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There are two types of people in this world: those who hire to have things done. And those who do it themselves.

For the do-it-yourselfers out there, tackling that next project–no matter how big or how small–is a personal test of will. Their own mini-Everest.

When that room is repainted, or the bathroom�s retiled, or the landscape is done, these folks take pride in knowing they’ve done it themselves–and saved bundles of cash in the process.

We asked Kentucky Living readers to tell us about their own DIY success stories, and we heard about everything from remodeling an entire home to building a cozy front porch swing.

Here, we’re featuring five of the most unique projects from Kentuckians who are truly do-it-yourself pros.

Perhaps they’ll inspire you to tackle that next project on your to-do list.

Backyard bliss and closet contentment
When Michael and Rae-Anne Embry of Brandenburg built their dream home in 2004, they knew they wanted their back yard to be a destination: a gathering point where their friends and family could relax and enjoy one another’s company.

With ideas Rae-Anne had clipped from magazines, the couple made plans to add an outdoor grill, fountains, and stone fire pit to complement the in-ground pool they’d had installed. Never mind that Michael hadn’t ever worked with stone or with electricity. He was up for the challenge.

To build their 2-1/2-foot tall, 12-foot wide fire pit, Michael used several massive limestone rocks–the biggest weighing 800 to 1,000 pounds–that were unearthed when their home�s basement was dug out. With his front-loading tractor, he dry stacked the stones one at a time where Rae-Anne directed–a delicate and slow-moving process that took about two weeks.

Before running an underground electric line from their home to the outdoor fountains, Michael consulted with an electrician.

“That was my first electrical project that I had ever taken on, and it turned out very well,” says Michael.

Installing the grill brought another challenge: Michael had to rent a hammer drill to bore out a 6-inch hole in the concrete that surrounds the pool, in order to run electric, water, and gas lines to the grill.

The result was the back yard of their dreams. “We do a lot of entertaining out there,” Michael says. “It’s the only place you’ll find us when the weather’s nice.”

But Michael’s handiness isn’t limited to outdoor projects. Customizing ClosetMaid products he purchased from Lowe’s, in just four days Michael gave Rae-Anne a closet any woman would covet–with ample space to organize all her clothes and shoes.

The Embrys’ latest project is customizing a nursery for their first son, who is expected in August. “He’s going to be a do-it-yourselfer, too,” Michael says.

Sensational swing set
Jason Lee Thornsberry of Mt. Sterling wanted to give his son, Chandler, age 6, an outdoor clubhouse and play set. But he didn’t want to spend the $2,500 to $3,000 most stores were asking.

So, he built his own for about $120.

Despite blinding pain and rainy weather, Thornsberry did the bulk of the construction in four nine-hour workdays just before his gall bladder surgery last spring (talk about a DIY warrior).

With help from his wife, Natalie, he constructed the center swing-set portion of the play set first, using 4x6s to build a sturdy frame.

Then he constructed the clubhouse portion of the play set using plywood and 2x4s. They added a blue plastic slide from a former swing set. Chandler’s “Papaw” Bill Runyons built a homemade “rock” climbing wall–really just plywood with 4-inch-long durable plastic blocks as the grips. The roof is a simple 2×4 frame covered with blue tarp. The final touch was the addition of the larger swing, so the couple can enjoy watching Chandler play.

Thornsberry completed the entire project with basic tools: a hammer, 18-volt drill, handsaw, and small electric saw. This summer, he plans to add on to the clubhouse and build a tunnel for Chandler to climb through.

“It turned out really nice,” he says. “I think it’s a lot stronger than the ones they sell for $2,500. It’s just a father and son thing. I’m so happy that I could do this for my son.”

Trailer transformation
Looking at Tammy Huff’s spacious Glens Fork home now, you’d never know it was once a humble 28×60 double-wide trailer.

Huff and her friend Pam Cundiff first purchased the trailer together in 1998. With the additions of Cundiff’s husband, Brent, and their son, Ty, age 3, all under one roof, they knew they needed more room.

Working since last fall, Brent, Pam, and Tammy dug out and constructed a 16×60 basement and added a 16×60 upstairs floor to the trailer, dramatically changing its former roofline. They sided the home and added a wrap-around front porch to give it a log-cabin feel.

The threesome did roughly 95 percent of the work themselves, from dry-walling and installing plumbing and electricity, to even felling and cutting their own 2x10s and 2x4s from timber on Pam’s family’s land.

It’s not uncommon now for sightseers to travel down Huff’s dead-end road just to see the transformation.

“Everyone’s surprised at how well it turned out,” Huff says. “I can’t believe it myself. Coming home from work every day, I say, ‘Isn’t that a pretty house.’ It’s been a dream of mine to have something like this. To see it come true has been wonderful.”

Dramatic dining table
When Kiersta Tucker of Custer saw her friend Keith Lucas’ dated, blue-tiled dining room table, she knew a little paint would go a long way to giving it some much-needed pizazz. With some creativity and just $40, she gave the table new life. Here are her step-by-step directions for tackling this inexpensive, high-impact project.

1. Cover entire table top with two coats of regular primer. Tucker used original Kilz brand primer, applying it with a standard paintbrush. Wait a few hours between coats. Allow second coat to sit one day before beginning painting.

2. Paint the tiles using a basic color scheme. Tucker selected five colors, purchasing inexpensive $1/bottle acrylic paint available at any arts supply store. To keep track of your pattern, Tucker suggests painting one color at a time, working left to right. Give each tile two coats of paint before moving on to the next color.

3. Once all tiles are painted, use a small craft brush to apply white paint to the grout.

4. When all paint is dry, use a standard paintbrush to apply a glossy brush-on lacquer. Tucker applied eight total coats of lacquer over a four-day period. The lacquer gives the table its glossy appearance and keeps the paint from chipping or flaking.

Walls that say wow
Dan McFalls of Mt. Vernon wanted a way to brighten up his basement walls. So he opted for dramatic wall murals that bring the outside in. Purchased online for $80 each, his two fall scene murals were easy to install.

1. Make sure walls are smooth and free of pits or bumps. Since McFalls was dealing with concrete, he used a hammer and chisel to remove bumps and drywall mud and sanded to smooth over pits.

2. The mural will arrive in several sections, or sheets. Roll out the sheets and let them acclimate to the room until they lie flat.

3. Visualize and plan where you want to place the murals, following the pattern (panel 1, panel 2, etc.) as directed.

4. Mix the mural glue–which typically comes with the murals–as directed. It will look like a congealed Jell-O-type compound.

5. Installing the mural panels is similar to wallpapering. Loosely place the mural on the wall where you want it, then work from the center to the sides to affix it to the wall, working out bubbles as you go, pushing large bubbles out to the sides using a damp rag. If there are very small bubbles that won’t budge, you can nick them with the point of an X-Acto knife blade or other small razor. Be careful not to tear the paper. KL


There are tons of great DIY Web sites offering step-by-step guidelines for projects to try in your home. Here are just a few:


For a guide to building McFalls’ dramatic cultured stone veneer fireplace, go to DIY fireplace.

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