Now that the basement is done, our house guests are gone and winter has really settled into Chicago, we’re in full blown hibernation-le’ts-work-on-our-house mode. The project list is long, long, long, but first up? We decided to take on our entryway staircase – step by step, ha! – and turn one of our home’s biggest eyesores into something, at the very least, a little more livable. Over the weekend, we took those messy stairs (originally covered in maroon carpeting and hundred-year-old filth, remember?) and prepped it for paint:
At this point – and in the least amount of words possible – the stairs were primed, patched + filled, sanded down and primed again. They’re officially ready for paint, new trim along the base and tile on the first floor, tongue and groove wood on the second (hooray!). However, deciding on our process and actually doing it was quite the journey; lessons were learned, backs are aching, and two days later, we’ve completed the first phase of many for these guys and the entryway as a whole.
The much longer version of this story starts with our 3M Lead Check, and even before we rubbed that little stick on a stair, we knew it was going to come back not-so-nice and rosy (pink = lead). The stairs had been covered in carpeting for decades, upping our chances for lead paint underneath (since lead paint was common in the 1970s and earlier), and unfortunately, we were right (boo!):
You might remember that we were hoping to strip down our stairs, stain the treads dark (almost black) and paint the risers white. But when it really came down to it – in all honesty – the idea of messing with lead paint again was so far from our idea of a good time that we found ourselves asking, what now? We could…
- …suck it up and just strip that lead paint right off. We could purchase Peel Away (as recommended by a few of you guys – thank you!), but we had a lot of ground to cover. And again, lead paint. Even the best removal systems would turn the paint to goop, creating a big mess and large time commitment inside the house – around the fuzzy kiddos.
- … replace the treads and risers altogether. They’re nicked and scuffed, so perhaps a fresh start was in order!
- … reface the treads. Yes, yes this could work! We found this method which would require sawing the bull nose off each tread, then adding new layers of treads and risers on top of the existing ones.
But the more we weighed each option, the more we felt paralyzed. What if cutting off each bullnose damaged the stair construction? Maybe we should just rebuild them altogether, but holy smokes replacement treads are expensive; can we afford that right now? We went back and forth on a solution countless times, and at one point (a moment of madness, if you will), I pulled up a tread – just to see.
It turns out, pulling up those treads required quite a bit of muscle (I even pretended to grunt in frustration and threw in a handful of swear words for good measure, hopeful that Scott would come to my rescue; no such luck!), and I realized: These stairs are solid. They may be over 100 years old, but they were built very, very well – and come to think of it, they don’t have creaks or squeaks.
In fact, this further reinforced that the only problem with our stairs was the lead paint! The old, chipped, crummy paint.
Rather than turn this into a debate that never gets solved – and to avoid putting it off for weeks – I emailed Alex from Old Town Home. We’re fairly new to OTH, but after so many of you recommended that we dig through the archives (thank you!), we knew that Alex and Wendy were no strangers to situations similar to ours. Almost immediately, he wrote back with a handful of suggestions (see his full list right here), our favorite of the bunch being this:
First, I’d grab a random orbit sander and hook it up to a shop vac that has a HEPA filter attached to it [...] Then, paint the stairs with a high quality alkyd/oil exterior primer. You’ll paint before filling any of the chips or gaps. Once the paint dries, fill all of the things you need to fill with a high quality wood filler. Sand the wood filler smooth with the sander, but since you painted the stairs with the oil based primer, you’re not throwing dust all over the place; the primer is your barrier. Still, wear a good mask while doing this. Once smooth, prime the stairs with another coat of oil based primer.
Finally, paint the stairs with a high gloss exterior grade oil enamel (like the stuff they use on porches). Make sure it’s meant for wood. It will dry really hard and will seal in any lead paint. This is easily the most economical, easiest, and most effective.
Done! While we had thought about encapsulating the lead paint as an option, we were unsure of how to do so safely; enter the sander + HEPA filter double whammy. We thanked him a million times over and the next night, we picked up all of our supplies at the hardware store. By that time, we were feeling really good about just painting our treads black (still with white risers) and moving forward with our navy front door. We were so ready to get this show on the road.
MATERIALS + TOOLS USED (IN ORDER OF USE):
Needle nose pliers
Drill + long wood screws for repairs
Shellac based primer (we used Zinsser B-I-N)
3M™ Safety Products
Paint sprayer (to fill every last imperfection)
Bondo all-purpose putty
3M Wood Filler
Electric mouse sander
3M Advanced Abrasives, ranging from course to fine
Shop vacuum with HEPA filter
We knew that with our game plan, the stairs would never be perfect. While the construction is rock solid, they would never look slick, shiny and new, and we would always see flecks of flaws through our layers of paint. But! That’s the charm in an old home. We would move forward regardless, tighten the nuts and bolts – so to speak, and give it it’s first freshening up in countless decades. (On a side note, being unable to use the stairs was a non-issue, as we have a large back deck that connects all the floors. So, while it was freezing, we used those to go up and down as needed.)
First thing Saturday morning and manned with our pliers and hammers, Scott and I went over the steps one last time, pulling up staples and nails. We knew there were a few left behind from my first round (although I had pulled up hundreds and hundreds of them!), but we had no idea this would take us almost 2 hours.
We then had to replace the one tread I pulled up (I had used so much force, that it ultimately cracked in half; there was no salvaging it), and Scott put a handful of wood screws in two of the treads with hairline cracks. He did so very slowly as to not crack the tread any further, and he was able to tighten everything up perfectly.
It’s been a long time since we’ve messed with oiled based paints and primer, so we made sure to suit up with (my new favorite) 3M™ Safety Gear, and despite the cold, we opened the door to ventilate the tight staircase. We used our paint sprayer for our initial coat of primer, with the hopes of filling in every last crack and crevice. (In hindsight, clean up took much longer than we anticipated since the primer was oil based, but that first coat was thick and smooth; perfect.)
We allowed the primer to dry for a couple of hours, then we spent Saturday evening going over as many imperfections as we could, while keeping in the back of our minds: These stairs cannot be perfect. Charming, yes. Perfect, no. (Also, this doubles as a full confession for a hoppin’ weekend night at the Vargos!) After seeing Jenny’s luck from Little Green Notebook using Bondo, we decided to take her advice and give it a try. For smaller dents and knicks, we used 3M Wood Filler and used Bondo for deeper cracks – such as the treads that Scott had to repair with wood screws.
By Sunday morning, it was time to sand! We purchased a HEPA filter for our shop vacuum, as well as a small connection that would allow the hose to fit directly into our electric sander. (And of course, I wore my safety gear and taped off the living room!) For the most part, sanding took away the excess Bondo and wood fillerAdvanced Abrasives, then worked my way down to 220 grit for a smooth finish. The vacuum sucked up nearly all of the dust created, with only the most minor dusting left behind (like, really minor).
, although, full disclaimer, there were a few areas that were taken down lower than the primer. I started sanding using 80 grit
Finally – after 4 hours of sanding! – I was able to wipe everything clean using just a wet rag and microfiber cloth to pick up the small amounts of loose dust and apply my final coat of primer. For the second round of primer, I actually opted to use a brush and small roller to avoid the paint sprayer clean-up. Below, you can see ONE) the before – layers and layers of lead-laced paint, TWO) the stairs after they’d been pried free of staples and nails, coated in primer, patched and sanded, and THREE) finally – the second (and last) coat of primer!
Scott walked into the entryway as I was halfway completed with the last coat of primer (he had been tending to a fun plumbing issue), and he was floored. Floored! There are still teeny, tiny pocks and dents in the finish (again, with the whole charming thing), but the improvement is astounding! Now, imagine fresh white risers and glossy black treads:
We’re still missing the trim that I ripped up a few months ago – it was beyond salvageable – but we’ll be taking measurements this week to purchase 1″x2″s to patch them back in.
Yes, there is still a lot to do to bring this entryway together. Finishing items like the main light fixture and flooring will wait until we’ve completed painting (we’ve laid down plain black mats to soak up winter sludge in the meantime), and of course artwork, a small console or mirror – while something I love daydreaming about! – are still a faraway thought. Even still, getting the stairs in this condition was a not-so-small victory (even if it did stray from our original plans of staining the treads), especially knowing that we can rest easier now that we’ve distanced lead paint from little four-legged paws.
This weekend, we’ll be popping open paint cans for the entryway walls!
When we last talked about the basement garden unit, we were in a mad dash to complete (what felt like) a mile long punch list. We had less than 2 weeks to get through it, but only a handful of days before our out-of-town guests starting arriving before the holiday week. Still feeling frustrated that we were so behind on the other things we wished we were doing – paint the living room, add storage to the kitchen, tile our entryway, etc. – we said that our only hope was to complete the basement before the first guest arrives.
Oh, we were silly.
We didn’t finish before our friends made it from Portland to Chicago, but the good news is that without us even asking, they packed “work” clothes along with them. From the first night they were here (before we even put air in the extra mattress!), they were in the basement alongside us, patching drywall, installing switch plates and scrubbing the tile. But first, remember where we started? Here are the various before photos I snapped – everything from move-in day to progress:
The basement didn’t appear that bad. But as we mentioned here, the more we worked in that unit, the more things we uncovered – missing baseboards, yellowed doors and trim, cracks in the foundation, and the list goes on and on. But! Let’s no longer dwell on the past; rather, let’s officially close this basement chapter.* Because finally, after weeks and weeks of spending every evening devoted to that lowest level (and with the tremendous amount of help from our cross-country buds), we were able to move on to the most gratifying of all the projects – paint!
(*On a side note, there is still an access panel that needs to be added next to the laundry room [and a refrigerator for the kitchen and new outdoor lights!]. While it wasn’t funny at the time, that piece of wall was opened up on Thanksgiving morning to fix a plumbing issue, which was continually causing our first floor shower to flood!)
Now, the basement is looking cleaner, brighter and more put together. It looks like a pretty nice place to live, and it’s much more spacious that our first Chicago apartment and our teeny, tiny condo!
As a member of the Ace Hardware blog team, we were so fortunate to be able to try out their newest line of Clark + Kensington paint. We asked our renter what colors she was drawn to, and she – just like us – prefers the cooler shades of grays. While the main living space “after” doesn’t look too much different than the “before,” it’s actually a cleaner gray (the former color had a pretty hefty yellow undertone to it): Clark + Kensington’s Silver Dollar. It’s probably one of the most neutral grays we’ve seen – not too cold, not too warm, no hints of pink or purple; overall, it’s a subtle, soft hint of gray (the Holy Grail, we think?). The bathroom and kitchen got a soft blue-green, Clark + Kensington’s Misty Moor, and both colors were painted using Flat Enamel (our favorite finish for a still wipe-able, matte look).
We actually love Misty Moor so much, we’re wondering where we can use it our own home (the bathroom? A guest room?), and overall, we’re pretty satisfied with the paint quality. It was nice and thick, however, some areas did require a second coat for the most cover.
Of course the best part of working with Ace Hardware is sharing the goods with you, too, so together with Ace, we’ll be giving away a $100 Ace Hardware gift card to one lucky reader! What do you need? Paint? Liners, trays and brushes? A new power tool? (Ooh, yea.) Using the Rafflecopter widget below, enter as many ways as you’d like. Giveaway runs through Monday, December 9th at 5pm CST, and the winner will be announced within this post. Good luck and happy entering!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
We’ve partnered with Ace Hardware as a part of their Ace Blogger Panel. Ace has provided us with the tools and materials necessary to complete this project (hey, thanks, Ace!), and all opinions are our own.
Every year, Scott and I spend Thanksgiving in Chicago with our friends that aren’t usually able to make it home for the holidays – for one reason or another. Our little in-town family of orphans knocks it out of the park; we are potluck champions, and we consistently rock it, regardless of our long list of dietary restrictions (vegan, veggie, gluten-free and meat lovers, unite!). This year, however, our usual host was 9 months pregnant (and our newest Chicago family member was born early this week!), so naturally – like anyone who just bought a house under construction – we said, we’ll host!
This immediately posed a number of problems (omg, how do I make a turkey?), but the biggest dilemma was where will everyone sit? We had a crew of 11 on Thanksgiving day (with even more for the infamous follow-up Leftover Party), and rather than settle on any old table for the big day, we decided (again, naturally) we’ll make one!
We love a good challenge, so after scouring tutorials on Ana White’s blog, we settled on the Modern Farmhouse Table. Never having built a substantial table before (or any table for that matter), we liked that the clean lines would not only be a good fit for the long haul, but it seemed simple enough to build quickly (and it was!). This would be our table for years to come, and regardless of what chairs we tuck under it or what chandelier we hang overhead, this one could effortlessly set the stage:
We worked with Ace Hardware to get all the materials we needed, and we knocked it out in one weekend. Our local Ace doesn’t typically carry large amounts of lumber, so we discussed with the owner, Al (he’s the best), what we’d need, and he ordered everything into the store for us. All our supplies were ready in 2 business days; we picked it up, and we were good to start building!
MATERIALS + TOOLS USED:
This tutorial from Ana White, modified (see cut list, below)
9 – 2″x6″x8′ boards (for the legs and tabletop)
3 – 2″x4″x8′ boards (for the aprons)
6 – 2″x2″x6′ boards (for the supports)
2 1/2″ wood screws
Mini Kreg Jig
Table saw – we used the Craftsman Evolv 10″ (for creating square edges)
Compound miter saw (for making cuts)
Screwdriver / Drill
Tape measure / Ruler
Electric mouse sander
Sandpaper: 80, 120 and 220 grits for your electric sander
CUT LIST FOR A 6′ FARM TABLE:
4 – 2″x6″ cut to 30″ (LEGS)
7 – 2″x6″ cut to 69″ (TABLETOP PLANKS)
2 – 2″x4″ cut to 69″ (SIDE APRONS)
2 – 2″x4″ cut to 28″ (END APRONS)
12 – 2″x2″ cut to 35″ (UNDER TABLETOP SUPPORTS)
For those interested in this same tutorial, we encourage you to check out the step-by-step right here. Ana’s instructions were spot on, but we did alter her plans to make a larger table; ours comes in at 38″d x 6′w x 30″h, reflected in the cut list, above. Here are some of the tips we learned along the way, which we think made the process much smoother – especially as first timers.
First, we ripped down all of our 2″x6″x8′ and 2″x4″x8′ boards by 1/4″ on each side, length-wise, on a table saw. We picked up the Craftsman Evolv 10″ portable saw, and we loved it. (This guy has a lot of projects coming its way!) By doing so, we took a total of 1/2″ off of each board, but we gave them nice, square edges. It wasn’t necessary to do this on the 2″x2″ boards, as those were used as under tabletop supports, and they’d never be seen.
From there, we used our compound miter saw to cut everything down to the proper lengths. I figured out all the math beforehand to take Ana’s 5′+ table to a solid 6′, so we were able to move right along without breaking out the calculator. Rather than measure each and every piece, we cut one piece for every component to size, then used that same piece as our guide for each cut after that.
Once we finished up the cut list and the dusty work was (mostly) over, we brought everything inside to assemble (it was freezing in the garage!). It felt a lot like putting together a piece of Ikea furniture – you know, with all the parts scattered about, matching up piece A to piece B, and so forth (in other words, not so bad, but patience is important!).
After the legs and aprons were in place, we found it was easiest to turn the whole table upside-down and install the under tabletop supports this way. We used a scrap piece of 2″x2″ under the supports to keep things level, and rather than screw in each piece from the outside, we used our mini Kreg Jig to hide these screws. To keep things flowing smoothly, Scott pre-drilled all the Kreg holes (one on either end) first, then I lined up all the supports, rested a screw in each hole, and he zipped down the line, securing each one to the aprons.
The trickiest part of the entire assembly was putting our tabletop planks into place. To start, we did a dry fit, then took everything back out and started on the edges. Using clamps to make sure everything was as tight as possible, Scott drilled from below, using 2 wood screws on each small section of support, up and down the length of the entire tabletop plank. The tutorial recommends that you lay all the planks in place, turn the table over and pre-drill these holes. In our case, it was much, much easier to skip the pre-drilling and work from below as a starting point. We got a super snug fit this way!
We continued to secure the planks one by one, working on one side, then the other. As we got closer to the middle, we turned the table on its side, then I stood on the planks as Scott screwed everything in place. (Because our clamps weren’t large enough to keep the planks tight, this helped tremendously.) By the time we got to the final middle plank, we did have to shave it down by a 1/16″ on the table saw, but afterwards, we were able to use a hammer and a scrap piece of wood to get it in place. We rejoiced; Jack hollered in response – 4 hours after we started, we had a table!
The following day, we brought the table outside for sanding. While Scott got started on the construction clean-up, I sanded. And I sanded. And I sanded some more.
I sanded our table for close to 4 hours, but it was necessary to take down some of the un-level edges and to remove the rough knots, splinters and manufacturer stamps. Starting with the 80 grit sandpaper on our electric mouse sander, I went over the entire table one and a half times (really making sure to even things out all over), then worked my way down to 120 grit and finally, 220 grit.
Although sanding is one of my least favorite to-dos, it was absolutely worth it. The finish is so smooth; The knots no longer have the rough, scratchy edges, and you can run your hand over the entire table without fearing splinters.
The only visible screws we have are on each of the four corners – 6 screws that are keeping this table sturdy and tough. We altered Step 5 of the tutorial by placing screws at 3/4″, 2 1/4″, 3 3/4″, and 5 1/2″ from the end, angling the screws as necessary so that they never touch or overlap. Ultimately, we’ll use wood filler to cover those up.
To squeeze in every last one of our friends for Thanksgiving dinner, we did have to bring in our former patio table, we mix-and-matched chairs, and the eleventh person (Scott!) had to use a pasta dish. We all sat comfortably, but even on its own, the table still looks great with only 4-6 chairs around it (which is what it’ll usually have). In a pinch, it was good to know that for once in our Chicago lives, we can actually seat a fair amount of people!
It’s pretty obvious that we still need to stain the table, but we haven’t quite settled on the right color. We’ll be using our Elkhorn chairs, so we’ve been waffling on the proper wood tone – although we’re leaning heavily towards the same finish as my studio desk. (We’re not looking for a perfect match; quite the opposite!) In total, the cost of lumber and supplies (minus the power tools) came to $150 – although any finishing supplies would add another $20+ (give or take). If you were to follow Ana’s plans exactly (for a slightly smaller table), the cost would easily be under $100, as many of the cuts use every inch of board.
Not bad for one weekend and a new dining room table. (Now if only those walls could paint themselves!)
We’ve partnered with Ace Hardware as a part of their Ace Blogger Panel. Ace has provided us with the tools and materials necessary to complete this project (hey, thanks, Ace!), and all opinions are our own. Jack’s supervision was an added bonus.
We hope everyone had a happy, restful (tipsy? that’s okay!) Thanksgiving – and Hanukkah! – and allowed yourselves to brush off the every day worries, at least for a little while. Now that the turkey has officially been consumed, I can openly enjoy holiday music without Scott’s constant chiding, but it’s too early! (I realize the how soon is too soon? is public debate every year, but it just makes me so smiley.)
Which means… Christmas isn’t too far around the corner! For the first time in 3 years, we opted out of applying for the Chicago Holiday Renegade Fair (we just have far too much house-going-ons), and while we’ll still go to pick up gifts for others, it’ll be a little sad not partaking in the festive energy. On the other hand, not applying meant that we were able to take on more Pet Shop orders than in years past, and we had our earliest sell out to date! A thousand times, thank you.
Although we’re sold out of the paintings themselves right now, we do have other options for custom, personalized (and very, very sweet) gifts for the pet lovers in your lives – and yes, even for your fine self! May we suggest our custom painting gift certificates? Or for those of you that like to knock out the to-list early (you’re our kind of people), we’re currently accepting 2014 pre-orders. To see which option is right for you, we encourage you to hop on over to The Pet Shop.
But as much as we love nothing more than to virtually meet your pets, we’d be amiss not to remind you of The Print Shop, too. You’ve all been so helpful with your top picks, and we like to think of those giclées as our own little group effort. (You + us.)
Art – pets or prints – will surely show off your thoughtful gift-giving skills this holiday season; much better than another scratchy sweater, don’t you think? Over the years, your kindness and encouragement has never stopped amazing us, and your support of our small business (among other things!) has meant the world. Happy holiday shopping to you!
First photo above: Boris and Talib are painted together on a 6×6 wood panel; all others are on a 4×4 wood panel. See all of our fine art giclee prints in The Print Shop, and our pet-gifting solutions in The Pet Shop!