After months of searching, I’ve hired a design assistant, and boy, is she a keeper!
Sarah B. studied graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and received her B.A. in multimedia and web design from the Illinois Institute of Art. She and her husband, Kevin, have lived in Bellevue for almost 10 years. The couple bought their first “fixer upper” seven years ago and is steadily tackling projects one at a time.
One of the things I love about Sarah is that she’s a DIYer in every sense of the word (or acronym), so much so she considers it a hobby. She and Kevin have amassed so much DIY knowledge from their personal experiences that I wanted to share it here.
So, without further ado, welcome to the first edition of Sarah Saves. Each month, Sarah will be recapping one of her DIY projects, including how to save money and still get the design aesthetic you want.
Elevating My Entryway
by Sarah B.
I was never happy with my entryway. The solid banister and stained wood made it feel small and dark. I also hated the open railing, which allowed you to see the feet of my living room furniture the minute you walked through the door. The floor was covered in small mosaic tile, which is hard to clean, and the only storage was a small coat closet at the top of the stairs.
Being DIYers and penny pinchers, Kevin and I managed to improve its look and function on a realistic budget. Here’s what we did.
The old door was wood, which wasn’t good for security or energy efficiency. I also wasn’t a fan of how it looked, especially its three tiny and oddly placed frosted windows. Since our split entry has a Craftsman/Mid Century Modern exterior look, I decided to go with a Craftsman-style door for more light.
I found a fiberglass slab door at Lowe’s for $259, but I didn’t like the busy design of its glass window pane. I really wanted a plain glass pane. We could have custom ordered the same door with a plain glass pane from Lowe’s for $700 (too expensive). I noticed the window was removable, so we bought the cheaper door, and I contacted Rainbow Glass in Papillion to see if I could have a plain glass replacement made. We brought the “busy” glass pane over, and they said they could make a pane with the same thermal insulating tempered glass for $60. Sold!
They put all the glass in a metal frame and had it all ready to slide right into the door. It worked out perfectly! We also added new door trim – a mixture of baseboard and decorative trim – then painted it all.
We removed the small, hard to clean mosaic tile and replaced it with Indian Autumn Slate tile, which we purchased from Ceramic Tileworks Center in Omaha (I think it was around three bucks a square foot). We also purchased a natural stone sealant so the tile would stay lighter.
Ceramic Tileworks Center is a great tile shop – not only does it carry a lot in stock at fair prices, it’s also DIY friendly. It carries all the professional grade tools and quality grout, thinset and sealants you need to do the job yourself. Their employees are friendly, knowledgeable and ready to offer any advice or support you may need. Whenever we have a tiling question, we always call them!
DIY Tiling Tip: If you don’t plan on doing much tiling, you can rent a large wetsaw (it will make the job go much faster, especially with larger sized tile) at tool rental places or big box home improvement stores like Home Depot or Menards. If you plan on tiling until your knees hurt, the large wetsaw from Harbor Freight is fantastic if you add a good blade to it. It also seems to be less expensive than ones sold at other home improvement stores. If you can use one of their 20% off coupons, the price is even better!
The Wall with Railing and Storage
To help create privacy between the entryway and living room and resolve the issue of seeing the legs of my living room furniture when you walked through my home’s front door, we replaced the open spindle railing with a railing that was more half wall. I also thought this would be a good place to add much-needed storage. My solution? Find a couple of cabinets with open shelving that offered spacial depth.
I went to one of our Habitat Restore locations and found two taller wood cabinets in good condition for $80. We sanded, primed and painted them, then added new, flat hardware so nothing would catch on them. Then we built a simple bookshelf to go between the cabinets. When we anchored the cabinets and bookshelf to the floor and wall, we did so in a way that allowed the bookshelf and one of the cabinets to be removable (in case we ever need more space to move other large items through the front door).
The cabinets are great for storing mail, shoes, backpacks, purses, winter hats, gloves, scarfs – you name it! To help visually tie the cabinets to the wall space behind them, we added painted wood pine planking to both the wall and back of the bookshelf. We purchased the planking from Menards when the store was having a sale, so we bought one pack for $14 and got the second one free!
I wanted my tiny entryway to feel a bit larger, so I thought a more open railing with a newel post might do the trick. The existing wood banister was pretty easy to remove, so we removed all but the bottom section. Instead of buying a pre-made newel for $100 or more, we made our own. That way, I could design its look and make sure it would fit the large base that was still on the stairs.
For $50, we bought a 4×4 post, anchored it, then added premium wood boards and trim pieces around it to finish it. Then we sanded, wood filled and painted it all white. We purchased the balusters from Menards for about $4 each.
The old stairs were carpeted, which we didn’t want since we added oak hardwood floors on the main level. When we removed the carpet, we found old construction-grade pine stairs that weren’t in good enough condition to stain. We bought oak Retro Treads for $28 each from Lowe’s. They fit over the existing wood stairs like a cap, so we cut them down to size, added stain/poly and glued them into place. We used nice wood for the risers, then painted and secured them into place as well. We purchased the oak handrails from Menards (they were on clearance for $60) and stained them to match the stairs.
I wanted the new cabinets and bookshelf to have a finished look. The problem – we couldn’t find a board wide enough that wasn’t too expensive or looked like butcher block. Our solution? We purchased three long oak boards from Menards during one of the store’s 11% off sales and joined them together using a jig, wood glue and wood filler. Then we sanded, stained and sealed it. I took my time to find three boards that looked like they went together.
Now I love walking through my front door. It was totally worth the time and effort!