September 2011 Archives - 2/2 - Bob Vila

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A Game of (Quarter) Inches: The 12-Year Kitchen

Kitchen Layout

14' and 1/4" Exactly

Since the beginning of our kitchen renovation, we’ve had a running joke about a rogue quarter inch—we’re either missing it, or we’re over by that much, at virtually every turn. But it’s all worked out perfectly, due to excruciatingly exact shimming, trimming, and tweaking.

For starters, the floor plan shows an exterior kitchen wall that’s 14 feet long. After everything was framed I measured it from end to end and got exactly 168 ¼ inches. That’s right—after excavating a new foundation, framing the extension and walk-out bay, closing off the old basement doorway, and framing in a new powder room, the kitchen wall was all of a quarter inch “off” of the plan. I’ll take that margin of error any day.

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Martha Stewart and Bob


Martha Stewart Tour the Completed Greenhouse with Bob Vila You may remember Bob’s blog post a couple weeks ago in which he shared a photo of himself with Charlie Sheen on the set of Hot Shots Part Duex.

We’ve reached into the video archives and discovered another blast from the past. This one is an early video from Bob Vila Home Again in which Martha Stewart offers her advice and guidance on outfitting a homeowner’s newly built greenhouse.

See Martha and the homeowner shop the Bedford, MA, nursery of the late Allen C. Haskell—dubbed the “Father of Topiaries” by Martha—and get his personal advice on plant selection and a rare glimpse into his private topiary greenhouse.  Then join Martha and Bob as they visit the homeowner and see the plants in their beautiful new surroundings.

Since Martha is all about entertaining, she shares some of the table setting details that have become her trademark.  And, there is a secret revealed about homeowner Diana Barrett (pictured below between Martha and Bob), but you’ll have to watch the segment to find out more.

Martha Stewart Diana Barrett Bob Vila Tour the Completed Greenhouse

Visiting Tim Allen at Home (VIDEO)
Selecting Carpet with Kathy Ireland (VIDEO)
Touring the Courtyard and Meeting Pamela Anderson (VIDEO)

Flooring: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

Green Nursery - Flooring

Mirage Natural Exclusive Maple Hardwood Floor

I expect there’s a time for compromise with any home improvement project. If you’ve been tracking my “Green” Nursery Challenge’s ambitions and dwindling budget since the beginning, you might anticipate that the time for compromise is nearing.  With a $288 balance and the floors to redo, that time is now.

Wall-to-wall carpeting in a nursery is not recommended since the chemical adhesives that bind carpets often contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds).  The carpet fibers themselves can also trap lead, pesticides, and other toxins that you bring in on your shoes. And when wet, carpet can also become a breeding ground for mold, dust mites, and other allergens.

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French Doors Everywhere

French Doors

Andersen Frenchwood® Patio Doors

French doors have been around for centuries. Since the 17th century to be exact. The beauty of their design was certainly the divided light glass panels that provided maximum daylight to interior rooms—something that would forever become their trademark. But being essentially long narrow windows paired together and hinged on opposite sides, the design also afforded another remarkable feature—no center support. As such, the windows (doors) could be opened out (or in) to provide full-width access to an exterior balcony or patio. A beautiful thing indeed.

French doors have evolved considerably over the years, not only in terms of the materials from which they are manufactured—wood, fiberglass, vinyl, aluminum—but in the energy efficiency of the glazing and construction standards.  They are popular as both interior and exterior doors, can be outfitted with full length glass panels or any number of divided light configurations, and come in a wide range of makes and models to suit any house style (like the Andersen Frenchwood® Patio Doors shown above).

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Repro Style: Bringing the Past into the Present

Colonial Williamsburg Lightfoot House, Williamsburg, VA

Lightfoot House, Colonial Williamsburg

For many, living in a historic home—perhaps like the Lightfoot House (pictured above) in Colonial Williamsburg, VA—would be a dream come true. The luxury of grand room proportions, wood-paneled walls, true-divided light windows, hand-blocked wallpapers, ornate plaster ceiling medallions, period chandeliers and wall sconces, and not one, but several fireplaces, are just some of the details that I would want on my “historic-dream-house” wish list.

However, those who live the life of a preservationist might feel differently, since the cost of maintaining a historic home—particularly with authentic products and materials—can sometimes be a costly and heavy burden.

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Stepping Out: The 12-Year Kitchen

Paver Patio

The finished product (small child not included)

“This is how my father taught me to do it,” said Joe Salamone with a grin, looking proudly at our newly finished patio. “I don’t know how to do it any other way.”

It’s a good bet that he could have figured out another way, since it’s right in the installation instructions: lay a bed of crushed rock, then place pavers in dry sand. But Joe’s dad laid his stones in cement, so that’s what Joe does.  The crew covered the rock bed with a layer of cement, then pounded the pavers into place, all painstakingly leveled and pitched to run rainwater away from the house. A sweeping of gray sand between the pavers finished it all off. Best of all, it requires no maintenance, and that’s a concept I’ve come to love.

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Three Ways to Find a Wall Stud (Without Fancy Equipment)

How to Find a Wall Stud - How Far Apart Are Studs

Photo: Kit Stansley

We’ve all been there, right? “Oh, I just need to find a stud to hang this picture.” And fifteen holes later, you’re convinced the wall is held up by pixie dust and a wish, because apparently there’s no wood behind it.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I will jump at any opportunity to buy a new tool—like I need to hang a picture, I have a bee sting, or it’s Tuesday. Really, it doesn’t take much. But I have a rule about only buying tools that really work and I happen to think of stud finders the same way I do ghost detectors… exciting for the five seconds that they are beeping and a total let down after that.

Related: Get Hooked: 10 Favorite Wall Storage Ideas

After months of framing the big addition to my current house, I now have a good enough understanding of the structure of a wall to help me find studs whenever I need to.

Things You Should Know About Walls

• Studs exist to hold up drywall on interior walls and wood sheathing on exterior walls. This means you will always find a stud, header, or footer on the top, bottom, or corners of walls.

• You may be asking, “How far apart are studs?” Typical stud spacing is 16″ on center and even on older houses is rarely greater than 24″ on center.

• Most electrical boxes for switches or outlets are attached to a stud on one side.

• There are studs on either side of a window.

• Most trim (crown molding, base board, and shoe molding) is nailed on the stud.

• The actual lumber dimensions of 2×4 studs are 1.5″ by 3.5″.

Keeping these points in mind, here are the ways I’ve been most successful at finding studs:

1. Look at the Trim
Since the baseboard is attached to the studs, look to see if you can spot where it might have been nailed. These holes—dimples—are generally filled with caulk and painted, but you may be able to spot one to identify the whereabouts of a stud. If you find one, measure in 16″ increments to locate the additional studs.

2. Use the Switch
If I don’t have any luck checking out the trim, I look for switches or outlets, knowing that at least one side of an electrical box will be mounted on a stud. Now, I’m not great at doing the “knock test” on the wall, but I can usually detect from tapping which side of the outlet bears the stud support. I then measure about 3/4″ away from the outlet on the stud side and use that as my starting point to determine the 16″ intervals of stud spacing.

3. Measure from the Corner
With studs generally 16″ on center, you can also do calculations by measuring from a corner of the room. Now, all rooms aren’t built in numbers divisible by 16″ so you are likely to have a stud that is less than 16″ from one corner. Try the “knock test” near the corner to see if you can determine where the shorter stud spacing might have been added. This only really works if you’re measuring a corner off the exterior of the house, which is why it is my least favorite. But it’s worth a shot before you go crazy with the test holes, wondering how far apart are studs in your walls.

Builder Tip: if you’re in the position of building your own house or have torn the drywall off some walls for a remodel, I strongly suggest taking pictures of the walls before closing everything up. I took interior shots of every wall in my house before the drywall went up and I reference them all the time when looking for studs.

If all else fails, consider…

How to Find a Wall Stud - Sensor

Stanley Tools IntelliSensor Pro Stud Finder

For more on walls, consider:
Drywall 101
Bob Vila Radio: Metal Studs
5 Must-Remember Picture Hanging Tips

DIY Projects Anyone Can Do

All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.

Wallpaper and Paint: My “Green” Nursery Challenge

The nursery was 10’ X 11’ with builder-white walls. It was time for it to reflect our baby boy’s personality. Since his scheduled arrival was five weeks away, I’d have to guess on his favorite things (though I was confident he’d have an ingrained love of Ghirardelli dark chocolate).

Isak Penquin Turquoise Wallpaper Green Nursery

ISAK Penguin Turquoise Wallpaper

I settled on a penguin theme because “cars” and “teddy bears” seemed easy, and when you’re nine months pregnant and working full-time, why make anything easy? Penguins are cute, playful, and mate for life (which I hoped would teach our baby commitment). [Full disclosure: in college, I studied and impersonated a penguin for two months in acting class, which resulted in great affection for the feathery friends and, later, proved a fun party trick.]

I Googled “baby + penguin” and stumbled on the Holy Grail: A turquoise, penguin-patterned wallpaper from ISAK, a U.K. manufacturer of design gifts and coordinated home accessories.

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Timing Is Everything: The 12-Year Kitchen

We had started our kitchen renovation project in early March, so the early stages were hampered by the predictable weather that comes with any northeastern spring. I was glad we could make any progress, of course, but it wasn’t terribly efficient to be trying to do exterior demolition and construction during the rainy, muddy days of March and April. By May, as we neared enclosure, we finally had some decent weather.

Photo: RHenry

Naturally, we had our first hot spell the week Keith was scheduled to lay the roof – that’s hot, sticky work in any weather, and even more so with an early summer sun beating down on you. (Work days started and ended early that week, to beat the mid-day heat.)

In June came the exterior shingling portion of the work – we love our old-style cedar shingles and have long resisted everyone’s advice to replace them with maintenance-free vinyl siding, but it’s painstaking work to lay those perfectly aligned, overlapping rows. Finally, by the Fourth of July, the exterior work was done and the project moved inside.

Remember July? Temperatures over 100 degrees for what seemed like weeks at a time, oppressive heat and humidity like a thick, wet blanket over the whole country? Yes, indeed – it was time for our insulation to go in.

Just looking at these photos make me break out in a sweat again. There simply could not have been a hotter week for that step, and I guess I wouldn’t have blamed any contractor who decided to take some time off and wait for the heat to break before tackling it. But Keith forged ahead – we were already in the fourth month of what had been planned as a five-month project, and there was lots of work ahead that couldn’t be done until the walls were up. So taking a week off was out of the question – the insulation was going in.

Wall insulation

Photo: RHenry

Back in 1920, when the house was built, the only insulation was the air space between the wall studs. (Lay a hand on the room side of one of our exterior walls on a frigid winter’s day and you can feel the results: it’s cold!) Today, of course, you wouldn’t dream of putting up an exterior wall that’s not tightly insulated against the weather – and our little extension is as tight as a drum. Thick fiberglass batting fills the walls and ceiling, and there are three layers under the floor in the crawl space (two overlapping layers of rigid foam over the batting).

insulation - bay window

Photo: RHenry

Hot and miserable as it was, this step was a big milestone that suddenly brought the end into view. With the insulation in, the drywall could go up – suddenly we could feel a finished room taking shape around us. We still have a few miles to go on this, but all at once we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

sheet rock in the bay window

Photo: RHenry

In future winters, when the cold winds go howling past our snug little kitchen, we’ll be remembering just what it took to seal it all up. We’ll have to remember to invite Keith over for some hot cocoa!

Next time: Stepping out (onto the patio, that is)

Have you remodeled your kitchen?  If so, we would like to see before and afters for a Gallery of Kitchen Makeovers that we are planning to create on  Go to Facebook and upload your photos now.

For more on kitchen design and remodeling, consider:

Planning Your Dream Kitchen
Kitchen Cabinet Styling and Installation
Kitchen Trends 2011

A Tape Measure with a Story

Tape Measure with a Story

Photo: Gretchen Grant

This old tape measure follows me around everywhere.  My father gave it to me, and it does the trick.  Sure, it’s a little heavier than today’s newest models and the tape itself doesn’t stay extended with a flick of a button.  But it’s a happy memory plus a working tool, and has pride of place in my belongings.

For many of us, home improvement was a chance for parents or other mentors to give us welcome advice. Do-it-yourself projects were do-it-together occasions, and we learned practical knowledge that still serves us today.  For example, from working with a tape measure I learned:

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