Posted by: Mrs. HSH | February 12, 2013

Then and Now

I wholly admit to neglecting this blog completely. Life marched on and despite the fact that things were happening on the home improvement front, I lost all ability to write about it.

However, we’re still here and still improving, so I thought I’d share the quick and dirty of our bathroom remodel (completed September 2012). Hopefully, this will stimulate my brain and inspire some more projects and descriptions thereof.

Before

Before

 

Demo

Demo

 

After

After

 

After4

After22

 

 

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | June 7, 2012

The Home Improvement Hiatus is Officially Over

Despite the radio silence, momentum has been slowing building on our bathroom remodel over the last month. And, before that we were off gallivanting through New Zealand on an epic hiking trip and preoccupied with other exciting activities. So, we actually have been busy since I last checked in, and my lack of attention to this blog can, therefore, be somewhat justified.

However, momentum is about to turn into real progress as we have our first in-home estimate from a recommended contractor next week!  We’ve learned some valuable lessons through our experience with the big kitchen remodel (side note: it’s been a year since we finished the kitchen! Time flies!), and we intend to apply our experience towards our bathroom as we are hoping to do a beautiful but budget remodel!  One of the major differences from our kitchen remodel is that we intend to keep the same layout in the bathroom.  We are hoping that this will not only save us time, but money as well.  In addition, I’ve been pinning away all our fixtures and materials on Pinterest, and we have a pretty good idea of their respective cost implications! Hopefully, we will not be in for very many surprises! Although, I’m not holding my breath!

My Pinterest Board goes something like this:

Kohler Fairfax Collection

 

Schoolhouse Electric Light Fixtures

 

Subway Tile with Gray Grout

 

Hex Floor Tile with Gray Grout

 

White Vanity with Solid Surface Top (TBD)

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | February 24, 2012

Bathroom Planning

Our bath remodel is at the “serious thought and consideration” stage. This step comes right before the “budget realization” stage and several steps before “You want how much for that” stage. So, while I still have the advantage of being in the position that I’m in, I am collecting a variety of beautiful and inspirational bathroom photos.

Who thought a bathroom could be beautiful?

I’m currently in love with the Carrera marble subway tiles. Unfortunately, they sell on average for about $7 a square foot, which equals about eight tiles. So I don’t know if this design concept is going to make it to the “budget realization” stage. But, for now…aren’t they beautiful.

 All photos are from DecorPad.com

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | February 15, 2012

My Sweet Valentine

Not only was I surprised with a beautiful bouquet of roses yesterday, but the UPS guy also dropped off a sweet little surprise from my hubby – the West Elm Sheesham Tray Stand.
You know it’s true love when you get furniture for Valentine’s Day!

West Elm's Sheesham Tray Table

I’d been eying this little accent piece for our front entry way, or lack thereof. It’s the perfect blend of function and design, and I thought it would be great home for my keys, which I always seem to be misplacing. The top part is reversible, with a lip on one side and a flat surface on the other, so it works as part end table for when we are entertaining or part entry way table.

I also figure that this counts as progress towards my utilitarian approach to decorating our home.  The addition of this little piece to our meager entry way will add a bit of organization to our lives! Thank you, babe!

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | February 2, 2012

Not the Most Dramatic Makeover

I hesitate to even write this post because it’s pretty underwhelming. But, what I start I must finish. I did end up painting the Craigslist chair on that rainy weekend.

In fact, it wasn’t such a great idea. It took double the time to dry and I had to do a third coat because the second was a little sticky. Nevertheless, I completed mission save money/refinish chair and it’s actually sitting in our house right at this very moment. I went for black because it’s classic and well, let’s face it, I’m not really a flashy kind of girl. A bright red or deep royal blue chair did appeal to me, but I was afraid that it might clash with some of the other color we’ve got going on in the house. Thus, I played it safe and painted it black. I still haven’t decided if I want to keep it, but for now it will stay put.

I also managed to pick up a couple prints on Etsy this week. I came across the Jenna Sue Map Shop and fell in love with her sweet and simple designs.

Jenna Sue Maps

I’m a sucker for map art and these are personal, clean and modern. They fit in quite nicely over my desk and remind me of places I love (SF & Paris). Not the most dramatic of makeovers, but incremental change is not always a bad thing.

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | February 1, 2012

Pinning, Posting, Blogging, Tweeting….

Random thoughts not related to home-improvement or travel…

What is this blog coming to??

I recently joined Pinterest and spend a good two hours “pinning” this past Saturday morning. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the newest social media time suck, Pinterest is basically the Facebook of shopping. Instead of sharing posts about what you ate for breakfast or pictures of your latest vacation, Pinterest allows you to create online picture wish lists of things you’ve found on the internet. According to their website, Pinterest “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.”

My 'For the Home' Pinboard

So now instead of sharing 140 character long random thoughts or pictures of that delicious cake you baked, we are sharing ideas of that gorgeous home we want, beautiful blouse we are lusting after, or perfect party we will plan.

At some point, I’m wondering if anything will be left off the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a semi-avid Facebook poster and I’m not one of those people who abhor social media, by any means. In fact, I’m beginning to think I’m a bit addicted to it. Working in politics, I’ve also found that Twitter can be an invaluable tool. It’s free self promotion for politicians/ special interest, easy gossip and instant communication all in one. In fact, I have an official twitter handle for my job, although I admittedly rarely use it. And then of course there is this blog which started out as my outlet for all those bottled up home improvement creative thoughts, but has evolved into my online travel journal/ creative writing workshop. So, I am not one to talk about over sharing.

However, I’m beginning to wonder if life wasn’t better when there was still some mystery involved. Does posting ‘happy birthday’ on someone’s Facebook page substitute for picking up the phone? Does sharing pinboards of coveted earrings replace a shopping outing with your girlfriends? By sharing more, are we interacting less?

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | January 20, 2012

Furniture Fail; Resolution Success

As I sit and write this, torrents of rain are streaming down my window in long smooth rivers– not exactly the get-you-in-the mood-for- painting kind of weather.

What am I painting? Let me backup.

Last weekend, I did score the $40 Craigslist Windsor rocking chair, only to come home and decide that I didn’t really like it that much – too granny.

I said, screw it hopped in the car and drove over to West Elm to make an impulse furniture buy. Well it wasn’t exactly entirely on impulse. I’d been eying the Modern Windsor over there for quite some time.

After my last post about it, one of my co-workers almost had me convinced that I’d be saving more money if I bought the chair than if I didn’t!

So, there I was pacing back and forth in West Elm. Should I buy it? Did I really like it, or was it just something I’d become fixated on because I couldn’t really find anything else? All the while, the voice in my head kept whispering to me, New Year’s Resolutions, New Year’s Resolutions! Save your money! And just as fast as I zoomed over there, I jumped in my car and zoomed home before I could make a decision. Kind of a waste of a Saturday afternoon, if you ask me. But, I stuck to my resolution (minus the $40 I spent on the crappy Craigslist find).

After all of that, I decided to go ahead and try to jazz the rocker up a little, if not for me than for another poor Craigslist- goer. Fast forward to this weekend: Ive got a chair, primer, paint and lots of rain forecasted. Perhaps I should add a bottle of wine to that list and then I might have a game plan!

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | January 13, 2012

Mixing and Matching

According to people who know a lot more about design than I do, eclectic design is “a combination of styles in order to design an environment which would have a great look, artistic taste, and a specific connective element, which would make the whole design look as one piece of work.” Something like this:

Cruzine.com

 Or, possibly like this:

Cruzine,com

In other words, as long as everything looks put together, you can mix and match any kind of style, whether it is contemporary, traditional, funky, or what have you.

So, this is my idea. I am going to put an old, traditional-looking Windsor rocking chair (soon-to-be scored off Craigslist) …

Possible Craigslist Score

… in my light and airy nook.

Of course, it will get a coat of paint and maybe a fun and funky pillow to accessorize.  But, I think it will fit it quite nicely?

Hopefully? Maybe? Epic fail? We shall see.

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | January 12, 2012

How to Travel and Not Spend a Crap Load of Money

Another Travel- Related post

Thailand

In my opinion, travel is not a luxury, it is a life necessity. I realize life is full of choices, tradeoffs, responsibilities and other annoying, unromantic notions. Nonetheless, if you want to travel, you do not have to spend a crap load of money to do so. But, if you do want to drop some serious cash, I can tell you how to do that too!

The following are my top travel tips and tricks:

#1 – Planning is key. Although there are deals to be had if you can leave on the fly (check out lastminutetravel if you can), Jon and I have busy work schedules and can’t pick up and leave at the drop of the hat. So, the alternative is to plan far in advance, which we often do. Planning months ahead of time allows you to save money for your upcoming trip and shop around for the best deals, including hunting down the cheapest airline tickets. There are a number of helpful websites that allow you to compare airfares. Kayak is my go-to website for an initial internet airfare search. It allows you to compare multiple travel sites, like Expedia and Travelocity, as well as official airline sites — all at the same time. There are also a number of websites, like itasoftware, that can tell you which days are cheaper to fly and even predict if fares are likely to rise or fall. The New York Times Practical Traveler recently did on article on the best money-saving travel websites. It’s a great resource, listing a whopping 19 great money-saving websites!

Near El Calafate, Argentina

#2 – Sign up for miles programs. Mileage programs have saved us more money than I ever could have imagined. I know it’s hard to believe, but in the last four years, we’ve used miles for two free tickets to Argentina, one to Namibia and one to New Zealand, as well as countless hotel rooms.  Some mileage programs are better than others and it’s best to shop around. Webflyer is an excellent resource for all travel awards programs. It allows you to compare and contrast programs and provides a ton of information. It’s always best to look for programs that offer sign-up deals with instant mileage credit – bringing you that much closer to a free flight.

When I lived on the East Coast and flew on a much more regular basis, I earned a lot of miles from actually flying. However, now I earn miles from a mileage credit card. With every purchase, the miles begin to pile up, with extra miles earned for eating at certain restaurants or shopping at certain locations. Just don’t forget to pay it off every month! Also, when booking flights with miles, I find it helpful to call and talk to a customer service representative. They can offer tips on what dates are available, which routes are open to mileage travel and they generally can save you a lot of time.

Brussels, Belgium

#3 – Explore. If you’re flexible with your destination, consider traveling somewhere off the beaten path. Every January, there is a trove of articles, like this one from Budget Traveler, that list the top budget travel destinations of the year. Some destinations like Egypt might require some gusto (don’t know if the Arab Spring has finally sprung), while others might just be places you’d never really considered, like the Azores or Poland. I hear Greece is pretty cheap these days too!

#4— Consider traveling during the off-season. Springtime in Paris is amazing, as is the fall in the Napa Valley. However, it’s also peak season and will cost you a lot more as compared to other times of year. It’s always cheaper to travel during non-peak periods, avoiding major holidays, including all major school vacations. If you travel in the off-season, you’ll find that flights, hotels and even restaurants can be much cheaper. Plus, you’ll have a more elbow room to explore having managed to avoid the usual throngs of tourists.

Cape Town, South Africa

#5-Consider different types of accommodations & use your discounts…all of them! After cheap airfare, the best way to save money while traveling is to avoid costly hotels. Mileage programs can come in handy here, but there are other ways to save on accommodations. Consider how long you will be staying in one place. Often times it’s cheaper to rent a flat/apartment/house than stay in a hotel for multiple nights in a row. Sites like Wimdu offer access to individual apartment rentals from around the world.

Don’t completely rule out youth hostels either. Not just for students, hostels can provide private, en suite rooms for a fraction of the cost of hotels.  If you opt for a hotel, investigate all your discount options, including AAA , STA (student travel — miss those days!) or AARP discounts (one thing about aging that I’m actually looking forward to). Finally, don’t forget to do your homework. Tripadvisor and SmartTraveler are great resources with tons of reviews and travel tips.

Bon Voyage!

 

Posted by: Mrs. HSH | January 10, 2012

The Home Depot 360

For anyone considering Home Depot for their kitchen remodel…

I’ve waited a while to write this post because I wanted to give us time to digest our kitchen remodel and live with it for a bit before I really analyzed the experience. I also needed some time to stop thinking and/or talking about the kitchen! It’s been about six months since we finished, and surprisingly we do have a few tiny, tiny loose ends that are still being tied up.  But, I can happily report that I am 100 percent in love with my new kitchen – like Lionel Richie Endless Love kind of love with it.  And, I can definitely say that it was worth the two months of takeout and 10 inches of dust that covered everything!

But, let me back up a second and explain exactly what we did. After several bids from several different companies and multiple different scenarios with refacing vs. replacing our cabinets, we decided to “go for it” and gut the entire kitchen, replacing everything! After a great amount of deliberation, we landed on this option because we needed a lot of electrical work and rewiring in the kitchen to bring the house up to code and accommodate a new electrical panel as well as new appliances.  We were also interested in slightly modifying the layout of the kitchen, so the gut job really was the most affordable and practical option for us.

Before

We decided to go with Home Depot because of the one-stop shopping aspect that a big box store could provide as well as the free, one- year financing option they were offering. My parents had also had Home Depot install their cabinets for their new kitchen remodel and were happy with the result, so we had a personal experience to go on. Having saved all our pennies beforehand, we still decided to take advantage of the one- year, no- interest financing option so we could keep some money in the bank in case of unforeseen expenses.  We also decided to go with an independent electrician due to the large amount of electrical work that we needed done. Cost was one of the main drivers affecting our decision to go with Home Depot versus the other, smaller businesses we researched.  Frankly, Home Depot’s estimate was about a third cheaper than the other two estimates. Just to give you an example, the same granite we installed would have cost us nearly $2500 more at the smaller, custom outlet. I realize big box stores aren’t for everyone, but they can offer great deals and financing options, and in this case the price comparison was hard to beat. It was the right combination for us, so we signed on the dotted line (while keeping fingers crossed behind our back).

Demo Day

However, before we signed anything we met with a few kitchen designers at a few different Home Depot stores.  And, I do have to tell you that not all Home Depot kitchen designers are created equal. And, for that matter, not all contractors are created equal either. I highly recommend shopping around until you can find a designer that you feel comfortable working with. They will be your conduit to all contractors and your resource if things do go awry.

After some shopping around, we landed on Shannon, our free Home Depot kitchen designer. She covered all the bases with us and was a pleasure to work with, offering good advice on the design and layout aspect of the process. Once we settled on a design and purchased our materials, we were told it would take about a month or so for the cabinets to be delivered. We opted for a new cabinet line from Martha Stewart, made by Masterbrand. The cabinets fit our design aesthetic, while giving us the peace of mind of being made by the same manufacturer that makes Thomasville and several other well-known big-box cabinet lines. It is not top-of-the-line custom stuff, but a solid, middle- of- the- road option.  After more deliberation, we also decided to upgrade our cabinets from the basic particle board to plywood. We went with laminate in “picket fence” white, but wanted the internal construction to be a more solid material than particle board, which is the basic, cheapest option for the Martha Stewart line. For roughly $500 more, we followed the Consumer Reports recommendation to stay away from the 3/8 inch particle board construction and opted for the plywood upgrade, which is lighter and brings the thickness into line with accepted standards. Again, not for everyone, but we thought that $500 extra was worth the peace of mind.

About a month later, our cabinets arrived and we quickly realized that we had the wrong order; they were indeed particle board and not plywood. Home Depot cited a computer error and took full responsibility, offering us the sun, the moon and the stars to go with the delivery that was sitting in our living room (i.e. a decent discount). It was tempting,  but we stuck to our guns and channeled our inner patience as it took another three and half weeks for the right cabinets to arrive. For me, this was a really frustrating part of the experience. And, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that have experienced something similiar. This is perhaps one of the drawbacks of dealing with a big-box store.

Wrong Order!

With Home Depot installation services, you are assigned a general contractor who then arranges for all the pertinent sub-contractors to complete their piece of the puzzle.  I would have to say that scheduling all these people was another very frustrating part of the  process. When you are eating takeout or microwaving burritos in your backyard for dinner every night, days tend to feel like weeks. We were generally happy with the workmanship of the parties involved, but sometimes/ often frustrated by their busy schedules and availability, or lack thereof. Our general contractor seemed to be a very busy guy (I’m sure being on retainer with Home Depot helped) and there were days when no work was accomplished, and he was a hard man to get in touch with. This was the most frustrating part of the process for me. I’m sure smaller, independent contractors would win out in this category. All said and done, it took about seven weeks to take apart the kitchen and put it back together. This time includes cabinets, flooring, plumbing, tile, electrical work and inspections. In the scheme of life, just a blip on the radar!

The finished product!

I would cautiously recommend Home Depot to anyone with several caveats:

  • First, know what you are getting. You will be dealing with very busy contractors, with multiple other jobs. If patience is not your virtue, you might want to look elsewhere.
  • Also, you must be on your game, ordering all your materials ahead of time and making them readily available for installation. One small delay can derail timeframes by days, if not weeks! Before each step of the installation, it is good to research what materials are needed. This is where the kitchen designer comes in handy! For example, we had to buy and provide the grout and tile for the laundry room floor. There was also the matter of edging the stairs, and using caulk instead of grout in certain places.  When installing the sink, we needed to provide an air gap and also match the metal drain rink to the sink fixture. Not exactly all the things that instantly come to mind for the kitchen remodel novice.
  • Be realistic about what you are paying for. The workmanship is solid (as it should be), but it’s not Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel. But we are not Rockefellers, either.
  • Be your own advocate. Going with the big-box option means no one is going to hold your hand. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to call (often) if you are confused about any step in the process.

With these few tips in mind, Home Depot can be a competitive choice for a home remodel! For more before and after pictures, check out our before & after photo gallery.

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