Friday, July 19, 2013

Week One of Cottage Kitchen Renovation

Week One of Cottage Kitchen Renovation

Dare I Say, "I Want My Old Kitchen Back"?


Ok, ok. Before you go thinking I'm being ungrateful for my ongoing renovation (because really, I am immensely grateful), let me just preface this by saying I just cleaned a smashed, whole kiwi from a jute rug. How it got there, I do not know, but clearly someone stepped on it... and neglected to mention it to me... so I stepped on it, too. So now, having picked smashed kiwi off the rug and cleaned it off of my foot, I can finally write my post... but I'm not in the cheeriest of moods, to say the least.

I guess I wasn't mentally prepared for living through a renovation. I mean, I knew we'd have to shift some things around, etc., but I didn't realize how much it would affect our day-to-day routine. For instance, we are eating on the front porch. We are storing our food in the family room. We are using an absurd amount of paper products, and our trash is more full than it's been in years. We have no countertops on which to put food or tableware. We didn't have a sink for a while, but then my husband hooked up a utility sink, which has been a big help, but it's still not "smooth sailing" by any means. Maybe I was just basking in the success of getting our kitchen removed for free... or maybe I was just being ignorant. Whatever the reason, I wasn't prepared.


But here we are, approaching the end of Week #1 of our kitchen renovation, and I thought I'd give some updates on what we've accomplished (although it doesn't seem like a lot at first glance, my husband has been gotten an unbelievable amount of work done considering he's also working full time).

What We've Accomplished in One Week of DIY Kitchen Renovation 

  • Dealing with Ikea Issues: Well, we were missing two major pieces in our Ikea delivery: the dishwasher and the sink! So we had to drive back to the store, load them into our car, and lug them into the house (ok, I won't pretend to take credit for all that). Then later in the week we realized we had too many cabinets for the space (at least to use it comfortably), so I had to go back to the store and return all the pieces for that.
  • Removal of 2/3 of the Old Slate Floors: Want a good arm workout? Use a crowbar to smash up some slate tiles. Then carry them outside.
  • Installation of 2/3 of the New Bamboo Floors: With a floating, "quick-click" system, this is an easy install. But the Laminate Installation Kit is definitely recommended (even though we had hardwood, the "clicking" process is the same. Ben put in some similar floors a few years ago and didn't have it. He said the process with the kit was dramatically better.
  • Putting Together All the Ikea Cabinets: Ever put together a piece of Ikea furniture? Not quite as simple as it seems. Multiply that by 7, and you can imagine my husband's mood during that process.
  • Leveling the Cabinets: This is a bit of a painstaking process, but totally necessary to ensure the counters don't crack later on.
  • Converting the New Stove from Natural Gas to Propane: I'm not going to pretend I really understood this process, but I did run out to Home Depot to pick up an adapter and some tubing. I'll try to do a more detailed post on this one, but I'll need Ben's help.
  • Cutting One Section of Counter Top: Actually, this wasn't part of our DIY plan for this week. We were supposed to have a contractor come and install our counters, but he flaked out on us.  But my husband promised to take care of it after a few days of contractor-no-shows, and he did a great job cutting piece #1. And he let me use the extra chunk for my stain samples!
  • Experimenting with cabinet and counter top stain colors: Honestly, if I didn't get to play around with that, I don't think I would have survived the week. For some reason colors have a therapeutic effect on me.

But back to the title of my post.... No, I don't want my old kitchen back, and now that I can finally see the kitchen looking like a kitchen again, there's at least an end in sight. But I'm not about to pretend living through this is easy! The house is a mess, the kitchen is a danger zone, I need to go through an obstacle choice to pour milk for the kids... but we're making progress. And I'm excited at the same time.

Well, what do you think? Any words of wisdom for living through a renovation? Will I make it through another week?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

This Headboard Will Be Gorgeous... but I Need Advice!

Vintage Caned Headboard in Need of a Makeover

I need ideas! What will bring out the best of this beauty?

This past week has been a bit of a blur. See, we're updating our kitchen. And for all this time that I dreamed of an updated kitchen, it never once occured to me (I know, I was totally ignorant) that for a period of time, I would be WITHOUT a working kitchen. Luckily my husband hooked up a utility sink, so at least we have some water in there, but we're still without countertops, there are tools everywhere, and our living room has become our pantry... needless to say I am in need of some DIY therapy.

But, I think someone was looking out for me during this time! I popped on the Free Craigslist section today, and I noticed a headboard that was listed two days ago. The ad clearly stated that they wouldn't hold it for anyone, so you had to get out there if you wanted it. And I wanted it! I emailed them just to be sure it was still there, and it was (in fact, I was the first to inquire-I can't even believe that)!

So I made the 45-minute drive this morning and picked it up. And now it's here. And I'm sure it will soon be beautiful, but I don't know what to do with it. What color? What kind of paint? How easy is it to paint the caning? Any special tricks?

I'm going to use it with the full bed in the guest room of the cottage. The walls are white beadboard, if that gives you a sense of the environment. I want it to be pretty and calming, all at the same time :)

Please, please, please, give me some ideas here! I fear I am out of my league with this one. I need some help!

Monday, July 15, 2013

How to Get Your Kitchen Demo Done for Free

Get Your Kitchen Demo Done for Free...

and feel good about it at the same time!


You're ready to put in a brand new kitchen... but what do you do with the old one?


Want to know how we scored a kitchen demo for free? Here's the background: we had secured the funds for some updates on our home. But even with a designated budget, we needed to be careful about how we spent every dollar. We realized that the most cost-effective option was to DIY-it, but we couldn't do all the work ourselves (esp. electrical, plumbing).  We decided to hire contractors for the bigger tasks, but still, we wanted to DIY what we could.

One of the tasks we decided to take on was the kitchen (e.g., new flooring, cabinets, counters, and a couple appliances). After pricing out a few cabinet and countertop options, we decided to use Ikea for the bulk of the updates (bonus: we waited until their annual kitchen sale to save 10%). 

Here was the plan: Ben would conquer the kitchen demo, build and install the new cabinets (and appliances), and lay the new floors (LOL did I say WE were doing the DIY?).  But don't get all judgmental, I did end up helping him out... especially with this part!

Because I hate to put good things to waste, (plan #1 was to rent a dumpster for the kitchen demo), I decided to take pics of everything we were replacing (cabinets, sink, counters, oven, dishwasher, microwave), and list them on Craigslist for free.  I didn't want to throw this stuff out, but I definitely wanted it gone, so I tried to take some decent pics for the listing, hoping I would entice someone. I posted it in the "Free" and "Materials" sections. Here's how it looked:

The CL text read: 
  • We are renovating our kitchen and getting rid of our old cabinets, gas stove/oven, microwave, and dishwasher (basically everything but the refrigerator). You can even have the kitchen sink if you want it! It's all in decent shape. Certainly a bit dated, but it all works.
  •  Only a few small issues: (1) Bottom of under-sink cabinet is warped, would need to be fixed; (2) Lazy Suzan shelves need to be fixed (3) Sometimes when the oven is on and you start the stove burner, it shorts out the oven and clock, but as soon as you turn the oven back on, it's fine. (4) Obviously, some cosmetic issues, but those just come with time.
  • We want to get rid of it all this week so we can build the new stuff. Preference given to those willing to remove it all themselves.
As you can see, I listed the kitchen in its entirety, and because I wasn't sure if I'd get any response, I also listed all of the appliances separately. I had only gotten as far as listing the oven, microwave, and dishwasher when my inbox started EXPLODING (by the time I removed the ads 12 hours later, I had over 200 emails). 

I had offers to take everything, just certain things, offers to remove it all, even a couple offers from licensed contractors willing to remove it all. I was now in a position to be picky, so I immediately eliminated anyone who didn't want it all and/or couldn't do the removal themselves. I called the first person who met my criteria and talked with him for a few minutes (I think this step is REALLY important so you can get a sense of who you're dealing with), and we set up a pick-up date for the weekend. Unfortunately, he ended up flaking out on me (thus is the one of the many ups-and-downs of dealings on CL, especially the free section; ever see this hysterical CL post that kinda sums up the free section experience?).

After that fell through, we went back through all the emails and started going through the rest of the people who met the criteria. Still a very long list. But in the midst of that process, we got an email that helped us make the decision. We were contacted by a woman whose organization who was renovating a home to would be used as a halfway house for those recovering from addiction. Even though so many of the people who contacted us may have benefited from our stuff, we knew that we made the right choice by giving it to this group, and we're so happy that we were able to make some people's lives a little more manageable, even if just in this little way. It worked out perfectly. They showed up that Saturday with a truck, a trailer, and tools, and in a little less than three hours, our kitchen was gone!

Maybe now you're thinking, "With all that interest, why didn't you try to get any money out of it?" And the answer was simple: convenience. We wanted it gone, we didn't want to do the work. And as it worked out, we didn't have to rent a dumpster, hire anyone, or take up any more of the time that we had devoted to our kitchen improvements.  And, frankly, there wouldn't have been nearly as much interest if we were selling it, even if it was cheap (not to mention the fact that I did not want to deal with the hassle of negotiating with people and setting up different times to meet everyone to take a look at individual items). And, really, when you start thinking like that, you lose track of the point: we got our kitchen demo done for free! And we lucked out double in this case, because we know the organization who received it is going to make good use of it all, and we feel good about that.

I think the best thing to do when you approach a new project like this is to go with your instincts (in this case, think like a DIYer). Even though our cabinets and appliances were no longer going to serve our purposes, they could certainly serve someone else's. Maybe someone would love to paint your cabinets a pretty new color, or someone else is pining after their first gas stove, or even better, someone would cherish your old dishwasher after doing WAY too much handwashing... hey, like they say: One man's trash... yeah, you know the rest.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tips for Buying on Craigslist

New to Craigslist? Don't Panic! Here Are Some Helpful Hints.

Shopping on Craigslist got you nervous? Confused? Overwhelmed?

Craigslist is an amazing service, but it can definitely be daunting at first.  You can save money, recycle old items, sell your creations, and all for free!  Sure, the interface is nothing fancy, but it doesn't need to be. It's a free service and you're not being bombarded with ads.  But you do need to know how to work it.  Here is a list of tips I've put together from my Craigslist buying experiences. It's a dynamic list that will certainly keep changing, so feel free to make suggestions based on your experiences, too!

Tips for Buying on Craigslist

  1. The first rule of Craigslist: don't forget about Craigslist! Before you go to the furniture store to pick out a new dining room set or sofa table (or really, anything else), check out Craigslist. You can save hundreds and hundreds of dollars on things that are perfectly good.  BTW, If it "grosses you out" to think about reusing someone else's stuff, than just stop reading now, this post isn't for you.
  2. Check out your surrounding areas, too, not just your region.  For example, if you live in New Haven, CT, look in the New Haven, Fairfield, and Eastern CT, even RI or MA sections, if you really want something and are willing to make the drive. But know what it takes to get there; I usually avoid searching in NYC because the GWB charges quite a toll!
  3. Check out the FREE section! Choose your region, look under "For Sale," and click "Free." Beware, you usually have to act fact here. There are a lot of people who stalk this section! If you want it, contact the seller immediately! And don't ask them to make special arrangements for you. And especially don't tell them you're coming and not show up! Remember, these are real people with real jobs and real families, too!
  4. There are a lot of dealers who post things on CL, too, and I'm never interested in them and it bugs me to see their ALL CAPS DESCRIPTIONS FILLING MY SCREEN. You can get rid of those listings by choosing "For Sale-By Owner" on the top left of your screen when you're in the correct section (e.g., furniture).
  5. When you find something you like and decide to contact the seller, be polite but concise. You don't need to tell them your whole life story, but a few personal details usually don't hurt. I know I scored a free sleeper sofa over other people one time because I mentioned my 3 young kids and their aunt who would soon be visiting and would appreciate a place to sleep instead of the air mattress!
  6. People who are on CL a lot can be really picky.  Maybe they only want phone calls, maybe they don't want any phone calls, maybe they want to text.  Whatever it is, just pay attention and contact them in the way they ask. Otherwise, they'll just ignore you.  My point is, there isn't necessarily one "right away" to communicate, just pay attention to the directions in each ad.
  7. Think of the possibilities! Don't like the color? You can paint it! Think creatively. My Craiglist Dining Table and Saved From the Dumpster Table didn't look like they do now when I first saw them for free on CL.
  8. You can always ask for more pictures if you need more info to decide. You'll probably need to provide the seller with your email address to do this.
  9. Don't be afraid to try to negotiate prices. Most people will expect this and have a "bottom line" already in their minds. Either make a reasonable offer or ask them their bottom line. It doesn't hurt to ask (but if you low-ball them you run the risk of losing it entirely. Believe me, I've been there.).
  10. If you're feeling nervous, try to talk to the seller on the phone. Often, by hearing their voice, you can get a sense of what they are like and feel better about meeting them in person. But if you get a weird vibe or something, you might want to abandon ship :)
  11. When it comes time to pick up your item:
  • Be safe: While I firmly believe most people are good, I'm constantly shocked by the evil in our world. So I'd recommend bringing someone along with you when you go to pick something up. 
  • Bring muscle: If you can't handle the item yourself, can you rope your husband, brother, neighbor, or friend into helping?  My husband has gotten much less willing to help over time (and I can't say I blame him). If you can't find anyone you know to help, consider hiring someone to pick up the item and deliver it to you (you can find them on CL, too)! And you may be able to negotiate their regular fee if they're having a slow day.
  • Ask the seller to meet you outside with the item (obviously this only works with smaller items).  Don't forget, in most cases they're going to be wary of you, too, so they probably don't even want you inside their house!
  • Have your cash ready.  Bring exact change. Don't make it an awkward situation by expecting people to make change for you. And don't try to negotiate more if you've already agreed on a price. That's just rude.
  • Last but not least, break out those Clorox wipes or laundry detergent, and give your new item a good washing!
And like I said, I will keep modifying this list as time goes on, but I'd love to hear your experiences, too: good or bad!  Give me your comments and help me prepare the Craigslist Newbies!

Some of my Craigslist projects:


Want to more CL info?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Outdoor Shower Enclosure

DIY Outdoor Shower House

How to Build Your Own Outdoor Shower Enclosure

Finally a post beyond simply "Getting Ready for Summer at the Cottage!"

When we first bought our cottage in 2008, I knew there was a lot of work we wanted to do, but the first thing on my list was an outdoor shower. I mean, how can you have a beach house without an outdoor shower? It was SO necessary, both in terms to charm and practicality. Husband agreed, and even hired the plumber to install. And I loved it. And we've used it every summer day for 5 straight years. 

How can I explain how useful an outdoor shower is? I don't even think you need to live near a beach to need one, but because we do, it's really the only way we can feasibly hose down the children (and ourselves) without getting sand all over the house. And not only am I avoiding sand all over the place, it takes care of bathtime, too! It's perfect: we come home from the beach, jump into the shower, eat dinner, PJ's and playtime, and off to bed. 

But although I had my outdoor shower, it was a little, well, exposed. You'd be trying to get clean (wearing your swimsuit) and people from the street behind us would be waltzing down to their beach and awkwardly wave hello to you. Neighbors would yell out, "Hi Guys!" as I was washing my hair.  It was all a little... well, unfinished. And thus, my heart was yearning for a shower house (as our 7-year old neighbor calls them, a term I have come to love). I really wanted to be able to have some privacy to take full advantage of the outdoor shower, but, at the time, it wasn't in the budget.

But here we are, 5 years later, and in May, my amazing husband agreed to build it himself: (a) to save some money; contractors bid it out at $2500 and (b) because he was sick of hearing me complain about it. But regardless of the reasons, he did it: he built it! And it's my favorite part of the house. It has cedar shingles and a teak floor... it's downright luxurious! And I can't thank him enough. So to "pay it forward," I'm creating this how-to post for all those others DIYers out there who may also be desperately yearning for a shower house.

So here we have a special surprise here at A Thrifter in Disguise; an unprecedented event; the guest post of the century... my husband is going to chronicle his DIY Outdoor Shower House Experience.

DIY Outdoor Shower House: Part I (by Ben)

Where to begin?  Well, perhaps a little about my background. I'm not a carpenter nor do I have much in the way of carpentry experience. I'm pretty handy at assembling IKEA furniture (and will be tackling our now IKEA kitchen soon - stay tuned!); however, if you've read my wife's blog post on my car history, you'll know I'm a weekend mechanic. So, I do have some mechanical and problem solving skills.  Since I am not a licensed contractor, enjoy this post for what it is - a homeowner trying to save some money and make his wife happy :)

The other important note here is why. Since we moved into our house, my wife wanted an outdoor shower. My first solution, which was quickly nixed, was to tap into the hose spigot and have a cold-water only shower. Two issues here - one, my wife would have to take cold showers. Second, it was in the wrong spot - halfway down our driveway in an alcove that faced the road.  So after getting some estimates for the plumbing, we put it on our to-do wish list and waited patiently. The plumbing alone was quoted at $1100 to run the new hot and cold water lines to the right spot and the end corner of the house where our small outside deck is. We opted for time and materials, and we lucked out at under $900.

Next it was time to hire a contractor for the enclosure. In addition to a reasonably sized shower enclosure, we also wanted a small wooden enclosure built with a lift able top to store things like beach chairs, kids sand toys, etc.  The estimate was staggering: $3500. Even with the other project, most of the cost was from the shower. We thought about using plastic fence panels instead if wood, and it would have saved some money, but it wasn't the look we were looking for at our beach home. Instead, I promised my wife it would be on the top of next year's to-do list, and is quickly forgot about it. I mean, the shower worked - did we really need an enclosure?  My wife reminded me that the girls were okay running around in their birthday suits now, but those years don't last forever.

On our somewhat regular walks around our neighborhood, we took time to look at other shower enclosures, took pictures, made notes, and agreed on generalities. Still, we couldn't stomach - or afford - to spend thousands on this project. Instead, with my wife's encouragement - and promise that she would love my mistakes - I found the courage to take the plunge.  I mapped out a plan in my head of what it would look like, sketched it out and showed my wife, made adjustments, and then took a preliminary trip to Home Depot to get some advice and price out some of the materials. 

One of the biggest concerns I had was the footings. Since the plumbing was already installed where our deck is, it meant some work removing decking, boring holes, pouring concrete, and setting the posts. Those steps would take at least two days (and I only have weekends off from work) and involve renting some equipment. Then a few nights later while I was laying in bed, I had an idea that ended up cutting two full days off of the project, made the install much simpler and cheaper, with no need to rent equipment, and we ended up with a nice, large, cedar shake shower enclosure for less than $600.

And with that, he leaves us hanging, but promises to complete his post soon. Hang tight! In the meantime, email me if you're starting to embark on a similar project and have some questions.


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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

SUP Yoga to Start the Week

SUP Yoga on a Monday Morning

What You'll Need: A Board, Some Balance, and a Sense of Humor


No DIY today, just some ramblings, but that's sort of how things have been lately... so I'm just gonna go with it...

It's been a crazy week. Not bad, necessarily, but just full of a lot of, well, challenges. So I'm trying to adjust my outlook, breathe, and remind myself about how I started the week, because that's what's going to help me keep my sanity.

Standup Paddleboard Yoga!  Out on the water, first thing Monday morning, I sat on my board, my eyes closed, listening to the waves breaking around me. Centering my mind and breath, moving slowly through poses, and even taking a particularly messy fall off my board during a transition to Warrior 1 :)

I've been away from my yoga practice for a while (I got my 200-hr YA Certification in 2007, but since I had kids, it's been tough to establish some consistency), but Monday reminded me why yoga is so important for my balance and stability. Because anyone who practices yoga knows that the practice goes well beyond the mat. I imagine the practice on the mat as little metaphors for my life. Here's what I learned on Monday, and what I'm trying to internalize this week:

Lessons Learned from Standup Paddleboard Yoga

  • It takes me way too long to settle into practice and release external stressors. I need to dedicate myself to a more regular practice so that this can come more naturally again.
  • Sometimes new situations require us to modify our instinctual responses. Yoga on a paddleboard is not the same as yoga on a mat. I realized I needed to widen my stance and approach the poses much more slowly. It forced me to be more mindful during every little transition. In my life, I'm constantly rushing around. With three kids and what seems like a never-ending "to-do" list, I'm rarely paying attention to all of our transitions. I think if I slowed down just a little and became more present during all of that, I may actually turn some of that chaos into a little more balance.
  • I fell of my board twice on Monday morning. No, I didn't want to, but it happened, and I laughed! I know I used to have a better sense of humor, well maybe not better, but certainly more accessible. I definitely need to laugh about things more. Life's just more fun that way.
  • Sometimes the best props are the unexpected ones! Ever realize a paddle can be used as a yoga prop? This lesson is great for my DIY side :) Adapt!
  • And the most important: "Ride out the waves in Child's Pose." That's what Heather, our teacher, said as we experienced the effects of a motorboat's wake. And as I lay in Child's Pose, feeling my board rock back and forth, I realized that that particular skill stretches way beyond the mat, or, should I say, the board. Just taking an opportunity to internalize, to rest, and re-energize during difficult times can help us feel more controlled as we continue to approach life's challenges.
So that's what I'm trying to do this week. Ride out the waves in Child's Pose. One breath at a time, one wave at a time, one day at a time.

SUP Yoga is so much fun, and I'm psyched I found this class! If you're in the CT area, check out Downdog Paddle & Yoga to join in a class! You can rent a paddleboard, so don't worry if you don't have your own. And I have a feeling there will be more SUP posts to come from me :)