I’m dreaming of a white ceiling

I know a lot of people are adding colour and patterns to their ceilings these days, but I am still white ceiling person. Even if I wasn’t, the colours and patterns we’ve had on our ceilings for the past two years would not be my choice… ever.

There were the specks and smears. (Sorry for the poor photo quality. I find it really difficult to photograph our dim hallway).


Then there were the stripes.


Our home inspector’s explanation for these lines was that the insulation in our attic was insufficient. As a result, the ceiling joists got cold. The temperature difference between our warm drywall inside the house and the cold joists in the attic resulted in condensation. Dust and dirt in the air in the house stuck to that condensation, making stripes.

When we upgraded the insulation in the attic, our contractor had a slightly different opinion. Of course I now can’t remember what he said.

In addition to the obvious dirt, there was the overall grey tinge that you saw on Friday.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that we’ve been living with these ceilings since we moved in two years ago. However, I am no longer ashamed. We used Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start primer to make our dreams of a clean white ceiling come true, and I thought it might be helpful to post a bit of a review of this paint.

Out of all of the things I care about in my house, the shade of white on my ceilings is not one of them. My usual method is to use primer to paint the ceilings. For the hallway, foyer and kitchen, I didn’t splurge and go all the way to buying real paint, but I did choose a slightly upgraded primer, rather than the standard formula. The “high hiding” label on the Fresh Start can was what sold me. I had a lot of dirt to hide.

Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Primer

Fresh Start is a slightly thicker consistency than standard primer, which made me feel like I was covering more dirt. It’s not sticky, though, and was easy to apply.

Whether because of the thicker consistency or because our drywall absorbed the paint, we ended up using more than I expected. I had bought a second gallon, not realizing I had one at home already. The extra paint ended up being a good thing because for our 310+ square feet of hallway, kitchen and foyer we used a gallon and a quarter, just for one coat.

I had hoped that we would be able to get away with a single coat on our ceilings, but we ended up having to do two. I’m not sure if it’s that our ceilings were just too dirty, if the Fresh Start didn’t cover as well as I thought it would, or if we applied it a bit thinly in a few spots, but the next day there were sections where I could still see some of the grey.

The second coat went on very quickly (about an hour) and used much less paint (probably just a bit more than half a gallon). The second coat also did the trick. There are no more dirt spots, and none of the grey has bled through.

Since we were working on a ceiling, it would have been helpful for the Fresh Start to have a tint, like some of the specialized ceiling paints out there. These go on light pink and then dry white. In the dim lighting of our hallway, it was sometimes hard to tell where we had yet to paint. At least, it was on the second coat when we were painting over white, rather than grey.

One coat, two coat. One can, two cans. It doesn’t matter now. All that counts is that the Fresh Start did its job, and we now have the white ceilings that I’ve been dreaming of since we moved in.

There’s still one more painting post coming up this week. Check back Friday to see the progress we’ve made on the walls. (Hint: there will be colour!)

Until then, I’m really curious to hear how you handle your ceilings. Are you all about white, like me? Or are you one of those daring folks that embrace the “fifth wall?” What’s your go-to primer? Anyone else tried Fresh Start?

And just in case you’re wondering, Benjamin Moore has no idea who I am, I bought my own paint, and this post is just my opinion.

Progress report

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Given the occasion, I have to start with a quick note of love.

Thank you all for reading, commenting and following along on our adventures. I feel like I’ve found so many new friends, even though many of us have never met. Your warmth and support makes my day everyday, so today I have to give some of that love back. I can’t send you all chocolates and roses, but I can say a very sincere thank you.

Valentine’s Day means that we’re halfway through the month, so it’s time for an update on my February goal of painting the main floor hallway and kitchen.

Here’s what was on the to-do list for the first half of the month and how we did:

  1. Patch and sand holes from chair rail. By Feb. 7. Final coat went on Feb. 4, although I didn’t manage to sand it until Feb. 7. Doesn’t matter, though, ’cause it got done.
  2. Buy paint. By Feb. 7. Done Feb. 6.
  3. Wipe down the trim. By Feb. 7. Done Feb. 7.
  4. Remove cover plates on plugs and switches, take down old light fixtures and install pig tails. Feb. 8. Done Feb. 8.
  5. Paint the ceiling. Feb. 8. Done Feb. 8.
  6. Prime the walls. Feb. 9. Done Feb. 8. A whole day early.
  7. Paint the trim. Feb. 14. After 5 1/2 hours of painting spread out across the past four evenings, I can say this one is done as of last night. Another whole day early.

Plus two new additions:

  1. Remove the old doorbell chime box and patch hole. Mostly done Feb. 9. This is Matt’s add-on that still needs one more coat of paste, but it shouldn’t delay this weekend’s plans.
  2. Paint a second coat on the ceiling. Done Feb. 9. Expecting a single coat of paint to cover our filthy ceiling ended up being a bit of wishful thinking.

Even with additions, everything–every single thing–is on track.

Progression of painting our hallway

After the frustration of 2013 where I was not very successful in accomplishing projects around the house, the progress we’ve made this month makes me tremendously happy. Sure wiping down all of the baseboards and trim (9 doorways, remember) was not my ideal way to spend my Friday night, but I did it, it’s done, and I made my deadline. Planning every step and setting deadlines have been super helpful.

Some soundbites from last weekend:

  • “This ceiling is disgusting.” (Matt) It totally, complete was, but no longer.
  • “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” (Matt) Ummmm… we killed ourselves on the basement reno?
  • “This hallway feels wider.” (Julia) “Wider or whiter?” (Matt) “Uh… I guess both?” (Julia)

Here’s an illustration of our disgusting ceiling. The white circle is where the light fixture used to be.

Dirty ceiling before painting

We’ve only primed, but it has already made such a difference. I’m excited to add colour this weekend. Here’s what’s coming up next:

  1. Paint the walls (two coats). Feb. 15-17 (a three-day weekend).
  2. Install new light fixtures. Feb. 22.

I’ve learned that it’s just too easy for me to procrastinate and push projects off. So far with my new technique of mapping the steps out in detail and scheduling each stage, I’m staying on track. This is a major breakthrough for me.

And people, I am so excited to see the final product and to share it all with you. Will the reveal be an acceptable late Valentine’s gift? I think it’s going to be even more awesome than I expected.

What have you been up to this month? Care to share your mid-month update? Do you have any special plans for Valentine’s Day? I think my present will be a night off from painting. Happy weekend, everyone. And happy Valentine’s Day.

How to stain and waterproof a wood countertop

Update: See how our counters have held up after one year and after four years.

With our new kitchen island, we decided to do an inside out colour scheme. By that I mean that we reversed the existing finishes that were already in the kitchen.

Around the perimeter of the kitchen, we kept the natural wood cabinets and the light countertop. On the new island that we added in the middle, we chose white cabinets with a wood countertop.

Kitchen island painted white with wood countertop

I wanted to keep the wood tones consistent, so when it came to finishing our DIY wood countertop, the usual methods–wax, oil–were out, as they would have left the countertop too light in colour. I sampled lots of stain until I found one that matched the existing cabinets as closely as possible–Early American from Minwax.

To prepare to stain the countertop, I wrapped the island in plastic drop cloths to protect our nice white cabinets and went over the wood with a tack cloth to pick up any dust and bits that might interfere with the finish.

Preparing to finish a wood countertop

For staining, I used the standard technique of brush it on, let it sit, wipe it off.

Staining a kitchen island

After letting the stain cure, it was on to the waterproofing stage. Given that I was working on a countertop, I wanted something very durable and of course food safe. I chose to go with Waterlox after reading positive reviews online.

Waterlox to finish a wood countertop

I followed their very detailed how-to guide on their web site to make sure I got the finish I was looking for. Waterlox was pretty easy to use.

I did four coats, brushing it on liberally with a natural bristle brush and letting it dry for 24 hours between each application.

Here’s some of the pros, cons and lessons learned.

First, Waterlox stinks when it’s wet. After the first coat, we developed a routine of putting the Waterlox on right before going to bed. We opened the windows, turned on fans, switched off the heat (since we had windows open) and closed the bedroom door. Given that it was March, it wasn’t necessarily the best weather to have windows open, but it was necessary both for the odor and for the cross ventilation needed to dry and cure the finish. The worst of the odor did ease after a couple of hours, thankfully.

Second, sanding between coats is not recommended with Waterlox. Instead, the guide tells you to wipe down the countertop with mineral oil before each coat to get rid of any dust. I did this, but I still feel the finish isn’t quite as smooth as I would like. I’m used to using Varathane where I sand between each coat and get a super smooth finish. The Waterlox guide recommended using a very fine steel wool between the second-to-last and last coat of finish to sand out any rough spots, which I did, but it’s still not perfectly smooth.

Third, the finished surface is very shiny. I used Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish, which is recommended for the first few coats (or all coats, if you choose) and is listed as having a medium sheen. A satin finish is available, but honestly I was too cheap to buy another can, so I did all four coats with the Original.

How to make a wood countertop

After the final coat of Waterlox, we let the island top cure for a full week without putting anything on it.

Now that we’re using the island, the finish seems to be both waterproof and durable.

Water droplets on a wood countertop

Given that it is a wood counter, we use a cutting board if we’re chopping and cork pads for any hot dishes. However, there are still occasions to put the finish to the test. If we spill (which of course never happens), liquids bead up on top of the surface. When we slide dishes across the counter, we don’t have to worry about scratching the finish. The wood wipes down really easily and looks fresh.

Finishing our homemade wooden countertop was a question of both form and function. I wanted to match the wood tones we had in the kitchen, and I also needed it to stand up to actual kitchen prep work. Done and done.

Update: See how our counters have held up after one year and after four years.

How to make a wood countertop

How to make a wood countertop

We’ve lived with our homemade wood countertop for more than a year now. To see my report on how it has worked for us, click here.

See the update after four years with our counters here.

Since we’d splurged on having our new kitchen island professionally made, I had to balance the scales and DIY the wood countertop.

There are some tutorials online and lots of inspiring photos, but in the end we pretty much winged it. Here’s what we did.

For our island’s 80 inch by 42 inch top, I decided that four 2x12s were the way to go. I chose spruce–the cheapest option at my local lumber mill. My first tip is to be very careful in selecting your lumber. I went through nearly the whole pile looking for the straightest, cleanest boards possible. Watch for chips, knots, bends and warps.

Once you’ve selected your boards, the first step is to trim them so that their edges are square rather than rounded. This will help you to get a smooth even surface when you join your boards together. I took a half inch off each side of my boards–or the staff at the lumber mill did for me.

Squared edges on lumber

We let our boards acclimatize inside the house for a day or so–especially important as the lumber had spent the winter outside and was completely frozen. We could hear them snapping as they adjusted to the temperature.

Once we were ready to start constructing the countertop, we laid out our boards and decided the best configuration.

Making sure we kept everything in order, we marked the backside of the boards for screw holes.

Measuring and marking lumber

We spaced the screws 8 inches apart.

Then, I set up my newest toy and drilled holes using my Kreg Jig–yup, I got one!

Using a Kreg Jig to drill holes in a wood countertop

I was pretty confident that the Kreg Jig would give us really tight joints, but we glued each board as well with carpenter’s glue just to make certain. Be careful not to use too much glue, as you don’t want drips or seepage on the good side of your top.

Gluing boards for a wood countertop

Holes drilled and glue spread, it was time to put it all together. Matt held the boards even and kept the joints tight while I went along with the drill and set each screw.

Connecting boards for a wood countertop

Soon enough, we had a large slab of wood. Don’t be confused by the stamps and the holes from the Kreg Jig. This is the underside.

Back side of a wood counterop showing holes from the Kreg Jig

We took our incredibly heavy countertop and flipped it over. I trimmed one end with my circular saw to get a nice flush edge. I left the other end ragged, because I wanted to wait until we had the island, just to make sure I got the length exactly right.

While the joints were really tight and pretty smooth, I still filled everything–every joint, every knot, every divot–with wood filler just to even out any imperfections.

Using wood filler on a wood countertop

Then, it was on to sanding stage. Using my little orbital sander and lots and lots of sanding pads, I went over the countertop time and time again. I started with a 60 grit and slowly worked my way up to finer and finer grits (80, 120, 240 and 400).

Sanding a wood countertop

Despite choosing a very cheap grade of lumber, it came up beautifully smooth and even with the sanding. Take your time with your sander and don’t skimp on this step.

We did have one issue arise with our DIY wood countertop. Once the boards were all together and the top spent more time acclimatizing inside the house, it started to warp a bit. I attribute this to the frozen state of our lumber before we started construction. By the time the island was installed and we set the counter on top, we had a pretty good wave going on.

Unfinished warped wood countertop

Aaaah! A wonky wavy countertop was not at all what I envisioned. Our cabinet maker diplomatically limited his comments to “I dunno about that countertop.” My Dad suggested shimming under the one edge, where the gap between the underside of the countertop and the top of the cabinet was about 1/4 inch.

To everyone’s surprise–including mine–trimming the length of the countertop helped immensely. I don’t know whether most of the warp was happening at one end of the boards, but it was laying nearly flat after we cut off the extra length. Screwing the countertop into place on the cabinets leveled it out a bit more–even though we were very gentle and didn’t overly tighten the screws for fear of opening the joints between the boards.

My enthusiasm for my DIY wood countertop was rekindled. However, it was basically a large hunk of raw wood sitting in the middle of our kitchen–an attractive hunk of wood, but not the most useable surface.

The next step was to finish and waterproof the wood–which I’ll talk about on Wednesday. Stay tuned.

See my review on how our wood countertop held up over its first year.

See my review after four years.

DIY fail… sorta

As a person who enjoys construction and DIY, I feel slightly guilty to admit that I did not DIY the big beautiful new island now sitting in my kitchen. I had planned to build it myself. I pinned lots of inspiration to my kitchen Pinterest board, took measurements and drew plans, but when it came time to put saw to wood, I wimped out.

Kitchen islands

Island inspiration (clockwise from top left) 1, 2, 3, 4

My original plan was to find a second-hand kitchen that had cabinets that could be reconfigured into an island. However, weekly visits to the Habitat for Humanity Restore did not reveal a suitable candidate and made me realize that any reconfiguration would not be straight forward. Then, one day at the Restore I found eight cabinet doors with cathedral arch tops that mimicked the style of our kitchen cabinets. I bought the doors, came home and drew up a plan.

Plan for a kitchen island

Once I sketched the plan, I realized that I simply needed four cabinet boxes and two sections of open shelving. Simple! My Dad and I could build it ourselves over the Christmas holidays!

That plan was discarded after my Dad and I spent the holidays building the TV cabinet, and I decided furniture construction is neither my best skill nor my favourite way to spend my days.

It was time for some professional help. I called my Dad’s kitchen guy and emailed him my sketch and my inspiration photos. There was a bit of sticker shock when we received the quote, but I’d already made up my mind that DIYing a kitchen island wasn’t for me, so we decided to go ahead.

We saved some money by using the doors that I’d bought at Habitat (for $5 each) and eliminating the corner posts that I’d drawn on my original design in favour of basic cabinet boxes. However, we balanced that out by paying our cabinet maker to spray the doors white, rather than painting them ourselves.

I don’t have a good excuse why I wasn’t in the mood to DIY.

However, on the bright side I did eventually return to my normal self.

Habitat was also my source for cabinet pulls. I found handles that matched the existing ones in the kitchen for just 50 cents each. I hopped on the ORB (oil rubbed bronze) bandwagon, spray painting all of the handles, including our very chipped original ones.

Brass cabinet pulls spray painted with Oil Rubbed Bronze

I knew things were definitely back to normal on the DIY front when I decided to make the wooden countertop myself. That’s a story for next week, though.

Is there anyone else out there who’s gone through a DIY slump? How did you get through it? Who else is an ORB fan? How do you decide what to do yourself and what to hire out?

My own private island

Island hopping has taken on a different meaning here, as I’m jumping for joy over the newest addition to the kitchen.

Kitchen island painted white with wood countertop

Our new island was the subject of Friday’s “guess what” post. Last week, Meghan guessed that we got a new kitchen, and we might as well have for all the difference this island has made.

It is fabulous and exactly what our kitchen needed. Oh, and so much better than the metal patio table “island” we’ve been living with for the past year.

Metal patio table with appliances stacked underneath

Small appliances, cookbooks, dishes and mixing bowls spent last year all tucked under the table, most of them still in their moving boxes. It was neither convenient nor tidy. For someone who loves cookbooks and will happily spend an afternoon reading recipes, the new island offers a much more accessible and attractive solution.

Cookbook shelf in island

In addition to the cookbook shelves, the island includes another section of open shelving for cutting boards, cookie sheets, cooling racks and trays. I don’t know about you, but I find these items incredibly awkward to store. But not anymore.

Narrow cookie sheet shelves in island

In our whole kitchen, we have only three drawers, and very narrow ones at that. I would have happily made the island all drawers, as I think they’re more useable than cabinets. However, in consideration of the budget, I only included one drawer. The good news is, it’s large and, while it may look cluttered, it is in fact very functional.

Utensil drawer in kitchen cabinets

The biggest benefit of the island is its size. At 80 inches long by 42 inches wide and 34 inches high, it adds about 23 square feet of surface space and about 55 cubic feet of storage space. I think my mixer, food processor, slow cookers, blender and coffee maker are as happy as I am that they finally have a home.

Small appliances kitchen cupboard

The island is made of four cabinets, and so far I’ve only filled one, so there’s lots of room to grow.

Someday, we will redo the whole kitchen. At that point, we may expand it or tweak the layout. However, I knew that the kitchen would drive me crazy if I didn’t do something to fix the storage and counter space issues in the meantime. The island solves all of my problems and exponentially increases the functionality and the beauty of the kitchen.

White painted kitchen island with wood top

How do you handle storage and prep space in your kitchen? This is my first time having an island, and I’m actually a bit surprised how incredibly functional it is. Do you have an island? How would you improve your kitchen if you could? New appliances? More counter space? More drawers? Who else out there loves their cookbooks? Do you have any favourites to recommend?

Party time

I booked a Christmas party. Hosted by us. At the farm.

What’s with the tone?

Well, I’m a bit anxious.

Because, you see, the party is set for exactly one month before Christmas Eve. One month from today.

And my dining room currently looks like this.

Dining room

Keeping it real, folks. The drawer for the china cabinet was damaged in the move and won’t slide into place until we fix it. The extra furniture tucked in the left corner, the boxes stacked on the right and ironing board that is just outside of the picture will all go into the basement…whenever we finish the reno.

My living room looks like this.

Messy living room

The couch is in the right spot, but the grocery bags and cleaning supplies in the foreground of the photograph are not.

Oh, and my kitchen looks like this.

Messy kitchen

Our “island” is a metal patio table over which I have thrown a plastic dollar store tablecloth. All of my small appliances and boxes of cookbooks are tucked underneath, as I have no other place for them yet. On the bright side, we have a spot for our stash of Hallowe’en candy.

You may now realize why I haven’t shown a lot of pictures of the inside of the house.

For the past seven months since we moved to the farm, we’ve been living in an increasing level of chaos. And it seems to be getting worse.

Books, boardgames, extra furniture, sports equipment and all of the other items that will someday be in the basement are still packed in boxes and stacked behind the couch between the dining room and the living room. As we buy new things or have to access our packed items, everything gets a little more disorganized (see exhibit A above).

You can see the tracks of our footprints in the drywall dust on the living room floor (see exhibit B above).

I emptied the front hall closet, so that I could fit it out with shelves and rods and racks to actually store things in a somewhat more orderly fashion. That means our ancient vacuum cleaner, shopping bags, hats and gloves are all piled in the corner of the living room (see exhibit C above).

The good news is that we are heading into the home stretch on our basement reno.

The better news is that after exhibits A, B and C were photographed, a couple of tents, an air mattress, a camp stove and assorted Christmas decorations made their way downstairs.

Cartons in a storage closet

No need for colour, carpet or trim in the closet under the basement stairs. Two coats of prime do the job just fine. Some proper shelves would be nice though.

I’m hoping that by party time carpet will be the floors in the rest of the basement. We may not have baseboards or much furniture by then, but if we can at least put some more things downstairs, I’ll feel a little better about our living environment.

I like hosting parties, and I don’t worry too much about my house being perfect. However, I do have some standards. A basic level of organization and tidiness is required. The current state is not even close.

Here’s hoping a hard deadline makes things move a little faster.

Oh, and to Matt’s family… we’re really looking forward to hosting you next month! Really.

Anyone out there have any tips on how to get organized? Please tell me someone else has tiles stacked in the living room, an ironing board in the dining room, dust tracks on the floors, a makeshift kitchen island and tools sitting on pretty much every available surface? Or perhaps you’re already looking ahead to Christmas. Who’s also in party planning mode already? What makes a good party at your house?