Thursday, January 20, 2011

You Want to do What?

"You Want to do What?" is exactly what Nate said when I suggested that we use wallpaper in the dining room above the newly installed wainscoting.  I had seen some wallpaper in a clients home that looked phenomenal and was dying to do something similar.  Nate agreed to at least consider it, so off to Lowes we went to look through the books of wallpaper.  I knew that I wanted something with texture, and something that looked like a natural material (i.e. grasscloth, linen, etc.).  While looking through the books, the only thing that kept coming to mind was cheap, cheap, cheap.  Not inexpensive "cheap", but trashy "cheap".  Not the look we were hoping to achieve!  The other concern was the damage that wallpaper can cause to drywall when you attempt to remove it, and the pain the arse (I love an English accent) it is to remove wallpaper.

Not to be deterred, I started to do some research on using real fabric rather than wallpaper.  I found several websites dedicated to apartment living that suggested using fabric stiffener to apply the fabric to the walls.  When you were done renting the apartment you can take a warm wet sponge, wet down the fabric, and safely remove it from the drywall.  Wash the fabric and reuse!  This sounded like the solution!

I found a soft mocha colored linen fabric at JoAnn Fabrics which worked really well with the color scheme in the kitchen as well as the new hardwood floors.  Now, the task of applying it to the walls.

Nate was still not a huge fan of the idea, and was working on his own project in the Den (see that project here) so I attempted the project on my own.  First, I diluted the fabric stiffener with water so that the fabric remained pliable and soft.  I secured the fabric with push pins and applied the fabric stiffener with a paint roller.  One hour later and one wall was complete.  Well, not really.  It looked like complete crap!  There were bubbles everywhere, the fabric was slanted and it really didn't look like I had pictured it.  To make matters worse, our friends stopped by to see the house for the first time and made several comments about how terrible the fabric idea was.  I set out to prove them wrong!

After enough crying and yelling from me, Nate got the point that he should probably help.  This is definitely a project for two people!  We decided to run the fabric horizontally so that we did not have vertical seams like you would with wallpaper.  We were able to do this because of the wainscoting below.  The width of the fabric was larger than the height of the wall above the wainscoting.

We employed the push pin method again, and Nate did the rolling.  I followed behind using my hands to push out any air bubbles.  The fabric ends up quite wet from the fabric stiffener which helps it adhere to the wall better while it is "stiffening".  We did one wall at a time and allowed it to completely dry.  Once dry (about a day), we used a long straight edge and an exacto knife to trim off the excess fabric from the top, bottom, and two sides.  The fabric cuts amazingly well when it is stiff.  Once the edges were cut, we moved on to the adjacent wall and repeated all of the steps until the four walls were complete.

We ended up LOVING the final look and despite the pain in the butt it was to install, it was worth it.  It is a subtle detail but when you run your hand across the wall the texture feels incredible.  We can't imagine using a fabric with a pattern because it would be almost impossible to get things straight using this method.  By using the linen we didn't have that problem to consider.  If we ever stop loving the look of it, we can soak down the fabric and remove it from the wall all while leaving the drywall intact.  It was the perfect solution for us.

Drum roll please!
We completed the look by changing out the existing satin nickel chandelier with two drum shade chandeliers from  The shade is a wood veneer which adds another texture to this room.  We were also able to buy a new table and upholstered chairs from Crate and Barrel with wedding gift cards.  The table is a dark espresso farm house style (we love the look of reclaimed wood and this table fit the bill), and the upholstered chairs have the same textural quality of the linen fabric which ties things together nicely. We had the buffet table from a great $99.00 Pottery Barn Outlet find (Nate just had to make some legs for it since they seemed to be missing!)  The table sits atop a jute rug that we bought at IKEA...again, another textural quality. We made a very bold statement with the drapes that my mother made for us using fabric (Iman Sultana Lattice in Noir) that I found at Calico Corners.  The fabric also has a textural quality to it due to the flocking of the pattern.  An avocado green band (Calico Corners Cobblestone in Avocado) was added to the drapes to bring some color to the room.


Nate took some reclaimed wood and made the trough on the table to hold the moss balls, again adding texture and color to the room.  We really love the results!  We have had three separate people sit at the table and tell us they feel like they are in a magazine.  So much for "You Want to do What?"!

Learning to Wainscot!

The existing dining room was pretty standard, and we, apparently, are not OK with standard, so it was time to crank up the design on the dining room a bit!

The first thing that we did was take the very traditional crown moulding and replace it with the more modern profiled crown moulding that we used in the kitchen.  Just that alone made a big difference, but we weren't done yet!

Being fairly obsessed with design, we look through a lot of books to keep up with the design trends.  We also both have high-end clients whose homes we get to visit so design ideas are constantly coming at us.  One classic element that we both loved was a high wainscoting.  The current dining room was painted a yellowish-brownish color (in fact, the entire house, literally every single room, was painted the same color) and had a typical chair rail about 30" above floor level.  We really wanted to raise the height of the chair rail by about 18" which would then line up perfectly with the bottom of the upper cabinets (remember, the dining room was opened up to the kitchen when we removed the old pantry).
In the "olden days" (ha, ha, I couldn't think of another way to say it!) chair rails were hung higher so that while the floors were being swept, the ladder back chairs could hang off of hooks attached to the chair rail.  So, we were really just channeling our ancestors for this design idea!

We decided to go with a simpler style rail to fit into the style of the kitchen cabinets.  We used a simple 1"x6" primed pine board for the rail and capped it with a piece of moulding that we found at Home Depot, just to add a touch of relief at the top.  We also added a 1"x6" board along the bottom of the wall that would eventually have the base moulding nailed to it.

Notice in the photos above where the old chair rail height was and the height that we are installing the new chair rail.  Also notice that the new height lines up perfectly with the center of the windows.  It is really important when using such a visual line around a room to make sure that it is a consistent line.  It would be a little jarring if the horizontal center line of the window was above or below our chair rail height because your eye can no longer follow the line around the room.

In order to achieve a simple wainscoting, we added 1"x4" boards vertically every 24" to create a panel detail below the chair railing.

When designing, having a consistent element throughout the home helps to unify the design styles of each room.  Our unifying element was the panel detail.  You will see it in the kitchen cabinets, and now the dining room, and it will show up again and again in later posts.

Anyways, after the horizontal and vertical boards were added, we needed to sand the areas where the horizontals and verticals met in order to get things nice and flush with each other.  We then used a router to add a 1/8" radius on each of the boards for a subtle detail.  You can only imagine how dusty our house was for the 6 months of this renovation!  We skim coated the drywall where the old chair rail used to hang, and painted the chair rail and all of the areas below the chair rail with our Benjamin Moore Cloud White paint (we used latex rather than oil based for everything other than the cabinets).
 And voila! We have, in our opinion, a very gorgeous, modern day, wainscoting!  Now, let's put some fabric above the chair rail.  Yep, that's right, fabric!  More about that here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Installing Wood Flooring- 101

Now that the wood floors are hanging out in our garage, we decided it was probably time to install them.  Hmmm, neither one of us had ever done this before and it didn't sound like one of those things that we should just "figure out as we go along" as some of our house renovations were.  Time to call in the expert...Bob the Builder!  He will show up a lot on this blog, so you better just learn to love him.

The one thing that we knew we needed was an automatic wood floor stapler as opposed to the "old school" stapler that you have to whack.  We really didn't feel like playing Whack-A-Mole, and quite honestly our muscles just aren't up to par to handle one of those bad boys.  Enter the automatic stapler!  Nate was lucky enough to have been given some nail guns with an air compressor as a Christmas gift from his beautiful wife (guess who is writing this post?!?), so we already had the air compressor and Bob knew someone that was willing to let us borrow his automatic stapler.  We are ready to lay some floors!

When laying flooring you need to "step" the flooring in order to be able to randomize the lengths properly, as seen below.  You also need to lay roofing felt underneath the flooring to help with floor creaking and moisture.


We had piles set up in the dining room with each size (we had four different sizes) in one pile.  We chose randomly for the first course which ran against the front wall of our hallway and into our living room.  The floor vents were cut out using a scroll saw, and the boards were shortened accordingly (when they met up with the wall) with a miter saw (a gift from Nate's parents).

For the second course, we started with the leftover piece from the board that was just cut with the miter saw, and then matched the sizes that we used in the first course.  This process continued throughout the home.  If you use this method, your waste should be very, very minimal.  Our waste consisted of a few boards that we just completely screwed up on, and about a half of a dozen short little pieces that were useless.  As long as when you are putting in the last piece against the wall in one course, the "leftovers" from the cut are large enough to be used for the next course you will have no waste!  It really is one of the most rewarding projects that we undertook on this renovation.

We spent about four weeknights installing the flooring.  One of us would pick the piece of flooring, set it, and join the tongue and groove together using a mallet and a wooden block, as to not damage the floors with the mallet, and the other one of us would staple them together.  It was a great project for two people and shockingly our knees and backs handled the work.  Bob basically taught us how to start with the first two courses, and we did the entire rest of the first floor!  We gave ourselves a big 'ole pat on the back when we were finished!

Speaking of when we finished, we reviewed our work and realized how much we LOVED the natural look of the walnut.  We were originally going to stain them a very dark espresso brown.
Uh oh!  All of this work to find floors that will look great when stained dark and now we don't want to stain them!  Walnut is such a naturally beautiful wood, and we loved the grain and knots that came along with getting the #1 Common so we had to find a finish that would maintain the look of the unfinished floor.  We tried several options:  Oil based polyurethane, clear stain, and tung oil.  But the finish that we both loved the most, the one that maintained the look of the raw wood the best, was a water based polyurethane.  We called Dominion Floors in Arlington, VA and they finished our floors over a process of two days.  We were banished to live on the second floor while things dried properly.
Once the floors were finished (and not stained dark) our friends starting coming out of the woodwork to tell us what a bad idea they thought staining the floors dark would have been.  Speak up people!  Tell us if you think we are making a mistake BEFORE we either go through with it or agonize over our decision!  Why does it always happen that way?  It was the classic "I broke up with him" and your friends say "Good, we didn't like him anyways!"  Just tell us up front!

Now that our friends have been reprimanded, we LOVE our floors and we are so happy that we did not stain them dark.  Notice in the photo above some woodwork happening in the dining room.  Guess what the next post is going to be about!?!?