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The House / Newburgh

When last we checked in on the kitchen floor, things were not looking pretty. Once the VCT and the ant-riddled plywood were removed, we discovered the original pine plank subfloor was not salvageable. We knew we still wanted to have a wood plank floor, though, so we planned to buy cheap pine tongue and groove and paint it.

But then the next weekend rolled around, flooring still unordered, and we really wanted to get started…and then I started thinking…

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Years ago, we went to look at an 1890s cottage that was for sale in the Delaware River Valley. The whole thing had been totally renovated and painted entirely white inside and out (it was soooooo dreamy — the photo above is from the real estate listing), and we got to talking to the sellers about the work they’d done. The floorboards appeared to be original wide-plank pine, but it turns out they’d actually used 3/4″ plywood cut down to 10″ planks and face-nailed in place. They painted them with a white, high-gloss marine paint, and the result was gorgeous. Even though we didn’t wind up buying the house, those cost-saving white plywood floors stayed filed away in my mind for future reference. Also in the file? Daniel and Valeria’s bedroom floor at Hindsvik.

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While we were walking around Lowe’s pricing out various plywood types, I had an epiphany: Since the existing subfloor was still structurally sound, couldn’t we get away with using really thin (and really cheap) plywood to make our planks? Why use something thicker, which would be much more expensive, not to mention a huge pain to transport to our house? Is there any reason why inexpensive 1/4″ plywood wouldn’t be totally fine?

ANNA, YOU ARE A GODDAMN GENIUS. Except I’m not a genius, because as soon as I looked this totally original and unique idea of mine up online, I discovered about a million (or at least four) people who’d done it before me. I am not a genius, I am not a genius, I am not a genius and I am not a genius. Oh well.

We loaded up the 7 best-looking 4×8′ sheets of 1/4″ maple plywood we could find, then asked the wood dude at Lowe’s to rip them lengthwise into 6″ strips. No can do, wood dude replied, because for safety reasons they’re not allowed to go smaller than 12″. We figured we’d take what we could get and loaded our 12″ planks into the car. Daniel drove down from Kingston to assist, and Ilenia saved us all from cutting our hands off.

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12″ wide floorboards would have looked ridiculous in our little kitchen, so we did still want to cut them down to 6″. We don’t have a table saw, though, so we used a circular saw with this magical Swanson Cutting Guide. I know it doesn’t look like much in the picture, but basically it’s an adjustable (up to 100″) straightedge that attaches with two C-clamps onto whatever you’re cutting with a circular saw to function as a jig. It’s a fabulous thing. We also bought a big bag of cheap plastic spring clamps so we could cut through several boards at once.

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Here are Evan and Daniel setting up the jig and adjusting the blade depth on the circular saw. To keep everything from going haywire (i.e., the board falling off of the sawhorses and/or the saw opening up someone’s brain), one person manned the saw while three of us held onto both sides of the board. I kind of wish I had a video of the whole thing, because the choreography involved with cutting an 8′ long board in a 10′ long kitchen was pretty impressive.

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The next morning, I primed the back and edges of each plank to prevent warping. Annoyingly, the plywood sheets had all had several stickers (including a stupid, pointless QR code that NO ONE WILL EVER USE, EVER) on the GOOD side, and no amount of picking, scraping, Goo-Gone-ing or kerosine-ing (!) could remove them. I gave up and decided it was OK to let the printed side show on a few boards. Obviously that’s only OK if you’re ultimately going to paint your floor, but hopefully I don’t need to say that.

Here’s the part of the post where my only camera battery died and I discovered I’d somehow managed to lose the charger! Sorry for the crappy iPhone photos…

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I LOVE YOU, POWER TOOLS. We borrowed a compressor and a nail gun, and Evan and I had the entire floor down in about 6 hours — and that’s including the time-consuming stuff like using a jigsaw to cut out shapes for pipes. It went really, really quickly.

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We made sure to stagger all of our boards so there are absolutely no patterns at all. Laying a wood floor is a little like doing a puzzle — we considered the length and placement of each plank as we were going along, and in the end, we wound up with only 1/2 a board in waste.

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DONE! Boom. The total cost for the plywood (maple, finish grade) was about $140. Yes, the entire floor cost $140 — less than $1 per square foot. Not bad for a wide-plank wood floor!! Pretty great, in fact.

I’m sure there’s bound to be some concern about the durability of the floor, but I honestly don’t think that’s much of an issue. I don’t care about dents and stuff, and I’m not going to need to refinish it down to bare wood. For my time and money, this is a great solution. I’m super excited about how it came out.

Just wait until you see it painted!! (Give me a few days, haha.)

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HELLO THERE! Yes, it’s been quiet around here. I know you’re not supposed to say you’re really busy anymore, but you know what? I’ve been really busy. I am really busy. My work days have been long, long, long…I’m drained, I’m tired, I’m uninspired. We’re still chugging along with the kitchen renovation whenever we have a few free hours here and there, though, and it looks like we’re probably going to manage to pull it all together before heating season. Phew.

(I’m tired. Did I already say I’m tired? I’m tired.)

The new kitchen floor is underway (more on that later this week!), but I also really need to make a decision about lighting. I know I want to use fixtures from Schoolhouse Electric like I did in the bathroom off the kitchen, but I keep waffling. The weekend before last we finally painted the ceiling, so there are no more excuses.

Kitchen lighting is hard. Unless you’re putting in track or recessed lights, it’s tough to know whether whatever you come up with is going to work out…especially with high ceilings and a single electrical box. When we first bought the house, we had to swap out three separate fixtures before we settled temporarily (HA! HA! HA!) on the predecessor to this IKEA light. It’s ugly, yes, but it really lights up the room well. The lights we rejected either made the kitchen feel like an interrogation room or something out of Jacob’s Ladder.

Anyway, I’ve narrowed my choices down to these four pendants from Schoolhouse’s Factory collection: No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7.

I am apparently incapable of making a decision about which of the four lights to go with — and whether a single pendant will be enough overhead lighting. Can we all vote? I’m brain-fried. No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7?

I’m voting for Factory Light No. 5, with a black finish, black porcelain insulator, houndstooth cloth cord and no cage. And yes, I’m aware that I could just order this configuration without holding a vote, but I keep second guessing myself.

And should I just get one? Or two? Or get one, see if it’s enough (there’s only one ceiling box, so we’d have to do some electrical work if it’s not), then order a second? There’s also a sconce on the wall by stove, and I’ll probably put a second sconce of some sort on the opposite wall next to the fridge.

Help?

Here’s my kitchen in the November issue of German Glamour magazine (“Die Industrie-Design-Küche von Anna Dorfman” sounds so intense, like it should be in a castle or something) if it helps you visualize…hah!

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p.s. Yes, I spoke at Camp Mighty, and yes, I survived! What an experience. I’ll have a post about the whole thing once I have my photos sorted out…

p.p.s. I have so many posts coming up. SO MANY. You’re going to get really sick of me.

p.p.p.s. Lots of great new sponsors over in the sidebar!! Yay!

Now that the floor demolition is complete, we’re in a bit of a race for time to get a new floor in place and have the radiators reconnected. Fall in upstate New York is an unpredictable thing; sometimes that first frost and freezing temperatures sneak up on you earlier than you’re expecting. It’s already down to 66°F today — I’m wearing a scarf and not sweating profusely! Between busy work schedules, the holidays this month and traveling plans next month (more on that later!), we don’t have a lot of weekends free to get the work done. I’m panicking a little, but we’ll make it happen.

First of all: We’re definitely going to put in new wood plank floors and paint them. That’s the vision I’ve had for the kitchen for a while, and even though salvaging the original subfloor didn’t work out, it’s what I still want. Aside from painted wood floors looking nice, it’s a very budget-friendly option. The pine T&G flooring we used in lieu of beadboard in the upstairs bathroom was about $1/SF — tough to beat. In an ideal world, we’d continue the same black pennyround floor from the downstairs bathroom into the kitchen (the rooms are side by side), but it’s just not in the budget. And that’s OK.

What I’m trying to figure out now is exactly how I want to paint the floor. For a long time I was thinking solid gloss black, but that might have just been because I’m so used to seeing the kitchen with a black floor already. Now that I’ve seen the floors with white paint (albeit primer over grossness), I can’t stop thinking about other possibilities. I definitely don’t want to do solid white, but…

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Photo by Frederick J. Karlsson for Alvhem / Styling by Sarah Widman (via sfgirlbybay)

Yeah. That looks really good. I’m picturing a pattern-filled rectangle around the big wood work island, sort of like a faux rug. I even love this exact pattern as-is (surprise, hah). I can see it also looking verrrrrry nice in reverse — white on black — or with colored crosses like the pattern in my sidebar. It would be so easy, too. If I ever wanted a change, I wouldn’t feel badly about painting over it and doing something new.

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L: Cecconi’s Mayfair London, interior by Ilse Crawford / R: Cecconi’s West Hollywood, interior by Martin Brudnizki

These floors are actually inlaid marble, not paint, which would also be really nice but would cost 400 billion dollars. I could do something like this with paint, though! I love that the thinner stripes run diagonal to the line of the wider “boards.” It would take forever to measure, mark and tape off the stripes, but it wouldn’t be particularly complicated. Just time-consuming. I could probably knock it out in an overnight, though, since it’s only two colors.

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Photo from Micasa / Interior design by Egue y Seta studio

Speaking of time-consuming, can you imagine if I tried to paint THIS pattern on the floor? I posted about this Barcelona kitchen back in January, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. We actually priced out how much it would be to use those cement tiles in our kitchen, and it came out to more than $3000…which is obviously just not happening.

Seriously though, could I do it with paint? I mean of course I’m technically capable of doing it, but the three questions that immediately come to mind are (a) Will I wind up spending $3000 on painter’s tape?, (b) Will my brain melt out of my head? and (c) Will I ever sleep/eat/talk/laugh again, or is the rest of my life going to be devoted to painting rhombuses parallelograms on my kitchen floor?

In other words, I kinda really want to attempt it.

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Remember how nice the kitchen was looking just a week ago, with the tile all finished and one yellow stool set ever-so-carefully askew? Well, that day ended as soon as it started, because the floor was awaiting demolition.

We disconnected the sink, stacked up all the dishes and moved everything but the shelving, stove and refrigerator out of the kitchen and into the dining room. We also resigned ourselves to washing dishes in the bathtub for the next month or two. And just like that, the kitchen was out of commission (as was the dining room).

I felt a little sad to say goodbye to the black VCT. We installed it almost eight years ago right after we bought the house, and it was our first real renovation project. We knew at the time that it probably wasn’t going to be a “forever floor,” but we needed something that was super-cheap (I think it was about 90¢ per square foot), easy for people with zero experience to install and that could go over the existing plywood subfloor, which wasn’t in great condition, but was good enough to put off replacing. We would up really loving the VCT, both in terms of looks and durability. The only reason we’re ripping it out is because carpenter ants were having a party in the plywood.

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Face masks were donned, floor demolition-appropriate Morrissey t-shirts were selected. Not pictured, but very present: Our dear friend Ilenia, who, it turns out, is a wild demolition BEAST. I don’t know if it’s the Italian blood or what, but that woman can pry a screwed-down sheet of plywood off the floor like nobody’s business. It’s a good thing, too, because my back and neck were still in AWFUL shape from dragging radiators around the weekend prior and we really needed an extra set of hands. Thank you SO much, Ilenia!!

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Thanks to the carpenter ants and the shoddy subfloor, the VCT came up really easily. I think it took the three of us about 15 minutes to do the entire room, most of which was spent bagging everything up. It was weird and sad to see the room looking like that, and I admit I did have a few moments of panic (which I kept to myself for the sake of those around me) where I thought maybe we should’ve just re-glued the VCT and moved on, but I knew that would be stupid. With the radiators out and the pipes being re-routed, this was our chance to fix the floor for real.

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Here’s a close-up shot of the rotting plywood and the carpenter ant damage. Yeah, this was the right thing to do.

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And then the real demo began — the lifting of the 1/2″ plywood. Because the screw heads were buried under a cement skimcoat and tiling adhesive, it was necessary to use a pry bar, a mallet and brute force to rip up the plywood. I kept myself full of ibuprofen and ignored the searing pain in my neck while I followed Evan and Ilenia around the room with a drill, a wrench and as much energy as I could muster. I still feel badly for not being able to do more, but I tried my hardest to be helpful!

I was feeling really encouraged when the first sheet came up. There were some bits of old white VCT (not linoleum) that came up pretty easily, and the original pine subfloor — which I’ve been hoping would be salvageable with some patching and paint — didn’t look too terrible. We kept going until it was dark out and we were all exhausted and in need of showers and Chinese food.

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I took this photo right before I went to bed, and I definitely fell asleep that night thinking I’d be able to carefully soak the paper off the floor, fill in the rotted parts with Bondo, paint the whole thing gloss black…Zzzzzzzz.

Then morning came, with fresh eyes and aching muscles and a large dose of realty.

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Yeah. That’s not good.

I can deal with the water damage and rot, but see all of that papery-looking stuff? That’s backing paper and cloth from old linoleum. There are 1–3 layers of different kinds of it in varying thicknesses all over the floor, and I don’t need to send off samples to a lab to know that at least one of those layers is chock full of asbestos. Linoleum is made in part from linseed oil, the flammability of which was sometimes countered (at the time) by putting asbestos into the tiles — and also often into the backing cloth/paper and the adhesive. Basically, until the late 1970s, life was just a giant asbestos party.

When you decide to renovate an old house, you accept a few hazards: There will be lead paint, certainly. Possibly lead pipes, too. You might discover mold. It happens, and you deal with it. You start doubling up on dark leafy greens to stave off lead poisoning, you get rid of what you can as safely as you can do it, and life goes on.

The thing about asbestos is that if you leave it alone, it’s not going to hurt anyone. The trouble arises when you damage asbestos — breaking shingles off of siding, pulling insulation off of pipes and, you guessed it, sanding it off of floors. Friable asbestos, the stuff that crumbles, is bad news. Mesothelioma has never sounded like much fun to me (go figure), so I’d like to avoid it. Yes, it’s true that most people who develop asbestos-related illnesses are people who work with the stuff and are exposed to it over a long period of time, but I’m keeping in mind that there’s also probably asbestos in the plaster of my walls, in the dust on the floor of my basement, in my 1940s-era office building and so on and so on. It’s everywhere in tiny amounts, really. Do I need to increase my risk of getting sick for the sake of being able to paint this subfloor? Is it that important?

Nope. It’s not. It’s really, really not. Yeah, I could be super-careful and try to remove all of the paper and adhesive with wet methods to keep dust to a minimum, or we could save up a bunch of money to have professional asbestos abatement done. Again, though, is it worth it? Again, I say NOPE. Time to move on and put in a new floor.

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Before we went any further with the floor plans, though, I decided to coat the entire mess with a good coat of primer. I did the same thing when we found a similar situation waiting for us in the downstairs bathroom, and it made me feel a lot better. I don’t want to be crawling around on a bunch of crumbling asbestos while we put the new floor in. I used a big brush and a heavy hand to go over the whole mess and seal in all of the dirt and dust.

I feel so much better now.

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I know, it kind of looks like it could still happen, right? It’s just the photo, trust me. Under that coat of primer is a whole bunch of lumpy, flaky paper and glue that’s waiting to kill us all. It’s just not meant to be. Goodbye, original subfloor! Thanks for hanging in there. You’ll still be with us, we’re just not going to ever look at you or touch you again.

So what’s next, then? We’re still trying to figure that out. Our original plan was to install inexpensive new pine tongue & groove and paint it, but we’re giving ourselves a little time to think about it. I’m going back and forth between grand visions and budget realities, hopefully eventually finding a middle ground that will work. I have some ideas, but I’ll save that for another post!

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Nine long months after I started tiling the kitchen, I’m am extremely happy to say that I am DONE! Well, I still have to caulk around the window casings and along the tops of the baseboard moldings, but other than that? COMPLETE! FINITO!

(Done with the tile, that is. Not the rest of the kitchen.)

Man, what a relief. I think I’ve gone through 11 boxes of tile, and who knows how many batches of thinset and grout. So much black grout. Black grout is the messiest thing on the planet. My arms are tired and I’ve got a pinched nerve in my neck and I am over all of it. I love tiling, I really do, but there are limits. My limit seems to be about 10 hours at a stretch, and then I need to take a break for a day or two. Or six months.

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This is what I worked on for that last couple of weekends — the entire back wall and rear half of the right wall. It feels really good to see tile here instead of half-painted bare walls. I’m so glad I didn’t just do a tiled backsplash or anything. This is the kind of kitchen that needs tile everywhere.

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Oh, and a beauty shot of my favorite corner, of course, all angles and lines…I love it.

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This is now my favorite spot to sit in the house. Evan and I have stopped using the dining room for meals unless we have friends over for dinner, and I camp out there for hours in the morning on the weekends. I don’t know why we never put an island or table in the kitchen until now, but it makes a huge difference.

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Here’s the newly-refinished radiator in place! It’s not actually connected to the pipe yet since we still have to rip up the floor, but it’s very exciting to see it looking so fresh and non-rusty. I still don’t understand why it was originally installed all the way over in the corner? It’s literally exactly the same width as the windowsill, so centering it underneath looks a million times better. Moving that pipe was worth every penny.

As good as it feels to have the tiling finished, there’s still so much left to get done before the cold weather comes…

Kitchen renovation to-do list:
✚ Disconnect sink, remove all cabinetry and refrigerator
✚ Spray paint island legs
✚ Build shelf for bottom of island
✚ Floor demolition (remove VCT flooring and plywood subfloor)
✚ Assess condition of original pine subfloor; repair if possible
✚ Paint existing pine subfloor OR install new pine flooring and paint
✚ Paint ceiling
✚ Run conduit for surface-wiring new lighting, which means…
✚ I had better figure out what light fixtures I want
✚ Gaze sadly at giant refrigerator and wish it would magically turn into a cute little SMEG
✚ Eventually: Replace exterior door

I’ll be getting back to work on this list TOMORROW! I plan to use every available minute of this Labor Day weekend to get that floor demo work done. If the existing pine can’t be salvaged, we’re going to need to put in an order for replacement tongue and groove. Fingers are tightly crossed that it doesn’t come to that, though!

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There are ten cast iron steam radiators in our house, most of which are in varying stages of rusty, paint-peeling horribleness. We’ve sent a couple of them out to be sandblasted and powder-coated (I’ve never really written much about that, but I get a lot of questions — I’ll put a post together soon!), but that’s wayyyyy out of our budget for the kitchen renovation. As I’ve mentioned, we’re only putting one of the one of the two radiators back after the tiling and the floors are complete. Over the weekend, I went ahead and gave my best effort to rehabbing the one that’s in better shape.

And no, the back porch isn’t painted green, that’s all algae. Yes, it would be very nice to have a roof on the porch, and maybe even screening. Someday…

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The kitchen radiators don’t have any of the ornate, Rococo elements that the others in our house do, so I’m assuming they’re a little newer. They were manufactured by the American Radiator Company (ARCO), for whom one of New York City’s most beautiful skyscrapers was built in 1924. A little internet sleuthing tells me that ARCO patented a similar style called “Corto,” named for French industrial designer Louis Courtot. According to Miss Florence McComb, a decorator who endorsed Corto radiators in a print ad from 1925, its “graceful Gothic lines add charm to any well-planned room.” Indeed, Florence, indeed! I need to do a little more digging into old ARCO catalogs to compare more closely and look at later models, but I think it’s a safe guess that they were put in sometime in the 1930s, which, based on the style of the bathtub, is around the same time we believe the downstairs bathroom was added.

But enough about that stuff! On to the dirty work…

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I’ve mentioned this before, but if you have cast iron radiators in your home, then you NEED a dryer vent brush. Trust me on this — it’s the only way to really get between the fins and keep them dust-free inside. Mine is from Casabella, but I’m sure they all work just fine.

After giving the radiator a very thorough cleaning inside and out with the vent brush, I moved on to a copper wire brush and hard-bristled nylon brush. That got most of the flaking paint off, but there were a few tougher chunks that I had to hit with a chisel. I gave whatever surfaces I could reach a light sanding, then did another round with the vent brush to get get all of the rust dust and paint bits out. The final preparation step was a through washing with TSP substitute and a good, long hose-down. I don’t have a power-washer, so I just did the best I could with my hose nozzle on the “jet” setting.

Did all of the existing paint come off? No, of course not, but everything that was loose or peeling did, and that’s good enough for me.

Then I went to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck and let the radiator dry completely overnight. (You could probably leave out the fair part, but that does make everything more fun. Friends! Fried dough! Rides! Waves of nausea!)

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Before busting out the spray paint, I very carefully taped up the new brass nut and pipe fitting that my plumber put on (he was supposed to wait to do that, but he forgot). I took the vent off of the side and rolled up a little wad of paper towel to stick in the hole so paint wouldn’t get in there and affect the threading.

Side note: RADIATORS ARE REALLY HEAVY. I mean, obviously, but you don’t realize quite how heavy until you actually try to move one. If I had to guess, I say this thing weighs at least 300 pounds. My lower back — unhappy even in its best moment — hates me right now. I keep hearing Joe Garagiola shilling for Doan’s in the back of my head. Be careful. I should have asked Evan for help every time I needed to move the radiator, but I get sort of temporarily bionic when I’m working on house stuff, and I feel like I can do everything myself. I’m paying for it now. Owwww.

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Cast iron radiators don’t get hot enough to require that special high-heat paint they make for stuff like barbecue grills, so you can really use just about any paint that’s rated for use on bare metal and rust. I am a Rust-Oleum devotee when it comes to spray paint. I initially thought I’d need to use a separate rusty metal primer first, but Rust-Oleum’s two-in-one Universal line actually advises against using a separate primer. I didn’t want to take a chance with screwing up the adhesion, so I did indeed skip the primer.

I decided to go with the hammered-finish spray paint in glossy black. As lovely as I know a flat black would have been, I want the radiator to be as easy to clean as possible. High gloss finishes tend to accentuate flaws, so I figured the hammered effect would help to counteract that. I wound up doing three coats of paint to make sure everything was totally and evenly coated — about four cans’ worth in all.

As easy as the actual spray-painting was, I really can’t imagine doing this indoors unless you’re not living in your house or if you have the most amazing ventilation ever. The fumes were horrendous — I even apologized to my neighbors. I guess if you could REALLY mask off everything super well (spray paint goes everywhere), open all of the windows and then leave the house for the rest of the day it would be alright, but given the option…do it outside.

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Goooooooorgeoussssss!!! I’m really, really happy with how the radiator came out. For $28 worth of spray paint, this is a very good result. Sandblasting and powder-coating would have been upwards of $500. Yeah, in ten years I might need to do some touch-ups, but really…it’s fine. Better than fine. For a while Evan and I had been considering replacing these radiators since they’re not as “pretty” as the ones in the rest of the house, but now? No way! I love the way this looks. (Just wait until you see it in place with the subway tiles!! LOVE.)

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It’s been nearly nine months since my last kitchen tiling madness binge at the house, and it feels so, SO good to be back in the swing of things. Aside from not having bronchitis and a 102° fever this time around, it’s very encouraging to at least have a finish line in sight. Having the radiators disconnected means I can make lots of progress with the tiling and the flooring, but it also means I’m now racing to get everything finished before heating season starts.

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When I got to the house on Saturday, I was finally able to see this corner of the kitchen (next to the sink) radiator-free. The valve and supply pipe were positioned so closely to the pipe chase that the radiator actually had to be cut out by the plumbers — you can see the scorch marks on the painted wood from being in contact with a hot valve. We will not be having this radiator reconnected, since the one on the other side of the room provides sufficient heat on its own.

See how crazily sloped the wall and baseboard molding are under the window? When we bought the house, this wall was in a serious state of disrepair. Years of water seepage and ice buildup on the outside of the building had caused the mortar between the bricks to fail — you could literally push on the outside of the house and see the bricks move. There was so much water damage on the wall behind the radiator that you could see light from outdoors coming through the radiator. (I don’t think I have photos of all of this, unfortunately, but I’ll check on an old hard drive this weekend to see if I can find anything.) It was alarming, to say the least! We hired a wonderful contractor to repair the exterior of the house and stabilize the bricks and lintels — as well as dig out the foundation and waterproof the outside about 6′ below ground level — and all has been well since then, but all of the interior settling that occurred as a result remains. It is stable, though, and rather than open a can of worms trying to straighten the wall and re-set the baseboard molding, I just went with it as-is. It was kind of like tiling a ski slope, but it’s honestly not all that noticeable now that the tile is uniform and the molding has been primed. It’ll be even less apparent once I get everything grouted and caulked and make the moldings a little nicer.

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Not bad for a solid 12 hours of tiling! I feel like I should be going faster, but the unevenness of the wall means I have to do a lot of building up/tapering of thinset along the way, and it’s tedious. I really do love tiling, though — always alone, never with an assistant (though I won’t object to having my thinset mixed for me!). It’s somewhat meditative, and I’ve done enough of it at this point that I have a good system down. I always listen to NPR, I always use my Wood & Faulk pencil, I always use a certain orange plastic triangle, I always have coffee at the ready…as long as I know the necessities are there and I keep my workspace clean, I can keep going and going as long as I need to. On Saturday night I was up until 3:00am!

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My favorite corner!! Man, I love how this is looking. I’ll be grouting this area next Saturday, and I know I’m going to take at least a dozen beauty shots when I’m done. Is it weird to be this obsessed with a corner? I just want to pet it. And maybe lick it? I love you, corner.

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I keep forgetting to take pictures to show how you deal with outlets and tile. Because tile changes the distance between the surface of the wall and the electrical box, you have to move the switches and outlets forward. With single boxes you can use a box extension ring, but with double boxes like this one you can use these little plastic shims. After turning off the circuit to the box (!!!), all you need to do is loosen the screws connecting the outlet to the box and snap on as many shims as you need to move the outlet forward the same depth as your tile. Tighten the screws, and you’re all set. (These shims are great if you have a loose outlet that needs support, too.)

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THIS IS ALL I HAVE LEFT TO TILE!!! Just this little corner! I have to do some repair work to the wall first because the plaster is really lumpy where the radiator was, but I should be able to finish this in a day. Then it’s time to grout!! See that lovely new radiator valve on the bottom right? That thing is smoooooth to turn. The old one was so rusty that bits would crumble off into your hand if you tried to close the valve. We had the plumber move the valve (and the pipe in the basement that leads to it) about a foot to the right at the same time so the radiator will be centered under the window instead of being crammed into the corner. And yes, that electrical outlet will need to be moved as well.

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The kitchen floor is still a huge unknown, but I’m holding onto hope that the original pine subfloor will be salvageable enough to paint. We know that they unfortunately have a lot of water damage, and I have to admit that the condition of the exposed planks in this corner is not encouraging. We’ll see how it goes, though. I doubt we’ll be able to start demo work on the floor next weekend (I still have to finish getting the rest of the tile up and then grout and caulk everything, plus if the weather is good I want to refinish the radiator outside), but hopefully the weekend after that. Fingers crossed that the floor will be alright with a little Bondo and a lot of paint!

For the past six months or so, we’ve been trying to get a plumber to our house to disconnect the kitchen radiators and do some related pipe work in the basement that goes beyond what we’re capable of doing ourselves. You’d think it would be easy to, you know, give someone a bunch of money to do the work they’re trained to do, but contractors are a special bunch. Long story short, we’ve had three enthusiastic and friendly plumbers come to our house to assess the situation and prepare a quote, but after five months of phone calls/voicemail messages (from us), we had yet to see even a single quote from any of them.

You know things aren’t going well when you can’t even get a quote.

So now we’re back with the plumber who worked on our upstairs bathroom in 2008 and our downstairs bathroom a year later. It took yet another month to get a quote from him (and then a couple more weeks to schedule the work), but…IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED. Evan and I both had to be in the city so we haven’t seen it in person yet, but my friend Ilenia was wonderful enough to both let the guys in and sneak a few iPhone snaps while they worked. This is SO exciting!!!

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EWWWWWWW!! Gross. I’m guessing this part of the room hasn’t seen the light of day in the better part of a century. I cannot even express how much I am looking forward to CLEANING that baseboard molding (and painting it!!) and repairing the wall above. There was zero clearance behind and under the kitchen radiators, so it’s impossible to clean and maintain properly. This is going to be soooooooo very satisfying.

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The radiator next to the sink was removed, too, and I’ll bet it’s even grosser back there. We’re actually not going to replace that one. We had the plumber cap the steam pipe at basement level. We’ve been getting by just fine heat-wise with only a single functioning radiator in the kitchen, so we’re going to put this one in storage (in case we ever want to reconnect it).

The other radiator was in a really weird spot before, so we also had the plumber move the steam supply pipe over about a foot so that it can be centered under the window when it’s reinstalled. The photo on the right is the new position — it’s not connected yet, they were just figuring out where to drill a new hole in the floor.

Hmmm…I think this also means we’re going to have to move an electrical outlet. Hmmm.

Now that the radiators are OUT, here’s what’s on my kitchen to-do list for the next couple of months:

▶ Frantically tile the last two walls
▶ Frantically refinish one of the radiators
▶ Frantically pull up the existing VCT floor tiles
▶ Frantically remove the plywood subfloor, which was at some point used as a large snack for carpenter ants
▶ Frantically assess the condition of the original pine subfloor that’s underneath the plywood
▶ Frantically do something so that there’s a floor in place when the plumber comes back to reinstall one of the radiators

I feel a little sick thinking about it because I’ve been SUPER busy with work lately, but between summer hours (I get every other Friday off) and a few vacation days Evan and I have both scheduled, I think we can make it happen before heating season starts. The floor is just a huge unknown because we have no idea what’s happening under the plywood, but at least now we can actually start doing the demo work.

I’m just going to try not to think about the fact that we also need a major repair done to our boiler. Sigh. This is why our renovation projects drag on for years — there’s always something urgent to deal with that sucks up our entire budget. House stuff is expensive. All of it. Even the stuff that’s not expensive is expensive. I am mystified by blogs that document entire home renovations that take less than a year. We’re going on eight years of renovation with no end in sight. Is this normal? Sorry, I’m digressing too much. Ignore me…

On the agenda for this weekend: TILING. And more tiling. And tiling some more. It’s going to be total tiling madness. I can’t wait!!

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For as long as we’ve owned this house, I’ve been lamenting the weird, dead corner space to the left of the stove. My decision years ago to use pre-fab, freestanding IKEA kitchen units rather than fitted cabinets meant hoping for the best in terms of maximizing the usable space in the room. I got really lucky on the sink side of the stove, which just happens to be exactly 1/2″ wider than a single UDDEN unit, but the 42″ space on the left has just been a waste all this time. I did have a cart there for a long time, but the position was awkward and it really didn’t get much use.

Looking back on this post from January (THAT WAS EIGHT MONTHS AGO, UGH!) you can see that I planned to put a piece of butcherblock there to fill the whole space. Time passed, seasons changed and we never managed to figure out how to wrangle a giant slab of IKEA butcherblock into the car, so we just kept putting it off.

And then…

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HEYYYY. Who’s that fine young thing in the tank top sanding down what looks like a 42″ piece of wood countertop? Why, it’s Daniel! When Daniel told me he was planning to make his own countertops out of fir framing lumber, I hopped on that bandwagon real quick. I dropped a few subtle hints like, “gosh, I really wish someone loved me enough to make me a piece of countertop,” and the next thing I knew, there it was!

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I had absolutely nothing to do with the making of the countertop at all, but Daniel has written up a great post explaining exactly how he did it using nothing more than a circular saw, a Kreg jig, screws and good looks. (His own kitchen is looking totally amazing, by the way, and uses much of the same materials, finishes and colors as my kitchen, but in different ways. I’m so impressed!) (Have I mentioned how great it is to have Daniel and Max and Mekko and Linus as neighbors not only in Brooklyn but now also in the Hudson Valley? So great.)

I had a hard time getting a good shot of the underside, but hopefully you can tell what’s going on there. Ideally the counter would be bracketed to the walls for support, but because I don’t want to drill into the tile (I want to have the option of changing this kitchen around in the future, which is why I tiled all the way down to the baseboard moldings), I opted to use four adjustable VIKA KAJ legs from IKEA. They extend to a maximum height of 34″ and have a 165lb weight limit per leg, so they’re perfect for this kind of use. Three of the legs are set at the corners of the countertop, and the fourth leg is positioned back about 20″ so that the front right corner (next to the stove) appears to float. The legs really aren’t visible unless you’re looking for them, but I might spray paint them black at some point just so they blend in even more.

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When it came to finishing the countertop, my first thought was to stain it black with India ink (!) and then apply a marine varnish for protection, but once it was in place I really liked having more wood tones in the room. My favorite kitchens are ones that look like they’ve come to where they are over a long period of time rather than being a brand-new matched set of parts, so the less uniformity of natural materials the better. Bring on the knots and wood grain!

If I’d had any mineral oil on hand I probably would have just used that, but I used it all up when I was refinishing the giant island. I’ve read good things about Watco Butcher Block Oil (basically tung oil and solvents) on woodworking forums, so decided to give it a shot. A pint-sized can was about $15, which seemed kind of steep, but because of the solvents it’s nowhere near as viscous as straight oil — it goes a long, long way. I’ve only gone through about 1/8 of the can. Also unlike mineral oil, this stuff is flammable, so you do have to be careful about disposing of your rags (I used cheesecloth). The other thing to be aware of with products like this is that they need to cure for a full 72 hours before the surface is considered food-safe. I don’t plan to use this countertop like a cutting board because fir is too soft, but it’s still something to be conscious of.

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So far, I’ve done three coats (waiting six hours and sanding lightly between coats) of Butcher Block Oil, and the finish looks great. There’s a slight sheen to it, but it’s definitely not SHINY. I don’t like shiny wood in kitchens. I poured a little water on to test its durability, and after 30 minutes it was still beaded up on the surface. Good sign! I’ll probably do a couple more coats just to be on the safe side, and then maintain the finish periodically with mineral oil going forward.

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I’m so happy about this combination of materials. Stainless steel gets a bad rap for being “clinical,” but I actually think it can look very warm — it’s all about how you use the material and what you combine it with. See how great it looks paired with natural wood and white tiles? The thing with stainless countertops is that you have to stop caring about scratches and other visible wear and just let it do what it’s going to do. The first few scratches we got on the counters looked terrible, but now that we’ve been using them for seven years and the steel has developed an overall patina, I don’t worry about damage at all. Stainless countertops are pretty indestructible.

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It’s no small thing to have counter space on BOTH sides of the stove now, let me tell you! Being able to use one side for chopping and another for keeping spices and oils handy while I’m cooking (plus the island behind me for organizing ingredients) makes a huge difference. It’s great. I can’t believe I went for so many years without anything on the left side of the stove! It looks so much more visually complete, too.

Speaking of things being complete, the kitchen still is not. We’ve had a very difficult time trying to get a plumber in to disconnect the radiators (that might sound like an easy job, but the steam pipes need to be cut, re-threaded, capped at basement-level and eventually extended and re-routed, which is beyond our level of DIY-ness), but we FINALLY have a plumber booked for next Wednesday. YAY!!! Once he takes out the radiators, I can resume tiling the remaining two walls and ripping up the floor. It’s going to be a VERY busy August! Evan and I have both taken vacation days, and we’re determined to get all of the work done before temperatures drop…otherwise we’re going to be without heat in the kitchen during the winter, which wouldn’t be good news for our feet or our pipes. Time to get moving!!

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The ladies at A Beautiful Mess recently invited me to participate in their “At Home With…” series, and rather than submit a bunch of my own I-only-shoot-in-automatic-mode-with-a-point-and-shoot-camera-style snapshots, I asked my friend Ilenia Martini to shoot some photos of my house. Ilenia is such a great photographer (she also took my bio photo, and you may have seen her work recently on sfgirlbybay), and I knew she’d be able to show my house in way that I’m not capable of. The result is really beyond what I could have dreamed! A bunch of the photos she took are now up over at A Beautiful Mess, as well as an interview with me that gets into my feelings about owning a home in the City of Newburgh — and my feelings about home renovation in general.

My only regret is that Ilenia didn’t shoot the entire house! We were mid-heatwave, and I asked her to sneakily avoid getting any air conditioners (and piles of tools and construction debris…) in the pictures. I’ll have to lure her back with iced coffee and bagel sandwiches and get her to shoot the rest in the fall!

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My house also made an appearance on the Dwell website last week in their feature on where design bloggers work. It always makes me happy to see my father’s old drawing table make the rounds; it’s very special to me. If you look closely at the screen of my laptop, you can make out what I was working on that day — the logo for Evan’s new band, Thermite.

If you have the September print issue of Dwell, you can find a few blurbs from me about products I love and my own trend forecasts (which is something I don’t actually like to do, but when my favorite magazine asks a question, I’ll answer it). I didn’t get a cool illustration of my face like the other bloggers who participated, but I’m too excited to see Daniel in there to care!! It’s a great issue all around, though, and I’m always happy to be asked.