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Building shadow boxes

April 23, 2007

sandford-son-015.jpg  Cross one more off the list of things I need to complete in order to call our home “finished”.   When we started working with an architect in spring of 2004, to design our home, we were fairly sure about many things including the type of construction and the overall style and appearance of the home.  We had a basic set of plans we worked from, and moved walls out, added and deleted doors and windows here and there to better suit our personal needs.   We flipped through numerous home magazines and clipped out photos of interior details that seemed like great ideas and neat things to add.   The architect was all too happy to include them in the final drawings.

Some things, like the sunken living room floor seemed like a neat detail, but generated more cost, engineering, and finishing detail considerations that I expected.   Other ideas that seemed like good ones at the time, were  built in bookshelves in many rooms, and some display niches in the stairway, pictured above.   In truth, these are no big deal, and would typically be covered in the “finished carpentry” portion of the budget, except that I reduced that budget to zero during construction in order to help manage the cost overruns associated with the tile roof and stucco.   That left doing all these little things up to me, and if I can tackle the big stuff, then this should be a piece of cake.   Cake or no, I found these consume time and plenty of it.  

These shadow boxes have been but dark empty holes in the wall for the last six months since we moved into our house.   It took about a day to build them, several hours to caulk, fill, and sand them, and hours to paint them over and over.  Probably there are about 3 man days in them altogether, but I think that could be cut down a lot.

Here is what I learned as I went. 

Lesson 1:If your going to paint them white, use pre-primed boards, preferably MDF instead of pine. Pine needs a lot of sanding, and filling of knots.  It also takes about 3-4 coats of white paint as bare wood fairly absorbs the first 2 coats.

Lesson 2: Pre-paint everything with 2-3 coats, then cut and assemble.  Touch up painting will be a lot less effort, and it is easier to just roll long boards instead of trying to work in tight spaces with a brush.

I’m now building the bookcase in the office and already incorporating lesson 1 and found it made a lot of difference.  I have the frame and trim in place and painted, and it’s there that I’m now applying lesson 2 and painting the shelves before I cut and install them.

I’m working my way up to tackle the kitchen pantry after these.  Maybe there will be a lesson #3 to be found before I get there. 

I might also add that these projects seem to go a lot faster with a friend.  This past weekend, I had the benefit of my father in law, Garry, pitching in.   His steady, practiced hand with the paintbrush, and the good company and conversation saw us through the shadowboxes and well into the bookshelves before the weekend was out.   Of course we were willing to share the fun too, and Leslie and her mom took up paint brush and pressed ahead on the miles of baseboard that remains  in prime.

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