Lake House Stair Reconstruction

Over the winter, a series of large sandstone and limestone boulders were dislodged from the bluff above the beach at the lake house, and they crushed the dock deck and the stairs leading down to the dock. It was pretty shocking when I first discovered it, but it shows the power of Mother Nature.

Instead of rebuilding things exactly as they were, I decided to take a different, simpler approach. Now that I keep the boat on a slip at the Bayview Boat Club, there’s less of a need for an elaborate dock and boat setup. Rather, I wanted to have more beach space for swimming, and wanted to make it easy to access. The first task was to clear the boulders, which wasn’t going to be easy. I bought a 65 pound jackhammer / breaker, and got to work breaking up the boulders into smaller chunks that I could toss into the water, far enough out from the beach that they wouldn’t disrupt swimming:

Once the boulders were gone, I was able to shovel and rake the sand to make a beautiful beach area!

My next steps are to build some simple, lightweight stairs to make it easier to get to the bottom of the beach, but easy enough to remove or rebuild if a similarly destructive event happens in a future winter. I’m also going to do some repair and reconstruction of the railing down to the water from the house, which should keep me busy the rest of the summer.

New Zero Turn Mower

After several years with an entry level John Deere zero turn mower that proved to not be up to the task of dealing with the uneven terrain of my land, I went to the Middleton Power Center and upgraded to a new Ariens mower. It has a much more durable frame, along with a bigger deck and more power.

Thus far, I’ve moved the lawn with it three times and it’s been incredible.

My hope is that this one will last longer than the previous Deere did!

Final Library Bookcase Installation

After two previous rounds of installing built-in bookcases in the library, I spent the past several weeks installing and building the remaining bookcases. This installation was the most complicated, since it involved 5 bookcases and I’d need to do some framing work to make the wall they were anchoring to a flat surface due to the presence of a closet. First, I had to get the bookcases into the house, which took a $500 bribe to the delivery team due to the weight of the bookcases.

Once they were unpacked, I used a trailer to haul all of the packing materials away. There was so much cardboard and styrofoam it literally filled a 12×6 trailer!

Before I could install the unpacked bookcases, I removed the external trim from the closet door and built a frame that would attach to the studs in the wall of the library, bringing that wall level with the closet. This preserves the closet if there was ever a desire to turn the library back into a true bedroom, while allowing the bookcases to run the entire length of the wall.

Next, I got to work modifying the two bookcases that would go in the corner. I had to use a jigsaw to cut the molding on the top and bottom, as well as angle-grind the ladder rail. Since this was my third corner set for this project, I was able to knock it out pretty quickly.

Next, I installed the other bookcases, anchoring them to the back frame’s studs, as well as anchoring them to each other to insure that they lined up perfectly.

Next, I built the cabinets that connect the bookcases to the ceiling, along with a side cabinet connecting the left-most bookcase to the wall.

The last step was painting all of the cabinetry, and installing the crown molding at the very top, along with some additional trim on the far left side.

After that, I put back all of the books and decor, and it really started to look like a library!

Next up for the library project: painting the walls (scheduled for next week), and installing the new flooring (scheduled for early February).

Initial Library Progress

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to get a lot of work done on the new built in bookcases for the library. This first phase was essentially a proof of concept; before I ordered all of the bookcases I wanted to order two to verify fit and also to verify my plan to join the corners and to turn them into true built-ins. They came fully assembled in giant boxes, so thankfully I was able to bribe the delivery guys to carry them down to the lower level right nearby the library.

The first step was to remove the old shelves and their toppers.

After that was done, I unpacked the new bookcases and moved them vaguely into position. After that, I measured where I’d need to cut the baseboard and crown molding on the bookcases so that I could join them at the corner into one unit. I used a jigsaw with a long blade designed for ultra-fine finish carpentry, and it did a good job of making cuts without causing a lot of collateral damage.

I then cut the actual baseboard along the wall, and removed the carpet, carpet pad, and staple strips from the floor so that the bookcases could be flush with the wall. I screwed the bookcases together to form a perfect corner, and then shimmed them level against the walls before anchoring them into the studs. This left me with a really sturdy corner unit, with the ladder rails joining in the corner as well. From there, I used wood filler to fill in tiny gaps in the joined molding, and color matched paint to paint over it.

The result was impressively seamless! The project wasn’t done though, I still had to build the toppers and molding that would connect them to the ceiling. I used oak boards for the topper, along with some understated crown trim for the ceiling line.

Once the final trim was in place and I put everything back on the shelves, it looked incredible and gave me a vision for how the rest of the library will look when the project is done!

The next step is to order the rest of the bookcases, which should arrive in January for me to finish the rest of the project!

Lake House Dock Deck

In addition to interior design improvements, painting, and flooring, my other summer project at the lake house has been constructing a fixed deck platform down by the dock. The motivation for the project was to have a place to sit down by the water, with easy access to the beach, that is less volatile and prone to issues than the dock. The new deck platform is made of wood with concrete anchors, and is on level with the last stair landing area before the final stairs down to the dock. This means that it’s above the highest water levels ever seen in Lake Wisconsin after the lake was dammed in the 1930’s, so it should be safe from Mother Nature.

The first step was to set the main posts for the deck, anchoring two of them to the old platform and two of them to concrete feet on the rock next to the cliff and the beach.







After that, I poured additional concrete and added the rest of the load bearing structure, built from treated 2×6 boards.










The following weekend, I installed all of the deck planks and started building the railing.







It was hard, hot work in the middle of summer heat and humidity carrying all of the concrete and wood down the stairs, but having a new lightweight pistol grip circular saw that could chew through the 2×4’s using battery power made life a lot easier.



This past week, I finished the major construction work by completing the railing and building a ladder down to the beach.






All that’s left after this is to do some repair work on the stairs, and to stain the new deck. The view looking out over the water from the new deck is already incredible!


Staircase Construction

This past week, construction began on the new oak staircases at the Verona house. I’m replacing the old carpet stairs with new oak stairs, stained to match the hardwood floors. It’s a long, tedious process to cut the stair treads and risers exactly right, but it slowly began to take shape. First, the previous stairs had to be ripped out:




















Before the new treads could start to go in, new support stringers had to be cut and installed, and we used plywood to raise up the stair frames by three quarters of an inch so that the new stairs would be at the same height as the old carpeted stairs and thus would be flush with the old skirt boards.

Once that was done, the new risers and treads, which had been custom manufactured and stained, could be cut and installed.

The result turned out beautifully! There is still a lot of trim work left to do, the railing needs to be reinstalled, and the nail holes need to be puttied, but it’s pretty easy to see how good the finished product is going to look.











Next week, we start on the upstairs staircase!

New Garage and Shed Shelving

The shelves in the garage that I had used to store paint, as well as the shelves in the guest house garage that I had used to store gardening tools, were all in general disrepair and sagging from the weight of everything stored on them. I invested in some much stronger steel shelves, as well as new garden tool cabinets in the guest house garage and garden tool racks in the shed.









Power Washing

When I was cleaning up brush and removing bushes from around the front of the house as part of my overall spring landscaping efforts, I noticed that a significant amount of moss, dirt, and general grime had built up on the front of the house, especially the roof and around the windows above the front porch. Over the course of a weekend, I power washed most of the house and was able to remove all of  the built up grime.

The end result was a significant improvement, and was more noticeable than I expected it to be.








After that was done, I moved on to other areas of the house. In particular, the back of the house (near the library on the lower level and the sitting room on the main level) had a lot of green algae build up, that was really easy to remove from the vinyl siding with the power washer.






When I was washing the siding, I made an interesting discovery: I found a large hole in the ground right along the foundation, that I believe has been responsible for some of the seepage flooding the house has experienced a couple of times over the past few years.


I’m not sure if it was caused by natural erosion or was burrowed by an animal, but regardless I filled it in with dirt, which hopefully will help stave off future flooding.


New Doors

One small project I’d had on my to-do list for a long time had been replacing the front door of the house. The original door had been there since before I bought the house, and was pretty simple. In addition to this door, I also took the opportunity to replace the front door of the guest house and one of the side doors in the main garage.

For the front door, I purchased the same front door that I installed at the lake house. I thought it would be a fun tie-back to the lake house, and also fit with the style of the main house, especially after the new flooring was installed.



After installing the door, I painted the small frame around the door brown. I also painted the white panels to the right and left of the door, as well as above it, to match the taupe color of the walls.


Since that turned out so well, I bought a third copy of the same door for the guest house. Now all three houses have the same door, which is kind of a fun inside joke.



Last, I replaced the side door in the garage. The previous door had been kicked in at some point, presumably when the house was foreclosed on before I bought it. It was in rough shape, and so replacing it with a new door was a huge improvement.


One challenge I encountered while installing the guest house and garage side doors was that the previous doors had hinges in non-standard positions. I had to use a router, with a door hinge kit, to cut new hinge positions in the doors.


Once the new hinge positions were cut, it was easy to mount the new doors in the old frames.

Powder Room Lighting

When I originally remodeled the smaller walk-in closet in the master suite in the house to be a powder room for my wife, I redid all of the furniture but didn’t touch the lighting. It still had old fluorescent closet lighting along with a cheap floor lamp, and it had been a low priority to-do on my list for a long time to replace that lighting with something nicer.




When I removed the old lighting, I realized the old fluorescent light had just been screwed into the studs, and there was no junction box for a traditional light fixture. In order to install one, I first had to cut a hole in the drywall to accommodate it. I used a drill bit that had adjustable blades and a plastic bowl to catch the drywall dust:



Once the hole was cut, I was able to install the junction box and anchor it to the stud in the ceiling.



After that, installing a warm LED light fixture was easy. It’s bright enough to fill the room with light, which is helpful when my wife is doing her makeup, but it’s not harsh like an old school fluorescent light.