Paint and Tile!

painting

I used to think painting was the worst thing in the world. I was OK with the part that came before——spackling a few holes, a little sanding, maybe cleaning the walls a little——and I liked the part that came after, when the room was painted. But the actual process of painting——the endless cutting-in, the rolling, the paint drips and splatters and going to sleep with dried paint in my hair and under my finger nails——those were all things I dreaded.

But by the time I finally filled all the holes with patching compound and filled the gaps with caulk and de-greased and de-caulked and got through all the prep work in my kitchen, painting kind of felt like fun arts-n-crafts time? Like a nice way to kick back and relax? Maybe I actually like painting? Maybe I’m going through a very confusing identity crisis? Maybe my whole perception of reality has been irrevocably altered?

paintcans

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I’m a very firm believer in buying good paint, which for me has always meant Benjamin Moore. It’s what my mom always used in our house growing up, and it’s what I’ve always used by myself, save for once making the enormous mistake of using really cheap paint at a friend’s house and discovering sometime around my 4th or 5th coat that quality really does make a huge difference when it comes to coverage, adhesion, durability, and the final result looking good. From then on, I just accepted that my future would be composed of $40-$50 gallons of paint, and that was that. That’s more or less OK when you’re looking at a small apartment with a landlord willing to cover $20/gallon, but it sort of blows when you’re looking at a whole house of walls, doors, and moldings literally begging and pleading to be repaired and freshly painted.

So, when Ace Hardware offered to let me try out their new-ish brand of paint and primer in one, Clark + Kensington, I decided to take the chance. I warned them that my allegiance was elsewhere, and that it’s my policy to always give honest reviews and they’d have to be as OK with me not liking the paint as they were sure that I would, and they agreed. So confident. So sure of themselves.

Real talk: this paint is dope. I was really expecting it to be pretty mediocre, but I found it to be pretty much on-par with the Aura line of Benjamin Moore paints——which is quite an endorsement, because that’s some fancy paint—— except about $30 per gallon instead of over $60. This is hard for me to say, but…I think I’m converted!

The paint can also be color-matched to several different brands (including Benjamin Moore and Farrow & Ball), but I wanted to check out the Clark + Kensington colors for myself! And by colors, I mean various shades of black and white. You know how I do.

ceiling

As usual, I started by cutting in the ceiling. This was a massive pain in the tuchus because the seams in the sheetrock on the ceiling are covered in those thin wooden strips rather than taped and mudded, so all of that needed to be painted by hand. I used a regular roller for the panels in between.

Check out how gross that ceiling is. It is the most gross.

disaster

With the ceiling all painted with two coats of Designer White in Flat Enamel (which is a pre-mixed off-the-shelf white, which I’m using on the moldings and upper cabinets, too), we started in on the walls and cabinets! I’ll save the cabinet painting for another post, but this was about the stage when I started to get really excited about the kitchen. It was also a period of sort of non-stop marathon crazy work in here, which is why this photo was taken at like 2 in the morning and everything is a total disaster.

I stayed up super late painting, and in the morning….

disasterafter

ANGELS SANG.

There really is nothing better than fresh paint.

I know this picture might not look like much since obviously the doors and moldings still need to be painted, and I didn’t paint the backsplashes, but getting the walls over with was an incredible feeling. I used a color called Casablanca on the walls, which is an extremely pale grey. Obviously it reads as very white, but it’s different enough from the ceiling and molding to give the room a little more dimension than if everything was the same shade.

beforeprogress

Words can’t even describe, y’all.

tilefirstrow2

That night, my friend Nora and I also put in the first row of tiles! Sorry about the horrendous nighttime iPhone shots. These are just plain old American Olean white 3×6 subway tiles from Lowes, which are super cheap at about $.22/tile. I know it might seem silly to install tile backsplashes in a kitchen that we aren’t planning to keep forever, but I already had the thinset and black grout from tiling my kitchen in the apartment, so for about $100 for all of the tile, it seemed like a really worthwhile aesthetic and functional upgrade to just go for it. Also, Nora wanted to learn to tile, and I believe in being a gracious host by making my friends work super hard until the wee hours of the morning in July with no A/C in exchange for letting them sleep on a shitty air mattress and cook for me. That’s just manners.

Since I just did a whole tutorial on tiling backsplashes (here and here), it didn’t seem necessary to rehash the whole process again, especially since I would have done a few things differently if it needed to last forever. Obviously, I didn’t paint the backsplashes or really prep them at all first (in a perfect world, I wouldn’t be using drywall as backing at all!), and I barely planned out how the tile would run before just slapping them on the walls. And yes, I used cardboard and stir sticks to hold up my first row instead of something more rigid and precise. And yes, I started the tiles at the top edge of the base cabinets, not the countertops, because with the height of the upper cabinets, this was the best way to cover the most surface area of the backsplashes with tile without having a huge weird gap at the top, if that makes sense. So yeah. It’s not perfect, but it’s still going to look totally fine when everything is done. “Totally fine” is kind of this room’s guiding principle, lest you haven’t noticed.

thinset

I’m just including this picture because I got smart and bought myself a stirring attachment for my drill to mix the thinset and grout. CHANGED. MY. LIFE. Stirring thinset with a paint stick or a spoon or whatever is really difficult and tiring (you’re supposed to mix for 5 minutes, let it sit, then mix it again for 5 more minutes), and this handy attachment just takes all of that work away. FYI.

tile

The next day, after the bottom row had time to harden up, we mixed up more thinset and got back to work! I really should have planned this so that the end of the run (where it meets the vertical trim pieces, not the corner) would be composed of full and half-tiles instead of these weird in-between fraction tiles, but I didn’t do that. Oh well. Again, with everything done and grouted and the room complete, it’ll be fine. I’m just pointing it out because I’m human and I make mistakes and mistakes are bound to happen, and now I know better! (and my bathroom/future kitchen tiling will be PERFECTION. Mark my words. I know things now.)

tileprogress

tilesink

First I thought I’d do the subway tile level all the way around the room (so the backsplashes and this sink area would all have the same number of rows of tile), but then that seemed a little too dinky for here. Then I thought maybe I’d take the tile all the way to the ceiling (well, to the bottom of the big hollow soffit over the sink, anyway) in this sink area, but that had a whole mess of complications I won’t bore you with, including maybe just looking weird. Then I used the super-professional method of eyeballing it until the proportions seemed right, which is why there are more tiles here than the other areas of the kitchen. Science!

Overall, there was just a ton of fudging and making it work and eventually throwing my arms up with a hearty GOOD ENOUGH! in this area around the sink. Trying to get tiles to line up on three wonky walls with the sink and the window molding was just…not going to happen. With everything painted, caulked, and grouted, though…well, you know what I’m going to say already. It’s going to be totally fine. Nice, even. I promise!

This post is in partnership with Ace Hardware.

The Doors are Open!

before1

before-2

When our house was divided into two units in the days of yore, one of the more unfortunate-looking alterations was blocking off these two doors right inside the entryway. The one in the top photo leads to the front parlor (accessible through a door in the dining room), and the one in the second photo leads to the big living room (accessible through another door in the back of the entryway. You can see how this looks on the floor plan here.). Luckily, the original doors were right on the other side of the plywood, but unfortunately they were both locked! It kind of begs the question of why the additional plywood barrier was really necessary at all, but then again, old houses come with a lot of questions about why things were done the way they were done.

My best guess is that blocking the doors this way was an attempt to further insulate the downstairs apartment from heat loss and sound, particularly if the owners chose not to heat the entryway, since it wasn’t part of anyone’s living space. You can kind of tell in the pictures that instead of just nailing the plywood up and calling it a day, whoever did this also took the time to smear a bunch of wood putty over all the nail holes and surrounding the entire edge of plywood, creating an impenetrable seal that made it more or less impossible to rip the plywood down from the front without totally messing up the surrounding moldings. Fun!

I thought we’d rip this plywood down on, like, day 1 in the house, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen on days 2 or 3 or 4 or 5, either, and after living this way for a few weeks, I just hit my limit of having ugly plywood sheets erected in my entryway. There’s only so much a person can take!

keys

Like most old houses, ours came with a big heavy box of keys. Almost none of the keys are labelled, so I have no idea what most of them do or if they even match any existing locks, but I was hopeful that one of the 5 skeleton keys would have to fit the locked doors.

Nope. Of course not.

We went down to the local locksmith shop, and after re-trying all of our keys, he moved on to a huge handful of skeleton keys he brought with him. No dice. Naturally.

Instead, he had to go back to the shop and make us a custom key. I would take a picture, but of course now I’ve misplaced it among our renovation disaster. We don’t really have any reason to ever lock these doors, but I hope I can find it somewhere, since we spent like $80 on all this drama and I want my souvenir.

ANYWAY. Locksmiths are magicians. He got the doors open. There was much rejoicing.

doorsblocked1

At some point, I started to wonder what was in that 6-ish inch space between the plywood and the door. Maybe there would be hidden jewels! Stacks of money! A family of borrowers!

There was none of these things. Instead, there was a big panel of weird fiberboard sheathing stuff, similar to homasote. Then with that out of the way, there were also pieces of wood running horizontally behind the plywood, nailed into the door frame. The horizontal boards were then wood-glued and nailed to the plywood, and all of the edges had received a generous coating of caulk, just for good measure.

So thorough. So impressive. So annoying.

I had thought that with the doors open, I’d be able to just knock down the plywood by running at it and throwing my body against it until it came tumbling down, a strategy I learned from handsome men encountering locked doors on TV. But with all these added reinforcements, that seemed like a recipe for a couple broken ribs, so the shrimpy nervous Jew side of me re-evaluated.

crossbraces

I started by removing all of the visible nails that I could from the doorframe with a pry bar.

jigsaw

Since the plywood still wouldn’t budge, even with the nails gone (shocker!), I broke out my jigsaw and just started cutting out sections of the wood, all haphazard and sloppy-like.

debris

Then I started kicking out sections, like the man-beast that I have become.

I went so H-A-M on this plywood, you guys. So very H-A-M.

actionshot

This action shot doesn’t begin to portray how badass I was in this moment.

Nothing can portray how badass I was. You just have to believe.

vogue

Here I am, vogueing, you know, as you do. I realize now that this post would be so much more primal and saucy if I had been naked behind that piece of plywood.

NEXT TIME.

linus

Before long, the doors were open! There was light! There was air circulation! There were new ways to get from room to room! SO. EXCITING. OMFG.

Pausing for a second, this view is the exact reason why I have no real interest in altering the existing layout of our house. I love the amount of symmetry and order that the original layout has——the way that these doors are directly across from each other (the angle of the photo makes them look a little off, but they aren’t), which is repeated with the other door to the big living room and the dining room, and the doors from the parlor to the dining room to the kitchen. A lot of people (both here on the blog and in real life) keep suggesting that I do things like widen the entry into the front parlor or open up the wall between the front room and the dining room, but that would completely throw off the proportions and sense of order that I think make the interior layout of this house really special. Designing a house this way doesn’t just happen by accident, and I think it would be an enormous mistake to start futzing with things like that.

I tried explaining this to Linus, who clearly doesn’t care.

mekko2

We get it, Mekko, you’re a beauty queen. We’re trying to talk about doors, here.

Now we just have to take the vestibule wall down! I can’t believe we closed on the house almost 2 months ago and it’s still there! The deal I made with myself is that I’d do that as SOON as the kitchen is done (celebratory demo is kind of like champagne, yes?), which means its days are verrrrrry numbered.

 

Endless Prep Work in the Kitchen

beforeandbetter

Our kitchen renovation seemed straightforward enough.

Step 1. Remove all the yuck.

Step 2. Paint all the things.

Step 3. Yay new kitchen!

But there’s this finicky little step between steps 1 and 2 that I may not have totally accounted for in my mental schedule of events (in which our kitchen has been long done by now because, you know, it’ll take like 4 days start to finish). That step is called PREP. And there is so much of it.

A quick word about this renovation: this is not really the kitchen we intend to have forever. It was probably installed in the 1950s, and was done using pretty cheap materials, even at the time. I think most potential buyers saw this space as a total gut-job (probably one of the several reasons the house sat vacant for 2+ years), but with all the other work that needs to be done in the house, there is just NO way we’re about to gut and replace an entire kitchen. Even though the kitchen looked terrible, the cabinets are solid wood and workable (not in great condition, and not nice cabinets to begin with, but there are lots of them!), the fridge is fine, etc. etc. All of that is good news, since I don’t want to rush designing and planning the layout and materials of whatever kitchen we end up installing here. We want to get at least a few more years out of the existing kitchen, and Max and I both feel like it’s top priority to have a space where it’s actually nice to prepare a meal and feel comfortable and clean——both for ourselves and guests. Especially when we’re in the midst of doing so much other work, I think having a nice kitchen will go a long way toward maintaining our sanity.

The point is, this kitchen is a very extended exercise in trying to do things on the mega-cheap without compromising quality and aesthetics (ideally, I’d like to spend $500-$1,000 total in here). We also want to get it done quickly so that we have more time to devote to other stuff (and, obviously, so we have a kitchen!), so we also need to strike a balance between doing things perfectly and 100% right and just doing things so they’re good enough to last as long as this kitchen realistically needs to. All of this is my way of explaining that seasoned renovators might be rolling their eyes and gasping in horror at some of the decisions I’ve made during the process, but just remember that this kitchen isn’t forever.

SO. ANYWAY. PREP. When we left off, I’d been busy patching all the walls and ceiling from where the drop ceiling had been attached (holes in the walls, holes in the ceiling, holes everywhere) and generally lamenting the state of everything. It felt like maybe it would only be a couple of days until I was happily painting the walls and feeling very satisfied and validated about all my hard work, but every time I turned around, it seemed like there was more craziness to un-do and conquer before paint could happen. I’ve painted a lot of rooms at this point in my life, and this one far surpasses any amount of work I’ve ever had to do to get a space prepped. That includes sanding all of the walls of my apartment hallway. Neva4get.

This was a dark time.

backsplashes

One thing that had been staring me in the face was the fancy contact-paper backsplashes. I won’t lie, I kind of like this cutesy poppy pattern, but the paper was in bad shape and generally dirty and gross and completely at odds with the plan for this room, so it had to go.

I might have saved a scrap of it for…whatever reason. This kitchen has turned my brain to mush.

Consider this a PSA: don’t put contact paper on your backsplashes. Don’t then leave it there for 50 years. This stuff was a NIGHTMARE to get off. It’s possible some kind of wallpaper remover would have helped, but it seemed like a really small area and wasn’t worth the hassle. We don’t have a steamer (heard very mixed things about their usefulness from a lot of different people, and now I’m crippled with indecision), but I did try to loosen some of it with my iron on the steam setting. This made zero difference.

The only thing to do was peel, in tiny pieces, forever. It became like a kind of sick game, where every time a scrap came loose larger than about the size of a child’s palm, I would rejoice and cackle in manic glee. I played this for hours, until the laughter became tears.

caulk

Next I turned my attention to the sink area. Remember that thing I mentioned about everything in our house being fixed with caulk, various types of tape, and metal wire?

Well. The sink area is a very good example. Check out how the sink is totally, like, being swallowed by the wall in the first picture. That’s all caulk. See the wall above the sink and to the right? ALSO ALL CAULK.

Yeah. Not only had the edges of the sink been filled and covered and overflowed with years of very hard, very serious caulk, the walls had also been skim-coated with it. I suppose this is a semi-valid way to waterproof this area around the sink, so I respect the ingenuity. But that is just…not what caulk is for.

Since this area is also getting tiled, I had to do my best to remove all the caulk and level the surfaces.

There’s this episode of The X-Files in which Scully gets kidnapped by deranged small-townsfolk who worship a bulbous yellow-ish worm thing that needs a human host to survive. It burrows in a person’s back, along the upper vertebrae, and sort of incubates there for a while before killing the host and moving on. It’s all very gory and horrific.

This caulk was a lot like that. Big and bulbous and yellow and emerging from around the sink like a thick moldy worm thing. I was legitimately a little frightened of it. The amount of caulk removed from this area was bananas. It had actual weight when I put it all in a bag to throw it away. It was heavy.

Shudder. Horrors. Caulk horrors.

cuttinginfloor

In an attempt to feel better about things, I needed to get some paint on something. This seemed like as good a time as any to throw some primer on the floor. Since the original linoleum tiles pretty much popped up en masse, the plan is to just paint this plywood underlayment black. It won’t be the fanciest floor in the world, but I think the black paint will make the imperfections less noticeable, and a kitchen rug on top will keep it from seeming like our floor is made of sadness.

I’d LOVE to rip up this underlayment and expose the original pine plank subfloor, but that’s probably going to wait for the REAL kitchen renovation down the line. Aside from having to remove the radiator and base cabinets to make that happen, there’s a whole SECOND layer of linoleum and plywood underlayment under this plywood underlayment, and then we don’t really know what the subfloor is even going to look like when we get down to it. It could have rot (doesn’t look like it from the basement, but that’s the bottom side…) or tons of damage, or be hideous, or whatever, and we’re just not ready to deal with that whole process. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to refinish a floor OR cover it up with new flooring (and new underlayment…), both of which would suck more time and money from our lives that we don’t have.

priming

SO. I decided to paint the floor with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-base primer, which is the same stuff I used in Max’s childhood bedroom. I like this line of primers generally, but the shellac stuff is AMAZING for blocking/sealing in all kinds of weird grossness, and it goes on super thin, dries EXTREMELY fast (like 15 minutes), and provides a good surface for paint to adhere to.

I prepped the floor basically just by sweeping and vacuuming it (use the wand to get into all the edges and corners, where dust and debris tend to accumulate), and then I painted it like I would anything else——cutting in around the edges, roller on the rest. I just used a regular old roller made for semi-smooth surfaces and it worked great. The paint is sort of self-leveling since it’s so thin, so it didn’t leave any roller texture once it dried.

I also decided to paint the hearth, since it was so little extra effort and it seemed like a good idea. Even though I cleaned it really well, it still probably had some wallpaper paste/grease remnants that might have messed up the regular paint adhesion and coverage.

floorafterpaint

Even though it’s just a coat of primer and the floor is going to be black, not white, painting this felt SO GOOD. It happened really fast and COMPLETELY changed the feeling of the room. All of a sudden, it felt like a blank canvas full of possibilities instead of a shoddy room full of gross shit and generally lousy vibes. We won’t paint the floor until after the walls and cabinets are painted (since I don’t want to paint the floor and then drip paint on my newly painted floor while painting the walls, you know?), but anyway. FINALLY! PAINT!

radiator1

After the floor was primed, I was feeling extra excited and paint-happy, so I decided to paint the radiator! This radiator was…so vile. Same dirty-custard yellow as the walls, covered in tons of grease and dirt and dust and grime. I spent a long time cleaning it,  starting with a flexible dryer vent brush (mine is like this, and it’s the best thing ever for cleaning old radiators!) and finishing with reaching my gloved hands as far into that spaces as they would fit to try to further clean it. The whole thing was very gross and enlightening and took about 2 hours.

Once it was prepped, I taped some cardboard onto the wall behind it. Since the room still needs paint on the walls and the floor, I didn’t care so much about getting off-spray on anything in the surrounding area. However, it’s going to be basically impossible to paint fully behind the radiator (the space between the back of the radiator and the drywall is only about 1/2″!), so I didn’t want to get a bunch of paint back there that I wouldn’t be able to cover up.

highheatpaint

I chose this high-heat glossy spray paint in black for the radiator. Because who doesn’t love a black radiator?

The folks at the hardware store assured me that any type of spray paint would probably be fine for a radiator, but I wanted to play it safe with the high-heat. Rust-oleum actually makes a radiator enamel specifically for this, but it wasn’t at the hardware store and I figured it was probably more or less the same stuff.

radiatorpainting

The actual painting part went really fast. I did about 3 light coats to fully cover it, and used 2 cans of spray paint. I know it would have been better to remove the radiator, power-wash the whole thing, paint it in a well-ventilated space with access to all sides (or better yet, sand-blast and powder coat it!), but all of that would have been way too much time and way too much effort for this. This solution only cost me some scrap cardboard and about $12 in spray paint.

radiatorpainted

I need to take better pictures when the room starts to come together (this one is terrible, apologies!!), but the radiator looks soooooooo gooooooood. It’s like super beautiful and jet black and shiny and amazing. Once everything around it doesn’t look so crappy, it’s going to be great. Trust.

beforeandprogress

I don’t have a picture from this angle after the radiator got painted, but you can imagine. Getting there…

p.s.—I did a little interview thingy over at West Elm’s blog, Front&Main! In case you want to read me blather on about thrifting and being cheap and Brooklyn and stuff, you can find it here

House
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The Walls Come Down

The people of New York tend to be very preoccupied with their cable and internet providers. It’s one of those things that actually works fine most of the time, but when it doesn’t, we tend to direct all of our collective hatred and loathing at the provider (see also: the G train, the MTA). Added to this is the lack of choice in most New York apartment buildings, where a single service provider has monopolized the building. We are led to resent this provider for coercing us into their clutches, and in turn impeding on our freedom of choice. Whatever the reason, I’ve had some iteration of the same conversation at least 400 times:

Them: Who’s your internet provider?
Me: Time Warner Cable.
Them: UGH, me too. Isn’t it the worst? I fucking hate Time Warner.
Me: Yeah, our service is kind of lousy. It’s the only option in our building.
Third Person, from across the room: I have Comcast!
Me + Them: GO TO HELL, HEATHEN.
Them: Anyway, you don’t have cable, do you?
Me: Actually, I do. Time Warner gave us an awesome deal.
Them: I’ve never gotten an awesome deal from Time Warner Cable.

It’s true. A while ago, I got one of those special promotion phone calls, which normally I ignore. This particular day, I was feeling friendly and decided to let them try to sell me one of those packages before I hung up. I insisted that I didn’t need a home phone, but when they asked if I wanted cable, I paused. “I mean, yeah, it’d probably be nice.”

Short story long, they unearthed some super secret wonderful promotion that allowed us to get 250 channels and a DVR for 2 years for $15 more than we’d been paying just for our crappy internet alone. SOLD.

I love TV. I have always loved TV. I love all kinds of TV, but mostly, I love garbage TV. In fact, my decision to get rid of cable in the first place when I moved to Brooklyn (I had it in my last apartment), was based mostly upon the fact that Bridalplasty was a terrible abomination of a show when held up against my previous loves, Extreme Makeover and The Swan. Old standbys like Intervention and Hoarders had ceased to really hold my interest, Flava Flav’s Flavor of Love and its spin-off, I Love New York, hadn’t been on for years, and frankly, there just isn’t anything quite that magical on TV anymore. Finding Storage Wars completely unwatchable, it got to a point where there just wasn’t enough lovable garbage on the tube to justify paying the cost of a couple burritos every month for it. I’d rather have the burritos.

But then the deal happened, a cable box and DVR was installed, and the world of television reopened to me.

You guys. There is Doomsday Preppers. There is My Strange Addiction. There is Pit Bulls and Parolees, and also, there is Pit Boss. TV is back, and more garbage-y than ever. (Except when The Swan was on. That will always be the pinnacle of garbage TV, forever.)

So one day, cruising through the guide, I stumbled upon a show entitled Rehab Addict. Obviously my interest was piqued, because I assumed it was a show about people addicted to rehab. What a conundrum! What do you do with somebody who, in the process of getting clean and getting help, gets addicted to the very help they seek?! Not help them at all? This was never addressed in my many marathon sessions of Intervention. This I had to see.

Unfortunately, Rehab Addict has nothing to do with unsuspecting drug addicts.

Fortunately, Rehab Addict is probably a lot better than that show would have been, although really, who’s to say? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a show about Nicole Curtis, who buys, restores, and sells old and decrepit houses in Detroit and Minneapolis. She’s also a realtor, does some freelance design stuff on the side, and has two dogs and a son. And a TV show, obviously. Nicole is like 100 pounds of adorable Midwestern-y strength and resolve. She’s savvy and she’s strong. Girl demo’d a whole bathroom, by herself, in like 30 minutes flat. She’s got the true grit.

Needless to say, I am obsessed with all things Nicole Curtis. Nicole Curtis is actually inspiring and actually has great taste, which puts her in a league of her own for home renovation reality TV, as far as I’m concerned. I. LOVE. HER. I find myself thinking about Nicole an unreasonable amount as we do this whole old house reno thingy.

Particularly, this segment of the introduction, which I have immortalized in sloppy animated GIF form for your viewing pleasure. It’s really nothing without her adorable exasperated Michigan accent, but you can look that up on Youtube:

[gickr.com]_2c5af7b5-92da-4d24-9129-57b647dc4dad

Look at her! Working that pry bar like a champ.

beforehallway

You see, we had a similar situation to that piece of plywood under the banister, except way bigger and uglier than that. But still! So many opportunities to repeat my favorite little Nicole Curtis bit. Max wanted to kill me all the time because of this, but I don’t care! Pretending you’re a tiny blonde woman from TV is a totally fun and normal way to partake in home renovations. Try it sometime!

We’ve been trying really hard to focus on the kitchen and keep our hands off the rest of the house (starting a bunch of projects in a bunch of rooms at once = not advisable for maintaining sanity), but I felt like these walls just couldn’t wait. They weren’t really causing any problems or affecting anything, but they were just so super duper ugly and sad. Since they seemed like they were just made of some flimsy faux-panelling and framing, I figured they’d take about 4 seconds to rip out, after which we could move on with our day and get a bunch of other things done.

HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh Daniel. You were so young and so foolish then.

demo1

Here are some exciting action shots of the wall in the downstairs hallway coming down. It’s REALLY hard to stop and take pictures during this kind of stuff, but we did the best we could. Basically, our strategy was to work slowly and from the outside-in, essentially removing materials in the opposite order that they were added originally. We didn’t want to disrupt any woodwork or further damage the surrounding plaster walls and stuff, so we couldn’t just throw a sledgehammer at it a few times and watch it all come down in a dramatic heap of debris.

Also, yeah. I demo in khakis?

So, that thing about the wall being easy? False. Not only did one side have 1/2″ plywood under the panelling, the whole thing was also insulated. That’s why I’m wearing my fancy respirator, by the way. We drenched all of the fiberglass insulation (not asbestos, based on much frantic google searching) in soapy water from a spray bottle as we exposed/removed it to contain any untoward particles, but I don’t know. The mask feels very pro.

Anyway, this thing was not built particularly well, but it was very strong. Even though it’s a small wall, it took us somewhere between 2 and 3 hours from start to finish.

downstairshallwayafter1

downstairshallwayafter2

But OMG, SO MUCH BETTER, right? I know this is the most predictable observation for me to have, but it really did make the space feel so much bigger and more open, and somehow made the whole ceiling seem about a foot taller. It brought a little more light into the entry hallway, but that’ll really happen with the still-standing vestibule wall finally comes down. That thing is driving me crazy.

stairs-at-top

The coolest thing that the wall was hiding is how the stair turns at the top! All of this was covered in a mix of plywood, 2×4’s, and wood paneling before, but now it’s right there! So pretty!

demo2

The upstairs wall happened a few days later, with the added muscle and help of our friend, Nora! Nora is the best ever. She stayed with us for over a week helping out with the house, and kind of became our voice of reason, along with adding manpower and determination. She’s tougher than she looks.

That first picture was my “Why in the hell would you cover that up??” Nicole Curtis moment, by the way. Well, one of them. Obviously I know why it was covered up, but it’s still fun to say.

Also, yeah. I demo in hot pink shirts?

framingupstairs

Check it out! As expected, the whole wall had been built around a totally-intact banister! It’s a little bit wobbly and some of the spindles are crooked, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed pretty easily.

This wall was similarly poorly constructed but also exceedingly strong, by the way. There was a ton of lumber  inside, in many different shapes and sizes. The piece of framing at the end of the banister where it meets the wall was actually bolted through the wall and secured inside the closet, with weird rigid metal wires running from the heads of the bolts to the other stud in the corner. You can kind of see this in the picture…it doesn’t really matter, I just thought it was noteworthy.

hallwayafter2

hallwayafter1

BOOM. Even though, um, everything in this photo needs some love, isn’t it amazing how all of a sudden this feels like a real space? So exciting. Taking down this wall also helped a TON with air circulation and keeping the upstairs from heating up like an oven, so I’m really glad we took the time out to do it.

Now that the easy-ish, brutish labor is mostly out of the way, I can’t wait to start working on the entryway and hallways. They’re going to be so pretty.

House
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The Kitchen Begins!

maxandmekko

In the movies, let’s say, there’s this whole idea of what buying a house is like, particularly an old house. It always culminates with that sticky-sweet moment where the couple turns the key, walks in for the first time, and takes stock of their surroundings. They breath deep. The air is musty, but charming. It’s good air. It’s their air, and they know it. They are fresh-faced and full of hope. They quickly start to do things, like sweep and pull white sheets off of old oil paintings and pieces of furniture left behind. They get in a cutesy flirty-fun-fight while painting their first room together, splattering each other with reckless abandon, unconcerned with waste or, evidently, their flooring. They hang curtains. They are home. /end scene

LIES. IT IS ALL LIES.

Despite our best efforts to get plenty of different inspections and estimates before closing on the house, we signed on the dotted line with a few virtual unknowns, the largest among them being the plumbing. The house had been drained and winterized over two years before, and between a few different factors I won’t bore you with here, we couldn’t have it turned on essentially until the late spring. Our plumbing inspection turned up no major *visible* problems with the plumbing, and hey, we figured, somebody was living here! It’s probably fine.

Since we were coming from Brooklyn, the task of getting the plumbing going again became an exercise in endless back-and-forth between me, our realtor, and our plumber. We’d accepted that a few repairs would probably have to be made, but had hoped optimistically that we’d be able to get them resolved before we’d get stuck living with them. But then closing got delayed. And delayed. And delayed. We finally closed 3 days before we were set to move in for our first stint of work (work schedules were rearranged, friends set to stay in the apartment, etc. etc.), and there was still no running water. Then it was two days before. Then it was the day before. From what I understand, our plumber left about an hour before we got there that Monday night. I hadn’t heard from him, so I assumed all systems were a-go.

Wrong. We were so very wrong.

Both toilets leaked profusely when flushed. We had no hot water. A disconnected radiator in the downstairs bathroom was slowly leaking murky, rusty water. It was already dusk, neither of us had showered that day, and there was a brief but lively debate about whether we should vacate for the night and find a motel close by that would take pity on our situation, and our bladders, and give us shelter for the night. I won’t rehash that here, but if you have a sense of our relationship, you can probably guess which sides the two of us came down on. (hint: I may have uttered the words “suck it up, you pansy.”)

Whilst living with working toilets and showers, it’s easy to take for granted how nice they are. Living without them, you quickly develop both a deep appreciation of the nearest Starbucks and an impressive tolerance for human body odor. I only bring this up because I feel that it’s important to remember that everything I’ll be talking about in this post was done during the several days in which we couldn’t poop when we wanted to or recover from a day’s labor with the cleansing powers of a shower. This was the week when I turned into a disgusting dumpster human.

chase

Because I am stubborn and filled with ambitions to have a functional kitchen, I didn’t want to waste any time. Not only did the upstairs toilet leak all over the place, but we noticed that while the upstairs sink and shower seemed OK within the bathroom itself, their use caused what some might call a “water feature” to flow in a brief and spirited way  through the downstairs kitchen. Were it outdoors, it might have been nice——calming, even——but inside, the sound of water rushing down plaster walls and seeping out all over the kitchen floor was a tad more alarming. It all came from behind that wood structure in the corner of the kitchen you see above, so it was mysterious, like a present. “Open me,” it beckoned, “and within me, find nightmares.”

That box of Smirnoff actually contains a vintage light fixture I’ve been hoarding, by the way. The Smirnoff would have been more helpful during this particular period of my life.

plumingdisasters

The wood chase came down easily enough (not that easily. nothing is easy. everything is hard. the end.), and exposed this kind of OK looking pipe? I thought it would be terrible but it wasn’t terrible?

That’s the problem with plumbing. It looks OK. Then it is not OK when the plumber comes to Sawzall out 9 feet of cast iron pipe with a huge crack all the way down the back, where it faced the wall and wasn’t visible. Look at that madness! Leak, explained.

Seriously. Watching new plumbing go in. IS. AMAZING. It all happened pretty quickly and yeah, it’s just a piece of PVC, but it just felt so…liberating? Our house is not broken! We don’t have an indoor waterfall! Things are good!

We also got a new toilet installed on this day (I don’t have a picture, but it’s just a toilet. We bought it at Home Depot. Plumber installed it. Old one was hauled away. That was basically it.), and suddenly life felt more manageable.

Still no hot water (that was an electrical issue, we later found out…as in, we had no electrical in half the house, including the part that powers the hot water heater), but who needs real showers with all this FUN?

Not this guy.

(but check that cute little hook in the last picture, which was hiding behind the chase and covered in layers of paint! he’s getting stripped and reused, for sure.)

kitchenbefore

I also took the opportunity to have the plumbers cap the gas line feeding the old stove. We don’t actually have gas service running to the house at all right now (another long and exciting story), so it probably would have been OK for me to just do it, I guess, but I don’t want to mess with that stuff. Safety first. Or something.

I know that stove might look kind of fun and charming, but it’s super duper gross. Trust. And not in a way that can just be cleaned. Like actually gross. I shimmied it out to the mudroom as fast as I could. Thinking I’ll probably post it for free on Craigslist and see what happens.

brick

Getting the stove out of the way allowed me to start peeling away the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! Almost as gross as the wallpaper was the old yellow wallpaper paste (and probably decades-old grease) clinging to the plaster once it was gone. EW EW.

It’s kind of great the way the room was painted long ago though, right? Vintage color-blocking!

I couldn’t get the rest of the wallpaper down, though, until I took care of the ceiling, so that’s where I turned my fickle attentions next.

lightbefore

I don’t know when or really why this ceiling was put in (probably to contain heat), but I know the realtor had the tiles removed to show how tall the ceiling actually is. The biggest obstacle to removing the ceiling, though, was changing out the main light source in the room, which was hanging ON the drop ceiling framing, wired from the box in the ceiling, to a couple feet of exposed Romex wire, to the wires in the fixture, which were all exposed. Just hanging out. Also, there was masking tape all around the ceiling box…like, not on the box itself but surrounding it on the ceiling.

I am not an electrician, but pretty sure all of this constitutes approximately 9 million code violations.

I got too caught up in the heat of the moment and my fear of being electrocuted to take a bunch of pictures, but basically I turned off the power, detached the old light, and installed the new one. Since the electrical box isn’t in the center of the room, I opted to swag my light fixture a few feet over from the box, which was convenient since the two lights and the ceiling framing didn’t get all tangled hanging on top of each other.

ceilingcomingdown

Pretty sure this is not how a drop ceiling is normally installed, but it really wouldn’t be our house if it was done properly. A metal channel is installed all the way around the perimeter of the room, which the drop ceiling “drops” into and snaps together in this cute and sensible way. But on top of that, our special drop ceiling was also secured to the ceiling with a billion rigid metal wires (possibly old clothing hangers?), which were bent around screws and screwed into the sheetrock ceiling above.

Pretty creative. Pretty not fun to remove. This is a main theme in this house——weird quick-fix solutions involving 4 standby materials: masking tape, packing tape, metal wire, and caulk. I have a lifetime of scraping crusty old adhesive off of stuff. Warning you now: probably going to kvetch about that a lot.

I know it’s impossible to tell from that photo, but I tried to be very organized and systematic about taking down the ceiling. First I removed all the stuff in the center, and then I removed the stuff attached to the walls around the top of the room. That framing around the room was all nailed in some places and screwed into the walls in other places, which was way fun dealing with on a tall ladder, alone, juggling a hammer, a pry bar, and a screwdriver. All of the metal from the drop ceiling filled a 40-gallon contractor trashcan, which currently looks like a scary spiky torture device out in the garage. FYI.

ridge

As a reward for my labor, I was left with this weird ridge in the wall where the framing had been. It looks like the walls were all skim-coated with joint compound at some point, but only underneath the drop ceiling, leaving a slight depth discrepancy in the wall and a lip where the old wall met the skim-coating.

Cute.

Not cute.

So basically I went around the room with a glazing tool (more rigid than a spackle knife) and knocked off the weird ridge and all of the lumps and bumps.

Then I went back around the room and liberally applied Ready Patch all over the weird ridge and all the holes and all the holes in the ceiling and all the holes everywhere else.

An entire quart of Ready Patch later (that’s a ton of Ready Patch), all that was left to do was wait for it all to dry so that I could go back around the whole room and sand it all smooth and hope it wouldn’t be too noticeable when I finally, joyfully could get around to painting this godforsaken room.

Welcome to my glammy DIY bloggy life. Fun and adventure abounds!

progress

But! Check it out! I love that nice little light hanging there, just waiting for everything else to take shape. It’s totally looking so much better already, even though it’s still a horror show.

I ended up cleaning the old wallpaper paste with Scrubbing Bubbles from an aerosol can, by the way. I only bring this up because I was told a little vinegar-water solution would take care of it, which was SO very wrong. Scrubbing Bubbles and a sponge worked miracles, though. For real.

beforeprogress

Progress. It feels good.

pssst——missed it in all the hubbub? Here’s the whole plan for the kitchen!

 

 

 

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