The powder room gets a makeover

Our main floor has a half bath, or “powder room” for those who prefer the more delicate term. We’ve been itching to update it since we moved in.

Powder room before we moved in

Powder room before we moved in.

We disliked the builder basic vanity and sink with the gargantuan mirror, oh wait, double mirror. To top it off, the odd shape of the room does nothing for it, and the light fixture is just not our style.

Bathroom light fixture

We have plans to completely gut and remodel this room with something like this in mind:

But since a total remodel is still at least a few years off, I had to do something to make the current bathroom a little more tolerable for cheapy cheapy. Plus having several friends coming over for a baby shower in the near future helped inspire me to get started on “project prettify” for the powder room.

The first thing that had to go was the peachy off-white wall color. As with all other rooms before repainting, the peach was everywhere – ceiling, walls, trim, door. So I painted the ceiling, trim, and door white and then used some leftover light gray paint from our master bedroom for the walls.

Work zone

I actually did the painting a few months ago. I remember it being nearly finished in time for the Superbowl. Here’s a handy tip: to paint behind the toilet, just remove the lid, wrap the tank in saran wrap and remove it after the paint has dried.

Next up was the towel rack over the toilet. I didn’t like where it was positioned; it was awkward to wash your hands, then turn left and lean over the toilet to dry your hands. It was hard not to drip water all over the toilet paper in the cute lil basket (that I scored at HomeGoods back this summer). I had Blake patch up the holes after removing the towel rack and placed a hand towel stand on the sink. Then I added some square shelves over the toilet and some purple accessories.

Before: wall over toilet with towel rack and peachy walls

After: wall over toilet after painting and hanging white square shelves

Unfortunately the sink, mirror and light fixture had to stay. But the new gray walls, along with a few purple accessories, work wonders for the aesthetic of the little room.

Before (both the belly and the bathroom)

In progress (both the belly and the bathroom - still need to paint the cabinet beneath the vanity)


In progress: added a few accessories

The candles (both on the vanity and on the small square shelf), shelves, hand towels, and soap dispenser (a clearance find) came from Target. The basket on top of the toilet I found at HomeGoods as well as the towel stand. The glass vase and flowers on the vanity are from Ikea and so is the little glass bowl filled with purple potpourri inside the medium square shelf. The white pitchers I already had from Ross (they came in a set of three, the largest one is on the mantel).

Eventually I plan to repaint the cabinet beneath the vanity. I’m not loving the orangey oak color with the new cool color scheme. I will probably prime and paint it a deep dark gray. I’ll consider that a warm up round for painting the kitchen cabinets!

Also just to show what springs looks like here – our crab apple trees have blossomed beautifully in the back yard. Here’s a pic of how they looked a week ago:

Mantel Overhaul Part III: Our finished masterpiece!


Our fireplace area was desperately in need of a makeover.  When we first moved in, it looked like this:

Mantle when we bought the house

Then after having professionals knock down the awkward ledge (running the length of the wall just below the ceiling) and flush out the ginormous recessed shelves, painting the wall taupe, and replacing the gray tile with earth-toned tile, it looked like this:

In-progress: fireplace after re-tiling

It was looking better, but we were still in need of a mantel. Full-surround style mantels start around $470 at Home Depot, and one with more detail  costs $1,290! The decision to build one ourselves wasn’t difficult after seeing those prices. Our DIY mantel came in at just under $100 including all paint and materials.

But before I get carried away with the details, let me show you the finished product.

The finished mantel!

A close-up view of the molding

So here’s a little breakdown of how Blake built it. He did this project entirely by himself, which is beyond impressive. He used a few 3/4″ sheets of MDF, some pre-made crown molding (both large and small), and white paint. He cut the MDF into pieces with the dimensions he needed using either my dad’s table saw or his Skil saw, then used a Kreg jig to screw them together. He also used some wood glue, clamps, and a nail gun when necessary for extra adhesion. He added a little extra detail the vertical columns by using my dad’s router to cut grooves into the faces. I’ll let the pictures explain the rest.

Getting ready to be Bob Vila

Practice round with the router table - making grooves for the side columns

Finished column faces

Ripping a 2x4 with an angled blade to make french cleats to hang the mantle on the wall

French cleat

Testing the french cleats to make sure they securely fasten the mantel to the wall

An extra long cleat for the top piece

The half-finished mantel mounts to the wall securely

Adding the crown molding

Painting it white

And once again to save you from scrolling back to the top....The finished mantel!

Other small changes included painting the formerly brass fireplace screen black using high heat spray paint. We also finished installing baseboard around the finished mantel to complete the look. Oh, and my favorite feature? Blake put the fireplace on a switch hidden on one of the sides of the columns so you can turn it off and on with ease.

We’re pretty in love with it. I can’t wait to cozy up in front of the fire with hot cocoa on cold winter nights.

Mantel Overhaul Part II: In with the new tile

We left off on this mantel overhaul more than a few months ago when Blake had demoed the old tile. Due to some unforseen circumstances (and some foreseen ones as well) we had to let that one sit unfinished awhile before we could make more progress. After all, season ski passes don’t just grow on trees. It also seems like all our insurance policies, memberships, and registrations come due in July/August. Then there was this unpleasant suprise that seemed to come out of nowhere:

Cracked windshield, courtesy of a trash truck flinging a rock in our direction

We also became pretty distracted with painting the kitchen and just life in general. The new mantel got pushed to the backburner for awhile.

We had quite the hunt for new fireplace tile. Since we’re frequent shoppers at Home Depot and Lowes, we’ve had many opportunities to check out their tile supply and discover they didn’t have what we were looking for. After some quick Googling, we found some local flooring/tile specialty stores, so we set off on our mission for the perfect tile. Blake was far pickier than I when it came to choosing tile. I was pretty much satisfied with anything that matched our color scheme while he wanted something with good color, texture, pattern, and uniformity (or lack thereof). He wanted that special tile with the “It Factor.” After a few unsuccessful stops, he finally found the tile that he could give the ole “two enthusiastic thumbs up” at a place called A World of Tile. The only problem was that they didn’t have it in stock. So we waited a few more weeks for it to be ordered in. Then, the tile store’s wet saw wasn’t working properly, so they couldn’t cut it down to the 8 inch tiles that we wanted. Blake had to drive to another place in town to have it cut, and we had to wait almost another week for that. At long last, he picked up the tile and was able to get to work.

But before Blake could install the new tile he had to take care of the gaping hole surrounding the fireplace that was the result of demo-ing all the old tile.

He installed DensShield (similar to HardiBacker) to provide a foundation for the tile to adhere to (first installing 2×4’s for added support). He then used thinset to make anchor/adhere the tile in position, waited a few days for it to dry, and then applied the grout to fill in the gaps between the tile. Here’s some pics to provide more details:

Installing 2x4's to anchor the DenShield

DensShield installed and ready for tile

Thinset to make the tile stay in place

Applying thinset to the back of tile before placing it

Placing the bottom tile first with spacers

Top row of tile: making sure it's level

Working from the outside-in for the top row of tile

Once all the tile was in place, it looked like this:

Tile in place, ready for grout

Grout (it came in powder form - Blake added water to make it into a paste)

Blobs of grout, ready to be smeared into joints using a rubber trowel

Grouting complete, drying (it looks darker because it is still wet)

Grout dry (notice how much lighter it is - blends much better with the tile)

Before: Old gray ceramic tile didn't complement the warm earthy tones around the rest of the room

The before close-up: gray ceramic tile

This was actually our first rodeo with installing tile. Didn’t Blake do an amazing job? It looks like a professional did it. We’re definitely encouraged by the outcome, and down the line when we completely gut and remodel our master bathroom (and our half bath, and our guest bath), we’ll have confidence when it comes to the tiling part. Heck, we’ll probably even get a wet saw to cut the tile ourselves. That won’t be for quite sometime though, because we’ll have to get a city permit (we’re talking a major remodel – knocking down walls and moving doorways) and store up some serious cash before diving into that project.

Of course, Blake didn’t work alone. I was at work, but we happened to be dog-sitting for my parents. Sailor helped out by getting into things and being an enthusiastic spectator.

Playing with tape and making a mess

Getting tired of watching Blake work...and wanting him to come play with her

Sailor's had enough....It's about time to be finished with this project!

Next up is building the full-surround white mantel. We’ve already drawn up plans and bought most of the materials. Hopefully we’ll finish that project in the next few weeks!

Our doors get love handled

I’m pleased to announce we have finished the upstairs door revitalization project! Before we started, our upstairs hallway looked like this:

But after removing the doors, painting them a crisper shade of white, and giving the brass hardware an upgrade, the hallway now looks like this:

Instead of buying all new doorknobs and hinges this time, we decided to give re-finishing the existing brass hardware a shot. It was a much more affordable solution. Even if the project went awry, we’d only be out about $20.

Of course, being the home improvement novices that we are, I did plenty of research beforehand to make sure that nobody nothing would be harmed in the process. I took inspiration from Young House Love (of course) here, and Pink Toes and Power Tools here and combined their instructions to make it work for us. Here’s how we did it:

1. After removing all your door hardware, gather your supplies. Here’s what we used:

  • Nitrile gloves
  • Super fine (grade 0000)  steel wool
  • Klean-Strip Liquid Sander Deglosser
  • Rustoleum Universal Surfaces Metallic Spray in Oil Rubbed Bronze (ORB)
  • Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover in Matte Clear
  • Old washcloth and cardboard box

Supplies: gloves, steel wool, de-glosser, and ORB paint

2. Sand the hardware with extra fine steel wool to make the surface a little rough and give the paint something to stick to. I found the extra-fine steel wool was enough to remove the glossy sheen without leaving any deep scratches on the surface.

3. Use a liquid de-glosser to remove any oils and debris. The bottle’s instructions said to use a coarse, lint free cloth. I used an old washcloth to wipe it on in a circular motion. Make sure you wear gloves for this step.

4. Allow liquid de-glosser to dry (the bottle says to wait 10 minutes, but we let them sit overnight.)

5. Poke the screws, knobs, and latches through cardboard box so they are in an upright position. This allows easy access to all surfaces while spraying. We just laid the hinges and latch plates on an old drop cloth to spray paint since they were relatively flat.

6. Spray paint with 3-4 thin (very thin – can’t emphasize this point enough) coats of Rustoleum Universal Surfaces metallic spray in ORB. Be sure to turn locks and hinges between coats to spray all surfaces evenly. We waited about 15-20 minutes between coats. Be sure you’re in a very well ventilated area, because this spray paint gives off strong fumes!
***Note: Some instructions suggest using a coat of primer prior to painting, which we skipped because the Rustoleum Universal Surfaces is both a paint and primer in one.

Hardware after just 1 coat of ORB

Hardware after 3 light coats of ORB

7. After the paint has completely dried (we waited about 24 hours), spray the hardware with 1-2 light coats of clear coat spray. We used Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover in Matte Clear.

8. Once the clear coat has completely dried (again, we waited about 24 hours), re-install the hardware and re-mount the doors in their frames.

It turned out pretty well. The only change I would make is to use a satin clear coat finish instead of matte (but matte was all Home Depot had). We like it so much that we decided to upgrade our front screen door knob in the same manner. Then we just have our master bath and closet door hardware to refinish and the whole house will be free of brass knobs.

In other news, we took a little time off last weekend to head to Steamboat and enjoy the fall foliage. It was nearly at peak. We love living in Colorado!

Mantel Overhaul Part I: Out with the old tile

One project we’ve been eager to get started on is making over our fireplace by replacing the tile and building a new mantel. The original fireplace-surround tile was a gray/white ceramic that didn’t complement our new color scheme. We kicked off the makeover process tonight by removing this old tile.

Original tile around the fireplace

Closer view of gray ceramic tile

Blake put on his safety glasses and gloves, and *gasp* a non-green shirt, and bam! He transformed into a tile demo-ing ninja. Here’s the photodocumented mayhem that ensued:

Tile demolition ninja

Instruments of demolition: crowbar, sledge hammer, and the brute force of those two hands

Removing the first few tiles from the floor to find wire mesh....and lots of nails!

What a messy job!

The tile on the wall didn't have a mesh backing - it was cemented directly onto the drywall

Some of the tile was cemented a little too well to the drywall, taking some of the wall with it when we removed it

Old tile all gone, ready for new tile!

We’re going to install hardibacker, which is basically a foundation for the tile to adhere to. Then we’ll install the new tile, which we’ve already picked out. After that we’ll build a full-surround white mantel out of wood and MDF, sand down the brass on the fireplace screen and paint it black with high heat spray paint.

Hardibacker example for people like me who had no idea what this was

This is a post of few words….there’s really not much to say about the demolition of the old tile. Actually, I just could have posted all these pictures with some sound effects of man-grunting and hammering and you’d be sufficiently enlightened on how it all went down.