faded, and the beginning of the new school year is still too far away to add that sad frisson of activity that comes as the vacation draws to an end. The kids were listless and too bored to actually know what they wanted to do. Which is the perfect moment for a parent to come up with something that keeps them busy, and distracts them from endlessly baiting one another in an attempt to amuse themselves.

I pondered several possibilities that involved duct tape and trees, but reminded myself firmly that such acts are most likely indictable. Finally I had a light bulb moment: I remembered the floor and figured that they would probably be capable of demolishing it. In fact, chances were it was destructive enough for them actually to enjoy it.

I must admit they weren’t really sold on the idea at the start. I had to issue a parental decree (involving bribery and loss of computer privileges) to stop them complaining and get them started.

Our plan was to remove all the SOVT and particle board back as far as the peninsula bench in the kitchen.

Furniture out and ready to start

First we had to remove all the furniture from the area, which involved unpacking several cabinets and stacking the contents around the living and dining area. This had a whine factor of about 95%. I started to wonder about the wisdom of my decision to involve them.

But once we had started on the demolition, they actually began to enjoy it. After a little instruction on technique, and in spite of wishing that demolition in real life was as easy as it is in MineCraft, TB wielded the crow bar and hammer like a pro, and PTG collected pieces of particle board and SOVT and relayed them down to the rubbish pile under the deck.

About an hour and half in we were making good progress:

Look at those boards! Why would you cover them up?

The boards did indeed continue under the floor, and in spite of a ‘tan line’ between the newly refinished boards and the old ones under the particle board, things were looking exciting.

tan line between newly refinished boards and old hidden boards

And then the phone rang. It was the beloved calling to let me know that a business colleague who was visiting from Australia was coming to dinner that night. He would be arriving home with the beloved in approximately 1.5 hour’s time.


Given his earlier edict about NOT pulling the floor up in the dead zone to see if there was hardwood underneath, I had kind-of-not-mentioned to the beloved that it was what I was planning to do with the kids that day.

We thought we would get it done and surprise him with it.

‘What are we going to do?’ the kids gasped.

‘We’ll be fine. The only thing we really can do is keep going.’ I replied.

And then quietly muttered under my breath, ‘And hope that it is all done by the time he arrives’.

By this stage both kids were well and truly invested in the task, and we all redoubled our efforts. Cheers rang out once all the particle board was gone, and then we set to work cleaning the floor and pulling out all the left-over nails.

Board and SOVT gone, now for the nails

Then we gave it a final sweep, and washed it. And Roxy gave it the ball test.

Floor passes the ball test

We were hot, grubby, tired and sweaty, but we couldn’t stop quite yet. First we had to replace the furniture that was stacked everywhere, and return everything to rights as if nothing had happened.

Finally we were done, and we staggered off to shower and freshen up. I was just returning upstairs after my shower when I heard the beloved walk in the door, swiftly followed by a loud ‘Wow!’ Mission accomplished.

And it does look pretty wow. And will look even more wow when I refinish the boards at some point.

The one disappointment? The boards stopped short of the kitchen, so now we have a strange ply patch that I will need to rectify. Luckily our local salvage yard has recently obtained a quantity of the same top-nailed oak boards from a house they demolished. So I suspect it will involve a few of them.

Are we going to continue them into the kitchen? Not for now. As the kitchen will be completely replaced at some point, possibly relocated and definitely rearranged, it makes more sense to leave it as it is, and not expend effort needlessly.

As for the kids, I am extremely proud of them. I might make remodelers out of them yet.

So, I can heartily recommend DIY as a summer vacation activity for your kids. Cheaper than camp with the added bonus of something crossed off your to-do list. Plus they actually enjoyed it.

Best of all, though, is seeing their sense of achievement. That satisfaction of knowing they pushed through and got it done.

That, as they say, is priceless.

Laying it all out.

We have recently had what amounts to a master bedroom reality check.

It came in two parts. Up until now, what to do with our master bedroom and bathroom has been in an amorphous ‘We’ll have to figure that out some day’ state of flux. We can’t afford a major remodel for a while yet, and the master suite has been through various potential metamorphoses like moving it upstairs, or sideways, or any other number of possibilities.

And then our lovely realtor Samira came to dinner, and listened patiently while we tossed one wild house scheme after another at her, to gauge her response.

She heard us out, enthused over our various ideas, and then held her hand up. ‘These are all fantastic possibilities,’ she said, ‘but what you have to remember is that you are remodelling a small house in Belmont, not a mansion in Atherton.’

Ooooohhkaaay. Gotcha. Work to make the best of what we have, minimize structural changes, and basically: KISS. Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. Wise words.

No grand schemes and over the top visions of what might be, then: we figure out how to make what we have work better and look prettier. Master Bedroom Reality Check Part One: it stays where it is.

Which brings me to Master Bedroom Reality Check Part Two. Actually, this emerges from the dismal truth that our bathroom has developed a serious case of leaking tile behind the shower.

Uh oh, leaking shower problem

And not just ‘we need to replace the grout and caulk’ kind of leaking, ‘disastrous soggy drywall and nasty damp smell’ kind of leaking. The kind where the wall moves when you push on it, and the existing tiles hang trembling by shreds of remaining thinset. Eeeesh.

Ewwww … and eeeesssshhh

While we were hoping to able to put off doing anything to the Master bedroom and bathroom until we could afford to do the whole thing at once, this leak (and the soggy drywall behind it) means we have to do something about the bathroom, pronto.

Before the dreaded black mold starts to grow, and/or the frame of our house starts rotting.

The downside of having to do this now is that I will be ripping out drywall and tile, and redoing things that possibly might have to be done again once we do the big master suite remodel. Which is highly annoying and potentially very wasteful.

Somehow, I can’t quite bring myself to do that. Suddenly, the final layout of our master suite has become a matter of urgency. We need to figure out a workable layout for the awkward space that is our master bedroom and bathroom to make our ‘in the meantime’ repairs fit within our longer term plans. Which is Master Bedroom Reality Check Part Two.

Before I get into exactly how we might do that, I thought you might appreciate a small reminder of what the master bedroom looked like when we bought the house.

Before: Gotta love those mirror tiles on the wall.

And not forgetting the autumnal-toned floral wallpaper

One of the things I did before we moved in was to remove the mirror tile and wallpaper, and patch and paint the walls.

After painting

Then we moved in, and apart from hanging clothes in the closet and some art on the walls, not much else has happened. And that is the way it was going to stay until our major upgrade.

However, the failing tile in the bathroom, and wishing to avoid doing, then redoing, the tile in the bathroom, has meant that our final plans for the master suite needed clarification.

I recently posted about finding Homeplanner to use to play with layouts for your remodeling projects (check out the floor plans above). While it is a fantastic tool, it only actually allows you to have 1 project and 3 saves before you have to start paying for it.

Which limits what you can do. Especially if you have a ‘what if I … ?’ brain like me. And you are a cheapskate. Like me.

Since then, I have discovered a completely free online design tool called Autodesk Homestyler (check it out here) that allows you unlimited saves. It pays its way by using particular branded products for its doors, windows, furniture, etc, which is a little limiting, if you are using it as an end-use plan you can print out and hand to your contractor.

As my contractor is me, this makes it the perfect tool for my use. I can manipulate the floor plan to my heart’s content: try things out, figure out the flow, and whether there is enough room to do something. Muck around with different options, without worrying about the final details. Because you know whatever windows, or vanities, or doors I use, they are coming from 2 potential sources: Craigslist or a Salvage yard. What I need is flexibility to try out ideas, not a final solution. For me, Homestyler is p-e-r-f-e-c-t. Lovely.

So I have been tooling around in Homestyler figuring out what to do.

I started by making a plan of our existing layout. Here it is:

Current layout of bedroom, bathroom and office

Pretty crazy, huh? Another one of those funky asymmetric spaces that are a feature of this house.

The beloved’s office is B.A.D. Totally landlocked between our bedroom, bathroom and the family room. No external windows. This is what it looked like before we moved in:

Office before

I wont show you what it looks like now. Just imagine the beloved’s desk and multiple monitors and piles of stuff work everywhere.

Suffice to say it is one of those ‘what a great idea, let’s stick a wall here and we can make an office’ kind of rooms, which are actually pretty dire in design terms. And even worse in reality.

Fortunately we have room in the basement, and our next major house project will be converting it into an office and laundry room. More on that as it happens.

So, the beloved’s office is going, and that space can become part of our Master suite.

Which is just as well, as our bedroom is TINY. Literally a Bed Room. A room with a bed in it. Period.

Admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that we have an enormous bed. We were so relieved when it actually fit in the room when we moved in. Here is the bedroom as it currently is:

It’s actually really hard to take photos of, as there is no room in there. At all.

A priority for us is more room in the bedroom. We take it as given some walls will be moved around. Luckily none of the ones we might move are load-bearing. It will be a matter of some lumber for framing and a bit of drywall. Worth the effort for an improved space.

Our first major decision was to leave the bathroom where it is. Keeping the plumbing in the same location is a huge saving cost-wise.  We also decided to get rid of the bath, and replace it with a shower enclosure. The bath is small, shallow and nasty. The only possible reaction to thinking about taking a bath in it is to shudder. Dramatically. With distaste. Call me fussy, but sitting in a puddle of a bath with your freezing knees tucked up next your ears just isn’t appealing somehow.

The best thing about getting rid of it is it frees up some space. Believe me, in our minute bathroom any space we can claw back is a bonus.

Plus, and here I kick my toes in the dirt and look embarrassed, we actually already bought a replacement shower enclosure. Yesterday. BEFORE I did any planning. Ahem. What can I say? Craigslist find. Total, absolute and utter bargain. Now we have to plan around it.

So, the bathroom staying where it is, less the bath, is a given. The rest of the space is up for grabs.

The next consideration was our wish list: Non negotiable was more room for the bed. Somewhere to sit in there would be nice, too. Plus, a walk in closet and a double vanity (if possible).

Tossing those thoughts around in my head lead to this first idea:

First ideas

Move the closet from the Master bedroom into the beloved’s office, and demolish the wall dividing it from the bedroom. Instantly add 3 feet to the bedroom. Make  a walk-in closet, and a separate closet or shelves in the office, following the line of the bedroom wall to disguise the diagonal wall.

Move the bed across, get rid of the wall between the bedroom and the office, remove the too-narrow-to-be-of-any-use stupid linen closet, and move the bathroom door so it opens off the bedroom.

This layout is a no brainer. It makes the most of what we already have, with minimal changes to walls.

And then my ‘what if I … ?’ brain kicked in.  Because having a walk-in closet AND an extra separate closet is really not such a brilliant idea. With a few minor tweaks, you could have ONE walk in closet in that space.

Then I came up with this one:

The next plan …

Much better. By notching the wall in (dog-legging it) the bathroom around where the linen closet is now, it opens the bedroom space up more. The minus here is that this move means our new shower enclosure wont work in this layout.

But it gives us LOTS of storage room in the larger walk in closet.

I decided to put the bathroom door back where it currently is, so you can walk straight from the bathroom into the walk in closet to get dressed.

Only, then I thought: in this plan, our closet is bigger than our bathroom. So what if I moved the entry door a little to the right, making the closet smaller and the bathroom larger. And this plan emerged:

My favorite …

This plan has the added bonus of being able to fit a double vanity in the bathroom. And by moving the wall next to the shower across, we can keep the shower enclosure we bought yesterday. Oh yeah!

There is more structural impact in this plan, with more wall moving, but on balance I think it could be worth it.

Then I showed all my plans to the beloved, including my favorite. Which he looked at and said that he didn’t like the dog-leg bathroom, and this was what he had in mind:

The beloved’s plan for the master suite

Hmmm. Trouble in paradise.

I get that this would give us the maximum space in our bedroom, and given how tight it is in there now, I can totally understand the impulse to not close anything in. But it is the quality of that space that concerns me.

I think his plan gives us this kinky-wall asymmetric dead space in front of the closet, for the sake of gaining more bedroom space.

Which I really don’t like. Our bedroom would be one weird multi-facetted space, with angles and pockets, and strange spaces you can’t use. What is worse is that the ceiling is multi-layered, too, with lower bits for the ducts for the HVAC upstairs. Check out the crazy ceiling in the current office:

HVAC duct work makes for crazy ceilings

So if we went with his idea we would have crazy walls and a crazy ceiling. Ugh. Not exactly restful on the eye.

Besides, I think my dog-leg wont read like a dog-leg when you walk through the space, because it is matched with a dog-leg in the closet on the opposite side. It will read like the bedroom space opening up as you enter it.  Into the hall, room opens to the bedroom, then widens further. Giving the illusion of more space.

He doesn’t like how my plan means entering the bedroom up a hallway. I don’t like that his plan gives us LESS usable closet space than we currently have.

Our closet is already as crammed as possible.  Only a man would think you could make do with LESS closet space. And someone (who is not me) in this relationship tends to hoard things … just sayin’. Not really sure how he we would manage with less.

You get the picture? It just goes to show what a tricky space we have to work with.

What we HAVE agreed on is that we perhaps haven’t struck the perfect plan, yet. And that we should defer any decisions until his office is moved.

Then we I will take out the wall between the bedroom and the office space.  It will be quick and messy, but totally worth it.

We can live in the opened out space, and theoretically what to do will become clear.

I am sure he secretly thinks that once I see it opened out, it will convert me to wanting the maximum space possible, and come around to his plan. Bless him.

I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will say it again: men are experiential learners.  I know that once we take that wall out, he will realize what a mess the space will be with all the corners and angles and pockets and wasted space, and uppy and downy bits of ceiling, and he will opt for my cleaner-lined design.

Besides, there is one really important fact-ette in my favor that hasn’t occurred to him, yet. A thing that will dawn on him sooner or later: he is currently standing directly between a woman and a potential walk in closet.

Once he realizes that he will know he has no hope.

Until then I will stand back, and let him think about it. And I will think about it, too.  Eventually one of us will come up with a plan that we can both live with. I am hoping we wont have to resort to taping sheets in the space to represent walls. But if we have to go there, we will.

The good news is that I know that – whatever we decide to ultimately do with our bedroom – what I am about to do with the bathroom won’t go to waste.

Which is a huge relief. And for the moment, that is all that really matters.

Left on the shelf

Last time, I posted I promised to reveal how I made the picture shelves for the stairs. And I am sure you have all been sitting there waiting to know how to do it. For. 3. Weeks.

3 weeks without posting. Phew!

So, where have I been? In Australia, working hard on a top-secret extra-special project, about which I shall ‘tell all’ in a coming post.

Now I am back again, and almost over the jet lag, I can tell you how to make picture shelves. They are remarkably easy, quick and cheap to make, and require almost no carpentry skills.

So much so, that you will wonder why you ever actually bought any, particularly as you can make them exactly the right size for your space, and not be dependent on the sizes the stores think you need.

But first an acknowledgement: my picture shelves are based on the plan and fantastic instructions provided by Ana White, on her website here.

Plan for Ana White’s picture ledges. Image source.

Her plans require no cutting at all, so are ultra basic. And perfect if you are happy with an 8 foot run of 4 inch wide picture shelves.

I, however, wanted something different and modified her design for three reasons.

Firstly, I had some lumber left behind by the previous owners that I wanted to use up. Free lumber is the best sort of lumber, right?

Secondly, I wanted to be able to cut mine to size, to create an interesting layout for our stairs.

And thirdly, I wanted to make them narrower than hers, not just because that was the size of my free lumber, but also because our stairs are not very wide, and I did not want us catching parts of our anatomy on them as we went up and down.

The shelves are made of 3 parts: a base, a back and a front. The base and back are made of wider boards, and the front is narrower trim, that stops the pictures from falling off.

My plan was to use my freebie lumber for the base and back, and I bought some trim for the front.

Freebie lumber and bought trim

The first task was to work out the layout of my shelves.  This would determine what size I should make them. For this, I needed to know the available wall space.

In this case it was the ‘triangle’ made by the stair wall and the hand rail.

Location for my picture shelves: above the stair rail.

I drew this triangle to scale on a piece of paper. And played around with different sizes and layouts until I found one that I liked.

The plan

Once I had done this, I had the dimensions I needed. That was when I realized I didn’t have quite enough lumber to do what I planned, and so modified the layout slightly. This is, of course, the other reason for making a plan.

Then I set to work, measuring and cutting.

Remember: measure twice and cut once. Use a square to make sure your cuts are nice and straight, and then everything will fit together perfectly.

Use a square to make sure your cuts are straight

For each shelf you will need two pieces of the wider lumber, and 1 piece of trim.

Shelves cut to size

The shelves are joined using simple butt joins, which are very easy to accomplish. Here is a dry run of my shelves before sanding or joining.

Do a dry run to make sure you have measured everything correctly

Next sand the shelves, and then you can join them.

Join your two wider pieces of lumber first. Run a bead of glue along one edge.

Then clamp the two pieces together in an ‘L’ shape. I placed this over the corner of my work bench, then drilled

drilling holes for the screws prevents the wood from splitting

And screwed the pieces together.

After the two pieces were screwed

The trim on the front I nailed in place using brads (small thin nails). I hammered them through the trim first, so they were just poking out the other side. This allowed me to more easily position the trim before hammering home the nails.

Pre-nailing the brads

Then it was a simple matter of lining up the trim, and hammering them in.

And voila, you have a picture shelf.

Finished shelf. Don’t forget to wipe off the excess glue!

You can punch the nails and fill the holes, if you want, but because it is fairly dark in our stairwell, I didn’t bother. If they were in a more brightly lit space, I would definitely have done this, as it gives a more professional-looking finish.

repeat until all done

Next up, you need to paint them. I used some of the matt black spray paint that I had left over from the bathroom cabinet and wall shelves.

Make sure you spray paint outside on a non-windy day. Those fumes are nasty.

Once they were dry, it was a simple matter of attaching them to the wall using stud solvers. These allow you to screw into dry wall, without the need to find a stud. They will hold up to 50lbs, which is fine for these shelves. I have written previously about using stud solvers, here.

And installed. Note that I deviated from my original layout, slightly.

My plan is to eventually find matching picture frames to put on them, plus the beloved and I are going to go through and chose some photos to use. I will update you on that once it happens. In the meantime, I loaded them up with the existing photos we already had framed.

After: completed picture shelves

The only thing I had to buy for these shelves was the trim, so they cost me around $8.00. And they took me all of 2 hours to make, from start to finish.

Less time than it would have taken to drive to Ikea or Target to buy some that wouldn’t have fitted my space nearly as well.

Less time, less money. Better fit. Perfect.


Our hall is dark and narrow. As an introduction to our home, it is less than inspiring. At a touch over 3 feet wide, it is definitely a one-person space.

One person and maybe the dog, if she is feeling pushy.

So when people come over, it becomes an elegant dance, sashaying back down the hallway, to allow them to enter our home single file.

The hall when we first bought the house

What to do with a small dark space is an eternal design dilemma. Conventional wisdom says that if you paint a small space a light color, then it will seem larger, but I beg to differ. Painting a space as narrow and dark as our entry hall something pale and dull does nothing for it.

In fact, it only acts to emphasize exactly how small and dark it is. Small. Dark. And dull.

The previous owners attempted to get around this problem by coating the hall with wallpaper and mirrored wall tile. Remember?

Delicious mirror tile (not)

And equally delicious wallpaper (equally not)

Which were the first things to go when we got the keys to the house.

Stripping wallpaper

And removing mirror tile

My solution is somewhat different. The hall will never be anything but dark and narrow, so why not go with that and paint it a lovely luminous rich color? This will not ‘shrink’ the space, but rather gives it personality and presence.

Consequently, this last week I have been painting the hall the lovely rich blue that is on our lounge accent wall, and also on the kitchen cabinets. Benjamin Moore Newburyport Blue.

I started out by cutting in.

Which was fine until I got around to the space above the stairwell. I couldn’t reach this from any ladder we had, so I at first attempted to use the paint edger I had used for the high spots in the garage.

Because the ceiling is so heavily textured, though, getting a straight line was impossible. It resulted in a wibbly wobbly line that looked like it had been painted by someone crazed AND drunk. I didn’t take any photos, mainly because I found it altogether too depressing.

There are also no photos because it took all of 5 seconds before I panicked at how dreadful it looked and concluded the only possible solution was to paint the ceiling the same color.

Which I promptly did.

Hall with dark ceiling

Ugh. I hate dark ceilings. Unless your ceilings are gloriously high, they just feel oppressive.

I lived with those ceilings for a whole 3 days before I started to paint them light again.

The solution? I placed 2 sturdy planks of wood across the balustrades above the stairwell. And climbed up on them, so I could reach the top.

Putting 2 planks across the balustrade at the top of the stairs

Which worked fabulously if you discount the fact that I have an abject fear of heights.

Just dont look down

Actually, my terror of heights was the reason it took me 3 days to begin re-paint the ceiling. It was not a paint dilemma at all, as soon as I had painted it dark, I knew I had to change it back. And pretty soon after that I had worked out the plank solution.

No, the 3 day break was how long it took for me to pluck up the courage to actually stand on those planks and do the cutting in. For a time, it was a toss up as to which would win: my offended color sensibilities or my fear.

In the end the paint issue won out. And I put my big girl pants on, climbed up there and did the deed.

All the while chanting to myself don’t look down, don’t look down. The things I do in the name of remodelling.

I was also debating what color to paint it. I always remember the most fabulous house we visited here in the Bay Area, which had a silver-leafed ceiling. It was spectacular.

No I didn’t silver leaf it, but I decided mix some of the silver glaze I found for cheap on the mis-tint stand at the paint store with some other paint to come up with a subtle silver ceiling. The three candidates for mixing were: the original ceiling paint (the painters had left some behind from the pre-sale painting of the house); Benjamin Moore Glass Slipper (our main living room color) and Benjamin Moore White Dove (the white I used in the studio).

Which mix to use?

I went with the Glass Slipper/Silver glaze combo. It is the most beautiful subtle silvery blue. Exquisite.

So once the ceiling was painted I was ready to hang some art.

The other solution to the dark and narrow hallway dilemma is to hang art that has a lot of fine detail. You will be up close and personal with these works, so use that to your advantage, and hang work accordingly.

Great big abstracts are not appropriate here, rather small things, with lots of fine brushwork.

One of the paintings the beloved brought to our combined collection, this painting of the Standing Stones by British painter G Hillier was perfect.

G Hillier ‘Standing Stones’ 1984

You can see that he has carefully painted each strand of grass, and the texture on the stones is superb.

And my dear friend and fellow artist, Helen Earl’s beautiful sea spoons.

Helen Earl ‘Sea Spoon’ and ‘Coral Spoon’

Helen Earl ‘Coral Spoon’ detail

If you are lucky enough to live in Sydney, you can find Helen’s work at Gaffa Gallery.

Plus this little print, with its gold detailing that we picked up at a gallery at some point. And I am ashamed to admit I cant remember who the artist was. It’s perfect in the hall, though.

The painting I made for Peter not long after we met, with its text and gold detailing.

One of my earlier paintings

And this collage of mine, with its gold accents worked perfectly in the space.

Are you starting to notice the common thread here?


Yes gold. Not a color that I have used much in interiors before, being more likely to gag and pretend to vomit at the thought. Gold taps ‘blech’ gold fixtures and fittings ‘blech, blech and BLECH!!!’

But here I am introducing gold into our hall.

Why? Well because of our glorious original door bell.

Original door bell before

Door bell after

Which makes a beautiful, classic ‘ding dong’ noise. I love it.

And when I was at the salvage yard the other day I found a light fitting to replace the ugly one in the hall.

Hall light before

Hall light after. Salvage yard find light fitting.

And it was … gold. I brought it home intending to spray paint it a much more tasteful silver/chrome color, but as soon as I put it next to the door bell, I knew it was going to stay exactly as it was.

The beloved worked his electrical magic, and now it looks wonderful.

New light fixture with door bell.

Plus gold looks so darned fantastic up against that dark mystical blue.

Check out our wonderful original light switches. Dont they look fantastic now?

Light switch before

Light switch after

At the end of the hall, to draw your eye away from its smallness and narrowness, I hung the moody seascape I painted after watching a tropical storm scoot our way over the ocean while in far north Queensland.

And swapped the horrid light fitting, for an ‘in the meantime’ Ikea one. I am planning to make something sculptural for this space.

Going down the stairs, another drawing of mine on one side.

For the other side I made and hung some picture shelves, for photos of our lovely family. They are amazingly easy to make, even with zero carpentry skills. The picture shelves I mean, not the family. Although I guess they took zero carpentry skills to make, too.

I’ll show you how to make the picture shelves next post.

This isn’t the final picture layout, I actually have better, more cohesive frames. The beloved and I have to sit down and go through our photo selection, and decide which ones we will feature, before we get the final plan implemented.

And there you have it, our hallway is done. And here are some before and afters for you:




After (with Treadwell)


After (with Roxy)

And with the hall and stairs done, the upstairs is done for the meantime. Kind of. Done enough for now.

Coming up soon: how to make those picture shelves, plus some house tour shots of the upstairs, because I recently realized that you haven’t seen the living room yet. Or the Dear Daughter’s bedroom.

Then the downstairs awaits …

As featured …

Ikea hacked wall storage boxes!

I am so excited to let you all know that the tutorial for my Ikea hack wall storage boxes is now featured on the Ikea Hackers website:

You can view it by clicking here.

Throwing in the towel

What do you do with a towel rail that keeps throwing in the towel?

One of the two towel rails we had in the upstairs bathroom was a collapso-maniac. You just had to walk past it for it to fall off the wall. You didn’t even need to touch it for it to let go and succumb to gravity. Sometimes it just spontaneously fell, because it felt like it, in an ongoing mini re-enactment of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.*

Yves Klein. ‘Leap into the Void’ 1960. Image source.

My days were filled with a constant round of put it back up/hear it clatter down/back up/clatter down up down up down up down AARRRRRGH

Plus, I always found it slightly disturbing that other rail was right next to the toilet. The towel on it hung directly over the toilet paper/bath tissue, so that you had to move it out the way when you needed to.

Old rail directly next to the toilet. Errrk.

I am so far away from being a germ-o-phobe normally. If you are ever in need of an immune system boost I recommend a visit to our house while I am in the middle of a big project, but I found the position of that towel rail really eeeeewwww.

You can imagine I was pretty keen to figure something out that solved both of these irritations.

I have always liked the idea of using a ladder to hang towels in the bathroom.

West Elm ladder as towel rail. Image source.

There is something satisfying about re-using things in unexpected places (even though the ladder to towel rail idea is far from new), I like the mental jolt it gives, a sort of wake-up tonic for the brain. They are also very practical: you can hang multiple towels in one place, which would be ideal for our space-challenged bathroom.

At first I thought of finding a metal ladder and somehow attaching it to the wall, but there were none on Craigslist, or at my local salvage yard and the new ones were prohibitively expensive.

I would love one of those heated metal ones.

Beautiful heated ladder-style towel rail. Image source.

But, that would need wiring, and besides we cant afford one on our current budget. One day …

A ladder is a pretty simple shape to make, you just need some wood for the rails, a hole saw or spade bit attachment for your drill, and some sort of round tube shape (like dowel or pipe) to make the rungs.

I have been spending quite a lot of my time in the plumbing aisle at the hardware store lately, and I soon thought of the lengths of galvanized pipe and fittings that I saw last time I was there. They come in various different diameters and lengths, and they have threaded ends so you can attach various fittings.

Galv. pipe and pipe ends. Lovely.

With end caps screwed on, they would make the p-e-r-f-e-c-t industrial-esque rungs.

Off I hurried to the hardware store and returned home with a piece of 24 x 48 inch ply (to act as a backing), five 24 inch pipes (rungs), 10 end caps and a couple of bits of wood (side rails).

I was ready to get to work.

First of all I cut my two bits of wood to length.

The ply was already the exact size I wanted, so that was easy.

Then I laid everything out and played with how wide apart to put the rails, and the spacing of the rungs; figuring out how much room I wanted to leave at the top and the bottom.

playing with the spacing

Then it was time to drill the holes in the bits of wood. I carefully measured and marked the location of the holes on one plank, and then lined the other one up next to it, and transferred the measurements across.

Measuring and matching the hole locations

I did this, rather than measuring the second bit of wood because a) it saves time, b) I have a measuring impediment and it made it less likely that I would make a mistake, and c) I would be sure that my holes were lined up on both boards when I came to attach them to the ply backing board.

Next up, I added a spade bit to my drill. Before you start drilling, a word of warning. The diameter of pipe is an INTERNAL measurement. If you have ½ inch pipe (like I did), do not use a ½ inch spade bit. Your hole will be too big. Then your rungs will be loose, and will slip and slide about as you hang your towels. We can all imagine how annoying that would be.

Luckily, I experimented with a couple of different bits on a scrap bit of wood until I found a good snug fit for the pipe. For my ½ inch pipe I used a 22mm bit (one I brought with me from Australia, clearly). This is about 7/8 of an inch.

I drilled my holes.

hole making in progress

Next I needed to attach the rails to the backing board. First I measured and marked the location of the rails on the back of the ply sheet.

Drilling guide for screws on the back of the ply sheet

Then, I glued the rails.

Wood glue on

And then clamped the glued bits of wood to the ply. After this I flipped the whole thing over and screwed them into place from the back, using my marks as a guide for the screws.

clamping and screwing

I waited for the glue to dry and then got ready to stain the whole thing a nice dark blue-grey.

I decided to go with a stain, rather than metal panels and rivets, like I did on the vanity and my wall boxes, because I thought it would be a bit over the top to have yet another metallic element in there.

I used fabric dye to get the color I wanted. Yes you can use fabric dye to stain wood. Any color you want.

Using fabric dye to color wood

Simply mix the dye with boiling water in a container (you never want to use this for food afterwards, so use something that doesn’t matter).

And then apply with a brush.

Post dyeing

I waited for it to dry, then gave it 3 coats of matt spray polyurethane.

Now I was ready to attach my rails to the wall.

I measured out where my screw holes were going to be. And used my trusty stud solvers to attach the frame to the wall. There was no way that this baby was going to throw itself off the wall.

Then it was simply a matter of inserting the rods, and screwing in the ends.

One pipe in

5 pipes in

Love those pipe ends

Excitedly I hung the new towels that I got at Ross: Dress for Less (which is a clearance store here in the States).

hanging the towels

They are a mismatched bunch of high-end designer towels, and would have cost me 4 times as much as I paid for them, if I bought them at a regular store. I think mixing and matching is way more interesting visually, rather than having everything immaculately matchy matchy. And gentler on the budget, too.

I stuck with grey and white, so even though they are not exactly the same, they are all in the same color family.

Then my industrial-style towel rail was done.

I love it so much, and I am know it will never throw in the towel.

*In case you are disturbed by this image, Klein didn’t really throw himself off a building for this shot, it is a photomontage. Looks effective, though …