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Made + Remade + More

June 30, 2015   //  Posted in: Living Room   //  By: Emily   //  one response
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I really feel like I’ve kicked the year off in a good way, and somehow it’s half over! For months now, I have been researching the costs for bigger impending projects (bathroom, kitchen, new patio), working my butt off to save for said projects, and continuing to take on wonderful and fun collaborations that excite and challenge. I’m in the middle of some greatness for DIY Network, even finalizing my to-do list that will take me through the end of the year, but I’ve gotten a LOT done over the last few months, and I’m overdue at recapping it for you guys:

As I mentioned a few months ago, the launch of the new DIYNetwork.com brought upon other opportunities, one of which being the chance to provide content for the main website in addition to its blog. I showed you how I built a PVC bean trellis; I just love that thing, and now those plants are now as tall as I am!

Other DIYNetwork.com projects that have been keeping me on my toes: 

How to make an herb planter out of an old log (a fan favorite, if you were surveying my family)

How I used an old dry log to make a patio herb garden.

How to clean screens, and how to replace torn screens in your doors and windows.

How to wax a wooden table that is going to sit outside in the weather. The plan is to keep one of our wedding tables outdoors for summertime dining.

Serious window prep. My mom is almost constantly in a state of scraping and painting the exterior of my childhood home, working in circles around it as different walls need to be re-painted, and different windows need trim work. We have vinyl siding which requires substantially less maintenance (just pressure washing, really), but I’ve been channeling her motivation as I work to prep the windows on the back of our home for much due maintenance. Painting is next on my list!

DIY Pinwheels that will last through wind and rain, and how to decorate a shelving unit using tissue paper (more fan favorites, children’s category)

Decorating a plain shelf with colorful tissue paper.

And all of the Made + Remade reads written by me… to get you through your day:

Building A Simple Flagstone Firepit

June 19, 2015   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Free (For All)   //  By: Emily   //  one response
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A few years ago, we found buried blue flagstones in our yard. We have to believe that they were supplies leftover from its original build in the early 1950’s – the coloring of the stones is typical for flagstone in NY, the size of the stones matches the front of our home and planter in the living room, and most notably, why else would they have been dumped in the yard? Anyways, we were pleased to uncover them, clean them up, and then promptly let them sit leaning up against a tree in the yard while we decided what we should use them for. We have continued to find more since that initial haul, too. Flagstones in the pachysandra – weird. More buried near the barn – hmm. We need a good treasure map, our yard is like our own little quarry.

Stones like this wouldn’t lay well as a small patio (getting lightweight stones to lay level and stay grounded takes a lot of underlaying prep work, and probably lots of mortar) and we also didn’t have enough of them to do anything quite so substantial, but I know from previous experience that dry stacked flagstones make for a pretty wall, and hold up well to weather too (never had that soil runoff problem I anticipated).

We have all kinds of outdoor projects on our list these days – retaining walls to brush cleanup to giant patios to swings – but what I really wanted was an insta-fire pit to satisfy our summer cravings and make our temporary “is this where we want the fire pit?” location officially “yes, this is where we want the fire pit.” Though really, I guess this new fire pit isn’t really that permanent because what you’ll be seeing here are loosely stacked stones on dirt around a measured-to-code burn area – no dig, no cement, no grout, no adhesive. Its low-permanence paints it as something that a renter should totally bookmark for future inspiration, but as of now, as permanent as we are in this dwelling, this shall be our fire pit.

Stacking a loose flagstone fire pit.

I’m not sure you’d remember this, but right on this exact spot back when we moved in two years ago, Pete gave his machete a serious workout while he destructed this here weed-bush:

The merry matrimony vine, the biggest obscure plant in our backyard.

The base of the weed was such that we actually hired a stump removal dude to come and butcher it out for us. And then, as many people would argue is the only way to fully eliminate the chance of an invasive species resurging, we started a small fire on top of it to help obliterate any remaining essence of that giant weed. That little fire turned into a spot that we eventually surrounded with giant logs, and that was how we decided that space would be great as a small campfire space. The logs are actually a perfectly good solution for a campfire, until they dry out that is, and then they’re just added kindling. These logs had spent the winter under snow, and then completely dried out in the first few weeks of springtime, and by the time we decided to roast s’mores some evening, they were adequate kindling and had to be extinguished at the end of the night lest they completely smolder down to ash.

Fire pit with big log surround, and Pete.

Being that the stones for the project were completely irregular in depth and varied in length, I knew would make the whole process somewhat of a challenge, but it turned out pretty well. And it only took about 30 minutes to make it happen.

I started by removing the big logs and measuring out the 36″ square for the new fire pit. I tried hard to get this base layer both perfectly square and level so there was a solid surface to build upon. This involved insetting some of the stones into the dirt, but again, there was no mortar, no adhesive, just laid in our sandy-soiled Mother Earth.

Leveling the base layer of flagstone for our new fire pit.

It became apparent by layer two or three that keeping the stone level as I rose upwards was completely impossible, but I continued to build with small goals of pairing similar width stones along each edge to keep each wall layer level, layering each stone in a running bond pattern for stability, and doing my best to have each corner overlap to lock the four walls together (i.e. no wall would just flip flop over if we had our feet perched on it).

Working with stones of an uneven thickness left the walls varied different heights and not meeting up perfectly. In photos like this, it’s pretty obvious – and if I had added more stones to the other sides, this “tall” side would suddenly be dwarfed. It’s a backyard fire pit, you know? It’s perfect.

Build a loose stone flagstone fire pit.

From above, you can barely tell that it’s not consistent all of the way around… an illusion of sorts.

Ready for summer and a season of backyard campfires? Us too.

Spring campfire in the backyard in a flagstone fire pit.

It Sold: My Final Thoughts on Renting and Selling

June 11, 2015   //  Posted in: Buying and Renting and Selling   //  By: Emily   //  6 responses
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The house sold in a week.

The rental house sold!

A fast sale was the best case scenario for my situation, and to say I’m relieved is an understatement. I wanted to write this post for my own memory of this process, and to provide some closure for all of you who followed me through the gradual makeover, and the transition to renting it – that house is a huge part of this blog.

Here’s how it went down:

  • I’ve been quiet regarding the sales process because it seemed weird to talk about something so significant that was entirely in limbo. Plus, the house was empty and the threat of break-ins or vandalism was completely realistic, and not to say any of you would be enemies, but why would I remind people of it across all of the internets? Vulnerability!
  • Immediately after my tenants moved out the last week of April, I spent a long weekend doing basic maintenance, cleaning, and quasi-staging the home for showings that were scheduled immediately when it hit the market. Getting back into the house without tenants being there was an exciting step – and nerve-wracking, and anxiety-inducing. It’s hard to go back to your old house when you don’t live there anymore; it felt like I didn’t belong there, and it was hard to recall a time that I felt comfortable hanging out in those rooms. I spent those days wanting to get done what I needed to do, and get back home to my family.
  • You know what’s annoying? Fake staging. I dragged my feet the whole time as my realtor suggested adding more area rugs and chairs into that otherwise empty home. You can’t argue that a home doesn’t look anywhere as good empty as it does full of belongings, but short of renting a moving truck and bringing everything I owned back, it was bound to look sparse. An empty home allows every irregularity to be more eye-catching than you’d realize. All of the off-putting features are less disguised. But the magic in hanging one framed picture on a random hook and tossing down a 4×6 rug? That magic’s real. The reflection on the glass from the frame completely changed how my eyes moved through the room, created some subtle appeal. When it came down to it, I didn’t move in a lot for staging, but a few pieces of art and assorted vases with flowers on the shelves were enough to make an impact. If I felt as though it were having trouble getting offers, I would have hired a staging company for ~$500. It still wouldn’t have looked “like home.”
  • I had tenants for 22 months. I’m thankful I had a generally positive experience, but I never want to be a landlord again. You can read more about the experience, but now I can add more to the list: Nothing could be done to mask the smell of cat left behind, and the small fortune spent on air fresheners made the house smell like a concentrated Bath & Body Works (which was far more appalling than it was pleasant). Is that water damage? No, couldn’t be, they would have mentioned it. How does caulk get so dirty? Why does that neighbor’s cat think it can keep going into my house? Why is the garage door propped open? Is that… hay? Come on, is that… a nest? Do raccoons have nests? What other animal would have poops that big? How did they get purple scratches on every single doorway in the home? How did they break the metal mortise? Why did they take ALL OF THE PARTICLEBOARD SHELVES FROM THE KITCHEN CABINETS AND RELOCATE THEM TO THE WET RAFTERS IN THE GARAGE? Is it because the cats were going to get hurt? CATS. So, lots of questions, lots of touch-ups and trim painting, lots of floor cleaning, more spending. You get my drift.
  • The weeds in the yard had completely taken over as soon as the snow melted in April. The sloppiness of the yard was disappointing, but I didn’t have the time or money to put into making it the prettiest on the block. I crossed my fingers that people would understand and focus their attention to the pretty flagstone patio and deck.
  • The realtor had the house on the market in the first few days of May. There were several showings each day during that week, it was a huge relief to know off the bat that the feedback was good. “They liked it, people actually liked it!” There were no bites during the private showings, but after the one and only open house (on Mother’s Day) I received 3 offers. I wouldn’t call it a bidding war, but all three offers were amazing and respectable and for that I was thankful because… options. All had different contingencies from bank terms to specific maintenance requests, which made it really easy to select a winner. If you’re curious, I didn’t choose the high offer and I didn’t counter and there were literally no negotiations involved. I chose the offer that was most likely “a sure thing” and a really quick o-u-t and leapt on it. We all know that it can easily take months to get the offer you want when you’re selling, and then additional months of inspections and repairs and negotiations before you can close, so I’m relieved to have been able to close as soon as the lawyers could make it happen (4 weeks – I’m told it can be done faster when it’s not peak season). More relief was centered around the fact that I wouldn’t be fronting a second mortgage for an extended period of time. As luck would have it, I was able to close before the June mortgage payment was owed, and managed to only have a one-month lapse between renters covering my mortgage, and the closing.
  • I haven’t crunched numbers yet (and I might not, who has time to find all of those receipts), but I think I did pretty well in getting back what I invested in the house – siding, deck, patio, driveway, kitchen countertop, bathroom updates, and glass block windows were the $$ upgrades I made over the years.

Other ramblings:

  • One of my neighbors passed away suddenly in March. I didn’t actually learn about it until late May, because I had been absent and slinking in and out to avoid questioning. She was the one who filled me in on all of the goings-on, kept us informed of parties and how many cats were in the sunroom and who was loitering and who got home late. When I decided to sell, I avoided telling her. She was the one I thought would be most disappointed, and I thought a lot about how I thought she would respond to the sale sign without even knowing she had already passed. Who knows, maybe she had plenty of gossipy things to say about us too with our loud power tools and second marriages and scooters and taste in design, but I know she loved her young grandchildren and adored our girls and lately had been specifically asking when I would be bringing Hattie by so she could see how much she’s grown. Hattie was always at daycare during my fall and winter maintenance trips, so they probably didn’t meet more than once or twice and I’m a little sad about that. I don’t think she knew about the blog, but she witnessed all of the big home projects take place and knew how passionate I was about it.
  • I trimmed a bouquet of my favorite flowers over the weekend – peonies. Also yanked 3 chunks with roots out of the ground last weekend; planted them in our own backyard near the treehouse. If we can shelter them from the deer, maybe in another 5 years they’ll be as tall as my waist. The peonies at that house were ragged transplants from my mom in ~2010 and they are phenomenal.
  • We took like 8 million photos of ourselves in and around the house. Recreated some of our favorite photos. Captured our favorite features. Tried not to dwell too much on the fact that the house is nothing like when we live there – nothing but loud, echo-y, cold. Tried to embrace closure.

Recreating our birth announcement. 2013 vs. 2015.

The photos that Pete and I took while building the deck are some of my favorites too:

Building the deck vs. moving out. 2010 vs. 2015.

  • The grout in those damn kitchen tiles was all crumbly again in high-traffic areas. The bathroom grout though, still well in-tact. Just a comment if you’re looking to do groutable vinyl tiles in your own home – it is not my favorite.
  • I miss that flagstone patio. Pete and I are heading to a quarry tomorrow to scope out some new product for our now-house, and I’m pretty excited to make something happen.
  • I know I’ve said it before, but I was working with a realtor for all of this because I didn’t feel qualified to try and pull off a DIY home sale, nor do I feel like I had the time to commit to learning the process (as in, free time in my day, and the flexibility to let it sit on the market until I caught the fish myself). When I weighed the pros and cons of it, I knew that the realty commission only equalled a few months of mortgage payments, so I’m here to remind you that all of the perks of those “sell your home yourself” techniques are completely circumstantial. Had it taken me three more months to sell, it would have been more mortgage payments out of pocket and only a similar return from avoiding fees, a wash. The marketing by the realtors worked, and I really enjoyed offloading the work to the pros.
  • I know who bought the house. Well, not personally, but I know who it is. Funny thing is, for all of the work we put in to having beautiful photos in the online listing, I’m fairly sure that the buyers just randomly saw the sign in the yard and acted on that. I hope they have some great memories there.