The Renovation from HELL

I could pretend that a nor’easter of unprecedented fury bore down upon my little Cape Cod house and wrought tragic destruction upon it, and that would be a good story, but the truth is that I couldn’t bear to look at it the way it was any longer and decided to renovate.  Renovate is a nice, clean word that makes you feel all fresh and happy, but the process of renovation is a plunge into the nether regions of HELL.  And that trip ain’t for the faint of heart.

I dunno!  The dark colors of the rooms, and the kitchen flooring I finally came to despise, and the crazy-making $@&*%$!!! ugly black staircase with the railing and balusters that would NOT stick together all drove me to drink.  (OK, that’s a short trip, admittedly.) Plus, every blessed thing I tried to do for that house was soundly rebuffed.  I filled a bin with failed projects.  Finally, one day, sitting there staring at it with a thought bubble over my head in which I smashed it to bits with a ball peen hammer, it dawned on me.  This is a summer house!  What’s with all the dark colors?  What’s with the homely kitchen floor?  What’s with the kitchen unit that looks like no one uses it?  What’s with the ugly staircase the little people will obviously bust themselves up on when they grab the railing and it breaks off, sending them bum over teakettle to the ER?!

There was nothing for it but to renovate.  Make it fresh and clean and bright, like a summer day at the ocean.  With this new inspiration, I set to work! The staircase was pulled out and trashed and the fireplace was yanked out as well as I totally hated the style and color.  Kitchen unit and shelving was torn off the walls, which then required some patch work. The kitchen floor was peeled up and I took the glue off the floor with vinegar and warm water.

Next came removing the baseboards, door frames, window frames and windows.  When I installed the windows, I thought it was  good idea to put them in backwards so that there were little sills in the rooms instead of on the outside of the house.  What was I thinking?!  Beats me, but it meant that I now had to disassemble the windows, swap out the sashes so that the lower one was inside the room, and stick them all back together.  I used a blow dryer to loosen the glue, so the damage was minimal.  Reassembled them, and stuck them back in the way they were meant in the first place.  I had to use vinegar to get the glue unstuck on the baseboard and door and window frames, and had some damage to the floor where puddles of vinegar turned the wood black.  So had to sand and restain in spots.

Now that the house was bare, it was time to get the paint off the walls.  I thought, what the heck, I’ll use nail polish remover and just rub it off!  Nope.  Not unless I have nothing else to do 24/7 for the next 5 years.  So I started sanding it off.  Better results, but painful and time consuming.  So I took the house outside, pulled out my electric sander, and went at it.   By the time I was finished, my hands vibrated on their own for about a week.  BUT, the house was stripped down to bare MDF and plywood and ready to go!

I bought a Ceramcoat acrylic paint called Oyster White.  So apropos!  Went over the whole house with it using a foam brush to give it a “spackled” appearance which is much better than having brush strokes everywhere.  After three coats, I had the fresh, cool color  – or non-color – that I wanted.  Sigh of relief!

The kitchen was a huge challenge and stymied me for months!  I constructed 4 kitchen units, none of which satisfied me.  I even built cabinets using real life carpentry instructions and they came out great, but wouldn’t fit together smoothly. (Will work on that in next house.) Finally, I broke down and bought Houseworks cabinetry and assembled a small unit sufficient for a seasonal home.  p1000526

I wasn’t crazy about the fact that there are noticeable gaps in the doors and drawers.  I’m not sure that I would buy these again.  They turn out looking sort of…shabby…and not in a fashionable way.  And I couldn’t find a paint that I really liked, so defaulted to a chalk paint called Sage.  Not very nautical, but serviceable.  I covered the paint with some white wax and buffed it out, leaving white in crevices.  Added some knobs made with tiny white grommets and brads.  Do I like it?  No.  Am I going to quit while I’m ahead? You betcha.

I used scrap wood to put the overhead shelves together.  For some reason, the Sage paint came out a slightly different color, probably due to a difference in the wood.  Also buffed this with white wax.  Stepped back and looked at it.  Grrrrrrr!



Again, I know when I’m whipped.  I figure once I put in dishes, and groceries and knick-knacks, the shelves won’t look quite as wretched as they do now. Right?  RIGHT?!


The finished kitchen unit.  (At least until I get another wild idea to renovate.)

Next up: kitchen flooring.  The Sage paint made it difficult impossible to find anything complementary.  I went to Lowe’s and grabbed three vinyl tiles for RL houses and played around with them.  I decided on one that played nice with Sage, a sort of greenish-grayish-ocean-y color.  Slapped that down, and stuck down a new wooden border between it and the wooden floor of the entry hall before I had time to find fault with it.  Finding a countertop that would work with Sage and the flooring proved to be totally impossible absolutely maddening, so I just used more of the tile to make the countertop.  I know this isn’t “done” in real houses, but in the interest of remaining more or less sane, I think it’s a good compromise.

I still had the sink from the first unit, so I primed it and turned it from “stainless steel” to “porcelain” and added jewelry findings for the hardware.  And – how sad is this? – I actually put caulk around the edges of the sink so that there’s not an inexplicable gap between it and the counter. Just like in real life.  Ha!


Pay no attention to the bunny fur!!!!

The last hurdle for the kitchen was the staircase.  I bought stringers and wood for risers and treads and assembled a new one.  It came out OK, but I couldn’t for the life of me get the balusters to stick!  I drilled and redrilled the sockets in the treads for them.  I used three different kinds of glues. No dice.  Adding the railing put me over the edge.  It wobbled back and forth on top of the wonky balusters and the whole thing looked like a poorly maintained bridge about to collapse.  I actually DID bust this up with a hammer, and felt like a new woman afterwards.

With renewed vigor, I cut out stringers from illustration board because it’s much easier than basswood to cut accurately with a craft knife.  (Because NO, I am not going to attempt to cut out stringers with the scroll saw my husband bought off a pal at his model train club. I’m really very attached to all my fingers, individually and as a group, and mean to keep in close contact with each and every one for the rest of my life.) I made the risers from illustration board, too. I had some mahogany strips lying around which my husband cut down to the correct width and I cut them to length for treads and glued them to the board staircase.  I painted it with chalk paint, Colonial Teal toned down with some Cottage White.  I’ll use some of the remaining mahogany strips to make newel posts and vertical railings – NO balusters!

p1000517Once I get the horizontal railings attached to posts on the staircase, there will be no casualties to ruin anyone’s summer!

Now I’ve had time to do some fun stuff.  And since Oscar Wilde said that initiation is the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to imitate some of the real life stuff that I thought would be perfect for my little house.

Like a jelly cupboard.  I love these tall, narrow cabinets.  I found a furniture maker on the internet that does cool Colonial style and rustic furniture, and this one caught my eye:


So I made this:

p1000493I left off the latch and the hinges because again, I know when to quit while I’m ahead!  I couldn’t get the finish I would have liked on plain old basswood, so found a chalk paint called Vintage Mustard. I’m loving chalk paints because they’re so soft and subtle.

I liked this RL bottle of wine with a thingie to hang the wineglasses from. (What the heck are those thingies called, anyway?! The pic says wine glass holder, but that doesn’t sound right to me!)


So I made this:


I added a base for the bottle to sit in (and to disguise the fact that the bottle will fall over from the vibration of a gnat’s feet walking on a sponge in Australia).  And honestly?  The hole for the bottle is a tiny bit too big, making the thingie slide around kind of fast and loose.  I gotta fix that.  I got the label for the bottle on the internet – it’s from a wine called Clown Fish.  Well, why not?  The little fish complements the whale on the picture I put together using a pic I found on Google somewhere and some strip wood for a frame that brings it out from the wall. I find I much prefer frameless pictures for the walls.  (Again, please excuse the bunny fur – it’s been a blockbuster shedding season this summer!)

And I loved these little wooden sailboats I found on a shopping site for beach house decor!


But I only did one for my house:

p1000498I might complete the set once the circulation in my cramped hands returns to normal after constructing this one. I used scrap wood and just sanded the bits until they took on the shapes I wanted.  I added a little yellow flag just to be a showoff!   Now that I see these together, mine is taller and skinnier than the real ones.  Darn!!!  I may go back to the drawing board on this one.  And let me tell you, threading the “rope” through the microscopic holes in the boat and then trying to knot it is one of the best times you’ll ever have.  If you’re a masochist.

The most fun was imitating these fish dishes I found on the internet!


I’d love to have these in real life!  But in the meantime, I made these:


I bought some plain white porcelain plates, bowls and mugs.  Using waterslide decals, I transferred the fish plate images to my tiny plates.  I LOVE doing waterslide decals!  I could make plates with them from now ’til doomsday!  Unfortunately, the photo included a big blue store sticker on the plate which you can see on my plate as a great big blue BLOB!  Grrrrr!  I was going to imitate the bowls as well, but of course, a round waterslide tucked into a bowl shape equals a wrinkly mess, so I made do with putting a blue stripe around the bowls and around the mugs as well.

Whew!  That’s it for the kitchen!



I just now need to fill the cabinets, put appliances on the counters, get a mini-fridge to go next to the kitchen unit (along with a trash bin), and add some more wall art and other little things that will make it look like a room that people really live in.  And spill stuff in.

Next time I’ll share the living room renovation, which wasn’t nearly as miserable!