Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Stylish Starbucks

Greetings from Pittsburgh!
I've been doing some heavy traveling lately for work and Pittsburgh was one of my recent visits. As anyone who travels for business knows, you don't get to see much other than the view from your conference room and the hotel.

So imagine my delight when I found my way through the hotel lobby of the Omni William Penn and into this Starbucks.
Holy molding Batman! And check out those black Murano glass chandeliers.... and the bistro chairs...and marble topped bistro tables...

I would have loved to ditch my meeting to have spent my entire morning here. Damn these grown up responsibilities!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Chris and I spent the majority of the weekend painting spindles, stair risers, and trim in our hallway. I hope to never have to paint another spindle again in my life.

I'm thrilled to say that we finished, but sorry to say that I've run out of time and daylight to take pictures and write a decent post for today.
Dare I say that I'll have a reveal to share next week??? 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Refinishing the Stairs Part 2: (Or How I Fixed a Bad Stain Job)

Click here to read Part 1.

Lordy Lordy. If I said I was fearless at the start of this project when we started stripping the old finish from the stairs, I was certainly eating my words when I stained them.
I got scared. Real scared.
Everything started off smoothly. The oak banister took the dark Varathane "Kona" stain like a champ.

 But the stair treads? Not so much. They were a big blotchy disappointing mess.
You can actually see defeat in the slump of my shoulders as I persisted.
No, I didn't pretreat using a wood conditioner. The directions said I didn't have to. All I can figure in my research is that the kind of wood our stairs are made from is one that doesn't take stain well. This may also explain why they looked so bad to begin with.

I seriously didn't know what I was going to do to fix it. The last thing I wanted was to sand them again and start over. Thank god for the Internet, because that is where I learned about General Finishes gel stain. I stopped hyperventilating long enough to place the order. Then naturally, my mind went to worst case scenario land as I waited for it. (As in, we're probably going to have to replace the entire staircase...)

When it arrived, I cautiously tried again. The gel stain is thick, like chocolate pudding. It smelled pleasant.  I was hopeful. I used a white sock over a rubber glove on my right hand to wipe it directly on top of the bad stain job. Then I used a clean white rag in my left hand to wipe off the excess a few minutes later. I used a foam brush to get the stain in corners and around the spindles.

To my relief, IT WORKED! Top step, Varathane + General Finishes gel stain. Bottom step, Varathane only. My stairs only needed one coat of General Finishes to even out the finish.
In reading online reviews about General Finishes gel stain, we probably didn't even need to strip the wood first. Oh well, live and learn.

Three coats of poly later and the treads are done.

I really love how the dark treads look with the mahogany inlay of our floors downstairs.

Now someone is going to have to paint the spindles and risers.

I call "not it".

Monday, January 14, 2013

Picture This

Shortly after we sanded the stairs, we got right to work on the walls. They'd recently been skim coated and were as smooth as a baby's bottom. Time to make them extra special.

Because we don't really have a big foyer, our front entrance needs a big wow factor. Chris and I figured that picture molding would be a good way to make a big impact in a small space. 
I started by painting the ceiling and the walls the same color as the trim we're using throughout the house. (Custom color matched to our windows, cut with 25% pure white). The ceiling got flat and the walls got an eggshell finish. 
 Meanwhile Chris made the frames using astragal molding per his measurements. He affixed double sided tape to the back side of the frames to help him position them on the wall before nailing them in place.
 One down, a trillion more to go...
I left him alone for the afternoon to go look at carpet samples.
I came home to THIS!
Chris said he really struggled with the triangles along the staircase. I'm kinda glad I wasn't around for that... 
 It was looking good, but not as good as it looked once we painted out the frames. Again, we used the wall color in the eggshell finish. (Btw, the paint finish on the walls and molding was a great source of debate over Christmas dinner. Some people thought it should be semi-gloss to mimic painted wood paneling. Some thought it should be flat to mimic plaster molding. In the end, eggshell seemed like a good compromise. I'm happy with that decision).
 Phew. Almost done.
All that is left of this project is to paint out the trim and spindles as well as stain the stairs.
Can't. Wait.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Remember my quest to find the perfect sconces for my hallway?
Even after all your advice and opinions, I still struggled to make a decision. Turns out, I just hadn't come across the perfect sconce yet.

But then the good folks at Barn Light Electric contacted me and offered a generous discount on a pair of sconces for our hallway in exchange for a mention on Hazardous Design. Ummmm, yes please! But between you and me, I was skeptical that I'd be able to find something that was both elegant and modern from a company with "barn" in their name.

To my surprise, there it was. The sconce I didn't even know I was looking for.
Vista Sconce
And suddenly, a decision was made.

It is sophisticated and timeless, exactly how I hope our hallway will look when we finish it.

Several others caught my eye too...


Kinda blows the whole rustic barn light image from your mind, no?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Refinishing the Stairs Part 1: Sanding Up a Storm

While much of the country was experiencing blizzard like conditions the week after Christmas, Chris and I decided to create a little blizzard of our own. A sawdust blizzard, that is.
My big plan for our hallway involves refinishing the stair treads a darker color, so stripping and sanding the existing finish off was in order.  Refinishing a wood floor isn't something I've ever done before, but I was fearless. As you can see from the before photo, we really didn't have much to lose.

We got a late start on the first day, then wasted a few hours using an orbital sander and a belt sander. The belt sander was doing it's thing, but the orbital sander (which we were using to hit the areas the belt sander couldn't reach) was hardly making a dent. We decided to switch to Citristrip, a chemical stripper.
We applied it to the stair treads, banister, and newel posts, then called it a day to let the stripper work its magic overnight.
The following morning we used scrapers to remove the stripper. See those pale yellow areas? That's as far as we got with the belt sander the previous day.
 This time the orbital sander worked like a charm.
Looking good, right?
Now, don't think that I just sat back and took all the photos while Chris did all the hard work. 

I spent hours stripping the banister and the newel posts. The newel posts were especially difficult because of all the little grooves. 
 By the end of the second day, my fingers were permanently stuck in the pose in the above photo, but I was quite pleased with the results. Between the freshly skimcoated walls and our unfinished staircase, our 125 year old house looks like a new build.
Smells great too! All that sawdust has a pleasing scent of a lumber yard.
Someone should make a candle and call it "Lumber Yard". I'd buy it.

Of course, we still need to apply stain and polyurethane, but we're going to hang the molding and paint the walls first. Lots more to come!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Skim This, Yo!

Happy New Year!
Hope you all had a relaxing holiday. Chris and I sure did. We were productive too. The plasterers finally finished so Chris and I took the week off between Christmas and New Years Day to work on the hallway.

Let me catch you up to speed and show you what the plasterers did. (Apologies in advance for the quality of these photos. Most were taken at night).

The first thing they did was make a mess. Down came the old cracked ceiling in our foyer.
 Off came the plaster going up the stairs. The plaster "keys" between the lath had broken and the plaster was starting to pull away from the wall. It was causing the wall to bulge. If you pressed against it, it moved. Not cool.
This exposed area was eventually replaced by sheetrock.
 A day later, the new ceiling was installed and the first coat of joint compound went up.
Between you and me, I thought the walls were looking pretty good at this point. I would have stopped here if I had done it myself, but they went on to apply two more coats. Two more coats!
Upstairs you can see where they left off for the day. 

Here's Chris admiring their work.
He's also saying "Carrie, I'm SO glad I didn't have to do this myself. Thank you so much for realizing that we needed the help of professionals for this job. You are so smart and the best wife ever."
 Here's how the plasterers were able to reach the tall wall next to the stairs. One end rests on a step, and the other end is placed on a rung of a ladder at the bottom of the stairs. Looks sturdy enough, but I'm glad it was them and not me who had to stand on it.
 We were adamant that the original ceiling medallions be kept intact.
And they were. They actually left it up when they took down the ceiling, and installed the new sheetrock ceiling above it.
Here are our hallways all skimmed, sanded, and looking fabulous. 

With the exception of this project cutting so close to Christmas, it was quick and painless.
Well, there was also the dust factor. Even though every adjacent door was closed or sealed off with plastic, a fine powder of skimcoat dust still coated everything in our house.
Guess what Chris got as a Christmas gift from Santa this year?
A dust abatement system for his shop. We joked that we should have thought to set up upstairs...

There's more fun on the way. Who wants to refinish some stairs?

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