The Bathroom

“He is happiest,

be he king or peasant,

who finds peace in his home.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Winter has been an indecisive house guest, bringing all her snowy luggage and out-staying her welcome at times.  She makes the children restless on snow days, drives us to lament the cost of propane, and leaves our dirt road in sorry shape.  She leaves abruptly, lulling us into believing we can relax and enjoy the sunshine.  Without warning, she dares to show up unannounced again.  In spite of this, I am more often than not enjoying having an excuse to stay inside and work on the house.  We are getting things done!  I’m re-purposing, redoing, and repainting like a wild, crafting ninja.  In the last few weeks we have finished the bathroom, replaced kitchen back splash, installed a vent hood, made a pot rack, and installed an island.  I have redone 3 desks and 3 chairs for the bedrooms of 3 lovely ladies.  My sewing machine, staple gun, paint brush, and glue gun have been getting a healthy workout.  All is well in our little home.

Today I will share the story of our humble bathroom.  Even the baby blue toilet wasn’t enough to keep me from loving this space the first time I saw it.  It had laminate walls, a monstrous walk-in tub, blue fixtures, popcorn ceiling, carpet, and a window with a view of the back yard.  What I found endearing  about it was the smell.  Really.  (Don’t think of something gross.)  The faint aroma of Jergen’s lotion and rose water instantly triggered the sweet memory of my Grandma and Grandpa Wilson’s mid-century house on Hadden Street.  Even the colors were similar.  In fact, many parts of our farm cottage remind me of that place:  the wood work, the doors, the ranch style architecture, the windows.  It’s all nostalgic for me.  Alas, the bathroom was in need of an update to make it more functional for our family.  Here are some photos taken before renovation began.

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We ripped out most of the bathroom before we moved in so that we could replace the toilet.  We also elected to remove the walk-in tub; it just took up too much space, and we really needed a tub/shower combination in there.  The previous owner had sweetly installed this very expensive bath tub for his wife, who was ill.  He put a shower for himself in the office, which will eventually become our master bath.  More on that later.  We were able to sell the tub on Craigslist for a good price, which paid for the entire bathroom renovation.  Have I mentioned how much I love Craigslist?  Here’s a peek at our demo process:

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This room presented a few challenges.  Firstly it is only 56 inches wide.  Standard tubs are 60 inches long and wouldn’t work in this space.  Once again, we had to think outside the box.  We settled on buying a vintage claw foot tub, but even most of those are 5 feet long or more.  I perused Craigslist daily as well as hung out at the local Habitat Restore and architectural salvage store, waiting for the perfect tub.  It finally showed itself on Craigslist!  We bought it from a guy who was tearing down a house in Leon, Kansas.  He loaded it up and met us at Menard’s, and we bought it on the spot.  At 54″ long and sporting red paint and gold feet, it was a match made in heaven!  Before and after shots:

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The only original thing left in this bathroom is the window.  Everything else was changed.  Sometimes when we were in the thick of the remodeling, it felt like nothing was getting done.  However, our “to do” list only has one thing left on it:  the replacement of an outlet.  Superhubby assures me that will be done soon, and I believe him.  That man can do anything!  Here are the changes that have been wrought in the bathroom:

1.  Replace toilet.  This was the first project, of course.  We went with the safe choice:  basic white.  It may be the only normal pick in the house.

2.  Replace walls.  We had to rip out 2 layers of laminate, replace some studs, and deal with some backer board from a previous tile job.  The sheet rock  underneath was unusable.  We opted for beaded board wood paneling painted white for a cottage feel.

3.  Replace flooring.  We found a remnant of vinyl flooring that looked like barn wood plank for $40 and installed it ourselves.

4.  Replace sink.  In a previous post I mentioned that we converted a small $7 yard sale dresser into the bathroom vanity.  I got the drop-in sink at Habitat Restore for $10.  David even managed to turn two of the drawers into storage; one of them is partitioned into 5 sections, one for each of the kids’ gear.  It’s a great piece!

5.  Replace tub with a vintage one.  Add a faucet, shower kit and ceiling-mounted shower curtain rod.  This project looks easy on paper but was quite challenging.  After many adjustments to ensure that no leaking would occur, the tub touches both bathroom walls and is a perfect fit.  My man is quite the plumber!  He always says it’s not his forte, but there hasn’t been a single plumbing project here that he hasn’t made work.

6.  Add a cabinet.  With 5 ladies inhabiting our homestead, we needed some storage!  After scouring thrift stores and antique shops for the perfect cabinet, I happened upon an old ammunition crate at the DAV for just over $20.  I gave it a whitewash to freshen it up but left the rustic character intact.

7.  Add a towel rack.  I aged a piece of wood whose previous incarnation had been as a stair riser that hubby removed during the basement renovation.  I then added various vintage inspired knobs bought at half price.

8.  Find a shower curtain.  At first glance, this seems like an easy task, right?  Not so.  Many opinions whirled around this topic; the girls might have made fun of me for taking months to pick the right one.  In the end, everyone got a vote and no one agreed.  We compromised.  Now we all love it.

9.  Add a soap dispenser.  This also seems trivial, but ever since I was bitten by the Pinterest bug, I have wanted to make a mason jar soap dispenser that was big enough to handle the many hands that need cleansing here.  I dug a mason jar out of the barn, used the drill and some epoxy, and bought a soap pump from the beauty supply store.  Check that off my bucket list.  I made a soap dispenser.

10.  Add lighting.  I went with outdoor fixtures that had cottage character.  They were inexpensive and interesting. I don’t know why I love them, but I do.

It’s a tiny bathroom, but it has everything in it that we need.  The girls actually squealed with delight as they saw the finished product.  Here you go.

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Once again, we find ourselves marveling at what can be accomplished with team work, creative thinking, and just a few dollars.  Our September Farm just feels happy and peaceful, like it was always here waiting for us.  We are home.  It’s a good feeling.


Basements, Books, and Beloved Spaces

“May I a small house and a large garden have;

And a few friends, and many books, both true.”

 –Abraham Cowley

Here at September Farm, (drum roll, please!) we have finally finished our basement!  It is impossible to overstate the complete elation that we feel over this; it seems we have been confined to working on it for months on end, mostly because we have.  Did you hear the crickets chirping when you came to this blog?  Blame it on renovation!  Upon our initial evaluation of it, we had concluded that this basement was too leaky, dark, and smelly to use as living space.  The reality of having a large family set in, however.  We would harvest that space out of necessity and make it as cheery, safe, and cozy as possible.  Even though we will be empty nesters at some point in the future, we liked the idea of providing a separate living space should any of our children (and their children) need to return to the nest.  So began the basement overhaul.

A seemingly endless list of things had to be accomplished before we could even begin to use the basement space.  We had to move a wall, construct a utility room for the new furnace, install doors and doorways, seal the basement against leakage, do some grading outside, remove wood and sheet rock damaged by water, add ventilation and outlets, replace sheet rock and ceilings, build a closet, install a bigger window, make a safety door between the bedrooms, texture walls, remove stair carpet and pad, and replace some stairs.  Paint was needed desperately on every surface, of course.  For the sake of expediency I skipped painting the concrete floor and opted to live with the current acid staining.  Except for the HVAC installation and ductwork, we did all of this ourselves.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in transforming the afterthought of a basement!  The space now exudes humble comfort and coziness in every nook.  We took great care to tuck a happy memory into each room by re-using materials from the past.

Today’s post focuses on the area that we call the commons room.  It sits at the bottom of the basement stairs as a sort of tiny family room/guest room.  This is what it looked like before:

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The first picture above is the commons room before the wall was moved.  To say it was small is kind.  We moved the wall about 6 feet to the left, enclosed the sump pump as a utility room for the furnace, and ended up with this space:

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The photo on the left is the built-in bunk bed.  The one on the right is the now enclosed utility closet/sump pump room.

Many happy little projects have filled our days in the completion of the commons room.  Priority number one:  walls and ceilings.  What materials would we use to finish these?  We had done our share of dry wall installation, mudding, and messy sanding.  We wanted to avoid it again at all costs.  I’m pretty terrible at that whole process.  David and I pored over pictures on Pinterest and Houzz (my new addiction) for ideas.  Paneling was more expensive than we liked, considering the amount of space we needed to cover.  We decided to use sheet rock with furring strips at the seams (both on ceiling and wall), tying everything together with crisp white paint.  The result was a paneled wall look with a decidedly cottage feel reminiscent of David’s grandmother’s lake cottage, which is what we had hoped for.  Caulk covered a multitude of design sins and pulled everything together!

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Another project that we completed was making useful space out of the basement ledge.  We recycled some unused kitchen cabinets (above, left), turned them sideways, and installed them on the ledge.  We didn’t have quite enough cabinets to fit the whole ledge, so we bought a few $2 cabinet doors from the Habitat Restore to cover the remaining open space.  I painted everything white to unify the mismatched elements.  I also decoupaged the insets of the cabinet doors with pages from beloved books.  It was a sentimental journey for me as I chose meaningful pages from our favorite books:  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne, a book of poetry by Robert Frost, and my husband’s old pals Emerson and Thoreau, among others.  I had to buy the books at the thrift store to avoid cutting up my own copies, which are like loyal friends to me.  (Even so, some of my bibliophile daughters gasped in horror when they saw that I had dismembered a book!)  I got a lump in my throat as I re-read some of these passages and remembered peaceful hours piled on a twin bed surrounded by enraptured, attentive children begging for me to read just one more chapter to them.  The kids helped me pick out knobs to top off the cabinet doors, all different but especially meaningful to our family. This storage houses extra blankets and pillows.  And no, your eyes do not deceive you:  there is writing on the walls below the cabinets.  The main reason is that we are awesome parents/grandparents who used white board on that wall and continuing up the stairs for maximum kid enjoyment.  (On a side note:  thank you, Hobby Lobby, for offering such a cool and varied selection of cabinet knobs that I spend waaaaaaay too much time perusing.) Here’s a close-up of the cabinet doors:

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On to the next project:  the day bed/bunk bed/sofa.  My talented hubby designed the whole space around the dimensions for this bed, even placing the utility room walls in just the right formation to accommodate the built-ins.   We were able to use two springs from day beds given to us by my (Dawna’s) parents in Texas, who have both since passed away.  They had purchased these day beds for when their grand kids came for visits, so it’s a nice remembrance of them to have these built in to our home.  Nestled underneath the bunks is a trundle, providing sleeping accommodations for a total of three in this small area.  I sewed new pillow covers for 9 pillows we already had in storage.  One can never have too many pillows, right?  I fell in love with the world map fabric I found at and knew I must incorporate it into this space.  The other fabric was purchased at Hobby Lobby.  A repurposed dust ruffle and vintage bedspreads we had on hand tied everything together for a great lounging area.  I even tried my hand at applique on one of the pillows and was pleased with the result:

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I love a good bargain, so finding these great lockers on Craigslist for $25 was an absolute thrill for me!  They added more storage to our small commons area without taking up too much floor space.  A little elbow grease and paint go a long way!

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I needed a small side table for the beds, so I pulled this one out of the barn.  It was stained and begging for a makeover; I used the photo printer that hubby got me for my birthday to print some old family pictures.  I decoupaged these onto the table for a quick transformation:

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Finally, we get to the basement stairs.  When we bought the house, they were covered in carpet that had seen better days.  Son Shaun and I removed the carpet, pad, and innumerable staples that held everything in place.  Next, handy hubby replaced some of the treads and risers that didn’t go all the way to the side walls.  Finally, I gave the imperfect wood a few coats of black paint and dressed the risers up with stencils.  I chose the numbers as another learning opportunity for the grand kiddos.  Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler.

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Thus are the chronicles of our basement labors since mid-October.  It’s been an enlightening, confusing, frustrating, and inspiring journey wrought with obstacles, mistakes, and surprising discoveries.  In the end, we have a space that perfectly reflects our love of family, learning, books, old things with new uses, and cooperative projects.  We are now looking ahead to climbing those numbered stairs to the main floor and continuing to make this place our haven.