Something to Think About

A stylized image of my new kitchen wall. Lots of windows. Lots of light.

Yeah, I know. I’ve been radio silent for a while. Sorry. Turns out I learned that I’m not a HGTV-lifestyle type blogger. I know their ilk since I’ve been reading their blogs–their posts on trends and their how-tos written with folksy familiarity. The edgier ones smattering in some cuss words. The more wholesome peppering posts with sweet kiddos and doggos. The rarefied have chickens, which lay heirloom coloured eggs. Their kids have blonde ringlets festooned with sweet bows. They also serve up recipes. And dinner parties hosted at a clearing in their personal thousand acre woods lit with strings and strings of round bulbs powered by some mysterious source of 1% energy.

Nope. Writing about construction progress and current project status with accompanying pictures isn’t my forte. Not because I dislike that genre. I’ve definitely binge-watched many a remodeling series, hungrily following each episode to the great reveal. And, also, not because I don’t have scores of photos chronicling this journey.

I just can’t write it. Nope. This Doc does musing, angst, comedy and more thinking. Show and tell? Not without a point to make. And in the fast forward pace of this remodel, there hasn’t been much brain space left to make my points.

Sure there have been some decisions. And some real walls. And moments of beauty.

Like that moment when I walked upstairs to our bedroom and looked through the new window. Our bungalow is a classic story and a half, but when they rebuilt the walls and ceiling they recovered about eight inches of head room at the dormers. The construction team raised the windows up, too, and we have a new view to the outside and a more airy inside.

Taking in the new vista, I placed my fingertips on the newly drywalled and primed walls. I looked at my hand and recognized the perfectly familiar meeting of the knee wall angling to meet with the roofline. I suddenly ran through a series of memories–of painting that wall, of moving the bed (once moving the head to meet it, and once rotating it on the side), of steadying myself on it on groggy mornings.

Relief. My house is still here. I didn’t ruin it by stripping it down to its sticks. When I exposed its very bones. The house, its soul, still remains. I felt it in through the gypsum plaster that marked the newly finished corner. It told me it was okay.

Then there was the moment I needed to select cabinet hardware. It was more than a moment, to be honest. My wonderful design lead from the design-build team emailed me links two websites. She told me to pick out a few, and we’d order one of each to see what works.

There were literally THOUSANDS of choices. Overwhelming. So, I did what any modern Doc would do. I googled, “What to look for in kitchen cabinet hardware?”

Turns out that there are some things for the practical-minded to look for. First, there is a difference between knobs and pulls. Knobs are little and pulls are bigger. Bottom line, you don’t need to be as precise with your grab if you have pulls. Also, there are categories of pulls. There are bar pulls, handle pulls, finger pulls, cup pulls and arch pulls. Bar pulls can get caught on wayward pockets. Cup pulls can get full of the goop from your dirty hands that open the drawer to grab the extra whisk.

Armed with my new data, I downselected to handle pulls that were black or bronze and added those categorized by “industrial” or “rustic” style. And, still, there were hundreds. I started scrolling the options.

The first one I liked was $20. For one cabinet pull! Some long drawers could require two. I could easily spend thousands of dollars in kitchen hardware. I immediately added a downselect with an upper dollar limit to accommodate my budget. There were still a bunch.

My search and selection process could have consumed hours. I stopped looking after I found four that I could like. I slapped myself. Really, Doc? What’s a “good” cabinet pull? For items that, to be honest, I can’t tell apart? I cut and paste links to pulls, hit send and haven’t looked back. Don’t ask me what I chose. I don’t even know if my selections come in the right size. I’m praying that the pro makes sense of my design idiocy.

Then there’s that color moment. Last time I painted was the unfinished refresh of our bedroom. I know exactly the day I stopped painting. September 11, 2001. Just never got back around to it. I lost interest in color around the time I lost interest in the project.

Now I have to choose colors for all the rooms in the house. Someone said to paint it all white or taupe or greige or some neutral. But I have pro-painters using fabulous paint at my disposal. And I’m not moving the furniture to paint again. This is my moment.

I don’t want my house to have that flipped house gray with white trim. Or that creamy builder white. No. No. No. I walk into the open houses for the new crappy condos popping up all over my neighborhood and feel nothing but coldness. I check out the newly rehabbed homes with their cookie cutter granite countertops and cheesy cabinets and their achromatic walls and feel empty.

Ours is a 1915 bungalow that traditionally had that craftsman/arts and craft palette with muted vegetable colors of squash and pumpkin and greens tinged with yellow. Colors with names like ochre and olive, walls to be framed in natural wood.

I imagined walking in the front door with the brown stained wainscoted walls topped by that yellow squash color, turning to the muted yellow green in the living room and stepping into a pumpkin dining room. I started pulling paint chips for this warm, autumnal color scheme. I found historical palettes online and assigned colors to rooms. We’d paint a few samples on the walls before making a final call.

One problem. I don’t actually like those colors. Sure, they were better than the colorless “new house” look I was railing against, but they actually brought me down and closed me in. I wanted colors that had warmth but a cool vitality. Back to the google drawing board.

I decided to back up. What colors make me happy? What colors did I want to be surrounded by?  What colors looked good together and flowed from room to room, too? I flipped through Design Seeds, focusing on how the images made me feel. I dismissed photos, not looking at palettes. I pinned the pics I liked. I saw that my aesthetic had a clear pattern. Now I have a bunch of paints to try on the walls. My starting point is authentic.

So, sure. There’s been stuff rolling around in my brain, some causing strain and some stirring emotion, but none with much of a tale.

Yesterday, I took my regular foray to the worksite that will soon, once again, be my home. And my excitement was definitely tempered. After weeks of daily transmogrifications–of sticks being formed into walls that became rooms and closets and hallways and entries, of a huge rectangular box that time-lapsed into a kitchen lined with cabinets centered with an island and framed by a light wall, of the hole between the upstairs and the basement bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’d into a grand staircase–things have slowed down.  I’ve entered

The trough of disappointment.

This is the part of the hype-cycle. The part following the peak of unrealistic expectations. Stuff is happening, but we’re waiting on the delivery of the grout, and there is some challenges with the cabinet install, the basement windows had to be reordered and there will be some painstaking craftsmanship that will go into the creation of beautiful trim (no prefabbed trim for this project).

Meanwhile, I’m studying the project calendar every day. Sometimes more than once a day. Okay. Always more than once each day. As if by looking at the schedule it will move ahead. I walk into the house daily, on my way home from work. The actual days have shortened to leave me only a few moments of light before it switches over to night. Next week there won’t be any daylight moments on my way home.

This is the time where you can see the finish line, but there is still a grueling distance ahead. This is the time when I want to be on the other side of that line.

I want to move home and figure out where to put my colanders and to hang my winter coats in the closet. I want to unpack my waffle maker that I stored in the basement. I want to line up my spices in the new kitchen and put the good dishes on the dining room table. I want this computer to be on my new wooden desk in the office. I want to place my shampoo on the bench in the upstairs bathroom and put my hair dryer in the new closet.

I’m really done with this project. These last few yards need to be ground out, but the excitement has faded. This week anyway. I’m ready to move in and move on. I know there are more finishes and more surprises that will get me back in the game. But now, today? I’m wishing that I could buy a fifth of brown patience liquor.

I hate waiting.

Blood Pressure Medicine

The new temporary staircase. Safer than the ladder hanging above the basement well.
Brand new, temporary staircase much better than the ladder for exploring upstairs. 

Keeping it real, I was pretty salty about my windows. That said, this is a good project–to date–because the only salt I’ve carried has been about those windows.

But no more. They were delivered. Finally.

There was more than one day when they were not delivered. Days that people said that they would be. And then, nothing. But we’re done with that. They are here. Propped up against the house. Staged for installation.

One of my new windows, in it's staging position. There's many more where that came from.

There’s a bunch of windows. I poked among the behemoths strewn along the foundation. I uncovered the big French door with the transom that will open my kitchen to the back porch. I got a little light-headed. My stomach did a mini-flip. My fingers started to tingle. Signs of excitement. Yes, Loyal Reader, it is becoming realer and realer.

But that’s not all. There’s been many a box left at the “Doc Residence.” Like those below.

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These particular boxes transported my new stainless steel satin finish kitchen sink, an industrial hanging light fixture for the dining room and one of the sconces for the back porch–they call it a barn light. There’s another box somewhere with it’s twin.

There’s also a box with the pro-style kitchen faucet that I can only describe using a whooshing sound spraying from my mouth accompanied by me waving my hand around simulating a hose clearing the coffee grounds down the drain.

There’s a couple of boxes of ceiling fans for the front porch. Did I tell you they had to remake the porch structure? It wasn’t actually attached to the house. Now it is. And the ceiling is a beautiful creamy white beadboard.

The new headboard ceiling on the porch. See also where the new fixtures--a pair of fans!--will go.

There’s a gazillion sheets of drywall and some Durock. The latter for the kitchen and bathroom walls. The Spouse says that it’s for tile and to keep dampness at bay.  The subway tile, the octagon tiles for the bathrooms and the black and white penny tiles for the entryway showed up last week, too.

There was a big truck that came by to goop up the walls with foam insulation. The Spouse is exceedingly excited by all things weatherproofing. I’m glad that someone is. My thing is the old house wasn’t drafty before–despite our old windows with an R-value of zero according to the window guy–but I will defer to the energy-saver.

This is the foam insulation surrounding the dining room windows. They protected the original woodwork. But doesn't it look like we should be hosting an Oktoberfest?

Last, but far from least, I walked onto the porch that was piled high with even MORE boxes today.

My cabinets have arrived! Here they are.

The boxes with my new cabinets. You can see the green, just beyond the bubble wrap.

There are a bunch of cabinet bases, a few very tall pantry sized boxes and a bunch of stuff wrapped in blue bubblewrap. I’ll figure out what that is another day. Okay. Not much to look at yet, but I’m not disturbing the staging.

You see, the drywall work begins tomorrow. Window and doors will be in place over the next few days, too. Purportedly, the new floor in the kitchen will get installed this week, then the heated floor over the Durock followed by tiling and grouting next week. If all goes to schedule, the cabinets will be in place at the end of that week.

If all goes to schedule. Yup, if all goes according to schedule, I’ll remain sodium-free. Stay tuned.

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Waiting For An Opening

The newly framed closet upstairs.

Hey. I’m so sorry. I’ve been neglectful in the telling of my remodeling story. Instead I’ve been staying in the office late, coming home to make amazingly delicious dinners in my camping kitchen and splitting bottles of wine with The Spouse. Oh, and every day, on the way home, I’m scoping out the progress. Of which there has been much.

So, mostly, I’ve been getting drunk.

That’s the first step in the program. Admitting it.

Truth be told, I’ve been a little bit bent since Labor Day. See, I was super pumped because the windows and doors were scheduled for delivery the Friday before the holiday. I was especially super excited about my new front door.

When your house is 102 years old, things have happened. Like there was evidence of gas light fixtures from before electricity. There were the tracks from the pocket doors that were removed some time back. There was also the ugly wall paper that covered up the damaged hallway plaster that was itself hidden by cheap, dark brown paneling.

There were the evenly placed holes in the walls where an ecologically minded prior homeowner sprayed in a shit-ton of cellulose insulation. I know that it was a shit-ton’s worth based upon the comments of the demolition crew that carried bag upon bag upon bag to the dumpster. While they don’t curse in front of me, I know they were thinking of short, perhaps four-letter, words based on their rated-G expressions at the volume of fluff.

Our red door with the heavy door knocker and a small slice of window at the tip top wasn’t original. Sure, it was old. Yes, it was cracked. But it wasn’t part of the starter package.

Nope. At some point the original door was replaced. But the doorway wasn’t “standard.”  It was extra-wide, by about eight inches. An impressive size. A welcome portal to embrace even Hagrid. Larry, Curly and Moe could all walk in at the same time without any bonks.

Somebody preferred a “standard” sized door and added some wood framing to close in the doorway. They were able to accommodate a “standard” door. It looked fine, but I knew that the door had been majestic. I longed for that big door.

I’ve been pretty careful (cheap) about unnecessary features, but the wide swing of a new door was intoxicating. Talk about curb appeal. We made the call to re-rightsize the entry.

I could barely wait. I’ve been tracking the door and window install dates on the project calendar for weeks. We went on vacation and I thought, “The door will be installed in two weeks.” We got back and I told The Big Guy that we were installing the new door during his birthday week. That was two weeks ago. The newest delivery date was today.

No windows today. No big door. Sure, I know it will happen. The Spouse reminds me that it will happen, but I want my new door. Now.

It’s not like work has halted, mind you. Lots of stuff is happening.

Like, today, the air conditioner was delivered and installed. The duct-work was snaked through the rafters a few weeks ago. The returns placed in each room all the better to cool our jets. The filter and blower was positioned in under the rafters at that same time.

Here's our new, energy efficient heat pump. Someone is very very impressed by the energy ratings.I had no idea how HUGE the actual heat pump would be! It’s a monster. The fan looks like it would cool a factory. This is also the first central air I’ve ever had (except for those eight months I lived at that weird place in Silver Spring). It’s also the first time in our married life that we won’t have window air units. It’s going to be so quiet, I probably won’t be able to sleep.

Tonight I won’t sleep because the windows and doors are supposed to be delivered tomorrow. I’m shaking my head as I’m typing this. Patience isn’t my thing. But just you wait until you see my new door. Because waiting is what we’re doing.

Fantasy Sport

I walk into the house (construction site) almost every day. I’ve witnessed the progression from crumbling plaster to see-through walls and temporary beams. And now, it’s getting filled back in. To be our home.

Passing my key through the lock and opening the front door, my nose twitches at the smell of sawed wood, and it tickles with airborne sawdust. Actually, there’s very little dust. The construction team does a most excellent job cleaning the site. Nightly. Every night. We aren’t living there, so it’s mostly for them. Guess it’s easier to keep track of tools. But we’re all impressed.

Right now, though, I’m playing.

As I unbolt the door and pass into the “house,” I imagine I’m standing in the refurbished threshold. I stand on the subfloor that will be a black and white hexagon mosaic. I turn to the new, wide opening for the French doors. They will be glass and usher crosslight from the west bay of windows to the east bay. Beautiful.

I pretend to hang my coat in the newly framed hall closet. Then, with a great flourish, I burst through the doors (that will be delivered in a week). Looks like the electrician was here. It’s the telltale array of blue boxes nailed to the 2X4s. The one on my left must be for the sexy fan I selected for the den–the room that was formerly known as the toy room.

Hmmmmm. I frown a little. I can’t reach the switch until I close the door.

Walk in, close door, engage switch, re-open door? That needs to change. I make a mental note as I walk behind where the couch will be. I walk off a few steps, measuring with my feet, and wonder if both bookcases can fit. Next time I need to bring a tape measure.

Behind the couch is the (phantom) pocket door. This door is scheduled to be half glass, all the better to bring in light, my dear. I step through that passage into the office and play open and close with the linen closet across from the bathroom. I mentally flip that switch.

I run my hand across the air run of maple desk and imagine the chairs tucked neatly underneath. I don’t think the short cabinets are going to fit behind them. Need a Plan B.

The next phantom door leads to the back bedroom. It’s pretty much the same as it ever was. I turn to open the closet.

Hmmmmm. I purse my lips. No closet is framed. I know it was in the plans. That needs to change, too.

Squeezing through the sticks that demark the wall, I find myself standing in the pantry cabinets. Stepping out of them, I choose to enter the kitchen via the dining room. With a renewed flourish I sashay into the kitchen and place my bag on the imaginary island.

I turn from the island and affect the opening and closing of the refrigerator door. Looking up, I see the exhaust vent. Standing underneath it, I turn the red knobs in my head, pantomiming in the air. I reach to place an invisible plate on an invisible shelf. Ninety degrees later, I fake the faucet and look through the framed sheathing to what is likely to be my back garden. In my game, I’m adding a tomato plant or two.

Next to that big window wall is the place for the glass door. I look through the wood, at the back porch. Now, finishing a 180° turn, I simulate opening the microwave and the to-be-installed convection oven. I look through the last window.

Hmmmmm. My eyebrows are raised, and, almost, my hackles.

The window abuts the wall. But if it’s there, it will be blocked by the cabinets–including my spiffy new appliance garage. I look for the design plans, but I know that the window is off by maybe thirty inches. This gets added to my “to discuss” list.

I think about looking out that misplaced window as I’m preparing coffee. The countertop here will support the kettle, and, likely, our toaster.

The crew is happy that my game exposed errors. Everyone makes them. Finding and fixing early saves time and money.

Me? I practice opening the cabinet below the correctly spaced window and filling the bowl of The Beast with doggie kibble.

It will do. It will all do.

Cooler Heads

Slate tiles for the kitchen!

Getting back into the groove after a week in the Rockies. It was a tour of climbing up mountains and climbing into pint glasses. Colorado is ground zero for fabulous micro-brews, and we expanded our touring to a very large commercial facility in a golden place. For the record, I much preferred the local suds.

We hiked above the tree line and walked the path through the tundra–which is both hearty and fragile. We zipped our jackets up and huffed our way to the 12,005 foot mark. It’s work just to breathe for us sea level dwellers.

We saw elk and mule deer and these crazy cute marmots who live to sleep, eat and play. Frankly, marmots got it right. We saw bear scat (which is a cool way to say poop). We rafted and hiked and ate and drank with my own, beloved Bear.

The Spouse noted that this was the longest we’ve spent not talking about the house in, like, a long time. Instead we dangled feet in a creek fed by melted snow sheltered by a dappled canopy of willow trees, swatting away pesky yellow jackets and getting sprayed by the water that a trio of golden retrievers shook in our direction.

And, while we were out, the HVAC contractors showed up. They put in ducts that will blow in cool air. We’re keeping the radiators downstairs–there is truly nothing as comforting and warm as radiator heat despite the space they take up, or maybe because of the space they take up? Upstairs the non-functioning electric baseboard heat that we were afraid to turn on is getting replaced. We used space heaters to remove actual frost from the air, and we slept underneath a pile of blankets and quilts while wearing socks. I’d get dressed downstairs.

So we’re augmenting the heating upstairs with a heat pump that will also keep us cool all summer long. We will give up the hum and clank and rattling of the window unit that has kept stifling summer heat away.

Today I walked in the house and saw that the kitchen tile was delivered. I’m happy to replace the cracked, blue linoleum tiles. There was a patch that went missing. I hid that spot with a sisal runner.

The new tile is a cool, greenish slate. I ran my hand along it’s rough surface. It’s solid. It came from the ground. It’s rock. Like the mountains that surrounded us and greeted the sky. The mountains that supported plants and animals and harbored lakes cut by glaciers. I’m feeling like the slate was a good choice.

Madness & Mayhem

Looking through a hole in the wall to the other side of the house.

So, Loyal Reader, thank you for asking for more pictures of the demolition. I guess you (yes, this is a plural “you”), really like HGTV. And, obviously, blood and guts.

And good for y’all that The Spouse and I have both been taking photos pretty much every day at the site. It used to be our home, but, as you know, it barely resembles that. So in it’s current ravaged state, it’s the site.

Our amazing neighbor, who is truly one of the kindest and open people I have met in my life and I am so glad that they and their family are our friends, lives behind our site. I brought The Beast to frolic with theirs. “Your house is brown! What are you doing?”

Nope. It’s just been denuded of the siding. It will be blue once again. I replied.

So, let’s take a look at where we are. While disturbing–to me–these pics are all rated G. Descriptions included.

The Windows

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The back of the house. Please note the insane hole above the window. Look at the upper right corner. That’s what happens after a hundred years. I wonder if that’s where the hornet’s nest was? I thought it was lower.
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The window on the east side of the house. I like this shot. Makes the house look impressive.

From The Back Yard

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Just so’s you know, this entire sequence was done in about ten days. They told us the demo goes fast. They did not speak untruths.

The Infrastructure

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The cracked and stressed wood at the East Bay window.
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The stairs to the basement have no introduction. No wall. No door. Just a drop. Careful!
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Where the old pocket doors pocketed themselves. We were hoping that their remains were still there. No luck. But the mechanisms are cool, like a barn door.
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The Carp’s ladder leads to the upstairs. The new design will take advantage of all the light that streams from above. Like a chorus of angels encircled by a heavenly aurora.
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The radiators all pulled from it’s plumbing and piled up for later reinstallation. I love how the radiator heat makes the house so cozy. And no hot air blowing around and giving me chapped lips and flakey, scaley shins. Radiators are where it’s at.

The Upstairs

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The upstairs dormer didn’t have any sheathing behind the siding. It was drywall, blown-in insulation and siding. Geez!
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Looking up where the stairwell was and will be. The nakedness will be clothed in new ductwork that will provide heating upstairs and cooling on both levels. They call it central air conditioning. Who knew that there were such modern technologies to make life better. Next thing you know, they’ll have machines that wash dishes. Oh. Wait. Other people have had these “dish washers?” Makes my skill set here rather redundant. YAY!
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This is the window where the new bathroom will be. Crazy that we never had a bathroom upstairs before. The door to the bathroom will have a frosted glass door to let the light tumble through to the stairwell. I’m going to order stickers for the door. Either WC or, maybe, just W.

The End

That’s all for today. I have some cool demo-porn pics for tomorrow. Or when I get to it. I know, I know, the Doc is such a tease.

And, by the way, thank you, Loyal Reader, for playing along. It helps me to share, and I need a recipient. You complete me.

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Gutted

I was showing a friend pictures from our demolition. The friend’s friend had an op-ed she needed to share. One that bit.

“So, if you hate your house so much, why don’t you just buy a new one?”

Ouch! That throw away comment from a grinning stranger really did burn. It freezes, too.

I, in my shock at that unthinkable thought, objected. Too much, in retrospect, methinks. Too much because her unwelcome comment was based on her observation. Of the evidence. That I provided.

Looking at the photos of the bare and picked over bones of the edifice I had sworn to protect I thought, “What hath I wrought?”

The next day, I hesitated as I stepped onto the porch as part of my daily construction inspection. I gingerly inserted my key. I slowly opened the door. There was almost no floor to speak of–just a bunch of planks that forced me to leap from one to the next at the risk of falling through to the basement below.


And I’ve been stuck here. Right here. For two weeks I haven’t been able to move this post forward. Not able to skip past it. Because I can’t skip it. It has to be dealt with. I have to deal with it.

Usually, I have posts and pieces of posts trolling through my head–all of the time. I sit down and tap them out and hit publish. That’s how it works. Sure, there’s a bit more than that, but not the writer’s black hole I’ve had.

Usually, the hardest ones come out the fastest. Usually.

I’ve been stuck in the unusual.

I’ve reopened this page again and again. I’ve tweaked some words, moved a comma about and walked away. I’ve sat down with a brew in hand and a strict self-imposed deadline to put a bow on it. Three beers later, I successfully avoid any accomplishment. I’ll do it tomorrow. I don’t.

I’d walk into the house and take more photos. I’d look at the skeleton of the house, and see that the specimen is incomplete. Some of the bones are missing. No floor, not just exposed joists, but an entirely missing kitchen floor. No stairway to the second floor, the ladder carefully balanced over the canyon of the basement stairs.

The radiators were all piled up in the former toy room, like the mountains of blocks, legos and Hot Wheels from a recent past.

This week the siding was torn off. The chipped paint along the thin wooden boards were stacked in dumpster number six. Or are we up to seven boxcars of the house toted away? What could be left?

I didn’t know what gutting the house really meant.

GUT: to clean out. strip. decimate. ravage. ransack. disembowel. eviscerate. empty.

That was it. Empty.

I haven’t been able to come to terms with what I’m doing to the house. I started counting what was staying.

  1. The roof. (Which we replaced 8 years ago).
  2. The foundation. (Which is getting parged to shore it up.)
  3. Most of the original sheathing that was diagonally hung, keeping out the elements. (It’s being covered with some kind of new-fangled water impervious wood and then foam insulation and then new man-made siding.)
  4. Most of the original posts and joists. Many of which are being sistered with new, man-made materials.
  5. All of the woodwork and trim in the living and dining rooms. The fake fireplace mantels are STAYING!
  6. I saved the floors in the first two bedrooms, now known as the den and the office. (Over objections of some/one. I can’t let them all go.)

I’m looking at this list and the house that I swore to protect that I can’t recognize and I start hearing Obi-Wan telling Luke that Luke’s father is now more machine than man.

And then I get to thinking. And I feel better. Because in the end, Darth Vader was alright. He kept his soul.

Publish!