Home Care

How to Build a Firewood Storage Bench


House One editor and DIY expert Jenn Largesse shares how to build a sturdy cedar seat that keeps firewood close.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

Crackling wood fires have always been an evening tradition in our family, but trekking out to the woodpile to retrieve an armload of logs has never been anyone’s favorite activity. So I decided to build something that would put a stockpile of dry wood just outside the door. Instead of the typical log rack, I settled on a storage bench with space for firewood that provides a convenient seat for taking off snowy boots.

The slatted design is quick and easy to put together—there’s no complicated joinery—and because it’s clad in western red cedar over an inner structure of sturdy cedar 2×s, I can leave it outside year-round, sheltered on our front porch. With our wood supply now just steps from the entry, keeping the fire stoked is less of a chore.

Here’s how to build a bench of your own.

Getting Started

Jenn Largesse uses a miter saw to make wide cuts.
Jenn LargesseMaking wide cuts. Jenn uses her sliding compound miter saw to cut 1×6 cedar boards to length. She also used the saw to miter the bench’s face boards.Cedar boards are an excellent choice for this project because they weather the elements, resist rot, and repel insects. But cedar is also quite soft, so expect it to get dinged and nicked as firewood is loaded into and taken out of it.

When buying cedar, pay attention to how thick the boards are; some lumberyards carry 7/8-inch-thick material instead of ¾-inch-thick stock. Both thicknesses will work fine for this project, but thicker boards on the sides will require slightly longer pieces on top.

Scroll down for a list of tools and materials for this project.

Cut List

Illustrated plans to build a DIY firewood storage bench.
Peter Sucheski1x6 legs (outside): six @ 17 1/4 inches 1×6 top: three @ 48 inches 1×6 shelf: three @ 43 1/2 inches 2×4 frame (top and bottom): four @ 18 inches 2×4 seat frame support: two @ 39 1/2 inches 2×4 seat frame support: one @ 11 inches 2×4 frame (sides): four @ 14 1/4 inches 2×4 shelf support: one @ 15 inches

Steps for Building a Firewood Storage Bench

Step 1: Prep for assembly

Drive 3-inch deck screws into the pilot holes.
Jenn LargesseFollowing the cut list, use a miter saw to cut the cedar 2×4s and 1×6s to length. Set aside an 8-foot 1×6 for the face frame. Next, use a pocket-hole jig to drill two pocket holes into each end of the long 2×4 seat-frame pieces and the crosspiece, as shown.

Step 2: Assemble the legs

Assembling the legs of the firewood bench.
Full buyoutSet a 2×4 base board on the edge and position two leg pieces against it, facedown and aligned with the board’s ends. Apply glue to the legs’ ends; drill two pilot holes through the base and into the legs. Drive 3-inch deck screws into the pilot holes. A rafter square, shown, keeps the parts perpendicular. Assemble the second leg the same way.

Step 3: Assemble the top

Assembling the top of the firewood storage bench.
Jenn LargesseWith the pocket holes facing up, align and glue together the ends of the 2×4 seat-frame pieces. Keeping them perpendicular with a rafter square, drive pocket-hole screws through the ends of the long boards and into the end boards, as shown. Center the 2×4 crosspiece and install it the same way, with glue and pocket-hole screws.

Step 4: Attach the top and legs

Attach the top and legs to the firewood storage bench.
Jenn LargesseStand the legs upright, so the base boards face inward. Apply glue to the tops of the legs; set the assembled seat frame on them, flush with their outside edges, pocket holes facing down. Drill two pilot holes through the seat frame and into the top of each leg. Fasten the seat to the legs with deck screws driven through each pilot hole.

Step 5: Clad the ends

Clad the ends of the firewood storage bench.
Jenn LargesseApply glue to one face at each end of the 1×6 cedar cladding. Position one vertically against the frame, flush with its back edge, and secure it with 1½- inch nails. Using a 3/4-inch-thick spacer, set a second 1× against the first one and nail it to the frame. Nail the third end piece flush with the front edge. Do the same on the bench’s other end.

Step 6: Make the seat

Apply glue to the frame’s top and the end cladding. Position the first cedar seat board flush with the front edge, and so it covers the end cladding. Drive nails through the seat board into the end cladding and the frame. Using 3/4- inch spacers, nail the next seat board parallel to the first one. Nail the last board flush with the frame’s back edge.

Step 7: Add the shelf and support

Apply glue to the base board’s face.Bed the shelf ends in the glue. Center the middle board and position the front and back ones flush with their respective frame edges. Nail the shelf boards to the base board. Apply glue to the top face of the 2×4 support.Center it and set its end flush with the frame’s back edge; nail the shelf boards to it.

Step 8: Secure the face frame

Secure the face frame of the firewood storage bench.
Jenn LargesseMiter one end of each vertical 1×6 face-frame piece and both ends of the horizontal face frame. Apply glue to the front edges of the frame, cedar seat board, and cladding. Nail the pieces to the frame, flush with the top edge of the seat and outside ends of the legs.

What You Need for This Project



Three 2×4 cedar boards, each 8 feet longFive 1×6 cedar boards, each 8 feet long3-inch No. 10 stainless-steel deck screws2½-inch stainless-steel pocket-hole screws1½-inch 18-gauge nailsExterior wood glue

Home Care

Simple Ways to Safeguard Your Home in Winter


These small projects will safeguard you and your home through the cold-weather months.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 Issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.

When it comes to preparing your home for the winter months, simple tasks can add up to big payoffs. Read on to learn more easy ways to safeguard your home in the winter.

Degrease the range-hood fan and filter

Removing grease from inside your vent hood can help prevent fires.
iStockThe dirt and grease that collect inside your vent hood decrease its efficiency, trap odors, and can even catch fire. Prevent all three by cleaning the hood’s filter and drip tray, as well as the fan blades or turbine. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for removing them, then pop the parts in the dishwasher. If they don’t fit or are encrusted with gunk, soak them in a 1:1 solution of hot water and a degreaser for at least 10 minutes; scrub, rinse, and dry.

Protect your evergreens

Wrapping a tree in burlap can help protect it in the wintertime.
This Old House ProductionThe upright branches of soft-stemmed conifers like arborvitae and columnar cedars and junipers are vulnerable to splaying, bending, and even breaking when weighed down by heavy snow and ice loads it can take up to a year for them to regain their shape.

To prevent such damage, loosely tie together the top branches of individual trees with loops of twine. Immature trees benefit from being covered with a loose burlap wrap that extends to the ground. Remove the wraps when the threat of heavy snow has passed.

TLC for your handheld garden tools

You winterize power equipment by changing oil and adding fuel stabilizers, but hand tools that get down and dirty need some care, too. Scrub blades clean with a wire brush, sharpen them with a file as needed, then spray on a thin coat of WD-40 to prevent rust. Sand worn wood handles smooth of splinters, and apply a fresh coat of oil or stain with a rag. If the handle is cracked, replace it with a new one.

Touch up painted woodwork

Window sill
This Old House ProductionThe holiday season is an excellent time to take inventory of any dinged paint on door and window casings or baseboards.

To touch them up: Lightly sand the chipped area smooth with 120-grit paper; coat bare wood with an oil-based primer; then dab on paint with a soft artist’s brush. If the chip is too deep to sand smooth, apply wood filler, let dry, then sand it with 180-grit paper before priming and painting.

Check gauges on fire extinguishers

The moment to discover your fire extinguisher needs a charge is not when you smell smoke. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends a monthly inspection to blow dust and insects out of the nozzle and to make sure the pressure gauge shows it’s within an operable range. If it isn’t, look online for a certified fire-protection service to refill it. Replace non-rechargeable units that are low on pressure (push the TEST button) or any unit that shows rust, dents, or leaks.

Put your gas grill to bed for the season

grill cleaning
This Old House ProductionFirst, burn off food and grease by running it on HIGH for 15 minutes with the lid down. When cool, scrub the burners with a dry nylon brush. Clean the grates and grease pan with hot soapy water; put them back when dry. Also, remove the ignition battery to prevent it from corroding. If the grill is staying outside, put a weatherproof cover over it.

Wheeling the grill into a garage or shed? Disconnect the tank and store it outside. Then wrap the grill’s regulator in plastic and aluminum foil to keep insects from crawling in and clogging it.

Make sure soffit vents are clear

Checking the soffit vents in an attic.
Courtesy ADO ProductsIn an unfinished attic, soffit vents work with the ridge vent to ventilate the space and keep it cool. When they’re blocked by insulation, the trapped heat can melt snow on the roof and cause ice to build up at the eaves if it’s cold enough.

So before it snows, check the attic on a sunny day for blocked soffit vents. If you don’t see light coming through them, remove the blockage and staple baffles (shown above) at the base of each rafter bay to provide a permanent path for fresh air.

Home Care

6 ways to elevate your bathroom renovation 

If you’re planning a bathroom renovation, we have some expert tips on how to make this space a real retreat.

According to former The Block contestant Dale Vine, designing a bathroom these days is relatively easy.

“Bathroom products have evolved to the point where they almost all look beautiful,” he points out.

It’s very easy today to build a beautiful bathroom just through the products themselves, compared to the choices you would have had ten years ago.”

If you’re planning a bathroom renovation and need some inspiration for items that will elevate your space, read Dale’s advice.

1. A luxurious tub will serve you well

If you have the space and want a tub, take some time evaluating your options.

A soaking tub will make your bathroom feel like a spa. Picture: Zephyr + Stone

“Baths at the moment are very luxurious. They have beautiful rounded edges, are very generous in size and they’re very deep so you can really submerge yourself and forget about all your worries,” Dale notes.

“Even without water in them, the look of a beautiful bath really makes you feel like you’re somewhere luxurious.”

Freestanding baths are a popular choice right now. Dale’s pick? Highgrove Bathrooms currently has an attractive range of matte white tubs that look particularly sophisticated.

2. Incorporate a few statement pieces

Basins and tapware can now be statements within themselves, Dale finds.

Incorporate statement materials via a concrete basin or metallic taps. Picture: Highgrove Bathrooms

“Black tapware looks amazing against white baths,” Dale offers.

“You can have a big spout off the floor or off the wall that looks really sharp and clean. You can also go with Brushed Brass if you wanted to jazz it up. Just run that finish through your whole space and from room to room, to create continuity throughout your home.”

Similarly, basins no longer need to be buried within your vanity. Many are opting for above-counter or bench mount basins, in a variety of unique shapes or materials, like concrete.

3. Control your heating for comfort

Bathroom heating is certainly a luxury, but if you’re doing a large renovation and you have the budget, it’s definitely worth considering underfloor heating or heated lights.

“Underfloor heating is a feature people love to see if they’re buying a house,” Dale says.

“Some underfloor heaters even come with timers so you can set it to come on 15 minutes before you normally have your morning shower. This way you can get out of bed and walk straight onto a warm tiled surface, which is so luxurious.”

Dale adds that bathroom heating can also help “dry out” the room.

“Bathrooms are obviously damp and wet areas, as such underfloor heating can help your tiles dry out a lot quicker and reduce mould and mildew. It’s a pretty cool added extra.”

4. Play with your colour scheme

“There are a lot of feature walls going on at the moment,” Dale points out.

Thanks to advancements in the colours of ceramics and tapware, there’s no need to be boxed into one colour for your bathroom anymore.

Textured black bathrooms paired with warm accents like timber and brass can be an impressive statement. Picture: Damien Bredberg Photography

In Dale’s case, while most of his walls are a beige, natural stone look, he chose white for his feature wall.

“We’ve got a Travertine-look tile at home which is a nice, natural looking tile. Then we’ve got a crisp white subway tile behind the vanity to break up the room. It makes all those features on the vanity wall – like mirrors and tapware – just stand out,” he says.

“You can also go the other way and go dark. There’s a lot of people loving full black feature walls and offsetting that with a tapware style that stands out against the dark backdrop.”

Dark statement walls with textured tiles are a popular trend. Black tiles around an LED mirror and vanity can provide a dramatic, luxe-looking feature.

5. Give yourself some space to shower

Even if you’re working with a small bathroom space overall, gone are the days when you have to accept a small and pokey shower. If you’re working with a small square footage, consider if you can rearrange the space or sacrifice in others areas, such as a more slimline vanity or storage solution.

“Instead of tucking a shower into a small corner, people love to create a bit of extra room in the internal shower space so you can move around and actually enjoy your shower,” he says.

“[People are loving] double shower heads as well. You can have a hand-held shower on the wall and then a ceiling-mounted rainfall shower.”

6. Use creative materials

Raw, natural and textured materials are popular in bathrooms right now.

Create warmth with natural materials. Picture: Highgrove Bathrooms

Timber vanities are one way to work this into your space to create a bit of warmth, and can be complemented with timber towel racks or shelving, woven baskets and other ‘organic’ accessories.

Raw, textured tiles or concrete tubs or basins, paired with matte black or brushed metal tapware can also help achieve this look.

The post 6 ways to elevate your bathroom renovation  appeared first on realestate.com.au.

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Home Care

8 Desk Ideas for Small Spaces

Mark Scott/GAP Photos

Turn small, overlooked nooks into productive stations for remote working, household tasks, hobbies, and more.

Are you tired of paying bills from the recliner? Or are you refraining from hobbies because you don’t want to drag all the supplies out to the dining table, only to have to put them away again at mealtime?

If you need a dedicated workspace, whether for paying bills, stringing beads, or working remotely, these ideas will help you exploit the potential of those underused nooks in your home.

8 Desk Ideas Perfect for Small Spaces

The underused closet

A small desk placed inside a closet
Veronica Rodriguez/GAP PhotosSince the Covid-19 pandemic sent millions of workers home, cloffices are all the rage. Combining closet with office, a cloffice turns a closet into a workspace and gets your stuff off the dining room table.

Whether you use the entire closet or leave some space for your shoe collection, everything gets a place of its own. A large walk-in can fit a desk, filing cabinet, and possibly a side chair. But if you only have a small coat closet, that’s okay, too.

Install a shelf-style desk with shallower storage shelves overhead. Closets are dark, so don’t forget to upgrade your lighting. In a walk-in closet, a multi-bulbed chandelier could replace your one ceiling light. In the small closet space, consider LED strip lighting under the shelves. And the best part about a cloffice? You can close the door and not think about it when you walk away.

The bay window

A small table placed in front of a bay window to be used as a desk.
Douglas Gibb/GAP PhotosCut a board or piece of countertop to fit the space of a bay window and install it, shelf-style, as a desktop. A bay window desk provides plenty of natural light, gives you the work surface you crave, and it’s tucked out of the way.

Paint or stain the desktop to match your decor and use a chair that can double as an extra seat for company. A tiered storage cart can be rolled underneath when not in use. To make life easier, install blinds on the windows rather than curtains, which could get in the way.

The corner

Use corners to your advantage! Simply cut and install a triangle of wood to fit and add a slide-out underneath for your keyboard. Or buy a ready-made corner desk in a style you love. Smaller shelves wall-mounted above the desk can house baskets for supplies. For illumination, install under-cabinet lights on the shelf above. LED strip lighting makes it easy.

Fold-down wall desk

A fold down desk
Mark Scott/GAP PhotosThis handy little desk takes up next to no space when not in use and is folded up against the wall.

Unfold it, pull up a chair, and you can work, write letters, pay bills, or paste photos in your journal. To add to the appeal, attach artwork or a note board to the underside so it’ll look like more than a box on the wall when it’s closed.

Ladder desk

The ladder desk is essentially a ladder leaning against a wall with shelves instead of rungs, the lowest of which serves as a desktop. Ladder desks take up little room, provide space for books, plants, and photos, and come in a wide range of styles and finishes.

The dormer desk

If your home’s second-story or remodeled attic has dormers, take advantage of the space they offer! A dormer is perfect for a desk, and the window’s natural light makes it ideal for crafting, artwork, and other hobbies.

Consider an overhead pendant light for evening use. If you have a larger dormer, use the extra space for a filing cabinet, floor lamp, or shelving.

djustable-height desk

While not specifically designed for small spaces, the adjustable-height desk serves dual purposes. While you’re working, it’s perfect for your laptop and other supplies. When not working, raise it to full height, and you have an instant bar for when company comes.

Adjustable-height desks come ready-made. Or you can purchase the base and add your own top to match your decor. You might consider something that coordinates with your kitchen counters, a live-edge wood slab, or a butcher block top.

The hall table

A narrow hall table made out of wood, being used as a desk.
Julien Fernandez/GAP InteriorsUse a small console table if you need an occasional work surface for quick tasks that don’t require many supplies. These unassuming, uber-useful tables come in a variety of styles and finishes. Place in a convenient location, and when you pull up a chair, you have an instant desk.

Don’t put off your favorite hobbies until you have more space. And quit paying bills from the couch. Incorporate one of these desk ideas into your small spaces, and your home gets just a bit bigger.

Home Care

Curb Appeal: Modernizing a 1950s Cape Cod

Fall 2021 Curb Appeal, 1950s Cape remodel illustration
Arthur Mount

With a full-width front porch, a new two-story garage, and a fresh color palette, architect Jeff Troyer gives a 1953 Cape the upgraded look and function it deserves.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe

Shown above: To give the house a traditional look and soften the existing gable, Troyer added a front porch. A new garage provides living space upstairs and a mudroom downstairs. A second gable over the rebuilt garage balances the original one placed over the entry.

Fall 2021 Curb Appeal, 1950s Cape before
Before: The homeowner’s Cape, built by her father, has a flat facade dominated by a large front gable.My house is not your classic Cape Cod,” says Joan Beaulieu of her home in Rye, NH, built by her father, a general contractor, in 1953. “With the bumpout in front, it just looks out of proportion to me. I’d like to keep it in the family, but it needs an update.” On her wish list: replacing the windows, doors, and siding, as well as the rickety garage, ideally adding a room upstairs for family gatherings. We turned to Los Angeles architect Jeff Troyer for ideas to give her home more appeal.

First up: He would add a full-width front porch with a roof that gently slopes out from the main roofline. “This incorporates the existing gable bumpout for a more traditional Cape Cod look,” he says. Corbels, a painted railing, and double-hung wood windows add another layer of detail. The new garage repeats the gable and holds a family room that expands the house upstairs, with a mudroom connector below.

“I love the clean, current, classic look, and the way the porch softens the front gable,” says Joan. “It’s beautiful! I would definitely consider moving in this direction.”

Details in the Home

“The house needs some New England charm,” says architect Jeff Troyer, who gives it a style boost with a blue-and-white color scheme, a caged entry light, detailed garage doors, and more.

Classic Colors & A Shapely Light

Fall 2021 Curb Appeal, paint colors, outdoor light
Left: Courtesy Sherwin-Williams; Right: Courtesy RejuvenationLeft: Needlepoint Navy siding and Marshmallow trim refresh the exterior. About $50 per gallon; Sherwin-Williams

Right: This updated caged design is made of solid brass with an oil-rubbed bronze finish. Pacifica Lantern, $799; Rejuvenation

Rustic Roofing and Wood Windows

Fall 2021 Curb Appeal, roofing, window
Left: Courtesy Home Depot; Right: Courtesy MarvinLeft: These asphalt shingles evoke weathered wood. Enhanced shadow lines add dimension. GAF’s Timberline HDZ series in Oyster Gray, about $1.13 per sq. ft.; Home Depot

Right: Dual glazing with low-e coating and aluminum cladding stand up to the elements. Signature Ultimate double-hung, from $660; Marvin

Thumb-Latch Handleset and a Carriage Door

Fall 2021 Curb Appeal, handleset, garage door
Left: Courtesy Build with Ferguson; Right Courtesy Home DepotLeft: The Colonial classic gets an update in a soft, silvery finish. Baldwin’s Cody Handleset in Distressed Antique Nickel, $503; Build with Ferguson

Right: The look of swing-open doors and divided lights lends vintage-style charm. Clopay’s Coachman garage door, $3,209; Home Depot

What Makes it a Cape-Style House?

The earliest Cape Cod–style houses were built by Puritans in New England; the snug, one-story homes were designed to withstand the harsh environment. Many of their signature features still remain popular today.

Simple forms

The original homes were either half Capes, with an entry door and two windows to one side, or three-quarter Capes, with a third window on the other side of the door. Both were common from the 1690s to 1850. The later full Cape, with a centered door and two windows on either side, is the style that prevails today.


The Cape’s steeply pitched, side-gabled roof was designed to shed ice and snow. In the 19th century, dormer windows appeared on the second floor to add light and space. Historical Capes were clad in long-lasting cedar shingles, sometimes with clapboards on the facade. Working wood shutters kept out frigid winter winds.

Practical proportions

Shutters are an important feature of a Cape that need to be sized appropriately. Each shutter should be half the width of the window it is meant to cover. “I skipped shutters on the double front windows of this design,” Troyer says of the house at left. “Given historically accurate proportions, they would have been way too wide. Tiny shutters flanking a wide picture window are a pet peeve of mine!”

Central chimney

A central chimney is common in early Cape Cod–style houses. This allowed for a fireplace in each room that connected to a single chimney stack. Over time, as other methods of heating were introduced, the fireplaces were often relegated to the gable ends.

Double-hung windows

“I love the original true divided-light windows,” Troyer says. Early mouth-blown glass resulted in very wavy lights. “You can tell an old house by the distortion in the windowpanes,” he adds. “The more distortion, the older the house.”

Home Care

Before & After Garage: Creating a Retreat for Teens

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, second floor lounge
Tim Lenz

Big kids want to be on their own—and parents like to know where they are. For one family, bonus garage space just steps from the house offers the perfect hangout solution.

This article appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, second floor lounge
Tim LenzShown: Activity on the second floor—snacking, studying, watching TV—centers around a sectional sofa that unfolds to a queen-size bed for overnight guests. A horizontal steel railing at the top of the stairs opens up the space and establishes its modern vibe.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, before
Courtesy Kelly + Co. DesignBefore: Poorly lit and inhospitable, the existing second story had two rooms: One was a holding area for fusty furniture. The other had a bathtub stuck in a corner, but no plumbing.Teenagers want to be with their friends, and parents want to keep them close­—while giving them some independence, too. That was the case for the mom and dad who created this getaway space for their sons, 16 and 13, and, in turn, their 10-year-old daughter­. Interior designer Kelly Mittleman had already helped them renovate their house, a 1919 Craftsman outside New York City. “But the kids were monopolizing the basement entertainment room playing video games,” says the father. “When their friends were over, it got loud.” The freestanding garage had a lot of unused space, however, so back came Mittleman to see what could be done with it.

“It was a land of misfit toys and old furnishings—basically a second attic,” says the designer. Her challenge: Turn it into a teen magnet for hanging out, watching TV, gaming, sleepovers, and homework. Taking away a 6-foot-wide slice of the parking bay allowed for a new walled-off entry with sports gear storage and a full bath downstairs. The upstairs space got opened up and given a clean, modern look with a sectional sofa and TV, a beverage fridge, a table and chairs, and hidden storage throughout. “Our kids love the space, and we like not worrying about where they are,” says the dad, admitting, “The house is a lot quieter now—we like that, too.”

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, garage exterior
Tim LenzThe two-car garage, assumed to be original to the home, ceded 60 square feet for a single-door entry, hall storage, and a full bath downstairs. The parents control the code to the smart entry lock so they can monitor the kids’ comings and goings. A new overhead garage door, sconces, and paint spruce up the exterior.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, second floor desk/dining area, dormer window
Tim LenzLeft: Adding heating, cooling, and plumbing upgraded the space for year-round use. All-new windows further boosted comfort­ (and curb appeal). A table with chairs does desk duty, too, so homework assignments can be completed over snacks. The kids were given a selection of artwork to choose from for the finishing touch.

Right: One of two dormer windows that flank the TV console; each alcove was built out with a window seat that has a hinged top for hidden storage. A library-style sconce encourages curling up any time of day (or night). Shiplap walls can take a beating; the white paint has a satin finish that is “completely wipe-clean,” says Mittleman.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, kitchenette, entryway
Tim LenzLeft: “A teen space should feel a bit like an adult world that the kids snagged somehow—like their own suite in a boutique hotel,” says Mittleman. Hence this snack station with its own mini fridge and sink. To the right is a wall of low cabinets built into the shiplap for inconspicuous, easy-access storage.

Right: When it’s hang time, kids can enter through the new exterior door. Sports gear gets stashed in a 30-square-foot closet behind the shiplap under the stairs­—or set down by the door, ready to grab and go. The sliding barn door opens up to the two-car parking bay; when empty, it can host a Ping-Pong table that folds away for storage.

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, boiler room to bathroom
Tim LenzBefore: The downstairs bath was installed in a closet where a defunct boiler sat along with a mishmash of stored items. The old brick chimney (located behind the doors) was painted white to accent all the black tile.

After: A full bath is a sleepover essential, and this 80-square-foot space with its sleek shower more than fills the bill. Black subway and hex tile with white grout and matte concrete-look porcelain floor tile give it an industrial edge. The wall-hung sink and bridge faucets add to the space’s vintage-modern style.

Room of Their Own

Treating teens to a hangout space? Durable materials, easy-to-clean surfaces, cool decor, and common-sense measures help parents stress less when kids are holed up in there. Consider these pro tips:

MAKE IT MODERN: Teens typically go for bold colors and contemporary design, says Mittleman, who uses colorful accents like throws, pillows, and artwork. “I want things to look like an Apple store—great surfaces, fresh colors, and lots of white.”

KEEP IT INCLUSIVE: Skip gender-specific colors and themes. “These date themselves quickly as kids mature,” she says.

FACILITATE FUN: Include a media cabinet to hide cords and gaming gear. Enclosed storage and wipeable surfaces make tidying up no big deal. “Buy quality furnishings with performance fabrics that wear like iron—they look better, feel comfier, and last longer,” adds Mittleman.

SET UP FOR SNACKING: Provide a beverage fridge, a snack cabinet, maybe a microwave. A sink makes cleanup easier, especially if food delivery is on the menu.

PLAN FOR CHANGE: Choose rugs instead of carpeting, removable pillow covers, and fun artwork. These items can be updated easily as teens’ tastes change.

Expert Advice

“An app-controlled entry lock lets adults control access to a teen space. Consider a smart thermostat you can control, too­—kids love to crank the temperature without thinking about the cost.” —Kelly Mittleman, owner, Kelly + Co. Design

Floor Plans

Fall 2021 Before & After Garage, floor plans
Ian WorpoleOpening up the second floor allowed for a loft-like, 550-square-foot hangout. Downstairs a new entry leads to a full bath and a large closet in 150 square feet of living space.

Removed a wall that closed in the staircase, adding a more open steel railing.Built flip-top bench seating in the existing dormers for extra storage; these flank a TV console opposite the sectional sofa.Ran plumbing for a sink and installed a mini fridge for a snack station; added a row of touch-latch cabinets in the adjacent eaves.Stole 60 square feet from the vehicle bay downstairs for a new entry. Added a barn door on the new wall for access to the parking area.Put in an 80-square-foot full bath and a 6-by-5-foot closet under the stairs.

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

Remodeling Your Kitchen? Read This!


Before you embark on your remodel, check out our list of spend-smart strategies to get the kitchen you covet—within your budget.

A kitchen is the single-most expensive room to remodel, and even cosmetic improvements (painting the existing cabinets and walls, replacing the sink, faucet, and hardware, adding pendant lighting, and upgrading the electrical) can cost $5,000 or more. Knock down walls, rearrange the layout, buy new appliances, cabinets and countertops, and the price of your kitchen redo may skyrocket to $40,000 or $50,000 or more.

So before you hire a pro or begin to tackle the job yourself, read our spend-smart tips—from easy upgrades to a total gut renovation—and get the kitchen you covet that fits within your budget.

Spend-Smart Strategies for Your Kitchen Makeover

Paint and Save on Cabinets

New cabinetry can account for between 30% and 40% of your kitchen remodel costs. So if you’re happy with their location and functionality, but the finish is dark or dull, consider painting them instead of replacing them. It’s a fairly labor-intensive, but doable DIY project and your wallet will thank you. Even hiring a painting pro will cost you a fraction of new custom cabinets.

Style Tip: For a fresh, airy look, remove the doors of some uppers to create open shelving.

Splurge on a Quality Faucet

Photo by William GeddesThe faucet is the hardest working part of the kitchen, so go for quality and convenience—meaning a premium brand and single-handle operation. If your sink is in front of a window, make sure to check faucet and handle clearances to make sure it fits (and you won’t bash your knuckles on the sill). When choosing a sink to partner with it, simple is best: Go for a single basin, as big as you can fit, and no deeper than 10 inches so you aren’t forced to stoop to do the dishes.

Prep Before You Paint

Illustration by Carl WiensWhether you’re doing it yourself or want to keep an eye on your painter, these tips will help you get it done right.

The sheen (or shininess) of the finish impacts how easy it is to clean; go for semi-gloss on all trim, satin for painted cabinets, and eggshell for walls.Prep before you pick up a paint brush; no amount of paint or primer will cover up cracked walls or nail holes in trim. Sand out uneven spots, fill nail holes, caulk all seams. And if you’ve hired a team, make sure your contractor clarifies who is responsible for doing that work.The best time to paint your kitchen comes earlier than you might think: Do it before the cabinets and backsplash go on the walls to reduce labor costs (even after an extra round of touchups later), eliminate paint drips on the cabinets and tiles, and ensure a perfect line where they meet the wall.

Keep Character and Functionality in Mind When Choosing a Backsplash

Photo by Lisa RomereinThink of the section of wall between the countertop and the cabinets as a canvas where you can express your personality. Subway tiles offer a traditional look, unless they are oversized, you lay them vertically, or arrange them in a herringbone pattern. Tiny mosaic patterns are pretty, but the grout lines are harder to clean.

Of course, there are many other options, including glass, metal, stone, mosaic, embossed ceramic, and other tiles—and non-tile options such as beadboard paneling or metal ceiling tiles. Choose something that reflects your taste—but that’s also widely appealing and easy to maintain so it won’t turn off buyers when you put the house on the market someday.

Consider Quartz

Photo by Anthony TieuliQuartz—a manmade countertop material that looks like stone—has overtaken granite as the most popular countertop choice, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. And for good reason: Quartz is practically stain-proof, scratch-proof, and chip-proof; it never needs sealing.

Quartz comes in a vast assortment of looks, many of which convincingly mimic the natural variegation of marble and limestone, the real versions of which are extremely high-maintenance choices for kitchen countertops.

Don’t Scrimp on Lighting

Photo by Nat ReaThere are three different types of light fixture to choose from for your kitchen. (Hint: You want all of them.)

Recessed Ceiling Fixtures: Install these over all open floors pace to provide ambient light where people will stand and work.Under-Cabinet Lighting: Use this to provide task lighting over the countertops—and to highlight the countertop, backsplash, and cabinetry when it’s the only light that’s on.Pendants/Ceiling Fixtures: Brighten work zones like islands, peninsulas, and sinks with decorative pendants that provide diffuse light without creating shadows.

Think About Wood-Look Flooring Alternatives

Courtesy of Armstrong FlooringWood offers natural, traditional beauty, but it scratches, dents, and wears under kitchen conditions.

Easy-to-clean porcelain tile comes in a wide range of designs, including convincing stone and wood looks, but most things that drop on porcelain will break.

So it’s worth considering these softer alternatives: Luxury vinyl and laminate flooring (shown here) is durable, comparatively soft and forgiving, and comes in a wide range of wood looks that most people will think is the real thing.

Budget Guidelines for a Major Kitchen Remodel

Three factors should come into play when determining how much to spend on your kitchen remodel:

How much you can afford to get the kitchen you want.The quality of kitchens in other houses in your neighborhood.How long you plan to stay in your home. If you’re looking for payback at resale, consider this: How much you should be willing to spend on any major renovation is related to the value of that room as a percentage of your overall house value.

Get Out Your Wallet for a Gut Job

Tearing out everything down to the framing makes it easy to change the locations and sizes of doors and windows; to add, move, or remove walls; to run new electrical, plumbing, and heating/cooling lines; to identify and repair any rot or insect damage, and to insulate.

But demolition labor, disposal of the old materials, and replacement of the wallboard and trim will add significantly to your project costs. Talk to your contractor about the pros and cons for your particular project.

Insulate Well Before Putting Up Walls

Spray foam insulation provides the best block against outside temperatures and drafts, but if you’ve gutted the kitchen, you also have the lower-cost option of using fiberglass batt insulation or stone wool—saving potentially thousands of dollars.

Another step before the drywall goes up: Make sure your contractor furs out the ceiling to make it perfectly flat (if the joists aren’t aligned) and uses only screws (no nails) to install the wallboard to reduce the risk of nail pops.

Get the Look of High-End Cabinets for Less

Photo by Anthony TieuliUnless you’re looking for something truly offbeat, you can find the cabinet look (door style, wood type, finish) you want without the high cost of custom cabinets (which are made to order to your exact design and size specs).

Consider two affordable alternatives: Stock cabinets are the least expensive and fastest delivered; each manufacturer offers a limited menu of styles and finishes in three-inch width increments. The Goldilocks middle-ground choice is semi-custom cabinets, which are made to order from a company’s established designs and finishes, in one-inch size increments.

Invest in New Windows

Photo by Ken GutmakerYou don’t need to gut-renovate your kitchen to replace the windows and doors, but relocating them—or making them bigger—will require down-to-the studs demolition, at least in those areas.

New windows will improve your energy efficiency; they can tilt in for easy cleaning; and they will eliminate the unsightly storm windows common in many houses with original single-pane windows. Don’t make the mistake of swapping out high-quality wood windows for cheap vinyl replacements, however, especially in a majestic building with lots of old-house character.

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Home Care

How To Stain Brick



Brick is incredibly durable and can last a very long time, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the same old look for eternity. You can stain your brick surfaces for a new, fresh look, and we’ll show you how.

When it comes to durability, brick homes and buildings are some of the longest-lasting structures around. In fact, the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, South Africa and Bromley Hall in London, England are both brick structures that are over 500 years old. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend centuries looking at the same old color in your home. If you learn how to stain brick, you’ll be able to change its look over the course of a weekend.

Can You Stain Brick? Stain vs. Paint

Both stain and paint can change the look of brick siding, fireplaces, and other masonry. They each have their pros and cons, but both are good options for a brick makeover. The choice will depend on your goals.

When it comes to ease of application, painting brick is usually the way to go. With a thick roller, an old paintbrush, and a bit of effort, you can achieve a painted look in just a coat or two. Paint will dry on the outside of the brick, covering it completely. However, paint doesn’t soak into the brick, so it’s not as long-lasting or durable as a stain.

On the contrary, stain is more challenging to apply, often requiring several coats to achieve the color and effect desired. This is because brick is porous and will soak up the stain as it’s applied. For that reason, it’s best to apply a stain with a paint sprayer, though it is possible to do with a roller and brush. However, there are several benefits of staining brick. To start, the look will last much longer than paint. Staining these surfaces also allows the natural beauty of the brick to show and covers more area—which means you’d likely save money with this method.

Steps for Staining Brick

The process of staining brick isn’t complex, but there are certain steps you’ll need to follow to achieve the best possible result.

Step 1: Clean the bricks

For a stain to penetrate well and take hold, the bricks should be relatively clean. However, due to its irregularities and porosity, brick can be difficult to clean.

Use a pressure washer to clean the entire area. Don’t be overly aggressive with the pressure or nozzle because, though brick is durable, you can easily damage mortar with too much pressure. Bring the pressure down to around 1,000 PSI (1,500 at the max) and watch to ensure you’re not blasting the mortar away.

Step 2: Make repairs

A mason repairing a hole in a brick wall.
Colleen McQuaidAfter the surface is clean, do a thorough inspection of the brick and mortar joints. Most likely, the bricks will be in suitable condition. But mortar can deteriorate over time, so make repairs where necessary.

Prepare mortar mix by following the manufacturer’s directions on the bag. Then, with the pointing trowel, replace any deteriorated mortar with the fresh mix. Be sure to work the mortar as far into the joint as possible and shape the repair to blend in with the rest of the joint. Give the mortar at least a few days to dry before staining.

Step 3: Prep the area

Stain is thinner than paint, and the process of staining brick can be very messy.

When staining interior brick, use tape to protect anything along the brick you don’t want stained, such as walls, trim, mantles, etc. Use drop cloths to protect anything you can’t remove from the area.

For staining exterior brick, tape along any trim, windowsills, and the foundation, if necessary. Also, lay drop cloths over larger elements like shrubs, bushes, decks, sidewalks, and the like.

Step 4: Mix the stain

Like paint, stain will separate in the can over time, with the pigments sinking to the bottom and solvents rising to the top. These components need thorough mixing to ensure the finished product is even and consistent.

The best tool for mixing masonry stain is a drill with a paint mixer attached. Place the end of the mixer in the stain and mix until the entire contents incorporate with each other. You can also use a wooden paint stirrer; it will just take longer.

Depending on the manufacturer, you might need to dilute the first coat. If that’s the case, use a clean bucket and add the water according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Keep this mixed stain separate from the rest.

Step 5: Load the paint sprayer

Using an inexpensive paint sprayer (roughly $60) is far more efficient than rolling and brushing the stain onto the brick. Load it by removing the hopper and filling it up to the “max” line. Reattach the hopper to the paint sprayer and prime it by plugging it in, pointing it at a piece of cardboard, and holding the trigger until it sprays. Twist the spray nozzle so the spray pattern is vertical.

Step 6: Spray the brick

A living room fireplace that has been stained a dark red.
Annalize Nel/GAP PhotosFinally, start coating the brick with the sprayer. Hold the sprayer roughly twelve inches from the brick’s surface and at a slight angle. While holding the trigger, sweep the sprayer from left to right, overlapping the last pass by half. Continue sweeping back and forth until you coat the entire brick surface. Use an old paintbrush to clean up any puddles or even out the mortar joints.

After allowing to dry (the time will depend on the humidity, temperature, and how heavy a coat you applied), apply another coat. If possible, twist the spray nozzle so the spray pattern is horizontal and apply this coat in an up-and-down motion. Again, overlap the last pass by half.

Continue applying coats in this manner, alternating spray patterns, until the brick surface looks as planned.

With that, you’ll have given your brick surface a makeover that will last for years and years. Best yet, you don’t even need to seal the brick after staining. By learning how to stain brick, you’ll be able to enjoy the low maintenance and durability of your brick surface, as well as the fresh new look you’ve given it.

Tools and Materials

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Home Care

How to Select and Use a Drill/Driver


Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva explains the proper use of a drill/driver

In this video, Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva explains the proper use of a drill/driver.

Selecting and using a drill/driver

To lock the drill bit into place on a drill/driver, place it into the keyless chuck and slowly press the trigger, then twist the chuck to lock it into place.To make sure you’re on the drilling setting, there should be a twistable feature on the top of the drill/driver with a picture of a drill bit. For driving, there’s a picture of a screw. And some drill/drivers also have a picture of a hammer, for use as a hammer drill into masonry.Drill/drivers also come with a clutch setting. The numbers are next to the chuck and can be adjusted to suit the project. For fine work, keep the clutch setting low. For more power, the clutch setting can be higher.There’s also a setting for torque on the very top of the drill/driver. One setting can be can be used for speed; the other can be used for power.The trigger on the drill/driver can also vary the speed.Next to the trigger is a back and forth button that sets the drill for forward and reverse.