Seven and half years ago, when we were still living in New York City and before our little girl was even an idea in our minds, we bought a small cottage close to the Hudson River. During the house inspection, several issues were pointed out to us — poor drainage around the house which caused damage to the sill beam, old termite damage that had been haphazardly fixed, patchy concrete stucco that covered the house. “Everything’s fixable,” our inspector had told us. In love the little patch of land and the quaintness of the place, we naively plunged forward thinking, we’ll take care of that, one day. Then life happened, as it does, and the big plans for our little house took a back seat.
This winter, we were served a twist of fate that plunged us into action. You may recall that especially harsh blizzard back in February? Well our furnace took that opportunity to stop working. Four or five days passed before we discovered the malfunction, and during that time all of our six of our radiators burst (yes, burst!), pipes under the house had split and the hard wood floors got water logged. We wouldn’t be able to use the house again until all that was fixed.
Fortunately, we got a bit of insurance money to help us pay for this work. But immediately we started asking ourselves — should we be installing new floors and radiators when we know that what’s under the floor, the sill beam, needs to be repaired. We didn’t want to just fix the cosmetics — as the previous owner we bought it from did. We decided to wait until the weather warmed up so we tackle the drainage, stucco and sill beam as well. Once that work is done, then perhaps we could have some fun on the interior, and bring some of my country kitchen fantasies to life. (You can see some of them here on this Pinboard.)
We found an amazing local contractor to help us with our project and set a plan. First we’d remove the floors and the old radiators. Then we’d take down the stucco, add a french drain and repair the sill be beam. None of that is especially fun or sexy work, but it had to be done. Little did we know that we would be pulling the string on a sweater ready to unravel.
Coming up next: The surprise under the floor!
Last fall we gushed about a brand new smoke alarm that aimed to reinvent the way we protect our homes from fire. Nest — which also makes supremely smart, mobile controlled thermostats – had introduced Nest Protect. Rather than blasting out a terrifying, high pitched siren every time you burn a roast, this aesthetically pleasing alarm would alert you in a calm voice and tell you specifically what’s wrong. (“There’s a fire in the bedroom!”) Best of all — we thought! — it could be shut off with a wave of your arm, rather than a frantic fanning of newspapers or the removal of batteries to get the thing to shut up (our current M.O.). Well….
It turns out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) discovered a glitch that shuts down the device accidentally. I guess the “waving of the arm” technique is open to interpretation! Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest Labs, wrote a note on the company’s website back in April saying that Nest Wave will be automatically shut down. If you own one, make sure that your device is connected to a wireless network and properly linked to your account so your unit gets the software update. He says:
Once we have a solution that ensures Nest Wave works as intended, we will update our software to turn this feature back on. This will only happen after extensive testing and once we have received approval from safety agencies in the US, Canada and UK. We expect this to take at least two or three months and we’ll continue to update you as we have more information.
According to TechCrunch, this is not a physical recall but rather a software update — and Nest expects to have things up and running and back on the market in a few weeks.
Still, considering that each alarm costs over $100, and the typical home needs at least six, we expect better from Nest (which, in case you forgot, was acquired by Google early in the year for over 3 billion dollars).
Are you a Nest owner? If so we’d love to hear about your experiences here!
This post is sponsored by Lowe’s.
We firmly believe in being your own handyman. Whether it’s installing our own back splash tile in the kitchen, renovating our backyard deck or giving a staircase a ombre hue, we regularly roll-up our sleeves and tackle little projects all over our homes. Sometimes things go wrong. Paints drip on the floor. Tiles dry crookedly. Equipment gets rusty. We pull our hair out. No one is happy.
Luckily, there’s a little help to be found via Vine and these handy D.I.Y. videos produced by Lowe’s. The wonderful thing about Vine is that the videos are super short — 6 seconds! — and loop over and over. So if you miss something the first time, don’t sweat it, you can catch the second or third time around. Here are six cool tricks we learned from watching these Vines — though if you start playing around on the social network’s app you’ll find many, many more.
Six Handy Tricks We Learned From Lowe’s Vine Videos:
1. Potatoes aren’t just for dinner — or making crafty stamps! The next time you are dealing with a broken lightbulb in lamp, use a potato to unscrew it without risking a finger cut.
2. Rubber bands have many uses (besides being woven into colorful bracelets for grade-schoolers). You can use them to catch paint drips from a can, or twist out a stripped down screw.
3. For your next colorful paint project, don’t mess with a new paint tray for each color. Simply line your old ones in aluminum foil and reuse.
4. Take the guesswork out of picture hanging. A piece of tape can help measure the distance between holes and get things picture perfect.
5. You don’t need luck to make your tiles line up perfectly. Pennies placed in between the rows of tiles will do the trick until they dry nicely.
6. What could be more dull than a rusty knife? Dip your cutters in some lemon juice for 15 minutes and see how they shine.
Have you discovered any great DIY Vine videos? Let us know and we’ll feature them on Shelterrific!
A bathroom renovation has been on the agenda since the day escrow closed on our house. We’ve been doing what we can to fix our eyesore of a bath without any demolition: notably converting a traditional door into a mini french door to open up the space and swapping out a rickety towel rod for rope cleats that function as towel hooks. We’re itching to rip out the too-big toilet and cultured marble vanity — and yes, that is a sheet vinyl shower surround.
Finding the right fixtures has been a big hold up on our renovation process. We want something modern, but not TOO much so, as our house is mid-century — and the footprint needs to be small, as our bathroom is a tiny closet of sadness and despair. I know that finding a combination of size, look, and god-forbid functionality is a tall order from a bath fixture, but I’ve found all of these showers by Mira Showers. I’m absolutely swooning for the clean lines of the Mira Miniluxe ER. The exposed riser is a nod to the classic exposed plumbing often found in vintage homes, but with a decidedly more modern vibe. I’m torn between the Miniluxe and the minimalist luxury of the Mira Agile which would have the added bonus of a second hand-held shower head. Not only are both these choices visually attractive, but the showers from Mira Showers have a patented Magni-flo technology which will ensure a full deluge even at low pressure. And this lazy housekeeper won’t have to worry about limescale either, since the nozzles are designed to just rub clean.
We’ve already purchased the sink — after I wrote about it here way back in 2009. We just can’t pull the trigger on the darn faucet. I want a sturdy fixture that is 100% brass — but those can cost a hefty sum. I actually found a few options I like here and here — at Overstock, of all places. As for the toilet, after hours of measuring and internet review reading, I think we’re going with the Ariel Platinum Anna toilet, which has the smallest dimensions I’ve found. And in our lil’ loo, every inch matters.
What would you do with this little bathroom? We’re thinking white walls and subway tile, dark grout, and glossy black or dark gray floors. Clean, classic with a touch of modern — our goal is to open the space up and add some luxury to our modest bath!
This is a sponsored post.
The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! The reveal of the final rooms in the Re-Energized by Design Competition is live, in a super-sized two parter. This time, the two remaining teams have TWICE the budget, a room full of LED lighting from GE Lighting, and a full range of gorgeous and energy efficient appliances from Frigidaire to pimp their room. We are REALLY going to see some major transformations happening here.
The GE LED lighting is available in many different “temperatures” of color, something that can dramatically affect in how things look in your kitchen. I experienced this first hand after I painted my own kitchen recently. I loved the paint color in daylight, but at night, the color looked awful. I switched out to a softer LED bulb (3000K) and it made ALL THE DIFFERENCE. And I won’t be needing to change the bulb (or the wall color, thankfully) for 25 years!
I really wish our team, the Bedford family, had made it to this final round. They could have really benefitted from those new Frigidare Gallery appliances — the ultra efficient induction range alone is a huge safety boost for families with young children (less burning risk). There’s no need to replace existing cookware, either — if a magnet sticks to the pan, it will work with induction. And a convection oven is a must-have for those of us who love to bake.
The Sayers, of course, did not disappoint in this challenge by using some unconventional materials to maximize their budget — and because they are obviously just cool like that. I loved their use of the salvaged steel chalkboard as a backsplash; and that mirror in the kitchen (though I wouldn’t want to be the one cleaning it) reminds me of my days as a culinary instructor, where we taught with a huge mirror over the butcher block. All this and surprisingly below budget!
The Reilly family has consistently been more traditional in their design choices, though I’ll admit I really liked what they did in the kitchen. Nothing wrong with the combination of white subway tile and dark grout, I always say. And the paint treatment on the cabinets? Spot On. No matter what team wins the grand prize, both these families have beautiful new kitchens to enjoy for years and years to come.
What do you think of the final room? Is it the Sayers family’s funky loft or the Reilly’s clean classic kitchen that should earn the $5000 grand prize? Watch and see who takes home the giant check below!
This is a sponsored post.
Even though our team is no longer in the running, it’s still fun to keep up with what’s going on in the Re-Energized By Design competition. This week, the remaining three teams made over their laundry rooms.
In addition to $500 and energy efficient lighting from GE, the homeowners each received an brand new set of Frigidaire Affinity laundry equipment. These are not your average high-efficiency washers & dryers — this is serious technology in action here. The Affinity dryer will dry a full load in less than 30 minutes, and the washer features allergen reduction and sanitizing features along with having the highest energy star rating. And aesthetically they please, too (though I have to wonder why no one picked the red option).
Love what those scrappy Sayers did in their space with that upcycled laundry drum light fixture. Their creative approach is always surprising, and will be tough to beat in the final round. In the end, the Mendes family’s pastel laundry room didn’t make the cut — that leaves the Sayers and the Reillys to duke it out in the kitchen challenge! who do you think will win?!
This is a sponsored post.
It’s that time again — time for the next challenge in the Re-Energized by Design competition! This week, the remaining four teams are making over the living room. The Bedford’s room is dramatic, with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows (with some broken panes). I found the space overwhelmed by the arc lamp and the red brick fireplace, but not in a good way. Also — there was not a lot of lighting options. Reading was impossible on the couch unless it was daytime, and entertaining? Dim lights might be fine for a nightclub, but for a family-friendly party? Not so much. The stairs were just exposed plywood splattered with paint. Not much on the walls in regards to art, either. Their furniture was good though — a nice neutral modern sectional, and an heirloom mid-century lounge chair and dresser.
Rather than using bold bright colors on the walls, we went dark — Dark gray on that red brick fireplace. Instead of painting everything one color, we only painted two walls in the dark gray; and used a lighter gray on an accent wall and staircase, leaving the rest of the room white, allowing the space to feel more intimate and cozy without overwhelming the space with such a dark color. And next to the fireplace, Slade put in some nice open shelving painted to blend into the wall, styled with art and objects from around the house. We also broke up their sectional and reconfigured it, and flipped over their old rug for a more industrial look. Kristen also repainted their coffee table glossy black.
Kristen made some colorful decoupage art; and I (along with my uber-talented seamstress pal Suzanne) got to work on some accent pillows, a floor pouf, and the reupholstering of the mid-century lounger with a colorful new fabric. I thought the chair turned out gorgeous, going from something you barely noticed to something that can anchor a space on its own. If you know me, you know I had to work in some of my signature vintage orange velvet, too. But I’m honestly proudest of that pouf: my first sewing project in 4 years, made entirely by myself, with NO PATTERN. The boys instantly gravitated toward it. Liam declaring it “his dice”, proceeded to toss it around the room and jump all over it.
In the energy improvement category, the Bedfords did a lot as well to improve their usage. Slade installed (from scratch) a LED track lighting system that we hid behind the beam, so we could add light around the room on the bookcases, on the couch, and on the new art. We also swapped out LED bulbs for incandescent in the other lamps around the room, adding significantly more light to the space while reducing the wattage in half. Slade caulked all the windows and beams, helping to reduce heat loss. They also put their stereo and charging docks on a smart powerstrip, so they can reduce that energy loss when not in use. And if that wasn’t enough, they reduced their thermostat 3 degrees to produce a significant savings in energy usage.
Alas, it wasn’t enough for the judges, sadly. I loved our room — basically, I think it all came down to a matter of points. I wish we had more time on this room, we could have done so much more. My project checklist had about 10 more to-do’s left unchecked, believe it or not. Our fatal error was when our plans to make fabric roman shades for the windows became impossible; rather than the shade choice made, I wish we could have thrown up some cute no-sew curtains on tension rods. I think that could have made enough of a difference to get us into the next round. Twenty-twenty hindsight, I guess. Honestly, I’m proud we made it this far; a lot of which I should credit to the valiant efforts of Kristen and Slade. Our rooms were up against some pretty stiff competition from professional architects and designers, so our rag-tag team of DIY’ers made a good show!
Stick around for next week’s post, where
I bitterly tear apart the remaining contestant’s rooms with derisive judgements we see how the competition proceeds with the laundry room challenge! Who will get the chop next?
This post was originally published early last summer. Things are finally starting to look green here and we can’t wait to start entertaining on our deck. The paint held up well over the long harsh winter. We’ll be getting to work on our front porch soon!
The straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was when Isadora’s BFF Sophie got a splinter in her foot. This has become a common event in our home due delicate bare little feet and a back yard deck that is past its prime. When it is our own girl, we just grab the tweezers and muscle through the splinter extraction … but with Sophie, that was not an option. The girl wouldn’t sit still to save her life, so we sent her home early, teary-eyed and limping. The next week, Chad started investigating our deck options. At first he thought merely flipping the boards would do the trick. After testing a few, we sadly discovered the underside of the wood was not much smoother than the top surface. Our current budget and life-improvement-plans do not allocate for a brand new deck, so we went for plan B: Lets paint it. We debated using a traditional stain, but wanted something that would literally change the texture of the deck under our feet. After much debate, we went with a product called Behr Deckover. (We considered something called Rust-Oleum Restore but that seemed a bit more heavy duty than we needed.) Soon we began to embrace the fact that our deck would no longer look like wood, and instead decided to embrace its colorful future. We chose a slate grey for the floor and a pale grey for the railing. The resulting effect reminds me of a traditional Cape Cod feel. Chad also mixed in some sand with the paint, which gave it a bit of grit. That way the texture is not slippery, even when wet.
To complete this project, our deck had to be sanded, and then three coats of Behr Deckover were liberally applied. With all the rainy days we had recently, this took about a two weeks to complete. At $35 a gallon, the total project cost us about $280.
We finished it off with a new, vintage-inspired table and chairs from OnWayFurniture.com that we got on sale for $350.
We often ponder what it would be like to live in a tiny house, dreaming about having a nice self-sustaining plot of land, a sturdy shelter and no mortgage. Call it our escape plan. Could we really do it? Christopher Smith and his girlfriend Merete ask themselves this same question and document the building of their own itsy dwelling in the new documentary, Tiny: A Story About Living Small. The website offers a bundle of advice and links to sites that sell plans and will help you build your own compact dream home. Check it ou!
Background: Ever since we have moved out of the city and into a house in ‘burbs, we’ve been thinking about getting a security system. Somehow in the city, where our apartments usually had only one point of entry and the buildings often had doormen or security, we didn’t worry about burglary that much. But out here in our own freestanding house, not only are there three doors, but lots of windows that are easily reachable. We have already taken some measures to securing our home: We have installed exterior “spy” cams we can turn on when we’re away. They’ll alert us every time a UPS man drops a package off on our front door! We also have a dog: despite his adorable looks, our labradoodle Cupcake does emit a rather fierce “warning” bark when strangers approach. Most security systems sound like they will be more trouble than they are worth. They cost hundreds to install, require expensive monthly fees to keep active, and will add an extra layer of complication to our lives. That is what we thought anyway, until reading about SimpliSafe on Apartment Therapy — which highly recommends it for apartment dwellers — we decided to give it a try on our small house.
The Lowdown: The first thing we noticed about SimpliSafe (we ordered the Classic) is that it took longer to unwrap it from the packaging than it took to install the entire system. Ours came with a base station, a wireless keypad, a motion sensor, 3 entry sensors (+ we ordered a couple of extra ones), an extra siren and a smoke detector.
After it arrives, we registered the Base station online. Then, you can either program the system via a web site or by using the provided USB key that you plug into a computer that will walk you through set up. The USB key is basically the size of a small memory stick and also serves as a portable on/off switch if you want to put it on your key chain. (Note: We found it to be slightly on the cheap side and wished they made a smaller, more high end one that wasn’t plastic — perhaps aluminum or a carbon fiber?) The system is totally customizable so you can decide which sensors are active when you are away or at home. Pressing the Panic Button for two seconds will instantly trigger an alarm. You can also set the panic button to trigger a “Silent Panic” alarm if you want to pretend you work in a bank. If you are subscribed to alarm monitoring, the police will be dispatched. However, you’ll want to use the silent alarm setting with caution, as you will not receive a call from the monitoring center prior to police dispatch.
For ours, we chose not to use the panic button because we could imagine our little girl pressing it just for fun. If we decide to add it later we can do it via a drop down menu in our account settings. You can also add other elements to the system a la carte style: They make a water sensor, freeze sensor, and a Carbon Monoxide Sensor. You can even add extra key pads if you would like a second one by a back door or upstairs.
If one of the sensors is opened when the alarm is on, the base station will beep and ask you to enter your code (in effect, telling whoever just entered that there is an alarm system activated). If you don’t enter your code in time (you can determine how long), the system will send a signal to SimpliSafe’s 24/7 alarm monitoring center and a siren goes off. It uses the same cellular technology that’s in your cellphone: a system SIM card that is activated when you subscribe to the alarm monitoring service. You can customize how long you have to enter your passcode and you can also enter up to 5 different passcodes and a separate passcode to use if an intruder is forcing you to turn off your alarm and they will immediately send the police.
The motion sensors are supposed to not be triggered by pet under 50lbs but our small dog triggered it one day when he jumped up on the back of the couch. We just moved the sensor to another location and have not had any problems since.
When you go away from home, you activate the away mode — all sensors are on. You can place the system in the “home mode” if you want to deactivate motion detectors but keep the windows and doors armed. Everything is customizable so you can decide what you want on and off.
The price of the smallest system is $229 and monitoring costs between $15 -$25 a month depending on if you want to control it via a mobile device.– compared to other systems that are similar that cost about $1400 to install and $45 a month for similar services.
The monitoring comes in three different price plans: “Standard” $14.95 for just monitoring service. “Alert” $19.99 monitoring service with text alerts if sensors are triggered. “Interactive” $24.99 monitoring service with text alerts if sensors are triggered. You can also receive secret alert texts which can be set to monitor sensors that are not meant to detect a burglary but meant to keep track of other things, such as a liquor cabinet door or medicine cabinet being opened. Good for houses with teenagers, perhaps? But not for us.
Or you can choose to have no monitoring plan at all and the system will still blast a siren if the sensors are triggered. The burglars won’t know if police are on the way or not but they won’t stay long to find out if the siren is blaring.
Still Curious: For more detailed information, visit SimpliSafe’s website here where you can review all the options and watch some helpful videos. If you have any questions about our experience, leave a comment here and we’ll do our best to respond quickly!