Monday, October 16, 2017

Checking In: Living Room Built-ins (Nearly a Year Later!)

DIY is always a slow moving train around here. Between the two of us working full time, a 8 month old, and year-round softball - life is one huge time suck and there just isn't much time or energy leftover for house projects.

I had to scroll all the way back to December 2016 in my phone to find this photo:

Those are our cabinets for the built-in getting delivered - almost a year ago!

Man...we suck!'s almost December 2017 and we're still not done. We're close though!

Ok, I lied. We're about 50% done. But since the living room built-ins is on our list of 2017 House Goals list, I thought I'd show you where we're at and how we got here.

After soliciting several quotes and dying of sticker shock (basically this project all over again) we decided to DIY. DIYing a built-in isn't really all that hard. It's just intimidating. So before we got started, we pulled inspiration from these DIY built-in projects here, here, and here and just went for it.

We chose to use unfinished upper kitchen cabinets from Home Depot because they were readily available, affordable, and wouldn't eat up a lot of floor space. They arrived December 17, 2016 - see picture above.

We went with five 30" upper kitchen cabinets for an almost 13 foot built-in unit! Hellllo storage!

After the cabinets arrived we built a base for the cabinets to sit on. We did this so that we could wrap baseboard around the base of the cabinets for a "built-in look". We chose to have the base flush with the cabinet fronts rather than set back like a traditional toe-kick in a kitchen set-up.

Since we have 5" baseboard all throughout the house we built the base for the cabinets to sit on just slightly smaller than 5". This way...the baseboards would completely cover the base plus slightly overlap the bottom edge of the cabinets. I think we ended up going with a 2x4 and 1x2 turned on its side to achieve the height we needed.

We also ran a 2x4 along the back wall of the living room - secured into the studs - to bump the cabinets out away from the wall about 2". We did this for a few reasons...the first was so that we could easily secure the cabinets to the 2x4 (which was already secured to the studs) so we didn't have to worry about hitting studs if we had secured the cabinets directly to the wall. The second reason we did this was because bumping the cabinets out from the wall 2" allows the bookshelves up top to be recessed a bit. With the 2" bump out the counter becomes 15" deep (12" cabs + 2" bump out + 1" overhang = 15" counter) giving a little extra counter space up top and an overall better "built-in" look.

What came next was probably by far the hardest part of the entire install. So glad it's over and so glad we both still love each other after the fact - ha!

To install the cabinets we started with the base we had built on the ground, set each cabinet on top, and began securing the cabinets to the 2x4 along the back wall all while making sure everything was level and plum - using shims where necessary (omg - so many shims). The first cabinet was pretty easy and straightforward - it was secured to the side wall, the back wall, the base, AND the adjoining cabinet. It did however, get more difficult with every cabinet we added to ensure that the unit as a whole was level and plum. We had to use quite a few shims along the back wall because our wall is not perfectly straight (what wall is?) and we also shimmed the base quite a bit because our floor slopes down pretty bad in that area too. Other than that...we secured the hell out of these cabinets: to the back wall, the base, and the adjoining cabinet(s) - they aren't going anywhere!

Below is the side view - right after we installed the cabinets and getting ready to add baseboard. This area got covered up with a project panel so you'd never know we're cheating the depth by 2".

A couple things I should probably mention - we did not secure the base to the floor at all. I didn't want to drill holes into perfectly good flooring in case a future owner wanted to come in and rip it out and then be left with holes. We could've secured the base to the side wall if we wanted to but determined that the sheer weight of all the cabinets plus bookshelves up top would prevent this thing from going anywhere.

We also made sure to measure and cut out holes in the back of a few cabinets so that we had access to any outlets along the wall. We did this before securing the cabinet so if we had to make any adjustments, it was easier to do.

Once all the cabinets were installed and secured - we focused on the top or the "counter" portion of the built in.

I knew going in that this would be the portion of the project that would be our biggest hang up. We built a 13 ft cabinet but finding a 13 ft topper would prove to be either very difficult, very expensive, or both. SPOILER ALERT: it's both.

One of the tutorials that I referenced above used a single piece of butcher block for affordability and while butcher block is affordable, a 13 ft length was still a few hundred dollars and more than I wanted to spend. Plus...I didn't want a stained top. I wanted an all white top to achieve the look of this project. Except they were working with pre-fab Ikea cabinets and didn't need a top like we did.

So after procrastinating about it way too long, we decided to make our own. We chose a high quality, paint grade, birch plywood and seamed 2 smaller pieces together to make one massive counter top that could be painted to match the rest of the cabinets. We purchased the plywood from Home Depot and had them rip it down to size in the store.

Here's my handy helper:
I'd tell you how we seamed the 2 pieces together but we aren't wood workers and our approach is probably embarrassingly incorrect. We attached flat brackets on the underside for support and we used birch veneer tape on the edge of the plywood top to give it a nice finished look. We also made sure to fill, sand, and plane the top seam to make it look like 1 long piece of wood vs 2 pieces stuck together. No one but us will know (and now too you I guess) that we took the cheap way out: the cost of a single sheet of high quality plywood - $50!

To wrap up where we're at now, the cabinets and top have been painted white, we attached the top to the cabinets using construction adhesive and installed some pretty gold hardware - a well deserved splurge since we saved thousands doing this ourselves.


Next up: bookshelves, shiplap, and trim!

Here's to hoping it doesn't take another year to knock this out...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A few more Sun Room Updates

We’ve done quite a bit of work in the sun room over the last few months - nothing amazing or particularly hard - but it really has come a long way and I wanted to show you how this little extension of living space has evolved since we moved in.

When I blogged about replacing our windows you may have noticed in the after photos that we added curtains. I say windows but really...our “windows” aren’t actually windows - they’re sliding doors.

Sometimes...ok – most the time – sliding doors aren’t great looking. Often times they're old, aluminum, yellowed, rickety, or they make a lot of noise every time you open and close them, and everyone would really like to have french doors instead. Right? It's what you see all over those home d├ęcor magazines and design shows - big beautiful windows that let in tons of natural light or French doors left wide open, leading you out into a perfectly manicured backyard. #housegoals

But sometimes you live in an apartment (we have) or sometimes, like in our case, French doors just aren't in the budget (it wasn't) and those #housegoals just isn't your reality. So you opt for the budget friendly option and install sliding doors.

We did and they ain't all that bad now, are they?

Remember in this post where I told you that the quotes we received ranged anywhere from 8k to over 30k? I remember being about 4 months pregnant and gasping when the rep quoted us 30k to replace our sliding doors with all-wood french doors. Triple what vinyl sliding doors cost us!!! We promptly told him thank you but hell no - we have kids to feed.

As you already know, we went with the sliding doors but here's how I make them look like we paid 30k without actually having to:
  • If installing new - go white. We had to have a different color on the outside per our HOA requirements so we paid a little extra to have the frames white on the inside. The white will draw the eye away from the window itself and allow you to focus on the view beyond. It'll also make the area look and feel larger. I toyed around with the idea of black frames because it's super on trend right now to have black framed windows against stark white walls, but unless you're dealing with actual windows or French doors, white is your best bet.
  • Always add curtains! Throw a curtain rod above your sliders just like you would a window and I promise, you'll be happy you did. Just remember to hang your curtains high and wide! I did this in our last apartment - even with the vertical blinds that were already there - and it made such a huge difference. Here's an old picture I dug up to show you:
It took a little while to get around to adding curtains to the sun room mainly because our configuration is a bit odd.
Our sliders go floor to ceiling (there's no wall space to install a traditional rod above the slider) and then we have a beam running between each set of sliders. In addition to the tricky configuration, each set of sliders are 96" wide which made finding a long enough rod that wasn't $$$ even more difficult.
I ended up going with this Ikea rod and these wall mounts that we attached directly to the beams but for those lucky people who have normal sliders in a normal configuration, any curtain rod will work! We used the Ritva curtains also from Ikea to save on cost and these curtain rings from Amazon. It was by far the cheapest way to go to dress this many "windows". Plus it can withstand my 8 month old trying to climb the curtains sooo there's that.

Aaaand for the easiest DIY ever...if you ever buy a pair of curtains that are too long, this no-sew hem tape is MAGIC! I literally just hung the curtains up and trimmed off the excess fabric while they were still up and then used the hem tape to finish them off for a clean hem line.
A few other updates we made in this space:
The water damaged drywall by the laundry room got patched:

The entire room got a fresh coat of bright white paint - Super White by Sherwin Williams and the yellowed recessed lights all got sprayed white too - Rustoleum White in a Matte finish:

The laundry room and master bedroom doors both went darker - Tricorn by Sherwin Williams:

Here's a before and after side by side looking towards the master bedroom:

And looking down the other direction:

Still to come: adding a long runner (probably FLOR tiles) and I'm tossing around the idea of planking the ceiling and wood wrapping the beams.
There's always more work to be done it seems...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Our Favorite Baby Essentials

Being a first time mom has been such a learning curve for me. You too? Please tell me I'm not alone!

I remember the last few months leading up to "the big day" was so nerve wracking for me. How was I supposed to keep this child alive? Would I know what to do? What if I messed up? Or...what if I didn't have the right tools for the job? 

I received the most comforting advice at one of our baby showers - something I'm eternally grateful for, even today. This new mama herself said: "Don't worry if it takes you 30 mins to figure out how to do something. Your baby doesn't know that you don't know." I get teary eyed even now just thinking about this. That piece of advice saved me and helped me through some really hard times in the beginning.

I still don't have everything figured out but I thought maybe I could share what's worked for us these last 6 months because when you're a new Mom everything is new - all.the.things and your baby! It was such an overwhelming experience to know that you needed "stuff" to care for this new little human but...what stuff? How was I supposed to know what worked and what didn't? Truth just don't know. Motherhood is a wing-it-and-see kinda ride most times.
Now that I’ve had a chance to use all this new baby gear and have a few months of mommy-hood under my belt, I thought it would be fun to share what we’re totally loving and can’t live without in case anyone stumbles upon this blog and is feeling a little overwhelmed preparing for their little one. We moms have to stick together, don't we?

Dr. Brown bottles come with a million parts that all require washing but aside from that, they're the absolute best. We did receive 2 other types of bottles in those new-mommy sample packages they send you in the mail but they were a total flop - the nipples would collapse and stop the flow of milk which made for one angry baby!

Remember all those bottle parts I mentioned? You'll need this...or two (we have three). I love how you can throw it right in the dishwasher to quickly sanitize! I opted for an all white lawn because I'm totally OCD but they have a more realistic green one too if that's your jam. You'll probably need these and these to go with your lawn as they're cute.

Bottle Wash

We love this brand of bottle wash soap. It's a plant based, fragrance free soap that doesn't leave a milky residue or odor behind! If you like smelly soaps, don't worry, they have a yummy smelling Lavender fragrance too.

Dr. Brown Bottle Warmer

We love this no frills, easy-to-use bottle warmer. Even better - my Mom and Grandma can use it, no problem while watching our daughter during the week. No getting confused and frustrated with a high tech thingamajig while the baby screams in the background for more food NOW!

I never gave much thought about whether we'd give our daughter a pacifier until she had to stay in the hospital nursery for some jaundice therapy and they asked if they could offer her one. This is the one they used and hand out to all new parents - or at least those who are open to it. After reading about "nipple confusion", we chose this pacifier because the nipple shape is near identical to the nipple shape on a bottle or our own bodies. We haven't had any issues with Emie rejecting it or having latch issues because of it but I've heard it happens regardless...we've just been fortunate that we haven't had to deal with that and this is the pacifier that works for us. What I love about it even more is that it's a one piece constructed pacifier which makes easy to clean/sanitize and I don't have to worry about whatever is festering between the cracks.
Out of all the pacifier clips we received and/or purchased, we like this one best! Not only is it all natural, but she chews, chews, chews on this one more than any other clip so it must feel good on those gums! And keeps the paci attached at all times too because that's super important too!

Boba Wrap

This wrap you guys!!! It's nothing genius - just a really, really, really, long piece of stretchy fabric that let's you get stuff done with baby in tow. It was a total game changer when I started toting Emie around in it because it allowed me to get things done - dishes, laundry, dinner! As she's gotten older, it's still really helpful too! If you have a baby who loves to be out and about like we do, the wrap allows her to be up and observing the world go by without being confined to a car seat or stroller - Emie's two least favorite things.

Gripe Water and Gas drops

These 2 items saved us so many times during those late night bouts with gassiness that hit hard right at 6 weeks when we had tried everything to calm our fussy baby and nothing seemed to help. It helped us, but helped her more.

Calming Vibrations Soother

We were gifted this cute little puppy that plays the most calming lullabies, humming, and gentle vibrations continuously over a 10 minute period. It worked so well, even I fell asleep listening to it.

Babies R Us Brand Diapers

When we were expecting the twins we started stocking up on diapers very early on in the pregnancy because we knew there was about to be a lot of dirty diapers in our future. Anytime we saw a sale on diapers or diapers that were on clearance, we snatched them up and packed them away - irregardless of brand. We didn't get to use the diapers with the twins but once Emie came along we already had a huge stash of diapers just waiting to be used. Out of all the brands we stashed away, we've loved these the most. I won't say they won't leak, because at some point, they all will, but they're by far the most absorbent and keep in what needs to stay in if you know what I mean.

Boudreaux Butt Paste Diaper Rash Ointment

We've been fortunate enough not to have dealt with diaper rash yet but perhaps it's because we've been using this almost exclusively for the last 6 months. Or maybe we've just been lucky. Either way I'm grateful and I'm sure our daughter is too. It comes in extra strength too.

Portable Changing Pad

Makes diaper changing possible almost anywhere without having to tote around the entire diaper bag.


Seems like such a weird (and gross) thing to do but works! When your baby is suffering from gas you'll do just about anything to alleviate the pain and this bad boy delivered in so many ways. Watch the video and stand clear. You've been warned!

Mom Gear:

What I like most about this bag is that it can pass for a purse, plus the waxed canvas makes it easy to wipe down and clean because let's get with a baby is messy. It's also got a lot of great pockets on the inside and very roomy to carry around all those baby essentials.
Shit happens and when it does, you'll want one of these. I bought a set of wet bags - one large and one small - for the messiest of messes like ruined outfits from diaper explosions or volcanic spit-ups. You'll want a place to throw the wet clothes to carry home to wash. Trust. They work great for wet bathing suits too. I keep both sizes in the diaper bag - one for the wet clothes and the other holds extra outfits, hats, bibs, and burp cloths all in one neat bag.
It's like doggy bags but for diapers. The real bad (and stinky) diapers. The ones you're too embarrassed to throw away in your friend's trash can - these bags and this dispenser saves you from that embarrassment.

Infant Bathtub

A bathtub without all the bells and whistles because, really, all that hoopla isn't necessary. We liked this one for it's simple, to the point, design. Its soft touch on the baby's skin and allows the water to drain away so the baby isn't bathing in dirty water and the no slip bottom was all we really needed. It fits perfectly in our farmhouse sink or perfect size to pop right into the bathtub too.

Hooded Towel

Because all babies are cuter in hooded towels. Even better? It has ears and is silky soft!

Safety Swabs

It hard enough to clean a squirming baby's ears let alone having to worry about sticking the qtip in too far. These have come in handy for all those necessary tasks that our baby's hate having done in the first place.

White noise machine

We actually use our Google Home to play white noise for all naps and bed time but this one has a ton of positive reviews so it must be good. It helps to drown out noise in surrounding rooms which has helped us a ton in our quest for getting Emie to sleep soundly.
Footed Pajamas

Literally the softest footed pajamas I've come across that just get softer wash after wash. The smaller sizes come with the arm cuff so your little ones don't scratch themselves. They're made of organic cotton and the solid colors are gorge! Who can resist a baby in footed jammies?

Halo Sleep Sack

The wearable blanket for ultimate sleep safety! I love that it zips open from the bottom for middle of the night diaper changes.


Step N Play Piano

We don't actually have this - but my Mom does and Emie goes bonkers over it! For a baby who loves to move around, this lets her slide side to side and spin around 360° all banging on the piano and making music! Probably a good thing it stays at Grandma's house.

Musical Mover and Shaker

This was our daughter's first real toy and she loves it! It plays a cute little melody while vibrating all over the floor and she loves chewing on the crinkly wings or crawling after it as it vibrates away.

Linking Rings

These silly things have literally saved my sanity. Our daughter has never been fond of car rides or the car seat but after using a bunch of these to hang toys and even a paci from the car seat handle, car rides are now a whole lot more pleasant because they keep the toys within reach and her entertained long enough for me to get where I need to go.

Sassy Play Gym

During the months when Emie was immobile, this play gym kept her entertained and happy! The bold and contrasting colors really kept her attention and the hanging toys really helped her work on her hand/eye coordination when reaching and grabbing. Now that she's on the move we've packed the play gym away because she won't lay down long enough to get any real use out of it but it was great while it lasted!

Foam Floor Tiles

These are a must for any home with hard wood, laminate, or tile flooring. It takes the worry away during playtime and gives those precious knees and cushiony surface to crawl around on. Comes in other great colors too here and here.

Infant Safety Helmet

Speaking of safety...I never thought I'd be one of these parents but here I am. Our daughter is sitting up but still a bit wobbly so after seeing her topple over from a sitting position and not being able to catch her fall we ordered this and now feel comfortable enough to leave her alone to play without having to worry she's going to topple over and bonk her head. It's adjustable and will grow with her through all her milestones until she's a little more steady on her feet and her butt
These are all the things we've loved using over the last 6 months - please feel free to add your favorites to the comments below and I'll continue to add if I come across any must haves! I'd love to hear what keeps you sane and your baby alive!

Monday, July 10, 2017

DIY Cat Litter Cabinet

Aside from the new windows we installed late last year, another, more recent, addition we added to our sunroom is this cute little cabinet.

Before having the baby we attended an infant CPR and safety class where they encouraged all us soon-to-be-parents to baby proof the house before our little ones arrived. While we didn't go overboard and totally safeguard the house, we did take a few steps towards a safer home for little Emie girl. Along with adding outlet plugs, this little cabinet in the sunroom helped conceal one of the things I was most concerned about...our litter box!

We love our cat but we haven't ever loved his litter box - or the mess it makes and I always worried that one day in the not too distant future, I'd find our daughter using the cat litter as her own personal sand box. Now...not only is the cat litter out of reach of our almost-crawling-daughter but...I don't have to look at it either! #winwin

Inside we keep all our kitty essentials - food, along with a few rolls of plastic trash bags for poop scooping. A clear suction hook on the door works perfectly to hold the pooper scooper too! Everything thing we need fits right inside with room to spare.

DIYing our cat litter cabinet was super simple - just an extra large cat door - for our extra large cat - and this inexpensive Ikea cabinet - or any cabinet for that matter - is all you need!

We opted for this cabinet because it's dimensions worked perfectly for the small sliver of wall between the living room and the nursery but any cabinet big enough to house your litter box can work too!

Before putting the cabinet together, we cut out the hole for the cat door on one of the side panels using the template that was provided with the door using our Ryobi drill and jigsaw.

Once the hole was cut all we had to do was install the door. It really couldn't have been more simple and the end result is having me wonder why I didn't think of this sooner!

From the outside - no one would ever know the litter box was inside! Would you have guessed?

And in case you're wondering what that thing was peaking out from under the cabinet...

It's our robot vacuum - the Neato - or what we call her, Flo! I was able to plug the docking station into an outlet behind the cabinet and the docking station fits perfectly underneath with just enough clearance for Flo to make her way back home to charge.

This super simple Ikea hack really helped contain and conceal our messy litter box while also making our home safer for babe! Do you have something in your house that needs a little concealing - printers or electronics come to mind! Could an inexpensive Ikea hack help you too?

Of course it can!

*affiliate links used

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Our Most Expensive House Purchase Yet

This post has been sitting in my drafts since last September and I'm just now getting around to posting it. Talk about slow

I shared a little bit about our decision to replace these windows in our 6 month post purchase check-in but I finally found some time to throw a few pictures your way so you could see how the whole process unfolded last September.


When we purchased the house we learned during the inspection that what we were calling the “sunroom” was once a covered patio that led out onto the massive deck. Someone, at some time, enclosed the patio in favor of extra square footage and an indoor laundry. It was at this time that the black sliding doors you see below (3 sets of them), we’re installed. 
The inspector wasn't sure when the conversion happened or how old the original windows really were. There wasn't a permit on file for the change but he was able to determine that enclosing the sunroom was definitely an alteration to the original builder plans because only one other unit in our complex has an enclosed laundry room like ours. So when we purchased the condo, all we knew going in was that the windows hadn’t been replaced since and that they were definitely showing signs of age. We loved it anyway.
Within the first few weeks after moving in one of the handles on the middle slider broke off completely and the one on the right was barely hanging on by a thread. We tried finding replacement handles at several different hardware stores and quickly realized that our handle size wasn’t standard. Awesome.
Another clue that these babies were old!
The other issue we noticed was just how bad the window fogging was.

We knew that the windows were foggy from the initial home inspection reports but I don’t remember it being as bad as you see in these pictures when we toured the house. I think a few damps nights/mornings made it worse over the short time we had been in the house and perhaps when we viewed the house during the day, it was less noticeable.

After living with the foggy windows for almost 6 months, and totally hating them, we decided to dedicate almost half our renovation budget towards replacing them. It took some re-arranging and re-prioritization of our to-do list but in the end we thought that having new (read: not foggy) windows was more important to us and to the resale value of the house.

Having never replaced windows before, we decided to cast a wide net and got 6 quotes. When we got the pricing back I was shocked at how widespread the range was...8k-34k - ouch that hurt!

Our original intention was to retrofit the sliding doors with new but upon further inspection, we discovered that the original sliding doors were never framed correctly and there was never any type of water barrier/flashing installed to prevent water leakage to both the inside of the house and to the windows themselves (another indication that this project was never permitted - it would've never passed!).

After discovering this, we were forced to completely re-frame / insulate from the studs which immediately tore our budget to shreds. Over time the window seals broke down and because the windows weren’t properly sealed water/moisture seeped in and forever fogged our windows. A crappy way to spend so much money! We settled on a contractor, gave them our left kidney, and endured a 2 month lead time…until our windows finally arrived last September.

The team was clean, courteous, and quick! They prepped their work area both inside and out with rosin paper and laid down drop cloths to prevent tracking any dirt/debris all over the house…something I was very grateful for!

After breaking away the stucco on either side (which was extremely loud BTW), they made quick work of the old windows – removing each door one by one with a giant suction cup.

And then they moved on to remove the tracks/frames...

Once the doors and frames were removed, it was crazy to have the whole backside of the house opened up to the outside! SO.MUCH.SUN.

With the old doors and frames removed, they began framing for the new ones. Just look at that view!

By mid afternoon, they were ready to install the first new window making sure to waterproof as they went along.

By the end of the day, all the new windows were in!
We chose to go with a white frame on the inside to make the sunroom feel larger and to not obstruct the view as much.

All this happened back in September. Here's the new, improved, and very expensive after:

 What do you think? Were the new windows worth the investment?