Monday, September 15, 2014

Kitchen Backsplash Inspiration

     We have looked through countless photos in our quest for Craftsman style with modern amenities, and I wanted to share two of my favorites for backsplash inspiration. What did people do before Houzz and Pinterest?! It seems like much of the tile used for Craftsman-style installations has that handmade look with just a smidge of inconsistency in shape and glaze, which adds so much character. That's what I'm picturing in our kitchen :)

     In the comments from this photo (above), Ms. Sammons says that the tile was made by Motawi Tileworks. Check out their online catalog - it's gorgeous! I love the layout of this backsplash because it features tiles in multiple sizes along with some accent relief tiles. Click on the image to see the entire project gallery on Houzz.

     This photo has already inspired our kitchen's cabinet finish and countertop, so it seems like a no-brainer to stick to this beautifully designed scheme for the backsplash! The glass tile accent has really grown on me since the first time I saw this image, and something similar would tie in well with our dining room fixture. What do you think? Again, click on the image to see the entire project gallery on Houzz.

Currently pondering over these tile samples in our kitchen...

     We recently went back to visit Marion at Ceramic Harmony here in Huntsville. They did a perfect job of fabricating and installing our countertops, so we want to give them our business again when we're ready to buy tile for the backsplash. I'm feeling quite set on these samples (above), but the layout is still undecided. We're planning to DIY the backsplash and it will be our first tile project, so I don't want to overcomplicate things. I mean, we never overcomplicate things around here, right? ;)
     For your viewing pleasure, the sample tiles are arranged so you can see how they look with the cabinet finish, flooring, and countertop. The glass tile is by Lunada Bay Tile, and the pattern is a Sumi-e custom blend with colors Zushi and Honey. If we include the glass, it will likely be a single row above the bottom row of field tile. The ceramic field tile is by Pratt & Larson, and the finish is one of their Craftsman Matte glazes in the color C330.

     Thanks for reading and please check back later in the week. A VERY exciting delivery arrived this morning, hopefully we'll be makin' bacon by the weekend!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Puerto Rico Part 2 - Isabela, Luquillo, and Palmas del Mar

     In case you missed the first half of the trip, here's a link back to Part 1 where we explored Ponce, two indigenous sites, and a cave.

     When Steven was working in Aguadilla a couple weeks prior to my visit, some of the locals recommended that he drive over to Ola Lola's Garden Bar in the adjacent city of Isabela. Their must-try menu item is the Original Peanut Butter Burger. Steven loved it so much that he insisted on making the trip up from Ponce when I was there. A wonderful couple from the States operates the restaurant in their semi-retirement, and they give Ola Lola's such a warm, welcoming vibe. The open-air seating and the corral with horses across the rural road only added to the relaxed atmosphere. Steven ordered the peanut butter burger (above), and I ordered the asaigo bacon burger so we could try both. Maybe I've just never had peanut butter served above room temperature, but, when it's warm and gooey, it surprisingly makes for a very nice alternative to cheese!
     To give you an idea of how much of the island can be covered in a few hours of driving, we made the round trip from Ponce (south-central coast) to Isabela (northwestern coast), stopping at Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Caguana and Cavernas del Río Camuy, in a day. We didn't leave the hotel in Ponce particularly early or get back too late either.

Luquillo Beach and Food Kiosks
     Moving on to sites on the east side of the island, we checked out a beach and the popular strip of food kiosks in Luquillo.

Even though it was chilly and drizzling rain at the beach, the gray clouds hanging over the mountains were really beautiful.

Plus, we made a dog friend, so that warmed me up a bit :) His name was Hydro, and his mom was lounging a few yards away from us. It was fun watching him chase the beach birds.

     When we checked online for things to do and see in Luquillo, there were several great reviews for the food kiosks. The options were overwhelming, and the kiosks included sit-down restaurants, bars, fried seafood on a stick, and lots more. Some looked less appetizing than others, but we are big believers in finding awesome food at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I didn't actually take any photos of the strip of kiosks, so here's a fun overview from the Travel Channel:

We decided on La Parilla (kiosk #2), which was actually pretty upscale in the kiosk lineup, and this meal was probably my favorite from the whole trip. We split this grilled lobster, rice and bean, and salad platter in the photo above. Steven's face says it all: buttery lobster bliss!

Palmas del Mar
     After Steven's assigned week in Ponce was finished, we moved to Humacao for his fourth and final work location. We stayed in Palmas del Mar, which is a resort community within the municipality of Humacao. I must say, I could have gone for more than two nights at this place... maybe another time :)

Iguanas were all around the hotel, especially near the pond at its entrance. When I was sitting beside the pool, I heard some rustling in the shrubs near me and figured it was a bird or small rodent... NOPE. This guy (above) was chowing down on leaves just a few feet away from me.

The beach was perfectly warm and sunny that day, and there was a convenient restaurant right by the water. The colorful signs on the tree (above right) indicated the distance/direction to famous international cities.

It was a nice surprise to find Birmingham, AL, on the list, especially since I was flying back there the next day. It's hard to see in this photo, but whoever made the sign was thoughtful enough to include Vulcan and Sloss Furnace!

     That concludes our trip, folks. This was the first time I've ever had to navigate airports and board a plane by myself, so I definitely feel like I've gained some confidence as far as traveling goes. I'm also feeling more at ease with air travel in general now that I've got a few trips under my belt. Guess that just comes with experience, but I still REALLY don't like heights...
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Puerto Rico Part 1 - Ponce, Two Archaeological Sites, and a Cave

     Since we only seem to talk about the kitchen around here, I thought it would be nice to shake things up and share some photos from Puerto Rico. Steven was assigned to work there for four weeks, and I went to visit for a few days back in the middle of August. This opportunity was too good to pass up - thank you to those who helped make this possible! We are so grateful for dear family and neighbors :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Kitchen Update + Shelves

     Hi, friends! Yes, it's been awhile. The cabinets are far from being finished; however, the kitchen is much more livable than it was in our last post. I have finished most of the shelves and moved pretty much everything we use regularly out of the temporary kitchen set-up and into the real kitchen. It feels great!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Countertop, Faucet, and Dishwasher Excitement!

     It's only Wednesday, but wow, what a week it has been so far! The countertops were installed Monday, and the faucet, garbage disposal, and dishwasher were installed yesterday. We've also made some upper cabinet progress since the last post - let's start there.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Base Cabinet Installation

     Last night we finished installing the base cabinet boxes! Things are shaping up nicely, and it's actually starting to look like a kitchen in here.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

As Seen in No'Ala Huntsville

     We were interviewed for a local magazine a couple months ago, and the issue came out last week! Take a look at No'Ala Huntsville's May/June issue; it's their annual home and garden edition. (If you're a Huntsvillian, here's the list of places where the print edition is available.) Although Steven talked to our local newspaper a couple years ago when This Old House named Merrimack Mill Village among the best old house neighborhoods in the South, this is the first time our renovation has been featured in a magazine. No'Ala Huntsville included a write-up on Huntsville's textile mill history and featured three mill house remodels. It's wonderful to see the mill villages getting well-deserved coverage, and we're thrilled to be featured alongside our friends, the Saffells and the Vaughns.

     As far as the kitchen cabinet progress goes, we've been slowed down a bit by a broken part on the jointer. Steven got that back in working order this weekend, and the plan for the coming week is to cut out and finish the toe kicks.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cabinet Finishing Process on Quarter-sawn Oak

     In traditional Craftsman style, we're going with quarter-sawn white oak for the cabinet faces. Using his 3D model, Steven came up with an estimation of needed board feet, and we purchased the oak from a local sawyer. Visiting the saw mill and seeing all the beautiful wood species that you can't find at the chain home centers was really neat. We'd be glad to put you in touch with our supplier if you're in North Alabama and need some hickory, sassafras, walnut, etc. for your project!

This 13-inch Dewalt planer was a thrifty Craiglist find!

     The sawyer had already planed the oak to about an inch in thickness, but we had to further plane it down to 3/4 of an inch. After all the boards were planed to the right thickness, we began jointing them. Because of its strength, the heartwood (darker side of the board coming through the planer) is considered the desirable part when it comes to building furniture. For that reason, we ran the boards through the jointer with the heartwood side down. The jointer gave us a nice, straight edge to put up against the table saw's fence, then we ripped as many strips as we could get from the heartwood to construct the face frames. Using the Kreg K5 Pocket-Hole Jig again, we drilled holes in the face frame components, then assembled them with Kreg's 1 1/4-inch fine pocket-hole screws. Let's get to finishing this face frame!

Can you guess which is the chosen one? ;)
     As you can see, Steven went through many, MANY samples to get the color just right. We wanted something that contrasted well with our flooring and not too orange or too brown. The final look turned out just a smidge darker than the sample above after the protective clear coats, but we are extremely happy with the outcome. (Also, this is the first time I've ever finished furniture!) Here's the step-by-step process we used:

1. Using an orbital sander with a 150-grit pad, sand the face as well as the inside and outside edges (above left). Make sure to thoroughly smooth all the joints so the face is totally flush. You'll probably need to grab a piece of sandpaper and take care of the inside corners by hand. Next, use a 220-grit sanding pad to run over the sharp edges JUST enough to soften them a bit (above right). Don't go overboard and round them over too much! Wipe down your face frame with a tack cloth to remove all dust.

2. Apply General Finishes' Brown Mahogany Gel Stain liberally with a cotton cloth (above). Strips of old t-shirts work well. After getting the gel stain slathered on, I let the piece sit for about eight minutes, then I wiped up the excess and buffed the stain in with a cotton cloth. Whenever the cloth became saturated with the stain, I grabbed a new one. You can't easily buff with a soaked rag, and a soaked rag leaves stain residue behind which has to be buffed over again, as I learned... The piece pretty much felt dry to the touch after the stain was rubbed in, but allow at least six hours to dry before proceeding.

I found it helpful to lay the ends of the face frame (in this case, the sides of the sink cabinet) directly on top of two saw horses. This seemed to provide easier access for the inside edges and corners.

3. Apply Zinsser's Bulls Eye Amber Shellac with a cotton cloth. This is a fairly thin liquid compared to the pudding-like gel stain. Wipe it on with long, smooth strokes, making sure that it's evenly applied with no excess product pooling anywhere. I used this pre-mixed shellac straight from the can without thinning. The shellac serves as a barrier between the stains, preventing the antique walnut gel stain from overtaking the brown mahogany gel stain. Your piece will feel dry within 30 minutes, but allow at least an hour before moving on to the next step. (Be aware that the pre-mixed shellac has a shelf life. If the drying time takes much more than half an hour, the shellac may be past it's prime.)

4. Apply General Finishes' Antique Walnut Gel Stain with the same method described in step two. When comparing a piece of oak with the antique walnut stain to one without it, the difference is subtle, but we thought it was worth the extra step. The antique walnut stain appears to absorb in places where the brown mahogany did not, adding another level of depth and richness to the finish.

5. Apply General Finishes' Arm-R-Seal (satin finish) with a cotton cloth. The Arm-R-Seal's consistency is very similar to the shellac, so again, apply a thin coat in long, smooth strokes, keeping in line with the wood grain. Allow six to eight hours for the piece to dry, or longer if conditions are humid. Buff the piece with 0000-grade steel wool, and thoroughly wipe the piece down with tack cloth. Steel wool left behind way more dust than I expected! Apply a second coat of Arm-R-Seal, follow with the steel wool and tack cloth. Lastly, apply a third coat but skip the steel wool - you're done!

Detailed view of the final finish.

Steven attached the finished face frame by adding screws through the pre-drilled pocket holes. We laid a cotton cloth between the clamp and the frame to protect the finish during this process.

Finished face frame!

Helpful tips:
- When applying all products, start with inside edges, then cover the rails, stiles, and outside edges (in that order!) to keep the finish in line with the wood grain. On a piece like the above face frame, I did the inside edges, followed by the vertical drawer divider, then the rails and stiles. I got into a groove with doing each step in that order, even the sanding and the tack cloth rub-downs. It felt like following that pattern for everything would ensure more consistent results and decrease my chances of missing a spot.
- A great reference book on the subject: Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner (2005)
- Before tapping the lid of your can of gel stain (or paint, sealer, whatever) shut with a hammer, lay a rag over the lid. There was some residue in the can's rim that splattered all over me yesterday when I tapped the lid with a mallet... glad it came off with some soap and a pumice stone so I won't have a splotchy mahogany brown faux tan for Easter!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cabinet Box Assembly

     Today marks two months since our last post, so an update is long overdue! As of the last post, we were varnishing the interiors of the upper cabinet boxes and trying to figure out how to finish the oak fronts. Now pretty much all of the boxes are assembled, and a few have finished face frames on them!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Day(!) and Cabinet Finishes

Dear Siding - we'll get to you some day!
A snow day in Alabama is a pretty big deal since it doesn't happen often, so TWO snow events in one week has been especially exciting! We woke up to about an inch of snow on Tuesday morning, waited around for drizzling rain to change over to snow Wednesday, and measured two inches of snow from that round yesterday morning (above). Fortunately, it has not been terribly cold for us during all this. Maybe I'm a spoiled Southern belle, but I just can't imagine living in a place where the norm is dealing with feet of snow every year!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kitchen Cabinets: Planning and Workshop Tips

     Just so you know, this advice is coming from someone who is NOT a master carpenter or cabinetmaker. I didn't grow up around woodworking, but I spent many Saturday mornings watching Norm Abram and Roy Underhill perform magic as they built whatever they fancied with a few tools and a lot of wood. It wasn't until college that I was exposed to power tools like the table saw and lathe. During my many studio hours in the shop, I learned and developed some woodworking mantras that are worth sharing. Many I learned from our shop tech/guru, David. Thank you, David. Before jumping to the list... Using personal protection and safe operating practices should be the standard for anyone working with tools that cut through hard surfaces. KEEP YOURSELF SAFE!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hello 2014!

     Before diving into this year-in-review and recent progress update, I would like to invite all the locals to Downtown with the RCB (that's Rocket City Bloggers). Please click on the image below to learn more about this networking event and RSVP to win some great door prizes!