Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Brought Home A Stripper

In my previous post, I told you how my simple task of removing the wood trim surrounding the opening to the dining room turned into mission creep. Mainly because the dining room needed more than just a new trim, it needed a full shave.

So I began removing the wallpaper, which fortunately went rather well, with large sections easily peeling away. See below.

When I encountered areas of wallpaper that were too stubborn to pull off easily, I heated up the area with an iron first, then gently scraped from behind. To not muck up the iron, I placed a sheet of aluminum foil between the iron and the wall.

Here's some floral wallpaper I uncovered from circa 1962. Betty Draper would've love this.

Eventually I was down to bare drywall (dry barewall?), as shown below.

With the walls ready, I moved onto the dining room window and it's black casing. I thought using white paint on a black window would just not work, so I decided to sand the window first. This proved to be challenging. Although I could sand and scrape away the paint, it was hard work. I also left many dings in the wood with all that scraping.

So I began researching paint removal products. I eventually found Peel Away 6 at Lowes to try. It's not too pricey, has no harmful fumes and is non-toxic (it may be soy-based). On the way home, I called my girlfriend and told her I was bringing home a stripper. (For some reason, she didn't think that was as funny as I did).

Strippers are a mess, I learned. So take my advice... If you bring home a stripper, have plenty of paper towels nearby. I'm just saying. Anyway, I safely removed two layers of paint.

With the walls and the window bare, I was now ready to prime and paint.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mission creep

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, I've been busy with my new job. I started working for a new company in August in a contract-to-hire position, and took a permanent position in October. It's a good place to work, with lots of challenging programming projects, so I'm very happy.

But in the interim, I've tackled two big projects at the KSModern home! I'll lead off with this post about the dining room project.

I've never been happy with the transition between the living room and dining room. Originally there was a half-wall that separated the room, with spindly little posts from the top of this wall to the ceiling. And on the living room side of this half-wall... faux brick. I removed that wall around 1998, I'd say. It looked better, and opened the two rooms up to one another, but with this renovation I made a poor color choice and painted the remaining trim a mossy green. Making matters worse, I carried this color into the living room on the baseboard.

This year I'd finally grown WAY tired of staring at this green trim, and in mid August I tore it down. Here's how it looked afterward:

You can just spot a bit of the green trim leaning against on the back wall. Ugly. So the idea was to remove this trim, add corner bead, patch it up with joint compound, paint it, et voila! It's done. But that's not how it turns out in the real world. Instead, I decided to extend this little project in the dining room. By continuing the sandy color of the living room into the dining room, both rooms would be linked and flow together better. Sounds easy to me. More pics below.

Above is the view from the kitchen.

This is a detail of the south wall.

After a night or two of joint compounding (compound jointing?), I was pleased with the result.

But as you can see above, I'd already taken a step into the dining room and removed a section of wallpaper. The mission in Mission was creeping.

In the next post, I'll tell you how I brought home a stripper.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Muji Tape Dispenser

Good design is often uncomplicated. My tape dispenser is just that. Made by MUJI in Japan, it is simple and understated, while exuding style.

MUJI focuses on providing essential items without flourish via the creative use of existing materials. They keep prices low by eliminating unnecessary packaging.

The MUJI tape dispenser is exclusive to the MOMA store at for the simple price of $2.00.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Textured Ceiling Removal

I've never liked the textured ceilings in my 1950's house. But scraping and removing the popcorn always seemed like such a daunting task. In August 2007, I began what became the initial step in renovating my bathroom, and I started with the ceiling. Because this room is so small (the ceiling is probably 35 ft²) I thought I could knock this out quickly, and it went quite well at first.

I used a scraper to chip and peel, and had the occasional large section come down. But mostly it was quite tedious and messy, with only small pieces removed at a time. Plus it is tough to work overhead. Standing and balancing on a step ladder, you get very little leverage. Holding your arms over your head for any length of time is exhausting. This is just tough work, and it took several more hours than I expected.

The picture below shows the early stages of removal. The drywall beneath the texture was in good shape, and the builder had even covered and sanded the nails, which made for a nice, smooth surface.

And the finished product...

After all the texture was removed, I patched some areas with joint compound, sanded, primed, then painted the ceiling in a white semi-gloss. One of the advantages to the smooth finish is how light reflects much better than with the textured finish. In Europe, for example, they've painted ceilings for years with a high-gloss finish to better reflect light. This works quite well in my bathroom because the main source of lighting is a wall sconce that points upward. This fixture has a 200 watt halogen bulb and is extremely bright. The circuit is on a dimmer to save energy, but I can flood this small room with light if needed, which I did for the above photograph.

If and when I repeat this procedure for other rooms, I'm going to mist the ceiling with a spray bottle of water first. This is supposed to loosen the texture from the drywall and ease the process.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mi Albahaca

Earlier this spring, I potted some basil that I picked up from the produce section at my grocer. It took no time at all to bloom into a full blown herb bush. Several times it has gotten a little weak in the hot afternoons from all the sun, but I douse it with water and it comes back to life by the morning.

Fresh basil is quite versatile. I add it to pizza, pasta, eggs, salsa, sandwiches and just about anything else that I make in the kitchen. It just makes things taste fresh. Plus, having this just steps from my kitchen makes it super convenient to add to anything I'm cooking.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fresh Tomato Salsa

I stopped at my sister's house yesterday after an out-of-town job interview, and we picked mucho tomatoes from her garden, as well as cucumber, onion and pepper. She grows a variety of tomato breeds, including roma, tiger striped, and yellow ones with peach fuzz on them.

So this morning I prepared a fresh tomato salsa. This recipe is for a smooth, wet salsa. The type a server would bring to you at a Mexican restaurant.
3-4 small to medium fresh tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp minced garlic)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
slice of lime

Puree tomato, onion, jalapeno, garlic and salt in food processor or blender. Heat oil in skillet. Add tomato puree. Squeeze juice from lime and add water. Stir and bring just to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool and serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Baby Table Seat

This baby seat is cool. Unlike so much of the brightly colored, polypropylene products of today, this vintage seat from the Welsh Co. of St. Louis has style.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Emmabo Deck Chair

I've had two Ikea Emmabo Rocking Chairs on my deck for a couple of years, but earlier this spring the weathering finally took it's toll. A small rip in one chair forced me to only use the other, which eventually led to a huge rip in it as well. The fabric is durable, and I put them in the garage for the winters, but they're just not suitable for outdoor use. Perhaps they'd be fine if I had a covered deck, but they cannot withstand exposure to the sun and rain.

After failing to find replacement covers, I decided to forgo using fabric altogether and use wooden slats instead. For less than $40US for each chair, I recycled the metal frame and transformed these Emmabo chairs into a far more rugged version that will last for years.

This is where I ripped it a new one

The frame was still in great shape

The lumber is 1x2 pressure-treated for outdoor use. They are sold in 8'-0" lengths for $1.78 each at Home Depot. Cheap! I purchased 8 and had them cut at the store to 24" lengths. The palm sander was used to smooth the edges and tops.

I used 3/4" cable clamps, which are for electrical use but fit the rod of the Emmabo frame perfectly. The screws are brass, which won't rust and can be used with this type of wood.

Only one coat of black-brown ebony stain was needed

The stain dried outside for 24 hours

To attach the fasteners, I laid one slat across the frame, placed a cable clamp to the frame beneath each end of the slat, then marked and pre-drilled a small hole for the screw locations. With one slat pre-drilled, I used it as a template to mark and pre-drill the remaining slats. This made assembly much faster.

Assembling the fasteners

One slat required a special method for it's fastener. To accommodate a bulge in the frame, I had to overstretch the plastic cable clamp. Instead of one screw it required two.

Assembling the slats with the chair on it's side made it easier


Ready for the KS weather

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

DIY Television Stand

As a software developer, I "get" open source code. As a DIYer, I love Peter Nidzgorski's Open Source Storage projects. I based my TV stand on his brilliant idea.

More steps and descriptions at my flickr.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DIY Birdhouse

Most of my DIY projects are borne of necessity, but this one was pure indulgence. I love the case study birdhouses at, so I took inspiration from the Neutra one. Made from cedar, it's naturally weather resistant. I used simple butt joinery of four equal sides with an open top and closed bottom. The roof is an Ikea cutting board, cut for an overlap and hinged in back. This allows for an annual cleaning of the nest.

Like most of my projects, I made a mistake. The flaw: steel nails that have rusted and discolored the wood grain.

But the tenants don't seem to mind.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Wild Strawberries

I have wild strawberries growing in my back yard. They're quite small, about the size of a pea, but are perfect with cereal.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Italian Police Car

I'd be willing to get caught speeding just to get a better glimpse of this car. Police in Italy cruise the motorways with a donated Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lack Shelf Fireplace

I've always wanted a fireplace in my home. For months I searched for a wall-mount unit, but never settled on a place to put it. So instead of adding another item to the wall, I modifed something that was already there.

I bought a $100 stainless steel firebox on the eBay. It's designed for use with gelfuel, ethanol, or isopropyl alcohol and doesn't require venting. So I embedded the firebox into my existing Ikea Lack shelf.

Lack shelf and firebox

Outline of firebox traced onto blue tape

Hole cut in shelf - no turning back

It fits!

Not bad

Fire is good

The flames jump up to 18" or so, making it quite dramatic. The shelf gets hot on the underside after burning for a while, so I snuff it out after 20-30 minutes. To provide a degree of fireproofing, I chipped away all the dried glue inside the shelf and lined the interior cavity with aluminum foil.