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½-A DIY: Mantle & Mailbox Reno


Definition: ½ A, ½ Aed, or half-Aed...the “A” stands for anteater, because as we all know, anteaters never put their full effort into anything.

I know how to do a sweaty start-to-finish home project. I feel validated by this, because most people I talk to have to ask the meaning of “DIY.” I also like to save money and have my final projects look better than what most contractors can give me. I have completely finished a 2,000 sq/ft basement and can tell you that some people's skin itches like a crusty sunburn when it comes into contact with sheetrock dust: I sheetrocked that whole bloody basement. I can also tell you why contractors cuss so'd be surprised how mad you can get at a wall, utility knife, step ladder, etc, when those cursed inanimate objects don't do exactly what you command them to do—seriously, isn't it obvious who's in charge?! I know I'm the boss of the tools when I'm the one wearing the unsightly clothes covered in paint, insulation, and whatever the brown was on that wall, with the daffy goggles making a piggy indentation on my nose bridge.

When we moved and Mister tried to convince me to buy a home that needed a complete reno (and I mean practically everything), I told my husband he could either #$%^@# or I was moving-in with my Mom. Then he kindly responded, “Turtle dove, you can just hire contractors.” I was confused. His suggestion didn't process. HAC? Hiiirrree- aaaaeee- contractor? But that would “We'll get the house for a great price, work is cheap right now, it's fine,” husband said. I skipped to my room and started my ½-A DIY. In all actuality, I did a lot of work including deep-cleaning, all hardware replacement, flooring tear-out, wall-prep for paint, but the biggest projects were hired-out. I played the role of General Contractor: I found all of my sub-contractors, I scheduled everything, I oversaw everything (including any necessary permits). If you know what you want done and you're willing to oversee and make phone calls, there is no need to hire a GC.


Step 1: Decide what to destroy/replace in your house. I chose EVERYTHING! For the purposes of this blog, I will talk about my fireplace mantle and the mailbox.
Step 2: Sit yeerself down in front of a computer and start researching contractors and reviews. Also, talk to people in your area and ask them who they've used.
Step 3: Set up consultations with possible contractors. Have a list of questions ready for them. Get quotes.
Step 4: Decide who to use: base it on gut-feeling, other projects/pictures of theirs you've seen, price, when they can get it done by (write a date in your contract so you are guaranteed when it will be done by). Remember, price is not the most important/only thing to consider.
Step 5: Go go go! Oversee your project, ask questions, make sure they are doing it the way you want (don't be shy here, you're paying them).

Fireplace Mantle
As the focal-point of our home, I knew the fireplace mantle had to be redone. The fireplace itself was fine, but the cheap 12” tile paired with a very crappy excuse for a mantle with baseboard trim and a small shelf on top was not working for me. I went to my local flooring store and chose a beautiful 18” travertine to surround the fireplace. I then met and got quotes from 3 different cabinet makers for my mantle. I designed the mantle and chose the final stain color.

Wall "Prepped" for new sheetrock

DIY portion
What no one mentioned to me was that when they came to rip out the tile, the wall would also be pulled off. Um, did you think I wouldn't notice? Tile rip-out was on a Monday, new travertine was to go in on Tuesday. In case you are unaware, you can not nail travertine to a stud; the gray slop that the travertine sticks to needs to go on sheetrock (yes, we could get technical here with terms, but that would ostracize our not-so-diy friends). Being the Itchy Queen of Sheetrock (and I happened to have a full slice of white love in the garage), I stepped up to the plate and re-sheetrocked the tile area that night. If you are attempting this same project, it is really not so bad.

For those of you who have always had dreams of coloring on the wall, now is your chance. It will always be a part of the house.

How to sheetrock repair around your fireplace

-Long ruler or chalk line (it's like a measuring tape, but it's a long string with chalk inside so when you pull it with a partner and snap it down, it makes a straight line in chalk for you)
-Utility knife
-Sheetrock (make sure it's the same thickness as your wall sheetrock, most walls are 1/2”)
-Sheetrock screws
-Electric screwdriver
-Sheetrock sander (to get the edges straight or shave off a bit that doesn't fit)
-Depending on how your studs are laid out behind the fireplace, you may need to toe-nail in an extra piece of 2"x4" for sheetrock stability

After tile has been removed from the wall, look at the disaster and take a few deep breaths. You can do this!
1.Using a utility knife, cut off jagged seams and create straight vertical and horizontal lines so you will have fewer sheetrock pieces to cut and your cuts will be even and straight down/across.
2.Check to see if there is enough of your studs showing to screw in your sheetrock. With a pencil, draw lines up onto wall to indicate where your studs are.
3.Take measurements and make your cuts. It is easier to make a few extra rectangles than to meticulously measure and cut one or two monstrous shapes.
4.After you make each piece, put it into place, shave off a bit with your sander if necessary and screw it into the studs (at least one screw in each corner, but not too close to the edges or it will break).
5.Optional: if you feel the seams are really bad, you can mud/tape around them. However, this is probably unnecessary because your tile/travertine/marble/mantle will cover them nicely.

The Elimination of the Deformed Mailbox


Old Mailbox

My original mailbox was left by previous renters who destroyed the house. Note the quality 5-gallon paint bucket with broken handle, containing authentic cement with real screws stuck inside. A fossil treasure to be sure! The mailbox post was tossed in the cement at a permanent angle and even the mailbox door was broken. All other neighbors on the street had brick or rock mailboxes so we stuck out like a punk teenager with pink hair and 68 piercings. I found a great contractor who did the project in a day. The mailbox I had put in the post was white. I decided I wanted a black mailbox after it was cemented in, so I painted it.

How to paint your mailbox:
1.Buy exterior-grade paint. Mine was a high gloss.
2.Buy a junky foam paintbrush. I learned this the hard way when I tried to get the paint off of my $12.00 Purdy paintbrush. :( To the trashcan with you Purdy!
3.Paint one or two coats on your mailbox—it may need to dry between coats.
4.Buy some pretty shiny house numbers and stick them on. (The numbers you see in this picture have been changed for the protection of this resident).
5.Bon appetit!

Why didn't I DIY the whole mailbox? Because I've never done masonry and I didn't want to end up with something like this. Though, maybe my old mailbox can join this website.


Sorry to end on such an ugly note.

-Actress, as GC


Anonymous said...

This is so funny! It makes me want to re-do my ugly fireplace in my house. It looks even worse than what you started with. Thanks for the good contractor ideas--I'm going to start looking around!

supermom said...

LOL!!! This is so funny. My mailbox needs a makeover also. It looks alot like the uglymailbox pic above...

Jenny said...

Awesome post. It makes me want to hire someone to do everything in my house also-but it sounds like you still spent time thinking through plans and finding the right people.

Sisteroos said...

You know, tile is fairly do-able, it can just be time-intensive. So that's definitely a way to save money. You can't beat a beautiful wood mantle though--that was a no-brainer hire-out project for me.

Ugly mailboxes are so funny! What better way to stick-out and be different than your neighbors. Ugly mailbox pride!

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