Remember a long, long time ago when we said – out loud! – that we would have our trim and baseboards finished by the end of May? The end of May.
Those were good times. In any case, we can see the finish line, but we’ve been doing a whole lot of problem solving and road-block-crushing along the way. Installing baseboards seems like it would be an easy enough job, and it sort of is, but there’s also a lot (a LOT) of time that needs to be set aside to just get it done. Time that could be spent on painting the kitchen, or choosing a rug for the guest room or organizing our tools or even cleaning the bathroom. You know, things that are more fun. In our heads, we think, oh, pffft! The studio should take a few hours. Fast forward to 8 hours later and two extra trips to the hardware store, and joke’s on us.
But as little as I enjoy baseboard installation, the end results make it all worth it. Really! And because Scott doesn’t mind trim install (he claims to enjoy it – weirdo), we balance each other out, and together, it becomes a manageable mediocre project. (Right?) If you’re thinking, wait, we’re still talking about baseboards? To which we say, this is real life in real time, and this is us, still knee deep in baseboards, but thisclose to being finished (not counting the bedroom. Or kitchen. But the big spaces? Almost knocked out!). We’re almost there! Hip, hip!
Although we’ve talked about our installation process many, many times, we’ve finally hit the point where we stumbled into a whole new world of problems, which thank goodness, were surprisingly easy to remedy! And so, for any of you with an old house, hitting road block after road block (oh, ancient house, how we love you), our hope is that our solutions might help you, too. This is why we continue to talk about baseboards. We’re all friends here; let’s hug.
Okay, so here’s what we had going on:
(On a side note, the floors are still far from straight, but my lens does add a lot more distortion than is actually there.) Up until this past weekend, the studio door + trim progress came to a stop after we hired out the door install. We did paint them, but then we dived right into outdoor projects, halting the entire operation.
We knew trimming out the doors was going to be a bit of a process, because if you remember, the doors we purchased only had a jamb that was 4 1/2″ wide, whereas our actual jambs are easily 6″! Below, you can see how the installed door looks recessed, and you can still see the original 2×4 studs (and lath and plaster) that are framing out the doorway:
You can actually buy jamb extension kits, but added to the cost of the doors themselves, we decided to make our own extensions using a few 8′ lengths of 1″x6″ pine. All of our doors required different measurements (and the bathroom’s have been put off completely until we’re able to renovate them), so I’ll use our second floor guest room door as the example.
For starters, in the photo above you’ll notice that there’s only one 2×4 stud across the top, which gives us virtually nothing to nail into. Scott took a couple of 2x4s blocks and screwed them into the vertical studs, which then allowed us to use our nail gun to install the jamb extension across the top.
Once we had the door prepped, we took measurements from the current door frame to the drywall along all three sides of the door, and we took at least three measurements along each of the sides. This old house = very, very uneven everything. For example, the largest depth of the non-existent jamb was 2″, whereas the shortest depth was closer to 1 1/4.” On our table saw, we ripped down our 1x6s to the larger depth, which would allow for a bit of overflow past the drywall in some areas. With our pieces ready to go, we started at the top and began nailing them into place…
… continuing down the left side…
… until, of course (!), we reached the first road block along the right-hand side. I’ll admit that it may be tough to tell in photos, but if you take a look at the inset below, you’ll see that the 1×6 is completely flush with the door frame. We preferred to have a small lip, which not only allows for easier and more secure caulking, but it just looks better. The left-hand side had a lip because that side of the door frame was shimmed, so to stay on course, we very carefully used our table saw to rip down the depth of our 1×6, shaving off a teeny, tiny 1/4″ to achieve this:
But as soon as we finished the first jamb extension, we came across road block number two – the gaps in our floors! The previous baseboards were installed before the floors, and even then, they didn’t properly meet up with the floor boards completely. This left a huge gap, which our door trim was unable to cover.
We always knew these gaps were rather large, but we thought nothing of it since our baseboards would also get quarter round. For the door trim, however, there’s no way to install quarter round along the decorative front edge. And so? Each of our doors got a big chunky plinth at the base! Once we start baseboard install, we’ll be able to put quarter round on the inside of the door casing, so that’ll cover all of our bases.
From there (and a quick run to the store later!), we were able to trim our doors as usual. Just as we did on the first floor, we kept up the tradition of tall headers, giving our doors more weight and dimension – especially since our ceilings are close to 10′ tall.
The view from my desk has gotten so much better in just the last couple of weeks alone!
While we were at it, we gave the front window a trimming as well, which closely mimics the style of our doors and is an exact match to the one on the first floor.
At this point, nothing has been spackled, caulked or painted, and we hope to knock out the rest of the baseboards this weekend. At the same time, we’re juggling a bit of down time on the holiday weekend with another project or two that’s been on our list, so here’s hoping we can find some balance. These baseboards are nothing if not major time hogs. (Rude!)
PS! Our little nook got an upgrade with some new blinds! See the transformation over at the Bali Blinds blog, where our sweet Chunk makes an adorable appearance.
Over the weekend, we installed a very green (and sort of purple) wall of plants to the studio!
Scott has been convincing me for years that a “living wall” would be a fun addition to our home, and while I’ve always loved the look, we were short on space in our small condo. This house though? We have no shortage of walls, and there is no shortage of natural daylight in the second floor studio! After tucking a snake plant into the studio work room and watching it thrive, we’ve been feeling a little more confident in our plant skills (these guys not included!), and so we finally – much to Scott’s excitement! – picked up a Woolly Pocket Wally Five.
We’d always been curious about Woolly Pockets, but I did have a lot of questions: Won’t it get the wall wet? You water it how? Wait, it’s made out of what? So, here’s the deal. They’re made from 100% recycled bottles, can be used indoors and out, and they have a military grade moisture barrier. The pockets feel like a heavy duty felt, and when watered properly, the felt will distribute water evenly and allow excess to evaporate. (Seriously, I watched this video about 5 times just to make sure I understood what we were doing!)
In other words, they’re plant magic!
We chose the largest pocket, and at 112″ wide, it’s almost as wide as our 10′ ceilings are tall! When it arrived, I honestly worried that it might have been too big for the space, but as soon as Scott and I held it up – just to see – we knew it was right. On Saturday morning, we spent a good hour at our local nursery, and after talking through our plans and showing a handful of inspiration photos with the owner, he helped us choose plants that would be hearty – and most importantly, hard to kill! When we got home, we got right to work:
We chose to hang it halfway up the wall, and we centered it on the wall behind my desk, even though it’s technically not centered behind my desk. (That bare wall is over 16′ wide, so it flows into the seating area as well.) Each pocket took 2 wall anchors each, and we filled the whole thing halfway up with soil.
Now, we were ready to start playing with plant placement! We started by lining our plants along the floor, but when that got too confusing, we stuck the little plastic pots right in the pockets and fussed. Even still, it was feeling all too overwhelming (there were a lot of plants!), so we said, ah, forget it! and just started pulling plants to drop right into the soil.
At the very least, we broke up a few large pots of snake plants to go in the middle, and we rotated and hesitated and second guessed every choice after that, but you know what? We had a lot of fun doing it!
Once we were happy with how everything looked, we topped off the soil and watered the back wall of our Wally Five – also called “the tongue.” The tongue then pulls the water down and around and, well, it’s plant science!
To say that we love our living wall would be an understatement; we are obsessed. (I feel I say that a lot, but we really, really love it!) While it’s a bit of an investment (in total, we spent about $175 on a wagon full of plants – more than enough for this 9′+ installation!), it’s definitely the statement piece of the room! Even in photos, it’s hard to capture it’s very, very large size.
We think the best part will be watching it grow; this is only the beginning! Each pocket has the equivalent of about 3+ potted mature plants (the amount suggested by Woolly Pocket), and we chose a variety of plants that would allow for height, ground cover and overflow – and plants that were sure to work in our light conditions. We’re no experts in that area, but after going over each of our choices with the nursery owner, we feel like we have a solid selection that’ll only get stronger as their roots continue to burrow within their pockets.
I took these photos on Saturday evening, and already, the plants are lifting and moving! The Wandering Jews (the purple vine-like plants) are crawling to life, and the asparagus fern are sticking straight up. Love, love, love.
Psst… This is not a sponsored post for Woolly Pockets, but we did receive a design discount on their product. We just genuinely love the Wally Five, and we wanted to share our enthusiasm with you!
We took an extra long weekend away celebrating a job well done for my favorite guy (a work-slash-reward-trip for Scott; congrats! You deserved it!), and as is typical upon returning home, it’s been tough getting back into the swing of things. Chicago is finally feeling warm – it took long enough! – but the trees in our lawn have already started dropping leaves as if it’s fall. Identity crisis with all the cool weather these last few months, maybe?
I did, however, finish up a project right before we left, and look! We finally remedied that desk problem!
About a month ago, Scott texted me the link to a desk on Krrb. It was within our budget, even slightly larger than my farmhouse desk (coming in with a large working surface of 6′ x 3′), and it had drawers! We’d been on the lookout for something more practical for months, and while I waxed on about the hopes of a desk with drawers but shallow aprons, well, I quickly realized that this simply does not exist. The thought alone is an oxymoron (the magical unicorn pony of desks?), so instead I set my sights on something large… with drawers. And this one fit the bill!
There was just one catch, of course. The previous owner mentioned that the top was covered in a soft suede fabric and had been fitted with a thick sheet of glass. She had never messed with the fabric (as the glass protected it well enough), so there was no telling what might be under there. It had been owned by at least one person prior to her, and she left it as is when she purchased it, fabric and all – leaving the mystery to us. Challenge accepted!
We stuffed it in our wagon, and as soon as we came home, we waited all of 5 minutes to flip it over and get to work. We had high hopes that it would be miraculously refinished, brought back to its original glory! Or it would be shiny and new, having been covered in fabric to protect it for decades to come! But let’s be honest, that wouldn’t make for a good story, right?
It was a mess. This is the part where we looked at each other with horror. We said, well, hmm. Can this be salvaged? Look at how deep that scratch is! Wait, what’s that? Oh, dear. There were scratches, yes, but not just a few – a lot! There was water damage and black marks and scuzzy, sticky residue.
For a while, we threw the glass top back on and let it sit in the studio. The drawers, base and legs are all solid wood, the handles and leg caps solid brass. The top – the most damaged part! – was a wood veneer, but fortunately, even a real wood veneer can be sanded down. This desk is solid, and having already fallen in love with its little brass toes, I decided to eventually just dive in and refresh the wood the best I could.
I started by sanding the entire top several times, starting with an 80 grit sandpaper and working my way down to 220 grit. (Remember: Always sand in the direction of the grain! Always.) I also skimmed over the more damaged areas of the apron, legs and drawer fronts, but I didn’t focus on bringing down the entire finish. The many, many scratches didn’t come out completely, and there were still dark marks that simply kicked up black saw dust. Even still, I wasn’t too worried about a pristine finish, as I love a good dose of character. This desk was very obviously loved, and just like those nubby chairs, that’s the best part.
After wiping off all the sanding dust, I washed the entire desk down with a no-rinse TSP – a lesson learned from our contractor, Mike, during the refinishing of the farmhouse table. I’ll never skip this step again on a vintage piece, as it helps pull out lingering oils and ensures more even coverage for the next steps.
Rather than stain the table, I decided to try Restor-A-Finish. We’ve used it in the past for various other wood refreshes, and while this desk was far worse off than our projects of yore, I pushed through, as I only have great things to say about the product. On the left, you’ll see how the desk looked after the TSP rinse but before the Restor-A-Finish …
… and below, you’ll see that it darkened it beautifully! There are absolutely still dark marks (seriously, what are those?), and although the scratches aren’t invisible, they are far, far less noticeable. The difference is quite literally astounding; worth every minute (er, hour) of sanding. Truly! I must have been excited to skip to the next step, Feed-N-Wax, because unfortunately, I don’t have a full shot of the table post-R-A-F. I applied the wax heavily, and within 15 minutes, the table soaked up every last bit! I applied one more coat then wiped off the excess, which gave the desk a healthy glow.
Finally, I used our metal polishing weapon, Nevr-Dull, to shine up the brass drawer pulls. I purposely restrained myself from overdoing it, as I wanted to keep a bit of character on the handles. The back plates were tarnished almost completely, but even they shined up to a perfect, not-so-perfect antiqued finish!
When we returned home from out trip, Scott helped me to wipe down the glass and carefully place it back on top. We shuffled out the farmhouse table – which, really, is still just sitting in the studio waiting for a good home! – and pulled the new-to-us desk back into place:
I debated leaving the glass off altogether, but Scott made a good point by claiming that it’s like, in his words, framing a photo. (What have I done to him?) It truly pulls the whole look together, and I don’t need to worry about setting down my morning coffee or a glass of sweating ice water. The reflection also helps to deflect some of the imperfections, but honestly, I am over the moon with the little flaws that show through.
The whole point of desk swapping was to keep things practical and more efficient for my work day. I’m no longer stashing my painting supplies in a rolling cart, rather, I picked up a utensil cubby and now all my tools have a home. I can view everything at once! There’s an organizer in the other drawer, too, and I’m able to hide away all my office supplies (pens, markers, a stapler, ruler and calculator, you know). Between this desk and my filing cabinet, I am set. Organization. Be still my heart.
But! Can I share the most exciting part? This old desk is a Lincoln Desk. I hadn’t heard of that before, so a quick Google search led me to this site. I know I say this a lot (I’ve already mentioned it in this very post), but man, I love a good back story! As it goes, Lincoln Desk was a family business founded in the late 1800s (when our house was born!) and closed in the 1950s. As the grandson of the founder writes:
The time of WWII was hard on the business, as wood was not available in any quantity for production. Most all of the wood for the factory came from Northern Wisconsin. By about 1950, when my father wanted to retire, his brother Alfred was living in California and didn’t want to take it on, and my older brother Jack, who worked at the factory, also did not want to take it on and I was still in high school, so it was closed. It was a good sized factory, occupying about a half of a square city block at 2739 West Chicago Avenue. [...] The construction quality was very high and was about as fine as you could buy. Their trade mark was “Lincoln Desks” and also usually included a wood burned inscription or medallion in one of the right hand drawers, “For the work of the world.” [Source]
The factory that’s mentioned? It’s right down the street, hence this post’s title! Our ‘new’ desk was made right here, and maybe as far back as 100 years. (For Chicago locals, you’ll know that’s in West Town, just south of Humboldt Park. Or is it Humboldt Park? Those neighborhood lines can get blurry.) We’ve passed by that old (abandoned?) building for years, and I love seeing it through a different lens now, so to speak.
And one last thing! I realized that I’ve rarely shown the entire studio as a whole (at least, not lately), so here is how it looks today:
Two of my favorite framed pieces are simply propped against the wall for now (I couldn’t bear to keep them in hiding while I decide on placement!), and while we obviously still need baseboards and a good window sill – coming soon! – we also need a rug or two for color, among a few other things. The old credenza will get a paint job someday, and we have fun plans for the wall behind my desk. Just like the living room, the studio will likely slowly evolve over time as we fully knock out other rooms.
What is it I always say? Oh, right. Patience.
PS… I found a similar Lincoln Desk right here on Ebay. Rest assured, I paid nowhere near (and I mean nowhere!) that dollar amount. I’m unsure of the year of our desk, but we can absolutely say that it’s stood the test of time.
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