Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Upholstered Radiator Seats

Every Christmas, I feel like there are some people who are really easy to shop for and others that are impossible. For the easy people, I always end up going overboard simply because I know that they will like the gift - even though maybe it's excessive and unnecessary and I should spend the time on the more difficult people. This is an example of me ignoring my better judgment by wasting time on a totally excessive gift.

wally on our bedroom radiator

So - our house is heated by radiators. Once they come on sometime in the fall, the cats can reliably be found on top or near them, practically all day long until spring rolls around. I've draped some towels and bits of fabric on the radiators for extra padding, but it seems like they're still pretty uncomfortable. As my Christmas gift to the cats, I decided to make an upholstered seat to rest on top of one of their favorite radiators in the dining room. It could also serve as extra seating for humans, but that's not my primary goal here.

Wally on some fabric scraps on the dining room radiator

Step 1. Gather Materials
Since this is a gift for cats at a pricey time of year, my goal is to use as many leftovers and existing materials as possible. So I start in the wood pile and find a 1"x8" that's exactly long enough for the radiator to serve as the top, and some 1"x2"s to serve as the sides. I have spare fabric that used to be the curtains in the old office that will work perfectly, so it just gets washed (ironically, to reduce the cat hair). For the padding, I turn to Amazon and buy some 1" upholstery foam and batting and silicone oven pads/trivets.

Step 2. Assemble Frame and Top
First, I cut the 1x8 down to be just slightly longer than the radiator's widest points. Then I cut 2 1"x2"s to be the same length as the top, and 2 1"x2"s to span the distance from the outside of the 1"x2"s and the board. Then, using wood glue and some wood screws, I screw it together so that the 1"x2"s cap the board and are flush on top. They will prevent the board from sliding around on the radiator. This will all be covered, so ugliness isn't important.

cutting down the boards

test fitting on the radiator - everything fits

Step 3. Upholster
I cut down the foam pad to the same measurement as the frame and glue it down. (Note - you're generally supposed to use spray upholstery glue, but I didn't want to buy any. Instead, I used an old glue stick). I wrapped the pad in a thin layer of the batting, which is just meant to smooth out the pokey edges of the pad and stapled it down. Then I draped it in the fabric, flipped it over, and started stapling like crazy. The hardest part of this part was keeping Wally away - as fabric on the floor is basically his favorite thing.

1" pad on top of the board

wrapping in batting (find the cat in this picture)

batting all stapled down

fabric stapled down

Step 4. Heat proof
Once I was all finished with the fabric, I flipped it upside down and stapled on two silicone oven mit things. The goal here is both to reduce the risk of a fire by preventing the wood and fabric from resting on the hot radiator all the time (they don't get that hot, but it seems like a good safety precaution), and to prevent the box from sliding around on or rocking on the radiator every time Wally jumps on it.
an oven pad getting stapled to the underside of the bench

Step 5. Enjoy
After everything was finished, I placed it up on the radiator and set Wally up on it. He was a little uneasy at first, and then seemed to get the hang of it.  I think the first Christmas gift of the year is a hit. This was totally an unnecessary project, but it only took a couple hours and like $20 - so I'm pretty satisfied with it.

check out the nice corners

Wally takes a nap

Friday, December 18, 2015

Our New Back Steps

So, a little over a month ago I posted the intro to our back steps project. Short summary - they were falling apart and becoming really dangerous, so we decided to have someone replace them.

the old stairs are crumbly and uneven

Step 1 - Find a Contractor
Finding a contractor to do the work is always so much harder than it seems like it should be. We used Angie's List and Yelp to find a few well-reviewed companies that either were welding companies that would build metal steps or were general contractors that would build wooden steps. We probably called or emailed 20 companies. Of them, maybe 5 actually came see the steps and walk through the project. Of them, only 2 actually submitted quotes. We picked the cheaper one.

Step 2 - Pick a Design
None of the general contractors got back to us, so our only option was to build metal stairs, which were our preference anyway. Our original goal was to have cast iron steps, which are really common in older parts of DC and look really stately. We discovered quickly that we couldn't afford cast iron (roughly $10,000-$20,000),  but could do cheaper steel stairs. The company we picked could build a basic option which was pretty industrial, or a fancy option which was a little more ornamental and meant to look kind of like the cast iron steps we really wanted. We went back and forth on it - but ultimately decided that we needed the fancy option.

a random house in DC with nice cast-iron stairs

Step 3 - Demo the Old Stairs
One of the other things we debated was doing the demolition ourselves to save some money. Thankfully, we opted not to do this, and instead came home one day to find the entire cement and brick block removed. They also hauled away all the debris, which is really hard for us to do. I think we could've rented a jackhammer and sledge hammer and done this ourselves, but it would've been back breaking, and then we would've had to haul the debris to the landfill, probably in a couple of loads, which would've taken forever and destroyed our car. So, I'm ok with paying for them to do it.

huge chunks of cement that i didn't have to breakup

Step 4 - Install the Prebuilt Stairs
They built the steps in their workshop in advance, and then just plopped them in place after the demo was done.

new stairs are installed but not finished

Step 5 - Add Finishing Touches
Then, after some rainy weather (apparently you can't weld in the rain), they came back to finish up. It turned out that the cement block wasnt solid, but had a little brick wall under it, flush with the house. They originally left it for security reasons, but we decided to have it removed so that more light could get to the basement window. After demo, they added the new security bars for safety. Then they added the ornamental final touches to make the fancy stairs, and then gave them a quick paint job.

all done!

view from the top: a nice landing to step out onto

close up of the fancy bits

more fancy bits

new bars under the stairs- let lots of light into the basement window

view from the side: lots of new storage space for something

closeup of the cement under the steps: needs patching

I am so excited about these guys. I know that fancy back steps aren't really the top of anyone's dream list, but I am just so happy with this project. The old ones were getting so dangerous and hard to use, these are just infinitely easier to use and feel so much safer.  I'm glad we opted to fancy it up a bit - these aren't original cast iron stairs, but they don't look like an obviously modern and industrial add-on to the house. We still need to patch the cement under the steps, but that can wait until spring.

We have generally tried to balance house projects that are functional with house projects that are aesthetic, so I feel like now's the time for a pretty project to counter this entirely functional one.