Darren and I fell in love with our townhouse apartment the moment we set foot in it. It was only five blocks from our previous place, was twice as big, and had everything we were looking for: a great location, a dishwasher, a washing machine, space for a home office, and hardwood floors. (OK, it didn’t have a garden, but we were willing to sacrifice it.)
The apartment also had two features that we wanted to change: wallpaper in two rooms, and outdated light fixtures. “We’ll just change them,” we thought.
Easy, right? Wrong. But with a lot of time and elbow grease, we did it.
A friend pointed out that we were nesting before we got married. I liked that idea: nesting, DIY style. It certainly helped Darren and me to work together as a team, and to take pride in the home we’re creating for ourselves. Here’s the process we went through.
First, let me say that wallpaper is evil. There is no quick and easy way to remove wallpaper, especially if you avoid using chemicals. I don’t know who invented the process of gluing paper to the wall, but I shake my fist hard at that person.
Last March, one month after we moved in, we spent an entire weekend stripping the old-fashioned, flowered wallpaper from the office.
We scored the paper, making hundreds of tiny holes in it, sprayed it with warm, soapy water and tore it down, piece by piece.
Then we hit a period of inertia. We cleaned up the floor, of course, but for nine months, bits of paper – the underside of the vinyl layer – remained on the walls. I looked at them often, with disdain.
Over the December holidays, Darren and I committed ourselves to finishing the office project. First, we got rid of the old-fashioned gold chandelier and put up modern, fixed track lighting. Fixed track lighting has only one base and is much easier to install than regular track lighting.
Installing the track lighting was difficult, because the guts of the existing fixture were so old. The instruction manual told us what to do with the red and white wires, but ours were yellow and black. We searched online for instructions and prayed that we wouldn’t burn down the house.
The junction box (the metal box inside the ceiling) was also smaller than the track lighting instruction manual said it would be. We had to get creative with fitting everything into the ceiling. My arms ached after holding the fixture above my head during the installation.
Look at the improvement in decor and use of space.
We then bought primer and paint and spent an afternoon cleaning the walls with a heavy-duty solution to clear them of wallpaper glue.
We repaired the holes and uneven places in the walls with purple putty that dried white.
Darren’s younger brother, Jeff, took time out of his holiday break from college to help with the home improvement. Below, he is sanding the dried putty down evenly.
A layer of white dust covered the house. We foolishly hadn’t bought masks, so I wrapped my face in a pink pashmina. I looked like a stylish Bedouin.
Next, we wiped the dust from the walls, let them dry, and primed the walls with white paint. We had bought zero V.O.C. (Volatile Organic Compound) paint, which is less toxic to breathe than regular paint. We left the windows open for a while, but it got too cold to do that for long. Luckily, the paint hardly smelled at all.
You can see the paint swatches for the accent walls taped up below.
Et voila! We painted the walls a slate gray, satin finish (midway between matte and glossy). I had a mini-quarrel over with Darren about whether the gray would turn the office into a prison cell, but he was right that it wouldn’t. It looks sleek and professional. The accent walls separating the office from the kitchen are espresso and orange, on brand with our agency, Creative Distillery.
You can see the accent walls better below. For the orange wall we ordered Whitey Board, an innovative product that’s like contact paper with a white board surface. Unfortunately, it didn’t stick well, so Darren and I are waiting for the company to send a replacement.
Determined to get the house in shape before the new year, we tackled the bathroom next. If you can believe it, the wallpaper was even uglier than the stuff in the office.
What is this pattern supposed to be?!?
One wall was really uneven in parts, so Darren layered “drywall mud” (a thick, white substance) onto it and sanded it down. We bought a mask this time.
The process was messy, as per usual. By the end, our socks were caked with gluey wallpaper bits, and my fingers were raw from scraping the walls.
We chose Aloe Green for the walls, which matched the rose-colored tile. The beauty of the glass and chrome shower is much more apparent without the hideous wallpaper hogging the spotlight.
Finally, I painted the stairs that had bothered me every time I’d walked up them. Someone had removed the carpet runner without removing the staples and remnants of carpet. The drips of wood finisher on the off-white stairs looked like bird droppings. Ew.
Much better below. It’s amazing what a coat or two of white paint can do. I also touched up little nicks in the doors, window frames, and banisters as well, and it made the house look much more updated.
We haven’t repainted the living room yet, but we’ll get to it eventually. We both like the yellow color but want to fix the chips in the paint.
For now, after clearing out our Christmas tree, we made better use of the space behind the sectional couch. For Christmas, Darren’s mom generously funded our table for two, made in Mississippi of solid wood. I.O. Metro, a local furniture store, is most awesome and reasonably priced. (In the photo, Darren is playing XBox with Righty on his lap, which is a common sight to see in the evenings.)
From what I’ve seen on HGTV, I’d say that doing the home improvements ourselves saved us at least $1500. We invested our entire holiday break in customizing the space to our liking, but now we get the satisfaction of seeing our success every day.
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