2016: The Year of the Exterior

This past year, most of our money was poured (and painted and planted) into our homeā€™s yard and exterior. The other projects youā€™ve seen here (e.g. bathroom, bedroom, and desk) were smaller-scale improvements I tackled myself. Our big ticket projects involved plenty of our own labor, yes, but also a lot of contractors and a lot of dough.

This is where we started:

House Front.jpg

Our houseā€™s exterior isnā€™t necessarily the most pressing issue on our property, but itā€™s what I chose to prioritize for 2016 for three primary reasons:

#1. Itā€™s an investment in our neighborhood, which I hope will continue to grow and improve. There are several nice properties on our street, but there are also a lot of homes in need of major repair. Should any of those houses go on the market, I want potential buyers to see that there are neighbors putting money and care into their home.

#2. Tackling the landscaping early on in our home ownership will pay off in the years to come as the plants mature. We plan to stay in this house for a long time, so weā€™re playing the long game.

#3. In the short term, there were major wins that we could benefit from immediately: most notably, a new fence and patio.

Iā€™m going to break up this into several posts, because a lot has changed and I havenā€™t covered any of it on this blog yet! Iā€™ll start with what we tackled immediately after buying the house: the garage.

garage-fence-back

For reasons unknown, the previous ownerĀ blocked the garage with:

1) A chainlink fence
2) A wood fence
3) Several solid steel posts planted in the asphalt

Those arenā€™t multiple choice options: he actuallyĀ used three types of barricades. We wanted to park our car in the garageĀ ā€“ crazy, I know ā€“ so all that had to go.

We started by cutting out the overgrown alley jungle.

Garage Fence Front.jpg

ThenĀ we took out as much of the fence as we were able.

GarageFence.jpg

That left us with theĀ steel posts.Ā I bought a $30 angle grinder, psyched myself up, and went out to do battle. Coincidentally, there was a contractor 20 feet away, working on a neighboring buildingā€™s metal parking fence. He watched me work for a bit (barely making a dent inĀ the post), and then he shouted ā€œIā€™ve got something that would probably do that job better.ā€ I walked over and he threw open the back of his van, which was FULL of metal-cutting equipment. (Note: If I get abducted, itā€™ll be because a man led me to his van with the promise of tools.)

We talked about the options for a couple of minutes, and then I had a stroke of brilliance: I asked ā€œAre you free when youā€™re finished with this job?ā€ He was. I offered $50, which he happily accepted. He thought heā€™d be able to cut them out pretty quickly.

Metal Cutting.jpg

He worked on them for over an hour, returning to his van repeatedly to get progressively larger and more terrifying saws. My piddly angle grinder never stood a chance.

SawGif.GIF

Moving along:Ā the garage was full of crap left behind by the previous owners.

Garage Before 4.JPG

The only upsideĀ was that I inherited a lot of a nice scrap wood, with which and for which I built a corral in the back corner.

Wood Corral Building.jpg

Wood Corral.JPG

Before:
Garage Before 5.jpg

After:
Garage After Kayak.jpg

(Our second car is a Wavewalk kayak that my stepfather handed down. Jarrod wheels it from our garage, down the sidewalk, to the nearby river.)

Before:
Garage Before 6.jpg

After:
Garage After Tool Wall.jpg

Everything feels more organized when itā€™s up off the floor, but thereā€™s no need for for fancy garage organizers. IĀ drill holes through the handles of things, run twine through them, and hang them up.Ā Voila!

Handle Hanging String.jpg

Handle Hanging.jpg

Finally, the biggest expense wasĀ a new garage door and opener – the previous door was rotted and there was no motorized lift. We paid $1k, including installation, fromĀ Roberts Garage Door. Great reviews on Angieā€™s List, very cost-competitive, and really nice to work with.

Before:
Garage Door Before.JPG

garage-alley-before

After:garage-door-after

I mean, it’s a Chicago alley in the dead of winter, so let’s not get too excited, but it’s still a bigĀ improvement. And, you see a sneak peak of two upcoming posts: exterior painting and cedar fence installation.

Bathroom Closet Before & After

Just a quick post about improvements I made to our bathroom closet. First off: bathroom closet! I’ve never had one before, and it’s crazy nice. There’s a ton of room. But when we moved in, there was only one long shelf in there.

Bathroom Closet Shelf Before 2.JPG

It wasn’t an efficient use of the space at all.

Bathroom Closet Shelf Before

I put everything out on a towel while I was working and Doozy made himself comfortable. Cat logic: “If I fits, I sits.”

Bathroom Mess Nest

The first thing I tackled was the floor. It was splattered with paint, and had an overall gritty texture that never felt clean even when it was. The perimeter of the floor had been covered and then exposed at some point, so it looked unnecessarily shitty. Sanding it to the point of perfection would have required a belt sander. Given that it’s a closet floor, I didn’t need perfection — I just wanted it to feel clean. So, I sanded a bit, followed byĀ a quick coat of stain and poly. I also added someĀ trim using wood I had on hand, to cover up the gaps around the perimeter.

Before:

Bathroom Closet Floor Before

After:

Bathroom Closet Floor After

Before:

Bathroom Closet Floor Before 3

After:

Bathroom Closet Floor After 2

Before:

Bathroom Closet Floor Before 2

After:

Bathroom Closet Floor After 4

Next up was shelving. We had an IKEA Billy bookcase from two apartments ago that I kept in our basement at our last apartment. I thought about selling it several times, but I decided not to because I knew it might come in handy wherever we lived next. It’s a perfect fit here!

Bathroom Closet Shelves 2

Next to it I added shelves using brackets left in the house and two cheap Rubbermaid laminateĀ boardsĀ from The Home Depot. I cut them to fit using my mitre saw. They look the same, but they’re actually slightly different lengths because this closet’s angles are not at all square. When you want a perfectly tight fit, be sure to measure for each shelf, and error on the side of cutting too long – you can always shave off if needed!

Bathroom Closet Shelves

I like to useĀ paint pens for making dark screws less conspicuous.

Painters Pen

The closet had a light fixture that looked kinda cool, butĀ it was rusted and used antiquated bulbs.

Bathroom Closet Light Before

I was very excited to replace this light fixture with a $3 porcelainĀ lamp holder. This created a perfectly-placed outlet so that we now have a place to plug in our radio (AM NPR FTW) and charge toothbrushes, razors, etc.

I think these lamp holders are a great way to add outlets for low-voltage use. If you’re not comfortable with replacing a light fixture (or if you’re not allowed to as a renter), an even easier alternative is to use a screw-in socket adapter.

Bathroom Closet Charging Station

The drillĀ piece kit I mentioned in this post included attachments for cutting holes – they’re awesome. I had previously hacked through things with a cheap keyhole saw and this is so much easier.

Drill for Cutting Holes

The closet door awkwardly abutted the bathroom door, so I removed it. I plan to hang up a simple curtain instead. I used slivers of wood and spackling pasteĀ to fill in the door frame gaps where the closet door hinges used to be.

Bathroom Closet Hinge

After:

Bathroom Closet Hinge After.JPG

That’s it! Now we haveĀ a clean floor, a charging station, and plenty of room to spare.

Bathroom Closet Storage After.JPG

The basket holds cleaning supplies, which is really nice to have upstairs.

Bathroom Closet Shelves 3.JPG

Toilet necessities tucked into the back corner, and a hook rail because Jarrod always hangsĀ out his clothes the night before work like a crazy person. On Friday, he hangs out his clothes for Monday: crazy person!

Bathroom Closet After.JPG

Before:

Bathroom Closet Before

After:

Bathroom Closet After 2.JPG

I’m waiting for the closet curtain to come back from the tailor and then this bathroom will be finished – photos to come!

Bottles in Boots, Y’all

Unintended two-months-plus hiatus! Ā Sorry about that. Let’s ease back into blogging with a very quick post:

Bottles in boots, y’all.

(In my head, that’s said like James Franco in Spring Breakers, or Tami “Rayna James” Taylor.)

Combine two of your favorite things by dropping empty wine bottles into your tall boots: the circumferenceĀ keeps their shape and the weight keeps them upright.

BootBottle

Buy a variety of wine in pairs – different girths work better for different shafts. Ā (Lord knows Ā thoseĀ keywords aren’t going to help my “Very poor” child safety rating onĀ Web of TrustĀ – which, BTW, WTF?).

In conclusion: Cocobon is my favorite Trader Joe’s wine. Ā Tastes good, inexpensive, nice label and, most importantly, a not-embarrassing name – here’s looking at you, MĆ©nage Ć  Trois (and eat it, Web of Trust).

Rental Bathroom Makeover: Before, During, After

Well, now we know the drawback of real-time blogging: sometimes real-time is way too slow. I’ll save the nitty-gritty details behind the delay for another post – instead, let’s check out our newly redecorated bathroom.

Bathroom Door and Antique Rug | Project Palermo

Unfortunately the bathroom is still small and awkward – nothin’ I could do about that – so it’s impossible to get an all-inclusive pulled-back shot. Ā I’ll include a lot of photos – let me know if anything is unclear.

Antique Rug in the Bathroom | Project Palermo

New cabinet bar pulls from Home Depot and an antique rug from Humboldt House. HH actually had the rug in their shop bathroom. It’s beat-up, which I love because it’s not precious: aside from, like, setting it ablaze, there’s nothing we can do it that hasn’t already been done.

Bathroom Antique Brass Towel Hook | Project Palermo

Antique brass hook from eBay; hand towel from West Elm. I sewed on the hang loop, thus exhausting my sewing tolerance for the year.

Bathroom Vanity | Project Palermo

The soap pump top, door hooks, medicine cabinet knob and doorknob plates all got spray painted oil-rubbed bronze. The radiator cover and toilet paper holder were painted white. Ā I’ll do a follow-up post about some of this hardware.

Bathroom | Project Palermo

The one electrical outlet in the bathroom is hidden by the mirror. Ā The cords you see lead to the electric toothbrush in the medicine cabinet and my hairdryer in the basket below. I considered reworking our medicine cabinet to house the hairdryer as well, but… nope. It’s fine as-is. I don’t mind the dangling cord and if it were even one second more time-consuming to blow dry my stupid hair everyday I’d always leave the house looking like a ragamuffin.

Medicine Cabinet | Project Palermo

Aren’t Jarrod’s pills appealing? Makes me want to take one of each. Also makes me think Jarrod might have a pill problem. [Confidential to Jarrod: we need to talk.]

Extra Long Shower Curtain | Project Palermo

Aside from the paint (Benjamin Moore “Soot” color-matched by Behr), the biggest changeĀ is our new extra-long shower curtain. 98 inches. Count ’em! Ā (You can’t. Ā Just trust me.) Ā It’s so long and our bathroom is so small that it’s hard to photograph the full length.

Extra Long Shower Curtain | Project Palermo

The shower curtain is custom-made because we’reĀ fancyĀ like that. Ā Actually, it’s custom-made for lack of any acceptable option available for purchase. Ā I’ll return with details: it involves a grommet kit. Ā Spoiler alert: grommet kits are super fun. I want to put grommets in everything now.

Shower Curtain with Brass Grommets and Rod | Project Palermo

There was a lot of hemming and hawing and hand-wringing regarding this shower curtain rod. Ā Those were dark days.

Brass Shower Curtain Rod and Hanging Plants | Project Palermo

Speaking of dark: people have asked if the wall color makes the bathroom feel darker or smaller. Yes, a bit darker; no, not smaller. Ā ItĀ isĀ small, but the color and the length of the shower curtain now make it feelĀ grander, for lack of a better word. Also, those wall tiles now look lighter: virtuallyĀ white, instead of the odd-off-white color they really are. Ā I didn’t anticipate this optical illusion – it’s the best unforeseen perk of the makeover.

Rental Bathroom Vanity | Project Palermo

Long-time readers of this blog might remember that I redecorated this bathroom shortly after we moved in. Ā In fact, it was featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed and remains my busiest blog traffic day. Ā I was pretty proud of it back then but think this recent go-round makes the most of the space.

Bathroom Before
Bathroom 2011

Bathroom | Project Palermo

Check out my original bathroom makeover post for details about moving and covering the medicine cabinet.

One more round of comparison photos, for fun:

Bathroom Before

Bathroom 2011

Rental Bathroom Vanity | Project Palermo

That’s it! I’ll return with a couple of posts about bathroom plants and antique hardware.

Plant Baskets & Jewelry Storage

A reader asked about the basket that holds our bedroom plant:

Plant Basket

It’s from Jo-Ann (which I always want to spell “Joanne’s”). The baskets come in three sizes and they’re really good quality: tightly woven with metal ribbing and plastic lining. They range from $39 to $89 at full price, but who pays full price at Jo-Ann? Only fools!

Jo-Ann Plant Baskets

I’m also happy with these stacking jewelry trays from The Container Store:

Container Store Jewelry Trays

The jewelry box I’ve used for years was much bigger than I needed and it took up valuable dresser top space. I reorganized my collection while catching up on Nashville, shouting “DO IT!” at Rayna and Deacon.

Jewelry Box

And now you know where all my precious jewels are located.

Container Store Jewelry Trays