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May 30, 2019 1:06 pm

DIY Fluorescent Light to Flush-Mount

When we bought our house in 2015, the hallway lighting situation was grim: an old, painted-over inset fluorescent light was the only light source. It took several seconds to come to full brightness once it was turned on, and it looked very dated. I wanted a regular flush-mount light in its place.

The before.

I had been complaining about several house-related projects I wanted to start but didn’t know how to do, and Daniel told me to just pick something and go with it, so I did! I started by researching how to replace a fluorescent light with a standard flush-mount one, and then I took the step of ordering a new light fixture.

To start the demo, we turned off the power at the breaker, and then ran a box cutter around the frame of the light to cut the old layers of paint free. Once that was complete, the edging came off and we were able to remove the diffuser and the fluorescent tubes as well. Then we pulled out the entire metal housing box and were left with… a giant ceiling hole.


We took a break for about a week to allow product orders to arrive and to formulate a plan. I did a lot of Googling and asking my dad and assuming we’d figure things out.

As the gallery above indicates, we installed the electrical box, cut out a circular hole for it in the drywall patch, installed the wood supports, dry-fitted the drywall patch, screwed in the patch, and then used drywall tape and joint compound to patch the ceiling. Whew!

I let the joint compound dry overnight, and then after work the next day I sanded all the worst lumps and ridges out. I didn’t think to buy any ceiling-specific paint beforehand so I raided our shed to see what the previous owners had left behind. There was a partial gallon of old flat white interior paint that was weirdly thick/grainy and kind of separated but you know what? It was a holiday and the paint store was closed so I just went with it.

Patched ceiling!

It’s not perfect and I will need to actually paint it with good ceiling paint at some point in the future, but several rooms in our house could do with some ceiling paint as well, so eventually I’ll get the good stuff and commit to doing several rooms. I was not going to do that for this project.

My haphazard 1.5 coats of paint dried quickly, and then it was time to install our flush-mount light! I got the Geometric Diamond Ceiling Light from Shades of Light designed by Young House Love, and an LED Edison bulb to go in it. The bulb is a little yellowy for my taste but it’ll do for now!

We did it!

I am so pleased. I’ve been thinking about doing this since we bought the house, but had assumed we didn’t know enough to do it. Turns out that flying by the seat of your pants can sometimes work!

It’s so nice to have a regular light! It feels like such a simple upgrade but I think things like this make a house feel a lot less dated – there’s no way someone would choose that fluorescent light for this hallway if it was a new build, and this way if we ever want to change out the light in the future (or if we ever sell and new owners want to!) it’ll be a piece of cake and won’t involve a two-foot wide ceiling hole.

I keep walking by to admire it!

Matte black everythinnnnng!
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April 30, 2019 9:21 am

Hallway Closet Update

As part of my ongoing “small-improvements-can-have-big-impacts” updates to the house, I made a few changes to our hallway closet that have really improved its functionality.

The refresh actually began when I discovered that a mouse had been having a grand old time in the closet eating all the kids’ leftover halloween candy. It had left… evidence. In addition to setting out mousetraps around the house, I pulled everything out of the closet — all our bins, sheets, towels, and rags — and commenced washing it all and reassessing what really needed to be in there.

(The mouse was dispatched and we took some measures to help ensure it doesn’t happen again.)

I was able to get rid of some old blackout curtains we hadn’t use since we moved out of our old apartment, and I moved our sheets from the hallway into the specific bedrooms to which they belong. This made a big difference in the number of things I actually needed to fit in the closet.

I ordered a bunch of glossy white IKEA bins to replace the mismatched dollar store bins I’d had in there previously. I also committed to “folding” our towels in little jelly rolls versus flat-folding, which made it easier to choose a single towel without upending the whole stack.

Glossy white IKEA bins
Gotta work on not overstuffing the bins but it’s all a work in progress!

The crowning achievement was purchasing a battery-powered motion-sensor light for the ceiling. There isn’t a hardwired light source in the closet, so previously you were at the mercy of the ambient light in the house or the horrible fluorescent hallway light that doesn’t do a great job illuminating the contents of the closet. The motion-sensor light automatically turns on when you open the door, stays on for a length of time, then shuts itself off once the door is closed and it doesn’t sense any more movement. It has been a GAME-CHANGER. I marvel every time I open the closet and can actually see what’s in there.

Overstuffed IKEA bins and a motion sensor light!

In the future, I would like to drywall the closet (the back “wall” pictured in orange/brown above is the back of the fiberglass shower enclosure) and build actual shelves in there so we can stop using the wire shelving rack and have a more solid, built-in solution. For now, though, this is working much better than what we had before!

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April 29, 2019 1:29 pm

Matte Black Doorknobs

One of the very first things we updated in our house after we bought it were the outlets and switches, taking them from the original dirty-looking almond to bright white. I think my dad thought I was bananas to focus on those right away, but it made such a huge difference in how fresh and modern the house looked.

Similarly, our house came with low-quality, bright brass doorknobs and I’ve been dying to switch them out for matte black knobs for years. After we got our tax return this year, I finally decided to go through with it.

I settled on the Schlage Bowery in Matte Black. We only have seven interior doorknobs total, so while this could be a pricey project for a larger house with more rooms, our grand total (with tax) was $173.

The knobs arrived while I was at work, and rather than let them sit on the porch all day, I took my lunch break and rushed home to put them inside. I decided to open one of boxes just to make sure they were what I ordered. Once the box was open, it looked so pretty that I decided I would install just one of them to see how it looked. After installing the hallway closet knob, I got so overwhelmed with joy that I had a very difficult time going back to work to finish out my workday. All I could think about were my beautiful new doorknobs!

I had to wait until the following afternoon to install the rest of them, and it was 100% worth it. I am over the moon about them. They have lived up to all of my matte black doorknob dreams!

Here’s a before and after:

I was a little worried that this would end up like many of the other home “improvement” projects I start, were the end result is actually worse than what I started with (see also: pink bathroom vanity I’m currently in the process of un-doing), but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. The keyed knobs are easy to unlock and they feel so much sturdier than the brass knobs. I love them!

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July 16, 2015 1:06 pm

DIY Whitewashed Floors

When we bought our house, the living room floor was painted this weird dark yellowy-green color. It wasn’t the worst, but it also wasn’t my taste and really, half the fun of owning your home is getting to update it to something you like.





Thus, we embarked on a DIY floor refinishing project despite being complete novices at anything resembling home improvement. My ultimate goal was very light, semi-uniform-looking floorboards. It feels almost indescribably sinful to paint hardwoods, but our floors are fir (so not very hard) and have plug repairs, a largeish burn mark, and tons of puttied knots, nail holes, and other blemishes. In short, they’re not perfect. Plus, many of them are reddish, so whitewashing them seemed like a good solution in terms of unifying the color and lightening them up a bit while still being able to see the grain.

Step one: Removing Paint

We began by stripping the existing paint off the floors. This was extremely time-consuming, since the paint stripper had to sit on the floor for a minimum of four hours and it took about two to three hours to scrape a 2×4′ patch. The room is roughly 11×13′ plus a landing strip in front of the stairs that’s about 2×5′, so yeah, it took forever.

We used approximately four gallons of Back to Nature READYSTRIP paint stripper, and ended up spending roughly $140 total on it.

Step Two: Sanding

My dad suggested using a drum sander so this step would go quicker. (Mainly, I think he wanted an excuse to rent a drum sander.) He went ahead and rented one and we did a pass with 60 grit to see how well it worked, but ended up going with 40 grit to get all the paint up. This was followed by 60 and then 100 grit to finish off.

To get the edges, we used both a belt sander and an orbital sander. I think we ended up taking off probably 1/8″ of the boards total with all the sanding.

This is post-drum sander but pre-belt sander:


Step Three: Whitewashing

I was sort of flying blind here. We followed this blog post as a guideline, but like, what finish do you buy for the paint? Should I get any generic white or should I color match it to something? How fancy of paint do I get considering we will be watering it down anyway?

In the end, I went to Home Depot and got a gallon of Glidden paint in eggshell, color-matched to Simply White by Benjamin Moore, since that’s the color of our trim. It cost $17. I asked the nice man at the Home Depot paint counter to give me whatever was the cheapest. I hazarded a guess at the eggshell finish. Who knows. I doubt it matters terribly much!

I used a quart jar for measuring and mixed one part paint to four parts water. It looked really white when I painted it on, but since it’s mostly water it actually dried pretty clear-ish. I spent MANY hours doing the first coat and was pretty happy with how it evened out the reddish tone of the wood, but it was also pretty subtle.


It looks a little different than the previous photo but you kind of have to think about it. After all that work, I decided I wanted it to look like we had done something to it, so I figured I should go whole hog and make it look whitewashed, not just “slightly lightened but still basically the same.” I embarked on a second and then a third coat once I realized how subtle a second coat still was.

Here’s the difference between three coats (left) and one coat (right):


Each individual coat didn’t look that different from the previous one, like it was hard to tell one from two and two from three, but the difference between one and three was pretty pronounced. That made me feel a lot better about deciding to add more coats!

How did it end up?



Look at that! It looks so gooooood! It’s like all of my Pinterest dreams come true! It looks all light and Nordic! Even though it was a ton of work, I am so glad I went with three coats of whitewash.

Step Four: Finishing

It was hard to determine how to finish the floor. All the blog posts I found either used a product not available in my country, or they mentioned specifically choosing non-yellowing polyurethane and then DIDN’T SAY WHAT THEY GOT. I was afraid of polyurethane because what if I picked a yellowy one and ruined my whitewashed floors? And you can’t walk on a freshly finished floor for X amount of hours which is NOT POSSIBLE for us given the layout of our house.

In the end, we went with Trewax clear paste wax which is a carnauba-based wax that specifically mentioned being used on floors. Reviews on Amazon said it was hard wearing and durable, even with kids and pets.

I don’t know anything about waxing floors but I went for it anyway. I started with actual cheesecloth but that ripped too easily, so I switched to a rag that was basically a white Hanes t-shirt. I put a golf-ball-sized lump of wax in the center, wrapped it up, and rubbed it on the floor. After about 5-10 minutes, I used a clean rag to buff the excess wax off. Repeat x10000000 boards. (Somebody who actually knows how to refinish floors is probably clutching her heart and cursing my name right now, but hey, we all gotta start somewhere.)

I liked the finish – it smoothed the boards out a bit and it doesn’t really look any different. Marginally shinier.

Step Five: Rejoicing



We can finally start using the living room like a living room instead of it being this empty hole that sucks all our free time. My dad is going to help us put up our new trim soon so I expect this room to look super nice afterward.

And now for some dramatic before-and-afters:



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July 11, 2015 8:14 pm

We got the house!

After some back and forth where I felt like we made a lot of concessions and the seller made very few, we closed on our house June 15th!

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of painting, babyproofing, and DIY floor refinishing, a topic on which I have a nice big post prepared. I’m hoping to document a lot of our changes to this house, because they’re relatively small in the grand scheme of things but I think they improve the look and feel immensely.

Hurray! We’re homeowners!


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May 19, 2015 12:36 pm

Adventures in homebuying

Renting is kind of insane in my hometown – it’s often cheaper to purchase a home than it is to rent one. We got preapproved for a loan recently and while our monthly payments would be higher than what we’re paying right now, they’re several hundred dollars cheaper than it’d be to rent a house. After salivating over houses online for the past eleventy years, we finally started going out and viewing some potential homes.

We’ve looked at a few duds so far. One was cute and had a nice kitchen, but it felt small and kind of dark and was in a weird location. Another was super small – a one-bedroom with something they called an “office or non-conforming bedroom” that was basically a glorified closet and MIGHT have fit a twin bed inside but nothing else, and every room felt like it was desperately trying to be a different kind of room. The living room felt like the master bedroom, the master felt like a utility room that would have housed a water heater, etc. It did, however, have a gorgeous giant cast-iron sink with double dish drainboards. I wanted to take it home with me.

Then we happened upon what I’ll call the Park house. Park house was listed at the top end of our (very modest) budget, but was across the street from a popular park and had a big, pretty, landscaped yard. I’ll begin by saying the yard was truly the best part of the house. It needed a lot of cosmetic updates inside, and while it did have a new gas stove and some newer laminate flooring, it had a LOT of structural issues. The bathroom floor was squishy and the tub surround was in pieces and held in with aluminum foil. It needed a new roof. It needed new siding.

The upstairs was half finished bedroom and half unfinished attic, but the floor was INSANELY BOUNCY and made me run screaming from the room when my dad jumped on it to test it. You could feel the whole house shake! The stairs weren’t up to code and had a really short run, so your whole foot wasn’t able to fit on the stair and you felt like you were tripping the whole way up. It didn’t have any closets anywhere in the whole house.

It also had that old tile in one of the bedrooms that had vermiculite (asbestos!) adhesive underneath, and the siding was all asbestos as well. POISON HOUSE!

On the bright side, it had a nice flow from the living room to the dining room to the covered deck and then the big backyard.

I made pro/con lists and everything on my pro list were things like “I like the doorknobs” and everything on the con list was like “NEEDS NEW ROOF IMMEDIATELY.”

We temporarily lost our minds did make an offer on it, but they countered with more than we felt the house was worth, so we walked away. Whew! Park house was in a nice location but oh my god, literally everything else was wrong with it.

A few weeks later, I stumbled across what I’ll call the Reach house. It was listed for roughly $20K more than our budget allowed, but it was an older house that looked like it might have needed some updates, so I requested to see it just for comparison purposes. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it did have a massive fenced backyard.

We went to go see it. Reach house reminded me of many Portland rentals – structurally sound but old and lots of painted wood. It had a mudroom (where we could store our stroller and bike trailer instead of them taking up space in my living room), and a cute entryway and hardwood floors and a normal staircase.

It had a long-lasting metal roof, the siding was fine, and none of the floors were squishy or bouncy. The yard had some raised-bed gardens chock full of healthy looking strawberry plants. It had a washer, dryer, and dishwasher! And a broom closet! A dutch door to the kitchen! A shop for storage!

There are several things I’m kind of iffy about still – it has a shower enclosure but no tub, which will suck for bathing a baby. It has baseboard heating, which is expensive, AND it only has two baseboards to heat the entire house. I predict we will freeze to death in the winter unless we install a gas fireplace or something right away. The kitchen is made for tall people – I can only reach one cabinet easily, so I guess that’ll be the dishes cabinet and to hell with the rest. The downstairs bedroom has a big sliding door to nowhere.


Our realtor let us know that the seller was about to drop the price on it, which then made it within the realm of possibility. We offered an amount squarely within our budget, and the seller countered with a price a little above it. My parents offered to help cover the difference (which is SUPER NICE OF THEM! Thanks Mom and Dad!) and we accepted.


We just had the inspection done and there are a few things we should fix (like one of the support beams under the house is just… lying on the ground) but overall it seems pretty solid. I doubt we’d find a better option in our price range if we kept looking – especially not a three-bedroom house in the neighborhood we’d like.

If we do get it, I plan on blogging some of the updates we plan on making because we’ll be doing a lot of the work ourselves. (Well, with my dad and uncle since they actually know what they’re doing.) I’m excited to learn how paint rooms and patch drywall and I want to get a fancy power saw and re-do a lot of the super-basic molding and baseboards. This little house has so much potential and I think it’s a great option for us.

This is all very new and exciting. We have our fingers crossed that it works out!