Building a New Bar

The Coronavirus Home Improvement Chronicles – Part 3

Truth be told, we were actually talking about moving.

It wasn’t that we didn’t like our house, we really do, but when we moved here five years ago we believed that my husband’s work-from-home gig would only last a couple months while he looked for a new job.

That never happened.

Within two years of living here, we started looking at options for adding a separate office to our house and discovered it was incredibly costly. In the last year we started talking about different possibilities and moving options. We even looked at one house that we really liked but it was way out of our comfortable price range.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Once we had finished the small projects and our new king-sized bed, I still had a lot of time working from our kitchen table to look at the house around me. To my left was the bar, to my right was the kitchen, and the bar seemed like a much more responsible project to tackle. But Jeff had to make the call. He was more eager to house hunt than I was (I wanted the features of a new house but not the work of moving) and he had dreams for what he wanted the bar to be.

The answer to that question came the night he started clearing glasses out of the cabinet and putting them into the living room. We didn’t have a plan. We didn’t know what we wanted it to look like when it was finished. All we knew was that we wanted it to be new, fresh, and a lot more user friendly. Shortly after he moved out the glasses, he started the gradual two-week process of gutting the entire bar area, all the way down to the tile on the floor that I told him to leave alone. (I’m actually glad he didn’t listen to me.)

Of course, when you start ripping things out you also find all sorts of surprises. The first unfortunate discovery was mold behind the removed beadboard, which meant more work because we had to rip that out and then put up new drywall in its place before we could do anything else. Eventually, repairs were made, walls were painted to match the family room, and the space was completely cleared. Then we had to figure out what we were going to do about the actual bar.

Once the space was cleared we had to come up with a plan for how we would build a cabinet. We looked at pre-fabricated cabinets but none of the available sizes would work in the space so we were on our own. I came up with a plan while I was on a run and drew it up as soon as I got home, but it was a rough sketch that was more idea than absolute plan.

Over the next two weeks we started piecing it together, building the base with 2X4s, putting plywood on top of that, and then using MDF to create walls and shelves. We used 1X3s and 1X2s as moulding to cover the edges of the MDF and plywood, I painted it all white, and we were left with an open cabinet that needed doors that we weren’t ready to design yet. The whole process was a series of measurements, cuts, leveling, shimming, and on one occasion, deciding it was best to just go to bed before we made another mistake and ruined what was turning out to be a really nice cabinet that we are very proud of.

Next we had to decide what we wanted to do about glass storage. While the new cabinet had actually increased our floor storage, we still wanted a space to display our glasses and memorabilia, such as the antique shaker set that we got from Jeff’s grandfather as a housewarming gift when we moved into our first house. We decided on open shelving with black steel piping to attach them to the walls. We bought shelving pieces from Lowes, I stained them the same color as our new stairs, and then we installed them. We had contemplated painting the piping black but finally decided we liked the raw, unpainted appearance of the piping as it was. Then we purchased wine glass holders to finish off the shelving project.

With the walls patched, the small section of lowered ceiling needed to be painted. Jeff found an unused pint of white satin paint (we don’t know when or why we purchased it), and although it wasn’t technically ceiling paint, we were going to use what we had. This then allowed us to finally replace the can light that sat right above the sink.

When we finally got to selecting a light, we went to the store with plans to get a circular track light to replace the outdated lighting. When we couldn’t find the light we were planning to buy, Jeff started looking down the aisle and found a different, much more decorative light that perfectly fit the emerging bar decor but not the plan. But since our plan with this whole project has been a series of “let’s try this,” it seemed appropriate that we would change that too. What was supposed to be a simple install became a two-hour process of taking out the light, installing a bar into the ceiling (which we had leftover from the kitchen ceiling fan project because we just hadn’t returned it), and then the installation of a dimmer switch. Regardless, we’re pretty proud of the our new light with “antique” lightbulbs.

While a lot of the above construction was happening, Jeff was also designing his dream countertop. He had spent the better part of the last five years collecting bottle caps with the intention of making a countertop with the bottle caps and epoxy. Now he had a reason to finally put the to use. He used a mix of purchased plywood and scrap wood from the garage to make the frame, glued and clamped the corner, and then I stained it to match the stairs and the bar shelves. Over several weeks, he constructed the countertop, we moved it inside once the cabinets were constructed, and the kids created the design with a mix of the collected bottle caps and some fillers that Jeff bought on Ebay, making it truly a family project.

The epoxy was a little more complicated. We had to buy four jugs each of the epoxy and the hardener in order to cover all of the space. (For those wondering, we only used three of the pairs of jugs, so if you are planning to order for a similar space, that is probably all you will need.) Everything appeared to be going smoothly until we discovered a leak along the sink cut out. While Jeff mixed more epoxy to continue the coverage, I ran to find towels, tape, a board, anything that would stop the warm, clear liquid from dripping out of the countertop and onto our brand new, freshly painted cabinet. We got creative and managed to stop the cascade, but I was thankful for the shelf liners that caught a lot (but not nearly all) of the drippage.

Next we needed to build doors. I had initially planned to do sliding barn doors but quickly discovered they wouldn’t fit. Instead we bought some more plywood, cut it to size, bought 3/8 x 2 inch pieces of trim to frame out the doors, and used our staple gun and wood filler to construct them. After installing one more trim piece to the cabinet to attach the door to and touching up the paint inside the cabinet (post-epoxy disaster), they were ready. I am so proud of the final product.

It was finally time to prepare the bar for the butcher block countertop that was going to go along the outside edge. Before we gutted the bar, this particular countertop was black laminate. We wanted to keep using natural woods in the project and the butcher block was a perfect addition. We attached 2x3s to the wall so we could screw the countertop underneath. I touched up the paint on the installed rail and we cut the 6-foot butcher block to the appropriate length and width. I sanded both pieces down, we attached both lengths, and then we attached the pipe braces we had created to match the shelves. I finished off the project with four coats of oil to seal the wood. As a bonus, I sanded and oiled the dried out butcher block corner in our kitchen.

The final flourishes came together. I bought baskets for the shelves next to the fridge. We installed the new faucet with only minor drama when the power went out the same day it arrived from Amazon. After I returned from picking up the butcher block from Home Depot we braved the storms to turn of the water and used flashlights to install the water lines. I the painted more trim and placed it along the edges of the entire bar area. Jeff covered the floor with foam tiles, which will serve as a temporary fix until we are able to retile the entire first floor. The last finish was the peel and stick stone tiles that I put on the wall behind the sink, pulling the entire area together.

When it came to this project, our whole mantra with the bar appeared to be: “What would happen if?” We had a concept but not a complete plan, which meant that every step of the way we had to be open to discussions about what we wanted to do next and what we wanted it to look like. We are thrilled with the results, no matter how much work went into the process.

We may be introverts, but we enjoy entertaining in our own space. Now we look forward to many years of a space that is both functional and attractive.

Sarah Styf | Accepting the Unexpected Journey