Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Battle of the Three "R"s

We are just over a year into our 1954 Canned Ham Trailer remodel.  It's starting to feel like an episode of "Grand Designs".  (If you haven't checked it out, "Grand Designs" is a fabulous British TV show about self-builders. Season 1 is now on Netflix!)  In pretty much every episode, the naive homeowner has a unrealistically small budget and and even more ridiculous time frame.  Build a whole house in 9 months with 300 pounds? Sure! Why not!?!  2 years later and 600 pounds in the hole the home is done and the show is over.

Thankfully, our little "Grand Design" is on a much smaller scale money-wise but our original plan of having it done last Labor Day was hysterically unrealistic.  At this point, we are about $1000 in and have just finished getting the main shell of it back together.  Our main huddle to get to this point is just having enough of a full weekend to get work done.  This has not been a project that we can put in 1-2 hours and walk away then easily come back.  It's needed FULL days of undivided work which is pretty much impossible with 3 kids.
A year of work- walls and framing done
So, to get us back on track, we created a calendar that gets us finished in June.  We have already altered our calendar several times, trying to decided what order of operations most makes sense but we are getting there.  Our walls, floor and framing have all been replaced so we are now on to building the furniture.  So here, we get to the three "r"s.  Do we Renovate, Restore or Replicate?

My definitions of the three in the context of this project:

Renovate: Use the shell and restore, modernize, overhaul the rest. (Think of the bathroom we renovated in our Decorah house.  We tore it to the studs and built everything new on top of that, totally changing the layout, fixtures, etc)

Restore: Take what is already there and fix it up.  Return it to it's original condition.  (Take old carpeting up and restore the hardwood floors under back to their original- or close to condition).

Replicate: Make an exact copy. (Like when "This Old House" takes a piece of existing molding, creates a mold of it and makes a cast to then replace this missing portion).

When we set out on this adventure a year ago, we had every intention of replicating the original design where it was still present.  We carefully took measurements and drew outlines of old cabinets and shelves planning on making copies since the original wood was too moldy to use.  Fast forward a year later and we are a lot less interested in making exact replicas of the original trailer.  Vintage trailer enthusiasts are going to have our heads but at the end of the day it's our trailer and our project.

Many things contributed to this decision including time and money but a lot of it came down to supplies.  When you work on a project for such a long time, luan that once was $5 a sheet and at the local hardware store is now no where to be found, the closet match an hour away for $25 a sheet.  So unmatched luan which makes up the interior walls and ceiling of the entire trailer forced us to rework our original plan and make adjustments.  Such is life.
Right side wall out of original luan; ceiling curving to back wall in new, lighter luan
This mind flop from replication over to renovation then took us on our never-ending search for supplies and design ideas which took us to every home improvement, restore, and building supply store in the entire Portland area... much to our children's dissatisfaction.
 And husbands.
 On top of potty training the littlest one, I don't know how we've made it.
Make your own port-a-potty in the back of the car!
So, after several months of searching, looking at paint colors and debating bed layouts, I think we finally have settled on a design. Good thing because if we had made the kids look at flooring options anymore we would have had a mutiny on our hands- no matter how many donuts we bribed them with.

Here is our "final" design plan.

We reupholstered the front benches last winter so the fabric there was our jumping off point for everything else.  Next step was deciding what cabinet wood to paint and what to leave wood- after our luan debacle which caused us to decided to paint the side walls, we decided it would make sense to paint most of the wood so it blends in with the walls better.  We are restoring the old, original turquoise stove so we have picked a great, dark blue for the kitchen cabinetry, "Approaching Storm" by Glidden.

The side walls will be painted white which will showcase the beautiful luan that wraps over the ceiling.  Picking white might be the hardest thing around but after much contemplation, I settled on "Sleek White" by Behr which is nice and warm but doesn't show too yellow like others did.

Finally, the flooring decision.  We had originally settled on beetle kill blue pine.

We found this stuff at a local building supply resupply and fell in love.  Beetle kill pine is a result of a beetle epidemic in which the beetles bore through the trees, eventually killing them.  The trees have these beautiful blue streaks running through them, making them perfect for unique home projects.  Unfortunately, once we did the math on the wood plus other supplies for laying hardwood we were at $300.  A little pricy for our trailer project.

"Grand Designs" and "This Old House" to the rescue again.  As we were driving to yet another hardware store to look at linoleum yet again, when I remembered a technique where you paint on top of concrete then throw paint flakes over to give a polished concrete, kind of vintage linoleum effect.  This is usually used on basement or garage flooring but why not our little trailer?  Lightweight, fast application, easy clean and cheap?  Sounds perfect to me.  $50 later and we are in business.  We chose Behr's 1-Part Epoxy Concrete and Garage Floor Paint tinted in Pacific Fog with Valspar's Paint Flakes in Granite.
Sample of grey flooring before flakes are added with white wall color
Finally, design in place, we are now painting the walls and floor and then building cabinetry for the kitchen, back beds and front dining area.  Hopefully, we will starting making some more visible progress soon!
Side wall painted white
Flooring prepped for paint

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome

Meet the newest addition to our house- Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome.


One of the perks of renting has been having the time to do a little furniture updating.  Though we are constantly busy with three kids, work and slowly restoring our vintage trailer, we have crammed in a few minor projects.  Most of our major furniture was purchased when we were first married, 11 years ago.  After a decade of living, many pieces needed updating for obvious reasons (you can only flip the couch cushions so many times) and other pieces have just outgrown us, size wise or style wise.

One of the ways our style has changed is wanting some custom and eclectic pieces around our house.  When living in Decorah, I discovered this amazing shop in Chatfield, Minnesota, Adourn which had antique furniture updated with modern paint and fabric.  A love connection was found and ever since, I have tried to get my hands on as many furniture rehab projects I can.  So, when E had outgrown her dresser, I was ready to jump at the chance to give an old piece some love.

I have little patience or time for thrift store or garage sale shopping, though this is probably the best way to really get a steal.  I found my gem instead in a local antique mall.  As soon as I turned the corner, the high dresser spoke to me.

Two doors reveling two drawers (one even with drawer dividers perfect for unmentionables) with three lower doors, perfect for a grade-schooler's budding wardrobe.

The dresser had a few obvious places of wear that would need fixing but Andy gave the ok so I brought it home.  Thankfully, it was love at first sight for E too.

When buying old furniture, give the piece a good work-over before purchase.  Some things that I look for:

  • Do the drawers/doors open and close easily and correctly?  

  • Take out all the drawers.  Look for anything broken on the drawers then look in the dresser.  What kind of support is inside?  If you are planning to store heavy things or put something heavy on top (like a TV), all drawer openings should be separate "boxes".  When I take the drawers out of this particular dresser, it is just a big, open box.  I was ok with this for this use but when I bought an antique dresser for a TV stand, I made sure it had completely closed areas where the drawers were to give more support.
  • Check the sides of the drawers.  How are the drawers joined?  Dovetail joints are usually an indication of good craftsmanship.
  • Lift the piece.  Is is heavy for what it looks?  A light piece often indicates cheap wood (fiberboard, etc).
  • Do you like the hardware?  Hardware is easy to change, but can be pricey.
  • Do you like the color/finish?  If it is painted and you want stain, stripping paint is time consuming and can be pricey if you use liquid strippers (and can also take years off your life with the fumes!)

In most cases, many of these things are not necessarily deal-breakers if you truly love a piece but are things that you should be aware of, especially to foresee the work and cost that will be involved with rehabbing your new piece.  The knowledge can also often help you negotiate a better price.

I knew I was getting into a pretty extensive rehab with this dresser and even then ran into additional things that ended up needing fixing.  Thankfully, I keep Andy chained in the garage to help me with this upsets.

First order of business was to sand the dresser down.  I knew I was going to paint the dresser so I just needed to get a couple of layers of old paint off and make sure everything was nice and smooth.  Where I was able to, I used an orbital sander and in corners I used a sheet of sandpaper and elbow-grease.

Once sanded, I filled any holes with wood filler and tightened up all the drawers with wood glue and Andy's serious assortment of clamps.  Luckily, the shell of the dresser was in pretty good shape but all of the drawers needed to be reglued at the joints.

I chose Behr's "Little Black Dresser" for the final color.  It is a slightly off-black which I thankfully was able to talk E into since I thought it would look great with her pink walls and I'd been dreaming of a black dresser with brushed brass accents for a while.  Turns out, black paint is kind of a bitch to do because it shows every single dust speck that inevitably lands on it during the process.  Thankfully, I finally got it painted with a few coats of flat paint and love how it looks. I painted the sides of the drawers with a bright pink for a little surprise.

To add some flair, I decided to stencil on a flower design on both sides of the dresser.  I wanted to make the dresser a bit girly but also make it easy to change when E inevitably turns thirteen and doesn't want flowers and fairies all over her room anymore.  I considered doing wallpaper on the sides but vetoed this in the end because it would have been harder to change.

I found a stencil I loved at royaldesigns.com but didn't want to wait for the shipping and had a hard time shelling out $40 for a stencil.  So, I ran to Michaels and found one I liked just as well.  Using some stipple brushes and a coral, pink and off-white paint, I gave it a test run.  Disaster.  The size of the flowers were way too small for such a large space and the hard stipple brushes were a nightmare.

Back to the drawing board... or in my crazy case, make-your-own-stencil board.  This is not my first adventure in homemade stencils.  I have actually done it several times now, all in the same round about way.  At this point, Andy just goes out and buy me a sheet of stencil plastic knowing I will eventually just make my own.

Making a stencil is pretty darn easy.  You can buy large, blank plastic sheet for stencils at a craft store. I then find a design I like, print it out and copy it onto the plastic using a thin, permanent marker.  Using an exact-o knife, precision and patience, I cut out my marker lines, creating the perfect stencil.  To make my life a bit easier, I made one large flower and a few leaves and decided I would hand paint some little flowers and leaves to fill in the spaces.

New stencil in hand, I used some stencil adhesive on one side to make the sheet sticky so it would stay on my dresser.  I am not an expert on applying stencils yet- I have experimented with stipple brushes, foam brushes/roller and craft paintbrushes all with mixed results.  In this case, I used a small craft brush since the flower and leaves were pretty small and applied 3-4 thin coats of paint.  I still had a bit of bleed-through which I went back later with some black paint to cover.

After all the flower and leaves were stenciled on, I tried my hand at some free-hand flower buds (on a scrap piece of wood, of course!).  Yeah, an artist I'm not as this was a disaster.  So, I tested out a few other things until I finally came to the design I liked.

All dry, I applied three coats of satin polyurethane.

I hate this stuff.  It is crazy annoying to put on, constantly trying to make sure it dries smoothly and doesn't drip (a fate I was unable to avoid).  I prefer a satin finish for furniture but it does tend to show brush marks so you have to be careful to apply evenly.  The type of poly that I bought doesn't require sanding in between coats but sanding is often required so read the directions first!

Finally done, I was able to screw on my fancy new hardware which I snapped up from CB2.

I was surprised at how high quality the knobs were for a really reasonable price.  Some of my other go-to cabinet hardware stores are Cost Plus World Market (super cost efficient!) and Anthropologie (great for unique, eclectic pieces but can get super pricey if you need several knobs/handles).  You can also check your friendly, neighborhood antique store and might get really lucky (remember, hardware can easily be spray painted to change the color/sheen!).  Andy steered me toward a product- Thread Locker which you apply to the screw to keep your knobs from spinning loose.

Viola!  Finished cabinet, perfect for my whimsical 6-year old!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Meet My Pod-Husband

Hell has officially frozen over.  Start betting on the Cubs because they are definitely winning the World Series this year.  Pack up the kids and head to the country because the zombie apocalypse must be close.  Andy is REUSING old material.  He is using NAILS.  Seriously people.  The world is ending and this project has broken my husband.

Andy and I use holidays to jumpstart new projects or make leaps of progress in old ones.  (See the kid's bedroom remodel of Christmas break 2014).  Andy had 4 days off of work for the 4th of July so we decided to buckle down and work, work, work on our vintage canned ham trailer.
Our helpers ready to celebrate the 4th!

After finishing replacing the entire floor over Memorial Day weekend, we were ready to move on.  Cue in three weeks of discussions over what part to do next- walls or roof?  After much discussion, we decided it made most sense to tackle the walls next.  These old trailers are like jigsaw puzzles and I don't really think there is a "right" or "easy" way but depending on what you have to replace, you need to just make a decision and go with it.  Andy leaned toward replacing the roof first to help with the overall structure of the trailer but I convinced him the walls were the way to go so we wouldn't be nailing a new roof on top of the walls which would later be replaced.  After the weekend, we both agreed that we made the smart choice.

To replace the sides of the trailer, we first needed to add some interior support so the whole trailer wouldn't fall over when the side was removed.  Andy added 2 support beams to hold up the roof and several triangle wedges to hold up the other side of the exterior wall.

Next step was to remove the exterior skin which is made of thin aluminum held on with a variety of million-year-old, rusty screws and nails.  Like really mean, nasty nails that have a screw-like spiral shaft.  Whoever thought of those didn't consider or care about someone ever having to remove them.  Similarly to removing the metal on the front of the trailer, Andy and I used a catspaw, hammer, screwdriver and paint scrapper to remove most of the nails/screws. The catspaw is my new favorite tool, so much so that Andy had to run to the store to buy me one for myself.  Flowers and chocolate aren't the way to this girl's heart... just bring me a catspaw and I'll be yours forever.

Most of the screws/nails came out with a variety of these tools.  Each metal piece that came down was carefully labeled and set aside to later clean and put back on.  Extremely stubborn nails were cut with a sawzall then pounded down or pulled out.

It took us about half a day to remove all the metal and windows on one side of the trailer.  Once removed, Andy looked through the existing framing and declared he was just going to patch in the worst spots.  People.  This is pure insanity.  I mean, this man has never saved a piece of anything during a building project in his entire life.  "Patch it in"?!? It's seriously crazy talk.  I murmured a "sure, sounds good" as I stared at my new pod-person husband.  I mean, he looked ok.  Still blond, big nosed with a constant whiff of lumber smell around him but he was NOT my husband.  Heading inside to get my new pod-husband some sugar water, Andy spent the evening replacing a few boards of the frame, the worst of which was on the curved back bottom of the trailer.  To get wood to curve, Andy cut framing boards down with the table saw into thin, long pieces then used a chop box to cut slices along the area that would be curved.  This provides relief to the wood, allowing it to bend.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Heading to bed that night with my new husband, we were suddenly awoken by a large gust of wind followed by a metal on metal crunching sound.  Rushing to the window, Andy looks at our now bald trailer.  Metal roof totally gone.  Andy headed downstairs to survey the damage.  Waiting upstairs, all I heard was chuckling.  Cursing is one thing, but chuckling from Andy means things are really bad.  Somehow, the entire metal roof was swept off the trailer, made a summersault in the air and fell directly into the pile of metal pieces we had painstakingly taken off the entire day before.  Metal was strewn throughout the yard with several window frames crushed.

After spending months worked up about how we were going to get the roof off and how/where we would store it, a kamikaze gust of wind did it for us.

The next day, I was on metal-bending duty while Andy continued on the side of the trailer.  With a metal brush, I cleaned all the small metal parts and window frames.

To rebend the frames that the roof had cruelly bent to hell, I used a hand seamer then a mallet to bang the frames back into shape.

Andy's tool box was the perfect shape and size to use as a template

Worked like a charm!


All the window frames then got 2 coats of silver spray paint.

That done, Andy and I took the interior paneling down, only one section at a time.  The paneling was removed carefully (see my now claw hand after 4 days of using that catspaw and hammer to remove millions of nails) so we could trace the old panel onto new luan.

Here's where stuff got real weird.  We started using a stapler attached to an air compressor to staple the luan into the framing.  The thin luan just wasn't attaching to the framing so next thing I know, Andy has a hammer and nails in his hand.  Perhaps to most, this isn't a sign that your husband is now a broken man but I'm tell you... Andy is now just a shell of his former stuff.  Andy's hatred of nails rivals my hatred of rubber bands (just work in an archives and you will come to hate the nasty, rubber things that look like dried up worms stuck to paper after a short year or so).  Any time I bring home a "new" piece of antique furniture, he grips for DAYS about the nails.  So to see him now using a bucket of nails and a hammer is pure insanity.

Who is this man?!?
Four day weekend complete, we have a finished wall and are now about half-way done. with all the exterior work.

And I have a new pod-husband.  Please help.