All posts in: Bluestone Cottage

I’m Sorry, Bluestone Cottage. I’m Still Here.

Have you ever seen a problem, thought you could help be part of the solution, and accidentally magnified the problem you set out to solve? I have. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll give you some insight: it feels fucking terrible.

I bought my house in Kingston in the summer of 2013. By that I mean the house that I live in, the one we talk about a lot on this blog as I try (and try, and try, and try) to renovate and restore it inside and out. As anyone who’s renovated an old house with even some level of care will likely tell you, it’s a huge undertaking. It’s a strain on everything—emotions, finances, time, creativity, motivation, muscles, relationships. Your whole life, pretty much.

So I’m 23, and I now own this once-beautiful house in this once-beautiful town. That’s harsh: both the house and the town retain a lot of beauty and much of their original character, but the passage of time has not always been kind. Periods of economic hardship have brought neighborhoods to the brink, and the rebound has often taken the form of absentee landlords picking up houses on the cheap, putting minimal money and care into them, and collecting their rent checks. If my house had needed less work just to get it operational, I have zero doubt that’s exactly what would have happened to it.

If you hear “small city in Upstate New York” and think rolling hills and small town charm, Kingston is likely not what you’re picturing. There’s a slice of that, but it’s not the whole picture. It’s got some grit. It has its problems. It’s not a wealthy city and there aren’t nearly enough jobs. The rent is too damn high. The litter is out of control. There are a lot of houses with a lot of problems. And it’s where I decided, fairly quickly, that I actually wanted to make my life—not commuting between here and Brooklyn, not trying to make ends meet with AirBnB income and constant hustle and jobs I’d never want if not for needing the money to support $22,000 a year in rent. And I saw something here that I wanted to be a part of. Not that Kingston is a problem to be fixed, but it’s a place where one person can get involved, get things off the ground, and make a difference in a tangible way. There’s community. I felt good here. At home here. It’s exciting and a little scary to put all your eggs in one basket that way, but I’ve never regretted it. This is where my life is. And I really want to do right.

Fast-forward 14 months. I’m still in the early renovation stages of my house, trying to figure out this whole how-do-I-make-money-in-this-place-thing. I had…this blog that had the traffic and available content to probably do really well if it were correctly managed. I had…some renovation ability, and the hope that I could convince people pay me to make their houses nice. I had…a home address in a place where houses still sold for the price of a mid-range SUV, and the unique ability to potentially offset renovation costs with sponsors who could provide materials, funds, or ideally both.

Remember what I said about some grit? While my own house is largely surrounded by multi-family apartment houses (some better managed than others), it’s a slightly different story just a couple of blocks down. This block had 3 condemned houses on it…out of 10 total. Of the seven habitable structures, only one was owner-occupied. In the summer, it was routine to look down the street and see the flashing lights of a police siren from my bedroom windows, either speeding toward or parked on that block. The neighbors related stories of hearing gunshots at night that woke up and scared their children.

Tucked into a little 23-foot wide lot was this wee house, set back from the street and obscured completely by overgrowth, with a condemned sign posted on the front door. It had recently been listed for sale by owner online but didn’t have a sign out front or anything, and when the real estate agent didn’t show up for the walk-through, he instructed me to just let myself in. Because the door was unlocked. And oh right, he was in California—a detail you’d think he might have mentioned when setting the appointment in the first place.

Nonetheless, an idea was born. If I could secure some financing to buy it and cover some of the renovation costs, I could use my Powers of Blog to cover various expenses through brand partnerships, which would in turn bring in more income that I could reinvest in the project or use to float myself financially through the several months of not getting a regular paycheck while I dedicated myself to it. At the end, this sweet little house would be nicely renovated on a street where it otherwise likely didn’t stand a chance (which also happens to be RIGHT BY my own house—which couldn’t hurt my own property value). More than that, it would be occupied—and as long as it made reasonable financial sense, by a new owner. This cute, nicely maintained house, now joining the other owner-occupied house (also very nicely maintained) would bolster the whole block—hopefully inspiring other prospective buyers to see the street in a better light and consider giving the other two condemned houses the type of care and attention they deserve. Maybe one of those prospective buyer could be me, doing it all over again. Neighborhood stabilization has to start somewhere, and who was in a more privileged position to get the ball rolling than me? I could be part of a solution.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Famous last words, if you’ll excuse the cliché.

I made a mistake. I can see that clearly now. In August, I’ll have been living with that mistake for 5 years—an amount of time I couldn’t even fathom when I truly believed I could do this in six months.

What went wrong? A lot went wrong. And as much as I either hated to or couldn’t admit it at the time, a lot of what went wrong was me. It’s kind of the story of my 20s, and weirdly, it’s mostly laid bare in blog format. I’m hoping being aware of it leads to change. That owning these choices—and seeing them as choices rather than things that simply happened—will help prevent me from making similar ones in the future. It’s the kind of personal work I expect to be doing my whole life—but now, as I approach the big THREE-OH (stop laughing, I’m trying to get something off my chest!), I think I’m starting to see it a bit more clearly.

I overcommitted—problem number 1. Thinking I can take on WAY more than I actually can has been a life-long struggle that I used to play off as cute and plucky, but really isn’t anything to be celebrated. All it means is that you’re miserable. All it means is that you’re not doing anything well, including the things that matter the most because there’s just too much going on. I should not have taken responsibility for a second house a year after diving into a huge rehab project of my own. Some people manage this type of thing well, although exactly how remains something of a mystery to me. Having a partner to do it with, I assume, helps enormously—but that’s a lot of pressure to put on a relationship if you’re not both 1,000% into doing this kind of work. We weren’t. And soon we were done, and I was alone—two dogs, two houses, and a single, unreliable and variable income.

Things started out, by most standards on a project like this, fairly well. I tackled the exterior first, in large part to signal to the neighborhood that things were changing for this little eyesore and community hazard. That went mostly well, although we ran out of cooperative weather. We gutted the interior, too, which normally I’d consider overkill but the house had undergone at least one previous renovation and there was next to nothing worth preserving. We re-framed every interior wall according to plans I’d drawn up on the computer, since the layout was also not worth preserving.

Various members of neighborhood were so excited to see something being done, at a very good pace, with this guy—me—at the helm, who really seemed to give a shit. That guy—me—was giving people work. He was friendly with the neighbors, and sympathetic to their understandable dismay over the condition this house had been in for so many years. He’d chat with Miss Margaret from next door while she waited for her ride over to the grocery store or the doctor, and programmed his number into her flip phone with instructions to call if she ever needed anything (she did, once, and he was there in minutes). The pastor of the church down the street was ecstatic about the progress, and soon one of her volunteers was walking through the house, dreaming of buying it and starting her family there when the renovation was complete. One of the owners of the owner-occupied house had her sister by—she was getting older and looking to downsize and be closer to family; it was a perfect fit. The guy who lived below Miss Margaret allowed us the use of his hose at no charge, since there was no running water on site. Someone started dropping off pies from the grocery store—cherry, blueberry, apple—on the front stoop with notes of encouragement.

And then, as quickly as work began, it halted.

I screwed up in myriad ways. I thought I could manage a rag-tag crew who desperately needed the work, and I could not. I placed trust where I absolutely shouldn’t have. I naively put myself, my investment, and my things at risk—luckily, only the things saw any lasting consequences, although having various expensive items you rely on for your livelihood stolen by people you trusted even briefly is a real punch to the gut.

I thought I could make the blog thing work, but I couldn’t. Not at the time, anyway. I didn’t figure out how to make the time to actually create the content that would further increase the traffic that would drive the sponsors that would make the money. I’ve never been a professional blogger and I was, basically, flying by the seat of my pants. I should have asked for help. I should have done…something. I didn’t know where to start, or what kind of help to even enlist. Just having decent site traffic does not a living income make.

Worst of all—and impossible to admit at the time, but easier to stomach now—was that, frankly, I didn’t even really know how to renovate this house. I thought I did. The basic strokes, sure. But let’s remember: I have no formal training in this stuff. I’m self-taught. I was young, and had never taken on an entire home rehab like this—not even my own house qualifies, which I’d barely scratched the surface of anyway. And now I had a completely gutted shell I had to put back together, and I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around all the many, many ins and outs of making that happen. This is, in part, evidenced by my initial design decisions, wherein I didn’t include any plumbing chases despite plopping a bathroom in the center of the second floor. Or thought we’d heat the house with a forced air system, in spite of having no space for ducts or air handlers.

There was a leak in the gas line that took the utility company 8 months to repair because of the winter and the frozen ground. Somehow at the time I couldn’t fathom a way around that—the house was freezing cold, and without a heat system (which will run on the gas), there wasn’t really any reason to move forward with a plumbing rough in, and without that I really shouldn’t have the electricians in, either, and both of those things would hold up insulation and finishing work, and really the flooring should go in between the heat system rough and actually installing the radiators, since I can’t install flooring AROUND a cast iron radiator. And OH RIGHT now I have to source and procure a house-worth of cast iron radiators because I simply will not do baseboard radiators and the fact that forced air isn’t really an option is news to me, and this will hold up the plumbing rough-in because they need to know how big each radiator is to get the pipes in the right place.

So I read up on sizing cast iron radiators (there’s science and math there, it’s not just whatever fits the space best) and gathered them from far and wide. Two came, actually, from a reader. One came from my house. A couple came salvaged. The plumber who was going to do the work disappeared. The house was freezing. My relationship was ending. I was failing at the blog stuff. And this block of time—during which I thought I was going to be working on this house and, hopefully, recouping the money I had into it—was quickly expiring. And I had a shell. With an unfinished exterior, nothing but framing inside, and a collection of antique radiators with no plumber to make them actually do anything.

This entire plan, essentially, hinged on everything going basically right. On me knowing what to do when they didn’t. And it didn’t go right. And I continued to not know. While I had the financing available to renovate the house, I wasn’t making nearly enough to live off of while I did that. And girl’s gotta eat. And pay bills. Adult things. So I took a little freelance job that spring, thinking with the weather back on my side I could totally do this freelance house, continue the more pressing work on my own house, and really dive back into Bluestone. At the very least, I’d make myself a little bit of money from the gig, and at least be able to support my shit through the next phase of work.

That little freelance job turned into the beast that was Olivebridge Cottage.* It was a job we’d budgeted 8 weeks for, and when all was said and done it took almost two years of my life and resulted in, essentially, a brand new house that I was responsible for designing and building. The workload was immense, the pay was not enough, and it took over my life. Finding the time to blog regularly was incredibly hard, and site traffic steadily decreased accordingly. Hell, finding the time for much of anything was incredibly hard—work at my own crazy house slowed to a stand-still, and any illusions I had about being able to work on Bluestone at the same time as this gargantuan project were sorely misplaced. It’s a time thing and a logistical thing and an energy thing. Not enough hours in the day. Various tools are at another jobsite. No energy, mental or physical, to put in long hours at two construction sites everyday. So it sat. And it sat. And it sat.

*The Olivebridge project will come back around on the blog at some point. For now, the owners have respectfully asked me to take down posts about the house, lest it’s unclear to somebody reading about it that all the many problems we uncovered were resolved. I don’t necessarily share the concern but I do respect their wishes—it is their house, and they shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable with what’s out there about it. Blogging is still not my full-time job, and those posts in particular take hours upon hours to put together—which is the same time I have to write other posts that, basically, I’d rather be writing.

One of the other condemned houses got picked up for pennies at auction. In short order all the exterior rot was inelegantly covered in aluminum flashing, some work was undertaken on the inside, a For Rent sign went up in the window, and the newest absentee landlord on the block began collecting his rent checks. And I can’t even say a damn thing about it, because my piece of the block is still just sitting there, waiting. An empty shell.

Eventually, a plumber was successfully enlisted to perform the work of the rough-in. A deposit of 50% on the single biggest line item in the budget was handed over. It should have taken a week, tops. The first day got cut off by some emergency call, if memory serves, but it went well. The next day, he’d be back. That day turned into a week. Which turned into a month. Which eventually turned into 14 months of hounding, and them coming for a few hours, followed by more weeks or months of hounding, until the rough plumbing work was mostly complete and able to be inspected. Then he was unceremoniously let go. That piece of shit.

On the bright side, I love the new plumber. So there’s that.

I didn’t leave the Olivebridge project with a lot in my pocket, and at the tail end of it I all but destroyed my house in a fit of pent-up I-MUST-MAKE-SOME-PROGRESS-ON-THIS-HOVEL-BEFORE-I-LOSE-MY-MIND—another hideous error in judgment and delusion about how much I can pile on in a given period of time, not to mention the money it cost. Olivebridge was brutal. Then what I did to my house was brutal. What this did to my depression-prone brain was brutal. Plumber at Bluestone still being a garbage human. No progress over there. Everything was terrible, and I felt so stuck.

I’ve talked before about the anxiety-avoidance cycle I’m prone to fall into if I’m not careful. And it happened with Bluestone. How it starts:

I begin to look away when I drive by it. I don’t go over nearly enough to tend to the yard, where the weeds grow increasingly thick and tall. I don’t like to go inside, so I don’t. When I walk over, the neighbors ask where I’ve been, or what’s going on, and my answers are unsatisfying at best. I don’t know what to tell them. The time has gotten away from me. And I don’t really know what’s going on.

The guy who used to drop off pies drops notes instead, asking me to call him. He wants to buy it—not even in a predatory way, just in a let-me-take-it-from-here kind of way. He’s disappointed but kind. Everybody is disappointed but kind, really. I tell him honestly how much money has gone into the house, which doesn’t surprise him but does make the price rather high on a property that no bank would approve a loan for. It breaks my heart that I don’t even know what I’d do if he came to me with a check. I don’t want to abandon this project but I also wish it would go away.

I stop by less and less frequently. I look away more and more. My own house still feels terrible. That house, sitting down there, feels like death. It gets broken into during the winter, but I don’t find out until months later from the landlord next door. He is inexplicably nice to me. I would not be this nice to me—not even close. He tells me a lot of people were in the house. He and his son re-secured it so it wouldn’t happen again. He was surprised I didn’t know. Inside, a small fire had been set in a cast iron sink I’d set aside years before—with so much optimism—for the half-bathroom. They’d used lath as kindling. The sink was destroyed but nothing else—a miracle I don’t think is appropriate to describe as “small.”

It was devastating. Imagine if something happened. I sobbed. I felt sick. I’m precisely the problem I set out to solve. It’s a dark, dark feeling. The worst that I’ve ever felt about anything in my life, I’m pretty sure. Every part of me felt awful. And by association, so did Bluestone. It became the physical embodiment of Daniel, The Spectacular Failure. And it’s right. fucking. there. Inescapable. Unavoidable.

Miss Margaret died. I found out from the guy who let us use his hose. I’m quite sure seeing the house next door to her apartment get renovated was not her dying wish, but that she never got to see it reborn still makes me sad. The pastor has moved away, and her volunteer with dreams of a family did buy a house, somewhere else in town, where she now lives with her husband and their new baby. I get the sense she dislikes me now when we pass each other in the grocery store and whatnot, but I could be projecting. Or I could be right, and frankly, she has every right to. Even Methodists have their limits.

The third condemned house sold, a large Victorian divided a few decades ago into four apartments. Now, it will again be four apartments, just altered. They slapped a coat of paint on it, ripped out all the windows, ignored clear structural deficiencies, enclosed a porch, tossed the radiators, and removed the rafter ties so the second floor could be vaulted all the way into the attic space—so basically the roof might collapse with a heavy snowload now. The owner is an “artist” who lives…somewhere else. And, once again, I can’t say a goddamn thing about it, because at their pace he’ll be collecting rent checks before Bluestone has a working toilet, let alone a certificate of occupancy. And it’s my fault.

A year ago, I wrote this post. I wanted 2018 to be better than the prior few years. I needed it to. I needed to figure out how to get myself out of this mess and this cycle—of taking on freelance work I don’t necessarily even want that overtakes my life, of deluding myself into thinking I can do it all at once, of allowing this project—now a hazard unto itself—to get pushed off again and again.

I didn’t solve all my problems in the space of a year. But I was better. I know I was better, in ways measurable and not. I wrapped up one big freelance job, did another, and started a third that didn’t require as much of my time (still far more than I expected and/or quoted for, but that’s a whole other story). I asked for help with managing the blog stuff and, briefly, got some (although that’s also a whole other story, but I’m giving myself some credit for trying). I got my hair cut 10 times, and even though I missed two appointments it was still a personal record. That’s neither here nor there, but it was a 2018 resolution so I’m inclined to mention it.

Mostly, I hunkered the fuck down. I worked my ass off, from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter.

The lion’s share of this ass-that-got-worked-off, admittedly, was closer to home. Specifically, at home. It was a big year for my house—essentially, one of rebuilding. At the start of the year, it felt like ruins. Various spaces were gutted. No laundry. No kitchen. No pantry. Not enough heat. Incomplete exterior work. And just a phenomenal mess—too much stuff in too few rooms, disorganized, and plain dirty. There wasn’t really a choice but to roll up my sleeves and step up my game, so I did. I worked, and worked, and worked, and worked. I reacquainted myself with my own things, trying to remember what I’d loved and valued about them before they became dusty obstacles cluttering my life. I cleaned. I rearranged. I spread out—which sounds weird, since I live here alone, but I still catch myself feeling like this space isn’t entirely mine. Like I have to keep myself contained, small, hidden. I made hundreds of lists. Did I mention I worked a lot? And slowly, but not that slowly all things considered, it started getting better. Creating a laundry space made it easier to really care for my stuff again. Getting the kitchen to a point of basic functionality allowed me to reclaim my living and dining spaces and actually start cooking again. I made some solid progress in the backyard, and spent months wrapping up the restoration of the south and east sides of the house. I constantly had to remind myself that big progress can only be accomplished through a thousand small steps—like building a stone wall, there’s no shortcut. You just have to keep stacking stones on top of other stones. As it happens I also built some stone walls and the metaphor was never far from my mind. That’s all any of it is, really—stacking stones, one by one, on top of other stones until something satisfying emerges.

I got a lot done. I didn’t get Bluestone done, but did get the electrical roughed in, which is another big step toward completion. I took better care of the yard. I stopped turning away when I drove by. I began—for the first time in a long time—to allow myself to think about finishing materials and how I want this house to actually look and feel. It’s looked and felt so bad for so long, but having a clearer picture of the end goal helps.

Something happened several months ago that you may have picked up on, which is that Lowe’s came a-knockin’ with a proposal, basically to do various sponsored projects over the course of several months. While I’ve worked with different brands on sponsored content in the past, I’ve never done anything more than a one-off kind of project—which has always been part of the challenge with monetizing blogging for me, because I might do one sponsored thing and get a decent little paycheck, but I can’t play financial roulette and turn down non-blog work and risk that there may not be a next sponsored thing with a decent little paycheck, so freelance work just ends up feeling more like a sure thing. The trade-off is that it keeps me away from things I’d rather be working on, including working on blog posts and responding to emails from potential sponsors that might make the blog thing actually sustainable. This is why I need help.

But this was Lowe’s—a team of people I’ve worked with on and off in the past, with a retailer that I probably spend the most time and money at of any other in my life (I have the Lowe’s/Synchrony credit card debt to prove it, folks!). I couldn’t ask for a more perfect fit. The way this works—both normally and in this situation—is that the content creator (that’s me!) pitches ideas to the sponsoring brand, they select their favorite ideas and the ones that align best with their budgets and editorial goals, and then I tell them the supplies I need to get it done and those materials are provided. I get paid both in the form of materials (which typically are either things I’d be purchasing anyway, or at least want to) and in the form of actual money for my time doing the project and producing the post and, of course, promoting it through this dog and pony show you see before you.

Anyway. I entered into this agreement with both trepidation and intention. I’ll come back to the intention part. Trepidation for two reasons: whether I was truly up to the task I thought and Lowe’s seemed to think I was up to (I’m trying to be more careful with my commitments, like I said!), and how it would go over with you, my DEAR READER. Because I like you (at least, I assume I do) and of course I want you to like me, and trust that I’m being honest with you, BECAUSE I AM, and this kind of sponsored set-up was a real departure from how I’ve been bopping around in this world for the past 8+ years. Because I know sponsored content is lame sometimes. I’ve skipped over it on other blogs, too. See how cool and relatable I am? I know right.

I think there’s an impression that when bloggers do sponsored content, it’s less real than their un-sponsored content. Or that the blogger is, like, greedily raking in the dollars for putting some dumb thing in their house and taking some photos of it. And while I’m not saying those things don’t happen, I can say this: these projects have been intense. In part because there are still various other things going on in my life, but in part just because all of these sponsored projects have been a ton of work. These bloggers that do this stuff on the reg and still manage 5 posts a week? I literally don’t know how they do it. In typical fashion, I way overshot on pretty much every single project—committing myself to more work than time really should have allowed for, and honestly more than was really necessary to pack into ONE blog post. Even after all this time, I still find it very difficult to predict how a post will actually pan out until I’m writing it, and I worry about it not being enough…and the idea always sounds like less work than it is. Always. Every time. And I wanted to do a really good job. I don’t know what the future holds for that partnership in particular—I would love for it to continue—but either way it’s been an invaluable insight into what pro blogging might look like for me. I’m not really an affiliate-link-the-shit-out-of-everything-on-Wayfair kinda guy, if you haven’t noticed.

The intention part was basically this: that this opportunity, at least for these few months, is maybe the beginning of me crawling out of this tangle of weeds. That this enables me to work on the projects I want/need to work on (BLUESTONE), and provide some stable income so I can, actually, pivot energy and attention onto this blog. Essentially, all I’m saying is the thing we kind of know to be true but forget: that the sponsored content isn’t just the sponsored content; it also supports the un-sponsored content. It’s a huge thing I’ve had a hard time totally grasping for myself all these years (no trouble understanding it for anyone else—what’s with that?), because I feel like I “should” be blogging more simply because I like it—but liking it or not liking it has never been the issue. The issue has always been the time it takes vs. the time I have because I’m wrapped up in all this other stuff.

(OK, sometimes I get dark and spooky and exceptionally anxious for weeks or months that the whole world hates me, and then I also don’t tend to blog. But usually it’s the other thing.)

So. I’m learning how to do this. It’s challenging, but a good kind of challenge. The kind of challenge I actually want.

Many of the projects I proposed were for Bluestone. The projects were selected and approved over time, not all at once, so it was a little hard to predict where I’d be headed next. A couple of projects I initially wanted for Bluestone, but my house ended up being the more practical or reasonable option for various reasons. AND THEN.

Lowe’s approved the Bluestone basement. The basement laundry room! Which is the whole basement, by the way. At first I was like…well that’s a weird way to start this renovation, but it’s actually kind of perfect? It gets me back in there. It’s subterranean, and 200 square feet, and a great little winter project I can do myself with a propane heater and the right supplies. It also started as the most disgusting, terrifying little space, so that makes any improvement feel extra good. Taking on this project prompted me have some of the bad work from the old plumber fixed—just sloppy stuff I probably would have ignored and then regretted ignoring down the line—which lead to wrapping up the un-done work upstairs, and that feels so much better. The electricians also returned for some outstanding items we didn’t need to pass inspection but should have been done. And it’s starting to look like something down there—like something rather nice.

It’s been a very long time since I spent this much time in this little eyesore o’ mine—since the beginning of it all, really. And it’s kind of a strange thing, to go back to a place that you never really left, but look at it with fresh eyes. Look at yourself with fresh eyes. I’m different than I was when I was 24 and had this bad idea. As much as I’ve groaned about this job and that job and stuff I did in my own renovation that made Bluestone feel impossible to really work on, I also learned what I think neuroscientists refer to as a fuckton through those experiences. They have all felt challenging because they were really fucking challenging. And that’s how trial by fire feels. That’s how learning the hard way feels.

And this, I think, is how moving forward feels. I don’t know how to resolve my guilt over the neighbors and probably the answer is that I don’t need to. I can apologize. I can feel guilty about what’s happened because what’s happened has been shitty. I can, at the same time, do what needs to be done to make the future different. And better. I know how to do this now. I’ve done it before—not this exact task, but I’ve done a lot. And I keep doing stuff, and I keep learning stuff, and I am—as of this writing—more capable than I have ever been before of taking this on. You probably are, too, with whatever thing you might have going on. Think about it! Tomorrow, you’ll be more capable. Because we are learning beings that, in spite of our flaws, have made it this fucking far.

One foot in front of the other. One stone on top of the next. That’s all any of it is.

Here! There! Everywhere!

OH HELLO! It’s June! How did that happen?! There’s so much going on. Let’s run it down in no particular order because my brain’s all over the place.

The gang is back together! Edwin, Edgar and I are in the midst of building a large-and-in-charge wraparound front porch on a circa-1900 house in Kingston! Perhaps I should say rebuilding, since the porch was demolished long ago. So we’re constructing a close resemblance of the original porch, based on the bits of information we have—a few photos, dimensions from old tax assessment records, and the few pieces of the original porch that remained. It’s a big huge project that’s been in the works for a couple of YEARS now, so it’s super exciting that it’s finally happening. It’s also daunting! Partially because it’s HUGE at almost 800 square feet, and partially because it’s a significant addition that will completely change the appearance of this old house and I have to make it look right and like it’s always been there! Part of my job is keeping everyone occupied and PAID, so aside from this big project I’ve also been hustling my ass around town on a bunch of smaller projects that the guys can hit when it rains, or a product order is late, or whatever. It’s kinda a lot to manage.

Let me tell you a story! Last summer, I reluctantly dove into the waters of Instagram Stories while we were working on a different house just outside of Kingston. Admittedly, I’m an extremely rare story-watcher, but evidently I’m a semi-prolific story-maker. It’s fun! It’s easy! As we know by now, as much as I like to write, I frequently struggle with actually having the time to dedicate entire blog posts to stuff that I plan to dedicate entire blog posts to while they’re happening, so Instagram Stories have been a nice alternate way to document things in real time. If you’re not following me already, first of all get your life together, and second of all go find me @DanielKanter. Then just keep an eye out for new posts, I guess! I try to archive the more relevant bits into the Highlights feature at the top of my profile, if you need to catch up a little on the aforementioned porch project.

What’s that you say? A different house outside of Kingston? Yeah! I guess if you don’t follow me on Instagram, you wouldn’t have a way of knowing about the cool quirky old farmhouse the guys and I renovated last summer/fall/winter! Honestly it was another doozy—not quite Olivebridge proportions, but still managed to go from a couple changes and a bunch of sprucing up to a top-to-bottom overhaul of…everything? 2 bathrooms! Kitchen! Laundry! All the rooms! The whole outside! Mechanicals! The bulk of the work ended in February but I just did a final install last week. I have to go back and photograph it but it’s nice to have this 8-week-turned-8-month project off my plate a bit.

Speaking of Olivebridge. If you read even one of those tumultuous posts about the Olivebridge house, I owe you some resolution. We don’t have to get into all the mostly-stupid reasons that hasn’t yet come to pass, but I haven’t forgotten. Honestly the fact that I haven’t blogged about it makes me feel like the book is still open on that project—in spite of the house’s successful completion!—and that feeling sucks so it’s high time to get my shit together on that front. MAYBE IT COULD ACTUALLY BE FUN! At the very least I think it will really and truly feel finished in terms of big life events I’d never want to repeat. Ha!

5 years! So I didn’t even think about it until the day after, but Friday marked the five year anniversary of owning my house! What a journey we’ve been on, this house and I. I still love it. I’m still overwhelmed by it. There are still parts of it I haven’t tackled and a lot of other parts in some stage of progress, but (knock on ALL the wood) I think the worst of the renovation is pretty much over and that feels GOOD. The past 2 years or so were particularly rocky, but it’s finally started to feel like a real home again—my home—and I’m more grateful than ever that I get to call this special house mine.

Laundry! Kitchen! Anticipating that this summer would be exactly as crazy as it’s shaping up to be, I set some concrete goals for myself and my renovation for the first four months of the year. We can talk about this more later, but experience is a valuable thing—and it’s taught me that working on multiple major renovation projects at different properties at the same time is a recipe for inefficiency and frazzled-ness and general misery, but I also obviously can’t just work on my own house all the time. So, I try to give myself a little time between client projects to re-focus on my own stuff and get as much done as I can. May 1st became the goal for having a functioning laundry room, a functioning kitchen, and doing some MAJOR clean-up and space-reclamation everywhere else once the first two items were accomplished and there’d be a bit more room to spread out. I DID IT! Having laundry again is amazing and having it on the second floor lights up my life. The kitchen is FAR from complete, but IT HAS WALLS and electric and plumbing—enough to hook up a sink, move in a few of my old cabinets, and start using the space again AS A KITCHEN for the first time in almost 2 years. And now that my dining room isn’t also a kitchen, and my living room isn’t also an enormous glorified dog kennel, I spent a weekend just rearranging my own shit for hours and now those two rooms look and feel so much better than they have in a LONG TIME. I even had two friends over for dinner! Like I said—still a ton to do, but getting to this point of basic usability feels huge.

So interior progress at my house will slow, but hopefully exterior work will continue. There’s a lot to do on the outside of my house—between gardening on the street-facing sides (and just maintaining what I have!), finally putting the finishing touches on the major exterior work that started last summer and the one before, and trying to get SOMETHING good going on in the backyard, I hope I can bang it out in my “free time” before fall/winter hits again. I’ve already decided that this summer I’m going to skip tearing off more vinyl siding in favor of just polishing off what’s already started—I can’t stand all the loose ends out there right now.

I have a major itch to landscape. Or hardscape maybe, more specifically? Getting the backyard just to square one was so labor-intensive and expensive that gathering the motivation (or setting aside the time, with the house itself needing so much attention!) to do much else with it has been tough. I’ve done two things that helped get my ass in gear, though: first, I asked a friend with a great garden to help me prioritize and plan and make a few decisions. FRIENDS! THEY’RE SO HELPFUL! Second, the Brinson’s invited me last minute to the Trade Secrets garden show in Connecticut, where we toured 3 amazing gardens including living legend Bunny Williams’ property, which I really just need to do a photo-dump kind of blog post about because it was so insanely good. Going to see this stuff IN MY CLIMATE (“omg, I can actually grow that too!!!”) was really valuable and the whole thing was for-real inspiring. Like I literally got home and began construction on a dry-stacked bluestone wall because I just had to get my inspo-overload ya-yas out somehow.

But don’t get carried away about my house, because there’s still Bluestone CottageI feel I owe a longer explanation about this than I want to get into right this instant, but long and short of it is—I MUST finish that house. Personally, professionally, emotionally, physically, financially—it needs to happen. I think I successfully enlisted an electrician last week, and the plumber has finally (sort of) reemerged after beginning the rough-in a YEAR ago, and my own living situation is finally back out of complete shambles, and life will go on and the house will get done and then I can stop feeling shitty about bad decisions I made when I was younger and dumber. Well, at least one of them.

Mekko is the best dog. We’ve also been dealing with some health stuff over the past few months, requiring visits to vet offices in 3 different states and a whole lotta money. It’s certainly not good but seems to be surmountable (yay!), and it’s been stressful and expensive and basically I’m trying to not freak out. I lost one dog 7 months ago. I refuse to entertain that this could resolve any way other than completely fine and she’ll go on to be the longest-living dog on record and then I’ll clone her. So anyway. That’s been awful, no lie, but could be way worse. Surgery, again, this Friday. Sigh.

I’ve bought some stuff. You know, since the last time I showed you some stuff I bought. I like pretty old stuff.

So that’s basically what’s up in my little corner of the world. What’s up in your little corner of the world? Do we want to hear about any of the above items in particular more than others? Watched any good TV lately?

Sink for the Cottage Half Bath!

OOF. I’ve been working on several different posts and a million other things and I can’t seem to get anything done. I’m all over the place. So…hi, folks! Long time no see. Missed ya.

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The big news today? Not that big. I bought another old sink. My life is basically non-stop action and excitement with a heaping scoop of filth thrown in for fun.

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a cute cast iron sink to go down in the half-bath on the first floor of the cottage, and this one fit the bill! It’s probably from the 40s or early 50s, super heavy, and—despite the grime and filth, in excellent shape! I love the simple lines (which to me don’t really scream any particular era—just simple and classic), and the flat section at the top where it’ll meet the wall seems like a perfect spot for a bottle of hand soap and a cup for toothbrushes or whatever. It’s a pretty small bathroom, so I like that this particular sink has that little storage opportunity built-in. I’ll still put in some kind of cabinet or shelving or a medicine cabinet or something, but it’s a start!

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The best part? BOOM. $25 dollars. This entire project has definitely come with some unexpected costs, so saving money here and there on stuff like this really helps keep the budget more in check.

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There’s a few things to think about when buying vintage enameled cast iron fixtures, and the first is really to inspect the condition of the enamel. I don’t mind a little etching and minor staining (which can often be improved with non-abrasive cleaners or plain old white vinegar), but major chips, cracks, or areas of damage—especially where water will hit—will rust and degenerate over time.

Damaged enamel doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good buy, especially if the shape is super unique or something, but all of the repair solutions that I know about will never really measure up to an original enameled coating. There are epoxy-type patching compounds you can buy at most home improvement stores, which you basically spread on, let dry, and sand smooth, but the finish is never going to look seamless or perfect—it’ll just insulate the cast iron from further rusting. You can also get stuff like this reglazed professionally (typically they come to you, mask everything off, and spray a new coating on the fixtures), which looks nice at first but isn’t all that durable—you generally have to have it redone about once a decade or so, and it scratches and chips fairly easily in the meantime. The most durable solution I know of is sandblasting and powder-coating. In this process, the enamel finish is blasted off until the cast iron is bare, and then the entire thing can be powder-coated, which is essentially a very tough, durable paint treatment that can be done in a million different colors. It also tends to be pretty affordable, but prices vary. That’s the plan for the downstairs bathtub in my house, since it’s in super solid shape overall but the enamel has seen much better days, and I was quoted $300 to have the work done…which is much less than I’d spend on a brand new tub! This is the same process that my pal Anna had done on her bathroom fixtures, a radiator, and some exterior metal work, and all of them have held up beautifully!

I don’t know of a way to actually have something completely re-enameled (anyone?), though, so the best thing is really to try to find fixtures that don’t need this kind of repair work in the first place. It also keeps costs down, duh-sies. This sink is in great shape, so a little scrubbing should take care of it!

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The second thing to think about is the metal cleat that the sink hangs off of. If you’re installing one of these bad boys, bear in mind that they are HEAVY mo-fos and you may have to open your wall and install some wood blocking for the cleat to screw into. Anyway, often vintage sinks get separated from their original cleat. I bought this sink from the Historic Albany Foundation, which is a fun salvage place with good stuff at great prices, and luckily for me they had a big bin of these cleats to peruse, so it was just a matter of finding one that fit! If your sink is still in production (like the Kohler sink I bought a while ago), you may be able to just order the cleat directly from the manufacturer, and if you’re really in a bind, lots of people get them custom-made by a metal shop for a fairly nominal cost. Anyway, there are options! If you love the sink, don’t fret if it doesn’t have the cleat.

By the way, the nice man at the salvage place told me that often you’re better off with a steel cleat than a cast iron one. Cast iron becomes more brittle over time, so sometimes the cleats are cracked or broken either prior to or during installation. I know that rusty little thing looks like bad news, but it’s very solid and I was assured should hold everything just fine.

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Lastly, the taps! As much as I don’t really mind double taps on old sinks, especially for a half-bath, I gotta say I do prefer a single faucet. Often cast iron sinks that are originally made with double taps can be elegantly converted (Anna did this in her bathroom, too), but the cost of the plumbing work and the faucet/knobs/escutcheons definitely adds a few hundred dollars to the price. So potentially your cheap $25 sink really becomes a $300-$400 sink, which is still fine, but maybe not the kind of deal you thought it was.

ANYWAY, I know this thing looks REALLY gross, but I’m guessing some Barkeeper’s Friend and some TLC will clean it up. Maybe a few new little parts, too, but hopefully that won’t be a big deal. The faceted shape of that little faucet is so cute, though, right? I like it.

I’m so glad to report that—I THINK HOPE AND PRAY—winter is pretty much done. There’s still snow on the ground, but it’s melting, and hopefully it won’t be too long before I can really get back to work on the cottage. The lack of heat (or a gas line!) really kind of messed everything up for a few months, but now that we’re more or less out of the danger zone of pipes freezing and stuff, I’m excited to get back in there! Now that things have stalled and dragged out for so long, it’s going to be super exciting to start making real progress again and whipping this place into shape!

Thinking About Flooring in the Cottage

One of the things I find myself thinking about a lot is flooring. I endlessly, relentlessly agonize over what to do with the wood floors in my own house when I eventually refinish them, which is the subject of a whole different post. It’s best to not even get me started on the two bathrooms, either. I mean, the options just seem boundless! I’ve never felt particularly compelled to add another bathroom to my house, but I’ll admit that the idea of just getting to pick out another floor almost makes me want one. Also, sinks. And tubs. And mirrors. Maybe I just want to renovate more bathrooms?

The cottage renovation has sort of sent my obsessive flooring thoughts into overdrive. I have a surplus of floors in my life to worry about. Consequently, I’m losing my mind. Or I’ve lost it already. So let’s think this through together, yeah?

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This is that familiar new view into the cottage when you’re standing at the front door. I’m still really pleased with this new floor plan—I think once the walls go up, it will feel just open enough but still efficient and cozy, like this place needs to be.

The floor has me a little worried, though. In the living room at the front of the house, there’s flooring that appears to be yellow pine. It’s in really, really rough shape, but I actually think it would refinish OK. There’s some significant patch work to do on areas where boards are missing or too damaged, but it would be doable. Another thing to keep in the back of your mind is that these floors run side to side.

Aside from that, the other notable thing about this floor is that it’s laid directly on top of the joists, underneath which is an uninsulated crawlspace. I know using an original subfloor as flooring isn’t all that abnormal in old house renovations, but I also worry about having just 3/4″ of wood between feet and a cold crawlspace in the winter. It seems potentially uncomfortable and potentially inefficient from a heating standpoint.

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The real problems start in the dining room, which is the original part of the structure. This flooring also appears to be yellow pine, but the boards are a bit thinner than in the living room. They’re laid on top of an original pine subfloor—I think it’s hard to tell from the picture, but this means that they sit about 3/4″ higher than the flooring in the living room, which isn’t so ideal. It also means that the boards run the same way that the joists do—back to front—meaning that the flooring runs perpendicular to the living room planks. So that’s kind of Issue #1 and Issue #2: the height differential between the floors is less than ideal, and the opposing directions just makes things feel sort of choppy and awkward.

Then there’s the fact that during the framing extravaganza, the dining room wall actually moved over a few inches in order to effectively support the joists on either side of the beam in the ceiling. So all of the dining room flooring actually ends a few inches before the wall, which would be a very tricky thing to patch in and repair without it looking strange. I’d probably just end up running a couple of boards perpendicular to fill the gap, but it’s not the most glamorous solution. I’m worried about it all ending up looking a little patchwork-y.

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The other thing about the dining room floor is that it’s in bad shape. I think most of it would still refinish OK, but there’s definitely some advanced water damage in certain areas, and those boards would need to be replaced and new boards feathered in. Not a huge deal cost-wise, but it is just a lot of labor to put into this floor that I have other issues with already.

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Then we have the kitchen. Now, it used to be that the flooring in the dining room ran continuously into the kitchen (which was covered in layers and layers of glued down linoleum, but still…), but unfortunately about 25% of it was way too rotted to save due to water damage, and the rest had to come up to address the structural issues, also due to the water damage…and then whatever was potentially salvageable got accidentally thrown away during a particularly insane day of demo. Anyway, the point is that there’s no floor at all in here anymore.

So where does that leave us? By my calculations, it looks like this: even if I did a good patch job on all the existing hardwoods, then put down something new in the kitchen, we’re still left with three different types of flooring, at two different levels, running through 3 rooms on this main floor, which bear in mind is only 600 square feet. I don’t know about you, but to me that just sounds…crappy.

I think there’s a solution. If I take up the top layer of the dining room floor, the original subfloor should be the same height as the existing flooring in the living room. After I put a new 3/4″ plywood subfloor down in the kitchen, everything is on the same level…and then a new, continuous floor could be laid over everything. I like this solution for a few reasons. Firstly, it would mean running all the boards from back to front, which I think would visually make the first floor appear a bit more expansive than it is. Secondly, the main floor doesn’t get a ton of natural light. Coupled with the low ceilings, I’ll admit I’m a little anxious about it feeling too dark. The condition of the existing floors and the fact that there’d have to be a lot of patch work to salvage them pretty much guarantees that I’d have to stain them fairly dark, which I’m not super inclined to do in a space that’s already kind of dark. New flooring could be left natural and sealed, which would just keep things lighter. Third, I think new flooring throughout would go a long way toward unifying the spaces. I don’t want the house to feel choppy, and I don’t want all the work that is going into it to feel too apparent. Patchy floors make it pretty clear that a wall used to be here, and a doorway used to be there—that kind of thing—and I’d rather avoid that feeling here.

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One of the things I love about the cottage and I’m trying to respect in the renovation is the modesty of the house—the size, the style, the scale of the rooms, etc. I definitely want to carry that idea through to the materials, which is convenient because it saves me money and will look appropriate. In that vein, I love the idea of doing a simple wide-plank pine floor in here! The size of the boards would actually approximate the original 19th-century subfloor in the dining room, which I feel is a nice nod to the history of the house, and the knots and “imperfections” in the boards would lend some nice character for the more informal, cozy cabin vibe that I think this house wants to have.

Luckily, this stuff is cheap! Admittedly I haven’t done really any hunting around, so maybe there’s an even better price out there, but a quick look at Lumber Liquidators has this flooring coming in at $1.39/square foot! That’s pretty damn good for real hardwood. Even factoring in the extra 20% that I guess you’re supposed to order when you install hardwood, the floor would clock in at right around $1,000. I’m pretty confident that installing it myself wouldn’t be a big deal, so then I’d just be paying a bit more for tool rentals and polyurethane and stuff (some of which I’d need with the refinishing option anyway). Seems very worth it, right?

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SO. I think my mind is pretty made up about the first floor. Which still leaves the second floor. Specifically, the bathroom.

The floors up here are the same yellow pine as on the first floor, and they’re in good shape. There’s definitely some patching to do to seal up some big holes and stuff, and they really need to be refinished, obviously, but I think they’ll clean up just fine. The second floor gets more natural light than the first, so I’m not even that concerned about staining them dark if necessary.

Obviously I don’t have a lot of hesitation about putting a wood floor in the kitchen or even the powder room on the first floor—I know people tend to be really anxious about using wood in spaces like that, but I’m not really one of them—but I keep going back and forth on whether I should replace the floor in the bathroom. I’ve never lived with a wood floor in a bathroom, so I can’t personally speak to the practicality of living with one, but I know some people are fine with it and some people wouldn’t dream of it. Honestly, I don’t really know where I stand! I guess if this room didn’t already have a wood floor, I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t put one in…but since it does…

Part of me feels like the floor is in good shape, and there isn’t really a reason to incur the expense/hassle of ripping it up and replacing it with tile. The other part of me feels like a potential buyer might not really want their only full bathroom to have a wood floor…and maybe this imaginary person has a point? Then I remember that radiant floor heating exists, and think about how fancy and luxurious it would be to put that under a new tile floor in the bathroom. Then I think about the previously unforeseen expense of replacing the floors on the first floor, and that the easy and responsible thing to do would be to make up for it by cutting a tiled floor for this bathroom from the renovation plan. Then I worry that I’m being penny-wise but pound-foolish because maybe somebody will really like this house but feel like a major corner was cut by not tiling the bathroom, or maybe a radiant-heated floor in the bathroom would put some other person just totally over the edge of wanting this place. Then I remind myself that if it’s that big of a deal to somebody, they could always tile the floor at some point in the future.

This is what I think about. A lot. Round and round I go.

So here’s a hypothetical. Would the only full bathroom in a house having a wood floor be a deal breaker for you? Would you prefer it? And hey—if you have a wood floor in your bathroom, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it!

Kohler Brockway Sink in the Cottage Bathroom!

Once in a while, one of the really awesome benefits of having this blog is that it’s kind of like I have more eyes thrifting for me. This kind of thing is a relatively rare occurrence—I’m not that fancy—but I do feel extra super lucky when I get an email or a tweet or a comment from a reader letting me know that they spotted this or that in a thrift store or on eBay or Craigslist and thought I might be interested.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about that nice rosewood credenza that a very kind and neighborly reader named Priscilla found and put on hold for me at a thrift store. That was really awesome when that happened. Priscilla has been kind enough to text me every now and then if she see’s something while she’s out and about…and girlfriend just went and did it AGAIN.

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So one day while I was busy working on the living room at my house, Priscilla texted me a picture of this 3-foot wide enameled cast iron double sink over at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, asking if I wanted it since she couldn’t think of a reason to buy it herself. I don’t need it for my house, and it didn’t really fit into the cottage plan either, but come on…that’s a good-looking sink! Originally I was planning on doing some kind of double vanity/double sink situation in the full bath at the cottage, but after thinking it over for a few minutes and looking at a few pictures of this model in use, I started to get really excited about using this instead. The holes accommodate 2 separate faucets, so it has the functionality of double sinks but the simplicity and glamor of a single basin. What’s not to love?

I don’t know how old this particular sink is, but it’s actually still in production! It’s made by Kohler and is called the Brockway—looks like it retails for between about $1,200-$1,600, depending on the source. Mine was only $175! Such a score. It didn’t come with faucets, mounting hardware, or the soap dish that goes in the middle, so that’ll add a few hundred dollars, but that’s OK—it can all be ordered separately from Kohler, which is really nice. I don’t have the budget that would allow for buying this kind of thing new, so it’s exciting to be able to put something so high-quality in this house that will hopefully stay with it for a long, long time.

This sink feels especially meaningful because back in October, Kohler held a small conference for bloggers at their headquarters in Kohler, Wisconsin, which I had the pleasure of attending! Admittedly, I went into the trip knowing next to nothing about Kohler as a company (other than that they made my toilet, which I like…), but I had such an appreciation for them by the time I left. What really struck me was how Kohler has balanced almost 150 years of design innovation (they started by making enameled cast iron bathtubs in 1873!) with a real respect for historic styles and production methods—something that seems really out of the ordinary for such a large, international company.

We got to spend some time in a museum area of one of the Kohler buildings, and while it was interesting to see how much things have changed over almost 150 years in business, it was even more amazing to see how much has stayed the same. They still produce almost everything out of their Wisconsin factories, including so many classic styles that are really nicely suited to historic renovations. It made me so happy to see all that stuff right alongside their sleeker, more modern designs. On the last day, we even got to tour the factories, and I think the highlight for a lot of us was seeing the cast iron goods being made. In my admittedly nerdy sort of way, I like having this sink because I’ve seen firsthand exactly how it was made…coming out of the oven glowing red-hot, hot enough to melt the powdered glass particles that get sprayed on it to form the enameled surface…SO COOL. I wish I could go back, like, once a month.

ANYWAY. Want to take a look at how great this sink looks in a bathroom? Yeah, I do too.

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From Country Living / Photos by Max Kim-Bee (click photo for link)

I really like this picture because it’s so much of what I can envision for the cottage bathroom! I’ve been thinking a lot about plank walls for the entire upstairs space, including parts of the bathroom that wouldn’t be tiled. The reclaimed wood shelf, the mirror, the sconce situation…it’s all just so nice!

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From House Beautiful / Photo by Alec Hemer (click photo for link)

What’s better than one double sink? TWO DOUBLE SINKS. So much sink action. And oh hey look, more plank walls! And a plank ceiling! And…BRASS. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Cannock faucet that’s recommended to go with the sink (maybe I’d like it more in real life?), but I do really like these, and the brass factor just puts it over the top. I’ve never actually seen all-brass traps and supply lines in the real world, but damn. That looks great. Plumbing fantasies.

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From Remodelista / Photo by Sean Slattery (click photo for link)

Hot DAMN, this bathroom. Sooooooo gooooooood. I sort of laughed when I saw this photo because the subway tiles and black hex floor tiles are also things I’ve been mentally tossing around for the cottage bathroom. Although my tiles would be ceramic and these look to be marble, but whatever. Oh, and I see you, skinny beautiful black radiator. And those cabinets. And that gorgeous tub. GUH. But the sink looks amazing, right? Right. It’s such a versatile piece.

Looking at these fancy bathrooms makes going to my bathroom feel kind of like taking a dump in a porta potty on a hot summer day, but I don’t even care.

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So there. Obviously this bathroom has a ways to go before this sink can have its moment to shine, but it feels motivating to have it now, while I still have some time to plan. It makes me so excited to see it come together! Now to just find myself a tub…

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