When one of my IG buddies asked me to write an article for her new online magazine, I couldn’t have been more excited and honored (and nervous) at the same time! I mean really, me?!!
If you want the short version, we took our fireplace from this:
Here’s the long version of how we got there-
After tearing out our old bulky insert, and hiring a contractor to move our gas line and install a new insert, we left off with a fully functional but not so pretty fireplace just waiting for the finishing touch- stone! I reasearched the heck out of it (which is kinda what I do) and found a manufactured stone (think lighter and cheaper) that looked impressively real, and was what the pro contractors use in a lot of homes. One of our local stores had a huge selection in stock, AND had beautiful displays set up so I could see what I was really getting instead of relying on a google image.
There are several different colors, styles, and installation types and we ultimatey decided on the stacked stone “panel” version that gives the look of stacked stone without the professional stone mason skill requirement of fitting all the stones together. There were different lengths of the stone pieces and corners in different configurations that we tried to randomize as much as possible to get that perfectly imperfect look.
Before we could start setting the stone, we had to install cement board and tape and mud all of the seams and screws. These are the boring, tedious, no fun parts of the project that I would probably skip steps and rush through, which is why I can’t be trusted to do big projects alone 😉.
We bought several bags of traditional mortar, but then decided to give this stuff a try.
We used a 1X2 spacer along the bottom before starting our first row to allow our flooring to be installed underneath the stone when we get to that point. And then we got started placing the stones! I was so excited to get those first few rows up and finally feel like we were making some progress! After a lot of research, here’s our method we used and a few tips and tricks-
- I would lay out several of each type of stone (corners, small, med, large lengths) on the floor and then pre-assembled my rows 2-3 at a time. This way I could make sure I was staggering joints and using a variety of patterns of the stones. There was only one spot that I missed and didn’t notice several of the same style of stones stacked on top of each other, but I got lucky and the TV covers most of it.
- I prepped for two rows of stone at a time. I wet the cement board, then spread mortar and notched the entire length of the row. Then I back buttered each stone as I placed them. Since I had my rows all laid out on the floor, it made getting them on the wall go very quickly!
- We stopped after every few rows and made sure the stones were adhering. They should give quite a bit of resistance when you try to take them off. We also checked for level about this often. Paint sticks made for great shims!
- We did 4-5 rows at a time and then allowed at least a day for them to cure. It took us the course of a couple weeks to finish, but we were concerned about the weight of the stone and wanted to do it right. Plus, it worked out well for our part-time DIY schedule to work on it in little chunks at a time.
- We used a grinder to make cuts and a soaked sponge wrung out over the stone to cut down the dust. My cuts got much better as I went, and I liked the ones where I angled the cut in to the back of the stone so that the front almost overlapped the nighboring stone. Does that make sense? It contoured the stone and made it look a bit more natural than a flat straight cut.
We reinforced where the TV will be mounted with plywood and painted it black to make it less noticeable. Remember, behind the cement board we also added 2×4 supports to hold the weight.
Along the very top row where the stone meets the ceiling we used a liberal amount of liquid nails to secure those stones. It would have been near impossible to trowel that area (and I’m sure a huge mess on the ceiling and neighboring stones), and there’s no weight on them, so it was an easy decision.
When we went to fit the mantle back on we ran into two little issues. We hadn’t drilled our holes in the wood quite deep enough which was an easy enough fix. We also hadn’t accounted for the varying stone to keep the mantle from sitting flush against the stone.
Eeeek! I love it! The mantle is everything, don’t you agree?!?!
This was by far the biggest project we’ve tackled together yet, and we came out alive. Now that we’ve started this whole thing, next up will be replacing all of the flooring in the great room and kitchen, taking out a few walls, and completely gutting our kitchen.
Wish us luck!
Here’s a reminder of where we started- the before!
When we left off, the contractors had finished framing and installing our new gas fireplace. We wanted to tackle the finish work ourselves, but before we could make it pretty, we had some behind the scenes work to do.
I knew I wanted a chunky reclaimed wood mantle, and the hubby of course wanted the largest TV he could fit hung above that, so we needed to engineer the framing to make sure it could hold the weight of both.
He used scrap wood blocks to provide additional structure to hang those from, and also brought forward the electrical outlet to plug in the TV. Since we knew we wanted the TV components to sit in the bookshelves rather than on the mantle, he created this little tube to house the cable lines for the TV.
I’m not sure of the technical terms, but they’re a PVC type pipe and elbows that will lead to an outlet type box inside the bookshelves. Haha-told ya, sooo not technical!
Truthfully, even though we measured where we wanted the TV hung, we didn’t look at the mounting system we bought until a bit later, and realized we would have to move the outlet and box over to accommodate the brackets. Oops! Luckily it was a minor setback and we discovered it before we had covered anything up.
For the mantle, he installed huge lag bolts to hold it in place.
We officially kicked off our main floor renovation in January. When we first looked at our house, we thought we’d just take down a dividing wall between the kitchen and living room. No big deal. Only you don’t just take down a wall. You move electrical, plumbing, replace flooring, etc. And in our case, you replace a fireplace as well. Oh, and may as well put in all new kitchen cabinets while we’re at it.
The logical place to start was with the fireplace, as we were hoping to reclaim some floor space in the process. What we started with was large, awkward and stuck out like a sore thumb in the room. It isn’t centered, and there is a cubby next to it that I have no idea what the purpose is, but my daughter uses as her stage.
The columns house the venting and gas for the fireplace, so in order for the insert to be centered on the wall and the columns to come down. it needed to be moved. Since we needed a professional to do the gas, we went ahead and hired this portion out.
One of the contractors we spoke with recommended we change out the insert for a larger one to fit with the scale of the new surround and built-ins. Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to add to our expenses this early in our renovation, we decided that this wasn’t something that we could skimp on and come back to later. We bit the bullet and installed a new one, and I’m so glad we did.
This is where the experts leave and we take over. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see the plywood sub-floor where the old surround was. We gained about 12 inches of floor space, and now the fireplace will be centered between two symmetrical built-in bookcases.
Here is my sketch layout of the new built-ins.
We had a lot of work to do before we could install the stone, so stay tuned to read more about that in Part 2!
At the beginning of the year, we sat down and laid out a plan for our renovation. The goal is to have the fireplace, living room, and kitchen done by the end of the year. We’ve made some progress, which if you’re following from Instagram you may have seen, but only time will tell how close we will be to meeting our goal.
I’ve talked before about our house being new-ish. It’s about 12 years old, in desperate need of a paint job, but otherwise not particularly dated or worn. We just love to make things our own. We’re determined to move at a quicker pace than we did at our last home (hello counter tops in the garage for six years!) so that we can enjoy our home. Although I can’t say that our home will ever be done, it will at least feel like ours.
I thought I’d share my vision for the great room that I made up to help me choose paint colors.
Cozy. Rustic. Farmhouse. Natural elements like the stone fireplace and character grade white oak floors are balanced by creamy white cabinetry and neutral slipcovered chairs. I challenged myself to add a little color and texture and already purchased the large area rug I pictured. I can’t wait until I’m able to unroll it in the new room.
We’re in the thick of it and it’s no joke. My mind wrestles back and forth between “what have we done?!” And “oh yeah, we’ve got this!” . The expenses seem to be never ending and the progress slow, but we’ll get there. We have to, right?
The start of a new school year and the changing of seasons always bring about feelings of change and ambition in myself. I always start the summer well intentioned to cut our screen time, wake up before the heat, spend our time doing fun family activities and we do. But we always slide back into what’s easy and comfortable- sleeping in, a little extra tv or video games, a little less time reading and even less playing outside.
Not all of these are necessarily bad, and I’m certainly not talking about cutting out the occasional sleeping in on a lazy Sunday morning, but we as a family thrive on having some sort of routine.
My goals are mainly for myself. As a mostly stay-at-home mom, I am the household manager. If I am organized, efficient and productive, my little ducklings tend to follow suit. We’ve all heard “If mama ain’t happy…”, well these are designed to make this mama happy- and create a calm, organized, haven for my littles to come home to.
Big picture, my goals are to cut the screen time (and I’m mainly talking to myself here!) and be more organized, and most importantly, to truly engage and be present. How do I plan to make this happen?
Less Screen Time
The kids have had fairly established rules for quite awhile when we’re in school. They aren’t allowed to have any before school, and just a few minutes to unwind after they get home. I plan to enforce turning everything off at 4pm and putting all phones on the counter so we won’t be tempted- mom included! During the day I still have my youngest at home, and she needs a mom who isn’t attached to her phone too. I plan to give myself a little time in the morning to catch up with my coffee, and then it goes on the counter as well.
Wake Up Early
This is an especially hard one for me. I love to sleep. And I hate getting out of my warm cozy bed in the morning. But if I’m up early enough to get myself ready, or even just to enjoy my coffee, I feel so much better about the day. My school kids are capable of getting themselves up and ready, and even pack their own lunches, but I want to be present. Creating a peaceful morning sets the tone for their day as well as mine.
I haven’t decided exactly how much structure I want to put into each day, but just the act of writing down what I want to accomplish daily helps me to be a bit more focused and productive. My plan is to carve a few minutes of time on Sunday evening to loosely plan out the week. Activities, appointments, household tasks, work, renovation jobs will all be written down in one place to reference throughout the week. And just as important as I think a schedule is, it is even more important for that schedule to be flexible. There’s no way we are missing out on a coffee or play date because I’m supposed to be cleaning toilets that morning! Toilet scrubbing will still be on the list, but can wait and get squeezed in for the afternoon, or even another day that week.
I can’t tell you how many times last year we forgot to sign planners, left lunches in the fridge, and had papers sitting in our backpacks for weeks. My 9 year old needs extra help staying organized, and while I like to think of myself as a fairly organized person, the truth is that I’m just not. A better after school routine will help us both to do much better in this area, and will help me to do better at my primary goal- being engaged and present, even and especially in the ordinary moments. As simple as it sounds, I need to follow through on backpack and planner “inspections” after school. We’re starting the conversation about their day the moment they walk through the door, rather than waiting for dinner when half of the day is a distant memory. We easily fall into the “how was your day?” trap- rather than “tell me about your day”, and I need good starter questions to learn more about what happens when they are away from us for so many hours.
I recently came across something that resonated with me- we only have 18 summers with our babies. My oldest is 12 and I’m realizing just how quickly these years fly by, and I want to slow down and make the most of them. I’m starting this new school year with some new resolutions, care to join me?
So I bought a door. A chippy, vintage, delicious glass door that I could take the paint off and hang in my laundry room, the finishing touch to my hard-working space’s makeover.
Easy enough, right?
Weeellll, you know how people always tell horror stories about stripping old furniture? Of course they must be just over-exaggerating. It can’t be that bad.
Only they were all right. I’m always saying my oldest son is one who can’t be told how to do something- he has to learn firsthand from his mistakes. Turns out I know where he gets it.
And so I did it anyways. I bought this old beauty in the middle of the worst winter we’ve had in 20 years. I had to wait several weeks after talking to the seller for the snow to melt enough that she could actually get into the storage to take a look. So of course after all of that waiting and getting my hopes up, I couldn’t say no when I noticed it wasn’t in quite as good of condition as I had thought. ?
So I took my not-so-perfect door home and started stripping. Layers and layers of I’m sure lead based paint that did not give up easily.
This went on for months.
When I finally got through all of the layers, I was disappointed to realize my dreams of a beautiful stained and restored vintage door were dashed by a large crack in one of the panels, deep dog scratches, and a previous repair along the handle side. Now I’m fully aware that I bought a very old door, and some would argue that these imperfections add to the character and charm, but I’m coming to realize that is just a little too much character and charm for my style.
After stewing on it for another month or so, I decided that this door and I could live happily if it were cleaned up a bit, which meant that after I had stripped off years and years of paint- the door needed to be painted. I used the same color as the inside of my front door- BM Wrought Iron, and a little Vaseline first to resist some of the paint, and then gave it a pretty heavy distress.
And now I’m loving it.
It’s gorgeous and still full of character. I love the contrast with the white shiplap. And in this tiny hall that has many doors- the dark contrast helps break it up.
I’ve got my hubby’s great-grandmothers glass knob that I tracked down at a Re-Store after her house was torn down and the land developed. I love that we have a piece of her here. And I love even more that this door is out of my garage ?.
*UPDATE* I ordered a vinyl decal and it’s the perfect finishing touch!! I love it even more now!
Ok this may be one of those “skim on past” posts for some of you, but from what I’ve learned after a year of blogging, and several years of planting a garden, is that I need to write it ALL down. My mom brain is capable of remembering next to nothing these days. So I do this as a way to remember what worked and what didn’t for the next year, and if it helps someone else along the way, then bonus!
I was able to take a break from working on a very long and tedious project inside (which I’m working on sharing soon!) this week and tend to the garden a bit. Since we’re focusing on the interior of the house this year, I am trying not to over-do the garden this year (I only planted 7 tomato plants instead of 18!) and bought a bunch of starts. I was able to get everything in the ground a couple of weeks ago, and spent this week pruning and staking the tomatoes, covering the berries, and building a trellis for the raspberries.
I spotted a bunch of these beauties and was pleasantly surprised, which turned to panic as I lost nearly every berry last year to the birds. I had some netting leftover that I double layered and secured over top, and then turned to Pinterest to search every other method out there to save my precious berries! I ended up using a chip bag cut into strips and tied on bamboo skewers staked in the ground as a reflective deterrent. I found a few half eaten berries this morning, but was able to pick about half a basket, so I think it may be working!
I’ve got a couple of cutie baby jalepenos growing, and some flowers on the bell pepper plants also.
I’m also trying something different with my tomato plants this year, and instead of cages that always end up toppling over, I have one sturdy stake (some metal fencing, some scrap wood) next to each plant, that I will tie the plant to as it grows. Fingers crossed it works!
I needed to get a trellis up ASAP if I wanted to attempt to control these this year. Last year they dropped into the tomatoes and crept so far up to the fence you could barely walk around them. So I’m hoping this will keep them upright and easier to pick and keep in line.
I used a 4×4 I found in the shop which was about 5 1/2 ft tall, and picked up a second at Home Depot and cut it to the same size. I set these in cement and after they cured attached the cross bars. The cross bars are 2 ft at the bottom, and the top is 3 ft wide. I used 12 gauge galvanized wire and eye hooks (this is the part I need a little help with- I just don’t have the strength or know the tricks to tighten that wire!), but I’m really happy with how cute, and of course functional it will be.
The blueberries are on the other side of the yard, and are looking really hopeful as well. Since I just planted them in the spring of last year, I wasn’t sure if I should prune them much. I had quite a few berries but they were all very small and not really worth picking. So early this year, I heavily pruned them, and applied a generous amount of acidic fertilizer. And so far they’re already much bigger this year.
I didn’t have the heart to deal with gross amounts of squash bugs this year, so I did put a zucchini plant and a pumpkin plant in another part of the yard. I also pruned the nectarine and peach trees, and thinned them as well. Can’t wait to see what we get this year!
I’ve been struggling a bit lately finding the time and energy to meal plan and even to cook something other than boxed Mac and cheese. We’ve started to beginnings of a renovation, and while I can’t say that it’s really because my house is torn apart, more so my mind is just preoccupied with paint colors, stone samples, flooring choices, and cabinets sizes to even be bothered with the daily question of “what’s for dinner?” That and the fact that the boys’ taekwondo schedule was changed putting us home at 6:30 means that planning has never been more necessary.
So enter tonight’s creation- Penne Chicken Alfredo with Roasted Spring Veggies. Proof that if you have a few staples lying around the house, you can get dinner on the table with very little active cooking time.
This recipe reminds me of one of my old faves on the Food Network- Sandra Lee on Semi-Homemade. I’m taking a little help from the pantry in the form of a jar of Alfredo and of course the pasta, and adding chicken and fresh veggies for a well-rounded supper. My kids devoured it, and there was plenty leftover for “leftover night”.
Here’s what I did-
2 chicken breasts (about 1 pound) went into the crockpot on high around 1 pm with some salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of garlic powder.
After school (around 4) I chopped up my red onion and bunch of asparagus into bite size chunks. Tossed those with some Olive oil and Montreal steak seasoning- my fave for roasted veggies!- and stuck under the broiler for a few minutes until crisp, but still tender and pretty green.
When we were home for the evening, I boiled my penne, drained the pasta and added the pasta and roasted veggies to the sauce and chicken, along with a handful of frozen green peas. Checked my seasonings, and topped with shredded Parmesan!
This is an honest to goodness simple, classic, homestyle soup that has that extra little touch that brings it to over-the-top deliciousness. The smells instantly bring me back to Sunday dinners at my Grandma’s farm, and I can’t help but smile. A flood of memories come back and I’m a little girl opening every nook, cranny, cupboard and drawer to see what’s new as we descend on Grandma’s house. I’m wandering and exploring the farmland, chasing kittens, hunting for Easter Eggs, or not so patiently waiting for Santa to come- I love how the smells and taste of a dish can do that.