Friday, September 30, 2011

IKEA Flooring

When it came to flooring, we would have loved to have been able to afford hardwoods, but that just wasn't going to happen. And it wouldn't have been a good splurge since we aren't going to live in it for years and years (fingers-crossed). And wall-to-wall carpeting was just NOT an option in my book.

This lead us quickly to laminate hardwood. Not the really nice stuff either, which is still $3/sqft. We needed something around $1/sqft. That's hard to come by. Lowes has an aisle of laminate and as you walk down it you pass the $3/sqft (which looks really really good!), then you pass the $2/sqft (starting to look not-real), then you get to the $1/sqft stuff that they hide at the end of the aisle out of embarrassment. By itself, it really didn't look THAT bad (not for $1 anyway). It was fine.

Then, I took Matt to our local IKEA for his first visit (yes, we had a "date" to IKEA, complete with a coupon for a free dinner!). Our goal was to pick out some indoor lighting (mostly kitchen). We also happened to notice the laminate floors they had in their showroom. It was Antique Effect and it was installed in a mock-living room. It looked way better than what Lowes had. And it was still around $1/sqft. I was sold.

I love how the wood image (laminate is a picture of wood printed on to a composite material) is a wide 6 inch plank instead of two 3 inch planks printed on one piece.

We didn't buy it that day. I came back by myself for some crazy reason. It would have taken forever to plan a time when Matt could go back. I had taken measurements of our house and did the math to figure out how many boxes of flooring I needed (28, but I bought two extras just in case). I also took measurements to make sure I could fit them all in my jeep's cargo area with the seats folded down.

I went straight to the IKEA warehouse, by-passing all the showroom stuff. I grabbed a cart and started loaded boxes onto it. Holy crap, these are heavy! The packages aren't even that big. I had my cart and started loaded and quickly realized not only can I not load all 30 by myself, but they won't fit in one cart. And I can't push the cart with that much weight because of the poorly engineered wheel design.

Thankfully, a worker came to help me and loaded the remaining 20 boxes and pushed the heaviest cart to the check out and left me like this:

One cart weighing over 300 lbs, and the other weighing over 600 lbs. I had to pull them along, and tell people to watch out as they rolled to the left and right uncontrollably. Oh, and the rolls of white stuff are foam sheets that go under the flooring to help with leveling and sound absorbing. Our total for flooring was just over $1,000. Sounds like a lot, so I can't even imaging how much a full sized house with hardwoods would be (upwards of $10,000 I would guess).

IKEA has a loading zone, so I didn't have to load them all by myself. But driving my Jeep home made me nervous. Stopping at red lights was interesting. I felt like I was driving a semi. I had to be very careful and really pushed some yellow lights because I just couldn't stop in time without 1000 lbs slamming into my dash and me (that kinda happened once).

Now, they are sitting in our garage waiting until after the subs come back to install everything (lights, faucets, etc.). We are waiting until after they are done to install the floors so they don't get scratched up.

*Update: check out the finished floors here and here*

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Concrete Counters Part 2

After doing extensive research, which I shared some of here, it was time to start buying supplies. We needed to buy melamine boards and get them cut to size. Melamine boards are plastic coated to give a smooth finish to the underside of the concrete (the underside becomes the top of the counter once it's flipped over). Normally, Lowes would be our go to place. But they didn't have full sized melamine boards. They only carry skinny boards for closet shelving. That's not nearly wide enough for a countertop.

So over to Home Depot we went and sure enough, they had what we needed. Matt made all his calculations and took them to the cutting station and told the guy where to cut so that we'd have the least amount of waste. These boards might seem expensive (around half our counter budget), but you can't really make due without them. And keep in mind, the finished product is still WAY cheaper than any other countertop material.

Matt and I spend one evening assembling the forms with screws and caulking the seams with silicone caulk so that the water in the concrete mix wouldn't seep out.

*Side note: Lucy gets really freaked out by our reflections in the windows at night time and kept barking at them. At home, we have curtains and blinds covering all the windows so she never sees reflections. Poor thing was just trying to protect us. I tried to teach her what it was, but no luck.*

Here are the basic form assembled.

And Matt assembling the sink hole.

Making sure the sink hole is in the correct location.

All done! Now for caulk.

Tedious but easy.

Then, the next day, I mixed up some samples of concrete with different amounts of pigment in it. I wasn't sure how dark the charcoal pigment would make it, or if I would like the natural color by itself.

We bought Sakrete High Strength Concrete Mix from Home Depot, which sells for cheaper than at Lowes.

We calculated that we would need between 8 and 10 bags of concrete at around $5/bag. So we also needed 8-10 boxes of pigment (if we use it full strength) at $6.20/box.

Adding color doubled the cost of the concrete mixture, but it's still relatively cheap.

I mixed up a small sample of full strength pigmented concrete....and totally forgot to take a picture of it wet on the board. It was a beautiful shiny black pile of wet concrete. Having worked with concrete before (on our foundation) I knew that when it's dry, it much much lighter, so I couldn't judge it yet.

I also mixed up a small batch at half strength pigment and one with NO pigment at all.

And I do have pictures of the no pigment one.

I spread this mixture out on a scrap piece of melamine board. This was also the only sample where I remembered to bang on the board to shake out the air bubbles(more on that later). I left the 3 samples to dry over night.

And here they are dry. Clearly, the darker one is no longer black (even though you didn't see it wet). In fact, it's not very dark at all, in my opinion. Clearly, vibrating the board (aka banging on it) is a very important step. I forgot to do that to the medium and dark sample and as a result, they are full of air holes. Also important to note, I already applied a sealer to half of each piece to see how it looks. That's why the surface color is inconsistent.

I compared each color to our flooring(more on that later) and used a piece of baseboard to represent the white cabinets.

After getting lots of opinions (not that more is better. more can actually be worse and confusing) we decided to go middle of the road and go with the medium gray color. And that folks, is where we end it today. Next up: pouring the concrete.

Continue reading:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Concrete Counters Part 1

Many months ago when Matt and I were trying to get cost estimates on the large items for our house, I got an estimate for our kitchen counters. We were going to go with laminate. Laminate, which goes by the name brand Formica, and it is a composite plastic countertop. If you don't have a fancy solid surface counter like granite, you probably have laminate. It's the cheap, affordable option and as far as design, has really made a lot of growth over recent years. They offer lots of faux granite patterns.

Our kitchen counter will be roughly 50 sq ft (which is pretty large for a kitchen/house our size). That's mostly due to the large peninsula counter and bar we have planned for. The guy at Lowes did some quick math (not based on actual figures, because I didn't have them), and came back with the estimate of $1,200. Granite would be around $3,000 unless we used one of our connections who promised to get us granite install for about the same as laminate.

So you are probably thinking that's a no brainer, right? Go with the cheap granite guy! Except that's still a lot of money. That we don't have. I can't remember where I originally saw this idea, but it was perfect timing. The third option was pouring our own concrete countertops. Concrete counters are the "new thang" and can get really fancy. Professional fabricators can charge up to $5,000 for a kitchen our size. Definitely NOT our price range! But...BUT! DIY them only cost a few hundred.

I started researching online for people who have done this (because I still wasn't sure concrete was the way to go and that it would be functional). Not getting the answers and quality of photos I wanted with a regular google search, I started searching blogs on google. Searching blogs is where it's at. You get a more personal and detailed guide that includes loads of photos and also shares their mistakes and what they WOULDN'T do again. And gives you a their real life budget.

To search just blogs, you type your search into the google bar and then click where it says "more" on the left-hand side.

Then click on "blogs".

One of the first blogs I found that I really liked was Kelly Moore Photography (also, I really really love the camera bags she makes. Christmas list? I think so! Heads up, mom.)

While this blog wasn't the MOST detail oriented when it came to the tutorial, the photos really inspired me. Especially the last line of her narrative which says, "This project cost us around $300"

There are tons of things you can do to concrete during the mixing/pouring or after, but they left theirs plain, which I love. They were going for the rustic industrial look. Perfect for me (also cheaper and less work).

Another blog, called Imperfectly Polished, I found was very informative. You can read about their experience here: part 1, part 2, part 3. We did not follow their tutorial exclusively though. Matt used other references (that were not blogs). I guess that's more "guy friendly", but I like the pretty pictures. I read as many sources as I can and take little bits from each one. You don't have to do something exactly like someone else to get it to work. We found that with this next blog that they were trying to do it "by the book" exactly and it really increased their cost.

This couple also kept the concrete au naturale, and just added a gloss sealer and wax. It's the raw color of concrete, no pigment added (I'll show you some examples of "fancy" concrete later on).

I was torn between keeping the concrete au naturale, or tinting it a darker charcoal to match the color of the laminate or granite I would have chosen. I really love the contrast between white cabinets(which ours will be after I paint them) and the dark counter. Here are some more stunning examples of the raw concrete:

Of course, most of these were done professionally so don't expect perfection from us. While some people might think air pockets in the concrete are a mistake, I LOVE them! They add so much character. Pockets on the top surface...well, those you have to fix so food doesn't get stuck.

This might be too rustic for you, but professional installers can get really fancy with pigments and by adding glass chips, fossils or rocks, or forming the sink out of the same solid piece. If you want to explore a professional gallery virtually, click here. They do some amazing work, but it's too modern for my tastes.

Continue reading:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Panko Crusted Salmon

I found this recipe on If you haven't heard of it, Pinterest is a social catalog. You browse through pictures and can "pin" your favorites. It's like ripping out a page in a magazine that you want to save for later. You browse your friends pins and people can see your pins. So it allows you to share ideas and inspiration. Every pin has the original website as a reference. It's totally addictive.

We love to eat wild salmon, but I always cook it the same way. I searched for some fresh ideas and found this one.

I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand. The panko (japanese bread crumbs- don't substitute with regular bread crumbs) was leftover from some other recipe. I always have a lemon in the fridge. And I grew parsley this summer in a container, so I had that as well. In my opinion, dried parsley has no flavor whatsoever, so fresh is a must!! It pairs beautifully with the lemon.

I usually cook my salmon in a skillet, but never though to put it in the oven for the second half of cooking. The trick is to pull it out and let it "rest" on the cast iron skillet while it's still rare in the middle. I almost put it back in, but it continued to cook once it was out. I think it was the most perfectly cooked salmon I've ever made. The flavors were fantastic. Even Matt loved the lemon.

2/3 cup panko
2 tbsp. finely minced fresh parsley
1 tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
3-4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 (6-8 oz.) salmon fillets, skin on
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. In a small bowl, combine the panko, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss with a fork until the crumbs are evenly coated; set aside.

Place the salmon fillets skin side down on a work surface. Generously brush the top of each fillet with the mustard and then season with salt and pepper. Press the panko mixture thickly on top of the mustard on each fillet to help the panko adhere.

Heat the remaining olive oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet. When the oil is hot, add the salmon fillets, skin side down, and sear for 3-4 minutes without turning to brown the skin. (If you don’t want to eat the skin, this step also helps the skin stick to the pan so the fillets can be easily removed without the skin later on.)

Transfer the pan to the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes, until the salmon is almost cooked through and the panko is browned. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest 5-10 minutes. Serve warm with fresh lemon wedges.

I actually have a picture of my salmon! Here it is just beginning to cook. I made three because one is for Matt's lunch. It's healthier and cheaper for him to take leftovers everyday. I will definitely make this again.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tiling the Shower

*Sorry for the long delay in posts. We've been busy working on our house and I have lots to share with you. I've been trying to type up and publish this post for the last 4 days. Blogger is giving me all kinds of trouble. If I spend an hour writing and uploading photos, I spend 3 hours redoing it in every internet browser out there trying to figure out why I am getting error messages. Anyone else having problems with blogger? Seriously, if I have to go through that again, you may never hear from me again.*

It was finally time to conquer the project that I had been dreading. A project I had no experience doing. A project that involved....MATH (gag!). Yes, this project was tiling the shower in our new house. I think what scared me the most was just getting started.

While I love the look of mosaic glass or marble tile, it was way out of our budget.

We had to stick with the most basic tile choices. But I still wanted it to look good, which pretty much narrowed it down to white subway tile (as apposed to standard square tile, which looks cheap and dated, in my opinion).

A look I've seen all over the internet is white subway tile (3x6 tile), with light gray grout instead of standard white grout. I love this look so that's what I went with. Here are some examples:

Gaaah! A girl can dream can't see she?

Everyone told me that tiling was easy, but we had to go and complicate it by adding recessed shelves into the wall for shampoo bottles. Such as these:

The last picture is closest to what ours will look like. We were going to add a second short shelf below the large one, for a bar of soap and razors, but I was already freaking out about doing any shelf, so a small one that you can barely fit your hands in seemed way too much for a novice to take on.

Notice how on the white shelf above, that the top and bottom of it fall exactly on a grout line so that they didn't have to make weird L cuts on the tile like the natural stone shelf above that. Also, the inside of the shelf has to be trim with tile that doesn't have a raw edge showing.

Before we can even think about tile, we had to prep the shower stall. Interior walls don't have insulation, but it's a nice touch to insulate your bathroom walls for privacy. Most of the walls were already drywalled so it was too late, but we still had the chance to insulate the shower wall that is shared with the bedroom. That will be nice when one of us is sleeping.

Next, Matt built the shelf out of 2x4s. The width was pre-determined by the wall studs.

This shot shows the insulation in place, both shelves built (before we decided to nix the lower one), and our water barrier (aka plastic) stapled up. After this, I cut an "x" into the plastic covering the shelf so that I could line it with plastic also. It's kinda like wrapping a present (but doesn't have to be as neat).

Silly me forgot to take a photo of the HardieBacker as we were installing it or ever after it was installed. It was pretty much a huge headache and delayed the start of tiling a few weeks. HardieBacker is just one name brand of concrete backer board which is used in place of drywall in areas of high moisture. Concrete is water stable, which means water can pass through it (so it's not waterproof), but it's totally unaffected by the water (meaning it will maintain it's strength even when wet, and will dry out and be totally the same as it was before).

The drywall was 1/2 in. so we bought 1/2 in. hardiebacker. Then we learned that 1/2 in. hardiebacker is actually 3/8 in. Kinda like a 2x4 that is actually 1 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. So when went went to hang the hardiebacker, it wasn't flush with the drywall. We needed to add shims to the wall studs to bring it out 1/8 in. Lowes, apparently, doesn't sell shims. They only sell wedges. Matt asked about 4 different employees for shims and told them he didn't need a wedge, and they all pointed him towards wedges. This really frustrated him because they are NOT the same thing! At all!

What do you do when you can't find 1/8 in. shims? You make your own. The hardiebacker is actually comprised of several layers of composite concrete pressed together. Somehow he was able to pry it apart and break them into nice long pieces 1 1/2 in. wide and 4-12 inches long. These were nailed to the studs in the wall.

The hardieboard cutting instuctions were to score the board with a carbide tip scoring knife, and then "snap". This must be some kind of joke, because it did not "snap". Even after scoring it 8 times, it did not "snap". But after 8 times, you've pretty much cut through it, and then you just break it like you are breaking the bottom crust off of really crusty bread. I'd really like to hear from someone about this whole "snap" thing.

So, it got cut to size and screwed into the wall (this was when we covered up the small shelf we didn't want anymore). Again, sorry for no pictures. Matt was mostly working on this by himself. I'm borrowing this photo from John and Sherry at

Just before tiling began, I added fiberglass mesh tape to the seams of the hardiboard, and covered it with thinset (as per instructions online). I found lots of conflicting advise about tiling a shower, so we picked the advise that sounded good to us (usually the easiest way). We read lots of things that said, "you must do ____, or else ____". Then others said "I didn't do ____ 3 years ago and it was fine."

Now comes what you've all been waiting for: the tile!

You can see the hardiebacker and thinset still exposed on the wall. This is your best look at it. After day one, I was up to here.

On day two, I had to start cutting tile. After reading/talking to other people who have tiled, they all strongly recommended using a wet saw. Since we didn't know anyone who owned one, we either had to rent one or buy one.

Lowes sells a relatively cheap one, which got REALLY good reviews online. And at $89 it's cheaper than we could rent one for.

This saw was so easy to use. I had no problems using it by myself. Tiles are cut with diamond bits instead of sharp jagged teeth, so that made it less scary to me. The tile glides through like warm butter. A little bit of mist and tile dust shoots out at your belly, but overall, it wasn't that messy. The added water eventually turns into mud (from tile dust), which has to be wiped off each tile after cutting.

At the end of day two, the shower looked like this:

After day one, I realized that our placement of the shelf didn't exactly go as planned. I don't know how it happened (since I'm not the math person), but after 12 rows of 3 inch tile with built in 1/16 in. spacers, somehow the grout line didn't land a the bottom of the shelf.

It was about 1/2 in too short. Which means if I use the border piece around the inside of the shelf, like I planned, there would be a huge gap under it that would have to be filled with a sliver a tile that continues along that same row. That was not an option. There would be no slivers of tile in my shower if I had anything to say about it.

Had that row ended even lower, we wouldn't been dealing with a skinny sliver and I could have made it work. A tile cut to 1.5 in. high would have been fine, but .5 in. is not ok. So, on one of my daily trips to Home Depot, I looked for a solution to this problem. I found another kind of border piece: the bull-nose border tile. It has a curve on the end that happens to be about 1/2. Perfect to full up our gap.

This was either day three or four

I used $10 tile nippers (which I already owned from years ago) to nip out notches for the pipes. This will all get covered up with the decorative plate on the plumbing fixture, but I still think I did an awesome job.

Day 4 or 5 (I've lost track):

I decide to not continue the border piece along the top edge and diagonal edge. Since there were 3 inches to spare on the top row above, it would either fit one more 3 inch wall tile, or one 2 inch border tile, plus less than one inch of wall tile (basically cut into a sliver). I think a sliver of tile under the border tile would look way worse than not having a border at all.

All the tile is done now

Close-up on the shelf:

See how the bull-nose piece curves down, meeting up with the next row of tile? Not perfect, but not bad either. It was hard cutting the little pieces inside to fit. Some of them took 4 or 5 tries. The "L" cuts were not as bad as I thought they would be.

Like I said in the beginning, I used gray grout, which was pretty simple to apply (and messy). A tile float was recommended, but since there were so many small areas and corners I had to get into, I found just using my hand was easier. Scoop up a small handful of grout and spread it on, pushing it into the cracks. The sponginess of the tile float is not that unsimilar to the sponginess of a human hand

Still left to be done is: caulk edges and seams, buff tile haze off, and seal grout.

The caulk in the corners and along top of tub will be gray to match the grout. The caulk on the outside of the border (that meets with the wall paint) will be white I think. Do you think that would look natural? Or should it all be gray?

I haven't added it all up, but the total cost of this project is around $250 (maybe as much as $300. I'm not sure). $250 happens to be the cost of the fiberglass shower wall inserts that are fake and hollow and uncustomized. I think we came out pretty good

The TRUE after picture:


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