February 2012 Archives - Bob Vila

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Free Your Pots & Pans from Cupboard Captivity: Install a Pot Rack

Install a Pot Rack - DBSchwartz

Photo: DBSchwartz

Our kitchen needs more cabinets—and more counter space. Indeed, who has a kitchen with enough of these precious amenities? The only friends I know with sufficient cabinet space are tall people who can actually reach all those upper cabinets, or house-dwellers with a “great room” floor plan that boasts vast expanses of wall space devoted to cabinets. The rest of us struggle to make do with the space we have.

Related: 10 New Ways to Store Kitchen Necessities

Combine our lack of space with the fact that we are enthusiastic cooks in our family, and you have the essence of our culinary conundrum. We need our pots and pans readily accessible, because they are subject to heavy use. Having them stacked or stowed in a cupboard is not working. In a curious kitchen corollary to Murphy’s Law, it seems that the specific pan we need is always the one at the very bottom of the stack.

Our solution to this predicament came in the form of a ceiling-mounted pot rack.

Installing the pot rack proved to be a bit more of a challenge than we had anticipated, however. Guided by research and aided by luck, we managed to find a nice, heavy-duty metal rack that complements our anodized aluminum cookware, but the hardware that came with the rack was woefully inadequate and unsuited to the task of hanging our weighty cookware.

Install a Pot Rack - Measuring

Photo: DBSchwartz

A quick trip to the hardware store yielded much more appropriate installation hardware, including four-inch-long stainless steel screw-in wood hooks and two feet of stainless steel chain.

Thus armed, our next task was to locate the ceiling joists. We’d initially assumed that the ceiling joists would be spaced the way wall studs are—every 16 inches, that is. But when we drilled a pilot hole at 16 inches using our narrowest drill bit, all we met was empty space.

Next, we tried 12 inches—alas, more empty space. Scratching our heads, we decided to try using a stud finder, which, although not always 100% accurate, indicated that there was a stud at 11 inches, and bingo, this time our drill bit encountered real wood.

Install a Pot Rack - Complete

Photo: DBSchwartz

From the initial hole at 11 inches, we measured out 16 inches, double-checked the location with the stud finder and once again bit into wood.

We drilled larger pilot holes at each of the four corners of the pot rack, then wrapped our screw-in hooks with a small piece of Teflon tape before screwing them into the ceiling joists.

Once all four hooks were in place, we measured the “drop” we wanted in the pot rack and cut four equal lengths of chain using bolt cutters. After that, we attached the chain to the hooks and to the rack hardware. Then we hung up the empty rack.

Checking the horizontal axis of the rack with a level, we discovered one corner screw needed a couple of turns more to make everything align.

Once we had the rack hung and level, we loaded it up with our pots and pans and rejoiced at having all of our cookware right at our fingertips, literally. Not only does it make life easier, but it also makes a strong statement about our kitchen: “Real” cooking done here!

For more on kitchens, consider:

Small Kitchen Design
Planning Guide: Kitchen Remodeling
5 Upcycled Pot Racks & Cookware Storage Ideas

The Hidden Costs of Windows

Windows in New Construction

Photo: JNoonan

One benefit of moving to suburbia from New York City and building a new home was getting to customize our space. At the top of our must-haves list for the house was what we’d had too few of in our old apartment—windows. You have to understand, city life can be dark. In many midtown apartments, you’re lucky to have more than three or four windows, and even luckier if they don’t face an air shaft. So when we were choosing options for the house, we chose light, light, light!

Related: Know Your Window Styles: 10 Popular Designs

In retrospect, I see that we could have been more judicious. We live on a lot with no trees, and the original house plan already included a lot of windows. The rooms in which optional windows were available each had enormous windows in them already.

During construction we realized the extra window we’d chosen to add in the playroom/study would make the room inflexible as a guest room in the future, so we asked the builder to cover it up (ack! $450 down the drain).

I wish we’d had a similar realization about the master bedroom. Instead, we put in two windows more than originally planned. Doing so has allowed for a lot of light, but it’s a room for sleeping! It doesn’t really need more light than the original plan would have admitted.

Not to mention, if it weren’t for the ‘extra’ windows, we’d have more flexibility in furniture placement. As it is, there’s only one place for our king-size bed. Had we passed on the windows, we’d be able to shift the bed farther down the wall to create a cozy sitting area.

And we would have saved ourselves a lot of money.

Windows in New Construction - Placement

Photo: JNoonan

Knowing what I know now, here’s my list of things to consider when deciding on windows in new construction:

1. More windows means less wall space for furniture. Plus, most windows in new construction are quite long from top to bottom. Not much will fit underneath.

2. Every window is an opportunity for heat loss. You can buy energy-efficient windows, but no window will keep the heat in your house like an insulated wall.

3. Think about what the room will be used for now and in the future. Will a lot of light enhance the space? Or will more windows hinder using the room for something else later?

4. Direction matters. Do you really need extra windows facing east in a bedroom? If you love to get up with the sun, that’s perfect, but think about it.

5. Every window will most likely need some kind of window treatment, which can be a big expense. And custom windows call for custom window treatments, which carry an even bigger price tag. With stock windows, you have a better chance of being able to buy pre-fabricated treatments from a large home center, department or discount store.

I love my master bedroom, including the light from the windows, but if I had it to do over, I’d probably save the money and give myself more flexibility with furniture—like a cozy chair and ottoman to snuggle into with a book.

For more on windows, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

2011 Trends in Window Treatments
Shopping for Energy Efficient Windows
Choosing Custom Windows

5 Small Bathroom Space-Savers

Saddled with a small bathroom? Here are 5 ideas for enhancing your space—without the cost of remodeling.

Small Bathroom Ideas

Photo: stonebreakerbuilders.com

The bathroom is often the hardest and most expensive room to remodel. Plumbing lines are set so the location of the tub, toilet and sink are fixed. And if the original footprint is small to begin with, there is little that you can do to expand the boundaries without costly renovation.

But even if your bathroom is small, there are easy ways to make it appear larger. Here are five “space-busters” that could help make your small bath big.

1. Swap out the vanity
If you have a vanity cabinet, consider replacing it with a pedestal sink. Although it will reduce your bathroom’s storage potential, the open area will make the room appear more spacious. If you can’t part with vanity storage, consider an open console design with shelves. Even a vanity cabinet raised off the floor with legs will make the room seem less confined.

2. Ditch the shower curtain
Shower curtains tend to make bathrooms look smaller, particularly if they are fabric or patterned. Consider installing glass shower doors. They will keep the view open and light and make showering less claustrophobic. There are many designs to choose from and, if you are moderately handy, relatively easy to install.

3. Clear the clutter
Baskets, bins, and shelves can do a great deal to keep a small bath well-organized and looking good. Consider any and all options for wall-mounted and built-in storage. If your bath shares a wall with another room’s closet, see if it would be worthwhile to open the wall to capture some space for built-in storage. If not, there’s always the vertical wall space behind the toilet for a low-cost, ready-to-assemble shelf unit.

4. Paint it
We all know that a simple coat of paint can transform any room, and the bathroom is certainly no exception. If yours lacks natural daylight, you might want to consider lighter, more neutral colors. But don’t overlook darker and unexpected hues. A lively color will make everything appear different and even more spacious.

5. Let there be light
If you have a dated bathroom, chances are you have outdated light fixtures. There are so many options for good bathroom lighting that even a modest investment will be worth the cost. Consider sconces on either side of a mirror or vanity for more evenly distributed, consistent light. Or if you have a single fixture positioned above the mirror, replace it with one that illuminates with a more decorative look.

For examples on how to integrate space-saving solutions into your small bathroom, check out our 15 Ways to Make a Small Bathroom Big

Learning to Love Recycling

Rubbermaid Recycling Containers

Photo: rubbermaid.com

Thanks to a new crop of thoughtfully designed Rubbermaid recycling products, corralling kitchen recyclables has never been easier.

Fact: According to the EPA, Americans are recycling more than ever. In 2010 alone, homeowners helped keep 85.1 million tons of glass, plastic, paper, and yard waste out of the country’s bulging landfills.

Confession: I’d like to say that I get great joy from recycling, but the reality is I hate all the clutter. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to do my small part. It’s just that I’ve never had a very good system for keeping everything organized. In my hometown of New York City, recycling has been mandatory since 1989. Like my neighbors, I dutifully stockpile soup cans, aluminum foil, wire hangers, soda pop bottles, and towering stacks of newspapers and catalogs, then haul everything to my building’s basement recycling bins every day or so.

I reside in a relatively small apartment with my husband, two kids, and dog, so the ever-present bags of bottles and cans and stacks of newspapers and magazines drive me crazy. I like neat. I like clean. But I don’t have room for the spiffy built-in recycling bins or the oversized plastic storage containers my lucky friends with garages and garden sheds recruit for sorting aluminum, glass, and paper.

Rubbermaid Recycling Products

Photo: rubbermaid.com

Solution: Enter Rubbermaid’s clever new Hidden Recycler and 2-in-1 Recycler, both of which are bound to thrill space-challenged recyclers everywhere. My personal favorite is the Hidden Recycler, a five-gallon, soft-sided fabric bag with a lid and sturdy plastic handle, which attaches to the inside of most cabinet doors. Made from recycled materials, the durable waterproof bag keeps up to 36 cans tidy and out of sight, plus the bags can be detached from the frame and machine-washed when dirty. Best of all, the whole contraption costs just $15.99.

Rubbermaid Recycling Products - Enviro

Photo: rubbermaid.com

The 2-in-1 Recycler is pretty sleek, too. The receptacle, which takes up 25 percent less floor space than most double recycling units, is divided into two containers. There’s a top bin with a lid as well as a second tilt-out bin on the bottom that makes it easy to separate recyclables from regular trash or to simply keep recyclables organized. Reasonably priced at $39.99, the trash bin also features Rubbermaid’s trademarked Liner Lock system, which guarantees that garbage bags “stay put no matter what.”

If you’re one of the fortunate homeowners with space to spare, Rubbermaid is also debuting its new Stackable Recycler in 20.5-, 24.5-, and 36.5-gallon sizes for both indoor and outdoor use. The heavy-duty units can be interchanged for various sorting jobs and feature hinged front doors that snap shut for secure transport. Prices range from $16.99 to $24.99.

Where to Buy: The new Rubbermaid recycling products can now be purchased online at rubbermaid.com and amazon.com. Look for them in stores nationwide starting March 15.

Brad, Jeremy, Harrison and Bob? An Oscar Salute!

It may strike you as odd for a home improvement web site to publish an Oscar-related blog post, but while Bob Vila is surely a leading man of our DIY world, it may surprise you that he actually shares common ground with a number of Oscar-nominated actors—including one up for top honors this Sunday. With just three days before the live telecast of the 84th Annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, here is our salute to some of the other leading men of home improvement:

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford/Fanshare.com

We know HARRISON FORD for countless films, from American Graffiti to his best-actor-nominated performance in Witness, but he is most often remembered for his role as Han Solo in the original Star Wars trilogy and as the title character in the Indiana Jones movies. Before his career took off, Ford paid the bills as a carpenter—a self-taught carpenter, that is. “I bought a house in the Hollywood Hills and started to fix it up,” the actor told Barbara Walters in a 1977 ABC Specials Reports. “I got some books on carpentry and started buying a few tools. Pretty soon I had too much invested in tools to buy materials. So I went and got a job as a carpenter,” he said. In that role, he became a stagehand for The Doors, built a sun deck for Sally Kellerman (the original “Hot Lips” Houlihan in M.A.S.H.), and assembled a recording studio for musician Sergio Mendes. It was his carpentry work for director George Lucas, however, that would be the job that paid off. In 1975, Lucas hired Ford to read lines for actors auditioning for parts in Star Wars and eventually cast him in the part of Han Solo. Clearly, good carpentry pays off!

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5 Creative Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinetry

Don’t miss 11 Great Alternatives to Traditional Kitchen Cabinets

There are hundreds of companies who will gladly sell you stock kitchen cabinets and storage solutions, and there are master cabinetmakers who will offer a more customized approach to your specific needs. Perhaps there are even a few of you BobVila.com fans who are trying to build and install your own cabinets—and you should.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that the standard “uppers” and “lowers” is the only way to go. Sometimes, looking outside the realm of classic cabinets and drawers is just what a kitchen needs for a bit of extra character. With that in mind, here are a few creative alternative to kitchen cabinetry; all work just as well—if not better than—traditional units, and they can even save you money in the bargain.  Can’t beat that!



Birdseye Design

These steel, drawered workshop standards are built to last and house lots of heavy duty gear, which is exactly what you want from kitchen storage! Many tool chests slide under standard countertop height surfaces, making them a great solution for an island or extra prep station.



Kitchen Cabinetry


A secondhand dresser becomes the perfect wine rack and bar when its drawers are replaced by solid shelves and dividers. Brilliant!



Gillian/Apartment Therapy

Yes, lockers. Over at ApartmentTherapy.com, Gillian, in the midst of a DIY kitchen remodel, made the decision to only install lower cabinets. This left her a bit short on storage space, so she flush-mounted a set of six standard lockers in the wall, creating a unique and functional solution for storing pantry items.



Kitchen Cabinetry

Chris Gardner/Curbly

I needed a bit of extra rolling storage in my own kitchen, so I grabbed an old office filing cabinet from the thrift store, painted it up, and added a cutting board to the top, along with towel/utensil storage on the sides. I use it everyday. Get the full how-to project.



Kitchen Cabinetry

House Beautiful

It may take a bit of discipline to keep everything neat and organized, but open shelves are a great, and much less expensive, alternative to upper cabinets. This is a particularly appealing solution if you’ve got a small kitchen, as it keeps things on top light and airy, and your dishes and utensils serve double duty as decor!


For more on cabinets and kitchen storage, consider:

Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Cabinets
The Basics of Installing Kitchen Cabinets
Painted Cabinets: 10 Reasons to Transform Yours Now

Basement: To Finish or Not?

Unfinished Basement

The Noonan family's first trip to the basement

Late in 2010, my husband and I, and our two young children (2 and 9 months old), moved from our teensy New York City apartment to Southern Delaware and began the process of building a new house. It was like hitting the square-footage jackpot—we could afford so much more for the same money. We were like kids in a candy store. First on our wish list: a full basement. We fantasized about a home gym, an office, a playroom for the kids, storage for tools, a craft area, media room, kitchenette, and guest room with an extra bath!

Read the rest of this entry »

Making Friends with a Detail Sander: Refinishing Your Front Door

Detail Sander with Rubber Bits

Detail Sander with rubber "bits"

I love wood. Maybe it’s the way the surface glows when sunlight suffuses the grain, lighting up any room with golden radiance. Or maybe it’s the tactile pleasure of rubbing my hand over a smooth, sanded finish. Whatever the reason, I enjoy bringing out the inner beauty of wood with sanding and staining. Over the years—and multiple refinishing projects—I’ve learned that you don’t always have to do things the hard way, rubbing your fingers raw with sandpaper to get into cracks and crevices. That’s where my second love—the detail sander—comes into play.

Related: 10 Tools for Your Apartment You Never Thought You’d Need

The detail sander and I made our acquaintance several years ago, when I decided to refinish the front door to our house. The front door had been a sore point with me for many years. Although I loved the fact that it was constructed of solid wood and had decorative appeal, I loathed the paint job, which was stark white with blue trim. When the paint started to look a bit shabby, I decided the time had come to tackle the job.

Detail Sander

Front door before refinishing

I had put off doing anything about the door for a long time; I confess I was intimated by the decorative patterning, which consists of carved concentric circles centered in sculpted squares. I dreaded the thought of long hours of painstaking work trying to remove the paint from those crevices. But then I discovered the detail sander, which is designed to make short work of sanding corners, edges and other tight spaces.

Detail sanders feature a small vibrating triangular “head” to which you attach sandpaper. Some detail sanders, mine included, also feature hardened rubber “bits” in different shapes and sizes; you wrap these bits with adhesive sandpaper to get into curved spaces or slots. Armed with this inventive tool, I was able to reach into all of the nooks and crannies of the pattern, removing the offending paint and prepping the door for its eventual mahogany stain.

Detail Sander

Front door refinished

There are a few key factors to keep in mind when using a detail sander:

• Remember that it is a sander and, like with any sander, you have to keep it moving or you’ll wind up with an unsightly groove or a notch.

• Be sure to use a light, controlled touch, rather than bearing down hard; it is better to go over the same spot several times than to try sanding it all in one pass.

• Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles, bits, and grades of sandpaper to achieve the exact results you want. The heart and soul of the grain is in there—you just need to spend a little time to bring the true loveliness of the wood to light.

For more on painting and refinishing, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

Paints and Finishes
How to Paint Like a Pro
Paint Makeovers: An Expert Tells All

Home Building Trends 2012

A selection of some of the new products and innovations from the 2012 International Builders Show.

Home Building Trends

Photo: shutterstock.com

Every year, builders, contractors, manufacturers, and industry professionals attend the NAHB International Builders’ Show to see the latest in building products, trends and innovations. This year, the show featured more than 800 exhibitors and over 165 educational sessions all geared to inform and enlighten the building professional. So, what’s new for 2012?

Smart Technology
Home Building Trends 2012Just as mobile phones and tablets have improved the way we communicate, receive news, and stay connected 24/7, innovations in technology for the home are transforming the way we do everything from monitoring the lights, shades, and temperature to customizing a more personal shower experience.

Lennox, one of the leaders in residential home heating and cooling, showcased the icomfort Touch® Touchscreen Thermostat, which lets homeowners monitor and adjust the temperature at home from anywhere in the world, thanks to its iCloud connectivity. The device also delivers live weather data and a five-day forecast, as well as service alerts and reminders to keep homeowners and their dealers informed of the system’s status.

At Lutron, the RadioRA 2 wireless system offers light, shade, temperature and appliance controls from a variety of wall-mounted keypads and handheld remotes within the house, or from anywhere on the road using the Lutron Total Home+ mobile app.

Electronics maker Panasonic introduced a new generation of energy efficient WhisperGreen ventilation fans that offer built-in variable speed controls, a high/low delay timer, and motion and humidity detectors.  And for a customizable shower experience, Kohler showcased the DTVII, an advanced digital platform that controls water, sound, light and steam, all at the touch of a button.

Being Green Counts
Builders and consumers alike continue to look for products that are good looking, perform well and offer eco-friendly benefits. DuPont’s Corian solid surfacing material, made from 95% post-consumer recycled waste, is now available in eight new spice-infused colors.

Du Pont Corian Colors 2012 Rev

Trex, manufacturer of a composite decking material made from recycled wood and plastic bags, previewed three new deck colors, along with LED lighting for new and existing stair, railing and deck installations. The company also introduced “Elevations,” a low-maintenance, dual-coated steel framing system that won’t sag, rot, or warp like traditional pressure-treated wood substructures.

JELD-WEN—with its proprietary AuraLast wood surface-to-core protection that results in 96% fewer VOCs than conventional solvent-based dip treatments—showcased its custom wood double-hung window program, which includes recycled wood and copper-clad options.

Owens Corning’s EcoTouch Insulation is formaldehyde-free and made with 99 percent natural materials, a minimum of 36 percent post-consumer recycled content, and 58 percent total recycled content.

The Great Pretenders
For homeowners who want the look of natural wood and stone without the cost, there are great new products on that front as well. Armstrong, known for its wide range of wood, laminate, vinyl, stone and linoleum flooring products, introduced Luxe Plank, a beautiful wood-patterned vinyl strip flooring that is installed easily and securely with self-adhesive flanges.

Home Building Trends 2012Shaw Floors introduced a selection of new ceramic and porcelain tiles along with DuraTru—a beautiful wood-patterned, resilient sheet vinyl flooring product.

James Hardie, manufacturer of fiber cement products, showcased four new HardiePlank lap siding profiles; two of them—Custom Beaded Cedarmill and Custom Colonial Roughsawn—offering a foolproof wood grain look and texture.

AZEK, known for cellular PVC decking, trim and moldings, previewed its VAST Composite Landscape Pavers. Made almost entirely from recycled materials, the 4” x 8” pavers come in five colors, weigh half the weight of traditional pavers, and are stain-, impact- and scratch-resistant.

And finally, Formica introduced 180fx, laminates that capture the true scale of large slabs of granite and feature edge treatments that defy the standard of laminate counter installations.

To view more of our favorite products showcased in Orlando, take a look at our 2012 International Builders’ Show Highlights.

Backsplash Idea: Faux Stone Re-Finish

Faux Stone Backsplash

The faux-finished backsplash tiles. Photo: JProvey

My wife, Mary Ann, hated the backsplash tiles in our kitchen, and I agreed they were slightly dated. Unfortunately, the crackled glass that we wanted to replace them with was amazingly expensive: $17 per square foot (more than $500 for the 30 sq. ft. that we would need). So I did what any good husband would do—I stalled.

Related: 11 Backsplashes for a Unique Kitchen

But one day, while she was at work, I decided to do a little experiment. I applied a mixture of primer, glaze and artist’s oils to some spare tiles to see if I could create a faux stone finish that would give the existing tiles a fresh new look—at little to no cost. And it worked!

Here’s a step-by-step of how I created the look:

Step 1: Run a palm sander with a fine, 220-grit disk over the backsplash to roughen up the existing tiles. Clean the surface with a TSP substitute.

Step 2: Using a 6-inch foam roller, apply three coats of pigment shellac-based primer (I can recommend B-I-N by Zinsser); allow at least 45 minutes dry time between coats.

Step 3: To create the faux, mottled coloration you will need to purchase tubes of artist’s oil paints. I used Payne’s Grey (a bluish grey), Raw Umber, and Zinc White (about $6-$7 per tube) to get my Tuscan stone look. You will also need to purchase a clear alkyd glaze, similar to what you would use to create a faux wall finish (Benjamin Moore’s #409 00 is a good choice at $14 per quart.)

Faux Stone Backsplash - Glaze

Applying first color-glaze coat on primed tiles. Photo: JProvey

Step 4: In a disposable aluminum tray, mix a quarter-size dollop of the grey oil paint with a half-cup of glaze and test it on a part of the backsplash hidden from view (like behind the range). When you find a mixture that gives you about a 30 percent tint, wipe a coat over the entire backsplash using a cotton rag. Don’t worry about whether some gets on the grout; the joints will be colored.

Faux Stone Backsplash - Stipple

Photo: Joe Provey

Step 5. While the first coat is drying, mix the Raw Umber and glaze in the same ratio as above. Beginning where you started the first coat, apply the umber-glaze mixture with a balled-up rag. Use a stamping motion to allow about 25 percent of the first coat to show through. The folds in the rag will produce the random, mottled look of marble. If you don’t like the way your first attempts look, wipe it off with a rag dampened in turpentine and try again.

Step 6: You can create a stippled look by mixing the grey oil paint and glaze in a 50-50 ratio and apply with an old toothbrush. A fine, thin brush with long bristles will be best for veining.

Faux Stone Backsplash - Complete

The faux effect you want to imitate. Photo: JProvey

Step 7:  The last step is to paint the grout. The product I used—Polyblend’s Grout Renew—is both a colorant and sealer. If you can’t find a premixed color that you like, buy the white and tint it yourself. Use artist’s acrylic paint, not oils, with water-based grout sealer.

The total cost of the project came to about $60, with half of that being a quart of shellac-based primer. Even better, it was done in 5 hours and in time for dinner!

For more on paint and painting techniques, consider the following Bob Vila articles:

Paint Makeovers: An Expert Tells All
Paint Guide: 10 Essentials for Successful House Painting
Color Trends 2012: Top Forecasters Weigh In