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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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.

All Falls Down

The toilet has been excavated and moved into the Big Guy's bedroom. And there's no plaster left on the walls.

It was brutally hot last week. Hot to the tune of breaking the 100°F mark. Not the kind of days that I’d want to pull plaster and drywall down. Not especially since the first task was to shut off the water and electricity. I hope they had one outlet active. For a fan.

Putting my key in my front door gave a false sense of norm. When I opened the door, it was the anti-Oz. Instead of Dorothy walking from gray into technicolor, I walked from a green summer day into a monochromatic world. The slats on the walls, the wood that the plaster adhered to, reminded me more of a historic National Park Service site than my house. I almost looked for one of these shiny NPS trifolds that would tell me how people used to live–back in the day.

From the front door looking back past the demolished bathroom in the back.

Each day I’d visit my house and more of it would be missing. There were sections of the dining room wall peeled away. The next day there were bags piled in a corner of the room formerly known as our bedroom. The upstairs was drywall and the first floor plaster. The drywall was a lot easier to pull down. They did that first.

The converted attic looks more attic than converted. Beyond the posts was our bedroom.

You could see patches of daylight where the roof joined the walls so the house could breathe. The new foam insulation won’t require that. But this day it was hard to breathe with all the loosened and stirred up particles swirling around and around in the updraft of hot air. I went back downstairs.

The dining room looking into the kitchen. They’re protecting the millwork.

Another day or so later I could barely get up the stairs. The bottom step was missing and piles of the remains of fluffy blown-in insulation that fell between where the wall used to be had to be climbed. The insulation had fallen because part of the wall that held it was now gone.

Looking from The Big Guy’s room through the office to the “den.”

It was both familiar and strange, but nothing was as strange as seeing the toilet in The Big Guy’s bedroom. It sat there, lonely, in the middle of the room, hooked up to nothing and surrounded by the naked wooden lath stripped of its plaster. The room was a poetic shambles with the commode looking as if it was gently placed there by a twister that viciously and randomly passed through.

The tiles were pulled off the remaining bathroom wall. The next day, from The Big Guy’s room, standing next to the toilet, you could see all the way through to the outside kitchen wall where a secret window that had been plastered over when the cabinets were hung during an update in the 1930’s or 40’s was revealed.

Never saw this wall paper before. It was behind the hideous paneling. Hope to stop with the hideous moving forward.

It was coming down.

Wolf Whistle

The current state kitchen from big stainless steel fridge to teeny counter to old sink to more teeny to stove. Also some raggedy cabinets. And no backsplash.

There was that day, much earlier in this adventure, when we went appliance shopping. We needed to pick stuff out so it could be designed in. Like what if we wanted warming drawers or wine chillers or a pizza oven? For the record, none of those items were on my list.

Our contracting team sent us on the adventure to the fancy appliance showroom.  This was not Kenmore-land. Not big box Best Buy. It was quite fancy and a bit intimidating. But, first, we had to get there.

We made an early Saturday morning appointment, which bordered on stupid since we don’t normally travel together in the morning.  Except for those early mornings that marked the beginning of two weeks at the beach–also known as the pre vacation screamfest that takes fifteen miles to overcome. I know this because for as long as I’ve been with The Spouse–inclusive of those pre-nuptials years–whenever we drove up the I-95 corridor, like going to see the Orioles in Baltimore, visiting his family in Manhattan or trekking the rest of the way up to the Cape for those beach days on the island, whenever we’d near Exit 35 to Laurel/Scaggsville I would always say,

“Hmmmmm. Scaggsville. That’s where you’re from.”

And The Spouse would always reply, “That’s where I met you.” It’s part of our shtick.

And on those early mornings, after frantically shoving bags and boys and bikes and dog into the car. And after the inevitable disagreement at volume. And after me glaring out the window through hot tears and in cold silence, we’d approach the exit. And I’d wrestle with my righteous anger and vow not to talk. And then I would get this worry that if I didn’t say it this time, that it would break everything. And so I’d say, “Scaggsville, that’s where you’re from.” And he’d answer, as always.

But on this morning, the one I started writing about, we were driving up I-270, the other way north out of D.C.  We weren’t heading on a trip, but were still in the car in the morning, together. This time, there was no yelling. Well, maybe a little peckish huffing followed by some sighful puffing. Nevertheless, we made it to our appointment on time. Our appointment to check out major appliances.

Our architect had emailed a list of items to the sales consultant a few days before. She was well prepared for us.

We were early, the first clients in the showroom. We started with an offer of coffee. There was a fridge that had a built-in keurig coffee maker right in the door, near the water dispenser. It took a long time to brew.  It was silly and gimmicky. I asked who would buy it. In fact, they don’t sell very many of that feature. Us? We’re keeping our current bottom-freezer-without-French-door icebox. It’s fine and just a few years old.

Our guide steered us to our first event, the cooking surface. This was the only appliance that I wanted to invest in. I wanted high heat burners and low heat simmer. I was thinking five burners. It was going to be the jewel in my kitchen. It would make me a cooking star.

First, we learned the difference between cooktops (burner controls on the top) and rangetops (the top of a standard oven with controls in front). We went through the paces on a pair of GE’s to see the difference between the cooktop and range–especially in moving pots and pans across the surfaces. I was leaning rangetop. She then had us walk across the showroom to the far side. The Spouse ran ahead.

“Oh! It’s the Wolf! It’s the Wolf!” He was nearly jumping up and down.

I looked at the salesperson a little sideways. She was caught a little off guard, too.

“You know this appliance?” If I could have raised one eyebrow independent of the other, be assured I would be doing so. I think he saw the unnatural furrow above my right brow. He took his hands off of the red knobs, caught in his excitement like Dan Ackroyd gleefully sliding down that fire pole in Ghostbusters.

“I’ve used this at the condo in Telluride and at Sundance, too.” [Yes, Loyal Reader, The Spouse is way cooler than me.] He described the low and high burners. The model we were looking at had low and high on all six burners–yes six.

After we wiped the drool from our chins, we looked at the Viking. He knew that one, too. Was not as favored. Turns out he was right. They are in a quality spiral, and not in a good way. The Thermador? He knew that one, too.  But it was the Wolf that compared to all others. It was our new standard.

It was the all super hot and super low burners. It was the relighting feature. It was the clarity of the controls and the more obvious signs of being “on,” especially important for super low simmering. It was the promise of an amazing chocolate roux for shrimp étouffée, like The Spouse prepared for his colleagues in Park City.

“Do they all have red knobs?” The salesperson started to answer, but The Spouse interrupted.

“That’s their thing.” Turns out, though, that you could get stainless steel knobs if you wanted.

Today I old-school mailed a check for our new appliances. And in addition to buying the first dishwasher that I have ever owned (I know, right?!?), we bought the Wolf. That mighty fine Wolf. With the red knobs. Added to our repertoire, next to the exit.

Poster Child

An amazing kitchen with a back wall of windows, white subway tile walls and green cabinets on the bottom and upper open shelves surrounding a stainless steel hood.

Don’t try and lie to me. I know. You stopped at the picture, didn’t you? And you were wondering. Weren’t you?

You were wondering if I found this image on Houzz or Pinterest. Maybe that I posted it to share elements that I’d like in my own kitchen. Could be that you were wondering if you Rip Van Winkled, maybe that you fell asleep for a few months and the project was complete.

But I bet that you weren’t wondering if this was an image from a new rendering tool that was used experimentally on our project. I bet that you weren’t thinking that there is some whack technology that morphs design and products all the better to view with some fancy 3D phone goggles.

It’s like the best CGI–so that it looks real. It’s proportional. It has the fixtures and cabinets and colors that we selected. I’ll get the entire 3D experience when I go to the office and use the goggles. This newfangled technology brings sketches to life.

Right now though, I sit on the subway and open up the image on my phone. I zoom in and pan across. I imagine opening drawers, and I stretch my mind to stack my plates on the open shelves. I think about where I will pour my coffee, on the right counter next to the appliance garage and below the shelves where the coffee and tea will sit.

I fancy the positioning of the dog bowl on the slate floors, underneath the dog food cabinet, of which they’ll be one. I dream about looking out those big back windows at my new trees and watching the morning birds flit between them and the evening fireflies sparking up the grass.

In my reverie I may miss my stop. But I’m in my happy place. That place that gets concocted in my head–where the physical drawings and the computer generated imagery gets animated into a dream sequence that generates warmth like it’s coming to life.

And it’s just a made up picture.  I don’t have apples in a bowl or a pitcher full of milk. It’s pretend. At least for now.

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Modern Love

A Honeywell thermostat on an orange dining room wall.

We have an old house. You know that. And we have old things in this old house. Old switches. Old locks. Old tiles and cabinets. Old plumbing and electric. But times have changed. 

I was looking at our selection sheet, and I saw that a price came in for the in floor heating for the bathrooms and kitchen. 

I know, right?

We are mostly keeping the radiator heat in the house. I like how the radiators look, and I especially like the non-arid heat they supply. They do, however, take up space. 

Our new home design isn’t lavish. We are not having workout room sized baths. So gaining some wall and floor space by heating from beneath the tiles is a good solution. And anyway, warm toes coming out of the shower sounds delightful. As does toasting my stockinged feet in the kitchen as I wait to pour my coffee on a January morning. 

So I’m looking at the option and saw that it came in under the allowance. Yay! And then I noticed that it has a wifi option. Turns out that I will be able to get that heat party started via my phone. Not only can I program it to meet our standard heat seeking needs using it’s touchscreen thermostat, but I can also override via an app. 

And did I tell you that our oven is also wifi enabled. I have no idea why, but I’m thinking we won’t be sorry. 

“Alexa, preheat the oven.”

“Okay Google, turn off that floor.”

“Siri, meet George Jetson.”