Category Archives: Little House Projects

Princess Dress Storage Corner

Dress Up Shelf - Final Close

We have a small area near the bottom of our stairs that is PERFECT for a little wine cellar.¬† This project is about the princess/dress-up area that is there instead ūüė¶¬† To be fair, building a wine cellar or wine storage area (I even thought of temperature and humidity control) would be pretty time-consuming to build and probably expensive to boot.¬† Maybe one day…

Despite my pouting, we did have an actual problem to solve with this project.¬† My girls love to dress up and pretend.¬† All their princess dresses and dress-up stuff was thrown into a bin that usually ends up strewn across our entire basement.¬† My wife had an idea to build some sort of “coat tree” that could be put into the corner for hanging the dresses.¬† After taking a look and going over some options, I came up with the idea of building corner shelves that could also be used for hanging dresses.¬† My wife thought it would be a good idea to add a second shelf as well.¬† This is a pretty simple project, but seems to do the trick for wrangling dress-up stuff (it is TERRIBLE for wine storage though).


  • 1×4 pine board
  • laminated pine panel
  • wood glue
  • brad nails
  • 14 rubber coated mug hooks
  • screws
  • paint
  • string (for making the 1/4 circle shape)


  • Circular saw (optional)
  • Mitre Saw
  • Brad nailer
  • Scroll saw or Jig saw
  • Router + 1/4″ round over bit (optional)
  • Sander + sandpaper (150 & 220)
  • Drill & Drill Bits
Cut out pieces for the shelf

Cut out pieces for the shelf

I used a string that I pinned down in the corner of the laminated panel with my finger to draw 2 1/4 circle shapes.¬† The trick to drawing the 1/4 circle shapes is to use string that doesn’t stretch easily and just keep a steady hand while holding your pencil to make the arc.¬† I free-handed the shape on the end of the 1×4 pine, cut it out on my scroll saw and used the first piece as a template for the other 3 pieces (to make sure they were all the same).¬† I used my circular saw to make a bunch of rough cuts around the arc… essentially to remove material.¬† This makes it easier to use my scroll saw, but if you are going to use a jig saw you shouldn’t need to do this.¬† After some sanding, I used my router with a 1/4″ round over bit to round off the top outer edge of the shelf.¬† This step isn’t required either, but I would at least sand the edges.¬† Add some glue and nail all the pieces together.

Both shelves are assembled

Preview Changes Both shelves are assembled

I decided to paint these shelves to match our baseboards.  All that was left to do was hang these up in the corner using some screws and install the mug hooks.  I pre-drilled all my screw holes to prevent any splitting of the wood.  It was definitely helpful to draw out my hook pattern on paper before installing the hooks.  This was the most time-consuming part of the whole project because I am anal about things being evenly spaced.  Here are some final pictures of the corner shelf/dress hangers.

Dress Up Shelf - Installed

Dress Up Shelf - Hooks CloseUp

Dress Up Shelf - Final Close

Dress Up Shelf - Final Far

While this is definitely not as fun as a wine cellar, this little project definitely made my girls and wife happy.¬† The girls have easy access to their dress up stuff and my wife doesn’t have to come get a bin down every time they want to do it.

DIY Rustic Wood Mantel

Wood Mantel - Header

For my basement fireplace project, we were undecided on what to do about the mantel.¬† I always liked the look of those rustic mantels that look like someone chopped a log in half and hung it over the fireplace.¬† My wife likes the look of a stone mantel.¬† After deliberating and doing some research, we quickly ruled out a stone mantel (either made from concrete or an actual stone) because of the weight and no real way to support it.¬† We also ruled out the “cut in half” log after realizing that we (unfortunately) don’t live in a log cabin (it would just look out of place).¬† That left us with a non-log-sawed-in-half wood mantel (no mantel was not an option).¬† After doing more research and figuring out that solid wood mantels run $300 or more, I thought I was going to have to make a box mantel.¬† I was at a local woodworkers store buying wood for a box mantel, and on a whim asked the man behind the counter if they happened to have any solid wood that was thick enough to use for a mantel.¬† Unfortunately they didn’t have anything, but he gave me the number of a saw mill near by (well, 50 miles away… close enough).¬† I called up to Casey’s Lumber and not only did they have tons of lumber to use as a mantel, it was definately not going to cost me $300!¬† I was going to have to finish the lumber, but that is a heck of a lot more fun than buying something off the internet and installing it.

I had a friday off of work and drove the 50 miles up to the saw mill.  I have been in and around construction since I was 13, but have never been to a saw mill.  It was a very cool experience and it definately got my juices flowing.

Casey's Lumber

Casey’s Lumber

It took about an hour to pick out lumber, pet the “yard dog”, get the lumber cut to length, pet the “yard dog”, and pay the $70 for 4 mantel sized pieces of ponderosa pine.¬† I couldn’t help myself… I got 4 pieces of lumber to make solid wood mantels for the other fire places in the house (one fireplace is double sided) as well.¬† I also grabbed some of the scrap from the cuts so that I could test out some different finishes before making the actual mantels.

Lumber from the yard: The two on the left have already been planed. The two on the right are waiting their turn.

Lumber from the yard: The two on the left have already been planed. The two on the right are waiting their turn.

I had an idea to “fancy” these mantels up a bit and I decided to test it out on my scrap piece.¬† I thought it might look good if the mantels appeared to be attached to the wall with a thick wood post.¬† I got out my router and rounded over the edges of the test mantel and then routered out a square hole to place a 1″ thick “post” into the hole, creating the look that the mantel is installed by driving a big post through it and into the wall.¬† Because I was just testing the look, I did not bother to make a jig for the hole and it is a little sloppy… but good enough to get the idea of what it will look like.

Test Mantel: Hole routered out and "mock post" installed.

Test Mantel: Hole routered out and “mock post” installed.

Test Mantel: Close up of the "mock post"

Test Mantel: Close up of the “mock post”

After running the idea by my wife, we decided to go with it.¬† I cut off 1″ from my test mantel and used my table saw to cut them down to size to make my faux posts.¬† Using a 1/4″ round over bit with my router, I rouned over all the edges of the mantel except the back (which was going to sit flush with the wall).¬† I measured out where my “posts” would sit and drilled the pilot hole with a spade bit, the routered out my holes.¬† A small chisel was used to square the holes.

Laying out the holes for the "faux" posts

Laying out the holes for the “faux” posts

Everything routered/chiseled out

Everything routered/chiseled out

Everything was sanded down smooth, and the faux posts were glued into place… and it was time to distress the mantel!¬† The only distressing I have done in the past was by accident, and I usually had to do something to fix it.¬† We have some distressed furniture in the house so I took a close look at the details.¬† Worm holes, gouges, dents, scratches, corners that looked like someone dragged the furniture along the driveway…. it seemed simple enough.¬† I chose to use a chisel, a poker, 80 grit sandpaper and both ends of my hammer to distress the mantel.¬† You need to be careful not to over-do it with all of these tools or your “distressed” look will end up as a “should be used as firewood” look.¬† I have seen all sorts of medievil looking contraptions to distress wood, but just decided to keep it simple and take my time.

Tools of choice for distressing

Tools of choice for distressing

Here is how I did the distressing:

Distressed Corners – I used the 80 grit sandpaper to make those perfectly rounded corners from my router look like someone dragged the wood up the driveway on its corners.¬† I then used my chisel to “tap” the sharp end on the sanded corners.

Worm Holes – Just use the poker to poke random, but closely bunched holes.

Hewing the Edges РFor the rounded edges that needed to be made more imperfect, I used my chisel with very little pressure to scrape off some of the rounded edges.  I tried not to go overboard here and just did a few spots.  Use some sandpaper to sand of any spliters left from the chisel.

Gouges & Dents – I used the claw end of my hammer to randomly tap the wood faces to create small gouges (seen below on the front face of the mantel).¬† The hammer end was used to create dents on the faces and edges (seen below on the corner).¬† Again… I used very light pressure.

Distressing the Wood - corners, worm holes and hewing

Distressing the Wood – rough corners, worm holes and hewing

Scratches – The chisel was used to drag scratches into the faces where I started with light pressure and slowly increased it before easing off the pressure again.¬† This created some pretty “sharp” looking scratches that I was not happy with, so I used my poker turned on it’s side to drag through the scratches to smooth them out a bit.

Distressing the Wood - Scratches

Distressing the Wood – Scratches

To be able to actually hang this mantel, I carefully measured out some pilot holes for the back of the mantel and the wall.¬† I used some 10″ x 1/2″ lag bolts, coated with liquid nails to screw into the header that I had framed in.¬† If I had to do this over (which I will on the upstairs fireplace), I would use rebar and some masonry epoxy.¬† The liquid nails didn’t set very fast and cutting the heads off the lag bolts was a lot more work than I anticipated.

Wood Mantel - Pilot Holes

Pilot Holes on the back of the mantel

Wood Mantel - Mounting Posts

Mounting posts

Finally it was time for stain.¬† This turned out to be a lot more difficult task than I planned.¬† Not because staining wood is hard, but because I was a lot more picky with the details.¬† I grabbed 3 different stains to test out.¬† Minwax Red Mahogoney (left), Minwax English Chestnut (middle & top), and Minwax Dark Walnut (right) were tested on my test mantel with two coats each (the stain on the top is English Chestnut with one coat… a second coat made a huge difference).¬† Based on this test piece… we decided to go with the English Chestnut (the darker one).

Testing Stain Colors

Testing Stain Colors

There were a couple things that didn’t pan out like I wanted them to when it came to staining.¬† First, I should have given more time for the Minwax Pre-Stain Treatment (you NEED to use this on softer wood like pine) to dry.¬† In fact, I didn’t use the pre-stain treatment on my test piece, so the colors came out much darker.¬† My second mistake was to wipe off the first coat too early.¬† I should have given it the full 15 minutes.

First coat of stain using the English Chestnut color

First coat of stain using the English Chestnut color

As you can see… it was much lighter than what I was going for.¬† The second coat didn’t make it much darker and the third coat was closer but not close enough.¬† You shouldn’t have to use 3 coats, and I ended up adding a 4th coat of the Red Mahogoney to darken it enough to my liking.¬† After 2 coats of Polyeurothane, it came about pretty good though.

All I had to do was put some liquid nails into the pilot holes on the mantel and push it onto the mounting posts.¬† A rubber mallet was needed to bump it into place.¬† Here is how it came out (the stone isn’t grouted yet so the project is not done… but the mantel is!) …

Final Product

Final Product

And here are a few detailed close up pictures…

Wood Mantel - Final 1Wood Mantel - Final 4 Wood Mantel - Final 3 Wood Mantel - Final 2

Mock Up Your Project

Mock Up Header

Whenever I set out to do a project that requires some planning and we have options that will affect the outcome of a project… I try to mock the project up to get a good visual of what the completed project will look like.¬† My wife has many great qualities, but picturing what something will look like when it is done is not one of them.¬† Mock ups make a HUGE difference for her (being a visual person), and saves lots of re-do time for me.¬† Not only do these mock ups help to visualize the look of something, they also help determine if the function of the project will work in the house.¬† I thought I would share some ways I mock-up a project, including the use of cardboard, Google SketchUp (a free 3D modeling program from Google) and even graph paper.¬† Here are a few projects that I have mocked up:

Kitchen Counters (cardboard mock-up)

We knew from day zero that the kitchen counter tops were going to be replaced in our new house.¬† Besides the obvious problem of the existing counters being made of builder grade bathroom tile (seriously… they couldn’t have spent an extra $50 to get some better/bigger tile????)… there were a few others.¬† The kitchen island had an overhang on 3 sides where you could theoretically seat people, but the overhangs were not big enough.¬† On one side, you could sit there, but had to lean over to reach the counter.¬† The overhangs on the other two sides were completely un-usable for seating and while increasing counter space, blocked off floor space.¬† Another problem was the shape of the counter tops.¬† Most of our house was “rounded”.¬† Rounded arches, rounded windows, rounded wall edging….¬† The sharp angles of the existing counters did not fit.¬† Could we make better use of the counter space?¬† Would it look good to have the corners rounded?¬† How big should the radius be?¬† We planned on putting in granite, and really didn’t want to have any (expensive) regrets afterwards.¬† To make sure we would be happy with the new counters and we broke out the cardboard, utility knife and tape to mock up our ideas.¬† We lived with “cardboard” counters for a few days to allow the look and function to settle in.¬† While living with the mocked up counters, it was clear that some of our ideas were not great and other ideas needed only slight modification (with a utility knife).

Mock Up - Kitchen Island

Our kitchen island before and after – It is hard to tell, but adding a couple of inches on 3 sides of the island counter made a world of difference.


As you can see… some of our ideas worked out great.¬† By extending the counters by just a few inches on 3 sides of the island, we had use of all 3 sides for seating.¬† We were able to extend the counters without creating a tight squeeze in the walkways around the island either!

I had a great idea to extend the pass through counter top by creating an overhang into the dining room side of the pass through.  It turned out that the overhang made it difficult to reach the cabinets above the pass through and just stuck out like a sore thumb when viewing it from the dining room.  We settled on a slight extension so that we could have a rounded edge without affecting access to the cabinets.

Mock Up - Kitchen Passthrough

Pass through from the kitchen to dining room – My idea for extending the counter into the room was a flop after mocking it up.


Overall, mocking up our counters allowed us to extend the seating in our kitchen without tightening the space, make our counters fit the rest of the house and most importantly… avoid expensive regrets.

Fireplace Mantel & Hearth (cardboard mock-up)

We had an idea that we wanted to have a square mantle and hearth on our new basement fireplace.¬† How big should the mantel be?¬† How tall should the hearth be and how far should it stick out into the room, or should we even have a hearth? ¬†The mantel was pretty easy to figure out (really just figuring out how thick), but we really wanted to avoid taking up a bunch of floor space with a hearth.¬† A few cardboard boxes, some packing tape and about 15 minutes of my time… We figured out a 4″ thick by 8″ deep mantel was just about perfect and a 10″ deep hearth was deep enough to look good without taking up too much floor space.

Mock Up - Fireplace

Mantel and hearth made out of cardboard – This was very useful in figuring out how big the hearth should be.


Other Project (using SketchUp)

Both these projects have yet to be completed (actually… they haven’t even been started).

Our house has a great view out the back, but has a small deck (with the Trex decking installed incorrectly).  I would like to rip off the deck and build a bigger one, so I mocked up a bigger deck in SketchUp to get an idea of what it would look like.  The nice thing about doing a 3D model is that I can easily make changes to the design using layers without having to erase previous designs.

Mock Up - Deck

Deck Mock Up – This is not totally complete, but gives me an idea of how a bigger deck will look proportionally on the back of my house.


For whatever reason, I was staring up at the space above our kitchen soffits one day and had an idea.  What if I build a wine storage cabinet that would fit perfectly in the soffit space above our cabinets that store our bar stuff?  I used SketchUp to come up with several designs for the wine storage.

Mock Up - Wine Storage

Wine Storage Options – Done in Google SketchUp


Other Projects (using other methods)

I don’t have pictures of everything that I have mocked up, but here are some descriptions of ways I have figured out the final outcome of a project before doing any work.

  • Drawn Scale Models – I have used graph paper countless times to draw a scale version of a room and the components we want to put in it.¬† My best example is using this method to draw a scale version of our workout room, then cutting out scale versions of our workout equipment to arrange in the room.¬† Moving workout equipment 20 times just isn’t very appealing to me.
  • Testing Paint Colors – I highlighted the Sherwin Williams paint visualizer in this post and wish I would have found this tool earlier.
  • Use existing floor plans – When laying out the basement finish for our new house, I contacted the builder to get a PDF of the floor plans they print up when selling new homes.¬† My house had long since been discontinued, but they had the PDF in their archives.¬† This saved me tons of measuring time and drawing time because I didn’t have to re-draw the space.¬† It also gave me an idea of what the builder had in mind when selling a prospective home buyer the basement finish option.

Mock Up - Header Vertical

Updated Front Entry

The front door and entry on our house was very “nostalgic”.¬† It said to any guest leaving our house… “You are always welcome to come back to 1992 whenever you would like.”¬† It wasn’t terrible, but the honey oak door, beige wall and white trim was begging for an update.¬† We had already replaced all the shiny, cheap brass fixtures (bath and electrical) in the whole house with oil rubbed bronze which made the entry a little better, but it was not enough.

My first step was to use the Sherwin Williams Color Vizualizer to get an idea of what colors would look good and what wouldn’t.

[I gotta say that I wish I would have found this online tool earlier.¬† I have had to repaint more walls than I can count after the wife discovered the new color isn’t exactly what she wanted.¬† All you have to do is upload a picture of the room you want to paint and virually mask off areas and apply paint.]

After getting a basic idea of what we wanted… all I had to do was do the work.¬† This front entry update was not very complicated, expensive or time consuming.¬† The plan was to paint the wall, stain the door, add “big” trim around the door and put a little crown molding up to make the door look taller.

Painting the wall was a no brainer and I used my technique to get good clean paint lines for the red paint.¬† Staining the door proved to be a little more difficult.¬† Because the door is vinyl, you cannot simply stain the door with any ol’ stain.¬† For this job, I chose to use General Finishes Gel Stain in their Georgian Cherry color because it was a close match to our “virtual paint job”.¬† It was recommended to wipe on the stain with a rag from the folks at the local WoodCraft store and it turns out they were wrong.¬† To be fair, the guy I talked to did not have much experience staining vinyl.¬† After two coats of wiping, it was very streaky and splotchy.¬† I used a brush on the final coat and was able to even it out.¬† I finished the job by brushing on a clear top coat (also from General Finishes).

The final step was to add the trim and crown.¬† We picked a trim that was actually intended to be used as baseboard, but it was 5 inches tall and really seemed to fall in line with what we wanted.¬† The crown molding at the top of the door was the final step to give our entry door the added height we were looking for.¬† After caulking and painting all the trim and crown… this job was done.¬† My only worry is that our front entry had promised our guests that they could return to 1992 whenever they wanted…. they won’t be to find it in our house.

A quick note about this project…¬† I really do not like the glass inserts in our front door.¬† I thought it might be possible to just remove the “decorative” part of the insert, leaving clear glass.¬† After speaking to a door company, it was determined that this really isn’t a good idea.¬† Not because you cannot get the insert out, but because there is not a very effective way to put it back together in a way that prevents condensation from forming in between the glass panels.

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