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As I wrote in my last post, the ease of renting and finding a home in Ireland has been amazing, especially after having moved our then family of five across the world with no furniture to speak of…except my sewing machine and my husband’s bicycle. I guess those items aren’t furniture are they. Woops, just life staples I guess. When we first arrived, my brother and sister-in-law graciously opened their home to us for what ended up being a year. Looking back, I’m sure they wish they would have re-thought that decision. Especially since they had only been married six months and she was pregnant with their first baby! They are amazing. We lived in two homes with them and are now in our second home on our own. Our first rental was a 4 bedroom bungalow outside of Stradbally, about 12 minutes from Portlaoise and Titus’ school at the time. It was perfect for us. Plenty of garden space for the kids to run around and ride their bikes; two sitting rooms, affording us to have one as a play room; three bedrooms for us and an office for Ben; and lots of big windows, which is always at the top of my list…I need light. One thing we found when looking at rental properties is, you have to take your budget and make one big decision: do you want to be in town with a small house and little or no garden, or out of town with more space both inside and outside? This is a hard decision for most but, for us, having space is key. With three rambunctious kids full of energy that seems to never be exhausted, ‘small space’ is not an option – inside or outside. Choosing out of town was a compromise for me because, unlike my husband, I did not want to live in the country. I love being walking distance away from something. Anything, really. But that first rental was 3 miles from the nearest something. Through it though, I learned to appreciate what living in the country offers: peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of cars, neighbors, or the occasional drunkard rummaging through your car at night. (yes, that happened once.) I guess I’ve come to the realization that, although I love being near what the town has to give, I love more what we gain from living in the country. At least for now with 5 small children.

The home we live in now, I can say with confidence, is our first official ‘home’ in Ireland. Why? Because I finally have pictures on the walls. Okay, so there are only five as of now, but it’s a start. We have begun investing ourselves into this house as if it were our own and, for me, that means home. We live on one hundred and five acres of farmland that we don’t have to farm ourselves – major perk! Our landlord bought the land for farming and it happened to have a house on it, so here we are. He is the best landlord and he really likes us – second perk. If ever there is a problem, he is on top of it and solves it as quickly as he can (although he often has to rely on unreliable electricians and plumbers, which frustrates him. “Ah sure, they’ll get around to it…eventually.”) There was an open fireplace in one of the sitting rooms and he replaced it with a brand new, gorgeous wood stove that heats more than its fair share. Because of this addition, they had to deepen the space that was there, requiring us to do some paint touch ups. But they weren’t just going to be paint touch ups because we didn’t have the matching paint. So we would have to paint the whole fireplace area. But we couldn’t just do that because it likely wouldn’t match the rest of the wall. So then we would need to paint that whole wall, but we couldn’t just do that wall because it would then not match the rest of the room. So because of the one small bit that needed to be done, we would find ourselves needing to paint the whole room. No thanks. The other thing we needed to decide on was a mantle. We wanted a thick wood mantle and this little idea evolved into a whole pallet wall. (Sorry, Ben. But at least I saved us from painting the whole room!) Our landlord gave us the go ahead to procure a wooden mantle, so we took that permission and liberally applied it to the whole surround. We didn’t tell him what we were planning because we knew trying to explain it would be so far outside his box – he would need to just wait and see the finished product.

The first step was to purchase the wood. We could have done it with pallets and disassembled them, but we wanted a larger variety of widths and depths. There is a sawmill called Graiguecullen Sawmills on the Portlaoise Road in Carlow that we had driven by many times but had never gone inside. Ben thought he’d check it out and, to our delight, found that their selection and quality was excellent for the price. He bought a 4×8 sheet of plywood and some 6, 4, and 3 inch boards, varying in depths of 1/2”, 3/4”, 1”, and 1 1/4”-basically a huge variety. (My suggestion to you at this point is to dry, sand and stain the boards. There will be many suggestions throughout this post of things we should have done but did not, because we both have patience issues when it comes to projects. We get an idea in our heads and want to do it right then.)

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First we placed the mantle piece so we could correctly measure the size we needed for the plywood backing. We figured that, since we are renting, we would attach a piece of plywood to the main wall so there were only 6 screw holes, instead of a million. And, because the wall is concrete, it would have been nearly impossible and extremely time consuming to hang that many boards with nails.

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After roughly measuring the space for the plywood, we held it up on the wall and he drew a line down both sides in the back to be sure and get the perfect fit (this was an imperfect wall that needed to be custom fit.) The tricky part was the sides of the surround. We couldn’t decide at first whether we wanted to only do the space above the mantle or the entire face of the wall, which would be much more difficult. We’re glad we went with the more challenging option, as it gives it a very complete look.

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Once the plywood pieces were measured and attached, we began placing the boards. This was tedious. We would decide what width we wanted, then how long we wanted each board, then he would take it outside, cut it, bring it back in, and affix it to the wall. We started at the bottom and worked our way up, because the ceiling has an angle difference of about 1/2” from left to right. Awesome. Originally we were going to stain them on the wall, which seemed difficult in the sense of trying not to get stain on the pieces you weren’t staining, but easier because you wouldn’t have to remember which piece went where.

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At this point, when all the boards were up, we sanded them. Another unwise move. Just sand the boards before you start this project. We were just so antsy….

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Once that was all finished, we realized that staining the boards on the wall was impractical. Partly because of the reasons stated earlier and partly because of the differing depths, it would be hard to get all the crevices with the stain without using tiny paintbrushes. So we labeled each board (writing on the backside) with the stain color we wanted and removed all but the boards that would be stained our main color.

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This is after we had stained all the boards our main color. One thing we also would have done differently, was to stain around the wood as well as just the piece itself, to cover the background for wood shrinkage (a big issue we had because we didn’t let the wood dry out completely before starting the project. Grrr.) We did the other three stain colors in batches, doing two coats on everything.

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For the sides, instead of attaching and detaching, we did a mini version of the larger area, meaning a lot of running in and out, measuring and cutting tiny pieces. I wanted to still go with the pieced together look we did on top, so some pieces were only an inch and a half long. We did the sides mostly matching each other, at least in regard to the widths of the boards. We put them up, piece by piece, row by row, holding them with our hands. But the nice part was we only had to do the one side, then just matched the other side on a table. We labeled these on the backsides, just like we did on the top, for which stain color we wanted for each piece, then stained them accordingly. For some of the smaller pieces, before attaching them to the wall, he pre-drilled the holes for fear of splitting the wood since they were so tiny. After all the boards were attached, he went back over the nail heads with stain so they wouldn’t stand out as brightly.

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Here is the finished project. Our landlord was pleased and loves it. He admits it was outside his idea of a fireplace surround, but he’s very happy with it. You can see in this picture where we had some shrinkage from our hastiness…but we still love it. And I’m happy to say, “Why yes, we did build this wall!” This is the first of many projects this house is about to experience, now that we are abiding here. It’s now becoming home.

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Rachel Miller
I'm Rachel, married to Ben and mommy to Titus, Zion, Eden, Isaiah, and Selah. They're my favorites and if you knew them, you'd understand why. I love to create. It energizes me and makes me feel like I'm doing what I was made to do. So here you will see my ramblings, creative pursuits, and maybe some insight here and there that will hopefully encourage, inspire and make you smile. Grab a cuppa, let down your hair, and join me for the adventure...