Fresh paint and clean paws

I put the finishing touch on our kitchen refresh recently with a couple cans of spray paint. My beloved metal IKEA kitchen shelves have followed me from Maine to Texas to Delaware, but their fire engine red color no longer had a place. I grabbed some Rustoleum paint and primer in Navy Blue gloss  and made a quick color change. 




What a difference!

 I love how the shelves look against our freshly painted gray walls, and how they continue the navy color from the dining room.  

In other house news, I tackled a big  summer cleaning project recently. The mess in our basement, which we use for storing tools and DIY materials, was getting out of hand. One hot day, when the basement felt refreshingly cool, I tackled the mountain of stuff that spilled off every surface. 

Before – yikes!

Big bins hide power tool parts, cleaning supplies, and drop cloths.

With $200 in storage units from Ikea, I made a home for all the miscellaneous bits, nails, tape, cords, drop cloths and power tools that were piling up. I took advantage of a pegboard to hang all our hand tools, too. 

I love this Ikea toy storage unit – the drawers are bins that pull out and can be carried with us.

I surprised Jon with the results, and he’s done a great job helping to keep the space organized.  It is so refreshing to walk downstairs and know exactly where each tool is. We’re also loving all the clear countertops now available for projects. But with lots of family visits this month, we’re taking a break from DIY and enjoying some summer R and R with loved ones and the furbaby. 


Pawprints & Paintbrushes

We spent the past few weeks blocking doors to keep Daisy’s paws out of wet paint. We’re finally ready to let the pooch back in the kitchen and share the results of our work!

We dream of completely renovating the kitchen someday, opening it up to the dining room. Since we can’t do that yet, we decided to refresh it a bit with a new coat of paint. I grabbed a few test pots and dove in, naively imagining I could finish in a weekend.

I painted a few swatches of gray on the wall, looking for a calm, cool neutral that would complement the color of our existing teal countertops.  I was also mindful of the deepness of the navy blue walls in the dining room next door. The existing yellow made the grays look a bit purpley, but we took a chance on BM Stonington Gray, the middle shade in the shot above.

The opposite wall has a row of windows and was painted a deep, glaring red that I couldn’t wait to get rid of. Originally I planned to paint over it with a warm blue accent to pick up on the countertops.

Unfortunately the window wall couldn’t be resolved with a couple coats of paint. I eagerly took down the dusty, outdated window valances we’d inherited, only to reveal a hack-job of sloppily DIY-ed window casings. Someone had nailed together uneven, unfinished boards around each of the eight windows.

Unwilling to trim them all out with new molding, Jon and I spent two weekends replacing the worst of the boards, then sanding and woodfilling the joints between them until they were smooth. We bought a belt sander, and the new toy made the worst of the job go quick.

Finally, I was ready to pick up a paintbrush. I changed plans and decided to paint the wall above and below the windows gray, to make the kitchen feel more continuous.

We tried out a couple options for blinds/shades, but in the end simply replaced the bottom-up cellulars that we had before. The new ones are clean looking, and they add a lot of privacy to a wall that looks out onto a busy

The kitchen “Before” shot, above, taken prior to move in.

And the “After” revealed! Simplified and more relaxing. Daisy is doing a good job posing for treats.

The view into the kitchen from the dining room. This shot shows the true color of the soft gray best. Of course Daisy dropped a chew toy right in the middle of the floor!

We have a tiny, quirky back entrance where we hang our coats. It connects the kitchen, sunroom, and stairs leading to the basement. All those doors and a low ceiling make it feel pretty cramped. Painting it out in gray and white, however, really helped make the nook feel less claustrophobic (the back wall was a dingy olive green before).    

One small touch was to add an organizer to the wall by the back door. Stuff always accumulates here, and it helps to have a designated place for keys and mail. Down the line, we plan to put more hooks and shelves in the sunroom for leash/umbrella/mitten storage.        


Jon helped me replace the hulking overhead fluorescent with a sleeker, modern update.

I’d like to replace the other ceiling light, too, since Jon is always bonking his head on it. But I have one more mini kitchen project in the works to finish up first – look for a post next week. Rrroof!


Working like a dog

This weekend we tackled one of the final steps to finishing the sunroom: tiling the two concrete steps that lead from it to the kitchen. After laying in the tile floor in a herringbone pattern last month, we stopped short. Two nude, beat-up concrete steps remained, staring us in the face every time we walked through the door. They were wonky, with wavy edges, uneven spots in the surface, and many flecks of paint showing their 80+ year history. There were three main problems to finishing the tile job. How do we deal with the transition between the tile and the laminate floor at the threshold? How do we square the shape of the steps? Finally, how do we make sure the steps remain sturdy? We were particularly worried about the edge of the stairs, where tile might crack under our feet.

 The options for threshold transitions at our local Home Depot were limited, but in the end we found a stock transition made for joining laminate to tile that was a similar shade of wood to the kitchen floor. Jon measured the height of the existing laminate and the concrete step. We had a mismatch in depth, but we hoped we could make up some of it by “backbattering” the piece of adjoining tile (adding extra mortar under the tile to make it sit up a bit higher). Raising the height of the step meant we needed to take the door off its hinges. We’ll cut the bottom to accommodate the height of the transition.

The transition comes in two pieces: a plastic track that gets fixed to the concrete, and a T-shaped strip of wood that fits into the track and bridges the two flooring materials.To secure the transition to the floor, Jon drilled holes in the concrete and and screwed the track into them. He added a bead of glue down the length of the track to make extra-sure everything would stay put. Pushing the wood strip into the track was pretty difficult, perhaps because our floor isn’t completely even. With all four hands pushing and cajoling, we finally snapped it into place. Jon then started tiling from the ground up. We were amazed at how the straight edges of the tile immediately made the step look more square. Jon took care to make sure the tiles were flush, adding extra mortar where necessary to fill in gaps between the concrete and tile. We’re hoping this will help secure the work for years to come.

We thought long and hard about how to finish the edges of the stairs. Some tile varieties come in “bullnose” – a rounded-edged tile used for countertops. Ours, unfortunately, did not. We also considered using stair nosing, a metal or wood piece of molding that fits over the edge of a step to protect it. But none of the options we saw looked right with the slate color. In the end we decided to use only our tiles, leaving the edges of the pieces exposed. Jon cut carefully so that only native edges of tile show (as opposed to exposing cuts made by the saw, since the interior color of the porcelain is lighter).

I made the decision early on to go with a subway pattern up and over the steps. Herringbone was difficult enough to lay over the smooth surface of the floor – we didn’t want to try it in 3D! The break in the pattern also draws attention to the step up. To finish the job, Jon carefully slipped the last pieces under the lip of the transition, backbuttering the tile to add a 1/4 inch of needed height. We had a small gap on the left-hand side where the transition curls up a bit, but I was able to fill it in the next day with grout. Removing the spacers and grouting the stairs pulled the project together with the floor, making the room feel as one. The orange flecks of color in the slate tile even picked up on the hues in the kitchen floor, softening the contrast between the laminate and the tile.By the end of the weekend, Daisy was happy to see the project finished and to get her humans back in time for a few games of fetch before the sun went down.

 While Jon was hard at work on the tile, I spent the weekend on a new DIY project inside. We can’t wait to share our kitchen refresh with you soon!

new tree

Barking up the new trees

On Saturday morning, I drove down to the University of Delaware to check out their plant sale. After perusing the enticing catalog online, I was eager to get my hands on some green. I circled the “wet-loving” plants ahead of time since our backyard has issues with flooding.

plant sale at the University of Delaware

plant sale at the University of Delaware

Dozens of people stood in line, and when the gates opened at 9:30, I got a crash course in the plant sale system: claim a plant, get assigned a number, find a staff person to tag your new baby with your number and hold it till you’re ready to check out.

waiting to be planted

waiting to be planted

There were so many beautiful plants at the sale, but in the end I decided on a couple small trees that could take the wetness of our backyard, plus two flowering shrubs. Earlier this month, Jon cut down two trees that had grown too close to our house, and I was eager to fill in the bare spots they left in the side yard. I settled on a native magnolia with evergreen leaves and a winterberry for the back (both tags listed moist/wet soil – fingers crossed!). I also bought a hydrangea and a white forsythia for the side yard. On my way out, I picked up three water-loving bearded irises to plant amongst the rocks.

grow, magnolia, grow!

Magnolia virginiana var. australis ‘Perry Paige,’ waiting to be planted

Here in Delaware, it seems like every tree in the state is in full bloom right now. Pink and white petals line the streets, but we have no flowering trees in our yard. I’m hoping this little magnolia can withstand our boggy soil and bring us some pretty springtime flowers in the future.

Ilex verticillata

Ilex verticillata ‘Southern Gentleman’ winterberry

Jon provided the muscle, digging holes for the trees and shrubs and helping me gently pull them out of their pots and into their new homes.  We planted this winterberry along the property line to give us some pretty color and screening in the backyard during the dead of winter.

Daisy enjoyed watching the process and soaking up the sun as we worked.

Hydrangea paniculata

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bulk’

Last year, I lusted after our neighbors’ beautiful hydrangeas, and I’m so excited we now have one of our own. Ours should have pink flowers; I’d love to get some white ones down the line, too.

painted door

our newly painted “blue lapis” backdoor

In other backyard news, the temps have finally risen enough for me to paint the back door leading out from the sunroom. My sister helped me pick out the color back in January, but it’s been too cold to realize the project until now. We were both loving the purply-blue periwinkle color on the paint chip, and the Ben Moore name “blue lapis” sealed the deal. But in real life it looks MUCH brighter than expected. Jon and I have decided to live with it awhile, but we may decide to repaint it a more muted blue or navy. On my walk through the neighborhood with Daisy tonight, it stood out very cheerfully – maybe the color works from a distance!

Seasonal allergies taking their toll?

And I will just leave you with this one of the pup mid-sneeze. Gesundheit!

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Digging in the dirt 

Daisy’s insistent barking pulled me out of bed at 8 am and into an absolutely glorious spring morning. As she did her business in the yard, I eagerly checked out the latest in our flower beds. Soaked in morning sun and dew, the daffodils, tulips, and blue “glory of the snow” flowers were reward enough for waking early.

tulips and daffs about to pop

Rabbits (or deer) have snacked on 3 of our tulips so far, leaving the leaves and going straight for the still-closed flowers. It breaks my heart, but we’ve got about a dozen that haven’t fallen victim to bunny bites yet. Two small, bright yellow and orange tulips just opened yesterday. They piqued Daisy’s curiosity right away.

Daisy sniffing out the new growth

This year Jon helped me build a 4’x8′ raised bed for growing vegetables. We built it from untreated pine and wrapped it in removable netting to keep the critters out. We filled it with bags and bags of soil (who knew dirt was so expensive?) and perlite to keep it light and retain water; then we put an inch of shredded leaves on top.

our new raised bed for veggies

In March, I started our spring veggies from seed: lettuce, onion, peas, broccoli, romanesco, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts. Most of our vegetable seeds were heirlooms from Seed Savers. They’ve all been transplanted to the bed and seem to be growing fast, although the onions are a bit droopy.

broccoli, Brussels sprouts, & cauliflower

Our backyard will get lots of shade once the leaves fill in on our oak trees, so we’re not sure how much our little plants will produce. Indoors, new summer seedlings are just poking through the soil: cukes, rutabaga, string beans, edamame, and swiss chard.  No signs of life from the tomato or watermelon seeds yet, but I’m hopeful. They’ll need the most sun, so we may need to plant them in the front yard.

summer seedlings growing indoors

I’ve been learning as I go, helped along by bimonthly classes at Longwood Gardens and by the episodes of You Bet your Garden I listen to religiously. For now, our garden is an experiment, but it’s been wonderful to watch the daily progress with furry paws by my side.

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Bury the bulb, not the bone

Seeing the flowers that popped up in our yard last spring was one of the best moments of our first year in the house. After one of the snowiest winters on record, the weather warmed at last and we found a cluster of grape hyacinths by the back step. Daffodils sprang up in a stately row among the ivy, followed by masses of daylilies in the front yard and irises in a round bed by the driveway. It was magic.

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the daylilies we inherited

We were too busy planning our wedding last summer to do much in the yard. But when the seasons changed again and the temperatures started dropping, I remembered those spring blossoms and had a sudden urge to add to our cache of perennials. I ordered a catalog from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and began lusting after the stunning blooms that filled its pages.

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one of last summer’s lilies

I got a little carried away. I only circled the prettiest flowers and tried to choose the more economical varieties, but by the time the order confirmation arrived in my inbox, I’d racked up over 200 bulbs. They arrived all at once in early October, with strict warnings to plant promptly before the ground froze. Jon and I got to work digging holes; Daisy thought it was playtime.

Short four paws, I bought a “Yard Butler” off Amazon, wooed by reviews that promised ease and speed of digging. The first holes went great, and I casually sprinkled crocus bulbs in the earth around my mailbox. Then I  hit rock bottom.

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the backyard boulders foreshadowed our digging troubles. (spot the errant dog ball)

The fieldstone boulders sprinkled through our yard should have been my first clue. Everywhere I dug I hit stone. Some rocks I could navigate around; others seemed to be buried for yards beneath the lawn. With Jon’s help, I succeeded in putting the last of the bulbs in the ground just as the sun was setting. But their placements were random, scattered wherever we could find a patch of soil unobstructed by rock, and I feared my plantings were too shallow. The squirrels seemed to be eyeing us all day, eager to get their paws on our newly buried treasure.

I only found a single bulb dug up by squirrels. Most of our plantings seemed to stay put, protected by a thin layer of mulch. I waited through the winter patiently, hoping that the sheer numbers we put in the earth would be in our favor come spring.

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dwarf irises and dog hair

In March, green shoots poked up around the rocks, between the trees, and by the back step. Jon and I started walking the yard in the evening, pointing out new growth and taking guesses at what each new green point would bring. A cluster of dwarf irises by the sunroom was the first to bloom.


our first crocus

In early April, I walked out to get the mail and was greeted by a single purple crocus looking up at me. A week later there were four. The crocuses continued popping up in the beds between the boulders. Daisy sniffs them curiously, but so far there have been no victims of trampling paws.

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the first daffodil of spring.

This week our first daffodil, newly planted in the bed between two trees in the back, unfurled its triumphant blond bloom. The line of narcissus planted by the previous owner has poked up through the ivy once again, and we’re eagerly awaiting the return of their sunny faces along our rock wall. No sign yet of the tulips or lilies we planted, and I am fairly sure the phlox did not survive, but we’re looking forward to the spring surprises yet to come.

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Daisy is curious.


Give a dog a [herring] bone

When we bought our first home 18 months ago, its charming sunroom was one of the features that sold us on the house. Little did we know it would turn into the monster of all DIY projects. Though the room was a bit outdated on move-in day, we fell in love with its rustic beadboard ceiling and ten sun-filled windows. But during our first months in the house, I noticed a spongy-looking wall near the entrance to the kitchen. Daisy saw it, too, and proceeded to play with the water-damaged drywall as if it was a giant chew-toy, ripping a nice new hole in its side.

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the sunroom, before

In September, Jon and I decided to tackle reno on the room. I’m not sure what we thought would happen when we started busting down walls, but the more we demo’d, the more we found. Soon it was apparent that three of the room’s walls were completely water-damaged, and that its support columns were starting to rot as well. We proceeded to rip the room apart, Daisy-style.



As gung-ho, hardworking, and outdoorsy as I believe myself to be, I learned that demo is not for me. With half of Jon’s strength and no idea how to handle a crowbar, my efforts at tearing down walls were dismal. The showers of dirt, rotting wood, and ants (which had made our wet walls home) sealed the deal. I left the destruction to my husband and turned to designing the sunroom’s new look.

Our first year in the house taught us that we needed more downstairs storage. I began to think of the new sunroom as a mudroom as well as a place for my coffee in summer. It’s our daily entryway into the house, and I wanted a sturdy room that could stand up to snowy boots and wet paws while giving us a spot to hang our coats and leashes. As Jon installed studs and hung a new door, I started eyeing plank wall tutorials on Pinterest.

sawdust girl’s plank wall tutorial got us started.

We sealed up the walls by winter and used the colder months to focus on finishing the inside. We followed Sawdust Girl’s tutorial on plank wall installation, with a few tweaks. Instead of using regular primer, my local paint guy suggested we use Zinsser B-I-N to hide the knots in the wood. We primed all four walls in the stuff, which was thin and drippy but gave us great coverage. We painted the walls with Benjamin Moore Kitchen and Bath paint, in Decorator White, since the room is high humidity and water tends to condense on the windows when the temps change.

We’d planned on painting over the concrete floors with a fresh new layer of epoxy. But Jon convinced me that tiling it instead would be worth the effort in the end. I immediately started dreaming of herringbone and filling up my Pinterest with images of gorgeous slate mudroom floors.

I’d read that a painted concrete floor couldn’t be tiled. We did some further research and found that we’d need to “scarify” the floor (manually grind away the paint) if we wanted the mortar to stick. Jon rented a machine from Home Depot, bought a blade, and got to work on the grimiest job of his life.


dust protection on & ready for scarification action

It was awful. The entire floor took less than three hours, but it sent dust EVERYWHERE. Through two sets of closed sunroom doors, up the stairs, through closed bedroom doors, and onto every surface of the entire house. Weeks later, we were still cleaning off dust. There’s a reason they call the job “scary.”

But the paint was gone, and we were ready for tile. We relied heavily on Young House Love’s outdoor tile tutorial. Since our sunroom saw dramatic shifts in temperature, we thought it best to go with a porcelain indoor/outdoor tile that could stand up to the cold. I fell in love with the slate-like Ivetta tile at Lowe’s, which, amazingly, was under $2.50/sqft. We took on the challenge of herringbone, a pattern that requires many, many cuts. One tool that made it easier was my beat-up triangle square from my art school days. And we took YHL’s advice once again and splurged for this amazing wet saw. It was $300, y’all, but man does it cut tile like butter! We plan to do more tiling projects in the future (all three bathrooms need floor updates), so the tool seemed like a good investment. By the second weekend, I was cutting and laying tile like a pro. Something about it felt a bit like icing a cake…


First weekend laying tile

Three weekends later, we finished laying the pattern, grouting the floor, and repeatedly wiping it clean — just in time for Easter brunch guests to walk through the door. We are tired, our fingers are chapped (wear GLOVES), but we are loving the new room. All that remains is to add some molding and tile the concrete step leading into the kitchen. For now, we’re taking a break. Woof!