Staining the mudroom stairs

The mudroom stairs are done, and I’m really happy with how they turned out.

For a refresher, we have a tile floor in the new mudroom. There are two stairs up to the landing that leads into the kitchen, and each step is also tile.

Our contractor and I debated how to finish the edge of the stairs. On its own, tile doesn’t have an attractive edge. I didn’t want a rubber or metal nosing–too industrial or institutional. We also had to contend with the risers, which I did not want tiled.

Our contractor suggested wood and had his stair guy fabricate risers and nosings out of maple. They are beautiful. But they needed some kind of finish to protect them from scuffs and dirt and marks–this is a mudroom after all.

I tested a variety of stains. I wanted something that was a similar tone to the cedar on the ceiling. I also tested a grey with the idea of making the wood blend with the tile.

A commenter on my last post advised that maple “does not take a stain well and the stain often looks un-even.” He was right. Most of the samples did not look good at all.

The grey wasn’t bad, but I felt like the maple deserved to be highlighted. I know the trend is to have continuous flooring, not broken up by other materials, but the nosings are such a beautiful wood. I didn’t want to hide it under a grey wash.

The “Natural” stain was pretty subtle, but added a bit of brightness to the wood. So that’s what I went with.

I gave the stairs a good sanding, as they had gotten a bit dirty over the last few months. I taped off the the tile and baseboards. And I applied the stain.

After letting the stain dry, I then covered it with four coats of varathane, sanding lightly between each coat. I want as much protection on these stairs as possible.

The finish turned out really well. The colour is not an exact match to the cedar, but it’s close and I think it highlights the maple nicely. The surface seems pretty durable and is holding up to being stepped on multiple times a day, sometimes with shoes on.

I also feel really good crossing this task off my mudroom to-do list. Progress may be small and slow, but it’s progress.

Have you been able to cross anything off your to-do list recently? Do you have mixed flooring at your house? How do you mix tile and wood?

What needs to be done to finish the mudroom and garage

As I mentioned in last week’s post, our missing door arrived for the mudroom, our contractor finished the trim and a bunch of other little tasks, we passed our final inspection and our contractors have left the building. Now, the garage and mudroom are my project. Which feels fun.

Mudroom

I always intended to be the one to finish off the mudroom, so I’m excited to get out my paint roller and complete this space. Here’s what’s on my list.

Sand ceiling. The cedar planked ceiling is going to be staying natural. I love the tone. The lumber mill said that as long as the boards don’t receive direct sunlight, they should hold their colour and not turn grey. But some of the boards were marked for their length with chalk. So I had to sand 7s off a couple of boards.

Finish stairs. The risers and nosing on the stairs are wood. It’s a beautiful maple, and it needs to be protected from dirt and footprints. I’d like them to have a similar tone to the cedar ceiling–I’d rather not introduce another colour to the mudroom. Though I am also going to test a grey that will blend with the floor tiles. I feel like the wood is so beautiful that it can be a bit of a feature.

Patch & caulk walls. The V-groove planks were not a true tongue and groove, so our contractors had to face nail the planks in a few (a lot of) places. I’m about halfway through patching all of the holes. I also have to caulk all of the corners and a few joints in the trim.

Paint. There is always so much prep to get to this point. The walls, trim and hookboards are all going to be painted the same colour as the rest of our main floor, Abalone from Benjamin Moore at 75%.

Paint the door. I’m going to make the door a pop of colour both in and out. I’ve chosen a grey-turquoise, and I’m excited to see how it looks.

What’s not happening yet. I am not planning on putting any built-in storage in the mudroom yet. I have an idea of what I want, but we’re going to live with the space for a little while and see what works best for us. I’ll be moving in some dressers, hooks, a bench, mirror and some art to decorate the space a bit and make it functional for now.

Garage

For the garage, there are a couple of things that I didn’t think about at the start of the project (like how much dirt would be dug up from the addition that then needed to be levelled and seeded). These are more the niggly little details that are a little less fun.

Spread top soil & seed. Ellie and I have spread a lot of grass seed already this year. However, we didn’t go right up to the edge of the garage, as work was still in progress. Now that the scaffolding and ladders have gone away, we have to finish it off.

Make a step. The step from the mudroom to the driveway is a bit high. It will eventually be corrected, but a simple step of some kind would be helpful in the meantime. It would also be easier to shovel snow off a patio slab than the gravel.

Restack firewood. Oh the woodpile. It took me two days to move the firewood out of the way for the addition. Now I need to restack it all.

What’s not happening yet. We will not be paving the driveway this year. I want to let the gravel settle for a while first. I also need to figure out a steps-patio-garden solution for the living room patio door, mudroom door and flowerbed around our well. I’ve placed a pair of benches and table there for now to see if I like a little seating area in this spot. I am going to be setting up a workbench and moving some tools from the driveshed to the garage. I’m enjoying thinking about a functional work space in the garage and what projects I’m going to tackle.

We’ve been using the mudroom and garage every day even though they’re not fully finished yet. We’re parking our car in the garage and going in and out through the mudroom. I’m loving having these two spaces, and I’m excited to finish them off.

How do you decide what you leave to professionals and what you take on yourself in a renovation? What finish would you choose for the mudroom stairs? What part of a home project is hardest for you to finish? What DIYs are fun or less fun for you?

Treehouse playground

One year ago, as I was driving home with parts of Ellie’s new-to-us playset in my car, I spotted a slide at the end of someone’s driveway. It was cracked, but I couldn’t resist so I loaded it into the car.

As soon as Matt’s Dad and I set up Ellie’s playground, I started dreaming about expansion plans.

I quickly realized that a playground was not super complicated to construct, I had better quality lumber stored in the barn than what her playground was constructed of, I didn’t really fit in the playground, and Ellie was going to quickly outgrow the set.

When I saw this treehouse playground, everything clicked in my mind. We had a big pine tree near her current playset that would be perfect. We also had an old deck worth of lumber in the pool. Oh, and we had that extra slide.

Construction on the playground began after a timely text from a cousin. He asked if I needed help with anything, so I replied, “How do you feel about building a treehouse?” A week later, he helped me build the underlying structure of posts, beams and joists.

We made it as big as our lumber allowed. Roughly 10 feet by 12 feet. The platform is 5 feet up from the base of the tree, which was recommended for a 10 foot slide. It feels high enough. The tree is on a little mound, so the edge of the platform is 6 to 7 feet off the ground.

It’s big and tall and open to so many possibilities.

I contacted a local deck company, and they let me (and Matt’s Dad) dive through their dumpster to get boards for the decking. I’ve been slowly working my way through the decking for the last couple of weeks, and yesterday I finally finished it.

We have a collection of tires here at the farm, thanks to previous owners. I picked out 8 that are roughly the same size and have begun bolting them together to make a ladder.

I’m still on the hunt for a firepole (one of Ellie’s favourite activities at any playground).

And obviously we need a railing.

This very sophisticated crayon rendering might help you to visualize the final playground.

So far, we’re having a lot of fun building—and already playing on—the treehouse.

Did you have a treehouse as a kid? Where was your favourite place to play? What’s your favourite activity at a playground?

Ellie’s big girl bed

Ellie’s room got an update just before Christmas when we took apart her crib and set up a bed.

Colourful toddler bedroom

I had always envisioned this bed in the space. This was my bed when I was her age. Before that, it was my uncle’s bed when he was a child. It came from my grandmother’s family’s furniture store.

It is solid wood. Clean lines. Great quality. With super cute cubbies built into the headboard.

Anna doll lying in a cubby in a bed headboard

The finish was natural wood, but a little bit orange for my taste and also for her space. I didn’t want to change the other parts of her room. The turquoise paint on the walls, the grey wood toned dresser, the white bookcase. Those were all staying, so I needed the bed to work with those pieces.

I was a bit worried my Mom (the caretaker of the bed) wouldn’t like my plan to paint the bed, but she was all for it. A few coats of my go-to Cloud White by Benjamin Moore (in their Advance finish, which is good on furniture), and it was exactly what I had envisioned. And my Mom was thrilled, both that the bed was being used again and that it looked so fresh with its new white paint.

Ellie’s room is not large, so we could only fit a single bed. We rearranged some of her other furniture to make everything fit. It might be a wee bit tight, but everything fits (including her tractor) and the layout works for us.

Colourful toddler bedroom

And, best of all, the transition from crib to bed went pretty well too.

Who else likes secret cubby-holes? Have you repurposed any family hand-me-downs at your house? What is your crib-bed transition story?

Basement games area before & after

I went waaaay back in the archives to start writing this post, and wow, that all feels like a lifetime ago. In some ways, I guess it is.

There is one space left in the basement that I still have not shared in its final finished version. Mostly because it was not finally finished. Oh those last little details can drag on.

In the 14th post that I published on this blog (#14! Just a month after we moved in! This post is #1,043!), I shared my plans for the basement renovation. I included this picture and wrote: “Sarah Richardson is known for putting a full size table in her family rooms as a spot for games, work, crafts or dining. I think that’s a great idea and we’ve got the space for one, so that’s on the list too.”

And here’s how our version turned out.

Games area in the basement

But before we jump into the details of the finished space, here’s how this spot looked when we first bought the house (after we’d cleared out a lot of the previous owners’ stuff).

The basement before

We knew we didn’t want the cabinets and work stations (I have no idea what they were used for). And with them gone, this became a big open area, right at the base of the stairs.

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you may recall that we not only removed the cabinets. We also removed the carpet and all of the drywall.

The exterior drywall came down so that we could reframe, rewire and reinsulate.

Spray foam insulation

The ceiling drywall came down so that we could find all of the hidden junction boxes and fix the electrical.

Burnt junction box

Sorry for the bad early days photo. This junction box was actually burned inside, hence the black.

Then we drywalled, painted, trimmed and carpeted. We eventually moved in some furniture and added a light fixture. Then, over the last year, I finally tackled the bare walls.

Hanging the playing card posters was Matt’s last DIY in this house. We did it almost exactly a year ago. And a couple of weeks ago, I hung the tic-tac-toe game and styled the top of the cabinet.

Games area in the basement

With that the games (crafting, work, etc.) area is officially done.

I’ll be sharing more details on this space next week. You know everything has a story with me.

Do you have an extra table space somewhere in your house? What’s your longest running DIY? Where do you usually stall in room makeovers? If you don’t stall, what’s your secret, please?

Glam bench makeover from a 70s TV stand

I have a core group of 5 really, really close friends. Many of us met in grade 1 or 2. The history and the shared experiences are immense.

As the years have progressed, we have each taken different paths in life. Sometimes we don’t see each other very often or keep in touch the way that we feel we should.

When Matt died, all of my friends rallied around us, exactly the way that I knew that they would. They have been there for us in so many ways.

One friend started coming every Thursday night for dinner. The commute from her work was usually more than an hour, and she would often roll up the driveway just as I was putting dinner on the table (hungry toddlers are not to be messed with).

After a couple of weeks, she said to me, “You can stop inviting me. I’ll be here.” We would eat, and I would put Ellie to bed, and then we’d sit and talk. Sometimes another friend would join us.

When quarantine began, our Thursday dinners stopped. And oh I miss them. It felt like a huge hole in my week. Daily texts were not enough.

Desperate to connect, we came up with the idea to watch Celebrity IOU on HGTV together. Or as much as you can be together when you fear for your life during a global pandemic.

I would sit alone in the basement, the baby monitor by my side. My friend would sit in her condo with her cats. And we’d text commentary back and forth. It was fun. A connection. Casual. Someone who shared my delight in home stuff. Someone who shared my opinions and sense of humour… most of the time.

One episode was a more glam makeover. My friend texted, “Oh, I want that” at the same time as I wrote, “That would be perfect for you.”

So when I came up with the idea to redo this old TV stand, she was the first person I thought of. Something glam. Special. Fun. Feminine.

Vintage 70s TV stand

She–like me, like the rest of this special group of friends–is turning 40 this year. So the day before her birthday, I gifted her with this bench. She was really happy. It felt like her. It fit in with what she’s doing at her home–and has inspired her to do a few more updates to her bedroom.

Brass and white bench

Brass and white bench

Brass and white bench

Our furniture and our homes are so, so much more than just things and spaces. They represent the people who live in them and use them. For me, this bench represents 40 years of my friends and I figuring out who we are and how to embrace it. Nearly 35 years of caring for each other and helping each other.

It represents how we all–all six of us–work to give each other the love, peace and joy that we wish for each other.

So long, sunroom

On the very first day we owned the farm, we had no heat and no hot water. It was the beginning of March. In Canada. Not warm.

When it came time for lunch, we retreated to the one and only room that felt somewhat comfortable: the sunroom. Thanks to glass roof and walls, it was warm. Though that was about all it had going for it.

Inside the sunroom

The panes of glass in the roof looked shattered (it was just a film). The carpeted floor was filthy.

Shattered windows in the sunroom

Moss growing inside the sunroom

Over the past 8 years, the sunroom has deteriorated even further. The only times I used it were in cool weather when I needed a workshop. I didn’t care about making the room messy, and it kept the mess or fumes out of the house.

We never had plans to fix the sunroom. All along we’ve wanted to get rid of it. And last weekend, we finally did.

Demoing the sunroom

I had been prepping for a couple of weeks. A friend and her two kids had helped me empty the room, remove one of the patio doors, cut down the overgrown brush around the outside and take off the exterior siding. I had taken out the baseboard heaters and the interior paneling.

Demoing the sunroom

As each piece came out, I got to see just how disgusting the sunroom was. There were rot and ants and disintegrated insulation and mossy carpet. It. Was. Gross.

And now it is gone.

A bunch of cousins showed up last weekend, and we carefully took out all the glass. After a few cuts with the sawzall, the rafters and frames were gone too.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

The glass is in the barn in case I want to build a greenhouse someday. The metal is in the trailer to go to the charity bin at a local special needs riding school. I burnt the wood over the weekend–one of our biggest fires ever. The wee bit of garbage all fit in the trunk of my car and went to the dump last week.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

The roof needs some patching (I’ve bent some flashing to cover any openings for now) and I’d like to remove the concrete slab, but those are (hopefully) next year’s projects. For now, I’m thrilled to have the main eyesore gone.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

In this year with so much change and uncertainty, it feels really, really good to complete one house project. Especially one that’s been on the list for so long. Matt and I have a vision for this house, and I’m working toward that, ever so slowly.

Our backyard playground & tips for buying a used playset

Backyard playset

As winter waned this year, Ellie and I developed a habit of adding a playground visit to our daily outings. Then the pandemic arrived full force and by the first day of spring all of the playgrounds in our area were closed.

Ellie looked out the window as we drove past and said, “Pwaygound?” When I explained they were closed and we couldn’t use them, she cried.

When I told her that we might get our own playground at the farm, Ellie’s first question was if it would be closed. I was happy to assure her that her playground will never close.

Backyard playset

The idea of adding a playset was easy. It’s something I’ve planned since last year.

We received a lot of generous donations from the Go Fund Me campaign to honour Matt. And I felt like using some of that money for a playset for Ellie was something Matt would have enjoyed a lot.

But finding the playset was not easy.

Matt and I had visited a local builder that makes playgrounds last year. The quote for a small, old display model at the end of the season was $4,000. I was tempted, but Matt set me straight.

This spring, I started my search on kijiji (the Canadian Craig’s List). Playsets came up, but they disappeared within minutes–not hours, minutes. I think with all of the kids out of school, parents were looking for things to keep them busy at home. Competition was fierce.

But I finally managed to be first in line for one. It has everything I was looking for and is perfect for our girl. She loooooves it. It’s always open… except at bedtime. And it’s a lovely gift from her Dad.

Backyard playset

Here are my tips for buying a second-hand playset:

1. Search often. Search everywhere. It took me a few weeks to find our playset. I spread the word with friends and family, hoping that they might know someone who wanted to get rid of a playset or that they could keep an eye on various buy and sell groups they’re part of. My primary market was kijiji. New sets were listed everyday, but they sold within minutes. I learned that I had to check the site a few times and day and be prepared to act fast.

2. Know what you’re looking for. Our girl loved climbing and sliding when we went to the park. She was also getting more comfortable on swings. So I knew our set needed swings, a slide and some kind of climber. The size of the playset didn’t matter to me, but if you have a smaller yard, you may want to know what dimensions your set should be.

The playset didn’t need to be perfect. I was prepared to do a bit of work fixing it if necessary. Playsets have been outside for years. Kids have played on them. They may be weathered and worn. Think about what repairs you’re willing and able to make.

Building a backyard playset

Also, know what price you’re prepared to pay. Most of the playsets I saw were less than $500, though a few went up to $1,000–still big savings over the $4,000 we were quoted last year. Thinking in advance about what’s most important to you means you can quickly evaluate a listing and decide to buy it or not.

3. Arrange transportation. Playsets tend to be large and awkward. They’re not something you can throw in the back of your car easily. But prompt pick-up is important in a competitive market. I knew I’d need help bringing it home, so I had Matt’s Dad with his pick-up truck and trailer on standby. I also had other friends and family for back up if needed. I wanted to be able to act fast once I successfully found a playset.

4. Be prepared to disassemble. A lot of the playsets I saw online said, “You take it apart.” They were fully set up in people’s backyards. I’ve noticed this changed a bit as people became more sensitive about social distancing. Fortunately, the seller disassembled our set and carried out to the curb, where we picked it up. However, there were still a few pieces that we took apart to make transportation easier. Bring some tools to the pick up, so that you can take care of whatever is needed. A toolbox would be the most basic, but if you have to do a full disassembly I’d recommend a drill, wrenches, a socket set, pry bar, saw and sledge hammer.

5. Be prepared to reassemble. Once you get your new-to-you playset home, you’re going to have to put at least some of it together. For us, there was a fair bit of reassembly needed. Matt’s Dad and I spent about 4 hours building the playset. Or, as Ellie says, “Papa fix playground.”

Building a backyard playset

6. Find the manual. Perhaps the seller has kept the manual and passes it along to you. This was not the case for us, but he did supply the brand name for our playset, so I was able to find the manual online and print it off. We could not have put the playset back together properly without it. This is a case where you definitely should follow the directions.

Tips for building a backyard playset

7. Sort the pieces. If you’re like us, you’ll receive a big bag of bolts and screws from the seller. Inside the bag were more than 12 different sizes of bolts and screws, plus all of the nuts and washers. Each is meant to be used in a very specific place, and for strength and safety it’s important they’re installed correctly. Before we started putting anything back together, I sorted all of the hardware into labelled plastic cups . Then, it was a quick grab for the C3 screws, rather than a frustrating search. You can also sort the wood, but I found that was less critical. Note that the pieces of wood will likely be stamped with a part number somewhere (it took me awhile to notice this, and made life much easier once I did).

Building a backyard playset

8. Inspect. Once the playground is set up, check it over carefully. Make sure all of the screws and bolts are tight. Look for any damaged boards. Find any spots where bolts are missing. The upper deck was in one piece when we picked it up. But I discovered that some bolts underneath the platform weren’t installed. Also make sure to anchor the playset into the ground so that it never tips over.

9. Play! The playset has been a great addition to the farm. We spend time there pretty much everyday. We eat lunch on the built-in picnic bench, and swing and slide and climb. I put it right by the garden, and I’ve been able to do a bit of work while Ellie plays.

Backyard playset

Do you have a playset at your house? Are you a swinger or a slider or a climber? Have you added any new features to your property during quarantine?

 

DIY toddler step stool – Ikea hack

As I wrote the title for this post I realized, wow, we have a toddler. Holy moly. Ellie turns 18 months old this week, but she’ll always be our baby.

Ellie is a smart, curious, confident little girl who loves to be included in whatever we’re doing–actually, she insists on being included.

Pretty much as soon as she could stand, I realized I needed a way to help her be involved and help me keep her safe and corralled.

I went looking for plans to build her a step stool and discovered the world of learning towers. One of the first plans I came across was a simple Ikea hack using the popular Bekväm stool from Happy Grey Lucky.

DIY learning tower from Ikea Bekvam stool

The plan is super detailed with clear instructions.

I was skeptical about Sina’s direction to drill through the full width of the 1X2. I thought for sure the pine would split, but I went very slow with my pilot holes and worked from a 1/8 bit up to 5/64″, and I had no problems when I screwed it all together–even though I couldn’t find #6 screws in the right length and was using fatter #8s instead.

The stool went together very quickly. Once I had the wood cut, Ralphie and I knocked it out in one naptime.

Assembling the stool outside with our barncat

Close up of the baby monitor

I chose not to paint it, as I like the colour of the natural wood. However, I do feel it may be helpful to coat the wood with Varathane or some other sealant, both to protect the wood and make it easier to wipe down.

We use the stool mainly in the kitchen for cooking and washing dishes. Between food spills and water splashes, I feel like it’s inevitable that the stool will become stained. (There is a coating of some kind on the actual Bekvam, but the upper framework is naked.)

Water spill on the Ikea Bekvam

I’m most interested in how the stool works as opposed to how it looks, and it is great.

Ellie loves her stool. She grabs on and tries to climb it whenever I’m cooking–she still needs help to get on it. She also drags it across the kitchen floor when she wants to wash dishes–girl loves water and is very insistent.

DIY learning tower from Ikea Bekvam stool

Ellie on her learning tower

We love it too. It keeps her pretty secure and occupied–we sometimes joke that it’s a standing baby jail. I say pretty secure because I would never leave her unattended in case she tips, climbs out or slips down.

I was hesitant about just one dowel at her back, worrying about her slipping out, but we only had one incident where she tried to get down on her own. It would be easy to drill a couple of larger holes so that you could slip an extra dowel in if you felt like it. The larger gap makes it easy for her to climb up herself, although she’s only figured it out once so far.

DIY learning tower from Ikea Bekvam stool

As she grows, I hope she will continue to want to be involved in what we’re doing–and more helpful in actually doing it.

Deer in the dining room

Hello. It’s been a little while. Thanks for your patience during my blogging holiday. We’ve had a lovely summer, and having this time all together is something I will always treasure.

Our days have been filled with all kinds of fun, including a few little projects. One of the projects was a final decorative touch in the dining room. Hanging two sets of antlers in the corner.

Two sets of antlers hanging in the dining room

This was always part of my original plan during the One Room Challenge this spring, but in the finishing stages it was cut.

The delay was mostly due to one set of antlers not being mounted. It took me some time to figure out how I wanted to mount them and how to do it.

The first set of antlers came from Matt’s Grandpa. We’ve had them for awhile, but haven’t had a good place to put them. They’re mounted and varnished and quite old.

Two sets of antlers hanging in the dining room

I decided to try to make our new antlers match the old ones as much as possible. I traced the mounting plaque, but made it a bit taller, as the skull plate on the new antlers was a bit larger. I know the skull plates are typically trimmed and covered, but I actually like seeing the bone. I’ve written about my (potentially strange) attraction to skulls before. If antlers are considered attractive, why can’t the bone be as well?

Covered skull on mounted antlers

Mounted antlers unvarnished and uncovered skull

I also decided to keep the antlers natural rather than varnishing them. I like the light tone of the antlers and wanted to highlight their natural beauty.

The next step was to try to match the colour of the plaque. I didn’t want to buy new stain for such a small project, so I tried blending a few different stains. I got close, but not exact. Part of that is likely due to a difference in the woods. The grain of the new plaque is much more pronounced than in the old one.

I was nervous about attaching the antlers to the plaque, but it worked out much better than I expected. Online tutorials prescribe bolting the antlers to the plaque. I simply drilled pilot holes in the skull and then screwed through the back of the plaque into the bone using regular screws. The skull seems secure, so I hope that it will hold.

The final touch was adding a picture hanger to the back of the plaque.

Back of mounted antlers

I put both antlers in the corner next to our deer painting. When I first photographed the dining room for the reveal post, this corner looked very empty. Over the last few months, I’ve gotten used to its emptiness–part of my draw to a bit more minimalism. However, since the antlers are a bit hidden in the corner, the room doesn’t feel too busy.

Two sets of antlers hanging in the dining room

I like that the antlers are finally on display. I feel like displaying them honours the animals. While my preference is always to see deer alive walking around outside, these deer in some ways live on as I appreciate their antlers every day.

Are you a fan of antlers in decor? Do you have any antlers at your house?