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Yes, another concert photo post! I go to a lot of concerts, but I don’t usually blog about them because it’s just much too much. In the past couple of months alone I’ve gone to see Adam Ant, Janelle Monáe, Depeche Mode, Public Enemy/LL Cool J/Ice Cube…and I have The Cure and Johnny Marr coming up right around the corner. There are few things in life that make me happier than going to concerts (I even wrote a list of concert-going tips), and in recent years I’ve been making a concerted effort to go see bands/artists I’ve liked for years but haven’t taken the initiative to experience live.

And so: Pet Shop Boys. I went to see them for the very first time Monday night at Beacon Theatre, and it was really an incredible night. I don’t have any local friends who are fans (or at least I don’t think I do!), so I managed to score a really good single ticket that was remaining between grouped blocks — 2nd row! As soon as the show started, I was able to just stand next to the stage, essentially making it a front-row kinda night (albeit more to the side of the stage than is ideal, but I’m not complaining). I’ve said it before, but it really does matter to me to be up close. I like to be fully immersed. When my friend Jenna and I went to see Depeche Mode a few weeks ago at the enormous Barclays Center in Brooklyn, we were so far up in the nosebleeds that we might as well have been watching in TV…but I degress.

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I was completely and totally unprepared for what this concert turned out to be. It was performance art — scene after scene, with costume changes and dancers and a narrative thread running through the entire thing. It’s funny, Pet Shop Boys were HUGELY popular when I was in junior high (the reissue of “West End Girls” was a massive hit in the US around the time I was making friendship bracelets nonstop), but I didn’t really grow into becoming a fan until quite a few years later. Very (with its Pentagram-designed nubby-dotted orange cover) was released the same month I started college, and I fell into a crowd of British electronic dance-pop fans. It’s a phenomenal album, I’d argue it’s their best. Pet Shop Boys had always seemed much lighter to me than, say, New Order, but once I started listening to the lyrics — always frank to a fault; romantic and funny and sad but hopeful — and growing attached to Neil Tennant’s voice, my appreciation for their music was solidified.

Anyway, now that I’ve seen them live, I’m ashamed that I never let that appreciation develop into the kind of full-blown fandom that would’ve led me to buy tickets to a show a long time ago! It really was a spectacular performance. Seeing this show right on the heels of Depeche Mode makes me feel happy about all of the great new music that’s still being put out by the old school of electronic music.

Here’s a very short, badly-cut Instagram video:

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WOWZA. I’m told by friends who have seen Pet Shop Boys many times in the past that this tour is nowhere near as visually extravagant their previous, which doubly fills me with regret for waiting so long. (Not that I felt disappointed, mind you!) As much as music is about, well, the music, it’s also about aesthetics for me, and I care about album packaging and presentation and all of that kind of thing. Seeing visual continuity between record sleeves, music videos, costuming and live performance is very exciting! I can only describe the whole thing as a kind of lush minimalism, if that’s possible, avant-garde without pretension (again, if that’s possible).

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Pet Shop Boys are currently on tour in support of their latest album, Electric (produced by Stuart Price, who opened the show with a DJ set as his Jacques Lu Cont persona). If you have the inclination and the opportunity, GO. Even though I went to the show alone, I walked out really wishing that I’d had certain friends with me just because I know they would have loved the visuals and the ecstatic atmosphere…and the music too, of course.

Full setlist:
Axis / One More Chance + Face Like That / Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) / Memory of the Future / Fugitive / Integral / I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing / Suburbia / I’m Not Scared / Fluorescent / West End Girls / Somewhere / Leaving / Thursday / Love Etc. / I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too) / Rent / Miracles / It’s a Sin / Domino Dancing / Always on My Mind // (Encore) Go West / Vocal

Oh, I love this time of year! Schoolhouse Electric, one of my favorite companies going way back, just launched their new line for fall 2013, and, as usual, my wish list is long. I became a fan of Portland-based Schoolhouse back when they just sold lighting, but over the past couple of years they’ve been expanding their line to include furniture and housewares – it’s become an incredible collection of stuff!

These of my favorites from the new fall line…lots of warm tones; black, brass, cream and gold.

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1. Apartment Pendant // also available with a 2.25″ fitter to accommodate a variety of glass or metal shades
2. Arrow Napkins // by Egg Press
3. Sammamish Bird Woodblock Print // by Jennifer Ament (framed or unframed)
4. Isaac Sconce — Short Arm // also available in black and persimmon, hardwired or plug-in
5. Wire-Framed Trash Bin // in misty green or marigold
6. Let It Go wall banner // by Ashley Ann Brown

I’m excited to see the “Let It Go” banner carried by Schoolhouse! I love Ashley’s work for Secret Holiday, and I have her “It’s OK” banner in my apartment — I may need to add this one to my collection as well (maybe hand it up at work, haha). I’m also envisioning those brass sconces against the black wall in our bedroom at the house…mmm-hmmm! Or against any black wall, for that matter.

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1. Isaac Sconce — Long Arm // also available in natural brass and black, hardwired or plug-in
2. Miles Desk Lamp // also available as a floor lamp, which I neeeeeeed for the apartment!
3. Schoolhouse Slogan Pencil Pack // set of five pencils
4. Schoolhouse Log Carrier // in cotton canvas with leather handles
5. Glass Jar // in two sizes, with red SECO decal

There are, of course, a multitude of colors, metal finishes and cord configurations available for the new light fixtures, and plenty of other stuff in the fall 2013 collection — it’s all up on the fancy new Schoolhouse Electric site. (I’m heading there right now myself, because I really, really need to make a decision about lighting for the kitchen! And I want to ogle that Miles floor lamp some more. I love that Aalto-esque shape…)

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Remember the pinkish-tan/Band-Aid bathroom in my apartment? I’m still doing the best I can (short of gutting the whole thing) to make it feel cleaner, fresher and generally less awful, and my latest improvement measure was taking care of the undeniably revolting perma-mildew situation inside the bathtub/shower area.

I realize the photo above might not look like much of an “after,” but let’s consider where we started:

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I know. It was really gross. Believe me, even after scrubbing everything with bleach and hot water, this was as clean as it got. There were loose tiles (hence the taped-up garbage bag, an attempt to keep water from getting inside of the wall) and failing grout, and nearly all of the caulk had gone permanently black. The outer layer of caulk was actually clear silicone, and I’m thinking the mildew likely came from the first layer of caulk having been applied over even older “infected” caulk without properly preparing the area first.

Want to take a closer look?

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I’m sorry. Truly. There was even some of that extra-creepy reddish mold growing on the grout, which I learned in the course of putting this post together is called Serratia marcescens, which “manifests as a pink discoloration and slimy film feeding off phosphorus-containing materials or fatty substances such as soap and shampoo residue.” I don’t want that in my bathroom, especially not anywhere near my naked body. Incidentally, it’s thought that S. marcescens is behind the appearance of “blood” on the Eucharist in the early 13th century that led to the Feast of Corpus Christi. Well, then! I don’t know about you, but I think discovering the blood of Christ on your bathroom walls is a pretty good indication that it’s time to re-grout.

And yes, we did readily step into this shower every morning for months, because what else were we going to do? You need a span of at least 2 1/2 days to address both grout and caulk, and when you don’t have a second bathroom available, it can be tricky to plan out the whole thing. I wound up with a work-free summer Friday and a weekend where I needed to be in the city, though, so I resigned myself to a few days of personal griminess and just went for it.

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Tools + Materials!
Since I know what it’s like to have lived in apartments with gross caulk and grout during a time before I learned how to remedy the problem permanently (I distinctly recall attempting to paint over discolored caulk in my first apartment’s bathroom…), I thought I’d include a list of supplies. I’m not even making any brand recommendations because I honestly just used what was available at the cruddy hardware store closest to our apartment. I didn’t want to bring materials from house because I’m in the midst of using them in the kitchen renovation, and the last thing I need is to discover I’ve left something I need at the apartment.

This is about $60 worth of supplies, give or take. Not so bad, considering things like grout saws and caulk guns are good to own for future projects.

1. Rubber gloves. Wear them.

2. Caulk tool. Forget about the rubber triangle end, the magic is in the metal part. It’s perfect for scraping out out caulk. You really need to get ALL of the old caulk out, too.

3. Grout saw. These little guys are perfect for filing out grout between tiles. I know it seems really tedious, but once you get going it’s not so bad. If the old grout is really loose, just file it all out. If it’s just stained (not moldy), you can get away with leaving some (NOT ALL!) of the old grout intact. As long as get at least 2/3 of it out, the new grout will have enough of a free edge on the tile to grab onto. If there are some areas where the grout is totally fine (as it was in most of my shower), you can leave it alone — just be aware that you can’t “skim” over it with new grout, and new/old colors may not match perfectly.

4. Razor blade. No home renovation project is possible without one. There’s always going to be some kind of residue that needs to be cleaned up or a caulk edge that needs its seal broken, and you’ll want to have a blade handy.

5. Silicone caulk remover. I wound up not having to use this, but I have in the past. If there’s caulk residue that just won’t budge, this will help loosen it up.

6. Pre-mixed thinset. If you have loose tiles, you need to remove them completely, scrape off the old mortar, and re-set them. Ordinarily I would advise against using the pre-mixed stuff, but for doing repair work or just setting a few tiles (as opposed to a whole bathroom), it’s fine. A small tub is cheap and it gets the job done.

7. Pre-mixed grout. Ditto the above when it comes to grout. For bigger jobs I always mix my own grout, but pre-mixed is fine for repairs. Make sure you check the joint size indicated on the tub to make sure it’ll work with your tiles.

8. Tiling sponge. Regular dish sponges tend to fall apart and even leave colored residue on grout. Get a nice, big tiling sponge for doing your wipe-downs. It’s worth it.

9. Rubbing alcohol. After you’ve removed all traces of old caulk, wipe everything down with alcohol. It’ll help prepare the area for good caulk adhesion.

10. Backer rod. You might not need this, but if you have any large/wide gaps to caulk, you’ll want to cram some of this stuff in the space first. Otherwise, you’ll just be unloading endless amounts of caulk into the abyss. Backer rod is a wonderful thing.

11. Painter’s tape. Silicone caulk is much messier than latex/acrylic caulk, and it’s tough to get a nice edge, especially if you’re filling in an irregular space between tiles that appear to have been cut with soccer cleats. Taping off the edges (like I did here) helps a lot. Just make sure you pull off the tape slowwwwwly and carefully right after you smooth out the bead — don’t wait for the caulk to dry.

12. Good-quality silicone caulk. Make sure you buy caulk that’s meant to be used in showers/wet areas. I usually buy whatever makes the most amazing claims on the packing, like 30 minute drying time or 10 year mildew-resistance. In my experience, caulk that comes in a cartridge-style tube is much easier to work with than the stuff in a squeezy-tube. Which brings me to the final item…

13. Caulk gun. You don’t need to get anything fancy. A cheapo, no-frills, $7 caulk gun is just fine.

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I wish I had more process photos, but it was 90°F in the bathroom and I was just trying to get through the whole thing as fast as possible. Stopping to take off my gloves and take pictures just wasn’t working out.

The first thing I did was give the whole shower area a good scrubbing with bleach. Ordinarily bleach should be avoided on grout because it will cause the bonding agents to fail over time, but when you’re dealing with mildew and mold and stuff like that, bleach is sort of the only answer.

Then I started stripping out the caulk, which was the most time-consuming and gross part of the whole project. I did it in stages — the easy stuff before the grout, the tough stuff while the grout was drying. Ideally you’d just do it all at once, but I was fed up.

Next, I sawed out the bad grout and removed the loose tiles (most of which just sort of fell off the wall while I was sawing the grout). I scraped and sanded the old mortar off the tiles, washed them with bleach and water for good measure, and re-set them. I didn’t bother using a notched trowel because mine was at the house and I didn’t want to buy a new one, so I just used a screwdriver to “draw” some ridges in the new thinset before pressing them into place.

And then, grout! Again, I’m doing it “wrong” here, but it’s not a big deal when you’re only doing a small area. When you’re grouting a whole wall you should use a tile float to really get the grout into the gaps, but you know what else works really well for a repair job? An old credit card and a finger. Yep.

Then I wiped everything down and let the grout dry overnight while I resumed stripped caulk…

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The next day, NEW CAULK! I love caulking. It’s so satisfying. I wiped everything down with alcohol, stuffed backer rod into the big gaps, taped off the edges and did my thing. I know it looks kind of janky, but that’s really because the tiles were so unevenly cut and there were some gaps that were super wide. It’s not like this bathroom is going to win any beauty contests, so my goal was really just to get everything clean, fresh and watertight.

It really does look SO much better now. Yeah, I still hate the color and it’s still an ugly bathroom, but it’s clean. Getting into the shower doesn’t feel like a potential health threat anymore. I’m also not worried about water getting into the wall now, which in turn eases my concerns about the entire bathtub eventually crashing through rotted joists and falling into the apartment below us. I think about these things.

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The other things I took care of while I was dealing with the grout were the knobs. The handles were all wiggly and loose, and there was nasty black gunk setting up shop behind the little plastic “buttons” on the fronts. Those buttons pop out really easily with the edge of a knife or screwdriver, and, assuming you have standard-style fixtures in a common brand, you can replace them very cheaply. They’re called index buttons — just search for the brand of your faucet. You’ll be amazed what’s still readily available even for very old fixtures. We found exactly what we needed on the rack at the cruddy local hardware store, no special order required.

Anyway, once you pop off the buttons, you can easily unscrew the whole handle — just stick a screwdriver inside. There was all kind of ick inside of the backs of the handles, so I gave them a good scrubbing (yes, again with bleach — sometimes you gotta). I pulled the escutcheons forward (there’s a tiny screw underneath), re-caulked the edge where the tile meets the stop tube (again to prevent water from getting into the wall), cleaned everything really well, and tightened it all back up again.

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Ahhhhh, so much better! The faucet handles are now not only clean and shiny, they’re also non-wiggly and easy to shut off. I’m so glad I took the time to take care of the handles. It really wasn’t a big deal, and it makes such a huge difference in our daily existence. Nobody needs to live with black grime under their index buttons.

You can totally do this — the caulking and grouting and the faucet tune-up. It’s not hard AT ALL. If you’re at all unsure about how to disassemble the trim on your faucet, you have the entire internet at your disposal. I know I’ve said this a million times, but the only reason I know how to do any of this is because someone else did it before me and took the time to write about it — or, even better, make a YouTube video — and put it online. Also, the Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual. It’s literally the only book I own about home repair, and I refer to it constantly.

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Oh! One last thing — a new shower head! This was Evan’s project, as it has been in the other apartments we’ve lived in together. Unless you’re renting a newly-renovated apartment, chances are the shower head could use replacing. It’s such an easy fix, and it makes an enormous difference. I personally really like having a hose attachment because it makes cleaning the tub soooooo much easier (not to mention how nice it is for giving plants showers and rinsing out hair dye). The one we bought isn’t anything special, but it was less than 25 bucks and it gets the job done. All you need to install it is a wrench and plumber’s tape (don’t believe the line on the package about not needing tape — that’s a lie), and the whole thing takes 15 minutes, tops.

If you want to see more of the apartment bathroom, I wrote about the other improvements I’ve been making a couple of months ago. What’s left? Three things, none of which are a rush: Find the perfect rug to disguise the ugly floor tiles, replace the toilet flush valve assembly (it’s got a leaky flapper) and fix up the peeling laminate on the sink cabinet.

p.s. I’m having some issues with my spam-blocking plugin. If you try to leave a comment and run into any problems, would you mind dropping me an email or tweeting to me? Thank you!

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About three and a half years ago, Janelle Monáe came into my life. I fell hard for her right when she was just starting to get widespread attention, and it’s been amazing to see everything that’s happened with her career since then. I was lucky enough to see her perform live in 2011 when she toured with Bruno Mars, and since then I’ve been waiting (im)patiently for a new album and another chance to see her come alive on stage. I was crushed when her tour dates were finally announced and I realized I’d be out of town when she’s at the Apollo Theater in October.

BUT THEN…I was poking around on Facebook on Saturday morning, and I saw something on her official page about sending an email for a chance to see her perform on Monday night in NYC at a private launch party for her new double album, The Electric Lady. I figured there was no chance, but I send the email anyway and got on with my day. Eleven hours later, I got a reply to my email letting me know I was on the list for the event — location to be disclosed Monday afternoon! WOO-HOO + YAY!!!

The party (sponsored by Target, who are clearly very invested in JM, having floated a pirate ship around the Hudson all day while broadcasting the album over the airwaves) was held at Pier 84, in pretty much ideal weather for outdoor concert-going. The stage was T-shaped with no barrier whatsoever, and because the event was so small compared to a full venue show, I was able to stand all the way up in front in the best possible spot. I kind of couldn’t believe it was happening even before she came on stage.

Here is where I think photos should take over for a bit…

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I don’t know how else to say it: Janelle Monáe is PHENOMENAL on stage. So full of energy and passion and true artistry — and that goes for the rest of her band, too. She OWNS the stage. Everyone at the show was having the most amazing time; singing, dancing, yelling, clapping and pounding the stage. It was one big huge party! I know it’s a cliche to say that someone’s energy is infectious, but Janelle’s really is. I defy anyone to watch her perform and not want to dance like a little old earthquake. She is IT. There is no one else in popular music right now who is doing anything like this — she’s like a futuristic hybrid of James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince and Judy Garland. UN. REAL.

A few hours before the show, she recorded a performance to air later that night on David Letterman’s show. Let’s take a look, yes?

YES. YES. YES. The audience loved her, Dave loved her, that desk loved her. Why the whole world isn’t talking about this performance (or, for that matter, why we don’t see Janelle on shows like MTV’s VMAs) is really beyond me. We should all be hanging flags out of our windows professing our love for The Electric Lady.

Speaking of The Electric Lady, you’ve gotta get this album. It was officially released yesterday, and I doubt I’ll be listening to anything else for quite a while. It is SO GOOD. There aren’t enough superlatives — it’s the best new album I’ve heard in years. Like Metropolis and The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady follows the story of android Cindi Mayweather in a continuation of a 7-part concept series. Beyond being a incredible listen, it’s also smart and deep. (Also: PRINCE.)

Let’s look at some more pictures…

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Yes, that’s Diddy, whose Bad Boy label has played a huge role in allowing Janelle to get the exposure she deserves while still maintaining full control over her career and musical output. In his introduction before she came out on stage, Diddy (like Letterman) gave a nod to James Brown by referring to Janelle as “The Hardest Working Woman in Show Business” — and I can’t disagree with that title. She is giving it ALL.

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Big Boi was there too — he sang the praises of his little sister and performed “Tightrope” and “Come Alive,” which as usual turned into a huge party to close out the night. The Wondaland family, the entire band, backstage celebrities and a pack of android-alikes danced like crazy on stage while Janelle crowd-surfed. So good.

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(Just in case you needed more convincing…)

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Mountain and Tooth cushions from Three Bad Seeds

I’m a sucker for a cute cushion, and Three Bad Seeds in Washington make so many good ones! My favorite is their Three Sisters mountain range pillow, inspired by the Three Sisters Wilderness area in Oregon. As you may know from my Instagrams of roadside dentist offices, I have a thing for anthropomorphic teeth. I can’t explain it, I just do. Evan knows to pull over when I see a really good one. I’m also kind of horrified by teeth at the same time…it’s a complex obsession. Anyway, these Sweet Tooth pillows have a little pocket on the back for kids to put their baby teeth in for the Tooth Fairy (shudder), but I’d really like to have whole row of them lined up on a chair in my house. Just not anywhere near where I sleep.

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Gone Hunting pillow from Bark Decor

I’ve had these Gone Hunting pillows on my wishlist forever, along with a bunch of other things from Boston-based Bark Decor. I keep picturing a big pile of them on a deep, white sofa…they just look so soft and natural. Ideally, I’d be lounging on that pillow pile while wearing a Wild Catalope cardigan. Perfect, yes?

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Zippered linen pouches from Indigo Bird Design

Indigo Bird Design in Toronto make pouches. Lots and lots of pouches. I own pouches. Lots and lots of pouches. Too many pouches. And yet…I still want more pouches. I’d like to have this Emergency linen pouch (with a neon zipper!) for carrying band-aids and aspirin in my bag, and this teal Polka Dot pouch would be perfect for holding my lipstick, cash, ID and MetroCard when I don’t feel like taking a whole wallet out with me. Plus it matches my blog. POUCHES.

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All kinds of dog accessories from Grey Paw

I tried to narrow down my Grey Paw wishlist to two items, but I couldn’t make it happen. Too many nice things! I have to admit that I’m not one of those people who buys a bunch of dog stuff — Fritz and Bruno have one well-fitting sweater each for when it’s really cold outside, and they sleep on the sofa, bed and floor. That’s kind of the extent of it. Suddenly, though, I’m finding myself wanting to get them (I mean me…) a few nice things. Grey Paw is based in Portland, as evidenced by their use of Pendleton fabrics in much of what they sell — including this Camp Mat, which I’m sure Bruno would love to stretch out on while wearing this ikat-patterned neckerchief. REALLY. I’m also having a hard time resisting these natural leather dog collars, which Grey Paw will custom-stamp in any number of stamp designs. Plus signs for Fritz and triangles for Bruno?? And finally, the rope leash. Nothing says overkill like walking a 7lb dog with a rope, but man, so nice-looking.

OK, now it’s your turn: What’s on your Etsy wishlist? I always love seeing new shops!

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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Under the name Stone & Honey, Teresa Robinson has been one of my favorite jewelry designers for several years now. I own her earrings, necklaces, rings…they’re part of my daily uniform, and my family and friends know that anything from Stone & Honey is a safe bet if they’re buying me a gift. I’m going to have to pass the word around to them that Teresa is now working under a new name which reflects the evolution of her jewelry designs: Tiro Tiro.

To celebrate the launch of Teresa’s latest collection, Forma Nueva, the birth of Tiro Tiro and the almost-arrival of fall (it’s September, so as far as I’m concerned summer is OVER), I’m hosting an amazing giveaway: $200 to spend on anything you’d like from Tiro Tiro!

Here’s how to enter:
Visit Tiro Tiro and pick out a few of your favorite things.
Leave a comment here letting me know what they are!

Here’s how to get two extra entries:
Like Tiro Tiro and Door Sixteen on Facebook.*
Follow Tiro Tiro and Door Sixteen on Twitter.*

* If you already liked/followed either of us, that’s fine. Just let me know in your comment so I can count your extra entries!

The deadline for entries is Tuesday, September 10th at 11:00 PM, EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. I’ll announce the winner here and on Twitter tomorrow. The winner will also be notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered!

UPDATE: The winner of the Tiro Tiro giveaway is Lynn from Satsuma Press! Congratulations, Lynn.

Bonus discount!
Tiro Tiro is offering a 15% discount on anything in the shop between now and September 15th. Use the code IHEARTTIROTIRO at checkout!

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My favorites from the Forma Nueva collection:
Aures rings // Billete earrings // Quarta necklace // Pinna rings

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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.)