You’re the Mantel to my Fireplace

Milk and Cookies.
Waves and the Ocean.
French Fries and Ketchup.
Simon and Garfunkel.
Peanut Butter and Jelly.
Fountains and Pennies.
Lauren and Matthew.
Miss Pepper and Chasing Squirrels.
See where I’m going here, people? Some things just go together. 😉

So, you can’t have a fireplace without a good mantelpiece, am I right??

Our family room fireplace has come a loooooong way, my friends. Early on, we knew this was one of our little house’s “problem areas” considering every time it would rain, water would flood in through the firebox.

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This is a very early “before” picture…like, before we closed and cleaned the belongings out of the house…but you can see the water damage has rotted the entire mantelpiece.


Once we tore away the wall, we discovered that the brick fireplace surround had completely separated from the chimney.

As you may remember, we completely rebuilt the wall on which the fireplace sits and we even contemplated cutting our losses and removing the entire thing (chimney and all) during a moment of insanity. But with the help of some professionals, we were able to diagnose the problem, repair the chimney and rebuild the firebox.

With all the brickwork complete, it was starting to look like a proper fireplace again…except we were still missing the crowned jewel, our mantelpiece!

Since our family room is open to the kitchen, we decided to stay with the same simple shaker-style look as with our cabinets. We think it turned out pretty nice:

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Bye, wall!

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Matthew surveying the scene and contemplating how to remove the very old and very heavy iron stove insert…

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…realizing this is not a one-man job.

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But that stove didn’t stop him from demo-ing the old brick surround. (The bricks were literally crumbling and disintegrating from the long-term dampness – ick!)

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New firebox, flue, surround and hearth!

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View from the outside; no more leaking!

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Ready for her mantel to arrive!

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Ta-daaaaa! She’s back and better than ever!

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(Sorry about all the junk in the fireplace; I was clearly so taken with our new mantelpiece that I was blind to all the scrap wood and tools! 😂)

The Little Dutch Door That Could

From the very first time we laid eyes on this door, we knew it was a keeper. It couldn’t stay in its original location because – as you know – we removed the wall between the kitchen and garage-turned-family-room, but there was no way we were getting rid of this little beauty! So we decided to make it an exterior door leading from our family room out to our side yard.

Perfect! How hard could it be to convert an interior door to an exterior one? No big deal, right? Wrong. I’ve said this more than once, but It’s always those “simple” little projects that surprise you and turn into total marriage testers (Kidding! But it was not our finest moment. 😉 ).

Besides the overall sanding, stripping and repainting, this sweet little Dutch beauty had to be weather-stripped and water-tested (there’s no overhang above the door, so we had to be sure it was watertight). We set to work adding weather-stripping to the doorframe, but didn’t realize we would also need to seal all the window panes and the split between the top and bottom halves of the door…until we tried the “hose test.” Despite our best weather-stripping efforts, she leaked like a sieve.

I’ll spare you the boring details, but after several trips to Home Depot and failed attempts at a solution (not to mention, lots of wet towels and soggy feelings), we found a small rubber seal, carpet tacks, and a good caulk line did the job.

Installed in her new home!

Proud owners 🙂

Flashback to “before.”

“After” in the new location as an exterior door.

Post (one of many) hose-tests 😦

Working hard to weatherstrip…

…and make this baby watertight.

Whew! I guess it was worth it!

Down and Dirty

We’ve had our fair share of dirty jobs so far in this adventure, but this one literally involves shoveling mud.

Welcome to our basement, folks! Or is it a cellar? Not sure…
Anyhoo, we – thankfully – have concrete floors down there, but all the walls are good ol’ South Carolina red clay. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty creepy and it’s currently home to an orchestra of crickets (…and maybe a few trolls and vampires?? Jury is still out.). Our hot water heater and lots of ductwork also live down there, but we won’t be using it for much more than an extra large crawl space. I will probably make an appearance every once in a while to hang some fresh garlic from the ceiling to ward off evil spirits and call it a day.

Although this isn’t a high-traffic space for us, you know we still want it to look its best and when we arrived on the scene, it was in pretty bad shape. The big culprit here is, yet again, water damage. Since the house was vacant for several years with no power, the sump pumps in our lovely dirt-walled basement were not working…so you can imagine what happened next…yep! Mudslide. In fact, we didn’t even realize the floors were concrete until we started cleaning up because there was about an inch of dirt that had slowly washed down onto the floor over the years. Yuck!

Matthew, my brave, hardworking husband, took on the challenge of basement clean up, which entailed a lot of mud shoveling, removal of a few lovely items like a lawn chair and an old mattress/box spring, and repairing the existing sump pump, so we can avoid any repeat performances.

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Rough stuff, right? (And this was after cleanup had already started…I couldn’t get a photo of the true “before!”)

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Taking care of business.

But he didn’t stop there, oh no! Matthew washed and sealed the concrete floors, and had the dirt walls covered with a moisture barrier, too.

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Me trying to sneak pictures of the floor-sealing progress by going down the outside steps…

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Miss Pepper checking in on the progress… “looking good, dad!”

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Never thought I’d be so proud of a basement, but this baby has come a looooong way!

Our creepy little basement is looking pretty good these days…but I’m still trying to avoid it, especially after dark. 😉

The Last-Minute Window

Our powder room may be small, but it’s got personality! There are so many things we love about this teeny little room, but one of its finest features almost didn’t happen! You may remember from the floorplan redesign that the Nest’s powder room is not an original feature of the house. We decided early on that it would be smart to add a bathroom to the side of the house where all the living spaces are located (duh!). So, we added two little walls (and two pretty doors!) in what we call the office and – voila! – a powder room was born.

Because we re-plumbed the entire house, adding another sink and toilet was relatively easy. The challenge was making this little [water] closet not feel like an afterthought… so we decided to use the other half of the diamond-paned window that was originally in our master bathroom. Great idea, right?? Except: 1.) we only had one of the two window panels restored professionally (to keep in the master bathroom) and 2.) all the window openings had long been decided and windows installed months ago. Ugh! But Lauren we HAD to have this window! So, who did we call? My dad.

Good ol’ Richard Harper already has a recurring role in this story, so why not write one more chapter? Not only did he come to the rescue to restore the other half of the window for us, but he installed it, too! Here’s the proof:

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The master at work! Removing old glazing and stripping the wood.

The Newton Nest_Powder Room window reglazing

Adding new glaze to the window panes. Is there anything this guy can’t do? 🙂

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Making the first cut; no turning back!

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We see the light!!!

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Perfect cut!

The Newton Nest_Powder Room Window Install

Installed and trimmed.

I kid you not, adding this little window completely transformed our tiny powder room. Not only are we glad to have the natural light and a view of the Camelia tree in the side yard, but we saved and repurposed the other half of a very special original feature of our Nest. Win-win!

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I mean, can you even imagine this room without a window?

Subway Style

Q:  What’s shiny and white and mudded all over?
A:  Our bathroom tile!

Honk, Honk! The Nest’s bathrooms just got a little touch of subway flair…tile, that is. We chose a simple white, glossy subway tile for the showers because it suits our style and the era of our home. We punched it up a little by using pewter colored grout and adding a simple accent of “pencil tiles” around the perimeter of the shower walls about ¾ of the way up. We also opted to add little niches in each shower to hold shampoo bottles, etc.

The new stuff is fun and, as it turns out, MUCH easier than repairing and restoring the old… but we knew that already, didn’t we? (Cue my parents saying, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”)

The Saga of the Snaggletooth Tiles

Besides being absolutely filthy, the tile in our nest’s bathrooms was in relatively good shape and because we decided to keep the old cast iron bath tubs, too (taking those monsters out would have destroyed the tile around them), we decided that it was a no-brainer to save the original tile. However, there were a few “snaggletooth” holes to fill where we had relocated doorways and some patching needed around the edges of the rooms where we lost a few tiles during the plaster demo.

The only problem: it was impossible to find replacement tiles that would even come close to matching our original ones [insert “they don’t make things like the used to” comment here]. Our tile professional was too chicken to attempt concerned by the only option left: to “harvest” tiles from parts of the floor that would be covered by a vanity, so Matthew and I were forced to try our hand at chiseling out these precious tiles on our own. Thankfully, it was a DIY success not a disaster…although, it definitely tested our marriage a few times. Whew! Glad that’s over.


Hard at work harvesting tiles.


Mid-jigsaw puzzle.


Grinding away at the space for a new marble threshold in the hall bathroom.


Threshold installed! Not bad for a couple of newbies, right?? (Not as easy as it looks, though…we broke the first one trying to level it.)


Finally starting to clean up the old tiles!


Many hours of elbow grease later…good as new!


Shower niche installed!


This orange KERDI backing is a moisture-proof “wallpaper”that goes right over the sheetrock before tile installation.


Tile selection! Classic white subway tiles and pewter grout (we went with the medium gray at bottom).


Boxes and boxes of tile… here we go!


Eeeeeeek! Major progress!


Master shower’s tile is up!


Hall bath, too!

Tub Transformation

Once the new tile was installed, that pristine white subway tile only accentuated the sad state of our bathtubs. We knew that refinishing them ourselves was not in our wheelhouse, so we called in the professionals. After some research, Matthew found a company called GlazePro in North Carolina that would travel down and – in just two days – completely transform our beat-up bathtubs by scouring, sanding, stripping, patching, and re-glazing. I don’t know much more about the process, but the results are nothing short of miraculous! Take a look-see for yourself:


The miracle worker in action – scraping, sanding, and patching all the imperfections.


Patching complete.


Reglazing in progress… That orange contraption is a portable exhaust system to vent the paint fumes outside. Impressive!


Can you believe how good this looks??? We were shocked by the transformation. It’s perfect. I think I heard angels singing when I laid eyes on our BRAND NEW old tubs!!


No sign of our butler yet…

… but we sure do like his pantry!

If Jeeves were here, I’d ask him if he liked the burnt sienna backsplash in his Butler’s Pantry… something tells me that his answer would be an enthusiastic “no ma’am.”

The "before" picture -- check out those lovely tiles ;)

The “before” picture — check out those lovely tiles 😉

Burnt Sienna! A perfect match.

Burnt Sienna! A perfect match.

Once upon a time, this delightful Crayola color may have been a popular choice, but not anymore! So, we had to bid farewell to all those little orange tiles and give the butler’s pantry a well-deserved makeover.

First things first, I easily chipped away the tiles with a hammer and chisel because the adhesive had lost a lot of its strength over time. Unfortunately, the adhesive kept a very strong bond with the plaster wall between the upper cabinets and the counter top. I tried to chip away at it with every tool I could find, but finally had to resort to our orbital sander and heavy grit sandpaper. It was a dusty, tedious, goggle-fogging job, but I finally got it down to the smooth plaster underneath with only a little damage that required simple patching.

No more tiles!

No more tiles!

Close-up of the stubborn glue left behind.

Close-up of the stubborn glue left behind.

I had to stop every few minutes to wipe out my goggles. Yuck!

I had to stop every few minutes to wipe out my goggles. Yuck!

Next, we discussed what to use for the new counter top that would complement and preserve the charm of the original cabinets. We landed on the idea of “up-cycling” some of the original ceiling joists we cut out to vault the ceilings in the family room and master bedroom. We took this idea to my dad, the forester and master craftsman, to request his expertise and ask for his help to bring the new counter top to life.

Naturally, he had an ever better idea! Our joists were certainly thick and sturdy enough to do the job, but they were made of pine. As mentioned in the floor refinishing post, pine does not stain well and our “vision” was of a darker, richer wood counter top, not raw pine. It just so happened that my father (the forester, master craftsman, AND wood hoarder 🙂 ) had a stash of beautiful walnut left over from when my parents built their kitchen island. Glory! It was just the thing. We are so fortunate that the Harpers were willing to part with such special materials and my dad created a handmade walnut counter top for our butler’s pantry by joining two large pieces together and lovingly applying coat after coat of tongue oil and polyurethane.

Special Delivery!

Special Delivery!

Cutting it down to size.

Cutting it down to size.

Daddy's favorite cutting stance. I believe we have seen this move before ;)

Daddy’s favorite cutting stance. I believe we have seen this move before 😉

Ready to install this beauty!

Ready to install this beauty!

Wrangling it into place.

Wrangling it into place.

Fastening it from underneath, so we don't mar the wood.

Fastening it from underneath, so we don’t mar the wood.

My guys admiring their work...

My guys admiring their work…

My dad also made a matching cove molding to give it the perfect finishing touch!

My dad also made a matching cove molding to give it the perfect finishing touch!

It came out better than I ever expected. In fact, it may just be my favorite part of our nest…

Ta-daaaaahhh! The finished product. Absolutely fantastic.

Ta-daaaaahhh! The finished product. Absolutely fantastic.

...and a very special message hidden on the underside. ;)

…and a very special message hidden on the underside. 😉

A Home for our Dishes…

That’s right! Our dishes now have a cozy little place to call home, because…our cabinets are in! In addition to outfitting our kitchen with a special set of custom cabinets, we also designed built-in storage for the laundry room and our master bathroom. So, our laundry detergent, dirty clothes, and toiletries also have places to call home in our little nest 😉 Our cabinet maker took in lots of questions, sketches, and patiently listened to us jabber on about “our vision” for getting the most out of our space, then he brought our sketches and plans to life with the most beautiful cabinets we’ve ever seen!

We decided on a traditional shaker-style cabinet (with a little added “bead” detail in the door panels) painted Sherwin Williams‘ Pure White to match our trim. For a traditional house like ours, keeping things simple just felt right. And once it all came together, our new cabinets seemed to blend right in with those in the butler’s pantry that are original to the house.

While we have done what we can to maximize the floor plan of our nest, we are still working with – by today’s standards – small spaces, so we put a lot of thought into our designs to use every square inch of space! Here’s what we came up with:

Kitchen Cabinets

This sketch was our first pass at a layout for our kitchen cabinets... and it's pretty much what we went with!

This sketch was our first pass at a layout for our kitchen cabinets… and it’s pretty close to the final design!

Cabinets going in... no island yet!

Cabinets going in… no island yet.

Hello, Kitchen!!

Hello, Kitchen!!

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The Newton Nest DIY Kitchen Renovation IMG_9117

Putting on the trim.

Putting on the trim.

Prepping for paint... again.

Prepping for paint… again.  (Working late into the night; Matthew’s halo is shining bright! 😉 )

Trim painted and hardware on. It's starting to look pretty good around here :)

Trim painted and hardware on. It’s starting to look pretty good around here 🙂

Door Details

Door Details

Drawer Details

Drawer Details

Special thanks to my Aunt Julie who researched the cabinet hardware for us and found great quality knobs and pulls for a really good price!

Sneak peek at the Butler's Pantry cabinets (I'll do a full post on this soon!) With a fresh coat of paint and new hardware, they blend right in with the new cabinets!

Sneak peek at the Butler’s Pantry cabinets (I’ll do a full post on this transformation soon!) With a fresh coat of paint and new hardware, they blend right in with the new cabinets!

One of my favorite things we did in the kitchen was turning the old ironing board cabinet into a place to keep all our spices. The cabinet maker removed the old built-in ironing board (and relocated it into our laundry room cabinets) and added small shelves just the right size for spice jars. I had our cabinet maker restore the little "trap door" used to store the iron and keep that as part of the cabinet -- so cute!

One of my favorite things we did in the kitchen was repurposing the old ironing board cabinet into the perfect place to keep all our spices. The cabinet maker removed the old fold-down ironing board (and relocated it into our laundry room cabinets), then added small shelves just the right size for spice jars. I had our cabinet maker restore the little “trap door” at the bottom that was used to store the iron. It felt right to keep this little piece of history as part of the cabinet — so cute!

Laundry Room Cabinets

Our sketches:

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The Newton Nest DIY Kitchen/Laundry Room Renovation IMG_7614

The finished product:

Cabinets over the Washer/Dryer.

Cabinets over the Washer/Dryer.

Floor-to-ceiling cabinets for all kinds of laundry things...

Floor-to-ceiling cabinets for all kinds of laundry things…

Like... storage and ironing...

Like… storage and ironing…

...pull-out folding surfaces...

…pull-out folding surfaces…

...and pull-out hampers!

…and laundry hampers!

Master Bathroom Vanity Cabinet



Hardware on!

Hardware on!

It wouldn’t be The Newton Nest without a couple of older pieces mixed in with the new…

While we’re talking about cabinets, I’d be remiss not to point out two pretty special ones that aren’t custom, but fit pretty seamlessly into our space – if we do say so ourselves! 😉 Both of these found pieces made themselves at home in our hall bathroom, giving it a lot of character and extra storage space!

1.  The Hall Bathroom Vanity

The hall bathroom vanity was just a pedestal sink before we began our renovation. We worked hard to create a more functional space there by moving the doorway and creating an “end cap” wall at the foot of the tub to close in the shower and form a definitive vanity space. This little nook is the perfect spot for a petite vanity, so Matthew and I searched for months for a piece of furniture we could repurpose in this space. After trips all over Greenville and nearby Asheville, and lots of Craigslist surfing, we found ourselves at a little salvage place in Powdersville, SC and stumbled upon a small server that was just the thing! Cute, isn’t she?

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2.  The Hall Bathroom Built-in Cabinet

The hall bathroom “built in” was a completely different story. We weren’t looking for something like this at all. In fact, my mom stumbled upon this cute little antique cabinet and had the idea for us to build it into the wall (like a giant medicine cabinet) above the toilet in the hall bath. It took her about a month to convince me to buy this from a little antique store in Seneca, SC, but I’m SO glad she did! It has become an adorable focal point as you enter the hall bath and an essential storage space for toiletry items and guest towels.

Here's the cabinet! This is the picture my mom sent me from the antique store. It's the only one I have showing the cabinet with the legs still attached.

Here’s the cabinet! This is the picture my mom sent me from the antique store. It’s the only one I have showing the cabinet with the legs still attached.

Making this little gem a reality was no easy task though (what else is new??).  Since my mom came across the cabinet back when we were still doing the framing, my dad was able to frame a hole in which the cabinet could be set. Acting like an oversized medicine cabinet, this idea would allow us to use the full depth of the cabinet without having it stick out into the room more than a few inches. Genius! Well, until we realized there was an old iron sewer vent pipe right where the cabinet would go… Luckily, our plumber had planned to shatter all the old sewer pipes and replace them with new ones as part of our plumbing scope. We just made sure to have him route the new pipe in a different location clearing the way for our special cabinet.

See the giant black pipe right where we want to put the cabinet?

See the giant black pipe right where we want to put the cabinet?

Not any more! ;)

Not any more! 😉

Next, the cabinet itself had to be modified. My dad helped us by cutting off the cabinet’s legs. A delicate job that almost came off without a hitch… until one of the glass panes broke. 😦 This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we replaced the lower panes with bead board which now allows us to use the lower storage space for toiletries that are better kept out of sight. We also had to trim the trim. Yes, we had to cut down the trim at the top of the cabinet, but just the part that would interfere with recessing it into the wall. Make sense?

Holding it up to make sure we like it :)

Holding it up to make sure we like it.  “A little higher, Dad!”  😉 😉

Trimming the trim!

The perfect vantage point for trimming the trim!

Look at that concentration!

Look at that concentration!

Lastly, my mom swooped in to put on a few coats of paint before installation. And, voila! 

Mom carefully painting both hall bathroom cabinets -- what a life saver!

Mom carefully painting both hall bathroom cabinets — what a life saver!

Finally… time to install!

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