Welcome to Our Frankenhouse!

Hi! My name is Amanda. My husband Nick and I bought a Frankenhouse, and we are going to chronicle our adventures in making it our dream home right here for all to see. This is going to be an interesting adventure because we are both very strong personalities! Feel free to laugh at our shenanigans, marvel in our ingenuity (I hope!), and stay with us for the long haul on this thing!


A Little Interior Design/Decorating

Sorry, folks! It’s been a bit of time that has passed since the last update. The Big House is on hold for the moment while we work on The Lake House. See, we’re expecting a little bundle of joy, so Nick needs to get the house in a state other than construction! It’s moving a long, but we have a hard stop of September. That means no multi-tasking on two different houses!

I’m pretty much in charge of the second floor. I’ve been working on the baby’s room a lot and neglecting our room. But much has happened in our room in the last week or so! I have drapes on electric rods (like our old condo in the city), and I now have furniture! I’m so excited that I have somewhere to put my clothes other than the floor of another bedroom. But we couldn’t just buy any furniture and put it in our room. We had to customize!!!

Gray is all the rage right now, and I’m caught up in it! Our room is going to be varying shades of gray – walls, bed, furniture…It could look really drab, but it’s actually looking pretty chic. I do need to paint the all walls and do any treatments to them that I’m thinking about. Until then I’ll share my latest project.

I decided I wanted gray dressers. I also wanted one of them to be ombré. We do it to our hair…why not a dresser?! I also wanted matching furniture. I wasn’t about to go source a bunch of antique stuff to paint when I was looking for something more modern. Enter Ikea. Seriously. Most of the stuff you’d buy from Amazon or Wayfair is all flat-packed and ready for assembly by you anyway. Ikea has their shit together when it comes to self-service furniture. I also wanted to be able to paint each individual board instead of trying to get into crevices of the already assembled furniture.

I had decided on the Hemnes collection because it was pretty clean. I actually had contemplating just getting the black-brown color, but I wanted to see it in person before deciding. While at the store, I went from this


to thishemnes-drawer-chest -white-stainThe black-brown just wasn’t cutting it, so now I needed to paint. We went with the white stain because in all reality it looked like primer. It would be easy  to paint over and cover. I left with 2 of the nightstands (above), a 6-drawer chest, and an 8-drawer chest all waiting for my handiwork. Did I mention that the Hemnes collection was also on sale as part of the Ikea Family program? Bonus!

My plan was to use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint to change these bad boys, but I decided it would be too much work to mix the ombré colors myself. I’m getting lazy as my pregnancy progresses. What I did use was Rustoleum’s Chalked, which also happened to be on sale at Menard’s. I picked up Aged Gray (lightest), Country Gray (med), and Charcoal (darkest) since they seemed to do all the work for me. I also got the matte protective finish instead of wax since these will be heavily used.

Here are my tools:

Chalk Paint Tools

I decided to be a rebel and spray the chalk paint! I did a little research and found the cheapy spray gun from Harbor Freight is the best one to use for Chalk-type Paint. After some adjustments, it was all ready to go. I also strained the paint just in case there were any globs in there. And that red thingy? OMG – the best $1 I have spent on a paint tool. That thing creates a pour spout on the can of paint. You can also fold down the spout and store the paint can that way. I LOVE IT. Especially for pouring into a spray gun.

Here are some before pictures and a shot of my workspace for this paint fun:


Pay no attention to my neighbor’s mess of cars

white pieces

Night Stand Pieces

Here is a close up of a painted board:



And the finished pieces:

6 drawer dresser

6 drawer dresser




ombre dresser

Ombre 8 Drawer Dresser

More to come on the rest of the room. It’s coming together slowly, but it’s coming together!!



Let’s talk tools

Over at the new house we decided paint and carpet for the upstairs at this time. That will get us pretty far for the time being. That being said, I needed to get all the old pad up from the previous carpet that had been hauled out by a restoration crew. I didn’t need to get up the staples. Just the pad. There is a problem with that… The pad was packed very tightly under the staples. So, I just decided to take the staples up too.

My favorite tool made it so much easier! This is my industrial staple remover, and IT’S THE BEST THING EVER!

No more wrestling with a pliers to get the staples pulled. I had to use a pliers every once in a while for those stubborn staples, but far less than otherwise. So less pain on my delicate flower hands/fingers because I was using a lot less grip and force. This little guy has been used since the house in Plainfield. Nick thought I was nuts when I bought it, but even my mother-in-law says it’s the best thing ever. And for $8, it’s worth the money!

I was able to pull all the staples out of the second floor in a few hours. Sure it was tedious and boring, but now it’s done! Here is a before and after of the stairs. This literally took me no more than 20 minutes to do the whole flight of stairs. Amazing!




After – a bit blurry



Another Project

Nick and I went and bought another house! And yes, it’s also a project. This is becoming habitual…but it was a really good deal, and it’s not that much of a project. Don’t get me wrong there is work that needs to be done. It’s just not to the level of the current project.

Why did we go and get another fixer-upper? We are a little nuts maybe? There is that, but we also need somewhere to live. You see we are selling the condo we live in and own in downtown Chicago, so we need somewhere to go. The Big House (as I will now start referring to it as) has no walls, plumbing, electrical, heat…I don’t think I can live in those conditions. So we got a cheap house for us to live in now while working on the other house. Let me tell you a little about it!

This house is on the water. The backyard butts up to Squaw Creek which has access to Fox Lake on the Chain O’ Lakes. We even have our own little dock. You can only imagine what that will turn into once the house is done. We don’t expect to touch the outside at any point this year (except for mowing and keeping the mosquitoes under control) until the Big House is completed. Back to this house – there was some sort of sewer backup into it that turned it’s once former glory into the fixer-uppers we love to buy.

The first floor is where we are focusing most of our energy at this point. There is the front hall, office/den, powder room, kitchen, and huge living room. There will some reconfiguration of the first floor to get some of the features we want into the house, but not a total redo. Everything will pretty much stay where it’s located except for the powder room. That will move a bit. Otherwise, it’s walls, flooring, cabinets, appliances, a toilet/vanity, and some lighting. The house is a “put it back together” kind of project, but you know there will be some surprises thrown into it!

The second floor is staying as is for now. The bathrooms need some updating, but they are usable. We are going to paint the walls and throw down some carpet. That’s the extent of the second floor  at this point. Once the Big House is done, we’ll go back and redo the bathrooms on this house. Why kill ourselves with projects?!

We also need a furnace (being installed now) and a new water system as it is on a well. Once we have those two things installed, toilets and bathrooms will be functional again. And I won’t have to trudge to a public restroom somewhere. That’ll be a treat!

This house is also much closer to my work, so I won’t be spending most of my life in the car. Nick drives/travels for work. so he’ll have some minor adjustments to his routes.

I’ll be adding updates here for this house. To see the before pictures, check out the Gallery!


I built a wall

Seriously. I built a wall. I also opened up a wall for a doorway. I’m kind of proud of my accomplishments because I have never even attempted to build a wall before. It’s not huge, mind you, but it is a wall. Nick builds whole rooms…I think he’s trying to clone himself, and I’m the sacrifice that will house his clone. Yeah, I can’t wait until these walls have drywall, and I’m the one that gets to paint them because he hates painting. I also hate painting, but that’s a different story for another day. 

Back to this wall. So, the original house had a doorway from the living room to a hallway. The hallway took you to the bedrooms and bathroom. Yup, that’s the wall I built – good bye doorway. We said goodbye to the hall a long time ago, so there is no need for the opening. We will have direct access to the rooms from the living room/dining room (you know the big room that looked like a bowling alley would fit into it). That’s part of the wall I took down – to make a direct access door. 

Added Wall

You can still see my sledge hammer hanging out right in the center of the picture. I gently eased the studs out so they can be reused on another part of the house. Of course, if you know anything about constructing a house, this door is not complete. That’s advanced construction, and I’m on Construction 101. I just do the manual labor to get it to a point Nick can teach/do it himself. But I did save the Jack Studs, Header, and Cripple Studs from the door I closed up to be used on this door. No need to cut new wood and have more waste when the pieces are
already to go. Work smarter not harder!

Added Door


Did you see what I did there? I used the correct terminology. I sounded like I know what the hell I’m doing…



Winter has finally come to Chicagoland. I thought we were going to get away with an El Niño winter (mild with little chance of ripe tomatoes), but apparently I was wrong. In the last week, snow and ice have come and temperatures have dropped. That makes for a lot of fun in an unheated house. 

And let me tell you, Nick does not take weather as an excuse not to work. Did I mention he’s a real dictator? So I suit up like I’m going to a Bears game and go to work. 😐 Fleece leggings under jeans, some battery heated socks, 2-3 shirts/sweatshirts, and work boots are my standard uniform. Yup, I said heated electric socks. 

Even though it’s been cold, we have been making progress. I’ve been finishing up demo. And, folks, I’m like 99% done! Can you believe it? I have ripped apart the new addition down to studs. It’s been a long and arduous process, but now I actually feel as if I have accomplished something! It may have been ripping things apart, but that’s an important part of all this. 

In parallel, Nick has been framing out rooms in the original part of the house. Let me tell you – it’s waaaay colder in there! I would say it’s probably a 15-20 degree difference. I try not to spend too much time in that side because I’m usually standing still and freezing my ass off. As long as I’m moving, I’m usually pretty good. More on the framing update to come. 

 Since this house was built like a bunker waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse, it’s not that easy to get the drywall and subsequent plywood down. I am required to utilize a bunch of different tools in order to actually get it all down. There was actually a point where an air chisel was also part of my toolkit. You know, to get the GLUED down drywall off the ceiling. Because apparently when you have utilized 8000 screws on the previous sheets and seemingly run out of them on the last piece, glue is the solution. Personally, I would take some out of the other sheets to get what I needed. But what so I know?!? My workstation consisted of a ladder, a small shovel (more surface area), a crow bar with a flat edge, a large crow bar, a hammer, and a drill (and the air chisel). 

The last amount of demo is on the last room of the addition. We are only ripping down the ceiling in there, so I’m calling it at this point. I know I will live to regret it, but a little ceiling is much better than the whole room! 

My Drywall Removal Workstation


Completely Demoed




“Why” is a word we ask a lot at the house. We have been working on more demo (yes, it’s still happening) Why? (See there it is!) I have to be honest – I don’t know. We ask ourselves that all the time.

What I can tell you is that we have made A LOT of progress. I’d say we are about 90% done with the demo that needs to happen. We are at a point where some framing and actual progress can happen while the rest if the demo is happening. But, Amanda, why do you ask “why?” so much?

Oh, I’ll tell you…

See the new part of the house has been the biggest bitch (sorry – no better word for it) to take down. Seriously. What we found is that there is plywood under almost every wall. Do you know what it’s like to have a sledgehammer bounce off a wall? I do. And it doesn’t feel great either. Each wall has been a mystery when we start to take it down. How many layer of drywall and plaster might there be? Will there be some strange something in there when we finally open it up? And lastly, why was it built this way?! WHHHHHHHY?


Plywood Behind Drywall


Why 20 screws to hold one cabinet?!


Layers even on the Ceiling


Fixing a pipe leak


As you can see from the pictures, there are a lot of “Why?!” moments. There were walls were we  had to battle plaster, drywall, plaster, drywall, plaster, drywall, and then plywood. I shit you not. These pictures are mostly depicting one layer of plaster and drywall, so they weren’t so bad in that respect. Where is was a challenge was where screws were over used. Like they were over used on the ceiling (see below).


Just a Couple Extra Screws

But we managed to get then all down!

Walls Are Down!


Large Order from Menards Delivered

The day of the “Burn Party” we also had a large order from Menards delivered. This is a lot of lumber (and other supplies) that is going to be used to change out joists, do the framing that needs to be done to fix the roof, and start getting Frankenhouse to look not so….Frankenhouse. When I say lumber, I mean up to 32′ of lumber, not small bundles of 2x4s. Delivery was required. The poor pickup would not be able to handle this stuff.

So, the delivery came on a semi. Yup, a semi. The delivery guy was AWESOME! We were told there is a forklift on the truck, so he’ll just unload the truck for us. We didn’t see a forklift, but then we realized Menards has a fleet of Transformer trucks that just morph into these cool forklift trucks. It takes some skills to do what this guy did. All in all, it took less than 10 minutes for him to get it all off the truck and safely in the garage and on the driveway.

Below are videos of him unloading the truck. It’s in 2 parts because I ran out of space on my iPhone, so we had to get Nick to video the rest.

Prepare to be impressed!




Halloween 2015



Back Yard Clean-up

We worked on the yard a bit back in the spring, but we did not get it to a really good place until recently. We had been randomly cutting and trimming trees throughout the whole summer hoping everything would dry out enough to burn. So we had a “Burn Party”. It was mostly family helping that day, but we got the yard into better shape.

We did not take a recent picture of the yard with all the trimmings before we started burning stuff, but we have this picture to use as a starting point.


Backyard Mess

Just imagine it 5x worse with a conveyer belt sitting in the middle of it. Our poor neighbors were probably cursing us.

After a lot of fire and smoke, we got it to this:


Looking Good!

I just can’t impress on you how much better this looks. I thought we would find dead bodies in the crap that was back there. We still have about a quarter of the yard we still need to cleanup, but it’s not that overwhelming any more.

The plus side is we had some s’mores cooked over the fire.


Controlled Fire

There were times we had quite a large fire, but we had control over it the entire time. It would get big and smoke a lot when we would put a freshly cut branch on it. It would go down once everything was broken down by the fire.


Burning Freshly Cut Wood

Did I ever mention the tractor? You can see it sitting in the picture above. I truly can’t remember if I ever mentioned Nick’s toy. He decided he really really really needed a John Deer tractor with a bucket on it. He bought this so we could use it for all sorts of tasks – grass cutting, hauling, pulling trees, snow removal, etc. To be fair, we have used it a lot. It was heavily utilized at the Demo Party to move the tile and thickset from the pink bathroom. We shoveled all that heavy stuff right into the bucket through the window and dumped it into the dumpster.

I like to call it Nick’s Other Green Convertible. If you know us, you know what the first one is…

Nick’s Other Green Convertible

I have to be honest, I’ve had some fun on this thing. I’ve been around enough heavy machinery that I enjoy playing with it for a bit.


More Deals in Unusual Places

We have been busy the last couple of weeks! We have been living in the city in the condo while we have been working on Frankenhouse. You know, because walls and plumbing and electricity are all very desirable when living somewhere. Well, the Condo Association voted to sell our building to a developer this week. We are going to be “homeless”, but we are very happy about it. More to come on where we will live in the meantime. Mostly because we don’t know yet…

We also have done some shopping for Frankenhouse. Nick was at the Best Buy near my work one night, so I met him over there to discuss a refrigerator. First he showed me a French door with a  freezer on the bottom thing that I hated. I also knew he would hate it once we installed it. Somehow we ended up looking at a Viking fridge. This is a column fridge that is built into cabinets, and there is no freezer. I rationalized that anything I would put in a freezer wouldn’t be needed every day. I could get chest freezer for my “Whatever Amanda Wants” pantry. So, we bought two. Yes, you read that correctly – two column Viking refrigerators. These things usually cost about $8K each (yup, you read that correctly, too). We got these for 60% off since they were floor models being cleared out. We also got an under cabinet ice maker. This was one of my must haves, and we got a deal on that, as well.

The items we purchased are what is called “price locked.” These brands do NOT go on sale. The only way someone can get a better price than MSRP is to buy them like this off the floor or to find a place going out of business. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. I think we pretty much have everything we will need appliance-wise for the kitchen now. It will make life a lot easier when we are ready for them.

We also buy when the deals are hot. We don’t wait to buy something we’ll need when we need it because there may not be a sale or a better price at that time. That’s one of the keys of being able to afford the more expensive/exclusive stuff. We actually kind of have a list of things we need that we look for every time we are in a store. If they are on sale at a good price, we buy them and hang onto it.

One of the Viking Column Refrigerators We Purchased

Don’t worry –  I don’t wear yoga pants and sweatshirts to work. This is actually the second fridge that we checked out on a weekend day to make sure there was nothing wrong with it. We had to buy them from different stores sight unseen. Go EIU Panthers!

Alright, I know Best Buy is not exactly an unusual place. But this is:

Ed Debevic’s

Ed Debevics is a Chicago institution. My family used to go there at least once a year to be yelled at by the waiters and waitresses while eating malts, blue plate specials and the world’s tiniest sundaes. It was a fun place that brought you back to the 50s. The owners sold both this building and the Gino’s East across the street to a developer. The Ed Debevic’s building is slated to be knocked down Friday, October 23, 2015, so everything was up for auction. And I mean everything!

I met Nick over there and ended up getting a sign for fun. Nick bought tankless water heaters and a holding tank. The tankless water heaters retail for about $1700/each. We bought two water heaters and the holding tank for $400. These will be used for the radiant floor heating we are planning instead of a traditional furnace. Frankenhouse is going Green.

Now let me explain something about how these auctions work. The internals of these buildings don’t just end up in your truck. You, as the winner of the item, must uninstall them and make sure they are safely uninstalled. That means Nick had to do some work. Especially since these water tanks were high up in a stairwell. I don’t want to know the details of how he did this, but he somehow did it.

De Bevic’s De Best sign


Tankless Water Heaters


Tankless Water Heaters Uninstalled

See the stairs and how steep they are? Some monkey climbing talent was used here.

Holding Tank


Holding Tank Uninstalled

These items were in the basement of the building. I had no idea there was a basement. I’m glad I didn’t know there was a basement – it smelled like ass. Seriously bad! I also don’t think Nick needs sleep! He just keeps going and going making sure we have everything we need for he house no matter what time of day.

Nick contemplated buying both sets of front windows, but found out it would cost too much to have them uninstalled. Besides, he wants a WHOLE Curtain Window wall. This was just not BIG enough. Sigh.

Front Windows at Ed’s

Moral of the story is that anyone can get deals at retail places like Best Buy. You just need to watch for the opportunities to come up for you to purchase a floor model at crazy discounted prices. Also, you are always going to get better prices and discounts on the more expensive items. The stores have more play with the margin on those items than trying to sell the cheap stuff even cheaper. If it’s a regular white gas range, the price it’s marked is pretty much as good as it’s going to get. An $8K fridge is going to be knocked down A LOT more, and it will be a better appliance.

You can even find restaurant, bar, and store auctions in your geographic location. It takes some work to weed through some of the crap, but there are gems out there. I learned that the big steal hoods in these restaurants sell for scrap. I also learned you have to be certified to uninstall them, but everything is for sale (I have a restaurant grade tomato slicer – for serious) at these places. The Ed Debevic’s auction let light fixtures go for $10 each. That’s an economical way to get matching light fixtures for your house. Again, you are responsible for the uninstalling of these things, but you could save a ton of money if you are willing to do some work. Want a revolving door? The Ed Debevic’s auction was selling that too.

Stay tuned for a yard update. It no longer looks like a dumping ground where we might find Jimmy Hoffa or Stacey Peterson. Seriously, there was a blue drum in the backyard that I was afraid to look inside…