Guest post: Lauren’s Malibu Guinea Pig Dream House

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Aside from painting things the same color they were before, things have been pretty quiet at the Casa Fickbonne. So you know what that means: it’s time for another guest post! This time we’re visiting the Boston apartment of my sister-from-another-mother Lauren Schumacher, as she pimps out an old built-in cabinet for her new guinea pigs, Frank and Charlie. If you’ve never met Lauren, understand one very important fact about her: she takes really, really good care of her animal companions. Hence the Malibu Guinea Pig Dream House. Take it away, Lauren!

This guide to building a Malibu G-Pig Dream House is going to make some assumptions.

Assumption #1: You have decided to treat yourself to all the things you were denied in childhood. You larder overflows with Cookie Crisp; your home is alive with the joyful noise of guinea pigs.

Assumption #2: When selecting your apartment or home, you made the right decision to take the beat-up charmer with built-in cabinetry…and a light mouse problem.

Assumption #3: You’ve educated yourself a bit about C&C cages. They are humane, flexible, easy to clean, and just dying to be pimped.

Assumption #4: You either own an electric saw of some kind, or have already endured the Hunger Games-like experience of hunting one of Home Depot’s fine professional apathists and convincing them to cut wood for you. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Are we good? Let’s build a dream house. You will need:

  • One piece of hobby wood, cut into two pieces, to form the ramp and the landing
  • One small hinge, preferably without safety-style pin
  • A few screws or whatever
  • A cheap foam paintbrush (only if your bookcase needs a fresh coat)
  • One small can of glossy paint or stain (ditto)
  • A staple gun and staples
  • One sweet-ass drill
  • Sheet or two of coroplast (sold there as Twinwall)
  • A cardboard box
  • One or two yards of fleece fabric
  • Old towels
  • Binder clips
  • Scrapbook paper and tape (only if you’re feeling frisky)

Step #1: Wrangle Your Pigs

Pop your piggies into that cardboard box. Does that sound depressing? It isn’t. It’s the guinea pig equivalent of a gingerbread vacation home. Stick a little hay in there, hitch their water bottle up to the side, and those fuckers are set. The race is on to complete their new home before they figure out how to eat their old one.

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Step #2: Rehab Addict that Bookcase

Clean and dry your bookcase, and give it a fresh coat of paint, as-needed. The C&C style cage is designed to be completely waterproof, but in the unlikely case of a leak, your cabinetry will be somewhat protected by a fresh coat of paint (or stain, as needed). Plus, that shit just looks better. You can see in this photo the before (lower shelf) and after (upper shelf).

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Step #3: Build Your Ramp

Your pigs will need a landing, as well as a ramp. You want it to be as shallow of an incline as possible—they’re rodents, not springbucks. Use the hinge to connect the two pieces. (I suggest a hinge without a safety-style pin. That way you can pop it out and remove it for easy cleaning later.) If you wood starts to split, like mine did here, I suggest skipping that third middle screw altogether.

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Step #4: Install The Landing

The only trick here is that you don’t want to put unnecessary holes in the bookcase. I found a bit of scrap lumber in our basement (nestled safely amid some truly ancient mouse carcasses), and drilled it into the bottom of the lowest shelf to act as a support beam. Guinea pigs are not heavy, so you don’t need much.

(Oh, and there was an old screw sticking out of one of the shelves. I hung a chew toy on it. They haven’t outwardly expressed their interest, but I know g-pigs love a good accent piece.)

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Step #5: Dress Your Ramp

Cut a scrap piece of both coroplast and fleece down to the size of your ramp. Staple the fleece to over the coroplast, making sure all the wooden edges underneath are fully covered (they will chew them otherwise). It will stay here basically permanently. You won’t have much of an opportunity to clean this fleece, but you shouldn’t need it. They will not loiter on the ramp, a- peein’ and a-poopin’—they really don’t like hanging out on an incline. Once every few months, you can pull the staples out, wash it, and re-staple. Slip your pin in and you now have a working ramp.

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Step #6: Build Out Your C&C Cage

Now’s the part where you rely on the kindness of other tutorials. Cut, fold, and tape/glue your coroplast into shape. Depending on the shape of your bookshelf, you may need to saw it in half to fit it in—that’s okay, just use packing tape to seal it back together once it’s in.

Step #7: Check Your Pigs for Doneness

Having gorged themselves on hay and celery bits, they should be sleepy little sausages. If they’re not, thow ‘em away and get new ones, because yours are clearly broken.

An aside on guinea pigs: I had a coworker ask me, with great incredulity, “Why would you get guinea pigs? What is the point?” She wanted to know if it did anything, because she was baffled as to why two grown adult humans would house two domesticated novelty rats in their dining room. When I confirmed her suspicion that “they mostly just sit there being guinea pigs” she made the same face I’ve seen Planned Parenthood protesters make when I elbow them aside shouting “EXCUUUUUUSE ME, I’m late for my FIFTH ABORTION THIS MONTH!” You know, that face that says I knew it, I KNEW this is the way the world really works and it DISGUSTS me.

Fast forward to the swanky-swanky team holiday party, hosted at my place. I plop a guinea pig in aforementioned coworker’s lap. The music fades away as a light comes on in her eyes. She strokes the guinea pig’s silky, human-woman hair, and lifts him to her ear to catch his tiny orchestra of responding noises. A look of childlike joy spreads over her face, and in a voice that is thick with both emotion and alcohol, she whispers “I have to get one.”

Never underestimate something because it has no immediately-apparent value. Because you will only be cheating yourself out of the guinea pigs you deserve.

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Step #8: Line That Shit

Lay down some old-ass towels, and lay your fleece over those. Cut it so that you have extra fabric (it’ll shrink a bit as you wash it), and use the binder clips to pin it into place. If you’ve done your homework, you know that the fleece will instantly whick urine down to the under-layer, and provide a soft, reusable bedding that is easy on their ridiculously disease-prone feet and butts.

A word about the type of fleece you’ll use… As you can see from the scrap fabric in their box, I initially used a dark plaid. It worked really well, but the white portions would get not-so-white in a big way after a day or two. This time around I tried some straight-up black. It’s fine, but you can see every little hair and hay particle without a pattern to distract your eyeballs. So, I recommend a dark pattern without any spots of white or light colors.

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Step #9: Pimp It

God help us if you don’t already know that guinea pigs have needs. They need water, hay, fresh food, pellets, sticks, hiding places, and other environmental stimuli—in that order.

All guinea pig water bottles leak. All of them. 100%. Don’t be fool like me. Skip the glass and buy a cheap plastic one.

Timothy hay is their main staple food. It keeps their molars ground down, and gives them the fiber they need to succeed in school. Some people do hay racks, but this is the Lean Cuisine of the guinea pig hay experience. Give them a little litter box full of it. Let them sleep in it, roll around in it, fight over it—you’ll be pleasantly surprised that they make an effort to pee in it too. Eventually I’d like to build them a wooden hay enclosure with a coroplast bottom to give them something productive to chew on, but that’s another project for another day.

Feeding your piggies some fresh food is a thankless task, because all they want is carrots. “What’s this? A summer squash, high in the vitamin C my body cannot produce independently, examined carefully for bruises and purchased with your precious money at an obscene organic markup? WEEEEEEK WEEEEEEK WEEEEEEK NOT A CARROT I HAET U 😡 WEEEEK WEEEEK!” So just shove a baby carrot at them every morning and night, screaming “FINE, GET SCURVY, SEE IF I CARE!” and make sure you cry a lot.

(And by the way, your guinea pig does not care about the environment. “The environment” is a pastoral nightmare landscape of things that can pick him up and take him to a second location to eat him. So cram the glass bottles and your organic produce, all you’re doing is keeping the world outside flush with eagles, snakes, coyotes, and domestic housecats.)

Pellets are like, ok, whatever. Quarter cup a day, I guess.

Sticks of some kind are necessary because, unlike us, their little teeth grow continuously. (Why human teeth don’t do this is beyond me. Our teeth seem to think that we still die of old age at thirty, and they DEFINITELY don’t know about the larder full of Cookie Crisp. I would gladly exchange quarterly teeth floating for the torturous experience of smelling my own burning teeth as a dentist drills through them.) So give them sticks.

They will need a place to hide from imaginary predators like “the doorbell” and “the sound you make when you yawn.” Giving them a little stick hut fulfills more than one need. Frank sleeps on top of it, for reasons.

My strong, handsome, extremely straight late cat remembered the guinea pigs in his will, and bequeathed to them the use of his heating pad. You microwave it for five minutes, and it’ll stay warm for about half the day. It’s nice to offer it to them during the winter months, and it’ll give you peace-of-mind if you keep your windows open in the spring and fall.

I taped some scrap pieces of scrapbook paper to the walls behind them. If this were my house, I would probably get a swank piece of designer wallpaper to line the back wall of the bookshelf, but I’m a lowly renter, and it’s just not worth the investment. You can do whatever you like—just make sure it’s taped down flat. If the pigs can reach it, they will eat it, polka-dots and all.

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Step #10: Pig-Proof It

Speaking of renting, I don’t own this cabinet. See the smears of white paint all over the stained portion? It came that way. I have no idea what their reason was for the half-paint, half-stain, slapdash job they did, but I’m too timid to change it.

Regardless of ownership, you don’t want your pigs using your built-in as a chew-toy. Slip a scrap piece of coroplast over any protruding areas they could reach. They cannot eat a flat piece of wood, but any edge or corner is fair game. For the first week, keep your ears perked for any sounds of heavy-duty chewing, and reapply coroplast as-needed.

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Epilogue: Install G-Pigs, Find Joy

Rouse your little porcine angels and Dumbo-Drop them directly into their new home. They will probably re-establish dominance by rumblehumping for hours. Incentivize them to figure out the ramp by placing them on one level, and all the cool stuff on another. Once they know how to do it, they’ll use it daily without complaint.

This will not be my pig’s forever home—we’re gearing up to buy our own place within the next few years, and at the top of my wishlist is more space for them. But for now, they seem to really love it in there. They’re up off the floor, so they have more to see… I don’t have to worry about a visiting dog reaching in and Attack On Titaning them…And this built-in now proudly proclaims my priorities. “Look at me, world! I’m a property sloth! I love books, wine, and small mammals! Deal with it!”

Special thanks to Frank and Charlie, without whom this tutorial would’ve been extremely creepy.

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I painted the living room and it is DEFINITELY a different color than it was before.

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Ben and I celebrated Valentine’s Day by painting the living room! And by “Ben and I” I mean “me” and by “celebrated” I mean “endured.”

The living room is giant and 90% South-facing picture windows, so I thought it would be a shame to paint it something dark that would soak up all the light. So I chose a color that was fairly close to the loathed crappy off-white that enshrouded the whole house when we moved in. That color was Behr paint color Parchment Paper in eggshell. And as Ben said:

“I can’t tell where the old color stops and the new color begins.”

This is because he lacks a calibrated aesthetic eyeball for the finer things in life. But if I’m being honest, the colors are really similar and a photo of the before and after would be useless. The real value of the new paint was as follows:

  1. It covered up all the scratches, dings, smudges, and scraped-off bits of texture.
  2. The old paint job was only a single coat thick in narrow places (like above the doorways) so you could see through it to the darker color underneath.
  3. The new paint is tougher, shinier, and higher quality.
  4. While the old paint color had yellow undertones, the new paint color has more reddish undertones, which I think makes for an overall warmer feel.

So it’s definitely an improvement, but not one worthy of a photo or three until I also paint the trim. In the meantime, what I will show you is what was underneath the crappy off-white paint.

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Yes that’s right. Your eyes do not deceive you. Removing the light switches revealed that the original walls were in fact pink. Not delicate rose pink. Not kitten’s nose pink. Barbie Dreamhouse pink. But it gets better.

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I removed a random piece of hardware from the trim around the window to reveal that the trim was in fact flat black. Oh yes. And the edges around our ceiling light fixtures reveals that the ceilings were red.

So this room was once bright screaming fuchsia, deepest red, and black. Why?

Drugs.

It’s the only explanation.

Painting brick: NEVER AGAIN

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As was foretold, Mrs. Fickbonne has been PAINTING. Specifically, she’s been painting the bricks around our fireplace in the living room. Now, quit clutching your pearls. Of course I didn’t just callously paint previously unpainted bricks. That would be a crime against nature and the classiness of our home’s craftsman aesthetic. No, our fireplace bricks–like the rest of the house–had been brutally spray-painted the same boring, cheap off-white as the rest of the house when we moved in. And faced with the choice of trying to strip the paint off them or simply painting them something prettier, we went with the second option.

This calls for a before and after!

Before:

The built-in bookshelves that sold the house.

The built-in bookshelves that sold the house.

After:

Painted fireplace, filled bookshelves.

Painted fireplace, filled bookshelves.

The bricks are painted Behr color Dusty Mountain in matte. Believe it or not, Ben actually chose the color (try to contain your shock) and I think it works really well! There’s something about painting brick or stone stone-colored that just makes a certain amount of sense. And while I thought it would clash with all the dark browns in the room, it actually looks pretty damn good in my opinion. It took less than a quart and the matte finish was definitely the right call.

All that said, painting bricks is like the attack on the Alamo: I will never forget it and I hope it never happens again. You can’t quite tell from the pictures, but these bricks are very textured, which meant I ruined a decent paint brush trying to squeeze paint into all the little nooks and crannies. It took way longer than painting a flat wall with the same surface area would’ve taken.

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You’ll also notice that we’ve decorated the mantle and bookshelves with (half of) our collection of books and some family photos and such. This is yet another attempt to appear grown up and sophisticated, and it appears we’re pulling it off! (We are pulling it off, right guys?) On top of the mantle you can see some flowers from our wedding centerpieces, which I made out of the pages of Steinbeck and Hemingway novels. That gorgeous painting of birch trees was made by our friend Ashlee several years ago. I’m glad we finally have a place worthy of its awesomeness!

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There’s still a lot of painting to do in the living room, since everything (save the walls behind the bookshelves for some reason) is painted the same horrible, cheap off-white. But that’s a project for another weekend! As this is the largest room in the house, it’s going to be an ongoing work-in-progress for awhile.

We’re all tucked in!

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On the hierarchy of unsexy home improvements, insulating the attic is pretty close to the top. But it had to be done, because when we were in the process of buying the joint the inspector took one look at our attic insulation and laughed out loud. It was covered in a paltry 3-4 inches of loosely blown-in insulation, with wires running willy-nilly throughout the whole seedy mess. Also the attic door cover was made of wood and the fireplace was lined with (wait for it) cardboard of all things. It’s almost like the previous owner wanted the house to burn down.

Clearly, this would not stand.

Now, the Fickbonnes are hardy New England stock. We come from an arctic wasteland of bone-chilling wetness and despair. So living in perpetually-sunny Denver, we tend to keep our heat at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and walk the dog wearing sweatshirts in the dead of winter (read: the random 70-degree days we frequently get in January around here). But we’re also dyed-in-the-wool tree-huggers, and we simply cannot abide by the utter waste of heating a virtually un-insulated house.

We did some research, and local Denver Highlands company All Tucked Insulation came highly recommended. David came over and gave us a free estimate, which further research revealed to be not only fair and reasonable but significantly better than his competitors. Plus we liked the guy and he lives in our neighborhood. A few weeks later David and his team came over and knocked out the attic insulation in barely four hours.

Not only did they blow in the necessary depth of insulation to get us up to building code, they cut a new attic hole cover made of non-flammable material, lined the chimney with metal to further reduce our risk of dying in a sudden inferno, and took care of the tops of random walls that a previous owner had just cut off when they were running electrical wiring (I shit you not). The whole thing was embarassingly inexpensive (no seriously: we’d budgeted three times as much as we ended up paying), over quickly, done professionally, and just an all-around awesome experience. Two thumbs up! Would totally hire All Tucked Insulation again! (Plus how cute is their name? I mean come on you guys.)

There’s no pictures with this post because I’m embarrassed to follow up my adorable throw pillows with something as ugly as piles and piles of gray insulation. So really the take-away is this:

  1. Sometimes it’s 100% the right decision to hire professionals to do a job right that you have no experience doing yourself.
  2. It is an absolute joy to work with local companies who care about their customers and treat you well.
  3. Our house is noticeably warmer and the furnace is running much less often, which means that the insulation is making our heating way more efficient. Take that, winter!

Next up: Mrs. Fickbonne paints some stuff!

Let’s make some throw pillows!

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I finished editing a particularly tricky manuscript this afternoon. So to reward myself, I decided a little home decorating was in order. (Home decorating as a reward for hard work. Adulthood has surely embraced me in its boring, milquetoast arms.) Nothing says classy home decor like totally superfluous throw pillows on a couch, so I set out to get me some!

Since a bad-ass DIY-er like me laughs in the face of designer home goods manufactured in Taiwan and purchased at Crate&Barrel, I couponed up and headed to JoAnn Fabrics to hang with the crafty old biddies and pick up some supplies. These involved two pillow forms and a yard each of some blue and yellow patterned fabric, which was twice as much fabric as I needed. According to The Golden Rule of Sewing Stuff, this meant I’d have exactly the right amount if anything went wrong. But since I would remember to perform the ceremonial Cursing of the Sewing Machine, nothing would go wrong.

I got home, set up Ren’s sewing machine (thanks Ren!), made sure my trusty assistant was in place, and set to work.

Strider was very helpful.

Strider was very helpful.

How I did it: a tutorial on envelope-style pillow shams by your host, Mrs. Fickbonne

1. Measure and cut. I suck at this part, so it takes me the longest. You’ll want your fabric to be two inches wider than the pillow form (16″, since my pillows were 14″x14″) and about five inches longer than twice the length of the pillow (33″ in my case).

2. Fold over and sew the short ends. These will be the edges of your envelope opening on the back of the pillow. I decided to get all fancy and made one seam about a half inch wide and the other one inch wide, both folded double so there would be no raw edges. Like this:

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Also I cheated and ironed down the seams before sewing them because needles are the worst.

3. With the wrong side of the fabric showing, fold the short ends to the middle so they overlap slightly. If you’re paranoid about getting measurements exactly right, feel free to measure. The fabric should then look like this:

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4. Sew the two open sides shut about one inch from the edge of the fabric. If you measured right, this will make your pillow sham the perfect size for your pillow. When you’re done sewing everything together, your pillow sham should look like this:

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5. Flip it right-side out! Be careful of those seams you just sewed. It’d be a shame to pop a stitch now. I certainly didn’t do anything like that. Now it should look like this:

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6. Optional: sew a button in the middle of the flaps to keep them closed once you’ve stuffed in the pillow. Because I am, as mentioned, a DIY bad-ass, I chose to sew a button on. Also because I’ve been collecting buttons for years from every damn dress shirt Ben’s ever bought and I leap at the chance to use one.

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7. Stuff your pillow form in the pillow sham and bask in the glory of your accomplishments!

LOOK WHAT I MADE!

LOOK WHAT I MADE!

I made the blue one first, but waited to take pictures until I’d figured everything out. As you can see, they are lovely and perfectly complement the overall brown, blue, and gold theme of the living room. The whole thing took me less than one hour per pillow, even given my slow measuring and cutting skills. I’m pretty proud of them, and since I managed not to screw up I have enough fabric to make two more. LOOK ON MY WORKS, YE MIGHTY, AND DESPAIR!

Strider is unimpressed with the new pillows.

Strider is unimpressed with the new pillows.

Or just sit there looking unimpressed. That works too.