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Meet ChiChi …

*sings* Isn't she lovely ...

She’s my cute little packhorse …

Want proof? Here you go :

Not bad, huh?

In case you’re busy squinting to work out what’s in there, I’ll tell you. The box on the left contains an assortment of purchases from a trip to Bunnings – Mortafil, mineral turps, a spice rack thingy that might or might not go in the pantry, a paint roller head or two and a small plastic drawer unit that Mum hopes might corral all my jewellery-making pliers and other bits and bobs. The yellow bucket is one of the many, many 6kg buckets of plaster powder we went through, and the green bowl is for the neighbourhood birds to drink from or wash in (or both). And, the best part? There’s a scaffold in the back of ChiChi, too.

Where, I hear you ask? Well, see those red and grey metal rods near the bottom of the box? They’re part of the frame, and the other parts are under the three paint-splattered metal pieces that make up the actual platform of the scaffold unit. What you can’t see are the wheeled feet, the stationary flat feet and the ladder attachment. I never quite believed that I’d get it in the car until I actually did!

Back home and with all the pieces unloaded onto the back lawn, we went about being construction engineers – carrying one piece inside at a time and slotting it into place before going back for another one LOL Soon enough, we had this :

Again, ignore the mess in the background ...

And before long, with a bit of climbing and hoisting parts over my head like they weighed nothing, we had this mother ready for action :

Ta-da!! ...

It even came with its own little tray for your tools (not shown above because it didn’t quite fit on that far side next to the wall) …

While I admit to initial reservations about the whole contraption’s ability to hold my weight and not come crashing down, it did its job and, by the end of the two weeks in which it was my home within our home, I was swinging up that ladder and onto the platform like a monkey in the jungle. We hauled, dragged and pushed that thing around the kitchen space every day over the course of the two weeks it was in our possession. I would never have been able to get the plastering or the sanding done without it, and I even managed to get the cornices/moulding fixed and painted in the 24 hours before it was due to be returned.

Okay, that last part’s only because I took two days off work, but still …

I should have taken a photo from my perspective up high, because it’s strange to be standing that close to your own ceiling and looking down. It was, however, a conscious decision to not take any photos of me up there. Why? Because no-one needs to see me covered in plaster dust, in paint-covered trackies and thongs, with a fine sheen of sweat. I’ll tell you what, though – we’re a couple of weeks past having returned the scaffold unit and the kitchen has this somewhat empty feel to it now … :p

There’s still so much to be done, and some days it feels like this thing is never going to be finished, so where to next? I think my next post might be a list of things to cross off as they get done – hopefully having them here online will inspire me to get a wriggle on!

🙂

Oh, and yes, we like our fridge magnets …

Remember I said we’d had swatches of colour painted on the kitchen walls in an attempt to pick a colour for a feature wall? Well, this was that section of the wall :

No wonder we couldn't choose ...

You can infer three things from this. One – we like our bright colours. Two – we had always planned to have our colour scheme be inspired by the tiles on the island benchtop. Three – we take an awfully long time to make any decisions.

Alas, in the end, none of these colours will get to see the light of day on our kitchen walls. While there is no question that, on their own, each is awesome and I’d love to use them somewhere someday, right now we’ll be going with white walls – “Vivid White” to be exact – and we’re more than happy about that!

🙂

Or, in our case, cracks are whack …

When I first started this whole kitchen renovation thing all those years ago, there were one or two relatively significant cracks in the plaster walls, and lots of hairline cracks. Upon further investigation, I discovered that, well, those hairline cracks were really only hiding the fact that they were on their way to becoming much bigger at some point down the track. I also learned, through the highly technical method of tapping a screwdriver on the plaster and listening for hollow sounds, that there were pretty huge swathes of plaster either side of those cracks that were no longer actually adhering to the brick underneath. Cue many long and loud sighs, followed by an avalanche of plaster as I pried it off the walls back to the parts where it was still attached. For example, before I ‘explored’ one particular hairline crack, this area looked like this :

Before ...

After my ‘exploration’ – with a screwdriver and hammer, no less – the upper left area of that photo looked more like this :

After ...

Luckily, I had Mum to clean up after me (read : follow me around the kitchen with a broom, sweeping up many bucketfuls of plaster bits).

That whole process left me with sections of the wall that looked like this :

Example 1 ...

Example 2 ...

Example 3 ...

Example 4 ...

Prying away the plaster above one of the doorways revealed not only a huge patch that was only hanging on by the barest of threads, but also the fact that the mortar between the bricks underneath had dried out and cracked, essentially just sitting between the bricks. Brushing away the plaster and mortar left big gaps between the bricks – oh, and also exposed this ridiculously ineffective-looking support beam :

Might as well be a toothpick ...

How this little piece of metal was supposed to support anything I’ll never know, but between Mortarfil and plaster, I soon had those babies repaired and covered. Though, in the interests of full disclosure, I naively thought two tubes of Mortarfil and a 6kg bucket or two of plaster filler would fix all that I’d undone. Nuh-uh … I think I managed to work my way through half a dozen tubes of Mortarfil and maybe five buckets – or was it six? – of plaster. I don’t know; I think I lost count after the millionth trip to Bunnings, including one to trade two of the Mortarfil tubes because they’d reached their expiry date and were so hard and dry the mixture wouldn’t even come out of the tube. Oh, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am now the proud owner of a caulking gun!

Armed and dangerous ...

I never knew there was a ‘technique’ to mixing plaster, either – I thought you just whacked the dry stuff in a bucket, added some water and gave it a stir. Turns out, you see, in my experience anyway, it pays to add all the water to about 80% of the dry mix, then give your biceps a solid workout by stirring them together briskly, then adding the last 20% of the dry mix a little bit at a time. The instructions on the bucket might not say that, but surely it’s what they mean, right? Because when I did it their way, the resulting concoction was more like cottage cheese (except with lumps the size of hailstones) than workable plaster. I know this because I ended up slapping one of these misguided batches on the wall anyway and ended up having to pry it off a week later when it looked vastly different to the rest. But, oh well, I guess you live and learn, yes?

After what felt like a year atop the scaffolding that we pushed and shoved and heaved around the kitchen space, I had that moment all renovators must have – I was able to ceremoniously dump the plaster trowel back in the bucket, triumphantly throw my head back and crow, “It’s DONE!!” I was, folks, the proverbial Cheshire cat of the home renovating world.

Until, of course, Mum pointed out the section I’d missed just above floor level.

Our formerly very-much-cracked walls were actually starting to look much better :

Example 1 - Done ...

Example 2 - Done ...

Example 3 - Done ...

Example 4 - Done ...

As you can see, I also replaced the air vents, but that whole mini-saga is another post all on its own. Some of these photos were taken while the plaster wasn’t fully dry, but I can assure you that after a few days, the patches were all the same colour, completely dry and sturdy, and ready for me to assault them with the sander …

But, again, that’s another post for another day …

🙂

I love me some colour …

I wouldn’t dare to say I have one favourite colour above all others. I like my splashes of bright, bold, cheerful colour anywhere and everywhere. Ignoring that the majority of my wardrobe is resplendent in all the varying shades of black known to womankind, I promise that I swoon at any hint of bright colours. I could get lost in the paint sections of hardware stores for hours, staring at all those little coloured paint chips, pondering their possibilities.

When we first considered renovating the kitchen, feature walls were all the rage. We were positive we were going to have one – we just couldn’t decide on a colour. After eight years of staring on and off at swatches of colour painted all over the walls, we unspeakingly agreed that we’d paint the walls white and get our colour from accessories, art and other features of the space. This is where the tiled benchtop I mentioned a few posts ago comes in …

I’ll admit I’d never tiled in my life. I had some idea of the basics from watching home improvement shows, but after consulting the trusty internet (don’t worry, I didn’t use Billy Bob’s Tiling Emporium as my go-to source), I was raring to go. I always knew I wanted something that popped, and I found the perfect tiles at Bunnings – gorgeously glossy 100x100mm tiles in a myriad of different colours. I chose seven different hues, plus smaller white tiles for the border, then loaded up my trolley with primer/sealant, adhesive, scrapers, tile spacers, grout, a float, sponges and so on. I already had the MDF board that I intended to use for the base at home, so I was soon good to go – even if everyone in the hardware store thought my colour choices were a little … well … brave would be a polite way to put it!

Back home and the primer/sealant applied, I cooled my heels waiting for it to dry, then got started. Turned out the ‘easy to apply’ pre-mixed adhesive was a total bastard to squeeze out of the damn tube, let alone spread. Grr. I battled the tube for about half an hour, but even Mr. Universe would have had trouble getting that stuff out the tiny hole. So, back to Bunnings I went for the stuff I had to mix myself and then it was on to Round 2 …

I naively looked at the 2kg bucket and thought, ‘Meh, I won’t need all that! I’ll mix up half.’ That idea worked well until I realised I had no way of accurately measuring out half the contents of the bucket. But wait … what did I use a Target gift card to purchase during the post-Christmas sales that was still sitting, unopened, in its plastic packaging? That’s right – a brand new set of electronic kitchen scales!

Now, since this is all about kitchen renovation, it seems only fitting that I ended up using a measuring jug appropriated from the stash of plasticware that I found skulking at the back of a cupboard to add the right amount of water. The resulting concoction looked like something you’d use to lay a road, but after holding it up to the light on the wooden spatula I’d used to mix it and staring at it from every angle, I figured it must be okay since I had followed the instructions. I slapped it onto a corner area rather liberally and went to town.

I thought this little project would take maybe an hour tops. Uh-huh, I hear those of you in the know saying. Okay, so I was a little off in my time estimations … alright, more like several hours off. Let’s just say I started sometime around dinner time (maybe 6pm?) and finished just before midnight. Don’t feel sorry for me, though – if you have any pity, save it for my poor mother, who is most definitely ready for bed at that hour of the night while I have several more hours of wakefulness and energy in me. She was out there with me, fighting off the mosquitoes and handing me tile spacers and tiles when I stuck my hand out for them, like a nurse handing a doctor a scalpel or a retractor. However, the minute I announced I was done for the evening, she hightailed it to bed.

I now present to you the freshly tiled, probably not quite dry, beginnings of our kitchen island benchtop :

Phase 1 complete ...

You may or may not have noticed the shadows and harsh artificial light? That’s because I documented this stage at, oh, somewhere around midnight and I was working by the glow from our back verandah spotlight, beautifully filtered through the massive yucca plant. The other thing you may or may not have noticed is the evidence that this back table is my outdoor craft area – not intentionally, but more by default than anything else. Note the blue and white paint spatters in the middle foreground, the artist’s canvas in the top left corner, and the little ‘white’ specks on the table slats in the front – those are from drilling holes in metal washers with a good old-fashioned rotary hand drill.

After a good night’s shuteye, my little project was more than dry, so we hauled it inside (and I do mean hauled) and dumped it unceremoniously on top of the island bench. It fit perfectly, with it sitting flush on the longer sides and a few centimetres of overhang on each of the shorter sides – this is ultimately to somewhat conceal the towel rail/s we intend to install on at least one of the sides. Every single time I wandered into the kitchen over the course of the next hour, I stopped to admire my handiwork. Egotistical, I know, but I was a little chuffed with how well it turned out!

That good mood lasted until I began to tackle the grouting. I had visions of the pre-mixed and pre-coloured grout squirting out of the bottle easily and neatly into the crevices. “Pre-mixed and pre-coloured?”, you say? Well, duh, like I was going to mix it myself! At first it seemed I hadn’t cut the nozzle far enough down, but soon it looked like I might need to cut off the entire pointy end if I ever wanted the mixture to come out of the bottle at all. Chopping back the nozzle bit by bit finally got me to a point where the flow was decent – as long as I had arms of steel with which to squeeze the bottle. I don’t, so let’s just say I sweated more than is considered elegant for a lady and leave it at that, shall we??

This time, shock horror, my task was finished well before midnight, at which point I took to the couch and vegetated in front of the television for awhile. Around 1am, I ventured out to the kitchen for a drink and decided the grout was appropriately dry enough for me to begin the buffing and polishing process. Who starts something like that at 1am?? I do. I bet not a single one of my friends is surprised by that in the least, right? I learned through this whole process that I severely underestimate the amount of time it takes me to do anything. Case in point – I thought I’d be done with the buffing and polishing in an hour or so. Talk about naive. I was still scrubbing and wiping and cajoling stubborn bits of grout off tiles at 4am … Sure, I could have given up, but no way did I want Mum to get up in the morning and find the job only half-done. I realise that she probably wouldn’t have cared in the least, but I needed to get it finished so she could see that my wild idea really did look good in practice. And, if I do say so myself, the ‘finished’ product, buffed and polished to within an inch of its life, did look pretty good, even at 5am :

Ignore the mess around it ...

I love how shiny it is! ...

Not bad for a beginner, right? ...

It still needs its metal edges put on to finish it completely, plus a few grout touch-ups here and there, and until these things are done we’re just ‘sitting’ it on top of the island bench rather than affixing it permanently, but it’s one of the bigger projects mostly done. We’re talking at the moment about doing our splashback in the same tiles to connect the two areas of the kitchen, but we’ll see how we go – at the rate we’re currently moving on this wretched kitchen reno, we might never get to the splashback!

I’ll be back with more photos of my kitchen destruction in a day or two, hopefully …

🙂

 

PS I lied. I do have a favourite colour. It’s P!nk.

You know that thing I mentioned that was over the stove? I’ve been Googling because I have no idea where to start looking for the photos I took all those years ago, and these are the best I can come up with to give you some idea of what I was dealing with when I took to the kitchen with a sledgehammer all those years ago :

Sort of like this ...

Or like this ...

(Photos above courtesy of the interwebs – found them while searching, not sure who owns them or where they came from, but they’re not mine originally … how’s that for a disclaimer?)

What we had is best described as a mix between the two, with the sense of “disappearing up the chimney” in the first one combined with the more polished look of the second one. In that second one? See that ‘ledge’ where the knick-knacks are? We had that, too – only where this person’s extends a few centimetres or so, ours extended probably two feet or so.

You can see why we got rid of it.

After I went a little Marcos-Baghdatis-at-the-2012-Australian-Open, I slapped a bunch of plaster over some of the edges and then, when the school term started again and I had no time to finish it, it looked like this :

The overview ...

The bumpy edges ...

The REALLY bumpy sides ...

Every time I’ve consciously looked at this over the last eight or so years, I’ve given up on progressing with it because I thought getting the edges and the sides flat was just too hard a job. I thought I had to work out where the sides were supposed to meet and somehow create the perfect 90-degree angle myself. And, based on the haphazard job above, we both know I was never going to succeed at that!

Then I discovered corner bead …

I think I was reading a plastering forum thread (yes, such things exist – who knew??) and someone mentioned this strange thing called ‘corner bead’. Intrigued, I Googled it. When it looked like the very thing I needed, I watched a few YouTube videos – there’s nothing you can’t teach yourself on YouTube – and then hightailed it to Bunnings the very next day. Armed with a couple of very long pieces and a hacksaw, I cut it into the necessary lengths and, after a debacle or two with different nails and finally the good ol’ Liquid Nails, I had the corner bead in place. Bucketload after bucketload of plaster transformed the above mess and this :

Before ...

   

Also before ...

into this :

Looking better ...

Getting there ...

Much smoother ...

All the way down ...

Yes, I know there’s still A LOT of sanding to be done (not to mention other plastering around the kitchen walls, but that’s another post in and of itself) but at least I can now ‘see’ how this is going to turn out in the end. Of course, I’m not exactly looking forward to hours upon hours of vibrations torturing my poor hands and arms, and all those grease stains on the wall behind the stove are going to require their own ton of hard yakka (Mum has kindly volunteered to do that part!), but it’s a step in the right direction.

Oh, and the white patches on either side? Swatches of paint to pick the colour for the walls. That’s right – white vs. white …

 

How long does it take to renovate a room? More specifically, a kitchen?

How long is a piece of string?

I’m going to be honest here, and it’s not going to reflect positively on my ability to finish a project. All it will do is highlight my love of procrastination and my ADCD – Attention Deficit Craft Disorder (and no, I’m not ragging on people with genuine ADHD – I’m a teacher, so I have a decent grasp of what it means to actually have that condition). I get right into one craft or activity, pursue it for some period of time, and then something else comes along and snatches my attention. The previous activity gets cast aside, perhaps never to be touched again. Alas, this is the story of our kitchen. Go get a cup of coffee, sit back and allow me to explain.

Somewhere around my second or third year of teaching (so, we’re talking either 2003 or 2004, but my money’s on 2003 – which only makes this worse!), I renovated our lounge room during the course of the two-week winter school break. During my childhood, this was more of a formal lounge room than anything else – it was where we sat when guests came over, it was where we put up the Christmas tree every December, and it where we spent the hottest of hot summer days sprawled out on the floor since it was the only room in the house with an airconditioner. The decor screamed … well, I’m not sure what it screamed – maybe it just screamed? Picture carpet the colour of brown sugar with a swirl made not from colour variations but rather texture, cream/blush pink/pale apricot-coloured wallpaper highlighted with a shimmery silver design, cupboards and bookcases made of chipboard with a faux-wood laminate covering and glass doors on brown plastic hinges, and – the cherry on top – a wannabe-velvet lounge suite in a vaguely geometric pattern of tans, browns, oranges, dark greens and white, with a dark wood base and arms. Scary, yes, but also totally in keeping with the late-1970s-early-1980s era in which it was originally decorated. I wish I had photos to share, but even if I did, I wouldn’t want you to go blind.

Just before the autumn school holidays of this particular year in question – by which point we’d made the space our primary lounge room because it offered more square footage than the other pokey area we’d been using and it seemed stupid to have such a large room going to waste otherwise – I decided I’d had enough of the decor and broached with Mum the idea of renovating in some way. After sitting and looking around the room, contemplating our options and probably daydreaming of having a reality show come and do it for us, we realised our only option was to both rip up the carpet AND strip the wallpaper (which, admittedly, was already starting to peel away from the wall in a couple of spots). That last week of school was spent boxing up books, the precious glassware in the cabinets (you know – the sets of collector drinking glasses from Hungry Jack’s LOL) and other such flotsam and jetsam before moving the bookcases and cupboards out. The carpet came up easily enough, to my surprise – sure, a bit of sweat and grunt work, but no dramas. What we didn’t expect was the paint job underneath! It seems that the previous owners had decided to put a rug down in the middle of the floor – and then paint AROUND the rug … the mind boggles … So, we had floorboards in pretty good nick, if you didn’t count the brown paint border from the edge of where the rug lay all the way to the walls! Since we wondered how far the paint went, we then ripped up the grey-with-coloured-roses carpet in the hallway – thankfully, no paint job there. Stripping the walls of their wallpaper introduced me to my first home renovation power tool – the heat gun. Armed with it like a police officer with a speed camera gun, I took to those walls until there was not a sliver of hideous wallpaper left. The remainder of those two weeks was spent plastering cracks and painting the walls and ceiling, before putting together the entertainment unit, two bookcases and a coffee table – yes, people, I AM the Queen of Flat-Packs LOL

I was so chuffed with my efforts that I then decided to tackle the kitchen. You know, start small and then progress, right?? As a child, the kitchen felt homey – handmade cupboards around two walls, a brick hutch over the gas stove, and a massive round table in the middle of the space that could probably have seated Brangelina’s growing clan quite comfortably. As an adult, though, it was dark, cramped and pokey. Fast forward to that set of winter holidays and, well, let’s just say that Mum went off to work one morning and came home to find the cupboards out on the footpath for rubbish collection and the sink on the back lawn! The next day, I took to the hutch over the stove with a sledgehammer, but I couldn’t quite understand why its ‘roof’ portion was much harder to knock down than the side sections. When it finally came crashing down on the stove in one intact piece, I had my answer – the sides were built from brick, but the roof portion was a slab of steel-reinforced concrete …

The two weeks of holidays flashed by in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was back at school. Cue tiredness, frustration, marking, preparation, meetings and so on, and although I always had the best of intentions to come home every night and work on the kitchen, the only progress made was to paint big swatches of colour on the walls in the hope that we’d decide on one we liked for the feature wall we had planned. We figured the worst case scenario would see us finish the kitchen in the next break – ten weeks away.

Ten weeks rolled by, and another set of holidays dawned. And, you guessed it, I found other things to do (probably sleep, read and sleep some more) … the kitchen did not get touched. The dishwasher and new stove we bought remained in their boxes. The edges of the brickwork and the cracks in the wall never got repaired and filled. In short, the work ground to a halt. The goal became to finish it over the long summer holidays.

Yeah, well, that never happened, either. Raise your hand if you’re surprised …

What’s that? No hands?

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I got hit by the spring cleaning bug … and yes, that IS one of the signs of the approaching apocalypse. A desire to weed through all my teaching resources and throw out (ahem, I mean ‘recycle’) anything that I couldn’t see myself using ever again (which is most of it) led me to going through some boxes in the kitchen that we’d been storing all sorts of random stuff in. Some of these boxes had been on the top of the island bench we bought from the As-Is section of Ikea (my love for that department will be a post all of its own one of these days), and when they were cleared off, they revealed the piece of MDF that I’d always intended to tile. When I mentioned that I was well and truly over sorting and cleaning, and that I wanted to do something else, Mum suggested that I start the tiling I’d always talked about but never started. A trip to Bunnings (our big hardware stores here in Oz, for those of you playing along overseas, probably like a Home Depot or similar) later – okay, two or three trips – I had all the necessary materials. A few YouTube videos and web tutorials later and I was good to go …

But you’ll have to wait for the next instalment of “Adventures in Reno-Land” because it’s after 2:30am here and I might just have to work in the morning … or I might not – such is the life of a relief teacher …

More tomorrow, I promise! And pictures, too LOL

🙂

AWOL …

Alrighty, so I went AWOL for many, many, many months …

I worked an incredible number of days as a relief teacher (many more than I ever thought and I’m grateful for each and every single one of them) …

I read what felt like a library of books (discovered a new author or two and, of course, had to read their entire back catalogue) …

I took somewhere around a bazillion photos (I’m sure nobody who really knows me is at all surprised by that!) …

I opened a third Etsy store for said photography (which, in an ideal world, would have more items in it, but I hate writing up the ‘sales pitch’ for each photo) …

I finally hit 50 sales on Etsy (across my three stores, but it’s still 50 sales!) …

I sojourned in Melbourne and Sydney (twice each) …

But have no fear, I still dabbled in arts and crafts and messiness at every opportunity!

And, just like the 2011 January Art and Craft Challenge from this time last year, I had big plans for January 2012. After the madness of the Christmas / New Year season was over, I planned a little rest and relaxation before charging headlong into several weeks of crafting before the school year started. It’s fair to say I’ve had my days occupied, but not in the way I planned!

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls of all ages, I have turned into none other than a home renovator … sort of …

Since it started with one of those eclectic crafting adventures I make mention of in my blog header, and because my friend Tracy finally got sick of reading my cryptic Facebook posts referring to trips to the hardware store and a debacle with a scaffolding company, I’ve decided to blog my “Adventures in Reno-Land”.

Stay tuned for the highs, the lows, the injuries (none yet, but I’m sure there’ll be at least one!), the frustrations and the prettiness (I can live in hope) …

🙂