Getting Down to Wood in the Kitchen: A Survival Story

Gosh, when you’re trying to DIY twenty million things around your house it’s certainly difficult to find time to actually live your life, let alone blog about all your projects. Terribly bleated, but let’s get into what I was working on last fall, shall we? I started writing this last October, when this was all fresh in my brain…

So, do you remember what my floors looked like when I moved into the house? Most of the house is the beautiful old fir that’s held up well and looks amazing. It was a huge selling point for me when I first toured Berrybrier. The living and dining rooms showcased some of the best floors I’d seen when touring houses.

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The kitchen and bathrooms however at Berrybrier though? Sheet vinyl.

 

Berrybrier Kitchen Before | Land of Laurel

And old decaying sheet vinyl at that! See how it’s all torn up in the corner? Here’s a picture a few weeks after I moved in once my mom and cousin Carla had spent an hour tearing off the wallpaper.

Berrybrier | Kitchen Before

The floors get even worse if you take a closer look. Flaking in places and worn away in others, this clearly had to go. This was clearly a health hazard. Luckily, I was pretty sure these floors weren’t asbestos which would have been a whole different ball game to tackle. By looking at the floors I could tell the first layer of flooring had gone in in the 40s or 50s and the second layer on top of the first looked like 1980s. My educated guess that I’d missed the asbestos era (1960s-1970s) was later confirmed by professional testing at a laboratory. If you’re starting a project like this of your own, start with the testing.

Berrybrier | Decaying Vinyl Floors.jpgThe first couple of weeks I had the house I debated what to do. Install sheet linoleum over the sheet vinyl? Install linoleum click flooring over the sheet vinyl? Some people were even rooting heavily for peel and stick vinyl tiles. I try to minimize my exposure to vinyl as it’s a fairly toxic product during all life stages: production, installed, and recycled/trashed. Plus vinyl has some nasty off gassing issues. Basically, I really wanted to avoid vinyl. Linoleum can be expensive, however, and I personally find it difficult to clean vinyl and linoleum since they are softer surfaces. Would linoleum be a good alternative in someone else’s home? Absolutely. I just wanted something else in this kitchen. I wanted tile or… wood. I wanted the transition between the kitchen and living room (below) to be less awkward!

Berrybrier | Flooring Transition.jpg

I turned to the air intake vent above. Under inspection, this vent when lifted showed wood floors running beneath the vinyl. Wood floors that looked to match the ones throughout the rest of the house… was this too good to be true?!

Being absolutely insane, my natural reaction to discovering original fir floors under layers of vinyl was to feel deeply in my soul that I had to rescue these wood floors. No matter what. They had to be saved; it was what was right for this house. Berrybrier deserved to be restored and I really wanted wood floors. Plus, I figured using existing wood floors had to be cheaper right? I started “planning” my project to save the floors. Let’s just say I went into this project completely naively. Like almost idiotically so. I was running on pure determination and a dream of rustic wood kitchen floors. I thought I’d have the project complete in a weekend. I thought I’d be moving on to the next project in just a few days. Boy, was I so very wrong.

 

My kitchen was functional and decent-ish looking before this project. I’d dressed up one side of the kitchen and I’d bought a used stove for $50 buck from my next door neighbor, Erik. I went out and bought supplies for the first weekend of the kitchen floors mission on a Saturday morning: hazmat suits (such a sexy look), gloves, goggles, air respirators, two hand scrapers in varying sizes, and a lot of plastic to tape off the various doors leading to and from the kitchen. Even though the vinyl wasn’t asbestos, I planned on treating it that way. It was time to transform the kitchen and it had to get uglier before it could get nice.

Berrybrier | Kitchen Function.jpg

My mom was in town to help and we spent the first part of the day taping off the many doors: bedroom door, bathroom door, basement door, stairs door, and the living room opening. That took at least an hour, so it was already past noon when we truly got started, but we had a kill-room worthy of Dexter ready for our plan of attack!

Berrybrier | Mom Hasmat Suit.jpg

We began at the stairs, knocking down that pathetic little banister first (see second picture) and then removing the metal bracing at the stair noses. That was all extremely positive and went very quickly. I was happily surprised to discover there were actual wood stair treads with proper rounded nosing beneath the sheet vinyl! I had been expecting unfinished plywood with flat edges and nosing… That was probably the last happy moment for the next five weeks. But dang, did the site below excite me!

Berrybrier | Stair Noses.jpg

Yes, I said five weeks. Five very long and painful weeks. The floors certainly took longer than a quick weekend. After exposing the stair nosing we spent the rest of that day working slowly with the hand scrapers on the stairs. Progress was extremely slow. Luckily for me, I live next door to another fixer upper! The house next to mine is owned by a contractor working hard on his own big project (and doing a much better and more informed job that I). Erik is kind enough to come over and help me figure out what to do. He must think I am a complete idiot since I always a mess, but still he’s patient enough to lend a hand and point me in the direction of the right tool, which is what he did that first evening.

You guys, there is such a thing as a floor scraper. Somehow, I did not know this. This was a major idiot moment and I am dying a bit inside just remembering it. Erik came over and saw the disaster we’d created and lent me his floor scraper and of course it worked a million times faster than what we were previously doing.

The next day we woke up, fixed our plastic which we’d had to remove to use the bathroom and go to bed, ate a quick breakfast in the dining room turned kitchen, and got to work. Using the floor scraper I was quickly able to remove the entire top layer of sheet vinyl from the floors. Yes, I said top layer. Yes, there was a second layer beneath it. Yes, am cringing as I write this.

Berrybrier | Kitchen Floors.jpg

The second layer of sheet vinyl was much more difficult to remove. The top layer had a thin (and, as we discovered, water based) layer of glue holding it to the lower layer. You could fairly easily pull off this upper layer in strips and sheets. The bottom layer of sheet vinyl was a bitch. A thick layer of black tar based adhesive was holding it to my glorious, original, fir wood floors. In many areas of the kitchen I was able to get the both layers of sheet vinyl off but not the tar adhesive. The floor was still taunting me though, because in a few spots I could get both off exposing the hardwood floors beneath! But, in some I couldn’t remove the bottom layer of sheet vinyl or the adhesive at all.

Berrybrier | Scraping Kitchen Floors.jpgWe picked up the loose bits of vinyl and put it into contractors trash bags in the driveway, taped down huge sheets of black plastic over the still partially tar/vinyl covered floors, and went to bed. Boy, I thought, we made great progress! We’ll be done next weekend for sure! Wrong again!

The next weekend dawned and I woke up at 7 am determined to finish the kitchen. I decided to focus on the area by the bedroom door where I figured I’d be able to get up the sheet vinyl in a few hours. I was wrong… (seeing a trend here?). I worked on that nearly all day and then spent the next day at the tool rental store asking for help with a machine. The tool rental store told me to forget it though. They had nothing that would help remove sheet vinyl and tar based adhesive without destroying the wood floor beneath. In fact, they recommended straight acetone to take up the stubborn tar and remaining vinyl (see that stubborn bit by the sink?).

Berrybrier | Kitchen Floor Part 1.jpg

So, I went to Home Depot and bought acetone. Poured it on the tar and tried scraping and watched it evaporate while doing absolutely nothing to the tar. I’m going to be honest here and let you know how incredibly discouraging this was. I was trying to think of alternate solutions and how I could possibly do something else in the kitchen. Tile? Painted plywood? Something had to be better than this heartbreaking view of tar mastic.

Berrybrier | Tar Mastic.jpg

In my heart though, I knew the original wood floors were the best solution – not the easiest solution, no, but the best one for me, for this house, and for the direction I want to take it. I was determined and ready for the next plan of action. I spent some time googling and found this product at Home Depot. 747 Plus – according to the reviews – basically liquifies tar cutback to the point where you can squeegee it into one spot in the room and scoop it up using absorbent kitty litter. The many reviews were mainly positive. The packaging explicitly stated it was designed to remove tar adhesives. It sounded like a godsend. Like there was light at the end of this tunnel! A wood floor under all this black tar! Spoiler alert: it did not work as advertised. But you’re not surprised are you?

The next weekend (my third in a row dedicated to the kitchen floors). I pulled off all the black plastic covering the floors. This was going to work! I told myself. This is finally the solution! Many of the reviews stated to spray on the 747 Plus and leave for 4-6 hours before trying to scrape. I decided to try this first. I sprayed everything down and left the house to run some errands.

When I returned the tar didn’t look like liquid, but it was shinier on top, almost melted looking. By spreading cat litter and using a handheld scraper I could scrape the shiny, melty layer of the tar off. It was not squeegee type work, it did not come off easily. It was incredibly messy, leaking through the hazmat suit and staining my knees, butt, and arms with tar. Sounds safe right? But the worst part of this? It stunk. It smelled so freaking bad. It was such a strong scent of tar it gave me a powerful headache and the entire house reeked. I left all the windows and doors open to try to air it out.

Berrybrier | Tar Supplies.jpg

Unfortunately, after hours of scraping at the slightly liquidy tar, the floors now looked even worse than when I’d begun that day.  The tar had spread over some of the exposed wood so now everything looked black and depressing. But I wanted to give the 747 Plus another chance. I opened another bottle and followed the directions perfectly, waiting the recommended time between steps. This worked no better. It was a sticky, black, horrific mess. My headache got worse. I made the floors worse! See here how on the picture on the left (from the previous weekend) you can see the wood of the floors but in the picture on the right (after the 747 Plus) the tar actually covers up that whole area too?

I finished what I could and threw in the towel. The tar was everywhere now and I’d gotten it all over the place. I took a bath that night and called my mom on the verge of tears. Luckily, my mom’s response was, “I’ll be back next weekend and we’ll try something else and tackle it together!” Otherwise I would have probably given up completely right then and there. The next weekend, my mom came up and Erik from next door came to the rescue! He brought over two machines: a big round buffer with scraper blades and a drum sander. One of these, he assured me, would save the day.

Berrybrier | Buffer.jpg

First up: the buffer machine. We plugged this guy in and Erik gave me a few minutes tutorial on how to use it. It seemed like with continued pressure in small areas it would scraped up the tar and it looked very, very easy to use. Plus not bending over and scraping would save our backs! Erik left to go work on his own many house projects and I began using the buffer machine. Or should I say, began trying to use the buffer machine. What Erik had made look easy, was in fact, really fucking hard. I literally was not strong enough to use this machine. I would turn it on and the thing would take off across the room, basically dragging me helplessly behind it. It was scary and dangerous and I immediately knew I had no business using that machine.

Not that there was really even much of an option to continue using the machine, because within a few minutes the machine blew a fuse. Yup, the shoddy electrical on the house (which was supposed to be replaced just a few weeks later on the 24th of October) could not handle the load of the buffer machine. My mom and I started trying to figure out if we could go buy and install plywood over the kitchen floors this same weekend.

Erik came back over. Erik saves the day. Again. He decides to run an extension cord from his garage, across his yard, over the fence, past my garage and into my kitchen. “Don’t give up,” he tells us. Erik decides we should try the drum sander on a part of the floor that is less covered in tar. He plugs it in and runs it over a small section a few times. Holy hedgehogs in Hades! IT ACTUALLY EXPOSED WOOD FLOORS!!!

Berrybrier | Drumsander.jpg

At this point, I was basically jumping up and down clapping my hands with glee and my mother was ready to sell me to Erik for a couple of horses and a trading agreement. We found hope! Four weeks of working on the kitchen and there was hope!

Berrybrier | Drumsander Works

Now Erik cautioned against using the drum sander on the super built up areas of tar so we returned to hand scraping what we could and pulling up rogue nails. Luckily it seemed the 747 Plus helped to soften the tar in most areas making it slightly easier to scrape. We worked at it the rest of the day and made decent, but not amazing progress. You can see here the areas I sanded with the drum sander, the areas we scraped, and the areas that were still tar covered.

Berrybrier | Unscraped Scraped Sanded.jpg

Luckily, Erik returned on Sunday and told us to just screw it and use the drum sander on the more built up areas of tar too. We happily accepted his proposal and by the end of Sunday we had this lovely and promising view!!

Berrybrier | Finally Fir Floors.jpg

Then Monday night after I got off work we sanded a little harder on some of the corners and ran the sander over the center again. I am absolutely obsessed with this drum sander by the way. It is SUPER easy to use, really fun, and not super loud or obnoxious. It’s easy to control and gets a hell of a lot done. It’s my new favorite power tool and has a hefty lead over all the other power tools I have had love affairs with.

Anyways, after our second pass things we’re looking even better. It was at this point I realized these floors could look way better than I’d originally thought. A little more work on them and I thought I’d be able to get a pretty stinkin’ close match to the floors in the rest of the house. That makes me unbelievably excited!

Left to do the next weekend (note: this was now the 5th weekend in a row I’d working on these floors) was edging the room and moving to higher grit sandpaper. Erik suggested we purchase a cheap belt sander from Harbor and Freight for this job. I now do everything he says, so of course I did exactly that. The belt sander is smaller and able to get the edges of the rooms, farther beneath the cabinets, and into the corners the belt sander can’t make it. But because there are no perfect endings, this belt sander did not work so well and the tar still wouldn’t come up and grrrr… let’s just all pull our hair out together, okay?

And all of a sudden… I was out of time to work on the floors. It was time for the bathroom to be demo’ed so the electricians could come do their work. The floors were put on pause and left in this mostly okay state… until the end of February. Yes, that’s right folks, I did not have a kitchen from early September 2017 through the first week of March 2018. So before we get back to the bathroom and before I return to this kitchen saga, let me fill you in with all the other things I had on my plate last fall… stay tuned!

 

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Dreaming of the Cabin Life

Lately I’ve had cabins on the mind. I’ve always loved camping and the outdoors and the idea of a little rustic cabin tucked away on some land really excites me! A few years ago my parents almost bought some property in the woods that opened up to a beautiful meadow with a small cabin. They ended up not going through with the sale, but boy, it was gorgeous. Ever since then I’ve had cabins in mind as a future destination for holidays and summer vacations. Some place I could curl up by the fireplace with a big mug of tea and a good book. Some place with lots of land for running around. Some place I could throw out a blanket for a picnic. Some place peaceful and surrounded by nature. In my mind, this cabin looks a little something like this…

The cabin would be nestled somewhere flat surrounded by woods, a bit like this:

Cabin in the Woods | Land of Laurel

But it might be in a wide open meadow surrounded by woods too. Regardless, there will definitely be a nice big porch. Preferably one that wraps around the entire house and has a covered outdoor fireplace, just like this:

Cabin with Porch Fireplace | Land of Laurel

When you came inside, there would be a great big living area with room for tons of family and friends to all hang out together. It would be light and bright with white walls and gorgeous, rustic, wood work, somewhat like this:

Stone Fireplace in Cabin | Land of Laurel

You’d want to curl up by the fireplace for sure! It would be the perfect spot to play a board game or sit and chat. The stone from the fireplace and rustic wood beams would be repeated through out the house. You’d also find them in the kitchen:

Stone with Rustic Wood in the Kitchen | Land of Laurel

The stove and hood would most definitely be carved out like the picture above for a dramatic and rustic look! Obviously a big island is a must! You need a place for big buffets at family dinners as well as a place to sit and much on appetizers while chatting with the chefs! Not to mention – where else would you breakfast?!

That same stone and rustic beams? We’re not done with them yet. They’d absolutely show up again in the bathrooms. Maybe behind a free standing tub for a picture perfect bath:

Stone Wall Behind Tub Bathroom | Land of Laurel

And perhaps in another bathroom, it would become the backsplash at the vanity.

Rustic Stone Backsplash | Land of Laurel

And speaking of bathrooms, there would have to be an outdoor tub for kids to splash in and adults to lounge in at night and look up at the stars.

Outdoor Bathtub | Land of Laurel

And with kids around, there’d have to be a bunk room for big family sleepovers! The room would be chock full of beds to sleep as many people as possible and there would be a great chair or window seat for reading. You’d see the same style of rustic wood work in here again.

Rustic Bunk Room | Land of Laurel

The bunk room would probably have a barn door that was almost always open so the kids could come in and out of the room with ease.

Rustic Barn Door | Land of Laurel

The other bedrooms would be darker and cozy with plenty of wood. At least one of them would have a rustic stone fireplace.

Rustic Wood and Stone Lodge Bedroom Fireplace | Land of Laurel

The other would incorporate more wood work and some Pendleton inspired rugs and blankets. Both rooms would be the perfect place to lay out for a mid-day nap or snuggle up for a long, cold night. The darker feel of the bedrooms would promote sleeping, but also encourage guests to head out into the lighter brighter parts of the house when they woke.

Rustic Bedroom | Land of Laurel

Overall, the entire cabin would be the perfect place to visit, a place for family and friends, a home to retire too. It would be comfortable and rustic, a great retreat, a place to relax. It would encourage slow activities like reading, cooking, board games, hiking, walking, gardening, long baths. The cabin would be a place to escape from modern technology and the stresses of everyday life. The cabin would be like an old wool blanket wrapped around your shoulders. At least that’s what I’m imagining. After all, right now this place only exists in my mind…

What are you daydreaming about? Do you design retreats in your head? Are they cabins? Do you have cabin? What is your favorite design element of cabins? The rustic beams? The stone work?

Sources: exterior, outdoor fireplace, indoor fireplace, kitchen, bathroom tub, bathroom vanity, outdoor tub, bunkroom, barndoor, fireplace bedroom, rustic bedroom 

 

The Moment We’ve All Been Waiting For…

I found new nightstands! Finally. Yup, that took a while. Before I jump into the new, let’s go over this again. You might remember my old nightstands? They were about 16 inches too tall for my bed and belonged to my parents. I’d promised them I would eventually return the side tables and when they bought a new bed for their guest room, I knew it was time. Their new bed is the perfect height for these tall, dark, and handsome guys.

 

Left Nightstand | Land of Laurel

 

I’d been checking craigslist, yard sales, and estate sales for about 8 months now, searching for anything that I could substitute these guys for. I needed something about 20″ – 26″ high and no more than 24″ wide. The width was a major issue, as I truly only have 25″ on either side of my bed. Any nightstand wider than that simply wouldn’t fit in the room. The deeper, the nightstand, the better, as I am lacking in storage. I hoped for something with lots of drawers I could fill up. My love of symmetry demanded there be two identical ones. After months of looking, I finally landed on this somewhat promising looking ad:

 

Craigslist Nightstand Ad | Land of Laurel

 

The nightstands looked functional and the drawer was much needed, plus there were two of them and the price was decent. I didn’t love the color, but I figured I could always paint them green or white or blue. The fact that they only had one drawer, deterred me slightly, but I had yet to find anything else that would come close to fitting in my space. Plus, I could always stick a basket there and fill that up. I figured I might as well give it a try. I emailed the seller to see if he’d take $50 for both of them. He agreed to the price and I met him the next day with cash. When I took a look at the nightstands in person, I was disappointed. His measurements from the ad were completely wrong. The nightstands are 20 inches wide, 14″ deep, and 24.5″ high. It may seem like only a slight difference, but when you’re lacking storage and need incredibly functional nightstands, every inch counts! My plan to paint them would still work, however, the wood finish was in such good shape, I was hesitant to even do that!

 

I turned to the seller and told him that the nightstands were a lot smaller than what I was anticipating and I didn’t want them. He was surprised, but he really wanted to get rid of them. He offered me $40 for both. Now, a normal person would simply have walked away. They didn’t really fit my needs, right? I am not a normal person. This was such a deal! Two solid wood, matching nightstands in great shape with dovetail joints? This isn’t an everyday find. Maybe I’d learn to love them. At $20 each, they were significantly less expensive than anything else I’d see. Most people on craigslist were asking for $200 per nightstand. Way out of my budget. So what did I do?

 

I handed over two twenties and left with the nightstands of course.

 

I have no will power. None. At all. Whatsoever. Just ask that bar of chocolate in my kitchen… Oh wait. You can’t. I already ate it!

 

I brought the nightstands home and wiped them down with Honest Multi-Purpose spray. Once they were clean, I moved them into my room. I didn’t want to buy baskets for them just yet, so I filled the bottoms with what I had lots of: books. They looked… okay. Sigh. Not exactly the magical moment I was hoping for…

 

New Nightstands with Books | Land of Laurel

 

Even if that photo had been taken when the weather was sunny and the lighting cooperative, they general idea wouldn’t change much. The new nightstands just didn’t look right in the space. Dang! The books certainly were not helping. The color of the nightstands contrasted both from the red tone of the fir woodwork in the house and the espresso finish on my headboard. This was not good.

 

I tried one more time to make things look a bit better and filled the nightstands with blue and green books in tones similar to that in my bedding. This helped things, but honestly, the nightstands were still not doing it for me. Sure, the book storage was great and I could even slip my laptop in there among them, but I lost tons of storage overall and this just didn’t look great.

 

Nightstands with Blue Books | Land of Laurel

 

I was somewhat surprised that I had enough books in these color tones to fill the other nightstand. I have a lot of books. Possibly too many, but whatever, I love them. And I re-read them! Also does anyone else see a monster peeking up out of the floor in the shadow outline of the bottom of the nightstands in between the feet? Just the top of his head, two little ears sticking out?Just what I need, right? A monster hiding in my bedroom. As if I don’t already have enough stress dreams!

 

Nightstand with Green Books | Land of Laurel

 

Still this look… wasn’t working for me. I thought, maybe if I lived with them I’d learn to love them. So one month later here I am. What have I decided? Nothing. What have I created? A Pro/Con List.

 

New Nightstand Pros

  • They’re the right height for the bed, making turning on or off the light at night easy
  • They are wide enough to fit the space by the bed, but skinny enough to not overwhelm the space or make it look stuffed in
  • I can store books here!
  • I can paint them green or white
  • I have a great excuse to buy cute new pulls at Athropologie or the Alameda Flea Market

 

New Nightstand Cons

  • The wood tone is awful, but the finish is in such good shape, I’d feel guilty painting them
  • There is not enough storage
  • The drawer is too shallow to fit some of the taller things I’d like to store in it (like vitamins!)
  • I could fit wider nightstands for more storage
  • I don’t particularly like the curvy look

 

Conclusions? These nightstands work in some ways, but not others. If I didn’t need more storage they would be okay. I don’t love the look, so why keep them? I’ve already started looking for new ones on craigslist. I also have high hopes for a nice sunny spring day hitting up some Santa Cruz yard sales too. My Aunt Pat is the queen of Santa Cruz yard sales and we could make a fun day of it. If only it would stop raining!

 

Yay for mistakes! Someone told me once to be proud of your failures, because how else do you learn? In fact, she told me to yell it out. So, here it goes. I FAILED!! These nightstands were the wrong choice.

 

Moving on. What have I learned? Sometimes, you should just wait it out until you find something truly perfect for your space. Once I find new nightstands, I’ll sell these guys on craigslist and hopefully make a small profit. Someone else out there must be looking for matching nightstands right? Fingers crossed! It certainly has been a rough design rollercoaster in 2016. I’ll share some other not so great things I’ve bought recently later this week. Oops!