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

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Back to Work + Basement Trims

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2020 has been intense so far. After staying home for months, I am finally back to work. We did well during the pandemic though. While Slav continued working from home, I accomplished a number of home improvement projects. From organizing the garage and creating more overhead storage to refinishing the bathroom door, from building patio planterstidying up the veggie garden, building a new terrace garden, to automating the drip irrigation, I did not rest a single day! You can see the result of our projects in the recent garden tours here.

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But the biggest ticket item Slav and I checked off during the stay-at-home period, is our basement utility room.

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Installing flooring and the doors in the utility room marked a near completion of our basement renovation, which we started a year and half ago! Now the only task left in the basement was installing trims and baseboards.

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With the momentum we decided to wrap up the basement reno before I had to go back to work. So during the last two weeks of my stay-at-home time, Slav joined me in the basement to work on trims.

We started with installing trims for the three doors we installed back in February. The profile we chose is called “craftsman“, which matches the best the profile of our doors.

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The top trims were pieced together with 1″ x 2″ and 1″ x 6″ boards for a beefy look. The side trims were all 1″x 6″ boards.

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Due to the height of the ceilings, we used simpler profile of trims on the closet doors and the bathroom pocket doors:

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One area that was difficult to address is the space between the two bathroom doors. There was not enough room here for the whole width of 1″x 6″. So we opted for a corner bead.

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We ran both door trims and the corner bead all the way to the floor for a clean look.

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After finishing the door trims, we installed baseboards. The baseboard we chose has a simple profile with tall base and a fat bead on top.

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The 5.5″ height hid all the imperfection on the bottom of drywall, and the 5/8″ thickness covered the 1/4″ gap between the flooring and the drywall well.

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We installed the same baseboard throughout the basement for a cohesive look.

The media room

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The master bedroom

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And the newly finished utility room

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There are a few places where the baseboards end on the face of the door trims. We used a return profile to finish the corner elegantly:

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Similar return profiles, with a different angle, were used to terminate baseboards where they meet the master closets.

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To make sure one pocket door closes tightly onto the wall, Slav installed baseboards up to the door from both side and did nice returns on both ends:

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It might not look like much, but it took us three days to get all the trims and baseboards installed. Following installation, Slav caulked all the nail holes, seams, and gaps, and I painted all the trims, baseboards, and closet doors in the same color of our main floor trims.

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This is the first time I tried this Valspar oil-enriched enamel paint. And it did not disappoint! It is almost self-leveling so there is not much brush marks. I chose satin finish, color matched to Behr ultra Pure White.

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After the paint dried on the doors and baseboards, Slav installed handles and magnet door stoppers to protect the walls. All the hardware are in satin nickel which matches our door hinges.

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After installing the trims and baseboards, I can finally get furniture for the media room! We only purchased a few pieces that are necessary for this room to function, including a new TV stand:

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We put the TV and its stand in between the bedroom door and bath door. They fit perfectly into this spot.

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Slav is on the mission of finding us a couch. At the mean time, the massage chair serves as a comfortable spot to watch TV from:

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The small heater was now moved to the wall between the utility room opening and the bathroom. I like to turn it on just for faux log fire.

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We also got a storage unit for Slav’s vinyl collection:

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I moved all the records and the player down as soon as the storage unit was assembled, and Slav set up the speakers so they can get input from our phones, computers, or the record player.

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I had painted the access panel to the water main to match the walls. Now with the record collection and speakers in front, you can hardly notice the access panel anymore.

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Can you believe that we finally crossed the finish line on this basement renovation? This is particularly significant since today happens to be the three-year anniversary of us moving into this house.

Finally, Charlie can enjoy some peace and quiet in his favorite spot in the house:

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Now when going down the stairs, we know that we would be entering a clean and relaxing space, without any work in sight. What an amazing feeling it is!

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Many thanks to those of you following our basement renovation for such a long time – 18 months to be exact. Thanks for your encouragement and cheers along the way! Now let us hope the pandemic is over soon so we can host movie nights in our new media room again!

Home Stay + The Utility Room is Finished!

Four weeks ago we shared about the progress in the basement utility room. Since then, I was busy at Spring planting.

With all the warm days and cool nights, our yards have greened up nicely. The trees bloomed and all the perennials came back stronger than ever. The lawn remains nice and green, while all the seedlings came up nicely despite of using old seeds.

Gardening really made the home quarantine a lot easier. I am blessed to have a big space to roam around safely. 10 weeks into the pandemic, neither of us feels anxious or claustrophobic. I still look forward to visiting the mountains and public parks though. But to date, gardening kept me calm.

I did go back to the utility room though. During the rainy days I painted the utility room in our go-to wall color – Sherwin-Williams Extra White (SW 7006):

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The closet was painted in “Pale bud”, the same color we used in our upstairs bedroom closets:

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The ceiling and laundry nook were also painted in white:

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The utility closet will be covered by doors so I did not paint the inside. In fact, we did not even mud the drywall inside the closet:

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Building the utility closet is truly a good decision! Not only it enables us to soundproof around the furnace, but also we now have a designated spot for all the unsightly cleaning tools and products.

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As soon as the paint dried, we moved onto preparing the slab for floor installation. It was an easy decision to extend the vinyl flooring throughout the basement into the utility room. What we used was a cork-backing vinyl flooring called NuCore, in the color of “Driftwood”.

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Installing LVP flooring requires a leveled floor. Moving the floor drain left us a low spot in the utility room. So we used self-leveling concrete to level everything and patch small holes.

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After the self-leveling concrete dried overnight, we went around the utility room slab with a scraper to clean up any small bumps, followed by a good vacuum around the room.

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Then we put the washer and washer back. Not able to do laundry for a whole month, it felt so good to have the laundry set back and connected!

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It was also a nice bonus that they were finally out of the media room now. For weeks, our media room looked like this:

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Now the washer and dryer were out, I could not wait to clean up the dust:

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I stripped away the floor protector and swept away any debris and dust in the media room. Gotta love a mid-project clean-up!

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Based on our experience, a clean floor installation requires a dust-free environment during the installation. Cleaning the neighboring media room prevented the underlayment to attract dust and hair due to static electricity. Using the same method, we expanded the flooring into the utility room:

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and all the way inside the closet:

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with a smooth transition:

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With previous experience it only took us 6 hours for the installation. We worked like a well-oiled machine and had a good time.

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Shortly after the flooring was installed, the doors were up! We ordered custom doors to match the profile of the solid basement doors. They came in pre-primed and with trims! After a few cuts on the trims, everything got installed in a day:

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A pair of french doors are used for the utility closet to ensure full access to the furnace and water heater.

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The door on the under-the-stair closet is a pocket door, which slides inside the wall to save room:

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After the sliding doors was installed, I was able to finish painting the boundary between the closet and the utility room:

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We did not install trim on the side wall. So the two spaces were separated by a crisp paint line between white and pink:

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We also took this opportunity to order and install the pocket door for the master bathroom:

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It will be painted white on the bedroom side. And the bathroom side will be painted in a darker color to match the tiles.

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The installations of the flooring and the doors happened back to back (crazy, I know), and together they made such a dramatic change to the whole basement! I had imagined many times how this space would feel at this stage. But in reality, uniting the rooms with seamless flooring created a look even better than I anticipated:

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It helps the whole space to feel so spacious:

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I cannot help but feeling that the utility room – maybe we should give it another name now – deserves to have its own purpose, rather than being merely an extension of the media room.

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I have come up a few ideas for the space and as you can see, and I put up some makeshift floating shelves made from scrap materials to try them out.

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The taller floating shelf is set at 32″ from the floor. At such height, it can be used to display books and collectibles. It also can be used for laptop or tablet if needed.

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I kept it narrow (12″) so it does not protrude from the partial wall next to the opening.

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I also made a makeshift low table with two simple storage cubes. It is elevated 18″ from the floor, a perfect height for an adult person when sitting on floor pillows. It can be a spot for chess games, tea time, or serving drinks and food when we have movie nights in the future media room.

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Being also 12″ deep, the low table can be tucked underneath the floating shelf, if such unobstructed access between the two rooms is desired.

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There you go, our finished utility room, and our almost finished basement! Without unfinished surfaces, our basement feels spacious, clean, quiet, and cool – a perfect spot to chill during summer days. It has quickly become Charlie’s favorite space to stretch out and nap. We moved two dog beds down here already, one in the bedroom for Charlie to sleep after breakfast, and the other in the media room for him to nap in hot afternoons. Charlie is a lucky pup.

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The next step is finishing the trims and baseboards – we are getting so close!

Home Stay+ Bath Door Refinish

Today marks the start of home stay week 3. It is frustrating to watch the world to get sicker each day, while doing nothing is actually my best way to help. I wonder how I’d feel about this time when it passes, like ten years from now. But for now, the uncertainty gets the upper hand sometimes.

To keep my mind occupied, and more importantly, to make myself feeling useful, I turned to DIY. Tangible, tedious, fulfilling, and therapeutic. I’ve organized the garage and built cedar planters for the patio. This week, I refinished our master bathroom door.

The second-hand bath door

Our master room has two doorways, and this is the door we mounted between the media room and the bath.

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I do not think Charlie digs the concept of glass door at all.

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We got this door second-hand from Resource Central’s resale store. It is made from solid wood and double-paneled glass. It is super heavy.

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From distance the door looked pretty nice. But when you looked it closely, its color read rather yellow and it had screw holes from hanging blinds.

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We’d like to re-stain it to espresso to match other doors in the basement.

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First step: Sand

The first step of finishing any wood product is to sand off the old finish down to bare wood. We moved it into the garage and I started by covering the glass with plastic drape.

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I usually use random orbital sander on large surfaces, but for the rather narrow door frames I chose my small 3M hand sander. I only had 80, 120 and 220 grit sandpapers on hand so I started with 80 grit.

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The wood is fairly soft. A few passes with 80 grit sandpaper took the finish right off.

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The dimension of the door was written on the side of the door:

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Came right off with the 80 grit sandpaper.

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Before sanding:

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After 80 grit:

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It took just 5 mins on each side.

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To sand the inside trim I took the 80 grits sandpaper off the sander and held it with my hands:

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Trim before sanding:

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After 80 grits:

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After vacuuming the sand dust away, I proceeded with 120 grit sandpaper.

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And finished everything off with 220 grits sandpaper:

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Step 2: Clean and patch (then sand again)

By this point the door frame was very smooth. I cleaned off the sand dust with a damp microfiber cloth:

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Then patched the staple and screw holes with wood putty:

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After a light sanding where the putty had been applied, the door was ready for the stain!

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Step 3: Stain!

For the stain I picked Varathane in espresso color. I recently read about shellac as a wood finish and decided to give it a try.

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Rubbing on the first coat of stain. I immediately liked the color of the stain and how easy it was applied.

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You can see how much the espresso color of stain darkened the wood. It looked warm, but did not read red or yellow. I am very happy with this color.

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After letting the first coat of stain dry for a couple hours, I applied the second coat. I do not think the second coat darkened the wood much more, but rather filled in the raw spots and enriched the color. It added more weight to the appearance.

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This was how the color looked like in bright sun light after the second coat had dried. With cooler and dimmer lighting, it read a lot darker. I think it would match the other two doors really well.

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Final step: Seal and protect

After the stain dried I applied the shellac. It is pretty thick – kinda a maple syrup consistency, and dries very fast. I had to work very fast to make sure each layer was thin.

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Can you tell that it added a lot more shine to the wood? It was very pretty in person with just the first coat!

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I applied three thin layers in total, with one hour of drying time in between.

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After the last layer had applied I let the door sit. It takes time for the solvent (ethanol in this case) to evaporate completely and the shellac to harden. We have not mounted it yet. But I like the finish! Do you?

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