Tag Archives: remodeling

An Irishman in the Suburbs

Remember that project to turn my room at my parents’ house into my dad’s office?

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Yep, they got him to help. Now you might be wondering what they were thinking after all I went through. Are they totally out of their minds? Maybe, but maybe it made sense.

They sold the desk and wanted a counter that runs the length of the room, leaving space for grown-up knees. But the room is 12′-7″ and the longest off-the-shelf wood countertops are 12′. Custom work would cost hundreds of dollars. Ross suggested shifting the closed cabinets in and letting the counter be only 12 feet long. My parents weren’t too keen on this idea. He also suggested rebuilding the shelving to float above the counter instead of sitting on it, and they were keen on that one.

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  1. Building a countertop and bookshelves require either lots of time to do things by trial and error or mad skills.
  2. This job doesn’t require the precision of a work shop (which is where my kitchen cabinet doors went wrong).
  3. And, my dad worked alongside him for the entire day 3 days he spent on the project.

But let’s start at the beginning. First, my dad had to strip one of the two windows to bare wood because an ice dam damaged the paint a few years ago. And he had a harder time getting the wallpaper off than expected.

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At this stage, the room brought back memories of when we first moved here. I was 9 and relieving me of the indignity of a pink bedroom was a high priority, though a flood in the basement knocked it off the very top of the to-do list. (Today pink paint wouldn’t bother me in the least.) And the 20-year-old paint job was surprisingly dingy in what I still thought was a decently nice room. He said a while back that my bedroom (the one in Philadelphia that is) was a cool color and that he’d use the same in his. I still think it’s funny to call a neutral “cool” but maybe that’s just me.

Then an all too familiar sight reappeared. And my “NOT TRASH” sign is still taped on the plastic!

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But the result?

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The important things here: My dad made sketches and imposed organization onto the Irishman. They joined the counter together with a biscuit joiner in the kitchen. My mom wasn’t thrilled about this but it wasn’t messy. They raised the cabinets 3/4″ and will need to install quarter round around the bottom to hide it. And my dad still needs to install the IKEA kitchen drawer he got for under the desk top. The new cabinets are better made than the old ones and spaced to hold reference books and only reference books instead of the mixed library I had when I was 9. Also, is it me or does the design look top heavy?

Bonus: he hung 5 new doors! My parents’ house was built in 1951 with flush doors. Pretty nice ones actually. Then sometime probably in the 80’s someone downgraded most of them to the flimsiest hollow paneled doors I’ve ever seen. Like, if you pressed on them they would squish. My parents have then been replacing them all with new solid pine 6 paneled doors, but the last few were particularly beat. Mainly because my sister and I would try to shove them in each other’s faces and wedge our feet in under them to hold them open and they were starting to come apart. My already had all the replacement doors but they sat in the garage for something like 15 years. So now they’re all up! They just need to be painted. And it might take a bit to get the adhesive residue from 15 year old packaging off.

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Hopefully soon you’ll get to see the room finished.

 

 

The Kitchen – A First Look

All right, the dust has settled in my brain and been (mostly) cleaned out of my living room. Where does this leave us? Well, the kitchen looks more or less finished! Big sigh!

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So let’s talk about what I’ve got and why. Painted slab doors. I was emphatic that the kitchen be plain. I wanted this partly because I’m a messy cook – ask me about that time I tried putting ganache frosting onto a hot cake in my parents’ kitchen with beadboard cabinet doors.

And I did it partly to be as unlike the horror of super ornate kitchens as I could. (Even more horrifyingly, this is a 1926 neo-Georgian that surely had some architectural value before it was redone in the style of the Trump Taj Mahal.)

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I balked at Shaker style doors even though I like them because I don’t trust that they’ll stay in style, and there’s still a little bit of grooves co clean melted ganache out of. But flat doors and all that white had me afraid it would be boring. Now that it’s mostly done though I’m totally fine with it. The upper cabinets will get the same chrome knobs as the lowers and the patio doors will be stained darker. I have drywall soffits because I wanted the cabinets tight to the ceiling and the beams slope.

The toe kick runs right under the dishwasher, which makes it look like it’s floating. The dishwasher is up on blocks because the floor is so low over here. The door threshold juts out from the wall and runs past the door under the cabinets because there was a gap in the flooring near the old door.

The stove is up on blocks, too, so now it has a toe kick of its own, painted white. The Irishman thought I was crazy for wanting it white. I thought he was crazy for wanting it blue. Now he says I need to repaint it real white instead of the off white I’ve used everywhere else. I probably will eventually.

The end of the peninsula gets one big panel spanning the 2 cabinet heights, 2 floor heights, and floor slope. The plywood riser between the 2 countertops will be white until I add backsplashes.

Remember how I thought this piece of trim was too skinny?

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The door opening is now 3/4″ narrower. The way it was before would have been even worse on the kitchen side than the living room side.

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Now to finish the room, I’d like to get the painting done this year, though countertops, shades or curtains, and backsplashes will have to wait. My mom wants me to paint the trim the same blue as the lower cabinets. I’m thinking I’m happy with the room being a bit plain, but it was an idea. Colored trim works just fine in her house.

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But as the idea intrigued me and I feel like showing off the fact that I don’t have crappy vinyl windows, I’m thinking of painting the window sashes over the sink blue.

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And in a year or 2 we can figure out livening the space up with the missing bits. Mainly counters and backsplash tile, but I’m also thinking of putting in roller shades made of patterned fabric and wood valences to hide the rolls. Of course, just because I can’t finish the room this year doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer ideas for it.

And, one more shot from the living room side because I don’t get things this tidy every day. I still want to paint the inside of that cabinet blue. And get glass in the doors.

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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.”

4 Year Anniversary Tour – Upstairs (Hall)

Upstairs, the house had the original Victorian trim. I was kinda thrilled to have unique woodwork in not 1 but 2 unique styles. Sadly, almost half of it was missing or butchered, I made changes that required more, and what did survive I couldn’t get off the walls unbroken. So out it went and I got a very good (and expensive) reproduction.

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All the doors had at some point been replaced with stained flush doors. Then later on, exactly half of those were replaced with the cheapest hollow 6-panel doors you can buy.

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I decided that new solid pine doors would miss the mark with the period look I wanted, so I was planning on putting in new flat doors and recreating the mid-century era update. (The surviving flat doors were shot.) But then I found a set of 5 4-paneled Victorian doors at Philadelphia Salvage and used them instead. This was one of the happiest days of my life.

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Refinishing them was a chore.

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But now they’re my pride and joy. Some of the white porcelain knobs came from my mom’s old house, which was the caretaker’s quarters on an estate in South Jersey built around the same time as mine.

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Part of the second floor had oak floors probably from the 1930’s remodel, but I had to take most of them out. Instead of reinstalling them, I re-exposed the original random-width heart pine. By doing this, I’ve attempted to get the second floor back to something like its original look while the downstairs has a reconstruction of the 1930’s remodel. These floors creaked really badly, but while the ceiling was out downstairs I glued all my scraps of plywood up onto the back sides of the floorboards, and now (except for one bad creak right outside my bedroom) the problem is fixed.

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Now on to the hall, the first thing I called it was “comically narrow.” It’s about 26 inches wide and I left it that way because I didn’t want to lose closet and bathroom space.

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Upstairs hall

And I said I wanted to restore this floor to at least the architectural style I started with even though I reconfigured it a lot. Here it is now from the same angle as before.

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And a friend of mine offered me a huge abstract painting for free. Unfortunately, it took me 4 months to pick it up and during that time he and a friend had some wine and tried to paint a pagoda over it. I took it and hung it up anyway. It’s super bizarre looking but the scale is great.

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And one big change I made to the hall was adding in a big square skylight. I can’t tell you how much it changed the house, including the living room below. The back of the living room doesn’t get much light so every bit helps.

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If you can’t tell from my photos, the walls are just primed right now. I’m thinking that with the exposed brick, the stained doors, the flooring, artwork, and every room up here being a different color, I’ve got enough going on visually up here to paint the walls the same color as the trim, but less glossy. But feel free to change my mind. No decision is set in stone until it’s paid for.

The Dreaded Post-Construction Clutter

Amid all the odds and ends and this goal to not work too hard on the house, I’ve been chipping away at the dreaded clutter. And there were some pleasant surprises. First, I had some old kitchen cabinets in the basement but decided they won’t be reusable after all. I was ready to drive them out to my parents’ place in the Land of Good Public Services. But luckily for me, the Irishman was cleaning out his basement, too. And he rented a very large dump truck and loaded it up. And now my stuff is gone, baby, gone! This also marks the first time, I believe, that there is absolutely no scrap wood or scaffolding anywhere in the back yard. I still do have a big pile of Belgian blocks in the alley but they can stay.

Then there were lots of boxes to go through. But it turns out most of those were half empty. And half of what was in them was construction detritus. I found broken trim pieces from the old recessed lights, small strips of bathroom floor tile that were cut off, and of course lots of dirt. I also finally found the roller ball catch for the linen closet door! I was not willing to buy this again since I knew it was down there, so now I’m finally free to make all the interior doors operable

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(If you forgot, I put a dummy knob on this door because it’s too thin for a mortise lock. At one time it had a latch more like a cabinet door.)

And this is now all that’s left in my big dumping ground under the kitchen. Trust me, it’s progress.

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And the same thing happened in my bedroom and the bookshelves in the living room. I’ve passed Peak Box and shedding cardboard fast.

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But there is a downside to all this. The bookshelves are much tidier, yes. But what’s left on them is morphing into the physical manifestation of a to-do list. There are hinges for the doors that aren’t hung, missing pieces to the kitchen drawers, rolls of non-slip shelf paper, laminate adhesive… but I’m loving being able to put these jobs off.

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Of all the random junk sitting out, I started with instant gratification. I owe Mary Elizabeth a big thank you for mailing me curtains for the only room that’s ready for them, the one that I don’t use.

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And I’ve finally hung up the bathroom mirror. This was probably the most pathetic thing to hold off on, but apparently I found it less aggravating to sit on the floor to shave than to put 2 screws in the wall. It’s kinda junky thermofoil over particle board and didn’t hold up very well to being stored in the basement through demolition but I’m thinking of painting it a fun color to spruce it up until the Phase 2 bathroom work happens. Whadaya think? Maybe not worth the trouble since it’s going in 2 years.

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And I hung up “Ne buvez jamais d’eau,” which was easily the best piece of artwork in my grandmother’s house. I thought it was too small for this wall but it’s actually fine. You can kinda see the scale in the photo above.

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3 years!

Actually it’s tomorrow, and the plan was to have a blowout party yesterday. Instead I’m sitting on a wooden chair looking at how torn apart the living room is and thinking I’d rather take a gun to my head than tackle any more painting just now. And so instead I’m blogging. Everything is a little half done because surprise surprise, it’s twice as much work as I thought again. Even with my parents and their friend (which is amazingly nice) helping. And when it comes to that punchlist, there’s more painting making its way into Phase 1. Partly because many of the most important things to paint are in the way of each other.

So here’s how it went. At year 0 the house looked great even though there were unseen things that could have killed you.

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Stairs

But then some issues, like this extreme crookedness, were pretty visible right away.

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Back bedroom

A year later, the scope bloat was complete and instead of living in a slightly buffed up old house and tackling issues slowly, I had a shell and was looking forward to owning windows… and returning to compliance with a law requiring them. Luckily I didn’t get busted for having a chopped up door here for 3 months. Also, I just got rid of the last of this green textured plywood.

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And we have to remember this mess just because. There was drywall nailed onto these half wrecked walls and the Irishman told me I had to add framing for the cabinets. I didn’t do it anywhere else and it was torture!

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Year 2 ended with very, very exciting white drywall primer.

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And a not-so-functional bathroom. The bucket was to flush the toilet until I finished painting the room and got the tank back on.

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And in year 3? So many firsts. Paint colors!

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The doors! My first love. (Keep this in mind, suitors. You’re my second at best.)

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Lights that turn on (without risking burning the house down)! And none of them are in boob form!

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Floors! Holy crap, they were holding up everything!

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Furniture! And my mom cleaning like a (heteronormative) badass.

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Of course owning furniture isn’t enough in these narrow working class rowhouses. You also have to get it inside.

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And most recently, all the kitchen appliances work! I just picked up spaghetti and tomato sauce at my corner bodega and it was joyous.

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So… let’s pretend it still looks like this.

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Actually it looks like this. But when the living room looked like that the kitchen didn’t work and was jammed with stuff. And this actually looks pretty under control.

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So a real, functional, homey house? I’m SO CLOSE. I said a small house was more than enough, but I didn’t know how hard it would be to get away from all this construction stuff in 800 square feet.

And here’s one more thing to mark off the to do list. I’m deleting the remaining banister work from Phase 1, so this is what I’m calling complete enough.

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And let’s talk about the silly things that are annoying me. Like looking at mugs, toothpicks, and candles where the china belongs.

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But compared to July 2013, I’m SO CLOSE. I said that before. But it’s true.

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