How (not) To Install Window Trim

Just so that we’re clear right from the very start, I’m not a professional.  Like, at all.  Occasionally, I take some ugly shortcuts in a project in an effort to save time, money and sanity.  Actually, it’s usually to save all three.  Simultaneously.

This is one of those projects.  Don’t say I didn’t tell you off the bat.

Let’s just move forward and get through this together, okay?

After our window wall got ripped down to the studs, we were left with this:

Drywall went up and looked like this:

Unfortunately, I didn’t get too many pictures of the actual process of putting up the window trim.  With this particular bank of windows, I chose to get funky and make up the trim as I went.  Basically, I bought a 4×8 sheet of 1/2 inch MDF and had the store rip it to the sizes I needed.

When you do this, keep in mind that it OFTEN results in inaccurate cuts.  When that happens, you have two options:  1. Re-rip it at home on your table saw or with a circular saw (this is really only if it ends up oversized), 2. Suck it up and just try to fudge your measurements to deal with the minor inaccuracies.  I usually go with option numero dos.

How pretty is that pile of crap in the backyard?  So pretty!
The drywall guy would just toss his scraps out of the 2nd floor window as he worked upstairs.  Then, he’d go out in the back at the end of the day and clean it all up.

Once I had my MDF trim all nailed in, I added a decorative bead of trim at the top and filled in the nail holes and some of the gaps with wood filler.  I threw on a coat of primer and two or three coats of Behr’s ‘Polar Bear’ white.

Then I needed to contend with the big, huge, giant, ugly gaps at the bottom of the window on the sill.  Right about now is where my carpentry credibility starts breezing out of this window.

Since the window measurements were a little ‘off’ in some spots, the trim I put up was a little ‘off’ in some spots.  To make up for this, I added some scraps of 1/8 inch shims to get my sill trim to lie flat.

You’re welcome for the awesome photography.

When I dry-fit the sill on the window, it seemed a little wonky.  So, I figured some construction adhesive would help with stability.

About that construction adhesive…..

Remember how I said I sometimes do things in an effort to save a couple dimes?  Well, I found an unopened tube of Liquid Nails, but I could NOT open that thing to save my life.  I sliced off the tip.  Nothing.  I stuck it with a long framing nail to try to coax it out.  Nothing.  I tried squeezing the tube.  I broke the whole end-piece off.

So I did what I feel any other frugal homeowner would do.  I grabbed a butter knife and started digging.

Yes, in hindsight, I should have used a plastic utensil.  But this was a fancy occasion.

And I started spreadin’.

Like butter on toast.  Thick, poisonous butter.
Then I placed my sill trim back on top to make a delicious sandwich.

But I was left with a rather thick gap on the underside.

A spare piece of trim salvaged during demolition and a couple coats of semi-gloss paint made everything look a bit more tidy.

And within hours, it became the stage for Rudolph and his gang of wayward misfits.


She’s A Brick……Wall (Before and After)

So the fireplace mantel was looking……. a little washy.  Matchy-matchy with them there walls.  And the concrete nothingness was even more apparent.

So, I grabbed some paint.  And I done painted.  And a somewhat magical thing happened.
(brick is Glidden’s Unicorn White – the walls are Glidden’s Shadowbox)

The old concrete voids just kinda…..disappeared.  Prior to painting, I was stressin’ about how the heck I was going to make fake, little brick façades.  I was scheming to use some 1/4 inch mdf, beat them up a little and then adhere them to the wall.  But you know what?  Not on my radar right now.  Painting out the wall really helped to shorten my ‘to-do-now-because-it’s-driving-me-nuts’ list.  And that, friends, is a good thing.

Can we just say b-o-r-i-n-g?  That’s the most neutral wall in the history of neutral walls.  I could feel the above-mentioned list lengthening.
Every time I sat down on the sofa, I looked at that wall and thought ‘it needs something — some contrast’.
And then John and I got the flu.
So I had to stare at that wall a little longer.  I couldn’t move.  I was so tired and miserable and gross.  But my DIY blood is thicker than influenza.  I don’t know if that makes sense.  I marched out to the garage (in my pajamas – in the middle of the day), grabbed my trusty Kreg Jig and got jiggy wit’ it.
(“You got a – Prada – bag with a lotta – stuff in it – give it to your friend – let’s spin”)

While I was in the garage, I grabbed my Kreg, a bigass mirror and some pine 1×5 boards and got to work.  In between coughing fits.
Here’s my Kreg that John jigged up for me.  Get it?  Jigged?  Forget it…..  
The writing on there says,
“Make me something pretty.  Love, John”
I mitered the boards and then drilled pocket holes on two of them.  A small bead of glue and some 1.5″ Kreg screws later, I had a simple frame.
I carefully laid the mirror face-down and added some mirror clips.

One I screwed all the clips in, I said a prayer and turned the giant behemoth of a mirror over.
Whew.  That was hard.  Now it was time to get to the ‘contrast’ part of this project.  I taped off the mirror and applied one coat of Minwax’s Dark Walnut stain.  
It’s like a little miracle in a little can.
A couple things to note:  

1. Wear gloves.  This stuff is stain.  It will stain everything it touches.  Including your hands.  And you’ll look like you have a strange case of reverse-vitiligo when you pick your kids up from the bus stop.  

Ask me how I know.  Dammit. 
2.  Crack a window, would ya?  Ventilation is a must with this product.  Whenever I stain something, John *always* walks in the door and says, “It smells like death in here.”  It never fails.
After a single coat, the mirror looked like this:
Now, had I not been sick, I might have remembered to stain the back of the mirror first.  Why?  When you put a frame up against a mirror, a small amount of the back side of the board reflects into the mirror.  I forgot to do this, even though I know better.  To get around it, I had to drip gobs of stain along the edges of the mirror in an effort to get the back of the board to soak it up and not reflect the light wood color.  It worked in most spots.  
Once finished with the stain, I did *not* let the stain dry fully and just slapped a couple thin coats of polycrylic on that bad boy.  You’re supposed to let the stain dry fully.  Mama don’t got that kinda patience.
Once the polycrylic was barely dry to the touch, I whipped it up on the mantel and reclaimed my place on the couch to continue being flu-ridden.  This time, with a much nicer view.

Now, I’m itchin’ to put some art up on the wall to the right of the mirror.  Maybe some subway prints?

TDC Before and After

Come On Baby, Light My Fire. Place.

Let’s keep this show moving and get to the rest of the living room, shall we?  One of the walls that had me scratching my head was the fireplace wall.  As you can see in this terrible photo, we had these awesomesauce concrete floating shelf things that jutted out of the wall at what appeared to be random spots.

I’m sure they *weren’t* random and that they were lovingly and carefully crafted by someone in the 50’s or 60’s, but I just didn’t appreciate them.  Most importantly, they interfered with my master plan.  Everyone knows you don’t mess with that.  So they had to go.

My builder worked his magic (which was also his hammer and chisel) and knocked off the slabs-o-awkward and this is what I was left with.  I was originally thinking that I would re-tile the wall in some crazy, dramatic stone or maybe even just drywall over it and start with a nice, blank slate.

But then I changed my mind.  Strange.

So, I decided to keep the brick, but now I was fixated on a proper mantel.  I think it was like three weeks away from Christmas in this photo and I was scheming.  Scheming of a way to get those stockings hung by the chimney with care.

But the scheming was taking a little while.  I made everyone live with the crazy mantel chalk outline of death for a little longer while I wrapped my head around how I was going to do this.

The tape stayed up longer than I’m actually going to admit.

I started by looking for some inspiration.  I pinned many a pin.  I tore out magazine pages.  I scoured and studied as many tutorials as I could get my hands on.  I was on a mission, y’all.

I was also on a mission to not spend ANY money out of pocket.  I knew I had a bunch of supplies and yes, it would be WAY harder to customize the mantel according to what I had on hand, but I knew it would feel good to know that I didn’t break the bank trying to make my vision materialize.

So I dove right in.

I like to think that my little team of nutcrackers were cheering me on.

Using my fancy, high-tech tape outline, I was able to gauge the maximum height that I wanted the finished product to be.  Sometimes I lose sight of the overall project dimensions and end up with craycray proportions.  I really didn’t want that to happen with what would probably be the focal point of the room.

I started by adhering 2×2 pieces to the brick using a masonry adhesive.  They were going to act as my cleats and allow me to attach my mdf frame around the fireplace with my 18 gauge nail gun.

Then I had to cut the crown.

And the world went dark for a couple hours.

I could NOT, for the life of me, get this stupid crown to meet up properly.  I was reusing some crown that was used in our old bedroom before we tore the ceiling down and I went through a LOT of scrap.   I eventually got it to meet up close enough at the corners and just sanded  the bejeezus out of it.  It’s not terribly noticeable in person and if anyone walks up to it and points it out, I’m going to hand them a cookie and kick them out of my house.  You’ve been warned.

Once I got the frame worked out, it looked a little plain, so I found some mahogany shim scraps that the drywall guy used to square up the walls prior to boarding.  I mitered the corners and glued them on to the face.

Then it was time to slap some paint up on this old new girl.

Pretty neato, if I do say so myself.  But there were some nagging issues:

She needed to get the old Dap treatment.  Oh, the sins that are hidden in my home because of this stuff…

Check out the after:

Smooth as a baby’s bottom.  What’s that?  You don’t believe me and want a closer look?


One more look?  Two?

About a week after I finished, I was looking through some of the inspiration photos I had filed before I started and came across this:

I pretty much NAILED my inspiration photo and I wasn’t even using it as guide.  Crazy.

When all was said and done, the white mantel looked a little washed out against the white brick wall.

Stay tuned for my next post to see how I remedied that situation *and* managed to do some camouflaging with the old floating shelves.  Oh, the suspense!

I Can See Clearly Now, The Wall Is Gone. (Before & After)

Let’s get to some fun stuff, shall we?  Renovating the first floor involved ripping off our living room ceiling and installing a bajillion (okay, eight) recessed lights.

Having never lived anywhere that had recessed lighting, I LOVED the upgrade.  I couldn’t wait to get the ceiling drywalled and painted and install the trim kits for the lighting and and and….  But then our drywaller (is that a word?  Drywall technician?) said, “Yo, I ain’t drywallin’ this joint unless you tear down the walls and I get to drywall them, too.”  Okay, he didn’t say it exactly like that, but it was close.  And when he said that, I looked at him like this:


 Here’s the deal, when we rebuilt the ceiling/added the second floor joists, an almost two inch gap was left along the top edge of the wall.

This would mean that when we put the drywall up on the ceiling, we’d have no other choice than to add crown molding to the room to cover up the space where the wall and ceiling wouldn’t meet.  I wouldn’t say that I was opposed to it.  I love crown molding.  I hate installing the stuff, but I love it nonetheless.  In the end, we decided to just rip the damn drywall off the walls and get the entire room re-drywalled along with the ceiling.  It ended up being cheaper this way if you factor in the cost of a nice, chunky crown trim, the time it would take me to install the molding, as well as the added expense of placing me into a mental institution because oh my God why can’t I ever get those stupid angles right with crown molding???!!!!

Ahem.  Excuse me.

So, down with oppression!  Down with the existing drywall!

A strange thing happened when we tore the drywall down.  I could see the new staircase!  And I didn’t want to cover it back up!  You can’t make me!  This my house!

We I opted to leave that wall open because I had visions of little feet padding down the stairs on Christmas morning, getting a glimpse of their gifts under the tree.  I was gonna yank out those 2x4s by the stairs and I thought a pretty railing would be the cat’s meow and that it would bring a little more interest to that side of the room.

Then the inspector shot my ideas down like Paula Abdul’s cold-hearted snake.  Apparently he was all concerned with the “structural integrity” of my house.  He told me I couldn’t cut out the studs.  And I looked at him like this:

Psht.  What does he know?

Turns out, a lot.

The second floor’s support beam rests on those very 2x4s.  So, taking them out means I could be seriously compromising our casa.  I was torn.  I knew I wanted to keep it open and fresh and bright, but I had those stupid studs to contend with.  The inspector suggested that I install another, stronger support beam to run across the top of the ceiling in place of the studs.  But by that time, we had already started installing the drywall on the ceiling.  And that would mean ripping down the ceiling, drawing up an addendum to submit to the town for structural approval, paying more $$$ to get a support beam, scheduling the change with the builder……

I said fo-get it.

I told the drywall guy to drywall around the studs.

Oh, yes.  I did.  And he looked at me like this:

And then he hooked a sister up.

And then it sat like this.  F O R E V E R.  I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I was going to figure this hot mess out.

And then I started playing around with some boards and came up with this:

Figuring out those 40-degree angles just about killed me, man.

Living Room Staircase

And this is how it looks today.  I still have to figure out how to get it to pass code.  Town building code requires that the spacings be no more than four inches in width.  It’s that whole baby-head rule.  If you follow me on Pinterest, you’ll notice that I’ve been pinning a bunch of staircases to glean some ideas.  I think I have it figured out, so you’ll just have to stay tuned to see what I do.

So, just to recap, this is what I started with:

And this is where I ended up:
Living Room Staircase

Pretty big difference, huh?

TDC Before and After

How To Live Through A Major Renovation With Small Kids

Two words:  child labor

I mean, come on.  My toolbag isn’t gonna bring itself up the stairs.
Nothing brings a family closer to wanting to strangle each other than only being able to live in 1/8th of your home.  Nothing.  Every time the builder started working on another room on the main floor, we had to frantically gather every. last. thing. inside that room and either move it to the basement or to our bedroom.

Those two areas were our ‘safe’ places since they weren’t going to get renovated until the very last.  I hesitated to move a bunch of stuff into the boys’ room because I was trying to keep their environment as clutter-free as possible during this tumultuous time.

It didn’t work.  

As our living space dwindled to almost nothing, we had to come up with ways to keep the kids occupied and happy and unaware of the fact that mommy was losing her everloving mind at times.  I found that LOTS of park time was always an excellent escape.



A new surrounding that they could run around in without me freaking out about them getting electrocuted or stabbed by a giant 5-inch nail.  Or having a sledgehammer fall through their bedroom ceiling onto their playmat.  Yes, that happened. And it left a giant dent in their floor. The boys had *just* left their room and went looking for me in the basement when BOOM. Apparently, the builders were busting out some ceiling joists above the bedroom and one of the sledgehammers went rogue.  The ‘what-if’s’ of that whole scenario shook me more than when it actually happened.  I still shudder when I think about it.

When we weren’t doing the park thing, we scheduled some family trips to help get us out of the construction zone and into clean, dust-and-debri-free environments.

And then, of course, there was always shopping.

Thank goodness he’s finally tall enough to start pushing the darn cart.
Now I can eat my hot dog *and* hold my drink while I shop.

Not surprisingly, the big winner in all of this?  Danger.  Yup, just plain ol’ keeping an eye on them and letting them have at it.  It’s their house, too, and they’ve been so sweet about just sitting quietly in their bedroom while they get to watch the fun stuff happening right outside their bedroom window.

So, I let them enjoy the experience their own way.

We let them draw on the subloor of their soon-to-be bedroom.


Raise Da Roof

You.  Go.  Girl.  Raise it!

Back to the living room ceiling.  Remember when I showed you that the living room was annihilated in the span of an afternoon? He’s how it went down, ummm….off.  First, the builder’s crew carefully and gingerly peeled back the awesomesauce acoustic tiles on the extended ceiling.

He knew I was taking his picture, but I never said nuttin’ ’bout no blog.
So, in the interest of privacy, he gets the black bar.
And  just so we’re clear, he *does* have a right arm/hand.
Eventually, we were left with this framed out spaceship.  The house was insulated with a funky, metallic paper, which I think acted as a sort of vapor barrier?  I don’t know what the deal was with that.  

Hole. In. Mah. Roof.
And then the builder went from ‘careful’ to ‘just rip that shit down, already’.


Except, upon further research, it didn’t.  So, I called off the asbestos-freak-out-party and told the builder to just keep on truckin’.  Which, interestingly enough, he was already doing.

Now, let me just tell you, it is downright unsettling to have giant, gaping, holes in your house.  And it’s especially nerve-wracking when said holes occur directly above your face.  In your bedroom.

It’s like a tiny slice of heaven shining down on us.
Except it’s not.

All I could think about was the plethora of woodland creatures that were going to climb in and snuggle up with us in bed.  And by ‘snuggle’ I mean bite us when we wouldn’t share the pillow.  It would happen and you know it.

With all of the demolition, I was really hoping we’d find something cool and valuable.  Or a massive wad of cash wrapped in a rubberband hidden in the walls.  The only thing I found was an old tobacco can.

*NOT* filled with a wad of cash.

Le sigh.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little bit about how to keep kids safe in completely unsafe surroundings.  HINT: It involves a chair and some duct tape.   A lot of it.  Plus, I’ve got Elephant Buffet’s first ‘before and after’ project to toss your way!  Can’t wait to share it!

And On The First Day, Stuff Got Ripped Up.

So, to pick up where we left off, our applications to ERCA and the town were approved.  Trees got cut down.  Big trees.  Old Trees.  Trees that provided much-needed shade in the dead-ass heat of summer.

John, cutting slices of the tree for me to make cutting boards.  Cutting boards that I “needed”.
Cutting boards that are still sitting out in the backyard.

I hated cutting them down, but there were two concerns involved:  one of the trees was right smack dab in the middle of where the new septic field needed to be.  Also, it had a couple storms rough it up over the past few years and was looking mighty precarious on windy days.  If it were to have fallen, it would have nailed the boys’ room.  I wasn’t all that broken up about losing that one.

The other one, a honey locust, was a big ol’ pain in the ass with the babies that it was always producing all over the yard.  However, it was the only reason why we could eat outside in the afternoon.  It supplied ALL of the shade for the back patio.  I was super-bummed about that one coming down.  We were told it would be too close to the house .  In hindsight, I think it would have been fine and I should have stood my ground.  Live and learn.  And complain.

LOVE that they had chicks on their crew.

The builder came by on the first day and proceeded to just start ripping things apart.  Our eaves-troughs were the first to get knocked down.

 Then came the siding on the garage.

Things got depressing in a quickness up in here.  Everything just looked so……blah.  It killed me to watch my garden get neglected for the rest of the summer.  This all started in early August while we were still enjoying the backyard and dinners on the patio.

I had built the table and benches and tended that garden with everything I had inside of me.  The garden was in full swing and when this little monster wasn’t eating the parsley,

he was peeing on the ferns.

We all enjoyed the garden.

But pretty soon it looked like this:

It was like my own personal lumberyard.  Which was cool, but still…

And our living room went from this:

to this:

…all in the span of an afternoon.

And just to to remind everyone, we still lived here.


I know.

I know.

Small house, big plans.

‘How do you eat an elephant?’

It’s an old phrase/analogy/coping mechanism for putting a large project into perspective.   This house, she’s one of my elephants.  I have Arguably the biggest tangible thing I’ve ever gotten myself into.

It started with this:

This is our house.  Or, *was* our house.  Back in ’98.  So, it’s an old picture and totally not representative of what we were actually working with.  But it makes for an awesome ‘Before’ picture.  Here’s the ‘After’:

(Not the best shot, but I’ll try to get one more from the front once things green up a bit.  And when I decide to put the shutters and molding up on the left-most window)

Last year we decided to change things up a bit.  We needed to update the house, make some room for our family.  We started by dreaming a little.  On paper.

I had been saving a file folder and it was overflowing with sketches and magazine pages of things I wanted in a house.  Every time I saw something that looked our/my style, I would tuck it away in my ‘someday’ file.  That file grew like you don’t even know.

After a lot of playing around with designs and ideas and ‘are we really going to do this?'(‘s), we jumped in.  Both feet first.

We hired a designer/architect to take my graph-paper scribbles and turn them into reality.

(This was the first of our many rough drafts of plans.
The second floor ended up coming in at about 1,298 square feet, I think)

It was amazing to see it actually laid out on paper.  To have actual measurements of things and to be able to get a feel for what this was going to turn into. It was happening!

However, before we crossed that bridge, we needed to cross a a couple other smaller bridges.  Bridges that go by the name of ERCA and the Town of Kingsville.  Because we live on a major waterway (Lake Erie), there are precautions and rules that need to be followed to make sure that we aren’t damaging wildlife or putting the environment in harm’s way.  For a relatively small fee, I had to fill out some forms, show our intentions in the form of plans and design reports, put on clean pants and visit with the fine peeps at the ERCA offices.

(I can tell you right now, they look at you funny when you ask to take their picture while they sign the approval documents.  I promised her I wouldn’t get her whole face.  But I got her watch.  Her Mickey Mouse watch.  They can’t be *that* tough if they’re wearing Mickey Mouse watches, can they?)

Everyone that I spoke with regarding the ERCA approval process said it would be a HUGE pain in the ass.  I don’t know if it’s because the work that we were doing didn’t encroach toward the water or if I actually read all of the instructions and submitted my paperwork properly, but we were approved.  Quickly.  Without a single hesitation.  I like to think it had something to do with my clean pants.

I practically broke into a run when I left their offices.  I was all, ‘Seriously?  That’s it?  Is there a catch?  There’s gotta be a catch…  They can’t take back their approval if I leave quickly.’  I was the lady in the IKEA commercial.

But it was real and we were approved and we were ready to get this show on the road!  Yeah!  Let’s do this!

Hold up.  Wait a minute.  Stop.

We need to get the town to approve us and fork over a building permit while I fork over my first born in place of the indemnity deposit.

***Spoiler Alert – we were approved, even if our wallets were much, much lighter.  The bright side to the whole process is that once the final inspection is done on the house, we get the indemnity deposit back.  And let me tell you, I got that puppy spent!

Next, I’ll take you through the the day-by-day process of ripping your roof off, how I overcame my fear of inspectors and why my lawn looks like a gravesite.  Plus, I’ll be documenting all of my projects so that you can follow along at home.  Don’t worry, I’ll get the callouses *for* you.