Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

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Adding Hidden Storage to the Office

Howdy, friends and family! I cannot believe we are entering March already! February was a busy month for us. We are both meeting deadlines at work, while trying to ski once a week before the winter ends. On top of everything, we managed to make steady progresses on Slav’s office. After the structure work was done (including reversing the closet, moving the doorway (12), and patching the floor), we entered a new stage of work: the finishes. As many of you DIYers know, this stage can feel really slow and never ending. There are sooo many small details to consider! Drywall, paint, trims, baseboards, doors and windows treatment. The room may look 80% of its new version, but 50% of the work is still ahead of us.

Last week we installed new lighting and new window treatment (the same blinds we used in the living room); and this week, we started patching drywall.





Drywall work is nothing glorious, so I am not going to bore you with the details. Long story short, it’s messy. What kept us going is the believe that we will eventually come out of it with beautiful walls. But I need more pick-me-up than that. So…

I built drawers, again!

The Design

The drawers I am building this time are baseboard drawers. I first saw this idea from Ana White‘s tiny house kitchen build, and have been wanting to incorporate it into our house since. When we tried to choose baseboards for our library bookcases, a light bulb went off – why not build some baseboard drawers? Our IKEA Billy bookcases are sitting on a 2″x4″ wooden base, putting the bottom shelves almost 7″ above the floor, which is a decent height for drawers. These little caves are prefect hidden storage for Slav’s bazillions of cables and small computer parts.


I built drawers only once before, and it was such a positive learning experience for me. Since then, I have read about many alternative ways of building drawers and really would like to improve my skills. I knew the principles, I learned from my mistakes, and I am more confidence this time going into the build.

The only decision I had a hard time to make was the material. Normally, drawers are build with either real wood, plywood, or MDF boards. MDF is the cheapest option, but in our case the MDF drawers need to be covered with wood veneer to match the bookcase. Real wood and plywood can be stained to match, but getting the color and wood grain right might be a struggle. One night, we talked, talked, and talked our options, until Slav came up with the perfect solution – why not buy another bookcase, and use the material to build the drawers?


We grabbed another Billy in brown veneer and I tried to cut one piece on the table saw. The material cuts really well without chipping. Now I could get to work!


I made an interesting discovery about IKEA Billy this time – the five bookcases we got last time on IKEA’s big sale has almost all the boards veneered on both sides. But the new IKEA Billy does not. The sides that are not showing after assembly are all plain. I guess it saves a few cents for IKEA.

We did not really consider building baseboard drawers when we built the wood base. Fortunately, the 2″x4″ are all parallel and precise enough to support the drawers. We did chip off a bit wood here and there for the drawer front to fit, but it was not too bad.


The 2″x4″ wood base is around 9″ deep and ~29″ wide, so the drawers would be all 8 1/2″ in depth and ~28″ in width (the drawer slides take up to 1″). I laid out the plan on a piece of paper.


The Prototype

To get my hands warm, I decided to build a prototype first. This time around, I set a work station in the garage for efficiency and it helped a lot. I used a sheet of plywood to create a large work surface, and surrounded myself with circular saw, miter saw, table saw, brad nailer + compressor, and all the material and hardware needed. This set up made the work much more streamlined and pleasant. A vanilla scented candle added feminine touch and softness to the ice cold garage.


This is how the drawers were assembled: I used the toe kick pieces to create the two sides, then sliced the shelves to make the drawer faces. The left over stripes from the shelves were used as the front side of the drawers, I do not have enough material to create the back, so I cut some plywood off the my temporary table to make the back pieces.


The drawer was made 1″ narrower than the opening to accommodate the drawer slides. I decided to try these 8″ full extension drawer slides and they worked great.


The bottom of the drawers were made from 5mm plywood (leftover from covering our garage walls). Brad nails held it in place.


Now is time for the test! I mounted the other side of the slides onto the 2″x4″s, and it worked pretty smoothly. You can see how it works in this video.


Mass Production

With the prototype working well, I spent the next a couple hours making all five drawers. I test fit all of them before installing the drawer slides.


Roxie was interested.


Instead of measuring, I used a block and a piece of 5mm plywood to prop the  drawer slides up when mounting them onto the drawers. When I needed to mount the other side of the drawer slides to the wood base, I used the same block and two layers of 5mm plywood, creating 5mm clearance at the bottom of the drawers.


All mounted and slide smoothly!


Attaching the Drawer Face

Next, I moved onto attaching the drawer faces.  These are made from the shelves from the extra bookcase and cut just a hair higher than the bottom shelves.


I attached the drawer faces to the front side of the drawers with double-sided tape. This woodworking tape got lots of good reviews so I decided to give it a try. It is strong enough to hold the faces in place when I fired the nailer, but I was able to take the faces off fairly easily to adjust their positions.


This is what the drawers looks like when they are fully installed. The gap in between the bookcase will soon be covered from the floor to ceiling.


I adore these baseboard drawers. They hold lots of small electronics and still slide smoothly. I hope they will help Slav to get more organized!


Update Our To-Dos

After completing the baseboard drawers, we are moving onto the last step for the library built-ins – trimming between and around the bookcases. Hopefully by this time next week, I can show you a finished built-in wall. Here is our current office to-do list:

1. Frame the new opening between office and living room
2. Patch the hardwood floor
3. Drywall and trim around the new opening
4. Hang doors
5. Install new lighting and window treatment in the office
6. Build baseboard drawers for the bookcases
7. Trim out the bookcases (in progress)
8. Build Slav’s desk

Let There Be Light


Howdy, friends and family! We had another winter storm and it is really cold! One good news is that even though the weather is significantly colder, we still paid 20% less for heating in January compared to last December. I think the attic insulation we recently added is doing its job!

The weather really slowed down our office renovation – we can not do wood work inside with windows and doors shut, and the garage is pretty cold to work in now. Unsatisfied with the lack of progress, we revisited our office to-do list to see if there is anything we could work on without making sawdust:

1. Frame the new opening between office and living room
2. Patch the hardwood floor
3. Drywall and trim around the new opening
4. Hang doors
5. Install new lighting and window treatment in the office
6. Build baseboard drawers for the bookcases
7. Trim out the bookcases
8. Build a new desk w/ storage cabinet
9. Enlarge office window (phase II)

It did not take long for us to identify the obvious choice: the lighting! We have been wanting to try the PS 2014 lamp from IKEA, and Slav’s room seemed to be a good spot for it.


While browsing lighting in IKEA, we also found this sleek Barometer track light. Slav was leaning towards using this track light in the office since PS 2014 does not give out too much light.


Office lighting

We assembled both lights. The PS 2014 comes in many pieces but was fairly easy to assemble.



Here is our old overhead lighting in the office, which is apparently called “nipple light” in US.


Slav took it off and found the ceiling above it was not painted. So I cleaned the ceiling with some TSP solution and sanded it a bit, then gave it a coat of white paint.


The existing ceiling color reads a bit more flat, probably due to the age of the paint. We plan to paint the whole main floor down the road so a bit difference in texture did not bother us.


Slav is right, the PS 2014 hung way too low in the office. Not only Slav, but also I have to duck when passing it. So track lighting it is.


The new light looks much better. The brass color is masculine, fits the color of the bookcases, and the smooth and modern lines balance the rather traditional shelves very well.


A pretty big difference between the “nipple light” and the new Barometer.



Bedroom lighting

With the track lighting installed in the office, we decided to hang the PS 2014 in our bedroom. Slav got to take down the second “nipple light”.



The bedroom light left a more obvious mark on the ceiling. It took two coats of paint to cover the yellowish ceiling.


I painted with a brush and intentionally left the brush mark to match the ceiling pattern.


It dried to almost the same color.


Slav hung the PS 2014 and we were very impressed with the effect it gives.


Make you think of the Star Wars movies, right? This lamp is popular for IKEA hacks and the most creative I’ve seen might be this “death stars” project.


You can use the two strings on the bottom to adjust how much it opens:



And it leaves the prettiest pattern on our ceiling:


It hangs pretty low, but we do not mind since it was mounted directly above our bed. It is also a fairly dark light. We used a 95W equivalent LED bulb, and even with the lamp shades fully open, you should not read under it.


However, it is perfect for bedroom use. When the lamp is mostly closed, you can turn it on in the middle of darkness without hurting your eyes. I usually goes to bed a lot earlier than Slav. With this light, he could turn it on without waking me up.

Garage lighting

We also recently upgraded our garage lights – about a months ago? It was too small of a project to report, but it actually made a big impact. Gosh we are on such a lighting rush now!

The garage lights are actually the ones that really needed an upgrade. We changed all the light bulbs in the house to LED as soon as we moved in, but the old garage lights are these tube lighting and they do not take LED bulbs. They were not only inefficient and dark, but also dirty and covered with rust.


LED work lights are not cheap, but we really wanted LEDs so we took the holiday sales and got these.


Slav mounted all the new lights flush to the ceiling beams – the old ones were suspended on chains (!!!). Mounting the new light higher also helped to hide loose wires. They made the whole garage look neater and more pleasant to be in.

We are very impressed with these lights. They are very bright. We got four with the assumption that we might need to add additional task lighting over the work benches. But in fact, four of these lights brightened up the whole garage (18″ x 24″) without any dark corners (mounting them higher also helped).  These lights made it possible to work in the garage at night, even on the work benches without other task lighting. We also picked warm white (2700 Kevin), so although these light are bright, it does not feel cold or sharp.

With all the new lighting in the office, bedroom and garage, we have upgraded 50% of lighting on the main floor. We are still searching for additional light source for the living room (the only room without overhead lighting), and we cannot wait to upgrade the lights in our kitchen and hallway. But for now, it makes us smile everything we turn on the bedroom light and see the “star”.


Chipping Away at the Office

Happy Chinese New Year! Woof! Woof! 2018 is dog year and we have several dog people in my family, including Slav. The Chinese tradition for people in their animal year is to wear something red, so my side of the family got Slav red thermals for skiing. It is so practical yet sweet.

The tradition also says that you are not supposed to work during Chinese New Year. Failing to obey this rule will lead to a whole year of hard work. But who are we kidding here – how could we stay away from our projects when the office looks like this after we framed the opening?


One urgent task we needed to address was the floor under the office opening. There was no hardwood floor under the old wall:


And now there is!


The Long Floor Story

Let me back up a little and fill you in with our floor situation. The whole ranch was carpeted when we bought it. And on the closing day, we found hardwood flooring throughout the main story. We were scheduled to move in the same afternoon, so instead of moving furniture in, we unloaded all of our possessions into the garage and started ripping off the carpet. It was the first renovation we did in the ranch and it was crunch time.


Our wood floor is not in a bad condition – there was no rot or significant damage, although the old carpet certainly left its mark. We plan to refinish our floors this coming spring, as soon as the weather is warm enough to leave windows and doors open. However, changing the office layout certainly exposed some bare spots, including the area underneath the old closet wall (now the opening entry to Slav’s closet):


And the area under the old office/living room wall (now the new office opening):


We decided to patch these sections with hardwood flooring. Our old floor was generic and easy to track down. We ordered a whole box several weeks ahead of time to let the new floor planks get acclimated to the room.

In the morning of installation, I laid all the planks out based on their length. We also inspected the planks for straightness and quality.


Roxie is always curious about whatever we are doing and usually sticks around during our work (until the vacuum comes out). However, Charlie is afraid of loud noises and always stays in the backyard. This time was no exception. Charlie was nowhere to be found whereas Roxie sat and guarded all the floor planks.


An Easy Start

This is our first time working with hardwood floors. So we decided to start with the section that is relative easy – Slav’s closet.


The existing flooring was cut down on both sides to meet the old closet wall, so we started by removing one row of the old flooring from each side.


As you can see, our flooring is in tong-and-groove style. To patch the flooring, we would be fitting our new floor planks’ groove into the tong of the existing flooring.


The long piece just outside of the closet was pretty damaged by carpet furring strips. So we took this opportunity to replace it. Slav removed it with a chisel.



Removing the two rows next to the bare spot enlarged the area we needed to patch, but we gained intact tong and groove to fit the new planks onto.


Our bed quickly became a work zone. We have a tarp dedicated for covering our bed, which we called our “bed tarp”. Whenever things are happening in the bedroom, the bed tarp is out!


We fit the new flooring planks on by gluing the tong of the new pieces to the old pieces’ groove. This is rather unconventional since the typical way of laying tong and groove flooring is to work from the groove side to the tong side. Ideally, after every piece goes in, the tong side should be stapled down to the plywood subfloor for stability. We had to work backwards because we wanted the narrower pieces to be hidden inside the closet. Since there was no tong for us to staple down, we had to use glue to joint pieces together.


After applying glue, Slav tapped the new pieces in with a hammer.


We made effort to fit every piece neatly, including tucking the new planks under the existing trims, baseboard, and drywall.


Slav and I worked as a team – I selected pieces with the right grain and length, while Slav glued and tapped each piece in. It went really quick until we hit the last row.


The last row is always a challenge since it is usually narrower than a full piece, and there is usually not enough room for the tong and groove to come together.


We ripped the new flooring down to the width on the tong side, then cut off the bottom groove so we could just dropped it in to place.


The first piece fit right in.


And the rest followed. The new flooring is a bit lighter than the old flooring, likely due to the discoloration of the old flooring overtime. After we refinish the floor, the new planks should blend right in.


The Real Challenge

Encouraged by the success in the bedroom, we moved onto the office opening. The flooring situation here is much more complicated. The first challenge is the direction in which the flooring runs. The easy way to go about it is to lay down some long pieces to fill the gap, which would lay perpendicular to the existing flooring. It would define the two rooms better by giving the office a clear “boundary”. It should also work well with the thick french door slabs we picked for this opening.


The other strategy would be laying the new floor planks parallel to the existing ones. For example, we could cut the new floor into short pieces and stack them from left to right to fill the gap. Since the existing wood flooring in the two rooms align perfectly, laying the floor parallel would give the entire living space a more connected look. We expect the office door to be left open 90% of the time, so having the two rooms feel like one would be nice.

We could also go one step further and remove some of the existing floor planks, in which way the seams between planks could be staggered (as shown below). This strategy gives the most seamless look between the two rooms. It would look like that the flooring was laid all at once and never patched.


The third option is obvious more difficult and labor-intensive, but it would give us the best result. It also provides an opportunity to replace some old planks that were scratched badly. So the decision was made! As always, the Sloniowski family went for the most difficult route, for which we would hate ourselves in the next two days.

We started by laying pieces of flooring over the gap, in order to determine how much old flooring to remove. Being dangerously close to use up all of our floor planks, we tried to concentrate on replacing the pieces with visible damage. We also wanted to stagger the seams so the final flooring is more stable.


This required some calculations on what we had vs. what we would need. I grew up calculating everything by hand and am still terrible at using calculators. Long worksheet is my friend.


Since almost all the new planks would be cut down into various different length, I made an effort to minimize scraps. For example, if I needed two pieces that are 20″ and 40″ long, respectively, I tried to find a plank close to 60.5″ to make these two boards.


Chipping Away

While I was busy planning and cutting new floor planks to size, Slav was busy demoing the old flooring. He used circular saw to cut longitudinally, along the plank grain, then used an oscillating saw to cross-cut the ends. As the last step, he used a chisel to finish all the corners and clean around the tongs and grooves. It was a lot of work and required quite a bit of accuracy. It took Slav two entire afternoons (about 5 hours each afternoon) to chip away every bits of old flooring.





This is where we stopped at the end of the first day. Long hours on our knees.


Patching the Subfloor

While cutting away the old floor planks, we also made some repairs on the plywood subfloor. Some portion of the old subfloor was rotten and sagging, and there was a big piece missing under the old return vent.


Slav cut off the rotten part, and some more old subflooring around the vent so the new piece can go over the floor joints.




We added a block of 2″ x 4″ scrap underneath to support the new subfloor, then I cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood to fit.



Patching It Up!

By the end of the second afternoon, we had all the old flooring cut away to match the new pieces. We checked and double checked by dry-fitting every new piece before cutting the old planks to the final length.


Now it was time to patch! We used the conventional method of nailing down the tong down to the subfloor. I’ve been wanting a brad nailer for a long time and this seems to be the perfect excuse to get one. It was only $20 (!!!) from HFT and light enough for me to use. We used 2″ nails and you can see the nail holes in the picture below.


To fit longer pieces behind the grooves of the old piece, we usually cut off a portion of the tong. The pieces went in mostly OK, with a few that needed some hammer persuasion. Slav and I again worked as a team, with him cutting on the table saw and me tap the new piece into place and firing the nail gun.


Things moved along nicely but we still worked well into the evening.



It was definitely a push to finish, but it felt so, so, so good when I nailed the last piece in! Look what we accmplished!


This portion of our old floor was pretty beaten up, so the new and smooth flooring planks really jumps out. We are hoping to blend everything in by sanding and refinishing the floor. But for now, it certainly beats what we had before:


What do you think? We think it was definitely worth it to go with the parallel direction of patching and stagger the seams. Being newbies to this type of work, It was solid three afternoons on our knees. We are both pretty tired. But with the office looks nicer and nicer each week, we are pumped to push through the next big project – door framing. Stay tuned, friends!

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