2017 House Goals

In 2016, our house saw many sweeping, expensive changes. 2017 isn’t likely to be quite as dramatic, but that doesn’t mean I’m slowing down. I’m excited to tackle a lot of projects throughout the house – here’s a rundown of everything on my docket.

I’ve listed the projects in order of “This will definitely happen” to “I hope this will happen but who the f knows what the future holds.”

1. Fix Up Mantle and Bookshelves

Our fireplace mantle and bookcases are in poor shape: the mantle is flecked with paint, the shelves look parched, and the stain is inconsistent. I threw our books up there when we moved in, and now it’s time to fix up and thoughtfully arrange this area.

Living Room Fireplace

I got a jump on this project in 2016 by painting the previously-painted-red brick.

Cat Fireplace.JPG

2. Spruce Up Entryway

I hadn’t put too much effort into our entryway until just recently. Now I have a new light fixture and a new (old) rug, which I’ll share soon. Left to do: buy/build a hook rail, upgrade our closet doors, and improve the closet storage situation.

3. Finish Mudroom Interior and Exterior

I spent a hundred hours on the mudroom in 2016, but never showed you any of the interior and never reached a point I’d call “finished.” (You saw the exterior in the backyard post.)

4. Improve Attic Insulation and Circulation

One not-fun but important thing I need to figure out in 2017 is our attic insulation. During our pre-closing house inspection, our inspector noted that it could stand to be improved. But it hadn’t really caused any problems* until this winter, when we witnessed the symptoms of and then learned the term “ice dam.”

Ice Dam Diagram.png(Diagram from the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association’s Bungalow Maintenance 101 guide, which I highly recommend.)

In short: heat in our attic causes snow to melt off our roof, which refreezes in and over our gutters. It also creates a murderous slick of ice on our front walk and stairs.

Gutter Ice Dam.jpg

* Though our second floor bedroom can be chilly, our 2016 house utility bills were virtually identical to our 2015 apartment utility bills, which was a huge load off my mind – I had really stressed about heating and cooling costs when we first moved in. This winter is expected to be brutal, however, so I’m sure that will change.

5. Figure out Bedroom Storage

The IKEA storage drawers you saw in the bedroom post are wearing out their welcome. We need better storage solutions inside and outside the closet. I also hope to install new bifold closet doors (bifold doors are shockingly expensive, by the way – I don’t really understand why).

bedroom-ikea-dresser

6. Buy a New Sofa

You’d think this would be easy. It’s not.

7. Install New Doors

I’d like to replace:

  • Our front door with a craftsman door (painted black)
  • Our back door with a glass door (so we can see our garden from our kitchen)
  • Our half-bath door with a craftsman door, if I…

8. Renovate the Half-Bathroom

If I tackle this project, it will be my very first floor-to-ceiling renovation! Given its small size and my modest ambitions, I think (fingers crossed) it could be in the budget this year.

Bathroom

I’ve ordered a few wallpaper samples, picked out a toilet*, and started to get quotes from contractors. It will be a mix of DIY and hiring out.

* If you’re worried that I may have selected a toilet that won’t be able to flush 3 cell phones, 40 cigarettes, 20 golf balls, and 56 chicken nuggets: stop worrying. It totally can. The product video on the Home Depot site kills me. Such peppy music! Such ill-advised flushing challenges!

Toilet Nuggets.png

Those 8 goals should keep me plenty busy, and keep this blog filled with content. There will be other smaller scale projects along the way as well, including decorating our guest bedroom and adding planters to our front stoop. Stay tuned!

Backyard Patio, Painting, and Landscaping

The 2016: Year of the Exterior blogging bonanza continues with painting, patio installation, and landscaping. This is where we started:

Deck Before.JPG

Let’s dive in!

Lipstick on a Pig

Here’s the situation with the tacked-on room at the back of the house: it used to be an exterior porch. At some point, it was enclosed – very, very poorly. So poorly that they didn’t even finish the job, even though they started it years ago. The drywall on the interior was never mudded (you can get a glimpse of it through our kitchen door). The proportions of the windows don’t make any sense. The siding was installed totally incorrectly (visible screws!). It freezes in the winter and bakes in the summer. It’s a cobbled-together garbage mess… but it’s sturdy, and it’s not unsafe. Fixing it will essentially require that we tear it down and rebuild it ($20k-ish?), which isn’t in the budget for the foreseeable future and simply isn’t a priority. It may never be. It functions fine for what it is (a mudroom), and my goal was to make it look as decent as possible for as little money as possible.

Which is a long way of saying: I put some lipstick on that pig.

When I posted about re-routing our dryer vent, I mentioned that it previously vented under the back porch: that’s what led to the mold you see on the siding. I scrubbed it and power washed it.

Mudroom Siding Before.JPG

I hired a pro to paint the front of our house (more on that in the next post). I planned to paint the mudroom myself, but we were on a tight schedule with only a few days of cooperative weather, so I added $200 to our painting bill. Worth it, especially since there were ladders involved.

Behold the wonders of paint.

Mudroom Exterior Progress 3.JPG

The light is from Amazon (Outdoor Aluminum Barn Light). I installed it myself, and it fits perfectly under the eave.

Jarrod and I did paint the garage on our own:

Garage Painting.JPG

Goodbye Deck, Hello Patio

The existing deck had to go. It was rotten and splintering. It also had no stairs, so you couldn’t access it directly from the yard.

I stressed a little about the decision between building a new deck vs. putting in a patio, but it was pretty clear that a patio was the right choice for us. A patio makes maximum use of our available yard space. The deck took up far more room than just its footprint – it loomed over the yard such that no one (people nor plants) would want to hang out around the perimeter. For example, there was a good 3 feet between the fence and the deck that was wasted space.

Deck and Fence.JPG

I chose Brussels Block paving stones from Unilock. We used the Limestone color, laid in a random-ish pattern. I like the tumbled, worn finish. It’s a nice break from the brick city that is our house.

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I try to be upfront about costs around here: I hope it’s helpful, not obnoxious. Paver patios are incredibly expensive – there’s just no way around it. To be very honest, this luxury wouldn’t have been in our budget had we not made some bonus money by renting our house out for filming (see Let’s All Watch Easy on Netflix). Since that money was unexpected, it felt like ~fun~ money, and it seemed fitting to put it toward something we really wanted.

Which is a long way of saying: we paid $6,800 for the patio plus the corner seat wall. That includes installation and all materials.

This patio could very well outlive us. If we spend decades in this house, it will have been a smart move. If something unexpected happens and we move in 5 years, it will have been a foolish purchase and a cautionary tale. $$ ÂŻ\_(ツ)_/ÂŻ $$

Thanks to our drive-through gate, the crew was able to back up right next to the deck.

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Deck Demo.JPG

Demo went very quickly. They sprayed the patio outline (that’s a pano photo – it’s not curved) and then dug it out.

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Next came a gravel and sand base, which was compacted.

Patio Gravel Base.JPG

I went to work the next day and when I came back we had a patio. Magic! Well, kinda magic. There was still a lot of work to do.

Mudroom Exterior Progress 2.JPG

Another Coat of Lipstick on the Pig

Again, my goal was to make the mudroom as decent as possible for as little money as possible. I’ve done a few things to make it look more intentional, and have a few things left to do.

I started by washing and painting the wallboard below the beam.

Mudroom Exterior Progress 4.JPG

Then I bought two pieces of cheap lattice, which I cut to fit.

Lattice.JPG

I stained them using Ready Seal and a pump sprayer.

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And then I affixed them to the wall using decking screws.

Mudroom Lattice.JPG

Yes, it looks weird to have a sliding door to nowhere. I’m not sweating it. I actually see these a lot around Chicago – people use them as big back windows with Juliet balconies. In 2017, I’m going to put up a railing, plant some tall grass/sedges, and make a better area for our grill.

Plants, Plants, Plants!

As low-grade hippies, Jarrod and I decided to go with native landscaping. That means all of the plant varieties we used grow naturally in midwest prairies and woodlands. They contribute to the ecosystem of birds, bees, and other animals that live in Chicago. (If you’re interested, see the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Landscaping with Native Plants.) We hired Monica of Red Stem Native Landscapes. She was great to work with. In the future, we’ll tackle smaller landscaping projects on our own, but there was so much work to be done that it made sense to get help.

As someone who loves plants, I cannot tell you exciting it was to have a truck full of trees and shrubs arrive. Some of these were for the backyard, some of them were for the front, and some were for other people that I wanted to steal.

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We got an Armstrong Maple for the back corner. These trees grow fast and tall – but not wide – which makes it perfect for a Chicago backyard.

ArmstrongMaple.JPG

We put shrubs and plants around the patio. They’ll fill in and envelop the space, softening the hard edges of the patio. The Blackhaw Viburnum shrub in the corner, for example, will grow at least 10 feet tall.

Shrubs.JPG

Here’s a shot after the shrubs went it, but before the plants arrived:

Patio After.JPG

For fun, let’s compare that to a before:

Sideyard Before 3.JPG

Yep, that’s better. Let’s keep moving. When the baby plants arrived, we still hadn’t totally finished painting, because painting is the very worst thing in the entire world.

Baby Plants.JPG

The plants weren’t much to look at during the toddler stage. Most of their energy is spent establishing roots. Monica said the rule of thumb with native plant growth is “First year sleep, second year creep, and third year leap.”

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With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised by the growth and flowering we saw in our first year.

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Ooof, this post was a beast! Thanks for sticking around until the end. See you tomorrow for the final post: the front yard.

Cheap Bungalow-Friendly Light Fixture

Just a quick post with one more before and after from our bedroom – I wanted to spread the good word about this inexpensive semi-flush ceiling light I found on Amazon.

upstairs1

What a world of difference paint and caulk makes!

Landing After.jpg

The light fixture is only 36 bucks with free shipping: World Imports Lighting 9007-88 Luray 1-Light Semi-Flush Light Fixture. I like that it feels period-appropriate for our 1913 bungalow, while still looking clean-lined. It’s a steal for such a nice fixture and, if you’re on a budget, it’s a great alternative to Rejuvenation/School House Electric.

Ceiling Light Fixture.jpg

I bought two but have only installed one so far: the other stairway light fixture is 12+ feet above the landing. The fixture there currently does not have a globe or working light bulbs. Eventually, I may want to have a big chandelier of some sort here, but I want to pick out all of the first floor light fixtures first. In the interim, the Amazon light will work great, if I can get it up there!

Stairwell Light.JPG

I need to buy a taller ladder or teach Jarrod how to install a light fixture: I’m not sure which is more dangerous.

Two-Person Desk and Gallery Wall

Hey-oh: we’ve got a proper desk area in our living room! I prefer having our computers in our main common area (instead of sequestered upstairs in the guest bedroom, for example), and this side of the living room seemed perfect for an office setup. I wanted a functional, comfortable, dedicated workspace for two people. No more camping out at the kitchen table!

Two Person Desk.JPG

To see what the living room used to look like, check out this post.

The Desk Setup

All of the components for this 8 foot desk came from IKEA: I used the 98″ KARLBY walnut countertop, the ALEX drawer unit, and LERBERG trestle legs. IKEA used to carry the ALEX and LERBERG in black – which I prefer – but they transitioned to gray this year. I was able to snag a black drawer unit before they went out stock, and I spray painted the metal trestle legs black.

IKEA Desk Components.jpg

Putting together the desk was super simple: the countertop simply rests across the legs and the drawer unit. It’s a big, solid setup. Hanging frames and wrangling cords was the time-consuming part. Oh, and I built a frame for the first time! Let’s start there.

Building a Floating Canvas Frame

I already owned most of the art I used in this project. But I knew I wanted to add a large antique oil painting to the mix, for some texture and warmth. I dug through eBay until I found a painting that I really liked. Good lord, there’s a lot of crap art to wade through on eBay. Filtering by time period (1900-1949) helped a little.

Oil Painting Frame Before.JPG

The original frame was overly ornate and, in my opinion, distracted from the painting. To replace it, I built a simple floating frame using cheap pine from Home Depot. It was a lot of careful measuring and cutting and making it up as I went along.

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I stained the wood black to match the moodiness of the painting, and to help balance the black wall-mounted monitors.

Staining a Picture Frame.JPG

I totally winged this entire process, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out!

Oil Painting in Floating Frame.JPG

Cat inspector on the job again.

Cat Inspecting Oil Painting.JPG

Hanging the Gallery Wall

Having wall-mounted monitors meant the gallery wall needed to be planned out pretty well. It’s easy to tweak the placement of a frame by moving a nail a few inches, but I wouldn’t have any flexibility with the monitor placement once heavy-duty toggle bolts were in the wall. So, I over-planned, as I do.

First, I did a real crappy job of Photoshopping my two options: gallery wall vs. picture ledge. For the mock-ups, I used Chris Loves Julia’s picture ledge and our previous dining room’s gallery wall.

Office Wall Options.jpg

Then I solicited input from a friend who has good taste in nearly everything, with the exception of appropriate footwear.

text-thread

I used a mix of white, black, and brown wood frames. The art is a mix of screen prints, paintings, and photos that I’ve collected over the years, and there’s a bit of a theme to it – mostly plants, houses, and birds (thanks for the Japanese ducks, Kei!).

I fussed around with the frame arrangement on the floor.

Planning a Gallery Wall on the Floor.JPG

I also did the thing the internet suggests you do: used paper to visualize the frames on the wall.

Planning a Gallery Wall.JPG

This step seems excessive for most purposes, but it was helpful here. I did not want to regret my placement of the monitors.

Gallery Wall in Progress.JPG

All hung!

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Hiding the Cords

Did you notice what you don’t see on that office wall?  All the cords. A whole lot of wire wrangling went into this. If I could make a living hiding cords, I would change careers. So gratifying!

On the wall, I used a raceway for the monitor power and DVI cords. That monitor arm is a cheap guy from Amazon, by the way: VideoSecu TV Wall Mount Articulating Arm Monitor Bracket. It lets us push the monitor back when not in use, and pull it forward when we’re working / wasting time on the internet.

Wall-Mounted Monitor.JPG

Under the desk, I added a J channel cable raceway – I bought one and cut it in half to use on either side of the cabinet. The raceway routes all of the wires to a power strip I mounted on the wall behind the cabinet.

Belkin Surge Protector.JPG

I bought the Belkin 8-Outlet Pivot Surge Protector with 6-Foot Cord (based on The Wirecutter’s recommendation); the pivoting outlets are awesome and crucial for this setup.

Wall-Mounted Surge Protector.JPG

This hidden surge protector powers everything – my Apple charger, Jarrod’s Dell dock, the monitors, the desk lamp, the Jambox – with only one visible cord. To make it even less conspicuous, and because crazy, I wrapped it with white ribbon.

Under Desk Cords.JPG

The Finishing Touches

The Kurdish runner rug is vintage from eBay. The rolling chairs are from Overstock: Porthos Home Monroe Adjustable Office Chair. I would have preferred something vintage, but finding a pair of reasonably-priced vintage adjustable chairs was not happening. These Overstock chairs are sturdy and comfortable, and they’ll do until I have a lucky find.

Office Chairs.JPG

I did have a lucky find in the floor sample pile at Room & Board: this Nell wall sconce. At 30% off, it was still a splurge, but I love it so. It provides such a nice glow.

Nelson Sconce.JPG

I also added a Threshold Two Head Task Lamp from Target. The rattan stool is from Target as well – I plan to add a plant on top.

Desk Lamp.JPG

And that brings us to where we are today, and where I’m typing this blog post right now.

Office Wall.JPG

It looks something like this:

Office Action Shot.JPG

Thanks to Jarrod’s dad Rodger for the action shot, and for letting me experiment with his camera this weekend! I also borrowed my friend Carolyn’s camera (thanks, buddy!), so I have a lot of photos in the hopper for more posts in the coming weeks.

How I Installed an IKEA Bathroom Vanity

In my greatest DIY victory to date, I installed an IKEA HEMNES bathroom cabinet, DALSKAR faucet, and ODENSVIK sink (which came with RINNEN plumbing). Note that the title of this blog post is not “How to install an IKEA vanity” but rather “How I installed an IKEA vanity.” This is what worked for me.

I did a ton of Googling throughout this process and found some helpful guides (such as this one) that gave me the confidence to take on this project, but I didn’t find any blog posts that were identical to my situation. IKEA altered their standard plumbing kit significantly recently, so a lot of the information I found was outdated. Also, every home is going to have its own oddities.

This post won’t be of much interest to anyone who isn’t installing an IKEA sink, but I hope it’s helpful for at least one person who is! Specifically, here are the three issues I encountered that you might run into as well:

  • Waste pipe that is 1-1/4″ vs IKEA plumbing that is 1-1/2″
  • Faucet supply lines that are 3/8″ vs IKEA faucet lines that are 9/16″
  • IKEA overflow hose that does not reach the drain

Before buying our house, I had never done any plumbing work. It was daunting because water can be so quickly and so thoroughly ruinous should anything go wrong. I installed our basement sink as a test case, and then tackled this on my own without disaster. If you’re handy and enjoy finding solutions to problems, I think IKEA plumbing is definitely a doable DIY.

Getting started

I started by laying out all of the parts in order. Note: if you buy an IKEA sink and an IKEA faucet, you’ll have a couple of duplicate parts.

IKEA Plumbing Parts.JPG

I warned Jarrod that it may be several days until we had a working sink again. I hoped it would go smoothly, but I was prepared for some hiccups. We have a sink in our first floor half-bathroom, which helped make this a lot less stressful.

I turned off the inline shut-off valves, disconnected the existing sink, and stuck a rag in the wall drain hole to keep the stink contained.

sink-wall-drain.JPG

I assembled the vanity cabinet and Jarrod helped me position it (it was nice to have an extra set of hands here, but not necessary — this can be a one-woman project). I adjusted the screw-in feet until it was level. Our floor slopes, so the right self-adjusting foot is extended quite a bit more than the left.

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Once it was precisely placed and leveled, I marked off the four spots I’d need to drill and then moved the vanity out of the bathroom.

Drilling into granite tile

If you don’t have granite wall tiles, mounting the vanity will be pretty easy. If you do have granite tiles, like we do, I’m sorry. Drilling into granite is totally doable, but it’s time-consuming and expensive! The bits are made of diamonds and run $20+ each at Home Depot. It sounds like even the nice ones wear down quickly, requiring multiple bits to do the job. Having learned that, I chose to buy two cheap sets from Amazon. $22 total for 10 bits, and I wound up using every single one.

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I sprayed the area with water continuously while drilling (sorry, no pics). After the holes were drilled, I put the vanity back in place.

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The big square holes are from the previous sink’s installation. The IKEA vanity is secured with metal clips (provided by IKEA) and toggle bolts (purchased by me).

Mounting the faucet on the sink

I installed the DALSKAR faucet on the ODENSVIK sink before placing it on the vanity – it was a lot easier to see and reach the underside this way.

IKEA ODENSVIK SinkJPG.JPG

The bottom of the metal faucet marked up the sink a bit as I was positioning it, which was disappointing. To avoid this, I’d recommend putting some painters tape around the hole and then removing it right before you tighten down the faucet. Otherwise, this step was straightforward and easy.

Figuring out the waste pipe connection

The waste pipe is the hole in the wall that the sink connects to, which I assume leads directly to the Chicago River. The IKEA p-trap drainpipe is 1-1/2 inches. Our waste pipe is smaller: 1-1/4 inches. So, I had to find a trap adapter/reducer. In retrospect, this wasn’t that big a deal: most of the battle was learning terminology and figuring out WTF I was even looking for.

Semi-Pro Tip #1: Don’t throw away anything you remove from your previous sink’s installation until you’ve successfully installed your new sink. Put it in a plastic bag and carry that grossness to every hardware store. If you’re a novice like I am, it’s extremely helpful to have with you to compare parts and to talk to store employees.

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Semi-Pro Tip #2: When you’re in the hardware store, BUY EVERYTHING. Seriously, if you find yourself looking at something and thinking “This might work” or “I think this would fit” — BUY IT. Keep the receipt and return what you don’t use.

In the interest of helping anyone in the same boat, here are all the options I gathered within 36 hours via Amazon, Clark & Barlow Hardware, Home Depot, and Ace:

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The Everbilt washer the Home Depot guy sent me home with was totally wrong for the job, so that one was immediately ruled out. Any of the other three probably would have worked if space were not a crucial issue for IKEA plumbing (more on that later).

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I experimented with both the galvanized reducer and the PVC trap adapter, ultimately choosing the PVC option because it was the most space-efficient.

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Good god, this post is boring. I’m sorry. Let’s trudge on.

Connecting the faucet

Our supply valves are 3/8 inch. The IKEA manual states that the faucet lines are 9/16 inch. As far as I learned, this is not a measurement used by US plumbing standards.

ikea-faucet-line.png

So, I was worried about connecting my existing 3/8″ lines to the IKEA faucet lines, but did not encounter any problems at all. The ends connected perfectly, and they are watertight. Whew! I don’t know if the manual is simply incorrect, or if the difference is so slight that it’s negligible. Just another IKEA oddity.

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I wrapped the ends with Teflon tape to help ensure a tight seal.

Connecting the overflow drain and p-trap

This was the most frustrating part of the installation. Unlike the waste pipe, which was a challenge because of our house’s non-standard plumbing, this step was infuriating because it was caused by IKEA’s unforgiving design.ikea-drawer-fml.jpg

In order for the HEMNES drawers to slide in fully, the drain pipe and p-trap needs to be as close to the back wall as possible. The cabinet assembly does not allow a generous margin of error. Many people wind up having to shorten their drawers or hack notches into them. The drawers were the major appeal of this vanity in the first place, so I was hoping to avoid that.

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In the store display, IKEA shows the wall drain being off-center from the sink drain itself, so that the p-trap (the curved part at the bottom) is flush with the wall and the overflow tube (the black rubber piece) can be connected.

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In my experience, this a totally unrealistic and unholy arrangement. Our wall drain hole is centered with the sink’s drain, like God intended. I had no choice but to position the drain to run at an angle, in order to get the p-trap flush with the wall.

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The overflow tube IKEA provides is quite rigid and would simply not bend or stretch to work with that arrangement. I could force it into place with a terribly angled drain (as you see above), but it would slowly disconnect because of the strain. IKEA’s design doesn’t include anything to actually secure it to the drain. I tried cable ties and steel screw clamps, but the black rubber was simply too rigid. Incredibly frustrating!

I went to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Ace in search of tubing that could work as a replacement. I bought a few different types of plastic tubing, but in the end, nothing worked as well as a $3 bike inner tube I stole from Jarrod. It was flexible enough for the tight space, and I was able to secure it in place with cable ties.

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I don’t claim that this solution is perfect: if the sink were stopped up and water reached the overflow hole, the bike tube doesn’t drain water as quickly as a rigid tube would. But it’s totally water-tight and, ultimately, it’s the solution that saved me from having to hack the drawers and/or burn down the house. For our purposes, the overflow drain only gets used when water splashes back there. So, it’ll do.

Moving along! You have to punch out a hole on whichever side you install the overflow drain.

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I waited to do the punch out step until the very end, when I was 100% certain what my final arrangement would be.

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Good enough!

Checking your work and sealing it up

I waited a few days before installing the drawers so that I could keep an eye on the drain and supply lines, to make sure nothing was leaking. I also wiped a Kleenex over all of the components a couple times each day to make sure everything was staying completely dry.

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Once I was certain the drain and faucet lines were watertight, it was time for silicon. I lifted the sink to put a line of silicon on top of the vanity and then carefully set it back in place. I also used silicon on the rubber seal that sits between the sink and the drain. I figured this might help make it extra-watertight; couldn’t hurt, anyway.

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And, finally, I ran a line of silicon at the back of the sink, where it meets the wall.

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This line of silicon was the most beautiful and satisfying thing I’ve ever done, because it meant this project was FINISHED.

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The cat inspector gave me some shit about the bike tube plumbing but signed off on the job nevertheless.

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Second-guessing your decision to buy an IKEA vanity

At a couple of points during this multi-day project, I’ll admit that I regretted buying an IKEA vanity. But, in the end, I think I made the right choice. The vanity offers more storage in a smaller footprint than the terrible saucer sink. The new sink has a smaller surrounding edge, but it’s actually functional because it’s level — the previous sink ledge sloped inward.

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The vanity looks nice and feels very sturdy. I love the drawers: they slide smoothly and shut softly. I also love the faucet: the one-handle design is great, and the water turns on and off very cleanly. Most importantly, the vanity fit our tight space requirements and our budget.

You can see additional photos of the space in my Bathroom Makeover post.

Sources: