The Trench

Our latest project has been a long one. The basement opens to the backyard in the back of our house, but is also a low spot where water collects, which destroys the siding and door frame (and eventually, the foundation) during freeze-thaw. We decided to dig out a trench and put in a french drain to redirect the water toward the vegetable garden.


Over the course of a few weekends, we dug it out while our dogs enjoyed running through and jumping in and out of the trench. We encountered a few large rocks in our dig, and had to snake around them.


Once it was dug out and graded, we lined it with lawn fabric and started to fill it in with gravel:

Cheeky the construction manager oversaw the progress:

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Then we put the perforated pipe in, added more gravel and wrapped the lawn fabric over it like a burrito.img_0762

And finally, filling the top with more gravel:


Now we just need to clean up that mess before the snow covers it up!





The Chickens

We’ve finally completed the chicken coop, got 5 hens, one young rooster and have learned so much – I never imagined how many different types of chickens there are! We got 2 Leghorns, a Welsummer, 2 Black Sex Links and a Barred Rock rooster. Here is one of the Leghorns (white) and the Welsummer:IMG_2648.JPG

With more ambition than ability, we presumed we could build the coop out of trees and planks from our forest. Chris got about this far with that method:


In fact, the 2x4s for the top of the frame were purchased, so we had already given up at this point. After purchasing plywood and framing the walls, the chicken coop was quickly completed:


Our puppies take a little too much interest in the chickens (see guilty expression in above photo), so for now we have to enclose the chickens’ outdoor area. One was chased into the woods and attacked, but seems to be bouncing back from her injury (sans tail).

This is our high tech door latch:


And we plan to cover the outside with planks from our forest, to make it look slightly better.

Inside, Chris built them nesting areas out of our building scraps:


Added some sticks for them to roost on:


This little guy is our Barred Rock rooster, and the most friendly of them:


We keep their feed in metal trash cans to prevent mice from getting into it:


They fly in and out of their coop through the little door (note the puppy hiding in the cinderblock!):


So far, the chickens seem to enjoy their little world – we just need to put more energy into training the pups. If you’ve had experience training dogs to be nice to chickens, please share below!

The Puppies’ and Their Hut

Chris and I had long wanted to get puppies. He really wanted a hunting dog and I just thought they were really cute. We struggled with the price tag associated with adopting a puppy, and even more with buying one. We waited, and then one day there was an ad in the local paper for very affordable husky/lab mix puppies. We met the breeder in the K-mart parking lot and drove off with these two:



The boy has a white line on his head and is looking away from the camera – we named him Jumbo because he was quite a bit fatter than his sister, who we nicknamed Mumbo. It’s a reference to the movie ‘Willow’ – which, in the slim chance you have seen, is a Madmartigan quote:


Chris had to quickly build them an enclosure and house – we happened to get the puppies the same day we called the breeder, so it all happened in a day. We both wanted a cute looking fence, so he made that too. It comes apart so we can expand it in the future, and move it to different parts of the lawn. He used scraps from all the renovation demo we had done to build the house – all the blue painted wood is from old door frames.

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They have been quickly growing, and although they have a lot of land to roam around and explore, they stay near our front door and tear up the flower beds and any shoes Chris happens to leave on the porch. But that is how puppies are – adorable destroyers!

Here they are now – at 12 weeks old:




The Chicken Coop

We’ve been pretty distracted lately from working on the house, but that’s what happens when you have multiple ongoing projects! We are currently working on our powder room, which needs a vanity light, mirror and closet, but have been preoccupied with finishing a chicken coop! We want to get the chickens as soon as possible – both for the eggs and so our two puppies can get used to them.

When Chris told me he started building the chicken coop, I pictured something like this:

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And figured this would be a weekend project… And then I saw him cutting some pines down, and taking the bark off, and realized this was going to be a McChicken McMansion!


It’s been two weeks, and the coop is now framed out:

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We are still cutting the boards for the floor, sides and roof. All the wood is coming from our forest, which is nice because it is full of pines preventing the sun from reaching the hardwoods, but takes a lot of time with a chainsaw mill:

We can’t wait to get this project wrapped up and have chickens eating bugs in our yard!


Bedroom #1

For a couple of months we lived in the living room while we worked on re-doing the first bedroom. It reminded us of our time living in a small apartment in Santiago, except instead of the noise of city life outside it was birds singing every morning. And instead of black dust from city pollution coating every surface in our living space, it was white construction dust.

Here is what our bedroom looked like:


We took out the carpeting, baseboard heating and closet and made the doorway much wider to accommodate a sliding barn door, which created a much more light and airy space for the staircase landing.  We added recessed lighting and removed a switch which after extensive testing we determined did absolutely nothing.

After tearing out the carpet, we were surprised what an echo the room had. Laying down ‘insulayment’ under the wood floor helped dampen the sound. Usually, when we start a project we get everything we think we’ll need from the hardware store, and then end up taking another 3-4 trips during the project because we never anticipate what we will need.

We chose a Brazilian walnut floor because of it’s gorgeous natural color, so even as it wears it will retain that (the fact that it was on sale helped too).  As Chris started to nail it, the thin and brittle tongues cracked, and we took another trip to the hardware store for thinner nails.

Don’t do this without a nail gun

After a few days’ work, the floor was almost complete:

The taped up box under the skylight is our heating/ac unit, protected from construction dust

One thing we didn’t think through all the way (the common theme through our renovation) is the clearance required above the track on a barn door. Our ceilings on the second floor are only 7′, so it was important to choose the absolute smallest wheel for the door – otherwise the frame would simply be too low. Chris made the door from white cedar:

I decided to repaint the walls white, and paint the window frames a deep ‘espresso’ brown. Here is our room today, still needing built ins and a closet – with very ‘minimalist’ decor and the ‘temporary’ bed frame we made out of 2″x4″s:


The components:

Brazilian walnut floor –

Barn door track and wheels –  (the first track arrived bent and the paint has come off the wheels, but their customer service has been nice and they’ve always sent a replacement)

White cedar for door – Home Depot

Paint for walls and ceiling –Interior Ceiling Paint in Ultra Pure White by Behr

Paint for window – Espresso (in satin) by Behr Marquee

The Wood Stove

There are few things I enjoy as much as sitting near a fire. The day we bought our house, I grabbed some stones and set up a fire pit in the backyard. That evening, we admired the stars, how quiet it was, and how happy we were to be home. The home had almost everything set up for a wood stove – the chimney was there, but we needed to put in the hearth and find a stove.

Before starting anything, we called out a chimney inspector to look at the chimneys in the house – one of them was being used for the oil based heating and the other would be used for the stove. We hadn’t used the heating system yet – it hadn’t gotten cold enough and there was water damage near some of the baseboards. The heating system looked pretty old and we knew it needed to be replaced or serviced.

Both chimneys were lined with clay tile. The chimney inspector told us the chimney for the wood stove had never been used, and the one for the heating system was cracked and should not be used. So we had the oil system removed (which freed up a lot of space in the basement) and replaced it with a cold climate air-to-air electric heat pump.

I think we put down the hearth before buying our stove, which is not the way we should have done that- each stove has different requirements for clearance and spacing. We just happened to make the hearth large enough to accommodate the stove we picked. It’s very important to protect the floor under the stove, and you can find these guidelines on the NPFA (National Fire Protection Association) website.

Initially, I looked for an antique wood stove on craigslist. I really wanted something with character, but ultimately we went for efficiency and bought a Vermont Castings Defiant  wood stove. It is really amazing how much it heats two floors of the house.

We decided to use the leftover slate tile from the kitchen floor to go under the wood stove. We cut out the pine floor in a 4′ x 4′ area by the chimney and put down backer board:

Note the wood paneling in the bathroom in the background! That had to go

And then completed our fastest tiling job ever:


Then, we went to pick up our stove. The men at the warehouse loaded it on with a forklift, gave the two of us a look and said – ‘Do you have a group of people to help you unload this?’ ‘No’ we said, thinking ‘how bad can it be?’

I still am not quite sure how we did it. Luckily it was on a fairly sturdy pallet and we used two 2″ x 4″ as rails, and another as a lever to slide it from the trailer on to our porch and into the house. One of us pushed the stove with the lever and the other pulled it in the right direction – we felt so accomplished when we got it over the threshold and into the house, using an ancient technique!

The brick chimney was flanked by two wood paneled walls, which I primed and painted white (inspired by the TV show Fixer Upper and all the shiplap they use), and finally, the stove was complete. I am still searching for ‘before’ photos, and as soon as I find those, will update!



The Bathroom




After finishing the kitchen, we felt overly confident in our abilities and went a little crazy demolishing. The house had two full baths, one was between the kitchen and dining room (weird) and the other was right above it, on the second floor between two bedrooms (in case you didn’t want to shower between the kitchen and dining room).

We started with the second floor bathroom since we planned to convert the other to a powder room. Unfortunately, we only took photos after some demo, but I think you can tell it was an outdated design:


The toilet was near the door and the vanity was by the window, we decided to switch the two because we didn’t want the inconvenience of having a door right by the toilet. We tore out the linoleum and found that some of the subfloor had rotted by the leaky shower. So we replaced that, got the plumbing sorted and put backer board on the walls where I planned to tile:



Afterwards, we tiled the floor with some limestone tile:



We initially thought the ceiling didn’t need replacement, but after removing the old fan we found that it wasn’t vented outside, and had caused a lot of mold to grow in the  attic insulation. So we took the ceiling down and replaced the vent, vented it outdoors and re-dry walled the ceiling. Every project has its complications…

Then, after 4 failed attempts and multiple nervous breakdowns, I was able to tile 3 walls with the herringbone pattern I fell in love with:




Then we pulled a 300 lb cast iron tub up the stairs using a ratchet with the cable hooked into the faucet hole of the tub. We got it to the tipping point of the top of the stairs before the hook bent and it went flying back down the steps. Luckily, nothing was damaged and we started all over again, only to reach the tipping point again and realizing how much more stable the centrally located drain hole is to hook, feeling quite stupid and happy that we got the tub to the second floor.


I re-painted the old vanity and added some antique knobs I found on etsy. We framed the mirror with some of the old door frame. Here is the bathroom today:

And it’s components:


Limestone floor tile @ Build Direct

Subway wall tile @ Home Depot

Kohler vanity top @ Faucet Direct

Faucet @

Claw foot tub @

Vanity knobs @


Let me know in the comments what you think about the transformation!

The Kitchen

The kitchen was the first room we took apart. We really didn’t know what we were doing, and just dove right in.


First, we removed all the cabinets and the countertops. Then we pulled off the wooden boards along the back and left wall. The back wall had no drywall behind it, but we figured it was for the better because the insulation had been mouse invaded. Everything was going swimmingly, and we kept thinking ‘why don’t more people re-do their own kitchens?’

Then we started to pull up the linoleum tile floor… it was glued down on to a sub floor which had been stapled and nailed with probably 100000 nails and staples on to an older linoleum floor which was glued to the actual sub floor. It took us an entire day to get the whole thing off.

And then – I don’t remember the details of why or how, we had a fountain spewing out when the cold water valve either wasn’t tightened down or was open:

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Finally, we began to put the whole thing back together. We started by putting drywall up on the back wall, and when it was ready to paint Chris said ‘let’s get a paint sprayer, I’ve heard they are great!’ I am always hesitant to buy ‘gear’ for things that can be done any other way. I hated the idea of buying a paint sprayer, but for whatever reason I let him THAT time…  so we bought one at Home Depot that seemed to be in the mid-range price wise.

It was the worst thing in the world. It sneezed the paint out in a gunky mess and got paint EVERYWHERE – including the beautiful 200 year old beams. So, as disappointed customers do, we took it back to Home Depot and told them it doesn’t work. They wouldn’t take it back – we still have the dumb thing, and we swore to never shop there again (…we have not stopped shopping there)

Finally, the walls were somewhat painted and we were ready to start with the floor. I had no idea that you don’t just tile on the subfloor until Chris (the more planning-oriented of the two of us) googled and found that first you put down backer board, which is like a big cement tile which helps prolong the integrity and longevity of the tile. He also drew chalk lines to make sure the tiles were all lined up. So we  put all but one (which I wanted to do a butcher block counter for) of the lower cabinets back in before laying some large slate tile down:

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It is HARD to get the cabinets all level with each other. Shims to the rescue! Which I for some reason thought were called ‘shimmies’ until I asked for ‘shimmies’ at the hardware store…

We had heard that slate tile was difficult to cut. This room wasn’t too bad – we didn’t have a tile saw at this point, we just used a diamond blade on a handheld circular saw we already had. If you plan to tile, I highly recommend renting or getting a wet tile saw, it’ll make your life SO much easier. Finally, the tile was in, grouted, and sealed:


Next we had a granite countertop put in by professionals (note how the sink is now centered under the window!) :


Then we put the upper cabinets back in (I had painted all of them white, they were a yellowish ivory before) and tiled the backsplash with subway tile:


Looking at that photo, I regret not using a dark grout. I grouted them with white grout to make them look like little bricks. We still hadn’t bought a tile saw, and were doing all the cutting with a tiny Dremel with a tiny diamond saw!

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The last things to do were to paint the window trim, update the lights, add the butcher block and add under cabinet lighting – here is the kitchen today, and before:



Note how yellow the fridge looks now! And it used to look white!

I love the black walnut butcher block I got from Chop Bloc – although it took them about 2 months it was the most affordable custom butcher block I found online:


The components:

Floor – Montauk Black 12 in. x 24 in. Gauged Slate Floor and Wall Tile  @ Home Depot

Backsplash – Snow White Subway Tile   @Home Depot

Lighting – Copper Pendant Lights

Granite counter & installation @Shaker Hill Granite

Custom Butcher Block -Walnut Square End Grain @Chop Bloc Cutting Boards






Our Homestead

Exactly one year ago we purchased our first home! We fell in love with the land, the dirt road it is on and the cute, cape style exterior. The interior could use some help, but I loved the exposed beams and the vision I had…


I had never seen a wooden backsplash before…


This is the future dining room – once the carpet is removed


A very orange bedroom


The first project we tackled was the kitchen – which also happened to be the easiest to update. I loved the cabinets, and they were pretty new, so it also became a very affordable project. I will be writing a post about the kitchen project in the coming days