Monthly Archives: March 2016

Subterranean odyssey, part 2

[Special guest blogger Eric continues his saga of transforming the unspeakably gross basement into a usable workspace.]

Halfway there!

When you have a room full of stuff and no storage space, what do you do? Make storage space, of course! But what do you do with all the stuff in the room when there is no other place to put it while you make storage space? Pile it up in one corner while you work on the other. Or better yet, go to the Flower and Garden Show and then go to the Seattle Home Show. In my last guest post I said I felt like Billy in the Family Circus. Ah yup. Here is how projects work at our house.

Cartoon of circuitous route from start to destination

We’re distracted by anything shiny.

The first step in creating my new workshop was, I thought, to repaint the walls a brighter color. Like white. Removing the dark color in a basement without much in the way of windows and replacing it with a light color just seemed the right thing to do. That meant removing some of the wood crate shelving so I could paint behind it. As I emptied the shelves, I sorted. Stuff for the dump here … stuff to keep there…unidentified stuff somewhere else. I was quickly running out of space to pile stuff. Two five-pound lead bricks could be used for something someday. So I put those on top of the foundation wall next to the little wooden Japanese sandals that a long-ago owner must have made for his daughter. Let the next owners of the house wonder where they came from.

Green wooden geta sandals for a child

D’Arcy found these Japanese geta sandals on top of a beam in the basement.

The solution to the storage problem? Take out half the wood crate shelving along the south wall, paint, and then install some new cabinets for storage. Fill the cabinets and the repeat the process. That was my plan. Here is what I started with.

Panorama of crowded, dusty worbench and tools

From wine to air-conditioner.

The first real step was to find a place to temporarily stash a few bottles of wine. The new wine cabinet will become a storage unit after I build a new wine rack or we drink all the wine, whichever comes first. One bottle a day and we will be out of wine sometime in late July or early August.

Tall, narrow white cabinet holding wine bottles

Red or white?

The fanciful paint job was actually fun to look at. But it made the room really dark. The dirty metal cabinet on the right is the original base for our vintage kitchen sink. It was rusted beyond use, so I chucked it … but I saved the Art Deco pulls.

Ols sink cabinet and workbench with leaves painted on wall

Elvis’s jungle room had nothin’ on this.

I decided on bright white paint. I first put Zinsser primer over the top of the painted wall. One coat was enough to cover the paint below. Of course, I had washed and wiped down the walls to remove the many-years-old dust and dirt that might be there. It seemed solid. But as the primer dried, the existing paint bubbled in places. And it flaked off in other places.

Bubb;ed and peeling white paint

Not a good sign!

It was then that I realized that the base coat of old paint (under the foliage design) was nothing more than a whitewash. So that meant scraping and wire brushing the walls to remove any newly loosened paint. A good lesson learned there. A new coat of primer went on. I made sure it was a version that had mold inhibitor and would cling to cement and masonry. The white semigloss went over that.

When I had cleaned and painted about half the wall I stopped and bought a couple of inexpensive storage cabinets at IKEA. They were two inches too tall. I had to trim them down so they fit under the floor joists. Now I had a place to put hand held power tools and accessories. A good start!

Two tall, white IKEA cabinets

IKEA to the rescue!

When the walls were all painted white the room seemed so much brighter! If there was any OCD within me I would have put a skim coat on the rough foundation walls to make them smooth. But what the heck? It is a basement, after all, and no matter what I did to the walls and floor, it would still be a low-ceiling basement! Harumph …

New white paint on one wall, original paint on the other

Before and after

My next task was either to buy or manufacture some sort of new worktable for myself. I wanted a lot of drawers and counter space. I figured 28” x 78” was a good size for a worktop. It would go under the east wall and window. Since the closest worktable I could find for purchase was roughly $850 and was not everything I wanted, I decided I would build one myself. Wouldn’t it be great if I had a fully functioning workshop to build something like that?

Stack of boards on basement floor

Future workbench

For $63 I purchased all the wood I needed for my workbench. Fir 2x4s and 2x8s were pretty much what I started with. That and some 1×6 pine boards. These days, a nominal 2×4 is actually 1.5×3.5 or so (plus or minus a sixteenth of an inch from board to board). That is something that is a constant reminder in our 103 year-old home, where the 2x4s really are 2×4. It always makes the remodel and repairs here interesting. I milled the 2x4s to1x3s and milled the 2×8 to even, squared thicknesses to create the tabletop.

Lumber for wrokbench cut to size

Cut down to size

At first I thought of making 15 wooden drawers for the workbench and then decided to go a totally different way. IKEA sells plastic drawers that are the perfect size and only a couple of dollars each. I picked up a few other things while at the Swedish superstore that would wind up in the basement.

The bench is done and works well. The entire workbench cost me less than $120 and many hours of labor. But it will work until I make one out of quarter-sawn oak or other really hard wood.

Wood workbench with colorful IKEA drawers

New worktable with IKEA innards

With the workbench done, I had the storage space and workspace to get the rest of the room cleaned and sorted. The pegboard is full of tools, the cabinets are in place and full, and all the bench tools are in their resting places. My old center island worktable and all the bench tools are on locking casters so they can be moved around as needed. That helps when you have a small workspace.

Hand tools hanging on white pegboard wall.

A pegboard for tools, like everyone’s dad used to have.

Tall black metal tool chest and rolling tables for bench tools

The black tool chest is where the old sink cabinet stood.

What’s next? I still need to add outlets and another new LED ceiling light. And I need to seal a few more floor cracks and run some leveler on the floor, too.

When those last few items are done I will move to the other side of the basement. There is an old workbench over there that is still great. I plan on using both side of the basement. The side I am finishing now will be the area where we do the heavy work of sawing, milling, and sanding. The other side will be for the detail stuff and will hold more storage for household needs and some hobby things. And mostly spider free. The adventure continues.

View of other half of dark, dirty basement

More to come …

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it


Two Friday dates

Northwest Flower and Garden Show

Every Christmas I find two tickets to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in my stocking. Come February, the show marks the exit from gloomy winter to dreary spring. Playing hooky from work for an afternoon (cough, cough) is part of the tradition. To my winter-weary soul, nothing beats entering Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center and breathing in an acre of soil and plants in the display gardens. Ahhh—spring!

This post covers only a small sampling of the garden displays. Hope you enjoy the color!

Entrance to Washington State Convention Center seen from street

Spring is through these doors!!

There’s always a theme to the display gardens; this year’s theme was “America the Beautiful.” Let’s begin right here in Washington State with a visit to the Hoh Rainforest. This large display was incredibly realistic, with native plants, fallen trees, and even a natural mulching of dried leaves.

Native plantings and fallen cedar tree depict the rainforest floor

Native plantings depict the rainforest floor

Nearby was a nod to the upcoming PGA Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, complete with azaleas, Rae’s Creek, and the Hogan Bridge.

Stone bridge, creek, azaleas, and golf green salute the Masters tournament

As close to Augusta National as I’m likely to get.

A trip to the desert Southwest sounds good at this time of year.

Rocks and cactus form a xeriscape garden.

I’m always attracted to xeriscape gardens.

A bushy yucca in a garden display.

I waited a long time for a woman to move so I could photograph this yucca.

One of my favorite gardens this year was inspired by Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, with rocky outcroppings and windblown, craggy trees.

Rocky slope garden with snags and grasses

Heavy lifting.

Water puddle in the rocky garden

Traces of a seasonal stream among the rocks.

From bare rocks to an overabundance of blooms.

Colorful flower garden with tulips and weeping cherry tree and gazebo.

Where’s my Zyrtec?

Colorful mosaic cat statue in a flower garden.

I hoped to find this mosaic cat in a vendor’s booth, but no luck.

Great seasonal color around the basalt water feature, inspired by Na Pali Coast State Park in Hawaii.

Daffodils surround a black basalt rock water feature.

Banana leaf unfurls.

Someday I’ll have a banana plant. Yes, they do grow here!

This gorgeous fence promised something special inside. So did the people crowded around with their mouths open. “Tiny Tetons” was probably the most beautifully designed display we’ve seen.

Horizontal wooden slats form a high wall

We’ll remember this design.

Tall rocks in back and waves of purple and green in front look like the Tetons.

The sense of depth was masterfully done.

A depiction of Denali National Park in Alaska featured trout from Fish in the Garden (we have FITG carp in our garden).

Blue ceramic trout hover over a woodland stream.

Are they swimming high or flying low?

Beyond the display gardens were acres more, filled with vendors of all things garden-related. Fish in the Garden was there, all the way from Maine.

Vendor booth selling ceramic fish.

The Fish booth is always busy.

I was so fascinated by this sculptor’s metallic shoes that I didn’t take a picture of his wares, which were, appropriately, water features made of brass musical instruments.

Metallic shoes.


Are bugs your thing? You can collect some fancy ones for your wall.

Large metal sculpture insects mounted on the wall.

Where’s my fly swatter?

And of course, the Northwest is home to glass artist Dale Chihuly, so art glass is very popular here. No sign of Dale, though.

Inevitably, after a day filled with beautiful garden designs and colorful art, we always return home to this: February in the Northwest, the deadest and gloomiest month for the garden, and the wettest winter on record. Right now, it just looks like a lot of work.

Messy winter garden in the sun.

You should see it on a rainy day.

I was inspired enough to plant primroses in our porch planters and create this succulent garden (with frogs!) for my desk at work.

Tabby cat standing next to planter of primroses.

Tara is worried because the primroses are already bedraggled from rain.

Square green planter with succulents and ceramic frogs.

How many frogs can you find?

And we installed our garden art addition, an biplane whirligig, which fits in nicely because we enjoy watching the small planes fly over our house as they turn to land at our local airport. We’ll let it rust up and then add a coat of protective lacquer.

Rusty steel biplane whirligig mounted in the garden

On final approach.

Suddenly, it’s March, and everything’s starting to bud and grow, including the weeds. Our Mt. Fuji cherry is about to put on its annual show.

Cherry tree buds about to bloom.

It won’t be long now.

Seattle Home Show

The week after the garden show, we returned for the Seattle Home Show. We don’t hit this show every year, but it’s time for us to start getting serious about building our retirement home on Whidbey Island. I can hardly believe we’re to that point. We have a lot on our plate this year: The company we both work for is going through massive layoffs, we are planning to retire within the next two years, and we’ll be building a house on our island property … and, of course, continuing to work on the bungalow. What could go wrong? Right now, life is full of questions and we just have to wait for some of the answers. We’re having an interesting year.

At the Home Show, this architect’s design caught our eye. This home’s exterior comes really close to embodying our vision for our next house.

Now, we’re just waiting for the money tree in our backyard to bloom like crazy! Where’s my fish fertilizer?

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it