Kitchen: Replacing the “Korean Restaurant” light.

As part of our “home enlightenment” plan, we wanted to change the light in the kitchen area. Our kitchen area is a bit of a unique one, as it used to be this house’s living room but was changed by the owner at some point in the past (for some reason I can’t fully comprehend). They built the kitchen right in front of where the living room windows facing out to the balcony used to be, and that was that. You gain a (bed-)room, but lose the living room. Hum.

Anywho. Light! This room was lit up by a cross-shaped light that holds four phosphorescent lights (those relatively small ones that plug in only on one side, you know the kind) that looked god-awful. It did its job of brightening up the place alright, of course, perhaps too much so. So that thing had to go.

Unfortunately, in most local light shops here in Seoul you can only choose from two kinds of lights;

  1. Cheap, super bright phosphorescent lights like the one we want to get rid of (20-40.000 Won)
  2. Super expensive, overly kitsch lights made of millions of tiny fake diamond stones and faux golden stuff and things (300-500.000 Won. I’m not even joking)

Needless to say, neither were particularly attractive options. Lucky for us though, a while ago we visited what I dubbed as “Fake Ikea” — somewhere in Incheon is a store that bulk imports real Ikea furniture from China and sells it here at a (sometimes slight, other times more than slight) markup. Great for us who like good furniture at decent prices and enjoy DIYing (that is, until the first real Ikea opens up this very month!). This particular store also had a few other smaller shops inside its building, one of which sells great looking lamps at very affordable prices. So this is where we got a few of our lights, including the one for the kitchen area. Score!


When removing light fixtures that have been on a wall or ceiling for a longer while, you’re going to run into some typical issues. Discoloration of the wallpaper is one, broken/damaged/undone wallpaper another. We had both, of course. So to fix this without having to redo the entire wallpaper on the ceiling (our house —like so many here— has wallpaper on the ceiling too), Younhee got the idea to use stickers easily found at Daiso (and similar shops) that basically is designed for this very purpose (or to pretty up your kitchen doors, for example). We picked up a few rolls of this stuff and she got to cutting. Because I can’t cut very well. Delegation.



After cutting it to size, Younhee carefully attached it to the ceiling while I stood by snapping photos, letting her do all the work. After this it was an easy task of attaching the wires using those little push-hold-thingies that were already on there (and I bought a few extra at a local store), and attaching the lamp fixture to the metal bracket I previously screwed in place.



Normally you’d want to use special plugs for this sort of stuff, but it seems like these are not at all common here in Korea. When we tried to get them at a local “screws and cables and such” store, all we got was weird, confused looks while they kept trying to give us wall plugs instead. Oh well.



Looks pretty good, right?

Other chapters in this series
  1. Kitchen: Adding some light below the closets.
  2. Kitchen: Replacing the "Korean Restaurant" light.

Kitchen: Adding some light below the closets.

Most Korean houses tend to have rather awful looking lighting. You know the phosphorescence lights that make the place real bright but don’t really make it look good in doing so. Our home is no exception here.

The kitchen is particularly bad. There is a fixture in place in front of the kitchen closets that holds one out of two possible lights, as putting the second one in place would make it impossible to fully open one of the closet doors. Yikes.

To fix this, I wanted to install some lights under the closets, brightening up the kitchen itself without making the entire area an attention-grabbing beacon. We found some decent enough looking LED strips at Homeplus, so brought two back with us for this project. They had two different kinds; one looks rather unfinished and had a simple on/off switch. The other looks finished (frame and all) and has a “touch” button that, as we later found out, has three separate brightness modes.


We chose the finished looking ones but, to be honest, in retrospect I would’ve gone with the unfinished looking ones, as I prefer to have a simple on/off switch and the lights themselves mostly disappear behind the closet doors anyway. Oh well.


I used a simple cable strip from Daiso to both keep the cable from sagging and hide it (mostly, anyway). I didn’t finish it completely just yet, as you can see in the photos, but it’s fine for what it is now. You don’t really see anything unless you actively look up under the closets anyway.


I drilled a small hole on at the end for the power cables to go through. I made the hole big enough so that the small power plugs fit through so I didn’t have to cut and re-attach them. On the other side I plugged in both power adapters into a wall socket I placed there just for this purpose, which sits behind our microwave.


All in all it was very little effort to get these in place, and the result is definitely a massive improvement over the previous lighting in place. This light is actually still there right now, pending us figuring out what exactly we want to do with it. I’m ok removing it altogether, but we may want to do something else there at some point.

Other chapters in this series
  1. Kitchen: Adding some light below the closets.
  2. Kitchen: Replacing the "Korean Restaurant" light.

Project Bathroom: Fixing the window sliders.

After all paint work was finished, I wanted to try to see if I could fix up the metal strips used to guide the windows on. These are simple aluminum (I believe) strips that the wooden windows commonly found in (slightly older) Korean houses “ride” on with small wheels. These bars are rather badly rusted, especially because our bathroom is, for one reason or another, very prone to making things rust quickly.


I took the bars outside to our balcony and simply put a sander on it, to see if that would make any difference. I had no idea if this would help at all, but hey, why not. Fortunately this made an incredible difference. It took quite a bit of effort (and I went through two pieces of sanding paper — it isn’t really meant for this purpose after all), but the result was quite impressive. Sure the bars got quite scratched up but the scratching was very fine so it actually looked quite nice. The color difference was the most obvious though, going from an old bronze-like color to a silver shine. Great!


After this I installed them back in the window frame, using new small nails instead of the original ones (as they too were badly rusted and in some cases broken even) and voila. Looks quite nice.

Project Bathroom: Paint Shop Pro.

And, at last, we’ve come to the good stuff; painting. Not that everything before this wasn’t important, but at least with this step you get visually pleasing results. Ideally, anyway ;-).


We have decided upon two separate colors for the bathroom; a very light blue (almost white, especially in photos) for the walls, and a darker blue for the ceiling, windows and door frame. We were on the fence on whether or not to paint the inside of the door, but have decided to leave it as-is for now. The project was already starting to take up a lot of time and kept us from being able to use the bathroom at home. Not the greatest experience, I have to admit.




We put on three coats of paint in total. The first two coats on the same day, as the paint dried relatively quickly, and the third coat the next night. The dark blue covered much better so we didn’t have to be as thorough with that one as with the light-blue color on the walls. Even after two coats we could see some shadows coming through of what was behind it before, but the third coat fortunately got rid of that all.


We also painted the windows right away. These only needed two coats, so that was great.


That’s it! I’m telling you, even after the first coat the bathroom already looked completely different (heck, just the primer did that). When I started with the ceiling the entire room just completely changed, and I mean that in the most positive of ways.

Project Bathroom: Primer time.

Now we’re getting to the real stuff! It’s time to put on a layer or two of primer, in preparation of the real real stuff. Sigh. Ok, well, let’s get on with it!



Painting is relatively straight-forward, so this was quite easy. Just time consuming, of course. Since this is the ground layer you don’t have to be all that careful, especially with the right pieces taped off and all, so this was really just a question of getting it all on the wall.



After letting the first layer dry overnight, we applied the second layer the second evening, and let this too dry overnight. The result was already quite good looking. While you could still see some of the original tile colors shine through, from a small distance the bathroom already looked incredibly different, being all white.


We also applied primer to the windows, as these will be painted as-well. Younhee also took this moment to apply primer to a small plastic cabinet we have, in preparation for it to be painted firetruck-red-ish.



Project Bathroom: Sanding the window frame.

_DSC8597-2With the walls ready for primer time, all I had to do was (thoroughly) sand the window frame. The wood looked decidedly dated, and the window rails had rusted a lot causing staining and what-not. I purchased a cheap korean-brand orbital sander at a local tool shop near Suyu for this specific purpose (and future projects, of course).


Sanding was relatively easy once I got the hang of it (I had never used a sanding tool before), and the results were quite amazing. After sanding the window frame looked incredible, I almost wish we could leave it that way.





Project Bathroom: Removing the mirrors.

I wasn’t looking forward to this part, to be honest. Glass is not an easy material to work with, and both mirrors seemed pretty strongly attached to the walls. It turns out the smaller one was attached using just silicone, and the larger mirror attached using strong double sided sticky.. stuff. Its edges were also “glued” onto the wall with a thick layer of silicone.


I started by taping off the entire mirror with thick, strong duct-(like-)tape to ensure things wouldn’t start flying around. For the sake of completeness, I also put on gloves and a hoodie to protect most of my arms and face. You can never be too safe, I figured.

_DSC8631After applying all the tape, I started following the edges with my knife, cutting through the silicone. I then started slowly pulling the knife towards me in several areas to start forcing some space between the mirror and the wall. Soon enough, the glass cracked, giving me access to more of the glass. Fortunately the tape held really well, nothing flew around except for the occasional small piece that simply fell to the ground.



This took a while and some effort. After separating a part of the mirror I pushed it back against the wall to keep it from pulling all the tape off. The people who put these mirrors on didn’t want them to come off, so they used a bunch of sticky stuff in several places. With some patience and persistence, though, the entire mirror came off without any complication. Soon thereafter, the bigger mirror came off too, somehow being slightly easier than the smaller one (contradictory to my expectations).




And with that, the walls are ready for painting! Well, the ground layer, anyway.

Project Bathroom: Cleaning, Preparing.

As with most of these kinds of projects, you have to start at the cleaning and preparation phase. In this case that means taping off everything you don’t want covered in paint, taking everything removable out of the bathroom and, of course, clean everything.


We started off by taking out all things detachable from the bathroom, and then taped off the floor with masking tape that has plastic attached to it (150cm long). This was quite convenient, as we didn’t have to separately place plastic on the floor. We also taped around the sink, toilet and shower water control thingamajig. I detached the shower head as it would only get in the way anyway. No shower at home for us the coming week.


Next it was time to sand off as much as we could from the previous tenants’ paint job. Some parts were quite thick, so we wanted to smooth it out as much as possible. This was quite a bit of work, but it had to be done.


I also took out the windows and their rails so we had full access to the wooden frame. As you can see in the photo, it’s quite old looking (and decidedly messy between the window rows. Yikes.

With everything cleaned up and out of the way, no we can get started with the real stuff. Excited? I am!

Project Bathroom: Introduction

_DSC8579 For one of our first home improvement (or, DIY) projects, Younhee and I decided to take on the bathroom. While we’ll keep our projects mostly limited to things we can take with us (we don’t own this house), we wanted to make an exception for the bathroom as it doesn’t look very good in its current state.

Purple floor tiles combined with pink-ish white wall tiles. Previous tenants had an apparent desire to paint over the grout in-between all tiles but seemed to have lost all interest mid-way through, as paint was left all over the tiles and many parts had no paint at all. Odd.

_DSC8582Two mirrors are attached to opposite walls but both show their age, with damaged, non-reflective parts and rust-like effects, along with chipped corners. The windows are in desperate need of some fixing too; the wood has some water damage and looks old. The window rails is very rusty, making it both look bad and opening or closing windows more difficult than it should be.


So, in short, plenty of stuff to fix.

With limited budget, we decided to do the following;

  1. Get rid of the bad grout paint job.
  2. Give the windows a thorough sanding
  3. Get rid of the existing mirrors
  4. Paint the tiles over completely

There isn’t much we can do about the floor, short of taking it all out, so we decided to keep it as-is. With the walls eventually looking (much) better (hopefully), it should end up looking quite alright.

I’d like to invite you with us on our journey to a better bathroom.  Let’s get started.