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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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

A long tale about staining our concrete floors: Part 1 of 3 (preparation)

Happy Thanksgiving! Exactly one year ago, my husband and I were smack in the middle of the largest home improvement project we’ve ever tackled: staining our concrete floors. We did sections of the house in stages and we stained probably about 1100 square feet of floor. Over the Thanksgiving 2010 holiday, we tackled the largest chunk which was probably 750 square feet all at once. More about that later.

Because this was such a long and involved process, I’ve broken up my tale into 3 parts:

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

So, on to the preparation!

The preparation phase was by far the longest mostly because of the research I did. I knew that I wanted some sort of hard floors in the house and stained concrete seemed like the most affordable.  Aside from that, I knew nothing about what to do. I began researching online. I don’t have much recollection of everything that I read, but I do have a record of links saved on delicious if you are interested.

I read about many different ways to stain your floors. Since we would be living in the house with our four pets during the process, I knew I wanted to avoid the toxicity of most etch and stain combinations (like the ones found in Home Depot or Lowes). That lead to me to the ecoprocrete line of products, specifically SoyCrete stain. A number of discussions with employees at House + Earth here in Austin confirmed my idea that this would be the best stain for us to use.

I knew that I wanted to take this process slowly and test out colors and methods as we went. We decided to tackle the small spare bedroom first. I wasn’t quite sure which color I wanted so I ordered a number of samples from Eco Safety Products. We also knew from removing the carpet during our computer room remodel that our concrete was covered with paint from when the walls were painted before we moved in. (Thanks for the mess, painters!) From talking to some of the dealers on the phone and researching online, we decided to try some soy based paint strippers. I got two of them (one was Soy It and I don’t remember the other) and tried them out in the closet of the spare bedroom. They both worked pretty well for thick paint but the real fine paint spray didn’t come off that well. That combined with the fact that the stain didn’t look that great on top of our ugly concrete slab led us to seek an alternative.

At this point, we decided to use a concrete overlay. Again, ecoprocrete offered an easy-to-use, non toxic product that we settled on called Deco-Poz. We purchased it from House + Earth and talked extensively with the employees there who had used the products in the restroom of their store.

With our decisions about stain color and concrete overlay made, it was now time to begin the physical labor of preparing the floors.  We actually did the floors in three sections, the spare bedroom to test out our methods, the master bedroom, and then the combination of the living room, dining room, and hallway all at once (yeah, that was the giant Thanksgiving project of around 750 square feet).

In general this is how preparing the existing concrete worked:

  1. If you are painting the room, it’s a good idea to do it before the staining. Make sure to have some left over in case you splatter things from the floor on to your freshly painted walls. Trust me, it will happen. We also painted the baseboards at this time and went back and touched them up later.

    We painted the walls before removing the carpet

  2. Remove all carpet and carpet strips (Aside: if you have glue under the carpet, you will need to clean this off thoroughly. We were lucky and did not have glue.)
  3. Get a cheap mop to spread water around on the floor. Let it soak for 15 minutes or so. We found this made the paint much easier to remove from the floor. It also very handy to have a large squeegee to move water around during all stages of the cleaning process.
  4. Because the overlay is thin, the thick paint splatters had to be scraped up to keep from showing through. We got a paint scraper that you could stand up and use as well as a smaller one for the more delicate areas like by the corners. The big scraper looked something like this. This step can take quite a while depending on how much paint is splattered about and it’s nice if you can get men with muscles to help out.

    So. Much. Paint. Splattered.

  5. After scraping, mop the floors with water again and use a shop vac to vacuum it up so that there is very little residue left. You want the floor to be as clean as possible.

    The shop vac was our best friend during this process.

    Clean enough. And our helper.

  6. If your concrete has greasy spots on it (ours had some) you should also rent a floor buffer and use it to first buff the floors with citrus degreaser. Then buff with water to clean up the degreaser. Use the shop vac to suction up the water. I got these tips directly from ecoprocrete.  While we did this step, we only could rent a small floor buffer that was very difficult to use. You should be able to find a big industrial sized one to rent that you basically just walk behind. I think that would have been a better choice as we could still see some greasy spots through the stain when complete. However, because of the variations in the stain color, it at least looks natural.

    The floor buffer was ridiculously hard to use. Only my husband could run it while I felt bad for him.

  7. After cleaning and vacuuming the floors as best you can, let them dry overnight.
  8. If you have large (deeper than about a quarter or half inch and a half inch across) divots in the floor, you will need to patch them. They recommend using the Deco-Poz mixed to a thick consistency but we found this to use too much of that pricey product to repair our carpet tack holes so we ended up just buying a concrete patch kit and using that instead.

After everything is clean and dry, you are ready for part 2: staining your floors!

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The start of an exciting project!

I’ve got plans for a natural wood end table that I picked up cheap from craigslist. I’m upcycling! It will be awesome, I promise. So far I’ve sanded it down to remove the coating and stained it darker to try to match the living room. Next up: sealing it. Then, the real exciting part that I can’t share yet. Stay tuned!

Sanded and ready to be stained:

After two coats of stain:

The stain I used is eco-friendly TimberSoy from Eco Safety Products. It’s easy to use and easy to clean up. No harsh chemicals involved!