Look Out For Loons! Router-free Thrifty Frame!

At a yard sale recently I picked up this vintage plastic sign. A fan of yellow and red together, I thought it could brighten my basement study. Plus remind me and the Mints to look out for loons.

Plastic yard sale sign, salvaged from a program in Maine sometime in the past.
Plastic yard sale sign, salvaged from a program in Maine sometime in the past.

Ana White has a post called “Build a Barnwood Frame – $1 and 10 Minutes” that had caught my eye.  I was excited about it because while I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making a frame, I don’t have a router, which every other frame plan seems to call for. Though I was pretty sure it would cost me more than a buck and ten minutes, it seemed perfect for this. As usual, the plans were helpful and easy though it took me more than 10 minutes. For details, be sure to check  the Ana White website.

I’d already splashed out a $1.50 for the picture, so I was happy to find scrap 1×2 pieces in the lumber pile that would work for this. No pieces were long enough to frame the whole picture so I’d need to trim it to keep it cheap. I also already had leftover paint, nails and staples.

Once I figured out how much lumber I had — and how big the frame could be, it was time to start doing the miter cuts. I’m prone to errors so that meant measure thrice and do the big pieces first. The biggest pieces will be the outer frame so account for that in cutting.

Next I laid out the pieces against the picture to make sure they’d fit.

After I cut each piece, I laid it on top of the picture, pre-trimming, to make sure it would work.
After I cut each piece, I laid it on top of the picture, pre-trimming, to make sure it would work.
OK! Four sides done.

Next it was time to whip out that brad nailer and wood glue. Once the corners were clampled together, it was time to pop in the brads. Either my skills are getting better or I was lucky because this time, I only had to extract a couple of misfired nails!Clamping

Wood filler was next, to smooth out all those awkward gaps. My frame was going to be painted so I felt free to enthusiastically ladle it on.

Wood filler making the gaps disappear.
Wood filler making the gaps disappear!

Once it was dry, I sanded it well so it would be smooth for painting. It’s important to do this step now because once it’s joined to the outer frame, it’s hard to get to the very edges.

Now it was time to build the outer frame. This baby lines up perpendicular to the inner frame so it was a similar process, with the wood flipped onto its sides instead of laying it flat. Again, the Ana White plans have the details on getting it done.

Next it was time to build the outer frame.
Next it was time to build the outer frame.

Before cutting, it’s important to measure a couple of times and size it against the inner frame as you go. The two frames fitted together will look like the pic below. Remember that the outer frame is going to be about 1.5″ bigger than the inside frame.

Inner frame fit into the outer one.
Inner frame fit into the outer one.

When you join them, the inner frame needs to be a little inset — perhaps a fourth or half inch — so there’s a little lip. You don’t want it set too far in — for example, flush to the back — because you need room to mount the picture inside. Remember, there’s no router in this project so the outside/inside frame approach is how you get the inset you’d normally create with a router.

Note: my project didn’t call for glass inside the frame but you could use this approach to do it.

Attached framesOnce they’re joined, there’s more wood filler and sanding in your future. Because it was getting painted, I was an enthusiastic user of my random orbital sander.

Here's what it looks like pre-paint.
Here’s what it looks like pre-paint.
And now with paint.
And now with paint.

Gotta love paint. Keeps the rustic look and hides all the ugly. Once painted, I sprayed the frame with some Varathane. It wouldn’t change the rustic look too much and would make it a lot easier to dust . . .

Attach picture to frame.
Attach picture to frame.

I taped the top of the picture in and then just stapled it to the inner frame. I put dishcloth covered blocks under the inner frame before stapling — didn’t want the pressure of the staple gun to dislodge the inner frame (the dishcloths were for padding so it wouldn’t mark the painted frame).

Once that looked good, I FINALLY cut the bottom of the plastic picture off and stapled that in too.

Done! And if you look closely at the bottom right, you can see one of my misfire gouges. Good thing we’re calling this look “rustic.”

And now here it is in situ.

In situ. And an important warning when you come down the stairs. You never know where loons will lurk.
In situ. And an important warning when you come down the stairs. You never know where loons will lurk.

Plastic yard sale loon sign, salvaged from somewhere in Maine.

What about you? Have you tried making a frame before? Successes? Failures? Other ideas or plans for a router-free frame? Next I’m going to try this one with a fabric picture . . .

Chalk Painted Electric Fireplace

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.

Roanoke 23 in. Convertible LED Electric Fireplace - Oak

I used the great recipes from In My Own Style to get the job done.

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.

Chalk painted fireplace. Sealed with Miniwax Finishing Paste.
Chalk painted fireplace. Sealed with Miniwax Finishing Paste.

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?

Basement Color Choices

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.

Image result for red yellow apple images

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.

Finished bookcase.
Finished bookcase, white painted wood, red and white fabric “wallpaper.”


So, that’s where we’re going with all this. More photos and updates to come.





DIY Basement Wall Storage Unit

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!

Relying heavily on this article about built-in bookcases from the Instructables, I mapped out the plan.

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.

The built in would go against the far wall.
The built in would go against the far wall.

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.

30x30x12 in. Wall Cabinet in Unfinished Oak

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.

Base cabinets installed.
Base cabinets 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:

Cabinet top/bookcase base.

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.
  • Paint them.
  • 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.

First bookcase rail in!

  • 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.
    Another side in, eyeballing the placement of the other sides.
    Another side in, eyeballing the placement of the other sides.


  • Once all the sides are in, it’s time to cut, paint and insert shelves.
Time to test an actual shelf.
Time to test an actual shelf. Not the un-built area to the left? That’s because there are some utility panels that I couldn’t cover up.
Finished bookcase.
Finished bookcase.

2014-04-26 22.41.48

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


Basement Upgrade: Family Room & Study

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.

An Inviting Basement Stairwell

Lightening Up the Basement: Wall Removal

Color Choices

DIY Built-In Storage Cabinet

Fabric Wallpaper

Chalk Painted Electric Fireplace

Storage Daybed in the Study

Thrifted High End Blind


Have you upgraded a basement? Triumphs and disasters? Please tell all.


Brightening the Basement: Wall Removal

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.

Dark looking, the vestibule that greeted you when you came down the stairs felt dank, even if it wasn't.
Dark looking, the vestibule that greeted you when you came down the stairs felt dank, even if it wasn’t. Zero windows didn’t help.

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:

A last look at the vestibule pre-wall removal.
A last look at the vestibule pre-wall removal.

2014-04-22 13.00.30

The bedroom that would no longer be.
The bedroom that would no longer be.
Wall down!
Wall down!

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.