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Home Improvement

Handrail DIY: Galvanized Pipe

Our old farmhouse was built around 1900 – when people were apparently very skinny (our stairway is only 33″ wide) and short.  The staircase is so narrow that it left us stumped for the last few years on how to add a handrail to bring it up to code, and more recently to make sure neither of us took a tumble with the baby.

Then I saw this photo on pinterest and was SO inspired:


Source: Houzz

Since we live in an older farmhouse, we like to use a combination of aged wood, tile/stone, and different metals in our decor.  It gives the home a rustic feel, and fits with the age and style of our house.  So a metal handrail felt like the perfect choice, and would also sit much closer to the wall than a traditional handrail.  We didn’t have a ton of room to work with here, so this was the perfect choice.  Not to mention, inexpensive!

Materials List:
3 Galvanized Floor Flanges (1″ Diameter)
2 60″ Galvanized Steel Pipes (1″ Diameter)
1 Tee Fitting (1″ Diameter)
2 90 degree Elbow Fitting (1″ Diameter)
3 Pipe Nipple Fitting (1″ Diameter)
2 cans of Rustoleum Oil Rubbed Bronze Spray Paint

The first step is to measure where you want to hang your railing.  To follow our local building code, the rail needed to be mounted 34-38″ above the front edge of the stairs.  We decided on going right in the middle, at 36″.

First, we used some Goo Gone to remove any stickers on the pipes.  Next, it was time to assemble.  We did the attachments first.  Thread your tee fitting into a pipe nipple fitting, which then threads into the floor flange – this will be the middle.  For the two ends, thread your 90 degree elbow fitting into a pipe nipple fitting, then into a floor flange.

Second, screw in your galvanized pipes in between the fittings.  At this point you should take your assembled rail and dry fit it on the wall to make sure that all threads are equidistant from the wall.  We learned that the middle tee fitting needed a little more tightening during this step, so don’t skip it!  Use a pair of channel locks to tighten everything until it looks even.

Third, we wanted an oil-rubbed bronze finish for this handrail, so it was time to paint!  We used rustoleum oil rubbed bronze and did two coats.  It leaves such a nice finish!

This is Kyle.  He also helped on our Pottery Barn Bed project. Hi, Kyle!

Finally, we hung it!  This is a two person job as the entire railing assembled weighs over 20 lbs., so you’ll need some extra hands to stabilize while one person hangs it.  Since we live in an old house with non-standard stud spacing, the flanges didn’t match up exactly to a stud.  To work around this, we had to use drywall anchors at two of the three attachment points.  I was fortunate enough to have a load bearing wall at the bottom of my stairs which guaranteed a solid anchor point.  One end was held there while Kyle went up the stairs to hold the opposite end.

As it worked out, it was the perfect length! One end butted up against the window sill perfectly.  I’m not going to lie, installing a railing on plaster and lath walls took some finesse, but it was worth the effort.

Here is the finished product.  Rustic, eclectic, safe, and perfect for this little old farmhouse.

Smied Watermark



Home Improvement

Barnlight Electric Austin Sconce Knockoff Lights

We have lots of plans for revamping our house’s exterior, but it isn’t in the budget until next year.   These are the top priorities on our exterior makeover to-do list:

New house numbers : done!
– Paint Exterior
– Build New Shutters (our current ones are old beat-up aluminum shutters that wasps and yellowjackets love to build their nests in.)
– Gooseneck Exterior Lights
– New Screen Door
– Replace Roof over 3 season porch
– Replace 4 windows

New exterior lights have been high on this list for me, since they’re such an easy swap and make a huge impact.  I’ve been drooling over the Austin Sconce at Barnlight Electric, in black.  They’re so pretty, and goosenecks cast such a pretty light, without blinding the neighborhood like our current lanterns do.  Since this is not our forever home though, I couldn’t justify spending $120+ per fixture.  In comes a dupe project – I found these lookalike gooseneck lights on Amazon for $40/each.  Score!

dsc_1845I picked up 2 cans of Rustoleum interior/exterior paint in Flat Black, to give the lights the matte finish I wanted originally, and gave each light 3 coats.


dsc_2067Installation was easy-peasy, and this is the end result.  Love!

The problem now is having the self control to push back against the “might as well” syndrome that comes with improving one tiny aspect of an area.  Now that these adorable lights are up, I want to do ALL THE THINGS outside. 🙂  Oh well, this just means lots of blog posts to come next Spring and Summer!
Smied Watermark


Home Improvement

DIY Install: Pottery Barn Vintage Recessed Medicine Cabinet

vintage-recessed-medicine-cabinet-oWe’ve been trying to find some time to sit down and plan out the nursery, and decided to put most of our house projects on hold until it was finished.  Then one day, one of Jeremy’s super-generous coworkers said “Hey, I have this Pottery Barn medicine cabinet that I bought a few years ago and don’t have any use for now.  Do you want it?”

And I was like:

ad…and we totally forgot about the nursery.  Oops!  The End.

Really though, it was an amazing gift (thank you, Sharon!) as we’d been talking for over a year about how little storage space the guest bathroom has, and how a medicine cabinet would solve that problem.  We were going to hang on to it until after the baby was here, but after thinking it through it was decided that if we were going to cut holes in the walls and take on a big project like this, it would probably be best to do it before we have infant needs and nap times to compete with.  So with that, we jumped right in!

vintage-recessed-medicine-cabinet-oThis is the cabinet, in chrome finish.  Isn’t it pretty?  Originally, there was just a framed mirror hung on the wall.  It was a good size for the space, but obviously the lack of storage was an issue.


We took down the mirror, turned off the power to the bathroom, and cut a few exploratory holes in the wall.  This is a really important step, you need to take your time determining where plumbing and electrical are running before you go any further.  Just our luck, we found we had a water pipe running directly behind where the cabinet would have to sit.  This was not the best news.  And the hole in wall got progressively bigger as Jeremy kept saying “I just need to cut a little more out so I have room to work.”  At this point I was a little scared that we were about to tear our bathroom apart forever.


Thankfully, Jeremy had some plumbing knowledge from one of his jobs in high school, so he felt comfortable taking this on himself.  He ended up buying 4- 45 degree copper elbows, flux, and pipe sanding cloth.  We had a soldering gun and solder, too.  After shutting off the water, he was able to move the pipe back further into the wall, leaving plenty of clearance between the wall/pipe/medicine cabinet.  The real moment of truth was turning the water back on, and making sure the soldering job was solid.  It was!  I’m still SO impressed with what a great job he did, since any kind of plumbing or electrical is intimidating to me.

DSC_1741We’d already determined where the medicine cabinet would sit before we cut into the wall, so now we just had to frame it out.  Jeremy used 2×4’s cut to size, to frame out the cabinet insert.  By using the existing woodwork + 2 extra pieces to frame out the top and bottom, we were able to make the frame REALLY solid and stable.


To repair the gaping hole we’d left in the drywall, we went to Lowe’s to grab some more.  Pro tip: if you only have a small section to repair, ask them if they have any scrap drywall to sell.  These are full sheets that have small imperfections that make them unsellable as a whole – we were able to get a 4’x4′ piece cut from a scrap piece of green board (good for moisture-heavy rooms) for $1.  Can’t beat that!  We cut the drywall to match the existing space, and screwed it in.  Jeremy then cut the hole out for the cabinet insert, and put the cabinet in to make sure it fit.

DSC_1754We then taped and mudded the edges of the drywall, and filled in all of the screw holes.  After it dried it was given a good sanding to remove any rough edges or bumps, and this had to be repeated for a total of 5 coats.  We use pre-mixed joint compound, and have found that this kind is the easiest to work with – be prepared to be patient with the drying time.  It took almost a whole day for each coat to fully dry.  I also highly recommend a Magic Trowel for a really smooth finish!

After the final coat was dry it was sanded, primed (with trusty old Kilz), and painted (Benjamin Moore – Palladian Blue).  We then re-inserted the cabinet, screwed it in place, and put in the glass shelving.  Finally done, and looking like it was there the whole time!  We re-hung the lights upside down on accident, but decided to leave it for a while to see if we liked it.

DSC_2037I made a fun little sign out of some scrap wood for the floating shelf.

DSC_2034The project turned out to be a little more involved than we anticipated, but turned out so great.  The cabinet sits flush with the wall, which is perfect for the small space, and now we have storage!  Totally worth it.


I had to take a sappy photo because I realized seconds before I took this that we met 13 years ago today!  Now I guess we should probably get working on that nursery 🙂
Smied Watermark

Home Improvement

This Old Kitchen (Progress) – Part II

So, this post was delayed a little bit by a few newer projects, as well as our big announcement!  You can read Part I of this post here.

Let’s start with a little refresher.


kitchen 1
kitchen 2

There’s really just a whole lot of NO going on here.

DSC_0945Still in progress, but much less MAKE IT STOP! happening now.

Let’s continue talking about how we got here – today we’re talking countertops!

Part II: Tinted Concrete Countertop Overlay
The gray laminate countertop was durable, but so, So, SO ugly. I also knew the 4″ laminate backsplash had to go.  It made the walls behind it feel so small and closed-in, and I knew we’d be putting in a subway tile backsplash next that I wanted to run flush from the countertop.  My inspiration has always been these two photos:

Kitch 1
Kitch 2
I love the look of soapstone or black granite with crisp white cabinets in a farmhouse, but we’re not quite there yet budget-wise.  So for a quick livable makeover, I opted for a black-tinted concrete countertop overlay.  I was inspired by the tutorial I found on Little Green Notebook, she made it seem so easy!  We ordered the Ardex Feather Finish concrete powder, as well as the black tinting powder from Amazon.  We had about 30 square feet of countertop space to cover, and one bag of each was plenty.  Ardex is not sold in stores unless you have a distributor nearby – you can search for them here.

While we were waiting for the powders to arrive, it was time to do some prep work.  The first thing we did was attack remove the 4″ laminate backsplash.  If you have countertops like we did, you’ll notice that unfortunately they usually screw this backsplash into the countertop through the bottom, before they install the counters themselves.  This makes it near-impossible to just unscrew them from underneath, and trying to pry them off will only damage the countertop you have left.  To get around this, we slightly pried each section away from the countertop enough to expose the screws.  We then used an oscillating saw with a metal blade, and cut through each screw as flush to the countertop as possible, and finished grinding down the screws with a dremel tool.  It’s okay if you scuff up the countertops a little, since you’ll be doing an overlay.  You just don’t want the huge holes that prying might cause.


Woohoo!  So much better already, and we haven’t even started.

Next, we needed to scuff up the surface of the countertop, so that the concrete had something to grab on to.  I used a wallpaper scorer for this, and gave each surface a rough score 3 times each.  Finally, make sure each surface is clean with a wet sponge.  If the surface is really dirty or greasy, clean with a mixture of 1/4 cup TSP: 1 gallon water.  Wear eye protection and gloves if you have to use this solution, because it is serious stuff!  The countertop will look rough when you’re done, but that’s good – at this point there’s no turning back 🙂

Now is the exciting part : time to lay down some concrete!  Be sure you’re wearing disposable gloves for this part, if you don’t want stained hands.  I wish I had more pictures of this process, but we finished the project 4 months before I started blogging.  I’ll do my best to describe the rest from here!  To get the dark color we wanted, we mixed the following ratio:

1/4 cup tinting powder : 2 cups ardex powder : (about) 1 1/2 cups water

It will look like a thin black cake frosting.  Yum?

You want to mix this up until you get the consistency above, then let it sit for 5 minutes.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive because it would seem like letting it sit would give you less time to work with it – but it’s actually the opposite.  After 5 minutes, mix it up again.  This will give you about 15 minutes of working time, which should be enough to do one coat on about 10-15 sq. ft. of countertop.

Take a trowel (we used a magic trowel – highly recommended!), and spread on a thin layer of concrete.  It’s like icing a cake.  Don’t overthink it, smooth it out the best you can, but remember that small ridges can be sanded after each coat.  The vertical edges are a bit tougher – I found the trick to this is to wait to do these until the countertop itself is covered.  This gives the concrete mix enough time to set up so that you can just grab some in your (gloved) hand at the end and rub it along the sides without it falling off.  Let this coat dry completely, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.  Then it’s time to sand – we did a rough sanding with an orbital sander and a 120 grit pad in between each coat.  You want to put on at least 3 thin coats of concrete to completely cover the surface.

Once you’ve finished your last coat, give it a once over with the 120 grit, then follow it up with a 220 grit to get it really, really smooth.  (Pro tip: if you’re doing a kitchen countertop with a sink insert, don’t be dumb like us.  Remove the sink before you do this.  We didn’t and I’m not thrilled with the results around this area).

PicMonkey CollageDone!

Just kidding.  You have to seal these bad boys unless you want your every move in the kitchen documented on these porous, easily stainable countertops.  To do this, we chose two different sealers:

511 Impregnator Sealer + Safecoat Acrylacq (Satin Finish)

We did 3 coats of the impregnator/sealer, and 3 coats of Acrylaqc.  Acrylaqc is a food-grade, stain resistant sealer, so we thought this was our best choice.  However, it’s been over 6 months now that we’ve lived with these countertops, and it hasn’t proven to be as stain-resistant as advertised.  We’ve got some spots that are left over from spills which is a HUGE bummer, but it blends well enough (it almost looks like well-worn chalkboard) that I can deal until we save up enough for stone.

PicMonkey Collage ct

If I could start over, I would have finished everything off with a clear, 2-part epoxy top coat.  I think this really would have made these countertops super stain resistant, however, that is my only regret.  We’ve had no issues with surface scratches or chips.


It took about a week start to finish, but looks much so much better!
Smied Watermark