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The House / Newburgh

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Well, I didn’t get everything on my Sunday to-do list crossed off, but I made a decent dent. Daniel came down from Kingston for lunch (we went to Tito Santana Taqueria in Beacon — really good food and tons of vegan options!), and I decided it was probably more fun to hang out with my friend than to organize my pantry for the millionth time. It was.

I did manage to make some progress in the dining room, though! It had kind of become a dumping ground for a long time while we worked (and worked, and worked…) on the kitchen, and once we finished carting all of the tools, construction debris and other crap down to the basement, I could see the room really needed a freshening-up. Nothing major, just a little nip/tuck here and there.

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The first order of business was addressing the lighting. As cute as it was, I never felt like the pendent I had hanging over the table previously was substantial enough. I picked it out before we’d moved any of our furniture into the house, and before I had a good understanding of the scale of the rooms.

A while back, I ordered the Mobile chandelier from West Elm. (Yes, it’s on back order until April, but is April really that far away? It’s not like you’re going to get around to hanging it before then, anyway.) I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put it in the kitchen or the dining room, but they were having a sale and the pictures on the site looked nice, so I just went for it. And then it sat on the dining room table for a couple of months.

BUT! Behold! Look what Evan and I did…

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Ahhhhhhhh!!! I’m in love with this lamp. Love, love, love. It took me a day to get to full infatuation point, though. I initially positioned the arms at varying angles (like in the primary photo on West Elm’s site), which looked really clunky and jaunty and whimsical and Sputnik-ish and just not at all what I like or what looks good in my house. I was ready to take it down and either sell it or hang it in the bedroom.

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But then I straightened the arms out so they were all level and parallel with each other, and it was like a whole new lamp. Really! I’m so glad I didn’t take it down right away. It’s PERFECT. I decided to go with plain, white G40 bulbs (25W each), and I’m just going to cross my fingers and hope that energy-efficient lightbulbs are nicer by the time low-wattage incandescents are phased out. (For what it’s worth, there are current no plans to ban 25W bulbs in the US. The phase-out stops at 40W.)

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To give you an idea of the scale, the Mobile chandelier is about 30″ in diameter at its widest point (excluding bulbs), and my dining table is 95″x40″. The ceiling in the dining room is about 10.5′ high.

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I straightened up the still-incomplete bookshelves next to the fireplace. The three drawings are by Lisa Congdon, my dad, and Jen Ray. The faceted knobs are from Pigeon Toe (I’ve been holding onto them for a project for ages…) and the Kubus candle holder is by Lassen. Some of the best books ever written are by Kurt Vonnegut.

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I picked up a fresh ZZ plant to replace the withered, dying ZZ plant that formerly graced the dining room, and I put my Charles and Ray Eames poster in a frame that I actually hung on a nail that I hammered into the wall! Getting things done, folks.

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Did you notice that big black thing next to the fireplace? That’s the new OLOFSTORP wall cabinet from IKEA, and it is glorious. I had a hard time taking good photos since the light in my dining room is kind of difficult, but you can see it a little better in IKEA’s press photo.

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Click to enlarge! (Photo courtesy of IKEA.)

It’s very nice — definitely one of IKEA’s all-time top-ten products, which is a major accolade coming from me. The OLOFSTORP storage unit/cart is great, too. Both pieces are solid, stained pine with steel hinges. They look, feel and function like simple farmhouse furniture. Very Shaker-ish. Of course, since they’re great pieces that are built to last, IKEA will probably discontinue them within the year. That’s always the case, right? Consider yourself tipped-off and warned.

Anyway, the cabinet!! It’s just right. That space was kind of dead before because the window extends all the way to the corner of the room. The OLOFSTORP is less than 8″ deep, so it doesn’t obstruct the light flow or interfere with the view in any way. I’m a sucker for black-on-black, too.

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The best part is that it holds a TON of stuff. I’ve got all of our wine glasses, highballs and extra mugs in there, plus vases and various dishes I don’t use often but like to have on-hand. Moving all of these things into the cabinet freed up an entire shelf and a half in the pantry, which means I can finally sort out all of my baking dishes and get my spices in order since I’ll be able to spread out a little more.

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The last little dining room update I made was to add these two stools under the cabinet. I bought them at Target’s dorm room furniture line in July. I don’t remember how much they were, but definitely well under $20. At the time I thought I’d make them into a bench or coffee table, but I only got as far as spray-painting the bases matte black. They started out glossy charcoal gray, which didn’t look too terrible — but matte black is nicer.

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See how sunny and nice out it is in these photos? That’s how long ago I bought and spray-painted the bases. Sigh. Then they just sat and sat and sat, disassembled, in the dining room, for six months. I was sick of looking at them and feeling guilty about yet another project unrealized, so over the weekend I screwed the tops back on and called it a day.

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So cute! They fill out the space nicely, and I was able to get a couple of stacks of books off the floor. This makes me feel a little less guilty about not having finished the bookshelves yet. (Note that there’s still one corner of the dining room not shown in these photos. That’s the corner currently filled with stacks of books waiting to be shelved! Someday…)

Unfortunately, because Target’s product turnover is so rapid, these guys are long gone from their website. There’s a chance you could find them on clearance in a store, of course, but I haven’t seen one in my local Target for months. Hey, if you want mine, buy me a couple of Eames LTR tables and we can swap!! HAH. Heh.

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Fritz was pretty distressed about all of the changes in the dining room for some reason. Lots of dramatic crying and staring at the table. I can’t figure this dog out — he’s a Martian mystery. I love him.

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Oh boy. You know how sometimes work vacations wind up being worse than not taking a vacation at all? That’s how I’m feeling about this Monday. I took TWO WHOLE WEEKS off work, and now I’m in a panic about how in the world I’m going ever going to catch up on everything when I get back into the office. Ugh. I’ve been trying to get as much stuff as possible done at the house during my time off, but exhaustion has gotten the better of me and I’m feeling a bit guilty about not having done more. Ugh again.

Anyway, I do have ONE LAST DAY to check things off my to-do list before I have to switch back into work mode, so I’m making a sub-to-do list of what I (reasonably) think I can get done today.

Do these things:
✚ Take photos of stuff for eBay auctions
Take photos of dining room
Brush Bruno
Laundry
Clean bathrooms
✚ Organize pantry
Set up kitchen coffee area
Bring stuff down to basement
Frame and hang at least one more thing
One more trip to Goodwill? Nope.
✚ Sand, patch and prime benches
✚ Make hook for ceramic planter

Do not do these things:
✚ Drink too much coffee

I’m serious about that last thing there. I have been drinking SO MUCH COFFEE during my vacation. Way too much. It’s just so easy and so delicious and so addictive. I don’t want to eliminate coffee from my life, but I gotta get myself back down to a single cup a day. OK, maybe I’ll wait until Monday to cut back, because today is going to be hectic and I want to get a little coffee area all set up in the kitchen and it’ll be right there. But then tomorrow is going to be even more hectic…hmmm. Tuesday? Tuesday. Less coffee on Tuesday.

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So…how about THAT! If you follow me on Instagram, then you may already know that there is now a cute little black SMEG refrigerator living in our house. It was part of the original kitchen plan I made last year, and we felt pretty strongly about making it happen, so here it is. A mere 11 months later! Hah. And yeah, I know, it’s sort of the whole $289 trash can thing again, but that’s why we do our own renovation work and why we only spent $140 on a new floor and slightly more than that for four walls of tile…you get the idea. It evens out, and everything is still under budget.

AND IT LOOKS SO MUCH BETTER. The old refrigerator (still in great shape — it went to live in Kingston with Daniel and Max) was way too big for our kitchen, and it was never full to more than 1/3 capacity.

Somehow I managed to not take a decent full-length photo of the fridge over the weekend, but to answer the two big questions:
✚ Nope, I’m not worried about the bad reviews online. Everyone I know who has a SMEG loves it. I’ll take my chances. If it turns out to be a disaster, I’ll let you know.
✚ It’s not too small for us. Not even the freezer. We’re only two people and the most we ever freeze is a tray of ice cubes and a box or two of veggie burgers. The capacity of the fridge is greater than it looks like from the outside — there’s really plenty of room for everything we typically have on-hand.

Anyway, this is by no means the big reveal, but while I wait on my own indecisiveness before finishing the kitchen for real (LIGHTING!!! and that door, and…), I thought it would be fun to post some then-and-now photos taken from the same positions. Unfortunately the “then” photos are really awful, mostly because they were taken almost as an afterthought during our walk-through on closing day. I have so much regret about not taking better photos before we started in on our seemingly never ending renovation plan, but what can you do? Oh well.

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If anything about the 2006 photos makes some part of the old kitchen look salvageable, it’s just a fault of the lack of detail in the photos. It was disgusting. No debate.

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These photos were all taken on Day One of our kitchen renovation, which was almost eight years ago. All we’d done at that point was take out the old cabinets and the remove the boards that had been nailed into the corner to hide pipes. This was also the first time either Evan or I had been involved in anything resembling a home renovation project, and we were horrified. We were so, so lucky to have had a couple of family members and friends who knew what they were doing and were generous enough to lend a hand. Two hands, even, and for many days. It took quite a while for us to feel like we could do anything by ourselves.

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OK, I still hate the door (we’re planning to replace it next summer), but aside from that? I think this is a perfect corner. I’m so glad we decided to hire a plumber to move the supply line for the radiator over to the right a couple of feet. I know it seems like a minor thing, but having the radiator centered under the window makes an enormous difference in the overall balance of the room. It feels right now.

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I keep scrolling up and down to compare these two photos. We didn’t take down or move any walls in the kitchen (or elsewhere in our house), but it really does look like a different kitchen entirely. This is a small room with three doorways, two huge windows and a huge, protruding (and receding!) hearth, and that meant that we couldn’t go with a traditional layout or standard cabinetry. It was frustrating initially because I was trying to make the challenging aspects of the room less obvious, but once I gave in started turning those things into features — like painting the entire hearth black — it all came together. This is why I love old houses! If you listen to them, they tell you what to do.

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OK, that’s weird cropping, but I wanted to match the original photo! Just ignore the mess in the dining room, too…the table is covered with unneeded kitchen stuff we need to donate. If I back up a bit, though, you can see this corner of the room a little more…

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So much better! The closed door on the left leads to a pantry. The contents have changed (we use it to store food now), but here’s an old post about the pantry renovation. It’s very cute, I must say.

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A few details from around the room, clockwise: Yellow Marais-style stools from Industry West, Drink Local glasses from West Elm Market, wall hooks from Pedersen + Lennard, reclaimed wood knife rack from Furnished Modern.

So that’s the kitchen, for now. It’s still not finished, but the remaining projects are going to take a while. When it’s DONE-done, I’ll take lots of nice photos and break everything down cost-wise as best as I can.

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YEAH. Painted. A couple of weeks ago, I posted part one of my plywood plank kitchen floor installation, and since then I’ve been trying to get the second part together. The second part is the fun stuff, because it’s really just paint.

As you can see, I decided to just go with black. I know, I know…the old VCT floor was black, and I had all of these grand ideas about painting crazy patterns on the floor, but in the end simplicity won out — as it often does (and often should). That’s not to say that at some point in the future I won’t come back and decide to paint a pattern on top of the black, but not now. It’s 27° out. We need heat. We need to not be washing dishes in the bathtub.

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After reading this post and having a conversation with the knowledgeable guy at the paint store, I came to a few conclusions about how to proceed with painting the finish-grade maple plywood:

1. Use a good-quality, oil-based paint. Paint Store Guy recommended I use Insl-x Pro-Plate Enamel, a super-durable paint made for use on metal but also rated for use on wood and masonry. It comes in 8 colors, all of which you can imagine being used to paint a utility room in the basement of a hospital, but fortunately one of the those colors is black — yes, just straight up “black,” not tinted to match a Benjamin Moore swatch or anything like that — so that’s good enough for me.

2. Don’t use primer. Obviously this approach could be an issue with lighter floors because of the potential for tannins from the wood to bleed through, but with a black floor, Paint Store Guy was in agreement that skipping primer would allow the paint to seep into the porous, never-finished wood, making for a finish less likely to chip or peel.

3. APPLY THIN COATS and let your paint dry completely. This is crucial. Thick coats of paint are more likely to peel. I did the first coat with a roller, which went on beautifully and evenly without a glob in sight. I used a large brush for the second coat because I don’t like the way rolled finishes look on wood surfaces, and I was very careful to go slowly and use a light hand. I was prepared to do three coats, but two was enough in this case. I let the paint dry for a full week between coats, and then allowed an additional full week of curing time before I even considered walking on the floor. Yes, that’s a long time to have a room out of commission, I know.

4. Sand between coats. Nobody wants to do this, including me. “Sand between coats” resonates with me the same way the advisory on a box of Q-Tips to not insert in the ear does, which is to say it goes in one (swabbed) ear and out the other. This time I did it, though, and I’m glad I did. The photos I took between coats are too crappy to be worth sharing, but the first coat dried to a very matte finish because of the wood’s porosity, and the finish was anything but smooth. I spent 30 minutes with my trusty Bosch random-orbit sander, a face mask and a whole lot of plastic taped over everything (doorways, shelving, stove…), and then it was done. I then followed with a thorough vacuuming and mopping of the floor before diving into the second coat of paint.

✚ Side note: My method for painting the white floor in room above the kitchen was considerably different, and that’s still what I recommend doing if you’re not looking for a super high-gloss black finish in a high-traffic room like a kitchen. That white floor has held up like a champ and it still looks great nearly five years (!) later, but it’s a very different look and a very different substrate. As with most things in life, there is more than one solution for a task depending on the circumstances!

A few other notes about the process…

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Prior to both the first and second coat, I spent some time filling in the larger gaps between the floorboards with caulk. I thought I’d hit all of the crucial areas on the first pass, but once the black paint was down I noticed more gaps that really should have been filled. The caulk sinks down a bit into the gap, so the boards still look like boards — no big thing. I also caulked around the entire perimeter of the room, of course. I’ll take any opportunity I can to make the house less drafty!

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For the first coat I did all of the cutting in with a brush, then switched to the roller to fill in. As I mentioned, the entire second coat was done with a brush — much, much more time-consuming, but a brushed finish on wood is just so much nicer.

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Ta-da! I love how reflective the floor is. You can see it better in the top photo, but the grain is still slightly visible, too — just enough for the floor to still look like it’s made out of wood, which is what I wanted. Once the black paint was completely dry, I gave the baseboard moldings a fresh coat of white (Benjamin Moore’s Simply White in a satin finish, same as the rest of the woodwork in my house) and did my best to keep the edge as crisp and neat as possible. The moldings in the kitchen are pretty beat up so it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s good enough.

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This isn’t directly related to the floor, but it was absolutely essential to get it done — with the help of our Electrical Fairy, we moved the refrigerator outlet. Several weeks ago we had the supply line for the radiator moved about a foot and a half to the right so the radiator could be centered under the window, which meant the outlet would have been totally inaccessible. The old hole won’t be visible, so we just covered it with a blank metal plate rather than bothering with a proper patch job. Again, good enough!

I’m a couple of weeks behind on kitchen updates, and a LOT more has happened in there since these photos were taken. I wanted to give the floor its own post, but I promise more updates are coming very soon!

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* (see edit note below), 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.

*EDIT, one year later:
Since a lot of people have asked in the comments, I have now gone through a full winter with this radiator in use, and it has held up just fine without any issues at all. That said, if you know that your radiators reach surface temperatures higher than 200°F, you should probably pay attention to the directions on the can and not use this kind of paint on them. Rust-Oleum makes High Heat and Ultra High Heat spray paints that might work better for you. I have no personal experience with either product.

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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.)