September 18, 2011

How to Make a Decision on Flooring Material

Most of the decisions we've made on the house renovations so far have been the result of careful weighing of options, costs, and the opinions of our trusty panel of advisors (hi Mom and Mom-in-law!). We'd been playing with the idea of leaving the tongue and groove wood flooring in the guest bathroom rather than tiling, hoping for a look something like these bathrooms found at DecorPad and Country Living.

Because our bathroom redo involves switching the location of the sink and bathtub/shower though, we had to pull up some of the floor today so that a plumber will be able to access the pipes. Yes, we're normally big DIYers, but we're gonna leave the serious plumbing to the big boys! Pulling up the floor boards wasn't a big problem project-wise because we had to patch a few holes and rough areas anyway. What were a few more boards to bang back into place?

We removed the floor without too much damage to the delicate tongues and grooves by taking a couple of steps. First, we removed all of the nails that we could see with the back of a hammer or crowbar (wearing our eye protection, of course!). Then Ryan applied upward pressure from underneath using a crowbar against the floor joists for leverage, while I used a 2X4 scrap and a hammer to force the boards apart at the seams.We started at one end and slowly worked our way down each plank. After each board was freed, I removed any additional nails by hammering them through from the back. The process was successful for removing most of the planks, and it looked kind of like this:

Once we opened up the first few feet of floor though, we realized that a bunch of the floor joists had been cut, drilled through, partially sistered, shimmed, patched... it isn't pretty. And it made us really nervous to put our faith in the structural stability of the mess. I'm pretty sure that our clawfoot tub will need a little more support than these Swiss cheese joists and toothpicks.

So, on to our flooring decision. It looks like we're going to need to put down a new plywood floor to help distribute the weight of bathroom fixtures more evenly across the holey joists. And if we're going to put down a plywood floor, it might be easier to just slap some tile down, since we actually know what we're doing in that department. Installing old wood flooring would be a totally new undertaking.

Now we're thinking that the floor might end up looking more like one of these bathrooms found over at DecorPad.  

bathrooms - Restoration Hardware Vintage Glass Shelf gray walls white pedestal sink glass shelf rectangular mirror subway tiles shower surround rain shower head marble basketweave tiles floorbathrooms - skylight greige walls subway tiles shower surround frameless glass shower marble basketweave tiles floor white bathroom cabinet vanity glass knobs white carrara marble countertop white medicine cabinet mirror polished nickel sconces faucet chair rail beadboard

It's so much easier to make a flooring decision when the decision is more or less made for you!

At least we don't have to worry about the joists throughout the rest of the house. The cats have been under the floor a few times today, and they've assured us that all looks good everywhere else. They also found the great Northwest Passage between the guest bathroom floor and the kitchen ceiling, and it looks like one of them even did a little electrical work for us on the sly (he had a big strip of electrical tape stuck to his belly this morning). One can never have enough helping hands when it comes to the big home renovation projects!

September 17, 2011


I'm thinking about using Lincrusta in the guest bathroom. The name conjures some kind of soap scum remover or industrial cleaner, but really it's an embossed wall covering made from linseed oil and wood flour invented in the late 19th century. It looks more or less like carved plasterwork, and we have some (or something Lincrusta-esque) in the downstairs hallway that I really like.

I think it could be a really fun variation on the more traditional beadboard wainscoting, but I can only find a couple of examples of textured wallcoverings in the bathroom (found here and here). 

Either I'm ahead of the curve on this one, everyone else thinks it's terribly ugly, or it's a lot more difficult to install than I'm imagining. In truth, we'd probably be using Anaglypta (a molded vinyl paper) rather than true Lincrusta because of cost, but either should hold up fine under the heat and humidity of the bathroom.

I've found a few modern styles of Anaglypta that I really like, all of which are made by Brewster.

Should we go for something a little different, or just stick with the traditional beadboard?

September 16, 2011

Past Projects... The Dining Room

Since we don't get many major projects done around the house during the week, I thought I'd share the details of the very first house project that we worked on - lightening, brightening and simplifying the dining room. The previous house owners were into the Victorian thing, but you know what? Just because we live in a Victorian-era house doesn't mean I have to decorate like one!

There was a lot going on in this room.

Striped wallpaper, robin's egg blue paint, gold borders, textured ceiling paper surrounded by another border, wall mounted cabinets faced with book-themed contact paper, a fireplace whose trim had trim... It was too much.

Putting the chaos factor aside, this room wasn't someplace I could see having friends over to because it also felt sort of like a dark, creepy (possibly haunted?) attic. Because our house is in the middle of a block, we only have windows on the east and west walls - so it can be pretty dark inside. While we were fortunate enough to have the original molding around doors and windows, it had most recently been painted dark brown, which made the room feel even more cave-like than it really is. It needed serious brightening.

Even though the dreary Victorian decor isn't my cuppa tea, I will say that the previous owners did seem to get the look they were going for. This drawing (found here) of an 1880s Victorian dining room looks amazingly like ours did!

Anyway, it didn't stay that way for long. The night of our closing, we ordered a pizza and started stripping wallpaper. Luckily, the paper came off pretty easily with a spritz of warm water mixed with vinegar.

I won't get into all of the nitty gritty details since we did this almost three years ago, but here's what we did to the space:
  • Removed wallpaper, trim pieces, and wall-mounted cabinets
  • Removed ceiling border (we left the textured paper)
  • Painted walls Benjamin Moore Soleil (eggshell) and the ceiling Ceiling White
  • Painted the trim and ceiling medallion Benjamin Moore Mayonnaise (satin)
  • Replaced the transom over the French doors with a leaded glass
  • Reversed the French doors so they open inwards and installed a storm/security door outside
  • Removed the excess trim from the fireplace/mantel/mirror
  • Refinished the fireplace surround and mantel, stained a lighter color
  • Tiled around the fireplace surround
  • Disconnected and removed a gas fireplace insert because the chimney isn't lined
  • Had the floors refinished to their natural color
It took us months to do, but the work was so worth it - the dining room became so much brighter and calmer. I definitely prefer my rooms to be restful and infused with sunlight!

Once we got it to a state that we could live with, we moved on to some even bigger, scarier projects (I'm looking at you, master bathroom!). The dining room is by no means finished, and here's the list of things that we still need to do:
  • Finish the mirror frame (paint or stain?)
  • Hang the new pendant light that's been sitting in its box for 3+ months (more complicated than it should be)
  • Finish installing the French door hardware, paint white to match the trim
  • Give the ceiling medallion and ceiling trim one more coat of paint
  • Reassess the possibly too yellow wall color
The room has filled out a little bit more over time. Here's where we are now.

I'd still like to hang more art to the left and right of the fireplace (in the two nooks) and organize the banjo/guitar/fiddle/bodhran corner we've got going on. And maybe, just maybe get rid of the light on the mantel with the electrical taped paper shade that's falling off? Slowly, but surely people.

And these days, we're finding candlelit dinners so soothing and cozy, we may never get around to hanging that newfangled electric ceiling light. How very Victorian we feel...

September 11, 2011

I ♥ Community Forklift!

This weekend's guest bathroom work involved a trip to Community Forklift, an amazing local store that sells donated surplus building materials and architectural salvage in support of environmentally friendly construction and home renovation. We had a few things that we were looking for, but we also took the opportunity to donate a few light fixtures that have been kicking around our garage for the past couple of years. One man's trash is another man's treasure, and all that.

The store has a huge outside lot full of cast iron bathtubs, sinks, marble slabs, fencing materials, and tons of other large-scale stuff. When we were first designing the guest bathroom, we thought that we'd reuse our old sink countertop with a new base - turns out that taking that route would be way more expensive than replacing it. I'd searched a bit online for pedestal sinks, but we thought we'd check out what Community Forklift had to offer. Here's the sight that greeted us.

Lots o' sinks! There were a few pedestal types that looked pretty good from afar, but up close were chipped and stained. I wasn't sure if chipped and stained = farmhouse chic or just pain dirty... Anyway, we decided to see what else they had in the way of plumbing inside. Here's Ryan looking thrilled in one of their sink/toilet aisles.

We found one pedestal sink in great condition that we liked for $125. The price was definitely right, but we weren't sure that the design was exactly what we were looking for, so it was a no go.

Next up, doors. We've been playing with the idea of putting French doors between the upstairs hallway and future office. That way, we can close off the room and the cats won't rub their furry little faces on the computer camera while Ryan is in the middle of Skype calls with business clients...

Community Forklift has rows and rows of doors, which can be kind of overwhelming. Since we'll be building the wall to accommodate the doors, we didn't require exact measurements, but we knew that we were aiming for somewhere around five feet for the pair. After some serious digging around in the French door aisle, we came up with a set in good condition, exactly five feet wide. They're different heights, but only because there's a 2X4 stuck to the bottom of one. How this pair worked together when one door was several inches taller than the other, I'm not sure.

Now, let me start this off by saying that we are not those people that have good luck wherever we go, but I believe these doors were meant to come home with us! Each door was originally priced at $35 - and I feel like that would have been a great deal. A set of French doors for $70 when they normally cost $300+ at the chain stores? Yes, please. Well, this weekend, Community Forklift was selling all doors priced at less than $50 at an amazing 75% off! We scored these babies for seventeen dollars and fifty cents! Add a couple of pieces of door hardware to our lot, and the grand total was $20.50.

I ♥ Community Forklift!

September 5, 2011

Bathroom Demolition

Ryan and I spent the weekend taking apart the guest bathroom. We're talking serious demo here, i.e. walls came down. It's quite disconcerting to find a toilet and bathtub right out in the open, in the middle of the room at the top of the stairs. It reminds me of my cousin Scott's studio apartment in NYC where the bathtub was literally in the middle of the kitchen (he actually built a hinged countertop on top of the tub to maximize his usable kitchen space!). Here are the early stages of the transformation.

We always wondered why there was a weird bump out in the wall of the bathroom (behind the ladder). Why hadn't they just built the wall two inches over? After pulling down the drywall, we discovered the answer - a beam. Hmmm. Ryan crawled around in the attic and determined that it wasn't structural, so he removed it, exposing the exterior brick coated in what appears to be a black waterproof coating. We considered leaving the beam exposed, but I think it would have looked really out of place. When we rebuild, the wall will be (should be, anyway) nice and flat.

Since we're planning on moving the clawfoot tub to the opposite wall and we have a bit of plumbing to do in the space, we decided to just bite the bullet and move it out now. If anyone's wondering (we definitely were) we're estimating that our tub weighs about 250 pounds without water. Heavy, but not so heavy that the two of us couldn't move it on our own. Our bigger concern was that we might damage the floor boards if the feet were placed on a weak spot... yes, we had visions of our tub falling through to the first floor a la The Money Pit. To make sure that the weight was evenly distributed across the floor rather than just in the four spots where the feet rested, we shifted the tub inch by inch on two long pieces of plywood that we repositioned as we went.

It took us about half an hour to move it out of the bathroom and into the future office/current junk room. I'll be able to clean/refinish/paint it there. And what made me even happier than not having our floor collapse? The realization that the backside of the tub, which will be facing outwards in the new bathroom configuration, has one thin, smooth layer of yellowish paint on it and that the legs aren't painted at all. Thank ye, tub gods! I think a good scrub with some paint stripper and a wire brush should do the trick. The feet are dirty and cobwebby, but see how much definition they have?

All in all, it was a very satisfying few days of work.