Choosing Quartz Composite Countertops

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Quartz is one of my favorite healing crystals to use in feng shui and other holistic adjustments, but its usefulness doesn't stop at providing balance and amplifying nourishing energy . Actually, quartz is a great option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling, which are included in most renovation projects!

What is Quartz?

Quartz is actually one of the most abundant (the second most common) minerals found on Earth and dates back to ancient times. It was used for jewelry during China's Ming Dynasty and has been found in Aztec graves, also used as jewelry. This comes as no surprise, since quartz is a durable, useful and available substance. This durability and seemingly endless stock are primarily why quartz is such a great choice for renovation projects in kitchens and bathrooms. 

Quartz, which we use often in pure crystal form, is the hardest known non-gem material in the world and compares to diamonds and sapphires in strength. In fact, when renovations include granite countertops or other granite features, quartz is generally the reason these options are so durable. Typical granite consists of a mixed makeup of minerals, including about 20-35% quartz; however, it is possible to increase the percentage of quartz to 93% for optimum performance. This is what we call quartz composite surfacing. 

How is Quartz Used?

One typical feature of both kitchens and bathrooms is countertop. From sinks in bathrooms to prep space in kitchens, homeowners often choose to refurbish or replace the surfacing material for their countertops to keep up with modern trends or guarantee sturdy, long-lasting counters. This last feature is one of the most compelling reasons to opt for quartz surfacing material and is where we commonly see it used in homes. 

One of the most popular ways to use quartz in renovations is through the Breton method, which combines varieties of quartz and other aggregate materials with crushed mineral powders, binding resin and pigment to create a customizable, uniform, sturdy, slab of stone.

Why Choose Quartz Composites?

Aside from its durability and ready availability, quartz has plenty of perks that granite or stone countertops don't offer. Most notably, quartz is almost non-porous, which means that it resists staining and requires less upkeep than typical granite or stone options. Most stone counters are porous, which results in easy stains and means that the countertops need to be sealed, both initially and repeatedly throughout their lives. In contrast, quartz never needs to be sealed and is much harder to stain. 

Since it is one of the hardest minerals on the planet, quartz is also scratch resistant and heat scorch resistant. It also offers four to five times the flexural strength of stone, making it more likely to bend, less likely to break. All of these perks make quartz surfacing nearly maintenance free, and thanks to modern processes, it is available in a wide color palette to match any design scheme. Finally, quartz is naturally anti-bacterial as a non-porous surface, and adding additional anti-bacterial to the quartz surface composition is an option as well. 

Have you ever considered using quartz surfacing in your home renovations instead of stone countertops? I'd love to hear about your past or upcoming projects and how you choose your materials!

by Anjie Cho

The Basics of Decorative Hardwood Plywood for Cabinetry and Custom Furniture

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If you're working on home renovations for the first time, you may be surprised at the number of options for some aspects of the process. One common choice some home-owners find overwhelming is the type of material to use on cabinets, custom furniture, engineered wood flooring, solid hardwood, etc. A popular choice for these projects is decorative plywood hardwood, which consists of a solid core laminated with decorative veneer. The various types of core and veneer material can make selection a bit confusing. If you're considering using decorative hardwood plywood in your renovations, these tips should help ease the process. 

Choose a Core

There are a number of options available for the material used within the core of decorative hardwood plywood. There are even specific woods used for particular types of structures. But for basic indoor architecture needs, the options are Veneer Core, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), Particleboard and Combi Core. 

Veneer core is composed of thin strips of wood laminated together to form a solid core. Materials used for this type of core can vary depending on where the panels are made. In the United States, veneer core is often composed of White Fir, Douglass Fir, Ponderosa Pine or Poplar. Veneer is stronger than many other options, holds screws well and looks the closest to real wood. However, it is around 15% more expensive and often has variations in thickness. 

One of the most popular options for core material is particleboard. Particleboard is the cheapest core type, features a smooth, uniform surface and thickness and can hold screws reasonably well. It is a bit heavier than veneer, and a typical panel can weigh around 90 - 100 pounds. 

Medium Density Fiberboard, also known as MDF, is very similar to particleboard. Both materials are composites, meaning they are composed of fibers glued together to form the solid core. The main difference between MDF and particleboard is fiber size. Where particleboard uses larger wood fibers, MDF is composed of smaller, finer fibers. Like particleboard, it features a smooth uniform surface and reasonable screw hold, but it is heavy as well and a bit more expensive. 

Finally, there is the option of Combi Core. This material is a sort of hybrid core, and it can be a little expensive, but it is lighter than the composite cores, which can make a significant difference in some situations. 

Choose a Veneer

Once you've chosen a core for your decorative hardwood plywood, the next step is choosing a veneer to cover it. The most popular options for veneer species are Birch, Maple and Red Oak. These three woods are the most widely available and generally the least expensive. 

However, there are other options, like Cherry and Walnut, which are pricier woods but offer a different quality and appearance. You can even choose some more exotic woods, opt for softwood options or even go with bamboo (which isn't actually wood at all!). 

Choose a Cut

Aside from your choice of veneer wood, the cutting style you choose will make a difference in appearance as well. There are four ways to cut the veneer for decorative hardwood plywood. For some woods, like Red Oak and White Oak, you can most likely find what you need in any of the cut styles, but for other options, certain styles tend to look more pleasing than others. 

One style of cutting is rotary style. Simply put, panels cut rotary style are cut in the same way you would peel paper towels from a roll. This style is the most environmentally friendly way to cut and can be used for most of the popular woods in decorative hardwood plywood.

The other types of cutting panels involve cutting from only a portion of the log, rather than the entire circumference. For instance, plain slicing consists of paring down the log, then taking slices from the top lengthwise. This method is more expensive and less environmentally friendly than rotary style, but many people prefer this due to aesthetics.

A step up from plain slicing, quarter slicing comes from taking the lengthwise slices from the edge of one quarter of the log. This produces a pattern like plain slicing, but it is worth nothing that there can be what's called flaking, which some find unappealing. If this is the case for you, opt for rift cutting, which is close to quarter slicing but with minimal flaking. 

Choose a Shade

Finally, when deciding the composition of your veneer, note that there are two different shades of wood, based on the location within the tree. Wood in the center of the tree, called heartwood, has a darker appearance, like you'd see if you cut down a tree. Likewise, the outer layers of wood, called sapwood, are lighter. There is an extra charge to have either of these shades exclusively, and most panels include both colors of wood.

There are a number of other options for decorative hardwood plywood, and whatever your renovation, your contractor and designer should be able to provide guidance regarding the best choice for your space, but it will help to have some idea what they're talking about! Did you have similar questions during a recent renovation? We'd love to hear feedback from the other side of the table!

by Anjie Cho

The Secret to Flexible Decorating: the Picture Ledge

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Does this scenario sound familiar? You cuddle into the corner of your favorite chair. You pull a comfy throw onto your lap while closely hugging a cup of steaming tea, coffee or fire water. And you sigh, content and happy, until your eye rests upon that framed bit of artwork on the wall and you realize you’re ready for a change.

The good news is that the things we hang on our walls can be easily swapped out and updated for a fresh, new look. The challenge, however, can be finding a comparable piece to hang in that exact spot. Can the new piece use the same nail hole? Will it fit in the space of the item that you’re replacing? Will you need to create new holes in the wall for another sort of hanger? Do additional items need to be moved around to accommodate your new find? The more change this seemingly simple update requires, the more reluctant you may be to make it. 

Don’t worry! There’s a simple solution. Put down the hammer and don’t hang another thing before you read this. The secret to creating an easily updatable room is the picture ledge. Whether you like to replace your wall art each season or you want the flexibility to change things up on a whim, a picture ledge gives you a creative space to easily swap pieces without drilling new holes in the wall and alleviates spacing headaches each time your décor evolves. 

Let’s talk about the basics. Start by selecting the ledge length that best suits your decorating style and room size. You can find pre-made ledges in a variety of lengths or you can DIY a ledge to your specifications. If you’re going the make-it-yourself route, get creative with the materials you use. Pinterest is a great place to find inspiration and decorations for such a project. 

Generally, if you’re going to place the picture ledge over a couch, place the bottom edge of the shelf about 10 inches above the back of the couch. If you’re going to hang it elsewhere, keep in mind, you’re aiming for “eye level” artwork on a wall. A good rule of thumb is to hang your ledge 4 to 4 ½ feet from the floor. 

What goes on the ledge? For starters, there’s the obvious framed artwork. It is, after all, called a picture ledge. But don’t stop there! These ledges with their grooves and/or framed edges are ideal for displaying things like decorative plates, forward facing books, thin vases, and collectibles. Think outside the box! Hang some picture ledges in your bedroom and display your favorite shoes. Use these unique shelves in the kitchen to arrange your go-to bottles of spices and seasonings. Try a picture ledge in a child’s bedroom or play room to display those awesome Lego creations and favorite toys. Anything that will securely fit on the flat space available is fair game. Have fun with it, and the next time you glance up and realize it’s time for a change, go for it! Swap out your old shelf décor for something fresh and new without any worry.

by Anjie Cho

Dents, Holes and Pops: Prepping Your Walls for Paint

There’s nothing quite like setting your brush down, sliding back into your favorite cozy space and admiring a well-painted room. Before you get to that point, however, there’s ‘pre-paint’ legwork that must be done, starting with the repair of holes in your wall. Before you crack open the bucket of joint compound and grab the joint knife, keep reading. Not all wall damage is created equal. 

Small Dings, Nail Holes and Dents

Before you break out the joint compound, scrap away any loose paint or other debris from the area you’re repairing. Using your joint knife, spread the compound over the small area requiring repair. You should completely fill in the damaged space. Using the joint knife, pull away excess compound to make it level with the rest of the wall. Allow the space to dry according to the directions on the package. Keep in mind that it may take as long as 24 hours, so plan your room renovations accordingly. Once the repaired section is dry, sand it smooth and get ready to paint!

Small Holes

Don’t confuse ‘small’ with the nail-sized holes mentioned above. We’re talking about the hole created from a doorknob that met a wall with a little more pop and punch than it ought to have. If you’ve got a repair about that size, you’re going to need a bit more than joint compound and sandpaper to fix things. Pick up a peel-and-stick patch to repair this type of damage. The patch is a screen covered by fiberglass. Remove the backing and press the patch into place over the hole. Now pull out your joint compound and joint knife. Cover the mesh patch with layers of compound being careful to smooth each layer and level it off with the wall. Plan on applying three coats in total, letting each coat dry before applying the next one. Once the final coat is dry, sand the repaired area smooth and flush with the rest of the wall. Now you’re ready to paint! 

Note: You can find repair kits with patches for holes up to about six inches. Some patches are mesh like the one described above. Others will be a reinforced center panel surrounded by self-sticking tape. Larger holes require a different approach that we’ll cover in a future blog article.

Nail Pops

When you look at your wall, do you see small protrusions about the size of a nail head? This happens when the nails used to affix drywall to the studs pull away from the wood. You’ve got two choices on how to repair this, but both begin with scrapping away the ‘popped’ bit of drywall until the head of the nail is exposed. One option is to drive the nail back into the stud. Once you’ve done that, drill a drywall screw into place slightly above the nail to reinforce the drywall. Alternately, you can remove the offending nail and replace it with the drywall screw above or below the original hole. Regardless of which option you select, make sure the nail head and screw are slightly recessed into the drywall creating a dimple. Grab that joint compound again and fill in the small holes created by the removed (or re-driven) nail and the new screw. As above, wait until it’s fully dry and then sand the compound down again for a smooth even finish.

by Anjie Cho

The Art of Hanging Art

Imagine you’re standing in the center of a room in your home, surveying the open wall space around you. In your hands is a piece of art that has spoken to you. It’s exactly what this room has been missing and you are about to affix it to the space that’s just made for it. 

While some may consider hanging a picture or other piece of art on the wall about as foolproof DIY as one can get, the truth is it’s not quite that simple. Follow these steps to make sure you get it right.

Make a plan

The worst time to figure out your new piece is off center (or otherwise not quite what you expected) is after the nail is in the wall. Whether you’re hanging a collection of pieces or just one, spend some time envisioning exactly where your art is going. Use a true-to-size paper template and painter’s tape for a trial run. When you’ve measured, admired and confirmed you’ve got it right, then grab the tools and hangers.

Remember, the eyes have it

In most cases, the best height for artwork is eye level, which means the center of your piece should fall at about 58 inches above the floor. If your ceilings are relatively low, however, you’ll want to adjust this. In that case, a good rule of thumb is to imagine your wall divided into quarters with your art falling in the third quarter. Another exception is when you’re hanging a cluster of pieces. In this case, align the center of your gallery at eye level and work the additional pieces in around it.

More than a nail

Is your idea of hanging art on the wall grabbing a nail and hammer? You’re not alone. There’s a better way, however. A single nail in drywall isn’t going to tolerate much weight. You may know already that hanging a heavier piece is a job best well suited for a stud in the wall. However, if you don’t find a stud in a ‘picture-friendly’ location, that’s okay; you have options. Consider using self-threaded anchors, screws, picture hangers or even a finishing nail hammered in at an angle. These tools provide greater holding power than a simple nail hammered straight into the wall.

Hang it straight and use bumpers

Remember the first step? Don’t eyeball this process. Grab a level and let the bubble lead you. Before you hang the picture, consider adding self-adhesive rubber bumpers to the back of the piece. These will help prevent movement on the wall, keeping the piece level once you’ve placed it. 

Don’t be framed

Framed art is gorgeous, but it’s not your only option. Get creative in what gets hung on your walls. Hanging clipboards to hold photos or art you wish to rotate makes a fantastic alternative! Empty frames, mirrors and other collections can be unique and eye catching wall art. The only thing holding you back is your imagination!

by Anjie Cho