Butler’s Pantry: Update

I found some countertop material! I’d been hunting for scrap soapstone/marble/anything-really secondhand when I saw 3 sheets of 3’x5′ slate chalkboards for only $10 (O.o!). They came from an old school that was torn down. Luckily, slate is easy to cut yourself, but they are only 3/8″ thick and we will need to add a cabinet-grade plywood backer to install them. I plan to oil then after installation.

We’ve finished the simpler right-hand side of the pantry and finalized our plans for the left. In addition to beefing out the shelving and adding a toe kick to the mangled section, we had the idea to add a built in wine rack to the upper cabinet that is missing a bit. Hopefully, we will be able to blend the old and new with the stain.


We’re hosting during the holidays this year and will be holding off progress—and a big mess— until after.

(A look back at Part: 1.)

Refinishing The Butler’s Pantry: Part 1

J and I are working to repair and restore the butler’s pantry between our dining room and kitchen. We plan on doing it in 3 phases as we try to keep the space usable for our day-to-day lives. First, we will try to restore the upper cabinets by polishing up the original brass hardware, stripping the wooden cabinet faces, and staining/polying them. We’ll replace the lone broken glass pane, but keep the interior the same white as our trim.

Our second phase will probably take less time but more resources since the lower cabinets and countertop need the most help. Someone along the way had cut out a third (probably for an early ice box) and we need to make the whole bottom cohesive. We are hoping we can scrounge a solid run of stone countertop secondhand to unify the top and beef out shelves with a new toe kick to match. We’ll probably keep the lowers painted since we will be unable to match the consistency of stain across mixed woods.

Out third step is lighting. The existing pendant light is not centered in the space and is on a pull string like a basement light (please don’t break!). J hopes he’ll be able to center it and add a light switch coming in from the dining room. I do like a fancy hanging light, but we may have to go with recessed lighting to avoid the tall cabinet doors. We are debating about adding some under-mount lighting or cabinet lights, but we’ll see after the big stuff is finished.

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I was able to spend a few hours on the pantry this week and  already scraped off the painted wallpaper on the plaster walls as J pulled off the cabinet doors. After stripping a few layers of paint, the wood seems to have a nice long grain opposed to knotty pine, so our staining will probably be a go. I hope to get the right side mostly stripped by the end of the weekend, but we’ll see how it goes.

Cheers and happy end of summer!

Chair Upholstery

I had purchased a pair Ethan Allen Josephine armchairs for cheap off Craigslist a while back with the intention to refinish and reupholster them for our dining room.They sat in my basement for nearly a year before I finally got around to them. At some point, they had been painted gold with the original red lacquer seeping through. Plus, they were covered in an odd blue-silver crushed velvet. Overall, not a pretty sight, but a little TLC would do them wonders.

I removed all of the existing fabric and spent what seems like hours removing all the old staples. Next, I started removing as much of the old paint and lacquer with some stripper and some scraping tools. After a few rounds, I sanded the less intricate details by hand to get most of the red bits out. Then, I used a Dremel to really get into the detailed flower carvings and finer details of the legs.

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I cleaned everything off and began the staining process. I wanted a darker color to contrast with our lighter oak floors, but not totally ebony. I feel that it’s better to have some contrast than be slightly off. I applied a first run of english walnut stain from the local big box store to get the depth I wanted. After letting it sit for a day, I applied a warmer reddish walnut stain to get a warm richness. I let them sit for a few days to fully cure since the humidity was high after several days of rain. I applied three coats of satin poly with light fine sanding in between for a smooth, durable finish.

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I didn’t want the chairs to be too formal (pretty traditional in shape) and for them to have a bit of fun. The winner was fabric I found from Rifle Paper Co.  because it reminded me of whimsy Scandinavian illustrations. J helped me stretch the fabric and staple it to the frame. It’s a little hard to do yourself and requires more hand strength than I have. I grabbed a spool of upholstery cording and made miles of trim. After gluing the trim on and nearly a year later, I was finally done.

Front Yard Facelift

We knew on closing that supports for the front porch were… lacking. It sagged down and to one side with the stairs falling backwards. After the snow melted, we were able to see that the whole frame still sat on original iron rods. We had a local company come by to jack it up and install new 4ft deep footers and 6×6 pressure-treated posts.

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Porch After Jacking and New Supports.

We took the opportunity of the construction zone for a front yard to start our long-term plan of making the front and side yard as low maintenance as possible. As the porch was being raised, we saw that the rhododendrons were way too big and nearly growing under the porch. J and I moved them to the side of the house to help naturalize it. (Let’s not have to mow that, please.)

After the porch was settled on new supports, we wanted to re-established the long lost flower beds. You could see remnants of mulch sitting amongst the sparse grass and sea of dandelions. After a few hours of popping all the weeds out, J began to re-level the area. We planned on keeping the existing honeysuckle, lone hosta, and lilac (needs to grow back after a previous harsh pruning), but tossed everything else. We laid down some weed cloth and applied a thick layer of cedar mulch.

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We tried to find as many free plants that would be suitable for a west facing house. J split several of the irises from around back to line the walkway. A neighbor stopped by to admire our work and he let us have some of the baby hostas his plants has spawned. In the end, I only ended up getting the peonies for either side of the steps. They’ll grow to a nice height, plus they’re pretty low maintenance.

The porch itself looked pretty shabby. There was lots of loose paint, alligatoring, and a multi-colored chipped floor. I spent a week scraping down all the painted surfaces and pulling out the old caulking. After, I re-caulked all the crevices and J repaired a few boards before covering everything with Kilz oil based primer.

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I wanted to break up the white on white on white look the house currently had and the existing navy shutters were a bit sun-faded. We picked up a gallon of Behr’s satin exterior paint in both Polar Bear (the white we use for interior trim) and black. I picked the black to give our front door a more formal feel and to contrast all that white. It took me a few days pressed against incoming rain, but I made it.

Our local big box store was always out of the standard tan porch paint, so we had them tint the stock white to a tan we picked out (Behr | Egyptian Pyramid). I did the edging while J rolled the floors. We let it sit for the full 72 hours before putting anything back on the porch.


In the future, we plan on extending the flower bed to the neighbor’s bed and grabbing a high bush blueberry from a friend to shield the side. J wants to redo the crush stone on either side of the house with some drainage pipes, but for now it’s in a better place.


  • Porch Jacking Labor & Materials: $3,100
  • Paint and Supplies: $100 (we had some already)
  • Peonies: $30
  • Planters (Target): $13 on sale
  • Potted plants: $40 (local grower)

Total: $3,283

Winter Is For Wallpaper (Removal)

Since all of our bigger tasks were on hold for winter, we decided to start removing the painted wallpaper on the the first floor. Thankfully, the kitchen and family room seem to have escaped the layers on wallpaper, so we started with the formal living room.

It looked okay in photographs, but in person, the speckled texture was less than pleasant and was barely hanging on. J could simply pop the seam with his fingers and pull most of the run down in one go. Underneath was 2 layers of half removed old wallpaper that had been smoothed out and painted. You could see the discoloration of the paint where the wallpaper was leeching through.


We got a steamer along with along handled 4in. scrapper at our local big box hardware store and started scrapping it all off. The plaster was in over all good shape. We needed to patch all the nail holes (one wall looked like it had a pox), repair the rounded corners, patch an few larger holes, and reattach two loose plaster spots.

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Reattaching Plaster with Adhesive and Screws with Plaster Washers.

After, we caulked all the edges of the trim. We primed with some Kilz oil-based primer seal the discoloration from the glue and tannins of the wallpaper. Plus, the plaster itself just eats paint. We committed to Behr’s Polar Bear for all our white trim and picked a shade called Almond Kiss for the walls. It’s a light warm pink that will compliment the greige we plan to use in the hall/entry/utility spaces.

We intended to address the stick-on tile of the fireplace at another time. (I think it probably once held a mirror since the inset is vary shallow.) However, the stick-ons did not take kindly to the steamer (humidity) and a few popped off. After, prying off all the rest, we started looking for some real tile to put in it’s place. We really liked this black marble herring bone pattern, but stone is too thick and it had a minimum order requirement.


Sources 1 | 2 | 3

We ended up choosing penny tile in antique gold so we wouldn’t need to buy a tile cutter. I really liked the green version, but we decided to go more neutral since it can’t be easily changed later.

It’s hard to tell in photos, but the space is much brighter and feels larger. J and I curled up on the couch to watch a movie the Friday after we moved our furniture back in. He started dosing off because it felt like home (best compliment ever).



Finally Home

J and I had been renting together for a few years which afforded us the ability to try a new city in another part of the country and explore that region. After we headed back east, we settled in a 1,300 sq. ft. rented townhouse. It was pricey and a veritable rainbow of paint colors (11, I think), but in a cute New England town with a bakery, barber, and fish monger. Towards the end of our lease — that couldn’t be renewed — we found rental costs in nice neighborhoods equaling 2 t0 3 times a mortgage. It didn’t make financial sense for us to continue renting in an area we plan on staying for a few years.

We found a great realtor that let us take the reigns on homes we’d like to see as well as adding input on things we might not have necessarily looked out for. After touring some beautiful, messy, and sometime downright scary houses, we settled on a 1884 New Englander. It’s in fairly good structural condition with many cosmetic quirks (see: painted textured wallpaper, stick on tiles, layers of paint).  We know there are many things we have to do first, but J and I are really looking forward to updating and restoring this home.

We’ve started planing our projects for the house knowing somethings will be slow going. Some bigger projects need to wait till the weather is a bit warmer. When it does finally get warm out, we’ll be taking down a tree so the metal roof can be refinished, jacking the front porch back to level, and replacing some old lally columns in the basement.


Short Plans: Remove all painted wallpaper and repair/paint plaster walls. Refurbish butler’s pantry. Repair and restore railing.

Long Plans: Redo half-bath. Refinish floors. Possibly update kitchen.

Short Plans: Remove all painted wallpaper and repair/paint plaster walls. Repair and restore railing. Relocate existing lighting.

Long Plans: Wall off bedroom 1 from the den (currently has passageway). Replace shower insert with tub insert in bathroom. Refinish floors.

3rd Floor

Short Plans: Repair and restore railing.

Long Plans: Replace drop ceilings. Refinish floors. Remove painted panelling in favor of smooth drywall.

Dream: Create a whole floor master suite.