Tag Archives: bookcases

An Irishman in the Suburbs

Remember that project to turn my room at my parents’ house into my dad’s office?


Yep, they got him to help. Now you might be wondering what they were thinking after all I went through. Are they totally out of their minds? Maybe, but maybe it made sense.

They sold the desk and wanted a counter that runs the length of the room, leaving space for grown-up knees. But the room is 12′-7″ and the longest off-the-shelf wood countertops are 12′. Custom work would cost hundreds of dollars. Ross suggested shifting the closed cabinets in and letting the counter be only 12 feet long. My parents weren’t too keen on this idea. He also suggested rebuilding the shelving to float above the counter instead of sitting on it, and they were keen on that one.

bookcase sketch.jpg

  1. Building a countertop and bookshelves require either lots of time to do things by trial and error or mad skills.
  2. This job doesn’t require the precision of a work shop (which is where my kitchen cabinet doors went wrong).
  3. And, my dad worked alongside him for the entire day 3 days he spent on the project.

But let’s start at the beginning. First, my dad had to strip one of the two windows to bare wood because an ice dam damaged the paint a few years ago. And he had a harder time getting the wallpaper off than expected.


At this stage, the room brought back memories of when we first moved here. I was 9 and relieving me of the indignity of a pink bedroom was a high priority, though a flood in the basement knocked it off the very top of the to-do list. (Today pink paint wouldn’t bother me in the least.) And the 20-year-old paint job was surprisingly dingy in what I still thought was a decently nice room. He said a while back that my bedroom (the one in Philadelphia that is) was a cool color and that he’d use the same in his. I still think it’s funny to call a neutral “cool” but maybe that’s just me.

Then an all too familiar sight reappeared. And my “NOT TRASH” sign is still taped on the plastic!


But the result?


The important things here: My dad made sketches and imposed organization onto the Irishman. They joined the counter together with a biscuit joiner in the kitchen. My mom wasn’t thrilled about this but it wasn’t messy. They raised the cabinets 3/4″ and will need to install quarter round around the bottom to hide it. And my dad still needs to install the IKEA kitchen drawer he got for under the desk top. The new cabinets are better made than the old ones and spaced to hold reference books and only reference books instead of the mixed library I had when I was 9. Also, is it me or does the design look top heavy?

Bonus: he hung 5 new doors! My parents’ house was built in 1951 with flush doors. Pretty nice ones actually. Then sometime probably in the 80’s someone downgraded most of them to the flimsiest hollow paneled doors I’ve ever seen. Like, if you pressed on them they would squish. My parents have then been replacing them all with new solid pine 6 paneled doors, but the last few were particularly beat. Mainly because my sister and I would try to shove them in each other’s faces and wedge our feet in under them to hold them open and they were starting to come apart. My already had all the replacement doors but they sat in the garage for something like 15 years. So now they’re all up! They just need to be painted. And it might take a bit to get the adhesive residue from 15 year old packaging off.



Hopefully soon you’ll get to see the room finished.




The Bookcases Are Looking Like Something

I wasted no time getting them set up – doors back on and books in the house. Now it looks like someone lives here, in a non-messy way. At least at this corner.


Then as soon as I got it looking like this I took everything out of the base cabinets and drilled about 10 holes in them. Why? Because I inherited a nice stereo… and then decided that putting the TV in the living room isn’t beneath me.


So… a 1970’s or 80’s-ish cabinet that puts the TV behind doors near the floor. And I’m probably not hip enough to make good use of a stereo that plays vinyl records, CD’s, and the TV but can’t talk to a computer or phone. I’m considering getting a chromecast for music and a cable for the TV, but the audio ports on the stereo receiver are all taken so I’d have to improvise something. And all this can wait anyway.

Then the stereo receiver was missing an antenna so I made my own with speaker wire. It’s kind of strange. It will stop working randomly and without warning or sometimes if I walk past it in the wrong spot. But at least it’s all hidden from view! Then as I was typing this it stopped working again. Maybe it’s time to go to Radio Shack.


Anyways, you know I like things anachronistic. But the hardware on these cabinets is really terrible.Not just the looks either, they’re hollow and not real brass. Why anyone would spend thousands on custom cabinetry made of solid mahogany and then get this kind of junk is beyond me.


My first instinct was to play up the Colonial look with polished brass HL hinges and knobs.

Brass Hinge.jpg

Then I decided it’s more Ward Cleaver’s den than the Duke of Gloucester Street. So what about iron hardware? I’d stick with squared off hinges like the ones above since the piece is still a bit more refined than what my grandparents had in their kitchens. Then I saw what all decorative hinges would cost and decided to be bloggy and spray paint the existing hinges black. But now I’m thinking that antique brass worked anyway and I could just get knobs in antique brass (real brass this time) and keep the hinges as they are. Maybe something like this.

antique brass cabinet knob.jpg

I don’t want to buy anything from a photo though. Especially anything with a faux finish. I also don’t want to pay 10 bucks for shipping because that’s a racket. I’ll come up with something soon.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, I’m not sure if I like the brass knobs with the teal paint after all.



I’m leaning towards shiny chrome, which would match the faucet and make the kitchen look a little more retro. So I could just get ordinary shiny brass hinges instead for the bookcase instead of those fancy ones and use these knobs and it would cost less. But I’ll be leaving the doors sans knobs for now, but you can let me know what you think!


Hooray for Irish Labor!

Yep, I finally got someone to come work for me again! Remember how I abandoned cutting down the bookcases? This cut was me and my dad working together with a cutting fence.


He freehanded all his cuts!



Remember the too deep before?


Now, they’re much more gracefully proportioned! And even more importantly, that hump in my camelback sofa is between the windows where it belongs.


And there are BOOKS IN MY HOUSE! Yes, they’re still in boxes. The upper parts of the bookcases with the open shelves need to be screwed together still. Baby steps.


So much better. I’m still working out how much I have room for, so the first load I brought over is mostly highbrow literature – in beat-up paperback form. Along with everything else I own, I’ll be taking a better look at my books sometime before the big family yard sale that is allegedly still gonna happen sooner or later.

I’m hoping that the Irishman can work for me at least one more Saturday. I’m making a punchlist of small jobs, ranked to put the most important ones and the ones that will be the hardest to do at the top. Here’s what I’ve got so far. I’d love it if he can do at least the first 3. After that I’d have to decide if I can afford to hire him again or if it’s back to super slow DIY.

  1. Install oak countertop next to the stove. (I can take it off and sand it later.)
  2. Install the threshold and permanent stop molding on the bathroom door.
  3. Repair the banister. (Because I broke off a piece, lost it, and then got a mirror image of my volute from a friend and plan to cut it up for a perfect patch.)IMG_5516
  4. Install the strike plate and stop molding on my bedroom door.
  5. Install the roller ball catch and stop molding on the linen closet door.
  6. Install the vestibule door.
  7. Modify bookcase to reinstall the TV pullout shelf, raised to hold other items below. (I had my TV working but it was in the basement and I’ve never used it.)
  8. Install panel sticking on the stairway wall.
  9. Repair vestibule and upstairs hall drywall with setting compound.
  10. Caulk woodwork throughout the house.

So here’s to doors that open and close with functioning door knobs? Countertops on all my cabinets? A usable stereo and TV? Getting every wall surface and stick of woodwork ready to paint? Let’s not expect me to be TOO fast with all this. Also note that actually painting isn’t on this list. Because I dread it.

Also, my back yard doesn’t look like a dumping ground for flower pots anymore. It looks like it belongs to someone who spends too much money on plants. But plants are important.


Ups and Downs with the Bookcases

So first of all, yes I got them! I took the Suburban up to the seller’s house in Perkasie, and we got all of them except the middle lower unit in. This meant an hour and a half of driving over my usual afternoon commute. The seller is a concrete contractor and was working closer to where I work the next day, so he offered to bring it to his job site so I could get it there. But then he finished early and brought it to me instead. I said before that last week was bad. But then he showed up with this on his trailer. And yes, that’s my bookcase on the truck.


And here they are in the house! They’re supposed to go on the other side of the room and will get a little cosmetic tweaking – more on that later – but this is a start.


Sadly, the lowest shelf of the upper shelving units is fixed. won’t house a TV . But if I can choose between practical and solid mahogany… there’s no contest. The middle base unit has a pullout and a carousel for a TV, so that got me thinking that I could just be old fashioned and keep my TV 4 inches off the ground, too. And that way if there are people with bad taste in TV coming around too often, I can install locks on the doors! Should they insist on being allowed to watch, I’ll see if I can rig something up using the boiler as a stand and and throw some lawn chairs in the basement.

And then, remember how the bases are too deep to fit in my house? I plan to cut 5 inches off the backs, then rout out the side panels and reinstall the original backs to make them look like they came that way. This was easy in my mind. We’d run them through the Irishman’s table saw. He left it in my house and we’ve used it plenty.

But my dad wasn’t comfortable with us being able to balance something that big on such a small table. So instead he said we could clamp on a fence and cut them with a circular saw. We took one out to the sidewalk and made the first cut. The result? Wavy. A disaster.


I’ll need a Plan B. Either going to Philadelphia Woodworks to have a real wood shop and professional guidance – at $70 an hour – or hoping I can do better redoing the cuts with a router. But for now I’ve just thrown the room together to leave this project till later.


I thought seeing things bit scrunched and the couch off center was going to make me twitch, but I gave it a shrug. It’s fine. Also, I’ve figured out that the couch will be smushed against the bases if I size them to fit the stereo receiver, but because there’s a big gap behind the cabinets above the baseboards, I’m just gonna be lazy and cut a big hole in the backs. Problem solved.

A New IKEA Curve Ball

Bookcases were supposed to be a post Phase 1 problem, then they moved up because I thought I had a cheap, easy, and fairly good solution. My grandmother got rid of these 3 IKEA bookcases. On their own they’re not quite right for the space..


SoI thought one extra skinny one and height extensions for the whole set would make it better scaled. And symmetrical.

But there’s a problem. IKEA is discontinuing this wood finish April 1st and has already stopped restocking it. This feels an awful lot like what happened with the kitchen cabinets last year. I was able to get the height extensions but would have to go to Elizabeth, NJ to get the skinny shelving unit. That’s about an hour and a half away if I don’t get stuck in traffic at rush hour next to New York City. And the friends I contacted in Jersey aren’t free for dinner so there’s nothing fun to do while I’m there.

But then I was thinking about it. All this will probably cost over $200 once we add in gas and Turnpike tolls, so it’s not almost free like I thought it was. And it will take a full evening right up to my bedtime plus an extra car borrowing trip to my parents’ house. And the Billys are not exactly what I wanted anyway. I like that they’re plain and slim looking. I do NOT want one of those big entertainment centers that look like breakfront china cabinets; these would fade into the background and hold my stuff without making the room look too busy or closed in. But I also have good vintage stereo equipment that will not fit on 11 inch shelves.

And so I turned to Craigslist. And for twice the price I can get this pretty simple bookcase with the deeper bottom part and SOLID MAHOGANY instead of veneered particle board. And closed cabinets! But I’ll need the Irishman to cut the backs off the deep base parts to make something from Bucks County fit a South Philly house.

Craigslist bookcase.png

I talked to the seller and I think (with modifications) this is gonna be perfect for me! Or you can talk me out of it.

Then I also need something on the windows in the back bedroom now that it’s soon to be rented. And because this room has the permanent windows and casings, I can put in permanent window treatments that are better than what’s in the other rooms. I’ve been thinking I definitely like the idea of stained wood blinds in a room that’s mostly light colors now. Home Depot has one style of real wood blinds in stock at a reasonable price and I was going to go with it.


But I knew that what I really wanted was something darker. And I think they knew that, too, because on the third time I toggled back and forth between different styles, an ad came up for a 25% off coupon. So they got me. I got a darker color that I like better, but it was only $60 extra. The other downside? My roommate might need to use the super classy felt blanket for 2 weeks. (Also you can see that I finally killed some of my plants.)