17 Feb

Prep for Tile Flooring

Prep floor for tile

Once upon a time there was an ugly linoleum floor.

Long, long ago in a bathroom far away…

Hickory dickory door,
I hate my linoleum floor.
Backer board down,
Trowel around,
Crap vinyl I’ll see no more.

I might have sniffed a bit too much pipe dope working on the leaky sink. Or maybe I’ve spent too much time confined to this 10′ x 10′ space. I’m starting to lose my mind. Good thing my sense of humor is in tact.

Continuing my pursuit of a ‘Property Virgin Approved’ master bathroom, I got to work prepping the existing sheet vinyl with cement board. I searched around the web to see what the pros said about installation. Some said you could just screw it down. Others insisted you must trowel on the mortar before securing with special cement coated screws.

Measure and cut cement board

Not a single one suggested cutting the 5′ long sheets in half. I suppose they didn’t expect it to be a 5’1″ chick lugging the pieces across the room.

I bet the folks over at Pampered Chef don’t expect their whisks to be used to mix up mud either.

Hand mix mortar

But I find it works smashingly for the task.

Screw backer board down

I installed 1/4″ green board over mortar with screws set every 6″ (roughly). I started off cutting the sheets with a drywall saw but quickly traded that out for a utility knife. It was much easier to score and snap the backer board. The saw kicked up way too much dust and was difficult to use.

Cover seams with mesh tape and mortar

Also up for internet debate was the use of mesh tape over the seams. Homes settle and since ours is < 10 years old, it’s safe to assume it’s still getting situated. The back wall (where the toilet sits) is an exterior wall and I know the builders didn’t over-insulate so, I went ahead and forked over the extra cash for piece of mind.

Before installing the backer board in the second half of the bathroom, I had to finish some residual demolition. Since I left the door jambs in place at the entrance and linen closet doors I had to use my new toy.

When Sonne was here last summer she cleaned up the trim in my office. Turns out an oscillating tool is perfect for carving out just enough wood to slip a ceramic tile in place. This trick saved me the hassle of removing/reinstalling the door jamb and stop.

How to Cut Door Frames without Removal

Cut around doors

1. Set the backer board and tile against the door jamb and trace the top of the tile.

Saw cut door jamb

2. Cut the wood along the line with the oscillating tool. (Make sure you’re wearing eye protection and don’t cut too deep that you’re compromising the wall studs.)

Install tile under door jamb

3. Double check that the tile fits snugly. Recut as necessary.

I skim-coated the entire floor to level and cover all of the exposed screw heads.

Skim coat floor

Note: Don’t skimp and use regular screws to secure your underlayment. They will rust and compromise the overall substructure of your tile installation.

I let the floor dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Ceramic Yoga: Finding Center

Measure room to find center

I spent quite a while trying to figure out where to start the tile. When you’re working in a large, square room it’s simple. You’d measure east to west and then north to south marking the intersection point. That would ensure most of the visual surface area was covered with full-sized tiles.

But what do you do when your room is cut in half by a wall and pocket door?

assess the situation

I chucked the professional advice and decided to wing it.

Dry fit tiles first

Since I was working with smaller tiles I went ahead and laid them out to get a feel for the finished space. I was able to manipulate the design pattern (grab tiles from different boxes to mix up the color/grain) and see just how much cutting I was going to need to do.

Make changes to tile pattern

All the measuring and calculations in the world won’t provide the same result as a dry run.

Check tile position often

As I worked my way from the water closet to the vanity area I noticed the tiles starting to ‘tip’. Sure enough, there was a 1/4″ discrepancy between the walls. Since I wasn’t interested in reframing and hanging drywall, I opted to tweak a row of tiles to compensate.

It’s a creative fix that you’d only notice if you were on your hands and knees on the floor. Even then you’d need tools to know for sure.

…and a solid excuse for being in that position to begin with.


This post is part of a series. Read the other parts here:

Install Ceramic Tile   Operation Countertop   operation demolition    

14 Feb

New Countertop Installation

Install new counter

Sometimes, I give credit where it is not due.

When I was hanging out in the Kitchen Design Center at Menards, ordering a new bathroom countertop, I opted out of the pricey ‘installation kit’. Thirty dollars for a bag of super glue, caulk and screws did not seem like a wise way to spend my money. Instead, I picked up a sleeve of Power Grab. I always have caulk on hand and figured I’d just reuse the anchor bolts already holding the existing countertop in place.

I should have known better.  There were no anchor bolts installed.

how to remove a countertop

On the bright side, I recoup’ed the time wasted waiting for the kids to pitch in to remove the mirror and moved right along with the countertop demolition. It took one solid whack underneath the counter’s lip to lift it up.

You’d think I would be pleased with the builder’s thriftiness; with their opting to repurpose rouge pieces of particle board as bracing. But you’d be wrong. There’s a fine line between being resourceful and being cheap.

Before I worked out a suitable solution, I wanted to be sure the new countertop fit.

measure countertop

As per usual, it didn’t. It wasn’t so much that my measurements were off as it was that the walls were no longer plumb and square (assuming they ever were). Along the left side a good 1/4″ difference grew from the front to the back of the countertop.

It was at this point that I was thankful I’d also opted out of the $30.00 ‘template fee’. Yeah, taking my measurements, plotting them in CAD and mailing me a printout to place over my existing set up to confirm I’d measured correctly just seemed haphazardly spendy. Even if the pre-cut sink holes did line up perfectly, it still wouldn’t have addressed the skewed angle required on the edge (something I couldn’t spring for as an option).

Five bucks for a laminate jig saw blade was obviously the right decision.

measure support shims

In the midst of this project, my girlfriend’s king sized bed collapsed. Turns out shoddy workmanship runs rampant in these parts. After fitting proper frame supports under her mattress and boxspring, I hung on to the broken plywood pieces. They proved perfect bracing for the cabinet base.

check level

I double checked that the countertop would sit level and took to the bedroom floor.

secure supports

I glued and screwed the plywood to the counter’s backside after pre-drilling to avoid splitting the wood. A word of caution: tape off your drill bit to keep from punching through the face of the laminate top.

secure countertop

Now here is where my builders could learn a lesson. Once you have the countertop in place and have confirmed it’s level, secure it to the base by screwing up through the corner bracing into the wood supports. They were halfway there by tacking adhesive sparingly to the cabinet base. Life is short, live recklessly and use more glue.

set countertop glue

Load heavy items on top to help the glue set up overnight. If you’re working with a solid surface top, remember to cover it to prevent scratches.

layout sink hole

Remember that expensive template I decided to forgo? You can accomplish the same results with a grocery bag, pencil and ruler. I cheated and traced out the sink hole from the old countertop. Then I eyeballed where I wanted it to go on the new one (lining it up with the center of the cabinet doors below), made sure it was straight and taped it down. (Later, when I was fighting with my plumbing I realized I could have downloaded the schematic from Kohler’s website. Good to know for future reference.)

score countertop for sink

I scored the outline with a utility knife. Because I had to do this twice with one template, I left gaps in the paper cut-out at the top/bottom/sides. That way, I could lift and move it to the second sink area without destroying my template. Smarter, not harder, that’s how I work.


I couldn’t really see the line I’d scored so I grabbed a piece of chalk and traced it around a few times. That made it simple to follow with the jig saw (and easier to clean up than pencil would have been.)

countertop cutting tools

Now, here is the hidden gem in this tutorial. Before you set to cutting out your sink holes, grab a piece of scrap wood (it should measure longer than the sink radius). Pre-drill it right into the countertop making sure you’re attaching it to the waste. Do not drill outside your chalkline unless you want to drop another chunk of change on a new, new countertop.

cut laminate countertop

Drill a 1/4″ pilot hole inside the line to start your saw cut. Grab your jig saw and follow the line halfway around before securing the scrap wood.

sink cutout trick

Since gravity will work against you, this trick provides top-up support and eliminates having a helper hold up the countertop from below. You can single-handedly complete the sink hole cut without worry that you’ll damage the new top. (it won’t fall through!)

easy cut laminate sink

I easily lifted the scrap piece out and moved on to repeat the process on Sink #2.

Feeling pretty proud of myself for having done the entire project on my own to this point, I heaved the sink into place and reattached the plumbing pipes.

insert sink

And then this happened.

plumbing gasket leak

Because, apparently, I can’t come up with enough reasons to drink on my own.


This post is part of a series. Click to read the other parts:

operation demolition    How to Install Tile

11 Feb

Preparing to Remodel a Bathroom

Demo a bathroom

If you had walked through our house two and a half years ago, this is what the master bath would have looked like. And maybe you’d have thought it wasn’t so bad. But since our last house was built by the same builder using this standard finish schedule I was over the cheap laminate countertop, full-wall mirror and sheet vinyl flooring two seconds after snapping these photos. In fact, that house even had the same paint color in the kid’s bathroom.

So, at least the builder was consistent.

Builder Basic Master Bath

Before moving in I had my painting contractors work their magic to brighten the space up but the massive mirror irked me.

Mirror Frame Options

I tried to make do by installing a simple wood trim frame. I hated it. So, I removed that and replaced it with a different style frame and makeshift shelf. I didn’t like that either but I had no Plan B in place so we learned to live with it.

Don’t ask why we didn’t have the flooring contractors install laminate wood in the master bath when they were here the first, second or third time to do the rest of the house because I couldn’t tell you. But the more I watched Property Virgins I was convinced no one would buy our house because they’d never be able to reconcile why we just stopped upgrading at the en suite door.

Economy sheet vinyl flooring

So while Dave gathered equipment for his annual after-Christmas ski trip, I rounded up my trim molding removal tools.

Demo Prep Tools

The trick to removing baseboard trim and shoe moulding is to work your mini-prybars between the wall and the wood slowly. Smack the metal too hard and you’re bound to split the wood and/or damage the drywall. Incrementally work your way down the length of the trim popping each nail as you go. This is where the appropriate playlist is paramount. At this stage, steer clear of hip hop and dance music; opt for blues or classic country instead. Your fingers and finishings will thank you.

Now, I like to mark both the trim and wall so that as pieces are moved from room to room over the next few days I can easily put the trim puzzle back together. And since I can’t be certain these corners were truly mitered on a 45 it helps eliminate any guesswork to square up the door frames and trim.

numbered trim

Be careful with the brad nails sticking out of the wood. I like to nip the ends off and scrape any paint before reinstalling. I don’t recommend pulling the nail through as you’ll risk marring the face of the wood trim.

remove trim

Once all of the trim is out of the way you’ll have to decide what to do about your doors. In this small space I had (3) to deal with and since Dave was out of town I’d be flying solo on any removal, undercutting and reinstallation if the new ceramic tile didn’t clear the space allowed underneath.

So I put my thinking cap on and performed several difficult scientific calculations…

Check Under Door Height

…to determine that I would (probably) get by without incident. (Meh, close enough.)

And then I shut off the water supply and removed the toilet.

remove toilet

And took a paint brush to the white spots around the room.

Remove wall mirror

The oversized mirror was amazingly simple to remove. Ok, what’s truly amazing is how little adhesive was used to keep that monstrosity up the last seven years. I’m disappointed I didn’t video the 45 seconds it took to pry jimmy it loose from the wall. I kid you not, it took longer for me to get the boy and his friend off the PS3 to help lift the mirror over the faucet handles.

In hindsight, I probably should have removed the sinks first.

remove sink

…since I’ll never get those precious five minutes back. Lesson learned.

Laminate Counter Glue

Speaking of, let this be a lesson; it takes more than (3) dollops of contractor adhesive to properly secure a 5′ laminate counter to a cabinet base.

Base Cabinet Support Shims

You know, like quality support bracing.


Click to read Part 2:

Operation Countertop

26 Jan

Behind Closed Doors


Hello there! Hope you’re having a great weekend. I haven’t been motivated to do squat of late and you know what? I’m oddly okay with it. I’m pretty sure I have officially succumbed to the winter blues. Blah. Once again I wonder why I live in Wisconsin…I am soo ready for spring!

Anyhoo, after my pots and pan-try was featured over at Tatertots and Jello I had folks asking where my canned corn and peas wound up. So as much as I wasn’t planning to write a whole post about it, I feel a duty to show you what’s behind my cupboard doors.


upper_cabinet #deeconstruct

Lame huh? Since I want my guys to actually eat things before (or shortly past) their expiration dates, I don’t see the point in hiding boxes and cans in pretty containers or baskets. I know they don’t read so cute little chalkboard labels are a colossal waste of time and energy. And because I’m usually whipping up something quasi-edible as glue or paint dries, I need to be able to grab & go with canned and boxed goods. So, my cabinets are Grade A boring.

But – check this out. Oooooh. Aaaaaah.

spice_rack #deeconstruct

Isn’t that cool?

I’m slowly learning how to use the hub’s fancy camera (because all the cool bloggers are doing it) and this was my first try at whatever the effect for zooming in and blurring out simultaneously is called. Nailed it!

That spice rack was at The Will for $0.50. I stuck ‘er on with double-sided sticky tape and called it done.

Underneath the counter is where I’m storing my prized Tupperware Modular Mates. If you’re into high-end plastic you know these things are not cheap and rarely fit in your upper cabinets anyhow. So this was the perfect spot for them.

The entire upper left shelf is reserved for my coffee & tea addiction. I should rename this the Caffeine & Carb Cabinet. Some day I’ll learn to eat healthy. Or not.

lower_cabinet #deeconstruct

There is one cabinet I didn’t bother organizing or snapping photos of. It houses more unnecessary spices and oils. Like my junk drawer, it’s beyond hope. Underneath it though is this cool space….

organized_drawers #deeconstruct

…perfect for storing towels and trivets. The kid has an easier time of making his school lunch with everything in that second drawer. I honestly have no idea if I’ve ever used that steamer in the bottom drawer but it matches the hardware so she stays.

The only things that wound up homeless after the pantry relocation were the fresh goods. Temporarily they camped out in various bowls on the counter. I was hoping to score a 3-tier basket thingy for cheap.

3_tier_basket     3tierpier1

But that never happened.

So until I found a solution I just left those things off the grocery list. Upside? I totally shaved a solid 2 minutes off my 3-hour trip to Woodman’s. {Have I mentioned how much I loathe grocery shopping?}

And there you have it. Mission Organization – Kitchen Edition is 95% complete.

For those of you still wanting more, go check out my girlfriend Evey’s fridge makeover. But grab a napkin first – you’re sure to drool over the awesomely sinful stuff that chick whips up.

18 Jan

Put A Lid On It

Plastic Pantry

As I was rummaging around in the pantry muttering about the builder’s stupidity for not installing any lighting in there my son was busy putting away the dishes. Over my own complaining I could sort of hear him whining about having too much Tupperware and not enough cabinet space.

I’m pretty sure he was complaining more about me and the way I insist things be put away just so but since he was smart enough to ‘whisper-gripe’ I couldn’t be certain.

As I slammed the door and flung outdated food on the counter he looked at me and said “Why don’t we put the food in the cabinet and the dishes in there?” pointing to the pantry. Being the logical and responsible parent I responded with “Because.”

Then, for the next couple of hours, I mulled over his question.

Why did a family of three need a walk-in pantry? I certainly don’t coupon enough to require storage for 15 boxes of cereal or a year’s worth of spaghetti sauce. I’m not a ‘prepper’ and feel secure enough in my faith to believe I won’t need to fill up on dry goods and bottled water in case of the apocalypse. As it was, I certainly wasn’t utilizing the space efficiently and with what little I did have in there, I was still managing not to use food before it went bad.

Unorganized Pantry

So why not give his idea a try?

Well for one, that would be admitting he was right. And anyone with a 15-year-old kid knows better than to play that hand too quickly. So I sat on it for a few days. I actually forgot the suggestion until the next time I decided to play hide & seek for a can of veggies.

Dark Pantry

I had had it. {see that stupid push on light??}

So at roughly midnight that night I decided to make the swap. The plan was to switch the food for plastic and if I hated it have things back in place before anyone woke up.

It took a lot less time to remove all the food than it did to match bowls to lids. Stacking and arranging (and color coding) took even longer. When I was done I’m pretty sure the heavens parted and angels sang. It was glorious.

Plastic Pantry

But I had the entire right side left over. I emptied the lower cabinet and moved the crock pot, dutch oven and mixing bowls over. All that was left were the pots and pans.

I didn’t have any “s” hooks on hand but had an idea. We had recently replaced the chandelier over the dining table and had left over chain link. Knowing it would come in handy at some point I stashed it in the junk drawer.

A few tugs and pulls with the pliers and I had my own version of a pot rack.

Pot and Pant-ry

By now, I’m sure all the racket I’d made had woken up the neighbors but I was on a roll. I was so impressed with the make-over that I even considered giving the kid full credit. Obviously it was time for me to get some shut-eye.

After playing with the new setup for a few days I decided it would take so I painted up some peg board and installed it on the inside of the pantry door. The hardware was harder to insert than I expected so a few words as colorful as my Tupperware were uttered but eventually it all came together. I hung up my frequently used utensils and stood back to admire my masterpiece.

Utensil Door

I almost threw my shoulder out patting myself on the back.

Organized Pantry

Now when I open up the door I see bright, cheery kitchenware waiting to be utilized. I almost feel guilty for hating to cook. Oh and the kid and I fight a lot less about putting dishes away. That alone would brighten anyone’s day.

Message Center

See the sweet little note the hubs left on the message board? I’m sure glad I decided not to stencil “Pantry” on the center of the door! Now, I have a long list of what should be recycled on that door. Since we stashed our trash I have to remind these guys what needs to go where. #neverendingbattle

So what do you think? Would you turn your food storage area into a pots & pan-try? Do you have as much Tupperware as I do? Are you wondering why someone who doesn’t cook has that much plastic? {grin}

Speak up! I would love to hear your opinion on this spatial deconstruction project.

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13 Jan

DIY Dumpster Dive

Cabinet Organized

I <3 trash. But, I try hard not to be the one putting things on the curb for others to pilfer. I’ve been known to hang on to soup cans, spaghetti jars, cardboard (sorry Mom – I know you’re shuddering as Dad reads this to you!), plastic & paper bags, fabric & wallpaper scraps – you name it, I save it. You just never know when you’ll need it. But – not in a hoarder kinda way. I have no sentimental connection to anything. I just *like* to keep as much money in my pocket as possible by keeping very little from hitting the curbside.

So, when I was hating on the trash can frame I built for my Hide & Seek Garbage project it was easy to grab some cardboard and wallpaper and pretty her right up. I didn’t have to look far for a pull knob since I have about 40 of them to choose from.

Wasted Cabinet Space

And it’s no surprise I had just the perfect thing for maximizing the 6″ dead space next to the trash can. {Remembering where I put that perfect thing was, however, a bit more challenging.}

Now, I can’t take credit for this one. Somewhere in cyberspace someone came up with this handy solution and I’m sure it’s been copied eleventeen thousand times over already. But – that’s how I knew it was foolproof and precisely why I didn’t pitch this small aluminum tube thingy (I think this might have come from one of those over the door shoe racks but don’t hold me to it) since it would definitely come in handy someday.

And people someday was today. I grabbed two cafe hooks. Eyeballed ‘level’ and screwed them right into the side of the cabinet.

Aluminum Bar & Hooks

Note: Before you embark on this complex task, be sure to hold the hook’s shaft perpendicular to your cabinet, closing one eye and sticking out your tongue to achieve a precise measurement – ensuring the screw won’t come through on the other side. This is a VERY important step so do not neglect it or you’ll be sorry!

I closed my right eye and totally overlooked the  shelf rough-in from earlier. {Win. Win.} Then I butt-scooted over to the cabinet under the sink and blindly pulled out a few bottles, reverse scooted back to hang them up and call this project…

Cabinet Organized COMPLETE!

Ok, truth time. I was slightly annoyed with the two-toned metal and momentarily debated spray painting something but opted to throw caution to the wind and wing it. (If, as a result of my blatant flippancy, the world comes to a screeching halt please know I am sorry!)

Now, I know there weren’t very many pretty pictures and this wasn’t an earth shattering DIY tutorial.

The real lesson here folks is to practice what I preach. Make sure that your dives start with your own dumpster. Make treasures from your own trash!

Now it’s your turn. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever forbidden someone in your house to pitch? Did you use it for something? If so – what??? I seriously wanna know (that I’m not alone).

10 Jan

It’s (hide and seek) Trash Day!

Black & Decker jigsaw

We have been up to our ears in germs around these parts of late. What with the hubs’ swine flu and Mr. Lou’s allergies to life my kitchen counter looks like an Osco pharmacy. (We don’t even have Osco’s in these parts, I’m paying homage to my Chicagoland roots – holla!) I’m certain we’ve gone through 1,000 tissues and paper towels in the last week alone. So of course the first task to knock off this year’s Domestic Bucket List had to be the under cabinet trash can.


I spent a long time looking for a chocolate brown trashcan when we moved into this house and this was the only one I liked.

The problem is the domed top invites overfilling. I’m sure you can see the proof encrusted on the top (and trickled down the front). And the darn top never stays on. I was tired of having spaghetti sauce (and who knows what else) on my fingers every time I pitched something and the lid fell off to the floor. Yep, it had to go.

I had priced out the under-the-counter trash contraptions locally and online and holy cow are they expensive! I perused some DIY and old school carpentry sites (shout out to Bob Villa) trying to figure out how to fabricate a slide-out option myself. I got lucky over the summer when I popped in on my old next door neighbor’s garage sale. Ok, so it was more of a slam-on-the-brakes-while-engaging-in-drive-by-rummaging (don’t those people irritate you? Just park already!) operation that led me to this score:

Can you see the price? Ten. Dollars. For real.

So I ponied up the cash and grinning ear to ear took my newest prized possession home where it sat until today to be installed.

$10 trash can

Yes, I endured another 6 months of saucy, germy fingers out of sheer laziness.

Part of the reason I waited so long was because the cabinet I wanted to use (between the fridge and the dishwasher – directly below my fancy espresso machine) had a shelf that needed to be removed.

cleared cabinet

I wasn’t sure how to do it at first because it seemed built-in to the cabinet. I chatted up the guys in the kitchen department at Menard’s and they had a display for the crazy expensive gadgets in a cabinet identical to mine. So, I squatted down and stuck my head in there and found they had just notched out the shelf to fit the trash can. Rocket science apparently.

So, I had to get a new jigsaw.

Black & Decker jigsaw

I didn’t like the notched out look and just removed the entire shelf. I made 3 straight cuts with the jig and then smacked the shelf with my hammer. It only took a few swings for the shelf to come right out.

smack hammer

Turns out, it wasn’t really built-in. See the grooves that it was laying in?

open cabinet

I pitched the broken pieces into the old trash can (ironic I know) and then installed the base of the metal sliding unit. That went in with 4 wood screws. Because the cabinets are fabricated of MDF (medium density fiberboard) I did pre-drill my holes to prevent splitting and chipping. Sometimes just going straight into faux wood with a screw mucks the whole thing up. Pre-drill to be safe.

slider install

At this point, I could have attached the top, loaded a bag into the can and plopped it right in but part of the goal was to avoid dirty fingers. Since the type of slide I had was too narrow to justify re-engineering (like this) I knew I was going to have to manually open the cabinet door, reach in and pull the can out. But I had no intention of grabbing the garbage can itself so I had to get creative. And I had an idea…

Last week I found this awesome Ikea plant shelf crying all alone sitting on top of a trash pile outside a local gym. I figured it would come in handy for something and brought it home. One of the rungs was broken (probably the reason it was discarded) and was almost exactly the size I needed.

trashed plant stand

With some scrap wood, I boxed out a frame and installed it to the front of the metal slider. Then I drilled a hole for a handle (a random drawer pull I had on hand) and it was done.

pull out frame

Only, I hated it.

That gaping hole showing the white plastic can was hideous. I put on my thinking cap and came up with a very scientific solution.

Cardboard. But not just any cardboard. Wallpaper covered cardboard.

under cabinet trash can

Genius right? I know.

The best part is that *if* anyone happens to slime it up, it’s completely washable. 100% germ-free for. the. win.

I knew once I snapped and posted my dirty secrets there would be no turning back. Lots of other bloggers said I was ‘brave’ (read: crazy) for sharing but I am no different from the rest of you. And what do I care? I’ve got nothing to hide – except my trash can. 🙂

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. See that space to the left of the trash? (scroll back up, I’ll wait…) I’ve got big plans for that little spot. (Check out the updated reveal here!)

What kind of trash can do you use? Do you love it? Would you prefer your trash out of sight & under the cabinet? Am I going to wind up hating this pull out version too?