The Minnipin house had been a rental before it went up for sale. Only two probably-original door knobs were still here. One, a pretty glass one-way knob on the linen closet, the other a character-filled iron looking affair on the old, original door to the basement storage room. What was here was a range of brass, bronze and silver doorknobs, all keyed, probably for renter security.
The door knobs needed replacing, if not for aesthetics, for safety. Keys to all these doors hadn’t come with the house. I dreaded the moment I’d lock myself out of a room, or when a young child might lock itself in. I needed privacy knobs, but keyless ones.
Pretty glass knobs with privacy features were out of budget. Poking around for something actually appealing, I stumbled across egg shaped knobs on several home store sites. The more I read about them, the cooler they seemed. Turns out that egg shape is easier to turn than the standard round knob. I liked their old European vibe and the look. Egg it was going to be.
Install was easy, even for a first time door knob installer like me. The hardest part was working around all the dings and previous installs this almost 70 year-old house had endured. The second hardest part was patience. At around $24, I couldn’t do all the doors at once. So the upgrade was a one-a-month sort of thing. Both Amazon and Lowes were my sources, depending on prices at the time I bought each one.
Two years later, I’m loving these knobs. The inevitable lock out has happened a couple of times, easily solved with the pin release that comes with the set. They’re easy to use and keep clean. Part of me still wishes I had those pretty glass knobs from the fantasy upgrade. The eggs so clearly aren’t original to the house. But they work. They feel clean. They add a little pleasant interest.
Also, they made it easy to decide on little egg knobs for the kitchen cabinets. These cabinets might be original to the house. They seem like they were made in a time when people got excited about machine finishes and what a router and a jigsaw could do. Solid, if not super space efficient, they’re still going strong. Hole free, it was obvious that the cabinets had never had knobs or pulls.
For the kitchen, I settled on York Satin Nickel Cabinet Knobs. This was also part of my Interim Kitchen project. I wasn’t sure they were strictly necessary — the Minnipin house had been without all these years. Why now?
Hmm. Well, the first reason was function, ease of door opening. And a second was just that twitch to do something to make these cabinets a little fresher, since replacement wasn’t an option.
So, so glad I did the project! The nickel adds a little gleam to the kitchen overall, somehow making it look more ordered. Those slow moving drawers are much easier to handle now. Cleaning is simpler too, partly because the cabinet edges stay cleaner and the knobs are freshened with a quick swipe.
I’ve decided to make this a Thing, a Thrifting Thing. So this will be an ongoing post.
Background:I’m determined to replace the builder grade nipple lights that the rehabbers stuck into this 1947 cottage. I love getting a good deal, appreciate a little sparkle, and think great lighting is necessary. Can the cottage be brightened and lightened with seriously cheap thrifted lights?
I hope so. Now the hunt is on to do exactly that. $10 for light fixtures seems like a good, reach number. Not easy, but with luck and persistence, doable.
Two main challenges:
Flush mount is just about all that works. This Minnipin house has low (about 7.5′) ceilings. Anything that goes up can’t be too big.
Score two: Vintage welcoming pineapple-look light for front entryway, $10, plant and moving sale. Just short enough for the door to clear it. Just.
Score three: Outdoor wrought-iron chandelier, $10, garage sale. $2 for hanging links. So this one went over budget if you count the chain needed to hang it from the branch. While I don’t use candles on it to light the table too often (it gets dark late here), I love the sense of presence it gives the dining area. Also, it sort of bounces with the branch in a high wind. In everyday life, now I get to see my beloved little quartz eggs whenever I go outside.
My basement always runs 10 degrees cooler than the main floor of the house. Nice in the summer. Less so in the depths of winter. The bunker needed something to warm it up, both for a little localized actual heat and for the welcoming feeling a flicker of flame can provide.
On the someday list is adding a gas fireplace. For now, an electric fireplace or just a space heater would be the only options. I preferred a fireplace for safety and aesthetic reasons. The trouble was, I just could not bring myself to open my wallet to drop $300-$500 on the kind of unit that would look good and warm up that space. And they were mostly unappealing to me, with that faux wood/veneer look they all seem to have.
You know where this is going! It was time to lurk around Craigslist and see what could be found. It turns out that Summer is a good time to shop for this sort of thing in the classifieds. Without too much looking, I found one in good condition last summer.
Still, not a look I loved. But at the el cheapo Craigslist price, painting didn’t feel like an affront. Regular paint wouldn’t work over that hard poly finish most electric fireplaces have. But chalk paint, with its superior adhesion, could fix all that.
So here it is. In the winter or when there are overnight guests, it adds some nice, quick warmth to the basement. The electric flame is janky but cheerful. I even kind of love it, which is not something I ever thought I’d say about a fake fireplace.
Now I just have to decide whether to turn my parent’s brass candlesticks into lamps . . .
What about you? Have you refreshed an electric fireplace unit? How did it work out?
The bunker basement needed a warm palette. And also a light palette. It had been painted one of those moldy tans, under the mistaken impression that all earth tones are warm, maybe. Or perhaps it was remainder paint. I dunno. The rehabbers did it to make the old rental/fixer look clean.
Some things couldn’t be immediately changed about basement, including the fact that it was a 7′ ceiling and so naturally inclining to the dark side. Also, the serviceable new tan carpet the rehabbers put in right before I bought the house was going to stay.
Other things could, including the removal of a wall, to create a family room / home office space.
I’ve always been drawn to pale yellow and red, maybe because of pretty apples, maybe because of how well it’s used in some Asian decor. It’s just pretty.
Hmm, noticing here that my favorite images aren’t exactly basement rooms.
Anyway, that’s what I decided on. It would work well with white trim, add warmth, and not darken or drag down the space. Pale yellow walls, white painted trim, red accents. None of this would fight too much with the neutral carpet. Also, I thought that the use of red in both the basement and the basement stairwell would offer a nice transition.
Since my first big change would be the built-in, I painted it white and used fabric in red and white for the back-of-the-bookcase part.
So, that’s where we’re going with all this. More photos and updates to come.
Once I’d got a bedroom wall removed as part of my basement upgrade, it was time to think about improving function. I wanted storage, a place for my books, and for all that to be out of the way. Time for a basement built-in!
The spot I chose for the the built in was the far wall of the basement. Adjacent to that wall was a closet, with doors that started about 15 inches from the wall. It also extended to a window, which started about 20 inches from the wall, so it was a sort of narrow strip.
It seemed destined for a built-in. 15 inches is not a lot of space but not blocking the closet was essential. So it was basically going to be wasted space unless a built-in could go there. The built-in would also be drawing space from the long side of the room, far better than cutting into the narrow part.
Originally I thought about simple floor to ceiling bookcases. These would have been the most inexpensive option. Yet, I live with cats. Though mostly well-behaved, we have the occasionally rage moment. So the base of whatever storage I implemented needed to be closed, protecting whatever was inside from possible bad behavior.
I did consider building my own base units. As part of the Interim Kitchen project, I’d built an appliance cabinet from scratch (article coming soon!). A great experience, it came with some lessons.
First was cost. It’s just not always cheaper to build than buy, especially when your aesthetic is simple and clean. And your budget is cheap. Another lesson was about time investment. Building a cabinet is fun, but requires care and some precision. I wanted to get this unit built quickly, so I could unpack my books and just get organized.
Palette-wise, I was going for light and bright to lighten the basement. Cabinets would be a conventional white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It would work instantly with the yellow-red colors I planned for the basement, and in the future if I changed up the color scheme. So painted white wood seemed right.
For the base cabinets, I settled on four of these upper cabinets from Home Depot. Though you can get already-white stock cabinets, they seemed to shiny and laminate like to me. I wanted the white of painted wood in exactly the white I was using in the rest of the house. These cabinets would be 12″ deep, 30″ tall and 30″ wide. These seem to go on sale every now and then so if you’re diving into a project like this one, start lurking around for that 20% off sale.
I laid out the cabinets with a frame made of 2×4 against the wall and cut away the carpet in that spot. Score! That carpet was used to patch the carpet from the wall removal part of this project. Since these are usually wall cabinets, there’s no clearance between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor. The 2×4 frame gives the cabinets that clearance, plus a little height, stability, and level consistency. I painted the cabinets first outside and then got the bases installed.
Next it was time to do a top counter. Functioning as the bookcase base, it needed to be wider than the 12″ cabinet depth, but smaller than the 15″ allowance wall-to-closet clearance. This was easily accomplished by asking the home store guys to cut the panels to the right width, and finishing it with a nicely sanded 1×2.
Base to ceiling bookcase supports to go up but before that, I wanted to do something interesting for the the wall behind the bookcases. Wallpaper seemed like too much work and commitment. Armed with my with fabric, liquid starch and a roller, I got started. For the details on my fabric-as-wallpaper, go here.
Ten minutes later (literally), it looked like this:
For once I was kind of excited by these low ceilings because my 54″ fabric panel installed without cutting or piecing.
Next it was time to put up the rails / sides of the bookcases. In my ideal world, they’d go floor to ceiling and line up with the cabinets. Here’s a summary of the basic steps:
Cut the boards to measure.
Drill holes inside the bookshelf sides. Use a pegboard for very easy spacing. These holes are going to be where you insert shelf spacers so make the hole size right for your pegs.
Drill pocket hole screw spots at top and bottom of each side.
Mount top of shelf to two sides using pocket hole screws. Check to be sure it’s square.
Mount 3/4 box onto top of shelf base using pocket hole screws.
Next it was time to install the additional side. It’s essentially like the first box, only this time it’s an L and not a U since two sides of the box are already in.
Once all the sides are in, it’s time to cut, paint and insert shelves.
And here it is, finally! Tons of storage.
Doing it again, I wouldn’t do the project exactly as I did this time. Here are some lessons learned:
Kinda wished I’d been even cheaper and looked at the ReStore for upper cabinets to use. I only needed 12 feet of upper cabinets to get this going. As used cabinets, uppers are often great condition and would have reduced project cost significantly.
Check all the cabinets at the store. Or as soon as you get home. One of the cabinets has a gap between the doors that just bugs me. It’s small, and I couldn’t see it when I pulled the unit, which was packaged. Didn’t notice it until I was ready to install all the units and unwrapped it then. Urg. At that point, I was in GET IT DONE mode and just didn’t want to go back to the store. Now it’s there forever and will always bug me a little, even if no one else notices it.
Have the patience to redo it. I messed up a little on the trim of the cabinet topper. This is another thing that only I seem to notice. Wish I’d had the patience at the time to rip it all apart and do it again, properly.
Make thicker shelves: I cheaped out and used 1/2″ shelf plywood. I wish I’d gone with a thicker shelf, and a better, smoother grade of plywood. It would cost more, but I’d like it better. For now, I’m okay with my thin plywood shelves, even if they’re bowing a little.
Maybe upgrade the quality overall. I was thinking basement/second-best materials for this basement storage unit. Sometimes I wish I’d gone for slightly higher quality in my materials. Other times it seems just right to me. Always I am so glad I had the chance to learn on this project.
What do you think? Have you made a built in? What would you do differently? For more on how the whole basement upgrade is going, check here.
I think of my basement as “The Bunker,” maybe because this house was built in 1947, and I imagined the first owners thinking they’d use it to hide out from the A-bomb. I used that to infuse it with a more useful floor plan and a warmer vibe.
But before it got there, that basement needed help. Dark and depressing, with boxed up spaces, I needed it to evolve into a useful, inviting space that could also handle overflow guests. This meant multiple, incremental projects which are listed below. Please stay tuned as more below segments go live.
I wanted the behind-the-books part of my DIY storage unit to pop and be pretty. Wallpaper seemed like too much work and commitment so I poked around online for fabric-as-wallpaper articles. These three great articles took the mystery out of the project:
Armed with my $5 per yard red and white fabric from Home Fabrics (discount upholstry & drapery fabric) store, liquid starch and a paint roller, I got started.
Now, my technique wasn’t the best practices described in these articles. Here’s what I did:
Painted the wall in liquid starch with a little roller.
Placed the fabric on the wall (didn’t put starch on the back of it. Too unweildly, too much cat hair to fight).
Put a few staples in the top to be extra sure it would stay in place. (The staples aren’t generally required and wouldn’t normally be pretty. I felt okay about adding them because I knew they’d be covered by the shelving.)
Rolled over the fabric with starch to seal it to the wall.
Waited for it all to dry and then tested it to see if would really peel off THAT EASILY. And . . . it did! And pasted back down just as easily with the application of a little more liquid starch.
It all worked just fine and went super fast (like maybe 10 minutes). And here’s how it looked:
Have you used fabric for wallpaper? Love or hate it?
I got lucky with the Minnipin house because it came with a finished basement. The spare bedroom is nice for overnight guests, though it’s not space I need to use everyday. And it’s convenient that the house’s second tiny bathroom is down there.
I did need to use the rest of the basement as my home office, for storage, and for cat convenience. And it would be ideal to have a family room feeling space in the basement, not just boxed off bedrooms and a bathroom. This house is big enough, but the footprint is not huge. So, making use of basement was important.
Unfortunately, as I got acclimated to living here, I found myself more and more reluctant to go into the basement. Part of it was the uninviting stairwell, which I’ve been working on (details here). Yet it was also what you experienced when you got down the stairs as well.
Adding a window to the vestibule was cost prohibitive in the basement because it required cutting through concrete, making a well, etc.
Sacrificing a bedroom to create a family room/study started to make sense. There would still be my guest bedroom and the bathroom. A family room could also handle overflow guests, on the rare occasion when I have so many that the bedrooms can’t cope.
I decided to remove the wall of the bedroom closest to the busier street outside. That way the guest bedroom would offer more quiet and privacy for guests. Also, this was the bedroom with the smallest closet, so the least appealing to actually occupy.
After some basic research online, I decided that my expertise was just not up to doing this all myself. So I went to my realtor-recommended handyman service, the Pros of Idaho. A quote of around $500 would cover wall removal, patching the ceiling and sorting out the electricity.
“We” got started fast:
And it went fast. Now when you came down the stairs, you’d walk into a long, big room illuminated with natural light.
Next the Pros sorted out the wiring so that the light switch that turned on the old vestibule light would also now turn on the old bedroom’s overhead light. I also hired them to patch the carpet where the wall was gone, something I’d planned to do myself originally. This cost an additional $150 and let’s face it, with a better result than I’d have got myself.
Wall removal done! Onto turning it into an inviting, useful space starting with built-in storage.
Once I mostly painted the Minnipin House, I turned my attention to other outdoor aesthetics. There’s no one who’d call my front yard a showpiece but I’m trying to improve things incrementally.
First up was the undistinguished front stoop. It looked better than it did pre-paint but needed a little gravitas. Or drama. Or something. So I poked about and stumbled on Ana White’s Frame & Panel Planter Plan. That inspired me build a tall, painted planter for the stoop. Topped with an old topiary frame, I’d say it generally worked out OK, though I’m still waiting on my vine hydranga to blossom.
Still the stoop looked . . . incomplete. Because of mailbox placement, I didn’t want to try to match the existing planter exactly in terms of height, but it needed something. And I did have a second swirly trellis that I wanted to do something with, but I just wasn’t sure what. Deep in No Spend Spring, this project seemed to be on endless hold.
Sorting wood in the garage the other day, I made a pile of leftover outdoor wood, mostly bits of fir and cedar and some mystery stuff that had clearly lived outside for a time. As part of No Spend Spring, I’d already used some old fence tips to make a rustic succulent planter but until I started really looking at the pile, had assumed I didn’t really have enough to do a larger, more distinguished looking planter that would sort of match the one already in place on the front stoop.
Also, I was guilty of doing that silly thing where you assume you need to use all the same kinds of materials to make something great. I didn’t have enough fir for a whole big planter. Or enough cedar. Or enough mystery outside wood. Or any 1x3s. But combining the scraps? Making it smaller? And painting my standard accent black it so the differences in wood would be invisible? Possible!
So that was my first near-miss opportunity. Time to eyeball it, measuring again and again.
I looked back onto the Ana White plans to refresh the project in my mind. I’d try to make this one look like a shorter version of my original. I scanned the recipe and got to work.
Because I wasn’t using the plan’s exact measurements, I decided to cut all the big pieces first and just make sure I had enough scraps as I went along. There would be just enough leftover cedar and fir pieces if I went for a 15″ height. 15″ would give me enough of a rise for sweet potato vine to tumble prettily over the stoop. I could stick something in the middle to go up and climb over my second swirly trellis. I also decided vary from the plan by using only salvaged 1x2s, and not any 1x3s, which I didn’t have anyway.
Here’s how all that cutting played out.
Side panels of fir and cedar. Rails of 1x2s salvaged from another disaster project.
Next I used the trusty pocket hole jig to make the frames. So proud of myself! I actually remembered to make sure the crappy, damaged parts of the wood faced inside the planter, where they’d never be seen. And I remembered that two panels needed to be 1.5″ wider than the other two.
Now it was time to nail the cedar fence planks to the frames . . . and I discovered I’d cut them too short. Like seriously too short. Impossibly too short. Hard to salvage too short. Why didn’t I read the plan more carefully? Too damned short. Argh!
At this point I was seriously tempted to just go buy a few more cedar fence planks. They’re pretty cheap when you’re only buying 2-3; my cost would be $5-$7.50. But that would be the opposite of the spirit of the project and a direct violation of my No Spend Spring commitment and all the things I’ve been learning. If nothing else, I know myself well enough to know that every time I looked at that planter, it would bug.
The frames could be cut down. I could turn them into a 12″ frame instead of the 15″ I was going for. That would change the look not for the better. And, for once I’d let my frames set up properly so the glue and screws were just about perfect. Busting them apart to whop 2-3″ from the frames would be tedious, would damage the wood even more. And I just didn’t want to.
This is the point in time where it’s a really good idea to take a long, tall drink of water and do something else for a time. Deep breaths. Just because my easy project didn’t turn out easy . . . well, it could be abandoned. No one but me would know. Or I could blow the budget. Or I could figure something else out.
The issue was mounting the fence planks when they were too short to stick onto the frame. And coming up with something that wouldn’t shorten the frame.
Hmm. The stubby cedar & fir planks did have middles! A bar across the middle of the frame could solve that. And I did have enough leftover 1×2″ to make four little bars. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t going to exactly match the look of the bigger planter but painted black, it wouldn’t be jarring. I can live without matchy matchy as long as I can get some harmony going.
The end result was a little wobbly. You can see some air at the top, where the planks aren’t big enough. I decided that should work okay because I’d be lining the planter with black landscape fabric so the gaps would hopefully sort of disappear. And the weight of the dirt would stabilize the wobble a bit. This planter wasn’t going to move around basically ever, so this precarious plan might not be so ridiculous.
Though 15″ tall, I wanted a shallower planter because I’m pretty parsimonious about dirt. I really am. If I have extra good quality dirt, I want it to go into raised bed vegetables or as many containers as possible. So I used some scrap 2x2s to create a ridge and nail in some slats, making the planting depth about 8 inches.
Now it was time to add the top ridge, which would help the cosmetics quite a bit. Unfortunately, I’d used up so much of my scrap 1×2, there would not be enough to do the whole rim. Time to patch the little left over gap.
This is what I ended up with. Made from salvaged wood, it was — and still is — riddled with holes from extracted screws and brads. This is the point where you’re supposed to whip out the hole filler and get to work.
Only I couldn’t. Because I’m out of that stuff and we’re in No Spend Spring. So I got to work with my left over black SharkSkin Deck and Siding Stain, hoping for the best. While that stuff doesn’t totally fill in gouges in a beat up deck, it does have a smoothing over effect.
And this is the result.
So, I am pleased to have moved these outdoor wood scraps into being something useful, that gives the front stoop a little more balance. And I think that the middle bar I had to use essentially disappears painted black.
I still have dreams of a bigger front stoop, the kind you can put a rocker on. And railings. And a lot of other things. But this is it for now.
What do you think? What would you have done differently (besides measure twice)? Is the stoop now too matchy matchy? Should I paint the concrete dark gray (that’s what the concrete base of the house is painted.
Besides all the garden inspiration, I loved his plan to host 100 cats and call each of them by a number. What a smart way to go about it!
Mr. Nichols reminded me that there were some gaps in my life just then, some missed opportunities for happiness. It was time to love a garden again. And it was time to have cats. Possibly a dog or two. Maybe not 100 cats. Maybe something more like 10. Not at once. Just as the years ticked by.
It started with Miss Omega Mint, an aged Siamese who’d been parked in the shelter for several months. She needed to own a home again. I needed her. We also needed a kitten, so neither of us would get too hinky or obsessive. W&M picked out Jack T. Mint for me, based on his alleged intelligence. A pesty kitten with a ridiculous tail, he was destined to become our alpha.
Omega died too soon, a grand old lady when she came to me. Her passing made way for Elsa Mint and Augustus Calendar Mint, who, with Jack, established a sort of neighborhood pride. This was entirely Gus’ fault. (If ever someone recommends a kitten to you as “a lover, not a fighter,” run the other way. That lover will make friends with other cats, teach them to use your cat door, and share his meals with them.)
Since then the ranks of the Mints have swelled, mostly unintentionally. Every time I realize we’ve got a new one, I have that sick sense of dread. And every time I find so many surprise moments of laughter and love. We’ve got a great beast of a dog on board as well, Maxim M. deMint. When he’s not guarding (aka bossing) me, he delights in staggering around with his nose up the other Mints’ grills.
I love watching this dynasty develop, and am honored to be their host. Their dynamics are endlessly interesting and every time I think I’ve got them figured out, I’m quickly corrected.
Lucky us, all the Mints are flourishing after this move to Boise. Even dreadful Barn Cat, who I felt guiltiest about relocating, is thriving, probably the happiest he’s ever been.
So, that’s the Mint Dynasty in a nutshell. A strange and vibrant social organization that has delegated their care and feeding to me. Sometimes they even let me sleep in. Sometimes.