Thursday, December 31, 2009

Safety First

We are two switches shy of a finished bedroom electrical. This is not a comment on our mental stability. We are moving the switch to the closet light in between the two closets but will wait until the roof is off since it will make the change immensely easier. We also added a dimmer to the over head lights and took out a double wide electrical box on the outside wall by the french doors and replaced it with a single wide box. It was housing two switches, one for the back yard and one for the bedroom. The switch plate was also stuck under the door and window trim. We are keeping the two switches but are mounting them vertically so as to avoid that "we almost got it right" look.

The same goes for the electrical sockets in the house. Most of them are upside down or cracked or missing a bit here and there. In the master bedroom, most were unable to be mounted to the electrical boxes due to a double layer of drywall on most of the walls in the room which is a great little bonus for sound proofing. The silly part is that there is a 4' section of a longer wall that only has one sheet deep of drywall, thus it slants inwards lending a lovely fun house feel to the place. We'll fix that along with re-trimming out the doors and windows so that you no longer can see drywall sticking out in the door jambs and window frames.

I tackled removing the old dryer outlet and with it an unused dryer vent. I found some of the infamous dry rot in the process. My first discovery of the stuff - although our pest report before buying the house notated its existence in MANY locations.

E added a GFCI outlet to the outside power, along with a new cover and rewired it to be up to code. Safety first!

All in all it was a very productive day. We even made a run to the Depot and had time to eat out at Barney's Burgers and grab a Boba tea.

In planning land: Kitchen Cabinet Knobs and Pulls (

1 1/4"
Clear Glass Knob - used on 4 glass doors on upper cabinets of buffet

1 1/4"
Oil Rubbed Bronze Mushroom Knob - used on all other cabinet doors

Oil Rubbed Bronze Bin Pull - drawers

It has taken me a ridiculously long time to come to this conclusion. I've tried every possible combination of these and several others. (Thanks Robin for your help!) E isn't in love with the glass (I was aiming for them on all the cabinets). They are reproductions of the original knobs on the built-in in the dining room. I hope this detail along with several others helps make the buffet in the kitchen look more like a built in than a shallow piece of kitchen cabinetry. We don't have the budget to recreate the cabinetry as it possibly would have been in 1929 so I'm aiming for visually similar.

Yes, I've also changed my mind a bit about the kitchen lighting but more on that later. I'm almost certain that the current plan will stick because it was my first impulse but we'll see. I don't have to order the lights anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ready, Set ...

The great race has begun. It is a race to the bitter end. In the lead is "money" not far behind but loosing steam is "work". At this point in the renovation money is flying out fast, big ticket items like foundation, seismic retrofit, plumbing, sewer, windows, cabinets, are on the books and we are quickly realizing the cash drain is faster than the cash flow. Our new strategy is to finish off the back portion of the house, fix the leaks in the roof then move in half way. We will then rent the back cottage which we are currently living in and put a new roof on before next winter. All the while, cash flow picks up in order to make up for our love of soundproof super windows and we are back in business.

It is a double edged sword. The faster the work gets done, the quicker the money disappears. Boy oh boy is the work getting done quickly. I woke up this morning and found dry wall up and sub floor repaired in the utility room, a wall in the kitchen removed and the ceiling framing all sparkling new and shored up. We met to discuss the framing for the outside kitchen wall today which was well underway by quitting time this evening.

The great flooring conundrum of 2009 has also been solved. No longer will we be subject to a 3/4" - 1" difference between the kitchen and mud room's sub floor. By removing the original but irreparable doug fir in the kitchen we corrected the gap between the dining and kitchen. The new gap appeared when the previous 70s addition of a mud room and master bedroom occurred. Instead of putting the floor joists at the same level as the rest of the house, they decided it would be neat to raise them up just a bit. It truly was laziness and nothing else. So with a fancy slight of hand, the mud room will now be level to the rest of the house. We are not removing the oak flooring in the bedroom to mess with that though. A nice piece of transitional threshold will have to make do.

Below, E and Sophie check out the new floorless mud room. Note that this picture was made possible by a missing wall. Silly me, I thought things were going to start going IN the house not out of it.

E and I finished wiring the master bathroom, sans fan. E is at this very moment in an e-mail struggle for an exchange method that doesn't sound like a complete scam. Upon realizing that not only was the metal housing box for the fan bent, but the fan itself was mounted crookedly, we asked for an exchange (damage seems to have been done in shipping). The response we received consisted of

"I am sorry to hear that u r having a problem. Please tell me if what I am proposing is acceptable to u. I won't make u send back the unit that u have there. U can use parts or get rid of it. And I will ask u to just pay us for the amount it cost us to ship u the new one. If that is ok with u ( I think its fair ) just email us and we will ship it out and let u know the exact amount that usps charged us last time. And u can send us a check made out to cash please."

It is me or is business casual really getting out of control? Plus, cash, I think not. So the battle continues.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thank You This Old House

This changes everything! Well, perhaps that is an exaggeration but it does make some decisions much easier and the final product will look worlds better and more cohesive, in my humble opinion. We learned that the exposed wood trim in the living room and dining room was never intended to be left thus. It is was originally installed as a paint grate wood, always intended to be kept as such. I was planning on toiling over the wood (baseboards, picture rail, doors, mantle, built in) in an attempt to make it look uniform and polished. What a struggle that would have been! For the most part it is all fir with random pieces of other paint grade wood tossed in for good measure. I still wasn't convinced that it was always intended for a life of paint so I did some research. Imagine that. This is what I found and what I shall do:

1) What would be authentic to the era? (referring to a 1920s bungalow style home)
During this era trim made of fir was meant to be painted. Hardwood trim was meant to be stained and varnished.

The fir wood isn't particularly nice looking - it's coarse-grained and doesn't take stain very well, so would it have originally meant to be painted?
Yes - I tell my clients that fir was "born to be painted". It wasn't considered a fine finish wood. But since they didn't finger joint it that clue isn't there. During the last part of the 20th Century many many people stripped painted pine/fir trim, stained it and covered the stain with polyurethane. That is another clue you picked up on.

The trim seems to have a polyurethane finish on it, so it may not be authentic.
I had a client that was making himself just crazy because he stripped all the trim in his 1910 home and sanded, sanded, sanded...he just couldn't "get all the trim to match". When he showed me I found that the trim was actually a couple of different kinds of wood - gum, pine, fir, etc. I asked him to sit down before I delivered the bad news: The trim was "born to be painted". The good news (and yours is the same) is that since he stripped it and sanded it the painted finish would be beautiful - no alligatoring, no chipped paint in the final coat just a beautiful painted finish!

2) Would it be terrible to paint only the crown molding to match the ceiling colour? Even though the ceilings are about 9 feet high, the dark band of trim really accentuates the line between wall and ceiling.
Consider painting the ceiling above the crown molding the same color(s) as the walls in the room. If you paint all the molding in the rooms (probably some shade of white) and leave the ceiling white the moldings will disappear. Consider showing off the moldings by painting all the plaster areas on the walls and ceilings. The colors need not be dramatic, though they could be if that is how you are inclined.

3) Is this an all-or-nothing proposition? Could we paint some rooms (i.e. the living/dining room) for a more refined look and leave the more informal areas (kitchen/family room) as wood for a warmer more informal look? Or, is this just a bad idea?
I would vote for painting all the trim - and painting it all one single color. It is usually best to not use bright white - that color is too modern and too stark. It also reflects the most light possible and the nuances of the milled trim can be lost.

Most of the top paint manufacturers have standard white ranges that can be used to coordinate with your final colors for the plaster walls and ceilings. Don't forget the ceilings - they are a large part of the overall room decor and when you have moldings to set them off they can really show off the craftsmanship in your home.

Painting all the trim throughout the building will provide a consistent background, place the look in its proper historical perspective and allow for each room to be customized, decoration-wise in its own way according to your desires.


We received a quote for sheet rocking and texture in the bathroom/kitchen/MBed and tying the sheet rock into the old plaster where necessary. We also learned that the walls in the front of the house were skim coated (plaster covered over with a bumpy layer to hide cracks). Fortunately, it seems that when we remove the popcorn we can also take most of the ugly skim coat off. I'm not sure what we will find but ultimately it will be a much more polished look more authentic than what someone called the "Sesame Street Walls". If I were to guess, I think it refers to the fact that our walls look like a Muppets shaggy fir. It is just a guess.

Up Next -
Kitchen wall framing Monday & Tuesday (Rick Hoffman Services)
Electrical placement (K begins tomorrow)
Utility room sheet rock (E next week)
Remove wall heater in MBed (K next week)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dumpster Overload - almost

Another dumpster was filled and carted away. It took several days of work, my father in-law helped for a day and E helped out at the tail end in order to get the heavy cumbersome items. I now know that if my singing career doesn't work out, I can always find respect in the dumpster and trash hauling community. The truck drivers were very impressed with my loading skills (it was perfectly over weight, just enough so that they could still haul it) and with the weight distribution of the materials inside.

Saturday something magical happened - we left the house and returned to a newly framed door, re-studded wall and fixed sub-floor in the master bath. How novel to leave the house while work is being done by others. Our contractor was wonderful enough on Friday afternoon to send a few guys over on Saturday to get the master bath ready for the final plumbing to go in. It worked! The master bath is plumbed. So far we have the guest bath, master bath, and laundry taken care of. I'm waiting on a schedule for the kitchen and water main. Prepping for the
tankless and heating system is up to us.

I'm itching to start putting stuff back into the house. I'm still on the fence (ok, overwhelmed) with tile options for the guest bath. The floor is a 1" white hex with cornflower blue accents
here and there. I'm thinking of putting a wood wainscot up around and behind the pedestal sink and the toilet, using a white subway tile for the tub/shower. I would like some other accent tile in the tub/shower surround but can't find what I want or decide on what I want. I like the idea of a multi color liner as in the photo from
I don't think I can commit to a bold overall subway tile, although I love the look. I plan on using paint as my major color. Since I'm already wed to a cornflower blue, the task is to find some other colors to broaden the pallet a bit.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Friday (Sunday) Guest Blog

Please welcome E, blogging for the first time. Well, he technically didn't blog but obediently responded to my request for a blurb on the radiant/solar water heat system via e-mail.

This is my first pass at the radiant heat/domestic hot water/solar assist design. I'm relieved that it all fits in our utility closet, although I'm still unsure as to how the city inspectors are going to feel about it.

Since our house had a broken floor furnace, we had a great opportunity to install a radiant heat system, as we had to install some sort of heater. The word on the street is that radiant heat is best... so I've been studying the various ways to do it. I suppose hiring someone to install it would have been the easiest, but threading thousands of feet of pex tubing under the floors is a labor intensive process so it's quite expensive to have done. We work for free, so there is much money to be saved by doing ourselves. Also, something with this many tubes and pumps and valves is just too tempting for me to just hand over to someone else.

In addition to the radiant heat, I plan on installing a solar water heater. Some of the plumbing in the picture is for the solar heating loop. The solar water heater is sized larger than a typical domestic hot water only panel, as it can contribute to the house heating because of the storage tank.

Next year when we're (hopefully) living in our new warm house, please ask me how the system works because if it actually does I'm going to be quite eager to explain!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Appliances arrived yesterday. Cabinet order set and standing by . Checking with contractor and City Permitting on small changes. 

Tile Idea: Subway with herringbone pattern behind range.

Colors: Black, White, Grey, Orange, Lime, Robin's Egg
Courtesy of

Black, Honed Granite for Cabinets, White for Island

Dove White, Huntington Kraftmaid, (similar to those in image). Island Honey Maple

Lights: SchoolHouse Electric, Colors TBD, Lime or Aqua

Eco-Dumpster arrived yesterday but the day was spent in the cabinet shop. Today I filled out rebate forms and got them in the mail. I was able to put in 4 or so hours loading the dumpster and burnt out before sunset. The dog got her second walk of the day thanks to piles of crumbled particle board and tiles. I just couldn't face them any longer. Tomorrow more dumpster diving.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Curve Ball

Our exterior wall in the kitchen came out today. The walls between the kitchen and dining room similarly disappeared. Then the ceiling joists went *poof*. This was all before 9am. 

Once I was up and conscious, we met with the cabinet lady who, along with our contractor, had some great ideas for how we could utilize the space better. This of course meant taking out 
yet another 5' section of wall, moving the header for the opening between the mud room and kitchen above the ceiling line and replacing the wall support with a stud in the wall so that the mud room and kitchen effectively become one room. Go figure, more demo. All that being said and done, I was very lucky that our contractor was there and such a help. He on the other hand thought that his 'helpful suggestions' of demo and destruction would cause him to receive a crowbar to the brow from E. I assured him that if something like that were to happen, E was far to calm to deliver the blow, he'd most likely distract him while I took a swing. Of course, we are thrilled with the outcome of the meeting and our new plans are in the works. I go take a look at them this Wednesday. I'll be in NY over the weekend then we'll order our cabinets on Monday! I'll submit new plans to the permit department as well, "yay." (I truly hope you caught the sarcasm)

The past few days have been filled with visions of tiles and mosaics dancing in my heads. Literally, I've been dreaming of bathroom tile - not kidding. I went a hunting and came up with all the tile in one lovely store, again, at the suggestion of our contractor. Before calling him I did spent several hours (o.k. 4) missing the mark. He's truly indispensable.
Here is the inspiration for the Master Bath:

I found a flat 2" large hex tile with a matte finish along with a matching white 4" square and a matte 1/2" matte black liner to replicate the floor in the above bathroom. Let me tell you, matching white to white is no picnic.

I am taking a cue from this bathroom tile job and using the same tile pattern on the shower floor as on the rest of the floor. I'm just crazy enough to add the 1" black and white square pattern around the lower portion of the shower. Our shower is a 60" by 32" rather than the corner unit pictured above. It's pretty standard. 

This is the picture that started it all. I fell in love with the double black liner around the top of the subway tile wainscoting. Needless to say, that too will be in our bathroom. When the lines approach the shower, the top line will make a 90-degree turn up and over the shower while the lower line will remain at the same level crossing the shower much like the liner in the previous image.

Of course the color inspiration is important too - fresh minty blue walls with rich red accents. We have two pretty stained glass windows in the bathroom that have a touch of this blue and red in them. I hope that this helps them stand out. The previous color scheme of glossy black walls and ceiling with half white and blue linoleum and half dark cracked slate didn't quite win me over.

My father-in-law was over again this past weekend lending a hand. The old insulation came out in the kitchen ceiling, the old plaster got opened up in the utility room allowing for the world's largest water storage tank to fit in it. The remaining header separating the mud-room from the laundry room came down. Similarly, the header dividing the master bath in two had it's last hurrah. Meanwhile, I tore down the rest of the tile from the front bath shower, revealing some pretty black spots, aka nasty mold. Not to fear blog followers, it was contained in the sheet rock under the tile and has been safely removed from the property. 

And not to be outdone, Sophie caused a bit of destruction and mayhem of her own. Although her master plan on not getting caught went out the window the moment E found her sitting calmly in her bed. 
"What do you mean I ate my way into the trash? Foolish human, it was the fat cat, I swear it." Please note stylish new brown paper bag handle collar Sophie inadvertently acquired.