Build-a-Bar Workshop

(Warning: This is a long one with lots of pictures. If you don’t like to or can’t read, just scroll to the bottom to see the end result. <3)

Once upon a time, we bought a house, and this house had a very annoying wall between the kitchen and living room. The wall blocked light and air from flowing through the house, making it feel small and stuffy.

Hi, I’m a wall. I like to divide spaces for no reason!

To my relief, however, our home-closing inspector assured me that this wall was indeed not load-bearing and could be removed.

For over a year, I dreamed of everything this wall could be instead of a wall: a basic hole, a bar, a doorway with bookshelves on both sides. Kevin, however, spent the majority of that year reminding me what a pain constructions projects are and that removing the wall would be a lot more work than just cutting it out. But his negativity did not deter me. I kept dreaming.

Eventually, in January 2015, when we decided that we wanted to have our wedding at our house, Kevin flipped sides. We decided we would build a bar, and he got to work right away planning our new construction project. In his enthusiasm, he made the first cut (mostly just to look for the electrical wires):

The first cut!

Kevin enlisted the help of his dad, a seasoned construction project manager, to cut out the wall. The two spent an entire Saturday in January cutting, reinforcing, and dry-walling our new hole:

And what, you ask, was I doing during this part of the project? Attending my little bachelorette party, of course, planned and executed by my wonderful sister.

Nothing raunchy. Just some yummy food and a fancy hotel in Orlando.

But once I returned and Kevin’s dad was gone, the rest of the project was up to us.

Our next big decision was what to build the actual bar out of. Our first idea was to buy a piece of tree, since there are several folks in these parts who cut down trees and make them into other things. We searched but couldn’t find a piece that really wowed us, especially given the $250+ price tag of these humongous tree parts.

We started brainstorming other materials we could use and the ways in which we could morph them to look fancy. We considered butcher block, tile, laminate, and about a hundred wood options from the aisles of Home Depot and Lowe’s (because they really do stock different products!). Needless to say, we spent a lot of time in big-box construction stores before finally settling on a beautiful piece of plywood (which, by comparison, was only $30).

The plywood was about 1.5 inches thick, which we thought was too thin for a bar, so the plan was to cut it in half and glue it to itself to double the thickness. We used liquid nails, actual nails, and 122 pounds of Carly to fuse the two pieces together.

Always use protection…especially when sanding!

Once the glue dried and we were sure that it was sufficiently sturdy, it was time to sand. Home Depot’s cuts, while convenient, were far from precise, and so the two pieces we glued together did not match up perfectly, plus we needed to smooth the edges. Using a palm sander borrowed from my friend Jason and the tiny sander piece from Kevin’s Dremel accessory kit, I sanded all of the edges and rounded the corners.

Meanwhile, Kevin continued working on the never-ending sanding and dry-walling required by the hole in our wall. If I had known ahead of time the level of sanding required by this project, I would have declined. Kevin was quick to criticize my pitiful drywall-sanding attempts, but I reminded him that my small lady arms were no match for his testosterone-rich man arms and that he was really the best sander out of the two of us. This logic worked for a little while, but inevitably I was roped back in to drywall sanding.

Next, it was time to mount the bar…or for the bar to mount the hole…yeah, there’s no good way to phrase it. We used the strength of my thighs and some water bottles to hold the bar level (enough) while Kevin use liquid nails and regular nails to place the bar.

It may look like I’m using my arms, but my legs are doing most of the work.

Here’s a super creepy picture of Kevin, just for fun. Yes, he’s wearing a robe.

Trying to nail the bar into the wall was a most unpleasant experience, especially because failing at these sorts of tasks is especially frustrating for Kevin. We couldn’t decide whether it was our higher-end nails or our low-end drill bit that was the problem, but Kevin kept stripping the nails before they made it all the way in to the wall, leaving us with little nail heads poking up every few feet. I promised him we weren’t screwed (haha…ha…ha….) and that we’d find a creative solution. Using another attachment from his Dremel tool kit, he sanded down the nails until they were slightly lower than flush with the bar, and I filled the holes with wood putty.

Sanding down the rather unruly screws.

We also added heavy-duty shelf brackets under the bar, mounting them to the underside of the bar and the studs in the wall, just to make sure it wouldn’t budge.

Then, it was time to stain the wood. After another long, drawn-out discussion in Home Depot, we finally decided on a Minwax ebony stain. To me, it seemed the most interesting, even if it wasn’t the same color as our kitchen floors. Plus, the bar would extend mostly into the living room, where our furniture is black and white, so ebony seemed to make the most sense.

Unfortunately, having already tested the stain on the underside of the bar, we knew that the wood putty stained differently from the actual wood. It was then that we decided to go for a more distressed look. Once again, Kevin resorted to his magical Dremel accessory kit and used several tools to achieve a “we rescued this piece of wood from the side of the road” look. The wood putty areas that we stained now looked like additional “distresses” in the wood rather than glaring mishaps.

Next, it was time to paint. We wanted to keep the same neutral color in the living room, so Kevin saved a small sample of the wall he had cut out, and Home Depot used it to match the color perfectly. (Pro tip: If you need to have Home Depot match a paint color, go to the store first thing in the morning. We learned that this is the best time to go because the paint machines are freshly calibrated each morning and will produce a better match than they would later in the day.)

We also had to choose a color for our accent wall in the kitchen. Now, for me, this was one of the most difficult decisions because I am terrible at visualizing. It is the one skill I regrettably lack. While Kevin found it easy to visualize the room each time I taped up a new paint sample, I struggled to see the color outside of its tiny space on the sample paper. Plus, I kept trying to match the paint to other things in the kitchen, like our curtains or our clocks, and Kevin reminded me repeatedly that decorations can be replaced while paint is permanent. (OK, I know, paint isn’t permanent, but getting Kevin to agree to paint is harder than getting him to pick out new decorations.) I brought home at least 30 paint samples (who knew there were so many shades of blue??) before finally settling on Blue Agave (which happens to also be our favorite Mexican restaurant in Gaineville).

Finally, after over a month of work, it was time to add the finishing touches: glaze and moulding. We spent (literally) another four hours in Home Depot debating the pros and cons of epoxy versus polyurethane before choosing the latter. While the epoxy would have made our bar more resilient, I didn’t want our hand-crafted piece of wood to lose its wood-like qualities. I wanted to be able to put my hand down on the bar and have it still feel like a piece of wood, not a piece of plastic. Plus, the epoxy (~$50 after purchasing the two boxes we would need) was waaaay more expensive than the polyurethane (~$7 for 8 ounces), and we thought the polyurethane would be less of a bane to apply. Indeed, it was relatively easy (we got the three coats we needed out of one can), and we ended up loving the way it looked.

To cover up where the uneven drywall met the bar, and to add some final pizzazz, Kevin wanted to get a few strips of moulding. Picking out the moulding was the easy part; cutting it was horrific. We don’t own the proper tools to cut moulding, but that didn’t deter us because Home Depot provides a moulding-cutting center in its stores, complete with a variety of saws and these plastic boxes that help you cut angles accurately. The saws, however, are tired, old, dull saws, and plastic is never a good material to use with a dull saw. What we thought would be six easy cuts turned into six cuts featuring sound effects from 1980s slasher films. EEEEK EEEEK EEEEK EEEEK. We drowned out the aisle; anyone who entered it left shortly after. And even after enduring the nails-down-the-chalkboard saw music, we still had to sand down the edges at home because the cuts weren’t precise enough. Next time, I think we’ll bring our own saw…

Meanwhile, our house had devolved into a renovation nightmare. Dust was everywhere, as were the sheets that were supposed to protect our stuff from the dust. The kitchen was…well, I’ll just let these next few photos speak for me.

Cleaning was a bitch.

As a side project, we decided to use the leftover wood stain to upgrade our kitchen light-switch covers. Originally a boring, country-ish, light shade of wood, they now match the bar and look great contrasted with the blue of the wall.

As a final touch, we purchased some funky bar stools from IKEA. We finished the project just in time for our wedding, and it served as a great gathering point for our guests.

Overall, the project took 2 months to complete, but we only worked on weekends, so it could have been done in much less time. We’re so glad we did this project. It really opened the living areas without sacrificing the separation of spaces. (I am not really a fan of the “open-space” concept.) Air and light flow so much better, and we’re excited to have added some character to our little home. We’re also incredibly proud that we were able to complete this project without looking too much like amateurs.

For your viewing pleasure: the “after” pictures:

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2014 in Review: Home Projects

Owning a home is hard. I think too many people view owning a home as this magical, fairytale experience that is heartwarming and goal-worthy. And while it can be those things, it’s also a lot of hard work and stress, unless you’re a billionaire with employees who do everything for you.

Too often, I find myself overwhelmed by thinking up projects to do. One of the first and best pieces of advice I received (from a random stranger on the Internet, no less) was “write everything down.” It seems obvious and simple, but I hadn’t taken the time to do it. With Kevin’s help, I compiled a list of home-improvement goals—a combination of small projects that we can easily accomplish and projects that are more expensive and would require a contractor. Once we complete a project, we move it to a “completed” list. I can’t recommend this enough. I’m always so quick to feel deflated because there is so much I want to do and I feel like I’ve done nothing, but then I look at my list and remember that we have, indeed, done a lot this year.

Plus, home improvement is a function of time, money, and ability. If you’re lazy, miserly, and only slightly skilled, as we are, projects are seldom and move at a snail’s pace.

Below is a gallery of most of our completed projects from this year.

The Raised Garden Beds

Raised garden beds.

Simply put, I was tired of the weed-ridden, dog-trampled, always-in-the-way garden Kevin had planted when we first moved in. We both liked the look and idea of raised garden beds, but they can be very pricey if you buy them in the store. For example, we saw kits at Costco and Sam’s Club, and both were selling them for $80+ (and that’s BEFORE the cost of filling these deep beds with dirt!). We, of course, decided to build them ourselves, which required us to buy the circular saw that Kevin had been longing for. All of the credit for this project goes to Kevin. He was the one who creatively though to use treated fence posts as the siding, instead of the more expensive treated 2x4s. We used cardboard as the bottom (not that you need a bottom, but this helps keep weeds from infiltrating the beds), and we used the clearance wood (i.e., the wood that came in dented and chipped) as the stakes for our climbing plants. I thought the beds turned out beautifully, and we plan on building more in the spring for our re-vamped herb garden.

The Rain Barrel

Our water-diverting rain barrel.

Kevin and I had been wanting a rain barrel for a long, long time but didn’t want to spend the $90+ they can cost. At one point, we purchased a huge plastic drum (similar to the ones Walter White acidified dead bodies in in “Breaking Bad”) on Craigslist, thinking we could make our own. We had every intention of doing so; we even purchased the hardware from Home Depot (HD)! But a few weeks later, HD had a sale on all of their overpriced rain barrels, rendering them much more affordable, so we caved and bought one. I spent an hour putting it together, with Kevin helping when it came time to drill the nozzle holes and connect it to our gutter downspout. The hose connection is at the very bottom of the barrel, so to ensure proper water flow and elevation if we ever attach a hose, we placed the rain barrel on two concrete blocks. The cool things about this rain barrel are A) I can plant flowers on top (we chose purslane because it is perennial and does well in pots), and B) it features a water diverter, so when the rain barrel fills up, the diverter then sends water down the downspout instead of into the barrel. Cool!

The Brick Patio

Amateur brick patio.

When we moved in, the area behind our screened porch was mostly dirt/mud mixed with a tree stump and some gross weeds. I had never seen a porch lead to just dirt, and I didn’t like it. Sometimes a girl just wants to stand outside without getting her feet muddy. At some point, there had a been an extensive brick pathway all over the yard, bordered on both sides by railroad ties. (We discovered this as Kevin was digging his first garden.) Over the years, the path had been overtaken by weeds and grass. It would have been much too much work to try to uncover the entire path; we had no idea how large it was, but we knew it traversed at least half of our back yard. Plus, most of the railroad ties we unearthed were rotten. Instead, I dug up hundreds of the bricks and reworked them into a very amateur brick patio leading from the porch. It took two tries, and it’s still uneven, but I’m not going to redo it again—slinging bricks around is backbreaking, perhaps some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. My beginner patio serves its purpose, so I’m satisfied…for now.

The Composter

Composting is a great way to reuse your food scraps to create fertilizer for your garden. Like rain barrels, real composters are very expensive. We had seen one we really liked at Sam’s Club, but it was $80 and, to us, not worth the cost. To try to make a cheap version, Kevin purchased a 30-gallon, plastic, outdoor trash can from HD, drilled some holes in the side (for air circulation), and added earthworms (to break down the food). To mix the compost (which has to be done to stir in new items and circulate nutrients), he would either use a shovel or put the top on, turn it on its side, and roll it around a few times. It was arduous and messy but good enough.

Then, on a serendipitous expedition to the dark corners of our Sam’s Club, I happened upon the clearance-items rack. Lo and behold, there was a composter, on sale for $30!!! I couldn’t believe it. According to the label, there was nothing wrong with it; it just happened to be the last one they couldn’t sell. Ecstatic, I hurled it into my cart and ran off to show Kevin. With the $10-off coupon I was toting, we got that beautiful space pod for only $20! Though not so fun to put together, it is so much easier to fill and flip than our old garbage can. Needless to say, we now check the clearance rack on every visit to Sam’s Club.

Miscellaneous Projects

This includes a few of our smaller projects. Special thanks to Mr. Hublou for finding, giving, delivering, and installing our sort-of-new, high-efficiency washer and dryer!

Projects for Which I Have No Pictures

Some things we just didn’t photograph…our bad. Here’s a list of those projects.

  • Scraped the master bathroom ceiling to remove moisture bubbles that were forming when hot water was used. Refinished and repainted entire ceiling with moisture-resistant ceiling paint. (This project I did all by myself because Kevin thought it was pointless and refused to help. In the end, he admitted that I did a great job.)
  • GFCI-protected our kitchen and bathroom outlets, and added an outlet to the master bathroom. (Who builds a bathroom with no outlet!?!) These projects were done by my favorite master electrician, my dad!
  • Replaced the overhead light fixtures on the front porch.
  • Purchased a carpet cleaner and cleaned the crap out of our carpets.
  • Built a shelving unit to serve as a pantry (and not as pantry-moth breeding ground!), since our house does not have one.
  • Landscaping…lots and lots of landscaping.

Phew. That’s a lot. Here’s hoping that 2015 finds us just as productive and hardworking!