The evolving duck house

I used to say, “I have an ugly house.” Now I just say that I have an ugly-duckling house.

I clearly recall thinking when we first looked at the house, “I’ll grow to like it.” I think that’s very different from thinking, “I see what I can do with this house,” or something similar. It should’ve been a red flag, but it wasn’t.

We jumped on the house for a variety of reasons. It’s in a neighborhood we really, really wanted to be in, it was in better shape than other homes in the area we looked at, and homes here at the time were going fast because the market was hot back then.

So we got it. And I hated it. We moved from a cute condo to an ugly house with foundation problems. And I sulked for 3 years. The ad for the home when we first read about it said, “Brand new carpet!!” It was one of maybe 2 houses we looked at with carpet. I just didn’t get why someone was advertising that with such aplomb.

The house was built in the early 70s when popcorn ceilings riddled with asbestos and dark wood paneling were the bomb. The previous owner had made some updates, and for sure, I’m not complaining. But I have to say that many of them were done very poorly. Like, she repainted the whole interior of the home. She painted the whole thing, except for the two bathrooms, cream. I don’t mind splashes of cream here and there, but when your entire house is bathed in it, it just looks filthy.

It wouldn’t have bothered me quite as much if it was done well. Which it wasn’t.

I regret not taking more pictures, but I didn’t see the point back then because it was just so ugly. The front entry way actually has some really nice wainscoting. But the moulding had drips dried on it and the character of the moulding was so marred because it was caked in paint. I don’t know how else to describe it aside from picture someone with a 5-gallon bucket of paint they just threw against the wall with the lid open, then kind of spread it out with their hands.

great room before

Before: Ugly shot 1. Entry/front room. The week we moved in, adding to the ugly.

Great room before 2.

Before: Ugly shot 2. Front room/”formal dining area”.

great room/dining area before

Before: Ugly shot 3. Front room/”formal dining”.

The inside of the front door, which has stood half stripped since November, was also painted in a similar manner with hair and dirt visibly stuck in the layers. The window trim wasn’t sanded before repainting, so there are visible missing chips of a layer of paint, and a lot of the newer paint is now chipping. The painting was obviously done in a hurry and on the cheap. I often think that she must’ve paid some kids in the neighborhood to paint it for pizza and beer.

We have two living areas, the “front room” and the smaller “middle room”. The smaller living area has sloped ceilings, which is nice, and a ceiling fan. We’re not getting rid of it because we live in Texas and it’s beastly hot in the summer, even with the AC on, so sorry decor police. It had a brown fan with the biggest light fixture I had ever seen in the shape of a large white ball. If it sounds remotely cool, it was not. It was the biggest eyesore in the house and the ceiling looked like it had a malignant tumor growing out of it. I really wish I had taken a picture so I could share the offensive nature of this light fixture.

The guest bathroom was painted in a shade of blue that was love at first sight for me, Restoration Hardware’s Silver Sage. It was in the garage and the outside of the can had more paint on it than the inside. There was a significant amount left, so I painted the breakfast nook with it.

I loved it so much that I wanted to paint part of the great room with it. After doing some research on paint, I settled on using Benjamin Moore’s Gray Wisp.

I know every home blogger, contractor, and their mom loves BM. I hated it. I cursed every moment that I spent painting with it and swore never to use BM ever again. The first coat looked like I put water tinted with a little paint on the wall. No matter how quickly I went, there were lap marks all over the wall. You can call me inexperienced, but I had gotten better results on the first coat using Valspar and Behr. I probably should’ve just taken it back and asked for my money back, but I didn’t know any better then.

I’ll admit that it did look great with a second coat, but I haven’t changed my mind yet.

So it stayed like that for 3 years and I hated it. I hated my kitchen with its laminate counters, dirty-white cabinets, and lack of storage. Especially when I saw a lot of friends remodel their kitchens with their beautiful, shiny granite counters. I hated it so much that I neglected to really notice the several neighbors who brought us dinner and baby gear when my son was born, would often watch my son at a moment’s notice, have dinner with us, stop to chat when we were all outside…all because I was so obsessed with how my house looked.

My husband brought up several times the idea of us moving if I hated it that much, and every time I’d say, “Well…but I really like the neighbors…”. I’m not sure what changed my mind, but one day I just woke up and realized how good we have it here. I was being petty and ungrateful and I really just needed to shut it. You can always change the interior of your house and organize your kitchen more efficiently, but you can’t really change your neighbors that easily.

This is already way too long. So my husband out of the kindness of his heart, after looking at our budget, decided to get me wood floors for my birthday in 2011, and it is my birthday present for the next 5 years.

We went with a fellow named Tom Manion, and if you’re in the Austin area looking to redo your floors, he is fabulous. We briefly considered doing them ourselves for about half an hour, then came to our senses and realized we just didn’t have the bandwidth. Which was fortunate because it took about 17 bags of concrete to level our floors. We went with laminate floors from Shaw. So that removed about 75% of the ugliness factor. Well, in my opinion, because I hate carpet that much.

I painted the wainscoting (here is a picture at the bottom) and installed the chair rail myself. I decided not to repeat the picture boxes on the other walls because I’m lazy and those walls are covered by couches anyway. I had some more oops paint which I used to paint the far walls. It is ‘Seascape’ from Valspar. I will one day paint the remaining wall, the long one with the windows, white, and perhaps install more moulding. That, along with dealing with the popcorn and replacing the octopus light on the ceiling, is for another day. Until then, I will continue to choose to be happy in this home and neighborhood.

Install chair rail

Chair rail in progress

living room after paint moulding

The ugly duckling room today in real time with sleeping cat and kid gear


Another black dresser.

I love the combination of glossy black finish with silver accents, especially on “mid-century” era furniture. I saw this dresser on CL and had to have it. It had a broken drawer but was otherwise fine.

Dresser before

Before minus broken drawer.

Dresser broken drawer

Because here was the broken drawer.

I picked it up from a storage rental unit during the day. Picking stuff up from storage units alone freaks me out. The owner had asked the previous day if I wanted to pick it up that night (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!). I’m a safety freak, so my son never comes with me when I go to look at items, I carry my phone in my pocket, and ALWAYS let someone know the address and phone number of where I’m going.

Enough with the safety lecture. I loved the lines of this dresser. I glued and clamped the drawer face back on. Primed with Kilz, painted with Valspar’s black latex paint. And this is where I ran into problems.

I’m not sure why I didn’t notice this before, but I guess I’ve done more of these refinishes at this point. I used black gloss latex paint with a small foam roller. And the finish was horrible. The surface was “pimply”. I figured I’d sand it with fine/medium grit and that would take care of it. And it turned the finish gray. That happened with the next coat. And the next.

I’ve read enough paint tutorials by now to know something about painting furniture. And I usually paint pieces white or use spray paint, so the gray tint after sanding was never an issue. So I turned to my friend Google for help and stumbled onto YHL’s painting furniture tutorial, and that changed my life. For that moment anyway. AND…I learned that my coats were too thick. Since then, I’ve learned to use a foam roller when painting furniture and to paint on coats that are just barely thick enough to cover the surface. Before I read this tutorial, I was painting on 2 coats. Now, more like 3 thin coats, sand lightly between coats, and I’ve never had that problem since.

So I sanded down all the bumps to a nice sickly gray appearance, got out my Purdy brush, and brushed on the thinnest coat I could. Then another. Beautiful. Some Minwax polycrylic in gloss, silver spray paint for the current hardware, and I was done. Sorry for the awful after picture.

refinished black wood dresser

From yuck to mod. Sorry for the awful picture.

Thrift store square table.

I spied this in a thrift store. I loved the lines and original knob. I just couldn’t stand the shiny finish. Again, primed with Zinsser or Kilz, painted with yet again Rustoleum’s Heirloom White, metal pull spray painted with Krylon’s Antique Bronze. The grooves in the legs beckoned me to distress them. So I did. It now beckons you to bring this lovely into your home if you live in the same city I do in central Texas. It will complete you.

square coffee table before

coffee table after

Hello pretty.

coffee table after different angle

I love her curves!

My first strip job and the lessons learned from it.

(Yes, I went there). I bought this set in sad shape.

Sad peeling lawn chair, before

Sad peeling chair

2 chairs connected by a table plus one separate chair. I somehow fit this whole thing in the back of a Honda CR-V. Structurally sound, and desperately peeling. I had never sanded anything in my life and didn’t anticipate the extensive work that would go into this. I started sanding manually because I was just cheap. I am the child of an Asian engineer and married to another tightwad, after all. So I bought a 60-grit sanding block and started sanding away one night on my naked back patio slab over a plastic tarp. And started noticing all the spaces in between the boards that I couldn’t get to.

So I bought a belt sander off Craigslist (don’t judge me. No, really…just don’t), not knowing anything about them at the time, and took the whole. Thing. Apart. And stripped it. And it died 2 weeks later. It fulfilled its mission and was given proper respects. I’ve since learned to invest in tools that will see a lot of use and haven’t looked back.

I used Zinsser’s oil based B-I-N primer on one set and their water based version on another (that was over 2 years ago and I have no idea why I did that). Then spray painted them a bright cherry red from Valspar’s line. And was happy with them for a while. So I threw them on our back patio slab and ignored them and the rest of the patio for about a year.

Red chairs on a sad patio

Red chairs on a sad patio slab

So fast forward to a year later. My trashy slab with no covering was really bothering me. And looking out the window to see bright red chairs on it made my blood pressure rise slightly. Kind of literally because it was 100+ degrees all summer and red just made me feel hotter. And my son was having a birthday party in a few weeks and I hated the idea of having guests stand around on a slab. So I built some benches and a table. And will blog about that in a later post. Back to the chairs, I had a gallon of $5 oops paint from Valspar (I go to Lowe’s a lot if you couldn’t tell) just sitting in my garage. A lot more than a gallon – my husband calls me a paint whore – but one of them in particular happened to be outdoor paint and in a shade of blue that reminded me of a swimming pool.

By now, the red paint on the chair that was primed with water based primer was peeling (I’ve learned a lot since then), so I sanded, primed them all with Zinsser’s oil based primer, painted 2 coats, done. Ta-da.

Blue refinished patio chairs

Patio chairs refinished blue, take 2.


I cave

Introducing the product of several months of resisting the urge to record my projects in the blogosphere and open part of my life up to the world.

If you are reading this, I sincerely thank you. I resisted starting a blog for so long because I was intimidated by the sheer volume of girl blogs out there and of women doing really, really great things with their homes, creativity, and limited resources, and thus proving that you don’t need unlimited or even vast resources to look like you do.

This is not a home decor blog per si. Mostly because I know nothing about decorating. Planning to do anything new to my home is typically a project in itself because my husband and I have wildly divergent tastes. The only thing we have in common is that neither of us like a lot of things. I don’t like knick-knacks. The engineer part of me doesn’t like anything that doesn’t serve a specific function (I was teased by my girlfriends when I got married because my registry contained only highly functional items).

I love furniture. And for most of my life I thought I would never have furniture I liked because it was expensive. I know…first world problems. Then I discovered my friends Craigslist, Primer, Spray Paint, and Power Sander. Ok. Then I discovered Ana White and found that I could actually build my own furniture.

Join me for coffee under my umbrella.

I like to deuglify stuff. I like to build stuff. I like to paint stuff. I like to build and paint stuff. I started with deuglifying furniture. Then I discovered that with patience and time, I could deuglify my house from the early 70s, back before decor was cool. This is mostly a deuglifying blog. Over the next few weeks I will be posting my previous projects, starting from before I thought to take ‘before’ and ‘in process’ pictures, then I will start with current projects. I hope you will get your coffee and have a seat on the patio as we chat. Thanks again for reading.