The Education of a Non-Builder

Design and construction, no matter your role in the process, is an education. Don’t think you are going to be an innocent bystander, sitting on the sofa, penning checks, happily awaiting the completion of the renovation. You are going to be forced to make decisions, and those decisions will require a deeper understanding than you likely currently possess. You are right to be worried about it. You will be in the deep end of the pool more than the shallow end, where the water is warm, and the livin’ is easy. The good news is, no one learns to swim in three inches of water, but you could still drown in it, so learn to swim you will little grasshopper.

Recycle . Reuse . old door . new home.

I still have difficulty understanding why some doors can be removed and replaced, reusing the existing casings, and others can’t, or simply end up looking like a hot mess. Gaps, hinge locations where no Dutchman patch was crafted to disguise the damaged area, a stripe of paint from a previous job revealed, are all aspects of a door replacement project gone wrong. If you are asking why not just replace the casing too, let me remind you that the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone. Once you start ripping that out, you mine as well gut the place.

There are questions of sequencing, should the floors be refinished before you paint the walls, or paint the walls before you refinish the floors. Unless you have the most fastidious subcontractors you are going to get stain on your freshly painted baseboards, or speckles of paint on your varnished floor. A white cloth and some linseed oil will take that up if you move swiftly.

There are rabbet and dado joints, which are really quite nice, and miter joints – I wouldn’t want any other kind, but you do you. You’ll want to know when your house is going to be buttoned up, particularly if you are building during the rainy season, or snow is on the way. You’ll definitely want to pay attention if your builder announces he’s going to “hog” something out. This rough and tumble approach isn’t something you’ll want to be able to see later, or suffer the consequences of a structural failure as a result of their reckless ripping.

When I slide my bar height stool back and forth across the wood floor in my sister’s house I wish the previous owners had been educated on the wood’s Janka Rating. The pine they selected is so soft that even my feather light frame leaves an indentation. They should have selected Hemlock, Douglas Fir, or Chestnut, those are some seriously hard woods, a bullet might leave a mark, but not much else.

Some people like their learning to happen over the course of a semester, building slowly, others prefer a crash course, wherever you fall in the spectrum, you are sure to come away with cocktail conversation fodder.

Pretty as a picture. Ripping and tearing hidden from view.

Construction: from destruction to done in days

I’ve been around construction my entire life. Skeptical by nature, hopeful by design, it never ceases to amaze me, the miracle of the last three days of any project. I walk the site, head hung low, heart heavy, feet shuffling through piles of sawdust flecked with red and blue encased wire bits, the remnants the Electrician left behind. A bottle cap, a cigarette butt – violation – a greasy paper bag with a half eaten pastrami on rye. How in the Sam Tarnation was I expected to move into this place in just a few days?

Fun with Recycling . bringing detail where detail lacked.

I’d need a miracle it seemed. I’d need divine agency. I’d need something entirely unexpected, and desperately desired, and then like magic it would happen. I’ve been witness to this highly improbably happening so many times, you’d think I would have come to consider it banal, common, predictable even, but no. Each time I walk a site, the calendar with its red circled deadline date flashing in my minds eye, I feel sick with worry.

They, of the brilliant, marvelous, often maligned, construction professionals, GET IT DONE, and I adore them for it. I revere them. I want to know how they do it, but like the Free Masons, and other secret societies that drink blood from a skull, wear hooded robes, and meet by candle-light, they’d have to kill me if they told me, and I’d like to live a little while longer, so the mystery will have to remain in tact.

See – that wasn’t so bad, was it?

As the summer wraps up, and many decidedly difficult projects come to a close, I’d like to send out into the universe of construction professionals a huge thank you, for being there when the materials or the labor or both didn’t show. For having faith when I’d lost my own. For wearing your masks when it was 100 degrees, and for being the few, the proud, that create. Your building something, your making a contribution, and your contribution makes a difference to me, so thank you.

Change Your Point of View: White Kitchen’s with Personality

Blue and White.

It’s true, and because I feel like arguing today, I’m going to lay out my case for you. You the believer that white is boring, vanilla, without an opinion. Dare I say staid, subtle, without suggestion, or rather you might say, not I, not me, not this one who believes – it is simply a sublime backdrop for the scene of your personal style. Whatever that style might be – you’ll see.

Green and White.

I’ve selected the same clean shaker cabinetry for all three looks. The same hardware and backsplash, and walnut island top that has appeared in earlier iterations of the Willow Bend Scheme Series. I’ve purposefully picked the white cabinetry for its ability to pencil out on a spreadsheet that’s adding up, and a backsplash that you can get at the one buck store. Not exactly, but practically. I’ve invested some dough in the door hardware, and a little more on my lights – good lighting is everything to a gal. Finally I’ve made a little splash with a fabric or a fridge, but honestly there are even less expensive ways to do it. Think a set of dishes in a daring hue, pretty porcelain in a pouty purple, flowers or ferns or decorative urns – whatever floats your boat, let the rainbow be your guide.

Pink and White.

White is wonderfully versatile. Like a Chopped competition, I’ve provided the box of basics that you must use, but your personal panache will provide the dash and make the space distinctly you, but if you had to choose, which one would you say was you?

Put Your Right Foot In

How often do we over look a foot? We take one step forward and two back. We predict that when all is going right, that a foot will fall. We feel flat footed, put our foot in our mouth, play footsie under the table. It’s time we do something productive with those feet. Let’s be sure footed instead of soft footing around the issue. It really doesn’t matter how many feet you have – you can have gobs of feet, and still make a mess of things, or you can use those feet to draw the admiration of all those lucky enough to, well you know what I’m going to say — set foot in your little jewel box of a bathroom.

OPTION . 1

I’m not going to tip toe around the issue. I’ve estimated that we’ve got about 21SF to work with, bigger than many of the washrooms in the South End Restaurants I frequent. Bigger than the last two powder rooms I had, but still small enough so that you can touch both walls without fully extending your arms. I love small spaces, there is a quiet comfort in them.

Let’s jump in with both feet to this small footed challenge. Like a petite bebe of a beach cottage, I feel that a modest bathroom abode should have a name. The right name stands to give it distinction, the wrong name subjects it to humiliation, a funny one – a laugh, but is that the best idea when someone is hunting around for relief? Relief was in fact the name proffered the grand restroom at Thompson’s Clam Bar, the seasonal restaurant that I visited every summer of my youth until I was finally old enough to wait tables there. When they closed I would have paid all my six years of earnings for that single sign. It’s funny how much meaning can be packed into a single word. Maybe the design will help me decide.

OPTION 3

A small space must work extra hard to garner the attention of the tall’s and the beautiful’s, the distracted and the charmed, it must raise its voice, put on camera ready make-up, and prepare to compete, without looking like its competing at all. I hope you are getting my drift. In a sea of McMansion Style bathrooms, with their soaking tubs, and separate showers, their private sound proofed toilet rooms, double sinks, and Butler’s call box, a more modest sized space needs to through its hands in the air – not like it doesn’t care, the opposite. It needs to throw them around in a pick me sort of way, which is to say, partially crazed, and then once selected become totally refined, adorable, graceful even in the way, once selected, she reveals all her subtle offerings.

OPTION 4

Which one says that? Put your left foot in and shake it all about.

Gratitude: the season for…

I’ve done a lot of complaining this past year, bemoaning the water infiltration issues – one following another – and yet another. The little inconveniences that are part of life – the missing, lost or tossed hardware that went with the stand to the fire tools set, and lies across the hearth – reprimanding me for not getting to that item, on my very long to-do list, that would have the nuts and bolts arriving in the mail within days. The half painted deck, that now will have to wait until spring. The doors that were taken off, but not away, the doors that have yet to arrive, and the wall that awaits its interior dressing, sits naked – vulnerable – cold.

The truth is that all these things are a blessing. I have a home and a roof over head, and as my Dad likes to say – even a leaky roof is just fine when the sun shines. I have a lovely fire place and tools to poke those blazing logs into rosy submission, even if I do have to pick them up off the floor. Those old doors will get carted away, my wall will get built, my closets will be shuttered – my clothes neatly tucked away, and my tiny little fridge will, I am certain, always be as full as I need it to be.

My closet doors – almost done.

For this abundance of wealth I am grateful. I hope everyone’s Thanksgiving is as good to them, as this year has been to me.

Southern Challenge: The Great Room

The Great Room . Dining Hall. Prior to renovation.

I’ve always loved entertaining. Perhaps it’s a little show-offy of me, being as good at it as I am. In my defense I have been doing it for more than half my life. When I was 12 years old I got my second real job washing dishes in a gourmet deli in my hometown. I was fascinated by the constant activity of the staff, bustling back and forth between the customers out from and the back of the house where I was safely stowed away from prying eyes. I wasn’t quite old enough to be working, but I certainly was capable of washing pots.

Scheme I: Walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s Sailcloth, this beautiful Phillip Jeffries Rivet Wall Covering in Jute with Bronze Rivets will be placed on the fireplace surround only, bringing a subtle texture to the room.

This recently purchased rug will bring warmth to the room and add color, the dark wood table and chairs covered in a forest green leather will work wonderfully with this oriental.

In addition to the deli, it was a catering company. I spent most of my time with the chef and the sous chef as they prepped for weddings and the delicacies they were crafting for fabulous gatherings. My job consisted of a lot of standing around waiting for pots to get dirty so I could wash them. That left me to watch the other prep, and bake, frost, and pipe, saute and brine. Each week my boss would teach me how to make something new. It must have taken me ten years to break the habit of cooking for 60, but the cost was worth the meticulous lessons I learned, and which I carry with me today.

Scheme II: Benjamin Moore’s Shoreline Right will be the base color for the walls. The perimeter of the room will have a 1″ green line underneath the molding. This will accent the color in the rug and draw attention to the green leather seats of the dining chairs.

So it’s true that I am proud of the food I prepare and serve, the care I take with it is an expression of my love for my friends and family. This Great Room, which sits at the heart of the home will welcome scholars and dignitaries, people with a cause and an opinion, it will I bear witness to heated debates and fresh ideas, and hopefully no tears, unless they are the sort that laughter brings. It should be a fitting environment for all these important happenings. Stately, but comfortable.

Scheme III: Benjamin Moore’s Delaware Putty on Left. This would be painted on all the woodwork and wrapping to cover the ceiling in the same hue. It would all be done in high gloss. Additionally, the back side of the stair would be done in this color – also in high gloss. The walls would be painted in Benjamin Moore’s Super White in egg shell finish.

In general I find the curtains throughout the home rob the rooms of much needed light. I do admire a dressed window, but think there is a better way to do it. In the interest of economics I am recommending to the owners that they remove the valance, but keep the curtains that the previous owners left behind. I estimate that they cost between $5 – $10K, and I have other plans for that kind of money.

The red paint has to go. I’m excited to see which of these options the owners will pick.

Water Water Everywhere

Today is one of those days. You know the ones, don’t you. It’s raining outside and regrettably, it’s raining inside too. It’s not supposed to do that. Water is grand on the beach, overlooking the Adriatic, shimmering in the infinity pool. It can even be pretty amazing when you are riding it down a rapid or through the lock system of a French canal – you comfortably ensconced on a lounge chair on the lido deck of the luxury liner. It’s a whole lot less romantic when it’s gushing in through an electrical conduit. That’s a pipe whose job it is to hold the electrical wires neatly in – and the water – tightly out.

Slim Aarons . El Venero – Mirabella Spain

I think it’s safe to say, that at this point you know it’s not doing it’s job. I wonder if Bill Belichick did the yelling if they’d send someone over to fix it. I’m horse and it hasn’t resulted in any shame faced Eversource technicians showing any initiative. You’d think two fire trucks, 3 pick axes, and 6 burly men with hoses would have stirred up a little more fix-it action, but no. The only action I’ve got is Niagra Falla, in what should be my new bedroom. Maybe I could sell tickets to the spectacle – help pay for the damage. Anyone?

I’ve decided to turn my attention to happier aquatic experiences – ones that are safely painted on the page, captured in a photograph, ones that require you to use your imagination to experience the H2O.

OKL. Happy Frills.
Beverly Hills Hotel. What a way to experience water.

Let’s Mesh Around…and get pretty

I’ve been so consumed by my construction woes that I haven’t paid close attention to the details of the interior. And the details my friends are what makes the difference. It’s just those things that catch the eye of even the least observant of guests, and make the most – swoon, or run screaming from your home. It’s true, to the detail oriented, a gap in the molding, left by a lazy carpenter, can illicit a dull ache in the back of the head, which blossoms over the course of the hour to a full blown migrane. Getting the details right matter.

Beyond those obvious details, it’s the extra effort you take to make something in the home a little bit different than the norm, that captures the most observant visitors attention. No offense to those individuals that are clueless about design and all the wonderful details that go into it, but this isn’t for you.

Mesh, or metal screening materials have both a practical application – it allows for ventilation of things that get hot, like cable boxes, or mechanical equipment that requires air exchange, while hiding those utilitarian necessities that can distract from one’s visual pleasure. Specifically – my visual pleasure. Then comes the aesthetic application – these materials can be incredibly beautiful – for someone that loves pattern, contrast, and visual complexity – they really do the trick.

Amazon . M-B Building Products . Union Jack Metal Sheet $28.75

So you can imagine my chagrin, having awoken from the moldy fog that I’ve been in, to discover that I missed my opportunities to make my kitchen cabinets sing. That’s right – sing. Right now, they are quietly humming, but were I to add one of these amazing screens, they’d be singing like Whitney Houston belting out a ballad.

Brass Wire Mesh . Let your imagination go wild.

Now this technique can be applied after the fact, but in fact it cannot be done by someone like me. It requires removing the doors. You need saw horses and clamps, and …. wait for it …. a router. Which apparently makes retrofitting the cabinets “super easy”. That is for someone that already knows how to use a router. I’ve never really fallen into the trap of believing those DIY videos which claim “anyone can do it” – anyone that has been practicing it for decades and happens to have a video crew and an editing room to erase all the mistakes that most certainly can and do get made.

Traditional Home

The way I solve this problem is by hiring someone that knows how to do it. You should proceed in any way you feel comfortable.

s – Tile ME Pretty

Home Depot . Jeffrey Court Carrara Subway Tile . 3″ x 6″ . 8 Pack $6.98

I had no intention of installing a back splash in the kitchen, mainly because I had no intention of renovating the kitchen, or the living room, or the bedroom, laundry room, or frankly any of the rooms in what was supposed to be a “move-in” condition unit. How the naivety of it all pains me. I want to be a believer, but my natural instincts, which admittedly some find rather tiresome, are to be skeptical, to question, to doubt. What a downer. Isn’t it so much more pleasant to be around someone that spews sunshine? That’s the type of person I gravitate toward, but when it comes to money, and my money specifically, I want Glum from Gulliver’s Travels – you know – one of the Lilliputians to – “it’ll never work me” back to my senses.

Home Depot . Hex . Ceramic Tile in Greecian White . 12″ x 12″ . $9.98

Because sense my friends is just what you need when you’re talking about your cents, and your sanity. Both of which have been tested for me these last few months. I’ve thrown money at the electrical challenges and the infrastructure. In case you didn’t know, infrastructure is a French word describing the underlying framework of a system. See the underlying in the previous sentence in BOLD? Yes, those are shouty caps. The wires are not supposed to be snaking their way around the periphery of the living room floor waiting to ensnarl some unsuspecting guest, as if they were on a trek through the jungle. If I have yet to be clear here – they are meant to be hidden, not in a PVC pipe, but behind the wall.

Home Depot . Royal Herringbone Winter . 12″ x 12″ . $20.67

Now that I’ve started, the onslaught must continue. Water is meant to live in the pipes, or the tub, sink, toilet, or happily in a puddle on the exterior of the home. It seems so friendly and harmless when it falls from the sky in tiny droplets, but anyone that’s hurled themselves into the pool cannonball style landing smack on their back, can attest to the brutality of water. It is wile – E! It can travel untold distances from the point of entry, tricking you into believing you know exactly where it came from, when you in fact may never know. Hiding your head in the sand will do no good. You must rip and tear like Bill Murray tracking that devious goffer in Caddy Shack. You better find it or it will haunt you forever.

So that’s a long way of saying that I need to pick out a back splash tile and do it fast. Normally, I love tile, and while that hasn’t changed, the amount I can spend on it has. If I could incorporate a sad face emogi here, I would. Still, I think one of these will be lovely. Please weigh in. Your opinion matters to me, and it will make me so very happy.

The Bathroom Reveal

Now I know at least one of my readers has been poised on the edge of their seat awaiting what I promised was going to be a two week bathroom redo. If you want this to be an article about schedule slide it could be, but we’d never make it to this amazing transformation. Suffice it to say, the delay had to do with a nervous home owner and the decision to let the floor “cure” before scrubba, dub, dubbing in the space. It was likely a sound decision, that this impatient person would never have made.

While delaying gratification isn’t a strong point of mine, I am in full support of the home owner’s (also known as my sister) decision to re-glaze instead of replace the tile in their NYC apartment’s only bath. The downtime, the cost, the mess, all make this decision a smart one.

Hvar . Croatia – the inspiration for the bath.

While it may look like the ice in the rink at Rockefeller Center, it is in fact paint, and I would not recommend gliding around on it in anything other than a slipper. Just to be safe of course.

Kohler Poplin Vanity.

From deco, gray, dingy, and damaged to bright white and beautiful. A potted plant pops against the stark white wall, and a photograph in the spirit of Slim Arrons, taken on a family holiday in Croatia, acts as the inspiration for the bath’s design. Note additional touches like the Muji toothbrush holders, and the CB2 glass shelves keep the space from feeling overcrowded. Vanity is available at Home Depot – Kohler Poplin 24″ Vanity. Sink is also Kohler. Walls are in Benjamin Moore’s Super White, and don’t forget that the reglazing was done by: Supreme Bath Reglazing.