Archive for the 'house projects' Category

Summery! Sort of…

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

The monkey grows; observe the evidence.

Last year we spent most of our home-owner energies making the inside of the house pleasant; this year, we’ve been focusing on the outside. I dreamed up the elaborate and non-standard fence situation you see in the back in exchange for a rusty, ivy-encrusted old chain link nastiness, which we ripped out and drove to the scrapyard for real cash money. It’s a mad world. Joshua nay-sayed my fence every step of the way but I prevailed and I think it turned out pretty nice looking. He even helped build it. Best part is I got a table saw out of the deal.

If fence building wasn’t making my spring awesome enough, I personally excavated a giant hole and leveled a large area for some garden beds. I decided we could turn the hole into a dry well, but it turns out that it held water too well and we had to fill it back in. But not before we terrified all the neighbors’ kids with tales of falling into the hole; Hans’ dog Otto actually fell into the hole and Ronin got hit in the head with a rock while standing in the hole. I’m not sure what it is about a yawning abyss in one’s backyard that creates such a focal point.

To make up for all the back-breaking labor I was missing out on by not finishing the dry well, I removed sod from an area the size of a small house and then excavated the rotting cinder-block foundation of an ancient garage. It was super fun. We even got some Craigslist crazies to come take the foundation blocks away! One guy even came back for seconds.

At long last, garden beds were erected, retaining walls retained, and a quaint brick walkway assembled around everything to keep the mud at bay. The walkway is comprised of bricks I got for free from some dude dismantling his chimney; they were all crusted with 90-year old mortar that I had to chip off with a really big screwdriver. Because nothing ever can possibly be simple. Or easy.

Finally we got a load of nice clean nice composty dirt (six yards!) and wheelbarrowed it all over the place. We now have a garden with tomatoes (five different ones!), cucumbers, zucchini, yellow and green patty-pan squashes, asparagus, rhubarb, peas, lettuce greens, arugula, and fennel! Yay!

Kitchen remodel part II (finished, mostly)

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Some before photos of the kitchen. People were telling me (people who had never seen it in person, that is), that the kitchen didn’t seem so bad. And it wasn’t as bad as the bathroom or anything, but I pretty much had it in for the kitchen from the moment I laid eyes on it. I hated the floor tile, I hated the counter tile, the cabinets were all too small and just funky, and the insides smelled like squashed ants. Even though there were no ants in sight. Squashed-ant smell drives me utterly nutballs.

I took a bunch of close-up photos to illustrate just how nasty it really was. Behold:

Ugly exposed smished particle board bits. These were in most of the cupboards. I guess at one point, the hinges ripped out and were re-mounted elsewhere..?

Nothing was square. (This is how this cupboard closed; it’s not supposed to be ajar.)

I have no idea what the story was on the back panels of the cabinets. It couldn’t have possibly come like this, could it?

Oh look: greasy drippings behind the cabinets! How wonderful. I guess that wall has to go. Now, what do you suppose is behind the stove fan?

Mmmmm, tasty. When we removed the rectangular vent that went up to the ceiling, we discovered that the fan was actually just venting into the wall between studs. Not actually outside.


Demolition went fairly rapidly. It’s easy to bust apart cabinets when you don’t care about scratches. We took easily three tons of CRAPOMGWTF to the dump (had to rent a moving van to get it there). You do not even want to know how many mummified rats and mice we’ve so far removed from the innards of this house. Between this and pulling the ceiling down in the basement (did I mention?), Joshua expected to be stricken with hanta virus at any moment for a good 4 weeks (we did our internet research).

We initially thought that we would not have to remove any walls. HAAAaaaaaaa! Probably should have taken them all out but we’re stubborn that way. Complicated keeps the mind snappy. It takes a something-something to blend new crisp sheetrock into 100-year-old uneven plaster. That something is Crazy.

We had our usual round of setbacks. I spent about four billion hours agonizing over the perfect turquoise color to paint the walls and what I picked out ended up looking freakishly kelly green in our house. I then spent about 3 minutes picking out the substitute and it was fine. Perfect, even. Joshua ended up starting a plumbing project that eventually encompassed the entire rest of the house just trying to replace a sink in the exact place the old sink was previously.

Here we’ve just laid the countertops over the lower cabinets. Suddenly there was an end in sight. That hole with the stool? That’s where a mechanical DISHWASHER is going to go. And do you see those kick-ass wooden butcher-block counters? I DIE!

OH la la.

OH LA LA!! The stove is this crazy huge black monster that we didn’t intend to get but randomly ended up with and now are SO HAPPY we did. It’s the best thing I’ve ever cooked on: gas top, convection electric oven. And ventilation! HEAVEN!

I would have liked to have cabinets that went all the way to the ceiling (even though we have to use a stool to reach the uppers as it is), but this was the best we could do. I plan to put little half-rounded shelves to the right of the window. I have a bunch of light-seeking little succulents and what-nots that want this space.

And the new shiny sink: I have lusted after that sink for years. I have a love/hate relationship with IKEA, but mostly love.

Here you see our crazy humongous steel refrigerator. I was lobbying for the tiniest refrigerator you could buy—preferably one that fit under the counter. We would then have an auxiliary freezer in the basement or whatever. Joshua wanted a big ol’ side-by-side thing with cold-water jets and an icemaker. I won first and we ended up first buying a very small (but tallish) fridge, but it was freakishly loud and sounded like an irate flock of birds every time it kicked into gear, so we took it back. Then Joshua won and we ended up with this thing: it’s one of the highest energy rated beasts out there and with all the rebates and tax whatnots and sales (we had an armory of coupons), it ended up being about the cheapest option. We win!

We eventually intend to add cabinets over the fridge and to the left, but were still figuring out what exactly we want.

Oh, don’t mind my child; she’s having a total fit on the floor.

Oak countertops!!! I love them!

Kitchen remodel part I

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

So, the bathroom didn’t kick our asses hard enough so we decided it was time to rip out the kitchen. Who needs to eat, right? Besides, this one will be super easy because we won’t have to rip out any of the walls.


And the floor will be totally low-key because instead of putting in something new and clean and brand new and fresh and easy. Probably really easy.. We I decided that the douglas fir likely to be underneath would be much cooler if we refinished it. Seriously, imagine: One HUNDRED year-old doug fir, trees felled by burly dudes with hatchets and blue oxen or somesuch right there on our very floor. We just can’t cover that up.

We chipped out the old, ugly, poorly laid tile, which was a pain in the ass. We then pried up the cement board underneath it (a bigger pain in the ass, plus carcinogenic and all that good stuff). Then we had to remove the gnarly looking plywood sub-flooring held in place by no less than eleventy frillion two-inch screws. We’d remove screws until our eyes bled and our backs were surely crippled, then try to pry up the piece, and lo! One lone little fucker holding it down somewhere.. We’d hunt around until we found it, then kill it with fire and all that, and again try to pry up the piece (triumphant at la-). But no! Blast!! Another bleeding screw somewhere. It was not pretty. We got it all up in the end though and here’s what we beheld:

Hmmm. Rustic.

But fossilized mortar is no deterrent for the Optimistic One and I was all “Suh-WEET! This is going to look GREAT!” Joshua, ever the skeptic, was skeptical.

I rented a big sander from Home Depot and fired it up with some 24 grit, which is seriously like three or four good-sized boulders glued to a swath of tough paper. It’s scary.

Then of course there was a lot of filling required. We used up two large containers of the stuff because it kept sucking down into the floor boards. I couldn’t figure out where it was going. It just disappeared and we put more on top. The end.

It looked really awesome and I was super optimistic all over again when confronted with this spectacle first thing in the morning.

But it finished out to look like this:

And after applying only the first round of floor finish (it will have four-five layers in the end; five probably, because I’m crazy), this:

DAMN SAM! I’m satisfied. Now we can work on those walls.

Bathroom is finished (mostly)

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

I was actually starting to get used to it. Comfortable. The toilet works, the sink works, the shower works. Do we really need the walls? I see now how easy it would be to just spend the rest of one’s days without cupboard doors ever installed. I mean, you can put the dishes away and that’s close enough.

But then, whilst sitting on the toilet, I would see a gaping hole with all this antique grunge and splintered flooring/wall/general ickiness and the underside of the iron tub (tubs are only pretty on the top side, if you didn’t know), and next to that, a gaping hole down into the very basement of the house.

And I try not to look down there when I’m in the bathroom lest I catch a glimpse of monsters, say, sneaking across my view-spot. But I always have to look and it stresses me out. And to take it even further, you don’t want monsters—or faeries for that matter—ever actually coming up through the hole into the bathroom! GAH!! Monsters and faeries should never be seen. And so I started complaining in the general direction of Joshua to get the hole closed up (there was some complicated plumbing stuff to take care of that he was putting off until forever). And with that (plus about a million other teeny little annoying things), voila! Fin.

Entering the gleaming new bathroom! Here are the old photos to compare. I did two-inch hex tile on the floor and wainscoting on the walls where I assumed I’d just be covering up the scratched wall after chipping off the old green and white tile (HAHAHAHAcough). Little did I know the entire wall would need to come down. By that point though, my Design Plan was lodged solidly in the gray matter and there was nothing to do but go with it.

Sink Plan I was to have a wall-mounted sink but it became tragically clear that it was not going to work (for about seven different unforseen reasons). We went with Sink Plan II, the Ikea Lillangen, which though it was my favorite sink, I didn’t pick it originally because I worried the Mod would clash with the Ye Olde. But it seems to work surprisingly well. And it’s strong enough for Ronin to hang from like a jungle gym, her favorite bathroom activity.

Moving around the bathroom… The toilet and Ralph, the glowy night-light thing that we’ve kept in the bathroom even since the rat incident.

Yep, another shot of the toilet.

Closet we built into that useless and weird corner nook. Voila: no longer useless or weird! This is Ronin’s favorite place to hide when we play hide-and-seek. She usually comes into the bathroom while we are brushing our teeth or whatever, spies the closet and climbs inside, then has the bright idea: HEYMAMAMAMA!!! Let’s play hide and seek! I’ll be the hider and you count! I start counting and she closes the door and giggles madly. Will I ever be able to find her?

Um, still no shelves yet though. So actually kind of useless.

The tub! I used white subway tile with a line of 1″ glass multi-colored blue guys just to be superfancy. And also so you can see exactly any deviation from the level in my tiling. Which didn’t happen of course. We also broke down and had a guy come and refinish our tub. It pretty much gleams. I had thought I would get some amazing shower curtain to complete the look, but couldn’t actually think of what to get, so we are still using the curtain from the old house. I discovered that I really don’t have strong feelings for shower curtains.

The other direction, Ronin’s bath toys, shampoo, etc.

The door. Still haven’t painted the trim yet and the doorknob/lock/whatsit is all jimmied up. This will be fixed probably never.

And lastly, the medicine cabinet. If you remember, the old one was unacceptable and all new ones were ugly. So I made this one from scratch. I found the old beveled mirror at the salvage place and built the box for it. The box is absolutely square down to the mm, but the door was not, as I later discovered, and required much planing and foul language to make fit in the end. It’s a wonder I managed to finish the touch-up paint after all the drama.

We also got the porcelain light fixture at the salvage place. The picture on the wall is something Joshua has been hauling around with him since before we met; it’s been on our bathroom wall in every apartment and house we’ve ever lived in. However, it always used to hang sideways (just because the mounting hardware was on that side); we only for the first time adjusted it so that it hangs right-side-up. The jury is still out as to which orientation we prefer.

Inside the cabinet! I built little shelves to fit with the things I wanted to put in the cabinet (e.g., tall enough to accommodate the electric toothbrush, etc.).

Time to start ripping up the kitchen. Or should I build my studio first?

The bathroom (before)

Monday, March 21st, 2011

So, I figured that it would take us one, maybe two days to totally demo the bathroom, a day or two to lay and grout the tile, and the last day would be spent replacing sink, faucets, spigots, painting, etc. Maybe we could create a built-in closet as well in the weird little nook behind the tub. That would go up FAST. All we were doing was knocking down the tiles on the walls and replacing it with wainscoting, then replacing the floor and tub surround with tile. I could probably get the entire thing done in two days actually, all by myself.

It took us two days to demo, yes. But then it took us two or three more, one of which was mostly spent standing in our demo outfits staring at the mayhem in confusion and horror. Every time we thought we were finished, we’d decide that it would really be better to just take out the entire wall. That and pick out/remove all the plaster. Of course, we should have gone crazy from the very beginning and tore all the walls straight down to the lathe but I kept thinking we needed to keep it “minor.”

And then of course I decided I hated every single medicine cabinet out there in the world—that is, aside from those adorable little vintage wooden ones. Which are ridiculously expensive, even for the totally messed up ones that need a ton of fixing. I called all the salvage places within 50 miles of Portland (believe me, there are many) and it was not heartening. It’s just a stupid box with a frame and a mirrored door. HOW HARD COULD IT BE?! That’s right. In the end, I decided to build myself one from scratch. It was the only way.

I scouted out a bunch of sinks too at the salvage places but all the cute vintage ones were too big for the narrow bathroom. Or else the spigot would be too low and Joshua rejected them. I waaanted a salvage sink but in the end we bought a totally non-offensive new sink for $32. Which was, of course, cheaper than any of the salvage sinks I had scoped anyway. Blah.

Then there’s the tub. It’s totally chipped and scratched and the finish is stained and dull. We looked into replacing it but the concept of somehow prying free a 500-pound cast-iron tub and wheeling it out without tearing up all the walls and doorframes in the house was making my brain clench. Joshua seemed to feel that this would be a cinch. We looked for a new tub but I hated pretty much all of the cheap options (figures). The Internet told us that you can actually have them refinished and the results are apparently amazing. I’m a little skeptical but we’ll see. We also have been entertaining the idea of doing it ourselves (because we’re stupid like that) with two-part epoxy boat paint, some turtle wax, and a buffer. We’re undecided as of yet but we may just end up shelling out the $400 to have it done professionally. (That’s another thing: everyone told us that it would be no more than $250 to have it refinished but all the quotes I got were running upwards of $400-450. People can be so wrong sometimes.)

What was behind all those walls was scary. Forty year-old mildew stains, three different wallpapers, ancient linoleum (it had an interesting slate-like texture; petrified?), old tiles, old tile backing, mid-century style pink paint, a pair of underwear, weird insulation (?) sheets made of what appears to be hair, and an old wooden domino with a dragon on it.

I did not factor in the fifteen thrillion billion trips to Home Depot and Lowes (because they have different things, damn them) and the time we would waste gazing blankly at the plumbing parts while Ronin went absolutely apeshit with boredom. Ronin does not do well when she senses that our attention is elsewhere. We, in turn, cannot think straight when she is shrieking, “MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! I! WANNA! SEE! THAT! THING! UP! THERE! ON! THE! SHELF!” It’s a vicious cycle that ends up with us spending two hours in the store trying to buy six things, four of which will end up needing to be returned.

[Oh my poor eyes. I had almost forgotten how awful it was.]

Right now we’re focusing on getting the plumbing back to functional before we move in. Currently the toilet is sitting on our back patio next to the giant pile of rubble (we are classy like that). It’s a good conversation piece when introducing ourselves to our neighbors over the back fence. But progress is slowly being made. Joshua is over there right now, battling the under-sink pipes. We have most of the walls back up, I laid the tile floor and yesterday I grouted. It looks bleeding spectacular. There is hope yet.

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell