Prepping the Pantry!

When you’re living in your own DIY renovation for any extended period of time, your brain does some interesting maneuvering when it comes to your perception of reality. There’s a lot to grapple with, so in the interest of staying sane, mildly productive, and occasionally happy, it’s more or less essential to erect a mental scaffolding of lies around the truth of both where and how you’re actually spending your days and nights. There’s a certain amount of necessary delusion involved in living in a place where conditions often teeter somewhere between a city dump and the inside parts of a vacuum cleaner, so all sorts of things must be accepted as OK that are, in fact, not generally OK. For instance, we’ve had a bathtub in which a man died and partially decomposed sitting casually on the floor of our living room for roughly a year now. The body is gone, of course, but the stains left behind are still plainly visible, and then there’s just the idea of a bathtub sitting well outside the actual bathroom to which it belongs for such an extended period, which should probably elicit some feelings of shame or sadness but, actually, really doesn’t make me feel anything anymore. Will it sit there forever? No, of course not. Will it sit there until we have the money and the time to renovate the downstairs bathroom? Yes, absolutely. When is that going to happen? Could be months, could be years. Isn’t that a problem, though? Nah.

Thus is the power of the human mind. Of course, closely related is the whole time thing: how long everything has already taken, how long it might be before more stuff is done, and—somewhere in the ether—how long it might realistically be until things are looking and feeling complete. Whenever I’m tempted to entertain the last question, I don’t dwell on it very long because I feel that the honest answer is never, and if I think about that too much, then I have to honestly evaluate my priorities in life and that is just not something I’m willing to do more than a couple times a decade. The previous two topics, however, are easier to contend with. Once something is done, the feeling is satisfying enough that it’s easier to just forget completely how long it took. Trying to figure it out is maladaptive because it would only lead to discouragement, which leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to continuing to live in filthy squalor indefinitely. As for figuring out how long a current or imminently approaching project might take, evidently my approach is to just put the intention to do it into the universe and then wait around until it actually happens. I spend the intervening time convincing myself daily that progress is being made and that I’m inching ever-closer to completion—particularly when I am factually not—and then, when I actually do manage to complete something, it is confirmed that this potent cocktail of delusion, denial, and outright self-deception is as effective a strategy as any. Thumbs up.

One of the major things I’ve been lying to myself about for a while now is our “pantry.” I put it in quotation marks because, much like our “downstairs bathroom,” it has yet to actually fulfill the function that the space is ostensibly being reserved for. Nevertheless, when new people come to the house and I give them the grand tour, I usually open the door to this space and say something like “and soon, this is going to be the pantry!”

pantrycorner

It wasn’t really until I sat down to write this post that I realized how loosely I throw around the word “soon,” as evidently I’ve been saying some version of this for over a year now. I mean, the last time I posted an update about the pantry was back in May, and I was already a few months deep even then. At the time, I had the gall to use the words “quick” and “simple” in reference to renovating the space. These ideas weren’t presented as hopeful or optimistic, but rather as statements of fact. I will have a pantry and it will be done soon and it will be quick and simple. 

Because our pantry is essentially just an oddly-shaped closet, it’s an easy thing to forget about. Above is an old picture of the pantry door in the kitchen. With so many actual rooms in our house in total shambles and various stages of horror, I’ll admit that the pantry just didn’t seem like a big enough deal for me to care about. Max prodded me about it basically non-stop—proposing that it would make our lives better and our kitchen more manageable—but I was way more concerned with having a dining room and a living room than I was with having a place to put our microwave and some cans of beans. We had two upper cabinets in the kitchen dedicated to food stuff, and that seemed like enough. I mean, my last two kitchens in New York have been way smaller and had way less storage than this one, so adding more storage in the form of a pantry just seemed like a fancy luxury that I wasn’t all that inclined to care about.

Anyway. The dining room is pretty much renovated and the living room is pretty much renovated, and now, just fourteen short months after I started working on this tiny space, it’s happening! The pantry is real! It’s still not quite done, but it’s getting very close.

Of course everything ended up being more complicated than I thought it would be, in large part due to me actively making everything more complicated than I thought it would be. The original plan was to add some electrical (two lights and three outlets), throw up some walls, refinish the floor, hang some simple track shelving, and BOOM: pantry. But then as the project stretched out, I got increasingly more ambitious and my plans became increasingly elaborate, and before long I didn’t just want pantry, but something more like the best pantry. 

before

Just to jog your memory (and mine at this point), the space that I’m calling the pantry was actually two smaller closets when we bought the house. The picture on the left is what was behind the door in the kitchen, and the picture on the right is what was behind the closet door in the dining room. Originally, this space was actually used for a small secondary staircase. The stairs ran from the basement under the kitchen, and you’d exit out a doorway in the kitchen that’s been sealed probably since the removal of the stairs, which I’m guessing took place in the 1930s. In the kitchen, what is now the pantry door opened into a staircase that led up to the room above the kitchen on the second floor. Since the closet in the dining room was not original to the house, I opted to remove and seal up that doorway and knock down the wall dividing the closets, creating one long space only accessible from the kitchen that takes up the entire footprint of the original staircase.

before2

This is the view from the doorway in the kitchen into the pantry after the partition wall came down and before the old doorway in the dining room was framed in. One thing I think about a lot with regards to this space is how, someday, I’d like to really give the kitchen a total overhaul, knock down this whole thing, and give the kitchen about 3 more feet. This opens up a whole world of possibilities I don’t need to get into now because it’s such a pipe dream, but we could have an island and more usable counter space and a totally different layout…I have a vision. There’s really only so much you can do storage-wise with a space that’s this long and narrow, so even though the pantry concept is exciting, it also doesn’t feel like the most efficient use of space no matter how you lay it out. But in the spirit of working what we’re working with right now, I feel good about it. Whatever.

electric

We ended up demo-ing the entire righthand wall, just because the plaster was in terrible shape, we were going to drywall a part of the wall anyway where the old doorway used to be, and it made running the new electric much simpler. Our electrician added two lights on the ceiling and three 20-amp outlets, which is what’s recommended for powering a microwave.

drywall

I’m not really sure how I neglected to take any photos in between the last photo and this one above, but the pantry took a small hit in the form of a new plumbing chase that I had to build. This still makes me grumpy. See, there used to be a couple exposed heating pipes on the other side of this wall in the dining room (you can see them here), and when the pantry wall was opened up, I asked our plumber if it would be possible to bury the pipes inside the wall. He said yes, so the old pipes were removed and then when we went to run the new ones…OOPS. Because this is an original exterior wall, there are some pretty enormous wooden framing members above and below that were impossible to run plumbing through, so essentially the choice was between building out a small chase in the corner of the dining room or doing it in the pantry. It’s still sort of frustrating because, had I known, I would have just left the original pipes in the dining room alone, but that wasn’t an option anymore at this point. So ANYWAY, we tucked the new plumbing as far into that corner as we could (it comes out so far into the room at the bottom because there’s a stone foundation below, so this is as close to the exterior wall as it could be…). I built a wood frame around it, stuffed some insulation inside for good measure, and then the whole thing got drywalled when the rest of the room did. Even though I was planning to do the drywalling myself, Edwin barely wanted anything extra to just throw it in as part of the job when he did the ceilings in the dining room, living room, and hallway, so I decided to save myself that little added bit of fun and excitement and let him do it.

maxpainting

After the drywall went up, the pantry more or less sat this way for months. Max continued to pester me about working on it, I continued to basically ignore him and do other stuff instead, and eventually I got fed up and told him that if he wanted the pantry that badly, he should just go ahead and do the whole thing himself. The whole renovation aspect of living in our house is about 98% on me—Max does all sorts of other things to keep our lives on track (laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, cleaning, being casually gorgeous, that kind of stuff), but he’s about as inclined to attempt something renovation-related as he is to light himself on fire. When we met, I recall having a very long debate about whether it was OK to paint entire rooms with an edge trimmer—his preferred method over the objectively correct one that involves brushes and rollers.

Anyway, the point is that I was able to wield his desire for a pantry against him, at least at this stage. Before I knew it, I was demonstrating how to patch and repair the remaining plaster work, showing him how to sand drywall seams, and even handing over a gallon of drywall primer with the simple instruction “go to town.” And what did that boy do? He threw on pajamas, a pair of earphones, some Nora Jones, and totally painted the room like a pro! So proud. Go Max. Then I took over again because I have major control issues.

primer

This picture was taken just after the primer went up, but this is a case where a coat of paint really went a LONG way. Seeing the space all light and bright made me feel like it had more potential than I’d given it credit for, and I felt semi-inspired to put some real effort into it as opposed to my former strategy of pretending it didn’t exist.

floorbefore

One thing I knew I wanted to do in here was refinish the floor. I opted to do this after the walls were painted, but before I started putting any shelving up or anything. Because the space is so small, the wood is just pine, and it wasn’t covered with too much crap, it was easy enough to just tackle the whole job with my regular orbital sander. I just used 60-grit pads…the whole thing took maybe an hour? Of course, with all the dust, clean-up took at least as long.

floorrefinishingprocess

I know this picture is garbage, but I’m such a sucker for that moment when you can see how pretty wood is going to be after it’s refinished!

floorprocess2

I tried to keep the sanding pretty minimal in order to maintain some of the patina of the old wood. This wood floor isn’t original to the house (remember, there were stairs here), but it’s definitely old enough to have some great age and character. This is more or less what’s lurking under the rest of the kitchen floor, under two layers of subfloor and vinyl tile…can you blame me for wanting to rip up all that stuff when we were renovating the kitchen? I guess I’m glad we didn’t because it would have been a HUGE can of worms for a number of reasons, and the whole goal of that renovation was just to make things clean and functional and OK-looking, but still…maybe someday.

poly

After all the sanding and cleaning, I felt like the floor was looking a little too fresh, but I didn’t want to stain it…so I did an uncharacteristic thing and opted for oil-based polyurethane. Oil-based poly is sort of considered a bad thing nowadays because there are so many other options that are better for the wood, much more environmentally friendly, easier to touch-up, and leave the wood looking more natural, but in this specific instance I actually wanted the wood to have more of that amber tone that oil-based poly gives it. It felt very conservative and old-school.

poly1

I just did two coats (I was planning on 3, but the floor didn’t seem like it needed it), and I have to say I’m pretty happy with how it turned out! The satin finish is nice (I really despise glossy finishes on floors, but it’s nice to have a little sheen) and the poly brought out more of the character that I was hoping for.

finishedfloor

It’s really hard to take decent pictures of a space that gets basically no natural light, but here’s about what the finished floor looks like! I know it might seem kind of orange, but I think in the context of the finished space, it looks right.

I have lots more to share about this space, but this post got so long that I realized I needed to break it up into a few posts! So I’m awkwardly cutting myself off here. Now that the foundation is all ready to go, we can really get into the fun stuff. I’ll be back ASAP with more!

Solar Shade Success!

shade2

One of the major tragedies of the past few years was IKEA’s decision to change the design of the ENJE roller blind. I’ve probably mentioned this like 30 times on this blog, but only because it was so crushing and significant.

See, back in the good old days, this shade was one of my favorite IKEA products. It’s not a blackout shade or really even much of a privacy shade, but it did a great job of filtering light, softening a view, and providing enough privacy for me to feel comfy with. It came with pretty nice, durable hardware, it was super long (perfect for big old windows!), it was fairly easy to cut down to a custom size, and it was cheap.

Then somebody decided that the pull-chain mechanism that made the shade go up and down was a choking hazard for kids, and all the ENJE shades disappeared from IKEA showrooms across the country, only to be re-introduced under the same name several months later.

New ENJE? Total bastardization of the old ENJE. Gone was the pull-chain mechanism, replaced by a spring inside the roll. The little end-caps on the bottom rail got switched from a faux-chrome finish to a sad, grey plastic. The bottom rail also got this new handle thing…easy enough to just break off and toss, but still totally stupid. At the time I needed a couple of shades for my apartment, so I bought the new ENJE shades, cautiously optimistic.

GARBAGE, I tell you. I mean, I still put them up and they look fine and whatever, but I only realized once I got them home that also gone was the generous length of the old shades, rendering them about 6″ too short for our long-ish windows at the apartment. So dumb. And that spring mechanism? Also garbage. It barely works. If you never want to raise and lower your shades, I guess it’s fine, but otherwise it just sucks.

At the time, I vowed that I wouldn’t buy any more of these shitty Americanized ENJE shades for the rest of my life. I would go to Canada next time I needed shades. I would swim the Atlantic. I would…find a new source for window treatments?

That last option sounds like the easiest, right? WRONG. SO WRONG.

You would think that a basic thing like a super-simple solar shade would be easy to find, right? And how expensive could they possibly be? I mean, I don’t expect everything to be IKEA prices—I knew I’d have to deepen my pockets a little bit. Like maybe 60 or 70 bucks instead of 30?

WRONG AGAIN. I searched high and I searched low. I went to multiple popular blinds manufacturer’s showrooms. I searched a lot of the internet. I even ordered a sample shade that looked promising online a while ago that cost me $75 and it was literally just a sheet of dumb white vinyl around a cardboard tube. This is the appalling world we live in, folks.

I’ve ordered solar shades from The Shade Store for a client and they’re super duper nice, but I think a single shade for one of the windows on the first floor of my house came out to about $250. That’s just not happening. A couple of very kind European readers even offered to go to IKEA, buy the European versions of the ENJE, and ship them to me, but with taxes and shipping it ended up being really expensive and the whole thing just seemed like kind of an absurd premise to begin with, even for me. A few people have suggested JC Penney’s version of the roller shade, which admittedly seems to be very well-priced, but the reviews were kind of questionable and I couldn’t really tell what they looked like from the pictures, and I think they’re all cordless, which I just feel too scarred to gamble on again.

SO ANYWAY. In the meantime, I did the thing I swore I wouldn’t and bought a few of the new ENJE shades for a couple rooms in the upstairs of our house. They’re a little too short for the windows and still crappy, but we needed something so I just did it. I’ll probably replace them someday but right now it’s not a priority.

process

Then for downstairs, I went to Home Depot and got these super cheap spring-powered vinyl shades for like $8 a pop, just to put up temporarily. We needed the privacy and honestly it’s better to put something up that’s disposable-ish while you’re renovating, since you’re likely to get paint and joint compound and dust all over it anyway. Above is a really horrendous process photo (is there anything uglier than that moment when the walls are painted but the trim isn’t?) showing how charming those looked. They were much better during the day but at night…oof.

Now that we have a couple rooms renovated, though, the “temporary” $8 vinyl sheets in front of my windows were an enormous bummer. They tend to get kind of blown out in photos so maybe you don’t notice them as much, but in real life they looked very crappy. It felt sad to put all this work into these rooms, get them looking good, only to have this big glaring horrible thing remaining in the space because the world of window treatments is so cruel.

Before I forget…yes. I know. I know there are many, many other solutions. Curtains, roman blinds, venetian blinds, cellular shades, shutters—there are lots of things out there to cover windows. I know I’m being more than a little ridiculous and dramatic here. I can’t be the only one who sort of hates 99% of window treatments, though, right? Even the term “window treatment” makes me nauseous. For some reason I actually tend to like curtains for other people but I don’t really want them in my own house? Maybe I’ll want them someday? I don’t know. One of my favorite things about my house are the big, beautiful old moldings, and I guess I worry about curtains sort of hiding/distracting from the architecture of the space. Another thing I like about my house is the natural light, so I like solar shades because they’re super minimal, they give some privacy, and you don’t have to sacrifice your natural light to get it.

I think I just want to be as picky and annoying as possible about everything that I possibly can. I’m so much fun to live with.

book

At long last, I finally found something I like, and of course it was right under my nose the whole time…at Lowe’s! I don’t know how it took me so long. I’m at Lowe’s several times a week. I’m dumb.

Anyway, Lowe’s carries a few different brands of custom blinds and shades and stuff, including their own Allen + Roth brand stuff. Allen + Roth things tend to be great, by the way. I’ve used some of these little lights around the house (nice-looking and inconspicuous for old houses, right?), I’ve been impressed with the tile options, some of the home goods are cute…they’re doing a good job.

I guess the thing I didn’t realize was just how customizable the shades are! I think they have all the same options that you get when ordering at the Shade Store—different levels of opacity, different fabric weaves, lots of colors, inside vs. outside mount, reverse-roll or regular, finish options for the bottom bar, corded vs. cordless, and on and on! AND they’re about half the price. So. They’re not exactly inexpensive, but after a truly exhaustive search and knowing what else is out there and how much it costs, I think they’re a great value. Our shades came out to about $130 a pop including tax, but the price varies depending on the custom options and the size of the window. I think there was also a 10% off promotion going on when I ordered them, so that’s something to look out for, too. So anyway…not cheap, but not horrible, and feels decently manageable when you’re just buying a couple at a time.

3percent

I snapped some photos of the different fabric options, just in case you are as insane as I am and need to know everything? Custom solar shades are typically available in different levels of opacity—that’s what the 3% openness thing means. The lower the percentage, the more opaque the shades are.

4and5

One of the things I ran into a lot with other sources was that even if the shades had all the options I wanted, I didn’t like the fabrics. I feel like most of these are really nice, though? It’s hard to judge from these pictures, I know.

10percent

ANYWAY, because I am wildly boring and predictable, I went with the Equinox 10% openness in white. I tend to think 10% is the best for getting the most light and an acceptable level of privacy. They’re probably a little more opaque than the ENJE shades. There are 12% and 14% options, too, but that seems too transparent, unless I guess you’re just layering them under something else.

I don’t think there’s a way to order the custom stuff online, but doing it in the store is very easy. An employee enters all your custom options into the system, it spits out a price, and about a week or so later, it shows up at your house! I just ordered one shade to begin with as a sample, loved it, and went back to order two more to round out the living room. All three windows were the same size and they had all my info saved, so I didn’t have to go through the whole process again. Nice, right? I’m saving up to do the three dining room windows next, and then I guess I’ll just try to buy them for each room as we renovate, although I’m paranoid that they’ll discontinue them or the design will change or something and then I’ll just have to give up on life completely.

packaging

They come wrapped up all nice in brown craft paper. The ONE THING I wasn’t impressed by is that mine didn’t come with directions for mounting them! But after looking at the shades and at the brackets for about 30 seconds, it wasn’t hard to figure out. The brackets are pretty petite, too, which is good because our window casings don’t have a lot of depth.

It took all of about 5 minutes to get the shades up, and it IMMEDIATELY made the room feel so, so much more finished. There was much rejoicing.

shade3

It’s hard to capture with a camera how these things look in real life, but I did my best! I don’t have any reason to block light in this room, so I’m thrilled with how bright they keep things. It’s also nice to kind of soften the views without blocking them. I like being able to see out a little.

shadechain

The pull-chain is SUCH a relief, too! It came with this little plastic piece to screw into the casing to keep the chain taut, but I broke it off and tossed it. All the hardware really seems very nice and built to last. It seems like these get bad reviews online because the cordless shades have the same operability issues that all cordless shades seem to have, but the corded option is great.

The window sashes themselves need some work, by the way. I’m sort of thinking of the window restoration as its own renovation project, so consequently I really haven’t touched them aside from replacing a couple of broken panes. I’ll get to it!

I chose a white powder-coated metal bottom bar, which I like. There were a few options including different metal finishes and having the fabric wrap around. I’m happy with it! Totally boring, like I wanted.

outside

Privacy-wise, they’re enough for me. I took this lousy picture from the sidewalk at night with the lights inside turned all the way up. You can definitely see shapes and movement but not a lot of detail. Realistically, we pretty much always have the lights dimmed down at night, so you’d be able to see a lot less…I just figured it was worth showing. Privacy is one of those very personal things, though. As someone who has made a habit for half a decade now of constantly putting photos of the inside of my home on the internet, my standards may be a little atypical. Different strokes!

shade1

I have no idea how I managed to write this much about white solar shades. This was supposed to be a short and sweet post. Just slapped myself. Bye!

Thinking About Flooring in the Cottage

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

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

fronttoback

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

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

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

dininglivingtransition

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

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

diningroomfloor

diningroomrot

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

kitchenfloor

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

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

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

lumberliquidators

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

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

upstairsflooring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kohler Brockway Sink in the Cottage Bathroom!

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

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

KohlerBrockwaySink1

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

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

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

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

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

13-hands-on-education-bathroom-0913-xln

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

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

nautical-sinks-metal-lockers-bathroom-0712-dempster14-xl

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

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

700_sargisson-robbins-101

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

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

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

KohlerBrockwaySink2

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

Hunting Radiators

Radiators1

People say it all the time: during any renovation, surprises happen. Curveballs, if you prefer that kind of athletic terminology. I do not because I do not enjoy sports.

The cottage renovation has been almost eerily lacking in them, all things considered. Yes, there was the rotted sill plate that needed to be replaced in the front, and I guess the original wall framing inside was worse than anticipated, and there’s the ongoing lack of gas service, but…is that it? I don’t really know what I was expecting. Maybe it’s just what you get when you buy a condemned shell of a house…you kind of expect everything to be disastrous so it feels like a little bonus when certain aspects are actually pretty OK. It’s possible my definition of “OK” has just gotten a little skewed and kooky.

I fully admit, own, and embrace that I am not an expert on…really anything. During the early planning stages of the renovation (which started pre-purchase, since I had to figure out a budget and all that…), I met my plumber, Carl, at the cottage to talk about the plumbing and the heat system in the house—namely, that there was none, and we’d be starting from scratch. I remember offering that the intelligent and modern thing to do would be to install a forced air system for heat, and I remember him quickly agreeing with me that this would be the correct and most cost-effective solution.

BAM. I know, you don’t have to tell me how hip and with it I am. I was even a little excited about the new fancy forced air system that this house would have because, for some extra cash, it could also be an A/C system! AIR. CONDITIONING. In an old house. This place was basically shaping up to be a fucking SPA.

So that was the plan. Now you know.

Fast-forward warp-speed-style to a couple of weeks ago. Demo is done, new framing is done, I’ve switched to present tense, and I ask Carl if we can get going on installing the ducts and the furnace. That way, everything will be in place when the dumb gas line finally decides to materialize. So Carl sends some of his dudes over to the house that evening. I meet them there.

Carl has several dudes who work for him. I really like them all. They’re funny and smart and they are all OBSESSED with Mekko and in general we just have a nice time getting frustrated about plumbing. Plumbing is really frustrating in general so you can choose to be a dick all the time or you can choose to be a cool and groovy dude. These are cool and groovy types. I know how most of them take their coffee so I consider us all very good friends at this point.

Anyway. Dudes walk through newly-gutted, newly-reframed house. Dudes exchange worried looks.

“And you said you wanted to put forced air in here?”

There’s this one guy who works for Carl who I would still say is pretty cool but his attitude is not so groovy. He’s what we call crotchety. On the surface he sort of seems to hate everything and everyone but I know he’s really a softie. We’ll call him Joe.

“No fucking way you’re running ducts in this house,” says Joe. “No way, no how.” He’s visibly angry already, just at the prospect of even attempting the job.

I ask him to elaborate.

The basic gist of the story is that in a house with no attic and only a partial basement, running the necessary ductwork from room to room becomes much more complicated, so almost everything has to be run within the living spaces—not above or below them. With framing to accommodate the ducts, this isn’t really a problem…but this is a small house with 7.5 foot ceilings. Joe begins mapping his best guess of how the ducts would need to be run: through a chase that would need to be built in this corner, across a soffit on this wall…the picture he paints takes up a lot of space and looks super ugly. He quickly gets flustered and goes out to the van to smoke a Newport.

One of the guys calls Carl. Carl says he’ll be on his way as soon as he gets done with whatever he’s doing.

Joe sits in the van and smokes. Me and the other guys stand around outside, where it’s a little bit lighter, and shoot the shit. We talk about the neighborhood, about Kingston, about the house, about their haircare regimens, about cars, about their pocket-knives, about how cold it is. Eventually, Carl shows. We all go back inside, cellphone flashlights activated.

Carl looks around. He explains that the forced air system isn’t impossible, but would involve some soffits and chases and custom ductwork, meaning added cost. At one point he just stops. “Wait, why do you want forced air in here, anyway?”

“I just thought that’s what people did.”

“Honestly, you’d be better off with radiators. A lot easier to snake pipes than run all these ducts. We can do the same system we put in your house.”

“Like…baseboard radiators?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Allow me to explain something: I have this thing about baseboard radiators, and the thing is that I dislike them. I don’t mean that to make anybody feel badly about their baseboard radiators. I know full well that I sound like a dick. It just seems like they take up too much space, the heat they radiate isn’t all that nice, and they somehow look neither vintage/interesting nor modern/inconspicuous. The thought of putting them in this house (particularly since I’ve just finished removing vestiges of the former, defunct baseboard radiator system) makes me sad and upset.

Then I have a Dangerous Idea.

radiators3

“Carl,” I ask, “is there any big difference from your perspective if I wanted to use old cast iron radiators instead? If I bought them all and got them in the house and everything?”

“No, not really. If that’s what you want.”

Even though I don’t love baseboard radiators, I do love old cast iron radiators. They’re beautiful, they’re effective, and the heat they give off is comfortable and gentle. They also just add instant character to a room, which is something this house is going to need.

So, yeah…I’ve made it my mission to find, purchase, and move about 7 vintage cast iron radiators for this house. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen/heard of this being done, so I guess we’ll all find out together how it works out.

I’m an idiot.

radiators2

Naturally, this exciting choice of mine has turned out to be more complicated than I initially thought. This is because I don’t always think things through. My first instinct was basically to measure the spots in the house where a radiator could/should reasonably go, then find a radiator that would fill the space nicely and look good in said spot.

Wrong. Wrong strategy. I even spent a couple hours shopping, picked out a bunch of radiators, and got the dude to quote me a price armed with only this information. It wasn’t one of my more intelligent moments, but I didn’t buy them so I guess that’s something.

As it turns out, sizing radiators is actually a fairly exact and math-y thing that involves more than saying “yeah, that’d look good under that window.” Go figure.

Here’s what I’ve deduced with a little help from the internet and a little help from Carl:

1. The first thing you need to do is figure out the BTUs (British Thermal Units) required to effectively heat a room. This depends on many factors about the room itself, but luckily there are online calculators out there to help you take those factors into account and figure it out. I used this one. Using my SketchUp models as a guide, I went through the cottage room by room and figured out the BTUs required to heat each space. Then I wrote them all down in a notebook for easy reference while I’m shopping.

2. When shopping for radiators, you need to know how to calculate the BTUs per hour that a given radiator will produce. You do this by calculating the square footage of the surface area of a radiator (which depends on whether it is tube-type or column-type, its height, depth, and number of sections), and then multiplying that number by the heat emission rate per square foot, which is reliant on the water temperature produced by the boiler (hot water standard is 170 BTUs/hr, steam is 240 BTUs/hr). This guide makes things pretty straightforward.

3. Make sure you can identify the difference between steam radiators and hot water radiators. I think the easiest way to do this is to look at the ends. Hot water radiators should have a pipe at either end for the supply and return. Steam radiators have one pipe because they only need a supply line. I’ll be installing a hot water system because it’s easier and more efficient.

4. It’s better to be too big than too small (har, har). Temperature to the system can be decreased but not increased beyond the standard capacity of the boiler. Just be careful because you don’t want one radiator that’s too oversized and the rest to be correctly sized—this is what leads to big temperature discrepancies between different spaces.

 

ANYWAY. This is what I’ve learned…or at least I think I’ve learned. Now I have to go find them! Hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’m aiming to spend $1,000-$1,500 for all the radiators. They aren’t super expensive but they aren’t cheap either. Luckily this is a modest house, which means modest radiators—nothing super ornate or fancy looking, which is more expensive.

Even though I’ve been looking at Craigslist a fair amount, I think my best bet is a good salvage place that will just have a ton of selection. The size guidelines of the radiators combined with the space constraints of the house means that I’ll have to be looking for pretty specific radiators—in other words, I need them to be effective and fit in their designated spots. It feels like a tall order, but possible!

Back to Top