Chalkboard Countertops

We recently had our master bathroom professionally remodeled, which was amazing.  Really amazing.  When someone says the demo in your bathroom was the worst they’ve seen in 15+ years of construction, you say, “Thanks for being here!” and count your lucky stars you weren’t doing the demo yourself.  Someday soon, when I master the use of a camera in tight spaces, I’ll share the pretty new bathroom with you.

The side-effect of that remodel is that I needed to repaint our main guest bathroom (lost a closet to make the master shower bigger, gained some new wallboard to replace the old closet door).  In the end, the need to repaint lit a fire under me.  I really wanted to do a few small, inexpensive things to finish the main guest bathroom.

If we live here for 20 more years, there’s a chance we’ll replace the green sink, toilet, and shower/bathtub.  But for the intervening years, we’ll be sticking with the existing fixtures (and matching tile around the sink area).  Lucky for me, I feel like I can work with avocado green.  It’s kind of nice once you take away the rust brown/purple/orange/green paisley that used to be all over the bathroom.

So a quick, almost free facelift for the bathroom was my goal.  In the end, I spent $27 and very little time.  Success!  I did a few small things you probably don’t care about (painted a few things, switched out the brass towel bar for four small silver hooks).  But the big switcheroo was the countertop.

The countertop used to look like this:


Honestly, I didn’t hate it.  I just thought that we could do better (for free).  I was looking for something that would look a little bit less 70’s next to the green tile/sink.  My dream project was thin layers of concrete on top of the linoleum.  It looks like a really cool project, and I’d like to try it sometime.  But I couldn’t do that without uninstalling and reinstalling the trim and sink.  I was pretty sure that would cause significant damage to something (since I’m not a pro by any means).  Which would cost money.  So that was out.

Enter the leftover primer from our other bathroom.  And some painter’s tape.  And sandpaper.  And last but not least, some spare chalkboard paint.  Maybe it’s bad that we had all of those things around the house.  I think it’s great though.  We can do projects any old time.  No money was actually spent on this project.

First the sanding happened.


It was such a small space that it only took 20-ish minutes.

Then there was taping.


It looks less “sanded” there because I washed it off.  It’s just slightly less shiny than the original surface.

The taping around the sink wasn’t perfect, because I’m not really a meticulous prepper.  Oops.  I had a plan for the aftermath of that.

So sanded, check.  Taped, check.  Then came priming.


And finally, the fun part–actual painting with chalkboard paint.  I picked a nice, normal paintbrush instead of a roller.  Mostly, I picked the paintbrush because I was cheap.  I knew I would have to paint the layers over a few days, I’m terrible at washing out rollers, and I didn’t want to pay for more than one roller for such a small project.  Paintbrush to the rescue.

It was so quick to paint each layer despite not using the fastest tool.  Maybe 15 minutes per coat.  I tried to stick to brushstrokes in one direction at a time (all horizontal one time, all vertical the next), and it ended up creating this nice linen-ish texture in the end.  On top of the already quite thick texture of the countertops.  Plenty of texture on this counter, believe me.

What I didn’t factor in was the final untaping.  It ripped up some of the paint, and I had to do touch-ups with the world’s tiniest paintbrush.  You can see that fun part here:


After the painting (three layers) and the touch-up, there was A) a happy sigh, and B) a chance to admire the smooth black finish of the counter.  There was also a chance to use a razor blade to scrape paint off of the metal trim where the taping wasn’t perfect.  It worked pretty well.  Around the edges, the trim was curved and such, so I used sandpaper to get rid of the paint.  The sandpaper/razor combo did the trick really well.  It turns out there are nice things about metal trim around your sink and tile.  You can scrape and sand and still have good trim in the end.


Yay!  Better.

Which just left treating it like a chalkboard–rubbing a layer of chalk all over the countertop, washing it off, and going on with my merry life.


Sometimes I leave it blank, and it looks at least 5% like soapstone.


Sometimes I use it like an actual chalkboard.


It might be unusual, and it might not be the exact color scheme I would pick on my own.  But I like it.  And it was free.  And I think I could happily live with it for 20 years.  Maybe 25 years.  What more could you ask?

P.S.  I’ve read on other blogs that people have done this same thing in bathrooms and on kitchen countertops.  It is reported to hold up well, so I wasn’t too worried about trying it out.  This particular countertop doesn’t see a lot of hard use, so how bad could it be?  So far so good (a few weeks in).



Cabinet Details

If the entire premise of this blog is “Small But Valuable,” I think there’s an important milestone to note.  Namely, Scott put pulls onto our cabinets, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Our main cabinets (along the wall, were there forever and repainted)  have had hardware for a while, which is helpful with little tasks like opening drawers.  Our island, however, has been hardware-less since installation.

At first, I was so thrilled to have drawers that I didn’t care how carefully they needed to be opened.  The charm wore off sometime last week, however, and Scott kindly remedied the problem.  Pull-less before (just started drilling holes):

photo-1Pull-ful after:


Sometimes the small wins are pretty heartening.

Painted Cabinets: All Seven Layers

Painting our cabinets proved to be a tricky job.  Isn’t that always the way with DIY projects?  That said, each individual step was easy to tackle.  It was not knowing how to start that was intimidating.  Sure, you sand first, then you paint.  I’ve got that.  But we were doing steps I had never tried before, like using a TSP cleaner to further smooth out the cabinet doors between sanding and painting.  I had never popped trim off of doors or wrenched reluctant screws off of cabinet bases either.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Young House Love’s tutorial was my cheat sheet.  I looked at it at least a few dozen times as I finished each step.  We did almost everything the way they did, with a few small exceptions that aren’t significant.  I thought the TSP cleaner was overkill after our doors were nicely sanded and looked ready to go, but I wholeheartedly believe in that step now.  I could see the last bits of stain coming off as I cleaned the cleaner away.  (Cleaning cleaner away?  It happens.)

So what did we get for all of this work and approximately $100 of our own money?  [Just as a note, it cost about $250 for us to complete this project from start to finish, including sandpaper, chemicals, primer, paint, hinges, handles, and sweat.  We happen to have awesome friends and family who gave us gift cards that got us through the first $150 for free.]  Well, we got a crisp, clean kitchen that looks much more appropriate in the current decade.

See, there once was 70’s: 


And now, with three coats of paint on the back and four coats on the front of each door, I proudly present:


Ta da!  

This isn’t the official reveal, since we still have things to do.  But the cabinets are done, and I’m very happy about that.  I couldn’t handle painting one more coat of white on top of white.  

What’s left?

  1. Cabinets for the new island

  2. Countertops for the island and existing countertop areas

  3. A sink and faucet to go with the countertops (and some new light fixtures that have yet to be selected)

  4. Paintin’ walls

  5. Paintin’ other stuff (unsure what’s going to happen to the fridge and vent hood over the stove, but there might be paint involved with those and the small air vent below the sink)

  6. Finishing out the beams and such where the walls used to be, which Scott is currently tackling like a champ

  7. New (old–reclaimed) hardwood floors for our main floor

  8. Jubilation!

Fortunately for us, every step involves some sort of jubilation.  Unfortunately for us, we live in the real world and have bills to pay.  So there will be some waiting between those projects.  It happens.  I actually don’t mind that much, because it allows for some recovery time and a chance to enjoy what we just finished doing.  And that’s what I’m going to do tonight.  I’m going to enjoy cooking in a nice, fresh kitchen.

Kitchen Remodeling: Phase 2

Scott and I got down to business with that wallboard in our living area, but we still have a few important steps on our kitchen transformation.  There’s the structural engineer signing off on a plan and the local permit folks signing off on that same plan.  There’s implementation of that plan, and then moving on to more cosmetic issues.  Yeah, there are a few details left.

We’re still really excited about the project though (good thing!), and we’re trying to work on a few things at a time so we can finish the project in a decently timely way.  The beginning of “Phase 2” is ordering cabinetry so that as soon as “Phase 1” is complete, we can move forward with the rest of the project.

We aren’t planning to get all new cabinets, just new cabinets for the island, which doesn’t currently exist.  That complicates things a tiny bit, because we need some cabinets with doors and some doors without cabinets.


image from Pinterest (not labeled there, sorry!)… If we weren’t ever going to have to sell our house, I would want yellow or green or blue cabinets. I love colorful kitchen cabinets!

I measured and measured and measured again, and we went to a certain big box store (*cough*Lowes*) to get a quote, and the rep was super nice.  She did a plan for our perfect kitchen island, and called the next day with a quote.  We were expecting something like $3,000.  Maybe we were naive.

Regardless, we were wrong, and the actual quote was for $5,500.  Man.  I know that talking about money is messy and kind of private, but I wish that more sites I read would tell me exactly how much remodeling could potentially cost.  I’m trying to do my part for DIY remodelers everywhere.

What would we get for our $5,500?  We would get solid wood cabinet doors in a Shaker style and slightly off-white paint finish.  We picked the least expensive door option we could find in the style we liked.  We opted for the nicer construction option in base cabinets, since we want the kitchen to be nice 20 years from now, too.  A bonus of buying from Lowes is that we would be able to buy the same color of paint there to make painting out our old cabinet bases simple.  They would provide the hinges for the doors (nice, invisible from the outside hinges), and all of the extra doors would be custom-built to fit our current cabinet bases.  So we would only need to buy other door hardware (knobs/pulls) and plenty of that matching paint.  And maybe some of that awesome stuff that you paint on to strip the finish off instead of sanding.

The island plan is 6-foot by 3-foot.  I can share more details if you really want to know, but the basic info is that it has lots of great storage space.  It will hold a microwave, all of our big stuff that won’t fit into other cabinets, and a trash can to boot.  Oh, and there are bookcases along the back of the island.  Could it get any better?  Not for me.  Scott’s pretty nice to let me have new bookcases built in.

So that’s the plan.  And today, the plan is to go to three different cabinetry-selling places.  We’re trying one local cabinetry store, one store that sells cabinets and gives the profits to Habitat for Humanity (awesome perk!), and Home Depot.  We figured that getting a few different quotes wouldn’t hurt.  I’ll let you know who wins.

Future DIY Queen?

Scott and I are  about to close on our new home (less than two weeks!), and we’re getting ready for all of our projects.  Well, we’re getting ready for bits and pieces of our projects.

Our plan is to start by knocking out a wall between our kitchen and living/dining areas.  Apparently it isn’t a load-bearing wall, but it will require an added beam in the ceiling.  While I’m perfectly happy to play a supporting role in the supporting beam project, that one is really more on Scott’s plate.  Then after that, things will be more in my neck of the DIY woods.

We have big plans for the kitchen, the bathrooms, and a few minor tweaks to other rooms in the house.  Don’t get me wrong, we love this house.  It’s in great shape, it could just use some updates.

So to give you some reading variety (instead of just recipes), I thought I would show you some of my favorite pictures of things we’re considering.  First up, we have our current countertop choice (subject to change): soapstone.

soapstone countertop

photo by Justine Hand

Although some people don’t like that soapstone is a softer stone than granite, I like the idea that it will have more and more patina over time.  It can vary from medium grey to black, depending on whether you oil the counter or not.  Also fun.  It’s really heat and stain resistant, which is fantastic.  And to top it all off, it’s substantially cheaper than most stone options, and it’s soft enough that we can cut it ourselves.

Second, we’re considering some striped tile in the master bath shower.

photo from

photo from

I love the idea of using budget-friendly white tile with a dash of color to add more personality.  There’s a chance that we’ll just go with white tile all over though.  It kind of depends on how confident I am with tile installation by the time we get to that project.  The kitchen backsplash will be the test zone.

We’re playing around with a lot of ideas.  Beadboard as a replacement for wall tile in the bathroom…

photo by Joan at

photo by Joan at

…painting bathroom vanity bases and changing out the tops/sinks, and plenty of other things.  Scott is definitely going to be my DIY teammate, and I know he’s great at making things work the way they should.  But I’ll be at home all day, taking care of projects while he’s at work.  Here’s to hoping I’m good at it.  If I’m not, there might be nothing but recipe posts for the next two years, as I drown my DIY sorrows in tasty food.  Silver lining for you.

The End of an Era (and Fresh Paint)

I’ve loved being a stay-at-home wife for the past several months.  It gave me a chance to start my Etsy shop, to paint more, to cook relaxed meals, and to just feel at peace.  But every season has its end, right?

Sometimes while I was feeling at peace, I also felt like a bum.  Sometimes I wanted more of a schedule.  Sometimes I wished that my copious amounts of cooking and laundry got me a paycheck that I could share with Scott.



I’m starting a new job at a local university on Monday.  It’s a short quarter-mile walk from our house to the office, and that’s only the beginning of the future job awesomeness.

You know what I like in addition to having a new job?  I like that this past week, I’ve been a project machine around the house.  I knew that I had a very limited amount of time left as a lady of leisure, so I started tackling projects I’ve avoided for a good long time.

Stained, dirty walls in the pantry area?  Repainted!  Stained, dirty ceiling in the kitchen?  Repainted!  Toenails (not stained or dirty to my knowledge, but in great need of TLC)?  Painted.  (We’ll get back to that one.  First, take a look at the kitchen ceiling.)

This was my favorite moment of ceiling painting.

This was my favorite moment of ceiling painting.

Yucky stains (and freshly painted edges).

Yucky stains (and freshly painted edges).


No more yuck!

The ceiling painting was the biggest task.  In my opinion, it’s not that gratifying to paint something the same color it was before just to get rid of a layer of stain.  But paint, I did.  (Yes, that was a mental pat on the back that you heard just then.)

Can I also say that painting my toenails in the winter is kind of a big deal for me?  It has never been my dream to have freezing cold feet for hours before going to bed.

While my feet aren’t on par with Liz Lemon scary feet, they have been cracked and dry for years and years.  Somehow, without assistance of lotion or anything at all, Scott’s feet stay smooth and moisturized.  Mine, on the other hand, develop cracking canyons a few times a year.  Sad foot canyons.

I found a solution this week, and it’s been glorious.  I’ve been wearing my giant Uggs every day at home, because they’re warm and wonderful.  Then it occurred to me that these wonderful shoes could easily turn into spa tools with a few extra ingredients.  While I was painting walls and ceilings and cleaning paint off of the floor and the counters and everything, I added a thick layer of lotion to my feet, topped them with a pair of fuzzy socks, and put the faithful fur-lined boots back on.  In one short week, my feet are already looking like feet again instead of geological features you might find in a desert.

And thus, I declare victory over this week of non-jobness.

Tackling the Spackle and Lone Earrings

Week two of housewifedom is looking good.  I would share all of the gory details of productivity (oh yeah, and that one morning of going back to bed from 9 to 11), but we don’t need to cover all of that.  Especially not the sleeping in thing.  You can forget about that.

Part of the productivity has included spurts of reorganization and clearing things out.  The small victories include a dryer that’s no longer sitting at a wonky angle, and a complete lack of wayward chocolate chips on the pantry floor.  (Yay!)

All of those little bursts of organization have reminded me of how much I love getting rid of things.  I love getting rid of things even more than I love getting new things.  It makes space for the things that you’ve loved for months/years/decades, which in turn makes it easier to find the things that you need to use.  And that makes every day simpler.

Who doesn’t want a simpler day filled with the things that you love (for free)?!

I have run into a small snag in the clearing out process, however.  It isn’t connected to clothes or pantry stuff or the kitchen.  I’m ruthless with getting rid of clothes.  Haven’t worn it in forever?  It’s out.

It turns out that the snag in my cutthroat reorganization is in the jewelry box.  I have these earrings that are really still among my favorites (hence the problem), but half of the pair went missing a long time ago.  There aren’t many options for half of an earring set other than looking like a proud 80’s fan.  I’m not quite ready for that.

They’re too pretty to throw away, right?

Instaed of going 80’s, what I’m going to do is tell you a tiny bit about my favorite lone earrings, then toss them like a good girl.

From left to right: 1) Nice, light-weight earring from my mom/Colorado.  I like it.  2) From my favorite store (Anthropologie), used to be my go-to for trying to dress up a plain outfit.  3) Prom earrings from 2002.  Heck yeah.  Good for fancier evenings out, other half definitely lost in Houston, TX, in case you happen upon it.  Also, I still own and wear the same eye-shadow I bought for that prom.  4) Good, simple earrings… or earring, in this case.  5) A gift from my brother at Christmas sometime during college.  I loved them.  Used to wear them all the time until I lost one on a dog walk in my neighborhood.  Peanut and I scoured that route about 6 times to try to find the other half.

And there you go.  You know way more than necessary about my taste in earrings and my tendency to lose things.  And now a little something for the male readers (to make up for all of the earring talk).

Scott has been fixing our porch for a while.  It’s a perfectly nice porch, but the front section had some dry-rot issues.  Not anymore!  There are fresh boards in place, and now it’s on to sanding, painting, and thoroughly enjoying.  But first…

It’s spackle time.  Or wood putty.  Whatever you want to call it.  I think that in this case, it’s technically spackle.  Scott and I started to tackle that project yesterday.  It’s a good project, actually.  It’s kind of quiet, and it’s great to be on the porch, even if being on the porch involves work.

When I stood up last night after that porch time, I realized that this might be a prime example of a tendency towards OCD.  Slight, insignificant OCD.  Or maybe we’ll just call it a Type A personality.  Anyway, take a look:


That’s the line of old porch meets new porch, because most of it wasn’t in need of repair, just about a third.  And here’s proof that I might have gotten carried away:

More patches.

Yeah, all of that spackle is totally unnecessary.  Scott did a fantastic job of fixing the porch, and I just got carried away with my part of the job.  Oops.  Here’s hoping that I get carried away with sanding and painting in a similar way so that the porch will end up smooth and taupe in the very near future.