Terrific Broth

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

Terrific Broth

Tag: Office (Page 1 of 3)

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!

The Office: A Home Library


This past weekend our home has seen some major transformation. For one, it is no longer a construction zone filled with drywall dust and power tools. More importantly, it became home again – clean, calm, and comfortable. All thanks to the fact that all of our books are made onto the shelves.

To remind you of where we started, this was the same wall:


Since we started the office renovation two weeks ago, our main goal was to get the books off the floor ASAP. Before it could ever happen, we had a lengthy to-do list:

1. Reverse the closet
2. Create a new opening on the living room side
3. Frame the old office doorway
4. Drywall the closet and over the old doorway
5. Assemble the bookshelves and build a 2×4 platform to boost them up
6. Bring the wall switch and outlets out 1″ so we can still access them with the bookshelves
7. Secure the bookshelves onto the wall and to each other

Last time I left you with the office, the closet was reversed, all the openings on this wall were covered, the wooden base was built, and Billies were assembled.



1. The Electrical Work

The bookcases were not secured yet, because we needed to do some electrical work first. The wall switch that controls the ceiling light is right between the two drywall patches. And we needed to reveal it through the bookcases.


This wall switch lands behind one of the bookcases. While cutting an opening on the back of the bookcase is not difficult, the backing recesses into the bookcase. For fire safety, the receptacle needed to be moved forward so it could sit flash to the back of the bookcase.

Slav opened the drywall around the wall switch so he could free the receptacle from the studs, (with the main breaker off, of course).


I did not get any photo of him moving the receptacle forward. But what he did was simple: free the receptacle from the studs, add a piece of 1″ scrap wood in front of the existing stud, then attached the receptacle to the side of the scrap wood. The drywall we used is 1/2″ and the backing of the bookcases recesses 1/2″, so mounting the receptacle 1″ forward allowed the receptacle to sit flash to the back of the bookcase.

We updated the old wall switch with a new model and in a darker color, then Slav cut the back of the bookcase where the wall switches would sit:



The switch was mounted back onto the receptacle, with the back of the bookcase sandwiched in between. Slav added the cover plate on and it was perfect.


While left completely accessible, the dark wall switch blends into the bookcase very well. Adding bright decor near it distracts the sight and makes it less noticeable.


The silk bouquet was actually my wedding bouquet. I love seeing it every time I use the wall switch. It is a lovely reminder of the happy life we are sharing. 🙂

2. Securing the Cases

Next, we moved onto securing the bookcases onto the wall and to each other. Since the wall is 166 3/4″ long, 9 1/4″ wider than five bookshelves combined (31 1/2″ x 5), we needed to make sure the bookcases are spaced out, with the middle bookcase centered on the wall.

I decided on 3/4″ spacing in between the bookcases. I cut some scrap wood to use as a filler to stuff between the bookcases:


I attached scrap wood pieces on each side of center bookcase, so I could link it with the neighboring bookcases at different heights and gain more stability this way.


Next I marked on the floor where exactly every bookcase needed to be, then placed the center bookcase (the 3rd one from left to right) onto the 2×4 base according to my mark.


With the center bookcase in place, I attached it to the wall studs with L-brackets (provided by IKEA):


Then I bought up two neighboring bookcases (2nd and 4th) and attached them to the center bookcase by driving screws through the side of the bookshelves and into the scrap wood pieces:



I used the pre-drilled holes for attaching the cases together, so I would not cause additional damage to the veneer. It also helped me to keep them perfectly leveled.

With the 2nd and 4th bookcases linked to the center bookcase, I attached them to the wall using more L-brackets. Now all three middle bookcases were perfectly secured to the wall and to each other.

I moved onto attaching the last two bookcases using the same method – linking the sides first using scrap wood, then attaching them to the wall using L-brackets.


Now all five bookcases were perfectly centered and secured. They felt solid and  I could grab onto any of them without causing vibration on the others. With the middle case perfectly centered to begin with, exactly 3 1/8″ space on each side of the built-ins was left.



3. Filling the Cases

It was finally time to load all the books! I was a bit worried the weight of the books would shift the screws that link the cases together and to the wall, but it turned out perfectly. These bookshelves are plenty strong and did not move at all.



It took me a whole day sorting out all the National Geographic we have. Our collected dated back to 1914 (!), when the magazine was only 16 years young. It was a rare find at an estate sale. We do not know much about the man who collected them, except that he was a pilot and his collection ended on November, 2015. 🙁 After finding his correspondence with the National Geographic editorial office in between the book pages, I could not help but preserving his legacy by bringing the whole collection home.

We started subscription again after moving into our ranch and plan to fill the missing issues between 2015 and 2017. But I will forever remember the month the original collection stopped.

4. Trims and Moulding


The usage of scrap wood piece ensured that the bookcases are spaced exactly 3/4″ apart. These gaps will be covered by 2 1/2″ vertical trims.


As of the space under the cases, Slav has requested baseboard drawers. I guess I will be making drawers again!


We also have 9 1/4″ height to fill on the top of the built-in library, which will be covered with trim and crown moulding.


Although we are eager to finish the built-in, we are soaking in the rare normality in between renovation episodes. Roxie and Charlie can now hop around without worrying about sharp objects, and finally nap in peace. We could all use a break.


I love crossing off a to-do list. So here it is:

1. Reverse the closet
2. Create a new opening on the living room side
3. Frame the old office doorway
4. Drywall the closet and the old doorwayl
5. Assemble the bookshelves and build a 2×4 platform to boost them up
6. Bring the wall switches and outlets on the office/bedroom wall out so we can still access them with the bookshelves
7. Secure the bookshelves onto the wall
8. Load the books; clean up the office
9. Add trim and moulding to create a built-in look
10. Build baseboard drawers

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