TV Room Renovation

The Engineer worked on a friend’s Cinema Room last year and it really got his juices flowing to dig into our meager little TV room.  We have had new speakers, fortunately still current and the same ones installed in the fancy Cinema Room, since before we moved nearly four years ago, just waiting to be installed.

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Similar to what was original

Similar to what was original

Part of the delay, besides all the other projects that had priority, was wondering what was under all the dark blue paint.  We figured it was paneling, but not your 1960-70’s paneling, this stuff,  was something we had not been familiar—really wide and oddly spaced.  Well, now we know.  I am sure it was in Ozzie and Harriet’s den or Mr. Blanding’s Dream house, I will have to check on that.

Mystery solved, it is paneling, three quarters of an inch thick, and eleven and a half inches wide, and extremely hard wood.  We knew the hard part, because we had to drill pilot holes in the surface in order to hang pictures.  The reveal happened when my husband took off the crown molding at the ceiling and removed the door frame and jam.  We could see the plaster they used to “fill in” the groves of the paneling pattern.  


I laughed, that is exactly what I did when we bought a single wide trailer to live in while we built our home in the foothills.  All the walls were paneled, but with inexpensive  and thin 1970’s paneling.  To add some design and color to the two bedrooms, I used good old Plaster of Paris to level out the bevels of the paneling.  I added a chair rail and wallpapered above the chair rail and painted below, leaving the bevels for interest.

This discovery lead the engineer to rethink his previous plan of removing the paneling to simply adding quarter inch drywall over it.  Far less messy, less work, and the landfill will not burdened with the scrap wood.  A win-win, I think.

You can see from the photos that the wood expands and contracts with changing temperature, leaving vertical cracks at bevel lines.  Also, the wide depressions are from shrinkage of plaster after it dries.  These traits are what left us confused as to what was behind the paint.

You can just make out the vertical cracks in the paint between the panels.

You can just make out the vertical cracks in the paint between the panels.

Now the wiring begins, so there will not be much interesting stuff to report for several weeks, I am guessing.

Panel at the ceiling

Panel at the ceiling

Stay posted, I will send photos out as we move along with this project.

Sneak Peek

Here is a sneak peek of things to come in my blog.  Having completed the near complete gut-job of removing my daughter's kitchen, leaving most of the walls and floor, the rest removed, I will share a few pictures.

A $5 piece of wood found in a bin at Rockler's.  With a bit of routing for the edges and to prepare a space for Rare Earth Magnets, a handy knife holder has become one of the most useful additions to the "new" kitchen.

A $5 piece of wood found in a bin at Rockler's.  With a bit of routing for the edges and to prepare a space for Rare Earth Magnets, a handy knife holder has become one of the most useful additions to the "new" kitchen.

The wood for the shelves was chosen for its "character", since the underside of the upper shelves would be visible, we chose the most distinctive side to face down.

The wood for the shelves was chosen for its "character", since the underside of the upper shelves would be visible, we chose the most distinctive side to face down.

With the absence of a real lighting expert, we had to rely on what we had and who was available.

With the absence of a real lighting expert, we had to rely on what we had and who was available.

Hazel Nut proved to be willing to help at every opportunity.

Hazel Nut proved to be willing to help at every opportunity.

Decorating With A Cat

Statistics show that most of us have pets of some kind, and cats and dogs top the list; however, there are a myriad of other pets to consider in a household.  How to decorate around some of the necessities of having pets can be challenging.  Some pets require much more thought than the usual couple of cats and dogs; snakes, small rodents, small horses and the occasional arachnid may need special attention.  Fortunately, other than cats and dogs, most other pets fall outside of the public rooms in most homes.

My downsized situation required me to find a suitable place for a litter box, not an unusual problem for cat caretakers.  Having no separate laundry room made my litter box issue a problem.  The bathrooms were not really large enough to share suitably, leaving only my office— yuck!  What could I do?  I was pretty pleased to get he box out of view, for the most part; however sitting at my desk, I could see it. I put a privacy curtain along one side of the desk, offering the cat and myself a little privacy.

This solution worked for over a year, but the litter scatter was still an issue for me, and vacuuming multiple times a day was not in my game plan.  I took a look at Pinterest and found a simple solution using an inexpensive IKEA wicker basket idea.  I had a wicker basket under the picture wall of my office, but didn’t want to cut a side away.  Besides, its construction was not conducive to cutting a hole in the side.  The IKEA basket was perfect for this application.  Using tin snips or garden clippers, my husband and I cut away the wicker on one end of the basket leaving the heavy framework in place.  We used heavy plastic and lined three sides of the basket and the floor, inside, clipping the upper edges of the plastic to the upper edges of the wicker.  I found a mat at the pet shop that was intended to capture the litter from the cat’s paws as she left the enclosure, and this mat helped cut down on the tracking of litter, while the liner inside the basket took care of the scattered litter.  Cleaning and scooping the litter is so much easier now; I just lift the lid and have full access to the box, whereas before, I had to clamber under the desk and wiggle the box out to remove it, and that put me way too close to the contents to be happy, I find this much easier to deal with.

My ideal would be have a “Catio”, a term I heard from a local veterinarian; I was intrigued.  I have a perfect area just outside my office that I’d love to have screened in for just that purpose.  It would require a door leading out to the back yard, but oh my, the cat would L-O-V-E to have her own, semi-outside space; and I would love not having the litter box inside my office.  Of course, we would need a small cat door in the wall for her to access the “Catio”, but that seems minor to me, as I would not be the one cutting a hole in an outside wall.  

Maybe someday, this dream will come true for the both of us.  Next, I wonder if Sophie would use the area box in the cold of winter; maybe if I had a heated pathway for her to walk to the litter box—but then, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, or not.

Cabinet Project Progress

Sometimes I feel as though I am not making any progress with my many projects.  I imagine that many people experience feelings of failure because they never get a project started.  It is best not to look at a project as a source of failure from the start; no one would ever get anything done.

The mud-room/laundry at my daughter’s house is a case in point.  While it is almost finished, it is not quite there.  Painting the doors was a long, hard lesson, but a valuable one in many ways.  The project started when we, The Hammond Amish Construction Company (Amish, only in the sense that we are an all hands on deck kind of family when it comes to projects), tore out layers of old vinyl and linoleum flooring and laid slate tiles throughoutthe kitchen and into the newly expanded mud-room/laundry.  

The following holiday, we gathered again; and the guys got the IKEA cabinet boxes installed over the refrigerator and stackable washer/dryer, and alongside both appliances.  The semi-custom-built doors were made by a company that specializes in door fronts for IKEA boxes.  The next phase was the painting of the doors, which meant I needed to get the paint room— aka the Dexter Room— assembled, thanks to handy husband/dad.  Once that had been accomplished, I needed the sprayer to go on special, which happens twice a year, the spring and fall.  Come spring, I was ready;  or so I thought, as described in an earlier article.  The painting started off badly, because I was sold the wrong paint, the most difficult paint with which to learn this new process.  

However, we overcame the problem; and the doors are finished and installed—well most of them.  No project can go flawlessly; IKEA did not provide all the hinges we needed, or perhaps the correct ones for the two longest pairs of doors.

You may be wondering if I would ever be willing to tackle cabinet doors again. The answer is yes.  I began removing some cabinet doors from my hallway.  They are hung with 1938 hidden hinges, and are really interesting and minimalist for the day.  I think preserving them is important, but my hands may not agree.  I managed to get most of the screws out; but after watching my husband struggle, I knew I was in over my head trying to remove them myself.  Once the hinges were free, I began soaking them in a mini-crock-pot to help remove the years of paint.  

Next, I began the removal of the latest layers of paint,  starting with the latex paint that had been put over the older oil based paint from 1938 up to probably the 1960s.  I ended up peeling off the latex paint like peeling off wallpaper.  Most of it was stuck on with static electricity, I think!  Sadly, there was plenty that stuck like glue and I was able to remove it with an orbital sander.  Oddly, there were only about three layers of different colors, the latest being white latex.  I do not think the doors were ever primed.

I will remove all the door fronts from the hallway cabinets with the old hidden hinges and in the hallway where the laundry is, for preservation.  The door fronts are simple and flat.  There is not much to work around, other than getting the channels free of old sticky paint so the cabinets will close properly.  However, I am rethinking doing the same in the kitchen.  There are only a few doors fronts, and they have had newer hinges in place of the old original ones;  I may have new doors made, and save myself the aggravation of stripping the old ones.

I really do enjoy refreshing, refinishing and re-purposing old things, but there comes a time when I, like many other people, must decide if the effort is worth the work.  I will keep you posted on the project.  

As for my daughter’s mud-room/laundry cabinet doors, they look great and she is very satisfied with them; she still needs to get some cabinet hardware, which she will want to coordinate with the kitchen when those cabinets are replaced—and so it goes, a never-ending process to bring new life to old things.  

There is always a price to pay when considering refurbishing or replacing; you do need to weigh the pros and cons of any project, as well as judge your skills and the time that it will take to make it aproject well done.

The Beginnings of Design

We can debate when design began; but for me, it began with the creation of earth.  Whether you subscribe to the Big Bang Theory or more traditional Creation theories, design was there at the beginning.  As soon as man made an appearance on earth, evidence indicates that he made his mark on design.

So much of our current design ideas come from nature and culturally from what is available in a given region.  Man’s cave drawings and his need to create music are shown in every culture and place on earth where man has existed.

My inspiration for this topic began at a breakfast place when I saw a wallpaper in the distance and could not discern the pattern other than a stylized block print.  Upon closer inspection, I saw that the artist had used the silhouette of a rooster in a single color on a white background that formed a square pattern.  From a distance, it looked like a slightly elaborate geometric pattern, when in fact it was a simple barnyard animal.  Very clever!

We have just returned from Phoenix where we visited the Musical Instrument Museum, a fascinating place that will interest people with musical leanings or for those who only play the radio.

What fascinated me was the evidence of ornamentation on even the most simple and sometimes crude musical instruments from the earliest times.  It is not surprising that design for the sake of design improved and became more intricate and elaborate as cultures became more sophisticated.

One thing that did surprise me, was the presence of bagpipes in nearly every culture.  While the Scots are known for their bag- pipes, many cultures had some variation of the instrument.  Drums, pipes, horns and stringed instruments were found throughout history and again, every culture seemed to have some variation of them.  The use of animal skins as instruments, and as decoration was as interesting as the music they played.

Recognizing natural and ordinary objects that surround us helps us understand that art is everywhere. So many things can be interpreted as an art form.

The designs found on the musical instruments show us that making beautiful music is not enough; we need to make the actual instrument beautiful as well.  Sometimes, it is simply the form, like a violin with its sensual lines, that helps create the beautiful sounds, along with the particular wood and finishes that help the sound resonate.  However, I think most people would agree it is a beautiful instrument; it is used to play classical sounds or the fun, country fiddle sounds that make everyone want to move, clap their hands and stomp their feet.

Nearly everything that man touches shows signs of his ability tocreate design whether it is for function or simply for beauty.  We never would have reached the moon without design.  Without nature, it is unlikely we would have found flight possible; following the flight of birds and incorporating their form and aerodynamics is truly a thing of beauty and an undeniable art form.

Look around you and identify how art is in everything we use.  Man needs to express himself in artful ways, a most basic expression along with making music.

Spalted Maple Artwork

The wonders of nature never cease to amaze me.  On our trip to the wine country last month, my daughter and I visited a gallery and were mesmerized by some of the collections; but what captivated us and held our attention was the spalted maple turned to art.

The gallery representative was anxious to tell us that spalted wood is caused by a fungus that occurs primarily in dead trees, and the artist is careful to use only felled trees. 

Spalted wood is divided into three types: pigmentation, white rot and zone lines.  The artwork that my daughter bought is zone line spalting, which is characterized by thin lines of black surrounding heavy, black, irregular spots that appear very hard, almost like stone, called dark mycelium.  While all this is somewhat technical, the effect on the wood is simply beautiful, almost like thin ink lines shakily drawn around the heavy black spots.  In the gallery exhibit, the wood was cut into unevenly sliced slats and mounted on thin strips of wood to hold the piece together.  

My daughter bought the two pieces that were in the gallery to place over her bed’s headboard.  I suggested we paint a solid rectangle on the wall a very dark color to form a frame and place the work inside, the rectangle, of course, being larger than the two pieces together.  We did that, but once the art was up on the wall, it seemed too flat.  My daughter wanted more color, so we repainted the rectangle right over the original color, but without care to cover the sharp lines completely, while staying within the original shape.  She thought she would like to add a frame of molding to the painted on wall and paint it the same color, for texture.  Then she decided the irregular color on top of the dark color was interesting and she would leave it for the time being.

Artwork, of course, is a matter of very personal choice; fortunately we share similar tastes.  Her room is coming together nicely and I think she is beginning to feel it is just about right.

If you look up spalted wood on the Internet, you will see some amazing pieces of art, that are not only beautiful but useful too.  Spalted wood is used for musical instruments, bowls, tables and cabinets.  Some of the images show inlays of turquoise and metals.  Artists find uses for this wood in jewelry and furniture; their creativity seems endless.  Please be sure to take a look, next time you are at your computer, I think you will be amazed at this oddity of nature.

Reclaimed Wood Shelves

The pretty bathroom that we added onto my daughter’s house a couple of years ago has been finished for sometime, with the exception of some reclaimed wood shelves she had always wanted to add.  We spent some time researching reclaimed wood, drove to a salvage business in downtown Los Angeles, and found what might be a good fit.  Then, as other projects moved forward, the salvaged shelves were put on hold.  

Finally, the wood was purchased, and the shelves were added to the area above the commode.  My daughter wanted this rustic look to relate to the natural weave of her laundry basket and to add some relief to the fancy turned legs of the reclaimed dining room buffet we made into her vanity with the addition of a vessel sink.   The beautiful faucet set and vanity, along with the custom tile band for the shower, are the show stoppers in the bathroom.

The ceilings are tall in her 1930s Spanish home, and my daughter felt the commode area needed a little special attention.  She added the stenciling on the commode wall for a little sparkle, which adds to the elegance of the rest of the bathroom; the rustic shelves are a juxtaposition to this design element.

Dressing the shelves was the next project.   We found a fun little wire basket at the “Junk Bonanza” in Del Mar a couple of weeks ago in which she could store her spare bath towel.  Then she added some of her favorite things from trips abroad and down under.  The memorabilia are a nice reminder of fun trips and outings with friends and family.

Additionally, we picked up some fun pieces during our salvaging outings.  We picked up vessels for planting succulents on the patio along with an old bedspring she will use as a planting screen for added privacy behind her outdoor patio furniture.  I will share more about these and other items in another article, so stay tuned for more of our salvaging exploits.

Something Old Is New Again



After the excitement of Christmas and the clean-up aftermath, I set a new goal for myself:  to rid the living room of boxes of books that thus far have had nowhere to go. I had wanted to get a bookcase for the area the boxes occupied, but it would have to be low enough to allow in the lovely light from the window above.  A low bookcase would not be sufficient for the many boxes of books.  

The space where the boxes were stacked for the past six months is right beside the fireplace—a pretty prominent feature in the room— and the boxes were not at all attractive.  I have selected a place for tall bookcases— which will solve the book problem—but that is another story.

For more than four decades, I have had a cabinet always used just to fill space in our home.  It is an old Magnavox Hi-Fi cabinet that I gutted years ago to make it easier for me to move around.  It is a very traditional mahogany piece and has seen better days since it first came to us.  After our move, I decided it might be more appealing if it were painted.  It certainly was not valuable as an original cabinet with its insides removed.  It had some battle scars from early use as a stand for a small portable TV. Paint seemed to be in order.

I had considered a black and gray combination, or a turquoise; turquoise won.  At first, it seemed too bright and lacking in depth, so I added some antique glazing; that was better.  Still not sure before Christmas what to do with it, I first put it in the spare room and let the holidays occupy me.

Come the new year, my daughter suggested I try using the old, painted the cabinet in the space beside the fireplace until I found something better; it certainly would fit.   I decided that the cabinetwould allow “Sophie” the cat, a more stable place in the sun to view the dogs next door; the boxes of books were sinking under her weight!  It also would add a bit of color in a room that already has a lot of wood furnishings.

I was not thrilled with the cabinet even after the paint; it just was not something I thought I would use again, but using it under the window was a good idea, so why not give it a chance.  Just when I thought I would kick it to the curb and see who might pick it up, it was spared that humiliation and has a place in our home once again.

The moral of this story is not to give up on a piece just because it is old and worn.  Paint can revive just about anything and bring new life to an old piece.  Who knows? It looks good enough to stand the test of time for another few decades.

Refinishing with Stain

My current project is another round oak table.  My clients were impressed with the painted oak table that I did several months ago and talked with me about changing their oak table.  This family’s style is not country, but the eat in kitchen table was pure country, and completely incongruent with the style of the rest of the house.  The table’s condition was another source of frustration: its stained top was chipping, and there were bare spots, and bubbles left the surface anything but smooth.  We had talked over the years about what to do with the table, and replacing it was considered;  but the table had sentimental value, since it had been the table my client had grown up with from childhood, and she wanted to hang onto it for that reason. 

While the clients both liked the painted oak table, that was the inspiration for their table; we discussed the durability of a painted surface verses a stained surface. Staining was the most practical application for the heavy use this table receives on a daily basis.  A family of five can dish out a lot of wear and tear.  These clients’ have different circumstances from the client with the with the painted oak table, so staining was the right option.  

A stained oak table is what they had, again way too country for this modern family.  Since the black painted table was the inspiration for changing their country oak to something more modern, we talked about staining the table black or ebony.  Oak, stained or painted black gives it a decidedly more modern look.  

I checked out the stains offered and bought a name brand I have used for years in an ebony color.  Once I stripped, sanded, and washed the table, it was ready for the ebony stain.  Fortunately, I stained the leaf first.  The stain went on black and solid, but once the requisite time passed, when I wiped off the excess stain, I was disappointed to see the color was hardly what I had hoped for.  The brown color of the wood was still quite evident, while the more open grain of the oak absorbed the stain nicely, giving me the blackness I wanted.  I followed directions and allowed the stain to dry, and applied a couple of more coats of stain, not getting anywhere near the color I expected.  Additionally, I knew the wood would not accept any more stain, since the more open black grain was “weeping” out bubbles of stain.  

This process took days to work through, and resulting in more research.  I have been painting and staining furniture since I was a teenager, and I have used a variety of stains and paints; but times change—and so do products.  In California, many of the products of my youth are no longer available here.  I decided to do some online research and tried some home-grown ideas, like soaking steel wool in plain white vinegar; the color of the vinegar does not change, but there is a chemical reaction that affects the tannin in wood, and that will make it black or dark gray—not quite black enough for my goal, but interesting just the same.

I went to a salvage yard in downtown Los Angeles and talked with a man there who showed me what he uses, another familiar name brand stain I have used in the past.   After testing this new stain on the underside of the leaf, I was delighted to see the results would be perfect!  This brand was much more viscous; after only one coat, I knew would give the result I sought. 

After stripping off what I could of the first failed attempt to stain the leaf, I sanded and washed the surface.  I applied the new stain to the base as well as the leaf.  I saved the top for last, wanting to do all my experimenting on the base and leaf.

I used an oil based finish of the same brand that I felt would be the best under the circumstances; however the weather turned and drying times took days to get to the point I could lay the first coat of finish.  Having to wait at least 4 hours between coats means that it will take another day at least to finish this project. 

Once there are sufficient coats of finish, this table will serve the family well for many years, giving them the modern look they want, while preserving the sentimental value of the old oak table of my client’s youth