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

Category: DIY Built Page 1 of 13

Finishing the Office Doorway


When installing the guest suite door back in May, we installed some simple wooden trims that is flush against the drywall. I thought flush trims would look cool on this door, but as soon as it was installed, we knew it was not going to work.


As you can see from the picture below, the guest room doorway is right next to Slav’s office doorway, which was finished with wider and more decorative trims. It looked weird when the trims on these two doorways were so different.


We immediately decided to add the same decorative trims around the guest room doorway to match. A few weeks ago, we finally got it completed!


It actually did not take long to install – only half a day to cut the trim boards to size and nail them onto the doorway up. But between work assignment and adoption events, it was hard to find the time. After Slav installed the trim, I patched the nail holes to get it ready for paint:


While the miter saw and nail gun were out, Slav also installed the baseboards next to the doorway. They were taken off when we worked on the kitchen which was finished a year ago and had not been properly installed afterwards.


Believe or not, we still had not installed the baseboard in the kitchen either! Slav took the opportunity and patched the missing baseboard in the kitchen too. These are small details to finish but makes such a big impact:


The baseboard at the living room corner was taken off during the kitchen renovation too. Finally, they are back up:


With the new stair railing, Slav had to cut the trims boards to fit around it, and use caulk to fill the gaps. I think he did a good job:


It might look messy at this stage but after I sanded the wood filler smooth and painted the baseboards white, it looks really good!


When our contractor finished the kitchen, all the base cabinets were finished with stock baseboards, which is very thin. Slav used a leftover piece of baseboard from the kitchen island to replace the thin baseboard on the cabinet exposed to the room. I think it looks much better.


After all the nail holes were patched and sanded, I came in with the white trim paint and gave everything a couple coats.



This new trim offers the right proportion to the door and looks a lot better than the old flush trim. Don’t you think?


Slav did a good job scribing the trim to fit the narrow space between the doorway and the wall.


When it came to painting the baseboard on the bi-color wall, I decided to match the baseboard color to those on the walls. For the left half on the white drywall, I painted this portion white:


And for the right half on the green wood board which is part of the kitchen cabinet, I matched the cabinet color and painted it green!


Isn’t it neat? I like this look a lot more intentional than just painting the whole piece white. Oh, you can see our second foster puppy, Jaz in the photo above too. She has been adopted!


I also finished painting the new baseboard in the living room and kitchen.


The cut side of the green baseboard was coated with the same green color of paint as the cabinets too.


It feels so good to complete the main floor trims, yet again! Trims and baseboards are such a important piece of room finishes. But they are never a high priority so we always put the trim work off for months after finishing a room. Next time, I need to remind myself to finish the last “5% of work” sooner than later!


Privacy Planting around the Hot Tub




Since purchasing the ranch house 6 years ago, we have been planting trees in our backyard to add shade and privacy. We put five fruit trees along the back fence and two hazelnut trees along the northern fence. Last year, we installed a hot tub near the northern fence. Unfortunately, none of the trees we planted were close enough to provide any privacy.


We considered adding a pergola over the hot tub, but crossed off the idea quickly. I enjoy looking up the night sky while hot tubbing, and did not want any structure over the hot tub. We eventually decided to plant more privacy trees around the hot tub. Although this approach will take a few years to come into effect, it only costs a fraction of a pergola, and we will be able to bring more shade and biodiversity to our backyard.


Creating a wisteria arbor

The hot tub is only 15 feet away from our northern neighbor’s fence. Being on a slope the hot tub sits significantly higher than the neighbor’s yard. People can see us going in and out of the hot tub over the fence. So we really need to screen off the space above the fence, between the two hazelnut trees.


There are only about 8 feet distance between the canopies of the hazelnut trees. We decided to install an arbor and grow a wisteria vine here. This will bring the foliage right up where we needed it, a fast way to block the view over the fence.


The wisteria variety is “Amethyst Falls“. It is a fast grower, but stays relatively tame compared to other varieties. It will reach 15-20 feet tall and 8 feet wide, a perfect fit for the space between the two hazelnut trees. I found a 4 feet wide garden bench from a thrift store for the space under the new arbor. The wisteria leaves will cast some much needed shade on the bench, making it a great sitting spot in the garden.


To offer strong support for the wisteria, we decided to build a permanent arbor made using cedar posts, instead of buying a metal trellis online. Slav and I went to our favorite fence supply store and got a couple 4″x4″s and 2″ x 6″s for the build. I picked the simplest design, and Slav built it in our garage in like 10 minutes.


Three 50-pound bags of concrete (leftover from our 2018 fence build!) were used to secure the 4″x4″ posts in the ground. I racked away the mulch then Slav dug the holes. We had lots of experience setting posts from our horizontal fence build. Everything went so fast that I barely had chance to take pictures!





After the concrete had dried, we took off the bracing of the arbor and planted the wisteria. This spot suddenly looked so cute!


The picture below were taken when I stood behind the hot tub. You can see the a few feet of the space we are trying to screen off. I mounted a piece of cattle panel on the arbor so I can train the wisteria to grow up at an angle.


Planting a weeping Alaskan cedar

While the new wisteria arbor can block the view from the neighbor’s yard, we still need to find a solution for the view for their back windows. In the summer months, one of the hazelnut trees can effectively block this view. However, during winter months, the hazelnut tree loses its leaves and no longer offers the same privacy. To create an all-season screen in front of the fence, I chose a weeping Alaskan cedar.


I have wanted a weeping evergreen for a long time. I have considered weeping white pine and weeping colorado spruce, but they are both too big for our urban backyard especially at a spot so close to the houses and a fence. Weeping Alaskan cedar trees only grow 8-12 feet circumference when mature, but reaches 20 feet tall in our climate. It is the perfect specimen for this narrow space.

Weeping Alaskan Cedar For Sale Online | The Tree Center

Above is a picture of a full grown weeping alaskan cedar. I like its straight central trunk and dense, pendulous branches. Even the side branches are long, the weeping habit of the branches keeps its footprint contained. I planted the weeping cedar 5 feet away from the fence. So even when it is fully grown, the branches should barely touch the fence.


Once full grown, this weeping cedar will not only add privacy to the hot tub, but also serve as an all-season screen between the two back patios. To save some time, I splurge for a more mature and taller tree. It was over 5 feet tall when it came to our house this Spring. Given its fast growing rate (4-6 inches per year), it should start performing in 3-4 years.

Adding an arborvitae hedge

Last fall, we added six “north pole” arborvitaes in the side yard. The spot is right next to the neighbor’s garage and a small alley, where they keep the trash cans, construction materials, and lawn equipment. Although privacy is not a big issue here, we do want to mask the old fence and the utility alley. The “north pole” arborvitae grows to 12-15 feet tall and 4 feet wide. We planted them 3 feet apart, so they can grow into a green wall when mature.


We planted the same variety of arborvitae in our front yard in 2018. They are now over 6 feet tall and bulked up really nicely. Knowing that these trees grow fast, we purchased smaller size to save some $$$. But after one winter, these little trees already put on some decent growth.


Planting magnolia tree and shrubs on the east side


While building the retaining wall around the hot tub, we added a small flower bed on the east side. It is already 3-4 feet higher than the hot tub patio, so small trees/large shrubs are sufficient to screen the hot tub on this side.


Last Fall, I planted a Jane magnolia as an anchor plant in this area.


The magnolia tree lost all its leaves in winter, but this Spring, it leafed out beautifully, and produced the most beautiful flower in May.


This magnolia tree will grow up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. I will be training its branches to go over the hot tub which should be magical during the flower season. In the middle of the bed, I planted a pieris mountain fire. I first saw this plant in a display garden in Nashville, TN and immediately fell in love. The new growth on this plant is intense red, which gives it such an unique and striking appearance. It should reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, a perfect second tier next to the 15 feet tall magnolia tree.


The very end of the bed is too small for perennials, so I seeded three cosmos to add some color. I really like the pink and purple cosmos next to the bright red leaves on the pieris mountain fire. I think this spot can be used for pink annuals every year.


Adding weeping redbud trees on the east and south side

The last two trees we added for the hot tub are weeping redbud trees, a variety called “lavender twist“. The first one was planted on the east side of the hot tub, close to the shed patio. Although far away from the hot tub itself, it sits right between the east side house and the hot tub. Once the leaves fill in, it will create a 10′ x 10′ waterfall-like dense foliage to block the view from the east side.


Here is how the redbud tree looks from 10 feet back, through the herb garden. It should look really good in a couple years!


The second weeping redbud tree were planted in the patio garden bed, on the south side of the hot tub.


Same as the other weeping redbud, it is already at a decent height and once the leaves are filled in, this tree will screen the view from our southern neighbor. The shrub behind the red bud is a snowball bush viburnum. It will eventually grow into a 6–10 ft tall and wide multi-stem shrub, adding another layer of greenery on the south side.


A quick view of the new garden beds

Walking around the hot tub area, I cannot believe how different our backyard looks compared to last Fall. Although half empty, the new garden beds flew nicely and the anchor plants looked so lovely.



Remember the side yard I planted last Fall? All the bareroot hostas sprouted this spring. There are also six lady ferns. Although they are all super small this Spring, I think they will cover the entire side yard in just a few years.


There is still lots of space to fill, and I am excited to plant more perennials! I would love to add more pink and purple colors to this area, such as gaura, purple cone flowers, lavender, alliums, and maybe some smooth hydrangeas. Now we have the bones of the garden established, the rest is more of play than work to me. We have done so much but there is still so much to do – but this is what makes gardening fun. Do you agree?


The Guest Room Gets a Door

Our 2023 to-do list includes lots of small cosmetic updates. Installing a door for the guest room was the No. 1 on our list. This guest room sits at the northeast corner of the main floor. It used to be our bedroom, before we created a master suite in the basement.


After moving our bedroom downstairs, we converted this room to a home office for me. It also functions as a guest bedroom with the help of a hidden murphy bed.



We took down the bedroom door during this renovation, then taped and mudded the old doorway to give it a passthrough-like appearance. The plan was to install the future bedroom door onto the openings between the hallway and the living room. So when guests stay over, they could access the bathroom without opening their door to the living room.

The bedroom door before:


The bedroom doorway after the office renovation:


But before we got to installing the bedroom door, we worked on the main floor bathroom and the nearby kitchen. Now all the spaces around this small hallway have finished, it is finally time to close off the guest suite.


The width of the opening between the living room and the hallway space is only 36″, so we decided to install a 32″ wide prehung door for this opening. Prehung doors come with door jambs hinges, making the installation very straightforward. As of the door choices, we decided to get a pre-primed 5-panel door that matches the modern look of the nearby bathroom pocket door. After bringing it home, I painted it the same white color to match all the trims on the first level


Below is a picture of the ceiling at this opening. You can see how the two walls overlap a few inches, which is perfect to fit the door jambs. The ceiling smoke/CO2 detector had to be relocated.


Framing and installation:

To frame the doorway, we need to know what the framing behind the walls look like. Slav marked where the door jambs should go, then cut off the baseboards and drywall to expose the framing.



Then Slav cut the drywall off the other side of the opening. We have worked with this section of the wall before – The wall on the opposite side of the kitchen used to be a door to the second bedroom on the main floor. Shortly after moving in, we converted the bedroom to an office for Slav and closed this doorway in the process.

The hallway, 2017


2018, before the office renovation:


2018, After Slav’s office renovation:


Slav removed the baseboards and drywall at this corner where the door jamb should go. It felt funny to see the framing we have put in five year ago.


The door jamb for a prehung door is only 33″ 9/16, so we need to narrow the opening a bit. We installed a 2″ x 4″ on each side to support the door jamb.



With the correct opening size, Slav installed the door jambs.


Then he attached the door itself. Once again, the guest “room” became a room!


Despite the opening on top of the door, we could already feel a sense of privacy in the guest bedroom. Interestingly, we found ourselves closing the new door while using bathroom too, even though the bathroom has its own door.


Here is how the doorway looked like from the living room. We chose a left-handed door so we can keep the door open easily.



We installed the mirror again on the wall facing the bathroom door. so our guests can use it to get ready before heading out to the common space.


Closing the doorway with drywall:

To completely enclose the doorway, we put drywall over the opening above the door. Slav added some 2″ x 4″ above the door header to give the drywall panel some support , then attached drywall which we saved from the kitchen renovation:



Then he used wood trims to cover the door jamb.


And installed hardware and a door stopper:


We managed to get everything installed just in time for a friend’s visit. I think he and his two dogs enjoyed the new private “suite”. 🙂



During the last a couple weeks, Slav mud and taped the new drywall, and I painted the drywall the same color as rest of the main floor.


You might notice some yellow patches on the door frame – these are wood fillers I patched the nail hole with. I have not painted the trims yet. Because there will be more trim work ahead of us!

Future finishing work: door trims and baseboard

During the finishing work, we noticed that we now have three different trim style around this small hallway – the simple flush trim around the new door, the most decorative trim around the office door way, and the old trim around the linen closet door:




The flush trim next to the closet trim does not bother me much. But the difference between the office doorway trim and the new door trim is too obvious to let go. We will add the same profile of trims around the new door so the two doorway looks symmetrical. Then we will caulk and paint everything all together. For now, let us celebrate the completed 95% done guest suite doorway!



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