Gneiss House

Low-pressure home metamorphism

Living and dining room redesign

I have painted the final two rooms of the house, at long last! These were the last ones because they are my most heavily used living spaces, so it was more disruptive to paint them. There were also a lot of walls to do, so it took three separate painting sessions. The changes here (some of which are also listed here) include: refinished hardwood floors, new base shoe molding, two rugs from Overstock, a cherry dining table and chairs from craigslist, a hand-built tv stand, shelving from Ikea, an old, sturdy sewing table converted to fishtank stand, restored coffee table and end tables from yard sales, prints mostly from (Brain Salt!), lamps from Bed, Bath and Beyond, and a nice, hand-me-down couch set donated by family. The living room is in a yellow and blue color scheme, and the dining room in warmer yellows and browns. I also replaced the old, grandmothery light covers on the dining room ceiling fan with cleaner-looking new ones from Home Depot (a little change that you don’t notice much but that makes a big difference in atmosphere). Before and after pictures below!


Listing photo, looking into the dining room from the kitchen (living room to the right).


Listing photo, looking from the living room into the dining room.


Looking towards the back of the house from inside the dining room.


Looking back towards the living room from the dining room.


Full dining room view.


Another full dining room view, slightly different angle.


Listing photo of the living room, looking from the front door area towards the stairs and coat closet.


Listing photo of the living room, looking from the stairs into the room.


List photo of the living room, looking from the stairs towards the front door.


List photo of the living room, looking from the dining room towards the front of the house.


Panorama view of the living room, from the front door.


Normal view of the living room from the front door.


Living room, from the stairs towards the front door.


Living room, from the stairs into the room.


And one last view, from the dining room towards the front of the room.


Master bedroom redesign

With a fresh coat of paint, some nice prints from, and a couple purple throw pillows, the master bedroom is also ready for its before and after photos! The changes to the space (some of which I documented previously) are: refinished hardwood floors, new base shoe molding that I cut and installed, a modular recycled-materials area rug from Flor, a Dunhill queen bed frame purchased in good shape from craigslist, very affordable sheets I found by combing Amazon, and both lamps and the one tasteful duvet and pillow sham set that I could find close to my color scheme, marked down on clearance at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Before photo of the master bedroom (from the house listing), with that pervasive mint green carpet.


After: Panoramic #1.


After: Panoramic #2.


After: Normal photo of painted wall and sunny window. Cat for scale.


After: Far wall and window to front yard.

Office redesign

I also finished my office! This is technically the third bedroom, but like with all the local houses built on this model, it’s too small unless you have a baby in a tiny crib who needs no other furniture. But it makes a cute little office.

Changes wrought (including some documented previously) are: fresh paint on the walls (I combined two different colors to achieve this almost-periwinkle, because they didn’t have quite what I wanted), once again the refinished hardwood flooring and new base shoe molding, a rug from Overstock, a loveseat and desk I was lucky enough to find in great shape at some yard sales more than five years ago, a new brown slipcover for the loveseat, curtains and lamp on clearance from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, T. Rex, and one of my most prized possessions: the original Nightmare Before Christmas movie poster I bought with my saved-up babysitting money when I was 13.

Before photo, from the listing.


After: Panoramic #1


After: Panoramic #2


After: Normal photo. This is a small room so yo can’t see much, but T-rex says hello.


After: Other side of the room.

Guest bedroom redesign

With warmer weather and open windows, I’ve been catching up on painting jobs. I’ve now finished my redesign of the guest bedroom, including furniture and decorations, paint, floors, and molding. Here is the before view:


(from the listing)

And after:


The panorama view makes it look bigger than it really is, but you can see more of the room this way!


Red wall!


Panorama-less view


Refinishing tables

First, apologies for the long hiatus. Spring is always a very busy time at my job, so I fell behind on both house projects and updates! A lot of the up and coming projects require some ventilation, too, so they had to wait for spring weather. But I’ve had this one in the queue for a while and finally finished the project, so now I can finish writing it up for you!

Backstory: I acquired my dining room table for cheap from craigslist about five years ago. It’s a heavy, cherry dining table (with two leaves!) in a classic, elegant design. Soon after purchasing and precariously driving it home tied to the roof of my parents’ car, we repaired a dog-chewed table leg foot (my dad used wood putty to reform the foot and then stained it to match the table) and rewaxed the top surface. I also scrubbed it with a nice polishing wood cleaner several times over and successfully drew out any cigarette odors remaining in the wood from the previous owners. (Really, owners of wood furniture, do you have to smoke indoors? And then resell your furniture?)


The dining set, in my old apartment immediately after I bought it.

Anyway, the furniture wax polish never seemed to do a great job: wet rings from bottles and glasses, hot items placed on cork trivets or cloth placemats, spilled liquids, warm cat prints, and cat claw scratches all seemed to go right through the wax and damage the finish. I was thinking of rewaxing it again someday soon, but the timeline was accelerated when I spilled half a bowl of near-boiling chicken soup through and under a plastic placemat and created a big white rectangle in the finish.


One side of the table, with assorted moisture stains and rings. Some of the rings predate my ownership of the table.


The newest chicken soup stain, with some older white stains and scratches.

I didn’t entirely understand what was going on at first, so I initially tried stripping the wax with various products: a white vinegar solution, 409 surface cleaner plus a serious scrubbing with a scrubby dish sponge, a commercial wax remover with mineral spirits. The 409 did the best job of removing all the existing wax from past polishing coats, but it did not remove the scratches or white rings/spots/(rectangular placemat shapes). Further research revealed that the wax wasn’t the culprit (though stripping it was not a bad idea): the underlying finish was old and no longer performing its job, so the damage was to the finish itself.

My research had showed that I needed a restoring oil product and ultra fine steel wool. Unfortunately my local hardware store was out of the shade I wanted for the refinishing oil, so I did some dry removal of the damaged finish with the steel wool while I waited for my internet order to arrive (note: it was cheaper to order the refinisher online, anyway!). The dry sanding revealed that the finish was indeed extremely old and damaged: once exposed, I could clearly see hairline cracks throughout the finish. I was able to remove most of the damaged/stained white marks.


Dry sanding scratches and white stain marks. Action shot!


Same area, rotated and after sanding out the stain (but not the scratches). It’s gone!


The whole table after dry sanding. The chicken soup stain was on the front right side. (Note that this picture was taken in the evening, with just artificial light and the shades closed. That is why the lighting looks yellower.)

The product I had ordered was Restor-A-Finish, in cherry (the walnut was not warm enough and a little too dark, but the cherry was probably a smidge too red. This did not end up mattering). Once it arrived, I had to wait for a warm enough day to have the windows open for several hours while doing this job, because this is an oil-based, fumy product that is not safe to breathe in enclosed spaces. But it is worth the fumes. I went back with the steel wool and gently worked the refinishing oil into the whole table, first working in a circular motion with particular focus on visibly damaged areas, and then working in the direction of the wood grain over the whole table to restore the entire finish. I then went back over with dry, lint-free disposable rags and worked the oil into the table and wiped it clean. Then I left the fan on and windows open and took a nice long nap.

After my nap, the table was fully dry (and looked excellent!). The instructions on the refinishing product said to wait half an hour before adding a wax polish, and I ultimately waited an hour or two before starting the waxing step. I used basic old furniture polishing wax, nothing fancy. I put a little bit of the wax in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaved it for five seconds at a time until it was just slightly warmed and softened (but not melted, not even a little. I recommend being careful doing this: waxes are flammable and should never be overheated. It also would not work very well for waxing furniture if it was fully melted!). I did this because the temperature was a little chilly with the windows open, so the wax was quite stiff. I am also a petite person, and I figured that a warmer wax would penetrate nooks and crannies and coat the table more evenly without requiring a lot of physical strength. Having waxed this table once before, I do think it was easier to apply this way. For the application, I used a clean, dry paper towel to scoop out a little bit of wax and a time and rubbed it into the table, alternating between circular motions and working it in with the grain. I removed any excess, wiping with the grain of the wood, and then took the dog for a nice long walk around the neighborhood.

When I got back to my stinky house, I started buffing off the excess wax. I don’t have a buffer or buffing attachment for a power tool, so I did this by hand with clean, dry disposable rags. Because of my lack of enormous physical strength, this was the hardest part of the job. Instead of doing one really hard buffing job, I instead came back to the table to keep buffing it incrementally over the course of a couple days, until the rags were coming out clean. I did a final buffing with a cloth fleece rag, which did a great job for the final touch. I touched it up with a polishing cleanser (I like the Method wood cleanser), and voilĂ : a refinished table!


The refinished dining table, with dog for scale. (Note that this picture was taken midday on a sunny day with the shades open, so the lighting is different than in the last picture.)


That chicken soup stained area.

Winter projects

I may have built a fence in the winter, but it wasn’t planned that way. My other winter projects are warm and indoors.

First: cutting and installing new base shoe molding throughout the entire house, including closets. I saved myself some energy and after I went all around the house with a measuring tape and added up the amount I needed (several hundred feet), I bought it pre-painted from Home Depot. Lazy, maybe, but still reasonably cheap and I had enough else going on. I measured out each piece and manually cut them all using a borrowed hacksaw and a small portable vise on my dining room table. It took about a week of work in the evenings and on weekends. Also it was fun. I haven’t actually hammered them in yet, though. When I do, I promise pictures. It will just look like normal rooms! You won’t even notice!

Second: so that I no longer have to vise things to my dining room table, I purchased lumber and a kit of table legs to build a work table in my basement! Now I no longer need to have all my tools and things laying around on the floor across the basement. I used the 2×4 Basics workbench with shelves kit. Here it is, nearly finished and before adding shelves (fluffy cat for scale):

Work table!

It’s a table!

And here is the finished product:

It's a table!

Look how fancy it is!

My review of the kit is that overall, it’s really nice. I was one screw short for the shelves but have plenty of my own to supplement, so that wasn’t a problem. The screws for the base are very long, though, longer than my drill bit, so it was hard to drill long enough pilot holes, and far too hard to screw them in otherwise. The holes in the hard plastic legs to guide the screws were also very short, so they were poor guides when it came to angle: A number of the screws went in a little too perpendicular and ended up poking through the back, and my parents and I had to try to cut and file them down after the table was built. That said, the instructions about how to measure out the lumber I needed and how to assemble the basic table were clear and easy to follow. The instructions for the shelving were less clear, since they had to be modified for this table assemblage and were not as clearly laid out, but I figured it out after a few minutes. Overall a good kit, and I’m very proud of the finished product!

Remaining winter tasks are to permanently install all the base molding, and to finally replace the floor panels we had to remove during carpet removal because they had been so badly damaged by the carpet installers. Thanks again to craigslist magic, I have acquired old oak panels of the right height–no easy task! They all need to have nails removed and be sanded and refinished. I plan to do that job ON MY NEW WORKTABLE.

Interlude: furnishing and decorating

Once the floors were done and I could put things on them, it became clear some redecorating was necessary. I didn’t have appropriate area rugs for most of the rooms (the exception was the guest bedroom, which I decorated more or less like the master bedroom in my last rental apartment), my old futon was not a good fit for the living room, and I didn’t have two bedrooms’ worth of furniture, though I had a spare dresser. I definitely didn’t have enough shelves. My parents were getting new couches and I was happy to take theirs for the living room, though, so that was a good start.

Enter numerous affordable shopping options:

  • Ikea: New mattress for the master bedroom. I also got their queen-sized bed foundation because it’s thinner than a box spring, and I knew my stairs were narrow. It was still too big, though, and the deconstruction/reconstruction project that ensued was an excellent lesson in Just Buy A Split Box Spring. (For the record: Ikea bed foundations contain a fabric layer that is attached with about one million staples that are not very fun to remove.)
  • Ikea: New bookshelf, DVD shelf, and sideboard-like horizontal shelving for two rooms
  • Craigslist: Beautiful new-to-me queen bed frame, with headboard and footboard (needs minor repair)
  • Overstock: Three new rugs
  • Flor: One modular, washable, recycled-plastic-fiber rug (and most of the rug squares were on clearance!)
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond (with accumulated coupons): New lamps, a couple curtain rods, blue towels (in an attempt to balance the unfortunate intensity of the harvest yellow tile with complementary colors)
  • Marshalls or TJMaxx or Homegoods type places: New curtains
  • Amazon: New shower curtain (also with blues)

See pictures of the outcome below. A friend also suggested a clever design for mounting the dog gate in the stairway but giving the cats full access to the second floor. Limiting basement entry to the cats so the dog can’t access cat food/litter, however, was complicated by the door. I settled on a pet door with magnetic collar entry (the dog is as small as the cats, so size is not a limitation), though the only options available fit poorly on doors with uneven molding shapes, so some creative mounting was necessary. Someday I have to believe that my second cat will figure out how to use the magnetic key.

The bathroom is a little small to photograph, but nonetheless: shower curtain with blues to complement the yellow. There are also blue towels.

The bathroom is a little small to photograph, but nonetheless: shower curtain with blues to complement the yellow. There are also blue towels.


Guest bedroom. Most of the decorating came from my previous rental apartment. Soon after this picture I replaced the curtains (which are too long for the room’s windows) with brighter red grommet panels.


The guest bedroom is also the declared hobby space: musical instruments, yarn crafts, jewelry making, sewing, papercrafts. The mirror is now mounted on the wall above the dresser, which my parents found at a yard sale and refinished for me. Long term plan is to paint the wall behind the dresser (and only that wall) a rich red to complete the theme.


The office (third bedroom), complete with curtains, new loveseat cover, and rug. The walls now have a movie poster and bulletin board, and the plan is to paint them all an almost-periwinkle medium blue. Also I’ve added some scratching posts to deter my naughty little cat.

The master bedroom also has rich purple curtains.

The master bedroom also has rich purple curtains. (Photo predates rug addition.)


Master bedroom, with new bed frame and mattress. The wall behind the bed is planned to be a grayish lavender, with a framed print containing purples/lavenders/greens (when I find just the right one). The new rug is a modular recycled-fiber carpet from Flor.


Living room with my parents’ old blue couch and chair, and new dark blue and gray rug. Walls will be a light, bright yellow for cheery complementary colors.


Second view of the living room. The DVD bookshelf was new from Ikea.


Dining room design with rich browns, including new curtains and new rug. There is a rich, dark brown bookshelf on the right (not shown) and the shelving on the left is acting as a sideboard, both from Ikea.