One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

February 21, 2012

Can We Do It for Free?

I’m totally digging my new non-employed home-improvement motto: “Can we do it for free?” Often we can, and those times are so satisfying.

Usually it means trying to see how much we can use up materials we already have on hand rather than buying new ones. Sometimes it means asking a friend or family member for spare materials or unused objects or the loan of some equipment. Sometimes it means shelving the project for a little while because you’re sure you’ll be able to scavenge some particular material, but it just hasn’t surfaced in your life yet. (Also, it applies a lot to meal-planning and outfitting children.)

Right now I consider it a necessity that we always ask if we can do a thing cheaper or for free because of quitting my job – but we’d been fully embracing the philosophy already this year because it’s just more sustainable (on personal, political and ecological levels).

This last weekend, a number of our projects felt like they came together at once –┬ánot 100%, but I want to show them off now because the parts that are unfinished are probably going to segue into further finishing details and more projects. That’s just how it goes around here. Some of them weren’t free, but many of them were – and we did have a number of enterprising moments where we thought we had to run and buy some supply, and then thought of a different (free) way of doing things.

Here’s the big deal project we finished this weekend. Trim around the basement door and a new shelf over it. Definitely not free because we bought all the lumber for it new, but do look at how grand and imposing it is. People are going to think we must have the grandest basement in the world behind that door. (Especially once we finish the transom and re-hang the door.)

The 30 square feet that makes up our basement stairwell has become the most worked on, most fabulous corner of our whole house.

I wish we had good before pictures. Where the tongue and groove paneling under the stairs is, used to be a sagging piece of particle board. The wall with the pantry shelves was a gouged and dirty plain white wall with a little ledge next to the stairs that tended to collect junk. The door was a flimsy hollow-core door that had been sloppily painted white but only on one side (it was also lacking a doorknob when we first moved in). The light in the stairwell didn’t have a cover. The stairs were standard basement stairs: steep and slightly rickety with no backs and 20yr old carpet wrapped around each tread. The window in the stairwell didn’t have any way of staying closed, so it had a big nail driven into the sill in front of it that kept it sort of (but not really) closed. And it had no trim at all.

Most of my family is familiar with the pantry shelves that were our project for last summer. During the course of that, we had to take the door down, because the door opened into the stairwell and every time someone was working behind it, some other unsuspecting person would come along and nearly knock them down the stairs with it. While the door was gone, and as the shelves became progressively more fabulous, Ian said, “maybe we don’t even want to put the door back on. Or maybe we want to put a french door there so we can always see the fabulous shelves.” We had a french door with an antique doorknob on it that we figured would be perfect, but it was a couple inches narrower and a couple inches shorter than the doorway.

Then we got sidetracked with having to redo our sewer main, which necessitated ripping out the basement stairs. So even when the basement was all back together, we had to build new stairs.

When we started staining and painting the stairs, since we were working so much on the stairwell anyway, I rummaged through our garage until I found enough spare wood to trim the basement window craftsman style (for free!). (Sorry for all the painter’s tape in the picture. One more coat of paint and I’ll give you new pictures, promise.) And we bought a couple of drawbolts to secure the window closed. That teal color on the stair risers is an example of rethinking and “doing it for free”. I had paint chips set up in the stairwell and spent a lot of time debating the perfect medium shade of aqua. And then I found this deep peacock teal that I’d purchased just for painting the frames on my whiteboard windows. So instead of spending $25 on another pint, I decided this dark teal would suffice and maybe I would just re-envision our basement as more bohemian than country.

On our “someday” list – stenciling greek or turkish designs on these stairs.

Meredith gave us some botanical sketches for Christmas, which I wanted to hang in the stairwell. I painted the frames and attached ribbon to hang them from, but I was worried they’d get knocked around, so I hit on this idea of wedging rare earth magnets into the corners of the frame and then sticking brass thumbtacks into the wall for the magnets to adhere to. Now the ribbon part is more for show than anything. I might have to repaint the frames, I didn’t realize it would all blend into the wall so much. But that project used on-hand paint, ribbon, magnets and even thumbtacks pulled out of an unfinished/unsatisfactory upholstery project.

So then we finally spent the last couple weekends on re-framing the door so that it would fit the little french door. We decided that we had enough room at the top to leave it open and build a transom – we’ll see how that goes. It’ll be Ian’s first venture into rail-and-stile window construction, but if it works out, I think we have about three hundred* more project ideas in mind that would benefit from some vintagey wood windows. (* number is approximate, may be plus or minus two-hundred.)

With the door re-framed and the trim around it coming together, I realized that our habit of just dropping our dirty kitchen linens in a pile at the top of the stairs was going to ruin the effect. So I had this brilliant moment of inspiration about this little pull out cupboard at the top of the stairs. It has some rods in it that seemed to be for hanging up your tea-towels out of sight. We never used it because they’d fall off inside or get bunched up on things and it bothered me, what a waste of space that whole area was.

So I tailored a pretty laundry bag to fit perfectly over those rods. Oh how in love with this laundry bag I am. I cut apart a thrift-store sheet for the body and pillowcase for the trim and even used a lovely mismatched collection of thrift-store buttons to fasten it over the rods. The trim forms a large flap for buttoning over the rods, but inside the bag, there’s also a drawstring, for if you need to carry a giant load of linens downstairs. I love that the sheet fabric is still thick and sturdy but is also deliciously soft from having been washed so many times. I love that the floral fabric is so well-used that it’s almost sheer.

And I love that all the buttons have a mother-of-pearl finish except for one lone grey one which perfectly brings out a certain grey-lilac in the floral fabric.


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3 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Alison

     /  2012-02-21


  2. I’M MOVING IN!!!!

  1. Thrilling Thrift | One Day I Will Rule the World

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