Home: Reclaiming a bedroom and kitchen on a budget

Contrary to popular belief, owning a newspaper aimed at Utah’s gay and lesbian community does not make one a billionaire. Or millionaire. It barely makes one a thousandaire. It also takes up a bit of one’s time. So, in the seven years of running this dog and pony show, my house has begun to basically fall down around me. Stir in a hoarder for a roommate, and you’ll understand that I had at least one room in my house that fell into complete disrepair. Another room – the kitchen – fell victim to a remodel 10 years ago that stopped mid-stage as I changed my mind about where it should actually be in the house. Those who have visited my house have been kind and overlooked the embarrassing rooms. But, it was time to reclaim the bedroom and give a facelift to the kitchen – at least until I can afford to move it into the back of the house, right off the deck, as I hope to one day.

So, as I remembered that QSaltLake was scheduled to do a Home and Garden issue, I chose that as my deadline to get my projects done – quick and on the cheap.

I’ve read thousands of home and garden magazines and watched hundreds of This Old House and Home Again episodes. What gay man hasn’t? Or lesbian for that matter. I’ve also read many stories of “fast and inexpensive room remodels” which cost thousands of dollars and take a crew of 20 to finish in the few weeks they allot.

I gave myself a budget of $1500 and a month to get it done. I solicited help from my good friend DJ Bell, who owns Bell-Fair Interiors, bribing him with a logo redesign, advertising, some web work, a mention or nine in this story and food. He bit, so I didn’t have to include his labor in my costs.

[[[Truth moment: DJ actually came to me with the idea of doing the bedroom to get a case study for his web site. I added the rest to sweeten the pot.]]]

“When Michael told me of his remodel/reclamation plans, I was excited to offer my services in order to help build my portfolio as well as help out a friend,” DJ said.  “Michael Aaron is what we in the design industry call a dream client.”

I mentioned that I had a hoarder. He died 14 months ago and I had cleared out five garbage cans of trash and “valuables” from the room on the weekends that I could face the room. When I say garbage cans, I mean the huge green cans you take to the street. Once we decided to truly tackle this room, my boyfriend, Giusseppe, kicked it off by filling another four garbage cans, making the project a lot more manageable.

“Using magazine pictures and researching ideas online is the best way to assist your designer in finding and creating the right design aesthetic for your space and your lifestyle,” DJ said.

I had a vision for the room that involved a padded headboard wall with deep, dark woodwork. If you’ve ever been to the Blue Moon Resort in Las Vegas, you’ll know that I ripped the idea off soup to nuts. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, owner and interior designer John Hessling should have a head the size of the MGM Grand lion. I’ve taken ideas from dozens of resorts and B&Bs I’ve been to over the years for the house and yard.

That as our guiding light, our first stop was the paint store. DJ, Giusseppe and I went through a myriad of color combinations, using some existing furniture and bedding and the deep walnut woodwork I’d envisioned for the headboard wall as guides. We ended up with “cake batter” for the ceiling, deep gold upper moldings, “bamboo shoot” for the walls (a nice muted green), and an almond color (which I’m sure has some sexier name) for the doors, trim and floor molding.

[[[You know you are boring in bed if your partner is staring upward, thinking, “Cake batter. I think I’ll paint the ceiling cake batter.”]]]

One of the best decisions we made in this project was going to Sherwin-Williams for the paint. I was once a huge fan of Behr paint from Home Depot. I don’t know what has happened since I first used it to paint the bungalow and loved it, but after three coats in the bathroom that still didn’t cover and are waiting for a fourth coat, I have moved on.

One coat of green Sherwin-Williams paint and there wasn’t a trace of the deep Victorian red that once graced the wall. I only put a second coat on for good measure.

To save costs, I chose to do a lot of the work myself. My home is a 1917 bungalow in the Marmalade District that I bought in 1990 for $29,900. Yes, it was boarded up and I spent a year of my life stripping walls, replacing a kitchen and furnace, hiring out plumbing and other work before moving in; but I got a house for the price of a car and I felt like it was mine. There’s not a square inch of this house I haven’t touched at one point since I’ve lived here.

I painted the room’s ceiling, moved onto the walls and started on the trim and doors. I hate painting trim and doors. That’s where the project started to lag.

[[[Helpful hint (aka do as I say, not as I do): Paint follows the law of gravity. Start at the top (ceiling) and move downward. ]]]

Then I started on the pièce de résistance – the headboard wall. I had price-shopped beds and found that what I wanted was going to be over $700 – almost half my budget and not the Blue Moon ripoff … I mean inspiration … I wanted. Off to shop I went.

Home Depot. I bought a $7 piece of OSB sheathing board and asked the guy to cut it into 1-foot squares. On a sign on the wall, Home Depot says the first three cuts are free and you are charged for more than that. I have yet to be charged for any cutting I’ve had them do over the past 20 years. This guy was intrigued about what I was doing and asked me to bring in a photo. I’ll bring in this story.

[[[Helpful hint: Let the Home Depot people cut your large sheets down to more easily fit in your car and make the lumber easier to handle. They usually do it for free, even though signs show a cost.]]]

I found some vinyl at NPS for less than $3.99 a yard – the price which DJ says he won’t pay any more than for fabric – so I felt I had found a great deal. It is exactly the color I’d hoped to find and has a great leather texture. If you don’t know about NPS, it is a freight damage store that has everything from out-of-date food to clothing. There is also an industrial side that has some of the most interesting finds in the valley. I got a wine fridge there for $17 and 9-foot outdoor umbrellas for $15.

[[[Helpful hint: Check out NPS, 1600 South and 1900 West, for all kinds of strange and whacky deals on just about everything you may want to find. If you can’t find it elsewhere, try them out. I must warn you though – In the ’90s I walked in and there was an anti-gay petition at the door. I went to the customer service desk and complained to someone who turned out to be an owner. He apologized and said it was his brother and he’d take care of it. I left and came back in a half hour to see the table gone and went on with my shopping. ]]]

I ran to Joanne’s for padding and batting and got everything cut up and ready to assemble the 25, 1-foot square upholstered pads for the wall. DJ dutifully sewed the four corners of each of the naga squares and staple-gunned them to the boards. I took each one and attached them to the wall with Liquid Nails. If the house ever tumbles in an earthquake, the headboard will survive and perhaps soften the blow of the wall falling on us as we sleep.

“This project ended up saving Michael and Guisseppe over $400 on ordered materials alone,” DJ said.

I then preconditioned and stained the fir boards I bought as trim, applying it , letting it set for 15 minutes and wiping it off. And then I stained them again. And again. They never turned the deep walnut color I’d hoped. It was only then that someone told me something about toning the wood before staining. So, I cheated and applied the stain, but never wiped it off. It was exactly the color I’d hoped for, but took many days before it was dry enough to apply the two coats of Varathane to finish it off. Voila, I had a headboard wall that was just as I’d dreamed it. Or saw in Vegas.

The house still has the original lath-and-plaster walls. I chose to save them, even though I spent months fixing half-inch and larger cracks and holes from picture nails. I wanted to save as much of the original house as possible. The woodwork had largely been spared coats of paint, and the floors luckily had been covered with carpet for years and were in good shape.

Hanging pictures, however, is extremely destructive to plaster walls. Moving pictures around just can’t happen, unless you can use the same nails. My answer to this was a picture shelf. Swap pictures out daily with no repercussions. Two more fir boards and a dentil molding piece later (much later… have you ever tried to stain dentil molding?) and I have a six-foot picture shelf.

Onto the floor. At one point I had hoped to save the pine flooring that had been hidden under the then-new-fangled linoleum. Unfortunately, after much sanding, paint removal and other loving-care, I decided the floor was far beyond saving. To stay within cost, I decided that laminate flooring was the answer. Lumber Liquidators had the perfect mahogany flooring on sale for a great price. I decided on the upgraded underlayment, because I’ve walked on laminate flooring before and hated the crackle with each footstep. While triple the price, in the end I found it was well worth the extra expense.

DJ spent a Saturday afternoon on his knees in my new bedroom and we got the floor all laid, though the hallway remains a future challenge.

The laminate is simple to install, has the feel of hard wood and is a terrific and cheap alternative, he said.

While all this was going on, I spent a lot of time finding new furniture for the room. I’d been living with the same furniture, which I had assembled on my own, for over 25 years. It was time for new. I wanted something with a Craftsman feel to match the rest of the house, but the chest of drawers alone would have been my entire budget for the remodel.

The solution: IKEA furniture with Craftsman hardware. I was able to find a hardware company online that had the perfect drawer pulls — I had found at Restoration Hardware for $8 — for a buck each. To save shipping, I added a dozen cabinet knobs for the kitchen cabinets. Expecting chinchy tin hardware, I was surprised to find sturdy, attractive pulls. Score!

Though Giusseppe and I spent hours putting together two nightstands, a chest of drawers, a bench for the end of the bed and a huge mirror, the results were spectacular and well worth it. And for under $500.

I hate overhead lighting. The room, like most rooms in America, has one light in the middle of the ceiling. I have yet to turn on a light that is in the middle of the ceiling, except when I needed to find a lost contact lens. Light splashed on the walls, however, gets me going. I made the choice to venture into the attic and install new lighting. I hate getting into the attic. Hot, muggy, dusty, dirty, dank, cramped, filthy are some of the most favorable adjectives I can come up with about my attic. I must really hate overhead lighting.

I bought two pendants for over the bed on clearance at Sutherlands, two spot lights at Home Depot and two nightstand lamps at Lowe’s.  (I don’t think I included all the gas in my costs for this project.)

[[[Helpful hint: You can find all kinds of construction needs at Restore – a thrift store that benefits Habitat for Humanity. I found drawer kits for $10 each, paint brushes, brackets and tile for a future project for 50 cents a square foot. The best part is, you can feel good that the money you are spending helps build homes for those in need. It’s a great place to donate your items that you no longer need as well. I donated the old ceiling fan and some other hardware. I even found a lateral filing cabinet for the office for $15 that is a tank. That saved me over $150 in itself. Restore is located at 1300 South, just west of I-15.]]]

“There is no reason to ever pay retail for lighting,” DJ said.

While I was neck-deep in reclaiming the bedroom, Giusseppe took charge of the kitchen.

The kitchen. Ten years ago I started to update the kitchen. I moved the refrigerator across the room, putting new cabinets in its old place. I bought a new dishwasher and painted the walls a deep blue. But then, before getting it all finished, I decided the kitchen really needed to be in the back room off the deck. It has sat that way – a modge-podge of tan, oak, dusty rose, blue and brushed steel – for 10 years.

Giusseppe took to painting the cabinets and cupboards of the kitchen. We used the same paint for the upper cupboards as the molding and doors of the bedroom. We chose a deep green for the cabinets. (We are getting flack from some people that it is too close to avocado green from the ’70s. I’m sure it’ll be back in style soon.) I used the rest of the bamboo shoot paint from the room to cover the blue.

We also got rid of the dusty rose counters. Replacing them in any other way than painting was not in the budget. So we sanded them, primed them and used Hammerite paint. We then used the rest of the Varathane for two coats to make them kitchen-proof.

Just when we thought we had our projects finished, we looked down. A 20-year-old linoleum kitchen floor that, no matter how hard you clean always looks dirty, stuck out like a filthy, sore thumb. It had to go. We looked at the budget and found another $100. We decided on peel-and-stick laminate flooring that looks a bit like slate. If you squint. We took our last Sunday before this issue went to bed and put it down in about two hours. It added a warmth and depth that just made the room. It is now a space we won’t be embarrassed to have friends in. It will be the gay party space it is meant to be.

So, $1,438 later (plus gas, a bunch of paint brushes I’m sure I forgot to add, and other miscellaneous expenses), we have a resort-style master bedroom and a kitchen to be proud of.


Reclaimed bedroom:

Paint the ceiling                $17
Patch and paint the walls              $50
Fix and paint the ceiling molding               $35
Re-floor               $200
Fix and paint the floor molding  $20
Headboard/wall               $120
Picture shelf       $24
Bed frame           $48
Furniture             $455
Drawer pulls       $10
Lighting                                $174
Total      $1153


Repaint cabinets              $56
New hardware  $40
Paint countertops            $59
Re-floor               $75
Sink        $50
Total      $285


Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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One Comment

  1. Working on this project and helping Michael and Guisseppe realize their dream of creating a space with the look and feel of a 5 star luxury hotel on a budget that most would consider a small down payment on a designer’s fee is what we’re all about at Bell-Fair Interiors LLC. Thank you, Michael and Guisseppe, for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of creating your serene space.

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