adirondack chairs around fire pit on old shed concrete pad

Saving Etta - Backyard Transformation

Saving Etta Update: The Backyard Transformation

This has to be one of the biggest transformations (besides the demolition and framing) at the Saving Etta project! The backyard was an unruly mess of vines, overgrown shrubs, and weeds. I resisted the urge to do any landscaping until all the crews were finished outside. No sense in spending any time on landscaping when it would get messed up by trucks, equipment, and foot traffic.

While construction was going on, the yard took a beating. One week the demolition guys were pulling the dump truck into the yard to fill up with the debris. The next week an excavator dug the crawlspace and hauled the rest of the dirt to the back of the lot. Then we used the yard as a staging area for building supplies. Plus it doubled as extra parking on days when we had more than one crew on site. Over time most of the grass was gone and I probably picked up 4,532 random nails and screws littered in the yard. Needless to say, it was a mess by the time exterior construction was done.

The Backyard Transformation

On a particularly beautiful fall weekend, Pretty Handsome Guy (aka my husband) and I decided to plan a family yard work day at the house. We’ve tried to involve our boys in as much of the process as possible. We agreed to pay them for their time after the house sells. This seems to have been the incentive it took to get two teen boys off their devices and out for a yard work day.

Although there was a lot to do, I felt confident we could knock out a big chunk of work, especially using the power tools my friends at STIHL sent me. When I approached STIHL about being a Saving Etta sponsor, I assured them we’d have plenty of landscaping and yard work to showcase their new battery-powered line of tools. To be completely honest, I was a little skeptical of the power behind battery-powered vs. gas-powered equipment. But after trying the tools, I was thrilled with their performance. These STIHL tools have quickly become my favorite yard tools for the Saving Etta project AND at my own home.

STIHL battery powered tools: mower, blower, hedge trimmer, and chainsaw

Before they were delivered I had the privilege to try a lot of the STIHL gas and battery tools at the STIHL headquarters in Virginia Beach.

brittany trying chain saw

Joining me were a bunch of other badass builders, like April from Wilker Dos and Sarah from Ugly Duckling House. It was invigorating hanging out with other like-minded women who have figured out how to build and DIY their homes one project at a time. (See, you can do it too!)

women of Stihl event

During the event, we got to try all the new STIHL power tools. The STIHL battery-powered yard tools were definitely a hit from the start. Most of the attendees found them less intimidating. Plus, the tools were lighter weight and easier to handle.

Three Series of STIHL tools to meet your yard work needs:

The AP Series is designed for professional landscapers and people that use the tools on a daily basis on a variety of different properties. The battery has a longer run time, but also weighs the most of all the STIHL batteries.

The AK series handles the yard work of a typical suburban homeowner. The batteries have a slightly shorter run time, but the battery isn’t as heavy (a good thing for those of us who don’t lift weights on a daily basis.)

The AI series is perfect for small yards and quick clean up tasks. The AI tools plug in to charge (no external batteries.) The trimmer, leaf blower, and hedge trimmer would work well for small yards or town homes. Because there is no external battery, they are the lightest weight of the battery tools STIHL offers. The trade off is battery life is shorter than the AK or AP series.

Here’s what I love about the STIHL battery-powered AK series yard equipment:

The tools STIHL sent me are all within the AK series, so I’ll share what I love about them specifically. All the AK tools use the same batteries. Which means you don’t have to store a bunch of random batteries for each tool (although the chainsaw and mower need the AK 20 or higher battery to run for any length of time.)

battery powered STIHL yard tools all run on same battery

Speaking of longevity, there are three different AK batteries (the AK10, AK20, and AK30), with the 10 having the shortest run time and the 30 the longest run times.

In contrast to the gas-powered tools, the AK battery-powered tools are much quieter. In particular, this appeals to me most when it comes to the leaf blowers. I happen to live in a neighborhood filled with big tree-filled lots. I wish all my neighbors had the BGA 56 battery-powered leaf blower, because my Saturday and Sunday mornings would be a lot more peaceful in the fall. The unmistakable high-pitched leaf blower whine is constant in our ‘hood come September – December (and sometimes well into springtime.)

Despite my dislike of noise, my biggest pet peeve about gas-powered lawn equipment is the odor that sticks to your clothes after doing yard work. Guess what! With battery-powered tools there is no gas or stinky fumes to make you smell bad! Plus, there’s no need to keep a plethora of gas cans around for the tools that require a different ratio of gas to oil (and I can’t ever remember which tool uses which ratio.) Personally, I’d love to get rid of all our gas cans in the garage. (Something about keeping a highly flammable liquid in a room attached to our house has always made me nervous.)

Did you know a battery-powered landscape tool can save you time? It’s true because you don’t need to winterize your battery-powered tools before the cold weather sets in.  And if you want to get technical, when your battery runs low, you can charge it while taking a quick little break. This saves time driving to the nearest gas station to fill up your gas can.

Finally, let’s talk about weight. No, not the holiday cookie weight I put on in December! The STIHL battery-powered tools weigh less than their gas-powered relatives. The mower was my personal favorite because it was so lightweight I could lift it into the truck by myself on days I needed to mow Etta’s front lawn. This was such a life saver since most of the time I was working solo at the house.

A little more about the STIHL AK tools I tried:

STIHL BGA 56 Battery-Powered Leaf Blower

  • STIHL BGA 56 Battery-Powered Leaf Blower: This is by far the lightest leaf blower I’ve tried (I’ve used two other brands, one was a gas-powered and one was another battery-powered leaf blower.) The gripping handle is in the perfect spot to automatically keep the blower balanced during use. This blower has plenty of power for moving leaves (both dry and wet.) One thing I noticed recently, is there is no vibration to tire your wrists (I can’t say that about our gas blower.) My teen sons love using this blower too, especially because it is lightweight. And as I mentioned before, the noise is definitely less than a gas-powered blower.

STIHL HSA 56 Battery-Powered Hedge Trimmer

  • STIHL HSA 56 Battery-Powered Hedge Trimmer: This trimmer packs quite a punch; in fact most of the skinny tree sprouts and thicker branches were easily cut by it. The HSA 56 made quick work of pruning and tackling the vines growing over the bushes. Noise and weight are both much less than a comparable gas hedge trimmer. And as I mentioned above, no gas, no mixing ratio, and easy to store for the winter!

STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ Battery-Powered Chain Saw

  • STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ Battery-Powered Chain Saw: We have a rule in our house that if a tree is too big for a small chainsaw, then we shouldn’t be cutting it down ourselves. The STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ Chain Saw is perfect for the homeowner who wants to take down some spindly trees or low branches. It has enough power to get through some small hardwood trees on our lot. I loved using the chainsaw to break down large limbs to a manageable length for curbside yard waste pick up. It also came in handy when the lumber delivery forklift couldn’t get past a low limb. 

STIHL RMA 460 Battery-Powered Mowe

  • STIHL RMA 460 Battery-Powered Mower: As I mentioned above, this is a surprisingly lightweight mower and yet it doesn’t disappoint when it came to mowing an overgrown jungle. After our summer vacation, I came back to knee high grass at the Saving Etta house. I wasn’t sure the mower would be able to handle it, but it cut through the grass with no problem. My husband has been cutting lawns since he was a teenager, so you can imagine the side-eyed look he gave me when I told him I thought he might like this battery-powered mower. One day I caught him trying it, and he told me he liked it. The one caveat is if you have a yard larger than about 1/3 of an acre, you may need a few extra batteries to replace when the first runs out. Of course it all depends on your lot size and mowing conditions. You might want to talk to your local dealer to find the mower that’s best for you. As a baseline, our lot is 1/2 an acre and mostly wooded, but we do have a fair amount of grass. The mower makes it through our lawn mowing on one AK30 battery charge. If we did run out, it’s not a big deal since we typically have one battery charging while the other is in use.

Although this post is sponsored by STIHL, I have to be totally honest when I tell you: We are in love with the STIHL battery-powered yard and lawn tools! If you were my neighbor, you’d see this to be true. We are frequently out in our yard using these pretty orange and white tools.

STIHL battery powered tools: mower, blower, hedge trimmer, and chainsaw

Now that you know a bit more about the STIHL tools I was using at the Saving Etta project (trying to SAVE the backyard); let me show you the transformation!

The Overgrown Mess of a Backyard:

Over the summer a healthy crop of weeds and brush took over most of the yard. After exterior construction was done, my husband and I loaded the boys into my truck and headed downtown. Luckily the weather was sunny and cool because it was a full day affair. Here’s the video of our work day:

By the end of the day we had cleared back at least 10 feet from each side of the yard and created three huge piles of yard waste.

piles of brush for yard waste

After removing the brush piles, the trailer, and leftover construction materials, we added some adirondack chairs and hung the porch swing I built using pallet wood. Isn’t this a peaceful scene? I could sit out on the swing for hours and take in the scenery.

fall colored trees in saving etta backyard

We staged the fire pit area on top of the old shed concrete pad. I decided to leave the pad should the homeowners want to build a shed in the future. Without a garage, a shed would be a good place to store additional yard equipment.

yellow adirondack chairs around fire pit

Or they might continue to enjoy it as a little patio and fire pit.

adirondack chairs around fire pit on old shed concrete pad

Hope you enjoy the rest of the before and after photos.


before backyard transformation with trailer and dirt hill

overgrown bushes back side of yard


backyard after transformation view toward privacy fence

My favorite view of the backyard can be seen from the upstairs bedroom window.

two story side of house backyard transformed

It helps when the black Plygem Mira windows frame the view so nicely!

backyard view through windows


view from upstairs window before landscaping


view from upstairs bedroom window of yard with tree swing and adirondack chairds


back of saving etta house before landscaping


back deck transformation and landscaping

Adding a deck off the back of the house really extended the living area. I had always envisioned a little bistro set outside the master bedroom.

back deck outside master bedroom with blue chairs and landscaping

lovely photo of deck and low landscaping plants around deck

If I lived here I’d spend mornings sitting out there with a cup of coffee enjoying the view.

beauty shot of camellia bush and mums outside master bedroom


before backyard transformation


after view of backyard with straw and pine straw

after view of landscaped saving etta yard

If you have a keen eye, you may have noticed all the big rocks in the landscaping.

pile of pier stones ready for reuse

These were the pier stones from under the original 1900 portion of the house. The mortar between them had crumbled to dust and some weren’t offering any stable support to the house. Instead of hauling them away, I decided to keep them to incorporate into the landscaping.

three pier stones from original house used as landscaping rocks

This one with the stripe on it is my favorite. If I lived here I’d have to give it a name, like “spot!”

new foundation bushes by back deck

Isn’t it amazing how much this yard has been transformed? It feels so private and secluded despite being within walking distance to downtown Raleigh.

view from back yard at saving etta house

A few weeks later, with the help of lots of rain in North Carolina, the grass blades started coming up!

grass growing in backyard at Saving Etta project
I hope you enjoyed seeing the backyard transformation. What do you think? Do you dream of a yard this big and beautiful?

I can’t thank the folks at STIHL enough for helping make this construction site into a dream yard. If you need to upgrade yard equipment (or buy your first yard tools), I highly recommend the STIHL battery-powered yard equipment. They are a joy to use and more environmentally friendly than gas-powered tools. You should check out the STIHL equipment at a retailer near you.

The Backyard Transformation

Disclosure: STIHL is a Saving Etta (and Pretty Handy Girl) sponsor. I was provided with STIHL tools and safety equipment to makeover the Saving Etta yard. In addition, I was provided with an expense paid trip to visit STIHL headquarters. I was not told what to write. All opinions and words are my own. I will always let you know if you are reading a sponsored post. 

Want to know the basics principles for landscaping? Read this article I wrote to learn how to give your yard a mini (or mega) makeover yourself:

Landscaping 101: Tools, Planting, and Adding Color to your Landscaping | Pretty Handy Girl

Get ready for the tutorial I’ve been anxious to share with you. Ever since completing the Saving Etta front porch project, I find myself taking breaks to glance out the window at these gorgeous flat sawn baluster railings. Now I get to teach you how to make these decorative railings for your home!

How to Build Flat Sawn Baluster Railings

Anyone who has strolled around a historic neighborhood has probably seen beautiful porches with decorative cut out railings. The patterned slats are referred to as flat sawn balusters. And they are simple enough to create if you have a pattern or can design your own. There are many different shapes and patterns of flat sawn balusters, all you have to do is use Google or Pinterest to find a style for inspiration.

key-west-flat-sawn-baluster-front-porch-pink-doorThis is one of those beautiful architectural features I knew I wanted to use for the front porch at the Saving Etta house. Downtown Raleigh is filled with historic houses that have beautiful old flat sawn balusters. From the moment I laid eyes on the Saving Etta house, I knew the old metal railing would have to go.

Not only were they a safety hazard (some were barely attached), but they also looked dinky. If you remember, during the framing process, we decided the original porch couldn’t be salvaged. It was removed and subsequently we rebuilt a new one in the exact same shape, size, footprint, and ceiling height of the original. This left us with an “open concept” front porch for several months until it was time to add the railings and porch ceiling.

As I designed the new railings, I knew a composite, metal, or vinyl railing wouldn’t look right on a house built in 1900. Therefore, I chose to use real wood for the railings and balusters. To insure the railings would last for decades, I chose pressure treated Southern Yellow Pine lumber.

(This is a sponsored post for Wood It’s Real.)
You may recall that Wood It’s Real is a proud sponsor of the Saving Etta project.

Wood It's Real Website

Building Code Requirements for Railings:

Before I teach you how to create flat sawn baluster railings, we need to talk about current building codes and historic houses (and where the two don’t meet.) Building codes in the US state that if your porch floor is 30 inches or more off the ground, you must have a railing at least 36 inches high. This can be an issue if you want your historic house to look historically accurate. (You may find this article about proportions and railing heights interesting.) If Etta had her original railings, they probably would have been 24″ high and could have been grandfathered in. Because we were starting new, I had to adhere to current building codes. In addition, spacing between balusters must be less than 4 inches apart to meet current building codes.

Before building the new railings, I drew up a design in SketchUp to share with the building inspector. I created a simple diamond cut out that pays homage to Etta’s diamond shape attic vents. This design was a simpler pattern to cut compared to many of the authentic victorian flat sawn balusters. Lucky for us, this design would save time, (and it would have less elements to deviate from the current building codes.)

I was still concerned about the diamond width since it would be wider than 4 inches. To make sure my railings would meet final inspection, I emailed the above drawing to our local building inspector for his opinion. Luckily, he approved my drawings, stating that the diamonds were high enough a child would have difficulty getting their head stuck, and the majority of the spacing was much less than 4 inches wide. (Remember, it’s important to check with your local building official before you build anything that might not meet code. Ultimately each inspector may have a different interpretation of the local building codes.)

Once I had the inspector’s approval it was time to start building. Ready to learn how to make your own flat sawn baluster railings? Great, let’s get building!

How to Build Flat Sawn Baluster Railings

(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

Lumber per Railing Section:

  • 3 – 2″ x 6″ x (width between your posts)
  • 4 – 1″ x 2″ x (width between your posts)
  • *1″ x 6″ x 24″ boards for your balusters (figure out how many balusters you need to create a symmetrical pattern between the posts)
  • *1″ x 2″ x 24″ boards to place between the 1″ x 6″ balusters

* You’ll need to figure out your railing length and decide how much lumber you’ll need for your balusters.



Gather your supplies, set up on a workbench or two saw horses.

Cutting Flat Sawn Balusters:

If you want to use the same proportions I designed in the drawing above, use 24″ tall balusters. To save time, layer two 1″ x 6″ pieces of pressure treated SYP (Southern Yellow Pine) on top of one another and cut all the balusters to length.

Make a quick diamond shaped template out of a piece of cardboard and laid it on top of two balusters side-by-side. Once you are happy with the size and shape (approximately 6″ tall), stack your two balusters and cut the triangle shape out of them. It’s quickest to stack the two balusters on top of one another and cut the shape with a circular saw. It’s okay if the saw doesn’t cut completely into the corner of the shape. We’ll take care of that next.

Use your jigsaw to finish cutting into the corner. You may be wondering why we didn’t use only the jigsaw to cut the shapes out. Pressure-treated Southern Yellow Pine is a much stronger wood than your typical pine lumber. The jigsaw takes longer to cut through the lumber. A circular saw makes quicker and straighter cuts into the wood. Of course feel free to use the tools you feel comfortable using.

Assembling the Railing:

Cut three 2″ x 6″ boards to the width between the porch columns. Level and secure the bottom rail 4″ above your deck floor using 2 ½” deck screws. Measure 24″ from the bottom rail. (Approximately 30″ from the floor.) Level and secure your next horizontal rail at this height using two deck screws on each end. Secure the top rail at 36″ above the porch floor.

Cut four 1″ x 2″ boards the same length as your rails. You’ll need them to hold your balusters in place.

Laying Out the Baluster Pattern:

Before you begin securing the balusters, figure out your spacing. We chose to use 1×2 balusters in between the flat sawn balusters. This will give you more flexibility with your layout. (When you look at the finished railing, you’ll notice we finished the ends with two 1×2 balusters where we didn’t have enough room to fit a set of 1×6 flat balusters.) I’m not going to pretend laying out the spacing is easy. You may decide to use math to figure it out or start laying out your pattern using the cut balusters and pencil marks.

Once you determine your layout, lay two 1×2 boards (cut to the width of bottom and middle rails above) side-by-side and mark the location of the balusters and spaces onto them. This will help keep the balusters lined up on the top and bottom and prevent a mix up with your pattern.

Measure the center of the bottom 2″ x 6″ rail. Measure 3/8″ out from the center mark. Using finish nails, secure one 1″ x 2″ board to the bottom rail on the outside of the 3/8″ mark. Repeat the process and add a second 1″ x 2″ board on the underside of the middle rail. These will help hold your flat balusters in place vertically.

Starting in the middle, set two 1×6 diamond cut out balusters in place. Secure with finish nails through the 1×2 supports. Work your way toward one side and then the other.

Secure the other 1×2 boards to the bottom and middle rails to “sandwich” the balusters.

Here’s a look at our railings fully assembled.

Finally, measure the space between the bottom rail and the decking. Cut a support block out of the 2″ x 6″ leftover lumber. Measure the space between the top and middle rail. Cut a second block from the 2″ x 6″ lumber. (If your railing span is five feet or less, you might be able to skip the blocking. Spans longer than 10 feet might require additional blocking to keep the railings from bowing.) Attach the blocking with trim nails or screws.

Here’s Etta’s new flat sawn baluster railings. They look good, but definitely need paint.

Finishing the Flat Sawn Baluster Railings:

Sand any rough edges on your railing. Caulk all screw and nail holes. Caulk all seams, but you don’t need to caulk where the flat sawn balusters rest against the four supports.

Allow the caulk to cure, then prime the railings and porch posts. Finish up by painting them the color of your choice (although personally I prefer a nice crisp Magnolia Home True White.)

The porch floor received two coats of semi-transparent Sherwin Williams Banyan Brown deck stain to protect it from the elements.

As if you couldn’t tell how excited I am about the final results, enjoy a few more shots of the finished project!

The angled railings, were created by cutting the appropriate angle for the balusters. Then we used a line to mark the location for the diamond cut outs. As you can see below, having 1×2 balusters in the mix allowed us to fill in space too narrow for a set of 1×6 balusters.

If were wondering about the colors I chose for Etta’s exterior, you can find them here. (The porch ceiling was recently painted Sherwin Williams Tidewater. It’s the perfect Southern porch ceiling color in my humble opinion.)

Because I get asked this question all the time, the rain chains are from Amazon. They work in place of standard gutters. The water flows down the cups and fills a small round bowl filled with Mexican beach pebbles. I have holes in the bottom of the bowl, but I also tipped it to spill excess water into the yard.

The Saving Etta house is looking amazing from the street. We’re closing in on the finish line!

Do you like the flat sawn balusters? Think you could use them on your own porch or deck?

If you liked this project, you might want to see some of the other deck, porch, and outdoor living projects on the Wood It’s Real website!

wood its real website - plans and ideas

Disclosure: This post is a sponsored post for Wood It’s Real. It was written as part of their sponsorship of the Saving Etta project. I was not told what to write. All words and opinions are my own. I am very particular about the brands I work with, and only partner with companies that provide quality materials and/or services.

iphone charging by bedside usb charging outlet

Learn how you can make simple electrical upgrades to your home. Today I’ll show you how to install an outlet that charges your USB devices and powers your appliances at the same time.

How to Install USB Charging Outlets

How to Install a USB Charging Outlet

I’m so excited to share this tutorial with you. Anyone who has a tablet, mobile phone, or other USB connected device will love this tutorial! How many times have you combed through your house for the plug to the cord for your device? I think I lost count how many times those little square plugs have eluded me. But, today they can stay hidden forever! I don’t need them now that I discovered How Easy it is to Install a USB Charging Outlet! As one of the Saving Etta sponsors, Leviton sent me several USB charging outlets to install in the house. (Spoiler Alert: I’ll be sharing some photos of the finished Saving Etta project. If you want to wait for the progress posts, go ahead and avert your eyes.) My electrician and I installed the outlets in strategic places where the homeowners would likely want to charge their USB devices.

Each bedroom received at least two outlets on either side of where a bed might be positioned.

usb charging outlet next to bedside table in master bedroom

The kitchen has a few on the counters…

white usb charging outlet on white subway wall open shelving

…and one in the island (in a matching gray color.)

gray usb charging outlet in gray island cabinets

The upstairs bedroom has a few more, especially under the little built-in desk between the closets. This is the perfect spot to sit and work while enjoying the view out the window.

vintage typewriter on desk by window between closets

Are you ready to learn how to install your own Leviton USB Charging Outlet in your home? It’s easy and takes about ten minutes to complete. Grab these few tools and let’s get busy.


(I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience. I earn a small percentage from a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost to you. You can read more about affiliate links here.)

materials for installing outlets

Required Safety Instruction:

Turn off the power to the outlet you are working on. Check the outlet with a voltage tester. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend putting a night light or light in the outlet and turn it on. Then shut off the circuit at your circuit breaker and check to see that the light has gone out.

How to Repair Your Dishwasher - Control Panel Replacement

Ok, now that you have all of your materials and the power is off, you’re ready to go. To see how to install this USB charging outlet watch this step-by-step video tutorial below. It also shows you how to install the outlet it if you are starting with a new construction junction box.

If you need to remove your old outlet, you can follow the directions in this post on replacing an ugly old outlet.

Now that you are finished, aren’t you feeling proud of yourself? Taking on a simple electrical project like swapping out an outlet is super simple. I hope you’re motivated to make more electrical upgrades in your home!

For example, why not learn how to install a smart dimmer switch you can control with your phone or with a voice-activated device like Alexa or Google Home!

How to Install Smart Dimmer Switches

Gotta run now, I’m still finishing up some last punch list items at the Saving Etta house. While I work, it’s been nice having the ability to plug in my phone to charge while listening to my Pandora stations!

iphone charging by bedside usb charging outlet

Visit the Leviton website for more information, installation instructions, and where to buy devices from Leviton’s residential product family.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Leviton. I was compensated for my time and efforts to promote the Leviton Residential products. However, all ideas and opinions are my own. I will always let you know when you are reading a sponsored post. You should also note that I’m very particular about the brands I work with.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Oh my goodness, I just realized I never shared the Saving Etta kitchen mood board with you! Well, I guess it’s a bit late for this, but here you go:

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Inspiration Sources:

Kitchen Design Image from Regan Baker Design’s Lake District Revival

Stainless Steel Hood by Broan

4″ x 12″ Subway Tiles by Jeffrey Court for Home Depot

Morley 4 Light Island Light Fixture

Not shown, were open shelving I planned to install on the full tile wall to the left of the window. What I was really digging is the painted island in navy. About a week after I created this mood board, I was stopped in my tracks by this photo from my friends Katelyn & Uriah, at The Inspiring Investment.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

I immediately messaged Katelyn to ask if the cabinets they used on their LaRancharita flip was navy or was I just dreaming? She replied “YES!” (If you aren’t following The Inspiring Investment on Instagram, you need to. Katelyn and Uriah are local flippers who I love to watch!) By now I was smitten and determined to use a similar color in Etta’s kitchen. As you may know, I’m certainly no stranger to using color in a kitchen. You may recall that my own kitchen cabinets are a pretty minty blue.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

The Decision Process:

I began hunting for stock navy cabinets to purchase but was coming up blank. If you’re wondering why I didn’t purchase custom cabinets, here’s why:

  • For my own kitchen, I didn’t mind paying the extra fee for a custom color. For a flip, I have a tighter budget.
  • Going with a custom color might not appeal to as many potential buyers. (Remember my front door color dilemma?)
  • Ordering custom painted cabinets can add weeks to the timeline.
  • Hunting down a manufacturer that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for custom colors is time consuming.

Ultimately, time and budget played a huge role in ditching the idea of using navy cabinets (insert sad emoji face.) This was my mood when I found myself at Cabinets To Go (not sponsored). By this time I was ready to order cabinets and be done with it. But, first I needed to make sure the cabinet quality was up to my standards.

I pulled out all the drawers and inspected them. Dovetail construction on all drawers: check. Then I tested the drawers and doors. They all had soft close slides and hinges: check. But, the final inspection these cabinets had to pass could be a deal breaker. Having been through a major unplanned kitchen renovation. because cabinets were ruined by water, has changed the way I choose cabinets forever. I looked at the inside of the Cabinets To Go cabinets and was pleased to see plywood boxes: check.

Next it was time to choose the cabinet style. I was resigned to the fact that I couldn’t get navy cabinets (although I did ask.) As a distant second choice, I decided to look for a neutral gray cabinet as a safe choice. These were the first cabinets I looked at, but ultimately I didn’t like all the molding profiles and dark wax look. I needed something a little more updated for a younger buyer.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

On the opposite end of the style scale were these glossy modern cabinets. They are sleek and sexy, but I was craving a modern farmhouse style for Etta (I don’t think she’d want to flaunt her sex appeal at her age.)

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Finally, I settled on a simple shaker style cabinet. The “platinum grey” color was exactly what I was looking for to appeal to a variety of home buyers.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

After meeting my high standards, I braced for the total price. Luckily I was eligible for a contractor discount and paid about $3,000 for all the cabinets. I put down my deposit and was told I could pick up the flat-packed and un-assembled cabinets in about two weeks. I could have paid an additional $1500 for assembly and installation, but I figured this was a good place to save some money.

Assembling Cabinets:

After the wood floors were installed, I was anxious to pick up the cabinets. My good friend Holly, a fellow renovator and local realtor, offered to help me with assembly. Little did I know how incredibly grateful I would be for her offer. As we unpacked the cabinets from the boxes, she looked at the instruction sheet briefly and said, “Perfect! These are just like the ones we assembled for our rental house.” With her experience in assembling cabinets, I let her take charge. Before long we had assembled the majority of the cabinets.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Honest Opinion of Cabinets to Go Cabinets:

One of the last cabinets to assemble was the corner lazy Susan cabinet. If you purchase this cabinet from Cabinets to Go, throw away the instruction sheet because it is useless! Watch this video to see how to assemble it.

I want to take a minute to let you know my honest opinion of the Cabinets To Go quality. For the price, I was pleased with them. But, for my own home, I would definitely want something with stronger construction. The flat packed cabinets have a finicky turning lock nut (think IKEA furniture construction) that hold the panels together. It took some finagling to get some of them to line up correctly. But, ultimately they seem to assemble tight together. Only time will tell if they hold up to regular use.

Hanging Wall Cabinets:

About a week after cabinet assembly, I was finally able to get a helper to assist me while hanging cabinets. My husband, aka Pretty Handsome Guy, offered to take the day off work to help me get the cabinets installed. You may remember his skill set from this popular tutorial on fixing common gift wrap problems. I still get a good laugh from his first guest post on the blog. Although he’s not handy, he does a great job holding things and handing things to me. I am truly grateful for his help.

We started by securing level ledger boards to the wall to rest the wall cabinets onto. Then we started with the corner wall cabinet.  You’d never want to work your way into the corner because walls are harder to move than cabinets. Know what I mean?

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Next, we installed the two cabinets flanking the corner cabinet. Each cabinet was secured with multiple screws into the studs and then secured to the cabinet next to it.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Luckily, we only had three upper cabinets to hang. This certainly made our first cabinet installation job a snap. After the wall cabinets were secured, we removed the ledger board. The holes in the wall would be easy to patch, but I knew I’d be tiling over them.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Next we assembled the fridge cabinet and secured the side walls to the cabinet on the floor before lifting it upright and securing it to the wall. If you decide to try this method of attaching the cabinet walls, make sure your ceiling is tall enough to accommodate the cabinet at a diagonal when you lift the cabinet upright. We had no issues because Etta’s ceilings are nine feet tall.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Hanging the wall and fridge cabinets took most of our time that first day. The next day I worked solo installing the base cabinets and assembling the island. There was a fair amount of leveling and shimming to get them all level. Unfortunately one cabinet had to be trimmed on the base where the floor had a hump in it. I mistakenly thought the new construction portion of the house would be perfectly flat and level—I was wrong.

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

The last step in the cabinet install was to build a base for the two wall cabinets designated for the back side of the island. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of that step. You’ll forgive me right?

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

The island cabinets were eventually secured to one another and secured in place with shoe moulding around the base. Tomorrow I’ll show you a little something special I added to the island. If you have USB devices (and who doesn’t these days), you’re going to love it!

What do you think of the gray color? Is it a safer choice, or should I have looked longer for navy cabinets? Stay tuned for more Saving Etta updates!

Saving Etta: Kitchen Cabinet Decision and Install

Saving Etta: Why I Couldn’t Save the Original 1900 Wood Floors

The day I realized I couldn’t save Etta’s original wood floors was one of the roughest days during the demolition phase. By then we discovered that most of the flooring in the north bedroom was too water damaged to reuse. The floors in the south bedroom were in better shape, but they were covered with a glue down linoleum flooring.

Sadly there wasn’t a sure fire way to tell if they would be salvageable after removal of the linoleum. I decided to proceed with demolition and try to salvage as much of the wood floor as I could. But during demolition almost every board we pulled up cracked and splintered as we freed them from the floor joists. Because there was no subfloor, the wood had been exposed to the crawlspace for more than 100 years. Time had taken a toll on them, and they were officially shot. After assessing the situation with the flooring, it became clear that the original wood floors weren’t salvageable. I may have cried a fair amount as I watched them being piled up for trash.

This next picture is hard to look at. If you can’t stand seeing antique hardwood floors being destroyed, look away my friend …look away.

Before they were hauled away, I grabbed as many boards as I could fit in my truck (hoping to be able to use them on another project.) For now, those planks are stored away in my garage.

What I Chose Instead:

Fast forward several weeks and I contacted Impressions Hardwood Collection, a local flooring distributor, about being a Saving Etta sponsor. I explained to them my predicament and they graciously invited me to their local office to see the samples of their flooring. With so many beautiful options to choose from, I knew it would be hard to make a decision. But, I brought two pieces of salvaged flooring from Etta to try to find something that would be fitting of a house built in 1900.

As I began looking through all the beautiful samples, two stood out from the rows of new shiny wood flooring. I pulled them and saw that they were both from the Elegance series. The grain on the wood was beautiful and the finish was almost an imperceptible flat finish.

Chris explained to me that the Elegance series is wire brushed to enhance the grain and it has a low luster finish.

I was instantly in love with the Elegance flooring because it looked old, not shiny or new.

Both the wheat and flint colors looked similar to Etta’s original flooring. Ultimately, I chose the Flint color (the darker of the two) because it has that dark aged wood look. I could not be happier with this decision. Suddenly, what had been a dark cloud over the flooring loss, became a silver lining after discovering this beautiful solid wood flooring. As a bonus, I was thrilled to be partnering with a local family-owned flooring distributor who offers quality flooring to their customers.

Wood Flooring  Installation:

As you know from the last Saving Etta update, the tile floors were being installed while the Elegance Series wood floors acclimated to the house. Why is this important? Impressions Hardwood has a great blog post explaining why you don’t install wood floors right after delivery.

After the delivery of the flooring, I couldn’t wait to rip open the boxes and gaze on them.

After ten days (and after the tile floors were in), it was finally time to install these beauties! I hired a local flooring contractor to install the wood floors and they did a phenomenal job.

Of course, I had to resist the urge to clean off those sawdust foot prints until the job was complete.

Pretty impressive when the living room view transitioned from this:

to this in a few days:

I leave you to drool over these beautiful photos of the Impressions Hardwood Collection Elegance Series solid wood flooring in Flint stain color.

They look so good against the vintage hex tiles! Both look like they could be original to the house, right?!

But, hey, look here! They go great with modern tiles too!

And this photo legit makes my heart skip a beat! The new floors with the original pine door from 1900. I can’t handle how gorgeous they look together (even though people will talk, saying that door is a cougar and way too old for that young handsome floor. LOL.)

Are you in love with these solid wood floors? Can you forgive me for having to ditch the original floors? Have you seen all the other flooring options Impressions Hardwood Collection has to choose from?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Impressions Hardwood Collection in exchange for their sponsorship of the Saving Etta project. I was not told what to write. All opinions and ideas are my own. As always, I am very particular about the brands I choose to work with. You will always be notified if you are reading a sponsored post.