Category Archives: DIY

Happy Birthday Carole Lombard! Thanks for Introducing Us to Mustard Soaks

Today – October 6th – is Carole Lombard’s birthday. We have a little tradition in our house. When a celebrity birthday pops up – especially if that celebrity is a beautiful actress of yesteryear (bonus points if she met a tragic end!) – we watch a film or two to celebrate. Today, to honor Ms. Lombard, we watched her 1932 film No More Orchids. And that’s how we learned about mustard soaks.

“Did she say mustard?” I asked The Mister as the grandmother in the film mixed a foot soak for Carole Lombard’s character.

“That can’t be right,” he replied.

But, yes, mustard soak! A quick Google search confirmed that a mustard soak is indeed a thing. An old-timey English thing, to be exact. Mostly used for heading off colds and flu. In the film, the grandmother made her own mustard soak – likely using ingredients similar to this recipe on Joy the Baker – but here in the 21st century you can also buy Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath, premixed mustard seed powder, eucalyptus, rosemary, wintergreen and thyme, on Amazon.

With temperatures dropping and cold and flu season just ahead, we’re certain to try a mustard soak sometime soon. You better believe we’ll be picking up the ingredients for the DIY mix on our next trip to the grocery store! Follow us on Instagram for a blow by blow on the mustard soak.

Speaking of Carole Lombard, take a little peek at the house in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she spent her early years.

Image Credit: IMDB

Stripping Living Room Windows & Trim: Progress!

This is how the conversation usually goes…

The Mister, with a glint of excitement: We should definitely strip all the woodwork in the house.

Me, flashing back to childhood weekends helping my dad strip paint from woodwork in our house: I don’t know. The white does make it feel a little more modern. Maybe we should just repaint it.

The Mister, downcast by resigned: Yeah, you’re probably right.

Me, leaving that window of opportunity slightly ajar: Although the trim really would be beautiful if it was stripped!

We’ve probably had this conversation a hundred times over the past five years of owning the house. That’s why we’ve left the trim untouched all the time. Until now, that is.

stripping wood trim in American System-Built Home

As I mentioned in the last post, we decided to take the leap and strip the wood in the living room. And you know what? It’s not so bad! Stripping paint is messy – there’s no way around that – but the work has been fairly quick. Well, some of the work has been quick. Stripping the windows is definitely more time consuming than stripping the picture rail and baseboard. All those little corners and crevices!

Stripping paint in an old home

But oh how good it looks!

I should clarify – when I say that I’m stripping the windows, I’m really talking about the frames. In the photos here, I’ve removed the interior storm windows so that I can strip the frame. I will not be stripping the exterior windows. The exterior windows will get a fresh coat of paint and the interior windows … well, now I’m getting ahead of myself.

stripping woodwork in an old house

By stripping the trim, we’ve discovered that some woods don’t match. Well, not exactly discovered. We’ve known this for a while – from our own strip test when we were pondering our options and as informed by former owners when they came to visit. Most of the wood that’s been replaced is around the windows, likely due to water damage.

The wood that is original has a very dark stain on it. While most of that stain comes up with the stripper, a dark hue remains on the wood. It doesn’t appear that the wood that has been replaced was ever stained at all. By the time the previous owner was replacing wood trim around the windows, all the other trim had already been painted. So of course they just painted the replacement trim instead of staining it. When everything is stripped we’ll face the task of using stain to try to make all the wood match.

restoring wood trim in an old house

There’s just something about 100-year-old woodwork! At the risk of sounding like the old man that I am, they just don’t make it like they used to! When the trim was painted white it looked flat and lifeless. By removing the paint from the trim, we’ve exposed the beautiful grain that gives the wood visual interest.

So many paper towels and garbage bags! Have I mentioned how incredibly messy stripping paint can be?!

rehabbing wood trim in an old American System-Built home

But just look at the difference!

Now, back to those windows. As I said, we’re not going to strip the exterior windows. The window sash that faces inward will get a fresh coat of paint. We’ve decided to use the same color that we used on the outside trim and windows – black fox. We will, however, be stripping and staining the inner (or storm) windows. These windows were not original and, like the replacement trim, were never stained. Stripping paint from untreated wood is not easy! Fortunately, the house had a little surprise for us.

I was poking around in the garage looking for some scrap wood when I spied a few old window screens in a dark corner. While most of the screens were painted, two of them had not been. And, like a gift from the renovation gods, one of those unpainted screens fits the living room windows that were just stripped! See that dark screen in the middle window? That’s the one! This old screen even has the original hardware attached to it!

Since this screen has never been painted and hence never stripped, we can finally see that this is how dark the wood trim was stained. This truly is a gift from the rehab gods because now we have a goal: stain all the woodwork to match the color of this screen.

I also started stripping one of the old screens that had been painted and installed it in the right window. You can really see the difference between the stained screen and the screen that’s been stripped. We’re still planning to go back and strip the storm windows but for now we’re just going to install the screen. Since we’re in the warm months, the screens will suffice. (Plus, we’ve never had screen in these windows so it will be nice to be able to open them for fresh air!) Come fall, though, we will definitely need to re-install the storm windows. They really do make a difference in keeping the house warm.

For now, let’s step back and admire the progress…

So beautiful, right? We have a long way to go but it’s heartening to see all of this progress. When it comes to DIY renovations, one must celebrate the small victories in order to forge ahead with the other projects.

Adventures in Stripping: Tackling the Trim

Stripping Wood Trim in Our American System Built Home

We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for the past five years, paralyzed by the question of whether to strip the interior trim in our house or repaint it. In the early days of ownership, when we were full of the exuberance that’s common to new homeownership, we stripped some small test sections of the trim and discovered that wood had been replaced in some areas. That discovery provided the excuse to put off the decision until a later date. And now here we are five years on and we’ve made a decision … sort of.

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Repurposing the Kitchen Cabinetry Step 2: Cutting the Cabinets Down to Size

Now that we have a plan to upcycle the upper half of the original kitchen cabinetry, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The first step in refashioning the cabinets as new fireplace built-ins is cutting this one cabinet into thirds. Continue reading

Upcycling the Original Kitchen Cabinets
Or, Making Lemons into Lemonade

We’ve been thinking about what to do with the original kitchen cabinets since we first discovered them in the garage back in the spring of 2014. Back then, the cabinets were sitting in a corner of the garage covered in layers of dust and grime. The base unit, facing backwards, was resting on the concrete floor and the upper cabinet was mounted on the wall above. The doors, drawers and shelves were stacked on the top and inside the base unit. We turned the base unit around and tested to see if the drawers and doors fit it and the upper cabinet. We were delighted not only to see that everything fit but that none of the glass in the doors had been broken over the years.

Satisfied that we had the complete cabinetry, we start mulling how we would reuse them in the house. In those early days of house ownership, when we were wide eyed and filled with outrageous ambition, we dreamed of retrofitting the kitchen and re-placing the original cabinets back in their rightful spot. But to make the footprint of the kitchen look as it would have back in 1917, we would need to completely reconfigure the kitchen. We would need to relocate the refrigerator and dishwasher as part of a complete kitchen remodel. Ambitious, right? Well when we decided to give the kitchen a facelift instead of an overhaul, that nixed that idea.

And so we left the cabinets sitting there in the garage. For. Five. Years.

Now that we had jettisoned the plan to move the cabinets back into the kitchen, I started thinking about another way that I could upcycle them. About a year ago I hit on the idea of dismantling the top cabinets to reuse them elsewhere in the house. I think I was sweeping the garage when I ran excitedly into the house and beckoned The Mister to share my new plan with him. Picture it, I said as I stood with him in front of the cabinets in the garage, I’ll cut the upper cabinetry apart to create two built-in cabinets for the fireplace. There had once been shelving flanking the fireplace but that had been removed years ago. So let’s take something that had been removed from the elsewhere in the house, I explained, to create something new for it. What a great idea! we both agreed.

And then I choked. I could hear the purists in the back of my wind. “Why would you ever cut those cabinets apart! They’re one of the only remaining original features of your home! You should preserve them!”

But today I’m here to tell you that I’ve decided to let the purists squawk all they want; we still think this is a good idea.

Because, you see, here’s the thing: the Delbert Meier House is not a museum. And we have not set out to turn back the hands of time and recreate the home that the Meier family first inhabited in 1917. This house is an ever-evolving family home in a small rural town. Over the years it has been owned by woodworkers, DIYers and co-creators who have made changes to the house that they deemed appropriate at the time. We’re following the example set by those previous owners and creating something that will be useful, beautiful and enhance the livability of the house for future owners.

We don’t know exactly how long the original kitchen cabinets have been stored in the garage. Judging by the layers of dirt and dust on them, I’d say at least a couple of decades. Some of the shelves were imprinted with what looked like oil can rings and other automotive stains so we suspect that the cabinets were used for storage in the garage at some point. The cabinets have been enduring the damage of temperature change and wear and tear of being in the garage for decades. By repurposing one of the cabinets for a new use, we’re saving them from further neglect.

And so it’s official. The upper cabinetry will be cut down to size and repurposed as built-in cabinets on either side of the fireplace. Stay tuned to see the progress of this project!