Making ourselves feel at home

When we moved, we quickly missed the beer and wine glass storage we had added to our kitchen at the old house. Throughout our time there, we slowly installed shelves on the wall, corner shelves, and shelves above the sink. We used those shelves to store the fancy glassware we collected. Even with the additional cabinet space at the new house, we didn’t have enough room for all of the fancy glassware. Since beer and wine drinking are hobbies of ours, this was something we wanted to remedy right away.

Enter Craigslist, again. After a week or so of browsing the site, I found the perfect piece of furniture: unfinished, $60, fits in the convertible, and had glass doors. Luckily, the Minwax gel stain I used on the bathroom cabinets in the old house was the perfect color to match the wine rack we already owned.

Preparing the cabinet:

  • The cabinet had wax spilled on the top of it at some point so I did my best to remove it by first scraping it off with a razor blade and then using an iron and paper towels to try to absorb what was left.
  • There was a small hole in the top that I filled with wood filler.
  • I removed all hardware from the cabinet – glass, hinges, knobs, etc.
  • I sanded the entire cabinet with 100 grit sandpaper followed by 180 grit sandpaper and cleaned off the sanding dust with a tack cloth.

After that, it was on to the staining. I did one coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane. The wax spot on the top didn’t quite stain completely, but it’s not too noticeable. You can see it in the center of the photo below.

After assembling the cabinet again, it was time to move it inside. I also stained two pieces of pine to create wall shelves above the cabinet. I used brackets from Ikea that we had in the previous house.

After that it was just time to decorate! It was such a great feeling to finally finish unpacking the dining room.

The whole view of the dining room, taken from the sitting room.

Can’t wait to paint this room and replace that light fixture…. someday.

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Making furniture to hide those litter boxes

During the recent move to our new house, we struggled with where to put our cats’ litter boxes. At the old house we had three litter boxes for the three cats. We decided to try going down to two litter boxes in the new place. However, we weren’t excited about any potential litter box locations.

A few Google searches later and I knew there were a variety of furniture options I could purchase to hide litter boxes. I also knew that they were pricey, leading me to decide make my own. A few days of watching Craigslist and a trip to the Salvation Army later, I scored two solid wood furniture pieces that worked in our house and were big enough to conceal a litter box for about $90 total. I couldn’t even purchase an already made piece of furniture for twice that cost.  Once the furniture was home, we put in the litter boxes for a few weeks and left one of the cabinet doors open so that the cats would get used to the new digs. Probably only needed to do it for a few days, but we were still busy unpacking.

Furniture piece one: a cabinet that fit nicely by the front door and stairs.

After measuring where to put the cat sized hole –  few inches above the inside platform, centered, about 7 inches wide – I drew the lines for the hole, using a bucket to get the arch correct. I then covered the lines with masking tape and drew them again so that the wood would not splinter when we cut it.

My husband then took care of using the drill to start the hole and then the jigsaw to cut out the opening:

After finishing the whole, we removed the tape and sanded the edges.

As our cats don’t always hit their litter box target (weird, right?) We decided to line the inside of the furniture with heavy duty plastic drop cloth so that it can be cleaned / replaced as needed. I used a staple gun to hold the pieces in place. Update, 7/26/14: we’ve recently added pet pee pad lining behind the boxes in addition to the plastic for those times when the one cat misses the litter boxes. They do a pretty good job of absorbing liquid and locking in the odor.

As soon as we carried the cabinet inside and installed the clean litter box, our cat Carston make a beeline for the litter box. I couldn’t even get a photo first! It was good to know he wasn’t reluctant about trying it out. Here’s his exit:

The litter box inside, along with a litter mat to try to trap litter before the cats make it out the hole.

Now unsuspecting guests will never know what this piece of furniture is hiding by our front door. As a bonus, it’s an excellent place to store mail! Now I just need to repaint it once I settle on the colors for that part of the house and hang some art work above. Someday.

Furniture piece #2 is a rock solid low cabinet. It was obviously made by hand. It smelled strongly of patchouli when I got it home.

Following the same process, we cut a hole in the slide a few inches above the inner platform, lined it with plastic and swapped out the gold knobs for brushed nickel knobs left over from our bathroom renovation at the old house.

Here it is inside. It’s so roomy we could probably put two boxes inside.

It’s positioned just below the window that looks on to our back porch, a perfect kitty sitting spot. The exit faces our fireplace so it’s concealed from the rest of the living room. I plan to either strip and re-stain this cabinet darker or paint it to match our living room. I would like to get cushions to put on top so that it acts as a people sitting bench in addition to a kitty sitting bench. Again, someday.

Mojo and Carston say it’s perfect for gazing out the window:

The cats have been using their new litter box cabinets with the holes in the side for more than a week now. We’ve happily noticed a that these cabinets do a decent job of containing unpleasant odors and the cats are more than happy to use them. Hooray!

What kind of furniture finds have you repurposed for your pets?

Bike MS training update #2

This past week was a great week for bike riding in Austin. I was able to get out on a few weekdays, including a ride to work on Friday for ride your bike to work day. Unfortunately my route did not take me by any free breakfast stations that were offered. Not that riding to work is out of the ordinary for me, I typically make the 11 mile round trip commute by bike 2 – 3 times per week.

On Saturday, May 19th I started my ride bright and early at 8 am, hoping to avoid any wind that might pick up. I cruised north on Parmer Lane for 21 miles before making a u-turn and heading home. The day was quite beautiful:

By the time I hit the u-turn the wind was in full force however, making it a little more difficult to enjoy the ride. Stopped at the used car dealership that sets out water containers for cyclists to get a picture of the flags flapping furiously in the wind.

My total ride distance was 42 miles.

On Sunday, May 20th I set out on a shorter ride in the afternoon. Oh, and without wind to annoy me. On shorter rides I sometimes just take a tour of neighborhoods near my home. Saw this house off Duval that had great metal yard art scattered throughout the front and back yards and some nice native plants out front.

Total distance for this ride was 21 miles.

I’m training for the 2012 Pedal to the Point Bike MS ride in northern Ohio. Consider supporting my participation by making a donation today!

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An update on our DIY stained concrete floors

As you may know from my last post, recently we bought a new house and converted our old house into a rental property. My biggest concern about converting the house into a rental property was how the concrete floors would hold up. If you don’t recall, I wrote about installing our DIY stained concrete floors in a series of three posts:

  1. Preparing to stain concrete
  2. Staining and sealing concrete
  3. Caring for your floors

While we took good care of our floors, they did get small nicks from our 50 lb dog’s claws and would get scuffs from furniture if rubber pads weren’t used. When we moved out, we found that the couches did a number on the floors in a couple of spots. Because we knew almost any tenant we would find in Austin would have a dog or two, and that tenants probably wouldn’t care for the floors like we did, we decided to put a more durable sealant on the floors.

EcoProCrete makes a harder sealer called EcoTuff. We passed on EcoTuff when first installing the floors because it was considerably more expensive than the Acri-Soy and it was much shinier. Once we decided to turn the house into a rental property, we knew the time had come to make the investment to protect the floors.

After talking with our supplier in Austin, House and Earth, we learned all about EcoTuff. It’s applied in a two part process using a two part primer/sealer and a clear coat finish. The primer/sealer is much like an epoxy, you have to mix two parts together before applying it. Apparently EcoProCrete has just come out with a primer/sealer that is just one part, but House and Earth was unable to procure it in time for us.

After reading the extremely poorly written and organized Manufacturers Application Guide (which I can’t find online), I decided that in addition to mopping the floor to clean it prior to the primer/sealer, I needed to mop it with a diluted citrus degreaser. The application guide warned against having any oils or waxes on the floor when the primer was applied. We did have a light floor wax as the top coat. To be super safe, I then mopped the floor again after degreasing. Let’s just say I was done with the whole mopping process by that time.

The next step was to do a test run of these products in one of the closets since I was uncertain about if and how this would work. I used a 3/8″ nap roller to apply the primer/sealer after mixing up just a bit of it. I must have applied the coating too thick in the closet because it never really dried to the point where it wasn’t slightly tacky. The instructions said that the coating should not be tacky. I had to go ahead and apply the clear coat to complete my test, and after that dried I wasn’t able to scrape up the coating so I decided it was fine. I had the green light to do the rest of the house.

I used a paddle mixer with our drill to mix the two cans for the primer/sealer together. I would then dip my roller in the can and roll out the material on to the floor. It was quite sticky. I used a T-bar applicator with a foam pad to smooth out the primer after it had been applied to ensure that I wasn’t applying it too thick. The primer hardens after a while, so I actually had to mix up a second batch once I reached the living room because the first batch was too thick. After drying for about 7 hours, the primer was no longer tacky and I moved on to the clear coat. The clear coat was quite fun to apply because I didn’t have to bend over and use a roller. I just used the T-bar applicator and the clear coat would just glide on. I poured the clear coat on the floor and then went back and forth from one end of the room to the other smoothing out the coat to ensure that no lap lines were left. After drying for an hour, I applied the second coat and was finished!

A few things I learned:

  • When dry, the primer and clear coat was very hard. When removing the blue painters tape from the baseboards, the paint would peel right off. Luckily, you couldn’t really tell with our baseboards since they’d recently been touched up. Definitely use the tape to cover surfaces like the transition areas from the concrete to another type of floor. Leave a small gap between the painter’s tape and the floor so that the coating on the floor does not trap the tape, leaving you unable to get it out.
  • Because we had first used Acri-Soy, we used less than 50% of the primer/sealer and clear coat that was called for by the manufacturer. This saved us a great deal of money since House and Earth was able to accept a return for the remaining material. I don’t know what the results would have been if we had not already had 2 coats of Acri-Soy on top of our Deco-Poz floors.
  • The T-bar applicator with foam pad was worth it’s weight in gold. It was quite heavy and good for smearing everything around, but the primer/sealer definitely needed to be first applied with a roller.
  • They don’t mess around with the shine on this coating. I kind of preferred the Acri-Soy + wax look, but needed the durability of the Eco-Tuff.

Since you’re probably tired of reading, on to the pictures!

Whoa, look at that shine!

Yep, pretty shiny from this angle too.


Now that we’re in a house that is partially carpeted, I desperately miss my concrete floors. I’m already counting down the days until I can rip out the carpet and do something different!

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Improving the bathroom cabinets

I suppose it’s been a while since I’ve written about anything I’ve made. For good reason it turns out. In the last few months we bought a new home which led to a lot of work on our old house to turn it into a rental property, as well as the mayhem that is moving. The good news is that I have a lot of projects saved up to tell you about.

The first project is something I really should have done years ago, which is refinishing the bathroom cabinets. They looked pretty terrible and I was embarrassed to think about showing the house in that condition. A bit of internet research later I decided to use gel stain to refinish the cabinets.


The terrible before:

The small bathroom, before

The finish on the cabinets was worn through.

The process:

  1. After removing the cabinet doors and drawers, removing hinges and knobs, clean the cabinets with mineral spirits and an old rag
  2. Sand the cabinets with a coarse sand paper followed by a finer paper. I didn’t worry about completely removing the finish that was there, but mainly just to scuff up the surface and remove any left over grime. Wipe down cabinets with mineral spirits to remove the dust.
  3. Apply the gel stain. The gel stain needs to be stirred pretty thoroughly first. I used a combination of a stain brush and old rags to apply, depending on how much surface area I was covering. I found that it was important to make sure the stain was applied very thin or it might not adhere when the polyurethane was applied. To do this, I used a rag to wipe off the excess stain a few minutes after I had applied the stain. This tended to be more of an issue when using the brush. The gel stain is a bit more work to apply than liquid stain, but it stays where you put it so you don’t have to worry about drips, which is especially helpful when staining the parts of the cabinets fixed to the wall.
  4. Let the stain dry. In humid Texas weather, this was much longer than what the directions claimed. To see if it was dry, I touched the stained surface to see if it felt tacky. If it was still tacky, I kept waiting. Once we moved out I moved the cabinet doors into the house so that they could dry in the AC.
  5. After dry, it’s time to apply polyurethane. Use a foam brush. It’s pretty easy to apply. The coats should be thin. They take 3 – 4 hours to dry before you must sand the finish, clean off the dust, and apply again. At least two coats are necessary.
  6. After two coats, reinstall the hinges and knobs. I replaced the old 80s looking knobs with some simple satin nickel knobs.

The finished product was a HUGE improvement. After replacing the light fixture, sink, faucet, and refinishing the cabinets we were a bit jealous that someone else got to enjoy our not so hard work. The upgrade was pretty cheap. The stain supplies ran less than $30 for two bathrooms and I had plenty of stain and polyurethane left over, currently being used on another project.

The small bathroom, upgraded

The large bathroom, upgraded

It’s that time… training season for Bike MS

For the next two and a half months I’ll be writing about my bike training shenanigans. You see, each year I ride in a Bike MS event. My first three years doing this, I rode the Houston to Austin BP MS 150 with 13,000 other riders. It’s quite the spectacle. Last year, I rode the Escape to the Lake in Western Pennsylvania, which is where my extended family lives. This year, I’m riding the Pedal to the Point in Northern Ohio on August 4th and 5th. It goes right through my home town! Needless to say, I’m super excited to ride in my old stomping grounds AND somewhere that isn’t Texas in August.

Each weekend I’ll update you on my training progress. This Saturday I rode in the Austin Cycling Association’s Armadillo Ride out in Liberty Hill. Because of the rain this week the temperatures were reasonable, the breeze was light, wildflowers in bloom, and the clouds were variable. All in all, it was a great 52 mile ride to kickoff my training season. The route is always well marked and the rest stops stocked with friendly volunteers. The only downside was a 6 mile stretch we rode both on the out and back route that was so bumpy I thought perhaps my head would rattle off. At least the wildflowers were particularly pretty on that stretch.

Oh, and I got to see the crazy banana bike in action. I’ve seen it out on Loop 360 before and always have to stare.