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Tag "renovation"

doorsixteen_stormwindow_before

I continued with my ambitious back-garden to-do list over the weekend. The last project I tackled was painting the vinyl basement window, and now I’ve moved on to the much more complex, fun, and slightly overwhelming task of repairing and restoring the original wood sash window above it. Window repair is something I’ve talked about before when I showed off the guest bedroom window and the work I did with the three in the living room, but this multi-part project is going to be a little bit different as it concerns the outside of the house. While all but four of our windows look pretty good from the inside at this point, NONE of the windows (or their casings) have been touched on the outside—and they’re all in pretty rough shape.

In an ideal restoration situation, a window and its components would be repaired on all sides at the same time. Because our house is in an historic district, any alterations made to the exterior of the house need to be approved in advance by the Architectural Review Commission. We couldn’t afford to take on the major exterior renovation work our house needed (like repointing the brick, repairing the cornice, and rebuilding the porch roof) when we first became homeowners, so it didn’t make sense to go through the approval process (and pay the $100 fee) just to be able to paint the windows. Also, time is always as much of an issue as money, and with only two days a week to devote to fixing stuff, we’ve tended to make the inside more of a priority than the outside.

Anyway, back to the window repair! The first thing I did was take care of the aluminum storm window. As much as I would LOVE to ditch them and bask in the beauty of exposed sash windows, the reality is that we need them. Our house has 125-year-old single-pane windows and no insulation, and we get a lot of precipitation in the Northeast. For the sake of our comfort, our wallets, and the health of our windows, we need them to be protected. I would LOVE to have custom hanging-style wood storm windows made (like the ones from SpencerWorks…so nice), but that’s beyond our tiny budget, so I gotta make the aluminum ones work for now.

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Not so pretty! The worst thing about bare aluminum storm windows is, well, the aluminum. It’s prone to pitting and oxidation, and even on its best day it looks drab. Time for paint! Assuming the aluminum doesn’t have any kind of coating on it and the finish isn’t high gloss, it’s very easy to paint. You do need to clean it well, though. I don’t like to use steel wool on aluminum because of the risk of galvanic corrosion (yes, I had to look that up), so I cleaned all of the parts of the storm window first with a Scotch-Brite scouring pad and dish detergent/water, and then again with TSP substitute. I left everything in the sun until it was completely dry, then got my tarp set up.

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Not the most exciting set of before and after pictures, but the difference in person is pretty remarkable. I used my old favorite Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer spray paint (aluminum doesn’t rust, of course, I just love the finish of this spray paint when I need a durable, matte black surface), and the aluminum took it beautifully. I should note that I only painted the exterior side of the frame and the bottom the inside—I didn’t want to paint inside of the tracks themselves since that’s a high-friction area.

You don’t have to use spray paint, by the way! You can use the same exterior paint that’s on the rest of your house. I’d suggest using a good spray primer to make life easier, then apply your finish paint with a small foam roller.

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I also gave the screen inserts a full makeover! I did a little research into the Tek-Bilt brand, and as far as I can conclude, our storm windows are about 60 years old. Kind of crazy, right? I think of them as being new and ugly because they’re newer than the house, but no, they’re old and ugly (still half the age of the windows they’re protecting, though!). Aside from the holes, the metal screening has gotten pretty oxidized, which looks crappy from the outside and obstructs the view from inside.

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Removing the screening is really easy. Find the end of the rubber cord (it’s called “spline”) that holds it in place, use a screwdriver to get it started, then pull the whole mess out. It makes sense to do this before you paint, obviously! If the spline is in good condition, save it. Mine was pretty dry and brittle, so I tossed it. TIP: Bring a little piece of the old spline with you when you go buy more. I didn’t realize spline comes in different diameters until I was at Lowe’s looking at a WALL OF SPLINE and trying to guess which size I needed. (I guessed wrong. Womp.)

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Supplies! Here’s what you need: Scissors (not pictured), spline, a spline roller, a flat-head screwdriver, a utility knife, and a 5-in-1 tool (totally optional, I just like to have mine handy for most projects). Oh! And screening, of course! I went with charcoal fiberglass screening, which is nearly invisible—and very affordable. If I had buckets of cash lying around I’d go with bronze screening, but you can’t have everything. Charcoal fiberglass is just fine for me.

(Actually NO, if I had buckets of cash I most definitely would NOT being using it to put bronze screening in my 60-year-old aluminum storm windows. I’d use it to have custom wood storms made. DUH.)

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Do a rough cut of your screening, leaving about 1.5–2″ of overhang on all sides. Fiberglass is easy to cut with just scissors, it’s like cutting cloth. You don’t need it to be perfect, so there’s no need to use a straight edge or anything like that.

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Use the convex side of the spline roller to press the screening into the channel on the frame, then use the concave side to roll in the spline. When you get to the corner, use your screwdriver to make the turn. I found it easiest to do one side at at time: Press, roll, turn. Repeat! When you’re all done and the screening feels nice and snug, trim off the excess with your utility knife.

It did take some finessing and re-doing a couple of times to get the screen to fit smoothly and snugly, but it’s not rocket science. This was the first time I’ve rescreened a whole window, and I didn’t find it difficult. Next time, it’ll go even faster!

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Here’s a terrible picture of the end result! I can’t show you what it looks like on the house yet because I still have several weekends’ worth of work left on the window itself before I can reinstall it, but you get the idea. It’s going to be a HUGE improvement, from both inside and outside the house.

Next up…sash window repair and painting!! Yayyy!

doorsixteen_studioradiator_1

Last summer, I did a small budget cast iron radiator refinishing job for our kitchen. Very small—about $28. It went really well—I’ll most likely be doing the same thing for most of the other radiators in the house that are awaiting refinishing. Back in 2008, though, we went with a super-spendy alternative for two of them. We were in the middle of renovating the upstairs bathroom at the time and we’d decided to send out the sink and tub to be refinished off-site, so it made sense to throw in a couple of radiators. I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about what we had done, so I thought I’d do a proper post and show off the results.

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Before (2006) and after (2014)! It’s hard to tell from the before shot, but the radiator had a lot of rust buildup on it. Someone had recently given it a silver re-coat (note the overspray on the wall above), but there were layers and layers of peeling paint underneath. All those layers of paint make radiators less efficient, and as the bottom layers fail further, the top layer deteriorates pretty quickly. It’s a losing battle. At a certain point, you have to take the existing paint off and start over.

We bought the house during heating season, and this radiator’s valve was leaking a ton of water into the kitchen ceiling below it. We have a single-pipe steam system (as opposed to dual-pipe hot water), and I don’t think the steam was even making it through the body of the radiator—it was just condensing at the valve and leaking. Between that and the broken boiler, I understand why the tenants were using an electric space heater back there! We had a plumber in right away to disconnect the radiator and cap the line above the floor so the leaking would at least stop while we figured out what to do with that room.

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We used a local place to do our refinishing, Extreme Powder Coating in New Windsor, New York. They showed up with two burly guys who carried everything down the stairs, out the front door, and into the back of a Hummer. Let me tell you, moving two cast iron radiators, a cast iron sink, AND a cast iron clawfoot tub is no joke. This radiator alone probably weighs about 400 lbs, and clawfoot tubs are around 300…so…yeah. It was hard to watch them go down the stairs. I kept envisioning the guy on the bottom—who was walking backwards—losing his grip and being squashed under the tub.

A few weeks later (it took them longer than expected because sandblasting the tub took some trial and error), everything was redelivered. The detail on the radiator looks so crisp without all of the lumpy paint under it. Sandblasting removes everything down to the bare metal, so even just not having 100 years of filth between the fins is a relief. Powder-coating, by the way, is a relatively safe process in terms of toxicity—unlike spray paint. There are no solvents used (it’s a dry powder that gets baked on), and no VOC emissions. It’s also super durable, so a well-maintained radiator that’s been totally stripped and coated should last a very long time without needing to be re-coated.

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This winter, we replaced all of the vents on our radiators. Depending on the type, vents typically cost less than $20. They’re easy to change out, and it’s a simple fix that will get rid of steam whistling and sputtering. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about when I mention radiator maintenance—if you have a leaky vent that’s dripping condensed steam, you’re going to wind up with rust. Just buy a new vent! Here’s a good instructional video from This Old House.

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This is embarrassing to admit, but the refinished radiator sat, disconnected, in the studio for FIVE YEARS before we had the plumber come to install a new valve for us last fall. We had to change some piping in the basement beforehand, and we couldn’t do that until we dealt with the kitchen radiator…and, of course, the kitchen renovation would up dragging on for an eternity, so…that’s just how it goes. That room has been preeeeeeetty cold in the winters, let me tell you!

I still need to take care of the exposed part of the supply pipe. I’m going to paint it white with a enamel made for metal, and get a fancy brass flange to hide the chewed-up wood around the hole in the floor. I’m thinking about this pretty floral one, probably in white. I need one for the kitchen radiator, too, but I’ll go with bare brass in there.

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Steam radiators need to slope toward the boiler/supply pipe so that steam doesn’t get trapped in the system and condense. When you hear banging in radiator pipes, that’s trapped water that can’t be displaced by rushing steam. Large steel washers work well as shims! See the rust under the feet? Yup, that’s the result of a leaking vent. Fortunately we caught it in time, and the rust hasn’t spread or damaged the coating.

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Most of our radiators were made by the US Radiator Co. in Dunkirk, NY. I had a tough time finding out much history about this company, but I did spend some time looking at their “complete” catalog (PDF). I’m not sure what year it’s from, but it definitely postdates the ornate radiators in our house. My guess is that most of our radiators are from around the turn of the century. I love that something so simple can still provide reliable, efficient heat 120 years after it was built, and that it looks so pretty while doing its job.

Costs for having cast iron radiators sandblasted and powder-coated can vary wildly depending on your location and the size of your radiator, but you can expect to pay $200-300. That doesn’t include the cost of having a plumber come in disconnect the radiator (and, just as importantly, cap the line) and reconnect it/install a new valve later, which can run you up a couple hundred dollars more if you can’t do that part yourself. So no, it’s not $28 worth of spray paint, but if you have a radiator that’s in really bad shape or you’re refinishing a bunch of other stuff at the same time (or if you just have bags of money lying around), the results are excellent.

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doorsixteen_kitchen_nowcorner2

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.

doorsixteen_kitchenfloor_painted

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.

doorsixteen_kitchenfloor_proplateenamel

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…

doorsixteen_kitchenfloor_caulk

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.

doorsixteen_kitchenoutlets

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…

doorsixteen_eastbranchfloor

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.)

doorsixteen_schoolhouse_kitchenlights

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.

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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.

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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.

Barcelona kitchen
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!