MINE: Vintage Rosewood Credenza

It started off all casual-like and innocent. I was sitting on my sofa in Brooklyn, checking my email. I noticed one from a reader——we’ll call her Priscilla, because her name is Priscilla——informing me of a new thrift store opening near Kingston. I sent a quick response saying that I’d driven by it and was excited for it to open, and thanked her for making sure I knew about it. My readers are the best readers because they understand that a new thrift store is a big important event in my world and take the time to email me about it.

*hugs*

But then she messaged me back saying that they’d actually already had a soft opening and were quietly selling furniture already, basically rewarding the hardcore thrifters who will even try to go to a thrift store that doesn’t look open yet. “I’ll go check it out!” I told her.

“They have a nice rosewood credenza right now,” she told me.

And that’s when things went from friendly and casual to gravely serious and intense. Nice. Rosewood. Credenza. If I smoked crack, these words would be a lot like someone saying “hey there, want some crack?” I said something about how I hoped it would still be there when I got back the next day, but Priscilla somehow knew what I really wanted, which was for her to send me pictures of Nice Rosewood Credenza and also measurements and also offer to buy it and let me pay her back later. I didn’t ask for any of this because I have a little bit of shame left in me, but I was very complicit in it when she kindly offered all of these things. She and I don’t know each other, mind you, but there’s nothing like a little long-distance thrifty furniture shopping to turn complete strangers into old friends.

Lest you’ve never had the pleasure, let me tell you: rolling into a thrift store parking lot in a borrowed truck to pick up old furniture purchased on your behalf by a stranger? Totally new levels of fancy. This day also happened to be my birthday. Then the cashier told me I had nice teeth. Then I met another reader while waiting on line (hi, Kirsten!). Maybe hauling furniture around is not everyone’s idea of a fabulous way to spend their birthday, but I’m not one of those people. There’s pretty much nothing else I’d rather be doing, particularly when nice rosewood credenzas are involved.

credenza3

Oh heyyyyyy girl! Right now it’s in that front parlor room (which I’m thinking should be a library) because this is the only wall long enough to hold it! I’d like to put it in the dining room eventually, but that will involve removing the door to a non-original closet and patching in the wall and baseboard, which is a pretty large project that I don’t want to get into quite yet. I really want to focus on finishing the entryway before I start tearing apart more rooms in the house (I think I’d literally lose my mind if things were more chaotic than they already are), but that’s the long-term plan for this thing. It’ll be nice to have a serving surface in the dining room, and it’ll provide easy access to all sorts of handy things. And by “things,” I really just mean booze.

credenza2

I dig this thing. It’s six feet long and a little taller than countertop height. I like the weird proportions and the wood grain, and I really love all the storage. This is basically our first and only piece of storage furniture, so after months of stuffing things into closets and keeping them organized in piles on the floor, we finally have a place to store things in a more civilized and adult manner. It could use a little oil on the feet, but otherwise it’s in really great condition. I know maybe this whole scene looks very dated and kind of nuts (and it doesn’t help that I really need a new camera)——what with the wallpaper and the chipping paint on the moldings and the messed up floors and the old electrical outlets and light switches——but SOMEDAY. Someday the house will be fresh and clean and not covered in insane dizzying patterns and this credenza will look really good.

I think. I hope. We’ll find out together!

Upstairs Kitchen is Gone!

I’m aware that some people grew up engaging in wholesome sorts of activities, like reading the Bible or watching Schoolhouse Rock. For such individuals, that type of stuff might have played a significant role in their understanding of how people should act and how the world should function. My family wasn’t really like that, though. Instead, every Sunday night, we tuned into a little television program called The X-Files, which I now realize was all part of my parents’ never-ending commitment to help raise the next generation of neurotic Jews (this, along with poor digestion). There, with eyes wide and hearts racing, we were taught the secrets of the universe while also having the shit scared right out of us. The fancy-pants parents of today would never stand for this sort of thing, but this was the 90s. Things were different then.

I’m just going to assume that you live on planet earth and know what The X-Files is. If you don’t, you need to take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’re doing with your life and commit to making a change. Then go get a Netflix subscription. The X-Files hasn’t really seen quite the same trendy resurgence of late that shows like Twin Peaks and Buffy have, but it’s only a matter of time. As a home design blogger, I feel semi-qualified to make semi-confident trend predictions about these things.  You’ll want to stay ahead of that one so that you’re cool when everyone else begins to recognize that the first 6 seasons of The X-Files were the best TV ever produced.

ANYWAY. In the pilot episode of The X-Files (which, admittedly, we watched as a re-run), there’s some crazy stuff happening with UFOs and aliens in Oregon, which Mulder and Scully go out to investigate. At one point, they drive through an area with radio signal interference, which Mulder mysteriously takes note of by spray painting an X on the road. Later on in the episode, they drive through the same area again, but THIS TIME Mulder checks his watch:

903x-files

Then they see a flash of blinding white light.

whitelight

When it’s over, Mulder looks at his watch again.

x-files912

They mysteriously skipped over nine minutes of time. Mulder gets out of the car to find the X on the street. Scully follows behind. They discuss it in the pouring rain at night time, because most things happen in the pouring rain at night time on The X-Files. 

x-files1

THEY LOST TIME, YOU GUYS. BECAUSE OF ALIENS AND STUFF. Awesome. Best show.

I bring this up because this is more or less how a lot of home renovation projects seem to be taking shape. I’ll walk into a room to grab something, or think I’ll spend 20 minutes or so working on a project, and then I’ll come to and realize that the sun has set. I’ll check my watch and realize I haven’t had anything to eat or drink in many hours. I haven’t even peed.  Then I take stock of my surroundings and realize that things look completely different than they had when I walked in. Maybe I have an open wound or two that I either failed to notice or failed to attend to while in the thick of things. All that time spent in the middle is muddled and fuzzy, a sort of abstract blur of tunnel-vision activity.

This is how the upstairs kitchen in my house vanished. I’m pretty sure I went in to grab a bottle of olive oil in the early afternoon. Then, POOF! Magic! It was the middle of the night and the kitchen was gone! I have only this series of photos to piece together what I guess happened in the interim.

kitchen

First of all, this was the upstairs kitchen, which was presumably installed when the house was split into a two-family. It’s at the back of the house, directly above the downstairs kitchen, and was very ugly. I’ll admit that it was actually pretty functional (this is the kitchen we used while we renovated the downstairs kitchen, so I’m actually really glad it was here!), and almost all the components of it are being reused elsewhere. The stove, for instance, we moved downstairs for our kitchen (since the original stove was a busted-up piece of scrap metal), and the cabinets went to the mudroom (and, probably someday, the garage) and hold all my tools. The still-working but very old and inefficient fridge was donated, and the sink was kept just in case we want to use it for a future remodel.

ANYWAY. I demo’d that shit all by myself over the course of an unexplained time lapse. This is sort of how I did it, I guess:

sinkcab1

I started with removing the sink, which I figured would be the most difficult. It was. The plumbing had already been disconnected at the basement level (I think ahead and stuff), so there wasn’t anything super technical to worry about. Just a lot of disconnecting things without adequate tools. Without adequate tools is becoming kind of a theme of my life——I’m FINALLY learning that I need to invest in decent tools when I need to buy them, and replace the cheap-o ones that are all breaking with something better when they inevitably give out. Cheap crappy tools were fine when I was just playing around in my apartment, but they’re not ideal for house renovation.

Anyway, the sink plumbing came apart super easily. I thought it would be easy-ish to just lift the sink off the base once the plumbing was disconnected. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, Daniel. When will you learn.

See that strip of white behind the sink? Well. The sink was sort of built into that strip. That strip was made of three pieces of 1/2″ plywood glued and nailed together and screwed into the studs. WHYYYYYYYYY.

sinkcab2

Sawzall time! Note how this sink base is A) the worst thing you’ve ever seen and B) super hand-made meaning super-badly-made meaning built like a tank. I really did think I could just take this whole thing out as a single unit, and I’m pretty sure it ended up as just a pile of splinters, infused with my rage.

undersinkwoodprying

Once it was gone, I got to wondering what the deal was with the platform that the sink base was sitting on. In another room, there’s something like this under a radiator, which the wood floor was clearly laid around, so I figured that this was the same kind of deal all along. Then, whilst demoing, I had the following conversation with myself:

Me: What if this piece of wood is actually on top of the wood floor? What if there is more wood floor underneath it?
Me: No, definitely not. It’s the same as under that radiator. The floor probably rotted out at some point so they cut it all away and added this thing. Or something. Your house isn’t the fucking Secret Garden.
Me: I really think this is a possibility. I don’t know why you’re always so negative.
Me: Because everything is terrible. You know that.
Me: MAYBE THIS WON’T BE TERRIBLE JUST GIVE ME A CHANCE.
Me: You’re going to regret this.
Me: We’ll see about that. By the way, your left arm is bleeding.

So I dug in with my pry bar. And hammered, and pried, and stuff, and probably hurt myself again.

prying2

WHAAAAAT. There WAS wood floor underneath the weird platform thing! I was all:

x-files2

Anyways. Then I removed the sheet vinyl floor, which I was pretty safe about, I guess. It’s possible that the backing of this kind of sheet-vinyl contains asbestos, but luckily there was no adhesive used to secure the flooring to the wood floor underneath. I used a box-cutter to cut it into strips, rolled it up (spraying the backing with soapy water as it was exposed, although the sheets weren’t tearing or coming apart or anything scary like that), and bagged it all up.

By this point, many hours had passed. I guess Max finally got curious about my whereabouts and came upstairs and was all:

scully

And I was all:

mulder

And the kitchen was all:

beforeafter

OK, I know it still looks a mess, but it’s exciting that it’s…not a kitchen anymore? It’s just a regular room that needs a lot of work?

floors

Pretty much the big exciting news is that the floor is actually in pretty great shape! Turns out all those years of being covered up did a nice job of protecting it, so while down the line we’ll probably want to refinish it, it can totally just be cleaned for now and look fine.

after2

I still have to rip out that pantry thing in the corner, but after the sink cabinet…well, at least I’m semi-prepared emotionally and mentally to deal. It’s going to be a pain.

after1

Anyway, this is a pretty good room. It will be a pretty good room. That door leads to a terrible set of exterior stairs that you can see here (which we’re hoping to have removed soon!), and the window has a piece of plexi on the outside, so it doesn’t open. The walls are all made of this weird fiberboard stuff (not plaster, not drywall), which is in pretty lousy condition and has a gross texture, and now half of it is ripped out to make way for new plumbing for the upstairs bathroom (long story, different post…). Basically, it will all need to come down to the studs at some point.

But! Underneath that pillar thing between the window and the door is a brick chimney! Above that super low ceiling (I think it’s 7.5 feet) is nothing! There’s no attic over this part of the house (the kitchen and this room were a later addition, probably around the turn of the century), so someday I’d love to loft the ceiling in here, which will make the whole room feel much bigger. So…refinished wood floor, lofted beadboard ceiling, two windows on either side of an exposed brick chimney——hello master bedroom? That way, that middle room can become a kind of flex space——like chill-out zone with a TV (we don’t want a TV in the main living room, but…I like TV. So.) and a pull-out sofa, which will eliminate the awkwardness of having the access to this room attached to another bedroom. Here is a diagram to better explain what the hell I am talking about, lest you have not memorized the entire layout of my house:

floorplan2

Something like that? I am tired just thinking about getting there. Let’s hope for more magical X-Files alien time lapses, yes? Skip ahead to a time where this is all done?

Cool. Great plan.

Removing Wallpaper! Forever!

lightinentry

One thing we knew from the second we peeked through the windows of our house for the first time was that the previous owners——or some previous owners——had a serious affinity for wallpaper. With all the other horrors our house has endured over the years (the kitchen! the bathroom! the other kitchen! the other bathroom! the closets! the attic! the basement! the living room floor! the side porch! the mudroom!) the task of peeling back the layers of paper and restoring pretty much every wall in the house just didn’t seem like such a big deal. I’d never removed wallpaper from anything before, but it’s the sort of thing people do all the time. And not, like, crazy lunatic blogger people who run out of subway tile at 4:30 in the morning and weep about why Lowe’s can’t just be open 24 hours. Like totally normal people who might even have below-average handiness abilities but they do have two working arms and a pulse, and are therefore capable of peeling wallpaper.

patternbefore

This is the part where typically I talk about how wrong and stupid I am about everything and how it was actually so hard and physically and emotionally trying and made me want to be dead. Not so! Peeling wallpaper is actually kind of fun and maybe a little relaxing and overall a pretty gratifying activity. It’s messy and terrible and incredibly tedious and takes forever and leaves you with jelly-arms, but that’s my idea of fun and relaxation. Removing old wallpaper is misery-fun, which is my favorite kind of fun, which is why I was so excited to dive right in as soon as the horrible vestibule wall was down. My friend Nora was in attendance as well (she is the fairy godmother of our renovation, officially), so we went after all the loose bits that were already coming off the wall:

entryway-wall

Which is where we left off last time, with things looking like this. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but it bears repeating: one thing that makes our wallpaper perhaps a little different than other wallpaper is that the outermost pattern——the one in the picture above——is actually painted on, most likely with a patterned roller. The problem is, when you have 150 year old plaster walls with layers of wallpaper and paint on them, and then a house that sat vacant for two winters to freeze and thaw, that old wallpaper adhesive will fail and the wallpaper will come away from the wall in a way that is not cute or charming. I know there are those among you who think this wallpaper is pretty and I should have made an effort to keep it (*cough*VESTIBULE WALL*cough*), but  that’s just not happening. Aside from being in horrible, way-too-far-gone condition, it’s just not very pretty. Believe me. It will all be so much better someday.

ANYWAYS.

removaltools

After all the loose bits were scraped off and thrown away, it was time to bring in the big guns. Luckily, we were able to borrow some supplies from our neighbors, Julian and Philippe (whose house Max shot for Design*Sponge today!), who are veteran wallpaper strippers.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments since I started posting about the house regarding wallpaper removal, and people have some strong feelings. Use strippers! Don’t use strippers! Use water! Use vinegar! Use steam! Steam is the devil’s work! And so on. So I’m just going to say that this is the method that’s worked best for me, after playing around with a few different methods over the course of this whole fun stripping adventure thingy.

SUPPLIES:

1. Electric kettle: I don’t know how I lived for so long without one of these, but it’s amazing! We use it for coffee and tea and stuff, but it heats up water to 200+ degrees in a couple of minutes, which really speeds up the whole process. The wallpaper steamer takes a while to really get going enough to emit steam (like maybe 20 minutes), so it really helps to pour already super hot water into it.

2. Wallpaper scoring tool: this tiny thang is the most important tool in the wallpaper peeling arsenal. Basically you just run it all over the wall and it creates hundreds of tiny holes in the surface of the paper, which allows the hot liquids/steam to penetrate into the underside of the paper. It’s ABSOLUTELY essential.

3. Spackle knife: I like to keep a couple handy, since the smaller one is good to get into corners and other tight spots. I think there’s a scraper specifically for this, but any old putty knife should do the trick.

4. Wallpaper steamer: People have a lot of feelings about the merits of steam, but I found it really pretty necessary. Some people mentioned steam causing their plaster to fall apart or get squishy, but it really didn’t affect mine at all. Except for the parts that are already damaged, our plaster is in shockingly solid, great shape. 

5. Handheld wallpaper sprayer: This is my new favorite thing. IN THE WORLD. All it is is a little handheld sprayer, with a pump on top to pressurize the container. That way, the spray is long and continuous, unlike a spray bottle that gives you carpal tunnel from all the repeated squeezing. Also, the plastic is much more rigid than a regular spray bottle, so pouring 210 degree water into it is A-OK. It won’t melt or anything! I added a couple drops of laundry detergent to the water, which I figured probably couldn’t hurt and would, at the very least, make things smell nice. After I was finished stripping wallpaper for the day, I used more hot water mixed with a wood floor cleaner to Swiffer the floors, which is now my new favorite floor-cleaning method.

scoring-tool

scoringtool

Did I mention how important the scoring tool is?? SO IMPORTANT. I got into a groove where while the water was heating up, I scored the crap out of the paper. Back and forth, up and down, round and round, and back again. The more you score, the easier everything is. Scoring is the least fun part of the whole thing because it makes an unpleasant noise and requires a little strength, but it’s very necessary.

SCORE. Don’t forget it.

After I’d scored a decent-sized area (I liked working in about 6′x6′ sections), I doused the whole area generously with super hot water from the wallpaper sprayer. After dousing, I kept myself occupied for about 5-10 minutes (maybe scoring another section of wall), then came back and doused the same area again. After waiting a minute or so, I was able to peel fairly large pieces off the wall with relative ease. YAY BARE PLASTER.

That method worked well for about 3/4 of each wall, but the rest of it really needed the steamer. All I did was hold the head of the steamer over any stuck areas for about ten seconds, and for the most part they scraped right off afterward. It really works best if you peel RIGHT after you take the steam away. After all the wallpaper was mostly gone, I sprayed the wall again and scraped off any clinging bits of backing paper and stuff and moved on. That’s it!

joint-compound

In case the mysteries of my house weren’t bountiful enough, I just wanted to share that generous portions of my walls were actually covered with wallpaper and paint, which was then skim-coated over with joint compound, then repainted in the same pattern! WHYYYYYYYYY. The same removal techniques pretty much worked for these areas (and the plaster underneath was——for the most part——totally fine, so I’m not sure why anyone did this in the first place!), but it just made everything extra-hard and extra-miserable. By which I mean extra FUN and WALLPAPERTASTIC.

progress

I didn’t take tons of “process” photos, but you get the idea. Lots of old painted wallpaper, all over the place. I lined the floor with plain white paper (an easel roll from the kid’s section of IKEA), which helped moderately in protecting the floor and made clean-up slightly easier. The adhesive on our paper was so old that it didn’t really stick to the floor even if it landed there instead of on the paper, but I’ve heard that can be a problem. So protect your floors. You know. Use your brain and stuff.

entry2

ANYWAY. Hours and hours and hours later…CHECK IT OUTTTT.

Yeah. I so don’t miss that wallpaper. Even though we’ll need to give the plaster a final scrub-down to get off any remaining adhesive, repair big holes and other damage, prime, and figure out what the hell we’re doing with the ceiling before we can paint, THIS IS SO EXCITING. 

stoppingpointdownstairs

I’m SO CLOSE to being done with peeling the entire first floor hallway. I had to stop in this back corner because the only light source in the entire entryway/hallway is that tiny little sconce up by the door, and I was doing this at night and I just couldn’t see what I was doing well enough to deal with this corner. Soon!

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But check it out! This wall: totally peeled! That hole is from where the basement light switch used to be, but I guess at some point it was relocated to the inside of the stairwell. I think it makes more sense there anyway, so I have to patch this hole. It was previously patched with masking tape, so I think there is room for improvement.

entry1

YAY! YAYYYYYYY! Now that the walls aren’t so wacky, can’t you totally see the soft white/grey walls with the white moldings and the black doors and the rug and the chandelier and everything being so beautiful? GUH. I can’t even wait. This is the phase where I kind of wish I could just hire everything out, if only so it would be done, like, yesterday. It’s going to take a ton of work to get there, but someday it’ll be amazing in here.

entry3

Now that the big ugly dumb wall is gone, this picture is possible! I still love that stairwell as much as the first time I saw it (so, so much). I *think* my new plan is to strip and refinish the treads, stained to match the dark mahogany-ish color of the newel post and banister. Then I’ll paint the risers white. Yeah? I considered just stripping and sealing the treads (which are probably pine), or just painting both the treads and the risers, but I don’t really want to introduce another wood tone between the flooring and the banister. I think if the treads and the banister match, though, it’ll look great.

Speaking of, THANK YOU to all the amazing people who gave their input on refinishing the floors in the comments of my last post! To clarify, the photos do make the floors look better than they are, but the floors in this area are actually in pretty good shape. The floors in the front “parlor” room and the dining room, though, are a mess, and it’s all continuous flooring (no thresholds), so it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to refinish one room without just doing it all to match. I’d also like to use either a water-based poly or some type of other sealer (Osmo?) to cut down on the yellowness of the current varnish and minimize the inevitable scratches that the floor will continue to get with time and use. All of that is probably quite a while down the line (I’d like to deal with the walls and ceilings first!), but just the idea is really exciting.

As for doing it myself…the general consensus seems to be that it’s POSSIBLE, but it’s difficult and takes forever and has a high potential screw-up factor, so I think it’s probably worth saving up for having it done professionally. I don’t really want to spend weeks of my life dealing with sanding and refinishing floors, especially with everything else that I could be doing with that time, and it sounds like maybe it’s not as expensive as I thought.

I have no idea what to do about the ceiling, though. As some point this ceiling was replaced with drywall, but it looks TERRIBLE. All the seams are super obvious, and the “repairs” over the years have just made everything worse. I guess it might be worth pricing out how much it would cost to just have the ceiling re-sheetrocked, taped, and mudded (assuming we do the demo and the priming/painting), but I don’t know. Maybe this ceiling is salvageable. I just keep staring at it an no answers are coming to me. I really don’t want to deal with drywalling a ceiling. That just sounds incredibly crappy.

upstairs1

I made some progress in the upstairs hallway, too! I couldn’t really reach the area that’s left, and I’m not quite sure how I’ll deal with it yet. It’s really high! I’m guessing it will involve some creative ladder positioning and a death-defying balancing act, which I’m sure Max will dutifully Instagram for your viewing pleasure before I plummet to my death?

upstairs2

I don’t know. More pictures. I took a lot of pictures. You can see where the wall used to be. That repair shouldn’t be too bad, and then it’ll be like it was never there!

upstairs3

And that’s how far I’ve made it! So close to being done! Hopefully over the next couple of weeks we can finish the stripping, the patching, and can get some paint on these walls. I never thought I’d be this excited about painting, but all this prep work really makes that seem like the fun part.

fromstairsbefore

fromstairs

Just because it wouldn’t be complete without a little before-and-after action, behold! This whole area really has made a total turnaround already. I can’t even describe how dark and sad and scary this whole entryway/hallway was before, what with the closed-off doors and the extra walls and the peeling wallpaper…I’m just overjoyed  that it’s starting to look like a nice house again.

Paintswatches

Uh-oh, I’m already looking at swatches! I actually had these already from choosing a color for a client, but I’m not sure if I LOVE any of them here. I feel like I’ll spend my entire life looking for a grey that doesn’t go blue or purple, and is warm without being at all beige or taupe or anything like that. Also, super light but not in a way that reads as white. DOES IT EXIST? I need to paint a sample of the trim color on another board to see how they relate. That will help. I’ll figure it out.

 

Celebratory Post-Kitchen Vestibule Demo!

This is how I do it with our poor, unsuspecting friends. They come to visit for a couple of days, maybe to get away from the crushing heat of a New York City summer, or the hustle and bustle, to a place where we can all drive from place to place and feel less like dying all the time. They think they’re going to have a nice time. Slow down a little. Relax with friends. That’s why I like to plant the seed early on——in Emily’s case, it was on our way back from the bus stop. “You know,” I explained, “remember that vestibule wall? The one right inside the door? I’ve been saving it for you.” It helped that Emily at least feigned excitement, which gave me the opportunity to really hype it up. We’d have so much fun demolishing it! It would be both catharsis and a work-out! Our home would thank all of us!

vestibulebefore2

While I deeply admire the energy it must have taken to erect this wall——a wood-paneled monstrosity the previous owners added in an effort to retrofit the house with a vestibule, thereby bisecting a perfectly good foyer——it was more than a little awkward and fell a tad short on the historical-accuracy front. I’m not really an old house purist, but this belonged on the Brady Bunch. And not, like, at the Brady’s house. I’m sure there was an episode in there when Marcia found herself alone and on the wrong side of the tracks, and that’s where I see this wall. Just hanging out in the 1970s with a very alone, very afraid Marcia Brady. She’s crying in this vision of mine, always.

This was the day after we finished the kitchen, and we’d spent the afternoon going to pick up everything we needed to cook a meal in the new space. Due to her Italian heritage and a highly developed talent for cooking, Emily is good at these things. She has a more refined palate for red wines than I do, but the bottle we chose was selected mainly for its low price and the size of the bottle, which Emily referred to as a “magnum.” The goal here was to enjoy the new kitchen, and the means to that end would be this enormous bottle of wine and a large Italian meal.

With both the meal and the wine consumed a few hours later, the night was still young. And Drunk Daniel got ideas. I put down my glass of wine and cleared my throat. “So. About that wall.”

“I’m so ready.” Emily refilled both of our glasses halfway, finishing off the bottle. “What do we need?”

I gathered the tools and we dove in with the same strategy I’ve been using on demolishing the other add-on walls in the house: remove components from the outside moving inward. Deconstruct it the way it was built. Less mess, less risk of damaging parts of the house that are important.

demo1

I even had the foresight to cover the windows with tape, lest in our drunkenness we were to shatter the glass. That’s one thing you have to know about me——I’m so smart, even when I’m an idiot.

Things started out great: we got both of the bottom windows out by removing several intricate layers of different sizes of finishing molding surrounding them,  and then started to pry off the paneling. The paneling, of course, was glued and nailed to a layer of 1/2″ plywood underneath, which was nailed into a very complicated and non-standard framing system underneath. I was more or less prepared for this wall to be as much of an asshole as the other walls had been, but I wasn’t super prepared for it to be even more of an asshole. Everything was hard. Nothing was coming down quickly or easily.

At some point the system fell apart a little when I grabbed my Sawzall and cut through the vertical sections between the door frame and the window (it seemed like it would help?), which I remember being interesting because the whole thing was just a solid block of many pieces of wood glued and nailed together. So beefy.

Shortly thereafter, while we continued to peel paneling and quarter-round and base-shoe off this wood-trimmed explosion, Emily stepped on a nail. She didn’t think much of it until about 30 seconds later, when she stepped on a second nail, this one penetrating the sole of her flip-flop and a somewhat significant portion of her foot.

Just to be clear, I’d told Emily multiple times that she should be wearing different shoes, even offering to let her borrow some of our shoes. She insisted that she’d been around this type of stuff before (she had) and that she wasn’t worried about it (she wasn’t) and that she’d be fine (false). Had I maybe not had a gallon of wine working its way through my system, I might have pressed the issue, but as it was I figured—hey, she’s an adult! Who am I to tell her what kind of shoes to wear while she demolishes walls in my home? What makes me some kind of authority on lady shoes, anyway, or footwear in general? I do almost everything in socks. Flip-flops are probably better than socks. She says she’s fine. I guess she’s fine! 

Like any good friend, I ran to my car to retrieve the first aid kit that’s been rattling around in my trunk since 2006. My mother bought it for me when I got my driver’s license (which is a very Jewish mother thing to do FYI) and I’ve kept it there ever since (which is a very Jewish child thing to do FYI), and I’ll admit to being a little excited about having the opportunity to finally use it. The alcohol sterile wipes were all dried up on account of being 7 years old, but she washed her feet off in the tub and slapped on a bandaid or two and took a seat on the couch. I sat next to her, emoting concern.

“Emily, I’m so, so sorry. My house is a hazard.”

“Are you kidding? I should have seen this coming. In a way, I’m glad it happened when I had been drinking. I’ve always been fucking terrified of stepping on a nail, but it happened, and I didn’t faint or vomit or anything, and it wasn’t even that bad. In-out. If I had been sober, I would not have been handling this.”

“That ‘s a positive way of looking at it.”

We sat there for a moment, reflecting on the hidden merits of alcohol.

“Do you want to take a turn with the pry bar?” I asked. “I think it’s easier than the crowbar.”

“I think I might have to just be done for the night.”

“Right, no, obviously. I mean, I wasn’t saying right now.” I did mean right now. I’m blaming the booze, but really, I’m naturally selfish this way. I assumed that Emily would feel fine putting a nail through her foot, taking a little breather, and just getting back to it. I mean, sure, you need your feet to stand up and all that, but demolition is really about arms and back. I didn’t see any nails there.  “Just, you know, if you ever want to, like, destroy anything again, I’m saying the pry bar might be more your speed. That’s all I was getting at. Definitely, tonight just chill out. I’m not a monster.”

And then I really took it to the next level of douchebaggery:

“Well, do you need anything? Because I kind of want to get back to work.”

What is wrong with me?? It’s a wonder I have any friends, or any people who are willing to talk to me or be around me or associate with me in any direct or indirect way.

“No, not at all,” Emily assured me. “I’m just going to sit on this couch for a while and try not to faint.”

“Cool, holler if you need anything.”

So there I left one of my best friends, possibly dying on my sofa, slowly bleeding through a hole in her foot caused both by my property and my ambition, while I made my way back to the power tools. I don’t really remember the rest of the night (I wasn’t that drunk, I promise. It just wasn’t that memorable), but I do remember waking up the next morning and going to inspect my handiwork and realizing that I forgot I’d left things like this.

demo2

Oh, Daniel. Really? In my excitement/inebriation, I may have put a little too much focus (all of it) on the bottom half of the wall that I could reach, and not enough focus (no focus at all) on the part of the wall that I would have needed a ladder for. This left things looking super stupid and super not-pro. Demolition fail.

max

Max, who missed every part of all of this, was not impressed by the changes.

I know all of this looks very precarious and like it should fall at any second, but I assure you: not only were the outer support studs still in place, but this whole thing was solid. There was no way that it was going to just fall. The construction on this wall is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and I once saw a drunk girl in flip flops step on a nail in my foyer.

demo3

See? Insane construction. All of this took me several very long hours to remove, and not because I’m so careful and cautious. It was just really intense, like in a way that I can’t adequately explain in actual words. Just trust. It was the mother of all weird 1970s sobbing Marcia Brady walls.

viewfromdiningroom

BUT! BUT! BUT! LOOK AT THAT! OMG. OMG. OMG.

OK, so I know I say this every time, but…ceiling height like woah. Space like I didn’t know existed. LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT. House can breathe. It feels SO GOOD to have that awful piece of garbage gone.

I know a lot of people thought I should keep the wall, or paint it, or do something with it to allow it to stay since it’s probably a nice thing to have in the winter, but I hope this view explains why that just wasn’t an option. We’ll do what we can to weatherstrip the doors and keep things from being too drafty to the best of our abilities, but you guys. This house is just supposed to have an amazing entryway. It just is. And after like 40 years of not having an amazing entryway, this feels really, really good. I speak for myself, here, and I speak for the house. The house is happy about all this.

entryway-wall

Check out how long that wall is! You can see on the baseboard and the ceiling where the old wall was, and how it just cut up this amazing amount of space into two small spaces. Of course, now we’re left with a really arbitrarily placed light switch, but that’s OK. That little tiny sconce is the only light source in the entire hallway, so we’re going to have to have some work done in here to have a ceiling box put in for a chandelier and some other stuff. We’ll get to it when we can——right now, it’s OK.

Speaking of the walls——check out that plaster! My friend Nora came back for a couple days, and we started peeling off all the wallpaper that had already separated from the plaster. Some parts are more stuck than others, so we just left those alone for the time being. I borrowed a steamer from our wonderful neighbor last night, though, so fingers crossed that it works super well and I don’t have to mess with chemical strippers and other things that sound like a hassle. There are at least a few layers of wallpaper covered by many layers of paint, so it’s not really the same thing as, like, removing a cutesy little sheet of wallpaper somebody put up in the 80s. It’s really labor-intensive and will probably take a combination of methods to restore the walls, but it has to happen. Luckily we were given a little bit of a head start by the original adhesive being like 150 years old and freezing for two winters when the house was vacant. So…yay?

I know people feel really attached to that wallpaper, but it’s not going to happen. It’s all just in really bad condition, and not in a cool way. Just in a sad way. It’s going to be soooooooo beautiful when everything is fixed up and painted and everything, though. Nobody will actually miss it.

PROMISE.

Entryway-Floor

As for the floor, it’s OK. This floor probably hasn’t been refinished for AT LEAST 50 years or so (if ever?), so while you can definitely see where the vestibule wall used to sit, it isn’t SUPER obvious since the finish is continuous. The flooring in the entryway/hallway is in the best shape in the entire first floor, but the front room and dining room are both a mess. The flooring is all continuous, though, so I kind of think it just all needs to be redone. Anyone have experience refinishing floors? I’m considering DIY-ing it, but it’s also something I REALLY don’t want to mess up. As for finish, I’d love to just sand and seal the wood (no stain), but there might be some deeper water damage in the front room that would make that look really bad. This wood flooring isn’t original to the house (it was probably added around the turn of the century, maybe later) so I don’t feel SUPER precious about it. There are lots of cool things you can do with wood floors that don’t involve staining them medium-dark-brown.

before

entrywaywide

Anyway, I’m so psyched about this entryway space. I think it needs a nice big worn oriental rug (duh) and a nice bench and a nice chandelier and super pale gray walls with white molding and black doors! I know I mentioned stripping the front doors down to the wood and staining/sealing them a while ago, but I don’t think these doors were ever not painted, and I don’t think I’d love them enough for all the work to be worth it. I think I will love them painted black, though, so I’m pretty excited about that.

p.s.– thank you so much for all the amazingly kind comments about my kitchen last week! It was overwhelming! I do read everything, though, and I really appreciate it all so much. You guys are dope. 

The Kitchen: The big reveal!

kitchen1

BOOM. Bet you were expecting a big block of text at the beginning of this post? Like about how this “little stop-gap quick n’ dirty” kitchen renovation spiraled completely out of control and took way more time and a little bit more money than expected? Or how maybe over the course of the project I got a little more ambitious and a little more crazy and a little more perfectionist than when I started out? Or about the time when we thought the kitchen was basically done and then decided to up and add about 40 more square feet of subway tile that you see above? Or like how it robbed me of so many irretrievable hours of my life and maybe some of my sanity and also sent me to the hospital that one crazy time?

Nope. Not gonna do that. So let’s dive right into this business right here, because the water’s warm and time’s a-wastin’.

fridgewallbefore

Here was my kitchen before I embarked on this whole crazy non-stop-fun-and-excitement renovation adventure roughly 10 weeks ago. Aside from the downstairs bathroom (and maybe the side porch), this kitchen held the distinction of being pretty much the worst room in the house. I think it scared more than a few buyers away, who saw it as a total gut-job nightmare that they weren’t trying to get down with. Nobody likes to buy a house and immediately get pushed into a full-on kitchen overhaul (especially when everything else needs so much work), making rash decisions about layout and materials and redoing the plumbing and spending a bajillion dollars, so in a way, this kitchen was probably a huge blessing that got us a great house for way below market value. Thanks, janky kitchen. I owe you one.

The picture above was taken after I removed all the old linoleum floor tiles, but you get the idea. It had a drop ceiling. It had old wood cabinets with lots of wear and tear and corroding hardware and drippy polyurethane. It had leaky pipes running through it that serve the upstairs bathroom. It had weird wires and scary outlets and old grease-stained paint, and vinyl brick-patterned wallpaper, and contact paper backsplashes, and so many other terrible, unspeakable things.

fridgewallafter

But looky there! We changed all that mess and made it an awesome space that I totally love and am so happy about I could scream. And also take a long nap.

We were able to keep all the big important things——including the sink, the cabinetry, and appliances——so the goal here was to knock out all the the cosmetic changes humanly possible while keeping costs super low. I know I keep repeating that this likely won’t be the kitchen we have forever (those cabinets are already 60 years old or so, and they won’t last forever!), but now I can confidently say that redoing this kitchen “for real” can probably wait until all the other house projects are crossed off the list. We have an absurd amount of work ahead of us with this house, so having the weight of a full-on kitchen renovation off our shoulders for the foreseeable future feels like a great place to be.

As I’ve discussed in past posts, we took down the drop ceiling, patched and prepped all the things, painted the walls, ceiling, moldings, doors, radiator, and all the original cabinetry, crafted up some new DIY wood plank countertops, added a boatload of subway tile, new cabinet hardware, changed all the lighting, and generally worked our adorable little butts off making this space into exactly what I wanted out of a kitchen. It’s clean and fresh, unfussy, utilitarian, cheap, and a great space to cook a meal and have guests over. I love it.

longwallbefore

Oof. Just get a load of that mess. Trust me when I say that these pictures make things look WAY better than they actually were.

longwallafter2

Forgive the in-progress glimpse of the laundry room! We’re still working out a few things in there (you know, like having working laundry machines and little details like that?), but…KITCHEN.

The whole idea behind the design was to try to minimize the bad, highlight the good, and add some inexpensive features that would up the quality of the whole space. To that end, we decided to paint the ceiling and the walls similar shades of matte white, which minimizes the awkwardness of our semi-awful soffits while still giving the room some dimension and depth. Painting the cabinets covered up the wear and tear and ugly tone of the wood, which allowed the super-simple shape of the doors and drawer fronts to shine. The cabinetry isn’t ideal (it’s very low-quality and strangely proportioned for the space), but we got really lucky that it was so plain and easily salvaged with some paint and elbow grease. 

I’ll do a tiny post on the cabinet hardware soon, but they’re just made of simple wood dowels! They were crazy cheap (it would have been so expensive to outfit 33 doors/drawers with traditional hardware, which even at the low end is normally in the $3-$10 per piece range), and I love how they offset with both the white and inky-blue-black cabinets.

fromdoorbefore

fromdoorafter

Having no prep space next to the stove made the layout of this kitchen really awkward, so we got super lucky that my dear friend Anna just happened to have a (discontinued, sorry) IKEA kitchen cart that fits perfectly on this relatively short wall. Having just this small section of real butcherblock (which we can chop directly on, as opposed to our wood countertops) makes this area super functional, and makes me feel better about skimping on the cost of outfitting the rest of the countertops with real butcherblock.

We were able to salvage the stove from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen, and while it’s just a cheap Sears Kenmore electric model that’s probably something like 40 years old, it actually works great! The gas line is still here, too, so we have the option to easily swap-out with a nicer gas stove down the line. For now, though, this is perfect.

If you’ve been following along closely, you might remember that originally I only planned to tile the backsplashes of the cabinets and the little area surrounding the sink, but once things really started to come together, Max and I both felt like the stove area looked a little unfinished and kind of…busy. Aside from the obvious functional benefits of having a wipeable surface behind a stovetop, the subway tile also really helped unify this wall with the rest of the space, and overall just makes the whole room feel so much more warm and complete. The decision to add the extra tile did mean we had to buy more tile, obviously, and also thinset and grout (for the rest of the tile, I used leftover thinset and grout from my apartment), but it still only tacked on about $100 to the project and was totally worth it.

Even after the subway tile was all up and completed, though, we still weren’t sure about what to do with the area above it. The image above is the view walking into the room, so this wall is kind of a focal point, and having nothing there looked pretty flat and weird. I got really lucky finding the big mirror in a junk shop just a couple days before the kitchen was complete, though, and realized after buying it (I couldn’t just pass on that fine thing!) that it would be perfect above the stove. I love how perfectly weathered the frame is, and I think it adds just the right amount of vintage patina to a space that was otherwise feeling a little bit too sterile for my taste.

stovesclose-up

Anyway. Yeah. Subway tile. It’s the wind beneath my wings. The other thing I like about this stove is that the top is flat and pretty beefy, so it’s a perfect spot for the Muuto pepper mill that I picked up for half-price at the DWR Annex ages ago. The pig is a vintage cast-iron piggy bank from a yard sale, which serves no purpose beyond being cute.

I also took the time to remove and strip all of the old hardware from the doors and window——knobs, hinges, backplates, etc, using the tried-and-true crockpot method. When everything was stripped, cleaned, and dried, I covered it all with Rustoleum matte black spray paint and reattached it to the freshly painted doors and frames. It’s one of those little details that just makes everything look a little more finished and fancy.

kitchencart

I kind of couldn’t handle the idea of screwing into my new subway tile, so the magnetic knife strip (the FINTORP from IKEA) is held on with industrial-stength velcro! It works great for now, but I’ll probably end up attaching it for real soon. I wanted to make sure the placement was exactly what I wanted before rushing into anything, though.

When the very friendly people of West Elm Market caught wind of my kitchen renovation, they sent me an email and were all “hey, need some things to finish it off?” and I was all “UM YES GIVE ME ALL OF THE THINGS PLEASE.” I’ve been a huge fan of West Elm Market since it began, and I think the whole aesthetic is pretty in-line with this kitchen, so it was awesome working with them. The Schmidt Brothers Basic Knife Set  is the fanciest thing we got, and I just need to take a moment to say that these knives are SO NICE (and really reasonably priced, too). I’ve never really owned nice knives before, and these are so nice to look at and nice to hold and super sharp and I’m just all-around very thrilled that I get to use them.

The enamel measuring cups are also from West Elm Market, and they’re obviously classic and very adorable and way better than the plastic ones I bought at the grocery store. The pink depression-era glass bowls were a yard sale find, the tea towel is IKEA, and the strawberries are fake. Just kidding, they’re real and I made them into a dessert and it was delicious. Maybe this is a great kitchen for me to start posting recipes from? So you can also explore my culinary delights? Full disclosure: my diet is 47% Top Ramen.

fromsideporchbefore

fromsideporchafter

I opted to tile all the way around the wall, which I think finishes things off nicely. Better than having a weird naked little sliver of wall on the right side there.

OK, I’m done talking about the tile. I’m really proud of my tile.

Other improvements to this area included taking down that little piece of weird molding over the sink, changing the light fixture above the sink (sorry it’s blown out in the picture above, but you can see it in the picture at the top of the post. It was salvaged from the upstairs kitchen!) and putting a clock where it’s supposed to be! The clock is actually hanging on an outlet specifically installed for a clock (so cute and quaint and 50s, yes?), but the Newgate Bubble Clock is actually battery-powered anyway. It’s also available at West Elm Market, but Max bought it for me a while ago at Lancelotti in the East Village.

The main light fixture in the room was a thrift find ($7!) in Sweden last summer. I carried it around disassembled in my suitcase for the entire trip and then hoarded it for a year when we got home, so it’s so exciting to see it hung up! It’s cute.

Lesson: always hoard light fixtures. You might buy a house and need them. It happened to me, people.

oliveoil

Obviously marble countertops were not an option (this time around!), but I love how marble mixes with the black/white/wood thing we have going on, so I wanted to incorporate affordable marble pieces in the kitchen with smaller things like cutting boards, coasters, and our paper towel holder. This is the French Kitchen Pastry Slab from Crate & Barrel, which is huge and heavy and totally classes things up ’round these parts.

Also, because Max took and styled some of these pictures (and maybe doesn’t cook so much), I want to point out that we do NOT use our fancy new knives on our fancy marble pastry board. But it looks nice for a picture. The green bowl and measuring cup are vintage junk shop/yard sale finds, respectively.

The olive oil is in the Copper/Glass Pour-Top Soap Dispenser from West Elm Market, by the way. We didn’t like it for dish soap, so we cleaned it really well and filled it with olive oil, and it’s perfect for fancy drizzly oily times.

chasedoorstools2

This kitchen really isn’t supposed to be an eat-in, but we kind of couldn’t say no to a couple of bright yellow faux-Tolix stools for $99 (for both! And now I see they’re on sale for $75, which is bananas.), courtesy of Target. I wasn’t sure how much we’d use them, but we sit on them ALL THE TIME while we work or eat at the counter or just hang out in the kitchen while one of us or a friend is cooking or whatever. They stack and they’re really good quality and they’re yellow. So. That’s that.

This is the part where I draw your attention to that glorious monolithic structure between the cabinets and the door. THAT, my friends, is the fancy chase I built to hide the unsightly plumbing that runs from the basement through the kitchen to feed the toilet, sink, and shower in the upstairs bathroom. BEHOLD:

chasebeforeafter

Yeah, I kind of outdid myself? I’m super proud of this thing. Maybe it doesn’t look like much, but there’s a whole lot of complicated framing under those luscious tongue-and-groove boards that required many hours of confusion and terror (also, yes, it has to be that wide for reasons I won’t bore you with in this joyous moment of kitchen revealing and general excitement). I think I have to do a whole post about it. It’s probably a two-way tie between this and the tile for what I’m most proud of in here.

doorbeforeafter

This is the main door into the room from the dining room, in case you weren’t turned around enough? Sorry for all the redundant photos…I’m just very excited about this kitchen.

apron

I love how the pantry door looks with the white paint and the black hardware and the pretty knob and the apron! The hook was salvaged from another area of the room (where it had been coated with a million layers of paint and left to die). I love that I get to reuse things like this——every time I hang that apron up, I think about where that hook was hanging before and what it looked like and how happy I am to give it a second life. I’m a sap.

towelnexttosink

Also, this hook next to the sink! It was lurking around the gross plumbing pipes before (there’s a picture of it in this post!), but now it’s all stripped and pretty and hanging by the sink with a cute tea towel from Dry Goods. Yes, I need to dab a little black paint on the screw heads, but whatever. I like it!

sinkenamelpans

Speaking of the sink, it cleaned up SUPER WELL. We still need to get a new faucet (this one is old and crappy and leaks), but the sink! I scrubbed it with lots of Barkeeper’s Friend, and it looks great. The enamel pans are also from West Elm Market (the Jelly Roll and the Roasting Pan), and we use them all the time for roasting and baking stuff. I like that they’re pretty enough to go right from the oven to the table.

windowhardware

I love how the hardware on the window above the sink came out. It was covered in tons of paint and didn’t really move before, and now it glides in and out like it’s supposed to. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen hardware like this, but I love it!

shelves

I’m still SO HAPPY with how the black radiator looks! I’m also really happy with the little shelving unit over it. I’d love to have more open shelving in the kitchen, but this little wall over the radiator was our only option, so I wanted to take advantage of it. I’ve been wanting to use these IKEA shelving brackets for FOREVER, and this was the perfect spot. I bought my own wood from Lowes for the actual shelves and cut them to size and sanded and sealed them with satin water-based polyurethane. The top shelf is all thrifted, the middle shelf holds the Marimekko tea pot that Max got me (that guy…he’s pretty great.) and the ÄDELSTON mortar and pestle from IKEA (everything from that line is so pretty and such great quality). The glass jars are also IKEA, and the enamel canisters are from West Elm Market and hold flour and sugar. The enamel canisters have a rubber seal to keep everything fresh and are overall super nice, gotta say.

SO. Budget? Budget.

PAINT AND STUFF:
Caulk (4 tubes white, 1 tube black): $18.27
Ready Patch (1 quart): $8.99
Paint Rollers (4-pack. I never reuse paint rollers. Sue me.): $11.98
Clark + Kensington Paint:  $138*
+ Walls: 2 gallons Casablanca, flat enamel
+ Ceiling: 1 gallon Designer White, flat enamel
+ Moldings/Upper Cabinets: 1 gallon Designer White, satin enamel
+ Base Cabinets: 1 quart Arabian Nights, satin enamel
Rustoleum Matte Black spray paint: $5.49
High-Heat Gloss Black Spray Paint, Ace Hardware Brand, 2 cans for Radiator: $12.98
Spray-on clear matte varnish for knobs: $3.87
1 gallon B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer: $41.98
Screws and nails: $20.22

TOTAL:$261.78

LUMBER:
Dowels for cabinet knobs: $7.92
Countertops: $46.07
Baseboard/Quarterround/trim pieces: $74.12
Tongue-and-groove for plumbing chase: $44.58
Framing for chase—7 pieces of 2″x3″x8″ framing: $15.12
Sandpaper: $20

TOTAL: $207.81

FLOOR/TILE: 
VCT tiles: $142.56
Adhesive: $28.97
Tile: $176.07
Thinset: $12
Grout: $11.78

TOTAL: $371.38

ELECTRICAL:
Swtichplate covers: $5.53
GFCI outlets: $49.96
Lightswitches: $8.04

TOTAL: $63.53

DECOR:
Fiddle Leaf Fig tree, IKEA: $12.99
Marble Pastry board, Crate and Barrel: $49.95
Jute Rug, clearance outlet: $40
Paper towel holder, Crate and Barrel: $19.95
Mirror, junk shop: $42
Knife Rack, IKEA: $12.99
Stools, Target: $99
Crock, Good Will: $4
Shelving Brackets + Wood, IKEA/Lowes: $45.36

TOTAL: $326.24

GRAND TOTAL: $1,230.74

*paint was generously sponsored by Ace Hardware, so I didn’t actually pay for it.

Sinkwallbefore

sinkwallafter

I think that’s it! I’m so happy with how the kitchen turned out. I think this is probably the most dramatic and ambitious project I’ve ever taken on, and I feel really proud for pulling it off, even if it was a bit of a bumpy ride. Also, hugely thankful to Max and friends who were so generous with their time and helped us out!

Yay, kitchen!

This post was in collaboration with West Elm Market.

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