Friday, January 14, 2011

Wood Flooring 101

When we moved into this house there was a hodge podge of flooring.  The downstairs hallway and kitchen had peel and stick tile (not bad looking, but not the look that we were going for), the living room and dining room had cherry laminate flooring, and the den had maple laminate flooring.  The stairwell and the upstairs had brand new carpet so we at least knew that would be staying.
In a previous post we mentioned that our style was pretty clean and simple, so three types of floors on an 800 sq. ft. level was not happening for us.  We also had to tear out some of the kitchen flooring when remodeling the kitchen and let's just say that the existing floor was looking a little beat up from all of the work that we were doing.
When thinking about flooring we knew three things: we wanted real hardwood, we wanted to be able to stain them dark (espresso), and we didn't want to pay an arm and a leg.  SO, the searching began.

We ordered about a dozen samples from and visited several Lumber Liquidators.  What we kept noticing was that the majority of the pre-finished flooring (meaning flooring that had been coated with a color and polyurethaned in a factory) scratched very easily.  Bob kept insisting that we stay away from flooring like that because of those very reasons.  Due to that, we started heading in the direction of unfinished flooring that we could then hire someone to stain on site.  An on site stained flooring as opposed to a pre-finished flooring allows the stain to penetrate through the wood and, if scratched, the color shows through rather than the natural wood color.
When researching unfinished flooring we wanted a species of wood that would stand up to considerable foot traffic (remember, this is our main level of living), but that would also, when stained dark, give us the look that we wanted.  We investigated both white and red oak but didn't like the look of the grain before or after it was stained.  We investigated American and Brazilian cherry but didn't like the redness that is inherent in that species of wood.  We then investigated walnut and we fell in love with the grain as well as the way the wood accepted the dark stain.  We knew that we wanted to get walnut flooring.
Two of our three requirements were met with walnut. It was real hardwood, it stained well, but it would cost us an arm and a leg.  Enter engineered flooring!  Engineered flooring is real hardwood, but only has a thin layer of real walnut on the top.  We knew that we wanted as thick of a layer as possible so that if we decided to ever refinish the floors the layer was thick enough to be sanded a couple of times.  So, we were looking for engineered unfinished walnut flooring, and we found it on!  We knew that we definitely wanted to get a wider plank as opposed to the very common 2 1/4" width.

When choosing flooring there are three types of grades:
Natural- knots and natural color variations are evident
#1 Common- Some knots and color variations are evident but less noticeable then the natural
Select- Very few knots and color variations are evident

We opted for a 1/2" x 5" #1 Common with a 3.2 mm wear layer (which is quite thick in the world of engineered flooring) in 12"-90" variable lengths.

We got a great square foot price and shipping was extremely reasonable considering that Hurst Hardwoods is located in Florida.  Our flooring was ordered for the entire first floor!  Keep in mind that all of this research, waiting on samples, staining samples, back to research, etc. took about a month!  It was something that we had to get right the first time around so it was worth the research time.

The flooring arrived about three days later in bundles of different sizes (which makes it easier to maintain the random length effect) and we began installing our own wood floors.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let's Get Some Countertops and a Backsplash Up in Here!

Let's talk countertops for a moment.  Originally, we had planned on going with a really dark (think espresso) colored wood floor (we will talk flooring here).  Obviously our cabinets are white (Benjamin Moore Cloud White oil based paint to be exact), and our walls are a soft gray.  SO, when choosing a color for our countertop we needed to consider this color scheme.  I had always envisioned a charcoal colored granite, but when we went to Marble Systems in Vienna, VA we weren't really finding anything that we both agreed upon.  Nate was instantly attracted to Absolute Black granite but I was not so convinced.  Much time was spent there pondering and re-pondering, but we just couldn't agree on anything.  So, onto the next granite shop (by the way, granite shops are all over the place in Vienna.  Seriously, like a dozen of them right next door to each other.  I love living in a metropolitan area!)
So, at the second granite place, we were both attracted almost immediately to a sample piece that they had in their showroom.  We inquired about it and lo and behold it was Absolute Black!  However, it was honed and not polished which gave it more of a matte charcoal appearance and not a shiny black appearance.  And remember, I had mentioned that I wanted something charcoal and Nate wanted Absolute Black!  Talk about compromise, we both got what we wanted in one piece of granite! 
We marked our slab, and grabbed a sample piece to make sure that we still loved it when it sat in our kitchen.  While searching for granite, I also perused the tile selection.  I found a beautiful polished marble, in a small subway size, that had all of the neutral colors I was looking for (gray, brown, and white). BUT, Nate was not having the price tag. Remember, our middle names are FREE, so paying full price for anything was not something we knew how to do.  We left Marble Systems with granite but no backsplash.  The granite was installed about two weeks later.
While we are thrilled with the look of our granite, we think the choice of honed may have been the wrong choice.  It shows a lot of marks (fingerprints, watermarks, etc.) and we are constantly cleaning it.  A better choice (hindsight is 20/20) would have probably been a finish called "Antique".  It has a texture to it which diffuses the markings, but still gives it that matte charcoal look.  We LOVE that it isn't a glossy finish though and we obviously are not changing our countertops anytime soon, so we will continue to clean, clean, clean.

Back to the backsplash..I, not to be deterred, started a man tile hunt online.  Within about three days of searching tons of photographs (each place has a different name for the same tile) I finally found the tile that I had fallen in love with and it was half of the price! The tile was ordered (after haggling about shipping and handling) and it arrived about a week later.  We hired some of Nate's stone masons to install it because the small subway tile, even though it was on a mesh backer, was incredibly difficult to work with it.  Here it is!  Isn't it gorgeous!?!
Once the backsplash was installed, thanks to Natalio and Jose, we waited a few days before it could be grouted.  Nate spent an entire evening grouting the backsplash with non-sanded grout while I and Janene (Nate's sis) watched a movie.  At least one of us got a break!  Here is the end result.


Let's Build Some Cabinets!

Yep, that is right, we built our own cabinets.  We knew from the very beginning of planning this whole "let's remodel our kitchen" thing that we wanted to build our own cabinets.  It gave us the ability to design things exactly the way we wanted and to not have to rely on standard cabinet sizes or pay the cost for custom made cabinets by someone other than us.  We also had a HUGE resource available to us...Bob the Builder.  Bob has the know-how (he has been a carpenter his entire life), the equipment (he has a huge workshop at his home), and the patience.  In all actuality, Bob has ZERO patience, so we really went along for the ride.  He showed us what to do and we did it.  He is a whiz at measurements and pretty much cranked out all of the pieces required for assembly.  Nate and I took care of assembly, sanding (sanding pretty much became the bane of our existence for a couple of weeks), attaching drawer runners, hinges, etc.  Let's just say that Nate and I did all of the really hard stuff while Bob told us to stop complaining about how hard the hard stuff was.  So, voila, here are the shells of our cabinets.
These are made of birch plywood and were assembled with wood glue and a nail gun.  For the drawers we used soft close drawer runners which are typically expensive as sh*%t but thanks to Bob, we got for free!  If you know anything about Nate and I, FREE is pretty much our middle name.  Michele Free Ament and Nate Free Ament, nice right?
These things chilled in our garage for a while until we could convince Bob the Builder that he really wanted to come over to help us hang these things. NOTE: When using birch plywood, the end result is HEAVY!

So anyways, after convincing Bob that the best way to spend his Saturday was to help us hang our cabinets, we had this:
So once the cabinets were hung it was time to trim them out so they actually looked like real cabinets.  The trimming was fairly easy.  We decided to use white primed pine that we cut down to the correct width.
Aren't they pretty!?!?  You will notice that the cabinets and pantry now have shelves that were also made with birch plywood and received an ironing of birch veneer on the front to finish off the look.  I burned myself several times while ironing those stupid things, while Nate watched from the sidelines claiming that he had no idea how to do it.  Uh huh, sure Nate.  After the cabinets were trimmed out and my scarred fingertips had finally recovered, it was time to build some cabinet and drawer faces!  Woo Hoo, fun times in the Ament household.  Let me just say now that this renovation occurred during the summer.  The summer for 30-somethings with no children in the house typically requires a Happy Hour at least a couple of times a week.  It is mandatory here, especially with our group of friends.  Well, guess what?  The Ament's enjoyed about one Happy Hour a month during this renovation.  Yep, you heard us a right.  This renovation became our life.  Our second full time job.  Our date nights, and our Happy Hours.  BUT, we think it was worth it in the end, and thankfully our friends still talk to us.

Sorry for that sidebar.  On to the cabinet and drawer faces...
Sorry for the out of focus picture, but you get the idea.  This was one of the things that Nate and I actually agreed upon.  We both really liked the simplicity of the "shaker" style cabinet faces.  Our design intent for this home was/is to make it simple and elegant.  Think Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Restoration Hardware.  Our style sense is clean and simple, and very clean lines.  We are pretty "no fuss" when it comes to design.
In order to build the style that we wanted we bought "shaker" router bits to join the four pieces of the "frame" together (top, right, left, and bottom).  Thankfully Bob (wow, we really owe him a lot of thanks!) had two router tables and we were able to insert one bit into each table.  This made for a fairly quick, albeit extremely messy, routering (is that a word?) effort.  Nate and Bob each manned one router table.  I labeled each of the four pieces with a number that corresponded to the drawer or cabinet.  Remember, the cabinets and drawers are different heights and widths so it is very important to keep the correct pieces together as a set.
Once properly numbered, each set was then run through the table saw with the blade set low in order to create a groove on the interior side that the drawer or cabinet middle (the picture in the frame) would "slide" into. (Man, this is really hard to explain in text and we didn't take any pictures of the process!).  Once the grooves were cut, three pieces (the frame bottom, right, and left side) were glued and nailed together.  The drawer or cabinet middle (the picture) was slid into the grooves (which had glue applied to them) and the top part of the frame was then put on.  And, there you have them...drawer and cabinet faces.
Then, they ALL (I think we ended up with around 40 of them) needed to be sanded, and the nail holes needed to be filled with wood putty.  Ugghh, this process took us the good part of one week with a full Saturday to complete.
The next step was to position the drawer faces onto the drawer shells while trying to get them fairly level before screwing them on.  Thanks again to Bob who has been doing this all of his life and can pretty much eyeball things.  This could have potentially taken us days to complete.  The cabinet faces needed to have 1" diameter shallow holes drilled into the backsides of them (this was done at Bob's workshop) to accommodate the hidden hinges.  The cabinet faces were then connected to the shells by drilling the other end of the hinges into the shell.  The hinges were then adjusted (I swear that you need to have a degree in Physics to understand how these hinges actually adjust) and we have ourselves some cabinets!
We also decided to do glass doors in two areas.  We wanted the cabinet leading into the dining room to feel as unobtrusive as possible so we decided to do a glass face here to make it feel lighter.  This cabinet holds our plates, bowls, glasses, etc. and since we have a nice crisp white set of plates and bowls we were able to do glass doors without exposing clutter.  We also did some pops of color in there with some of our lime green mugs and bowls.  Also, if you know Nate, you know that the word "clutter" does not exist in his vocabulary so having glass doors wasn't really an issue for us.
The other spot that we optioned for glass is seen below on the upper corner cabinet.  We wanted to reflect some of the light in the room and also not make things feel so heavy.  The glass really opens things up a bit and we are able to display some great wedding gifts as well as all of our wine glasses.  We found that we had enough other cabinets to hide all of those kitchen items that you really don't want to show off to all of your guests, so we were able to turn a few of the cabinet faces into glass.  Note:  The bottom corner is not glass, it is just missing the cabinet face in this photo while we were out searching for lazy susan hinges.
We ordered the satin nickel drawer pulls, which I always knew that I wanted and some matching knobs off of the internet and installed those once they arrived.  We did double pulls on the long drawers and single pulls on the rest of the drawers.  The knobs were used for the cabinets.  Our design decisions were confirmed when a very similar looking kitchen was spotted on Top Chef Season 7 in the house that they were all living in.  And if a kitchen is good enough for Top Chef, it is good enough for the Aments!

Cabinet Layout

The one thing that was really important in this kitchen was to make the most out of the small space that we had to work with.  The existing kitchen had very little cabinet and countertop space, and it was imperative that the new layout took advantage of every nook and cranny.  I love to cook but, as Nate loves to point out, I really like to "spread out" while cooking.  (A.K.A. I am a messy cook).

As you can see in the first photo, the right corner was complete cabinet dead space and was not being used.  You can also see the extent of our countertop on the first photo.  Yep, that is all the countertop space that there originally was.  Can you imagine!?!?  The existing cabinets also stopped about 12" from the ceiling which was also space that could be used but wasn't.  The second photo shows the other wall of the kitchen and the existing layout with the dead duct space and the old pantry (that was touched upon here.)  The cabinets above the refrigerator were so shallow that they were barely usable.  That is one of those things that we talked about earlier. The builder used a standard cabinet size, so the space for the cabinet is actually much larger than the cabinet itself.  What a waste of space!! (The cabinet, not the builder. Well, maybe both.)

Anyways, here is what we came up with for the new layout which tried to maximize the space.

As you can see in the new layout, we took advantage of the corners by adding a lazy susan on the bottom cabinet and a corner cabinet on the upper cabinet.  We also ran the cabinets the entire way up to the ceiling to maximize our cabinet space.  The duct that was originally above the microwave was abandoned (we have another air vent below the sink space) and now a large cabinet sits above the microwave.  By building the cabinets ourselves (yep, we built them ourselves, more on that here) we were able to make the cabinets deeper than standard and gain about 3" of depth. I know that it seems minimal for cabinet space, but this allows for a larger countertop, and any bit helps!
We moved the oven slightly to the right to gain some extra space on the left, which resulted in a tiny upper cabinet on the right, which ended up being perfect for spices!  We also added a really deep double farm sink to hold all of those dirty dishes that I create while cooking!

When the small wall was removed (talked about here) we were able to add a very large upper cabinet to the right of the sink and some small lower cabinets below.  It also now allowed us to add a peninsula which gave us a huge amount of lower cabinet space but more importantly a HUGE amount of added countertop space. On the backside of the peninsula (where the bar stools will go) we took advantage of the "dead corner" and added a hidden liquor cabinet (shhh...don't tell!).  You can kind of see it in this photo on the bottom right.  Nate added some rope lighting inside to be able to find the correct bottle, God forbid he grabs the Coconut Rum instead of a 12 year old Scotch.

On the other side, by removing the old pantry we gained even more countertop space and a HUGE amount of storage area.  It was important to me to have deep drawers for the pots and pans that have been accumulated over the years.  The space was the perfect location for a set of very deep, very long drawers, and one shallow but very long drawer to hold cutting boards, etc.  The cabinet/drawer to the right was especially made to house the KitchenAid mixer (where the heck else are you supposed to put those things!).  The upper cabinets provided a perfect place to put all of the plates, bowls, etc. and the three small drawers underneath the upper cabinets were an awesome idea from Bob the Builder.  They make for a great place for take-out menus, coffee filters, and mail.

So, in a very big nutshell, that was the idea behind our new kitchen layout!  It took a lot of planning and consideration for how we I use the space and in the end we are very very pleased with the result.  We gained a ton of storage space, and enough countertop space considering what we started with.  OH, and did you notice that the refrigerator is going to have a built-in look.  Aren't we so fancy?!?!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kitchen Details- Tearing Down Walls

When discussing the layout for the new kitchen, the one thing that we knew that we wanted to do was open up the kitchen into the other two adjacent rooms (the dining room and the den).  The current opening into the dining room, as seen below, was very small and did not really fit into the whole "flow" thing that we were going for.

Existing opening from dining room to kitchen.

In order to make the opening wider, though, the existing pantry would need to be removed, which would mean even more of a lack of storage space.  So, onto tearing down another wall to make space for a new pantry.  See the wall that Rachel (my niece) is drawing on?  That wall, and her beautiful dragon art was headed for the trash (Sorry Rachel!).  Behind this wall was some duct work that was easily moved (there was a minor mishap with my dad's finger, but who needs all ten fingers to play the guitar anyways?  moving on...) and voila!  Our new HUGE pantry space was created!  Such an easy fix for a space that was being used for absolutely NOTHING!  We are actually noticing that a lot in this home.  The builder took some shortcuts in order to not have to buy custom cabinets, showers, etc. which is pretty common in the spec home building industry.  If there is a "dead space" in question, take a hammer, punch a few holes through the drywall and take a peak.  You may be surprised at what you find (or don't find!). 

Empty Wall on Left of Fridge and Old Pantry on Right of Fridge.  The little person is Rachel, my niece, finally given permission to write on the walls!
Opening to dining room opened up, old pantry removed, and dead space wall removed to make way for our new pantry space.
Hello new pantry!  I LOVE how big and spacious you are!
Taking out those two walls made all of the difference in the new kitchen.  The larger opening into the dining room (doesn't that look nice?) really helped with the "flow" idea that we had and taking out the old pantry made space for more countertop space (which was severely lacking) and some more cabinet/drawer space.  More on that later!  For now, let's demo a couple more walls.

The existing kitchen had a wall separating the view from the kitchen into the den.  The den is where we know most of our time will be spent so we wanted to make sure that the "flow" was interrupted by some silly little wall.  It was really important to me to be able to be in the kitchen and still have my eyes on whomever was in the den, and to still be able to watch Real Housewives while being a real housewife.

Divider wall on the right, separating the kitchen from the den.

There was also a "drop down" on the ceiling that we really wanted to open up in order to make the room feel larger, and again, help with not blocking the view to the Den.  When we removed the drywall on the divider wall and the header drywall, we found a little surprise!  Oops!  We did the whole hammer trick explained above to see what was lurking behind the walls, and we knew that there was some plumbing back there BUT we didn't quite realize how much was actually there.  Oh well, it is nothing that Bob the Builder, Nate, and I can't handle.

Drywall removed, and plumbing revealed.

After some unpleasant smells and experiences (remember, this plumbing is from both of the bathrooms upstairs) the plumbing was moved back and we were able to open up the space.  This kind of a project should not be a DIY project.  Nate and I would have never tackled this had Bob, a licensed contractor, not been there to help us with it (and by "help", I mean do all of the work).

Woo Hoo!  We have Flow!

The last wall to come down was a small header leading into the kitchen from the front door hallway.  Again, a very simple change that really helps to open things up.

Before.  The wood header was removed to open things up.
The after photo will be posted after I actually take an after photo.  A little suspense doesn't hurt, does it?

Let the Kitchen Remodeling Begin!!!

When we first walked through our house, the one thing that I knew that I really wanted to do was remodel the kitchen.  As you can see by my posture and facial expression in the first photo, I was all too thrilled with the current design and complete lack of storage space.
Move in day was May 23rd and kitchen tear out day was May 29th.  Looks I got my way :)
Sooo...Memorial Day weekend was spent with my father, and our carpenter friend Bob Jacobi, tearing out cabinets, ceilings, flooring, and a few walls.  Let the remodeling begin!!