Friday, October 17, 2014

Summer Home Improvement Projects

Once the snow melts and it warms up enough to set up the miter saw in my carport, I can start a number of long over-due home improvement projects, one of which I have been thinking about for over ten years.

The first project was to paint a new fiberglass door. It was installed the previous fall but I didn't have time to paint it then. As with all of these projects, I am glad I waited because having the time to thing about them allowed something unique to bubble to the surface, had I done any of these quickly, they would have been like anyone else's, and not very interesting.
Carport Door (exterior)
As a side note, I'm particularly happy with the header over the inside of the door, it is much more interesting than if I had used the standard ninety degree cuts, and now I can enjoy looking at it too.
Carport Door (interior)
The door inspired me to paint my kitchen island in the same style. I had built it out of baltic birch years ago for another purpose and since it wasn't a well made piece of furniture and could use some jazzing-up, I thought making it a work of art was the most reasonable thing to do with it.
Kitchen Island
Here is a second view of the island. You can see in the background the original construction of my stairs, which I also worked on this year. The colors in this image didn't come out very well in that the color above the orange on the right is much more green than it looks here. I like that orange/green side the best, and admire it often after finishing washing dishes. 
Kitchen Island
I bought my dining room table in 1998 and though I never regretting getting it, I was never happy with how the maker had finished the top. It is made with some really beautiful curly maple but the boards were very roughly flattened in a joiner/planer that had dull knives so it had a lot of tear-out and there were ridge lines the entire length of the boards where the knives had pits/gaps. In addition, the finish was too dark so the grain was totally obscured. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the origin condition, I can only attest to my belief that it is much better now. 
Dining Room Table (side one)
The legs and apron were made with regular hard maple so I felt fine just painting them.
Dining Room Table (side two)
I filled the tear-out with black epoxy then cleaned up the top with a combination of a card scraper and my Festool sander. After I painted the acrylic geometric patterns on top I finished it with polyurethane. The title of the piece is Home Coming, which is appropriate in that it is the first thing I see when I walk through my door but it has a more personal meaning as well.
Dining Room Table (top)
You can see in these last few pictures how intensely figured the boards are. I really had no idea how great they were until I started brushing on the poly.
Dining Room Table (top)
Dining Room Table (top)
The biggest project for this summer was to work on my stairs. I've been living with the rough carpentry stairs since 2005 but had been avoiding working on them because I was never sure how to do the finish carpentry (how are the sides suppose to meet the risers and treads?). As with most things I do, I still had no idea how to do them when I started but I figured the only way I'd figure it out was to just jump in and hope that I could figure it out as I went along. Humorously, I had to restart three times before I figured it out, and that isn't counting the hours I spent trying to install the first section of stringer. In addition, I hurt my back after the first day from all the bending over and had to wait another week before going back at it. But once I figure out what to do/how to do it, the work went smoothly enough.  
I ended up using sixteen colors (not counting the handrail or pantry doors). When I finished I found it interesting how much fun it became to ascend and descend. With ever step I'd gain a different perspective on the painting in a way that makes it feel like a living work of art.
Stairs (view from top)
The hardest part of the painting was tying it into the existing kitchen. I think I repainted the kitchen side three times before I found a combination I liked. The title is One Orange Polka Dot. I particularly like having a set of stairs that has a title, which must put me in a very exclusive club.
Stairs (kitchen view)
Once I finished the stairs I started working on the under-staircase pantry. The shelves inside were simple enough but thinking through how to make the doors, cut them precisely to fit, and hang them was a little more complicated/stressful. Thankfully, I worked through it okay (though I still feel I thought about it more than I should have). I ended up using 1/2" Baltic birch plywood because I wanted something light (so I could put the hinges on the short side of the big one) and stable (so they wouldn't swell much in the summer).
Pantry Doors (exterior)
I like how the painting wraps into the inside of the door, so I get to enjoy it when I open the door too.
Pantry Door (interior)
I ended up mixing all the colors on the door myself because I got tired of buying paint and I couldn't find cheap colors I wanted either; however, now, if I ever need to touch up the color, I'll have to repaint them with something new.
Pantry Door (interior)
The final home project of the year was to install an official (legal) handrail. I tried to limit the color on it to grey, red, and black, but after I finished I felt it still needed some blue and a couple of other shades in the red family. I may still add more (maybe a red/orange?) but I'm trying to keep it from being too busy next to the stairs. I'm fairly proud of the rail brace extension at the top. I didn't want anything too clunky or jarring and I feel like this is sturdy but still appropriately elegant.
I'm happy with how everything turned out and I'm glad I took the time to do something different. Now, when I look around my house, I often think "a crazy person must live here" which I think is a good thing because good art has to seem a bit crazy, and if I think it is, and others do too, I must be doing something right.