January 21, 2012

Dining Room Update

Here's one piece of home renovation advice that we heard and wish we'd listened to - finish one room before you begin working on the next room. If we had, our dining room (which is the first room we started on) wouldn't have mired in a state of half-completion for the past two years. I'm not saying that it's done done at this point, but we've gotten around to a few of the big things on our checklist.

1. Hanging a new light fixture

The old light fixture was crystal with those candle-looking lights, and after liberating the room from its Victorian past, it just looked way too formal. We bought a new fixture last year, but there were a couple of obstacles to hanging it - the ceiling rose (that it would hang from) was off-center in the room, there was no joist to hang the light from (the old one was hanging from the plaster - yikes!), and the electrical box was making scary noises. So we put it off month after month as we tried to come up with a reasonably elegant solution to the off-center problem. In the end, we decided to try the simplest thing first - just hanging it off-center and seeing if our persnickety selves could live with it (we also added some ceiling reinforcements and fixed the buzzing electrical box, of course). And you know what? It's fine. Who walks into someone else's house and notices an ever-so-slightly off-center ceiling light anyway?

2. Painting the mantel mirror

The fireplace surround, mantel, and mirror used to be a monstrosity of mismatched wood tones with trim upon piece of trim mishmashed together. A couple of years ago, we disassembled the whole thing, sanded it down and re-stained it one color, removed all the excess trim, added a tile surround, and rehung the mirror. But we never got around the finishing the mirror. Should we stain it? Paint it to match the trim? Bring an accent color in? Rather than make the wrong decision, we just let it sit unfinished (which actually was the even wrong-er decision). A few weeks ago, we decided to bite the bullet and paint it with a slightly metallic gunmetally-bronze-ish color. And we love it. It picks up the metal in the new light fixture, the color of the tiles in the fireplace surround, and the lead in the leaded glass window above the french doors. Maybe not the most daring solution, but it works for us.

3. Securing and painting the french doors

Speaking of the french doors, these have taken a lot of work, which I won't get into. Suffice it to say, they needed to be secured (so they didn't swing open), they needed doorknobs, they needed a new threshold, and most of all, they needed to be painted. We'd lived with brown doors and white trim for so long that we didn't even notice it. But now that they're painted - wow! They brighten up that whole corner of the room and make it look so much more polished. Of course, now that you look through them rather than at them, you notice the piles of lumber and the old disassembled toilet sitting in the alley. Hmmm... time to do something about that.

4. Incorporating a music playing area and bar

We have a bunch of instruments that almost never get played because they're tucked away somewhere. One of Ryan's New Year's resolutions is to play more music, so we decided to bring our instruments out into the light of day and make them easier to pick up and play. And thus, our music nook was born. We hung the guitar on a hook on the wall, bought a new (supposedly impossible to knock over and hopefully cat-proof) wooden banjo stand (that has yet to arrive), and hung the bodhran (an Irish drum) from a second hook. We're still thinking about the violin (sometimes fiddle!), didgeridoo, and other drums. We'd also like to find a more attractive music stand, a table light, and maybe a little art to jazz up (ha!) the area.

Along with the music nook, we wanted to add a bar. It must be the Mad Men craze, but every time I look at a magazine or design blog, I see bars, booze carts, trays laden with bottles... people seem to be into displaying their alcohol. I thought this was a great idea for our dining room because it would empty out a HUGE area of our kitchen (Kidding! We don't have that many bottles!). Okay, it would give us a little more space in the kitchen, make it easier to offer guests a drink, and let's face it, a lot of bottles are really nice looking and deserve to be showed off! We found some shelving wood in the garage left over from another project, wood stain, and a couple of brackets, and we built ourselves a bar shelf above the new music nook. It really balances out the bulk of the radiator on the other side of the fireplace, and it makes the room feel cozy. We love it.

All in all, a lot of changes over a few weeks!


A few months ago, when we temporarily moved the clawfoot bathtub out of the guest bathroom (so we could work on putting down a new floor), we were really excited to see that it was in good condition on the back side. We thought we'd strip off a layer or two of paint, recoat it, and get to bathing! But when we looked into a rumor that old cast iron bathtubs can contain high levels of lead, we thought we'd better check our tub, juuust in case. We all know that lead paint dust is bad for us, and Ryan and I are betting that soaking in lead soup bathwater probably isn't great either.

I picked up a package of instant lead tests at our fabulous Frager's Hardware. The tests are super easy to use - just crush the stick in two places, give it a couple of shakes, and rub it on the test surface. If it turns pink/red, there's lead, and the darker the color, the higher the presence of lead. I tested three different areas on the  inside of the tub (since that's where it would leach out of into the bathwater).  Two area came back hot pink, and one (where the porcelain was worn away) came back light pink. Yikes! Just to be extra sure that I was testing the actual tub, and that I wasn't picking up rogue lead dust that had settled onto the surface, I used another stick to test a bunch of surfaces that were close to the tub. Nothing.

This tub-tastrophe was the end of our old clawfoot tub dreams, and the beginning of my search for a new bathtub. We definitely still wanted a clawfoot style, but debated over another (new and lead free) cast iron tub or an acrylic version. Cast iron is the real deal (and our preference), but they're heavy. We weren't sure how we would get the old one out, let alone a new one up our narrow stairway. Acrylic tubs are much lighter and easier to move; in fact, they're so light that they need to be anchored to the floor. From what we've read, acrylic tubs even look great. In the end though, we decided to go with cast iron because I found a great deal at Vintage Tub & Bath for one with the exact same dimensions and design as the old one! We also found a moving company that will move the old tub out, the new one in, and haul everything away for only a few hundred dollars. And they're licensed and insured, so when they drop the bathtubs down the stairs, break the bannister, and knock a hole in the wall, we don't have to worry about it.

So, goodbye, old tub. You served us well, despite your attempt to poison us. And hello to our shiny new addition, with your fancy chrome feet! We look forward to soaking in you soon!

January 7, 2012

Plumbing Is Not Our Strong Suit

While I've been away from All Features Great & Small these past couple of months, we haven't been idle. Between a fabulous trip to Japan, December craziness, and Christmas, we've done some pretty exciting work in the dining room AND we've finally gotten underway on the guest bathroom project! But this is about our ridiculous lack of plumbing skills...

Last Monday, the plumber came over and moved around a few of the pipes in the bathroom and also capped off the pipes that we no longer needed. We went from this:

To this!

I guess it doesn't look like much, but it's one more step forward and it's wonderful to us!

This is the point at which we determined once and for all that plumbing is definitely not our strong suit. The plumber was coming back on Wednesday to hook up the radiator in our new master bathroom (it's been disconnected since that big renovation, and the toilet seat was like sitting on a block of ice). We thought we'd be super organized and helpful by draining the radiators on Wednesday morning (okay, we were actually being cheap-o and doing it ourselves so that we weren't paying him to sit at the house while the system drained). Anyway, Tuesday night we planned to hook up the hose to the furnace, and all we'd have to do Wednesday morning was turn the knob and let it drain. Simple, right? Except that the hose hook up is allll the way at the back of the utility closet. After a 30 minute game of Twister played by me, Ryan, hot pipes, the water heater, the furnace, and a pair of long-handled pliers, we finally got the hose attached. Success! And just then, one of us (it was Ryan) knocked the pressure release valve. Uh-oh. Within seconds, the  heating system was depressurized and the emergency valve released a stream of the most foul smelling radiator water on earth, which promptly flooded the electrics of our hot water heater and the kitchen floor.

Now, not only did we not have heat or hot water, but the water that was released from the radiator system smelled so horrifically bad that we had to open the door to the outside and blow a fan into the kitchen. Did I mention that we also managed to do this on the coldest day of the winter so far? Yes, it was cold outside, approximately 17° F.

But all's well that ends well. Despite it being only 40° in the house the next day, the plumber was able to hook up the radiator, repressurize the system, and fix our hot water heater. And I think he must have done some kind of secret voodoo plumber dance in the kitchen, because the stinky swamp water smell was gone too! All I can say is, lesson learned. We'll leave plumbing to the big boys from now on.