Tag Archives: renovations

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.

 

 

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.”

The Paradox of Choice

I imagine that after this project is finished I’ll be out on a date, and I’ll say “I know we barely know each other, but can you order for me?” Maybe dinner isn’t such a big deal, but a lot of the decisions I’ve made this year have been really exhausting! Continue reading