Category Archives: Before & After

Stairs and Stripes

This is a project that I’ve been wanting to do for a while — I swear I didn’t wait until the week of Independence Day just for the sake of the title!  Our stairway is the first thing you see when you come in the front door.  It’s got some pretty details like the wood steps to the left of the treads at the bottom, but the carpet was stained and pretty worn.

Red House West || Stair Runner

I love the look of striped stair runners, and have wanted to follow the example of my favorite bloggers who have added them recently (see Jenny Komenda’s here, and Grace Bonney’s here).

I had decided on a striped runner from Dash & Albert, but when I contacted the company they said that they do not recommend unbound rugs — rugs without a carpet-like backing — on stairs.  I hadn’t thought of it before, but it makes sense that an unbound rug would have the potential to stretch and slip over time.

Between the dogs, the cats, and the three of us, there are literally 22 feet that go up and down the stairs over and over again each day.  22 feet.  So we need something durable and super safe.  I looked for a striped runner with a backing and couldn’t find anything, so then I switched gears and started looking for carpet that I could have cut into a runner.  After lots of hunting and many pictures texted to Katie I found the perfect thing: a 100% wool carpet called Jubilee, in the color “London Bridge” by Prestige Mills.

Red House West || Stair Runner

London Bridge is second from the left.

London Bridge is second from the left.

I measured multiple times (this becomes important later) and then ordered the carpet.  Then I waited.  And waited.  Three months later I unrolled a gloriously preppy striped runner and got to work.

I had already peeked before I ordered the runner, so I knew that underneath the carpet was finished fir, just like the rest of the house.   When I removed the carpet from the bottom step I was encouraged by the condition of the wood and surprised to find the shadow of an old runner.

Red House West || Stair RunnerChester took Opal camping so that I could do this project without fear of her being gravely wounded by carpet strips or stray staples.  You might be thinking ‘come on Mera, no one ever got gravely injured by staples’ but you didn’t see my stairs.  There were enough staples to kill a grown man.  So. Many. Flippin’. Staples.

Once I pulled up the carpet, I was happy to realize that I could reuse the carpet pad underneath it.  I just cut it in place to the size of the runner.  The next thing to do was remove the paint from the edges of the treads.  It was about this time a friend showed up and gave me a chocolate cupcake.  That, and ten episodes of the Podcast Snap Judgmentgot me through the next tasks.

Red House West || Stair Runner

After experimenting I found that the best way to remove the paint was to gently scrape with a chisel.  By holding the chisel blade just right — basically level with the wood — I could scrape only the paint off and not damage the wood at all.

Once I scraped all the old paint off the wood, I painted the edges of the walls adjacent to the stairs that used to be covered by carpet.  Then I gave the treads and risers a coat of water based polyurethane, and let it dry overnight.

The next morning I set about actually installing the carpet.  Because it’s truly carpet and because I was concerned about stability, I installed new carpet strips on the back edge of each tread, about an inch in front of the riser.  I was also worried about laying the carpet straight, since wandering stripes would make any deviation really obvious, so I measured four inches out from the wall on both sides of each tread and put a piece of tape down as a guide.  That really helped because as I rolled the carpet up each step I could tell whether I was keeping it straight.

Starting from the bottom riser, using an electric staple gun, I stapled on the bottom edge in the middle and then worked my way out to each edge.  Because I wanted the runner to contour to the edge of each tread (the French cap installation method rather than the waterfall method — listen to me and my fancy carpet jargon — I did a lot of googling during this process!) I then stapled directly below the nose of the tread and wrapped the carpet over the top of the step.

On each step I stretched the carpet as tight as I could and, using a stair tool, hammered it into the space between the back of each tread and the bottom of each riser.  Then, using the side of the hammer, I rubbed over the top of the carpet strip to make sure the rug was firmly on the tacks.  I added a few staples to the bottom of the riser, then repeated the process of wrapping the nose of the tread above.

Red House West || Stair Runner

I was careful to staple only into the gray stripes, and because of that the staples are pretty much invisible.

Red House West || Stair Runner

All went smoothly until I got to the very top.  As I was cresting the final riser my stomach sank as I realized the runner is too short.  Too mother blanking short.  By like three inches.

I swear I measured this thing so many times, and I thought I would end up with ample left over.  For a brief and hopeful moment I thought maybe the company had messed up on the length, but I went back and checked my order and nope, they got it exactly right.  All I can figure is that even though I knew it would take extra length to go under the treads French cap style, I underestimated the additional length I would need.  Damn it!

Red House West || Stair Runner

So now my options are to (1) call the company and see if they will sell me a remnant that I can patch in; (2) rip it out and reinstall it so that the bottom riser is exposed but the top is covered; or (3) just leave it and forget it.  What should I do?

Apart from my utter failure to measure properly, I really love the way it looks.  It’s soft underfoot, and it doesn’t budge an inch, even with all the traffic it’s subjected to.

Red House West || Stair Runner

Thanks for reading along, and have a great Fourth everyone!  There’s certainly a lot to celebrate about this wonderful country!

Red House West || Life Lately

The Chamber of Secrets is Revealed!

Well dear readers, here we are.  In the time it takes a baboon to gestate its young, we have turned the most unloved room in our house – a room whose door we kept firmly closed for most of the last two years (the better to contain its horrors) – into my favorite place in the house.

If you’re new here and looking to get caught up, you can read more about the inspiration and process of the whole remodel here.

This is where we started:


desk-and-windowsAnd now?

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealRed House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealRed House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealLast week, prompted by a desire to fill this room only with things I love, I did a ruthless culling of my books.  I cut my collection almost in half (which I thought would feel like amputating a limb, but instead just felt liberating and joyful).  It’s interesting to run my eye over the remaining books and think about why they made the cut and the answer, for almost all of them, is nostalgia.  But those are musings for another time.

Having fewer books meant there was extra space on the shelves, and I had fun going through the house and picking some of my favorite items to display.  The little portrait of Jane Eyre came from Etsy seller Isabella Di Sclafani. I love her quirky portraits and this one, though it is beautiful quality, is just a $1.00 postcard.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets Reveal

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealI sorted the books in a way that’s logical to me: loosely by genre, author and color.  The only casualty of my system is an arrangement of hardbacks – grouped because of their vintage cloth covers rather than their content – that includes both the 1941 children’s horse story ‘My Friend Flicka’ and a collection of erotica by Anais Nin.  It cracks me up every time I see it and it’s kind of awkwardly perfect.  Perfectly awkward.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets Reveal

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealAs we mentioned in Monday’s post, neither Mera nor I are strangers to the bit of quirk lent by animal decor. As I placed yet another bird on the shelves I could hear Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen manically advising me to put a bird on it.  Which I obligingly did, again and again.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealThe window seat has become my absolute favorite spot in our house.  I am inordinately proud of the striped cushion – representing my first box cushion, my first piping (I don’t know what I was so scared of – it’s easy!), my first hidden zipper, a fair amount of cursing, and many, many ripped seams.  Seriously, the construction of this room has already become kind of a blur, but the day I spent on that cushion is etched in sharp relief.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealYou may remember that I originally planned to do a roman shade for the windows, but even after months of searching I couldn’t seem to find a fabric or design that I loved enough to have filling that big space.  Everything seemed too heavy, and I worried it would look like a great, grumpy brow scowling down from atop the windows.  Just as I was losing hope we put together our portiere post, and I found myself really inspired by the relaxed, bohemian vibe of the cafe-clipped curtains in many of the photos.  I found this beautiful French cotton print at L’Etoffe, a fabric store that recently opened up in our area.  I don’t think I realized quite how dire it was to have JoAnn fabric as my only shopping option until this alternative universe of fine cloths and inspiring prints arrived – and now I’m in heaven.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealThe daybed has a trundle underneath which rolls out, pops up, and forms a very comfortable king size bed.  It’s a close second to the window seat as my favorite place to lounge (the same two places that are, perhaps not coincidentally, also Fat Bunny’s favorite places to lounge).

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealThe murmuration of starlings print is from this Etsy seller, and the lucite table is my most exciting recent thrift store score.  The white coverlet and macrame pillow both came from a garage sale (and both cleaned up perfectly with a little bleach), and the other pillows – except the green one, which I made with more pretty fabric from L’Etoffe – are from Ikea.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets Reveal

My mom traded me the desk (I painted the legs black) for one of our tables, the brass lamp and Herman Miller chair are from Craigslist, the pillow was a gift from Mera, and the oil painting bulletin board is DIY.

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealThe Paul McCobb chair got a quick update with a piece of gingham fabric from the thrift store (I left the hand-printed cover on underneath the new fabric).

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealI’m always interested in how much renovations cost, so I thought I would share a rough budget breakdown.  We didn’t keep a careful record, so these are estimates, but I think it’s pretty close.  I always think doing things ourselves means it’s going to be cheap and, though it’s certainly cheaper than hiring someone else to do it, man do the materials still add up.

Budget Breakdown:

Hickory wood floors from Lumber Liquidators: $500 (though we have some left over to get the hallway started)

Building materials (wood for the built-ins, trim, drywall): $400

Benjamin Moore paint: about $150

Light fixture: $40 at Ikea

Fabric for the curtains and fabric and foam for the window seat: about $120

Decor (Ikea pillows and Etsy art): around $100, though I had gift cards to both places.

Miscellanea (paint rollers, some electrical supplies, hardware, and other things I’m forgetting):  about $100

The furniture and lamps in this room are all vintage and mostly from thrift stores, yard sales and Craigslist (and a lot of it I owned before we started planning this room).  The big ticket item was the trundle bed, which was $100 on Craigslist and then we splurged on two new, good quality mattresses so that our guests (and Fat Bunny) would be comfortable – which added another $250.  All told, we probably came in just around $1600 for the whole renovation.  An amount which, when I compare the baboon butt of the ‘before’ with the adorable baby baboon of the ‘after,’ seems worth every penny.


from-door-2To, “Won’t you please come in?”

Red House West || Before & After - Chamber of Secrets RevealThank you so much for following along on this looooooong process!  It has been really fun to share the inspiration, tribulations and – ultimately – triumph with you here on the blog.  If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments!

The Chamber of Secrets Reveal: Part One

Once, a very long time ago (six months, to be exact), I shared the gruesome underbelly of our house with you–the Chamber of Secrets.

chamber-of-secrets-signToday, I ask you to once again push that door open to see that the Chamber of Secrets has transformed into… well, the Chamber of Secrets (the name has stuck, but now we say it in less sepulchral tones).  Go ahead, take a peek inside.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneOkay, okay.  So it might have a been a little preemptive to call this a reveal post.  Because we haven’t finished the cabinet doors.  And the top of the shelving still needs trim.  And there’s one more trim piece to add to the floors.  But it’s hard for me to even feel that bad about misleading you because when we started this project there was this whole crappy carpet/exposed insulation/puny ceiling fan/random plywood squares/unholy mess of boxes situation.   Here, let me remind you.

from-door-2Then scrub your eyeballs with this:

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

It’s a trick of perspective making that post on the corner shelves look bent – in real life that thing is straight as an arrow!

I mean sure, it couldn’t really have gotten worse, but it is so, so much better.  Today I thought I’d give some details on the main elements we added to the room: the floors, the closet, and the shelving.


Our house was built in 1930, and the downstairs floors are fir. Our entire upstairs though (excluding the bathroom, thank goodness), is a patchwork of poorly-fitted industrial carpet over subfloor.  No gorgeous wood floors just waiting to be exposed here.  Our plan is to banish the carpet in the next year or two, so we needed to choose flooring that fit in our budget not just for this room, but for the entirety of the upstairs.

We knew we wanted something period-appropriate – a domestic hardwood that would feel right in our old farmhouse.  My initial thought was pine. It would definitely suit our house, and I really love the way it looks. But even though pine is notoriously soft, I was pretty surprised by how soft the sample actually was.  I mean, I could make a groove in it with just my fingernail.  Here’s a little video:

I don’t mind a little patina (shoot, our whole house is patina’d), but Cameron and I both worried that the rolling trundle bed and rolling office chair, and just general living, would leave the floor with deep grooves and scratches.  So we cast our net a little wider and eventually narrowed our choices to hickory and ash.

Samples of ash, hickory, and pine

Samples of ash, hickory, and pine

Tearing out the carpet and removing all the staples was dirty and tedious, but not difficult.  Overall the installation of the floor – we chose pre-finished wood with boards the same width as our downstairs floors – was straightforward.  Our house is sloped and canted and definitely not square, so there was some alchemy (the alchemy of measurements and swearing) required to get the job done.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

Cameron replacing part of the subfloor. He could be wearing those headphones to protect his ears from power tools, or maybe to block out the Scottish strains of hundreds of hours of ‘Outlander’ that played incessantly during this project. Try not to be too jealous of our sound system.

In the end we chose hickory for its durability, price and beauty.  The variegation is a little more intense than I pictured when extrapolating out from the four-inch sample, and I admit to some serious second-guessing when the floor was about halfway in.  It’s growing on me though, and I think it’s pretty in this simple, all-white room.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneThe Closet
You may remember that the inspiration for the closet came from this old door (that we think is original) that we found in the storage room of our house.
closet-door-beforeAfter a thorough cleaning, painting, and a quick refreshing of the hardware, it was looking sweet.  But also short.  We didn’t want to hang it so the bottom was flush with the floor, because that would mean ducking down to see inside the closet.  Instead we opted to hang it high, so the baseboard forms a little step.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

I might be a little proud of my drywall work – those small walls represent so many hours of mudding and sanding!

I’m glad we hung it high, because it led to one of my favorite little details in the room – the door trim cut to fit the slope of the eave.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneIt’s a decent-sized closet (I’m so glad we didn’t do a cupboard like we originally planned), and inside we just put a simple shelf and a hanging bar.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneShelf design
The biggest and most complicated part of this project by far was designing and building the cabinets and shelves.  It took a lot of discussing, negotiating and idea-bouncing between Cameron and me, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out.  Here’s where we started (if you missed the first part of this saga and are wondering why there’s no drywall, you can read about it here):

desk-and-windowsWe’re in a much better place now!

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneWe knew (thankfully) ahead of time that if we built the shelves down in the shop they would be too big to fit up our narrow staircase, so we hauled all the tools upstairs and built them in the room.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneThen we grunted like the weightlifters we aren’t and lifted that thing into place.  The corner shelves were screwed directly into the studs  of the closet.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

Not the prettiest stage of the renovation.

A major consideration in the design of the shelves was how to keep everything from being too visually heavy.  This room has really lovely light and a nice view into the treetops that we didn’t want to block, and so Cameron came up with the idea of radiused shelves near the window.  We also left the edge of the corner shelves open.  I like the idea of placing some books with their spines facing out to break things up a little and keep it interesting.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

We’re still finishing up the trim on the top and bottom – those gaps won’t be there when we’re done.

Cameron installed an outlet in the corner, and we wrote lots of secret messages for some future inhabitant to find in the space behind where the two shelves meet.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneI was pretty adamant about having just a single support in the front, which meant adding some wedge supports near the curved ends to keep the shelves from bowing under the weight of books.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part OneWe built the window seat lower so that the cushion will sit flush with the top of the cabinets. I plan to pretty much live in this spot in the coming months.

Red House West || Chamber of Secrets Reveal Part One

Oh man I could go on and on, but this post is getting pretty long so I’ll save some for next time.  I’m so excited to finish up the last few little projects so we can start moving furniture in!   Can’t wait to show you!