Saving Etta - Backyard Transformation

Saving Etta Update: The Backyard Transformation

This has to be one of the biggest transformations (besides the demolition and framing) at the Saving Etta project! The backyard was an unruly mess of vines, overgrown shrubs, and weeds. I resisted the urge to do any landscaping until all the crews were finished outside. No sense in spending any time on landscaping when it would get messed up by trucks, equipment, and foot traffic.

While construction was going on, the yard took a beating. One week the demolition guys were pulling the dump truck into the yard to fill up with the debris. The next week an excavator dug the crawlspace and hauled the rest of the dirt to the back of the lot. Then we used the yard as a staging area for building supplies. Plus it doubled as extra parking on days when we had more than one crew on site. Over time most of the grass was gone and I probably picked up 4,532 random nails and screws littered in the yard. Needless to say, it was a mess by the time exterior construction was done.

The Backyard Transformation

On a particularly beautiful fall weekend, Pretty Handsome Guy (aka my husband) and I decided to plan a family yard work day at the house. We’ve tried to involve our boys in as much of the process as possible. We agreed to pay them for their time after the house sells. This seems to have been the incentive it took to get two teen boys off their devices and out for a yard work day.

Although there was a lot to do, I felt confident we could knock out a big chunk of work, especially using the power tools my friends at STIHL sent me. When I approached STIHL about being a Saving Etta sponsor, I assured them we’d have plenty of landscaping and yard work to showcase their new battery-powered line of tools. To be completely honest, I was a little skeptical of the power behind battery-powered vs. gas-powered equipment. But after trying the tools, I was thrilled with their performance. These STIHL tools have quickly become my favorite yard tools for the Saving Etta project AND at my own home.

STIHL battery powered tools: mower, blower, hedge trimmer, and chainsaw

Before they were delivered I had the privilege to try a lot of the STIHL gas and battery tools at the STIHL headquarters in Virginia Beach.

brittany trying chain saw

Joining me were a bunch of other badass builders, like April from Wilker Dos and Sarah from Ugly Duckling House. It was invigorating hanging out with other like-minded women who have figured out how to build and DIY their homes one project at a time. (See, you can do it too!)

women of Stihl event

During the event, we got to try all the new STIHL power tools. The STIHL battery-powered yard tools were definitely a hit from the start. Most of the attendees found them less intimidating. Plus, the tools were lighter weight and easier to handle.

Three Series of STIHL tools to meet your yard work needs:

The AP Series is designed for professional landscapers and people that use the tools on a daily basis on a variety of different properties. The battery has a longer run time, but also weighs the most of all the STIHL batteries.

The AK series handles the yard work of a typical suburban homeowner. The batteries have a slightly shorter run time, but the battery isn’t as heavy (a good thing for those of us who don’t lift weights on a daily basis.)

The AI series is perfect for small yards and quick clean up tasks. The AI tools plug in to charge (no external batteries.) The trimmer, leaf blower, and hedge trimmer would work well for small yards or town homes. Because there is no external battery, they are the lightest weight of the battery tools STIHL offers. The trade off is battery life is shorter than the AK or AP series.

Here’s what I love about the STIHL battery-powered AK series yard equipment:

The tools STIHL sent me are all within the AK series, so I’ll share what I love about them specifically. All the AK tools use the same batteries. Which means you don’t have to store a bunch of random batteries for each tool (although the chainsaw and mower need the AK 20 or higher battery to run for any length of time.)

battery powered STIHL yard tools all run on same battery

Speaking of longevity, there are three different AK batteries (the AK10, AK20, and AK30), with the 10 having the shortest run time and the 30 the longest run times.

In contrast to the gas-powered tools, the AK battery-powered tools are much quieter. In particular, this appeals to me most when it comes to the leaf blowers. I happen to live in a neighborhood filled with big tree-filled lots. I wish all my neighbors had the BGA 56 battery-powered leaf blower, because my Saturday and Sunday mornings would be a lot more peaceful in the fall. The unmistakable high-pitched leaf blower whine is constant in our ‘hood come September – December (and sometimes well into springtime.)

Despite my dislike of noise, my biggest pet peeve about gas-powered lawn equipment is the odor that sticks to your clothes after doing yard work. Guess what! With battery-powered tools there is no gas or stinky fumes to make you smell bad! Plus, there’s no need to keep a plethora of gas cans around for the tools that require a different ratio of gas to oil (and I can’t ever remember which tool uses which ratio.) Personally, I’d love to get rid of all our gas cans in the garage. (Something about keeping a highly flammable liquid in a room attached to our house has always made me nervous.)

Did you know a battery-powered landscape tool can save you time? It’s true because you don’t need to winterize your battery-powered tools before the cold weather sets in.  And if you want to get technical, when your battery runs low, you can charge it while taking a quick little break. This saves time driving to the nearest gas station to fill up your gas can.

Finally, let’s talk about weight. No, not the holiday cookie weight I put on in December! The STIHL battery-powered tools weigh less than their gas-powered relatives. The mower was my personal favorite because it was so lightweight I could lift it into the truck by myself on days I needed to mow Etta’s front lawn. This was such a life saver since most of the time I was working solo at the house.

A little more about the STIHL AK tools I tried:

STIHL BGA 56 Battery-Powered Leaf Blower

  • STIHL BGA 56 Battery-Powered Leaf Blower: This is by far the lightest leaf blower I’ve tried (I’ve used two other brands, one was a gas-powered and one was another battery-powered leaf blower.) The gripping handle is in the perfect spot to automatically keep the blower balanced during use. This blower has plenty of power for moving leaves (both dry and wet.) One thing I noticed recently, is there is no vibration to tire your wrists (I can’t say that about our gas blower.) My teen sons love using this blower too, especially because it is lightweight. And as I mentioned before, the noise is definitely less than a gas-powered blower.

STIHL HSA 56 Battery-Powered Hedge Trimmer

  • STIHL HSA 56 Battery-Powered Hedge Trimmer: This trimmer packs quite a punch; in fact most of the skinny tree sprouts and thicker branches were easily cut by it. The HSA 56 made quick work of pruning and tackling the vines growing over the bushes. Noise and weight are both much less than a comparable gas hedge trimmer. And as I mentioned above, no gas, no mixing ratio, and easy to store for the winter!

STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ Battery-Powered Chain Saw

  • STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ Battery-Powered Chain Saw: We have a rule in our house that if a tree is too big for a small chainsaw, then we shouldn’t be cutting it down ourselves. The STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ Chain Saw is perfect for the homeowner who wants to take down some spindly trees or low branches. It has enough power to get through some small hardwood trees on our lot. I loved using the chainsaw to break down large limbs to a manageable length for curbside yard waste pick up. It also came in handy when the lumber delivery forklift couldn’t get past a low limb. 

STIHL RMA 460 Battery-Powered Mowe

  • STIHL RMA 460 Battery-Powered Mower: As I mentioned above, this is a surprisingly lightweight mower and yet it doesn’t disappoint when it came to mowing an overgrown jungle. After our summer vacation, I came back to knee high grass at the Saving Etta house. I wasn’t sure the mower would be able to handle it, but it cut through the grass with no problem. My husband has been cutting lawns since he was a teenager, so you can imagine the side-eyed look he gave me when I told him I thought he might like this battery-powered mower. One day I caught him trying it, and he told me he liked it. The one caveat is if you have a yard larger than about 1/3 of an acre, you may need a few extra batteries to replace when the first runs out. Of course it all depends on your lot size and mowing conditions. You might want to talk to your local dealer to find the mower that’s best for you. As a baseline, our lot is 1/2 an acre and mostly wooded, but we do have a fair amount of grass. The mower makes it through our lawn mowing on one AK30 battery charge. If we did run out, it’s not a big deal since we typically have one battery charging while the other is in use.

Although this post is sponsored by STIHL, I have to be totally honest when I tell you: We are in love with the STIHL battery-powered yard and lawn tools! If you were my neighbor, you’d see this to be true. We are frequently out in our yard using these pretty orange and white tools.

STIHL battery powered tools: mower, blower, hedge trimmer, and chainsaw

Now that you know a bit more about the STIHL tools I was using at the Saving Etta project (trying to SAVE the backyard); let me show you the transformation!

The Overgrown Mess of a Backyard:

Over the summer a healthy crop of weeds and brush took over most of the yard. After exterior construction was done, my husband and I loaded the boys into my truck and headed downtown. Luckily the weather was sunny and cool because it was a full day affair. Here’s the video of our work day:

By the end of the day we had cleared back at least 10 feet from each side of the yard and created three huge piles of yard waste.

piles of brush for yard waste

After removing the brush piles, the trailer, and leftover construction materials, we added some adirondack chairs and hung the porch swing I built using pallet wood. Isn’t this a peaceful scene? I could sit out on the swing for hours and take in the scenery.

fall colored trees in saving etta backyard

We staged the fire pit area on top of the old shed concrete pad. I decided to leave the pad should the homeowners want to build a shed in the future. Without a garage, a shed would be a good place to store additional yard equipment.

yellow adirondack chairs around fire pit

Or they might continue to enjoy it as a little patio and fire pit.

adirondack chairs around fire pit on old shed concrete pad

Hope you enjoy the rest of the before and after photos.


before backyard transformation with trailer and dirt hill

overgrown bushes back side of yard


backyard after transformation view toward privacy fence

My favorite view of the backyard can be seen from the upstairs bedroom window.

two story side of house backyard transformed

It helps when the black Plygem Mira windows frame the view so nicely!

backyard view through windows


view from upstairs window before landscaping


view from upstairs bedroom window of yard with tree swing and adirondack chairds


back of saving etta house before landscaping


back deck transformation and landscaping

Adding a deck off the back of the house really extended the living area. I had always envisioned a little bistro set outside the master bedroom.

back deck outside master bedroom with blue chairs and landscaping

lovely photo of deck and low landscaping plants around deck

If I lived here I’d spend mornings sitting out there with a cup of coffee enjoying the view.

beauty shot of camellia bush and mums outside master bedroom


before backyard transformation


after view of backyard with straw and pine straw

after view of landscaped saving etta yard

If you have a keen eye, you may have noticed all the big rocks in the landscaping.

pile of pier stones ready for reuse

These were the pier stones from under the original 1900 portion of the house. The mortar between them had crumbled to dust and some weren’t offering any stable support to the house. Instead of hauling them away, I decided to keep them to incorporate into the landscaping.

three pier stones from original house used as landscaping rocks

This one with the stripe on it is my favorite. If I lived here I’d have to give it a name, like “spot!”

new foundation bushes by back deck

Isn’t it amazing how much this yard has been transformed? It feels so private and secluded despite being within walking distance to downtown Raleigh.

view from back yard at saving etta house

A few weeks later, with the help of lots of rain in North Carolina, the grass blades started coming up!

grass growing in backyard at Saving Etta project
I hope you enjoyed seeing the backyard transformation. What do you think? Do you dream of a yard this big and beautiful?

I can’t thank the folks at STIHL enough for helping make this construction site into a dream yard. If you need to upgrade yard equipment (or buy your first yard tools), I highly recommend the STIHL battery-powered yard equipment. They are a joy to use and more environmentally friendly than gas-powered tools. You should check out the STIHL equipment at a retailer near you.

The Backyard Transformation

Disclosure: STIHL is a Saving Etta (and Pretty Handy Girl) sponsor. I was provided with STIHL tools and safety equipment to makeover the Saving Etta yard. In addition, I was provided with an expense paid trip to visit STIHL headquarters. I was not told what to write. All opinions and words are my own. I will always let you know if you are reading a sponsored post. 

Want to know the basics principles for landscaping? Read this article I wrote to learn how to give your yard a mini (or mega) makeover yourself:

Landscaping 101: Tools, Planting, and Adding Color to your Landscaping | Pretty Handy Girl

Get ready for the tutorial I’ve been anxious to share with you. Ever since completing the Saving Etta front porch project, I find myself taking breaks to glance out the window at these gorgeous flat sawn baluster railings. Now I get to teach you how to make these decorative railings for your home!

How to Build Flat Sawn Baluster Railings

Anyone who has strolled around a historic neighborhood has probably seen beautiful porches with decorative cut out railings. The patterned slats are referred to as flat sawn balusters. And they are simple enough to create if you have a pattern or can design your own. There are many different shapes and patterns of flat sawn balusters, all you have to do is use Google or Pinterest to find a style for inspiration.

key-west-flat-sawn-baluster-front-porch-pink-doorThis is one of those beautiful architectural features I knew I wanted to use for the front porch at the Saving Etta house. Downtown Raleigh is filled with historic houses that have beautiful old flat sawn balusters. From the moment I laid eyes on the Saving Etta house, I knew the old metal railing would have to go.

Not only were they a safety hazard (some were barely attached), but they also looked dinky. If you remember, during the framing process, we decided the original porch couldn’t be salvaged. It was removed and subsequently we rebuilt a new one in the exact same shape, size, footprint, and ceiling height of the original. This left us with an “open concept” front porch for several months until it was time to add the railings and porch ceiling.

As I designed the new railings, I knew a composite, metal, or vinyl railing wouldn’t look right on a house built in 1900. Therefore, I chose to use real wood for the railings and balusters. To insure the railings would last for decades, I chose pressure treated Southern Yellow Pine lumber.

(This is a sponsored post for Wood It’s Real.)
You may recall that Wood It’s Real is a proud sponsor of the Saving Etta project.

Wood It's Real Website

Building Code Requirements for Railings:

Before I teach you how to create flat sawn baluster railings, we need to talk about current building codes and historic houses (and where the two don’t meet.) Building codes in the US state that if your porch floor is 30 inches or more off the ground, you must have a railing at least 36 inches high. This can be an issue if you want your historic house to look historically accurate. (You may find this article about proportions and railing heights interesting.) If Etta had her original railings, they probably would have been 24″ high and could have been grandfathered in. Because we were starting new, I had to adhere to current building codes. In addition, spacing between balusters must be less than 4 inches apart to meet current building codes.

Before building the new railings, I drew up a design in SketchUp to share with the building inspector. I created a simple diamond cut out that pays homage to Etta’s diamond shape attic vents. This design was a simpler pattern to cut compared to many of the authentic victorian flat sawn balusters. Lucky for us, this design would save time, (and it would have less elements to deviate from the current building codes.)

I was still concerned about the diamond width since it would be wider than 4 inches. To make sure my railings would meet final inspection, I emailed the above drawing to our local building inspector for his opinion. Luckily, he approved my drawings, stating that the diamonds were high enough a child would have difficulty getting their head stuck, and the majority of the spacing was much less than 4 inches wide. (Remember, it’s important to check with your local building official before you build anything that might not meet code. Ultimately each inspector may have a different interpretation of the local building codes.)

Once I had the inspector’s approval it was time to start building. Ready to learn how to make your own flat sawn baluster railings? Great, let’s get building!

How to Build Flat Sawn Baluster Railings

(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

Lumber per Railing Section:

  • 3 – 2″ x 6″ x (width between your posts)
  • 4 – 1″ x 2″ x (width between your posts)
  • *1″ x 6″ x 24″ boards for your balusters (figure out how many balusters you need to create a symmetrical pattern between the posts)
  • *1″ x 2″ x 24″ boards to place between the 1″ x 6″ balusters

* You’ll need to figure out your railing length and decide how much lumber you’ll need for your balusters.



Gather your supplies, set up on a workbench or two saw horses.

Cutting Flat Sawn Balusters:

If you want to use the same proportions I designed in the drawing above, use 24″ tall balusters. To save time, layer two 1″ x 6″ pieces of pressure treated SYP (Southern Yellow Pine) on top of one another and cut all the balusters to length.

Make a quick diamond shaped template out of a piece of cardboard and laid it on top of two balusters side-by-side. Once you are happy with the size and shape (approximately 6″ tall), stack your two balusters and cut the triangle shape out of them. It’s quickest to stack the two balusters on top of one another and cut the shape with a circular saw. It’s okay if the saw doesn’t cut completely into the corner of the shape. We’ll take care of that next.

Use your jigsaw to finish cutting into the corner. You may be wondering why we didn’t use only the jigsaw to cut the shapes out. Pressure-treated Southern Yellow Pine is a much stronger wood than your typical pine lumber. The jigsaw takes longer to cut through the lumber. A circular saw makes quicker and straighter cuts into the wood. Of course feel free to use the tools you feel comfortable using.

Assembling the Railing:

Cut three 2″ x 6″ boards to the width between the porch columns. Level and secure the bottom rail 4″ above your deck floor using 2 ½” deck screws. Measure 24″ from the bottom rail. (Approximately 30″ from the floor.) Level and secure your next horizontal rail at this height using two deck screws on each end. Secure the top rail at 36″ above the porch floor.

Cut four 1″ x 2″ boards the same length as your rails. You’ll need them to hold your balusters in place.

Laying Out the Baluster Pattern:

Before you begin securing the balusters, figure out your spacing. We chose to use 1×2 balusters in between the flat sawn balusters. This will give you more flexibility with your layout. (When you look at the finished railing, you’ll notice we finished the ends with two 1×2 balusters where we didn’t have enough room to fit a set of 1×6 flat balusters.) I’m not going to pretend laying out the spacing is easy. You may decide to use math to figure it out or start laying out your pattern using the cut balusters and pencil marks.

Once you determine your layout, lay two 1×2 boards (cut to the width of bottom and middle rails above) side-by-side and mark the location of the balusters and spaces onto them. This will help keep the balusters lined up on the top and bottom and prevent a mix up with your pattern.

Measure the center of the bottom 2″ x 6″ rail. Measure 3/8″ out from the center mark. Using finish nails, secure one 1″ x 2″ board to the bottom rail on the outside of the 3/8″ mark. Repeat the process and add a second 1″ x 2″ board on the underside of the middle rail. These will help hold your flat balusters in place vertically.

Starting in the middle, set two 1×6 diamond cut out balusters in place. Secure with finish nails through the 1×2 supports. Work your way toward one side and then the other.

Secure the other 1×2 boards to the bottom and middle rails to “sandwich” the balusters.

Here’s a look at our railings fully assembled.

Finally, measure the space between the bottom rail and the decking. Cut a support block out of the 2″ x 6″ leftover lumber. Measure the space between the top and middle rail. Cut a second block from the 2″ x 6″ lumber. (If your railing span is five feet or less, you might be able to skip the blocking. Spans longer than 10 feet might require additional blocking to keep the railings from bowing.) Attach the blocking with trim nails or screws.

Here’s Etta’s new flat sawn baluster railings. They look good, but definitely need paint.

Finishing the Flat Sawn Baluster Railings:

Sand any rough edges on your railing. Caulk all screw and nail holes. Caulk all seams, but you don’t need to caulk where the flat sawn balusters rest against the four supports.

Allow the caulk to cure, then prime the railings and porch posts. Finish up by painting them the color of your choice (although personally I prefer a nice crisp Magnolia Home True White.)

The porch floor received two coats of semi-transparent Sherwin Williams Banyan Brown deck stain to protect it from the elements.

As if you couldn’t tell how excited I am about the final results, enjoy a few more shots of the finished project!

The angled railings, were created by cutting the appropriate angle for the balusters. Then we used a line to mark the location for the diamond cut outs. As you can see below, having 1×2 balusters in the mix allowed us to fill in space too narrow for a set of 1×6 balusters.

If were wondering about the colors I chose for Etta’s exterior, you can find them here. (The porch ceiling was recently painted Sherwin Williams Tidewater. It’s the perfect Southern porch ceiling color in my humble opinion.)

Because I get asked this question all the time, the rain chains are from Amazon. They work in place of standard gutters. The water flows down the cups and fills a small round bowl filled with Mexican beach pebbles. I have holes in the bottom of the bowl, but I also tipped it to spill excess water into the yard.

The Saving Etta house is looking amazing from the street. We’re closing in on the finish line!

Do you like the flat sawn balusters? Think you could use them on your own porch or deck?

If you liked this project, you might want to see some of the other deck, porch, and outdoor living projects on the Wood It’s Real website!

wood its real website - plans and ideas

Disclosure: This post is a sponsored post for Wood It’s Real. It was written as part of their sponsorship of the Saving Etta project. I was not told what to write. All words and opinions are my own. I am very particular about the brands I work with, and only partner with companies that provide quality materials and/or services.

Learn how you can make simple electrical upgrades to your home. Today I’ll show you how to install an outlet that charges your USB devices and powers your appliances at the same time.

How to Install USB Charging Outlets

How to Install a USB Charging Outlet

I’m so excited to share this tutorial with you. Anyone who has a tablet, mobile phone, or other USB connected device will love this tutorial! How many times have you combed through your house for the plug to the cord for your device? I think I lost count how many times those little square plugs have eluded me. But, today they can stay hidden forever! I don’t need them now that I discovered How Easy it is to Install a USB Charging Outlet! As one of the Saving Etta sponsors, Leviton sent me several USB charging outlets to install in the house. (Spoiler Alert: I’ll be sharing some photos of the finished Saving Etta project. If you want to wait for the progress posts, go ahead and avert your eyes.) My electrician and I installed the outlets in strategic places where the homeowners would likely want to charge their USB devices.

Each bedroom received at least two outlets on either side of where a bed might be positioned.

usb charging outlet next to bedside table in master bedroom

The kitchen has a few on the counters…

white usb charging outlet on white subway wall open shelving

…and one in the island (in a matching gray color.)

gray usb charging outlet in gray island cabinets

The upstairs bedroom has a few more, especially under the little built-in desk between the closets. This is the perfect spot to sit and work while enjoying the view out the window.

vintage typewriter on desk by window between closets

Are you ready to learn how to install your own Leviton USB Charging Outlet in your home? It’s easy and takes about ten minutes to complete. Grab these few tools and let’s get busy.


(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

materials for installing outlets

Required Safety Instruction:

Turn off the power to the outlet you are working on. Check the outlet with a voltage tester. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend putting a night light or light in the outlet and turn it on. Then shut off the circuit at your circuit breaker and check to see that the light has gone out.

How to Repair Your Dishwasher - Control Panel Replacement

Ok, now that you have all of your materials and the power is off, you’re ready to go. To see how to install this USB charging outlet watch this step-by-step video tutorial below. It also shows you how to install the outlet it if you are starting with a new construction junction box.

If you need to remove your old outlet, you can follow the directions in this post on replacing an ugly old outlet.

Now that you are finished, aren’t you feeling proud of yourself? Taking on a simple electrical project like swapping out an outlet is super simple. I hope you’re motivated to make more electrical upgrades in your home!

For example, why not learn how to install a smart dimmer switch you can control with your phone or with a voice-activated device like Alexa or Google Home!

How to Install Smart Dimmer Switches

Gotta run now, I’m still finishing up some last punch list items at the Saving Etta house. While I work, it’s been nice having the ability to plug in my phone to charge while listening to my Pandora stations!

iphone charging by bedside usb charging outlet

Visit the Leviton website for more information, installation instructions, and where to buy devices from Leviton’s residential product family.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Leviton. I was compensated for my time and efforts to promote the Leviton Residential products. However, all ideas and opinions are my own. I will always let you know when you are reading a sponsored post. You should also note that I’m very particular about the brands I work with.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Oh my goodness, I just realized I never shared the Saving Etta kitchen mood board with you! Well, I guess it’s a bit late for this, but here you go:

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Inspiration Sources:

Kitchen Design Image from Regan Baker Design’s Lake District Revival

Stainless Steel Hood by Broan

4″ x 12″ Subway Tiles by Jeffrey Court for Home Depot

Morley 4 Light Island Light Fixture

Not shown, were open shelving I planned to install on the full tile wall to the left of the window. What I was really digging is the painted island in navy. About a week after I created this mood board, I was stopped in my tracks by this photo from my friends Katelyn & Uriah, at The Inspiring Investment.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

I immediately messaged Katelyn to ask if the cabinets they used on their LaRancharita flip was navy or was I just dreaming? She replied “YES!” (If you aren’t following The Inspiring Investment on Instagram, you need to. Katelyn and Uriah are local flippers who I love to watch!) By now I was smitten and determined to use a similar color in Etta’s kitchen. As you may know, I’m certainly no stranger to using color in a kitchen. You may recall that my own kitchen cabinets are a pretty minty blue.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

The Decision Process:

I began hunting for stock navy cabinets to purchase but was coming up blank. If you’re wondering why I didn’t purchase custom cabinets, here’s why:

  • For my own kitchen, I didn’t mind paying the extra fee for a custom color. For a flip, I have a tighter budget.
  • Going with a custom color might not appeal to as many potential buyers. (Remember my front door color dilemma?)
  • Ordering custom painted cabinets can add weeks to the timeline.
  • Hunting down a manufacturer that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for custom colors is time consuming.

Ultimately, time and budget played a huge role in ditching the idea of using navy cabinets (insert sad emoji face.) This was my mood when I found myself at Cabinets To Go (not sponsored). By this time I was ready to order cabinets and be done with it. But, first I needed to make sure the cabinet quality was up to my standards.

I pulled out all the drawers and inspected them. Dovetail construction on all drawers: check. Then I tested the drawers and doors. They all had soft close slides and hinges: check. But, the final inspection these cabinets had to pass could be a deal breaker. Having been through a major unplanned kitchen renovation. because cabinets were ruined by water, has changed the way I choose cabinets forever. I looked at the inside of the Cabinets To Go cabinets and was pleased to see plywood boxes: check.

Next it was time to choose the cabinet style. I was resigned to the fact that I couldn’t get navy cabinets (although I did ask.) As a distant second choice, I decided to look for a neutral gray cabinet as a safe choice. These were the first cabinets I looked at, but ultimately I didn’t like all the molding profiles and dark wax look. I needed something a little more updated for a younger buyer.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

On the opposite end of the style scale were these glossy modern cabinets. They are sleek and sexy, but I was craving a modern farmhouse style for Etta (I don’t think she’d want to flaunt her sex appeal at her age.)

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Finally, I settled on a simple shaker style cabinet. The “platinum grey” color was exactly what I was looking for to appeal to a variety of home buyers.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

After meeting my high standards, I braced for the total price. Luckily I was eligible for a contractor discount and paid about $3,000 for all the cabinets. I put down my deposit and was told I could pick up the flat-packed and un-assembled cabinets in about two weeks. I could have paid an additional $1500 for assembly and installation, but I figured this was a good place to save some money.

Assembling Cabinets:

After the wood floors were installed, I was anxious to pick up the cabinets. My good friend Holly, a fellow renovator and local realtor, offered to help me with assembly. Little did I know how incredibly grateful I would be for her offer. As we unpacked the cabinets from the boxes, she looked at the instruction sheet briefly and said, “Perfect! These are just like the ones we assembled for our rental house.” With her experience in assembling cabinets, I let her take charge. Before long we had assembled the majority of the cabinets.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Honest Opinion of Cabinets to Go Cabinets:

One of the last cabinets to assemble was the corner lazy Susan cabinet. If you purchase this cabinet from Cabinets to Go, throw away the instruction sheet because it is useless! Watch this video to see how to assemble it.

I want to take a minute to let you know my honest opinion of the Cabinets To Go quality. For the price, I was pleased with them. But, for my own home, I would definitely want something with stronger construction. The flat packed cabinets have a finicky turning lock nut (think IKEA furniture construction) that hold the panels together. It took some finagling to get some of them to line up correctly. But, ultimately they seem to assemble tight together. Only time will tell if they hold up to regular use.

Hanging Wall Cabinets:

About a week after cabinet assembly, I was finally able to get a helper to assist me while hanging cabinets. My husband, aka Pretty Handsome Guy, offered to take the day off work to help me get the cabinets installed. You may remember his skill set from this popular tutorial on fixing common gift wrap problems. I still get a good laugh from his first guest post on the blog. Although he’s not handy, he does a great job holding things and handing things to me. I am truly grateful for his help.

We started by securing level ledger boards to the wall to rest the wall cabinets onto. Then we started with the corner wall cabinet.  You’d never want to work your way into the corner because walls are harder to move than cabinets. Know what I mean?

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Next, we installed the two cabinets flanking the corner cabinet. Each cabinet was secured with multiple screws into the studs and then secured to the cabinet next to it.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Luckily, we only had three upper cabinets to hang. This certainly made our first cabinet installation job a snap. After the wall cabinets were secured, we removed the ledger board. The holes in the wall would be easy to patch, but I knew I’d be tiling over them.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Next we assembled the fridge cabinet and secured the side walls to the cabinet on the floor before lifting it upright and securing it to the wall. If you decide to try this method of attaching the cabinet walls, make sure your ceiling is tall enough to accommodate the cabinet at a diagonal when you lift the cabinet upright. We had no issues because Etta’s ceilings are nine feet tall.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Hanging the wall and fridge cabinets took most of our time that first day. The next day I worked solo installing the base cabinets and assembling the island. There was a fair amount of leveling and shimming to get them all level. Unfortunately one cabinet had to be trimmed on the base where the floor had a hump in it. I mistakenly thought the new construction portion of the house would be perfectly flat and level—I was wrong.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

The last step in the cabinet install was to build a base for the two wall cabinets designated for the back side of the island. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of that step. You’ll forgive me right?

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

The island cabinets were eventually secured to one another and secured in place with shoe moulding around the base. Tomorrow I’ll show you a little something special I added to the island. If you have USB devices (and who doesn’t these days), you’re going to love it!

What do you think of the gray color? Is it a safer choice, or should I have looked longer for navy cabinets? Stay tuned for more Saving Etta updates!

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Saving Etta: Why I Couldn’t Save the Original 1900 Wood Floors

The day I realized I couldn’t save Etta’s original wood floors was one of the roughest days during the demolition phase. By then we discovered that most of the flooring in the north bedroom was too water damaged to reuse. The floors in the south bedroom were in better shape, but they were covered with a glue down linoleum flooring.

Sadly there wasn’t a sure fire way to tell if they would be salvageable after removal of the linoleum. I decided to proceed with demolition and try to salvage as much of the wood floor as I could. But during demolition almost every board we pulled up cracked and splintered as we freed them from the floor joists. Because there was no subfloor, the wood had been exposed to the crawlspace for more than 100 years. Time had taken a toll on them, and they were officially shot. After assessing the situation with the flooring, it became clear that the original wood floors weren’t salvageable. I may have cried a fair amount as I watched them being piled up for trash.

This next picture is hard to look at. If you can’t stand seeing antique hardwood floors being destroyed, look away my friend …look away.

Before they were hauled away, I grabbed as many boards as I could fit in my truck (hoping to be able to use them on another project.) For now, those planks are stored away in my garage.

What I Chose Instead:

Fast forward several weeks and I contacted Impressions Hardwood Collection, a local flooring distributor, about being a Saving Etta sponsor. I explained to them my predicament and they graciously invited me to their local office to see the samples of their flooring. With so many beautiful options to choose from, I knew it would be hard to make a decision. But, I brought two pieces of salvaged flooring from Etta to try to find something that would be fitting of a house built in 1900.

As I began looking through all the beautiful samples, two stood out from the rows of new shiny wood flooring. I pulled them and saw that they were both from the Elegance series. The grain on the wood was beautiful and the finish was almost an imperceptible flat finish.

Chris explained to me that the Elegance series is wire brushed to enhance the grain and it has a low luster finish.

I was instantly in love with the Elegance flooring because it looked old, not shiny or new.

Both the wheat and flint colors looked similar to Etta’s original flooring. Ultimately, I chose the Flint color (the darker of the two) because it has that dark aged wood look. I could not be happier with this decision. Suddenly, what had been a dark cloud over the flooring loss, became a silver lining after discovering this beautiful solid wood flooring. As a bonus, I was thrilled to be partnering with a local family-owned flooring distributor who offers quality flooring to their customers.

Wood Flooring  Installation:

As you know from the last Saving Etta update, the tile floors were being installed while the Elegance Series wood floors acclimated to the house. Why is this important? Impressions Hardwood has a great blog post explaining why you don’t install wood floors right after delivery.

After the delivery of the flooring, I couldn’t wait to rip open the boxes and gaze on them.

After ten days (and after the tile floors were in), it was finally time to install these beauties! I hired a local flooring contractor to install the wood floors and they did a phenomenal job.

Of course, I had to resist the urge to clean off those sawdust foot prints until the job was complete.

Pretty impressive when the living room view transitioned from this:

to this in a few days:

I leave you to drool over these beautiful photos of the Impressions Hardwood Collection Elegance Series solid wood flooring in Flint stain color.

They look so good against the vintage hex tiles! Both look like they could be original to the house, right?!

But, hey, look here! They go great with modern tiles too!

And this photo legit makes my heart skip a beat! The new floors with the original pine door from 1900. I can’t handle how gorgeous they look together (even though people will talk, saying that door is a cougar and way too old for that young handsome floor. LOL.)

Are you in love with these solid wood floors? Can you forgive me for having to ditch the original floors? Have you seen all the other flooring options Impressions Hardwood Collection has to choose from?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Impressions Hardwood Collection in exchange for their sponsorship of the Saving Etta project. I was not told what to write. All opinions and ideas are my own. As always, I am very particular about the brands I choose to work with. You will always be notified if you are reading a sponsored post. 

Saving Etta: Floor Tile Update

Saving Etta: Tile Flooring Update

Welcome back to another Saving Etta update! If you’re just joining, this is another progress report on my efforts to save a house built in 1900. The finish line is looming close, so be on the lookout for more updates to come. To get the back story and learn more about the Saving Etta project, you may want to start from the beginning.

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

I’ve been dying to share the tiling update, because this is one of my favorite finishing materials to select. But, before tile installation, we completed a few tasks after the drywall installation update. All the walls were primed and sanded.

Then I had a lull in subcontractors on site, so I started painting some of the walls myself (and with the help of some friends) while we had none of the final flooring in. While this may have seemed like a good idea at the time, in the future I’ll wait until after the floors and trim are installed to paint. The first reason was I lost my painting subcontractors after they completed the priming and sanding. They moved on to another job and I never could get them back. Then there was a lot of touch up work needed after the flooring and trim carpenters finished. This meant I had to ask my interior painters to do a lot more touch up work than normal. All this to say that I have a new motto: “Vive y aprende.” Or Live and Learn. (Working with a fair amount of hispanic subcontractors has been great for boning up on my Spanish vocabulary!)

While I painted, I mulled over the benefits of hiring a tile installer versus laying the tiles myself. Originally I wanted to host workshops to teach local readers how to tile. Unfortunately, as the weather began to cool off, it became clear that I was running out of time to finish this house. I chose to outsource tile installation in the bathrooms and mudroom. But decided to install the laundry room tile and kitchen backsplash myself. I’m so glad I chose to hire a tile setter for the bathrooms. Not only did it save time, but he discovered potential issues that I wouldn’t have caught.

As soon as I could schedule the tile installation, I put it on my calendar and then scheduled the wood floor delivery during the week of tile install so the wood floors could acclimate in the house. Installing tile before wood floors made sense because wood is a lot easier to cut and manipulate than tile. But, it’s still important to account for the finished height of the wood flooring to eliminate a variety of floor heights (some variation is inevitable, but you can try to minimize the differences if you plan ahead.) With this in mind, we had to choose a variety of underlayment (backer board and uncoupling mat) thicknesses depending on each floor tile thickness. Most of the rooms we used 1/2″ PermaBase for the underlayment. But, the laundry room tile was extra thick and the only solution was to use an uncoupling mat which is thinner than any cement backer board I could find. (Here’s the full tutorial on how to install cement tiles!)

Installing uncoupling mat in laundry room

Now that you’re up to speed, ready to see the tiles I chose for the floors? Great, because I can’t wait to show you! Before we continue, I need to tell you that I worked with two generous tile material sponsors. These companies believed in my mission to save a historic house and graciously agreed to send me materials for the Saving Etta project.

While at Haven two years ago, I was introduced to Jeffrey Court’s Home Depot product line of tiles. They have a great variety of tiles for all different styles. Because I wanted to stay true to the historic nature of this 1900 house, I chose small vintage hex tiles for two of the bathrooms.

Downstair’s Bathroom Before:

The tubs for the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms were recommended by a designer at Wilkinson Plumbing Supply. They are a Bootz brand tub that is fiberglass but has a coating to make it feel like cast iron. I like how they sound like cast iron when you knock on them. They are also supposed to hold heat better than a standard fiberglass tub. The Bootz tubs are as lightweight as fiberglass and also lighter on your budget!

The shampoo niches I used are from here. The window over the tub is another Plygem Mira window with obscure glass. In hindsight, I wish I had ordered two more obscure glass windows for the other bathrooms. Instead, I installed some privacy film to cover those windows. (I’ll be sharing about this process in a later blog post.)

downstairs bathroom pre-tile

And now, I’m excited to show you the floor tiles we installed in that downstairs shared bathroom!

Downstairs Bathroom Floor Tile:

black stripes in small white hex tile field on bathroom floor

Don’t you love those stripes? I worked with my tile installer to create a striped pattern using Jeffrey Court Gardenia and Black Out Porcelain Mosaic Hex Tiles.

Jeffrey Court Small White and Black hex tiles in bathroom

Since this is a shared bathroom, I wanted it to have a basic unisex feel. Ultimately, I love how the stripes look like a rug on the bathroom floor. Apparently so does everyone else because we get lots of compliments on this floor.

Upstairs Bathroom Before:

The upstairs bathroom also has a tub, but this bathroom has two exterior walls. This meant we couldn’t install a shampoo niche because we had to leave room for insulation in the walls instead.

upstairs-bathroom pre tile

Remember how the downstairs bathroom has a unisex style? Well, this bathroom was my chance to insert some femininity into the design!

Upstairs Bathroom Floor Tile:

I still used the vintage hex tiles, but added a flowery look using Jeffrey Court Floral Terrace Mosaic Tiles.

Floral Terrace small hex tiles installed in bathroom

My tile installer was so thankful the flower pattern comes pre-assembled. He told me, he’s had to pick out and place the flowers in hex tiles on other jobs and that it’s a tedious task. Kudos to Jeffrey Court for making his job easier (and going easier on my budget.)

Jeffrey Court Tiles Floral Terrace on Bathroom Floor

Master Bathroom Before:

The master bathroom is the only room with a stand up shower. This meant I needed to coordinate the floor tile with the shower floor tile and wall tiles. (I’m going to keep you in the dark on those other tile choice for now, but stay tuned!)

master bathroom pre-tile

Ready to see this amazing floor? I’m so in love with this tile that I plan on using it in my own master bathroom.

Master Bathroom Floor Tile:

Check out this stunning tile from The Builder Depot. The official name of it is: Carrara Venato Polished Hexagon Nero Strip Marble Mosaic Tile, but I prefer “the most stunning hexagon tile I’ve ever laid eyes on!”

Beautiful marble outlined black white hex tiles in master bathroom

I fell in love with this tile when I saw it in one of our local tile showrooms, but the price was way out of my budget. When I saw my friends at the Builder Depot had it in their selection, I jumped on it immediately.

The Builder Depot Carrara Venato Hexagon Nero Strip Marble Mosaic Tile installed on bathroom floor

Aren’t you in love with that hexagon tile?

Laundry Room Before:

Long before I bought the Saving Etta house, I’ve longed to use black and white cement tiles somewhere.

laundry room pre tiling

Luckily, this laundry room presented the perfect spot to showcase Avington Tiles from The Builder Depot. Before you rush over to order all the cement tiles they carry, I need to warn you there is a bit more labor involved to install them. In particular, you have to seal them thoroughly before you can grout. This could mean 5-6 coats of sealant before it is no longer porous. (Here’s all the information you need to know about cement tiles and how to properly install them.)

Avington Cement Tiles laid in laundry room

I was glad I chose to personally lay this tile, because it took a little more time during installation. This freed up my tile installers to finish the bathroom floors, mudroom, and to start on the tub and shower surround tiling.

Black & White Avington Cement Tiles in Laundry Room

Mudroom Before:

This is the room that gave me the biggest challenge design-wise. That chimney you see in the background is the original 1900 chimney. I fought with almost all my subcontractors to keep it in the room. For this reason, I didn’t want a tile floor that would compete with the original beauty of the old brick. Other requirements for this tile were for it to be durable, easy to clean, and not show dirt.


Ultimately my own mudroom played a big role in tile choice. We have dark gray tile in our mudroom and I love that it hides dirt fairly well.

Mudroom Floor Tile:

When I saw the Jeffrey Court Castle Rock tiles, I knew I had found a modern looking tile that would hide dirt and would also not compete with the chimney.

mudroom jeffrey court castle rock hex tiles

One of the things I love about this tile is that it has approximately twenty different printed patterns. Why does this matter? It matters because the tiles look more realistic when two patterns aren’t side by side (telling the world that they are printed instead of naturally occurring.) Despite the multitude of pattern, I separated all the tiles into piles with their twins. Then I made sure the installers chose from different piles as they installed them on the floor.

Installed Castle Rock Hex tiles gray in mudroom floor

Was it worth the wait? What do you think about all my floor tile choices? Any favorites?

Disclosure: I was provided with building materials from Jeffrey Court and The Builder Depot for the Saving Etta project. This allowed me to put in tiles more fitting with Etta’s history. I’m grateful for their support of this project. Despite their sponsorship, I was not told what to write. All opinions and ideas are my own. As always I’m very particular about the brands I chose to work with and you will always be notified if you are reading a sponsored or compensated post.

You’re Invited to the Saving Etta Open House

Do you live near Raleigh, North Carolina? If so, I’d love to invite you to the live open house tour of the Saving Etta project.

Yes, I know, I need to get you all caught up on the progression of the house. It’s been a whirlwind month of non-stop activity at the house.

If you just can’t wait for me, come on out in person! Here are the details:

Saturday, November 17th

11am – 5pm

1007 S. Person Street, Raleigh, NC 27601.

Please note, street parking only. Please be mindful of neighboring driveways.

Hope to see you there!

By the way, I have a secret I’ve been keeping from you. The house I saved isn’t really named Etta. (Shocker!) She actually has a name though. The Allen House is the official name and it is on the National Historic Property registry. We just put up this plaque this week, and now I can say she’s been officially saved.

Hope to see you on Saturday!!!

Saving Etta Update Drywall Soundproofing

Saving Etta: Drywall Update + Reducing Sound in the Master Bedroom

One of the biggest progress milestones (besides the framing stage) in building a house happens at the drywall installation. This is the point where the structure starts to really feel like a house. This is also the point where the flow in the house becomes apparent. It also sucks not being able to walk through walls anymore. (Ghosts have it made, I tell ya!)

But seeing the drywall go up felt like a monumental step. I’m excited to show you this progress update and explain all the different types of drywall we installed. You may remember that Ask For Purple (a National Gypsum line of products) is a Saving Etta sponsor. And you might remember learning How Drywall is Made and What is Purple Drywall. Now I get to share with you the perfect spots for all those different types of drywall.

Purple XP® – We installed Purple XP® in the kitchen, all three bathrooms, and the laundry room. Any room that had water pipes were going to get this mold and mildew resistant drywall. I can’t begin to tell you how important it is to get rid of regular drywall in rooms that have a lot of moisture and/or water.

purple drywall in master shower
Master Bathroom


purple drywall in the shared bathroomShared Downstairs Bathroom


purple drywall in bathroomUpstairs Bathroom


laundry roomLaundry Room

kitchen purple drywallKitchen

(After this picture was taken, I asked my drywall contractors to tear out the two lower sections of regular drywall and use Purple XP drywall on the entire lower portion of the kitchen. After I explained to them why, they were happy to make the swap.)


Hi-Abuse XP® – This drywall was installed in the mudroom and the stairways because it is more resistant to scuffs and scratches. We all know entryways and stairways get the most abuse in a home. Hopefully the new homeowners will appreciate a stronger drywall in these areas.

hi-abuse drywall in mudroomMudroom

hi-abuse purple drywall

hi-Abuse drywall on stairwayStairway

Hi-Impact® XP® – The stairway is one spot I wish I had installed this strong impact resistant drywall. Little did I know that one of my carpenters was going to lose his grip on a big sheet of masonite as he carried it up the stairs. Unfortunately it left a big gash in the stairway wall. Oh well, we’ll patch it before painting. Normally the Hi-Impact wall board is made for garages, locker rooms, rec rooms, or anywhere holes are more likely to happen. For my next build, I’ll consider installing Hi-Impact in the stairways and behind doors (where door knobs frequently puncture the wall.)

SoundBreak® XP® – This is the innovative drywall product I’m most excited to share with you. SoundBreak is designed to absorb and dissipate sound between rooms and spaces. During construction, you can take measures to reduce sound transmission between rooms.

Below you can see the two layers in the SoundBreak XP sheets. They are separated by a polymer material specifically designed to absorb and reduce sound.

soundbreak purple drywall

I knew this would be an important product to use between the living room (with its tall ceilings) and the master bedroom. Anyone who has a house with tall ceilings knows that sound can bounce and magnify in these type of rooms. I wanted to make sure the new owners could rest easy when one person stayed up late watching Netflix and the other wanted to go to bed. Maybe SoundBreak needs to be marketed as a marriage saving product. LOL!

How to Install Purple XP SoundBreak for Maximum Sound Reduction:

Before installing the SoundBreak drywall, the wall has to be prepped for maximum noise reduction. To start, install insulation in the wall separating these two spaces. Don’t forget to add insulation up against the header joists and any spots that are open to the adjacent room. (You might want to leave a little note for your drywall installers to make sure they install the SoundBreak drywall on the correct walls.)

soundbreak sticky note

Now it’s time to add acoustic putty pads (affiliate link) to all the light switch and outlet boxes on this shared wall. I created a video to show you how to install the putty pads and finish prepping the walls before hanging the SoundBreak XP drywall.

Following these tips will help control the sound transference between two adjoining rooms. Hopefully the homeowners will appreciate the extra measures I’ve taken to give them a better night’s sleep.

three guys installing purple drywallInstalling the SoundBreak XP Sheets

SoundBreak drywall on master bedroom wall

Master Bedroom

I can’t wait to install the doors to hear how much of a difference the SoundBreak makes in this bedroom!

SoundBreak XP Retrofit® – For anyone who is upset that their home builder didn’t use SoundBreak XP, I have good news for you! There is a solution to your woes. You can add SoundBreak XP Retrofit to your existing walls and reduce the sound transference.

Gold Bond® Gypsum Board – I’m not going to lie, there is an added cost to using the specialty purple drywall. Therefore, non-water, non-traffic heavy, and non-noise sensitive rooms received Gold Bond Gypsum drywall to be easier on my budget.

drywall installed in living roomLiving Room as seen from the Kitchen

drywall installed in hallwayFront Foyer

drywall installed in the bedroomNorth Bedroom

I hope you enjoyed this Saving Etta update. Things are really moving along at the house. I’ll try to get you another update soon, but honestly we’re in major crunch time right now. I’m going to attempt to list the house before Thanksgiving. If you live in the local area (or don’t mind making the trip) I’m planning an open house style home tour that will be open to the public on Saturday, November 17th. I’ll be sure to share more details as soon as I have them.

In the meantime, have some patience with me until I can post the remaining updates for the Saving Etta project.

Drywall Update + Reducing Sound in the Master Bedroom

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for National Gypsum and Ask for Purple. I was provided with some complimentary products to use in the Saving Etta house. I was not told what to say, all opinions are my own. As always I only work with brands that I would use myself.

I’m so excited to show off the colors I chose for Etta’s exterior! However, I’m equally excited to share with you a new paint line from Magnolia Paint by KILZ(This post is a sponsored post for Magnolia Home Paint by KILZ.) 

When KILZ agreed to be a Saving Etta sponsor, I was incredibly excited because I have fallen in love with their paint. In fact, I had been testing the paints on interior and exterior surfaces for a while now. When the Magnolia Paint lines were first introduced, I had the honor of flying to Waco, TX to learn more about them. (I also happened to get the chance to rub elbows with these two famous house rehabbers. I can honestly say, Chip and Joanna Gaines are as down to earth as they are on TV.)

Chip and Joanna Gaines

During the trip I spent a fair amount of time talking to one of the scientists who worked on developing the paints. She assured me I’d love the coverage, durability, and low odor of the Magnolia Home interior paint. I was skeptical, but after trying the paint I was a convert. And I wasn’t the only convert: my painters loved the paint. They raved about it on multiple occasions, saying “This is really good paint. It has great coverage and doesn’t show overlap marks.” After the painting was finished, a neighbor came over to ask me about the paint I was using. He told me he used to be a painter and apparently my painters had struck up a conversation with him telling him this “new” paint was really good quality. The neighbor asked me what my painters were using and where he could get some.

Magnolia Home Paint Products:

  • Chalk Style Paint – This paint was a dream to work with. It’s much smoother than some of the competitors. After it dries, you can get rid of the chalky feel by lightly sanding with fine sandpaper and finish off with furniture wax. The pre-mixed color palette is beautiful and offers 44 beautiful hues. This is my new go to paint for furniture, home decor, and anything I would use a chalk style paint on.
  • Magnolia Home Interior Paint – I’ve been using another brand for years and swore I’d never use anything else, but the Magnolia Home Interior Paint is smooth, not too thick, and has great coverage on pre-primed walls. What I love most about this paint line are the multitude of colors to choose from. And, they all work well together. This made choosing colors for the interior of the house super easy (thank you Joanna for curating a cohesive color palette anyone will love.)
  • Peel & Stick Color Samples – If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw all the re-useable peel & stick paint color samples I put up on the walls. This was the easiest (no mess, no fuss) way to choose colors. I will definitely order more to keep on hand for client consultations and my own person use.

Now, the secret I’ve been holding onto for months:

Magnolia Paint has an Exterior Paint Line!

  • Exterior Paint – KILZ  let me try out their new exterior paint before it was released to the public. Hopefully it will be available on store shelves soon. I know you’ll be as excited as I was to choose Magnolia Home paint for a home exterior. The latest update is it will be a few months before you can purchase Magnolia Home Exterior Paint from select local hardware stores or other suppliers. Be on the lookout! I can’t wait for you to try it. Maybe start by painting your front door a new color.

Speaking of front doors…

The front door color choice at Saving Etta was a carefully thought out decision. The colors had to appeal to a wide variety of buyers. In an area with multiple rival colleges (NC State, Duke, UNC, East Carolina University and a few more), I needed a color that didn’t pledge loyalty to any school. As a reminder, these are the color choices I was contemplating:

I love this color combination and would have chosen it for Etta except, she is a mere few miles from NC State. And NC State alumni would never paint their door Carolina Blue (or any color similar to it.) Unfortunately, I had to nix this idea immediately to risk turning off potential buyers.

After a brief time contemplating navy as a siding color, a navy blue front door felt like a good compromise. But, I worried it was too close to Duke University blue. Do you see why I was struggling with front door colors?

Next, I contemplated a pretty burnt orange color for the front door. The color looked beautiful in the fall. But, when I looked across the street and saw a neighboring house had an orange front door, I changed my mind.

This was the last color combo I contemplated. No local schools could lay claim to the green. And, I loved the freshness and timelessness of Magnolia Green. I think we have a winner!

Off white farmhouse exterior house color, green door

For weeks after the house was painted, many local neighbors would stop and tell me how great the house looked. It honestly felt like Etta had finally gotten her beauty back.

Exterior house colors for a 1900 farmhouse look

Siding Colors:

As I mentioned previously, the siding colors I toyed with were either a dark navy or light off white. Ultimately the white siding won. I wanted to choose a neutral off white color. But, I didn’t want it to be a yellowy cream color. I tested three Magnolia Paint colors: One Horn White, Locally Sown, and Blanched by painting samples on big pieces of foam board. For a few days I  moved them around the house. Ultimately, I liked Locally Sown the best. One Horn White had a slight green undertone and Blanched had a yellowy undertone. Locally Sown from Magnolia Paint was the perfect light greige white color.

Locally Sown exterior paint with True White trimMagnolia Home paint Locally Sown and True White

The trim color I chose was True White in semi-gloss. The photo below shows how it has some contrast with the siding color.

Off white house color, white trim

I must admit, I really love how it makes Etta’s attic vent louvers stand out as opposed to a traditional all white farmhouse color palette.

Magnolia Home Locally Sown paint with True White trim color

What do you think about the exterior paint choice? Do you like it? Will you try any of the Magnolia Home Paint lines soon? If you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Triple A Construction house white and off white siding

Disclosure: Magnolia Home Paint by KILZ is a Saving Etta material sponsor. I’m honored to work with them on this project. All words and opinions are my own. I have not been told what to say. As always I am very particular about the sponsors I work with and you will be told if you are reading a post that has been sponsored or in which materials were provided. 

Saving Etta: Side Porch Progress

Saving Etta: Side Porch Update

While there was a lot of progress on the exterior of the house, the side porch was built after the interior walls were framed and shortly before the exterior siding was put on. Truth be told, the side porch build started way back before the framing process. In fact, if you really want to get technical, some thought went into the side porch materials before the back of the house was removed.

After the aluminum siding was removed, I could see the original wood siding that clad Etta’s walls. Oh how I wanted to keep the old siding, but most of the siding was filled with large holes, cracked, and brittle.

After assessing all the pieces that needed replacing, I would have needed new siding for 2/3 of the original house. Plus, the new addition siding would never match the old. It was an unfortunate decision, but I chose to remove all of it. Before the excavator arrived, I began carefully pulling the old siding off the house and saving any pieces that were in decent shape. I knew I could use them somewhere, and hoped it would be on the porch ceilings!

The siding (and copious amounts of bead board from the interior of the house) was safely stored away in a trailer for later use. Shortly after the demolition and foundation footers were poured, I began preparing for the side porch construction. While the concrete was still wet, I sunk anchor bolts into the fresh concrete footers under the side porch location.

After the mason finished building the foundation, I cut three 6×6 pressure treated Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) posts and secured them to the anchors. Then I filled in around the base of the posts with drainage rock to prevent water from pooling around the posts. Although the lumber is moisture and bug resistant, I still didn’t want them sitting in direct contact with the soil or allowing water to pond around the bases. As someone who has seen the destructive capabilities of water, I’m always trying to build to prevent water from deteriorating the materials.

Speaking of being a quality builder, let’s talk about choosing materials for exterior building projects. One thing I knew early on was I wanted to retain the look and feel of this house built in 1900. Back in the day, composite decking didn’t exist. I knew I wanted to use real wood for the porches, that’s why I’m proud to introduce  Wood It’s Real as a sponsor of the Saving Etta project.

Wood It's Real Website

A few other reasons I decided to use Southern Yellow Pine for the decking:

  • Refinish: As the wood ages, it can be refinished and stained again as needed. When composite materials get scratched or faded, it cannot be sanded down.
  • Strength: Southern Yellow Pine is categorized in the soft woods category, but it actually has the strength of a hard wood. SYP is not like soft interior SPF (Spruce, Pine or Fir) framing lumber. They are two different species.
  • Temperature: One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about composite material for decks is it gets hot! In fact, one of my carpenters told me he has tons of work at the beach replacing composite decking because it can warp from the heat of the sun.
  • Beauty: The wood grain is beautiful and takes stain nicely. Being a designer and artist, I like having hundreds of stain colors to choose from instead of a few stock colors.

Side Porch Progress:

I wish I had progress shots of the side porch build— but as often happened—I left for some errands and when I got back to the house “poof” a side porch had magically appeared! As you can tell by the picture below, I was super excited to find the porch built and the little storage closet framed in.

The floor boards are all pressure treated Southern Yellow Pine. To be able to stain the deck sooner, I requested kiln-dried deck boards from my lumber supplier. Regular pressure treated lumber has to dry completely before you can paint or stain it. (Otherwise, the paint might peel off as the wood dries out.)

Within a few days, the framers also installed this salvaged wood door. I wish I could say it came from Etta’s interior, but it didn’t. However, the door is from the same era.

I salvaged it from one of the houses on the old frat house row near NC State. All the houses were built from 1895 – 1920. Unfortunately they were slated to be torn down to make way for apartments. Luckily one of my local followers tipped me off to this travesty. She and I worked with the demolition contractor to salvage doors and windows from the houses. Sadly about a week or two after we salvaged things from the houses they were leveled. Honestly, I can’t drive by there because I want to remember the street with all those beautiful old houses on it. (Granted, they were all in rough shape.)

Sears & Roebucks House from Raleigh, NC near NC State - Maiden Lane

Back at Etta, the side porch didn’t get steps right away, so we used a little “DIY” step stool for months.

In the meantime, I went to my stash of salvaged siding and pulled out the best pieces to clad the porch ceiling. Although I knew they were likely painted with lead paint, I double checked my suspicions using a Lead Check test kit.

That red spot indicates the presence of lead paint. Which meant I needed to remove and seal any of the paint that was chipping off. Working outside with a mask and a tarped off area, I scraped the paint using a ProScraper hooked up to my ShopVac with a new bag and filter to capture all the dust.

After the majority of the paint was scraped off, I carefully cleaned up the siding and rolled up the tarp to dispose in a sealed bag. Then I turned the siding over and gasped at the beautiful old saw marks and wood grain.

Even though the painted side of the siding would not be seen, I still used an encapsulating primer over the paint just in the off chance someone took them down one day.

After the primer dried, I coated the back sides with a clear deck sealer to protect the wood from the elements (even though they had more than weathered 118 years of being exposed to the elements.)

It took me two days to cut and install the siding on the side porch ceiling. It was two of the hottest days in Raleigh. And working overhead was not for the faint of heart.

But, in the end I was thrilled with the porch ceiling.

After the side porch ceiling was complete, I used brown caulk to seal any gaps between the old siding and the large nail holes to prevent bugs from getting through them. After the week of climbing ladders and that little DIY step, my gluteus muscles were incredibly sore. It was time to call my framer and schedule him to come back to build the side porch steps. By now, I was worried one of my subs (or worse yet, an inspector) would trip and fall on the little “step stool”.

The stairs were a huge improvement. I added the risers and painted them to match the trim color.

The stair treads are also Southern Yellow Pine. Be sure to read more about why SYP is the best choice for your exterior projects at Wood It’s Real.

I hope you enjoyed this update from the Saving Etta project. Stay tuned for more updates inside the house!

Disclosure: This post is a sponsored post for Wood It’s Real. It was written as part of their sponsorship of the Saving Etta project. I was not told what to write. All words and opinions are my own. I am very particular about the brands I work with, and only partner with companies that provide quality materials and/or services.