DIY stairs: Before & After

Happy hump day! The good is news is that I finished the basement stairs, the bad news is that all I have are these crappy iPhone pics to prove it. Apparently it's been so long since I've blogged that I misplaced my camera's memory card. Seriously, I can't find that thing anywhere!

I'm thrilled with how the stairs turned out, especially knowing that the entire thing - treads, risers, runners - cost less than $200. We used particle board treads, which remain a little rough to the touch after painting. I wouldn't recommend particle board on a main staircase, but since these steps lead to Adam's teaching studio and Hannah's playroom in the basement, the finish is perfect for us - no worrying about slips or falls, even if the kids veer off the runner. 

I love the runner. I wish I'd been able to purchase a third to continue the look to the very top of the stairs, but these are basement stairs, so it's really no big deal. I used a measuring tape to make sure the runner was centered, then stapled it in place under the lip of each stair, and where the treads and risers meet. The runner has its own rubber backing, so it's holding in place well, and I was able to get a nice tight fit with my staples. I used silver, heavy-duty staples and they're not noticeable at all.

I added new baseboards at the base of the stairs - a small, but noticeable improvement in my opinion. I still need to repaint the floor, but I haven't had a chance to get to the store for paint just yet. Even with the scratched-up floor, it's a huge improvement from where we started:

The photo above always makes me feel a teeny bit bad for getting rid of Henry's sleeping spot, ha!


DIY stair makeover: basement edition

When we remodeled our stairs in late 2013, we hired professionals to do all the important, tricky stuff - like opening up the wall and installing a new header, and ripping out the old stairs and installing new stringers - but we asked them to install temporary treads and risers on both staircases. At the time, we were still trying to decide between continuing the hardwood we installed upstairs onto the main floor or doing something entirely different (spoiler alert: we did something different). And hey, we're always up for a new DIY challenge.

In the spring of 2014, we installed permanent treads and risers leading upstairs, which we painted and stained ourselves. But the basement steps? Well, as of this weekend, they still looked like this:

I know. These pictures make me cringe, but if I'm being honest, we stopped noticing the stairs after awhile (kind of like that pile of dirty laundry). They were disgusting, but functional.

Over the weekend, we FINALLY bought permanent treads and risers, and I installed them while Adam found various ways to distract Hannah. I'm no expert, but since the treads and risers I installed upstairs still look great two years later, I can at least offer some insight into what's worked for me.

I measured each step and cut my tread and riser to be a half inch longer than the opening. Then I angled the tread or riser in place so that it was flush against one wall, and marked the tread or riser by dragging my scribe against the wall (you can see a picture of my "scribe" in this post). This allowed me to trim an additional 1/4-inch off each side of the tread or riser, at an angle that exactly matched the wall. The last step is to screw the step into the stringers (riser first, then tread). You can see how I was working my way down the staircase in the picture above, and the finished product below.

Last time I painted and stained my treads and risers before I installed them, but since we're planning to paint these steps and install a runner, I wanted to purchase the runner first.

I found these simple striped runners at JYSK for only $9.99 a piece. I shared this picture on Instagram and asked for paint colour suggestions, but after reviewing the stairs I've pinned over the years, I noticed a definite trend:

I've started painting and caulking the stairs, and I'm excited to tackle the runner. Patching and painting the walls, adding new baseboards at the bottom of the stairs, and re-painting the floor are also on my to-do list. Let's see if I can get it all done this week!


2015: Where we went, what we did

As 2015 draws to a close, it's time to post a round-up of my favourite experiences from the year (you can see last year's round-up here). We did a fair bit of travelling in 2015, so it was fun to look back at my photos and collect a few here - what a year!

We had a great visit with one of my best friends during a surprisingly snowy weekend in late March. Our snowshoe through Hemlock Ravine Park is one of my favourite memories from her visit.

In June, I spent a solo weekend in gorgeous Nice, France, followed by a week-long conference in the Côte d'Azur. It was an unexpected trip, and one I still can't believe I got to take. It always makes me smile when I think about how stiff my legs were each morning from all the walking I did around Nice.

We spent a week enjoying the cottage life in our beautiful province, which included hikes around Five Islands Provincial Park and Thomas' Cove, a visit to That Dutchman's Cheese Farm, searching for dinosaur fossils at Wasson Bluff , and way too many ice cream cones at Masstown Market.

In August, we made our annual trek to Massachusetts to visit family and friends. From there, we took the train to NYC, where we rented an apartment and hung out in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighbourhood for a few days while Adam spent some time working with a local producer.

From Brooklyn, we flew to Wisconsin to visit my father. He and his wife showed us a great time, including day trips to Bookworm Gardens and Lambeau Field, and even a swim in Lake Michigan.

We ended our trip with a visit to Chicago, one of my bucket list cities. We had a great time and packed a lot into our short visit, especially with a three year-old in tow. Adam and I would love to come back someday - adults-only - to see more of the city and experience some nightlife.

Speaking of adults-only, we ended our summer with a trip to Prince Edward Island to see one of Adam's bandmates get married. After a busy summer, it was nice to get some 'us time' - and sleep in, of course :)

Last month I spent a couple of days in Ottawa for work, and arrived early so I could visit one of my best friends and her family, including meeting her new baby and seeing her beautiful home for the first time. We've been friends since elementary school and I love that we can go months without seeing one another and immediately pick up where we left off.

Phew! We experienced a lot in 2015, and I'm excited to find out what 2016 has in store. I've already booked a flight for a girls trip to San Francisco - another bucket list city - and I can't wait to start planning a few adventures for the whole family!


House Projects: My top 5 in 2015

In many ways, 2015 was all about finishing touches. Well that, a new roof, and new ceilings and attic insulation on the main floor. Those investments aside, I took a look back through my archives to pick five of my favourite upgrades from the year, just like last year. Believe it or not, we only have a few updates left on our list, and as a result, we've been able to spend more time enjoying our house than working on it this year. Yay!

So, here are five of my favourite DIY projects from 2015:

ONE. I started off the year by addressing this long-neglected eyesore in our kitchen. After painting the brick, Adam moved the outlet to the back of the opening and I built a new box to frame the bump-out. Both openings were topped with pine boards that I cut to size, stained and sealed.

The other side of the kitchen got some upgrades too, including new shelves, a freshly-painted door, and new pot lights.

TWO. Our entry has come a long way since we moved in, but 2015 is the year we finally "finished" it. We added new baseboards and shoe moulding, new shoe storage in the closet, and - my favourite - I turned a piece of scrap wood and some new hooks into pretty and functional wall storage. Even with a closet, it's nice to have a place to stash the bags and jackets we use everyday.

THREE. Our living room underwent some big design changes in 2015, as I slowly figured out my style, including a new-to-us couch, a DIY transformation of a thrifted leather recliner, and my beloved new rug. I also made some updates to our dining room (new table, new paint), and finally updated our main floor with new baseboards and shoe moulding.

FOUR. We've been so focused on updating our home's interior over the past four years that we almost didn't notice our outdated porch light and house numbers. 2015 was the year I finally got around to updating both, and I switched up the colour of our front door while I was at it. Small updates that make a huge difference and better reflect our style.

FIVE. We made some updates to the back patio this year, too, extending the pea gravel to make room for Hannah's sand and water table, mulching our row of transplanted hostas and ferns - which are filling in nicely - and adding a few hanging planters to our DIY fence. We started work on a future fire-pit area on the other side of the garage, but didn't quite finish in time for the change in weather. Maybe next year!


Investing in family photos

We never quite got our act together to have family photos taken last year, so I was determined to make it happen in 2015. Back in October, we met our favourite photographers, and good friends, Chelle and Adam at Gates U-Pick in Port Williams. I think it started hailing just as we arrived, ha. Even though we were freezing, and even though Hannah never stops moving, Chelle managed to capture some great shots of our afternoon. I've included some of my favourites below.

I really believe that professional family photos are worth the investment, and I'm glad we made time for them this year. As much as I enjoy looking at them now, I know we'll really appreciate these photos, and the moment in time they captured, as Hannah gets older (and hey, us too). I'm guilty of wanting to put off photos until I lose those last 10 pounds, or start getting more sleep (ha!), but I also know that over the course of my life there will be years where I'm thinner, and heavier, tired, and better-rested. We'll have good years and bad years, and I want to be able to capture and look back on at least one small snippet of them all. I blame this photography series, which I was lucky enough to see in D.C. several years ago and have never forgotten. Anyway, when I look through these photos, I mostly think we look pretty darn happy. Thanks Chelle and Adam!


4 pleasant reno surprises

A few pleasant surprises resulting from our recent reno:

1. The impact of new lighting. We went from two retro globe pendants (which I technically liked, but were awkwardly placed and provided little light) to four pot lights, with a bonus pot light leading into the kitchen from the entry. The kitchen is so much brighter - we can see the butcher block when we're cutting food now! - and yet, the pot lights add a calm and cozy ambiance to the room. It feels like a contemporary, updated space, even though our kitchen itself is nothing fancy.

2. Fresh paint, everywhere. We knew we'd have to touch up some wall paint after the ceilings were replaced, but I ended up repainting the entire main floor. Only one coat, in the same colour as before, but what a difference! Honestly, it hadn't even occurred to me to repaint, but the entire space feels so much brighter and cleaner now. If you haven't repainted in awhile, I highly recommend a fresh coat to renew your space.

3. Fresh inspiration to finish the last 10%. With every reno we've done, we always seem to lose our momentum when we get to the last 10% of the project. As exhausting as cleaning, painting, cleaning and putting our entire main floor back together was, it inspired me to tackle some nagging projects like touching up the cabinet paint, painting the patio door a glossy black, and finally adding shoe moulding to our lower cabinets. I especially love how the door turned out (I skipped the primer and applied two coats of enamel paint - so far it's holding up great).

4. Renewed appreciation for our home. After being forced out of our house for a week, I have a new appreciation for home sweet home. Maybe it's the decluttering we did to get ready, the cooler weather, or the aforementioned lighting upgrade, but our house feels cozier now, in a really good way.

Oh, and just for giggles, check out what our kitchen looked like when we bought the house:


Meanwhile at our house...

Like many people, we dealt with ice dams and water damage last winter. We were actually lucky, as far as ice dams go, that our floors and furniture weren't damaged; it wasn't until water started dripping out of the light in our living room that we even knew we had a problem. Even though we couldn't see it, the water damaged our attic insulation and drywall, which all needed to be replaced (mold is no bueno).

We replaced our roof in the spring, but the inside work only started this week. Our insurance company was easy to deal with and approved our claim quickly, but the company they sent over to provide a quote for repair didn't return our calls for weeks, and eventually told us it would be months before they could get to us to do the work. In the end, we decided to take a cheque from our insurance company and hire a contractor we trusted and had experience working with. We knew it would cost us more out of pocket, but also that we could trust him to get the work done quickly, and to do it well. After our experience with the insurance company's guy, we were worried about the work starting and then being delayed for weeks, which is a big deal when you can't use your main floor (our kitchen, living room and dining room are all open to one another).

In typical 'in for a penny, in for a pound' fashion, we decided to spend a bit more to upgrade our attic insulation to R-50 (about as efficient as you can get) and tackle some wish list electrical work.

On day 1, they pulled down all of the damaged drywall, vapour barrier and insulation, and installed the new vapour barrier and drywall. At the end of day 1, our house looked like this:

On day 2, new insulation was blown in and the drywall seams were taped and mudded. We decided to save some money by not drywalling the garage ceiling (our garage is unfinished), but our contractor installed strapping so it would be easy for us to do down the road. Our garage ceiling wasn’t insulated properly by the previous owners (the insulation was old and there were holes in the vapour barrier), so we’d always planned to redo it. It may not look like much to someone who hasn’t seen the ‘before’, but we’re thrilled to see it looking this good.

The electrician also came on day 2. The two globe lights in our kitchen were swapped out for four pot lights (in the picture below, one still needs to be installed). I liked the look of the globe lights, but one was in an awkward spot (because of our stair reno), they didn't provide enough light, and we knocked into them with enough frequency that it was a problem. The drywall in the kitchen didn't need to be replaced (thankfully), but they replaced a section where we formerly had a big ugly crack (not an ice damming problem, just an old house problem).

The electrician also moved a light switch from one side of a wall to the other. After the stair reno, the location of the light switch made no sense at all. You can just barely see it (circled) in the picture below. The new location is a huge improvement – now we have a way to turn the light on when we’re headed downstairs at night!

The mudders are coming to do the final sand tonight, and our contractor will be back tomorrow to re-install the light fixtures and finish trimming and air-sealing the attic hatch (which you can kind of see in the grainy iPhone pic above). We're hoping we can paint tomorrow and Friday, and move our stuff back in this weekend.

It’s not fun spending thousands of dollars and tearing your house apart to make it look like it did when you started, but I’m trying to focus on the small improvements (and lack of moldy insulation and drywall). It’s also the reality of owning a home (things will eventually go wrong and you'll have to pay to fix them), so I think it’s worth sharing - just in case you thought home ownership was all furniture shopping and glamourous room makeovers ;)
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