My Favorite Purchases of 2019

‘Tis the season of mass consumption and year-end best-of lists! I enjoyed rounding up my favorite purchases in 2015, so I thought I’d do it again.

I’ve sorted the list by purchase price in descending order. I linked to where I purchased each item myself. Mostly Amazon, but if you’re anti-Amazon (understandable), you can surely find them elsewhere. Note: none of these links are sponsored or referral.

#10. Rejuvenation Hood Pendant Light

Price: $439 / Link. I thoroughly documented our staircase renovation on Instagram (everything is saved in my stories highlight), but I know not all blog readers are on IG (hi, Dad). I owe you full recap! In the meantime, here’s a peek. Installing this Rejuvenation light fixture was the crowning glory of finishing the renovation. I didn’t let myself install it until I finished all of the less appealing tasks on my to-do list (hi, baseboard painting).


Ordering custom-made light fixtures is daunting because you can’t return them: I stressed a little over the length – thanks to Jarrod for helping me visualize it!


I wound up ordering the Hood fixture in the Aged Brass finish, 32″ length, with the 14″ Opal Globe Shade. It’s lovely.

#9. Ryobi 40-Volt Cordless Mower

Price: $279 / Link. When we bought our house in 2015, our former landlords sold the apartment building we had been living in. The landlords used to pay me to mow the lawn of that property, and they didn’t need their plug-in mower anymore, so they gave it to me. I kept hoping it would die so I would have an excuse to buy a cordless one. It never did, so this year I finally decided to pass it on to a coworker-friend who had purchased her first house (hi, Katie!) and treated myself to a new one.

All that to say: I love this mower. It uses the same 40-volt Ryobi battery as our string trimmer. It easily mows our front and back yard on a single charge, and it’s so nice to not be tethered to a power outlet or to worry about mowing over an extension cord.


#8. Eley Garden Hose Reel

Price: $189 / Link. Speaking of treating myself: this hose reel is luxurious. It’s one of the sturdiest things I’ve ever purchased. Five stars.


I took a “before” photo but failed to take a photo after I installed the reel, and I can’t take one now because we put it away for winter. You’ll just have to trust me.


Please ignore the tuckpointing cracks in our front stoop’s wing wall – that’s what I do everyday. It’s fine. It’s probably fine.

#7. Foresake Patch Hiking Boots

Price: $140 / Link. We went to Ireland in April to visit my younger brother, who was shooting a movie there (Green Knight). I bought these boots for the trip.


Very comfortable for hiking and they look cool/streamlined enough to wear in the city, too.


Jarrod bought these Danner boots, by the way, which are also very nice. If you don’t wear brand new hiking boots in Ireland, how will they know you’re American?


#6. Bunkerwall Parking Guides

Price: $48 / Link. We used to have a hanging tennis ball as a guide for backing into our garage, but it kept getting pulled down when we’d shut our Subaru Forester’s back hatch. I bought these parking guides after the forever-accident-prone Jarrod closed the garage door onto the front of our car… twice.


When we back in, we bump into these things – they’re heavy enough to stay in place without being affixed to the floor. Now we always park perfectly: staying clear of the garage door while maximizing space in the back.

#5. Sloggers Clogs

Price: $28 / Link. Ashley at The Gold Hive recommended these outdoor clogs on in this blog post. I always keep them at the back door in our mudroom. They’re easy enough to slip on that they’ve stopped me from going outside in my socks or slippers, which is what I used to do anytime I wanted to quickly pop outside – e.g. when I want to take a photo of the parking bumpers in our garage.


#4. Floor Register Grates

Price: $12 / Link. Last month I replaced all of our tan floor grates with these dark oil-rubbed bronze ones. A cheap, super easy upgrade! They look so much nicer.


I spray painted our return grates to match.


True story: I left a grate off while it was drying. Lola, our cat, had been in mudroom all afternoon and I wasn’t thinking of him. He came into the living room and immediately went right into vent. Not a moment’s hesitation – it was like he had been waiting his whole life for the opportunity. Jarrod just happened to be standing there when it happened. He plunged his hand down the vent and pulled Lola out by his tail. Phew!


You can see Lola’s claw marks in the dust above. He spent the rest of the day staring insolently at the covered vent, as though he had been denied something rightfully his.

#3. H&M Waffled Hand Towel

Price: $7 / Link. I bought this H&M hand towel for our half-bathroom. I like that the hanging loop is in the middle of the long edge (instead of on the short edge) – that makes it look nice and full when it’s hanging on a hook. The material is pretty yet utilitarian.


That is all I have to say about this hand towel.

#2. Tree Finder: A Manual for Identification of Trees by their Leaves

Price: $6 / Link. Jarrod and I attended the Basic Tree ID class at The Morton Arboretum this fall, which I highly recommend if you’re in Chicagoland. It taught us simple ways to identify trees. Tree Finder was one of the books they recommend. Jarrod likes that it’s small and lightweight – much easier to carry around than most field guides.


#1. Crunchy Cheetos

Price: $2 / Link. When I was reviewing all of my 2019 Home Depot purchases – so many Home Depot purchases – I saw this receipt and laughed. Crunchy Cheetos are amazing, obvs, and the Home Depot purchase history is, too.


If you save your credit/debit card to your online Home Depot account, it automatically pulls in all of your in-store purchases – even ones you made prior to linking your card to your account. It’s super handy if you need a receipt for a warranty, or if you need proof of spending $1.93 on Crunchy Cheetos at 11:39am on September 21.

Staircase Refinishing: That’s What the Money is For

In my last post, I outlined my house plans for 2019… and then I disappeared. I’ve been working on our home a lot since then – nothing especially blog worthy – but I’m back with an update on the staircase project! And that update is: I decided I value my time more than my money on this particular project, and I hired someone to do it.

Stair Progress 4.JPG

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my lurching progress on this stairway over the past two years.

Stair Progress 5.JPG

I’ve removed cove moulding, stripped paint with heat and chemicals, sanded, and more. But I’ve barely made a dent in this 105-year-old beast.


It’s telling that the previous owner also started this project and never finished – he stripped the handrail, one baluster, and gave up.

Stair Progress 6.JPG

Stair Progress 3.JPG

All totaled, I’ve spent easily 40 hours on the stairs, and every hour has made me less certain of the path forward. Usually, I’m motivated by that “the only way out is through” feeling, but that was the not the case here. Once I admitted to myself that this project was never going to bring me any DIY joy, I started looking for a wood refinishing contractor.


I hired Peter’s Wood Refinishing, which has great reviews on Angie’s List and is affiliated with the Chicago Bungalow Association. I will share an honest review of their work afterward here, of course. I don’t mind over-sharing financial details, so I’ll tell you: this job was quoted at $3,375.

Peters Wood Refinishing Quote.jpg

You’ll also notice in the quote above that it will take 6-7 days. That’s a full week of labor from a team of professionals:

  • Let’s assume (conservatively) that it’s 3 workers x 7 days x 5 hours a day. That’s 105 hours.
  • Let’s assume (conservatively, again) they’re twice as efficient as I am – because they’ve done it before, and because they’re working longer hours without having to set up/take down the job site every day. That’s 210 hours of my time.
  • If I managed to work on these stairs for 7 hours a week, I would be finished in 30 weeks. NOPE. (Actually, not even finished: parts would still need to be painted, which I am also hiring out. DOUBLE NOPE.)

When I did that math, it was a pretty easy decision: that’s what the money is for. No shame!


The crew starts this Thursday. They’re going to strip everything, and then stain the following parts to a walnut color (similar to our first floor hardwood floors):

  • Newel posts – the big posts on the corners and ends
  • Handrails – self-explanatory
  • Stair treads – the part you step on
  • Cove – the concave pieces of moulding immediately under the lip of the tread
  • Fascia – the large pieces of vertical wood


The stringers, risers, and 72 balusters(!) will be painted white. I learned from stripping the balusters (AKA spindles) that they’ve always been painted – there wasn’t stain or lacquer beneath the decades of paint like there was elsewhere. This week I’m obsessing over where exactly the stain will stop and the paint will begin: the wood profile is so detailed that it’s not as straight-forward as you might think.


I’m excited to do right by this vintage staircase. It’s a big part of why I fell in love with our house, and I’m grateful we have the means to restore it. I will post regular updates on Instagram Stories over the next week – follow me at @martipalermo to follow along!

House Goals for 2019 and Beyond

After all of 2018’s work, our house (AKA Hauslermo) is feeling really good. My make-it-work kitchen makeover was definitely the right call for us, in lieu of a full kitchen renovation. The mudroom was an impactful, budget-friendly overhaul. And replacing all of the moulding makes the entire first floor feel more finished.

At this point, the finish line for Hauslermo’s renovation is kinda visible on the distant horizon, so I’ve been thinking about how to plan and budget for the remaining to-dos. In 2019, I hope to focus on some lower-cost improvements while I gather information and save money for the major renovations to come.

In addition to the goals listed below, there are three big, looming expenses: replacing the roof, the furnace, and the water heater. All of those things are functioning fine now, but I know they won’t forever. The roof will likely get worked into my 2019 or 2020 plans, and all three will impact the available funds for my other goals. (And, of course, this house or our lives could throw us an unforeseen curveball at any point in the game.)

Here goes:


  • Finish staircase, for real this time
  • Move junction box over dining room table and install new light
  • Repair brick tuckpointing – it’s failing in a few areas
  • Landscaping
    • Plant another backyard tree
    • Replace front yard bushes (three of them gave up on life – womp womp)
    • Pare down backyard bed
    • Get back into vegetable gardening (Jarrod plans to take the lead on this in his official capacity as our Food Procurement Officer)
  • Finish guest bedroom – it’s a hodgepodge of furniture and decor right now
  • Eliminate private mortgage insurance (PMI) from our home loan – this is an aspirational financial goal for 2019 or 2020. We purchased our house with less than a 20% down payment, so we have to pay $125 for PMI each month. This bums me out because it’s totally wasted money. I plan to explore all of the options for eliminating it (e.g. getting our home reappraised).
  • Sunroom Phase 1
    • Level floor – because our enclosed front sunroom used to be an exterior porch, it slopes downward (just like our mudroom – it doesn’t bother me in that space, but it’d be nice to fix it here)
    • Install new floor
    • Replace or cover ceiling insulation tiles with new beadboard

For reference, here’s our sunroom currently:


  • Sunroom Phase 2
    • Replace bungalow-inappropriate picture glass window with wall-to-wall windows
    • Install new shades
  • Replace all other windows

On Christmas day, we walked around Ravenswood Manor (a nearby neighborhood that has a lot of lovely vintage bungalows) and looked for window inspiration. I took photos for my Home Renovation board on Pinterest. Here’s our house now:Bungalow Window Before 1.jpg

And here’s a slapdash mockup:Bungalow Window Mockup 1.jpg

But it won’t really look like that because the window trim most likely won’t be white and it won’t look bonkers. It’ll look good, I promise. It better look good, because it’s going to cost one million dollars.

2021 and/or 2022

  • Basement renovation
    • Install French drain and sump pump
    • Finish half of the basement with a guest bedroom and bathroom – because our house only has two bedrooms (and they share the upstairs bathroom), it would be nice for hosting to add an additional bed and bath. It’s a walk-out basement with decent ceiling height, so it would count toward our house’s property value.
    • Reconfigure the other half of the basement for improved storage and a nicer laundry room


  • Second floor bathroom renovation
    • At the minimum, I would keep the existing layout and replace the tile, bathtub, toilet, etc.
    • At the maximum, I will investigate the possibility of reconfiguring the layout and enlarging the bathroom to accommodate two sinks – we don’t need some fancy luxury bathroom, but having a sink for both of us would be really nice

As a reminder, our bathroom currently looks like this – totally fine, but not my long-term goal:bathroom-after-1


  • Hauslermo is finished and I never do any work again
  • J/K
  • I don’t know what happens then!
    • We could likely sell our house for a modest profit, but I don’t know if we could buy a different house that’s as appealing – I’m not sure what, if anything, could be gained if we tried to trade up. I’m happy with this being our forever house, but I will want ongoing projects of some sort.
    • Maybe we invest in a two-flat as a rental property?
    • Maybe we buy a vacation house with our other childless friends? (We’ve daydreamed about a house in Michigan that we’d call The Sink Inn, with SINK standing for “Surplus Income, No Kids.”)
    • Maybe I start helping other people with their homes, as a for-profit venture and/or I get involved with a not-for-profit house-focused charity?
    • Maybe I start an entirely different hobby? Weaving, I’m looking at you.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Moulding and Living Room Progress

One of my big goals for 2018 was to finish replacing all of the first floor moulding, and I am stoked to report that it is all done. A previous owner replaced the original millwork with trim that wasn’t as appropriate for the house, and I undid his work. I’m generally not a sentimental or nostalgic person, but I do feel sincerely bummed (and a little angry) when I think about the historical elements that have been stripped from this house over the decades. I’m grateful some remain (like our staircase) and I’m pleased to be able to restore other details to make the house feel more cohesive.

Here’s when we bought the house, looking from the kitchen into the entryway and living room:First Floor Before 2.JPG

And here’s that view today:Kitchen Moulding After.jpg

The headers (AKA architrave) throughout the first floor are now this Interior Primed MDF Window and Door Casing from Lowe’s – it’s a Metrie product.

Kitchen Moulding.jpg

Here’s the reverse view, from the living room into the kitchen:First Floor Before.JPG

And now – it will look even better once I get around to finishing the staircase (my one 2018 goal that I did not a single minute of work on in 2018):Living Room Moulding.jpg

The biggest change is to the west wall of the living room – we went from this:Living Room Wall Before.JPG

To this, thanks to our contractor:Living Room Arches During

And now finally to this:Living Room Wall Moulding.jpg

I found matching baseboard at Evanston Lumberyard (it’s from Metrie) and I made the window stool myself using a router for the first time. Very pleased with how the corners turned out.

Window Trim.jpg

The living room is coming together nicely. It’s not 100% ~finished~ yet: I’m still fussing around with the decoration. The rug is from Rejuvenation; they don’t cary it anymore. The chairs and coffee table are Craigslist finds from 10+ years ago.

Living Room with Fireplace Mantle.jpg
When we bought the house, the mantle was in a state of disrepair: the wood was parched, one of the shelves was missing, and the brick was painted red with gray paint mortar lines.

Fireplace Before.JPG

Back in 2016, I painted the fireplace brick white:Fireplace Painting First Coat.jpg

When we did our basement cleanup, my friend Kimberly spotted the missing shelf in a trash pile (good eyes, Priebe!). I sanded, stained, and rebuilt the bookcases.

Bookcase Front Sanded.jpg

Bookcase Front Stained.jpg

Before:Fireplace Before 2.JPG

Today:Bungalow Fireplace Mantle with Garland.jpg

The lamp is vintage, the arched mirror is from CB2, and the garland is a Black Friday splurge from Balsam Hill.

Bungalow Fireplace Mantle.jpg

Did you know that people use the term “shelfie” for bookcase photos? I’m not going to do that.

Bookshelf Brass Bird.jpg

Left Bookcase Vase Post.jpg

My teammate Grace (1310 Studios on IG) made this drawing, which I love, of Lola and Doozy at our desk. We put Doozy to sleep this past spring – it was very sad (sadder than I even expected it to be), but Lola is feeling better now and we’ve all adjusted to being a one-cat household.

Frame 3.jpg

Here’s the desk area that inspired the drawing. All the details on our two-person desk setup are in this post.

Two Person Desk in Living Room.jpg

Living Room Office.jpg

We’ve had this Room & Board sofa for 10+ years as well. I had it reupholstered last year in indestructible Sunbrella fabric.

Couch Cat 2.jpg

Lately I’ve been daydreaming about adding a pair of windows above the bookcases: it’s a very common detail in bungalows, but our house seemingly never had them (the exterior brick doesn’t appear to be patched).

Bungalow Living Room.jpg

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays! I’ll be back in 2019 with more – evermore – house goals.

Couch Cat.jpg

Bungalow Entryway with DIY Hook Rail

I’ve been working overtime on the house these past several weeks, trying to wrap up as many things as possible before the end of the year. Deadlines are motivating, even when they’re totally arbitrary. As a result, I have a couple of projects to catch you up on. First up: our finally finished entryway.

The last time you saw our entryway – nearly two years ago – I listed three remaining to-dos: installing a new door, replacing the moulding, and making a coat rack. As of last weekend, all of that is now done!

I bought this JELD-WEN Craftsman 6-Lite Primed Steel door from Home Depot and painted it black. In the end, I probably wouldn’t recommend this door for dark paint. The white plastic grid is affixed to the glass, which means you can see the back of it but you can’t paint the back of it – it has to stay white, which contrasts sharply with dark paint. It’s fine – it’s something I notice, but others probably don’t.

White Door Before Paint.JPG

Next, I removed and replaced the moulding around the front door and closet. You’ll have to wait until the end of the post for an After shot.

Moulding in Progress.JPG

Then came my DIY hook rail. I wanted the rail to look different than my door trim, so it was clear that it wasn’t just more of the same moulding. I bought a piece of primed trim with squared edges (the door trim has slightly rounded edges) and, using my table saw, I routed out shallow, decorative notches at the top and bottom of the wood.

Hook Placement on DIY Rail.JPG

I measured out the placement of my 8 hooks and drilled pilot holes – I did this before painting, so I wouldn’t have to worry about marking up or scratching the painted finish. The brass hooks are from House of Antique Hardware; I got them for 15% off on Black Friday. Emily over at The Sweet Beast also used them in her awesome stairway makeover. (Side note: one time I Googled “sweet beast” and ended up here instead of Emily’s blog, and now I just go there on purpose sometimes. Check out this fantastic beast!)

I used painters tape to mark off where the studs are in the wall. I installed the rail by screwing into the studs that aligned with my hooks. That let me cover the screw heads with the hooks. For safe measure, I also used a toggle bolt behind one of the non-stud hooks.

Hook Rail MountingJPG.JPG

With the rail up and the pilot holes ready to go, adding the hooks was quick work.

Mounted Hook Rail.JPG

And here’s the finished product:DIY Brass Hook Rail.jpg

Here you can see the new moulding around the door and closet. I like how continuing the rail around the corner helps balance the off-set door.

Black Craftsman Door.jpg

When we bought the house:Entryway Door Before.JPG

And now!

Entryway with Black Door.jpg