Salvaged Moments

From the beginning, I knew I really really wanted to incorporate some element of locally sourced, vintage or salvaged materials in my new build.  Saving something (anything!) from a landfill would make the house just a little more earth-friendly.  Hopefully it would add a bit of charm and character to the new house as well so it didn’t look so, well, new.  The contractor nixed my idea of using salvaged doors (too much work to retrofit an irregular old door into the perfectly squared new door frames).  I also didn’t want to go too crazy ’cause that’s too taste-specific and I want to sell this puppy someday.  So, perhaps creative tile design in the spare bath?  A lighting fixture?  A random fabulous find?  That sounded perfect.  Here are a few salvaged moments in the new house:

1)  Spare Bath:  Tile Surround 

There is a building salvage and surplus material store in Pittsburgh called Construction Junction ( ).  For months I’d been eyeing this giant box of yellow tile that apparently no one else wanted.




I was in love with this gorgeous shade of yellow, but had no use for it until my new build — I needed tile for the second bath and this was gonna be it.  It’s actually funny – the boxes were all in Italian, but I’m pretty sure “ceramica” means “ceramic” and they were all irregular – definitely not an even 6×6.  My design idea was to marry this simple classic yellow tile with a hipper, younger version:  the small square glass tile.  This old/new juxtaposition works well as a general design principle, I think.  So I bought new gray glass tiles as an accent, used gray grout, and here is how it turned out:



Add crisp white shower curtain and fresh yellow flowers to make a clean, happy place for guests to get ready in every morning!






2)  Kitchen:  Vintage Light Fixture

Anyone who has flipped through a builder’s options for light fixtures realizes that this is where they skimp.  Perfect excuse to forego the builder option and go huntin’ for a unique, personalized find.  I wanted a fabulous light fixture for the kitchen island, especially ’cause it’s one of the first things you see in the open floor plan.  I found mine at a local lighting store called Typhoon  ( ).  They have a great selection of refurbished vintage fixtures as well as new ones.

My find is a vintage fixture from the 1970s – I love that it’s not frilly, it’s perfectly gender-neutral, and I’ve never seen anything like it.  I also love how the round globes break up the square angles of the space in general.



3)  Kitchen Island:  Door Slab

I totally lucked out on this one and found a flat door slab made of walnut veneer – the color and beautiful walnut grain were perfect!  (Rather, I could foresee its perfection under layers of dust while it was sitting at Construction Junction).  A light sanding and couple of coats of polyurethane later and it was ready for some legs, which I got at IKEA.


I later found vintage door hardware to install over that hole in its side, too bad I didn’t snap a pic of it!

And this is how the old and the new came together:



4)  Master Bath Storage:  Vintage Bar Cart

This is one my favorite finds.  Not from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a functional standpoint.  I needed storage in the master bath, and it needed to be open or glass front storage (anything that wasn’t would be too bulky for the small space).  Browsing around one afternoon at a vintage store right down the street (Who New Retro Mod Decor, I found this bar cart:


This bar cart has a fabulous feature:  the entire top is an appetizer warmer that heats up!!  So, guess what I use it as?  A towel warmer!!  Not only does it store linens, but it gets towels nice and warm very quickly.  Just turn it on, hop in the shower, and end with a warm toasty towel 🙂


7 Blank Wall Design Inspirations

I have a common design dilemma — what do you do with a long windowless wall?   Especially when it’s the first one you see when you enter the house?

Relative to the open floor plan..

Relative to rest of room

Fireplace not mounted yet, it will be a bit further to right..

The 13 ft. run of blank white wall.  Fireplace not mounted yet, it will be a bit further to right.  (Ignore table)

So I went searching for a little inspiration – any excuse to surf the net ‘n drool over hot designs!  Here are some found options:

1)  Textured 3D wall panel


Instant texture and visual interest!

2)  Wallpaper mural


Very cool and definitely makes an impact.


3)  Faux stone


Cozies up the room…

4)  Wood


The rustic would be a nice contrast against the white and metal contemporary look I have going on right now…

5) Gallery Wall

gallery-wall (1)

Elegant and lovely. Unique as well since it’s your collection that can be added to over time. Plus, minimal work in the immediate – just paint single light color, and start adding framed art and photographs!

6) Removable wallpaper

removable wallpaper

Who knew? Peel and stick wallpaper!!

7) Last, but not least, the affordable designs with paint:  stencils, stripes, chevrons, and the abstract


Stencils are a fantastic alternative to wallpaper – easy, inexpensive, and you can choose any color combo you want.


These stripes are gorgeous.

Home interior with fireplace and sofas 3D rendering

Such a classic pattern..

abstract wall


Paint Colors (and the Value of Sweat Equity)

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

It was a near perfect day weather-wise in Pittsburgh yesterday.. . I spent the day painting at the Project with the windows open, iPOD kickin’ my favorite tunes, occasionally singing along (which probably made all the neighbors shut their windows 😉 ).  As I was up on the ladder doin’ my thing, my thoughts turned to my neighbors at my current house… They’re students, and able to live in a nice townhome because a father bought the house for his son.  Now I have the son and 2 of his buddies living next door and I occasionally leave the house on a Sunday morning to find used paper cups with remnants of beer strewed upon the lawn after an evening of partying, no doubt.  They’re good kids, and that cup is always gone by the time I return (townhouse fairy, perhaps?), but I can’t help but wonder how much they value their gorgeous kitchen (that the previous owner renovated) or the rooftop deck (which is one of my favorite places in my own house) when they didn’t technically work for it.

Then my thoughts wandered to a conversation I had with my sister.  When I was stressing about all the things I have on my plate and mentioned I was taking on some of the labor (e.g. painting) on the project myself, she asked, “Why?  Why didn’t you just hire someone to do the painting?”  Sure, I could have.  Of course I could have.  But I was driven by a need to contribute.  I needed to put a bit of my own sweat into this place.  Why?  I’m not sure, I just wanted to.  Since my construction skills are limited, painting it was.

When I was finally done for the day, after working into the wee hours of the night, I folded up the tarp, threw that last used paint roller in the trash, and looked around.  What I saw was a bland shell taking on life, a stark room turned into a blue jewel, and the beginnings of a serene retreat.  Then I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment, happiness and satisfaction (and also relief that the paint colors I picked actually worked!).  So I had my answer — I did it for this feeling.  This feeling you get when something is earned, not given.   That is the true value of sweat equity.  And how do you put a price on a feeling?  You just can’t — it’s priceless.


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Light bulbs: Compact Flourescent Lights (CFL) versus Halogen

Light Bulb

I came home late last night and flicked the hallway light on.  Instead of being greeted by a warm cozy glow, there was a harsh, dim, blue-white light…  that got brighter and harsher a few minutes later once it kicked in.  What the heck?!

I’d just replaced my hallway lights with new CFL lights and at that moment was sorely disappointed.  Yes, they’re supposed to be highly energy efficient but why do they have to cast such an ugly light?  And take so long to kick in?

But.. since I’m growing an even bigger eco-conscience these days … it told me to give the CFL another chance.  So what is a CFL and why do “green” builders have it on their proud list of things that make their product green?  (It also happens to be on my own list of things that are making my new small house extremely energy-efficient, too).


English: Compact fluorescent light bulb

– The compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) is different from the halogen bulb in one major way:  it requires almost four times less electricity to produce the same amount of light.  In terms of physics, the energy efficiency of a light bulb is measured in lumens per watt – meaning, how many watts of electricity does it take to produce x lumens of light.   A 75-watt halogen bulb produces 1100 lumens of light.  However, a CFL bulb requires only 22-watts to produce 1100 lumens of light and is therefore more energy efficient.

– The CFL also produces much less heat.  The old fashioned halogen bulb takes electric energy and uses only 10% of that energy to produce light.  So what does it do with the other 90%?  It turns it into heat.  So, I did a little test that goes against everything you learn as a kid:  do not touch a burning light bulb.  Well, I touched the burning CFL in my bedside lamp after it had been burning for an hour and guess what?  Ok, it was still hot, but definitely not scorching.   The CFL converts 70% of electric energy into light, and only 30% to heat which is why it is much cooler.

– the CFL lasts 8 times longer (8000 hours vs 1000 hours).  This translates into far less replacement cost and also eight times less that you’ll be getting up on that ladder to change light bulbs (or eight times less you’ll be nagging hubby to do it 😉 )


Halogen incandescent light bulb

– So what about the color?  This is where the halogen light bulb wins.  While certain CFLs labeled as “soft white” have a warmer glow than the others, it’s still not as warm and fuzzy as the halogen bulb and definitely not as warm and fuzzy as the standard incandescent bulb.

– Another con to CFLs is the start-up delay with certain types (those packaged as flood lights, for example).

– Lastly, they contain enough mercury to require hazardous waste collection.  Do not just throw a used CFL out with the regular trash.  Call your city’s waste management department and ask how they collect residential hazmats. Broken CFLs can leach mercury into landfills.

So what do I think?  I think CFLs win hands down, purely because of their superior energy efficiency.  Plus, I found a CFL that actually does produce a warm glow (it was top rated in by a guy who’s job it was to test all these light bulbs and report on the best ones).  That one is the GE Reveal Spiral CFL.  Try it out!




DeGroot, Paul.  Energy-Saving Light Bulbs. Fine Home Building.  Winter 2013: 86-91.

DIY: Salvaged Door to Desk in 5 Steps

This is an easy beginner DIY project to get those creative juices flowing, try your hand at repurposing, and save that door from a landfill burial.  At least that’s what I told myself when I needed a crafting/sewing table but didn’t feel like spending money on a new one.  This door had been sitting in my garage for over a year waiting to be turned into a desk.

Salvaged door

Salvaged door

Before I began this project, I decided which “look” I wanted.  This might be intuitive, but the reason it’s important to choose the look you want first is because this determines how much elbow grease goes into prepping the table.  The chippy-paint look is least labor intensive because all that’s needed is a good cleaning and light sanding on the rough areas and you’re done!  However, a really high gloss lacquer contemporary look requires stripping the existing paint and sanding the surface multiple times with different grits to get a super smooth surface.  Also decide if you want to keep the existing hardware on the door.  I opted to remove all the hardware, give this door a single solid color, but keep some of the character by leaving the dings and dents.

Step 1:  Fill in all the holes, cracks, and large grooves in the door.  This includes the deep rectangular shaped indentations left by old hinges and doorknobs that were removed.  I used joint compound rather than spackle for this, particularly for the deep indentations.  Joint compound dries much harder than spackle, so it is easier to layer and sand.  Make sure the joint compound has dried completely before moving on to the next step.

There was a large indentation in the side of the door after an old hinge was removed.  This was filled with 3 layers of joint compound.  Ensure each layer is dry before applying the next one.

There was a large indentation in the side of the door after an old hinge was removed. This was filled with 3 layers of joint compound.

Step 2:  Sand the door.  (Optional:  strip the paint prior to sanding.  I may do this next time, because although I sanded the surface pretty well and it felt smooth, after the paint went on it didn’t look smooth).  I used an orbital hand sander for all the flat surfaces, and sanded the grooves by hand with a sheet of sandpaper.  Sand first with a medium-coarse grit (100 grit), wipe the door down and repeat 1-2 more times or until the surface feels generally smooth to touch.  Switch to a finer grit (220), and repeat the process.  You’re done when passing your hand over the surface of the door feels smooth and even to the touch.  Give it a good last wipe with tack cloth, which removes all fine particles, before moving on to the next step.

Step 3:  Prime the door.  I used a spray paint primer, but a can of primer paint also works.  Whichever option you choose, the key is to use multiple thin layers rather than 1-2 thick layers.  Wait until each layer is dry (approximately 15-30 min) before applying the next layer.  This ensures an even finish.  Just to give you an idea of how thin the layers are, this is the door after one coat of primer:

The door after one coat of primer.

The door after one coat of primer.

I used 4 thin coats of primer, which is what it took to get the door (almost) all primer white.  Tip on using spray paint:  if you’re spraying, you’re hand better be moving.  Pausing in one spot, even for a fraction of a second will cause drips and a big glob.

Step 4:  Paint the door (Optional:  Prior to painting the door, lightly sand the door again with a fine grit paper since the primer has roughed up the surface.  You’ll notice the surface no longer feels smooth when you pass your hand over it after last coat of primer dries).  Again, using multiple thin layers is better than 2-3 thick layers and wait for each layer to dry before applying the next.  I used a sponge brush to avoid brush marks.  Also, a sponge brush can get into the nooks and crannies unlike a roller.

Color:  SW Naval

Color: Sherwin-Williams Naval

After one coat of paint.

After one coat of paint.

After seven (yep, seven!) coats of paint.  Note to self:  use dark primer for dark paint next time.

After seven (yep, seven!) coats of paint. Note to self: use dark primer for dark paint next time.

Step 5:  Attach door to a base.  I loved these from Ikea:


$10 each


(Just a warning, these particular legs do not come with pre-drilled holes to screw the table to the legs, so there is no way to attach the door to these legs.)  Truthfully, the weight of the door and the sturdiness of these legs made the unit seem solid.  However, I wanted a little bit more security so used a long strip of Velcro to attach the door to the table.  Once I use the table, if I find it moving, I can drill the holes and screw the table to the legs later…

(Optional) Step 6:  Top the table with a piece of glass.  I only topped the table because I needed a flat surface for my sewing machine.

(Optional) Step 7:  Just to give the door a little pizzazz I embellished with upholstery nails.

…and voila!  The finished product in place:

Salvaged Door-to-Desk




Here are pics of a few other creative DIY salvaged door projects:

As a headboard.

As a cool kitchen island topper.

As a wall installation..  ( I couldn’t fine the original source, though this pic is plastered on several websites.  Too bad ’cause whomever thought of this deserves the credit!  It’s gorgeous.)

chalkboard door via Apartment Therapy

As a message board…  (same situation with the reference..)