Archive for June, 2008

Bringing the kitchen out of the Dark Ages!

Here’s what we started out with:

Gloomy!

The cabinets are all dark “hardwood” laminate, and with one small window and two single-bulb light fixtures, this was a dark, gloomy kitchen. The first thing my husband did was replace the single-bulb fixtures for me. Here’s the before:

Original fixtures

Both fixtures had textured glass globes over them. Neither cast much light. I happened to find two-bulb brushed nickel fixtures at Costco selling in a package of two for only $14.39 — can’t beat that deal! Flush-mount ceiling fixtures usually run about $29.95 or higher each, depending on the size. So this was better than a two-for-one deal. Here’s the after:

New kitchen light

You’ll see in later photos that going from two one-bulb fixtures to two of these made a huge difference. While he was at it, my husband also replaced the dark wooden ceiling fan in the living room with a bright white one. We are fortunate to have a family member who gives us hand-me-down fixtures and home dec items from time to time after a remodel, so we’ve gotten a lot of wonderful pieces we can use in our own home. But you don’t have to have a relative who itches to redo every year to find good bargains! Lowe’s has a wide variety of inexpensive ceiling fans that work nicely for under $50.

Once I had good lighting in place, I went ahead and primed the kitchen walls. Because I knew I’d be covering the white linoleum and tiling the countertops, I didn’t have to worry about drips or use dropcloths. I just went at it and got two coats of primer over the striped vinyl “wallpaper” and all the trim. Before refacing the cabinets, I put one coat of latex semi-gloss on the crown moulding over the two coats of primer. All of this took a grand total of three hours over a couple of days (I did other things while the coats were drying).

Now I was ready to begin in earnest on the kitchen cabinets. First I used my power drill to remove all of the hinges and hardware from the lower doors and the pulls from the drawers (I’d need help to get the upper doors off). The hinges used a square bit, which I didn’t have, but I was able to borrow one from our landlord. I’d read that hinges more than ten years old should be discarded, since the plastic piece that helps the cabinet close by itself wears out with years of use. I’d found this to be true, so I had already requested replacement hinges when I purchased Cabinet Rescue. The company that sells the paint also offers replacement hinges just for mobile home cabinets in a variety of finishes. I went with brushed nickel to match the lighting fixtures. I got a deal on hinges when I purchased three pints of the paint, so I ended up getting about 20 hinges for free. I searched around online for cabinet pulls and drawer pulls to match, knowing I didn’t want to pay full price for those. I found these beautiful satin nickel pulls from Modular Kitchen Cabinets:

When I purchased them, they were $1.13 each, so they’ve gone up a bit since then, but they’re still cheaper than the $2.27 retail listed (and pulls like these at Lowe’s were $2.88 each). I knew I wanted cup pulls for the drawers, but I was appalled by the prices, even on discount sites. I finally turned to eBay and was tickled pink to discover satin nickel cup pulls for only $1.89 (compared to $10.89 retail) from Your Home Supply:

After removing the lower cabinet doors, I washed them all thoroughly with “RedMax,” an industrial-strength degreaser, to remove any food and grease remnants (paint won’t adhere well over those). RedMax is a non-smelly, non-caustic degreaser I found at Lowe’s, and it worked wonders. After the doors had dried, I took my orbital sander with #200 paper in place and roughed up the front surface of each door, as explained in the how-to instructions from Decotime. Finally, I wiped down each door and drawer front with a tack cloth to remove any residue from sanding. Now I was ready to paint!

I laid all the cabinet doors out on the countertop with a couple on a dropcloth on the floor when I ran out of room. I stirred the Cabinet Rescue paint, poured it into a small paint tray, then took my high-density foam roller and began. I was amazed at how nicely the first coat went on and pleasantly surprised at how uniform the surface looked when it dried. There were no visible roller marks at all. In the picture you see the kitchen in progress. This went amazingly fast. I ended up putting three coats on everything, which created a nice, solid white finish. I found that it is absolutely necessary to let the doors dry flat rather than standing them up to dry. The paint cannot drip when the door is lying flat! I accidentally stood one door up too soon and ended up having to let it dry completely so I could go back and sand off the drips and do it over again. Far better to let things dry thoroughly while flat before moving them. When the lower cabinet doors were dry enough to stand up, I painted the upper cabinet fronts (which my husband had taken down, degreased, and sanded).

Here you see the cabinet front next to the refrigerator. This is after one coat of Cabinet Rescue. I had to be extra careful to watch for drips on the cabinet fronts, since they obviously have to dry upright. I was fortunate to be able to do all of this refacing work while we were still living in our other house. It would have been tough to manage a kitchen re-do while trying to prepare meals! My children enjoyed a lot of time outdoors and played with friends next door as well, which helped. I did most of the work during afternoon naptime while the littlest ones were down and at night after the children had gone to bed (we camped out in the trailer a couple of times and ate picnic-style for breakfast and lunch the following day!).

Cabinet Rescue dries very quickly, so it doesn’t take long to get all three coats in place. However, once you have the final coat on, the paint has to dry 72 hours to achieve a hard, chip-resistant surface. This was not a problem, since it took me a week to get back to the trailer and finish up. By the time I returned, the paint was smooth and hard, and we were ready to install the new cabinet hardware and rehang the doors. I brought a friend from church with me who spent the afternoon screwing on all the hardware while I went ahead and painted two coats of my buttercream paint on the kitchen walls (taping off the cabinets and trim first). With that color in place, the white cabinets really popped, and we were so excited to see things coming together. At left you can see the first two cabinet pulls in place. The drawer pulls took a little bit of work, since they required a bit of drilling on the drawer fronts for them to lie flush against the surface. The hole that the screw goes in sticks out beyond the edge of the drawer pull, so I simply drilled a shallow hole the same size in the drawer front. When the pull was screwed in place, it lay nice and flat against the drawer front.

Once we had all the hardware and hinges attached to the doors, it was time to rehang them. I thought this would be harder than taking them off, but it was actually much easier. I think taking off ten-year-old hinges with rusty screws is a lot harder than going back in with new screws! You can see the lower cabinet doors back in place on the peninsula in this shot, as well as one of the drawers. The remaining cabinet doors rest on the countertop below their spots. And that reminds me of a very important point: Before removing them, you want to mark the backs of all your doors and drawers so that you know where they came from! I marked all the upper peninsula doors with “U P 1,” “U P 2,” etc. and all the lower peninsula doors with “L P 1,” “L P 2,” etc. I had a system for each section of cabinets and marked accordingly. The drawers I simply numbered one through nine, starting on the left and going clockwise around the room. I didn’t mark the cabinets with corresponding letters and numbers, trusting that I’d remember what my numbering system meant when I went to replace everything. I only got confused once, and then I was able to figure out where the errant door went by process of elimination!

Here are some shots of the finished cabinets:

What a change! And the cost for this total cabinet/wall/light fixture makeover? $160.73 (that includes s/h for online purchases). Hard to believe, isn’t it? Replacing cabinets would run about $5,000 in a kitchen this size. Having them professionally refaced would be about $2,500. Throw in your own elbow grease, and you can do a total kitchen makeover on the cheap! Next time I’ll show you how we covered the old white linoleum for a totally new, up-to-date look that will stand much more wear and tear!

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A little inspiration…

Country Living featureWhat really got me thinking hard about living beautifully in a trailer was this wonderful feature in a back issue of Country Living magazine. When I saw how an antiques dealer had transformed her double-wide by painting the interiors white and bringing in lots of salvage items to liven up the rooms, I knew it could be done. Now, my tastes don’t really run to rusty painted iron or all-white rooms, but I saw that it was really possible to think outside the box when it came to making things pretty in a mobile home–vinyl walls and all!

My husband’s tastes and mine run along mainly traditional lines with a dash of French Country thrown in for good measure. We don’t like things to be so stiffly formal that guests are afraid to sit down, so we don’t go for straight Federal/Georgian style (though we both love the architecture of the period). We both love rooms that are open, airy, and inviting with a couple of cozier rooms (like a library with shelves all around) when you just want to curl up and read. When I looked around the double-wide, I knew I wanted to open it up and give it a bigger feeling with the use of light and pale colors. Chopping up the rooms with lots of different colors would have made the place too busy and would have given it a crammed feeling. The darker blues and reds we love would have made things too dark in a small home. So I went for buttercream and white–the former for the living room, kitchen, and sunroom walls; the latter for all the trim (including the beadboard), the kitchen cabinets, and the doors. Here’s an example of how light, airy colors can make a small room live large:

Pure Elegance from Better Homes and Gardens

While this image doesn’t showcase my favorite furniture style, it does show how effective a light color scheme can be, making the room both relaxing and cheerful. The photo is from Better Homes and Gardens, which has thousands of ideas and how-tos for any number of projects.

But before I could get started with painting, I had to wash down all the vinyl wallcoverings. Some sites recommended using ammonia mixed with water, but I didn’t want to deal with the fumes. I kept reading around and found that plain, ordinary Dawn dish detergent would do the job. A nice, warm, sudsy bucket of Dawn would cut any grease and leave the walls prepped and ready for primer. I did toy briefly with the idea of removing all the batten strips between the sheetrock panels to create a totally smooth wall. It can be done with spackling tape, DAP’s DryDex, fine sandpaper, and lots of elbow grease. But that was just far more work than I was willing to put into a trailer! So, after washing down the walls and letting them dry, I laid down my dropcloths and prepared to prime the entire living room at once–trim and all, since everything needed primer. While we were at it, my husband painted over the popcorn ceiling (which was looking a little brown from years of catching dirt) after we ran the dust mop over it. He used the largest, fluffiest paint roller available (meant for rough surfaces). Just so you know: ceiling popcorn can come off if it gets damp (this is how it is removed, in fact), so two passes with the roller were all he gave each section. Worked like a charm, and the ceiling is now bright white and beautiful.

I didn’t manage to get any photos of these steps, so next time I’ll talk about refacing the kitchen cabinets and show the results!

Here we go!

So, what would possess a middle-class family to trade comfy suburbia for a double-wide trailer in the sticks? Two words: “Reality Check.” My husband and I finally accepted the fact that our dream of one day building a home on our own land just couldn’t come true if we were holding on to the “American Dream”–i.e. a big mortgage that left little room to save seriously.

When the opportunity came to rent a 4-bedroom house on ten acres for about a third of what we pay each month for our 4-bedroom house near the big city, we jumped. We’d become landlords, turning our suburban home into an asset instead of a liability, and we’d trim down and live in slightly smaller quarters while we saved and worked toward building our own place.

Now, as a little background here, I’ve always looked upon trailer living with a jaundiced eye. Not that I’m a snob, but I just couldn’t picture a mobile home as anything other than tornado bait on wheels–and definitely cramped. So I was very pleasantly surprised when we took our first walk-through of our future abode. Four bedrooms (yes, they’re on the small side, but thank goodness for bunk beds!) give us room for everyone plus a home office. A huge family room/dining room provides plenty of space for comfort and even having people over. A good-sized kitchen leaves room for a work table in the center, and a sunroom off to the side provides extra space for projects. A big bonus is a nice laundry room with space for our second fridge, plus a giant walk-in closet that we plan to use as our “universal closet,” where all the children’s clothes can be organized by size–yippee!

I did know right off the bat that I wanted to paint the rooms and redo several things to make the house more user-friendly–particularly for twenty feet tracking in and out every day. Thankfully, our landlords are also good friends and are open to letting us decorate any way we like. So I’ll be sharing home dec adventures and do-it-yourself projects on this blog–showing you how you can do beautiful things on the cheap, whether you live in a trailer, an apartment, or a conventional home.

So let me give you a first peek into Trailer World. Here is the living room as it appeared before I started painting:The Living Room

Here you see the typical vinyl “wallpaper” with laminate beadboard around the lower third. I saw potential, because I love beadboard, and I knew it had to be possible to paint over the vinyl wallcovering. Sure enough, I found a fantastic resource with a few clicks through Google: HammerZone. Here I learned that I definitely needed primer, but also that I needed to clean the walls prior to any painting. While Hammerzone recommends Zinsser’s B-I-N primer, a short talk with the paint desk man at Lowe’s convinced me that I could go with a less expensive option that would work just as well and would clean up with soap and water. So I purchased a five-gallon bucket of Zinsser’s 1-2-3 primer (and found an added bonus–no awful fumes to leave the house reeking of paint!).

Let me give you a glimpse into the kitchen as well:

The Kitchen

The cabinets are all laminate over particleboard, so I wondered if I’d be able to redo them with paint. First I went back to HammerZone to see what they had to say about refacing laminate cabinets. Looked fairly simple, but I worried about regular paint not being able to stand up to our kind of wear and tear! Once again, Google’s search came through for me, and I found this fantastic resource: Cabinet Rescue! Wait until we get to our do-it-yourself, cheaper-than-dirt kitchen makeover post! You aren’t going to believe how beautifully this stuff works. I’m really excited to share it with you. And you’re going to love how we’re re-doing the white linoleum floor (White floors with eight kids? No way!)….

I’ve been working off and on in the trailer for about three months now, so I have lots to post, including pictures and fantastic links that are going to help you with your own home projects without spending thousands of dollars. If you’re anything like me, you love those before and after pictures in magazines like Country Living and Southern Living, but you’re not prepared to sink tons of money into what should be simple cosmetic fixes. Well, we’re going to walk through real-life, do-able remodels and home dec projects on this blog, and I look forward to seeing your comments. I hope you’ll share your own fantastic links and fun projects as we move along!


About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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