Costa Rica With Kids: The Details Of Our First International Family Trip | Young House Love

We have so many good things to say about our family vacation to Costa Rica, and we were excited to hear from so many of you who were interested in a giant blog rundown about it. Do you know me at all? Of course I’m happy to write – at length, sparing no detail. Let’s get into it. But first I wanted to mention that no part of this trip was sponsored and we paid for all of the flights, lodging, and activities ourselves (thanks in part to a lot of saved credit card points that covered all but $219 of our flights and lodging!).

Not only are we going to cover some basics like “where did you stay?” and “what did you do?” – we’re also going to answer some of your broader curiosities about traveling internationally with kids for the first time (boy did we get questions from you guys on Instagram and Facebook!). Part of our goal with this trip was to step outside of our travel comfort zone, which can obviously leave you feeling a little uncertain at times since you’ve never been to that area – how can you really know what to expect? You’ve heard this podcast about how I agonized while planning this trip, right?

Well, it was all WELL WORTH IT. We loved this trip so much (the kids were actively campaigning for a return trip while we were still on our initial trip – ha!). So for the folks asking about everything from language barriers and bugs to food concerns and more – we are going to address every last question that was sent our way. The short answer to pretty much all of them is: Costa Rica was awesome with kids. In fact, we’re convinced that it was the best possible place to go on our first international family trip. So hopefully you’ll see why as we jump into some of your burning questions.

Why Did We Choose Costa Rica?

We initially zeroed in on Costa Rica because (a) we wanted somewhere that would be nice and warm in January when we’d be traveling so we could swim and soak up the sun since it’s typically cold and dark at home during that time of the year (b) we suddenly heard from 2 different friends/family members who had all planned trips there and really loved it. That was enough to feel like it kept popping into our lives for a reason – so we dug a little deeper about everything that Costa Rica has to offer, and the more we learned, the better and better it seemed as an option.

The more we leaned into the Costa Rica idea, the more we realized that it had lots of great lodging and activity options. Like some really cool wildlife that excited the kids, like monkeys and sloths (heck it excited us too). And the deal-sealer was that it was also a relatively easy/quick flight – at least compared to a lot of other international options.

Our kids are 5 and 9 and they’ve both been on several 2-hour-ish flights to Florida, so we knew they could handle something a little longer… but we didn’t want to push it to some 8-hour transatlantic flight quite yet. We couldn’t fly direct from our hometown of Richmond, Virginia… so our 6 hours of flying time each way was broken up into two shorter (and more manageable) flights. For us, it was just about perfect.

Where Did You Go In Costa Rica?

We spent 6 nights in Costa Rica, splitting our time between two different Airbnbs (each for 3 nights). This wasn’t our original intent, we just couldn’t find one Airbnb we liked that was available for all 6 nights that we’d be there. But it did feel nice to book two places because we figured if we didn’t end up loving one of them, at least there was another one that we got to experience too. Have I mentioned that I agonized over the planning part of this trip? I have. Ok, anyway. The whole two Airbnbs thing ended up being GREAT because we got to experience two different areas and that added even more to our adventure (two different areas to explore, many more restaurant options to enjoy, more beaches to find, different activities to try, etc).

Our first Airbnb was in a town called Esterillos Oeste, which was about 2 hours from the airport in San José. It’s a small beach town on the Pacific Coast that felt more like where locals came for a beach day, not American tourists (it didn’t feel very “touristy” at all). Our second Airbnb was about an hour away from the first one in Manuel Antonio (which is also the name of the uber-popular National Park that is there). It was definitely denser with restaurants, shops, and tourist activities. More on the Airbnbs and the towns in a moment.

As for WHY we chose these two towns, it was mostly driven by the lodging availability and some googling around to see what we could do in each area. We wanted places that weren’t too far from the airport and also weren’t too far from each other.

So there are certainly plenty of other places to go in Costa Rica (it’s about the size of West Virginia, btw) – especially if you really want a specific experience – like the hot springs near the volcano in Arenal or the rope bridges in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Those are both north of San José, closer to the airport in Liberia, so for us it would’ve just meant more driving and/or coordinating travel through multiple airports. But definitely build your trip around the activities that sound like the most fun for your family.

How Long Did It Take To Get There?

You may think I just answered that earlier – about 6 hours of flying each way, remember? But any traveler knows that your “in air” time is hardly a full picture of what it takes to actually get to your destination. So despite the flights being very manageable, I’d be lying if I said the full door-to-door travel time didn’t feel somewhat long when it was all added up. Part of this was because we had a very early flight on the way out (had to wake up at 4am) and that, combined with the fact that the towns we stayed in were about 2 hours from the airport in San José, meant we basically also had a short road trip tacked on to all of our flying time.

So all told, each way involved about 12 hours of travel and effectively ate up 1 whole day on each end of our week. I do think it was actually easier on everyone that it was broken up so much (driving, flying, layover-ing, flying, driving, etc) but we still armed ourselves with markers, notebooks, activity books, and fully charged iPads with a few favorite movies downloaded on them to make it easier on the kids (which makes it easier on everyone).

Did You Rent A Car? What Was Driving Like?

Yes! While it seemed like lots of hotels/resorts/tourist companies offered shuttles from the airport (and we also heard Uber is available, as well as clearly marked red taxis with yellow triangles) we chose to rent a car because of (a) the flexibility it would give us to explore and (b) the need for car seats for our children. We brought our own booster in our checked duffle bag for our 9-year-old and we rented a car seat for our five year old along with the vehicle through a company called Payless (we just booked it through Expedia).

We had heard you should get something with 4-wheel drive because some roads in Costa Rica are unpaved, steep, and/or rocky. We definitely experienced some of those (like the neighborhood roads leading to our first Airbnb, seen below) but we never actually needed to engage the 4WD in our little rented SUV.

Driving in Costa Rica was generally A LOT easier than I anticipated. Overall we felt like people were pretty relaxed, polite, and slow drivers (even on highways the max speed limit was only about 80 kmh which is about 50 mph). You still drive on the right side of the road too, like we’re used to. The only “challenges” were road signage and parking. Streets were often unmarked, so we had to rely heavily on watching our Google Maps navigation to make sure we were turning at the right places (I may have gone around a traffic circle a couple of extra times). And if there was signage, it was in Spanish so we had to make some educated guesses at moments. But again – driving was easier than we anticipated overall.

One word about parking – because it was super easy in our first Airbnb location, but it was admittedly tough in the Manuel Antonio area because it’s a more congested area with narrow, winding streets (it’s fairly mountainous there). We had to pass up a couple of restaurants that people had recommended because their very few, very cramped spots right off the road were all full. We actually ended up walking to a lot of our meals in Manuel Antonio because the parking was so sparse. But again, overall it felt no harder to drive in Costa Rica than it does here in the United States, so we’d definitely do it again.

Just be warned that everything takes a bit longer to get to than you might expect because the speed limits are low and the highways we experienced were only one lane each way, so it’s easy to get stuck behind a slow vehicle for a little while. We actually liked the leisurely driving pace though – it never felt stressful and rushed like people were angry about you, a tourist, trying to figure things out. The locals seemed to drive just as slow as people like us trying to figure out where we were going.

Was The Language Barrier An Issue?

Nope! Costa Rica is a Spanish-speaking country but I’d say we could communicate in English with about 75% of the people we encountered – and in the other 25% of cases, we would use hand gestures and everyone would have a big smile on their faces as we all tried to interpret each other. Nobody seemed frustrated, in fact in general the locals that we met seemed to genuinely love visitors and often asked us things like “is it your first trip? Do you love it here? Have you seen any sloths yet?!”

So overall speaking a different language wasn’t an issue AT ALL (I have a very rudimentary understanding leftover from my college days) and there were actually plenty of instances of signage or menus being printed in both Spanish and English, or simply just English.

And in the few moments where we didn’t understand quickly spoken Spanish – like when our kids couldn’t understand the little girl that wanted to play with them on the beach – it was a helpful reminder that we can’t always expect to rely on others knowing our language in the world. The kids came home with an interest in learning more Spanish, along with some new words in their repertoire, and so did we.

What About Currency?

Costa Rica uses the colón (plural: colones) but we found that SO many places/people happily accept the US dollar (USD). In fact, a few restaurants we went to had their prices listed in USD instead of colones and one grocery store even asked me which currency I wanted to be rung up in (I had the option of paying with USD or a Visa or colones). Also, the toll booths we went through on the highway accepted my USD and then gave me colones in change. Overall, paying for things there was pretty simple because there were so many choices.

For the first few days at least, the quick in-our-heads math conversion from USD to colones was a little tricky to do on the spot, but we eventually got the hang of it. For example, $1 USD is equal to about 570 colones, meaning most prices in Costa Rica are in the THOUSANDS of colones. That can cause some sticker shock, like when your restaurant bill arrives with “25,000” listed as the total (but then you do the math and realize that’s $43 USD). So that wasn’t the tricky part, because we quickly got used to big numbers not being huge amounts.

On the other hand, trying to translate and convert money when someone was quickly reciting a total to us, like at a grocery checkout – that was where it could momentarily get complicated. I’m good with single- and double-digit numbers in Spanish, but when you’re rattling off 16,475 in rapid Spanish, I get a little lost. And that’s even before I have a chance to try to calculate what that means in USD.

So, for better or worse, we used our regular ol’ bank-issued Visa card for most of our in-store or in-restaurant purchases. We did incur about $40 in “international transaction fees” over the course of our weeklong trip, but frankly it was well worth it to not have to worry about currency conversions or hold up the line while we tried to frantically work out math equations in another language. We did travel with a bunch of cash in USD and about $15 worth of colones too, which we were glad we had, but we would’ve been just fine without any colones at all – as long as we had plenty of small USD bills (again, most places took that, as well as Visa).

Did You Feel Safe?

We got this question a lot. Yes, we did! We can confidently say that we never felt unsafe during our time in Costa Rica. We took common-sense measures that you’d take in any popular tourist area (locking doors at night, not leaving valuables in the car, keeping tabs on bags/wallets/kids, etc) but that was never because of any specific “threat” – except for the warning that monkeys like to rifle through bags at some of the beaches. Ha!

And speaking of monkeys, we never felt unsafe due to animals or other critters either. People asked us if we feared things like snakes or scorpions or supersized bugs and those weren’t an issue or a concern for us either. We spotted zero snakes, zero scorpions, and honestly zero scary or big bugs. Wait, scratch that, there was a big spider one night – but he was more fascinating than scary and he was outside. Didn’t bother us at all. Long story short, we personally didn’t encounter any creature, person, or situation that made us feel unsafe in Costa Rica. Honestly the bugs in Florida are bigger and we’ve gotten more mosquito bites nearly everywhere else we’ve traveled (we didn’t get a single one in Costa Rica).

Tell Me More About Your Airbnbs!

I really feel like we hit the Airbnb jackpot because the two places we rented were some of the most amazing places we’ve ever stayed, anywhere. Again, we ended up in two different places because we couldn’t find one place that was available all six nights that we would be there. We considered doing a hotel or resort, but we typically find that a vacation rental offers us more space & more privacy (read: the kids sleep a lot better than in a hotel where you hear other doors opening and closing or the elevator dinging).

The good thing about our Airbnb preference is that they don’t tend to be much more expensive than a single room at a hotel (which doesn’t usually have a kitchen, multiple bedrooms, or a private pool!). Having access to a stocked kitchen when you want to prepare some meals at home to save money is always a nice bonus. Plus you can play weird games at the pool without worrying that you’re bothering other people.

Our first Airbnb in Esterillos Oeste had two bedrooms in the main house (we stayed in the king bedroom and our kids happily shared the other bedroom with both a twin and full sized bed). There was also a third bedroom with its own private entrance on the lower level (the “Casita”) which is where the colorful mural was painted above.

The casita was such a serene, secluded little space that would’ve been great had we traveled with the grandparents or another couple with a baby or something. But since we wanted to sleep under the same roof as our kids, we didn’t use the Casita at all. If six people rented this house it would be great though – and it would make it even cheaper per night that way too.

The outdoor space of this house was so relaxed, playful, and private feeling that we spent HOURS out there (there were houses on either side, but the lush landscaping made the yard feel so secluded – like it was our own little oasis).

The raised deck that the pool was inset into made you feel like you were swimming in the jungle canopy and we literally had iguanas and monkeys visit us right there in the backyard. That’s not a typo. Iguanas would come sun themselves on the deck, and around 10 monkeys swung by one afternoon – walking along the railing right in front of us! Macaws even flew by overhead. It was like getting the quintessential Costa Rica experience without even leaving the house.

In case you want to see the ENTIRE space, we shot a quick video right before we checked out so you could see everything. Again, here’s the Airbnb listing for it. It really was such a beautiful place!

The second Airbnb in Manuel Antonio was extremely sleek and decorated like it was fresh out of a home magazine (like, a photographer needs to get over there pronto). It had 3 bedrooms in the main house and, again, a separate Casita (that’s it in the picture below). Once again, we didn’t sleep in there because we all wanted to stay under one roof, but with older kids or a second couple, the casita would have been awesome.

One of the 3 bedrooms in the main house was an un-air-conditioned loft which was just slightly too warm for us to sleep in overnight, but we did have a couple of pre-bedtime movies nights up there all together, which the kids thought were magical (ok, we did too – we even watched Zootopia in honor of seeing some sloths). We also spent some time reading and hanging out up there while the kids played below. But the two downstairs bedrooms with the air conditioning were the most comfortable places to sleep, so that’s what we did. Sherry & I took the air-conditioned bedroom downstairs with a queen bed and our kids shared the second air conditioned bedroom that was also down there on the main floor.

This house also had INCREDIBLE outdoor spaces, all inspired by and decorated with items from the owners’ trips to Bali. There was a big outdoor dining table, a hammock swing that our kids were obsessed with, and a hanging daybed that has Sherry on a full scale won’t-take-no-for-an-answer mission to build one for our house’s back porch. The pool was beautiful and slightly shaded which was nice. Just as we did in the first Airbnb, we ended up in the pool every single day – usually morning and evening. It was great.

We also shot a quick little walk-through of this Airbnb right as we arrived so you could see everything. Although we somehow managed to forget to pop into the bedroom where we slept – although you can see it on the right before I turn left into the big bathroom with the tub. If you’re truly curious, you can see it in the Airbnb listing.

You can also watch it here on YouTube.

I should also add that in addition to both places being beautiful and amazing, the hosts of both were incredibly nice! Within hours of booking they each had messaged us with long lists of activity suggestions (snorkeling! ziplining! boat tours!) and offers to help book anything we’d like. We ultimately only used them to arrange two activities, but they were crazy helpful in answering our general questions about our trip.

The first Airbnb is operated by a Canadian couple (who now lives full time in Esterillos Oeste – we got to meet the husband during our stay) and the second is managed by a local rental company, and the woman who greeted us with the key grew up in the same exact county that I did (Fairfax, Virginia) and has since moved full time to Costa Rica. Such a small world.

What Activities Did You Do In Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is often known as a destination for outdoor adventurers and thrill-seekers. So I’ll preface this by saying that our kids are VERY into animals and wildlife and hikes and swimming and exploring but zero into heights/things that go fast (aka: ziplines or rope bridges or ATVs/whitewater rafting). Given their ages (5 and 9) that could all change down the line, and we had such a good time exploring – even without being high up in the air or whizzing around on fast vehicles or boats.

If those those thrill-seeking options are more your speed, they’re certainly available – and there are signs and billboards at just about every turn for them, along with night tours for bugs & scorpions, etc. So be sure to google around for more info on those activities if you’re planning to try them out. And if you too are vacationing with younger kids or more-chill-seeking-and-less-thrill-seeking travelers, here are some of the activities/destinations we enjoyed:

Esterillos Oeste Beach

This was just about a 5-minute drive from our first Airbnb and there was easy and free parking right on the dirt roads that parallel the beach. We just went for a walk here one day after eating lunch nearby (above – hence no bathing suits) and then came back the next day with bathing suits, towels, and a cooler full of snacks to soak up the beach for a while longer. The Pacific Ocean can be kind of rough, but at low tide there were tons of shallow tidepools that the kids played in (and they met some other local kids who were doing the same thing!). It was also fun just walking up and down the beach & hunting for shells and other little treasures.

Royal Butterflies

This is a farm / butterfly sanctuary near Jaco Beach operated by an American family now living in Costa Rica and it was recommended by our first Airbnb host so we couldn’t wait to check it out. One of the family members, Donna, greeted us at our car as soon as we pulled in, and gave us the friendliest one-on-one tour of the butterfly enclosure and surrounding farm we could ever have hoped for. She let our kids pick starfruit off a tree to eat later, run through the shallow river that ran through the property, and they even took us on a tour of the treehouse Airbnb that they’re currently constructing (see the picture below – it’s not listed on Airbnb yet or I’d link it for you here).

We still can’t get over how nice they were and it was a perfect low-key activity for kids our age. It was only $10 for everyone who was 6 and up, so $30 total for the four of us.

Manuel Antonio Guided Tour

This was the only “excursion” that we officially booked/scheduled during our trip – and we’re SO glad we did (we tend to go with the flow when traveling, rather than booking lots of activities beforehand). Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest but most popular national park – and it’s known for all of the animals that call it home… including sloths! You can certainly go without a guide, but if your goal is to see animals then we would definitely scream: GET A GUIDE! More on why in a second.

We booked our guide ahead of time through our Airbnb host (she exclusively books him, so we can’t directly link him right here – which is a bummer because he was awesome), but we hear that they’re all awesome. Literally everyone who does this park with a guide loves it and sees so many awesome things. We were told you can usually also pay one at the entrance of the park and just find one that way – and there are also several on Airbnb Experiences.

A guide is important because most of the animals are high up in the canopy or otherwise hidden in the jungle. The guide not only uses his expertise to spot them, but they bring a telescopic lens that allows you to get a close-up look at them. Our guide even used his lens to take photos of the animals on our phones so we all got to come home with some seriously amazing photos of everything from a mom & baby sloth (!!!) to monkeys galore, and even the most beautiful “rainbow grasshopper” (not a sentence I ever expected to type). Oh and a bat and a raccoon and a red & blue crab. So much to see.

The best moment was definitely the baby sloth who was hanging out with her mom. We stood there and watched them for a solid five minutes. It was amazing.

Our tour was about $140 total (for two adults and two children, which also included the park entrance fee and parking at a hotel near the front gate). They only accepted cash, so we’re glad we had lots of USD with us. The guided portion was about 2 hours, which might be a stretch for some five year olds, but we were treated to a spontaneous show by some playful monkeys towards the end, which boosted our son’s energy. Both of our kids name it as one of the coolest things we did during our trip.

That’s the photo I took with my phone zoomed in above, and this is the photo our guide took through his lens – just to give you a sense of how much better of a view we got of things thanks to the guide. Quite the handsome couple, eh?

Manuel Antonio Beach

After the guided portion, we stayed in the park to swim at one of the park beaches (it has a few!). We had paid admission already, so why not – and many people told us the beaches in the park are less crowded than the public ones outside the park. Our guide pointed us towards the beach with the calmest water and it was one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to in my life (we’ll get to THE prettiest one in a moment).

We didn’t stay super long because everyone was getting hungry and the park has strict rules about what you can bring in and the park cafeteria seemed to be mostly pizza and pastries. But the kids LOVED swimming here because it was warm, clear, and just the right amount of wave action. We almost came back the next day…

Playa Biesanz

Instead of returning to the park beach, we ended up reading about Playa Biesanz on Google and were intrigued by its description as Manuel Antonio’s “secret” beach. It sounded a bit off the beaten path, but by this point it was our last full day and we were feeling a bit more adventurous. We navigated to the right place thanks to Google Maps and spotted the “break in the fence” someone had described online.

Several locals were helping people park along the narrow road and holding hand-written signs that said they’d “watch your car” for 2000 colones (about $3.50). It felt a little like a tourist trap, but for $3.50 I didn’t really care (and I did appreciate their help parking since you have to hop two wheels over the curb). We then followed another family through the break in the fence, down a hill for about a 10-minute hike (we easily did it in flip flops although it was a little rocky and somewhat steep in some parts) to what is easily the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to in my life.

The water was clear and calm. The sand was white and clean. Several locals had set up stands along the tree line selling ceviche, cocktails, coconuts with straws poked in them, and even kayaks and paddle boards to rent. We paid $10 (again, in USD) to rent two lounge chairs and an umbrella and had the most perfect last morning in Costa Rica there.

It certainly wasn’t a true secret (there were locals and other tourists there – and the locals were happily selling things like food & drinks & rental chairs to the tourists) but probably due to that 10 minute hike, it wasn’t nearly as populated as the other beaches we had been to. It was really nice and well worth that ten minute hike. None of our photos capture how picturesque the whole thing was. It was one of those trip memories that we’ll still be talking about when we’re ninety.

Besides those few “excursions,” we mostly spent our time exploring the little towns we were in, trying out different restaurants, going on little hikes or walks, stopping into local shops, and just relaxing at our Airbnbs (remember those am and pm swims we all loved so much).

We also really enjoyed shopping at the markets with the locals. There was tons of fresh food (picture Sherry screaming “THIS GORGEOUS FRUIT!!!!!!” while unpacking our bags from the market). And we loved cooking breakfast at our Airbnb and watching the kids change from their pjs into their bathing suits before breakfast. Also noteworthy: we ordered smoothies everywhere we went. And speaking of meals…

Where Did You Eat?

A surprising amount of people were curious about where we stuffed our faces, so I’ll oblige the best we can. We don’t even remember the names of some of the places – like the restaurant we pulled off of the highway to eat dinner at during our first night. We were hungry and it was there. Plus it had a waterfall out front and a friendly white goose in the backyard that entertained us the whole time. Wish we remembered the name. But onto the ones we remember – many of which you guys recommended to us, and we can see why!

We also grabbed meals at some of the smaller eateries along the main road in Manuel Antonio, like the Falafel Bar and a hamburger place that promised “The Best F-ing Hamburger in Costa Rica” (it was pretty darn good). We also shopped at the local grocery stores so we could cook breakfast at home every day (mostly eggs and fresh fruit and occasionally we even went whole hog and made pancakes and bacon).

What Did Your Kids Eat?

We heard a lot of concern from people about finding things for their kids to eat when traveling abroad and I’ll say that we had no issue with it in Costa Rica. Obviously every kid is different, but at basically every place we went we found kid-friendly staples like chicken, quesadillas, hamburgers or some sort of beef option, along with pasta and even pizza. It was easier to find something they loved to eat than it is at some restaurants at home. This also meant that we could get them to sample some of the more local or “adventurous” items that we were ordering for ourselves, but still rely on serving them something within in their comfort zone to make sure they left the restaurant with a full stomach.

Anything Else We Should Know?

Honestly, the only thing that caught us by surprise was the toilet paper situation. In both areas we stayed we were warned, as the sign in one of our Airbnbs said, that the jungle plumbing systems couldn’t handle toilet paper. So instead of flushing toilet paper, it had to be disposed of in a tiny lidded trash can next to the toilet. This was true at stores, restaurants, everywhere – not just our rentals. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel unusual at first, but by the end of the trip we were oddly used to it. That’s probably TMI – but I figure I’d give you guys the heads up! We literally got home and it felt weird to flush it, so you adjust surprisingly fast.

Aaaaaaaand on that note, I’ll wrap up this monster post by saying once again that Costa Rica turned out to be the perfect place for our first international trip with kids. Everyone there was so friendly. The weather was great. The food was delicious. Please go and enjoy at least ten smoothies. Pura Vida!*

*that’s what the locals say allll the time, sort of like saying “cheers!” When we got home Sherry kept almost saying it to checkout clerks as we walked away. Costa Rica will worm its way into your heart, I’m telling you.

P.S. Want even more photos, details, and info about our trip. You can see a bunch of highlights from our Costa Rica vacation right here on IG Stories

This content was originally published here.

A Big Master Bathroom & Closet Update | Young House Love

We made some pretty exciting progress over the last few weeks that has earned us a much more functional space with a random but doable smattering of tasks left on our to-do list. We’re definitely rounding third base on this bathroom (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean – we’re getting extremely close to the end) and for that I’m straight up Carlton-dancing. Let me tell you, having a double sink for the first time in our lives (and my favorite toilet! and an actual closet system instead of a few old hanging bars!) is a huge upgrade.

We’re thrilled, even if this feels like it has been a much longer renovation than we initially anticipated (aren’t they all?). And since its been a while since we’ve blogged about our bathroom & closet progress (we’ve shown a lot of peeks on our Instagram Stories but our last blog post was all the way back on October 9th!) we wanted to give you a big ol’ update, complete with pictures that we snapped this very morning.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, we were plugging along as planned, having finished the shower tile and gotten started on our floor tile, with a goal to grout them both at the same time. BUT then we got word that our plumber was having knee surgery in a mere 4 days, leaving him out of commission for 5 weeks. So if we wanted anything installed before February (YIKES!) we had less than a week to get the room ready for it.

So we did what we do best, and totally panicked. Then we had some snacks, took a few deep breaths, and shifted our priorities to focus on getting just the floor tiled and grouted (so the toilet, vanity, and tub could be installed on top of them) – it meant we wouldn’t have the shower done as quickly, but regaining a toilet and sink were the priority. We could just continue using the hall shower for a little longer, but earn back a sink and toilet for the middle of the night – which we sorely missed.

We also realized that since we wanted to install some molding on the walls around the room, that would be much easier to do before the toilet, vanity, and tub were installed (and in the way of any sort of wall treatment installation). I’ll spare you the play by play of cramming all of that into a few days (literally I think it was around 40 hours) and just say that thanks to some super late nights of tiling, nailing, caulking, grouting, and painting we got it done juuuust in time. (We’ll do a detailed post about how we installed that thick trim around the room soon – we think it was one of the best choices we made in the entire room and really elevated the space).

Now, back to where I said we got it done just in time. Well actually it was done just in time to find out that our plumber was too slammed with finishing other projects to squeeze us in on the day before his surgery like he hoped he could have. We were the last to get on his list, so we totally got that we’d be the first to miss out if he ran out of time.

The GREAT news was that he was able to send a couple of other guys on his team over the very next day to take care of it instead! Which definitely beats a 5 week wait while he recovered from knee surgery. So it all worked out just fine in the end – although they didn’t have the kit they needed to install the tub so that would have to wait, along with trimming out the shower (since we still have to grout and seal that to get it ready for them to complete that install).

So yeah, it’s a bathroom that looks pretty but doesn’t have a functioning shower or tub yet (this is the tub we bought that currently lives in our bedroom). But frankly, we’re too dang excited to have running faucets and a flushing toilet to really care.

Oh and some people have asked why we didn’t just install the toilet and vanity ourselves (rather than race to meet the plumber’s deadline). They’re both tasks we’ve done before and are perfectly capable of doing again, so it certainly was an option. But the best way for our plumber to guarantee his work (including all the new pipes that he connected in the walls) is for him to see the job through from start to finish.

So in a pinch we certainly could’ve taken over, but everyone involved preferred to let him finish what he started – just so that if in a month something is leaking he could fully guarantee his work and fix it on the house (versus some awkward “well, I did the plumbing for the toilet but didn’t actually install it…” conversation where we’re not sure who is responsible to fix something). It also helps for code reasons to have a licensed plumber do all of the plumbing work when it’s a huge gut job of a room (versus us switching out a toilet or faucet ourselves in an otherwise-not-gutted bathroom, which doesn’t require a permit since it’s not a huge update).

Now at this point you might guess that we’d shift our focus back to grouting the shower and getting it ready for the plumbers to finish up after the holiday, along with the tub finally going in. But no, we had officially spun off in a new direction. Blame on it on the excitement of starting to have a finished-feeling bathroom with a working toilet and sink again (that really took the pressure off the shower/tub thing). Or the fact that we had holiday guests coming and needed to get all of our displaced closet stuff out of the dining room and garage and everywhere else it had piled up (things explode everywhere when you have 1,432 Ikea parts just waiting to be installed and an entire closet full of two people’s clothes and shoes that have been offset to other places). So with just a few days before Christmas, we turned our attention to installing our new master closet.

It just felt SO. FREAKING. GOOD. to have this space functional again (and to finally move all of our displaced clothing back into the closet). We completely installed it over the course of a few days (during the week of Christmas – all we wanted was a finished closet for the holidays). So yes, we gave ourself the gift of not having to go into the kids’ bedrooms to get various items of clothing anymore, and cleared off our dining table just in time for holiday guests. We used the Ikea Pax system and we promise to share a full post about it soon (how we installed it & trimmed it out so it looks built-in, photos of how we organized each section – even a video tour!).

Oh and you’ll notice in a few of the photos above there’s a rug in front of the double vanity, but the same rug is also in this shot of the closet:

It’s a secondhand rug from Etsy that I got for $186 all the way from Turkey! It shipped in less than a week (?!?!), and I love how it feels old and faded (because it is!). This is the vendor that I got it from, and here are a few similar ones. It adds so much warmth to the room, and honestly I love it in front of the vanity, but I might love it in the closet even more.

You can see some other things that we checked off the list, like hanging our over the sink, mounting our arched mirror in the closet, hanging my beloved , and bringing in some greenery and woven textures in the baskets on the sink, in the closet, etc.

I fully subscribe to the “morale boost” that happens when you bring in a few pretty things to buoy your spirits, even if you’re not finished yet. Soak up the progress & feel happy in that half-done room! Also, plants make me happy.

In addition to still needing to finish grouting and sealing the shower and getting the tub and the wall-mounted faucet installed, there are still some other tasks on our list, but they all feel extremely doable. I’m thrilled to have what once was a list of about 117 things down to a half dozen or so:

I’m sure I’m forgetting some stuff in that list, but it definitely feels like we’re rounding the final bend! And of course we’ll share a full budget breakdown of this project when we’re back with a full reveal. We’ve been keeping track, and it has been blissfully straightforward (no crazy discoveries behind the walls) so we’re excited to share that with you guys when we stick a fork in this project.

Wanna see a few other room makeovers we’ve tackled over the years? Here are some favorites:

P.S. Don’t forget to read the first post about this bathroom reno to see a video tour and check out the exciting half-demo-ed pics. And here’s the planning post with a before and after floor plan, along with how we chose the tile, found inspiration, etc.

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This content was originally published here.

New Paint, Lights, & Window Boxes For Our Backyard Shed (Finally) | Young House Love

This post is for everyone who has been asking for a shed update since we finally painted it to match our white house (it only took us a year!). While we were updating things, we switched out the lights and added window boxes because I can now be described as “extremely passionate about sheds.” Like if I was on match.com that would be in my bio somewhere.

This is perhaps the largest personality change for me throughout adulthood. The idea that I like sheds is an extremely new revelation.

Remember when I didn’t care about sheds – and maybe even hated them – especially when John wanted to use half of our beach house’s tiny backyard for one and I basically said no and rebelled for an entire year while we lived with all of the stuff that should have been in a shed inside the beach house. Let me just tell you that sandy beach chairs and beach umbrellas and tile and paint and bikes and yard tools are not awesome when they’re all over the foyer and laundry room.

After about a year of that I gave in and let John get his precious beach house shed. And in doing so I realized that they’re not only very practical but they can be ADORABLE and I promptly decided that I wanted to live in the pink shed and never leave.

I really think it’s the lights and the window box that did it for me. That’s when my shed-outlook changed forever. I’m not only decidedly pro-shed now, you might even call me a shed hype woman now. I will rave about how much storage you can gain without sacrificing a single scrap of beauty – heck it can even add privacy and make your yard feel more nestled and cozy. Especially if you include a few charming details like nice light fixtures and a window box or two.

So back to priming and painting our shed in Richmond after over a year of putting it off. This was us priming the shed back before the leaves started to change.

And this was THE MOMENT BEFORE THE HORNET DISCOVERY. Ah, the memories (more on that story here).

This is still just the primer coat above, hence it looking blue-ish instead of a true white like the trim and doors.

Speaking of the doors, we chose the same soft french blue that’s on all three of our house’s exterior doors. The color is Tranquility from Ben Moore’s Affinity line (it’s labeled as “Tranquility AF” on the paint swatch – which you know makes me laugh out loud every time I see it because I’m a 12 year old).

Finally painting the shed the same color as the house (more on the house color here) and making the doors the same color too, instantly unified both the shed & the house.

It was kinda magical to see it happen over the course of a few days. They also share the same roof shingles, which is another nice tie in.

Over the years, the original shed lights started to feel a little too craftsman and boxy for such a rectangle of a shed, so we went with something a little more curvy to balance out all of the straight lines. I think they’re super cute, especially that pulley-looking arm on the top and that we added.

As for the window boxes, we got them from the same place we got the pink shed’s window box because we’ve been really happy with it. They’re made of no-rot material, are really easy to hang, and even have a self-watering feature (you can dump a ton of water into a pipe on the edge of the top opening for the window box, where all of the dirt is, and it slowly dispenses the water throughout the dirt for a week or two before you need to add more).

So this is the view out of the kitchen window when I do dishes. I’m not mad at it. Yes, you might even say that I have Shed Fever at this point. It’s like Bieber Fever, but no Biebs & all shed. Because I just can’t even picture the yard without this adorable little anchor point.

And remember my former point about privacy and how the right placement can make a yard feel more nestled? The location of this shed is so nice because our curved backyard backs up to two other houses through the woods (and one of them with fewer evergreen plantings used to be super visible in the winter months when all the leaves drop).

But the second this shed arrived… boom. New view. Haven’t seen their backyard since 2016 before this baby landed. Now there’s a view of this cute little house of ours (full of tools galore – you can see how we organized it all here). We feel more nestled, as do our neighbors through the woods. It’s just such a nice little break between our two backyards, which formerly felt like they used to run into each other.

So that’s the story of my love of sheds, blossoming into a very strong bond indeed. Tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme. Sherry and her shedddddd.

P.S. You can read all about getting this shed back in 2016 right here in this post. And here’s the post all about the beach house backyard, complete with the full pink shed rundown. As for how this shed is organized, here’s that post for ya. And here’s the post about how we organized the pink house shed. Did I say shed enough in this post? No? How about a post about two other sheds in our life: the duplex sheds.

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This content was originally published here.

Our Stone-Topped Coffee Table Hack | Young House Love

For everyone who has been asking for the details on our new coffee table (glimpses of it have made their way into my InstaStories over the last few months – and boy did you guys notice!), I’m finally writing up all the details.

How many words can someone possibly share about the hunt for and the creation of a living room coffee table that checks every one of their oddly specific boxes, you ask? Well, settle in. I shall regale you with a tale of woe and triumph and there’s even a random not-sure-it-even-works alien joke worked in there for good measure. Plus I’ll show you exactly how to get this exact coffee table if you want to pull this same hack at your house (it is BEGINNER LEVEL EASY).

Let’s back up for a second. You know how sometimes you dream about an item that doesn’t exist and you’re like “I like this one thing but wish it had that other top or that other wood finish.” Like you want to pull a Frankenstein combo move and merge three things together? That is exactly how my search for a living room coffee table has felt.

For ages we had a huge white padded ottoman and loved it. We literally kept it for like seven glorious years until it died a very slow death by flaking and peeling everywhere (we’d find little peels of it upstairs in our bedroom – it really got around in those final days). This is a picture from two years back:

It was perfect for small kids (no hard edges to bump into) and there was storage inside for games and blankets. A big padded ottoman is still my favorite living room tip for any family with smaller kids, but over the last few years we’ve started to really enjoy coffee tables since the kids are older. We have one at the beach house and it’s great for casually doing a puzzle or playing family games. There’s just something nice about having a centralized solid surface to you can rest things on and gather around.

And let me tell you, since upgrading from ottoman to coffee table in this living room, we have played SO MANY epic family games (Sequence or Ticket To Ride are near-nightly occurrences) and it’s really nice to use a room with a TV for way more than watching TV. Highly recommend it if your kids are old enough that the change would make sense for you.

But anyway, back my over-a-year-long coffee table hunt. I know. That sounds very high maintenance. I’m learning that I am, in fact, extremely needy when it comes to coffee tables. I’m ok with this fact. I’ve been called worse 😉

You might remember that last fall we bought a cheap secondhand coffee table for $35, just because the flaking ottoman NEEDED TO GO and I had been searching for a coffee table that I really loved for a while and couldn’t find one. So I basically was like: we are being crazy by holding out for this perfect thing, when all we need is something that’s cheap and fine in the meantime – so we can get that peeling beat up ottoman that literally drops “dandruff” all over our house outta here.

You know that saying: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good? We were literally living with terrible (the flakes everywhere were as maddening as inexplicably finding glitter everywhere), and for the cost of one meal at Panera we got a secondhand table that made zero mess and worked fine. We never should have waited that long. It was a huge step up. It wasn’t the perfect size or material that I wanted – but it was such a relief. No more shavings everywhere, plus it gave me a gift: the giant release of urgency to find that oddly elusive perfect coffee table.

Well, we got that “just for now” coffee table last fall. As in, over a year ago. And ever since I’ve looked pretty much everywhere, but this room is sort of an odd layout, so a rectangular coffee table is just too narrow. Even a very large round one feels too small in the room because it doesn’t connect the accent chairs as nicely as a larger square one does – which makes it feel like a legitimate connected conversation area. So after hours and hours of searching and scrolling… and even doing some in-person exercises, like trying a few different combos just to be sure (like a round coffee table + two white leather poufs, etc) I was 100% certain I wanted a large square one. Like around 3′ wide by 3′ long. Big and solid.

Easy to find right? Well, to make a short story long (my specialty! Ha!), it wasn’t. Because I also wanted it to be a similar wood tone to the side chairs and the side table that we already had in there (the darker old “placeholder” table didn’t tie into anything and I didn’t love that – and I felt like metal legs would’t be as warm looking as wood ones with our old secondhand rug).

I also wanted it to have an extremely durable, water-ring-safe top so the kids could draw with markers or play spirited board games without worrying about the finish. Which led me to the following thought… “that sounds a lot like our kitchen island – which is polished quartz.”

Polished quartz is super durable, the shiny finish always looks gleaming and lovely, and there’s no worry about juice or wine stains like you have with marble. The kids do very messy art projects on the kitchen island, and everything wipes right off. It has just been wonderful for our family. But who the heck makes a giant square quartz coffee table with a wood base in the exact size that I wanted?

Nobody, that’s who.

So I was like… what if I make one…? Not exactly make it from scratch, but I bet I can find a nice solid square wood coffee table that I love (not necessarily the right wood tone, but that can be changed) and then stain it the color I want. And then what if I just go to a stone yard and buy a cheap remnant piece of quartz (we made our living room fireplace surround with marble remnants and it was so much easier and more affordable than I expected). And you guys… this idea that felt kinda hair-brained at first. Well, it worked like a charm.

It really was as simple as ordering this unfinished wood coffee table (I loved the shape of it and the x-details on the side of it – plus the fact that it was unfinished meant I didn’t have to do any stripping or sanding to get it back to a raw wood finish because it literally came that way). I ordered it on Amazon, it came within a few days, and I took it out of the box and assembled it.

After I wiped it down with a damp cloth to make sure no dust or weird dirt was on it, I stained it Provincial by Minwax (which is also what I stained our accent chairs a while back – it’s a great wood tone). I applied two coats of that in the garage, where it could air out – followed by two clear coats of Polycrylic matte sealer – make sure you get the blue labeled one that’s water based because the oil based one tends to get really yellowed over time).

Then we took a trip to the stone yard and I basically was like “TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER! AND BY LEADER I MEAN CHEAPEST REMNANT PIECES!”

To anyone who doesn’t know about local stone yards and their remnant pieces, they’re basically the excess parts of the slabs that kitchen or bathroom clients don’t use (the stone yard cuts the counters for them, and some extra pieces of the original large slab are leftover). Since they’re smaller pieces for smaller jobs that typically wouldn’t work for a big kitchen island or a long span of cabinets, they’re traditionally marked at least half off. Our local place charges around $40 a square foot for quartz remnants, instead of the regular price which is usually around $90. For any locals wondering, we use Capitol Granite, who also made our kitchen island.

So for this huge block of quartz to top the table that is around 3′ wide by 3′ long, we paid around $370 ($40 x 9 square feet). Yes, that is NOT CHEAP. I had some second thoughts about if I was being extremely irrational and overthinking this far too much. So I did what any person who is teetering between “this is too much” and “but it’s exactly what I want” does, and I looked around for similar options to see if I really was getting the best deal, or paying through the nose. This gut check can be hugely helpful and illuminating either way it ends up going. And suddenly I felt much much better, because similarly sized stone-topped tables were upwards of $800 and in many instances they were $1,000 plus!

Even the ready-made ones that I found in those higher price points didn’t have all the features I was looking for (ex: wood legs, the right 3′ x 3′ dimension, good reviews, a quartz top that wouldn’t stain like marble, etc). Take this $1249.00 one for example. Suddenly the cost for my own quartz remnant ($370) added to the cost of the base that I bought (it was $149 thanks to the markdown they were running that day) didn’t sound that crazy. Especially for exactly what I wanted.

So yes, this coffee table was $519. Not the most expensive thing in our house, but definitely more than I thought I’d pay for a coffee table over a year ago when I started my search if I’m being honest. I don’t know what I expected, maybe under $300? But I can tell you that it completely meets all of my hopes & dreams for a coffee table, which I have since learned is surprisingly hard to do, so I can’t even be mad about that extra $219. Especially after the realization that I’d never end up with exactly what I wanted unless I made it myself. AND DANGIT THAT’S PRICELESS. Well, not priceless, but well worth the effort.

I love that it feels like something we’ll have forever and I really like how it ties into the marble on the fireplace and looks great with the kitchen counters too. Seeing the gleaming coffee table top between the shiny kitchen island and the stone fireplace surround is just lovely. In fact our son very enthusiastically proclaimed that he liked that the top of the coffee table is a giant coaster so they don’t have to use coasters on it. I laughed SO HARD (we have stone coasters in the same color/pattern – you can see one on the end table below). The table really is a giant coaster, so he’s onto something.

Oh and as for making a solid table even more solid, we added these satin brass corner brackets around the edges, because they blend in and stabilize it even more. See, when you put your feet up on a table over and over again, it can start to rock and not stay super square, and when it starts to rock back and forth, you have to worry about it loosening and continuing to rock more and more. And in an extreme situation it could eventually collapse. These hold it square. No rocking = no getting rickety or unsteady. Such an easy way to add even more strength and it only took a few minutes to screw them in (we predrilled small holes so they went in smoothly).

This thing is SOLID. As in, the kids can’t move it. Not an inch. Which is kind of nice because they used to push the ottoman all over the place – and it would do that annoying thing to us where it slipped out from under our feet sometimes when we both had our feet up on it. This stays put. We also used a few dabs of adhesive to attach the quartz to the tabletop, just because we worried that it might shift somehow over time. Although once we got it home we were like… this is so heavy it probably won’t ever move. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Oh and one more tip: order the coffee table first & assemble it so you can measure the exact size of the top. Sometimes every single table varies slightly, and you want to get a remnant piece of quartz that’s around 1.5″ wider and 1.5″ longer than your tabletop so it has a 3/4″ overhang on all sides, which looks really proportional and doesn’t read like an afterthought.

So that’s it! The story of Frankenstein-ing a few things together to get exactly what I had been hoping to find. Life will not end if your coffee table doesn’t do everything you want it to, or fit into the room as well as you’d like, or if it gets drink rings, or if you buy a $35 craigslist stand in and it stays there for a year or even ten years. But if you have a picture in your mind of something that you think would be amazing for your family, it’s nice to consider that you don’t only have what’s available at a store to choose from – you can always try to hack or combo-move a few things to hopefully end up with something you love that’ll last a nice long time.

Speaking of the long haul, our $35 “placeholder” coffee table that used to be in our living room ended up being the perfect shape and size for the beach house living room! So it’s happily living there now (and we have big plans to alter the top to work really nicely in that room – more on that here).

I love that our “just for now” secondhand find has worked out to be a long term solution for another space. And the coffee table that was in the beach house living room before is living it up in our son’s room as an often used play table (picture it covered in Pokemon cards & blocks to his little heart’s content). In summary: the sisterhood of the traveling coffee tables is real, and I’m gonna need Alexis Bledel and Blake Lively to take this to the big screen.

P.S. Want to read about other things we’ve built or hacked? We have a whole category of posts about.

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This content was originally published here.

Stuff We Own & Love That’s On Sale Right Now | Young House Love

Our annual rundown of stuff you can get cheaper than we did is here. Ha! Every year we check out the Black Friday deals (which literally start earlier every year) and we pull out stuff that we bought with our own money & really really like. And we share it here so you can snag things for 20% off, 30% off, and even over 50% off! We’ll try to update this post if more codes come out (just come back and scroll to the bottom to see all the sale links & codes in one place).

Our fully upholstered bed is marked down from $949 to $572 (40%!). Ours is the Talc color, and it’s such a step up from a metal frame and so much cleaner looking without needing a bedskirt!

Our woven blinds (we have these on every downstairs window) are marked down to start from $29.99 instead of $39.99 (19% off) .

Our diamond back chairs, which now come in 2 colors, are marked down to $129 each ($260 for a set of two ) for the white and $111 each ($224 for a set of two) for the navy (57% off).

Our bedroom dresser (same pic as the mirror) is marked down to $599! Haven’t ever seen it this cheap! Also, our huge stenciled mirror is on closeout for $219 – won’t get any cheaper & once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Our new kitchen stools are marked down to $276 down from $368 with the code THANKFUL (25% off). These were a splurge for us (we waited for a big sale like this one and got them before summer break) and we have loved them. They tie into our woven blinds & gray perimeter counters so nicely they’re like the icing on the cake of this kitchen. That sounds weird. But really, these stools are good.

Our foyer chandelier is marked down to $224 from $298 with the code THANKFUL (25% off). I love this thing I’m tempted to get three more for the hallway upstairs. CAPIZ EVERYWHERE OR BUST!

Our beach house front bedroom rug is marked down to $599 from $798 with the code THANKFUL (25% off).

Our beach house middle bedroom rug is 25% off with the code THANKFUL. This is a bad pic, but I love this thing. Ours is a 6 x 9′, so instead of being $498, it’s $374.

Our old kitchen stools are marked down to $96 from $160 (40% off). These were sturdy and awesome for our family for so many years (we got them back in 2016!). They looked new when we sold them and put the money towards the woven ones I had always wanted – but really, these are great if you want something that’s all one surface and easier to wipe down (the reason I didn’t get the woven ones off the bat = the kids were much smaller and I worried they’d smash all sorts of food into the woven ones).

Our beach house daybed is marked down to $330 from $550 (40% off).

Our favorite toilet ever is marked down to $261 from $350 (25% off). Don’t laugh. You’re a super cool person when you have a favorite toilet.

that we used it in the Real Simple room is on closeout for $349! This will sell out so grab it if you want it (anything marked “Closeout” doesn’t come back again once it sells out).

Our side table with the pull out bonus surface is on closeout in two colors – the white one is $88 and the greeny-blue one is $139.99.

Our white duplex dining chairs are marked down to $116 each ($232 for two). These are super solid and basically work anywhere & everywhere.

Our giant three-tiered end tables are marked down to $253 (the lowest I’ve ever seen!). So much storage = so many magazines if you’re me.

The rug that looks good everywhere is on sale too! We have it in the duplex and it still looks like now – and we see so many pics from you guys using it everywhere from the runner version of it in a camper to the larger sizes in dining rooms, bedrooms, living room, etc. It’s extremely versatile and durable, and an 8 x 10′ is marked down to $264 from $487 (46% off!).

My beloved weighted blanket is marked down to $70 if you apply the $40-off coupon at checkout (I paid $150 for this years ago and it’s worth every penny!) – Amazon changes things a ton so I hope this deal sticks!)

Our gray dining chairs at the duplex is marked waaay down to $107.09 for TWO CHAIRS – so they’re just $53 a pop! (be sure to use the code TURKEY at checkout to get that deal).

Ok here’s John’s contribution to the post. He’s over here rubbing his hands together like Pinky & The Brain because of all the smart/tech deals that are going on. Once again, we have purchased and love all of this stuff ourselves. Yes, our house is so smart it should basically be able to make me a sandwich at this point… but Alexa does turn my Christmas tree on & off so I can’t roll my eyes that hard 😉

Amazon Echo is marked down to $59 from $99 (40% off).

Amazon Echo Dot is marked down to $22 from $50 (56% off).

Amazon Echo Auto is marked down to $29 from $49 (40% off).

Nest Thermostat (which we have at our house) is marked down to $179 from $249 (30% off). We also have the Nest E Thermostat at our beach house, and it’s great (I like that it’s white so it blends into the wall). That one is marked down to $139 from $169 (20% off).

Our Roku Smart TV (50 inch) is marked down to $250 from $480 (48% off). We not only have two of these TVs at home, we bought two more for the duplex.

Our Favorite Printer Ever is marked down to $30 from $120 (75% off!). We never loved a printer before. This guy changed all of that. (*cue the romantic music*)

And here are some other smart things that we don’t have photos of, but they’re in our house just doing their thing & making our lives easier:

And now for the big rundown of all the sales in one spot (we’ll keep this updated, so check back here over the next few days (for example, sometimes TURKEY changes to CYBERMON or something).

Ok, that’s it! Happy Thanksgiving to you guys. Be safe, and I hope you get to feast with your family & friends and save some loot if ya can too!

P.S. I hear you all in your requests for our annual gift guide (we always do one big post with a few categories), and I’m always like the last one to get that together, but I’m aiming for next week! In the meantime here’s a link to last year’s gift guide, because a lot of it is still being sold & makes a great gift – there are lots of affordable ideas in there too.

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This content was originally published here.

Seven Spaces We Updated At The Beach House Over The Last 2 Years (And Why) | Young House Love

I’m someone who loves those detailed “what worked & what didn’t” posts where someone looks back on the choices they made and shares what didn’t work out as well as they hoped – and how they adjusted to make things work better for their family (more comfortable/more practical/more beautiful/etc). And since we furnished this house over two years ago – can you believe we did it in the fall of 2017?! – I thought it would be fun to share the changes we made since then in one big rundown post. So here we go.

The Front Porch

The original porch swing we hung out here was nice and simple (white like the trim, and the vertical pickets tied right into the railing), but it sadly wasn’t up to the job of withstanding the weather. After only about 18 months, the white paint was hopelessly split and mildewed in numerous places. Towards the end we would scrub it to make it usable, but it looked worse over time, and eventually no amount of scrubbing could get it clean… so nobody wanted to sit on it. Which is extremely sad because it’s the best seat in the house! The listing for it is no longer active, so maybe they pulled it off the market for exactly that reason: it just didn’t hold up.

At the start of the summer, we freecycled the old one and ordered this new wicker-looking porch swing (right now it’s 26% off!) that has been WONDERFUL for so many reasons. For starters, the construction is actually metal wrapped in a weatherproof rattan-like material, so over the last 6 months it has already proven to be more durable than the painted surface of the last one.

It turned out to be WAY more comfortable too. Not only is it padded (a butt cushion on a porch swing = such an upgrade from the hard wood one we used to have!), but at 65″ wide it’s also a full foot longer than our last one – meaning we can fit more people and both John & I can actually lay down on it. John does it with his knees bent on his side – literally he takes naps on it like that.

Our only tip is to remove the back cushions that come with it (they’re super thick and push you so far forward on the bench that it’s not as comfy as it could be if you had a deeper seat, which immediately happens when you pop them off). When we added a few smaller outdoor pillows to rest our backs on, we truly unlocked the full amazingness of this thing. Here’s hoping we have it for years & years to come!

The Foyer

If you’ve been in the vicinity of my Instagram over the last month, you’ve seen me gush about our new foyer light. As soon as I laid eyes on this four light white beaded fixture (it’s marked down to $216 right now!), I knew it would add so much beachy lightness to our once heavier feeling foyer. In Cape Charles, it’s actually a town tradition to have a beaded chandelier like this glowing in the evening – we see so many hanging in foyers or front rooms when we go for evening walks (you can always see them from the street!). I was ridiculously excited to add one to our beach house to make it feel as warm & inviting as those houses we had admired around town.

Oh but I always like to caution people that this foyer has a 9′ ceiling, so this big light works and people can easily walk under it, but if it was an 8′ ceiling, this smaller version would be the way to go. Unless you’re putting it over a bed or table, in which case people don’t have to walk under it, so I’d go for the big one!

This is what our foyer looked like a couple of years ago, when the renovation was first completed. I really really wanted a warm natural wood door and railing like the warm wood floors in here (I die for these 115 year old heart pine floors – we just clear sealed them and that’s it!). But sadly neither the door or the railings could be stripped back that far and clear sealed, which had been my original plan. The railing and the door were just not in good enough condition for that to work without making the deep cracks worse (trust me, I tried, both by hand and with electric sanders and stripping agents). So I used dark opaque wood stain, which is basically like dark brown paint (none of the original grain can come through, because that was the only way to hide the damage). I hoped it would have a wood-like look…

… but it felt… dark and heavy. Womp-womp. Topping things off with my beloved star pendant was nice because it tied into the dark stuff, but after a few years of living with it I wanted it to be bright and airy and beachy when we walked through the door.

In addition to painting the stair railing and the back of the door a lighter tone (not the same one – I still wanted the drama of a slightly darker railing than the balusters and trim), I also used Rub N ‘ Buff to restore some of the metal accents on the door. I had never used it before and It. Was. Amazing. As for the actual paint colors in here, the walls are White Heron, the trim and door are Stone Isle and the railing is Perpetual Gray (all by Sherwin Williams). You can see every paint color we used in the beach house here.

I’m thinking about writing a newsletter about it, because it took four mismatched and badly weathered/painted-over things on our original front door right back to their old brass glory! And yes, that round thing on the door is a built-in doorbell! IT’S SO CHARMING IT KILLS ME. I also like that by lightening things up, it allows the cool hardware and the graceful shape of the newel post to stand out, instead of such dark larger shapes stealing the focus (like the whole door & the entire railing). It finally feels like a beach house when we walk in the door to us. So so happy with this change.

The Living Room

When we saw these pink chairs at Ikea, John and I basically said “we need these for the pink house” in unison. It was that easy. Which almost never happens. We had been looking for more comfy seating in here for years (we used to have our leftover hard-backed office chairs from our second house in there, but always planned to upgrade to something comfier and more fully upholstered down the line).

In fact the folks who follow us on Instagram might remember a series of IG Stories last year where we ordered various other pink upholstered chairs and they didn’t work at all (the back and arms of one were too high & looked crazy with the sofa, one was too low in general, etc). So yeah, long story short, when we saw these, we basically ran to the checkout with them.

I’m happy to report these have proven to be significantly more loungey than the last chairs we had in here (which you can see in the photo below – they didn’t have fabric backs to recline on). And the diamond chairs below now live in the tiny office we made upstairs, where they’re more comfortable than the hard wood-seated chairs we used to have in there. So it was overall a great change for our backs and our butts and our eyes.

You’ll also notice a few other tweaks, like the TV on the wall (we finally mounted it!). We’ve noticed that a room usually feels more finished when we hang the TV on the wall (we also did it in our living room at home and in our bonus room upstairs). Here’s a link to the tutorial if you want to hang yours.

We also brought in a different coffee table. We’ve basically pulled a giant coffee table swap. The “new” darker table in here is actually the “temporary” coffee table we bought last Thanksgiving for our house in Richmond (literally, on Thanksgiving Day). Remember that $35 Facebook marketplace find? We got/made a new coffee table for our house in Richmond (post to come very soon!) so this one landed here, and the old white one from this living room has become a play table in our son’s room.

We still plan to do SOMETHING to the dark tabletop (the finish isn’t great) but for now it’s doing the trick. I keep thinking that tiling it with white marble tile would add so much more gleam and beachiness, and maybe the legs staying that dark ebony color will ground it and tie into the curtain rods and the dark TV. Or we could paint them gray to match the TV stand or go white like the round side table. I promise I’ll keep you posted!

The Kids’ Bunk Room

Our kids shared this bunk room all summer long (yes, two kids used this as their bedroom for three months straight) and we stored all of their clothes in this 4-cube organizer from Target. They each got two bins (one for regular clothes, one for PJs and bathing suits) and it worked surprisingly wonderfully. I know. It shocked me the most (I assumed one of them would want to eventually sleep in one of the two spare bedrooms, but the novelty of the bunks never wore off, and their summer clothes are small, so it was just fine!). Side note: if you’re looking for a tutorial about how we made these bunks, here’s that post for ya.

The desire for more storage & shelving actually wasn’t clothes-related at all, it was that the space lacked book and toy storage, which the kids also like to have in their room. So we made a few very affordable tweaks to take this room to the next level, organizationally speaking.

It was the very end of the summer when we realized that the 6-cube version of the 4-cubby organizer that we had bought for that space back in 2017 would fit in the room just fine! So we upgraded (for a whopping $59). Earning two bonus cubbies to wrangle toys has been game changing. I couldn’t find more of the chevron boxes, so we went with rope baskets instead, which actually look cute breaking up the pattern to me. And the larger storage system fits that space nicely without the bigger empty gaps on either side. So happy with this super cheap & easy change.

We also mounted two floating shelves to the wall (they don’t sell them in white anymore, but here they are in a wood finish), and moved the art so it hangs next to them instead of right where they are. Now the kids can stash tons of books there, and this was a zero dollar upgrade because these are the same small shelves that used to hang downstairs in the kitchen before we tiled the backsplash. Once we added the tile we liked it better without them down there, but I’m so glad we saved them under the bed because they’re super functional in the bunk room. Half the battle is just making a spot for things to be stored, and boom, cleanup = much more autopilot.

The other side effect of upgrading the cubbies was that it has been turned into a makeshift dollhouse/playhouse on more than one occasion. Gotta love those little creative minds that can literally find anywhere to play.

The Mudroom / Laundry Room

Have you heard our philosophy that a house can never have too many hooks? Oh you have? Allow me to say it again, because it’s crazy how many you need! We’ve learned it’s especially true in a beach house scenario where there are always a bunch of beach towels or a bathing suits to be hung up (it’s why the duplex mudrooms look like a hook convention). Back when we renovated this mudroom in 2017 we thought 6 hooks would be enough. Well, we were fools. So we moved the gold photos that you see below to another wall in here (the one just out of frame on the left next to the door in the shot below) and did another hook rail there.

Earning 4 more towel hooks has been indispensable to this room’s function.

They’re also the most convenient hooks in the whole room suddenly because they’re not only right next to the side door (where we come in from the beach) but they also act as overflow hooks from the downstairs bathroom in case someone has a bath towel or a wet bathing suit they need to hang.

I love that this was another super affordable change (those are always the most satisfying, right?!) And if you want to learn how to make your own hook rail, here’s that tutorial for ya. They’re so strong you can hang a cooler full of beverages on them (ask me how I know).

The Pantry

Since this summer was the first really extended amount of time we spent at the beach house, those three solid months heavily tested the efficiency of some of our systems – especially the kitchen and the pantry. We’ve actually got a post in the works about how the beach house kitchen is organized (with a video tour of each drawer – like the one we made of our own kitchen). But for now let’s focus on the simple but super helpful pantry changes we made.

The photo above is from when we and the photo below is from this summer. The changes are subtle, but we basically packed in SO MANY more storage baskets. Notice how there’s only about one per shelf in the photo above? By grabbing some extras and rotating many of them sideways (so they’re deep instead of extra wide), we doubled the amount of baskets. Taking advantage of the shelf depth that we hadn’t used before was major (on the far side of the pantry each shelf that had one wide bin now hosts two of the same size, just by rotating them!).

It’s a small adjustment, but it has been hugely impactful in the amount of stuff we can store. And on this closer side you can see that two bins fill even more space than the single wide one that sat there before did (there’s no longer as much space behind the bins or on either side). Plus having four of them in that bottom area helps to keep us more organized instead of two larger ones with various mismatched things inside (we use one for baking stuff, one for cereal, one for bags of chips, and one for cleaning supplies).

The Backyard Patio

If you’re a subscriber to our email newsletter you may have already caught this update, but I couldn’t skip over it for this roundup because it’s one of our favorite adjustments. We shared our big backyard makeover back in June with the furniture arrangement that you see below.

It looked great, but we found that the cushions on the outdoor daybed were constantly wet because of their placement under the eave of the house (dew dripping down in the morning wouldn’t dry until the sun traveled over the house and started shining back here around late afternoon). So sometime in August we decided to spend $0 and rearrange the furniture in a way that would make it all a lot more usable.

Simply swapping the dining table and the daybed kept the daybed dryer (and although the table gets dew on it, it dries more quickly because wood dries a lot faster than a cushion!). We also managed to create a conversation area that we never really had by stealing two of the dining chairs (they’re so easy to move back when we need seating for six) – and we ended up using this area a lot more for outdoor game nights as soon as we made the swap! Speaking of game night, taking the cushion off of the daybed’s bench make it more of a coffee table, so it became the perfect board game spot – and also came in handy when we had people over & wanted to sit & chat (the way the daybed was oriented before meant we would all basically be laying in the same direction – please picture that and laugh out loud like I just did).

You can see the new layout (and the backyard layout as a whole) a lot better in this short video (wherein Burger is incapable of locating the source of my voice). I love the view of this tiny backyard from the second story window, so if nothing else, press play just to see how it all looks from above in 30 seconds.

And since people always ask this question around this time of year, here’s a shot from about a month ago of the backyard after we winterized it for the off season.

As for what we use, this is the exact cover that we have & love (we just cover the entire dining area with it and pull the corner ties to make it fitted so it won’t blow off). Then we put the sofa cushions in the shed, and voila: done.

I hope that was a fun look back for you guys. These “what-isn’t-working-so-we-changed-it updates are always my favorites when other bloggers do them because I feel like I get to learn from their mistakes without making them. So I hope we saved you some trouble somehow or sparked an idea to make your space work better for you. And remember… YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MANY HOOKS.

P.S. If you want to know what paint color we used or where we got something that you saw in these photos, here’s a full source page for ya! And if you want to look at the before & after photos of this makeover (ALWAYS MY FAVORITE PART!) they’re all right here on this page for ya.

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This content was originally published here.

What We’ve Changed Since Painting Our Brick House White | Young House Love

This is a smorgasbord of an update, since the exterior of our house has changed in a bunch of different ways since last year when we painted it white with masonry paint that lets the brick breathe (you can read all about that project & the cost right here).

It’s my very favorite makeover we’ve ever done to date, but as I mentioned in that post (probably 10 times if I know myself), the exterior was still very much a work in progress after the house got painted. So without further ado, let’s talk about the new path we added, the awning, the new porch lights (we not only switched them out, we lowered them when we hung the awning) and a bunch of other landscaping related things that have happened over the last 12 months. And the few remaining things that we’re still working on… because that’s how it goes 😉

First let’s take a second to look back at the before shot because it blows my mind every time. Did I ever tell you guys that my dad texted me in all caps last fall saying “YOU MOVED AND DIDN’T TELL ME?!?!?” because he saw a picture of our house painted white on Facebook and couldn’t comprehend that it was the same house… so he literally thought we moved without mentioning it to him?! It was my favorite text convo of 2018.

But back to the present day. Here we are now (we took these photos just a few days ago, so this is currently how things are looking outside).

And just for comparison, this is a photo from last fall, so you can see some of the updates pretty obviously when you compare the two photos. We felt like the facade around the door was a little flat looking from some angles, so we mentioned wanting to add a little something over the door in the form of a slight awning. Nothing huge like the old portico we knocked off the house when we painted it, but just a little something to define it a bit more.

Enter this awning that we had shipped all the way from the UK, stage left. Yes, that’s right. And I’m aware that it sounds like something Ariana Grande or Lady Gaga would do, but I fell in love with some inspo pics with a sloped gracious awning like this on a white brick house and couldn’t find any ready-made options that were even remotely similar except for this one all the way in the United Kingdom.

Of course off the bat I assumed buying something that didn’t have to be shipped from a different country would be more affordable, so I consulted with some local pros & some online awning companies and every single quote to get one that looked like the ready-made U.K. one that I loved was 2-3 times more expensive than just paying the extra shipping to have it sent right to our door. Insane right?!

Literally 3-4K quotes were rolling in, and the one from the UK (at the time that we bought it, since exchange rates are always changing) ended up being around $1,500 including shipping). It’s 8′ wide since we have sidelights, so this thing is a beast. It arrived in a big wooden box that we affectionately called “The Coffin” for months before we finally cracked it open and hung it.

So as much as I love hiring local pros to create something that we can’t find ready-made and available to us (which is what we do 99.9% of the time), in this case I liked the idea that this UK company commonly makes and installs this exact product without issue (whereas someone trying to copy it and make it for the first time might run into some unexpected issues with the production or the way it functions or how it holds up/warps/flexes over time). So that gave me some nice peace of mind when I ordered it. It even has a hidden drip edge across the front of the awning that’s ever so slightly sloped so water funnels out each side if it’s wet/raining (instead of streaming down and dumping right on the person walking in or out of the door). Really smart design. So far we’re very happy customers.

Let’s flash back to a before shot from this angle, just because it amazes me every time. Look at that giant rocket ship of a portico coming off of the house. I love that we bought the house with it, because those railings get to live on at the duplex (it was MEANT TO BE! More on that here), and it just feels a lot more classic to us without that big hulking thing out front.

We’ve lived without it for a year and never miss it (packages get left by the garage on the side of our house which has a slight overhang, so not having this out front didn’t change much at all). We also enter and exit the house through the garage every single time, so it’s not like we stand in the rain when we unlock the door now – but those are good things to consider if you’re taking the big overhang off of your front door. My BFF goes in and out of her front door all the time and not having a larger awning or overhang would drive her crazy.

Oh and this photo above shows you another update, which is that we planted a tree! It’s the one on the left side of this photo, which balances the existing dogwood that we have over towards the right side of the house. We used to have a second dogwood out front, but it died a few years back, so this fall we bought a tree that’s all over our neighborhood (it seems to love the conditions here) and is very very lovely when it’s not in stick mode (UGH, FALL IS THE WORST). It’s called a river birch and they are truly gorgeous trees. Can’t wait to share more photos of this whole front yard in the spring when the dogwood and our new river birch baby are all greened up and lush again.

We also did a bit more landscaping in the front beds – mostly things that were already there last year have just filled in a little (and I clipped the ridiculous looking ball hedges to be a little shaggier so they look less like the big red cement balls out front of Target). We also added three peonies that I randomly found at Costco. You can’t really see them in that smaller bed on the right side, but in the spring if they bloom I’ll share about 347 photos.

We also added one white hydrangea bush on each side of the steps (they’re currently in stick mode, which I think all of them are in right now, but the deer ate them in the summer just like I feared/knew they would (when they were not in stick mode, and, in fact, were in lovely full bloom mode). I just can’t let go of how good a row of white hydrangeas would look with some boxwoods in the front beds – but the deer always treat them like a salad bar (even when I try every single method known to man to deter the deer – our deer are lovely and sweet but also SAVAGE when it comes to eating plants). Oh well, I tried.

Ok, onto the front path! We talked all about this project on the podcast (more on that here) but you can see it below in all of its glory. We love how it came out.

Bluestone is forever my favorite outdoor stone and the big happy surprise was that it was significantly less than some of the other natural stone options for paths and patios (for example slate and fieldstone was around twice as much when I priced it out locally). As for how much you’ll spend having this done, bluestone is usually around $10-13 per square foot installed (yes, that price includes the material & the labor by a pro), so measure out how many square feet you want and it’ll give you a good idea. Just remember to get a few estimates and meet with a few different pros to see who you mesh with best (more on why that’s a step we’ll never skip again on this podcast).

Speaking of meshing with people, waaaay back in my original we-painted-the-brick-white post, I shared this pic of Reese Witherspoon on her front steps and talked about how we dreamed of topping ours with thick stone like hers…

Nailed it.

Please take a moment to appreciate: 1) my closed eyes, 2) the fact that I wore John’s shirt since my entire closet is black, and 3) Burger’s intense desire to bark at the dog that walked up our street at the precise moment this photo was taken.

Oh but if you look up at the bigger photo of me channeling Reese above you’ll see some of the discolored yellow-ish marks on the brick “risers” of the steps (it was taken a while ago, before John primed & repainted with Romabio to cover the latex paint the pro we hired used on our steps instead of using our breathable paint – ack). You can hear that whole story here and I’m happy to report that they look great again thanks to the primer + correct paint going back on (much less of a yellow tint and there’s no more stain seepage).

This photo was taken a few days ago so you can see the difference – it matches the house exactly and isn’t as oddly beige in some spots anymore (for comparison, scroll back up & look at the big picture of me & Burger, and you’ll notice the brick to the right of my left shoulder has a vertical seam that looks oddly yellow).

We also got the steps widened before we added the bluestone on top (by the same pro who added the stone), so they’re finally the graceful welcoming stairs that I’ve always pictured leading up to our door. It was around $450 to go that extra mile before adding the stone on top, and we’re glad we went for it.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the original setup one more time, just to refresh your memory. The steps pinched in and always felt oddly narrow…

… so it’s really nice and open feeling now that they’re all that same width as the landing up top and the nice large area of bluestone that we added below.

You can also see the new-ish lanterns that we got last winter I think. They’re even bigger and we like that they’re less narrow, and their new placement is so much better. We originally just hung them to fill two holes in the brick that were exposed when we removed the portico – but that placement looked extremely odd & high once the awning went up.

So it felt good to finally get those brick holes patched, and put the lanterns were all the other door-flanking lights around the neighborhood are located. In case you’re wondering, it seems to be common practice to line up the middle of the light with the cross rail of the door (that’s the horizontal plank of wood on the door that’s about 12″ from the top) so that’s what we did and it looks great.

As for what’s next out here, a bunch of you have already heard this, but on the podcast we chatted about why we suddenly had clarity on wanting shutters again (tune into this podcast for more on that). We’re not going to go with black though – tonal inspiration images like this have me super excited.

So our new shutters are currently on order. It’ll be a few more weeks or months if it gets too cold to paint them, but I can’t wait to show you guys the photos whenever we get them up. These are the exact louvered shutters we got, and I think they’re going to look so good (we love how they came out at the duplex). I definitely want to add operable hardware like we did for the duplex too.

As for what else is on the front yard agenda, I’m sure we’ll keep chipping away at the front landscaping (the target ball bushes are less intense since I went ham on them with a clippers, but they’re still not my fav) so I’m sure over the next few years things will continue to slowly evolve up there. Maybe someday I’ll even figure out some way to have white hydrangeas, but hold me back, because if that happens you’ll never see photos of anything else. I’ll start a new blog called Hydrangeas & White Brick and it’ll just be a new angle every day with musings about life and inspirational quotes. Actually, I’d read that blog…

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This content was originally published here.

The Costs Of Running A Vacation Rental (With Real Numbers) | Young House Love

We’ve gotten hundreds of questions about the financial side of running an Airbnb or other short term vacation rental. Specifically: “can you detail the expenses and fees that take a bite out of the profit? Are there hidden costs? How exactly do rental taxes work? Insurance?! ACK!

Whether the person asking us was considering doing one themselves, or just plain curious (talking about money = interested face emoji), we’re laying it all out in the hope that it demystifies it a little bit, and is helpful to anyone who might be on the fence about whether or not this is a viable side hustle. We actually really enjoyed learning the ins & outs of this stuff – so it’s fun to share what we learned.

Obviously there are expenses like actually purchasing, renovating, and furnishing a home that you’ll be using as a vacation rental. Those big obvious start-up costs will differ by project (as will your mortgage payment) – and heck you might be Airbnb-ing your own house, which is already full of furniture – so this post picks up from the “ok, I have a rental-ready house, now what?” point, and covers the on-going “operating” costs that you may incur year over year.

We’re sharing REAL NUMBERS from our experience with you. Just please don’t take them as predictive of your own costs, which obviously will vary. It also bears reminding people that the duplex is one building, but it’s TWO distinct rental units (totaling 6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, 2 living rooms, 2 laundry rooms, 2 backyards, etc). So if you’ve got just one rental and/or a smaller space, these numbers might be much higher than any that you’ll incur.

The existence of utilities is probably not a surprise to anyone, but how much they really cost can catch you off guard if you don’t do the math and look at the year as a whole. Unlike a typical long-term rental where your tenant may be responsible for some or all of the utilities every month, in the vacation rental world, you typically pay for all of them. At the duplex, we pay for the following utilities:

For other people the list might also include gas, oil, or propane (depending on your heat source) and even parking or HOA fees.

Our utilities combined for both sides of the duplex cost about $5,200 a year, based on the last 12 months. The most important thing to think about is that utilities don’t disappear when the house isn’t rented (which can be very important if you’re renting somewhere seasonal). Our electrical and water bills go down a little bit when there’s lower usage in the offseason, but there are minimum fees that keep them at around $150 a month.

We looked into pausing some of our duplex utilities (like internet or trash pick-up) in the vacant winter months but many come with a hefty reconnection fee that negate any potential savings. We are able to pause some of our streaming TV subscriptions (Netflix & Sling) when we knew the place would be empty for a solid month in the offseason, which was nice. (Just don’t forget to restart them in time for the next guest!).

Lawn Care / Property Management

If you’ve ever rented a vacation home, you’re probably used to seeing a “Cleaning Fee” on your bill. That’s typically the cost of someone to clean the house after your stay so that it’s ready for the next guests (this includes doing laundry, remaking beds, unloading dishes, etc, etc). We charge a cleaning fee of $150 per stay because that’s precisely what our cleaner charges us. So this cost is a total wash on our end. Zero dollars spent a year, except for a holiday tip 😉

But outside of the cleaning fee, you may have other regular maintenance costs to keep it ready for each guest. This might be things like lawn care, pool or hot tub service, or even snow-blowing if you host in a wintery destination. We pay a small local landscaping company to mow the yards and blow the outside areas of the duplex on a consistent, reliable schedule. This isn’t a year-round cost luckily (nothing happens in the winter months) but since they come more frequently during the spring and summer when everything is growing like crazy, it adds up to about $800/year.

I remember at our last Florida rental there was a pool guy AND a separate lawn crew that came by while we were staying there. Neither were costs he passed along directly to us when we booked, so they came out of his rental profit.

Another potential expense would be if you choose to hire or rely on a professional property management or rental management service. They can take a lot off your shoulders (handling bookings, cleanings, and issues that arise) but they typically charge a percentage of every booking. In Cape Charles, the rate seems to be about 20%, but that number may vary depending on your area and exactly what services they offer.

Restocking Consumables

Because we choose to provide consumable items for our guests, we not only bought the initial stash, we also have to replenish everything when it’s running low. Here’s a list of what we provide:

Every time we share what we provide our guests we hear from people who say “we do all of those too!” and others who say “what?! nobody provides that stuff here!” My best guess is that it varies by region, but many other vacation rentals in Cape Charles also provide similar items. At the end of the day, if it helps our guests feel at home, we’re happy to have it on hand.

All told, we spent $900 on those items above this year. Again, it might not be a big line item in your region at all – but it’s smart to figure out what you’re planning to have available, and how much you think it’ll be to replenish things throughout the year.

Extra Linens & Towels

This may be something specific to how our cleaner operates, but she advised us at the start of the summer to keep a COMPLETE extra set of bed linens and towels handy, that way if laundry ever didn’t finish in time or there was a stain that needed longer treatment, she could still leave our next guests with everything they needed. So for us this meant buying:

Actually you should double those numbers because we did that PER SIDE. Thank goodness for the locked owner’s closet, where we stashed that extra stuff in bins.

We never ended up relying on a complete extra set, but we did dip in and grab one or two spares more than once, so we’re definitely glad we had them around (the two extra duvet covers especially!). This extra stock of linens and towels cost us over $400 per side (for a total of $800). We’ve also had to replace a couple of towels over the last few months (we feel very lucky that’s all we’ve had to replace!) so either grabbing extras ahead of time or setting aside a small budget for the replacement of random items as you go is probably a smart idea.

Insurance & Taxes

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff (ha!). Let’s start with insurance first.

It hopefully doesn’t surprise you that your property should have insurance on it, but we found insuring the duplex to be a bit of a learning curve. But we came out on the other side! The complicating insurance factors of our duplex are: 1) the fact that it is a short term vacation rental, which is treated differently than a full-time residence and 2) it’s near the water (mo water, mo problems – at least that’s what the insurance folks say). Those two factors meant we had limited options, but we ultimately ended up with three policies that work together to give us peace of mind.

We don’t need either of those last two policies for our primary residence here in Richmond, but if you’re renting out your primary or secondary residence part-time, you might want to consult with an expert to make sure you’re sufficiently covered with your existing policy. Many standard homeowner’s policies may not suffice if the damage or incident occurs while a short term renter is occupying your house.

If you thought insurance was fun, boy will you love taxes! Taxes are the part that we felt like we knew the least about going into this, but it’s pretty straightforward to figure out. So take this as your cue to investigate what’s going to be due in whatever town or city you’re operating your rental in (call your local government office, check out their website, or ask other hosts in your area). But also please know that if it feels complicated, everyone we spoke to at our various government offices was super happy to help (they were probably thrilled we were trying to pay our taxes – ha!) and within a week or two we got the hang of it.

For the duplex we pay the following:

The property taxes collected by the two localities where the duplex is located (the first two items listed above) are based on the house itself, not on how much or how little we rent it out. But the others are percentages of what we earn from our rental income and we have to calculate and submit paperwork for them on a monthly or quarterly basis (although now Airbnb does the sales tax automatically in Virginia when guests check out on their site – but all summer we had to take it out of our Airbnb payouts manually).

You may get lucky and your town won’t charge transient occupancy tax, but you might end up getting charged twice like we do: once by the town, and then again by the county. I feel like I keep saying “vary wildly” in this post, but taxes really do that as well. For example, my dad has a rental in another state and he pays a 3% transient occupancy tax, while ours is 6% in Cape Charles. Between those two transient occupancy taxes & the sales tax, about 11% of every booking we had this summer went to the state, county, & town in the form of taxes. Keep in mind that does not include property taxes.

So for the duplex, our combined taxes and insurance for this year have been about $13,400. Long story long – you should definitely know you tax responsibilities when you’re weighing the viability of your rental because they can definitely affect your profit.

Airbnb Host Fee

If you run your rental through a site like Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway, keep in mind that they also take a cut of your nightly rental rate. As a guest you’re probably used to paying a fee that’s tacked on top of the total nightly rate, but behind the scenes Airbnb also deducts a 3% fee from the nightly rate before they pay the host. So I guess neither the guest or the host are actually getting the listed nightly rate. Ha! We don’t really include that 3% fee in our operating cost calculations (or our total at the end of this post) because it’s money we never see. So just remember that when you set your nightly rate, a bit of that will go to whatever rental website you choose.

We get asked why we chose Airbnb over other vacation rentals like VRBO or HomeAway, and the answer is just that we polled a few friends with vacation rentals & they all liked that interface the most. So we went for it. So far we really like it. We contemplated listing the duplex on multiple sites but heard it can be hard to avoid double booking dates when you’re running multiple calendars across different platforms.

Miscellaneous Costs

And while we tried to be super thorough in this post, we can’t predict everything that you might encounter along the way. This year, we probably spent around $750 in miscellaneous items. Thankfully nothing crazy happened (we didn’t have to replace an HVAC system or anything like that) but one tiny example is that we learned that the state and town also collect a small fee for an annual business license (and perform an annual rental inspection to make sure we’re still up to code each year) so that was a small unplanned expense that surprised us – but now that we’re used to it and know what to do, it’s easy peasy.

There are of course costs like replacing things that break, paying a maintenance guy to fix a malfunctioning appliance, or even adding/changing a particular amenity in your home. A concrete example of that is that we spent $250 halfway through the summer to add blackout curtains to the two front bedrooms at the duplex after a few guests mentioned it got very bright in there early in the morning. So while it might be a ding to your budget, it’s all part of the fun & adventure of trying to provide an awesome experience for the people who are staying at your house. Speaking of which…

We also choose to leave our renters a little welcome gift when they arrive. It’s a handwritten note with a gift card to get ice cream or a souvenir at one of the local shops in town, along with a pre-stamped postcard. Again, that’s definitely not a cost you have to incur, but we’re happy to do it in the hopes that our guests enjoy their stay and frequent some of the great local businesses – and our guests seem to really like it too. Who doesn’t like ice cream?!

Let’s wrap this puppy up. I’ll spare you some scrolling and recap all of the math above. Combining all of the costs that we just laid out, it’s about $21,750 in annual “operating” expenses for the duplex this year. Again, that’s for two separate rental units, so it’s likely higher than a single or smaller rental. But our point is less about the total number and more about the variety of costs along the way. So if you’re considering starting an Airbnb, I hope this post is a jumping off point for figuring out your own operating costs in the categories I listed here.

And while that number above feels like a lot, we feel lucky that we were able to book enough nights in 2019 to still make a profit after it was all said & done (high five, anyone?!). Are we going to be out of the red for all of our construction and furnishing costs anytime soon? Nope! But at least we’re on our way, and we got to learn a lot and have a bunch of fun in the process.

This content was originally published here.

How To Hang Peel & Stick Wallpaper (On Video!) | Young House Love

If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the wallpaper bandwagon, let this post be the soothing voice that gently strokes your hair and says “don’t worry my pet, wallpaper doesn’t have to be hard, permanent, or expensive. Also your hair looks good today, and I should probably stop touching it because I don’t know you like that.”

Adding wallpaper to the middle bedroom at our beach house took us just a few hours and cost us less than $100. It’s a whole lotta bang for not much buck (or extra high skill level). Plus it’s 100% removable so if we ever tire of it or want to swap it for something else, it’s not a big deal. So in this post we’ll show you exactly how we hung it, including a video I took of my lovely husband hanging a panel for you in real-time while I talk and point (you know, the things I’m most known for).

Selecting Your Wallpaper

There were two strategic choices we made that helped to keep this project particularly quick and easy:

Actually, if you want to see what it looks like to install something floor-to-ceiling across an entire room (including cutting around a window on that wall) we shared that process when we installed these removable wall murals. But again, each of those rooms cost us $400 – whereas this one was under $100.

A big reason we were able to do this middle bedroom so affordably is because we snagged a great deal on the wallpaper we chose. It’s called “Synchronized” and after buying a version of it from Anthropologie for $150 (with a coupon), some readers tipped us off that it’s also sold a few other places online for less – like TargetJoAnn Fabrics, and even Home Depot. We were able to apply a coupon on top of a sale price at JoAnn to ultimately get 4 rolls for $85 – including shipping and tax! So definitely shop around before checking out.

Tools & Materials

In addition to your wallpaper, the list of tools you’ll need to install it is pretty short – especially because you’re skipping all of the complicated glue stuff. But here’s what you’ll probably want to have on hand:

It’s also helpful to have a cutting surface, like a piece of scrap wood or cardboard.

Planning Your Pattern Placement

If you want to maximize each roll by keeping waste to a minimum, it’s helpful to know the wallpaper pattern’s “repeat” before you install any wainscotting or molding. Our pattern repeated every 20.5 inches (see below) so we made the space above our board & batten slightly less than 20.5″ so it would nicely fit one repeat of the pattern (with some excess for safety). Had our wall space above the board & batten been a bit taller, like 24.5″, we would’ve needed to cut 4″ into a second repeat – meaning the other 16.5″ part of the roll would be wasted. This might not matter as much if your pattern has a much smaller repeat or if it can be rotated, but for ours it was worth thinking about.

Coincidentally (yes, this was a very weird coincidence) the width of each of our rolls was 20.5 inches too. So one option we had was to run the wallpaper horizontally around the room. That could’ve made the process even faster, but we decided we preferred the pattern when it was oriented the other way. But it’s something to consider as another alternative for sure!

Hanging Your First Piece

To prep our first piece for hanging, we measured and cut one “repeat” worth of wallpaper using a sharp utility knife and a metal yardstick as a straight edge. Theoretically, you could go ahead and cut ALL of your sections at once, but we realized there were a few spots where our ceiling wasn’t level and our wall space got a smidge taller than the 20.5″ repeat. That meant we had to cut a few sections larger than a single repeat (boo waste) to cover the gap. Ultimately we found it safest to cut one or two pieces at a time, occasionally measuring our wall to make sure we were still making the right cuts – and thankfully there were only a few times where we had that annoying extra waste thanks to a wonky spot in the ceiling.

Depending on your pattern, you might find it best to start your first piece in the center of your first wall (you know, if you want the design to hit both corners of the room in the same part of the pattern). That wasn’t important to us, so we just opted to start in a corner. But, and we can’t emphasize this enough, DON’T USE YOUR CORNER AS YOUR GUIDE FOR MAKING THE PAPER LEVEL! Picture me screaming this in your face like a fight on Real Housewives of Dallas for emphasis.

It’s really really really really important that your first piece be perfectly straight on the vertical edge. If it isn’t, your pattern will “travel” or become slightly askew as you continue around your room, meaning that ultimately your last piece may not match up with your first at all. Like around an entire room if you start without being level you could be off by entire inches at the end! And since corners are rarely perfectly level and square, it’s a crappy idea to rely on it to set your first piece. Use an actual level instead! Like this:

As you can see from John’s handy graphic above, we measured out from our corner just slightly less than the width of our roll and drew a level line with pencil right on the wall (the piece of scrap wood just provided us a longer vertical edge). The “slightly less” part of that sentence is italicized because it’s important! If your corner bows inward at any point (like ours did near the ceiling) you could be left with empty gaps where your wallpaper doesn’t reach. Since excess wallpaper can always be cut off, it’s always better than falling just short.

With that vertical line drawn, we peeled off most of the backing from our first section of wallpaper and stuck it to the wall, being sure to keep that outer edge right along our level line that we had drawn right on the wall.

Now, if all of these detailed measurements and pattern calculations have made you nervous, this should make you feel better. These peel & stick wallpapers ARE EXTREMELY FORGIVING. They’re just like a big, repositionable sticker. So it’s very easy to peel them up and restick them if you don’t like your first placement attempt (or second or third or fourth!).

In fact, I made a little video to show how we hung one of the panels and you can see John noodling it a few times until he’s happy with exactly how the pattern is lining up with the previous panel. We did this so many times going around the wall! It’s extremely comforting that you can just keep at it until you like it and then move on to the next piece. You’ll also see how we smoothed it once it was placed in the right spot – and then cut off the excess.

NOTE: If you’re reading this in a feed reader, you may need to click through to this post to see the video. You can also watch it here on YouTube.

As you can see in the video, once we were satisfied with how we lined up the edge, we just peeled off the rest of the backing and used the smoother tool to press any bubbles or wrinkles out towards the edges. It’s deliciously simple. (Please picture me sitting in a red velvet chair filming a yogurt commercial and leaning into the camera while I say that).

Once you have your first piece lined up, you just repeat the process around your room, taking care to line up your pattern along each edge as you go. The only slightly-tricky-but-still-doable parts are when you encounter corners and obstacles (like windows) which we’ll cover in a second. But let’s talk about ceilings for a hot minute first.

Cutting Off Excess At The Ceiling Or Floor

As you saw in the video, trimming off that little overlap on the ceilings is easy, fast, and strangely satisfying. The method that we found works best is to hold your smoother against the wall, pushing UP into the corner against the ceiling. Then place the sharp blade of your utility knife right against the top edge of your smoother and move both across your wall together simultaneously, being sure to maintain the upward pressure on your smoother to keep it tightly in the corner. The first few times I did this part I was very nervous, but it was honestly really easy. Look how nervous John looks here though… or maybe that’s just a look of concentration.

Once you’ve made your cut across an entire wallpaper panel, you can easily peel off that strip of excess along the ceiling. We usually did this every two or three sections (as much as we could reach without moving our stepladder) but you could also do it one section at a time, or even wait until the whole room is done and do this as your last step.

Oh, and you’ll probably want to repeat this step around the bottom of your room, assuming you’ve got excess along your molding or baseboard.

Dealing With Corners

Back when we installed the wall murals, we didn’t have to deal with continuing our pattern around corners because we just did a single feature wall in each bedroom. And simply wrapping our panels around one wall to the next didn’t really work out because – as we discussed a moment ago – corners are rarely perfectly level. You can kinda see in the photo below how our pattern immediately started to slope downwards on the second wall because our corner bowed out at the top slightly.

So what we ended up doing was cutting our first section of wallpaper (on the left side) along the corner, using the same method we used against the ceiling. We tried reusing the excess strip we’d just cut off, but the pattern wasn’t lining up well because the cut wasn’t perfectly straight (thanks to the bowed corner), so we ended up cutting a new perfectly square section of wallpaper using the excess as a guide for its size. That worked like a charm.

Then we installed the new second piece on the wall (on the right side) using the same method we’d relied on to get our first piece straight and level. Again, this helps keep your panels perfectly vertical so that your pattern doesn’t travel up or down around the room, ultimately causing your last piece to not line up with your first (gasp!).

That may mean some of your corners have a little bit of overlap or duplicated pattern (you can see in the photo above that our pattern is perfect at the top, but it “echoes” slightly towards the bottom). In the scheme of the whole room, your eye won’t detect these slight imperfections. Plus, in our case, the bottom of our pattern is covered by a curtain.

Cutting Around A Window Or Door Frame

You probably noticed above that we also had to cut that wallpaper panel around the window molding as well. We somehow didn’t take photos of that process, but you can see more details about exactly how we did it in our wall mural post.

This is the step where your scissors come in handy, since you can use them to 1) cut out big sections where your windows or doors are and 2) make small gradual snips so it’s easier to fold and press your wallpaper around the edges of your molding.

It’s really pretty straightforward, so don’t freak out. Just take your time and always err on the side of cutting less (you can always cut more!).

Ending Your Pattern

Unless you’re really lucky, it’s unlikely that your pattern repeat will perfectly match up in your final corner. I mean, it should hopefully line up top-to-bottom, but side-to-side is where your chances get slim. Our wall widths would’ve had to be perfectly divisible by 20.5″ for that to have worked out, so our advice here is to not freak out about an imperfect end. The best thing you can do is strategically end in the corner you care the least about.

We started and ended in this corner behind the door to the room, which is hidden from the hallway and generally pretty uninteresting so we don’t think many people will ever stare at that spot long enough to detect the unmatched corner.

We considered ending in one of the corners where the curtains are, since they conceal a lot of the wallpaper too. Both those are the first corners you see when you walk in (and they’re visible from the hallway too) so it felt slightly riskier to put our pattern break in such a prominent spot.

But again, in the end it’s not that big of a deal. Because once you have all of your furniture in and you’re taking in the room “as a whole,” you won’t notice the little imperfections that might seem like a big deal during installation. Trust me on this! It’s also true for imperfect paint jobs 😉

Anyway, I hope this post gave you the confidence to give wallpaper a chance, especially the affordable and forgiving peel & stick variety. Happy sticking – and resticking! There’s no shame in my resticking game.

Pssst – To see how we did the board & batten in here, you can find a full tutorial right here. And this post is about planning this room so it’s full of tips for picturing things before you do them.

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This content was originally published here.

The Duplex Kitchen Backsplashes Are In!

We’re nearing the finish line on both of the duplex kitchens and today we’re psyched to share one HUGE to-do list hurdle we recently cleared: tiling both kitchen backsplashes! Yes, since it’s a two-unit house, we had two kitchens to install at once, and then we had two backsplashes to do, which was pretty daunting going into things, but we managed to knock them both out on a recent 3-day weekend. And it feels great to have them off of our to do list. So today I wanted to share how they turned out, along with 8 things you can do to set yourself up for a speedy and successful tile project.

Pink Patterned Tile Backsplash With White Counters

We still have some smaller projects to do before they’re 100% done – like adding shelving to these tiled kitchen walls, and a beadboard type of treatment for the entire stove wall (which will be nice and wipeable). But that didn’t stop Sherry from tossing out some styling accessories to make it look a smidge more done than it really is. She’s in charge of morale.

So let’s kick things off with a quick before & not-quite-after… because those shelves are still coming – along with a few other finishing touches. But it’s definitely coming along in here. This was the room after we finished installing the cabinets (more on that here) but before we had started on the backsplash:

And here it is now:

Pink Tile Bar Backsplash Installed In Blue Ikea Kitchen

The floor-to-ceiling tile adds exactly the visual impact we were aiming for by bringing in a big dose of color and pattern to each kitchen. It’s even visible from the front door (if the living room hadn’t been a disaster I would’ve taken that further-back photo for you). So it adds a lot to the entire downstairs vibe, not just the kitchens.

Pink Patterned Tile In Blue Kitchen With Exposed Brick Chimney

As you may remember from this tile selections post, both tiles are from Tile Bar. The pink pattern (with the blue Ikea Kallarp cabinets) is called Bella Tate and the blue pattern (with the wood Ikea Askersund cabinets) is Bella Moma. We also grouted both with our favorite grout, Mapei Flexcolor in Warm Gray (more on why we pretty much only use that for everything here).

Wood Ikea Kitchen With Exposed Brick Chimney and Blue White Patterned Tile

They’re both nice durable porcelain tile (even though they look like cement tiles – which would have required more maintenance and could stain), so yay for getting the look without the more finicky material. Both tile styles are about 9 x 9″ in size, and both were $7.99 per square foot. So the tile for each side cost us just under $400 per kitchen! It’s not the cheapest backsplash we’ve ever done (this one is), but it still feels like a pretty sweet deal for such big statement!

Wood Ikea Cabinets With Blue Patterned Backsplash Tile From Tile Bar

They were also both fairly easy to install (again, we tiled, grouted, and photographed both of them in just 2.5 days). But the installation process reminded us that, say it with me, PREP & PLANNING IS KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL TILE JOB. Yes I’m throwing in some bold and some caps lock.

It’s certainly not the most fun or satisfying part of the process, but taking the time upfront to plan your pattern placement and prep your materials will make your life way easier. And more importantly, it’ll make your end result MUCH BETTER. So even though you’ll be antsy to bust open your bucket of mastic and fire up your wet saw, take the hour or so ahead of time to do these and you’ll always be glad you did.

8 Things To Do Before You Start Tiling

Before I get into the list, I’ll say that a lot of these relate to using medium-to-large tiles (and especially those with a design or pattern printed on them). You can ignore some of these if you’re using smaller tiles like a mosaic, penny, or hex tile. Why? Because of lot of this is about avoiding small cuts or slivers of tile. That’s not as much of an issue with small scale tile, but on larger tiles, slivers can be hard to cut and, worse, can cause your pattern to look off-center and even accentuate unlevel or uneven walls. That may sound insignificant, but it can make a big difference in how professional your result looks in the end.

1. Find Your Max & Minimum Measurements

Now, you’ve probably already measured your walls when you calculated how much tile to buy. But it’s always a good idea to get precise measurements (like down to the 1/8th or even 1/16th of an inch) before you start cutting anything. And since walls and ceilings often slope, you’ll want to measure as many sides of your tiling area as possible to figure out your maximum and mimimum distances. For instance, the chimney side in this kitchen was a 1/2″ shorter than the height of the opposite corner.

Measuring Wall Heights To Prep For Backsplash Tile Installation

And since walls or ceilings can also bow in or out, your maximum or minimum measurements may occur somewhere in the middle too (as in, the wall can slope up in the middle and back down in the other corner). You can quickly check for bows by holding a long level in the corners and seeing if the entire level makes contact with the wall, or if your wall bends away from it at any points. Minor bows aren’t a big deal (they can be filled with grout or caulk) but significant bows can change your max or minimum. That spot where it bows might actually be the tallest or shortest point on your wall.

Checking Vertical Level Of Wall To See If It Bows Before Backsplash Install

I won’t bore you with the specifics of our measurements, but for the sake of this example, let’s say our max measurement was 63.5″ from counter to ceiling on one side and our minimum was 63″ on the other. Once you know this, you can start figuring out how to best fill that space with your tile.

2. Lay Out & Measure Your Tile

Once you have those measurements you may be tempted to just work things out on paper (“My wall is about 63″ and the box says the tile is 9×9” so I can fit 7 whole tiles – easy peasey!”). But I urge you to make the time and space to physically lay out a row of tiles WITH SPACERS on the floor somewhere to get more precise measurements. Plus, I also find it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with how the pattern should be laid.

Backsplash Tile Laid On Floor To Determine Length And Pattern

In doing this we realized our 9 x 9″ square tiles were actually closer to 8.75 x 8.75″ (yikes!) and with 1/16″ spacers between each, the math got a bit trickier. Suddenly 7 tiles didn’t completely fill the 63″ wall as exactly as we might’ve assumed on paper.

If we had just gone for it, we’d be about an inch short on one side and we might find ourselves having to fill that gap with a 1″ sliver of tile. Which would look so glaringly bad, everyone would see that and say… this was not planned very well. Plus, because of our ceiling slope, it would’ve tapered to be just a half inch sliver of tile at the other end – which is basically impossible to cut and install. It also would have really drawn your eye to the fact that the ceiling isn’t perfectly level. So yeah, don’t do that.

Measuring Tape On Patterned Backsplash Tile To Find Length

I’ll jump ahead to our strategy for avoiding a sliver in this scenario – which you can see in the progress photo below. Since we basically needed 7 full tiles plus an extra 1″ to fill the wall’s height at the max point, we used 6 full tiles plus 2 slightly-bigger-than-half tiles on top and bottom.

Pink Patterned Backsplash Tile In Blue Kitchen Mostly Completed

Not only did that help our pattern look centered top-to-bottom, it also helped disguise the slight slope in the ceiling because your eye doesn’t detect that the top tile is 4.5″ on one end and 5″ on the other side. They both read as roughly half a tile.

Pink Tile Bar Backsplash Installed In Blue Ikea Kitchen

Starting with a half-tile on the bottom row also helped solve another potential hiccup we identified, thanks to our upfront planning…

3. Plan Ahead For Outlets & Obstacles

You’ll also want to factor in any obstacles that might complicate your cuts. For us, this was just the outlets along the back wall, but it also might include switchplates, cabinets, potfillers, etc. Sidenote: we like to have kitchen outlets installed horizontally and close to the counters. They’re easier to hide that way and it prevents you from having visible cords running halfway up your walls.

Checking Backsplash Tile Against Electrical Outlet In Kitchen

But back to the tile: starting with a full tile on the bottom row would’ve meant cutting some holes SMACK DAB in the middle of a tile (a thing that’s hard to do and we’re not particularly good at). Cutting along an edge, however, is much faster and more in our wheelhouse. So that half-tile along the bottom row actually lined up nicely with the outlets and made our cuts much, much simpler.

Detail Of Backsplash Installation Progress With Blue Patterned Tile

4. Plan Your Pattern Side-To-Side Too

A lot of what I’ve shown so far is about planning your tiles top-to-bottom, but don’t forget to plan it side-to-side as well. That means measuring your space precisely, using a level to check for slopes or bows, and maybe even laying out your first row in place to plan your cuts, like we did below:

First Row Of Backsplash Tile Laid Out Against Wall

Again, the important things here is to avoid weird slivers anywhere and make sure your pattern will look centered. For ours, we knew we wanted the pattern to look centered on the window/sink. We lucked out because centering a seam between two tiles under the window allowed us to use a half-ish-tile on the chimney side and a full tile on one end (except for where it bowed in slightly further up the wall and we had to shave a bit off – which is much better than adding a sliver – we’ll take cutting something slightly down over a sliver any day since it looks cleaner and doesn’t emphasize the imperfection as much).

Full Wall Of Blue Patterned Backsplash Tile From Tile Bar

Normally it would bother us that it wasn’t full tiles on both sides of the wall but the chimney already makes the room a bit asymmetrical so visually it still feels nice and balanced with the entire pattern centered on the sink and the window.

5. Double-Check That It’s Level

If you plan to use your countertop as a guide for placing your first row, you’ll want to make sure it’s level first. Even if it’s not perfectly level, you may want to use it as your guide anyways because it’s one of the closest things your eye will compare your tile lines to when all is said and done. Just make sure that it also is level to any nearby horizontal surfaces like the bottoms of the cabinets or the window sills.

Level Along Counter To Check Level Before Backsplash Installation

It’s especially important to check that things are level if your tile is going to span across areas without continuous counters to rely on as a guide (like behind your stove or across a doorway). If things are not level or not lining up across those gaps, you may want to draw a level line on your wall to reference as you go – and be sure to check that your first row stays level as you lay it!

6. Cut Your First Row

Our counters were level, so we knew our first row of tiles could all be cut to the same height (again, roughly in half – so that it would line up with the top of the outlets). We like to cut our first row of tiles all at once before we start installing anything, especially while all of this planning and measuring is fresh in our heads. And assuming your tile saw (here’s ours) has a guide that you can lock in place – it’s an efficient way to knock out a lot of cuts that all have to be the same length.

Cutting Patterned Tile On Wet Saw Using Guide

You still may need to come back and make some cuts around your outlets or corners, but this makes setting your first row much faster (which is especially important once you’ve got mastic drying on the wall).

First Row Of Tiles Cut Before Adhering Backsplash

But let’s move away from all of this pattern planning and talk about some other prep to help speed your job along.

7. Protect Your Work Area

As you’ve seen in some of these shots, we like to cover our countertops (and nearby floors) with red rosin paper. It’s like brown craft paper, but it also has a moisture barrier that can keep that big soggy drop of mastic or grout from seeping through to your counters.

Red Rosin Paper Protecting Kitchen Counter Before Backsplash Installation

Before we roll it out and tape it down, we actually like to run a line of painter’s tape along the counter first. You want it to be close enough to the back wall to protect your counter – but not so close that your tile will later cover it. We just find that it’s easier to be precise with this tape placement when we’re not simultaneously wrangling a big roll of paper too.

Taping Off Counter With Blue Painters Tape Before Backsplash Installation

And if some tape does get stuck under your tile, don’t worry. Just get out as much as you can (I sometimes even use the edge of a sharp utility knife to cut bits out) and any small pieces you can’t get out will likely get covered by caulk later.

8. Trim Any Moldings Interferences

Another thing you may consider doing to save yourself a few difficult cuts down the road is this: bust out a Dremel or similar tool and make room for your tile to slide behind any funny moldings – like the sill on the window below.

Trimming Window Molding With Dremel Before Backsplash Install

Cutting out that little chunk means that now any straight tile edge can slide neatly behind the sill, rather than having to carve some craggy notch into your tile.

Window Trim Cut So That Backsplash Tile Can Slide Behind It

If you don’t want to do this or don’t own a tool to make it easy, it’s not the end of the world to cut the tile around the sill. But I think you’ll find it this method faster/easier, and it will give you a cleaner look in the end.

Blue Tile Bar Patterned Backsplash With Wood Cabinets

Again, I know all of these tasks may feel like you’re just burning time you could be using to actually tile – but I think you’ll find that it ultimately makes your project got more smoothly and you’ll be happier with the end result. Because believe me, there have been times that I threw caution to the window and just winged it. Sometimes it worked out just fine, but other times I was left cutting small slivers of tile that made my final result feel a little shoddier than I wanted (granted, I may be the only one who notices these things).

Fortunately these backsplashes are not one of those times. Even with a persnickety pattern and a few fun curveballs (hello connecting tile around a window!) we’re beyond happy with the results.

Close Up Of Pink Patterned Tile With Cutting Board Leaned Up

Now we just have to check off a few more things in here (like our wipeable beadboard-ish treatment for the stove wall, the floating shelves, and adding actual plates/cookware/etc to the cabinets), and we should be able to officially stick a fork in these babies. That was a kitchen pun if you didn’t notice. The fork part, not the baby part. Okay forget it. Bye!

PS: If you want to see some other tiling projects or get more tiling advice, check out these posts below:

  • What Makes Some Floor Tiles Easier To Install Than Others
  • The Only Grout We’ll Ever Use
  • Installing A Subway Tile Backsplash for $200
  • How To Paint A Bathroom Floor To Look Like Cement Tile
  • Adding A Marble Herringbone Backsplash To Our Laundry Room

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The post The Duplex Kitchen Backsplashes Are In! appeared first on Young House Love.

This content was originally published here.