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An Irish-Made Kitchen

So here’s the deal. Yes, the HDF was kitchen cabinet doors. I’ve been told that it is a suitable material for cabinetry. I hope I was told right.

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And the rest of the deal. What I said about being burnt out from tedious work and a messy house was true. I was absolutely ready to live my life unencumbered by house projects. The house had gotten a thorough cleaning and I had friends coming for dinner. And the Irishman needed a job and begged me to let him make my cabinet doors. I relented and on my first day of freedom he set up his cutting station on the sidewalk. And as the doors came through the saw he brought them in and dropped them onto my clean countertops. I told him that friends were coming over to cook and started moving them into the basement stairwell. He said, “I need them where I can get to them.”

A bit later on he asked me, “Where are you taking your friends tonight?”

Now let’s back up to how the project was planned, aside from the fact that it wasn’t. I had a few things oddly laid out: wall cabinets stacked 2 high and cut to non-standard sizes, fillers scribed to fit tilted walls, toe kicks scribed to fit sloping floors, a plinth holding the stove level, and a split-height peninsula room divider. The plan was to get a shop to make these, and I was gonna start with Semihandmade, a company that makes custom fronts for IKEA cabinets. The Irishman told me a while ago that he’d make them for me and slash Semihandmade’s price. At the time I think he had access to a shop. This spring, not so much.

And all these conditions came together to create a few of the greatest horrors I’ve endured since buying the Crooked House. First, he used the sidewalk in front of my house, shielded by an awning, as his shop. He had materials stored there under a tarp for the whole project, making my house an official nuisance property. No one reported me though.

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And my living room became his lay down area.

Then there were his wildly unrealistic expectations about how fast he could work without a proper shop plus our usual agreement that I’d pay him for his time meant that I had a terrifying series of promises of cheapness and fastness followed by him hitting me up for more money. At one point I cut him off and he threatened to walk. I wondered when to cut my losses and put the stuff in the basement.

The Irishman started working shorter days. My fuse shortened more than his days. I started berating him every time he told me he was taking a break. People at the office heard me. He took offense that I was mad at him. Finally, it was my mom who intervened. She read my bank statement and totaled up the ATM withdrawals that paid him. Only she knows. I don’t want to. But now the Irishman decided that he owes me forever, that he’ll finish the job dutifully, that he’ll take on a litany of other projects, and that there’ll never again be a copper between us. (Read that sentence with a thick brogue.) I don’t know how she manages to slay like this over and over again. (The gun is plastic)

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Anyways, one week became… 6 1/2. My plans to enjoy spring fell through. My plans to pay off Phase 1 are delayed a solid 6 months. But I’m a big step closer to a finished kitchen. Was it worth it? No way. Anyways, I’m desperate for a break. Maybe a long one. But the Irishman says he owes me work and I’m not about to miss collecting the debt. We’ll see how I do both. In the meantime, I should have my house back tomorrow – guess what that means I’ll be doing!

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(I won’t be holding my balance on one foot in heels.)

Pushing Through with the Banister

A quick note: It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks. I should have published this about 2 weeks ago on April 8. I present it to you now as if I had.

It’s been a tedious month. We left off with the banister and the paneling below looking more or less like this.

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The sequence was burn paint off, sand, wood filler, sand, prime, then see everything I missed (and the grain that the primer raised), wood filler again, sand again, prime again, rinse, repeat.  And because I was getting so fed up with this job, I did what any sane person would do and squeezed in the upstairs banister. I was going to focus on the downstairs part and let this go till later. But the job was so bad I thought getting it all done now made more sense.

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So the dirty part was going on upstairs while my OCD got free reign downstairs.

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This work might seem pretty sedate compared to Phase 1, but I’ve also done it on top of working out 5 times a week and cooking myself heaps of meat and vegetables so I stop wanting bread. You see, I’m 30 now and to my great horror, my waistline has grown enough that for the first time in my adult life I’m wearing a pants size that American stores keep in stock.

And today I have a couple dear old high school friends coming for dinner, which was a bit of a problem because I was still working on the banister yesterday and I haven’t done a lick of house cleaning in a month. I just let the place look like this, plus a continuous accumulation of dust and clutter.

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And so, my parents came down yesterday. My dad and I got another round of priming done and my mom cleaned the house. Maybe I should be ashamed that I let that happen but it was her way of helping. So where are we now? Well, just about all of it is primed (except for some difficult spots where the 2 banisters overlap). In this critical corner, there is no sign left of the hatchet job someone did moving the basement stairway door. The paneling has its sticking in place and the sticking matches the door perfectly. The only thing missing is the little piece of ogee trim under the cap above the door. With a compound miter cut that the Irishman said was not easy to do.

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Upstairs I have a little bit more priming to do and then, sadly, there is more sanding to do there. And there are 8 balusters missing from around the volute downstairs, but I don’t want to install those until everything else is painted. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone would fit their hand in there except that they did a really terrible job painting this.

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Stairs

But anyways, I’m ready for a break again. And the house is spotless, so keeping it that way for a while would be a nice thing to do instead of messy, tedious projects.

Or, maybe not. On the morning of the 8th, a few hours before my company’s supposed to show up, there’s a crazy person cutting high density fiberboard on my sidewalk! Can you guess why?

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Succumbing to the Repo Man

I had goals of fiscal responsibility. Finance the renovation completely out of pocket. And when that failed, pay off the credit card while it’s still interest free. And when that failed, transfer the balance. It seemed like my scheme to give the banks $0 of interest payments was gonna work. And then I had to take my car to pasture. Camden Iron and Metal gave me 8 cents a pound for it, or $269.

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This time around I wanted a small car that would fit down my street and it had to be a hatchback. I got a shiny red one in honor of the old car.

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And so, another credit card. And all this was still fine. Yes, I took a vow of poverty, but I was making it work. That is until I saw what I owed the IRS.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Anyways, they’ve taken the car back. And to cover depreciation, they came for my personal property. Thank God the couch doesn’t fit through the door. I at least have some place to sit.

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Well, I’m sure eating crow now. That’s what I get for thinking I could be debt free AND enjoy the trappings of a middle class lifestyle. From now on I’d better just let it show that I’m house poor. At least my parents are letting me borrow their Lexus.

Throwback Thursday Condo Post 3 – Living Spaces

There’s not much room for surprises in a high-rise condo with concrete ceilings, is there? Not much, but there’s some. Remember how I said the carpeting was beat and grimy? It turns out that the padding under it had also hardened into some strange mealy substance that was stuck to the floors and had to be scraped off and bagged up. And there were vinyl baseboards coming unglued throughout the place. We naturally wanted to replace them with wood, but it turned out to be kind of complicated to attach them into the steel studs. And it didn’t help that the walls were 3/8″ drywall (1/2″ is standard) and the studs were 24″ apart (16″ is standard). It took a lot of trim head screws but we got it done. Mostly my dad. (This is the only before pic we have but you can kinda see what I mean).

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But the biggest challenge with this project was Nana herself. She was always into decorating but this time around she was 87 and couldn’t process all the decisions that go into a project of this size anymore. They would talk about colors, then my mom would pick them and give Nana a few options. She picked the lightest option every time. We tried and failed to get her to go darker in the living room, then she didn’t like the color either. I wanted to paint it again but my mom said no  way. And when it was all done and the grimy woodwork was painted over, it looked fine.

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While we’re in the living room I’ll show you the rest. A friend of the family had a swag and jabot valence that was about 8 inches short for the huge window in the living room. Nana didn’t want it because she thought plaid was too informal but my aunt forced her to take it. We lengthened it by taking the jabots off, splicing wood onto either end, and stapling them back on. That was surprisingly easy. The hard part was hanging it. The ceiling is some kind of insane precast concrete and my dad’s power nailer wouldn’t go through it. I’m talking about a tool made by Remington that shoots 22 caliber charges, not an air compressor. But anyways, we got it up.

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And my mom gave her a bit of that separate dining room she wanted with a different wall color in the alcove. Putting up the chair rail was not fun.

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Then there were the closet doors. Originally the place had floor to ceiling metal bifold doors with louvers that looked like lockers. And they stuck and made horrible noises when you tried to open and close them. My mom has an aversion to flat doors and was gonna get hollow paneled ones. I talked her out of it. The plan had been to add trim to all the doors and make them look like 2-paneled doors. That never happened. And in her bedroom there was a narrow hallway with closet doors on one side and a door to the bathroom on the other. Instead of replacing the closet doors, we left them open and walled off the whole hallway. Unfortunately, I have no photos of this. But here’s a look at the room.

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And the den, because yes, she needed a den separate from her formal living room. Here’s a look at her old one. There’s a small chance I’m looking for an exuse to get this awesome picture in this post.

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Squaring off the room with bookcases was my idea. And I guess ignore the sheet on the couch. She was very dissatisfied with this furniture but still insisted on keeping it protected.

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And we put up a shelf with old things on it like she had before. But a lot fewer old things. Her TV show is a perfect match too!

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And I guess we can play “Count the things Chad took” again.

Progress and Increasingly Delicate Sensibilities

My dad came today and we got the lower part of the stairway wall primed!

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Old house purists: before you bite my head off for painting my woodwork, the first floor interior is a Colonial Revival style remodel from the 1930’s and had always been painted. But getting it back to this point seemed insurmountable. Especially these scrolly things under the stair nosings. There was so much paint glooped up onto them that I used 3 different types of chemical stripper, then burned it off with a heat gun, and finally gave up and used sandpaper. I then primed it, which exposed more flaws, so I sanded it all again and primed it a second time. It looks pretty good now!

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There are still imperfections to fix, including all the little nail holes in the paneling. But the paneling all needs to be sanded as the paint raises the grain of the plywood it’s made out of.

Once this is done, there’s another round of it upstairs. I didn’t do it all at once because (1) there is only so much prep I can stand to do in one go and (2) I wanted to get the downstairs painted before reinstalling the top 2 stair nosings, and then I have to close up the unfinished underside of the upstairs box newel.IMG_0724.JPG

And I’ll be replacing the 8 bottom balusters in the second phase after getting everything painted that they’ll block. (No, not restoring. It’s not worth the trouble for paint grade pine.)

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But my sensibilities are getting delicate. I can no longer handle this bit of unpainted trim on the ceiling that was supposed to happen later with the upstairs banister. It’s now getting moved up into this phase.

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What is happening to me that this is bothering me? Remember when I was sleeping in the kitchen? That was totally fine.

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And then this project is about to collide with the Phase 2 kitchen cabinet fronts thanks to another flaw my delicate sensibilities can’t handle. The casings around the big opening between the living room and kitchen is just tacked up so it can be notched into the cabinet fronts later. But this is affecting the living room now because I’ve decided that the little strip of molding on the left side of the door opening is too skinny.

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You see, I opened the wall, but emphatically wanted it to look like the wall was still there, just with a big doorway in it. I think that completely open rowhouses can feel relentlessly long and narrow and liked the proportions of this room as it was at the beginning. And right now this skinny rip of trim doesn’t feel like enough to hold up the corner of the room. It feels more like an outside corner than a wall. It will also balance better with the window on the other side.

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So, I’ll be yanking off that that piece of casing that had been ripped down, pulling off everything that had been tacked in place on the kitchen side, facing the cabinets, installing a new wooden board over the old one to make the doorway like an inch narrower, and putting up a new, heftier rip of trim on the living room side. Luckily, this isn’t the expensive special order casing, though I will, sigh, be needing more of that later, too.

So, does this sound like a good idea to you, or do you think I need to be medicated? My thoroughly practical dad flinched, but then took a second look and said, “You know it really will look better if you come out about one and a quarter and cover up the side of the refrigerator.”

Shoddy Work Hall of Shame

I’m having a problem in WordPress – most of my pages are all fine when I edit them but don’t show up when I publish and I can’t figure out why. The house tour can stay broken for now, but the h.

Studs too short? Cut blocks of wood and/or stack up scraps of plywood to fill the gaps!

Don't even try to understand this one

Don’t even try to understand this one

Time to frame a wall. New wood or old? Let’s alternate them! (These studs are not the same size, but they didn’t screw the drywall into the studs anyway so it doesn’t matter)

I guess it looks cool get size, color, and texture variety with your studs

I guess it looks cool get size, color, and texture variety with your studs

Woodwork coming loose?  Don’t push it into place and re-nail it, just caulk! Cracked plaster? Just find a scrap of drywall to cover most of the cracks, and some of your woodwork! Just line it up between/on the surrounding trim, drive screws in wherever the spirit moves you, and you’re done! Radiators are totally solid so no one will ever notice.

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And then there’s the caulk. So much caulk. I wasn’t strong enough to pull apart the caulk on the living room radiator covers; had to cut it.

Radiator cover removal

Radiator cover removal

Normally how do you handle finishing floors around the radiator? You’d use special sanders to get around the low clearance. How did the previous owner do it? His… people just skipped it. And when they dropped globs of joint compound, dirt, pennies, and other odds and ends under it, they just polyurethaned right over them. This is what it looked like after I gave it a thorough cleaning.

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It looks like someone kicked in the door to the front bedroom at some point. The jamb was all busted out around the strike plate. To fix this, long screws were driven through the destroyed wood into nothing. And there’s a lot of caulk on it, of course.

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Then there are the front bedroom windows:

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So what exactly are we looking at here? Lots of holes, obviously, and gorilla glue! Inside that, we have a very cheap window installed so crookedly (in a wall that’s actually square!) that it doesn’t even close. There are scraps of who knows what stacked up to reduce the size of the opening, and there are 1×3′s, that’s framing grade lumber, not what you’d ever have for decorative purposes, attached right to the tops of the window sills. I know this woodwork won’t survive being taken down, but I’ll be able to replicate it. Not just yet though because the front windows are staying until the brick is restored. And until I can afford the windows I want. And when I feel like doing another project. That could be a while.

Then there are the radiators. More bad paint. More joint compound gloop.

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And I don’t have the steadiest hand, but look at this job cutting in with the paint around the stairs.

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And, when you install stucco, install the flashing to take water out and over it, not as corner molding to drive it into the wall.

Back 3

Back 3

Nana’s Condo – The Kitchen

I’m sorry my last post ended so suspensefully. Here’s the best material I’ve got from the condo, so I hope this makes up for it. To start, my parents (sometimes with my help) made some decisions about the kitchen to just get it done:

  • The cabinets, countertops, and appliances all came from Home Depot. There was no way my mom was lugging Nana to different stores all over the place.
  • They hired a contractor (who they are friendly with and have hired before) to fit out the room. His bid was well under the Home Depot contractors and he said afterwards that he had never worked in a high rise before and should have charged more.
  • The room is small, so we did away with the wall oven and put in a range to make it look bigger.
  • There was a clear wall opposite the cabinets that a lot of people take out. We left it intact but added a countertop with seating, a desk base cabinet with a file drawer, and wall cabinets for dishes. The convex mirror was on the other side – more important than an open kitchen.
  • All the plumbing ran through all the cabinets from a pipe chase in the dining area. A flexible gas line made the range possible, but we had to change the order of the appliances to make everything fit. (Here’s the old plumbing… and some pretty impressive rust stains.)
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  • We raised the ceiling from the original 7-foot drop ceiling to 7′-9″. There’s a concrete slab 3 inches above that. My mom really wanted recessed lighting in here. She didn’t seem to get that recessed lights would get in the way of making the ceiling as high as possible. We had a fight, I won, and the room got 2 cute little schoolhouse fixtures and under cabinet lighting.

And here’s the new cabinets. You can see a paint line near the exhaust fan where the ceiling was and the shadow of the old oven cabinet in this corner.

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One more weird detail: the old exhaust fan stuck out from the wall at an angle and both the duct and the grille were notched to fit around the cabinet. As you can see above, all this was now exposed.

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We have lots of notches and filler strips to make this fit, so I wanted it to be a pretty elephant in the room. I picked up this fancy grille online and possibly in the bloggiest thing I’ve ever done, spray painted it oil rubbed bronze. (Also, I picked out the wall color and she yelled at me the whole time I was painting only to decide she liked it after all when I was done.)

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First off, Nana laid into me while I was painting this room that the wall color I picked was too dark. “Well you’re not the one who’s gonna have to live with it!” Thankfully, she liked it once I was done.

Now we’ve got a kitchen that’s nice enough  but just a little bland. The oil rubbed bronze hardware, caramel colored paint, fake granite countertops, and bamboo floors were all just a bit generic. The room needed color, and I was thinking of the wallpaper she used to have. She loved this wallpaper. (Picture circa 1985)

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One more view of the space recycled from an earlier post:

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Also, I didn’t want to strip the wallpaper from the backsplashes. And I certainly didn’t want to repaper them. That’s not nearly durable enough. My solution was tin ceiling panels. I went over them with a thin nap roller just dampened in red paint so it only painted the raised design. (First I repainted them to match the walls.)

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On the breakfast bar side, I put up a bulletin board made of Homasote wrapped in gingham fabric. If you do this, use a pattern that’s not geometric. Getting the lines straight was no fun.

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And one more before/after.

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We can play a game and try to spot all the things I took.