One of the big reasons I was able to convince my husband to buy a house and leave our comfortable condo in Clinton Hill’s Graham Home â€“ where we had one of those two giant balconies â€“ was because our house would have a backyard. But thanks to our stalled renovation, we really couldn’t access it for almost two years. As part of the normal course of things, the old door was removed and a new doorframe built. It was covered with a piece of plywood, screwed in with about a dozen giant screws. It was a pain to take this wood on and off, but we’d only have to put up with this until we got our new door. Which would be soon. Right?
That’s not how things turned out, of course. When we finally did have some money to get some things done, my husband almost died when he found out how much our Marvin door would cost. I really pushed for it though. Cheap doors and just obvious and terrible. This is a solid, heavy, good-looking door. And then we had a security gate put on as well, with a screen attached. Money well spent. Once he had easy access to the backyard, he immediately started digging up the soil and sifting it through a giant sieve he made from wood, a roll of mesh, and an old bathtub. It’s been painstakingly slow, but I’m hoping he gets it finished this spring. He’s already sifted out bags and bags of metal and glass. He’s going down about two feet â€“ I hope that’s enough.
He’s already unearthed an entire toilet.
We had a lot of trouble with the new floors on our top two floors, due to some old/bad matte polyurethane. So we went this time with the more popular and harder to mess-up satin finish, and the floors turned out absolutely gorgeous (the first two pictures are pre-poly).
Part of the floor actually had to be torn out and re-done after we decided we wanted to move the location of the radiator from between the windows to the side of the room. That seems to be our m.o. Is there really any question at this point why we ran into money trouble with this renovation?
Choosing the kitchen tile was perhaps the quickest and easiest decision my husband and I made during this entire multi-year process, and we’re thrilled with our choice. We went with a ceramic tile that looks like slate. It was installed beautifully. I can’t imagine what the installers went through to get the tile set so close and so flush â€“ this kind of installation doesn’t really leave any room for error. There was one tile that seemed to be installed a little unevenly, but it will be completely covered by cabinets some day so I don’t care.
We couldn’t seem to get our act together to choose a tile for the bathroom, so just ended up going with the same tile there as well, but smaller.
We used extra tile in the half bath for the baseboards, and have this funky metal trim that still has to go on it to finish the top edge – I forgot what it’s called, something German.
So, we’re thrilled with the floors on the garden level. Of course, they’re also the ones that get beat up on the most, since we track dirt and mud and sand over them all day. But so far so good, they’re holding up great.
Up next: Tough Kitchen Choices
When you title a renovation blog post â€œOur Renovation is Back from the Dead!â€ you’re just asking for trouble. To quote Toby from West Wing, â€œYou want to tempt the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing?” Well, that’s the way to do it.
In my last post, from about a year and a half ago, I detailed how, since we were almost out of money, we were going to do some small projects on the garden level â€“ put in a back door, finish the wood floors, install the tile floors in the kitchen and bathroom, and paint. And all of those things did happen â€“ a year after I wrote that post.
We’re a case study in what happens to a reno when a tenuous funding plan meets a completely crappy economy. It took us a year to come up with the money to do those “small” projects, but after living with a completely unusable garden floor for three years, it really felt like we had accomplished something. Once the floors were done and the walls were painted, I decided I couldn’t stand using our disgusting little 2nd-floor kitchen any longer. Even though we had no money to actually get a kitchen built on the garden floor, we decided to set up a make-shift kitchen on the garden floor as best we could â€“ anything would be better than the buggy, mousy, disgusting kitchen we were using. Since the plumbing and electrical were done (the stuff inside the walls, anyway) it wasn’t that hard – I got the whole thing done for about $800 in two days while the rest of the family was out of town.
Hi there, long time no see.
So our renovation was going over budget. Some of it was our fault, as we have the habit of deciding on one thing in the planning/pricing stage and then upgrading on the fly when the time comes. Some of it was unforeseen, like over $10K in surprise chimney work, $9k in repointing work on the back wall, a $4K leak, and many many other things like that (man, do they add up quick). With our kitchen floor 2/3 of the way done, we had to make the difficult decision to halt the reno. With dwindling resources, we were faced with either drastically downgrading our remaining choices for the kitchen (appliances, doors, windows, counter, cabinets, etc.) or finishing things in a way that would leave us pissed off about the kitchen we should have had.
We didn’t want to go the small project route, preferring to wait until we could just start up again on everything. But not sure when we’ll be able to start up again in earnest, we’re going ahead today with some smaller projects. There are a few things that need to be done soon, some for our sanity and some for other reasons. With electrical and plumbing done and the walls up, we’re in a good position to do a few small jobs on the garden floor. Even if we won’t be putting the actual kitchen in yet, a more finished space could still come in useful for a party or guests or something like that.
First on the list is a back door, so that we can use our backyard this summer. Not long before we hit the pause button, the old back door had been removed so that some work could be done on the back of the house and a new frame could be built for the new door at the same time. Since then, going out to our backyard has involved unscrewing a dozen long screws and removing a giant, heavy piece of wood. Needless to say, we don’t do that much. So we’re going ahead and ordering the new door.
Second will be finishing the floors on the garden level. Omer decided after the wood floor was put in that he wanted the radiator to be moved to a different wall, so part of the floor has to be ripped up and the pipes moved (see what I’m talking about?), and then the wood floors can be sanded and finished. The tile floors need to be put in as well. We still haven’t picked tile for the bathroom so we’d better get moving on that.
Third is finishing the bathroom on the garden level. The four of us have been sharing one bathroom for two years now, and it’s getting old.
Fourth is finishing and painting the walls.
By the time all of that is done, hopefully we’ll have won our appliances on a game show.
As we’ve gone through this process, we have not always been that far ahead of the work in terms of making decisions. This has caused a few problems, like light switches having to be moved because we ended up hanging doors a different way. But Omer and I take forever to get together on things, so often we don’t make a decision until we are forced to. I think this works to our advantage a lot of the time though, since both of us (but mostly Omer) have a hard time visualizing what things will look like when finished. So, the further along things are, the less we have to imagine.
We decided a long time ago that the garden floor will have the same unstained Brazilian cherry as on the second and third floors, except in the kitchen and bathroom. The wood floor has been laid, so now we need to pick tile before anything else can happen.
You can see the space in the middle where the kitchen will be.
I went tile shopping with Ms. Architect. It was the first time in this whole process that I felt a little highfalutin, going to Nemo Tile with my architect. (But we finished it off with messy and cheap burritos for lunch, so that brought me back down to earth.) With the exception of a solo run to Drimmers to scout out appliances, this was my first non-Home-Depot related shopping trip for construction stuff. Everything else had been purchased by either looking at pictures online or by ordering samples. But even though that had worked out well in the past, Ms. Architect insisted that the only way to really get a feel for how something would look on the kitchen floor was to see it installed somewhere else, that looking at a four inch sample just wouldn’t cut it. And she was so right.
Nemo Tile was fantastic. They had dozens of types of tile laid out on the floor in about three-by-three squares, so you can really get a sense of what they will look like.
Now, Omer and I have not had the easiest time agreeing on choices for things like tile and fixtures. Often, Ms. Architect has had to be part designer, part marriage counselor. But when we saw the black slate used in a kitchen on one of Mr. B.’s fabulous “Parlour Floor Kitchen” installments (I think it was the infamous Aga kitchen), we both loved it. So, I was really just going to see it in person and confirm that I loved it. And I did. The one we chose is actually not slate, I think it’s porcelain, but I don’t really care what it is made out of as long as it looks like what I want it to look like.
We’ll be getting it in big 1 ft by 2 ft rectangles.
We were also scouting tile for the garden floor bathroom. These both grabbed my attention. Now I just have to get Omer to agree to one of them. Not usually an easy task, but I gave in to him on a few garden floor decisions, so he owes me.
This is how our garden floor has looked for the past year. Some demo was done initially. There used to be three rooms down there and the contractor took out the dividing walls to make room for supplies and tools. This floor became the staging area for the work upstairs.
So when demo started for real on the garden floor, it exposed the really gross bathroom whose existence I had been trying to ignore for the past year. I was very happy to see it go, even if it only went as far as my backyard.
This is the only floor that really was gutted. While a lot of work was done on the upper floors, what was in good shape was left alone; rooms stayed where they were, with the exception of making one room smaller in order to make room in the master closet for the washer and dryer. On the garden floor, however, the architects and contractor all felt that the best way to proceed was to start fresh.
When the drop ceiling was removed, we found this:
Totally understandable. I can’t tell you how often I’ve found myself needing to write down a phone number, and I can’t find a pen or paper, but I can find a hot stick and a ceiling.
Once demo was complete, everything was framed out. While the living room-kitchen-dining room will all be one big space, the hallway next to the stairs was put back in to be used as a long coat closet, with a big mud room/storage area in the back.
All this crazy stuff you see on the kitchen ceiling will eventually be a very interesting series of columns (are they called columns when they’re on the ceiling?), with lights nestled in the spaces.
Hi there, long time no see. Sorry about that. There are several reasons why I was absent for so long:
1) For a while, there just wasn’t any work going on (or nothing worth writing about anyway), and I got out of the habit of posting
2) When work started up again in full force, I was incredibly busy with other things
3) By the time I wasn’t ridiculously busy anymore, there was an overwhelming amount of blogging to catch up on, and being an anal retentive perfectionist, I felt like if I couldn’t recap everything, there was no point in starting
4) I was a bit burned out
Mostly, it was #4. Going through a renovation is difficult. Reliving every aspect of it for others can be draining.
So, I’ve decided to go against my nature and jump back in with something, one small thing, that was just completed. I’ll back track and catch up when I can.
Out of the five fireplaces left in our house when we bought it (all identical), only one had been painted.
It was located in the front of the garden floor, and as luck would have it, our plans called for moving that fireplace to the back of the floor, in what would be the dining room. This would make it much easier to strip, since it had to be removed from the wall anyway. Its future location was in the old kitchen, where the old stove was.
It was stripped and cleaned beautifully. Our guys built out the wall so that it would look like an actual fireplace, rather than just being ornamental, and stuck it on the wall. The guy who installed it spent an entire day getting it just right.
I think it turned out great. Of course, it’s now so clean that it makes the other four fireplaces look dingy and yellow!
There were still enough of the old baseboards left to try to match what was there rather than start fresh, so Mr. Contractor had a knife cut to approximate the old moulding. It’s not exactly the same (it’s a more interesting design, we think), but we can get away with it because there’s only one place in the whole upper two floors where the old and new meet up, near the staircase (pics above).
Unfortunately, the moulding that’s in the same areas as the original moulding (in the hallways and stairwells) is shorter than what was originally there, because the original moulding lost a few inches when new plywood and floors were put down. But in the bedrooms, where there’s no original moulding, they made it tall. Omer was rather surprised/dismayed at how tall it looked while sitting in a pile in the hallway, but admitted that it looked good once it was installed and painted.
The weird thing about the new moulding is that it looks, well, new. It doesn’t have thirty layers of paint on it like the old moulding and the old window casings. The extra paint softens the edges and gives it character.
So the kids’ bathroom (well, everyone’s bathroom for the foreseeable future, but the kids’ bathroom long term) is finally finished.
The medicine cabinets are fabulous, despite the fact that they are from IKEA (I really hate that place) and cost half nothing. The shelves are not adjustable, but are set at good heights, and the best feature is the in-door storage – perfect for all those little things always rattling around a medicine cabinet. Seriously, the doors hold a lot. Much thanks to Ms. Architect for pointing these out to me. Omer didn’t want them – he’s convinced that they will rust. But for the price, we can replace them. Many times.
The glass shelves below the mirror are a little fussy for a kids’ bathroom. They stay clean for about five seconds at a time. Oh well. I enjoy them for five seconds and then move on.
The only accessory I’m pretty disappointed with is the toilet paper holder.
I’ll never understand the move towards holders that don’t hold the roll very well. What happened to the old fashioned kind with the big spring inside? But we wanted something that matched the rest of the Kohler accessories, and this was it. Doesn’t bother me enough to replace it, just enough to bitch about it.
We still haven’t found a shower curtain that we both like. Perhaps I’m just subconsciously stalling after what happened to Mrs. B. But honestly, the tile color is very bold and I think the perfect shower curtain would be clear with a textured pattern, while Omer is holding out for some color.
I love our steam radiators. When they don’t sound like a basement gnome is attacking them with a sledgehammer.
I asked Mr. Contractor if his guys could come take a look at the system. Luckily we hadn’t needed to turn the heat on much before Christmas, but when we did, the noise was deafening. We would heat the place up five or six degrees hotter than necessary in the evening so that we could turn the heat off altogether for the night. Otherwise, we would get woken up every time the heat cycled on. And, some of the radiators were spewing water out of the little valves that are supposed to release air. Let me tell you, one thing you don’t want happening around small children is for your heating system to turn into a boiling geyser at random times.
The plumbers said that the gauge that regulates the amount of steam in the system was busted, and that there were several leaks in the system. They fixed these problems, and then went around to check on each radiator. This is when the fun really started.
First, they discovered a leak in the parlor floor entranceway radiator. They thought that perhaps it wasn’t tilted correctly and water was condensing and running back out onto the floor (hence the level), but that wasn’t it. The problem was that the place where the pipe screws in to the radiator was completely stripped, and whatever they did they couldn’t get it to stop leaking.
They said that the radiators are about 100 years old, so I guess things like this are bound to happen. I’m in awe that they work at all.
Luckily, we had removed a radiator from the office/guest room, which for some strange reason had two. So we had an extra one that they could replace the broken one with. It worked out great.
Then, when they went to check on the radiator in the back parlor room behind the stairs, they found that not only was it leaking, but it had been leaking for so long that it was in danger of falling right through the now-rotten floor. So they unhooked it. We don’t need to heat that room right now, so we’ll worry about it later. The two back parlor rooms are being combined into one anyway, so maybe one radiator will suffice.
This is where the radiator used to be. Good thing nobody uses the disgusting bathroom below this room. The radiator could have landed on someone’s head.
The plumbers stayed long enough that we were all satisfied the banging had stopped. But at about two in the morning, it started again. Not quite as loud as before, but still too loud to sleep through. So, they checked the system again and ran some kind of cleaner through it. So far so good, noise-wise. But now there’s this weird smell on the top floor that smells a bit like cat-pee. I’m guessing it’s from the cleaner and hopefully it will fade.
No matter what, this is the best part of having radiators:
Well, I certainly didn’t mean to stop posting for almost two months. First came the holidays, and travel, and then the recovery from the holidays and travel. Then, three separate illnesses went through our household; just when we were getting over one virus, we’d get hit with another. Then, just as the people got healthy, the computers got sick. If any of you have ever said to yourself “There’s no way both computers would ever get fried at the same time!” well, I’m here to tell you that it does happen. And it sucks big time.
But as Omer so eloquently put it the other night, “The other reno blogs are kicking our ass!” I’m not sure why he’s referring to “our ass” since he hasn’t made a single contribution to the blog since the very first entry (Very First Entry [Gates Reno]), but point taken. I’m back.
Luckily (for the blog, not for us) not much work has been done in the past two months. So there isn’t a whole lot to catch up on.
Hope you all had a great break!