The poor planner’s key to home renovation success

Rita and I have one of those modern families. We both have children with ex-spouses, and managing time around holidays is always quite a balancing act. We have to deal with 3 households in 3 different cities and (at least) 3 different ideas about how holidays work.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: family photo

Here’s the whole crew in our annual Christmas time family picture.

Last December we had a plan that Rita would take her 2 kids up north to see their grandparents after Christmas. I’d stay home and get some alone time with my child. Our kids don’t often get time alone with just their parent, and Rita and I both think it’s important to have some.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: family photo

What happens when Rita’s kids don’t get enough of her undivided attention.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: family photo

Me shooting pool on a father/daughter outing with my lovely daughter. Hey, it was in a coffee shop OK?

What does all that have to do with bedroom renovation? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m not always the best when it comes to schedules and calendars.

OK, I’m horrible.

I managed to mess up our good plan and ended up not having my child on the weekend that Rita was taking her two up north. That meant that I was going to be alone in the house all weekend.

Now, on first thought this sounded kinda awesome. I never get any time alone and to have a whole weekend would be quite a lot. I’d catch up on Swamp People on Netflix.

This (sorta) Old Life: Swamp-People-7

I love that show because I grew up down there and know lots of people who talk like these guys do.

I’d sleep late and drink a latte on the sofa while I posted witty comments on Facebook. I’d eat cereal for dinner and stay in my pajamas all day. Maybe I’d even take a nap. This sounded great.

Except for one thing. I’m a restless man. Rita knows this, and when she found out I’d be home alone all weekend, she suggested that I come with her and the kids up north. Once she reminded me how restless I get if I don’t have something to do, the wheels started spinning in my head about what project I could do to fill the time productively.

I’m not an awesome project planner. (Note the comment about calendars and planning from above.) As soon as Rita and the crew left, I decided to just look at what it would take to rip out the carpet in our bedroom.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: bedroom carpet

Wall-to-wall dingy gray–with a little blob of tar from a plumbing mishap two whole years ago.

We hated that carpet.

In addition to the tar blob, there were 2 spots on it where the dogs would secretly pee. We’d gotten used to keeping our bedroom door closed because if we didn’t, one of the weiner dogs would sneak in and do some business. We’re not sure if they are anxiety pee-ers or if they are just lazy and don’t want to go outside.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: Daisy

Editorial note from Rita: They are lazy! They are far too spoiled to be anxious. And that Daisy just sneaks off to a bedroom when it’s too cold or too far to walk downstairs to go out.

Anyhow, I was just going to see how easy it was going to be to take the baseboards off and pull on the carpet. I wasn’t going to go ahead and take it out, you know.

An hour later I had all the furniture out of the room and the baseboards off, and I was ripping up the carpet in strips. (Another editorial note: You might remember this isn’t the first time Cane got a little spontaneously wild and crazy with carpet.)

This (sorta) Old LIfe: master bedroom project

Baseboards come off easy with the right tools. Run a putty knife along the top edge to break any caulk seal first. Then use the putty knife to slightly pry the baseboard away from the wall all along the length. Then you can carefully use a prybar to finish it up. (And yes:  Our walls were two different shades of baby blue.)

(Disclaimer: Instead of our usual super awesome pro-level pictures, you’ll see crappy cell phone pictures because I wasn’t about to break out my good camera in the midst of all the chaos in the bedroom. You’ll have to use your powers of imagination and imagine everything you are seeing is way more beautiful than the crappy pictures.)

In another hour I had all the carpet and carpet pad up. It was neatly rolled and taped and stuck in garbage bags piled in the garage.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: master bedroom project

It’s easiest to rip up carpet in strips. Duct tape the strips as you go.

I had also gone over the floor carefully and removed all carpet strips and staples used to tack down the carpet pad.

Oh, and I also managed to remove the rest of the wallpaper boarder that has been hanging in our bedroom since we moved in.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: bedroom wallpaper border

Actually, those shells have been gone for awhile, torn down one night in a fit of seashell sickness. But we never removed the beige backing paper.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: master bedroom project

The remains of the wallpaper border coming down. A wet sponge and a wide plastic putty knife were all that was required.

Dang, that felt nice.

At that point Rita and the kids were only gone about 3 hours. (And yes, I move fast.) You can see how this didn’t solve my restlessness problem. They were going to be gone 3 days.

I now had a bunch of weekend left, and I had rushed through my project. If I was sane, I’d have just gone with my original plan and lived a bachelor life the rest of the weekend.

I’m not.

This (sorta) Old Life: Cane

Does this guy look sane?

Instead, I decided I’d race the weekend and see how far I could get before it was over. That’s the perfect kind of “plan” for a guy like me, who doesn’t plan well. I’d just start working and then stop when the weekend was over. Perfect.

I did take Friday night off (other than teasing Rita about what was up), but after a latte and some Facebook on Saturday morning, I was ready to get going.


The first thing I did was to address the floor. When I took the carpet up the sub floor wasn’t awesome. It’s a particleboard floor. There were some dings in it from hammer blows. There were blobs of drywall mud all over it and a few deep gouges in it in various places.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: master bedroom project

Here’s the subfloor with carpet and pad removed. It’s particleboard. Lots of paint and drywall mud globs all over it.

I went down into the shed and found some floor leveler stuff we had leftover from a previous project. It’s a cement-like product that comes in a powder that you mix with water. You then trowel it onto the floor to fill in low spots.  I mixed up a half bucket and troweled it all over the floor. I also took my putty knife and hammer and chipped away at all the drywall mud blobs I could find.

Sometime after lunch, I thought that maybe I could think about doing some painting. Before I went to bed on Friday I had filled all the nail holes in the wall and did a bit of repair on an old wall repair. (That would be a re-repair.)

We had two spots in the wall where we’d made holes. One to get the tub into the adjoining bathroom and one to let birds out of the wall. (No, I’m not kidding about the birds. Or the tub. We lead an interesting life sometimes.) See that white spot on wall in the picture directly above? That was the bathtub hole. And, yes, it’s been like that for almost two years. There’s a reason we’ve almost never shown this room on the blog until now.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: master bedroom project

This would be me putting a hole in the wall to the bedroom, so that we could get the tub down into its space.

Anyway, I had patched the holes but hadn’t textured the patch to match the orange peel texture of the wall. The trick to orange peel texture is to use a damp paint roller and drywall mud. Put a thin layer of mud on the wall and roll over it with the damp roller. It’ll texture it pretty close to orange peel. By Saturday afternoon all the patch work was dry, so I slapped a coat of primer on it and headed to Home Depot to get paint samples.

Here’s where my weekend project was awesome:  I didn’t have to negotiate paint colors with anyone. I was able to go in and grab only about 6 or 7 paint chips. I didn’t have to get the millions that we usually get.

This (sorta) Old Life: paint chips

Not kidding about the million paint chips, either. Rita recently organized them while cleaning out her desk.

I came home and looked at 6 or 7 chips in the light, and in about 5 minutes I had picked out the wall color. Ha! Didn’t have to negotiate it with anyone! Not that I mind negotiating paint colors with Rita, but it was nice to just pick and go.

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

I went with Behr’s Garden Wall, which is actually a much more green-gray than it appears in this photo.

(Yet another editorial comment: He’s lucky it all worked out–and that my feelings aren’t easily hurt! But that goofy picture up a bit earlier in the post might just maybe be a tiny little bit of payback for this paragraph.)

One hour later and I was rolling paint onto the walls. The rest of the day consisted of me painting the walls, working more on the floors, and doing a bit of goofing off. Not too much interesting or exciting. I did knock off a bit early on Saturday night to enjoy a long bath (in that awesome deep tub that was totally worth putting a hole in the wall to get in) and some episodes of Swamp People. A guy has to take advantage of some of that bachelor time if he gets it, you know.

This (sorta) Old LIfe: master bedroom project

Here’s where you’ll have to imagine I’m working like mad to paint the wall. Since I was the only one there I didn’t get a picture in process. But you can see that the blue is all gone!

Sunday was wrap up time (because my daughter was coming home on Monday). I rolled the final coat of paint on the walls Sunday morning and then addressed the trim.

All the trim in the house was painted white when we moved in. Rita and I must be trend busters because while everyone else seems to be painting their trim and cabinets white, we are working to get rid of it. It just doesn’t match the house. It’s a 70’s split level, not a cottage.

My idea was to take the trim color we used in the master bathroom and use it on the doors, floorboard trim, and window trim. That way I would have a color tie-in with the bathroom. Good idea right?

This (sorta) Old Life: Bathroom door color

This blurry shot isn’t really much better than my phone photos, but it does show the door/trim color.

I went down into the shed and found the can of paint marked bathroom trim. As soon as I started painting with the trim color on the bathroom door jam, I knew something wasn’t right. It was darker than the color in the bathroom. We have a million cans of grayish paint in the shed and I guess we mislabeled one.

Because Rita wasn’t there to tell me I was doing the wrong thing, I just decided to try it to see if I liked it anyway. I did. I think it’s a better color. (It’s Glidden’s Dark Truffle, by the way. We used it on our still-unfinished stair project. And we’re still not sure of which color we used in the bathroom.)

I also painted the bathroom and bedroom doors the same color. At some point someone traded out the house’s original stained wood hollow core doors with these faux panel doors. I know that people like those, but they aren’t a fit for our house. With a coat of dark paint on them they weren’t nearly as objectionable to me, though. In fact I almost like them. It took 3 good coats of paint to go from white to dark gray. By lunch time on Sunday I had the room all painted.

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

In this shot, you can see both the wall and trim color.

With some time left I decided to do a bit more work to the floor. I knew that we’d probably be living with no flooring for a bit and the floor leveler I used was kind of chalky. There was still drywall mud residue on the floor and it looked awful. I decided that I’d just roll some primer over the whole thing. That way I’d cover up all the mess and make a better surface for flooring later. Back to the depot I went for a gallon of primer.

I poured it on the floor and rolled it out thick with a paint roller. The room instantly looked better. I know it’s just white painted particleboard but I can’t tell you how much I like it better than the dingy, smelly carpet we had.

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

We are planning on putting down cork in the bedroom. We’ll get the same glue down tiles that we used in the bathroom and just extend the bathroom floor into the bedroom. Should be an easy job now that the floor is all prepped and ready.

To sum it up, when Rita left the Friday after Christmas, this is the bedroom she left:

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

Well, almost. We moved that piece of art to our bathroom shortly before she left. But note the baby blue walls, white trim, and wallpaper border remnants.

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

Here’s a shot from our first year in the house, where you can more clearly see the carpet and the original paint/wallpaper border.

And this is what it looks like now:

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

This (sorta) Old Life: Master bedroom

We’ve obviously still got a long way to go in this room, but we really like how differently it feels with gray walls and a clean floor. In fact, Rita even thinks she might be ready to make a commitment to our awful/awesome 70s retro lamps, now that she’s seen them set off by the gray walls.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom

Well, that’s the end of the weekend story. Not super exciting, I know, but it was fun and rewarding. I liked doing the project and I had fun teasing Rita about the awesomeness I was doing while she was away.

So, what’s the key to success for a poor planner? I’m finding that there really are many ways to tackle a project. Sometimes we like a slow, one wall at a time approach and sometimes we are all about banging it out quickly. I don’t think there is only one way that works best for us.

Having the flexibility to respond to opportunities as they come up and work in different ways is the thing that allows us to keep our sense of humor and sanity as we continue to make this eclectic 70’s split our home.

This (sorta) Old Life: master bedroom

Although there’s lots we haven’t done yet, we have begun collecting art for the room.