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

Tag: Outdoor Living Page 1 of 3

Relaxation + Refinishing Outdoor Chairs

In modern times, having fun can be tiring too. I have found that the best way for me to unwind is doing nothing – such as walking around in the garden, sipping tea and watching the dogs play. Recently, we’ve spent chilly evenings outside on our back patio. Slav would build a fire, and I would make some tea, then we stare at the flames for a couple hours and simple let our mind go blank. Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we just sit there and be together. It is amazing how quickly the world recedes and the inner peace grows.

After building the back patio last year, we briefly entertained the idea of getting a set of patio furniture for dining and lounging. “Let’s set up a grilling/dining area with sun shades, a fire pit area surrounded by chairs, and lots and lots of planters!” But quickly, we realized – 99 percent of the time, there are just two of us using the patio. Filling the space with furniture for friends and family we wish we could entertain who live one or two time zones away just does not make sense. So we added two seats, a fire pit, a griddle, and left the rest of our 340 sqft of patio empty.


We were fortunate to find our lounge chairs at Habitat for Humanity for a price of a steal. Although the cushions were worn, the wood frames were timeless and steady. A few IKEA cushions gave the chairs a clean and fresh restart.


But these chairs were not finished for outdoor use – at least we suspect so. After one summer with strong sun and a harsh winter, the wood finish diminished.



The surface finish started peeling and small cracks developed along the wood grain.





I decided to refinish these chairs with oil + poly to protect them from summer sun and winter snow. One sunny Saturday morning, I got to work.

1. Sanding off old finishes


The cushions were removed and the chairs were moved under shade. I started off sanding all the old finishes off the wood with 80 grit sand paper. I recently invested in a Bosch sander which makes sanding a breeze. For hard-to-reach corners and curves I borrowed Slav’s oscillating sanding tool.


Sanding with 80-grit paper had an immediate effect. You can see from the picture below the un-sanded surface on the left and sanded surface on the right.


The wood after cleaning up looked quite nice. Another round of 220-grit sand paper made everything super smooth.




I wiped everything with a clean, damp microfiber cloth and let the mountain breeze dry everything off. It was a beautiful day to work outside, especially with Roxie by my side.


Neighbor’s dog Cabby watched through the fence too.


2. Oiling the chairs up

For repairing the wood I wanted some kind of oil product that penetrates and hardens inside the wood grain. Since I do not know what kind of wood our chairs are made of, I decided to go the safest route and use oil-varnish blends. I had some danish oil leftover from finishing the antique guest bed, which is perfect for this project. Simply rubbing it on generously and let the wood drink, then returning half an hour later for two more coats. I kept the chairs in the shade so everything dries evenly and slowly.


The chair on the left got one coat of oil and the one on the right had not. It is pretty amazing how much oil the wood drink and immediately you can see the tone of the wood darkened. My girl stuck around:


After the third coat, I wiped off the excess and let the chairs dry for > 72 hours before the next step.


The color of the wood was incredibly rich.





Since the oil was out, I took the opportunity to finish a wooden tray. Roxie finally fell asleep next to me:




3. Sealing for UV Protection

Generally speaking, we could have started using the chairs after they had dried overnight. But we live in the highlands where UV really takes a toll on outdoor furniture. Therefore, I wanted to coat the chairs with an oil-based sealer. We used the Preserva clear sealer because it penetrates into the wood and reflects UV light. It was recommended to us for harsh environments that cycle between sun and snow. It was originally formulated for the Southern California market, but many CO stores carry them too.

This stain only requires 1-coat application. So after the danish oil dried for 72 hours, I brushed on as much as the wood can absorb and left it dry overnight. We used the clear finish so it did not change the color/tone of the wood.



4. Spray-on Protection for Cushions

Before we put the chairs back to use, I washed all the outdoor cushion and sprayed on a layer of water-repellent. The IKEA cushion covers are for outdoor use but do get wet when it rains. Roxie loves to nap on these chairs and she brings quite a bit dirt onto the cushions, so having a coat of fabric guard should allow us to hose down the cushions once a while and extend their lives.


After drying overnight we put everything together and they look gooood.


After almost a week without our outdoor seating, We are happy to curl up next to fire again Our first night in these newly finished chairs happened to be the one-year anniversary of the closing.moving-in day of our ranch. Happy Anniversary, thePolskiRanch! We had a great time here, and we hope that you are having a great time with us too!

The Small Project Continues

Hi friend! Happy Monday! We had another busy weekend here in the ranch house. We got a fire pit off Craigslist and picked up some free firewood in the area. Loading, splitting, and stacking firewood took a lot of time! Slav definitely got his workout in this weekend.

I, on the other hand, am recovering from the first week from work. Not working for 5 months really made a difference on my energy level, and driving 45-minute each way has taken a lot out of me. My did manage to take the Basic Life Support (BLS) and got certified! The BLS classes at my work are offered by American Heart Associations (AHA) and teach people how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use automated external defibrillator (AED) on adults, children, and even infants. I hope that I would never have chance to use my training – because that would mean someone is in trouble – but if there is an unfortunate situation, I could potentially save someone’s life!

Without my help, Slav still did plenty of updates on the ranch house. Some are big and some are small. I adore small updates, which could really make our life easier (I’ve shared you some before here). So I am excited to share the second round of small updates with you today!

1. Upgrade the backdoor lighting

Since we moved in, we have improved the function of the back entrance a lot by installing a new storm door. Demoing the old patio and metal covers and building a new concrete patio certainly helped too. However, the porch light next to the back door was till this giant stadium lighting:

It is 600W (!) and lights up not only ours, but also our neighbors’ backyards.


Because of its blinding power, we tried very hard not to use it. Slav finally could not take it anymore and bought this light from the Habitat for Humanity:


It can be mounted in three ways. We decided to honor the wall mount tradition. Since it was never used, all we needed to do was to install a LED light bulb (also from habitat for Humanity, for only $1.50 a pop!).


And this was what it looked like 20 minutes later:


Easier on the eyes, right?

2. Moving Dog leashes to the garage

As I told you before, our kitchen is a high high high traffic zone. From basement to the main floor, from garage to the living space, going out of the back door… to get anywhere, you would have to pass the kitchen. So it quickly became a messy drop-off zone. To keep the kitchen neat, I decided to find everything a designated place. That means shoes off in the garage, keys and wallets goes to the front entry, etc. This week, we moved the dog leases out of the kitchen to the garage. Our kitcken immediately looked cleaner, from this:


to this:


The leashes are now hanging on two hooks next to the garage-kitchen door , on the garage side:


I picked up these two lovely hooks from IKEA last time we stopped by:



I wanted these hooks years ago when they first came to the market, and finally had an excuse to get them! Yay!

3. Hang the closet door in Slav’s office

When we first moved in, we took all the main floor carpet out. And we removed the closet doors in the bedrooms to make things easier:

01 start from bedroom closet

After we removed the carpet, we did not bother to put back the closet doors. In our bedroom, we hung a pair of IKEA curtains instead of the doors:


But in Slav’s office, it looked like this for quiet a few weeks:


The closet is organized, but it still made the room look busy. So we decided to add the doors back on:


As you could see, I painted them white to match the wall color. Eventually we will reverse the closet to face the bedroom and dry wall this side, so I wanted to create a feeling that there is not a closet from the get-go. Now when we walk into the room, our eyes no longer land on the clothing in the closet, but more focus on the desk and the computer. I hope it will help Slav to be more focused when he works here.

4. Switching out all the baseboard vents and grilles

We have 6 baseboard vents and two return grilles on the main floor, and they all looked like this:



Two baseboard vents



Return Grilles

Since we were in the process of installing a central AC, we replaced all the old metal vents and grilles with these plastic ones from Lowe’s:


Slav spent a couple hours switching them out. The old metal ones were rusted and some screws were stuck. So it took some force to wrestle the old vent covers off. There was also a lot of dust tucked in these vents! So Slav vacuumed them all out. It made me feel so good knowing that we are no longer breathing these dust!


New vent in the bathroom


New vent in the kitchen



New return grilles in the living room

The crisp and bright white vents and grilles certainly made the floor look a lot worse. LOL. That is the story when you renovating an old house, anything new just makes the old stuff next to it 100 times worse! I am not bothered by the floor as much as Slav is, but we definitely want to refinish all the floor on the main level soon. More furniture we have here, more difficult the refinishing would be. So before we start knocking down walls or work on any build-ins, we will have to work on the floor first!

Here you go, four recent small updates! We are discovering small stuff to do everyday and I will come back to tell you more when we have a few done. Don’t you just love these small upgrades? Have you done any lately in your home?


Building a Dream Patio – The Reveal

Hello friends! Welcome to our new back patio!


34′ x 10′ patio provides lots of space for outdoor dining and seating


Patio seating from Habitat for Humanity


Back door area (and look! Our new electrical panel! Look at it!)

Our meter is still not installed, which means that we are still enjoy free electricity! “Shocking!” flower lady says.


And here is the window well embedded:


Last time I showed you the back of our house, the concrete patio was just poured and it looked like this:


According to our concrete guy’s instruction, the patio needed to for 2~4 days before we could walk on it with soft bottom shoes. I think the wait easily ranks the hardest part of the renovation to date. It looked so tempting!

We closed off the doggy door and borrowed a neighbor’s snow fence to keep the dogs off the patio. On the third day though, I found Charlie taking a sweet nap on the uncured concrete… Oh Charlie. He is so beautifully dim. I think black Labradors are either very smart or very … slow. And Charlie is undoubtedly the latter. It took him a good few days to learn how to use the doggy door, and suddenly, he was not allowed to use it anymore… It was just too much to learn for Charlie in a week.

And now look at him, drinking from his outdoor water bowl on the new patio:


And chilling on it… Charlie seems to like the concrete surface – maybe it reminds him our last home (our NC apartment has concrete floor)? He flaps around on the concrete like a fish out of water, which is so funny to watch. There is never a dull moment living with dogs!


Please allow me to remind you where we started:

The Before –



This picture was taken on the inspection day. You can see kid toy next to the sinking back patio, on a piece of dirt along the house. We actually found some broken glasses and old light bulbs there – I guess Jesus took the wheel from there and kept these kids safe…(they have crosses on every wall but left broken glass in kids play area?!)

The second photo was taken on the day we moved in.

There were so many things staying in between this patio and our dream backyard experience – the broken backdoor, the rusted window well, leaky facets, the sinking patio, the ugly awning, the broken grill, the dirty floor mat, the wooden pole (for tie their dog onto), the plastic furniture, and that satellite dish on the roof whose cable went into every room in the house…

We rolled up our sleeves … (it was over 90 degrees and we wear T-shirts to work – there was no sleeve to roll up)… and jumped in with both feet … (cannot do that either. The patio was uneven and we would have broken our ankles). Slav removed the weird dog pole, removed the metal awning, replaced the back storm door, and took down the satellite dish. We also replaced the old electrical panel and added a new outdoor outlet. The electrical work raised the incoming electrical wires higher, which was a nice bonus.

The Progress

Fast forward to the morning of patio demo day, the back of the house looked like this:


Much. Cleaner.

Then the demo happened, and things looked a little worse for a while.


We took the opportunity to replaced the old window well which would be enclosed into the new patio:


Soon enough, the concrete was poured. And the waiting game began. We had to water the concrete twice a day for four days and wait for it to cure. But after what seemed to be forever, our back patio is open for business!


And I meant business:



Isn’t it neat? With a 34′ x 10′ footprint, we are hoping to set up an outdoor grilling/dining area, an seating/fire pit area, and lots and lots of planters. Oh the planters – I cannot wait to build them!

The Seating Options

I started thinking about patio seating as soon as we settled on the patio design. Down the road, we would like to have an outdoor sectional with a fire pit in the middle, a dining table/bench combination, and a couple lounge chairs. But right now for two people, all we need is a couple chairs that are not camping chairs. For a while, I was considering IKEA KUNGSHOLMEN:

Pair with the HALLO cushions and pillows:


They look lovely, but the price tag is a bit higher than we would like to spend at this stage. We still have soooo much to do to other parts of the house, $90 a chair feels like a lot right now. Nevertheless, we checked them out on our recent trip to IKEA, just to see how comfortable they would be. When we were in line for check-out, I wandered off to the AS-IS section. Guess what I found in the fabric bin?


Discounted HALLO cushions and pillows! There was nothing wrong with them – they were 60% off just for being floor display pieces! I could not grab them fast enough.

So the first day after our concrete was ready, out outdoor seating area looked like this:


Good enough. We actually laid on them one night watching the night sky. These cushions provided a lot of support, very comfortable to touch, and kept us cool.

I was thinking then we could build some patio furniture according to the size of these cushions, a project down the line. The next day, we stopped by the Habitat for Humanity store in Littleton, something we do periodically. This store is not the closest H for H to our home, but it has the best collections of furniture. And we saw these:


A pair of wooded chairs in awesome condition. They gave out just the right amount of the cabin vibe, and they were $15 each. The cushions on them were gross, but they were the exactly same size as the HALLO cushions and pillows we already had! It felt so meant-to-be.

We still need an outdoor table. The small drum we had there is too precious to stay outdoor. But it felt sooo good already sitting here and watch Slav grill. He made one of the best burgers I’ve ever had today! After non-stop demoing and dust for a months and a half, we are so happy to have a finished and clean space to relax in the evening. It feels so rejuvenating.


And it just felt so good to go from this…


to this!


Do you have a back patio/porch? What kind of patio furniture do you use? Any furniture recommendations? We are still looking for an outdoor sectional and a fire pit. If you have a favorite, do tell!

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