Chainlink to Cedar Fence Upgrade

The 2016 change that made the biggest impact was absolutely our new cedar fence. In only two days, it transformed the way our backyard feels: we have more privacy, better security, and a lot less alley trash blowing across our lawn.

Previously, our yard was more-or-less enclosed by a metal chainlink fence. The section you see leaning against the garage was what we removed from the alley (see my garage clean-up post).

Fence Before.JPG

I got bids from two reputable fencing contractors: they were comparable, and I chose to go with Advanced Fence because their quote was very detailed and they were remarkably responsive.

I selected a board-on-batten style (AKA “layered traditional”), where the cedar boards are slightly overlapped. This offers total privacy, even when the cedar contracts with age. The desire for privacy is why I ruled out a horizontal fence, although I prefer that modern look (see, for example, Deuce Cities Henhouse’s lovely fence). All totaled, the fence cost $5,175. That includes removal of the chainlink fence, labor, and materials. It was approximately 137 feet of fence, plus gates. If you’re thinking of doing a similar project, note that the gates do increase the cost more than simple linear fencing. This was a major check to write, and it was worth it.

fence-plan

In Chicago, as you can tell, houses are close to one another – and we have a lot that is 15′ wider than a standard Chicago lot. When you buy a house, you get a plat of survey that carefully details where your property lines are and what they include. Ours indicated that the chainlink fence on the south was on our property, but the north fence was on our neighbor’s. That meant we could build our fence right up next to the existing fence, but I suspected our neighbors would probably prefer to have it removed and enjoy the cedar fence instead.

I wrote a letter to both neighbors, informing them of our plans and the work dates, and Jarrod dropped them off along with a bottle of wine. The new fence was well-received by both families, and our northern neighbors pitched in $130 to have the chainlink fence removed from their property.

Fence installation day was really fun to watch – it was so nice having professionals handle everything with zero work on my part! They quickly removed the chainlink fence and got to work on setting the posts in concrete. They hauled the dirt to the north side of the house and spread it evenly along our foundation.

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The entire fence was constructed onsite (some fencing companies bring in pre-made sections).

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I chose to install large swinging gates in the back, so that we can open the fence for extra short-term parking and for ease of access when we do major house renovations down the road.

Before (looking south):FenceBefore2.jpg

After:
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There are three other gates as well: one on either side of the house, and one next to the garage, which we use to exit the yard on bike or on foot.

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After:
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Before (looking north):
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After:
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And there you get a sneak peak of the next things we tackled: that deck is no more, and those dying bushes got upgraded.

2016: The Year of the Exterior

This past year, most of our money was poured (and painted and planted) into our home’s yard and exterior. The other projects you’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 house’s exterior isn’t necessarily the most pressing issue on our property, but it’s what I chose to prioritize for 2016 for three primary reasons:

#1. It’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 we’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.

I’m going to break up this into several posts, because a lot has changed and I haven’t covered any of it on this blog yet! I’ll start with what we tackled immediately after buying the house: the garage.

garage-fence-back

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

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

Those aren’t multiple choice options: he actually used three types of barricades. We wanted to park our car in the garage – crazy, I know – so all that had to go.

We started by cutting out the overgrown alley jungle.

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

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That left us with the steel posts. 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 building’s metal parking fence. He watched me work for a bit (barely making a dent in the post), and then he shouted “I’ve got something that would probably do that job better.” I walked over and he threw open the back of his van, which was FULL of metal-cutting equipment. (Note: If I get abducted, it’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 “Are you free when you’re finished with this job?” He was. I offered $50, which he happily accepted. He thought he’d be able to cut them out pretty quickly.

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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.

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

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

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Before:
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After:
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(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:
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After:
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Everything feels more organized when it’s up off the floor, but there’s no need for for fancy garage organizers. I drill holes through the handles of things, run twine through them, and hang them up. Voila!

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Handle Hanging.jpg

Finally, the biggest expense was a new garage door and opener – the previous door was rotted and there was no motorized lift. We paid $1k, including installation, from Roberts Garage Door. Great reviews on Angie’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 big improvement. And, you see a sneak peak of two upcoming posts: exterior painting and cedar fence installation.

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!

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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.

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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!

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

Bedroom Makeover: Before and After

We’ve lived in our house for a little over one year now, and our bedroom has come a long way. There was certainly nowhere to go but up! The only good thing about this bedroom’s original purple paint is that it makes the after photos look so much better.

Let’s start in the landing, which you can also see in my bathroom makeover post.

Before:Bedroom Landing Before.JPG

After:Bedroom Landing.jpg

I’m still loving those new black hinges, and the rest of the bedroom is looking pretty good these days, too.

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That sign taped on the sloped wall was for our painter: it says “Paint angled walls Irish Mist.” The ceiling is a flat off-the-shelf white, and the walls (including the slanted sections) are Irish Mist from Behr. The room looks much less choppy and steep without the stark contrast of purple vs. white.

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This room is hard to photograph because the window is so huge – which is one of those good problems, as far as I’m concerned (e.g. “my gold bricks are too heavy”). These were our curtains for a couple of months:

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Which was still somehow better than what was there before:

BedroomBefore.jpg

I hung IKEA curtains. It’s a double-rod, and there are actually eight curtains up there: it’s such a wide window that it required two panels per side. So, four white curtains in front, and four blackout liners in back. (If anyone’s interested, I can do a more detailed post with specifics.) We’re still using the same furniture and lamps from our previous apartment bedroom, with two changes: the rug and the bed.

Bedroom Window.jpg

The rug is a wool kilim I found on eBay for only $88 from www.ecarpetgallery.com. I think the color it adds saves the room from looking too sterile. It is very thin, so a nice rug pad was a necessity. I like dual surface rugs pads: the scratchy felted side grabs the rug, and the latex side grips the floor.

Our platform bed is the P-Series Basic Bed from Night & Day Furniture. It’s nothing fancy: solid wood, sturdy, and cheap. We bought it for around $300 nearly 10 years ago from Right-On Futon in Chicago; I’ve also seen them online on Amazon and Wayfair. I used it previously with my DIY upholstered headboard, but a wall-mounted headboard wasn’t an option here because our bed is in front of a window.

I decided to add a simple, low-profile headboard to our existing platform bed instead of buying an entirely new bed. Thankfully, this furniture company still makes this line, so I was able to buy a headboard that fits the frame perfectly. I went with white, and painted the bed to match.

Bed Painting.jpg

I lightly sanded the original finish, primed with oil-based primer, and then rolled oil-based white paint with a foam roller for a smooth finish.

White Bed.jpg

In the end, you don’t see all that much of it, which is what I wanted:

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The IKEA RAST nightstands that I stained and painted for our apartment are holding up great. Jarrod’s side of the bed features a Chicago hawk illustration by Diana Sudyka, commissioned by WBEZ for a web feature. When he’s not out birding (like he was when I took these photos), his binoculars hang on the peg rack.

Bedroom Nightstand.jpg

My side of the bed includes a vintage dresser, plants, and a photograph of my mom and my aunt taken in the 1960s. I picked up the perforated metal tray at H&M last week. They have some really nice home items these days and, if you’re in Chicago, the newly-redesigned Michigan Avenue store is much less of a hellhole.

Bedroom Dresser and Plants.jpg

Bedroom Dresser.jpg

The closet area is pretty much the same – the mirrored doors don’t look as bad now that the purple is gone, but I’ll probably replace them at some point.

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After:Bedroom Doors.jpg

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After:Bedroom IKEA Dresser.jpg

This clearly isn’t a fully finished room! Those IKEA storage bins aren’t part of my forever plan, and someday I’ll get around to unpacking that box.

My long-term plan includes:

  • Remove the light kit from the fan. The fan is fine as-is: it’s inoffensive, and it’s quiet, but I do not need an additional three overhead lights on top of the four recessed lights. No one wants seven overhead lights in a bedroom! Removing the lights will make the fan even more inconspicuous.
  • New/vintage nightstands
  • New/vintage dresser to replace the IKEA bins, and/or reconfiguring the closets to maximize storage space
  • Upgrade to a king bed. Eventually, this white queen bed will move to the guest room (which currently has a full size bed), and we’ll ascend to a kingdom.
  • Unpack that box

There’s no urgency for any of those things, however. Especially that box. If I haven’t needed anything from it in a year, maybe I should just bring it to Goodwill and let them unpack it…

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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It looks something like this:

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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.